Edited by Halley
Chapter 7: Matters of the Past
I was not angry with Yu Ying’s ‘slip of the tongue’. However when I heard about this matter, I was indeed surprised.
Wei Tan was twenty-five years old this year. Over these years, he had not married and I have not heard of him taking in any concubines. I was once perplexed but did not know about his past with Empress Xu.
My train of thoughts started to expand.
Was this due to Empress Xu? Wei Tan liked Xu Ping wholeheartedly yet Xu Ping had married the Heavenly Son, thus he was broken-hearted and remained unmarried all these years but at the end turn to a crazy despair in the face of a blemish and married me, a woman of second marriage?
I tried to recall the scene of the wedding ceremony. Wei Tan was so drunk that he was unable to consummate the marriage. On the second day, he looked per usual and when he spoke to me, there was only slightly more familiarity than passersby… Now upon thinking about it, all these small hints and clues were indeed very thought provoking.
Most importantly, how did Wei Tan view his previous lover, Empress Xu?
That night, I laid on the bed underneath a brocade quilt but my eyes were looking at the swaying shadows of the trees, somewhat lost in thoughts.
Actually I thought of another person, a person who had waited for me for many years but ultimately did not want me.
He was my previous fiancé, Pei Qian.
By the world’s definition of a beautiful male, first and foremost, one’s complexion had to be soft and pale, and the eyes had to be warm. Overall, the person’s appearance had to be like a piece of jade, pleasing to both the heart and eyes.
And these conditions, be it my previous or current husband, would not be relevant at all.
But Pei Qian was such a person.
He was literate by the age of three, capable of poetry at the age of seven and by twelve, he was known for his good appearance and eloquent mouth in Chang An. When people mention Gentleman Pei of the Grand Scribe family, there would be an expression of elegance on their faces.
My Father was good friends with Grand Scribe Pei, thus there were many interactions between both families. On the Flower Festival, when I was five years old, I saw flowers on the corner of Pei Qian’s clothes and reached out to pluck it as I had like it. Pei Qian was in a sorry condition after I messed with him the whole time. However the adults were laughing happily. Mother carried me up and joked with Mother Pei, “Ah Jin likes your son so much, why not let your son be my family’s son-in-law.”
It was meant to be a joke but both families became exhilarated that with a toast during the banquet, Pei Qian, who was six years older than me, became my fiancé.
Towards this fiancé, which came from a joke, I indeed liked him a lot as he had a good temperament, he would not rebuke when scolded and would not retaliate when hit. He had a wealth of knowledge and would also bring me to catch crickets. From when I was five years old, I learned to call “Ah Qian, Ah Qian” as I followed behind him and let him bring me out to play.
There was an advantage for being famous from young as he had gotten his headgear at the age of seventeen and gained a courtesy name, Ji Yuan. From then onwards, others would call him ‘Gentleman Ji Yuan’.
Only I would continue to call him ‘Ah Qian’. No matter if it was in front of others or not, Ah Qian was mine alone.
Pei Qian was famous and there were numbers of admirers. Many people would be jealous of me because of this and even Yu Ying and those noble daughters who played together would often discuss in private that I am not compatible with Pei Qian.
In truth, it was indeed somewhat incompatible.
When Pei Qian’s talent started to weave through Chang An, I was still a little girl and would not even reach his shoulders when I stood beside him. Even though one’s period came afterwards and one’s features had blossomed, upon standing next to the handsome Pei Qian, I still looked like a little girl.
However I was indifferent towards it as growing up was something that was far-fetched for me. Even if I did not grow up, Pei Jian would definitely still stay by my side.
When he saw that I was trying to be unique with my mismatched clothes, he would burst out laughing uncontrollably.
As he listened to me ramble on about borrowing his favourite white horse to pull the carriage, he would show an expression of disdain at wasting resources and rolled his eyes at me.
He would also shake his head at me resentfully for failing to meet his expectations when he heard that I had sold the plum bottle for a hundred and fifty coins and knocked my head with his knuckles, “Silly girl. That plum bottle is worth more than one hundred and fifty coins. There would be people fighting for it even if you sell it for ten gold.”
He would lock himself at home on the eve of the New Year’s to carefully engrave two identical peach wood charms, one for him and the other for me. On the surface of the peach tally, there was a ‘Jin’ word and a ‘Qian’ word carved together.
He hugged me and whispered helplessly into my ear, “Ah Jin, quickly grow up alright?”
However in the end, he did not wait for me to grow up.
When I was fourteen, Father’s difficulties in court had gotten bigger and more serious and the situation turned perilous. Pei Qian’s father made a prompt decision and personally came to the residence to withdraw the engagement. Not long after, Pei Qian married another noble household’s lady.
On the day of his marriage, I purposely stood on the path that he would pass and watched as he led the bride’s carriage over. As he saw me, he did not hide the shock and complicated feelings in his eyes and his handsome and elegant face became stiff and pale.
I remembered staring straight at him with eyes full of tears. At that time, I had looked at him, hoping in my heart that he would jump off his horse and hold me as he apologised ‘Ah Jin, I was wrong, don’t be angry. I only want to marry you…’ But he did not do it after all. He turned his face to the other side and became unfamiliar, just like a passerby.
In the end, even Ah Yuan could no longer tolerate it and scolded, ‘ungrateful villain’ as she pulled me away.
I closed my eyes.
For so many years, I deliberately did not think about it but when one occasionally touched upon it, even if it was just a little bit, it made my heart very uncomfortable.
Forget about it… I whispered to myself, just like what Mother said that year.
“Just now Older Brother came to inform me that Father can now cook for himself.” Ah Yuan said to me with smiles on the next day, “He also said that Father refused to let him stay in the house and look after him, and ordered my brother to head out and look for things to do.”
“Oh?” I nodded my head, “This is good news.”
Before Li Shang had entered the Fu residence, he was the manager of a large merchant place in JiangNan and was talented in managing goods. However that merchant was a compulsive gambler and had lost all his wealth and thus sold Li Shang and the rest of his servants.
I had once enquired about the housing and daily expenses of the households in Yong Capital. I roughly calculated, the gold given during our last meeting would probably have been used up by now. Thus, I took out the three hundred coins I have in my box and gave it to Ah Yuan.
“Ah! Don’t! Don’t!” Ah Yuan became anxious and her face was flush red, “Furen, I did not have any intention of asking for money. My Father does not allow us to accept any more of Furen’s items.”
I smiled, “This money is not just for you. Pass this money to your father and after he recovers from his illness, request him to take a look at what business is suitable in the Yong Capital.”
“Business?” Ah Yuan was startled, “What kind of business does Furen want?”
“Everything works.” I continued, “As long as the business is dependable and able to profit.”
“Furen wants to earn money?” Ah Yuan’s eyes widened in shock and suddenly looked around before whispering, “Furen, this is not Chang An.”
“I know.” I raised my brows, “So what about it?”
She was referring to the past matters in Fu residence.
The sons of the Minister Fu of Education were all educated and resourceful and would be able to spout literary works with great magnanimity. However not many people knew that his youngest daughter disliked studying and her literary talent was average but had a special liking for those noble scholars who would not spare a glance at money and wealth.
When I was five, there was once when Li Shang brought the accounts for Mother to see. I was at the side seeing all those vertical bars of numbers and felt very interested, asking questions after questions. From then onwards, every time Li Shang came to hand over the accounts, I would definitely be present. When I was twelve, Mother had already thrown the accounts that gave her countless headaches to me to check.
Afterwards, I felt that accounts were not addictive enough and would often come up with ideas to collect Older Brothers’ and my old things that were no longer used and sneaked out of the residence to the market to sell. This was an immensely gratifying thing. It was not because I was making money but because when selling things, there would always be bargaining, which was immensely fun. At times, I would be overjoyed for the entire day due to the extra two coins earned.
Older Brothers were dissatisfied with my hobby and Eldest Brother once threw away all my abacuses in a fit of anger. I ended up feeding his precious Ferghana horse laxatives and he made a fool of himself during a scenic tour. However, Father was very tolerant of me. When Eldest Brother complained to him, he said with a smile that the family lacks nothing except for one who knows calculations and now it was complete.
Those years ago, I was so encouraged by Father’s words that my tail was raised towards Heavens. I even planned to target those females that admired my Older Brothers to jawk for a chance encounter or outing and would charge them three hundred coins for each one. Unfortunately this thought was still at its infancy when the Late Emperor’s knife fell and it could never be implemented…
Ah Yuan still felt that it was inconceivable and frowned, “Furen has already married into the residence of the Prime Minister and still wants to do these things?”
I did not explain, “Just pass it on to your father.”
Ah Yuan’s face was filled with suspicions as she complied and walked away.
When Li Shang heard what I asked him to do, he also had the same reaction as Ah Yuan but he did not object to it. He instructed Ah Yuan to tell me that he would complete it as soon as possible.
Afterall it was done behind the Wei family’s back, I was exceedingly careful. Ah Yuan once served in the Fu residence and knew the subtle relationships between the servant and master family and thus handled it very cautiously. After she passed the money to Li Shang, she no longer went back. From then onwards, if Li Shang had any news, it would be written on a paper and brought into the Prime Minister residence by the servant who brought in firewood and Ah Yuan would go to the kitchens to collect. For safety purposes, coded words were used in the letters so one would literally be unable to read what was said on the letter at all.
Our sneaky actions made me feel nervous and funny. One feared that even if one got caught by the Wei residence people and said that I am a spy, I would not be able to dispute even with a hundred mouths.
Li Shang handled it very efficiently and after dispatching Ah Huan to wander around Yong Capital for about half a month, he sent me a letter indicating his preferences for a few businesses.
After reading the letter, I felt relieved. As this kind of thing could not be written in a letter, that night I reported to Wei Furen indicating my wish to head to the temple at the north of the city to give offerings to the divine beings and also to pay a visit to an old friend that was seriously ill.
Wei Furen knew of the matter of me helping Li Shang to settle down and was somewhat hesitant. However she was one who always believed in the supernatural and with Wei Jue returning, she would pray devotedly every day. Thus, at the end, she not only did not obstruct, she even feared that I did not prepare enough offerings and specially instructed people to help.
With the permission from the matriarch, on the next day, I boarded the carriage and left the Wei residence naturally.