The sun was shining brightly in Jinling today.
In Song Ci’s memory, Jinling was rarely this beautiful and relaxing.
At this moment, Liang Yanbei was walking before him with his tied-up ink-black hair swaying gently. From time to time, he would stop, and Song Ci would see his face when he turned around.
“Ci~, hurry up.” Liang Yanbei urged him on.
This child was truly annoying. As long as there was no outsider around, he would keep addressing him as Ci.
Of course, the more important thing was, he did not really have that many friends.
Song Ci scrunched up his eyebrows. “Liang Yanbei. Call me that again, and I’ll tell Uncle. We’ll see how he deals with you!”
Liang Yanbei bared his mouth in a grin, “Even if you sent a letter of complaint to the capital, I’d have already left Jinling by the time my father hurries over.”
He added arrogantly. “I’m not afraid.”
“As expected, he’s loathsome…” Song Ci mumbled to himself. He did not understand why this younger cousin brother was so well-liked. It couldn’t be because he was good-looking, could it? Or was it because of his glib mouth?
He wasn’t adorable at all.
“Liang Yanbei…” A familiar voice suddenly rang out before him. Song Ci jerked and raised his eyes for a look.
And saw Wen Chan standing by the roadside before him. The latter was dressed in a light scarlet robe, with a warm smile on his pretty, fair face. There was a trace of surprise in his eyes.
“Oh, Chan…!” Song Ci could not help but feel like shedding tears.
Wen Chan was still that same old Wen Chan. The years had left its marks on his body, making him look more sturdy and mature than before. But when he appeared before Song Ci, he was still that refined Ninth Highness with always a smile on his face.
This was the way he was the first time they met. And now, even after a few years, he was still the same.
It was because of such a smile that Song Ci had, despite being an introvert who was not good at socializing, taken the initiative back then to walk over to Wen Chan and cupped his hands to pay his obeisances.
“Greeting to Your Ninth Highness. This humble one is Liang Shuhong.”
He blinked hard and sized up Wen Chan, then said slowly, “Greetings to Your Ninth Highness. This humble one is Song Ci.”
Wen Chan did not know whether to laugh or cry. “Why did you change your name?”
Liang Yanbei said from the side, “Well, well, Elder Cousin Brother. You are the only child in your family. Be careful Uncle and Auntie doesn’t beat you up for acting so presumptuously.”3
Song Ci realized his slip of the tongue and coughed twice. “Well, for one wandering in the martial fraternity, names and the likes are all merely worldly possessions. Those aren’t important.”
Both of them burst out laughing at his “wandering in the martial fraternity”.
“But Your Ninth Highness, why are you in Jinling?” Song Ci quickly changed the subject.
“You can stop calling me Ninth Highness. I’ve long left the capital.” Wen Chan smiled and said, “I left not long after you did. The places I’ve been to these years won’t be any less than those you’ve gone to. But you have been away for so long and did not even return home for a look. Your parents have missed you.”
“Furthermore, back then, the Zhong Clan fell from power. By all logic, you should have remained in the capital to be the backbone of the Liang Clan. How could you simply just up and leave?” Wen Chan asked again.
Song Ci was momentarily stumped for words. There seemed to be no way he could explain this.
After he consumed the heart blood by mistake and turned into a demon, the only one who knew the truth was Wen Chan and that little youth called Shengsheng. And yet, Wen Chan now seemed to have no knowledge of this matter.
He could only smile helplessly and pretend to be philosophical as he said, “A man must always have his own aspirations. The dog-eat-dog world of the Imperial Court is not the life I want to lead. Didn’t you both decide to leave too?”
Liang Yanbei stroked his chin and said doubtfully, “I heard that you have been eating wild herbs and drinking rice congee on the outside these years. You even fought with the beggars for territory, impersonated a Daoist priest to make a living, and even…”
“Ahem, cough, cough!” Song Ci started to cough loudly to drown out Liang Yanbei’s voice. He coughed until his entire face reddened.
It was only then Liang Yanbei stopped and asked, “Elder Cousin Brother, are you cold?”
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” Song Ci patted his chest. “We haven’t met for so long. How about going to the wine tavern for a drink? After all, it’s really hard for us to meet each other!”
Wen Chan smiled as he turned to look at Liang Yanbei. “Are you going?”
“How can I not go when Elder Cousin Brother says otherwise?” Liang Yanbei smiled and revealed his teeth. He raised his arm and put it around Song Ci’s shoulder. “Let us have a good time today.”
Jinling’s largest wine tavern was not far from Liang Yanbei’s house. They did not even have to take a carriage. They only had to walk for a short distance before reaching it.
The wine from this wine tavern was pretty potent. Song Ci once made a joke out of himself when he drank himself drunk here before. After that, he rarely came here again.
Who would have known that Liang Yanbei would lead him here with his arm around him the moment he let down his guard?
“…” Song Ci’s face sank. “I’ve been too careless…”
“Elder Cousin Brother, drink your fill today. I’ll foot the bill.” Liang Yanbei generously asked for several jars of the tavern’s best wine as soon as he stepped through the door.
Song Ci instantly felt upset. Thinking back to their conversation earlier, he pursed his lips and said, “You guys really think I have no savings after going through numerous hardships outside? I can still afford to pay for the wine!”
“That’s not what he means.” Wen Chan said, “We are just happy after not seeing you for so long a time. It’s the same no matter who forks out this bit of money. What’s more, Brother Shuhong, you are a man of great talent and knowledge. I believe you’ll be lauded no matter where you go. Of course, you’ve been doing well.”
Touched, Song Ci shed a tear. “Oh Chan, you’re still as considerate as ever.”
As they spoke, they took their seats. The waiter swiftly served up the wine jars and cups then withdrew from the private room.
Liang Yanbei was younger after all, and he would not let Wen Chan do it himself, so he voluntarily opened the wine jar and filled their cups up for all three of them while saying, “This wine is very potent.”
As soon as he opened his mouth, Song Ci had a bad feeling.
“This wine tastes mild, and is even a little sweet, but its delayed effect is no joke. Back then, my Elder Cousin Brother liked to drink this kind of wine, but little did he know that this wine…”
Song Ci intuitively knew it would bode badly for him the moment he heard this, so he hurriedly picked up his wine cup and pressed down on Liang Yanbei’s shoulder, “My younger brother, we haven’t seen each other for so long. Why are you still the same?” Still as loathsome as ever.
“My elder brother, you too.” Liang Yanbei raised his wine cup too after seeing Song Ci raise his. “How about we clink cups?”
“Here, here, here.” Song Ci hurriedly bumped cups with him.
Liang Yanbei had learned martial arts from an early age. It was beyond him to learn how to be cultured and refined. So Song Ci did not stand on ceremony with him. As he clinked cups with him, he intentionally used a little more force and spilled out more than half of the wine in the cup. This stunned both Liang Yanbei and Wen Chan.
“This…” Wen Chan asked in amusement. “How much will there be left for you to drink like this?”
Liang Yanbei hurriedly said, “My Elder Cousin Brother certainly didn’t do it on purpose. He must have been too happy to see us today.”
Song Ci smiled too. He thought, I’m indeed happy to see Wen Chan, just not you.
Both of them lifted their cups and downed the wine. After putting down the cup, Liang Yanbei’s foul mouth did not lie idle. “I wasn’t done talking earlier…”
“Here, here, here.” Song Ci nimbly stood up to pour wine for Liang Yanbei. “How is one cup enough for us to drink? This time, Brother Chan should join us. Let’s drink together.”
“Elder Cousin Brother.” Liang Yanbei held up his wine cup and suppressed his smile. He asked, “Aren’t we going to chat? How would it do for us to just drink?”
Song Ci thought, I knew it. Brat, you are doing this on purpose. He put down the wine jar heavily. “All you need to do is to talk less and drink more!”
Wen Chan had long known that Song Ci did not like Liang Yanbei. He had never been able to figure out the reason, but at this time, it was not appropriate for him to ask either. So he stood forward as a peacemaker and said to Song Ci, “Speaking of which, Brother Shuhong, have you met any interesting people in the past few years you were outside? At your age, your family is probably going to urge you to get married, isn’t that so?”
Song Ci could not help but cover his face and cry. “We haven’t met in years. Can’t we just chat about something pleasant?”
All in all, this bout of drinking made Song Ci really happy even if Liang Yanbei was an eyesore from time to time. But he merely kept chatting and laughing with Wen Chan, thawing and reviving the friendship that had been frozen for a few years.
Song Ci felt that if they were to meet again, then this should be the way between them — as if nothing had ever changed; as if time had come to a standstill.
For once, Song Ci did not get drunk. After they parted ways at the wine tavern, Song Ci returned to the Liang Residence. As soon as he stepped through the threshold, You Wen came up to greet him.
“Young Master.” He bowed slightly.
Song Ci uttered a sound of acknowledgment and said, “Give the instructions to boil the water. I’m going to take a bath.”
“Young Master, Madam told this slave earlier to wait for you at the entrance. She said to ask you to make a trip to the side hall when you return.” You Wen said.
Song Ci changed directions and headed for the side hall. “Why is Mother looking for me?”
“This slave has no idea either.” You Wen followed behind him.
Madam Liang noticed him as soon as he walked to the entrance of the side hall. She beckoned to him. “Ci-er, come over quickly.”
He first took a look inside the hall and saw a maiden in yellow sitting on the side seat4 in the hall. She had makeup on her face and a jade green hairpin in her hair. She was the picture of bashfulness with her face slightly lowered.
During this time, that maiden even raised her eyes to sweep a shy glance at him.
Although the people in Xiliang were open-minded, it was still somewhat inappropriate for a man and a woman to meet each other in the same hall. What’s more when Song Ci could tell at a glance who this maiden was.
He instantly cupped his hands to Madam Liang. “Mother, I fell down when I was at the entrance earlier. My butt is hurting now. I’m on my way to look for Physician Huang to take a look.”
“Oh my, what a child…” After hearing this, Madam Liang glanced at the maiden before chiding him. “There’s a lady here. Can’t you be a little more mindful of your words? Alright, hurry up and go. Don’t leave it hurting.”
Song Ci bowed and retreated. As he walked away, he even remembered to limp and put on a good act.
He had not walked far when he heard that maiden say, “Auntie Liang, Wei-er shall make her move first. It looks like Ci-gege doesn’t really want to see me. He was still fine when he arrived, yet one of his legs became lame when he left…”
These words were deliberately intended for his ears. But Song Ci did not even hesitate as he left without turning back.
He said, “You Wen, prepare the water. I’m going to bathe and sleep.”
“Young Master, maybe you should wait for a while. I reckon Madam will still come to look for you later.” You Wen lowered his eyes. His clothes were impeccably neat and unruffled.
Song Ci glanced at him out of the corners of his eyes and muttered. “You bear a slight resemblance to him. But you are not as likable as him…”
It was as if You Wen did not hear him as he obediently followed behind him.
Song Ci suddenly felt a little restless, but he did not know where this feeling had originated from. There was nothing in front of him that felt off to him at present. Yet there seemed to be something odd about his emotions.
He looked up at the scenery in the garden. Falling petals among the breeze. Flowing water splashing the bridge.
This was the Liang Residence he was familiar with, the people he was acquainted with.
Song Ci took a deep breath. Even this scent was familiar.
He suppressed the restlessness in his heart and mumbled as he comforted himself. “Let’s wait a little longer.”
Rong.Likable.Bai: Don’t wait. Come back quickly.
Just to clarify, Liang Shuhong is his original name. “Ci” his courtesy name, so he’s also called Liang Ci.
- 弱冠, a man’s 20th birthday, i.e., coming of age at 20 for a male.
- 字 A courtesy name, also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood besides one’s given name.
- Liang is his family name, and as the (only) son, he is expected to carry on the family name. Changing his surname not only means he’s not continuing the family line but also that he’s cutting off ties with his parents and clan—it’s a sign of disrespect, especially in those days where filial piety was a big thing.
The host usually sits in the center, with the guests at the side.