☆ Chapter 41
Yun Shi Yi’s eyes were shining and he said some more next to Ruan Zhu’s ear: “Originally, Lu Piao Xiang randomly being near the border was peculiar, but it turns out he had been invited by Xuanyuan Min Zhi. To think he actually abandoned the invitation after arriving at Mao Er Town, does Wife know what this is about?”
Her husband’s words had caused Ruan Zhu’s heart to move up and down, and she glanced at him with displeasure: “You talk too much.”
Lu Piao Xiang was just about to leave and inadvertently saw the delicate and beautiful female in the crowd. His clear black eyes immediately softened as he stared unblinkingly at her, as if he wanted to engrave her figure forever in his heart.
Ruan Zhu awkwardly smiled at Lu Piao Xiang. Being stared at with such a gaze by other men, she didn’t know if this counted as making her hubby wear a green hat?
“Wife, there are piercing glances from that direction.” Yun Shi Yi held her head with both his hands as he turned her so that she was facing him.
“You are the first person to dare speak like that to this prince. Come, seize him. If he is delivered to the local government, he may not necessarily be caned. Directly send him to the mountains to slave away at excavating stones.”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi coldly sneered and with one wave of his arm, three attendants appeared from behind him and surrounded Lu Piao Xiang. Two of them surrounded him from either side, meaning to break off his arms, while the remaining man fished out some rope and made to throw it over his head.
Lu Piao Xiang was calm and composed. Not waiting for the two men to come close to his side, with a wave of the guqin case–pa pa–he swept them away. Lifting up his right leg, he aimed a kick towards the remaining figure.
However, these three attendants were not ordinary. They had suffered to the extent of eating a small loss in the beginning as they had underestimated the enemy, but went all out on the attack the second time they charged in.
There were many who were proficient in martial arts in the country of Tian Chu, and as the hometown of martial arts, there were even more masters in Lan Zhou. Lu Piao Xiang being proficient in Chinese boxing was not a surprise. But for him, a Mister from a brothel, to know how to play the guqin and to also know martial arts, Ruan Zhu felt puzzled and wondered if all the ancient courtesans were not this simple.
“Has Wife noticed?” Yun Shi Yi muttered in her ear: “His guqin case is made out of Dragon-Taming wood. Since it has become a guqin, it can also be made into a weapon. He used the guqin to attack those attendants but he is actually using the ways of the staff. Who would have thought this fellow could be considered such a powerful figure? If it wasn’t that his status at birth was so low, he could be considered as satisfying the qualifications of becoming one of my wife’s secondary husbands. But Wife, you must not be tempted by him……”
Ruan Zhu listened as his words became increasingly outrageous and angrily aimed a kick towards his leg. Yun Shi Yi hurriedly hugged her: “Wife, be careful. Don’t jostle the baby in your stomach. If you are angry, just directly pinch this husband twice instead.”
Hearing that, Ruan Zhu seized the tender skin at his armpit. All the other places were too tough and she only felt satisfied with this place.
Yun Shi Yi sucked in a painful breath as he helplessly smiled: “Wife, you truly know how to look.”
“Who asked for your mouth to be so bad?”
While the two of them were in the middle of teasing each other, the fight in front of them was become more intense. In an exceptionally valiant manner, Lu Piao Xiang used the guqin case to defeat his opponents. Very quickly, the three attendants had been beaten by him until they lay motionless on the ground. But more came over and he abruptly did a series of fast and sweeping kicks, as if his leg was on a chain. Two of the men were swept away and with a wave of the guqin case, the third person was hit so that he spit out blood.
“Who could have imagined you had some skill?” Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s eyes were frosty: “Fetch my sword over.”
A boy rushed over from his behind him and held out a simple and unadorned longsword with both hands. Xuanyuan Min Zhi took the longsword and slightly shook it, unsheathing it, causing the cold and dense aura of the sword to suddenly ripple outwards. Although there was quite a distance between them, Ruan Zhu could still feel the chilliness arising from the tip of his longsword.
Yun Shi Yi shook his head in admiration: “This is truly someone that can be called wealthy. That sword is not an ordinary one. Its name is Zhan Lu and it is an ancient sword that has been handed down. Not only can it cut through iron as if it was mud, it won’t be stained by blood when it kills a person.”
Regarding Zhan Lu; Gan Jiang; and Mo Ye, these famous ancient swords had been copied and made into plenty of theatrical works in the future. For the most part, they were used differently from how other swords were used, but in reality, these famous swords were merely sharper than others by a bit.[a]
Ruan Zhu stared at it. Zhan Lu crossing with the Dragon-Taming wood, she didn’t know which one would end up the loser. But as far as someone who loved good music was concerned, it really would be a pity if the guqin case was to be damaged.
Yun Shi Yi once again whispered in her ear: “Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s martial arts are not bad. That guqin player of yours has run out of luck.”
Ruan Zhu harshly glanced at him, her heart faintly trembling. She was somewhat anxious but that did not mean she liked Lu Piao Xiang. She was nervous out of her respect and admiration towards such a remarkable artist.
Just when the two men were in the state of swords drawn and bows bent[b], five or six men black-clothed men appeared from the crowd and bowed in greeting towards Xuanyuan Min Zhi while their captain ventured: “Fifth Highness, please look upon these servants in letting Mister Lu off the hook. Upon our return, this servant will provide an explanation for Your Highness. It is unbefitting to be in a deadlock here.”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s eyes were frigid: “All you dog slaves truly know how to be devoted.”
Although the leader of the black-clothed men was respectful, he was not humble: “This slave is only devoted to ones worthy of loyalty. If Fifth Highness insists on keeping Mister Liu, us slaves would not hesitate to pledge our lives and fight to the death.”
It was as if ice had formed in Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s eyes as he sheathed his longsword: “This prince will let him go today. But if there is a next time, see if I don’t cut off both his arms so that he will no longer be able to play the guqin for the rest of his life.”
Ruan Zhu felt it was no longer necessary for them to remain. What made her so hard-pressed was that Lu Piao Xiang always, either intentionally or not, cast affectionate looks in her direction. Seeing this made her heart feel prickly so she hurriedly pulled at her husband’s hand to leave.
“Ai, leaving like this?”
Yun Shi Yi had just followed his wife in barely walking ten meters away when all of a sudden, over a dozen masked men jumped down from the roof of the restaurant. Swords firmly held in their hands, they fiercely charged at Xuanyuan Min Zhi. As the first person threw himself as quick as lightning towards his target, his large broadsword danced in a grand manner, creating a large wind with a pressure as tremendous as Mount Tai[c] and striking down.
With a single cold look, Zhan Lu was unsheathed and received the large broadsword. A high pitched hum sounded–the broadsword had been chipped.
Both parties’ arms had become numb from the impact. After their footing had stabilized, they simultaneously made their second move. The swords crossed again and with a loud sound, the broadsword of the leader of the masked men broke in two and the tip fell to the ground.
The eyes of the head of the masked men were icy as he retreated, indicating with his hand for some of his subordinates to surround Xuanyuan Min Zhi while the rest fought hand-to-hand with Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s subordinates. Several weak common laborers were slashed to death on the spot and blood was spilled all over.
The commoners that had been watching in a circle had long fled as they screamed. A few of the more courageous ones hid in the alleys and behind the windows of the restaurants as they stuck their necks out to stealthily look. They saw the desperate scene and their faces turned white but they were unable to turn their eyes away.
The group of black-clothed men that had helped Lu Piao Xiang earlier mutually looked at each other. Their leader issued out one sound and all of them jumped into the fray to battle against the masked men.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi had obtained backup and his situation became rather good.
As for Lu Piao Xiang, he still had a look of indifference with the guqin case tucked under his arm while his mind flew after the beautiful silhouette.
Yun Shi Yi used his silk handkerchief to cover his wife’s eyes as he carried her away.
After winding through a few streets, they returned to the inn they were staying at. Ascending the stairs, they entered their Sky Room #1 and he placed her on the bed. He untied the silk handkerchief from her face but saw that she had become pale from fear. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes and her lips were also white.
Yun Shi Yi’s heart shook and he carefully pressed her against his chest, repeatedly consoling her: “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, you’re all right. Forget about everything that you had just seen. Don’t think about it, just pretend as if it never happened.”
Ruan Zhu wrapped both her arms around his neck and was not able to recover for a good while. In her previous life, her mother had died when she was still young. Her family had been afraid she had suffered a shock, so sent her to a relative’s place. Today was the first time she had seen a dead person and it was unexpectedly such a brutal and tragic death. There were indistinct chunks of flesh everywhere. Half of an arm, part of a skull–all scattered in pieces. Seeing that had made her heart alarmed, body leap[d] and she wasn’t able to remain calm even if she wanted to.
Yun Shi Yi simply picked her up entirely, a hand gently patting her on the back as if he was comforting a child: “What is it? Does your belly feel uncomfortable? I’ll tell Shi Wei to invite the physician over to give you a proper check up, but this Shi Wei, I don’t even know know where he’s run off to as there’s been no trace of him the entire day. I’ll have Yun Shan invite over the physician then. Or having Nuan Chun or Nuan Qing do it is also fine.”
Earlier, he had gone to the medical hall in search of the elderly physician to ask if there was anything he should take note of regarding a pregnant woman. He knew that women became much more frail when pregnant and must not become stimulated.
“No need. Just hold me like this, don’t let go.”
“Okay, okay, I won’t let go. Wife, it’s all this husband’s fault, I should not have brought you to such a crowded area. Shh, shh, does your stomach hurt? Is the child doing okay?”
Ruan Zhu shook her head, not wanting to speak. She quietly remained in his embrace and buried her head in his broad chest.
The young couple remained tightly interlocked until nightfall. Even Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing, who came to deliver the evening meal, were kicked out.
Pounding steps could be heard on the stairs and a sweat-covered Yun Shi Wei entered the room.
“Spouse, see what I’ve bought for you?”
“Which wild place did you go to?” Yun Shi Yi reprimanded him.
“I……I went to buy some jewelry for Zhu Zhu. I’ve said I’d do it before, but I still didn’t have enough money so I just went to the Dong Ling warehouse and helped them haul foodstuffs inside all day. Anyway, I finally bought the piece I wanted.” It was as if Yun Shi Wei was presenting a treasure. From his lapel, he fished out a small but delicate case: “A phoenix hairpin forged out of pure gold with a green gem suspended from its beak. I know you like precious stones and the shop had cheaper ones than this but I didn’t buy those, only this one, because I knew Zhu Zhu would like it.”
Ruan Zhu saw that although this design was not as original as the one she had designed, the craftsmanship and skill was very exquisite. The beak of the phoenix held a long pendant and on the lower end was an emerald green jadeite.
“Thank you, Second Cousin! The golden phoenix is really beautiful, I really like it! Insert it for me, okay?”
Yun Shi Wei giddily agreed and carefully inserted it into her hair. Perhaps he was too excited for his hands were trembling.
After eating the evening meal, the three of them laid on the bed with Yun Shi Wei taking the innermost spot. Maybe he was too tired from carrying the foodstuffs all day for he had quickly fallen into a deep sleep and started snoring, without forgetting to drape a hand over Ruan Zhu’s chest.
Ruan Zhu gently nudged his hand away and huddled inside Yun Shi Yi’s embrace. She couldn’t sleep no matter what she did. Her experience from today was too frightening, beyond the limit of what she could accept.
“Still thinking about that matter?”
“Are Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s enemies very formidable?” Ruan Zhu was completely at a loss. “He is part of the imperial family and is also one with an honorable status. There’s not enough time for others to curry favor with him so why are there so many people that want to kill him?”
“After Xuanyuan Min Zhi had been given up by adoption by the Emperor to the Duke of Nan Ling, he became a candidate of inheriting the title of duke. It is possible there are quite a few people that can’t accept it, right?” Yun Shi Yi rubbed her back: “Us ordinary people do not have to worry about the imperial family’s matters. Whether they kill or hover between life and death has not the slightest to do with us. Whoever inherits the title would not be able to share some benefits with us anyway. Granted, even if Nan Ling was destroyed, doesn’t the Celestial Empire still exist?”
“That’s true. We are also not citizens of Nan Ling.” Ruan Zhu paused for a moment before again saying: “Lu Piao Xiang is also strange. He has that much skill, why did he enter the brothel? What is his history with the black-clothed men? Previously in order to help Lu Piao Xiang, they opposed Xuanyuan Min Zhi but then they afterwards stood alongside the latter to kill his enemy?”
“I don’t know, ah, Wife.” Yun Shi Yi sighed.
He previously had the intention of arranging Lu Piao Xiang as a secondary husband for his wife, but after this matter, he once again hesitated. Lu Piao Xiang’s family background was presumably not ordinary. Seeing how those black-clothed men had protected him as well as Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s level of apprehension, no matter how he had been framed into entering a brothel, the strength of the forces behind Lu Piao Xiang was no small matter.
To accept a secondary husband that was more powerful than himself and was also not suppressed by him at all in any regard, Yun Shi Yi’s conclusion was that he was not so broad-minded. The woman in his arms was his life. Even if the other secondary husbands shared her, he had to take and remain in the lead spot.
Another ten or so days passed and the fetus in Ruan Zhu’s belly entered the stable period, resulting in her nausea symptoms becoming much better.
On this day, the assistant that had previously been sent to Liu Zhou returned, reporting that only a small part of their batch of wood had been embezzled and the majority still remained. He had tried using money to settle the matter as it basically was not a big issue, but Yun Shi Yi was still required to personally pay a visit to the local authorities.
Yun Shi Yi remained silent for a long time before deciding to head to Liu Zhou. On the day of his departure, he had Yun Shi Wei, Nuan Chun, and Nuan Qing stand before him as he warned them again and again before finally mounting a fast horse and departing with Yun Shan and the assistant in tow.
Ever since her transmigration, Ruan Zhu had never gone a day without Yun Shi Yi and she was extremely unaccustomed to life without him by her side. For a few days in a row, she stayed holed up in her room, too disinclined to leave. Disliking Yun Shi Wei’s nagging, she had kicked him out of her room.
“Miss, the guest in Sky Room #3 has come for a visit.” Nuan Chun pushed aside the door as he entered and saw his master sitting in front of the window to cool off, wearing a dudou and shorts. Her three-month pregnant belly slightly swelled but it did not decrease her beauty. Her previously ill complexion had become soft and dewy again thanks to all of the maintenance she had done over this period. Her skin was white and sparkling, as if bathed in a layer of light.
“I don’t recognize the guest in Sky Room #3, ah!” Ruan Zhu lazily stood up, the small fan in her hand continuously moving up and down, “What kind of weather is this, how long has it been yet one drop of rain refuses to drop? It’s hot enough even at midnight to kill someone.”
“How has Miss become so muddle-headed? A guqin master resides in Sky Room #3 and had come here previously to play the guqin. Miss had even instructed this slave to make a bowl of iced pineapple juice and deliver it as thanks, hmm?”
Lu Piao Xiang, it was him! Ruan Zhu furrowed her brows in hesitation. Recalling his gentle eyes brimming with affection, it was as if she had been stabbed. She promptly waved her hand: “Tell him I am not well today and do not wish to receive visitors.”
“Miss is not feeling well?” Nuan Chun was alarmed, “This slave will immediately invite a physician.”
“Ai, don’t go, I said it as an excuse. Just follow my instructions in responding to Mister Liu. You may withdraw now!”
On such a sweltering day, one could not stay in their room the entire day. If one did not go outside to relieve their boredom, one would become bored to death. On an afternoon of a day such as that, Ruan Zhu neatly dressed and led her two bedwarmers on a stroll. While they were selecting fabrics at a silk store, they unexpectedly ran into Lu Piao Xiang.
“I’m saying this blue one is good. The fabric is resistant to dirt so it is quite appropriate to be used to make a small blanket for our soon-to-be-born Young Master.” Nuan Chun held up an azure block of fabric as he muttered. “Silk becomes bad after it’s washed a few times. This blue material can preserve it for longer so we can also save some money.”
“You have forgotten that Miss prefers simple and plain colors, but you still chose blue against all reason. Hmph! Why must it be resistant to dirt? What our family has is money. Could it be that we’re unable to afford bedding and bedclothes for our Young Master? If Master knew of this, perhaps you would be caned.”
Ruan Zhu held up a block of white cotton, lifting it to view it from all angles. Cotton had been imported into China during the Three Kingdoms and it was first used as a decorative plant in peoples’ gardens and was not recognized for its economic value. It was finally planted in the Central Plains during the Tang and Song dynasties but at this point in time, it was far from reaching the point of popularization and high quality cotton fabrics were rare.[e]
Not only was the texture of the cotton cloth in her hand soft, it was also tightly woven and very absorbent. It would be very nice to use as diapers for infants.
“The white cotton that Miss is holding in her hands is from Gao Chang[f] and is very famous. During the last fair, I purchased a batch from Tu Bo merchants. If Miss likes them, I still have a lot here and can offer a discount.”
“How many do you have here?”
“Let me think, en, should be around thirty five bolts!”
“I want them all.”
After paying, Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing both carried the white cotton bolts as they followed their Master in leaving the store. They caught sight of a man clothed in white with a guqin case tucked under his right arm standing in front of the store and sending a tranquil smile in Ruan Zhu’s direction. Bright eyes, white clothes, black hair, leisurely handsome and talented–all the men and women walking along the road couldn’t help but to give him a second glance.
“Has Mister Lu been well?” Ruan Zhu respectfully bowed with an estranged attitude.
Lu Piao Xiao cupped his hands in return and stared at her, but did not respond.
“Does Mister Lu have a matter?” If there was no matter, she would leave. Others will misunderstand if she were to dawdle with an unmarried man in broad daylight.
Lu Piao Xiang abruptly opened his mouth: “Simu xiaojie yijiu, yuan zhi ji zhou, tingcong chaiqian! I have been thinking of Miss for a long while and wish to serve you!”
Ruan Zhu stared at him in shock, and then with great alarm. In history, wasn’t it written that the first words of the woman, Wu Yan, upon seeing King Xuan of Qi were: I admire Your Majesty’s virtues and wish to serve you![g]
[a] All three of these are actual swords in Chinese history. 湛卢 (Zhan Lu) was made by the legendary sword-making master Ou Yezi. Gan Jiang and Mo Ye were a swordsmith couple that forged a pair of swords and named them after each other after King Helu of Wu ordered them to make him a pair of swords to tragic results. (Wikipedia) All of these swords were allegedly forged during the Spring and Autumn period (~771 to 476 BC).
[b] 剑拔弩张, idiom meaning a state of mutual hostility
[c] 泰山, considered one of the five Sacred Mountains of China (Wikipedia)
[d] 心惊肉跳, idiom meaning fear and trepidation in the fear of disaster
[e] 三国时代, the Three Kingdoms (220-280 AD) was the tripartite division of China into Wei, Wu, and Shu, after the breakup of the Han. This is the time period where Romance of the Three Kingdoms (obviously) took place. And again for a refresher, Tang dynasty is 618-906 AD and Song dynasty is 960-1279 AD.
[f] 高昌, an actual ruined, ancient oasis city on the northern border of Taklamakan Desert in present-day Xinjiang, China.
[g] 无盐 Wu Yan is referring to Zhong Wu Yan, a very intelligent female regarded as one of the four-worst looking women in Chinese history, who famously said those lines upon meeting King Xuan of Qi (350-301 BC) in an attempt to advise him, which worked.
TN: Left that line in pinyin because some of it is explained in the next chapter.