Spring is ending as May approaches, and the weather started to heat up rapidly.
As the blazing sun shone down on Yanjing1, all the street vendors hid under the shades of trees. During such a hot weather, the sons and daughters from wealthy families would rather stay at home than suffer the heat outdoors, and only the poor folk who are constantly working would be outdoors. One man in particular picked up some rice wine which he left to chill in the well and started making rounds around gambling houses and restaurants. Each bowl of rice wine made him five coppers. Five coppers meant a bag of rice, that meant two pots of porridge - and that would last him for three days.
At the eastern corner of the city lies a brand-new estate. A glistening golden plaque2 inscribed with the words "Top Imperial Scholar3" was placed in a prominent spot. The estate and plaque were awarded to the new imperial scholar by Hong Xiao Emperor. The plaque represented utmost glory and honor for anyone that received education. Any literate person who received such a plaque would make all their ancestors proud.
Within the courtyard of this new estate were a bunch of servants rushing about doing their work. While the outdoors weather remained blazing hot, it was cooling inside this estate. Perhaps due to the blocks of ice that were moved into the houses to combat the heat, the closer you were to the walls of the estate, the cooler it was.
Outside the last house against the walls of the estate, three women were sitting around outside the door. There were two young maidservants4 wearing thin pink dresses and an obese middle-aged woman. In front of the three of them was a stool with a stack of red melon seeds and a pot of sour plum juice - they passed their time chitchatting and eating, seeming to be more unoccupied than even their masters.
The leftmost maidservant looked back at the window and said: "The weather is hot and the medicinal smell in this room just won't disperse. It's so unbearable, god knows when these awful days will end."
"Xiao Ti Zi5, talking behind your masters' back? Careful they don't peel off your skin." warned the middle-aged woman.
The maidservant clad in pink is seemingly unfazed: "How so? Master hasn't been to Madame's6 courtyard for three months." As she spoke, she slowly lowered her voice, "That incident caused such a big ruckus, but our Master is rather kind. If it were anyone else…" She then curled her lips, while the middle-aged woman said, "In my opinion, she should commit suicide to defend her reputation; hanging on like this is just burdening others."
The middle-aged woman was then interrupted by the other maidservant, "Actually, Madame is rather pitiful. She's beautiful, talented and has a good temper - who knew this would happen…"
Although the three of them kept their volumes down, this summer afternoon was quiet and they were rather close to the house, so the person inside heard every word clearly.
Xue Fang Fei laid down on her back on the bed, her eyes still wet with some tears. Because she had grown thinner recently, not only was her face haggard and pale, but it was also becoming sicker and this was a shocking sight.
Her face had always been beautiful, otherwise she wouldn't be worthy of the title of "Yanjing's No. 1 Beauty". The day she married, there were some young wealthy men who ordered child beggars to knock into the marriage sedan she was in. Her veil came off, and her marvelous beauty grabbed everyone's attention. At that time, her father, Xue Huai Yuan, the vice county magistrate of Xiangyang Tongxiang7, had been worried about her long before she married into the capital and thought to himself "Ah Li is too beautiful, I'm afraid Chen Yu Rong won't be able to protect you."
Cheng Yu Rong is her husband.
Before Chen Yu Rong became an Imperial Scholar, he was only a poor scholar8. Chen Yu Rong's family lived in Yanjing, while her maternal grandmother Old Madame Cao lived in Xiangyang. Four years ago, Old Madame Cao passed away due to illnesses. Chen Yu Rong together with his mother rushed back to Xiangyang for her funeral, which was how he got to know Xue Fang Fei.
Tongxiang is only a small county in Xiangyang, Xue Huai Yuan is a small official, and Xue Fang Fei's died during childbirth when giving birth to Xue Fang Fei's younger brother, Xue Zhao. After she died, Xue Huai Yuan never remarried, and their simple family of three were very close to each other.
When Xue Fang Fei reached an appropriate age for marriage, due to her good looks, men from wealthy and prominent families and from far and near came to ask for her hand in marriage - even Xue Huai Yuan's boss wanted to marry Xue Fang Fei as a concubine. Xue Huai Yuan naturally refused; Xue Fang Fei losing her mother at a young age, coupled with her being clever and intelligent made Xue Huai Yuan love her daughter exceptionally. Xue Huai Yuan never shortchanged her daughter in any way and always provided her with the best things wherever possible. Although their family was considered a minor family, Xue Fang Fei was treated more preciously than daughters from more prominent families9.
Because of how deeply he treasured his daughter, Xue Huai Yuan was rather worried about her marriage. Although prominent families would provide her with an extravagant lifestyle, he couldn't do anything about the fact that Xue Fang Fei liked Chen Yu Rong.
Although Chen Yu Rong had no government official post, he seemed to be extremely talented and it was only a matter of time before he succeeded in life. However, this meant that Xue Fang Fei would have no choice but to move to Yanjing to marry Chen Yu Rong. In addition, Xue Fang Fei was too beautiful. Although Xue Huai Yuan could protect her in Tongxiang, there were countless royalty and nobles in Yanjing - if any of them harbored ill intentions for Xue Fang Fei, Chen Yu Rong may not be able to protect her.
However, in the end, Xue Fang Fei still married Chen Yu Rong as she liked him.
After marrying Chen Yu Rong and moving to Yanjing, she was treated harshly by her new mother-in-law and had several grievances. However, Chen Yu Rong was very kind and considerate to her which made all her grievances vanish.
In the spring of last year, Chen Yu Rong was awarded the title of Imperial Scholar and had the honor of parading the streets and being awarded a house and a plaque. Not long after, he was appointed the role of Central Secretariat. In September, Xue Fang Fei got pregnant, which coincided with her mother-in-law's birthday. Two happy events happened at the same time, so the Chen family set up a feast and invited many guests, including Yanjing nobility.
That day was a nightmare for Xue Fang Fei.
She didn't know what exactly happened that day. She only drank a little bit of plum wine at the feast, started feeling drowsy, and was brought back to her room to rest by a maidservant while she was semi-conscious. Later, when she was woken up by screams, she saw an unfamiliar man in her room and her clothes were unkempt. Her mother-in-law and a group of women were at the door, looking at her scornfully or gloatingly.
She should have been very ashamed of herself, and indeed she was, because no matter how she tried to explain herself, rumors of the new Imperial Scholar's wife committing adultery while the household was holding a feast spread everywhere.
She should have been divorced and chased out of the household, but Chen Yu Rong didn't do that. She ended up having a miscarriage as she worried too much and was stressed out. While she was still recuperating in bed, she heard rumors of her brother Xue Zhao rushing to Yanjing because of her miscarriage, but before he reached the Chen estate, he was robbed at night and his corpse was found in the river.
When she heard this grievous news, she didn't dare to pass the news back to Tongxiang and braced herself to take one last look at Xue Zhao and settled the funeral arrangements for him. Immediately after this, she fell ill and in the next three months - three whole months - Chen Yu Rong never came to take a single look at her.
While she was recuperating, she kept thinking and making conjectures nonstop. Perhaps Chen Yu Rong had certain barriers in his heart and refused to see her, or maybe he was giving her the cold shoulder to vent his anger? However, the longer she laid in bed, coupled with the fragmented bits of information she overheard from the servants, the more things she figured out. The truth was always more repulsive than what was on the surface.
Xue Fang Fei forced herself to sit up on her bed. A bowl of medicine left at her bedside had already cooled, and it emanated a bitter medicinal smell. She turned around and poured the contents of the bowl into a potted crabapple tree10. The plant had already withered, and what's left of it now was only its branches.
The door squeaked and was pushed open.
Xue Fang Fei looked up a young lady clad in woven golden garments came into view.
The young lady was dressed in luxurious clothes, her eyebrows were slightly furrowed, and she carried an air of arrogance. Her eyes fell onto the bowl in Xue Fang Fei's hands, and came to a realization. She smiled and said, "I see."
Xue Fang Fei calmly put down her bowl and watched the people coming into her house. Two well built maids closed the door, the maidservants outside were nowhere to be seen. There was a heavy silence that was only interrupted by the cries of cicadas, and it seemed as if something was about to happen.
Xue Fang Fei greeted, "Princess Yong Ning."
Princess Yong Ning smiled. As she smiled, the thumb-sized Southern Sea Pearl on her hairpin swayed, and the radiant glowing of the pearl was somewhat blinding.
A pearl from the Southern Sea was worth thousands of acres of arable land. Members of the imperial family always had the best things, they led extravagant lifestyles and never experienced the harshness life. Despite having things that others couldn't even dream of having, they still coveted others' things and would even steal and rob for themselves.
"You don't seem surprised at all." Princess Yong Ning was visibly surprised, "Could it be that Chen Lang11 has already told you?"
Chen Lang - she called him very intimately. Xue Fang Fei was on the verge of speaking up and almost couldn't control herself. After a while, she calmly said, "I'm waiting for him to talk to me face-to-face."
Xue Fang Fei wasn't dumb at all, as Xue Huai Yuan had taught her very well. After she fell ill, she realized that she was restricted from leaving her room and that her every action was being monitored. She then began to connect the dots and realized that something was amiss about what happened to her and the cause of her Xue Zhao's death.
She had probed the maids and ended up uncovering the truth.
Chen Yu Rong attained the title of Imperial Scholar, succeeded in life, and his status was unlike before. Even if Xue Fang Fei was both beautiful and talented, she was only a vice county magistrate's daughter. Chen Yu Rong either managed to win the attention of Princess Yong Ning, or they were already together for a long time. Either way, Xue Fang Fei became an obstacle, and was expected to yield her position to the imperial princess.
Xue Fang Fei recalled that on the day of the incident, when her mother was holding a feast, Princess Yong Ning was among the crowd. She could even remember the smug smile on Princess Yong Ning's face that day.
And so, the truth was obvious.
"Chen Lang is softhearted," said Princess Yong Ning as she casually sat on a chair and continued, "this princess12 is also not merciless. Initially, I wanted to let you go peacefully, but who knew you wouldn't just relent." She glanced at the bowl on the table, and sighed, "Why do this to yourself?"
Xue Fang Fei couldn't help but laugh grimly.
She had long discovered that something was wrong with the bowl of medicine that was given to her daily and poured all of it into the potted plant. They wanted her to pass away from illness so that Princess Yong Ning could marry Chen Yu Rong properly, but she just wouldn't give in. Xue Huai Yuan had taught her since young to never admit defeat until the very last moment. Moreover, why would she relent? How is it fair for this pair of adulterers to frame her and expect her to just die voluntarily? Absolutely not!
Xue Fang Fei sneered, "Ruining others' marriage, framing the original wife, and murdering the wife and children. Fang Fei is thankful for your highness' 'good intentions'."
Princess Yong Ning felt a surge of rage, but after a while, she calmed down, stood up, walked to the table and picked up the potted plant that had withered. The palm-sized pot made of white porcelain had the word 'prosperity' engraved on it and was delicate and lovely. Princess Yong Ning played around with the pot for a while, and smiled while saying, "Do you know how your brother died?"
Xue Fang Fei's was frozen stiff in an instant.
"Your brother was rather admirable, but he was too young and naïve." Princess Yong Ning enjoyed watching her facial expressions as she continued, "He unexpectedly found out something was amiss and even managed to uncover some evidence. He said he wanted to bring this matter to the imperial court and almost implicated this princess." Princess Yong Ning patted herself on the chest, as if she was still recovering from the scare she got, "He's rather clever, and managed to find the Capital Official that very night. However, he didn't know I had a decent relationship with the Capital Official and he informed me what happened." Princess Yong Ning shrugged and said regrettably, "What a shame, he was talented in both studies and martial arts at such a young age. This princess believes if he hadn't died, he might have been able to succeed in life and become an aristocrat. How unfortunate."
Xue Fang Fei almost crushed her own teeth while gritting her teeth!
Xue Zhao! Xue Zhao! She had already suspected that Xue Zhao's death was fishy, Xue Zhao practiced martial arts in Tongxiang, and was clever since young, there was no way he would die to common bandits! But she never imagined that the truth turned out to be like this! Her brother sought justice for her, discovered the traces left behind by Princess Yong Ning and Chen Yu Rong, and intended to find a government official to report their crimes. Who knew the officials shielded each other, and the enemies were the officials themselves!
She exclaimed, "Shameless! Shameless!"
Princess Yong Ning raised her eyebrows and sneered, "So what if you are upright? Staying in here daily, I'm afraid you don't know your father's news. This princess came here specially to let you know that your father found out about you smearing your family's reputation and your brother's death, and ended up being angered to death!"
Xue Fang Fei froze and shouted: "Impossible!"
"Impossible?" Princess Yong Ning smiled, "Why don't you go out and ask your maidservants, and find out yourself if it's possible or not!"
Xue Fang Fei was in a state of chaos, Xue Huai Yuan was indifferent to fame and fortune, and led a morally upright life as Tongxiang's vice county magistrate. He was clearly a good person, how could he end up like this? The older generation had to send off the younger generation, and was even angered to death. Xue Fang Fei couldn't even begin to imagine how Xue Huai Yuan felt after finding out what happened.
This was an example of nice guys finishing last!
Princess Yong Ning had been talking for a long while, and was seemingly impatient now. She left the potted plant on the table, and signaled for the two middle-aged maids to come forward.
Xue Fang Fei realized something, and asked loudly, "What are you trying to do?"
Princess Yong Ning's smile on her face was filled with joy and pride, and said: "Xue Fang Fei, your character is known to be pure and upright, and you're talented and beautiful, obviously you can't stand bearing the crime of committing adultery. After struggling for a few months, despite Chen Lang treating you the same as before, you refused to forgive yourself. When Chen Lang wasn't home, you committed suicide by hanging from a beam. That's all." She smiled and continued, "How's that? With such a backstory, wouldn't your reputation be recovered?" Her face suddenly changed and said hatefully: "If not for Chen Lang's reputation, this princess wouldn't have let you off this easily!"
"How dare you? How dare you!" Xue Fang Fei's heart felt a surge of anger, but before she made any moves, the two middle-aged maids moved to suppress her.
"This princess and Chen Lang love each other, but unfortunately there's you. This princess obviously cannot stand your existence, if you were from a prominent family, perhaps this princess would have had to go to greater lengths to get rid of you. It's a shame your dad is only a small vice county magistrate, with so many prefectures and counties in Yanjing, your Xue family is nothing more than a blade of grass. Next lifetime, remember to ponder carefully before reincarnating and try your best to be born into a prominent family."
Xue Fang Fei lost all hope and despaired - even though she refused to give up despite being on her last legs and held on to dear life for a chance to make a comeback and never relented, she couldn't win against the powerful.
Looking up, she noticed a familiar figure outside the window, and she vaguely recognized that it was her partner who used to sleep with her.
Xue Fang Fei felt a glimmer of hope, and shouted loudly, "Chen Yu Rong! Chen Yu Rong! Treating me this way, the heavens will not tolerate this! Chen Yu Rong!"
The figure outside the window swayed, it seemed as if it was escaping as well as hiding. Princess Yong Ning reprimanded her maids, "What are you waiting for? Do it!"
The maids came over and used silk as white as snow to strangle her neck. This piece of silk was smooth like a beauty's skin, and it was part of the annual tribute from Songjiang's Zhao family. A bolt of this silk alone was worth thousands of gold. As Xue Fang Fei struggled, she thought about how even a murder weapon could be so precious.
Princess Yong Ning stood three feet away and coldly observed her struggle like a dying fish, and ridiculed her: "Remember, even if you are exceptionally beautiful and have unparalleled talents, you are only a small official's daughter, for this princess to crush you - is just as simple as crushing an ant to death!"
The potted plant was knocked over while she was struggling, and it fell onto the ground and shattered. The soil in the pot was filled with a bitter aroma, and the withered branches broke off, leaving behind a lone trunk that was decrepit.
In April, Fang Fei fell.
Hey everyone, long time no see, your Cha Cha13 is back!
I’ll dig a pitfall14 for myself with the opening text, and start updating after Chinese New Year. The new pitfall is a story about a ruthless young lady together with a handsome demon king tyrannizing scrubs. If you like the story, make sure to subscribe, see you after the spring festivities!
Lastly, I wish everyone a prosperous Year of the Rooster!
It seems like the author put in a lot of effort to come up with a great first chapter and it is really evident from the flowery language used. In addition, there were several sentences that were basically a congregation of four-worded phrases/idioms to make the sentences flow really nicely and made it nice to read. However, this is the kind of thing that unfortunately cannot be translated accurately to English. In fact, it makes translating a headache not only because of the complexity of the language used, but also because it’s really difficult to restructure the sentences properly in English.
While I tried my best to explain some aspects of my translations using the footnotes, I understand that might not be enough for some people. I intend to create a glossary of commonly used terms in the setting of Medieval China. Look forward to it!
P.S. Di daughter basically means the daughter of someone who is the main official wife. In Medieval China, polygamy was a common practice for wealthy men and a system was created to deal with matters like ranking and inheritanceAka Beijing. Yanjing literally means Yan CapitalIt’s actually a door sign, try googling “chinese door plaque”狀元/Zhuangyuan – Basically he scored the best score during the countrywide imperial examination丫鬟/Yahuan – Young women from poor familes that were sold to wealthier families to work as maids. They were like slaves, but were given wages, had the opportunity to be released depending on how nice their masters were, and usually led better lives as maidservants than back home. I’ll translate all yahuan as maidservants.Literally little hoofMaster here is 老爷, while Madame is 夫人Xiangyang is the prefecture, and Tongxiang is the smaller county.秀才/Xiucai – Someone who passed the imperial examination at the county levelIn ancient China, men were treated preferentially as women would leave their families upon marriage and were seen as worse investmentsThis is a relatively uncommon plant so I referred to it as simply potted plant later on, somehow the author is really attached to this potted plant郎/Lang – Think of it as my dear/beloved本宫/Bengong – Literally means “this one from the palace”. Royalty/Nobility addressed themselves with third-person terms like this to assert dominanceThe author’s name is Qian Shan Cha Ke, I suppose Cha Cha is a cute variation of the author’s nameChinese colloquial term that likely originated on the Internet. The novel could be a pitfall because people get suckered in and end up reading and reading, or perhaps the author could face writer’s block and be unable to continue etc etc.