Chapter 47 Rising Wind: Headway
“Your Majesty, the Duke of Anping is here to see you.” The imperial attendant stood below the steps, his head bowed in respect.
“Let him in.” The Emperor continued looking at the scripture held in his hands.
“Summon the Duke of Anping!” The imperial attendant turned and called out.
“Your Majesty, I have arrived.”
“Rise. Seems like there’s been a development in the case that I’ve entrusted to you, seeing how you’re standing here before me.”
Situ quickly handed the statements to him. “You have many other capable officials in court, your Majesty. I can only help with the minor matters.”
The Emperor smiled. “You are too humble.” He quickly scanned through the statements, and sneered. “Seems like the Ailao kingdom is stirring again. To think that they would stage such a malicious attack against my people just because their country is weak and poor. I’m certain they will stir up more trouble during the diplomatic meet, with the help of the other countries.”
“That was what I’d feared.” Situ calmly added. “However, I have yet to find concrete evidence of the Ailao ambassador’s treachery, and I cannot detain him without it.”
“I trust that you’ll be able to find it soon.” The Emperor handed the statements to the imperial attendant, who carefully placed it on the Emperor’s desk.
“That depends on whether your Majesty’s will approve of this plan of mine.”
“What is it?” The Emperor turned to look at him.
“To destroy the statue in the North Plaza, so that we can eliminate the threat posed to the people of Chang’an.” Situ looked directly at the Emperor.
“Do you not know the importance of the statue? Have you thought of all the complications that will arise if we destroy the statue?” The Emperor was composed, his face not showing any hint of displeasure at Situ’s seemingly outrageous proposal.
“I do, and that is exactly why I’d proposed to destroy it.” Situ’s lips curled upwards into a smile. “What if a foreign ambassador attending the Autumnal Meet happen to destroy the statue by accident, and your Majesty merely increased the levy on that country as punishment? How will the rest of the world view this matter then?”
“HA HA HA!” The elderly emperor patted Situ on his shoulder, hard. “It is my fortune to have you in my court, Anping Duke.”
“May I take that as an approval for everything that I plan to do during the Meet?” Situ bowed deeply.
“Do whatever you want. I trust you.” The Emperor returned to his seat. “You may leave now to focus on your preparations. I have many more things to tend to, and do not wish to keep you here any longer.”
“Please take care of your health, amidst your busy schedule, your Majesty. I will take my leave now.” Situ bowed again, and briskly left the hall.
Situ had left for a while, when the Emperor laughed a little, patting the statements on the table. “The Duke is a really capable man, isn’t he? I don’t have to worry so much with him around.”
“Of course, your Majesty. The Duke is young but accomplished, conquering the Northern Plains in a mere six years. One could almost say that he is invincible.” The imperial attendant smiled, and answered the Emperor.
The Emperor kept quiet, a half smile on his face, his eyes brooding and foreboding.
Situ walked into Dream Mirrors the next morning, with a hamper of desserts in his hands. Ignoring the dancers and artistes that gathered towards him, he quickly walked around the parlour, unable to find Jiang Moyin and Feng Luodi. He frowned as he left Dream Mirrors briskly, and snapped his fingers together. Two members of his Covert Guards appeared immediately.
“Go to the Jiang and Feng households, and find out what is going on.”
Situ turned to return to his household, but it was a mere five minutes later when one of them returned. “General, the Grand Tutor’s illness suddenly flared up, and Miss Feng is taking care of him at his residence.”
Situ’s face darkened, and quickly turned to walk towards the the Grand Tutor’s residence. “Why did it suddenly act up? He was perfectly fine yesterday!”
“I did not manage to find out the exact reason before I’d came back, General.”
“No matter. I’ll investigate this myself. Go and get Zero, and tell him that as well.”
As Situ approached Jiang Moyin’s courtyard, he heard a melody coming from the garden, foreign yet strangely familiar at the same time. It was a melody he had not heard before, but the instrument was familiar to him.
“The Grand Tutor’s illness suddenly flared up last night, and he became bedridden. The Grand Tutor had requested for Miss Feng to play for him when she came by in the morning, and she hasn’t stopped since.”
“Why did that happen? What did the royal physician say about his condition?” Situ asked the head steward as he stepped into the courtyard, his eyes fixated on the person behind the zither in the courtyard. Feng Luodi sat beneath a flowering vine with her back to them, dressed in a robe of pristine white.
“The physician had classified it as overexertion. The Grand Tutor has always been sickly, and the autumn chill coupled with his repeated poisonings had resulted in his condition deteriorating rapidly. He just has to rest more, and continue taking the medicine that has been prescribed to him previously.” The head steward looked at Feng Luodi in the yard and continued.
“You can hear just how much Miss Feng is worrying about the Grand Tutor just from her music. The Grand Tutor had even reminded me to wake him up early this morning, when he was due to go out with Miss Feng.”
“I will go in myself; please go ahead with your tasks.” Situ walked through the yard, not making his presence known to Feng Luodi, and headed straight into Jiang Moyin’s room.
“Yes, your Grace.”
Situ entered the room to find Jiang Moyin sleeping lightly, who opened his eyes before Situ could sit down.
“There you are. I didn’t even get the chance to send word to you to tell you where we were.” Jiang Moyin sat up a little. “I didn’t even realise I fell asleep listening to Luodi’s music.”
“She would be glad to know that.” Situ placed a small brazier into Jiang Moyin’s hands.
Jiang Moyin smiled. “What did the Emperor say?”
“It will be settled during the Autumnal Meet, when we see the Ailao ambassador.”
The smile on Jiang Moyin’s face widened. “Qingjia would love to be part of this, seeing as how mischievous he is.”
“I plan to entrust this to him, seeing how bored he’s getting of his current lifestyle.”
“Are you planning to let him take on an official position soon?” Jiang Moyin held the brazier closer to his chest.
“It’s not time yet.” Situ quickly remembered the desserts in the hamper beside him, and quickly took out some for Jiang Moyin.
Jiang Moyin waved it away. “I can’t stomach anything now, give it to Luodi instead. Accompany her for a while if you can stay, she must be bored out of her wits by now. I didn’t let her into the room for fear of her falling ill again.”
“Perhaps in a bit.” Situ placed the desserts back into the hamper. “I have something to ask you.”
“What is it?” Jiang Moyin looked at him.
“Are you going to the banquet of the Autumnal Meet that’s happening in five days? Because honestly, I don’t think you’re fit to go in your current condition.” He paused, and added. “On behalf of the Heir.”
“Like you said, it’s on behalf of the Heir: I can’t afford not to be there.” The smile on Jiang Moyin’s face faded a little.
Situ stood up, and took a few steps towards the door. He frowned, and said before he left the room. “So be it. I’ll be out in the courtyard.”
Jiang Moyin placed the brazier in his hands aside, and murmured to himself. “Heir Apparent? Grand Tutor?”
In the yard, Feng Luodi was still playing her zither with a heavy heart. Only when Situ returned to the yard again did he get a clear look at her. She had matching earrings and hairpin of white jade adorned her head, while a white inner-shirt flecked with red spots was covered by a robe of snow white. A silver belt of silk flaunted her thin waist, and she wore a translucent white shawl that swayed around her shoulders as the wind blew. As she sat beneath the flowering vine, the autumn wind sent her shawl flowing in the air, her beauty ethereal to all who laid eyes on her.
“You can stop playing now, Moyin has already fallen asleep.” Situ sat down beside her and laid out the snacks in the hamper.
“Oh?” Feng Luodi raised her head and was surprised when she saw Situ. “What brings you here?”
Situ placed a hand on the strings, effectively stopping the music. “Dream Mirrors.”
Feng Luodi suddenly recalled their arranged meeting, and smacked her forehead. “I completely forgot that we were supposed to meet up today!” She looked gingerly at Situ. “Please don’t tell me you were waiting for us Dream Mirrors until you realised something was amiss.”
“No.” Situ quickly replied. “I heard news of Moyin’s sickness before I set out, and came over directly.”
“Okay.” Feng Luodi nodded, and fell silent. She looked at the zither in front of her, but did not start another song. Situ looked at the snacks left ignored on the table, and quietly felt sorry for the chef he had instructed to make them.
“Right. The problem regarding the poison can be solved within five days, and Autumnal Ombre will be able to reopen without any further problems.”
“Oh.” Feng Luodi nodded along absentmindedly.
Situ looked flatly at Feng Luodi, who was still spacing out. He shook his head. “Are you still worried about Moyin?”
Feng Luodi’s head shot up when she heard his name. She hesitated a while, before she turned to Situ. “Can you tell me what is wrong with Moyin? Is it a result of what happened in his childhood? What happened?”
Situ hesitated. “You’ll have to ask him yourself. It’s his story to tell, not mine.”
“I know.” Feng Luodi sighed. “He’s been avoiding the question every time i bring it up, saying I’ll shun him once I know the truth. Can you believe he would suggest something like that? I’m not going to leave him just on a whim! He’s my elder brother!”
“He’s right. You wouldn’t want to know about what happened.” Situ calmly replied.
“So you know about it as well!” Feng Luodi was exasperated.
Situ raised an eyebrow. “You seem very worried about Moyin.”
Feng Luodi rolled her eyes at him. “Of course I am. He’s my elder brother for god’s sake! Not to mention that with the numerous times he has helped me before, I’m practically in his debt he had helped me so many times before.”
Situ’s mouth twitched. “I’ve helped you before too! I don’t see you worrying about me that much.”
Feng Luodi widened her eyes. “Why should I be worried about you? You’re not sick like he is.”
Situ was at a loss for words, utterly defeated by Feng Luodi who looked at him as if he was stupid.
“He isn’t the only reason for your frustration, is he?” The Covert Guards hiding in the surroundings were shocked. What’s wrong with the General today?! Not only is he speaking so much, but he is making small talk, which he has condemned!”
Feng Luodi glanced at Situ, her brows furrowed together. “Actually, I was supposed to be grounded today: I snuck out.”
“Grounded? You were very well-behaved, weren’t you?” Situ was confused. Around him, the Covert Guards barely stifled their gasps. Did the General just call someone ‘well-behaved’? I wasn’t even aware that he knew about that word!
Feng Luodi looked at him, conflict apparent in her eyes. There were three reasons why she was grounded. Firstly, she refused to apologise to the Second Lady. Secondly, her Mother was displeased with her always going out. And thirdly, her Father was still barring her from seeing Situ. I can’t believe I actually argued with Father yesterday because of Situ! It feels as if I’d went back to my rebellious days in the 21st Century, when I argued with my parents everyday about my friends!
She rubbed her forehead. Why have I been acting so impulsive the past couple of days? Haven’t I already grown past that stage? There are no news about any of the Guqin, I’m barred from meeting Situ, Moyin is sick, and Mother is being ill-treated. Argh! Nothing is going well for me at all!
“It was just a casual question. Don’t stress yourself over it.” Situ smiled. “You don’t have to answer me if you don’t want to.”
Feng Luodi smiled awkwardly at him. “Let me play you a song then. You can eat and listen to me at the same time.”