Translated by seal.
Warnings: Violence (abuse of main character)
“This old woman has been keeping you, yet all year round I’ve been losing money!”
What’s going on…….How could it be empty?
It was as if a ladle of ice water had been poured into boiling hot water, temporarily slowing the boiling down, causing a dense layer of steam to rise.
With his mind shrouded in a miasma of confusion, Mo Xi thought to himself:
Even though it was clear that clients were entering his room, why wasn’t there even a single cowrie in his jar?
Is, is it because those people humiliated him to the extent of not even paying him?
——Xihe-Jun was a person who was serious, stern and disciplined, like an invincible1[无坚不摧 is an idiom that means “no stronghold that one cannot overcome”, and roughly means to conquer all obstacles.] city wall2[城池 refers to cities with moats and defensive military walls built around it.], and there was nothing that could cause this wall to set off his smoke signals and alarms.
Apart from Gu Mang.
Since a long time ago, as long as it had something to do with Gu Mang, Mo Xi would not be able to restrain himself. He would become short-tempered, impulsive, irritable, and even cause utter disruption to order3[阵线皆乱 roughly translates to ‘the military frontline in total disorder’ and I believe in this case it’s meant to be a metaphor??], completely losing sense of rationality.
Even after he became the General-in-chief, and the bloody hardships of warfare had sharpened his senses, he was still unable to restrict his tiny bit of selfishness. When facing Gu Mang, he wasn’t that Chong Hua’s First General-in-chief, but just the most ordinary young man. He was increasingly unable to control himself, and desperately longed to know how Gu Mang had spent these last two years.
Why had he become so calm, that one could even say he was apathetic? For a person who fell from the highest of favours to the most disgraceful depths, was it really possible to be as calm as this?
Suddenly, the sound of angry shouting interrupted Mo Xi’s thoughts. It was followed closely by the sound of footsteps, as a woman approached, swearing the whole way.
“He can’t do anything right, and only fucking knows how to piss off the clients. They should just quickly hang this traitor to death! I have no idea what Wangshu-Jun was thinking, and why he would insist on sparing this good-for-nothing4[狗命 (gǒu mìng) literally translates to ‘dog’s life’, but is an insult used to refer to low lives.]!
Mo Xi knitted his eyebrows slightly.
This was the master of Luo Mei Garden Villa, Madam Qin.
In order to befriend him a long time ago, Wangshu-Jun had once bribed Madam Qinto arrange for ten or so different and charming beauties and send them to his army. Madam Qin had eagerly attempted to persuade him back then, spewing a deluge of flowery praises5[天花乱坠 (tiān huā luàn zhuì) is an idiom that translates to “a deluge of heavenly flowers” and means extravagant embellishments or exaggerations.] from her mouth. Yet Mo Xi did not keep a single one of her ladies, and on the contrary, only remembered her annoyingly sharp, thin voice that gave him a headache.
“He won’t cry, won’t laugh, won’t coax his clients and won’t flirt! Every single client that comes out of his room ends up showering this old woman in a torrent of angry complaints6[狗血淋头 (gǒu xiě lín tóu) is an idiom that translates to “pouring dog’s blood on one’s head” and means a torrent of abuse.]!” The woman raged, her silhouette projected on the paper screen of the window. She cursed again, “A complete loss-maker!”
Mo Xi did not anticipate that this idea of his would actually backfire on him like this. To hear that Xihe-Jun was caught visiting a brothel was more than enough news to terrify the whole of Chonghua, but to hear that Xihe-Jun secretly climbed over the walls to visit a brothel would cause the entire of Chonghua to be completely dumbstruck.
And should they hear that Xihe-Jun had secretly climbed over the walls to visit the brothel in order to flip his arch-enemy’s signboard, perhaps the whole capital of Chonghua would explode on the spot.
Mo Xi turned Gu Mang’s face towards him, his breath heavy against the side of Gu Mang’s face. Lowering his voice, he asked: “Where can I get out?”
Gu Mang coughed a few times, gasping as he caught his breath: “There is a client here, the words outside the door will change colour. She will not come in.”
Mo Xi snapped: “It’s not like I’m a client!”
Gu Mang widened his eyes slightly: “Then why……”
While the two of them exchanged words, the silhouette of Madam Qin could already be seen wavering by the door. Seeing that she was about to push the door open to enter, Mo Xi glanced over for a split second, then urged Gu Mang: “Don’t tell her I’m here.”
The door opened. At almost the same time, Mo Xi released the hand of his that was pressed against Gu Mang, swiftly hiding himself behind the folding screen.
Madam Qin entered the room, a hookah pipe7[水烟枪 (shuǐ yān qiāng) is a type of ancient Chinese hookah pipe. It looks like this.] in her hand. She exhaled through her crimson lips, instantly filling the room with strong and pungent smoke.
Gu Mang could not endure it, and quietly sneezed.
“Out of ten times I come to your room, you’re coughing and choking all ten times. I even hoped that I’d catch you breathing your last8[一命呼呜 (yī mìng hū wū) is an idiom that means “to die”.] this time.” Madam Qin rolled her eyes, “In the end, after keeping you for all these years, you still won’t drop dead.”
“Great General Gu.” She sat at the round table, and with deep breaths, she smoked a few more rounds of her hookah, then said with a mystifying air, “There are only three more days left to the month. Looking at the other rooms, never mind the thousands of cowries from the high earners, even the most unpleasant or the most unattractive ones still make use of their conversational skills and smile as they greet clients to earn enough money to feed themselves.”
She glanced briefly at him.
“What do you have to say?”
“I just knew you had no money!” Madam Qin inhaled from her pipe, “The amount of right things you’ve done is insufficient, yet there’s an excess of your failures. Apart from that face of yours, there isn’t even the least bit of the original source material in you.”
Gu Mang once again sneezed quietly.
“Pretending to be frail and pitiful, are you?” Madam Qin’s anger became all the more apparent, and she raised her voice to berate him: “Look at you, what did you save in that broken jar of yours? This old woman has been keeping you, yet all year round I’ve been losing money!”
“If this goes on, even if I can’t touch you under Wangshu-Jun’s orders, I’ll have to slaughter that dog you keep in the courtyard!”
Gu Mang had originally not uttered a single word, yet when he heard that she would slaughter the dog, he muttered: “I did everything according to what you said.”
“What I said your head! Do you take this old woman as a fool?”
“They did not give me money. I am a……” Gu Mang paused, then said that word, “Traitor.”
Mo Xi listened from behind the folding screen. Though he was unable to see Gu Mang’s expression, Gu Mang’s voice was still as calm as always, as if what he was stating was just an average, ordinary fact, without a single trace of guilt or shame. To him, that single word of “traitor”, was as light as a feather.
“A traitor should not ask for money.” Gu Mang said, “They said, I must do everything they ask for.”
Through the gap of the side of the folding screen, Gu Mang cut a lonely and helpless figure.
“That I owe them.”
Madam Qin choked for a moment, and said angrily, “Yes, that’s right, you’re a traitor, but what does that have to do with this old woman? You owe them, of course you do. But what I’m running is a place of entertainment, and not a charity hall. How is it reasonable for me to keep losing money?! Never mind just losing money, I also have to receive scoldings every single time by those distinguished clients!”
“How many times have I told you to serve the distinguished noblemen well? This old woman can’t directly ask them for money, so I have to rely on you guys to coax them to pay. No matter how much or how little, it’s always possible to get them to cough some up. But what about you? Great General Gu, have you ever coaxed any out of them?”
Gu Mang remained silent, and after a while, Madam Qin’s sharp voice that could pierce through the clouds and penetrate the sun could be heard shouting: “What are you staring at me for? Do you think you’re being reasonable?!”
“Get down on your knees!”
Mo Xi originally thought that Gu Mang would definitely not kneel, or at the very least, not immediately.
But once again, things exceeded his expectations. Gu Mang seemed indifferent, as if he did not feel that it was humiliating in the slightest, and unexpectedly, he really knelt down in front of this woman.
“……” Mo Xi raised his hand and propped himself against the cold surface of the wall beside him, the buzzing sound of blood gushing forth filling his eardrums.
Gu Mang would actually really……
Before he could finish that thought, there was the sudden crack of a whip. Despite clearly being a God of War who had waded through battlefields of a thousand armies and ten thousand horses9[A somewhat literal translation of 万马千军 since I felt the meaning was conveyed well enough this way. The idiom represents renowned fame and prestige.], he was startled to the point of shivering from this sound. His pupils contracted, his back breaking out in cold sweat.
Through the narrow slit of the folding screen, he saw Gu Mang kneeling in front of Madam Qin. That vixen stood up and concentrated spiritual energy into her palm, her scarlet red whip glowing against Gu Mang’s back as she viciously whipped him.
As if she was trying to vent her resentment about losing money in her business, she unleashed all of her pent up frustrations on Gu Mang’s body. After using all of her strength to whip him twenty or thirty times, she finally stopped, gasping for breath.
And during the course of this, Gu Mang remained silent, with not even the sound of a groan slipping through, as if he was indifferent to the humiliation, unaffected by the pain.
After having hit him enough, Madam Qin put away her whip and once again picked up her pipe, inhaling it a few times as she soothed her heaving chest: “You also know that traitors are even more disgusting than enemies right? Then you should put more effort into coaxing them, and get them to obediently hand over the money!”
Gu Mang repeated after her, as if he was trying to understand the word: “Coax……”
“If there’s no money coming from you next month, not only will you get beaten by the customers, but even I won’t let you off easily! Think about it carefully by yourself!”
Madam Qin finished her rant, then angrily stormed out.
When Mo Xi came out of hiding, Gu Mang still had his back turned towards him as he knelt on the ground.
His back seemed to be quite listless. The collar of his robe was loose, and his pale skin peeked out from the hem. Tracing upwards was the soft, misty curve of his neck, and tracing downwards was the scarlet burns from the embers of a calamity.10[t/n: i have no idea what the fuck she just said here i just made an educated guess]
There were too many doubts regarding Gu Mang. He was too unfamiliar, too calm, too indifferent towards life, death, favour and humiliation. Mo Xi thought that he had a lot to ask him, but as he stared at the blood slowly seeping through his robes, all that ultimately slipped past his lips was just one line:
“……Those wounds on your body, are they all from her?”
“Not all.” Gu Mang stood up, “Most of you that come here, come to beat me up.”
“Mostly from her.”
Gu Mang said without so much as looking at Mo Xi, and walked towards the wash basin to take care of his injuries.
Just as Mo Xi was about to say something, he saw Gu Mang take off his inner robe and throw that blood stained piece of clothing to the side. He lifted the wash basin and with a splash, he suddenly poured it over himself.
As if that back possessed some kind of spell, the General Mo who had always returned triumphantly from any battle, was pulled into a nightmare.
In Xihe-Jun’s memory, Gu Mang’s broad back was held tall and straight, the contours sharp and defined, like a bowstring stretched taut. There were rarely any scars on his back, as most were on his front, such as his chest or his abdomen.
But now, under the illumination of the dim lighting, that back that Xihe-Jun was familiar with had already changed beyond recognition. Covered in whip marks, knife scars and indistinct burns from spells, it was almost impossible to find a piece of untouched flesh. There was no need to mention how much those fresh scars from the whipping earlier that dripped with blood…..how much they should hurt.
But Gu Mang acted as if there was nothing wrong with him, as he casually washed away the blood with cold water, then recklessly wiped himself dry with a towel.
Mo Xi’s heart stirred with a myriad of emotions11[五味陈杂 literally translates to ‘five flavours mixing up’, five flavours referring to sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty…I’m hungry….], and though he initially did not want to say much, but from start to end, he was unable to shift his gaze away.
He recalled the Gu Mang from the Academy days, who would sigh begrudgingly: “Shidi, you’re just too hard working. Can you still move your legs? Come, I’ll help support you on the way back.”
He recalled Gu Mang on the battlefield, who swiftly leaned against him back to back, weapon in hand, as he laughed: “This wave of enemy troops are like mad dogs. If the two of us die today, there isn’t even a pretty lady to keep you company. It’s just you and me, so you’d better not turn your back on me.”
As these past events rushed forward in his mind, Mo Xi swallowed with great difficulty, then eventually asked: “Where’s your cut ointment?”
Gu Mang’s eyes were slightly dazed, as if he couldn’t understand what Mo Xi was talking about: “Cult ointment?” 12[Pun lost in translation so I replaced it with something of equivalent humour. 金创药 (jīn chuàng yào) translates to “golden cut ointment”, and was a brand of ointment for cuts and wounds. Gu Mang responds with 金疮药 (jīn chuāng yào), which literally translates to “golden sore ointment”. Basically all you need to know is he pronounces it wrong, and has no idea what Mo Xi was saying.]
“What about bandages?”
At this point, Mo Xi wasn’t sure if what he felt was anger or hatred, if it was resentment or an inexplicable sense of pain.
“You should at least have a bottle of styptic powder13[It’s a type of powder that promotes hemostasis/stops bleeding. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, the more you know!].”
Gu Mang stopped his hands and turned to face him. After a moment, he finally registered what was being said, but he shook his head: “No need, it will heal.”
He then walked over to the camphor wood cabinet14[They look something like this if you’ve never seen an antique Chinese camphor cabinet before.], took out a wrinkled inner robe, and then casually dressed himself. 15[t/n: Meatbun actually repeated the “he washed himself with cold water then dried himself up” thing from earlier here again which I think was a brainfart on her part…so I took liberties of removing that section because why would he dry himself then wash himself again….ur all lucky you don’t have to go through my confusion.]
When Mo Xi saw how laid-back he was, the frustrations in his heart bounced with increased vigor.
He had seen many prisoners of war: the unyielding, the meek, the ones who begged for death, and the ones who sold out their masters for glory.
But Gu Mang was nothing like any of the prisoners that he had dealt with before. Mo Xi had no idea what the current Gu Mang had become, but on Gu Mang, there was practically no trace of the familiar scent he had known, nor a single trace of human emotion.
No tears, no inferiority, no fear, no resentment.
He even seemed to feel no pain.
After a long pause, Mo Xi asked: “Gu Mang, what exactly are you thinking?”
He did not expect Gu Mang to answer him, just feeling that his chest was unbearably tight.
But who would have thought, Gu Mang actually responded.
And his response was full of sincerity: “Want money.”
“Other people have it, I do not. No one gives me any.”
Mo Xi gazed at him, taking in the way Gu Mang appeared as he talked, taking in the way he spat out words one at a time, and the dissonance he felt in his heart intensified.
“Everyone says, I should not want it.” Gu Mang said, his gaze shifting towards the broken fragments of the ceramic jar on the ground. He then walked over, picked up the fragments and placed them on the table. He appeared as calm as before, yet Mo Xi gradually realised that between his brows, he seemed to be distracted, as if he was perplexed by this.
Gu Mang turned his head and looked at him: “You are the first to give me a cowrie.”
Mo Xi was silent for a bit, then said harshly: “You clearly know why I gave it to you.”
Gu Mang did not answer immediately, and he looked up and down Mo Xi a few times, sizing him up. Since Mo Xi had entered the room, this was the first time Gu Mang had seriously taken him in, and it wasn’t that insipid gaze that he used to get rid of clients.
Gu Mang then stretched his hand out towards him.
“You still want it?” Mo Xi look down at him, “Weren’t you planning on giving it back to me just now?”
Mo Xi fidgeted in frustration, and in order to cut the conversation short so he wouldn’t agitate himself any further, he once again took out a golden cowrie and gave it to him.
Gu Mang did not thank him as he received it with two hands, lowering his head to gaze at it for a while, and then turned his head to look at the broken jar on the table. After pondering for a moment, he walked towards the bed. He rummaged under the soft mattress, and found a sachet.
Gu Mang was about to open up the sachet to place the cowrie in it, but Mo Xi’s heart chilled as he realised something, and he suddenly stood up.
“What’s that in your hand?” Mo Xi’s voice was low and threatening, every word filled with imminent danger, as if they could shatter his pearly white teeth upon touch if he put any more pressure into them.
“Take it out.”
It was a small, exquisitely embroidered scented sachet. Clouds that stretched for thousands of miles were threaded in gold, the boundless rivers and mountains embroidered in silver, and sewn to the bottom was a chain of red agate stones. With just a look, it was obvious that it was a considerably valuable object.
Mo Xi’s heart was caught in a maelstrom, and he stared at that sachet for a long while. Slowly, he spat out a few words: “Who gave it to you?”
The author has something to say:
Don’t worry don’t worry = = It’s only chapter 9 kay~ Not everything will be as what it seems~~ mu-ah~~
In addition, I’ve seen some 2ha cuties asking about permission to make non-profit merchandise. As long as it’s not for commercial use, does not change the characterisations and does not break the original CP16[CP in Chinese internet slang stands for ‘couple’, or in English fandom terms, ‘ship’.], you can happily play with them as you want~ I’m chill, just gonna go pick my disgusting toes~~
Mo Xi: Who gave you that sachet?
Gu Mangmang: Try guessing from the list of characters~
Mo Xi: Only the two of us have made an appearance so far, how do you expect me to guess?!
Gu Mangmang (villainous expression): Ahh, young man, then you will remain in confusion and puzzlement, and forever at a loss!
P.S. In the previous chapters, there were some opera song excerpts that were not written by me, but I forgot to reference them in my comments = =17[t/n: yeah thanks for the suffering smh] Anyway, the opera is definitely not original! Also squeaking here that the poetry is also not necessarily original! I must remember to note them down from now on uhuhu~ 18[t/n: btw meatbun talks in like…chinese uwu speak…i want to THROTTLE HER]