Raising the Young Grand Secretary – 001
Author: Feast of Masks
Translated by Gumihou
Edited by Gumihou
Gumihou: Readers who knows my style would know that I like to fiddle with and improve things. This story is very promising, has a lot of nuances that are easily lost to MTL, which is why I am taking trouble to re-translate right from the beginning.
The plot is interesting, the characters intriguing (a male POV in a romance story is rare!) and the prose very fun. Even so, the writing style is not entirely suitable for maximum dramatic impact in the English language, so certain liberties will be taken. No notes unless there are major changes.
If it is possible to incorporate the explanation in the text, notes will not be included either.
He was dreaming again.
The same dream had made its appearance in his life for decades now. Day and night, night and day, the dream haunted him. It seems to penetrate beyond flesh and blood into his very bone marrows. He could not throw it away or dig it out without cutting off a chunk of himself.
Even so, he never had a dream with such clarity as he had now.
“Gou’er, why are you so stubborn? Isn’t my money your money as well? Why do you think I earn this money for? Isn’t it to support your studies? So that you may stand tall among your peers?”
“Why are you so stubborn?! Who are you being stubborn for?!”
“I know you dislike me, but I have been this way for many years. I can’t change! I won’t change!”
“Take a look at Hong’er, who does he resemble? You tell me now!”
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Someone was shaking him.
Xue Tingxiang opened his bleary eyes to a dark inner room. The familiar features of Hu San’s face and the lines of the bed curtains told him that he had, in fact, been dreaming again.
It’s just that the dream was too clear. He could smell the fragrance of sorghum in the air, that stubborn curl of the corners of her mouth made it felt like he was truly there again. And she was crying. She was so angry that tears poured out of her eyes like shining crystals that reflected the light. He was about to reach out and touch her tears but was shaken awake.
“My Lord, it is time to take your medicine.”
Xue Tingxiang allowed himself to be propped up for the medicine. By now, he was at death’s door, dying from an illness. He was so weak that he had to be propped up just to take medicine. Where was the dignity of the Grand Secretary who had ruled the court for decades gone to?
Oh, that’s right, he is no longer the Grand Secretary.
He had already submitted a letter to beg the court to return his bones… that is, to allow him to resign and return to his hometown and retire. The emperor granted permission, but really, there was no one left to take care of him.
In fact, he never did intend to return to his hometown.
“Lord Zhang, Lord Wang, Lord Li, and Lord Cao have arrived to visit you. However, we have blocked them at the door per your command. They have been visiting every day, today as well. Would my lord care to see them?”
What were they here for? Do they think that his illness was a scheme of some sort? That it was some kind of clever ploy and was just waiting for him to rise from the bed to lead the struggle against the emperor? However, he was truly ill. Terminally ill, in fact. He was at death’s door and medicines barely kept his body alive.
“Then, do sleep a little longer, my lord.”
All was quiet once more and Xue Tingxiang felt his eyelids grow heavier at every blink. Soon, his eyes closed, and he fell into deep sleep again.
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“Minister Wang, where did you find the time to visit this old man?”
Wang Mingsheng’s expression was a little complicated, but he still had a smile on his face as he said, “No matter what, we are officials of the same court. It is only right that I pay a courtesy visit to the Grand Secretary.”
“I did not expect you, Wang Mingsheng, of all people, to speak such hypocritical words. I fear you are here on behalf of the emperor to ensure that this old man is truly on his deathbed?” Xue Tingxiang said mockingly.
It was clear with a single glance that he was a withered old man on the edge of death. Even so, the pair of calm indifferent eyes gave off an inscrutable air that made people think twice about underestimating him.
After all, this was Grand Secretary Xue. The name alone was enough to intimidate many. Such was Xue Tingxiang’s legacy after living through three dynasties for decades. His existence was like a towering tree with deep roots. Just his quiet presence alone was enough to cause people’s hearts to waver with fear.
Even the newest emperor, who had exhausted all kinds of means against him, dared not to take open actions against him, but merely moving in the shadows.
“It would appear that there are many misunderstandings between my lord and the emperor.”
Xue Tingxiang snorted, his eyes half closed. Even without speaking, he made it clear that he did not wish to speak with Wang Mingsheng.
“In fact, I came here for myself. I came to look upon the villain who had abandoned his wife and son in his climb to the top. Looking at your lonely and miserable state, I fear that Lord Xue will die without any descendants to pay you filial piety. Even so, it is Lord Xue’s own fault for being too rigid. It is merely a play; it is fine to watch for a while. Why allow yourself to treat this play as reality and anger yourself to this state? Is it due to your uneasy conscience? Or do you fear that others would know your true face and revile your existence and curse your name for thousands of years?”
“To say that you abandoned your wife and child would still leave you too much , I should say that you’ve personally caused their death. Isn’t that right, Lord Xue?”
No one should know this. The world only knows that Grand Secretary Xue had a wife before Madam Xue, but no one is clear what happened to that first wife. After all, it had been too long. He had been a fixture at court for many years, a few decades, all his former rivals and current opponents had all been trampled under his feet.
The world only knows the Grand Secretary as a personable and courteous person, a virtuous minister. However, not many know of the Grand Secretary’s vicious side. As years passed, people who wished to make a fuss about his past have all become lost ghosts. Who knows how many lives had been ruined, how many injustices caused to keep this secret. Wang Mingsheng was the only person left who knows this ‘bitter master’s’ true face.
Wang Mingsheng leaned in close and said, “It’s a pity, but my mother’s life force was strong and so was mine. After the ship sank, we were saved by others. Do you have any idea how many years I have imagined this encounter? Unfortunately for me, your life is long, and you are too powerful. I can only climb behind you step by step… to a position where I can step on you.”
“You are… Hong’er…” Xue Tingxiang managed to gasp out.
Wang Mingsheng stood up and laughed heartily, “My name is not Hong’er, nor is my surname Xue. I am a Wang. Mother remarried to the person who rescued us… don’t be so excited, even if you die, I am still not your son…”
It was probably the first time Wang Mingsheng, who had always been known for his calm and introverted nature with a propensity for secrets, had laughed so freely before others.
“Speaking of which, don’t even think that you could continue your Xue family lineage through me despite having the Wang surname. Now that I have some time to think, a rumour was released back when I was at Longyang. I believe it originated from you. To think you’d hit the mark so well. I never liked women, and therefore never married…”
He beamed at the old man on the bed, looking at the shock, disappointment and remorse on that man’s face.
But, what of it?
Suddenly, the happiness he was experiencing felt forced. Even his smile sat wrong on his face. It was no longer interesting. Flattening the corners of his mouth, he snapped his sleeves and said, “Since Lord Xue appears well, I shall take my leave.”
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“I, I didn’t…”
“Apologies, my lord. Please repeat what you said.”
Somehow, the voice got through the fog that had been surrounding Xue Tingxuang all this time. As though waking up from a dream, his eyes cleared, and he found himself in his dark, interior room once again. Hu San’s plain, perhaps even ugly, face was leaning over him. The bitter smell of medicine suspended in the air and through it, he could sense a smell of decay.
Xue Tingxiang moved his lips but nothing came out.
“Minister Xue. Your command?”
Hu San was very anxious as he repeated his question. However, Xue Tingxiang appeared to have lost his ability to speak, therefore, Hu San could only attempt to guess his master’s mind. “Is Master thinking of the past again? Please be at ease, your words have been passed on to Lord Zhang. He knows that Lord Wang is your only son and will act according to your instructions.”
Xue Tingxiang blinked. Thinking that his master had more instructions for him, Hu San placed his ear closer to his master’s mouth. He heard ‘I did not…’.
And that was the last of it.
When Hu San raised his shaking head, he saw Xue Tingxiang looking up at the ceiling with wide eyes. The eyes looked cloudy white against a grey-blue face.
He stretched out a shaking hand to feel for his master’s breathing. Suddenly, he leaped backwards, tripping over his feet and landed on his buttocks.
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Cold wind was blowing through broken paper windows, freezing Xue Gouzi’s face.
The cold was so harsh that it shocked him into opening his eyes.
He was in a small room. The walls were done in crude grey bricks, and he could see the black naked tiles of the roof. The walls had been covered in white plaster once, but it looked more grey than white now. The beams were exposed wooden logs. Bamboo baskets hung from the beams, covered in blue cloth.
He was lying on the  kang bed, a not quite new quilt over him. The quilt looked clean and well-kept but the cotton inside had long hardened.
Just beyond his feet was a set of dark brown cabinets done in brass nails and with brass handles embedded on the doors. Simple, but auspicious patterns of clouds and water were carved into the wood, making it look luxurious and though nothing to a rich merchant family, was a great piece of furniture for a peasant family to own.
It could even be passed on to the future generations!
These very words were something that his father, the best carpenter in the village, had once said.
Xue Gouzi’s head hurt. He felt as though someone had hit him with a hoe. He tried to sit up but was too weak and ended up flopping around like the landed fish. Wait, that’s right. He was Xue Gouzi. The eldest son of the second branch family. Because something happened, he could not let go of his anger and the heat was enough to burn into a feverish illness causing him to fall sick for many days.
He was not Xue Tingxiang. That Xue Tingxiang person was someone from a dream.
How could he be someone like that?
To convince himself that it was all a dream, he held up his hand and stared at it.
Look! The hand before him was thin and fair, nothing like the thick and wrinkled hand of a much older adult. He was only fourteen this year. How could he be a dying man in his seventies?
Xue Gouzi sighed heavily, took another look around before feeling a little more settled.
Just then, voices floated in from outside.
“I say, Zhao’er, ah. Fourth Aunt is not criticising you on purpose, ah. Just look at yourself. How can a girl keep leaving the house and run around outside like one of those lesser merchants? Just what kind of business could you do? Just look at your Fourth Uncle, he ran around all day outside but only managed to earn a few coppers. If you have some free time, you should help Fourth Aunt with chores!”
The voice came from a young woman, but the mockery was strong in her tone. It is said that one’s appearance is influenced by the heart, so it was no wonder that Sun’shi has a mean face.
The thought materialised involuntarily in Xue Gouzi’s mind, shocking him for a moment. He remembered disliking his Fourth Aunt, but not to the extent of judging her appearance like this?
He was still trying to understand his own mind when he heard the voice from his dreams.
“Fourth Aunt, I really want to help you with your chores. But you should also know that Gouzi had been ill for many days. The family gave us a few coins for medicine, but it was only enough for half a month worth of medicine. Granny said that she could not give us more money for medicine because the family lacks money. Gouzi is my man, so I can’t let him keep being sick like this. If Fourth Aunt wants me to help with the chores, how about lending me money for medicine? I promise to pay you back slowly in the future.”
The second voice belonged to a young girl. Her tone was crisp and decisive, with just a hint of mockery.
Indeed, Zhao’er was mocking Sun’shi on purpose.
Sun’shi was stingy by nature, getting a coin out of her was like trying to bleed her. Moreover, there was no way she would ever voluntarily hand over money to the second branch’s half grown girl.
The so-called ‘second branch’ only consisted of two people. A barely 14-year-old boy and his 16-year-old child bride. A 16-year-old girl! Whenever Sun’shi heard the villagers talk about how this stupid girl was making money doing business, she never believed any of their nonsense.
Just what kind of business can a stupid girl do anyway? She must have dug up a few melons and dates from the wild and tricked a few stupid city folks into parting their coins for these worthless things.
“Your Fourth Aunt has no money to lend you. All the money in the house is in mother’s hands. If you want money, go and get it from her!” Then, she stood up, slapped the dust off her buttocks and stormed into the house. Too infuriated to quarrel with Zhao’er.
“Since Fourth Aunt has no money to lend me, I dare not beg any from Granny. I can only depend on myself to find the money for Gouzi’s medicine!”
Zhao’er deliberately raised her voice so that not only Sun’shi, but Zhao’shi, who was sitting in her living room at the main room could also hear her.
Sure enough, as soon as Zhao’er stepped into the house, Zhao’shi was already scolding Sun’shi, “You haven’t even cleaned the pigsty, but you’re already back in the house?”
Zhao’er curled her lips at the sight before making her way towards the second branch house room. She lifted the door curtain and immediately found herself staring right at Xue Gouzi’s eyes.
Gumihou: A male character POV in a non-BL/ancient China scholar, more than good enough reason for me to work on this novel.
Mask Feast: I have started a new project. A two-way development, trying out a different way of spoiling the characters. The lady will spoil the man first, the man will spoil her later. Although it is somewhat connected to another novel of mine, the stories could be read independently because many details have been changed.
Each time I start a new novel, I feel a little nervous, so your support is very valuable.
Also, although the ML is now called Gouzi, it will change in the future. Back then, people in the countryside had really crude names, but I think Gouzi (doggy) is really cute, just like a nickname for a beloved male cousin.
 Kang – heated brick bed. Could double as a living room table during cold days.  Adjust the realisation moment so that it’s more embedded with less ‘telling’ and more ‘showing’
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