[At Langya Hall]
Nihuang gets sick in the morning. Lin Chen gives him hell.
"Fei Liu," he singsongs, "do you think you would like a little brother or sister?"
Fei Liu looks alarmed and doubtful and intrigued all at once.
"You!" Nihuang orders, wiping her mouth. "Shut up and bring me something for this."
From Langya Hall they go south to Yunnan, because Nihuang has decided it's time Mu Qing got a wife and an heir, and she's tired of him weaselling out of it. "And somebody" -- she kicks Lin Shu's ankle -- "convinced the Emperor that the House of Mu should make a marriage alliance with Southern Chu, so now I have to host tedious match-making visits from the Chu nobility."
"I'm sure it won't be that bad," Lin Shu promises. "Jingrui and Jingting are very astute. They'll only send delegations where there is a chance of lasting friendship with the Mu family."
"Hmph," Nihuang says, because she can't disagree, but is still too annoyed to agree. "In any case, if all goes well with this pregnancy, I will not be able to ride into battle any longer. I will use the time in Yunnan to hand my duties over to a new general."
Mu Qing is still young, but he's maturing into a capable and savvy prince. Lin Shu has been impressed, in fact, with how well he manages the advisors, courtiers, ministers and staff of the Yunnan court, and how thoroughly he has charmed the visiting Chu ladies and their families. What's most impressive, though, is how capable and savvy Mu Qing has been about avoiding Nihuang's attempts to finalise his marriage.
Nihuang has not been impressed, and as her belly grows larger she is increasingly impatient to get the matter settled. Lin Shu finally decides to intervene, because if his irritated wife makes a rash decision and irritates his brother-in-law, not only will they be stuck with the consequences for the rest of their lives, but eventually Nihuang and Mu Qing will decide that it's his fault for setting the Emperor on this path in the first place.
Lin Shu shakes his head at himself. He really does not plan these things like he used to.
"Lin Shu-gege," Mu Qing whines, after Lin Shu has got enough wine into him to get his honest opinion of his marriage options, "I've already got too many things to do. I don't want any more responsibility! Nihuang's baby can have Yunnan after me."
"What does Nihuang say about that?" Lin Shu says mildly, leaving aside for now that it's going to be his baby too.
"Pffffff," Qing'er says, pouting. "Not letting me."
Lin Shu pours him more wine, and after a moment, pours more for himself too. He hasn't indulged himself like this since he was a carefree youth. He'd almost forgotten this giddy, dizzy feeling. He's had more wine than he's used to, so maybe he should leave this last cup on the table, but Lin Shu decides to drink it instead. Why shouldn't he get drunk with his brother-in-law? They have a lot of catching up to do.
"I'll tell you something I've learned," he confesses to Mu Qing. "Having a lot of responsibility is hard. It makes you forget how to have fun."
"I have definitely forgotten about fun," Mu Qing says morosely.
"But having a wife is fun, and she can help you with your responsibilities. And children are fun, too."
"Children are fun," Qing'er concedes.
Lin Shu leans over to poke Mu Qing in the thigh. "So out of Jingrui and Jingting's suggestions, which lady do you think would be fun but also helpful?"
"Hmph." Qing'er scrunches up his face, and then slides slowly over onto his left side, as if thinking and staying upright at the same time is too difficult. The servants hastily insert cushions between him and the floor before he hits it. "I don't know, Lin Shu-gege. Maybe Miss Yu Wen Liu?" His face brightens. "She's not the prettiest one, but she's very good at archery."
"A good choice," Lin Shu says reassuringly. "Yu Wen Liu is most suitable."
It's not exactly the diplomacy he learned at the knee of Yan Que, but Lin Shu has to admit, he's enjoying it.
[This was the previous version of Lin Shu's future occupation. Nihuang and Lin Shu have come back to Jinling after Yunnan. Lin Shu is teaching a whole bunch of children as Imperial Tutor, not just Jingyan's two sons. He has stopped in to see Jingyan before going home, and is complaining about his students, especially Yujin's daughter.]
"Yan Yingtai! She has all the mendacity and wilfulness of Gong Yu, and yet all of Yujin's energy and charm. I didn't expect them to produce such a fearsome child! Every day she tries to lead the other children in some rebellion against me."
Jingyan laughs and laughs. "Now you understand how your own tutors felt about you!"
"Augh," Lin Shu groans. "I have never understood what a daunting task they faced until now."
"Xiao-Shu," Jingyan says suddenly, "you know you don't have to be the Imperial Tutor, don't you? I just needed an excuse to order you here. You can have any position in the palace you want, or none at all."
"Actually, you made a good choice," Lin Shu admits. "These children, they are untouched by the tragedy that haunts our generation. It's good for my heart, to be in their company."
Jingyan laughs. "The younger Lin Shu would never have said that. You got so annoyed when all the little cousins followed us around!"
"So I did!" Lin Shu laughs too. "But if I learned one thing in the thirteen years after the battle of Meiling, it was patience. Now I might have learned nearly enough to cope with Yan Yingtai!"
He laughs uproariously until he notices Jingyan is not laughing at all. He is staring, shocked, eyes filling with water. Lin Shu bows hurriedly.
"Your Majesty, I am sorry. I should not joke about that time."
"Not at all," Jingyan says, lifting his arms and gripping his shoulders. "Xiao-Shu, you of all people should joke about it if you want. I am just so happy to finally have my best friend beside me, making his terrible jokes." He shakes his head ruefully. "I have not heard a joke so terrible in such a long time."
Lin Shu grins back at him, relieved. "So easy for you to say! But if you had ever in your life managed to make a joke, you know it would be more terrible than any of mine."
Jingyan throws one of his reports at him. "Go home to your wife, Lin Shu. I think she actually likes your jokes."