Chapter 22: Bargaining
Duan Tingxuan never expected this move from Su Nuan Nuan. For a moment, he was completely speechless. He ignored Si Ping’s sobbing voice next to him, “Master, we should really return, it’s getting dark.”
This was true, the sun was already on its way down, only half of its red face could be seen.
Duan Tingxuan desperately wanted to take this good advice and leave with Si Ping, but the most hateful thing was… …just what is going on in the kitchen? What is this fragrance? How could this smell just get more and more fragrant? The little marquis had already lost the fight. This was definitely not something he had ever eaten, there was no doubt about it.
This fragrance was just too distinctive. In his twenty years of existence, he had never encountered a fragrance that clutched at his heart and liver, making one hate the fact that they can’t just swallow the pot along with whatever was in it into their stomach.
“Teach me qing gong, and I shall grant you a month’s worth of meals.” Su Nuan Nuan could see Duan Tingxuan’s expression. He was just standing there transfixed in terrible indecision, and knew that this was the crucial moment to sway things her way.
“One month? You think I’m a beggar you can just shoo away once fed?” Duan Tingxuan was angry.
“Then… how about two months?” Su Nuan Nuan could feel the pain in her flesh already. Letting this rascal eat her food for one month already hurt her heart, now she had to concede another month?
“For a life time.” Duan Tingxuan bared his teeth. “How dare you treat me like a beggar?”
“Hey! Don’t be too excessive.” Su Nuan Nuan was starting to get angry too. “As a person you can’t be too greedy, you think I’m scared of you? The worst you can do to me is kick me out, this old lady still has her culinary skills, no matter where I go in this world, I can survive. Three months, no more.”
“Until you actually mastered qing gong.” This woman was not afraid of getting thrown out, there’s no point using divorce to threaten her. The little marquis had finally realized this, so he yielded the step with a sigh.
“What do you mean?” Su Nuan Nuan did not understand his point, and instead of pondering upon it herself, she asked for proper explanations outright.
“I will teach you kungfu, and you will provide both food and drink until the day you have mastered the skills. I will say this now, I will not tolerate rubbish food, everything must be of highest quality.”
“Kungfu is something that could only be learnt after about a year or so at the very least, isn’t it?” Su Nuan Nuan frowned, this condition was too harsh.
“Surely you don’t mean to say that you’re unwilling to provide a mere year’s worth of food?” Duan Tingxuan was about to spit up blood. “Nuan Nuan, if you think about it seriously, having a dignified little marquis like me as a kungfu instructor, who else but you could enjoy this special honour? If not for those delicious food, do you think this lord would ever be reduced to the position of an instructor? Even if you hire an instructor for yourself, you would have to provide for his food and lodging as well, wouldn’t you? Not to mention tuition fees. Are you trying to tell me that this little marquis can’t even be compared to a mere instructor?”
“Very well, very well, let’s just leave it at that.” Su Nuan Nuan finally relented. Though she did not fear divorce, remaining married has its own good points as well. While nesting in this courtyard, she had endless access to good ingredients, they surely wouldn’t starve while staying here. If the three of them really had to leave, well, it wouldn’t be difficult to predict what would happen to three beautiful women alone in the world. Especially in this awful feudal society that took advantages of the weak, as women, they could be eaten up by society to the point that not even their bones would be left.
After weighing in the consequences and considering her options, Su Nuan Nuan had to acknowledge that from a certain point of view, staying at the palace would be the best option. Since the rascal depended on her for certain favours, she could face him on equal grounds, this certainly beats living outside as three weak women all alone in the world. Stories that involved cheats or golden fingers as well as hoards of beautiful male protagonists were not actually reality after all.
[Translator Gumihou: Yes, I agree with this. Hear that, Mary Sue?]
“Then, it is agreed.” Duan Tingxuan could not resist getting a confirmation, seeing Su Nuan Nuan nod, he immediately recover his lordly air. Rolling his eyes, he sneered. “You’re such a silly thing, even if I did not agree to teach you qing gong, surely a meal shared between a husband and wife is something that’s perfectly proper in the eyes of heaven and earth?”
“That would depend on my mood.” Su Nuan Nuan said coldly. “If I’m happy, the variety and number of dishes would increase; however, if I’m unhappy, I’d rather have plain congee with pickles. If you’re willing to share all my sweet and bitter times, you’re welcome to come.”
“You…” Duan Tingxuan was almost beside himself with rage.
Su Nuan Nuan’s phoenix eyes flashed. “I, what? What are you trying to say?”
“It’s fine, it’s all fine, a good man does not battle with women.” The little marquis was clear headed enough to swallow the few derogatory words that had bubbled up in his chest: the smell from the kitchen was getting stronger and stronger, he would not allow the need to win a verbal fight destroy this opportunity to eat delicious food.
“Very well, I shall go and take a look at the bone soup. It’s almost time for dinner.” Having received the two wild ducks, first madam’s mood was extremely good, she was feeling particularly magnanimous and did not bother to pick a fight. Instead, she happily went off to the direction of the kitchen.
Looking her willowy figure from the back, Duan Tingxuan could not resist the urge to snap his fan open and smirk to himself: Hoho! What a naive woman, ah. Do you really think it is possible to learn qing gong in a year? Dream on! Duan Tingxuan learned from several masters ever since he was a child. His current level of mastery was the result of his abnormally high gift for martial arts, gruelling training, and relentless daily practice.
For Su Nuan Nuan, whose skeletal structure had already matured and clear lack of talent, won’t be able to get anywhere without the aid of harsh training. If this woman really wanted to learn kungfu it would probably take her 10 years, no less, just to master the basics. Additionally, there is no end to learning when it came to martial arts, this means he would be able to enjoy her delicious meals for a whole lifetime, right?
The more he thought about it, the happier the little marquis became. Suddenly, Si Ping’s hushed voice whispered. “My Lord, you should not smile too happily, if first madam sees this, she will be unhappy, if she’s unhappy then it is likely that you are not allowed to be happy either.”
That single sentence was enough to shatter his day dream.
Duan Tingxuan thought about his wife’s stubborn personality and sighed: Looks like he can’t just depend on teaching kungfu as a way to get food. Otherwise, if this woman ended up unable to learn kungfu after three or five years, she might just leave the palace by herself in a fit of fury.
If he wanted to keep eating delicious food, he would have to put more thought into his strategies, ah. However, there was something he had to admit, despite her being more unreasonable and shrewish in nature…this new Su Nuan Nuan was actually much more adorable compared to the venomous and bossy personality from before.
While he was busy pondering over this, the fragrance that had been teasing him all evening suddenly got stronger. When he looked around a bit more, he found that he had somehow wondered into the kitchen, and was currently facing the source of the smell. There was a large pot in front of him with its cover taken off. Steam bubbled and writhed from within the pot, making it difficult to see the what was inside. The sweet smell was enough to make a person drool all the way to his feet.
“Just what is this thing?”
Duan Tingxuan’s curiosity level was at its peak. He took a step forward to peer into the pot, and saw a reddish brown soup with several large bones bobbing inside. As he studied the soup, Su Nuan Nuan who was next to him said with a smile, “This is bone soup. Specially chosen good quality pork bones plays a big part, spine bones could be used too. Stewed together with herbs such as dang gui (chinese angelica), gouqi (wolfberry), lotus seeds, red dates, and peanuts. Too bad I don’t have more ingredients at hand, if we could add things like Chinese yams, tian qi (pseudo ginseng), red sage (salvia miltiorrhiza), or other such medicinal herbs it would be both delicious and nutritious, perfect for body and spirit.”
“You can …stew large bone soups this way?”
Duan Tingxuan was surprised. He had only heard that bones could be used to make high class broths, which could then be used to enhance other dishes. He had not realized that such bone broths could be drunk as soups by itself. He saw Su Nuan Nuan place the pot cover on the side, and was just standing there drinking in the steamy fragrance and looking like she was getting drunk with happiness.
“Once it cooled off a bit, we can skim off the oil on top and drink it. Hmph! We’ve been stewing this for two sichen (four hours).”
Duan Tingxuan really wanted to drink some now, but after weighing his options for a moment, he decided that he was not prepared to try and see if his specially developed kungfu skills could protect his tongue against boiling hot soup. Therefore, he could only trail after Su Nuan Nuan as they left the kitchen together.
For once, husband and wife sat at the dining table peacefully. Duan Tingxuan saw Si Ping and Hong Lian busy collecting the rat traps and flattened beans, and felt his cheerful mood darken. Gritting his teeth, he said. “You are truly heartless, merely scattering beans in front of the entrance is not enough, you have to set rat traps as well, do you really hate me this much?”
“Are you expecting me still feel some sort of attraction to you?” Su Nuan Nuan gave the rascal a sideways glance. “To tell the truth, I had wanted to arrange for a line of crossbows as well, but ended up only using rat traps. You should be grateful, otherwise the moment you set foot in this place, you’ll be turned into a hedgehog.”
“Tch!” Duan Tingxuan sneered. “You plan to make bows and arrows using books? You may have planned for it, but do you actually have the ability to make this dream true? Even I only own three sets of strong bows and arrows, and they were gifts from the imperial palace.” As he spoke, he felt very dejected, “Do you really need to hate me to this level? I did not actually do anything bad to you, ah.”
“What are you trying to say?” Su Nuan Nuan narrowed her eyes at this lack of self awareness rascal a side long glare. “You dare claim that throwing the three of us into this Mei Yue Lou is not to abandoned us to live or die by our own ability? I almost died from starvation, you know? If it were not for King of Hell gift, would you actually treat me so well?”
“Hmph! You’re actually here to serve us divorce papers, is it not? Since Madam Yun suffered such a loss in my hands, would she actually leave things as it is? I’m about to be kicked out, so what more do I need to fear? You should be grateful that my kind heart prevented me from harming you. Otherwise, I would not have bothered with the rat traps. Just think, what would happened if I were to put rat poison into your portion of the bone soup?”
“Rat poison? Woman, you dare to even think about murdering your own husband?” Duan Tingxuan jumped, and saw Su Nuan Nuan wave her hand lazily. “Settle down, settle down, I’m just talking randomly. I didn’t actually do it, right?”
“Hmph, in truth, I really can’t bear the thought of wasting an entire pot of precious bone soup a rascal like you. This is why we ended up with rat traps. Oh yes, you’re are here to send us divorce papers, right? Let’s have a look. I heard that my Lord is well versed in both letters and martial arts, let me take a look at your handwriting.”
“What divorce papers?” Duan Tingxuan’s face did not look good. “Please don’t treat this as a real thing. It’s true Xu Ran Yun had said a some words to me, but, it had nothing to do with divorcing you. Don’t try to guess the thinking of a noble woman with your common mind.”