☆ Chapter 96
时辰 | sichen |time system comprising of 12 two-hour periods of the day; one sichen is the equivalent of two modern hours
There were several very well-known brothels on the banks of Lan River. Because Mei Qing Lou had two of the Four Great Masters in Lu Piao Xiang and Wan Zi Yu, they had continuously ranked first among all of the brothels. But several years ago after the departure of Lu Piao Xiang, their reputation had gradually decreased and their positional rank was then replaced by You Xiang Pavilion. However, the Pavilion’s Shen Zhong Yun was a useless one; female patrons flocked over because of his reputation but they never saw his shadow. As a result, they voiced their complaints and the Pavilion’s front courtyard was soon deserted. Their main bread-winning mister was not very popular so for a lack of a better option, the boss spent an enormous sum to buy Feng Qing Bai from Qi Meng Garden.
In consideration of the ruckus from last time, Ruan Zhu brought along Xing Yun and Liu Shui. Because Nuan Chun stayed in the residence every day taking care of steward duties and tidying accounts books, she was afraid he would become a fool from being stuck indoors all day and had also pulled him outside.
It was possible to travel upstream from Guan Ju Villa to You Xiang Pavilion and it was only a distance of twenty minutes, but the time frame was enough for Ruan Zhu to understand the origin of her younger sister’s gloominess.
“During that time we moved to Lan Zhou, I stayed bored at home every day because I did not have any friends so would often go to Ci Ji Hall to donate some clothes, silver, and whatnot. One day when I was exiting Ci Ji Hall, I wanted to stroll around when heavy rain suddenly poured down and I searched for a residence’s eaves……” Ruan Yu spoke up to here and lifted her eyes to peek at her sister.
“You can’t have met without any reason; there must some story here.” Ruan Zhu nodded understandingly and spoke on her behalf: “Thus, that Shen Zhong Yun also approached to avoid the rain?”
Ruan Yu gave her a displeased glance: “Shen Zhong Yun had already been there to avoid the rain. I was the one that arrived after.”
Ruan Zhu saw that she had stopped the conversation: “And then?”
“And then……and then it was avoiding the rain……When the rain stopped, we each went on our way……”
Ruan Zhu looked at her in surprise: “That’s it?”
“That’s it.” Ruan Yu looked at her in a huff and angrily said: “What else did you think happened? Don’t be so dirty-minded.”
She of course would not mention what she had experienced during that time. That man with such a simple and elegant air, in order to not let her be soaked, had yielded the majority of the space to her. His clothes had then consequently become wet on one side but he had still carried a gentle and relaxed smile.
The heavy rain had poured down for half a sichen; they had stood there together for half a sichen.
He had occasionally glanced over at her and her heart had been full of happiness as she could see that he liked her. Or at least didn’t dislike her.
Before they had parted, she had summoned her courage and clearly revealed that she would come again.
But afterwards, she had waited in front of Ci Ji Hall multiple times and never saw him.
She had never believed in love at first sight before and had thought it was just something in picture books used to trick little children. But since meeting him, she sometimes felt bubbly, sometimes dejected, like she was happy or sad, and she became troubled and perplexed by all of those moods and emotions.
She knew there must have been a reason why he had appeared at that time and she finally saw him one day walking out of a residence in the vicinity of Ci Ji Hall.
At that time, she had been on a carriage, and felt both excited and nervous, not at all like herself. She had instructed the coachman to trail behind all the way outside of the city and saw him enter a brothel on the banks of the Lan River with her own eyes. It was only after she asked around that she figured out which family’s courtesan he was–Shen Zhong Yun.
She had been extremely dejected at the time. Mother had accepted Wei Rong and it had caused her family to not be like a family.
Her parents had always argued to no end and she had never obtained a mother’s love since small. Her eldest sister had been framed and subsequently forced into a distant marriage at the young age of fourteen. For a mister of a brothel to appear in her life–thinking about it only filled her with dread.
You Xiang Pavilion was constructed by the water. The courtyard was not large but the building was very unusual and could be considered grandly magnificent so it was no wonder they could force their way into among the industry’s best.
Ruan Zhu handed several taels of silver to the pimp at the door and pulled her sister inside while Nuan Chun, Xing Yun, and Liu Shui hurried to catch up behind them.
The brothel keeper was a fifty-some year old man and once he discovered that two ornately dressed females in the prime of their youth had come and were also generous, he realized that they were wealthy patrons and personally came to welcome them. A big smile was on his face: “Have these two misses come here before or is this your first time? There are indeed skilled and mature men here, this little one will help you find some.”
Ruan Yu had never come to this sort of place before and inevitably was unable to let go of her emotions. Thus, she hid behind her sister and kept silent.
Ruan Zhu glanced him up and down a few times. He was clearly a rather old man yet dressed in a very flowery and flashy style with a large safflower next to his temple. The overall look was similar to a ladyboy seen in movies from Hong Kong. “There’s no need for that as we are not looking for skilled and mature men. We are searching for Shen Zhong Yun.”
The brothel keeper’s face changed: “So you are actually here to make fun of me. Forgive me for not having any martial arts to entertain you with. If there is nothing else, please leave; I still have business to do!”
Ruan Zhu indicated to Nuan Chun with a glance. Ever since this bedwarmer of hers found out his master had come to visit a brothel, his expression had been ugly. He threw several silver banknotes on the table, seemingly in anger. Ruan Zhu saw the brothel keeper was still hesitating and also had Nuan Chun take out a pair of glass vases and a glass mirror inlaid with precious stones on one side from among the packages they had brought along.
The brothel keeper’s eyes were shiny and he stretched out his hand but was obstructed by the circular fan in Ruan Zhu’s palm. She swept her eyes at him: “Call out Shen Zhong Yun or you will not be able to take a single one.”
The brothel keeper stared at the items on the table for a while before finally speaking after yet another moment had passed: “He does not receive guests. How about this small one replaces him with another mister for you two misses? The misters here are all very excellent. I can call Feng Qing Bai over; his talent and fame is not worse than Shen Zhong Yun.”
Ruan Zhu remembered that You Xiang Pavilion’s Shen Zhong Yun had been forced into the brothel by his parents and there was a connection between the two: “What is the relationship between you and Shen Zhong Yun?”
The brothel keeper was flabbergasted: “Everyone who comes here knows Shen Zhong Yun is my son.”
“Biological?” Seeing the other party node, she mocked him: “Oh, then your son is truly unfortunate.”
Father Shen became embarrassed and remained silent.
Knocks came from outside and a small manservant entered to report that Madam Huang from Lan Zhou’s prefectural magistrate had arrived in You Xiang Pavilion and was currently sitting in the lounge, demanding for Feng Qing Bai and Shen Zhong Yun by name to accompany her. Asking what Master would like to do?
“Madam Huang? Why is it her again? You go call for Qing Bai first to block her.” Father Shen was vexed and turned his head towards the two sisters: “My apologies, I still have some matters so will leave first. Please take a seat for a moment.”
After he had finished saying that to the two sisters, he opened the door and left while grumbling: “She really believes herself to be the prefectural magistrate’s madam. The men in her family had long been demoted eight motherfucking hundred years ago.”
The office of a prefectural magistrate was outside of a province’s official position. After the emperor had moved the capital, he had once again shuffled the ministers in his court, and two months ago, there was a large group of officials that had either been relieved of their posts or demoted. Lan Zhou’s prefectural magistrate sir Huang was among them. From a lower fourth-rank prefectural magistrate position, he had dropped two levels and was now a lower fifth-rank reader-in-waiting.
Nowadays, there were plenty of big fish in Lan Zhou, from the imperial family in the Ci Zhu Palace to every single official. A lower fifth-rank reader-in-waiting had neither power or authority, and there was not a single bit of advantage that could be had from currying favor with them. If Father Shen had not continuously reaped the benefits through Madam Huang’s constant visits to You Xiang Pavilion, he would have long ignored her.
Ruan Yu stood up: “Eldest Sister, let’s return to Guan Ju Villa!”
Ruan Zhu understood her feelings. Any person who discovered their sweetheart lived under this kind of circumstance wouldn’t feel well.
“Returning is also good.” Ruan Zhu pushed the door open and took the lead in exiting yet ran into an extraordinarily handsome man in the corridor.
Once that man saw Ruan Zhu, he immediately became stunned silly and completely forgot what he had come out to do.
“It’s you……the young Madam that recited poetry in the plum blossom forest.”
Only after he said that did Ruan Zhu recall that she had came across this person near the end of last year in the plum blossom forest–Feng Qing Bai. At that time, she had been put into a hard position by the prefectural magistrate’s madam and had been forced to recite poetry. It just so happened that he had also been present. Not even giving him a glance, she detoured around the man. She had come into contact with too many men, causing her to understand a principle that was precisely–if she did not have any feelings towards someone, then she should spend less time with them so that misunderstandings would not rise.
As for Ruan Yu, it was like she was afraid there were germs on his body as she avoided him in an even larger swerve. Because of Wei Rong’s situation, she extremely loathed all the misters from the brothel. If it wasn’t for her feeling so stressed about that name imprinted in her heart, she would have never stepped foot in a brothel.
The situation was very coincidental as Madam Huang just so happened to be lead upstairs by the small manservant at that time.
“Where have these untouchables come from to not even know to kneel when meeting this madam?” Madam Huang had been put on the spot twice by Ruan Zhu and had long hated her. She coldly stared at her and naturally would not let her have it easy.
“Audacious!” Not even waiting for Ruan Zhu to speak out, the two palace eunuchs at her side rushed forward. Xing Yun raised his palm and–pa pa pa–successively sent several slaps to her face. Madam Huang’s white and tender cheeks immediately swelled like steamed buns.
Liu Shui lifted his leg and aimed it at the bend in her legs, causing her footing to become unsteady, and she kneeled in the corridor.
Madam Huang had been beaten until blood dripped from her nose and mouth. She spat out a tooth and yelled out: “All of you are tired of living to dare hit someone with a title from the imperial court! My man is Lan Zhou’s prefectural magistrate and I am the prefectural magistrate’s madam!”
“Truly pathetic. You’re still thinking of yourself as having the identity of the madam of the prefectural magistrate?” Ruan Zhu advanced forward a few steps, a trace of ridicule found in her clear eyes: “Your man is currently a lower fifth-rank reader-in-waiting at the Imperial Hanlin Academy so based on that, you are the madam of a lower fifth-rank reader-in-waiting. However, even if you are madam of a fourth-rank prefectural magistrate, how many catties is that worth? In my eyes, you are nothing.”
The several attendants that had arrived with Madam Huang all panicked.
“Something extremely disastrous has just happened, the madam has been hit. Hurry and return home to have Master bring over some people to arrest the offender.”
“Master is currently not the prefectural magistrate; it’s better to go to the yamen and report this.”
“Let’s first tie up the troublemakers and bring them to the yamen.”
Father Shen was currently in a panic as Madam Huang had been beaten in his home. He could not assume this responsibility so he absolutely could not let these two young misses walk away free. As a result, he commanded the hired thugs in the brothel to intercept them.
The second floor’s corridor became clamorous and blows began to be exchanged between Xing Yun and Liu Shui versus the attendants that had followed Madam Huang. Both sides were a little skilled in martial arts and fought very fiercely. After a short moment, the outcome of the battle couldn’t be seen.
“I will kill you!!”
A bellow of rage suddenly sounded out and a young male with an ugly appearance wildly charged at Ruan Zhu with a piercing dagger. Nuan Chun was right by her and instinctively raised his hand, waving it. The edge of the blade slid over his skin and he only felt a chilly sensation.
Ruan Zhu saw a dazzling spray of blood fly–Nuan Chun had been injured.
The knife-wielding assaulter was actually Wei Jia!
After his face had been carved by the magistrate of Shun Tian Hall, he had been sold to a brothel. Everyone here ignored him and he was often mistreated by some perverted female patrons. Every day was like death and the hatred that he felt towards the members of the Ruan clan was a loathing that was engraved in his bone marrow.
Seeing this, Ruan Yu became unspeakably anxious but she had been besieged by the hired thugs of the brothel and had no means to get away.
Seeing that Wei Jia seemed to have lost his mind, Ruan Zhu ran while pulling Nuan Chun. During this incredibly desperate situation……Feng Qing Bai rushed out of the room, lifting a mahogany chair in his hands and smashed it down on Wei Jia’s face. This one blow was with all of his strength and no one would have been able to bear it.
Wei Jia didn’t even make a sound as he fell down the stairs, dying on the spot.
Ruan Yu saw that her sister was now free of danger and released her breath but suddenly felt pain in her ribs. It turned out she had borne the brunt of a kick and she staggered forwards a few steps, just about to fall. She vaguely sensed a person dashing over and pulling her into his arms.
“It’s you!” The emotions that Ruan Yu had suppressed for a long time stirred as she directly stared at the man close at hand.
“Don’t be scared, I’ll take you away from here.” Shen Zhong Yun hugged the woman in his arms. Toes pressing against the ground, he flew downstairs and then with another tap, made a few more leaps and left You Xiang Pavilion in a blink of an eye.
Ruan Zhu saw that her younger sister had been taken away and the color in her face immediately changed. Feng Qing Bai explained: “It’s fine, it’s fine. He’s Shen Zhong Yun, our young master. The man is very good.”
So it turns out that man was precisely Shen Zhong Yun! From the side of her eyes, she saw that blood was still trickling out from Nuan Chun’s wrist and immediately became frightened out of her wits. She hastily used her fingers to feel Nuan Chun’s pulse. Having lost this much blood, she was afraid a major artery had been injured.
Liu Shui threw off his attacker and angrily said: “All of you blind and wicked civilians! Our family’s niangniang is but the Prince of Qi’s imperial consort and the current Emperor’s daughter-in-law. If by chance a single strand of hair of hers is lost, all of you in the brothel will pay with your life!”