RSH Stratagem 19: Let Go of All Masks (3)

The two of them walked side-by-side, their gazes roaming over everything that had been prepared for the festival in the last few days, enveloped in comfortable silence.

Normally, Qiu Ling would bring something up and at least make small talk while he was with Jing He but today, he actually felt content keeping quiet. He felt that since Jing He had accepted the robe and the mask and actually gone out with him, that meant something. What use was there for any words? Later, when there were more people in the streets, the topics to talk about it would come all by themselves.

Surprisingly, it was Jing He who finally spoke up first. “Is there anything Longjun would like to do? To be honest, I haven’t taken part in this festival myself yet so I don’t know very much. If you want to go somewhere special, then we should hurry over early when it is still easier to navigate the streets.”

Qiu Ling turned to him, watching the way that Jing He still lowered his head despite wearing that mask. He reached out, put a finger under his chin, and tilted his head up. Looking into his eyes, he gave a soft smile that was hidden by his own mask. “What you’re saying makes no sense. If you haven’t been here, then why are you asking me what I want to do? You should be selfish for once and just tell me what it is that you want to see. I’ll go along with whatever it is.”

Below the mask, Jing He’s a whole face flushed red but he didn’t dare to step back. Instead, he paused in his steps and just looked at this man who was oh-so-casually telling him what to do. He was used to being treated like this. But normally, being told what to do would entail something specific, not having to decide on his own what exactly it was that he wanted. Being asked this, he was in a daze.

Qiu Ling wasn’t in a hurry and just patiently waited for Jing He to speak up. For one, he was doing all of this for his beloved. Thus, it was only sensible to have his beloved decide what exactly he wanted to do to. And second, he didn’t know anything about the festival anyway. Wouldn’t he expose that fact if he needed to decide where to go now? He definitely couldn’t let that happen!

Being subjected to Qiu Ling’s almost penetrating gaze, Jing He felt even more self-conscious. He wanted to turn away but Qiu Ling just lightly tilted his face back.

“There’s no reason to be shy. After all, haven’t we known each other for several years now? I think you know that there’s no reason to hide in front of me. Just take your time thinking about it and when you have decided, you may tell me.”

Even though the dragon king said it as if it was a matter of course, Jing He still had his troubles with this. He just felt more and more unsure when he was looked at like this. If he could, he really wanted to hide away. But yes, he also knew that it made no sense to behave like this in front of Qiu Ling. The dragon king wasn’t the type of person that would let him do so. No, he would just continue to insist until he finally said what he wanted. So he should better think of something soon. When they went somewhere and were engrossed in participating in whatever it was, then the atmosphere definitely wouldn’t be as awkward as it was right now.

Looking at it that way, he hurriedly pondered what it was that the Jiyi festival was known for. The most impressive should be the performers acting out the old stories? Or maybe just listening to a storyteller would also do. “Well, since this festival is about upholding the memory of times long gone, I think it would be for the best if we went to listen to some stories.”

Qiu Ling nodded and wanted to turn around, pulling Jing He with him. At the last moment, he remembered that he had no idea where exactly to do that though. He hesitated but then didn’t know how to proceed. He didn’t know but Jing He wouldn’t know either. After all, he had already said that it was not familiar with the Jiyi festival.

After an awkward moment of standing there in silence, Qiu Ling cleared his throat. “Well, Your Highness wouldn’t have heard of where the stories are normally being told, right?”

Jing He looked at him, understanding finally dawning on him as well. He lowered his head, shaking it in embarrassment. “No, I’m afraid I have not.”

Qiu Ling nodded as if it wasn’t a problem at all and then tugged at his hand, pulling him forward. Anyway, for now, it was most important to get father away from the Heavenly Emperor’s palace so that nobody would be able to find them. When they were a little further away, they could just ask somebody.

Jing He had no idea what he was doing but since he was purposefully walking forward like that, he just followed along. Following this man’s leads … He felt that it was what he ought to do.

Soon enough, Qiu Ling felt that they had gotten far enough away from the palace and started to look around. With the festival starting, it wasn’t difficult to find somebody they could ask. He looked around for a while and then approached one of the vendors that was putting up a stall. “Excuse me. We’re in the capital for the festival for the first time and wanted to go and listen to some stories. You wouldn’t know where we should best head for that, would you?”

The vendor looked up, staring at them for a moment before he motioned down the street. “You should go to the teahouse at the Qian Bing square for that. You’ll get there if you just walk down this road and then take a turn to the left later on. You should ask somebody for further directions when you get closer.”

Qiu Ling nodded, happy that it didn’t seem to be that difficult to get there. “Many thanks. Might I ask what you are selling?” Anyway, this guy just helped them. It would be a little impolite to just leave without at least making a show of caring about whatever it was he sold, right? Anyway, maybe it was something good and he would be able to impress his beloved. Needless to say, the latter was more important to him.

The vendor’s face lit up. He had thought that they would just ask for the way and go. Since it was the Jiyi festival today, this kind of thing would happen very often. He didn’t mind either but if these two people would buy something from him, he definitely wouldn’t complain. Anyway, they looked as if they had money.

Looking at the way that Qiu Ling held Jing He’s hand, he smiled even happier. “Actually, I might have just the thing for you!” Taking out a piece of cloth from his spatial ring, he draped it over his stall and then took out a few delicate pieces of jewelry.

Qiu Ling gave a hum and leaned over the stall with a thoughtful expression. Next to him, Jing He couldn’t help but become anxious. He wanted to speak up but he finally didn’t dare to. He couldn’t tell the dragon king what he should or shouldn’t do. But he definitely couldn’t let him purchase any jewelry for him, could he? He just didn’t know what to do!

Qiu Ling looked over every single piece but still wasn’t quite satisfied. “Do you have anything more …” He pondered how to phrase what he had in mind and couldn’t help but furrow his brows. “Well, something that is a little more conservative? Maybe something small and unobtrusive that could be worn without being noticeable immediately while still being pleasing to the eye?”

The vendor looked at the pieces he had shown him, feeling that they actually fit the bill quite well. Still, since this person was apparently willing to buy something but just hadn’t seen something he liked, he took out another few pieces, this time choosing some smaller ones. “Would one of these be more to your liking?”

Qiu Ling once again took a look and then glanced at Jing He. Apparently, his beloved wasn’t too happy about the situation and instead wanted to drag him away but didn’t dare to do so.

Qiu Ling smiled to himself and then looked back at the jewelry. In fact, there still wasn’t anything that was able to catch his eye. He felt that none of it was good enough for his beloved.

Anyway, if he got something for him, it should probably be a little more special. Maybe his beloved would actually prefer getting something from the dragon realm as well. That way, he would be able to look at it and always think of him. This kind of jewelry from the Nine Heavens was something he would be able to get from just anybody. In that case, it really wasn’t worth it to buy anything. Now that he had taken a look, he would feel a little bad for not taking anything though.

Thinking of it like this, Qiu Ling just pointed at something at random. “Let’s take this one.”

The vendor’s eyes lit up when he saw what he had chosen. Among all the things he had displayed, this one was actually one of the most expensive even though it was smaller than the rest. “An excellent choice!”

Jing He, upon seeing just what Qiu Ling had decided on, felt even more anxious. This time, he really couldn’t hold back. He lightly touched his arm, giving him a concerned look. “This … Are you sure that this is a good idea? Maybe …” He wanted to tell him to either choose something different or maybe take nothing at all but couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.

Qiu Ling glanced at him and then just gave a smile. Raising his hand to gently cover Jing He’s, he didn’t seem worried at all. “Don’t mind it. Since he was so nice to tell us the way, we should show our appreciation, shouldn’t we?” In fact, what he appreciated even more was the fact that because of this vendor’s actions, his beloved had reached out to him on his own and even with such a concerned look in his eyes. He would be able to think of that for a long, long time when he was lying awake at night.

With a happy smile on his lips, Qiu Ling turned back to the vendor, not at all changing his expression when he heard the high price. He just handed over the money, took the jewelry, and then carelessly threw it into his spatial ring.

Anyway, this wasn’t what he wanted to give to his beloved. He would have to find some other use for that. Maybe he could use it to bribe somebody else for some help? Who could that be? His mother-in-law? She would probably be a very good recipient for that.

Having made up his mind, Qiu Ling happily took Jing He’s hand again, and pulled him down the road, toward that Qiang Bing square. They only asked one other person on the way and made it over there without any trouble. Looking at the teahouse that towered in front of them with five stories, Jing He once again glanced at the dragon king next to him.

“This looks like it really is one of the more established places for the festival. It might be difficult to find a seat.”

Qiu Ling nodded but he didn’t worry too much. With a light smile, he pulled his beloved into the teahouse and then waved at a servant. Anyway, even if he was wearing a mask, he was still the dragon king. He didn’t think that it would be a problem at all to get a seat or even a room in some teahouse. Nothing should go wrong about this.

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