Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xiahou Lian was a little doubtful, how could he tell?
He picked up the sweat towel, and a strong fragrance struck his nose. This fragrance was very familiar, and he seemed to have smelled it somewhere before. Suddenly, he came to a realization and said hastily, “Right, Master, call the first young master over, and the truth will be revealed.”
Mrs. Xiao’s expression suddenly changed and became disagreeable. “What else is there to say? Servants, take Xiahou Lian, this bastard who led the young master astray, away. When Mr. Dai returns, tell him to take him back. From now on, he’s not allowed to take even half a step in Xie Manor!”
Xie Bingfeng shouted for Mrs. Xiao to stop and turned to say to Xie Jinglan, “What does this have to do with Tao’er? Xie Jinglan, say it clearly!”
Xie Jinglan let out a short, cold laugh and said slowly, “It’s my big brother who loves that Liu Ji, so much so that he loves all of her things as well. He even carries the sweat towel with him all the time, and it’s completely tainted with the smell of the powder that’s on my big brother’s body. Father, can’t you smell it?”
Xie Bingfeng quickly picked up the sweat towel and smelled it carefully. That fragrance was indeed very familiar. He knew that he had definitely smelled it somewhere before, but he had thought that it was Liu Ji’s smell, so he hadn’t thought much of it.
Mrs. Xiao smiled placatingly. “Okay, I’ll call Tao’er over here now. Nursemaid Liu, hurry up.”
“Hold on, don’t move.” Xie Bingfeng beckoned toward his own attendant. “Lai Wang, go and ask the first young master to come here.”
Xie Jingtao swaggered in, and as soon as he came in, he sat down at the side by himself. He picked his teeth as he looked gloatingly at Xie Jinglan and Xiahou Lian. He said a little proudly, “Mother, I was studying, what did you call me here for? ——Ah, Third Brother, why are you covered in tea? Seeing your pitiful appearance really makes one feel distressed.”
As soon as he came, the answer was there. From a distance of five steps away, one could still smell that smell on his body that could kill a mosquito with its fumes.
As the saying went, ugly people made trouble. Xie Jingtao was aware that he wasn’t traditionally good-looking, so mustered all of his effort to make up for it in other areas. The moment Xie Bingfeng saw him like this, he felt his heart, liver, gallbladder, and lungs take turns hurting, and he wanted to pick up his teacup and throw it at him. He discovered that his teacup had already been thrown at Xie Jinglan, so he picked up Mrs. Xiao’s cup and smashed it fiercely on Xie Jingtao’s body.
Xie Jingtao was startled and trembled as he knelt down with a thump next to Xie Jinglan. He trembled as he said, “Father, calm down, I recognize my mistake.”
“What mistake do you recognize?!”
“I… I…” Xie Jingtao subconsciously looked up at Mrs. Xiao, the latter glaring at him fiercely. “I don’t know…”
“Then why are you admitting to a mistake!” Xie Bingfeng was so angry his beard was shaking, and he found a feather duster nearby and lashed Xie Jingtao with it.
Xie Jingtao scurried around the room as he yelled, “Father, stop hitting! The servants are all watching!”
“You still know to save face! I’m going to beat you unfilial son to death!”
After all, Xie Bingfeng was old, and chasing him and running for this long was indeed tough for him. He really couldn’t run any more and had to lean onto the table as he panted. Xie Jingtao hid behind Xiahou Lian, shrinking his neck. Xiahou Lian quietly leaned toward Xie Jinglan’s direction, revealing the fat coward behind him.
Xie Bingfeng pointed at the sweat towel. “Unfilial son, is this sweat towel yours?!”
“If I say no, would you believe it?”
“You! You! Hurry up and go to the ancestral hall to kneel. Don’t let me see you again!”
“Yes, I’ll go right away, don’t be angry.” Xie Jingtao stood up and instructed the young servant next to him, “Ah, you, hurry up and bring my small daybed, snacks, eroti… ahem, books and such to the ancestral hall.”
“Bastard!” Xie Bingfeng was extremely furious. He didn’t catch his breath, and he coughed loud enough to shake the heavens.
“There is one more person,” Xie Jinglan, who had been silent the entire time, suddenly spoke. “There is one more person that needs to go to the ancestral hall to be punished.”
“Who is it?! Could it be the second brother? He’s always been diligent, not inferior to you. How come he’s also this misbehaving! Xie Jingtao, you bastard, it must be you who led Tan’er astray!”
“Why are you blaming me? That brat is my mother’s informer, I’ve never led him.” Xie Jingtao rolled his eyes.
Xie Jinglan looked up and revealed a ridiculing smile at Xie Bingfeng. “It really is unlucky. These past few days, I’ve often gone to Xiuwen Hall to review. Who would’ve thought that I accidentally found the five books of illustrations of Wanxiang Building’s women that you keep in the library. They really are…” The corners of Xie Jinglan’s mouth twitched, and his smile was a little ferocious, “beautiful and radiant.”
Xie Bingfeng turned pale with fright, and it was a long while before he forced out a sentence. “Shut… Shut up!”
“Who was that showgirl you were talking about just now? Liu Ji? But I didn’t seem to see her in those books of illustrations, ah, I remember, a page happened to be missing, and it seemed to have been torn out by someone. Could it have been you, Father?” Xie Jinglan said, “Father, it turns out that you’re also a big romantic, you even bring a small picture of Liu Ji with you wherever you go.”
“Shut… Shut up!” Xie Bingfeng was so angry he saw black. He raised his hand up and slapped Xie Jinglan in the face.
Only a “smack” was heard, and five red marks were seared onto Xie Jinglan’s pale face. For a time, everyone present was silent.
Actually, the illustrations in the library might not have been Xie Bingfeng’s. However, his reaction had been so big, exactly fitting the old saying of “there are no three hundred taels of silver here 1, and everyone understood it clearly.
Mrs. Xiao’s expression was very ugly, and she pointed at Xie Bingfeng. “You… You never change! I actually didn’t know, you clearly left home for many years, when did you hook up at such a dirty place? Or did you already have relations with that bitch?”
“Misunderstanding, misunderstanding.” Xie Bingfeng’s face was covered in sweat. “Madam, this is a misunderstanding. They were one of my old friend’s, and he only left them here with me.”
“The books are in the third level of the first bookshelf, and they’re wrapped in the cover of the ‘Rites of Zhou.’ Madam, if you don’t believe me, you can go see for yourself, the inside cover was even stamped by my father,” Xie Jinglan added impassively.
Mrs. Xiao’s face paled, and she glared at Xie Bingfeng fiercely before turning and going to the library.
Xie Jingtao tugged Xiahou Lian’s sleeve and said in a low voice, “Is your young master’s brain broken? He even dares to disclose this kind of thing, he really doesn’t want to live.”
“You’re the one whose brain is broken,” Xiahou Lian said muffledly.
“I’m going to the ancestral hall to receive punishment, I hope you take good care of your health.” Xie Jinglan kowtowed and left, bringing Xiahou Lian with him.
Xie Jingtao was blank for a long time, and he also lifted his robes up and followed them out. Only Xie Bingfeng was left, standing where he was stiffly, and when he saw the roomful of people with their heads all lowered, he remembered that his scandal had been exposed in front of everyone. His face burned like fire, and he could only use an angry shout to conceal his embarrassment, saying, “All of you, get out!”
The Xie clan’s ancestral hall was very old, and the walls were mottled with gold and green. Upon stepping in, one would smell decay, making one unable to distinguish whether it was the smell of wood or the smell of the ghosts occupying the place. There weren’t many lit candles, and they dimly illuminated the tiny space in front of the altar.
Xie Jingtao was carrying something that seemed to be a memorial to the throne 2 and found somewhere to sit by himself. He snuck a glance at Xie Jinglan, his face containing resentment and also admiration. It was hard to describe in one word, and it made his fleshy face crumple up, ugly like a meat bun.
Xie Jinglan picked the spot furthest away from him, lifted his robes up, and knelt down. Seeing him kneel, Xiahou Lian naturally felt embarrassed to sit, so he also knelt next to him.
Xie Jingtao flipped open the memorial to the throne and began mumbling as he memorized it. Xiahou Lian was too far, so he couldn’t hear it very clearly and could only hear “colluding with rebel factions, intending to rebel… …the second crime…” Xie Jingtao memorized for a while, and when he couldn’t memorize any longer, he turned to look at Xie Jinglan.
“Hey, Xie Jinglan, you really are something.”
Xie Jinglan was impassive and didn’t seem to intend on acknowledging him.
“Actually, I’ve already known about that matter about Father, I’ve ran into him several times. If it weren’t for me dodging quickly, I’d be almost discovered by him. Say, if you hadn’t exposed that mess about Father, it would’ve been fine, so why did you bother?” Xie Jingtao bit his tongue and said, “But, before, I thought you were a sissy, and just seeing you made me want to beat you up. I didn’t expect that you were this bold.”
Xie Jinglan still ignored him. Xie Jingtao didn’t mind and continued, “How about this, you’ll come with me from now on. Next time I go to Wanxiang Building, I’ll bring you along, hehe, and let you have a taste of that ecstasy. Ah, but you’re a little too young, I don’t know if you’ll be able to taste that pleasure…”
Seeing him get more off the more he spoke, Xiahou Lian hastily stopped his topic of conversation and said, “Give me a break, our young master isn’t like you. Memorize your memorial to the throne and talk less nonsense.”
Xie Jingtao humphed and said, “You don’t know how to appreciate kindness.” He glanced at the memorial in his hand and then looked at them, saying uncertainly, “Don’t you two carry this memorial around to memorize it? Father is going to check in two days.”
“What is it? We don’t have it,” said Xiahou Lian.
“The memorial to the throne to impeach Wei De. Father has nothing better to do, so he wants everyone in the manor to memorize it. Those who are literate should memorize it themselves, and those who aren’t should memorize it with the chamberlain.”
Xiahou Lian was silent. He was afraid that the “everyone in the manor” that Xie Jingtao had said didn’t include Qiuwu Courtyard.
Xiahou Lian couldn’t understand, Xie Jinglan was so extraordinarily talented, but how come it was like Xie Bingfeng had gone blind and had to put him to the side, pretending he couldn’t see him?
The shadow of the moon moved westward, hanging high above the tips of the willow branches. The candles on Xie Jingtao’s side had gone out at some point, and the sounds of his snoring came from the darkness. The night was very still, and there were bugs hiding in the grass, calling, one sound after another. Wind started to blow outside, making the door shake. Some of the dust on top of it floated down, like snow that didn’t melt.
Just as Xiahou Lian was feeling drowsy, the door was quietly opened, and someone hiding outside made a “psst” sound. Xiahou Lian turned and saw Lian Xiang and Aunt Lan stick their heads in with exaggerated expressions as they gave Xiahou Lian a meaningful glance.
Xiahou Lian tapped Xie Jinglan, and the two of them cautiously went around Xie Jingtao and squatted next to the door.
Aunt Lan handed Xiahou Lian a blanket and said with a worried expression, “It’s chilly at night, so we were afraid the two of you would freeze. Make do with this blanket for now, if you still feel cold, get closer together and try to warm each other up.”
Lian Xiang’s eyes were keen, and she saw the red marks on Xie Jinglan’s face. She didn’t need to guess to know what had happened, and her eyes were instantly filled with tears.
“Aunt, you’re still the best,” said Xiahou Lian as he draped the blanket over Xie Jinglan’s back.
“We’ll go now, if Nursemaid Liu finds out, who knows what kind of discord she’ll sow,” said Aunt Lan.
“Wait,” Xie Jinglan grabbed the front of Aunt Lan’s robes and said, “Aunt, do you know why my father hates me and my mother?”
Aunt Lan was clearly stunned, and her eyes became panicked. “I…” She seemed like she didn’t want to talk about this matter, and she spoke ambiguously for a while but didn’t give an explanation.
“Aunt, I want to hear the truth.”
Lian Xiang said anxiously, “Aunt, just say it.”
Aunt Lan sighed, glanced at Xie Jinglan, and said slowly, “At the time, your mother was a maid, this you know. One day, the master got drunk and… and wanted your mother. Originally, this wasn’t a big deal, it’s something that happens in anyone’s manor. Contrary to what was expected, your mother had a stubborn personality and took things to heart, so she actually snuck out of the manor and reported him to the authorities.”
“And then what?” asked Xie Jinglan.
“It just so happened that the official at the time was an unreasonable and stubborn donkey. The master pleaded in every possible way but it was no use, he charged the master with raping a servant and lowered him by three ranks. Since then, the master hated your mother, and although your mother had you in her belly, he was indifferent toward the two of you.” Aunt Lan wiped away tears. “Men are all like this, having a heart of stone, but it made your mother suffer and also made you suffer.”
“Since she reported him, she would’ve been planning to cut ties with Xie Bingfeng. Why did she come to the manor to be a concubine?” asked Xiahou Lian.
Aunt Lan shook her head. “At the time, she didn’t know that she already had the young master in her belly, but when she knew, it was too late to go back. Try asking a woman who can’t do manual labor how she can raise a child, and the young master couldn’t not have a father. She originally refused to return to the manor, and she only returned after I earnestly persuaded her to.”
Xiahou Lian opened his mouth and wanted to say something, but when he saw Aunt Lan’s tears streaming, he couldn’t say it.
Aunt Lan said, “The master’s heart was too ruthless, she lived alone in the courtyard all day long. No one looked after or cared for her, and she only endured it for a few years before she passed away.”
Xie Jinglan nodded and said, “I see, you two should go back soon.”
Lian Xiang was reluctant to leave. “Young Master, take care of yourself.” As she said this, she glared at Xiahou Lian. “Look after the young master, I’m relying on you this time.”
Xiahou Lian said gloomily, “I know.”
They closed the door tightly. Xie Jinglan hugged his knees and sat on the ground, his eyes looking at the darkness, and Xiahou Lian didn’t know what he was thinking about. He was very silent tonight, practically not saying anything. At some point, the candles had already gone out, and the entire room was pitch-dark. The darkness as heavy as iron mixed with an inexpressible sorrow and pressed down on his shoulders, making it so that he didn’t have the strength to lift his head.
If Aunt Lan hadn’t persuaded his mother, perhaps his mother wouldn’t have died of sorrow.
Perhaps, he would have been like Xiahou Lian now, a hooligan on the streets. He would make trouble everywhere together with his playmate on the streets, and when his mother had leisure time, she would carry a bamboo pole and hit him all over the streets. His playmate would shout, “Xie Jinglan, run! Your mother is going to catch up to you!”
His eyes were terribly sore, and a very small teardrop flowed out of his eye, quivered on his curved eyelashes, and dripped down along his cheek and into his collar. Fortunately, the room was dark, so Xiahou Lian couldn’t see.
Xiahou Lian’s voice suddenly sounded. Xie Jinglan was a little flustered as he buried his head into his knees, afraid that he would see the tear marks on his face.
“Actually, I lied to you before,” Xiahou Lian said softly.
“What did you lie to me about?” Xie Jinglan tried hard to make his voice seem normal, but a slight nasally sound was still revealed. However, because his head was buried, his voice came out from his arms, and Xiahou Lian didn’t notice Xie Jinglan’s odd behavior.
“I know who my father is.”
“Is he a pale-faced scholar? Did he become an official?”
“Never mind who he is, you won’t know him anyway.” Xiahou Lian played with his fingers and said, “My mother won’t let me recognize him as my father.”
Xie Jinglan looked up and said in confusion, “Why not?”
“My mother said that I’m a man of indomitable spirit, so I can’t find someone else to be my father, I should make other people call me father, and it’s best if they call me that while kneeling.”
“Young Master, you’re more capable than me. Not only do you want them to kneel and call you father, they also need to cry while calling you father. Don’t bully the young and the poor. Sooner or later, we’ll get even for today’s matter and your mother’s matter.”
Xiahou Lian spoke very certainly. The two of them were clearly still little kids whose hair hadn’t even grown completely, yet it was as if they were sure to succeed. Xie Jinglan looked at Xiahou Lian in the darkness in which he couldn’t see his fingers if he stretched his hand out, and he seemed to see his eyes shining with light, like stars in the night.
His eyes were very beautiful. Xiahou Lian had said before that his eyes looked a lot like his mother’s. Xie Jinglan recalled the demon-like woman Dai Shengyan had spoken of, as if she could sever everything using only a saber.
For no reason, he believed it just like that. He didn’t know whether he believed in himself, or if he believed in Xiahou Lian.
- Comes from a story of a man who buried 300 taels of silver in the ground next to a sign that read “there are no three hundred taels of silver (buried) here” so that no one would steal them. His neighbor, Wang Er, saw through the lie and dug up the money, leaving the sign “the neighbor Wang Er did not steal (the silver).”
- An official report to the emperor of China. Generally careful essays in Classical Chinese, presented by government officials, and about topics ranging from personnel evaluations to weather predictions.