Sandy's Read Receipts
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I walked through Yong Capital’s gates, a full three months after the last time.
As the carriage halted in front of the mansion, Wei Xian’s wife Zhu-shi, Wei Ping’s wife Zhou-shi, and Wei Gang’s wife Mao-shi, came out and smiled at me.
Zhou-shi came from Hexi, and her mother’s family was a small clan in the county. Since her father’s early demise in her youth, she had followed her mother in taking charge of the family, even dealing with tenant farmers. So she spoke boldly, with a touch of rustic crudity. Yet, she knew how to please, was diligent in housework, and her occasional teasing and joking made her popular with the elders.
After bowing, she stepped forward and tugged my hand. She stared at Wei Tan and smiled, “You are back, Tang Xiong. I was so envious when we heard you traveled to Huainan to pick up Tang Sao.”
The more gentle Zhu-shi and Mao-shi stood behind her and stared at us, covering their laughs with their sleeves.
Embarrassed, I hurriedly denied, “The three Zhou Li don’t know but Fujun had traveled there because of the war and Liang Chong’s attack on Huaiyang. It just happened that Fourth Shu and I were also there, so he picked us up along the way.”
Unlike me, Wei Tan didn’t bother explaining, but he gazed at Zhou-shi and hooked his lips: “If Di Fu had joined A’Jin, I might have asked Zhong Mao to follow me to Huaiyang.”
She blushed, “What nonsense, Eldest Tang Xiong. I was talking about Tang Sao.”
Everyone laughed, and after greeting each other, we entered the mansion.
Madam Guo sat in the main hall with Wei Rong beside her. When they saw us enter, Wei Rong stepped forward and bowed, while Madam Guo smiled, remaining seated on the couch.
After all the greetings, Madam Guo asked Wei An to step forward. She sighed after examining him: “You left home without saying a word; do you know we almost flipped over Yong Province searching for you? If it weren’t for the message from your Eldest Sao, I would have sent someone to report to the Prime Minister. Your father and brothers who are away campaigning can only relax if our family is safe. How will I explain to the Prime Minister if something happens to you? In the future, how can I dare to face your birth mother at the Yellow Springs......” As she spoke, her voice trembled, and she lowered her head to wipe her tears.
Wei An’s face reddened, and he raised his head to look at Wei Tan.
At his signal, Wei An stepped forward and bowed deep to Madam Guo: “My unruliness has disgraced my parents. This won’t happen again, so I beg for Mother’s forgiveness.” He paused and added, “I will accept your punishment.”
The brief apology was not emotive or eloquent. But since it came from Wei An’s mouth, it showed his sincerity.
Madam Guo peered at him, wiped her eyes again, holding back her tears.
“What punishment.” She sighed, “Won’t it be my heart that hurts if I beat you.”
Zhou-shi, who was observing this, stepped in to mediate, “Madam, you didn’t eat or sleep peacefully for several days in your concern for Fourth Shu. Now that he returned safely, Madam is still talking about these sad things. Eldest Tang Xiong, Eldest Sao, and Fourth Shu have returned after a long journey, but haven’t had a drink or meal yet.”
Madam Guo looked at Wei Tan and me, her expression easing a little: “I have been negligent. You had to listen to me, an old woman, complain, after your hard journey.”
Wei Tan smiled, “What are you saying, Mother.”
She looked at me again and said, “Young Furen, you faced many unforeseen accidents on this trip, scaring us here in Yong Capital.”
“I am sorry for worrying you, Mother-In-Law. Thanks to the soldiers’ escort, and then Fujun who came to pick me up, I was safe despite the danger.”
She nodded and sighed: “All’s well, thanks to the blessings of the gods. Since you are back, you should go to the temple to offer your thanks.”
I bowed, “I promise.”
She ordered the servants to serve the meal, and after we sat, she asked Wei Tan about Wei Jue.
Wei Tan talked about the battle with Tan Xi and added: “Five days ago, I received a war report in Shangzhou; of Tan Xi’s four sons, only the second son Tan Yao remains to defend the Liaodong peninsula. Father is reorganizing the army in Yōu Province, and he wants to destroy the rest of the Tan Clan before winter.”
Madam Guo nodded while the other married women murmured amongst themselves.
“I heard Liaodong gets extremely chilly, with the water freezing well before winter,” Mao-shi chimed in, her expression mixed with joy and concern.
Zhou-shi replied, “It’s already September. If all goes well, the army will be ready to return soon.”
“God willing,” Zhu-shi prayed aloud.
After the meal, Wei Tan and I withdrew, returning to our courtyard.
Since the servants had cleaned it every day, it was tidy even after months of disuse. Everything seemed the same except for a new foot-high bamboo fence around the corridors.
Wei Tan noticed it too and raised his eyebrows, “You planted flowers?”
“Yes.” I smiled, “They were from the palace.”
He walked over to the wall and gazed at the plants growing on the bamboo fence. As it was Fall now, no flowers bloomed, and only green leaves and stems covered the fence.
After staring at it for a moment, he asked me, “Poppies?”
“You are right. Do you recognize them, Fujun?”
He didn’t answer at once, but after a moment, he spun around and replied, “My mother used to grow them.”
“Let’s go inside,” he announced, walking towards the rooms.
After we returned to the Residence, I picked up my usual routine; I served my husband and mother-in-law and handled the household affairs.
Madam Guo treated me the same, handing all the tasks over to me, except for the bookkeeping, the staff, and other matters of authority. I understood the reasoning behind her actions, and I never refused to do any work she assigned me. Although the trip had been tiring, I couldn’t help but feel bored with these houseworks. But I recognized it as my duty, completing them with all my heart.
After Wei Tan returned to Yong Capital, he became very busy, going out either to the Imperial Court or for inspections every day. If he was at home, people visited him occasionally. Compared to our trip outside, we saw each other much lesser, meeting only later in the nights.
Yet, this didn’t stop his roving hands. If he was too tired, he and I would sleep after cuddling; otherwise, “putting out the lights” and other processes were inevitable.
Although sometimes the way he tormented me made me sore, I found that I gradually learned a few pleasures.
For example, those hands, I loved it when they wandered over my body. Whenever they hovered over sensitive spots, I gripped them tight, not letting them move away. And then, whenever I couldn’t bear that big worm-like monster, I would bite on Wei Tan’s arm, overwhelmed by a wonderful excitement. I finally understood Zhou-shi’s and the others’ ambiguous smiles.
After everything calmed in the mansion, I waited for a day before reporting to Madam Guo of my trip to the temple.
She naturally agreed, and when I informed Wei Tan, he pondered for a while before asking, “Do you want me to join you?”
Startled for a second, I smiled, “Aren’t you going to the Xi Liu camp, Fujun?”
He returned my smile, “I almost forgot. Then I will trouble you to offer thanks on my behalf, Furen.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and replied gently, “As you wish.”
Li Shang’s house wasn’t far from the temple I was visiting.
After paying my respects, I took a carriage and went directly to his residence.
Although Gongyang Gui wasn’t there, I met Li Shang and Li Huan, the father and son pair. In the three months we hadn’t met, Li Shang’s face had darkened, and he seemed to have lost weight. Yet, he was in excellent spirits, healthier than ever.
Before I could ask him how he was doing, Li Shang spoke up with a strained expression, “Furen, A’Yuan mentioned in her letter that you ran into danger in Huainan?”
I gave A’Yuan a reproachful glance, and she shrank a little.
“No real danger,” I smiled, “fortunately someone saved us. Just a false alarm.”
I didn’t explain who came to my rescue, but Li Shang obviously knew, and he peered at me meaningfully.
“Alright,” he nodded, “it doesn’t matter as long as you are well, Furen.” He then asked Li Huan to fetch several wooden boxes and opened them in front of me.
Resembling makeup boxes, each grid, and every tier stocked medicinal herbs.
Both shocked and happy, I asked, “So many?”
Li Shang smiled: “I traveled to the supply hub in Yuzhang, near Lingnan and Jing Xiang. I searched for a former medicine dealer, and he guaranteed the best quality and price for any herb.”
I mulled it over before replying, “That’s good. But Yuzhang and Yong Capital are far apart. I wonder if your journey was smooth, Steward?”
“Don’t worry, Furen. We traveled by the water route this time. When the Imperial Court and Wu Zhang battled Liang Chong, the navy blocked our route. But luckily, Young Master Gongyang was wise enough to lead us to hide before a few friends helped us escape. After that, the journey was smooth. Although Yuzhang is now in Zeng Yao’s control, he is in a stand-off with the three armies of Wei, Wu, and Liang. But by relying on the location’s natural strength in defense, they enjoy peace and stability. But because the surrounding roads are inaccessible, transporting cargo is difficult, and the herb merchants are struggling to cope.”
“That’s what I’m worried about too. Steward, the circumstances are uncertain as wars continue to sweep the country. Though you returned safely this time, I’m afraid it will be a different scenario next time.”
“No need to worry, Furen. Young Master Gongyang has friends who have traveled on the rivers for decades. Once the ship sails forward, even the official soldiers can’t do anything.”
Frankly, weren’t they just pirates on rivers and oceans? How could I trust them?
I diplomatically replied, “Turns out he is so capable. I’m afraid that in the future, if we keep asking for help, Young Master Gongyang might not do us more favors. Plus, although these herbs are good products, if they are too expensive, the rich and the nobles may be unwilling to buy them.”
Li Shang nodded: “I too considered this problem. So on the road, I convinced Young Master Gongyang and the others to start a convoy service.”
“Start a convoy service?” I froze.
“Yes.” Li Shang continued earnestly, “Young Master Gongyang doesn’t want to be an official. He is away from home with no reliable source of food and clothing. His friends have courage, but can only resort to an unsustainable piracy. I suggested they open a convoy service in the waterways to escort the goods. The fees they charge for transportation is both legitimate and can support their family.” He smiled, “But don’t worry, Furen. They guaranteed that if they start the service, they will only charge us 20% of the shipping fees for our goods.”
Dumbstruck, I sipped the tea to suppress the surprise in my heart.
Although Gongyang Gui was rebellious, I always assumed he, like other young noblemen, disdained engaging in business. I didn’t expect that he would accept such an offer from Li Shang.
While earlier, I was unaware of the dangers of swords and wars, this Huainan and Luoyang trip was eye-opening. I disliked risk, needing at least 70-80% certainty to gather the courage to work.
But Li Shang and the others were different. The thrill excited them. Was I too timid?
“Don’t get shocked, Furen.” Li Shang laughed, “On the road, Young Master Gongyang told me that when you used to sell the Residence’s antiques in the market, he had met you a few times in the streets.”
What did he mean “met”? He used to join me in selling them, but now he wanted to save his face?
I reddened: “You knew about it, Steward?”
He shook his head and laughed: “Back then, Madam told me many antiques were missing from the Residence. She suspected some servant had stolen them. When I was about to investigate, the Lord stopped me, saying they had all gone to the fox’s belly.”
As A’Yuan and Li Huan laughed, my ears warmed up, but Li Shang’s smile relieved me.
This was the most cheerful smile Li Shang has had since our reunion. I couldn’t help but wonder that if my Father was still alive, he wouldn’t stop Li Shang when he was so confident about doing something, right?
TN: Here is the next chapter! Finally huh? Thanks for your patience, everyone. And this chapter's footnotes with the 3 different terms for "sister-in-law" explains why using the original terms for these nuanced relationships makes so much more sense than the English translations.
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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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