Qiu Ling was very much willing to oblige Jing He’s wish. He poured him another cup of wine and then continued with his tale. “Either way, I went into the town that day and entered one of those taverns.
“In the dragon realm, drinking is something that has a high appeal. I guess it comes with our stronger physical constitution. We don’t get drunk as easily so we either need stronger wine or drink a lot to finally feel it. I guess it might be different in the Nine Heavens.”
Jing He nodded, feeling that this should be the case. Although he couldn’t be called experienced in that regard, he also hadn’t heard otherwise.
Qiu Ling leaned back, his head tilting toward Jing He while he looked into the distance, reminiscing. “Either way, everyone else was drinking so I chose a table and figured I should just join in.
“I guess it speaks volumes that I was still sitting alone. I also wasn’t sure how to pay if I’m being honest. Usually, the things that I wanted were practical things so exchanging them for something else that might be useful for the other person wasn’t difficult. After all, a merchant selling fabric earns that money to be able to feed their family. So as long as you are able to give them enough food to make it worth their while, they won’t complain.
“Going to a tavern to get something to drink is a different matter altogether. Usually, they want to make a profit. Maybe you won’t even be able to talk to the person who owns the tavern but only to somebody who was put in charge by someone else. Back then, I wasn’t necessarily aware of that though.”
Jing He became worried when he heard that. “You wouldn’t have only found out after the fact, would you?”
Qiu Ling smiled when he glanced over and saw his beloved’s worried expression. He couldn’t help but reach out, gently grabbing his chin. “It’s sweet to see you worry about me like this. You don’t have to though. Honestly, I might not have known much but I wasn’t stupid either. Of course, before making any kind of exchange, I would ask to ensure I could offer what the other person wanted. That was what I did in this situation as well. It is just that the waiter in the tavern looked at me quite strangely. It was … well, it was a bit humiliating.”
He sighed and shook his head, quietly taking a sip of wine himself. “You know, while I was out there, living in the wilderness, I never really thought about it. But being back among people, I couldn’t help but think of when I had been living in the capital city, in the dragon king’s palace even.
“My father’s status had been high, he had also been on friendly terms with the king himself, and the same could be said about me. No matter how young I had been at that time, the trajectory of my life seemed to have been set. I could have been a general or an adviser. In any case, I wouldn’t have been of low status. But by the time I walked into that tavern, I had been reduced to such a state. Honestly, I did not have much pride left.”
Jing He hesitated but then reached out, grabbing onto Qiu Ling’s sleeve. “I believe that it is not the things you have that make you the person you are and determine your worth.”
Qiu Ling raised his brows, wanting to listen to Jing He trying to comfort him some more. It really made him feel peaceful. “No?”
Jing He shook his head. “No. Of course, how people see you will be influenced by that. The way you …” He looked at Qiu Ling’s robe and finally couldn’t help himself, he raised his hand and put it on his chest, his fingertips brushing over the beautiful embroidery. It was soft beneath his fingers and, at the same time, he felt the warmth emanating from Qiu Ling’s body beneath.
Qiu Ling looked down at that hand, a little surprised. Jing He hardly took the lead in getting close to him but today, this was not the first time he had done so. His current actions could also be called bold for a god. In fact, it kind of made him want to stop reminiscing and instead focus on building their future together. He had to consciously force himself to not do so and just enjoy his touch for the moment, lest he scared him off.
Jing He was transfixed but finally remembered what he had wanted to say. He felt embarrassed and hurriedly took back his hand, trying to shield his expression by taking another sip of the wine. “The way you dress is the first thing that falls into people’s eyes. A gorgeous robe will make many think that a person had wealth and status.
“But at the same time, that is only a first impression. At a second look, many people would make different judgments. I believe that the true indication of a person’s status would be in how they carry themselves.
“The latter doesn’t rely on the former. It is ingrained in a person to a large degree. Thus, I believe that even if you were to dress in rags, discerning people would still be able to see that you are a special person.”
He lowered his gaze, thinking back to the first time they met. His first impression of the dragon king had indeed been like that: an imposing man that struck fear in his heart. It was only later when he consciously thought back that he noted how well-dressed he had been, how meticulously his hair seemed to have been arranged, how well-maintained his skin was, all these indicators of his position. But those all only added to the first impression, they didn’t make it.
Qiu Ling watched his beloved’s expression and finally couldn’t help himself. He leaned over until his breath brushed over Jing He’s skin. “Thank you. I’m not sure if it’s true but I would like to think that it is.”
Jing He smiled, his cheeks flushing red when he realized how close Qiu Ling had gotten. He didn’t dare to say anything else, quietly waiting for him to go on.
Qiu Ling also kept silent for a moment but then felt that he shouldn’t overdo it. He simply picked up where he had left off, continuing his tale, although he stayed close to Jing He. “Either way, the waiter was surprised when he heard that I wanted to exchange something other than money for my drinks.
“I guess taking a look at me, he wasn’t able to see just what kind of special person I was.” He chuckled but then turned serious again. “He was able to see that I was strong enough to have something of worth to offer though. Thus, I wasn’t immediately thrown out. Instead, he asked me to wait since this wasn’t a decision he could make on his own.”
Qiu Ling once again fell silent, remembering that distant past. “I felt ill-at-ease sitting there, surrounded by strangers, people that … I had never seen before and that I wasn’t close to. But I forced myself to wait because the loneliness outside was bigger.”
Jing He once again reached out, this time not just grabbing his sleeve but holding onto his arm again as he had done once before. “It must’ve been difficult.”
Qiu Ling nodded. In fact, at that time, he had thought that if there was a chance, then maybe he should settle down somewhere. But his fears had held him back. He hadn’t felt that he was fit to live among other people.
And why would he? Even though he wasn’t telling Jing He, there was so much he had done wrong in his life, so much that was wrong with him. It would be best for everyone if he stayed away. He knew that but he couldn’t bring himself to follow through because the loneliness would kill him or at least drive him insane. And now, there was something precious in his life that he did not dare to lose so he could only further thicken his skin and stay while keeping his secrets to himself.
He sighed, but finally pulled himself out of his thoughts and continued. “Well, you could say that I was in luck because the establishment’s owner was actually in that day. After a moment, I was asked to meet him and show whatever I had that I would be willing to trade.
“Now, I didn’t have much of a concept of the worth of things. To a certain degree, I still don’t. The wealth I personally hold was acquired through years of hunting and gathering. There were few things I needed in my everyday life and those were of low value usually. Thus, I never learned to deal with those matters. I think that it’s not wrong to say that people tend to profit off me if there’s something I need.”
Jing He had never needed to walk up to a person and buy anything himself so this was something that he also wasn’t familiar with but he had theoretical knowledge that Qiu Ling had probably lacked at the time. “The owner of the tavern was trying to do the same?” He had a hard time imagining somebody scamming the dragon king but he reminded himself that, at that time, that wasn’t the role that Qiu Ling had had. No, at that time, he had only been a young man out on his travels, not anybody with high status or well, any status at all.
Qiu Ling gave a hum, although he wasn’t sure if you could say it like this. “Well, it was a bit difficult to come to an understanding between the two of us at first. He asked me what I had to offer and I asked him what it was that he wanted. After all, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Thankfully, he didn’t mind going about it that way either.
“He gave a few suggestions of things that he might normally want. Listening closely, I thought of what I had and then simply pulled out a handful of them. In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the smartest idea. I should have gone more slowly about it and only led with one or maybe two. But in the end, it didn’t matter much. Anyway, I was there to drink, so no matter what he chose, it wouldn’t have been much of a loss to me. After all, it wasn’t like those things meant anything to me.”
Jing He nodded, although he still had a difficult time understanding what kind of life Qiu Ling had led back then. Still, he didn’t sound as if it was much of a problem to him so that was good. “Well, I’m glad to hear it worked out. Then after that, did you finally get to do what you wanted?”
Qiu Ling nodded and gave a hum. “Very much so. What I handed him was a pretty rare fur, hard to get and not in that bad of a state to be honest.” He smiled faintly and leaned closer to Jing He, lowering his voice. “You know, I am quite a good hunter and over the years, I’ve also learned to process all these things. So when it comes to that kind of matter, I’m able to provide quite well.”
Hearing the dragon king’s low voice and then also hearing him mention how he was able to ‘provide’, Jing He’s cheeks once again flushed. He understood very well just what Qiu Ling meant with that. Clearly, he was indicating that he was able and willing to provide for him specifically.
After so much time of Qiu Ling bringing up their marriage again and again, this really couldn’t surprise him any longer. By now, these kinds of words made his heart flutter with anticipation. To be honest, after the story that Qiu Ling had just told him, he couldn’t help but ponder the future they would have.
As it was, one of them was the king of the dragon race, the other the crown prince of the Nine Heavens. Their status was high, so whatever they needed, it would be taken care of by others. Maybe, if they had been in simpler positions, he could have experienced a time when Qiu Ling would indeed provide for him in the way that he had just mentioned. Imagining such a time … it gave him a very special feeling.