Chapter 69 : A Marriage Alliance (Part I)
For the first time since the beginning of spring, it had rained. As the rain ran down the eaves of the roof onto the slabs in the courtyard, the gloominess of the weather seemed to be slowly descending to the earth as well.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Xia Yan had held up a spoonful of sweetened steam-curdled yoghurt pudding and was bringing it closer to the young girl before her.
 Táng zhēng sūlào ( 糖蒸酥酪 ) – There is no proper name for this commonly seen snack in Beijing. This local street snack, that is distinctive of the flavours in Beijing, is commonly made with fresh milk, sweet fermented rice wine, sugar and almond slices. The steps to making this sweet dessert are similar to pudding, using methods of straining and steaming. This is made to mitigate the summer heat.
"I don’t want to eat." Jiang Su Su cast her head aside. That pair of movingly beautiful eyes were filled with anger. Although medicine had been applied on the right cheek of that spotlessly white as a jade face, the long cut of flesh that had begun just from her right eye downwards had gruesomely flipped over. By sheer coincidence, her skin had been slashed open right at the blood-coloured tear-shaped birthmark of hers. With one look, it made her seem similar to Asura.
"Su'er, be good. Only when you eat something will the wound heal quickly." Xia Yan gently persuaded her.
With one swipe, Jiang Su Su flipped the porcelain bowl in Xia Yan's hands as she spoke in an agitated voice, "What good will it be now, with these looks of mine that make me look like a ghost. In what way is it possible to become better? It’s better for me to be dead." As she spoke to a point that made her emotionally upset, she could not help but cough twice, causing the right side of her face that had initially looked warped to appear even more frightening.
Distressed, Xia Yan gently patted her back, "If you say this, can it be that you are trying to make mother pained to death over you? Su'er, be at ease, mother will definitely find the best physician who will not leave the slightest scar behind."
"Do you believe that I will be convinced by your words?" Jiang Su Su looked at her with a face filled with disappointment, "If not for your idea of having Shu Xiang lure in that Li Yang into Su Xin Yuan, then how would have matters developed to such a degree. It's all you! It's all your fault!" Having spoken this last point, her gaze had become wild and her emotions were so intense that they were almost out of control.
"Enough!" All of a sudden Xia Yan shouted in a low voice and swiftly spoke in a whisper, "Are you trying to have everyone hear about this matter?"
Jiang Su Su's voice, which had become hoarse was now mute, but still she continued to glare at her.
Xia Yan's voice was unexpectedly severe, "Put away that terrible look of yours, do you believe that you can change anything by staying in such a state, if Jiang Ruan were to see you in such a manner, she might even be thrilled. If your Father saw you in such a state, he would only be disappointed. If you want revenge, then restrain those tears of yours for me and listen to my words."
Her strict tone startled Jiang Su Su for a moment but she slowly calmed down and asked, "Then what should I do?"
Once Xia Yan saw that she was now behaving , she knew that Jiang Su Su had digested her words and spoke with a sigh of relief, "Now that your Second Brother has lost a finger, this matter has become extremely suspicious. I do not know how this has happened to your Second Brother but this matter between you and Li Yang, Jiang Ruan is unable to shed off responsibility for it. She has actually played tricks on both you and me."
"I hate that I cannot peel off her skin and drink her blood." Jiang Su Su clenched her fists as her gaze became gloomy, "She has harmed me till such a state, I cannot accept it!"
"The Li family's power is too strong, however, no matter what I will not send you to them. I have already written a letter to your maternal grandfather. If your maternal grandfather knew how you and your Second Brother were right now, Jiang Ruan's peaceful days would be numbered."
 Waizufu ( 外祖父 ) – maternal grandfather.
Jiang Su Su's eyes were alit, "Maternal grandfather will avenge me."
"So now, you need to recuperate from your injuries properly." Xia Yan looked at her as she mildly continued, "Later, when your wound is better, I will then arrange for you to take a trip to the Xia fu."
Xia Yan was born from the second wife of the Marquis of Yongding, Xia Cheng. At that time, Xia Cheng was unknown, only a meagre county lord. Thus, with Xia Yan's status, she could not marry Jiang Quan as his main wife. Who would have known that Xia Cheng's elder di brother would die suddenly due to an illness a few years later and thus, the Marquis title landed on him, the shu son's shoulders. As the tide rises, the boat floats; with this change in station and in addition, with Zhao Mei severing relations with General Zhao, Xia Yan's status became more fitting to the position of being Jiang Quan's legitimate wife.
Xia Cheng and Xia Yan, in general, were the kind of people who would defend their own despite knowing that they were in the wrong. If he knew that this pair of maternal grandchildren of his had such unforeseen events happen to them, who knew what sort of methods he would use to deal with Jiang Ruan.
After speaking with Jiang Su Su for a while, Xia Yan then stood up and left. After she walked to the door, Xia Yan rubbed her forehead and asked, "Chao'er, has he awoken?"
Lin Lang lowered her head in reply, "Second Young Master woke up at noon. Only, he threw a huge tantrum once he woke up and had all of the maidservants in the residence expelled from his room. He is unwilling to see anyone."
Xia Yan took a deep breath, "Let's go, I will go see him."
The weather continued to be cloudy and rainy, yet the atmosphere in Ruan Ju remained similar to how it was in the past; leisurely and relaxed. It seemed completely unaffected by this gloomy weather. Jiang Ruan stood before the desk practicing some writing as Bai Zhi was at her side, helping her to grind some ink. "Miss, this character is developing well."
"You are illiterate, who are you to say that it's good." From her side, Lian Qiao remarked.
Bai Zhi's face flushed, after all, her mouth was not as ferocious as Lian Qiao's and so could only mumble with a lowered head, "It's because I see that it looks good."
Jiang Ruan placed the brush aside, "Do you want to learn to write?"
As the two of them heard that, without exception, they were both surprised and delighted as they looked at her. Lian Qiao replied, "Naturally, we would wish to."
"Then in a few days, I will pick some simple books and you two will begin to learn how to recognise some words." Following her, being able to read would definitely be good. Generally, Lu Zhu was outside handling matters, therefore Lian Qiao and Bai Zhi ought to be able to help her with some matters in the fu as well.
"This servant thanks Miss." The two maidservants were naturally unable to contain their joy. For servant girls, being able to learn to read were things that only people of the upper echelons could do. For Jiang Ruan to allow them to learn to read, it was truly something they could not thank her enough for.
"Young Miss, to have Lu Zhu go out today and retrieve the banknotes that were deposited at the Si Hai money shop, why was this done?" Lian Qiao asked.
 Qiánzhuāng ( 钱庄 ) – The first of such an establishment was started in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE). It was in essence, a private local bank where one could change money, make deposits, make loans to traders, care for remittances, and in some cases issue their own scrip.
Jiang Ruan glanced at her, these two maids, although they were loyal, their thoughts were overly proper. On the contrary, Lu Zhu had travelled extensively in the past and had seen enough unpleasant matters in the streets, therefore, when deploying her in such matters, she(JR) would not have any qualms nor worries. However, as far as these two maids, she still did not dare to put them to much use yet.
"Look at this rain." Jiang Ruan gazed outside the window, "For a while now, it has rained and rained. Yet, no one knows when it will stop."
"Miss is cracking a joke," Bai Zhi spoke in astonishment, "it is merely a shower at the beginning of spring. It might even stop tomorrow morning."
"Yet I feel, it won't stop." Jiang Ruan shook her head.
In her past life, it had also happened in this very year. This shower of rain had pitter-pattered down and as it poured, it had gone on continuously for three months. The grains at the beginning of spring were unable to be sewn into the soil and the flood wreaked havoc and devastation everywhere. Many people's houses and fields had been broken through and drowned by the large flood of rainwater and at once, the capital was filled with refugees.
She had remembered this matter very clearly because, at the time, the rural residence had also been met with devastation by the flood. Due to the scarcity of food grains, Zhang Lan's family had then had her expenses severely reduced until it was almost to a cruel state. Although her house had not been as bad as to have been flooded and destroyed, still it was always damp and moist. Yet every day, she had dragged her body that rumbled with hunger to do some heavy manual work and weary labour until one day, she had nearly been washed away by the flood. Fortunately, a rough labour servant had seen this and had saved her. She would never forget how Zhang Lan's family had looked at her. At the time, their gazes had been filled with disappointment; as if it would have been a wonderful wish for her to have just drowned in the water. At that time, Jiang Ruan had thought that Zhang Lan's family had disliked her for taking up a part of the food grains for herself in the residence and therefore, could not help but wish for her to drop dead. However, now that she thought about it, if she had died in that flood back then, Zhang Lan's family would probably have received a large sum as reward from Xia Yan.
At the time, large numbers of refugees descended on the capital and every family, naturally, was unable to be taken care of. The refugees had scattered all over the city and when they were unable to obtain food, they then resorted to stealing everywhere. Naturally, the poor families did not have much food surplus and so, these refugees aimed their sights at the noble and rich families in the capital. At the time, as part of the city garrison, her cousin Zhao Yi had led troops in suppression of these crimes. However, he was hacked to death by the refugees. Yet, as for that venerated Emperor, at this time, he gave an order to the Zhao family to fund the disaster relief. The Zhao family had put forth a sum of ten thousand and two hundred in silver, and in the process, emptied out all of their savings. From that moment, the Zhao family seemed to have begun its decline.
When Jiang Ruan finally learned of this matter, it was only after she had entered the palace. During idle conversation, Zhao Yi had inadvertently remarked that the one who had made the suggestion to the Emperor had been Xuan Li, saying that General Zhao's family was prosperous and plentiful, and perhaps they would have the money to aid in disaster relief. Jiang Ruan had already asked Xuan Li about this matter and yet, Xuan Li's reply was: the people were of importance and money was merely a worldly possession. To be able to protect the lives of those refugees, this was a good deed.
Now that she thought some more , after that matter had ended, Xuan Li's reputation and credit with the people had increased greatly while the Zhao family had weakened immensely. Or perhaps, this too was in his plans. As for Zhao Yi's death, it was likely not as simple as it seemed. A grand and stately garrison guard from the capital, how could he have possibly been hacked down by an unarmed and defenceless rebel.
Abruptly, her gaze became deeper. In this life, she had no thoughts of becoming estranged from the Zhao family – they were her backing and support that she needed to keep a close watch over- thus, there was no way she would allow them to suffer such humiliation.
"Even if this rain does not stop, why does Miss have to take out some silver?" Bai Zhi questioned, "Miss, while it is good to have some on hand at your side, presently, is there something that you would like to do?"
"I have had Lu Zhu buy all of the grain in the capital," Jiang Ruan answered evenly.
"Miss," Lian Qiao looked at her wide-eyed, "what is Miss going to do with so much grain?"
Right now, it was just at the beginning of spring and the new crop had yet to be delivered to the capital. All that was available was the old crop from the past year and if it were measured by value, it should not be too expensive. It would be sufficient to buy more than half of these crops with just two or three thousand pieces of silver. Just as the grain farmers were worried about being unable to sell all of their grain, seeing such a happenstance, they would definitely sell all of it to her.
"I am thinking that if this rain continues on continuously, then it will begin to flood. All of this grain would then become precious and valuable." Jiang Ruan smiled faintly.
"Miss." Bai Zhi's lips twitched but in the end, did not say anything. In Jiang Ruan's words, there was never any room for rebuttal and she had a staunch will; once she had decided upon a matter, she would not be swayed. Thus, even if Bai Zhi had thought that this move of Jiang Ruan's was truly too inconceivable, she could only follow suit with her wishes.
Just at this moment, Lu Zhu pushed open the door and came in. Upon seeing Jiang Ruan, she smiled, "Miss, the people that I have used have already bought all of the grain and delivered it all into a storehouse in the west of the city. The key is in this servant's hands."
She handed over the key to Jiang Ruan and continued, "Since there was no one else buying all of the old grain over the past few days, most of the rice and noodles have also been bought by this servant."
"You have done well." Jiang Ruan fiddled with the delicate and exquisite silver key in her hands.
"However, Miss," as she suddenly recalled, Lu Zhu remarked, "when this servant was close to the courtyard's entrance, this servant saw Fifth Yiniang. She seemed like she wanted to enter but when this servant asked her, she left."
"Understood." Jiang Ruan muttered to herself irresolutely, "Since this is the case, then we should go to Fifth Yiniang's courtyard for a visit."
* * *
Hong Ying had been embroidering in her courtyard while the weather was not exactly good so the visibility from the sunlight was not very clear. After embroidering for a short time, she felt that she was not very satisfied with what she had been embroidering. She was truly annoyed about it as she saw a servant girl step forward and speak, "Yiniang, Eldest Young Miss has arrived."
"Eldest Young Miss?" She frowned lightly as she had not thought that Jiang Ruan would come to her courtyard. Apart from Jiang Quan, no one had ever tread into this courtyard. As she stood up, Jiang Ruan happened to step into her room and smiled upon seeing her, "So Yiniang had been embroidering, it truly has been done well."
Following her gaze, Hong Ying glanced at the embroidery on the table. It was a pouch that she had been embroidering for Jiang Quan; what she had been stitching was a noble Siberian crane in the clear skies, the crane looking vivid and lifelike. In contrast against that lofty and artistic conceptualisation, the colours used had also been extremely appealing.
"It is merely embroidered for fun," Hong Ying smiled, "if Eldest Young Miss likes, on another occasion, qieshen will embroider one for Eldest Young Miss."
"Many thanks to Fifth Yiniang then." Jiang Ruan smiled in agreement as her eyes made a sweep around the entire yard, "Truthfully, everyone has said that Father dotes on Fifth Yiniang the most and I did not believe this to be true. Now that I have seen it, however, it truly is as others have said."
The room had been arranged and decorated elaborately. When one saw the shelf of things placed before the table, not one object was not exquisite and precious. Presumably, Jiang Quan had put quite a bit of thought and effort into Hong Ying.
Hong Ying was startled and smiled, "Laoye naturally dotes on Furen the most, Eldest Young Miss truly is jesting."
"I never joke." Jiang Ruan chuckled, "Today, I've come to pay a visit to Fifth Yiniang, though truly, it is not for anything of importance." With gentle countenance she continued, "Over these days in the fu, it certainly has not been very peaceful or secure. Moreover, Second Sister and Second Brother have similarly met with misfortune in succession. Thinking about this, I have been pondering if the next would not be Ruan niang."
Upon hearing this, Hong Ying's heart made a leap as she looked at Jiang Ruan and replied, "Eldest Young Miss, where do these words stem from?"
"Intuition." Jiang Ruan laughed, "I have no person that I am close to in the fu and my mother passed away in my early years. Although Mother treats me pretty well, she already has both Second Sister and Second Brother …" Her voice lowered slightly, "These words, I can only speak them with Fifth Yiniang. If Fifth Yiniang were the mistress of the fu, how good would it be. With a kind-hearted person like Fifth Yiniang around, one would surely protect Ruan niang in all aspects. Ruan niang would definitely repay Fifth Yiniang's kindness and the Jiang fu would surely be harmonious, becoming more prosperous with each passing day."
 Niáng ( 娘 ) – an informal term for mother. JR uses it for Zhao Mei.
 Mǔqīn ( 母亲 ) – a formal term for mother. JR uses it for her official mother, Xia Yan.
Pursing her lips, Fifth Yiniang was not sure why but her heart was racing furiously. As she closely looked at Jiang Ruan, that pair of charming and clear eyes that seemed to contain a smile looked back at her. Clearly, they seemed gentle like lukewarm running water, yet it was as if one was seeking flowers in the mist, that is, one could not clearly see the emotions within. With her lowly origins from a brothel, she had seen innumerable number of people of every description. As such, she was even more capable of understanding others' motives and intentions. Yet, she could not fathom this young girl before her that was merely little more than a teenager.
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Translated by : Irisu
Edited by : Anks & Ely