“Isn’t this a social party for the upper echelons of society?” Ruan Zhu did not quite understand. How could these arrogant and wealthy nobility be able to endure having a courtesan also attend?
“He is a musician.” Yu Lian Hua was not stupid and could hear Ruan Zhu’s suspicions. She thought Ruan Zhu had insulted her heart’s idol thus coldly rebuked her. This was actually the first time she had the courage to do this sort of thing as ordinarily, she wouldn’t dare say anything that would contradict and offend this Goddess of Wealth.
What a groupie! Ruan Zhu smiled, her red lips slightly pursed. She held a cup of fruit wine in front of her for a small sip. But if in her past life someone had dared to speak badly of Keanu Reeves, she would also be like this.
Suddenly, a sound rang out and a woman of the ultimate beauty stood up for a few words. She should be the organizer of this party. “I am indebted to everyone for honoring me in attending this banquet. I have always heard that Mister Liu’s skill with the guqin is incomparable. I don’t know whether it is possible for our ears to be blessed with a song?”
“That woman is the prefectural magistrate’s wife.” Yu Lian Hua timely spoke up.
Ruan Zhu almost spit out the mouthful of wine she had sipped. She remembered that when she had returned from Yun manor with her husbands, the flower thief situation had caused the entire city to be in an uproar and multiple people were stuck outside the city walls underneath the scorching sun. She had heard that the flower thief had snuck into the prefectural magistrate’s bedroom when the latter had just prepared for a lovely evening, knocked him out, threw him under the bed, and then made love with his wife.
The flower thief was truly too daring, but since he had the courage to pick flowers everywhere, he must be more outstanding than others. How could he possibly be captured?
She sized up the prefectural magistrate’s Madam. Her figure was rather curvy, with shiny white skin, picturesque facial structure, fluid eyes that roamed around, possessing a very lovely and moving air. On her lower half, she wore a pale red long skirt embroidered with tree peonies and a light muslin jacket on her upper body. The collar was wide open, revealing a plunging neckline, and the men’s eyes all rather straightforwardly stared lustfully at her dewy cleavage.
She was indeed a stunner, an extraordinarily beautiful woman. No wonder the flower thief would prostrate himself under her pomegranate skirt. It also made sense why the prefectural magistrate would fly into such a rage after eating such a large vat of vinegar. Ruan Zhu moved her eyes away but saw that Liu Fei Xu actually sat beside the prefectural magistrate’s Madam.
Upon seeing a beautiful woman, it seemed this Mister Peacock would become deranged.
Lu Piao Xiang unhurriedly nodded his head, exposing a smile that could ruin a city: “If so, a humble performance will begin.” Towards the two women at his side: “Trouble these two personages to step aside for a bit. You will hinder my playing,”
The Madam of the prefectural magistrate glanced at the two of them and they left, embarrassed.
Lu Piao Xiang picked up a package from his side and carefully unwrapped it, revealing a simple and unadorned guqin. He unhurriedly placed the instrument horizontally on his lap as everyone watched with rapt attention. A short while later, his ten slender fingers gently stroked the strings, starting a beautiful tune.
The sound of the guqin was as soft as moonlight, creating a poetic and picturesque landscape as if one was in a dreamlike fantasy. A peaceful and empty mountain that had just encountered rain was still silent. Limpid and clear water babbled as it trickled down from cracks in the mountain stones, gradually gathering in the spring lake in the middle of the valley. Time traveled slowly, yet also sometimes traveled fast, and the clear sound of flowing water remained......
The sound of the guqin changed. Women returning home from doing laundry walked through a bamboo forest, their surroundings echoing with the sound of their laughter, slightly shaking the lotus seed heads. Underneath a wide lotus leaf, a fishing boat leisurely paddled. The sound of the guqin was as clear as flowing water. The fragrant spring flowers that caused one to gasp in admiration gradually faded away, and once again, the comforting autumn scenery in the mountains emerged, forever engraved in the people’s eyes.
All who were listening to the guqin had become frozen from shock. At this moment, all eyes were glued on Lu Piao Xiang’s body as they became enraptured with every note he plucked.
The song ended. The audience sat still for a long while as if their souls had been stolen.
Ruan Zhu sighed. In her childhood, her mother had forced her to learn the violin for a few days but compared with this person, it was as if she was blind.
Everyone had not yet had the time to vent their emotions when a servant came inside to report, saying there was a man from the opposite pleasure boat surnamed Yun looking for his wife.
Ruan Zhu was dazed. Yun Shi Yi had arrived! This was terrible, she had let him worry.
She stood up from her spot and apologizing to everyone, walked towards the doorway. Unexpectedly, she was halted by the prefectural magistrate’s Madam’s words: “This Madam is just silently leaving like so. Is it that my pleasure boat is worthless?”
“What would Madam prefer?” Ruan Zhu turned out and faintly smiled. Her expression remained calm and unruffled but she offered silent criticism in her heart: This great-aunt hasn’t stolen your family’s son, didn’t swindle your boyfriend, why the hell are you interested in me?
Liu Fei Xu lightly shook his fan, a perfect curve forming at the corner of his mouth: “Madam Yuan, Miss Qin is one of my invited guests. Please look upon this humble self and let me conduct myself with integrity.”
The prefectural magistrate’s Madam’s face was gloomy and she pursed her pink lips. Her amorous peach-plum appearance coquettishly laughed gently: “Today, all who have come to my pleasure boat are ones that are doubly talented. If this Madam has an ability that can let us be convinced of her talents, then she can freely leave. But if she doesn’t, it is a blasphemy on us and I am afraid she will have to kowtow in apology before she can leave.”
The last sentence was coldly spit out, not leaving the slightest room for the other party.
Ruan Zhu was stuck in a difficult position. Regarding talents, she had been pressured by her mother when she was still alive to learn a few skills. She could play ‘The Butterfly Lovers’[a] on the violin, but she feared if they were to hear her play, they would develop heart disease. Furthermore, violins didn’t exist in this era. As for dancing, she had studied it for a few years and had with great difficulty entered the sixth level. Unfortunately, this body that she had transmigrated into was too delicate. If she exerted too much strength, she’d probably strain her back. Calligraphy, she had also learned for a few years but had stopped after entering high school. But calligraphy wasn’t considered a talent in the ancient eras, right? And she also feared that her handwriting would be even worse than the children in this era.
Liu Fei Xu had originally wanted to say more to cover for her but stopped after hearing the prefectural magistrate’s Madam’s suggestion. He was also really curious as to what abilities and talents Ruan Zhu had. If they were average, he could persuade himself to discard the longing he had for her. Honestly speaking, he felt he had no sense of honor whenever he was with her.
Ruan Zhu’s bright eyes slightly trembled: “The song that Mister Lu just played was like running water between mountains, with the ability to cleanse and refresh others. From this scene that he created, I have composed a poem. Why not I recite it for these Madams and Misters to hear?”
The pretty mouth of the prefectural magistrate’s Madam was twisted in a sneer: “I hadn’t thought you actually had the talent of improvising poems. Although it’s rare, but it’s not like this skill doesn’t exist. I think I would like to hear it. If it manages to rhyme, I’ll let you leave. If it is a good poem that is hard to come by, I’ll send you off with one hundred taels of gold.”
Turning her head, she ordered servants to take out and place ten gold bars on the table. The glistening yellow gold bars were extremely eye catching, but who among the guests were not wealthy in their own right? Thus, the gold bars were not placed in anyone’s eyes.
“This here is ten gold bars, adding to one hundred taels of gold. If you have the ability, you can take them. If you don’t, you will kowtow in apology.” The prefectural magistrate’s Madam faintly sneered.
Lu Piao Xiang was also surprised. Someone had actually composed a poem based off of his playing? His clear eyes were full of curiosity and interest.
Ruan Zhu’s eyes were like water. Sweetly smiling, she opened her mouth, a distinct and soft voice resembling gems of wisdom falling onto the ground:
“Serene hills emerge fresh after the rain;
The Autumn night air turns cool once again.
The bright Moon shines in between the pine tree;
Over the rocks, the clear spring water runs free.
Sounds of home-coming wash-maids heard through bamboos;
Come fishing boats–the lotus, pushing through.
Let the Spring flowers wither and be gone–
For you, O my friend, may choose to stay on.”
Translation by Alan Ma and Frank Yue[b]
Finished, she softly turned around to leave without a single glance at the table on which the gold bars were laid. Her movements were relaxed and her lake-blue skirt drifted around her, making it seem as if she was floating away.
The gold. Ah, she really cherished and wanted it, but she couldn’t let others see that. In any case, if she relied on the knowledge in her head, then she would be able to earn even more than that one day in the future.
Yu Lian Hua saw that her pillar had left and thinking that there would be no meaning in staying, hastily chased after Ruan Zhu.
Apart from their receding footsteps, not a single sound could be heard in the pleasure boat’s cabin. But a while later, noise poured forth, resembling the same clamor that could be heard at an outdoor market. They continuously recited parts of the poem that the lady had just recited–one person saying one line, another saying the next line to complete it.
After a few minutes, a young man shouted out loudly: “I have transcribed it. You guys listen to see if it’s right? Serene hills emerge fresh after the rain; The Autumn night air turns cool once again. The bright Moon shines in between the pine tree; Over the rocks, the clear spring water runs free......“
Lu Piao Xiang silently mouthed one line after another, his clear and sonorous eyes flashing with emotion. He thought that the poem precisely captured the essence of his piece. In a split second, he felt as if he had met his kindred soul and his emotions bubbled forth.
“Madam Yuan, it seems that you’ll have to deliver these one hundred taels of gold to avoid others saying Madam goes back on her word.” Liu Fei Xu faintly said, the corner of his mouth was lifted in a way that resembled a sneer but was not quite one.
The prefectural magistrate’s wife declined to respond, her face a block of ice.
Ruan Zhu walked out of the pleasure boat, wiping at the sweat that had formed on her forehead. That ancient wife of the government official was too scary. She didn’t know when exactly she had stepped on the tail of her arrogance?
Several days earlier, she had been browsing through a history book and discovered that although Wang Wei was born before Tian Chu had been founded, he had been stabbed to death at twenty years of age after offending the then sixteen years old Great Ancestor, Xuanyuan Ming. This had occurred during the ninth year of the Kaiyuan era in the Tang dynasty, causing the majority of Wang Wei’s work, considered to be one of his generation’s best, to not exist. It was truly a pity, but her plagiarism could be considered as acting in the interests of expanding the literary developments of this country.
Ruan Zhu came to the bow of the ship and saw an upright and tall man underneath the sunlight. A light cyan paozi fluttered with the wind and a silk belt bound his jet-black hair on the top of his head. His skin was bronzed, his facial features were handsome and sharp like a knife. Such an imposing and impressive appearance–tall and striking–added to the steady and calm air his entire body radiated, like the temperament of a mountain.
One kind of paozi. It means ‘Chinese-style gown’ so there’s multiple versions over all these years.
She stepped onto the wooden board that connected the two boats. It had merely been just a while, but she threw herself at him and he spread open his arms to catch her, neatly wrapping her into his embrace.
“Did you have fun?”
Yun Shi Yi princess carried her into their rented pleasure boat. Closing the cabin door, he blocked the outside world from entering.
Seeing that no one had bothered to care about her, Yu Lian Hua pathetically called a small boat over to take her back to shore.
“Eldest Cousin, I seem to have offended the wife of the prefectural magistrate.”
Yun Shi Yi had placed Ruan Zhu on top of the finely embroidered bed. Thinking about what had just occurred, she couldn’t help but become anxious. That prefectural magistrate’s wife was truly too bored. She had just transmigrated not too long ago and had no relations with the other. No matter how she thought, this dislike was an unfathomable mystery.
“What happened?” Yun Shi Yi was absentminded. Every time he was alone with her, he would impulsively desire her. Thinking about how he would have to head south in a few days for work, he became even more reluctant to part from her.
Ruan Zhu spoke about all that had happened, even mentioning how she had previously met Liu Fei Xu, but omitted the part where she had been harassed. She frowned: “I really don’t comprehend. That government Madam doesn’t seem to have any defects and her mind and vigor is also normal. Why on earth would she make it difficult for me?”
Yun Shi Yi was intelligent and roughly understand about 80-90% of the reason after listening to all that she had said. He was pensive. Though giving his wife additional secondary husbands was a compulsory course of events, but if those concubines were not seen and vetted by him, and they took away all of her attention, what would be the meaning of continuing to live?
[a] 梁祝, short for 梁山伯与祝英台. A Chinese legend about a tragic love story of a pair of lovers that has been adapted into an orchestral version that features a solo violin and also into a version that uses traditional Chinese instruments. (Wikis on novel and orchestra version; YouTubes of standard orchestra with solo violin and traditional Chinese orchestra with solo erhu)
[b] 山居秋暝, Life in the Mountains on an Autumn Evening, written by 王維 (Wang Wei). Translation taken from (here).
Use arrow keys (or A / D) to PREV/NEXT chapter