Chapter 2: I Only Have One Husband
Chapter was translated in one go. Got cocky and thought I could do it since the first chapter was relatively easy. Don’t think I will be doing this again though, definitely need to break it up in two parts for sure. Here’s where the story unfolds and you get an understanding of who’s who. I was completely misled! The one I thought was the main was in fact the second. You also get a better idea of Xiao Wan and her own motivations.
Xiao Wan’s heart hurt so much it felt like she couldn’t breathe, as though there were wild animals tearing away at her flesh. It was summer but her body was cold as though she was suffering from severe blood loss. She couldn’t stop shivering nor could she keep the pained sobs from escaping her mouth. She wanted to roar out at them but all that came out were her pitiful cries. Her pain and grief were so sharp she wished she was already dead.
“Come on now. Xiao Wan has to finish her parade through the streets. It’s already getting late. She needs to be delivered to the execution grounds soon.” Chu Muqing spoke to the officials after she was satisfied saying her piece to Xiao Wan.
At her command they quickly stepped forward and tied Xiao Wan’s hands. The rough hemp rope buried into her skin and the angle they forced her arms into made her arms burn and tingle from lack of blood flow. She looked up and having finally found her voice again screamed. "Chu Muqing you treacherous bitch! This old lady here was really blind to take you for a friend. You will definitely suffer retribution for this one day!" Then she turned her eyes to Ji Shumo. “Ji Shumo you think Chu Muqing cares about you? You’re just used goods. You’ll regret this one day! She’ll definitely toss you aside once she’s done with you!”
Xiao Wan didn't get to finish everything she wanted to say before a dirty rag was stuffed in her face and she was forcefully pulled away.
That last gaze she shot his way was so intense that it shook his confidence. As if seeking solace and reassurance he pulled Chu Muqing's arms closer to him.
The Empress was thoroughly angered by the treason. So much so that she ordered the Xiao House be forced to walk without shoes or shirts through the streets, completely unprotected from the scorching heat of the Sun. She wanted to set an example and warn anyone else with the same ideas.
The purpose of the parade was to make Xiao Wan face the common people and bear their anger and condemnation, and indeed their faces were full of disgust as they looked at her. However with what happened earlier Xiao Wan was completely numb to their glares. Her heart was broken and her mind was in shambles. Xiao Wan walked forward feeling the heavy chains dragging her feet with every step she took. Eventually her path led her to ten guards. They would be her escort for the execution. After walking for an hour her ankles were rubbed raw and blood was oozing out at a constant rate. The soles of her feet had long ago blistered and turned dark from the constant contact with the hot ground.
She wanted to maintain her pride so bit her lip and tried her best to keep from crying out in pain. Despite all the hardship she didn't utter a single word of complaint. This really surprised those escorting her, after all her reputation for being the spoiled eldest daughter of the Xiao House was well known. Everyone thought she was incompetent and just a good for nothing whose parents spoiled her rotten. They had expected her to scream and wail at her treatment, but yet she did not. They couldn't help but take a closer look at her because of this.
How could they have known that the pain in her heart was incomparable and had already numbed her to the physical ones assailing her.
She finally finished her walk of shame at around noon. By this time her whole body was unbearably foul. She smelled bad before but now it was an overpowering stench with tentacles that seeped into everything around her.
She could see other members of her family at the execution scaffold. The sight of her bloodied feet and disgraceful appearance caused each and every one of the them to weep, their faces pale losing all coloring.
She looked at everyone there and couldn't find her little sister Xiao Qing. Xiao Wan had never looked very highly upon her sister because the other was born from a concubine, from a father from the Liu clan. This resulted in the two sisters constantly being at odds with one another.
In order to convince the Empress that the Xiao House intended to rebel and aid the First Imperial Princess' scheme to take the throne, it was necessary to have someone unimpeachable testify. What more perfect and damning testimony than one coming from Xiao Yurong’s own daughter. Even if the Empress didn't want to believe it she would have no choice but to do so.
Xiao Wan realized at that moment why she had not been confined together with everyone else in the Xiao House, and instead was separated and locked away somewhere else. Had they been detained together there was a chance Xiao Wan would have noticed something was odd about her sister. So placing them in separate locations was probably Chu Muqing's idea. Of course considering what she now knew of her former friend, it was also likely that Chu Muqing just wanted her to suffer the torture of being bullied without anyone to help her.
She didn't expect she would be this stupid. To be so near death and not realize the situation. Chu Muqing and Ji Shumo had really fooled her. To think she had asked Chu Muqing for help. To think she tried so hard to save Ji Shumo. It was just too ridiculous! These two people were in fact her downfall.
She couldn't help but laugh. She laughed and laughed like a maniac there on the execution grounds. This strange sight made everyone think that she had lost her mind, that the hardships had finally broken her. And for a time the only sound was the sound of her desperate laughter. The tears streamed down her face flowing unchecked. Finally a voice in the crowd broke the tense atmosphere.
A somewhat familiar voice rang out. "My wife! My lord!" Although the sound was weak, the panic and alarm the speaker felt was obvious to everyone present.
Everyone in the Xiao House was about the be executed for treason. Who would be so foolish as to address someone there as "wife." Wasn't this just looking to join them? Looking for death? Everyone was looking at one another suspiciously when the figure of a young man staggered toward them.
His face was almost completely obscured by his hair completely hiding his former beauty. The only thing visible was the sunken skin around his eyes and a pair of brightly shining pupils. The contrast presented a sickly image causing a path to instantly part for him. The filthy robe he had on did nothing to hide his emaciated form. Combine this with his colorless pale skin and no one in the crowd would have been surprised if he keeled over right then and there.
Although his appearance was shocking, the most shocking was his hair. It was in total disarray, completely windblown and disheveled like a mad scientist, with loose strands scattered all over his face. Most importantly it was the length. They were all aware that one's appearance and health were important. For men, the hair was especially so because those who cut their hair short were rarely ever able to marry into a respectable house. Why did a man so young cut his hair so short?
The young man didn't care one whit for the questioning gazes thrown his way. There was only one thing he cared about and that was Xiao Wan. He was stunned at the sight in front of him.
It was the first time he had seen her in over three years, his excitement made his heart beat rapidly and his aches and pains were quickly forgotten. Ignoring the crowd he ran joyfully to her. She was the only thing in his eyes, his heart and his mind.
Xiao Wan could see her reflection reflected clearly in his eyes. He was not her Ji Shumo though.
"Who the hell are you?!" The official stepped forward to stop the youth from advancing farther. "We're about to begin the execution. Step back!" He lightly pushed the him away, but even that slight nudge caused the youth to knit his brow in pain, to lose his footing and somehow topple to the ground.
Hearing that the execution was about to start he hurriedly tried to explain. "You've left me out by mistake...I...I am Xiao Wan's young husband. My surname is Xie. I am guilty of the same crimes and should be given the same punishment."
Everyone was stunned. Why would a fish that managed to escape death's net voluntarily deliver itself to the net?
The official looked at the young man who seemed intent on seeking his own death. He patiently explained, "The Xiao House is guilty of treason and are all sentenced to death." Just to clarify the point even further he asked, "Are you sure you are a husband of the Xiao House?"
"Yes!" - "No!" Two voices simultaneously spoke out a firm contradictory reply.
Xiao Wan’s angry rebuttal surprised him. The young man opened his eyes wide looking like a tiny deer, his disbelief clearly showing. "Xiao Wan, I am your official husband. Would you really deny me?”
Xiao Wan felt a strong headache coming on. She looked at the stubborn youth in front of her. What is wrong with Xie Chuchen's brain?! To do such a crazy thing and come forward at a time like this, to declare himself as my husband. Doesn't he know he'll be executed too?! Xiao Wan continued to stare at the youth with a complicated expression.
Faced with this silent stare Xie Chuchen wondered if Xiao Wan had forgotten his name or perhaps she was remembering the past and was disgusted by him. He bit his lip, strongly affected by her stare. He could only quietly whisper, "My wife, my lord, is it no good? Will you not let me accompany you?"
Let me accompany you? This request stunned Xiao Wan. When Xie Chuchen fell his legs were exposed and it became clear from the swelling thighs and the bloody knees that he was the one who had knelt in front of the Ministry of Justice.
She remembered the words of the guard from before: “Your young husband is really dedicated to you though. He was kneeling for five days straight. If it weren’t for the fact he got a fever and fainted during the crazy downpour we had last night, I’m pretty sure he’d still be kneeling out there right now.”
Then she recalled Ji Shumo's words: “Don’t think that I'm as stupid and desperate as Xie Chuchen, to kneel so foolishly in front of the Ministry of Justice just to save your ass…”
She always thought that Ji Shumo would be the man who would give up everything up for her, that he was the man she held in the palm of her hands. The truth couldn't be more different. Instead the one to give up so much for her, the one to suffer for her was Xie Chuchen.
Looks like you'll only know who you can trust when the chips start to fall. She still didn't understand why Xie Chuchen would be so selfless regarding her. Why did he want to marry her so much back then? And why admit to being her husband now when it was only detrimental to him?
Could it be that he just doesn't understand the situation?
Many months ago Xie Chuchen had been ecstatic to learn he was pregnant. Xiao Wan didn't know who the baby belonged to, so had given him a bowl of safflower soup as an abortion drug. This shameful act made her lose an incredible amount of face. Unable to bear it she sent him away to one of the deserted Xiao properties and left him there to fend for himself.
She would have probably forgotten all about him, not even remembering his name had he not shown up today.
It was because of his placement at such an obscure location that he was missed when the Xiao properties were searched. This fool! Why place your head in the guillotine?! Her gaze fell on his face. She realized he was still feverish because his face was flushed red. Indeed he had ignored his body and rushed over as soon as he heard the execution was to take place.
His wife hated him to such an extent that she didn’t want to see him, to have him be a part of a her final moments.
“Are you a part of the Xiao House?” The official repeated again, this time impatiently.
“No.” Xiao Wan cleared her throat and looked coldly at the young man in front of her. “Young Master Xie did I officially wed you? Did we ever go to pay respects to the ancestors together? I have no affections for you! Stop speaking nonsense and misleading people. I only have one husband and that is Ji Shumo!”
She couldn’t help but laugh bitterly as she watched his face lose all color, like his soul had been punched out of him. How stupid is this man? He’s surely the biggest fool for having married me. Ever since then she had used him mercilessly in whatever way she felt like, yet he had tried so hard to save her. Now that the Xiao House faced extinction she didn’t want to implicate him. It would only serve to harm the Xie family if they lost their beloved son.
She was damned to die so she could only hope he would be able to live well and go to the mother of the child he lost. Whatever, just forget me and live happily you fool. You should not have to pay for my stupidity. Let this death serve as an apology.
“What did you say?” Xie Chuchen was struck dumb by her comment.
“Young Master!” Zhao-er pushed through the crowd and ran over to Xie Chuchen crouching down next to him. Seeing the dazed look on the Young Master’s face Zhao-er carefully held out a hand to support him. To see this type of expression on his house’s Young Master was almost unbearable to Zhao-er. He glared at Xiao Wan and regretted not getting there quicker, wishing he could have prevented those cruel words from being spoken. He really wanted to just curse her out!
“Xiao Wan, my house’s Young Master endured the mockery and ridicule of those around just to marry you. He knelt for so long in the public square in front the administration building pleading for leniency on your behalf. The Young Master spent so much cash trying to grease the wheels for you.” He felt so much frustration on the Young Master’s behalf he had to let it out! “Young Master always took what you said to heart, remembering every word. Even that time when you wanted money to help the Ji House get through their financial crisis, Young Master didn’t question, just gave you what you needed. Then when you callously made him abort the baby...Young Master did exactly as you ordered. And you even spent all day that day with Ji Shumo! Young Master didn’t utter a word of complaint did he?! Did you come by even once to see how he was doing this year?”
Xiao Wan had no idea how Xie Chuchen was doing because until today she just didn’t care about him. In fact they never even consummated their marriage. She could count the number of times they met on two hands, that was how little contact they had. She only went to him if there was something she wanted. Now that Zhao-er forced her to face her long string of offenses she felt inadequate and horrible, like a complete scumbag.
“How can you talk that way to the person who is so single mindedly devoted to you? You’re completely ruthless, absolutely cold-blooded! Someone like you isn’t worthy to be Young Master’s wife! You don’t deserve him at all! When you’re gone he’ll definitely find someone better, someone who’ll love him dearly and know how to return his tender affections!” Zhao-er’s chest was heaving up and down. He truly was incensed and it showed.
Silence reigned over the square. It was well known in the city that Xiao Wan only had one husband and that husband was Ji Shumo. The only people who knew otherwise were Xiao Yurong and great grandfather Chen. *
In reality Ji Shumo was not Xiao Wan’s only husband, in fact he wasn’t even her first husband. Xie Chuchen was. Both men had married her that day. It was just that the one to enter through the front door with pomp and ceremony had been Ji Shumo while Xie Chuchen was forced to furtively sneak in through the back door. He really did cut quite a sorry figure that day. There had been no ceremony, to rituals, and no bridal chamber for him, only a small unkempt courtyard. It was as though every motion was purposefully made to humiliate and shame him.
Some in the crowd finally recognized the young man as Xie Chuchen, the Young Master of an influential rich family in the capitol. He had a bad reputation with all kinds of rumors about how he was unruly, arrogant, headstrong, and dastardly.
What woman in her right mind would marry such a man? Wasn’t this just asking for torment?!
“I heard Xie Chuchen got married last year. Don’t know who he married, everyone was real tight lipped about the whole affair. Was it to Xiao Wan?!”
“Ah! You’re right. It’s gotta be it. Both of them are spoiled self indulgent sons of rich houses! How pitiful for Young Master Ji to be a pearl cast before such swine!”
“Yeah but looking at the guy right now... doesn’t it seem like the rumors don’t match the person?”
“The time for execution is nigh!”
A white cloth suddenly dropped down separating Xie Chuchen from Xiao Wan. It was like his soul left his body again.
Those of the Xiao House lost their heads one by one as the executioner’s blade flashed. Xiao Wan was ashamed and couldn’t stand to look at the sight.
Beside her a boy asked, “Big Sister, where’s mother? No one will answer when I ask. Why is there so much blood? Why? What’s going on!?” He was so scared his entire body was shivering. *
Xiao Wan turned in his direction intending to say something comforting. But she was too slow as the executioner reached him at that time and beheaded him before she even opened her mouth. A metallic smell hit her nose and blood splattered across the upper part of her body. Those that landed on her face mingled with the tear streaks from earlier making her look like she was crying a bloody river.
Xiao Wan didn’t hold much affection for this younger brother of hers, but he was only five. For something like this to happen to someone so young…
Xiao Wan was the last one in line. This forced her to watch as her relatives were executed one by one. The light courtesy cloth draped between her and the audience was already soaked with blood splatter. With resent filled eyes she gazed through it up in the direction of the woman who issued the command for the execution.
Her heart boiled with unceasing anger and hatred and her eyes never left the direction of the woman even when the blade came down on her. Her dying moment was filled with the shrill cry of “Wife!”
This fool! Why is he still here? He should have left in anger ages ago! That sorrowful voice stunned her heart making it beat erratically just before her death.
Once the executions were complete the courtesy cloth was moved and those in charge began the process of clearing up the scene.
Upon seeing the aftermath some in the audience turned their heads in fear while others turned around and vomited. Xie Chuchen screamed before peeling Zhao-er’s hand off him and running desperately forward towards the carnage.
He stumbled onto the platform falling into the pool of blood. He tried to stand up a few times but his shaky legs were unable to support him. In the end he just crawled on his hands and knees. His body was stiff and his consciousness was hazy still from the fever. He kept whispering, “Wife. Wife. Wife,” almost like a mantra.
He finally reached his wife. The woman in front of him couldn’t reply though. He looked at the blood draining from her neck and his eyes immediately teared up even more. He was sobbing so much he was practically choking himself. He squatted down and touched her cheeks with his fingertips. They were so thin. He knew she was used to living luxuriously and being spoiled so she must have had a hard time in prison. He tried his best to convince the jailers to take care of her and he desperately hoped they had shown her some consideration.
The bit of warmth in her cheeks gave him the courage to reach forward some more and cup her face in his hands. But that bit of pressure proved too much and caused Xiao Wan’s head to drop. Blood spurted out and a bit hit him. Although flustered he reached for her head before it fell all the way and held onto it. When he did so a thick stench akin to rotten eggs assailed him. The blood kept flowing and he wanted to return her head back in place, but he was really afraid. There was just so much blood everywhere, he didn’t know how to stop it.
Maybe it was just his imagination, but it felt like the blood was burning his skin. Looking at her body made him so sad. He could already feel it cooling.
“I know you’ve never recognized me as your husband and have hated my existence, but no matter what happens in my heart you will always be my one and only wife.” After wiping his eyes he continued with his confession. “You never knew how much I cared. I waited three years in order to marry you, but in your heart there was only ever Ji Shumo. There was never any space for me…”
“Even when facing death you refuse to acknowledge me, refuse my position in the Xiao House, refuse my position as your proper main husband.”
Many people knew that Xiao Wan’s husband Ji Shumo was someone amazing with both beauty and talent. However no one knew that Xie Chuchen was also her husband, her main husband at that.
They all knew that the Young Master Xie was incredibly arrogant and proud to the point of being unreasonable. That he wasn’t versed in the four arts of music, calligraphy, reading, or poetry. They would never have guessed that he was so hung up on the willful and spoiled Xiao Wan, that he wanted her so much he would stoop to coercing marriage. *
Although Xiao Wan was technically dead her spirit was still floating around. She laughed at herself when she witnessed all this. Oh this sinner is definitely going to Hell.
Xie Chuchen hugged her body tightly to himself as he felt her grow colder. He was unable to suppress his own tremors, choking on his own pain and helplessness. In a voice barely understandable from all the sobbing he’d done he said what sounded like, “Wife… don’t leave me. Don’t leave me OK?”
Xiao Wan stayed around listening to his words. She couldn’t help but tear up herself at the obvious grief the other was going through. She thought back to all the wrongs she’d done in her life and remembered the cold words she’d spoken before being executed. She really wanted to just give him a hug and comfort him a little. The moment she reached out a flash of light blinded her.
Zhao-er stared at the scene with wide open eyes a bit scared. He finally found his voice and called out, “Young Master!” Glancing at Xiao Wan he saw that her eyes were still open.
Wanting to bring attention to this fact he said, “Xiao Wan is dead. Young Master you still have a high fever. You’re body is still unwell.” On top of that Young Master only recently had that abortion. Your body hasn’t even fully recovered from that and yet...all that kneeling in hot Sun and then the pouring rain! Oh Young Master! How can you endure so much! Finally that bitch is dead. Now the Young Master can heal and move on.
The word “dead” kepting ringing in Xie Chuchen’s mind. Xiao Wan dead? Wife is dead?
Xiao Wan’s head was drenched in blood at this point. Her hair was plastered to her face because of the stickiness of the blood. They only somewhat obscured the discolored bruises and cuts on her face making it look even more horrifying. Despite this Xie Chuchen still treated her as solemnly and gently as a treasure. He reached over and firmly closed her eyes. *
“Zhao-er, my wife’s body… bring her home with us.” Were it not for his own lack of strength he would do it himself, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to carry her in his current condition.
Eh?! Return home? thought Zhao-er. When he saw his Young Master holding the head he could no longer control his fright. In a trembling voice he said, “How can we b-bring a dead person back. Ah! It is very inauspicious!” To carry a body that’s clearly already decomposing back… aye! That’s a nightmare waiting to happen. It’s so filthy… But if this is what the Young Master wants… He reached over for the body.
When he did so Xie Chuchen instinctively tightened his hold refusing to let go as though he was clinging to a piece of driftwood for dear life.
Everyone was rooted to the spot. They silently observed the macabre scene unable to tear their eyes away as this beautiful young man began laughing like an imbecile. He made quite a sight. Just when they thought that was as crazy as it would get he lifted her head up and kissed her on the lips. As if that wasn’t enough contact he pressed his face against her cheeks and closed his eyes as he whispered, “Wife let’s go home.”
Zhao-er looked down, girded his courage and picked up Xiao Wan’s body.
Despite the raging Sun burning down on him Xie Shumo continued to look tenderly at the woman in his arms. It was clear he was on the verge of collapse yet he kept staring. “Now there won’t be a Ji Shumo anymore. It’s just you and me. You and me…”
Zhao-er was at his limit. Here he was standing holding a dead body close and his master was still dilly dallying! Master let’s go!
When they finally left the sky filled up with dark clouds and became gloomy as snow fell, first gently then more fiercely. It was June and summer had just begun yet the snow somehow turned into a powerful storm. It was an ill omen of the calamity to follow as a drought hit Eastern Wei lasting for three years. However Xiao Wan knew knew none of these things. When she woke up again she was displaced in time, sent back one year prior.