Chapter 69 Abysmal: The Gathering
Situ quickly interrupted Feng Luodi’s rant. “Calm down – the gathering hasn’t even happened yet!”
Feng Luodi took a deep breath, and calmed herself down. “My apologies; I lost my cool back there.”
“It’s alright. We know you’re worried about her.” Situ poured her a cup of tea.
“The way I see it, this might even be a good thing for her!” Gan Qingjia flashed a casual smile. “Many young masters in Chang’an are admirers of Qi Jianqiu, but had not have the chance to interact with her. Who knows, she might even see someone she like!”
The image of Qi Jianqiu’s in tears flashed through her mind, and Feng Luodi shook her head vehemently. “Those men are only attracted by her looks. Even if she was willing to choose someone from the lot, it’s still too early for that!” Feng Luodi’s fondness for Qi Jianqiu came from the bottom of her heart, and the only other thing she wanted in this world, besides finding the 10 Guqin, was to see Qi Jianqiu marry someone of her own choice.
Silence ensued in the room.
“What do you plan on doing after we enter the palace? How are you going to stop people from proposing to her? What if both Concubine Yao and the Minister of the Right agree to the marriage? What will you do then?” Situ broke the silence.
Feng Luodi raised her head, looking gloomy. “I haven’t thought that far. What if we just play it by the ear?”
Situ shook her head. “That will probably reflect badly on Concubine Yao, seeing as she was the one who had sent out the invitation.”
Feng Luodi’s shoulders dropped. “I guess I’d better come up with a plan within the next three days then.”
Gan Qingjia laughed lightly. “If you still haven’t come up with a plan before that, I may have a way to help her out of it.”
“What is it?” Feng Luodi looked at him excitedly.
Situ looked at him from the corner of his eyes as well. Although he is competent, this brother of mine still spends the most of his days enjoying the company of women and wine. Something tells me that I’m not going to like this plan of his…
Gan Qingjia was tight lipped. “You’ll know when we get there.”
That made Feng Luodi uneasy, but she tried to reassure herself that Gan Qingjia was on their side. Is he, really? She turned to Situ for confirmation, but he looked away.
Oh man, did I just push Jianqiu into the fire by asking for his help? Great, now I have one more thing to worry about.
The three days passed quickly, and news of Concubine Yao’s invitation for all bachelors in the capital spread through the city. Everyone knew what the gathering was for, but not a single person pointed it out. Winter was arriving soon, but the chrysanthemums in the Royal Gardens were in full bloom. The gardens were a palette of white, red, pink, yellow and different shades of colours. It was as if all the chrysanthemums in the world had gathered in the gardens.
Qi Jianqiu was dressed with a inner vest the colour of snow, and a loose robe of crimson red draped over her shoulders. Another translucent veil of gold shrouded her figure, the embroideries of flowers and phoenixes sprawled across the veil. Her brows were delicate as emerald jade, her skin the colour of snow and her smile bewitching the eyes of all that saw her.
“As expected from ‘The Beauty of Chang’an’! The person who marries her would probably have to use up all his luck for his next three lives.”
When Feng Luodi entered the gardens with Situ, she heard all these exclamations about her. She followed the gaze of the crowd, and saw Qi Jianqiu dressed in her formal clothes. Despite her emotionless face, her beauty was bewitching. Handmaidens stood beside her, as if to keep an eye on her.
“How can I get to her side?” Feng Luodi turned to Situ, but saw his eyes still fixated on Qi Jianqiu.
Hmph! All men know is to look at beautiful women. Feng Luodi pursed her lips, and looked around. Where exactly is Gan Qingjia? I hope he didn’t run away. Then, her gaze landed on Jiang Moyin in the distance, the Heir by his side.
If the Heir proposes to Jianqiu in front of the crowd, I’m sure Concubine Yao would be forced to agree.
“Miss Feng, Concubine Yao wishes to speak with you.” A handmaiden suddenly appeared in front of her.
Feng Luodi was a little taken aback by the sudden invitation, and turned to Situ for help. Seeing him nod, Feng Luodi nodded at the handmaiden. “Lead the way, then.”
“This way please, Miss Feng.”
After the two of them left, Gan Qingjia appeared with Xue Yiqi by his side. “Yiqi, just follow me today. You’ll be in for an exciting day!”
Situ frowned a little. “Don’t overdo it.”
“No worries, I know my limits.” Gan Qingjia smiled confidently. “You’d better watch over Miss Feng, Situ. This is the palace, after all.”
“Don’t worry.” Situ barely looked at him. “She knows what to do.”
Gan Qingjia’s expression froze, and turned away from Situ. What’s up with his tone? He seems…proud of her.
“The Concubine is waiting for you in the chamber. Please, Miss Feng.”
The Handmaiden stopped in front of a hall, and ushered Feng Luodi inside. A woman sat in the middle of the room, sipping her tea quietly. She looked a little like Qi Jianqiu, and was undeniably attractive. Compared to Qi Jianqiu, however, she had the advantage of maturity and elegance about her.
“You must be the Luodi that Qiu’er has always been talking about.” Concubine Yao walked over, and held Feng Luodi’s hands. “May I call you Luodi?”
“Of course. My greetings, Concubine Yao.” Feng Luodi bowed graciously.
“I’m sure you are close to Qiu’er, seeing as how you are willing to come to the gathering today despite the looks you may garner.” Concubine Yao returned to her seat.
Seeing as how she had already brought up the topic, Feng Luodi took a deep breath and spoke up. “Pardon my disrespect, Concubine Yao, but Jianqiu is an innocent and direct girl. Perhaps it’s best that her future husband is not selected in such a manner. This might very well drive a wedge between the two of you.”
“There already is a wedge.” Concubine Yao was unmoved by her words. “Marriage is an important thing, and one has to obey the will of their parents. Jianqiu is not exempted from this, even if she is the daughter of the Minister.”
“But I’m sure you want her to spend the rest of her life with someone she loves, seeing as how you adore her as well.”
“What an eloquent girl you are.” Concubine laughed lightly, and changed the topic. “Do you know why I’d set up this gathering today?”
“Then do you know what you are supposed to do?” Concubine Yao continued.
Feng Luodi was puzzled. Is she giving me the greenlight to mess up the gathering? Or is she warning me against doing anything?
Concubine Yao clapped her hands twice, and a handmaiden entered with a zither.
“I’ve long since heard that your skills with the zither are unrivalled in Chang’an. Will you be kind enough to play us a song during the gathering?”
Before Feng Luodi could reply, Qi Jianqiu burst into the room, unable to withstand the gazes of the men in the gardens, and heard her request.
“Sister! Luodi is not one of those zither artistes, how could you make her play a song for those men out there? That is not befitting of her status!”
Qi Jianqiu dragged Feng Luodi out of the hall, and Feng Luodi grabbed the zither as she went along, an idea forming in her head. I can buy some time with my songs, so that Gan Qingjia can carry out his plan, the one that he had talked to me about yesterday.
“Why are you holding that zither, Luodi?”
“How can I help you without the zither?” Feng Luodi comforted her. “Relax, things will work out fine. We have already thought of a plan to help you out, and all you have to do later on is to remain expressionless.
“Really? What are you going to do!” QI Jianqiu’s expression finally brightened up a little.
Feng Luodi shook her head. “I’m not sure if you’ll agree to our methods; I’ll tell you more about it if it works out.”
Qi Jianqiu pouted, but broke into a smile. “I wouldn’t be mad at you, Luodi. No matter what you do, I know you’re doing it for me.”
The gathering finally started, and Concubine Yao gave a speech. She then introduced Qi Jianqiu and her best friend, Feng Luodi. The crowd eagerly anticipated the end of the speech, knowing that they will be able to propose to Qi Jianqiu, the Beauty of Chang’an, very soon. As soon as Concubine Yao announced the commencement of the gathering, and for all attendees to act as they please, the crowd stirred.
The Heir’s table was the closest to the stage, and he quickly stood up, about to propose to Qi Jianqiu. Before he could open his mouth, Feng Luodi stepped forward.
“The weather is good today, and it’s a rare occasion for all of the distinguished young masters of Chang’an to be gathered together. Let me play a song, in celebration of today.”
The Heir knew that Feng Luodi was the sworn sister of Jiang Moyin, and naturally motioned for her to carry on. Seeing that the even the Heir had given his approval, the rest of the crowd had no choice but to abide by his wishes. Music floated through the gardens, and the beautiful melodies quickly diverted the crowd’s eagerness to propose to Qi Jianqiu.
Gan Qingjia grinned, and clapped Situ on the shoulder. “What a brilliant way to buy time for us. It is indeed as she said: to play it by the ear.”
Situ glanced at him expressionlessly, and Gan Qingjia immediately hid his grin. “I know what to do. But we need more time, and she is doing exactly that.”
Situ turned away, and fixated his gaze on Feng Luodi. She fits in perfectly with this garden, full of blooming flowers.
The music ended, and the crowd clapped politely. A man stood up, and was about to introduce himself when Feng Luodi interrupted him again.
“Seeing the beauty of the flowers, another song came to mind. Please, do let me share it with you.”
The man’s expression soured, but when Concubine Yao did not speak up to stop Feng Luodi as the host, all he could do was to sit down again.
And so, Feng Luodi played another song. When the song ended, another man stood up and the same thing repeated itself again. Finally, Gan Qingjia could not hold in his laughter anymore, snickering to himself silently.
The spotlight of the entire gathering became focused onto Feng Luodi alone.