Edited and Proofread by KitKat
Carrying the painting back to the main room, An Chang Qing wandered around to find a good spot to hang it. Xiao Zhige followed behind him and frowned, “This painting’s not good. Let’s hang the next one.”
“I think it’s pretty good.” An Chang Qing held the scroll up to an empty stretch of wall and said, “And after you’ve drawn the next one, we can always hang that here as well.” Having said so, he had someone come in to hang up the scroll.
“Too bad I don’t know how to draw,” An Chang Qing said as he directed the servant to the right position to hang the scroll, “Or else, I could draw a portrait of Wangye and hang our pictures together. Or we can find a painter to draw the two of us.”
Watching An Chang Qing speak with glee, Xiao Zhige’s eyes flickered when he heard his words.
After re-adjusting the scroll’s position on the wall several times, An Chang Qing was finally satisfied and told Anfu to serve him and Xiao Zhige tea.
“Did Wangye learn to draw before?” An Chang Qing looked at the habitually quiet man and asked curiously because, adding up two lifetimes, he found that he knew not much about his husband. Take this for example, in his previous life, he had never seen Xiao Zhige draw with a brush. Those rough hands always looked like they were born to wield only weapons; him holding a brush was quite unimaginable.
“I learned it when I was little,” Xiao Zhige looked down and said faintly.
Although he was spurned by the Emperor, Xiao Zhige could still attend classes with the other princes. The first Emperor of Da Ye was said to have been Heaven’s favored son. He was a wise monarch gifted with both literary and martial skills. As his descendants, it was mandatory for the princes to not disgrace themselves by way of ignorance. In addition to the necessary teachings, they also had to be familiar with playing the qin, chess, calligraphy and painting on top of practicing martial arts.
When he was young and naive, he only knew that his father was not fond of his mother and him but not the reason. After seeing his elder brother being praised for his excellent academics, he did his best to learn, all for the hope that his father would come to visit them. Unfortunately, he did not have the aptitude for these literary pursuits and did not gain a single compliment even after pouring his heart out.
After his mother passed away, he grew to be more sensible, no longer yearning for meaningless attention and focused his efforts on learning the art of war and training his body.
Xiao Zhige did not want to cause An Chang Qing unnecessary grief and simply said, “All the princes had to learn.”
An Chang Qing was indeed spared the heartache. He continued to inquire happily, “What else does Wangye know?”
“Chess, music, painting. A little of everything, nothing extensive.”
It was surprising that the brutish Northern Warlord knew these scholarly skills. An Chang Qing was further convinced that he knew too little about Xiao Zhige. And the more he knew, the more he felt that the man was like a piece of raw jadeite. The surface may have seemed rough and dull but with each layer being polished off, it revealed a stunningly priceless piece of jade.
“As for me, I don’t know anything,” An Chang Qing made a sulking look and said with melancholy, “Other than having done a lot of reading, I don’t know anything else. Will Wangye be displeased with me?”
The An family’s teachings only revolved around the eight-part essay for their main purpose had always been to prevail in the Imperial Exams. If they had wanted to learn something else, a teacher would be invited to personally coach them. However, as an unfavored son, An Chang Qing did not even have the privilege to study in the family classroom, much less have a personal tutor.
Xiao Zhige frowned. He immediately said ‘no’ followed by, “If you want to learn, I can teach you.”
An Chang Qing was sighing but Xiao Zhige’s words lifted his mood, “Really?”
Xiao Zhige responded with an ‘en’.
“Then let’s start with painting,” An Chang Qing beamed, “When I’m able to draw well, I’ll draw a portrait of Wangye.”
Xiao Zhige composed his emotions and smiled, “Ok.”
An Chang Qing went back to the An Manor the day after the Wu family was seized of their properties.
As soon as he entered the door, he met his eldest brother, An Chang Yu who he had not seen in a long time. An Chang Yu was six years his senior and the eldest son of Madame Li. After his marriage, An Zhi Ke had sent him to travel as a means to gain experience and only allowed him back this year. Because his mother-in-law was ill, he had been away to pay her a visit a few days ago.
Coincidentally, he bumped into An Chang Qing when he returned home.
An Chang Yu smiled and greeted as though he did not know the events that had transpired, “Third brother, oh, I mean Wangfei, hope you’re doing well.”
An Chang Qing also put up a smile and responded, “Everything is well, what about you? How was your trip outside?”
“It’s all well, all well,” An Chang Yu smiled amiably and turned his step to accompany An Chang Qing, “It had been tough living away from home but now that I’m back, I can’t get used to it like before. The place is very different from when I left. I often think back to the days when we were young and free of worries.”
He sighed almost as if he really meant it. An Chang Qing couldn’t tell which direction he was leading this conversation and could only play along.
In the An family, no one could be more similar to An Zhi Ke than this eldest brother, An Chang Yu. He was slick from young and as the eldest child, he was the most valued grandchild in the family. The only person who could compete with him was An Changqi. Even the younger children of relatives and acquaintances were respectful towards him.
And An Chang Qing was no exception.
Because he was the oldest, he had never bullied An Chang Qing and his sister like the other children. When they happened to meet, he would even smile at them. At that time, An Chang Qing had naively thought that this big brother did not hate him and had once tried to approach him only to be frightened by the cold look in his eyes. After which, An Chang Qing did not take the initiative to find him anymore.
It was years later that An Chang Qing realized that An Chang Yu had hated him just like everyone else in the An manor. The only difference was that he cared more for his image, having to maintain that pretentious facade.
Just like this time, he must’ve heard of Madame Li’s grievances prior to this but he still chatted with An Chang Qing as though nothing had changed, even reminiscing about the past with him.
An Chang Qing looked at him coldly and said indifferently, “You and I have different opinions. In contrast, I feel a lot more at peace now than ever. I do not miss the days of our childhood.”
An Chang Yu’s smile froze briefly before he went on to say, “What about Hai Yun? Don’t you miss Cousin Hai Yun?”
An Chang Qing blinked, “Brother Hai Yun?”
“That’s right,” An Chang Yu continued in a sappy tone, “After not seeing him for several years, his family is unexpectedly moving to Yejing after the New Year. You don’t know this but after Hai Yun turned down his arranged marriage, he had sworn to make a name for himself in the Imperial Exams and return to marry his sweetheart. It’s just a pity that…”
He stopped his speech halfway and looked at An Chang Qing.
An Chang Qing on the other hand was not particularly interested in his story although he did remember Li Hai Yun. He was the son of Madame Li’s brother who had come to the An Manor to stay for a while. And he was a noble gentleman.
Other than that, the only other thing that An Chang Qing remembered about Li Hai Yun was that he was a very sentimental person. After the two had met by chance, Li Hai Yun would often invite him to enjoy the scenery and write poems. To avoid provoking Madame Li, it was unwise for An Chang Qing to refuse him. And so, An Chang Qing had to sit and listen to him make soapy poems that he could barely understand.
That said, Li Hai Yun had been respectful to him but after the incident with An Changqi, An Chang Qing just could not let his guard down against those who approached him. Therefore, their relationship was not that good.
Now that An Chang Yu had specifically mentioned him, An Chang Qing was a little confused but he still responded politely, “Is that so? Then I hope Brother Hai Yun will pass the Imperial Exam soon and marry his sweetheart.” As for An Chang Yu’s unfinished sentence, An Chang Qing completely ignored it.
An Chang Yu was slightly stumped. He said with a complicated look, “Hai Yun often thinks of you and yet you’ve completely ignored him. You don’t even care about his marriage?”
An Chang Qing was baffled, “Brother Hai Yun’s marriage is arranged by his elders, how can I have a say in that?”
“…” An Chang Yu had wanted to test him but he did not expect that his third brother was this good at concealing his emotions, barring him from finding any flaws. Failing to achieve his goal, An Chang Yu laughed and said, “Wangfei is correct. But when Hai Yun comes to Yejing, Wangfei should at least meet up with him.”
An Chang Qing felt that something was amiss with An Chang Yu’s constant mention of Li Hai Yun but he couldn’t figure out why.
He replied perfunctorily, “If I’m free, I will.”
The two parted in a corridor. An Chang Yu went to the backyard while An Chang Qing proceeded to find An Zhi Ke.
An Zhi Ke had been waiting for him in the Flower Hall but his expression still darkened when he saw An Chang Qing coming in.
Seeing his face, An Chang Qing calmly sat down. He then said with a smile, “Father requested for my return, is it to discuss Yu’er’s marriage?”
“That is correct,” Although those words were heavy, An Zhi Ke had to persist with this talk, “Wu Juan Shu was immoral in his conduct, now he has been demoted to a commoner with neither merit nor rank and the Wu Manor has been seized, this marriage is not a good match.”
An Chang Qing said, “Good. Then I will let father do the honor of returning the engagement keepsake to the Wu house.” He then took out a piece of jade and passed it to An Zhi Ke.
Looking at An Chang Qing’s smugness after having achieved his goal, An Zhi Ke gnashed his teeth begrudgingly as he received the jade piece. He restrained his emotions and said, “Wangfei does not have to worry, I will handle it.”
An Chang Qing was smirking inside. Seeing his eyes twitching, he could tell that An Zhi Ke was about to explode with anger.
The two families had agreed on this marriage for many years now, even the wedding had been planned. At the time when Wu Juan Shu and his uncle’s scandal broke out, if An Zhi Ke had chosen to withdraw the agreement with the claim that Wu Juan Shu’s character was unprincipled, it would not have caused any raised eyebrows. But now that An Zhi Ke proposed to annul this marriage right after the Wu family had fallen and Wu Juan Shu had lost his status, it would be difficult to avoid being labeled as a snob who despised the poor.
Especially when An Zhi Ke and Marquis Wu had been friends for many years. After the Marquis’s downfall, he did not reach out to help and instead, couldn’t be more eager to sever their ties. As such, it seemed inevitable that An Zhi Ke would receive some damage to his reputation.
And with him being the one to handle this matter, An Xian Yu would not receive too much backlash. An Chang Qing smiled sincerely this time and said, “Thank you father.”
On the way back from the An Manor, An Chang Qing was in a great mood. As they passed by Yong Le Lane, he stopped and went to Sanweizhai to buy some snacks. When the clerk at the store saw him coming, he smiled from ear to ear and insisted on giving him two bottles of plum blossom wine. An Chang Qing tried to pay for it but the clerk refused to accept his money, saying, “If Wangfei likes it, please come and buy it next time.”
An Chang Qing could only accept and brought the two boxes of pastries and two bottles of wine back to the carriage.
To his surprise, when he returned to the carriage, he saw that the coachman’s hands were stuffed with a pile of goods – from silk flowers and eggs to a block of freshly chopped pork. Not knowing who sent it, An Chang Qing looked around and saw the people on the streets smiling at him. An Chang Qing had no choice but to cup his hand and say, “Thank you for your gifts but don’t send it next time, you should keep it for yourself.”
After all, eggs and meat were not cheap, not every family could afford them.
An Chang Qing then gathered up the items and placed them inside the carriage before telling the coachman to take him home.
When An Chang Qing’s carriage disappeared into a corner, someone in the crowd gleefully announced, “That’s my family’s pork! Wangfei had accepted it!”
“Old Tu, you’re hopeless! That piece of pork is greasy and bloody, how dare you present it to Wangfei! Wangfei is too kind for not having you beat up!”
The old butcher stubbornly retorted, “What’s the use of silk flowers? Pork is a lot more practical!” It’s also tasty and valuable!