Early in the morning, Zhuang Zhong had just gotten up from the bed. The people outside heard his movements and knocked on the door. When the door opened, female servants entered in succession, each carrying a copper basin filled with warm water, a towel, toothbrush, and so on.
It felt really good to be waited on by others. He did not have to go to the foot of the mountain to fetch water early in the morning, plant his own vegetables, and cut firewood like before. However, all these did not belong to him, and the person who should be enjoying this had passed away without his real murderer being discovered. Zhuang Zhong’s eyes darkened. He wanted to get justice for YuanJue and live well on behalf of him. However, the situation in the marquis’ household was more complicated than he thought, and he needed to be careful with his every step.
“Young Master, how did you sleep last night? Was there anything that was unsatisfactory?” As Zhuang Zhong did not require the servant girls to personally wait on him, Cui’er had then stood aside and asked.
Zhuang Zhong shook his head. “Everything was fine. I have troubled sister.”
Calling her “sister” caused his ears to redden, as his actual age was much older than the teenage girl in front of him.
However, Cui’er just thought that he was shy when talking to females and could not help but chuckle. To her, the little monk was quite simple and adorable. It must be said that Zhuang Zhong’s appearance was deceptive – a handsome appearance with red lips, white teeth, fair skin, and a pair of bright eyes had made it seem like he had seen little of the world. In addition, today’s clothing of silver and red yarn robes with a peach hat1 “仙桃巾” is a hat used by males in the Song dynasty which resembled the shape of two immortality peaches. covering up his dazzling bald head made him look more like a lively, rich, and elegant noble. After all, good looks always gave off a more favorable first impression before one formed deep relationships with others.
Meanwhile, breakfast had been continuously sent in one after another, and its variety was rich and exquisite. There was not much of each dish, but it was enough for three or four people.
Zhuang Zhong was uncertain. “Should I not greet my parents before eating breakfast?”
Cui’er was slightly dazed and thought that the eldest young master from the countryside was a courteous man. “The marquis set a rule that one should eat breakfast before greeting him.”
Having to attend the early court session before dawn2“五更” (wugeng) was used here. In ancient China, they classify the night in five parts and Wugeng is called the fifth watch before dawn, around 3-5am., Marquis WenYuan could only return at around 7-9 am. Sometimes when there were big events in the court and endless debates in the main hall, the court dismissal time would be even later, so he would consume breakfast on the fourth watch3 “四更” (sigeng) refers to around 1-3am. to avoid being hungry there. Like this, it was difficult for the whole family to get together to have breakfast. Besides, Zhuang Su, the second young master, had to go to school early in the morning, and his time for eating breakfast was also not the same. As the marquis had always focused on convenience, one should simply eat in their courtyard before coming to greet him.
Logically, this made sense, but Zhuang Zhong felt that there was something wrong. He did not know whether he was just overthinking it, but eventually, he decided not to entangle himself in this. Besides, he had just entered the household and did not know much. He should fill his stomach first before making plans. In the past, Zhuang Zhong’s life was very irregular. No matter the event, time, or if it was windy or rainy, he had to carry his tools and run over whenever there was a homicide case. Once he started working, he had no time to care about eating times. Thus, Zhuang Zhong would try to make sure that he rested normally, so as to not let the body get too damaged.
When Zhuang Zhong arrived at the main hall, only Madam Hou was there. Marquis WenYuan had not yet returned from court, while Yin YueHan and the other three young masters and lady in the household had not arrived.
“Yesterday, were you able to get used to it?” With a smile on her face, Wei YuHua asked in a soft voice akin to a kind elder. Yesterday, the travel-worn Zhuang Zhong had looked ordinary, but today, after washing and dressing up, he had become as elegant as the marquis. Her heart was bombarded with many thoughts, but on the surface, she looked impeccable.
Zhuang Zhong was quite uncomfortable. There was almost no direct contact with her yesterday, and such words today had made it hard for him to get used to, as the truth was that he was about the same age as Wei YuHua.
“Madam, I have troubled you. Everything is well.”
Despite his distant way of addressing Wei YuHua, she had looked at him with high regard; he seemed to not be a flippant and shortsighted person. Yesterday, the marquis’ words were vague, but the boy did not take this chance to cling on insistently and was able to keep his equanimity.
Wei YuHua pretended to be angry. “Why are you still calling me Madam? Yesterday, the marquis had recognized you as his son, so you should call me Mother.”
She sighed when she saw Zhuang Zhong closing his mouth tightly and not speaking. “Nevermind, what happened yesterday had been a little hasty. Today, let’s wait until the marquis returns and see what rules he sets.”
It was only after drinking a cup of tea that Yin YueHan slowly arrived. She was followed by an approximately eight-year-old boy on the left, while holding the hand of a five or six-year-old girl on her right. The wetnurse that accompanied her also had a two-year-old boy in her arms. All three children were very beautiful and exceptional, a combination of the excellent qualities of both parents.
“Concubine pays respects to Madam.”
“Children, you should also greet Madam.”
When Wei YuHua saw the three of them, she felt a sense of suppression in her chest. Their greetings were nothing short of perfunctory, but it was not done with the intention to pay respects at all. Every day, it was like someone was carving into her heart, but on the surface, she maintained neutral. “You all get up. Zhong’er, you hadn’t seen these three little rascals yesterday. They are your brothers and sister. This is Su’er, that is Jun’er, and this is Ning’er. In the future, Su’er will be erlang4 erlang in this case is a way of addressing him as the second son while sanlang refers to the third son. , while Jun’er will be sanlang. Come and quickly call him Big Brother.”
The three children were indifferent and gazed at Zhuang Zhong probingly in succession. As the oldest, Zhuang Su had to forfeit his eldest ranking, so his gaze was unkind. With Zhuang SuNing sticking out her bottom lip with hypercritical eyes, only the youngest, Zhuang Jun, had looked at Zhuang Zhong cluelessly. None of the three children had listened to Wei YuHua’s words, and said nothing as if they had never heard anything.
Despite preparing herself for such words, Yin YueHan could not help but secretly clench her hands into a fist while she placed a smile on the surface. “What are you all waiting for? Listen to Madam’s words and call him Big Brother.”
Zhuang Su and Zhuang SuNing’s mouths shriveled with faces full of unwillingness, and they dallied for a long time. However, Zhuang Jun, who had heard his biological mother’s words, had called him Big Brother obediently. Seeing this, the other two children felt that they should not remain stubborn, and carelessly called Zhuang Zhong Big Brother.
In the face of the animosity from the two children, Zhuang Zhong did not take it to heart. Most of the children’s will was influenced by adults, so Yin YueHan, who viewed him as an unfavorable competition, would also directly reflect it onto her children.
However, what surprised Zhuang Zhong was the marquis allowing her children to be brought up beside her. According to the rules of DaYou, the concubine or even a senior concubine did not have the right to raise their children on their own. Although it could be seen as a way for the marquis to dote on Yin YueHan and an expression of how he loved his children dearly, it still should not be so according to DaYou customs.
DaYou had a clear hierarchy, and the status of wives and concubines was a world of difference – even if they were senior ranking concubines. For respected families, the concubines could not represent the family when receiving guests or attending banquets. Their parents also could not live under the same roof as the man’s parents. Even if a man had numerous concubines, he who lacked a wife, would still be considered as a bachelor. Besides, concubines did not have the right to raise children. Even if their children were biological, they could not be called mothers. Children were raised beside the main wife, as those raised by concubines would be looked down upon – the males’ future will be in jeopardy while the females will be inappropriate to marry.
He, as an outsider, was even aware of such principles, so why did Marquis WenYuan, a person who lived here, make this mistake? Ignoring the marquis, with Yin YueHan’s arrogant attitude and constant flaunting, was she not afraid that Madam Hou would retaliate against her? After all, Wei YuHua only needed to reveal a little in front of outsiders in order to place the three children in an awkward predicament. Unless Madam Hou’s status had dropped so low that Yin YueHan was able to be so fearless?
Zhuang Zhong tried to fathom this in his heart, as he became more and more sure that the murderer was one of the two women due to them having adequate motives for doing so. No matter who it was, it would not be easy for him to pull either of them down. Therefore, he must first make himself powerful enough.
After the court session, Marquis WenYuan arrived. Zhuang Jun struggled from his wetnurse’s hold and ran towards him with short legs. He also called his father sweetly.
The marquis’ mouth lifted up slightly, and it was as if the ice and snow had melted with the arrival of spring. Zhuang SuNing was also very happy and went around the marquis, excitedly narrating about what she had done in the past two days and how she was praised. Zhuang Su was calmer than his younger brother and sister. He was well-behaved when greeting the marquis, looking like a little adult.
Marquis WenYuan tested Zhuang Su on his studies first. Zhuang Su held his head high and answered without any hitch, making the marquis very satisfied. After that, he turned towards Zhuang Zhong. “Are you literate?”
With Zhuang Zhong’s words, Wei YuHua and Yin YueHan were both slightly surprised. Although schools were established in various places in DaYou, there were still only a few who could study and read. It was unexpected that Zhuang Zhong, as a young monk from a remote location, could also read. However, thinking further, it was not at all that surprising, as he needed to read scriptures daily. Being well-read was still entirely different from knowing just a few words.
Marquis WenYuan nodded. “What books have you read besides Buddhist scriptures?”
Zhuang Zhong paused, as this question was not easy to answer. He had read too many books, and most of them would not be understood by these people. Although he touched upon subjects that these people held in esteem, he did not completely read through them. He also did not do deep research, and his liberal arts were lacking.
“I read any books that were at the temples. Many of them were left by former pilgrims and incomplete, so I do not know what books they were.”
Marquis WenYuan then started testing him from the fundamentals. As long as it was not those that involved one to memorize mechanically, Zhuang Zhong was able to answer fluently. Not hopeful, the marquis had only asked him casually. However, it could be seen that Zhuang Zhong was not just a country boy who knew nothing. With interest, the marquis proceeded to start asking questions in greater depth until Zhuang Zhong was really unable to answer.
The marquis was quite satisfied. Although Zhuang Zhong’s words were coarse, his foundation shaky, and what he had learned was a blend of miscellaneous things; his reasoning was clear. His opinion was also given in an unrestrained and vigorous style that brimmed with talent while being reasonable. Some of them were not even thought of by him. For him to reach this state with self-study, it was already very extraordinary. If he could receive the guidance of famous teachers, he would no doubt achieve something in the future.
Despite that, the marquis did not show it on his face and asked, “What are your plans for the future?”
Zhuang Zhong answered him indirectly, “What plans does the marquis have for me?”
The marquis laughed. “Since you are so tactful, I as a father will not let you down. As a monk returning to secular life, you will not be able to take the imperial examinations. There is only one way, and that is to be conferred an official rank as a minister’s son5 “恩荫” (en yin) refers to the act of conferring someone from the later generations as an official due to their ancestors’ meritorious service..”
Although the imperial examinations did not care about one’s family status, there were still regulations on the examinee’s qualifications. Those who were unfilial, ungrateful, disabled, making their return to the secular world, or whose great-great-grandparents or family members had been executed by capital punishment, were not allowed to participate. This was one of the reasons why Zhuang Zhong had to feign ignorance and recognize him as his father. In order to get revenge and influence, one had to have power and influence, which could be achieved by being an official. The conditions to take the imperial examinations had been unfeasible, so he could only rely on connections. Otherwise, he who had no contacts, no money, and no power would find it difficult to find the real culprit; not to mention pulling them down. In this age of power and oppression, even if he found the person behind the scenes, he could not attack them. At most, he could only push forward a scapegoat of theirs.
Hearing this, Zhuang Zhong was more certain that Marquis WenYuan knew that he was not his biological son. As for why the marquis recognized him, he was afraid that he had been dragged into a plot. There was also no time to consider whether the marquis will bite back at him. Although this road was dangerous, it was also the fastest and the most convenient. He was willing to take the risk.
Zhuang Zhong did not say anything and waited for the marquis to continue.
The corner of Marquis WenYuan’s mouth hooked up. “You are still young, so even with the special conferment, you would not be assigned to anywhere decent. It’s better to enter GuoZi Xue6 “国子学” (GuoZi Xue) is feudal China’s educational administrative office and highest educational institution. first, and plan for something else after completing your studies.”
All the people present were shocked. Yin YueHan even lost control and pinched Zhuang Jun hard. Zhuang Jun, who was in such pain then, began to howl and cry.
- 1“仙桃巾” is a hat used by males in the Song dynasty which resembled the shape of two immortality peaches.
- 2“五更” (wugeng) was used here. In ancient China, they classify the night in five parts and Wugeng is called the fifth watch before dawn, around 3-5am.
- 3“四更” (sigeng) refers to around 1-3am.
- 4erlang in this case is a way of addressing him as the second son while sanlang refers to the third son.
- 5“恩荫” (en yin) refers to the act of conferring someone from the later generations as an official due to their ancestors’ meritorious service.
- 6“国子学” (GuoZi Xue) is feudal China’s educational administrative office and highest educational institution.