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Qinglian Chronicles Chapter 18

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Jinzi didn't need to follow me here. One half of me was focused on walking, and the other half was focused on being eternally despondent as I guessed at how the two's att.i.tudes would be.

My life is true suffering! In modern times, the tone of voice people had when they spoke about powerful career women like me was like they were talking about a female bandit. Every trick of the trade was needed in the workplace. As Yishu once said, “you must be able to race a horse on top of doing everything else”. [1] When people see that you're even a little well-off and proud of your accomplishments, someone will look down their nose at you and call you a feminist, conceited, and/or smug with joy. What do they know about how much effort women like us put in behind the scenes, how much blood and sweat and tears we've shed and let no one know about!

You have to depend on yourself for everything. When seeing men, your old habits die hard. You boast about your strong independence, hinting that you're self-sufficient and there's no need to look after you or invest responsibility in you; all he needs to do is clean up after his own messes. When the time comes that you're fool enough make a move and ask him to get together with you, he'll say with awkwardness written all over his face that “I'm unworthy of you” or “I'm a man and I also have dignity”. If you have the good fortune to get married, you have to walk on eggsh.e.l.ls. Don't mention your income so as not to provoke the other person's fragile masculinity, even if you're tired from working overtime you still have to do housework in the evening so people don't ridicule your man as a househusband that lives off a woman, and you can't be on top when lovemaking or you'll be believed to even have control of the bedroom… things being like this, for divorce to be the end result is very common.

I hadn't occurred to me that in ancient times, I would not only be thrown into such a rotten mess, but I can still only rely on myself, and am still all on my own.

The people in my receiving hall are again a young man in his early thirties and a middle-aged man in his 50s or 60s. The young man is of average appearance with a mild and refined temperament, making people have a very good opinion of him with one glance. This naturally has to be Shao Qing's big brother and the Shao Family's eldest young master, Shao Min. It's said that he was born of a concubine and received no favor in the family, nor had he ever been an official; completely different from his brother who is only a few months younger. It's him who married into the Yuwen family.

To his side is, of course, his father-in-law and current head of the Yuwen family, the inherited 2nd-rank n.o.ble Uncle Yuwen Fang. He is a lean older man with a face etched deep with fret and indignation.

As soon as I stepped through the hall's entrance, the two came forward to greet me. Yuwen Fang plops to the ground, kowtows, and grovels before me.

I'm filled to the brim with alarm, quickly reaching out to help him up. “Uncle, what is this for? Please come up now!”

Yuwen Fang absolutely refused to rise, instead slowly lifting his face up, old tears criss-crossing his face. "Sir, long ago we were fortunate to have you uphold justice and put down the dog that dishonored my daughter, bringing the murderer to his deserved justice, but who could have known that… please, Sir…”

This G.o.dd.a.m.n two-faced, three-edged Zhang Qinglian!

Oh, but it's changed to me now, so isn't that so much better?!

Shao Min's brows were also contorted with concern. “Qinglian, now that second brother is not home, I only have you to ask. My wife and mother-in-law are weeping in anguish back home over this matter…”

We're on a first-name basis; is this eldest young master of the Shao family seeing Zhang Qinglian as his younger brother's wife?

I maintain an upright appearance. “People's hearts demand justice, how could every level of society not have their own version of the story by now? Uncle Yuwen, Brother Shao, you can ease your minds for today…" I pulled Yuwen Fang up, speaking words of comfort.

Ugh, that there's no difference between me and that G.o.dson of mine is truly chilling to think about.

“This case was clear-cut before, but now the head of the Judicial Office and Minister Gao are doing a joint hearing on it. Sir Gao and the Cui family are known to be on good terms, so we cannot ask him, and can only ask you to mediate instead, Sir.”

Infighting between two branches of my faction, ha. Qingliu and Weiqi would be happy about this.

“Worry not, Brother Shao. I have already urged Linxi to handle this affair strictly.”

I… I actually said that with such an honest expression on my face!

…No matter, at least it wasn't a lie.

The two gave their profuse thanks and voiced their complaints, and I had to echo their sentiments. Thinking about it, though, this Uncle Yuwen is really quite tragic. To see one's child die before them, how could he not be in great pain?

Shao Min suddenly brought up his little brother. “Second brother will return in the fourth month, Qinglian. You two can go to that restaurant together.”

I laughed. “You're actually teasing me, Brother.” I had an idea all of a sudden. Shao Qing and his family are significant to me; even if I change my political style in the future, throwing those shameless apprentices with poor reputations that have no idea how to properly conduct themselves to my “son” to deal with, the Shao family and northern land-owners still have to be firmly within my grasp. Besides, I feel they don't clash badly with my aesthetics. I'll have to put a greater effort in gaining a good relationship with them from this point on.

“Brother Shao, some days ago someone gifted me a few things. They aren't worth anything, just that they come a few thousand li away from Persia and Arabia, so they might be considered rare. Please bring them back to Aunt, first sister-in-law, second sister-in-law, and all your younger sisters.”

"Aunt" refers to Shao Qing's birth mother, the Shao family's madam. The first sister-in-law is Shao Min's wife, and the second sister-in-law is Shao Qing's wife. The younger sisters are several Shao family ladies that have yet to be married off; among those, one was born of the first wife, and the rest from concubines. Hehe, getting well-acquainted with every nitty-gritty detail of a subject is one of my secret weapons for vanquishing the enemy and securing victory.

I rang a bell to signal Hong Feng to come in, then instructed her, “Fetch from the warehouse ten of the Persian muslin flowers I received a few days before, along with two violet censers made of gold, two catties of ambergris, and six roots of Korean ginseng to be sent back with Eldest Young Master to Shao's residence.”

Shao Min promptly declined. “Qinglian, you should keep those things for your own use, or for someone else.”

I smiled. "How else could these things be used if not for goodwill between us? I must ask Brother Shao not to turn them down. My residence has no womenfolk other than this maid Hong Feng, and how could she have a use for so many? They'll sit around to get eaten by moths, or spoil. How about you head back and console first sister-in-law well, Brother?”

Following that, they take their leave, and I'm unable to keep a smile on my face from the shame. How very tiring. The political world is even more dark, b.l.o.o.d.y, and hypocritical than the business one.

It feels like there's a heavy boulder pressing down on my chest. I walked alone to a rock by the side of a lake and sat down on it.

I'm really missing modern times a little. I miss the apartment I just bought, my mult.i.tude of expensive evening gowns, outdoor luncheons surrounded by everyone, my small amount of good friends…

Although I had to use tricks and there were times I wasn't completely free to act, life at that time was high-flying and plain sailing in the end, so much unlike the helplessness of the present.

A French person had once told me that all politics are coated in filth, and all politicians are thugs. I thought it was academic at the time, but now that I've had no choice but to partake in that filth, it's turned into a painful joke.

This won't be the only time. I still have to confront ma.s.sacres and conspiracies against my will, again and again until my admittedly meagre yet still present conscience and sense of right and wrong are totally annihilated. Can I really do such a thing? Did Zhang Qinglian take these same steps and go through this same struggle? And then, did he step further and further into the swamp, until he was in over his head?

I could barely settle the matter at present, but if I'm unable to catch that Cui fool after a month, how could the Shao and Yuwen families not be displeased? When Shao Qing comes back from granting amnesty, how could they not suspect that I had contributed to it?

How many people want to kill me? How many want to get rid of me as soon as possible for the sake of the country and its populace? How many want to remove and replace me? And how many people are already secretly doubting me in their hearts?

Hong Feng, Yao Jinzi, even Gao Yushu… do they sense something's off?

What can I do? Resign and go back to the fields? Become a worldwide wanderer? Once I lose power, could I even live to see the day after?

I still don't want to die. I've already died once, I don't want to just give up like this.

When my mood was sinking down lower and lower, I suddenly heard a familiar-sounding peal of laughter, and looked at its source.

Two tiny people are under a tree – no, actually, one of them is sitting on a branch and swinging his legs back and forth, and the other is looking up at him, the setting sun illuminating his young little face and casting faint gold light on the fine hairs across his smooth skin, his shining eyes ones only someone of his age could have.

It's Yao Jinfeng and Xiao Lu.

"…Jinfeng is so smart, I'm always unfamiliar with these sections…"

“Idiot, that's because I've learned it before! And you're always running all around that evil man, of course you don't have time to study!”

“Don't call Mister an evil man, he's very good. He's very good to you too, he gave you nice-looking clothes, and so much spending money…”

Jinfeng turned up his nose. "Hmph, that's because he wants to bribe my brother!"

Xiao Lu silently lowered his head. Jinfeng said, “Come on, don't speak of him. I'm practicing a set of moves today that my brother taught me two days ago, I'll show you!”

He proceeded to jump out of the tree and practice.

His little body is full of vigor, and from start to finish seems to be very controlled and concise. Even if I don't quite understand, I feel that this child's apt.i.tude is rather high.

Xiao Lu claps his hands. “You're awesome, Jinfeng! A master of the pen and sword! Jinfeng… what do you want to do in the future?”

Jinfeng stared, then let out a huff. “I'm practicing martial arts to kill that villain, of course! My brother said that if I progress fast enough, he'll leave Zhang Qinglian for me to kill myself!”

Xiao Lu got upset at his. “Can you not kill him?”

“No way!” Jinfeng said without hesitation. “I hate no one more than him, we can't live under the same sky!”

“But… everyone says that Sir Yao was sentenced to death by the court, and Mister wasn't the one to kill him!”

"He framed him!"

Xiao Lu pouted.

Jinfeng probably cherishes his only friend of the same age group, so he changes the subject. “Don't talk about him, Xiao Lu. What do you want to do in the future?”

“I…” Xiao Lu was successfully guided away from his moodiness, eyes beginning to shine. “I want to be an official!”

What! I'm startled for a beat, my own gloominess forgotten.

“What?” Yao Jinfeng is also startled, then burst into laughter.

Xiao Lu is dejected. “You also think I can't do it, Jinfeng?”

“Haha, an official? …Ha, Xiao Lu, why do you want to be an official? Is it for all that money? Hahaha…”

“…My family isn't from the capital. The Yellow River flooded two years ago, and we had to flee. Mom caught the plague, and fell ill in the capital… Dad first sold my older sister to pay for Mom's medicine, then he got sick after, and couldn't even eat… Dad sold me next… fortunately, Mister agreed to buy me, then had a doctor come to treat my parents. But it was hopeless, and… too late. Mom and Dad were dead…”

“Dad said, if we had good officials, they could control the water, and provide aid… and it wasn't like this.” His voice gets louder. “I want to be an official! A good official! I'll take charge and things like this won't happen!” His obstinate and childish tone is accompanied by a hiccuping throat and a stuffy nose.

Yao Jinfeng had stopped laughing.

There's a wet feeling in my eyes.

It turns out… turns out… that Xiao Lu is better than me.

I'm not a saint. I will make mistakes. I don't understand how to help the country and its people. I'm selfish and self-centered. Maybe my best effort will accomplish nothing in the end, maybe it'll hurt, maybe my hands will get dirty… but there's always something I can do make things less tragic. I could use modern knowledge to help control the water, or lessen the tax rate, or use my skills in business to fill the state treasury… even if nothing succeeds in the end, at least… I might still be able to accomplish a youngster's dream.

Jinfeng speaks softly, his tone much gentler. “If Xiao Lu wants to, he can.”

Xiao Lu wiped his eyes, then smiled. “I have Mister and Jinfeng now. It's already not a problem."

“Mm. Let's go eat.”

"Okay."

The two kids walk far away, while I haven't moved from my perch on this big lakeside rock.

A voice suddenly sounded out from behind me. "What are you doing sitting here?"

[1] Yishu is a Chinese feminist writer. The piece in question this is quoted from is referring to how in order to be successful, women have to put in much more work than a man would; a not-so-foreign concept, really.
[-] Mister = daren. "Sir" just didn't sound right coming from Lu's mouth.

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Qinglian Chronicles Chapter 18 summary

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