Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
With the performing artists’ music, dance, and laughter enlivening the hall, the palace banquet continued late into the night.
Most of the generals at the banquet were present because of their military achievements. Their unruly behavior showed their lack of high birth. After they became drunk, they laughed and talked loudly.
Their conduct was so rude to the nobles that the banquet crowd slowly split in two. On one side were the army generals, toasting and laughing at the last tables; on the other, the landed nobles gathered around the Emperor and spouted highfalutin speeches.
Wei Jue got the best of both worlds; everyone, irrespective of their backgrounds, approached him for a toast. Meanwhile, Madam Guo and a few senior noblewomen gathered around Empress Xu. After speaking with Wei Jue, several courtiers sat with Wei Tan, discussing other matters over wine.
I wasn’t alone either. The womenfolk who entered the palace with their husbands refused to be alone at the banquet. They marched between the seats, those already acquainted greeting each other. Yu Ying was among this laughing and chatting group.
Her husband, Xu Chong, was a mid-level inspector in the army promoted to a County Marquis in this wave of rewards. His family background wasn’t low, either. The Xu Clan of Linying was a high-ranking family in Henan. It seemed Xu Chong got along well with his colleagues too. After a round of greetings with Yu Ying, he headed off to drink with the generals.
I rarely attended banquets despite moving to Yong Capital almost a year ago, living mostly in seclusion. I only had brief contact with these noble wives, unfamiliar with many. But it didn’t take long for the enthusiastic Yu Ying and seven or eight other women of similar age to approach me. They occupied the seats around the table.
“A’Jin, is that Zhao Jun?” Yu Ying sat beside me and gestured towards the man who was speaking with the Emperor, her tone intimate. “I remember meeting him in your house once, am I right?”
“You are right.” After Wei Jue returned, he had wanted to appoint Zhao Jun. I assumed he wouldn’t agree since he had already resigned earlier. To my surprise, not only did he not refuse, but he also entered the palace on his appointment day. He paid his respects to the Emperor, determined to serve.
Uninterested in Zhao Jun, I shifted my gaze up towards the head table. Empress Xu was talking to the person beside her. She seemed earnest, as if indifferent to her surroundings. Twenty feet away, Wei Tan was talking to someone too, separated from Empress Xu by 2-3 people.
I watched them but no traces connected them. To my shock, Wei Tan’s gaze caught my peeping eyes red-handed. When the corners of his lips curved, I spun back as if nothing had happened.
“You are lovely tonight, Madam. I couldn’t look away when I saw you from afar.” One married woman smiled at me.
I returned her smile, “You flatter me, Madam. You ladies are the ones who are radiant.”
Yu Ying spoke from beside me: “When we were just chatting, they guessed your pearl hairpin must be from the East Sea. But I disagreed; this pure white, smooth and round pearl must be from Hepu. Also, it must be from the palace. A’Jin, am I right?”
I smiled, “The former Empress Dowager gave me this ornament. I don’t know the pearl’s origins.”
“That’s right,” said one woman softly, “The Empress Dowager’s items are rare. Of course, they must be Hepu pearls.”
Yu Ying exposed a smug expression, and I caught a flash of annoyance on a few faces.
Just then, sudden laughter boomed from the end seats, and the noblewomen unanimously covered their chests and frowned.
“Yu Ying, the Yannian Hall you mentioned last time, is it in the South market?” One person asked.
“Yes. I even bought Tian Ma to make a tonic soup for my mother-in-law.”
“Really? How filial.” Someone covered up with her sleeve and said, “I can’t. The South market is so noisy that I take a detour even by carriage. Forget going to buy medicine myself.”
Someone else said, “Yu Ying, you said last time that your mother-in-law grew up in the countryside, and when she saw cosmetics sold at one yuan for 25 grams, she thought it was too expensive. I heard that Yannian Hall’s medicines aren’t cheap. Did your mother-in-law lecture you when you bought them?” As she spoke, she sneered at Xu Chong’s side at the end table.
Yu Ying’s face twitched, and after a moment, her eyebrows lifted: “You worry too much. Filial piety to the mother-in-law shouldn’t be neglected even if they lecture you.” She faced me and smiled, “A’Jin, do you know Yannian Hall? They sell all kinds of tonics. I remember that your family used to keep a healthcare regimen.”
I didn’t want to get involved in their war of words, but since they mentioned Yannian Hall, I sided with Yu Ying.
“Yes. In my childhood, my family’s ancestors emphasized tonics, so I know a bit too.”
This pleased Yu Ying: “I’m planning to buy more medicines in a few days. Do you want to join me, A’Jin?”
“Madam Fu has a steward. Why would she buy them herself?” Someone mocked.
Yu Ying took exception: “Health is a delicate matter, what do servants know!”
I pushed the boat along the water, and smiled at them: “Since Yu Ying invited me, I am happy to accept.”
By the time we returned to the Residence, the moon had moved west.
After a night of barbed conversations with the noblewomen, I was sleepy soon after I hit the bed.
Wei Tan blew out the bedside lamp, got under the covers, and reached out to put his arm around my waist.
I was used to his intimate actions, but when his hands wandered, I was reluctant.
“Fujun, I’m tired,” I whispered.
“Well, just sleep, Furen,” he replied, his hand still reaching into my clothes.
With no choice, I rolled over to see him.
He seemed in good spirits, and in the dim light, I sensed his teasing gaze. He pressed against the side of my cheeks, and whispered in a bewitching voice, “With the repeated hints you were giving me at the banquet, I thought you were pining for your husband, Furen......”
I mentally rolled my eyes.
“I didn’t mean to distract you,” I smiled, pressing my hand against his lips. Catching the restless paw on my chest, I trailed off, “It’s just......”
“Just what?” Wei Tan’s breathing was unsteady.
I suddenly pressed my foot to his leg.
“Hiss ......” As my icy foot pressed against his, he winced for a second.
“My feet were freezing, and I wanted to ask you when we would return home.” I smiled triumphantly, my tone pitiful and unashamed.
“You woman,” he gave me a pinch on my waist.
Not showing any weakness, I twisted to pinch him back, only to have him catch my hand.
“Sleep,” he whispered, putting away his teasing smile.
‘Prude’, I thought, before turning away and closing my eyes.
His hands circled back up, and he held my feet between his legs. Well, it was quite warm......
“A’Jin......” In the fog of my renewed sleepiness, he said from behind, “Don’t pay attention to those old things anymore.”
Who cares about your old things? What I wanted to understand was your past people.
I just agreed perfunctorily and sank into sleep.
Wei An was still brooding over the saddle he had promised Cui Ting that will “keep him on the house when riding”.
When I visited him the next day, he was in his shed next to the kitchen. He had piled up many charcoal sketches drawn on wooden boards in one corner.
On the latest piece, he had drawn a saddle with a low backrest, a rope running from the saddle to the stirrups. I understood that the thick rope’s purpose was to hold the rider in place.
I laughed: “If Young Master Cui sits on this, wouldn’t he look all trussed up, Fourth Shu?”
He scratched his head, “I also want to make it good-looking, but otherwise, he will fall.”
“You have a good idea, but if you want to bind him steady, have you considered using leather straps?”
“Leather straps?” His eyes lit up, and he picked up the charcoal strip to draw on the board.
I sat with a smile and then stared at A’Yuan.
She understood and walked out the door.
Just past noon, the servants had no duties and were resting. The small courtyard was quiet except for the singing birds. Warm sunlight streamed through the doorway.
Of course, I hadn’t visited Wei An to see him work and sunbathe. I wanted to meet him for something important.
“How do you plan to give the saddle to Young Master Cui after making it, Fourth Shu?”
“Dispatch someone to Boling.”
I nodded and said, “The Cui Clan once lived in Changan. In the olden days, you could have handed it to him yourself.”
He scratched his head, “My mother didn’t let me go out to play because I was too young then. I couldn’t even distinguish between the Changan’s East and West markets.”
“Oh?” I smiled, “I am familiar with the East and West markets. But Changan is too big; not to mention you, I’ve met even Fujun only once.”
Surprised, he asked, “You’ve met my elder brother, Eldest Sao?”
“Yes,” I lied, without blushing. “Fujun was a Gentleman of the Feathered Forest, right?”
“Didn’t he guard the Palace?”
“I remember that he often met with a woman named Zhang Ping.......”
“Xu Ping,” he corrected me at once.
“Oh?” I looked at him and smiled.
He froze, realizing his slip of the tongue, and his face jerked.
In the entire Wei Residence, Wei An was the most innocent and least capable of lying. He didn’t even realize that my questions were a trap. I blocked his every retreat, and before long, he confessed the true story.
It was a surprise, or indeed a shock.
Wei Tan and Xu Ping had once been engaged. When Wei Jue was a Commandant in northern Luoyang, he had once offended a few powerful bigwigs. But Xu Ping’s father, Minister Steward Xu, spoke to the former emperor, and got Wei Jue exonerated. Later, when Minister Steward Xu’s family had an accident and needed money, Wei Jue helped them generously. The two families became so close that they straightaway set an engagement between Wei Tan and Xu Ping. Yet, for unknown reasons, they never publicized the matter, few aware of the engagement. But in less than a year, they dissolved the engagement. After that, Changan was in turmoil and the two families went their separate ways.
“I was still young then. I learned everything later only when I heard my sisters talking.” Wei An reddened, “Father forbade us from mentioning this matter again.”
Uncertain what expression to show, I stared at him, smiling stiffly.
“Don’t worry, Fourth Shu. I won’t breathe a word.” I stood up and said to him, “You don’t need to tell Fujun about today’s incident either.”
I was about to leave when he suddenly called out to me, “Eldest Sao.”
When I turned around, he hesitated before asking, “You’re not angry, are you?”
I smiled: “You worry too much, Fourth Shu. How could I be angry?”
SANDY'S READ RECEIPTS
Beginning as an avid reader, I am translating novels with the help of machine translation and online dictionaries.
SUPPORT ME ON KO-FI
If you are enjoying my work and translations, consider donating to help run the website! Thank you for your support!
SUBSCRIBE FOR NEW CHAPTERS