Sandy's Read Receipts
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Wei Tan appeared modest and returned his greeting with a smile, "I, Tan, am honored to meet you, Master. I'm ashamed to bother you with this unannounced visit."
Yun Shi laughed, "I am a boor living in the mountains, lazy and slow-witted. I'm ashamed to receive the General's personal visit." He faced me and bowed again, "I trust you've been well, Furen?"
Surprised, I asked, "Have you seen me before, Master?"
He smiled, "I visited your home once when I was still living in Chang'An. You were not yet seven, Furen."
I understood and smiled, "You have an excellent memory." Indeed, at that age, an old man like Yun Shi, with his unimpressive looks, wouldn't have attracted my interest.
After Wei Tan asked Wei An to step forward and pay his respects, Yun Shi ordered the boy to pour tea, and invited us to sit in the hall.
The young man who was playing chess with Yun Shi continued to sit at the table. He didn't get up when he saw us entering, but only smiled faintly.
I froze for an instant. Earlier, I hadn't seen his face clearly from the side. Now, closer up, he appeared to be in his early twenties, his exquisite mien as rich as jade.
Yun Shi introduced him: "Meet Cui Ting of Boling. He was passing by my house today and joined this old man in drinking tea and playing chess."
"Boling's Cui Ting?" Wei Tan's eyes brightened, "Could it be Cui Ting, also known as 'Sir Qilin'?"
Yun Shi stroked his beard and smiled, "No need for me to say more since the General already knows."
Unfazed, Cui Ting continued sitting and greeted Wei Tan with cupped fists: "I am honored to meet you, General."
Wei Tan returned the greeting: "I have long heard of Sir's reputation, but I didn't expect to be lucky enough to meet you."
I knew nothing of Qilins, but I recognized Boling's Cui Clan. A prominent landed aristocratic family of the former dynasty, many famous figures emerged from this clan. Yet, I didn't like this haughty young master, Cui Ting. All these countless gifted scholars touted by the landed aristocratic families just recited a few verses of poetry and earned the name of this-dragon and that-phoenix. Who knew if he really deserved his name or was just a pedantic dandy?
Unbothered by Cui Ting's arrogance, Wei Tan displayed his staunch personality and continued smiling.
After we sat, the boy served tea.
Yun Shi spoke up, "My humble abode is crude, and I can only offer old tea made with wild water. Please understand, General, Furen and the Young Master."
After I took a sip, my heart exploded. Jiannan's Pure Dew! Once sold in Chang'An as three gold for one tael, it had disappeared from the market nowadays. This Yun Shi's "old tea made with wild water" was liquid gold.
"Chancellor Fu gifted me this tea when I left the capital. After treasuring it for years, I brought it out especially for Furen, my guest."
Surprised, I remembered an old incident from my childhood. My mother had complained that my father had spent a lot of money to buy three taels of Pure Dew, but given away took two taels. Turned out that he had gifted it to Yun Shi.
I bowed, "Thank you for your kindness, Master."
Wei Tan smiled, "Back then, the Chancellor was good at making friends with prodigies. I heard the famous tale of you both co-hosting a winding stream party in the Plum Pavilion."
Master Yun Shi laughed and shook his head, "Don't mention that old story."
After they exchanged pleasantries for a while, Cui Ting saluted everyone: "Please continue talking, Master and General. I have to visit friends elsewhere, so I will take my leave."
Master Yun Shi didn't change his expression, but he looked at the sky and said, "It's about to rain, so don't stay out too late, Zigui."
He replied, "I understand," and called his men. Two servants emerged from the adjacent room, carrying something. I froze, recognizing the Huchuang on wheels. Wasn't that Wei An's wheelchair?
When I glanced at Wei An, he, too, was staring at them with surprise.
The servant placed the wheelchair near the bottom step and entered the hall. Cui Ting propped himself on the ground and moved his legs out from under the table.
I finally understood why he didn't get up when he bowed; his disability made it difficult for him to move around freely.
The hall was quiet, and only the tea steamed on the stove. Cui Ting's face didn't show any awkwardness or urgency. He allowed the servant to carry him to the wheelchair and push it outside, the wheels rolling over the white sand path with a lingering crunch.
"People say that the jealousy of the Heavens and the ghosts grounded Sir Qilin." As Cui Ting's figure disappeared behind the bamboo fence, Wei Tan spoke to Yun Shi.
Yun Shi twirled his beard, "Zigui is wise; although disabled, it is praiseworthy he didn't lose his ambition."
"Oh?" Wei Tan peered at him, "I wonder what is Sir Qilin's ambition?"
But Yun Shi smiled and waved his hand, "I can't say."
After chatting over tea, Yun Shi asked Wei Tan if he would like to play a chess game with him. Wei Tan readily agreed, and the two of them sat at the table and started a game.
I wasn't a well-cultivated spectator. Whenever my fathers and brothers engaged in refined activities like chess, they never asked me to sit beside them, because I would start making trouble in less than 15 minutes. Of course, Pei Qian was an exception; whenever he played chess, I could sit patiently for 30 minutes.
Now, as my husband played against an idle sage in this dusty place, I sat gracefully for half a day like those handmaidens in Taoist fairy paintings. Not that I had become patient; despite the pain, it was fun to watch these two competing against each other.
Wei Tan's style of chess was sharp, both striking in the open and seizing in secret. With unpredictable moves, he showed his true colors of a rogue. Meanwhile, Yun Shi was meticulous, preventing leaks and filling in gaps. The old fox didn't make any mistakes, showing his cunning. As I watched and puzzled over their moves, sometimes I understood them, sometimes I couldn't. After a few moves, I understood again. As the round ended, Yun Shi won narrowly. They stared at each other before sharing a laugh.
"Master, your chess skill is rare and true to your name," Wei Tan complimented.
Yun Shi replied modestly, "General's strategy is comprehensive. Every tiny move shows your attacking skills."
Although they both humbled themselves, each looked eager to compete again. They cleared the board and started a second game.
As they played back and forth, the sky darkened into twilight. An attendant waiting outside entered to ask if we would return tonight, reminding us it was getting late.
Yun Shi smiled, "General, if you don't mind my simple home, why don't you stay overnight in the two southern thatched cottages? I want to go over some board game records with you."
Wei Tan smiled at his words and bowed to Yun Shi, "Then, I won't decline."
Used to expeditions, the soldiers always prepared camping materials whenever they traveled out. That night, the attendants camped in the bamboo forest, while Wei An and I followed Wei Tan to stay in Yun Shi's thatched cottage.
Cui Ting returned after the evening meal. From Yun Shi and Wei Tan's words, I learned he was on a study tour. He had traveled to Shangnan last month to visit Yun Shi and had been staying here these days.
I found it somewhat ridiculous. I had seen people lacking food, robbed when they ventured out, or without a safe bed to sleep every night. Yet I had never seen someone like Cui Ting. Despite his disabled body, he dressed neatly and drove around in a carriage, enjoyed flowers, visited friends, and toured to study with a sage.
Yet, I was more interested in his wheelchair. In the courtyard, I asked Wei An about its origins.
"I didn't make it," he replied frankly, "Young Master Cui's wheels are lighter, and the construction style differs from mine."
Startled, I realized others on this earth could match Wei An's intelligence, even inventing the same thing.
It must be uncontrollably exciting to meet a best friend on the road with whom you can share a thousand cups of wine. After Cui Ting returned, Wei An lost his usual reserve and went up to talk to him.
After he saluted in a cultured manner, the two of them began talking. Perhaps because he mentioned the wheelchair, Cui Ting showed some surprise, his eyes lighting up for a split second.
The night deepened, and servants lit the lamps.
The thatched hall suddenly split into two groups. One group was Wei Tan and Yun Shi, both not speaking, but staring at the chessboard and killing each other furiously. The other group was Wei An and Cui Ting, chattering non-stop about things I couldn't understand. What wheel linchpin? What copper hub? I was the one separating them into Jing and Wei rivers.
Wei Tan might have sensed my drowsiness, because he said that I could leave to rest if I felt tired.
Unwilling to continue my virtuous act, I obediently smiled and bowed before strolling away.
"...... difficult to walk, I made this wheelchair because of my helplessness, Young Master. I've never thought of the things you mentioned, but hearing your explanation, I finally realize......" On my way out of the hall, I heard Cui Ting's smiling voice, pleasant and catchy.
Turned out Wei An had met a kindred spirit.
After I washed up, I reclined on the bed, slipping into sleep at once. I didn't know when Wei Tan returned, but in the daze, I remembered someone drawing me into his arms before resting one heavy arm on me. I grumbled in discontent before passing out again.
When I woke up the next morning, he was no longer beside me.
After I got ready and left our cottage, I saw Wei Tan and Yun Shi brewing tea and chatting in the hall. In the courtyard, while Wei An held a hammer and clanked away on his wheelchair, Cui Ting perched on a boulder. He observed Wei An as he worked, occasionally pointing to different places to discuss something.
Since I had nothing to do, I followed the boy to have breakfast.
The weather was fine, it didn't rain, and was even sunny. Recalling seeing a bookshelf in our cottage, I went back and chose a couple of books. I walked to the corner of the courtyard under the wisteria trellis to pore over them.
I had known that Yunshi was knowledgeable, but I never imagined that his library would be so diverse. For example, this biography was full of fascinating anecdotes from various figures. So immersed in the tales, before I realized, I had almost finished the book.
"Do you also enjoy reading these popular anthologies, Furen?" A voice drifted over to me.
I looked up and saw Yun Shi, who had somehow reached me without catching my attention. He was leaning on his staff and smiling.
I scrambled up and bowed, "I saw these books in Master's library and read them on impulse without consulting you."
Yun Shi smiled and shook his head, "No problem, Furen." He sat on a limestone rock opposite me, his hands propped up on his wooden staff.
I asked with a smile, "Have Master and my husband finished your chat?"
Yun Shi stroked his beard, looking amiable: "The General is highly talented, and I wouldn't mind talking to him all day."
I smiled and looked through the gap in the flowers and leaves to see Wei Tan standing near the wooden fence, saying something to his attendant.
"It has been fourteen years since I last saw you," Yun Shi suddenly spoke.
I nodded: "Indeed."
"You ran in while the Chancellor and I were drinking tea. He pointed to you and asked me to check your physiognomy." He gazed at me with nostalgia, "I said that fate had blessed you with great fortune and wealth."
Startled, I recalled Li Shang saying something similar. I smiled, "Do you know the art of physiognomy, Master?"
He smiled, "Just superficially."
Realizing that he hinted at something deeper, I peered at him, "In that case, do you still believe that I am worthy of what you predicted earlier?"
He stroked his beard, not agreeing immediately. He instead said, "I once saw a person with excellent physiognomy, purple Qi accumulated the top, talented and long-lived. Do you know who that person was?"
Curious, I asked, "Who?"
Yunshi smiled: "It was the laborer who hauled the mud when I built this thatched cottage. Furen, people's lives are in their hands, physiognomy is just chance."
This was why I disliked dealing with these pedants who read too many books. They wanted to portray themselves as profound with the vague words.
I pretended to understand him and bowed: "Thank you, Master."
Yun Shi stared at me and smiled calmly.
The friendships of hermits were spontaneous, coming and going on their whim.
So, Wei Tan's sudden farewell didn't surprise Yun Shi, and he didn't urge us to stay either.
He stood on the steps and said, "If we meet again, I will chat with you over tea, General."
"I learned a lot from you, Master. If I get a chance, I will visit you again," Wei Tan bowed respectfully.
Yun Shi smiled.
Intrigued by Cui Ting, Wei Tan asked him if he would travel to Yong Capital. To my surprise, he politely declined, saying that he still had old friends to visit and just wanted to continue his tour.
Wei Tan smiled and didn't insist.
Wei An, however, seemed disappointed. Before Wei Tan announced our departure, he was still eager to make a saddle for Cui Ting that would allow him to keep his seat on a horse.
Cui Ting looked gentle: "Fate will decide if we meet again. It is already a great kindness that you improved the wheelchair for me, Young Master."
Unresigned, Wei An promised, "I will make it."
Cui Ting smiled, "In that case, I will wait."
Wei An stared at him, scratching his head before turning to walk away.
When I walked out of the bamboo forest, the horses and carriages were already waiting at the bridge. I turned around, and the bamboo forest was quiet again, empty and silent. Everything from earlier felt like a dream.
I asked Wei Tan, "How did this visit to learn from the Master Yun Shi go, Fujun?"
Wei Tan peered at me: "What do you think, Furen?"
How on earth would I know?
I replied, "I only saw you both playing chess."
"And playing chess wasn't a lesson?" Wei Tan smiled, called to Wei An who had fallen behind, and walked forward.
TN: Hello everyone! Sorry for missing the chapter release last week - I had a busy two weeks at office and in preparing for my cousin's wedding that's next weekend. I might not be able to get next week's chapter out on time either but I'll try my best.
PS: Did anyone else figure out that we will see more of the young master with the handsome jade looks? :P
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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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