Chapter 50 Rising Wind: Awkwardness
“There you are, Miss Feng!” Lu Bo quickly led the way into the residence as he smiled jovially. “Our Grand Tutor has been resting obediently at home, awaiting your arrival!”
“That’s good to hear. I’m glad that you were here to stop him last night; I’m sure that he’d intended to go to the feast despite needing rest.” Feng Luodi smiled as she quickened her pace towards Jiang Moyin’s courtyard.
Lu Bo quietly dabbed at his forehead. It’s just as he said! How did he know that Miss Feng was going to ask about it?
Only when Feng Luodi stepped into the courtyard did she notice that it was packed full of people, all sitting around the stone table in the yard. Jiang Moyin and Situ was expected, but Gan Qingjia and Qi Jianqiu were both there as well.
“Luodi! What took you so long!” Qi Jianqiu quickly dragged Feng Luodi to the seat beside her. Feng Luodi quickly greeted the Gan Qingjia and enquired about Jiang Moyin’s health. However, when it came to Situ, Feng Luodi quickly avoided his gaze. I can still feel the warmth on my ankle whenever I look at him!
Qi Jianqiu quickly took out the dishes she had brought to share. “Don’t look so down, Luodi! Your elder brother’s looking much better today already! Here, come try some of my new dishes!”
“Hey pretty! You can’t ignore us just because Miss Feng is here!” Gan Qingjia mocked as he raised his goblet.
“Who are you calling ‘pretty?” Qi Jianqiu glared at him, fire almost spewing out of her eyes.
Gan Qingjia wisely ignored the challenge in her words and took a sip of wine – a sight that greatly pleased Qi Jianqiu, who continued to set the table. “I have many new things to share with you guys today! Quickly, try some of them!”
Gan Qingjia quickly snatched a piece of rib from the table and placed it in his mouth, a look of pure bliss on his face. “You cook pretty well; I’m sure you’ll make a pretty wife next time.”
“You can either keep your comments to yourself or you can starve! I am not the easy girls in the parlours you frequent; keep your honeyed words away from me!”
Gan Qingjia quickly shut his mouth and focused on the food. This beauty is a barrel full of gunpowder – fiery!
“Looking at you today, you look much better than when I’d last saw you. I’m sure you stayed home last night.” Feng Luodi carefully observed Jiang Moyin’s complexion, who was about to take a sip of wine.
Then I have to do my best to keep up this complexion then. Jiang Moyin quietly set his cup down, and reached for the dishes on the table. “Don’t worry, I’ll recover very soon. Oh, I mean…I’m already well.”
Feng Luodi smiled, and scooped a piece of meat for him. She was about to speak, but Situ’s suddenly cut in.
“You’re here to ask about the case, aren’t you?”
Feng Luodi’s hand paused in mid-air, and she turned to smile at Situ. “How smart of you! So tell me, do you know what the Emperor decided to do with the Ailao ambassador?”
Situ grinned. “Of course I do.”
Feng Luodi shuddered. A grinning Situ is much scarier than when he is expressionless. Everyone around the table stopped simultaneously, spoons and chopsticks halfway to their destinations. All eyes were on Feng Luodi and Situ, who stared at each other.
Jiang Moyin’s natural smile on his face drooped a little. His hand that held the edge of the table tightened and relaxed again.
Feng Luodi looked away from Situ, and said to Jiang Moyin. “Brother, tell me about it. I’m sure you know about it as well, right?”
Jiang Moyin shook his head and shrugged helplessly. “I really can’t help you this time, Luodi. His Majesty hasn’t given an official edict and I don’t know anything about it. Situ definitely does, though; he’d just conferred with his Majesty in the palace.”
Feng Luodi took a deep breath, smiled, and continued piling food onto Jiang Moyin and Qi Jianqiu’s plates. Qi Jianqiu and Gan Qingjia exchanged a look, something that had never happened before between the two of them. What exactly is going on? They turned and buried their heads into their plates, not wanting to be dragged into the strange tension between the other three, keeping their ears perked.
Jiang Moyin held his laughter in, and tried to avoid looking at Situ. I can only imagine the expression on his face right now! Situ spoke up, breaking the tension in the air.
“The Emperor has decided to rebuild the statue, one that is even more grand than the original to appease the people. The ambassador and all Ailao officials in Chang’an will be taken into custody until the Ailao king sends another representative to Chang’an.” Situ paused. “If that doesn’t happen, the Western Army would be ready to ride into the Ailao lands once again.”
“What a brilliant move!” Qi Jianqiu nodded along. “This isn’t asking for something as simple as a representative from Ailao; this is asking for the representative to bring gifts and offerings again to appease our kingdom.”
“Wow! I didn’t expect you to be well versed in the area of foreign policy too!” Gan Qingjia exclaimed, surprised at Qi Jianqiu’s concise deduction.
Qi Jianqiu rolled her eyes at him. “Definitely much better than you.”
Gan Qingjia was left wordless. He was handsome and charming, and the countless ‘girlfriends’ he had accumulated in the music parlours of Chang’an could testify to that. Yet, the “Beauty of Chang’an” had never shown the slight bit of interest in him.
Another question popped into Feng Luodi’s mind. “What about the field of oleander flowers in the outskirts of the city?”
“An oleander field?” Jiang Moyin joined into the conversation.
“It’s where the poison in the statue had been sourced from.” Feng Luodi explained it as simply as she could, and turned to Situ. “What about it?”
Finally, Gan Qingjia found a part of conversation that he could participate in. “I was wondering why Yiqi was heading out of the city with the Imperial Army early in the morning just now. I’m sure he’d gone to take care of it.”
Unfortunately, he was still ignored by the rest, and he quickly took his leave, bored of the gathering. “I’d made an appointment with Miss Linglong of Moonglade, for a private concert by her. I’ll head off first, then!” His proclamation quickly earned him another eye-roll from Qi Jianqiu, and Gan Qingjia quickly scurried out of the courtyard.
The conversation continued. “What about the Chief and the aides that were in charge of the North Avenue?”
Jiang Moyin laughed. “You don’t need to worry about that. With Situ here, there is nothing he cannot handle. Have you seen him when he was at the head of an army a million strong, rampaging through the Northern Plains? If he can command an army, he can definitely govern a street.”
Situ broke out in a smile, and shook his head. “You say it as if you had been there yourself.”
Jiang Moyin laughed, and Feng Luodi was starry-eyed, trying to picture the Situ she knew at the head of a huge army.
When Feng Luodi returned to the Feng household again, a handmaiden was waiting for her at the door. “Young miss, the First Lady requests for your presence in her room.”
Feng Luodi sighed and winked at Scarlet. “Mother can’t hold it in anymore. She is definitely going to lecture me!”
Scarlet laughed, and the two followed the handmaiden towards the First Lady’s courtyard. Feng Luodi’s face fell at the prospect of what was coming. This isn’t my world! I don’t want to stay here, even if I’m starting to bond with the people in this world. I want to go home where my parents are still waiting for me!
“Young miss, what are you thinking about? Why are you not talking anymore?” Scarlet looked curiously at Feng Luodi.
“I’m trying to think of what to say to Mother.”
They neared the courtyard, and a handmaiden quickly came up to Feng Luodi. “Young miss, the First Lady has been waiting since noon for your return.”
“I understand. You may all leave the room.”
“Yes, young miss.”
Feng Luodi entered the First Lady’s bedroom, and saw her Mother sitting with her back faced to her. She was looking at a painting on the wall, a painting of a delicate lily with a beautiful woman sitting next to it. The signature proves it as the Chamberlain’s artwork.
“Mother.” Feng Luodi stood straight, her hands casually hanging by her side.
“Kneel.” The First Lady turned around to face her.
“Mother, why should I kneel?” Feng Luodi stood unmoving.
The First Lady was expressionless. “You know that the Second Lady has been weak ever since what had happened last time, and yet still chose to quarrel with her. She almost had a miscarriage because of that; no wonder your father had you grounded. Are you not going to kneel for that?”
“Mother, I admit that I was a little impatient that day when I had spoken to the Second Lady, but I never expected her to react so aggressively. As for the close call, even the physician had said that it was due to the fact that she had not been taking care of her health before she was pregnant, and her body’s weakness is showing now due to the pregnancy. Why should I kneel?”
“The Feng household had always been short of children. You are my only daughter, and the child of the Second Lady is very important to the family. If the child was really lost, you would have committed a grave offence. You have to kneel. Kneel for the ancestors!”
“If that is the case, I am not going to kneel.” Feng Luodi was firm. “I will only kneel to the parents of Feng Luodi, the parents of Luodi, and the dead relatives of Luodi. Other than them, I will not kneel to anyone.”
“What are you talking about? Feng Luodi and Luodi are both you!” The First Lady walked up to Feng Luodi and caressed her face. “What’s gotten into you? You have changed so much since you woke up from your coma. It is my fault, leaving you alone for 17 years.”
“It isn’t your fault. It is Luodi’s fault.”
“Forget about kneeling.” The First Lady sighed, and tugged the expressionless Feng Luodi to sit by her on the bed. “Don’t blame me for lecturing you. If I didn’t, Father would definitely ground you again.”
“Mother.” Feng Luodi relaxed her face. “Mother, I have no love for such a life. I don’t want to spend the rest of my days deep in the courtyards of a household, unhappy and sad.”
“Then leave with a lover as soon as you can.” The First Lady placed a cup of warm tea in her hands.
“But what about you? Who will take care of you if I leave?” Feng Luodi asked cautiously.
“What is there to be done about it? I’m just glad that my daughter can be happy for the rest of her life.” The First Lady patted Feng Luodi’s hands gently. “Even if you dislike the Second Lady, spend more time with her. Think of it as you accompanying her on behalf of myself. Everything will be fine as soon as she gives birth to a healthy baby, or if you were to be married off before that.”
Feng Luodi bowed her head, but kept quiet.
The First Lady shook her head and asked again. “You wouldn’t do it, even if it’s on my behalf?”
“Of course, Mother. Of course I will. I won’t leave the household anymore the next few days, and I won’t make you worry anymore. I will accompany the Second Lady more often, and I promise not to argue with Father.”
“Good, that’s good.” The First Lady patted Feng Luodi’s hands again, pleased at her response, but a sudden cough wrecked her frame. “Cough! Cough!”
“Mother!” Feng Luodi quickly helped her mother into a reclined position. “Someone come in to take care of Mother! And you, go check with the kitchen if her medicine is ready!”
“Cough! Cough! I’m glad to hear you say that, Luodi. Remember your promise to me.” The First Lady started coughing again. “Go back to your own room, Luodi. I don’t want you to catch my illness too.”
“Yes, Mother. I will take my leave.”
As Feng Luodi turned to leave the courtyard, an autumn breeze blew through the yard, sending the fallen leaves scurrying across the floor in a mad dance. Behind her, the coughs of her mother punctured the sunlit sky.