Sun Qing Hua crawled in from the outside.
Zong Yue sat high on the main seat. He was clad in a dark blue brocade robe, holding a lidded tea cup in one hand, his visage reverting back to its usual indifference, as though his fit of temper just then was simply a mirage.
Sun Qing Hua prostrated on the ground and bemoaned: “Your Highness, please spare this one’s life. Fang-shi is the only one to blame for all that had happened. She deliberately played us all to acquire a separation agreement to leave the Sun family. Just after Your Highness left, she revealed everything.”
“She set up a trap because she wanted to leave the Sun family?”
“When she learned that Your Highness was staying at Banyan Garden, she went to Lin Bi Pavilion to copy Buddhist scriptures under the guise of praying for Mother. In reality, her motive was to seduce Your Highness so she could smoothly cut ties with the Sun family after obtaining the separation agreement……”
De Wang railed, “Lord Sun, do you take us all for fools? How could she, a woman of the rear court, know of His Highness’s identity without your meddling? And the scriptures from before were from your own hands, weren’t they? Still keeping the truth from His Highness, I see that you no longer want your official hat.”
Originally, Sun Qing Hua still had the intention of preserving his dignity, but being so frightened, he naturally poured it all out.
He divulged that he and Old Madam had schemed to climb the prince’s high branches, and that Old Madam sought to get rid of Fang Feng Sheng, but decided against it at the last minute. He also recounted Fang Feng Sheng’s ploy of deceiving Zong Yue and provoking him into storming out in rage, and afterwards threatening the Sun family into relinquishing a separation agreement to leave once and for all.
“She did all this just to leave the Sun family?”
“Your Highness, this lowly official’s words are true. This Fang-shi fell seriously ill after her father’s incident, and her temperament changed drastically after she recovered. This lowly official heard from this one’s servant that she’s mentioned more than once that she would leave to avenge her father’s death. Your Highness, this lowly official dares not deceive you. She fled from the Sun family almost simultaneously after we handed her the separation agreement, and it happened so quickly that it’s inconceivable. This only means that she had already anticipated everything that would happen today and prepared for it in advance. This can’t be faked.”
“Prepared in advance?” Zong Yue raised this question meaningfully.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Alright, you may go.”
Sun Qing Hua climbed up from the ground, and as though granted amnesty, wiped his sweat and retreated.
The hall was eerily silent.
Zong Yue’s face was grim and inexplicable, and De Wang wailed tragically at the side, howling in his heart that he was done for.
The master had always been proud and arrogant. When had he ever stomached such a sullen loss? However, instead of screaming to finish that woman surnamed Fang, De Wang felt that it was rather himself who would be subjected to his master’s ire. He had a dreadful feeling that the following days would be quite turbulent.
“Have someone go to the city gate and search for her, and bring her back when you find her.”
In the carriage, Fang Feng Sheng had Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu help her switch out her clothing.
After which, they combed her hair into a bun.
In a short time, a handsome gentleman materialized before them.
He was a bit on the leaner side, but he emanated an outstanding bearing that was difficult to conceal.
“I’m still missing a fan.”
Zhi Qiu beamed as she fished out a folding fan and handed it to Fang Feng Sheng.
The folding fan was already a bit old and worn out. Its skeleton was crafted from agarwood, and on it was a layer of lustrous and dense coating from being pinched and wiped all year round. The front was made of rice paper, and it bore a painting of elegant bamboo. On the back were two lines of characters——He may precede Heaven, and Heaven will not act in opposition to him; he may follow Heaven, but will act (only) as Heaven at the time would do.1
The inscription was imprinted by a retired scholar, Feng Fu.
This Feng Fu was, in fact, Fang Feng Sheng’s alternate persona. It was also the name she had carried during her escapades in the distant past. She had fashioned this folding fan in her idle time and wielded it for many years, but discarded it once it lost its use. Unexpectedly, Zhi Qiu retrieved it and safely kept it for her.
Looking at the fan, Feng Sheng sighed softly.
She gently shook her wrist and spread the fan open, fanned it once, and put it away. The fan’s skeleton was very smooth and flexible, evident that it was meticulously maintained on a regular basis.
“You’ve been really considerate.”
“Although Young Master threw it away, this servant thought that one day Young Master would need it, and thus secretly picked it up and oiled it every other day like before,” Zhi Qiu elaborated.
“I never had the chance to tell you; you’ve worked hard these past two years.”
When Fang Feng Sheng entered the Sun family, Zhi Qiu did not follow in as a dowry maid, but instead took other means to infiltrate the Sun Manor. In order for Fang Feng Sheng to have an additional source of information outside of Autumn Hall, this Zhi Qiu was also clever enough to slither to Wang Yue’er’s side.
In the past two years, Yue’er hadn’t been modest in targeting Feng Sheng, but unfortunately, there was a mole planted by her side, so her efforts were fruitless. This time, Feng Sheng was able to leave the Sun Manor smoothly thanks to the catalyst from Wang Yue’er’s side.
“This servant didn’t work hard. For Young Master, this servant will do anything.”
Feng Sheng rubbed Zhi Qiu’s little head like she used to, and the originally clever and lively servant girl immediately blushed as if she was rubbed on rouge.
“Alright, don’t dally. All of you, change your clothes.”
Outside the carriage, Uncle Yu, who was driving, asked, “Young Master, where will we go now? It’s getting late, so why don’t we find a place to rest?”
“No need to delay and go straight out of the city. Tell Wang Er to slow their departure for a day and we’ll wait for them there.”
Uncle Yu didn’t ask any more questions and advanced to the city gate.
When he arrived, he finally understood Fang Feng Sheng’s meaning.
At the city gate, there stood people garbed in attire only ordinary civilians would wear, but the gatekeepers on guard nonetheless regarded them with respect.
These people were positioned on both sides of the gate, their eyes focused on the people exiting the city, as if searching for someone.
Seeing that their party had a carriage, the one heading the group signaled to the gatekeeper, and that gatekeeper strode over with a few men to stop them.
“Official, this is——” wondered Uncle Yu, who posed as a carriage driver.
“Who’s in the carriage?”
At that moment, the curtain on the carriage stirred.
First, a folding fan was stretched out, and when the curtain was lifted, an elegant scholar holding the fan peeked out.
“A few officials suddenly stopped the carriage, and this lowly one is clueless as to why,” Uncle Yu explained.
Feng Sheng’s posture was fluid as she spread out her fan and shook it, “Who are you looking for? There are only me and two page boys in this carriage.”
The head gatekeeper cast a glance at the man beside him, who shook his head, and the gatekeeper then waved his hand, indicating that they could pass.
“Young Master, these men are?” When the carriage left the city gates, Zhi Chun probed.
“Did you forget a certain someone this young master had angered?”
Recalling that certain someone’s identity, Zhi Chun flinched and stopped talking.
After guarding the city gate for three days in a row, none of them had detected Fang Feng Sheng’s group.
Receiving the news, Zong Yue maintained his indifference: “Fine, no need to guard anymore. I guess she has already left Shaoxing City.”
Zong Yue didn’t speak and sauntered into the inner room.
After driving for three days, Fang Feng Sheng’s group finally set foot on Yuyao.
Everything here was so familiar yet unfamiliar, but Fang Feng Sheng couldn’t afford to reminisce and first traversed to the south of the city.
Walking past a memorial archway2, she arrived at the place where members of the Fang Clan resided.
Those who lived here were all surnamed Fang, and some had already reached up to five generations. The closer they were to the Fang Clan’s ancestral home, the higher their status was in the clan.
The ancestral house of the Fang family was not eye-catching, but it was an old mansion with three courtyards that had been erected for as long as one could remember.
The carriage halted in front of the main gate of the ancestral house, and Fang Feng Sheng personally alighted and knocked on the side door.
The door creaked and opened from the inside.
“You are…… Feng Fu, no, it’s Feng Sheng?” The one who opened the door was an old servant in the Fang mansion and, having guarded the door all his life, recognized Fang Feng Sheng in a flash.
“Feng Sheng, why are you back? You——”
“Uncle Liu, I want to see my Second Great Uncle.”
“Ai, you child……” sighed Uncle Liu, making his way inside, “You come in first, but don’t let anyone see you. You don’t know that since your father’s incident, the clan restrained everyone and chose to live in seclusion for fear of causing trouble. Let me just inform the Second Old Master.”
Uncle Liu swiftly retreated, and Feng Sheng took Zhi Chun and the others to slowly tread inside. Clearly only two years had passed, but it felt like a lifetime apart, and her eyes became particularly rueful.
With the sound of hurried footsteps, a woman dressed in a prune-colored loose coat emerged. She had a chubby figure and a face like the full moon, with willowy eyebrows and a small cherry mouth. Her head was embellished with pearls and jade, looking a bit overdone and ridiculous that passersby couldn’t help but cast her strange looks.
This person was Liu-shi, Fang Feng Sheng’s Third Aunt.
“Why have you come back? What are you doing here?”
“Why can’t I come back? This is my home,” Feng Sheng answered, deadpan.
“Not anymore. Several clan elders said that your father is perverse, committing a great crime that could have the whole family executed and the property confiscated. In order not to implicate the clan, the clan elders removed your father’s name from the genealogical record, and your father’s position as clan head has changed. Feng Sheng, don’t say that Third Aunt speaks too harshly. You should also consider our predicament. You better leave quickly so as not to implicate others.”
“The court has closed the case, and they didn’t continue investigating in the direction of the Fang family. How can you say that you were implicated?”
“I’m not talking to you anymore. What do you know, you silly little girl? Anyway, you hurry out for me!”
Feng Sheng’s gaze fell on Liu-shi‘s head: “Third Aunt, if I’m not mistaken, the jewelry on your head is my mother’s.”
Liu-shi subconsciously touched her head, her eyes flickering: “What, your mother’s? This is obviously my own. Are you all leaving or not? If you don’t leave, I’ll call someone to kick you out!”
Zhi Chun charged, “Third Madam, even if something happened to my Master, you are too much of a bully!”
“How am I bullying you people?”
It was Fang Cang, Liu-shi’s father-in-law and Fang Feng Sheng’s Second Great Uncle.
Fang Cang looked at Feng Sheng and sighed heavily, “Come in and talk.”
Several people went to sit down in the hall.
Fang Cang was already around sixty, with white hair and beard, wearing a dark green casual robe, evidently solemn and old-fashioned by the looks of his face. Below him was a man in his forties, who was his eldest son, Fang Mu Ran.
Fang Mu Ran was born with a square face and thick eyebrows, as serious and reserved as his father, and at this time sat there with locked brows, seeming as if an infinite number of things plagued his mind.
“I had guessed that you would return sooner or later.”
Fang Feng Sheng smiled and asserted, “Second Great Uncle, I came back for no other reason than to ask the clan if you could let my father into the ancestral grave.”
Fang Mu Ran sighed and explained, “Feng Sheng girl, although I’m not as knowledgeable as your father, our Fang family is also a home of civil officials, and everyone around here is aware of the recent happenings. After your father’s incident, it wasn’t that we did nothing, but those involved had panicked, and those who were not had remained silent. The Liang Huai salt distribution commissioner implicated too many, including several governors, inspector-generals, and prefectural magistrates in Yangzhou. All these officials among the top in the court are in danger, let alone us.”
“In other words, you can’t let my father into the ancestral grave?”
Fang Cang answered, “Your father has been expelled from the clan, so there won’t be a chance for him to enter the ancestral grave. Feng Sheng girl, I know you’re blaming us in your heart, but you have to understand the clan’s difficulties. Wait for some time, when things have faded……”
“Alright, I understand. One more thing, just now I saw some of my mother’s jewelry on my Third Aunt’s head. Although my father is no longer the head of the Fang family, and this ancestral home has been repossessed by the clan, those jewelry are still my mother’s personal property. Can they be returned?”
Hearing this, Fang Cang first expressed embarrassment, then snapped at the door in irritation, “What did I say? No one is allowed to touch the things in Haolin Courtyard! Who allowed this foolish woman Liu-shi to touch the things inside?”
A man dressed like a servant scuttled in, “Old Master, we passed down your words. We don’t know how the Third Madam……”
Feng Sheng interrupted, “Alright, Second Great Uncle need not be annoyed. I will only take my mother’s jewelry. The other old things will still be temporarily placed in the Haolin Courtyard. I hope that Second Great Uncle can help keep them for me. When I settle down, I will order someone to come back to get them. Zhi Chun, you follow and go there to retrieve my mother’s jewelry.”
“Yes, Young Master.”
Not long after, Zhi Chun raced back holding a box.
Fang Feng Sheng steadied herself up and said, “Feng Sheng has something else to do, so I won’t stay any longer.”
She had just turned around, but a perplexed Fang Cang called out, “Feng Sheng girl, you also grew up under Second Great Uncle’s watch, so listen to the Second Great Uncle. Although you are your father’s only heir, in the end you are a woman and have married. Don’t do anything foolish, and go back to your husband’s family to live your life.”
“Thank you, Second Great Uncle, for your care. Feng Sheng knows what to do.”
After Fang Feng Sheng left, Fang Mu Ran sounded out, “Father, what do you think she’s planning to do?”
“Didn’t you notice the outfit she was wearing?”
“But she’s a woman in the end. What can she do?”
Fang Cang said nothing and gazed at Fang Feng Sheng’s slender back as she stalked away, his eyes heavy and misty.
In a trance, a vague figure of a young man from back then, wantonly soaring freely, flashed before his eyes.
Once upon a time, he had thought how great it would have been for the young man to remain only a young man, and had once yearned for him to restore the Fang family’s former glory. Unfortunately, these aspirations could only settle in his heart, never to substantiate.
“I don’t know what it is she wants to do. Maybe she can do what we want but can’t.” Fang Cang sighed and stood up, “Alright, no further mention of this. We’ll continue living the way we did in the past. After this, let’s talk about the rest.”
The grass was lush, and the earth was yellow.
This was Fang Yan’s tomb, but there wasn’t even a monument. If Uncle Yu hadn’t marked it, ordinary people wouldn’t have spotted it.
“Father, I came to see you. This is your favorite wine.” Fang Feng Sheng kneeled in front of the grave and spilled the wine in her cup on the ground.
“I’m sorry, this daughter failed you. You desired that I live as a wife in mutual respect with the husband, but unfortunately, I’m stubborn by nature. You didn’t allow Uncle Yu to tell me, but he told me anyway…… Don’t blame him; you know my temperament. I’ll know what I want to know. Likewise, what I want to do, I will definitely do……”
Three cups had flowed out, and Feng Sheng veered from kneeling to squatting, pouring herself a drink with her flask and talking to Fang Yan on the ground from time to time.
Not far away, Zhi Chun and Zhi Qiu observed the place with perturbed eyes.
Uncle Yu was quite morose, perched on a rock just a few steps farther, gazing at the distant sky.
The sky grew darker, and a red glow rose in the distance, enveloping everyone in the afterglow of the setting sun.
Fang Feng Sheng stood up.
“Father, it’s time for me to go. Don’t worry, even if I scale the jade mountains and end up falling into the Yellow Springs, I’ll persevere. I’ll wash away the filth that’s fallen on your name, and when that time comes, I will definitely come and erect a monument for you, so that you can enter the Fang family’s ancestral tomb in an upright manner.”
“You wait. That day won’t be too far away.”
Well, this little volume is done, and the female lead will undergo a major undertaking on the next one.
I’ve read some of the comments wondering why I let her marry once, and then take the trouble of making up and divorcing, so I could have skipped all that. In fact, how to say it, this is considered to be the female lead’s metamorphosis. I think that the female lead can only be truly reborn after experiencing such plights.
After all, she’s a woman, and that society is not a modern society. There are too many restrictions on women, and there is pressure from top to bottom, from all directions. No matter how talented and wise she is, she’s a woman regardless, and all her self-confidence comes from her father’s bottomless doting. The foundation of this self-confidence is not solid and rests on others. When one day this bottomless indulgence disappeared, it became a force that compelled her to return to the right path, and her three world views collapsed completely.
It takes time, opportunity, and motivation to rebuild the world once again. I’ve always felt that the only way to be truly fearless is to first walk in and then walk out.
This is the first time I’ve written a story about a woman dressing up as a man. My vision of “a woman pretending to be a man” is not only about appearance, but about mentality. Even if one takes off this layer of skin in the future, one can truly be fearless; rather than remain calm only when the skin is worn, only to be anxious and weary once it’s taken off.
1 先天而天弗违，后天而奉天时: Okay it said two lines, but you know how these Chinese characters are rich with meaning. This is actually an excerpt from ‘I Ching’, part of the text I translated in Chapter 1, and the ‘he’ in this line refers to the ‘great man’ from that excerpt.
2 Something like this:
T/N: The last scene really tugged at my heartstrings. If you remember her misery in Chapter 3 after discovering her father’s only desire to keep her safe through marriage, the emotion I felt at that time was exactly the same as I felt reading the last part. I could feel her heartbreak as she saw the pathetic state of Fang Yan’s tomb, and felt her anguish as she promised to clear his name and to erect a monument worthy of him.
I can’t really blame the Fang family, either, for casting him aside. I think it’s clear enough to everyone that Fang Yan and his master were framed, and that there’s a bigger fish lurking in the deep waters. Everyone closely related to these people are aware of this, so they’d rather keep quiet than reach their hands in things they can’t handle, especially in an imperialist society where those in power could easily claim the lives of those below them with a single command.
Anyway, Feng Sheng only gets more and more awesome from hereon. I hope you fall in love with her the same way I did when I first read the novel.