My apologies… Did not set the post to release properly on Monday. 😦
Edited by Halley & Larkspur
Chapter 5: Labour Market
Wei Tan did not have many servants and all of them were brought along to the expedition. After the audience with the Heavenly One, Wei Furen instructed the steward to allocate servants in my courtyard.
Even though there was an abundance of servants in the Wei family, there was a shortage of maids. The steward asked for my opinion with great difficulty and I amicably replied that since it was the case, it was better to buy some from the labour market since I had not brought any maids over.
The steward complied and went over to report to Wei Furen. As there was no objection, the matter was quickly settled.
Upon receiving the reply, I felt that this Wei Furen was a thoughtful person. Mother had told me before that when a bride enters the family, there would be a distribution of belongings and one had to accept the flow of it. However personal maids could not be decided upon casually. In those years ago, I had not quite understood those words. However, with experience and exposure, the meaning gradually seeped in.
As humans, who would not have secrets? Especially among the nobles, there were many private transactions and those scandals that were exposed, most of them started from their servants. Of course, I did not prepare to do any bad deeds but in a totally unfamiliar household, I did not wish for my actions to spread to Mother-in-Law’s or to any other ears.
Wreathed in chaos and wars, there were many refugees around. It was not at all difficult to buy people and the prices were favourable even.
The Yong Capital today housed the Emperor and hundreds of officials, and as such, many wealthy households from ChangAn and LuoYang ended up moving over, resulting in a bustling labour market. The city was dirty, crowded and chaotic. All the males and females who were waiting for someone to purchase them were occupying the various corners. Some were neat and tidy, while others were unkempt. Some were even led by brokers, like animals.
There were also a number of buyers. Most of the wealthier masters would ride in a horse carriage or oxcart and through the thin bamboo curtain, if they took a fancy to any, they would send their servant to inquire.
The steward led a few obedient family servants along and protected my carriage as it rode through the market. As soon as one appeared, a number of brokers quickly gathered around.
“Furen! Buying servants? I have servants that are attractive and of top-notch quality!”
“Furen! Furen! Come and look at my side! These are all young servants from Yang Province. All charming and obedient!”
“It is better to look over at my side, Furen! These servants of mine are from LuoYang and used to work in large families! Furen, there are also some from ChangAn!”
“Oh, oh! Is Furen looking for older ones? We have all sorts! Those that have given birth before, raised masters before and can even help deliver babies!”
“Furen, there are also male servants! Strong and full of energy. They can be put on trial for half a month and one guarantees Furen will be satis…”
It was so crowded that the carriage could not advance and the steward had to shout to get the crowd to make way.
“Furen, are there any that you fancy?” The steward asked from outside the carriage.
“Take a look in front.” I said.
The carriage continued moving forward and there was an inexhaustible line of brokers. The steward had to look at them and also block them, making him very busy.
Suddenly, there was a wave of noise from the side of the road ahead, which was accompanied by crying. As the carriage passed by, through the bamboo curtain, I saw an angry male shouting. The person who was arguing with him seemed to be a broker and both of them were tugging a sobbing female, seemingly fighting over her.
My gaze landed on them and I quickly spoke, “Steward, stop the carriage.”
The steward told the servant leading the carriage to stop.
“Furen, is there someone you prefer?” The steward asked.
“Go and ask about the female that those two people are fighting over.” I said.
The steward was surprised but acceded and went over to enquire. Not long after, he returned. “Furen, this one has asked. That female and male are siblings. Their father is seriously ill thus the female is willing to sell herself to the broker for money to save her father. However the older brother came looking and asserted that he was unaware of it and insisted on bringing the female back.”
So it was like that. I then spoke, “Go and tell the broker that I will buy this female.”
The steward was surprised and hesitated, “Furen, there are still many people available in the market. Why not Furen look around for a while more? There is still some entanglement in this female’s family, thus one fears that there would be future implications.”
“It is of no issue.” I continued, “Go and ask the broker for the price.”
The steward complied and turned around to leave.
The quarrelling noises then stopped. I saw the joy on the broker’s face as he bowed to the steward. However, the facial expression of the female’s older brother changed greatly and he looked over. With a swing of an arm, he rushed over to the carriage.
The family servants by the carriage saw that the situation was not good and rushed up to block.
The male was so angry that he shoved the rest. Just as he was about to speak, I lifted the bamboo curtain.
When the two pairs of eyes met, the male saw me. His face turned from anger to shock and his mouth was frozen half opened.
“Ah Huan.” I said to him.
To the south of Yong Capital were narrow alleys. It was here that the poor and homeless gathered. Beggars were found everywhere, wailings rang through the air. This place was far more dirty and dilapidated than the market area. Straws were scattered everywhere, sewage water flowed freely through the streets. Flies accompanied the stench, several people, wan and frail, lay on the straw mats.
“Furen, one cannot stay in this dirty and chaotic place for long. It is better for Furen to return.” The steward frowned as he looked at the miserable surroundings and persuaded me.
Ah Huan, who was leading the way, turned around to look at me. He had a hesitant expression, seeming somewhat embarrassed.
“NuiJun…” He hemmed and hawed. “This place… This is not a place for NuiJun to be at.”
NuiJun 女君 is a higher form of Young Lady of Noble household.
“There is no harm. Let’s go.” I said.
Ah Huan’s house was located in a Zhang area (1 Zhang = 10 feet or 3.33m). It was better to call it a nest instead of a house. The small courtyard was covered with an awning, squeezing ten over families together.
“We do not have a place to settle down in Yong Capital and could only afford the rental here.” Ah Huan said softly. His younger sister, Ah Yuan, lowered her head and there were traces of tears in the corner of her eyes.
My gaze swept past the messy grass and faces and not long after, landed onto a grass mat not far away. Li Shang, the former steward of my family, was laying there with his hair unkempt with half of his face exposed under the dirty black quilt.
“Father,” Ah Huan squatted down beside him, and said with a choked voice, “Father, NuiJun has come to see you… Father wake up, it’s NuiJun…”
The side of the face seemed to have moved. I walked over and saw Li Shang’s sallow face as his eyelids slowly opened. His eyes had sunken in deeply, making those previously hale and hearty orbs seemed like two dry wells. However upon seeing me, there was a sudden burst of light in his eyes, like he had seen an inconceivable thing.
“Nui…” Li Shang’s dry lips parted and his voice was hoarse but he was unable to complete his words.
I leaned over and looked at him, “Steward, it is me.”
Those wan and sallow eyes suddenly burst into tears. Li Shang opened his mouth and suddenly cried out, “NuiJun… Nui…” He struggled to get up from the mat and seemed to want to bow.
Tears welled up in my eyes and I quickly stopped him, “Steward need not be so polite. Don’t get up.”
“NuiJun…” Li Shang looked at me with laughter and tears as he gasped, both his hands clasping my sleeves tightly.
As I nodded my head forcefully, I wiped the tears on my face and looked at Ah Huan and Ah Yuan, who were standing at the side.
They had already cried so much that their faces were wrinkled. After all, this was a reunion after a separation in life and death.
Ah Huan had told me that before the Fu family’s mishap, it was a coincidence that Li Zhang brought the siblings back to the countryside. When the grievous news reached them, a month had passed. Li Shang hid the siblings deep in the mountains at once and risked his life to return to Chang An to find out more. However, he had not thought that the residence of the Fu Family would be completely destroyed, that my Father, Brothers or clan members had not survived. Even though Li Shang found out that I was by the Empress Dowager’s side, he was unable to meet me and could only cry bitterly and return to the countryside.
As time went by, Chang An plunged into chaos and war erupted all around. Last year, their countryside was looted by rebels, the houses completely destroyed. All they could do was follow the fellow villagers to take refuge elsewhere. Unexpectedly there were bandits everywhere. Thus, the family of three lost all their money and had to beg their way to Yong Capital.
Without him saying so, I had known about the matters afterwards. The trio had no one to rely on after coming to Yong Capital and Li Shang fell seriously ill. Ah Yuan hid from them and sold herself and hence the incident at the labour market today.
I looked at Li Shang as he calmed down with Ah Yuan’s care. After the great joy and sorrow just now, his energy seemed to have depleted. He was currently in deep sleep.
One could not help but sigh in my heart.
Li Shang was loyal and had the talent to manage a household. This was why my Father had always respected him and did not allow the family to order him about like a servant. Even though he was already sold to the residence, Father permitted him to return to the countryside yearly, to pray to his ancestors. Because of the friendship in Father’s generation, the siblings, Li Huan and Li Yuan, were on very good terms with me. We had played together as children.
When he was in our family, Li Shang always had a smile on his face. Everybody in the residence spoke of Steward Li’s fortunate features. However, this person, now in his early forties, had been tortured by hardship and illness that he did not look human.
“Furen…” The steward walked over, he had a look of difficulty, “Furen, it is not early anymore. It is time to return to the residence.”
I nodded my head and turned towards Li Huan before taking out a small piece of gold from my sleeves and handing it to him.
Li Huan’s face changed and he quickly said, “NuiJun, this is not…”
“Take it.” I pushed it into his hands decisively, “Your father’s illness can no longer be dragged on. I will take Ah Yuan and you should search for the best doctor in the city to treat your father. In addition, this place is uninhabitable. Look for another place.”
Li Huan looked at me as his eyes turned red.
When I saw that he was about to cry again, I sighed. “Don’t be sad anymore and take care of your father.”
Li Huan nodded his head and rubbed his eyes before bowing to me, “Many thanks to NuiJun.”
I looked at him before looking at Li Shang, who was lying quietly on the straw mat. I did not speak any more and turned away to leave.