“Jiang Cheng, move over a bit. It’s too hot.”
Wei Wuxian gave his shidi a slight shove.
“You move,” Jiang Cheng shoved him back, albeit without much force.
He made a small noise but was much too tired to do anything else.
It was summer again in Yunmeng, and that meant unrelenting, merciless heat. There was almost no escape from it, especially during the middle of the day when even the water seemed to evaporate from Lotus Pier’s many ponds and hung about in the air like a silvery, suffocating mist.
They were supposed to be training at this hour of the day, but instead Yunmeng’s disciples were all to be found on the cool wooden floor of the training hall, wearing as little clothes as they each could manage without embarrassment.
Which meant that Wei Wuxian was lying face flat on the floor, completely topless with his pants rolled up as far as they could go.
But what was the point of it all when Jiang Cheng was pancaked right near him, invading his precious cold floor panels with his body heat?
“I bet Lan Zhan would move if I asked him to,” he muttered, just loud enough for Jiang Cheng to hear him.
Maybe it was the rather ridiculous image of the perfect, uptight Lan Wangji lying topless on the floor with them, but Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng both started laughing.
“You can’t go even one day without mentioning him,” Jiang Cheng said after a while, giving him another shove, this one actually forceful enough to move him slightly farther away. “No wait, even one hour. When he clearly can’t even stand you. Who was the one who pulled off his precious ribbon again, hmm?”
“That was an accident!” Wei Wuxian insisted, also giving Jiang Cheng another shove. “I apologized! And I even meant it this time!”
“Too late for that now,” Jiang Cheng waved a hand lazily at him. “After that little stunt, I bet he never wants to see you again.”
Wei Wuxian chose to ignore that remark and enjoy the fact that Jiang Cheng was now sufficiently removed from his space. “I bet it’s nice and cool in Gusu right now...” he mumbled.
“Probably both Yunmeng and Gusu would completely freeze over before you ever get invited back there again. So you mind talking about something else for a change?”
He felt like arguing, but he couldn’t really deny the truth of that statement. So he decided to change the topic as requested.
“Is shijie coming with treats today? I would love some iced watermelon again.”
Before Jiang Cheng could answer, there was a loud crack at the door that managed to scare them all into a cold sweat and up off the floor.
Sure enough, Madam Yu was standing there with Zidian already released and crackling with purple lightning.
“Crap,” Wei Wuxian muttered.
Madam Yu coming to berate them for lying on the floor half-naked like so many steamed pancakes was a daily thing, so this wasn’t really anything to be surprised about.
What was unusual was the fact that she had Zidian out.
She looked especially incensed today. Even more so than usual, if that was at all possible.
All the disciples quickly tried to make themselves as presentable as possible, but Madam Yu fixed her gaze on only one person.
“Wei Wuxian!” she shouted, and it was at this time he noticed that she had a letter in her other hand.
Crap, he thought. So this was about that.
The story was as follows.
A few days ago, on the way back from a night hunt near Yiyang, they had come across a commotion in a farming village. Such commotions were a pretty common thing, usually two farmers or tradespeople having a disagreement, nothing that strangers ought to get involved in.
Wei Wuxian had been occupied in teasing Jiang Cheng about losing the kill to him again, but then he heard the screams.
A young girl was screaming for help at the top of her lungs, and nobody seemed to be helping her. What was he supposed to do, just ignore that?
When he managed to push through a crowd of villagers, he saw twenty or so cultivators, all dressed in blue uniforms, surrounding a young master who looked to be about the same age as him and Jiang Cheng.
And there were two other cultivators dragging a girl out of a small cottage while she fought for her life.
“Auntie, what’s going on here?” Wei Wuxian asked an older woman in the crowd of onlookers.
The woman took one look at him and instantly clutched at his sleeve, her eyes brimming with tears. “Gongzi,” she said. “Please help! That’s the third son of the Tan family, the local cultivator clan in Yiyang. A few days ago, he came through here and saw Blacksmith Xu’s daughter. He immediately took a liking to her and insisted that she go with him. Then when she refused, he came back today with more people...”
That was all he needed to know.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t think about the repercussions, but that lasted about one split second before he inserted himself into the situation.
“The Tan family wrote to me,” Madam Yu said, positively shaking with anger. “They said that their third son is bedridden for the next two weeks!”
“I needed to give Maiden Xu and her family enough time to escape,” he replied truthfully. He’d also given them all the money he had on himself at the time, but he thought it was best not to mention that.
“Twenty-five of their retainers and disciples injured!”
“I didn’t even use my sword and it’s not like I permanently crippled anyone.”
“Yes, it was all me. Jiang Cheng and the others didn’t lift a finger so there’s no need to punish them,” Wei Wuxian quickly added.
Madam Yu looked mad enough to spit fire.
“A-Niang,” Jiang Cheng finally spoke up beside him. “Wei Wuxian might’ve acted a bit...rashly, but it was for a righteous cause. Please don’t punish him too harshly.”
“That Tan creep had it coming!”
“Cultivators are supposed to protect people, not try to get whatever they want by force!”
“Shixiong looked so cool...taking on all those cultivators by himself...”
“They couldn’t even lay a finger on him, shixiong really is amazing...”
Madam Yu’s face twitched while the other disciples quickly spoke up for him too.
By this time, other people had also heard the commotion at the training hall and come running.
“A-Niang,” Jiang Yanli appeared behind her. “Don’t get so angry, it’s bad for your health. Especially when it’s this hot outside.”
Jiang Fengmian also appeared, with several retainers following him. “Sanniang, I’ll handle this and smooth things over with the Tan sect. You don’t need to worry about this.”
Having almost everyone else in Lotus Pier trying to convince her to calm down ended up having the opposite effect.
“Each of you, teaming up to let him run wild!” Madam Yu shouted, pointing Zidian at Wei Wuxian. “Sooner or later he’s going to offend someone who you can’t smooth things over with! Even if that Tan idiot needed to get punished, it’s not up to you to go do it! There are proper ways to do things! You can’t just go around offending everyone in sight!”
Wei Wuxian looked down at the floor. He’d heard this speech innumerable times already, and was just waiting for her to mete out his punishment.
Instead, Madam Yu laughed, which honestly scared him more than any type of punishment.
“Well, it seems like you’re all on his side, hmm? Nobody’s on my side. I guess I shall have to recruit an ally for myself then.” She looked sideways at Jiang Fengmian before adding, “After all as they say, a man’s worst enemy is his wife.”
Madam Yu turned to leave and said to Jiang Yanli, “Send for the matchmaker and ask her to come meet me. Today.”
All the disciples turned around to stare at him.
If Wei Wuxian were to be honest, he would have to admit that the last eight or so years were some of the happiest of his life.
Spending each and every day with the Jiangs, who showered affection on him as if he were one of their own... A small part of him wanted these beautiful days to continue forever.
Perhaps that was part of the reason why he always reacted so badly to Jin Zixuan. Perhaps he viewed the older boy as a completely undeserving interloper who was going to steal away his shijie.
But now that the old man under the moon had turned his attention to him of all people, he felt like the proverbial red string of fate was more like a rope looped around his neck.
His teenage years full of joy and adventure were slipping away from him by the second, to be replaced soon by the progressively heavier weight of responsibility.
“You’ve been awfully quiet,” said Jiang Cheng, one evening a few days later.
Wei Wuxian was lying down in a small boat hidden among tall lotus leaves, some ways away from Lotus Pier. He was actually surprised that Jiang Cheng had rowed all the way out here to find him.
“They haven’t even found anyone willing to marry you yet, and you’re already thinking of running away?”
“I wasn’t running away, just thinking.”
He twirled his red hair ribbon around his finger while staring up at the cloudless sky.
“Nie Huaisang knows already, for some reason,” Jiang Cheng said after a few minutes’ silence. “I have no idea how, but he sent me a letter asking for more details.”
“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow at this. “What did you say?”
“I told him that you were staying here in Yunmeng no matter what.”
Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but laugh at this.
Perhaps he wasn’t the only one who wished that these cloudless days would last forever?
He was kind of touched that Jiang Cheng cared that much.
He rowed his boat closer to Jiang Cheng’s, who instinctively put up his guard.
“What are you doing?” he asked, shrinking away slightly.
“Come give your shixiong a hug,” Wei Wuxian replied, holding out his arms.
“W-w-who would want to hug you,” Jiang Cheng shouted and hurriedly started rowing back towards Lotus Pier.
He laughed and started racing his shidi back home.
Before they managed to reach Lotus Pier, they saw Jiang Yanli walking towards them on the footpath that traced along the stream. She held a piece of paper in her hand and was followed by several maids.
“A-Xian! A-Cheng! There you are!” she waved at them.
“Shijie!” Wei Wuxian waved back and rowed towards her. “What’s that you’ve got there?”
“It’s A-Niang’s list of requirements to the matchmaker. For a proper spouse for A-Xian.”
He immediately stopped rowing.
Both Jiang siblings looked amused at him.
“What are you afraid of?” Jiang Cheng scoffed. “It’s a piece of paper, not a dog.”
“Don’t be cruel, A-Cheng,” Jiang Yanli said. “I looked it over, and it doesn’t really seem too scary?”
“Oh? Let’s hear it then,” Jiang Cheng replied.
“First, she must have an extremely high cultivation level for her age, as close to Wei Wuxian as possible.”
“What? Why?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“What? Are you afraid that you’ll end up third place around here?”
His shidi responded by shoving him into the water.
“A-Niang said she wants someone who won’t get steamrolled by A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli helpfully explained. “Naturally a girl with higher cultivation level will be more strong-willed and likely to stand up to him. Second, she must be from an extremely strict family that places great value on moral rectitude.”
“Ha, guess you’re never going to get to drink alcohol again,” Jiang Cheng laughed. “Maybe she’ll even do something about your horrible sleep schedule.”
This time it was Wei Wuxian’s turn to shove him into the water.
Jiang Yanli laughed and continued, “Third, she must be well-educated in all the necessary arts and rituals, intelligent, and capable of assisting in the running of one of the four major sects. Fourth, she must have enough patience to deal with someone who was deemed unteachable by Lan Qiren.”
“I’m starting to doubt that they’re going to find anyone who fits all these requirements,” Jiang Cheng remarked.
“Fifth, she must be, above all, quiet. Because, ehm, A-Niang said she couldn’t stomach the idea of two A-Xians chattering away every day at Lotus Pier.”
Wait, was his shijie joking earlier? Because that list really did sound very scary! He suddenly had visions of a quieter, more boring Madam Yu dragging him by the collar through the hallways of Lotus Pier.
But now that he thought about it, that list... Didn’t it sort of remind him of someone?
When he mentioned this to the Jiang siblings, his shidi also seemed to fall deep in thought.
“Now that you mention it, it reminds me of someone too...”
“Oh? You already have someone in mind?” Jiang Yanli looked extremely happy. “If you let me know who it is, I’ll be sure to put in a good word.”
“...I can’t think of who it is.”
“Ah, well, if either of you remembers, please do let me know. Now then A-Xian, don’t you want to add a requirement or two of your own to the list before I take it to the matchmaker?”
From that list of requirements alone, it already seemed like whoever fit the bill would be scary enough to invade his nightmares. Did he really need to add to it?
Although, if he really did have to add something...
“I, uhh, do have something I’d like to add. She has to be kind to my shijie... and I guess Jiang Cheng too.”
“Aren’t you going to add yourself to that list?” Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes at him.
“Oh, A-Xian...” Jiang Yanli sighed.