里 | li | unit of measurement that has varied over time but has now been standardized to 500 meters (Wikipedia)
“Since you have such a moral backbone, follow me into the woods.” Lu Piao Xiang stood up and shot a frosty glance at Xuanyuan Min Zhi. His toes lightly pressed against the ground and then his figure suddenly disappeared as he headed straight outside the temple.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi also stood up but he could not be like Lu Piao Xiang and use qinggong. If by chance his qi was disrupted, the toxin that had been so extremely difficult to suppress would wreak havoc again and his life may be over. Instead, he slowly walked through the temple entrance and into the forest.
Lu Piao Xiang waited for a long time, a hand on his hips, a sword in his other. His attitude was relaxed and he slanted a glance at the approaching figure, faintly saying: “Considering you are injured, you can first draw your sword. I would like to avoid others mocking me as a bully taking advantage of the weak.”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi shook his shackles and lifted his head, slowly drawling: “I don’t have a sword.”
“Where is your Zhan Lu?”
“Not on me.”
“My mistake. You have already fallen into such a condition, how could Zhan Lu still be at your side?” Lu Piao Xiang used a cynical gaze to look at him, “If you do not have a sword, then what did you follow me into the woods for? Has your life been too difficult lately that you are impatient to live and would like to commit suicide, specifically looking for me to end it for you as you lack the courage? Let me declare this in advance. I, Lu Piao Xiang, do not kill useless people nor cowards under my sword. If you have a reason for why you must die, there is no harm in saying it. Perhaps in my temporarily softhearted state, I may give you some rope to hang yourself with.”
“Courtesans are indeed courtesans, all words filled with obscenities.” Xuanyuan Min Zhi curled his lip. His two eyes were similar to an abyss, not revealing his emotions.
“Me being a courtesan, isn’t that something I have to thank you for bestowing?” Lu Piao Xiang’s clear eyes had a trace of ice but his voice was as insipid as ever: “Say, if I took you as a disciple, wouldn’t that be good? I can give you a stage name of ‘White Peony, the Peerless Talent’ and send you to the Mei Qing Lou on the shores of Lan River as their number one courtesan. Based on your ability and talent, those patrons would absolutely rush like ducks and not long after, your name would spread far and wide and you would become one of this generation’s most famous courtesans on the shores of Lan River.”
“You really are despicable.” Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s face changed color and he clenched his fists, the sound of his clinking iron chains ringing throughout the forest.
“Since you know that, why provoke me?”
With a wave of Lu Piao Xiang’s wrist, the long sword was aimed at Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s throat. The blade of the sword was sharp, able to shear off even the finest of hairs. This was Qing Hong, a sword worn by the famous general Xiahou En of the Three Kingdoms and had been seized by Zhao Yun during the Battle of Changban and then later entered the imperial palace of Tian Chu.[a]
But when had it been in this guy’s possession? Xuanyuan Min Zhi did not even spare a glance at the blade held against his throat as he looked at the man holding the sword without a change in his expression: “I think you should not be so dispirited. As a guqin player, how large of a future can you possibly have?”
Lu Piao Xiang squinted at him and indifferently smiled: “Why do I not feel as if I am dispirited? As a guqin player, I do not steal nor fight, can making a living off of my own abilities and am able to fulfill my desires in all things. I can leave footprints all over and can be somewhat free and unfettered, happy and cheerful. Of course, you officials with only money in your thoughts would not understand these things, including what happiness is. All of you live for power and privilege.”
“But without power, one can only live like a dog with a lowly status. I previously did not quite understand, to the extent that I was defeated. But now I completely understand.” Xuanyuan Min Zhi spread out the iron shackles on both his hands, his expression helpless. “If you are willing to help me, when I control all of Nan Ling one day, I definitely will not treat you unfairly.”
“You looked for the wrong person.” Lu Piao Xiang sheathed his sword and started walking towards the mountain temple outside of the woods. “Our relationship is not that good that I can disregard our past enmity and assist you.”
“You fool, I’m giving you glory, splendor, wealth, and rank; yet you don’t want any of it?” Xuanyuan Min Zhi suddenly bellowed in rage.
If I wanted a high position and great wealth, it would all be easily obtained if I opened my mouth. Do I still need to use Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s charity? But what use was glory, splendor, wealth, and rank, to me? What on earth do I need that much wealth for, how much of it could I use?
Lu Piao Xiang’s mind flashed with the figure of Ruan Zhu and his heart momentarily softened. Under the Heavens, he only wanted her!
Early the next morning, Ruan Zhu discussed with everyone about returning to her maternal family in Yu Zhou. She was really unable to endure the bumpiness of the long journey. Every day when getting on and off the carriage, she felt as if her bones were going to fall apart. If they continued onward, she wasn’t sure if her life would still be intact.
Yun Shi Wei saw that on this long journey, his wife had difficulty eating properly and also slept less, causing her to become much more wan and sallow than before. He was afraid something would happen to her so he said she could make the decision and he would listen......
Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing were extremely happy at hearing they were returning home.
Lu Piao Xiang was indifferent. In any case, wherever she went, he would follow. He would not leave even if he was driven away.
Following that, they continued as a group together with the Sun household. When they exited the mountains, they came across a fertile plain stretching a thousand li. The disaster was not as severe as at the southern border as it’s been said that rain fell here a few times after summer started. Crops were moisturized and this autumn’s harvest was fine.
As they went further north, the number of refugees rapidly increased. The majority of them were heading to the capital but there were also some that had grown tired of walking and no longer wanted to continue, thus they stopped in various cities and sought to earn their living. But under these circumstances, there were many monks and not much gruel[b] so grain prices rose once again and because foodstuffs were always not enough, the matter of people starving to death occurred again.
Rong Chen was at the mountain range that separated Yu Zhou and Lan Zhou. If one headed to the left, they would arrive in Yu Zhou; heading to the right would place them in Lan Zhou. Because she was going to alter the route here, Ruan Zhu let Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing place quite a few notices at the city entrance and close to several large inns to inform Yun Shi Yi that she had gone to Yu Zhou. Communication in the ancient era was inconvenient so posting announcements to seek relatives or other people was the commonly used method. This sort of information relay system was hard for civilized modern society to comprehend.
The Sun household was dragged down by their large family. With over a dozen mouths to feed, their matters were not few. Even with just a meal, they demanded small advantages. They had only accompanied each other as a group for two days but all of the dried fruit that Ruan Zhu had brought from Mao Er Town had been completely wiped clean by them. As for all the other snacks, whenever they were bought on the road, they would be gone the next instant.
Because there were many refugees headed north, the inns in Rong Chen were filled to capacity. Lu Piao Xiang rode a horse and searched for a long time before finding an extremely dilapidated inn in a hard to find alley. In any case, it was much better than the mountain temple and everyone checked in.
Several men worked together to bring their items to their rented rooms. Bedding, cups, pots, and other utensils and so on, were all replaced into their own brand new ones.
Ruan Zhu was so exhausted that her bones feel as if they would separate. They had barely tidied up when she fell onto the bed and refused to move. Being pregnant was indeed difficult, and especially with how fatigued she became with all the traveling, it was hardship added with even more hardship. She closed her eyes and fell asleep as Nuan Chun washed her feet.
Nuan Chun saw that his master had fallen asleep and carefully moved her to a more comfortable position on the bed before covering her with the blanket.
Ruan Zhu did not sleep very soundly. She kept feeling as if she was still on the carriage, swaying with each movement as they traveled on the road. An indeterminate amount of time later, she heard the sound of people talking:
“Quickly put it down. Our family’s Miss has not eaten yet, you cannot take it.”
“I wanna eat, I wanna eat. Quickly give it to me, if not I’ll beat you to death.”
“What is wrong with you, child, spoiled to where you are undisciplined and out of control?”
Ruan Zhu was forced awake by the noise and saw a chubby girl around seven or eight years old by the table, kicking and hitting at Nuan Qing as she fought to snatch the food on the table. Ruan Zhu couldn’t help but to frown and got up from the bed. Nuan Chun saw this and hurriedly came over to support her. The chubby girl took that chance to sweep the entirety of the food on the table into her lapel and ran out of the room.
It was too late for Nuan Chun to pursue her, and he was so angry his face became ashen and curses poured out: “A small animal without an education. It’s not like these are your family’s things for you to come in and snatch them. No sense of rules or conduct at all. I wonder how your family usually teaches their children for you to resemble a bandit?”
Ruan Zhu understood the situation now and thought, Sun family’s daughter has come to snatch food again. These past two days, this had frequently occurred. Every time they had bought a snack, she hadn’t even had the time to eat a bite when the children of the Sun household had fought and eaten it all. She criticized Nuan Chun: “These few snacks are of little value so if they’ve snatched it, then they’ve snatched it. What is this drivel about no education or being like a bandit?”
“I am just angry. Mister Lu saw that Miss was not feeling well and especially went out to a few streets and visited quite a few stores to buy sweet steamed yogurt; osmanthus pudding; chestnut cake; fortune cake; plum blossom sweet cakes; Seven Skills pastry; blossom fortune cake; over ten little snacks.[c] Miss had not even had the time to have a mouthful but entirely let that small glutton take it all. How could I let this be? She really is a good-for-nothing. Other families teach their children to be good yet their Sun family teaches them to be bandits.”
糖蒸酥酪 | Sweet steamed yogurt
桂花糖蒸 | Osmanthus pudding
栗粉糕 | Chestnut cake
如意糕 | Fortune cake
梅花香饼 | Plum blossom sweet cake
七巧点心 | Seven Skills pastry
花开富贵 | Blossom fortune cake
“Whether other people’s children are bandits or not, what does that have to do with you? Who needs you to worry about that? If others were to hear an adult male like you cursing a child, they would think it is us without any education and if all of the Yun family’s servants dare to be this presumptuous, how domineering must their master be? Say, where would my face have gone?”
“Miss, aren’t I just angry?” Nuan Chun was embarrassed.
At this time, a knock sounded at the door and Nuan Chun went to open it. Lu Piao Xiang walked inside holding a very large oiled paper bag and set it on top of the table. Upon opening it, all sorts of fruits and pastries were revealed, in a spread that was much more luxurious than before.
“I guessed that the little gluttonous cat of the Sun household would come snatch them which is why I did not take all of them out. Nuan Chun, there is no need for you to be angry. In any case, your master cannot finish them all, so you should also have some. There’s more than enough that your share would not diminish the pile.”
Lu Piao Xiang stopped his teasing and the Nuan Chun that just previously had been filled with fury, smiled: “Actually, I am not a stingy person. It’s just that I saw the Sun family’s greedy goblin and lost my head in anger. She is just spoiled beyond ruin and is also a treasured daughter. Our Miss at that age was so clever and behaved, also friendly and courteous that all who met her were full of nothing but praises.”
He and Nuan Qing had been sent to Miss at the age of twelve by their Miss’s mother. At that time, Miss was seven years old. It could be said that they had watched her grow up and there were numerous profound memories.
“Oh? Go on.” Lu Piao Xiang’s interest was piqued and he hinted for Nuan Chun to continue.
Nuan Chun was about to speak but was interrupted by Ruan Zhu, “Nuan Chun, you are a man, right?” Ruan Zhu propped up her chin with a hand, scrutinizing him. “Why do I feel you’re becoming more and more like a woman. Have you done too much needlework to become overly sensitive? So long-winded that your mouth doesn’t close the entire day. For your future growth and maturity, how about you drive the cart tomorrow? You should also do more physical labor.”
“Miss!” Nuan Chun was sullen. Being the coachman was pretty much being given the cold shoulder. How could he bear it? “This slave has never driven a cart before and is worried that when the time comes, Miss will be thrown off.”
“That’s fine. You can drive your carriage, you don’t need to worry about mine.”
Men should have a bit of a man’s quality. All day holing in their room, becoming someone that was not a male nor a female, she would have a headache just looking at them.
“Whatcha guys doing?” There was a sound at the door and Yun Shi Wei walked in and made his presence known: “Who permitted all of you to gather in my wife’s room? All of you leave for this father. Spouse, I had a shop simmer a bowl of herbal chicken soup to supplement your body. You should drink it while it’s still hot!”
“Nuan Chun!” While the door had not yet fully closed, Ruan Zhu increased the volume of her voice: “Go tell Aunt Sun that I am not feeling well and will stay at this inn for a few more days. If they are in a hurry, they can first depart and do not need to wait for us.”
“Yes!” Nuan Chun straightforwardly responded.
Yun Shi Wei closed the door: “Spouse, if you’re not feeling well, how about I go invite a physician?”
“I’m not. I was just looking for an excuse to part ways with the Sun family. If we continue to let them cause a racket like this, not only will they eat until I’m poor, but they will also drive me insane.”
Ruan Zhu finished the herbal chicken soup under Yun Shi Wei’s care. Ordinarily, she would not be willing to drink such a strong soup but could only force herself for the sake of the child in her belly.
Changing into pajamas, she was about to lie down when Aunt Sun pushed the door open while holding a few buns.
“Aiyo, this girl, if you don’t eat properly when pregnant, then that’s one thing, but how could you give all of those delicious pastries to our family’s daughter? She’s only a little child, how could she eat that much?”
Aunt Sun was just at this standard. She knew what kind of conduct her own child had but still unconditionally stood by her side and spoke those words.
Covering up for others was not a bad thing, but excessive protection will only harm the child.
Ruan Zhu stroked her belly and vowed in her mind, No matter how many children she had, she must teach them how to properly conduct themselves to not let others find them irritating. “Aunt is joking, children eating and drinking is a good thing. Growing up strong and healthy and never falling ill will let us adults be at ease–that is a good thing. This bit of food is not worth the money.”
“Little Sister has spoken the words from my heart. It’s just that my family’s girl is a little too chubby, but that’s a healthy weight. Haha, Little Sister, earlier when I was eating, I asked for a few more buns from the manager. It’s mincemeat and very delicious.”
Aunt Sun placed the buns on top of the table and saw that it was piled with all sorts of fruits and pastries. Her eyes flashed with envy. She had opened an inn in Mao Er Town and had a bit more money than others, but compared with the Yun family, it was truly the difference between heaven and earth. The price of grain remained high and snacks were a luxury to her pitiful child, thus she had had no choice but to come over and rob their food.
She would not admit that her child stealing others’ food was bad conduct. Since the other couldn’t finish it all, they ought to share some of it with them. There was nothing wrong with that.
Those few buns were without even a packaging and were directly placed on the table. Furthermore, there were even dark fingerprints on the dough. Ruan Zhu saw this and inwardly shook her head. She did not care in the slightest about how delicious it was but sanitation was a necessity.
“Aunt Sun, Nuan Chun should have roughly told you our situation earlier. My body is not quite well so we will stay in Rong Chen for another ten days to half a month so I can nurse my body. We cannot accompany you on this trip any longer and I ask for your forgiveness.”
“I had just heard all this from Nuan Chun. It really is a pity, we haven’t spent enough time with you yet.”
I’m sorry, I’ve spent enough time with you. Ruan Zhu silently disagreed.
“Little Sister, about Blockhead, Aunt wants to discuss this with you.”
Blockhead? Oh right, Xuanyuan Min Zhi!
“Originally, I had wanted to take Blockhead as a bedwarmer and have him serve me and I was willing to even promote him into a secondary husband. Perhaps that guy’s brain has problems. Ai......What secondary husband, what bedwarmer, I dare not think these thoughts any longer. Little Sister should just take him back, yes? You don’t know how much that guy can eat. If this continues on, who will be able to take it? Our Sun family has somehow not yet been eaten to destitute levels by him.”
“Aunt Sun, since it is something that I, Ruan Zhu, have given, how could I take it back? Wouldn’t this be hitting my own face?”
Ruan Zhu’s meaning was very obvious. Once given, no returns. She hasn’t forgotten that the guy was a hot potato.
There was nothing Aunt Sun could do about it and she left after chattering for a little while longer.
The Sun family did not dare to stay an extra day in Rong Chen. The daily cost of staying in an inn was enough to make them unable to bear it and they deaded for Yu Zhou early the next day.
Ruan Zhu rested in Rong Chen for two days. On the morning of the third day, their carriages headed for her maternal family in Yu Zhou, and after another four days, they finally arrived at the city of Yu Zhou.
[a] 青虹 Qing Hong (also called Qing Gang) is one of Cao Cao’s (leader of the Wei) two legendary swords. In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, this sword was entrusted to夏侯恩 Xiahou En, one of Cao Cao’s generals. 赵云 Zhao Yun was a famous general under Liu Bei (leader of the Shu). 长阪坡 Battle of Changban was Cao Cao vs Liu Bei, that ended in a victory for Cao Cao and an evacuation for Liu Bei.
[b] 僧多粥少, idiom meaning not enough to go around; demand exceeds supply
[c] I tried my hardest with these names lol. Seven Skills pastry is named after the Qixi Festival (‘Evening of Sevens’), aka Qiqiao Festival (‘Beseeching Skills’). Blossom fortune is actually a traditional auspicious pattern in Chinese history that symbolizes a happy and rich life.
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