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Today, it was heard that the Ministry of Appointments’ Sir Zhao had stepped down. Tomorrow, it would be heard that the Ministry of Revenue’s Sir Zhou had been extracted and appointed elsewhere. The day after tomorrow, fights would spring up in all directions with the whole Court blowing out black smoke and sick air, practically being an event of ‘as soon as you quit singing, I’ll go up on stage.’
Jing Qi’s days passed in particular ease, though. At daybreak every day, he would go make a report, wandering about in a circle beneath the eyes of all the officials while quite lacking in a sense of existence, following which he would vanish without a trace.
He could be described as appearing and disappearing like a spectre.
The rest of his time after he returned — apart from the daily block of being a low-cost teacher for that brat, Wu Xi — was spent running off to Yellow Flower to hang around in when the weather was nice, or holing up in the Prince Estate when the weather wasn’t nice. He kept a group of young actors of unknown origin in his rear courtyard, and when he had nothing to do, he was fond of taking it upon himself to write a couple irrelevant, eccentric works for them to sing. During good moods, he would sometimes specially invite Wu Xi over, too.
Wu Xi inwardly hated the other’s unrestrained lifestyle so much that his teeth itched, of course, but he still understood that no matter how intemperate the guy was right now, he was entirely being compelled to be so. Oftentimes, he’d finish listening to it without a word, then look into the eyes of the one that was anticipating his assessment. Even if it might dampen his enthusiasm, he always told the truth:
“Similar to death wailing.”
“Day-long creepiness. A lifelike night owl’s call.”
“Why… that costume? I don’t understand. I just think it looks exactly like a hanged ghost that didn’t get washed clean before it reincarnated.”
Witnessing Jing Qi straight-up grind his teeth from his attacks, unable to explode and only able to force an awkward smile, he felt a bit of melancholy stuffing up his chest.
Those well-read and overly-heedful were frequently too inflexible in the ways of the world, conversely being unable to think of extremely imaginative stuff that would make peoples’ eyes shine. A long time later, Jing Qi also discovered himself to be relatively boring, as all the stuff he could think up belonged to the same old collection of stuff. He might as well run off to commoner’s haunts, listen to stories, and come out jolly.
In a few days’ time, he discovered a new way to have fun. Over in Tianqiao was a fortune-telling half-immortal with a goat’s beard; he had a small kiosk set up, and his mouth was so big he could let a carriage out of it, as his ability to make crap up to fool people was top-notch. Jing Qi happened to pass him by while on a random stroll, caught a glimpse of him, then had a sudden flash of inspiration, thinking that banking on his own babble to make a living seemed to be very fitting for him.
As a result, for a segment of time on the daily, he would squat beside the half-immortal like a roasted chicken and wait upon him. Good-looking and sweet-talking, he wore an outfit of coarse hemp clothes every day, so no one knew what his identity was and just said that he was the half-immortal’s young, newly-accepted apprentice. After more than two months of coaxing, the half-immortal would teach him many swindling skills whenever he was in a good mood. Jing Qi thought to himself that now that he had a decent skill, he could always rely on it to save up money for food if he ever did wander jianghu someday.
Finishing his apprenticeship after half a year, he felt it would be awful to rob his ‘master”s business. With his master being in the north of the city, he deliberately sought out a spot in the south, set up a little kiosk, got a sign, and wrote the few extraordinarily graceful words of ‘Divinations of Old Seventh’ on it. He asked Zhou Zishu for some face-change stuff, smeared a bit of it randomly on his face so that his skin was smudged greenish-yellow, then put things on his eyelids so both his eyes were shut. With a broken walking stick in his hand, those unfamiliar would truly regard him as a young, starved-looking blind man at first glance. When customers came, he would first inevitably make a head-bobbing show of swaying about, and once the day was done — sometimes it was a day spent crouching — he could earn over ten-something copper coins.
Despite not knowing what he was going out for, he wasn’t hanging out with a bunch of sing-song actors all day long (and thus wasn’t forcing him to accompany him in watching those unintelligible plays), Wu Xi breathed a sigh of relief at last, immediately after which he got alarmed again. He had vaguely heard Ping An complain about his Master always running off to prostitution areas whenever he was bored, and, although he knew that Jing Qi was bound to be proper about it, he still couldn’t resist following him for a look on this day.
His martial arts were superb, and after exchanging notes and sparring with Zhou Zishu, they were pretty much on par with each other. Jing Qi was naturally difficult to find, but he saw him saunter out of a side gate of the Prince Estate by himself, send back the imperial guards that pursued him, then take specially-selected, winding alleyways through the capital. As he walked, he took out a small box from his lapels and pasted up his face, after which he wound into a large, mixed-family compound. A while later, he came back out from it, happily greeting people prior to his departure, a signboard and small trunk added to his back.
Afterwards, on an area at the upper reaches of Fullmoon River in the city’s south, he found a big willow and built his stall there. The little sable popped out of his arms, leaping onto the tree to mess around, and he leaned against its trunk. Autumn had already entered the capital at this point, making it yet a bit chilly. He thus curled up into a ball with both hands collected into his sleeves as he crossed them before his chest, which made his entire person look wretched. Where was the vivacious, prodigal Prince Nan’ning, who incurred crushes in women’s quarters all over the capital when he passed them?
Wu Xi gracelessly rolled his eyes, bought a bowl of pleasantly warm tea gruel from a nearby vendor, then stood holding it in front of Jing Qi. The latter’s nose, which had gone a bit red from freezing, twitched. The sable in the tree scuttled a few paces down and then jumped to Wu Xi’s shoulder, rubbing against him affectionately.
Jing Qi wasn’t surprised when he noticed him. Putting on an act, he picked up his broken cane, tapped it against the ground, pushed lightly against Wu Xi’s foot, then gave a dry cough. “Young Master, will it be literomancy, or palmistry? Divining for a fated bond, or your future outlook?”
Wu Xi placed the steam-emanating tea gruel before him, then sat down on the small stool opposite him.
Jing Qi immediately beamed in delight. “This Young Master is a truly generous person. Cultivate good karma, and one will obtain good fruits; he will have a day where his good heart will certainly have a good recompense.” Immodest — and seeming to be genuinely, terribly cold — he raised it up and drank it.
Wu Xi smiled. “Why did you come out in this kind of weather? Are you unafraid of the cold?”
“Doesn’t the fragrance of plum blossoms get enhanced from bitter chill?” Jing Qi blew on the steam whilst he spoke obtusely. “Besides, am I also not forced into this lifestyle?”
The gruel’s bowl was a big one. He held it one-handed, occasionally switching hands due to the burn, and ate it joyfully, as if the cents-worth food was the tastiest stuff in the world. Wu Xi suddenly felt that his show of morality and virtue was pretty adorable.
After he had more or less eaten it all, he wiped his mouth. “Alright. As you’ve kindly bestowed me, Old Seventh, with something to eat, today’s divination fee will be waived. Ah, I see that your heart seems to have suspicions. How about I help you deduce them?”
Wu Xi shook his head with a smile. “You said my heart didn’t have those last time.”
The other waved him off. “You didn’t have them last time, but today you do. I, Old Seventh, have blind eyes, but not a blind heart. You’re skeptic about marriage karma, right, Young Master? Come, come, come, this lowly one will take a look for you. Bring your hand over.”
That other time, he had made Wu Xi abruptly leave out of anger. Against expectations, the kid came again the very next day like nothing had happened, and simply refused to open his mouth no matter what he was asked. Sore all over from boredom, Jing Qi’s gossiping heart had acted up, so he switched tactics in extorting him. How could he have foreseen that Wu Xi would regard him sincerely, yet his mouth would be as tight as a clam with no seam, unable to be pried apart in either life or death?
Since he said that he was going to grab Wu Xi’s hand, the other didn’t dodge him, allowing him to snatch it over with both of his own warm hands covering it — though he still shook his head. “I don’t need you to deduce them, and you’re not allowed to.”
Jing Qi’s smile went stiff. Being not blind, he opened his eyes to glare at him. “Don’t undermine me all the time, you awful brat,” he said in a hushed voice. “You’ll scare all my business away in a minute.”
Wu Xi shut up, smiling both tenderly and indulgently at once, as if he was keeping an impish child company to play. Jing Qi’s slender fingers kneaded his hand, drawing along the creases of his palm, and he couldn’t help but purse his lips. His heart seemed to get lightly brushed by a feather, softly tickling; he itched to close his palm and grasp the other’s roving hand, never letting go for a lifetime.
Intermittently nodding and shaking his head, Jing Qi smiled after studying for half the day like this was genuine work. “Ah, congratulations, Young Master.”
Aware that he was talking rubbish, Wu Xi kept smiling. “Congratulations for what?”
“Your bond-signifying heaven-line is long and deep, which shows that you are an infatuated person rich in sentiment,” Jing Qi answered, swaying his head while he acted the part of someone above and beyond the world. “Your journey of love will certainly have great luck and benefits, and there is nothing to be wary about from the start, so if you’re a bit determined, you’ll definitely be able to get that beauty. Hm… there’s no island-line, which illustrates that the one you admire is a staunchly loyal woman…”
The former part was similar to being taught again, and the latter part was too unfounded. Wu Xi took a measure of Jing Qi’s deplorable-looking face before him, thinking to himself: a staunchly loyal… woman? Hence, he took his hand back. “You’re full of blather. You didn’t even get close.”
Jing Qi grabbed him and wouldn’t release him, however. “I, Old Seventh, absolutely do not blather. If it isn’t so, then that proves the one in your thoughts right now is not a good match. Young Master, that sea of bitterness is without bounds; turn around and go to shore!”
Hearing him miss the mark more and more, Wu Xi stood up. “Talk nonsense again, and I’ll go.”
The other quickly tugged at him with a grin. “My good brother, you’re always coming out here. You can sit and hang around with me for a while.”
Wu Xi smiled, compliantly moved the stool to be next to him, sat down, and pulled a copy of the Six Secret Strategies out from his lapels. While he read, he took of note of this swindler’s deed of glibly conning passersby in turn. Once some time passed, a cloud came to cover up the sun, which caused it to get colder. He untied his outer robe and tossed it to Jing Qi.
Knowing that the other had good martial arts that made it so chill and heat wouldn’t infringe upon his tough skin, Jing Qi wasn’t humble to him, and held it to wrap it around his body.
From that point on, Wu Xi appeared to have gotten into a general habit. Whenever Jing Qi went out every day, he would put a book into his pocket and follow after him, and then would help him carry his booth and signboard back to the compound at night.
It was strange to say, but Jing Qi’s business appeared to have gotten a lot better after Wu Xi started coming, especially since women of all ages that came and went always loved to cast a couple of looks at the handsome foreign lad. Jing Qi grumbled, half-genuinely and half-falsely, that if he had known this earlier, he wouldn’t have put so much chartreuse-yellow stuff on his face.
Wu Xi gave him a blank look. “So that everyone in the capital will know that Prince Nan’ning has set up a fortune-telling stall in the middle of the streets?”
“This Prince would call this ‘experiencing the sufferings of the commonfolk by living them.'” Jing Qi crouched at the roadside, biting into half a drumstick and talking in an utterly unmannerly way. “Besides, pretty much everyone here already knows. This little ploy of mine can fool poor commoners, but can it fool those gentlemen that have eyes and ears that connect to the sky? When I went to Court yesterday, I was stopped by the Emperor, and he insisted on making me give him a divination.”
That really seemed like something that old guy would do. “You divined one?” Wu Xi asked.
“What divining? Wouldn’t my nonsense talk be deceiving the monarch?” Having nibbled it so clean that even dogs couldn’t get anything out of it, Jing Qi threw the chicken bone to the side and wiped his mouth. “I said that the Son of Heaven has a holy fate, that fate is a celestial secret, and I’m a wandering immortal whose talent in the Dao isn’t profound enough to divine it.”
…Wasn’t that deceiving the monarch?
Wordless, Wu Xi peered at the sky; it was already nighttime. He was about to tell him to go back, but, all of a sudden, a lone figure was blocking their way in front. Raising his head to look, he saw that it was Crown Prince Helian Yi, followed by an exasperated-looking Zhou Zishu. After being startled for a second, he stood up to cross his arms before his chest and bow to Helian Yi, who waved him off. “No need to be so courteous, Shamanet.”
Jing Qi still used his rotten cane to jab at the guy, though. “I can smell a whiff of wealth. This Sir’s nobleness cannot be described in words. Do you want a divination done? Not charging is forbidden—”
Helian Yi had heard that he was making this kind of limitless trouble and couldn’t stand to see that continue, so he had come to haul him back to prevent him from making a fool of himself. Once he saw that scoundrelly image of his, he got both uncontrollably angry and amused, and flat-out sat down. “I don’t know what this… Lord Seventh can divine?”
“Ah, fated bonds, horoscopes, calamities, minor ailments — this lowly one doesn’t mean to brag, but I have some know-how in all of those. Is it literomancy or palmistry for you, Sir?”
“Literomancy,” Helian Yi replied with a skin-deep smile. Before Jing Qi could react, the other pulled his hand over, then drew the word ‘Jing’ onto his palm.
“That word…” Jing Qi gave a dry laugh. “Well, that word has a lot of meaning. What are you asking about, Sir?”
“A fated bond.”
Jing Qi’s heart jolted, and Wu Xi’s face suddenly cooled down.
The translator says: Aren’t you already married though, ya greedy bastard?
 This is the name for a center in modern Beijing, so I’m assuming the same here. It’s also the name for overhead passes/skybridges (天桥), but they didn’t have those in ancient China.
 Look at your palm. The ‘heaven-line’ is the topmost one. Now look closely at that heaven-line. If you see a ‘bubble’ in that line, that’s an ‘island’.