时辰 | sichen | time system comprising of 12 two-hour periods of the day; one sichen is the equivalent of two modern hours
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s eyes were brimming tenderness as he gazed at his wife and she bore the full brunt of his affection and distress: “You and the children are the most important people in this world to me. There may not be the slightest mistake and in the future, you must absolutely protect yourself well.”
“Big Brother Lu, you are also my most important person.”
This was the first time Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had heard his wife express her love, and he was incredibly moved from contentment and joy. Though he had a thousand words he wanted to say, he couldn’t even spit out half of one and only dazedly stared at her.
The door to the room opened and Yun Shi Wei rushed in with a face full of fear: “Spouse, when I returned from the barracks, I heard some people had come to make trouble. Are you all right?”
“With everyone present, how could something have happened to me?” There were two males in the room and also Yun Shi Yi who was in the distant Lan Zhou–How privileged she was to be so dearly loved by all of these outstanding men.
Yun Shi Wei saw his wife smiling sweetly and released his breath.
The next day, Xuanyuan Zong Zhi sent someone to the palace to hand the old Emperor a memorial requesting a long vacation so he could accompany his wife at home until she had given birth. During this idle period, he visited Hua Nong Ying Glass Workshop to supervise the manufacturing process and also headed to Tian Wang Embassy to oversee its construction.
In accordance to Ruan Zhu’s idea, Yun Shi Wei established a special force and devoted all of his energy on training. However, in the days leading up to his wife’s expected delivery date, he tried to find as much time as possible to stay at home and accompany her.
Following the new year, on the evening of the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, Ruan Zhu gave birth to twins of mixed sex. It only took two sichen from the start of contractions to the end of delivery, and the entire process went very smoothly.
After going through the previous difficult labor, this time, Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had prepared very thoroughly. Imperial Physician Zhang and Wet Nurse Li had prematurely been invited over and had already stayed in the residence for several days, enjoying their good food and drinks.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi, Yun Shi Wei and Ruan Yu had anxiously waited in the outer room. Along with the wails of an infant in the delivery room–the elder brother arrived first and ten minutes later, the little sister also entered the world.
When the midwife yelled out: “A boy and a girl; a pair of mixed twins,” all of the ones waiting outside became jubilant.
“So it really was twins of mixed sex.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi was over the moon. His taut nerves that had been stretched thin over these several days finally obtained relief, and he impatiently entered the delivery room. Face beaming with joy, he took his son from Wet Nurse Li, then after a while, placed him down and picked up his daughter. Looking at the child’s rosy and small face, he was so happy, his mouth couldn’t even close: “Baby, quickly say ‘Pa,’ I am your Pa.”
It’d be a wonder if such a small baby could understand him! It seemed that no matter how extraordinary a man was, he would still have a childish side. Ruan Zhu’s strength had all been used up after delivering the children. Too lazy to pay attention to him, she fell asleep.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi placed particular importance on these two children and was the embodiment of a father showing off his pride and joy. He insisted on personally naming them. When Ruan Zhu had given birth to Zhi Xi, the naming privilege had been stolen by Father Ruan, and he was absolutely unwilling to let that happen this time.
The young couple had come up with over a dozen names while they had been waiting and right when it was time to make the final decision......An imperial edict arrived from the palace–the children’s paternal grandfather had come to join in the fun, naming the boy Xuanyuan Bo Yu and the girl Xuanyuan Bo Ya.
As Ruan Zhu was in confinement, she could not accept the imperial decree and waited in the room for her husband to bring over the edict for her to see. Once she did, she became incredibly angry. They had already agreed to give the son to the Ruan clan so why on earth did the Emperor come to meddle?
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi saw that his wife’s expression was not good: “Don’t be angry. If worst comes to worst, I will yield the privilege of thinking of their pet names to you.” Actually, the two people had argued over several days on the topic of naming their children and the dispute had caused them both to be red in the face as neither of them were willing to yield to the other. In the end, Xuanyuan Zong Zhi conceded as he could not win over his wife, and Ruan Zhu had promised to let him come up with their pet names.
“You’re the one who said for me to think of the pet names~ What would be good to call them, hmm?” Ruan Zhu saw that the matter had been concluded and could only compromise. After thinking for a good while, her eyes became shiny: “Our son will be called Jack and our daughter will be Alice. How about that? Doesn’t it sound nice?” 《Alice in Wonderland》was her favorite movie and it must be said that the little girl was extremely cute.
After giving birth, a woman would inevitably be beside oneself with joy and would also not be concerned with whether or not a name was regarded as appalling or shocking in the current era. During the time when Zhi Xi was being named, she had come up with a whole bunch of pet names, such that she’d call him this today, called him that tomorrow, and finally made it so that no one knew what name the child should or should not be called. Thus, they all simply called him by his formal name.
This was what and what? Xuanyuan Zong Zhi was flabbergasted. How could his precious children be called such strange names? If others knew, wouldn’t they laugh themselves to death?[a] He hummed and hawed: “Might it be possible for me to take back the privilege?”
“Not possible.” Ruan Zhu was solemn: “Since my manly husband has spoken, it is like a white dye stained black and one may not renege.”
In other matters, Xuanyuan Zong Zhi could reach a compromise with his wife, but this time, he was a hundred percent insistent. No matter what she said, he would not consent to giving his children such peculiar names. He himself refused to call them with those names and also instructed others to do the same.
On the topic of picking a pet name for her nephew, Ruan Yu firmly stood on the side of her brother-in-law, and the result was that Ruan Zhu alone called the children by their pet names, angering her so much that she refused to speak to her husband for a good several days. In actuality, she only wanted to play around for a bit. If she were to truly give her children such shocking pet names, she would really need to think it over.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi found two wet nurses for his children that were the wives of some of his subordinate imperial bodyguards with very clean backgrounds. The twins received proper care, leaving Ruan Zhu completely idle. However, as a qualified mother, she spent the majority of her time with them everyday as she was absolutely not willing for them to become close to their wet nurses and completely forget about her, their mother, after she had painstakingly given birth to them.
On the fifteenth day of the second lunar month, the twins turned one month old. Xuanyuan Zong Zhi arranged a huge banquet and invited members of the court to celebrate. It was one of those banquets that lasted three days and guests could come and go as they pleased. Even the beggars on the streets basked in the light and were provided with steamed buns, copper coins, and clothes in turn.
The old Emperor in the palace sent an envoy to deliver many gold and silver jewels and other related items. The head of the palace eunuch grasped the imperial edict and read out in his high-pitched voice: By the Mandate of Heaven, the Emperor hereby decrees......and so on and so forth. The general meaning was that the son could inherit his father’s position and title in the future, but the daughter should also have a title and has now been bestowed the title of ‘county princess.’
Ruan Zhu did not care too much about these so-called titles as they were merely things to give one face. In the future, the children would still need to rely on their own ability to earn money. However, having something was better than nothing and she followed her husband in offering her thanks for the grace.
When Yun Shi Yi received the news that his wife had given birth to a pair of mixed twins, he sent over two large carriages of gifts. As an individual, Yun Shi Wei did not have much of property or assets and used the salary he had acquired as an official to buy a pair of golden locks engraved with a qilin[b] from a jewelry store as gifts for the twins.
The weather warmed. The twins had the wet nurses looking after them and little Zhi Xi stuck next to Xuanyuan Zong Zhi every day calling to ‘wide horsey.’ Ruan Zhu had gained a reputation in the social circles of the capital and was frequently invited by Madams of government officials to parties. This could be counted as her having experienced the enthusiastic and intoxicating extravagant lifestyle of the upper class.
On this day, she arrived at Princess Long Yuan’s residence as a guest. This Princess was the Emperor’s biological little sister and based on the family hierarchy, was Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s paternal aunt. This year, she was forty-some years of age. The several husbands by her side had all passed away one after the other from illness and her children had long moved out and settled down elsewhere. Because she had a reputation of bring bad luck on her husbands, no other man dared to enter her residence as a concubine. The Princess also did not want to accept anyone and lived unfettered by herself. When she had nothing to do, she would invite some ladies from the imperial court to get together for some fun.
Ruan Zhu was fond of this easygoing elder Princess. After she arrived, she saw that the other was currently playing mahjong with several court madams.
Speaking of mahjong, there is a little bit of history here. It had reportedly originated from the Crown Prince’s residence. One of the Crown Prince’s aides had studied it from who knows where and the game had then slipped its way inside the Empress’s palace. Not long after, mahjong became popular among the aristocracy in the capital.
Princess Long Yuan saw that the wife of her nephew had arrived and pulled her over to replace a lady who had just so happened to require the lavatory at that time.
Since knowing about Zhao Hai, Ruan Zhu had become extremely cautious and did not dare expose a single iota of the superiority of a modern person. Although the matters that she understood were not few, but she had been a hardworking and good child in her past life. Don’t mention playing mahjong, she didn’t even recognize the majority of the symbols on the mahjong tiles. After playing a few rounds, the silver on her body had completely disappeared as well as her hairpins and earrings. Even her gorgeous cloud brocade jacket embroidered with tree peonies had been taken off and used as her bet.
The mahjong circle was a picture of merriment and Princess Long Yuan roared with laughter. Ruan Zhu had already crossed over for a long time and was no longer as stingy as before. She happily lost and paternal aunt Long Yuan also happily won.
The womenfolk enthusiastically played mahjong while drinking tea, but the originally cheerful event changed in atmosphere after the arrival of the Prince of Dai.
Who was the Prince of Dai? He was precisely Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s biological father. The current Emperor could not have children and the ones at the knee were all the secondary husbands’ offspring. This Prince of Dai was the Empress’s third husband and he was a concubine like his son.
Why did the elder xiao san and the younger xiao san not look like father and child? Though the elder xiao san‘s appearance was attractive, he did not have the younger xiao san‘s brightly handsome elegance or the graceful bearing of a responsible general.
The Prince of Dai’s birth status could be considered noble, and one did not know if the Emperor was guarding against him or what, but before and after the Prince of Dai became a concubine of the Empress, he did not have many accomplishments. He had painted a sign for Hong Lu Temple but then remained a leisurely prince and that was it.
“This young one greets the Prince of Dai.” After all, this was the first time they had met, so even if the other party’s rank was lower than hers by a level, he was still a noble Prince and a member of the Xuanyuan clan. Ruan Zhu kneeled down to formally pay her respects.
The Prince of Dai had no intention of letting her rise at all. Walking to the side with a cold face to take a seat, he drank the tea that a servant carried over and his eyes did not even glance her way.
Ruan Zhu remembered that the Empress completely hated Zong Zhi for having a background in a brothel. The Prince of Dai had probably also been influenced by this, right? But what did this person raise his temper against her for? In any case, her status was still one of a Prince’s imperial Princess while the Prince of Dai was only a county prince. She had saluted him because he was Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s blood relative and him putting on airs towards her simply lacked common sense.
Ruan Zhu looked towards Princess Long Yuan, but the other was also very helpless. It was not false that Princess Long Yuan liked Ruan Zhu, but the former did not express any willingness to step into this muddy water.
Perhaps the Prince of Dai was a second Wei Rong! Ruan Zhu silently cursed and stood up.
“Which family’s wild child is the Princess of Qi part of to not even be taught any manners!” Disgust was on the Prince of Dai’s face. One of his attendants that had followed him in immediately remarked: “This one has heard that the Princess of Qi is from a merchant family who had fled from Yu Zhou to the capital.”
The Prince of Dai coldly snorted: “I was just saying how she seemed to not know any etiquette. It turns out it’s just a boorish and ignorant merchant clan.”
Ruan Zhu became enraged and her eyes turned cold. There was no trace of fear in her voice; it was only clear and bright: “What sort of words is the Prince of Dai saying? This young one has been educated quite well. Kneeling to the Heavens and to the earth; kneeling towards one’s parents; kneeling towards His Majesty–all of these rules this young one understands very clearly.” The implication was–kneeling to you was honoring you; do not misunderstand others’ kindness.
The Prince of Dai was so angry his eyes blazed: “Audacious!”
Ruan Zhu coolly stared at him and indifferently said a sentence: “If this one has offended, may County Prince accord a punishment.” The meaning among these words was–your status is inadequate to find fault with me.
In a feudal society with rigid social ranks, her words were not without reason. The Prince of Dai was the Empress’s secondary husband and did not have any true power whatsoever. In terms of familial hierarchy, the Prince of Dai was higher than her, but in terms of nobility, she surpassed him.
“Truly a feral, uneducated girl. If this prince continues staying, there will be **.[c] Princess Long Yuan, this prince will take his leave.”
When the Prince of Dai had passed by Princess Long Yuan’s residence today, he had heard the people at the gate discussing the Princess of Qi’s arrival and had entertained the thought of coming over to embarrass her. He had never considered the other party was someone he could not push around. There was no longer any meaning in staying, thus, with an ashen face, he left the princess’s residence with his attendant.
Princess Long Yuan gave Ruan Zhu an explanation: “There are some things you do not know. The Prince of Dai previously had his heart set on marrying the daughter of Prime Minister Wang Bo En to Zong Zhi and had suggested it to His Majesty the year before last. But Zong Zhi was completely opposed to the idea, causing the Prince of Dai to lose considerable face which is why he has this opinion of you.”
How could it be just the reason of his face having been lost? She was afraid her family background was also a cause. The imperial family paid particular attention to political marriages and the daughter-in-law in his eyes could not bring him the slightest advantage. If he could criticize her, then he would criticize her, and he would absolutely not let her live comfortably in the future.
Ruan Zhu exited Princess Long Yuan’s residence and rode in the carriage as it followed Zhu Que Street back towards the Ruan residence. The weather had gradually warmed and all the curtains were open, causing her to inadvertently see Dong Fang Hua and a crippled man holding hands while walking along the street and entering a luxurious inn.
A group of ordinary customers entered immediately after them. Among them were several people Ruan Zhu recognized as imperial bodyguards of the Prince of Qi’s residence.
Could it be they were preparing to catch the couple in the act?
Ruan Zhu called for the coachman to stop the carriage by the street then lowered the curtains so that barely a slit was visible and peeked outside. After a moment, she saw a very beautiful girl in red clothes being led by a young man to the inn.
That youngster seemed a little familiar. She thought for a moment–wasn’t that Wei Jia? She remembered that Ruan Yu had said he had become a wealthy family’s bedwarmer. Don’t tell her the master was this red-clothed female?
Being a bedwarmer did not necessarily mean one had high status. One was just a servant, but because a bedwarmer would wait upon their master at all times, their status was a little higher than that of an average servant, that’s all.
“Madam, this slave saw Master sneakily enter this inn with a woman. They have long had a relationship and many people know of this.”
The lady in red’s face was full of ire: “Very good, Zhao Hai, to be lame in one leg and to dare lose your virtue and conduct such a shameless thing. Which part of I, this precious daughter of the magistrate of Shun Tian Hall, fails to fit an ugly person like you? I must smash him into a pulp.”
Actually, Zhao Hai was not at all ugly. His father, Fifth Concubine-Father Zhao, could have a passionate love affair when he was young, so how ugly could his son be?
[a] In Chinese, the names Jack and Alice are translated using phonetics so Jack = jié kè (杰克) and Alice = ài lì sī (爱丽丝). These phonetic names also do not make any sense in terms of meaning (like if one was to literally translate each character), which is why XZZ is so against it.
[b] Reference to Dream of a Red Chamber, where the two main characters each had locks that signified they were meant to be as their respective locks had lines that completed the others’. Image example of some locks and an artistic presentation of a qilin.
[c] The raws I’m using censored this and there’s not enough context clues for me to know what the original word is, so feel free to substitute in your choice.
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