# 52. A Family Should Be Together Guests gathered on the ground floor of the Reflecting Plum Pavilion. The door to the outside was wide open, and pieces of thin silk draped down, blocking out some of the frigid winds. Just over a dozen guests sat inside the room, drinking alcohol, laughing, talking, and enjoying the plum blossoms. In the four corners of the room stood braziers roaring with flame, pushing back the winter chill. A maidservant lead Xu Qi’an inside. The guests all turned their heads, looking at this tall, moon-white Confucian robe wearing young man. Constable Wang’s drinking game rules flashed through Xu Qi’an’s mind, as he tried his hardest to make his smile more gentlemanly, as he greeted them: “My name is Yang Ling, a xiucai of Changle county. My greetings to all my honourable brothers.” Within the room, there were brocade-wearing upper-class men, students of the Imperial Academy, in all not too low in status, but not extremely high. Some looked away, disinterested, whilst others examined him, and some returned a light smile. *Looks like during the official examination, the Great Feng’s officials have been watching their behaviour more… before, with Fuxiang’s fame, this place would definitely have been booked full…* Xu Qi’an calmly sat down, his eyes never moving from that oiran, who was leading the event. Her face was like the spring, her eyes shone like the rainbow, with a heavenly aura. *This woman is really nice[^1]…* Xu Qi’an, though he had seen many beauties, was still stunned by her appearance. Just from her features, this oiran was on the same level as Auntie, or Xu Lingyue, or Chu Caiwei. They were all different kinds of beautiful, all with their same unique charm. She was one of those women who could simply walk on the street and stun all male passers-by with her beauty. Just from her disposition, this oiran had the refined cultured aura of an unmarried woman of a large important family. From her clothing, she wore clothes that other women of this era didn’t dare touch, how thin they were. Her smooth shoulders were half revealed, her neck was tall and thin, and around her chest was wrapped layers of thin chiffon fabric, making her cleavage indistinct. To have such a cleavage, she must be good — she had good reason to be an oiran. Miss Fuxiang took the position of “Commander”, leading this drinking game. The commander was responsible for dishing out the drinking orders, the one who lead and kept the attitude of the game. This role was always played by an oiran, or a famous prostitute, as no ordinary woman could take it up; the cultural and education level required for it was too high. At this moment, a game of “association” was going around, making *duilian*[^2] one after another. Sat to the left of Xu Qi’an was a middle-aged man in a light blue robe, with amulets and trinkets that clanged. It just so happened that the round had reached him, as this man raised his cup, thinking for a long while, before saying “Ice cold wine, one drop, two drops, three drops.” The oiran raised a small flag she had beside her hand, and made a few comments (total flattery) on the leading verse. The middle aged man’s smile widened, as he felt well appreciated. This was why the commander had be a famous prostitute with a very high level of education, otherwise they would hardly even be able to make flattery. After giving her judgement, the heavenly looking oiran turned her watery, vibrant eyes onto Xu Qi’an. The other participants of the game quickly looked over. *I’m not too good at duilian… Just matching it up well is already hard enough…* Xu Qi’an’s expression did not change, but inside he was beginning to feel anxious. His gaze swept outside, towards the plum trees in the courtyard, and suddenly had a stroke of inspiration. Deliberately drinking his alcohol, and making a casual and confident posture, he said loudly, “December’s Plums, hundreds, thousands, ten-thousands.” “Marvellous!” the eyes of the other guests lit up, and as they looked at Xu Qi’an, they began to smile. It was equivalent to admitting that he had the ability to compete for the oiran with them, and treating him as a player of equal skill. Fuxiang laughed, and similarly gave Xu Qi’an a series of comments (flattery) in review. *The smile on her face is too professional… as soon as she finished speaking, she immediately stopped looking at me… the way she’s sitting is somewhat stiff, only drinking when asked to drink…* Xu Qi’an silently observed this oiran’s movements and attitude. Combined with his knowledge of psychology, he came to a conclusion: *This oiran did not think much of our skill.* *She was merely patiently accompanying us.* The maid came over again, leading another person in. What a beautiful young man, with pale white skin, clear cool eyes, thin red lips, well-formed features, almost like a woman’s face on a man’s body. Everyone in the room glanced around, and even Fuxiang showed a surprised look; she had not seen such a handsome young man in a long while. After entering the room, that scholar-dressed young man looked around, and suddenly stopped in his tracks, freezing in pace. The corner of Xu Qi’an’s eye twitched, as after ages he managed to squeeze out one sentence: “What a coincidence.” The beautiful young man’s mouth twitched, as he also responded, “What a coincidence…” “Do the two of you know each other?” The man in the light blue robe, beside Xu Qi’an asked with some surprise. *More than just know, he’s my younger brother…* Xu Qi’an pushed down a feeling of embarrassment and shame that could flip a river on its head, and laughed resolutely, “We’ve met a few times. Seems Brother Xu still remembers old Yang, we’ve met each other in Changle County.” He deliberately revealed his own surname, to remind Xu Xinnian that he was using a fake name. This was the most basic technique to avoid arousing suspicion. Xu Xinnian lacked knowledge in this field, but he was clever, and immediately got what his cousin was trying to say, and greeted the guests, “My name is Xu Ping’an, a student in Changle County.” *Have you just mixed up mine and uncle’s names…* Xu Qi’an used drinking to hide the cursing in his heart. The drinking game continued, and after a short while, the maid brought another two people in. On the left was a handsome young man with a striking appearance, wearing a sky-blue robe, wearing a jade amulet, a forest green jade hairpin holding back his hair. The one on the right was a tall and strong built person, with a square face, acceptable features, wearing the robes of a rich businessman. His body gave off a fierce aura, different from most merchants and scholars. Entering the tea room, this muscular middle-aged man looked around absent-mindedly, and suddenly froze, and turned to stone. Xu Qi’an: “…” Xu Xinnian: “…” The maid realised that the guest had not followed her, turned, and said softly, “Sir, this way please.” “Ah- oh, oh.” Xu Pingzhi braced himself internally, and entered the drinking room. Xu Qi’an and Xu Xinnian both silently straightened their backs. After Uncle Xu had sat down, the three knowingly avoided looking at each other, maintaining a proper posture and demeanour, looking down at their noses. *Didn’t these two brats say they had no time… Cijiu is whatever, as after all I can understand what he would have thought… but Ningyan has never been to the Goulan…* *Did Uncle not say that he had a night shift tonight… in the past when Auntie and I would argue, he would say that being able to marry such a beautiful wife in this life was eight lives worth of luck, and so he did not want to scold Auntie… pah, you’ve still come out to whore.* *Doesn’t big brother not go to the Goulan… I was wondering why my robe suddenly disappeared, he has no shame. Didn’t dad say that he loved mum so much that he would never step foot in these kind of establishments…* What the three people thought in their heart was much more colourful than their stiff expressions implied. Xu Qi’an reckoned that the list of the most embarrassing things that have ever happened in his life needed a new entry: going out whoring, and meeting both his uncle and younger brother. *Fuck me, I’ve also socially died…* Immediately, he thought, *well, at least it wasn’t just me,* and felt better about it. The drinking game continued, and Xu Xinnian managed to play with an average level of competency — after all, he was a scholar. For Xu Qi’an, his ability was varied, and sometimes he still had to take a drink. As for Second Uncle Xu, he drank all the way through, suffering others’ contempt. *Uncle really doesn’t have any background for this kind of bullshitting; you haven’t even read any books, what’s the point of you joining? Do you think you can just want to sleep an oiran and be able to do so?* Xu Qi’an complained internally. *Dad’s really just wasting silver…* Xu Xinnian also complained internally. Both of then were somewhat anxious, as their behaviour was all very average, and insufficient to raise the oiran’s interests. Xu Xinnian, though he looked particularly handsome, owing to his overly average performance he very slowly lost the attention of the oiran. The worst thing was that on the field was a very strong opponent - that handsome young person with the sky blue robe. He studied in the Imperial Academy, and was relatively talented. Even though he entered the game somewhat late, he still managed with his talents to take the field, and even make the oiran occasionally cover her mouth and giggle. That sky-blue robed young man picked up his wine cup, took a small sip, proclaiming, “This time, I hope you don’t mind this person starting us all off.” No one had any other opinion, and Fuxiang said with a smile “Master Zhao, please.” Master Zhao looked round at all the other guests, and said “Pine leaves, bamboo leaves, leaves and leaves of green.” “A repeated-character verse?” Someone exclaimed in shock. “”Pine leaves, bamboo leaves, leaves and leaves of green… marvellous, marvellous! I’m ashamed to say I’m no match.” “Brother Zhao is a talent, a true student of the Imperial Academy.” As a whole round went and came, and no one was able to match it. Master Zhao’s smile was light, as his expression was haughty. Miss Fuxiang’s eyes glinted, as she looked deeply at Master Zhao. *From her expression and slight movements, the oiran seems to rather like this Master Zhao, and seems to appreciate his talent…* Xu Qi’an frowned, turning to look at Xu Xinnian. The latter just so happened to turn his gaze also, and they saw the worry on each others’ brows. Originally, according to Xu Xinnian’s thoughts, his big brother, with his art in poetry, would be to the Jiaofangsi like a fish to water. Who could have predicted that after all this time, after all these rounds, there was nothing in the way of poetry. In reality in the drinking games of the Jiaofangsi, poems were a topic that were not dealt with much. In the past two hundred years, talented poets were few and far between, and the scholars were not skilled in making poems. In drinking games, naturally they would avoid that with no one was good at. And as for the guests tonight, their qualities were varied and uneven, even making duilian was somewhat difficult. Fuxiang deliberately did not pick the topic of poetry, avoiding her guests being embarrassed in front of others., At this time, Fuxiang gracefully stood up, and brushed down her body, saying softly, “This young woman is somewhat tired, and must leave early. Please, do enjoy ourselves.” And so the games were over. Afterwards, if the oiran found a person she liked, then she would ask her maid to go and ask them to stay, and invite him into her room. If there was no one, then the maid would see the guests off, and then start another game. Everyone waited with anticipation and anxiety, as time passed slowly. After half a stick of incense, a maid came out and said, “Our madam invites Master Zhao for tea in her room.” The other guests all regretfully shook their heads, sighing, with some laughing and congratulating Master Zhao. Zhao wore a light smile, carrying a victorious aura. At this, none of the three men of the Xu Family could sit still any more. --- [^1]: 奈斯, Technically Chinese slang, literally loaning the English word “nice” [^2]: Two matching lines (through tone, meaning, etc.), a common feature of Chinese poetry. They are, unsurprisingly, very difficult to translate.