Chapter 76 Remembrance: Friend
Feng Luodi quickly disappeared back into her tent the moment they reached the camp, Situ heading to the meeting tent to tend to his own duties. Indeed, he was much busier in the North than when he was in Chang’an, but they were challenges of the sort that he was familiar with and enjoyed.
Although Feng Luodi was given the permission to wander around the camp on her own, she did not leave her tent for fear of garnering more attention to herself. Despite only spending two days in the camp, she was already aware of the high pedestal that Situ was put upon in the hearts of the soldiers. He was animated and passionate when it came to matters of war, despite his usual stoic demeanour. Quickly feeling bored, Feng Luodi decided to check out Yunzhong Pass. Bringing along her purse and scarf with her, Feng Luodi strolled out of the camp. Believing the Pass to be safe and orderly because of its close proximity to the camp, Feng Luodi did not think of informing Situ of her departure. Of course, she did not know of the Covert Guard sent by Situ to watch over her at all times.
Yunzhong Pass was huge, its judicial boundaries encompassing the lands of twenty nearby districts. With the distinct flavour of the North in its streets and shops, the Pass itself quickly attracted Feng Luodi. Strolling along the streets, it wasn’t long before Feng Luodi ended up with her belongings in her left hand and food in her right, feeling relaxed and joyful with the spoils she’d gotten from the shops. Seeing the infectious smile on her face, many citizens that brushed past her on the streets started smiling unconsciously along with her.
She checked out the distinctively local dramas that were put up in the Pear Gardens and stumbled into teahouses, attracted by the legends and stories told by the storytellers. She watched as merchants gambled in good nature in the restaurants and bars, and almost wandered into a brothel by accident. Before long, dusk had fallen, and Feng Luodi finally felt ready to face Situ again. Slowly making her way back to the camp, she was surprised to see the camp enveloped in darkness, but sounds of laughter and the lights of bonfires drew her to the training field in the middle of the camp.
Soldiers filled the square, some with a flask of wine in their hands while others tended to spitfires. Some were dancing together around the various bonfires while their comrades sang at the top of their voices. Pairs of soldiers wrestled each other on the floor, cheered on by the watching crowd.
What an eventful place the camp can be at night!
A woozy Zhang Xin quickly noticed Feng Luodi hiding in the corner of the field, and ambled slowly towards her with a flask in his hand.
“Miss Feng, would you like to join in the party? You can have as much wine as you want!”
Feng Luodi looked at the man before her and fanned her nose lightly, overwhelmed by the smell of alcohol. “General Zhang, does this happen every night in the camp? What a lively celebration!”
“Nah, not every night.” Zhang Xin waved his hand in the air. “It only happens once a month. We aren’t allowed to drink more than three ounces of wine on other days – it keeps us from our responsibilities.”
Feng Luodi could hardly recognise the drunken man in front of her as the same man that had demonstrated himself to be a clever and efficient man in the day. I’m sure it does…
“Miss Feng.” Zhang Xin’s smile was lopsided. “Are you here to look for the General? He’s not with us.”
“Oh.” Feng Luodi nodded. That makes sense; I can’t imagine him getting drunk with these soldiers. I’m sure he can’t stand the rowdiness anyway.
“Gee,” Zhang Xin laughed again, “did you get into an argument with the General? His face was so dark just now that nobody dared to even get near him.”
“He always looks like that, alright?” Feng Luodi felt her heart skip a beat.”
“Yes, he does…but we know the difference. His stern face in the morning was his usual expression, but when he returned in the afternoon, he was definitely upset and dispirited. What a rare thing to see!” He burped loudly, as if to demonstrate his confidence in his understanding of Situ.
Feng Luodi pushed him towards the field in disgust. “Don’t drink so much, General Zhang. I’ll take my leave for now.”
“Alright, alright.” Zhang Xin stumbled towards the field, but called out after her. “The General is in his tent! Go and comfort him, Miss Feng!”
“I’m sure he isn’t someone that needs comforting.” Feng Luodi mumbled as she slowly made her way back to the tent. She stood for a moment outside the tent, and took a deep breath before entering. To her surprise, Situ was not in the tent, but Mama was cleaning up the tables.
“Mama.” Feng Luodi nodded to the old lady, and headed to her small tent. Before she could enter, the Mama called out to her.
“Please stay, Miss Feng.”
“Is anything the matter?” Feng Luodi turned back towards the Mama.
Mama took a few steps towards Feng Luodi, and stopped three yards away from her. “I wish to have some words with you.”
“Please go on.” Feng Luodi invited her to talk.
“I’ve taken care of General Situ since he was a kid, and he has always been an outstanding person even when he was a child. From the martial arts to the literary arts, everything was easy for him. But only when he entered the army at the age of fourteen, did he truly began to shine.” Mama spoke slowly, but started talking about Situ.
“You are young, Miss Feng, born and raised in Chang’an. I’m sure you do not understand the plight of the citizens of the borders, plagued by war and poverty. To them, the General is their saviour, their messiah.”
Feng Luodi smiled to herself. “I’ve heard of Situ’s achievements and heroic deeds.”
“If you understand his position, then you have to understand your own position as well.” Mama finally broached the subject. “Right now, the General is only spending time with you because he’s never met someone like you before. You, should know humility and be ashamed of your own actions! Are you trying to flaunt your relationship with the General by staying in his tent? Or are you trying to seduce him so that you can marry him using such underhanded means?”
The smile on Feng Luodi’s face broadened.
Mama continued angrily. “The General is a Duke, and that is a position that you can only look up to for the rest of your life! Not only that, his achievements and position will definitely rise in the future! The woman that he is going to wed in the future will be a princess, and not the lowly daughter of a mere official. Pardon my words, but you are not fit to be with him because of your status. If you do indeed like him, you should leave him so that he can have a better future without you.”
“Are you done talking now, Mama?” Feng Luodi’s smile did not subside.
“I am.” Mama panted lightly, worked up from her outburst.
“Then it’s my turn to speak.” Feng Luodi casually poured herself a cup of tea from the teapot in Situ’s tent and sipped it slowly. “Since you were just talking about positions, let me remind you that you are just a servant of the General. You have no right to decide his marriage partner for him. Even if you do, the decision lies with Situ himself. He can wed whoever he wants, be it a royal princess or a simple commoner; nobody can stop him.”
Mama’s expression turned sour.
Feng Luodi put the cup back down on the table, and sat down comfortably in a chair. “Secondly, regarding Situ’s position as the Duke of Anping. He is a clever person, and an important part of the Xuan Kingdom. As you said, you’ve watched him grow since his childhood days, and you should know very well his feelings and predicament. But from the looks of it, it seems as though you have no clue as to what you’re actually talking about. Let me shed some light on the matter for you, then. He is a man whose only ambition is to serve his country and protect the lands. To him, his dukedom is nothing but a burden.”
Mama’s face had by now contorted into a mask of viciousness, completely different from the kind façade she’d put on the day before.
Feng Luodi shook her head, and rapped her knuckles on the table. “Lastly, I’ll like to clarify my relationship with Situ, to stop such rumours from spreading any more. I’ve always treated him like a friend, as a confidant, and that is all. Yes, I am indeed staying in his tent, but as you can see, I do have my own private space. I see no breach of modesty here. I’m not sure if Situ looks at me the same way as I look at him, but don’t worry, I will not marry Situ. Our relationship will not develop in that way, but it is also not something that the likes of you can trifle with.”
“That’s for the best,” Mama spat viciously, “I shall leave you alone then. I hope that you will forever remember your words today, and not go back on your promises.”
“Thank you for your reminder.” Feng Luodi stood up and headed to her tent. “It is getting late, and I shall turn in for the night.” She lifted the flap of her tent, but caught in the corner of her eye the shadow of a figure standing quietly outside Situ’s tent. She paused for a second, but shook her head and released her grip, letting the flap fall into place behind her.
Mama’s anger did not reside. She glared at Feng Luodi’s tent again, before turning to leave. As she lifted the flap of the tent, she jumped back in shock at the figure in front of her.
“Ge…General.” Her voice quavered and her legs shook upon seeing the look on Situ’s face. That moment, she knew that he had overheard their conversation. She knew of Situ’s dislike of others meddling in his affairs and hurriedly tried to explain herself. “Please don’t misunderstand, General. I was just having a simple chat with Miss Feng; I did not expect her to respond like that.”
Situ stared at her, and Mama’s panic grew with every passing second. Just as she was about to plead for forgiveness, Situ spoke up.
“You can return to the residence in the Pass now.”
Mama fell to her knees. “General! I did not mean it! Please forgive me!”
Situ ignored her and walked towards the tent. Behind him, two Covert Guards appeared out of the darkness, and dragged Mama away to return her to the General’s Residence in the Pass.
Situ entered the tent, his expression dark and foreboding as he stared at Feng Luodi’s tent. Just as a ‘friend’, huh? As a confidant? Hmph!
It was a restless night for both occupants of the tent.