☆ Chapter 68
儿 | er | (lit. child) diminutive marker used as a form of endearment
时辰 | sichen | time system comprising of 12 two-hour periods of the day; one sichen is the equivalent of two modern hours
里 | li | unit of measurement that has varied over time but has now been standardized to 500 meters (Wikipedia)
She thought about Steward Wang’s death. If her conjecture was correct, then she should be in a state of danger. How should this disaster be dealt with? With Lu Piao Xiang’s capability, killing a few commoners was incredibly easy, but she could not have him kill the other without reason and must first find an excuse.
Ruan Zhu’s expression was complicated, and her eyes were filled with exhaustion. Her lips faintly pressed against each other as she thought of how she should bring up this matter with her Lord Husband. It didn’t matter if that man was or wasn’t Hai’er; he was still a threat to her.
“Wife, do you have something on your mind?” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi saw that her eyebrows were tightly knit, and he sat down next to the bed, picking up both her and the brocade quilt with his large hands that were like palm-leaf fans and placing her on his lap.
“That Zhao Hai is Lu Yin Ge’s great master of tea manufacturing, but I don’t know why he killed Steward Wang. I just so happened to pass by and saw that he wanted to silence him. Fortunately, I promptly escaped to be able to to save this life.” Was this excuse considered incredibly lousy? But it was truly the most rational pretext Ruan Zhu could think of presently: “Steward Wang was previously Eldest Cousin’s steward but was later kicked out by me because he gambled.”
“En, I have previously heard Elder Jia mentioning an Accountant Wang that had set up the tables. He had said that not long after the man had arrived in the capital, he had somehow made a name for himself. Who would have thought he would unexpectedly be killed by the master tea maker?”
Ruan Zhu’s eyebrows curved upwards as she gazed at him, a little puzzled: “Isn’t Elder Jia your father?” Recalling how the servants called him ‘Prince,’ uneasiness suddenly formed in her heart. As the number one of out Lan Zhou’s famous Four Great Misters, it was very possible that Lu Piao Xiang, whose reputation spread out far and wide, was not that simple.
The corner of Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s mouth lightly rose and he smiled: “Regardless of my origin, it will never be something that can hurt you. After two days when you have recovered, I will explain everything. Right now, do not let your imagination wild; it is more important to overcome this illness.”
Ruan Zhu’s two thin and straight eyebrows slightly wrinkled as she reluctantly agreed. Speaking so much, her throat once again burned with pain so she waited for a moment before lowly saying: “My intuition is saying that I am very familiar with Zhao Hai’s appearance. He appears to be the son of the Yun family’s Fifth Concubine-Father Zhao. If so, he has stayed in Eldest Cousin’s Tian Yi Pavilion before and perhaps thee was some discord for him to then run to the capital.”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi felt that his wife seemed to be afraid of this man called Zhao Hai and comforted her: “You are now my wife. Even if there are ten Zhao Hai’s, I will have him completely disappear.”
Ruan Zhu was not that satisfied with that answer. What she wanted was for that man to immediately disappear, without any opportunity for him to live and to not discover her secret and blab about it before his death. Since having Zhi Xi, she had started to especially cherish life and was unwilling for her son to be like her–without a mother at an early age. She wanted to see her child grow up every day under her love and nurture, until the day he wed a wife, had a child, and settled down.
Since it was more inconvenient for her Lord Husband, she would continue thinking.
As she was currently being hugged by him along with the quilt, she was soon covered in sweat. Ruan Zhu protested playfully: “Are you trying to take someone’s life on such a sweltering summer day? It’s too hot.”
“You have not yet recovered from your illness so care must be taken.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi thought for a moment before freeing her arms from within the blankets: “I have sent men to bring Zhi Xi and Nuan Chun and the others over. It is possible they may be on the road right this moment.”
Ruan Zhu’s eyes immediately brightened. Wrapping both her arms around him, she took the initiative to offer up her red lips.
“I knew doing this would make my wife happy.”
After a while, several palace eunuchs entered to serve the meal. Ruan Zhu did not understand–they had just finished eating less than two sichens earlier and they were eating again? But Xuanyuan Zong Zhi argued with the force of his convictions, saying his son was hungry and she ought to think about her child’s needs as a qualified mother.
The child was only a little over a month and had yet to even take form, hmm?! Ruan Zhu had refuted his words but could only allow him to feed her, one mouthful at a time. After the meal, it was again time for medicine. It was at this moment that she became aware that the ‘chen jie cai lu‘ medicine she was taking was unexpectedly an ‘ancient antibiotic’ that she had seen before on a TV program. She elatedly started thinking of a day to send someone to Jiang Nan to buy the prescription from the Buddhist temple in Tian Ning district. If she opened a factory, wouldn’t that be a gold fountain?
When Zhi Xi was brought over, it was as if he had somehow been wronged, as large tears dripped out while he waved his small fists as he looked for his mother to hold him. Worried she would pass on her cold, Ruan Zhu cast her own tears far behind her for a moment and let the wet nurse take him to rest in the already prepared room.
Nuan Chun was still recuperating at Elder Jia’s home and had not returned to the residence. Ruan Yu and Nuan Qing had brought over all of her clothes and personal belongings and as soon as they caught sight of her, Ruan Yu ran to hug her sister while tears dripped down. She sobbed: “Elder Jia had only sent a message saying Eldest Sister had met a friend of Eldest Cousin’s while outside and was going to stay at that friend’s place for a few days. It was only until just now when Qu Gao mentioned it that we knew Big Sister had met with mishap.”
In her previous world, Ruan Zhu was an only child and had never experienced the affection between siblings, thus was helpless against the other. She laughed: “It’s just a little cold and aren’t I much better? Younger Sister’s tears fall so easily; they’re not cherished at all.”
Ruan Yu had been bantered with but her tears still had yet to dry: “It is fortunate that nothing happened to Eldest Sister. Mother has left, Father has also gone to Lan Zhou; right now there is only the two of us at home. Eldest Sister must never meet with mishap again.”
There was still Third Concubine-Father and his two children in the Ruan home, but Ruan Yu had never considered those concubine-born children as being related to her.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi saw that the two sisters had much to say to each other. He instructed the servants to carefully wait upon them before personally striding out of Wang You Hall.
Ruan Yu looked at the back of the departing figure and said in a small voice towards Ruan Zhu: “Eldest Sister, you are truly blessed and have actually become the respected and honorable Princess of Qi. If Papa were to know of this, who knows how ecstatic he would be.”
Ruan Zhu was startled and stared blankly at her.
“Prince, His Third Highness requests an audience.” Nangong Xun walked over to report.
His Third Highness; Xuanyuan Min Zhi.
Ever since that day when Ruan Zhu had been brought back to the residence, that despicable fellow had relied on him and used the princely Qi residence as his own rear court. How he had swindled over food and drink wouldn’t be calculated, but he also wanted Imperial Physician Zhang to treat his poison. Those assassins from Nan Ling that had chased him had previously even left a spy at the entrance of the Prince of Qi’s residence. Nangong Xun hated that he had caused his Prince to lose face and led men to bring back the head of the informer. After that, the entrance became peaceful.
From Elder Jia’s mouth, Xuanyuan Zong Zhi knew that his wife being arrested was entirely because of this Third Brother’s dirty tricks. Although the latter had later escaped from prison with her, it still could not excuse his absolutely disgraceful behavior.
“Take him to Hua Yu Ping. I will wait there.”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi arrived at Hua Yu Ping and saw his Fifth Brother sitting in front of a rosewood table, leisurely enjoying the flowers, refreshments, and tea, not even sparing a single glance to look sideways out of the corner of his eyes, let alone inviting him to have some tea. But he had always been easy-mannered and the skin on his face had always been extremely thick. There was no need for the other to issue an invitation. He simply sat down, and seeing there was no cup that could be classified as his on the table, snatched the one in the other’s hands, poured a large cup of tea, and downed it: “Good tea.”
“Out with it.” Giving him a quick sideways glance, Xuanyuan Zong Zhi coldly spoke.
“I want to meet Emperor-Father.”
“You wish for Emperor-Father to dispatch the army to Nan Ling to wrest back your position as heir?” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi lazily reclined against the chair and closed his eyes for a moment. He slightly raised his head while he slowly proposed: “I can help you pass on these words, but if Emperor-Father does not wish to meet you, that has nothing to do with me.”
Who under the Heavens didn’t know that the eleven sons currently on the Emperor’s knee were all from secondary husbands? How much affection could possibly exist towards a Prince that he had driven out thousands of li away as a child?
A little bit of despair peeked through on Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s face: “Nan Ling is Tian Chu’s vassal state. His Majesty is unlikely to go as far as to abandon it, right!”
A sneer formed on the corner of Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s mouth and his eyes were filled with deep cynicism: “Tian Chu is currently suffering from bandits and there is a natural disaster in the north. How could there possibly be any inclination to care about the rise and fall of a vassal state? What’s more, the rebels have blocked off the passage, so how can the army be sent to Nan Ling? Don’t tell me you want them to make a detour to Tu Bo?”
Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s expression was dim. Among all those issues, there was not one that he had not thought of before, yet there had always been a faint trace of hope.
“No matter what, I want to meet Emperor-Father.” He was the same as all of his brothers and had been bestowed the title of ‘Prince’ soon after birth. But as a result of him being pushed into Nan Ling at a young age, he now had neither a princely residence nor an official’s salary. He had also not even brought a servant with him when he had fled from Nan Ling. All of these issues must be settled by the old Emperor, or else how could he still say he had the identity of the Prince of Yong in Tian Chu? If he had status, then he would have power, and the assassins from Nan Ling would then have to consider who they could afford to enrage before they could make a move.
“I do not currently have time; perhaps in a few days!” He still had to keep his wife company at home. How could he have the time to care about the other’s business?
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi left Hua Yu Ping, and thinking of the matter that his wife wanted him to do, summoned Nangong Xun to investigate Lu Yin Ge’s master of tea, Zhao Hai.
After a few days, Ruan Yu returned to the Ruan residence to take over the responsibility of the Madam of the house. Ruan Zhu had also fundamentally recovered from her illness by that time, and Nuan Chun arrived at the princely residence from Lu Yin Ge to resume his life as a bedwarmer in name only.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s vacation had ended and he began to be busily occupied with responsibilities. However, if he finished his work such that he could return home, then he would absolutely not stay overnight at the barracks.
The fighting at Cang Huang Mountain was even fiercer than before, and there were casualties on both sides. But with the use of the new weapons, the imperial army had caused the Red Eyebrow army to suffer disastrous losses, and the latter had no choice but to use a human wave attack. As the rebels were full of fervor from their newly-established war regime, they could still maintain the balance of war.
An unending stream of various goods were transported over–personnel; foodstuffs; military devices……
The war was active and did not care about the matters of the common people. Life proceeded as before, and the number of beggars on the streets had somewhat lessened. This was because the Emperor had, at the start of the summer season, provided seeds to allow a substantial group of people to return home and plant with.
On this night, Ruan Zhu was a little anxious, with the reason being that Steward Chen of the Prince of Qi’s manor was too insolent. He relied on his history of being an old servant of the Empress Dowager to not put her, his Master, into his eyes. And this morning, because of a trivial matter, he had given Nuan Chun a slap on the face.
She was still infuriated when recalling what happened this morning. When she had asked, it turns out Nuan Chun had been beaten on more than one occasion but continuously endured it silently. Lord Husband had said before that this was her home, so for what reason should a damned slave overpower her?
This morning, Ruan Zhu had assisted Xuanyuan Zong Zhi before he went to morning court, and because the time was still early, she then slept for another while. Just when she was accompanying Zhi Xi in the morning meal, the sounds of Steward Chen being foul-mouthed transmitted over from the outside courtyard.
“You’re just a fucking dog slave from a common family and you dare to manage this father’s business. How is this father talking loudly going to disturb her? With the doors closed, your family’s Miss is a Princess, but if she goes outside, who recognizes her? If the Emperor did not write an edict bestowing her a title, she would still just be a simple commoner. At any rate, this father was a popular man under the Empress Dowager’s hands.”
“I forbid you from speaking of my family’s Miss in that way!” Nuan Chun was enraged.
Pa! Nuan Chun had been slapped on the face.
“Fuck, dog slave, dares to speak this way to this father and have such dog guts. If I don’t slap you a few more times, you won’t have enough brains to learn from your mistake.”
Ruan Zhu had the wet nurse carry Zhi Xi back into his room and calmly strode to the courtyard. Her two eyes fixed onto the humiliator and became dark. In a flash, a furious fire that could not be extinguished ignited.
This gaze had caused Steward Chen to become greatly alarmed. Bowing his body, he mumbled a few unintelligible words and started to leave.
But how could Ruan Zhu have allowed him to leave? Striding forward a few steps, she had ruthlessly aimed a slap at his face that was like tree bark and with a lift of her wrist again, gave him two more consecutive slaps to the face. The crisp sound was resounding and her hand trembled with pain after doling out the punishment.
Steward Chen had been slapped until his face was on fire that burned with pain and anger. Which one of the servants in the palace did not deferentially call him ‘Eunuch Chen’ when they met him? And presently, he had unexpectedly been thrashed by a mere commoner. But despite his fury, in the end, he still did not dare to be too wanton with the Princess of Qi present.
Ruan Zhu coldly stared at him and directed towards Nuan Chun: “However many times he has hit you before, return them all back to him. If you miss a single one, you no longer need to follow me in the future and you can just hit the road. I, Ruan Zhu, do not want a cowardly man to be by my side.”
Nuan Chun was stunned silly before his face gradually turned red. As a result of him having been emotionally stirred, his nostrils widened and large bean-sized drops of sweat appeared on his forehead.
“Both of you come over.” Ruan Zhu pointed at Qu Gao and He Gua who were standing by in attendance next to the door and coolly said: “Push this slave that does not know repentance down onto the ground for me.”
Qu Gao and He Gua had long not indulged in Steward Chen’s insolence, and as soon as they received the order, they ran over like a swarm of bees and kicked Steward Chen down. Not saying a word, Nuan Chun advanced two steps and aimed a slap at Steward Chen’s face.
Ruan Zhu’s beautiful brows creased: “Too light. Use strength to violently hit.”
This time, Nuan Chun gathered his courage and then doled out two more slaps.
Hatred was all over Steward Chen’s face and he viciously aimed his stare over: “You have such large guts to dare hit a Eunuch of the inner palace. I will complain to the Empress Dowager!”
“Nuan Chun, continue.” Ruan Zhu thought for a moment. In any case, they have already hit him so why not hit him for their money’s worth? In any case, her Lord Husband was there to support her. Nuan Chun saw that the other had spoken rudely and angered his Miss and increased his strength as he aimed a dozen more slaps over. It was only after Steward Chen had coughed up blood and several of his teeth had fallen out that he considered it to be over.
Nighttime. It was only after Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had returned from the barracks that he became aware his wife had been wronged. Letting Nangong Xun gather the around one hundred people inside the residence to the courtyard, he then called for several servants to drag Steward Chen over. At this moment, that Steward no longer retained any of his previous might.
“Prince, niangniang, this slave was wrong. Earlier this slave had drunk some wine and this slave’s head was muddled and said some obscenities. In the future, this slave will surely not spout nonsense.” It was at this moment that Steward Chen realized he had been doted on by the Empress Dowager. In the end, he was still a servant and no matter how much power he had, he could never overpower his Masters.
“It’s late.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi lazily said a sentence. He and his wife sat side by side right in the middle of the courtyard and he indicated to her with a smile: “Wife, your Lord Husband will demand justice for you and let these slaves understand that you are inviolable in this house.” Glancing out of the side of his faintly cold eyes, he spit out a word: “Hit!”
Two imperial bodyguards immediately came over and viciously beat Steward Chen. The imperial bodyguards knew martial arts so their strength was not small. Steward Chen’s flesh became lacerated after just two of those hits as he issued wretched howls of pain. Not long after, the howls became fainter and fainter, and finally, there was no sound of activity.
“Prince, this servant has fainted.”
“Continue hitting.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi insipidly said a sentence.
The imperial bodyguards lifted up the planks again and ruthlessly slashed them down. Not a short while later, the Steward Chen underneath their boards had become a bloody mess.
Ruan Zhu could not bear to see this spectacle. The stench of blood assaulted her, courtesy of the wind. Her head whirled and she was so nauseated, she nearly vomited. Face deathly white, she swayed as she rose from her seat, one hand on her chest while the other hand waved about, as if it was trying to drive away the stench of blood.
“Wife, do not injure my son.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi picked his wife up in a princess carry and headed towards Wang You Hall.
Not long after they had just returned to Wang You Hall, a palace eunuch came to report that there was a man named Yun Shi Wei who was looking for niangniang.