[If you’re not reading this on chichilations, then you’re reading a stolen copy. Reposts are not allowed anywhere or for any reason!
Links for mobile viewers: Ko-fi Donation — Chichi’s Twitter — Project Index — Digital Version Library
I see all your likes and comments~ Thanks in advance~]
The sponsors of this medium-sized chapter are: fearsey (5) and rina (2)! Thank youuu~
(Click here for details on how sponsored chapters work.)
Note: lmao @ NU bot thinking this is a side story because of the title]
Tang Fan walked over. “What is it, Ah-Dong? How about you come in and talk about it.”
The cake had been sliced into small square chunks, their translucent bodies embedded with pieces of chestnuts inside.
The tofu rolls were thin egg wrappings stuffed with steamed shiitake rice and diced tofu, then fried in pork fat. The outside was browned, and the inside was soft and aromatic, making one ravenous seeing them.
He took a look; the basket was still packed full. “How come you didn’t sneak any to eat today?” he couldn’t help but tease.
She sighed deeply, righteously demonstrating that she wouldn’t just steal food. “I might not be able to come bring you anymore snacks in a couple of days.”
In truth, despite Mister Tang being a foodie, he was flexible by nature, and not too demanding over his quality of life — to have was best, to not was no big thing. Hence, upon hearing her words, he just smiled. “Why? Did you make a mistake and get put on house arrest?”
Ah-Dong shook her head. “No, no. I heard the Old Lord is bringing back his newly-taken concubine, and the Madam isn’t happy. Plus, Sister Ah-Chun said that when he returns, the Madam won’t be able to make decisions in the house, so it won’t be easy for us to go out.”
Tang Fan was confused. “Even if he does return, isn’t she still the Mistress of the family? How could she not even be able to make the trifling decision of sending snacks?”
She propped her chin up. “I heard Sister Ah-Chun say something else. She told me not to say it to anyone random. You can’t tell it to anybody after you hear it!”
He picked up a cake piece and put it in his mouth, thinking to himself that the Li cook really had first-class skill whilst he poked fun at her. “Well, if you don’t tell me now, I’m afraid I won’t be able to resist saying something.”
Ancient peoples matured early, and the little girl was right at the age of gossip and excitability where she was eager to have someone to share stuff with; how could she not say anything? At his refusal, her tiny face scrunched up tight. “Then… then don’t say it to anyone I know! They can’t know that I was the one that said anything!”
He pffted out a laugh. “Alright, alright. Say what you want to say, now.”
“I heard Sister Ah-Chun say that the Madam’s been married into the Li family for a lot of years and hasn’t had any babies the whole time. Even Young Lord Lin was born from the Old Lord’s concubine. Because of that, the Old Lord has always threatened that he was going to divorce the Madam, but because her maiden family has distant relatives that are officials, he’s constantly had apprehensions about doing that. This time, he’s bringing back a concubine, and she’s said to already be pregnant, so the Madam is displeased all of right now. Even everything we do will need to be done a bit low-key. Ah-Chun won’t let me bring things over after today so that the Old Lord won’t accidentally see, misunderstand something, and offend you then.”
Tang Fan was bewildered. “Even if that’s the case, your Mistress has been managing the household for many years. Your Master goes on long, faraway business trips, while she takes care of the Li home; how can he treat her like she’s a maid he can rid of, or divorce her just because he says so?”
Furthermore, the Madam Li he knew wasn’t anyone that had none of her own opinions and would allow someone to bully and humiliate her.
Ah-Dong, still ultimately being a little girl, was a bit confused upon hearing that. After thinking for a good minute, she said, “Sister Ah-Chun said that something happened to the Madam’s maiden family long ago, and they needed a lot of money. No one else could help in time but our Master, who took out his savings to assist them. Because of that, our family became poor later on, and the Old Lord couldn’t continue to study to be an official, so the Madam’s always felt like she owes him.”
Logically, servants couldn’t chew tongue about their Master’s family, lest these private affairs get out everywhere. However, for one, Ah-Dong was still young, and regarded Tang Fan as someone on her side; for two, since she’d been feeling that the atmosphere in the house was stifling lately, she couldn’t help but secretly vent to him.
In a flash, Tang Fan had something that used to be inside information. Before, from just looking at Li Man both taking in a concubine and planning to abandon his wife, it was inevitable that he would think of the event between Zheng Cheng and Lady Sun. Looking at it now, though, Li Man had been able to completely shed his own wealth to aid his wife’s family, which was extremely loyal.
If there was a precedent, then there had to be a consequence. Given that what Ah-Dong said was true, it wasn’t hard for Tang Fan to understand Li Man’s psyche as a fellow man: the imperial exams were more important than life itself for a scholar. Back when there were deep conjugal feelings, he was able to spend a large amount of capital on his wife’s family, resulting in him having no choice but to renounce scholardom and switch jobs to commerce, all due to the issue of money. Yet, with the passage of time, the affections between husband and wife gradually faded, and he began to realize how much of a mistake it was to decide not to continue with studying for participation in the exams. No matter how much money a businessman had, he would ultimately be inferior in social status to the aloofness of intellectuals, which was why he had regrets on the inside. It was also common human nature to be unwilling to just blindly give things away without seeking compensation.
When all was said and done, though, these were family matters of the Li’s, and had nothing to do with him. Having just lent an ear to gossip and filled in the blanks about Li Man’s mental process as it went, Mister Tang was obviously not going to make any comments on it to a wee girl like Ah-Dong. “You telling me is fine, Ah-Dong, but you can’t talk about this at random in the outside world,” he instead answered. “Otherwise, when your Master and Mistress find out, you’ll be in real trouble.”
She nodded her head like a chick pecking rice. “I won’t say it to anyone other than you!”
He took another piece of cake and popped it in his mouth, nodding. “Good.”
He typically didn’t put on airs, able to be so casual in private. He was even capable of getting along with a little girl like her after a few days.
Ah-Dong then realized that his mouth had never stopped going all this while. She pulled the basket over to take a look, and was flabbergasted.
The entirety of the cakes inside had already been swept clean!
But… she had clearly watched him eat them really slowly!
Noticing her dumbstruck look, he grinned, with refinement. “I came back from the bureau late today. I haven’t yet had time to eat dinner.”
The young Ah-Dong chided him like a grown-up. “You can’t do that, Sir! Pastries aren’t proper food that can fill your stomach! You should eat some congee and rice and stuff!”
“But fires are rarely lit in my house, and I can only cook rice congee,” Tang Fan answered innocently. “If I only eat that every day, I might faint from hunger in the bureau.”
Expressing her sympathy, Ah-Dong rolled up her sleeves and took responsibility onto herself. “Don’t you still have stuff to eat in your kitchen, then? I’ll go make something for you!”
Saying so, she darted into the kitchen with loud steps before he had time to stop her.
Despite being a child, she had been sold into the Li family as a slave when she was even younger. The Madam never treated the servants harshly, but Ah-Dong still needed to do the work she ought to be doing. Besides that, impoverished children learned to manage the house early, and cooking by fire was a basic skill.
In less than half a shichen, a bowl of savory fried rice with chopped onions and egg came hot off the stove.
The rice was freshly steamed and fried. The two eggs, she had rooted out from the Tang kitchen. The onions had been bought out on the streets by Tang Fan previously on something of a whim, but they managed to come in useful.
Judging from this, Ah-Dong was definitely a qualified little chef mama.
Being a man, the bits of cakes he had just eaten were undoubtedly not enough for a meal. Upon seeing the bowl of egg fried rice set in front of him, he blinked, then commended her without the least bit of reserve. “Ah-Dong, you truly are Yi Ya reborn!”
She was confused. “What’s a Yi Ya? Is it something you eat?”
“…Nevermind. You’ve been dallying around here for too long, though, and ought to get back, else your Mistress will come looking for you.”
He actually really liked getting along with little Ah-Dong; at the very least, it was more effortless to than with Ah-Xia.
In the bureau and on the daily, he faced a mountainous pile of dossiers. His eyes would either encounter cases of theft, or cases of homicide and injury, and it was easy to get in a gloomy mindset from reading too many of them. Idly chit-chatting like this as soon as he got home was actually a way to relax his mind. However, Ah-Dong wasn’t his servant, in the end; she couldn’t stay here all the time.
Ah-Dong stuck out her tongue. “It’s fine. I’m a kid, anyways, there’ll be nothing to do when I go back. Sister Ah-Chun and them all love me a lot. But it would still be better for me to go back, so she doesn’t scold me!”
The bouncing Ah-Dong departed. Tang Fan tried the rice, finding out that the taste truly wasn’t bad. It was a lot tastier than what he could make himself, at least.
Following the Tang family’s decline, he had sent the last two servants he had to his sister’s husband’s home so that she could be well-off when she got married. For that reason, there was no one working by his side, and his everyday life was relatively simple due to the fact that he lived alone. He had forever been hiring temp workers to come over and clean the house every once in a while (or did it himself if he had the free time), and whenever he ate, he would dispose of the majority of the trash outside. Despite loving to eat, the only thing he himself could make was plain and tasteless white congee, which really made one unable to choke back their tears of sympathy.
Now, though, for the sake of getting warm meals to eat when he came home, he was starting to seriously consider buying a servant able to cook that would come back to serve as his home chef.
I’m not looking for someone of the Li cook’s skill, but they should reach Ah-Dong’s level at the bare minimum, eh?
On the other end, Ah-Dong returned to the Li household, carrying the basket and humming a little tune. Right when she stepped into the small courtyard, she came face-to-face with Ah-Chun, who was coming out of the Mistress’s room. The latter glared at her. Sticking out her tongue with a guilty conscience, Ah-Dong smiled to incite affection in Ah-Chun. “Sister Ah-Chun, have you eaten yet? I can go to the kitchen, take a look, and bring you some back?”
Ah-Chun jabbed her on the forehead. “You ran off to Sir Tang’s place to laze around again, didn’t you? He’s a high-ranking man that’s busy with his own stuff, and he doesn’t have the spare time to say hi to you, little girl. Don’t go thinking that I don’t know that you always secretly eat the snacks you bring. He’s too good a person to bicker with you, don’t take advantage of his kindness! The Madam isn’t in a good mood these days, so we servants need to be a bit on the alert!”
“Yes, yes, I know!” Ah-Dong knew the other to typically have a harsh mouth, but a soft heart, so she attentively voiced her agreement over and over. Then, she saw that the food she held hadn’t even been touched by any chopsticks. “The Madam refused to eat again? Isn’t Sister Ah-Xia on duty today, though? How come you brought the food?”
Ah-Chun sighed, pulling her to the side. “Ever since she got rejected by Sir Tang, Ah-Xia hasn’t been feeling well,” she whispered. “She’s been working so absent-mindedly, I’m afraid that she’ll offend the Madam. That’s why I’m helping her shoulder it a bit. As for the Madam, there’s not much that we can do about that as servants. Don’t go to Sir Tang’s place for a while. The Master will be coming back with someone soon, and a new courtyard definitely needs to be vacated. You work quickly, so go help tidy it up quicker!”
Ah-Dong affirmed, of course, then said, “You go on and eat before that, then, Sister Ah-Chun. I’ll stand watch here.”
“What about the dishes inside that still need to be taken care of?!”
Ah-Dong pushed her out. “I’ll do it, I will!”
Left with no choice, Ah-Chun had to bring the stuff she was carrying to the kitchen.
The instant she exited, Ah-Xia returned.
Ah-Dong gave an oh. “Sister Ah-Xia, you don’t look so good. Do you not feel well?”
Ever since Tang Fan had rejected her proposal for concubinage, she had continuously been weak and depressed, but the complexion she had today was even paler than the one she had yesterday.
She forced a smile. “It’s nothing. My monthly just came and my stomach hurts a bit.”
Ah-Dong blinked. She wasn’t old enough to experience such a thing herself, but was affected by it normally, so she understood. “You go on and rest, then. I’ll be okay here.”
“This is no big deal.” Ah-Xia pat her on the head. “Where’s Ah-Chun?”
“She’d been so busy up ’til now that she hadn’t eaten yet, so I made her go do that first.”
“What’s the Madam’s command, then?”
“Sister Ah-Chun said that she didn’t even eat a couple bites, and there’s some dishes that still need to be put away inside. I’m in the middle of going to get them!”
“I’ll do that, then. Can you help me bring it all to the kitchen in a moment?”
She watched Ah-Xia go in, thinking to herself that it was truly terrible whenever a woman’s monthlies came. Sister Ah-Xia was even having difficulty walking, so it had to hurt a lot. Remembering that she would be experiencing such a horrible thing herself in a few years’ time, Ah-Dong couldn’t help but shudder.
The translator says: …Do periods really make it hard to walk? Doesn’t seem quite right, but I wouldn’t know, so maybe I should shut up.
Edit: People who have periods have told me that that can totally be a thing, so I’ll shut up LOL