Wei Zhao was taken aback when he heard these words, immediately stood up, turned around, and said nervously: “Ah Che, were you in there just now? Are you not feeling well?”
Jiang Che wasn’t in good health since he was a child. Duanmu Hui once said that if he wanted to enjoy his life in peace, he must never overwork himself in the future. Unfortunately, Jiang Lu, the former Wang Yong’an, had only one son, Jiang Che. Since he inherited the title, it was impossible for him not to set foot in the imperial court.
Jiang Che was also surprised when he suddenly saw Wei Zhao and Wei Chongrong. He froze for a moment and said, “…I’m fine, but I heard that Teacher Duanmu returned to Yujing, so I came to visit.” Duanmu Hui was nothing short of a life saviour for Jiang Che.
Wei Zhao raised his eyebrows slightly, showing that he didn’t believe Jiang Che’s words. The servant before said that Teacher Duanmu was treating a patient, not receiving guests. Besides, Teacher had been back to Yujing for more than a month. If Jiang Che really wanted to visit, he should have come a long time ago, just like Jun Qing had done, he wouldn’t delay it until now.
Without waiting for Wei Zhao to speak, the servant entered the room and said respectfully: “His Imperial Highness Wang Qin, Teacher invites you in.” After speaking, he turned sideways and made a gesture of invitation.
Jiang Che could see that Wei Zhao had something to ask him, so he smiled and said, “Ah Zhao, go ahead, I will wait for you here.” Since Wei Zhao came here, he must have been looking for a doctor, so how could he feel at ease if he didn’t ask about the situation?
Wei Chongrong wanted to follow in, but the servant said that Teacher Duanmu had a rule about seeing only the patient, no one else was allowed to be around, so he couldn’t go in.
Seeing Wei Chongrong’s unhappy face, Wei Zhao comforted him in a few words and then told him not to run around and not to disturb Jiang Che. After Wei Chongrong nodded, he followed the servant to the backyard.
As soon as Wei Zhao left, Jiang Che beckoned to Wei Chongrong: “Little prince, come here, I have something to ask you.”
Wei Chongrong glanced up at him and ran over. In his previous life, for Wei Zhao’s sake, Jiang Che treated him very well, so Wei Chongrong’s impression of him was very good from the beginning.
Jiang Che took Wei Chongrong’s hand and asked gently: “Little prince, can you tell me, what’s wrong with His Highness?” Ever since he was a child, Wei Zhao hated needles and medicines the most. It was simply unthinkable for him to take the initiative to see a doctor.
Wei Chongrong tilted his head and thought for a while, then said helplessly: “I don’t know, Daddy won’t tell me, can you ask him for me?”
Wei Chongrong really didn’t know Wei Zhao’s specific physical condition, but they practised together every day and he could see that Wei Zhao was obviously a little weak, mostly due to physical reasons. So if he could, he hoped that Jiang Che could help him ask.
“Oh.” Jiang Che sighed faintly, his eyes even more worried. The illness that could make Wei Zhao take the initiative to seek medical treatment was obviously something that the imperial doctors couldn’t handle. The more he thought about it, the more worried he became.
Wei Chongrong tugged at Jiang Che’s sleeve and whispered, “Are you sick too? Wang Yong’an, Daddy said that Teacher Duanmu never sees people easily.”
He remembered very well that Jiang Che died of illness in the 12th year of Taiping. Because he had no children after his death, the title of Wang Yong’an was inherited by his nephew Jiang Yuan. In Wei Chongrong’s memory, Jiang Che was one of the few people who treated him well, even if the reason Jiang Che did so was all for Wei Zhao.
Jiang Che didn’t answer Wei Chongrong’s question, but smiled and said, “Little prince, your father and I are good friends. You don’t have to keep calling me Wang Yong’an, you can just…” Before Jiang Che finished speaking, he seemed to remember something and stopped abruptly.
Seeing Jiang Che look around, Wei Chongrong suddenly realised that the heart disease that had plagued Jiang Che for many years was showing its signs now, but he still smiled and replied: “Then don’t call me the little prince. Daddy calls me Rong’er, Uncle Jiang.”
“Rong’er…” Jiang Che was taken aback and called quietly. Wei Chongrong’s eyebrows were not like Wei Zhao’s, his mouth and nose were slightly similar, but the most similar was his personality. He looked at Wei Chongrong at this time, as if seeing Wei Zhao when he was young.
Jiang Che avoided talking about his condition, and Wei Chongrong wasn’t in a position to ask too many questions, so the two simply talked about Wei Zhao, and they got along very well.
What Jiang Che wanted to ask most was Wei Zhao’s situation when he was in Fuyu, but Wei Chongrong was very smart. He didn’t reveal anything but instead dug up a lot of interesting stories about Wei Zhao’s childhood.
Someone as proud as Wei Zhao would take the Suyun pill for Jiang Che; someone as calm as Jiang Che would not marry a wife for life for Wei Zhao. Wei Chongrong didn’t try to be a matchmaker for them, but he felt that for such two people reluctantly deciding to be ordinary friends was, in fact, very painful.
Not long after, Wei Zhao came out of Duanmu Hui’s room and saw Wei Chongrong sitting on Jiang Che’s lap, the two of them chatting happily.
Standing by the door, Wei Zhao raised his voice and called out, “Rong’er, didn’t I tell you not to mess around? ”He frowned slightly, his expression a little displeased.
Wei Chongrong raised his head and retorted: “I’m not messing around, I’m talking to Uncle Jiang.” After speaking, he looked at Jiang Che, intending to let him testify.
At first hearing Wei Chongrong’s name for Jiang Che, Wei Zhao’s eyebrows twitched, but he didn’t correct him. Uncle was uncle, the two families had different surnames anyway, so there was no misunderstanding.
Jiang Che stood up and said softly: “Ah Zhao, you’re mistaken. Rong’er didn’t bother me. I talked to him first.” Wei Chongrong nodded in agreement, indicating that it wasn’t his fault.
Wei Zhao raised his eyebrows and looked suspicious. Wei Chongrong rushed over, took his hand and asked, “What did Teacher Duanmu say? Did he prescribe you medicine? Is it possible that after taking Teacher Duanmu’s medicine, Daddy’s illness will get better?”
Wei Zhao nodded lightly. Wei Chongrong was limited in height and couldn’t see Wei Zhao’s expression when he stood right in front of him, but Jiang Che didn’t miss his momentary hesitation.
“Ah Zhao, since you have a residence now, I am yet to pay a visit. I don’t know if it’s possible today…” Jiang Che said leisurely, clearly not giving Wei Zhao a chance to refuse.
Wei Zhao didn’t wait for Jiang Che to finish speaking and immediately responded: “I have no errands, and I am always free. As long as you have time, you can come to visit whenever you want.” Jiang Che had something to ask him, and he also had something to tell him. It was just as well to talk about it all at once.
Back at the residence, Wei Zhao led Jiang Che to the study. Wei Chongrong wanted to follow them but he was sternly ordered to stay in the courtyard, and Lan Chang and Zi Sha had to keep an eye on him, not giving him the chance to go out of the courtyard, let alone eavesdrop.
Wei Chongrong was helpless, so he had to walk into his small study, sit down at his desk and carefully write the homework arranged by his teacher.
When he arrived at Wei Zhao’s study, the first thing Jiang Che saw was the seven-stringed qin placed on the qin case in front of the window.
The qin was not some famous qin. The material was ordinary and the workmanship was rough. Placed on the exquisite and luxurious red sandalwood qin case, not only did it not match, but it felt even more rudimentary.
Jiang Che was silent for a long time, and murmured: “Ah Zhao, you still keep this qin, I thought you threw it away…”
Wei Zhao curled his lips and said with a light smile: “You gave me something made with your own hands, how can I be willing to throw it away? Of course I will cherish it.” Even if his skill in playing the qin hadn’t improved in over ten years.
Jiang Che couldn’t help but smile, and with Wei Zhao’s words his memories drifted back to years ago.
When Jiang Che made Wei Zhao this qin, he was just in his early teens, and Wei Zhao was a naughty little child who followed him all day long.
Wei Zhao liked sword practice and martial arts since he was a child. If the emperor hadn’t forced him to study and the Crown Prince hadn’t coaxed him, he would have refused to study the qin, chess, calligraphy and painting, none of which he enjoyed.
When he was six years old, he accidentally heard a song “Guarding each other forever” played by Jiang Che. Wei Zhao didn’t know which heartstrings this song touched, but he suddenly said he wanted to learn qin.
This was a trivial matter, and there was no need to report it to the empress. Wei Ming arranged for his younger brother to learn qin from a teacher and gave him a good guqin.
Who knew that Wei Zhao didn’t like the teacher and had to pester Jiang Che to teach him to play the qin. Wei Ming thought that it was mostly Wei Zhao’s whim, learning to play for a while, and since Jiang Che happened to be studying at the palace school, he arranged an additional task for him.
Wei Zhao was obviously not gifted in the art of music, and after two years of learning the qin from Jiang Che, all he got was a stumbling rendition of “Guarding each other forever” and the seven-stringed qin that Jiang Che had made for him by his own hands.
A few years later, Jiang Che and Wei Zhao were together, but he had never heard Wei Zhao play the qin, nor had he seen the crude qin that was a bit embarrassing to look at.
Seeing this qin again today, Jiang Che was a little confused, and also a little puzzled as to what Wei Zhao meant, especially after what he had said that day.
Wei Zhao walked to the qin case, stretched out his hand and fiddled with the strings twice, and the qin that had not been tuned for a long time made a jerky sound.
Jiang Che came to Wei Zhao and looked at him across the qin case: “The strings are loose and need to be adjusted before you can play.” After saying this, he bent down and tuned the qin.
Wei Zhao didn’t stop him, but said calmly: “Ah Che, do you know why I learned qin from you?”
Jiang Che raised his head, his expression a little dazed, and immediately lowered his head.
Wei Zhao continued: “When I was very young, I heard someone play a song ‘Guarding each other forever’. I didn’t understand the music, but I thought that person’s music was very good. Later, the person who played the qin was gone, and I still wanted to hear it, so I went to the musicians in the palace, but for some reason, it was obviously the same piece, and those people played it, but it was different from what I had heard. Later, I heard you play ‘Guarding each other forever’. Although it was not very similar, it was a bit similar…”
Jiang Che suddenly realised that Wei Zhao’s purpose was not to learn qin, he just wanted to find the melody in his memory.
At this point, Wei Zhao couldn’t help laughing: “Ah Che, it must have been very painful for you to teach me qin, right?” He clearly remembered that song, but he couldn’t play it with the right feeling, nor could he get anyone else to play it, only Jiang Che, who could do it in a somewhat acceptable way.
Jiang Che didn’t speak, and continued to fiddle with the strings, the corners of his lips rising slightly unconsciously. He was not good at lying and did not want to discourage Wei Zhao, so keeping his mouth shut was the best option.
After a while, the soft qin sound came from under his fingertips. Jiang Che raised his eyes to look at Wei Zhao and asked, “Ah Zhao, it’s ready, do you want to try it?”
Wei Zhao shook his head and said firmly: “No, Rong’er will laugh at me if he hears it.” When he was a child, every time he practised the qin, the palace people around him were miserable and avoided him as far as they could, and he was very self-conscious of his own skills.
Jiang Che laughed hoarsely, walked to Wei Zhao’s side, sat down in a chair, and played “Guarding each other forever” by himself.
Wei Zhao turned away and looked at the flowers and trees outside the window, his eyes full of wonder.
It was too similar, it was really too similar…
If Jiang Che hadn’t been by his side, Wei Zhao would have suspected that this was the person who had been playing the qin in the first place.
All along, Wei Zhao didn’t know the identity of the person who played the qin. He asked many people, including the emperor and the palace servants. Everyone said he remembered it wrong, but Wei Zhao didn’t believe it. He had heard it many times. How could he be wrong? That person’s qin sound was unexpectedly reassuring.
Just when Wei Zhao was immersed in the memories of the past and couldn’t extricate himself, he suddenly heard a “boom” of a string breaking, and the music stopped.
Wei Zhao woke up and turned to look at Jiang Che, only to see that his right index finger was bleeding from a cut made by the string.
Wei Zhao grabbed Jiang Che’s hand, unconsciously put his finger into his mouth and sucked away the blood, just like he had done before.
Jiang Che was startled and didn’t say a word, as if he didn’t expect Wei Zhao to make such an action.
Suddenly, Wei Zhao seemed to have thought of something. His face turned red, and he hurriedly let go of Jiang Che’s hand. He wanted to pick up the handkerchief on the table to wrap Jiang Che’s wound but accidentally knocked over the teacup on the table. The overturned tea flowed over the table, making a mess.
Jiang Che caught Wei Zhao’s helpless hands, no longer letting him add to the mess, and said softly, “Ah Zhao, ask someone to come in and clean up.”
Wei Zhao nodded hurriedly, raised his voice to call someone in, and then withdrew his hands from Jiang Che’s grasp.
The servant guarding the courtyard heard the sound, quickly cleaned up the desk that was messed up by Wei Zhao, and hurriedly exited the room. After this interruption, the awkward atmosphere between Wei Zhao and Jiang Che lightened somewhat.
Jiang Che placed his hand on the qin and gently stroked it, asking, “Ah Zhao, this qin is too old and poorly made, shall I make you a new one?”
Wei Zhao pressed his hand down, shook his head and said, “No need, I like this qin, I’ll just change the strings another day.” Anyway, he didn’t plan to try “Guarding each other forever” by himself anymore.
After speaking, he looked straight at Jiang Che. Jiang Che seemed puzzled and said blankly: “Ah Zhao, what do you want to say?”
After several moments of hesitation, Wei Zhao said, “Do you remember Miss Xie from Princess Yuankang’s family?” Xie Xiu asked him to ask Jiang Che, and he didn’t want to delay anymore.
Jiang Che nodded and said calmly: “I met her a few times in the past, but I haven’t seen her in recent years.” Jiang Che’s grandmother, Princess Guchang Wei Huang, was Wei Su’s eldest half-sister, and his step-grandmother, Princess Nanyang, was Wei Su’s younger sister. The Jiang family had a close relationship with the imperial family. Jiang Che often went in and out of the palace when he was young. Xie Xiu was the eldest daughter of Princess Yuankang. Because she was similar in age to Wei Zhao, she played with him since she was a child. It was not an exaggeration to say that she grew up in the palace. It was not unusual for her to have met Jiang Che. Besides, the two of them were distant cousins.
Wei Zhao paused and continued blankly: “The other day, I saw Ah Xiu in the palace, and she asked me to bring you a message.”
“What are you talking about?” Jiang Che’s heart tightened, and he suddenly had a bad feeling.
Wei Zhao pursed his lips and continued: “Ah Xiu wants me to ask you, if you are going to get married, can you… be willing to marry her…” It was uncomfortable to promise to deliver the message for Xie Xiu but only when he really said those words did Wei Zhao understand that this pain was far greater than expected.
Jiang Che’s face turned pale in an instant, his hands clenched into fists, trembling slightly. He looked at Wei Zhao, speechless for a long time.
Wei Zhao couldn’t avoid it, facing Jiang Che’s scrutinising gaze head-on. It was impossible for them, wasn’t it?
After a long time, Jiang Che said slowly: “Ah Zhao, you just promised to bring a message, right?” Wei Zhao nodded silently.
Jiang Che said again: “How do you want me to answer?” Wei Zhao was stunned, then shook his head. What could he tell Jiang Che to marry Xie Xiu? He couldn’t say it. But telling Jiang Che not to get married… he couldn’t be so selfish as to make Jiang Che miss his life.
Unable to wait for Wei Zhao’s answer, Jiang Che said to him: “Ah Zhao, as long as it is what you want, I will give it to you. As long as it is what you want me to do, I will help you.” After speaking, he turned to leave, his back full of a sense of sorrow.
Wei Zhao watched Jiang Che leave with a forlorn expression on his face. He understood that they were completely over this time, and they had nothing to do with each other anymore.