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Hearing that voice, Tang Yu felt her heart dim, and she entered. He Lin was seen lying on the bed, one arm across his eyes and the other hanging off the side, looking like he was down on his luck.
“Didn’t I tell you not to come in?!” he put his arm down to glare at her with bloodshot eyes. It was unknown whether they were like that because he had drunk too much, or had cried.
She pretended not to notice, smiling gently. “I brought you sobering soup. Drink a bowl of it, lest you feel unwell.”
He laughed coldly. “So what if I’m unwell? Who in this family cares if I’m well or not? They only care about how the eldest’s doing outside or whether the youngest can pass the triennial spring exams, don’t they?”
“I care,” Tang Yu answered calmly. “You are my husband, so of course I do. You can’t ruin your health over idle gossip. Aren’t there many people in this world that need time to build themselves up? Some only get to become officials in their forties, too. You’re only thirty-four, so there’s a lot of time left for you. Come, drink the soup.”
With that, she passed the bowl to him, but he suddenly raised his hand and knocked it over with a dull clink. Scalding liquid splashed out onto her hand and skirts, and she couldn’t help but cry out.
He Lin was momentarily stunned, a trace of guilt flashing past his face. He really hadn’t meant to do that; he had only knocked into it by coincidence. And yet, he couldn’t set his pride down and apologize, instead turning nasty. “Who told you to bring that here? I even said that I wasn’t going to drink it!”
Tang Yu’s eyes finally reddened. She stared straight at him, speechless.
He was made fully uncomfortable by her staring. “What? They all look down on me, so even you do, too?”
She sighed. “Lord, you weren’t like this before. Why have you changed now?”
He Lin sneered. “I always knew you never thought much of me. You think that I don’t give you a lot of face, right? No need to call me ‘Lord’ anymore! I don’t have the achievement of Provincial Honorate, so calling me that will just make people laugh!”
Even though, strictly speaking, it was indeed true that only after passing the provincials would others call someone a ‘Lord Honorate’, ‘Lord’ was honestly just what rich households called its males nowadays. Since He Lin had a fragile ego, this was nothing more than him trying to pick bones out of eggs.
“No one is looking down on you. Why must you take the chatter of others to heart?”
He sat up with a bang. “How can I not take it to heart?! Twenty years ago, the most impressive one in this family was me! They were all saying that I would be the first of this generation of He’s to become a Palace Honorate! And what was the result of that? Twenty years have passed, yet I can’t even test through to being a Provincial! Isn’t that a joke?! I know that you feel wronged from getting married off to me, so how about you… who is it?! Get in here!”
Before he got to finish, a knock had come from the door, and he couldn’t help but rage out the last bit. A short moment later, the door was gently pushed open a crack, and a young maid that attended Tang Yu timidly came in. “Second Lady, there’s a young Don outside claiming that he’s your little brother.”
Happy, Tang Yu wiped her tears away. “That must be him. I counted the days out, so him getting here today is correct. Quick, let’s go out to welcome him!”
“Hold it.” He Lin got up from the bed. “I’m going, too.”
He was an extreme face-saver; how would it make sense for a relative to stop by for a family visit while his sister’s husband kept laying down, feigning drunkenness in bed?
“You’re out of sorts, so just rest, Lord. Runqing won’t mind.”
He sneered. “Could it be that you’re afraid that your County-honors-only husband will embarrass you in front of your high-official little brother?”
His ego was so big, he could always warp the good intentions of others.
Tang Yu was happy due to getting to meet her long-unseen relative after so long, so she didn’t want to wrangle with him anymore, telling the maid to quickly help the Lord change out of his clothes before he went to say hello. Once he was fully dressed, the married couple went out to the main gate.
Truth be told, before Tang Yu had gotten the report, Tang Fan was nearly refused entry at the He home’s entrance. The only thing to blame was his poor timing, which had landed upon the day that guests were scrambling over for a party here. Many that hadn’t been invited were wanting to sneak in using the chaos, and as a result of there being so many of them, the doorman had gone a little numb. Once he’d heard him claiming to be the little brother of the He’s Second Lady, he had subconsciously believed that he, too, was wanting to go in to sneak some food and drink.
Even with that, thanks to Tang Fan being born in a good skinsack and having some subordinates beside him, he didn’t much look like a conman. The doorman uneasily asked him a few questions, then finally sent word in before Yan Li and the others could get impatient and flip out.
Yan Li peered at the He home, where people were coming and going, then whispered to Tang Fan. “Don, the He’s aren’t that big of a family. These are quite some airs they’re putting on.”
Tang Fan burst out laughing. “You came from the capital, so you inevitably don’t think this much. At the Emperor’s feet, any ol’ wealthy residence has much more pomp than this one, but with Xianghe County being as small a place as it is, this is pretty good!”
While the two were talking, a man and a woman walked out from inside. The young woman got hot tears filling her eyes when she saw Tang Fan — the latter didn’t forget his manners, but his emotions still went wild.
That mad burst of joy received from reunion shortly changed into incredulity. Tang Fan was now depressed. “Sis, can you not call me that?”
Because Tang Fan had had thick hair as a newborn, sprightly and cute, all of the Tangs had heavily adored him, his big sister especially. She had even regarded him as her most-beloved toy, refusing to part with him all day long and giving him that nickname.
Folks claimed that giving a child an awful nickname would allow them to grow up in peace. Not only had their parents not expressed any objection towards that incongruous nickname, but they had even started calling him that, too; now that the Tang elders were gone, the only one left that knew that nickname was, of course, Tang Yu.
“It sounds nice! Why don’t you want to be called that?” Tang Yu stroked his hair and squeezed his hand, eyes filled with affection and excitement. “You’ve gotten taller and leaner.”
He beamed as he let her hand pet him. “Once one gets leaner, it’s inevitable that they’d look taller.”
Many people were in front of the He’s main gate today, so the siblings’ meetup quickly attracted a lot of attention. Seeing this, He Lin lightly coughed. “Let’s go in and chat.”
Only then did Tang Fan realize that He Lin was standing there, and cupped his hands towards him. “I trust you’ve been well, brother-in-law?”
He Lin smiled and nodded. “Everything’s good. Your big sister has been missing you for a long time. Since you’ve come, you should stay a while.”
“That’s just what I was thinking.” Tang Fan smiled. “There’s no need to trouble yourself convincing me to.”
During their conversation, someone else had presumably brought word in about Tang Fan’s arrival to the He’s, as they had sent someone to welcome him.
He Ying’s prior post had been third-rank, and his wife, Lady Xu, shared that status, so they had no need to come out in person. The newcomer was the Third He, the main lead of today’s party, who had just passed the provincials — He Xuan.
He Xuan was clearly more personable than his second brother; at the bare minimum, the pleasantly-surprised look on his face appeared to be more fervent than He Lin’s, regardless of whether it was an act or not.
“No wonder I was confused as to why the magpies in the branches were singing today; it turns out that you’ve come, Brother Runqing! Forgive us for not being present to welcome you!”
In accordance with terms of official address, He Xuan should have bowed towards Tang Fan and called him ‘Sir’, but as they were relatives, doing things elsewise was more appropriate. Tang Fan had stopped by for a visit once before after his sister had married into the He’s, so he was well acquainted with its members.
“Come, come, let’s talk more inside,” He Xuan said to Tang Fan’s group. “My parents were delighted to hear that you’re here!”
“It’s been a long time,” Tang Fan answered with a smile. “I’ll go say hello to them first thing. Though, why is it so lively here today? Has some immensely joyous event happened?”
As the one featured, He Xuan found it too embarrassing to answer, so He Lin spoke up from nearby. “One has indeed. My brother here has become a Provincial Honorate.”
“That really is good news! Congrats, congrats! You’ll have to treat me to a cup of wine, Brother Mingcheng!”
While he said this, he imperceptibly glanced at He Lin, then saw his brother-in-law’s expectedly pale complexion; clearly, he didn’t seem happy for his little brother. Tang Fan couldn’t help but inwardly sigh, thinking to himself that the He Lin’s exam route was indeed a bumpy one. Were it to be said that his talents were mediocre, that would make sense, but as a child, he had so obviously been over-qualified, even repeatedly praised for it by his elders, the name of that child prodigy spreading throughout the entire county — yet it was precisely because of that that he felt an increasing sense of unbearable disappointment from falling from his heights.
What one had never received, they wouldn’t care about, but losing what one had gotten was probably the most upsetting sensation.
He Xuan smiled. “How could I dare to accept congratulations? You’re such a hugely busy man that rarely has time to come visit your relatives! You practically bring radiance to our home!”
Tang Fan smiled, as well. “I don’t deserve those words. Putting aside Uncle He being third-rank, your eldest brother is now a fourth-rank Prefectural Magistrate. With how all my predecessors are, how could I be so impetuous?”
The other chuckled. “Those aren’t the same at all. My father and brother are both local officials, while you’re a capital official of Hanlin status. That alone makes you a grade higher than them!”
He appeared to be aware that saying such things was disrespectful, so he had given those statements while leaned in close to him with a hushed voice, so that only the two of them had heard.
Tang Fan had to laugh, shaking his head.
Even though Xianghe wasn’t too far from the capital, Tang Fan’s dismissal had really not been that long ago. There was no way news could have traveled here so quickly, so, even now, they believed that he was still appointed as a Chief in the Ministry of Justice.
The nine children of the dragon each differed; the three He brothers naturally had different personalities, too.
As it went, the youngest here, He Xuan, was adored by both his parents at home, and had a much more animated personality than He Lin. When it came to getting along with people, others would certainly be happy to interact with an often-smiling person, as opposed to being willing to associate with a stern-faced person that was gloomy all the time. Tang Fan was no exception.
Still, He Lin was his brother-in-law, so he couldn’t speak to He Xuan exclusively while ignoring him. “Brother Mingcheng, you’re being celebrated today, and we’re not strangers. You don’t need to be preoccupied with me any longer, just go back and mingle. I still have my brother-in-law here for anything else.”
He Lin’s expression softened up a bit. Right when he went to speak, He Xuan started going again, though. “That won’t do! Your status is higher than our head of household’s, so you need to be in the seat of honor! Come — first, we’ll go pay a visit to my father, then speak more afterwards!”
Tang Fan glanced at He Lin; sure enough, the latter’s face was overcast again.
He Xuan pulled him straight inside. Since it would do no good to argue, Tang Fan had to follow him into the inner hall.
Upon sighting him, He Ying was overjoyed, getting up to welcome him and introduce him to everyone else. “This is Tang Fan, courtesy Runqing, who placed fourth in the Sheep of Twists palace exam in the eleventh year of Chenghua, became a Hanlin entrant, and now serves as an official of the Ministry of Justice.”
As soon as that resume was put out in the open, things quickly came to no longer be the same. The eyes of everyone on-scene, including Xianghe’s Magistrate, changed as they looked at him.
These days, whenever people of scholardom got acquainted, they would first exchange names and surnames, then put out their career history. The background of a Hanlin entrant was the most revered, of course. If one didn’t have that, then they would clearly state which year of Palace Honorate they had nabbed. Were everyone present to be of the same year, that would be best, as they could call each other brothers, else they would address each other as was appropriate to their respective years, like Senior, Junior, and so on.
Looking at Xianghe, apart from Patriarch He Ying and the already-outbound He Yi, there was really no one around with a rank comparable to Tang Fan’s. Even Magistrate Weng was only of seventh-rank.
Everyone got up in succession to bow towards Tang Fan, addressing him as ‘Sir’.
Magistrate Weng and Tang Fan gave courtesies to each other, as well, but not according to official rank — instead, they were based off of scholardom seniority, in their respective years of becoming Palace Honorates. As Magistrate Weng had become one in the eighth year of Chenghua, he preceded Tang Fan by one exam, so when the latter met the former, he addressed him as a Senior; however, as the Magistrate’s rank was lower than his, he didn’t dare to accept the honor.
The rules of this era’s officialdom were just way too bothersome.
After Tang Fan paid back courtesies, he then bowed towards He Ying in the capacity as a Junior. The latter was obliged to accept it, smiling. “This old man heard the Second say that you were coming over quite a while ago, but I hadn’t expected that it would coincide with today. What a lucky happenstance!”
Tang Fan smiled back. “This nephew also feels it fortunate. Brother Mingcheng passing the provincials is an immensely happy event. I haven’t given my congratulations to you yet, Uncle.”
He Ying shook his head. “If he gets the progress you and his eldest brother have, I’ll be delighted, but this day is nothing more than the locals’ enthusiasm, with just a few tables with drinks set up for it. You may find it laughable. Since you’ve come, you should stay for a little longer. Your sister and brother-in-law have missed you.”
“I had the same thought. I will have to trouble you, then, Uncle.”
He Ying was a tad puzzled; he had been thinking to inquire after how the other had gotten the opportunity to request time off with how busy the Six Ministries were, but also felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask during an occasion like this, so he simply turned around and introduced him to all the guests of the banquet. For a moment, there was a scene of merriment, mutual toasting, and much excitement.
He Lin had never liked parties like this to begin with, so he had avoided this one, only to unexpectedly have no choice but to return to it due to Tang Fan’s visit, thus forced to listen to each and every person list their achievements, being a Provincial Honorate if they weren’t a Palace one. His heart was in more pain than it would be from getting stabbed with a hundred needles.
Tang Yu was a woman, making it unsuitable for her to come with. When He Xuan had brought Tang Fan over here, she had returned to the separate courtyard to attend to the guests and the food, telling the servants to make proper arrangements for the few companions Tang Fan had brought with him. As she wasn’t present right now, no one was paying careful attention to He Lin’s expressions.
Following a few cups of drink, He Ying showed sympathy for Tang Fan having rushed over here and being both physically and mentally exhausted, so he didn’t force him to stay and drink. Once he requested the man’s own opinion on the matter, he had He Lin bring Tang Fan away to rest.
It was not Tang Fan who sighed in relief at this ending, but He Lin, who had been sitting on pins next to him.
The two exited the hall and walked into a side-wing.
“Are you feeling unwell, brother-in-law?” Tang Fan asked him. “Leading me to the wing is just fine, you don’t need to come with me. You can go on and rest. My sister accompanying me for a talk will be enough.”
He Lin forced a smile. “It’s fine. It was hard for you to come here, so, as your brother-in-law, I naturally need to do my best in my duty as a host.”
Tang Fan said no more. He truly was a bit exhausted, while He Lin was a corked-up gourd, resulting in them saying nothing else despite not having seen each other in so long.
The He’s estate was huge, so making arrangements for a few relatives was no problem. However, since Tang Fan’s status was unordinary, his treatment was different from ordinary relatives, naturally.
Having already received Patriarch He’s permission, Tang Yu had prepped an auxiliary courtyard filled with bamboo for Tang Fan. This had formerly been the home of one of the He’s neighbors, but had later been purchased by the He’s and opened up to become a wing to entertain honored guests. It didn’t look very big from the outside, but once Tang Fan came to be inside it, he discovered that the interior was like a completely different world. Not only did bamboo leaves sway about, in line with the aesthetic of the literati, but there was also a tiny, elegant, and exquisite garden that was right outside his bedroom — every morning, he would be able to open his window and see it. The glints of its translucent waters and rugged rockery were not inferior to the gardens of Jiangnan.
The siblings hadn’t seen each other in years and had a lot to talk about, but Tang Yu still brought her son over before anything else so that he could greet his uncle.
He Cheng was currently eight years old and should have been at his wild age, but he was instead a very calm child. He even gave Tang Fan a serious face as he bowed to him, looking a little sullen.
At first glance, he appeared to be same breed as his father; people with keen eyesight like Tang Fan, however, could immediately tell that He Lin’s type stifled themselves, while his little nephew was being stifled.
As soon as He Cheng’s bow was done, he was swept up into Tang Fan’s arms, his fat little cheeks getting squished by the man’s hands. A nice-sounding laugh sounded out from over the top of his head. “This is my little nephew, eh? I hugged you just like this when you just turned one — do you remember that?”
How would He Cheng have ever remembered that? He was struck dumb by this young uncle of his acting so silly when he had only just met him, to the point that he didn’t notice that his face was getting smushed and deformed; all he could think of to do was stare at his counterpart in a daze.
Tang Yu chided Tang Fan, her tone having no lack of indulgence. “Alright, now! You’re an uncle, yet you still have the cheek to bully your nephew!”
Tang Fan laughed, hugging He Cheng relentlessly, and lowered his head to smooch him like he was deliberately teasing him. “This is me liking him. Lots of other people want me to kiss them, yet I still haven’t; what do you say to that, Qilang?”
He Cheng fell seventh in his generation of the family, earning him the nickname Qilang, ‘the Seventh Gentleman’. In spite of that, he was getting hugged and kissed like so by a male elder of his several times, when even his own mother had felt him to be too grown-up these past couple of years and never treated him like that anymore. Right now, his face was completely red; it was unclear whether he was bashful, or enraged into silence from getting teased.
Seeing her son’s reserved and shy look, Tang Yu felt pain and remorse well up in her heart, and inwardly sighed as she stroked his hair. “Your mother and uncle have things to talk about. Go and look at the present he brought you.”
He Cheng nodded obediently, hopped off of Tang Fan’s lap, then bowed to the both of them. “This son will take his leave then, Mother, Uncle.”
As soon as He Cheng left, the maid quietly shut the door, leaving the siblings alone at last in the room.
“Sis, Qilang is a perfectly healthy child, so how come he’s so lacking in energy?” Tang Fan asked. “He’s only eight. Is it that his lessons are too heavy?”
In their previous letters, Tang Yu hadn’t wanted to cause her little brother worry, so she had always reported on the good, none of the bad. He, of course, had no idea what her everyday life was actually like in her husband’s family, but upon rushing over here and witnessing his brother-in-law’s performance today, he couldn’t help but feel a little vexed.
Tang Yu forced a smile. “It’s probably because of the hard work in our clan’s lessons, yes.”
The second he saw her expression, he knew there was something else. “What’s actually going on, sis? If you refuse to tell me the truth, I’ll go asking around myself. It’d be impossible for me not to find out.”
She smiled painfully. “It’s really nothing. You know that your brother-in-law has repeatedly failed the provincials while even his little brother has now passed them, upsetting him. Him being more exacting on the boy is inevitable.” Not wanting this topic to continue, she then asked, “Can you stay for a good while? As you can see, Qilang doesn’t really recognize you as his uncle anymore. You should be closer to him. Also, you’re twenty-six now; you should have gotten married years ago, but our parents died too soon. I haven’t done my duties as an older sister…”
The more she spoke, the more dismayed she felt.
“You questioned me about so many things in one breath. Which one should I answer?” Tang Fan hurriedly picked up. “My dear sister, I can stand on my own, now. There’s no need for you to take all these responsibilities onto yourself alone. As long as you can live well, then regardless of whether it’s me or our parents in the Nine Springs below, we’ll all be reassured.”
Tang Yu glared at him. “If it weren’t for you always dragging your feet and refusing to get married, why would I be this worried? Have you taken a fancy to any young ladies in the capital? Has anyone brought up marriage to you? With your status and looks, there should be a lot of major officials in Court that want you to be their son-in-law, right? If there is, just tell me. I’ll oversee the matter for you.”
For the sake of not getting forced into taking a wife, he had to give her a quick explanation. “I won’t hide it from you, sis. I have no official’s post right now.”
“What?!” Sister Tang was shocked from head to toe. “How could that happen?!”
“Simply put, I offended someone that shouldn’t be offended in bureaucracy.”
Tang Yu did not accept that gloss-over answer, quickly chasing after him for more details. She had been born into a family of scholars, then married into a family of officials, so she was naturally no ignorant woman — he was compelled to give her a full recount.
After listening to the end of it, Tang Yu couldn’t say anything for a long time. “So, that is to say… you’ve offended the Head Vizier?” she serenely asked.
“You could describe it like that,” he replied, smiling.
“And now, even His Majesty doesn’t have any good feelings towards you?”
Tang Yu made like she wanted to beat him up, but couldn’t bear to, only able to glare at him hatefully. “You still dare to grin like that? Our parents pampered you too much! Even I, the little woman that I am, have heard that Head Vizier Wan has claimed connections to the current Consort, and his position is secure, his cronies up and down the whole court — how can you continue to live well in the future, if you’ve offended someone like that?!”
The man just smiled giddily. In the face of his big sister that had watched him grow up since childhood, no sort of elegance existed on him in the least. “Don’t be telling me that they alone pampered me; did you not pamper me just as much, sis?”
Seeing that her baby brother was still acting as spoiled in front of her as ever, Tang Yu’s eyes filled with tenderness, and her final bit of fury quickly became non-existent.
As she had calmed down, Tang Fan smiled. “Not being an official isn’t without advantages. I can stay here for a few more days, at least. I was afraid that the He’s would slight you on account of all this, so I didn’t say anything when we were in front of that many people.”
Her heart warmed. “There’s no need for you to worry about that Since you’re here, it’s fine for you to stay. No matter what’s said, I’m still the proper Second Lady of the He’s, and others can’t bully me just because they want to.”
“You don’t need to restrain yourself, sis. I came here to support you as well as visit you. I know that there’s definitely some people that think we Tangs are nobodies and that you have no natal family to rely upon, thus treating you irreverently, but as long as I’m here, the Tangs will forever be your support. Even though I no longer have a post now, no one can walk all over me. If there’s anything you can’t stand for, don’t keep it from me. I can help vouch for you.”
Tang Yu was rather moved by those words, but didn’t take them seriously. In her view, even if Tang Fan hadn’t been dismissed, he would only be a fifth-rank Chief. Hoodwinking typical people with such a rank would be doable, but families like the He’s, which had a clear understanding of bureaucracy’s happenings, would not only not be scared by his rank, but laugh out loud if he thought to make a strong vouch.
Moreover, since he didn’t even have that fifth-rank spot to speak of, saying that he was going to vouch for her at all would likely just end with him offending the He’s, dragging himself right into it.
She hoped that he wouldn’t do such a thing. She preferred to suffer some grievances by herself, because she felt that her brother’s future prospects were more important than her own happiness. Thinking as much, she laughed. “Don’t overthink. This family and your brother-in-law treat me quite well.”
Meanwhile, Tang Fan similarly felt that his sister’s happiness trumped all else, hence why when he had noticed that she was focusing on trivial things instead of the important, and that the expressions revealed on her and his brother-in-law’s faces had been off-kilter, he had known that there had to be something else going on.
However, since Tang Yu didn’t want to say more about it, he didn’t ask further, thinking to wait until they were in private to inquire.
Once the party was concluded, the crowd dispersed, and Patriarch He sent someone to invite the married couple and Tang Fan over.
Joining them was the Matriarch Lady Xu, He Xuan and his wife, Patriarch He’s two brothers, as well as the He’s third generation, which included He Cheng, He Qin, and the other grandchildren, making the hall they were all congregated into quite lively.
Such was Patriarch He’s way of expressing his welcome to Tang Fan — a daughter-in-law’s natal relative dropping by would never require the trouble of having all generations of the family come out and visit them, otherwise. The Third He’s wife, Lady Wei, for example, had a mere County Honorate’s background for a natal family; even though it had later gone down the path of the merchant and become a tycoon of Xianghe County-plus-Shuntian Prefecture region, its status was still incomparable to the He’s, and there was no way it would ever get such aplomb.
Everyone exchanged conventional greetings, after which Patriarch He remembered his question that had been inconvenient to ask at the banquet before. “I’ve been retired for many years, and am unsure of what the situation in the capital is as of now. As you are in the Ministry of Justice, my good nephew, I believe you to be quite in the know.”
This was a tactful question which, in reality, was asking why he had been able to take such a long leave for no good reason, despite requesting leave not being an easy task for an official. Could it be that some incident had occurred in the capital’s officialdom?
The all-anticipating Patriarch had not predicted that Tang Fan simply had no post now, though.
Tang Fan chuckled, and did not keep things from them. “I’m ashamed to say as much, but I committed a faux-pas in one of my assignments, so I’ve now been ordered to be in cap dormancy, with no official’s position at all.”
As soon as that was said, everyone reacted just like Tang Yu had previously, being as dumbfounded as wooden chickens.
The Patriarch had the most far-reaching knowledge, as well as the quickest response time, showing off a concerned expression. “What happened? Could it be that you offended someone? There’s no harm in speaking aloud. This old man is a has-been, but I still have some connections in officialdom. If it’s not a trouble, I might be able to help you by circulating some good words around.”
Tang Fan cupped his hands towards him again. “Thank you for your concern, Uncle, but this dismissal was passed down from His Majesty via the Cabinet. I’m afraid that no one can help me, now.”
The second they all heard that, they were further dumbstruck.
Great, even the Emperor is offended! What a huge deal this is! Isn’t you scrambling over like this just implicating our family?
Having been observing everyone’s reactions, Tang Fan naturally knew what they were thinking. “You all don’t need to worry. Now that this matter has come to its end, no one will be bringing it up again. It’s only cap dormancy, not a return to the citizenry. The He’s won’t be implicated. I have been separated from my sister for many years and missed her terribly, hence why I happened to come to visit. If this disturbs any of you, do forgive me.”
Patriarch He laughed. “That’s too estranging. Your father and I were the best of friends; even if your sister wasn’t my daughter-in-law, you would be able to take this house as your own home. Stay for as long as you want, there’s no need for scruples.”
Tang Fan thanked him with seriousness.
With something like that suddenly coming out, everyone nearly lost the mood to chat. Patriarch He continued to ask after present circumstances; upon learning that Tang Fan was still lodging in someone else’s home in the capital, he couldn’t help but sigh on end, wanting to hand him a large sum of silver for him to buy a house with, which the other inevitably and persistently refused.
As he genuinely wouldn’t take it, the Patriarch didn’t force him, allowing him to go off and rest, saying that the future was long and anything else could be put off for later.
After Tang Fan, Tang Yu, and He Lin left, Patriarch He’s face sank, and he scolded He Xuan and his wife. “You lot just revealed too much! Once you heard that he was in cap dormancy, even your expressions changed!”
“This son simply heard that he offended the Emperor; won’t that involve our He family?” He Xuan replied, embarrassed. “You see how he didn’t come earlier or later, but chose exactly this time to? Perhaps he’s seeking refuge with us here because he offended some huge figure in the capital!”
His two uncles — the Patriarch’s brothers — also helped defend him. “Right. It’s not strange that Mingcheng felt as much; even we were a bit nervous hearing that!”
Patriarch He sighed. “Regardless of what anyone thinks, since he’s already here, we can’t drive him away. Did none of you notice the three that came with him?”
“What of them?” He Xuan asked.
“I saw that two of them have an understated majesty about them, and they behave differently from ordinary folk. They’re likely top-grade martial experts.”
He Xuan was astonished. “He’s been dismissed, and even has to lodge in someone else’s home. Why would he have experts accompanying him?”
“They aren’t typical martial artists, but Brocade Guards,” the Patriarch pointed out.
“What?!” The entire He family exclaimed yet again.
They had suffered so many repeat shocks, that they were quickly going numb.
What sort of people the Brocade Guards were did not need to be explained by him; with just one thought given to their glorious history, the He’s couldn’t help but feel a chill arise from the bottoms of their hearts. Even the Patriarch’s two brothers showed looks of dread. “Even if Tang Fan hadn’t been dismissed, he still wouldn’t have been qualified enough to have the protection of the Guards, would he? Could it be that he’s offended someone so powerful, that those men are defending him in name, but monitoring him in reality?”
Patriarch He sighed again. “I hope that isn’t so.”
“Dad, what should we do, then? Is this not leading a wolf right into our house? Shouldn’t we find an excuse to get him out?” He Xuan asked anxiously.
“You’re being ridiculous! He’s here, so what basis is there to drive him out on?! Before the entire situation becomes clear, we will keep watch for the time being. Just knowing the score in your minds is enough! Don’t make a huge fuss over nothing — and by no means are we beating the grass to scare off the snake!”
Even with that said, the women present were already on-edge due to this set of words, to say nothing of the men.
Lady Xu sighed and complained to him. “I said at the start that the Second shouldn’t have taken that woman as a wife, yet you said some stuff about needing to stick to your word. Ever since she married into our family, the Second has been having nothing go his way. Perhaps he’s been held back by her…”
The Patriarch lost his patience. “What’s the use of you saying that now, after all these years?! Fine, a few of us are good-for-nothings, but nothing’s happened yet! Are you all really going to keep looking like imminent doom is approaching?!”
Had Tang Fan heard all that and knew what the He’s had cooked up in their heads about Yan Li and the others’ presence, who knew what kind of expression he would have?
The translator says: It’s extremely ironic that we’re on an arc about exhausting extended family when I just got back from a trip involving exhausting extended family…
I flipflopped between ‘fluffy’, ‘fuzzy’, and ‘downy’. I went with fluffy because it sounds like a dog’s name lmao. Original Chinese is maomao (毛毛), which is the character for ‘hair, fur, feathers, down’. So, not an exaggeration, nor any less terrible to name a human.