# 48. Auntie Hmph, the Little Bastard Still Has Heart Auntie was furious, her beautiful face seeming to be covered in a layer of frost, and not of the type that easily melts. Uncle Xu’s scalp tingled, as he complained “Ningyan, if you have silver, why didn’t you use it to support the family? Instead you go and buy these unnecessary luxuries.” He planned to claw back some sense of acceptance from his wife by dissing Ningyan, and reduce some of her anger. Xu Lingyue said lightly “At home we don’t have a lack of clothing or food, dad’s meals include big brother’s rice salary in it too.” Uncle Xu’s words were pushed back down his throat by his daughter’s remark, and so quickly changed the topic, “Ningyan, where did you get the silver?” Xu Qi’an said “I thought that my sister’s hairpin was too cheap, and so bore that in mind, living frugally, and saving enough silver. Plus, Jinbaoxuan has the character riddle game, and if you win, you get half of…” He couldn’t just say that he had gotten that for free. He didn’t want to make like Cijiu and die a social death. Xu Lingyue’s hand, holding her bowl, very lightly shook, her heart softened to the point of melting, as she watched Xu Qi’an with watery eyes, In this home, only big brother put her wishes at heart. Father and second brother never thought that her cheap hairpin was of any issue. Women needed face too. “Big brother, do I look pretty?” She stuck the hairpin through her bun, as the candlelight reflected off her slender oval face, off her delicate features, black eyes full of sprit. Auntie was even more jealous. Xu Qi’an also felt jealous. He looked at Xu Xinnian to his left, seeing that his brother was wearing a navy blue robe, his shining black long hair pinned up with a jade hairpin, his red lips and white teeth, both handsome and beautiful. Looking back at his radiant sister, wearing that golden hairpin, and then at Auntie’s well-rounded mature figure. *The entire family’s looks are like they were kissed by angels, only I’m nothing special?* When he looked over at uncle Xu, and then at the dense and simple-minded Little Pea, he was no longer jealous. “Come, Lingyin, eat some meat.” Xu Qi’an gave her a piece of fatty meat, and then a piece of lean meat. “Big Brother is so nice!” “Big Brother thinks you look the nicest.” “The why did Big Brother not save me earlier?” Little Pea remembered earlier, when not only did big brother not save her, but rather laughed at her. “No pain, no gain. Only with pain and hardship can you become a master unmatched under heaven.” “Are there people who are unmatched under heaven, but also haven’t gone through pain?” “Yeah, in dreams.” … After dinner was almost over, Auntie said lightly, “After the new year, Ningyan will be twenty.” “Yo, Auntie still remembers how old I am.” Xu Qi’an expressed surprise. Auntie made a haughty face, and ignored him, turning to Uncle Xu, “Husband dear, it’s time to arrange Ningyan’s marriage.” Xu Lingyue and Xu Xinnian raised their heads at the same time, looking at their mother. Xu Qi’an rather was the slowest, being stunned for a few seconds, and only then reacting, reacting with disbelief. *Unlucky Auntie has suddenly put her nephew’s wedding in mind, will the sun rise from the west tomorrow?* One must know, that marriage was a serious and monumental affair, the three books and six rights, and a palanquin carried by eight — these were all silver! Auntie looked at her unfortunate nephew, and continued “I think Lü’e isn’t bad, she was raised in the manor from young, and is Ninyan’s childhood sweetheart.” *And this didn’t require lots of money… Auntie is still Auntie after all.* The delicate Lü’e exclaimed “ah?”, as red flushed her cheeks, and she did not quite know what to do. Love that comes too quickly was like a tornado, knocking her dumbstruck. In her heart, she was timid and anxious, but also hiding a little sliver o delight. Xu Lingyue looked at the maid in front of her, dim and without radiance, and was somewhat unhappy, “Mum, you don’t need to take the lead, Big brother can discuss his wedding with dad.” Hidden in those words was: Auntie, are you not aware of what position you hold in big brother’s mind? Auntie was just annoyed at seeing that hairpin go to her daughter in front of her, and scolded “Ningyan and Lü’e are a perfect fit, they know each other to heart, when does it come to you, a younger sister, to oppose it?” Xu Lingyue, chagrined, turned her head away. *No no, knowing each other to heart would be too far, we’re not quite there yet…* Xu Qi’an was just about to express his opinion, when he heard his younger brother speak. Xu Xinnian said, “Does mum think that if Lü’e was married off to big brother, that you could save on money, and also have an excuse to have big brother move out?” Bullseye on the first shot. Auntie angrily said “Child, you never learned to speak well when younger.” Uncle Xu decided to end the conversation, “Alright, alright, you don’t need to worry about this affair. If he does not make it to Refining Qi, Ningyan will not go indulge in that kind of stuff.” Lü’e was full of disappointment, her head lowered. Apart from the woman she had served from a young age, the entire family seemed to oppose her being married to Dalang. … Uncle Xu finished dinner, and ran an errand to the city guards. Then, he convened with his son and nephew, to discuss tomorrow’s plans. After returning to his room, he saw his wife sat at the edge of the bed, a face full of anger. “Is it worth it? Being angry all the way to now.” Auntie turned her head, and stared at him with her beautiful eyes, “Your little brat has no conscience at all. When I first took him from you, he was no larger than a small kitten. Who really raised him? “And he only knows how to make me angry, and make me angry. Why did I bother raising him, might as well have fed him to the rats.” She was in the middle of venting off steam, when she suddenly saw her husband pull out a wooden box from his robes, handing it over. On the box was carved three characters: “Jinbaoxuan”. Those red lips opened in shock, as she looked in a daze at her husband. “Ningyan told me to give it to you.” Uncle Xu said helplessly, “None of you would lower your head and accept defeat, he couldn’t bring himself to give you it himself. So earlier at the dinner table, he didn’t pull it out.” Auntie quickly opened the box. Within, was a golden hairpin, that was heaver and more finely made than that of her daughter’s. She clutched onto it delicately, and rushed over to the bronze mirror with hurried steps, sitting in front of the dresser, and putting it on. An oval egg-shaped face made a woman seem dignified, especially when they turned middle-aged. A melon seed shaped face rather made a woman seem delicate, but once they matured, would make them ever more beautiful. Auntie was of the latter type. She lovingly looked at herself in the bronze mirror, and lightly hmphed, “That little bastard still has heart.” Uncle Xu stood by the window, his face serious, looking at the quiet courtyard outside. By his hand, was the long dao sword of the city guard. … The night passed peacefully and without incident, as an un-sleeping Uncle Xu, and Xu Qi’an both let out a deep sigh of relief. As morning dawned, Xu Lingyue again wearing a single layered robe, opened the window, and stretched her young delicate figure in the cool morning breeze. “Miss, what are you looking at?” “Nothing in particular.” After a while… “Miss, what are you waiting for?” “Nothing in particular.” “Miss, you should come and do your makeup.” “I know… you’re so annoying.” As soon as daybreak came, Uncle Xu left home, and convened with the guards under his command. Xu Qi’an left to hire horse-drawn carts, and Xu Xinnian stayed at home, ordering the servants to pack luggage. At around noon, two horse-drawn carriages and several dozen riders left the city gates, and headed northwest towards the Cloud Deer Academy. Their speed was not quick, only reaching the foot of Qingyun mountain after four hours. The three men of the Xu family let out a breath. “Are we too afraid of our own shadows?” Uncle Xu frowned. Erlang, well read in the arts of warfare, replied slowly, “If the people following big brother yesterday were really from the Zhou Manor, then they have already missed their two best chances to act. “But it may be the case that in Deputy Minister Zhou’s eyes, we are just ants that can be squished at any time, and so he’s not in any hurry. He has more pressing issues at hand,” To underestimate one’s enemy was a big mistake in military strategy, but usually this required both sides to have similar power, or not be too far apart. In the Zhou family’s eyes, the Xu family was indeed insignificant enough to be treated without care. “But there’s one thing that we must face, and that’s that if Deputy Minister Zhou does not go, then we must die.” Xu Qi’an said solemnly. Little Pea’s joyous laughter interrupted their discussion, as she poked her head out through the window, looking at the countryside scene with excitement. Xu Lingyin had always thought that they had come out to play. Xu Qi’an thought she was annoying, and so pointed to the shadow of the Cloud Deer Academy, saying “Do you know where that is?” “No, big brother.” Xu Lingyin laughed, her round face looking like an apple. “That’s second brother’s school.” He replied. The word “School” instantly made Xu Lingyin cautious, as she looked at her big brother. Xu Qi’an nodded, “We plan to take you there to study, you won’t be allowed home afterwards.” The smile on Xu Lingyin’s round little face quickly vanished, as she looked at her big brother in a daze. She silently ducked her head back in, and after a few seconds, the ear-piercing sound of wailing came from within. “Muumm, I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to study, waaaa….” “Stop being so noisy, your big brother is tricking you.” “Why would big brother trick me?” “Because he’s a brat.” Xu Qi’an’s mood suddenly improved. Reaching the foot of the mountain, they climbed the steps. Xu Qi’an and Xu Cijiu visited Zhang Shen, but the person who met them was Li Mubai. “Where is my teacher?” Xu Cijiu asked. “He’s gone into solitary meditation.” Li Mubai scanned over Xu Qi’an, replying, “I’ve already arranged a courtyard for you.” Xu Cijiu bowed and expressed his thanks, and then said “My younger sister is just in the stage where she should start becoming literate. Would Sir allow her to study in the Academy a while?” This ask was not outrageous. If Xu Lingyue wanted to study, then the Academy would instantly refuse, but Xu Lingyue was a five year old child, and in this day and age, scholars did not prejudice themselves against teaching children literacy, and even go as far as promoting it. It’s just that children from normal families didn’t always have the opportunity. Li Mubai nodded, accepting. … Two days passed in a flash. In the dawn of the third day, Xu Cijiu, only caring about socialising with fellow students; Uncle Xu, collecting rumours and information; and Xu Qi’an, who hadn’t been to the Goulan in three days, gathered in the study. Lü’e had already left with the women to Cloud Deer Academy, and the three men didn’t want to make and pour tea. This is the first time they were bringing together what they have heard and gathered, and preparing to set out a plan of action against Zhou Li.