☆ Chapter 45
里 | li | unit of measurement that has varied over time but has now been standardized to 500 meters (Wikipedia)
时辰 | sichen | time system comprising of 12 two-hour periods of the day; one sichen is the equivalent of two modern hours
“Spouse, I’ve long thought that guy was an eyesore and you giving him away was for the best. It’s just a pity that those sixty two taels of silver are gone.”
“I’m tired, what should I do? Second Cousin, carry me back to the inn!” Ruan Zhu stared at him. If it was Yun Shi Yi by her side, there would have been no need for her words as he would have long been worried about how exhausting her pregnancy was and carried her.
“Spouse, others will laugh if I carry you. Let me give you a ride instead!” Yun Shi Wei scratched his head, feeling embarrassed and awkward.
“You really have a problem with your brain. Forget it, I’ll walk by myself.”
Nowadays, her belly was not small, so how would a piggy-back ride be comfortable?
She had just taken a few steps when her waist was caught by Yun Shi Wei. Her body lifted in the air, she was then horizontally carried in his arms.
“Spouse, don’t be angry. I was speaking nonsense.”
“Of course I’m a little angry. But Second Cousin, I think there are some times when you aren’t that annoying.” Ruan Zhu’s legs that were weak at the knees had finally obtained reprieve and felt much better: “Let me tell you, you must keep me happy; otherwise, if there is a day when I feel you are not pleasing to my eye, I will write a certificate of divorce[a] and hand it over to you.”
Yun Shi Wei was an honest person and his eyes were a little moist: “Spouse, I will be obedient, don’t turn your back on me.”
She extended her finger and tapped it against his head, as if chiding him: “Wanting me to not turn your back on you is not dependent on what I do, but is based on what you do. Like just now when I had ordered you to do something yet you refused; say, would I be happy?”
“Spouse, I was wrong. In the future, I will listen to whatever you have to say.”
Yun Shi Wei carried Ruan Zhu as he walked to the inn with large steps, not even acknowledging the glances that passerbys threw at them.
News arrived from the county town–over ten thousand rebels had assembled in just a few days, and in order to take on the name of ‘Red Eyebrows,’ each member dyed their brows scarlet.[b]
The head of the rebel army was a peasant that was semi-literate. He was strong, knew martial arts, had traveled extensively behind a caravan in his younger years, and somewhat had some knowledge and insight. By using the county town as their base of operations, the rebels could expand outwards. They mainly singled out prominent wealthy families, stealing their foodstuffs and dividing it to the commoners, using this to buy the hearts of the common people. The hungry citizens benefited and wholeheartedly pledged their allegiance to the head of the Red Eyebrows army.
Mao Er Town was only about five to six li away from the county town. At such a close distance, the town was naturally targeted by the Red Eyebrows. Moreover, Mao Er Town was a southern territory and there were quite a few troops sent by the imperial court defending it. Thus from the beginning, the town was also a source of threat to the rebels.
The two armies had set up on a level plain east of the town and were on the verge of exchanging blows.
All kinds of fortifications were being set up, causing logistical supplies to become strained. Recruitment for able-bodied men increased in urgency and they were snatched up left and right.
When Ruan Zhu returned to the inn from the bazaar, she heard the female guest staying in the first floor wailing as a group of officers had come to the inn during the day and forcibly recruited two of her secondary husbands.
The other guests had also been enlisted but as they had shelled out money, their husbands had only been sent to do manual labor. Unfortunately, that female guest had been unable to pay the ransom to save her husbands.
In the evening, all of the inn’s guests congregated in the dining hall on the first floor. The innkeeper proposed everyone to find refuge outside of Mao Er Town, and may everyone close their accounts as the inn must close down.
The guests mutually looked at each other. They were all mostly businessmen that had traveled from other areas to this southern border, so the ones that had to leave had long left, and the ones that had yet to depart were still waiting to collect bills. They absolutely could not leave empty-handed, right? But the situation with the rebels was getting worse and worse so if they went out requesting their payments, that would raise even more problems.
Yun Shi Wei was one that liked activity and he had been continuously chatting with and offering assurances to each guest, with no end in sight.
Ruan Zhu listened listlessly. Alone, she walked towards the second floor and ran into Lu Piao Xiang in the corridor. He was calmly standing there, his fresh and clean temperament like an ink and wash painting. With hair was like ink, eyes like bluish-green lacquer, his slender stature was set off by a nature green garment and his dignified appearance did not lose in elegance.
Eyes smiling, he cupped his hands in greeting and Ruan Zhu also returned the courtesy.
“This humble one has received news that the commanding officer of Mao Er Town’s defense army intends to construct a wall with a range of five li. They are drafting able-bodied men and I fear the conscription will become more ruthless. If there are no other matters to take care of, then quickly leaving this town would be the best option.”
The town of Mao Er was a garrison and there were no city walls. To withstand the rebels, a city wall had to be built. This project was urgent and needed a large number of laborers, which is why they grabbed so many men in their prime.
Ruan Zhu’s tone was natural and unrestrained: “Over these past few days, the required goods have all been bought and early tomorrow morning, I will be leaving.”
He shook his head: “Do not wait until tomorrow, you should leave tonight and go by the water route. There are troops stationed at all the land crossings especially to snatch men in their prime.”
Ruan Zhu was a little dejected. She was pregnant and the journey was bumpy and bound to be hard to bear. If the few men by her side were captured, how would that be good?
“You do not have to worry……” Lu Piao Xiang’s voice became deeper and he stared straight at her, his eyes firm: “I will never leave you.”
Ruan Zhu directed her pair of large dewy black eyes at him, feeling puzzled and full of doubt. The times they had met each other were not many and although she had often seen him in the inn, she had tried to avoid him as much as possible. When had his feelings towards her become so deep as to never leave?
“I have said it before–as long as I can stay by your side, then that is enough. I do not take offense to things such as labels.” His voice was low but each word was distinct, just like a cloud in the blue sky, making one’s spirits become clear with not a speck of dirt.
“Mister Lu, look at my current appearance, which area is worthy to be kept in your thoughts?” No matter how pretty a woman was, she feared one did not possess any sex appeal once pregnant: “What do you really like about me?”
“You are the other me, my soulmate that I had lost in my previous incarnation. Would I dislike myself?”
What kind of argument was this? Ruan Zhu smiled in amusement.
“Your smile is truly beautiful, very refreshing. Looking at you, my heart feels at ease. This is exactly your charm and the part that most attracts me.”
Behind her came the sound of someone on the stairs–dong dong. It was Yun Shi Wei.
“I should return to my room. Your proposal is very good, I will inform everyone when I return, and once we have discussed it, we will go look for a boat.”
“I have hired a boat. It is rather large and there will be extra room even with all of your luggage and provisions.. It is currently docked at the northern pier. At present, there are no troops stationed there, but it will be hard to say over the next few days.”
Close to midnight, Ruan Zhu was helped by Yun Shi Wei into a carriage that had already been prepared and was parked in front of the inn. Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing got on the carriage behind hers. In order to pull wool over others’ eyes, the Yun carriage’s original red mahogany exterior had been wrapped up in a layer of shabby and coarse cloth. From the outside, it looked like an average commoner carriage.
It was Yun Shi Yi that had brought her to Mao Er Town but she currently did not know where he was. At her side was Yun Shi Wei and her attendants, yet she felt a little mournful.
Lu Piao Xiang rode a horse in front, leading the way, and the two carriages slowly followed behind. Exiting the small town, the limestone-paved road became bumpy, causing Ruan Zhu to be uncomfortably jostled around so Yun Shi Wei held her securely.
Mao Er Town was surrounded by water on three sides. The northern body of water by itself was not very large and a boat was able to travel across it in one sichen. But it took a while to load all of their goods, so by the time they had crossed the body of water, reached the other shore and gotten onto the carriage, the first glimmers of dawn were already appearing.
The county town was on the east and the unrest had not yet spread here, thus it was relatively safe. As she wished, Ruan Zhu ate a few random bites of light refreshments and slept in the carriage for a moment, all the while heading northward. Along the way, they ran across a multitude of refugees in groups of three or five or parties of ten or eight, accompanying each other as they headed towards the capital.
The commoners believed that when they reached the capital, the Emperor would surely hand out food and would not let them starve to death.
Even though the famine had only occurred for a few months, one could still see a few people that had starved to death on the roadside. Their corpses remained on the side of the road, becoming a beautiful meal for wild dogs to fight over.
Because Ruan Zhu was pregnant, Yun Shi Wei had specifically told the coachman to slow down their journey so they went very slowly every day. Fortunately, she was frequently being held by Yun Shi Wei in the carriage, lessening the suffering brought on by the bumpy ride.
This secondary husband of hers was sometimes careless, but as long as she instructs him, he was willing to listen, letting a lonely daughter feeling somewhat comforted.
One day, rain unexpectedly fell from the sky like a sweet nectar that was hard to come by in this persistent summer drought. Everyone felt hopeful but no one knew how long this rain would last for. Under these drought conditions, would it be like a cup of water on a burning cart of firewood[c]?
The rain was not large, just a light shower, but it lasted for a long time. The road winding through the mountains became extremely muddy making it increasingly difficult for their carriages to move. By chance, they saw there was an abandoned mountain temple in front of them with a missing door and a worn-out wooden plaque that seemed could fall at any time.
The coachman drove the carriage over. Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing entered first and tidied the inside for a bit. Taking out an animal hide from the carriage, they spread it on the floor and covered it with a quilt before calling their master to enter and rest.
Ruan Zhu was carried off the carriage by Yun Shi Wei, passed through the temple doors, and placed on the temporary bed.
She lied down on the prepared area, still feeling she was idly passing time, as if she was still on the carriage and had never gotten off.
Lu Piao Xiang saw that her complexion was not good and his heart became melancholy: “I will go out and hunt some prey to supplement your health.”
Yun Shi Wei was currently eating snacks and stood up at those words: “That’s enough, it would be better if I went. It’d be a wonder if you, who plays the guqin, knows how to hunt. Moreover, she is my wife, what does she have to do with you? Don’t be so attentive.”
“On such a rainy day, where would there be animals? We can just casually eat some things and let it be, it doesn’t matter to me. I am just tired and will be fine tomorrow after resting tonight.”
“Who told you there are no animals when it rains? Do those prey not know the difficulty of an empty stomach and just hide in caves because it’s fun?” Yun Shi Wei took off his chang pao, leaving only his duan da, and wrapped it around her waist: “You have a child in your belly so how could you not eat meat? If Eldest Brother knew that I was not properly taking care of you, won’t he skin me when he returns?”
Ruan Zhu heard him mention Yun Shi Yi and remained silent.
Yun Shi Wei grabbed his familiar copper rod and slung a bow and arrow that he had pulled out from a chest on his back. Feeling too lazy to even wear a raincoat, he turned to leave.
But Ruan Zhu couldn’t help but to nag: “Nuan Chun, give the tarpaulin cloak and bamboo hat to Second Master. The current weather has turned cool, it would not be good to be rained on.”
“Those toys are so inconvenient and makes me slower. Look, I’m this strong and healthy, a few raindrops won’t hurt me.”
Not long after Yun Shi Wei left, sounds of a moving carriage materialized from outside the temple and came closer and closer. It was other travelers that had come to take a rest in the mountain temple.
It could be said that the world was truly small as the family that came in was innkeeper Sun’s from Mao Er Town. Among them was one person that had left the deepest impression on Ruan Zhu, someone that she had personally bought from a human trafficker. Although the Xuanyuan Min Zhi at that time had been in a difficult position, he had been very unyielding and his arrogant nature had been intact though he had been a little broken.
At present, his lofty and unyielding character was barely visible and a sort of helplessness was unconsciously revealed in his eyes.
The Sun family entered the temple interior. Seeing Ruan Zhu, Aunt Sun came over to give her greetings and Nuan Chun supported his master in sitting up. She was so exhausted she did not want to move and conveniently leaned against his chest.
Nuan Chun’s arm was wrapped around her waist. This was the first time she had been this close to him since she got married, so aside from gratification, he felt even more moved.
“Madam Yun, so you had also stopped to rest in this temple. It really is a coincidence that we have met again.” Aunt Sun smiled amicably as she walked over with her greeting.
“Yes, this world is indeed small.” Ruan Zhu also smiled in reply: “Where does Aunt intend to go?”
“My relatives live far and I have not had dealings with them for many years now. How could I go there?” Aunt Sun sighed: “Even if we did go there, they are poorer than us and I fear that we won’t even a decent house to stay in. Fortunately, my older sister’s family in Yu Zhou can still be considered well-to-do and have opened up two stores in the city. I’ve heard that business is prosperous so wouldn’t it be better for us to seek shelter with her and see if maybe we could also do some sort of small business?”
“Aunt Sun wants to go to Yu Zhou?” Ruan Zhu was surprised for a moment. Yu Zhou was certainly not an unfamiliar name as it was where her current self’s maternal family lived.
The Ruan clan in the city of Yu Zhou was very famous. During the time when the Great Ancestor was creating his country, the Ruan clan had contributed greatly. But as military hierarchy had been dismissed over wine cups[d], the Ruan family had announced they were returning to their old homeland and became ordinary commoners. However, the imperial court had been utterly generous with their ample endowments. Fields; gold; pearls; all kinds of treasures–it was enough for the Ruan clan to survive for over a dozen generations with no problem.
“Now, we can only go to Yu Zhou and seek shelter with my older sister. The day before yesterday, refugees from the province said Mao Er Town had been occupied by the rebels. The imperial army had been ambushed by the Red Eyebrows and the number of casualties are innumerable. With only one small squadron remaining, the commanding general had led them into exile in Nan Ling in fear that the Emperor would place the blame on the army.”
Aunt Sun said this while tears unexpectedly dripped down but Ruan Zhu was thinking of another thing. With their current speed, returning to Lan Zhou would require another month while going towards Yu Zhou only required five or six days. She was extremely exhausted and wanted to find a place to properly rest. But her husband Yun Shi Yi would surely return to Lan Zhou once he finished his work in Liu Zhou. Wouldn’t this be a missed opportunity?
Why not use the ancient method? She could post a notice on the bulletin of all the cities and towns they pass, explaining she had gone to Yu Zhou and for him to meet her there.
Yu Zhou was not far from the capital. Reportedly, it was only a day’s journey. After she has given birth, they could go play in the capital.
The several servants of the Sun household were still busily transporting their luggage into the temple interior. An imposing and unordinary man entered her line of sight–it was Xuanyuan Min Zhi. Both of his hands were unexpectedly shackled and there were also heavy fetters around his ankles. The long chain did not affect his work but it could be seen that he had been wearing them for a while as there were thick calluses on his wrists where the shackles were.
Ruan Zhu looked at this honorable prince that, to her surprise, had actually been reduced into a slave?
Xuanyuan Min Zhi had probably been tormented for too long and was disheartened for he returned an indifferent glance towards Ruan Zhu. But as a result of his body’s poison still not being cured, his movements were sluggish.
Aunt Shen sent a glare over: “Useless thing, can’t even check the inventory. You are forbidden from eating tonight.”
“Aunt Shen, he has made you dissatisfied?” Ruan Zhu asked in a small voice. That person’s temper was very unyielding and tough, unable to bear humiliation. She was clearly dissatisfied, so was there a point in asking?
“Madam Yun, you have caused much trouble for me. I no longer want that person. If you think it best, you can just take him back!” Aunt Sun’s face was bitter and she resentfully said: “A poor beggar dares to put on airs with this mother, believing one is so noble. Telling him to undress and attend to this mother in bed, he actually took my words as wind past your ear[e] and wouldn’t even spare a single glance in my direction.”
[a] 休书, lit. cease book, basically a divorce document from the ancient era
[b] 赤眉, Chi Mei, an actual agrarian rebellion that occurred around 17-26 AD. I really wanted to name them ‘Scarlet Brows’ bc ‘Red Eyebrows’ makes me laugh every time but alas. (Wikipedia)
[c] 杯水车薪, idiom meaning an utterly inadequate measure
[d] The Song dynasty’s founding emperor, Emperor Song Taizu, held a banquet in 961 and persuaded his senior army commanders to go home to their provinces.
[e] 耳旁风, idiom meaning something you don’t pay much attention to; in one ear and out the other