I Thought We Were Friends
For the duration of the Chungyang Festival, Ming Qin has gifted Murong Yan with meatballs from Wang Ji, buns from Ying Yu Pavilion, and baked goods from Grandpa Wang on South Street.
Over her ten days off, she spent seven of them visiting the Hidden Moon Tower.
Upon discovering the youthful shadow guard standing unexpectedly at the window, Murong Yan remained unperturbed.
She simply accepted the items in her possession without a word, showing no signs of annoyance.
As Murong Yan savored the dishes, Ming Qin stood at a distance with her hands behind her back, attempting to discern any changes in her impassive expression.
After observing her for several days, Ming Qin learned that Murong Yan had a sweet tooth and was averse to strong flavors.
She also favored vegetarian dishes over meat-based ones.
Whenever she encountered a food that she enjoyed, she would squint her eyes, indicating her pleasure.
If a dish was too spicy, Murong Yan would extend a small portion of her tongue out against her upper lip and her eyes would become watery.
However, if the food was unsatisfactory, she would simply place her chopsticks down with no expression and drink her tea in silence.
As lunchtime approached, Ming Qin stepped out of her room, considering what food she would bring for the County Princess before she departed for her mission in the capital the following day.
As she walked down the corridor, Ming Qin was approached by Senior Brother Lin Yan and Senior Sister Song Shu Qing.
Lin Yan gave her a pat on the shoulder and inquired, “Qin Qin, are you heading out?”
Before Ming Qin could respond, Song Shu Qing exclaimed, “Qin Qin has grown up and doesn’t spend time with us anymore.
During Chongyang a few days ago, Master said we were going to have dinner together at Ying Yu Pavilion, and you still showed up late!”
Her expression was haughty, as if the world was about to come crashing down at any moment.
Ming Qin appeared to have become accustomed to these interactions and merely smiled, asking, “So, where are you two off to today?”
Lin Yan responded, “I have a meeting with Master to go to a restaurant for drinks.
As for your senior sister…” He trailed off, his face twisted with distaste as if something unpleasant came to mind.
“I’m going to Flower Street.
Do you want to come along, Qin Qin?” Song Shu Qing interjected, turning to Ming Qin.
“Don’t even think about dragging Qin Qin into this.
What kind of woman would go to Flower Street?” Lin Yan was disgusted at the thought of the outrageous actions of Song Shu Qing.
“What’s wrong with Flower Street? The women there are sweet and gentle, and they play the zither beautifully,” Song Shu Qing retorted.
Song Shu Qing spoke candidly and unapologetically, but cast a contemptuous gaze at Lin Yan, “You’re all so outdated.
I can tell you haven’t been there in a while.
What? You don’t allow men to go to Flower Street to listen to music? Do you even understand women’s rights?”
Lin Yan was dumbfounded by her strange reasoning, “What nonsense are you spouting now? What’s this about a female spring?”
Having grown accustomed to Lin Yan’s complaints and Song Shu Qing’s erratic behavior, Ming Qin preferred to steer clear of their argument.
She hurried towards the exit of the camp, when Lin Yan turned to her and said, “Qin Qin, don’t stay out too late.
You have to leave early tomorrow to meet with Cao Yun.”
Ming Qin nodded in understanding, and Lin Yan returned to his argument with Song Shu Qing.
Being a shadow guard is incredibly dangerous, with a high mortality rate.
Out of the disciples trained by the master over the past decade, only Ming Qin, senior brothers Lin Yan and Cao Yun, and senior sister Song Shu Qing are still alive and at the same skill level.
The four of them hold each other in high regard and consider Ming Qin, the youngest among them, as a sibling.
During their leisure time, they might play cards together, but Ming Qin, who is straightforward, is often unable to keep up with the tricks of her elder brother and sister, and can only get revenge during martial arts training sessions.
When their duties are completed and they are granted a long break for rest and recovery, they often take their pay and go on ‘trips’.
Ming Qin has accompanied them on a few of these trips, but the wine she drank was bitter and strong, and the feeling of dizziness it caused was too intense for her to enjoy.
Ming Qin had also gone to the Flower Street with her senior sister to listen to the zither, but the music made her drowsy.
Despite her sister’s advice to pay attention to more than just the zither, Ming Qin turned to the peanuts on the table, but they tasted stale and unappetizing, leading her to wonder why anyone would find enjoyment in a restaurant or the Flower Street.
Ming Qin found no enjoyment in the activities her senior brother and sister engaged in.
Instead, she was drawn to the vendor selling glutinous rice dumplings.
The freshly steamed, colorful dumplings, skewered on bamboo sticks and drizzled with golden cinnamon honey, looked irresistible to her.
Before she knew it, she was already holding three sticks of the sweet treats.
Ming Qin was filled with excitement at the thought of the County Princess savoring the glutinous rice dumplings and eagerly headed towards the Hidden Moon Tower, finding more joy in this than in the restaurant and the Flower Street.
As she stepped up to the windowsill, her gaze was drawn to the sight of the County Princess slumbering on the couch.
The woman’s hair was unbound, curled and messy, and she was wrapped in a thick fur cloak made of fox fur, yet she still trembled from the chill of the draft that seeped in.
Ming Qin was hesitant as she gazed at the scattered ancient books beneath the couch.
The pages were so heavily wrinkled and damaged that she feared that even a renowned collector would have a heart attack upon seeing them.
She quietly placed the glutinous rice dumplings down and softly shut the window behind the sleeping County Princess.
She was about to leave when she felt a moment of indecision.
After a moment of hesitation, Ming Qin decided to go back and add more fuel to the stove next to the coffee table.
The charcoal was of high quality, but it made a soft crackling sound as it burned.
The sudden stillness caused the sleeping girl to stir, and as Ming Qin met her gaze, she was about to apologize.
However, the princess waved her hand dismissively, rubbed her temples, and sat up.
Ming Qin took the tea leaves from the coffee table, made a cup of tea similar to the one that Murong Yan had prepared, and served it to the princess with a warm smile.
Murong Yan, who had just woken up, remained quiet for a moment before taking a sip of the tea offered by Ming Qin.
However, as soon as the tea touched her lips, she spat it out, accusing Ming Qin of trying to poison her by saying,
“You want to poison This Palace?”
Ming Qin was shocked and quickly denied the accusation.
She then offered to try the tea herself to prove it was not poisoned.
Murong Yan, who rarely showed emotion, expressed her disappointment and disbelief at the tea, “This is barely even considered tea.
It’s just dried sticks steeped in hot water.”
Murong Yan took control of the tea set, dumped the remaining liquid from the pot out the window, and expertly refilled it with water and tea, observing the color and scent.
She performed the brewing process effortlessly.
The brewed tea was poured into two delicate white porcelain cups, and she gently offered one to Ming Qin, who was frozen in place.
After taking a sip from her own cup, the sweet aroma filled her mouth and Murong Yan revealed her approval before gesturing for Ming Qin to sit and drink her tea as well.
This was the second time Ming Qin was able to taste tea made by the County Princess herself.
Honestly, Ming Qin couldn’t tell the difference between the tea made by Murong Yan and her own tea.
Although she had opinions on food, her tea tasting skills were limited to simple comments like “good bitter” or “less bitter”.
Worried that Murong Yan might ask her opinion on the tea, Ming Qin quickly offered her the cinnamon glutinous rice dumplings she had just bought, saying, “These are the famous cinnamon glutinous rice dumplings from Tianhe Street, people have been waiting in line to buy them.”
Murong Yan examined the honey-drenched glutinous rice dumplings with care and took a bite from the bamboo tube.
The sweetness of the cinnamon fragrance combined with the smooth texture was so satisfying that it made the County Princess narrow her eyes in pleasure.
Ming Qin was overjoyed to see such a reaction and felt that her efforts in choosing what to bring today were not in vain.
After finishing one skewer, Murong Yan carefully wiped her fingers and didn’t pay any attention to the remaining glutinous rice dumplings.
Ming Qin was puzzled, “Does the County Princess not like it?”
“No,” replied Murong Yan, “This snack is still alright.”
Confused by the County Princess’ response, Ming Qin asked, “Then why…”
But before she could finish her question, Murong Yan interrupted her and licked the remaining honey from her lips.
She explained, “Eating too much glutinous rice is not good for the spleen and stomach, that’s why I can’t eat more.”
Murong Yan observed the surprised shadow guard, then arched her eyebrow, “You’ve eaten all kinds of food in the capital, but have you never experienced food accumulation?”
Ming Qin answered truthfully, “No, I’ve never had that problem.
I’m in great health.”
With a hint of pride, she added, “There was one time when Master’s Mother cooked a large spread of dishes for the new year, but the next day all the senior brothers and sisters had stomach issues, while I was still energetic and feeling great.”
Murong Yan couldn’t help but smile wryly at Ming Qin’s boast.
She sipped her tea to suppress the twitch at the corners of her mouth.
Ming Qin saw the bamboo tube and without hesitation, ate the rest of the cinnamon glutinous rice dumplings in a few bites.
Meanwhile, Murong Yan looked at her peculiarly and frowned slightly.
“What’s wrong?” Ming Qin asked, her cheeks puffed out from chewing.
Murong Yan was about to speak when she saw the way Ming Qin was eating and decided against it, only offering a faint comment, “It seems that you have a strong spleen and a big heart as an ox.”
“Why are you echoing my master’s words?” Ming Qin mumbled through a mouthful of food.
“Oh right!” The shadow guard suddenly remembered something and smacked her thigh, “I won’t be able to come here again.”
After swallowing her food, she explained, “Once my rest period is over, I will be departing from the capital tomorrow.”
Ming Qin was unable to reveal the details of her mission and thus couldn’t share more with the County Princess.
“But I’ll bring back some delicious food next time.
That’s a promise!”
Murong Yan, who was playing with her teacup, abruptly stopped at the sound of Ming Qin’s vow.
In a calm and collected voice, she said, “There’s no need for you to bring anything for This Palace.”
Her expression was unreadable, and her tone suddenly became frosty, “You have no reason to visit the Hidden Moon Tower and no obligation to keep This Palace informed of your arrival or departure.”
“But…” Ming Qin fidgeted, feeling confused about why the County Princess seemed irritated.
She nervously twiddled her fingers until they turned blue, “I thought we were friends.”
At these words, Murong Yan’s usually composed expression showed a hint of surprise.
“Is it not?” Ming Qin asked, tilting her head.
“My master told me that people who meet and experience joy together are considered friends.”
She wanted to make sure that Murong Yan understood, so she spoke slowly and clearly, “I wanted to see you, and I was happy every time we met, so I came to the Hidden Moon Tower.
Does that not make us friends?”
She cautiously studied Murong Yan’s expression, “Or, does the County Princess not want to see me?”
With a seemingly indifferent air, Murong Yan took a sip from her cup, “Hm.” She finally replied after a delay.
Worried that Ming Qin might misinterpret, she added, “We can be friends.”
She reached for her cup of tea but realized it was empty, and her hand hung awkwardly in the air.
“If you wish to visit, you may,” Murong Yan said, putting down her cup of tea and appearing to soften her stance.
Ming Qin’s face brightened with a smile, “Wonderful!” she exclaimed, then refilled the teapot with hot water.
“Your name, Ming Qin,” Murong Yan asked hesitantly, “How do you write it?”
With a drop of water left on the table, Ming Qin traced the characters on the surface with her finger.
“Sun and Moon,” Murong Yan said thoughtfully, regarding the rarity of such surnames.
Ming Qin shrugged and said, “That’s not my surname.
I don’t have one.
My master gave me the name ‘Sun and Moon’ when he rescued me from drowning in a lake at dawn.” She spoke nonchalantly, without any concern in her tone.
Feeling a twinge of guilt, Murong Yan cleared her throat and introduced herself, “My name is Murong Yan.” Although she was afraid that Ming Qin already knew her name, she still introduced herself.
She wrote her name in the water droplets on the table with her finger, “My name is Murong Yan.”
After Ming Qin’s departure, Murong Yan leaned against the partially obscured window in thought.
Despite the shadow guard’s straightforward and candid personality, the fact that she dared to call herself the County Princess’ friend, whether impulsively or daringly, surprised Murong Yan.
She impatiently sent away the servant who had brought the evening meal and reclined leisurely, playing with a white jade hairpin.
When Ming Qin said she wouldn’t be able to return, Murong Yan felt a sudden pang in her heart.
It was a suffocating and unpleasant feeling.
The truth was that she had been confined for too long and the mere words of a small shadow guard could still impact her mood.
Laughing to herself, she covered herself with the fox fur blanket, which still felt a bit cold.
It didn’t matter if Ming Qin returned or not, Murong Yan reminded herself, calm and collected.
Yes, nothing mattered.
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