Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol01 Ch01
July, Gui Le territory.
The sun blazed high in the sky, so fierce that the trees on both sides of the road seemed to have bowed down in shame.
Four or five travellers, who could no longer stand the scorching heat, were huddled under the shade of the tree, desperately trying to cool themselves. Because of this, the old man with a small tea booth by the unpaved road had a few more customers than usual.
“A cup of tea.” A traveller carefully took out his wallet and fished out a few coins, placing it on the table, while fanning himself vigorously.
“Here, a cup of tea for you to soothe your liver and cool the heat.” The old man brought the tea and smiled at him. “It’s a hot day. Where are you headed to, Mister?”
“Yes, this demon of a day is indeed hot enough to toast one to death.” Just one sip of tea seemed to appease his dry, depleted throat. He seemed slightly happier and said, “I’m just hurrying to deliver stock to the border. Sigh, ever since Dong Lin started messing with the border, it’s been hard for us traders to earn a living. Luckily the Marquess of Jing-An is pushing that Bei-What’s-His-Name away. Otherwise, I would’ve never known when to go there.”
“Yeah, the Marquess of Jing-An is amazing!”
“I know who you’re talking about, he’s the brother of the King of Dong Lin. He’s strong too.”
The nearby people laughed. “Who cares about strength? He still got forced back home when he opposed the Marquess of Jing-An, eh?” He drained the remaining content of his cup and placed a few more coins on the table. “Another cup please, Sir!”
Hearing that, the tea seller nodded. “I heard that he’s never lost a battle – totally worth his title of being Gui Le’s strongest commander.”
Suddenly a voice interrupted, “You dare mention the Marquess of Jing-An? He’s currently labelled as the traitor of Gui Le.”
This struck the tea drinkers crowd like lightning. Their mouths dazedly dropped open.
The tea seller broke the silence. “What are you saying? The Marquess of Jing-An…”
“Do all of you not know?” The newcomer sat down and used his sleeves to fan himself. “I just came out of the city yesterday. Apparently he attempted to assassinate the King and has now escaped out of the capital city. At the moment, the King has commanded everyone to capture him. I heard that the reward is pretty good too.”
“But didn’t he just stabilise the borderline situation and was returning to the capital to collect his rewards?”
“Heh, isn’t it strange. On the very night he was returning to the capital, he tried to assassinate the King. Guess what weapon he used?” The newcomer was dramatising the news, as most of them had their attention on him.
“Must be a precious sword,” someone guessed.
“Don’t listen to this nonsense,” others argued, “There’s no way I’d believe that the Marquess of Jing-An would betray us. He’s Gui Le’s most loyal official, there’s no way he’d break the law.”
The newcomer saw the others’ suspicious looks and stroke his beard. “He used the Precious Heimo Sword, which was personally bestowed to him by the King. And you know, any damage inflicted by that precious sword, no matter how small, will leave a nasty black scar which will never fade.”
In the midst of their debating, they suddenly heard hooves approaching.
A carriage, probably an ordinary merchant’s, had arrived; its curtains tightly drawn. The driver was a man with huge muscles. He threw down two coins, yelling, “Ye old man! Gimme some tea!”
“This damn day is too hot!”
“That’s right, that’s right. Feel free to cool down under the tree before going on your way. We’re discussing about the Marquess of Jing-An.”
“Tch. I’m only interested in business, not some royalty or political creep.” He gulped down the rest of his cup noisily and brought out a huge water container. “Fill that up, I gotta go now.”
The seller hurriedly filled the water container.
The man grabbed the container, got on the horse which neighed once, before moving forward.
Inside the horse carriage, Pingting finally opened her eyes, against the endless bumps of the unpaved road.
It was a humid day and sweat was dripping down her neck. Her eyes were narrowed, as they tried to adjust to the light.
Her head was really sore and pangs of dizziness rose, like waves threatening to consume her.
Where am I? Pingting looked at herself absentmindedly, then around her, and seemed to be fullyawaken now.
The memory of a scene, full of fire and cries of battle and fighting returned to her.
“Pingting, wait outside the city. We’ll go in to save Father.”
“Then…Master, we’ll meet again on the cliff at dawn.”
Where was the Duke? Master? And what about that mischievous, always-causing-trouble, Dongzhuo?
She remembered that after making the promise, she had set out for the cliff. In her most recent memory, she was definitely already at the cliff. And all of sudden, the back of her head throbbed painfully once before her eyes fade to black…
“You awake?” The curtains were pushed aside, revealing a peering man’s face, “You should’a woken ages ago. Any longer, and Zhang Boy would’a beaten ya to death.”
Are these people human trafficking troupe? Pingting studied them carefully.
Could it be that I’ve been caught by human traffickers when Master needs me the most? The number of times Pingting had left the Residence alone throughout her life was scarce and during this exact moment where she was urgently needed, she JUST had to be caught by the human traffickers.
“Okay, I’m gonna ask ya somethin’.” The man sat inside the carriage and took out the gag in Pingting’s mouth. They must have had placed it in her mouth to stop her from screaming for help in case she woke up along the journey. He gave her an intimidating glare, “If you dun’ tell meh the truth, I’ll feed ya to the wolves.”
Pingting nearly laughed at this child-like threat. Why would she be scared? She’d been serving the Marquess of Jing-An, He Xia, since small and she was the only woman who could follow him on his outings. Although she was young, she’d already seen a lot of battles.
Pingting didn’t wait for the man to ask his question, asking one of her own instead. “Did you capture me in the city?”
The man looked surprised at her relaxed expression and chuckled, not angrily. “Yeah.”
“How long did I sleep for?”
“Two days and a half.”
Pingting went pale when she heard this, stunned in shock.
If she had been sleeping for the last two days, then the king’s soldiers would have begun searching around the capital, making it very difficult for her Master and the others to stay at the agreed place, near the cliffs. Her heart sped up as she asked, “Where are you taking me?”
“To the…” the man suddenly stopped, realising something was wrong. “Eh? Yer know I’m the one askin’ questions ere, right?” He gave her a ferocious expression. “Say, which rich family have you escaped from, runaway wife? Where’s your home?”
Pingting hesitated, lowering her head and studied herself.
Although she was only a servant of her residence, her Master had always cherished her and so she’d gotten things that were even more expensive than the ladies of normal households. Her clothes looked expensive and she had been riding away from the city at an odd hour so the trafficker had naturally thought that she had run away from her husband.
No wonder the trafficker hadn’t thrown her out in the last two days, he had probably seen some value in her.
Pingting shook her head and laughed, “I’m just a maid, not a runaway wife from a wealthy family.”
“Tch, since when did servants get silk clothes?”
Pingting debated over what to say in her head carefully. It was highly likely that the King had already ordered all citizens to hunt for the people of Jing-An Ducal Residence, so she decided not to give away her real identity. So instead, she rolled her eyes and said, “I escaped out of the city to see my lover, but because I wanted to look pretty, I stole some of My Lady’s clothes.” Gui Le was a somewhat noisy place and therefore a lot of women really would sneak out to see their lovers.
The man frowned immediately at this and threw open the curtains, “Zhang Boy! Com’over here!”
“Coming.” There seemed to be more than one trafficker, on the other carriage.
Not long after, a chubby face peered in from the window. “Fu Erge, wassup?”
So his name was Fu Erge.
“Wassup yer head! Didn’t ya say this girl was a runaway wife from a rich family and could be swapped for a lot of money?” Fu Erge glared at Pingting and jabbed an accusing finger at her, “She’s just a servant, dammit! And she slept for two days!”
Zhang Boy scratched his head and studied Pingting carefully. Then he laughed, “Fu Erge, don’t be angry. What’s done is done. She’ll probably have some value anyway.”
“Oh, so ya can sell off this rubbish?” sneered the man, jabbing an accusing finger at Pingting’s nose.
True, Pingting’s appearance certainly wasn’t at all pretty. Even in the Jing-An Ducal Residence, her looks at most, had been average, probably even more common. One could only say that she was “tidy”.
But everyone in the Jing-An Ducal Residence recognised how important she was.
However, as the stranger jabbed a finger at her and claimed she was worthless, she couldn’t help rolling her eyes.
Fu Erge coughed two times and faked a depressed tone. “Ne’er mind, she should be at least worth around fifty coins. This robbing bitch really gave meh false hope; I even let her stay in my private carriage for two ‘ole days. Dammit, take her to the other carriage with the others.”
The moment she entered the other carriage, a terrible odour flooded her senses and Pingting realised why Fu Erge had been so angry.
In comparison to the first carriage, this one was tattered and crowded, dirty and sweltering hot.
There were seven or eight girls already crammed inside. Their hands had also been tied behind their back like Pingting and they were gagged, with fear evident in their eyes. All eyes landed sympathetically on Pingting, as she was now a new addition to these cluster of unfortunate girls.
“Move over! Here’s another one.” Zhang Boy pushed Pingting inside and began to ungag the girls, “At the moment, we’re in the wilderness, so I’ll let you talk. Some of you are bound to die in this heat anyway. Be good and stay put, okay!” After saying this, he ran off, probably to drive the carriage or something.
Pingting stumbled from Zhang Boy’s push and sat down in a corner with much difficulty.
“Cough, cough…cough…” The carriage was shaking so hard and her throat felt very sore, so she’d coughed a few more times along the journey.
Suddenly, unease rippled in her.
Have I not recovered from that time I went with Master to the doctors? Pingting frowned, closing her eyes and leaning her head against the wall of the carriage.
As she felt a bit more comfortable, she couldn’t help worrying.
Jing-An Ducal Residence, the place she’d been living all her life, was probably reduced to ashes right?
Prince Su, no, he was now the new king. The King’s hatred of the military-rich House of Jing-An grew day by day. Recently her Master had triumphed in the war and the King had finally decided to take him down, framing her Master for rebellion on the day of his return.
Luckily the House of Jing-An had been wary, so the damage was not too great.
Her Master should have already found a good escape route by now.
Not that she would know where they’d hide but that was okay, as they’d be safe in a place where no one could guess. Their pursuers won’t know where to look and therefore will never find them.
Sound suddenly erupted, as most girls were crying over their misfortune. Pingting opened her eyes and looked around slowly.
Yep, they’re all really pretty. I should be the ugliest one here, right?
Human traffickers were always after pretty girls. They could be sold off as a concubine for a high price. Pingting thought of Fu Erge, and how he estimated her value of fifty coins and chuckled. It was definitely easy enough to drown him with the amount of money her Master gave her every week.
Who knew what expression Fu Erge would make if he knew who she was.
“Um Sis…” A girl beside Pingting touched her shoulder shyly, “Did you get captured by them too?”
She was really cute, no wonder she’d been caught by the human traffickers. She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Aren’t you scared?”
The little girl looked at her in surprise. “You’re not scared?”
Pingting saw that she was probably going to say something else, so she began first. “What’s your name?”
“My…name’s Qing. What’s yours?”
“I’m Hong.” She automatically lied about her name. She definitely wouldn’t use such a fancy name like ‘Bai Pingting’ but it wouldn’t do to have no name at all.
“Okay Sis, then…”
“Do you know where we’re going?” She interrupted Qing again, taking advantage of her situation. She wasn’t scared, just a little excited. It was a bit like accompanying her Master, figuring out the enemy’s motive from the different clues. Except this time, she was fighting alone.
“According to that fat guy and mean guy, we would be sold in Dong Lin.”
In the enemy’s country? Pingting’s eyebrows creased even more.
Her Master’s last battle at the border was against the troops of Dong Lin. Pingting had the Dong Lin army purposely being directed into the mountains and then by controlling the river flow, the enemy were forced to full retreat in the threat of a flood. Back then, her Master had said, “Now the whole army knows that we have a female military advisor. When we get back, I’ll get Father to reward you. What would you like this time?”
If she was recognised in Dong Lin, the consequences would be…
It seemed that using the human trafficker’s carriage to escape the King’s wrath was impossible. She’d need to find a good time to escape, leave their carriage and then find her Master by herself.
In the midst of her thinking, her body suddenly heaved forward. Pingting felt her energy draining away as she began to cough again.
“Sis…” Qing looked at her worriedly.
“I’m fine.” She had finally stopped but she was left with a foul, blood-like taste in her mouth. Pingting suddenly froze, did she just cough up blood again?
First things first, how could she escape?
She wasn’t unhealthy, but her illness was slowly eating away at her. She hadn’t told her Master back in the battlefield, because she didn’t want to worry him. And then that incident happened the night they went back.
Her thoughts were still a mess, no wonder her illness had gotten worse.
Pingting thought for a little longer and sighed, “Fine, Dong Lin it is.” She had decided to go to Dong Lin with the human traffickers.
After all, the command to capture the one thousand members of the Jing-An Ducal Residence was only valid on Gui Le territory.
The enemy’s country wasn’t a bad option — as long as her identity remained a secret.
A couple of days later, the carriage had arrived in Dong Lin.
But the human traffickers were not stupid to sell the girls at the poor villages on the outskirts of Dong Lin, so they continued to travel for a couple of days. When they arrived at capital of Dong Lin, Moen, they forced the girls off the carriage, have them cleaned at an inn and gave them fresh clothes to wear.
Despite the war, trades of women from the other countries weren’t unusual. There seemed to be a section for human traffickers in almost every major city’s trading markets. Each of them was pushed on to a stage, one by one, and auctioned.
Pingting was the most unpopular and was placed towards the end of the line. The silk clothes she had originally been wearing had been given to Qing, who was labelled for a high price.
“Beauties from Gui Le! Hey, beautiful women from Gui Le!”
Pingting thought of how she was the most important maid at Gui Le’s Jing-An Ducal Residence and how she was being sold like a complete nobody now. She shook her head and laughed bitterly.
No wonder people always say that life changes so quickly.
She stood on stage and studied her fellow girls, most of them now sold. The one who bought Qing was a painter and he looked very kind, very rich. Qing was quite noisy, yelling “Sis! Sis!” refusing to let go of Pingting’s hand.
But Pingting knew that Qing, who came from a poor family, was actually very lucky to be sold into a nice family. Even her, if she hadn’t been saved by her Master back then, she would’ve died of hunger long ago on the streets.
“Go, don’t be scared.” Pingting patted her hand, eyes following her as she left.
She was the last one to be sold.
Being ugly really put her at a disadvantage this time. The human traffickers tried to persuade the audience and finally sold her off to a housekeeper looking for an under servant, for forty cents.
If her Master knew that she’d been sold for forty cents, he would have died laughing.
She was then brought over to the well-decorated front door of a huge residence. “This is the main entrance, got that? You under servants should be using the side door though.” The housekeeper pointed at a sign overhead.
Pingting looked up and read the big characters on the sign, “Hua Residence”.
Luckily it wasn’t the Zhen-Bei Ducal Residence, or she would’ve tried to run.
The Duke of Zhen-Bei, Chu Beijie, was the famous younger brother of Dong Lin’s king. He was the best military commander of Dong Lin — and one of the people who’d retreated in the last battle.
“Yeah, not bad, at least you can read.” The Missus Hua nodded while taking Pingting to the so-called side door. “From now on, this is your new home. Master and his daughter are both very kind so if you do your work properly, you’ll be treated very well.”
Just like that, Hua Residence gained another normal maid.
Pingting’s main role was laundry work. It was shocking to her that there’d be a day where she needed to wash so many clothes.
Back in Jing-An Ducal Residence, although her rank was a maid, she was like her Master’s younger sister. She never did anything more than bringing tea or accompanying her Master while painting or play the qin. As for her own clothes, she had always given them to her maids to wash.
“Finally done.” She took the painfully cleaned clothes and hung them up in the patio to dry. Pingting muttered, “Geez Pingting, don’t you know that you shouldn’t slack off with your daily duties? Now do you know what being a maid really means, right? This isn’t the first time you’ve slacked off.” She smiled, showing two dimples.
Her black eyes shone, revealing a hidden radiance that overwhelmed her surroundings. Although her looks were fairly plain, her expression had a sort of graceful youth about it.
If Fu Erge had seen Pingting just then, he’d totally regret selling her off for only forty cents.
The people of Hua Residence were kind to their workers. Mrs Hua noticed that Pingting coughed a lot and even bought her some medicine. Though it didn’t exactly work, she did feel a little better after drinking some.
Pingting secretly waited for her recovery, but one small incident, ruined all her plans to escape.
- Coins: Money. In the actual novel, the type of money (dollars, cents) is unknown.
- Residence: In a residence, there are many buildings, therefore the world “house” cannot correctly portray the place. These buildings are typically enclosed by a large wall of some kind and there is usually a large main entrance into it. There are also some side doors that lower-ranked servants may use. Unfortunately these buildings are typically (though there are exceptions) one large room, separated by doorways (but no doors usually) and possibly curtains. In other words, it means that sometimes “room” implies the entire building.