Edited and Proofread by KitKat
As Xiao Zhige was sizing up Li Hai Yun, Li Hai Yun was also quietly doing the same. Whether it was his appearance or behavior, the Northern Warlord had the demeanor of a General. Sullen eyes and a downward arching mouth. A single look and one could tell he was in a bad mood.
He clenched his fists and looked towards An Chang Qing. However, An Chang Qing, sitting next to Xiao Zhige, was not paying attention to him.
Li Hai Yun’s heart sank. In his panic he thought: Is Cousin Chang Qing blaming me? Clearly when they were at the lake discussing poems, An Chang Qing’s eyes had always been on me…
“Cousin Chang Qing…” Li Hai Yun felt his heartthrob and couldn’t hold back his voice.
An Chang Qing was about to introduce him to Xiao Zhige so he casually responded with a nod, “Wangye, this is Madame Li’s nephew, the son of Chang Yang County’s magistrate, Li Ru Qi.”
Xiao Zhige responded without any change in attitude. He asked, “I heard that Nuo Nuo is quite close to Young Master Li.”
His tone was not heavy but his dark face made the two men with hidden intentions shudder.
An Chang Yu covered his face and the corner of his lips rose. Only Li Hai Yun anxiously tried to explain, “We’re not close, we’re just… we’re just…” He couldn’t come up with the right word on the spot and faltered.
“Just what?” Xiao Zhige saw how eager he was to distinguish and his mood turned worse. Anger filled his voice as he asked, “Why don’t Young Master Li finish your words?”
“We’re just ordinary friends. Wangye, please do not misunderstand.” Li Hai Yun hardened his resolve and dared not look at An Chang Qing. Cousin Chang Qing is now the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei. Since he had no power to protect him, he shouldn’t drag him down with his wishful thinking.
An Chang Qing who had not been speaking could vaguely feel that something was wrong. He frowned and said, “Brother Hai Yun had stayed in the An Manor as a guest for a while so we knew each other.”
Xiao Zhige looked at him carefully but he saw no flaws in his expression. An Chang Qing had an innocent look, as though he could not understand Li Hai Yun’s lovelorn words. There was also no trace of sadness or any sort of emotions at the sight of an ex-lover. Xiao Zhige couldn’t tell whether he was just too good at pretending or he had truly let go of this person.
Looking at Li Hai Yun again, the discontent in Xiao Zhige’s eyes intensified. He squinted and waved his hands, “Now that you’ve seen each other, it’s time for the both of you to leave.”
“Then we won’t keep Wangye and Wangfei from enjoying the festival.” When An Chang Yu saw that Xiao Zhige was chasing them away without any subtlety, his face changed slightly but he still bowed respectfully and stepped back. Li Hai Yun looked at An Chang Qing with much to be said but he kept quiet.
An Chang Qing did not perceive his gaze as his focus was solely on Xiao Zhige.
Feeling that something was off, An Chang Qing asked after the two had left, “Wangye, is something wrong?”
His temper had been off since just now.
Seeing that An Chang Qing was concerned about him, Xiao Zhige was in a complicated mood. He wanted to ask An Chang Qing about his relationship with Li Hai Yun but feared that he would get an answer he did not wish to hear. He had fought in blood soaked battlefields for many years but he never thought that he could turn into this coward hiding behind a curtain of self-deception as of this moment.
He pursed his lips and responded, “It’s nothing.”
An Chang Qing looked at him from the side and felt that this person was not telling the truth. With the amount of time they had been together, An Chang Qing had a good grasp of Xiao Zhige’s temperament. He would never tell him about his discontentment, preferring to keep everything to himself.
An Chang Qing mulled over and decided that now was not a suitable time to inquire further, he should wait until they got back.
On the other hand, Li Hai Yun returned to Nongxue Pavilion with wandering thoughts. Having not seen An Chang Qing for many years, his appearance and temperament had become refined compared to before, rendering his eyes unable to look away.
He remembered the first time they met. An Chang Qing was still a wide-eyed teenager whose features were delicate and picturesque while his temperament was gentle and reserved. When he first met him, he had politely called him ‘Cousin Hai Yun’.
Li Hai Yun had fallen in love at first sight. He would often invite An Chang Qing to the lakeside and had presented him with many love poems. Although An Chang Qing had been shy and never actively responded, the spark in his eyes had not been faked. If it hadn’t been for his parents prearranging his marriage without his consent, cousin Chang Qing would not have broken off with him. He had even rejected his jade pendant and wished him and his fiancee a blissful marriage.
“In the end, we were not meant to be…” Li Hai Yun sighed remorsefully. He borrowed wine to hide the sourness in his nose and the sting in his heart.
An Xianya couldn’t clearly hear his words and scuttered over to ask, “Cousin Hai Yun, what did you say?”
Li Hai Yun ignored her and continued to drown his sorrows in wine. An Chang Yu glared at her sternly and An Xianya returned to her seat without speaking another word.
“You’ve decided to give up just like that?” An Chang Yu poured Li Hai Yun another cup of wine.
“Other than giving up, what else can I do?” Li Hai Yun said dejectedly, “It was I who had let him down in the first place. Now, The Northern… seems to treat him well. I cannot give him trouble. And just now… he did not even look at me. He obviously hates me…”
An Chang Yu smirked, “Maybe he dared not show it in public.” He lowered his voice and continued, “I heard that the Northern Warlord is incredibly cruel behind closed doors. He also likes to torture others…”
Li Hai Yun’s face turned white. The wine cup in his hand shook lightly, “This…”
“Even if you want to give up, you should at least clear things up. Back then, you had left under the pressure from your parents but you have rejected that marriage. You have, ultimately, not wronged him. Aren’t I right?”
Li Hai Yun was moved by his words and hesitated.
An Chang Yu continued to persuade, “I have a way for you to meet with my third brother but since you don’t want to, then forget it.”
“I want to…” Li Hai Yun responded instantly. His face had already begun to show signs of drunkenness as he proclaimed, “I want to talk to him face to face. If his days are not good, I… I will risk my life to take him away!”
“Good.” An Chang Yu’s eyes brightened. He said softly, “Don’t worry, I will help you both…”
Below, just before the human-size incense was completely burnt, An Xian Yu and Zhou He Lan had correctly answered 125 riddles together.
With the final gong, the Wang Manor’s lantern was hung at the highest position.
Everyone in the Songtao Pavillion was filled with joy. An Chang Qing touched An Xian Yu’s head and praised, “Yu’er is incredible.”
An Xian Yu blushed but the timidity from before was gone. She said delightedly, “It’s also thanks to brother and Zhou gongzi’s help.”
Zhou He Lan’s eyes lit up. He coughed and said humbly, “Miss An is well-equipped with knowledge. Even without me, I’m sure you can solve them by yourself.”
“You two are being modest,” An Chang Qing smiled and said, “Both of your efforts are of merit. Once you get the prize, you can just split it in half.”
At this point, the waiter had brought in the host for the lantern race. The host was holding two boxes as he bowed respectfully, “The first prize for the race, one hundred taels of gold or Sir Dan Mo’s original work, which would you choose?”
An Chang Qing was not familiar with famous painters. He looked towards An Xian Yu but heard Zhou He Lan speak up first, “Miss An was able to answer all the riddles related to Sir Dan Mo effortlessly, are you also a fan of his work?”
An Xian Yu nodded. Sir Dan Mo’s paintings were highly sought after by many throughout Da Ye and she was not excluded. But thinking that she did not win the competition alone and that Zhou He Lan’s family was not well off, she did not want to make things difficult. “The first place was the combined effort of the three of us, it’s hard to share the painting, why don’t we take the gold?”
An Chang Qing could tell that she wanted the painting but as she had always been considerate, had decided to choose the gold for Zhou He Lan’s sake.
He was about to speak up when he heard Zhou He Lan say, “What a coincidence, He Lan is also very fond of Sir Dan Mo’s work. If Miss An doesn’t mind, we can choose the painting. Miss An can have the original copy while He Lan would only like to borrow and make a replica for myself.”
An Xian Yu had wanted the gold so as not to complicate things but unexpectedly, Zhou He Lan, had also wanted the painting. She looked to An Chang Qing for guidance, “Brother?”
An Chang Qing did not give it too much thought and said, “Since the both of you like this painting, let’s pick it then. He Lan shouldn’t have to lose out either, I’ll compensate you with another reward back at the manor.”
Zhou He Lan quickly said his thanks and bowed to An Xian Yu who was tightly holding on to the painting, “I’ll have to trouble Miss An in a few days to borrow the painting.”
An Xian Yu kept her eyes on the painting and gleefully agreed. Xiao Zhige was the only one who looked at Zhou He Lan with a certain conjecture and squinted but ultimately remained silent.
After the race concluded, it was time for the lantern appreciation. Since they have been in the room for too long, An Chang Qing proposed for them to go downstairs and do some sightseeing. Lady Yu and Zhou He Lan’s mother languished to be amongst the crowd so they decided to stay and watch from above. An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige took An Xian Yu to the streets to watch the lanterns.
In the bustling crowd, An Xian Yu went to look at a booth selling feminine products. An Chang Qing was looking around when he thought of something and said to An Xian Yu, “I’m going over there with Wangye. Let Tie Hu and He Lan accompany you. We’ll meet back at the Songtao Pavilion at the Hai1 hour.”
An Xian Yu nodded obediently. An Chang Qing told the accompanying maid to take care of her before pulling Xiao Zhige away.
Xiao Zhige asked puzzledly, “Where are we going?”
An Chang Qing glanced at him from the side with a brilliance in his eyes, “I saw that someone was in a bad mood and thought that I should find a way to coax him.”
Xiao Zhige initially wanted to refute that he was in a bad mood but was enticed by the words ‘coax him’. His feet couldn’t help but spring up to step closer to him and asked, “How do you intend to coax?”
An Chang Qing pulled him towards a mask stall and picked out two colorful bird masks. An Chang Qing wore one and handed the other to Xiao Zhige, “Wangye, wear one too.”
The stall owner looked at them and his eyes lit up. He grinned broadly and said, “You two are… You have great tastes! These masks are perfectly paired!”
An Chang Qing was very pleased with his words. He paid up and dragged Xiao Zhige to the riverbank.
Near the end of the day, vendors would start to sell lanterns along the riverbank. Masked men and women would carefully write down their wishes on the lanterns and release them down the river. Even though Xiao Zhige had never participated in this activity, he knew that this was also for lovers to convey their feelings. Since ancient times, countless couples had used these methods to express their love.
His voice turned uncontrollably hoarse, “What are we doing here?”
An Chang Qing bought a unique looking lantern painted with a carp and a lotus flower and gave Xiao Zhige a pen and paper. The mask had covered his lovely face but its radiance could still be seen in those exposed eyes, “Make a wish. I heard if you make a wish on this day, it will come true.”
Xiao Zhige’s eyes became pensive, “What does Nuo Nuo wish for?”
An Chang Qing shook his head and urged him to write, “It won’t be as effective if I say it out loud.”
Xiao Zhige retracted his gaze and began writing a few words on the piece of paper. After they were done, An Chang Qing rolled up the pieces of paper and stuffed them into the lantern. He then took the lantern and placed it over the water surface to let it flow down the river. His voice carried a smile as he said, “Our wishes will come true.”
“En.” Xiao Zhige was lost in thoughts but his eyes were following the lantern as it drifted away.
The wish he made in that lantern, would it have something to do with Li Hai Yun?
Or… something to do with him?
Xiao Zhige closed his eyes while his Adam’s apple rolled. Finally, he could not suppress his desire to find out the truth. He took a big step towards An Chang Qing and said close to his ear, “Wait here for me. I remembered there’s something I have to do, I’ll be right back.”
Without waiting for An Chang Qing to respond, he turned and walked away in large strides. When An Chang Qing could react and tried to call him back, he saw that Xiao Zhige had already disappeared into the crowd.
At the same time, An Chang Yu who had been following them from behind saw An Chang Qing standing alone and patted Li Hai Yun on the shoulder, “Cousin, go ahead. Clear things up with him, I’ll help you keep a lookout.”