The tea maiden had frightened Song Ci. But now, he felt reassured as he looked into Rong Bai’s eyes. He nodded obediently in response.
There was indeed nothing to worry about. Master Rong was so powerful he could easily dispatch a four-tailed Qingqiu fox. In addition, he showed no sign of panic even at the mention of going to the Demon Realm. Obviously, there was more to his true strength than meets the eyes.
Song Ci convinced himself, then displayed a brilliant smile at Rong Bai. “I’m not worried with Master Rong around.”
Rong Bai released his cheeks and gave him a reassuring look. Both of them continued their journey.
Qinchuan was a famous ancient capital in Dong Wang. Within the city, there were seven rivers running from south to west. As it looked like a guqin1, it was called Qinchuan.
This ancient city was known for its production of silk, especially natural silk. It was situated in the western part of Dong Wang, yet it was a significant spot for the buying and selling of silk from all over. In addition, there were silkworm eggs in this city that could not be raised elsewhere—blood silkworms.
It was said that the color of the silk from blood silkworms was like blood. If woven into clothes, it would be impenetrable. It would also keep one warm during winter and cool during the summer. If made into wedding apparel, it would guarantee that husband and wife would live to a ripe old age in conjugal bliss.
However, the conditions for raising blood silkworms were demanding, and their silk output was extremely low. Even a small handkerchief was considered a top-notch treasure. More often than not, after traders got their hands on that bit of blood silk, they would embroider them thread by thread into other silk as adornments. Even so, any items that had blood silk in them were still considered rare goods. They were in such great demand they could not be simply bought with silver.
As for a blood silk wedding robe, no one had been able to make one so far.
When the current pampered princess married, she wore a red wedding gown with blood silk flowers embroidered on the collar. It was a garment in Dong Wang that had the most amount of blood silk, and it was something many women could only dream of in envy.
Even if the people devoted themselves to raising and nurturing blood silkworms, the number of blood silkworms still dwindled. At this point, almost no one in Qinchuan was still rearing blood silkworms. Even if there was, those few silkworms could barely survive, let alone produce silk.
Song Ci and Rong Bai traveled for less than half a day to this prosperous ancient capital. The city gate was towering and magnificent, with the characters “Qinchuan” inscribed in red and bold, confident strokes. Numerous wear and tear on the gate were a testament to the long history of this ancient city.
The city gate was wide open, but no one from the authorities was guarding it. There were a few households scattered beside the gate. Someone saw Song Ci and Rong Bai and stopped in his tracks.
Puzzled, Song Ci turned to Rong Bai and asked, “Is this person waiting for us to enter?”
The man looked at them from a distance with what seemed like a faint hint of anticipation in his eyes as he waited for them to step through the city gate. Just when Song Ci was about to roll his eyes at him, that person opened his mouth and waved at them. “Gentlemen, you mustn’t come in. Leave quickly.”
Song Ci was momentarily stunned. A sense of guilt rose in him for those petty thoughts earlier. He smiled apologetically. “We have a matter to attend to in Qinchuan.”
“There is a demon in this city. Once you enter, you cannot leave. Even if you have pressing matters, you should postpone it.” The person persuaded them.
“It’s not a problem.” Song Ci said as he looked at Rong Bai.
Master Rong chuckled. Stepping through the gate, he led Song into this ancient city where they could enter but not leave.
On seeing this, the man’s eyes glinted. Then, he turned and walked away without saying a word more.
“He wants us to be trapped here like him, yet he tries to advise us against it because of his conscience. A mortal’s mind is so complicated. Don’t they get tired of living like this every day?” Rong Bai said slowly.
“What’s wrong with having a complicated mind? Those whose minds are too simple are fools. They will only be bullied.” Song Ci replied offhandedly.
Rong Bai looked pensive. “Why not just follow your own inclinations to do whatever you want? Why put yourself in a spot? Is it not hypocritical to think one thing but say another?”
“No one can truly do as they please. In life, there are times when one would be compelled by circumstances.” Song Ci lamented, “Just like me. I want to live in peace with my parents, marry and have children, look after my aged parents and conduct funeral rites for them. But here I am, in hardship and always worrying about my safety. As a human being, there are times I have to do what I’m not willing to. Not just for the sake of others, but also for myself.”
Rong Bai cast him a look. “So, you feel aggrieved to be here with me?”
Song Ci immediately realized that he had misspoken. His expression changed and a fawning smile appeared in place. “How could that be, Master Rong? To be able to be with you is all due to the good fortune I’ve accumulated in my past life. I was being muddleheaded earlier. Please don’t take my nonsense to heart. I wish so much to cling on to you every day. How would I feel aggrieved?”
Rong Bai’s eye twitched, but he did not look at him as he squeezed out an indifferent “hmm…”
It’s still not enough. Song Ci inwardly cursed himself and continued, “Master Rong, to tell the truth, it has been on my mind ever since I first met you. I simply had to find opportunities to befriend you. That bearing of yours. It’s truly my great fortune to see such a living immortal for the first time in all twenty years of my life. Otherwise, why did you think I followed you for days and squatted at the entrances of the wine tavern and brothel?”
“Wasn’t it because I snatched your blade?” Rong Bai raised his eyebrows and asked.
Song Ci smacked his thigh. “It’s just a lousy blade! If you like it, I can even give it to you! The main thing is that it’s still your demeanor that has won me over! I can’t help but get carried away and be seized with an impulse to follow….”
“That blade…” Rong Bai suddenly said.
“What?” Song Ci blinked and asked.
“That blade has intelligence. It will be sad if you speak about it this way.” Rong Bai said.
Song Ci, however, put on a serious expression and said, “I’m telling the truth. It’s not worth as much to me as you are in my heart.”
If Wen Changchu was here, he would mock the way Song Ci sucked up to Rong Bai. But at this point in time, Song Ci was so thick-skinned no one could rival him. True or not, his words were so exaggerated he was almost praising Rong Bai to the sky.
Rong Bai’s eyes arched in a smile. “Let’s take a break. Even I feel tired for you.”
It was only then Song Ci heaved a sigh of relief. He definitely had to control this rotten mouth of his next time.
People glanced at them from time to time as they walked along the road. But those people soon averted their eyes and continued on with what they had been doing. Song Ci found that the people here did not look as scared as he had imagined. There were people peddling their wares in the streets, just like the folks in other places.
Perhaps there were too many Daoist priests and cultivators who would save the masses from extreme misery in such troubled times, so the people always took it for granted that someone would come to save them.
The area nearer to the city gate was relatively remote. The deeper they went, the livelier it became. Around them were all majestic pavilions and buildings. It was a prosperous scene all around. Beautiful flower lanterns were hung in front of each household. Although it was evening at the moment, there were already people who had lit their lanterns.
“The scenery here is exquisite.” It was truly worthy of its name as a famous, flourishing capital in Dong Wang. Even the Jile City located in the Wuyue Island in Xi Liang could only come to a draw with Qinchuan.
In Song Ci’s mind, the City of Jile was the most beautiful ancient city in Xi Liang.
The commoners of Dong Wang have a romantic streak in them. They knew how to live it up. It was indeed enviable.
The street where Song Ci was on was called the Huadeng Street. Different lanterns hung at each household’s door from start to end. It was the most colorful place in Qinchuan. And it was bustling with activity in the middle of this street.
They walked over and saw a crowd of people gathered before a building. All of them were looking up as they chattered among themselves.
Song Ci followed the stream of people and saw several maidens in the same attire standing on the second floor of the building. Their hair was done up in the hairstyle of a servant, but all of them looked delicate. One of them was holding a red silk ball and standing before the railing.
“Is this ‘tossing a ball to seek a husband’2?” Song Ci frowned doubtfully. He had only seen this kind of situation in books. To find a husband, a rich missy threw a ball at a handsome and distinguished young master. Then the young master declined the match, saying that marriage was not to be taken lightly, nor should it be decided by a mere ball.
The father of the rich young lady then informed the man of the riches that came with her dowry, even throwing in the family businesses—all for the purpose of getting the young master to marry into the family.3
The young master turned it down again, saying, this is not appropriate.
The rich old master then heaped praises on the young master for his refined character and for not hankering after money and fame. And then, finding him worthy of trust, he insisted on marrying his daughter to him.
In the end, the young master agreed. And the book concluded with the couple living to a ripe old age in conjugal bliss.
Song Ci had found this intriguing for a period of time. Now that he could see this with his own eyes, his eyes shone. He thought, I must see if it’s as idiotic as it is written in the book.
A group of young men around the same age stood at the spot below the balcony where they could receive the silk ball. All of them stood stiffly with a terrified expression on their faces. There did not seem to be any of the delight and anticipation of catching the ball.
Song Ci found it weird and stroked his chin in bafflement.
Then, he heard the muffled beats of the drum three times. Someone shouted, “Toss the ball!”
The maidservant threw the silk ball, and the men below hastily dodged it. At last, the ball hit one of them on the shoulder as it fell. That man immediately cried out and pushed his way out in an attempt to escape.
A few servants rushed out and instantly pinned the man to the ground. In order not to be implicated, the crowd beside him hurriedly retreated, vacating the spot around him. The man flailed both arms around, and grabbed nothing but empty air. All of a sudden, he burst out wailing. “Let me go! I’m not marrying—!!”
Song Ci was dumbfounded. This young master’s rejection was utterly different from how it was in the book. The way he wailed was more like his kin had died. It was truly tragic.
No one around them stepped forward to stop them. The servants then dragged the man into the building. The maidservants on the second story had all retreated into the room. The remaining young men all heaved a sigh of relief and hurried away.
The other spectators dispersed as well. Song Ci grabbed one of them at random and asked, “Madam, I would like to ask, are they tossing a ball to seek marriage?”
“Yeah.” The madam replied. “The Feng clan is finding a husband for their youngest daughter.”
“Then why did those young men look as if they were trembling in fear?” Song Ci asked again.
“Did both handsome gentlemen just arrived today?” The madam looked at them and sighed. “This case of the Feng household is really bizarre.”
古琴 Guqin is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. One of the weapons used by Lan Wangji of MDZS is the guqin.
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.
- 入赘 marry into the bride’s family, in effect becoming a member of her family. Some rich clans do this when they need a ‘son’ or a man to continue on the family legacy.