Sandy's Read Receipts
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When Wei Jue returned with his troops, the “Son of Heaven” himself went in person to welcome him at the city gate. Although the ceremony was considered grand, it was still just a formality. The real reward with the food and drinks was held a few days later.
It was said that an edict drafted by Wei Jue and stamped with the Emperor's jade seal was displayed in the main hall of the Imperial court. Starting with Wei Jue, the names of all the numerous high-ranking generals who helped suppress Dong Kuang were written on it. Among them, Wei Jue who was already the Prime Minister was not rewarded with more titles. Since he could never be bestowed with the Imperial throne, there was only gold and silver added to his name. Wei Tan was bestowed with the title of Marquis of Xin'an and Wei Zhao was given the title of Marquis of Shanyang. Further, several new and unheard-of titles had sprang up, like the Marquis of Ting, the Marquis of Xiang, and so on.
Although Wei Tan was elevated into nobility and I joined him to become the Marchioness, my life in the Wei Mansion did not change at all. Wei Tan continued to live in the Wei Mansion, and I still had to serve my in-laws and husband wholeheartedly.
Wei Tan was sometimes at home and sometimes out. He often accompanied Wei Jue to discuss official business in the main hall with their many advisors and Generals. Because of that, I rarely went to the main hall or out of the residence after they came back from the expedition. At most, I would either go to wait upon Madam Guo or stay in my courtyard to idle away time.
Yet, Wei Tan did not sleep together with me.
He often slept in the camps at night, and if it were inconvenient for him to go out, he would set up another bed on the couch in the outer room.
I was confused by his actions. Several times I wanted to ask him why but was too thin-skinned to do so. But, Wei Tan continued to act as if everything was normal. Sometimes, when I woke up and met him in the outer room, he would smile at me naturally as he wore his military clothes and greet me with, "Good morning, Furen.”
Only Ah Yuan knew about these matters. After she cleaned the bedding set up on the wooden couch for Wei Tan, she would stare at me with a strange look in her eyes.
Zhou-shi once came back to the mansion and pulled me aside to speak to me in private. She told me with a secret laugh that now that the Eldest Young Master was married, the entire house was hoping that I would soon be able to add a son to the family.
When I heard her words, I almost vomited blood with frustration. I also wanted to have children, but first, my husband should exert himself too!
Yet, on the surface, I could only smile and respond vaguely. Zhou-shi thought I was feeling bashful. She gave a smirk and vague expression as if she was talking about something scandalous.
I didn’t know when was the last time Wei Tan had gone to bed with another woman, or perhaps, he has never touched a woman before. What frustrated me was, I, Fu Jin, was once considered and accepted as a Chang An court lady. Was I so unattractive that I couldn't stir my husband's interest?
Wei Jue did not go to the banquet held by Duke Lu that Zhou-shi had mentioned the other day.
However, since Duke Lu had provided financial aid to the Imperial court, Wei Jue still wanted to maintain appearances and not embarrass him. He handed over the matter to Wei Tan, but he was also going out to inspect the camps outside the city that very day. So, in the end, I was the only one who attended the banquet.
As I expected, Duke Lu’s official residence was lively and bustling. Many carriages and horses were stopped in front of the entrance, blocking up the entire main street. It was said that Duke Lu wanted to offer porridge, which propelled almost all the refugees and beggars within the city to gather around his residence. They had to be stopped from pushing their way in by Duke Lu's family members, who were holding sticks at the street corners.
Through the commotion, I managed to get out of the carriage with great difficulty. I was escorted to the front door under the protection of my household attendants.
"Fu Furen." When Duke Lu saw me coming, his red and fat face was full of smiles. He walked down the steps with his wife to welcome me.
"Duke Lu, may you live as long as the Zhongnan Mountains!" I smiled and congratulated him. "My Father-in-law and my Husband were both preoccupied with some affairs and couldn’t attend. So they entrusted me to come and congratulate you as a small token of our appreciation."
"I am honored to welcome you to my humble abode, Furen." Duke Lu replied hurriedly with modesty, his stout body straining as he bowed. He ordered his family to receive the gift that I had brought and asked his wife, Wang-shi, to personally lead me in.
Duke Lu had invited more people than I had imagined, and the banquet was spread all over the three courtyards. There were many families in the same situation as the Wei clan. It was inconvenient for the master to attend, and yet, they couldn't disrespect Duke Lu either. So they had let their family members replace them in congratulating him.
So, unluckily, I ran into Yu Ying once again.
"Ah Jin," Yu Ying greeted me with a joyful expression. "I was hoping you would come too, but I wasn’t sure. As it turned out, I was right."
Her words were full of affection and praise as she held my hand and appraised the brocade clothes and jewelry on my body.
I noticed the glances of many people, including Zhu-shi's, all peering in my direction. Looking into Yu Ying's smiling eyes again, I also smiled: "Exactly, Yu Ying, I trust you have been well since we last met."
Yu Ying's smile became even wider. We exchanged a few pleasantries before she took my hand and turned to the several gorgeously dressed young women behind her. "Ah Jin, I was just talking about you with my friends. They’ve all admired you for a long time."
"Oh?" After seeing her silly and adorable face, I turned to look at the women. They came over to salute me one after another. As they surveyed me and Yu Ying's proud face, some flickers were hidden in their shy or eager smiles.
I grew up amongst noblewomen, so how could I not understand the thoughts behind their little smiles?
I greeted them one by one, waiting to go out to my seat. I finally separated from Yu Ying when I was seated.
The men and women were seated separately at the banquet. Duke Lu had specially set aside a loft to accommodate the women, with Wang-shi personally accompanying us.
With respect to age, I was far from being the oldest. But by status, I represented the Wei clan and was undoubtedly the most prominent among everyone there. So, I was overtly seated next to the head seat of Wang-shi.
During the meal, Wang-shi was very attentive. From time to time, she asked whether the dishes suited my appetite, or whether I would like more, and so on. I answered politely, but as I looked at the table full of meat and rice noodles, I was thinking about Li Shang.
I didn't know how much meat was needed for a birthday banquet of this size and scale. It would be considerable if Li Shang's business had been established, right?
The question lingered in my heart, so when there was no one around, I asked Ah Yuan in a low voice, "Is there any news from your father?"
Ah Yuan nodded and said, "The news came this morning, but I didn't have time to tell Furen. My father said that the meat business was good. All the livestock he had bought a few days ago have been sold to Duke Lu’s banquet."
When I heard this, I was overjoyed.
I recalled my crazy idea to invest my last two pieces of gold in this business, and I was glad Li Shang had lived up to my expectations.
"How much did you get?" I asked hurriedly.
Ah Yuan said, "I don't know, my Father said it still needs to be clarified."
I nodded. This was only the first deal in the business, and I didn’t care about whether or how much I had earned. It was the success that mattered the most.
Delighted with the victory, I ate the meat on my plate with great relish, as if it was the most delicious food in the world. After the meal, entertainers began their excellent acting and singing performances. Even when Yu Ying came over to talk, I kept smiling.
The young women she had befriended were all from Chang An. Though their family background was not as good as Yu Ying’s, they were also married into similar families of officials. Yu Ying took hold of them and brought them to my side, seeming very proud and elated.
I listened to them flattering each other, and then I looked at the actors who were performing earnestly on the stage. As I held the wine cup in my hand, there was a faint sneer on my face. There were two dramas in front of me, one on stage in front of the banquet, and one within the banquet seats. And wasn’t the Wei clan's welcome of me to enter their doors the biggest drama of them all?
As my thoughts wandered, I suddenly heard a burst of laughter.
The laughter seemed to be coming from below the loft. Looking through the thin and uneven bamboo curtains, I saw that the courtyard below was splendidly lit. Several beauties were starting to dance on a red carpet in the middle of the courtyard. The colorful clothes on their bodies were fluttering about like butterflies.
"Really, here we go again....." When the young women saw the scene, their faces exposed their disgust.
Yu Ying turned her head away sharply and said, "Who cares about them? What’s out of sight is out of mind."
I began to understand their reaction. This was the erotic dance style of Chang An which was loved by half-drunk noblemen at banquets. If Duke Lu wanted to curry favor with everyone, this kind of spectacle was essential. So he had arranged for such an after-party excitement.
The laughter started again, and I looked down to see an obese man with an oily head and powdered face sitting next to Duke Lu. He seemed to be talking about something happy and was laughing heartily. He was embracing a beautiful delicate-looking woman in his arms, who was smiling like a flower.
The red mole between her eyebrows caught my attention.
The wine cup in my hand almost fell to the ground. My face changed, and I stretched out my hand to open the bamboo curtains again.
"Ah Jin, what are you doing?" Yu Ying quickly restrained my hand.
I turned to her: "That is..."
"Shh!" Yu Ying's face froze, and she hurriedly motioned for me to silence. She looked around and lowered her voice, "She is different from us now. You can't interact with her, you can’t even look at her."
"What happened to her?"
"What else?" Yu Ying curled her lips, full of contempt. "She opened Ningxiang Pavilion, the largest pleasure house in Yong Province. She has become famous for her beauty now."
There was a burst of laughter at the banquet. I looked through the bamboo curtain to see Ruo Chan sitting beside the fat man in the luxurious clothes. She smiled and toasted him. The man laughed lustfully, grabbed Ruo Chan with his hands, and he didn’t let go.....
My body became cold, and I couldn't continue to watch anymore, so I turned away sharply.
My heart was pounding; what I had just witnessed seemed like the most incredible nightmare.
Ruo Chan's surname was Chen, and her father was Chen Kang, one of the Imperial physicians. This official position was not considered major in Chang An, but the Chen family was also regarded as a scholarly family. Ruo Chan's mother and my mother had been close friends for many years. So, we both had played together and been friends since we were young.
Children who were born with a silver spoon usually picked up the bad habit of being a little snobbish. Although my family status was not the most eminent, it was still ranked among the top ten reputed clans in Chang An. So, I was very much a fish in water within the circle of noblewomen of my age. Ruo Chan also got along with everyone very well, but it was not because of me.
She was beautiful, with a red mole between her eyebrows. Her smiles and gestures were always more feminine than other girls of the same age. She was also kind and could resolve any problems she faced. This earned her the envy of the impetuous group of us children. So much so that, we were willing to listen to anything she had to say.
I remember my dream of becoming like Ruo Chan and then marrying.....Some memories were suddenly evoked, inducing a stinging feeling in my eyes.
I learned about what Ruo Chan had encountered from Yu Ying.
Her father had offended He Kui. The men of their whole clan were exterminated, and the women were given to He Kui's subordinates and soldiers. I didn't know what Ruo Chan had gone through at that time. I only heard that when she had reappeared in front of everyone again, she was already one of the most famous courtesans in Yong Province.
Yu Ying only gave me a brief description and didn’t go into the details. Then, she turned to a young woman at her adjacent table and began talking about her new white jade bracelet. The maids shuttled around the tables, carrying the gourmet food and fine wine. The sounds of the singing and the guqin in the background were melodious. Drowned by the cheerful talks of the ladies wearing glittering jewels, it seemed as though the noises beyond the bamboo curtain didn’t exist at all.
I thought that I had learned not to be surprised by any natural or man-made disasters long ago. But I still felt a dull ache in the pit of my stomach when I heard about these affairs.
I had already been married off to Laiyang at the time when Chang An had become embroiled in chaos, but I was no stranger to some matters.
The Fu clan was of Empress Dowager’s lineage and naturally, the clan had supported Prince Chen.
I remembered that for a few months before my household had met with the accident, the courtyard where my father discussed official business was illuminated all night. All the people who went in and out looked solemn. Even my Second Elder Brother, who was fond of having fun the most, refrained from playing with me. I tried to make him laugh, but he just sighed and patted my head.
I recalled that Ruo Chan had liked my Second Elder Brother at that time. Every time we met, she would always ask me either directly or indirectly about what my brother was doing. Whenever he was around, Ruo Chan's face would be inexplicably red, and she would become as docile as a bunny.
She treated me like a sister and always held my hand when we picked flowers in the garden. When she smiled, it seemed as though all the flowers in the world would bloom for her.
I never thought that there would be a day when she, once belonging in the main hall and the focus of everyone’s envy, would be disdained as a courtesan.
As those endless laughs pierced my ears, I stood up, unable to endure further.
"Ah Jin?" Yu Ying looked at me with surprise.
"I'm feeling a little drunk, so I’m going out for a walk," I said.
Yu Ying said, "I'll go with you." As she spoke, she made to get up.
"No need." I pressed her down, "I'll be back in a few minutes." After that, I went outside.
The bright moon was glowing in the evening sky. Duke Lu’s garden was not large, yet it was exquisite. It was full of flowers of different shades and water pavilions. While Duke Lu’s house could not be nobler than others, he was still very well-off. Thus, he turned to show off his wealth by spending his efforts and money on decorations.
The guests had not yet dispersed. The tinkling laughs from the loft were as lively as the countless bright lanterns under the eaves. In contrast, the flowering trees and the pond in the garden were silent.
The evening breeze blew slowly as I walked on the long bridge across the pond. I watched the glistening water ripple as falling flowers settled on it.
When I was in Laiyang and had nothing to do, I had often fantasized about what would happen if I met my old friends from Chang An one day.
My mother had once told me that no matter the dire straits, a woman should not be unkempt. Even if your family finances become poor, you must maintain yourself neatly and not let others see you with contempt.
When she had told me those words back then, they were days when I was not even aware of a hint of pain and suffering. But I had always acted according to her words only after I had left Chang An. Even if I didn't wear gold and silver, I would still never wear coarse clothes. Even if I was sick, I would never let myself look haggard. Even if my in-laws didn’t see my importance, I would never let myself be humiliated. I knew that I was still young and that I could become even more beautiful. One day, I would be able to stand upright with my head high in front of any enemy, benefactor, or spectators who just watched from the sidelines. I would look down on them so that they could see that although the Fu clan was no more, Fu Jin was still Fu Jin.
Yet, in all those fantasies, I had never imagined Ruo Chan to be like this when she reappeared in front of me. I couldn't even ask her with a smile as I used to before, Sister Ruo Chan, have I become beautiful?
I was fantasizing once again when suddenly, I heard the "ding" sound of something falling.
I looked back, but a figure had already taken the lead and picked up the jade pendant I had dropped.
I was stunned.
Ruo Chan was still wearing the gorgeous clothes she wore at the banquet, but she was glowing with a cold luster under the clear moonlight. The white silk fan in her hand covered half of her delicately powdered face. They only revealed the eye-catching cinnabar mole between her eyebrows.
"Furen's jade pendant." Her voice was soft and indifferent. She put the jade pendant in my hand, turned, and walked away.
"Ruo Chan." I hurriedly followed and grabbed her sleeves.
Ruo Chan paused in her tracks and turned back. She lowered the fan and smiled faintly: "I thought you were like them, that you wouldn't recognize me."
T/N: This chapter was so sad. Especially the part about her childhood with Ruo Chan...:/
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