Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
The old Residence was Wei Jue's home during his term as an official in Luoyang. Back then, he was a minor official with only an ordinary courtyard mansion. Yet, even after he became Prime Minister, he didn't abandon the mansion, or set up a new home.
As far as I knew, Wei Zhao, along with the rest of the Wei Clan, had followed Wei Jue when he established the capital in Yong Province. Why did Wei Zhao's sole concubine, Xu-shi, stay in Luoyang?
Though my foot was fine, I didn't dare roam around yet. After we reached Luoyang, I stayed indoors and rested my foot before walking again.
We barely settled in before Wei An, unable to stay idle and fixated on my wheelchair, began looking for lumber.
"Fourth Young Master, is this still a wheelchair?" Ah Yuan stared at the wooden board with Wei An's drawings. Confused by the intersecting lines and circles, she asked, "It looks different?"
"It's different; I added height because the original was short. I also added teeth to the wheels so you can brake the wheelchair if you need to stop on a dirt slope, and it won't go wild."
"Fourth Young Master is so smart," Ah Yuan exclaimed.
He scratched his head: "I want to redesign the Huchuang into a two-tiered chair. You can sit on the upper tier, and the lower tier connects to a dung bucket underneath through a hole. Eldest Sister-in-law doesn't have to drag her injured foot to the toilet."
Ah Yuan: "......"
"Fourth Young Master is kind," her smile distorted as she reddened. She glanced at me, "But these daily matters aren't a problem for Furen; the injury didn't disable her."
"Is that so?" Wei An frowned, somewhat disappointed.
"Never mind, Fourth Brother-in-law," I interjected, "your idea is excellent. Why don't you make it first? I will keep it at home for when the need arises. What do you think?"
His expression brightened as he nodded.
I smiled, my heart set ablaze by Wei An's words. Different people with different degrees of leg injuries existed in this world. They needed different wheelchairs - if only walking was inconvenient, a wheelchair like the one I used earlier would suffice. How many unable to care for themselves hoped for wheelchairs that helped with toileting?
I squinted as a jingling sound echoed in my ears. Oh, that was the sound of copper coins rattling in the pouch......
The rest was worthwhile; my injured foot completely recovered after two days and I could walk with no problem.
When I stepped into the courtyard corridor by myself, the world sparkled in the bright sunshine.
I stayed in Wei Tan's old rooms, filled with things he used as a youngster. When I opened a chest, I found several old undershirts and playthings such as slingshots and wooden swords. They looked well-preserved; the box stuffed with camphor to repel insects. As I took them out, one slingshot had a crooked "Tan" engraved on its back. More crooked and it would be illegible.
After seeing everything, I decided I was sick of staying in Wei Tan's rooms. When I expressed my wish to tour the Residence to Wei An, he scratched his head. With great difficulty, he paused his work and drew me a map of the mansion. After marking every courtyard's location, its size and who lived in it, he tossed it to me and then continued to bury his head in his wheelchair.
Ah Yuan and I toured the mansion with the map. Although this mansion had little, I wished to learn more about where I lived. Every place appeared ordinary, except for a vivid peony blooming under the sun in the backyard.
What attracted me, though, was the slender woman amidst the peony bushes. Although she was wearing plain clothes and a straw hat to protect against the sun, I could discern she wasn't a servant.
Hearing our movement, she raised her head, revealing an attractive face with delicate eyebrows under the hat's brim.
Somewhat startled, but at once setting down the things in her hands, she took off her straw hat and walked towards me.
"I, Xu-shi, pay my respects to Furen," she bowed.
When I heard the words "Xu-shi", I knew I had guessed correctly.
"So it's Concubine Xu." I smiled and nodded, "I've long heard of Concubine's name, but I never expected to meet you today."
Concubine Xu looked modest and replied, "Since I've always stayed in Luoyang, I couldn't meet Furen."
As we exchanged pleasantries, I concluded she wasn't the daughter of a small family from her refined speech.
"Is the Concubine enjoying the flowers in the garden?"
"I'm not enjoying the flowers, I am pruning the leaves and branches."
"Oh?" I looked at the peonies and smiled, "Do you love gardening?"
She returned my smile, "I only know the basics of gardening. The Prime Minister himself planted these peonies back in the day. Whenever they bloomed, he held a banquet in the mansion to enjoy the flowers. Now that the Prime Minister has gone to Yong Capital, I was afraid that this flower will wither, so I take care of them myself."
"Is that so," I nodded, "Concubine is a meticulous person."
She lowered her eyebrows and replied modestly, "Furen, you flatter me."
"Is Concubine Xu very idle in Luoyang?" Back in the room, Ah Yuan poured a cup of tea and brought it to me, muttering, "As the Second Young Master's concubine, she has status in this Residence. Why grab the gardener's work?"
I smiled, "Ah Yuan, imagine being tossed away alone in Luoyang, not meeting your husband and in-laws even a few times a year; won't you find something to do?"
Convinced, she nodded.
As I gently blew on the tea and sipped, I contemplated the deeper layer under "finding things to do". Concubine Xu started and ended her speech with the Prime Minister; she knew just whose favor she had to win.
Unable to walk freely for long, we finally reached a safe and lively place with great difficulty. After staying in the mansion for a few days, I planned to venture out.
Going out was easy; with no in-laws in the Residence, I ranked highest, and the servants couldn't stop me. I asked the Steward for the nearest Taoist temple within the city and told him that I was going to pray for my Mother-in-law and husband.
The Steward hesitated, but finally didn't resist. Madam Guo was fond of worshiping gods, and this trick always worked like a charm.
Both the carriage and the escort soldiers were at my beck and call. After preparing the sacrificial offerings, I set off on the carriage to the city's East.
Luoyang was once the East capital, and though its temples weren't as grand as Chang An's, they were well-maintained with keen incense burning. In contrast, though named a "Capital", Yong Capital's temples were too shabby.
I handed the offerings to the acolyte in charge of burning incense and asked him to set up the table. I prayed in a dignified manner, instructing Ah Yuan to donate incense.
After praying, I exited the main hall to go for a stroll, when I heard a sudden voice from beside me: "NuiJun...... Fu NuiJun?"
Startled, I turned and met an old woman holding a basket. She stared at me, her eyes filled with disbelief.
"You......" Though she looked familiar, I couldn't recognize her.
"NuiJun!" The old woman's face filled with excitement, "NuiJun, I am Madam Qiao's wet nurse. Do you recognize me?"
I finally remembered her; she was my Third Aunt's (T/N: mother's sister) wet nurse. She had accompanied my Third Aunt whenever she used to visit Chang An.
"Granny Li," I murmured.
She nodded, already weeping.
My Mother had one elder brother and two younger sisters; she was second in the family.
Granny Li told me what happened with my mother's siblings in those years.
When the Fu Clan declined, my Uncle Qiao Yu lost his official position as the Director of Retainers. Afraid of being implicated, my two Aunts' husbands' families broke ties with their in-laws. My grandfather, who had already passed away, had luckily left behind ancestral assets. Though my Uncle lost his job, he was still Luoyang's nobility. But three years later, when a sudden change spread Chang An's chaos to Luoyang, Uncle fled with his family to Chen Province. After settling down, Uncle sought shelter with Dong Kuang, who ruled Henan Province back then. Dong Kuang admired him because he was of noble birth, knowledgeable, and could also use a sword. Alas, Dong Kuang lacked warfare skills and my Uncle died with an arrow to his chest, ambushed on his way to Hua Province.
My Fourth Aunt, the last in line, had married the Cai Clan, another noble family in Luoyang. Sensing a risk in staying after Hé Kui burned the palace in Luoyang, the Cai Clan moved. Yet, with the entire country in rebellion, law and order didn't exist. The Cai Clan fell victim to bandits on their way to the South; no one survived the robbery and killing.
Of the four brothers and sisters, only my Third Aunt survived.
Since Granny Li had followed her household master to pray, I met my Third Aunt in the temple's tea chamber.
Her face changed when she saw me; her eyes reddened as she hugged me and cried.
"Ah Jin...... Ah Jin-ah......," with one hand clutching me, she thumped her chest. Her hoarse voice cracked, "My poor nephews, my poor sister ah......"
Everyone surrounding us bowed their heads and wept.
Although I prepared for this, tears wet my sleeves as I choked with sobs, rendered mute.
The family reunion provided no joy, only the sound of wails drowned the room.
After my Third Aunt hugged me and cried for a while, she calmed down after onlookers consoled her one after another.
She held my hand, and both of us shared what happened after we had last parted. Overwhelmed with emotions, she shed many more tears.
"Your Uncle wanted to meet you when he heard you were getting married off to Laiyang. But your grandmother suffered a sudden stroke and was bedridden, delaying the matter. Later, when Luoyang changed, your Uncle moved to Chen Province, never returning."
"I wonder if my grandmother is still alive?"
My Third Aunt shook her head: "She passed away before Hé Kui came to Luoyang. We never told her about your Mother either. The day before your grandmother died, she kept asking why your Mother never returned to see her......" When she got to the sad part, she choked up again and bowed her head to wipe her tears.
I gave in to the pain too. After a while, I asked: "I remember Uncle had a son and a daughter. Where are they?"
"After your Uncle's death, your aunt returned to Luoyang with her children. They now live in the old Residence."
I nodded, at least my Uncle still had descendants, a blessing among misfortunes.
Third Aunt raised her head and asked, "Ah Jin, you're married to the Wei Clan now, right?"
"You are right." Even Zhao Jun in Tan Camp knew about my marriage to Wei Tan, let alone my aunt in Luoyang.
"Does your husband treat you well?"
"My husband treats me very well."
She finally looked relieved: "That is a great relief. Ah Jin, it's good as long as you are doing well." She paused and murmured, "Ah Jin, don't blame your aunt for not looking for you. When your family had an accident, we couldn't help. If we hadn't encountered each other today, how could I have faced you......"
I said nothing. Ever since I married Wei Tan, I met all kinds of old friends and relatives. Besides lamenting the Fu Clan's misfortune, the most they did was ask me to forgive them for their secret difficulties.
As upset as I was, the one shedding tears in front of me was after all my closest relative. Deep in my heart, I understood her helplessness as the daughter-in-law of another family.
"Aunt......" I held her hand and sighed.
After bidding farewell to my Third Aunt, I was no longer in the mood for a stroll; I boarded the carriage and returned to the old Residence.
As the days passed, Wei An soon made the new wheelchair; it looked great from all directions.
"It's a pity that the Eldest Sister-in-law doesn't need it anymore," Wei An said regretfully.
"It's okay," I replied, "you can never have too much of something good. Fourth Brother-in-law, have you ever thought of how the Elder, living alone in the deserted village, can push the wheelchair without help?"
"His family keeps a hunting dog. It can pull the wheelchair on level ground."
I laughed: "What if we have no hunting dog? It would be good if we could push the wheelchair ourselves."
Wei An's eyes brightened.
By the end of August, when the fall breeze picked up, news arrived from the North. Tan Xi died of illness in his camp, and his four sons were at odds over the succession. Wei Jue had marched North, captured most of Hebei, and stationed his troops near Jizhou.
Li Shang hadn't replied to my letter yet, when two people I never expected visited my door — my aunt Ding-shi and her daughter Qiao Ti.
T/N: Here's a recap in case all the aunts and uncles in this chapter confused you too ( ・◇・)？
Fu Jin's mom had an older brother (Uncle Qiao Yu) and two younger sisters (Third and Fourth Aunt). Of the 4 siblings, only Third Aunt survived. Though Uncle Qiao Yu died, his wife, Aunt Ding-shi, and their children (Qiao Ti) also survived and surprised Fu Jin with a sudden visit at the end of this chapter.
With my foot not fully healed, and no hurry to reach Luoyang, we dawdled along the road and rested at many stops, as if we were on an excursion.
Wei An was brooding because Wei Jue had shooed him away, instead of allowing him to stay and watch the battle. He was an expert at two things, making machines and pretending to be dead. Ah Yuan and I strived to raise his spirits by playing with him, yet we failed each time, turning the entire journey boring.
Of course, terrible at being bored, I pondered over many things in the carriage.
Compared to six months ago when I had left Laiyang to get married, I wasn't anxious when leaving the Wei camps. From Wei Tan's and Wei Jue's manner, I realized I had a firm foothold in the Wei Clan, at least temporarily. It was time for me to return to business.
I didn't know if Li Shang's trip to Jiangnan went smoothly, and the lack of news from him worried me. I had planned to return within a month when I had first left Yong Capital to pay respects to my ancestors. But now, that was impossible. It has been over two weeks since I left Huaiyang, and even if Li Shang and the others return to Yong Capital, they wouldn't know my whereabouts. I planned to mail a letter to Yong Capital once we reach Luoyang, delivering it to Li Shang's house in Ah Yuan's name. If he had returned from Jiangnan, he would definitely reply.
While going out and traveling by carriage was fun, finding decent lodgings was hard. Half of the villages in war-torn Henan were desolate; it was a miracle to stay in shabby houses if we don't reach a town by nightfall.
We arrived at a village by sunset and stopped to rest because the nearest town was dozens of miles away.
Only a few families lived in the village, and when the poor villagers saw the arriving troops, they hid in their houses in fear and shut their doors tight.
Luckily, the Sergeant leading our group was knowledgeable. When he approached a house to explain, and offered them rice and food, they cautiously opened their door. The Sergeant asked the 200 soldiers to repair the houses before dark. Wei An and I stayed in the house, while the others camped out. The villagers relaxed and rejoiced when they discovered the soldiers were harmless, even helpful.
The soldiers unearthed a kitchen stove in the ruins and used it to prepare meals. But at dinnertime, Wei An was missing. After a quick search, they found him in a house, repairing a Huchuang for a handicapped Elder.
"Why does Fourth Young Master do carpentry?" Ah Yuan murmured.
I smiled and nodded to the Elder, "Fourth Brother-in-law, dinner is ready."
Wei An wiped his forehead sweat, "I'm not hungry, Eldest Sister-in-law eat first."
I noticed the Elder, already uncomfortable to see so many of us, becoming more awkward.
"This Young Master," he cupped his hands to Wei An, "Why don't you eat first; this Huchuang is enough for me."
He shook his head: "I'm not hungry."
I was in no hurry; nothing mattered to Wei An more than his work. I allowed the soldiers to return first, except two or three who remained to hold torches, shining on Wei An as he continued to hammer.
On our way back, Wei An appeared embarrassed.
He whispered, "Eldest Sister-in-law, are you hungry?"
"Not too hungry."
He didn't speak again.
"Why did Fourth Brother-in-law repair the Huchuang? It's not a machine, you could have just handed it to a soldier."
He bowed his head and muttered, "No."
I side-eyed him: "No what?"
Wei An stared at me, "Eldest Sister-in-law, I met that Elder when I was trying to find wood, and I had a hammer on me." He paused and hesitated before continuing, "My paternal grandfather used to be lame too; he treated me and my brother well."
Paternal grandfather? I froze before remembering that the grandfather he was referring to was Wei Qian, the Supreme Commander in the earlier Court, retired at sixty.
My heart softened somewhat: "Do you miss your grandfather, Fourth Brother-in-law?"
"Yes. He could sword-dance and even narrate stories."
I smiled, "What stories did he tell you?"
"A lot. Mostly stories of the Seven Warring Kingdoms. "
As expected of the father of the formidable Wei Jue.
"Is it so." Intrigued because my Father was also fond of telling me stories of the Seven Kingdoms, I asked, "Who did you like in the Seven Kingdoms? The Four Lords? Bai Qi? Oh, you must have liked Mozi more......"
I peeped around, but when neither Ah Yuan nor the escort soldiers looked shocked, I realized they didn't recognize Lord Longyang.
"Fourth Brother-in-law," my smile twitched as I whispered, "why do you like Lord Longyang?"
He looked at me: "What's wrong with Lord Longyang? He is an excellent swordsman, with both martial arts and strategy."
"Many people have martial arts and strategy."
He scratched his head, "But Lord Longyang has a pleasant-sounding name, I only remember him."
After dinner, I asked Wei An: "Since you pity that Elder, why not add two wheels and make that Huchuang a wheelchair?"
"I wanted to, but we can't find wood for wheels here."
"I can gift this wheelchair to the Elder; what do you think, Fourth Brother-in-law?"
Startled, he peered at my foot: "But what about your injury, Eldest Sister-in-law?"
"It has almost healed. We will reach Luoyang tomorrow, and I don't need the wheelchair on the road. If I am still uncomfortable after we reach Luoyang, you can make me a new one."
He contemplated for a while, before nodding in agreement.
"Furen." Ah Yuan watched Wei An's retreating figure and asked me puzzledly, "Why did you just give away the wheelchair?"
I smiled, "Ah Yuan, do you think that many people with mobility issues exist these days?"
"After years of war, besides citizens, the fighting disabled many soldiers."
I nodded, "So, it will be huge if we can sell the wheelchairs."
"Sell wheelchairs?" Shocked, Ah Yuan asked, "But only Fourth Young Master knows how to make them. Even if he agrees, is it proper to involve him in business matters?"
While I too worried over that, I smiled, "We can always figure something out. My idea is tentative; success or failure is uncertain."
Although my Mother was from Luoyang, I have never been there.
In the past, my Mother used to tell me about Luoyang's scenic landscape. As she praised its temples and palaces, she pointed out the most lively areas, and even which well water could apparently make you beautiful. As I listened, I used to think it was the best region besides Chang An.
Of course, with even Chang An ruined, it was impossible for Luoyang to escape unscathed.
The carriage sped across the moat's drawbridge and rumbled through the city gates. Through the carriage window, I saw the wide streets and neat buildings, modeled from famous cities. Yet, many buildings seemed neglected, the grand palace's roof was missing, and black scorches covered its tall walls.
"Furen." Ah Yuan, who was also looking out the window, asked, "I wonder if your two aunts and Lord Qiao are still in Luoyang?"
I remembered I had two aunts and an uncle in Luoyang, nobles I had met in Chang An.
After the Fu Clan's accident, I never saw them again. Similar to the former glory, my relatives had long disappeared, like smoke and clouds in a gale.
Consoling myself that it was fortunate my mother didn't have to know these, I lowered the bamboo curtain.
Although damaged, many people still lived in Luoyang. An endless stream of pedestrians walked the streets as the carriage traveled further. As we passed through the west side, I saw a large market bustling with action.
The Wei Clan's former Residence was in the city's north, surrounded by several large mansions. When the carriage halted in front of the Residence, the Steward and his servants were waiting at the front steps.
As I examined them, I noticed them all dressed as household staff.
Back in Yong Capital, I had learned that Wei Zhao had a concubine in Luoyang, surnamed Xu. I felt it was proper that this Concubine Xu hadn't come out to greet them. She wasn't the principal wife, and I wasn't the Residence's master either. It would have been embarrassing if she had come outside to greet me and I didn't recognize her.
"Greetings, Furen," the Steward bowed to me and said respectfully, "you have traveled a long journey; food and warm baths are ready. Inviting Furen to please enter."
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