儿 | er | (lit. child) diminutive marker used as a form of endearment
This Ruan Ju was only thirteen years old and stirrings of amorous feelings were already starting to sprout. Ruan Zhu turned it over in her mind: It was common for an ancient maiden to marry at the age of twelve or thirteen, but to steal glances at a man this obviously and it was also towards a man that could very possibly become her brother-in-law, what exactly was this silly girl thinking of?
Ruan Ju stealthily continued to stare at Lu Piao Xiang for a while and then came over to salute the Ruan couple. She had always been scared of Ruan Zi Xu but hated leaving the mother that had raised her that was opposite him and walked over to pull at her arm: “Mother, earlier I heard the servants that Elder Sister had brought back say that Mister Lu plays the guqin very well. In any case, we don’t have anything to do right now, so how about we let him play a tune that will put everyone in a cheerful mood?”
“Impudent.” Ruan Zi Xu’s face sank. He could see that Lu Piao Xiang’s bearing was beyond what was normal and that he was certainly not a child of an ordinary household. How could he be treated like an entertainer?
“Father, what did daughter say wrong?” Having said that, Ruan Ju turned towards Madam Ruan with a face full of grievances. Didn’t Mister Lu only have a secondary husband’s status and weren’t those concubines of Mother’s always being bossed around? She was also the Third Miss of the Ruan clan, how could she not even have the privilege to prompt him to play the guqin?
“Ju’er, be good and sit by the side. Mother has prepared a few dolls for you in the room, and later your concubine-father will send them to you.” Madam Ruan straightened Ruan Ju’s lapel and pushed her towards the seat beside her.
Ruan Zhu watched the spectacle with her large eyes, feeling Madam Ruan also had a side of her that was affectionate toward children, but it simply depended on who it was. Turning her gaze away, she saw Ruan Yu tightly clutching her belt. Because her fingers were using too much force, they had turned white and blue.
All children in each household were divided into ones that were pampered and ones that weren’t! Ruan Zhu inwardly sighed and placed her hand on top of Ruan Ju’s, patting it in comfort. Ruan Ju flipped her hand over and gripped it, the two sisters silently transmitting solace to each other.
But Lu Piao Xiang had the intention of entering the Ruan clan, thus he instructed a small child to fetch his guqin from his room. After a moment, the guqin arrived and he played a song in front of everyone. By the time the song ended, it was as if everyone in the room had been drunk from the melody.
Of course, except for those that did not understand music, such as Yun Shi Wei, who yawned. Annoyed, Ruan Zhu pinched his armpit. She really applauded that he could become sleepy in this situation.
Yun Shi Wei jumped up from pain, simultaneously swinging his arm and complaining: “Spouse, why do you pinch in all sorts of places, a pinch here really hurts.”
His actions caused the entire room to laugh. He didn’t care; on the contrary, Ruan Zhu was rather embarrassed.
“It’s not early, everyone can disperse!” Ruan Zi Xu waved his arm and said towards Ruan Zhu: “You must be exhausted after so many days on the road. I’ve had people tidy up your Furong Garden[a] again, you can just take Shi Wei with you and retire for the night!”
The secondary husbands and their sons and daughters walked over to salute and say ‘good night’ and one after the other left Jin Se Hall. Lu Piao Xiang also took his leave.
Yet Ruan Yu pulled at Ruan Zhu’s sleeve, her expression one of not wanting to leave: “Papa, I want to sleep together with Eldest Sister tonight.”
“Another day, all right? Your Eldest Sister has just returned home and is very tired. Her health is also very important right now and cannot look after you.” Ruan Zi Xu saw there were not many people left in the room and indicated for Yun Shi Wei to leave first before saying to Ruan Zhu: “I see that Shi Wei is one that does not know how to look after someone, how about having Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing sleep in your room tonight?”
“Pa, how could you also manage this aspect? I am not used to that many people in the room.”
In this era, before girls were married, they were arranged bedwarmers that usually looked after their daily meals, and in necessary times, could also accompany them in bed. But families tended to pay particular attention to etiquette and ceremony due to the honor they had to give to the bridegroom’s family and for the most part, were not willing for their daughters to have sexual relations with servants before marriage. Thus, bedwarmers were required to wear chastity belts. But after they’ve left the maternal home, there was no need for those things as bedwarmers were precisely the tools for a warm bed.[b]
“Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing have been with you for so long now. How is it you are married with a principal husband yet are not accustomed to them?” Ruan Zi Xu wrinkled his brows, “The number of men by your side is too few. I see that Mister Lu is not bad. He understands the situation, is tactful, and is also very considerate towards others. As your father, let me accept him on your behalf, all right? If he is there to take care of you, this father feels very reassured.”
Were the fathers of Tian Chu all like this or was Ruan Zi Xu just an unusual individual? Why did he even have to manage how many bed companions his child had? Ruan Zhu awkwardly responded: “Mister Lu has not yet agreed. Moreover, how could his parents be willing to let their son become a secondary husband? You oldie shouldn’t do things based on your wishful thinking.”
Ruan Zi Xu nodded his head: “It seems finding a matchmaker would still be best.”
Ruan Zhu was startled: “It’s too early, I am only fifteen years old and am not anxious in accepting more secondary husbands.”
“Does Eldest Sister not like Mister Lu?” Right at that moment, Ruan Ju had walked to the entrance but had turned back around after hearing those words. A pair of large eyes spun as they stared at her: “If Eldest Sister does not like Mister Lu, how about giving him to me?”
Ruan Zhu stared blankly at her. The other person, Lu Piao Xiang, was not merchandise, how could she give him away as she pleased? Though she wasn’t clear about Lu Piao Xiang’s history, it could be inferred from the other’s consistent behavior that he must have an unusual family background. Giving him to others, she did not have that right or power.
“That, I’m afraid is out of the question.” Ruan Zhu insipidly refused.
Faced with Ruan Zhu’s cold rejection, anger ignited in Ruan Ju’s eyes and she shouted: “How about I exchange two of the bedwarmers by my side? They know how to dance and know how to sing little songs and are also very good at looking after others. You’ll definitely like them.”
There were several pretty boys kept in Ruan Ju’s courtyard. Able to dance and sing, they usually made a racket until the middle of the night. Now and then, she even dressed them up as girls and made a game of beautifying them. Madam Ruan had closed an eye to this and believed it was a harmless child’s game.
“My apologies, I cannot agree to that.” Ruan Zhu still declined.
“Why are you so fickle and stubborn?!” Ruan Ju’s expression changed.
I am fickle and stubborn? From where did these words come from! Ruan Zhu almost burst out laughing. This person could truly invert black and white.
Ruan Zi Xu impatiently looked at this spoiled concubine-born daughter. If she fancied something, she would believe it was surely hers and demand for it as if it was something that should be hers by rights, going so far as to not consider the other party’s feelings. This time, she actually had placed her sights on her eldest sister’s secondary husband!
He really wanted to see what sort of reasoning she could come up with, so he silently sat down on a taishi chair on the side and sipped his tea. What a pity his wife had left to relieve herself and could not see what sort of virtues her always proud daughter had.
Ruan Yu nearly blew her top and she coldly addressed Ruan Ju: “I’ve never met someone like you who does not know what shame and humiliation is. I have to go ask Second concubine-Father how exactly he teaches his children. Being absurd in your own courtyard every day is whatever but this time you’ve actually placed your crooked way of thinking on Eldest Sister’s secondary husband. Why bother not respecting your own self and make a fool of yourself for no reason? I think today Third Sister has no need to return to your own courtyard, just stay in Ju Se Hall and carefully listen to Father’s teachings and rules to better understand what is called propriety, justice, integrity, and honor.”
Ruan Ju was so angry her face had undergone great changes. Second Sister frequently liked to taunt her with her concubine-born status and those words put her on the spot. Lifting her eyes, she saw that her mother was not in the room and there was only Father sitting while drinking tea. Because she was not his blood-related daughter and they were separated by blood, she didn’t dare to be too presumptuous and only aggrievedly said a phrase: “Papa, look at her......”
Ruan Zi Xu loathed her to where words were unable to describe and indifferently said: “Return and make a hundred copies of the Diamond Sutra. Hand them to me in three days time.”
Ruan Ju was stunned silly and then screamed: “I’m going to find Mother, Mother won’t treat me like this. All of you are bullies!”
Ruan Zi Xu heavily placed his teacup down and looked at her coldly: “Remember, you must personally copy it. Others must not write on your behalf.”
Ruan Ju immediately burst into tears. Adding to her originally remarkable appearance, all who saw her would inevitably feel pity. But the Ruan family members turned a blind eye to her. Ruan Zi Xu acted as though she was not present and drank his tea; Ruan Yu looked at her with her entire face filled with ridicule.
At this time, Madam Ruan walked inside. Catching sight of her little daughter reduced to a shadow from grievances, her heart desperately ached. Once she had pulled her into her embrace, she pointed her finger at the few people in the room and let them have it: “You all took advantage of my absence to group up and bully Ju’er. A father and two sisters, which one of you is not bigger than Ju’er? How could you not be afraid to be made into jokes by the servants?!”
Ruan Ju continued to wail: “Ma, Papa wanted me to copy the Diamond Sutra and do it one hundred times.”
Madam Ruan cried out: “What happened? Husband Lord, Ruan Ju, this small child, does not understand things. Even if she spoke wrongly or did something wrong, there is no need to punish her with copying the Diamond Sutra a hundred times! Is your heart that hateful?”
“Why do you not ask what she said?” Ruan Zi Xu sneered: “The children of my Ruan family are not ones that do not know how to conduct themselves, simply not ones that do not know what the so-called ‘propriety’ is.”
“What did you say?” Madam Ruan felt the matter was very serious, otherwise her Husband Lord would not be angry to this extent.
Ruan Ju lowered her head, concealing the hatred in her eyes: “I only said to have Eldest Sister give me Mister Lu. I didn’t ask her to do that with nothing in return, I said I would use two of my bedwarmers in exchange.”
After she said that, she didn’t hear a response from Madam Ruan for a long time. Lifting her head, she saw her mother sighing: “If there is nothing else, you can return. Remember to copy the Diamond Sutra one hundred times.”
“Ma!” Ruan Ju screamed.
Madam Ruan beckoned to the little servant boy by her side: “Mei Yue, send Third Miss back. The weather at night has become oddly cool so don’t forget to give her another cloak.”
Ruan Ju saw her Mother’s grave attitude and could only pout in response.
Ruan Zhu’s and Ruan Yu’s parents’ moods were not good and the two sisters also left after giving their greetings.
Embarrassed, Madam Ruan gave an apologetic smile towards her gloomy Husband Lord: “Ju’er was outrageous, blame me for not teaching her well. You also know it’s not easy to manage such a large family and there’s also so many matters regarding the children.”
Ruan Zi Xu coldly smiled: “No matter what crime a person commits, be it murder or robbery, the imperial court will all punish them according to the law. Yet you are actually backwards. Today, poison; tomorrow, stealing a secondary husband. You are fully aware of the entire situation but you still indulge them, causing my Zhu’er to follow suit and suffer the consequences?”
“The matter of wrongly accusing Zhu’er was my fault, I admit. Didn’t I later also get to the bottom of it?”
“What about the mastermind, hmm? What did you do to him, did you punish him for his crime or did you cane him?”
The mastermind was the secondary husband Wei Rong, who had been born with a seductive appearance that could steal others’ souls and was even more beautiful than some women to a degree. Although he was over thirty years of age, his sexy appeal had somewhat been changed to a mature charm that always hooked onto Madam Ruan’s soul.
Madam Ruan flushed with humiliation: “I......Didn’t I stop going to his courtyard for a long time after?”
Madam Ruan had this good side of her–as long as it was wrong, she would change. But good side aside, even after changing it was still possible to repeat the same crime.
“Madam.” A small servant boy came in to report. He glanced at Master Ruan before stammering towards Madam Ruan: “A message has come from Second Master Wei’s side, asking if Madam would like to retire for the night in his place.”
“I understand, you can first withdraw!”
Madam Ruan dispatched the small servant boy and looked at Ruan Zi Xu, hesitating. She had provoked her Husband Lord into anger and leaving like this seemed unreasonable.
Ruan Zi Xu coldly sneered: “That side has already sent word over. Why don’t you quickly go over otherwise you’ll make the other one anxious to death.”
Him saying this made Madam Ruan even more embarrassed to leave. She retorted back furiously: “I’ll go where I please, who needs you to control this?”
Ruan Zi Xu was happy inside, knowing his indirect psychological attack had worked. Walking forward, he picked her up horizontally and walked towards the inner rooms......
Ruan Zhu arrived at Furong Garden where Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing had already asked people to prepare bath water. They knew their master did not like for them to serve her in this matter, but they were worried her large belly would make it inconvenient for her so they requested Yun Shi Wei, who was still in the courtyard practicing martial arts, to go inside and assist her.
Regarding this task, Yun Shi Wei was naturally up for it. Slipping out of his clothes, he jumped into the tub and caressed his wife’s oh so soft body, his heart sweeter than honey.
The author has something to say: The word count is a little lacking but I’m tired today so will make it up tomorrow.
[a] For anyone wondering, this is the same Furong 芙蓉 as the furong buns first mentioned in Chapter 3. This time, the meaning of her courtyard should be more of the Confederate rose.
[b] This last line has two meanings. 1) used to warm up the bed beforehand so that it’s nice and cozy when their master finally gets in bed, 2) sexual relationships between servant and master
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