Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
Two days before my departure, the Emperor suddenly summoned me.
When I met him at the Side Palace Hall, his face was devoid of the solemnity needed in recent times. A smile appeared on his lips when he saw me.
He announced, “I heard that Furen was planning a trip to Huainan to pay respects to your ancestors. I will trouble you to take along some tributes that I also want to offer.”
He signaled the maids to present two lacquer boxes full of dried fruits and meat, as well as a bronze wine pot. It was not much, but still, it was a gift from the Emperor, and I thanked him hurriedly.
The Emperor sighed and reminisced, “Chancellor Fu was once a great tutor. Although he used a carrot-and-stick approach in his teachings, I still miss him.” His face was a little regretful as he spoke.
His face also looked a bit plumper than the last time I had seen him after entering Yong Capital. I could see that although Wei Jue controlled the Emperor like a puppet, he hadn’t neglected to provide for him. However, every time I met the Emperor, he appeared a little melancholic and pale.
As I gazed at him, I realized that some things couldn’t be said aloud. I sighed when I recalled our former years.
“The dead are gone; The Fu Clan’s ancestors under the spring must be aware of Your Majesty's generous grace.” As I praised, I bowed to him.
The Emperor forced a bitter smile. He resumed chatting with me about all the old things of the past. Recalling the funny things we experienced as children, he couldn’t help but laugh. Yet, he didn't utter a single word about the current affairs or the Wei Clan.
I understood the pros and cons and subtleties of our situation. So, I followed his lead in the conversation and enjoyed our pleasant memories.
After I withdrew from the Side Palace Hall, unfortunately, I met Empress Xu in the courtyard.
She was sitting under a flowering tree, as if enjoying the cool shade, with two palace maids standing behind her.
I was startled and hurriedly moved towards her to make my salutations.
“Furen, please rise, no need to be polite.” Her voice was soft and gentle, and it occurred to me that this was the first time she had spoken to me in Yong Capital.
When I got up, Empress Xu asked her maid to bring a low couch and signaled me to take a seat.
“Furen, are you going to Huainan?” She asked.
“Exactly,” I replied. In my heart, I wondered how the news had spread so quickly that even the Empress within the Imperial Palace knew about it.
She glanced at the lacquered case of ancient wine that the palace maids behind me were carrying, and her lips curled slightly.
The courtyard was calm, but I found the atmosphere strange. The same woman who had secretly rendezvoused with Wei Tan a few days earlier was now amiably sizing up her sweetheart's wife. Although I did not consider myself a rival in love, I still felt uncomfortable.
As the sunlight filtered through the branches and leaves, Empress Xu held a white silk fan and was surrounded by peonies in full bloom. When I looked at her closely, it was hard to deny that she was beautiful. This beauty was different from Ruo Chan's attractive glamour. It was more a gentle and noble appearance that made her unforgettable.
The palace maid poured tea for me, but no one spoke.
Empress Xu seemed to prefer observing people to speaking. It was impossible to know the thoughts behind her calm eyes.
However, I didn't worry. In terms of status, she was more superior, and it was natural that she had to speak first.
“What do you think of these flowers, Furen?” After taking a sip of tea, Empress Xu finally spoke up, “Last time when the Prime Minister had come to the Palace, he had praised the beauty of the flowers and trees. His Majesty wanted to bestow them to the Wei Residence. I think that peonies would be the most appropriate reward in this season.”
I smiled and examined the delicate peonies: “Peonies have a natural beauty and can’t be obtained by ordinary people. The Prime Minister is fond of bamboo orchids, so the Empress should bestow them to him instead.” Jokes aside, peonies used to be the symbol of the Imperial Palace in Chang An. The Late Emperor had even forbidden citizens from planting them without permission. If the Emperor gave peonies to Wei Jue, it would be interpreted differently by people with ill intentions. While Wei Jue may dare to accept the gift, I would not. Empress Xu was not a fool to ask such an obvious question, and I was a bit puzzled in my heart.
She smiled but did not say anything more.
Perhaps each mind had its separate thoughts, but I had no intentions of catching up with her about the good old times. So, after a cup of tea, I claimed that I had to report to my elders, asked to be excused, and departed the Palace.
The road to Huainan was a ten-day journey approximately. So, after returning to the Residence and meeting Madam Guo, I began checking the tributes and preparing my luggage.
The next day, someone from the Palace delivered flowers and trees.
Empress Xu had sent several bamboo orchids, Osmanthus trees, and other plants. They were distributed to all the courtyards by the Steward. But, my courtyard alone was given many poppy flowers.
“Poppies need sunlight to grow,” explained the gardener who had delivered the flowers. He added, “Furen's open and bright courtyard is perfect for them.”
I thought it was reasonable, and allowed them to plant the flowers.
On July fifth, I set out on the journey to Huainan with a cartload of tributes. The road to the East was straight, the same as it had been when I had married into Yong Capital.
It had been sunny for many days now, and the road was smooth with no potholes or puddles. By Wei Tan’s command, 10 soldiers had stayed back at Wei Residence to provide escort. Along with them, Ah Yuan, Li Shang, his son, and Gongyang Gui, our procession of horses and carriages had a heavy appearance.
Gongyang Gui was dressed in sharp robes and riding with a sword, looking like a knight-errant. Li Shang's body had recovered enough to ride a horse, and the plain robes on his thin frame billowed in the wind.
As the summer heat blazed, wide fields of crops spread across both sides of the road, flooding our eyes with dark green.
“If the Prime Minister wins and the soldiers return, it will be right in time for the autumn harvest.” During a rest stop, Li Shang spoke as he studied the surroundings. He continued, “This year, the trials and hardships were moderated, so the harvest should be good.”
When the fires of the war had raged and displaced citizens, crop fields all over the country were abandoned. As a result, grain production had drastically declined. Regardless of which man ruled, it was essential to feed the troops. More importantly, establishing cities needed a steady supply of food. So, looting grain had become the specialty of bandits and tyrants everywhere.
In this respect, Wei Jue however, has done a remarkable job.
Although in my eyes he was simply a bandit in the garb of a Prime Minister, he knew how to run a business. He took the unclaimed land in the provinces and counties under his jurisdiction and turned it over to his soldiers. They cultivated it in their spare time and harvested it for military rations. In this way, in a few years, Yong Province’s granary would be filled, all the credit going to Wei Jue's move. With the soldiers gone on war, the Imperial Court has issued a new order to allow the refugees in Yong Province to farm the lands and pay taxes every year.
I didn't have a great understanding of politics, but I could hear the citizens’ satisfaction with Wei Jue in the discussions of Ah Yuan and other maids.
“According to the Steward, what are the chances of the Prime Minister winning this battle against Tan Xi?” After a moment of silence, I asked Li Shang in a low voice.
Stroking his beard, he replied, “Based on my crude knowledge, the Prime Minister has an 80% chance of success.”
I was shocked: “So high? Tan Xi's army is said to have twice as many soldiers as the Prime Minister's.”
Li Shang laughed and shook his head. “Furen, victory, or defeat should not be based on military strength alone. Many soldiers without a good General, and sharp weapons without a good strategy, are useless.”
I listened but was half-skeptical.
At that moment, there was a sudden and loud “thud” from a nearby oxcart, as if something had hit the floor of the cart. The oxcart was loaded with sacrificial offerings, prepared by both me and Li Shang's family.
One of the foot soldiers rushed to straighten the straw mats covering the offerings. He smiled apologetically, and explained, “Furen, a jar of wine was knocked over when the cart came to a sudden stop, but fortunately nothing spilled.”
I was going East, Li Shang and his party were going South, and we would be parting ways in two days.
“Steward, take care of yourself on the way.” I was still worried, but at this point, I had no other words.
Li Shang bowed to me: “Furen, don't worry. I will not let down your expectations.”
Gongyang Gui dismounted his horse, carrying a jug of wine in his hand.
I looked at him and said, “From now on, Steward Li and Ah Huan will be entrusted to Young Master.”
With his usual calm expression, he nodded and pledged, “I will be of service.” He paused, and asked, “Is there a memorial tablet for Zhong Xun in Huainan?”
Zhong Xun was my Second Elder Brother's courtesy name. When I heard his question, I was shocked speechless for a moment. I forced a bitter smile and nodded, “If not, I will make a new one and put it up.”
He nodded and handed me the wine pot in his hand, “Toast him on my behalf.”
I saw that the clay pot was small and round, and the seal at its mouth was dusty. I recognized this wine as Chang An Wine Cellar’s aged-wine, Qiong Su. It was my Second Elder Brother's favorite wine.
Suddenly misty-eyed, I looked up at Gongyang Gui.
“Okay,” I inhaled a deep breath and accepted the wine.
On the other side, Ah Yuan wiped her eyes and repeatedly urged her father and elder brother to be careful. But with no time to waste, both teams had to hurry. We got on our respective carriages and horses and went our separate ways.
“Furen,” asked Ah Yuan, her eyes still red, “How long will they be gone?”
I had no idea either, but still consoled her, “Don't worry, with Young Master Gongyang around, it won't take long.”
Full of resentment, she complained, “We don't have to worry about food and clothing nowadays, why are they still so desperate?”
I stroked her head comfortingly but didn't say anything.
Li Shang has experienced a lot of storms in his life and worries about the future a lot more than I do. I believe that he wants to save more for his family while he was still young. So, even if I disagreed with him, he would still go south of the river to trade.
In the end, I didn’t stop him. He wanted to make his way, and in this troubled world, which path was risk-free?
Because we were carting many tributes, although we separated from Li Shang and his party, we didn't travel much faster.
A matter which worried me was the constant thumping echoing from the oxcart carrying the tributes. I was afraid that the tributes bestowed by the Emperor would be damaged. When I heard the noise yet again during a break, I finally couldn't resist getting out of the carriage to check its source.
When the foot soldier in charge of guarding the oxcart saw me, his expression changed, and he rushed to greet me.
“What's going on?” I frowned and asked, “Did the cart break down?”
The soldier's face flushed, and his eyes flickered evasively: “No Furen, the ox cart has not broken down.”
“Then what?” Suspicious, I tugged the straw mat covering the cart with one hand.
“Furen……,” the soldier's face paled white.
At that moment, I saw a young man sitting in the middle of the boxes and jars, and I froze dumb.
Wei An rubbed his sleepy eyes and stared at me, looking caught off guard.
Sitting under a tree’s shade while the sun blazed in the sky, Wei An ate dried rations and jerky. Though he appeared refined, it was obvious that he was ravenous from the way he gobbled his food.
“Why did Fourth Brother-in-law follow me?” I asked point-blank after his chewing slowed.
“I didn't want to stay in the Residence,” Wei An replied, short and straightforward.
“You didn’t want to stay in the Residence, so you sneaked out?” I frowned. “Has Fourth Brother-in-law thought about how anxious everyone would be after your disappearance? I'll have the sergeant allocate some men and horses to escort you back home in a while.”
“I'm not going back,” Wei An wiped his mouth and interrupted. Gazing at me, he whispered, “If Eldest Sister-in-law sends me back, I'll tell Mother that you’re not coming back.”
I paled, but luckily, he had spoken in a low voice, and no one was around.
“What nonsense are you talking, Fourth Brother-in-law?” I muttered, squeezing the words out through my teeth. When Wei Tan had spoken to me that day, he and I were the only two people in the room, so how could Wei An know? Don’t tell me that Wei Tan had talked to someone in the house......
“I didn't do it on purpose,” Wei An blurted out, his face flushed red in embarrassment. “When I was searching for my brother, the courtyard was empty, and so I heard it.”
The corner of my mouth twitched. What a weird coincidence......
Despite that, I wouldn’t admit it easily.
“What is Fourth Brother-in-law saying?” I forced myself to calm down. “I'm carrying the tributes bestowed by the Emperor and going to Huainan to offer respects to my ancestors. You said that I am leaving, but where am I going to go?”
Wei An stared blankly, stumped by my question. He pondered for a while, and replied, “Maybe I misheard. But I also heard my brother say that gold was hidden in the side room. If Eldest Sister-in-law sends me back, I will tell Mother about the gold.”
My eyes widened in a glare; I didn’t expect that this little brat would dare to threaten me with gold!
I stared at him, biting my lip secretly.
Wei An also looked at me, both eyes calm and unperturbed.
“Eldest Sister-in-law, I don't want to go back,” Wei An spoke seriously.
I closed my eyes and used my fingers to massage the temples of my forehead, now starting to ache.
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