What a horrible thing to come home to! Luckily Yi Lian Kai didn’t go back with Qin Sang (and let’s just keep hoping for that badass rescue while we’re at it even though Yi Lian Kai got pretty mad beforehand) >-<.
Yi Lian Shen is introduced in this chapter as a shrewd person who will do whatever he needs to do. It feels everyone is dangerous in this novel LOL
By the way, let me know if there is a need for a glossary of all the characters and their positions, and I can type one up 🙂
Night had already fallen when the train pulled into Fuyuan. Fuyuan was Jiangzuo’s main city and the last stop on the Chengfu line; the huge station was brightly lit and the platform was wreathed in puffs of steam from the locomotive. Oddly enough for this time of year, the platform was deserted and there was not a soul in sight. Not far from the station was a row of houses, beyond which lay a dense forest. Behind the forest sat the city wall and at a little distance from the gate towers lay the turquoise waters of Lake Fu, a vast expanse of misty, rolling waters. Fuyuan was strategically located and difficult to access, being surrounded by mountains on three sides and a lake on the other which dominated half the city’s scenery. The city had actually sprung up around the meandering outlines of the lake, with many families building lakeside residences. With mountains on one side and water on the other, the scenery was extremely beautiful. The Yi family home was a sprawling multi-layered courtyard house alongside the lake.
Since a telegram had been sent before they left for Fuyuan, attendants from the Yi family were already waiting at the station and came on board to greet them. In the lead was the old retainer Wang Shu: he had been a servant of Yi Jipei’s first wife, had grown old in their service and his wife had nursed and brought up Yi Lianshen, so even Yi Liankai had to be polite and address him as ‘Wang Shu’. Upon seeing him, Qin Sang smiled and said, “Thank you for taking the trouble to pick us up, Wang Shu.”
Retainer Wang, cautious to a fault, replied laughingly: “Third Mistress mustn’t tease an old geezer like me,” before adding, “You must have had a tiring journey.” Although puzzled by Yi Liankai’s absence, he was shrewd enough not to ask too many questions. The family car was already waiting at the platform when he and Qin Sang got off the train first and he personally helped her get into the car. Zhu Ma, being her companion servant, sat beside the driver, as did Retainer Wang whilst the other attendants went to collect the luggage and gather the servants.
It only needed half an hour to travel to the Yi residence: after the last turn, the arched gateway could be seen in the distance, after which were several willow trees flanking two vermilion gates. The gateway was guarded by two sentries armed with rifles and two huge wicker lanterns hung from the archway. A hundred light bulbs had been placed in each one so the huge bare space in front of the gate was bathed in brilliant light as bright as day. Stirred by the wind, the branches of the weeping willows revealed barbed wire running along the entire length of the high wall, the spiked ends pointing upwards.
Their car did not stop at all but went straight past the second watch tower before stopping. Facing the tower was a quintessentially traditional spirit wall of colourful glazed tiles and it was in front of this wall that they stopped. Normally at this juncture, they would be met by servants from the main house who would rush up with big smiles, calling out greetings like, “Our respects to Third Master!” “Good health to Third Mistress!” “Ah, Third Master and Mistress are back!” and cluster round them in this lively fashion as they all walked into the house.
Except that today everything was peculiarly quiet for not a soul emerged from the main rooms to welcome them. When Qin Sang got out of the car, a chilly gust swept over her and she sneezed. Right at this moment, someone did come out of the main hall: in spite of his civilian clothes, his bearing proclaimed the soldier. His gait was leisurely and relaxed as he came towards them, half-smiling as he said: “Welcome home, San Meimei¹.”
- ¹‘Third Younger Sister’
Qin Sang was faintly surprised that it was him of all people but she greeted him nonetheless: “Er Ge².”
- ²‘Second Older Brother’
For it was none other than Yi Lianshen, the second son of Yi Jipei. Years in the army had turned him swarthy but he still cut a dashing figure and had a quality that ensured he would always stand out in a crowd. A greater contrast with Yi Liankai’s wealthy young master image could not be imagined. Qin Sang had never seen much of this second brother and whenever Yi Liankai mentioned him, it was always in a faintly disdainful manner. Also, the Yi family was an old-fashioned one with a strict hierarchy and as Yi Lianshen was busy with military affairs and she only returned to the ancestral home for the three festivals every year, they were almost strangers to each other. Which was why she merely asked courteously: “It’s quite late, Er Ge. Surely you’re not going out now?”
Yi Lianshen laughed and replied, “No, I wasn’t going out. I was waiting here for you, San Meimei…. Didn’t San Di³ come back with you?”
- ³’Third Younger Brother’
Despite his smile, Qin Sang noticed that his eyes were glittering in a way that was far from friendly which impelled her to ask: “Is Father back? I’ll go and pay my respects to him first.”
Yi Lianshen only smiled again and said: “There’s no hurry.” His tone and manner were calm and unhurried but Qin Sang felt mildly surprised. He raised his hands and clapped sharply twice. Out of nowhere a few bodyguards wearing military uniforms and carrying guns strode up to her. Yi Lianshen actually began taking a step backwards one at a time, saying, “You’ve had a hard journey and must be tired. You should rest first.”
However slow on the uptake Qin Sang might have been earlier, she could not fail to realise now that something had happened, although what exactly had happened was beyond her powers of guessing. The guards, though armed, were still respectful and escorted her all the way to a side room in the eastern building. The moment she stepped inside, she realized that not only had something happened, it must have been something grave. For in that room were Yi Jipei’s concubines, Eldest Mistress⁴ and even five-year-old Xiaorong, Yi Jipei’s daughter with his sixth concubine. It appeared as though all the womenfolk were being held prisoner in this room, as evidenced by the locks on the outside of the door and their pale frightened expressions when the guards unlocked the door to let Qin Sang step inside, to general disbelief. It was quite some time before Eldest Mistress came swaying forward on her bound feet to greet her. Although she looked scared, she pressed Qin Sang’s hand and finally managed to say with a catch in her voice: “San Meimei… what are you doing here?!” The other aunts wiped away their tears while Yi Jipei’s favourite – Sixth Aunt – sat on the sandalwood day bed, cradling her daughter Xiaorong. She seemed to have suffered a huge fright, judging from her blank and dull-eyed gaze. Yi Jipei had been a father of three boys for half his life until his daughter had come along so the child was very much pampered. Now the little girl sat huddled in her mother’s embrace, staring with big round eyes at everyone in the room.
- ⁴The wife of Yi Lianyi (the eldest son).
Qin Sang asked: “What has happened?”
Her innocuous question caused Sixth Aunt to burst into gusty tears: “The sky has fallen on us!” The guard outside hammered sharply on the window pane with his rifle and bellowed: “No crying!”
Sixth Aunt jumped and immediately obeyed but Xiaorong began crying plaintively: “Mama… I’m scared…”
“It’s okay, baby… it’s okay…” Sixth Aunt crooned, patting her daughter on her back comfortingly. Eldest Mistress, her eyes reddening, tugged at Qin Sang and asked: “Where’s San Di? Has he come back?”
Qin Sang repeated her question: “What on earth has happened?”
So Eldest Mistress filled her in, tears flowing all the while: the night before, Yi Jipei had come home and summoned Yi Lianshen to his room for a dressing-down (nobody knew why) and after Yi Lianshen had exited the room, quite a few of them had heard Yi Jipei shouting from a neighbouring window: “Just wait, you reckless b—–d, I’ll teach you a lesson tomorrow!”
As Yi Jipei had always been foul-tempered and harsh towards his sons, Yi Lianshen was always getting hauled over the coals – either for work-related matters or for more personal ones – and everyone in the household was so accustomed to it that they gave no further thought to this episode. The next evening, Yi Jipei played host to several fellow officials, among whom was the Chairman of Fuzhou Province, Zhang Xikun. Halfway through their dinner, Yi Jipei suddenly mentioned that he wanted to strip Yi Lianshen of his military command. Just as the guests were staring at each other in mutual dismay, Yi Lianshen entered the room with a heavily armed troop.
Upon seeing his son enter with armed soldiers, Yi Jipei launched into a furious tirade but before he could finish, one of the soldiers pushed back his rifle bolt with a sharp ka-cha. Yi Jipei had a history of high blood pressure and midway through, he had a stroke: his eyes rolled back into his head, his body spasmed, he frothed at the mouth and his neck stiffened. The brigade commanders went pale with fright and rushed over to help him up but when they saw that his tongue had stiffened and speech was impossible, there was a general panic. Only Zhang Xikun, the Chairman of Fuzhou Province, was unfazed – he even spooned his shark’s fin soup and said languidly, “The Marshal has just been taken ill and quite unexpectedly too. To stabilise the situation, I propose that Second Master be made acting provincial military governor. What do you gentlemen think?”
Of course, none of the brigade commanders had dared to object. Nevertheless, they were imprisoned in the reception room and their fate remained unclear. Yi Lianshen had immediately ordered that the residence be sealed off – one could enter but not leave. At that point, the womenfolk were still unaware of what had transpired and only after Yi Lianshen’s men had the entire residence surrounded did they hear that the Marshal had been taken ill. Just as they were all in disarray, a servant from the kitchen came over with their dinner dishes. This servant shrewdly slipped off to the back rooms and recounted every detail to Sixth Aunt. Sixth Aunt had immediately become hysterical, vowing to fight her way to the main rooms but Yi Lianshen had had her restrained and then given orders for all the womenfolk to be locked up together in one room.
Ever since then, none of them had known what Yi Jipei’s fate was, nor what was happening outside.
Qin Sang could not believe that things had taken such a dramatic turn in just one day and she sat down heavily on the day bed, staring dazedly at Eldest Mistress. Her sister-in-law’s eyes were as puffy as walnuts as she said, “None of us can do anything. San Di is our only hope of escape now. Did he come home with you?”
Qin Sang nodded, then changed it to a shake of her head. Eldest Mistress wailed: “What evil is this? How could Er Di* be so foolish?”
- *’Second Younger Brother’
Qin Sang listened to her crying, but it was the terror of being imprisoned that gradually added to her bitter sense of desolation. She thought of Yi Liankai who had got off the train midway. Who knew whether it was a blessing or a disaster? If it were a disaster, she herself had already fallen into an inescapable net whereas he was still outside and might be able to get away. Only, one did not know whose side Commander Yao was on: if he was also Yi Lianshen’s agent, then he might follow orders to capture Yi Liankai and then – it would truly be over for them.
She looked round at the furnishings in the room, remembering how impressed she had been at the outset of her marriage. From the extravagant luxury of the furnishings to the food they ate and the clothes they wore – so much had been new to her and she had been born into a rich family herself. Yi Jipei’s control of the whole region had concentrated power into his hands; he looked down on Jiangzuo but the local leaders still had to humble themselves around him. The Yi family had never been subordinate to anyone and took their wealth and power for granted, especially their wealth. And yet here were their womenfolk sobbing away amidst all that luxury; wealth and rank had turned out to be as ephemeral as a dream. Now there was infighting between the brothers, father and son had fallen out with each other and this room had suddenly become a cage, trapping them in a situation not of their own making.
They were well and truly confined for even the servants who took them their food did not enter the rooms. Beside the door was a hole just wide enough for a cat. Yi Jipei’s first wife had loved cats and even after her death, the hole had not been sealed. It was very useful at present – whether it was their meals or hot water for washing, all were shoved inside this hole and since the sentries patrolling outside never spoke a word to them, it was exactly like being in prison. Such humiliation was foreign to the Yi womenfolk and they sat crying late into the night under the lamplight but there was nothing to say, which only added to the general fear and distress. The only silver lining was that there were several beds and opium couches in these rooms and everyone drifted away to fall asleep on them. Qin Sang, exhausted from her journey, shared a bed with Eldest Mistress and lay down to rest but she had only been sleeping a short while when the footsteps of the patrolling sentries outside startled her into wakefulness.
Eldest Mistress was also awake. They stared at each other but there was nothing to be done. Right at this moment, Xiaorong started up from a dream and began crying gustily. Sixth Aunt hugged and patted her but she would not be comforted. Everyone in the room was now awake. Eldest Mistress put on her coat and went to look at the child; she felt Xiaorong’s forehead which was fever-hot and noticing that the child’s cheeks were flushed, asked: “Has she caught a chill?”
Qin Sang had learned some basic first aid at school and after feeling the child’s pulse, said, “Her fever is very bad. If it’s typhoid fever, that could be dangerous.”
Eldest Mistress was almost beside herself with worry. Qin Sang immediately went to the window and called loudly, “Tell Second Master that Fourth Missy is ill and needs a physician.”
The guards outside did not answer her and Qin Sang continued furiously, “Tell Yi Lianshen that it’s his own sister who’s ill! Tell him no matter how heartless he is, he can’t let his own sister die of fever! He’s already enraged his father to death, is he going to force the young one to her grave too? I know he’s capable of such things, but unless he kills every single one of us womenfolk, none of us will let him off if that happens!”
Translated by 12
Edited by Tranzgeek