OMF V1C113 New Guests, New Hope

Madam Zhong and Nie Huang both leaped up and scrambled for the door of the preparation room when they heard voiced from outside. There! There was a woman sitting at one of their tables with her child next to her!
The two women exchanged a glance. Nie Huang hurried back into the room and started to prepare the tea. Madam Zhong smoothed out the wrinkles in her clothes and fixed her hair before she forced herself to smile and walked out to greet her guests.
“Welcome, welcome! I’m sorry for not greeting you sooner.”
“Oh, no worries.” Ai Hua turned around to Madam Zhong and examined her. The woman in front of her was a mortal. She could tell as much at one glance. Looking at her a bit longer she still couldn’t find anything special about her. Was she somehow related to His Majesty’s beloved? Ai Hua narrowed her eyes as if she was able to see something previously hidden like this.
Madam Zhong’s smile stiffened. This … What was going on? Was there something wrong with her face?
When Ai Hua still couldn’t figure out anything after a few minutes, she came out of her thoughts and coughed lightly. “Mn, could we get a cup of tea?”
Madam Zhong repressed a sigh. She had assumed the worst when the woman only stared at her. But it seemed she was overly anxious after what happened last week.
Yes, that’s right: Last week. Ai Hua had finished her preparations the day after Mister Zhong’s death when Jing Yi had spoken to Mister Shao. After that, she had whiled away her time through the banter with her husband. One shichen in the dragon realm was a whole month in the mortal realm, so just spending another half an hour there meant that one week would elapse for Madam Zhong and her son. Even five minutes in the dragon realm equaled to a bit more than a day for the Zhongs.
Ai Hua hadn’t taken that much time but it was still enough for a few more days to have passed when she arrived with her son. Now, it was the early morning of the fifth day after Mister Zhong’s death.
Nothing had changed in the teahouse since Li Bo’s visit and Madam Zhong dreaded the day he might return. Finally having a new customer gave her hope, though. Maybe they would all slowly return and she and her son could lead a normal life again.
“What tea would you like?”
Ai Hua who had no idea what tea there even was in the mortal realm just waved. “Bring me whatever you think is good.”
“Alright. Would you like some snacks, too?”
Ai Hua nodded. “Sure, why not?” She should support this teahouse considering that it was owned by the family of His Majesty’s beloved. She wouldn’t even mind if she had to come here every day for one mortal lifetime to drink tea and eat snacks. Seriously, if the mortals didn’t want to frequent this establishment she’d even ask the other women of the dragon realm to come over! It couldn’t be that hard to support one mortal family, could it?
Madam Zhong had hurried into the kitchen and brought the snacks over. “The tea will be done soon! If there is anything else you’d like just tell me.”
“Mn. Thank you.” Ai Hua pushed the snacks over to her son and watched as Madam Zhong hurried into the preparation room. Where were His Majesty and his beloved? It couldn’t be that those two were out on a romantic outing while they were waiting here for them, could it?
Mn, she had to give it to him: The king really knew how to woo someone. It was no wonder the crown prince hadn’t been able to resist back in the nine heavens. In this mortal life of his, it would probably turn out the same way.
Madam Zhong came back with a tray in hand and put down the tea with a smile.
“Thank you, thank you.” Ai Hua pulled the cup over and took a sip. “Mn, your tea is good.”
“Uh … Thank you.” Madam Zhong looked at the cup. Hadn’t she seen something like that before? Drinking the tea when it was still so hot … “You wouldn’t happen to know …” She hesitated, not knowing how to call him.
Ai Hua looked up questioningly. “Know what?”
“That man.” Madam Zhong didn’t know how to say it any better. He had never told her his name.
Unfortunately, her question was lost on Ai Hua. She didn’t think of her king in the slightest. “Who might you be talking about?”
Madam Zhong clutched the empty tray. “Mn … He’s … quite handsome.”
Ai Hua furrowed her brow. “Quite handsome?” She still didn’t think of her king. Who would dare to call the dragon king ‘quite’ handsome?
Madam Zhong nodded but Ai Hua could only shrug. “I don’t know who you might be talking about.”
“Oh. Please excuse that I asked.” Maybe I was thinking too much.
“It’s nothing.” Ai Hua smiled and patted her son’s head, while her eyes darted about. “Are there only two people working in the teahouse?”
Madam Zhong shook her head. “Normally, there are quite a few people but … well, you see for yourself: There aren’t many guests today so I sent them home. Besides myself, there are only our tea master and the chef.”
“Oh.” Ai Hua nodded. “Well, I heard someone was making problems for you. If it’s really bad you can tell me. I can help you out.”
Hearing that, Madam Zhong smiled. “It’s alright. We’ll be able to make it through the hard times somehow.” She couldn’t help but feel like this woman really resembled that daoist master. Speaking of him … She couldn’t help but wonder if things had turned out differently had he still been with them.
Was it my fault?, she asked herself again. Did he leave because of my fear and was that the reason Ah Lei … She shook her head and repressed a sigh. There was nothing to be done about it. Her husband had already died. No thought of hers could change that. And some things were just meant to be that way.
After five days Madam Zhong wasn’t so sure if everything was just a coincidence. This wasn’t the first time something had happened to their family. Jing Yi’s birth, the rumors, the bandits, now that man … Could so many things happen to one family just because of some bad luck? By now, she was wondering if all of this might be fate.
She didn’t know much about these things. Only the little bit one heard in the countryside: There were souls that would be continuously reborn and some things were just bound to happen. That was all she knew. These things … they had started to happen after Jing Yi was born. And that daoist master had followed her son or rather his soul, too.
Could it be? Had that soul really such an unlucky fate? Was that why his last life ended and why he was here now? If that was the case … Would he lose her, too, and be all alone someday?
Madam Zhong really was perceptive. From the things that had nearly happened and that her family was only saved from because of Qiu Ling’s intervention, she managed to glean some truth. Of course, she wouldn’t be able to find out Jing Yi’s real identity but being able to glimpse a bit of the fate Shun Tao wrote was astonishing enough.
Before Madam Zhong could dwell any longer on it, light footsteps pulled her out of her thoughts. She as well as Ai Hua and her son turned to the door, all three expecting to see Jing Yi or — as the dragons thought of him — the king’s beloved.
Unfortunately, the one to storm inside was Zhong Guanyu. Even after all these months of Jing Yi trying to evade her and Shao Hai interfering with her approaches she still hadn’t given up. She was intent on making Jing Yi her groom! She would accept nobody else but her Prince Charming!
With this conviction, Guanyu entered the teahouse. And then, her whole world was turned upside down again.

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