Chapter 38 Rising Wind: Elder Brother
It was a moment of salvation for Feng Luodi and the workers of Autumnal Ombre, as they stood on helplessly in front of the shop. The crowd that had blocked off the shop parted automatically, and Jiang Moyin strolled in with two of his attendants behind him. A man looking to be in his forties was dragged in by his collar, held by one of the attendants.
Feng Luodi glanced at the burly man who was creating a ruckus just moments before. The man’s eyes darted around when he saw the middle-aged man dragged in by his collar, as if unsure of what he was doing. There was a loud smash as he dropped the flask of wine he was holding, shattering on the floor. Feng Luodi quickly stepped away, but some of the wine had splashed onto her skirt.
Jiang Moyin’s saunter turned into an urgent dash as he quickly went to Feng Luodi and grabbed her hand, checking her thoroughly for any injuries. “Are you alright? Did you get cut by any of the clay fragments?” He signalled to the other attendant, who quickly came forward and pinned the burly man down, ignoring his shouts and protests.
“I’m fine. But I think my skirt is a little dirty now.” Feng Luodi shook her head, and gently withdrew her hand from Jiang Moyin’s grip. “What brings you here?”
Jiang Moyin smiled and handed Feng Luodi a handkerchief. “Jianqiu and the rest are waiting for you at Manchun Tang. I’m just here to deliver the summons.”
“Oh, I see.” Feng Luodi did not think much about it and turned back to the burly man.
“Now it all makes sense. I believe that this is your employer?” Feng Luodi gestured to the middle-aged man. “Mmmmm, seems about right. I can smell alcohol coming off your clothes, and it doesn’t have the fragrance of our wines. You don’t look drunk, yet your clothes smell strongly of wine. You must work in a liquor store!”
“Bullshit!” The middle-aged man quickly shook his hand in denial, looking at the burly man pinned by Jiang Moyin’s attendant. “Who’d want to hire someone like him?!”
The burly man’s face flushed red, but he kept silent.
Jiang Moyin turned and smiled at the crowd. Someone in the crowd shouted. “I recognise this man! He’s the owner of the liquor store in the West quadrant of Chang’an city!”
“I can confirm that! I went to his shop once, but his wines were so bland! They were diluted without any flavour!”
More and more voices chimed in and confirmed the identity of the middle-aged man, who was now slick with sweat, panic written all over his face. Li Tengfei calmly swept up the broken fragments strewn across the floor, and levelled his gaze at the middle-aged man.
“Young miss, Master Jiang, let’s not waste our words on someone like that. Just send them both to the yamen and let the authorities handle it. Quarrelling with him will only bring bad luck to our shop.”
The burly man quickly panicked when he heard the word “yamen” again. “Don’t! Don’t report me to the authorities, I’ll tell you everything! This man gave me three taels of silver in exchange for causing a ruckus at your shop to disrupt the business! Don’t bring me to the yamen!” He pointed a shaking finger at the middle-aged man.
Jiang Moyin smiled, and turned to the crowd. “Everyone, now that the truth has been revealed, please queue again to purchase our wines.” Jostling ensued again, as the crowd scrambled to be at the head of the queue. Then, he turned to Li Tengfei and Scarlet, the latter whom stuck close to Feng Luodi.
“You two, go on ahead with your duties. It has been quite an eventful day. Just finish selling the wines to these people in the queue and close earlier for today.”
“Yes, Master Jiang.”
As for the two troublemakers, Jiang Moyin’s attendants had thrown them out into the streets, and they quietly slinked away amidst insults hurled at them by the crowd.
“Do you want to go and get changed, before we head to Manchun Tang to join the rest?” Jiang Moyin smiled at Feng Luodi.
“No need for that, it’s just a small stain. It isn’t even obvious unless you look directly at it.” Feng Luodi dismissed his proposition and led the way towards Manchun Tang.
Jiang Moyin caught up quickly. “It’s not about whether it would be seen by the others, but about whether you’ll be comfortable in your clothes.”
Feng Luodi was taken aback by his words and shook her head. “It’s alright.”
Jiang Moyin shook his head and quickly walked in front of her, blocking her way. He turned and held her shoulders down firmly, stopping Feng Luodi from walking any more. His face was serious.
“Why do you still look so unhappy, even when the problem has been solved?”
Feng Luodi widened her eyes, surprised by Jiang Moyin’s sudden actions. She forced a smile onto her face, but kept silent.
Jiang Moyin released his hold on her and furrowed his brows. “You don’t have to smile like that if you don’t want to. Let’s go; Qi Jianqiu has been waiting for you to come ever since she’d sat down at the table.”
Feng Luodi nodded and followed behind him, her face calm and composed as always.
When they reached the dining room on the third floor of Manchun Tang, they opened the door to see quite the amusing sight.
Qi Jianqiu and Gan Qingjia sat on opposite sides of the table, but both heads were turned to face the opposite direction. Qi Jianqiu looked deeply annoyed, her cheeks puffed up fully as she sat sipping her tea. Meanwhile, Gan Qingjia had his usual flirtatious smile on his face as he drank wine from a cup leisurely.
Xue Yiqi and Situ Muye sat close together, apparently in the midst of an intense discussion. From what they could hear, Xue Yiqi was consulting Situ in the arts of war, animatedly sharing his ideas and plans and looking for affirmation.
Half a year ago, I would never have thought that I would have the fortune to sit with the most famous Four Gentleman of Chang’an and the Beauty of Chang’an at the same table, dining and chatting amiably.
“Aaaaaaaah! Luodi! You’re finally here!” A scream of joy echoed through Manchun Tang as Qi Jianqiu pounced on Feng Luodi. With a bemused expression, Feng Luodi caught her good friend in mid-flight and was dragged to sit at the table. Feng Luodi looked around the table. Now, the Feng Luodi and Qi Jianqiu were seated together on the western side, while Jiang Moyin and Gan Qingjia sat across from them. Xue Yiqi and Situ Muye shared the southern side of the table.
“I would have finished the wine if you guys came any later.” Gan Qingjia smiled and slung an arm over Jiang Moyin’s shoulders, pouring his friend a cup of wine.
Qi Jianqiu mumbled under her breath. “What a debauchee.”
Xue Yiqi smiled. “We haven’t ordered any dishes yet; we only drank some wine and had some snacks while waiting for you.” Jiang Moyin nodded as he took the cup from Gan Qingjia, the latter about to pour it down his throat for him.
“You don’t look so well.” Situ poured himself a cup of tea and commented lightly, glancing at Feng Luodi.
Feng Luodi was about to reply when Qi Jianqiu tugged on her elbow, her tone full of concern. “Luodi, why is there wine on your clothes? You aren’t required to ladle out the wine in the shop, are you?”
Feng Luodi looked to Jiang Moyin for help, but he was engaged in a struggle with Gan Qingjia, the latter trying to ‘bottle-feed’ Jiang Moyin another cup of wine.
“Why are you looking at him?” Qi Jianqiu tugged on Feng Luodi’s sleeve again, making the girl look at her. “Did someone cause trouble at Autumnal Ombre again?”
Jiang Moyin froze, then desperately tried to catch Qi Jianqiu’s attention, winking and waving frantically. The other three took notice of what was happening, and looked at Qi Jianqiu in amusement.
Feng Luodi narrowed her eyes, confused. “Again? Did someone cause trouble at Autumnal Ombre before? Why wasn’t I informed about this?”
Situ looked at Jiang Moyin and Qi Jianqiu, the latter realising her slip of the tongue. Suddenly, he remembered Feng Luodi’s look of confusion that day at the “Painting of Ten Miles”, when he asked if there was any problem with Autumnal Ombre.
“Oh…Oh…” Qi Jianqiu’s eyes darted around the room, refusing to look at Feng Luodi. Feng Luodi turned to look at Jiang Moyin, and seeing him still desperately winking at Qi Jianqiu, the ghost of a smile crept onto her face. She looked at Qi Jianqiu gently.
Qi Jianqiu shifted uneasily in her seat. Luodi’s creepy smile doesn’t bode well…what is she going to do to me?
“Someone was causing trouble at Autumnal Ombre today, and we only managed to resolve the situation with the help of Moyin. He was there to help out all the previous times too, right? Fei told me about it.”
“HARRUMPH!” Jiang Moyin cleared his throat loudly, trying to catch Qi Jianqiu’s attention. Unfortunately, the girl was oblivious to his hints. Heaving a sigh of relief, Qi Jianqiu smiled at Feng Luodi.
“Oh! So you already know all about it! I have no reason to hide it from you anymore, then. You know how witless I can be sometimes; it’s so hard for me to keep secrets!”
Gan Qingjia couldn’t help it anymore and burst out in laughter. He pointed a shaking finger at Qi Jianqiu as he doubled over in laughter. “Witless huh? You really do know yourself well!” Situ and Xue Yiqi lifted their cups to their lips in unison, trying to hide their smiles.
“What did you say?” Qi Jianqiu glared at Gan Qingjia. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Jiang Moyin smiling awkwardly at the person beside her. Why is he smiling so apologetically at Luodi? It doesn’t ma-
She spun around to face Feng Luodi. “You were baiting me to confirm that?!”
Feng Luodi looked at her coolly.
Qi Jianqiu’s expression immediately changed into an apologetic one, and quickly ratted on Jiang Moyin. “He was the one who wanted to hide it from you. You were already busy with finding your Guqin, and with your mother’s health issues a while back, we didn’t want to burden you with anything else.”
Gan Qingjia quickly chimed in, teasing Jiang Moyin. “Ahem. Moyin, you were never so thoughtful and caring towards us. I am deeply saddened by your bias towards Miss Feng.” He exaggeratedly wiped away his imaginary tears. Qi Jianqiu rolled her eyes at his actions while Xue Yiqi and Situ sat and watched on amusedly.
Jiang Moyin sighed inwardly, cursing his bad choice of “accomplice” in Qi Jianqiu. He looked at Feng Luodi, and saw the mixture of gratitude and confusion in her eyes. He sighed again inwardly. This is not what I’d wanted to see happen, but I guess there’s nothing I can do about it now.
He smiled at Feng Luodi. “It’s my duty as an elder brother to look out for my sister, isn’t it?”
“Elder brother?” Feng Luodi was even more puzzled. Although she was touched by his actions, she felt guilty for accepting their help. After all, she had an ulterior motive to go back to her own world.
Qi Jianqiu finally caught up with the situation. Nodding along, she said, “That’s right. Moyin has always said that you were like a sister to him. However, he was afraid he didn’t deserve it, and felt that he had to earn the right to be your elder brother by protecting you from these trivial matters.
Deep inside, Qi Jianqiu was jumping in glee. Hah! Jiang Moyin has dug himself a grave! There’s no way he can continue to chase Luodi after this, now that he has established himself as her elder brother.
“I never knew that this was the reason you were so caring towards Miss Feng, Moyin. You hid your intentions so well!” Gan Qingjia teased Jiang Moyin again.
Xue Yiqi nodded along and dragged Situ into the fray. “Isn’t this such a piece of good news, Situ? Second Brother, it must be nice for you to have a sister now, seeing as how you’re an only child.”
Situ nodded silently and raised his cup again.
Inwardly sighing at how things had turned out, Jiang Moyin looked at Feng Luodi, who was dazed by the turn of events. “Luodi, would you agree with it? Do you mind having an elder brother?”
Feng Luodi quickly regained her wits, and poured a cup of tea for Jiang Moyin. “Of course I don’t! I’ve always wanted to have an elder brother! Please take care of me, brother.“
Jiang Moyin took a sip of tea. “Please take care of me too, sister.”
Situ looked at the two of them, his eyes thoughtful.
Now that those things were out of the way, Gan Qingjia quickly ordered a plethora of dishes, more than enough food for the few of them. While waiting for the food to be served, Qi Jianqiu sneakily took out a hamper she had brought.
“Luodi, have a taste of my newest creation! Let them eat the food of Manchun Tang – the head chef’s cooking can’t hold a candle to what I have today!”
Feng Luodi laughed, recalling the memory of their first encounter. Indeed, that was how we had met: the culinary showdown between Jianqiu and Chef Xiao!
“What are these?” Knowing Qi Jianqiu’s expertise in cooking, Feng Luodi was excited to try the dishes.
Qi Jianqiu declared proudly as she took out the dishes from the hamper. “This is ‘Prawns in Crab Paste’, ‘Salt-Baked Mushrooms’, ‘Yam Shavings’, ‘Prosperity Meatballs’, ‘White Jade Rolls’, ‘Chicken in Yam Paste’, ‘Egg Custard with Silverfish’ and lastly, ‘Stew with Ribs and Seasonal Vegetables’.”
Under the hopeful gaze of Qi Jianqiu, Feng Luodi picked up a ‘White Jade Roll’ and placed it into her mouth. “Wow! This is amazing! Jianqiu, how did you make this? It isn’t oily at all!”
Qi Jianqiu was about to explain her proud creations when she realised with a start that a few dishes were missing from her end of the table. She narrowed her eyes, and looked up to see Gan Qingjia casually serving food from a few dishes to the rest.
He noticed her stare and turned to smile at her. “Good food tastes better when shared.”
Xue Yiqi nodded as he fed himself a ‘Prosperity Meatball’. “Yes, you’re right! This is really tasty! Situ and Moyin, you guys have to get some of this!”
“You!” Qi Jianqiu glared at Gan Qingjia, but did not move to take the dishes back from him.
Feng Luodi smiled at the sight. Jianqiu is always like that. She’d definitely brought the dishes for all of us to enjoy her culinary inventions but is too embarrassed to invite them to try some, having to resort to such awkward methods to share the food around.
“Here, have this.” Feng Luodi scooped some of the egg custard for her. “I know you love your egg custard!” Qi Jianqiu’s frown quickly changed into a grin as she happily dug into the custard.
Unfortunately, Gan Qingjia just could not stop teasing her. “Only children like to eat egg custard.”
Qi Jianqiu put her spoon down in anger and glared at him again.
And the cycle starts again. Feng Luodi was confused by the two of them. Is there bad blood between the two?
A low voice sounded beside her ear. “I would like some of that stew, please.”
Startled, Feng Luodi turned to see Situ leaning close to her. Her gaze met Situ’s, and the memory of that night of lotus lanterns and fireflies flashed across her mind. With it came the anger of her father, and his parting words that night. She quickly turned away.