Everyone in Qinchuan knew about the Feng household’s youngest daughter.
“No one knows what happened to her a few days back. After returning home, she locked herself in her room and isolated herself from everyone else. It was even scarier when she went crazy. I heard she almost hacked her own father.” The madam lowered her voice and prattled on. “No one in the city dares to associate with the Feng clan now.”
“She’s clearly possessed by evil spirits. Why find a husband at this time?” Song Ci wondered. “They even make such a great show of it.”
“A Daoist priest came by earlier and said that this youngest daughter of the Feng clan has encountered an evil spirit. The jubilation of a wedding is needed to dispel the evil aura and eliminate the demon. That’s why the Fengs held a ball toss to get her a husband.1 The Fengs used their power and influence to force all those men here earlier.” The woman sighed. “How is this seeking a husband? It’s apparent they want his life.”
No wonder the man who was hit by the ball had cried so tragically. Turned out it was not a happy event at all.
“Speaking of which, this Feng clan is pretty powerful. They could actually coerce so many men to gather below to catch the ball.” Song Ci inquired smoothly.
“Ain’t that the truth? The eldest daughter of Feng Changyue is an imperial concubine in the imperial harem. What’s more, she’s a favored concubine. That’s why the Fengs goes around abusing their power.” The madam shook her head and clicked her tongue. “For his daughter to turn out like this, it’s all retribution.”
She rattled on as she left. “She was such a good girl when she was young. How did she end up like this…?”
Song Ci watched the madam’s departing figure, then turned to look at Rong Bai. “Master Rong, where are we going later?”
“Don’t you want to take a look at the Feng clan?” Rong Bai asked.
Song Ci shook his head. “No. I have a feeling that things aren’t that simple.”
The last time he meddled in Second Lady Sun’s affairs, he had missed the Demon Gate. This time, he would play it safe and not stick his nose into those messy affairs anymore.
“Then, let’s find a place to fill your stomach first. It’s getting dark.” Rong Bai said.
Song Ci felt that the more he got along with Rong Bai, the more he could see his gentleness. Rong Bai had been doing things his own way in the beginning, but now he even thought to ask Song Ci for his opinions. Song Ci felt that this was a rare leap in progress.
If he followed Rong Bai for a few more days, he might even forge a deep friendship with Rong Bai.
When that happens, it should not be a problem for him to follow Rong Bai and eat and drink to his heart’s desire.
Rong Bai was unaware of Song Ci’s little thoughts. All he felt was the sudden gleam in Song Ci’s eyes whenever the latter looked at him. Those eyes were gorgeous when set against the colors of the lanterns.
Rong Bai was in a good mood, and a faint smile emerged on his face. He found a tavern and ordered an entire table of chicken dishes.
Song Ci originally did not like to eat chicken that much. But ever since he became a fox demon, he could not suppress the natural instincts that ran in his blood. Once he was so hungry that he almost ate a whole chicken alive.
This time, Song Ci ate the tableful of chicken dishes Rong Bai had ordered to his heart’s content. It swept away all the despair in his heart. He even felt that wandering around and having fun with Rong Bai like this was not all that bad.
But the next moment dispelled this notion.
The sky was dark by the time they came out of the tavern after having eaten their fill. The whole Huadeng Street was colorful and looked like a long, colorful, meandering dragon. It was dazzling.
Song Ci was about to discuss with Rong Bai whether to take a stroll before putting up at an inn when he saw the tavern waiter brandishing a cloth towel to drive a person out.
“Shoo, shoo, shoo. No money and you still dare to come to our tavern. You don’t want your leg anymore?!”2
“Hey, hey. I already said I had sent someone back to fetch it. Why do you still drive me out?” The man was slightly hunched over; He seemed to be old.
“Who knows if it’s just your excuse? Come back when you have the money. I’ll welcome you then.” The waiter sneered and threw the towel over his shoulder. “Go away. Don’t get in the other patrons’ way.”
The man stamped his foot in exasperation. “When I get the money, I won’t come even if you ask me!”
The waiter retorted. “That’s just fine with me. Please don’t come again.”
It was the first time Song Ci saw someone treating a patron this way. He could not help but feel curious and took two steps back to the tavern. Instead, he realized to his surprise that the man was someone he knew.
“Mirror Old Man?” Song Ci moved over to him and took a look. It was really him. He asked in astonishment and delight, “Looks like we have an affinity with each other. Why are you here?”
“Whoa, it’s Song Ci!” Mirror Old Man was still flushed with anger a moment ago. But after seeing him, he beamed and asked in surprise, “I never thought I could even see you here!”
When they had split up earlier, Song Ci thought he would never see Mirror Old Man again. He had never expected to meet him again in the ancient city of Qinchuan only a few days later. No matter how vast heaven and earth was, it would not stop the encounter of predestined friends.
Song Ci saw him wearing a gray Daoist robe and donning a Daoist hat on his white hair. There was a rare trace of vitality on his old face. Song Ci laughed. “Why are you dressed like this?”
“I’m just trying to eke out a living outside.” Mirror Old Man grinned and tried to pull him. “Since we have such an affinity, we must have a drink.”
As soon as he put his hand on Song Ci’s sleeve, he saw a sagely immortal in a white Daoist robe standing not far behind Song Ci. He immediately withdrew his hand. Even his smile turned cautious. “How about it? Are you going?”
Song Ci was not that much of a drinker, but he knew that the way to deepen the friendship between men was to drink wine together. Thus, he looked at Rong Bai and asked, “How about we go and have a drink?”
He was planning to give the idea up if Master Rong shook his head.
Unexpectedly, Rong Bai nodded. “If you want to go, then we’ll go.”
Mirror Old Man and Song Ci hit it off and searched for another wine tavern together. Rong Bai followed behind them with an unhurried gait. From time to time, his gaze fell on Song Ci.
Those eyes scrutinized and observed Song Ci, looking pensive as they took in the sight of Song Ci laughing one moment and frowning the next moment.
Qinchuan was not as lively as it was in the daytime once night fell. Although there were still people around in the street, they all came and went in a rush. Many shops had shuttered their doors as well. There was no curfew in Dong Wang, so the nights in Dong Wang should be bustling with activity. Night markets were typically found everywhere in all the flourishing capital cities. Perhaps it was because of the demon creating havoc that these people dare not act rashly at night.
Song Ci and Mirror Old Man found a mid-sized tavern. Upon entering, Mirror Old Man ordered ten small jars of wine. It startled Song Ci. “Can you drink that much?”
“Don’t underestimate my capacity for wine. Back then, I could down an entire street of wine by myself!” Mirror Old Man boasted and smacked his chest. “Drink as much as you can. I’ll help you if you can’t finish!”
Song Ci could not help but give him a thumbs-up. “I didn’t expect that Mirror Old Man to be such a character in the past.”
“A hero doesn’t boast about his past glories.” He grinned and sat down. “Today I’ll show you my manhood.”
Rong Bai glanced at him on hearing that. “Your what?”
Mirror Old Man was unnerved. “I mean my capacity for wine. Little Song looks like a gentleman, so he probably can’t drink that much.”
Song Ci nodded. “Indeed. But I can still handle two small jars.”
The wine jars here were only palm-sized and could be fit in one hand.3 Even so, the ten jars brought by the waiter filled the table to the full. They even placed several jars on the ground and served up several plates of wine dishes. Mirror Old Man said, “Open and drink up. It’s my treat!”
His appearance was so gallant he was like a general about to enter the battlefield. Song Ci was so amused he laughed. He opened the wine jar and poured a cup for Mirror Old Man and himself. Then, his hand paused as he looked up and asked Rong Bai, “Master Rong, are you drinking?”
Rong Bai propped his chin up with a hand and looked at him. “Yes. You can’t expect me to just watch you guys drink.”
Song Ci took the wine cups and poured the wine with deference. As soon as he put down the wine jar, Mirror Old Man picked up the wine cup and clicked cups with him. “Cheers!”
Song Ci picked up the cup, held his sleeve with his other hand, and bumped his cup lightly against Rong Bai’s cup. Then he looked up and smiled at Rong Bai. “Master Rong, enjoy yourself.”
Mirror Old Man was in a bit of a quandary. He did not dare to toast Rong Bai, but it was a sign of disrespect not to. So he held the cup, unsure of what to do.
Song Ci realized this. He thought, Master Rong was a little unsociable; he would not care about trivial stuff like etiquette. So he called out to Mirror Old Man, “Drink up. Didn’t we already toast?”
His words helped Mirror Old Man out of a tight spot. Laughing merrily, Mirror Old Man gulped down the entire cup of wine and started drinking with Song Ci.
Song Ci had been skeptical of Mirror Old Man’s words. When Mirror Old Man was boasting earlier, Song Ci had guessed that he was not actually that formidable. However, Song Ci had believed that Mirror Old Man should still be able to handle a little wine.
He was wrong. Mirror Old Man’s capacity for wine did not even measure up to half of his boast. In just three rounds, he was utterly drunk as he hugged and began to gnaw on the wine jar.
Song Ci pushed his head and grabbed the wine jar. He said in helplessness. “So much for downing an entire street of wine the state you’re in…”
The top of the wine jar was full of Mirror Old Man’s saliva. It was sticky to the touch. Song Ci wiped his hands on Mirror Old Man’s body in disdain and patted the latter’s face in an attempt to wake him up. “Mirror Old Man, wake up. If you can’t drink, then let’s go back.”
However, Mirror Old Man was so wasted that he gave Song Ci a look, grimaced, and started to cry. “I’m really too unlucky. Why can’t I be luckier? I’ve never even committed any atrocities. Boohoohoo.”
“What are you crying for? Don’t you find it embarrassing for a grown man to cry here?” Song Ci looked at his snot and tears and found it both hilarious and pitiable. He asked, “What’s the matter? Why are you crying so sadly?”
“You think it’s easy for me to scrape a living? How would I know that Feng Changyue is a villain and a tyrant? Everyone in Qinchuan hates him so much. I’m now despised everywhere I go.” Mirror Old Man cried and lamented ambiguously.
Song Ci had consumed wine too, thus his mind was in a bit of a muddle at the moment. “What are you talking about?”
It was Rong Bai who smiled and asked, “Are you that Daoist priest who suggested tossing the ball to seek marriage?”
Mirror Old Man nodded. “After entering the city, I discovered that the Feng clan was the wealthiest. On hearing that the youngest daughter of the Fengs had been possessed, I thought of making money off them. Not only did I not get the money, but I also don’t even have a meal to eat. I’m so hungry…”
“Even so, you can’t come up with such a harmful idea. Even if you manage to cure the Fengs’ youngest daughter, then what about the young master who married her?” Song Ci frowned and asked.
“It’s just a marriage. When the matter is resolved, they can just go their own ways, no?” Mirror Old Man asked in aggrievement.
“It’s not as simple as you think. Do you think Feng Changyue will let him go after this matter blows over? It’s fine if the Fengs’ youngest daughter likes him. If not, Feng Changyue will definitely silence him in order to preserve her honor.” Song Ci said.
He was born in a household that had produced generations of officials. Although what he did most of the time was reading, he was still very much aware of the ways such people dealt with matters.
“I’ve no plans to take that man’s life. You can’t blame me…” Mirror Old Man muttered and collapsed onto the table; it made a sound as he conked his head on it. He passed out with his eyes closed.
“Why, you…” Song Ci felt as if his head could explode on seeing Mirror Old Man knocked out. He still had questions he wanted to ask, but now it seemed that he could only wait for Mirror Old Man to wake up. He thought for a moment, then turned to look at Rong Bai. “Master Rong…”
Rong Bai smiled. His handsome face was as warm as the spring breeze, and his eyes gleamed like stars. He handed the cup beside him to Song Ci. “Drink it, and I’ll agree to your request.”
He already knew what Song Ci wanted to say even before the latter voiced it.
抛球招亲 literally, throwing the ball to seek marriage. Sometimes, rich missy would seek a husband by standing at a balcony and tossing a silk ball down at a crowd of men (see picture). Whoever gets it gets to be her husband. Typically in such cases, the groom would marry into the bride’s house.
- Shop policy in the old days: beat them up and break their legs if they don’t pay up!
Wine jars. Comes in many different sizes.