Chapter 473: The Sweetest Wine in the Universe
Lan Jue mirrored the man’s smile. “You mean my luck! I would not have guessed I’d see a 1990 Rieussec here. I have to admit I’m desperate to try some. If you’re willing to sell it to me, we’ll open it up right here – we won’t take it anywhere.”
True aficionados of wine, even merchants, understood. If you had to give up a wine, then the next best thing was to watch it being enjoyed. This would also ensure it wasn’t wasted by the uneducated.
The manager was one such person, and the moment he heard Lan Jue’s assurances then his face softened. He looked much less defensive.
“I can see you’re a genuine connoisseur, good sir. Regrettably, this particular vintage is quite painful to part with.” He paired the words with an apologetic smile.
It was Lan Jue’s turn to adopt a pitiful look. “I hate to cause you trouble, but I’m determined. Tell me what you want and we can discuss a price that works.”
This made the manager think for a moment. “I’d have to ask the owner. If you’d wait for a little while…”
Qianlin stood quietly by Lan Jue’s side as they spoke. She was stunned at how difficult the process was just to get a bottle of wine! She could see it behind the glass of an ornate cabinet behind the counter. It was quite small – maybe only three hundred and seventy-five milliliters – filled with a golden liquid like the color of honey. It looked particularly attractive.
When the manager reemerged from his office, about fifteen minutes had passed. He returned with another man who was quite tall. The newcomer looked as though he were perhaps in his fifties, with a suit even more straight and starched than the manager’s. His collar was smartly pinned, and a Windsor knot fixed his tie to his neck. A pocket square with white embroidery was an accent. Altogether he appeared very gentlemanly.
He walked over to Lan Jue with a pleasant smile. “Ah, so this is the newest one to be smitten by my bottle of gold.”
He meant, of course, the wine, using an old name it was referred to in the old days. It was truly a precious vintage.
“It’s a special day for me,” Lan Jue began. “I was hoping to leave an impression with a very fine wine. I would be very grateful for your help. I would also be remiss not to share your precious bottle with you.”
The middle-aged man smiled in response. “If I might be so bold as to ask, what is so important about today? And, if I could see your face… I’d very much like to know who it is who shares my interest in this wine.”
Lan Jue grumbled, then leaned in close to whisper something to the man. He then stepped back, and picked off the items covering his face.
A waiter standing nearby gasped in surprise when he saw who it was, but the older man shot him a silencing look before he could say anything. He then swung his eyes back to Lan Jue. “As a Northerner, I really shouldn’t grant this request. You’re single-handedly responsible for kicking our greatest hope out of the tournament.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “For that I can only express my apologies.” He’d revealed himself to the man out of respect – and out of respect for the wine.
The man burst in to jovial laughter. “No, no – let me finish. I shouldn’t, but I also come from noble lineage. I should certainly do as you request, since I’m likely talking to a future Paragon. Perhaps we can build a friendship over a fine bottle.”
In the end the owner was a businessman. He managed one of the greatest hotel chains in the universe, and having a Paragon patron would provide stupendous benefits.
“The Intercontinental has enjoyed by business for quite a long time,” Lan Jue answered with a smile. “The rooms are wonderful, and you all have a great attention to detail. Even the starched sheets are perfect.”
The praise lit up the man’s face. “You are a man of impeccable class, I can tell. More and more it appears my bottle has found a new owner.”
The owner plucked a key from his coat pocket before turning away and walking to that ornate cabinet. Almost ceremoniously, he opened the lock and pulled out his prized wine. The bottle itself didn’t appear all that special – just a small bottle – but the cabinet it was stored it betrayed its worth. It was not just for show, but was very carefully climate controlled. Faint tendrils of condensation rose off of it as he pulled the bottle from its chilly home.
The owner led them personally to a table near the window. After motioning for them to sit, he produced a corkscrew [1. Interesting aside; the tool used by waiters that includes the corkscrew, fulcrum and label knife is called a hippocampal knife – named after the shape of the knife which looks like a seahorse (from the animal genus Hippocampus). Therefore, the Chinese have dubbed this a ‘Seahorse knife’. Hippocampus, by the way, is Greek for ‘horse monster of the sea’. Damn I love language.]. from another pocket and opened Lan Jue’s new purchase. He placed it on the table, and spread his hands as though to say, ‘enjoy.’
Lan Jue smiled. “Aren’t you going to have some with us?”
The owner shook his head. “I imagine this is a time you’d like to spend together, just the two of you.”
Lan Jue didn’t argue. He offered a thankful nod instead. The owner then left them to their drinks.
Qianlin, appearing a little anxious, looked around at their surroundings. She feared someone might recognize Lan Jue and cause unnecessary trouble. She didn’t want some stranger to destroy one of the few quiet moments they got together. Of course, cultivation didn’t count.
Lan Jue reached across the table and took up the bottle. He poured the contents in to the glasses, and immediate a sweet and fragrant aroma swirled between them. The refreshing scent filled them with a sense of rejuvenation.
“This is quite a rare treat. Chateau D’Yquem, giving a name in ancient China to evoke the memory image of liquid gold. It’s a French wine, from the Left Bank of the Bordeaux region. It’s among the best there was, even more of a prize than a Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. We are about to enjoy one of the best white wines ever produced. Really, only the German vintages by Egon Muller are better. Ready for a sip?”
Zhou Qianlin nodded, then took up the glass and gently brought it up to her nose. She was quickly surprised to find that she could no longer smell the sweetness from before. Now it was replaced by a heady grape scent that was very refreshing. Like the scent of spring, or of a young woman.
She took a sip, and the fine liquor slipped passed her lips like honey. That sweetness returned as the wine sloshed around her tongue, and for a moment Qianlin thought she could taste all the beautiful things in the world within it. A relaxing sensation spread out from within her. It was difficult to describe.
“This is a class of wine called ‘pouerriture noble’ – noble rot. All of the best white wines fall in to this category. If Champaign is the alcohol of choice for a good time, then this is what you open for a relaxing, sweet affair.” Lan Jue then took a sip of his own, and punctuated it with a heartfelt sigh of appreciation.
Qianlin was not one to often partake in alcohol, but this liquid gold was something else. It was like all the best things in the universe had been shoved in to a tiny bottle.
Lan Jue smiled at her. “Do you know what I said to the owner to convince us to let us have the bottle?”
“It wasn’t because of who you are?” She asked.
He shook his head. “Those types of people are quite stubborn. Anyway, he only learned who I was later. The only way to get what I wanted, was to make a good impression.”
Qianlin was curious. “So what did you say to him?”
Lan Jue laughed, and looked deeply in to her dazzling blue eyes. “I told him I wanted the sweetest thing in the universe to woo the sweetest girl I know. I had hoped that I could leverage this in to a chance at being her boyfriend.”
Zhou Qianlin, for a moment, was too stunned to speak. And then, “what girl is this then?”
Lan Jue’s face fell [2. Chinese internet lingo uses 囧 to describe a crestfallen feeling, simply because it looks like a lamenting face. It’s one of my favorite characters.]. “Who do you think?!”
She looked in to the depths of her wine glass. A far-away look invaded her eyes, but she shook her head to clear it and stared out of the window. “A bottle of wine may not be enough to convince her. How do you know she’ll even like it? One shouldn’t be so arrogant.”
She looked up at him, and he could see her choking back tears.
Since this trip, their relationship had become much closer, as to be expected when on had to kiss simply to cultivate. And, he still couldn’t get past the walls protecting her. Qianlin knew it, too, and knew that the specter of Hera would always haunt her bodyguard.
She had been waiting, day after day. Waiting for him to see her for her. Although they were indeed much closer, Qianlin had fought to keep her affections on the surface only. She had no confidence.
Their bodies had touched long ago in the way that a man and a woman’s does, but their hearts had yet to catch up. It was completely unexpected that on this seemingly normal night, he was seeking to change that.
It was too sudden, and she was not prepared. On the one hand her heart beat excitedly in her chest, but somewhere in there was uncertainty, too.
It was not easy! She took another sip to try and keep the tears in her eyes from falling. As she did, she noticed that he had yet to respond.
Almost unconsciously her eyes turned back to him. But, much to her surprise, he was nowhere to be seen. Only his half-empty glass remained as any trace that he’d been there at all.
He left? Was he angry?
She felt herself become flustered. She turned around looking for him, and gasped when she turned to find his face right beside hers.
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