Sandy's Read Receipts
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Ah Yuan asked me who I would choose.
I forced a bitter smile: Yes, who should I choose?
Wei Tan had married me under false pretenses, and further delivered me to Huainan, so I guess he didn't intend to let me return.
Meanwhile, my feelings towards Pei Qian were complex. It would be false to claim his efforts to rescue me didn't touch my heart. But how could I forget our troubled history?
If I followed Pei Qian, the name "Fu Jin" ceases to exist, engraved as "Fu-shi" on a memorial tablet in the Wei Clan's ancestral hall. I would need to live incognito, belonging neither to the Wei Clan nor the Fu Clan. To abandon my proud and cherished surname with my own hands ...... My fingernails dug into the palm of my clenched hand.
"I don't want to go anywhere," I whispered. "I want to leave. Find a remote land where I can be free and not care about anyone."
Ah Yuan's expression changed, and she said, "It's not impossible. But if you run away, what of the businesses in Yong Capital?"
I froze, my heart suffocating.
Yes, I had forgotten my businesses in Yong Capital!
In a frenzy, I scratched the bed boards with my nails.
Though I wished to distance myself from Pei Qian, his injury had recurred because of me, so visiting him became my daily duty. Unlike the first night, I only called upon him during the day. I cherry-picked mealtimes to avoid raising others' doubts.
Yet, this issue still concerned Wei An, who refused to speak to me for several days. He resumed either tinkering with his woodwork or talking to the Sergeant about it. Whenever he saw me approaching, he assumed a stony expression.
Though I explained about Pei Qian's injury, he didn't listen. Being no saint, I gave up and let him sulk as he wanted.
Pei Qian's injury healed swiftly, and he could walk around after 3 or 4 days.
He smiled every time I entered the doors. Whether he was writing or reading, he stopped and concentrated on eating with me.
Not as tense, I took the initiative to speak to him. We gossiped about common acquaintances and their affairs. As I recalled them with a smile, I glanced at Pei Qian and saw that his eyes shared the same knowing smile.
Did friendship of youth refer to this ......?
"What are you thinking?" A knock on my bowl jerked me out of my wandering thoughts.
Pei Qian wedged a piece of wing meat into the bowl: "You can't ignore food."
I wrinkled my nose, but seeing the piece of my favorite chicken wings, I didn't bicker.
After consulting the doctor, I had stewed chicken soup for Pei Qian, slogging for 4 hours. When he lowered his head and drank the soup, he frowned: "Why is this soup so sweet? Did you add sugar?"
He gawked at me, speechless: "Have you seen anyone add sugar to chicken soup?"
"Shouldn't we add sugar?" Puzzled, I recalled the soups I used to drink: everyone loved to discuss whether the soup tasted sweet. How can it taste sweet without adding sugar? ...... Seeing Pei Qian's face, I realized I made an error. But admitting my mistake was impossible.
"It's not tasty? I think it's delicious." I sidestepped the topic: "I also added precious herbs, so you must finish your soup." Speaking of herbs, my heart dripped blood. Although Huaiyang was near the South, war had inflated the price of normal herbs tenfold. It physically pained me to pay those exorbitant prices.
"You bought herbs? Why didn't you just ask Uncle Qi?"
"You don't need to care," I glared at him. Of course, asking Uncle Qi was easy, but I dreaded running into him lately. Every time I saw him, he persuaded me to stay, and was prone to shedding tears in lament.
Pei Qian said nothing, bowed his head and drank the soup. With the corners of his lips curved, he looked like he was eating a supreme delicacy.
After eating, I packed up the tableware to leave when Pei Qian called my name.
"Ah Jin, the Wei Residence soldiers have mostly recovered from their wounds. In a couple of days, I will reinforce their group with extra men to escort the Fourth Young Master back to Yong Capital. How about it?"
I froze, understanding his intentions: send Wei An away, and I stay.
"I ......" I bit my lip, "I'll think about it again."
He forced a bitter smile: "Ah Jin, Meng Jing sent you over here, can you still return?"
"I'll think about it again," I repeated.
He stared, his expression darkening.
A sudden clatter of hurried footsteps outside interrupted us, and before long, someone shouted, "General!"
Surprised, Pei Qian strode to the door: "What is it?"
I was indoors and pricked up my ears in curiosity. A man's anxious voice said, "General, our spies reported that Liang Chong's second son, Liang Heng, is marching to Huaiyang with an army of 10,000. It is less than 30 li away!"
Liang Chong was of Imperial blood. He governed Jingzhou city under the Late Emperor's rule. After the Great Rebellion, he amassed an army and occupied the Jing Chu counties. After the Emperor settled in Yong Province, he called Liang Chong to appear before the Imperial Court. Liang Chong refused, cursing Wei Jue for holding the Emperor hostage and controlling the officials. He vowed to never surrender.
With the North still unstable, Wei Jue wasn't eager to clean up Liang Chong. And being no fool, Liang Chong hibernated in Jing Chu and waited for an opportunity to attack.
The opportunity has arrived: With Wei Jue warring with Tan Xi in the North; the rear was unprotected. Ten days ago, Liang Chong's second son Liang Heng had attacked Jiangzhou city. Wu Zhang had transferred the troops stationed in Huaiyang to reinforce their defense. Who knew that Liang Chong and Liang Heng's attack was a diversion? Now, they had marched to Huaiyang overnight. If they invaded the crucial gateway of Huaiyang, then pocketing the entirety of Huainan was a piece of cake.
Besides the 1,000 troops given by Wei Jue, Pei Qian had 5,000 troops in his hands, totaling to only 6,000 troops.
Ignorant of war tactics, I broke out in sweats after listening to Uncle Qi's full analysis.
Pei Qian rushed to the borders after hearing the news. The Wei Residence soldiers also arrived at the Mansion with a carriage.
Uncle Qi said, "NuiJun, the Young Master ordered me to escort you out of the city at once."
"The only city closest to Huaiyang is Yangzhou."
"Furen!" At that moment, a Residence soldier ran over with forehead full of sweat and reported: "Furen! The Fourth Young Master is missing!"
How could Wei An go missing now? Alarmed, I ordered: "Everyone go look for him! Quick!"
The soldiers responded and scrambled to search for him.
"NuiJun, time is of the essence! I'll wait for the Fourth Young Master, you leave first!"
"No." I bite my lip: "Let's wait a little longer and leave together."
An hour passed and Wei An was still missing. News of the enemy troops' arrival had spread from the city walls.
This wasn't the first siege I had experienced. Last time, Wei Jue had trekked to the city walls of Laiyang with his soldiers. The panic overwhelming the citizens, and the chaos and noise ringing in the air felt familiar. But the result hadn't been terrible; it was an effortless victory with no bloodshed. And I married Wei Tan.
What will happen this time?
In the streets' tense atmosphere, the soldiers were scurrying and shouting "make way". The busy markets drowned in confusion when the civilians heard of the upcoming battle. As they raced home in panic, one woman walked past me in a hurry. She carried a vegetable basket in one hand and embraced a bawling child to her bosom with the other.
"Ah Jin!" A loud voice sounded behind me, and I turned around to see Pei Qian striding over, his expression frightened and angry. "Didn't I tell you to leave? Why are you still here?! Where is Uncle Qi?!"
The long sword at his waist and the dusty armor completed his aura of a military General.
As I was about to reply, a soldier's loud yell rang from the city walls.
"General! The enemy troops are beating the drums and are going to attack the city!"
His expression changing, Pei Qian urged me: "Gather the Residence soldiers and hide in the Mansion!" With that, he turned around and sprinted towards the city tower.
Loud drumbeats and jeers erupted from the explosive troops outside the city walls.
"Furen," her voice filled with fear, Ah Yuan asked, "what now?"
I looked at the city tower, my heartbeat imitating the sound of the drums.
"We need to find Fourth Brother-in-law first."
Two Residence soldiers found Wei An, and they led me through the crowd to meet him. To my surprise, he wasn't far away, just ten zhàng away from the main gate, on the city walls.
Wei An and a middle-aged General stood amidst a group of soldiers holding bows. A banner fluttered behind them, the word "Wei" written on it in a large font.
Wei An froze when he saw me arrive.
The General beside him hesitated briefly and then came forward to salute me: "Furen."
I looked at him and returned the salute with a nod, "General."
This man was Yang Ke, Wei Jue's chief General stationed in Huaiyang. The reason I came to Huaiyang was delicate, so I only met him once in the Mansion to keep my identity secret. But Wei An was familiar with him. Ah Yuan informed me that he often spent time with Yang Ke these days.
When I returned my gaze to Wei An, he bowed: "Eldest Sister-in-law."
I didn't have time to worry about his reluctant expression. "Fourth Brother-in-law, it's dangerous here. Follow me back to the Mansion."
I suppressed my rising anger: "What?"
He replied confidently: "Elder Brother said that Wei men would rather die than be a coward. I want to join the General to meet the enemy."
"Meet the enemy?" I laughed in exasperation. "Very good! How will you meet the enemy?" I grabbed his arm and dragged him to the edge of the city wall and pointed downward. "Do you want to rush below and risk your life?"
I only wanted to intimidate him, but the dense rows of enemy troops scared me instead.
Drumbeats rumbled from the chariots, and countless spears pointed at the walls. Hundreds of men carried siege hammers, tall ladders, and many things I didn't recognize.
The soldiers on top of the walls released arrows, and the troops below returned fire. As a few flew this way, the soldiers raised their shields, and the "clang" of arrows striking the shields frightened me.
"General." Feeling my voice go weak, I asked Yang Ke, "Wasn't it a surprise attack? How did they carry so many weapons to attack the city?"
His brows tightened with tension: "I'm afraid they've plotted it for a long time."
My anxiety increasing, I stopped reasoning with Wei An and turned to Yang Ke. "Please dispatch a few men to send the Young Master back to the Mansion."
"No." Wei An shoved my hand off, his face flushed red, "I still have to test the new crossbow machine!"
"Crossbow machine?" I finally noticed a large wooden frame beside us. To be exact, it was a winch. Except, the front part of it looked altered to open. A large crossbow synthesized from two smaller crossbows protruded from the opening.
At that moment, the drumbeats below the city walls halted. The enemy troops parted into two, and an armor-clad General emerged on horseback. He stood in front of the army, and brandished a hundred-catty halberd, its metal glinting in the sun. Their banner trembled in the puffing wind, and I heard him yelling something. As the tense atmosphere closed in on us, I wanted to walk away, but couldn't move my legs.
He was calling for a battle, calling Pei Qian out to fight.
I didn't know Pei Qian's strength, if he could resist that guy with the menacing halberd. But with Pei Qian wounded, if he stepped into battle ...... I didn't dare to speculate further.
"Is that Liang Chong's second son Liang Heng?" I asked Yang Ke.
I suggested anxiously: "Now that he has stopped, why not shoot him with arrows?"
"Furen, it's too far, the arrows can't reach."
Just then, someone ran over with a message from Pei Qian requesting Yang Ke's immediate presence at the city tower.
Yang Ke agreed and ordered his Sergeant to guard me and Wei An. After giving his salutations, he strode towards the city tower.
As I watched his silhouette, I wondered with apprehension if any General under Pei Qian could step out and fight the battle. Yong Province and Wu Zhang should send reinforcements, right? When will they come ......?
The sound of rough voices drifted from the city tower's other side, where Yang Ke was replying to Liang Heng. Simultaneously, I heard a "gurgling" sound beside me.
I spotted 5 or 6 soldiers working together to crank the lever on the winch. The winch's hemp ropes tightly coiled up, drawing the crossbow apart inch by inch. It showed gruesome arrows made of copper with thick and sharp arrowheads.
"Is that enough, Young Master?" A soldier asked.
"Pull it apart more," Wei An replied, staring at the big crossbow.
"Fourth Brother-in-law ......" I stepped forward, but Wei An stopped me.
"Eldest Sister-in-law," his expression was serious and earnest, "let me test this once."
I pursed my lips, restrained the anxiety in my heart, and stood aside. The calls for battles continued below the city walls, and the enemy soldiers' jeering heckles increased. If no one answered their call for a fight, they would besiege the city.
"To the left, a bit further." When Wei An's voice rang out, I saw that the winch had already spread the large crossbow wide open. The taut bowstring stretched between its teeth looked like it might snap any moment.
An archer adjusted the arrow's aim and said, "Young Master, it's ready."
Wei An examined it and nodded to a tall and muscular man. The big man nodded, hoisted the wooden club in his hand and struck at the crossbow's teeth.
The crossbow rebounded with a loud bang, the arrow disappeared into nothing, and my eyes widened in shock.
Liang Heng and Yang Ke were trading insults outside the city walls. Apparently overwhelmed with anger, Liang Heng brandished his halberd. Just as he was about to swing it down, a flash of light streaked into his chest and sprayed a blood mist.
In that split second, heaven and earth were silent. Dumbstruck by the suddenness, both the people above and below the city walls stood frozen. Like a stretched bow abruptly loosening, the tension evaporated.
"Why is there no sound?" Wei An stood on tiptoe and peered down, "Did you hit it?"
"Bingo! Young Master! I hit it!" A soldier on the battlements was so ecstatic that he almost jumped with joy. His voice was a thunderclap, pulling the crowd back to reality. With the sudden turn of events, the enemy troops exploded like an ant's nest. Loud cheers from the city walls bubbled like boiling water, engulfing all sounds instantly.
Drumbeats erupted, and 10,000 arrows shot out from the city walls and rained down on the enemy troops. As they retreated carrying Liang Heng's body, a General urged our soldiers to pursue them.
"What's next?" Wei An asked me, staring at the ecstatic soldiers, and scratching his head.
I realized that sweat had stuck my clothes to my body and felt chilly in the blowing wind.
I inhaled a deep breath: "They may say you shot a hidden arrow, and that the victory wasn't fair."
Wei An froze, somewhat awkward: "Then ...... how about sending a doctor to save him, and then fighting again?"
I shook my head and smiled feebly, "No need."
T/N: Whew! That was a long chapter. Sorry to make you guys think there were 2 chapters released at once. Author played a good trick on us lol.
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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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