Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
At daybreak, when the heavy snow that had fallen like fluttering goose feathers had stopped, Dai Shengyan and Xie Jinglan, whom Xiahou Lian had been waiting for, finally came, and even Xie Bingfeng had also come. His square-shaped face was tight, and when he saw Xiahou Lian’s pale face and how he looked like he was on the verge of death, his face betrayed a bit of guilt. Because of his record as a hypocrite, no matter how Xiahou Lian looked at it, it seemed like it was a pretense.
Dai Shengyan touched Xiahou Lian’s forehead and neck and said, “You’re in good health, you were locked in this drafty woodshed and frozen for a night yet you don’t have a fever.” As he said this, he took off his own cloak and wrapped it around Xiahou Lian’s body.
The cloak was made out of mink pelt, and the shaggy fur poked his face, making Xiahou Lian’s face that had been frozen stiff regain a little bit of its temperature.
His words were pointed, and Xie Bingfeng’s face was slightly red. He also walked over and touched Xiahou Lian’s head. “It’s okay. Ah, the madam is too much, you’re just a child, and although you made a mistake, you shouldn’t have been punished so severely. Since you’re okay, hurry up and go back to rest properly, and don’t break the rules again next time.”
These words seemed like consolation, but he had kept saying that Xiahou Lian had broken the rules and made a mistake, indicating that their punishment was deserved and that Xiahou Lian had only been let off the hook out of forgiveness.
After Xie Bingfeng said this, Xiahou Lian was so angry he practically spit up blood. He opened his mouth and wanted to retort, but Xie Jinglan held his hand and covertly shook his head.
Although Xie Jinglan hadn’t been locked in the woodshed, his face looked a lot whiter than Xiahou Lian’s and didn’t have any color in it, as if it had been Xie Jinglan instead of Xiahou Lian who had been locked up in the woodshed for a night.
Xiahou Lian was a little worried. “Are you okay?”
“A mere servant, yet he’s held in such high regard. Master Xie and Scholar Dai rushed over at daybreak. So many people surrounding here so early in the morning made me think that my woodshed had caught fire.” Before Xie Jinglan could reply, a loud, high-pitched female voice sounded, and everyone looked over to see a tall woman with a few maids walking toward them.
The woman’s eyes were icy, and her ten fingernails were painted; it was Mrs. Xiao.
“Speaking of this, the culprit behind this was me, I went too far and locked this child up for a night. Should I ask him for forgiveness face-to-face?”
Xie Bingfeng looked like he had a slight headache, and he forced himself to say, “Let’s turn the page, the scolding and punishing has already been done, so let him go back to rest. Although the family rules in my Xie Manor are strict and clear, we’ve always been lenient toward subordinates and have never treated our servants harshly. When you run the household in the future, you must remember this.”
It was better when he hadn’t spoken. As soon as he said this, it was as if Mrs. Xiao’s tail had been stepped on, and her face darkened.
Mrs. Xiao forced a smile and said, “Yes, yes, I didn’t know how to run the household and treated our servants harshly, causing you to lose face. In the future, I’ll be sure to follow the family’s traditions and be lenient toward others. However, this one named Xiahou Lian has a ready tongue, which I like. Why don’t you leave him with me to tell me jokes and amuse me, what do you think?”
Xie Jinglan and Xiahou Lian both had a chill down their spines at the same time, and they tacitly took a step back behind Dai Shengyan. Xiahou Lian was terror-stricken as he glanced at Xie Jinglan, and the latter’s eyes were also full of worry and anxiety.
Dai Shengyan imperceptibly protected the two of them behind him and said slowly, “Unfortunately, I have already bought this child, and he is my servant now.”
“Oh? Did this really happen?” Mrs. Xiao was surprised.
Xie Bingfeng nodded. “Didn’t I say that if the teacher likes this child, he can take him. Gentlemen do not need to speak of money, as it can hurt a good harmony.”
Mrs. Xiao covered her mouth and smiled. “I didn’t expect that Mr. Dai and I would be so coincidental. I indeed also really like this child, and his deed is still with me. If I insist on not letting him go, could it be that Mr. Dai would take him from me?”
Dai Shengyan’s face finally became serious.
The atmosphere in the woodshed was extremely awkward. Five people were standing inside, and the cramped space made Xiahou Lian feel like he was suffocating. He didn’t even feel cold anymore and instead felt a little hot, and the smell of rotting wood mixed with the smell of Mrs. Xiao’s perfume powder, making it even harder for him to breathe.
Dai Shengyan placed his emaciated palm onto Xiahou Lian’s head. His hand was so skinny there were only bones akin to tree branches on it left in it. The weather was cold and the ground was frozen, and only his palm was warm.
However, this bit of warmth was enough, and Xiahou Lian inexplicably felt at ease.
Xiahou Lian sniffed and caught a whiff of his mother.
Dai Shengyan stroked his beard and said calmly, “To be honest with you, I have observed this child’s creativeness, agileness, and brilliance. If he is taught carefully, in the future, his literature knowledge can govern the country, and his military skills can bring peace. He can inherit the knowledge of Confucius and other sages and follow in the footsteps of Zhuge and Zhongda 1. He’ll become an extraordinary sage and a model for thousands of generations. Such talent, I trust that you two definitely won’t leave this pearl to gather dust.”
Extraordinary sage? Model for thousands of generations?
Xie Bingfeng and Mrs. Xiao looked at Xiahou Lian, whose snot had trickled down to the top of his mouth. Xiahou Lian sniffed deeply, and with a snort, the snot disappeared, leaving behind a shiny trail.
Xie Jinglan and Dai Shengyan both couldn’t bear to look directly.
Xiahou Lian was a little embarrassed, but he said shamelessly, “Maybe Confucius was also a slug 2 when he was twelve.”
Xie Jinglan said in a low voice, “When Confucius was twelve, he already knew all of the ceremonial objects and rituals.”
“What objects? Beans 3? Are they good to eat?”
Xie Jinglan: “…”
Dai Shengyan had been an official for many years, so he had perfectly learned how to tell a barefaced lie. He resolutely saw the shadow of a master of all time in Xiahou Lian’s listless appearance and continued, “This child has natural-born talent, and I have dealt with all kinds of people, so I would not be wrong. I have decided to accept him as a disciple, and if it is hard for the madam to part with him, I don’t have any other way but to invite the prefect of the magistrate to sit for a chat to have a proper discussion with the madam.”
Jinling’s prefect, Su Zhuocheng, was one of Dai Shengyan’s three thousand disciples. He was known for always seeking talent, so if he came, it was tantamount to handing Xiahou Lian over.
This time, it was Mrs. Xiao’s turn to have a dark expression. She could take advantage of her power to bully people, but Dai Shengyan could also take advantage of his seniority. The law came first and Xiahou Lian was Xie Manor’s servant, so if Xie Manor wasn’t willing to let go, there was no way Xiahou Lian could leave the manor’s front door. However, this couldn’t hold out against social standards regarding relations. Moreover, Dai Shengyan was the head of all scholars, so if Xie Manor didn’t let him go, they would only gain the reputation of trampling on talented people.
Although, this “talented person” couldn’t recite a single poem and had never read a single sage book.
“My wife was rude, I hope you don’t mind. Instruction knows no class distinction, and obtaining a cherished disciple in the woodshed makes for a beautiful story. How could my wife dare to insist on stopping this?” Xie Bingfeng turned to look at Mrs. Xiao. “Madam, it’s early in the morning and it’s cold outside, so you’d better go back and rest soon.”
Mrs. Xiao humphed and said, “Then I hereby congratulate Mr. Dai on obtaining a cherished disciple and hope that he can govern and bring peace to the country, like Mr. Dai said!”
Xiahou Lian was very self-aware as he thought, It’s already good if I don’t mess up the country. If I’m counted on to govern the country, then I’m afraid it won’t be far from its perishing.
Dai Shengyan’s smiled calmly. “Of course.”
He had said “of course” and not “thanks very much,” which made Mrs. Xiao’s face darken even more.
Xie Jinglan’s complexion was very bad, and his face was practically a sheet of white paper. Xiahou Lian waited for Mrs. Xiao and Xie Bingfeng to leave before touching his face. Sure enough, he had a fever.
His body was practically even more precious than that of a young lady who never went outdoors. Xiahou Lian didn’t have time to tsk and lament about this, and without another word, he carried Xie Jinglan on his back, hastily thanked Dai Shengyan, and rushed toward Qiuwu Courtyard. Dai Shengyan was left in the snow by himself and wasn’t sure whether to cry or to laugh.
Qiuwu Courtyard was once again a flurry of disorderly haste and complete chaos.
Xie Jinglan was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed for several days. Xiahou Lian, who had been locked up for a night, was sluggish for a while, but soon afterward, he had returned to his lively self. Xiahou Lian’s body was sturdy, as he had undergone martial arts training and practiced the saber for entire years and established a good foundation. When he got a fever, he just had to sweat a bit before he was fine, unlike Xie Jinglan who was like he was at death’s door, which made people frightened.
Lian Xiang was very distressed, and she couldn’t help but mutter, “This Mr. Dai could’ve stayed anywhere, but he just had to stay at Official Su’s house, which caused the young master to only wake up just now. He hadn’t completely recovered yet when he climbed over the wall to find him. It really is infuriating!”
Aunt Lan comforted, “This couldn’t be helped. Fortunately, the young master is already fine now and just needs to rest a bit.”
“Lian Xiang-jie, did you say that it was the young master who called in reinforcements for me?” Xiahou Lian showed up out of nowhere, startling Lian Xiang greatly.
Yesterday, Xiahou Lian had gotten his own deed, and he had pondered about it for a long time. He hadn’t thrown it away or burned it and had asked Dai Shengyan if he could give the deed to Xie Jinglan. Dai Shengyan had been noncommittal and said that this was his own freedom and could handle it however he wanted.
Thus, Xiahou Lian had come back with the deed, and when he passed by the kitchen, he happened to hear Lian Xiang muttering.
He really hadn’t expected that when Xie Jinglan was so sick he was practically unconscious, he could still force himself up to call in reinforcements for him.
Lian Xiang covered her chest and took a long time to recover before saying resentfully, “What’s wrong with you, do you enjoy scaring people? Tell me about it, when the young master knew that you had been locked up, he was as anxious as a spinning top. I asked around and heard that Mr. Dai was at Official Su’s place, and the young master flipped over the wall to find him. Aunt Lan and I couldn’t even stop him. It was early in the morning, and he got a stomach full of cold wind. It’s no wonder he got a fever.”
Xiahou Lian took the medicine from Lian Xiang and said, “I’ll bring it to him.”
As soon as he took it, the bitterness of the medicinal soup wafted into his nose, and he tsked from the bitterness. It really was tough for Xie Jinglan, as he had to drink such bitter medicine for several days. When Xiahou Lian was sick, he actually hadn’t really drank medicine before. For one, his mother often wasn’t on the mountain, so no one would know when he was sick. Secondly, his body was strong, and after a while of enduring it, he would be fine.
Lian Xiang wasn’t as agile as Xiahou Lian, and in the blink of an eye, the bowl of medicine was in Xiahou Lian’s hands. She looked on helplessly as he ran away with it and could only stomp out of anger.
Xiahou Lian opened the door lightly and poked his head in first to see if Xie Jinglan was awake or not.
Xie Jinglan was leaning against the head of the bed. He looked up from a pile of scrolls and gazed at the stealthy Xiahou Lian.
“You really are something, not forgetting to read even when you’re this sick.”
“You also need to read. The day after tomorrow, the teacher is going to start lectures. He said that the first class will be an evaluation on Mencius’s philosophies. Do you know who Mencius was?”
Xiahou Lian blinked and searched for people with the surname Meng starting from the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors 4 in his head. In the end, he found one he felt was quite reliable. “Meng Jiao 5? I’ve heard his ‘on the eve of his departure she sews tightly, for fear of his delayed return 6.’”
Xie Jinglan had to hand it to him. He had thought that someone like Xie Jingtao was already considered ignorant and incompetent, but who knew that Xiahou Lian surpassed even that. He looked down to read and ignored him.
Xiahou Lian brought the medicinal soup next to Xie Jinglan’s mouth. Xie Jinglan didn’t blink as he drank all of it, making the candied fruit Xiahou Lian had prepared useless.
Xie Jinglan wanted to pick up the scroll to continue reading, but Xiahou Lian pressed his hand down and blinked at Xie Jinglan. “Wait a moment, Young Master, watch me perform a magic trick!”
“I won’t.” Xie Jinglan refused without even thinking.
“Ah, it’s very quick, you just need to take a glance!”
Xie Jinglan couldn’t do anything with Xiahou Lian. He sighed and could only sit and watch as Xiahou Lian began his performance.
He first showed his hand to indicate to Xie Jinglan that it was empty. Then, he grabbed randomly at the air with his hands and seemed to pluck something out of the air, holding it in his hand and reaching it out under Xie Jinglan’s nose.
Xiahou Lian smiled extremely brilliantly and pouted to signal to Xie Jinglan to open his hand. Xie Jinglan glanced at him and reluctantly opened Xiahou Lian’s left hand. There was a crumpled ball of paper in his palm that was wrinkled, ugly, and looked a little like toilet paper.
“…” So disgusting, what if I ignore him completely?
Xie Jinglan reached for a scroll.
“Hey, don’t make me look bad, open it and take a look.”
Xie Jinglan hesitated for a while before opening the paper ball. His gaze suddenly stagnated. “What… are you giving me your deed for?”
“Before my mother comes to pick me up, I’ll be here as your bookboy the entire time, so I’ll leave this deed with you for now. You have to keep it safe for me.”
“I don’t want it, you keep it.”
Xiahou Lian shoved the deed into Xie Jinglan’s hand and said, “Quick, keep it for me. Other people who want my deed can’t even have it.”
Xie Jinglan muttered, “Tch, you make it sound as if you’re very coveted.”
Although he said this, he still placed Xiahou Lian’s deed into a small box, locked it, and put it into a trunk. After doing all of this, he turned back around to open Xiahou Lian’s second fist, in which there was a rusty copper coin.
Xie Jinglan took the copper coin and said, “What’s this? Judging from its looks, it seems to be from the Tang dynasty?”
“I picked this up from a grave on the mountain. I originally picked up four, but my mother took three away. She said that the one I kept would be a family heirloom, and that I could give it to my wife in the future.”
Picked up from a grave? It must be very dirty!
Xie Jinglan threw it back to Xiahou Lian as if he had been burned by boiling water. “Is your mother dumb, who would want this thing? If you give it to a girl, she might not want you anymore.”
Xiahou Lian shoved the copper coin back into Xie Jinglan’s hand and said, “Take it, after I leave in the future, when you want to see me, place it at the highest spot in the city. No matter where I am, as long as I’m alive, I’ll come to see you.”
When he said this, Xiahou Lian appeared very solemn. Xie Jinglan had never seen Xiahou Lian like this before, since he was usually slovenly and couldn’t even walk properly. Now, he wasn’t smiling frivolously or winking and making faces, which Xie Jinglan wasn’t very used to.
The copper coin in his hand still had Xiahou Lian’s warmth. His hand could never stay warm throughout the year, and it was even more cold as ice in the winter. The warm copper coin seemed to have been roasted by fire in his palm, and the blazing temperature flowed along the meridian in his arm all the way to his chest.
It was so hot it was a little burning.
He was a little stunned, and he stuttered, “You…” He paused and said in a dull voice, “It’s okay, Xiahou Lian. My mother died, I got used to it, my father takes no notice of me, I got used to it. In the future when you won’t be by my side anymore, I’ll also get used to it. In any case, no matter what happens, it’ll be fine after I get used to it.”
He stroked the copper coin in his hand, thought for a bit, and added, “However, when I’m a high-ranking official in the future, I’ll send people to catch your boss. Then, you’ll be free, and you won’t have to go steal things ever again.”
“Okay! Then I’ll have to rely on you in the future, Young Master!”
Outside the window, a pair of unhappy eyes was watching the scene in the room. When she saw the two of them sitting side-by-side and reading a book with their heads together, not speaking anymore, she finally removed her peeping gaze. Lian Xiang shrank her head as she squatted under the window, picked extremely unhappily at some withered grass, and slowly shuffled back to the backyard.
When Aunt Lan saw her like this, she asked in concern, “What is it?”
“The young master is biased,” huffed Lian Xiang.
“Are you saying the young master is biased in favor of Xiao Lian?” Aunt Lan smiled.
“Tell me about it, that kid has only been here for a bit, but the young master sticks to him everyday. Today, that little brat gave the young master a copper coin he picked up from who-knows-where, and the young master kept it like it was a treasure. A few days ago, I gave the young master an embroidered pouch, but I didn’t see him cherish it this much.”
“It’s no wonder.” Aunt Lan poured a cup of hot water and stuffed it into Lian Xiang’s hands to warm them. “Before Xiao Lian came, well, we only knew to make the young master avoid things and hide, and not to make a mistake and go astray, lest the main courtyard get something they can use against him. Ah, I’m old and unuseful, I only know how to wash clothes, make meals, and sweep floors. The young master wants to read, but I’m not literate, so I don’t have any way to help him.
But when Xiao Lian came, not only did he help the young master find books, he also helped the young master take Mr. Dai as his teacher, and the young master finally has some hope these days. Not only does Xiao Lian protect the young master, he does his utmost to realize the young master’s wishes, and even though he nearly died, he still keeps going regardless of personal danger. Lian Xiang, can you do this?”
“I… But… But that kid caused the young master to get punished.”
“Ah, whether Xiao Lian was here or not, the young master would’ve been punished anyway. With the young master’s personality, it’s impossible for him to be willing to get bullied. With Mrs. Xiao’s temper, she also definitely wouldn’t have let the young master off the hook.” Aunt Lan shook her head. “Moreover, we’re women and Xiao Lian is a boy. The young master has already grown this old, yet he hadn’t made a friend before.”
Lian Xiang hung her head and drew circles on the ground with the tip of her foot. She said reluctantly, “Okay. Then I won’t fuss with that kid.”
“That’s more like it. You’re a girl, Xiao Lian is a boy, and no matter how much the young master likes him, he can’t surpass you,” Aunt Lan said, smiling.
Aunt Lan’s words were mysterious, and Lian Xiang understood very well, her expression clearing up quite a bit.
“Right, why did you embroider a pouch for the young master?”
Lian Xiang said, “The young master picked up the habit of collecting flower petals sometime recently. He originally kept them pressed inside books and wouldn’t throw them away even when they were squashed. I made them into dried flowers and kept them in the pouch so they’re easier to preserve.”
“Those flower petals were all picked by Xiao Lian. Lian Xiang, you spent so much effort all for Xiao Lian.”
“…” Lian Xiang nearly spat up blood.
- Zhuge Liang and Zhongda, or Sima Yi, are renowned military strategists and statesmen.
- Someone with a runny nose all the time.
- The specific ceremonial object Xie Jinglan mentioned is a 俎豆 (zu dou), which is a type of sacrificial stand. 豆子 (dou zi) is beans.
- Two groups of mythological rulers or deities in ancient China.
- Chinese poet during the Tang dynasty
- A line from a famous poem, 游子吟, or Song of the Wanderer. It is a short poem about a mother’s love for her son who is leaving.