Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
As we headed further north beyond Huainan, the terrain flattened.
We encountered many refugees fleeing the chaos wrought by the Northern wars. As entire families escaped to the South, the wealthier traveled in oxcarts. But the destitute had to rely on their legs; dressed in shabby clothes, they begged for food along the road.
Meeting these refugees triggered Ah Yuan's memories of her former displacement. Pained by their misery, she donated away her rations. But at lunch, she stared at my food with greedy and pleading eyes.
I shared my dried rations with her: "Do you believe you're carting an enormous warehouse to feed these many displaced refugees?"
Ah Yuan bowed her head and wiped her eyes, "But I can't bear to look at them, Furen. That old man raises two young children without a wife's help......"
I patted her shoulder comfortingly, aware that she was recalling her past and worried for Li Shang and Ah Huan, who had traveled to Jiangnan.
As we spoke, Wei Tan walked over to us.
"What's wrong?" He asked, glancing at Ah Yuan's red eyes.
Ah Yuan, who already feared Wei Tan, scrambled to wipe her eyes and stand aside with her head bowed.
"No problem," I replied. "Are we resuming our journey?"
"We can rest a few more minutes."
I nodded and surveyed him as he stood before me: "Something wrong?"
He squinted in the blinding sunlight and replied: "Can't I come without something wrong?"
Wei Tan sat on a section of the tree log beside me, our eyes locking. To be honest, I didn't enjoy looking at him. His dark eyes under the thick eyebrows on his suntanned, wheat-colored face, concealed a sharpness. It was impossible to guess his thoughts, often making me feel out of control.
I broke eye contact first.
"The soldiers said that your side distributed dried rations to the refugees?"
Ah Yuan shrank slightly.
"Yeah, they appeared too miserable."
I expected Wei Tan to repeat the words I had said to Ah Yuan, but he didn't reproach us and instead asked, "Is there enough food to eat?"
"Yes." After a while, I digressed, "Is the fight with Tan Xi fierce?"
"Every war is fierce," he replied. "After the battle against Tan Xi, the Court will issue an order to rehabilitate the citizens and refugees in farms."
Inwardly, I doubted if we could defeat Tan Xi, but I still nodded with a smile: "That's good."
Wei Tan stared at me; his eyes half narrowed.
A sense of my mind being pried into returned, and I pretended to look at a bird flying overhead and shifted my gaze away.
The weather was sunny for many days, and Henan Province's roads were smooth. After four days, our group finally arrived at Yingchuan.
Along the way, I noticed that Wei Tan wasn't in a hurry to reach Luoyang. When we entered counties and prefectures, he never refused lodging or dinner parties to save time. At every stop, he discussed political affairs with local officials. The officials were also receptive, both host and guest thus happy.
The large county of Yingchuan was home to illustrious heroes and powerful clans. As a result, many mighty warlords led their troops to build high walls there. Despite the chaos, Yingchuan wasn't as neglected and withered as elsewhere.
Fan Yue, the current Governor of Yingchuan, assumed his post under the Late Emperor.
This man understood how to assess times and circumstances. When the rest of the world joined to rebel against Hé Kui's tyranny, Fan Yue was silent. When Tan Xi and Dong Kuang warred, he appeared to support Dong Kuang, giving him all the money and grain he needed. Yet, he secretly collaborated with Wei Jue, who eyed Dong Kuang's rear greedily.
During the internal strife between Dong Kuang's three sons, Wei Jue seized the chance to attack. He returned most of Henan Province to the Imperial Court within a month. Although he replaced most of the county's officials after gaining a firm foothold, he left Fan Yue untouched. Further, he promoted several of Fan Yue's sons to official positions.
Of course, with this bond, Fan Yue treated Wei Tan well when we reached Yingchuan.
When we entered the city, he led a hundred Yingchuan elders to welcome us at the city gate; a first in all our days' travel. I couldn't help but sit in the carriage and stare at Ah Yuan with dismay.
To my surprise, an unruffled Wei Tan greeted Fan Yue, calm, and collected.
After a few words of greeting, Fan Yue brought us to his official Residence. He had specially vacated and allocated the back courtyard of his home for Wei Tan's use.
When I descended from the carriage, Fan Yue visibly froze for a moment upon seeing me.
"Your presence is a great honor, Furen. I neglected to pay my respects earlier." He stepped forward and offered a salute.
"My wife injured her foot and struggles to walk. No need to be polite, Lord," Wei Tan said.
Fan Yue smiled and turned to ask onlookers if the food was ready. With their affirmation, he invited Wei Tan and me to rest in the Residence. Wei Tan returned the greetings and didn't resist; with Ah Yuan's supporting me, we entered the house together.
True to Yingchuan's fame, the back courtyard with its wide rooms was bigger than Pei Qian's entire house. The flowering trees and the stream winding through pavilions showed Fan Yue's refined style.
After washing and dressing, we attended the banquet set up in the main hall. The delicious feast even offered delicacies from Chang An I hadn't tasted in years.
Fan Yue was talkative, possessing the eloquence of aristocratic clans. Besides Yingchuan, he chatted with Wei Tan about the entire world's many affairs. He also mentioned meeting my two elder brothers to me, and that he had attended the same Court as my Father.
"Lord Fu and the two Young Masters were the world's pillars. It's a pity that rigid wood is easier to break," he said, looking regretful and full of sorrow.
I've heard these words often and have long since gotten used to them.
"Gone are the dead; my ancestors must recognize Lord Fan's fond recollection," I matched his regretful smile. I glanced at Wei Tan and found him staring at me with a half-smile.
Fan Yue nodded, his expression relieved. As the topic shifted to the current wars, he even mentioned how Wei An had shot Liang Heng to death in Huaiyang.
"I have long heard of the Fourth Young Master's intelligence and talent. With one arrow in Huaiyang, his name has spread in every direction," he praised with smiles.
Caught off-guard by the praise, Wei An became uncomfortable and glanced at Wei Tan.
"Lord Fan is too kind," he said indifferently, nodding his head.
After we ate our fill, Fan Yue ordered servants to serve wine. He smiled as he toasted Wei Tan, "Yingchuan's citizens pay utmost attention to health, and only drink wine after 80% of the meal. This homemade green plum wine can relieve fatigue and calm the summer heat; I propose a toast to Young Master and welcome you."
Wei Tan returned his smile, raised his cup, and downed the wine.
Fan Yue called to the outside: "Why is there no music or dance to entertain us?"
As a chorus of female voices replied, maids holding candles entered the hall and brightened the room. A rustle of footsteps followed, and ** musicians lined into the hall.
"My musicians aren't up to Chang An's standards. I only have simple music and dance for the Young Master and Furen's pleasure."
"Lord Fan is too polite," said Wei Tan.
After the musicians sat, a courtesan with bright eyes, arched eyebrows, and painted lips entered the hall. When the music started, she tapped a gentle rhythm and began singing.
Her soft and lingering voice forced even me, a person familiar with attending banquets since childhood, to admit that she had a rare talent. She sang a famous piece from Huainan, an ode full of tender sentiments.
I glanced at Wei Tan, who held a wine cup in his hand and sipped from it occasionally.
After her song ended, I assumed she would retire, but she just stepped aside. As the music resumed, a jingling of pearls and jade jewels sounded, and a fragrant breeze drifted through the doorway. When my gaze landed on a gorgeous woman, my heart stirred.
The woman wore her hair in a tiered, high bun, and a long-sleeved dance dress, her skirt shaped like lotus leaves. As her colorful clothes swayed, she resembled a fairy fallen to earth. The courtesan started a new song, and the woman danced to the rhythm, lowering her eyebrows. She raised her eyes and directed her coquettish gaze at Wei Tan's table.
I smiled at that lithe body, pillowy hair, and delicate lips, and sipped my wine.
Every maid and courtesan standing amidst the feast tables shrouded by the flickering red candles was young and lovely.
Fan Yue, this guy, really took me for dead.
"Furen, what does Fan Yue mean by this?" Back in our room, Ah Yuan fumed.
"What do you mean?" I sat on the bed, poured myself a cup of tea, and downed it. While Fan Yue's green plum wine was nothing to the men, it was quite potent for me. I grew dizzy despite drinking only 2 or 3 cups. Wei Tan had Ah Yuan help me withdraw from the banquet.
"Those courtesans! Each one stared at the Eldest Young Master, like hens in heat......"
"Lower your voice," I glared at Ah Yuan and gestured at the open door.
Unconvinced, Ah Yuan closed the door and spoke again, "Furen, what if the Eldest Young Master takes a concubine?"
What could I do? My wet nurse once taught me that two things in this world were inevitable; one was rain, and the other, a lady's marriage. My mother interjected from beside me, "Wrong. One more thing is inevitable; a man taking a concubine."
I only understood her words later, after reading and seeing more. By nature, we crave food and sex. Which male despised embracing a beautiful wife in one arm and a beautiful girl in the other? In their view, taking a concubine was common. Even my Father housed three concubines at home apart from my Mother. But families regarded this as frugal in Chang An; when Pei Qian was ten, his father added an eighth concubine mother to him.
I had grabbed Pei Qian's collar and said, "If you dare to take a concubine, I will leave you."
Pei Qian forced a smile: "I don't dare; with my fondness for shrews, just one of you in the family is enough......"
The alcohol buzz barely suppressed by the tea surged again. Now that I wasn't with Pei Qian, it was impossible to command others to refuse concubines, right? What I wanted wouldn't matter to Wei Tan. When we reach Luoyang, the first person I meet might be his woman.
"Furen......," seeing me unresponsive, Ah Yuan stomped her feet in protest.
"What else can I do but accept her at once? Only a fool would refuse a beauty that arrives at the doorstep," I replied as I poured another cup of tea.
"You won't get angry?" Ah Yuan stared at me in disbelief.
"What 'get angry'? Get angry with whom?" Impatient, I glared at her.
A sudden knock on the door interrupted us.
"Who is it?" Ah Yuan asked.
"Eldest Sister-in-law," Wei An's voice sounded.
He entered when Ah Yuan opened the door. Wei Tan had forbidden him to drink wine, and his fair face was fresh.
"What is it, Fourth Brother-in-law?"
"Elder Brother asked me to inform you that he has something to discuss with the Governor and that he would return later."
"Is it so," I smiled, my heart clearing. "Something" meant the matter of sending the beauty, right? As for returning later...... I looked at the big, stable bed in the room; if the discussion goes well, he won't return to sleep here tonight.
Oh no, of course, he wouldn't return to sleep with me.
This time, my words would be undeniable.
T/N: Hello, everyone! Here's the next chapter - sorry for the long wait! I got busy with moving places and couldn't find time to edit the chapter after translating. I hope to get out next chapters on time...
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