Chapter 653 The Incomplete Zither Piece
“What’s wrong?” Ning Xueyan returned to her senses and turned to look at the book in Heng Yuqing’s hand, but didn’t notice anything odd about it.
“It’s strange. The copy of that I once read… didn’t have this part,” Heng Yuqing replied uncertainly.
“What’s missing?” Ning Xueyan asked, surprised.
“This part. Look, Your Highness… This part wasn’t in the book before… I remember liking this piece a lot. I tried playing it, but couldn’t finish it as the piece was incomplete. I failed every time. It sounded as if the music had abruptly been cut off. It left me quite uncomfortable.”
Heng Yuqing said, pointing at a zither piece.
She was pointing at an incomplete piece in the zither section, but the damage was minimal. Looking at the scope of the zither piece, there were very few missing verses. In other words, if one were to repeat the final verse of the piece, one might be able to treat this as a complete piece and play it as such.
In her current life, Ning Xueyan rarely touched the zither and wouldn’t have been able to notice the details. However, as Ning Ziying in her previous life, she was taught the four arts of zither, Go, calligraphy, and painting and was proficient in all of them. When she was living in the Lord Protector’s Manor, she lived a very quiet life where a day could pass without anything happening. She spent a lot of that time playing zither and writing.
Therefore, when Heng Yuqing pointed at the zither piece, she noticed what was strange about it right away. She extended a fair finger to point to one of the verses in the piece and savored it for a moment. Her lashes fluttered twice before she said with certainty, “I think someone else continued the piece starting from this part.”
Heng Yuqing looked at where Ning Xueyan was pointing to and carefully pondered the verses. She couldn’t help but compliment, “And it’s a very clever addition too.”
The piece called “Longing of the Zither” was cut off about two-thirds through. This was apparent as the styles of the original and the addition were completely different. The original piece was more melodious, but the additional verses were more sentimental and sorrowful.
Heng Yuqing was quite an accomplished player herself. All she did was hum it under her breath for a moment to catch this.
She remembered that the piece was cut-off at the same part. She wasn’t a fan of such books, for there wasn’t any way to play the complete piece. Even if she could finish it, she would feel like she was faking it and that didn’t feel right to her. The piece was written by a player before them, and it must be extraordinary if an incomplete version was able to remain in the esteem of so many people.
There were a handful of people who thought that they were talented and experienced enough to finish the incomplete piece.
However, they didn’t make it because they weren’t capable enough or their circumstances were different enough that their verses weren’t compatible. Many reasons caused these incomplete zither pieces to be an increasingly difficult puzzle to solve.
The only reason Heng Yuqing was attracted to the zither piece in the first place was that it was printed on the first few pages of the book. The pages before it was all incomplete chess endgames, which made a woman like her feel powerless to solve. It went without saying that she would pay the zither piece more attention afterward.
Moreover, the zither piece was quite original. The composition was melodious and meant to be as fresh and clean as nature. It was a very attractive piece, especially to women in boudoirs.
Heng Yuqing even played the piece, wanting to complete it in her way. However, tried as she might, she couldn’t play another tune after the cut-off or she would play an off-sounding tune. It was hard for her to produce a beautiful song, so she gave up after a few tries.
She also lost interest to read the other zither pieces in the book.
Reading the final verse again, she couldn’t help but say, “A very clever addition, indeed.”
It felt like a decent addition. She hummed it under her breath and the music continued smoothly and naturally. The sound was mellow and full, making her feel so excited that she wanted to try playing it again.
“Your Highness, if you practice this zither piece well and perform it at the banquet, you’ll surprise everyone with a single performance. No matter what Madam Wu Yao is up to, you’re in an invincible position. And the verses below ought to be easier than the ones on top.”
Heng Yuqing made her suggestion.
It was because of Madam Wu Yao’s banquet that they bought this book. She wasn’t familiar with Madam Wu Yao as they were from different circles of friends. There wouldn’t be any connection between them if it was not for her mother. Her mother, upon hearing that Madam Wu Yao’s invitation could make her value rise by a hundredfold, had looked everywhere for an invitation for her.
After hearing Ning Xueyan’s analysis that Madam Wu Yao might have ill intentions, she became unhappy about the latter.
It went without saying that she would wholeheartedly take Ning Xueyan’s side when making her suggestion.
“The verses below seem simple, you say?” Ning Xueyan’s long lashes fluttered like the wings of a butterfly. She sounded quite surprised.
“Of course, anyone can tell that…” Heng Yuqing realized she had misspoken at the end of her sentence. She sounded like she was being sarcastic to Ning Xueyan. She immediately explained, “I mean that it’s hard to complete this zither piece but it sounds lovely when you play it. It’s also easy to learn it.”
“In other words, anyone who knows the zither will be able to tell that the zither piece has been cleverly amended and can be easily learned in a few days?” Ning Xueyan asked, looking pensive.
“Of course.” Heng Yuqing nodded.
“It seems that our next step is to look for a zither.” Ning Xueyan let out a carefree laugh and leaned back. She sounded pleased.
Ao Chenyi had never pursued elegant, scholarly interests. Everyone knew that he was sharp and ruthless. It was said that the palace once bestowed him with a few singers and dancers. When they angered him, he smashed their instruments and beheaded them. Therefore, one couldn’t find a good zither anywhere in his manor.
“I know of a decent zither store in the capital. They’re known for their zithers. Not only do they have good craftsmanship, but you can sometimes find valuable antique zithers there.”
Heng Yuqing immediately suggested a store after hearing Ning Xueyan’s interest in finding a zither.
“Is it the most famous zither store in the capital?” Ning Xueyan laughed as if she didn’t quite believe it.
“Of course! The major noble families order their custom-made zithers from them. Their zithers not only look beautiful but sound lovely as well. But I heard that their craftsmanship is complicated, so their zithers are significantly more expensive.”
Heng Yuqing explained.
“That’s to say, I need to go to that zither store if I want a good zither?” Ning Xueyan sounded as if she was talking to herself. Under her lowered eyes, a dangerous glint was flashing.
She wouldn’t be able to find a good zither in Prince Yi’s Manor, so if she wanted a good one, she would have to visit that zither store. Even though their zithers were expensive, she was now the Crown Princess and wouldn’t care for such expenses…
Ning Xueyan had never believed in coincidences. When it came to something like this, one or two incidents might be a coincidence, but not everything could be.
Someone had planned for her to show up at the bookstore today. That man was likely sent by Xia Yuhang. Since Xia Yuhang could predict that she would show up early in the morning and wait to frame her, was there truly nothing wrong with this book that lured her here?
A book with a fixed zither piece, a book with more zither pieces than other copies. The pieces were simple, which was precisely what a novice like her needed.
Since no other had seen this book before, she could even say that she was the one who finished the incomplete piece. She could stand out at Madam Wu Yao’s banquet and establish a good reputation. She could show that she deserved the position of Crown Princess and destroy her reputation as a crass, uneducated lady because of her many years of imprisonment.
It would be helpful to Ao Chenyi to marry a talented, elegant, and noble Crown Princess. He would at least win the approval of the politically-neutral faction.
If there was such a simple, convenient way to win, why wouldn’t she take it?
Having made up her mind, she spoke to Lanning, who was sitting near the door. “Lanning, tell the driver to take us to the zither store.”
Lanning nodded and lifted the curtain just enough to speak to the carriage driver outside. The driver nodded. From where Ning Xueyan was sitting, she could faintly hear the driver say, “I know the place. It’s just two streets away from here.”
Lanning put down the curtain just as the carriage turned directions. The hooves of the horse resounded as the carriage moved through the flagstone street.
Earlier, two customers were wandering in the bookstore by themselves. They happened to exit the bookstore just as Ning Xueyan’s carriage stopped outside and entered a small carriage nearby. What was even more coincidental was that the small carriage was following Ning Xueyan’s carriage from a safe distance.
The carriage followed suit when Ning Xueyan’s carriage took a turn, but then swiftly surpassed them. Even Ning Xueyan’s carriage driver didn’t notice anything strange, thinking that it was an ordinary carriage. He glanced at them before carefully driving the carriage forward.
The seemingly ordinary carriage sped along the streets, took two turns, and stopped in front of a grand zither store.
The two men rushed out of the carriage and into the store.
The store was large, occupying four of the typical shopfronts, and located on the main street of the capital. With its impressive shopfront and location at the mouth of the street, one could imagine how much money the owners made each day. The owners must be astonishingly rich or they wouldn’t have been able to operate such a shopfront.
Of course, no matter how great their zither craftsmanship was, it was an exaggeration to say that everyone in the capital approved of them.
Still, the rich and influential in the capital sought out their zithers no matter how expensive they were.
It was a universal truth that a good piece must be played on a good zither. To the rich and influential in pursuit of elegance, money was not an issue.
The two men rushed into the zither store until they entered a small compartment in the innermost part of the store. When they took off their clothes, they turned out to be women.
They changed into clothes that were put there in advance—black skirts and small jackets. They helped each other put up their hair. From their appearance, it was apparent that they were maids.
When they were done, they cast aside the men’s clothing without much thought and walked out. They lifted the hem of their skirts and walked up the hidden stairs. Hidden stairs were not uncommon in stores, but they were meant to convenience employees, not customers.
The two maids walked up the stairs, one after another. The second floor was also part of the zither store, where they kept some antique zithers with long legacies. There were good and bad zithers here. It depended on the customer’s eyesight to pick a good one.
One of the maids walked toward a door in a corner and knocked. The door opened, revealing two seated women to the maids.