Chapter 43 Rising Wind: Statue
Due to the epidemic, few people could be seen on the streets. The light autumn drizzle and the cooling breeze shrouded Chang’an in a hazy veil. Holding the umbrella, Feng Luodi and Jiang Moyin ambled along the streets of Chang’an in the drizzle, soaking in the beauty of their surroundings. As they passed Autumnal Ombre, Jiang Moyin couldn’t help but turn to Feng Luodi.
“Why did you close the shop? I thought you needed the money?”
“It’s just for a short while.” Feng Luodi laughed. “And I don’t need the money that urgently. I just need to have more money at my disposal, that’s all.”
“To buy the ten famous Guqin?” His eyes gleamed.
“How did you know about that?” Now Feng Luodi was surprised. As far as she could remember, she had only told Situ about it before.
“You have been spending your days between the zither shops and the Jiang household recently – how could I not have noticed? I won’t let my sickness degrade my mental faculties.” Jiang Moyin was calm, giving a very reasonable explanation.
Feng Luodi nodded. From the way she was spending her free time, it wouldn’t be hard for anyone to guess her true intentions. But so what if people knew what I was doing? Nobody would ever think that I’m not from this world. They will never find out the real reason I’m tracking the Guqin – to go back to my true home.
Seeing the desolate expression on Feng Luodi’s face, Jiang Moyin lightly rapped his knuckles on her head. “Hey now, don’t go crying on me! I didn’t bully you!” He joked.
Feng Luodi glared at him, but laughed. “Shall we head to the plaza by North avenue, then? It’s usually packed with people.” Feng Luodi suggested, and Jiang Moyin nodded eagerly.
The group started heading north along the avenue, but seeing the once populated street empty only served to fed everyone’s uneasiness. The plaza on the North avenue was famous partly because of a huge statue that was erected in the center of it, a statue that was commissioned by the First Emperor of the Xuan Dynasty. It depicted a warrior on horseback, and symbolised how the Xuan Dynasty had started: on horseback, at war. It was the icon of the kingdom. It became a popular spot for the citizens of Chang’an, where they liked to gather and patronize the stands set up in the plaza. Tourists flocked to the plaza and the statue, and it was a spot often visited by the foreign ambassadors on official business.
“There should be more people in the plaza, like it usually is.”
They arrived at the plaza, and found it deserted, like the rest of the city. The autumn wind blew by them and onto the plaza, sending the leaves on the plaza into a mad dance.
“I guess it’s nice like this too, since we now have the entire place to ourselves.” Jiang Moyin smiled, looking satisfied.
“Mmmmm.” Feng Luodi held the umbrella as the two of them started walking towards the statue. She looked up, taking in the entire monument. “It looks so fierce, so powerful.”
“I heard that the entire statue was built by a hundred craftsmen in ten days, rushed to finish it in time for the ceremonial birth of the kingdom.”
“Wow…that is amazing.” Feng Luodi gaped in wonder at the statue. She looked closely, trying to imagine the process in which the statue was built. Suddenly, she noticed that a puddle of water tinted in red forming at the base of the statue. Shouldn’t rainwater be clear? Why is the puddle tinted in red?
Feng Luodi was perplexed, and turned to Jiang Moyin for his opinion. “Brother, is the puddle at the base of the statue red?” However, she was shocked to see Jiang Moyin much paler than he had looked previously, his lips pressed together tightly in a thin line. His hands had balled into fists, his nails cutting into his palms. Feng Luodi quickly put at arm around to support him.
“Brother, are you alright?” She quickly turned to the attendants a distance away from them. “Quickly now! Send the Grand Tutor back to the household!”
The attendants rushed over with the palanquin, and Feng Luodi’s heart leapt to her throat as she saw blood starting to ooze out from the corners of Jiang Moyin’s mouth.
“Faster! Send him back to the household now, and get the physicians immediately!” The attendants quickly followed her others and rushed back to the household.
Feng Luodi and Fei trailed behind, Fei holding the umbrella for her. Before they left, Feng Luodi turned to look at the statue. Moyin was fine before we left the house, and he was alright along the way as well. Why did he suddenly vomit blood when we reached the plaza? A inkling of a suspicion flashed through her head, but it disappeared before she could make sense of it.
When she reached the Jiang household, the physician’s diagnosis reminded her of her suspicion. “The reason for the Grand Tutor’s remission was that he was poisoned, again. It is the same poison that had been spreading throughout Chang’an the past few days.”
Something clicked in Feng Luodi’s mind, and she turned to Jiang Moyin. “Brother, I believe that the source of the poison is the statue in the North Plaza.”
Jiang Moyin lay quietly on his bed, looking more frail than ever. “That’s great to hear. Why don’t you get Situ or the Administrator to investigate it? But remind them to wear masks when approaching the statue.”
So the pathogen was transmitted through the air! Feng Luodi was now certain of her suspicion. She turned and looked at Jiang Moyin, her eyes full of self-reproach. “I’m sorry, brother. I should have never suggested going to the North Plaza.”
Jiang Moyin smiled gingerly, and tried to bargain. “Why don’t you make up for it, by not restricting my whereabouts the next time I fall sick?”
“No way.” Feng Luodi rolled her eyes, and did not budge. She had the support of the entire Jiang household on this point.
“Alright, alright. Geez.” Jiang Moyin’s smile never left his face; he didn’t want Feng Luodi to feel responsible for what had happened to him. “Get someone to examine the statue as soon as possible, Luodi. Let me know of the results once you’ve finished investigating.”
Feng Luodi nodded, and turned to leave. “Rest well, brother. I’ll come back again, later in the day.”
She had not left the room for long before the head steward entered, a heap of bamboo slats on a tray in his hands. Jiang Moyin’s smile left his face. “Did the Heir send this?”
“Yes, Grand Tutor.” The head steward placed the tray on the table beside the bed. “The Heir had specified that these scriptures are on the issue of the yearly Autumnal Meet, where the ambassadors from the various nations surrounding our kingdom pay their respects to the Emperor. He hopes that you can advise him throughout the planning of the Meet.
“I understand. All of you can leave the room now. I’ll call for help if I need anything.” Jiang Moyin’s voice was emotionless.
“Yes, Grand Tutor.” The head steward left with the rest of the attendants. Jiang Moyin closed his eyes for a few seconds, and starting looking at the scriptures on the tray.
Three years ago when the ambassadors from the surrounding nations came to Chang’an, the Heir was young and recently instated. During the Meet, the Emperor was displeased when the Heir responded poorly to an ambassador’s provocation. Jiang Moyin had stood up for the Heir as the Grand Tutor then, cleverly responding to the ambassador’s challenge while praising the Heir cleverly for his abilities. The Heir’s blunder was quickly forgotten by the Emperor, who was delighted by Jiang Moyin’s speech. That cemented his reputation for his quick wit and eloquence of speech, and earned him the trust of the Heir.
As soon as she left the Jiang household, Feng Luodi became conflicted: who should she look for regarding the investigation of the epidemic? Should I look for Situ? Feng Luodi shook her head, still feeling embarrassed from the awkward moment that day when she was caught reaching out to touch Situ’s beard. Should I look for the Administrator, then? Feng Luodi shook her head again. Personally, she felt that the Administrator was less capable than Situ at handling the case. I wonder where I got that idea from?
Perhaps I should look for Situ? She shook her head again. No! I don’t think I have the heart to face him again after what happened that day.
Let’s look for the Administrator, then. Another shake of the head. But this gives me an excuse to meet with Situ again!
Thankfully, both the yamen and Situ’s household were in the same direction, and Feng Luodi walked slowly along the street as the two voices in her head battled for the final say. She sighed. Argh! I’ll just discuss this finding with whichever I see first!
She quickened her step decisively, but had barely walked far when a person jumped out from a side alley and grabbed her arm. She nearly jumped in shock, but looked up to see Qi Jianqiu grinning at her.
“I’ve finally managed to get hold of you, Luodi! Surely you have time to go out with me today?”
“Not today, Jianqiu. I have something to discuss with Situ.” The words left her mouth before she could stop herself. When did I make up my mind to discuss this matter with Situ?
“Situ? You mean the Duke of Anping? I know where he is.” To her relief, Qi Jianqiu did not find the meeting in question suspicious, and started dragging her in another direction.
“Where is that?” Feng Luodi was perplexed. How does Jianqiu know where Situ us?
“He’s at Dream Mirrors right now, watching the dance performances with that Gan Qingjia.”
“Dream Mirrors?” Feng Luodi stopped, her expression suddenly cold. “Hold up, I’m not going there, and neither are you.”
“Oh?” Qi Jianqiu cocked her head at her friend. “What’s wrong? The dances performed at Dream Mirrors are famous in Chang’an.”
Feng Luodi hesitated.
Qi Jianqiu saw the conflict on her face and laughed. “What are you even thinking about! Dream Mirrors is a zither parlour just like Moonglade. Its one of the three biggest zither parlours in Chang’an, the other two being Moonglade and Flowers of Fog. The music of Moonglade, the dances at Dream Mirrors, and the songs at Flowers of Fog are the best in Chang’an.”
Qi Jianqiu resumed dragging Feng Luodi by her arm. “I have been there a couple of times now, on the days when you abandon me.” Her face suddenly changed. “But I somehow manage to bump into that Gan Qingjia wherever I go! Hmph! That fellow has girlfriends all over the city! He was just intimate with Linglong of Moonglade a few days ago, and now he’s flirting with Emerald from Dream Mirrors! I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him fooling around with that Crystal from Flowers of Fog in a couple of days!”
Qi Jianqiu rambled on about the bad practices of Gan Qingjia, her annoyance at him never seeming to run out. Feng Luodi’s suspicions grew, and she quickly stopped Qi Jianqiu.
“Why do you know so much about Gan Qingjia?”
Qi Jianqiu pouted. “It’s because I’ve been seeing him everywhere these days! Everywhere he goes, the gossips and rumours surrounding him spreads to my ears. I can’t stand it anymore!”
“Why don’t you go to somewhere else, then?” Feng Luodi rolled her eyes.
“Why should I be the one to change my schedule to fit him? He should go elsewhere instead! Hmph!” Qi Jianqiu was fuming. How I wish I could throw that fellow onto the floor and smash him to smithereens!
Feng Luodi kept her mouth tightly shut. It’s a known fact that Gan Qingjia is a playboy, so why is Jianqiu so worked up over it? She should just avoid him seeing as how much she hates him. If I remember correctly, Moyin had said something about the Emperor’s intentions to combine the duties of the two Ministers into the role of Prime Minister, giving the other Minister another role instead. Perhaps, Qi Jianqiu’s hatred of Gan Qingjia might have been influenced by the conflict of interest between the two Ministers.
Qi Jianqiu completely disregarded her image, dragging Feng Luodi in the direction of Dream Mirrors. The attendants of the two young missus looked at each other, and sighed in unison, trailing far behind them.
Suddenly, a thought popped into Feng Luodi’s mind. Isn’t Situ supposed to be on the case? How can he spare the time to go to Dream Mirrors just like that? What an irresponsible man!