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[Arc 8: Into the East Palace]
Tang Fan didn’t share this inside information with Tang Yu, only believing that this was a one-time incident. If the He’s had self-awareness, they wouldn’t come to bother them again after being refused entry.
Unfortunately, his expectations had been wrong, as not long after his return to the capital, He Lin stopped by again, and this time, he had Patriarch He with him.
Tang Fan didn’t have someone call Tang Yu over, welcoming them himself.
They all took their respective seats. He smiled. “I heard that the Third He got his name on the golden roll. I haven’t congratulated you yet, Uncle. Getting two of your family to be Palace Honorates is a cause for celebration.”
The speaker had no intent, while the listener did. He Lin’s complexion quickly became a bit unsightly. Since Tang Yu and He Cheng were not at the He home, Tang Fan didn’t need to keep the man’s emotions in mind, however.
Patriarch He smiled. “The two of them put together are still inferior to your supreme glory of scholardom. I recall that you had barely been crowned when you became a Palace Honorate, and now you’re already a high official of the fourth rank. If Brother Tang knows as much in the Springs below, he must be beyond gratified.”
Tang Fan shook his head. “You’ve overpraised me, Uncle. How can a fourth rank be called high? No one listens to me and it drives me nut. Let’s put idle chatter away for now — don’t you live in Xianghe County? Did something happen, for you to suddenly come to the capital?”
He feigned ignorance about the He’s wanting to move the entire family here, not even bringing it up.
Patriarch He didn’t shy away, speaking briefly of the influence the Wei’s follow-up crisis had, as well as He Xuan’s appointment to the Ministry of Justice that was coming soon, ending it with a sigh. “Runqing, the He’s have let you and the Second Lady down. A perfectly good woman was married in, yet things have fallen to today’s plight. This old man came here today not to boldly ask for anything, just out of a want to let the Second and his wife meet face-to-face. No matter what is said, they’re still married, and this trouble continuing will have no benefit to either side. The He and Tang families are ultimately in-laws; would you say that there is any logic in living in the capital together, yet never interacting?”
The Patriarch was fairly good at speaking. Tang Fan also noted that the other’s posturing was clearly a little lower than it had been at the He household. Presumably, He Xuan had gone back and explained his discoveries from officialdom.
The He’s visit this time around was naturally for the sake of mending their relationship, not to forge enemies. Tang Fan had no opinion towards Patriarch He himself, but he would never look kindly upon He Lin.
Ever since Tang Yu had established her own business, she had managed the cosmetics store with surprising vivaciousness, even hanging up a ‘Lady Tang’ sign for it. It was unknown how she managed it, but, in brief, many affluent families were happy to buy cosmetics from ‘Lady Tang’. To target different consumer groups, Tang Yu was apparently planning to open another division; one would be for women of humble origins, having cosmetics that commonfolk could afford, while the other would specialize in rich business.
Seeing his talented big sister, then thinking about her experience from those years, Tang Fan could only say that her marrying He Lin had been a real oversight.
He smiled hearing all that. “You speak reason, Patriarch, but I don’t have the final say in this. It depends on what my sister thinks. Also, forgive my directness, but the Third has now become a Palace Honorate. When does my brother-in-law intend on passing the provincials?”
Strike a man without hitting his face, call out a man without calling out his weakpoints. He Lin’s face immediately went red, and he stood up with a bang. “Quit your menacing!”
Tang Fan raised a brow. “How am I menacing? Have I spoken wrong? You aren’t young anymore. It’s fine if you can’t pass the exams, but are you going to rely on the He’s to take care of you all your life? Do you not have a plan? To put it in a way that isn’t nice to hear, Patriarch He cannot look out for you forever, so what are you going to do then? Live with your brothers? Make them give you money? Even if you’re fine with it, women of my family wouldn’t suffer that repute. Our late father always taught us that it’s fine for one to be poor, but their ambitions cannot be minuscule. Since you want to take my sister back, you may as well answer those questions for me, first.”
In battles of glib with Mister Tang, his opponent would basically have no chance of success — though, the majority of the time, he would be warm when interacting with others, not even fighting about Wang Zhi’s overdrawn mockery. If this wasn’t He Lin, he wouldn’t have spoken so noxiously.
He Lin was trembling all over in anger. Before coming to the Tang household, he had already made proper mental preparations, but still felt thick humiliation at Tang Fan’s unexpected words. “Whether she’s inclined to return or not, the He’s won’t miss her! He Cheng, too! You lot can take him, I don’t think he’s any sort of rarity!” he blurted out in a fit of rage.
Tang Fan seemed to have been waiting for that. He didn’t get angry, merely nodding. “If that’s how you truly think, I have a solution. It would be best to adopt Qilang into the Tang household, change his surname to Tang, then have you separate from my sister. In that way, our two sides will have nothing to do with each other, and Qilang and her won’t obstruct your view anymore.”
Bam. Patriarch He slapped He Lin.
The latter covered his face with an expression of disbelief.
“My mutt of a son is ill-mannered,” the Patriarch calmly said to Tang Fan. “Please forgive me, good nephew.“
Tang Fan sighed. “Uncle, I have no will to make things difficult for you, but just look at how my brother-in-law is. How could I ever feel at ease allowing my sister and nephew to go with him? If he believes I’m menacing him, then shifts his anger onto the two of them after they return, wouldn’t I have instead caused them harm?”
As soon as he finished, a juvenile voice came from the entrance. “I want to change my surname to Tang!”
Everyone looked over to see that He Cheng had come to stand in the doorway at some unknown point in time, his little face serious. Who knew how long he had eavesdropping outside?
“Qilang!” Tang Fan shouted with a slightly reprimanding expression, before Patriarch He and the rest could react. “It’s impolite to overhear! You are not being a gentleman, you know!”
His uncle’s scolding had not a bit of threatening power to it at all, really, that ending tone alone only able to make He Cheng secretly stick out his tongue.
Since he had shown up, Tang Fan couldn’t exactly make him go away. “Come say hello to your father and grandfather.”
They were clearly the two closest in relation to He Cheng, yet they were now being made out as guests.
He Cheng obediently stepped into the room, then properly bowed to Patriarch He and He Lin. “This grandson greets you, grandfather. This son greets you, father.”
Patriarch He dotingly beckoned him over, then pat him on the head. “You’ve grown taller, Qilang. Do you want to go home? Grandfather will bring you home.”
“Everything goes by my Uncle’s say. This grandson does not dare to make unauthorized decisions.”
Listen to that!
Patriarch He was a little dumbstruck. His impression of He Cheng, back in the He home, had been of a taciturn child. When had he ever spoken like this? Even the term ‘unauthorized decisions’ had showed up!
Saying so, He Cheng walked over to Tang Fan’s side and snuggled up to him, looking over at his father and grandfather.
Though no words were said, his attachment and closeness to Tang Fan could be seen by even He Lin. This scene stabbed his eyes somewhat, so he simply turned his head away.
Patriarch He yet recalled what He Cheng had just said. “Qilang, you said that you want to change your surname?”
The boy nodded. “Yes. If the He family doesn’t want me, I want to change my surname to Tang. I want to be part of the Tang family.”
Little children had no compunctions, in the end. No matter how precocious they were, they could break those efforts in just a few words. Upon hearing this, He Lin felt that He Cheng definitely had to have been put under some kind of spell at the Tang home in order to say such a thing.
Even Patriarch He’s brows creased. “Runqing, is what Qilang said his own idea?”
The implication being: did you plant it in his head?
Tang Fan was also frowning. He had only been venting at He Lin; he had never mentioned changing surnames to He Cheng at all.
Before he could answer, He Cheng overtook him. “Doesn’t father not want mom and I? He just stated it so clearly!”
Patriarch He felt slightly awkward. “You’ve misunderstood, Qilang. Your father didn’t mean that.”
He Cheng peered at him with his limpid, dark eyes. “Then what did he mean?”
“Those were just words of anger…”
“But doesn’t he hate us? Not only did he want to beat me to death, but he said before that that he would drive us out of the He home and go his own way.”
It should not be believed that just because a child was young, one could say whatever they wanted in front of them. He Cheng remembered every single thing, he simply hadn’t been able to speak out before, only watch. After coming to the capital, he had fun with Ah-Dong every day; influenced by her and tempered by it, his physique had also strengthened by a lot. He had long not been that bashful child of stilted words.
Only the He’s looked at him with the same old views as ever.
Patriarch He shook his head. “Then your father will never say so again, as he’s still your father. Grandfather will not allow you two to suffer wrongs.”
“For children, fulfilling filial piety to one’s father is being a good child, and fulfilling filial piety to one’s mother is also being a good child. My mother carried me for ten months, then had me, which was harder work than it was for my father. He can remarry and have more children, but my mother only has me. This world is hard on women, after all, so it’s natural that I would want to look out for her a little more. Please have mercy, father and grandfather, and allow us to take our own path in life!”
Sayimg so, he knelt down with a thud, bitterly pleading with Patriarch He and He Lin. The two watched, astounded, as he burst into sobs.
In their minds, if no one had egged on the ever shy and weak Qilang, how could he have ever made such a preposterous argument?
Not waiting for Patriarch He to respond, Tang Fan quickly pulled He Cheng up, scolding him. “One is your grandfather, and the other is your father by blood! Why would they bring harm to you?! Where did a little kid learn these baseless words from? Apologize to them, immediately!”
He Cheng’s eyes were full of tears. He bit his lip stubbornly, saying nothing.
Patriarch He had a bitter taste in his mouth, having wholly not expected that Qilang’s impression of his father had already gotten so awful.
It was true; in this world, the father was the son’s guide, and the husband was the wife’s guide. Children should obey and be filial to their parents, not disobey, but specific situations also needed to be closely analyzed. If there were tiresome and systematic laws for every single little thing, the world would have long been at peace.
Right now, for example, along with Tang Fan’s rapid success, the power dynamic between the He and Tang families had quietly changed.
Were the He’s a family that did not eat mortal fare, they naturally wouldn’t bother with Tang Fan, but the current issue was that Patriarch He had two sons in official positions. In the future, his descendants might have that same career path. No one could stand alone for a single day of officialdom.
“Alright. Our visit this time was rude. Please don’t blame us, good nephew. Our family is indebted to you for taking care of the Second Lady and Qilang, and our feelings of gratitude are unending. I had a few things brought over; please accept them on their behalf.”
Patriarch He knew that he had overreached. The Tang Fan of today was not someone that the He family could afford to impinge upon.
He had wanted He Lin to take Tang Yu and her son back to mend their relationship. They couldn’t be forced back, which would instead cause the two families to be enemies.
Tang Fan softened his tone. “Your words are too heavy, Uncle. Qilang has a child’s thoughtless words; you don’t need to put them to heart.”
He picked up his lidded teacup. Patriarch He implicitly understood, promptly getting up, saying goodbye, and taking his son out with him.
After leaving the Tang home, the Patriarch automatically looked at the neighboring residence. He had heard that this was the Sui home of the newly-sealed Count Ding’an, and Northern Bastion Envoy of the Brocade Guard. Because the Sui and Tang families had a close relationship, they had even bought homes that were next to each other, turning them into one big, happy family.
Why would any good in-laws stir anything up? Had the Third been the one to marry Tang Yu back in the day, wouldn’t everyone be feeling just fine right about now?
Thinking so, then seeing the unsightly expression of his second son, Patriarch He felt a wave of exhaustion. Thankfully, he didn’t have a weak heart, else he might collapse with a hand over it right now.
“Ganyu. You will return to our homeland tomorrow to concentrate on studying. When we move to the capital, you don’t need to come along,” he suddenly said.
“Father, what do you mean by that?” He Lin stared at his father in disbelief.
Patriarch He didn’t answer, simply boarding his carriage, then saying to the old servant that was with him, “Let’s go.”
The servant hesitantly looked at the still-in-shock He Lin. “The Second Lord…”
“He has limbs, doesn’t he? Can he not walk back by himself?!”
Seeing that the Patriarch was angry, the servant dared not dissent, quickly telling the driver to ride off.
He Lin walked the streets of the capital in dejection. He couldn’t wrap his head around why things had ended up how they had today — his wife and son had refused to come home, and now even his father had cast him aside.
Returning to his homeland to study… the He homeland was not Xianghe County’s capital, but its rural parts, where an old residence of theirs was. They typically only returned to it for short stays during the New Year, to worship their ancestors. The conditions there were naturally far inferior to the county capital’s.
Is it because I can’t become a Provincial Honorate that it’s gotten to this plight, where everyone bullies me?! He Lin thought sorrowfully, wandering like a lost ghost, ignoring all the busyness that went as far as the eye could see.
“Unfilial! Unfilial! For a son to beat his own father, are you trying to defy me?! This old man is going to the authorities to report you!”
A burst of shouting suddenly came in front. He Lin lifted his head to look, then saw a middle-aged man with a bedraggled appearance running out barefoot, a young man chasing him with a stick from behind.
Upon witnessing this, bystanders successively gathered around. Once they heard that the son was beating his father, their chests were filled with indignation, and some even took it upon themselves to help with calling patrolling soldiers due to the father’s words.
He Lin originally hadn’t had the interest in watching such a disturbance, but the scene before his eyes reminded him of his own situation. Taking a step forth against his own control, he listened to the bystanders randomly accusing the son of his crimes.
The young man didn’t get angry hearing them, merely laughing coldly and using the stick to point at the middle-aged man. “Do any of you know how he conducts himself?! This man loiters about gambling dens all day long instead of making money to support his family, relying solely on my mother’s work to supplement his income and raise me to adulthood. Now that I’ve had success, he has the nerve to come over and put on a show of being respectable by demanding that I support him. That alone would have been whatever, but he still tries to beat my mother given that he has the thought to! I beat him back to prevent my mother from suffering abuse! What mistake is there in that?! Even if he tells the authorities, I’m not afraid of him. Is it filial to watch my father beat my mother, but not filial to defend her?!”
He Lin’s heart jumped. Hearing the young man’s words in his ears, then looking at the older man… he seemed to have witnessed this scenario before.
The bystanders heard him, then saw the older man’s evasive eyes, and knew that he had spoken the truth. Everyone noticed the father’s expression getting stranger; those that had thought to give vigilante justice immediately turned their firepower onto him.
The man couldn’t resist arguing a bit with them, but he narrowly drowned in their flying spittle, forced to flee while he could.
This had been nothing more than a minor intermission. Following the two involved parties departing, the crowd quickly scattered.
He Lin’s feet were as heavy as a thousand catties, however. He couldn’t take a single step.
Recalling Tang Yu’s determined face when she had left the He home, recalling Tang Fan’s coldness in turning hostile with him, and recalling his own son’s resolution in saying he wanted to change his surname to his face… the storming waves in his heart seemed to stir up in their entirety due to this scene, not able to be quelled for a long time.
Was it him who was wrong?
No, he wasn’t wrong!
His failure in the provincials had been his bad luck. It hadn’t been his fault. Those people were just climbing high and stepping on those below them! Even He Cheng had turned selfish due to Tang Fan, to the extent that he didn’t acknowledge his own father. It was He Cheng that was unfilial!
Though, if he wasn’t wrong, why did even his father cast him down and ignore him?
Why did everyone say that he was wrong, then abandon him?
His expression was brimming with confusion.
While he wandered the streets, another conversation was happening in the Tang home.
“Fluffy, you don’t need to let them put on such a show. He has long been set in going the wrong way, his mind sunk in deep. No matter how anyone tries to snap him out of it, he just won’t.” Tang Yu sighed.
She had absolutely no faith in He Lin, else she wouldn’t have completely hidden away from the He family.
Tang Fan laughed. “I didn’t do it for the Second He, I did it for Qilang. He’s a good child, so we can’t actually let him change his surname. Don’t pay attention to how determined he’s speaking now, he still hopes for his father’s love at heart. There would be nothing better if the Second could suddenly repent, of course, but if he can’t, at least Qilang won’t be left with regrets.”
Tang Yu evidently didn’t want to talk more about this; she was currently concerned with something else. “Fluffy, you’re not a fluffy-headed child anymore, either. According to reason, you should have long been married. As you can see, the Third He is around your age, yet he already has a son and a daughter. Do you not have any plans? Or do you have someone in mind?”
Tang Fan was taken aback. For some reason, when he heard this, Sui Zhou’s figure vaguely flashed before his eyes.
He shook his head, as if trying to shake away the hallucination. “Sis, where is your mind going? I run off in every direction every couple of days. How could I have someone in mind?”
“Isn’t there that Miss Du that came back with you all last time?”
“She’s Lu Yan’s wife!”
Tang Yu was distressed. “But I heard that you two once interacted alone before. Did she take a fancy to Lu Yan and not you, so you…?”
Interacted alone? In the Weining Sealet, where everyone ate sand? All of them had been covered in grime and bloodstains then! It would have been weird to get feelings for each other during that!
He was a bit speechless. “Sis, where did you hear all of this from? Don’t ruin other people’s reputations! Miss Du is a lady of the Lu’s, you can’t cause the married couple to have disagreements!”
“Why are you acting like I haven’t had any propriety?” she rebuked. “I heard Guanchuan say it in private. Why would this get out, with his behavior? Tell your sister, then, is such a thing true?”
Sui Guangchuan! What did you tell my sister?!
“It! Is! Not!” he enunciated.
She only half-believed him. “If not, which young lady do you admire?”
“This little brother of yours is the talent of a generation! I don’t admire anyone!” he answered unhappily.
Tang Yu laughed out of amusement. “You are indeed the talent of a generation, but if you keep wasting time like this, no one will want you.” She suddenly let out an ah. “Could it be that you like Guangchuan’s little sister? I heard that she’s of marriageable age now!”
He had thought that Sui Zhou liked Ah-Dong, and now his sister thought that he liked Sui Zhou’s little sister. Was this retribution, or what?
Tang Fan sighed. “No, sis. Don’t worry about it. I have my own sense about this.”
“Do you have any misgivings that you you can’t even tell me about?” She creased her brow, beginning to worry that her little brother had some illness that he couldn’t speak of.
At Tang Fan’s age, not being married was indeed a little strange, but it wasn’t a big deal. In officialdom, everyone was grabbing at details to attack each other with, like having intercourse or celebrations during the mourning period and such. Not getting married wasn’t a clause in that. In Jiangnan, there were similarly many self-proclaimed romantic figures that didn’t take a primary wife, but embraced many pretty concubines, even; this was not anything new at all.
However, Mister Tang didn’t have any concubines, either. If anyone wanted to find a fault in his personal business to go after, they would probably have to go after stuff like ‘indulges in delicacies’ or ‘made a few mistakes in his work’.
Seeing her thought process, he couldn’t help but feel at a loss. Then, he had a flash on insight. “When Guangchuan marries, I’ll marry!”
Tang Yu frowned. “What does this have to do with him?”
“Think about it, sis. He’s two years older than me, yet he isn’t married. We are not brothers by blood, but we’ve been close for a long time, and as the saying goes, blessings should be mutually enjoyed, and difficulties should be mutually suffered. How could I bear to take a wife of my own while witnessing him be alone?” he spoke from the heart. “You know that his relationship with his family is average, so if his parents help him pick someone out, he’ll likely be dissatisfied. That’s why the matter has been drawn out until now. If you have a good candidate, you should help him meet her. I’ll feel at ease once he’s married.”
“But he’s Count Ding’an, as appointed by the Emperor, and the Empress Dowager’s grandnephew. How would it be my place to matchmake for him, if someone should?”
Tang Fan smiled. “Do you not understand, my dear sister? The Dowager and His Majesty helping him matchmake would inevitably yield high-class women. With Guangchuan’s personality, how could he be in-sync with haughty girls from wealthy families?”
Tang Yu nodded. “That’s true. It’s good that you always think of things for him. Okay, find the free time to ask him what kind of girl he likes, and I’ll help him matchmake.”
He blinked. “Shouldn’t you ask him yourself? There would be no reason for me to ask, but since you’re here, you must know what to ask for. You’re his sister too, anyways, so there wouldn’t be a need to avoid talk.”
She looked at him funny. “I really don’t know what you’re planning!”
That could be taken as an agreement.
Mister Tang quietly sighed in relief, thinking to himself that he had finally thrown the hot potato away. He had the overall feeling that he was making trouble for Sui Zhou, though.
That same night, as per usual, Tang Yu and the rest ate at the Tang house, while he went back next door for dinner. Seeing the several dishes set out on the table, all of which were ones he liked, Mister Tang felt all the more ineffably guilty. As he ate, he couldn’t help but glance several times at Sui Zhou.
The latter wasn’t dead, so how could he not notice? He silently set his chopsticks down. “Is something wrong?”
Tang Fan smiled dryly. “No.”
Sui Zhou narrowed his eyes.
After being stared at for a short moment, Tang Fan surrendered. “My sister wants me to get married. I said I’m not in a rush, and that she should help you with matchmaking, first.”
Sui Zhou’s calmness made Tang Fan uneasy. “Wh-what kind of girl do you like? I can help you by telling her.”
“Do you remember what I said last time?”
Tang Fan lightly coughed. “I do, but in my mind, you’re like a brother to me. What you spoke of, I think… that I might not be able to accept it.”
Sui Zhou nodded. “I know. I’m getting married soon.”
Tang Fan hadn’t expected him to be so blunt, and not have a bit of upset, hesitation, anger, or grief. He only reacted after a moment of being stunned. “Then, I’ll get my sister to help—“
“No need,” Sui Zhou interrupted. “I’ve already matched with someone in my family.”
Tang Fan was stunned once again. “Who is it?”
“My cousin, from the Qiao family.”
“Didn’t your uncle already choose someone for her?”
“No. She admires me with all of her heart. My uncle couldn’t fight her stubbornness, so he finally agreed.”
For the first time, Tang Fan felt like his brain wasn’t working enough. His mouth opened and closed, until he managed to choke out one sentence: “When are you planning on getting married?”
Sui Zhou smiled. The coldness at the bottom of his eyes faded, showing a subtle tinge of warmth. “Next year. It will take a lot of time to prepare, after all, and my uncle is reluctant to rush her off into marriage.”
The translator says: Sui Zhou doesn’t joke around with his plans lmao