“So, Three months for the full effectiveness?” Lady Wu asked, as she stared at the parcel of leaves.
“Yes, this illness in the well is the resilient sort. The purge of it will take a while, and it must be completed in its entirety. Think of it like a dangerous wolf pack. You must slay all of them, else all one has accomplished is to cull the weak. The strong will come back worse than ever.” Meiling explained as she held the other end of the silk brocade. They moved together in synchrony, and began to prepare it.
It was surprisingly enjoyable to have a student, Lady Wu mused, as she watched Meiling work. The young woman learnt quickly and obediently, with the kind of drive and attentiveness to detail that she found most people lacked.
‘If I made a mistake with medicine, I could kill somebody.’ Meiling had said ‘This? This just requires a bit of focus.’
Not that she needed much training. She just needed guidance.
“It is good that this is so easy to cure,” Lady Wu tittered, “But what about you? It must be an absolutely dreadful disease you have, to produce such spots on your face. Is it contagious?”
An absolutely amateurish and blunt insult. The kind Lady Wu would not be caught dead uttering.
But the blunt insults seemed to set her off the most. The first time Lady Wu had insulted her, her entire body had twitched, her eyes narrowing into slits. The air had abruptly turned heavy...before Meiling realised what she had been doing.
When dealing with people like Lady Wu, one could never have an obvious weakness.
Well, of course, Meiling could always just strike those who insulted her, or poison them… The younger woman wanted to know how to prevent things from immediately escalating.
This part was the most difficult. Meiling possessed a fire and vindictiveness that quite frankly terrified her. It reminded her of several much more severe women. The kind of women who would completely destroy any who went against them. It stewed, even now. It was clearly a struggle to clamp down on her reaction. But she managed it, merely raising an eyebrow.
“Better.” Lady Wu decreed. “Show no reaction, and then pay them back later. This, I find, is the best way. It keeps others guessing.”
Meiling nodded, and turned the silk with Lady Wu.
“This isn’t exactly what I imagined, when you said lessons.” Meiling admitted. “I expected more tea, and less needlework.”
“Oh? Like some kind of story? That all we do is sit around and drink tea all day?” Lady Wu asked, amused. “We do normally have more servants, but preparing silk is an essential duty of any noble lady. Additionally, doing it yourself is a bit cheaper.”
Meiling snorted. She hadn’t been expecting Lady Wu to be a miser. To spend heavily in one place meant you had to skimp and save in others! Manners, how to interact with those your better, beyond the scraping and simpering the common folk did, and her own financial tricks.
Meiling quickly went from calling her auntie to humor her to calling her that with earnestness.
How cute. Wu dearly hoped she wouldn’t entirely lose that reaction with those she trusted. Or at least took her just a little longer to grow out of. It was quite endearing.
Both moved with an easy grace, as they measured and cut. An easy grace that Lady Wu had thought dulled by age. She had forgotten what it felt like to be able to move so smoothly. But not even a week, and she could feel the dexterity returning to her. It was a heady feeling. Oh, for these simple folk, she had always been the very picture of grace. Most were awed by her, when she participated in the functions of the town. The other women tittered and crowded around as she held court, following behind her like ducklings. To them, her slow walk and hiding her hands in her sleeves were just refined, city-folk things. Her music was all slow, soothing melodies, long pauses in between notes instead of the more complex songs she enjoyed.
It was good to have a lot of what she missed back. Her husband had been surprised when she broke out a song he hadn’t heard since the incident, staring in wonder as her fingers danced across the strings.
The grumbling and fear had reduced significantly, after she had mentioned that she was paying Meiling directly for this.
He hadn’t even asked how much it was costing them, the silly man. He just asked how much more money she would need.
How foolish. How utterly charming.
They worked for a while longer, chatting away, when a guard knocked on the door.
“Lady Wu, a servant of the Zhuge Clan requests your guest. She says it is time.” He informed them in a low voice.
The transformation was instantaneous. An invisible pressure filled the room, as Meiling’s eyes sharpened.
“If you’ll excuse me.” Meiling declared.
Lady Wu nodded. “Go on, dear. I’ll be along shortly.” She raised an eyebrow at Meiling’s surprise. “I do have some experience in this matter, and Meihua is quite fun to talk to.”
The young woman strode to her destination. Lady Wu pitied any who didn’t get out of her way in time.
And it was not so inconceivable that she was going to be bringing gifts. Going personally was a bit more of a statement, but most women of influential families got something to know she was thinking of them.
She and the servants prepared for her departure swiftly, heading to the Zhuge compound.
“Are you sure there's no pain?” Meiling asked her exasperated friend.
“Nothing. I feel fine, save for some pressure and cramping.” Meihua informed her. There was a slight sheen of sweat on her forehead, but other than that, she didn’t seem particularly in pain.
“Hello dear.” Lady Wu greeted. The other woman seemed just a bit surprised, but she was a bit overwhelmed, judging by her reaction.
“Everybody calls me a weed,and her a delicate flower, but look!” Meiling grumbled. “She has Yao Che’s constitution! Whenever there's something in the village, she also gets the easiest version of it too! I get laid up in bed, she gets a runny nose!”
Meihua giggled. “I’m sure other women feel like this too-- ah. Felt that one.”
Now, of course, was the waiting game. Meihua was remarkably cognizant, laughing and joking while her friend fussed over her. Occasionally, she would shudder, but took them in stride.
“A little bit of pain now.” She informed them in a soft voice, as she held Meiling’s hand. There was a bit of blood, that the other servant of the Zhuge clan cleaned up, but that was normal.
“Okay. Push when you’re ready.”
Lady Wu stroked her hair, and took over holding her hand as she began to push. The girl had a remarkably strong grip, and slight collouses on her fingers that were just beginning to fade. Still, her hand would likely be numb, after how long this bit had taken for her--
“I can see the head.” Meiling informed them.
Already? Lady Wu tried not to feel jealous. It had taken her nine hours to bring her son into the world. Nine hours of pain, and not the enjoyable sort.
But after what seemed like entirely too short a time, and one final scream of effort-- the wails of new life began to fill the room.
“Against your chest. Just like that.” Lady Wu coached the new mother. She finally looked drained, and exhausted, but proud, as she cradled her son against her chest. Satisfied that she was doing everything correctly, she stood.
“Stay with your friend dear, I’ll tell the family.”
The men were on the other side of the house. Tingfeng was pacing while his father and grandfather stared on with amusement and commiseration.
All turned to her as she entered.
“The heavens smile upon you, Zhuge Tingfeng. A son.” The older men swelled with pride at that, while the husband just swallowed thickly.
“Meihua?” he asked.
“In perfect health, as is the child.”
The young man collapsed with relief, sinking onto the cushion. He waved a servant over.
“In-- Inform her father.” He managed to get out. “May.. May I see her? Them?”
Lady Wu turned and began to walk. The boy scampered after her.
It had been kind of a race to get to Verdant Hill, after Yun Ren had informed us of what had happened. We made tracks. I had taken the cart along, and we had grabbed Yao Che along the way.
“Look at him! He’s pretty big, isn’t he?” I asked, holding out my pinky so the kidlet could grab on. “Strong grip too!”
Meihua giggled, smiling warmly at me. I had nearly asked his name… but kids here don't get named until after they were 100 days old. A child mortality thing. Hopefully this little one will be fine.
I wouldn’t say he was cute… as I don’t think any newborns are cute, but he wasn’t ugly.
“May I?” I asked.
Meihua nodded, and offered the child to me.
I heard a gasp. “Young man you must--” The Magistrate’s wife cut herself off as I turned to her, holding the baby. I was a bit surprised to see her here, especially doing some needlework. She was making a shirt for the kid.
“...ah. Never you mind. This one needed to be coached.” she said, gesturing to Tingfeng, who looked embarrassed.
Well, Rou certainly didn’t know how to hold a kid. But I’d had some experience.
I sat down, cradling the bundle against my chest, a little hand still grasped around my finger.
“...have you thought of any names?” I asked anyway. Hey, I was curious! Just because they didn’t officially get named, didn’t mean they couldn’t think about it.
“We shall consult a diviner, but…” Tingfeng clasped his hands, and bowed his head. “I think Zhuge Jinhai would be an auspicious name.”
My face flushed. They were as good as naming him after me. I looked to Meihua, who nodded her head with a soft smile on her face.
I swallowed thickly at the complement.
“...it would be a great honour, Brother Tingfeng.” I managed to get out, before clearing my throat. Meihua laughed at my bashfulness.
“So, love what have you been up to while you were in town?” I asked, redirecting the question.
Meiling, for some reason, blushed.
“...funny story, that.” She started, looking a bit shifty.