The Rebirth Of An Ill-Fated Consort


Chapter 76

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Chapter 76

A yellow-robed monk, whose beard was completely white, walked slowly into the hall, staff in hand. Compared with the Taoist priest, Xu Kong, this elderly monk was amiable and benign-looking, his movements infused with an air of holiness that would not tolerate any profanity; he really seemed to be the epitome of a Buddhist disciple.

As soon as she saw this monk, Lian Qiao exhaled a long breath. Someone in the hall recognised the monk and cried out in amazement, “Isn’t this Great Master Hui Jue? What is he doing here?”

Great Master Hui Jue’s reputation far exceeded that of Xu Kong dao zhang. Every single one of the rich and n.o.ble families in the capital knew of the enlightened senior monk with a brilliant grasp of Buddhist doctrine who had appeared in the capital city at the end of the previous year.

When Xia Yan’s eyes landed on Hui Jue, she knew this boded no good, but Jiang Ruan was still standing in the middle of the hall with a faint smile on her face. Xia Yan was instantly full of suspicion – how did Jiang Ruan establish a connection with this monk? However, on thinking about the events of the day, she absolutely could not allow Hui Jue to hamper her plan, so she smiled and said, “Why has Great Master come to the fu? Is it also to exorcise evil?”

Hui Jue placed his palms together in greeting, inclined his head slightly and said, “Amitabha.” He turned to look at Jiang Ruan and greeted her, “Young Miss.”

“Da Jiejie, on a normal day, you don’t set foot outside. When did you become acquainted with this Great Master?” Jiang Su Su sounded innocent, but her words were accusatory. They suggested that, if Jiang Ruan were truly a virtuous lady who kept to her own quarters, she would not be able to meet people as she wished, even if it was a monk.

Jiang Ruan sighed lightly and looked towards Old Jiang Madame, who had opened both her eyes at some stage. “This is my present for zumu.”

In a heavy voice, Jiang Quan asked, “How did this come to be?” When he compared Hui Jue to Xu Kong dao zhang, he naturally understood that Great Master Hui Jue was the more trustworthy of the two. However, as the monk was affiliated with Jiang Ruan, it was inevitable that there was some degree of suspicion.

“A few days ago, I went out with the young miss from Chief Historian Lin’s fu, Lin Zi Xiang, intending to select a gift for zumu, but nothing was satisfactory. Zumu has no need to worry about food or clothing, and even the most sumptuous items would not be of interest to her. Ruan niang thought, nothing in this world can surpa.s.s the importance of peace and good health, and a long life of good fortune. I heard that there was a Great Master Hui Jue in the capital, a disciple of Buddha’s Seat[1]. As it turns out, Chief Historian Lin’s fu has some connection with the Great Master, so I asked Lin Zi Xiang for a favour, as I wanted to invite the Great Master to pray for zumu.”

[1] Buddha’s Seat – Buddha had four ‘seats’ disciples below him -these Four Bodhisattvas in Buddhism refers to Manjushri, Guanyin Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, Jizo Bodhisattva. So this Hui Jue is a disciple under one of these bodhisattvas.

All the rich and n.o.ble families in the capital city were followers of Buddha, and many of them had invited Great Master Hui Jue into their fus to explain Buddhist scriptures. Lin Zi Xiang’s mother had always been a follower of Buddha. Thus, the explanation Jiang Ruan had given was adequate, and would not evoke any suspicion.

She spoke with such sincerity that to doubt her seemed to be tantamount to disappointing her absolute devotion. Jiang Ruan said, softly, “If Ruang niang had known earlier that Mother had already invited dao zhang to come and pray on behalf of the Jiang fu, I would definitely not have taken the liberty to make this decision.” She gently bowed to Hui Jue, saying, “Honourable Great Master Hui Jue, Ruan niang cannot thank you enough for your willingness to make this journey to pray for zumu. However, now that dao zhang is here, it seems to be unnecessary.” She smiled slightly and said, “However, since dao zhang is at present engaged in performing an exorcism and is not in the right frame of mind to pray for zumu, would Great Master kindly consent to praying for zumu now? The light of your blessing will surely be able to confer long and continuous good fortune.”

Everyone was slightly startled on hearing her words. Upon deeper thought to those who might be more calculative and scheming, if this eldest di daughter of the Jiang family was not scared about something, could she still bring up praying for blessings even at this time. Others, who looked only on the surface of the matter, were full of praise for Jiang Ruan. She showed that not only was she not concerned about her cursed fate, but instead was concerned about praying for her family’s zumu. It was such an act of laudable filial piety. In contrast, Xia Yan and the others, including Jiang Quan the so-called son, were only concerned with what that fate portended, and blatantly disregarded how the elderly furen was feeling at that moment.

Old Jiang Madame looked coolly at Jiang Ruan. Although she said nothing, a gleam of understanding appeared in her eyes. She did not raise any objections but quietly watched to see what would happen.

“Dao zhang can also pray for blessings,” Xia Yan said, nervous about what other strange occurrences might transpire. “Must we inconvenience the Great Master?”

One of the furens present could finally no longer stay silent and reminded everyone, “Whether good or bad, this is Eldest Jiang Miss’ heartfelt intention. Why should we disappoint this child?”

“That’s right, everyone in the capital city knows of Great Master Hui Jue’s reputation. Do you know how many people want to receive prayers of blessing but can’t see this wish realised?”

The sounds of agreement from the crowd grew in volume. Some genuinely believed that Jiang Ruan was to be pitied, while others were merely following the crowd to take advantage of the situation. Only Jiang Ruan continued to stand in silence, the corners of her mouth uplifted in amus.e.m.e.nt, as if her mood had not been shaken in the slightest by the situation in front of her.

Hui Jue was standing closest to her and naturally could clearly see her expression. From the time he had walked into the hall, he had noticed the people there were intentionally targeting her, yet this young lady before his eyes was still standing perfectly straight, all smiles, as if everything was firmly in her grasp. He thought about how, after Jiang Ruan had left that day, all had occurred as she had said – the Prefectural Magistrate’s fu had indeed been haunted, and they had invited him to conduct an exorcism the next day. Could it be that what she had said was true – in this world, there are actually people who know the past and therefore also know the future? Deep in his heart, he firmly rejected this notion. This eldest daughter of the Jiang family must have some truly able person directing her from behind, otherwise, how could she know so much?

He shook his head and said, “Today, this monk[2] was originally here to pray on behalf of this fu’s old madame, but, just now, this monk heard what dao zhang said, and cannot remain silent.”

[2] Lao na ( 老衲 ) – term used by an elderly Buddhist monk to refer to himself.

When Xia Yan heard this, she sensed something was not right, and immediately smilingly said, “Great Master, you can tell us whatever it is in private after the longevity feast.”

“We of the monkhood do not engage in falsehoods,” Hui Jue said. “It is simply that this monk sees that Eldest Young Miss has a full forehead, an upright nose bridge, plump and smooth lips; her appearance is that of a person who is blessed with good fortune. The fate of being born under a cursed star, which dao zhang has p.r.o.nounced, is heresy.”

He said all this with a righteous and majestic bearing, such that those who heard him could not help but believe him. When Hui Jue appeared, Xu Kong dao zhang felt his confidence waver, for he was only a cheap trickster who was used to conning ordinary people on a regular basis. It’s just that, this time, he had been ordered to come by Xia Yan. He could never match up to the renown and positive public opinion that Hui Jue enjoyed in the capital city. However, now that he had already reached this stage, he had no choice but to brace himself and press on. So, he a.s.sumed a haughty att.i.tude and said, “Could it be that Great Master has made a mistake? This priest studied at Mt. Mao[3] and has never made a miscalculation in fortune telling. I have already verified the Eldest Jiang Miss’s birthdate characters and she is indeed born under this star, and will be the bane of others’ existence.”

[3] Mao Shan ( 茅山 ) – Mt. Mao, the Taoist mountain southeast of Jurong county, Jiangsu Province.

Jiang Ruan smiled faintly as she stood where she was, looking at Hui Jue. Hui Jue’s skills of deception should be more polished than that of dao zhang. That Hui Jue could so openly swindle so many people in Yuzhou for so many years without being discovered was of course due to his innate skill, but, without doubt, the most important factor was still his ability to disguise his appearance. Anyone who looked at him would never be able to connect this amiable and benign-faced monk, with righteousness shining from every pore, with a trickster.

This time, not only did she need Hui Jue, it was even more a test for him. If Hui Jue was unable to carry off this situation, then, in future there would be no necessity to a.s.sist him.

Her gaze was piercing. Hui Jue, show me what you are capable of.

Hui Jue listened to Xu Kong dao zhang’s words without any anger. He said, “Kindly forgive this monk for not blindly accepting what dao zhang says.” This posture caused the surrounding furens, who were all enjoying the show, to have even more respect for him. They felt that Hui Jue was neither servile nor overbearing, which was entirely befitting a senior monk. In contrast, Xu Kong dao zhang had an arrogant att.i.tude, which had subconsciously evoked the people’s dislike.

Xu Kong dao zhang was entirely unaware of this, and was solely focused on not allowing Hui Jue to destroy his arguments. Consequently, he feigned anger to say, “Could it be that Great Master is deliberately making things difficult for this priest?”

Hui Jue sighed deeply before saying, “If dao zhang insists on seeing it this way, then this monk is powerless to do anything about it. However, this monk cannot bear to see Eldest Jiang Miss having to shoulder the burden of this accusation. It is true that this fu has a sinister energy, but it is not due to her fate. Rather, it is because a demon has caused mischief in this fu, and it may be a.s.sumed that it has attached itself to someone in the fu. That person . . . is not Eldest Jiang Miss.”

Lian Qiao, who was standing behind, heard all this and wanted to laugh. It was all spiritual mumbo-jumbo, yet the furens in the hall were all listening with grave expressions, as if firmly believing in all that was said, without a shred of doubt. Without waiting for dao zhang’s response, Hui Jue said, “This monk will now think of a way to force this demon to show itself.”

“This . . . is not good,” said Xia Yan agitatedly, looking towards Jiang Quan.

Jiang Quan was of two minds. He was eager to expel Jiang fu’s recent spell of bad luck, and even though he did not trust the person Jiang Ruan had invited, Great Master Hui Jue’s renown spoke for itself. If he could really search out this demon, wouldn’t Jiang fu have peace and security?

Xia Yan noticed his hesitation and felt even more anxious. With all her calculations and deliberations, she had never imagined that Jiang Ruan would go so far as to invite Great Master Hui Jue to the fu, giving her a taste of her own medicine. Great Master Hui Jue’s renown was much greater than that of Xu Kong dao zhang. If she raised an objection, it was to be feared that everyone would be on Hui Jue’s side. On thinking of all this, Xia Yan felt hatred and fury rise up within her.

Without waiting for Jiang Quan to make a decision, Old Jiang Madame spoke up. “Since Great Master has this intention, could we please trouble Great Master.”

“Zumu?” Jiang Su Su furrowed her brow.

Old Jiang Madame looked at her without really seeing her, and said to Xia Yan, “Daughter-in-law, haven’t you always wanted to rid the Jiang fu of its bad luck? Great Master Hui Jue is an enlightened senior monk; isn’t daughter-in-law happy?”

“I would not dare,” Xia Yan said as she eked out a smile.

Xu Kong dao zhang was cold-shouldered as Hui Jue placed his palms together and said, “Amitabha, this monk needs to take a look at each courtyard.”

“That’s not an issue,” Jiang Quan said. “Show Great Master the way.”

Immediately, two maidservants came forward to guide Hui Jue. The three of them were right in front, while Xia Yan and Jiang Su Su followed closely behind in a bid to prevent any trickery by Hui Jue. Jiang Quan and the furens who were there for the entertainment also followed behind, as did Cai Que and Du Juan who were supporting Old Jiang Madame by the arm, all of them keen to see what was going on. Jiang Ruan unhurriedly brought up the rear. Jiang Chao glared daggers at her like a venomous snake, but she pretended not to notice, and called out to Xu Kong dao zhang who was standing to one side, “Dao zhang should also follow us. Buddhism and Taoism each have their own merits, perhaps today’s situation is a great opportunity for increasing cultivation[4].”

[4] Xiu wei ( 修为 ) – probably refers to cultivation, a Taoist concept by which humans can extend their lifespan and gain supernatural powers through practising a set of martial and mystical arts involving meditation and the cultivation of Qi (life energy). (Definition taken from here)

She had spoken mockingly, but a gentle smile was on her face, so no one could really tell what she was thinking. Jiang Ruan did not allow him to decline the invitation. Lian Qiao and Bai Zhi hemmed him in, front and back, so Xu Kong had no choice but to grit his teeth and walk on.

Hui Jue resolutely did as he had said and walked through all the rooms in every single courtyard. Several of the yiniangs who had not come out to greet the guests that day were shocked to see such a spectacle. When the servants had informed them of the reason for it, they felt quite bewildered, but also simply followed along.

Hui Jue did not leave out any courtyard and the last one he visited was Hong Ying’s. When Hong Ying heard the sequence of events, she hid behind Jiang Quan’s back in a panicked state. Xia Yan could not avoid noticing this and frowned, but Hong Ying seized the opportunity when no one else was paying attention to steal a quick glance at Jiang Ruan.

After walking through all the courtyards without any mishap, Xu Kong dao zhang could not help himself and said, provocatively, “Great Master, didn’t you say a demon was causing mischief? At present, it looks as if everything is wonderfully stable. Perhaps, Great Master has made a mistake.”

Hui Jue placed his palms together and said, “Amitabha. Now, ladies and gentlemen, would you kindly follow this monk to the main courtyard.”

At the main courtyard right in the middle of the Jiang fu, just outside Jiang Quan’s study, Hui Jue silently retrieved an incense censer from his bag and shook out the contents of another cloth bag, which turned out to be incense powder. He placed the incense powder into the censer and also lit a joss stick. As green smoke spiralled forth, he sat down in the lotus position, one hand striking a wooden fish[5], the other hand fingering prayer beads, while he closed his eyes and started to meditate.

[5] Mu yu ( 木鱼 ) – lit. wooden fish, also known as a Chinese temple block or wooden bell. A wooden percussion instrument used by monks and lay people in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

In this kind of atmosphere, everyone was a little keyed up. Only Jiang Ruan looked calm and composed; Xia Yan and Jiang Su Su were naturally increasingly apprehensive. Under the weight of many eyes, Hui Jue continued chanting Buddhist scriptures. At first, nothing happened. Half a joss stick later, incredibly, a dense black ma.s.s suddenly appeared in the sky flying towards them. Everyone was alarmed.

The sky had already been gloomy, but the dense black ma.s.s obstructed almost the entire sky above the Jiang fu. Once the ma.s.s drew closer, only then could one clearly see that it was composed of hundreds of big, black-winged bats. Fluttering their wings, they approached the fu in an almost slow motion.

All the furens and young ladies at the scene cried out in fear, but the cloud of black-winged bats flew past the main courtyard without stopping and continued on. After flying back and forth for a while, they all finally and unexpectedly stopped above Su Xin Yuan. After a brief pause, the cloud of bats abruptly rushed into the lady’s chamber of the residence, where a maidservant was busily tidying up. Faced with such a big cloud of bats, she immediately ran out, her normally rosy face having lost its colour.

Everyone present was dumbfounded and Xia Yan and Jiang Su Su turned pale. Hui Jue stopped chanting and said, “The demon has shown its true nature.”

“Whose residence is that?” The a.s.sistant Minister’s Furen was the first to ask.

Another furen replied, “It seems to be the residence of Second Jiang Miss.”

With an ashen face, Jiang Chao asked, “Great Master, what do you mean by this? Are you saying that my meimei is a demon?”

Hui Jue said mildly, “Second Jiang Miss is not a demon, but the demon which is causing mischief is now in Second Jiang Miss’s courtyard. Second Jiang Miss has been staying with this evildoer for many years, so she has been possessed by it. It is due to this that disaster has befallen the Jiang fu.”

*** You are reading on ***

“Well, then, how did my meimei come to be possessed by a demon?” Jiang Chao’s face was ugly as he said, “Every single thing that has happened in this fu, all happened when Eldest Younger Sister returned.”

The crowd was once again in an uproar. Two coins a month, that was the allowance of a second-ranked maidservant! Even though Jiang Ruan was the Jiang family’s di daughter, she was frugal and exercised self-control. All this caused the people to wonder what the root cause was – was Jiang fu embarra.s.singly short of money at the moment, or was Xia Yan, the mistress of the fu, too harsh on her step-daughter?

Jiang Quan could only feel as if his self-respect had been shattered. He glowered at Xia Yan and forced himself to suppress his anger, only to hear Jiang Ruan say, “Second Older Brother considers Great Master Hui Jue to be a trickster, but Ruan niang has yet to say that Xu Kong dao zhang is a trickster. Since Second Younger Sister is demon-possessed, that means that Ruan niang was not born cursed and does not have the fate of being the bane of others’ existence. What about the dao zhang who calculated Ruan niang’s birthdate characters five years ago, such that Ruan niang had to waste five years at the rural residence? How should this debt be calculated? No matter what, there is no clear way to calculate the cost. It would be better to seek the advice of the Capital Magistrate[3]. I am on good terms with the young miss of the Capital Magistrate’s fu; perhaps it might be possible to ask him to accommodate us.”

[3] Jing Zhao Ying ( 京兆尹 ) – apparently an official t.i.tle used in ancient times, akin to the mayor of the city.

She had a gentle smile on her face, but, in contrast, every word was laced with intense accusation. It was so menacing that one knew, whether retaliating or retreating, one was on dangerous ground. Xu Kong dao zhang had long since started to sweat heavily, and he looked to Xia Yan in an unspoken appeal for help.

Xia Yan said, stiffly, “Dao zhang is an old acquaintance, and there must be some misunderstanding. Ruan niang, you are still young, there are many situations which cannot be seen as simply black or white. It would be best not to draw a definite conclusion.”

Jiang Quan finally could no longer bear the eyes of all who were watching the entertainment and growled, “Enough!”

Xia Yan promptly stopped talking. Hui Jue said, “This monk will send disciples with the scriptures when they have been written. Now, the matter is over, this monk ought to take his leave.”

Jiang Ruan smiled and said, “Not quite, Great Master has forgotten something.” Hui Jue was slightly startled. Jiang Ruan continued, “Ruan niang invited Great Master here today to pray for zumu, but Great Master unexpectedly expelled a demonic influence from the Jiang fu. If it is convenient for Great Master, could you please pray for blessings for zumu?” Everyone present was quite astonished that Jiang Ruan still remembered, at this time, to ask for prayers for Old Jiang Madame. Old Jiang Madame’s face remained expressionless as she said, “There is no need. Great Master and I are both tired. That you have purged my Jiang fu of these demonic influences is the greatest blessing I could have.” She then said, “Cai Que, help me back to my room,” and departed without taking leave of anyone.

On seeing this, the furens hurriedly got up to take their leave. Today, they had witnessed such a good show, and it would not be appropriate for them to stay longer. However, the next day, there would undoubtedly be yet another rumour about the Jiang family making its way around the capital.

Almost instantly, the room was cleared of guests. Jiang Ruan smiled slightly and said, “If Great Master is taking his leave, I will see Great Master out.” Hui Jue nodded.

After they had reached the entrance of the fu, Jiang Ruan looked at him and smiled. “Many thanks to Great Master for coming to my aid today.”

“Did Young Miss mean what she said at the start?” Hui Jue lowered his head and maintained a humble att.i.tude, looking very much like a benevolent Buddha.

“Of course,” Jiang Ruan said with a smile. “If Great Master is able to continue aiding Ruan niang in the same way as today, Buddha will see you acc.u.mulating much merit, and will not be indifferent to the child.” She continued, “Great Master has indeed opened the eyes of many people today.”

Hui Jue had been deceiving people for so many years that speaking truthfully was no longer something he could do. Mixing falsehood and truth was what the wandering monk had taught him from the very beginning. Today, as he had pa.s.sed through Jiang Su Su’s residence, he had casually scattered a handful of powdered pig’s blood there.

Bats like pig’s blood, but will not come and go at will. There were other substances blended with the powdered blood as well as also mixed with the incense burned at the main residence, which would cause the bats to come forth even in daytime. Those in the know would not have taken today’s scene to be anything alarming, but the ignorant would have seen it as the manifestation of demonic influence.

Jiang Ruan smiled faintly. “Mother loves Second Younger Sister dearly, and definitely will not easily let her go to the private temple.”

“The bats will disperse in the daytime, but they will come and knock at the door at night. Now Second Miss is worried at heart, so she will naturally not oppose the notion of leaving for the temple,” Hui Jue said without emotion. He had smeared a substance on Jiang Su Su’s door so that the bats would fly there at night and against the door with sufficient force to make a loud sound, but when Jiang Su Su opened the door, she would find no one there. This would occur repeatedly until Jiang Su Su would become paranoid, and then not long after, she would, of her own accord, suggest going to the temple.

“Great Master is indeed brilliant.” Jiang Ruan raised an eyebrow – this Hui Jue had some brains, and knew how to leave himself room to manoeuvre, if she could ensure a firm hold on him . . . she smiled and said, “If Great Master can aid me in this way, I will return Great Master the favour. In a few days, I will visit once again. Great Master must not forget what I have said.”

Hui Jue stared dazedly at the young girl in front of him, whose beautiful eyes were chilly even though she was smiling. She was so young, yet her thoughts were more profound than any other unmarried daughter[4] that he had ever met, with wisdom that was almost otherworldly. Hui Jue kept his thoughts to himself as he bid her farewell and left.

[4] Hou yuan nu zi ( 后院女子 ) – lit. backyard woman/ daughter. This alludes to the fact that n.o.blewomen were kept at the back of the residence and were not involved with the worldly affairs of men. It is just a sad way of saying that unmarried daughters have a narrow world view.

* * *

In the Commander-in-chief’s fu.

Gu Furen had just returned home when Gu Yi ran in excitedly from outside. “Mother, did you see the Jiang family’s Eldest Miss? What do you think?”

Gu Furen smiled and said, “Her looks are exceptional, her temperament is mild, she is educated and well-balanced, and she behaves in accordance with propriety.”

“That is to say, she’s not bad?” Gu Yi laughingly said, “I knew that Mother would find her acceptable. He then scratched his head and said, “Did you . . .”

“Psh, how old is she? Hurry back to your room; when your father returns and sees you like this, he’s going to chastise you again. We’ll talk about this another day,” Gu Furen scolded good-naturedly.

As soon as he heard Gu daren coming back, Gu Yi immediately disappeared like a wisp of smoke. After he had left, Gu Furen sighed deeply.

“Does Furen think that Eldest Jiang Miss is not good?” the maidservant beside her asked softly.

“You saw it for yourself today, the waters of the Jiang family run deep. Eldest Jiang Miss has barely returned to the fu yet has raised such a big tempest, and even managed to escape unscathed today. Her mind is definitely not as simple as she presents herself to be.” She shook her head and continued, “I only want to find a simple, pure girl to be Yi’er’s wife. That girl’s tendency towards evil is too great.”

*** You are reading on ***

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