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The well-lit tent was hot because of the weather, and Wei Jue sat at a table's chief seat, wearing a thin shirt.
Of the several men wearing scholar robes, I recognized Wei Zhao, and Wang Ju, who had served as the Master of ceremony at my wedding.
After Wei Tan lowered me into Ah Yuan's hold, he bowed to Wei Jue: "Father."
I joined his salute, "Greetings to my Father-in-law."
He nodded and shifted his gaze to me with a smile, "So it was true when I heard that my Daughter-in-law had sprained her foot."
I flushed with shame, and bowed my head, "I let Father-in-law worry." But in my heart, I couldn't help but break out in a cold sweat. He even knew of my sprained foot; this old fox's eyes and ears extended so wide?
He stroked his beard: "You can punish Meng Jing for failing to take good care of you."
Wei Jue's smile widened when he saw Wei An, who followed us into the tent.
"Young son, come here!" He beckoned him with a wave.
When Wei An walked over, Wei Jue stared at him: "You shot Liang Chong's son to death with one arrow?"
He pursed his lips, "No, it was the soldier who shot him to death; I made the crossbow."
"Oh?" Wei Jue laughed and pulled Wei An to sit beside him. He turned to Wei Zhao: "The next time Ah Rong says that Ah An isn't doing his duties, just let her join us in the war; let's see if she wins one battle."
Wei Zhao smiled, "You are right."
After the spell of greetings, Wei Jue seated us and had someone serve tea to relieve our fatigue. With no seat for a woman in the military tent, and me wounded, Wei Jue had someone bring a Huchuang and place it beside Wei Tan.
Wei Jue told Wang Ju: "Uncle Huang and my Daughter-in-law's family are old friends, and you were also their Master of ceremony, so you must be familiar with each other."
"You are right," Wang Ju turned and bowed to me, "Furen, I hope you are well."
"Nonsense." Wei Jue laughed again, "My Daughter-in-law hurt her foot, how can she say she is well!"
I replied to Wang Ju in a harmonious voice, "I am well; it wasn't a serious injury."
As the attendants brought more tea, Wei Jue and the others began discussing war with no reservations because of me.
Except Wei Tan and Wei Zhao, the rest were strategists, aged in their early thirties and with graying hair. I sat as straight as I could and listened to them.
Despite expectations for Wei Jue to conquer Tan, Tan Xi's momentum was so powerful that he attacked all the way from the North, and forced Wei Jue to retreat. Now that Tan's army had arrived at Wuzhi, only Luoyang remained as Wei Jue's retreat. By then, most of Henan Province would fall into Tan Xi's clutches.
Two predicaments troubled the Wei army. Besides the scarcity of army provisions, Tan Xi had built a hill outside the Wei camps, aiming strong crossbows at our soldiers. Without the provisions essential for a battle, the tired soldiers' attack and defense lacked strength. Tan Xi had occupied the high ground and attacked the soldiers with strong crossbows. Wei Jue was helpless without room to advance or retreat, and the army morale had plummeted.
I listened on the sidelines, my heart alarmed.
Was the status so serious? But when I glanced at Wei Tan, not even a frown marred his calm and unruffled expression.
The crowd didn't talk for long, and Wei Jue turned towards me without warning.
As my heart thumped, I knew my turn had arrived.
Yet, Wei Jue just smiled, "Meng Jing doesn't know to be compassionate; Ah Jin has suffered on this long journey. You don't need to sit with us old men, go rest."
Although he mentioned Wei Tan first, he addressed his words to me.
After sharing a look, Wei Tan and I bowed to Wei Jue: "Son and Daughter-in-law follow orders."
As I sat on the bed in the tent that Wei Jue had especially prepared for me, I couldn't help but breathe a long sigh of relief.
No need to sit with old men? That discussion was for my ears; to understand their current circumstances, and so that I would think of ways to convince Zhao Jun.
Asking me to rest wasn't to be polite either. They chose me as their mediator only because of Zhao Jun's past friendship with my Father. How could I convince him if I rushed to him now with no preparation, and in this haggard and travel-worn form?
As I reclined on the bed, I wondered, was Zhao Jun that important? In the past, I had seen him at home; although good at chess, he was taciturn. Was such a reserved person so worthy that Wei Jue forced me, his son's wife, to step in and make him surrender?
The tent was quiet, and no one disturbed me. After eating and washing up, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, it was already dark. As I rolled over, I recalled Zhao Jun, and couldn't sleep anymore.
Before long, a few voices sounded outside the tent. The light reflected Wei Tan's silhouette onto the tent flap as it lifted.
He had already changed his clothes; he unhooked the sword from his waist as he walked to the bed.
Surprised to see my eyes open, he asked: "Still awake?"
His gaze flashed, and he sat on the bed: "Thinking of tomorrow?"
"Yeah, talk to me, okay?" I didn't intend to measure my words now, and Wei Tan arrived just in time to answer my questions.
He placed the sword on the table and took off his boots.
His body smelled like he had just bathed, and the faint hint of sweat wasn't unpleasant.
"Go ahead." He balled the blankets high on the mat, semi-reclining beside me.
"Do I have to make Zhao Jun surrender?"
"I won't say that you must make him surrender," he shifted his body, trying to find a comfortable position. "When Tan Xi warred with Dong Kuang, Zhao Jun offered several ideas to help Tan Xi capture Hebei."
I only half-understood: "How did the Prime Minister capture such an important person?"
Wei Tan intoned: "Tan Xi is a man who uses his cronies, but he still suspects them. Zhao Jun and my Father hailed from the same hometown and were good friends in Court. With Tan Xi and my Father at war, Tan Xi avoids Zhao Jun despite his contributions. To avoid suspicion, Zhao Jun asked Tan Xi for a chance to guard the city borders, allowing our army to intercept him on the road."
"Oh?" As I pondered, I couldn't help but sneer, "Then why didn't Zhao Jun surrender?"
He forced a smile: "It would be good if he surrenders. But he values his reputation and will never carry a turncoat's name."
So he wanted to save face.
Dumbfounded, I stared at the tent ceiling and sighed.
Wei Tan looked at me and murmured, "Don't worry too much. Stuck in a gridlock, my Father wishes to get Zhao Jun's ideas. But he knows Zhao Jun's stubborn nature, and won't blame you if you can't persuade him."
"Okay," I smiled.
In my heart, I thought something else.
At this crucial stage of the war, I had to persuade him to surrender. Since Wei Jue chose me to enter their family because of my identity, this was my duty. If Zhao Jun's surrender aided the war, it would be both a collective and a personal gain; I had no choice.
Exhausted from the journey, Wei Tan did little, and after a few words, his breathing evened as he fell asleep.
Because of my earlier nap, I found it hard to sleep again. When I woke up after a restless sleep, the sky was bright, and Wei Tan had disappeared.
Ah Yuan walked in with a mysterious smile.
"You'll find out later, Furen."
After I changed and washed, Ah Yuan called to the outside, "Enter!"
When the tent flap lifted, a soldier entered, pushing in something.
"Furen, the Fourth Young Master has made a wheelchair overnight," Ah Yuan cheered.
I looked at her in amazement and then stared at the "wheelchair". A simple Huchuang with a backrest and between two wheels; a full-size model of Wei An's charcoal drawing.
"Over night?" I asked, "Where is the Fourth Young Master?"
"He couldn't wait for Furen to wake up and went to sleep."
Although it was a new toy, Wei An's mind was truly magical.
To my surprise, when I sat in the wheelchair, I found a place to rest my feet under the seat. Ah Yuan pushed me around, moving with ease. My appearance had worried me; both hopping along with Ah Yuan's support, and Wei Tan's method of carrying me, were embarrassing. Although being pushed around might also look foolish, it was better than my original two options.
With important things on today's agenda, I didn't dare play too much. After Ah Yuan and I messed around for a moment, I ate the porridge brought by the guards.
Not long after I had eaten, Wang Ju arrived.
"Greetings, Furen," he bowed.
"Lord Wang, no need to be polite. I wonder what Lord Wang wants?"
"Furen must know Zhao Jun's matter."
Sure enough, he came for this.
I nodded, "I understand."
"Does Furen have any countermeasures?"
I stared at him and replied, "I haven't thought of it yet. Do you have any pointers?"
"I don't dare." Wang Ju said, "Furen, I am long acquainted with Zhao Jun, and he is a man of great righteousness, but he is most filial to his mother. The Lord has ordered someone to receive his mother, wife and children at Yong Capital."
I froze; of course, Wei Jue didn't receive Zhao Jun's family at Yong Capital to welcome them as guests. Such a tactic was clearly blackmail.
What long acquaintance? What men from the same hometown?
I smiled, "If Lord Wang is Zhao Jun, I wonder if you would surrender after hearing this?"
His expression still mild, he replied, "This matter is only a pretext; Furen can use it if you find it difficult to persuade him."
I said nothing, and nodded after a while: "Thank you, Lord Wang. I have a plan."
Wang Ju understood my words of send-off and didn't stay long.
"Furen," he stood up and whispered, "Don't worry, if you need any help, just ask."
I looked at him and smiled: "I appreciate your kindness, Lord Wang."
Wang Ju surveyed me, gave a bow, and walked out of the tent.
Although everyone told me I didn't need to care too much, I still ruminated over it.
When I finally arrived at Zhao Jun's prison, I inhaled a deep breath.
"Do you want me to go in with you?" Wei Tan asked me.
"No," I declined.
"Really?" He asked, raising his eyebrows.
I looked at him, "I'm just meeting an old friend, not death."
He smiled, asked the guards to open the wooden barricade, and pushed me through them.
The prison in the barracks was rudimentary, but Wei Jue treated Zhao Jun especially well. The clean, single-room cell even had a table and bed.
Born noble, Zhao Jun had a strict upbringing. When I reached the door, he was sitting in a welcoming posture, hearing noises of someone's visit.
When he saw me, a puzzled look appeared on his face. A few moments later, as if remembering something, his expression changed.
"Fu Nui......" He began in surprise, but paused, and changed my title: "Furen."
With that, he straightened his clothes, and bowed to me in a dignified manner.
T/N: Good news, everyone! We reached our first milestone - we are 25% through Fu Jin and Wei Tan's story! Thanks for joining me on this journey! ^_^
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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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