The next day after my first meeting with Feng Zhao Wen that year, I was playing with Xiao Huang in the Eastern Palace when we received a decree from the emperor.
The Crown Prince of the Great Qi travelled far to get here; and since the Crown Prince of the Eastern Palace was unhealthy, His Majesty instructed a couple of young officials to accompany the Crown Prince to replace Xiao Huang.
My heart raced as I kneeled to receive that decree.
Once I managed to coax away Xiao Huang who was adamant to follow me, I ran towards the posthouse while panting heavily. I froze when I saw a gentle young man, drinking tea while sitting opposite of Feng Zhao Wen.
Turned out that the young officials chosen were just me and Yan Ping!
If this was any other day, I would have jumped in glee. Unfortunately, when the eyes of the Crown Prince of Great Qi swept over me in interest, all the excitement within me died.
The Crown Prince laughed faintly, refined like wind. “There are sayings that there are two famous officials in court; each are outstanding in their own rights. This is why this prince invited you two over, hope you will not mind.” Whether he meant it or not, his words put people on edge.
He must be interested to watch me playing push and pull with Yan Ping; that was why he called us both over to watch the fun.
The oblivious Yan Ping was very courteous: “What are you saying, Your Highness? It is an honor for Yan Ping to stroll in the imperial city with you!”
Tears flooded my heart like a river….. He had never treated me that warmly before! Other than ‘get lost’ or ‘let go’ he usually would not say anything to acknowledge me. Most of the time, he would only silently kick me away.
But, for someone who was foolishly in love, I couldn’t stop myself from praising him: See! Yan Xiao Lang was an outstanding person. Even when he opened the door to let the robbers in, he did it beautifully!
(TN: Xiao Lang (小郎) means young man.)
Even though I knew I shouldn’t blindly copied Yan Ping who was buttering up the Crown Prince of Great Qi; putting up my guards against him was pretty hard.
Feng Zhao Wen inherited the good-looks of the Great Qi’s imperial family. He was knowledgeable and outstanding to boot; he really was different than the dandy young royals I had in mind. The way he interacted with Yan Ping was like old friends who had stumbled upon each other again.
Yan Ping spent a couple of days strolling around with Feng Zhou Wen; showing him the prosperity of the lives within the city. Actually, I used to follow my father to a village 800 li from the city. The people there were starving and were living in poverty; it was completely different from the lives of the people in the imperial city.
Seeing Yan Ping getting more and more adept at being your common everyday official, I was truly unhappy. It was like a stretch of white silk stained by a drop of ink. I even started wondering if he was truly the lofty and righteous young man that I secretly loved.
But, not long after, I cheered up once again. It was just a drop of ink ma; nothing big really! One day, I will wash it clean using my magnanimous self! Besides, standing next to Feng Zhao Wen made Yan Ping even more attractive to me; my discontent slowly lessened.
One day, while all three of us were eating while enjoying the scenery, I placed a plum cake in the Crown Prince’s plate; it was out of habit from all those time I spent with Xiao Huang. After that, I placed one in Yan Ping’s bowl as well.
Upon realizing that I had just given one to Yan Ping, I froze.
————how could I commit such a big mistake!
Him flinging it back to me in front of Feng Zhao Wen could already be considered an act of generosity. What if he flung it to my face?
Imagining me with a plum cake on my face and becoming a laughingstock in front of the Crown Prince makes my entire muscle stiff.
I waited and waited and yet I couldn’t feel anything thrown to my face. I mustered my courage and uneasily peered at him.
His plate was empty! The plum cake was gone!
I foolishly looked at him; there wasn’t a single trace of displeasure on his face! There were remnants of the plum cake at the corner of his lips and he was leisurely wiping it with a white handkerchief.
…… He…… He actually ate the cake I gave him!
There was an indescribable feeling of pleasure that I felt within me. I ignored the Crown Prince of the Great Qi who was eyeing us like tigers while I continued staring at Yan Ping foolishly.
He turned his head towards me in surprise. “Do I have something on my face, General An?” he asked me warmly.
I shook my head before quickly looking down. I could feel something forming in my eyes, I’m afraid this warm treatment would not last long. He would be back with treating me with repulsion after this……
Perhaps, liking someone turned you that little flower in the dust. Even if he didn’t look at you; even if he stomped at you, your feelings would not change.
Over the next two days, I freely filled Yan Ping’s bowl with dishes that suited his taste. Of course, the first pick would always go to the Crown Prince of Great Qi. Only after I was done with him would I turn to Yan Ping like a love sick idiot.
I had long mastered the art of knowing Yan Ping’s favorite dishes; so, everytime I picked his favorite dishes for him, he would glance at me suspiciously before quietly eating them.
I am secretly proud inside: During the annual banquets, I would secretly stared at him and observed the dishes that he picked the most. I would remember those dishes in my mind and would go to the kitchen afterwards to learn how to do them. I would also bribe the chefs of Yan Manor and asked them about their young master’s favorite food.
Yan Ping had a simple taste. I had known that from the very start; I just didn’t have the fortune and opportunity to eat on the same table with him before.
My father liked spicy and savory food. Since I regularly ate with him since I was young, my taste was naturally molded according to his taste.
Experience told us that every single habit you had might serve as an obstacle in your marriage life. Marriage was like a big boat. You must be careful when you board it and be diligent when you were on it.
An army officer in the court once did something that was akin to overturning that big boat; what happened to him served as a warning to the younger generations like us.
The official was crude by nature; he was someone who would eat big and drink big all the time. His wife was a gentle and cultivated lady from Jiang Nan who preferred scholarly and refined men. Because she didn’t like the personality of the official, the pair regularly got into fights. She even asked for a divorce.
That matter got into the ear of the empress dowager. She invited the madam over to the palace to look into the matters further. Everything that the madam disliked about the official ended up getting spread around by the empress dowager’s maids who overheard them. The madam nitpicked over everything; from the official’s addiction to alcohol, to him snoring on bed, to him not washing his feet after taking off his shoes. She basically complained about the little things that he did.
In the end, the pair got a divorce. Everybody else could not understand why the madam was being so petty.
After that, the rest of the officials in court often got all cheeky with that official, pretending to ask; “Did you wash your feet today? Did you snore last night?”
Every time they did that, that old official would get so angry that his eyes would turn red. He and my father were good friends so he would often came to our manor to lament while drinking.
———-After that, he learned to drink a little less, but by then, the madam had gone back to Jiang Nan and never returned again.
Whenever drunk, he would stroke my head before murmuring, “Little Yi, you must learn to accommodate your wife once you got married in the future. Only then would you last a long time.”
I lived and learned; I stood high and saw far and used every possible methods to know about Yan Ping’s preferences. I didn’t dare to slack off lest that one moment of distraction cost us our happy ending. If I used the perseverance I had on him on war, I would’ve won with great victories!
At this moment, I treated Yan Ping with great enthusiasm. I usually subdued my feeling and didn’t make it this obvious; but after seeing him talking to me with such warmth in front of the Crown Prince of the Great Qi, I started interacting with him smoothly, despite initially stuttering. I had also gotten better at serving him food.
The Crown Prince of the Great Qi, Feng Zhao Wen was inferior to Yan Ping by a great deal. I was the companion of the Crown Prince of the Great Chen; I still had a little standing somewhere. Every time I picked him some dishes, he would stare at it bitterly while frowning before eating it the way one would to a poison. It was a sight that would make one lose their appetite! Yan Ping, on the contrary, was refined; like jade. Even the way he chews looked good.
Seeing him eating gave me appetite; I picked a shrimp for myself. It tasted plain; it also had that slight tinge of fishiness. I frowned, almost spewing it back out. Under his watchful glance, I forced myself to swallow it.
At that moment, I finally had some sympathy for that official uncle after standing in his shoes.
Remembering that official uncle’s cherished teaching, I braved myself to glance at Yan Xiao Lang who was eating to his greatest fulfillment. I truly coveted that satiated face that he was displaying at that moment. Being able to sit next to him every day while watching him smile; I was already satisfied and no longer had the appetite to eat.
I didn’t think I would have the guts to make Yan Ping change his favorite food in the future. If I were to choose between delicious, savory food and Yan Ping…… I would grit my teeth and choose him.
Foods were everywhere but Yan Ping was not. Besides, there were only one Yan Ping; he was truly precious ah!
In front of Yan Ping, not having the appetite to eat was just a small thing. It was not something I couldn’t deal with.
After finished strolling that day, Yan Ping had a matter to tend to and had to leave us. Before departing, he instructed me to send the Crown Prince back to the posthouse. I reluctantly watched his handsome silhouette drifting away. I sluggishly stirred up the rein, heading back to the posthouse.
Feng Zhao Wen pulled at me with his hand as he smilingly said, “General An, let this prince send you home; you are after all a girl ma!”
I stared at him before looking at all ten guards behind him. Might as well go home early. I turned the horse around, heading back to my family’s manor.
Even though father was the Great General and was on the same rank as Yan Ping’s father, Uncle Yan Yu; he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Uncle Yan Yu. It should be because years ago, Uncle Yan Yu chose to live in Ping Kang Lane that was located close to the imperial palace. That area was full of affluent families, surrounded by esteemed manors.
We were quiet as we traveled back to my family’s residence.