Chapter 27

Yan Yan got up before dawn the next day.

Ever since she started learning martial arts when she was five, she would get up at this time to train for an hour and a half. This habit had become set in stone over the years. The servants in the Ningxiang Chambers also knew the third miss’s habit. They would light the lamps and prepare breakfast and hot water bright and early for Yan Yan.

When Yan Yan had first started training, there had been a small training area in the estate. Two years ago, people had instigated her mom into shutting it down. Yan Yan thus relocated to the small courtyard behind the Ningxiang Chambers. Although the area wasn’t large, it was at least her own place. As long as she shut the doors, no one could say anything about it.

She first jogged to warm up, and then stood in horse-stance on the plum-blossom pillars.1 Then she went through a set of basic moves and whip techniques. All this took exactly one and a half hours, and the eastern skies had just turned bright.

Yan Yan wore her tight-fitted crimson training outfit along with leggings and a pair of little red riding boots with white soles. Her cheeks were crimson and her eyes were bright. Although sweat trickled down from her hair onto her face, she wasn’t even out of breath.

Lady Hui saw Yan Yan stop and walked up with a towel.

“Third miss, wipe your sweat off first. Your whip skills are getting better and better.”

“Still not as impressive as Lady Hui. Who knows when I can get to your level?”

Yan Yan had seen Lady Hui’s skills before. The whip moved like flowing water in her hands, and even just her incredible achievements in Qinggong2 made one envious. Unfortunately, despite having trained with Lady Hui for five years, Yan Yan wasn’t able to scale walls as though walking on flat ground like she did. She could merely climb trees a little more agilely.

Lady Hui pursed her lips in a smile and put the towel back on the tray, saying: “Third miss is of high status. There isn’t much use in learning martial arts. It’s fine to just learn it superficially. Lady Hui’s techniques don’t suit you.”

“Why?”

Every time Yan Yan asked this question, Lady Hui never answered. However, this time she said after hesitating for a while: “Lady Hui’s techniques are for killing people.”

“Killing people?”

Lady Hui nodded, her gaze steady.

Lady Hui had spoken the words “killing people” extremely indifferently, as though it wasn’t a big deal. Only at this moment did the withdrawn and ordinary looking woman seem a little special. She was normally low-key and unobtrusive at the Weiyuan Marquis Estate.

Hearing lady Hui say this, Yan Yan was merely surprised but not confused. This was because she still knew a little of Lady Hui’s identity.

Lady Hui wasn’t an ordinary person. Put it this way. She was part of the martial world, and had long since made a name for herself there as an expert. Although the “striking twin mallards” couldn’t be called widely renowned, they were still significantly famous.

 Of course, it was only famous within the circles of martial arts. To outsiders, they were merely a bunch of lowly mercenaries licking blood off their blades.

Those who were truly skilled could occupy mountains as bandits or found their own schools and guilds. Some also chose to risk their lives for the wealthy. Lady Hui and her husband had worked as mercenaries for a major salt trader.

Private salt traders always dealt in large transactions, and there were many who secretly coveted their wealth. On the surface, authorities also spared no efforts in cracking down on private salt traders. No matter how skilled they were, a pair of hands would have trouble going against four. Therefore, authorities merely scoffed disdainfully at those messing around with martial arts.

Once, the striking twin mallards were sent to eliminate an opponent for their master. That major salt trader didn’t investigate his target and failed to realize that official’s estate had significant backing. The striking twin mallards ended up being wanted by the authorities and that salt trader threw them out as scapegoats to protect himself. He even sent his own killers to silence them.

The striking twin mallards had fled in a panic. Lady Hui’s husband was killed protecting his pregnant wife from the killers. Lady Hui was heavily injured and lost the child. She was at death’s door when she was rescued by one of the generals under the Zhenguo Duke, a commander of the local region.

That commander had been investigating the salt trader and coincidentally saved Lady Hui. She was in despair at losing her child and husband. For the sake of vengeance, she revealed everything about that salt trader. She promised that if they could help her get revenge, she would give her life in their service.

As stated previously, officials disdained those of the martial world.

At this point, Yan Yan was five years old and wanted to learn martial arts. Since she was a girl, it wasn’t too appropriate to assign her a male instructor. The Zhenguo Duke wanted to find her a female instructor, but women martial artists were few and far between in this age, especially one that was skilled. Therefore, the Zhenguo Duke sent out his orders.

That was how Lady Hui ended up in the Zhenguo Duke’s hands via the commander. After various tests, she ended up by Yan Yan’s side.

Yan Yan didn’t know about Lady Hui’s background at first. She had told her little by little after they grew closer.

Lady Hui had nothing left for her in this world. All that was left was to repay her debt of gratitude. After being assigned to Yan Yan, her life underwent major changes. Humans were emotional creatures. Yan Yan was still a young girl at the time. Having spent five years with her, Yan Yan had grown up and Lady Hui had already started cherishing her as her own daughter.

From her perspective, the third miss was the young mistress of a major household. Such a girl didn’t need any martial arts. They had an entourage wherever they went and they rarely left the house. Why make her work so hard? Therefore, she had merely taught Yan Yan the basics over the years as well as a set of soft whip techniques. She knew enough to protect herself if any accident occurred. There was no need to go further in depth.

“Then can Ah Yan learn it as well?”

Lady Hui frowned slightly. “Why does the third miss want to learn these things? In your case, it’s not much use.”

Yan Yan had a hint of depression between her brows. “I’m not able to master anything. I’m no good in the feminine chores, let alone any of the temperament developing arts like zither, go, calligraphy and painting. One must have something they are proficient in, right? Since I enjoy this, I might as well learn it as best I can. If someone were to ask me what I was good at, I can’t just tell them nothing in particular, right?!”

As she finished speaking, she gave a carefree smile. She had clearly thought things through and made up her mind.

“It will be a lot of hard work.”

“Ah Yan isn’t afraid of suffering.”

Lady Hui also agreed with this assessment. There were very few children, especially ones from wealthy households, who could train every day in every season like the third miss.

“Madam might not accept it.”

Actually, when had Shen Yi Yao accepted it? She had never been willing to let Yan Yan learn martial arts since it wasn’t ladylike. Yan Yan was able to train for these five years because of the Zhenguo Duke’s support early on and later because she did so secretly. Shen Yi Yao had scolded and rebuked her before, but it was of no use. She could only turn a blind eye and let her do as she pleased.

“Then from tomorrow on, Lady Hui will teach the third miss.”

Lady Hui answered straightforwardly. In the end, all martial artists longed for a good disciple to inherit their skills. They were both women and the third miss’s temperament and perseverance were both good. It would take her half the effort to learn her skills. If her status had been different, Lady Hui would have long since accepted her as her disciple and wouldn’t hesitate until now. Since the third miss herself wanted to learn, she naturally wouldn’t argue against it.

“Then it’s settled. I’ll go take a bath and change. I have to go pay respects at the Rongan Hall later.”

…….

After Yan Yan finished her bath, she changed into a deep red outfit embroidered with pear flowers and a pale blue misted silk skirt. Mei Xiang and Mei Xue helped comb her hair and applied magnolia-scented lotion on her face. Yan Yan was still young and naturally didn’t need any makeup. It was enough to put on some fragrant lotion to moisturize her skin.

Mei Xiang brushed Yan Yan’s hair into twin pigtails and pinned them in place with two golden agate flowered tasseled hairpins. Mei Xiang wanted to add another butterfly hairpin but was stopped by Yan Yan. She had never liked such inconveniences, and just having a couple to keep up appearances was enough.

Mei Xue felt it was a pity, saying that the miss had so many ornaments she never wore. It was a pity to keep them in storage the whole time.

Yan Yan truly had a lot of jewelry and ornaments. Without mentioning the estate’s allotments and what Shen Yi Yao gave her, just the Zhenguo Duke Estate alone had sent over so many she wouldn’t be able to go through them all. Yan Yan had a very large box for them made of sandalwood. It had a total of five layers and each had been filled to the brim. This didn’t include the two boxes sitting on her makeup counter.

After getting dressed up, Yan Yan left with Mei Xiang and Mei Xue. In the past she would first meet up with Shen Yi Yao at the Jinse Pavilion before going to pay respects together. Today however, she felt hesitant.

After thinking it over, she still went to the Jinse Pavilion first. Unexpectedly, she was told her mom had already gone ahead to the Rongan Hall.

Yan Yan’s eyes flashed. She turned around and headed to the Rongan Hall.

As the Weiyuan Marquis and his madam’s main pavilion, the Rongan Hall naturally wasn’t ordinary. It had five compounds and three auxiliary residences. The left and right wings were surrounded on all sides. It was lavishly furnished and extremely grand and stylish.

The Rongan Hall hadn’t been called that in the past. The succeeding marquis would always rename it. However, whatever its current name was, it also had its other name: the main pavilion.

The Grand Xi emphasized stability and wealthy households kept this in mind. Every household had a central axis running from the front to the back. This meant that the buildings of importance or special meaning were all constructed along this central axis. For example, not only were the Weiyuan Marquis’s office in the front court the Zhongzheng [/efn_note]Devoted Principles[/efn_note] Hall and the rear court’s Rongan Hall straight and centered in meaning, they were also literally built straight in the center.3

In theory, as the Weiyuan Marquis and his madam’s main pavilion, it should be Yan Ting and Shen Yi Yao living there. However, since the previous marquis had passed away and his madam Pei-shi became a widow, her son Yan Ting was filial and couldn’t bear having his mother leave the place she had lived in for many years with his father. Thus they constructed a new pavilion called “Jinse”. The current marquis lived there with Shen-shi while the old madam remained in her current residence.

This sort of situation wasn’t unheard of. After all, filial piety was emphasized. But usually the elders wouldn’t be so “tactless”. This was similar to how the empress would live in the Fengqi Palace while the empress dowager would live in the Cining Palace, and not continue to occupy her old spot. This wasn’t just a living place, it also represented the steady transition of power and the acknowledgement of the elder generation.

When Yan Yan learned about the ways of the world, she would feel weird when looking at this “Rongan Hall”. In the recent years, apart from feeling weird, she would also feel a sense of mockery.

Actions spoke louder than words…..

This was something the Zhenguo Duke had casually said to Shen Qi. Yan Yan had overheard it and kept it in mind ever since.

Gradually, as she became more knowledgeable, she started understanding how profound this saying was. Her complicated understanding of people’s natures had started from this point.

Author’s notes:

Don’t laugh at the clichéd sounding “striking twin mallards”. Actually, this author wants to laugh as well, but all the other considered names were equally laughable. Therefore I chose one that was easy to understand.

This chapter was a little too descriptive. The struggle continues next chapter. Yan Yan must learn more advanced skills for the sake of the future. Don’t ask me why, just think of it as being making it more convenient to be fatty’s partner. Hehe…

  1. Those clusters of balancing pillars you often see people standing on in martial arts movies.
  2. Literally lightweight arts.
  3. Tried my best to get the wordplay to work in English.

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