儿 | er | (lit. child) diminutive marker used as a form of endearment
It was like Yun Shi Yi hadn’t heard his wife’s words at all as his eyes were fixed on her belly. One of his arms was wrapped around her upper body, holding her close, while the other hand was gently stroking the large swell of her abdomen. Surprise suddenly flit across his face: “The child is moving and kicking my hand.”
Ruan Zhu’s eyes became wet again but were full of happiness: “Our child started moving from six months. Apart from turning over, they’ll also use their small hands and small feet to hit and kick. Sometimes I’ll even think inside me is a ball that’s jumping all around, just like they were rolling inside.”
Unfortunately, there was no one she could share these moments with. Yun Shi Wei was impossible; Lu Piao Xiang was improper. Only the father of the child would be able to understand the feeling of the blood connection.
“I have missed so many beautiful moments.” There was some regret on Yun Shi Yi’s face: “I was truly scatterbrained to actually leave while you were pregnant. I was not by your side; the journey to flee from the southern border must have been very exhausting, right?”
“It was okay.” She tearfully smiled. During that time, she had always worried about his safety. Fortunately, fortunately, he had returned and was at her side. She cuddled his warm body and felt that this man was precisely her sky.
Her man had been on the road for a long while and had become thinner but appeared even healthier than before, with suntanned skin and an extra layer of calluses on his palms that were very rough to the touch. Her tender hand traced them and followed the prominent tendons on the back of his hand up towards his arm, shoulder, chest. Resenting the layer of clothing for being in the way, she pried them apart and rubbed her pair of small hands against his chest.
This broad chest had appeared innumerable times in her dreams and she felt it was oh so familiar.
Yun Shi Yi took off his upper garment and allowed her to touch him. He could feel the temperature she transmitted and his entire heart softened.
The Heavens knew how anxious he had been when he found out about the rebellion in the southern border while he was in Liu Zhou. He had entrusted the fast horses of the relay station at that time to deliver a letter for her to quickly leave the area.
Then just when he had rushed the several large carriages full of gold-threaded Phoebe zhennan to the southern border by the use of the stars, it was only to discover that the rebels were much crueler than he had imagined. All of the belongings of the businessmen and the wealthy had been stolen and the clothes on their backs had also been completely peeled off. What’s more, they were arrested and paraded on the streets, and even cruel punishments were used to interrogate them on the location of the rest of their property and assets.
His attendant, Yun Shan, had volunteered to disguise himself as a penniless commoner to investigate the situation inside Mao Er Town. The information he brought back was that there were several merchants that had trusted their luck and hid their money in the mountains, hoping to recover them when it was peaceful again. But the local commoners had recognized them and reported them to the Red Eyebrows army. After the merchants had been captured, they were beaten into unrecognizable shapes.
Yun Shi Yi knew that going through Mao Er Town towards Tian Chu wouldn’t get him anywhere. He sold off the batch of gold-threaded Phoebe zhennan at the lower price possible before heading west with his entourage into the country of Tu Bo. How arduous the journey was, well, there was no need to dwell on it. But when they entered the Tanggula mountain range, the local tribal men saw that they were merchants from the country of Tian Chu and became greedy.
As a result of the scarcity of craftsmen in Tu Bo, their living environment was very poor while the commoners of Tian Chu more or less knew the techniques of planting and manufacturing. Thus, human traffickers from all over brought over slaves that they sold here at considerable prices.
To ensure their safety, Yun Shi Yi gave them money, but the tribal men also wanted to capture them as slaves. Both parties made their move and just in the moment of crisis, a group of men jumped in to save them at the risk of their own lives. Back on the road, they stayed together as a group and entered Han Zhong from the northwest of Tu Bu and arrived in Yu Zhou.
He did not know at all that his wife was in Yu Zhou. However, he had been brought by his group of rescuers here and thought he might as well plan to see his maternal uncle and didn’t expect for her to also be here.
“Eldest Cousin, I’ve been afraid since the beginning that you wouldn’t be able to return. At the time we fled to Rong Chen, I truly couldn’t walk anymore and just planned to come to Yu Zhou. Then, I had also thought you might take a detour but still let Nuan Chun paste some notices for you at the city gate.”
“Wife, you’ve worked hard. Thank you for the trouble.” Thinking about how she was pregnant with his child and at the time when her body was weakest, yet was still fleeing and became all travel-worn, his heart twisted again.
“How did I work hard? Ai, as long as you are alive then it’s good.”
“I am alive, you are alive, there is also our child, my wife being pregnant counts as working hard, right!” He placed his hand again on her belly and distinctly felt there existed a life inside there; his and her’s collaborative offspring.
At this moment, raw emotion billowed out from his heart. Holding her and their child, all of that suffering during these past six months did not matter anymore.
During the period when they were apart, how many nights did he wish he could tightly hug her like this? Now, his wish could finally be fulfilled.
Yun Shi Yi laid down by her side and pulled the quilts over both of them. Drawing her close, he contently entered the land of dreams.
The two people finally woke when it was close to evening. Their eyes overflowing with happiness, neither of them spoke as they just mutually gazed at one another like so.
From the door came some knocks and Yun Shi Yi dressed and went to open the door.
The one that entered was Ruan Yu. Her eyes were bright and she appeared very excited. Towards Yun Shi Yi, she shouted Eldest Cousin in greeting and then threw her gaze atop the bed: “Eldest Sister, Papa said later we’re going to give Eldest Cousin a welcoming banquet and if you don’t fell well, you don’t have to go.”
“It’s fine, I can go.” How could she be willing to part from him?
Yun Shi Yi helped her sit up: “I’ll call Nuan Chun to bring some water over so you can wash your face, freshen up, and dress up prettily. Look at this face that has become like a little kitten’s after crying. If you went out like this and was seen by Uncle, he would think how had I mistreated his daughter?”
Ruan Zhu pouted: “My current figure is very ugly, no matter how I dress up it won’t matter much. Just don’t bother with these honeyed words.”
“Eh? Why do I think you are very beautiful? I’m finished. Is it that there’s something wrong with my eyes?”
“Lord Husband, your words are really pleasant to hear. In the future, you have to say every day ‘Zhu Zhu is the most beautiful.’ Say it one hundred times and I’ll be happy when hearing it and will be able to give birth to a boy.”
“Is that true?” Yun Shi Yi looked miserable: “Then I better not say it. Giving birth to a son is meaningless. I much prefer a daughter, a daughter that is as cute as Zhu Zhu.”
“Then......then what about if it is a boy?” Ruan Zhu became anxious.
“Heavens!” By the side, Ruan Yu covered her ears: “It turns out there was still such a corny couple in the world; I’m getting goosebumps. Oh my word, I need to leave or else I won’t be able to avoid puking.”
“Aiya, Yu’er, don’t leave. In a bit we’ll all go to Jin Se Hall together.” Ruan Zhu was embarrassed at being mocked and hurriedly said something to make her stay.
“Forget it. You guys are newlyweds that have been separated for a long while. I won’t trouble you any longer, you guys can continue!”
Ruan Yu turned around and left.
Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing learned their Master had woken and came in to attend to her. Nuan Chun had brought water so she could wash her face and Nuan Qing went to light up the brazier that had long extinguished.
All fixed up, Yun Shi Yi used a fox fur coat to safely wrap up Ruan Zhu before horizontally carrying her to Jin Se Hall.
Because it was close to the end of the year, the Ruan residence had been tidied beyond recognition and Jin Se Hall had clear windows and clean tables[a]. A large chandelier with one hundred candles hung from the center beam of the hall.
The chandelier was about one meter wide with three layers of sparkling tassels which were dazzling under the illumination of the candlelight. It had been bought by Ruan Zi Xu for ten thousand taels of silver from some Persian merchants and was only used to celebrate the new year. But because Yun Shi Yi had returned and also because it was close to the end of the year, the chandelier had been taken out ahead of time.
All the members of the Ruan clan were present with the principal husband at the main seat and the concubine-born children and secondary husbands sitting below. Ruan Yu sat to the right of the Ruan couple while Yun Shi Yi and Ruan Zhu sat on their left, followed by Lu Piao Xiang and Yun Shi Wei. The latter two upon seeing Yun Shi Yi and Ruan Zhu both stood up in accordance to the etiquette of a secondary husband.
Yun Shi Yi placed his wife in her seat. The floor of the lounge was made of stones so the interior was very warm.[b] He took off her coat and handed it to Nuan Chun, who was standing behind them in attendance.
Ruan Zhu surveyed the room and accidentally met the gaze of concubine-born Ruan Ju. The latter was still thinking of their confrontation from last time and turned away after snorting.
The dishes were served and they were all famous and precious delicacies such as bird’s nest, shark fin, and so on. Placed in front of Ruan Zhu was a plate of chicken cheek meat and a bowl of fish brains with tofu. The value of merely these two dishes cost quite a bit of silver. Dozens of chickens were required to make one dish of chicken cheek meat, and it was the same with fish where only after dozens of fish was it sufficient to make a bowl of fish brain.
Bird’s nest porridge with Chinese wolfberries and ginkgo nuts
Shark fin soup
Of course, with regards to the primary husband, each and every dish was extremely famous and valuable. The secondary husbands and their children could not receive such good luck.
Ruan Zhu listened to Yun Shi Yi as he placed dishes in her bowl while also explaining what each of them were. Hearing him speak, her nose became sore. During the welcome feast held the day she came back to Ruan residence, there had been no one like him who had attentively explained each dish and she basically didn’t know what she had ate.
This was too wasteful, right?! She thought: If in the future I’m as rich as the Ruan clan, I definitely won’t eat chicken cheek meat or fish brains with tofu and will eat less of swallow’s nest and shark fin.
Yun Shi Wei didn’t know what his little wife was thinking of, and one by one, snatched up all the foods he found delicious.
On the other side, Ruan Ju heard Yun Shi Yi introduce all these famous dishes to his wife and felt so infuriated she almost fainted. In front of her was nothing but braised fish, chicken stewed with mushrooms, fried tofu, pork stir-fry......a few home-cooked dishes. Although previous family feasts were also like this, but currently there was some one that would even speak out the price in detail.
Chicken stewed with mushrooms
Pork stir fry
The Ruan clan paid particular attention to silence during meals and the concubine-born children did not dare to even breathe loudly. All of their food and necessities in their courtyards were all bought with the hard-earned money earned by their respective fathers by working outside. If their old man had the ability, it wasn’t bad. If he didn’t have the ability, even eating vegetables and tofu would not be easy. To be able to eat such a lavish meal with generous amounts of meat and fish that they didn’t have to spend money for was already very extravagant.
Ruan Zi Xu provided them housing but did not provide them with living expenses.
But Ruan Ju was not the same as Madam Ruan heavily doted on her and always gave her own share away. Towards this, Ruan Zi Xu turned a blind eye as he never squabbled with his wife over small matters. Not only that, in order to appear magnanimous, sometimes he would also give material assistance to this bastard daughter.
“This is the blood bird’s nest soup, which is the best kind among all the bird’s nests. A female eating this can nourish their blood, yin, and skin. Blood nests are formed when swiftlets build their nests inside caves. Our Tian Chu does not have them and the place of production is relatively far, in the country of Siam that is south of Nan Ling. That is why it is also the most valuable and famous, with ten grams requiring two taels of silver.”
Siam was exactly Thailand. Ruan Zhu knew this and had also heard a bit about blood nests.
But how big was ten grams? A spoonful or a small mouthful? Ruan Zhu felt faint. Holy shit! This little bit was exactly the same as two months of life expenses for an average person! Granted, the current famine and rebellion were still ongoing, causing prices to inflate, but it should still be enough to cover a month’s expenses, right!?
“You should eat it instead!” Ruan Zhu returned the half bowl of bird’s nest porridge Yun Shi Yi had placed in front of her. Half a bowl–if it was on the lower end, it would still be around five or six taels of silver, right? If she were to eat that, she would feel even more distressed so she might as well not even eat it.
“Wife, what is it?” Yun Shi Yi was surprised but his expression quickly turned grave: “Is your belly uncomfortable?”
“No.” Ruan Zhu gloomily placed the bowl of bird’s nest porridge before her again.
Lu Piao Xiang’s mind was meticulous and guessed her thoughts. He faintly smiled. It was hard to connect her with the Ruan clan’s eldest Miss as she seemed to have never eaten bird’s nest before. Towards her, he volunteered: “Even though bird’s nest is expensive and valuable, it is not like they cannot be bought. As long as you like it, I will buy them for you.”
Ruan Zhu’s face became faintly pale. Oh crap, oh no. She forgot to explain the situation with Lu Piao Xiang to Yun Shi Yi and how she made the latter wear a green hat.
When Yun Shi Yi returned, he had heard his Maternal Uncle mention Lu Piao Xiang. Right when he was about to reply, who would have expected Ruan Ju from the other side would slam her chopsticks down–pa!
“Mother, I also want to eat bird’s nest, shark fin, fish brains with tofu, and chicken cheek meat.” Ruan Ju scowled and pointed at Ruan Zhu: “What right does she have to eat so well? I am also your daughter, why can’t I eat that?”
Ruan Zi Xu’s face sank: “Impudent! Who are you speaking towards?”
There was absolute silence in the hall. Ruan Ju’s birth father was so scared his face had become white and he gave his daughter a meaningful glance. Although he and his wife had a very good relationship, he lived in the Ruan home and was also of low birth and naturally was frightened of Ruan Zi Xu.
Madam Ruan handed the bowl of bird’s nest in front of her to the male servant behind her: “Mei Yue, go give this to third Miss. Ai, isn’t it just a little bit of food? This child, in a little while Mother will buy several taels of bird’s nest and have the kitchen make them for you.”
Madam Ruan had Mei Yue carry the bird’s nest over, but saw her husband coldly staring at her and smiled in embarrassment: “Aren’t I just thinking the child is pitiful? How much money could possibly be spent in giving her a little to eat? And doesn’t she also call you Father?”
“Mother, your words do not seem to be correct.” Second Miss Ruan Yu stated in dead earnest: “Just because of a single word of hers, her father lives in our home untouched by wind and rain. Look at that fur coat she’s wearing; that kind of hair ornament on her head is also not from our Ruan family. I call Second concubine-Father ‘concubine-Father’ but have never seen them send me any sort of good thing. A person shouldn’t conduct themselves like that, oh~”
It wasn’t that they had never sent anything as they nevertheless had sent over toys and pastries that had been bought for a few coins on the street.
Ruan Ju was so angry her face changed color and she shouted: “I’m spending my Ma’s money, not yours! What the hell status do you have to be so anxious and to care about my affairs?!”
With these words spoken, even the servants cynically looked at her. Madam Ruan’s money, wasn’t it all given by Master Ruan?
Ruan Yu did not intend to let her go and slowly articulated in a low voice: “Originally, ah, I did not care about how much of our Ruan family’s money you spent but you Wei family still do not understand your status or circumstances and stubbornly continue to provoke us. The matter about you all shifting the blame of the poison onto my Eldest Sister, I have not yet cleared it with you all. Unexpectedly, not only do you not know shame, you over and over again invite humiliation upon yourself. You simply don’t know how good you have it.”
“Who did you say doesn’t know how good they have it?!”
It just so happened that Mei Yue had placed down that bowl of bird’s nest porridge down. In the middle of her rage, Ruan Yu angrily extended her hand and pushed it away and the bird’s nest porridge shattered on the ground. The ruined bird’s nest was nothing, but that porcelain bowl was the famous celadon from Ru Zhou. In the future, there would be a sentence: It didn’t matter how wealthy a family was as none of it could compare to a single piece of Ru ware.[c]
Although the celadon of Tian Chu was not at the degree of fame or rarity as mentioned above, they were still absolutely not something an average family could use. Only when there were major banquets would the Ruan family take these out to use.
Ruan Ju’s biological father, Wei Rong, worriedly said: “Ju’er, what are you making a scene for? Quickly, kneel.” His daughter was too headstrong. Even if she wanted to make the other feel uneasy, she ought to secretly hinder them. Wasn’t doing everything in the open just asking to bring misfortune on oneself?
“Pa, you don’t have to worry about this. I just want to ask Mother if I am still her own daughter or not.”
Ruan Ju’s slip of the tongue made her call her concubine-Father, ‘Father.’ This was not permitted.
Since time immemorial, the standard that had been set was concubine-born children must and could only call the principal husband ‘Father.’ Ruan Zi Xu’s face had been swept aside and his complexion immediately became ashen. He coldly spoke thus: “If you do not recognize me, this father, then please leave my Ruan home. I, Ruan Zi Xu, do not raise things that do not know how to be grateful.”
“Aiya, Lord Husband, don’t be angry. She’s just a small child who doesn’t understand.” Madam Ruan hastily called out to him.
“Madam, just you wait and see.”
Ruan Zi Xu stood up, flicked his sleeves, and left.
“Mother, I think you should give Papa an explanation.” Ruan Yu stood up, performed the rites towards Ruan Zhu and followed in leaving the hall.
The welcome banquet had ended on bad terms. Ruan Zhu looked at Yun Shi Yi and Lu Piao Xiang before finally stopping at Madam Ruan: “Mother, I am not feeling well and will leave first towards Furong Garden. Do not be too upset. After I persuade Pa, perhaps it will be fine tomorrow.”
Madam Ruan was currently fretting by herself and grasped onto her eldest daugther’s hand: “Mother’s baby, Mother’s darling, you must speak good words for this mother. Your father loves you dearly and will surely listen to you. Ai, you don’t know how difficult it is to manage a large household.”
Ruan Zhu wanted to say that managing a large household was not at all difficult. If you could only calmly carry a bowl of water and maintain a fair heart, how could Father care about that bit of silver?
But Ruan Zhu knew saying these words would not be useful. Carried by Yun Shi Wei, she returned to Furong Garden.
[a] 窗明几净, idiom meaning bright and clean
[b] Raws actually said it was made of 火龙, which directly translates to ‘fire dragon’ and I don’t know how that correlates. I substituted it with stones, which are good at holding heat and also more expensive than say brick or tile.
[c] Ru ware is a very famous and rare pottery style in the Song dynasty and is one of the Five Great Kilns. (Wikipedia)
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