Jing He wasn’t sure what to expect. He had seen that Qiu Ling seemed rather self-assured when it came to making the soup and since the dragon king had also said that he had learned this, he probably shouldn’t doubt his skills. But still, it was hard for him to imagine that Qiu Ling would be able to do such a task. It just didn’t want to fit his image.
As soon as he took the spoon that Qiu Ling handed him and had a taste, his eyes widened though and he couldn’t quite believe it. This was … well, it couldn’t be compared with the things he normally ate but then again, this was also a medicinal soup so that probably would have been the case no matter who made it.
But in any case, the taste was actually nice. It wasn’t bitter as a lot of medicine tended to be. Instead, while there was a lingering aftertaste, it was quite mellow, as if melting on his tongue.
To say that he was surprised … that would be an understatement. No, he was completely gobsmacked. “Longjun has many talents that I never would’ve expected.” Glancing at the dragon king, he remembered how he had seen him paint the first time.
At that time, he had also been surprised. It just hadn’t seemed to fit with the image he had had of him. But then again, he was the king after all. To have a variety of skills was something normal for him, wasn’t it? In any case, when he stopped to think about it, that was how he felt.
Maybe his first impression of Qiu Ling had just been too strong to leave room for anything else so whenever something new came up, he would still be surprised even after four years. In fact, it would be five soon enough. When he thought of that, he quietly ate some more of the soup, his mind wandering off.
This man, he had been scared of him at first but then got used to him, somewhat regarding him as a distant friend at least. Now, he had realized that his feelings were actually deeper than that. He loved him. And if not for his father and his position, he might have hoped for more than this.
Indeed, he could imagine to one day live at his side. But as it stood, that didn’t seem possible. Still, he wasn’t quite willing to give up yet. If he allowed himself to imagine a day when Longjun would be his husband … Then, surely, what he should do was to get to know him better, wasn’t it?
He gently stirred the soup in his bowl, glancing up at Longjun’s face before he hurriedly looked away again. “The time when Longjun was traveling … there were probably many more things that you did.”
Qiu Ling nodded and then looked behind him, realizing that he might as well make himself comfortable. He turned slightly, leaning against the foot of the bed, and gave Jing He a smile. “There were certainly many things. Do you want to hear some stories?”
Jing He smiled faintly at that. “If Longjun wouldn’t mind sharing. I just can’t promise that I will know a lot about the things that you are telling me. To be honest, some simple things would be enough for me. Just knowing how you spent your days … I would be delighted if you told me about that.”
Qiu Ling looked at him with a smile, incredibly pleased with himself. He hadn’t even planned for this but Jing He himself was asking him about his past. That … well, he didn’t even know what to say about that. It just seemed incredibly perfect as if this was how things should be.
He tried to keep down the grin that wanted to break out on his face and instead gave what he assumed to be a more sophisticated hum. “How I spent my days … I’m not sure if it is that exciting. Back then, life was actually quite hard.
“If you are outside of the palace, outside of any kind of city, just in the wilderness all on your own, it can be a little … frustrating at times. There is nobody to talk to, nobody to spend your time with, just yourself and whatever there is at the place where you stopped.
“In those nights, I would sleep under the stars, and I would wake up when the beasts around me awoke. Sometimes, that would be when the sun was just going up. Other times, it would be when it was still dark outside.
“At those times, there wasn’t much rest to be had. Because the further you venture out into the realm — maybe even to places that haven’t seen any dwellings or travelers in a long time —, the more things are out there that can be dangerous even for a dragon. And I … I was young and admittedly a little stupid.” He smiled at that, especially so when he saw Jing He’s astounded gaze.
“I’m sure the dragon king was never —”
Qiu Ling shook his head though. “Well, maybe dumb is not the right word. But I was young and hotheaded. That I was for sure. And that hotheadedness can be the same as dumbness in some situations.
“I definitely got myself into quite a few situations that I could’ve avoided if not for my own stupidity or maybe misplaced courage if you so want. I guess it does sound more honorable that way.”
Jing He forced himself to continue eating soup, trying not to stare at the dragon king the whole time.
Qiu Ling let him be and thought back to those days. “Sometimes, it’s best to just leave. To not engage in a fight, to … escape and save your hide. But when you are young, maybe there is too much pride in those bones.
“It takes a few good beatings to realize you don’t have to face every fight head-on. Over time, that made me an incredibly good fighter and I learned that there are some ways to go about things that will be less dangerous to me. But in any case, it is still true that there were times where I only got away by the skin of my teeth.”
Jing He had managed to finish the bowl while Qiu Ling spoke but he didn’t put it aside and just clung to it. He felt … actually, even though he knew that it was long in the past, he felt distressed on the dragon king’s behalf. “Were you … injured badly?”
Qiu Ling smiled at him, reaching out to caress his ankles through the blanket and the robe beneath. “You can find out yourself after we’re married.”
Jing He looked at him, not understanding for a moment. After they were married … — if there ever was such a day — why would he … And then it suddenly dawned in him.
If there were injuries that had been deep enough to last, where would he see that if not on his body? And how would he see that if not because the dragon king would not be wearing his robe in front of him?
His face flushed and he really didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know why but suddenly, the dragon king who had just seemed to pull back some time ago seemed to be making his intentions known with renewed vigor. It was utterly unexpected.
Maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe this was how it had always been and he had just not noticed sometimes because his own thoughts hadn’t been going in the same direction. Now that they were, and now that he was aware of his own feelings, maybe he just reacted to them much more strongly. And maybe the dragon king was able to realize that. Maybe that was why his teasing was suddenly getting stronger.
There was still an amused smile on Qiu Ling’s lips but he didn’t force the issue. If Jing He wasn’t willing to go there yet, it was better to stop at a certain place. And he felt like he had just reached that.
He took a deep breath and then sighed. “Well, to answer your question: I did get injured but it was nothing that wouldn’t heal. I guess I still got pretty lucky in the end.
“Sometimes, it was worse than other times but with each new experience gained, the injuries gained lessened. And even now, looking back, I am grateful for having made those experiences. Without taking a risk, there is no way to grow sometimes. At least not when it comes to fighting. And that is something that was good for me because it brought me to where I am now.”
Qiu Ling fell silent for a moment and then shook his head at himself, pulling himself out of his thoughts. “Well, you were asking about how my days were. I think that they were pretty much that: I just explored the world, fought when there was something to fight, and then found a place to rest when there wasn’t.
“Sometimes, in those later hours of the day when I was done with whatever I had done that day and was just waiting for night to fall so I could get some hours of rest, I would amuse myself with small things that could be done in the wilderness.”
“Like what?” At this, Jing He was a little more interested. He didn’t understand much about fighting but maybe there was something in there that he could relate with.
Qiu Ling gave another hum, not quite sure where to start. “Well, there isn’t much available outside so I tried to do some practical things.” He motioned over to the box that Jing He had put to the side which was currently closed. “The little fish inside, I admit I bought that one but I’m sure I would be able to make one just as nice for you.”
Jing He looked over and picked up the box, opening it to take out the little good luck charm. “Just like this?” He looked back up at Qiu Ling while his fingers brushed over the finely carved surface. The jade was cool to the touch but it slowly warmed when he rubbed it.
Qiu Ling watched him and then stirred a little, pulling up his other leg that had been hanging over the edge of the bed and slipping into the lotus position. He sorted out his robes, making sure that they covered his legs, and then took something from his spatial ring. “I’ll show you.”