C46 – Scholars Love to Hurt the Spring and Autumn
The mountaintop lay relatively close to the temple, and after a fifteen-minute walk, Zuo Shaoqing and Lu Zheng reached their destination. Zuo Shaoqing, now standing on the summit, inhaled the brisk, chilly air, which promptly dispelled his mood for moon-gazing.
Zuo Shaoqing nodded honestly. Witnessing this, Lu Zheng removed his jacket and draped it over Zuo Shaoqing’s shoulders before casually strolling into a nearby grove.
Zuo Shaoqing felt a slight pang of emotion as he caught the scent of Lu Zheng’s coat and quickly caught up with him. While walking, he asked, “You haven’t had dinner yet?” In that moment, Zuo Shaoqing detected a faint fragrance in the air.
As they continued their trek, a light shone ahead, and Zuo Shaoqing finally grasped the other person’s intent: they hadn’t dined properly, so they decided to ascend the mountain in the middle of the night.
Yinyi was diligently roasting a pheasant. He only spared a brief glance at Zuo Shaoqing’s arrival before his gaze returned to his task.
Yinyi had discerned that his master treated Zuo Shaoqing exceptionally well. Not only did Lu Zheng allow him to serve in close proximity, but he also engaged in more conversation than usual when they were together—something unimaginable for other scholars.
Nevertheless, this wasn’t Yinyi’s concern. After all, he had already uncovered Zuo Shaoqing’s true identity. A scholar with minimal power and a modest grasp of Qing Gong posed no threat.
Zuo Shaoqing couldn’t help but be curious about the green-robed attendant named Yinyi. To this day, he remained ignorant of Yinyi’s name, deducing his identity solely from his demeanor.
Unlike an ordinary servant, who would be deferential and obsequious to Lu Zheng, the individual before them seemed more like Lu Zheng’s trusted aide. Otherwise, Lu Zheng wouldn’t entrust him with the task of preparing a bath.
Were it not for the imposing countenance and distinctive scar on his forehead, Zuo Shaoqing might have suspected a clandestine connection between Yinyi and Lu Zheng.
Lu Zheng took a seat on the carpeted floor and received the half-roasted pheasant from Yinyi.
Yinyi momentarily hesitated, then stood up, comprehending Lu Zheng’s unspoken request. In an instant, he vanished from his spot, leaving Zuo Shaoqing standing there with a sense of unease.
“Master Lu?” Zuo Shaoqing settled across from the fire and observed Lu Zheng’s practiced movements before sighing, “Even during your military campaigns, do you cook for yourself?”
Could it be that a distinguished general like Lu Zheng personally prepared his meals? Zuo Shaoqing found it hard to fathom Lu Zheng, adorned in armor, engaged in cooking duties.
Lu Zheng continued to tend to the fire without lifting his gaze. “This is just a fraction of the training that young men in the Lu Family undergo from a young age.”
Being a capable commander meant mastering the art of survival in the wilderness. When he was but a child, he was left alone in a forest and lived there for three months.
In an ordinary household, a single child like Lu Zheng would have been showered with affection. However, Duke Zhen Manor was far from ordinary. Since birth, Lu Zheng had carried the weight of the entire Duke’s family’s future on his shoulders.
Zuo Shaoqing held a deep admiration for him, but he also felt a tinge of sympathy. Compared to him, his own life seemed rather dull, and even the burning hatred within him had dimmed considerably.
Worriedly, he inquired, “With the new Emperor on the throne, is it safe for you not to return to the capital?” It was this very issue that had strained the relationship between the new Emperor and Duke Zhen.
During the new Emperor’s reign, Duke Zhen, who held considerable power, had remained absent from the capital for an extended period. He hadn’t even received an imperial decree, which was a direct affront to the new Emperor, justifying his indifference.
Yet, there was another incident from his past that had contributed to the escalating tension between the New Emperor and Duke Zhen. What was it? Zuo Shaoqing pondered with his chin propped up.
“I sustained grave injuries!”
Zuo Shaoqing couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at this declaration. Just when had this old man suffered such serious injuries? To declare it so casually invited suspicion.
Lu Zheng calmly tore a chicken leg from its body, pausing momentarily before handing it to Zuo Shaoqing. It was an unexpected gesture of kindness that left Zuo Shaoqing pleasantly surprised. He extended his hands respectfully to accept the offering.
Zuo Shaoqing promptly set aside his previous concerns and took a small bite of the chicken leg. Its skin had been crisped to a glorious golden hue.
Having not eaten enough earlier in the evening, Zuo Shaoqing found himself indulging in two additional servings.
As he finished the chicken leg, he noticed the discarded chicken bones scattered at Lu Zheng’s feet, while Lu Zheng himself gnawed on the last remaining chicken wing.
Zuo Shaoqing blinked in amusement. This manner of dining was far more rugged than a formal dining table. It appeared that he would need to learn a bit of ruggedness himself in the days ahead.
Lu Zheng tossed aside the chicken bone and reached for a bamboo tube to wash his hands. He dried them with a luxurious handkerchief adorned with intricate cloud patterns.
Zuo Shaoqing gazed regretfully at the handkerchief, which had swiftly turned to ash. He shook his head and sighed, “The Master’s abode reeks of revelry, and they freeze to death on their journey.” This small brocade handkerchief alone could have lasted him half a year.
Perhaps even longer. If he wasn’t mistaken, the embroidery on the handkerchief was the work of the capital’s most renowned artisan, Yun Niang. He had only seen her embroidery a few times at Jiang’s Mansion.
Lu Zheng shot him a cold look and remarked, “Scholars are prone to squandering their youth.” He produced another brocade handkerchief and offered it to Zuo Shaoqing.
Zuo Shaoqing accepted it with a blush. After using it to clean his hands, he carefully folded it and tucked it into his pocket, with no intention of returning it. After all, Master Lu was going to burn it anyway, he reasoned. If he ever found himself in dire straits, he could use it as a valuable item to secure his survival.
“You fancy it?” Lu Zheng inquired, observing Ye Zichen’s actions with curiosity.
“Huh?” Zuo Shaoqing clutched the brocade handkerchief tightly, fearing that it might be taken back. He casually fabricated a reason, “Of course, this is a rare brocade pattern, seldom seen in the Zuo household.”
“Is the thirty percent profit from this deal not sufficient for Third Master Zuo to have a set of brocade garments tailored?”
Zuo Shaoqing shook his head, “Wealth should remain discreet. Moreover, this is a private transaction between Second Uncle and Later Life, so it’s best to maintain a low profile.”
“And what about the pearl that this elderly gentleman bestowed upon you…?” Lu Zheng narrowed his eyes, a hint of danger gleaming in their corners.
Zuo Shaoqing instinctively touched his neck and cleared his throat. He replied uncomfortably, “Naturally, I will keep it secure.”
Lu Zheng regarded him intently before standing up and retracing his steps, hands clasped behind his back.
Zuo Shaoqing also rose to his feet, glanced at the fading bonfire, and then up at the brilliant moon. He sighed helplessly, “Seems like Master Lu doesn’t have an appreciation for moonlit nights!”