"Is the wine to your taste, my lord?"
An Hongyu lifts the golden gauntlet to his bearded face before swirling the contents inside. He elevates it to his lips as he takes a sip of the wine within the cup.
At that moment, a smile spread across his face as he licked the residue from his bearded upper lip.
"Haha! You northern people's taste in wine is excellent." An Hongyu said, highly satisfied. "It's a good flavor; it's made of rice, I presume?"
Wei Jingyi set down his cup and chuckled, "Seems like the lord knows his wines."
"That I do." An Hongyu sipped the wine with great interest. "I've heard great words of your wines around the northern empire, and couldn't help but reach out to issue a trade. You did not disappoint."
Wei Jingyi nodded his head. "Indeed. I thank my Lord for praising my business with such high regard. I feel even more grateful considering the troubles you've faced recently."
After heeding Wei Jingyi's words, An Hongyu frowned. He stole a glance at the man sitting a few feet below him and narrowed his eyes.
"What troubles does Mister Wei mean?"
Wei Jingyi chugged his wine while lightly saying, "The death of your son, of course."
As if realizing the cruelty of his words, Wei Jingyi stiffened and cautiously looked at the cold-faced clan leader.
"Forgive me, my lord, I didn't—"
"No, it's quite all right. And yes, it has been a difficult time."
"I heard he died in an ambush?"
"Yes." An Hongyu nodded his head.
Wei Jingyi sighed heavily and shook his head. "Truly a shame. Though, I am certain you're not too disappointed, after all, he was a bastard child."
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An Hongyu, who was sipping his wine, paused. His face turned dark.
"What?" His face was stiff as the corner of his mouth tugged downwards.
As if not noticing the man's darkening expression, Wei Jingyi took another sip of wine with an innocent expression.
"Is it not true? Rumors say that son of yours was adopted."
An Hongyu narrowed his eyes slightly as he felt the concern in Wei Jingyi's words was rather strange. He appeared unmoved as he said dismissively, "Though that is true, I do not listen to such filthy rumors."
Wei Jingyi laughed coldly to himself inside, but on his face, he was smiling as he gulped the wine down.
"Yes, you're right! The lord is too clever to listen to such filthy rumors. Especially ones regarding the loyalty of your own offspring."
In that instant, An Hongyu slams his fist against the arm of the large chair.
"Mister Wei!" He squeezed those two words out through his tightly clenched teeth. "Considering you are my guest, I will not take your words personally. However, I will not have my clan members' loyalty tarnished by a drunk!"
Wei Jingyi glanced up with glazed eyes and saw the clan leader's neck was starting to turn red from all of his anger. As if suddenly awakening by his loud words and cold glare, Wei Jingyi blinked his eyes rapidly.
"This servant apologizes, my lord. It would seem I am a little drunk as you said." He rubbed his head.
At this point, An Hongyu's face was completely black. The air was heavy around him, and his firm face couldn't get any darker.
He glanced at the guard standing by the entrance and made a slight gesture with his head.
"Escort Mister Wei back to his tent, it would seem he has drunk too much. Make sure everything is settled for his safe departure in the morning."
"Yes, my lord." The guard bobbed his head and walked over to the stumbling Wei Jingyi.
Acting as if he hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary, Wei Jingyi lowered his head and said, "Thank you for your time, my lord. I hope to make a trade with you again."
As the man bowed his head, he stumbled a bit showing clearly how drunk he was at that moment. This time, An Hongyu didn't respond and merely grunted while waving his hand in dismissal.
The guard helped guide Wei Jingyi out of the hut and outside toward his tent. While being propped up by the guard, Wei Jingyi stumbled and spoke incoherently.
"Ah, thank you, sir. Who would have thought this old geezer was so intolerant to alcohol." He chuckled while slumping against his bed. "Hehe, I guess old age is finally coming to me."
The guard didn't say anything as he helped set the frail middle-aged man down on the bed before retreating. Before leaving, he glanced at the little brown falcon rested on a table within the tent.
The falcon's eyes oddly gave him a slight chill.
The guard shook his head from the thought and left. As if not noticing the guard had already retreated, Wei Jingyi continued to babble quietly to himself. Only after a few minutes, did the tent grow quiet.
He raised himself up and lightly patted his robes. Glancing up at the falcon across the tent, the clarity in his eyes returned, as if he had never been drunk.
Wei Jingyi suddenly sighed, "Provoking such a man was no easy task. The things I do for that foolish girl."
Ju produced a slight noise as if defending his master, his beady eyes slightly narrowing. Wei Jingyi laughed at the falcon's reaction and poked its beak.
"Still defensive for her, I see. Even though she left you here with me."
The little falcon was silent, but it flapped its wings and shifted its head slightly. The middle-aged man sighed helplessly. He took something from his pocket.
"Here, these are the snacks your master left you." He placed them in front of the falcon before standing up to stretch his back.
He laid himself down on the bed and propped his head down on the hard pillow before closing his eyes. As he gradually drifted to sleep, he perceived the sound of the falcon munching on the bits of raw meat given by the girl.
As the sun rose behind the horizon, Wei Jingyi had already packed his possessions, ready to leave the camp. Seemingly still cold toward him from last night's words, An Hongyu didn't bother to send him off and ordered a guard in replacement.
Wei Jingyi wasn't offended. He bid farewell to the guards before turning back with his wooden, carriage chariot loaded with sheep wool and supplies.
In exchange for his high-quality rice wine and cooked meats, An Hongyu traded Wei Jingyi stocks of wool and raw ironstones, including a horse for his travels.
All things considered, it seemed like a fair deal.
As he rode farther and farther away from the camp, Wei Jingyi halted the horse and breathed out a cloud of white air. He regained his breath and glanced at the falcon resting comfortably on the wool inside the wooden chariot.
"You look comfortable."
Ju was silent and innocent blinked his little, ink-black eyes. Wei Jingyi chuckled and glanced back up at the clear, blue sky. Breath pale against the numbing air, he blinked thoughtfully as the frost numbed his frail, haggard face.
He shifted his gaze back upfront before ushering the horse forward.
It was time to pay a visit to the cold and ruthless Commander An.
Frosty skies open empty depths of wind. Moonlight flooded through the hut's glassed windows, its bright, night glow falling against the fine dishes of meats and wines. The burning braziers crackled, heating the inside from the cold winds.