Chapter 9.2: Chang’an

“I will always wait for you.” Fu Rou gently removed her wrist from his grasp as she continued on her way. 

Hearing what Fu Rou said, Sheng Chumu walked with an air of determination as he left. Having seen Chumu, Fu Rou also felt more confident in facing Consort Han.

“I heard from Xiahan that you were the one that mended this robe.” Consort Han had summoned her because of the mended robe that she received that morning. 

Fu Rou looked at Xiahan, who was standing nervously by the side. She smiled. “Yes, it was me.”

Consort Han did not mention how the entire robe now looked much better but only commented, “There are less pearls.”

“I removed some.” Fu Rou replied, “Too much of anything is never good. The same goes for embroidery. The picture on this robe is already extremely vibrant. It was embroidered with gold threads, silver threads, five different colours of silk and a large number of pearls. It was so dazzling such that it looked slightly coarse.”

As soon as Madam Lu heard this, she scolded. “Impudent! Consort Han is extremely respected and honourable. It is only right for her to wear luxurious clothes. Who are you to critique?” 

Consort Han said to Fu Rou, “Continue speaking.” 

Fu Rou gained confidence. “An embroidery is like a painting, it cannot be completely filled. Some areas should be complicated while other areas should be intentionally left blank. Only then, can the irregular arrangement become charming and refined. This is just my humble opinion. Please forgive me if I am wrong.”

Consort Han seemed happy as she nodded. “Although there are less pearls on this robe, it still looks pleasing. You have done well. Reward her.”

By the side, a servant carried a plate. On it were two strings of coins. Fu Rou received them. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

“However, I still have to punish you for making your own decisions to change the design on the robe.” Consort Han gestured. Two servants carried a large screen over. It was covered in a white fabric with a picture of a peony on it.

“This was a peony drawn by a famous artist, Fan Luzeng, also known as Mister Fan, for his son. I have always wanted to turn it into an embroidery but could never find an appropriate person to do it. Since you seem to be good at embroidery, I will hand this task over to you. Fu Rou, you have to be careful with this. If you do this well, you will be rewarded. However, if you don’t, I will add on today’s mistake and you will be receiving a harsh punishment.”

Fu Rou's eyes were already glowing with excitement. Not only would she be able to see a famous painting, she could also try to embroider it out. What a valuable opportunity. 

 

Fu Rou was pondering over the picture of the peony when Xiahan walked in. The two of them had gotten closer because of Xiahan’s younger sister’s wedding dress. “Are you still thinking about the screen? If you really can’t embroider the flower, I suggest that you ask for forgiveness from Her Highness. Her Highness has always been forgiving. She will at most scold you but will not give you a harsh punishment.” Xiahan was still feeling slightly guilty. After all, this was all because of her.

Fu Rou turned back and smiled at her. “It is not that I can’t do it. I am thinking about the best way to embroider it. When dealing with a high grade embroidery piece, where the first stitch is placed is the most important thing. Once I have thought it through, the rest will be easy.” 

Fu Rou noticed the paper bag in Xiahan’s hand and asked, “You just came back from your relatives? How is your sister?”

“My sister was extremely delighted when she saw the wedding dress. When she heard that you helped me, she specially bought a green bean cake for me to give to you.” Xiahan opened the box containing the green bean cakes. 

The two of them chatted while enjoying the green bean cakes. “It has been a few days since you entered here, why haven’t you gone out to visit your relatives?” Xiahan asked.

“Her Highness only allows me to have one day of leave over the new year.” Fu Rou paused as her tone became light once again. “But the days will pass very quickly. There is someone out there who is more anxious than me. He is thinking of a way to get me out of here.”

“Who is this person that you are talking about?” Xiahan was extremely curious. Fu Rou smiled but did not say anymore. It was not yet time to announce her relationship with Sheng Chumu. Not only was this to protect herself, it was also to protect him.

“Fine, I won’t ask. I want to ask you for another favour.” Xiahan took out a pouch. She flattened her hands together as she pleaded earnestly. “Can you help me bring this to the Pear Garden and give it to someone?”  She leaned in towards Fu Rou and whispered the name into her ear. 

Fu Rou teased Xiahan. “You have to personally give it to him to feel your sincerity.” She remembered the lonely look that Xiahan had when she talked about her sister getting married. She did not not know that Xiahan already had someone she liked and was delighted for her.

Xiahan blushed as she grabbed onto Fu Rou’s elbow and acted cute. “If I could hand it over myself, I would have done it already. Why would I have to ask you? Will you help me please?”

Fu Rou succumbed to her coax as she took the pouch and headed to the Pear Garden.

 

There were quite a number of people in the Pear Garden. Some were training their voices while others were practicing their expressions and actions. Some were also rehearsing for a play. Fu Rou was looking at everything with interest when all of a sudden, someone holding a rod walked up to her. “Who are you looking for?” The man was handsome with stunning features. He was on the tall side. The edges of his eyes were turned slightly upward as his pupils could change expressions easily.

“Is Xiong Rui around?” Fu Rou liked beautiful people and smiled at him gently.

“Xiong Rui is on leave today. He went to visit his relatives. If you have something to tell him, I can relay it to him when he gets back.” 

The handsome man spoke slowly, giving off a casual and lazy vibe. 

Fu Rou retrieved the pouch from her sleeve. “Someone asked me to give this to him. Since he is not around, could I trouble you to pass it to him?”

The handsome man replied, “You have to at least tell me who it is from.”

“Xiahan.”

The handsome man took the pouch and turned to leave.

“Wait.” Fu Rou called him back, learning from him quickly. “You have to at least tell me who I am passing the pouch to.”

“It is just a pouch. Are you afraid that I will keep it for myself?” However, he continued to answer, “My name is Chen Ji. Got it?” 

“Got it.” That’s a nice name. 

 

In the Duke Lu Residence, it was bustling with activity like before. However, it was slightly bewildering. Although it was still the same three brothers, instead of playing and drinking all day, cries of anguish from studying filled the room.

Sheng Chumu held a huge rod in one hand and a small lash in the other. When it came to disciplining his two younger brothers, he was unrivalled, even against Niu Wudi. He forced them to study in the day and train in the night, refusing to let them rest.

This kind of activity made Madam Sheng anxious whereas Sheng Xiaojing was smiling. Both of them came to the same conclusion – Sheng Chumu was finally acting like an elder brother. 

However, when there is oppression there would always be resistance. On this day, the two brothers could not stand it any longer as they crawled to their mother for help. Grabbing onto her legs, they cried to her for help. Although Madam Sheng could tell that they had lost weight, her two younger sons still seemed to be filled with energy. She did not know how to comfort them and instead chose to side with her eldest son.

“Chumu is doing this for your sakes.”

Sheng Chuling pointed at his eyebags. “Mother, he has already thought of where our graves should be.”

Sheng Chujun had a medicinal tape stuck on his nose. “He has already decided on the shape and material of our coffin.”

“This…” Madam Sheng held back. “Your elder brother is like your father…”

“He is even fiercer than Father!”

“Ten times fiercer! He has beaten us to a pulp!”

“King of hell!”

“An executor!”

“Mother, if you don’t help us, we will…we will start fighting amongst ourselves!”

“That’s right! We are going to rebel against Elder Brother. We will resist to the end!”

The two brothers let out complaint after complaint. They stick their heads out, looking like geese crying out. 

Sheng Chumu suddenly entered the room. “I have been looking all over for you guys. Are you all here to greet Mother?”

Sheng Chumu kneeled down as he took a tea cup and offered it to Madam Sheng. “Mother, please have some tea. Be careful, it is hot.” 

Madam Sheng reached for it in a daze. She took a sip, feeling slightly uncomfortable with how polite her son was behaving. Sheng Xiaojing had just returned from a court meeting and walked through the door. He looked at the scene in front of him, lighting up with interest.

Having caught sight of him, Sheng Chumu thought that he would make use of this opportunity. He could show off to his parents and brothers.

“Have you all memorised the books that I asked you to?” Sheng Chumu let out a dry cough.

Sheng Chujun and Sheng Chuling immediately answered. “Yes!”

“The water bird calls as it resides by the sandbank. A nobleman desires a beautiful virtuous woman.”

“The lush reeds are covered with snow. The one I am looking for is somewhere nearby.”

“This is not the homework that I gave you both last night.” It was not easy to trick Sheng Chumu.

Sheng Chujun and Sheng Chuling exchanged fearful looks. Sheng Chumu narrowed his eyes in a smile. “You didn’t memorise it? Okay, then…”

“Oh oh! I remember it now!”

“I remember it too!”

Sheng Chuling and Sheng Chujun recited what they had memorised simultaneously. “A truly knowledgeable person will behave magnanimously while an ignorant person often chooses to harp on petty things. Bragging is meaningless while small speech is tickling.”

Sheng Chumu sneered. “What small speech is tickling? Small speeches are powerful.”

The two brothers immediately clasped their fists together and bowed politely. “Yes, yes, small speeches are powerful. Thank you for your corrections, Elder Brother.”

Sheng Xiaojing rubbed his hands together and walked in. “The saying goes: A filial son is raised by a rod. In our Duke Lu Residence, it seems like the rod is producing virtuous brothers. It seems like you all have studied quite a bit. How about your martial arts? Are your shoulders still hunched and your arms too weak to carry anything other than women’s shoes?”

Sheng Chumu replied, “It is not possible to train both riding and shooting in such a short time. I have only asked them to follow me and strengthen their bodies. Cough, cough!”

The moment Sheng Chumu coughed, his two younger brothers immediately sprung to action. They both took on a horse stance as they shouted. Ho ho!

Sheng Chumu attempted to curry favour with his parents. “Father, Mother, are you all satisfied with this?” 

Sheng Xiaojing and his wife nodded in synchrony, unable to close their mouths because of the huge grin plastered across their faces. 

Madam Sheng was touched. “I have always believed that all my sons had potential. Especially you, Chumu. You don’t take any action, but the moment you do, you amaze us all. With you in the lead, I am not worried about your two brothers.”

Sheng Chumu continued asking, “Now, I am no longer the hedonistic son you had in the past right?”

Madam Sheng did not know that this was a trap. “Of course not.”

Sheng Chumu pressed on. “Then can I start to settle down?”

Madam Sheng answered smoothly, “Of course.”

Sheng Chumu finally brought up the main point. “Then can I marry Fu Rou?”

“Of—” Madam Sheng managed to stop herself in the midst of her sentence. “No!”

“What?” Sheng Chumu could not understand. “Why can’t I? I am studying, training martial arts, teaching my brothers and remaining filial to you. What haven’t I done enough such that you are still not satisfied?”

Madam Sheng had something to say. “You have done well and I am very pleased. That is why all the more you cannot marry Fu Rou.”

It was rare that Sheng Xiaojing sided with his wife. “In the past, you did not have the qualifications to be picky. But it is different now. You are from a family of Dukes, well-read and skilled in martial arts. You are good at both studying and fighting. You are the kind of son-in-law that everyone wants. How can you take a commoner as your wife?”

Madam Sheng was filled with confidence. “That’s right. Chumu, you should marry Princess Xinnan.” 

Sheng Chumu froze. After putting in so much effort to increase his own qualifications, they wanted him to marry Princess Xinnan! He was furious!

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