Wei Xuan repeated, completely taken aback. Staring at the young girl with narrowed eyes, the minister couldn’t help but frown at the outlandish suggestion.
“Fei’er, why do you want to tour the streets with Miaolan? Shouldn’t you be asking to play with your mother?”
For a brief moment, Wei Xuan observed An Fei’s complexion darken at the mention of Luo Shuyan.
Though the young girl returned her countenance to display a bored expression, the minister swore to his heart that he had seen a tinge of hatred course through the cracked irises.
…just what was going on?
“…I… don’t like the Second Madam…” An Fei finally murmured under her breath, her gaze distant and fleeting.
“Father, can we just go with the First Madam, and not argue about this matter?”
Wei Xuan carefully inspected An Fei’s gaze for a long moment, before releasing a heavy sigh.
Reaching over to pat the girl’s head, the minister’s countenance broke with a warm smile.
“Go get dressed. Father’ll let Miaolan know that we’re leaving to explore the city later today.”
The young girl nodded before her figure fleeted from the pavilion, her beautiful countenance beaming with happiness.
Watching An Fei’s back as she raced into the study of the Flowing Wind Residence, Wei Xuan frowned for a few seconds before departing for the Slumbering Dawn Residence.
Perhaps, one day, he would know why his daughter seemed so antagonistic towards Luo Shuyan.
Shuyan was such an adorable and soft woman, what could be there to hate?
When An Fei finally stepped from the Wei manor’s with permission to fully roam the streets, the world exploded before her eyes.
Beyond the massive double doors that formed the manor’s main entrance, stretched a remarkably long street that extended past the fringes of her vision on either side.
Scents, sounds, and lights dazzled before the young girl, the stimulus quite overpowering that An Fei’s body instinctively froze and slumped in place.
She… she had lived in the cacophonous and endlessly busy streets of Shanghai and Beijing before, but… Jiang’an was on a wholly different scale.
“Fresh Blue Freshwater Ridge fish for sale! One grilled fish, three coppers!”
“For the Young Masters and Young Misses seeking to improve skin health and tone, the Red Knowledge Pavilion is open with a special discount!”
“Come, come, everybody! Boss Ma will be revealing a new dish for his restaurant, it’ll be worth the few silvers!”
“Martial Arts! Martial arts techniques and weaponry available at the Cold Iron Shop!”
“Prospective students, the Jiang Lin Academy is accepting new entrants until the end of next week!”
Loud roars slammed her ears from either side; regardless of where she looked, An Fei could only spot store after store, stall after stall, people and even more people advertising their warehouses of cosmetics, assortments of martial arts techniques and special weapons, food, more food, and… more food.
If Sheng Miaolan and Wei Xuan had not secured both of her arms and secured her against their bodies, the young girl would have long collapsed in shock.
“Fei’er, are you alright?”
Wei Xuan carefully asked, fluttering his fingers before An Fei’s eyes. The young girl seemed especially jittery and rooted to the floor, trembling whenever someone called into the street, and unable to take a foot from the Wei manor.
An Fei nodded with a stuttering motion, her head stiff from the shock.
“Alright, Lord Minister need not worry,” Sheng Miaolan interjected from the side. Clasping the girl’s hands into hers, the First Madam blew a breath of warm air, thoroughly arousing An Fei back to reality.
“Come, let us explore! Lord Minister, where should we start?”
Compared to the previously catatonic An Fei and awkward Wei Xuan, the usually reticent and timid First Madam of Wei’s movements were akin to a fish wading through a river as she dragged the two through the street without any hesitation.
Before the young girl could even blink, she found a smiling, middle-aged visage looming in her vision.
“Young Madam, anything you may require from the Blooming Scarlet House?” the middle-aged man inquired in a deferential tone, performing a low bow towards Sheng Miaolan.
“Nothing as of yet, this one is just visiting around, to observe whether anything is suitable for my daughter.”
The First Madam airily responded, her countenance displaying a slight, polite smile that deferred any questions.
Helplessly glancing at the girl whose appearance was nearly completely concealed save for a pair of eyes, the middle-aged man gestured towards the store.
“Then, please! Zhongkui does not possess much things to recommend to the Young Madam, but perhaps the Boss possesses some novelties.”
Her hand led by Wei Xuan, An Fei’s eyes blinked and roamed around as the entered the cosmetics store. The outside was hardly anything but ordinary with a plain signboard of a scarlet wood, and a worker standing guard by the door.
Yet, from either side of her, the young girl could spot numerous people entering and exiting the Blooming Scarlet House, their expressions generally contented and joyful.
…and to say from the bottom of her heart, the interior workings of the Blooming Scarlet House was indeed astounding and pleasing to the eye.
The faint scent of aromatic sandalwood first drifted into her nose, followed by a gentle atmosphere of natural wooden furniture and exquisite woodcraft on all sides of the wall.
Regardless of where she turned around, An Fei could see ink paintings of beautiful women in dancing apparel, and… hundreds upon hundreds of jars lining the shelves underneath.
Moisturizers, softening creams, rouge, perfumes, cream-type concealers, foundations, and what seemed to be jars of face powder – anything the young girl could imagine, the Blooming Scarlet House seemed to display on its shelves.
“Placing those directly in the open… wouldn’t the shopkeeper be worried that someone may steal them?”
“No worries about that,” Wei Xuan chuckled.
“The Blooming Scarlet House is known as the direct property of the Fourth Prince’s consort – nobody in their right mind would dare steal from an Imperial’s storehouse, much less argue about the price. Though it looks shabby on the outside, the Blooming Scarlet House is definitely one of the more popular cosmetic stores in Jiang’an – they even possess four branch stores along the Street of Everlasting Wealth, the most prestigious street in the city!”
The First Madam added from An Fei’s left; squeezing the young girl’s hand, Sheng Miaolan strode forward towards a nearby shelf, her delicate fingers trailing over the wooden plaques underneath the shelves, reading the descriptions one by one.
Possessing little to no knowledge regarding cosmetics, Wei Xuan was ruthlessly abandoned by the woman as she excitedly pulled An Fei from one place to another, as if she were the young girl granted the opportunity to shop.
“The Beauty Softening Cream obtained from this store is truly the most spectacular,” the First Madam chuckled, picking a jar from the shelf and handing it to a young worker following her.
“Applying it twice a day, at sunbreak and sunset, will soften any wrinkles or unnecessary folds on the skin – making it as soft as silk.”
“Oh, and the Blooming Scarlet House’s concealers are miraculous products as well. Even the empress dowager praised them for their ability to remove any blemish on the skin within seventy-two hours, even those caused by an unnatural source!”
“Unnatural source… so it’s also medicine?” An Fei echoed, her eyes widening at the rate of which Sheng Miaolan snatched at the jars on the shelves.
Watching the First Madam of Wei dispatch a prospective buyer with a slight smile to snatch the final jar of rouge, the young girl did not know whether to laugh or cry.
What’s wrong with these females – the jars of cosmetics in the Blooming Scarlet House are creating mayhem!
“Don’t worry about any side effects of the cosmetics here!” the woman patted An Fei’s cheeks with a warm smile.
“The Blooming Scarlet House was established by none other than the Fourth Prince’s wangfei; with the Imperial Family’s prestige on the line, who would dare scheme the customers with false medicinal goods? Every single product in here is guaranteed to be naturally made of the purest ingredients, otherwise a large scandal would erupt in the city.”
Sheng Miaolan waved towards the female worker trailing behind them, indicating that they had finished.
With a beaming smile on her countenance, the worker quickly returned with a large bag containing the carefully packaged jars.
“Young Madam, that would be forty seven taels of silver.”
“Mm!” the First Madam nodded, completing the exchange without batting an eye. The worker gave a low bow, before rushing off to latch onto other prospective fish streaming within the store.
Awkwardly holding onto the bag that was thrust into her arms, An Fei gazed at Sheng Miaolan with a confused expression.
“First Madam… this…” the young girl finally murmured, her countenance distorted at the weight of the cosmetics.
“Isn’t this…a little too much? Buying cosmetics is one thing, but surely I can easily obtain this much over multiple meaningful trips…”
“No way!” the First Madam cried out, grasping An Fei’s shoulders with a worried complexion.
“By Jiang’an’s customs, you can only show yourself in public when Yan’er has gotten married, and Yue’er can only show herself in public after you’ve gotten married. Until then, you can’t leave the manor, which is why everything related to cosmetics, dresses, or accessories, we have to buy now, there wouldn’t be another opportunity for years otherwise!”
Why did social custom in Jiang’an have to be this convoluted?