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The carriage had traveled for a whole month, before it finally reached Qingzhou’s border.
It was midsummer. The cicadas were chirping lively on the trees, making people grow drowsy at the sound.
Just as they crossed the moat, a sweet and tender voice came from within the carriage, “Mom, are we living here from now on?”
The dark window curtains embroidered in gold got raised a little, revealing a smooth and delicate chin, but were quickly pulled down again. The curtains tightly blocked the view inside the carriage. The snowy skin that had appeared for a split second was like a Dutchman’s pipe blossom.
A woman’s voice said, “Little lamb1, don’t flail about. You can open the curtains once we arrive home.”
The carriage quieted down as the coachman drove through the city gates and onto the main street.
Qingzhou wasn’t as bustling as the capital. After all, the territory was small and the street wasn’t too wide either. If two vehicles traveled side by side, it would already be a bit crowded. The driver smoothly navigated around the turns, finally taking the less crowded south road. It was where many officials and nobles resided, so the common people didn’t dare rashly wander there.
Willow trees grew on either side, creating shades. A light breeze gently blew through and provided some respite in the dry and hot weather.
Inside the carriage, besides one beautiful married woman, there was a maid and three children. Since it was spacious, there was enough room for all of them.
All of the children were Madam Leng’s; a son and two daughters. The one who had spoken just now was the older daughter Xie Zhen. She was five years old.
Xie Zhen had inherited her mother’s good looks. At her small age she was already unreasonably pretty. With her pink cheeks and snowy white skin, she resembled the young jade girl standing by the lotus seat of the Bodhisattva Guanyin2. Her hair was up in a bun secured with a silk flower pin. She was dressed in a cherry colored jacket with embroidered lotus designs, below it a muslin skirt with butterfly patterns. A five color enamel locket hung around her neck. She appeared innocent and artless, delicate and adorable.
Holding up a green feather fan, she seemed to imitate Madam Leng’s style decently well. “Mom, when will we arrive?”
When Madam Leng glanced at her meaningfully, she stuck out her tongue and put the fan back to its place.
“A quarter of an hour more,” Madam Leng said as she patted her head.
They had come from the capital in order to reunite with the second master of Duke Ding’s household, Xie Liqing. Xie Liqing had been placed as a prefectural magistrate in Qingzhou. He had set out one month earlier than them, so he could arrange everything. Now, he was only waiting for them to arrive.
Hearing that only a quarter hour remained, Xie Zhen’s limpid eyes bent into crescents3, as she shook her arms cheering, “I’ll meet daddy soon!”
She turned to the side, looking at Xie Rong. “Big brother, are you happy?”
Xie Rong peacefully replied, “Mhm, happy.”
Xie Rong was five years older than her, so he was much more mature and composed than her. He wasn’t the type to chatter continuously the way she did, like a little sparrow. While on the road, he had been taking care of his two younger sisters. There was a saying that an older brother was like a father, and he already understood that principle.
When the carriage went down a bridge, it jolted and happened to awaken the youngest daughter Xie Xun.
With the three children together, the conversations livened up. Before they realized, they were already at the gate of the Xie residence.
Some people were already waiting at the gate to receive them, headed by Xie Liqing’s tall and thin figure dressed in a green robe. He was beaming with happiness as he gazed in their direction. A dozen servants followed behind him with respectfully lowered heads as they welcomed the masters. A few of them curiously peeked at the people in the carriage, wishing to see what the magistrate’s wife looked like.
As the cloth curtain was raised, the first to come out was a ten year old boy with a slim physique and handsome features. He gave off an honest and noble impression.
After him, Madam Leng came down the carriage with Xie Xun in her arms. Everyone who saw them sighed with emotion. The whole family’s looks were superb.
Madam Leng was 25. She always took good care of herself and didn’t rely on cosmetics too much. Her skin was soft and smooth just like a teenage girl’s. She wore a light plum red skirt topped with a high collared muslin jacket. A three year old child lay in her bosom. The child was delicate, with red lips and white teeth. Her pair of sparkling big black eyes swept over the gate, making everyone delighted at her appearance.
Believing that was the end, they didn’t anticipate there was another person behind.
Calling out in soft and tender voice, “Mom, wait for me,” a small form followed the maid down the carriage. Everyone’s eyes turned to her, seeing Xie Zhen jumping from the foothold, making her dress bounce. She reached Madam Leng’s side in a few steps, then looked up at Xie Liqing and smiled sweetly. “Daddy.”
She was clearly only 5-6 years old, yet she had such an outstandingly beautiful face.
There wasn’t a single flaw in her features. She had a cute little nose, clever eyes, and snowy white skin. When she smiled, her eyes bent into crescents, stealing people’s hearts and souls. The young girl’s beauty was this striking at first glance, like an evildoer. No one knew for sure whether it was a good or a bad thing.
The Xie husband and wife didn’t really put much thought into that. Seeing his daughter, Xie Liqing got even happier, asking as he stroked her head, “Little lamb, did you miss daddy? Did you listen to mom and behave while on the road?”
Little lamb was Xie Zhen’s pet name. Her health wasn’t good when she was born, often getting sick. Just like a helpless lamb, it made people want to treasure her.
Xie Zhen giggled, cheekily replying, “I missed daddy, I was very well-behaved, and I listened to mom!”
With the family reunited, Xie Liqing hugged his three children closely and grinned from ear to ear.
He looked at his wife and held out his hand for her, “This journey has been hard on you.”
The two of them had been married for many years, but their feelings hadn’t weakened at all. Instead, because of going through various difficulties together, they had grown more and more intimate. Not seeing his lovely wife for a month, Xie Liqing naturally missed her very much. But since there were too many people at the scene, he held himself back.
As she followed her father into the main room, Xie Zhen curiously glanced around.
Looking at the courtyard, it wasn’t as big as the residence of Duke Ding, but everything was meticulously put in place. It ought to be due to Xie Liqing’s efforts. Compared to Duke Ding’s residence, this place seemed even more tasteful. Xie Zhen couldn’t hide her satisfaction. Together with Xie Xun, they joyously ran two laps around the albizia tree, their laughter lingering gently.
Xie Liqing laughed with the two children, while Madam Leng helplessly shook her head as she made Xie Rong go and stop them.
Xie Rong brought his two younger sisters back, each of his hands holding one of theirs. “Don’t run all over the place or you can fall.”
Xie Zhen tightly gripped her big brother’s hand and nodded happily.
However, her temperament had never been the placid type. A moment later, she struggled free from Xie Rong and went to the pond to look at the colorful carp inside. Xie Rong and Xie Liqing were unable to control her, leaving only Madam Leng to put on a serious face and call her name. Xie Zhen obediently listened to the adults. Fearing that Madam Leng would get angry, she stepped forward to grab her hand and turned her small face up, “Mom, don’t get angry.”
With her pouting mouth, she appeared pitiful and cute.
Even though Madam Leng had a big temper, her heart melted when she saw this act. Her daughter was too adorable, it was simply impossible to lecture her.
Sighing once, she touched Xie Zhen’s nose and said, “Mom is not angry.”
As she heard that, Xie Zhen’s eyes shone and she grinned, fully recovering her vitality. But this time she opted to behave, following the adults into the main hall without causing any mischief on the way.
Inside the residence, the chief steward ordered people to prepare tea. Since there were no children who enjoyed drinking tea, they separately prepared sweet steamed pastries and several other cakes. Everything was taken care of.
Mouthful by mouthful, Xie Zhen and Xie Xun finished eating an entire bowl. Xie Xun smacked her lips, “The delicious things from home aren’t here.”
The ‘home’ she meant was the Xie branch house in Duke Ding’s residence. She was young, so moving from one place to another, she couldn’t comprehend the distance.
Xie Zhen ruthlessly exposed her intention, “Do you still want to eat?”
The three year old Xie Xun turned red. She couldn’t refute, so she puffed up her cheeks and said after a long while, “That, I’m hungry…”
Xie Zhen stood on the seat cushion on her tiptoes and reached for a bunch of milk rolls from the table, which she then handed to her younger sister. “Here.”
Although the journey wasn’t too difficult, it was still exhausting. The food and drink had been inferior as well. The three children had obviously gotten thinner. Madam Leng felt sorry for them and told Xie Liqing, “Let’s have lunch earlier. Don’t let the kids starve.”
Xie Liqing didn’t have any objections. He sent the chief steward to arrange things.
Meanwhile, Xie Xun had already demolished three slices of honey cakes and milk rolls. Because they had come from the capital, Xie Liqing was worried that they wouldn’t be accustomed to the Qinzhou style dishes. He’d specially invited a chef from the capital to make their meals, so the flavor would be authentic. Not having eaten a proper meal for a long time, the three children stuffed themselves full. Even Xie Rong ate one bowl more than usual.
Madam Leng was feeling gratified as she patted and kissed them in turns. Her affection was boundless.
After having lunch, the children were tired. Xie Liqing ordered someone to lead them to their rooms to rest.
Madam Leng didn’t feel at ease, so she went together with them, taking the chance to inspect the rear court. The rear court building was adequate. The central room was occupied by Xie Liqing and her. Xie Xun and Xie Zhen lived in the east section, while Xie Rong was in the west. In addition, there were several more side rooms that could serve as a studio or an embroidery room. Madam Leng was rather satisfied with her findings.
The rooms were very well-furnished with everything necessary inside. She had nothing to worry about.
There were yellow pear wood tables and chairs and a red sandalwood wardrobe. Several kinds of antiques were displayed on the shelves. The bedroom was behind a folding screen with a drawing of a magpie on a branch.
Being in a new place, Xie Zhen’s drowsiness completely disappeared. She looked everywhere, inside and out, learning her new home’s appearance by heart. Afterwards, Madam Leng assigned two maids to bring Xie Xun and Xie Zhen to the east area so they could have a rest. Xie Xun only touched the pillow and immediately fell asleep. Xie Zhen tossed and turned on the bed for a good while, before she finally nodded off.
Madam Leng called all the servants to the central building’s entrance. Counting the maids and the old female servants she had brought from Duke Ding’s household, there were altogether 30-40 attendants in the residence.
Because the house was only recently bought, the servants were also new. Without the principal wife around to call the shots, they had previously been relaxed with the customs. But now that Madam Leng had come, they knew they couldn’t be as carefree as in the past. They had to be more strict.
Sure enough, Madam Leng redistributed the duties, set several rules in place, and sent everyone off to manage their work. If anyone disobeyed, they would be punished.
Madam Leng was originally a stern and rigorous person. Only in front of her husband and her children would she soften up a little. Because she was like that, the old ancestor of Duke Ding’s household didn’t like her, thinking her natural disposition was unkind and that she wouldn’t have a good life. It actually wasn’t so. It wasn’t that she was unkind, but she was too cool, frequently giving people a proud and aloof impression.
Contrary to expectations, Xie Liqing was fond of her cool indifference. She was cold to others, but only he knew her passion when they were alone at night.
The couple hadn’t seen each other for a long time, so they spent a lot of time showing their affection. If they weren’t concerned for their three children, the sounds of their activity would have certainly rocked the earth and shaken the heavens.
Everything was quiet deep at night. Xie Zhen suddenly felt that sky was too bright, the light entering her room through a crack in the window. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and sat up in bed. “What’s going on?”
The maid Shuang Yu also woke up and hurriedly wore her shoes to come to her. “What about the second Miss?”
Xie Xun was still sound asleep.
Xie Zhen wanted to get out of bed, so Shuang Yu helped her put on a pair of soft embroidered shoes and led her out of the room.
Once outside, they found that the lit up lamps weren’t in their residence. It was the neighbouring courtyard that was brightly illuminated. Xie Liqing and Madam Leng also got dressed in a rush and came out, sending the servants to inquire about what had happened. Could it be that there was a thief next door?
Xie Liqing had only recently moved in. He was usually busy at work and wasn’t very familiar with the next door household. To the extent that when Madam Leng asked him who their neighbour was, he couldn’t give an answer.
A little later, the servants returned and reported what they’d heard, “The young master of the Li family has gotten sick, burning up with a fierce fever, so they went to find a doctor for him.”
Since there was no thief, the several gathered people calmed down.
Rubbing her eyes, Xie Zhen went back to her room drowsily.
In a daze, she thought it was merely a fever, yet they had put up such a fuss. Their young master had to be even more delicate than her.
Notes: I was extremely tired from lack of sleep by the end of this chapter, so there might be some rough flow here and there. I haven’t even tried to edit it. This author is too fond of long chapters. By the time I’m done translating, I don’t feel like reading it again… Maybe in a month. You’re welcome to point out any obvious mistakes.
Madam Leng is a total kuudere.