Bai Qian frowned in the direction of the chamber door. Mo Yuan had just excused himself, stepping out to arrange for quarters to be prepared for them.
“If you keep doing that at Mo Yuan’s back, the dragon may come out and bite you.” Zhe Yan chuckled. “Stop hogging all the heat, Qian Qian. Move over.”
Bai Qian sat back down on her chair instead, wincing slightly as her ankle was still a little tender.
What had the false charm in Mo Yuan’s voice been all about?
She’d immediately picked up on it. She knew it well after all. It sounded the same as the Grey Wolf’s whenever he tried to woo her with his gifts of steamed fish whenever she was at the Mushroom Market. Why was the God of War talking that way to her now?! Was it because she’d touched his beard?
Maybe she misheard.
“Zhe Yan, what was the expression on Mo Yuan’s face just before he left?”
“Ahhh, did you hear that smile of his, Qian Qian?” Zhe Yan’s hands clapped together, rubbing with enthusiasm as he took a step closer to the hearth. “Why do you think Mo Yuan was looking at me that way?” Zhe Yan teased good-naturedly.
Bai Qian’s frown fell away and she sighed with a reluctant smile. Zhe Yan was the biggest flirt she knew. Of course that’s what he’d think, that Mo Yuan had that kind of interest in her. Only she knew it couldn’t possibly be true.
So why did Mo Yuan ‘insist’ in that way?
“Zhe Yan, seriously though, a whole month?!”
“What’s the matter, Qian Qian? Worried the disciples of Kunlun will reveal to the whole realm how loudly you snore at night? Ow!!“
One of Bai Qian’s tails settled back across her lap after whacking Zhe Yan in the side.
“It’s a good thing your aim is so good, Qian Qian. Otherwise if I’d fallen forward there would have been grilled phoenix on Kunlun’s menu for dinner tonight!”
“Hmm, I wonder if it’d taste like chicken,” Bai Qian quipped only to quickly sober. “Zhe Yan, I… feel badly that you are putting yourself out like this. Staying outside to observe a flower all night long? Won’t you be freezing out in the open all night, every night, for a month?”
Though she heard Zhe Yan turn around and lean towards her, she still started a little when his hands wrapped around hers… his very warm hands… his very, very warm hands…
“Ow!!” Bai Qian was now the one to exclaim as she yanked her hands out from his.
“I am a Phoenix, Qian Qian. I know, I know, I’m too hot to handle, haha! Why do you think I’m taking advantage of the Gold Dragon’s hearth fire to soak up the flames. Why expend my own fire when I can expend his? I’m lazy that way!” Zhe Yan snickered. “Stop worrying about it, Qian Qian. You know I’d do anything for my drinking buddy.” This time he smartly dodged the tail he knew was coming, only to get whacked on the opposite side by another. “Hey! Not fair!” Zhe Yan laughed.
A draft blew through the chamber as the door opened, the scent of the dragon wafting over Bai Qian again. It smelled of… of… ugh…she still couldn’t figure it out yet.
“It’s all arranged.” Mo Yuan rejoined them. “You’ll each have chambers ready for you this night. Though from what you say, Master Zhe Yan, you won’t be needing yours for sleeping.”
An awkward pause followed. Bai Qian heard Zhe Yan chuckle softly once again then step back from where he’d been standing by the fire.
Mo Yuan must have taken notice of the phoenix drawing flames up into his hands.
Caught red-handed, Zhe Yan? And now it was Bai Qian who chuckled softly, chuckles that turned into a cough at Mo Yuan’s next words.
“I hope you will join me for the evening meal,” Mo Yuan continued as if nothing happened. “I took the liberty of arranging for a dinner to be served to us here, given Lady Bai’s ankle.”
“How very considerate, Grandmaster,” Zhe Yan replied. “Indeed, Bai Qian’s ankle will be sensitive for another few hours. But now that I know where the orchid is located, I would prefer to head back to it right now if you permit. Given the shorter daylight hours at this time of year, nightfall is swiftly approaching. I’m sure you and Qian Qian will be able to enjoy a nice dinner together even without my being here.”
Care for some grilled phoenix, Lord Mo Yuan? Mortified for the second time in just a few hours, Bai Qian resisted the urge to whack her friend straight into the fire. Zhe Yan! You did that on purpose!
What choice did she have? To decline such an offer of hospitality now would be the height of rudeness.
“Thank you, Lord Mo Yuan, I would be honoured to join you for dinner.” You are so going to pay for this, Zhe Yan.
Thanks to the Phoenix once more, Bai Qian would again be finding herself alone with the Grandmaster of Kunlun…
And his beard.
Die Feng had listened intently as Mo Yuan outlined the situation. Kunlun’s visitors would be staying for a month of nights and the phoenix was granted free access to the northern garden, given his needed study of the silver moon orchid growing there.
Mo Yuan asked Die Feng to dispatch a pair of junior apprentices to prepare separate chambers for their guests; the one for Queen Bai Qian was to be in the same section as Mo Yuan’s, the phoenix’s in another. Die Feng’s eyebrows had risen slightly at this last detail but he did not question his shifu’s orders.
The First Disciple did remain standing there for several long minutes after Mo Yuan walked away towards the kitchens though.
In all his time on Kunlun Mountain, Die Feng could not recall ever having seen the Grandmaster stroking his beard that way.
Some of the students had gone fishing today and had brought their fresh catch to the kitchen. Did foxes like to eat fish? Chang Shan had asked.
Mo Yuan, who’d come to request a dinner be prepared and served in his chambers for him and his guests, did not think this a problem but suggested adding some grilled chicken too to be safe.
Chang Shan next asked if he should include some wine as well. Mo Yuan hadn’t hesitated to say yes. Wine could prove useful for loosening tongues.
Though his Second hadn’t questioned his requests just as Die Feng hadn’t, Mo Yuan knew his First had no doubt surmised there to be an ulterior motive behind Mo Yuan’s unusual hospitality. Why else would Die Feng have stood there staring after his back as he’d left, Mo Yuan thought, absentmindedly stroking his beard.
Heading back to his chambers, Mo Yuan recalled that he also had a few bottles of wine stored there. I could begin serving those before the meal.
Fate once again intervened on Mo Yuan’s behalf.
The Phoenix leaving him and Bai Qian to dine alone? Mo Yuan couldn’t have planned it better himself! He’d been prepared to ask casual questions of them both, but now with only Bai Qian there, Mo Yuan could delve a little deeper; something he doubted he could have done with the Phoenix present.
Before he left, Zhe Yan placed something in Bai Qian’s hand. “Take this peach blossom, Qian Qian. It’ll allow me to find you at a moment’s notice should anything come about with the orchid in the night. I can sense the blossom easily because of my magic. This way I won’t have to flap about all over the Mountain like a pigeon in search of you should you happen not to be sleeping in your guest chamber.”
The gleam of mischief in the Phoenix’s eyes was now directed squarely at Mo Yuan. And in a fiery mist of flames –flames drawn directly from Mo Yuan’s hearth fire– Zhe Yan disappeared. The corner of Mo Yuan’s mouth rose as it had this morning. The Phoenix enjoyed making an exit as well as an entrance.
“Tell me he didn’t singe your floor,” Bai Qian asked as she magically tucked away the blossom.
“No harm done,” Mo Yuan replied with a genuine smile this time. The end ties of Bai Qian’s silk band slid to the side of her shoulder when she tilted her head slightly.
“Chang Shan will be bringing dinner in a short while. Shall I set up a table for us by the hearth fire?”
The tension in Bai Qian’s shoulders eased as she nodded and rose to step back. Where else did she think he would have suggested they dine? It was beyond obvious to Mo Yuan that she enjoyed the heat of his fire very much.
Summoning a table with two high back chairs to replace the chairs that had been there before, Mo Yuan watched with interest as Bai Qian straightaway brushed her tails forward along the floor feeling out the legs of the table and thus the new chairs. Before he could offer to pull a seat out for her, she’d already chosen one for herself and sat down, settling her tails upon her lap once more.
Another genuine smile broke across his face as Mo Yuan found himself appreciating what appeared to be the Queen of Qing Qiu’s refreshing disregard for rules of propriety and etiquette. Taking his cue from her, Mo Yuan removed his leather cloak and draped it over the back of his chair before taking the seat opposite.
He now summoned one of the bottles from the wine chest in his chamber along with two glasses. “May I offer you a glass of wine, Lady Bai? It’s a vintage produced from Kunlun’s own vineyard.”
“Yes, that would be nice, thank you.”
Mo Yuan poured her a glass which he carefully placed in the hand she extended to him. Filling a glass for himself, he went to take a sip, only to stop and stare in fascination at Bai Qian. Her head thrown back, she was gulping the entire contents of her glass in one go.
With a light smacking of her lips, she plunked her empty wine glass onto the table.
Was this some custom of Qing Qiu? Mo Yuan had never witnessed anyone drink wine so fast; not even his Eleventh, a giant from the Mountain Tribes who could outdrink the best of them.
Bai Qian’s face wasn’t flushed at all and her mannerisms remained quite unchanged. She could have just guzzled a glass of water right now for the lack of any effect on her.
A sense of dread filled Mo Yuan as he looked down at his full glass of wine, but not before he caught the fleeting smile of amusement that crossed Bai Qian’s mouth.
She did it on purpose!
Suddenly dinner took on a whole different light to the God of War.
A flicker of gold rose in the piercing gaze now leveled at the silk band seemingly staring a challenge back at him. Mo Yuan raised his glass and in one go, chugged down its entire contents.
Making sure to smack his lips loudly before placing the empty glass on the table, Mo Yuan now crossed his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair.
Your move, Bai Qian.
⇛ Next part: 8(第八章) The Ways of a Lady
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