☆ Chapter 71
After their bath, they returned to the bedroom and the three people fell into a deep slumber while embracing each other.
Yun Shi Wei and Xuanyuan Zong Zhi woke up at the first glimmers of light as they did not have the habit of lazily staying in bed.
One went to temper his body and circled around the front of the courtyard to the back of the rooms several times as he practiced several rounds of Chinese boxing, allowing his muscles to stretch and loosen.
The other originally should have gone to morning court but sent someone to request a leave of absence for one day with the justification being he caught a cold. The men at his side all knew that the Great General Xuanyuan had never even sneezed before. ‘Caught a cold’–who was he trying to fool!
Ruan Zhu was still fast asleep. Performing such strenuous physical activities last night added with how she was currently pregnant made it hard for her to escape from becoming extremely tired.
But Ruan Yu had heard that her eldest sister had returned and was so delighted she didn’t even eat breakfast and directly ran to Yi Xin Residence. Her nature was one that was rather rushed, and as soon as she arrived, she tore off the other’s blanket: “Eldest Sister, how could you return alone? Quickly bring over my little nephew for me to play with.”
If Ruan Zhu was clear-headed, she would definitely say, When did Little Zi Xi become your toy?
She immediately became bewildered at having had her blankets pulled off. Rubbing her eyes, she clearly saw the person before her and them lowered her head to look at her own clothes. Fortunately, her two husbands had not forgotten to dress her properly before they rose this morning. She mumbled towards Ruan Yu: “I haven’t slept enough and didn’t I tell you that when you come over, you have to knock? Nuan Chun, why did you also not first inform me?” She remembered after she said that that Nuan Chun was still in the Prince of Qi’s residence.
“Eldest Sister has become muddled from all of that sleep. There isn’t anyone guarding the door outside.”
“No one on guard means you can walk in as you please? If……” Ruan Zhu nearly blurted out everything. If a husband and wife pair were in the middle of displaying affection for each other and you rushed in and saw, wouldn’t that make the others want to die of embarrassment and shame? The words were right on the tip of her tongue but she hastily swallowed them and corrected herself: “With such an impatient and unthinking nature, when you marry into your mother-in-law’s family, wouldn’t you be endlessly scolded?” Some of her previous world’s habits were truly unacceptable here; they could only be used with some of her more carefree college friends.
Ruan Yu snorted: “This lady does not value that sort of evil mother-in-law, hmph! If she dares to criticize me or order me around, I’ll sell her son off to some brothel to receive guests and I’ll live unfettered with my secondary husbands.”
Ruan Zhu’s eyes were wide. How had she not seen that this younger sister of hers was awfully avant-garde? “What did you come over so early for? Quickly leave, I still need to change.”
“When I woke up early this morning, I heard from Lian Xi that you had returned home in the middle of the night yesterday and I thought it was strange. Did you perhaps quarrel with Brother-in-law?”
Lian Xi was Ruan Yu’s bedwarmer. He conducted himself quite cleverly and was very attentive to his master.
“No.” Who did what with who, ah! But it was true that the two adult men did quarrel with each other. “I forgot to tell you–Second Cousin has returned from Lan Zou.”
“Of course I know Second Cousin has come back. He arrived yesterday evening all covered in dust on a horse. He didn’t even respond to my questions and hurriedly went to bathe; I don’t know when such a large man became so attentive to such things. When he came out after bathing, I was just about to ask him how Pa was doing in Lan Zhou, when he ran out after he found out you were staying in the Prince of Qi’s residence. That guy, ah, oh right, Eldest Sister, Papa’s fine, right?”
Ruan Zhu started sweating and was speechless from embarrassment. She had only been concerned about her hubby, Yun Shi Yi, and had actually never asked how Ruan Zi Xu was. In the end, a father was different from a husband; females went out and daughters that married were like spilled water, but fortunately, her father remained very concerned about her. Ruan Zhu was somewhat ashamed: “Papa’s health is very good. As soon as he arrived in Lan Zhou, he hurriedly opened shops. For details, you should ask Second Cousin later during the meal. I’m going to freshen up now, hurry and leave.”
Ruan Yu turned around and grabbed a random set of Ruan Zhu’s old clothes before throwing them at her: “Be quick, I’ll go send someone to bring in some water so you can wash your face. This lady is actually serving you; where the hell have Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing, those two bedwarmers, gone to?”
Her two husbands had yet to return from their morning exercises, and Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing were still in the Prince of Qi’s residence. Although there was no lack of servants that could attend to someone in the Ruan residence, she disliked the rough methods of the other servants in fiddling with her long hair. She voluntarily combed it into a long ponytail, washed her face, and then exchanged her night clothes for the old set that Ruan Yu had tossed over. She did not add any pearls or green jade and her attire was very simple, but it actually caused her to appear clean and pure.
Alone, Ruan Zhu walked out of Yi Xin Residence and thought to take a look in the front courtyard to see whether or not her son, Zhi Xi, had been brought over by the imperial bodyguards of the Prince of Qi’s residence yet.
Strolling to the long corridor, there was a tall, handsomely bright male figure leisurely standing there, enjoying the scenery.
She saw that he seemed familiar and fixed her gaze upon him–it turned out to be Xuanyuan Min Zhi.
Hadn’t this guy continuously hung around the Prince of Qi’s residence and refused to leave? She had not heard Ruan Yu invite him, so how could he appear at this place? Recalling the circumstance where the two of them had hid in the trunk together, she became a little embarrassed.
“What did you come to my home for?” She stopped two meters away from him.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi indifferently swept her a glance and then unhurriedly responded: “Could there possibly be a King of the Earth under the Heavens? I only know that this is the territory of the Xuanyuan clan. I am standing in my own land, yet you also have to care about this?”
“Then you can slowly stand there. I will not trouble you.”
Annoyed, Ruan Zhu walked away. Right when she stepped past him……Xuanyuan Min Zhi grabbed hold of her arm. At this period, Ruan Zhu was only three months pregnant and one fundamentally could not see any changes. However, her figure appeared rather well-rounded and her skin was incredibly soft as if she had been anointed with a layer of shiny, white gloss.
A trace of obsession was in Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s eyes. Holding onto her arm that was like warm and fragrant nephrite made him feel at peace and relaxed, and he couldn’t resist lightly stroking her tender arm.
Ruan Zhu became angry and struggled to get out of his grip. But her opponent’s strength was great and she was incapable of throwing him off. Plus, she was afraid that if she overexerted herself, it would only harm the baby in her belly.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi’s expression was very complicated. There was a hint of a longing to see her present in his eyes and his mouth opened a bit; however, he exposed a sarcastic smile: “Don’t all you women like being touched here and there by men? You had quite enjoyed it that day in the trunk.”
He even had the gall to bring up this topic. If it weren’t for his dirty tricks, she wouldn’t have been arrested, had even her shoes stolen, be forced to wear an old sackcloth that carried who knew how many germs, and nearly died from fever.
The corners of her mouth raised in mockery: “I remember you are unwilling to be too close to women. During Mao Er Town’s slave market, you were molested by quite a few women and even a male’s most private place was touched. Your current expression does not look to be too happy, and now that you currently have a tight hold on my arm and are refusing to let go, could it be that you like me?”
She had a deep impression of the slave market at Mao Er Town–the fat woman had felt him all over and had even lost a finger to his teeth.
The Xuanyuan Min Zhi at that time had been in such dire straits that it had truly frightened her and she had spent money to buy him yet he raised his temper against her. Giving him to Aunt Sun could be counted as a groundbreaking test to his life goals, right! As the saying goes, no pain, no gain.
“I, like you?” Xuanyuan Min Zhi flung off her hand, his eyes cold as he looked her up and down: “With an ordinary appearance and a low birth status, a commoner; what aspects of you could possibly attract me?”
This man’s mouth was too loathsome. Ruan Zhu’s arm had obtained freedom, and she felt too lazy to pay attention to him. Stepping outside the courtyard alone, she chanced upon Xiao San Zi who was coming out of the lateral courtyard with an accounts book.
Xiao San Zi performed the rites: “Eldest Miss, you have arrived just in time. This is the latest expenses of the kitchen. May Miss take a look to see what is incorrect or missing.”
“You should give this to Second Miss to see instead!” Ruan Zhu was unwilling to shoulder the stigma of taking power as soon as she returned to her maternal home, and asked him instead: “How did Xuanyuan Min Zhi come to be at our home?”
“Is it that man with the icy face?” Xiao San Zi thought for a moment, then responded: “He arrived together with Nuan Chun, and several of the Prince of Qi’s imperial bodyguards also came too. They all called him ‘Prince of Yong’ and even said he was some emperor’s third princely son. But this small one has never heard of our Tian Chu having such a Highness of that rank and also do not know if this is all just pretend.”
As a resident of the capital, many matters of the imperial family could be repeated in detail due to the amount of gossip in the streets. However, Xuanyuan Min Zhi had been given up for adoption to the country of Nan Ling at a young age, and it was only natural that Xiao San Zi, as a mere commoner, did not know of this turn of events.
“Nuan Chun has brought Zhi Xi back?” Unbounded joy flowed from Ruan Zhu. In the thoughts of a mother, her child not being by her side, even if it was only a period of one night, was akin to throwing her baby away.
“Earlier, when Lian Xi went to the kitchen to pick up some dishes, he told me Nuan Chun had led the Young Master and arrived at the entrance of Eldest Miss’s Yi Xin Residence but chanced upon Second Miss coming outside. Second Miss was so excited that it seems she immediately ran off with Young Master to Ping Lan Building. Nuan Chun was afraid the Young Master would meet with mishap and followed behind them.”
“Did Nuan Qing and the wet nurse not return?”
“It seems they have not?”
Ping Lan Building was Ruan Yu’s residence. As the building was inside a bamboo forest in the rear garden, the scenery was truly beautiful and it was possible to arrive there in a few minutes. But Ruan Zhu was unwilling to retrace her steps. If she were to meet Xuanyuan Min Zhi again, her head would inflate.
The Ruan residence only had this one road that led to the back courtyard. The other path required exiting through the front gates, then taking a detour to the street behind the residence and entering through the garden entrance at the corner of that street. She was without any other choice. Being so uncomfortable in her own family’s home, she sighed and proceeded over to the front gate.
In addition to the residence’s gate, if one turned left at the corner, there was an alley that would lead her to the back street. The way was very narrow–two people standing shoulder to shoulder could barely pass through. Because several meters away was another larger lane, this alley was, instead, unfrequented.
Ruan Zhu had just entered the alley when she saw a man and woman locked in a passionate kiss. Probably because they had just arrived and were anxious, the man had extended his hand into the woman’s lapel while the woman had also stretched her hand inside the crotch of the male’s pants.
No matter who it was that bumped into them, all would become embarrassed. Ruan Zhu was just about to leave when she suddenly caught clear sight of the couples’ faces and couldn’t help but to become dumbfounded.
The male was Nuan Qing and the female was Zhi Xi’s wet nurse.
Why were these two people together and when had this happened?
Ruan Zhu felt sorrowful and also like she had been betrayed by a loved one. But, she had to persuade her own heart. Nuan Qing deserved happiness of his own, and since she had not accepted him, the other had the right to choose.
But what if it were not her, but the previous Ruan Zhu, who saw this? According to the laws of Tian Chu, would she take them as adulterers and order them to be drowned in a lake? It’s not like that had not happened before. When they were still in Yu Zhou, Ruan Ju had a bedwarmer named Qing Yuan who had had an affair with Aunt Shen of the kitchen and had secretly had a child together. When Ruan Ju discovered this, she had furiously commanded people to tie him into a pig cage[a] and drown him.
The couple was still making out and had not discovered that they were being spied on.
Ruan Zhu withdrew from the alley and trudged back to the main road.
At the residence’s gate, she encountered her husband Xuanyuan Zong Zhi. Concern apparent in his eyes, he stepped forward and held her waist. “Wife, where did you go? I’ve been looking for you. I’ve brought back several imperial bodyguards from the princely residence. When you go out in the future, you must find someone to accompany you. They are all loyal and devoted and will absolutely protect you with all of their hearts.”
Ruan Zhu squeezed out a smile: “Let’s return to eat, okay? I’m hungry.”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi brushed her long ponytail, his eyes full of teasing: “My wife knows how to create poems, is proficient in music theory, and is even able to modify military weapons that she has never seen before. You are the most outstanding woman this husband has ever seen. But it turns out there are also things you are not good at; just look at how this hair was combed, ze ze……”
Ruan Zhu became shy at his words and her previous upset mood disappeared like smoke. She would not think of that and would not waste her brain cells. After a while, she would just think of a reason for them to leave the residence, okay!
Passing through the long corridor, this time it was rare that they did not come across Xuanyuan Min Zhi.
Ruan Yu had servants arrange a feast inside the bamboo forest. The imperial bodyguards from the Prince of Qi’s residence and the old servants of the Ruan residence had divided themselves into their respective workstations as they each had their own Masters to serve.
Ruan Zhu took Zhi Xi from Nuan Chun’s arms. The child was now nine months old–a soft and tender ball, as cute as white snow–and grabbed the drumstick that Ruan Yu had passed over, sending it to his own mouth. Ruan Zhu was worried he would have indigestion and shaved off all of the meat from the chicken leg before giving him the shiny bone for him to gnaw on. She used to a spoon to also feed him some easily digestible food.
The little guy switched between happily gnawing on the chicken bone and opening his mouth to eat the food his mother fed him. Eating so happily, his hands and feet moved with joy and he gurgled cheerfully.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi saw that while his wife was taking care of the child, she didn’t even have the chance to eat, and reached over to hold Zhi Xi, using a spoon to ladle some egg drop soup into the child’s mouth. Looking at Zhi Xi’s adorable cheeks, he then glanced at his wife’s belly and imagined what his own child would look like, a smile overflowing on his face.
While everyone was eating, Yun Shi Wei walked inside with his hair dripping wet. It turned out his body had been entirely covered with sweat after he had finished his Chinese boxing sessions. Afraid that Ruan Zhu would not like that, he had gone to to the washroom and dumped two basins of cold water over himself before changing into a set of clean clothes and heading to the bamboo forest.
With one glance, Ruan Zhu understood. Calling for Nuan Chuan to bring over a towel, she personally dried his hair for him. On her left sat Xuanyuan Zong Zhi and the seat to her right was empty. As soon as Yun Shi Wei knew that it was for him, he plopped down.
“Second Cousin, you’ve arrived just in time. I haven’t seen a trace of you since last night when you returned. Finding you is even more difficult than finding a corpse in the high seas. Quickly tell me about Pa’s current situation in Lan Zhou.” Ruan Yu had finally obtained an opportunity to ask about her father.
“Maternal Uncle has gone to Mongolia.”
When Yun Shi Wei responded in due course, Ruan Zhu and her sister both blankly stared at him. “Why?” They simultaneously asked.
“I don’t know what sort of demonic wind came over the imperial court, but they want to import horses from Mongolia. They said it was not good for officials to personally step in and wanted a merchant to acquire them. Simply absurd. How could something that is so difficult for the imperial court to settle be so easily solved by a mere merchant?”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi explained: “The war between the imperial army and the rebels would become more favorable if the cavalry could re-enter the fray, but Tian Chu does not have grasslands and pastures and cannot produce outstanding horses. It is even harder to import horses from Mongolia as horses are considered a strategical resource and only a few of them can be sent to Tian Chu. Several months earlier, the Emperor and his ministers proposed to send several businessmen that were at least a little familiar with Mongolia to enter their territory and use various means to obtain a herd of horses. Master Ruan was precisely one of those selected. After receiving the imperial edict, he led some merchants into the grasslands of Mongolia, and several months have already passed.”
“Will there be any danger?” Ruan Zhu and her sister looked at each other.
“Generally, under these circumstances, there should not be. Mongolia has previously always been waiting for merchants as they need Tian Chu’s silk, porcelain, iron pots, foodstuffs–many kinds of daily necessities.”
Ruan Zhu was a little anxious as she didn’t know when she would next be able to see this Father. She had lacked paternal love in her past life, and after crossing over, had always regarded Ruan Zi Xu as her close relative.
“Prince, the Empress Dowager niangniang has come to the Ruan residence.”
The head of the imperial bodyguards, Nangong Xun, strode into the bamboo forest, bringing along an utterly shocking piece of news that stunned everyone in the vicinity.