Last chapter recap: Su Tan Er rests after all the excitement. Ning Yi learns what happened.
Chapter 16 Nie Yun Zhu
After Midautumn, Jiangning’s weather was good for two more days and then turned cloudy. When walking on the streets, the cool wind would blow the fallen leaves on the streets and add some hint of desolation to the loud city.
Of course, in the view of many people, the city was still as usual. Autumn should be so. The water was clear in the river, the pleasure boats still the same as they moved around the weeping willows. The wind would grab nearby leaves and then spin them to land on the water where they would flow away. There were pedestrians, carriages, blue robed small foot sedans, and merchants in the streets, the narrow alleys, the long limestone stairs, and the wooden footbridges that cross narrow streams. Near places with slow water, women would be washing on the stairs, laughing and chatting. In the distance, there were tea lodges and restaurants filled with fragrance.
Most of the people were busy for their living. Of course, when they were used to it, it was just a fact of life. If they had idle time, they might go into a teahouse to sit for a while, or just rest by the street. The most interesting recent gossip was most likely what happened a few days ago at Midautumn. The most popular news was the publication of Prelude to the Water Melody, and how the Confucian scholar Kang Xian had lectured people at Water Point Poetry Conference.
The cause of the matter was coincidental and suspenseful. The drama had to satisfy those conditions. If it was just a certain scholar reciting a poem which astounded everyone, people were bored of those. If there was favor from talented women, there would be more drama. The Prelude to the Water Melody was more in this direction. People liked good poetry and stories like this. So, for these few days, when one went to sit in the pleasure towers, when the girls came out, they could not avoid hearing this “How long will the full moon appear” and evaluate its wonder.
As to information about the author, everyone was still speculating, and not much reliable information was known.
Su Mansion, Ning Yi, Ning Li Heng. The zhuixu of the Su Mansion.
Kang Xian’s lecture had confirmed the author of the Prelude to the Water Melody at Water Point Poetry Conference but could not erase their confusion. Why was he unknown before, why did he have such talent, and still go marry into a merchant family. Even more importantly, had he bought or stolen this poem. This was what everyone was concerned about.
A scandal was usually more dramatic than good news, and people were more accepting of such a thing. It was not a scandal for scholars to buy poems to get famous. So when everyone discussed this matter, they would lean to speculation like this. The status of a zhuixu was low. Some would say such a person had no honor and forgot his ancestors. Any person with pride would not do this.
However, in a few days, there were saying that the second miss of the Su Mansion was astounding beautiful and virtuous. Ning Yi fell in love at first sight and married in willingly. Yet in a patriarchal society like this, not many believed a story like this. Prostitutes were in fashion, and the status of women was one of an object. No one would believe someone could do this for a woman. Also, even if they believed it, it was fine if this person had no latent. If this person had talent and still married in for a woman, then it was a great mistake. He was a failure as a man, a failure as a scholar, and even a failure as a person.
In this era, people liked fairy tales when the male managed to rank in the exams and returned to marry his beloved. People could not accept men abandoning everything for a woman.
So in these few days, everyone’s speculations of Ning Yi was mostly negative. Marrying in was a sin. Yet the conclusion had not appeared. The speculators still maintained their curiosity and waited for more reliable information. On the other hand, people were still astounded by the quality of the Prelude to the Water Melody and the talent of its author. And the degree of their amazement was still rising. After these few days, their compliments of the poem constantly rose. The evaluations of this poem in this Midautumn far surpassed all other poems. A situation like this hadn’t appeared for a few years.
The Qinhuai River’s most populous was the area around the Confucius Temple and Examination Hall. Across the river from the area was the location of many pleasure towers. Right now, it was just after noon, and these places were not yet open. However, those who should be up were still up. If one walked on the streets below, they could see some women on the towers sitting alone, chatting, or playing around. There was also music coming from inside the walls.
This music came from some professionals that were practicing in the tower, and the young girls who were learning from the teachers arranged by the pleasure towers. At this time, in the inner yard of Gold Phoenix Tower, a class teaching the zither had ended. The younger girls intently played the song their teacher was teaching them. The female teacher dressed simply in a cloth dress and a reed hairpin sat at the small table at the front and listened to the music with a hand propping up her chin.
The woman was just twenty or so in age, dressed simply compared to the others in the pleasure tower, but her appearance was outstanding. A delicate and elegant face, inky brows, and an outstanding aura. When she sat there and listened to the zither, she gave people a serene feeling. She was outstanding compared to the girl that were practicing.
Following the usual process, after the song was played, the woman taught a few things and then the lesson today was finished. However, as the woman prepared to pack up, some girls looked at each other, and one of them said, “Sister Yun Zhu, Sister Yun Zhu, can you teach us to sing Prelude to the Water Melody?”
“Hm? Prelude to the Water Melody …” The woman called Yun Zhu stilled and then blinked at then blinked. She didn’t understand why they wanted to learn this. The girl started speaking.
“The guests who came recently like to listen to this …”
“The one from Midautumn Night …”
“We like it as well.”
The woman heard this and understood. “Midautumn? A good poem came out this Midautumn?”
“Ah? Sister Yun Zhu, you didn’t know?”
“I had some matter and did not pay attention to the events of Midautumn …” the woman gave a small smile but there was some tiredness at the bottom of the smile. However, the young girls in front of her most likely couldn’t see it.
Then these girls took out a small book with Prelude to the Water Melody copied inside. The woman sat there, and read character by character, her lips moving slightly. She could truly understand the greatness of the poem and her expression grew serious. The girls narrated the origins of this poem from Midautumn Night.
“… Pity, that many married into another family.”
“Yes, he is a zhuixu …”
“Now everyone says that the poem was bought …”
“But the poem is so good … How long will the full moon last, wine cup in hand, I ask the sky …”
The girls talked over each other to narrate the origins of the poem, and then started to sing it. While they were still learning music, the elder sisters of Gold Phoenix Tower had been singing this and they had no problems. In reality, there were music scores for lyrics like the Prelude to the Water Melody. They had learned and could play the tune, but it was better when taught by someone else.
“Zhuixu …” Yun Zhu looked at the poem, finished listening to everyone and then said with a smile. “If so, then you should all know a bit about the song for the Prelude to the Water Melody?”
“We played, but not well in some places …”
“Yes, learn the music. A song like the Prelude to the Water Melody has some places with special fingering. You can change some places slightly when singing. Let us play together once, and then discuss …”
As she spoke, the girls returned to sit in front of their zithers. Yun Zhu’s gaze moved around. She pressed her fingers to the strings, and after an elegant smile, her fingers moved.
“How long will the full moon last …”
The music sounded in the room. A performance by many people, especially when most were not familiar, should be chaotic. However, in the music, the clearest and most elegant sound steadily pulled the song forward. While all the sounds were the same volume, the sound of that zither completely assimilated the other music. Then a beautiful voice led everyone to sing. If a guest skilled in this area came, they might find the music and vocal ability was better than most people in Gold Phoenix Tower, and could rival the present head, Yuan Jin Er.
Yuan Jin Er’s voice was lively and light. This voice flowed like bells and made people feel calm and comfortable. When the music sounded, some of the nearby girls came over and listened from a distance. When the Prelude to the Water Melody finished, some people said, “It is Sister Yun Zhu …”
“Sister Yun Zhu’s voice is still so good …”
They had both admiration and envy. Soon later, the class inside ended, and what was left was for the girls to practice on their own. The woman in a cloth dress and reed hairpin walked out of the room with a small bag. She walked the long corridors, greeting the women she knew, and then went to the madam’s room to take the fees for the lesson. When she was leaving, she encountered Yuan Jin Er in the corridor.
“Elder Sister Yun Zhu.”
“Younger Sister Jin Er.”
“I heard Sister Yun Zhu singing just now. As expected, it is best for Sister Yun Zhu to sing this Prelude to the Water Melody. Jin Er keeps feeling that she cannot find the mental state and sing it well.”
Yuan Jin Er was seventeen this year, and lively in personality. The two exchanged a few more words before her smile faded and she asked softly, “Sister Yunzhu, how is Younger Sister Hu Tao?”
“Good these days. She most likely will recover from her illness in a few days.”
“That is good …” Yuan Jin Er nodded. Moments later, seeing no one around, she took out a small bag. “Sister Yun Zhu, I know your personality. But since Sister Hu Tao is ill, you must deal with the emergency. Please accept the money. Jin Er will always remember Sister’s care … ”
She wanted to put the small moneybag into the other’s hand but Yun Zhu refused. While she was moved, she still didn’t accept.
“Hu Tao has recovered. If not, this older sister will not refuse. Sister Jin Er, save this money. If you can buy yourself one day, you can be free …”
“I do not have Sister’s personality.” The two just said some heartfelt words and their eyes were red. Yuan Jin Er wiped the corners of her eyes and smiled. “Jin Er plans to find a man to marry. There is no great use in having money and this is not much, I still have …”
“If you encounter a scholar you love …”
“Jin Er will not marry those with silver tongues but have no wealth. Compliments cannot be eaten. One has the fate to be a concubine or servant and needs to find a person with wealth and status to marry. Right now, with some fame, it is not hard to marry …”
People had different ambitions. The two walked out and said some more things. In the end, they separated at the side door to Gold Phoenix Tower. Yuan Jin Er smiled and waved until the other’s figure disappeared before letting her hand down.
She felt some admiration, but also some emotions she didn’t understand.
The woman she called Sister Yun Zhu was Nie Yun Zhu, one of the most popular women of Gold Phoenix Tower in the last few years. Her singing, music, and poetry were all outstanding, but she was an aloof person and never the most popular. Whenever the Qinhuai chose their top courtesan, she never wanted to participate, and so her fame never reached a peak. Two years ago, she accumulated enough money to buy herself and her servant girl Hu Tao. They found a place to live. Even now, people would occasionally come to Gold Phoenix Tower and ask about her.
The other pleasure tower women, even if they bought themselves, would still maintain relationships with many guests, and attend poetry conferences and other events. Yet Sister Yun Zhu was different. She seemed to have broken all connection to her past people. The life of a pleasure tower was to come and go. After not appearing for two years, she faded from this world. She still took the work to teach music and earned some money.
But the money in teaching music was not a lot. Even if she didn’t teach, there were other people in the tower that could do it. She had some money left over from two years ago when she bought herself. However, Yuan Jin Er heard that their situation was not good at present. The mistress and servant always lived in the pleasure tower. Hu Tao knew how to serve but wasn’t skilled in matters of living. After these two yars, they most likely had used up their money. They could only take more work in the pleasure tower. She heard that Hu Tao had an illness, and the two were not living very well. Yuan Jin Er was grateful for the care the other gave her in the past so she wanted to give money to help. She hadn’t taken out much, and the other didn’t accept.
Women, in this world, had no freedom. In the pleasure towers, they looked spectacular with many youths fighting for them, and a song worth an unknown amount. But in the end, they were fated to be concubines and servants. No one would take a woman from the pleasure towers as a wife. Sister Yun Zhu was a determined person. If she also bought herself, without support in this world, how long could a weak woman like her last? In the end, she feared she would return to this pleasure tower.
She sighed softly, and turned back …
When leaving the medicine shop, Nie Yun Zhu counted the money she had and put it closest to her skin.
Adding on the money from pawning the hairpin, she could have some more days. Best was that Hu Tao was about to recover. This was best.
Two years ago, they left the pleasure tower. They two did not have much experience in living alone. Hu Tao had hard days back when young, but she had been in the pleasure tower for many years. Those were memories from childhood. It was good that they were able to cook for themselves. The mistress and servant, without any work, lived a period of complete ease. While they did some work, for example teaching music at Gold Phoenix Tower, they had no income. But now, while they didn’t have much money left, as long as Hu Tao recovered, the two of them could do some things to balance their income and costs.
She picked up the little bag with writing utensils in one hand, and another with the packaged medicines. She walked in the direction of home, her head low, half of her attention on a pouch in her clothing. She and Hu Tao had been stolen from twice in crowds ever since they left, and it was a pity when she thought of it now. She left the Vermillion Bird Street and the passerby gradually lessened, and so did her wariness. Around her were still shops selling merchandise. Just as she was about to turn the corner, a figure suddenly entered her sight.
She looked up and peered in confusion. that figure had already turned at a nearby corner. She took a few quick steps. When she reached that corner, she finally saw that figure over there.
It was him …
On the street nearby, a thin man who looked scholarly was standing in front of a few shops with a large piece of wood in one hand. He looked at the items being sold as he swung that wooden board in boredom. Then he nodded and entered one of the shops.
It appeared as though he was going to buy charcoal.
Nie Yun Zhu thought a moment and then followed … …
Translator Ramblings: Ning Yi is becoming a weird medieval pop star …