Chapter 1.1: Spring

Second reign of the Tang Dynasty. Springtime. 

Life was booming in spring. The great yellow plains stretched as far as the eyes could reach as the boundless green grass of the paddy field waved in the wind. Two horses cut through the wind, kicking up puffs of sand, causing the sun to appear red. It looked as if someone had painted a haze over the scenery. The view was picturesque.

On the horses’ backs, there was a master and his servant. Luggage hung from the horses, they looked like they were going to a faraway place. The young master was refined and graceful. He wore a green garment, and anyone could tell that he was a scholar.

The young man suddenly heard someone shout for him from behind. 

“Du Ning, Du Ning!” Sheng Chumu was sitting unsteadily on his horse. His horse was slightly uncontrolled, and he looked as if he would fall off at any moment.

Sheng Chumu had come out of his residence, wanting to find his good friend, Du Ning, to go have some fun. Who knew that Du Ning would not be around? He was told that Du Ning was headed to Guangzhou to attend a wedding. When Sheng Chumu found out, he rushed over, not wanting to miss out on the fun.

When Du Ning heard Sheng Chumu’s voice, he wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. With this guy around, nothing good would come out of it. Usually it was fine, but this time he was going to attend a wedding. He was not going to create trouble for his relatives. Although this was what he thought in his mind, he still pulled on the reins of his horse and waited for Sheng Chumu to catch up. After all, Sheng Chumu only had him as his only friend.

“Du Ning, why are you going so fast? Is your cousin’s wife that beautiful?” Sheng Chumu’s butt was sore from getting rubbed against the saddle. It was so painful he could not sit still as he kept on hissing in pain.

Du Ning could not bother to reply. He was not like Sheng Chumu who only had eyes for beautiful ladies and would eye his younger cousin’s future wife whom he had yet to meet.

All of a sudden, an army appeared in front of them. They moved in formation and their armour shone. They all wore satisfied looks upon their faces. Sheng Chumu caught sight of the flag that was waving in the air. The huge “Lu” character displayed on it caused him to squint. Acting according to the Emperor’s orders, Lu Yunji had led an army to subdue rebel troops and was returning victorious.

“Great General Lu has divided and conquered the rebel army. Brilliant!” Chang’an had received news and Du Ning was no exception.

Sheng Chumu rolled his eyes at Du Ning.

Lu Yunji and Sheng Xiaojing were both founding officials to the Emperor. However, Sheng Xiaojing was much older and has suffered numerous injuries throughout his years. The Emperor no longer sent him out to the battlefield. On the other hand, Lu Yunji dominated on matters relating to the army and was extremely prominent in court. Their fathers silently competed against each other, so naturally, Sheng Chumu would clash with Lu Qi whenever they meet.

At this moment, Sheng Chumu’s personal manservant, Junhui, hurried over with a carriage. Sheng Chumu slowly got off his horse with Junhui’s help. Wincing and limping, he made his way to the horse carriage, crying out in pain with every step.

“Your father, Sheng Xiaojing, is famous all over the land especially back in his days. Yet, you didn’t inherit even a single bit of his powerful demeanor.” Du Ning did not care about Sheng Chumu’s eyeroll and said what he thought.

Sheng Chumu climbed onto the carriage clumsily and sat in. He turned back and grinned at Du Ning, not showing any hint of self-reflection.

“Ah ah, don’t be jealous. This is called fate! Predecessors plant trees so that the later generation can sit in the shade. Grandfather served the country his entire life, of course I have to enjoy the benefits on his behalf. If not, why would the emperor confer the title of Duke on our Sheng family? It’s for us to enjoy the rest of our lives!”

The Lu family’s infantry rode towards them. “Who stopped their horse carriage here? Make way!” 

The soldiers brandished their whip at the horses attached to the horse carriage. The horses kicked up in a frenzy, causing the carriage to topple to the side. Sheng Chumu cried out as he was thrown out of the carriage, looking extremely dishevelled.

“How dare you! This is the eldest son of Duke Lu!” Du Ning was still extremely loyal and immediately brought up Sheng Chumu’s father.

The soldiers burst out in laughter, “Duke Lu, Duke Rou, who cares! We only recognize our great general! Look at you guys, a bunch of sneaky looking people. I am eighty-percent sure that you are spies from the rebel army!”

The group of soldiers rushed over as they surrounded Sheng Chumu and Du Ning’s group. They brandished their weapons as a murderous aura filled the air.

“What is going on?” Lu Yunji noticed the commotion and personally came over to take a look. All the soldiers immediately looked respectful.

“General, they are spies from the rebel army.” The infantry soldiers clasped their hands respectfully as they reported.

Sheng Chumu pushed away the soldiers that were holding on to him and neaten his clothes. Stepping up to Lu Yunji, he bowed, “Uncle Lu, I am your nephew, Sheng Chumu. Congratulations on your victory, Uncle Lu.”

Lu Yunji smiled, “Oh, it is you. What are you doing here?”

“I am headed to Guangzhou with a friend. We accidentally blocked the road with our horse carriage, and they framed us as spies. If you hadn’t recognized me, I believe my head would have been chopped off and offered to you.” Sheng Chumu replied.

Lu Yunji glanced at his soldiers as he asked coldly, “Is that true?”

His soldiers kneeled down in fear. “We were careless, please forgive us, Great General!”

Lu Yunji ordered lightly, “Behead them all.”

Incessant wails of anguish filled the air as blood stained the ground. In a blink of an eye, tens of lives were lost. Lu Yunji, however, behaved as if this was not happening in front of him. He continued to smile at Sheng Chumu and exchange greetings, asking him about the recent issues, speaking regretfully about how the emperor did not send him out to battle. He mentioned how in order to obtain fine wine from the emperor, he had to experience dealing with the rebel army. 

Sheng Chumu may have sensed Lu Yunji mocking his own father but chose to ignore it as he replied modestly, “On behalf of my father, thank you, Uncle Lu.”

Lu Yunji addressed the remainder of his army that had just arrived, “Although they disobeyed military rules, ultimately, they were still part of our army and have made some contributions. Don’t let them be too lonely on their journey ahead in the afterlife. Select a hundred captives and kill them. Let them accompany our soldiers to the underworld, let them help our soldiers of the Great Tang army pave the way."

The soldiers obeyed and went to carry out their orders.

Immediately, cries loud enough to shock the heavens could be heard from the captives.

Seeing how the captives were all either old, weak or female, Sheng Chumu could not help but say, “My father used to say it was not ethical to kill captives. These captives did not do anything wrong. They are all elderly, female or children. Uncle Lu, please have mercy on them.”

Lu Yunji disagreed, “These are all family members of the rebel army. They are not even worth more than an ant. As a descendent from a family of generals, how can you be soft hearted?”

With a single command, the entire ground became bloodstained.

Sheng Chumu averted his eyes as he looked at the wide plains stretched before him. If he had to become a general who treated people’s lives as if they were nothing, he would rather be Chang’an’s number one playboy and spend his life cherishing an uncountable number of beautiful women. 

 

Guangzhou. Fu Residence.

The ‘xi’ word was plastered all over windows, and the entire house was decorated in a celebrative red. People were moving about, exchanging congratulatory words as if a miracle had happened.

On a crescent bench, the shadow of a beauty could be seen looking thin and cold, a complete contrast from the indigo wedding dress she was wearing.

Second Madam gazed at the outline of her daughter’s back as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Stop crying.” Fu Rou instructed coldly.

“You are going to be married soon, as your mother, why can’t I cry?” Second Madam ignored her.

“Rou’er, you should be more understanding towards your mother.” Third Madam said as she walked through the Fu family’s front door. Her figure was smooth, and she was dressed charmingly. “Your mother is not like me. I have a son and a daughter. Even when my daughter marries, I still have Tao’er with me. Your mother only has you, now that you are going to be married, how can she not cry?”

Third Madam looked at Second Madam. “Second Madam, you shouldn’t be so upset. Rou’er is blessed that even at nineteen she is able to find someone devoted to her from the Chen family.”

Fu Rou turned and looked at Third Madam coldly, “Third Madam, are you here for something?”

“Of course, I am here to congratulate you.”  Third Madam picked up a fresh flower from the dresser and moved to place it by Fu Rou’s temple.

Fu Rou avoided her and took the flower. “One flower is enough.”

“All these years, you took care of our internal affairs, it must have been tough on you. I should help you add one more flower.”

Before Third Madam finished her sentence, Fu Rou had already placed the flower back on the dresser. Third Madam’s expression darkened as she threw Old Maid Chang a look.

Old Maid Chang forced a laugh, “Congratulations, Lady Rou. As for the family’s accounts--”

Fu Rou’s servant, Ziyun, immediately cut her off, “Who comes to ask for the family’s account book during a time like this?”

“Now that you are part of the Chen family, it is inappropriate to continue holding on to your maiden family’s account book.” Third Madam looked as if she wanted to laugh, “Moreover, I am here on orders of our family head.”

Fu Rou stared coldly at Third Madam as a look of understanding flashed through her eyes. In the second that Third Madam averted her gaze, “Ziyun, hand over the accounts.”

Ziyun frowned, “But…”

Fu Rou turned her head and faced the dresser mirror. “Give it to her.”

Ziyun had no choice but to retrieve the account book. As soon as she turned around, Old Maid Chang had snatched it over and handed it to Third Madam.

“The sedan from the Chen family has arrived.” First Madam of the Fu family said as she entered the room with her daughter, Fu Jun, supporting her arm. Oblivious of the exchange that has just occurred, she called out joyfully, “Is everything ready?”

Fu Rou got up to greet them.

Fu Jun helped Fu Rou up and quietly reminded her, “Younger Sister, once you get to your husband’s home, you can’t behave as you have before. You must control your temperament and be filial to them.”

Fu Rou let out a soft sound of assent. Fu Rou grabbed onto a circular fan as she lowered her eyes and covered her face. She suppressed the coldness in her eyes and allowed herself to be escorted.

 

Meanwhile, Sheng Chumu followed Du Ning and had reached the Chen family.

First Lady Chen, who had long forgotten what Du Ning looked like, enthusiastically asked him about his official position and what his rank was. Du Ning expressed that he was currently still studying and only had some friends that were government officials.

First Lady Chen did not believe him and took it as Du Ning being modest. “As the saying goes, to meet the prime minister, you must first go through the seven ranks below him. Nephew, since you are close to them, you must be at least rank five, no, rank four?”

Sheng Chumu burst out laughing, “First Lady Chen, you must know a lot.”

It was then that First Lady Chen noticed him. “This is--”

Sheng Chumu joked as he self-introduced, “According to your logic, I guess I will be rank nine?”

First Lady Chen raised her eyebrows as she seemed to look down on him, “Rank nine is somewhat low, but I guess it is still a government position. You can still help keep up our appearance for today.”

Sheng Chumu held back his laughter and winked at Du Ning.

“Aunty, is the new bride’s household special?” Du Ning asked.

“The older sister of the bride had initially married a poor scholar. Who knew that he would end up performing brilliantly, leading to them becoming one of the main residences here. The Fu family is now like a peacock that opened its tail feathers.” First Lady Chen looked displeased. “If that was all, it would have been okay. However, during the last festival, my son caught a glimpse of Lady Rou and had his heart stolen. He stubbornly forced me to ask for her hand in marriage. I could not win against him and thought that I would casually ask for her hand in marriage and have them reject it so that my son could give up. Who knew that they would actually accept the proposal?”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Du Ning asked.

First Lady Chen spat out, “Nephew, you don’t know Lady Rou. She is famous in our area for being picky and difficult. A few years ago, there were a lot of people that asked for her hand. All of them were rich and respectable, yet she never agreed. It was only later that I understood. She is getting old now and nobody wants her. That is why she agreed to our proposal. She even asked for a betrothal gift of five thousand taels. She is emptying out our family’s fortune. If not for your younger cousin only wanting to marry her and no one else, hmph – Guangzhou’s number one beauty? She is clearly a fox!”

Du Ning did not know how to react. Just then, an old maid ran into the room frantically. She waved a piece of paper as she handed it over to First Lady Chen.

First Lady Chen read the paper as her expression changed. She held the piece of paper in a death grip. “Very good, so she is indeed a fox. She did such an embarrassing thing and has the guts to use our family to cover up. Hurry and bring Sixth Matchmaker to me!”

Soon, Sixth Matchmaker was brought in. The old maid straightened out the piece of paper and presented it to Sixth Matchmaker.

Sheng Chumu definitely did not want to miss the opportunity as he read the content out loud, “Son of the Chen family…getting married…bought a daughter-in-law…not pure. Huh? Not pure?”

Du Ning froze, “Are they saying…that the bride is not a virgin?”

Sixth Matchmaker was shocked, “This cannot be!”

“You blind and foolish woman, now what should we do?!” A fire blazed in First Lady Chen’s eyes. 

Sixth Matchmaker’s eyes flickered as her eyebrows rose. She seemed to have thought of something as she leaned in and whispered into First Lady Chen’s ears. First Lady Chen’s anger immediately dissipated.

Sheng Chumu saw this exchange. This was getting fun.

 

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