☆ Chapter 108
里 | li |unit of measurement that has varied over time but has now been standardized to 500 meters (Wikipedia)
儿 | er |(lit. child) diminutive marker used as a form of endearment
Ruan Zi Xu kneeled inside the imperial study. None of the palace eunuchs that passed through the room looked directly at him, and he secretly snuck a glance at the Emperor who was still reading memorials, his mind gloomy. Last night, he had still been asleep when several first-class imperial bodyguards had suddenly appeared and requested he disembark. They had used ‘request,’ but actually, there had been no room for discussion.
What was this? Since they had already dragged him over, just say what the matter was, and if there was nothing, just quickly let him return home. Why give him the cold-shoulder? Did he want his life, ah! He had knelt for too long and could feel neither of his two legs.
The Emperor put down the last memorial and raised his head to study the person kneeling in front of him before calling for an eunuch to pull the man over. Picking up the cup of fragrant tea on his imperial table for a sip, he stiffened his face: “Ruan Zi Xu, do you know your crime?”
Ruan Zi Xu was lost for words. He had been gone for so many years, so if one said he had offended the Emperor, what was it in regards to?
“Responding to Your Majesty, this subject does not know which crime was committed and only knows that great contributions had been made. To travel thousands of li with painstaking effort and acquire innumerable good horses–if Your Majesty has said this subject has sinned, this subject is afraid it can only be on the fact that this subject treats our Tian Chu too devotedly.”
The Emperor slanted his eyes: “It seems there is still anger in your heart, correct?”
Ruan Zi Xu huffed: “This subject does not dare.” No one would feel well if they had been roused from sleep in the middle of the night and then made to kneel for an extremely long period of time.
During these years on his travels, he had experienced quite a bit, gained extensive first-hand knowledge, and had met with many countries’ influential officials and even their leaders. If he had been summoned by the Emperor before he had left on his voyage, he would have definitely have felt it from the bottom of his heart, but now, he only felt anger. Having just returned from several years of wandering the world, it was too sad that he hadn’t even had the time to see his two precious daughters, ah!
“It is only that you do not dare to be angry. Your heart is very much provoked, correct?” The Emperor snorted and then observed the man kneeling beneath him. The more he inspected him, the more displeased he became. They all said females married out but were sons not also the same? Two of his own sons were not even willing to listen to him nowadays.
The Emperor searched through the papers on his desk before throwing one over, indifferently stating: “Sign this document and zhen will let you return.”
Ruan Zi Xu swept his eyes over the page. There were three clauses: 1, Change Ruan Yu Ze’s name to Xuanyuan Yu Ze; 2, Have Yun Shi Yi withdraw from the position of principle husband and cede it to Xuanyuan Zong Zhi; 3, From this day forward, they must leave Guan Ju Villa and move the entire family into the Prince of Qi’s princely residence inside the city.
The more Ruan Zi Xu read, the more confused he became. Who was Ruan Yu Ze? Xuanyuan Zong Zhi–just from the clan name of Xuanyuan, could it be that he was of the imperial clan? But he only knew of one called Xuanyuan Min Zhi who had been injured by Ruan Ju while in Yu Zhou and had resided in their home for a spell.
“Carefully persuade your daughter when you return. Do not let her be stubborn. That is all, you may leave!” The Emperor drove him out.
Ruan Zi Xu dragged his two numb legs out of the imperial study and then retrieved that piece of paper for another look. He still didn’t understand and decided he would wait until he had returned to ask his oldest daughter.
Zong Zhi only stepped out from behind the screen when he saw his father-in-law had left the imperial study and expressionlessly faced the emperor: “Father-Emperor, this subject-son is very happy in the position as a concubine and is even more willing to continue to reside in Guan Ju Villa. This subject-son still requests you to withdraw your order.”
The Emperor’s face cooled: “Because of a woman you no longer wish to have even the position of heir?
Zong Zhi saw the Emperor’s expression wasn’t good but cupped his hands in a manner that was neither servile nor overbearing: “This subject-son has eleven brothers that all surpass each other. This subject-son is aware this one is lacking in skills and cannot assume the heavy responsibility of being the heir apparent. Furthermore, the Crown Prince is still……”
“Zhen forbids you from mentioning that disgraceful, vulgar bastard.” The Emperor suddenly flew into a rage and threw a high-quality ink stone from his desk onto the floor. Pa–the jade ceramic ink stone split into two.
The Crown Prince being infected with a shameless disease was already a public secret. As it involved the dignity of the imperial clan, no one dared to openly discuss the topic. But all of the influential clans and ministers of the imperial court clearly understood His Highness the Second Prince most certainly would lose his position as the Crown Prince.
Zong Zhi saw that the Emperor was incensed and asked to withdraw as it would not be good to remain any longer. Exiting the imperial study, he saw Xiao Zhou Zi and Zhi Xi waiting by the door with the Empress by their side. “Mother-Empress.” He gave a bow in greeting and then stooped over to pick up Zhi Xi.
“You are unhappy, Third Concubine-Father?” Zhi Xi very thoughtfully smoothed his wrinkled brows.
Zong Zhi gave him a full smile. He had saw this child being born, saw this child grow up, taught him horseback riding and archery, and recently, also invited a prominent scholar from court to be his Master. The affection he felt towards Zhi Xi was no less than the bond he shared with his flesh and blood Bo Yu and Bo Ya.
The Empress accompanied her son towards the palace entrance, speaking her thoughts.
“Your Father-Emperor is actually very concerned about the country of Jiang Shan that has no clear ruler in power. The nation cannot withstand the heavy burden if another Red Eyebrow Army were to revolt.”
The Empress had previously highly valued the Crown Prince. But after discovering he had been affected with such a disgusting illness, as a mother, besides disgust, she was inevitably also filled with heartache. Imperial physicians were sent to the East Palace to combine their efforts and treat him, but the conclusion was–it was already too late and there was no hope for a cure.
It turns out, after the Crown Prince had started developing symptoms, he was afraid the information would leak, did not dare to make a public announcement, and always stealthily went to a commoner medicine hall. As a result, his treatment was delayed. But in this world, how could there be walls devoid of ears? The Empress was full of resentment when she found out and called for people to cane the Crown Princess, who was beyond hope and cure, to death. The members of court saw the development and one by one, withdrew from the Crown Princes’s faction to stand with another group.
“Mother-Empress, this subject-son is not befitting of the position of heir. You should not forget the established rule of the imperial clan–in order to ensure the imperial bloodline remains pure, the Empress’s secondary husbands can only be chosen from within the imperial clan.”
“Then just have the ranks of the Yun brothers and Wang Jing Yan lowered to that of an escort. All of the children are commoners, without any qualifications whatsoever.” The Empress’s voice was ice-cold, her eyes slightly threatening: “An identical case has occurred before in Tian Chu’s history. Although their titles and honor has been removed, they can be compensated with material things.”
“Absolutely not. I cannot make it difficult for Zhu’er.” Zong Zhi’s eyes were insistent and firm. If he had to pick between the title of Emperor and his beloved woman, he would rather not have the throne.
“That is but the supreme position of Emperor with none above him. Have you lost your mind?” The Empress’s anger was undeniable: “Aijia not forcing Zhu’er to divorce the Yun brothers is already conceding. What more do you want?”
“Third Concubine Father, Imperial Grandmother, don’t be angry, Zhi Xi will recite Mother’s new poem for you.” Every time Zhi Xi went out, a relative or a friend would always ask him to recite a poem and the small child thought the Empress would also like it. In order to put a smile on her face, he cleared his throat and then recited in a bright voice: “Red lotus flowers wilting on the glossy autumn mat, I lightly remove my silk robe to enter a canoe. Who is sending a message among the fluffy clouds? Once the reply is sent, hung over the west is the full moon. Flowers naturally wither and water naturally flows, a kind of yearning with two points of useless woe. The emotion has no means of relief; unwrinkle the brows but in sorrow the heart drowns.”[a]
Strong longing oozed out of the poem. Little Zhi Xi naturally wasn’t aware of it, but Zong Zhi understood his wife’s heart.
The Empress paused, remaining silent for a very long time before finally sighing: “It is not incorrect to say Zhu’er is a good child. I used to hold a preconceived bias against her but have long come to see past that after everything that has occurred. My doing this is not targeted against her; it is truly in consideration of this country’s future.”
“Mother-Empress, this subject-son will not sit in that chair, and as before, there will be others who will make an effort for that seat.”
Ruan Zi Xu exited the south gate and ran into Xuanyuan Min Zhi. He knew this person. That year when the palace of Nan Ling had undergone changes, the man had escaped and even resided at his home for a while. Afterwards, he had quietly left without even any notice. According to Lu Piao Xiang, he was a prince with an extraordinary identity.
At this moment, he was still in the dark. Not only was Ming Zhi a prince, Lu Piao Xiang was also one.
Xuanyuan Min Zhi was proud and aloof and did not take others into consideration. He didn’t even show deference to his father-in-law. Without excessive chit chat, he directly sent Ruan Zi Xu into his carriage while he himself rode a horse, and the two returned to Guan Ju Villa, one in front and the other following behind.
Not long after the two had returned, Zong Zhi also came back with Zhi Xi.
As soon as Ruan Zhu heard her father had returned, she hastily straightened her appearance that Yun Shi Wei had messed up and searched for a stylish purple light skirt to change into before following her husband out of Yi Zhu Cottage and towards the main hall.
Midway, they just so happened to run into Jing Yan, who had returned from the Ministry of Agriculture, and a little while later, came across Zong Zhi entering the residence from the main gates with Zhi Xi. Ruan Zhu reached over to take Zhi Xi from Zong Zhi’s arms and the entire group headed towards the main hall. They hadn’t yet reached the reception pavilion when sounds of laughter drifted over from the open doors.
“Pa, this is Ruan Yu Ze, our Ruan clan’s child, your grandson, and also the lifeline to continue the Ruan clan that you had been hoping for all of these years. Eldest Sister said the name ‘Yu Ze’ is what we will temporarily call him and if Papa returns and finds it inappropriate, you can then give him one that you are satisfied with.”
Ruan Yu lifted the three-month old infant from the wet nurse’s arms. Qi Shao Hua was worried she would pull against her belly and the child within and rushed over to support his wife’s arm.
The heir of the Ruan clan! This happiness was no small matter for the Ruan clan–they finally had a successor who could continue the genealogy!
Ruan Zi Xu’s hands slightly trembled from excitement as he took his grandson and looked at that pink and dewy small face. Remaining silent for a very long time, the rims of his eyes became moist. “Yu Ze–this name is good. The children of this generation of the Ruan clan will share the name ‘Ze’ so there is no need to change it. It sounds very nice.”
Ruan Yu brought her several secondary husbands forward to perform the rites before her father and spoke of their individual clans and careers. Ruan Zhi Xu was pleased: “Yu’er is capable to even have the young masters of officials as your concubines. It would appear our Ruan clan is flourishing.”
Ruan Yu smiled: “Pa, you jest. How could I compare to Eldest Sister? She has caused two princes of the imperial clan to fall into her hands and gave birth to quite a few dolls. Pa, the child you are holding in your arms is one of them.”
He only remembered Xuanyuan Min Zhi at this time. Could it be the Prince had developed good feelings for Ruan Zhu during the time he had stayed in the Ruan clan and did not mind the position of a secondary husband to accompany his eldest daughter for a lifetime?!
Because of the relationship with his wife, Min Zhi cupped his hands in greeting towards his father-in-law and that could be regarded as performing the rites. Ruan Zi Xu rushed to return a hasty greeting in return because even if the other was his own son-in-law, he still came with an appellation of ‘Sir.’ How could he possible allow the other to be on ceremony with him?
“Does Papa still remember Brother-in-law Piao Xiang?” Ruan Yu giggled and saw her father blankly nod: “Brother-in-law Piao Xiang is not your average person. He is the current Fifth Prince Xuanyuan Zong Zhi and Brother-in-law Min Zhi’s biological brother.”
But these two biological brothers were indeed amusing as their order had been thrown into disarray after entering the Ruan clan–The younger brother had become the third husband while the older brother was the fourth.
Ruan Zhu stood by the entrance while holding Zhi Xi. Seeing the lively atmosphere inside, she stole a look at Shi Wei and suddenly felt her emotions stirring. If only Shi Yi was also present, then the Ruan clan could be considered reunited.
During the meal, four respectable men sat by Ruan Zhu’s side. Two of them were princes, one was a son of the prime minister, and one was a famous young general who had just returned from the battlefield. Nuan Chun was not qualified to have a seat so he stood behind his mistress to wait upon her, happiness filling his entire face, seeming to take pleasure in his job.
Ruan Zi Xu was still holding Yu Ze with a distracted expression. He had urgently headed north towards Lan Zhou the day after his ship had arrived in Wan Zhou. Along the way, there had been officials who had known of his outstanding deed to purchase horses for the imperial court, but knew nothing of his origin, much less of matters regarding his clan. When he had finally returned to Lan Zhou all dusty and travel-worn, he had then been invited into the imperial palace by the Emperor.
He suddenly recalled a matter that was far from good. In the imperial study, the emperor had asked him to sign a document with three clauses……He looked around at the harmonious family and decided to defy the imperial decree.
Ruan Zhu observed her father who cut a lonely figure, her expression thoughtful. Was it time she welcomed Madam Ruan back?
When the meal was over, it was already very late and the children had all been carried by their wetnurses back to their rooms to sleep. Ruan Zhu had already arranged Ruan Zi Xu’s living arrangements a month prior and called for Xing Yun to show him the way.
Because she had drank an extra two cups of Xifeng liquor, her feet were a little unsteady when she headed back towards Yi Zhu Cottage. “Wife!” Zong Zhi was just about to steady her with his hand when Shi Wei picked her up and strode towards Yi Zhu Cottage. Zong Zhi thought for a moment and soon followed. He normally wasn’t this meddlesome, but he had the faint inkling his wife had something she needed to get off her chest.
Min Zhi and Jing Yan soon caught sight of them and also followed.
Yun Shi Wei placed his wife on the bed while he himself headed towards the bathroom to bathe.
Ruan Zhu rested on the bed while Nuan Chun removed her clothes and wiped her down with warm water. After he was done, her body felt soft and her mind extremely dizzy, like all the wine had rushed to her head. She burst out laughing: “Nuan Chun, what are you being so diligent for? Don’t tell me you want me?”
“Eldest Miss, you should accompany Second Master Yun tonight……”
“Hehe, you’re trying to trick me again. Second Master Yun is still fighting the rebels ahead so are you saying you want me to go accompany him in the battlefield?” She grabbed at Nuan Chun’s robes. Perhaps she had become familiar with removing a man’s clothes from doing it so often as Nuan Chun became stark naked a mere moments later. “Nuan Chun, yours isn’t small, ah! Why have I always thought you were small? Ai, compared to Min Zhi, you really are a bit small. Come here and let me make you big!”
She stretched a lewd hand towards the man’s most secret place and sure enough, proceeded to make him big as she said she would……
Nuan Chun separated his mistress’s legs and attentively wiped her with a moist towel. Seeing her pink petals, his right hand that was holding the towel couldn’t help but to tremble and as if possessed by demons and gods, he leaned over to kiss……
“Ah!……Nuan Chun, harder……so good……”
Yun Shi Wei exited the bathroom just to see this scene. “Zhu Zhu, why do you have no honor when drunk? If I had known you were drunk to this extent, I would have stopped you.” Halting at the front of the bed, he hugged her upper body and rested his head against her chest, taking one breast into his mouth.
Ruan Zhu dizzily gasped: “Eh? Second Cousin, you’re back? But why aren’t you wearing any clothes? Ah! I can’t! Nuan Chun, harder……” Ruan Zhu suddenly shivered.
[a]《一剪梅·红藕香残玉簟秋》A Sprig of Plum Blossoms·Red Lotus Flowers Wilting on the Glossy Autumn Mat is a poem by the Song dynasty female poet Li Qing Zhao. It’s about a wife’s longing and deep love towards her husband who is on a long journey. The poem is known for its elaborate emotion and unconventional rhythm.