Qiu Ling followed Jing He around not only on that day but also in the following ones. Early in the morning, he would run over to the Nine Heavens, sneak past the guards and pop up in front of his beloved with a brilliant smile, hoping that he would one day reciprocate.
The crown prince winced the first few times but after several weeks of being surprised like this, he got used to it. Qiu Ling had the habit to turn up at about the same time every day so by then, he began to expect his visits.
The two of them would greet each other, sit down for a cup of tea and then go out into the garden. Jing He would tend to his flowers and Qiu Ling would follow behind, pointing at a random flower every now and then to have an excuse to talk with his beloved.
Jing He didn’t mind the questions even though it was obvious the dragon king had no actual interest in his garden. Just look at how his eyes almost never strayed from his face! In fact, talking about the flowers and feeling that burning gaze leave his figure at least for a moment was a welcome change. Thus he patiently gave their names and described their most prominent features, making sure he tied them to the flowers’ appearances so Qiu Ling had to look at them.
Well, a certain dragon king indeed glanced at the flowers but they could never hold his interest. Actually, he just wanted to hear Jing He’s voice. Ah, who could fault him? It really was too soothing to hear! If he could, he would listen to Jing He the entire day.
Unfortunately, his beloved didn’t seem too fond of talking. If he didn’t ask anything, then Jing He would be content just quietly tending to his garden without saying a single word for hours. Only sometimes would he turn around, smile lightly and ask if there was something he could do for him. A cup of tea perhaps? Or maybe he wanted to sit down for a while?
Most of the time Qiu Ling shook his head, explaining how he didn’t want to hinder Jing He in doing what he normally did. His beloved never insinuated in any way that he bothered him but then again, he had never heard his beloved say anything bad about anyone. Ah, his beloved was such a good person!
Qiu Ling smiled happily at the person in question. By now, a year had gone by. They still weren’t married and much to his dismay, he still wasn’t allowed to hold Jing He’s hand. Well, at least they were spending time together.
Qiu Ling looked around and tried to find a flower he hadn’t asked about yet. Unfortunately, he came up empty-handed. All the flowers around them had already been explained, some of them even twice. If he brought them up a third time, his beloved might wonder if he didn’t listen to him properly.
Qiu Ling tightened his lips. He had to come up with something else!
Jing He looked up when the typical burning gaze directed at his profile disappeared. Seeing the dragon king’s gaze dart around, his lips curved slightly. “We’ve been out here for a rather long time. How about taking a break?”
Qiu Ling looked up, his confusion about what to do replaced by gentleness. “Sure …” If that is what you want, my love! I’ll do anything you want, my love!
Jing He continued to smile and motioned toward the stone pavilion at the edge of the garden. The two of them walked over, shoulder to shoulder.
“Please take a seat, Longjun. Would you like some tea?”
“Mn.” Qiu Ling watched excitedly how his beloved brewed the tea and finally poured each of them a cup.
Ah, he couldn’t get enough of this! His beloved was so elegant when he did this! Not that he wasn’t elegant while doing other things. It was just that he was especially elegant when pouring tea.
Jing He took a seat opposite Qiu Ling and looked at the tea in his cup. By now, they had changed from the leaves of the Summer Sun Tree to one made from the Midnight Lotus. The blueish color in contrast to the golden one made this indeed seem like the difference between night and day.
Qiu Ling watched him appreciate the tea. Mn … Tea … Maybe he could do something with that? But he didn’t know much about tea either and he had already asked him for his favorite flavor once in this year. Ah, what was he supposed to do?
Jing He quietly sipped his tea on the other side of the table as if he couldn’t see Qiu Ling’s worried expression at all. He even turned to look at the garden and admired the view he already knew by heart.
“Your Highness …” Qiu Ling spoke up even though he still didn’t know what to say. When his beloved lifted his head, he could only stare at him silently.
Jing He smiled. After a year of spending several hours a day together, he finally felt that he started to understand this person despite the differences between their races. Obviously, he wanted to talk but didn’t know what he could say. He was probably afraid of scaring him away with something too personal.
Jing He carefully placed the cup down. After occasionally crossing the line in the beginning because he didn’t know any better, Longjun had been very accommodating toward his feelings. If his father reconsidered his opinion, then it wouldn’t be impossible to join their races in marriage.
“Mn?” Qiu Ling straightened up, attentively listening for whatever his beloved might want.
“Would you care for a game of weiqi?”
“Weiqi?” Qiu Ling blinked his eyes in confusion.
Jing He nodded. “Mn. It must be boring for Longjun to just watch me tend to the garden every day. The Heavenly Emperor likes playing weiqi. So maybe Longjun would also enjoy a game for a change?
“Sure!” Qiu Ling nodded hurriedly. Ah, his beloved was actually sharing something with him he normally did with his family! Didn’t this mean he already regarded him as family?! It sure was true what Fu Min had told him a few months back: Boiling a frog in warm water was the most effective!
Not that his beloved was a frog. Or resembled a frog. Actually, his beloved was the swan that the frogs were looking at. Mn, his swan. Those frogs should better keep their eyes to themselves!
Jing He smiled. “Then wait a moment. I’ll get the board.” He got up and wanted to return to the palace. Before he had taken two steps, a figure appeared next to him. Jing He turned to Qiu Ling and raised his brows. “Longjun didn’t want to wait?”
The person in question smiled happily at him. “I don’t mind waiting if it’s for you but … that board is probably very heavy. Let me help you carry it!”
Jing He continued to smile and nodded. According to the dragon king’s previous behavior, almost everything looked too heavy for him. It still astonished him that he was allowed to pour him tea. He had actually expected him to snatch the teapot away and claim that its weight might be too much for him to bear.
The two of them walked into the palace side by side. Jing He mostly played weiqi with his father and most of the time he did so in the Heavenly Emperor’s palace. He needed a moment to find the board in one of the cupboards. As soon as his fingertips touched it and a light sigh escaped his lips, a certain someone reached past him, took the board and smiled at him proudly as if he had done an especially good deed.
Jing He lowered his gaze and took the chest with the black and white pieces. “Would Longjun prefer to play outside in the pavilion or here in the palace?”
Qiu Ling didn’t care at all but looking at his beloved he motioned over to the table. “How about playing here? It’s so far to the pavilion and it’s already getting darker outside. The temperature will probably drop and then you’ll feel uncomfortable.”
Jing He nodded and walked over to the table. He couldn’t help but look out the window though. Strange. It didn’t seem like it was getting darker at all? There were still rays of bright golden light falling into the room …
In the end, he only shook his head and sat down with Qiu Ling. He shouldn’t be surprised. The pavilion was only about fifty steps from the palace’s door away too. This was just Longjun’s way of doing things when it was about him-
Jing He put the chest with the pieces to the side and motioned toward the dragon king. “Since Longjun is my guest, why don’t you start?”
“Mn.” Qiu Ling picked up a piece and put it onto the middle of the board.
Jing He looked at it, trying to guess what kind of strategy Qiu Ling might be employing. After a while, he picked up one of his own pieces and placed it a few points apart from Qiu Ling’s.
The dragon king didn’t hesitate. He picked up the next piece and placed it close to Jing He’s. Then he looked at his beloved as if waiting for praise. Wasn’t it nice of him to put their pieces so close together?
Jing He had no idea what the other person might be trying to do. He thought for a while and then placed the next piece. Sooner or later, he should be able to glimpse at what Longjun intended to do.
Qiu Ling pursed his lips. Why wasn’t his beloved saying anything? Then he remembered how he had seen An Bai and Xiang Yong play weiqi once. Uh, alright, maybe people didn’t talk while playing this kind of game. Well, he wouldn’t mind as long as he could spend time with his beloved. Mn, come to think of it …
Qiu Ling picked up the next piece and leaned all over the table to finally place it down right in front of Jing He.
The crown prince looked at the hand in front of him that seemed to linger a little longer than necessary and finally glanced up. Longjun … wouldn’t be using this game to make advances on him, would he? Ah, no, that had to be his misconception.
He continued to smile and one after the other, they placed down the other pieces while the sky outside darkened indeed.
In the end, Jing He sighed. It turned out … This person didn’t know how to play weiqi at all. Longjun had really just agreed to this game to make advances on him. Well, at the very least, he could be sure that he would be a dedicated husband should they really marry in the future.