Chapter 20 – Valerian Moon Festival

Only after Fang Tinglan pulled him up did Hai Lian realize that there was more than just a person up here. On the empty ground not too far away was a bottle of wine, two filled glasses, and some pastries. One glance told Hai Lian that the glasses were borrowed from Madam Jingling Hua. As for the pastries, he figured the man had bought them from a nearby inn.

“What are you doing?” Hai Lian furrowed his brow.

“As you can see, I’m admiring the moon.” Fang Tinglan smiled in response. “Would you fancy a glass?”

On any other day, Hai Lian probably would have coldly refused before returning to his own room, but perhaps because everything that had happened today was so disgusting and loathsome, the person who had seemed so bothersome was suddenly a little less so. Hai Lian waved his hand, then directly sat down.

“Then I’ll have one.” Saying so, he reached for a glass.

“I’ll get a new one for you.” Fang Tinglan stopped him.

“Why?”

“Since it’s my treat, you’ve got to follow my rules, no?” Fang Tinglan laughed and pat Hai Lian’s shoulder.

“One moment.”

Hai Lian raised a brow, speechless for once.

After a while, Fang Tinglan returned with not only a new glass, but also a small round box for Hai Lian.

“What’s this?”

“Ointment,” Fang Tinglan replied. “I brought it with me from Dongzhou. It’s a secret formula of the Hua Imperial Physicians; I guarantee it’ll work better than anything you can get from a back alley doctor.”

“How did you know —” Hai Lian swallowed the rest of his words. What wasn’t there to know? He was completely disheveled right now, his clothes practically dirty rags and his lips bruised. Even the hand by which Fang Tinglan had pulled him up still had dust covered, undressed wounds. Anyone would know that he had just gone through a fierce battle.

“What’s the matter?” Fang Tinglan asked after seeing Hai Lian hold the box wordlessly.

“Today you actually… ” Hai Lian looked as if he were observing some exotic creature, “You actually didn’t ask where I went?”

Fang Tinglan’s smile dropped.

“I can tell just by looking at you, why would I ask?” He continued, “When I fought with others as a child, my parents never asked me where or who I fought. At the very most, they would only ask me one thing.”

“What thing?”

“Who. Won.”

Fang Tinglan’s tone was playful, and Hai Lian couldn’t help but lift a corner of his lips.

“Then, I’ll ask Your Excellency Hai Lian, Jiumeng City’s number one assassin and pirate,” Fang Tinglan winked at the boy, “who won tonight?”

“I did, of course.”

“Well since you won so magnificently, we ought to toast it!” Fang Tinglan had already poured the wine and handed a glass to Hai Lian.

“Why are you suddenly in such a good mood?” Hai Lian asked as he received the wine.

“Today’s somewhat special.”

“Special?”

“I guess you’ve forgotten all about your Dongzhou roots,” Fang Tinglan’s eyebrows curved as he reminded Hai Lian.

“Today’s the Valerian Moon Festival.”

Hai Lian sat dumbly for a moment before uttering a soft “ah.”

He had completely forgotten. Apart from New Years, the Valerian Moon Festival was Dongzhou’s most important holiday. Not only did young couples promise their lives to each other under the full moon, it was also a day for family reunions. Hearing Fang Tinglan bring it up, Hai Lian suddenly remembered the times in Taiyan City when his parents would take him to Lake Yongding1Yongding: lit. a promise for eternity to see the thousands of lights scattered by its shores. Ever since coming to Nanjing, that memory had nearly been washed away, smoothed over by the sea like a crack in the rocks.

So it was unsurprising that their surroundings remained bright despite it already being midnight. Even the lanterns downstairs covered by red gauze had that same milky glow as the moon above. Under this lighting, Hai Lian himself didn’t seem to realize that the two had switched to Dongzhou’s language instead.

“You’re all alone in Tisu right now, why bother celebrating this sort of holiday?”

“You’re here too, no?” Fang Tinglan saluted the boy, “Old friend in an unfamiliar country.”

“We’re not ‘old friends’,” Hai Lian muttered, taking a sip.

As soon as he swallowed the liquor, Hai Lian’s eyes went wide. He looked at Fang Tinglan in shock.

“Not bad, right?” The man smiled. “Mercury told me this was the best in the market; it’s called Jinghua2Jinghua (镜花): jing as in mirror or prism, hua as in flower/blossom. Wine. The only better wines are those in the emperor’s cellar.”

It really was good wine — the best Hai Lian had ever had in his 20 years of living. Hai Lian wasn’t a scholar, nor was he a wine connoisseur; he couldn’t express himself as poetically, but if this was what wine was supposed to taste like, then what he’d had at Zhenzhu Tavern and at the pirate banquets of Shagui3Shagui (沙鬼): lit. sand ghost Bay could only be called dishwater. Hai Lian’s heart twisted with a strange sense of bitterness. He hummed, then drank another gulp.

“You sure know how to enjoy yourself.”

“Life is short and bitter. One ought to find comfort where they can.”

“Then why don’t you find yourself somewhere better to live instead of staying here?” Hai Lian looked at him. “Considering your wealth, you’re completely capable of disguising yourself as some rich man in Bainiao.”

“It’s comfortable here.” Fang Tinglan also took a sip. His words were more drawn out than usual; he’d already drank about half the bottle before Hai Lian arrived.

“Drinking good wine is comfortable, but living in a good location might not be.”

“Nonsense.” Hai Lian said.

Fang Tinglan only laughed.

Perhaps it was the quality of the wine, the sweetness of the pastries, or the gentleness of the moon, but for the first time, the atmosphere between the two was peaceful. They spoke of everything from Dongzhou to Nanjing, almost as if they were actually a pair of old friends.

“Do they still light a thousand lanterns for the Valerian Moon Festival in Dongzhou?” Hai Lian asked.

“Indeed. Although, ever since the capital was moved4capital was moved: small historical note, idk if anyone already knows or doesn’t care, but at least in historical China, when the capital city was moved, it really was moving a city: all the people living there were forced to move as well. to Chijin, they’ve been candle boats5candle boats: probably something like this, but without a cover rather than floating lanterns.”

Fang Tinglan made a motion to indicate their size, “About this big. Of course, the boats of the rich and the poor are different: I once saw a boat nearly half my height carrying jeweled flowers and a note on its mast.”

“What did it say?”

“It was a warning to so-and-so: loans must be returned, such is right and proper.”

Hai Lian burst out laughing.

“The festival isn’t as fun as it was in Taiyan. The market is small and has to follow curfew. Most importantly, nobody can match the pastries made by Suyue Bakery.” Seeing the boy’s laughing face, Fang Tinglan smiled as well.

Suyue Bakery had been the most famous pastry shop in Taiyan City; every time the moon festival approached, they’d make their special osmanthus candies and red bean curd cheese.

“Did you like them when you were young?” Hai Lian’s mouth watered from those sweet memories.

“Who didn’t? My mom was afraid I’d get cavities and told me that those pastries had a special ingredient covering them. If I ate too many I’d stink, making it easy for kidnappers to find me and send me to Xilu to do hard labor.” Fang Tinglan softly shook his head, smiling.

“But it didn’t matter, I hid myself and ate them anyway so that neither she nor the kidnappers would be able to find me.”

Fang Tinglan was blessed with both a handsome face and a gentle voice. That soft and gentle voice was now colored by alcohol, sounding even huskier and more charming. He rambled on to Hai Lian about the past, his gaze distant and out of focus as if seeing through the boy’s face, past the buildings behind them, and out past the other side of the sea.

Hai Lian watched Fang Tinglan.

He’s probably drunk, Hai Lian thought to himself.

The man before him still had the calm yet sly look that Hai Lian was used to, but for whatever reason, Hai Lian felt that Fang Tinglan was a little different tonight. He couldn’t place his finger on it, so he’d simply written the man off as drunk.

Only drunk people would unconsciously show such an unguarded expression.

Hai Lian downed the rest of his nearly empty glass, then started a new conversation.

“It’s too bad nobody celebrates Dongzhou holidays here; if only you’d arrived a few months earlier.”

“Oh?”

“For the Sea God Festival.” Hai Lian said.

According to legend, during the fifth new moon of every year, the Sea God of Yun Sea would rise to inspect his territory for three days. Anyone who interfered might lose their life. Since ancient times, the fishermen made it a rule to anchor their boats and stay ashore on these three days. Even the most vicious of pirates would find themselves some island to stay at. Eventually, these three days of avoiding the Sea God became three days of celebrating the Sea God. The Sea God festival thus became the largest festival throughout Nanjing.

Hai Lian wasn’t like Fang Tinglan; he couldn’t describe small things in such vivid language. He simply nibbled on his empty glass and suddenly felt a little pathetic.

“… Actually, it’s pretty much the same. It’s just an excuse for everyone to have fun, to drink, sing, watch fireworks, and dance — just as it is anywhere else.”

“The more you describe it, the more I want to see it. It might be too late this year, but there’s always next year.” Fang Tinglan chuckled. “This is the first time you’ve told me anything about Tisu.”

This sentence reminded Hai Lian of how he’d left the man with Ahbri An.

“You don’t need me as a tour guide anyway.” He couldn’t help but choke out.

“It’s not the same. Didn’t you say before that you were the only person I could trust in Jiumeng? Of course I’d much rather hear what you have to say. We’re partners,” Fang Tinglan leaned forward and whispered into his companion’s ear, “Hai Lian.”

Fang Tinglan’s last two words were soft and husky, his breath brushing past Hai Lian with a tingling heat.

This damn tone isn’t of a partner; it’s more like… Hai Lian stopped his thought there and jumped back like a frightened cat. Fang Tinglan burst out laughing and gave the boy a conspiratorial smile.

Only then did Hai Lian realize that Fang Tinglan was only joking.

“Fang Tinglan! Quit pretending to be drunk!” That frightened kitten suddenly became a hissing one.

“Alright, alright. I’ll stop messing with you.” Fang Tinglan knew when to stop. Instead, he waved the bottle of alcohol at Hai Lian.

“There’s still a little left, want it?”

“No, I’m good.” Hai Lian put his glass down and stood up. He took a step towards his room, then turned back around.

“Anyways, thank you for the drink, and the medicine.”

“I’m the one who should be thanking you.” Fang Tinglan looked up at him and said quietly.

His tone was extremely sincere, carrying none of the playful flirtation from earlier. Hai Lian didn’t know how to respond, and simply said nothing. He walked to his door, unlocked it, and — possessed by some strange feeling — turned his head back for one final glance.

Fang Tinglan still sat in his original spot with his back to Hai Lian. Under the gentle moonlight, the Dongzhou man’s silhouette held an unspeakable loneliness and sadness. Hai Lian’s mouth twitched, but unable to find the proper words, he only turned back.

After entering his room, Hai Lian first cleaned and dressed his wounds before laying down. Between the alcohol in his system and his original exhaustion, he quickly fell asleep. Just before falling asleep though, one final thought surfaced.

That glass Fang Tinglan hadn’t let Hai Lian touch, who was it for?

This was the first time the man had aroused Hai Lian’s curiosity.

 


A/N: A chapter in which they improve their relationship; letting LianLian and Mister Fang enjoy a late Mid-Autumn Festival (???)

  • 1
    Yongding: lit. a promise for eternity
  • 2
    Jinghua (镜花): jing as in mirror or prism, hua as in flower/blossom.
  • 3
    Shagui (沙鬼): lit. sand ghost
  • 4
    capital was moved: small historical note, idk if anyone already knows or doesn’t care, but at least in historical China, when the capital city was moved, it really was moving a city: all the people living there were forced to move as well.
  • 5
    candle boats: probably something like this, but without a cover

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