Chapter 42 Rising Wind: Crisis
The epidemic was assigned to be jointly investigated by the Duke of Anping, Situ Muye, and the Administrator of Chang’an. The yamen was responsible for recording the addresses of patients at the hospitals and recording what they could find out about the daily habits of the afflicted patients. They were to tighten their security and patrols around the city, especially around the wells and water sources in the city.
Situ led the Imperial Army in a detailed sweep of the city and its surrounding grounds, taking note of any suspicious persons or activities that might be related to the poisoning. Soldiers were stationed in every estate in the city, keeping a watchful eye over each neighbourhood for any suspicious activities.
The operations and actions carried out by the army and yamen seemed to satisfy most of the unrest amongst the citizens, and the situation quietened down a little. The Emperor was satisfied with the result, but now Situ and the Administrator were troubled: they had yet to find the source of the poison, and the people were still at risk.
Meanwhile, in the Feng household, a horrific incident happened.
A few days ago, the Second Lady had returned to her parents’ household with an entourage to take care of her sickly mother. However, she had felt a sudden pain in her abdomen when she had returned to the Feng household. Luckily, the First Lady took over, giving instructions to the handmaidens based on her previous experience while she was pregnant, and the condition of the Second Lady quickly stabilised. The head steward hastily went to invite the physician, while the Chamberlain and the First Lady stayed with the Second Lady.
“Didn’t he say that the Second Lady’s condition was stable before? How could this happen all of a sudden!” The Chamberlain was extremely worried as he paced around the room.
The First Lady stood supported by a handmaiden. “Babies can only be said to be truly safe after three months, and sister* might have moved too vigorously when she was on the trip. Don’t worry, both her and the baby will be fine after taking medicine prescribed by the physician.”
“Mmm.” The Chamberlain grunted non committedly as he continued pacing around the room, his eyes trained only on the Second Lady, who was obviously in pain.
The First Lady’s face fell, and Feng Luodi quickly stepped forward to support her. “Mother, you have been standing for far too long, why don’t you sit down and rest for a while. The physician will be here soon.”
The room was full of tension as they anxiously waited. Suddenly, Fu Bo came in panting heavily, the physician behind him.
“Doctor, please take a look at my wife, and tell me what is wrong with her!” The Chamberlain had apprehension written all over his face.
The physician calmly sat down, and placed two fingers on the Second Lady’s wrist. When he was done reading her pulse, he swiftly wrote down a prescription and handed it to a waiting attendant. “Fill in the prescription quickly. Prepare ten bags of the herbs stated, and boil it until only one-third of the water remains.”
The attendant quickly ran out of the room.
“Why is the Lady in pain? How is the baby doing?” The Chamberlain quickly cut in.
The physician shook his hand reassuringly. “Both the Lady and the baby are fine.”
Heaving a sigh, the Chamberlain finally sat down in his chair.
“The Lady had been afflicted with the same poison now spreading throughout Chang’an, and that is the reason for her cramps. Although the Lady has always been in the pink of health, her pregnancy had made her more susceptible to the effects of the poison. Luckily, her condition quickly stabilised before I came, and she’ll just need more rest and some simple medication to nurse her health back to the way it was. However, she should take note not to leave the household during this sensitive period, and it would be best if she stayed indoors at all times.”
“Poisoned? How is that possible! She only left the house for a short trip!” The Chamberlain was confused and upset. He turned to address the attendants in the room. “Do as the physician says from now on. Everyone who tends to the Second Lady, keep your eyes sharp.”
“Yes, Master.” The attendants and handmaidens echoed in unison.
As the physician was escorted out by Fu Bo, the Chamberlain sat down beside the Second Lady, taking her hand in his. He smiled. ‘You’ll be fine. I promise.”
The Second Lady smiled weakly and nodded.
“Cough! Cough!” On the chair, the First Lady started coughing badly.
“Mother, let me bring you back to your room. The days are getting colder now; you shouldn’t spend so much time outside your room.” Feng Luodi quickly helped her mother to her feet, Jet and Scarlet coming forward to help support the First Lady as well. As they left the room, Feng Luodi glanced over her shoulder. The Chamberlain was still by the bed, completely oblivious to the condition of his first wife. He leaned close to the Second Lady, whispering sweet nothings into her ear.
Scarlet quickly fetched warm tea for the First Lady as they entered her bedroom, Jet sped off to the kitchen to prepare her medicine, and Fei went to fetch the brazier.
Feng Luodi tenderly dabbed at her mother’s forehead with a warm towel, and helped her lie down on the bed. She took over the cup of tea from Scarlet and passed it to her mother.
“Mother, just rest here and warm up a little. You didn’t even need to be in her room just now!” Feng Luodi berated lightly. The First Lady had always been weak, and she had just exhausted herself helping to stabilize the Second Lady’s condition. If not for her assistance, the Second Lady might have deteriorated further.
The First Lady smiled weakly as she leaned on the cushions on the bed. She took Feng Luodi’s hand in hers and patted her gently. “Be more understanding towards your father. Spend more time with your Second Mam if you will; help her out a little whenever you can.”
Feng Luodi kept her lips tightly pressed together, and avoided her mother’s eyes.
The First Lady sighed. She had never spent much time with Feng Luodi after her birth due to her poor health until this year, when she had slowly gotten healthier. I feel like I’ll never be able to fully understand her, even though I’m supposed to be her mother.
The two of them remained in silence until Fei returned with the brazier. Feng Luodi got up from her seat and opened the window to let in fresh air, before taking her leave.
As usual, Feng Luodi made her way to the various zither shops she had frequented for the past few months, not expecting to hear any news about the remaining Guqin. However, the owner of Mingxuan zither shop gave her a piece of advice that she hadn’t thought of.
“Miss Feng, I have an idea that might help you.”
“What do you propose?” Feng Luodi looked at the owner, and remembered him being the person who had sent word regarding the whereabouts of Wind Crane the other time.
The owner continued. “I heard that a caravan is heading to Jiangnan in the next few days. Perhaps, you could persuade them to help you look for information within the region? Jiangnan is a rich province, and their musical scene is very well established. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Guqin are held by collectors in Jiangnan.”
Feng Luodi was surprised. Why hadn’t I thought of that before! She quickly asked the owner.
“But will they be willing to help a stranger like me?” Feng Luodi worried. “Sir, is it possible for you to ask them on my behalf instead?”
“Of course! That’s no problem at all.” The owner smiled. “You have patronized our zither shop many times over the past few months, and I can see your passion and interest in the 10 Guqin. It would be my pleasure.”
“Thank you so much, sir!” Feng Luodi was almost rendered speechless by the sudden piece of good news. “Please emphasise to the caravan that they will be rewarded handsomely if they return with one of the Guqin. I am willing to pay any price to get one of the Guqin.”
“Don’t worry about that, Miss Feng. I will see to that.”
“Thank you so much, sir.” Her gratitude was so overwhelming that Feng Luodi only knew to thank the owner.
As Feng Luodi walked out of the zither shop, Li Tengfei, who had been with her in the shop, asked gingerly. “Young miss, is this owner trustworthy?”
Feng Luodi nodded. “Definitely. He was the one who told me the whereabouts of Wind Crane the other time.”
Li Tengfei opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again when he saw the delight and joy on Feng Luodi’s face.
With this piece of good news in her head, Feng Luodi quickly walked towards the Jiang household with a spring in her footsteps. A drizzle was starting over Chang’an, but Feng Luodi took no notice of it at all, her head filled with the endless possibilities the ‘proposal’ had given her. She was quickly recognised by the guards at the Jiang household and immediately ushered in. Jiang Moyin had already given word that she was to be allowed into the household anytime she arrived.
Reaching his courtyard, Feng Luodi saw Jiang Moyin standing in the corridor, dressed in formal clothes. He had a cape thrown over his shoulders, and a small brazier held in his hands to keep him warm. Despite the classy clothes he was wearing, Jiang Moyin appeared frail and weak to Feng Luodi.
Jiang Moyin’s face broke into a smile when he saw Feng Luodi enter the courtyard. He quickly regained his charming flair. “Finally you’re here, Luodi. The weather is great today; shall we head out for a walk?”
Feng Luodi walked towards him, resisting the urge to roll her eyes at him. “Grand Tutor Jiang, can’t you see that it’s drizzling right now? Have you been lying on the bed for so long that your brain has gone to mush? Hmph! You call this good weather?”
“I haven’t left the house in a very, very long time, Luodi.” Jiang Moyin smiled.
“No.” Feng Luodi was firm. “It is already the middle of autumn, and it is too cold for you. And that’s not even considering the fact that it is raining now. There’s no way I’m going to let you go out today.”
“Luodi, didn’t you leave the house too?” Jiang Moyin looked at Feng Luodi with puppy eyes. Feng Luodi almost felt sorry for him, standing in the corridor with a brazier in his hands.
She caught herself and shook her head again. “Be good today. I’ll play you some songs on my zither. You’ve always told me that you love my music.”
Jiang Moyin tried one last time. “You have been playing for me everyday now, why don’t we do something else today? It’s just a short walk outside.” Argh, I should never have praised her zither skills.
Ever since he had told the head steward of his relationship with Feng Luodi, the head steward had entrusted to her a grievous responsibility: to ensure that Jiang Moyin stays at home. Jiang Moyin could never refuse Feng Luodi whenever she persuaded him to stay in the household, seeing as how Feng Luodi always had an ‘incentive’ for him to remain home instead.
Feng Luodi’s resolve wavered. She could empathise with him, as she was the kind of person who didn’t like to stay cooped up at home either. “Has the physician deemed you fit to walk around?” Feng Luodi confirmed with him.
“Of course! I wouldn’t have been out here in the corridor if I wasn’t fit enough to do so!” Jiang Moyin’s expression was as earnest as could be.
“Alright then, I give in. Let’s go out for a walk today.” Feng Luodi finally gave in. “Let a few of the attendants follow behind us with the palanquin; I’ll send you back immediately the second I see you looking unwell.”
“Of course, of course. I’ll listen to everything you say.” Excitement showed on his face as he finally succeeded in getting permission to leave the house.
The attendants quickly busied about preparing for their excursion, wholly treating Feng Luodi as another owner of the household. It was said that even the father of Jiang Moyin, the Censor-in-chief of the kingdom, had approved of their sibling relationship.
As soon as the palanquin was ready, Jiang Moyin and Feng Luodi headed out of the Jiang household from the back door, Fei and the attendants following behind them. Feng Luodi carried an umbrella in her hand, shielding Jiang Moyin from the rain.
“Are you tired? I can hold the umbrella.” Jiang Moyin offered, looking a little tired.
“I’m fine, brother. You just have to relax and enjoy your sister’s care for you.”
Jiang Moyin smiled, and did not insist any further. Inside his head, there were two conflicting trains of thought.
I’m satisfied seeing my sister happy.
If only she wasn’t my sister.