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“One of charming words flatters to portray loyalty. One of ingratiating words quotes from scriptures to portray wisdom. One of just words abandons qualms to portray bravery. One of worrying words presents stratagems to garner trust. One of quiet words―”
“Master.” Ping An was obliged to speak up and cut him off. Jing Qi had been holed up in his bedroom all day long, leaning against the headboard as he sat with an old book in his hands. The interior of the room was cozy warm, even making one a bit drowsy, as well. Both of the eyes of young maid waiting in attendance nearby were already about to slide closed. Ping An was standing to the side, neither leaving nor staying.
“I’m not finished talking yet.” Jing Qi didn’t even look up. “Listen carefully, for these tactical methods are interlinked with commercial and operational methods. Someone else made me lecture on this, and I haven’t yet explained it for him to absorb, you know… there is a saying that goes, ‘one who intends to become desirous must first flatter.’ If you decide to take notice of and want to incur the favor of someone, to make them lay down their heart’s defenses, you first must get them what they want. The methodology of flattery lies in moderation. Be shallow, and it makes them feel that you aren’t sincere enough. Be deep, and it makes them feel you’re being excessively meticulous. When you want to achieve being to someone’s liking, scratch their itch, and then you need to―”
“Master, the Shamanet is still outside, waiting to see you.” Noticing that he was intending to go down quite a lengthy speech, Ping An reached the end of his patience, and could only interrupt him again. In the common past, all of these words had been lectured for the Shamanet to hear; he wasn’t sure what was going on today, but the Shamanet had been shut out by his Master, who was unwilling to see him no matter what.
Jing Qi’s speaking voice paused for a bit. “Say that I’m sick, am taking to bed rest, and am not seeing outside guests.”
Ping An couldn’t tell if it was his misperception or what, but he thought that the way his Master said ‘outside guests’ was bitten out with special clarity. “The Shamanet said he would cure it, and that his medical skills are greater than those of the imperial doctors in the royal hospital,” he replied honestly.
Jing Qi threw the book to the side with a bang, his good-looking brows crinkled up into one lump. “Then say that I’m dead,” he said, miffed.
The young maid, whose bobbing head resembled a chicken pecking at rice, immediately woke up, widening her eyes as she looked this way and that. Ping An, like a wronged little wife, measured Jing Qi’s expression, after which he affirmed and headed out.
Jing Qi sat up by his lonesome for a while, then spoke to the maid. “Go to my study and fetch me the gray ledger and northwestern defense plan. After that, you can go on and play.”
The maid wasn’t very old. She affirmed, then came in bringing things not long after, blinking her big eyes expectantly as she looked at him. Once he nodded, she ran out in high spirits.
He furrowed his brow and opened up the plan, barely managing to tamp down his emotions to view it for a spell. Soon after, he picked up a brush and paper from his side table, wrote a letter, then blew it dry. While he was sealing it, there suddenly came a burst of rustling noises from under his bed, and the sable shortly bored its way out with its face and body covered in dust. It stepped on his shoes when it jumped on the bed, stamping out a string of tiny gray footprints.
He picked it up by the scruff and gently tossed it off.
It wobbled, disoriented, on the ground for an interval, then went to climb up again, undaunted. It got glared at by him, and it crouched unmovingly on the ground, its little paws innocently stretched straight up, with its head raised to watch him.
He patted the dust off of the blanket. “I’m occupied with serious matters, got it? Looking at you is annoying ― go play by yourself, don’t bug me.”
The sable wagged its big tail in aggrievance, then ambled over to the corner and shrank up into a ball, awfully heartbroken.
At this moment, Ping An pushed open the door and came in once more. At a glance, he could tell that Jing Qi’s expression was poor, so he pursed his lips and stood trembling at the entrance without walking fully in. “Master, he says that if you’re alive, he wants to see you, and if you’re dead, he wants to see your corpse…”
Jing Qi huffed. “Why’s he being such a filial son? Go and tell him that he is unneeded for collecting my corpse when I die.”
Ping An looked outside. “With how you’re talking, you got into some sort of dispute with him, yes? You’ve been quarreling since daybreak ’til now, and it’s already noon. How massive is this matter that you can’t speak properly to him?”
“Ask less about things you shouldn’t ask about.” Jing Qi coldly swept his eyes over him, handing the blow-dried, sealed letter over to him. “Find a dependable person to bring this to Sir Lu Shen. Deliver it to his hand in person.”
Ping An affirmed, accepted it, took two steps out, then turned his head back around. “Master, you’re giving the Shamanet such a cold shoulder. Are you not worried that he’ll storm right in in a minute?”
“Doesn’t this Lord keep so very many imperial guards around that all work for their food? To say that someone could storm the Prince Nan’ning estate; are you taking this place as a vegetable garden? I said I won’t see him, so I won’t see him. He’s inclined to wait.”
Once he looked up and caught sight of Ping An still stupidly erected at the doorway, he became even more irascible. “You can scram now, too. Stop taking up space in front of my eyes.”
Ping An frowned, slipping quietly out along the base of the wall.
Jing Qi casually picked up a book. After opening it, he looked at it for a long time, not reading even one word. With a fling of the hand, he threw it to the ground, and it coincidentally tumbled over to the sable’s side. The creature vigilantly jumped back, then came up close to sniff it. Jing Qi let out a long sigh, shutting his eyes as he leaned against the headboard.
Likely sensing that it would be unsuitable to stay here for long, the sable consequently hopped out the window. The interior of the whole room had only Jing Qi breathing like so, being exceptionally peaceful.
He knew that Wu Xi drank too much yesterday night, and he also knew that this was quite a bothersome event. He couldn’t fathom how much Wu Xi would be able to remember once he sobered up at dawn, nor could he figure out how to deal with him, so he intended to hide out of extraordinary cowardice. Once Wu Xi got up that morning, he would then conceal himself in his room; the other going back to his own Estate on his own was just fine.
For something so embarrassing, if Wu Xi came to and still remembered it, he ought to be a bit judicious and silently see himself out.
Unfortunately, the Nanjiang Shamanet was not a bit judicious, and was now plainly a dead pig unafraid of getting burned by boiling water. In spite of everything having come out, he didn’t shy nor hide away from it, and he had been waiting outside since daybreak, wanting to see him.
As soon as Jing Qi heard the fracas when he got up, his head immediately swelled to twice its size, and he unthinkingly made Ping An find an excuse to rebuff him. That suggestion of reluctance to see the other party had already been quite obvious, and Wu Xi had always been deemed a perceptive person ― so, he should’ve gone back, right? No one could’ve known that the Prince would once again underestimate the Shamanet’s stubborn donkey temper.
The guy had the presence of a tax collector; he stood straight as a brush, clearly expressing that if Jing Qi wasn’t coming out, then he wasn’t leaving, and absolutely had to be given an explanation.
Watching the sun already climb up the sky, Ji Xiang gently pushed open the door and entered. “Master, shall I send you a meal?”
Jing Qi’s eyes passed over him. First he nodded, then he shook his head. “Forget it. I hadn’t been up for very long just now, and the stuff I had this morning is still pretty stuck in my chest. All of you can go on and eat yourselves, I don’t need any.”
Ji Xiang was aware that he had recently lost his temper while clashing with Ping An, so he didn’t dare to provoke him. Giving a particularly obedient affirmation, he went to withdraw, but was stopped by Jing Qi calling for him. “Go and talk to the Shamanet. Make him go back and not stay around, okay? Once a few days have passed, I’ll have the energy to talk to him again. In any case, the Emperor is presently in the middle of restricting my movements, so it’s improper for me to be seeing guests all the time.”
Not long after Ji Xiang left, there was a commotion in the courtyard. Brows furrowed, Jing Qi couldn’t help but get off the bed and go to stand at an angle next to the window. From his point of view, he happened to be able to see Wu Xi standing at the entrance of the courtyard alone. As if Ji Xiang had said something to him, he suddenly became agitated, and made to barge inside.
The guards had received their orders, blocking his way and disallowing him from coming in. Unable to do anything to help, Ji Xiang was soothing him from the side.
“Beiyuan! Jing Beiyuan!” Wu Xi bellowed. “Come out and talk to me! Since you know everything, what kind of man are you being by hiding away right now?! Come out!”
The guards watching the courtyard were naturally not his match, but, thankfully, he wasn’t planning on injuring them. He took their weapons and tossed them to the side, then struck their acupoints to make them temporarily incapable of free movement.
Ji Xiang wanted to hinder him, yet also didn’t dare to, so he had no other option than to chase after him. “Shamanet! Shamanet!”
No one was obstructing his path, yet Wu Xi hesitated a bit. He stationed in the courtyard for a time, the lines of his face and fists both drawn tight. With his body wrapped in an ensemble of black clothes, he was standing as ramrod straight as a staff, indescribably obstinate. Fixedly, he gazed towards where Jing Qi was.
That tenacious zeal of his… really made Jing Qi’s head hurt.
He could handle other folks, because they all had weak points, and possessed the capacity to spend recklessly on what charmed their eyes. In his life, there were innumerable devious ones, bootlicking ones, reserved ones, nobles, and peasants, yet there hadn’t ever been a child as direct as Wu Xi, who didn’t falter at all, nor turn around in the face of death.
He kneaded the space between his brows. Sighing, walking out, and leaning against the doorframe, he looked at Wu Xi indifferently.
There was a split second where Wu Xi cowered from coming into contact with his gaze, soon after which he straightened his spine back out again.
“You’ve fussed from dawn until now. What’s such a big deal that you can’t talk about it in a few days? The noise is making my head hurt.” Jing Qi was already accustomed to beginning to perform tai chi with his rambling words as soon as he opened his mouth.
Wu Xi stared blankly for a moment. Unable to appreciate even one bit of Jing Qi’s painstaking effort in thinking up a way for both parties to get out of this, he thus came up and said, “I drank myself drunk yesterday, but I remember all the words I had said to you, and they were my thoughts.”
Jing Qi went quiet for a bit. To this day, he was still fairly incapable of adapting to the other’s brand of excessively unrestrained and straightforward speaking. A long time after, he raised his head, expression calm, but didn’t look at Wu Xi again. “Call for everyone to withdraw. You, as well,” he said to Ji Xiang. “What was said today… if one word of it gets out, don’t blame this Prince for becoming hostile and speaking nothing of sentiment.”
From the tone he raised, Ji Xiang knew that this wasn’t in jest. He nimbly purged the scene, then withdrew himself.
Only after organizing his turns of phrase did Jing Qi turn to Wu Xi. “Whatever words were said last night, I will take as having never heard before. You can go on back.”
Wu Xi was anxious. “Words that have been said are said, and you heard them. How could you take them as having never been said?”
“That’s my business,” Jing Qi said softly. “Shamanet, in a friendship, you mustn’t make things hard for me… nor hard for yourself.”
Wu Xi froze in place, forcing himself to talk ages after. “You… don’t like me even a little?”
He never disguised his emotions towards him, and in that moment, the look in his eyes was so dismal, even a blind person could have seen it. Jing Qi suddenly recalled the night before, and how the youth looked as he laid against the door, limp on the ground while he repeatedly called his name. His heart softened, and all sorts of soft and gentle excuses whirled about in one big circle inside his head, yet he ultimately said nothing.
He believed that, after such a long time, he had some internal understanding of what kind of person Wu Xi was. The kid hadn’t been innately born with the chord of tact, being direct and to the point; it would therefore be better to be blunt to him, so as to avoid giving him an unrealistic hope such as this and contrarily leading him to be persistent in his ignorance. In consequence, he nodded. “You shouldn’t have an overactive imagination.”
With that, he turned to go back in the room. Wu Xi gritted his teeth, shouting from behind him. “There will come a day that you’ll be willing to leave with me!”
Jing Qi abruptly turned his head around. “Nanjiang Shamanet, are you openly persuading this Prince to fraternize with a foreign clan?” he replied, pausing between each word.
Wu Xi’s entire body jolted. The rare red on his face immediately waned to nothing. Jing Qi swung his sleeves, turning back around. “Forgive me for not seeing you off further out.”
Wu Xi stared at the tightly shut door for a long time, after which he spoke to the vacant courtyard as if he was talking to himself. “There will come a day.”
There was no answer. It was unclear whether Jing Qi heard him or not.
Following that day, Jing Qi didn’t see Wu Xi anymore. The latter continued to come and sit at the Estate for a time at noon every day. Jing Qi wasn’t seeing guests, and he didn’t charge inside again. Just like how it was when Jing Qi went to the Guangs, he would wait there on the daily for a spate, then return, come wind, rain, or shine.
Gold supported foliage, throwing Bixia‘s temples into disarray. Jade inspected mud, unseating the Azure Emperor’s seal. The lord of the Five Peaks ― an important site of the imperial cult where nations coexisted, impressive and arcadian ― had toppled.
The Court and the commonfolk were in uproar.
And conspirators in every faction started to use this opportunity to sharpen their blades.
The translator says: Ouch. Seems your neck-bite confession didn’t go over well, buddy.
 From the Guiguzi. I can’t find a good (free) translation of it, unfortunately.
 From Peng Sunyi’s “Mount Tai Earthquake Ballad: A Work Overnight in Du Temple”. Ditto… I can’t find English sources on the Azure Emperor, but he was an ancient deity belonging to the Five Emperors, and eventually got assimilated into different names like Fu Xi and Taihao.