儿 | er | (lit. child) diminutive marker used as a form of endearment
里 | li | unit of measurement that has varied over time but has now been standardized to 500 meters (Wikipedia)
江湖 | jianghu | community of martial artists
Ruan Zhu bowed towards Empress Dowager Zheng: “Imperial Grandmother, Granddaughter-in-law begs for Imperial Grandmother to not spread this conversation outside of this hall. The imperial family recognizing one’s name is naturally a good thing, but it will also bring about a wealth of trouble.” She had not forgotten that in the country of Tian Chu, apart from her, there was also another transmigrator.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi added: “There are quite a few spies from the south hidden in the capital. If by chance they were to know of this, it would cause a bit of inconvenience for Zhu’er and may also endanger her life.”
Empress Dowager Zheng was annoyed: “If this dowager did not know this, why would this dowaer have driven out those people earlier?” She turned her head towards the several palace eunuchs standing behind her: “Whoever dares to spread this news outside will be beaten to death.”
“Us little ones do not dare.” The palace eunuchs hurriedly bowed in response, their faces tinted with solemnity and respect.
In China, there has always been the custom of inviting guests to stay for meal, no matter if it was actually time for one or not, and also not caring whether the guests were hungry or not. Even if the guests had just finished eating at their own home before paying someone a visit, they would still have to eat a bite.
Naturally, the dishes in the Ruan residence were not as good as the ones in the palace, but they won out in having a more lively and casual atmosphere, and as people became older, that was what they sought.
After joking until the residence was filled with laughter for the greater half of the day, Empress Dowager Zhen happily returned to the palace with her entourage.
Ruan Zhu was disastrously exhausted. Once the Elder had departed, she did not even inform anyone and returned to Yi Xin Residence where she immediately plopped onto the bed as soon as she saw it.
“Wife, today has been hard on you. I’ll have Imperial Physician Zhang come over tomorrow to examine you.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi walked over and removed his wife’s shoes before placing both hands on either side of her waist, lightly massaging: “Imperial Grandmother had a great time today. The method you thought up was very good.”
Ruan Zhu had wanted to have the elder Empress Dowager leave while in a cheerful mood. The meal inevitably required special attention, but what sort of delicacies could not be eaten in the imperial palace? This problem had caused her to worry terribly, and finally, she had become annoyed and had the servants bring out the already-made dough and mincemeat so everyone could wrap dumplings together.
Empress Dowager Zheng had never seen such a spectacle. Immediately beaming at the novelty, she rolled up her sleeves and personally joined in.
Ruan Zhu’s plan was very in line with the Elder’s thoughts as eating dumplings that one personally wrapped brought about a unique sense of accomplishment. Empress Dowager Zheng took more as she ate, and when she left, she also took along a large case-full, saying she was going to take it back to the imperial palace as a midnight snack and have the kitchen pan-fry it for her to eat at night.
“All of you majestic nobles in the Nine Palaces have become accustomed to being aloof and remote, so occasionally experiencing the simple life of a commoner would naturally carry a distinctive experience. But using this method a few times is fine; overuse would only make it meaningless.”
“My wife is incredibly clever and surely has another method.”
“But of course.” She did have a few more ideas, but the majority of them could not be used. There was still another transmigrator in Tian Chu; but on the contrary, with her current strength, she was actually not that worried.
As she enjoyed the massage and felt more comfortable, her body became limp and she heard Xuanyuan Zong Zhi from next to her ear: “As long as Imperial Grandmother agrees to our marriage, no one else would dare be opposed. These few years, the Elder’s temper has become increasingly strong, but as long as we coax her properly, there is nothing to worry about.”
The most troublesome one in the palace was not the Empress Dowager, nor was it Emperor-Father; rather, it was his own Empress-Mother. But it was not good for Xuanyuan Zong Zhi to say this out loud, in case his wife’s mood turned gloomy. In any case, as long as they could secure the Empress Dowager, nothing else would be an issue.
Ruan Zhu made a sound of agreement. Her bright eyes glittered as she looked at him and she unhurriedly said: “A few days ago, I asked you to investigate the master of manufacturing tea at Lu Yin Ge. Were there any discoveries?”
“It is the one called Zhao Hai.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi thought for a moment, then instructed the palace eunuch standing outside the door: “Qu Gao, call over Bodyguard Nangong; I have questions to ask him.”
“Yes!” The palace eunuch responded and left.
Last night when Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had moved to the Ruan residence, the servants of the Prince of Qi’s residence had also continuously rushed over to serve. But the current Ruan residence was certainly unlike the one in Yu Zhou. This residence was rented, and not mentioning how the area was narrow, there were also not enough rooms. In the evening when it was time to set up the living arrangements, that was another matter to worry about. Ruan Zhu was currently not the acting-Head of the family; just let Ruan Yu fret over this, okay!
Nangong Xun stood in the outer hall where Xuanyuan Zong Zhi asked him how the investigation on Zhao Hai has gone? He performed the rites to the two inside while separated by the beaded curtain: “Niangniang, regarding this matter, there is a bit of a relation between this Zhao Hai and niangniang. He is the previously discarded son of Fifth Concubine-Father Zhao of the Yun clan in Lan Zhou. Currently twenty-five years of age, he has lived in Nan Ling since he was a child and fled two years ago after he was unable to endure the abuse from his mother, but broke his leg while fixing the river dike in Liu Zhou. I heard that at that time, he was already a dead person and was being pulled to the cremation pit, but halfway there, he unexpectedly revived. All of the people present were mystified and the supervisor dispatched him with several taels of silver. It is quite difficult for Zhao Hai to survive with a lame leg as even if he tried to do hard labor, others would be unwilling to hire him and he could only walk the several thousand li journey to Lan Zhou to seek asylum with Fifth Concubine-Father Zhao.”
So it really was Hai’er! Ruan Zhu’s graceful brows slightly wrinkled and her fingers tightened as she unconsciously gripped the bed sheets.
“Later, Zhao Hai worked in Head Yun’s Tian Yi Pavilion. Zhao Hai had a bit of ability and some circumstances, and not long after, came up with the method of stir-frying tea and also knew how to make several strange cakes and pastries. Like this, he incurred the jealousy of the kitchen chef and was framed for thieving. Because the Manager had previously been instructed by Head Yun, it was not good for him to do anything to Zhao Hai, but Zhao Hai left Tian Yi Pavilion in a fit of anger. He first lingered around several other prefectures for a short while before he arrived at the capital.”
Being near the imperial family made it easy to make a living; this was the collaborative addiction of all the transmigrated male swine. It was a pity that the country of Tian Chu was not a paradise for the stallion man. On this aspect, Zhao Hai was doomed to be disappointed.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had a feeling that his wife deeply disliked the man called Zhao Hai. He did not know what sort of things had happened between them before, but since she did not say, he was even more unable to ask. He comforted her: “You are currently my imperial consort. If anyone dares to think badly of you, they are throwing their lives away.”
But Nangong Xun aptly added a sentence: “Nowadays Zhao Hai is shaking and has found himself a patron.”
Ruan Zhu restrained the surprise in her heart: “Who has he found to be his patron?”
“Several days ago, the Crown Prince and several officials went to drink wine at Lu Yin Ge after the morning court. After they sampled his tea, they summoned him on the spot. This one does not know what method Zhao Hai used to make the Crown Prince treat him favorably and to accept him as one of the advisers in his residence.”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi coolly said: “I do not put such an insignificant aide in my eyes.”
Nangong Xun then said a few more words before asking to be excused.
Ruan Zhu’s excitement waned. Zhao Hai had been made into the Crown Prince’s advisor, and it would be hard to make a move against him in the future. But how could she resign herself to death? She had to think of a dependable method.
When Empress Dowager Zheng returned to the palace, she played some kind of role, and an imperial edict was passed down not even a few days later. Ruan Zhu kneeled down with her husband in the main courtyard to receive the decree.
A palace eunuch clutched a beautiful yellow scroll between his hands as he read: “By the Mandate of Heaven, the Emperor hereby decrees......Following that was a lengthy doctrine, first of praise–what innately gifted, with perfect morals and conduct. Once the commendations were finished, the title of Princess of Qi was bestowed along with the phoenix crown and official princess robes. The edict also stated that because the nation was currently dealing with political issues, the Prince of Qi’s marriage would be made up once the situation has calmed down.
What ‘make up’ what wedding? She had long had the ceremony with Xuanyuan Zong Zhi at Yu Zhou.
With the arrival of late autumn, the grass and trees dried up and the garden was a slice of bleakness. Fortunately, there was still a cluster of green xiangfei bamboo that could be admired.
Ruan Zhu had coaxed little Zhi Xi into a nap and went for a stroll with Nuan Chun supporting her. After walking a few laps, they arrived at a small pavilion for a seat.
Nuan Chun invited a few young boys to erect a stove on the ground where he boiled a pot of tea. Taking out a white jade porcelain bowl made from the Ru kiln, he poured it full of aromatic tea. Ruan Zhu took a sip, but felt that there was a savory aftertaste. Speaking of this tea and its origin, it was brought to the residence by Lu Yin Ge’s Elder Jia. The one who manufactured the tea was no other than Zhao Hai.
Ever since this enemy had sought shelter with the Crown Prince, there was not much of the good tea left at Lu Yin Ge. Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had saw that she liked it and had asked Elder Jia for more.
“Eldest Miss, it is hard to image that Mister Lu is an imperial prince. At Lu Zhou, who would have thought of this? You have also become the Prince of Qi’s imperial consort. A few days earlier, our family’s neighbor, Wife Li, returned home from her maternal home, and after hearing of your matter, she was so frightened, she was green in the face.” Nuan Chun picked out several small and light refreshments and placed them before his Master, words continuing to spill from his mouth: “It truly is karma. That Wife Li will no longer act as mighty as before.”
Wife Li was the Ruan clan’s next door neighbor that was only separated by one wall. Fifty plus years old, her appearance was one that was incomparably thick and solid. She relied on her family being extremely well-off to and was accustomed to abusing others and could not bear to see even acquaintances living better than her. Many of the neighbors’ matters could not be concealed from her. Early on, Wife Li hated to see how the men of her family looked at Ruan Zhu as if the latter were a treasure that should be cherished. Thus, whenever she saw the servants of the Ruan clan, she would frequently badmouth their owner in the open and in the dark.
“Human nature is all like this–welcome the mighty and tread on the weak. We are not native to the capital and the residence is also rented; no wonder we are looked down on by many of the capital’s residents.”
“This slave knows that at the time the clan had not thought we would be staying in the capital for such a long time, which is precisely why the residence was rented. But buying it now is also not too late; it is not like our Ruan clan is without the money. However, this slave has heard something of moving the capital? Purchasing this residence would also be useless. Right when we were to reunite with Master, Miss has become pregnant again. This matter of moving the capital is better to be later rather than sooner.”
Ruan Zhu heard his nagging and smiled as she stroked her belly. Several days ago, Imperial Physician Zhang had come to feel her pulse and said her belly contained twins, causing the one that was about to become a father to remain excited for several nights in a row. Did he really have to go that far? The genes of the people in this era had mutated and the probability of having a daughter was very low, but the chance of having twins had greatly increased. Every couple had several pairs of twins.
With a sweep of her eyes, she saw Yun Shi Wei meander into the garden from the corner gate.
His temper had calmed down a bit after being tempered in Lan Zhou. Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had said men should not stay idle at home or they would become wastes; instead, they should spend their time doing something. He had used his connections to give Yun Shi Wei the unused position of a fifth-rank guerrilla warfare general and also allocated five hundred soldiers from the army for him to command.
When Yun Shi Wei first took office, he was still rather complacent, but very quickly discovered that leading an army was not as easy as he had imagined. First of all, things became difficult when the soldiers refused to listen, and in the beginning, he had punished the several soldiers that took the lead in causing the trouble, but blindly handing out punishments would only cause his troop to double their hatred. Today, there had been yet another deputy general who had heavily criticized him for his training methods. As Yun Shi Wei was not good with words, he had angrily kicked the man, and sent the army home earlier than usual.
Yun Shi Wei stood in the garden for a moment. Seeing his wife sitting in the pavilion, his eyes brightened and he strode over.
“Your expression is not good; you indeed lost your temper in the barracks?” It was not easy to supervise those old and grizzled men of the military. She had heard that all five hundred of the soldiers Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had allocated to him were elites. No matter who it was, as long as their ability was large, their temper would also follow suit. She only feared that they were all very prickly and unable to get along well with others.
Yun Shi Wei’s martial arts were pretty good, but if he wanted to become a talented commander, it was necessary to have more self-discipline.
“Spouse, I know you have a plan. Help me think of a way to make those men listen to me.” Yun Shi Wei was vexed. Even if force was used against those men, their tempers were much more resolute than yours. They simply did not care if you beat them with the army rod; they would grit their teeth until it’s over and a few days later, would be vigorous and lively again.
Ruan Zhu thought a bit of those movies and TV shows she had seen previously: “Actually, it is very simple to manage a group of men with straightforward tempers. They do not play mind games, so as long as your thoughts are the same, they will actually regard you as a friend, and for you, will be at your beck and call from the cradle to the grave and will absolutely not hesitate.”
“Then what should I do?”
“An outstanding commander is the linchpin of the army. Convince them you are a person of good moral standing and reputation with virtue and ethics.” Ruan Zhu looked at him and laughed: “Or, you can convince them with your martial arts skill. The next time they cause trouble, don’t use the rod to punish them; instead, directly challenge them to a fight, unless you are unable to defeat them.”
Yun Shi Wei was unconvinced and disdainfully said: “Who said I am unable to defeat them? Don’t mention those several few pricks from the military, even in the jianghu, there aren’t many experts who can beat me.”
“You have to win people’s hearts so use the best method to reveal yourself in the fastest time possible. Display your strengths and let all of your soldiers understand that there is meat to be had if they stay with you, that they can reach the heights that they desire and can stand out among their peers.” Ruan Zhu spoke while mulling it over: “How about training your men into a special force comprised of men that are precious for their quality, not quantity, with each one being worth a hundred? Strong combat capabilities; well-equipped; fast and flexible; well-trained–their main tasks would be: assault, assassinations and abductions, reconnaissance, obtaining intelligence, and surprise attacks.”
Yun Shi Wei was open-minded and also doubtful: “I don’t quite understand. Can you be a bit more detailed?”
Ruan Zhu’s brows lowered as she thought. When she lifted them up again, her eyes were clear and bright: “For example, if you are leading the army to attack an enemy town, as the advance troop, you can disguise yourselves as civilians and enter the city. Then, while the enemy remains unaware, you can dispose of the entire enemy army’s backbone. Or, let’s say, if the city is still immersed in peace, when the slightest bit of danger creeps in, all of you can ride fast horses into the city and dispatch their main forces in the smallest amount of time. After the blitzkrieg strategy, all of you then immediately gallop away in retreat without waiting for the enemy to have any chance at assembling.”
Yun Shi Wei’s eyes flashed as if he had just seen a luminous lantern in the middle of a dark night: “I understand. The most important part is that we must be fast, fierce, and accurate. As soon as we strike the target, immediately withdraw.”
“Pretty much.” Ruan Zhu responded, gratified. This fool at least had some originality when it came to military affairs. “The weapons and tools special forces use are all of excellent quality. There is a kind of weapon......Nuan Chun, go stand guard at the entrance of the garden; do not let anyone enter.”
“Yes, Eldest Miss.” Nuan Chun knew the information they were discussing was classified, unsuitable for others to hear, and he hurriedly went on patrol.
Ruan Zhu pulled out a dip pen and paper from a cloth bag. In a few strokes, she sketched out several weapons with peculiar shapes.
“What is this?”
“Pick any name you want!” This was a sanleng thorn, a weapon that the special forces of China used.[a] “If this weapon pierces a person’s body, it will leave a gaping hole, similar to a person bleeding out.”
Furthermore, there were blood grooves on all three sides, thus with a single stab into a person’s body, air would also rush in and the speed at which the blade could be withdrawn would also be much faster. Blades that did not have the blood grooves would be restricted by the muscles once the sword was inside the body, and the withdrawal time would be double the amount of time needed to insert the blade, enormously influencing the speed of combat.
After speaking of these things, Ruan Zhu felt a tinge of uneasiness as in the future, there would be more people dying because of her stratagems.
But since the Red Eyebrow army at the southern border had raised up a flag of rebellion, they had to be prepared to sacrifice themselves at any time. Their lives were costly, but did this mean that others’ lives were cheap, then?
Could it be that she even had to wait until the rebels had breached the capital and killed her husbands and children? She was already a member of the imperial household and her relatives were the honorable imperial family of the country of Tian Chu. The fate of the country was closely related to her.
Yun Shi Wei stared at Ruan Zhu for a very long time with pursed lips: “Spouse, you truly are a mystery.”
Ruan Zhu solemnly warned him: “The things I have said to you today, do not tell anyone that it was I who said a single word. Otherwise, it will put me in danger. Do you understand?”
“I know, Spouse. Relax.” He did not understand his wife’s worries, but he knew she had her own reasons for telling him not to reveal the source of information.
Ruan Zhu knew that by revealing this knowledge, she may have brought unnecessary trouble on herself. But she had decided to place the utmost importance on the futures of her husbands and family members first.
Zhao Hai had sought asylum with the Crown Prince, and with his ken and knowledge of a man from the future, he had actually become a threat to Xuanyuan Zong Zhi.
What she had to do first was strengthen herself. When doing things, she must not flinch and be weak from doing them blindly. During the necessary moments, she had to build a formidable force and had to have a strong umbrella behind her.
At least she was hidden. Zhao Hai was in the open and wanting to kill him was much easier in comparison. The issues were, who should this task be given to, and what reasonable justification should be used to dispose of this troublesome matter?
Having transmigrated for so long, her heart had unwittingly become cold. But, who did not slowly mature in the face of adversity?
[a] 三棱刺 (lit. three corner dagger) The name comes from the dagger being shaped so that there’s three ‘sides’ to it rather than the traditional two. (Examples here and here)
TN: Happy new year. ??????
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