"What are you trying to say sect leader Jin?" Jiang Cheng asked through gritted teeth
"Sect leader Jiang, believe me when I say I wish it were another way. But after losing both our son and daughter-in-law at the same time, Madam Jin's health hasn't been the same. Surely you understand?" Jin Guangshan sat upon his throne like seat in Carp tower and regarded Jiang Cheng with a smile that was probably supposed to be sympathetic, but was just plain greasy.
"I understand Madam Jin's condition, but what I don't understand is why it has anything to do with me taking Jin Ling with me." Jiang cheng asked with a surprising amount of patience and self control. Also, he didn't buy this bullshit about Madam Jin's health. Since when did this whoring bastard care about his wife?
"You see sect leader Jiang, my lady and I are already greatly aggrieved at our children's death. I worry that my lady's concern for her grandson will put her health at greater risk."
"Concern? Are you saying that my nephew will not be safe with me?" Jiang Cheng asked, his self control being held by a thread at this point
"No no, you misunderstand me. Our concern is not Jin Lings safety, everyone knows you would protect that boy with your life. But with an entire sect to run on your own, we're afraid you won't have time to actually be a parent to Jin Ling. And with YunmengJiang sect still recovering from the damages of the war, you'll be very busy indeed." Jin Guangshan explained in a tone that suggested he was speaking to a petulant child and not a fellow sect leader.
"With all due respect Sect leader Jin, your concerns are baseless. We agreed that Jin Ling will spend half a year in Lanling and the other half at Lotus Pier. Are you honestly going back on your word now?" Jiang Cheng asked, unable to keep the anger from his voice. Zidian cackled on his finger, barely restrained by his control
"And of course, there's your temper." Jin Guangshan continued with a tsk, completely ignoring what Jiang Cheng just said "A temper like yours is hardly what a greiving orphan needs."
Jiang Cheng was momentarily stunned by the callous way this man spoke of his own grandson's loss. Was this man even affected by his own sons death or was he incapable of feeling anything other than his own need for power?
"You can't take my nephew away from me." Jiang Cheng growled
"Of course not Sect leader Jiang, you are welcome to visit Jin Ling whenever you want at Carp tower. But he isn't just my grandson, he's also the future heir of the LanlingJin sect and we cannot compromise on his well-being now can we?"
Jiang Cheng gritted his teeth, holding back from saying something that would only give the old man more reason to keep him away from Jin Ling.
"I'm sure I can convince you to change your mind" Jiang Cheng said in a mildly threatening tone, knowing full well he was walking into a potential trap. Jin Guangshan's conceited smile was only confirmation
Later as Jiang Cheng flew home, Jin Guangshan's words were ringing in his ears
"Sect leader Jiang, I do admire the hard work you've put into your sect. The war had dealt you a heavy hand, and despite all your advisors and allies being dead, you managed to rebuild Lotus pier from the ashes. The other three great sects had help after all."
Translation: Lotus pier is just barely beginning to regain its strength and with Wei Wuxians defection and subsequent death, YunmengJiang sect lost its greatest ally. The other three sects have an unbreakable allegiance due to the sworn brotherhood of the venerated triad while the Jiang sect was essentially isolated and alone.
Jiang Cheng had always hated the flowery language that hid the treacherous intent of these megalomaniacs.
Unfortunately, what Jin Guangshan said was not untrue. The Jin sect had suffered the least damage from the war and the Jiang sect, the most. It didn't help that as the youngest sect leader, other sects were still questioning his abilities despite all that he's proven so far and have been hesitant to do any kind of business with him, trade or otherwise.
Not for the first time, Jiang cheng found himself thinking about his father and what he would've done to handle the situation. Would he be able to meet Jin Guangshan's thinly veiled threats head on? Would anyone have dared tell him that he was incapable of running a sect and raising a child at once? Not that he ever did raise his children in the first place
His thoughts carried on to his dead shixiong like they always do when Jiang Cheng had reason to doubt himself. What would Wei Wuxian do? Charm people with his magnetic personality and make them feel stupid for ever questioning his abilities? Or he'd recklessly barge in and do what he believed was right with no care about the consequences.
That had been what caused his downfall in the first place. Jiang Cheng tightened his grip on his scabbard as thoughts of Wei Wuxian threatened to overwhelm him with anger.
It had been nearly six months since the seige at the burial mounds. Since he watched his brother, the last of his family, be killed by his own hubris. And Jiang Cheng had been the one to lead the attack on him. Anger, guilt, resentment and grief swirled around his heart and it took all his concentration to make sure his sword didn't crash into a tree.
Landing in front of the gates of lotus pier, he decided he had more pressing matters to deal with than the complicated emotions he felt about his shixiongs death.
Compartmentalizing his feelings was something he was quite good at after all.
"Despite our lack of allies, Lotus pier is by no means vulnerable. My duties as sect leader would not come in the way of my duty as an uncle." Jiang Cheng had said to Jin Guangshan
"Aaah but are you sure about that? Here at carp tower Jin Ling will have his grandparents, his uncles and aunts and his cousins. But at lotus Pier there's only you. Perhaps if you were married, it would've been different. You would have allies to make your work easier and someone to help you look after your nephew."
And that, of course, had been the whole point for this drama.
"Marriage? You want me to get married?" Jiang Cheng asked bluntly, trying very very hard to keep his voice even
"It is up to you of course, Sect leader Jiang. It is merely a suggestion. While we're on the topic, you have met my neice haven't you?" Jin Guangshan said and gestured to a girl Jiang Cheng hadn't noticed standing behind a screen on one side of the room with other women
The girl, about the same age as Jiang Cheng, walked up to him and bowed. She was pretty, he supposed, as everyone from the Jin sect seemed to be. But her bow held an arrogance that grated at his nerves. He was a sect leader for God's sake! Shouldn't she show more respect?
"This is my niece, Jin Hua. She has been taking care of my grandson these past few weeks and Jin Ling seems quite fond of her as well." Jin Guangshan said
That bastard!! He planned this! He'd planned this entire thing. Back Jiang Cheng into a corner using Jin Ling and force him into an alliance with the Jin sect. An alliance which would be formed on their terms, not his. Plus, a potential Jin spy right inside Lotus pier in case Jiang Cheng's loyalties were divided.
Jin Hua smiled at him sweetly, although nothing about her seemed sweet. She regarded him the way a predator looks at its unsuspecting prey.
In his head, Jiang Cheng had strangled Jin Guangshan in seven different ways using Zidian. Honestly, the cultivation world would thank him for getting rid of that lecherous prick. But he decided that maybe starting an intersect war was not in his best interests. Maybe.
"Many thanks to lady Jin for taking care of my nephew. I hope a-Ling hasn't been bothering you with his favorite lullaby, after all he can't go to sleep if you don't sing the northeastern cradle song." *
Jin Hau looked confused for a second before saying
"Oh yes, his lullaby. I sing it to him everyday. That poor doll, such a sweet child. He's not a bother at all."
Jiang Cheng resisted the urge to snort
"Glad to hear that." He said, although the sarcasm was lost on the two people in the room
"See, didn't I tell you she adores Jin Ling?" Jin Guangshan piped in "a-Hua, why don't you take Sect leader Jiang to the pond? Show him A-Lings favorite place to play."
Jiang Cheng gritted his teeth in annoyance. The lotus pond had been a gift from Jin Zixuan to Jiang Yanli after their marriage, so that she wouldn't miss her home too much. To think Jin Guangshan wanted to use that place to sic his niece on him was beyond infuriating
"Apologies Sect Leader Jin, but I only came here expecting a short stay before taking A-ling with me. Since that's not happening, I'll be taking my leave." Jiang Cheng said with a bow "One more thing. You'll send Jin Ling with me if I consider a marriage alliance?"
"Now now Jiang Wanyin, just any marriage won't help alleviate your burden will it? You need the support of a strong sect as well." Jin Guangshan said with a smile that resembled a sneer
Translation: good luck finding a match better than my niece.
Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes at that implication and looked at Jin Hua, who was trying to look bashful and coquettish under his gaze
"For the record, Jin Ling doesn't like the northeastern lullaby. But maiden Jin doesn't need to bother with the sweet child, you wouldn't know his favorite lullaby anyway." Jiang Cheng told her and without sparing another glance, he walked away from Carp tower
In his office, Jiang Cheng took out the records his newly made council had given him after the war. They had been pestering him about marriage for a while, stating the same reasons as Jin Guangshan: he needed someone to share his burdens with and to gain allies
Jiang Cheng had been putting off marriage for a while now with various excuses and no one had been brave enough to question him directly. But now that his guardianship over Jin Ling was at stake, he couldn't put it off any longer. He couldn't fail his sister a second time
But from what Jin Guangshan implied, they wouldn't give Jin Ling to him unless he married someone highborn. Unless he married the daughter of a sect leader of a powerful sect, no marriage prospect could be more advantageous than Jin Hua.
Jin Guangshan really had him backed into a corner
He wondered why Jin Guangshan wanted to control him so badly. Was it about gaining power over Yunmeng sect or was there some other reason as well?
Either way, he needed to think of something fast because there was no way he was marrying Jin Hua, especially since she clearly didn't even care about Jin Ling.
Honestly, the thought of marriage made him squeamish. His own parents weren't exactly the greatest example of a good marriage. Watching them fight, yell and generally make each other miserable didn't give him any confidence in the idea of marriage. If anything, it terrified him.
There was also his personal feelings regarding the idea. He'd always seen marriage as a duty he'd have to fulfill for the sect, and not something he desired for himself. Even his list of requirements for a wife was made based on what he thought would be best for the sect and not what he wanted
The only person he'd ever had feelings for, however briefly, was Wen Qing.
She was brave, intelligent and tenacious and the exact opposite of the docile, submissive wife he thought he wanted. And while they were doomed from the start, he couldn't help the pang of grief he felt when he thought about her
While she wasn't his one great love, he did feel something for her once upon a time.
He remembered the day of the lantern festival in the cloud recesses. Watching Wen Qing make her wish, Jiang Cheng imagined her in bright red wedding robes and felt nervous and exited at the same time
When he bought that comb for her in Caiyi town, he imagined her in robes of Yunmeng purple and blue and felt his heart warm up
When Wei Wuxian and Nie Huisang shoved porn books in his hands and talked about all the pretty girls they flirted with, Jiang Cheng tried to imagine Wen Qing without her clothes and he felt...wrong. It all felt wrong and not just because he respected her too much to think of her that way.
Regardless, he brushed it aside and believed those feelings would change when he grew older, they were only 16 after all.
But then the Wens attacked Lotus pier and his feelings for Wen Qing were overshadowed by his hatred for Wens and he could never go back to admiring her the way he once did.
And now Wen Qing was dead and Jiang Cheng was older but his feelings regarding matters of the flesh remain the same.
Aside from morbid curiosity making him go through Nie Huisang's porn collection, Jiang Cheng simply was not interested in sex
Now where would he find a spouse who's station is higher than Jin Guangshan's niece, would be good to Jin Ling and would also not expect any physical affection from Jiang Cheng?
He lifted the book with various sect records and threw it across the room.