里 | li | unit of measurement that has varied over time but has now been standardized to 500 meters (Wikipedia)
Wanting to leave Mao Er Town was also not that simple as all of the rations for the road must be completely prepared. During this chaotic and famine-riddled time when they cut off from their hometown, they must not starve to death if they entered the wild mountainous country that did not have any other people.
From their preparation in leaving Lan Zhou, Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing were experienced in knowing what goods to purchase for journeys. Starting from food, they bought rice; noodles; oil; salt; soy sauce; vinegar; tea; various small pastries; and quite a bit of dried fruit as fresh ones were not suitable to be stored. They also had someone deliver several bags of charcoal over as it could be used if they passed through areas without any people or areas where there were no trees to cut.
This southern province was the first one to plant cotton and its quality was much higher than the ones planted in the Central Plains. They even had reserves of several catties of cotton.
The original bedding Ruan Zhu used was padded rabbit fur, which was very pliable and warm. But ever since she became pregnant, she did not fare well against its smell. Over several nights, her two bedwarmers had made a new one and spread it in her carriage.
Making all of these preparations took up several days’ worth of time.
Their final day in town was the day of the large bazaar that Mao Er Town held once a month. Ever since coming to the southern border, Ruan Zhu had never gone. She had originally thought that because of the famine, the fair would also be relatively desolate, but who knew it would be completely bustling with activity. There were visitors from Tian Chu, Tu Bo, and Nan Ling and all of those merchants and tourists filled up the roads for several li.
Traveling merchants and pedestrians from various the countries walked along the street. Hawkers arranged their wares in booths that they set up along the road, shouting out as they introduced their merchandise. Horse feed; fur; leather; precious gems; melons; fruits; fragrant tea–All of the reputable goods of this era were practically here.
There was a surging crowd as far as the eye could see where people walked shoulder to shoulder. It was truly a bustling and lively sight to behold.
The local official was afraid that the refugees would cause trouble and had appointed quite a few officers to maintain order so that there was no need to worry about any safety or security issues.
Accompanied by Yun Shi Wei, Ruan Zhu had strolled through not even half the market and felt half-dead from exhaustion. If she had known walking through the bazaar would be this exhausting, she would have come in a carriage. Yun Shi Wei borrowed a stool from a soup dumpling vendor for her to sit and rest, while Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing walked forwards to continue purchasing goods for their trip.
“Spouse, how about I give you a ride back to the inn?”
Yun Shi Wei stood by her side, holding an umbrella over her head. This umbrella was not used to block the rain, but rather the sun. Since the start of summer, not one drop of rain had fallen.
“Wait for Nuan Chun and the others to come back before we all return.” She had been stifled from being in the inn these past few days and this was a rare day that she could come out.
In the fair, there were quite a few vendors that sold household goods or foodstuffs and business was flourishing as it was cheaper than in actual stores. Many of the Mao Er Town commoners that planned to take refuge in other parts of the country exchanged the items they could not take with them for foodstuffs, oil, salt, and other necessities.
Across from her was a slave market. A hundred men and women with yellow faces and emaciated bodies stood in several rows, a rope binding the right arm of every individual in long strands. They were divided into two groups, with adults in one group and children in the other. There were males and females, old and young. The oldest looked around forty years old while the youngest was probably only seven or eight. The general expression of the adults was stiff and dull while the children had frightened eyes, with some crying.
The clothes of the people being sold were all worn-out and tattered, and the exposed flesh was thin beyond recognition, evident that they had been starved for a long time. Row by row, they were pulled to stand on top of the platform that was half a person’s height, providing a selection for customers to choose from. If the appearance was good and the figure was sturdy, they were very likely to sell.
A woman with obvious fat rolls all over her face went up the stage, exposing a vulgar smile full of yellow teeth. She pushed the crowd of slaves aside in her search for men. Finding one she liked, she would stretch out a plump hand to grope him, even reaching inside the man’s pants. The scared men yelled in alarm and a few indignant males resisted her advances, only to be whipped by the boss, their flesh lacerated from punishment.
The obese Madam burst into loud laughter. Selecting a few tall and more elegant men, she pulled them to the side and pulled off their trousers. If they had large manhoods, she bought them.
In a famine year, the value of a person was not as high as a domestic animal. Ten robust men were not even worth fifty taels of silver.
The men that had been stripped all showed ashamed expressions, their faces as red as cooked shrimp, as they lowered their heads without a word and pulled up their pants.
Ruan Zhu saw the fat Madam’s vulgar actions, that were not limited to only extending her hands into the mens’ pants. She couldn’t help but to knit her graceful brows, her face full of disgust. No longer wanting to look, she stood up and was just about to urge Yun Shi Wei to leave when at that time, a handsome and out of the ordinary man was being pulled onto the stage.
The man was around twenty years old and unlike the others, both his arms were bound. His clothes were torn and rotten and also stained with blood but his facial features were still clear and distinctly handsome, his deep eyes pierced with a cold light. Although he cut quite a sorry figure, it could neither cover up his unique temperament of a crane in a flock of chicken[a] nor his imposing air.
It could be assumed that he was excessively outstanding as he was pushed out by the trafficker to stand alone on the stage. At the sight of him, the women that were originally watching just for the commotion became similar to as if they had found a precious stone within a mound of rubbish. Their eyes shined and exposed a drooling expression as one after the other, they walked over.
“I offer ten taels of silver to buy him.” The obese Madam that had previously bought some men yelled out.
“I’ll offer fifteen taels.” Very quickly, someone called out a price that outbid her.
“Twenty five taels.”
“Double, fifty taels.”
A whole group of lustful women fell over each other in their eagerness to raise the price, all entertaining lewd thoughts towards the handsome man in their hearts.
The boss was so happy his eyes were slits: “Fifty taels, fifty taels of silver. Is there anyone else that wants to offer a high price? Let me first declare that the goods of this merchandise is extremely large, and even more wonderful is that he is still a virgin. The gecko cinnabar mark on his arm is still there. Whichever family’s Madam buys him, I can assure you he can replace ten men.”
While the trafficker said this, he walked over to pull down the man’s pants. Humiliation flashed in the handsome man’s eyes and even though both his arms were bound, his legs were free, and an aggrieved leg kicked the proprietor flat on his back.
The boss was supported up with the help of his assistant and angrily collected the whip by his side before even standing up properly. But after thinking for a bit, he put it back down. If the man’s appearance was destroyed, he would have little value. Instead, he picked up a wooden stick and swung it violently at the handsome man’s back. Pa pa! The handsome man was beaten to where he coughed up several mouthfuls of blood and kneeled on the stage, physically unable to endure. But his brows were tightly locked and he stubbornly refused to let out a single sound.
Some of the women saw that the handsome man was strong-willed and were afraid that if they bought him, he would be hard to play with, and stopped their thoughts. Only the previous obese Madam shouted: “Stop hitting, if you damage his body this old lady no longer wants it.”
The boss stopped and threw away the stick. Pei! He spit at the handsome man.
The obese woman walked over and stroked the handsome man’s crotch through the material of his pants. She had some martial arts knowledge so though the handsome man struggled a few times, he could not throw her off. The obese woman had finished groping his crotch and giggled: “The goods are large enough, they’re the largest that this old lady has ever met in this lifetime. Not bad, haha......”
The handsome man’s complexion was ashen and his eyes were about to spit out fire.
Ruan Zhu had looked for a while and felt that this handsome man was familiar. He seemed to know martial arts, so she turned towards Yun Shi Wei: “The man on the stand seems to know martial arts and that kick towards the proprietor was quite impressive. How could he have been reduced to this condition where he’s being sold just like merchandise?”
Furthermore, his entire body radiated with a noble air, evident that his family background was not ordinary.
Yun Shi Wei had seen it all from the side: “That man has received a serious injury, causing his qi to leak. I’m positive the injury is not light. You see how his face is pale with a purple tinge? The color of his neck is also not normal and his lips are somewhat bluish-black. It’s very possible he has been poisoned, and it’s probably one that is highly toxic.”
He may be unable to answer other questions, but detailed knowledge about the military, martial arts, and other related subjects could spill out of his mouth without pause.
The more Ruan Zhu looked, the more she felt the handsome man was familiar and she couldn’t help but to approach the stand until there was around three to five meters between them. At this time, the handsome man lifted his head and inadvertently met her gaze. His eyes filled with confusion then suddenly shone and he loudly yelled: “Buy me, hurry and buy me.”
Is he talking to me? Ruan Zhu looked at him in surprise. This appearance–she immediately remembered this person that she had met two or three months ago when she had been taken out for a stroll by her husband, Yun Shi Yi. At that time, this handsome man and Lu Piao Xiang had gotten into a dispute in front of a restaurant. He had wanted to cripple Lu Piao Xiang but had been the target of assassination by a bunch of men in masks not even a few minutes later.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi, the current emperor’s youngest son, adopted by the Duke of Nan Ling to be his heir.
Ruan Zhu was struck dumb. This was indeed a person of the highest honor and noble rank. How had he been reduced to this situation where even a beggar was of higher status? Did he fail in the struggle for inheritance? Or did the emperor not want him anymore? Or, or did the Duke of Nan Ling turn his back on him?
“Buy me back.” The handsome man yelled again like a command, but there was a hint of pleading though it was not at all humble.
“Spouse, you know him?”
Ruan Zhu shook her head. She merely had seen him once and had not even exchanged a word with him. The reason why she was able to remember him was because his impression on that day had been so strong. But she hadn’t expected Xuanyuan Min Zhi to remember her. Wasn’t this man’s memory too good?
In the end, should she save him or not? If she saves him, she was afraid that someday in the future she would be embroiled in imperial matters. If she doesn’t save him, when this person has succeeded in the future, he would most assuredly come for revenge.
Yun Shi Wei curled his lip: “This fellow has been beaten so hard by the boss that his mind has broken by 80%. His mentality is abnormal. If we’re strangers, why tell us to buy him?”
The fat woman was still inspecting her goods, touching Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s abs for a while, pinching his buttocks.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s arms had both been bound where they were unable to move. His eyes swirled with fury. While she was caressing his Adam’s apple, he suddenly bit hard on that chubby finger.
The fat woman loudly wailed. By the time she was able to separate herself, half of her finger was gone.
Pei! Xuanyuan Min Zhi spit out the other half of the bloody finger.
The proprietor saw what happened and felt like his head was going to explode. The fat woman was definitely from a rich local family and he was just a very small businessman who couldn’t afford to provoke her. He was afraid that he would have to compensate with quite a few taels of silver but it was too late to think about that. Picking up the wooden stick on the ground, he aimed it at Xuanyuan Min Zhi......
“Sixty taels, I’ll buy this person.”
The wooden stick stopped in mid-air. The proprietor looked off the stage and saw that it was a beautiful young Madam dressed with great dignity. She looked sixteen at best, though her prudent temperament surpassed her age.
The trafficker had traveled extensively and seen all kinds of people and knew that the woman in front of him was not one who haggled over every ounce. He hastily plastered a smile on his face: “If Madam is able to pay sixty two taels, then that would be for the best, payment in one hand, merchandise in the other.”
“Give him sixty two taels.” Ruan Zhu tilted her head towards Yun Shi Wei.
“Spouse, you’ve already said you don’t know him, why should we spend this pointless expense?” Yun Shi Wei unwillingly said, while blinking his eyes. He admired the unyielding nature of the handsome man, therefore, he did not want to buy him even more, fearing his wife would treat the other more favorably. “Moreover, we still have to return to Lan Zhou. Taking him along is not convenient.”
“Do not forget you are merely a secondary husband, someone that does not at all have the privilege to question the wife. You still don’t hurry?” Ruan Zhu concentrated the full power of her stare at him, her clear and exquisite small face having a touch of dominance.
Yun Shi Wei shrunk his neck and unhappily walked over to the stand in large steps, taking out a silver banknote worth one hundred silver taels and handing it over.
The southern border was small and did not use silver banknotes that often. The proprietor respectfully took the proffered silver banknote and retrieved forty taels of silver while also handing Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s slave contract to Yun Shi Wei.[b]
Xuanyuan Min Zhi was now Ruan Zhu’s person and the ropes on his body were undone.
But she was only in charge of buying the person. The matter of the fat woman’s finger being bit off had nothing to do with her, just let the proprietor worry about that one!
Ruan Zhu really wanted to ask Xuanyuan Min Zhi, How did a majestic child of the imperial family such as you become this wretched? Thinking about it, she restrained herself. Since the other party has not spoken about it, there was no need for her to meddle and potentially irritate him.
They waited for a while at the original spot. Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing returned after they had finished their purchases. They had hired several laborers to carry the packages and followed behind them.
The group of people walked in the direction of the inn. Passing by a silk shop, Xuanyuan Min Zhi stopped, the arrogance of a noble Mister flaring up: “Halt. Buy up these few silk bolts. This prince wants new clothes.”
His clothes were both dirty and torn, and he had been unable to endure it from a long time ago.
Ruan Zhu glanced back, flabbergasted. Was this a command directed toward me? Buying silk was fine, but he should change to another tone, right! Was he under the impression that this was the emperor’s throne room or the imperial palace of Nan Ling? Am I your family’s servant?
She deliberately pretended to not have heard him and walked a few steps but could hear Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s indignant voice behind her:
“What is wrong with you, woman? Do you have a problem with your ears to not have heard this prince’s command?”
“Who permitted you to speak like this to my wife?” Yun Shi Wei glared at him and said towards Ruan Zhu: “Spouse, he seems to know you. Why does he call himself ‘this prince’?”
“He ah......” Ruan Zhu blinked her eyes. “He is the Prince of Mountains of his thatched house in an eastern mountain valley. If he doesn’t call himself ‘this prince’, should he call himself ‘manager’?”
“Turns out he’s a bandit. If you aren’t more honest, I’ll hand you over to the local authorities and have them sentence you to be beheaded after autumn comes.” Yun Shi Wei looked down on Xuanyuan Min Zhi.
“You......” Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s eyes were full of anger: “You dare to speak this way to this prince, you must be tired of living. Do you believe if this prince will execute your family to the third generation?”
“It is not against the law to kill a servant in Tian Chu.” Yun Shi Wei shouted. “I, your father, can let your head meet the ground this instant.”
“Second Cousin, stay by the side.” Ruan Zhu curbed Yun Shi Wei. She felt as if she had received a hot potato that she could not throw away but also did not know how to handle. With such a great ancestor by her side, it seemed like she was serving them and the other party believed it was but a matter of course. If the service did not conform to his expectations, she feared it really would be like what he said of executing three generations.
Ruan Zhu’s head was incomparably big but Heaven never bars one’s way, and in a blink of an eye, she saw a woman standing in front of a booth that sold cows and horses.[c] It was precisely their innkeeper’s wife. She was currently haggling with the seller and not long after, reached an agreed price and left satisfied, pulling a cow along.
“Aunt Sun, you came to the fair to buy a cow, ah?” Ruan Zhu went forward in greeting.
“Madam Yun, it’s you, ah. What a coincidence. This is the merchandise that you bought?” Aunt Sun greeted everyone with a smile. Seeing Xuanyuan Min Zhi, her eyes expressed her astonishment: “Oh, this little brother is well worth a second look. Is this Madam Yun’s newly bought attendant or bedwarmer?”
“Aunt Sun, seeing you say that, I already have two bedwarmers, what is the point of having so many of them? As a matter of fact, aren’t I returning to my old home, Lan Zhou? I’ve troubled Aunt Sun these past few months, my apologies for the inconvenience. Yesterday, I heard my family’s Shi Wei saying Auntie is also planning on leaving the town, and I’ve been thinking of sending something over. This morning, I heard you had come to the fair to buy a cow to pull a carriage so I thought, how about giving you a coachman? As a matter of fact, that is what I just bought from the fair, may Aunt look on this gift and find it satisfactory.”
Ruan Zhu saw the other party buying a cow, and guessed they might be planning on taking refuge outside.
“This......this is for me?” Aunt Sun was pleasantly surprised and looked Xuanyuan Min Zhi up and down, repeatedly shaking her head: “Ze ze[d], with this little brother’s appearance, it would be a pity to be a coachman. How about being a bedwarmer? Or being an attendant could also be quite refreshing.”
“In any case, it’s a gift for you. You can decide as you wish.”
Ruan Zhu smiled in courtesy, not caring that the involved person was fiercely glaring at her with a face full of fury. She pulled at Yun Shi Wei to depart and Nuan Chun, Nuan Qing hurried to follow.
At long last, she had been able to pass on the hot potato. She breathed a sigh of relief. This was a lesson that one could not be a good person.
[a] 鹤立鸡群, idiom meaning way above the common; manifestly superior
[b] Either the trafficker doesn’t know how to do math or he decided not to cheat RZ in the end, idk.
[c] 头大 lit. (to have a) big head, figuratively means to get a headache and/or one’s head is swimming | 天无绝人之路, idiom basically meaning never give up
[d] Onomatopoeia for tongue clicking
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