儿 | er | (lit. child) diminutive marker used as a form of endearment
The country of Tian Chu called the province a road. It was only a few short months but the number of Red Eyebrow troops at the southern border had reached four hundred thousand. They had broken through many cities and occupied each road of the southern border. Wherever they went, they raised their flag–wait for riches and equal farmland for all. The impoverished people received benefits and one after the other responded to the call, joining the ranks of the Red Eyebrow army. The land of the wealthy were divided and all of their foodstuffs and belongings were robbed clean while the people themselves were kicked to the streets from their lofty glazed-tile rooms, their clothes having been peeled off until almost nothing was left.
The conflict became more and more intense. The main forces of the uprising were heading towards the capital and the number of people fleeing north also increased with the rich bringing along their entire family and belongings as they moved. An endless stream of carriages moving along the roads towards the capital could be seen every day, along with hordes of refugees both young and old carrying iron pots and packages.
The Emperor urgently sent troops to the southern defense line and issued an imperial edict to recruit troops from all regions. Many commoners that had been affected by the disaster one after the other joined the ranks of this new army in order to fill their bellies.
As there was a famine and also the issue with the rebels, the amount of money the imperial court had spent was quite a bit, and the imperial treasury was exhausted. There were not many deposits left in the inner storehouses and there was no alternative but to pass down another imperial edict to have merchants and businessmen fork over their money.
When Ruan Zi Xu received this news, he took the lead and contributed one million taels not for anything else but to ensure their safety. Fortunately the Emperor was rather open-minded and the country of Tian Chu had never been like those past dynasties that kept a tight leash on merchants. Merchants donated money and the Emperor was happy to do them a favor–You earn your money and when I have an issue, you’ll help me resolve it; you’re good to me, I’m good, everybody’s good.
The emperor consulted with his court for many days and arrived at a verdict. It was imperative to preserve the corn that comes from Jiang Nan to be able to have a steady flow of foodstuffs to the capital. But Jiang Nan was far-flung and transportation was not something easily done. However, Lan Zhou was to the north of Jiang Nan. In the event the capital was not possible, they could move the capital to Lan Zhou if necessary. Not only did that city have an abundant logistic supply, they could also guarantee the safety of the items.
As the largest merchant in the country of Tian Chu, Ruan Zi Xu spent an exorbitant amount each year to bribe influential members of the court so his network was very wide. After he received this piece of information, he immediately sent competent subordinates to Lan Zhou to prepare things, such as buying real estate, shops, fields, and other things that would guarantee the moving of their entire family in the future.
The rebellion continued and life also continued.
On this day, a luxurious carriage came to a stop in front of the Ruan clan’s residence and a gorgeously-dressed middle aged couple came out claiming to be Mister Lu’s parents who have come to visit their son.
The guard on duty led the two into the gatehouse to rest and took the proffered calling card as they went inside to announce. Not long after, Ruan Zi Xu came over to greet them and led the way into the drawing room of the main building. The distinguished guests and host sat down in their respective seats and a small servant boy soon served up fragrant tea.
Ruan Zi Xu sent someone to inform Lu Piao Xiang, who was currently staying in Zhen Xia Pavilion, saying the Lu parents were currently here.
Master Lu and Madam Lu’s appearances were proper and their bearing were within the societal norms. They lived in the capital and had opened a very prosperous high-end restaurant and had a residence with seven compounds. Although they fell far short of the Ruan clan’s wealth, they could also be regarded as a rich family.
After a while, Madam Ruan received news, to please invite Lu Piao Xiang’s mother for a meal in the inner courtyard.
Lu Piao Xiang entered the drawing room. Seeing him, Master Lu hastily stood up.
Lu Piao Xiang faintly smiled as he bowed in greeting. The older man’s expression was a little frantic and was about to bow in return but with a glance from Lu Piao Xiang, he foolishly paused and then promptly straightened up.
“Pa, please sit. This child will present tea to you.”
Lu Piao Xiang smilingly picked up the steaming fragrant tea on the table and handed it over. Master Lu was just about to stand up but trembled under the others’ meaningful glance and hurriedly sat down and received the offered cup but did not dare drink.
“Fifth......fifth high......” Master Lu was a little tongue-tied.
“Pa, if you old one has something to say, just say it. Uncle Ruan is a very good person, don’t be nervous.”
Lu Piao Xiang’s attitude was easygoing and there was a smile in his eyes, but only Master Lu could sense the threatening implication in his words. Indeed, he was not used to such a courteous Lu Piao Xiang. The sight was even more painful to bear than if he had been caned. He straightened his frenetic emotions and cleared his throat: “I received your letter in the capital, saying that you have become close with the Eldest Miss of the Ruan clan and wanted to take their family’s daughter as your wife?”
Lu Piao Xiang gave an authentic laugh: “Pa has thought wrong. This child does not want to take their family’s daughter as a wife, I want to enter the Yun clan and become the Eldest Yun Lady’s secondary husband.”
Master Lu was dumbfounded and only found his voice after a moment had passed: “How......How could that be possible?”
“How could that not be possible?”
Lu Piao Xiang was still smiling but his eyes held a trace of ice. Others could not sense this but the distance between him and Master Lu was small, scaring the latter so that his heart trembled and he quickly said: “Of course. Yes, of course.”
“Pa has given his consent?”
“Consent......consent to what?” Master Lu stared blankly at him.
“Naturally of this son’s marriage and entering the Yun clan as a concubine. Pa won’t oppose it, right?” Lu Piao Xiang slowly reminded him.
“No, of course not, heh heh, I won’t oppose it.” Master Lu laughed as he responded but only he knew that he was basically crying.
The marriage was decided just like this?
Ruan Zi Xu somewhat did not believe it. He had thought it would be very troublesome as after all, Mister Lu was not an ordinary person and his family’s qualifications were also like that. He could very easily take a young lady of equal status as his wife and safeguard the grand position of the principal husband.
Master Lu really doted on his son too much! If his son said one, it would be one, and the father would basically not dare to say two! Ruan Zi Xu shook his head. But in regards to his eldest daughter’s marriage, this was a good thing. Except, even in his dreams, he would have never expected that these parents of Lu Piao Xiang were fake, and it would be a very long time before he would know the truth of the matter. By that time, the raw rice would long have been cooked and his little grandchild would be old enough to buy soy sauce.
During the period when the two Lu parents were visiting their residence, Ruan Zhu was reclining on the bed, wasting time by giving the child in her belly some math problems and reciting the multiplication tables from one to nine quite a few times. Pregnant women were all very lazy. Besides eating, they only knew how to sleep. However, compared to the women of this era, Ruan Zhu had an advantage that was precisely prenatal education.
Her kind of prenatal education was different. The majority of women read aloud poems to their unborn children while she would recite the ancient verses that she had memorized in her past life once and then take out this era’s huqin[a] and play the same songs that she would do on the violin. If she felt too bored, she could also play ‘The Butterfly Lovers’ for her child to listen.
Today while she was still prattling on about math, Nuan Chun walked inside, saying Mister Lu’s parents had arrived from the capital to their residence and Madam Lu was currently in the inner courtyard chatting with our family’s Madam, asking Miss to please go over and meet them.
Ruan Zhu was a little surprised and a little nervous. Up til now, she didn’t quite believe the matter of Mister Lu wanting to become her secondary husband.
The husband was not at home and the wife gave him a large and bright green hat to wear. No matter how she thought of this situation, it was rather comical, yet everyone thought it was as it should be and there was nothing wrong with it.
She sat in front of the bronze mirror to dress up. But to be honest, no matter how a pregnant woman adorned herself, it wouldn’t be of much use. Her eyes were swollen, hands and feet were swollen, waist......ai, let’s just not talk about her waist, the entire world knew about it anyway.
Wearing a water-blue cloud brocade qixiong ruqun and adding a little rouge, she walked out of Furong Garden with an arctic fox fur cloak lined with silver satin over her shoulders.
齐胸襦裙 | Qixiong ruqun
Currently, winter had already began. Her courtyard was called Furong Garden but inside, there was not even half a flower. Only the corners were still as green as before with the few xiangfei bamboo adding a touch of warmth to the bleak winter landscape.
Yun Shi Wei was not in the room. Not long after arriving in Yu Zhou, he had made a few friends and practically went out with them every day to hunt or walk dogs or such.
Ruan Zhu arrived at Jin Se Tang with Nuan Chun lending an arm in support. In the main seat sat her mother from the same bloodline and next to her was a middle-aged woman with an amiable expression. Her appearance was proper and seemed to not resemble Lu Piao Xiang but their personalities seemed to differ by more than a single degree. However, a good temperament was something nurtured by the future and had nothing to do with what was innate.
Were the aristocracy born with power?
There were also many cases of children being college students while their parents were farmers.
Let’s just not confuse ourselves with this question of whether they were similar!
Nuan Chun removed Ruan Zhu’s fox fur coat and she bowed in greeting to Madam Ruan: “Greetings to Mother, Zhu Zhu pays her respects.”
“Zhu’er, this is Madam Lu, Lu Piao Xiang’s mother, who has just arrived from the capital.”
“Greetings to Madam Lu!” Because their relationship had not been ascertained, she only bowed in respect.
However, even if their relationship was defined, Lu Piao Xiang was a concubine. A secondary husband’s parents were not considered relatives, much less in-laws.
Madam Lu seemed to be even more nervous than her and had stood up.
“Miss Ruan does not need to be polite. My family’s fifth......that......My family’s child has already written a letter explaining everything. Miss Ruan is very beautiful, bright as ice and snow, multi-talented, a rare good lady in our country of Tian Chu. To be able to take you as a daughter-in-law, cough......No, for our child to be able to enter your Yun clan as a secondary husband is the good fortune cultivated from a previous life.”
The status of a secondary husband was very low. Families that were more concerned and picky were all unwilling for their son to be a secondary husband as they didn’t have any honor and their children had to follow the principal husband’s surname. Only when they had settled down outside and established themselves could they regain their ancestor’s family name and pray to their own family’s forebears and have the qualifications to enter their own family’s ancestral hall.
“Zhu’er, don’t always stand, quickly sit by Mother’s side. Mei Yue, pull the brazier a little to this side to warm up Eldest Miss’s body.”
“It is all right Mother, I am not cold.” Ruan Zhu sat by Madam Ruan’s side, feeling slightly gratified in her heart. Even though this nominal mother usually conducted herself in a biased manner, in the end she was still her own flesh and blood. She couldn’t receive the best but the treatment also wasn’t necessarily the worst.
Madam Ruan right away saw that the marriage was promising and was very happy that her daughter was accepting such a man as a concubine. It was rare for others to receive such a wealthy and noble man as those families would only send their sons over if they made some demands and benefited.
But that did not in the least imply that secondary husbands could freeload. He could live in the principal husband’s home but all of his food and drink expenses must come from his own family. If he didn’t bring that much with him, that was easy to deal with, he could just go out and earn it. Not only would he have to earn enough for his share, he would also have to earn enough for his children and his wife, otherwise they would not have enough to eat or enough to drink, and them being evicted onto the streets would not be considered a wrong.
The matter of Ruan Zhu accepting a secondary husband had been decided and the wedding was very simple. Ruan Zi Xu had wanted to use his influence to arrange it but was blocked by Lu Piao Xiang. The reason, that was only known to him, was that he was afraid someone would recognize him. Thus, the grand wedding ceremony did not come to be. There was only a meal shared by the families and some fireworks to commemorate the occasion.
Picking an auspicious day, Ruan Zhu followed Lu Piao Xiang in paying respect to the flower altar before entering the bridal room. Until her veil was lifted, she felt as if she was in a dream. So far, she had three husbands, but this was the first time in her life that she had worn bridal clothes and also her first time being a bride.
“What are you thinking of, Wife?” Lu Piao Xiang hugged her from the back. To him, the unclothed Ruan Zhu was the most beautiful and his eyes were filled with deep affection. Reaching out to undo the final restraint on her body, his hands stroked upwards.
“I currently cannot do that thing.” She hung her head, her face reddening.
“Relax, I just want to hold you closely and won’t hurt you.”
He placed her hand on his groin. Separated by a layer of silk, a very thin chain pressed painfully against her hand. It was actually a chastity belt.
He also raised his firm arm to show off a dark red dot. She touched it with her finger. Was it a birthmark? What did he show this to her for?
“This is the gecko cinnabar dot that I have particularly guarded for my partner for twenty one years.”
She looked at him in astonishment. He was a mister of a brothel in Lan Zhou. Leaving aside how he had been schemed into entering, he presumably must have terribly suffered to preserve his undefiled state, right?
“How were you framed into entering the red district and how did you manage to even remain intact?” He was the son of a wealthy and prosperous family. To be set up into entering that place, it must be an odd story, right?
“How should I say this, hmm?” Lu Piao Xiang’s eyes flashed as he deliberated for a moment before he slowly opened his mouth: “My older brother from another father is jealous of and resents me and is afraid that I will steal his spotlight. Because my mother’s principal husband does not have a blood-related son, it is inevitable that an heir will be chosen from among us bastards. Our family is also strange as the principal husband and wife are not like other families where men from different families can become secondary husbands. The old ancestors wanted to ensure the pure bloodline of the heirs so the wife could only pick secondary husbands from the brothers of the principal husband. En, it’s precisely a certain stupid woman that married somebody causing that man’s brothers to have to become that stupid woman’s concubines, numbering five in total and outsiders have no qualifications at all to enter. Saying it like that, you understand it now, right?”
Ruan Zhu nodded her head. Just like how she had married the Yun brothers at one time, she had married two brothers while Lu Piao Xiang’s mother had married five brothers.
“If only the principal husband had a son, then all would be well. It is that he doesn’t have one that things became complicated. The secondary husbands have multiple sons and in order to have even the tiniest bit of advantages, they’re willing to fight for the sake of their own interests until they become irreconcilable adversaries with no one willing to yield to the others. Among those, I, hmm, just so happen to be the one that excels the most and the one that has most entered the principal husband’s eyes. That one brother of mine became jealous of me. Perhaps at that time he was still small, hmm, and the way he did things was not as malicious as now, in the future. When I was seven years old, on some moonless night when the wind was strong, that older brother of mine colluded with several servant boys and fed me a sedative, trussed me up tightly and that night sent me to the pal......cough, sent me out the family gates and threw me into the mouth of an alley where a broker lived. I passed through numerous people before being sold to Lan Zhou’s biggest Mei Qing Lou.”
Ruan Zhu quietly listened. Even though Lu Piao Xiang said this all this lightly, her heart found it hard to take and the corners of her eyes became moist.
Lu Piao Xiang laughed and used a finger to wipe away her tears: “It’s already been so long that I can no longer remember it clearly.”
He faintly smiled but there was a trace of sadness in his eyes. The Heavens knew how terrified he had felt when he had been kidnapped. In the carriage, he had been stuck in a group of children that were on their way to being peddled and couldn’t even eat. Unable to endure the extreme hunger, he had no choice but to undo the deer leather belt around his waist and slowly chew on it.
During the first few years after he had been sold to Mei Qing Lou, he had been forced to learn all kinds of skills. If there was the slightest wrong, beatings; scoldings; withholding food, were all frequent events. One after the other, he tolerated all of these things. He had a gift for music since he was a child and the first time he played the guqin in front of others was when he was fourteen. Afterwards, his reputation quickly spread.
Fortunately, courtesans and prostitutes were different. Courtesans were not like prostitutes who sold their bodies; what courtesans sold was their skill. He had continuously retained his virgin status but if there was a patron that staked a thousand pieces of gold on one throw[b], the money-grubbing brothel keeper would, under those circumstances, also force courtesans to take the plunge and fish for gold.
It wasn’t like those situations did not exist but he cleverly avoided them all. All along, he stealthily mapped out an escape and spent a fortune to have someone bring back a secret martial arts book. He secretly practiced martial arts and the year he turned sixteen, he threw a sum of silver he had earned from playing the guqin at the brothel keeper and left Mei Qing Lou, never to return.
As he had been a courtesan, he shouldered the reputation of a courtesan even though he had left the brothel, but Lu Piao Xiang’s splendid reputation as the number one of Lan Zhou’s Four Great Misters spread.
He did not care for the world’s glory, splendor, wealth, and rank or the power of a monarch–all were not placed in his eyes. He simply wanted to be an unrestricted person without any responsibilities that could leave his footprints all over the world with a guqin under his hands.
The past was like a tide and incessantly flashed in his mind, but the person by his side was not well-behaved: “What are you doing?”
“I want to give you an unforgettable bridal night.”
She was undressing him and didn’t expect his outer appearance to be as refined as a lotus. His figure was extraordinarily sturdy and his six-pack was like solid bricks. His skin was smooth to the touch and its color was closer to white but nevertheless was of a healthy luster.
“Don’t be willful, your present body can’t.”
Under the touches of the pair of small, soft and smooth hands, a ** sort of limp feeling emerged in his body–very hard to bear but also very thrilling. The thing at his crotch was growing and was painfully restricted by the metal sheath. He had never experienced this sort of sensation before and his face was a rosy red.
She lowered her head and kissed his chest, not forgetting to fiddle with his two red plums. Using her lips to suck on one, her tongue playfully licked it......After a while, she spit it out and used two fingers to pinch it while she lowered her head again to lick the other one, sometimes nipping, sometimes using the tip of her tongue to tease him.
“En.......don’t be like this......hurts......I can’t take it.” He clenched his teeth and groaned as his body uncontrollably trembled. The metal sheath on his lower half wanted his life. His root that had continued to grow was being ruthlessly crushed and the pain went so far as to pierce through him.
“Give me the key.” She suddenly talked but her lips did not leave him. She trailed kisses down his chest. Finding a gap between the chains on his lower half, her tongue ventured forth and tasted the skin inside.
He swiftly found a small and delicate key from inside his pocket and handed it over. She took it, inserted it into the keyhole and undid the metal restriction around his crotch, allowing the thing between his legs grow at a speed visible to the naked eye.
Lu Piao Xing was shocked. He hadn’t thought his little brother could grow to be this big. Being fondled by that pair of small hands that slowly tormented him, it unexpectedly grew a little more and in an instant, a blazing inferno ignited in his underbelly and set his entire body on fire. He painfully bent his body but the sensation of her skin was also incomparably satisfying. He couldn’t help but to straighten his buttocks and push them forward, making his shaft in her hands move in her direction. The more it throbbed, the more pain he felt, the more happy he felt, the more excited he felt–his entire body shivered with an unspeakable pleasure.
“Nnnn......” He cried out, his blazing eyes glued to her exquisite chest as her two full peaks shook along with her movements. He watched until his throat became dry and then extended his hands to hold them, lightly kneading. Countless currents flew from up top and throbbed in his body, arousing him further and rippling within him, just like how the notes when he played the guqin melodiously undulated inside him.
He thought he was going to die within those two small hands, but who would have imagined that what let him desire death and desire life would be her small mouth. The hot and moist sensation attacked him and his rationality ceased to exist. With wide eyes, he looked at that beautiful head of cloud-like hair underneath him. Unconsciously, his hands encircled her and he aimed at her open small mouth and slowly thrust forward.
He discovered his body was becoming hotter and hotter, scalding hot.
Her mouth gave him an enormous sense of fullness. No, she wasn’t only using her mouth. Her hands had also stretched behind his buttocks and were fondling between his legs. In a split second, the fire inside his body blazed even hotter and surged even higher.
His body had never been teased like this by another person. It turned out this sort of feeling was actually the joy of this secular world.
He hurriedly sucked in air as he was afraid he would suffocate and die, his body on the verge of collapse.
In his brain, countless lights gathered, their movements chaotic. Those lights gradually formed into a sphere. He stared with wide eyes when suddenly, the lights flared and become blindingly bright.
“Ahhh......!” He roared as the dense passion accumulating inside him for twenty-one years was finally released. His entire body violently twitched. He felt as if he was suddenly flying, and it was a fantastic sort of high.
Gigantic waves crashed down on him and he felt fierce pleasure. His body seemed to not be his own and his entire frame was soaked with sweat. Only until his reason had returned did he discover that his released enthusiasm was all over her face.
He wiped her clean with the towel that had long been prepared and placed on the side table.
“You silly little girl, you truly have the ability to torment someone to death.” He lightly smiled. His entire body was relaxed and the corners of his eyes curved from happiness born from the bottom of his heart. He lowly sighed: “So this kind of sensation could be this wonderful.”
“If you enjoyed it, I can do it again for you tomorrow morning. After all, I can’t let your wedding night be dry and tedious, right?”
Lu Piao Xiang picked her up and sat her down on top of his legs so that her back was against him. He hugged her and his hands temporarily rested on top of her chest: “You are so good to me, I will also send you the most beautiful gift.”
“What kind of gift?” Gold, silver, pearls, and precious stones were all good, but she didn’t particularly love them. If it was possible, she wanted Yun Shi Yi to return. She would not forget the words he spoke–No matter how many secondary husbands you have in the future, I request to forever be your number one.
“Yun Shi Yi has almost returned.”
“Ah!” She abruptly turned her head, her eyes wider than brass bells.
“I have said it before, I will not let anything happen to him. As long as you desire it, I will accomplish it for you.”
[a] 胡琴 Huqin is a family of Chinese two-stringed fiddles. The erhu belongs to this family.
[b] 一掷千金, idiom meaning to throw away money recklessly; extravagant
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