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122 Walking By the River With the Fourth Miss

    "No, I never thought that I had too much of a sweet tooth." Zixu turned to see her with a slight smile. When his eyes met with her, he didn't show any bit of surprise, as if seeing her in this somewhat remote pastry shop was the same as seeing her in Lingxin.

    But then again, perhaps he recognized her voice earlier on just like how she recognized his.

    While the workers in the shop began completing his order by packaging some of the pastries they already premade, Yujia walked to his side and looked towards the counter. He didn't have a sweet tooth? Based on the amount of sugary things he ordered despite the fact that the shop also sold savory pastries made Yujia find his statement difficult to believe.

    "You seem like you know the pastries of this shop well. It's my first time here; do you have any recommendations?" she asked, her eyes meeting with his again.

    He tapped his fingers on the counter as he thought about the different things the shop offered. "I only come here because my younger brother enjoys pastries. What I ordered before, such as the thousand layer cake and mung bean pastries, are a few of his favorites."

    Yujia bit her the inside of her cheek as she thought about Zixu's younger brother, Yu Ziyang. Along with any mention of him came along with some memories of her attempts at impersonating him, which were surely memories that weren't going to be fading away anytime soon.

    "Are the mung bean pastries better with extra sugar? I noticed that you ordered that."

    "They're fine on their own," Zixu answered as he shook his head, "but my younger brother is the one with the sweet tooth. He always prefers a little extra sugar."

    Yujia drew her gaze away and leaned towards the counter, giving the individual across from it her order. "I'll have four mung bean cakes then."

    She didn't consider herself too much of a lover of things too sweet, so adding extra sugar shouldn't be a necessity for her.

    A few moments later, Yujia found herself carrying a paper-wrapped package of four small pastries while Zixu held a larger package. The pastries, even with the discount, were indeed pricey, totaling up to four entire silver taels for just four cakes. She had high hopes for the pastries and hoped that she wouldn't be disappointed by them.

    The two of them walked side by side down the riverbank, heading towards the more central area of the city. Because of the time that it took for some of the pastries to be made, more people were already beginning to populate the area. The river seemed to be a good place for business- Yujia's perception of the pastry shop being remote turned out to be slightly incorrect- and with the Emperor's birthday being today, it was inevitable that things were a little busier than usual.

    During the time that Yujia began her walk back, she realized that the river which she thought was a river turned out to not even be one in the first place. It was much narrower than most rivers, and as Yujia observed the pieces of stone enclosing certain areas of it, she came to the conclusion that the "river" was actually a small waterway or canal. A few boats were already beginning to sail on the canal, carrying out their business for the day.

    She looked back to Zixu after a few more moments of watching the boats, asking, "Is Young Master Yu only here to buy pastries this morning?"

    "Yes," he replied, "What about you?"

    "I'm just exploring a bit more of the city today, considering that it's a festival, and I thought that I might buy some pastries for breakfast." Yujia wrapped her fingers on the mung bean pastries a little tighter.

    "I see." Zixu turned his head to look at her, noticing that she was wearing a new set of robes. "The colors you wear suit you well," he noted.

    Yujia looked down at the outfit she wore with bits of jade green dyed on the white fabric that layered over a light peach shade. She gave him a genuine smile. "Thank you."

    Contrary to the unsettling compliments that Rong Yuan gave her yesterday, Yujia didn't mind Zixu's brief compliment. It didn't seem like he was forcing a compliment, but rather giving one to her in a natural way that seemed to hold no extra meaning besides being a simple statement.

    She glanced over at Zixu's clothes.

    Zixu always dressed neatly, with his clothes always wrinkle-free and worn neatly. He generally wore robes of lighter shades, with nothing too vibrant or eye-catching. Yet maybe it was the way he carried himself, for no matter how simply Zixu dressed, he always looked like he was standing on an elevated level. Today, for example, he wore a set of teal robes under lighter fabric embroidered with silver threads so thin and faint that they were nearly non-existent. A matching jade pendant hung at his belt, but other than that, there was nothing festive that hinted at a celebratory attitude from him. Although the weather was becoming warm, Zixu still wore a pale teal cloak that draped over his shoulders too.

    To keep the conversation going, Yujia continued, "I wanted to wear something a little more special for today. Young Master, are you going to do anything special or wear anything special?"

    Zixu looked down at himself, then shook his head. "I'm afraid not." His eyes narrowed as if he was thinking of ways to word what he wanted to say. "Crowds aren't my favorite thing, so I don't think I'll be participating long in any of the festivals today. Are you going to go?"

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    Yujia gave a small smile. "Well, I suppose I'm more of the opposite. I think large crowds are exciting, and when the world is willing to put on a fun show for everyone, why not participate in it? Also-"

    Her words cut short along with her steps when she saw a decorated boat drifting in the canal. It was painted with bright colors of red, green, white, and orange, and a small crowd was gathered on the bank near the area where the boat rested.

    "What's that?" Yujia asked, stepping a little closer to the edge of the water, where the connected stone poles that acted as a fence ended. She leaned on the last pole, observing the boat and how some people were talking, seemingly bartering, with the man who was probably the owner of the boat.

    "Have you never heard of the tradition?" Zixu walked closer too. "Because the Emperor accomplished a miraculous naval battle where he led the ships and armies himself, every year, during his birthday or the Returning Festival, there would be some boat rowing where you can go on some of these festive boats and row. The more you row, the more luck you're said to gather, but it's also a way for the boat owners to earn more money when you spend more time on it.

    They must be auctioning the position of the first lead rower of the day, which is said to be the luckiest. "

    "Oh."

    Yujia watched as some money was transferred between a man dressed in dark purple who seemed to win the auction and the boat owner. A bright smile spread across the man's face as he neared the boat and grabbed a pair of oars from the owner. On the rest of the boat, there were a couple of seats of rowers dressed in clothes that matched the boat, intended to help the lead rower to move the boat faster.

    Once the man seated himself on the small, narrow boat, he began to row as fast as he could along with the rest of the team on the boat. The crowd cheered more the further he got, and it was fairly entertaining to watch him row around this section of the canal.

    Yujia never rowed a boat before- she didn't even know how to swim- but seeing the excitement of the crowd made her more eager. It seemed fun.

    Zixu gathered the awed expression on Yujia's face and remarked, "Do you want to try one?"

    "Together?" Yujia raised her eyebrows. Was that what Yu Zixu was implying by asking her?

    "No, no." Quickly Zixu waved his hands to dissolve all those ideas. "I was just asking if

    you

    wanted to try rowing one, by yourself."

    Yujia could feel her cheeks burning up a little. She misinterpreted what he was implying. Now it seemed embarrassing to her since it made

    her

    sound like the one who was asking him to row with her!

    "Ah, that's what I thought," she immediately answered, attempting to cover up her flustered thoughts, "It does seem fun, but I'll probably get tired in just a few moments of rowing. It seems like a-"

    All of a sudden, a shift occurred in the crowd. Someone stepped back. A young child squeezed through, bumping into numerous individuals along the way. Another person swiftly pushed his way to the side of the crowd to get a better look.

    And along all three of these rapid movements that lasted no more than a second, Yujia was pushed over to the side. Her thoughts were so concentrated over the embarrassment of asking Zixu if he intended that they were to row together that she didn't even realize it was too late.

    Her grip on the stone fence slipped. The package in her other hand dropped to the floor. One of her feet was shoved over the border between water and elevated land.

    Before Yujia could even grab onto something again, she found herself teetering off the edge and splashing into the water.
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