Chapter 70 Abysmal: Pretence
Feng Luodi kept glancing towards Gan Qingjia as the music flowed from her fingertips, silently willing for him to end her misery. If glares could hurt, I would have been dead by now. Qi Jianqiu was expressionless, but she quietly worried for Feng Luodi, seeing how her best friend had sacrificed her own reputation for her sake.
“Who does this Feng Luodi think she is? Is she trying to gain attention by using the limelight of the Beauty of Chang’an?”
“She’s the one who was rejected by the Nanhai Commandery Prince that time!”
“Oh, she’s that woman, huh? How shameful, to be trying to garner attention in this manner.”
The comments that floated around amongst the crowd slowly turned malicious. Jiang Moyin had not spoken to the Heir about his proposal before the gathering, but he knew that Feng Luodi would not approve of his proposal. However, being his advisor, it was inappropriate for him to go against the Heir’s wishes, and he was torn hearing the malicious comments made by the angered crowd.
Situ’s face was dark, his features cold and expressionless. He turned, and looked at Gan Qingjia wordlessly.
Gan Qingjia knew it was not time to be joking around anymore, and quickly turned away. “I know what to do; she has bought us enough time.”
Finally, the music stopped again, and Feng Luodi could not muster the courage within her to start another song. The Heir stood up again, and opened his mouth to declare his admiration for Qi Jianqiu. However, a voice rang through the crowd before him.
“Miss Qi, will you marry me?”
Heads whipped around, and the gaze of the entire crowd zeroed in on Gan Qingjia, the son of the Minister of the Left.
“What is happening? Wasn’t it always said that the two Ministers could never agree with each other? Why will Gan Qingjia want to marry Miss Qi?”
“Don’t worry, Miss Qi will not agree to his proposal. He is nothing but a playboy! Rumour has it that he even has a few concubines at home.”
“Is he here to cause trouble? I’ve heard that he has never been on good terms with Miss Qi.”
Feng Luodi’s eyes widened at Gan Qingjia. That wasn’t what he was supposed to do! This isn’t good, Jianqiu is going to loose her cool. She turned to Qi Jianqiu, and it was just as she expected. The mask of calm on her face was gone, her eyes glaring at Gan Qingjia. How can he do this to me, joking about something as important as my marriage?
The Heir was caught in a wave of awkwardness again, but he quickly regained his composure. The Minister of the Left has always been a loyal follower of mine – how disappointing for him to have such a useless son! He turned to Gan Qingjia. “Qingjia, marriage is an important issue, and not one to be casually toyed with. Concubine Yao is watching the entire gathering today.”
Gan Qingjia did not back down, his lips curving upwards into a smile. “Your Highness, how will you know if true feelings are backing my proposal to Miss Qi?”
The Heir smiled as well, but before he could reply, Qi Jianqiu interrupted him angrily.
“I will never marry you!” She glared at Gan Qingjia.
Now things are awkward. Feng Luodi wanted to bury her face in her hands. She stared at Gan Qingjia, willing for him to carry out their plan.
Gan Qingjia looked straight at Qi Jianqiu. “My apologies for forgetting, Miss Qi. I just remembered that you already have someone else in your heart. I heard that he was out of Chang’an at the moment, and is unfortunately unable to attend today’s gathering. No wonder you look so upset, Miss Qi.”
Concubine Yao spoke up, surprise evident in her voice. “Oh, is that true? I’m sorry, Qiu’er, I never knew that you’d already had someone in mind before the gathering. If that’s the case, may I appeal to everyone to just treat this as a simple flower appraising gathering?”
Despite their doubts, the crowd could only agree with the concubine’s proposition. The Heir sat down awkwardly, and quietly turned to Jiang Moyin. “Your sworn sister is very close to Miss Qi; is what Gan Qingjia said true?”
Jiang Moyin shook his head. “Luodi never discussed such private matters with me.”
“I see.” The Heir regained his composure and sipped his tea, deep in thought.
On the other side of the garden, Xue Yiqi was surprised as well. He quickly turned to Situ. “Miss Qi already has someone in her heart? I’d never knew, despite us always spending time together.”
Situ did not even look at him. “Pretence.”
Now Xue Yiqi understood. For once, he swallowed his doubts and merely nodded along, quietly observing the reactions of the crowd around them. Situ looked at Gan Qingjia, and shook his head inwardly. This one’s pretending as well.
Meanwhile, Qi Jianqiu was as dumbfounded as the crowd. Desperate for someone to explain the situation to her, she dragged Feng Luodi off the stage and into a room.
“What’s happening? How do I not know that I already have someone in my heart?”
Feng Luodi quickly explained. “This was the only idea I could come up with after thinking for the past three days. If the news that you were already smitten with someone was announced before the young masters could propose to you, they would definitely hold back on their proposal. After all, it wouldn’t reflect well on them if they were to forcefully wed a woman that already had another man in her heart. Meanwhile, your father will not expose the lie immediately, or he’ll be accused of setting the entire gathering up to ridicule the attendees.”
Feng Luodi continued. “My only concern was that Concubine Yao would expose us on the spot, and everything would’ve fallen to pieces.” She smiled awkwardly. “But it wasn’t discussed that Gan Qingjia would propose to you back there, that surprised me as well. Perhaps he thought it lent credibility to his words.”
“No wonder you said you weren’t sure if I would be angry with you.” Qi Jianqiu took some time to digest what she heard, and commented quietly.
Feng Luodi quickly hugged her arm tightly. “Who was the one who’d promised that she wouldn’t get upset no matter what I did?”
Qi Jianqiu smiled at her. “Silly, I’d never get mad at you.” Her expression changed in an instant. “But that Gan Qingjia! How can he say such things so casually? What a playboy!”
“But he did help you…” Feng Luodi’s voice trailed off, trying to put in a good word for Gan Qingjia.
“Hmph! Even if he didn’t, Situ would have done it for you as well.” Qi Jianqiu was not convinced.
“Hey…what do you mean by doing it ‘for me’?” Feng Luodi mumbled under her breath.
Outside, things ended when Concubine Yao dismissed the gathering shortly after the departure of Qi Jianqiu. She dined with Qi Jianqiu and Feng Luodi politely afterwards, and sent the two girls on their way home.
“I’m sorry, sister. I’d wronged you.” Before she left, Qi Jianqiu held Concubine Yao’s hands and apologised softly.
“I’m always on your side on this matter, Qiu’er.” Concubine Yao’s voice softened. “Don’t mention about opening your own restaurant to Father again. But if you find a husband who dotes on you, he’ll definitely help you realise that dream of yours then.”
“I know that now; I’ve learnt my lesson.” The familiar smile surfaced on Qi Jianqiu’s face. “I’ll be heading home then, Luodi is still waiting for me outside the hall.”
“Go ahead, now. You’ve really made a really good friend.”
Qi Jianqiu sported a huge grin as she walked out of the hall, clinging onto Feng Luodi’s arm as they walked towards the palace gates.
“My carriage is waiting outside, let me send you home first.” Qi Jianqiu offered.
“Right!” Qi Jianqiu remembered something, and quickly asked Feng Luodi. “Why didn’t Situ wait for you? They left in such a hurry!”
“Many reports have been arriving from the frontlines in the North these few days; he must be busy.” Feng Luodi replied idly but quickly added. “That’s just my guess – I didn’t ask him about it.”
“You explaining yourself that quickly is fishy, Luodi.” Qi Jianqiu remarked practically bouncing with joy as she skipped towards the palace gates, giddy with her newfound ‘freedom’.
“There you go again – that’s the Jianqiu I know.” Feng Luodi smiled, her spirits lifted as well seeing her friend happy.
When they reached the gates, Qi Jianqiu tugged on Feng Luodi’s sleeves. “Isn’t that your elder brother?”
Feng Luodi followed her gaze and saw Jiang Moyin standing by the gates. She did not notice him during the gathering previously, but now she saw that he was looking much frailer than ever, his face paler than usual.
“Elder brother, why haven’t you returned to your residence? The wind is too strong out here.” Feng Luodi told Qi Jianqiu to return home without her, and quickly approached Jiang Moyin.
“I wanted to have a few words with you.” Jiang Moyin pointed at the carriage behind him.
“Alright.” Feng Luodi nodded, and followed Jiang Moyin into the carriage. The two of them sat comfortably in the carriage, and Jiang Moyin coughed lightly.
“Elder brother, you shouldn’t be spending so much time outside, now that the weather has gotten much colder. What if your sickness returns?” Feng Luodi quickly grabbed the small brazier in the corner of the carriage, and handed it to Jiang Moyin.
Jiang Moyin took it over gratefully, and smiled. “I’m sorry for being so useless, Luodi. I was unable to stop the Heir.”
Feng Luodi’s hands paused in the middle of folding her cloak, and she turned to Jiang Moyin. “The Heir is the Heir, and you are you, elder brother. Regardless of what the Heir does, I will not look at you differently, even if you’re the Heir’s tutor.”
“What a mouthful.” Jiang Moyin joked lightly, but his features relaxed visibly.
Feng Luodi continued. “I know of your ambitions, elder brother. And I understand your position as well. I will not put you in a difficult position.” Now that I think about it, I’m thankful to have met Situ that day before I could find elder brother, or that would have put him in a horrible spot.
“You’re only seventeen, Luodi. You sound so mature sometimes.”
I’m actually twenty-four, but there’s no way I can tell you about that, is there? Feng Luodi thought silently to herself.
“This is called being ‘understanding’, elder brother. That was a horrible choice of words.” Feng Luodi pouted.
“Alright alright, yes it is. But you can act like a child in front of me, you know.” Jiang Moyin felt that Feng Luodi was too…careful with her actions, to a point where it was unhealthy.
“If you want someone to act like a child to you, get married then!” Feng Luodi shrugged. “I’ve always wanted to have a sister-in-law.”
Jiang Moyin hugged the brazier a little tighter, and laughed lightly. “I’m in no hurry. Speaking of which, you’re at the age of marriage as well. Who knows, you might even get married before me!”
Feng Luodi wagged her finger at him. “Don’t you worry about that, elder brother. I’ll definitely get married after you.”
Jiang Moyin lowered his head. If only we could get married on the same day…to each other. A thought flashed through his head. The Heir had once asked me why I’d never taken a wife for myself, despite being so talented. My answer to him then was that nobody had caught my eye, but if he’d asked me the same question now, I might have a different answer for him.
I wouldn’t get married now, because I know that I wouldn’t be able to accompany her for the rest of her life.