“I never knew you could use ink to paint like that.” Mina’s smile was open, honest, and wistful. “I wish I could catch my relatives on the page so well. Though most of them aren’t half so pretty.”
“Part of it’s the paper,” Nie Zonghui mused. “If we open regular trade we’re sending a papermaker up here. And people who can carve decent inkstones. It’s no wonder your kingdom never invented talismans. How could anyone learn to make them without the right tools?”
“Power you can store for later, when you need it. We could do so much with that.” Mina’s eyes were alight with possibilities. “Healing, Gifts in emergencies – we lose so many people in the Pelagirs because we don’t even know they’re missing until it’s too late! If they could send off a signal, so we could find them….”
And there was the fire that made him favor this young woman over all the others for young Huaisang. The Nie heir was determined to be publicly useless. Pushing him didn’t work. Shouting at him didn’t work; he was a Nie, like it or not, he could stand in a blast of fury all day and never wilt.
But put him with someone enthusiastic….
“You have that look again.”
Nie Zonghui shook himself. This was no time for daydreams. “Look?”
“You and Nie-gongzhi get the same look,” Mina nodded. “That weird Ashkevron portrait look.”
Ah. Wei Wuxian’s portrait. He still didn’t know if Huaisang had been wise to include the Yiling Patriarch’s picture amongst the other luminaries of the cultivation world, but their young students had been curious about the matchmakers’ ranking system for eligible young men and women. And Wei Wuxian had been ranked fourth among desirable young masters for excellent reasons. “Maiden Ashkevron, believe me, he’s no relative of yours.”
“How do you know?” And there was her impish humor; quieter than Huaisang’s, but just as deep. “He has the ‘runs off to Haven’ look. My relatives don’t talk about it, but I’ve studied the family tree. There’ve been centuries when some of us hit Haven and just kept going south out this gate. And never came back.”
What an eerie thought. And not one he wanted their current set of watchers to focus on, even if they should be too far to overhear. Nie Zonghui dropped his voice. “If he were a relative it wouldn’t be safe for you to say so, and I swear we will tell you more later.”