“Young Master, the general’s house is just ahead.” DongZi raised the curtain and pointed towards the road in front, which had two mighty stone lions erected at the door.
Zhuang Zhong stuck his head out to examine. Although this household was not as refined and tranquil as the marquis’ household, it was more dignified and majestic. Standing at the gate of the general’s house was a boy. When he saw their carriage, he expressed great joy and rushed into the general’s household. Even though he was more than ten meters away, one could clearly hear the boy making an uproar, “Cousin is here, cousin is here!”
When Zhuang Zhong got down from the carriage, the main gate of the general’s household opened, and a group of people poured out. Headed by Lu Feng, he was followed by four middle-aged women, a dozen or so men and young married women in their twenties, a young lady, and four children aged five to six years old still in their mothers’ arms. There were around 20 people who came out to meet them, and with such boundless hospitality that Zhuang Zhong was stupefied, and he hurriedly went forward to salute them.
Lu Feng happily clapped Zhuang Zhong on the shoulder. “We are all a family, so there is no need to be so polite. Let me introduce them to you. They are your first aunt, second aunt, third aunt, and fifth aunt. Your fourth aunt was in the capital and will arrive shortly. These are then your cousins, and this is the eldest…”
The Lu family was a very big family. Although there was only Lu Feng left among the five brothers, they had left behind children. With the most being three, and the least with one, the total number of this generation was eleven. Lu Feng was also the only one with a daughter, who was also the youngest, the eleventh young lady. Who knows what feng shui1“風水” (feng shui) also known as Chinese geomancy, is a pseudoscientific traditional practice originating from ancient China. It claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment and was widely used to orient buildings. the Lu family had to have four of their grandchildren be males, and only the eleventh young lady be the sole female.
As the eleventh young lady was the only girl in the family, she was the most pampered, making her bolder and more cheerful than other girls. Without restraint, she sized up Zhuang Zhong with wide eyes and a face of envy. “Cousin is really handsome! Does my aunt also look like this? Oh, why didn’t I inherit after my aunt? If I were like my aunt, I would not be laughed at by others.”
Lu shiyiniang’s2“十一娘” (shiyiniang) literally is the “eleventh young lady” face was suddenly filled with melancholy. The little girl was only eleven or twelve years old. With big eyes and thick eyebrows, her face was as round as a red apple, looking both likable and healthy. However, her appearance was contrary to the delicate beauty that was popular in DaYou.
Lu Feng and several of the aunts twisted their faces and fake coughed. Although they had a good relationship with Lu LiuZhi and acknowledged that she was clever and deft, they were aware that her appearance was not very good. At that time, because of her subpar appearance and their father’s refusal to make do with it, she endured being unmarried for quite some time. Otherwise, she would not have been blind and gotten with Zhuang He, who was such an unfaithful lover. Also in a hurry to find a husband, she had just grabbed onto the first man she met that looked pleasing to her eyes.
Nonetheless, they held Lu LiuZhi close in their hearts, so they usually mention the good things. Born into a philistine life, they sometimes liked to make up stories, giving the true story an artistic modification in order to amaze their audience. With those close to her portraying her flawlessly, and those from the marquis’ side like maggots, Lu LiuZhi had become a beautiful existence in the children’s hearts.
Zhuang Zhong smiled. “Those who laughed at you were just jealous of your health and liveliness. For a lady, being elegant and polished is then the most beautiful.”
To hear such words from the mouth of a handsome man, it was really persuasive, and Lu shiyiniang was ecstatic. Had it not been the five madams stopping her, she would have come forward to grasp Zhuang Zhong’s hand. “Really?”
“Why not ask your parents whether they are willing to find a delicate or a healthy and lively wife for your brothers?”
Several of the women laughed. The fifth aunt replied, “That is right. Everything in the capital is good, except this custom. For the maiden of a literary family to intentionally starve herself to the point of almost fainting with only a few steps is still reasonable. However, those who make themselves as weak as willows in the wind are not the same as us. As part of the general’s family, it is stupid for us to imitate crudely and make ourselves look neither human nor ghost!”
With such words, everyone laughed, and several unmarried men also mentioned that their mothers should not look for such a wife in the future – those who talked softer than mosquitoes, and their strength weaker than ants, could only be used as decorations.
This group of people then entered the household noisily. They reminded Zhuang Zhong of a saying – people who live together often have the same qualities, or else it would be difficult to get together. The Lu family were all easy-going, even those daughters-in-law who were newly married into the family. With no display of bashfulness among them, Zhuang Zhong felt warm. YuanJue also had such a character – straightforward, simple, and lively. Although YuanJue grew up in a temple from a young age, he was still human. Had it not been the fact that he wanted to take care of the elderly abbot, he would have returned to the secular world earlier. If YuanJue were still here, he would be very happy to see such a family.
As Zhuang Zhong felt low-spirited, everyone started to talk about past events, especially how several uncles had died, and what Lu LiuZhi had suffered through at that time. The atmosphere became so despondent that it could make people cry.
“My goodness, why are we still talking about such dampening things on such a day of reunion! We have to look forward, or else we cannot move on if we continuously think about the past!” the first aunt exclaimed.
The third aunt wiped away her tears and said with a smile, “The bitter days are over, as now our sister-in-law’s son has been found. It is a joyous occasion, so we should be happy!”
The fifth aunt gazed at Zhuang Zhong. “I heard from your uncle that you are going to study in GuoZi Xue too? It happens that balang3 “八郎” (balang) is the term of address for the eighth son in the household. is entering, so you two should take care of each other. Balang, you have someone to accompany you now.”
Lu balang is the son of Fourth Uncle and was two years older than Zhuang Zhong. As his mother had remarried, he was the only son of Fourth Uncle. Therefore, in order to not cut off the bloodline of his father, Lu balang did not change his name and family.
In DaYou, the remarriage of a widow was not something strange, and it was even something encouraged by many large families. The wife of the prime minister was also a widow who was married three times. With the high-ranking officials adopting this practice, it was only natural for the common folk to accept it. When Lu balang’s mother remarried, Lu Feng and the other branches of the family gave respectful gifts, and the two families also frequently had contact with each other. Although Lu balang did not grow up with his mother, he often kept in touch with her. They cared deeply for each other and had a very good mother-son relationship.
Lu balang said bitterly, “Can I not go?”
The first aunt directly patted him on the head. “What nonsense are you spouting? Those who want to enter cannot afford to do so. Your Fifth Uncle had exchanged all his merits for such an opportunity. If you dare not go, see how I would deal with you.”
The other boys also kicked up a fuss, modeling after her. “That’s right! We cannot even go if we want to. Well, who made you the most favorite in the whole family besides Eleventh Sister.”
Lu balang swept his leg directly over and knocked down several of them. Suddenly, several boys became entangled in a mess, fighting with each other. Even those who had already formed a family were mixed into it. There was no care for proper decorum at all. Next to them, the daughters-in-law and children not only made no efforts to stop them, but also shouted encouragement, turning the whole hall into a mess. As the head of the family, Lu Feng actually even started a gambling party with several women in a corner…
Zhuang Zhong was so astonished that he almost forgot to close his mouth. Lu shiyiniang, who took advantage of the chaos to give a kick, ran to the Zhuang Zhong’s side and said with a smile, “Cousin, have you not seen such a fight?”
Zhuang Zhong swallowed. “I truly have not seen it before.”
“Hehe, my father said that a general’s house must have fighting spirit, or how else could we learn the ability to fight? It is something that is achieved after beatings! However, my brothers would only fight internally inside the household, and gang up together outside, so no one in the capital would dare to bully us! Cousin, if you have been wronged outside, do not bear it and disclose our names. Except for Prince Si Zhao, we will make a clean sweep of everyone! No, even if it was Prince Si Zhao, he would feel frightened after seeing my brothers join hands!” Lu shiyiniang patted her chest with pride.
Zhuang Zhong felt his heart warming, and he smiled while looking at the chaos.
When the scuffle ended, everyone was badly battered. When they saw each other’s unsightly appearance, they all laughed. They wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders as they mocked each other. The urge to beat one another up until their parents could not recognize them had vanished.
Managing to win with difficulty, Lu balang harrumphed, “Whoever wants to go, then go. Do not keep on chirping behind my back! You all make it seem as if I had taken advantage of it, but in actuality, you all are the ones who fooled me into filling this role.”
Lu dalang slapped Lu balang on the shoulder with a smile. “There is no need to say that, as you would have to go in the end anyway. Only you could listen to those abstruse writing and not doze off. Besides, it was you who promised, and a gentleman will never go back on his words.”
Lu balang became angrier when he heard this and said hatefully, “Who knows why the rules have been changed so suddenly! In the past, whoever wanted to go to GuoZi Xue would go, while those who did not would go back home to sleep. The exam used to be something that could be passed easily, but now it has the same requirement as Taixue44 I realized a discrepancy between the previous translated chapters and this one so I went back to correct it. For old readers, I had used “Imperial Academy” to refer to GuoZi Xue in earlier chapters based on the assumption that “太学” (Tai Xue) was the same school as GuoZi Xue. However, unlike what I had thought, it was evident that they were not the same school in this story. Thus, I decided to only use their pinyin/romanized form to distinguish them to prevent further confusion.! Is this not something that will kill me?”
Zhuang Zhong was surprised. “Have the rules of GuoZi Xue changed?”
“You did not know? GuoZi Xue has now been adapted into the Tai Xue and is not operating alone anymore. The rules are also the same as those of the Tai Xue. If you break the rules, you will be kicked out, and your posting as an official would be affected in the future.”
Zhuang Zhong was really not aware of such a thing, as when he had listened to DongZi, he had assumed that the school was something that could be passed fairly easily. Compared with students his age in this world, his standard of ancient Chinese prose was something that he could never catch up on, even with a horse. He was also still unaccustomed to reading the books here – the fact that he had to read from right to left in portrait view was something that was acceptable; the main problem lies in the lack of punctuation! Texts were already hard to understand, but now it was even more difficult. What he used to learn was easy to understand, and they could not be compared to all the books these people were taking great pains to study on.
“Is the exam just like those in Tai Xue?”
“Our exams take place at the same time, but the requirements are not as strict as Tai Xue. However, it is still very embarrassing to score too low. Besides, we have to stay in a building and camp in the library all day. We even have to request for leave when stepping out their door.” As soon as Lu balang thought of this, he felt immense suffering and thought it was like a living hell.
“You should restrain your wilful heart and properly learn something. It is clear that you have a smart brain, but you just cannot settle down to learn. Even if you pursue martial arts in the future, you still have to learn something to be successful. Your fifth uncle has done this for your best interests, so appreciate it.” A woman in plain clothes came in, looking rather haggard. “Is this sister LiuZhi’s child? He is so pretty and charming. I do not have much to give you but this small gift. Do not immediately reject it, but see for yourself whether it is suitable for you first.”
Zhuang Zhong thanked her quickly. At one glance, it looked like a hat in a simple style with little embellishments. However, not only can it cover his bald head snuggly, but also light and thin, very suitable to wear in summer. Zhuang Zhong immediately took off the hat on his head and changed it. When his bald head made an appearance, several children giggled.
The second aunt said with a smile, “With such a round and bright head, you will enjoy good fortune.”
Fifth Aunt then praised, “Madam Hui’s needlework is fast and proficient. She had just received the news the day before yesterday, and she had managed to get it done by today.”
Lu balang’s heart ached. “Mother, why did you work and not cherish your own body?”
“I was just glad to see that he had returned. After all, it is a simple hat and does not require much effort. It is great that he accepted it.”
Zhuang Zhong smiled. “I think it is comfortable and beautiful. It is much better than the one I wore, as it was too fancy.”
The others echoed, affirming Madam Wu’s craftsmanship. Lu shiyiniang pulled her arm and said, “If it were not for Eighth Brother who worries for you, I would have asked you to help me make clothes. Aunt, your craft is the best, and even the best embroider outside cannot be compared to you. When will you return and teach me needlework?”
Madam Wu smiled but did not answer.
The first aunt sighed. “You are a stubborn person. When we asked you to come back to live with us, you disagreed. How could you be alone outside? Even if you look down on us sisters, your son is still here and will provide for you5The author used “养老送终” (yang lao song zhong) which refers to the act of filial piety that a child should give to his/her parents – mostly to provide for the aged parent and attend upon their funeral/ serve parents while living and give proper burial after death.. Are you not even recognizing your son anymore?”
- 1“風水” (feng shui) also known as Chinese geomancy, is a pseudoscientific traditional practice originating from ancient China. It claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment and was widely used to orient buildings.
- 2“十一娘” (shiyiniang) literally is the “eleventh young lady”
- 3“八郎” (balang) is the term of address for the eighth son in the household.
- 44 I realized a discrepancy between the previous translated chapters and this one so I went back to correct it. For old readers, I had used “Imperial Academy” to refer to GuoZi Xue in earlier chapters based on the assumption that “太学” (Tai Xue) was the same school as GuoZi Xue. However, unlike what I had thought, it was evident that they were not the same school in this story. Thus, I decided to only use their pinyin/romanized form to distinguish them to prevent further confusion.
- 5The author used “养老送终” (yang lao song zhong) which refers to the act of filial piety that a child should give to his/her parents – mostly to provide for the aged parent and attend upon their funeral/ serve parents while living and give proper burial after death.