Zhuo Rusui was baffled, wondering why Jing Jiu looked at him that way. He suddenly heard the cheers coming from the downstairs, and walked to the window and looked down curiously.
A table was placed in the middle of the restaurant of the immortal residence; a storyteller, standing by the table, said to the audience enthusiastically, "Yesterday I told you about the Plum Meeting twenty years ago; the plum flowers on that painting were scattered and countless, which was indeed amazing. It is said that this painting is collected by the Emperor and hidden in the Royal Palace, the same fate as that game of Go. By this time, everybody knew that the immortal master Jing Jiu had no equal in the Cultivation tournament. Unexpectedly, a turbulence suddenly occurred in the snowland…"
Jing Jiu was not interested in listening to the story; he walked in the room and gestured for Gu Qing to pour a bowl of white soup for him.
Gu Qing was a bit startled, but hurried to pour the soup into a bowl and cleaned the drips around the bowl, making sure that no grease remained anywhere on the bowl.
Liu Shisui noticed this detail, feeling a sense of admiration.
Jing Jiu drank tea occasionally, but seldom ate. He would simply eat a piece of green vegetable when he accompanied Zhao Layue as she ate hotpot. It was rare to see Jing Jiu ask for a bowl of soup to be poured for him, indicating that he was in a good mood. His mood was not boosted by the fact that the One-Cottage House kept a neutral position in the contention of the emperor's heir, but by Jing Li's marriage.
In the eyes of the Zen sects, it was a merit to enable a marriage; Jing Jiu, like his Big Brother, was influenced by the Fruit Formation Temple in this regard.
The soup in the bowl was milky white, looking quite rich and delicious; yet, it was devoid of any meaty flavor. He took a sip of it and found that the base of the soup was soybean milk, and that some spices, garlic fried with pig oil, and a few mushrooms were added to it.
He could taste all this because he had a highly sensitive perception and a good memory of his childhood experience; it had nothing to do with his ability to judge food.
The purpose of eating is simply to sustain life, but mortals made it so complex. Jing Jiu felt it unnecessary, so he shook his head reflexively.
Gu Qing thought that Jing Jiu didn't like the noises downstairs. He waved his hand to release the sword will of the Inherited Heaven Sword and set up a small formation to insulate them from the outside sound and smells.
Liu Shisui was once again impressed, thinking that Young Brother Gu Qing was indeed doing a better job than he had, which meant he didn't have to worry about his Young Master anymore now that Gu Qing was taking a good care of Jing Jiu, and he could concentrate on his study at the One-Cottage House.
The storyteller downstairs related what had happened six years later. Gu Qing and Xiang Wanshu led a group of young Cultivation practitioners into the snowland, looking for Jing Jiu and Bai Zao. Zhuo Rusui cultivated behind closed doors in the manor cave at the time and didn't know about this event, so he listened keenly to the story. He couldn't help but get a bit irate when the sound suddenly disappeared, shouting to Gu Qing, "How could you cut it off at such a critical moment?"
With a smile, Gu Qing asked, "Why do mortals know so much about my Master's endeavors?"
"For those mortals, the Cultivation practitioners are the same as the immortals; the rumors about their deeds will naturally spread among them."
Gu Qing sat down and continued, "A figure like young senior master is probably more popular than the Immortal Bai in the mortal world."
The fame of Jing Jiu in the mortal world relied on the legendary nature of the story and other factors.
The soup in the hotpot had been boiling for a while. All sorts of vegetables were put in the soup one after the other in a proper order. The four of them started eating, and nobody spoke. It was so quiet in the private room that the only sounds were those of soup boiling in the hotpot, vegetable leaves bobbing up and down in the soup, and the sizzling sound of mutton when it touched the side of the hotpot.
Zhuo Rusui's temperament was not compatible with the custom of not speaking during eating. Though he had lived with Jing Jiu and Liu Shisui in the Royal Palace of Chu State for a while, he still couldn't get used to this practice. He finished eating seven plates of greasy mutton and washed his mouth with tea in the teacup. He then left the private room again after grabbing a handful of melon seeds, and went downstairs to listen to the storytelling.
As he pushed open the door, the formation opened a passage for him.
The voice of the storyteller strayed in the room again.
"Let's talk about the marriage that has drawn the interest of the whole Zhaoge City. The couple in the marriage is totally mismatched. Though Master Jing Shang is a high-level official at Taichang Temple, his status can't be compared to that of Master Prime Minister. But why did Prime Minister Qin agree to marry his favored granddaughter to the young master of Jing family? It is of course not because the young master of Jing family is the study partner of the Second Prince; it is because it has something to do with the secret of Jing family…"
As the door of the private room was closed, the formation insulated the sound again.
Jing Jiu put down the bowl of soup.
Zhuo Rusui ate seven plates of mutton and went downstairs to listen to the storytelling; Gu Qing finished eating a basket of vegetables and started boiling a new pot of tea; Jing Jiu had just finished drinking up the white soup in his bowl.
Liu Shisui got up hastily to clean up the bowls and chopsticks in front of Jing Jiu, poured a cup of newly boiled tea and placed it in front of Jing Jiu.
Sitting on a stool, Gu Qing looked at the teapot quietly and picked out the foams on the surface of the tea once in a while.
After glancing at Gu Qing, Jing Jiu thought of Bu Qiuxiao again. He felt that this disciple of his was indeed outstanding, an agreeable expression showing in his eyes.
Gu Qing was shocked again by Jing Jiu's approving attitude, and felt even a bit nervous, wondering what remarkable things he had done today to deserve such a treatment from his Master.
Jing Jiu told Liu Shisui, "After the Plum Meeting, you go back to the One-Cottage House and focus on your study; don't worry about anything else."
Liu Shisui felt a bit embarrassed as he said, "I also think it's rather comfortable to stay at the One-Cottage House."
Jing Jiu believed that the scholars of the One-Cottage House had a similar temperament to Liu Shisui's, and that was why he wanted Liu to go there.
Gu Qing said, "Xiao He's identity has been found out by the imperial court. Since she is a vixen, and you know better about the attitude of the One-Cottage House, so don't let her enter the Windy Corridor too deeply."
Liu Shisui said, "I'll remind her of this."
"Take your leave now," Jing Jiu said.
The hotpot was done, and the reminder was mentioned; there was nothing more for Liu Shisui to do here.
Liu Shisui felt a bit nervous, and asked, "Young Master, you are…not upset, are you?"
Jing Jiu shot a glance at him.
Liu Shisui realized that his Young Master would get upset if he kept on asking questions, so he left as quickly as he could.
"…in addition to a high Cultivation state, high talent and high status, the immortal master has the unparalleled looks. He is a man you would see in the paintings; no, he is a real immortal man!"
The voice of the storyteller strayed into the private room again.
Zhuo Rusui walked into the room, closed the door behind him, and said to Jing Jiu seriously, "You're just letting him go like this?!"
Jing Jiu wondered if Zhuo Rusui intended to invite Shisui to a night dinner.
"Big Brother Shisui seems…to really like the One-Cottage House," Gu Qing said, feeling a bit worried.
Zhuo Rusui walked to the side of the table, and asked with furrowed brows, "What if he joins the One-Cottage House for real?"
In his eyes, Liu Shisui, like himself, was someone with natural Dao quality; how could they let him leave Green Mountain?
Jing Jiu thought there was nothing to worry about. If Liu Shisui could stay at the One-Cottage House, he would become an important figure at the house even if he couldn't beat Xi Yiyun in the contention for the house master. By then, the One-Cottage House would be friendlier toward Green Mountain.
This was a simple logic. The Windy-Broadsword Church had become the most steadfast ally and supporter of the Fruit Formation Temple since Cao Yuan had been in the church.
The Fruit Formation Temple had a close relationship with Green Mountain since the Young Zen Master had been at the temple.
Many disciples of the Center Sect were sent to other sects and to the imperial court to become officials. As a result, the majority of the Cultivation sects in the north were the vassals of the Center Sect, and the Center Sect also had many supporters inside and outside the imperial court, which made it even difficult for the Emperor to appoint a Crown Prince he wanted to.
These were all old and recurring stories in the world.
Jing Jiu didn't care so much about it, so Zhuo Rusui couldn't do anything. Thinking of what had happened today, Zhuo Rusui asked curiously, "Senior Master, how did you persuade Bu Qiuxiao?"
Jing Jiu ignored him. He put on his conical hat and walked out of the private room.
In the hall downstairs, the storyteller happened to state the last words of the story that he had related in the last two days.
"…Not another person like him can be found in the world."
The three of them left the restaurant of the immortal residence, with this last statement echoing in their ears, and vanished into the darkness of the night.
Zhuo Rusui was the leader of the Green Mountain disciples participating in the Plum Meeting, so he had to return to the residence.
Jing Jiu led Gu Qing into the Royal Palace. They went to the bedchamber of the Royal Concubine Hu first.
The Royal Concubine Hu didn't expect them to come to the palace at night. She put on a cloth hastily, covering her nicely figured body; she then asked a palace servant girl to inform Jing Yao to come over as soon as possible.
"No need to call Jing Yao. I'll only say a few words to you."
Jing Jiu went on, "Gu Qing will stay here for a year. He will live here in the palace; it's more secure this way."
Upon hearing this, the Royal Concubine Hu was taken aback, wondering why Gu Qing couldn't come to the palace to teach Jing Yao everyday like he had before since he was not a eunuch.
Gu Qing also thought it was inappropriate. As he was about to protest, he suddenly understood the intention of his Master. Prince Jing Xin was the candidate chosen by the Center Sect for inheriting the throne. Now that the One-Cottage House chose to be neutral for the contention of the throne, the struggle would grow more intense. If he stayed outside of the palace, he might be approached or threatened by those supporters of Prince Jing Xin.
Jing Jiu said to Gu Qing, "If the royal decree is not announced in one year, you'll return to Green Mountain immediately."
Gu Qing was in the initial state of Free Travel, and his state was quite stable at the moment, so there was no need for him to stay behind closed doors. However, it would be detrimental to his Cultivation if he couldn't cultivate behind closed doors for a prolonged period.
Having said that, Jing Jiu left the Royal Palace.
It was quiet in the palace as it lay shrouded in the darkness of the night, and the atmosphere itself was a bit awkward.
Gu Qing turned and walked out of the palace hall. He asked the eunuchs to arrange a residential place for him, which was better to be as far away from the bedchamber as possible.
The Royal Concubine Hu pulled the cloth tight around her body.
"First, we have to ensure the safety of Jing Yao," Jing Jiu told the Emperor. "Normally, the Center Sect shouldn't act in an irrational manner, but you never know under the circumstances."
The Emperor said, "With the protection of the Formation for the Royal Palace, the Immortal Tan and the Immortal Bai couldn't break through it even if they came in person. It's just that Jing Yao and Gu Qing will have a hard time."
Jing Jiu said, "The Cultivation practitioners often stay behind closed doors ten years at a time. If he can't withstand it for a mere year, he will have no future in Cultivation."
"But you shouldn't expect me to produce another son," said the Emperor.
Jing Jiu humored, "Bu Qiuxiao actually had such an idea when we were talking in the old plum garden."
Jing Xin was the Center Sect's choice for the heir, and Jing Yao was the Green Mountain's choice. The One-Cottage House used to support the former, because the scholars of the One-Cottage House couldn't accept the identity of the Royal Concubine Hu.
If the Emperor was willing to produce another child, this predicament would be resolved right away no matter if the child were a girl or boy.
However, the Emperor didn't want to have another child with anybody else other than the Royal Concubine Hu.
The Emperor asked, "How did you persuade the House Master of One-Cottage?"
Zhuo Rusui also wanted to know the answer.
And everybody else wanted to know the answer.
Jing Jiu didn't tell the Emperor, and he believed that Liu Shisui wouldn't tell him either. As time passed, this would become a true secret someday.
It was probably not fair for He Zhan, but it was nevertheless the matter concerning He Zhan and Bu Qiuxiao, and Green Mountain shouldn't get involved in this matter of cause and effect.
Jing Jiu said, "You have been the emperor for too long; you are influenced by the wicked ideas of how to rule as emperor. You must remember that you are of the bloodline of the Jing family, not a mortal emperor who doesn't have the power of the Broken Sea State. You can simply kill those who are not obedient."
The Emperor snapped, "As far as governing the state is concerned, I have to be prudent. You shouldn't offer any advice since you know nothing about it."
Jing Jiu protested, "If you are so good at governing the state, why is the imperial court still crowded with the supporters of the Cloud-Dream Mountain after several hundred years?"
Feeling a bit annoyed, the Emperor retorted, "Do you wish to be the emperor yourself?"
Jing Jiu got up and walked to the outside of the grand hall.
This child acted exactly like Liu Ci, Jing Jiu thought; they all knew how to reject him.
Jing Jiu was about to return to Green Mountain.
He had already told the Emperor about the Snow Girl, Jing Li's marriage was settled, and he had persuaded the One-Cottage House. He now had had no reason to stay in Zhaoge City.
After he left the Royal Palace, Jing Jiu walked into a dark and gloomy alley where the starlight was blocked by many tall trees by the street; any pedestrian would feel uneasy while walking here.
When his Dao Heart quivered slightly, Jing Jiu sensed that someone was watching him closely.
However, who could come so close to him after bypassing his sword awareness? Or was that person very far from him?
The starlight scattered on the ground after being sliced by the tree branches, looking like the snowflakes on his conical hat.
There was no one around.
That person could fool his eyes only if he were exactly like Jing Jiu.
As the storyteller said, not one other person like him could be found in the world.
Then, the other party was not a human being.
Jing Jiu turned to a patch of shadow under the tree, and yelled, "Get out."
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