Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
I stared at Wei Tan's face with a foolish expression.
He returned my stare with an indistinct smile on his lips, but his eyes had darkened to conceal his thoughts.
“Qing Province?” I repeated.
“Yes,” Wei Tan explained, “Three days ago, there was a raid by Tan Xi. Father has ordered all the three levels of the army to prepare for war, and we will march North posthaste.”
I had to admit that Wei Tan had a knack for making people's moods drop in an instant. The ambiguity and charm from earlier had vanished like a passing storm.
Wei Tan loosened his grip, and apart from continuing to sit with me on the couch, he remained calm and composed.
“How long will Fujun be gone?” I wanted to know.
“It doesn't matter how long we will be gone,” Wei Tan deflected. “I’m certain that Furen must have guessed that this battle will be fraught with danger.”
I was shocked. I was aware of the whole world's recent affairs. Tan Xi was claimed as the most powerful in the North with his millions of soldiers. At that banquet, Gongyang Gui had mentioned that the Imperial court was short of food and money. And Wei Jue was planning to attack Tan Xi at this time?
“I remember that the ancestral land of the Fu Clan is in Huainan,” Wei Tan noted, interrupting my thoughts.
“Huh?” Stunned by the sudden switching of topics, I nodded.
Wei Tan gazed at me and continued, “I know that Furen has not been back there for many years. I have reported to my Father and Mother that Furen will return to her hometown next month to pay respects.”
Not comprehending, I repeated: “To pay respects?”
While Wei Tan's smile remained a little amused, his voice was steady: “As Furen knows, we both were married for convenience. I have buried ten catties of gold in the northeast corner of the side room, which Furen can take with you when you leave.”
I was stunned.
Every word was like the sudden clap of thunder. I was dizzy with shock and half-doubted if I had heard wrong.
A spell of strange silence filled the room.
“Fujun's intention......” I stared at Wei Tan's face, my heart thumping, “This would be considered as leaving as your wife?”
“I won't tell that you’re my wife.” Wei Tan enunciated each word with care, “If Furen wishes to stay, you will continue to be the wife of the Wei clan. If it seems like staying here is dull, you can leave. All will be according to your wishes.”
I listened in silence, unable to speak for a long time after hearing his words.
A fantastic feeling sprouted in my heart. Like a starving refugee was being offered a pot of broth by a passing carriage. Further, he was told, “Eat, sleep, and do whatever you like in the future.”
“Is this the Prime Minister's idea?” I asked.
“No.” Wei Tan shrugged, “I don't force people to do anything.”
In the end, Wei Tan didn't stay the night. He explained that Wei Jue was having a meeting to discuss official business that night, wore his coat, and left.
I was awake all night, tossing and turning on the bed.
I lost track of time in that semi-asleep state. When I heard the low murmurs of the courtyard servants rising, I opened my eyes. I saw that the white silk window curtains were shimmering in the morning sun’s first rays.
No other clothes besides mine were hanging on the rack near the couch. As I stared at the empty rack, my head echoed with Wei Tan's words from last night.
He said that I could leave and take his money along with me.
I could go, leave the Wei clan and go wherever I want......
In all honesty, my heart wasn't in this place, and I had never considered it as home.
I wanted to visit many places, but the place I longed for the most was overseas. When I was a child, I had listened to one of the folklorists who followed my Father narrate that if you kept going east, you would see the ocean. And if you sailed across the ocean, you would encounter countless islands. Immortal fairies and beasts lived on these islands, along with people of different customs. Flowers bloomed there at all seasons, and the sunset glittered like red jewels.
Ruo Chan had laughed, teasing that all these stories were weaved by the folklorists to swindle people of food and drink. She scoffed that it would be easier to believe that one could become immortal by chopping wood for a lifetime at the Zhongnan Mountains.
Her words were a huge blow to my dreams. However, later, one of my Father’s subordinates from Ge Jiu city, who had gone overseas on a diplomatic mission for the Late Emperor, returned. He informed me that it was true that if you went east, you would see the sea. It was true that there were islands, but the celestial beings and treasures were all empty talk. Most of the people on the islands were crude and uncivilized natives.
“But that place was indeed beautiful.” His dark face exposed a content smile, “The Youngest NuiJun can go there in the future to see the boundless blue skies and sea. You can be as free as a fish when riding the waves on a boat.”
Be as free as a fish……Was there still a place remaining in this chaotic world where one could be as free as a fish?
Feeling wistful, I rolled to my back and sighed.
By the time Ah Yuan came in, I had put on my clothes.
“Furen,” she asked with a yawn, “I heard that the Eldest Young Master returned to the camps last night yet again?”
“Hmm.” I agreed, bending over the basin of water to wash my face.
When I had wiped my face clean, Ah Yuan came close and whispered, “Furen, my Father has sent a letter this morning.” She thrust a small, folded roll of paper into my hand.
Shaking with anticipation, I signaled her to close the door. I walked to the windowsill and scrutinized the contents of the letter.
In his letter, Li Shang reported that last night the Lu Residence had paid 6,000 yuan for the meat. After subtracting the 3,400 yuan spent on buying livestock, butchering, and transportation, the profits were 2,600 yuan.
When I looked at this figure, I was overjoyed and dismissed all thoughts of last night’s messy affairs. After some contemplation, I penned a speedy reply to Li Shang. I informed him that Wei Jue would be going north to attack Tan Xi and that he was bound to prepare a large quantity of meat for dietary purposes. Further, it was common for soldiers going into battle to be wounded and get sick. I requested Li Shang to go to the countryside if he had free time, to check if any herbs were available to collect.
After that day, I did not see Wei Tan for the next three days.
During that time, his attendant came by and said that he needed to prepare Wei Tan’s clothes for the expedition. I packed them myself, and besides the unlined garments for the summer, I added two or three pieces of thick coats for the autumn months.
In contrast to the Wei residence's tranquility, the noise of rumors outside was soaring. Ah Yuan informed me that the stock of grains in the markets had plummeted. But because the origin of the herbs was in the countryside, Li Shang managed to collect many supplies in time.
A Buddhist nun of the Danxia Temple at the city outskirts sent a letter inviting Madam Guo to attend a ritual that would be conducted in two days.
Madam Guo tended to visit the Danxia Temple to offer tributes all year round. But of late, she was busy preparing for Wei Jue’s expedition. Without time to attend, she passed the duty of participating in the ritual to me.
However, I had known that this would happen. Ruo Chan had sent a message through Ah Yuan that she would be waiting for me there on that day.
“Ruo Chan NuiJun told me that she has prepared a good show for Furen,” Ah Yuan informed.
When I heard this, my temples throbbed.
Ruo Chan must have arranged for this ceremony because she was sure that Madam Guo would not attend. Ruo Chan had the habit of giving a unique twist to everything and she loved to shock others. She had been like this during our childhood games and was the same last time at Qiong Hua Temple. I had a foreboding feeling that it wouldn't be a good show this time.
After returning from the Qiong Hua Temple, I realized that while Ruo Chan might still be the same as before, something had changed between us.
Perhaps because being curious was my nature, if Ruo Chan was Jiang Tai Gong, I was the fish willing to bite her snares. So, on the day of the ritual, I bathed and got ready, and left the city by carriage.
When I entered the temple, I saw that Ruo Chan was still dressed in plain and pure-colored clothes. “I knew you would come,” she grinned with pride.
I wasn't timid either, and quipped, “Apart from bribing the Taoist temple, you managed to coax the Buddhist temple as well?”
Ruo Chan smiled, “It's not considered a bribe if I offer tributes to the temple more often than others.”
I was no match for her eloquence, so I asked after searching the surroundings, “Didn't you say there was a good show on?”
“Good show?” Ruo Chan feigned innocence, “What good show?”
I glared at her with a scowl.
Ruo Chan covered her mouth with her sleeves and laughed. “The Prime Minister is going on the Northern expedition, and the whole city is anxious about the outcome. What harm is there in wanting to see you?” She took my hand and murmured, “Last time at the Qiong Hua Temple, you and I didn't have a chance to appreciate the flowers. Would you like to take a walk with me and enjoy the fragrant flowers here?”
I peered at her, skeptical.
The Danxia Temple was located on the shores of a large lake called the Yongchi Lake. And because it wasn't an auspicious day, Ruo Chan and I were alone as we strolled through the large temple. Heavy clouds covered the sun and its strong shine. As we walked beneath the trees, the air was suffused with the blossoming flowers' fragrance, soothing our hearts. The dense forest of flowering trees extended till the water’s edge, and a gentle breeze rippled over the vast lake’s surface. A small pavilion with a splendid view of the lake was nestled between the mountain rocks and trees.
“Was there any progress with the Eldest Young Master after you returned that day?” Ruo Chan asked as we both sat down at the pavilion.
Although I knew she was bound to discuss those things, my face still flushed a bit. I answered, “The army is busy preparing for war, and the Eldest Young Master never returned to the residence to stay overnight.”
“Oh?” Ruo Chan raised an eyebrow, her eyes full of curiosity.
I diverted the subject with, “The war is imminent, what are your plans? Do you want to leave Yong Province?”
“Leave?” Ruo Chan wondered, “Why?”
I explained, “To avoid the chaos of course. Military victory is hard to predict. Are you not afraid that the Imperial court will collapse and of Tan Xi invading Yong Province?”
Ruo Chan gave a half-smile, “How can the main wife of the Wei clan have this concern? Do you want to leave?”
I ignored her jests, “I'm asking you.”
With no changes in her face, she remained unperturbed. Reaching her hand out to a flowering shrub under the pavilion, she plucked two jasmine flowers. She handed one to me and twirled the other in her fingers.
“Go where?” She shrugged, “The whole world is in chaos, and it doesn’t matter where I go. At most, I can take refuge in the countryside when times get tough, but I can't leave Yong Province. Because no matter who becomes the Emperor, I must continue the troupe hall, right?”
That was true, I nodded after some contemplation.
“Will Young Master Gongyang accompany you?” I asked.
The smile on Ruo Chan's face froze and she didn't answer, but instead, she twisted her head to look down at the lake. She curved her lips and whispered: “Ah Jin, didn't you ask me where the good show was? Here it comes.”
I followed her line of sight.
Another pavilion was built on the shore of the lake, hidden by trees. The water was as bright as silver, and a woman covered with a veil arrived with graceful steps. She ambled up to the pavilion and checked her surroundings. However, the place we were in was so secluded and remote that the woman didn't perceive us.
My astonished gaze darted to Ruo Chan, but she continued to smile and look at the woman with a calm expression.
Before long, I heard distant sounds of a horse's hooves treading on gravel. The glistening lake’s peaceful scenery was broken by a man bursting into view on his horse. When he saw the woman, he stopped in his tracks, and after a short while, strode into the water pavilion.
It was clear that the man and woman were acquainted. I could see them talking as small rustling noises of the wind drifted over. The man turned around as if he meant to leave when suddenly, the woman rushed forward and hugged the man’s back.
Her cry, though soft, was still clear, “…… Meng Jing!”
The sound of the wind seemed to disappear in that instant.
I saw the woman bury her head in the man's back and say something.
The man didn't turn to look at her, instead, he gripped the woman's hands, and separated them after a while.
His deep voice was so familiar to me that despite the distance, I couldn't mistake it.
After he finished speaking, he disappeared without looking back.
The woman stood alone on the water pavilion for a long time, before she too strolled away.
“They're gone.” A voice reached my ears, jerking me back to reality. Ruo Chan was staring at me.
I remained silent, my mind still filled with the image of the two figures.
“Is that the Empress?” I asked after quelling my confusion.
She smiled and didn't deny it.
“Did you arrange this?” I blurted out when the thought occurred to me.
Ruo Chan looked calm, her eyes downcast as she played with the flower in her hand. After a moment, she pointed to the ground, “You dropped your flower.”
I looked down, and indeed, the jasmine in my hand had fallen to the ground at some point. I was no longer in the mood to appreciate flowers and instead asked her with a stare, “Why?”
“I don't know why,” Ruo Chan explained, “but you know that Empress Xu and I are acquainted with each other. She wanted to see the Eldest Young Master, but because of the constraints of the palace, she turned to me for help. When I established the Ningxiang Pavilion, Lord Xu made it easier for me. I had to return the favor now.” She continued with a sly smile, “As for you, you happened to have some relation to this, so I brought you along to watch.”
I stared at Ruo Chan after her flippant recollection of the events, and my heart went cold, little by little.
“Now that you've seen it, how about it?” I asked, my face wooden.
“I should ask you this.” Ruo Chan cautioned me in a measured voice, “Ah Jin, you said that the Eldest Young Master has been sleeping at the camps. But his heart may be occupied with other things than the affairs of the country.”
“You don't worry about that,” I frowned.
“Ha! Are you angry?” Ruo Chan's eyes were sharp, and she sneered, “I didn’t want you to be a fool who is deceived, but I am wrong?”
“No, Ruo Chan.” I shook my head, “He and I are not what you think we are.”
“Then what is it?”
I opened my mouth to explain, but at a loss for words, I sighed, “I’m not sure either.”
Ruo Chan's expression was heavy with skepticism.
“Ah Jin,” she guessed, “You still can't forget Young Master Ji Yuan, can you?”
My heart trembled.
“How is that possible?” I denied with a stiff smile.
Ruo Chan looked at me for a moment, sighed, and said no more.
T/N: Gotta agree with Fu Jin, Wei Tan has a knack for making people's moods drop instantly. (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻
SANDY'S READ RECEIPTS
Beginning as an avid reader, I am translating novels with the help of machine translation and online dictionaries.
SUPPORT ME ON KO-FI
If you are enjoying my work and translations, consider donating to help run the website! Thank you for your support!
SUBSCRIBE FOR NEW CHAPTERS