Long Er’s eyes scanned Ju Mu’er attentively—her eyes were closed and her position on the ottoman, leaning sideways, did not seem too comfortable, yet she was well and truly asleep. Her breathing was even, with long, deep, and light breaths. Her hands had already begun to slowly relax, her bamboo staff precariously slanted against the ottoman, almost as if it were about to fall to the ground.
With the help of the hat on her head, Ju Mu’er’s face seemed even smaller, and she even looked a couple years younger!
Long Er’s gaze remained on her, and he could not help but think to himself, she really is quite thin… Although she was wearing thick clothes which made it hard to tell, but there was a noticeable lack of any plumpness to her face. Her eyelashes were elegantly long, almost like two small fans pressed close against each other. Even her mouth was neither too large nor too small, and Long Er knew how cute the little up-turn of the corner of her mouth was whenever she laughed.
Long Er got to his feet, planning to give her a scare.
Lazy ghost, wasn’t she supposed to be here to see him? It looked like she merely exchanged one sleeping location for another. He spent so much energy over earning money to support their ‘family’, yet she did not even take the initiative to fuss over him? Seeing as she had come to find him, she should be making it a point to talk with him, ask him if he’s feeling bored or not, whether he’s thirsty or not, or maybe if he feels tired or not yet...
Yet, she had asked nothing of the sort, and had spent the majority of her time, aimlessly sitting there, and ultimately fell asleep!
Long Er walked over, planning in his mind to scare her by suddenly speaking out loud, however, Ju Mu’er seemed to notice something was up, and with an unexpected “whoosh” sat upright while instinctively moving backwards.
Her expression was fearful, and she seemed quite rattled by this.
Long Er hastily called out to her, “It’s me!”
Ju Mu’er still seemed a little dazed and Long Er repeated, “It’s me! Mu’er, you’re in my study right now.”
Ju Mu’er blinked mechanically then blinked again. Finally she lowered her head and used her hands to rub her face. Long Er strode over to where she was, squatted down and gently asked, “Are you still groggy from sleep?”
Ju Mu’er shook her head at this, but Long Er was still worried that she might not yet be fully awake and began to press her for an answer, “Talk to me, Mu’er.”
Ju Mu’er opened her mouth, and after quite a pause, her throaty voice said, “I just dreamt of something, and I forgot that I was at your place now.”
“Was it a nightmare?” Long Er’s brow wrinkled as he said this, then asked, “What did you see in your dream?”
“I don’t remember anymore.” Ju Mu’er leaned her body forwards, unknowingly causing her to bump into Long Er. What came next seemed natural to Long Er, as he pulled her into his embrace, and began to soothingly caress her tense and rigid back.
Ju Mu’er closed her eyes again, the feeling of Long Er’s broad, warm chest was helping her to relax. Still, the horrifying scenes of the execution ground from her dream were still fresh in her mind, but all she said was, “I’m alright, I’m alright.”
“Are you really alright?” Long Er tried to confirm with her.
Ju Mu’er nodded her head, and Long Er reached a hand out to squeeze her earlobe again. Ju Mu’er felt the sudden pain, and soon heard him say, “If you’re alright then focus on the task at hand! Come, help pour me some tea, and massage my back.”
“Oh.” Ju Mu’er murmured under her breath. Her reply seemed rather unwilling, and in retaliation Long Er squeezed her earlobe with more pressure this time.
A sharp cry of pain was drawn out from Ju Mu’er, and she forcefully slapped away his hand. Long Er feigned shock as he exclaimed, “Ai-ya, now both ears don’t look the same! One side is bigger and the other is smaller! You have to let this ear be squeezed too, at least until it has been squeezed to the same size as the other!”
Upon hearing this Ju Mu’er hurriedly covered her ears and shied away, causing Long Er to burst out into hearty laughter. He pulled her into his arms again, and as he embraced her he began to complain, “You truly are very thin, my guess is that even in summer, hugging you will feel so uncomfortable and dig into my bones. Hurry up and grow a bit fatter, that’s the way!”
Ju Mu’er did not say anything to this, but she began to take pains to hide her face. And after a short while, she softly murmured, “Second Master, you will marry me for real right?”
“Can I marry you for not-real?” At this point, Long Er felt like squeezing her again.
Ju Mu’er did not say anything either, but her body seemed to relax and uncoil as she leaned into his embrace. Long Er thought to himself for a moment, then he asked, “Do you have anything you want to tell me?”
Ju Mu’er was thrown a little off guard by this question and hesitated before shaking her head.
Long Er patted her hat, thinking if you don’t want to tell me it’s alright. He pulled her towards his study table, saying, “Come, serve me some tea.”
Ju Mu’er bowed slightly with knees bent as a sign of acquiescence, quite the picture of meek subservience. With the hat on her head, her entire appearance seemed quite comical, yet she was still acting like one of the servants large families employed—gaze lowered to the floor, countenance tame and obedient… Yet, deep in his heart, Long Er knew that she was definitely the epitome of what it meant to be fiery and wild.
As expected, she began to stutter and ask a barrage of questions. Where were the teacups kept, where was the teapot kept, after which she touch-explored the entirety of his study table. Her reason for this was that in the event a teacup was accidently overturned, then the spillage might damage his reports or ledgers.
Poor Master Long Er, his desire to enjoy a cup of tea served by Mu’er, ultimately resulted in him having to serve her first, then only did he stand a chance of fulfilling this dream.
Internally, Long Er was confident that she was doing this with intention, every time he teases her, she just has to turn the tide on him and put him through the hoops for her own satisfaction.
Yet, even so, Long Er still assisted her as she used her fingers to explore the table. He also assisted her in clearing away some of the things on the table, then laid out all the necessary tableware, teacups and a teapot. Finally, when this was all done, Ju Mu’er poured him a cup of tea, her ‘performance’ was spot-on.
As Long Er appreciatively picked up the teacup and drank from it, Ju Mu’er suddenly asked, “Second Master, is the cup of tea I poured delicious?”
Long Er pretended to mull over her question, and said with a pretending air, “It’s alright.”
“Then it must be because Second Master’s tea leaves are not to Second Master’s taste, because regardless of who does the serving, the tea will still taste the same.”
Alas, Long Er very nearly choked on his cup of tea. He turned his head to glance at her, and sure enough, that blind gal was wearing a playful smile.
Long Er was still a bit miffed, and he said, “Come over here and massage my back for me!”
Ju Mu’er acquiesced, and fumbled her way to a position behind Long Er. After about half a day of fumbling about, and poking about Long Er’s shoulder and back, so much so that he felt an itch begin to crawl over his body, he could not help but tease her, “If you want to feel me up, then do it properly!”
Instantly, the movements behind him stopped, and he soon heard Ju Mu’er loudly exclaim, “Reporting to Second Master, the back of this chair is too high, it’s blocking me.” Why on earth would she be doing this on purpose, who would want to touch him?
Long Er turned his head to look at her, and instantly felt bemused by the sight of her now-slightly-reddened face. He turned his chair around, and sitting sideways, exposed the back of his shoulder to her. Then, he picked up her hand, and placed it onto his shoulder.
Finally, Ju Mu’er began to properly massage his shoulders. Her fingers were lithe and supple, yet they felt strong and firm in their actions, and as for the points she applied pressure to, all were extremely suitable. Long Er spent long hours hunched over his desk, and his shoulders were stiff and tense, after every squeeze of hers, it felt so immensely satisfying that he almost wanted to groan in relief.
“Second Master, is my massage comfortable?”
“So-so.” As Long Er enjoyed this treatment, he still felt like being stingy in his praise for her.
Ju Mu’er seemed oblivious to this, and commented, “I am used to doing this for my father, but, Second Master’s demands are much greater than my father’s. Since you think it’s so-so, then I think I had better use my competency in looking after the household to please Second Master.”
“You’re not allowed to play the qin, and you can’t make fun of me.”
Behind him, Ju Mu’er was openly laughing at his statement.
Miffed, Long Er rebuked her by asking, “Have you finished memorising the Household Rules?”
Ju Mu’er continued to laugh, causing Long Er to reach for her, catching hold of her delicate hand as he asked, “Are the Household Rules I wrote so funny?”
Ju Mu’er shook her head, she had no idea what the Household Rules covered, she hadn’t even let her old father recite them to her. Long Er merely wanted to tease her, she was sure of that.
Long Er did indeed intend on teasing her, so he explained, “There was a rule in the Household Rules, and it mentioned that one cannot use the qin to humiliate me.”
Hearing this made Ju Mu’er laugh, “Second Master, you know me well, my most proficient skill is qin-playing.”
Long Er harrumphed in reply, and using the motion of pulling her hands downward, pulled her onto his back. He squeezed his hands before saying, “Of course I know you well, all I have to do is think about what might make me angry and I can accurately predict what you’re thinking of.”
Ju Mu’er was sprawled across his back, and she wrinkled her nose at this, “I know you well too, Second Master, as long as I think along the lines of how I might be disciplined, then I can guess the inner workings of Second Master.”
As she said this, her mouth was inches away from Long Er’s ear, and her gentle, delicate breaths tickled his senses. Long Er instantly felt a burst of fiery warmth pool in his lower abdomen. He imagined that Ju Mu’er would soon come into contact with his face cheeks, or perhaps her lips might brush against his ear, and the thought of this made his entire blood boil.
Alas, Ju Mu’er did not do any of what he expected. She wanted to pull her hands out of his, but Long Er kept his grip tight and refused to let go. She struggled to release herself, but ultimately failed to pull her hands away. Instead she gave in, and rested her chin on his shoulder, saying, “My guess is that Second Master wants me to stay for lunch, and my other guess is that Second Master also requested that the kitchens prepare a fish dish today.”
Long Er froze for a moment, and felt a little dazed by this, then he burst out into a bout of laughing. Well I’ll be damned, why was she so clever and intriguing?!
He coughed awkwardly and tried to explain, “I did not intend to ask you to stay for lunch, it’s just that it has reached mealtime now, and having you stay is just a matter of adding a pair of chopsticks at lunch.”
Ju Mu’er’s gentle soft voice said, “My thanks Second Master, however, if there are still bones inside the fish, I won’t be able to eat it.”
Long Er was instantly reminded of the first time he had invited her for a meal, and her pitiful look of grievance as she held a mouthful of fish meat and bones. His heart instantly melted a tiny bit, and he patted her small face, “I’ll be sure to pick the boneless parts for you.”
At the table, true to his word, Long Er did pick out all the fish bones before passing the fish meat to Ju Mu’er, and as he did so, he could not help but feel like he had fallen into her trap, why had he experienced a moment of weakness and said that?
As for Ju Mu’er, she enjoyed the great honour of eating fish meat that had been personally de-boned by Master Long Er. Thus, her smile was as sweet as ever.
By their side, Mómo Yu watched in silence as her Second Master gritted his teeth and rebuked this Young Lady Mu’er. As he did that, he also focused on carefully extracting all of the fish bones, and all of this just made it that much more obvious to Mómo Yu.
Mómo Yu began to reconsider her outlook on the wedding preparations. After the incident with the matchmaker, the rumours had begun to grow out of control, now the rumours were all about how the blind girl Ju Mu’er had used her wiles to enchant Master Long Er. Some were about how she might have forced Master Long Er, and it seemed like everyone had their own theory about this, so the rumours flew everywhere.
Long Er was unaffected by this, truth be told, if it wasn’t for the fact that he had specifically sent someone to find out about these rumours, he would still be absolutely clueless about these things. Afterall, there wasn’t anyone around who would dare to confront him about this.
That day, Long Er kept Ju Mu’er by his side for the greater part of the day, and finally, he agreed to her not-having to come here again. This decision was not a concession on his part to her feelings of leaving home on days where she had yet to wash her hair, but more due to the fact that he realized spending time with her meant that he had sacrificed a great deal of opportunity to make good progress on his scrolls.
Initially he had planned to complete a pile of reports that day, his intention was to finish checking through everything before his shopkeepers arrived in the Capital. In the end, he had wasted most of the day in Ju Mu’er’s company, verbally sparring with her, teasing her, and had only managed to finish about less than two reports-worth. This incident served to remind himself that business ought to be his primary focus now.
For the next two days, Long Er spent his time hunched over his desk, and soon, his shopkeepers began to arrive and all visited him at the Long Residence. Long Er met with each shopkeeper in person, making sure to discuss matters of trade in detail.
On this day, quite a number of shopkeepers had sent in their names seeking an audience with Long Er, but there was a surprise visitor today, Ding Yanshan. Long Er was originally not going to see her, and he instructed the gatekeeper to inform her that he had many guests to entertain and did not have any time to see her.
However, just as Long Er had finished seeing one of the shopkeepers, and was about to escort him out, lo and behold, Ding Yanshan was standing at the doorway, obviously waiting for him. She noticed Long Er step out, and hurried over to talk to him.
Having already come face-to-face, Long Er could not say anything at this juncture, so he was forced to allow her inside for a cup of tea or two. Ding Yanshan was here about Long Er and Ju Mu’er’s marriage. The instant she opened her mouth, she instantly asked for his confirmation on whether the rumours about him marrying Ju Mu’er were true.
Naturally, Long Er’s response was affirmative. Instantly Ding Yanshan’s face paled, “Second Master, you must think thrice! Since Ju Mu’er’s reputation is already in such a state, I fear that it might mar the integrity of the Long Residence too.”
“Our Long Residence has never sought to depend on the reputation of our wives to increase our standing in society!”
“But what about her dealings with my older sister’s husband?”
“Well, I don’t plan on marrying your older sister’s husband, so why would he matter to me?”
“Second Master!” Ding Yanshan frantically got to her feet, “My elder sister said that Ju Mu’er has already agreed to be married to my elder sister’s husband, as a concubine. That Ju Mu’er lied to you! Second Master, you cannot marry that witch!”
Long Er lifted his eyes and stared at Ding Yanshan, after a moment’s pause he coldly replied, “When you return, tell Yun Qingxian this, he had better not be harbouring any thoughts about my wife. Otherwise…”
He did not finish the sentence, but dragged out the last syllable, his intent clear in his words. Under his frigid gaze, Ding Yanshan shivered, but ultimately she could not hold her ground, and turned away.
Behind her, Long Er called out, “And another thing, don’t let me catch anyone else calling my Mu’er a witch.”
Ding Yanshan faltered over her steps, and then broke into a run as she fought back tears.
After Ding Yanshan had left, Long Er was still a little uneasy. Ju Mu’er had agreed to marry into the Yun Family? This was the first time he had heard of such a thing. So, that day, when she had unexpectedly asked to be married to him, was it because of Yun Qingxian?
Long Er called for Mómo Yu and asked her how well the preparations were coming along for the bride price and other formalities. The past two days, Mómo Yu had been to the Ju Family’s Winery, and had discussed things with Old Father Ju and Young Lady Mu’er. Almost all aspects of the preparations had been completed, and the gifts were set to be exchanged soon.
Long Er nodded, making sure to remind Mómo Yu that he would have to check over everything once she had finished preparing them. Mómo Yu agreed and then Long Er dismissed her.
Long Er walked back to the study, along the way back his mind was filled with thoughts of Ju Mu’er. Thoughts of her saying that she wanted to marry him, of how she looked as she said this. Finally, Long Er made up his mind, as soon as he had finished discussing matters with the shopkeepers tomorrow, regardless of how late it might get, he would be sure to make some time to go see her.
The next day, just as Long Er was discussing matters with the other shopkeepers in the main hall, one of the runners from the Ju Family’s Winery came running to see him.
Long Er retreated to outside the hall to speak to him, and that person struggled to communicate his missive through large bouts of panting, “Second Master, bad news, something bad has happened! There’s, there’s, there was a matchmaker who visited with bride gifts and the Old Master thought that it was for Second Master. He didn’t ask much and accepted them, but when we checked the bride gift certificate, it turns out that it’s from some other family…”
Long Er’s brow wrinkled as he processed this, exclaiming, “What are you talking about?”
The runner nervously gulped down a mouthful of saliva, then loudly recounted the key point of his message, “Old Master accepted the wrong bride price!”
~End of Chapter~