Jing He didn’t think any deeper about Qiu Ling’s question. He simply assumed that this had been his way of showing interest in this story since he realized that he liked it. By the time the two of them finally left the side of the river and returned to Jing He’s palace, his thoughts were somewhere else entirely.
Today, Qiu Ling had bid goodbye to him as soon as they came back. It wasn’t quite in line with his usual behavior but after the difficulties yesterday and today, it might be for the best to keep some distance. Of course, this also gave Jing He the opportunity to keep his word in regard to what he had promised to do earlier.
He went to his study, took out a scroll of paper, ground the ink, and picked up a brush. There was no hesitation as his hand moved, adding lines to the paper. Soon, the silhouette of a majestic tree cut the scroll into two halves.
Jing He paused, looking at what he had painted so far. He smiled, switched to a different brush, and started to paint the silhouette of a person on the right side close to the tree. They wore a flowing robe and their hair danced in the wind as they seemed to turn. They faced the other direction though, their expression and their features unknown.
Giving a hum, Jing He turned to the other half of the scroll, adding another silhouette over there. This time, the figure seemed more rigid with straight, imposing lines. The person stood there beside the tree, facing the right side of the painting. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing their hair, the long, black strands obscuring their face as well.
Jing He stared at the figure for several long minutes. If asked, he knew who he would say this was but in truth, he only saw one person in this silhouette. The strong shoulders were the same and so was the straight posture. Yes, even though he had seen him lounge next to him as if he didn’t have a care in the world, this was the real impression that man had left him with.
Jing He took a faint breath, put down the brush, and got to his feet. He went and picked up the book with poems that Qiu Ling had once started to read to him. Inside, what was recorded was supposed to be the words of the supreme ruler. He wasn’t sure if he believed all of them to be but they sure fit his purpose.
He opened the last few pages by heart and his gaze turned solemn as he looked at the faint lines. Picking up the brush, he added one of the verses to the side of the paper scroll: Leave if you must for I am certain that fate will bring us back together like the stars and the sky may be apart for a day but can never be without each other for eternity.
Jing He put down the brush and watched as the ink slowly dried. Finally, he could not help but reach out. His fingertips brushed over the leaves and the trunk of the tree and finally the silhouette of the man on the left.
Yes, he could only hope that he would be willing to wait because even though he loved him, he was unable to be with him right now. Someday in the future, they might indeed have a beautiful wedding ceremony and he might follow him to the dragon realm. But until that day came, much still had to happen.
Jing He closed his eyes and pulled his hand back, feeling like the weight of the future was too heavy to bear. How could it be that he was in love and was loved by the man his heart was beating for and yet he was still unable to confess his feelings to him?
He sighed and got to his feet, walking out of his study and toward the door leading out into the garden. The sun was shining brightly, reminding him of the beautiful moment when the first rays this morning had hit the waterfall, creating the illusion of a colorful arc in the air.
Maybe life was just like that as well: For some things, it needed the right moment. Even if the water was flowing, even if the mist was spraying into the air, it still needed the sun to come up for this beautiful illusion to spring to life. And in their life, it was still night even if there was a faint silvery shimmer somewhere on the horizon.
Jing He smiled to himself and turned to look over his shoulder, looking at the black lines on the paper scroll. Qiu Ling had promised him that he would wait as long as he gave him hope and while he couldn’t say it outright, he could indeed hint toward them. Even if someone saw, what did it matter? As long as his paintings and the words he pinned down on them were not too explicit, it wouldn’t be wrong to do.
He walked back inside, picking up the scroll and wondering where he should put it. He usually kept the doors between the rooms of his palace open to make it feel more spacious but Qiu Ling still seldom entered his study. Thus, even if he left it there, he was unlikely to see it. What would the purpose be then?
He put it down on the table in the main room first and then wandered through his palace, trying to pick out suitable spots. Anyway, it wasn’t like this would be the only painting he did. Or maybe in the future, it wouldn’t be paintings but something else he used to profess the emotions hidden deep in his heart. Either way, he’d need places to display them in an unobtrusive way. The more he found, the less deliberate it would seem when he placed something there.
By the time Jing He had rounded his palace once and went to pick up the scroll, steps sounded outside the door to the garden. He looked up, only to pause in surprise when the hem of a black robe came into view, and finally, Qiu Ling stopped in the doorway with a satisfied smile.
Seeing him, Jing He lowered the scroll in his hands, suddenly feeling self-conscious about having drawn this the very same day Qiu Ling asked him to. He couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he should have waited a few days so it wouldn’t seem too deliberate.
Qiu Ling didn’t even think about that. Instead, he stepped into the palace when Jing He didn’t say anything, reached out, and gently took his head. “I have something for you.” He pulled his other hand out behind his back and a delicate branch with snow-white blossoms came into view.
Jing He stared at the branch in a daze and finally handed Qiu Ling the painting scroll, completely forgetting the previous worry as he took the branch from him. “Is this … a branch of the snow blossom tree?”
Qiu Ling nodded. “They still grow on a small island in the east of the dragon realm, apparently.” In fact, he hadn’t known this but thankfully, there was An Bai. When he contacted him to ask about the tree, he had known which one he meant immediately and sent him there. “Apparently, if you have a knack for it, you can use it to grow a new tree from it. I’m not versed in this art but I figured you might. So … if you see yourself getting married with the white petals of the snow blossom tree falling down around you, it’s best we find a spot to plant it.”
Jing He looked up in a daze but found himself nodding. “Yes …”
Qiu Ling smiled and gently pulled him to the door. Remembering that he was still holding the scroll, he raised it to put it back. His gaze brushed over the painting inside and the words that had been written at the side. His lips pulled up into a faint arc but he silently put the scroll down on the table before returning to Jing He’s side.
He didn’t say anything. Anyway, just knowing that, in his heart, Jing He was thinking about him and their future was enough. Everything else would follow one day. And with how things were going right now, he was still willing to wait for that day. Anyway, he didn’t believe that it should take that much longer until Jing He would be willing to give him his answer. At the rate they were going, at most, it should be a few more years. At this point, that amount of time mattered little as long as it was spent together.