Sandy's Read Receipts
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I didn't force Wei An to return home.
Of course, it wasn't to prevent Madam Guo from discovering the hidden gold, but because my right eye had twitched after hearing Wei An's threats. My wet nurse had warned that a twitching left eye foretold disasters, and the right foretold wealth. Naturally, I held Wei An back with me.
I wrote a letter informing Madam Guo that Wei An had followed me to Huainan. The need to think of a convincing lie worsened my headache. I wove a story that Wei An ran away without permission because he missed his Elder Brother. I had bumped into him accidentally, but by then, we had already crossed Yong Province's borders. Without sufficient guards, splitting into two teams would make both our journeys dangerous. So, I allowed him to join me till Huainan for the ancestral rituals. I finished the letter by assuring Madam Guo that we both would return after the ceremonies.
Unwilling to delay this matter further, I dispatched one soldier to expedite the letter's delivery to Yong Capital.
Our procession of carriages and horses continued to advance. With no spare horse, Wei An grandly settled on the oxcart. The entire time, he fiddled with the small wooden pieces that he had packed.
Although the Fu Clan had originated in Huainan, we moved to Chang An around 200 years ago. The old Mansion and family tombs were the Clan's last legacies in Huainan. Every year, my Father used to take the Clan members back there for ancestral rituals. Thick incense smoke would suffuse the air, while music and drums resonated in the background. The families' countless offerings would be lined up from the main hall till the entrance gates.
As a populous and rich land, Huainan became a gold mine to every ambitious man during the wars. Hé Kui had confined the Young Emperor at Luoyang and plundered Huainan with his soldiers. After that, Tan Xi and Dong Kuang had warred for its dominion. For a few years, bandits embroiled the region in endless disputes, destroying the entire region and city.
Last year, Wei Jue vanquished Dong Kuang and pocketed Huainan for himself. Yet, the dense forest that bordered this area and Huaiyang, ruled by Wu Zhang, was now scattered with exiled bandits.
The Fu Clan's ancestral home was in Ruiyi, a small town smashed to rubble during the wars.
When I returned, only overgrown grasslands and a deathly silence greeted me.
To my surprise, the Fu Clan's old Mansion stood alone amidst the ruins. Startled, I walked closer and saw traces of scorch marks on the original white walls. And yet, someone had repaired it recently. Further, the roof tiles and beams looked new.
When I entered the main hall, I noticed dozens of memorial tablets arranged in rows. The front row seemed new, each tablet engraved with my Father's and Brothers' names.
As I stared at those familiar names, sudden tears flooded my eyes and blurred out my vision.
In my mind, my dear family, the people who regarded me as a precious pearl, had never died.
For the past several years, I deliberately erased those nightmares that still rendered me breathless with pain. It helped to pretend that they had just gone to a distant land, like they would return one day.
Yet, the moment I saw their names etched on the tablets, it felt like someone had stabbed my heart and ripped it out of my still-alive body. The engraved names dragged me into the reality where they could never return.
The sorrow buried in the depths of my heart surged, and I burst into loud sobs.
Because of natural and man-made disasters, the once-bustling city became a wasteland. Winds swept through the sky and only a few crows perched on the trees.
The soldiers were busy cleaning and packing up after the rituals. A few men went to search the nearby ruins for firewood after their leading Sergeant hollered at them.
Sat on a section of the dilapidated wall, I peered at the distant sunset, my heart no longer desolate or sad.
I recalled the scene when I had seen my family for the last time.
Still arrogant then, I refused to admit defeat even as the Mansion crumbled around us. On that freezing wintry day, I wore cotton mourning clothes and followed my family to the gallows. I wept and belted laments sung to send-off departed souls. When I reached the end, my Father burst into loud laughs.
"Ah Jin!" He shouted at me, "Don't cry! Survive!"
"Furen ......" The sound of Ah Yuan's voice, choked with sobs, reached my ears. She turned away, wiped her eyes and asked me, "Are we staying here tonight?"
"Hmm," we had no choice but to stay here tonight. As we knew from our journey here, no one lived within a hundred-mile radius.
Ah Yuan gave a brief nod, turned, and walked away.
I sucked in a deep breath and wiped my eyes. After crying, my heart's pain had relieved substantially. But one question still puzzled me.
I was the last remnant of the Fu Clan, but this ancestral Mansion seemed newly rebuilt.
Who did it?
Ever since we arrived, Wei An had stayed at the sidelines so quietly that I had almost forgotten him.
When I found him, he was sitting in a pile of rubble and rummaging through it.
"Fourth Brother-in-law, what are you doing?"
He looked up, "I'm searching for pieces of broken wood."
I noticed a heavy cloth bag pinned to his waist, uneven wooden handles sticking out of its mouth. They looked like an assortment of small hammers, chisels and other similar tools.
He remembered to pack his tools when sneaking out of the house? Wei An was an eccentric kid.
"Is this your ancestral home, Elder Sister-in-law?"
"Yeah," I replied, feigning nonchalance, "What do you think?"
His gaze darted to my face and lingered briefly, maybe puzzled by my red and swollen eyes.
"Not bad," he blurted. Perhaps because the words slipped out of his mouth unchecked, he added, "Father also has an old Mansion in the river's west, but it's a little livelier."
I paused briefly and said, "This Mansion also used to be lively once." As the words rekindled my sad memories, I continued, "We must eat in a little while. So, don't wander far, Fourth Brother-in-law." After saying that, I walked away quickly.
Before I reached the house, the Sergeant came searching for me.
He looked a little worried: "Furen, I'm afraid we have to be more careful when we stay here tonight."
"What?" I was stunned.
"Strong and violent men haunt this area. I noticed shadows lurking in the woods on our way here. I am afraid they might be scouts for the bandits."
Although his words worried me, these soldiers wore uniforms in the easily recognizable colors of the Imperial Army. Further, Wei Tan had trained them. Even if a mob plans to attack us, they would need to consider their odds.
"Got it," I said to the Sergeant.
Although the Mansion was damaged, it was still habitable. The roofs and doors of the front and two side halls remained intact. Wei An, Ah Yuan, and I slept in the two side halls, and the soldiers used the front hall.
The night passed with no incidents. Perhaps we were being paranoid.
In the morning, we washed our faces with water from the well. We started our return journey to Yong Province after wolfing down dried rations.
"Did Fourth Brother-in-law find this quick trip boring?" I asked Wei An before boarding the carriage.
Silent for a moment, he replied, "I heard that my Elder Brother is in Yu Province."
I froze, realizing that he referred to Wei Tan. "You want to go to Yu Province?"
"Yeah, " Wei An nodded.
"It's too far, we can't go." I smiled and entered the carriage.
The road back was also peaceful. The desolate fields abutting the road conflicted with the bucolic sceneries of the past, leaving me immersed in my memories for a long time.
Although the fields were barren, the forest here appeared greener. We also caught glimpses of meandering streams from time to time. The way they glistened under the blue sky had a unique beauty.
When we reached the edge of a dense forest in front of us, the Sergeant suddenly ordered the carriage to halt.
"What's wrong?" I asked through the curtain, sensing something unusual.
The Sergeant didn't answer, but stared ahead, his hand clenching the hilt of his sword.
Suddenly, an arrow 'swooshed' out of the forest. It was too far away to hit anyone, but alerted us to the danger.
"Protect the Furen and Young Master!" Roared the Sergeant as he drew his sword.
The well-trained soldiers hustled to form a defensive barricade. The coachman also retreated behind their defense with a sharp turn of our carriage.
An endless hailstorm of arrows rained from the forest. As loud, boorish voices boomed outside, I saw shadows scuttling down the road through the bamboo curtain. But they looked like a ragtag gang of petty thieves. Although our soldiers were few and forced to defend, they were organized.
Ah Yuan clutched me, panic-stricken.
I was trying to calm her when a sudden bang echoed. Startled, I looked through the window and my heart screamed, "Not good!" I saw burly men burst out of the tall grass, brandishing shiny swords.
Seeing that a massacre was imminent, the Sergeant bellowed, "Furen! Young Master! Run!"
Just when the words seemed too late, the coachman whipped the two horses into a gallop, throwing Ah Yuan and me backward.
"Fourth Brother-in-law!" I cried out, uncertain if Wei An's oxcart could keep pace with us.
No one answered, but the jeers and clanging of the blades continued to thunder behind us. Suddenly, the horses whinnied, and heaven and earth flipped. Ah Yuan and I tumbled and slammed hard against the walls of the carriage as it capsized.
The frenzied sounds of killing increased, as if another group had joined the fray, and the wretched screams seemed incessant. Ah Yuan hugged me and shivered uncontrollably, and I also shrank into a ball, my mind blanking white.
"...... General!" Someone called out.
"Don't chase them, go check how many casualties we have ahead!" A voice said.
It was neither high nor low, and when it reached my ears, I was rattled, as if struck by lightning.
The curtain tore open, and a silhouette emerged in the light. Although disturbing to the sight, the face remained as handsome as ever.
"Ah Jin! Are you okay?" Pei Qian supported me up with one hand, his expression tight with tension and concern.
T/N: Ngl I was hoping that the "General" was Wei Tan. (⌒_⌒;
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Beginning as an avid reader, I am translating novels with the help of machine translation and online dictionaries.
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