☆ Chapter 55
儿 | er | (lit. child) diminutive marker used as a form of endearment
石 | dan | dry measure for grain around one hundred liters
Yun Shi Yi saw that his wife had fallen asleep and carefully tucked her quilt around her before turning around and taking the child from Madam Ruan.
Madam Ruan was worried he didn’t know how to hold his child and hurriedly said: “Put the child’s head in the crook of your arm so that your arm supports his upper body. Yes, just like that, use your right hand to support his waist and butt. Newborns are frail, all right? When you are holding him, you must remember to be careful. If you pull his lower back, there will be trouble.”
Yun Shi Yi very carefully held his child and lowered his head to scrutinize the rosy little face that was currently sleeping. This was his son; his own offspring; someone that was connected to him by blood.
A sort of pride at becoming a father flashed in his brilliantly handsome face.
Ruan Yu walked in from the outer room. Seeing her sister’s son in Yun Shi Yi’s arms, her eyes brightened, and she happily stroked the small face with her hand. Madam Ruan lifted her hand and knocked her daughter’s away, berating: “Look at you, filthy all over yet you dare to touch the child. You have immunity so you are fine, but the child is so small. If it gets sick, what will we do then?”
Ruan Yu pouted and very unhappily stood by the side.
Lu Piao Xiang looked on with fervent eyes: “Can I hold him?”
Yun Shi Yi knew he had invited the imperial physician and wet nurse from the capital and was the reason why Ruan Zhu’s life had returned. Although he was unwilling, it was not good to refuse him, and he handed the child over to him.
Lu Piao Xiang carefully took the child and held the small and frail body. His heart immediately softened. Someday, when Zhu’er gave birth to his child, it would be like this scene, right? But thinking of how she had hovered between life and death while giving birth, his heart again pounded with pain.
“Eldest Brother, I also want to hold him.” Yun Shi Wei crowded over: “I am the child’s concubine-Father and also the child’s paternal uncle; I have the right to hold him.”
“You ah, you can touch.” Yun Shi Yi did not trust him.
Madam Ruan took the child out of Lu Piao Xiang’s arms and carried him to the outer room for her own family’s Lord Husband to see.
Ruan Zi Xu held him until his mouth that was smiling with happiness could not be closed. Taking it easy, he roared with laughter, and for a very long while, was not willing to let go.
Being busy for such a long time, everyone was tired and hungry, and the servants received an order to arrange a banquet in the main hall.
The child was handed over to Madam Ruan and Ruan Yu to look after, while Ruan Zi Xu led a group of people to eat.
During the banquet, he urged the imperial physician and midwife that Lu Piao Xiang had invited (brought/S) into the seat of honor and took out large amounts of money to thank them. The two of them only dared to accept after receiving Lu Piao Xiang’s acquiescence.
Everyone urged each other to drink and not long after, they were all intoxicated to some degree.
When the feast was dismissed, living arrangements for both the imperial physician and midwife were arranged and a male servant was instructed to lead them to their respective rooms.
The two Yun brothers and Lu Piao Xiang were currently just about to bow and ask to be excused when the residence’s Steward Yang came to report that the concubine Wei Rong was causing an outrageous racket and wanted to see Madam Ruan no matter what. Wei Rong had attempted to hang himself and also knocked his head against the wall. The servant keeping watch was afraid that if something happened, he wouldn’t be able to explain himself cleanly, thus he came to report this to the Master to ask how this should be handled.
Ruan Zi Xu had not slept for an entire night and his eyes were so tired, he could barely keep them open. Irritated, he said: “He wants to hang himself, you can just hand over rope. He wants to bang his head against the wall; if the force is not enough, you can just push him. How big of an issue is this, yet you still come find me? Aiya, shoot!……” He recalled Xuanyuan Min Zhi and slapped his forehead. How could he have forgotten such an important matter? He hastily asked Steward Yang: “That servant that had been abused by Ruan Ju, where is he currently?”
“If Master is referring to Third Miss’s newly received bedwarmer, that person’s injuries are not light and was carried by servants into the servants’ quarters. Because Eldest Miss had been in labor, this small one did not dare to ask Master for instructions and delayed the matter. In any case, that one is just a servant so this small one will later go find a doctor to take a look or so. If the medical skill is good, then that is him being lucky in this life; if the treatment is not good, then we’ll drag him outside the city and bury him in a hole somewhere.”
What Steward Yang said was not wrong. During this famine, hordes of people had died and there were numerous cases of the refugees from the south being so ill they could no longer eat. Every day in Yu Zhou, one could see poverty-stricken civilians carrying shriveled corpses outside the city walls.
Ruan Zi Xu was gloomy to death. If the situation was as uncomplicated as Steward Yang had said, then it would be easy to handle and he would also not have to be so alarmed. His wife and children, his precious grandson that had just been born–if he didn’t handle this matter well, then the lives of his entire clan would be over.
Yun Shi Yi understood his worries: “Uncle does not need to be anxious. As long as we arrange for Xuanyuan Min Zhi well, then the outcome will at least not be that terrible. What’s more, with the current chaotic situation, how many large matters does the imperial court have to manage? It is true that Xuanyuan Min Zhi is a prince, but he had been given up for adoption to the country of Nan Ling when he was young. How could the Emperor remember his appearance? Their relationship should long have become one of strangers.”
Furthermore, Xuanyuan Min Zhi was not the Emperor’s biological son as the current Emperor could not have children. It was a long public secret that the children at the Emperor’s knee were all the flesh and blood of his brothers.
What Yun Shi Yi said had some basis, but Ruan Zi Xu’s mood did not improve by much.
Lu Piao Xiang’s clear and bright eyes that were like stars slightly blinked and exposed a happy and content glow. A smile spilled forth and he suggested: “Hand over this situation with Xuanyuan Min Zhi to me. There is no need to worry. How big of a matter could a small prince that had fallen to this level cause? I will take responsibility in settling this matter.”
“You?” Ruan Zi Xu thought about how even the imperial physician of the imperial family could bow his head and obey the orders of the one in front of him. Though he was not fully convinced, he couldn’t help but to be persuaded.
Lu Piao Xiang discreetly yawned and said: “Let us return and sleep first and then discuss Xuanyuan Min Zhi tomorrow. It serves that guy right to be this out of luck; to be bought as a slave and even become a bedwarmer. When I heard all this, how much did I laugh? Just let him obediently stay in the servants’ quarters for two days, okay?”
After he finished speaking, Lu Piao Xiang bowed in greeting towards Ruan Zi Xu and turned to return to his own Zhen Xia Pavilion. He had not slept since before last night when he mounted a fast horse and traveled through the night to make a round-trip to the capital and had long felt an exhaustion that was hard to bear.
Ruan Zi Xu blankly stared at Lu Piao Xiang’s retreating figure: “How much power and influence does he actually have for even a prince to not be placed in his eyes and to be able to invite an imperial physician?”
Yun Shi Yi also thought it was strange: “I heard he is a courtesan from Lan Zhou and is the number one of the Four Great Masters in Lan Zhou. But the impression he gives people is simply unlike one.”
“A courtesan?” Ruan Zi Xu shook his head: “That is impossible. He was born in a prosperous and great family and his parents are influential people in the capital. How could he possibly be a courtesan? There must a secret here.”
“What do we do about Xuanyuan Min Zhi?” Yun Shi Yi asked. Could it be that they were really going to do what Lu Piao Xiang suggested–first throw him into the servants’ quarters and let him accumulate mold?
Ruan Zi Xu thought for a moment and then instructed Steward Yang: “Isn’t the small courtyard called Wo Xue Pavilion, next to the Zhen Xia Pavilion Mister Lu is staying in, still empty? Have some people tidy it up. After it has become warm and hospitable, invite him to stay there before going to the best medicine hall in the city and invite a physician to diagnose and treat him.”
It was true that there was an imperial physician in the residence, but he did not dare to trouble them. If by chance the imperial family knew about one being here, then there would be trouble. It was best to send out the imperial physician at the first opportunity.
Yun Shi Yi returned to Furong Garden and wearily laid down next to his wife after seeing she was still asleep. He had not rested for the whole night and was also tired.
Madam Ruan was sometimes unbelievably biased, but was still considered a qualified mother and very quickly had found a wet nurse for the child.
The women in Tian Chu were respected but there were also many impoverished households that could not afford to continue living. Nowadays, there were also many refugees from the south and finding a wet nurse was very easy. In not even the span of one day, the steward had brought seven women into the residence. Madam Ruan looked for a young woman with a dignified appearance and amiable temperament and had her remain. The rest were given one tael of silver each and sent back.
Ruan Zhu really wanted to personally breastfeed her child because doing so would create more intimate feelings between them. Unfortunately, she had lost too much blood during labor and had very little milk, so she was afraid that if she personally fed him, he would starve.
Yun Shi Yi had comforted her: At worst, when the child has been weaned, we can drive out the wet nurse. The child is small so how could he remember who had fed him?
Thus, for two days in a row, Madam Ruan was busy with the matters of her eldest daughter’s delivery and finding a wet nurse for her grandson. She was so unbearably weary that she ducked inside Jin Se Hall and blackout out in the bedroom, having long pushed Wei Rong into the back of her mind and forgotten about him. Added with Ruan Zi Xu having prematurely commanded the servants to deliberately conceal the matter, she naturally did not know that her most doted on concubine was currently in deep water and scorching fire.[a]
Wei Rong, this man, had soft skin and tender flesh. His skin was even whiter than that of a woman’s and could be classified as sparkling and erotic. A pair of watery and large eyes always looked at others with tender feelings, so delicate and touching. When he interacted with Madam Ruan, there was no need for him to talk as merely using his eyes was enough to hook onto her mortal and immortal souls.[b]
There were two kinds of terms the future generation would give these sort of men, both of which were derogatory. One was ‘false woman,’ the other one was ‘a bottom.’
Only Madam Ruan would like this sort of man. If it was Ruan Zhu, she would have long strategically withdrawn and felt disgusted.
Ruan Zi Xu was the same as all of the men in his generation in believing the ‘one woman, many husbands’ system was heaven’s law and earth’s principle. If he could endure his wife’s secondary husbands, then he would do so, but if he couldn’t, then he would separate. In the past he had always looked at his wife’s side and given them a way out, but this time he thought it was time to dispose of them.
He decided to conduct a public trial and the place where he wanted to do that was strange as it was precisely in the Ruan residence’s flower garden. He sat on top of the stone bench in the pavilion, where a soft cushion had been placed underneath his buttocks. There was a brazier on the ground on either side of him as well as a small stove on top of the stone table where tea was boiling. Tea cups and everything else that could be needed was already provided and available.
He sipped the scalding aromatic tea while chatting with his daughter Ruan Yu.
On the stone platform behind Ruan Zi Xu sat his wife’s other secondary husbands, all of them looking at the person kneeling outside the pavilion and rejoicing in his misfortune.
All of the people in the pavilion were dressed very warmly in thick clothes; there was hot tea to drink; and there was a stove to warm themselves with, so even if it was cold outside, they were not.
But kneeling outside the pavilion on the snow-covered ground, there was a man. If one said he was not cold, even an immortal would not believe him.
Wei Rong had been thrown onto the snowy ground by the servants. These past few days, he had not eaten nor slept well. His facial hair was unkempt, his eyes were soulless, and his gorgeous fox fur cloak had been exchanged by who knows which servant that lacked morals for a filthy and tattered sheepskin-lined robe.
Although he was wearing cotton-padded clothing, anyone who had to kneel on the snow-covered ground for such a long period of time would also be unable to bear it. When he began to stand up, he knelt back down again after hearing the conversation between the father-daughter pair in the pavilion.
“Yu’er, you just came from the woodshed. That one called Ruan Ju is still alive, right?” Ruan Zi Xu felt that Wei Rong’s daughter taking the surname ‘Ruan’ truly insulted his noble family name.
“Of course she’s living well. Apart from her eyes being greenish black; her nose being crooked; the skin on her arms peeling; her leg a bit crippled; everything else is very good, with no broken arms or legs but that will be hard to say in these next few days. I heard there was a group of beggars that had fled from the south to the street behind our back gate and Xiao San Zi said they had worked together and demanded the blind daughter of the wonton seller to become their wife. Pa, don’t you think those beggars are truly foolish? Don’t tell me a blind wife could compare to our family’s Third Miss?”
“Have you brought up our family’s Third Miss to the beggars before?”
“Not yet, but I just let Xiao San Zi go act as the matchmaker.”
“Tell Xiao San Zi, if the beggars agree to our residence’s Third Miss, I will give them five dan of husked rice as a dowry.”
“Pa, you’re really stingy. Only five dan of husked rice; even when our servants are married their dowry isn’t this little.”
“You shameful silly girl, the prices of everything outside has soared and husked rice has risen to two thousand coins per one dan. How many people could five dan of husked rice feed?” Ruan Zi Xu pointed towards Third Concubine-Father that was behind him: “Old Third, you tell her, what is the value of five dan of husked rice?”
Third Concubine-Father was a poor declining scholar whose birth status was higher than Wei Rong’s but without the other’s good looks. Madam Ruan had plenty of respect for him but not enough affection; thus, what he had always hated was Wei Rong’s domineering attitude.
“Replying to my Lord, one dan of rice is equal to ten dou and ten dou is equal to one hundred sheng, thus one dan is one thousand sheng. One thousand sheng is exactly two thousand catties. My Lord wants to send five dan of rice but is actually sending out one thousand catties of husked rice. If they were frugal, a family with over ten mouths would not even be able to finish it all in one year.”
“Silly girl, do you understand now? Is Pa a stingy man?”
Wei Rong could no longer remain calm and plopped onto the ground. The ice-cold snow quickly transmitted into his knees and he felt so chilled his entire body shivered. He was so frozen with shock and cold that he did not dare to get up.
“My Lord, my Lord.” Wei Rong repeatedly kowtowed.
“I heard Madam say, you plan to give your own son up for adoption to the Ruan clan?” Ruan Zi Xu sneered: “And you don’t even see what kind of thing you are. Would I let your filthy and lowly blood dirty the sky that is my Ruan clan?”
Wei Rong’s son was also Madam Ruan’s son and had been established in the household register as Wei Jia. He and Ruan Ju were fraternal twins. From childhood, he had studied at the city’s largest imperial-court-funded academy in the city, which had a considerable tuition fee each year that had always been paid for by the Ruan family.
“My Lord, I beg you to spare the children. The tyranny was all me. The children, the Madam’s children, has always called my Lord as ‘Father,’ may my Lord be magnanimous and spare them this once.” Wei Rong continued to use those large watery eyes to look at people and his appearance was unspeakably moving.
Ruan Zi Xu almost vomited and abruptly slammed his hand against the table, shouting: “Just because of one word ‘Father,’ each one of you committed evil with your black consciences and framed me as the one that had set up the poison and had the impertinence to nearly bring calamity onto my daughter’s life.”
The night of last year’s lunar New Year, Wei Rong had unfathomably been poisoned and to everyone’s surprise, the investigation had pointed to Ruan Zi Xu. Madam Ruan had flown into a terrible rage and and the husband and wife pair failed to reconcile even a month afterwards.
Finally, it was Ruan Zhu that took the blame and said that the poison was her doing. In a fit of fury, Madam Ruan had confined her daughter to her room for one month and soon after had her wed off to a distant place.
The reason why Ruan Zi Xu at that time did not oppose the marriage was because his daughter’s husband was his own sister’s son. Though the distance was too far, at least the Yun family would not treat his daughter too badly due to their relations.
But whenever Ruan Zi Xu thought of this matter, he would be so full of hatred his teeth would start to itch. Presently, he could at last find a reason to punish this harbinger of evil.
“How would I dare to frame my Lord; that was an accident. That lunar New Year’s night, Second Miss had quarreled with my child and mocked her for being concubine-born. I had meant to implicate Second Miss, not my Lord at all. But Second Miss had gone to watch the fireworks on the street which is why Madam had thought my Lord had done it……”
Ruan Zi Xu became even more furious after hearing his words: “You thing with a heart of a wolf and lungs of a dog,[c] the food I provided your Wei family, the clothes I provided your Wei family, the money I provided your son to attend lessons, this is exactly how you all repay me?!”
Wei Rong repeatedly kowtowed: “Begging my Lord to please spare my silly girl; all of it is my wrong; let me take on the entire responsibility.”
Ruan Zi Xu coldly smiled: “Just a few days earlier your silly girl almost killed my daughter and the child in her belly. Do you really think I can just let her go?”
Wei Rong shouted: “Madam will not agree. Ruan Ju is her most beloved daughter. She will definitely look to get even with you later.”
Ruan Zi Xu’s face was a sheet of ice: “Sell this filthy thing that had crawled out of the red district to the capital’s lowest whorehouse. Let him walk from here to there to make full use of him and to save on useless expenses.”
Wei Rong shrieked: “You dare! When Madam finds out, she won’t agree. She will definitely look for you, she will never let you off……”
Ruan Zi Xu’s eyes were full of determination to sever all relationships with him: “I heard there are a great deal of male refugees gathered in the capital that actually play with me because they do not have wives. You can just go enjoy that!”
The laws of Tian Chu cited homosexuality as a capital offense to protect the breeding of future generations. But it was still impossible to stop a bachelor from solving his physiological needs, thus there were specialized prostitutes.
Wei Rong became crazy: “Ruan Zi Xu, you are not human. It serves you right to not be liked by Madam, haha……She only likes me and only me; she will kill you; she will definitely kill you……”
Ruan Zi Xu flung his sleeve and shouted: “Take him away and sell him to a lowly whorehouse in the capital that men are fond of visiting.”
A group of servants ruthlessly rushed towards Wei Rong to tie him up before dragging him to the main gates of the Ruan residence and throwing him into a carriage that was to be personally supervised by Steward Yang on its journey to the capital.
Wei Rong was sold off but the son and daughter pair he had left behind gave Ruan Zi Xu quite a headache. Even if Ruan Ju was malicious, she was still his wife’s child. Sending her to be the beggars’ wife was only used to scare Wei Rong. Did he really have to settle the matter like this?
If he really did that, he truly feared this would forever remain a point of rancor for his wife.
Ruan Yu could see her father’s misgivings and offered: “How about finding a small family, give some dowry, and marry her off!” What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over. Who knew what sort of trouble would be caused if she were to remain at home?
Ruan Zi Xu lifted the teacup from the table for a sip and discovered it had already cooled. From behind him, Third Concubine-Father came forward to replenish his tea but was blocked by a wave of the others’ arm: “Ruan Ju’s matter can only be done like this, but since the temperament of Wei Rong’s son can be considered not bad, he will temporarily remain!”
“Don’t tell me Pa really intends to raise him?” Ruan Yu did not have much affection towards her little brother, but when all was said and done, she still could not bear to drive them all away.
“What else can I do?”
Ruan Zhu took the child from the wet nurse. This child slept for twenty out of the twenty four hours in each day. She looked him over left and right but didn’t find a place that resembled her; on the contrary, there were quite a few places where he resembled Yun Shi Yi.
“The child does not look like me.” Ruan Zhu sighed. How could the child she had given birth to not resemble her?
“Nonsense, it is naturally right for the son to resemble their father. If he looked liked his mother, he would have a hint of female qi and then you would have more complaints.” Yun Shi Yi kept watch by the side, his eyes shining with the compassion of a father: “Our Little Zhi Xi is very handsome. When he grows up, he will definitely be a man with an impressive appearance.”
This generation of the Yun family all had the common character ‘Zhi,’ and Ruan Zi Xu had added a ‘Xi’ so the two combined to form ‘Zhi Xi.’ Ruan Zhu kept thinking it was ‘attentive’ and had been opposed to the name but had been fought down.[d]
Ruan Zi Xu argued with the force of his convictions: ‘Xi’ had the meaning of the sun, the meaning of bright prospects, and the meaning of happiness. What was inappropriate about it?
Thus, the name of the eldest grandson[e] of the Yun clan’s third generation was determined by the Ruan clan. For the paternal grandfather to not be able to name his grandchild, one did not know what the feelings of Master Yun in Lan Zhou would be.
Right as they were speaking, Yun Shi Wei brought in a bowl of ginseng and fish head soup, a smile across his entire face: “Spouse, quickly come drink the soup. The kitchen has simmered it for a very long time and it’s very delicious.”
Yun Shi Wei believed it was his negligence that led Ruan Zhu to be subjected to such a large mishap. If he had been a little more attentive that day, he would have definitely blocked the Ruan Ju that had gone completely crazy.
During this period of time, he had been busy helping in front and behind the scenes and had snatched all of the servants’ work, precisely to redeem some of his sin.
Ruan Zhu looked at the bowl of soup and her entire face twisted. It didn’t matter how delicious they had simmered it. If there was no salt, wouldn’t it be the same as plain boiled water? Honestly, why couldn’t they let women in postpartum recovery have salt?
Yun Shi Yi let the wet nurse carry the child away and used a spoon to feed her, one mouthful at a time.
“It’s not like I don’t have hands yet you always feed me like this. After a long time, I fear my hands will no longer remember how to hold things.”
Every time, Ruan Zhu protested like this but Yun Shi Yi always had words to block her.
“Wife, you can eat however you like after the confinement period is over, but you can’t do it now. If your hands become excessively tired, don’t you know it is extremely easy to have joint pain?”
All of the women in postpartum recovery ate by themselves in movies and TV shows. The relatives in her past life also ate by themselves after giving birth. She had never heard this reproach of ‘joint pain’ before.
“Spouse, what Eldest Brother said has some truth. If you feel he is too crude, let me feed you; I am very attentive.”
Yun Shi Wei, attentive? Who would believe that! Ruan Zhu shook her head: “No need, Second Cousin, you took care of everything for such a long time and must have become tired. You should rest for a bit.”
“I’m not tired; I like taking care of my spouse.”
At that time, Lu Piao Xiang walked into the bedroom while carrying his guqin case and saw his beloved woman gradually regaining her exquisite figure. Love poured out from his clear and bright eyes. Thinking about how embracing the previous pregnant body was already very beautiful, he didn’t know what sort of experience it would be like now.
He moved according to his desire. Placing down the guqin, he stepped forward and pulled her into his arms, lightly placing a kiss on her lips and smelling the fragrance of milk on her body. In a split second, his thoughts and emotions had been thrown into disorder.
“Wife, you are truly beautiful.”
Being kissed in front of her other two husbands, Ruan Zhu was a little shy: “I haven’t bathed in a long time, where am I beautiful?”
During the one-month confinement period after childbirth, she couldn’t bathe, couldn’t wash her hair, couldn’t have salt, couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that……[f]
“Wife is forever the most beautiful.” Lu Piao Xiang lightly sighed in appreciation.
[a] 水深火热, idiom meaning in a whole lot of torment
[b] These are two types of souls in Chinese philosophy. 魂 hun (lit. cloud-soul) is the ‘immortal’ soul which leaves the body after death; 魄 po (lit. white-soul) is the ‘mortal’ soul that stays with the body after death. There’s a lot of semantics and philosophy involved here and there is a much deeper discussion on Wikipedia.
[c] 狼心狗肺, idiom meaning cruel and unscrupulous
[d] Pun with homophones. Her son’s name is 志熙 (ambitious and prosperous) which is pronounced zhì xī. 仔细 (attentive, careful) is pronounced zǐxì.
[e] Semantics, but the word used here (长孙) can also mean ‘eldest son of the eldest son.’
[f] Chinese traditional postpartum recovery is a one-month confinement period where the new mother follows a strict diet of nourishing foods and observes various taboos to help with recovery and protect against illnesses, stress, etc. (Wikipedia)