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I cradled a stack of paper money in my hands, completely senseless…there were also ten brilliant gold leaves resting on the table, their veins and arteries delicately carved distinctly into the metal.
I swallowed a mouthful of drool.
Holding back the urge to jump on it all, I took a good look at the man’s face. He had a rather apologetic smile. “I left in a hurry, so I didn’t bring enough silver taels, but these should be enough to cover the sum of two taels of gold.”
I blinked a few times, poking at the mass. “This…”
“Please tell us whatever is most convenient, young master.” He was a man with a sagely air, the sparkle in his eyes unusually moving. Occasionally, flashes of well-intentioned feeling flashed in his pupils as he gazed upon me.
I felt like an idiot, my thoughts all awhirl.
Two taels of silver.
In a flash, they’d turned into two taels of gold.
I bit myself, then pinched a corner of my face, twisting the skin.
Then I quickly opened up my sleeves to accept the lot.
“Young master’s temperament is both generous and straightforward. Come, have a drink.” His face was wreathed in smiles as he stood up to pour more wine for me. A sweet fragrance rose from inside his sleeves, mixed with the unique odor that all men had, making me feel a little dizzy.
The more I looked, the more I thought this young master was quite handsome.
“That’s right, it’s been this long but I still don’t know young master’s respected surname?” His magnanimous posture while pouring the wine had the elegant carriage of a young gentleman. It was obvious he had a good grasp of ceremony and propriety.
He stopped to look at me. My eyes did some quick calculations as I waved the cup between my fingers with a smile. “My surname is Shào, and my given name is Yu.”
While in the outside world, one must not only be a ruffian, but act shamelessly when the situation called for it.
If he knew the prices for these pills were so low in the surrounding shops, wouldn’t he find me to cause trouble? I lowered my head to take a sip from my wine cup, raising an eye towards him. “And how shall I call you, young master?”
He smiled as if reading my thoughts. “This one…” He slowly opened his mouth and spat out two words. “Nong…Yu.”
I didn’t manage to hold it in, and spewed a majestic stream of alcohol.
I called myself Shào Yu, and he called himself Nongyu (fooling around with Yu).
No matter how I listened to it in my head, it still sounded strange…
He lowered his head to rub off the bits of liquid on his robe as if he didn’t mind a bit. The next time he saw me, his eyes were like limpid pools of water. I shrank back, turning my body as I thought to myself. Was I being too suspicious? No matter how I looked at this, it didn’t seem so simple.
He seemed to have seen through my misgivings, and put down his chopsticks to offer me food. A smile flashed on his face. “I won’t hide it from young master. I’m an imperial physician for the emperor that came here to search for valuable medicinal plants. Unexpectedly, I ran into you…young master is very young, yet you have so many poisons and miracle pills on your person. Thus, I have a presumptuous request.”
He paused then, as if he found it difficult to speak. I lifted my eyelids to peer at him. I didn’t say much, but docilely lowered my head to drink my wine.
It was good alcohol…
Although it wasn’t as clear and sweet as the stuff I brewed for yifu, it had a marvelous strength behind it. I gave it a whiff and smiled until my eyes curved into crescents, pouring myself another cup.
His expression seemed embarrassed as he stammered and sputtered. “I hope that if you have good pills in the future, you can save them for me.”
“No problem…” Two words, succinct and pithy.
An expensive fellow like you offered prices that surpassed the highest ones from other stores. Who else would I sell to?
He seemed extremely happy. “Young Master Shào really leaves a person refreshed and comfortable. To understand me so well makes me want to swear oaths with you as your sworn brother.”
We’ve only chattered a few words and you already want to be sworn brothers?
Pfft. Pah! I spat on the ground.
He actually pretended he didn’t see a thing, and reached out with both hands to warmly grab my sleeves, refusing to let me go. His eyes kept a firm stare on my face. I wanted to pull away, but found that I couldn’t.
His eyes were shining. “I never thought Little Brother Shao’s internal energy was so deep and vast.”
I glanced over and saw his finger resting over one of my acupuncture points.
I waved him off and backed up a few steps, clasping my hands together. “It’s nothing, my martial arts skills are shallow at best, not worthy of any mention.”
He laugh good-naturedly and pulled me over again, speaking softly. “Everything in this town is good, besides the people pretending to sell good meat with dog meat… I took a stroll today and actually saw the pharmacies selling the Nine Fragrances Green Tea pill for only three taels of silver, how could that be possible?”
It was actually very possible because Fang Hua usually sold them for one or two taels.
I shot the sky a despicable look, and shrugged off the hand resting on my shoulder.
After expressing his heartfelt sentiments, Nongyu’s feelings turned sober. He grasped my hands and gave a loving glance at the bottle of pills on the table, saying leisurely, “It’s only Brother Shào’s pills that are the genuine article, and himself an honest, upright person.”
Inside my heart, I was crying.
I felt oppressed to the point of beating my chest with my fists.
Nice people were really easy to swindle. He was certainly a piece of work.
“That’s right, I wanted to ask you about a certain matter.” It seemed like he remembered something. He made a motion to invite me over to my seat, rolling up his sleeves to pour me another cup of wine. As his eyes swept across the scene, they caught on to a sight downstairs, enough to forget the cup of wine even after it overflowed.
“I’m really sorry! Please pardon me–I didn’t splash your robes, did I, Brother Shao?” He withdrew his gaze to mysteriously inspect our surroundings, before scooting closer. “Do you know any men with a mole over this spot?”
He dipped his hands in the wine, a long and slender finger dabbing at a corner of his eye where the tears would flow. I raised my eyebrows in interest.
“You’re looking for someone? It’s rare to see anyone with a mole there.”
He was using his right hand to point at the spot by the right side of his face. Yifu’s mole was under his left eye.
However, even if the mole had been in the exact same place Nongyu indicated, I still wouldn’t have told him anything.
“I’ve heard at court that a legendary person who disappeared around these parts a few decades ago has reappeared. So, I made a special trip just to find them. Do you know…they say there’s a type of beast called a Fang Hua that can take on the appearance of humans? Although I don’t really believe this queer beast exists, I thought I’d give it a look.” He shook his head with a bitter smile. “His Imperial Majesty has been ill these recent years, and no medicines have been effective. An official like me should help to shoulder his lord’s burdens, so I wanted to search the area where the Fang Hua Beast has appeared before to see if there’s any Fang Hua Wood.”
“Isn’t the Fang Hua Wood capable of dispelling a hundred poisons?”
Could it be…
He gave me a surprised look. “Brother Shào really is experienced and knowledgable, you’re even aware of things like this.”
How could I not know? Everyday, someone prattled off the same things to my ear. I could only clasp my hands and reply modestly, “You’re too kind. As a student of poisons, of course I would know about their natural enemy.”
He smiled in understanding, but I couldn’t smile back. Could it be that the current emperor was suffering from an illness caused by poisoning?
If news of this spread, it’d be hard to keep things peaceful.
With yifu’s temperament… …it was still better to restrict his visits to the outside world.
“Then, how long does Lord Nongyu plan to stay around here?” As I poured myself more wine, my chopsticks picked up another bite and I chewed for a bit.
Only silence greeted me.
I raised my head and saw that he was looking downstairs, an extremely focused expression on his face. My heart skipped a beat. I’m finished. It couldn’t be that yifu had come out for a stroll…and had been spotted by this guy?
But he’d never come by his own will unless the Heavens started flooding the Earth.
It was still hard to be sure…
Aish, this was irritating.
I suddenly stood up, narrowing my eyes as I followed his gaze to the same direction. There weren’t many people on the streets, but the mood was still lively…
It was mainly because some building had opened for business and a few pretty girls were standing at the doors, gorgeously dressed. They waved their handkerchiefs around, hands adjusting their hair as they hailed lords and young masters and gentlemen.
I clicked my tongue.
Tch. I’ve spent half my life wearing nothing but men’s robes. I’d never seen such pretty dresses that showed off the waist and butt…when they swayed, the vision was extremely flirtatious.
Were they involved in the ’embroidery’ thing yifu had mentioned before? No wonder their business was booming…
Unconsciously, I spoke my words aloud as my eyes stared.
“Aye…” A light sigh reached me. “Brother Shào, that’s not an embroidery business.” Nongyu raised his head and studied me thoughtfully. “It’s a pleasure-seeking house for men. I heard it’s one of the best, called the Tipsy Breeze Courtyard.”
“I know, it’s a place to drink alcohol. Does your lordship visit it often?”
He sighed again and turned away. I could see his brows knitting together. “It’s not as simple as that. Such an outstanding, distinguished place still has its share of vile and despicable things. It’s not a place for virtuous men or scholars to go.”
After going around in circles, he finally admitted that he’d never gone before.
I smiled and said nothing, pouring myself a shallow cup of wine as I closed my eyes. Suddenly, a shadow drifted past me as a servant went to whisper something in his ear.
“Brother Shào, I have some business to attend to, so I’ll go on ahead.”
He stood up and smiled at me, sleeves swirling in the wind. It was a beautiful sight that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. But he really was a man of action. In the space of a blink, he had vanished with his servants from my sight.
I stayed by myself upstairs, eating and drinking, extremely happy.
Afterwards, I wiped the oil on my hands against my sleeves and went downstairs like some big shot. The golden leaves weighed in my hands as I considered how to report my expenses back home.
Suddenly, I saw a few of the people from next door…that figure, why did it look so familiar…wasn’t it Nongyu? Just when I was about to walk up and say hello, he was escorted by a few people into the Tipsy Breeze Courtyard.
I thought of how he’d spoken out so righteously: ‘Such an outstanding, distinguished place still has its share of vile and despicable things.’
That face, that energy, that sacred light shining on his intelligent mien exactly like a scholarly sage, his words filled with all the traditional virtues…he was simply Confucius reincarnated.
How could he flip-flop so quickly?
I rubbed my chin.
Looks like this Tipsy Breeze Courtyard definitely had its share of unspeakable merits. I slowly walked towards a vendor’s stall just opposite the courtyard and leaned against a door. In the end, I couldn’t resist peeking in the direction of that building.
“Young master…young master, are you interested in any of my wares? Why don’t you buy a painting for the trip back?”
Someone tugged on my sleeve.
I looked back and happened to see, above the vendor’s booth, a large, blow-up vision of the stall-keeper’s…long-suffering face.
It scared me out of my wits, enough to send my heart pounding. My eyes shifted, and saw the booth was full of paintings of beautiful women. This kind of beauty…
But, their looks still fell short of mine.
My mouth was flat. “I don’t want these.”
That stall-keeper tugged on my sleeve again and gave me a smile as he refused to let go. Instead, his voice grew smaller, “Young master… …you’re not only distinguished, but attractive and intelligent as well. I knew you were a gifted scholar as soon as I saw you.”
After speaking, he even glanced over at Tipsy Breeze Courtyard, laughing as if he understood everything. “I know want you want. You’re a pleasure-seeker, right?”
What kind of pleasure?
It’s fine if I didn’t understand.
While one was in the outside world, one had to keep one’s cool…
The stall-keeper’s eyes grew brighter.
He hurriedly waved me over, turning around to check the surroundings before pulling out a book from beneath the paintings.
“I have the goods for sale at this price.” He furtively raised up three fingers. “This is good stuff, freshly done by the artists in that building…”
I took a glance.
Naked men and women hugging each other. The scenes were unbelievably obscene. Flipping through the pages, I discovered, oh…every single picture had them embracing each other, just in different positions.
Now I was amused.
I fished out some silver before sticking the book inside my robes.
“Take care, young master.”
I nodded my head and turned around, my mood unbelievably happy as I walked down the streets. Humming a tune while I walked towards home, my image was that of a perfect big shot.
The rooms were quiet, but I seemed to hear the melodious sounds of aqin. My heart stilled, and the smile on my face disappeared. After some hesitation, I walked towards the jade-colored pond in the bamboo forest behind the backyard.
Occasionally, a gust of wind would fill the cool air with a sweet fragrance.
There was the pool with water so clear you could see to the bottom, surrounded by a few stalks of tall, slender bamboo. That was all there was, besides the two people there.
Han Zichuan had his head lowered to play the qin. Behind him stood Fang Hua, instructing him with his fingers.
The sunlight seeped past the bamboo woods to shine upon them both, dazzling slightly. A fresh gale blew past, lifting their sashes in the air while flowers fell like rain.
A white robe was spread out beneath the two as if they were celestial beings. Their eyebrows were as slender as spring willows, their eyes as lucid as autumn waters.
I felt pain from the depths of my heart, and took a few steps back.
But my footsteps faltered, and I nearly fell into the jade pool as my body wobbled sideways. The chilly water ended up soaking through my shoes and socks. My body lost all of its strength, and my mind turned blank as I sat down by the pool.
The sound of the qin ceased abruptly.
“Shao’er, so you’ve finally come. Zichuan and I waited for a long time.” a light, soft voice sounded by my ears.
Not only did I feel unhappy, but rather distasteful all over. I stayed dazed for a while before hurriedly getting to my feet. I dusted off the dirt and said in a very unwilling voice, “Yifu.”
Perhaps I had moved too quickly, but all the objects in the front of my robes came tumbling out.
It was like water and flowers flowing in all directions.
A thin book fell down with its pages open, soaking in the pool.
“What are you doing just standing there? Your things fell down.” I didn’t catch when Fang Hua made his way behind me to help out of good intentions. A hand reached out as he bent down. Before the book could sink underwater…
…he fished it up with his hands.
I wanted to hide its contents from him…but he actually shook free the water droplets and flipped it open to take a look.
I’m screwed. Those were the pornographic pictures I’d just bought today…
paper money (??) ?yin piao, or silver draft, a form of paper money in ancient times.  Shào…Yu (??) ?it’s tricky to tell in English, but originally Shao’er went with the name given to her by her yifu, which was Shao (?). But since that word has the same pronunciation as ‘spoon’, she went with another one that sounded similar. Shào (?) is also a surname, while Yu (?) means jade. You can click on the speakerphones in the Chinese links to hear the difference in pronunciation.😉  Non Yu/Nongyu (??) ?(see the Chinese link for pronunciation) this name is a bit funny. We already know Yu is jade, but non is one of those words that stands in for “to do” in the Chinese language. It could also mean to “play with” or “fool with”, so in this case his name might mean “playing/fooling (around) with jade”. Considering Shao’er disguised herself as Shao Yu (Shao Jade), well…you get why Nongyu was smiling now? uwu  sell good meat with dog meat (?????) ?yangrou mai gourou. Actually, yangrou translates to “lamb,” but used in this context, it’s an euphenism for good-quality meat. Nongyu uses this idiom to express his disbelief that the pills being sold at the pharmacies are really those so-called rare, unusual types. all the traditional virtues (????) ?renyi daode, the traditional virtues of compassion, duty, propriety and integrity. Used in this idiom, they have a sarcastic, hypocritical meaning. qin (?) – this may or may not be a zither, depending on the number of strings.
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