RSH Stratagem 48: Don’t Tread Water for too Long! (1)

A couple sat side by side closely, their arms almost touching but their expressions were obscured by the shade in the pavilion. Behind them, a table filled with an assortment of dishes and a pot of tea could be seen faintly while in the distance, a pair of mandarin ducks swam on a lake lined with trees, making the water ripple.

The lines of ink flowed freely and a few rows of words at the side added a touch of elegance to the painting: Together for a lifetime are two hearts joined in bliss, fate will lead toward each other what is meant to be.

Jing He’s gaze brushed over the words once again, not quite feeling satisfied. It had been four years since the day he promised Qiu Ling to show him his feelings indirectly at least. He had tried a few different things but this kind of painting was still the best way. Not only could he depict the scene of two loves at different stages of their relationship, but he could even write down the words he longed to tell Qiu Ling to his face.

Yes, he wanted to be with him for the rest of his life. Forever even if fate permitted it. And yes, he was indeed sure that it was fate that had led them together. What else could it be? He seldom left his palace and on one of the few occasions that he did, he actually met Qiu Ling. What was that if not fate?

As for whether they were meant to be … This was the question he had been asking himself a lot lately. He loved Qiu Ling, there was no doubt about that. And even though he had expected something else, Qiu Ling still cared for him as well, coming over to see him almost every single day.

It was just … he was used to having bad luck. He hadn’t told Qiu Ling but he had been born into a family that had been hit not only by one curse of the supreme ruler but two. For him, it was a wonder he had lived until the day he came of age. Now, he should be safe but that didn’t mean that fortune would suddenly favor him.

Jing He closed his eyes and reached up, his fingers brushing over his lapel and feeling the penchant he was wearing below. This was the one he had won at a festival he attended with Qiu Ling, the one that came from the dragon realm. He had hoped that maybe these things were a sign that they were indeed meant to be but … maybe this was just another way of torturing him.

Yes, maybe now that he didn’t need to worry for his life any longer, what would be tortured would be his soul. It definitely felt that way and wasn’t it strange that he had met Qiu Ling so shortly after he had come of age? It had only been seven years, after all. In the long life of an immortal, that amounted to nothing. Looking back now, it wasn’t even as long as the time since he had met Qiu Ling.

Jing He sighed and forced himself to open his eyes again, getting up at the same time. It wasn’t good to stare at the painting for too long. Reading the words he had written once more would just give him reason to doubt everything and he shouldn’t do that.

No, since they had already gotten along for ten years and even gotten closer throughout that decade, he shouldn’t think too much. Maybe there was indeed no marriage in their future but even then, they might stay true to each other. After all, it didn’t seem like his father intended for him to marry somebody else in the near future either.

Jing He walked back into the main room of his palace, suddenly feeling anxious. In fact, while his father hadn’t said so, he was already of age so he could get married at any time. If his father felt that it was time or got spooked because of Qiu Ling’s continued presence, then maybe he would suddenly find himself with an official fiance? What should he do then?

Jing He stopped in the middle of the room, his hands clenching unconsciously. He could accept not being married to Qiu Ling as long as they could still get along as they did right now. But having to marry somebody else … he didn’t think he could do it.

His mind inevitably conjured up such an image: Him, dressed in resplendent robes for the ceremony while his heart was in shambles, his father’s undoubtedly joyous face, and the figure of an unknown man waiting in the door.

No matter how he felt, since it was his father’s wish, he would force himself to follow along. He would walk behind him, his head lowered, trying to cover his true emotions as he had always done since he was young.

When they reached the door, his father would stop to smile at his future son-in-law. He would take Jing He’s hand and happily place it in the palm of that stranger before leading the way toward the square. The man might smile and urge him to go as well.

Maybe he would notice how that man’s skin was too hot or how the tone of his voice was unpleasant. Surely, unwillingness would well up in his heart. The deepest parts of his soul would clamor for him to say no, to admit to his feelings for Qiu Ling out loud, and beg to be allowed to wed him but, in the end, he would nod with a heavy heart nonetheless, and go along with it.

Why? Because in his whole life, he had never gone against his father. Even if he didn’t agree with him, even if he thought exactly the opposite as him, he would still lower his head and acquiesce because he felt that this was what he should do.

Thus, in such a situation, he would indeed arrive at the square in front of his father’s palace. There, in front of all the gods of the capital city that had gathered and the important visitors from the other eight Heavens, he would be married to a man he didn’t love.

Most likely, nobody from the dragon race would be there. His father would surely have forbidden Qiu Ling to come and with this slight against their king, his advisers likely wouldn’t wish to visit either. So, in the end, he wouldn’t even get a last look at the man he loved. He could only bow his head to accept reality and then start his life as somebody else’s spouse. That kind of life … he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to live it.

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