Qiu Ling had no idea what he was supposed to do but he managed to wind his way through somehow. If the Heavenly Emperor and Empress greeted the gods at the bank of the river and Jing He made to do the same, then he would naturally follow suit. When the Heavenly Emperor and Heavenly Empress made a sacrifice to honor the deceased, then he … would be handed a floral wreath?
Qiu Ling blinked and took the ring of pink blossoms from Jing He. Such a strange ritual! Were they supposed to burn this like the Heavenly Emperor and Empress with their sacrifice just now?
Jing He did nothing like that. He raised his own wreath, bowed to the river and threw it down. Qiu Ling hurried to bow just the same and threw his own wreath down too. Seeing the two of them float there together …
He swiveled to Jing He with a bright smile. He really wanted to say that he’d love to float through life with him together just like that! Unfortunately, he didn’t dare to bring it up with Jing He’s solemn expression. The ritual probably wasn’t over yet. He shouldn’t get anxious. He could still bring this up later as a fond memory and tell him then.
Jing He also watched the two wreaths float down the river. He couldn’t help but sigh at the sight. Who would have known he would ever take part in such a ritual with somebody at his side? This kind of thing … What would the gods think? Especially since the person in question was the current dragon king?
He glanced at the banks where people were either making sacrifices to the deceased or lowering their own floral wreaths into the water to celebrate life. Nobody really paid them attention. Only some of them would glance over and none of them seemed to think that anything was wrong with what they saw.
Jing He’s gaze turned to Qiu Ling next to him and met with a pair of black eyes. Ah. He had … actually been looking over. Jing He wanted to turn away but Qiu Ling’s hand shot forward and grabbed his arm, silently pulling him back. The two of them froze. Qiu felt that he had overstepped Jing He’s boundaries once again and Jing He … He felt that those boundaries were slowly being pushed back. He couldn’t even muster the strength to tell him off because this … felt exceedingly normal.
He turned away with a complicated gaze, making Qiu Ling panic. Was his beloved really very angry this time? Did he feel disappointed at the same time, regretting to have spent so much time with him in the previous months? He couldn’t let that happen! He had to do something to make his beloved happy with him again!
He thought hard but couldn’t come up with anything. Never mind that. There were lots of people around and a festival happening. He couldn’t be willful or his beloved would be even angrier! No, if anything, he had to wait until the festival was over.
Qiu Ling could only resign to his fate. Thankfully, the ritual part was over. The Heavenly Emperor and Empress left the bridge and Jing He and he trailed behind. For the rest of the day, this would only be a normal festival.
When he was sure that they were out of earshot, Qiu Ling turned to Jing He. “You—”
“Ah.” Jing He turned toward him but also took a step back. “If Longjun wants to see the festival, please go ahead and do so. I can call someone to show you around.”
Qiu Ling wanted to pout but he didn’t dare to. Why couldn’t his beloved show him around himself?
As if his prayers had been received, the Heavenly Empress turned around to them and smiled. “You’ve also never seen the festival, Jing He. Why don’t you go and enjoy yourself today?”
“Enjoy himself?!” The Heavenly Emperor whirled around. “How could that be! There will be so many people in the streets! What if he gets hurt or —”
“Aiya. One could think your son was five from the way you’re talking. Jing He has already come of age. It’s time for him to experience that kind of thing. And even if it gets a little rowdier in the streets, there’s still Longjun to make sure he won’t get hurt, isn’t that right?” She turned back to Qiu Ling and smiled even more brightly. “Longjun, you’re our guest but I’m afraid I’ll have to trouble you. My husband has to accompany me for today, my brother is occupied with taking care of the security and there aren’t many more people we trust enough to ensure Jing He’s safety. So would you mind to spend the day with him and make sure he doesn’t get scared at the festival? Jing He has never visited any of them, the crowd might get to him.”
Qiu Ling’s eyes widened. Was this … was this his mother-in-law providing help?! How great! She truly was the most important person right after his beloved! “Naturally!”
“Mn, that’s good then. Enjoy yourself then, Jing He.” Bai Fen nodded and dragged her husband off who couldn’t help but glance back over his shoulder with every second step.
Qiu Ling and Jing He stayed back alone and an awkward silence descended around them. Neither of them wanted to be the first to speak. Qiu Ling was worried he might not find the right words to reassure his beloved that that before had only been a careless mistake and not at all his intention. Jing He, on the other hand, didn’t even know what to feel. How could he find the words to describe all this?
In the end, it was still Jing He who spoke up. “Longjun …”
“I … To be honest, I’d rather not go to the festival.”
“Oh.” Qiu Ling lowered his head. So his beloved was really angry. He didn’t want to see him anymore. Or … was there still a chance to see each other and this was just a temporary thing that made him not want to visit the festival? He glanced up and tried to gauge Jing He’s expression. Unfortunately, it was just as guarded as usual. “Then … what would you like to do instead?”
Jing He lifted his gaze, once again meeting with Qiu Ling’s before they both looked away. “I … I’d rather go somewhere quiet. So many people around … isn’t very much to my liking.”
Qiu Ling stared at the hem of Jing He’s robe in surprise. Eh? ‘So many people’? Didn’t this mean … This wasn’t about him? This was just about him not wanting to be among so many people? Qiu Ling’s lips wanted to curve into a smile but he pressed them down again. Maybe he was understanding wrong! After this blunder from before, he couldn’t be hasty! He had to stay the mature person he was! “Then … Should I accompany you back to your palace?”
Jing He hesitated. If he said yes, then … then he’d have to ask him to stay for a while longer when they were there and knowing him, Longjun would take him up on that offer. In that case, he still wouldn’t know what to do. He wanted some time alone, some time to … entangle those thoughts and feelings. But if he said no, then … then what if Longjun felt rejected and left? What if he … never came back?
Panic bubbled up in his heart. He couldn’t risk something like that! What if he felt offended and held a grudge against the gods because of that? Then … then that would be his fault! Because he … because he couldn’t even endure this kind of …
Hearing no answer from Jing He, Qiu Ling couldn’t help but wonder if he had said the wrong thing. His beloved didn’t want to be with people but he didn’t want to return to his palace either? Then … “Do you want me to bring you somewhere else?” When he said that he felt that it had to be right. It was still rather early! Even if his beloved like to stay by himself, he probably didn’t want to miss a big festival like this, right? He was probably just afraid of all the people around.
Qiu Ling stepped closer, startling Jing He out of his thoughts. When he looked up the dragon king stood right in front of him, a charming smile gracing his lips.
“How about … I bring you to a place where we’re alone but where you can see the festival from?”
“Ah?” Jing He looked up and looked at him in wonder. Such a place … existed in the capital? And Longjun knew of it?
“Want to see?” Qiu Ling reached out just like before and as if in trance, Jing He reached out and took that hand, following him away from the river and through the outskirts, back into the capital, not even asking where he was taking him as if he couldn’t imagine any trouble coming his way when he was with this man.