On the evening of the second day, Nuan Chun finished Nuan Qing’s funeral arrangements. After bathing and changing his clothes, he arrived at Yi Xin Residence.
At this time, Ruan Zhu had already finished the evening meal and was currently waiting to retire for the night. Neither of her two husbands were home as they were both busy with their own work. She was unaccustomed to other people serving her, thus when the palace eunuch brought in a basin of steaming water, she had planned to wash her feet herself. Seeing Nuan Chun had entered, she beckoned for him to take a seat.
Nuan Chun chose a small stool and sat opposite her. Bending his waist, he very naturally washed his master’s feet and attentively massaged the acupuncture points on the soles.
Ruan Zhu was perched at the head of the bed and looked at Nuan Chun. This unique massage technique had been taught by Nuan Qing and she remembered how unspeakably relaxed and light her body felt every time after one of Nuan Qing’s massages.
“What did Nuan Qing say before he was at death’s door?” Ruan Zhu did not believe that so many years of feeling between master and servant could not equal a wet nurse who had been here for less than a year.
Nuan Chun’s face was laden with grief and the hands that were massaging her feet stalled: “I invited a physician from the medicine hall to treat him. When that physician heard that Nuan Qing was one that did not abide by the rules, his manner of speaking was incredibly rude and after he had reluctantly treated him, he didn’t even bother to accept the medical fee and left with his medicine box. Perhaps because he had suffered a large blow, Nuan Qing cried his heart out and refused to eat a single bite of the food I brought over from the kitchen. I asked him why did he go to the trouble of having such deep feelings for the wet nurse? That person has even died but he still grieved over her like that......”
Ruan Zhu saw that he had trailed off and pressed him for more details: “What did Nuan Qing say?”
Nuan Chun switched to his master’s other foot and continued massaging, remaining silent for a while before finally saying: “Nuan Qing said a few words blaspheming Eldest Miss......”
“Do not hesitate to speak.”
Nuan Chun wavered: “Nuan Qing said he did not have much affection for the wet nurse. He said that when the wet nurse had pasted herself on him, he honestly couldn’t resist the temptation. Nuan Qing has seen Master’s body before and when he did that with the wet nurse, he always couldn’t help but think of Master. I......I was unable to bear it any longer and slapped him.”
At that time when he had heard that Nuan Qing had actually compared a wet nurse to their honorable Eldest Miss, he had become furious. Unable to control his own hand, he had aimed a slap towards the other, but after he had done so, he saw Nuan Qing’s painful eyes and immediately regretted it.
“It was me who caused his death.” Finished with the massage, Nuan Chun picked up a towel to dry his master’s small feet before handing the basin of water to a palace eunuch standing by the side for the other to toss out. He continued: “I worried his wounds were too serious for him to move about freely and slept in his room that same evening. The first half of the night, he was still weeping and I had yet to fall asleep but then later exhaustion overtook me. Who could have imagined, when I woke up early in the morning, I would see a corpse hanging from the rafters and was so scared my soul fled. After I saw that it was Nuan Qing, I walked over and discovered he had been stiff for a long time.”
Ruan Zhu could not say anything for a very long while. She had always ignored the two bedwarmers’ feelings. Although they were servants, they were still normal, healthy males yet had to endure their physiological desire towards their mistress that was in her prime. Seeing a wet nurse that was also young and beautiful, and also under the circumstance where the other deliberately approached, not being able to resist was reasonable.
Ever since the human gene had mutated, a set of norms had been set. Females married; men too responsibility. Women painstakingly worked to preserve a man’s ancestral line; men should protect their wife and children for their entire lifetime, in accordance with regulations and following conventions.
The men of Tian Chu actually lived quite a hard life.
Ruan Zhu scooted sideways in the bed and pointed to the empty space beside her: “Do not return to your room tonight. Just sleep here and chat with me.”
Nuan Chun was stunned silly: “Eldest Miss, how could this be allowed?”
Ruan Zhu indifferently said: “Aren’t you my bedwarmer? What’s wrong with keeping me company? Didn’t we use to sleep in one bed together?” In her brain were some shattered memories pertaining to this body’s childhood. Before she had married, she had often slept in one bed with the two of them, like 3 siblings, three young innocents. It was purely sleeping and they had never done anything that crossed the line.
Nuan Chun’s expression was one of nervousness. Gripping his lapel, he refused to budge. After Eldest Miss had married, he had never had the opportunity to be close to her and now, he was a little dazed and embarrassed and at a loss for what to do.
Ruan Zhu yawned: “I currently cannot do anything in this state and only want you to accompany me. Could it that you dislike me now?”
“This slave does not dare.”
Nuan Chun slowly took off his outer clothes then crawled into the bed and laid down face-up on the bed. His four limbs were rigid and he did not dare to randomly move about. After a while, he remembered that the lights were still on. He got up to blow them out and then rigidly laid back down, but saw that he had been trapped in the blanket. Eldest Miss had nestled against him with her fragrant body and Nuan Chun’s head immediately became blank except for a single droning note.
“Wrap your arms around me as I sleep. I am not used to being alone.”
“Eldest Miss!” Nuan Chun was practically shaking as he stretched his arms underneath his master’s neck. As soon as the female’s soft body was in his arms, Nuan Chun’s heart was stopped up by a gigantic feeling of satisfaction. He could only think that even if he were to immediately die, it would all be worth it.
“Nuan Chun, you really ought to toughen up. Your arm doesn’t have the least bit of strength.”
Ruan Zhu had been wrapped in his arms and slowly fell asleep.
Nuan Chun looked at the dainty outline of his master in the dark and for a long time, found it difficult to sleep. Not daring to move in fear of waking her up, it was only when the sky had nearly brightened that he finally, dazedly, fell asleep.
Henceforth, whenever the two male masters were not at home, Nuan Chun would reside in his master’s room and now used even more effort when attending to her.
Ever since Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had received Ruan Zhu’s suggestions, he soon conducted a series of actions. During the day, he would head to the barracks and drill soldiers. When he had time to return, he would handle the glass factory and had already bought a porcelain kiln. He had also sent people to look for graphite to make a pot to boil the ingredients, then sought good quality quartz granules and exceptional porcelain masters......
An intelligence organization was also on the agenda. From enlisted soldiers and commoners, several people with strong backbones had been chosen and then been divided into separate divisions to undergo training.
Yun Shi Wei was also so busy that his shadow could not bee seen. After receiving Ruan Zhu’s idea, he had carried out the most exquisite training drills for the soldiers in his regiment.
Two days before the winter solstice, the men could finally stay at home as the Winter Solstice Festival was a major holiday.
At the Cang Huang Mountain battlefield, the imperial army had sent a messenger to the capital, relaying they had secured a major victory. In his joy, the Emperor declared the entire city would have five days of holiday.
From the beginning until now, the Red Eyebrow army had an unshakable momentum. The enemy frequently used a human wave attack when their weapons were not strong enough, which often caused the imperial army to be helpless in the onslaught. Relying on their advanced weaponry to maintain their position, occasionally the imperial army would have small victories, but they had never had one so decisive before.
This time, the imperial army had exercised a strategy to lure the enemy by using a squadron of cavalry to lead them into a valley. They had then immediately blocked the passage through the valley and used the modified trebuchets to toss out the advanced gunpowder and launched a fierce attack. The imperial army had also laid in wait on either sides of the hilltops to push large boulders down with sticks and aim large-scale ballistas at the enemy in the valley, creating a large scene of confusion and explosions.
The annihilation of one hundred thousand enemies was the first major success that the imperial court had ever obtained since the rebels had marched north.
The news entered the city walls and traveled along the great streets and small alleys, spreading throughout the city and causing the entire capital to be full of jubilation. The sound of firecrackers filled the sky as the commoners took out the ones the had already prepared for the Winter Solstice Festival and set them off early.
Though the current Emperor was fond of dance and writing, he did not feel too strongly about politics. But his temperament was quite good as he was one of those who never tried to offend others and did not treat the commoners badly. The inhabitants underneath the Son of Heaven’s foot placed the utmost importance on the imperial family. With the Emperor as the spiritual representative, if the Emperor was present, their vigor would also be present.
The mantra proposed by the rebels of the south of ‘Equality Between the Rich and the Poor’ and ‘Wait for Riches’ had no connection with the citizens of the capital.
In history, natural disasters and ** descended on all dynasties. Rebels did not think of surviving catastrophes together and instead took the opportunity to heighten unrest, resulting in more people losing their lives.
The leaders, obsessed with power, used ridiculous schemes to make a fool out of the common people. What slaying of the white serpent, ah? What blaming the stone person, ah?[a] But, there were precisely people that were willing to believe in these things.
Reportedly, before the uprising, the head of the Red Eyebrow army had hunted a wild boar in the mountains. Then when they split open the belly, he found a green piece of paper in the boar’s stomach with the word ‘Rebel’ or something like that.
Afterwards, everyone had mulled over this and decided that it was a revelation from the Heavens; therefore, this group of hot-headed villagers grabbed shovels, hoes, wooden clubs. Of course, there were also a few that took spears, swords, or halberds, and followed the main crowd in rebelling.
MF–An entire group of idiots. If a green slip of paper was in a boar’s belly for a long time, it would have long become mush. It was clearly someone taking advantage of others not paying attention when the stomach was sliced open to stuff it inside.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi was unable to contain his joy at being able to return home. As soon as he entered the room, he picked his wife up in a princess carry and spun her around a few times: “Wife, Emperor-Father said the majority of the credit for the imperial army’s victory this time belongs to you. If you hadn’t thought of good methods to improve the weapons, it is possible Cang Huang Mountain would have long been lost.”
Ruan Zhu also smiled so that her brows curved. Dizzy from being twirled, she wrapped both of her arms around his neck: “Be more gentle. There’s only one more month until the babies are born and we must be careful.”
“What is it, Wife?” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi became nervous as soon as he heard her words. Placing her on the bed, he turned his head and hollered out the door: “Qu Gao, He Gua, quickly go find Imperial Physician Zhang. Niangniang does not feel well. Hurry!”
“I am not uncomfortable; there’s no need for the urgency. Imperial Physician Zhang and Wet Nurse Li have already came yesterday to take my pulse, saying the babies are all right and the position of the fetuses are very normal. Because this is the second pregnancy and the pelvis has closed once already, as long as there are no accidents, the delivery should be smooth.”
“We must still take more caution during this period. It is better to invite the imperial physician over to take your pulse. I will also feel relieved, then.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi recalled the difficult birth his wife had gone through this time last year and his heart wrenched: “There is still one more month until delivery so why is it strange to worry? How about I request a long vacation tomorrow to stay with you?”
“That’s probably not a good idea, right? You have so many things to do.”
“The soldiers’ training was given in advance to the deputy general to manage. There is nothing to worry about. Furthermore, I should handle some more personal issues. The glass factory is now fully equipped and can almost start construction while the intelligence building is also in the middle of construction. It is just that I do not know what names to give them?”
“I have actually thought of this before. The transparency of glass is extremely high and the reflection that a mirror produces is something that leaves nothing to be desired. There is a very beautiful line from a poem that goes ‘The moon breaks through clouds as the shadows of the flowers dance‘ so why not just name it ‘Hua Nong Ying’ Glass Workshop? The information network can be called ‘Tian Wang Embassy.’ Heaven’s net has wide meshes but nothing escapes it. It will be an information network just like a big net.”[b]
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s eyes glittered: “The moon breaks through clouds as the shadows of the flowers dance; Hua Nong Ying Glass Workshop. Tian Wang Embassy; Heaven’s net has wide meshes but nothing escapes it. Very good. Wife, I just knew you would have good ideas.”
Ruan Zhu thought for a moment, then asked: “Big Brother Lu, what is the situation with Zhao Hai?”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi knit his brows: “There are no clues to start from. The Crown Prince pays special attention to this person and has set aside several imperial bodyguards to protect him. Although killing him is not difficult, it would become very troublesome if the matter was to fall into Emperor-Father’s side.”
Ruan Zhu was silent. Since an assassination was not possible, why not use another method? The best strategy was to ruin this person so that all others would spurn him.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi continued: “We have found out from the secret letter sent over by a spy that Zhao Hai has also suggested a glass factory and information network to the Crown Prince, but the Crown Prince has paid more attention to manufacturing glass and is less keen on intelligence. Not long after I had just purchased a porcelain kiln, I received notice that the Crown Prince had forcibly bought a kiln at a very low price at Zhong Ji, west of the city walls.”
Who knows if Zhao Hai had spoken superficially or what? It was obvious the Crown Prince did not recognize how many benefits an information network had; his gaze was not broad enough! Just for a selfish reason, he forcibly robbed another’s possession. This sort of person becoming the emperor of Tian Chu was a calamity, not a blessing.
Ruan Zhu frowned as she mulled things over for a short moment before asking: “Then what about public opinon?”
“Public opinion?” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi did not understand.
“What happens if a man of Tian Chu is sexually immoral?”
“He has naturally abandoned the masses. If the crime is light, he will be paraded through the streets. If the crime is heavy, he will be drowned or have to ride a wooden donkey.”[c] If Zhao Hai committed the crime of adultery, it would depend on what his defenders did and if the Crown Prince was willing to protect him against everyone’s scorn.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi thought of the year Emperor-Father had found him. In the presence of numerous officials in the Golden Hall, he had abandoned public opinion and exposed the gecko cinnabar mark on his arm for the others to inspect his purity; otherwise, how would he have the achievements he had now? It was very likely he would have long been abandoned by the common people. Even so, his enemy still constantly humiliated him by saying he was from a brothel, causing even his Empress-Mother to look at him with obvious disgust.
There was only his beloved wife. In her eyes, he had always been noble and pure like a white lotus. But he did not know his wife’s thoughts. She regarded him as being an artist who sold his skill, not himself; someone who also had extraordinary guqin skill. In the modern times, wouldn’t he be precisely an artist?
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi thought for a moment. Warmth lingered in his heart for a while and he couldn’t resist hugging his wife.
Since the Tang dynasty with Wu Ze Tian and Princess Tai Ping, a woman’s three husbands and four attendants gradually increased. Several decades later, after the country of Tian Chu was founded following the An Shi Rebellion, natural disaster struck resulting in the death of countless women, and the polyandry system of ‘one woman, many husbands’ was established.
Women worked to increase the country’s population, and in return, men remained strictly virtuous for their wife.
“Does Zhao Hai have a wife yet?”
“His wife is incredibly beautiful and is precisely Shun Tian Hall’s magistrate’s daughter. In order to curry favor with the Crown Prince, the magistrate wed his daughter to Zhao Hai. This matter occurred half a month ago.”
“Oh!” A smile appeared on Ruan Zhu’s mouth: “The daughter of the magistrate of Shun Tian Hall must be dissatisfied. Any woman who married such a man would be mad with fury.” Zhao Hai was nothing to look at and was also crippled. Which woman would feel happy?
Ruan Zhu remembered that the feeling Zhao Hai gave others was of a strange and negative air. She didn’t know if the reason was because he had brought some of the haze atop the Nai He Bridge[d] along with him into the world of the living when he crossed over?
“The bride is fourteen and is a daughter of one of the secondary husbands of the magistrate’s wife. She is not in the magistrate’s heart, which is why she was used as a springboard and married off to Zhao Hai.”
“The magistrate’s daughter surely hates Zhao Hai and will quickly accept secondary husbands. But Zhao Hai refuses to agree no matter what, right?” Ruan Zhu’s eyes sparkled with amusement: “So, the husband and wife pair frequently fight, making it a common scene in their home, and the magistrate’s daughter refuses to let him touch her.”
“How did you know this? It is like you had personally seen them as it is certainly how you have described.”
“But if Zhao Hai comes across a girl as delicate as a flower and as refined as precious jade, how will he be able to endure it? There will definitely be problems between them. If Zhao Hai tastes the sweetness of a relationship between men and women and then is not allowed to touch, he will go insane. Perhaps he would go hunting and won’t be able to bear it when he sees other pretty females.”
“That is impossible, correct?” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi was full of doubt: “How could Zhao Hai do such a foolish thing that would destroy his future? Is there something wrong with his head?”
“Let’s make a bet. I am certain Zhao Hai cannot control the thing underneath. Lord Husband, what about you, hmm?”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi was not fully convinced but he said: “I will not gamble with you because I believe you will surely win.”
Ruan Zhu’s dimples showed themselves. As a male transmigrator, he would surely think of himself as the core and believe that he was the tranmisgrated male lead who had only crossed over to the country of Tian Chu because the Heavens had given him an opportunity to change the world. Perhaps his dreams were full of how he would wrap a beauty in his right arm and embrace another in his left. MF–you read too many Q*dian novels and inflicted much suffering!
“Niangniang! There is an elderly man outside the entrance that claims to be niangniang‘s maternal grandfather and is asking for an audience.”
Maternal grandfather? My maternal grandfather from where? Could it be that Grandfather had also transmigrated? But he had passed away when I was really small, ah!
Ruan Zhu’s brain was still stuck on her conversation with her husband and had not yet flipped back around.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi saw that she was confused and reminded her: “He is your maternal grandfather from the capital. Did you not go see him not long after you arrived in the capital?”
Ruan Zhu smacked her forehead. So it was Madam Ruan’s father.
“That......go tell Second Miss to receive the guest! Just say I do not feel well.”
If it was the previous her that had said this and the neighbors were to know of this matter, it was certain they would say that the Eldest Miss of the Ruan clan had no education and even Maternal Grandfather would also believe it. But now, she was the honorable Princess of Qi and putting on airs was regarded as something that was right and proper.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi gazed at his wife and was a little anxious. His wife was sometimes very shrewd yet sometimes also acted like she was missing a brain. He only wished that his children would not inherit the side of her that was lacking.
[a] These are references to two events that led to uprisings in feudal China. The one with the white snake is for Liu Bang (who later became Emperor Gaozu of Han, the founding and first emperor of the Han dynasty) who rebelled against the Qin dynasty. Reportedly, Liu Bang killed a gigantic white snake and when his followers later encountered and asked a woman why she was weeping by the road, she responded “My child, the White Emperor’s son, has been slain by the Red Emperor” and they took it to mean Liu Bang would become a ruler. (Wikipedia) The stone person is for Han Shan Tong, who was one of the early Red Turban rebellion leaders and rebelled against the Yuan dynasty. He claimed to have found a one-eyed stone figure while repairing the Yellow River which told him to revolt against the current ruling regime. (Wikipedia)
[b] The line (云破月来花弄影) comes from the poem 天仙子· 水调数声持酒听 (Fairy from Heaven) by 张先 Zhang Xian, a Song dynasty poet. The name that RZ suggested is the last three characters of the line and roughly translates to ‘dancing flower shadows.’ // Tian Wang is literally ‘Heaven’s net(work).’ The idiom means ‘the way of Heaven is fair, but the guilty will not escape.’
[c] 骑木驴 (Riding a wooden donkey) is similar to the wooden horse punishment in the West, though rather than the triangular ‘saddle’ in the West, the saddle is usually flat or a little arched and has a little rod sticking up in the middle which would then be inserted into a female’s v*gina. The stick could move up and down in more complicated styles and the female’s thighs were nailed onto the saddle to prevent her from moving. Since this novel is
[d] In Chinese mythology, this is a bridge in the underworld that every soul has to cross over before one can be reincarnated.
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