The next day, it was Jing Juan's birthday.
Yujia had promised to attend the special gathering for Miss Jing's birthday, and it wasn't like she could politely decline. Thus, she brought an ink painting she had been working on the other day, mounted on silk, as a birthday gift, then went on over to the location of the gathering.
The gathering began fairly well. All the other young ladies presented their presents, and when it came for Yujia's turn to gift Jing Juan her painting, Jing Juan looked at it with admiration and great joy.
"To receive a painting from the great Artist Yang herself— I am truly lucky," she said with a bright smile. "This is the best present I've received yet."
Yujia returned her gratitude with a warm smile.
She had to admit that she was jealous. However, it wasn't like she could hold a grudge against an innocent person like Jing Juan, especially when the other girl was being so nice. The smile she gave Jing Juan was genuine.
Rong Tianyu, who had presented her gift before Yujia, quickly spoke up after Jing Juan's words. She declared, "The best present? So my jewelry set wasn't good? I got your favorite colors though— the purple jewels were hard to find and very expensive, alright?"
Jing Juan giggled, replying, "Alright alright, I take my words back. I love all the presents equally."
"Good. That sounds better," Tianyu relented with a scoff.
The party went on, with just snacks and chattering as usual. In fact, other than the gifts, the gathering didn't seem all too special.
The ladies were discussing Luo Xiya's engagement when Yujia saw the perfect opportunity to play her role as an unwilling wingman. She slipped into the conversation, asking, "Sister Jing Juan, do you happen to have an engagement in place?"
Jing Juan shook her head.
"Ah, then do you have someone in mind?" Yujia put on a tight smile, ready to get into full-on extremely-polite-interrogation mode.
With a laugh, the girl replied, "No. What about you? Does Sister Yujia have anyone in mind?"
Xiya chimed in, "With all your fellow disciples from respectable families, I'm sure there's someone right, Sister Yujia?"
"What about my brother?" Rong Tianyu suddenly blurted. "He's a disciple too!"
Yujia shuddered at the idea of the persistent Rong Yuan. In comparison to her brother, Tianyu was a thousand times better.
Giving an awkward laugh, Yujia answered, "I haven't really paid attention to any romantic things. Besides, many of them are married already."
"What about Young Master Yu?" Zhou Luowei brought up. Her husband, Bo Zhiyuan, was Yu Zixu's closest friend. There was no doubt that she would think of Zixu, when the topic moved to Lingxin disciples, and Yujia was glad that it only took a little bit of prodding from her to get the topic on Yu Zixu.
"We are just friends," Yujia admitted.
The friend-zone sucked. Experiencing it first-person really made her sympathize for everyone else stuck in the same zone.
"But…" Yujia continued, "what do you all think about him?"
Zhou Luowei, Sima Qianzi, and Luo Xiya did not seem to have much input, given that they were either married or engaged. That left Rong Tianyu and Jing Juan left, which was definitely the direction Yujia wanted to steer the conversation in.
Jing Juan replied briefly, "He's alright, I guess. Does Sister Yujia really have no feelings?" she teased.
Yujia responded with a calm smile, the one she learned from Zixu. She shook her head.
"Nope. I have no feelings."
At the end of the gathering, Yujia had some new intel on Jing Juan. She debated if she should report this information back to Zixu, then thought back to how a while back, the pesky Rong Yuan had tried to get intel on Yujia by using Zixu. Though Zixu never told Rong Yuan anything, Yujia still felt very creeped out by the fact that someone was trying to bribe information on her.
Zixu wasn't bribing Yujia, but when she thought back to it in the perspective of Jing Juan, she wondered if Jing Juan would find what Yujia was doing as creepy.
Part of Yuija's inner voice argued that finding out the interests of another person for a friend was a normal favor. Yet then again, she thought back to how she was creeped out by Rong Yuan and wondered if this sort of mindset would apply in this situation. Similar to how Yujia had zero interest in Rong Yuan, Jing Juan also seemed quite disinterested in Yu Zixu, after all.
She really didn't know for sure.
And so, upon the next time that she saw Zixu, two days later, at Lingxin Pavilion, she told him, "I don't think that I can give you any specific information on Miss Jing."
Zixu paused, then gave a curt nod. "Alright. Not a problem." He smiled. "I'll just ask you to give your input on what you think is good, then. Surely, that is fine?"
Originally, Yujia thought that by telling that to Zixu, he would stop coming to her for advice, but it seemed like he twisted her intentions in a way that she could not refuse. Damn it. She didn't think it through.
Giving a reluctant nod, Yujia ended up agreeing.
"Great." Seeing her agreement, Zixu's smile grew a little brighter. "Then, do you want to go shopping in the marketplace with me? I want to pick out a few gifts."
Although she didn't end up going, after the prior conversations, she really had no choice. And so, a few minutes later, Yujia found herself walking down the streets of the marketplace. She was wearing a veil with a simple set of light robes. The weather was already getting extremely hot, but because of her light robes, it didn't feel all too bad.
Zixu walked by her side, wearing robes made of a light-green fabric. Yujia looked down at her own robes, noticing that she was wearing green as well. The two looked like they were matching, making Yujia wonder if couple outfits existed in ancient times, or if that was just a modern thing. And then, she mentally slapped herself for thinking about such pointless things.
While they walked, Yujia let the idea of the marketplace carry her thoughts away. She always liked shopping, so this easily distracted her from other thoughts.
Only a few minutes after entering the center of the market, Yujia had her attention caught by someone selling ink. She thought about it for a second, and upon deciding that Jing Juan would probably not be interested in ink, she looked over at Zixu and explained, "I'm going to go look at the ink over there! You can go browse for gifts."
Zixu raised his eyebrow and closed a fan in his hand that he had been fanning himself with. "Why can't I consider ink as a gift?"
"Oh, she won't like that," Yujia hastily explained, "since honestly, even though she likes art, ink won't be all too fascinating." Leaving it at that, she went over to the stand with the ink and presumed that Zixu would stay behind or go look at something else.
She presumed wrong. Zixu followed right after her, stopping at the ink stand.
Yujia gave him a strange glance, then focused back on the ink, examining all the different inksticks. What caught her attention about this vendor was that his inks were all very colorful and delicately made. They looked even better than some of the ones at Lingxin, so she really wanted to talk to the vendor and examine the ink up close.
The vendor seemed more than happy at her appearance, glancing at her, and then at Zixu. He paused, and Yujia could practically see how an assumption registered in his eyes.
Thankfully, he didn't say a thing, directly going to advertise his inks. Yujia listened with appreciation, but she didn't really need to be persuaded. She could tell that he had high quality supplies.
At the end of his description, she informed, "I'll buy a set. How much is it?"
"Only ten taels, Miss," he answered happily.
Ten taels was a decent price for ink of this quality. Yujia reached to pull out her satchel of taels, more than willing to pay. Except then, Zixu, who was standing by the side, leaned forward and took out his satchel, one step ahead of her.
"I'll pay." He was already shaking some silver out into his hand.
Yujia held out a hand. "No, since I'm buying, I'll pay."
He stopped, turning to her. With a soft smile, he told her, "Since you're doing me a favor here, let me pay."
Was picking out gifts and shopping really doing Zixu that much of a favor? Yujia knitted her brows, thinking about exactly how much she had done for Zixu so far, which really wasn't that much. She ate his food, which didn't seem like that much of a favor, now that she thought back to it. She also gave him advice to confess, and perhaps that was the only thing that could be counted as a favor. Now, she was just enjoying herself in the market.
Something didn't seem all that right. Though, again, because Zixu worded it the way he did, she would make it awkward if she still insisted on paying, so she stepped back, letting him.
The vendor packaged up a set of inks and handed it over to Zixu. Yujia gave him a smile, saying, "Thanks." Then, she reached forward to take the set from him.
Zixu didn't hand it over, stepping aside and beginning to walk through the marketplace again. "You're the one giving advice and picking out gifts, so it'll be inconvenient if you have to hold it."
"Ah. Alright then." Yujia was skeptical, but hey— if he wanted to carry things for her, she wasn't going to say no.
As the two continued to walk, he leaned over and asked, "What do you think makes a good gift?"
Yujia clasped her hands in front of her and explained as she walked, "A good gift is not just monetary value. I'm sure you already know that. You could pick all of the most valuable jade, gold, and silver, yet it would mean nothing if no sincerity was put behind it. It's really the thought that counts." Her eyes caught on a small jewelry vendor. "Like this!" She went over. "These necklaces and hairpins aren't worth much compared to the treasures the Yu Villa probably has, but don't you think that they have a unique charm?"
Zixu walked over too and nodded thoughtfully.
Eyes scanning over all of the jewelry, Yujia's hand picked up a hairpin that caught her attention. Amidst all of the hairpins, the one she picked up was made of wood for its base. The dark wood was carved to have a slight curved design, and a string of beads were attached to a small hole at the end. From the beads, there was an ornament made of three flat, teardrop-shaped, soft pink beads to create the shape of a flower. A few more delicate beads hung from underneath the flower.
An old woman, seemingly the vendor, noticed Yujia's choice and exclaimed, "Young Miss has a good taste. All of my hairpins are hand-made, so you won't find another one like this one."
Yujia thought back to her wardrobe, realizing that she didn't have any pink clothes that would match this hairpin very well. And besides, the hairpin was too delicate and pretty. Yujia hardly had chances or a need to dress up in Lingxin, so she really didn't need it. It would be nice to have, but since she was sure that Zixu was going to insist on paying again, she didn't want to inconvenience him.
She gave the vendor a smile, then placed the hairpin down. Recalling how at Jing Juan's birthday party, Rong Tianyu declared that Jing Juan's favorite color was purple, she picked up another wood-carved hairpin with an amethyst purple bead embedded at the end, showing that to Zixu. "I think she'll like this one."
Zixu nodded, reaching for his taels again.
While he paid and was distracted, Yujia turned her attention to a vendor that sold candied hawthorn, heading over there to buy a stick. She didn't want Zixu to pay for that, so she had to do it speedily while he wasn't paying attention.
Zixu didn't observe the purple hairpin that Yujia handed him for too long. He set it down and picked up the pink one she was looking at earlier.
"How much will that be?" he asked the vendor.
She gave a price, and he paid. After that, he slipped the hairpin into his pocket and turned to go after Yujia.
I'm entering a contest on tapread and I would really appreciate it if y'all could give some support ;u; http://www.tapread.com/book/detail/738
if possible, please head over to the link, check the novel out, and click the "like" button + add to your shelf! I would really like to win this contest, if possible ;;u;;
the book is called "Empress of the Dawn", and it's a novel I've been working on for a while now. here is the synopsis, if you're interested:
They know her as a ghost. After digging out her heart, ripping out her spirit root, and carving a thousand blood-dripping scars down her face, the Empress of the Seven Lands was overthrown and betrayed by her closest lover. Ever since the fateful day where she lost the throne and country that she worked for centuries on, the Empress was known to the world as nothing but a ghost of the past. Yet she had never died. And the Empress— now known under the careful guise of Li Yixuan— was prepared to take back everything she had ever lost.
thank you so much. <3 <3 <3
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