Chapter 178: Chinese New Year
Translated by Gumihou
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“Surely there’s no need for that? It’s Chinese New Year after all, why don’t you spread a bit of happiness around? You should visit Concubine Jiang, Madam Yun and Madam Lan’s place more often and placate your harem a little.” Su Nuan Nuan also saw how her husband had restrained himself and felt a little awkward. Though she too felt upset about having her husband sleeping around, it was not enough to overcome her own personal principle. She could not settle for being ‘one of his women’. However, just because she would not let Duan Tingxuan have sex with her, there was no reason to force this brilliant stallion into a celibate life. Not even with ‘love’ as an excuse.
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The next day was New Year’s Eve. Though Su Nuan Nuan really wanted to sleep in a bit more, she could not fight against ancient people’s enthusiasm for the New Year’s festival. Therefore, she forced herself to get out of bed early in the morning and made her way to the North Court to give her salutations to Old Madam Fang. The moment she stepped into the courtyard, she spotted two low level maids fluttering about anxiously. Moreover, the maid who announced her arrival sounded especially loud.
Suspicious, she quickly stepped into the receiving room. Just as she had half expected, Old Madam Fang’s mouth was still busy working up and down, desperately trying to chew up whatever thing she had just eaten. Angry and amused, Su Nuan Nuan shook her head, “Old madam, I forbid you from eating too much because these snacks are bad for your health when eaten in excess. To think you’d actually sneak food behind my back. What’s the use? Do you think that you won’t come to harm if I’m not here to see you eat it?”
Old Madam Fang grumbled, “Surely you can’t blame me? In previous New Year Celebrations, though the snacks were all very pretty, they were basically edible decorations. Eating them is meaningless. But, your Lotus Flower Pastry and Osmanthus Crystal Cake, aiyo, they are all very beautiful and tasted even better then they look. I heard that you’ve had several kinds of flower shape moulds made for the kitchen. No wonder the snacks you made are so gorgeous. The more I look at it, the more I fell in love. Could you blame me for accidentally eating some?
It’s one thing if it’s just you stopping me, since you can’t hang around this old lady’s place all day, but you’ve actually recruited Qiu Ling over to your side. That’s my important head maid whom I cannot do without. Now that she has become your eyes, how is this old lady supposed to pass her days? I’ve just managed to send her away a little while ago to sneak two or three pieces of snacks, but then you suddenly turn up at the wrong time. Have the two of you arranged your time to torment me? It’s too bad that my teeth are too weak, when I was in my youth, humph, don’t say to or three pieces. I probably won’t even bother chewing before swallowing the lot down…”[Gumihou: … I guess we can say for sure that DTX and old granny are definitely related]
Old Madam Fang continued to complain, but the maids in the room could not keep their mirth down anymore and had to turn their red faces away, hunched shoulders shaking most suspiciously.
A short while later, Madam Yang, Liu Min and the rest of the An Ping ladies arrived. Old Madam Fang immediately spotted the dark circles under Shi Yurou’s eyes and laughed, “Ye’er’s wife, what happened to you? Your sister-in-law is the one who had been busy all day yesterday, but she’s not half as miserable looking as you. Have you been playing mahjong all night?”
Shi Yurou quickly pasted on a smile, “I’m well, grandmother. It’s not even the new year yet, so how could this granddaughter-in-law open up the mahjong table? If you must know, there had been a lot of things going on in the past two days. Yesterday and the day before, I even went over to the Spring Breeze Court to help out in their kitchen during the afternoons. My back is really sore from exhaustion.”
Su Nuan Nuan laughed, “Little sister is just complimenting me on the sly. You hear that, grandmother? Little sister has only been helping me for two afternoons and look what happened to her. Her waist is sore and her back ached. I am also extremely tired as well. Though I look cheerful, I must admit it might have forced it a little.”
Shi Yurou really had gone over to Spring Breeze Court to assist in their kitchen for two afternoons. But her true motive was not to help out, but to sneak a peek at the latest new snacks, and to inspect the trustworthiness of key people like Ms. Xue and other kitchen maids. The moment any of them leak out information for any reason, she would immediately take control of the kitchen over the excuse of ‘flushing out traitors’.
However, who is Su Nuan Nuan?
Would she really let go of someone intending to make trouble for her?
The pitiful branch lady who had known only luxury and leisurely activities in her life, the very same woman who had became a money loving miser along with her husband, was viciously made used of in these two afternoons. To the point that she could barely stand straight without wincing.
A strain of bitterness shot through her smile, “Dear sister-in-law, must you fight over who works harder? Everyone already gives you credit for the wonderful snacks here, even if you don’t say anything, surely old madam wouldn’t discredit you if you don’t mention your hard work? Let me bask in a little of your reflected glory. After all, I did help you out for two days.”
The whole room laughed again at this light hearted banter. The discussion turned towards the reunion dinner with everyone speculating what the menu would be like and what kind of dumplings they would have. It was noon before they all left for their own estates.
After experiencing such a rich and busy new year, Su Nuan Nuan nearly burst with happiness. Only, a few days later, the happiness dimmed and she more or less lost her appetite. As for the reason?
Well, strangely enough, there were a lot more visitors during the Chinese New Year then ever before. All the snacks they had prepared for new year vanished like spilled water. The less familiar visitors were not the problem, they at least put up a show of making small talk as they ate An Ping House’s famous snacks before leaving after an appropriate length of time. The problem rose when people close with An Ping household came. Especially that nest of princes, and the Marquis of Chang Ping’s household, Duke of Rong’s entire family and other such greedy relations who not only focussed their whole power on eating, but had thickened their faces to the point that they just refuse to leave. In order to entertain their unwanted guests, even the little marquis had to be put to work. Not to mention all the other masters and servants of the mansion, everyone was coming to dread the idea of ‘guests’.
On the night of the Lantern Festival, Duan Tingxuan brought his entourage of wives and concubines to stroll around the city. All kinds of colourful lanterns have been strung around the capital. It was like the Milky Way had been brought into the human realm. Su Nuan Nuan never imagined that the ancient people would have the technology or skill to create lanterns that could glow so bright or in so many different kinds of colours. Just looking at them took her breath away. There was even an entire street lined with lanterns made from clear ice.
Because she was afraid of the cold, she had never visited Harbin City in her past life. It was one of the few regrets in her life. Right now, however, as she stood in the middle of the brightly lit streets, she barely felt the chilly presence of the cold thanks to the small stove in her hands. It was worth it to brave the winter air and immerse herself in the brilliant lights cast by the numerous lanterns. It really felt like she had accidentally stepped into a world made of crystals.
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In a flash, it was the second day of the second lunar month. It was traditional to eat Savoury Chinese Crepe on this day. For the filling, she elected to use garlic chives, shredded pork, vermicelli, and bean sprouts. First, she lightly stir fried everything in a large wok, before folding the filling into bright golden crepes. The crepe was thicker than the ones the family was used to. When cracked open, they found that the crepe consisted of two layers. The inner crepe was soft and chewy, containing the meat and vegetable fillings, whereas the outer part was cooked to an amazing crispness. Whether in taste, looks or texture, it was several times much better compared to all the Savoury Chinese Crepe they ever had before. As usual, Su Nuan Nuan’s creation was incredibly popular with everyone.
Another blink of an eye and it was the end of the second lunar month.
On this day, Hong Lian, Xiang Yun and Su Nuan Nuan were out in the back garden surveying the little green shoots that was just poking out of the dirt. Cong’er stroked the flowing branches of a willow tree and smiled, “Once the new leaves starts to come out, we can hang wind chimes on this willow tree. How nice it will sound then.” just then, they heard someone yelling for Su Nuan Nuan. It was Duan Tingxuan.
“What’s going on? The master seems quite agitated.”
The little group rushed into the house and encountered Duan Tingxuan in the waiting room. Catching sight of his wife, Duan Tingxuan sent all the maids out and pulled Su Nuan Nuan down to sit on the kang bed. In a low voice, he said, “They have settled on a date. In three days’ time we can leave, we shall inform the family that we’re going to visit your parents at Niu Tou Mountain.”
Su Nuan Nuan had to pause for a moment, before recollecting the Jiang Nan trip Duan Tingxuan had brought up before. Suddenly excited, she said, “You’ve applied for leave?”
“En, it’s all been arranged. Since we’ll be making secret inquiries, we shall have to go in disguise. We can’t bring any maids to Jiang Nan with us. On my side, I will only have Si Ping with me and he’ll be disguised as my brother.” Everything had already been arranged, Duan Tingxuan was just updating her.
“Do we need to head towards Niu Tou Mountain first to throw people off our trail?” Su Nuan Nuan was getting more excited by the moment, and was brimming with ideas for the coming adventure.
“No need, once we got out of the Capital, we’ll stop by a tavern, get into our disguise, and make our way to Jiang Nan. Whether we’re being followed or not doesn’t matter. As long as we’re not found out, we won’t arouse King Xiangyang’s suspicion. It will be fine as long as we’re not found out.”
“Wei! Jiang Nan is that guy’s home ground you know? How can we just blindly enter it? The moment he’s suspicious, he could send armies after us and trap us like a turtle in a jar, right? Are you seriously going to poke that wasp nest?”
Su Nuan Nuan narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Duan Tingxuan. Somehow, she had the feeling that this husband of hers was just too carefree and unreliable. Especially when that guy gave a lofty smile and said, “What do you imagine the officials of Jiang Nan are like? They are people sent by the imperial court. None of them would dare to make secret deals with King Xiangyang just to capture us. Unless the King decided to raise the flag of rebellion against the imperial family, they’d jump ship just to save their skin. However, because Jiang Nan is such a large city that there are bound to be pockets of authority that would remain loyal to the royal family no matter what. Even if such an unlikely thing were to happen, I still have some secret influence I can pull just in case. So, be at ease, Nuan Nuan. If there is any real danger, do you think I’d really bring you there?”
Secret influence? Su Nuan Nuan’s nose could smell some secret plot behind this. In a flash, she remembered the Mingyu House that Duan Tingxuan had unhesitatingly defended last time. Finally, she understood where some of her husband’s ridiculous confidence came from.
“Very well, we’ll just go with your plan. I’ll get Hong Lian and Xiang Yun to pack my things.” Su Nuan Nuan nodded. For the next three days, husband and wife laid the foundation of their alibi of ‘visiting Su Meng Nuan’s parents’ with the family, and went around bidding the senior family members farewell and making promises to convey their greetings.
Three days later, they departed.
On the road with only Si Ping with them, they arrived at a tavern in a small town less than 100 miles from the Capital gates. It looked like Si Ping had made prior arrangements, since they managed to secure two rooms immediately. A single room and a small couple’s room. Within the couple’s room were a three or four sets of luggage.
The contents of the bags was some simple clothes and basic traveller’s items. Clearly, these were their disguise for the trip to Jiang Nan.
Su Nuan Nuan watched with bright eyes as Duan Tingxuan ‘transformed’ himself, half expecting him to pull out some mystical human face mask as thin as cicada’s wing or other such mystical disguise items one often see in lightnovels. It’s the Human Skin Mask, ah. With that thing you can change your face as you like and even your mother would not recognise you. That’s practically an essential item in a secret investigation, right?
Images of the great hero Chu Liu Xiang flashed through her mind. Didn’t Master Chu Xiang used Su Rong’er’s mask to change his face in order to travel about?
She was still lost in her imaginings when Si Ping opened a small case. It contained brushes and other make-up equipment often used by women. With great dexterity a familiarity, he proceeded to put them on Duan Tingxuan’s face. There was no Human Skin Mask, only a few pieces of fleshy looking skins pressed onto the sides of the face to change the texture of the skin. The largest piece was just a little bigger than a small coin, and the smallest was about the size of a grain of rice. Apparently the small pieces were scattered about to make the face appeared pockmarked. Under Si Ping’s skilful hands, the gorgeous and lofty jade like features eventually became a common yellow face. The only distinguishing feature was the sharp, shrewd eyes shifting cunningly on a middle aged face.
[Gumihou: I love how refreshingly non wuxia or xianxia this novel is, even though it is set in ancient China.]
 Lantern Festival – Celebrated on the 15th of the first month of the lunar new year
 Savoury Chinese Crepe – There are a quite few Savoury Chinese Crepe or Jian Bing recipes and all over the internet, none of them were like the one described in this novel since all of them wrap the crunchy dough bits inside along with all the filling.
However, it is not difficult to imagine how it could be done just by making the first crepe with all the stir fried ingredients, set it aside and cook up a plain crepe to wrap the first filled crepe in and grill it just longer for that extra crunch.
 Human Skin Mask – A Wuxia world item for disguising your face
 Chu Liu Xiang – fictional protagonist of a wuxia novel series by Taiwanese writer Gu Long – Adapted to films in the 1970s. Very classic, lol.
Translated by Gumihou from kitchennovel dot com.
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