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The tiring carriage ride worsened into a miserable journey because of my re-injured foot.
Each person around me had a different reaction to my condition.
Wei Tan continued to carry me in and out of the carriage as usual, giving me instructions.
Wei An appeared thrilled; when we rested that night, he ran to me with an angle ruler and noted my body measurements. He produced a charcoal drawing of a cart for my perusal. Except, the drawing didn't look like a cart or a chair; but a "wheelchair" as he called it.
Meanwhile, Ah Yuan chattered nonstop. One moment she grieved over my sprained foot, and in the next, nagged me about how it felt to share a bedroom with my husband.
I ignored her and reclined on the mattress, pretending deafness.
Ah Yuan walked towards me: "Furen doesn't know, but I heard that after we left last night, those courtesans urged Eldest Young Master to drink and dine. Fan Yue tried hard to present those beauties to him."
I opened my eyes: "Heard? From whom?"
"One of the Eldest Young Master's attendants, Wang Hui. Furen, guess what happened? Just as Fan Yue was about to ask the courtesans to serve Eldest Young Master in bed, he rose to leave and returned to our courtyard."
I raised my eyebrows, refusing to react; I had already guessed last night's events.
"Furen, you said only a fool would refuse a beautiful woman who arrives at his doorstep." Ah Yuan looked doubtful, "Then...... is Eldest Young Master a fool?"
"Yes, who said no."
Presenting a beautiful woman was nothing but giving favors; someone refuses only for two reasons. One is that you couldn't accept it, and the other is that you couldn't afford it. I didn't understand why Wei Tan refused, but I was sure it wasn't for my sake.
"Furen, did you decide to stay with Eldest Young Master?"
"Who said that?"
Stunned, Ah Yuan stammered: "But you and Eldest Young Master...... eh?"
What ran through this girl's head? I glanced at her and shrugged, "I'll decide whether to stay or leave later. The Prime Minister hasn't defeated Tan Xi yet."
Prepared to wait until Wei Jue won before talking to Wei Tan, I hadn't intended to start last night's conversation. But I hadn't expected a character like Fan Yue to intervene with intentions of gifting beauties. I needed to settle Wei Tan's mind first. Otherwise I would have no chance to cry, kicked out before Wei Jue and Tan Xi even fought.
I hoped for Wei Jue's win; besides controlling the Emperor, he would occupy the largest territory with the highest population. Both my living and businesses would be better off as his Daughter-in-law.
This was the reason I left with Wei Tan back in Huainan.
Yes, it was a gamble; but what isn't?
Ah Yuan stared at me and sighed: "It's a pity; Eldest Young Master treats Furen well."
Her face blushed somewhat red, and I knew what she was suggesting.
When we left Yingchuan today, Wei Tan acted the perfect husband. Besides carrying me in and out, he often rode to the carriage to check on me. When he spoke, he leaned forward and bowed his head. Even I blushed, let alone Ah Yuan.
"Ah Yuan, do you know Han Guang?"
She froze, before nodding: "Yes, Furen's former husband."
"He used to hug me with joy every day. In the morning, he asked if I was hungry, and in the evening, if I was cold. Whenever I fell ill, he toiled hard to take care of me, not even allowing me to sit up to eat." After a pause, I added, "But later, when his Father sent me away, he didn't move one foot to stop him."
Ah Yuan's eyes widened.
I patted her shoulders, "Ah Yuan, the Eldest Young Master is the same; he's just a man."
She stared at me and nodded, half-understanding.
If it was my first marriage, I might have been full of spring love. But as an experienced woman, I understood how couples got along daily. When Pei Qian had separated us, Wei Tan showed courtesy. Yet now, even when he had every right, he showed restraint with his simple cuddles and occasional ambiguity.
As a grown male with no maids or concubines, Wei Tan had only me for a wife. I guessed I would experience bedroom matters soon. Although I felt awkward, chastity has long been meaningless to me. Married for over five years; even Ah Yuan wouldn't believe me if I told her my virginity was still intact.
Wei Tan could do just one other thing than Han Guang. Couldn't I exchange it for a future?
We rested in tiny villages for the next three or four days on the road. The village houses were shabby because of wartime recession and I thanked God that it didn't rain. To make room, Wei Tan didn't sleep with me, and instead, I shared a bed with Ah Yuan.
Since it was inconvenient to get water on the road, Wei Tan didn't soak my foot in water, but he still changed the dressings daily. Everyone had to pay their debts; since he caused my injury, I was quite comfortable with his service.
"We reach Luoyang in two days, so endure a bit," Wei Tan said, binding my foot in cloth.
"Hmm," I replied, lying on the straw mat.
"I'll take you to stay at the old Residence at Luoyang."
I nodded. Wei Jue had a family home in Luoyang from the time he served as the northern lieutenant. His words made the old Residence sound so wonderful.
"Have you ever been to Luoyang?"
"No, I haven't," I said, before adding, "But my Mother is from Luoyang."
"Oh?" Wei Tan smiled, "My Mother too."
"I learned Fujun spent his childhood in Luoyang?"
"Hmm," he nodded, "I was 14 when I traveled to Chang An."
Oh, so he was a country hick until he was 14.
I did the math: 14 years old? Then when he reached Chang An......
"You were 9 years old," Wei Tan said.
Surprised by his words that rang out like mini-thunderclaps, I froze: "What?"
"When you count, your eyes glance to the right," he murmured.
Ten feet away, the firewood "crackled" with a burst of sparks.
I stared at him, both amazed and suspicious.
He returned my stare.
"Yes." Unwilling to make a fool of myself, I forced a nonchalant expression, "How did Fujun know I was counting?"
Wei Tan smiled.
Just then, a nearby sergeant shouted for him.
He called back before saying, "Go to sleep." He rose and walked away, leaving me confused on the straw mat.
When I woke up the next morning, a troop of men and horses arrived, led by Cheng Mao, whom I hadn't seen in long.
With how travel-worn he looked, I understood he had rushed here on an urgent matter.
"Young Master!" He greeted Wei Tan first. When he noticed me, he bowed again, "Furen."
With his expression stoic, Wei Tan didn't waste time on greetings: "What's the matter?"
"Young Master, the Lord and Tan Xi are fighting at Wuzhi and the battle is at a crucial stage. The Lord ordered me to urge Young Master to return to camp at once!"
Wei Tan nodded and ordered the Sergeant to pack light and delegate the troops. As he turned to me, Cheng Mao interrupted.
"Young Master, the Lord told me to ask Fu Furen to join us if she was here."
The carriage sped along the road, jolting so much that one could neither sit nor recline. Wei Tan dropped most of his soldiers, keeping only a few with horses to follow Cheng Mao's party. We rushed as if a vicious dog chased us, covering hundreds of miles before changing horses in nearby counties, almost without rest.
With me wounded, Ah Yuan joined me in the carriage. When Wei An wished to follow his Father and Brothers to war, Wei Tan didn't refuse, taking him along with us. I feared he was the only one thrilled on the road.
Cheng Mao explained why Wei Jue wanted me to join them.
Zhao Jun was the Prime Minister's deputy, backed by my Father in the Late Emperor's Court. After the Fu Clan's ruin, Zhao Jun resigned because he despised Empress Bian's exclusion of dissent in the Court. When Tan Xi rose and issued a notice to recruit scholars, Zhao Jun joined as a strategist in his camp.
Cheng Mao informed me that Wei Jue admired Zhao Jun's talent for strategy and had captured him recently. Though Wei Jue tried every means to persuade him, he refused to surrender, prompting Wei Jue to think of me. I traveled this great distance just to be a mediator.
It wasn't my first visit to a military camp; I married Wei Tan at the camps outside Laiyang.
Yet this camp was much larger. As we entered, I saw the banner on the regiment gates. A barrier of spiked sawhorses encircled the camp, a faint momentum in the air.
Before we even reached the gates, a group of men rushed to welcome us.
"Elder Brother!" The first rider with a bright smile was Wei Ci.
"Good brother," Wei Tan greeted, "Where is Father?"
"The Prime Minister is in his tent."
Wei Tan nodded, and the two of them talked as they rode into the camp.
Through the thin bamboo curtains, I observed rows upon rows of tents. Many soldiers trained in the large open spaces, drowning the air in shouts.
A little surprised to see Wei Tan carry me out, Wei Ci produced a cheerful smile and bowed, "Eldest Sister-in-law."
"Brother-in-law," I nodded.
A deep voice from the big tent in front of me sounded, "Is Meng Jing back?"
Wei Tan and Wei Ci shared a glance before replying, "Yes, Father."
Wei Tan led me inside as the guard pushed aside the tent flap.
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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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