When Heir Zheng reached the outer court’s parlour, he saw two young men dressed in black robes, already seated and waiting for him.
He quickly strode forward, and the two young men stood up to welcome him.
“Ah, senior brothers, please don’t stand on ceremony. Please call me Tiancheng. Sit down, sit down.”
Of the two young men, one of them was exceptionally handsome; of course, that was Xiao Bojian. The other young man, Qi Minhe, lived in the same place as Xiao Bojian. He had a square face and thick eyebrows, and he looked a little old.
Qi Minhe came from one of the great clans of Jiangnan, and he was very loyal to his clan. The two young men were top students of the Imperial College. They were both about twenty years old, the time when many youths were filled with lofty aspirations.
When Qi Minhe saw that Heir Zheng had come holding a container in his hands, he found it strange and asked, “Tiancheng, what are you holding there?”
Heir Zheng chuckled secretively and invited the two of them to sit by a table. He then ordered the maidservants to pour some sencha for them.
He placed the container on the table carefully and said, “These are snacks from the Jing’an Estate.”
Qi Minhe was born from nobility and was used to all sorts of delicacies. He was extremely particular about anything he ate. Having studied at the Imperial College for more than three years, Qi Minhe knew all about the food served in every single estate in the capital. He had researched the topic until he knew it like the back of his hand. The Jing’an Estate’s snacks were famous, but he had never had the chance to try any before. When he heard that Tiancheng was currently in possession of some, he was both surprised and elated.
Xiao Bojian blanked out for a moment; the Jing’an Estate… was Chu Lian’s husband’s family. The image of the young man he had seen accompanying Chu Lian in the Ying Estate flashed through his mind.
With elegantly arched brows, a cold aura, and thin lips, that man had placed himself between him and Chu Lian, held onto her hand, and left, without even letting him have another look at her.
Heir Zheng noticed that Xiao Bojian was in a daze. “Senior Xiao?”
“We’ll be enjoying these snacks all thanks to you then, Tiancheng.”
Heir Zheng smiled freely and opened up the container, which still felt cool. There was thick cotton cloth stuffed on the inside, keeping heat out of the box and maintaining the cool temperature inside.
When Heir Zheng saw the desserts within the box, he froze for a moment. “This…”
“Tiancheng, what happened?”
Heir Zheng brought out the desserts in the box, still a little shaken. “Look at this.”
He had eaten plenty of different snacks before, including even the ones from the palace, but never had Heir Zheng ever seen such beautiful, distinctive snacks like these before.
Xiao Bojian and Qi Minhe were equally stunned.
Qi Minhe lamented, “No wonder everyone says that the Jing’an Estate’s snacks are the best amongst the noble families. They are indeed extraordinary.”
The water droplet lying upon the lotus leaf trembled like a real dewdrop.
However, Heir Zheng frowned slightly.
Qi Minhe noticed that he looked a little off, so he called to him, perplexed. “Tiancheng?”
Heir Zheng looked up at the two men. “Truth be told, I’ve eaten the snacks from the Jing’an Estate many times. They really are as delicious as rumoured, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a dessert like this.”
After saying so, Heir Zheng recalled what his grandmother had told him when she had given him the desserts. Grandmother had said that these were made by the new Third Young Madam of the Jing’an Estate.
When he remembered that, Heir Zheng quickly sent his personal manservant off to the inner court to ask the old duchess.
“Oh? Has House Jing’an changed the way they make their pastries?” Qi Minhe chuckled.
“Grandmother told me that these were made by the Third Young Madam of House Jing’an.”
The other two didn’t notice when Xiao Bojian’s entire body stiffened; it was a cruel coincidence that the next joke out of Qi Minhe’s mouth was, “The Third Young Madam of House Jing’an? Eh? Isn’t that the granddaughter of Old Duke Ying?”
He turned to Xiao Bojian. “Bojian, Old Duke Ying is your sponsor. Have you seen this Third Young Madam for yourself when you were at the Ying Estate?”
Even though his body was still a little stiff, Xiao Bojian replied with a normal expression, “Although I lived in the Ying Estate for some time, how could I, an outsider, possibly have entered the inner court of a duke’s estate? Don’t joke around.”
He had an open face and good looks, so it was hard for people to doubt him. Qi Minhe quickly apologised. “I went too far.”
They chatted as they watched the maidservants pour sencha for them. Finally, the manservant that Heir Zheng had sent to the old duchess returned.
“How was it?” Heir Zheng asked.
The manservant slightly bowed to show his respect as he said, “Reporting to the heir. The Jing’an Estate’s resident pastry chef passed away in a kitchen fire two days ago. The desserts that the duchess brought back today were indeed made by the Third Young Madam of House Jing’an. She even named the dessert as ‘raindrop mochi’.”
Heir Zheng was a little stunned. What a pity that the amazing pastry chef was gone just like that. However, a cook was just a servant to the nobility; if they were gone, then they were gone.
Heir Zheng didn’t say anything more and waved the manservant away.
“Come, let’s stop talking. I was told that these desserts don’t keep for long. Senior brothers, why don’t you have a taste?”
They took up little silver spoons and tasted each of the desserts. Heir Zheng and Qi Minhe’s eyes lit up, and they only had praise for the desserts.
There was something special about pairing the refreshingly smooth raindrop mochi with sencha.
Only Xiao Bojian dwelled on his bitter feelings alone, a dark glint flashing through the depths of his eyes.
He thought of the girl who had now become the Third Young Madam of House Jing’an: a tender, gentle, brave and careful woman. If not for her engagement, perhaps she would be personally brewing soups for him at home right now.
The first person to taste this new, delicious raindrop mochi would have been him. The person showing off his perfect wife in front of his fellow students would also be him.
Under the cover of his broad sleeves, his hands curled into fists until his knuckles turned white.