The din of jumbled and riotous footsteps outside had all muffled.
It was like the pounding of one’s heart, triggering a suffocating sensation.
Fan Jin Chuan smiled bitterly. “Looks like we’re really going to die this time.”
“Nothing’s happened yet. Why are you already saying that we’re going to die?” Feng Sheng snapped, scouting around the room.
Neither of them had noticed as they darted inside just now, but surveying the room, they discovered that this place had been occupied by a woman. A strong smell of powder permeated in the air, and scattered on the dressing table was some rouge. On the folding screen also hung women’s clothing that was positioned as though it had just been changed out of.
They were bright red and light green, the color of hibiscus. The muslin gathered loosely, translucent like mist after the rain. There also draped a red dudou1 embroidered with mandarin ducks, arousing countless wild and fanciful thoughts.
There couldn’t be women in this kind of place. After all, they came here to work. However, it was not without exception, and that exception was Eunuch Huo. In the few days they had spent at Taizhou, Vice Prefect Gong had gifted Eunuch Huo a woman; otherwise, reasoning with Eunuch Huo wouldn’t be so easy. Feng Sheng was ignorant of the specifics, but Eunuch Huo had taken the woman with him when he left.
Feng Sheng had encountered her once. Enchanting like a demoness, her entire body exuded the flavor of prostitution. That woman named Yue Hong had a seductive glint in her eyes. She had attempted to seduce her, and upon failure, switched her target to Fan Jin Chuan. This was one of the reasons why Feng Sheng hadn’t wanted to jaunt around the ship the past few days.
When they stumbled into this room, the door was already open, and Yue Hong had already gone elsewhere.
“Worthy Brother, if we all die this time, will you have any regrets?” Fan Jin Chuan suddenly asked.
He had raised this question once before, but Feng Sheng hadn’t answered him.
This time, she mused. “I have.”
“What is it?” For some reason, there was a flicker in Fan Jin Chuan’s eyes.
“A private matter related to my father.”
Fan Jin Chuan’s eyes darkened. He moistened his lips and deplored, “I also have regrets. I regret that we haven’t yet managed the Liang Huai water circuit, and regret that I won’t be able to attend to my filial duty at my mother’s knee. However, it’s meaningless to say these things now. There’s also one thing I want to say……”
“What?” Feng Sheng looked over.
The words had originally reached his lips, yet Fan Jin Chuan felt that he had a bone stuck in his throat that moment.
He and Worthy Brother Fang were both men. Split peaches and cut-sleeves violated ethics. If it were him alone who violated ethics, it would have been fine. However, uneasiness constantly loomed over him like a perpetual itch, always bustling in his thoughts. When he was alone, he was always thinking.
Thinking about him day and night.
In his dreams, he summoned up the courage a thousand times, but every time the words were at the tip of his tongue, he would rouse from his dream.
The indistinct sound of footsteps seemed to grow closer. No matter how hidden this place was, those people were bound to discover it sooner or later.
Fan Jin Chuan approached Feng Sheng and grabbed her hand. He quickly confessed, “Worthy Brother, I don’t know when I started having such inappropriate thoughts about you. I wanted to tell you several times, but I had always been too embarrassed to say it. Today may be my last chance, so please forgive me for being impetuous, and please don’t hate me for being abrupt. Don’t worry. No matter what happens today, I’ll keep you safe and unharmed the whole time. You hide, and I’ll take the initiative to step out. If they catch me, they won’t do anything……”
“Wait, wait,” Feng Sheng suddenly interrupted him.
She strained her ear to listen to the sound of activity outside, then turned to look at Fan Jin Chuan. He could determine that she had arrived at some sort of decision, her face eerily solemn.
Never before had she looked so solemn. Fang Feng Sheng had always been mapping out strategies amidst talk and laughter. This was the first time Fan Jin Chuan had seen her like this. He didn’t dare look into her eyes for fear of seeing disgust and dislike in them.
“Didn’t you want to know if I have any regrets? My regret is that I haven’t yet reversed my father’s verdict.”
“Reverse the verdict?” Fan Jin Chuan froze and raised his eyes.
“Yes, reverse the verdict. My father’s surname is Fang, given name Yan. My Fang family is a famous family of private advisors in the Shaoxing area. My father was the private advisor of the former Liang Huai salt distribution commissioner, Zhou Guang Rui, prior to his death.”
“Liang Huai salt distribution commissioner? Zhou Guang Rui?”
“A few years ago, Lord Zhou, who was originally the Shanxi surveillance commissioner, was transferred to the Liang Huai Salt Distribution Commission as the salt distribution commissioner. He was a newcomer……”
Feng Sheng did not withhold anything and revealed to Fan Jin Chuan everything she knew.
“I originally wanted to just snoop around, but I didn’t expect to have a chance encounter with an official lord. When I learned that you were Court Elder Song’s student heading to Taizhou to serve as a county magistrate, I deliberately planted myself to your side. Nominally, it was to be your private advisor, but in reality, I was lurking around you, seizing the opportunity to discreetly poke around for information with another intention in mind.”
Fan Jin Chuan’s entire self was stunned stupid. “You’re saying that you designed all of this?”
Feng Sheng laughed. “Half coincidentally, half intentionally.”
“What about our plan? Also……”
“Yes, even the chaos in Liang Huai originated from my selfish motives. I also did several things behind your back to stir trouble in Liang Huai. Only when Liang Huai is in chaos can you take advantage of the situation to rise up, and I, as the person you trust and rely on the most, will naturally have the opportunity to do anything. Once the new policy is successfully implemented, His Majesty will inevitably grant you the power to take over the Salt Distribution Commission to sweep clear the salt administration’s lingering mistakes. I can grab the chance to investigate the truth about Lord Zhou’s case. Even if I can’t, I will have a lot of power in my hands. I will not let go of each and every one in the Salt Distribution Commission who are corrupt and abuse the law. When it’s time to dig up the radish and bring out the mud, I believe that the person behind it will have no choice but to unmask his true nature.”
Feng Sheng enunciated every single word with a grim sneer.
Fan Jin Chuan had never before witnessed such a ‘Worthy Brother Fang’.
“So, being such a person, do you still want to sacrifice yourself to save me? Don’t you think it’s not worth it?” She leered at him coldly.
“No, not at all! My eyes have never deceived me. You are compassionate to the poor, and you sympathize with those exploited salt-boiling households. Although you don’t say anything, you do a lot of things to actually turn their circumstances for the better. In your heart lies a great righteousness, though you always face those things with a seemingly cynical and indifferent……”
For him to still be singing like this under such a situation, Fan Jin Chuan drove Feng Sheng to snigger in derision.
“Fan Jin Chuan, do you know that you’re really pedantic? Sometimes, I grow especially tired of talking to you. You’re like a young child ignorant of worldly affairs, so naive and innocent that it’s ridiculous. I actually lied to you about a lot of things, you know?”
“You lied to me?” Fan Jin Chuan asked in a trance as he stared at her coldly glinting pupils.
Feng Sheng ambled behind the folding screen, and from the sound of her movements, she seemed to be changing her clothes.
Just as Fan Jin Chuan was about to raise his doubts, she emerged from behind the screen, and on her, what was originally a man’s outfit startlingly transformed into a woman’s in the blink of an eye.
“Yes, I’m a woman. The type of profane and worldly woman who, in your eyes, violates public decency.” The reason she said this was that, in the past, when Fan Jin Chuan was still the county magistrate, there happened to be a case an uncle filed against a woman who was deigned the sole inheritor of her parents’ properties.2 At that time, because of this case, Feng Sheng and Fan Jin Chuan had an astronomical dispute.
Fan Jin Chuan had believed that the woman should not have become the sole inheritor of her parents’ properties; she ought to have abided by her clan’s tradition to adopt. The sole inheriting daughter naturally had the right to choose the adopted child. Her uncle didn’t need to spell it out for her, as she herself had to follow the proper path of marrying and birthing children. Feng Sheng had insisted that the sole inheriting daughter herself and her parents had already decided upon this matter. The government should not intervene, and the clansmen also shouldn’t meddle in other people’s family affairs.
It was once said, ‘the imperial power does not extend down to the county; the county has only clans, and all clans are autonomous.’3
Such an affair related to clans couldn’t be brought to the authorities. Normally, it wouldn’t get to the point where the authorities had to take on the case. Even if it did reach that point, it would always be deflected back to the clan. In fact, Fan Jin Chuan’s intervention and prying was quite unexpected. For the most part, he was incapable of sympathizing with women, so his method of grappling with it was somewhat more conservative.
However, this type of conservative method had precisely become a weapon utilized as a pretext by those who desired to swallow up the family wealth of the sole inheriting daughter and her family.
The final result was that Fan Jin Chuan ended his altercation with Feng Sheng, and the case was sentenced according to Feng Sheng’s will, causing great controversy at the time. Fan Jin Chuan had indeed spewed out words along the lines of ‘violating public decency and defying common customs.’ He hadn’t meant it that way, but Feng Sheng misinterpreted it.
Now, however, Fan Jin Chuan couldn’t care less about being misinterpreted. Today, in just a single day, hurled at him were too many facts one after another, but none of them shocked him as greatly as the one before his eyes.
The woman donned on a bright red long robe, a scarlet dudou, and an aqua green skirt tied loosely underneath. The clothes weren’t quite like outside garments, but were closer to the style of bedclothes. Her disheveled long hair cascaded down her thin shoulders, and while she obviously still possessed the same brows and eyes, she suddenly morphed to something Fan Jin Chuan didn’t dare to recognize.
“Come with me.”
With a slender and fair hand tugging at his big palm, Fan Jin Chuan was instantly nonplussed. He simply stared blearily at his own hand, as though he was willing to follow her to the ends of the earth.
Feng Sheng pulled him towards the bed, and with a gentle push, he tumbled on top of it.
The hibiscus veil curtain was a warm color, and in front was the flesh and fragrance of a beauty. Fan Jin Chuan peered at the beautiful face close at hand, the fair and delicate neck, and the eye-catching red lips.
“Fan Jin Chuan.”
“Worthy Brother Feng Fu, my heart is pleased……”
Fingers gently covered his lips. “Listen to me.”
“Remember what I told you before. Remember our plan. You must finish it.”
After that, Fan Jin Chuan was no longer able to fathom what transpired next. What he last saw was her was looking faintly at himself, as well as her shielding him from something. By this time, the raucous hammering of footsteps was alarmingly close.
Someone had shoved open the door with a bang.
These black-clothed men with broadswords in their hands had never expected to witness such a spectacle.
A ship full of people were howling in a wretch, yet here sat a beauty grooming herself across the mirror.
“Are you the ones who came to pick me up?”
These few big men stared at each other until a brawny man with a bald head and a scar on his face peeked out from behind.
“What’s the dilly-dallying about? Did you find anyone?”
This way of speaking displeased the second gang leader, and he yanked away the person in front of him. Who would have thought that, as he turned his head to look, the sight would stun him?
“Second gang leader, she asked if we’re picking her up,” said one of the minions.
“Pick her up? Pick her up. This master is here to pick her up!” The second gang leader couldn’t restrain himself from laughing and subconsciously rubbed his palms together, but he found that he still had a knife dripping with blood in his clasp.
He tossed the knife to his men and strode over.
“Are you Master Gou’s person?”
“Master Gou?” The second gang leader was dumbfounded.
Feng Sheng threw her comb and cast him a sidelong glance, her eyes ridden with impatience. “Are you not? He told me he’d send someone to pick me up once it’s all over. How come he sent you bunch of big idiots?!”
This time, a minion trudged to the second gang leader’s side and whispered, “This woman should be called Yue Hong. She’s the only woman on this ship, given by Vice Prefect Gong to that castrated thing. Did Master Gou deliberately plant her on the ship?”
“You’re Master Gou’s person?”
Feng Sheng nodded. “I heard the ship was in chaos, so I had assumed it was your doing. Are you guys here to pick me up? Let’s go, I really don’t want to stay here any moment longer.”
With that, she rose to her feet and sashayed out, the second gang leader’s eyeballs glued to her all the while. Maintaining his blatant stare, he stalked after her out of the room.
Catching sight of the vaguely exposed slender jade neck and the faintly discernible skin shrouded under that muslin, he shifted his vision to the next few eyes ogling straight at her. Annoyed, his big feet kicked over.
“Look at your mother’s ***.4 Find this daddy some clothes.”
One of the minions doddled along, clutching a cotton-padded jacket he had fished out from somewhere. The second gang leader snatched it away and carefully draped it on Feng Sheng’s shoulders.
“It’s cold outside and the weather is chilly. These little brats can’t control their own eyes. They can’t be given a free pass.”
Feng Sheng’s footsteps halted. Her sultry gaze meandered around as she simpered with half-drooped eyes. She extended her hand to point at the second gang leader’s sturdy pectoral muscles.
“I didn’t expect you, a brawny man, to also have tender, protective feelings for the fairer sex.”
“This master has always had a tender heart for the fairer sex.”
“En.5 When I meet Master Gou, I’ll ask him to reward you, ah.”
The second gang leader guffawed. “Little beauty, you’re mistaken. Your Master Gou can’t reward me. This daddy is more powerful than him. When I go back, this daddy will look for him to ask for you. Are you willing to follow this master?”
“Only if you have the ability to take me away.”
“Second gang leader, we still searchin’ this room?” Someone asked with not the least bit of tact.
Feng Sheng softly exhaled, and the second gang leader hurriedly inquired what was wrong.
“The ground is too cold, and the soles of my shoes are too thin.” She faintly knitted her brows, provoking sympathy from those around her.
“Then what should we do?”
Feng Sheng looked over, her watery eyes wandering with an unspeakable romantic glimmer in them.
The second gang leader promptly took a step forward and hugged her. Frightened, Feng Sheng tenderly cried out as she wrapped her arms around his neck, eliciting a hearty chortle from the second gang leader.
“If Master Gou finds out about this, I……”
“This daddy will go back and ask for your from him. He will not dare to refuse.” The second gang looked disdainfully at the corner of his eyes.
“Second gang leader, we still searchin’ this room?”
Feng Sheng was originally smiling at the second gang leader, but her face abruptly grew cold from irritation.
The second gang leader cursed, “You’re fucking annoying. Who can hide in such a small and shabby room?”
“He’s saying that I still have a wild man hidden in my room,” Feng Sheng hooked her red lips upward.
“Fuck! Even if you were hiding a wild man, only this daddy has the ability to be the one. Get lost. Don’t delay here. Go and search other places. Officials and soldiers seem to be coming from the shore. Hurry up and withdraw immediately. “
Gou Qing: Do you all still remember me?
1 肚兜 (dudou): an undergarment covering the chest and abdomen
2 守灶 (shǒu zào): lit. [the one who] guards the kitchen fire; according to baidu, the Mongols worship the fire, deity of fire (火神) and the god of the kitchen (灶神). The Mongols believe that fire is pure and holy which can repel evil spirits.
This is a Mongol family tradition. Similar to Chinese culture, the women will be married out of the clan, while the men will stay in the same clan, but when they are of age, they will move out of their parents’ tent. The elder sons will receive part of the heritage, but with each son born, the percentage of the heritage gets fewer. When the parents pass away, the youngest son will receive the tent, a percentage of the heritage, and the rest of the family property, since the elder ones received more compared to the youngest one. This youngest son is called 守灶. Not only does the youngest son inherit the property rights, he also inherits his father’s most precious inheritance: fire, including brazier and kitchen stove. So it’s a big deal.
The case is basically an uncle complaining about how the 守灶 is a daughter.
3 From Snowflake: It should mean that the imperial power doesn’t extend to the county directly, since it only has authority over the prefecture. It is the same for the county; it has authority locally, but it doesn’t extend to a clan, since each of these “levels” has another “level” in between. Imperial power (> or = provincial) > prefecture > county > local > clansmen.
4 The raws literally said ‘你娘的x’, meaning ’your mother’s x’. I found it funny, so I kept it like this.
5 嗯 (en): interjection indicating approval, appreciation or agreement. For those who don’t know.