With Ji Shu Liu's cue, two of his people bring in a box around 1 metre high. This time, he personally opens the box instead of ordering his people to. He takes out the object inside.
Whatever it is, it is wrapped with silk of the finest quality. People inside the hall are really curious as to what is inside the box.
Based on the shape, Yun Qian Yu can already guess what it is. She frowns. Seems like Ji Shu Liu is hell-bent on creating trouble for her this time.
Ji Shu Liu looks at Yun Qian Yu's beautiful face, one that is enough to topple kingdoms. The corner of his lips curls as he takes away the silk, revealing the 1-metre high object.
There are gasps inside the room, is that a musical instrument? Why does it look so peculiar?
Ji Shu Liu's clear voice can be heard inside the room, "This is a musical instrument from a foreign kingdom. This king stumbled upon this but had no idea how to play it. Only when this king stumbled upon Andy did I finally had a faint idea on how this works. This king realized that Princess Hu Guo does not lack anything, so this king decided to give the princess this rare gift. Do you like this gift, Your Highness? It is alright if you do not know how to play it, Andy will teach you how. With your brilliance, you should be able to learn this quickly."
Gong Sang Mo frowns; he knows that Ji Shu Liu likes foreign objects and loves collecting treasures. That is not a problem. But the problem here is, he is using his hobby to make things hard for his beloved girl. He wonders if he should destroy this wretched instrument.
All the people inside the hall look at Yun Qian Yu; how does one play that instrument? They are done for; seems like the princess will have to suffer a loss this time.
Yun Qian Yu glances at the confident Ji Shu Liu before instructing something to Chen Xiang.
Chen Xiang nods before going to do the bidding. Not long later, she returns, carrying two exquisite brocade cloths. Chen Xiang walks to the 1-metre high harp before cleaning all of it's strings with the cloths. She even wipes the body of the harp.
After Chen Xiang finishes cleaning the harp, Yun Qian Yu gets up and approaches the harp. She toys with the strings, creating an exquisite sound.
"This is a musical instrument called the 'harp'. The one we have here is the simplest form of the harp, with 26 strings. It is smaller and less complex than the 'pedal harp'. The outer appearance of the harp is very beautiful and exquisite. It will create a kind of music that is as gentle as a jade; light and lithe. It will ease one's worries."
Chen Xiang brings a stool and place it in the place that Yun Qian Yu told her to. The beautiful blue dress sways as she turns around. The blue ribbon that she ties around her hair dances as well.
Yun Qian Yu turns to Murong Cang, "Today is imperial grandfather's birthday. Qian Yu would like to play you a song using Ding Hai Wang's gift."
"Alright!" When Murong Cang hears her saying that, he understands that the girl knows how to play this instrument.
Yun Qian Yu sits down and brings the harp to her embrace. She starts playing, creating a beautiful and light-hearted melody. She is in full-concentration, closing her eyes while playing. Her face is warm and gentle, as though immersed in some kind of emotion.
The confident look on Ji Shu Liu's face falters as he stares at her in shock. She knows how to play harp? One must know that he only knows how to play it once Andy taught him and even now, he is not as skilled as her. She actually can play it while closing her eyes. If one does not know, they would think that she plays this everyday.
The result of his investigation on her does not indicate any interest in musical instruments at all. As far as he knows, Yun Qian Yu hasn't touched a single musical piece after entering the palace.
He looks at her with a pair of complicated eyes.
Gong Sang Mo looks at him unhappily; just look at how the guy is staring at his girl!
After she finishes playing her song, Yun Qian Yu opens her beautiful eyes and looks at Gong Sang Mo gently.
Seeing that, Gong Sang Mo who is originally upset is immediately appeased. His anger is forgotten as flowers bloom in his heart. His phoenix eyes are full of gentle light as he gives her a smile.
Yun Qian Yu gets up, ignoring the mixture of appreciation and envy that she is receiving from the crowd.
As Yun Qian Yu gets up, Yu Nuo and Ying Yu step forward to take the harp away. The corner of Ji Shu Liu's lips twitches; she will really accept all the gifts.
"Foreign music, customs and traditions naturally have their draws, but so do we from the East. Nevertheless, bengong would like to thank Ding Hai Wang for your kind regards. It must have been a hard journey for you, why don't you rest for a moment and enjoy our Nan Lou Kingdom's cuisine and dances?"
Ji Shu Liu flings his sleeves before he sits down, "Princess Hu Guo is right. It is better to agree than to be respectful."
The banquet finally feels like a birthday party again; everyone takes a sigh of relief. This one whole day feels longer than a year. The kings and nobles did not expect the young princess to be such a strong opponent. They are worried about their future in the court.
Congratulatory music starts playing and the banquet goes on as though nothing has happened.
From time to time, Yun Qian Yu would chat with Murong Cang and Murong Yu Jian. Her brain though, is turning really fast. There must be something more to this than Ji Shu Liu lets on.
She coldly sweeps her eyes over the crowd; everyone looks so harmonious with each other. Only they themselves know what they are truly thinking inside.
Two black-clothed men suddenly appear next to Gong Sang Mo; they are Chang Si and Chang Qing. Chang Si is whispering something to Gong Sang Mo, who looks a little thoughtful.
He suddenly whispers something towards her: Xiang Yun Ling.
She looks at him. How did he find out about Xiang Yun Ling? He sends her a look before looking at Ji Shu Liu.
She promptly understands what he is trying to say. Ji Shu Liu's hidden card is the Xiang Yun Ling? But she already has one Xiang Yun Ling, what is he playing at?
When she looks at the confidence in Ji Shu Liu's eyes, she understands that things will not be as simple as she thought it would be.
She nods at Gong Sang Mo understandingly.
Gong Sang Mo is not at ease despite the calm expression on Yun Qian Yu's face, instead, he becomes even more tense. He knows what kind of a person Ji Shu Liu is.
Ji Shu Liu is sitting on the first seat next to Gong Sang Mo. He glances at Gong Sang Mo, "Xian Wang, it seems like we have similar tastes."
Gong Sang Mo guesses the meaning of that meaningful sentence. "Really?" Gong Sang Mo asks without a change in tone.
"We were just playing around earlier. The real game will begin later." Ji Shu Liu's expression is solemn.
"This king has never seen a person who can play with her." He smiles. Even if the girl cannot beat Ji Shu Liu, there is still him. There is no way he is going to let others steal the girl right out of his palm.
"Oh, that makes this king even more interested. This king loses to you in the battlefield; now, let's give love a try."
The smile on Ji Shu Liu's face turns bigger as he looks at Yun Qian Yu in plain interest.
Gong Sang Mo's eyes darken; he is openly challenging him.
"You cannot even win over me in the battlefield, what makes you think you can win over me in love?" Gong Sang Mo scornfully says.
"I wouldn't know the answer to that if I don't try!" Ji Shu Liu casually says.
Gong Sang Mo does not pursue the topic that will only make him unhappy.
Yun Qian Yu pays attention to every movement the two men made. She lowers her eyes and looks at the red bean bracelet that is draped around her wrist. The carving of the character 'Mo' gives her warm feeling on the insides.
She has been fed by Gong Sang Mo prior to the banquet, so she does not eat anything. Chen Xiang brews her a cup of jasmine tea. As the scent of the jasmine tea wafts in the air, Yun Qian Yu's heart turns light.
In her past life, she loved drinking tea the most. Her most favourite tea would be jasmine tea. Although jasmine tea is not expensive or special, she likes it, and that's what matters.
"Imperial sister, did you get the impression that Ding Hai Wang came here with you in mind?" Yu Jian cannot help from asking.
"En." Everyone can see that.
"What does he want?" Yu Jian curiously asks.
"We will know soon."
"It is not over yet?" Yu Jian asks in surprise.
"The previous ones were just little tests, the biggest one will come soon."
"Imperial sister, do you think Ding Hai Wang has a crush on you?" Yu Jian asks as he looks at the secret interaction between Ji Shu Liu and Gong Sang Mo.
"Your imperial sister is not a piece of gold that everyone will like!" Yun Qian Yu jokes.
"But I think you are better at attracting people than gold," Yu Jian innocently says.
The corner of Yun Qian Yu's lips twitches while Chen Xiang and the rest who overhear that laugh lightly.
Yun Qian Yu glances at them and they immediately stop.
Yu Jian laughs too, before composing himself and putting on an imposing look again. Then, he personally spreads Murong Cang's food for him.
Murong Cang looks at Yun Qian Yu, and then at Ji Shu Liu. He sighs. Shu Liu that kid is handsome and capable, the object of desire of so many maidens and young girls. He does not lack anything. Sang Mo should be anxious. Remembering about what happened 10 years ago, he sighs.
"Grandpa, do you like the gift that this grandson has gotten you?" Hua Man Xi who has been absent throughout most parts of the banquet walks in, wearing a red robe. He walks towards Murong Cang before emptying the cup in front of him. "I, this young master, am so thirsty!"
Li Jin Tian hurries to stop him, only to be given an empty cup. "Shizi, that was the Retired Emperor's cup! If you were thirsty, you should have told this old servant, I would have poured you a separate cup!"
"It's okay, I don't find it gross to drink out of grandpa's cup," Hua Man Xi says.
Li Jin Tian turns rigid; this is not about him being grossed out from sharing other people's cup, this is about etiquette! Is the Retired Emperor's cup something that just about anyone can drink out from?
"What? Based on your expression, Eunuch Li, is it grandpa that finds me gross?" Hua Man Xi turns to look at Murong Cang.
Murong Cang laughs happily, "You brat. Grandpa has spoilt you!"
"That is because grandpa loves me!" Hua Man Xi flatteringly says.
"That is enough. Come and show grandpa your gift. If you lied to grandpa, you will get beaten!" Murong Cang has sincerely dotes on this grandson of him for so many years.
"I guarantee you that you will like it, grandpa. I turned Duke Rong's manor upside down to get my hands on this," Hua Man Xi triumphantly says.
He waves his arm, signalling his people to bring the present over.
Duke Rong who has been quiet throughout the entire thing suddenly frowns. Hua Man Xi's gift is not big. It is placed on top of a small tray, covered with red silk. Seeing the shape of the object, he turns rigid.
As Hua Man Xi takes away the red silk covering the object, Duke Rong's face changes.
The smile on Murong Cang's face stiffens.
Hua Man Xi pretends to be ignorant and says, "Grandpa, this is a rare kind of jade. The carvings on it are very lifelike, that is why I took it out of our treasury. What do you think, grandpa? Do you like it?"
"Bring it here so that grandpa can have a look," Murong Cang beckons it over.
Hua Man Xi personally brings it over; it is the carving of three men. Two of them are kneeling doing something, while the last one is sitting on top of a rock.
Duke Rong steps out of his seat and kneels down, "Please forgive us, Your Majesty!"
"What is wrong, Duke Rong? What is there to be forgiven?" Murong Cang studies the carving.
"Your Majesty, this official is the one who hired people to make that carving. It is still not finished, this official has no idea how that unfilial son got his hands on it!"
"Oh, what is Duke Rong asking them to carve?" Murong Cang asks, still not letting go of the jade in his hand.
"This official was remembering about my two old classmates. That was why this official asked people to carve this, planning to put it inside my study, for nostalgia purposes."
"Oh." Murong Cang looks at Duke Rong with unfathomable eyes.
After a while, he says, "Get up, what are you kneeling for? I am your father-in-law and you are my son-in-law, what is the point of all this formalities? You can take this jade back."
Duke Rong respectfully gets up.
Murong Cang turns to Hua Man Xi, "You brat, it was a waste to have doted on you for so many years. You actually stole your father's object and tried to give it to me as a birthday gift!"
Hua Man Xi laughs loudly, "I knew grandpa wouldn't be happy, that's why I prepared another gift!"
"There is another one? You are sensible enough to have a back-up plan!" Murong Cang laughs incredulously.
"Of course! I must make grandpa happy on your birthday!" Hua Man Xi haughtily says.
Duke Rong covers the jade with the red silk again before retreating back to his seat. He does not let Princess Ming Zhu see it, placing it safely next to him. He goes back to idly chatting with his colleagues.
Yun Qian Yu has taken a good look at the carving. It is the carving of three men, each looking different from the other. She can sense the change in Murong Cang's expression after seeing that jade. She looks at the seemingly ignorant Hua Man Xi as she remembers what he said in Tian En Temple.
This time, Hua Man Xi's cue is a loud whistle.
A servant brings in a cage and places it in front of Hua Man Xi. He takes a little white ball out of the cage and hands it over to Murong Cang.
"I personally caught this snow wolf, grandpa. Do you like him?"
Murong Cang is stunned as he looks at the wolf cub. With trembling hands, he accepts him and pats him lovingly.
The wolf cub lets out a sound.
"In the blink of an eye, Yin Xue has left for more than 10 years. He was around this size too, when zhen first found him back then. Later, he grew up and was able to kill a cow in one bite. He went to the battlefield with zhen and had saved zhen's life," Murong Cang recounts his memory.
"Grandpa was just reminiscing about Yin Xue with you and you went and gave grandpa a new one. Grandpa loves this gift very much!" Murong Cang pats the cub again, "Let's name you Ru Xue. Once you grow up, you must become even stronger and more heroic than Yin Xue! Yin Xue ah, we are going to meet soon. I am old now, I wonder if you will still recognize me."
(TN: Murong Cang did not use formalities when speaking with Yin Xue. He did not address himself as 'zhen', and instead as 'I'. That means he considers Yin Xue his equal, which is rare because emperors usually address themselves as 'zhen' even in their inner monologue.)
Hua Man Xi's eyes dims down as Yu Jian and Qian Yu's hearts turn sour.
"Go to your mother," Murong Cang waves Hua Man Xi away as he concentrates on the wolf cub.
Hua Man Xi nods before going to where his mother is. Duke Rong gives him a look, not really saying anything.
As for the rest, when it comes to the royal family, they can only pretend they didn't see anything.
Princess Ming Zhu looks at Hua Man Xi, "Xi Er, we have prepared a marriage proposal for you. We are going to ask your imperial grandfather to bestow you a marriage arrangement, do you agree?"
Hua Man Xi looks at Yun Qian Yu who is whispering something to Yu Jian.
He looks away, "Marriage is a huge thing, it naturally rest in your hands!"
Duke Rong looks at him in surprise; his unscrupulous son is actually being so obedient? He thought he would kick up a huge fuss!
Princess Ming Zhu presents Murong Cang with a cup before saying that she wish to share the joy of his birthday with another good news.
When Murong Cang hears that they are going to betroth Hua Man Xi, he is excited, asking who the fiancée will be.
Princee Ming Zhu replies him, "Grand Tutor Jiang's primary granddaughter, Jiang Yun Yi."
Murong Cang ponders for a moment, "Is she here today?"
"Which one is she?"
Jiang Yun Yi gets up from her seat and kneels in front of Murong Cang.
"Raise your head!"
Murong Cang looks at the dignified and elegant Jiang Yun Yi before nodding in agreement. Not bad. When he sees Jiang Yun Yi's looks, he laughs happily.
"That brat is so lucky! Accept the decree!"
Hua Man Xi gets up and kneels next to Jiang Yun Yi, "Have you think this through? Once grandpa release his edict, there will be no going back for you," Hua Man Xi whispers to her.
"I have. Shizi is an extraordinary person, Yun Yi does not regret anything. In fact, it will be Yun Yi's honor. What about you, shizi? Have you think this through?" Jiang Yun Yi calmly asks.
"My marriage is never up to me from the very beginning!"
The two of them falls into silence.
Murong Cang smiles while pointing at them, "The marriage has not even been bestowed and they are already whispering secretively amongst themselves. What a compatible pair."
Li Jin Tian then announces the Retired Emperor's decree. Everyone congratulates Duke Rong's manor and Grand Tutor Jiang's manor. They ask about when they will be able to drink wine at the two people's wedding.
Duke Rong laughs, "We will decide everything after discussing with Grand Tutor Jiang's manor."
Grand Tutor Jiang's face is full of smiles as well, clearly very happy with the match.
Ji Shu Liu suddenly gets up before bowing, "Your Majesty, Shu Liu would like to share the joy of your birthday too!"
"Oh, Shu Liu has a girl that you like too?" Murong Cang laughs.
"Shu Liu should be 20 this year. It is about time. Other men your age already have a couple of children," Murong Cang laments.
"Shu Liu stumbled upon someone who moved Shu Liu's heart this year. Shu Liu would like to request Your Majesty to bestow her to Shu Liu."<
"Which family's daughter is it?"
"The person that Shu Liu like is Princess Hu Guo, Yun Qian Yu," Ji Shu Liu looks at Yun Qian Yu as he speaks with a voice as clear as a water spring.
Everyone present are shocked. Ding Hai Wang likes Princess Hu Guo? What does the Retired Emperor and the Emperor have to say about this?
Yun Qian Yu looks at Ji Shu Liu, completely unaffected by his declaration.
Murong Cang looks at Ji Shu Liu, and then glances at Gong Sang Mo.
Gong Sang Mo shakes his robe before standing up.