Author: Feast of Masks
Translated by Gumihou
Edited by Gumihou: Just some very small sentence restructuring.
Light streaked across the morning sky, signalling the coming of dawn. Many of the Yuqing Villagers got up even before dawn.
At the break of day, smoke rose from many chimneys. In twos and threes, villagers treaded on well-worn trails carrying hoes or leading their cattle to the fields.
It was the time for spring ploughing. This was the most important season for farmers. If you laze around during this time, you will cry tears of regret during the harvest season in autumn.
Zhao’er woke up on time at dawn. Her eyes popped open to see that her little man was still sleeping.
She had not slept well last night. The little man’s fever had flared up again and she ended up staying awake and keeping herself busy as she watched over him. Fortunately, the fever went away on its own sometime in the middle of the night.
She sat up, putting a hand on her little man’s forehead. When it did not feel hot to the touch, she quietly put on her clothes and hopped off the kang bed.
The first thing she did was to open the door. Heizi, who had been anxious to go out for a while now, ran out with a swish. Zhao’er followed after him, just in time to see him lift a leg and begin to pee. She shook her head with a smile.
There were already a few people in the courtyard at this hour, namely third branch’s Zhou’shi and her daughter Xue Tao’er.
It was the third branch’s turn to cook today. It was part of the Xue family rule to divide major household chores equally. Work like cooking for the whole family is undertaken by each family in turn.
The family in charge of cooking not only have to cook for the entire family, but also care for the livestock. The Xue family has two fat pigs and it was not easy to serve these two fatties. Other chores included feeding chickens, collecting water, firewood and so forth. Therefore, the housewife in charge of the day’s chores would not have to work in the fields for that day.
Though it appeared fair, those living within the house knew otherwise.
For one, Eldest Aunt Yang considered herself the wife of a scholar and therefore above things like chores. Ever since Xue Qingshan passed the Tong Sheng exams, she never touched housework again. The key point here was that with Zhao’shi backing her, it was difficult for others to question this so-called special privilege.
Before this, the household chores fell upon the shoulders of Gouzi’s mother, Qiu’shi. She struggled on her own until third branch’s Zhou’shi married in and the two of them shared the burden. Later, fourth branch’s Sun’shi came in and they split the burden even further.
Sadly, Sun’shi was a slacker and, in fact, most of the work was still being taken care of by Zhou’shi.
Zhao’er used to assist Qiu’shi when she was still alive. After Qiu’shi passed away, Zhao’er found herself busy trying to maintain the second branch family’s rooms and space. Moreover, she was still very young and Old Man Xue told her to focus on looking after Xue Gouzi and not to bother herself with the general chores.
Because of this, Zhao’er had time to run around outside doing her best to earn money for the second branch family. Even so, she was still a conscientious person and would help the other women with household chores whenever she could spare the time. As for those like Sun’shi who enjoy provoking others with smart remarks, she did not spare them her sharp tongue.
Seeing Xue Tao’er struggling to fetch water from the well, she scrubbed her cheeks for a moment before rushing over to help her.
Thirteen-year-old Xue Tao’er was like a budding little flower. Although she was not particularly beautiful, she was still a delicate and pretty little girl. Seeing Zhao’er coming to help, an irresistible smile crossed her face and she said, “Sister Zhao’er, is Second Brother better?” As the second grandson of the Xue clan, he was acknowledged by the family as Second Brother.
“He had another fever last night. It only went away after midnight,” said Zhao’er. She looked around for a moment and asked, “Where is Third Uncle?”
Although Xue Qingbai was a little straightforward and quiet, he loved his wife and daughter. When it was his wife’s turn to cook, he would get up early to fill up the water tank.
The Xue family owned a well, but it was very deep. With no pulley system to draw the bucket up, it was very difficult for the daughters to pull water from the well. Zhao’er was born strong as an ox and could easily pull the bucket out of the deep well.
“Father went to the farm. He said he’ll be back for breakfast after working in the field for a bit.”
Xue Qingbai was an honest farmhand. Unlike his brothers who possessed skills outside of farming, he only knew how to farm. Therefore, he focused all his attention on farming. The Xue family owned more than 30 mu  of land, which was taken care of by him, Old Man Xue and Fourth Brother Xue Qinghuai.
Although the women of the Xue family also worked in the fields, it was only during the busy seasons. After all, the women were so weak that their help could hardly be counted. Fortunately, the three farming men of the Xue family all had strong farming skills. If they truly could not handle the amount of work, they could still spend money on temporary workers for a few days.
As the girls chatted, the door to the fourth branch’s room opened and Xue Qinghuai stepped out.
The Xue family men tended to be on the taller side and Xue Qinghuai was no different.
He was born with a high nose, strong eyebrows and eyes like a tiger’s. In his dark blue coarse shirt and dark brown shorts, he looked very heroic. In fact, the men of the Xue Clan were all fairly good looking while the women tended to look mediocre or plain. Even so, the grandchildren were all fairly decent and happened to have the most outstanding looks within the village.
“Zhao’er, Tao’er, you are both early,” Xue Qinghuai reached the well in a few wide strides. He grabbed the bucket from Zhao’er and poured the water into the tank.
“Little girls like you shouldn’t do this kind of rough work. Go do something else, Fourth Uncle will fill this tank.”
Zhao’er and Tao’er did not refuse his help and scampered off. One to help her mother in the kitchen and the other grabbed a basin of water for washing up.
As time went by, the rest of the Xue family eventually got up and there were more people in the courtyard. In the side kitchen, Zhou’shi called for people to eat breakfast. Generally, people in the village don’t spend too much effort on the breakfast table. Everyone gets a bowl and fills it with whatever is available.
Today’s breakfast was two-grain porridge. A type of porridge made with two types of grain. Yuqing Village does not produce rice, only wheat, sorghum, millet corn and other crops. Although farmers do grow wheat, they seldom consume it, preferring to sell it to buy other types of grains for eating.
Even the fairly well-off families like the Xue Clan who often had surplus food don’t tend to eat fine grains all the time. More often than not, they would mix fine and coarse grains together, just like today’s two-grain porridge made with millet, otherwise known as yellow rice, along with sorghum.
Since it was the beginning of the busy farming season, the porridge was made quite thick. Although it would not hold a pair of chopsticks upright, it was much better than the usual watery fare.
There was really no choice. Although the Xue Clan appeared rich compared to the rest of the villagers, they had to support three scholars. Leaving Xue Gouzi aside, the main family’s Xue father and son alone spent a lot of money on their education. It was no wonder that Zhou’shi would be such a tightwad to stretch out what little money the family had.
Zhao’er filled up two bowls with porridge, placed some flat cornbread and pickles on a coarse porcelain plate and carried them to the second branch room.
As soon as she stepped through, she found Xue Gouzi sitting on the bed.
She placed the wooden tray on the table and hurried over to him, saying, “Are you feeling better? Are you hungry? Elder sis has brought some porridge for you.”
Xue Gouzi looked at her with complicated eyes.
After that long and convoluted dream, he had no idea how to face Zhao’er. The moment he saw her, he could not help but recall the dream. He could not help but recall the final words he had heard just before his death. He had also tried to recall how the Zhao’er in his dreams had died, but perhaps it was because those memories were some of the more unbearable ones for Xue Tingxuang, he couldn’t recall anything at all.
In fact, it was during his feverish phase last night that Xue Gouzi spent a long time thinking. He could not figure out whether he was Xue Gouzi or Xue Tingxiang now. Was the dream even real? Was it… a prophetic dream? Was the dream the absurd result of his overthinking matters?
Even so, he realised that if everything within the dream was true, he should be able to confirm it through a series of happenings. If these things truly happen, then it would mean the dream was true, or at least has some prophetic elements.
Heavy with thoughts, he reached for the bowl and found that he barely had the strength to hold it up. Fortunately, Zhao’er was quick with her hands and caught the bowl before he spilt the contents on himself.
He felt a little embarrassed and anxious by this little exchange. How strange, he had never been like this in front of Zhao’er before. He had no idea whether it was the result of the long dream, but he could tell that his mentality had certainly changed.
Zhao’er laughed, “Why are you so shy with elder sis? Have you forgotten who changed the sheets when you wet the bed? Isn’t it your sis?”
Zhao’er came to work with the Xue family at seven years old. Xue Gouzi was only five at that time and bed wetting was something that just happened. He had not wet the bed for a long time. However, it was unclear whether it was because he had too much water before bedtime, but he did wet the bed.
Qiu’shi had always been weak ever since she gave birth to Xue Gouzi. Moreover, it was in the middle of winter. For the sake of repaying the second branch family’s kindness, she volunteered to wash the soiled sheets and trousers for Xue Gouzi. Since then, she has been designated as Xue Gouzi’s child bride.
What had always annoyed Xue Gouzi most was Zhou’er’s careless mouth and her tendency to speak such nonsense before him. One should know that as children grow up, boys in particular value their dignity. How could they bear to hear about their old, bed-wetting days? Today, however, although he felt a little awkward, there was none of the burning humiliation that used to scorch the pit of his stomach.
While he was in the middle of being surprised by his own indifference, Zhao’er had already scooped up a bit of the porridge with a spoon and held it to his mouth. Xue Gouzi unconsciously opened his mouth, waiting to be fed. When the warm porridge entered his mouth he automatically looked up and saw Zhao’er smiling eyes.
Those eyes were large and bright, with stars hidden in their depths. He blushed.
Zhao’er suddenly laughed. Feeling happier than ever, she took a piece of cornbread and stuffed it in his hand, “Eat quickly, sis will stew some chicken eggs for lunch for you.”
Gouzi had a sudden realisation: She was treating him like a child.
As he chewed over the porridge in his mouth, his mind continued to gnaw over various thoughts.
Just then, someone came to the door.
It was Xue Qingshan.
What happened next was exactly the same as he had dreamt.
Xue Qingshan’s expression was filled with sighs and worries. He sighed long and wearily at every other long and complicated line. The gist of his speech was: for Gouzi to take care of his health, to not worry too much, that he still has his uncle and grandparents to depend on. That he would not be short-changed.
In fact, Xue Qingshan also followed the general mould of the Xue family men in terms of height and looks. In his early years, he was considered a great handsome man in Yuqing Village. Unfortunately, as the years passed, he had gained some fortune around his face and belly.
“Eldest Uncle still has to go run the school. You must take good care of your health. This child, ah, tends to think too much.” With a final sigh, Xue Qingshan patted his nephew on the shoulder before turning around to part the curtain and leave.
What was he trying to do?
Zhao’er was filled with suspicion and wariness. Even after cracking her head over the matter, she could not figure it out. Since she could not think of the reason, she decided to focus on feeding Gouzi his porridge. That was when she noticed the thoughtful look on Xue Gouzi’s face.
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In the main room, Zhao’shi was speaking to Old Man Xue about what happened yesterday.
While her hands were busy sewing pieces of old clothing, she said, “I’ll tell you now, you enjoy spoiling that little thing too much. You may adore him, but he has no feelings for you. Our money does not come floating on a river. Just because he felt wronged, he conveniently fell sick for everyone to see and made one fuss after another. He clearly wants to throw his tantrum and make trouble for everyone!”
Old Man Xue was already in his fifties. He has a fairly tall figure with dark red skin from being exposed to the sun for long periods of time. Dressed in dark blue coarse cloth and a pair of old trousers, he sat at the head of the kang bed with his knees crossed and puffing on his pipe.
Every day after dinner or before going off to work, Old Man Xue would have a puff. Otherwise, his entire person would feel uncomfortable.
“Enough, Gouzi boy is sick. Who hasn’t gotten sick before?” was his short answer after a long time.
Puff, puff, blue smoke curled into the air and wreathed around the room. Behind the smoke, Old Man Xue’s face loomed like a half-hidden spectre.
“Have you ever seen how long he had been fussing? Yesterday another string of 100 coins just disappeared. Just how long do you have to work the land to earn this 100 coins! The Eldest already taken 200 coins earlier, saying that it was for a classmate’s birthday. Because of a natural disaster last year, instead of decreasing the tax, it increased instead. Moreover, the Eldest said he plans to send Juncai to study in town. That’s yet another sum of money, just how deep do you think the family coffers are?!”
Seeing his wife so distressed, Old Man Xue sat up. He tapped the cup of the pipe on the kang table, narrowed his eyes and said, “Gou’er spending 100 coins distresses you this much, but you freely give money to the Eldest? Don’t say that I’m accusing you, but as a mother and grandmother, it is not good to be too biased. Otherwise, the younger ones would quarrel among themselves.”
When Zhao’shi heard this, she felt even more unwilling and slammed her hand on the kang table. “I am biased? So, you’re not biased?”
He, too, was biased. However, who asked the Eldest to be the most promising person in the family? Juncai was also the most promising grandson in his generation. Families with scholars are different. To the public, Xue Lianxing’s family are all decent people. If the main branch could produce a Xiu Cai, it would bring a great honour for his Xue Clan.
Old Man Xue could not help but frown when he thought of Xue Gouzi.
Naturally, he understood his wife’s annoyance. However, Gouzi is too lacking in tact. The Eldest may have owed his life to the second child, but considering the Xue Clan’s situation, naturally, they had to pay more attention to the more successful ones.
It was not that Old Man Xue looked down on his grandson, but Gou’er this child is too inferior compared to Juncai. While it was good to have tenacity, one should also consider the situation.
“Eldest’s wife has spoken about it several times now. The school can no longer be delayed. It has already been delayed for half a year. The Eldest is also thinking about letting Juncai try the test next year,” said Zhou’shi.
“I have already promised Second!” Old Man Xue sighed heavily as he puffed twice at his pipe before coughing twice.
“You just do whatever you like!” Zhou’shi angrily threw the clothes to the side and twisted away on the kang bed, showing her back to her husband.
Old Man Xue smacked his mouth several times, and the lines on his face deepened. “You old woman, have you not thought about what outsiders would think? If they knew, do we still have any dignity to face the villagers?”
“Then? What should we do? Just not send the child to school?” Zhao’shi flipped over and sat up, this time staring down at Old Man Xue.
“Naturally, things that should be done, must be done. How about this, you call Cuiping home tomorrow. Have her handle the matter.”
The author has something to say:
Some readers wonder why it’s not a direct rebirth but a dream. In fact, you can see it this way. The two separate memories have not merged yet. Therefore, one felt more like a dream. Of course, it could be Xue Gouzi fooling himself and mentally defending his mentality by thinking that it was a dream. Later, when he is mentally stronger, he will face his previous actions. It is a process.
Also, people kept asking how old Zhou’er is, and how much older she is compared to Xue Gouzi. It was already stated in the beginning. One is 16 and the other is 14, so Zhao’er is less than two years older than Gouzi.
As for why the ML doesn’t like the FL, and how they became estranged in their first lives, these things will be revealed eventually. Here, in this chapter, a part of it is shown. Zhou’er hasn’t changed her attitude towards Gouzi since he was five and still treats him like that bed-wetting toddler. He is ‘this Elder Sis’s Gou’er’ to her.
She has not changed, but the ML has already undergone great mental change.
At 14, he is at that awkward teenage phase where young boys and girls rebel against their parents and do not like to be thought of as a child. They also happened to be sensitive about things between men and women.
When I was in junior high, the young boys and girls were always fond of joking about love and who likes who. Once, I vaguely remember a rumour about how a boy liked me. Thus, whenever I saw the boy, I would hide and avoid going in the direction where he goes on my way to the toilet. o(╯□╰)o
Therefore, the ML is not a complicated person. He sees her as his future wife while Zhao’er sees him as that bed-wetting child.
Naturally, we will talk about other things too.
Gumihou: Woah, a chatty author. Me likey~
 mu – a measurement for land
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