Chapter 22 Autumn End, Winter Start (2)
Nie Yun Zhu thought it would be alright if she did not repay the favor after she learned Ning Yi’s status. In this enormous Jiangning, two people who just exchanged their names might never meet again. However, after a few days, she discovered her thinking was not correct.
When she woke up, she heard faint sounds of running footsteps on the path outside her house. When she opened the window, she saw Ning Yi run into her sight. She then remembered that even if she had not caused him to fall into the river, this Young Master Ning would run on this path every morning.
In this time that emphasized the literary and dismissed the martial, not many people would exercise like this, especially among the scholars. At the beginning, she thought he was being chased by someone. Later on, she confirmed that this Young Master Ning, who was unlike everyone in all aspects, was really performing morning exercise. Also, he seemed to be increasing the distance he ran everyday. She was puzzled but also admired him.
This was the early morning. She would not encounter him running by everyday but it was frequent. Nie Yun Zhu considered whether she should greet the other, and then, upon reflection, felt that she was being too pretentious. The people she had met before were all those with others intentions. So she feared meeting them. This Young Master Ning had saved her, and from that day, she knew that he had no intentions towards her. Having some interactions was natural, and she was overthinking.
She scolded herself and came out to greet him when she saw him run by this early morning. But the other just waved a hand and then ran without stopping. She was still for a long time. Then her servant girl, Hu Tao, who had recovered from her illness came out. “Who is that? Miss knows him?” Then she twisted her mouth. “So rude …” Nie Yun Zhu laughed softly.
Oh, friendship between gentlemen. Was this attitude because he treated her like a friend …
Cold Dew, Frost Descends. After the start of winter, Ning Yi’s body finally took a preliminary step for the better after his systematic high intensity exercise over the past few months. While nothing could be seen on the surface, at least he had a healthy body internally.
In a time like this, scholars only studied, and their nutrition did not keep up. Most people were worse off than the hikkomori of the modern times. While archery and riding were among the six gentlemen arts, this was just in name. This was a slogan just like “develop in virtue, intelligence, body, sense of beauty, and work.” Ning Yi’s body had been weak before. Being able to recover from being unhealthy for twenty years in half a year was not bad.
Occasionally in the mornings when he ran past the Qinhuai River, he would exchange greetings with Nie Yun Zhu. They were acquaintances. While she seemed slightly clumsy based on how she fell into the river trying to kill a chicken, he knew that she was not a natural ditz. In reality, he saw this from their conversation last time after buying charcoal. Her clothes were as simple as usual, but she was extremely beautiful and her figure tall and elegant. Occasionally, she would wave at him when they met near the door. She would say “Young Master Ning” with a smile. Sometimes, he would see her in the small kitchen off the side of the tower. The window of the kitchen was open to the street and she would raise her head and smile if she were tending the fire or cutting food up in the kitchen. Occasionally, he would see her take a wood basin to the river to depose of waste. She would wave her hand in a greeting when she saw Ning Yi running past. In the mornings when the wind was strong, it would blow on her dress. As the sun shone behind her back, she looked like a goddess.
There was a servant girl who lived with her in the tower, but she was not a beautiful person, just a short one. Ning Yi guessed that this was the servant girl who had fallen ill previously.
Only in the tenth month did he actually have some conversation with Nie Yun Zhu. One day, he hadn’t drunk water before he left home. After his long run, he returned, sweaty, panting, and thirsty. He stopped and asked her for a cup of water. The next day, when he returned, Nie Yun Zhu was there as well. He could not just run by so he stopped and rested for a while. After that, stopping became a habit.
“Young Master Ning is eccentric to run so long everyday. Are you not tired?”
“It will only be effective if I’m tired. What is wrong with running?”
“Yun Zhu was in Gold Phoenix Tower in the past … and saw many scholars and geniuses, but none like Young Master Ning …” As she spoke, she looked towards Ning Yi. Ning Yi had guessed that she had such a past already so he just felt slightly odd at her honesty but didn’t show too much surprise. Nie Yun Zhu said in puzzlement, “Does Young Master want to join the military?”
“Ha, with my body like this, I cannot get onto the battlefield. A scholar is good for nothing. It is of benefit to exercise.”
“A scholar is good for nothing … if other people hear this, they will criticize Young Master.”
He did not linger long here each day, and they would just chat briefly, but over time, he gradually learned about the other’s identity. She had spent a few years in the pleasure towers, and then she bought her servant girl and her own contracts. They bought this beautiful looking riverside tower. Because their knowledge of ordinary life was limited, they had made many mistakes.
Nie Yun Zhu might feel that he was strange, but in Ning Yi’s view, the other was strange was well. He guessed that she had been a member of an official’s family in childhood and was then sold to the pleasure towers. She did not want to walk the same path after buying herself out, so her life became slightly poverty-stricken. This girl had some stubbornness in her personality. One day near the end of the tenth month, Ning Yi and Xiao Chan saw her from afar when they passing by the Eastern Market.
The vegetable market was filled with people. Ning Yi and Xiao Chan had been up in a restaurant tower. When they looked down, Nie Yun Zhu and the servant girl Hu Tao were both present, but they were several meters away in the crowd. They had appeared as though they were buying food and seemed to know some of the merchants in the market. Nie Yun Zhu had been dressed simply with an ugly looking headcloth on her hair. She had been crouching behind a chicken-seller who was killing the chicken for her. She held a hen in one hand, and a knife in the other as she cut the chicken’s throat to bleed into the bowl. Her head was held far away in disgust, but she did not loosen her hand. After the bleeding, she threw the hen into a pot with boiling water and stood up in contentment. Then she seemed to glance over to Ning Yi’s side. She most likely was just looking around and Ning Yi did not know if she had noticed him.
“Guye, what is it?”
Xiao Chan asked when she noticed Ning Yi standing on the tower stairs and looking towards the market. Ning Yi shook his head. “Nothing, let’s enter.” He turned with a smile.
In these years, people rarely had the chance to eat chickens. Even if they did, they would first take the chicken home and raise it for a few days before killing it. Something like killing a chicken after selling it would only occur in a large city market like Jiangning, and only if the seller was imaginative.
The next day, when he rested by the riverside tower, Nie Yun Zhu asked, “Young Master saw this servant at Eastern Market yesterday?”
“Yes, why did you go there to kill the chicken?”
“Er Niu from the Zhao Family who lives over there is in love with Hu Tao.” Nie Yun Zhu smiled and pointed towards a building in the distance. “His family has a stall in Eastern Market. I have gone before with Hu Tao and know some people in the market. Yesterday, when I went to shop, Aunt Liu who sells chickens was very busy. I went over and said ‘I will help’ and then I managed to kill a chicken …”
She smiled happily at this. Ning Yi stilled and then shook his head with a smile. “You do not have to do this.”
Nie Yun Zhu was originally from the pleasure towers. If she was able to buy herself out at such an age, she must have been very popular in those days. Women like this never did chores, and were even more cossetted and spoiled than misses from prominent families. After buying her freedom to now, even if her life appeared to be full of bumps, it was still much better than ordinary families. Not knowing how to kill a chicken was not a major thing. He had not expected her to be so stubborn to learn how to kill a chicken when she saw a chance.
“I am happy to learn more things.” Nie Yun Zhu looked in the distance and said with a smile. Then she looked over at Nie Yun Zhu. “Right, will Young Master Ning stop here tomorrow?”
Resting here had become a habit. There had not been a need to state this but since she mentioned it, there must be a matter. Ning Yi asked, “What is it?” Nie Yun Zhu smiled and shook her head. “You will know tomorrow.”
When Ning Yi came the next day, Nie Yun Zhu came out with a bowl from her. Inside the bowl were some freshly made crepes.
“Young Master most likely hasn’t eaten breakfast. You can try these crepes.”
Ning Yi usually would rest after running before going to eating breakfast. He looked in puzzlement at her and then rested for a moment on the stairs before eating. “What is it?”
Nie Yun Zhu smiled when she saw him eat and sat down beside him. “Young Master Ning, what do you think of the taste?”
“Not bad.” Ning Yi nodded.
“Then … Young Master, if this is being sold …”
“Hm, you plan to sell crepes …”
Nie Yun Zhu smiled. “Other than entertainment or embroidering handkerchiefs and shoes, Hu Tao and I are not better than anyone else at anything, but only this. Hu Tao learned to do this in Gold Phoenix Tower. She knows to do several flavors… we plan to get a small cart and sell some tea and drinks …”
Ning Yi really had no interest in something like business. Of course, Nie Yun Zhu was not actually asking for his opinion. This woman was determined. She looked beautiful and fragile, but she had her own ideas. She had cut off all contact with all her customers after leaving the pleasure towers. She detected that she might need to kill chickens in her daily life so she suppressed her disgust and managed to learn something she had avoided fiercely. Ning Yi felt interested in her now that she wanted to do something so unfitting to her aura.
At the beginning of the eleventh month, Ning Yi moved rooms in the Su family Compound. He and Su Tan Er moved from the cold upper levels of the tower to the bottom. Winter had arrived. At night, everyone would gather in Su Tan Er’s living room and get warm by the charcoal fire. Ning Yi and Su Tan Er’s contact grew frequent because of this …
Translator Ramblings: Ning Yi and Su Tan Er get a step closer …
Jianbing is really delicious when made correctly though when it cools, it gets pretty chewy.