辰 | chen | one of the ancient Chinese two-hour periods; designated for 7-9 am
时辰 | sichen | time system comprising of 12 two-hour periods of the day; one sichen is the equivalent of two modern hours
尺 | chi | a Chinese foot, about one-third of a meter
Ruan Zhu originally had the habit of lazing around in bed, and after becoming pregnant, she became even more unwilling to get up before the sun’s rays were gleaming brightly in the sky. The matter of paying respects to her mother was also naturally excused. No matter how partial Madam Ruan was, her treatment of her own daughter would of course not be like how a mother-in-law treats her daughter-in-law.
Master Ruan placed great importance on this grandchild of his that would soon enter the world and instructed the kitchen to send fresh supplements every day.
Unlike her last life, Ruan Zhu did not have to wake up early to go to class and also did not have to work herself to death during the holidays. In such a cold winter, who would be willing to get up that early? Nowadays, she was heavily pregnant and had even more reasons to dawdle in bed. When half of the time of chen had passed, meaning it was a little over eight o’clock, Lu Piao Xiang supported his wife up and fed her a bowl of pigeon soup and two meat-filled soup dumplings. She afterwards pushed him away, and falling onto the bed, burrowed inside the quilts and went back to sleep again.
Lu Piao Xiang helplessly shook his head: “Just sleep a little more then!” He called for Nuan Chun to enter to tidy the room while he himself picked up a book to read in front of the bed.
While reading, he kept stealing glances at the bed; the corner of his mouth exposing a smile when he recalled last night’s affair. As he was thinking, his body unexpectedly reacted. Wrinkling his brows, he could only seriously concentrate on his book to not think about those sexual matters and after a while, the swelling at his crotch disappeared.
While Ruan Zhu was sleeping again, another half of a sichen passed. In the courtyard, Yun Shi Wei practiced two rounds of boxing, one set of rod techniques and then ran to the back garden to stroll in a large circle. Seeing that all the plum blossoms had bloomed, he broke off a few branches and handed them to Nuan Chun when he returned back to the room for the latter to keep them in a vase.
“Why is she still sleeping? It’s so late, how can she handle it. Sleeping so much, won’t she become ill?”
“How would I know?” Lu Piao Xiang bitterly smiled and put down the book in his hand. A few days earlier, Ruan Zi Xu had instructed for them to take his daughter out to the courtyard for some air every day, saying for them to make her walk more so that the childbirth would be easier.
But Ruan Zhu did not cooperate, causing them to always be reprimanded by her father and not daring to talk back.
Yun Shi Wei had muttered behind Ruan Zi Xu’s back: “It’s not like you don’t know what kind of conduct your daughter has. Always venting your anger on us, I have called you father-in-law in vain.”
Not only were these words heard by those gossip-loving servants, they also spread to Ruan Zi Xu. Absolutely disgraceful! What was wrong with his daughter? His daughter was so clever and so gentle yet he dared to slander her? This kid, Uncle will not be polite when dealing with nephews! As a result, Yun Shi Wei was banned from leaving the residence to go out hunting or to play.
Yun Shi Wei was one that loved to be active all day and night. Being forbidden from leaving the residence made him dejected and every day, he could only leisurely roam around the residence to stretch his limbs.
“Spouse, time to wake up, the sun’s gonna toast your butt[a].”
Yun Shi Wei walked to the head of the bed and struck twice at her buttocks that was covered with a quilt. He was neither light nor heavy-handed and immediately swatted Ruan Zhu awake. She looked at him, bewildered, and rubbed her eyes before giving him a lazy smile.
Lu Piao Xiang beckoned Nuan Chun to enter the bedroom with water so she could wash her face. He personally freshened her up while she brushed her teeth by using a warm and moist towel to wipe her face and hands, changed her clothes, and brushed her hair.
Being attended to like this made Ruan Zhu feel very comfortable as she had not felt this feeling ever since Yun Shi Yi left. Yun Shi Wei had brushed her hair for her before, but after he had yanked out several strands of her hair, she no longer dared to bother him.
The way Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing brushed her hair was also very nice, but it always lacked the feeling of being cherished.
She gave Lu Piao Xiang a sweet smile and smacked a kiss on his cheek, but actually ignited his enthusiasm/passion. Kicking Nuan Chun out, he pulled her over for a long kiss.
Ruan Zhu’s kissing technique was very good from all of her previous practice. A small and sweet tongue teasingly twisted in circles inside Lu Piao Xiang’s mouth, causing the latter to be unable to control his emotions. Pressing her close to him, he kissed her for a very long while. Only when he sensed her breathing had become unstable did he let her go, the both of them panting.
“Spouse, I also want.” Yun Shi Wei moved closer.
He had just come back from exercising outside and the stench of sweat was all over his body. Smelling it made Ruan Zhu very uncomfortable. She stared at him: “Go brush your teeth first and come back after you’re clean.”
“I’ve already brushed my teeth this morning and even used mint leaves to wipe them all once. If you don’t believe me, look.” He opened his mouth for her to see and sure enough, there was a hint of a cool minty scent on his teeth. She was pulled into his arms and was like a small bird enclosed inside his wide chest.
Yun Shi Wei lowered his head and caught her tongue, sucking on it, and also inhaled away all the saliva in her mouth. His tongue continued to venture inside her mouth and even teased her throat.
This sort of kiss was very uncomfortable; she felt as if she was going to choke and frantically beat at him with all of her might.
Lu Piao Xiang stepped over and pulled Yun Shi Wei away. Ruan Zhu could breathe again and gasped for air with large breaths, her pale complexion becoming a little better. She scolded: “Are you seeking death? Where did you learn these tricks from; do you want someone’s life?”
“You don’t like it?” Yun Shi Wei scratched his head: “My group of friends said this sort of kiss would make a wife very happy. They also said......”
“Said, your ass!” Ruan Zhu looked left and right. It just so happened that Nuan Chun had been driven out by Lu Piao Xiang earlier and didn’t have time to take the chicken feather duster with him and had placed it on the table. She picked it up in passing and brandished it against the one without a brain.
“Spouse, if you wanna hit someone,well, a real man doesn’t fight with women so I’ll leave first.” Yun Shi Wei clutched his head and ran out of the room.
“Come back this instant!”
Ruan Zhu made to chase after him but was entirely wrapped up in Lu Piao Xiang’s arms. He took away the feather duster in her hands: “You also know his temperament. Why bother with this meaningless anger that could harm your body?”
Lu Piao Xiang put her shoes on, draped a fox fur cloak over her shoulders, and pulled its hood over her head. With one hand wrapped around her waist and the other supporting her arm, he coaxed: “Let’s first walk around the back garden. The plum blossoms in the courtyard have all bloomed and you should go take a proper look while I personally play the guqin for you. Didn’t you say you wanted prenatal education or something?”
Yesterday, the physician who had been invited over had said the date of delivery was getting closer and for everyone to be on the lookout. These past few days, he had also paid more attention but Yun Shi Wei was suspicious and slept like a pig every night.
Lu Piao Xiang currently slept by Ruan Zhu’s side and opened his eyes at even the slightest sound of activity. When he first heard that a woman giving birth was the same as hovering in front of the gates of hell, he had been extremely nervous. He only wanted her to be well and within his sight; he would be happy with just that.
This was Ruan Zhu’s first child and there was fear and dread in her heart. She had seen quite a few movies and TV series in her past life and would become scared just thinking of the terrible scene of childbirth.
During her college years, there was actually a female teacher that had died on the operation table during childbirth. If people could still die in her past world with its advanced medical treatment, then could her safety be guaranteed in this ancient period where the level of medical knowledge fell far behind?
“Ai, it would be good if I didn’t have to give birth.” Ruan Zhu placed her head on Lu Piao Xiang’s shoulder in distress. But if she didn’t give birth to children, what on earth would men want her for? Women were rare in this era, making carrying on the ancestral line even more precious.
“Do not worry, many women have also gone through this. In a few days, I will head to the capital and invite the most talented midwife in Tian Chu over. I remember that this individual is very experienced in delivering children. She is over sixty years old and has already delivered over a thousand children with very few mishaps.”
“There should be no need, ah. Papa has spent an enormous amount finding several good midwives and they’re all of the best caliber. Stay in the residence where there’s good food and good drinks, hmm?”
The winters in Yu Zhou were not that cold but has still reached below zero. Exiting Furong Garden, they slowly walked as they followed the small path. The sky was overcast and the air was slightly moist and cold. As they continued walking, snowflakes unexpectedly started falling.
Worried she would slip, Lu Piao Xiang put the weight of her body against him so that she was fundamentally being lugged by him to walk.
“You’re like this yet you tell me to go out for a walk. I’m basically being carried by you!”
“You can walk by yourself when we’ve arrived at the garden. The current path is too narrow so it’s not that safe. Just let me support you!”
Ruan Zhu pointed at a plum blossom tree next to the moon gate, a hint of joy/happiness in her eyes: “Some plum blossoms in the corner of the wall grow, that bloom alone in the approaching cold. From afar, it’s known they are not snow, for there is a secret fragrance to behold.[b] What a wonderful artistic scene! How about later you play the super famous ‘Plum Blossoms Blooming Thrice’ for me to hear?”
Lu Piao Xiang looked at her in astonishment: “You really amaze me. Did you think of that poem just from seeing plum blossoms or did it already exist?”
Ruan Zhu’s face was red and she mumbled: “Not telling you.”
The male lead of New Song had transmigrated to the Song dynasty and plagiarized so many essays.[c] She was a small female and was not humiliated, okay~ The Heavens have let her transmigrate and it was obvious they had gave her all of these benefits for her to use. If she was to pretend to be a saint, then that would just be too idiotic!
Therefore, she did not plagiarize, she was precisely the poet! Ruan Zhu boasted shamelessly to herself.
It was midwinter and apart from the plum blossoms and sparse bamboo, there truly was nothing else to admire. Arriving at the pavilion, Nuan Chun spread a soft cushion on the stone bench for the two people to sit on while Nuan Qing opened Lu Piao Xiang’s guqin case and placed the guqin inside in front of him.
The guqin was three chi three inches long with alternating red and black paint along its face. Plum-blossom cracks and snake-skin cracks interweaved on its surface while the reverse side had cow-hair cracks.[d]
Even though Ruan Zhu was not any good at the violin, she nevertheless was a music lover and with nothing better to do, loved to search for information on this subject. She knew that this guqin was one of China’s ten famous guqin; its name was ‘Du You’ and it was a collector’s piece in Hunan province’s museum.
Lu Piao Xiang moved the guqin a little closer before placing his hands on top of the instrument and starting to play in a very natural manner. An ancient version of “Plum Blossoms Blooming Thrice” flew out from under his ten fingers. The cheerful melody and the gently falling snowflakes outside of the pavilion caused the most beautiful atmosphere to take shape. But it was only that the tune had somewhat of an melancholy overcast and Ruan Zhu became despondent listening to it. She slightly frowned and her expression was a little strange.
The song concluded and Lu Piao Xiang asked: “What is it; was my playing not good?”
Ruan Zhu shook her head: “This ‘Plum Blossoms Blooming Thrice’ is different from the one I previously heard.”
The song had been handed down for over a thousand years and had been produced and improved on by countless musicians, so there was nothing strange about the ancient and modern styles being different. After thinking about this, she became relieved. But Lu Piao Xiang could not understand. Music was like his soul and if things were not cleared, his heart would feel as uncomfortable as if a cat had snatched it.
“What was the one you previously listened to like?”
“I don’t know how to play the guqin so how should I tell you, hmm?” Ruan Zhu’s face was bitter. It was obvious that playing the guqin for him to hear was an absurd idea and having him read from sheet music was even more ridiculous. He had studied the ancient music notation while she knew the staffs, and the two methods were not interchangeable.[e] “That, I’ll sing it for you. As for how to play it, you can figure that out, right?”
“Plum Blossoms Blooming Thrice” was also called “Plum Blossoms Falling.” In the beginning, it was a song for a flute that was later converted into a guqin melody. From the Southern Dynasties to the Tang dynasty, the majority of the renditions expressed the worried mental state of separation. Later, the Ming and Qing dynasties added the arrogance of the cold and frosted plum blossoms and expressed their lofty and unyielding integrity and temperament.
But Ruan Zhu did not know these things and had Nuan Chun bring out ink. Using a brush, she drew out the five staffs she was used to. She considered for a moment, why not sing the lyrics of Chiung Yao’s 《Plum Blossoms Falling》in the style of a guqin?[f] While thinking of this in her head, she also filled out the lyrics.
When she had finished writing, one sichen had almost passed. But both people were invested in this and neither of them felt the passage of time.
“Could what you are writing be a music score? A circle on the left, a circle on the right, why am I not familiar with them?” Lu Piao Xiang looked at the sheets in front of her and was unable to make heads or tails of it.
“You just have to listen to me sing.” Ruan Zhu cleared her throat and sang out by following the song’s melody:
The infatuated are in the mortal world
When infatuated, do not laugh too foolishly or wildly
Where it not for the cold, clear bones
How could the plum blossom fragrance assail the nose?
I ask the mortal world–what is love?
That only teaches how to mutually live or die
See how many stories are in the mortal world
The most overwhelmed thrice blooming plum blossoms......
Her voice was clear and spirited, like a kingfisher striking through water, like the cry of the black-naped oriole. Lu Piao Xiang was pleasantly attracted and listened with rapt attention. But after listening for a while, he felt there was something amiss and unconsciously wrinkled his brows.
Only then did Ruan Zhu became aware that she had sung the wrong song. She hurriedly stopped and awkwardly said: “I accidentally strung it with some other song. That time didn’t count; restart.”
She was singing and singing and unexpectedly went from the guqin tune to the the ending theme of the TV series 《Plum Blossoms Falling》. She had previously been rather captivated by that universally appreciated song.
“No need to restart. Continue singing, I feel it is rather good.” Lu Piao Xiang was very much interested. This was the first time he had heard this kind of melody. It was so light and supple, like one of those clouds drifting in the sky. Listening to it, his heart was a little sentimental, but more than that, he was moved.
Receiving encouragement, Ruan Zhu continued to sing:
At the first blooming of the plum blossoms–the body is filled with pain
At the second blooming of the plum blossoms–the mind turns with restless thoughts
At the third blooming of the plum blossoms–the heart is filled with restlessness
The mist covers the abyss of of the future, so vast and obscure
The infatuated are in the mortal world
When infatuated, do not laugh too foolishly or wildly
Where it not for the cold, clear bones
How could the plum blossom fragrance assail the nose?
I ask the mortal world–what is love?
That only teaches how to mutually live or die......
Ruan Zhu had finished singing but Lu Piao Xiang was pensive and silently mouthed: “I ask the mortal world–what is love?; That only teaches how to mutually live or die?” He lifted his head and looked at her: “These two phrases are written exceptionally well and are very moving. Wife, Piao Xiang being able to meet you, this life was not in vain.”
“I am also very happy to have met you.” It was true. She and him could chat about music and converse about subjects that they were both fond of. It was a spiritual sort of happiness.
“Eldest Cousin is back!” Ruan Yu ran over from the moon gate, shouting as she did so: “Eldest Sister, Eldest Cousin is back! He’s currently chatting in Papa’s Jin Se Hall, you should hurry and go!”
Ruan Zhu abruptly stood up. Sitting for so long, her legs had become all numb and her steps were somewhat shaky.
Lu Piao Xiang came over to support her and found a trace of confusion in her eyes. Her cheeks were also flushed, seemingly from shock and joy, and she also appeared giddy.
“Let me carry you there!”
“No, I can walk.” It went without saying that she had received Lu Piao Xiang and let down Yun Shi Yi. How could she endure it if her husband were to see the other carrying her?
“Okay then, I will support you.” He understood her thoughts and helped her as they exited the pavilion: “Slow down, there are steps on the bottom. It will be a little slippery as snow had just fallen. Be careful not to fall.”
With his support, she left the garden, stepped past the moon gate, went along the small path, bypassed a wall, walked around a few more courtyards, passed through a cloister, arrived at Jin Se Hall, strode past the reception pavilion, and just so happened to see the man she had been thinking of all day and missing all night.
She foolishly looked at him; her nose feeling a little sore. Unable to bear it, tears dripped down one by one.
“Lord Husband!” Her voice shook and she finally called out his name.
“Wife, this husband really missed you.”
Yun Shi Yi quickly walked over and enveloped her, using the entirety of the strength of his thoughts and yearning to hug her. The nearly half a year’s worth of panic, worry, and longing, were all replaced in a split second by the joy in seeing each other again. His arms slightly tightened, causing a painful cry to come from her.
“Gentler, it’s a little hard to bear. The child......”
He hurriedly let go and finally saw that the swell of her belly was already very large. Lifting her with both arms, he carried her horizontally and walked in the direction of Furong Garden.
“Wait......let Nuan Chun lead the way. Do you know where I’m staying?”
“Wife, don’t forget Ruan residence is my uncle’s home. Before I wed you, I came here several times. Did you actually forget?”
It was true. They were cousins with different surnames and had a consanguineous marriage. Only, he didn’t know that she was not the previous Ruan Zhu. She momentarily felt frustrated and wrapped her arms around his neck, refusing to let go. Very quickly, she became enticed by his warm body and buried her head inside his spacious chest, exposing a shallow smile.
Lu Piao Xiang distantly looked at the two people leaving, his heart feeling as if it had been blocked.
Ruan Zi Xu walked over: “What is it; not happy?”
“As long as she is happy.”
Lu Piao Xiang smiled and bowed in respect towards Ruan Zi Xu before turning around and leaving. He exited the Ruan residence through a side door and in an especially secluded alley, sent up a blue smoke flare used for communication towards the sky.
After a while, four men clothed in black also entered the alley. Stopping before him, they bowed in greeting: “Young Master, we have accomplished the assignment Young Master has instructed and has just safely brought Head Yun back.
Lu Piao Xiang made a sound of approval: “Did it go smoothly?”
“There was a bit of trouble when entering Tu Bo and a few brothers received some small wounds when grappling with the enemy. Luckily, we were able to bring them all back.”
“You can all withdraw!” Lu Piao Xiang gestured towards them: “Peng Cheng, do not reveal my whereabouts.”
“Be at ease Young Master, Young Master has treated us brothers with favor. We will not reveal it.”
Lu Piao Xiang waved his hand and the four men in black left the alley.
Yun Shi Yi placed his wife on top of the bed and looked at her face as if he could never see it enough. Lowering his head, he gave her kiss after kiss, his hand lightly sliding across her abdomen. He sighed: “Turns out I can still see our child enter the world.”
“Eldest Cousin, I missed you so.” Tears slid down Ruan Zhu’s face again and she became choked with sobs: “You didn’t send the slightest information back. I kept waiting in Mao Er Town and only left after receiving your letter from the relay station. But why didn’t you come back?”
“Isn’t this coming back?” He smiled and wiped her tears: “When I sent you the letter, I had just settled that batch of wood at a low price but on the road back, I heard news saying the Red Eyebrow army had occupied Mao Er Town. Therefore, I changed the route again and headed west into the country of Tu Bo but how could it be that easy with being separated from my country......”
He had met some local tribal men upon entering the Tanggula mountain range[g] that not only wanted money, they also wanted them to become their slaves. Fortunately, they had met several chivalric rescuers and were able to escape. He did not want her to worry about this so kept silent.
“Eldest Cousin, I am very happy. Fortunately, you came back in time to see the birth of our child.”
[a] 太阳晒屁股了, translated literally above as it really fits what YSW would say. Slang for it’s already late; the sun is high up in the sky; etc.
[b] The poem is 梅花 (Plum Blossom) by 王安石 Wang An Shi (1021-1086).
[c] 新宋 (New Song) is about a man who transmigrated to the Northern Song dynasty and used his modern knowledge to reform all aspects of it.
[d] A guqin is made with wood that is then lacquered with paint. Over time, the wood shrinks because it loses water but the lacquer remains, which is why cracks (断纹 duan wen) are created naturally (they can also be made artificially). Duan wen are prized because they can tell how old a guqin is and also because the sound flows better. There are multiple types of cracks. (Examples of plum-blossom duan wen; snake-skin duan wen; cow-hair duan wen.)
[e] The earliest music notation was composed of written words that described how a melody was played. This then evolved in the Tang dynasty into a shorter notation that grouped fingerings and string orders together but mostly left out rhythm. The current musical style is with staffs (five horizontal lines using either treble or bass clefs).
[f] The last character in 梅花落 (Plum Blossoms Falling) is usually pronounced luò but can also be pronounced lào, as in this case. Chiung Yao is a famous Chinese writer whose novels have been adapted to over 100 films and TV dramas. One of her novels is 梅花烙 (Plum Blossoms Branding) which has the same pronunciation as Plum Blossoms Falling. Author wrote that Chiung had written PBF so I kept it, but just know that it’s incorrect in reality.
[g] 唐古拉山 Tanggula (also called Dangla) mountain range is located in the Qinhai-Tibet plateau and is west of modern-day Lan Zhou.
Use arrow keys (or A / D) to PREV/NEXT chapter