Count Zhongyi’s residence couldn’t compare to Duke Ying residence’s grandiose style, but it too was vast and magnificent, and richly decorated. In front of the entrance stood two awe-inspiring guardian lion statues. The red lacquer gate was wide open. The gatekeeper knew that Duke Ying family’s misses and young masters were coming for a visit, so he rushed to welcome them in with a smile.
Wei Changxian took his Shandong dog along to jump down from the carriage, walking ahead full of confidence. He had spent a long time training this dog, and he was convinced he would definitely be able to beat Song Hui this time. Besides Duke Ying residence’s carriage at the entrance, there was an additional luxurious carriage with an azure rooftop and red tassels parked there. Wei Luo looked over curiously. The gatekeeper could immediately discern her interest, and explained enthusiastically: “This is Marquis Pingyuan’s carriage. Marquis Pingyuan family’s successor and their miss have also come, they’re currently in the rear court garden.”
Wei Luo’s eyes shone.
Marquis Pingyuan Liang Songnian was a well-established, handsome middle-aged man, who lead a clean and honest life, and never tried to participate in any political faction. He had earned Emperor Chong Zhen’s affection. But that wasn’t what Wei Luo was happy about, rather it was the news that Marquis Pingyuan residence’s heir and their miss had also come. Marquis Pingyuan’s wife and Jiang Miaolan were sworn sisters. After Jiang Miaolan had left, Marquis Pingyuan’s wife had been looking after the pair of sister and brother, Wei Luo and Changhong. Marquis Pingyuan’s family had altogether one son and one daughter. As the porter had said, they were obviously the successor Liang Yu and miss Liang Yurong. Liang Yurong and Wei Luo were about the same age. The two of them had gotten along well since childhood, and their dispositions were compatible as well, so they’d become very close friends.
Wei Luo hadn’t seen Liang Yurong for a long time, and had almost forgotten what she’d looked like as a child. In her past life, she had especially inquired after the girl’s affairs, but had regretfully found out she hadn’t fared well at all, making people feel very sorry for her.
Wei Changxian didn’t detect her peculiar mood. Learning that Song Hui was in the backyard, he impatiently lead his dog along to find him.
Wei Ya and Wei Zheng promptly followed, with Wei Luo and Changhong walking behind them. Ah Luo had been absent-minded for some time now. Only when Changhong called her name, did she regain her composure in a flash.
“What were you thinking about?”
Ah Luo blinked, and lied without the slightest change of expression, “I was wondering whose dog will win between third elder brother and big brother Song Hui.”
Changhong disliked Song Hui, so whether he really believed it or not, he said: “My guess is third elder brother will win.”
Ah Luo didn’t express an opinion. Holding his hand, they soon reached the rear court’s lotus pond. It was the beginning of spring, lotus flowers were spread over the pond on dark green leaves, but they hadn’t yet opened their buds. However, the dangling branches of the numerous crabapple trees at the shore were just entering their most gorgeous and graceful period, the pink and white blossoms each striving to bloom, more beautiful than anything. There were some branches unable to support the weight of the flowers, and a few petals gently drifted down. Just as Ah Luo was walking below the trees, a petal landed on her lashes. She blinked delicately, causing the petal to slide along her smooth and soft white cheek. Raising her eyes, she caught sight of a lean, refined youth standing below an eight-sided gazebo not too far from her.
Only turning twelve this year, his age wasn’t very high. His stature was comparatively tall. He was dressed in a purple robe embroidered with golden bamboo leaves pattern, on his waist hung a mutton fat jade (nephrite) ornament. His appearance was dazzling, with a beautiful face.
This person was Song Hui.
Song Hui was truly good-looking. Among all the men Ah Luo had seen, only he appeared without the slightest defect, like a fine piece of carved jade, one couldn’t pick out a single flaw. In addition to that, his demeanor was remarkable as well. Such as right now, he was just casually standing over there, yet easily attracted both of Wei Ya and Wei Zheng’s attention.
Her past self had liked that face of his right away. Though she had been too young to understand the sentiments between men and women, she could already distinguish between beautiful and ugly.
She had to say, Jiang Miaolan had arranged for a very good marriage for her. Still, thinking of Song Hui’s engagement to Wei Zheng in the past life, Ah Luo’s heart was simply unable to agree to the marriage. Even the slightest interest in Song Hui was entirely gone.
Apart from Song Hui, there was his younger sister Song Ruwei, as well as Liang Yu and Liang Yurong inside the eight-sided gazebo.
Song Ruwei was eight this year. Her appearance couldn’t measure up to her older brother’s good looks, but she was nevertheless a little young lady with delicate features. She was Wei Zheng’s older maternal cousin, she was naturally more intimate with Wei Zheng. Seeing Wei Zheng approaching, she called out from afar: “Little sister Ah Zheng!”
Due to her exclamation, the people in the gazebo all turned their attention to them. Wei Zheng called out ‘cousin’, then cheerfully ran over.
Returning to Count Zhongyi’s residence made Wei Zheng feel more at ease, since the people here would treat her nicely. She was actually happier being here than at home.
Wei Luo didn’t mind Song Ruwei’s disregard. Lowering her head to brush away a few crabapple petals from her sleeves, she leisurely stepped inside the eight-sided gazebo.
Song Hui was standing on the gazebo’s stone steps. Once he greeted Wei Zheng, his gaze fell on Wei Luo. After waiting for Wei Luo to get closer, he reached out a hand to take a blossom from the top of her head, saying with a smile: “There isn’t a single petal on other people’s bodies, they only fell on little sister Ah Luo. It seems my family’s crabapples have some fate with you?”
He’d known of their arranged betrothal since he was six. At the time he hadn’t been very clear about the meaning of taking a wife, only that people would have babies afterward. When Ah Luo was still an infant, he had carried her in his arms a few times. She had been so tiny, her face round and tender, had liked nibbling on her own finger, and cooing incoherently to call him ‘big brother’. After growing up, he had gradually started to understand what marriage was, that this small young girl belonged to him, and that later, they would spend their lifetime together. So his treatment of Ah Luo had also become special, and he had placed her above all the other little girls.
Wei Luo turned to look at him with her pitch black eyes, received the blossom from him, then solemnly placed it in his hand, and said in a sweet voice: “I’m giving it to big brother Song Hui.”
Song Hui’s face held a smile. He earnestly played along and wrapped the blossom in a cloth, then put it in his sleeve.
Over at the rock table behind them, Liang Yu exclaimed ‘Ah’, and stood up to ask: “Stop with the nonsense already, are we having this contest or not? Today I especially requested for a day off from my tutor to come here, how long are you planning to dilly-dally? Song Hui, your dog? Quickly take it out and let us have a look.”
Liang Yu was eleven this year. He was wearing a sapphire blue robe. With sharp eyes and strong brows, his appearance was handsome, and he resembled Marquis Pingyuan 70 to 80 percent. Since he practiced martial arts since childhood, although he was younger than Song Hui by a year, he was as tall as him, and even appeared a little sturdier. On his left side was Liang Yurong, who was wearing a dress with a hundred pink and indigo butterflies stitched across it. Liang Yurong beckoned for Wei Luo to come and take a seat.
Wei Luo sat down next to her.
The two of them had last met at the feast in Shangyuan palace, it had been more than a month ago. Liang Yurong attached herself to her ear to whisper: “Daddy let the servants cook and eat elder brother’s dog, he’s hopping mad right now…”
Ah Luo didn’t hold back, giggling out loud.
Fortunately, these words didn’t reach Liang Yu, otherwise he would fly into a rage out of shame.
Song Hui ordered the servants to bring his slender Shaanxi hound over. That dog generally took after his owner, with a proud appearance and a noble countenance, far more impressive than the common dogs. In reality, dog fighting wasn’t any sort of glorious affair. As long as one’s family had a little standing, the family’s elders wouldn’t consent to let their progeny raise dogs, finding it an idle activity that distracted their minds away from attending to their proper duties. Therefore, Marquis Pingyuan cooking Liang Yu’s dog could actually be considered pardonable.
As for Wei Changxian and Song Hui, the former was the little despot in his family, the latter was extremely outstanding, and neither of their families was particularly restrictive… As long as it didn’t interfere with their studies, it was possible to make allowances.
The two dogs started the scuffle. As far as these little girls Wei Luo and Liang Yurong were concerned, it was nothing appealing. But to Liang Yu it was very interesting. Since he couldn’t join in, he urged Changhong, Ah Luo and the rest to lay a bet, himself included. He put down a hundred silvers.
Ah Luo didn’t have any money on her, since her purse was left for safeguarding with Jin Lu and Nurse Ye. She casually took off the silver longevity locket with blue butterflies from around her neck and passed it to Liang Yu, “This is my longevity locket, I’m giving it to you.”
Liang Yurong gave a jade belt ornament, Song Ruwei put down ten silvers, Wei Ya and Wei Zheng, who also hadn’t brought money, each put down a jadeite bracelet and a sachet embroidered with gold and silver threads. Changhong naturally didn’t participate in such things, and didn’t place a bet.
From the six people, only one had wagered on Wei Changxian’s dog to win, that person was precisely Wei Luo.
If it had been before, Wei Luo would have definitely wagered on Song Hui, but at present she had changed her mind. Upon learning this, Song Hui turned around and glanced at her perplexed, his expression somewhat discontented.
However, Ah Luo didn’t see it, cheering Wei Changxian on instead: “Third elder brother must win!”
Wei Changxian truly enjoyed it on the inside, but his mouth spoke: “Not your third ebrother, rather your third elder brother’s dog must win. Ah Luo, look carefully, third elder brother is determined to win and help you get your longevity locket back!”
Ah Luo said ‘okay’, and heavily nodded her head.
The two big dogs were fighting together, each bite creating wounds on their bodies, loud barks could be heard all over Count Zhongyi’s residence. Because it looked too savage, Liang Yurong and Song Ruwei, those two young ladies, gradually got a little scared, and distanced themselves. Ah Luo also followed after them, arriving under a crabapple tree by the lotus pond.
Song Ruwei proposed a game of hide-and-seek, taking out a cloth with winding peonies embroidery to serve as a blindfold. Whoever was caught would lose. At first, Ah Luo didn’t want to play, but she was now a six year old little girl, behaving too unusually for herself would make people suspicious. Under Liang Yurong’s prompting, she also nodded to agree.
As a start, they drew lots to pick the person in charge of chasing. Pulling out the longest stick, Ah Luo was responsible for the first round.
The cloth currently covered her eyes, her vision turned dim, she couldn’t see anything. She could only hear the numerous and disorderly noise of footsteps and barks in her surroundings. Extending both hands forward to feel about, she took a few steps, but couldn’t catch anyone, her hands landing on a crabapple tree instead.
Liang Yurong laughed from behind: “Wrong, wrong, it’s not that one!”
She had no choice but to change directions and go on fumbling about. Not far from here, the noise of the dog fight grew more excited and covered up this side’s sounds, to the extend of making her somewhat disoriented. She didn’t know which direction was good to pursue right now. There was someone ahead, who snapped a branch off the crabapple tree, and softly touched her shoulder with it, luring her to go forward.
Ah Luo took two steps forward, then paused. She remembered that the crabapple trees were planted at the edge of the lotus pond. Walking forward a few steps, it was possible that she would fall into the water. Just a moment ago, Liang Yurong’s voice had come from behind. If the pond wasn’t behind, then it was precisely in the direction she was walking. She bent her lips in a small smile. She could roughly guess who it was, that was trying to steer her over here, but she didn’t speak up. She deliberately walked a few steps forward again.
Wei Zheng stood in front of her, threw away the crabapple branch, and provoked: “Wei Luo, come catch me!”
Ah Luo cried out in surprise, “Wei Zheng?”
As she spoke, she took a step forward, standing by the edge of the pool with Wei Zheng. As soon as she took one more step, she would fall into the pond. The water in spring was still very chilly, falling in would most likely lead to a cold. Wei Zheng’s age wasn’t big, but her ideas, in contrast, weren’t lacking. Intentionally leading Wei Luo to the pond’s edge, it was to watch her fall into it.
Unfortunately, Wei Luo wasn’t fooled. She accurately held out her hands to capture Wei Zheng’s sleeve, secretly exerting her strength to give Wei Zheng a push back, “Caught you!”
Wei Zheng wasn’t standing steady, staggering backwards, she fell. Panic-stricken, she intuitively grabbed onto Wei Luo’s hand, thinking of dragging her along into the water.
At the other side, the result of the dog fighting had already come out. Unsurprisingly, Wei Changxian had lost to Song Hui and the two of them were now walking over to this side. Song Hui saw from a distance away the state of the two little girls close to the pond. Right when he wanted to shout at them to be careful, he saw Wei Zheng stumbling and falling into the water. Wei Luo was blindfolded, and was unable to see the situation. Her hands were stretched out helplessly, just enough for Wei Zheng to grab onto them. It looked like the two of them were both about to fall into the pond. He dashed forward quickly, his arms embraced Wei Luo’s waist, and lifted her up.
Song Hui only had time to help one person, and he saved Wei Luo. With a ‘splash’, Wei Zheng fell into the lotus pond, her head soon getting submerged under the water.
Notes: To a dog lover, parts of this chapter were a little… *repeats mantra* it’s just a novel, it’s set in the past, its a different culture… Apparently it was dog fighting and not dog racing, I guess I was a little optimistic and misinterpreted it. It’s been changed accordingly.
There’s a term for every single relative of the extended family and more, as you’ve noticed already. Ranks and seniority are pretty important. At the very least, there’s a distinction between the father’s line and mother’s line. Cousins from the father’s line are as good as siblings, since they all live in the same residence. The maternal line belongs to another clan (since daughters marry out), so there’s a more distant relation implied.