Sandy's Read Receipts
Translations, Reviews and Other Written Worlds
Indeed, I didn’t breathe a word of this matter, even to A’Yuan.
The feud between the Wei and Xu families was a mystery, and I feared I’ll have to ask the Residence elders or Wei Tan to understand the details around the engagement. But I wouldn’t ask.
The increasing irony of everything bordered on ridiculous. Were the Heavens doing this on purpose? To break up one pair of sweethearts, force another pair together, and kick out the others? I didn’t know Wei Tan’s feelings for Empress Xu, but I knew from experience that old flames were unforgettable. He might treat me well now, but what if he suddenly remembers Empress Xu after the freshness wore off someday?
The Wei Clan grew stronger each day. Last night’s banquet showed that Wei Jue already disregarded the Emperor. One day when I’m no longer useful, old and unable to compete with newcomers, Wei Tan might not hesitate to replace me.
I recalled the red flowers on the silk handkerchief. In Wei Tan’s heart, was Empress Xu also like those poppies with the albeit aged but long-lasting colors?
Snow fell in two or three successive bouts.
Wine and meat were winter’s biggest staples. But because of the war, the authorities controlled most of the market’s goods. Wine, meat, and cloth merchants struggled to find sources of goods.
Luckily, Yannian Hall’s business still boomed. In winter, the snow usually buries most of the vegetation in the mountains and fields as it falls, making it difficult to find herbs. Prices of even regular herbs surged in the markets. Long foretelling this issue, Li Shang had brought in a whole boatload of herbs from Gongyang Gui’s second trip to Yuzhang.
As businesses grew, little hiccups were inevitable. Li Shang told me that he needed to buy more people because the store’s staff had their hands full. I agreed, giving him free rein to choose.
Indeed, Li Shang had a natural flair for business. According to him, if you wanted your business to grow, you needed uniqueness, seeing and doing what others couldn’t.
Of course, I wasn’t idle either. Yu Ying’s suggestion to visit Yannian Hall at the banquet was just what I wanted. After I promised to join her, many beside me had shared blank looks at each other. I smiled at them and added words of caring for my mother-in-law’s and husband’s health. They caught on, each one smiling and nodding. Soon, the number of people visiting Yannian Hall jumped from two to a dozen.
It had just snowed the day we visited Yannian Hall, painting the entire of Yong Capital’s streetscape and houses white.
Few of the noblewomen who followed us were willing. When Cai Rang smilingly welcomed these customers at the door, they looked arrogant and unimpressed.
But once they entered, everything changed.
Thick drapes blocked the winter wind, a charcoal stove warmed the store, and in one corner, another stove bubbled with a brisk tea fragrance. Yet, what lit up one’s eyes were the few assistant dispensers (Yao Tong) sorting and distributing medicines in front of a cabinet.
Most of the assistant dispensers in other stores were family servants with common appearances. But in Yannian Hall, fair-skinned and handsome young men stood dressed in neat clothes. They greeted the patrons with smiles and graceful bows.
Surprised, the noblewomen glanced at each other.
“Why is it so lively today?” Unable to look away from the medicine cabinets, Yu Ying asked Cai Rang.
He smiled and said, “We just received new goods today, and we added more staff because the store was busy.” He smiled at the women: “Thank you for gracing this humble store with your presence. Ladies, please choose freely. Our humble store has a full range of goods, and if you see anything you fancy, we will price it favorably.”
At his words, the women lost their indifferent expression and began looking around the store.
Yu Ying’s tone was righteous: “What favorable price? We are here to care for our honored elders and husbands. Only the quality of the goods matter.”
Cai Rang agreed docilely and invited the Madams to sit at the table for tea and snacks. The assistants brought out various herbs to show the women, serving them in a pleasant and gentle manner.
“Yu Ying, I never imagined that...... Yong Capital had such a medicine store.” I heard Yu Ying’s friend whispering to her.
Yu Ying glanced at her with a proud smile.
Cai Rang wasn’t aware of my link to Yannian Hall. When he noticed everyone treating me unusually, he came over to serve me.
Li Shang and I had agreed this was best. Although I was familiar with the store’s layout, this personal experience on my first visit felt different.
Li Shang had picked out these handsome and pricy assistants in the labor market. I had begrudged the extra money at first. But after seeing these women’s single-minded focus on them, I couldn’t help but admire Li Shang’s efficiency and skill.
The charming man serving us was eloquent, chattering non-stop about various herbs. My heart burst with joy at the jingle of Yu Ying and the Madams fishing out gold and silver. Of course, I wouldn’t be stingy either. Anyhow, the Wei Residence money that’s being spent would circle back and finally end up in my pockets.
“A’Jin, these are fine goods.” When the assistant brought out a box of desert ginseng (AKA Rou Cong Rong), Yu Ying whispered to me, “It’s useful if you make soup with yams and mutton.”
Surprised by her mysterious words, I asked, “What use?”
“It strengthens the yin and replenishes the seed.” She hid her smile behind her sleeves, and stared at me ambiguously, “It’s been over six months since you married. Good news should be near, right?”
Finally understanding, I reddened.
“My father knows medicine, and he said this store’s quality is better than other families.” She continued to whisper in my ear, “I have the tonic’s prescription at home. Should I give you one?”
I hid my embarrassment and smiled, “No need, I have one in my house too.”
On the way back, I listened to the crunch of the wheels running over snow and ice, my hand unconsciously resting on my stomach.
Although I didn’t care earlier, Yu Ying’s words aroused a concern in my heart.
Wei Tan treated me well now, but if I wanted to keep the peace, I needed a son. Ruo Chan too had hinted something along these lines to me. And after experiencing the suspicious eyes of my in-laws (TN: former in-laws) in Lai Yang, I understood the gravity of this matter.
Although Wei Tan didn’t bring this up to me, he worked hard on those sleepless nights that made my back sore. Madam Guo seemed unconcerned, but every time my menses came, a servant maid reported her the news......
‘What’s meant to be, will be. Don’t rush.’
I heard a few voices as the carriage stopped at the Residence. When I got out, I saw servants unloading several carriages.
“Tang Sao.” Zhou-shi emerged from the doorway and walked over to me. “Do you know who came back?”
Several generals were talking outside the door, appearing to have just driven a long way, their bodies wrapped up tight and noses frozen red. When I noticed the style of the carriage, my heart twitched. Surprised, I asked, “Has Second Shu returned?”
“That’s right. But with one more person.” Zhou-shi smiled and lowered her voice, “Second Shu has brought back Concubine Xu from Luoyang. She is pregnant, Tang Sao.”
I walked with Zhou-shi to the main hall, and indeed, I noticed Wei Zhao at once. A woman kneeled before the head seats, bowing to Wei Jue and Madam Guo. From her back figure, I recognized Concubine Xu.
“Eldest Sao,” Wei Zhao saw me first and bowed.
“Second Shu.” I returned his bow.
“You’re back, A’Jin,” Wei Jue glanced at me, lowering the teacup in his hand.
I stepped forward and bowed to him and Madam Guo, “Greetings to Father and Mother-in-law.”
Madam Guo asked me, “You’ve once stayed in the Luoyang mansion, Young Furen. Do you know Concubine Xu?”
Concubine Xu faced me and rushed to bow, “I pay my respects to Young Furen.”
I returned her bow and smiled. “It has been over two months since we parted in Luoyang, Concubine Xu. I trust you’ve been well?”
She lowered her eyebrows, “Thank you for your concern, Young Furen. I often thought of you in Luoyang.”
I smiled kindly and shifted my gaze down a few inches. Through the thick winter clothes, her stomach still appeared flat, with no outward bumps.
Wei Jue was in a good mood. After we sat, he asked Wei Zhao about Jizhou, who reported every detail. Madam Guo sat beside him, saying little and her smiling expression unceasing.
After talking for a spell, Concubine Xu presented a lacquer box. When she opened it, it was full of dried peony flowers.
“Rainfall was steady this spring, and the peonies in Luoyang Residence were in full bloom. When the flowers fell, I recalled how the Lord used to brew tea with peony. So, I collected the flowers and dried them.”
“Oh?” Wei Jue glanced at those dried flowers and smiled. “I haven’t returned to Luoyang in years. Are those peonies still blooming?”
“Father,” Wei An chimed in pleasantly from the end seats, “Concubine Xu stays in Luoyang and takes care of the peonies herself. When I visited the Residence this time, the stems were already as thick as my arm.”
Wei Jue nodded, letting his attendant put away the dried flowers.
Madam Guo asked the Steward to fix up the side room in Wei Zhao’s yard with bedding and similar items. She also had Zhang-shi find a maid familiar with childbirth to serve Concubine Xu’s daily needs.
“It’s November now, the weather and water are freezing. You must be careful,” she urged Concubine Xu, her eyes kind.
“I promise,” Concubine Xu bowed, meek and respectful.
After I retired to our courtyard, I finally put away my polite expression. The gray clouds were heavy, and it seemed snow was imminent.
“Furen,” A’Yuan whispered, full of skepticism. “How could Concubine Xu be pregnant? Back then in Luoyang, it was obvious......”
“Shh!” I glared at her.
Her eyes swept around, and she shut her mouth at once.
I walked into my room, asked A’Yuan to have the servants light the charcoal stove, closing the door behind me. When I finally sat on the couch and clasped the hot teacup, my heart was in turmoil.
That Concubine Xu could come openly to Yong Capital even though Madam Guo didn’t favor her was no doubt because of her pregnancy.
But when did she get pregnant? Wei Zhao...... My face reddened. I still knew the shame of prying into other’s bedrooms. But I understood little about conception or calculating the days. I often met Concubine Xu in Luoyang, but she never mentioned it. She had even complained to Wei Tan once, but in the blink of an eye, she followed Wei Zhao back with a pregnant body.
Recalling her meek face, sweet-tempered and calm, I wondered how deep she buried her thoughts behind it?
Wei Tan returned during dinner.
His face didn’t change after seeing Wei Zhao and Concubine Xu. After the greetings and pleasantries about smooth journeys, each of us ate our own meal.
The atmosphere in the hall was somewhat subtle. When an old nanny served Concubine Xu’s meal, Madam Guo asked her if it was suitable to eat, and if they had tidied up Wei Zhao’s yard. Oddly, that level of solicitude made mine and Wei Tan’s sides feel deserted.
Even after we returned to our courtyard, I didn’t open my mouth.
A’Yuan came in after I helped Wei Tan change out of his outer robe. She informed me that the hot water was ready and asked me if I wished to bathe.
I enjoyed bathing. Even if I could only wash my feet when it was winter, I enjoyed staying in the bathhouse. It was a pleasure to be alone and contemplate things.
“No.” Before I said anything, Wei Tan answered for me, “Bring the water here. Furen and I’ll bathe our feet together.”
A’Yuan agreed and closed the door with a doubtful expression.
I stared at Wei Tan in surprise, and he returned my stare.
He asked, “Do you have something on your mind, Furen?”
I curved my lips, “I have nothing on my mind.”
“Oh? Then why aren’t you talking?”
“I am not a talkative person.”
He continued to stare at me, his gaze thoughtful.
As I spun around and hung his robe on the clothes rack, I heard his faint voice behind me. “I’ll count down from three. Ask me if something bothers you. I won’t give you more time.”
Surprised, I spun back, but he had already started counting, “Three.”
My heart stirred, and I gazed into his pair of thought-provoking and impenetrable eyes. I was still reluctant to admit a mistake. “What do you mean, Fujun? I......”
My heart began drumming, and I bit my lips.
Just as he opened his mouth again, I scrambled to say, “How could Concubine Xu be pregnant?”
He half-smiled and after a while, he lowered his voice: “Furen, you like solving puzzles, do you?”
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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