Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol01 Ch02
The weather was relatively good, the sun was hidden behind the clouds and it wasn’t as hot as the last two days.
Pingting had already finished washing the assigned clothes and was wiping the sweat from her face when Mother Chen approached her.
“Hong, are you busy?”
“I’ve just finished washing. What do you need, Mother Chen? I’ve done yesterday’s washing too, except I still need to fold them…”
“Don’t worry about that.” Mother Chen followed Pingting to the washing line and chuckled, “You can put that down for now, I need to talk to you.”
Pingting put down the bucket of washing, “Yes?”
“You fixed the two holes in my clothes, didn’t you?”
“I saw them so I did do the mending. Is it no good?”
Mother Chen gave another chuckle, “It’s not ‘no good’. I could hardly tell that there was a hole there! I never guessed you had such nimble fingers!” She grabbed Pingting’s hand, studied it and asked, “Why didn’t you tell us about your skill? I’ll tell you this, My Lady’s wedding is coming up and we’re in a rush to prepare the clothes. Only three girls in our entire Residence are proficient with needlework, so I’m worried we won’t finish in time. From today on, you don’t need to do manual work anymore, come and help sew!” She was Lady Hua’s nurse, so she was extremely excited when it came to her wedding.
“This is…” These days, her health had greatly improved and she was planning to escape soon. It would’ve been a lot easier to escape if she was still a laundry maid.
“This is what? Do you still want to do manual labour?” Mother Chen patted Pingting’s hand, “It’s a great opportunity. I’ll tell the housekeeper about this. Inside you go and don’t worry about anything else for now.” She bounced away happily, before Pingting could answer.
Pingting had no choice but to pack her things up and go inside.
The Hua family was one of the most famous commercial families of Dong Lin. The head of the family had one daughter and so her wedding was extremely important. Her clothes required at least four seamstresses and now they had a new addition.
As a seamstress, Pingting’s food and clothing had greatly improved from the time when she was still a manual labourer. However, Pingting had been spoiled for a long time in the Jing-An Ducal Residence, so she took no notice in the changes. Though her lifestyle had very much downgraded, she was flexible and therefore she didn’t complain.
For unknown reasons, the seamstresses had been scheduled near Lady Hua’s building.
“What beautiful fabric, I wish I could wear something like this when I marry. I can’t imagine how beautiful I’ll be!” The seamstresses sat inside, in their own corner. Their heads were bent over while their needles weaved across the fabric.
“Don’t be stupid, how lucky can you get?”
Ruo’er, the girl who spoke first, had been promoted to a seamstress at the same time as Pingting. Seeing how Zihua was mocking her, she retorted, “How can you be so sure about that?”
“Okay, okay, hurry up and get back to work.” Mother Chen was in the room too and seeing how Pingting was so absorbed in her work, she couldn’t resist tip-toeing over to see what she was doing. “Wow! That’s amazing needlework!”
Pingting jumped back in surprise, momentarily losing control of her needle, pricking herself.
“Hong, your hands really are amazing.” Mother Hong took Pingting’s sewing and studied the lively, realistic phoenix. She had worked in the Hua Residence for many years yet this was the first time something had sparked her interest. Suddenly, she had a thought. “This technique…I doubt you could find two with the same capabilities in Dong Lin. Yeah, I think your phoenix’s wings is not typically like Dong Lin’s traditions, I think it’s more like…”
Pingting’s heart thumped and she laughed nervously while taking back her stitching. “I don’t exactly understand, but it just has to look good right?”
Her sewing in Gui Le was considered spectacular as well. Although the Jing-An Ducal Residence didn’t particularly announce it, there had been some private requests for her needlework.
Pingting was also a lazy person, so she refused to sew any more except for a few objects for her Master. This meant that there weren’t many traces of her sewing in the Jing-An Ducal Residence left around.
While Mother Chen wasn’t looking, she unpicked the wings of her phoenix. She was just about to rest her eyes when a beautiful girl entered the room. Her body was slender, she had huge pondering eyes and her nose was a perfect bridge. She wore an embroidered light purple dress and a necklace of pearls glittered around her neck.
Mother Chen hurried stood up and asked, “Why are you here, My Lady?”
So she was Lady Hua. Pingting had been outside doing manual labour, so this was the first time she had actually seen the Lady. All of the maids stood up.
“Oh Nurse, you’re here too?”
“Of course, these are My Lady’s wedding clothes after all, shouldn’t I be seeing everything thoroughly? Look at this sequin, I took a long time picking it out from…”
Lady Hua seemed to have lost interest in Mother Chen’s word. She glanced at the red fabric and annoyance crossed her eyes. She turned towards the maids and eyed them, as if searching for someone.
She carefully measured everyone with her eyes, finally letting her eyes rest on Pingting.
“You, come with me.” Lady Hua pointed at Pingting and walked away, not waiting for an answer.
“Me?” Pingting pointed to herself in surprise and looked at Mother Chen.
“My Lady told you to go, so what are you standing there for? Go.” Mother Chen lightly pushed her shoulder.
What does Lady Hua need me for? Don’t tell me…she knows my real identity?
Pingting followed her into the main room of the Lady’s building and a nice fragrance in the air made her relax. Pingting took a deep breath, thinking, Sir Hua is really nice to his daughter. This sort of iced fragrance is a luxury that only royalty can afford.
Lady Hua gestured to Pingting to come into the room, “Come here”.
Pingting followed and Lady Hua threw her some clothes, commanding, “Put these on.”
The clothes were very fine, a display of exquisite workmanship. It was obvious that these were the Lady’s very own clothes.
She saw the confusion on Pingting’s face, clicked her tongue and smiled. “You see, your figure resembled mine most. Geez, I wasn’t planning to look for a replacement but Dong’er just had to get sick.”
“Perfect!” Lady helped Pingting into the clothes and made her turn around. She looked really happy when she said, “your body shape is exactly the same as mine. You’ll be thought of as a beauty, so long no one sees your face.” Lady was naively romantic in a way that she actually believed her words held no ill intentions.
Pingting giggled nervously, not knowing what to do.
“What’s your name?”
“Hong, I need a favour.” Lady Hua took a deep breath and whispered, “If you successfully pretend to be me, I’ll greatly award you. If you mess up…let’s just say I’ll punish you like hell. Also, don’t you dare tell anyone about this! If anyone else learns of it, I’ll get Mrs Hua to whip you!” Her words were threatening but there was no force in her tone.
Pingting didn’t know whether to laugh or not. “My Lady, I promise not to tell anyone. I’ll do what My Lady asks.”
“Hmm, that’s good. Don’t be scared, I’m not a violent person actually.” Lady Hua paused before saying, “I need you to go with me outside the city and we will be going to a shrine on a hill. When we get there, I need you to put on my clothes and play the qin, without a fuss. Oh yeah, I forgot, can you play qin?” She had only just remembered such an important detail.
Pingting saw Lady Hua look at her anxiously and couldn’t help nodding, “A little…”
“That’s fine.” Lady Hua repeated the task again, finally adding, “Don’t worry. If anything goes wrong, there’s still me.” She patted her chest and fluttered her eyelashes. She looked really cute.
Pingting knew immediately that she was going to see her lover. She felt sorry for her fiancé, who was going to marry such a bold and reckless girl.
The carriage had been prepared by afternoon. The housekeeper was already waiting outside. Though her father loved her dearly, she was still the Lady of a big family, so she didn’t get many chances to leave the Residence. This meant the times she could see her lover were limited, and therefore she was very excited and nervous right now.
“Hong will accompany me on the carriage,” Lady declared when they came out. Lady Hua led Pingting inside the carriage. Lady Hua’s requests were usually unusual due to her spoiled nature so her bringing in a seamstress did not surprise the other people at all.
Pingting was wearing her usual clothes and the clothes she was going to change into were placed in a bag. This outing reminded her of the ones she went with her Master. Seeing how Lady Hua was so cute and naive, her energy came back and she was eager to help wholeheartedly.
Luckily the carriage was quite big, so the two girls had plenty of room.
“I’ve never seen you before.”
Pingting touched her hair, “I used to be outside washing clothes. How was Lady supposed to see me?”
“Washing clothes? That’s tiring.” Lady Hua wriggled in her spot. She put a piece of Osmanthus cake in her mouth and held up another piece. “Want some?”
Pingting liked sweets too. Her master always commanded to save some for Pingting, whenever they had nice sweets. Even today, she couldn’t help nodding at the sight of Osmanthus cake, “Yes, please.”
Lady Hua laughed and placed some in Pingting’s mouth.
The moment the cake entered her mouth, the faint fragrance of Osmanthus played at the tip of her tongue. Pingting had been treated as a normal maid for exactly two months and her face was absolutely delighted when she ate this delicacy. “It’s really good.”
As the two people talked, they gradually began to warm up to each other.
Soon, the carriage had left the city gates.
The carriage was put down and Mrs Hua respectfully beckoned, “My Lady, we’ve arrived.”
Lady Hua answered back and led Pingting outside. A monk, who’d been waiting, welcomed Lady Hua inside. It looked like the Hua family were regular visitors.
The housekeeper and the footmen were not allowed to go inside – only Pingting and Lady Hua were allowed to do so. They locked the door behind them.
“Mrs Hua occasionally looks through the window, so put on my clothes, sit there and play the qin.”The Lady glowered, “Remember, don’t pause for too long. If they can’t hear the qin, the monks and Mrs Hua might get suspicious and come in to check on you.”
She said this while hurriedly putting on her pre-prepared scholar clothes. She wiped the makeup off her face, instantly transforming into a handsome man. She gave her original clothes to Pingting and winked. She was very fast so she must’ve done the same thing before.
“I’m going. I’ll be back when the time’s right.” She went to a corner and somehow opened a secret passage, adding smugly, “Only him and I know about this door, no one else.”
Pingting had also seen secret passageways in Jing-An Ducal Residence. It seemed that every big house would have some so she couldn’t help smiling and shaking her head, while Lady Hua’s eager figure disappeared.
She sat where she was asked to, hands lightly touching the qin.
The strings beneath Pingting’s five fingers had a welcoming touch.
She loved to play the qin. The faster the notes were, the more it resembles top-quality wine; which possesses the ability to intoxicate the drinker fully.
In Jing-An Ducal Residence, she was a legendary girl. Not many had personally seen her before, but everyone knew of her battle tactics, needlework and her spectacular qin skills…
Even the King knew that there was an all-rounded maid working for the Duke of Jing-An.
Pingting lightly plucked a single string, leaving the bass note hanging in the air like a bewitching appetiser before a grand feast.
Deep, not blunt. Light, yet highly melodic.
After the deep notes came a happy high pitched melody. It was like a graceful egrets flapping their mighty wings, soaring over a lush green forest at daybreak.
The corners of Pingting’s mouth twitched into a smile, as her fingers danced across the strings. The music continued to soar, leaving its listeners to sigh in pleasure.
She was already tired after a piece. Pingting reached for her handkerchief and wiped the sweat away from her face. She remembered what Lady Hua had told her and gave a bitter smile. “She said that you must keep playing the qin, even until your hand breaks from the tiredness. That just shows how little she knows about qin.”
Suddenly she heard a man’s voice outside the door.
“I have never heard such heavenly music in my entire life. May I see the divine face of the Lady who is able to play such music?” His voice sounded well-educated and made one feel relaxed.
This person must have been standing outside for a long time, waiting for me to finish this piece. He must be someone who knows a lot about music.
Pingting immediately felt slightly flustered because she had temporarily forgotten her orders. “Geez Pingting, just what are you doing in the enemy’s country? At the moment, the Lady is seeing her lover, so if this person comes in, our covers will be blown.”
She used her thumb to gently pluck a string. However, before she could refuse, that person suddenly cut in, “My Lady’s qin sound is full of regret. As it seems that you do not wish to see me again, then I can only wait for a destined day.”
Such a polite gentleman.
Pingting waited for a moment, carefully listened, and she slowly began to smile. Silence. She tiptoed to the window and peered out. No one was there.
“Has he already left?” A look of penitence flashed in her eyes as her pulse began to calm down.
While Pingting looked out the window, she saw that Mrs Hua was looking her way and hurriedly lowered her head.
By evening, Lady Hua had come back through the secret passage. Her face was flushed and she looked as if she had a really happy day. Lady Hua and Pingting swapped clothes and informed Mrs Hua that they could go back to the Residence.
In the carriage, Lady Hua chattered to Pingting about her lover in a lively manner. When she got to the happiest moments, she couldn’t help covering her mouth and laughing merrily.
Pingting saw how happy she was and felt really happy for her.
“Sigh, the day passed too quickly.” Then Lady Hua sighed again and said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to marry?”
Pingting thought about how strange that was. “Sir really cares about My Lady, so why did he engage you to the Chen family without consulting your feelings first?”
Lady Hua’s face darkened at the mention of marriage. “Daddy may love me, but this business is in competition with the Xu family. There’s no way he’d let me marry the son of the person he hates the most. Don’t tell this to Daddy or he’ll make me marry even earlier.”
“My Lady, your wedding is rapidly approaching. You won’t be able to hide it much longer.
“Yeah I know…” Lady Hua sighed and looked at Pingting. Suddenly she had another thought and grabbed Pingting’s hand, pleading, “If you don’t finish my wedding clothes, doesn’t that mean I don’t have to marry? It’s a good idea, just make a small hole in my wedding clothes every day and make Mother Chen and them work more, please?” She fluttered her eyelashes, clearly pleased with herself.
Pingting laughed and rolled her eyes at this childish idea. She was about to tell Lady Hua that that wouldn’t work when the carriage stopped.
A crowd of unknown men circled them and slowly closed in. There was about ten of them, and they were all on horses.
These men were wearing peasant clothes but their expression was far too educated, while their actions were too collected.
The sun was starting to set and the Hua carriage was still outside the city. There were no other travellers on the road. The footmen knew that if they were attacked by bandits, there was no way to defend themselves. The housekeeper finally plucked the courage, barely managing to stay at front of the carriage, her chubby face twitching as a young man, who seemed to be the boss, got off his horse. “Mister, my Lady is in this carriage. We were just returning from the shrine so we have donated most of our money. There’s not much left…”
The young man was carrying an air of importance and he saw how the housekeeper had stammered so badly. He laughed, “Missus, you have misunderstood me. I am here on behalf of my Master.” Turning to the carriage, he spoke again, “Please excuse my rudeness, My Lady, and accept this.”
Lady Hua wasn’t sure what exactly was going on but she was very much amused, “What are you going to give me?”
“My Lady’s qin technique was spectacular. Master has asked me to give this guqin to My Lady.”
Pingting made a small sound of recognition and suddenly remembered the man who had wanted to see her. She leaned forward to whisper in Lady’s ear.
“Who is your Master?” asked Lady Hua.
The man politely answered, “Please forgive me, My Lady. Master wishes to keep his name a secret for now. But Master did say that when the time is right, he will come to see you again.” After saying this, he bowed again and carefully gave the guqin to the housekeeper. Then he got back on the horse and left.
The others saw him leave, and gradually followed suit.
The housekeeper saw that they had all left and immediately relaxed. She passed the guqin inside and chuckled, “That was surprising, hehe, My Lady must have been playing really well today to have attracted such a rich man. I thought Lady was playing well today too. It was mystifying!”
The Lady blinked at Pingting and whispered, “So you’re good at the qin huh? I couldn’t tell.”
Pingting bent over and studied the guqin. The qin’s body was made of old Paulownia wood and just by tapping it with mere finger left a sonorous sound.
Pingting suddenly paled. “Phoenix Paulownia-Guqin?”
Phoenix Paulownia-Guqin was extremely rare.It was something that even her Master’s money couldn’t buy. The previous owner of this item must be someone special, to give away such a precious item as a gift.
“A good qin for a beauty huh. I unwittingly picked up a talented girl. Interesting, very interesting.” Lady Hua declared, looking really happy and she nudged Pingting, “That person said that he will come to see you, I’m sure he’s interested in you.” Gui Le and Dong Lin were rich cities and women had no difficulty in talking about love.
“Interested in me?” Pingting fingered the qin.
Her heart thumped and she wasn’t sure what to do.
That person was indeed very sly, his actions were not too fast and not too slow. First quietly listening to the qin, then asking to meet, yet leaving without saying a word and then giving her an expensive qin. Everything was clearly calculated with different motives, just like the art of war.
Although they hadn’t met yet, it was enough to spark Pingting’s curiosity.
“Hong,” the Lady nudged her and giggled, “look at you and your dazed look.”
Pingting laughed sheepishly in response, but her eyes never leaving the guqin.
“Dong Lin isn’t a playground, I have to stay alert.”
- Qin: A traditional Chinese instrument. Do not confuse with “zheng”. Sometimes there are “guqin” references. “Gu” means old/ancient, so “guqin” means “ancient qin”. However, this is far too long to write in most cases, so it has been left untranslated.