Novel Wars

Chapter 10 - Man Man Qing Luo

The next day, Ah Luo woke up early to get ready for the day ahead. She wore a tight tunic inside and wore a loose, flowing silver-white robe on the outside. Then she tied her hair up into a ponytail, and tightened a jade belt around her waist. [1] When she looked in the mirror, all she saw was a handsome young man with a face like crown jade. [2]

[1] A jade belt, commonly worn in China belt
[2] A Chinese idiom used to describe beautiful men

The Seventh Madam helped her paint her pale white skin dark and also thickened her eyebrows. Ah Luo spoke in a deep voice and began to walk around in huge strides, even her demeanour did not remind you of a shy little daughter. The Seventh Madam was relieved when she saw this.

She smiled and said, "If they are not close to you, people won't even recognise you as a noble daughter."

The first move Ah Luo made was nerve-wracking, but she easily climbed up to the top of the wall, took out a ladder made out of rope and aligned it with the wall, thinking 'this is much more better than just climbing with my bare hands.' Although, it would be nice if she knew how to lighten her own body. Thinking a little about Liu Jue's flying kung fu skills, she envied him. If she hadn't had a grudge on him, she probably could've asked him to be her master.

Ah Luo landed softly on the ground. She squinted and saw Xiao Yu standing on the wall and took the ladder down. She then buried it in the dirt just in case Xiao Yu heard her flute but wasn't able to put up the ladder so she would be able to get back in herself.

She looked around and figured out the direction to the business district, but just as she lifted her foot to head that way, she changed her mind and walked towards the nearby river that she heard. She followed the courtyard wall to another secluded corner and played a tune that she normally played in harmony with a mysterious flute player. As she begun, she heard the direction the music was coming from and followed. It was coming from the river. She put her flute away and walked in that direction.

A couple seconds after she had stopped, the other flutist paused, as if wondering why the playing time was so short today. Then it started once again.

As Ah Luo got closer to the river, she began to slow her pace and slowly wandered towards the flutist, enjoying the view whilst listening to the music. She saw a young man sitting under a weeping willow by the river. He was wearing a purple robe and held a jade flute to his lips [3]. So he was the one that played the flute. Why did he come here every day to play the flute? Was it to harmonise with the sound of her own flute?

[3] A jade flute. It's looks like what it sounds like, but I thought I'd provide an image.jade-flute

Sensing someone behind him, the man turned around seeing a handsome young man gazing at the flute that he was holding. "Little brother, do you enjoy the flute as well?"

Ah Luo looked at the man a little more closely, he had eyebrows like swords and deep eyes. He wore a small smile on his mouth. Another fine man. "I was enjoying the scenery by the river, and when I heard the melodious tune of the flute, I followed it to find the flutist. Sorry that I disturbed you."

The man chuckled and smiled. "It's alright, it doesn't matter today anyways."

Ah Luo heard this, and thought that he was a little upset that nobody was there to accompany him, so she smiled and said, "I also like playing the flute, would you allow me to play together with you?"

The man was a little surprised, "So this little brother can play the flute? That's good!"

The flute duo played a song together. After it finished, they felt a lot closer. "It's quite refreshing to meet a new friend, and I see that little brother is quite friendly. Could I invite the little brother to a gathering at the Thousand Wind House?"

Ah Luo thought about this, and decided that this Thousand Wind House must be a something like a restaurant or tearoom. She smiled and said, "My name is Luo Shan, what is your name, older brother?" Naturally, Ah Luo would bring their relationship a little more closer.

The man smiled and replied. "Well, so today we have not just a friend, but also a brother. My last name is Chen, but call me Zi Li or older brother."

Ah Luo affectionately called him older brother, and as they began to walk towards the city, they talked. Ah Luo was joyful when she found out that her newfound older brother was a Feng City local and knew his way around the city very well. Following him was just like she had brought a guide and a living map. She had really gotten lucky this time.

The two of them made their way down the river, heading in an eastern direction and when they went up the riverbank, tea stands could already be seen. This was the first time Ah Luo had walked on the streets of Feng City and she was greedy to see everything. She couldn't stop looking back and forth, from side to side. It really was a place far from her noble home.

Suddenly, she heard Zi Li say, "Little Brother Shan, there such a long way to go. I'm afraid that we won't reach the Thousand Wind House until sunset."

Ah Luo blushed a little and looked up at Zi Li, "Brother, how far is the Thousand Wind House?"

Zi Li answered, "It takes around three and a half minutes to get there by horse but an hour on foot."

So it was two hours work, huh? It looked like Feng City was really enormous. Getting a horse would probably be the best. As she was pondering over this, she heard trotting behind her. A horse had arrived and when she turned around to look, a horse poked its head out around her shoulder.

Ah Luo thought, "Two hours' walk, huh? This Feng City is so big, it looks like a horse would be best. Said the horse arrived. A horse neighs, and when Ah Luo looks, a large horse's head has been stretched out in front of him.

Zi Li spoke, "I had my servant take the horse here to wait. Little Brother Shan, have you learnt how to ride a horse before?"

So Ah Luo asked him, "Does it count as knowing how to ride if you let somebody else borrow your horse and ride it?"

Zi Li saw Ah Luo's piercing eyes watching him and he suddenly forgot what she had asked. What a stunning pair of eyes...  He leaned out and stretched out one hand to Ah Luo, "Come and ride with big brother"

Ah Luo didn't hesitate to reach out her own hand, only to feel a strong force below her and her body was lifted easily onto the horse. Zi Li smiled, "Sit tight!"

The horse rushed into the street, it's four hooves trotting quickly. Hearing Zi Li's warm breath right above her head, she heard a soft voice. "Don't worry, if you're with older brother, you won't fall."

Ah Luo cried and laughed. If you said you weren't afraid, you weren't afraid right? Her muscles were stiff, and she sweated profusely. Every time the horse galloped, she felt her heart leap. Whilst hearing her own voice fade behind her, she finally shouted, "Brother, can you slow down?"

Zi Li listened to her trembling voice and thought that surely this Luo Shan was the spoilt son of a large family, too timid to ride a horse. Seeing how he had already entered the main city through the East Gate, he began to slow done, "Brother Shan, I will ride the horse slowly now. You can sit on the horse and just watch the market."

Hearing this, Ah Luo sat upright and saw the East Street in its glory for the girst time. It was 20 to 30 meters wide and from time to time there were carriages and sedan chairs moving about and they didn't have to give way! The stone bricks were paved neatly on the road[4]. From here, one could only imagine the grandeur of Feng City.

[4] Neatly paved grey stone bricks, something similar to thiswet-stone-street-slope-old-houses-cloudy-morning-wet-stone-paved-street-slope-ancient-tile-roofed-129807532

The two sides of the street were buzzing with activity and chatter. Two and three story buildings stretched along the street and there were all sorts of different shops. All the shops were downstairs and teahouses and restaurants were situated upstairs. On the road, men and women in red and green walked in pairs or groups of three.

Zi Li halted his horse and nudged it towards the side. He walked into a street that was slightly narrower than the huge East Street. Here, a small courtyard lay with trees shading a building in the middle.

When they reached the building, Ah Luo saw three large characters painted across, "Thousand Wind House" and she knew that they had arrived. Zi Li jumped of his horse and picked her up and placed her gently on the floor. After a couple of steps, Ah Luo felt pain around her bottom. She couldn't help but rub a little and when she saw Zi Li staring at her with a small smile on his face, she was a bit upset, "Big brother's horse was a little too fast."

Zi Li laughed loudly, "Ah, it's big brother's fault. I'm very sorry."

Ah Luo generously said, "I accept your apology, who told me that I can't ride a horse." She had previously ridden a horse only once and even then she had been held by someone closely. They had moved slowly since it was a scenic area. Suddenly, remembering she smiled and asked "Will Brother teach this little Brother how to ride a horse one day?" Zi Li nodded his head in agreement.

They walked into the Thousand Wind House and there was a young waiter named Xiao Er standing at the entrance. Xiao Er was bright and over the years he had accumulated his own skills to recognize all sorts of people. Most of the guests that entered the Thousand Wind House had a high status. Seeing these people, the taller man raised his hand to show his nobility so he automatically assumed that the smaller one was also the son of a wealthy family.   The young waiter quickly said, "Please take a seat upstairs."

Ah Luo nodded. She saw no table downstairs, only an ebony tea table. There were traditional landscape calligraphy paintings hung around it. [5]

[5] Traditional calligraphy paintings that use ink, painted with a short stick formed from hardened pine soot and glue.imggg

When she wa."lked to the upper floor, she saw hollowed out screens seperating different seating areas, but there were also rooms with elegant furnishings.  Zi Li requested a private room and waited for Ah Luo to sit down. He spoke to the waiter, "I've heard that the Thousand Wind House has three excellent dishes and drinks that are totally unique. I hope I won't be disappointed."

Xiao Er smiled and nodded. "Our main chef has returned so I will make sure you try some of his delicacies."

A while later, the food was served and Ah Luo looked at the dishes on the table. Vegetarian tofu, vegetables, eggplants... then she looked at Zi Li. He smiled and shook his head to show that he had never eaten these dishes either. Ah Luo knew that the more vegetables, the worse it was so she stretched out her chopsticks to try a piece of the tofu, since all the other dishes were just vegetables. Zi li quickly tried some with his chopsticks and murmured, "Good! This tofu is tender, without losing the original flavour. The taste is fresh and fragrant."

Ah Luo quickly tasted the other vegetable dishes, the vegetable and eggplant dish only to hear Zi Li repeatedly exclaim how fresh they were. She couldn't help but ask Zi Li "Brother, are these dishes really so good?"

Zi Li replied, "Isn't the taste of the tofu different? The tofu that you normally get isn't like tofu. It doesn't taste like tofu at all. It really is no wonder that the son of Prince An Qing said that the only way to taste tofu truly is to come to Thousand Wind House."

When Ah Luo heard those words, she almost choked on her tea. She gasped, "Do Big Brother and Liu Jue know each other?"

Zi Li spoke in a serious manner. "Not too familiar, we've just met a couple times. Have you met Liu Jue?"

Ah Luo spoke, "I've seen him before at the Peach Blossom Banquet."

She looked at the Thousand Wind House right in front of her and quickly changed the subject, "Ah, don't you think that the Thousand Wind House is just aimed at the nobility who are used to eating fish and meat? In the end, it's just a dish cooked in clear water for you to taste. It really doesn't taste very good."

A smile came back to Zi Li's lips as he listened to Ah Luo's comment. Seeing 'him' animatedley express 'his' opinion, shaking 'his' head and sighing he thought that 'his' twinkling eyes were really attractive. Perhaps if it weren't for 'his' inadequete skills and manners, he would've brought 'him' back to his home.

He thought about the flutist that he had heard for a short period this morning, and then once again when Luo Shan had accompanied him by the river. Over the time that he had played together with the mysterious flutist, he had improved quickly and in his music, he could even hear the flutist's thoughts. Zi Li had wanted to leap over the courtyard wall several times to see who was living in the Right Prime Minister's house, but he decided he preferred to answer with flute, feeling the different emotions from the flutist every day. That was why he waited by the river every morning. This morning he had been a little disappointed that the flutist played for such a short period of time, but soon such a smart and handsome young brother appeared. Since he played the flute quite similarly to the person in the courtyard, Zi Li was eager to get to know him.

Zi Li drank several cups of wine without even realizing it. When he looked at Luo Shan again, he suddenly remembered the crystal clear eyes of a leopard that he had once hunted. Brother Shan's eyes were so similar. Zi Li muttered in his heart that perhaps if Luo Shan's complexion was fairer, he would've thought of him as a woman instead.

Ah Luo said a lot about the taste of the dish and looked up, seeing that Zi Li was a little surprised. She said, "Brother, if there's ever a chance, let me cook a few dishes for you! If you eat them, I'll make sure that you understand the true meaning of fresh!"

Zi Li sobered up and smiled, "You're the first person in Feng City to criticise the Thousand Wind House's three signature dishes like this."

Ah Luo exclaimed in surprised, "No way! Feng City is so prosperous and rich, how could the food be so lacking?"

Zi Li asked Ah Luo with a strange look, "You're not from Feng City?"

Ah Luo replied, "It's my second time leaving the estate, this is my first time coming to a restaurant. I have a good appetite for the food that I normally have at home."

Ah Luo normally ate at the Crabapple Courtyard, either Mother Zhang or her mother, the Seventh Lady would cook. She would normally invite Li Xiang's whole family to eat together once a month. Whenever that happened, they all made sure not to stretch their chopsticks out and take too much meat. In Ah Luo's opinion, the taste of the dishes from this big restaurant were not as good as the ones from the Crabapple Courtyard. She hadn't expected to arrive at the Thousand Wind House and taste their three delicacies... but it would be so bland!

Zi Li informed her, "The Thousand Wind House is mainly vegetarian and is considered a famous restaurant in Feng City. The cooks at Brother Shan's house are probably just too skilled."

Ah Luo thought about this for a moment and said, "Big brother, can you take me to eat at other famous restaurants next time? Trying different delicacies is one of my hobbies."

Zi Li saw her looking at him pleadingly with her shining eyes and instantly agreed without giving it a single thought, "Brother Shan, don't you know that when you look at people like that, nobody will deny you anything."

Ah Luo blushed and lowered her eyes.

"I have such a cute brother, I will give them anything they want. Brother Shan, I really enjoy it when you call me big brother."

Zi Li raised his hand and called for the bill. Xiao Er smiled and said "One hundred and thirty-six silver."

Ah Luo was shocked at this astronomical price, "These three simple vegetarian dishes cost so much silver?"

Zi Li looked at her with an amused expression, "It's not too expensive, Brother Shan."

He pulled out a silver note for Xiao Er.

Ah Luo walked out of the Thousand Wind House and looked back inside. At last, she knew why the first floor didn't need any seats and why the second floor didn't have to seat a lot of people. One meal was worth a year of food for four people in the Crabapple Courtyard. How was it not too expensive? She found this difficult to understand and thought that if she decided to open a restaurant like this, wouldn't she make a load of money?

Zi Li told Ah Lo, "I've had a few too many drinks today so I'm a little bit dizzy. Let's take a walk to let me sober up, alright?"

Ah Luo nodded in agreement. Zi Li led the horses and the two of them strolled away from the Thousand Wind House, walking all the way down in the south, turning to a small alley. They chattered along the way, Ah Luo still thinking about the amount of money she'd be able to get if she started a restaurant.

Suddenly, a few masked men brandishing swords leapt out of the shadows, slicing in their direction without a single word.