# 36. Troublemaker “Do you know what the process is to solve a case?” Xu Qi’an started from his most proficient subject, “Observe the situation, collect evidence. Then boldly hypothesise, and carefully prove. Solve the riddle one little step at a time, and piece together a true recount of events.” In the flickering candlelight, Uncle Xu’s face was one of utter blankness. Xu Xinnian fell deep into thought. Xu Qi’an spoke straight, “What we need to be thinking about is not how to deal with Zhou Li, but rather we need to observe Zhou Li, collect information, and then collate it, boldly make a plan and then carefully eke out the details, and finally to determine whether this plan is feasible or not.” His worlds were reasonable and clear, thoughts rigorous, leaving no room for Xu Xinnian to argue against. He thought in his heart that his big brother had the correct way of thinking. *So Ningyan is also clever, scheming, but knows how to do things by the book…* Xu Pingzhi was very appreciative; before he had thought that his nephew was too stubborn, too stuck to his principles, and because of that will have hardship in the future. Seeing that the two of them did not dissent, Xu Qi’an continued, “Cijiu, you have a Jushi title, and can get around in intellectual circles, and understand rumours and information about court. You go and find information on Zhou Li, no matter how detailed or vauge, do not leave anything out. “Uncle, the Zhou Manor is in the city, and the guards do nightly patrols in and outside of the city. Your responsibility will be to keep an eye on any disurbances at the Zhou manor, but don’t do it yourself; get some trustworthy subordinates to do it for you. “Where Zhou Li goes, what he does, who he interacts with, I need to know all of this.” Father and son nodded their heads, and suddenly thought of something, looking at Xu Qi’an, “Then what about you?” Xu Qi’an laughed mysteriously, “I’m going to plan an escape route for the Xu family. Cijiu, later tonight we’ll talk about the details, and I also need to ask about a few things. Tonight, I’ll sleep in your room.” … Drip, drip… The sound of the water clock echoed in the quiet room. “Brother, are you asleep?” “No.” “Oh.” … “Brother, are you asleep?” “No.” “Oh.” … “Brother, you’re poking me…” Xu Qi’an was shocked, and then heard Xu Xinnian say, “Move your elbow.” “Oh…” After another bout of silence, listening to each others breaths, Xu Qi’an asked “Can you not get to sleep?” Xu Xinnian hummed assent, “I’m not very used to this.” *Nor am I…* Xu Qi’an sighed, “How long has it been since we’ve shared a bed.” Xu Xinnian thought for a moment, replying “After ten years old, from when you started practicing martial arts, and spending a hundred taels of silver a year, when you and mum shouted yourselves hoarse at each other, we grew apart.” *And I was thinking that you’d proudly say “We’ve never slept on the same bed before”… we can still sleep in the same room now, dear sister Lingyue will never be able to do that…* His mind flashing with the previous Xu Qi’an’s memories, he sighed, saying “Really I can’t blame Auntie. A civil servant of the guard doesn’t earn all that much. Uncle tried his damndest to get a higher salary, and managed to get two hundred taels of silver a year. A half of it all went to me alone. The other half was for the rest of all of you, it would be hard for Auntie to not resent this.” Xu Xinnian changed the topic, “If we cannot overcome this trial, the whole Xu family may be ended.” If Deputy Minister Zhou does not fall, then the passing of the official evaluation marked the beginning of calamity for the House of Xu. “I’ll find us a way out. If it really comes to it, after the official audit, we’ll move the whole family out of the capital. Me and uncle are both able-bodied, and we’ll be able to make do anywhere.” Xu Qi’an said with pity, “a shame that Erlang you’ve studied hard for ten years, and just passed the imperial examinations.” Xu Xinnian laughed, “Heh, titles and praises are merely fleeting clouds. I am a scholar, and I read the sage’s virtuous classics, I cultivate the sage’s virtuous path. How could I care about a mere certificate?” Xu Qi’an praised him deeply, “If heaven births not I, Xu Xinnian; then the Great Feng forever, will be in night that never ends.” The little boat of friendship immediately flipped, as Xu Xinnian’s breaths became sharp, and he suddenly turned over, pulling away the duvet, and silently pretended to sleep. “Eh, Cijiu, give some duvet to me, in the cold of December, even if your big brother is Refining Body, he’ll still find it difficult to bear.” Xu Cijiu curled up tight, wrapped tightly in the duvet, ignoring him. … In Xu Lingyue’s room, the burning fire from last night had long since gone out, the room was full of carbon dioxide, making the air stuffy. The window was open a sliver, bringing fresh air into the room. On Xu Lingyue’s white porcelain-like face, her long brush like eyelashes shuddered, and she awoke, opening her eyes. She looked at the canopy of her bed blankly for a moment, and after a few seconds, her blank eyes regained some of their wakefulness. She slowly pushed herself up. Lazily, she stretched, the thick cotton duvet falling down, a thin white nightgown covering her young body, prominently bulging at the chest. Her white neck showed delicate lines, and her head of messy silken hair supported a beautifully graceful face. She put her jade-like hand up to her small red mouth, and yawned. The maid sleeping on a small bed opposite her suddenly awoke, and calmly dressed herself. “The air in the room is stuffy, open the window a bit.” The young girl rubbed her forehead, ordering. The maid immediately ran to the window. Xu Lingyue threw off the covers and left her bed, walking towards the window, breaking in the fresh cold air outside. Being born in a martial family, this elder sister didn’t have as much effeminacy as others; when Xu Pingzhi was teaching Xu Qi’an how to train his body, he liked to bring along Xu Xinnian and Xu Lingyue too. Brother and sister thus all developed strong foundations, and their bodies were very healthy. It was just when they got a little older, that Auntie no longer allowed her two daughters to practice martial arts alongside her unlucky nephew. After all, Xu Pingzhi had decided then, that his nephew would practice martial arts, and his son would read books. An intellectual practicing martial arts, was not befitting. The daughters even more could not train; if they were to refine a body of callouses, how could they marry in the future? Xu Lingyue was just enjoying the fresh air, when she suddenly saw a shadow cross by the window, their clothes black, a red-edged bailiff’s emblem sewn to his wrists and collar. Brother and sister silently looked at each other through the window. Xu Qi’an lowered his head, gaze travelling to his sister’s large round breasts. Xu Lingyue screamed sharply, and slammed close the window. *Sister’s growing up!* Xu Qi’an thought with pride. Even though I did not bring her up, but at least I watched her grow. In the room, Xu Lingyue squatted on the ground, red-faced and hugging her chest. The maid jabbered, “Miss, your habits should change, you must brush and wash and dress tidily before you open the window. Look, you were seen by Dalang, thank goodness he’s your own family, if someone else saw you, how could you live on?” “Rich for you to say!” Xu Lingyue retorted angrily, in embarrassment. In past days, Xu Xinnian did not walk this way, her parents’ master bedroom was also not here, so getting up at dawn, and opening the window, was usually very safe. *Why is big brother in the inner courtyard…* Xu Lingyue, sitting in front of the dresser, was filled with confusion. The maid stood beside her, doing her hair and makeup. Once done, she rummaged around the jewellery box, and complained “Miss, you don’t have any nice looking hairpins.” Xu Lingyue did not reply, sighing. Her family had gone through disaster after disaster, their savings at this point were empty. A whole family’s clothes, food, their servants included, was a total of nearly twenty mouths, a huge running cost. How could they have money to buy her a new hairpin? “The hairpins in Baoqixuan were all very pretty, I went in there yesterday, and almost didn’t want to leave. If one were to be stuck in Miss’s hair, it’ll definitely… definitely… add beauty and beauty.” “Add radiance and beauty?”[^1] Xu Lingyue’s eyes flashed with longing, but it was quickly suppressed again. The maid said to herself, “Shame it was too expensive, ten taels of silver for one. Unless you can solve the store’s riddles, then the owner would discount it.” Xu Lingyue listened, not really paying attention, and suddenly asked, “Lan’er, do you think big brother has changed a lot recently?” The maid named Lan’er stopped in her tracks, as a smile suddenly glowed on her face, “Dalang recently has been much kinder, much more interesting, and much more able. In the past he always maintained a straight face, and did not treat Miss or Erlang that well, and only smiled when he talked to the Master.” Xu Lingyue seemed to be really satisfied with her answer, as her delicate egg-shaped face also bloomed in smile, “That’s not all his fault; Mum’s never treated him well.” Xu Lingyue very much liked the feeling of a closer, warmer relationship between the two, and as her emotions were joyful, like a person bathed in spring’s breeze, … Xu Qi’an came to Xu Lingyin’s bedroom door. She hadn’t reached the age where the sexes were separated yet, and so he did not need to knock, walking straight in. He saw Xu Lingyin squatted on the floor, her small hand clutching a bristle toothbrush, sternly brushing her own teeth with a serious face. As if it was a mighty grand task. The maid inside the room was making the bed. “Iss big bwother…” she raised her head, a mouthful of bubbles, and said indistinctly. “Why are you doing it yoursef?” Xu Qi’an asked, eyeing the maid. “Daddy said boys must improve one’s discipline, before being able to train well.” “You… do you know that you’re a girl?” Xu Qi’an asked hesitantly. “I know,” Little Pea tilted her head, a face full of innocence. *No… you don’t know…* Xu Qi’an continued, “Then, do you know what’s the difference between a boy and girl?” “Brother, I don’t know.” Little Pea said truthfully, and then asked “What difference?” That would get onto the topic of human biology, and that’s a never ending rabbit hole. Plus, Xu Lingyin might not even understand me… relying on the vast experiences of the nine years of compulsory education in his previous life, and his infinite patience, Xu Qi’an summaried together a definition that both old and young would understand, a plain, simple way of understanding things: “To put it simply, mm, when boys grow up they fight, when girls grow up they cause trouble.” Xu Lingyin exclaimed with great revelation “No wonder mum always says I’m a troublemaker.” She proceed to run around the room in circles, shouting happily “I’m a troublemaker, I’m a troublemaker…” Xu Qi’an silently closed the door. Today’s breakfast, he didn’t plan to eat at home. --- [^1]: The original text was about a certain Chengyu, which is impossible to translate