Sandy's Read Receipts
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"No need to be polite, Lord," I sat in the wheelchair and returned his greeting.
Zhao Jun sat upright, his stunned gaze falling to my injured foot.
I continued, "I sprained my ankle accidentally and can't make a full bow. Please forgive me, Lord."
He rushed to reply: "Jun wouldn't dare accept Furen's bow."
Relieved that his demeanor wasn't frigid, I said, "We haven't met for many years, but you are still energetic. I remember the last time I saw you was in Chang An."
"You are right."
I sighed: "You and my late Father were playing chess in the back garden. Even though you won thrice, my late Father refused to let you leave."
He was silent and didn't answer. Instead he said, "The last time I saw Furen wasn't in your house, but when you were leaving the capital after your marriage. I had scaled a building to watch you from afar. Jun remembers you had married into Laiyang's Han Clan."
I didn't expect Zhao Jun to mention my marriage into Laiyang.
"Is that so? Lord has an excellent memory."
"Furen flatters me. A rumor floated around that the Wei Clan had married you, and I had a hard time believing it. I still remember that when Lord Fu was alive, he prioritized family traditions. Under his upbringing, he wouldn't allow his daughter to marry twice. If I hadn't seen Furen today, I would have thought that the Wei Clan was lying."
His incisive and harsh words surprised me; it was the first time since I had married Wei Tan that anyone had mocked my second marriage in front of me. I had envisioned many refusals from Zhao Jun, but I didn't expect him to seize this as an excuse.
"Oh?" I kept a poker face, but in my heart I didn't doubt that I would have asked the jailer to open the cell door so I could kick him, and then slap him a few times.
I sneered: "In your words, it's shameless for me, a twice-married woman, to persuade you to become a turncoat official."
Zhao Jun didn't answer, but he bowed calmly: "Furen, please return."
My fingers dug hard into my palms.
I stared at him, suppressing my anger, and letting my irritation fade.
"I wonder how long the Lord has been captive here?"
"It has been half a month."
I nodded: "Why is the Prime Minister holding you here?"
Zhao Jun looked at me, and he replied in a flat voice: "To make me surrender."
"What will the Prime Minister do if you don't comply? Whether imprisonment or the chopping block, you can no longer serve Lord Tan."
His expression remained unchanged: "I never forgot the instructions I learned from my teachers ever since I bound my hair. I won't hesitate to die to show my loyalty."
"So, I wonder if Lord Tan will trust you if the Prime Minister frees you?"
He gave a shallow smile: "If worse comes to worst, it's also my fate."
Zhao Jun must have heard these words many times since they took him into custody; he answered as if he had memorized his replies beforehand.
Undaunted, I continued, "Lord keeps repeating his words; you talk of loyalty. Dare I ask why you defected to Lord Tan back then?"
Surprise flashed across his face before he shot back: "The country was in danger; how could we, as officials, abandon it? Lord Tan opposed Hé Kui and had the greatest momentum; I didn't hesitate to join him."
"In that case, is Lord Tan's current expedition also for the country's sake?"
Zhao Jun replied, "Yes, of course."
I sneered: "Your learning is deep. I wonder if your teachers ever said words of showing loyalty to the ruler after eating his salary? The country has deemed the Chens as rightful Emperors for ages. Though you resigned from your post, you still have fame for filial piety. While the Prime Minister leads the Emperor's troops against the rebels, you not only help the enemy resist, but you claim you aren't a turncoat." I smiled, "When you speak of filial piety, I don't know which family's filial piety you are referring."
As these words emerged, Zhao Jun's frozen mien cracked a hair. Although the crack disappeared in an instant, my eyes didn't miss it.
"The Prime Minister is a minister in name, but in reality, he is stealing the country." His voice hid a rage, "His heart is treacherous to hold the Emperor to command the Lords!"
"Oh?" Keeping the same pace, I added, "I wonder, according to Lord Zhao's wisdom and foresight, if Lord Tan holds the Emperor, will he respect him and return the government?"
An uncertain expression settled on his face.
Yet, changing tracks, I eased my words, "I remember that you have a son and a daughter. The Young Master was my age, and NuiJun was ten years younger, right?"
After a moment of silence, Zhao Jun replied, "You are right."
"You were there when I got married that year. Do you know what I was thinking?" I slowed, articulating each word, "I lacked virtue and didn't understand righteousness in life or death. Instead, I wished, if I had another chance, to be born in the countryside; to find my parents alive, and my brothers healthy. Even if I was illiterate, lacked wealth or nobility, I would keep something precious; a happy family, and my parents alive to send me off as I got married."
"Lord Zhao might as well contemplate; if you die, who would grieve most? And if you return alive, who would rejoice the most?"
Speechless, Zhao Jun looked straight at me.
Yet, I ignored him, pained by my earlier speech. Desperate to leave, I turned my head and called out, "Someone come."
A jailer appeared and bowed deferentially, "Furen."
"Take me out."
The jailer answered and walked to the wheelchair.
"Furen." Just as I was about to leave, Zhao Jun spoke.
I turned to face him.
Seated on the woven mat, he bowed to me: "Thank you for your visit, Furen." After a pause, he whispered, "If I offended you, please don't blame me. I did not mean to insult you."
I stared at him, but turned away without answering.
To my surprise, I saw Wei Tan standing in front of the door when I exited the prison cell. Light filtering through the gaps in the wooden panels cast streaks on his profile, his expression calm and obscure.
When he saw me, he asked nothing. He just said, "Let's return," taking the wheelchair from the jailer.
I assumed that even if I had moved Zhao Jun, it might take two or three days before he replied. Unexpectedly, that afternoon, a soldier arrived to inform me that he had surrendered. But he claimed he surrendered to the Emperor, not Wei Jue.
Is there a distinction? I cheered on the surface, but in my heart, I disagreed.
Wei Jue was, of course, ecstatic. He went to the prisons to welcome Zhao Jun out himself and hosted a banquet. As a member of the inner courtyard, and having already completed my task, I was rightfully cast aside at once.
Wei Tan stayed in the big tent, supposedly joining Wei Jue and Zhao Jun to talk details.
Bored to death, I searched for Wei An to thank him for the wheelchair. Unexpectedly, when I reached his tent, the soldier told me that he and Wei Ci had gone out.
"The Fourth Young Master said he wanted to test a trebuchet."
I didn't know what a trebuchet was, but I figured I didn't need to worry if Wei Ci accompanied him. Finding it inconvenient to move around with the wheelchair, I returned to the tent.
Wei Tan finally returned that evening.
He asked me, "Did you eat?"
"Yes, I did."
He nodded and asked a soldier to bring boiled water for soaking my foot. He had been treating my foot for half a month, and I wasn't shy anymore, often chatting with him.
Yet, I wasn't in a mood to chat today, and just watched as he moved my foot from bucket to bucket.
"How come you're not saying anything?" He broke the silence.
I stared at him, "Say what?"
He massaged my injured foot and shrugged, "Furen has even survived the extermination of her clan, but can't bear when others speak of second marriage?"
His words were direct, and I narrowed my eyes in suspicion, "Did Fujun hear everything?"
"The prison cell doesn't have walls; it's hard for me to not." He glanced at me, and asked, "Do you regret marrying me?"
I froze for a moment.
His deep eyes seemed indifferent, yet I knew he wasn't joking. He was so crafty; he lobbed questions at me occasionally, catching me off guard.
While I slandered him in my heart, I wasn't in a dilemma. After marrying Wei Tan, I experienced more sorrows and joys than I had encountered in the past five years. But regrets? I couldn't think of any.
"No," I answered honestly.
He lowered my wounded foot and looked at me, "Then what made Furen unhappy?"
What made me unhappy? Zhao Jun intended to trigger my withdrawal with his words of second marriages and family traditions, and I had long disregarded them. But two things infuriated me; someone accused me in my face for the first time. The second reason was because of the Wei Clan; it was depressing to be a broomstick.
While I inwardly cursed, I turned my cheek: "I received classical teachings since childhood; I am ashamed that although I aspire for righteousness, I couldn't abide by those principles."
"Oh?" Wei Tan raised his eyebrows, half-smiling, "So, Furen used to study?"
"What have you read?"
"The Four Books and Five Classics." I paused, before adding, "Oh, and the Lessons for Women."
"Oh?" As he dried my feet with a towel, he asked, "What is the first sentence of the Lessons for Women's opening chapter?"
I glared at him, and replied curtly, "It's been too long, I forgot."
Without caring, Wei Tan smiled and applied medicine, binding my injured foot in cloth.
"I must go out, you sleep first," he said as he straightened.
"Go where?" I blurted out the words, and then instantly regretted them.
He bowed his head to gaze at me, his lips curving up ambiguously.
"To bathe; is Furen coming?" He murmured, reaching out to lift my chin.
I skewed my head, raising my left foot to his leg to pivot him away. I smiled, "Take your time, Fujun."
Yet, I didn't expect Wei Tan to not return from his trip even as the night deepened.
I didn't see him even when I woke up, but around noon, a sudden racket started outside the tent.
"Furen!" Ah Yuan ran in terrified, "Furen, Lord Tan has attacked the front camps, and the soldiers said that they are afraid they won't be able to defend it!"
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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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