RSH Stratagem 24: Better Yourself for Your Beloved’s Sake! (4)

“Is this better, Your Majesty?” An Bai asked even though he was already quite sure that he had found the right thing more or less. After all, he hadn’t been interrupted immediately and his king also wasn’t staring at him as if he had committed some kind of crime.

Qiu Ling gave a hum that might’ve been called slightly more enthusiastic compared to the complete disgust before. “It’s not bad.”

“Not bad.” An Bai nodded slowly, wondering what exactly he should make of these words. Well, this might be the best he could actually get from him. “In that case, we should probably really go with a bowed instrument. The five we have here are the same in how they are played. The difference is mostly in the range of their tones. Some of them are deeper while others a little higher pitched. This one is in the middle, actually. Now, let’s have a look if you would like this one or rather something to either side of the spectrum.” He put the instrument down and picked up another one. “This is the next higher-toned one.” He played a few notes but Qiu Ling shook his head.

“I like the other one better.”

An Bai nodded and then picked up a third instrument, not bothering to explain but instead just playing a tune. This time, the king didn’t even interrupt him and just let him continue to play. An Bai actually finished a short melody before he put down the instrument again. “It seems that Your Majesty is quite satisfied with this one?” He couldn’t help but try to make sure. After all, the king was notorious for just suddenly starting to ignore people. Even though he was the one who had asked for help, who knew when his bad habit would act up again?

Qiu Ling had a thoughtful expression on and then nodded. “Yes. This one sounds quite nice.” In fact, he was a little surprised by this. The first few hadn’t seemed nice so he had already felt that maybe he wouldn’t have any luck. But now, it turned out that An Bai hadn’t done such a lousy job at picking out these instruments after all. They were all three alright but he liked the second less than the first one and he really liked the one with the deeper range better. He didn’t know what it was. He just thought of it as calming. He really liked that. So if anything, then he wanted this one.

An Bai also nodded and then motioned at the two instruments that were left. “Would you like to listen to these two as well?”

Qiu Ling shook his head. “No, let’s just go with this one.” In any case, since he could only learn one, it didn’t matter.

An Bai nodded again and then put the other instruments away before picking up the one Qiu Ling had chosen again. “Then I’ll show you how it is done in general and then go to return the other instruments. You can try a bit on your own in that time and when I come back, we can talk about any questions you might have.”

Qiu Ling nodded, not worrying too much. In any case, it hadn’t looked that difficult before. And even though he might pretend to be an idiot, he actually wasn’t. He would be able to learn how to play an instrument for sure.

An Bai was slightly worried but he wouldn’t tell that to his king’s face. “Alright. I won’t bore Your Majesty with much of the theory. The only thing you need to know is that which tune is played will depend on where on the strings you place your fingers. There are also several different ways to use the bow. For example, there is the fast or the trembling bow. There also some sounds you can make by just using your fingers like plucking the strings or causing a sliding tone. I will show you all of that in more detail later on. Right now, just let me give you a quick demonstration on how to play.”

Qiu Ling didn’t say anything and just nodded, taking a closer look when An Bai picked up the bow and started to demonstrate. Seeing his fingers glide over the strings and the way he moved the bow, Qiu Ling tried to remember as much as he could.

He remembered that when he had been quite young, he had heard people play instruments in the palace and everywhere in the capital city. Later, when his family moved away, there hadn’t been any chance to learn himself. And then even later than that, after his parents were already dead and he was wandering around, while he saw some people play, he didn’t have the leisure to stay and watch on. So this was the first time that he actually had the chance to observe closely.

An Bai finished and looked up at his king. “Do you understand how it is done already or is there something that I should explain?”

Qiu Ling gave a hum and then shook his head. “I should be able to understand.” In any case, it didn’t look that difficult even after having a closer look. He should be able to get it after a few times trying.

An Bai nodded and then handed the instrument over. “Then I will leave you alone to practice a bit and go return the instruments. Please excuse me.” He bowed and then left the room, hurrying away as soon as the door was closed.

Don’t kid him. After just watching once, how could the king be able to play? His first few tries would probably be atrocious. And knowing His Majesty, he wouldn’t accept it if he tried to tell him how to do it instead. Thus, most likely, for the time being, it would be pure torture for the ears to listen to him play.

He really didn’t need that. It was better to let him play around until he managed to figure out the general concept and then just help him fine-tune it as soon as it wasn’t as bad anymore. The only question was how long he would be able to wait until going back. After all, it wasn’t like the king would be able to learn how to play in an hour.

He sighed and shook his head at himself, actually wondering if what he did was the right thing. It really wasn’t nice to go about it like this. In any case, he had become an adviser because he was a scholar so he should probably help the king. Hadn’t he always wanted him to better himself? So how could he run away now? He really was irresolute for leaving just because there were some hindrances.

As it turned out, An Bai’s decision had been a good one though. Just when he left the palace, Xiang Yong who was currently in his own chambers and working through a few documents that needed to be approved was scared into leaping off his chair. He incredulously raised his head, staring in the direction of An Bai’s study.

This … was this really An Bai? Or could it be that he was thinking of taking in a disciple and currently testing some candidates? In that case, whoever was trying their luck right now should definitely be thrown out immediately. He sat back down and held his forehead, hoping that the demonstration would be over quite soon. Unfortunately for him, things didn’t look too well.

In the other study, Qiu Ling was holding the instrument, tightly furrowing his brows while he tried to play. As it turned out, making a sound wasn’t too difficult but making the right one actually was. It just sounded … off. He was at least able to tell this much.

He wasn’t happy with how things went but he definitely wasn’t one to give up easily. Since he had decided to convince his beloved of his qualities by expressing his feelings with music, he would definitely do so. It was just a question of time until he would be able to play well enough to give him a little demonstration. How long could it take? A year maybe? He would definitely be able to do this. He just needed to practice a bit more whenever he had the time.

With this thought in mind, Qiu Ling forced himself to continue no matter how bad it sounded. In any case, he had just heard when An Bai demonstrated that this instrument could actually sound nice. He would definitely be able to make it sound that way as well.

Meanwhile, An Bai slowly made his way over to the store and then walked in with a smile, signaling to the owner that he could take his time when he saw that he was speaking to another customer right now.

The owner actually was a bit worried and wanted to hurry over immediately but since An Bai had already motioned that he wanted to wait he could only send a servant to make at least some accommodations.

When the servant came to ask him if he could do something for him, An Bai just waved his concerns away. “Don’t worry too much. I’m just here to return the instruments but I’ll wait for the owner to finish. In any case, I want to thank him for helping me out. I will just wait until he finishes what he is currently doing. Since my task has already been done, I don’t need to hurry back to the palace that soon.”

The servant nodded and then motioned over to a small room in the back. “Then maybe Scholar An Bai would like to sit down and have a cup of tea while you’re waiting?”

Usually, An Bai would’ve said no but considering that he absolutely wasn’t in a hurry to return, he did nod. “Well, I should probably say yes. That way, the owner likely won’t be worried either that I’ll be troubled by waiting. Thank you for your hospitality.” With that, he went over to sit down, actually quite happy with the current situation. It would be better if the owner took a few minutes more and they could have a long conversation afterward.

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