The other was a royal prince of Nan Ling and was also the blood-related son of the current emperor, he naturally has a lofty and arrogant disposition! Ruan Zhu thought this but did not speak.
Nuan Qing took out a bag of charcoal and poured some into the brazier before taking out flint and igniting a fire. One hand held a fan as he fanned the fire with tightly controlled movements and after a short moment, a very red fire burned brightly. He then searched for some red beans and wolfberries and simmered them in a pot, creating a very fragrant and thick soup. Ladling a bowl and carrying it over, he used a spoon to feed Ruan Zhu one mouthful at a time, while Nuan Chun, who had been mutually supporting Ruan Zhu and himself, used a handkerchief to carefully wipe at the corners of her soup-stained mouth.
Aunt Sun looked on with envy: “Your family’s two bedwarmers are really considerate, much better than my own. How about I use Blockhead to exchange for one of yours?”
Blockhead? Ruan Zhu looked at her in astonishment as she followed the others’ gaze. It turns out Blockhead was Xuanyuan Min Zhi. She felt it was a rather fitting description as that person truly resembled a block of stubborn wood that did not know how to associate with others and did not know how to return kindness for kindness. He had a temper of a spoiled young master.
Using my bedwarmer to exchange for your Blockhead, you could actually come up with this? If I didn’t suspect Xuanyuan Min Zhi of being such a hot potato, I wouldn’t have given him to you earlier. Wanting to send him back after fooling with him, that disgusts me. I’ve already made a mistake once, wouldn’t I be crazy to make the same mistake again?
Nuan Chun heard the the other wanting to exchange for him and sent a resentful glare towards Aunt Sun.
Nuan Qing was in the middle of feeding soup to Ruan Zhu. His hand holding the bowl trembled and a bit of the red bean and wolfberry soup spilled onto Aunt Sun’s skirt. The scalding soup caused her to open her mouth in pain, but fortunately, it had been ladled for a while now and did not cause any injuries.
Ruan Zhu berated him: “What is wrong with you, why haven’t you apologized to Aunt Shen yet?”
“Aiyo, Madam Sun, pardon me, please see it as this one not holding the bowl properly. Please do not take offense. How about I wash it for you later?”
“No......no need.” Aunt Sun knew she had provoked these two bedwarmers and awkwardly said: “In any case, this material is not very good, how could I trouble you? I can just have Blockhead wash it later.”
Again with ‘Blockhead.’ Ruan Zhu looked at Xuanyuan Min Zhi, full of sympathy. With a turn of her head, she saw Lu Piao Xiang also looking at the other in ridicule. That’s right, ah, they had previously been acquainted.
She remembered the armed confrontation that had occurred several months ago.
Lu Piao Xiang was in a very good mood and leisurely sat cross-legged on a cushion with his guqin horizontally across his lap. His fingers lightly strummed the strings. Xuanyuan Min Zhi was just a little over five meters in front of him, lighting a fire. The two men glanced at each other and moved their eyes away, as if they strangers.
Lu Piao Xiang felt Ruan Zhu’s gaze and returned a faint smile. His hands slowly moved and a soothing piece flew out from his fingers, adding a poetic touch to the rainy day.
Ruan Zhu looked at him, stunned. This was actually “Across the Water.”
She had only sung it once, yet he remembered and could also play it on the guqin. A great master was indeed a great master, able to let others respect them greatly.
The sound of the guqin floated in the air, like moving raindrops so limpid and pure. Listening to the sound caused most of their exhaustion to vanish.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi was still trying to start a fire. Every time he had just barely ignited the pot of charcoal, it would extinguish in the next instant and this sequence was repeated several times. Aunt Sun
A pot of charcoal had just barely ignited but then extinguished in the next instant. This was repeated several times. Aunt Sun criticized him with disgust: “Useless thing, go spread the bedding for Young Master. You are not needed here.”
“Scram, you thing that only knows how to eat. You’re as stupid as a pig.”
One of Aunt Shen’s secondary husbands took over the job of lighting the fire and drove Xuanyuan Min Zhi away. The latter had an indifferent expression, perhaps because he had become used to hearing these kinds of words during this period and had long become numb.
Ruan Zhu ate a bowl of porridge and let Nuan Qing give the rest to Aunt Sun to divide among her children,
The Sun household had over ten mouths with seven to eight children. The eldest was in their teens and the youngest was only a few years old, causing the inside of the temple to be chaotic and noisy.
The rainy weather made it somewhat cool. Nuan Qing found a fox fur cape and draped it over her. She stood up and indicated for him to support her in going outside. There were too many children here and the noise gave her a headache.
Standing at the doorway, what entered her eyes was an endless range of mountains and hills that only appeared as faint silhouettes in the drizzling rain and fog. The distant areas appeared indistinct and fuzzy, making one unable to make out where sky and mountains met.
Yun Shi Wei had already gone out hunting for a while. Nothing has happened to him, right?
Ruan Zhu’s head slightly ached and her mind was gloomy. The cool rain moistened her face while her thoughts wandered. What was her hubby Yun Shi Yi doing right now? The rebellion had blocked all the northern routes and he would have to take a detour if he wanted to return. Liu Zhou was classified as part of Nan Ling. He could either travel eastwards by a ship to take the water route or travel westwards through the country of Tu Bo and enter Han Zhong. No matter which path he chose, they were all very difficult. By the time they met again, their child would already have been born, right?
She really wanted to let him see the child being born and experience that happy moment, but could she wait? Her sorrow spread and her eyes were slightly moist.
An umbrella was placed over her head and the one holding it was Lu Piao Xiang. He was taller than her by a head and she had to tilt her head in order to see him. The man was simple and elegant as ever and his two clear eyes expressed his concern: “Be at ease, nothing will happen to him. I can guarantee you this.”
What did this mean?
She abruptly raised her head to look at him. Was he comforting her or did he have a card up his sleeve to be able to say these words? She thought about the dispute between him and Xuanyuan Min Zhi several months ago and the situation where a group of black-clothed men appeared.
Although Lu Piao Xiang was from a brothel, he secretly had some strength, right?
“I will not let anything happen to him. As long as you desire it, I will definitely accomplish it for you.”
She opened her mouth, wanting to ask him, but footsteps sounded from behind them along with the sound of iron chains sliding against the floor. The person had yet to arrive but one could feel an invisible pressure in the air.
“You even believe a courtesan’s words?”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s hands and feet were shackled and he walked with difficulty, yet his face was still as cold as ice and frost. His pale complexion was not normal with its bluish-green tinge, and she remembered that Yun Shi Wei had mentioned before that there was a highly toxic poison in this man’s body.
Pitiful child! She expressed her sympathy in her heart.
“At least I am free, able to go where I wish to go. Can you do that?” Lu Piao Xiang held the umbrella over Ruan Zhu and faced the front. Although he was speaking to Xuanyuan Min Zhi, not even the corner of his eyes swept towards his direction.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi choked as Lu Piao Xiang had hit his sore spot. It wasn’t that he did not have the opportunity to run away, but he had injuries all over his body and was afraid that he would starve to death not long after running away. By chance, a severe drought had also hit Tian Chu for the first time in several decades causing the average person to be unable to find food, let alone him, whose situation was currently not normal.
He had previously thought to ask the local authorities for help but he unfortunately didn’t have anything on him that could prove his identity.
Even if there was proof, what of it? He forced a bitter laugh. His brothers wanted him dead and he was afraid that requesting help from the authorities would be walking into a trap.
Ruan Zhu shot glances at the two men next to her.
Both men were rather conceited.
One was in a simple and elegant blue garment untainted with even a fleck of dust, his expression forever natural and indifferent, but she could see that there was a prideful heart underneath his exterior.
The other one was covered in crude hemp clothes patched in multiple areas but because of his tall stature, his air was rather good and it instead gave him a beautiful unruliness. His background was noble and he had acquired an aristocratic sons’ character that meant he still had an aloof expression despite his current dire straits.
They were both so lofty and also taller than her. She felt oppressed standing between the two of them so retreated a few steps from Lu Piao Xiang’s side. But the umbrella over her head was like an accompanying shadow, never leaving her.
There was a fox fur cape draped over her so it would be no problem if she was splattered by a few drops of rain. But the men by her side did not think that way and always placed her on the same level of rarity as the giant panda, protecting her until the end.
The noise from inside the temple traveled outwards. The noisy children laughed and played, as if they were fighting for something to amuse themselves with.
“Nuan Chun, return inside and help Nuan Qing. The Sun household has many children, do not let them meddle with our things.”
Ruan Zhu was a little obsessed with cleanliness and was unwilling to let strangers touch her things. If people that were unrelated to her wore her clothes, no matter how expensive the item was, she would no longer be fond of it.
During her college years, she had bought a chiffon skirt from the mall for over a 100 RMB[a] and one of her roommates had sneakily worn it out to a party with her boyfriend and stained it with a suspicious viscous fluid. She had become extremely furious after seeing it and would rather throw it in the trash than wear it.
Nuan Chun responded in agreement and walked back inside the temple.
Ruan Zhu looked towards the distant mountains, hoping to see Yun Shi Wei appear from somewhere. There were numerous jackals, wolves, tigers, and panthers[b] in the ancient mountains and she couldn’t help but to worry.
Not long after, a figure of a robust man came closer and closer from among the rain and fog. When they could clearly see, it was Yun Shi Wei with prey hoisted on his shoulder.
Yun Shi Wei also saw her and waved his hand, speeding up his pace.
“Spouse, I’ve hunted a deer and two pheasants. Later I’ll simmer some chicken soup for you.”
Yun Shi Wei threw the prey on the ground. Hunting pheasants was fine, but the so-called deer?
Ruan Zhu foolishly stared at it. En, the head resembled a horse, feet resembled a deer, neck resembled a camel, and tail resembled a donkey, but it was clearly not either of the four animals. She had seen an introduction on this animal in CCTV’s “Animal Planet” and it was an extremely treasured species–the elk. A Grade One State protected species, they only existed in China. In the 18th century, the wild population became extinct and in the movie 《The Burning of Imperial Palace》which Liu Xiao Qing starred in, only the emperor was qualified to eat its meat.[c]
“Do you like it? Spouse, this is elk. I’ve eaten it before and the taste is great. Using its blood to simmer the soup is best for supplementing your body.” Yun Shi Wei was cheerful. His clothes were dirty beyond words and there were several holes both in front and back, revealing his barley-toned skin. The degree of dirtiness was on the same level as refugees heading north.
But Ruan Zhu only thought that this time, his dirty self was cute and so dirty it made one comfortable.
“Take it a little further away and tidy it up. Don’t call for me to see as I can’t handle the smell of fresh blood currently. After all has been settled and cleaned, take it back and roast it. Once that’s done, leave the two hindquarters for me. I’ll eat them tomorrow in the carriage while we continue with our journey.” She thought for a moment. Elk was so precious, it would be a pity for it to be eaten by outsiders and there were over a dozen mouths in the Sun household. “Let’s also keep the two forelegs. We can slowly eat them tomorrow.”
The autumn was cool and refreshing and the weather at night was much lower. Fresh food would not be spoiled if stored for one or two days.
“Spouse.” Yun Shi Wei grinned and said: “If you like eating it, I can just hunt more for you. Even if elk are precious, it’s not like we can’t hunt them.”
Ruan Zhu glared at him: “So much nonsense. You should hurry and complete the work handed to you.”
Yun Shi Wei saw that his wife liked it and his heart constricted happily as he agreed with enthusiasm. He shot a glance at Lu Piao Xiang: “Guqin player, come over and help me skin the elk. Don’t think about eating without any work, this father will not wait upon you.”
Lu Piao Xiang handed the umbrella over to Ruan Zhu: “I will go help. If you feel tired, go back inside and lie down.”
Ruan Zhu watched the two of them walking away, her heart rueful. After transmigrating to the ancient era, she was even able to enjoy an emperor’s tastes. The elk of the future were all artificially reared so that even if she had eaten them, there wouldn’t be much meaning as it would have lost its layer of mystery.
“Isn’t it just an elk, for you to have never eaten it before, your maternal family must be extremely poor.”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s cool voice sounded from next to her ear and Ruan Zhu harshly gave him a glance. This person hadn’t learned his lesson and he deserved to be shackled by the iron chains.
“How did you recognize me?” Several months ago, she had gone for a stroll along the streets with her husband and had unexpectedly ran into Xuanyuan Min Zhi. They had never exchanged a single word yet, against all expectations, he remembered her? At the fair, he had opened his mouth and asked her to buy him and she actually did so. But he wielded the bad temper of a young master, and she, Ruan Zhu, had never accepted one such as this.
“This prince has a highly retentive memory. Even if it has been a while, there is still an impression of every person this prince has seen before.” Xuanyuan Min Zhi coldly hmphed and disdainfully continued: “You’re that courtesan’s favored patron, correct? Otherwise why would he use that sort of gaze to look at you?”
“What......favored patron, what sort of words are you speaking?!”
“Since you can do it, don’t pretend to be innocent. Which one of you women don’t cheat on their spouses?” Xuanyuan Min Zhi curled his lip, his entire face full of scorn. Lu Piao Xiang’s expression was different when he looked at her, which is why he had paid attention to this girl and demanded her to buy him at the fair. But she actually dared to resell him soon after! Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s fury rose up again: “To dare send this prince to and fro, you really have big dog guts. In the future when this prince has risen, I’ll send all of you one by one into the mountain mines to dig ores.”
Tian Chu’s iron smelting business was painstakingly difficult but nothing could surpass the back-breaking work of the workers that dug for stones. The ones that went there rarely survived and they were all basically criminals that had been given the death penalty and sent into the mountains. If there was a shortage in workers, human traffickers frequently deceived foreigners and transport them into the mountains one group at a time. Aristocratic families also periodically sent their enemies here. All the workers in the mountain suffered bitterly and the ones with weaker constitutions only ever lasted three to four months.
Ruan Zhu became irritated. It served him right to have such bad luck! Just now, she had been softhearted and wanted to help him a little. Fine, she’ll take it back. She coldly countered him: “You had better first take care of your current situation. Wanting to think about the future......Hmph, who knows if you’ll be able to survive til then?”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi required □ to make him understand that there was no advantage or meaning in being arrogant since he was currently out of the palace.
Ruan Zhu held onto the umbrella as she turned around and entered the temple, too lazy to continue speaking to the man, otherwise she would lose quite a few brain cells.
During the evening meal, they sat with the Sun household in a circle around the rather large elk that was only missing its four legs. Yun Shi Wei sliced off the most tender meat next to the spine and handed it to Ruan Zhu before cutting off another large chunk and devouring it ravenously.
Ruan Zhu ate the roasted meat while drinking the elk blood soup that Nuan Chun had boiled. This was the most fragrant meal she had had since leaving Mao Er Town, thus she ate a lot and was unable to sleep at night. Nuan Chun and Lu Piao Xiang accompanied her as they sat outside the temple, looking at the night view. Actually, there wasn’t really anything to look at. The rain was still falling and the forest echoed with rustling leaves.
Only after the children inside had all fallen asleep did she re-enter. The children were sometimes cute but also sometimes terrible. When she later has children, they must be carefully taught and disciplined. Lifting her eyes, she caught sight of Xuanyuan Min Zhi sitting in the corner with his eyes closed, meditating.
Thinking of the scene of their meal just now, she wasn’t sure why that pitiful man made others feel so vexed. Everyone was eating elk meat and drinking elk blood soup and only he was gnawing at dry rice dumplings.
However, she would not be kindhearted.
Nuan Chun dragged a cloth curtain across the room, separating their family from the Sun household.
Yun Shi Wei was already asleep. Even in this cool weather, his body was still nice and warm. She laid next to him and soon fell asleep.
In the darkness, only Lu Piao Xiang still had his eyes open. In this desolate country, he was not at ease and there must be someone keeping vigil.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi circulated his qi for an entire cycle and had forced down the poison in his body. He opened his eyes and coldly sneered at the other man that was similarly awake like him: “Courtesans also know how to play with feelings, huh. You contemptible thing, how could our Xuanyuan clan have a blood relationship with a degenerate like you?”
Lu Piao Xiang’s eyes were slightly dark, his desire for murder seemingly stirred. His fingers pressed on the guqin case and lightly strummed. The bottom of the case opened, exposing a simple and unadorned sword which he then gripped in his hand......
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