Chapter 68 Abysmal: Marriage
The days passed, and the fate of the 7th Prince was finally decided. Bestowed with the title of Commandery Prince of Nanhai, he was exiled from Chang’an and restricted from leaving his Nanhai province unless summoned by the Emperor. Despite the term “exile” sounding surprisingly harsh, the prince was free to live out the rest of his life in extravagance and luxury. Other officials that were involved in the scandal were not as lucky: some were expelled from the kingdom, their handmaidens and servants sold into slavery.
This caused a huge shakeup for the political parties in court as well, and officials quickly changed alliances. However, despite the ground-shaking scandal, the citizens of the kingdom continued going about their lives in blissful ignorance.
Seeing her father deeply pleased with the Emperor’s decision, Feng Luodi quietly returned to her courtyard. She sat by the stone table again and laid out her zither in front of her.
At the end of the world is a storm of sand
I sheath my sword borrow a roof
But I yearn to roam the lands
Free and unchained
All disputes will be settled with the sword
And I shall my fate when the sudden rain falls
In the tiny villages and old roads
I find serenity away from the smog of life
Let’s sit cross-legged on the floor with our brushes
The poems we write not to appease
We paint the world in tears and wine
Love as the mountains and anger as the seas
Will anyone understand me?1
It was a while before Feng Luodi calmed down again. She sighed, and had decided to check on the First Lady when Scarlet and Jet hurried into the courtyard, excitement written plainly on their faces. Scarlet waved a cloth in the air.
“Young miss, there is word from Fei!”
“Pass it over!” Feng Luodi’s eyes lit up and quickly scanned the message. “He will be back in no more than five days.”
“Has he found Abysmal?” Scarlet and Jet asked in unison, knowing very well how much the Guqin meant to Feng Luodi.
“Yes, he has.” Feng Luodi laughed a little. After such a long time, I finally found the next Guqin.
“Yes!” Jet was even more excited than Feng Luodi. “Young miss had to go through so much just for this Guqin, and all our hard work has finally paid off.” Her eyes were rimmed in red.
“Don’t worry, young miss. I’m sure Fei will bring back Abysmal without any further complications. All we have to do is to wait for five more days.” Feng Luodi nodded along to Scarlet’s words.
“Right, I almost forgot. Young Miss Qi invites you to lunch with her in the dining room on the third floor of Manchun Tang.”
“Alright.” Feng Luodi smiled. These two girls really do treat the Guqin as their first priority because of me. “Let me go and get changed into something more presentable.”
She donned an inner shirt of a natural silken colour, with an outer blouse the colour of primrose over her shirt. Embroidery of plum blossoms adorned her white skirt, and her brown cape was wrapped tightly around her shoulders, the collar adorned with the pelt of a snow hare.
The moment Feng Luodi walked into the dining room, Qi Jianqiu’s lips curved upwards into a smile and her eyes lit up.
“Looking fresh, Luodi!”
“But you look tired.” Feng Luodi unclasped her cloak and looked at the dining table, recognising that the dishes were made in Manchun Tang and not by Qi Jianqiu herself.
Qi Jianqiu’s smile disappeared quickly. “Father scolded me.”
“The Minister?” Feng Luodi recalled the sombre-looking man. “What was the problem?”
“Try these dishes first, and I’ll tell you after that.”
Feng Luodi nodded. I have a feeling that her culinary hobby is involved in this.
“This is Claws of Snow, made from simmered goose feet and white mushrooms; this is The Flower of a Beauty, made from braised yellow day-lilies; this is Blossoms and the Moon, an omelette of fresh prawns….”
Feng Luodi carefully tasted all the food, and quickly gave her feedback. “All of these were cooked in your style, but there’s still something lacking about what you usually produce… In other words, the final dish is not befitting of the names that have been given to them, and is a little lacklustre.”
“Exactly! Even you can tell!” Qi Jianqiu exclaimed, and grabbed onto Feng Luodi’s sleeve. “But the owner and chefs of Manchun Tang have the audacity to be proud of something like this! They’ve completely forgotten my original vision!”
“Is that why you’re upset?” Feng Luodi asked, but quickly denied herself. “I’m sure someone like you wouldn’t be affected by the opinions of such people. Jianqiu, what exactly is the problem?”
Qi Jianqiu let go off Feng Luodi’s sleeve, and her face fell. “I wanted to open my own restaurant, where I can serve the dishes the way I want them to be prepared, and to have full control over what I display! It’ll be just like Autumnal Ombre – but a restaurant that belongs to me. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I do, Jianqiu.” Feng Luodi gently patted her hand. “I guess the minister did not agree to that because he doesn’t want you out there, interacting with the commoners everyday despite your status.”
“It’s not just that. He said that the only point of a girl knowing how to cook, is so that she can serve her future husband.” She slammed the table in a sudden rage. “He even asked my sister to host a ‘Chrysanthemum Appraising Gathering’ in the palace in three days time, inviting all of the available bachelors in Chang’an. He’s practically trying to shove onto me a son-in-law of his choice! I don’t know why this is happening all of a sudden…”
Qi Jianqiu’s voice trailed off at the end, tears slowly welling up in her eyes.
Feng Luodi quickly patted her back. “Did you ask him for his reason for doing all this?”
“I did, but all he said was for me to listen to my sister. I’d asked my sister as well, but she refused to say anything.” Qi Jianqiu sniffed.
“Don’t cry, Jianqiu. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.” Feng Luodi quickly wiped her tears. “I’m sure Situ and elder brother will be invited to the gathering as well. I’ll follow them in, and I’ll help you fend off any suitors during the gathering. If it comes to that, we can just mess up the entire gathering and void any chance of a proposal. I’m just worried that it will reflect badly on you.”
“I’m not afraid of that!” Qi Jianqiu stopped crying. “Luodi, you have to help me during the gathering! I don’t want to marry someone that I barely know! Father has gone overboard this time – how can he not let me have a say in this!”
“I will be there.” Feng Luodi promised. “And I will make sure that nobody will even be able to touch you.”
“Thank you, Luodi.” Qi Jianqiu’s mood finally lifted a little.
After Qi Jianqiu left, Feng Luodi slowly thought through the sudden turn of events. Why is the Minister in such a hurry to find Jianqiu a husband? Regardless, I will have to help Jianqiu stop the proposal if she does not want to marry the person – all that remains is for me to find someone to bring me into the gathering.
Should I ask Situ, or elder brother? We will definitely meet other officials in the palace, and I guess it’s better for me to stick to elder brother seeing as how Father opposes my interaction with Situ.
She quickly got up, intending to look for Jiang Moyin immediately. But before she even got to the stairs, a voice called out to her.
“Young miss Feng.”
Feng Luodi turned around, and saw one of Situ’s attendants standing in front of a closed dining room. She glanced towards the door, just in time to see Situ standing in the room.
“You’re here as well?” Situ spoke up.
“I was here with Jianqiu.”
Gan Qingjia came up the stairs at the exact moment, and was puzzled at seeing Feng Luodi and Situ staring at each other across the corridor. “What, is this a staring contest or something?”
Situ glanced at him, and Gan Qingjia quickly turned in the other direction towards Feng Luodi. “I thought I saw the beauty downstairs just now; guess she had lunch with you.” He walked into the dining room. “Come on in, Miss Feng. I’m sure it’ll be much more pleasant with your company than Situ’s.”
Feng Luodi coughed awkwardly, and followed behind him as naturally as she could. Just as she was thinking of ways to broach the subject about Qi Jianqiu, Situ spoke up.
“Is there a problem? Tell us about it.”
Thank god Situ is always so direct about things. Feng Luodi smiled. “Did you guys receive an invitation for a “Chrysanthemum Appraisal Gathering” in the royal gardens that is due in three days?”
Situ nodded. “I got it this morning.”
“Can you bring me to the gathering?”
Gan Qingjia burst out in laughter. “You know that’s a matchmaking session right, Miss Feng. If Situ was to bring a girl in, he would be wrecking the entire point of the gathering!”
Feng Luodi nodded seriously. “That is what I plan to do.”
“Cough cough.” Gan Qingjia spluttered, taken aback by her words. He raised a thumb at Situ.
Situ asked. “Qi Jianqiu does not intend to marry?”
“Of course not.” Feng Luodi nodded earnestly. “There isn’t even anyone she is interested in – why would she marry now? But what I don’t understand is why the Minister is in such a hurry to find her a husband all of a sudden.”
Gan Qingjia smiled quietly, taking a sip of his wine.
“I think I know why.” Situ answered her doubts. “I heard the Heir expressing to the Minister of the Right his admiration for Qi Jianqiu yesterday morning, and the Minister’s face darkened afterwards. We received the invitation today morning.”
Feng Luodi blinked, not understanding the link. Lucky for her, Gan Qingjia quickly explained.
“Everyone knows that the Minister of the Right is dedicated to working for the Emperor, and is always maintaining a neutral position between the various princes. The Heir is obviously trying to seek the support of the Minister by marrying his daughter, and the Minister does not want to be caught between supporting the Heir and rejecting the Heir’s proposal. That’s why he’d asked Concubine Yao, his elder daughter, to organize the gathering in the hopes that someone will propose to Qi Jianqiu before the Heir can do it.”
“This is how the Minister does things indeed.” Situ nodded.
However, Feng Luodi was upset. “This isn’t fair for Jianqiu at all! The 7th Prince wanted to marry her to gain the support of the Minister, and the Heir is doing the exact same thing! All they want is the power that the Minister holds – they do not care about Jianqiu at all. If so, why are they even marrying her? And now, the Minister is doing the same thing as well: he is sacrificing Jianqiu just to maintain his position of neutrality in court!”
“Jianqiu should be happier than other women, seeing as how she is the daughter of the Minister. Why does she have to spend her life with someone she doesn’t love just because of the selfishness of others?” Feng Luodi was filled with angst, but her words were determined. “Knowing Jianqiu, she would rather commit suicide than go through with a marriage like that. I’m not going to stand by and watch as my friend suffers like this.”