Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
Wei Tan appeared modest and returned his greeting with a smile, "I, Tan, am honored to meet you, Master. I'm ashamed to bother you with this unannounced visit."
Yun Shi laughed, "I am a boor living in the mountains, lazy and slow-witted. I'm ashamed to receive the General's personal visit." He faced me and bowed again, "I trust you've been well, Furen?"
Surprised, I asked, "Have you seen me before, Master?"
He smiled, "I visited your home once when I was still living in Chang'An. You were not yet seven, Furen."
I understood and smiled, "You have an excellent memory." Indeed, at that age, an old man like Yun Shi, with his unimpressive looks, wouldn't have attracted my interest.
After Wei Tan asked Wei An to step forward and pay his respects, Yun Shi ordered the boy to pour tea, and invited us to sit in the hall.
The young man who was playing chess with Yun Shi continued to sit at the table. He didn't get up when he saw us entering, but only smiled faintly.
I froze for an instant. Earlier, I hadn't seen his face clearly from the side. Now, closer up, he appeared to be in his early twenties, his exquisite mien as rich as jade.
Yun Shi introduced him: "Meet Cui Ting of Boling. He was passing by my house today and joined this old man in drinking tea and playing chess."
"Boling's Cui Ting?" Wei Tan's eyes brightened, "Could it be Cui Ting, also known as 'Sir Qilin'?"
Yun Shi stroked his beard and smiled, "No need for me to say more since the General already knows."
Unfazed, Cui Ting continued sitting and greeted Wei Tan with cupped fists: "I am honored to meet you, General."
Wei Tan returned the greeting: "I have long heard of Sir's reputation, but I didn't expect to be lucky enough to meet you."
I knew nothing of Qilins, but I recognized Boling's Cui Clan. A prominent landed aristocratic family of the former dynasty, many famous figures emerged from this clan. Yet, I didn't like this haughty young master, Cui Ting. All these countless gifted scholars touted by the landed aristocratic families just recited a few verses of poetry and earned the name of this-dragon and that-phoenix. Who knew if he really deserved his name or was just a pedantic dandy?
Unbothered by Cui Ting's arrogance, Wei Tan displayed his staunch personality and continued smiling.
After we sat, the boy served tea.
Yun Shi spoke up, "My humble abode is crude, and I can only offer old tea made with wild water. Please understand, General, Furen and the Young Master."
After I took a sip, my heart exploded. Jiannan's Pure Dew! Once sold in Chang'An as three gold for one tael, it had disappeared from the market nowadays. This Yun Shi's "old tea made with wild water" was liquid gold.
"Chancellor Fu gifted me this tea when I left the capital. After treasuring it for years, I brought it out especially for Furen, my guest."
Surprised, I remembered an old incident from my childhood. My mother had complained that my father had spent a lot of money to buy three taels of Pure Dew, but given away took two taels. Turned out that he had gifted it to Yun Shi.
I bowed, "Thank you for your kindness, Master."
Wei Tan smiled, "Back then, the Chancellor was good at making friends with prodigies. I heard the famous tale of you both co-hosting a winding stream party in the Plum Pavilion."
Master Yun Shi laughed and shook his head, "Don't mention that old story."
After they exchanged pleasantries for a while, Cui Ting saluted everyone: "Please continue talking, Master and General. I have to visit friends elsewhere, so I will take my leave."
Master Yun Shi didn't change his expression, but he looked at the sky and said, "It's about to rain, so don't stay out too late, Zigui."
He replied, "I understand," and called his men. Two servants emerged from the adjacent room, carrying something. I froze, recognizing the Huchuang on wheels. Wasn't that Wei An's wheelchair?
When I glanced at Wei An, he, too, was staring at them with surprise.
The servant placed the wheelchair near the bottom step and entered the hall. Cui Ting propped himself on the ground and moved his legs out from under the table.
I finally understood why he didn't get up when he bowed; his disability made it difficult for him to move around freely.
The hall was quiet, and only the tea steamed on the stove. Cui Ting's face didn't show any awkwardness or urgency. He allowed the servant to carry him to the wheelchair and push it outside, the wheels rolling over the white sand path with a lingering crunch.
"People say that the jealousy of the Heavens and the ghosts grounded Sir Qilin." As Cui Ting's figure disappeared behind the bamboo fence, Wei Tan spoke to Yun Shi.
Yun Shi twirled his beard, "Zigui is wise; although disabled, it is praiseworthy he didn't lose his ambition."
"Oh?" Wei Tan peered at him, "I wonder what is Sir Qilin's ambition?"
But Yun Shi smiled and waved his hand, "I can't say."
After chatting over tea, Yun Shi asked Wei Tan if he would like to play a chess game with him. Wei Tan readily agreed, and the two of them sat at the table and started a game.
I wasn't a well-cultivated spectator. Whenever my fathers and brothers engaged in refined activities like chess, they never asked me to sit beside them, because I would start making trouble in less than 15 minutes. Of course, Pei Qian was an exception; whenever he played chess, I could sit patiently for 30 minutes.
Now, as my husband played against an idle sage in this dusty place, I sat gracefully for half a day like those handmaidens in Taoist fairy paintings. Not that I had become patient; despite the pain, it was fun to watch these two competing against each other.
Wei Tan's style of chess was sharp, both striking in the open and seizing in secret. With unpredictable moves, he showed his true colors of a rogue. Meanwhile, Yun Shi was meticulous, preventing leaks and filling in gaps. The old fox didn't make any mistakes, showing his cunning. As I watched and puzzled over their moves, sometimes I understood them, sometimes I couldn't. After a few moves, I understood again. As the round ended, Yun Shi won narrowly. They stared at each other before sharing a laugh.
"Master, your chess skill is rare and true to your name," Wei Tan complimented.
Yun Shi replied modestly, "General's strategy is comprehensive. Every tiny move shows your attacking skills."
Although they both humbled themselves, each looked eager to compete again. They cleared the board and started a second game.
As they played back and forth, the sky darkened into twilight. An attendant waiting outside entered to ask if we would return tonight, reminding us it was getting late.
Yun Shi smiled, "General, if you don't mind my simple home, why don't you stay overnight in the two southern thatched cottages? I want to go over some board game records with you."
Wei Tan smiled at his words and bowed to Yun Shi, "Then, I won't decline."
Used to expeditions, the soldiers always prepared camping materials whenever they traveled out. That night, the attendants camped in the bamboo forest, while Wei An and I followed Wei Tan to stay in Yun Shi's thatched cottage.
Cui Ting returned after the evening meal. From Yun Shi and Wei Tan's words, I learned he was on a study tour. He had traveled to Shangnan last month to visit Yun Shi and had been staying here these days.
I found it somewhat ridiculous. I had seen people lacking food, robbed when they ventured out, or without a safe bed to sleep every night. Yet I had never seen someone like Cui Ting. Despite his disabled body, he dressed neatly and drove around in a carriage, enjoyed flowers, visited friends, and toured to study with a sage.
Yet, I was more interested in his wheelchair. In the courtyard, I asked Wei An about its origins.
"I didn't make it," he replied frankly, "Young Master Cui's wheels are lighter, and the construction style differs from mine."
Startled, I realized others on this earth could match Wei An's intelligence, even inventing the same thing.
It must be uncontrollably exciting to meet a best friend on the road with whom you can share a thousand cups of wine. After Cui Ting returned, Wei An lost his usual reserve and went up to talk to him.
After he saluted in a cultured manner, the two of them began talking. Perhaps because he mentioned the wheelchair, Cui Ting showed some surprise, his eyes lighting up for a split second.
The night deepened, and servants lit the lamps.
The thatched hall suddenly split into two groups. One group was Wei Tan and Yun Shi, both not speaking, but staring at the chessboard and killing each other furiously. The other group was Wei An and Cui Ting, chattering non-stop about things I couldn't understand. What wheel linchpin? What copper hub? I was the one separating them into Jing and Wei rivers.
Wei Tan might have sensed my drowsiness, because he said that I could leave to rest if I felt tired.
Unwilling to continue my virtuous act, I obediently smiled and bowed before strolling away.
"...... difficult to walk, I made this wheelchair because of my helplessness, Young Master. I've never thought of the things you mentioned, but hearing your explanation, I finally realize......" On my way out of the hall, I heard Cui Ting's smiling voice, pleasant and catchy.
Turned out Wei An had met a kindred spirit.
After I washed up, I reclined on the bed, slipping into sleep at once. I didn't know when Wei Tan returned, but in the daze, I remembered someone drawing me into his arms before resting one heavy arm on me. I grumbled in discontent before passing out again.
When I woke up the next morning, he was no longer beside me.
After I got ready and left our cottage, I saw Wei Tan and Yun Shi brewing tea and chatting in the hall. In the courtyard, while Wei An held a hammer and clanked away on his wheelchair, Cui Ting perched on a boulder. He observed Wei An as he worked, occasionally pointing to different places to discuss something.
Since I had nothing to do, I followed the boy to have breakfast.
The weather was fine, it didn't rain, and was even sunny. Recalling seeing a bookshelf in our cottage, I went back and chose a couple of books. I walked to the corner of the courtyard under the wisteria trellis to pore over them.
I had known that Yunshi was knowledgeable, but I never imagined that his library would be so diverse. For example, this biography was full of fascinating anecdotes from various figures. So immersed in the tales, before I realized, I had almost finished the book.
"Do you also enjoy reading these popular anthologies, Furen?" A voice drifted over to me.
I looked up and saw Yun Shi, who had somehow reached me without catching my attention. He was leaning on his staff and smiling.
I scrambled up and bowed, "I saw these books in Master's library and read them on impulse without consulting you."
Yun Shi smiled and shook his head, "No problem, Furen." He sat on a limestone rock opposite me, his hands propped up on his wooden staff.
I asked with a smile, "Have Master and my husband finished your chat?"
Yun Shi stroked his beard, looking amiable: "The General is highly talented, and I wouldn't mind talking to him all day."
I smiled and looked through the gap in the flowers and leaves to see Wei Tan standing near the wooden fence, saying something to his attendant.
"It has been fourteen years since I last saw you," Yun Shi suddenly spoke.
I nodded: "Indeed."
"You ran in while the Chancellor and I were drinking tea. He pointed to you and asked me to check your physiognomy." He gazed at me with nostalgia, "I said that fate had blessed you with great fortune and wealth."
Startled, I recalled Li Shang saying something similar. I smiled, "Do you know the art of physiognomy, Master?"
He smiled, "Just superficially."
Realizing that he hinted at something deeper, I peered at him, "In that case, do you still believe that I am worthy of what you predicted earlier?"
He stroked his beard, not agreeing immediately. He instead said, "I once saw a person with excellent physiognomy, purple Qi accumulated the top, talented and long-lived. Do you know who that person was?"
Curious, I asked, "Who?"
Yunshi smiled: "It was the laborer who hauled the mud when I built this thatched cottage. Furen, people's lives are in their hands, physiognomy is just chance."
This was why I disliked dealing with these pedants who read too many books. They wanted to portray themselves as profound with the vague words.
I pretended to understand him and bowed: "Thank you, Master."
Yun Shi stared at me and smiled calmly.
The friendships of hermits were spontaneous, coming and going on their whim.
So, Wei Tan's sudden farewell didn't surprise Yun Shi, and he didn't urge us to stay either.
He stood on the steps and said, "If we meet again, I will chat with you over tea, General."
"I learned a lot from you, Master. If I get a chance, I will visit you again," Wei Tan bowed respectfully.
Yun Shi smiled.
Intrigued by Cui Ting, Wei Tan asked him if he would travel to Yong Capital. To my surprise, he politely declined, saying that he still had old friends to visit and just wanted to continue his tour.
Wei Tan smiled and didn't insist.
Wei An, however, seemed disappointed. Before Wei Tan announced our departure, he was still eager to make a saddle for Cui Ting that would allow him to keep his seat on a horse.
Cui Ting looked gentle: "Fate will decide if we meet again. It is already a great kindness that you improved the wheelchair for me, Young Master."
Unresigned, Wei An promised, "I will make it."
Cui Ting smiled, "In that case, I will wait."
Wei An stared at him, scratching his head before turning to walk away.
When I walked out of the bamboo forest, the horses and carriages were already waiting at the bridge. I turned around, and the bamboo forest was quiet again, empty and silent. Everything from earlier felt like a dream.
I asked Wei Tan, "How did this visit to learn from the Master Yun Shi go, Fujun?"
Wei Tan peered at me: "What do you think, Furen?"
How on earth would I know?
I replied, "I only saw you both playing chess."
"And playing chess wasn't a lesson?" Wei Tan smiled, called to Wei An who had fallen behind, and walked forward.
TN: Hello everyone! Sorry for missing the chapter release last week - I had a busy two weeks at office and in preparing for my cousin's wedding that's next weekend. I might not be able to get next week's chapter out on time either but I'll try my best.
PS: Did anyone else figure out that we will see more of the young master with the handsome jade looks? :P
I hid behind the wall and listened to Wei Tan's low voice, full of consoling words. Concubine Xu continued sobbing, and before long, Wei Tan's figure headed out of the garden, while she still kneeled on the ground, wiping her tears.
I stood there, frozen, before realizing it was inappropriate to linger, and I ambled away.
My heart wasn't without sympathy. I had discovered from the old Residence's Steward that after Wei Jue traveled to Yong Capital, he never returned. Before winter, the rest of the family had followed him, except a few guards and Concubine Xu. I understood her desperation—after Wei Tan leaves tomorrow; it was unknown when this mansion would welcome its owner again. If I were her, I might have begged for help too, regardless of the slight chance.
I thought of Wei Zhao, the primary instigator of this matter. He had only one concubine, yet neglected her. So much that she resorted to begging another master. He appeared so elegant usually, but it turned out he was also fickle.
"That's how men are......," I suddenly recalled Ruo Chan's words, when she helplessly told me, "...... They are hot and bothered when they want to find you. When you wish to keep them, they don't know what to do anymore......"
I returned to the courtyard with my mind caught in this mess, meeting Wei Tan just as I entered the door.
"Where did you go?" He frowned, "I couldn't find you anywhere."
"I strolled around the mansion to check if the trip's supplies were ready."
"Oh?" He peered at me, his eyes flashing, "Where did you check, Furen? Did you check the West?"
I froze, realizing that he was referring to where those beauties lived.
"I did," I followed his words and frowned, "You want to share those beauties with your Generals, Fujun?"
"Yes." He smiled, "I have a few officers with high morals. But since they followed me to the battlegrounds for many years, they couldn't marry. These women come from good families, so they are a perfect match." He looked at me and raised his eyebrows, "Are you unwilling, Furen?"
I was extremely willing. But I still had to show a virtuous and regretful expression: "I wouldn't dare, Fujun. But since you wanted to keep them earlier, I thought I could take a few as my maidservants, so that they could also serve you in the future."
"Is that so?" He stroked his chin, looking thoughtful, "You have a point—I take it back. The five beauties are okay; when they are free, one brews tea, one recites books, one wipes the body, one combs the hair, and one puts out the lamp......"
I assumed that since we start our journey tomorrow, Wei Tan wouldn't mess around tonight save energy.
But I guessed wrong. Like an insatiable Taotie, he kept telling me "Again". When I woke up at dawn, the gap between my legs was sore. I balled up on the bed, unwilling to move. He, who had worked much harder than I did, seemed normal, dressed and staring at my still reclining form. The corner of his lips curved, "This husband will help you dress, Furen."
How would I agree to that? I shrank under the quilt to dodge his hands. We entangled for a while, and more red spots appeared on my neck. After putting on my clothes with great strain, he offered to carry me to the carriage. Angry, I grabbed the pillow and threw it at him just as he sauntered away.
After breakfast, a long queue of carriages and horses exited the old Residence, heading towards the city gates.
The seat cushion in my carriage was thicker than when I broke my foot—the work of someone with a guilty conscience.
"Furen, it's not chilly yet. Why have you wrapped your collar so tightly?" A'Yuan blushed and snickered.
Wei Tan wasn't discreet, and even my maid dared to tease her master. I was so annoyed that I reached out to tickle her, something she feared since childhood. She kept begging for mercy in between bursts of laughter for a long time before I stopped.
After fooling around, we got down to business: Li Shang's reply had finally arrived two days ago. He, Gongyang Gui, and Li Huan had returned to Yong Capital safe and sound. He had found the Southern medicine dealers he used to trade with earlier. Fortunately, the war hadn't affected them too much.
The letter was brief, but just knowing that they had returned safely satisfied me. Determined to resume his old trade, Li Shang had the drive, and I naturally supported him. But his idea of opening a pharmacy in Yong Capital concerned me.
My relationship with Li Shang wasn't secret, at least not in Wei Mansion—anyone curious just had to dig around to find out. Li Shang's pharmacy aim was to attract the high-ranking officials and nobles of Yong Capital. It will inevitably lead to many exchanges. Not that I wanted to save my name or hide that the Fu Clan's former Steward had picked up trading. But as his backer, his opening the store exposes my business relationship with him to the public, something more harmful than helpful.
I pondered, "A'Yuan, can we find another person to open the store? Keep Steward Li as a hidden owner."
She understood my thinking, "I agree. Let's discuss it with my Father after we return to Yong Capital."
I wasn't great with directions. After we left Luoyang, whether Wei Tan headed East, West, North, or South, all were the same for me. Yet, five days later, I froze in surprise when I recognized the crisscrossing mountains and countryside fields in front of me.
Wei Tan instructed his servant, "We'll rest in Shangzhou tonight. Tomorrow, we pack lightly and head to Shangnan County."
The servant withdrew after responding.
"Shangnan County?" Puzzled, I asked Wei Tan, "Why are we going to Shangnan County?"
He smiled, "I want to follow Emperor Hui's example and visit a sage in the mountains. Will you join me, Furen?"
I didn't know which sage he meant, but this rare trip was better than staying in the lodging house. So, after a night's rest, I boarded the carriage and followed Wei Tan's group to Shangnan County.
The mountain roads were hard to travel. Although we managed to drive the carriages up, the bumpy roads slowed us a lot.
We set off early morning and finally, by late afternoon, I heard the guide say, "Eldest Young Master, we're here!" I looked out and saw green hills and trees, surrounded by streams. A bridge, barely wide enough for a man and cattle, spanned the stream, leading into a verdant bamboo forest.
I took in my surroundings; the quiet and scenic place was perfect for living in seclusion.
Since we couldn't cross the bridge by carriage, Wei Tan simply abandoned the carriage and horses, leaving his men behind to guard them.
Intrigued by the bridge, Wei An stared at it and asked Wei Tan, "Brother, didn't you say hermits live in seclusion because they hope people will visit them?"
Hearing this, I couldn't help but cough out the water I had just drunk from the water bladder.
Wei Tan, this military man, behaved like a rogue and spoke so crudely. How many scholars dreamed of living in the mountains, indifferent to worldly affairs? Only he could twist such a refined lifestyle's meaning.
"Hmm?" He shot me a half-smile and asked Wei An, "Did I say that?"
"Yes," Wei An replied with certainty, and continued, "But why don't they build a wider bridge since they are always waiting for people? More people can visit if they can travel by carriages and horses."
Wei Tan smiled but said nothing. He patted Wei An's shoulder, but turned to look at me: "Does it matter to you, Furen?"
I shook my head, "No."
Wei Tan briefed the men who would stay behind and led us to the bamboo forest.
Wei An was right. If this hermit was waiting for someone to visit, he lacked sincerity. Unused for a long time, the wooden bridge wobbled. Visible through the cracks in the bridge's deck, the turbulent stream surged.
When I swayed in an unstable section, Wei Tan turned around, tugged my hand, and continued to walk forward.
His warm and strong hand didn't release mine even after we crossed the bridge. Seeing only two or three attendants around us, I let him have his way.
"Who is this sage that you want to visit, Fujun?" I couldn't help but ask as I stared at the dense bamboo forest ahead of us, feeling the fresh breeze brush my face.
"Have you heard of Master Yun Shi, Furen?"
I froze: "Lord Sun Ren?"
Wei Tan nodded: "You are right."
I was a little surprised. Of course, I knew of Lord Sun Ren. Born in Shanyang, he had become famous for his writing and speeches at a young age. He studied as an apprentice under a master and gained extensive knowledge. He served as an academician in the Imperial Court for over 20 years. After he turned 60, he left Chang'An, called himself Master Yun Shi, and traveled around the world as a famous scholar. My father held him in high esteem, and my family collected the scriptures and histories written by his hand.
"I heard his whereabouts were unknown. I didn't expect him to seclude himself here."
He smiled faintly, "Everyone's whereabouts are erratic these days. A hermit living in a stable place is rare."
Barbarian! I asked out loud, "Are you paying Master Yun Shi a visit to invite him to come out of seclusion, Fujun?"
"He is over 70 years old. I'm afraid he can't walk these mountain roads even if he comes out of seclusion. I'm visiting him to ask for advice."
"Right," I laughed, thinking he was joking.
We came upon a house a hundred steps into the bamboo forest. Its thatched roof rested on mud walls, and a bamboo fence surrounded its four sides.
I heard someone playing the zither. The smooth and relaxing music completed this secluded place's charm.
When one of our attendants knocked on the wood door a few times, the zither's sound halted. Before long, a boy came out.
"Who is it?" He asked, standing guard at the door and surveying us.
Wei Tan told his attendant to retreat, stepped forward to the boy, and cupped his hands in greeting: "Wei Tan of Hexi, here to pay my respects to Master Yun Shi."
The boy gazed at him, before staring at us behind him, "And they?"
"They are my wife, my brother, and our attendants."
The boy frowned, "Master doesn't have enough teacups for so many, wait......"
"Who is it, Qingming?" An unhurried voice emerged from inside the main hall.
The boy turned around and replied, "Wei Tan of Hexi, and his wife, and brother, and......"
"So they are noble guests," the voice contained a smile, "Quick, Qingming, open the door."
The boy agreed, opened the wood door, and bowed to us, "Come in, please."
Wei Tan smiled, instructed the attendants to wait outside, and led Wei An and me inside the house.
Green grass, lush flowers, and trees, bounding a neat white sand path greeted us when we entered the courtyard. Tea steam curled up towards the thatched roof, and two people were playing a game of chess.
Without a doubt, the man with the white hair and emaciated body was the Whitehead, Master Yun Shi. Opposite him sat a youth with a fair face and a focused expression, his side profile showing a composed aura.
The boy brought us to the front of the hall, but without announcing our presence or speaking, he took off his shoes and walked into the hall. He took the zither beside the two men, placed it on his lap, and continued to play.
As the zither's sound drew out, the two concentrated on their game, and we waited in silence.
My father once said that most famous hermits were aloof and that visitors, regardless of their status, always encountered a few intimidation tactics. At last, I experienced it firsthand. When I glanced at Wei Tan, he looked calm, staring at the thatched hall, seeming to enjoy the music and their game.
An hour later, the Master sighed aloud, clapped his palms, and laughed: "This old man has lost again. In the end, I'm inferior to the youngster."
The man opposite him bowed to him, his voice limpid: "I, Ting, admire the depth of your chess skills, Master."
The Master stroked his beard and shook his head. Suddenly, he twisted his head and rose with a smile, as if he had just spotted us.
"This old man was so greedy for chess that I forgot I had visitors..... I was rude, I was rude." He stepped out to the hall's front and greeted Wei Tan.
SANDY'S READ RECEIPTS
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