Chapter 8: Ominous premonition
Translated by Prosperousfood dot com
Edited by Gumihou
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“En, I’ve had enough. I going to the study now.” Duan Tingxuan realised that he was being unreasonable. Here was a table full of fragrant and delicious dishes but the thing that kept appearing in his mind’s eye was that large bowl of cabbage dumplings. Feeling cross and unhappy, he decided that it was better for him to just leave before he angered his wife even more. It’s better to just go to the study and work there, perhaps by midnight he would be hungry enough for food.
When he reached the study, he was just in time to see Si Ping making his way out. His eyes brightened and with a little hehe laugh he said, “Well? Have you brought the thing this lord wants?”
The moment Si Ping laid eyes on his master, his mouth curved into a grin that was more hideous than a crying face. “Master, spare this one’s mother, ba. Master said the dumplings from three days ago were too greasy, the ones from the day before yesterday too mild, after that it was too salty. When this one went home today, mother had made up another pot of dumplings yet again. However, when this one took a bite, there was absolutely no taste at all. After some investigation, we found that mother had forgotten to add salt.”
“Master, ah, this one’s mother is old, she could not stand all this experimental cooking. If this goes on, this one is afraid that mother would not be able to cook normal food anymore.”
“Is it as serious as you claimed?” Duan Tingxuan’s face was black as he glared at Si Ping. “Did you not say that your loyalty to me will stand fast even when all your blood has flowed out of you? I have not even ask you to endanger your body for me, all I did is ask your family to provide me with some dinner and here you are crying like it’s the end of the world.”
“So, you’re worried about not being able to eat normal food any more? That’s fine, just don’t eat, once you’ve starved to death I will consider it as death in times of duty and bury you with all the proper ceremonies.”
Si Ping could not say a single word.
Even Duan Tingxuan knew that he was taking his anger out on an innocent servant. The past three days have taught him one very important thing: cabbage dumplings did not become delicious just because they were bestowed with the name ‘Cabbage Dumplings’. The taste of the dumplings depended a lot on the maker of the food.
“Tell me, do you think it’s possible that woman really gained her cooking skill from Yama, the king of hell?” Duan Tingxuan set his bottom onto a chair. Right now, his mind was filled with thoughts about the wife he had always pushed away from his mind.
“This… matters of ghosts and spirits, who could tell? Only… this one felt that the madam really gave quite a different impression after her brush with death. It’s like she had become a completely different person.” Si Ping said, as he studied his master’s face. He added, “Though unlikely… it’s not entirely impossible for the King Yama claim to be true, ah.”
Like a completely different person.
Duan Tingxuan suddenly sat up, thunder roared through his mind: That’s right, a completely different person. Not only could she cook, her temperament, speech, attitude and expression were all completely different from before. No matter how huge a shock caused by a brush with death might be, there was no way it could completely change a person. Otherwise the saying ‘A leopard can’t change its spots’ wouldn’t exist.
A crafty smile graced Duan Tingxuan’s lips as he leaned back against his chair: could it be a case of transmigration? Or perhaps a fox spirit had decided to inhabit his wife’s body? Or perhaps her dead body had been possessed by a passing female ghost? It’s not like this kind of thing was completely unheard off, hehe, if it’s like this, things have just became more interesting.
However, it’s probably better to not speak about this theory to anyone. He’ll just observe, for now.
As he considered this matter, he raised his eyes to look out the window. The sky was pitched black, and there was really nothing to see. He mumbled to himself, “Well, well, I shall let you sleep in peace tonight. Tomorrow, we shall see.”
“Shall see what?”
Si Ping suddenly felt frightened by his master’s mysterious words, and unconsciously blurted out his thoughts. Duan Tingxuan’s eyes felt like a sharp rapier stabbing into his temple, his master’s voice was cold. “I was just considering what items I should award you upon your burial.”
Si Ping immediately bowed his head, not daring to utter another word.
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“Xiang Yun, you keep an eye on that pot of congee, and please slice up these two salted duck eggs into wedges. I’m going to prepare some washing water. Missy should be waking up soon.”
Within the little kitchen in Mei Yue Lou, Hong Lian had already started preparations for the day’s work when Xiang Yun bounced in happily. She quickly assigned some odd jobs for the younger girl and personally set out with a bucket of hot water.
She paused before Su Nuan Nuan’s door and leaned in to listen. As expected, some low level muttering could be heard. Since her mistress was awake, she gave the door a light tap and entered. The hot watered was poured into a copper basin kept on a sturdy chest of drawers. Her face was all smiles as she said, “Missy, it’s so nice to see you so talkative in the morning. If this maid may be so bold, what made Missy so cheerful today?”
Su Nuan Nuan walked towards Hong Lian, and pointed a finger at her right eye, “Look here, just look at my right eye. What do you see?”
Hong Lian obediently looked at the eye very carefully and shook her head, “Nothing, did something happened to Missy’s eye?”
“Take another look, look very carefully.” Su Nuan Nuan was clearly feeling vexed as she glared at her. “How many times have I told you to be more observant? As the head maid, you must set an example for Xiang Yun…”
“Missy, this one really could not see anything, not even the crusts in the corners of the eye. Just what is this one supposed to be seeing, ah?” Hong Lian realized from her mistress’ words that she was really angry and nearly fell to her knees on reflex. She did her best to look hard at Su Nuan Nuan’s right eye, could there be an eyelash in her eye? But, she really couldn’t see anything, ah.
“Did you not see how my eye lid keeps twitching? Su Nuan Nuan sighed at Hong Lian’s words, as she rubbed her eyes, losing whatever motivation she had to further develop this maid’s thinking.
“This one really could not see it.” Hong Lian widened her own eyes for a better look, but all she saw was a pair perfectly tranquil pair of pretty, double eye-lids. There was absolutely no twitching in sight.
“Oh, hmm, it seems to have stop twitching.” Su Nuan Nuan rubbed her face. “Odd, it was twitching like crazy just now.”
Hong Lian went on to prepare the soap, towels and other miscellaneous items for a morning wash with a smile. She shook her head indulgently, “Even if it had been twitching, there’s no need for Missy to be so troubled, ah.”
“Fortune comes with left eye, disaster follows the right. Have you never heard of this before?” Su Nuan Nuan asked with some amazement. She was feeling very incredulous. Surely this is a very old saying, ba? Surely even this incredibly inconvenient era should have heard of it?
“Oh, now that you mention it, I have heard of this when I was younger, but well, it’s really nothing, perhaps it’s better for Missy to just forget about it.” Hong Lian smiled brightly as Su Nuan Nuan sat herself down at the dressing table after washing her face. As she began to comb the long hair into place, she sighed a little, “Even if a disaster were to follow, just what kind of disaster could beat the time when Missy nearly starved to death? Since that disaster is now over, this one felt that everyday from then on is a good one. Though it’s a little tough, it’s still sweeter than that period of darkness.”
“Look at you, just a little benefit and you’re happy.” Su Nuan Nuan smacked the table lightly. “Humans are different from animals because we have lofty ambitions and aspire to better ourselves and our positions. Only animals are happy with just food and sleep. I say, how different are you from animals if you’re so easily satisfied?”
“This one feels that having good food and a roof over my head is not bad, ah.” Hong Lian said as she frowned, and heard Su Nuan Nuan retorted. “What? You think that kind of thing is not bad? Surely not, are you saying that you’re no better than animals?”
“Then, what sort of dreams and aspirations does Missy have?” Hong Lian smiled as she braided and wound the long black hair into a graceful cloud bun. She picked out two pearl and silver hair pins from the rather meagre accessory box and prepared to stick them in when Su Nuan Nuan turned her head to look at her.
“My dreams and aspirations, ah, is to eat all the finest food in this world.” Su Nuan Nuan said grandly as she flung her hands wide. A pause later, the head maid’s voice drifted over. “Is that not an animalistic kind of desire?”
“How could it be the same thing?” Su Nuan Nuan looked at Hong Lian with despairing eyes. “Tell me, can animals cook? Do they know how to stir fry, steam, bake or boil? Do animals know how to slice a fish in order to achieve the tenderest cuts? For example, when it came to carps… anyway, they only know how to eat and shit. How could those lowly beast be compared to great foodie like me and appreciate my dream of eating the finest things in this life?”
Hong Lian remained silent as she slid the pearl and silver hairpin into the silky black hair.
“Do you now understand the great difference between me and mere animals?” Su Nuan Nuan raised her chin proudly as she looked at Hong Lian. At her maid’s rapid nodding, she frowned with dissatisfaction and said, “En, since you understand, tell me, just how am I different from animals? You’re not allowed to just repeat my words.”
There was a bitter look on Hong Lian’s face, if she had known what a disaster this conversation would be, she would have just sent Xiang Yun over to serve Su Nuan Nuan. That girl was an expert at flattery, unlike me who could not even lie with a straight face. She cautiously studied Su Nuan Nuan’s expression, spend quite a long time thinking before finally opened her mouth, “The difference between Missy and animals? Could it be… Missy is a higher ranking animal?”
“Pu… cough, cough, cough…” there was no tea in Su Nuan Nuan’s mouth, therefore the liquid that sprayed out her lips was saliva. Unfortunately, not all of it made it out, some went down the wrong pipe and she ended up hacking and coughing for quite a while.
“Hopeless! Hong Lian, you are hopeless!” Su Nuan Nuan shook her head sadly and looked at Hong Lian with pity. “The best you can aspire to is a mediocre life.”
“This one is a mere maid, and thus my greatest aspiration is a contented life. It’s not like I could better myself through military or scholarly exams, right?” Hong Lian could not resist smiling. “Speaking of military and scholarly examinations, Missy should probably speak with master about it. After all, master did once dressed up as a commoner to participate in the exams…”
“Stop, hush your mouth. That name must not be spoken of in Mei Yue Lou, understand?” Su Nuan Nuan made a large X in front of the body with her hands. “Do you know the story of the Crow’s Beak? Or the consequences of inviting a wolf into your house? Hong Lian, you must guard against all bad luck by never invoking the name of the cursed one.”
“But, this is the master’s mansion, though Mei Yue Lou is rather remote, it still belongs to the master. If he wishes to come, there is no stopping him. There is no way this maid…”
“Still spitting out curses?” Su Nuan Nuan was furious. She stood up and started pacing around the room, “We’re doomed, doomed I tell you. This morning my right eye kept twitching, now there’s you and your crow’s beak, misfortune is about to befall upon us, ah.”
She was still lamenting loudly when Xiang Yun’s voice rang out, “Food is ready. Missy, the porridge is done, and the salted duck eggs looks really shiny and…”
Her voice hadn’t finished speaking, when a powerful wind swished passed her. She blinked, but not even Su Nuan Nuan’s shadow was left in the room. Hong Lian looked towards the slightly ajar door and after a long while muttered, “Could misfortune really fall upon us? Missy, you left this room so quickly, how could you still have a good appetite despite imminent misfortune?”