Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
As the fall breeze grew chillier, Wei Tan kept watch over Yong Capital. In the South, Liang Chong was busy clashing with Du Rong for control of Sichuan. Wu Kun, after succeeding to the throne, maintained his hold and the peace in his lands. Meanwhile, endless reports of victory arrived from the North. When October began, Yong Capital received news that Cen Han, a General under Wei Jue, killed Tan Yao, Tan Xi’s second son. By returning the Liaodong peninsula to the Imperial Court, Wei Jue had unified the North in the Emperor’s name.
This news refreshed Yong Capital like a warm spring, melting away the stagnant mood caused by the fear of the wars. A smile replaced even Madam Guo’s lost appetite.
Amongst Yong Capital’s nobility, news of a new pharmacy named “Yannian Hall” spread by word of mouth.
A southerner called Cai Rang, born with an honest mien, owned Yannian Hall.
This pharmacy was unusual. Most other stores stocked only common herbs and at most hired a doctor. In contrast, Yannian Hall didn’t use a doctor but sold rare herbs hard to find elsewhere. Yong Capital’s doctors were the first to discover this pharmacy. Then, when the Minister of the Imperial Clan, Liang Ke, got a top-notch Lingzhi at Yannian Hall, his endless praise caused the Hall’s reputation to soar.
In the past, Yong Capital’s citizens had been on edge because of the Imperial Court’s war with Tan Xi. They feared that displacement was inevitable if the circumstances turned unfavorable, and the flames of war re-surged. The markets were in a slump, and the rich were cautious, not daring to spend their money easily. But times had changed. The news of Wei Jue’s victory was an ice fisher's first chisel crack on a frozen lake, and everyone finally heaved a sigh of relief.
With the army absent, and the city still under curfew, no one feasted. When the nobles and the wealthy relaxed enough to think about their fall and winter health regimen, Yannian Hall’s business boomed.
This Yannian Hall was the pharmacy that I funded, and Li Shang managed.
He had chosen this store, albeit small, at the street intersection. He had then bought the shopkeeper, Cai Rang, in the labor market. Cai Rang was from the South, and he had fled to Yong Capital because of the civil unrest. Desperate after losing all his money, he had no choice but to sell himself into slavery. With prior experience in business, he had cultivated a slick eloquence that Li Shang sought.
Besides picking the opening day, I also suggested presenting the Lingzhi to Liang Ke. In the past, he was famous amongst the nobility in Chang’An for his fondness for health care. Supposedly, his hoard of prescriptions filled an entire cabinet. Of course, many were more famous in terms of health care, but Liang Ke’s son was the Treasurer in charge of the capital’s commercial taxes. So, although it broke my heart to give away the Lingzhi, I still felt it was worth it.
As A’Yuan reported the pharmacy’s daily income, I listened carefully with growing excitement.
Li Shang had evaluated each herb’s price depending on the market supply. No matter the quality, he only bumped the price a little for those rare herbs used to treat diseases. The highest-priced products were the rare and precious tonics; seeing 50 grams of Tian Ma sold for 500 yuan shocked me speechless.
A’Yuan seemed skeptical too, “Something used to make soup is so expensive. Will it sell?”
But to our surprise, besides the high-demand drugs prescribed by the city doctors, Yannian Halls’ best-sellers were these expensive, yet boring herbs.
Before the first snowfall, Li Shang and Gongyang Gui had discussed the next trip to Yuzhang to stock goods before winter.
Ruo Chan was so busy that I only saw her once after returning to Yong Capital.
As the Buddhist nuns chanted scriptures in Danxia Temple’s front hall, Ruo Chan and I drank tea in the back hall. She wore a gorgeous, fox fur over her body because of the freezing weather. With her black hair half-down and her eyebrows lowered as she held the teacup, she was the picture of indolent charm.
“I heard that the Eldest Young Master himself traveled to Huainan to fetch you back.” As she added water to the teapot, she gazed at me with a mild smile.
“You are right.”
“How was Huainan? Any of your relatives still there?”
I shook my head: “Because of the long war, the township near the Old Residence is no longer occupied.” After a pause, I added: “But the ancestral hall with all the memorial tablets still stands. Young Master Gongyang gave me a pot of Qiong Su for my Second Brother.”
Although the words tumbled from my mouth easily, sadness still tinged them.
Ruo Chan’s face was bleak, and she didn’t speak. After a while, she patted my hand.
She sipped the tea, and paused for a moment before saying, “Did you know Young Master Ji Yuan is in Yangzhou?”
I froze, not expecting her to mention him.
“Oh?” I sounded calm.
“News spread that after Wu Kun succeeded to the throne, he appointed Young Master Ji Yuan as the Chief Clerk last month.” She looked at me, “Didn’t you hear it in the Wei Residence?”
“No.” It was true; in the Wei Residence, I acted the warm and virtuous wife of the Eldest Young Master. Neither the servants nor Madam Guo, Zhou-shi, and the others mentioned Wu Kun. Even if A’Yuan knew something, she wouldn’t bring up Pei Qian in front of me after our Huainan experience. As for Wei Tan, it was even more impossible. I wasn’t sure what he thought of my past with Pei Qian, but I wouldn’t be stupid enough to bring up Pei Qian in front of him.
I noticed she looked somewhat pale, like she hadn’t slept well, so I changed the topic: “Hosted many banquets?”
“What banquets? I can’t afford to invite small households to this trick house. With the Prime Minister still away, the officials and nobles don’t carouse. I’m idle lately, so I’m looking for new people.” After a pause, she added meaningfully, “A’Jin, with the lack of bustle in Yong Capital, unless you go to the Qiong Hua Temple, you’ll think that the city’s nobles are all dead.”
Realizing what she referred to, I flushed.
She suddenly asked, “Zhong Ping has been going out again recently. Do you know where he’s going?”
Startled, I wondered, ‘Gongyang Gui still hasn’t informed her about the convoy service?’
“No.” I smiled, “Why are you asking me? How would I know? If even you don’t?”
“I’m just asking. He and Steward Li are very close.”
“Oh?” I continued to play dumb.
She stared at me and smiled, “I’ve been to Steward Li’s pharmacy, and it’s great. The shop owner has his hands full with the endless stream of people buying medicine.”
“Really.” Appearing uninterested, I bowed my head to drink tea.
She continued, “Steward Li fled with his family here, and still bought goods and opened a store. It must have cost him a fortune.”
“Yes.” I curved my lips, “He is amazing.”
As I stared at the streets on the way back, I considered Gongyang Gui.
He had left home and, apparently, wasn’t always at Ruo Chan’s. A’Yuan told me that he often went to Li Shang’s house. He had already started the convoy service after returning to Yong Capital from Yuzhang. Li Shang had connected him to a merchant eager to sell his leather goods to the South. The trip finished smoothly, and he took up two more missions after returning.
No matter how much he enjoyed it, he still gambled with death, the danger unpredictable. But Gongyang Gui had always been proud, unwilling to be fettered by bureaucratic affairs. This road might be his best choice if he wanted to earn his own living.
By not telling Ruo Chan, he had done the right thing.
When I returned to the house, Madam Guo was napping in her room. I didn’t disturb her, just speaking a few words with her maid before returning to my courtyard.
A’Yuan stepped in from outside, complaining that the weather had turned freezing. Her words reminded me; Wei Tan often trained with the soldiers, and yesterday, I noticed that his winter coat was worn out with holes. While the new winter coat was being prepared, we had to compromise with something old. I needed to find his older clothes, packed away in the clothes trunk in the next room.
I didn’t ask the servants to find them because, buried inside that room, was the ten catties of gold that Wei Tan had promised me.
Neither of us mentioned the gold after we returned, as if it never existed. But I remembered what he had said, every word imprinted in my mind.
He didn’t say he would take it back if I didn’t leave. It was only logical that the gold was still mine. As I rummaged through the clothes trunk, I glanced at the northeast corner of the room. A heap of miscellaneous bottles and jars, placed long ago, were collecting dust in the corner. I didn’t disturb them for fear of leaving fingerprints. Wei Tan, with eyes on the back of his skull, would spot them with a single glance.
I ogled it for a minute before sighing and bowing my head to scour the clothes again.
Wei Tan didn’t have many clothes. Even the winter clothes in storage filled only half a trunk, and searching through them was easy. As I pulled them out, a hint of the trunk’s camphor wood scent followed. Although these clothes were old, they were intact. I picked one that was close to his current size, thinking it would be just right to wear under a robe coat. When I shook it out, something inside fell to the ground.
Surprised, I realized it was a silk handkerchief. Yellow spots staining its surface became plain under the light. An embroidered bright red poppy flower bloomed in its corner.
When Wei Tan returned to the mansion that night, I sat on the couch, sewing and mending clothes on the couch.
He saw them at a glance and walked over, “Who’s clothes?”
“Yours.” I bit off the thread, pulled out the stitches evenly. “The new winter clothes aren’t ready, so I brought old clothes from the adjacent room. I’m just mending a small hole in the sleeve. Please make do for now, Fujun.”
“Oh?” He smiled before taking the winter coat from my hand. As he stared at it, I noticed his expression freezing for an instant.
I smiled, “I’m not sure if the size fits. Why don’t you try it out?”
“No need to try,” he placed the clothes back into my hands and stroked my hair with an unchanging smile, “You are virtuous, Furen. Whatever you pick will be good.”
I was about to speak when he turned around: “A’Yuan, is the hot water ready?”
A’Yuan peeked in from outside, “It’s ready, Eldest Young Master.”
He told me, “I’m covered in dirt from today’s training, I’ll go wash up,” and walked away.
When he finally returned to the room, I was sitting on the couch after already changing.
I made him sit at the mirror, grabbed a towel, and dried the water droplets on his hair.
He asked, “You went out today, Furen?”
“Yes, to Danxia Temple.”
“Danxia Temple?” He contemplated for a moment, “The one by Yongchi Lake?”
I replied, “Yes, the temple’s Buddhist nuns chanted very well.” But inside, I recalled Wei Tan’s meeting with Empress Xu back then. My hand gently wiped his temples, and I couldn’t help but look at his expression. The lines of his profile remained steady, without the slightest fluctuation.
“If you enjoy listening to them, you can take me along next time.”
Yeah, right—who would take you?
“Alright,” I murmured. I stretched my hand to wipe his neck when suddenly, he seized my hand in his, picking me up with one long arm.
Heat entangled between my lips, tongue, and neck as I gasped. With great effort, I managed to prop his chest away.
I whispered, “You still haven’t changed......”
He nibbled my earlobe: “No need to change, I’ll have to take it off later anyway......” He lowered me onto the couch and reached for my sash. But after a while, he froze, stopped his hand, and raised his head.
My clothes hung half-open with my sash loosened, revealing another tightly wrapped belt.
“I’m on my period, I’m afraid it’s inconvenient for me tonight, Fujun,” I blushed at him, grinning.
SANDY'S READ RECEIPTS
Beginning as an avid reader, I am translating novels with the help of machine translation and online dictionaries.
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