My apologies for posting it late…
Edited by Halley & Larkspar
Chapter 14: Flowery Scene
The evening breeze brought some smoke from the kitchens and the glow of the sunset reduced the light but made it exceptionally beautiful. I only felt that this beauty in front of me was familiar yet distant.
“You and I are not as old as bald and toothless, so why would one be unable to recognise you.” She whispered after a long time.
This was a joke that we once cracked. There was a day when we followed the elders of our families out of the city to Fu Rong Monastery to worship and saw an almost bald old lady burning incense. I stared for a long time before asking Ruo Chan if we would grow to be like that in the future. Ruo Chan had laughed, pinched my face, and said that she would not acknowledge me if I dared to grow that old…
Ruo Chan did not answer and there were no waves in her expression.
“Ruo Chan.” I stepped forward. “Are you doing well?”
Ruo Chan smiled gently, “So what if one is well or not. One heard that you are now Prime Minister Wei’s daughter-in-law. Is it so?”
I nodded my head.
“Better than me.” She sighed softly and looked at the skies after speaking, “I should return.”
“Return to where?” I asked in astonishment.
Ruo Chang smiled lightly, “The guests have yet to leave the banquet. Ah Jin, didn’t you see it just now?”
I was somewhat hesitant.
“Ruo Chan, you… Well, they said that Ning Xiang Guan is yours?” I asked softly.
There was a trace of ridicule in her smile.
“It is Yu Ying and the rest that told you.” Her voice was soft, “Ah Jin, do you think I am pitiful?”
“No.” I quickly said, “Ruo Chan, do you have any difficulties? I can…”
“Difficulties?” Ruo Chan laughter deepened, “Yes. There are too few beauties in my shop and I need to look for new people. Yu Sheng Guan, which has opened in the same street, is at its peak of popularity. I want to suppress them. There is also the city north’s Lord Jia banquet. I requested him to change the dancers to my people. Ah Jin, can you help me with these?”
I was tongue-tied.
Ruo Chan stared at me and a cold light radiated her makeup filled eyes.
“Ruo Chan… .”
“I am no longer called Ruo Chan. They all call me Matron Tao.” She said lightly, “You should return back to the loft, Furen of the Prime Minister’s Eldest Young Master. One cannot stand together with a courtesan like me.” Finishing, she covered herself with her fan and turned to leave.
My words were stuck in my throat as I stared at her back, feeling unpleasant.
The laughter at the other side was still cheerful and accompanied with the performers, it was ear-piercing.
I suddenly took a few steps to catch up and pulled Ruo Chan’s sleeves.
“Let go.” Ruo Chan turned back and spoke coldly.
“No.” The anger in my chest seemed to have found an outlet and burst out without going through one’s brain, “I did not offend you. Why speak such hurtful words! Do you think I am proud of myself? The Fu Jin in front of you has become a wife for the second time and one’s family has been destroyed. I have nothing left from the past. You want to listen to me say these? Wei Tan only married me because of my background. Do you think I will be proud of myself, using the death of my entire family to exchange for these? I can tell you that if I can exchange for my parents and brothers, I am willing to throw away my life!”
I said everything in one breath and my throat felt uncomfortable as I said softly, “If you think I am proud of myself then consider it that I have wrongly judged you!”
Ruo Chan looked at me fixedly, with her lips clenched but her eyes gradually gleamed with tears. She suddenly turned her head away and pressed her sleeves to her eyes.
Her action was rather familiar and when she looked up again, other than her eyes being slightly red, her makeup was intact.
“You have changed. If I had said something like this in the past, you would have cried before me.” She continued, “You would also not refute me.”
I bit my lips and did not speak.
“You have also changed.” I said after a while, “You would not say such things to me in the past.”
Rou Chan looked at me and in a moment, reached her hand out silently to caress the top of my head.
“Furen…” At this time, there was a shout from the side of the shaded river side. It seemed that Ah Yuan was looking for me.
Ruo Chan looked over at that side before speaking, “I should go. Must not let them see you talking to me.”
I opened my mouth but closed it again.
She was right. No matter what my heart thought, the world had changed. There was a wide gap between us, even though we were like sisters.
As if seeing through my thoughts, Ruo Chan sighed and gently held my hand before speaking softly, “It is enough that you acknowledge me.”
That pair of eyes glimmered slightly before Ruo Chan covered it up with her fan. She lowered her head, walked to the other end of the bridge and disappeared amid the shadows of the swaying flowers blowing in the wind.
“Furen!” Not long after, Ah Yuan appeared at the bridge and the anxious look on her face turned into relief upon seeing me. “I finally found you.” She hurried over, “Furen, Eldest Young Master has arrived and is in the front courtyard.”
I was startled.
What did Wei Tan come here for? I remembered that he had said in the morning that he had something on today. That posture of holding his head high and chest out, it was as if he would be busy till late at night, so why would he be free to come over?
I answered her and headed out of the gardens.
“Furen.” Ah Yuan took two steps and turned around to look before whispering, “I seemed to have seen Rou Chan NiuJun. She…”
NuiJun 女君 is a higher form of Young Lady of Noble household.
“Hush.” I shook my head.
Ah Yuan understood and did not speak.
Wei Tan was indeed in the front courtyard.
He was chatting with Lord Lu and was wearing the same long robes that he had gone out in the morning, a sword strapped to his waist. The lights were shining brightly and he stood strikingly among the guests with his cloud-like clothes.
I also saw Wei Lang and Wei Ci standing behind him, both of them were wearing red military garments, looking travel-worn.
The guests had already left their seats and come out of the banquet area. Upon seeing Wei Tan, many of them came up to greet, blocking the front courtyard and filing it with noise and excitement.
When Wei Ci saw me, his brows lifted and he nudged Wei Tan.
Wei Tan turned around and his gaze landed on me in the next moment. It was strange to speak of it but separated by so many people, it was like he had eyes on top of his head and already knew where I was without needing Wei Ci to point out.
There were many people around him and just as I was hesitating if I should go up, Madam Wang’s voice was suddenly heard behind me.
“Madam Fu.” She brought the servants along and quickly walked over as she smiled, “One heard that Furen went to the back gardens and I was about to search.”
This movement was rather big and many people saw it.
I could only go up with Madam Wang.
Lord Lu had drunk till his face was red and his hands trembled when he cupped them. “My humble house is barbarous. One has slighted Furen.”
“Lord Lu has shown great kindness. There is no need to say that.” I politely smiled before looking at Wei Tan.
He also looked at me, with the gentle expression that he had shown in front of the guests in Wei Residence.
“Can you return to the residence already?” He asked me softly.
I smiled gently and nodded.
The surrounding gazes all landed on me. I knew that many people were looking at us and many of them were officials and scholars of ChangAn.
Wei Tan certainly knew it too.
“With regards to Lord Lu’s birthday, by right the elders of the family should come but were unable to due to official matters. May Lord Lu understand.” He stood by my side without vestige and spoke to Lord Lu.
Lord Lu said in a hurry, “Why does Eldest Young Master say such a thing? Everyone knows that Prime Minister works hard for the country. Eldest Young Master’s and Madam Fu’s arrival has brought light to my humble dwelling.” Finishing, he ordered people to prepare the feast and wanted to invite Wei Tan to eat and drink.
Wei Tan declined, “Lord Lu need not trouble oneself. It is already late and this one came to fetch Furen back home. One has to go elsewhere and thus it is inconvenient to stay.” As he spoke, one of his hands reached out and lightly rested on my waist.
Although it was a small action, it was undoubtedly filled with intimacy in the eyes of others.
Lord Lu agreed and praised with smiles, “One had long heard that Eldest Young Master and Furen are very affectionate. It is indeed true.”
Wei Tan gave a soft smile, “My humble wife is a new bride and is unfamiliar with proprieties. Many thanks to the residence’s care and hospitality.”
Lord Lu and Madam Zhu hastily smiled and exchanged another round of pleasantries.
I did not speak all this while, just customarily lowered my head and cooperated in displaying my gentleness.
The night breeze was mixed with the remnants of the warmth of early summer, tugging at the carriage’s curtain.
Even though the lanterns that were hanging high in front of the Lu residence gradually became distant, the sound of the noise and laughter of the banquet could still be heard.
By the carriage, Wei Lang and Wei Ci were riding their horses and one did not know what Wei Ci said as both of them ambiguously laughed at Wei Tan, who was at the front.
I leaned against the carriage window and my thoughts wandered to the scene when encountering Ruo Chan. There was an unclear feeling.
She said I pitied her. Yes, at that moment, I did pity her.
But she told me that she did not need my pity. This was also true. She had fallen into the vicissitudes of life and I had become a wife for the second time. In this chaotic world, each one takes what one needs. Who would be nobler than the other?
I closed my eyes in the dark and in my mind, there was only a young lady smiling gently at me among the shadows of the flowers.