☆ Chapter 82
里 | li | unit of measurement that has varied over time but has now been standardized to 500 meters (Wikipedia)
Ruan Zhu placed the twins on the bed and one at a time, personally nursed them. Though there wasn’t enough milk for them to drink, it was still better than nothing and was also able to nurture their relationship.
The rich ancient families had a multitude of children and because the mothers were pampered and frail, wet nurses had to be hired after a child was born. After a long time, the dependence the child felt towards their wet nurse would exceed what they feel towards their mother. Ruan Zhu absolutely would not allow that scenario to happen. Watching the little mouths incessantly sucking, her heart was packed full of blessed happiness. Her husbands were all more capable than one other and also treated her well. Nowadays, her children were all sound and her sole regret was that Yun Shi Yi was not by her side. If she could return to Lan Zhou a little earlier, then all would be good.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi stepped inside the bedroom and saw this precise warm scene. Striding over to the head of the bed, he picked up the children and pressed kisses upon them for a while before calling for their wet nurses to come in and take care of them.
He led his wife to the study: “Zhao Hai was paraded through the streets yesterday on the wooden donkey and finally died atop it when evening approached. His corpse has been pulled outside the city for burial.”
Ruan Zhu had heard the servants discussing this, and it could be considered the true removal of the stone that had continuously been suspended in her heart and thoughts. Via the Internet in her past life, she has seen some information regarding the punishment of riding a wooden donkey. It was extremely inhuman and could be described as cruel and merciless. She had not gone to the streets to see the noise and liveliness as she was precisely unwilling to look at that sort of spectacle.
“There is one thing that is very strange. When Zhao Hai was being lifted out of prison by the bailiffs, they unexpectedly discovered he had no tongue.”
“No tongue? Why, don’t tell me it was cut off by someone?” She had only made him mute.
“Who cares who cut it off. The most important thing is that Zhao Hai, that man, has now completely disappeared from our sight and we can now be free of worries.”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi was sitting atop the taishi chair. With a pull of his arm, he perched his wife atop his leg and pressed a long kiss against her red mouth. Thinking it wasn’t satisfying enough, he tore open her lapel and fondled the lovely soft mounds inside. Unexpectedly, a little milk dribbled out. His heart squeezed while his eyes darkened,and he couldn’t help but to bury his head and suck.
Ruan Zhu had been teased until she was very much enamored, but they were only separated from the wet nurses and their children through a door, and it would not be good if they were to hear the sounds of them doing it. Restraining her physical desire, she pushed aside his head and straightened her lapel.
“What?” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi was very unhappy.
“That……there is something I am very worried about.” In order to divert his attention, Ruan Zhu told him about how she had met the Prince of Dai yesterday at Princess Long Yuan’s residence. “The Prince of Dai is the Empress’s secondary husband and I’ve heard that he is also quite favored. Look, doesn’t this mean that I have even offended the Empress?”
“The Empress is not the biggest authority in the entire harem so what are you so worried about?” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi lazily responded: “Is not the old Empress Dowager still there? The elder’s impression of you is not bad, hmm?”
“That is true.”
After coming once to the Ruan residence, Empress Dowager Zheng became addicted and would run over every few days. Using her words, the palace was ‘damned stuffy’ and the Ruan residence was filled with spirit. The elder was really troublesome and Ruan Zhu frequently had to coax her children into doing some tricks to try and please her.
“The Empress Dowager is the master of the inner palace. When she is angered, her dragon-headed cane will swing and even Emperor-Father will suffer terribly. That’s why ah, my beloved wife, you only need to nicely curry favor with the Empress Dowager as that will guarantee you a smooth journey in the future.”
Ruan Zhu teased: “The way I see it, how can the Empress Dowager be the only lord in the inner palace? All of you Xuanyuan clan members are super domineering. We’ve already agreed to give this time’s son to the Ruan clan and we haven’t even waited for my Pa to return from Mongolia when the paternal grandfather first sent down an imperial decree and snatched away the rights.”
Many times, Ruan Zhu would unconsciously blurt out some phrases and vocabulary from her previous life.
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had heard her slip-ups many times and was able to remain calm in the face of the unexpected. From the beginning to now, it had been one of her distinct charms that had so deeply attracted him, like it had brewed for a long time, and the longer it aged, the richer and more mellow her charms became.
“Ever since Emperor-Father became aware that I had secretly married a wife and even lowered myself into a concubine position, he sent men to investigate you. In the beginning, he was very opposed as he had wanted to wed the prime minister’s daughter to me. But the daughter of the prime minister is arrogant and impertinent, and just like Empress-Mother, disdains me for having stayed in a brothel before. How could I possibly be able to stand that kind of temper?”
“It has been hard for you.” Ruan Zhu hugged him and silently transmitted over her love.
“For Zong Zhi to be able to have Ruan Zhu accompanying me for a lifetime, this life is also worth it.” Warmth trickled into Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s heart and he spoke again after a while: “Emperor-Father genuinely approved of our marriage after you had improved the military weapons. He was in disbelief that a woman in her boudoir was actually a rare genius.”
“How am I a genius?”
“Emperor-Father’s and Empress-Mother’s marriage is not particularly successful, therefore Emperor-Father hopes I can be happy.”
“His Majesty treats you very well, ah!”
“I have said before that he has highly valued me ever since I was a child.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s face was dark and gloomy. If he hadn’t suffered from Third Brother Min Zhi’s persecution in childhood, causing everyone to believe he had burned to death within that large fire, perhaps the position of Crown Prince would have been precisely his.
Ruan Zhu was also thinking of this and asked him in a quiet voice: “Do you want to sit in that chair?” If he wanted to sit there, she would do her best to help him.
“My biggest desire is to be with you and the children forever.”
After he met her, thoughts of striving for the position of heir had weakened. It was lonely at the top and sitting on that chair at the peak was not necessarily easily done. Emperor-Father could be considered a diligent emperor, but a rebellion still occurred at the southern border, natural disasters and ** ravaged the country, and civilians were displaced.
“But you have such a sensitive status; even if you do not intend to compete, the others can also not just let you off, right!”
The fighting within an imperial clan was very bitter. If one was successful, one was called a king; if one was defeated, one was called a bandit, and losing often meant the ruin of their entire household. It was such that even after Li Shi Mi, that sort of golden monarch, had seized the title of Emperor, he still removed the trouble behind him and cleanly eradicated all of the children at Jiang Chen’s and Yuan Ji’s knees.[a]
“Your husband is not so useless that I am not able to protect my wife and children. Although the Crown Prince is powerful, it is not to the point where I cannot deal with him.”
“Big Brother Lu, I trust in your ability. Ai, I just feel as if I have offended the Prince of Dai and my heart does not feel well. After all, he is a close relative of yours.”
“In my heart, the only close relatives of mine are you and the children.” Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s eyes were full of deep emotion. He had been bitterly lonely when young, and after returning to the imperial clan, had been beset by constant war. Empress-Mother turned her back on him, and his biological father saw him as a chess piece, so to him, how luxurious and precious was familial love?
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi enfolded his wife’s hand and slightly squeezed. He didn’t know how many more of these intimate days–where nothing could come between them–existed as after they journeyed to Lan Zhou, there would be an additional Yun Shi Yi by her side. “Wife, make some advance preparations as the Emperor intends to move the capital to Lan Zhou before the rainy season arrives.”
“This sudden?” Ruan Zhu was surprised.
“It is not sudden–many different kinds of goods have already been moved to Lan Zhou as early as last year. Actually, it is not considered moving the capital; it is merely changing their city of residence.”
Xuanyuan Zong Zhi’s words were not without reason as Lan Zhou was the Great Ancestor’s birthplace, and the imperial palace and offices were all readily available. There would inevitably be emperors in successive generations who stayed in Lan Zhou for several years, and some even up to several decades, which is why Lan Zhou could be described as a capital.
“I worry the children are too small and are unable to endure the hard bumps of the journey.”
“I will arrange everything properly and have Imperial Physician Zhang be there to look after them at any time. Be at ease. The weather has warmed again and nothing will happen.”
“Are we taking a carriage or traveling by ship?” Traveling by ship would be much better for a destination that was so distant, right! There would be no need to stop to rest in inns, or if they were forced to stop for the night in a mountainous area and it rained, things would become even more problematic.
“Naturally by ship. That way, it will not be too terribly difficult and will also be better for you and the children.”
“En.” Ruan Zhu thought about how she could soon see Yun Shi Yi and two spots of light unconsciously revealed themselves on her cheeks. Xuanyuan Zong Zhi saw that she was happy and his mood immediately brightened. He only wanted her to be happy–who cares if it was because of Yun Shi Yi or Yun Shi Wei.
But in fact, there was not only just the Yun brothers. A pair of eyes that had been craving Ruan Zhu for many days now had caught wind of information that could be used against her, so how could he not firmly grasp onto this opportunity?
Preparations for returning to Lan Zhou were now on the agenda. With an entire household present, there was no need for her, Ruan Zhu, to personally take care of the matter. The Prince of Qi’s residence had Nangong Xun and it was enough for Ruan Yu to act as the master of the Ruan residence.
Moving was not a simple affair. Parcels and chests of items were packed onto carriage after carriage to be transported outside the city to the dock. The number of ships that solely belonged to the Prince of Qi numbered five or six.
Because the majority of the Ruan clan’s assets had long been moved to Lan Zhou the previous year, their share was very small. Just one ship was enough to hold the rest of their items with the lower hold for luggage and the upper for people to stay in.
Ruan Yu was unwilling to be separated from her older sister and her small nephew so she also boarded the Prince of Qi’s large ship. Hence, her own clan’s vessel was left to Steward Yang and Xiao San Zi to manage.
As the general of the guards protecting the imperial clan, Xuanyuan Zong Zhi had the responsibility of protecting the Emperor and could not board the same ship as his wife and children.
Yun Shi Wei was the commander of five hundred soldiers that in others’ eyes, were a group of rag-tag men who did not fit the atmosphere, and was only responsible for protecting the imperial family’s supplies. Thus, he was often free and unfettered and would constantly gather on his wife’s ship and enjoy the affection between a husband and wife.
Upon the vast mist-covered water, hundreds of boats followed the current and headed east. At the very front were the guards of the imperial clan who moved closely along with the Emperor’s several dozen ships. Since the Emperor needed to handle official business every day, the ships of the major court ministers trailed closely behind.
As a next of kin, the Prince of Qi’s ships were not far at all, and one could say that their ships could distantly face the ones of the Emperor’s. When one then turned their back, one would see a spectacular sight continuously stretching over several dozen li long. Like a crowd of ants creeping along the surface of the Chang Jiang River, there were all sorts of vessels and the majority of them were the civilians of the capital who were following the Emperor in relocating.
Ruan Zhu thought back on everything that had happened before. After her accidental transmigration had caused her to arrive in Tian Chu, the sole person who made her alarmed, Zhao Hai, was now completely eliminated from this world. Despite a few tribulations occurring, overall, she had lived this next life very satisfactory.
After Ruan Zhu had coaxed the twins to sleep, she walked out of the ship’s hold and immersed herself in the gentle breeze atop the water surface, enjoyed the rare contentment.
But not long after, little Zh Xi came over from who knows where and clutched his mother’s skirt, his entire face full of greivance: “Ma, I wan Papa, wide horsey.”
Ruan Zhu bent over to pick him up: “How many times have I told you, your Papa is called Yun Shi Yi and is waiting for us to return to Lan Zhou. Food can be carelessly eaten but Papa must not be be carelessly recognized.”
Zhi Xi’s small hand grabbed onto her lapel and he persisted: “Wan Papa, wide horsey.”
The day they had just boarded the ship, the little guy had been full of excitement and scampered out of the cabin every day to watch the scenery atop the river. But not a few days later, he started to miss the joy of being held by Xuanyuan Zong Zhi as they went for a spin on a horse and stubbornly bothered her in asking for Papa.
Ruan Zhu was especially depressed: “I’ve already said that person isn’t your Papa. Is it that you don’t understand Mandarin? Um, that……can’t understand people’s words……”
A sneer came from her side: “Your native dialect is leaking through.”
Ruan Zhu whirled and saw Xuanyuan Min Zhi. Anger rose from within her heart and she retorted: “Mind your own business!”
This demon had continuously annoyed her ever since the day they stepped aboard the ship. It was like he knew of her secret and always chose some words that filled her with dread. She had reached a conclusion after careful deliberation that her conduct had been very careful, such that even her few husbands didn’t know. What infuriated her even more was that he had conferred himself the title of her family’s number four, seemingly as if he wanted to threaten her with this.
[a] Li Shi Min is the personal name of Emperor Taizong, the second emperor of the Tang dynasty, and he is considered one of the greatest emperors in China’s history, with a reign that is a model to all others. Jiang Cheng and Yuan Ji were his brothers, with JC being the Crown Prince while LSM and YJ were princes. All three brothers got caught up in the struggle for the throne with LSM coming out victorious and then killing his nephews. The Wikipedia page is very thorough, if anyone is interested.