Fu Rou was embroidering in her own residence as she saw a servant let Chumu in. She did not remember when it started but it had become a daily occurrence for Sheng Chumu to be around her.
Sheng Chumu brought a stool over and leaned near her stool. He looked at Fu Rou.
Fu Rou did not mind him as she coincidentally reached the end of her intricate embroidery. Bending over and lowering her head, she gathered her strings on the rack. A strand of luscious black hair fell from behind her ears. Her neck was white as snow and looked extremely slender. From the side, her powdered cheeks looked like a lotus that had emerged from a pond. It caused Sheng Chumu’s heart to palpitate wildly and he could not help but get closer to her. In fact, he got so close that he was about to reach her cheek. Fu Rou turned around as Sheng Chumu quickly shifted his gaze, pretending to examine her needlework.
Fu Rou wanted to laugh. “You are a guy. Are you really interested in my needlework?”
Sheng Chumu immediately replied, “You shouldn’t say that. There are three hundred and sixty trades, with a master in each and every trade. Embroidery is also an intricate study. What is wrong with me wanting to learn?”
“Embroidery is also a study?” Fu Rou nodded, “That makes sense. Do you really want to learn?”
Sheng Chumu was not afraid of anything in this world, except for not having a chance to get close to Fu Rou. “If I greet you as my teacher, would you accept me?”
“I won’t accept you. Your fingertips are too big. They are suited for arrows and swords, but they cannot hold a needle. However, if you wish to listen, I can still tell you about it.” Fu Rou pointed at the picture she had just sewn. “I used the Guang embroidery method for this.”
Sheng Chumu pretended to be interested. “Why is it called the Guang embroidery method? Oh, I know. Because we are in Guangzhou, so you used the Guang embroidery method, right?”
“Nonsense.” His answer made Fu Rou laugh and she continued, “It depends on what kind of picture you want to sew. This picture is of an apricot forest in spring, surrounded by swallows. The entire scene is filled at every corner with lush vegetation. Using the Guang embroidery method, the raking stitch, knot stitch and feather stitch are the main stitches that creates the majestic look.”
Sheng Chumu seemed to be enlightened, “I wouldn’t know if you didn’t tell me. It really looks very majestic.” He took the chance to try and ask for more, “Rou’er, help me sew a picture! Mandarin ducks playing in the water! How about that?”
“Didn’t I just sew a fragrance pouch for you?” Fu Rou groaned.
“But you see, I carry this fragrance pouch with me the entire day. If it spoils or becomes old, I will be heartbroken. If you sew another picture for me and make it into a small screen fan, I can leave it in my room.”
“I can sew it for you but not mandarin ducks playing in the water.” Fu Rou thought that it was too tacky. “A scenery picture is the most soothing. How about I sew a picture of the sky and the ocean for you?”
“Okay!” Anything would do.
“Then you have to remember to give me the draft picture.”
“Draft?” Sheng Chumu had a bad feeling.
“Without a draft, how am I going to create the embroidery?” Fu Rou had yet to notice Sheng Chumu’s troubled face. “Since you write beautifully, you must draw nicely too.”
“Of course.” Sheng Chumu stuck out his chest as he forced himself to regain his energy. “I promise that the draft will be spirited and encompass the energy of the ocean.”
Fu Rou laughed as she continued to sew. She casually mentioned about concealing stitches. Sheng Chumu found it extremely interesting and asked Fu Rou to explain further. Fu Rou was surprised. Sheng Chumu had a great memory and could easily understand after she had explained only once.
“Rou’er, I have something I want to ask you. You can’t get angry at me.” Seeing that Fu Rou was in a good mood today, Sheng Chumu tried asking.
Fu Rou nodded.
“Who is Yan Zifang?” Seeing Fu Rou’s expression change immediately, Sheng Chumu rushed to explain, “That night, I heard you talking to the moon.”
“Were you actually studying the stars or were you eavesdropping?” Fu Rou suddenly stood up, ignoring Sheng Chumu’s calls. She walked into her courtyard and slammed the door shut.
Sheng Chumu rubbed his nose. As soon as he mentioned Yan Zifang, Rou’er became furious, there must be something behind this. If Rou’er was not going to tell him, there will be somebody that will. Sheng Chumu decided to go and look for Fu Yin.
As Sheng Chumu entered Fu Yin’s room, he saw her sitting in front of the table, supporting her chin with her hands and daydreaming. “Sister Yin!”
Fu Yin became aware of her surroundings once more, but when she saw that it was Sheng Chumu, she pursed her lips in disappointment, “Oh, it is you.”
Sheng Chumu laughed, “Who were you expecting?”
Fu Yin obviously would not answer him. “You came at the right time. Today, I saw a piece of paper in the study room…” Sheng Chumu, however, cut her off impatiently, “Who is Yan Zifang?”
Fu Yin’s face changed, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know, or you don’t want to tell me?” Sheng Chumu could see through her.
“It is Second Sister’s story and it is not my place to tell you.” Fu Yin chased him away. “You can go ask Second Sister.”
Third Madam suddenly stuck her head through the window. “Chumu, I will tell you.”
Both Fu Yin and Sheng Chumu jumped in shock. Third Madam walked lightly into the room. “Yan Zifang and Rou’er had a childhood betrothal.”
Sheng Chumu felt as if his heart had fallen into a deep abyss. “Then where is Yan Zifang now?”
“He is dead.” Third Madam sighed as she shook her head. Sheng Chumu’s heart jumped right back onto the surface. “Dead?”
Third Madam finally got a rare chance to gossip as saliva flew out of her mouth. “Fu Rou is a jinx. As soon as they settled the betrothal with the Yan family, their family was completely wiped out. Yan Zifang himself drowned in a river. The Chen family wanted to take her in as their daughter-in-law and look at the miserable state the Chen family is in now. I heard that First Lady Chen’s liver hurts every day from the anger she suffered. That’s why, our Fu Yin is better. She is pure and innocent. Chumu, don’t you agree?”
A gust of wind blew past as Third Madam realised that Sheng Chumu was nowhere to be found. “Eh, where did he go?”
Fu Yin rolled her eyes. Sheng Chumu stuck his head through the window unexpectedly. “Oh right, Sister Yin, what does your Second Sister like?”
Fu Yin answered matter of fact, “She likes embroidery, of course.”
Sheng Chumu was dissatisfied. “What kind of embroidery? From which master?”
“Oh.” Fu Yin understood, “My Second Sister likes Lady Hui’s embroidery the best…” Sheng Chumu nodded sharply and ran off.
“Grandfather gave Second Sister one of Lady Hui’s pieces and Second Sister has been taking extremely good care of it. She treats it like the family heirloom. Hey! I’m not done!” Fu Yin sighed before realizing that her mother was glaring at her.
Both of her children were good for nothings! Third Madam was about to die of anger. Her son spends his days around Fu Rou while her daughter is helping to match Fu Rou with Sheng Chumu.
Fu Rou sat by the window. The day had come to an end. The clouds in the sky were dyed red before eventually turning grey.
When Sheng Chumu mentioned Yan Zifang, she suddenly felt extremely confused. When she agreed to marry Chen You, it was out of desperation to solve her family’s financial problems. She did not have any feelings and was also not apologetic. But she has been moved by Sheng Chumu and when he suddenly brought up Yan Zifang, she suddenly felt guilty; especially since he was the one that brought him up. All these years, Fu Rou still thought of herself as Yan Zifang’s fiancée. However, Sheng Chumu’s appearance has caused her to momentarily forget.
“Yan Zifang, are you the one that sent Chumu to me? Are you trying to tell me that there are other guys who are good at both literature and martial arts and have a sense of justice? If so, thank you.” Fu Rou mumbled to herself as her emotions cleared up.
As a child, she could not grab onto Yan Zifang’s hand. Now, she must grab onto her own happiness.
Ziyun reported, “Your Second Aunt is here. Master wants you to go over.” Fu Rou let out a long breath but plastered a smile on her face as she got up.
As she entered the hall, Fu Rou greeted her Second Aunt and stood quietly by the side, listening to the elders talk. As Third Madam was not paying attention to her, Fu Yin took the chance to move closer to Fu Rou.
“Second Sister, let me tell you something. Brother Lu accidentally let slip that Brother Chumu’s calligraphy is actually quite ugly. He only knows how to write those four characters.”
Fu Rou froze and frowned, “That’s just a hearsay, we can’t take it as the truth.”
Fu Yin stuck out her tongue.
At this moment, Second Aunt raised her voice, “You all may not know but Chang'an has a lot of hedonistic young nobles. I was afraid that Rong An would learn from them and kept a close watch over him every day. It is only after he got married that I dare to come out.”
Fu Yin loved to listen to gossip and her attention immediately shifted. “I know Chang'an has a lot of outstanding officials.”
Second Aunt nodded, “That is a little outdated. These years, at least half of Chang'an is made up of hedonists. Chumoliangjian wins over Jinfan.” (tl: 处默亮剑盛金帆, it sounds like Chumo takes out his sword and defeats Jinfan in Chinese.)
Fu Rou’s heart fell.
“Brother Chumu?” Fu Yin was intrigued, “Chumu’s sword play is excellent. Did he win against someone called Jinfan? What has this got to do with hedonists?”
“Eh, that is not what I meant.” Second Aunt’s expression did not look good. “What that means is that in Chang'an, the three most famous hedonists are the young lords from the Duke Lu Residence. They are Sheng Chumu, Sheng Chuling and Sheng Chujun. Together, they are known as Chumoliangjian [Note]. As for Jinfan, it refers to a girl from a brothel. In order to make her happy, the three brothers fought to use her embroidered shoes as a cup to drink from. Just the thought of it is disgusting.”
Fu Rou stood up. “I don’t feel well. I am going back to my room to rest.”
Everyone stared at Fu Rou’s sudden departure, not knowing the reason why she left. Only Third Madam’s expression changed as she plastered a smile on her face and beckoned Fu Yin to her. Fu Yin walked over unwillingly.
Third Madam spoke softly, “Shouldn’t you check on why your Second Sister is not feeling well suddenly?”
“Hmm?” Fu Yin found it strange. Third Madam nudged Fu Yin.
As Fu Yin walked into Fu Rou’s chamber, she saw Fu Rou staring blankly at the paper with “自强不息(striving for self-improvement)” written on it.
Fu Yin could not help herself, “Second Sister, I am not spouting nonsense. Brother Chumu really only knows how to write these four characters well. I saw a note written by him and the characters are really ugly.”
Fu Rou shook her head furiously. No, Chumu wouldn’t lie to her.
Fu Yin was not completely oblivious to her feelings. “Okay, I won’t say anymore. Now, I am learning calligraphy from Brother Lu. Brother Lu not only writes well; he also draws very well. Last night, he just painted a picture of a setting sun over the ocean. He said that when he frames it up, he will give it to me.”
Fu Rou forced a laugh, “You are so easily bought over with just a painting.”
Fu Yin protested playfully, “Not even. I am seeing the true side of him. On the other hand, Second Sister, you are so smart. Don’t be fooled by a bunch of sentences from a Chang'an hedonist…”
Fu Rou’s expression changed. Fu Yin immediately shut her mouth and took her leave.
Sheng Chumu was not at all concerned about the visit from the Fu family’s relatives. He had no idea that one of them knew his exact character. He only knew he was very lucky. Fu Rou was just talking about an ocean pattern and Du Ning happened to have a piece with him. Sheng Chumu stole the picture and was going to plagiarize it as his own. Carrying the scroll, he rushed happily into Fu Rou’s garden, calling for her loudly.
As Fu Rou walked out of her courtyard, she said, “Don’t shout so loudly, the entire residence can hear you.” Should she ask Chumu about it and hear what he has to say?
Sheng Chumu assessed her expression and figured that she was no longer angry with him. His emotions relaxed. “You’re no longer angry with me?”
Fu Rou said blandly, “I am not so petty. With regard to me and Yan Zifang, it is not like I can’t tell you. If you want to know…”
Sheng Chumu hid the fact that he had already found out and pretended to be magnanimous. “The most important thing between people is trust. As long as I trust you, it doesn’t matter if it is Yan Zifang, Yan Ziyuan or even Yan Zituoyuan . I don’t care.” The person was dead now and was no longer a threat to him!
Fu Rou had another deeper thought as she repeated, “That’s right, trust is the most important thing amongst people…”
Sheng Chumu was busy spreading out the painting and could not sense her intention. “This is the draft you wanted me to draw for the embroidery of an oceanic scenery. How is it?”
“Did you…really draw this?” Didn’t Fu Yin just mention that Du Ning drew a scene of a sunset over the ocean? Chumu also drew the same ocean sunset? Could it be a coincidence?
“Of course. I am famous in Chang'an for my painting skills. Even my brother-in-law, Prince Han, praised me.” Sheng Chumu did not need to have a script to talk big.
“I just mentioned it this morning.” Fu Rou said lightly.
“I drew it this afternoon. It was done in one sitting.” Sheng Chumu continued easily.
Fu Rou took the painting and walked to the study room. Sheng Chumu followed her.
Who would have known that the minute Fu Rou entered the study room, she spread the painting onto the table, readied the ink and dipped a brush in. She then held it out for Sheng Chumu.
“What are you doing?” Chumu found it weird.
“Write something.” Fu Rou remained expressionless. “I will sew the characters in as well. How great would that be.”
Sheng Chumu took the brush and was about to write.
“Don’t write striving for self-improvement.” Fu Rou suddenly declared.
Sheng Chumu froze. “Why not?”
“This is a painting of a sunset over the ocean, what has it got to do with self-improvement? Write beautiful day.” Fu Rou was feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the situation.
“Look at this fishing boat, it is catching fish for one’s livelihood. Isn’t that self-improvement? Look at this mew gull, it is flying desperately. Isn’t that also self-improvement? If you want me to write, I will write self-improvement.” Words flew out of Sheng Chumu’s mouth.
“Write beautiful day (风和日丽).” Fu Rou insisted. She wanted to see for herself whether Chumu was a fraud.
“No, I will write striving for self-improvement.” Sheng Chumu desperately tried not to fall into her trap. He did not allow her to argue anymore as he wrote self-improvement on the painting. He still had the audacity to show-off. “How is it? Doesn’t it match well with the painting?”
Fu Rou looked at him with a complicated expression. Although she had lost all hope, she hesitated for a while before asking, “Do you have any siblings?”
Sheng Chumu had no suspicions as he answered, “I have two younger brothers, Chuling and Chujun. We are very close and often go together to…” He almost slipped up. “To study.”
Fu Rou did not say anything as she turned and left. When she returned to her courtyard, Fu Rou shut the door behind her tightly. If this continued, the only person she would be fooling would be herself. She turned around to face the wall and gazed at the characters that Sheng Chumu had gifted her. The four characters were bold and strong, she had looked at it and associated it with his personality. Who knew—
Fu Rou stared blankly at it for a while before suddenly ripping the paper to shreds.