Published at 16th of June 2019 04:45:37 PM

Chapter 103

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A Glittering Promotion

In the depth of winter, the Spring Festival was drawing near. Minglan intended to write a couplet for herself – The first line of the couplet: Knowing without consulting an oracle. The second line of the couplet: Foretelling with divine accuracy. The horizontal scroll: An excellent fortuneteller.

After the family meeting, Changwu went to Jinling on the following day. The current political situation was changeable. The Jinling Army Headquarters and five garrisons stationed around the city wanted more soldiers to defend the city and protect civilians, so Changwu was welcomed. The officials continuously held five welcoming banquets for Changwu and entertained him with goose and duck. Then Changwu asked for leave and went back to Youyang.

"Sister Minglan, you must have been talking nonsense! I told you there was no war in the south. I have patrolled the city wall for several days but nothing happened. But the rich families in Jinling City are so frightened by the news of war that they have donated generously to the army three times within half a month… Even I got 50 ounces of silver." Changwu threw a heavy cloth bag embroidered with gold thread onto the table and gave a wry smile. For the soldiers who depended on their wages for their livelihood, it was a great income. But as a son of the Sheng family, Changwu was not short of money.

Li shi got nervous when she heard the desire of going north in Changwu's voice, but she didn't know how to persuade him to give up his mind, her forehead oozing sweat with anxiety.

"Brother, take it easy," Minglan said leisurely, "The war broke out last month. The refugees can only travel on foot, so it will take them a long time to arrive in Jinling. Be patient, they will come soon."

"Really?" Changwu looked at Minglan with unbelieving eyes.

Minglan nodded vigorously and mentioned an exemplary deed to encourage him, "In those days Emperor Taizong personally led his army to attack the Wuliangha Tribes. It was the coldest time of winter and the dripping formed into ice at once. He led 100,000 soldiers and patiently waited in the ancient city of Nurgan for two months. He was free from arrogance and impetuosity. Finally, the Wuliangha Tribes took its enemy lightly and sent the crack troops of their tribes to pursue and attack the fleeing enemy. Emperor Taizong seized the chance and wiped them out at one fell swoop. Brother, you have studied military strategy and tactics. If you want to be an excellent high-ranking military officer, you must know that the patience is the most important thing in the battle."

A fine example had boundless power. Changwu was convinced by her argument and went back to Jinling in the evening. At dinner, Li shienthusiastically put the food into Minglan's bowl with the chopsticks. Kang Yun'er also gave Minglan two chicken drumsticks specially prepared for the pregnant woman.

"Nephew's wife, don't spoil her." Old Madam Sheng smiled, "This girl always talks glibly."

Sheng Wei said with a solemn expression on his face, "I don't think so. What she said is well-founded. These days I visited many influential and rich families of many branches in our town and village and invited their clan elder to my tea party. I have told them to avoid conspicuous consumption during this Spring Festival and buy more grains and firewood for a rainy day. After all, other areas have sunk into chaos."

Sheng Wei had a correct presentiment. Three days later, Changwu asked someone to bring a message to his family: the refugees arrived in Jinling.

Prince Jing had plotted to usurp the throne for a long time. In the past few years he had exploited the civilians ruthlessly because he had been badly in need of large quantities of grains and silver to support his army. Government officials at all levels had followed the example of Prince Jing to squeeze the civilians. Just in the middle of winter, the snow fell thick and heavy. The civilians, who suffered hunger and cold, couldn't endure the hardship anymore. So they had to flee the Anhui Province and became destitute and homeless. The number of refugees increased dramatically in a short time and they traveled to other provinces, including Jiangsu, Henan, Hubei, Jiangxi and Zhejiang.

In late December of the first year of Chong De, 50,000 refugees from Anhui Province gathered outside Jinling City. The local authority opened the granary and distributed relief grain. Rich families in the city also set up many soup kitchens to supply porridge and firewood to the refugees so that they could winter in houses outside the city.

Changwu finally had the chance to show his capabilities. Afraid that the refugees would stir up trouble, every time the city gate was opened, the army was out in force to provide protection and prevent violence. Some soldiers stood guard day and night. In late January of the second year of Chong De, the first group of refugees arrived in Youyang.

Fortunately, the Sheng family was ready for this situation. In conjunction with several other rich and influential families, the Sheng family put up many sheds in the suburbs to shelter the refugees, provided them with free porridge twice a day, and rummaged out some unused quilts and cotton-padded clothes for them for the winter.

Minglan followed Li shi to the suburbs by carriage. After returning to the ancestral mansion, she was overwhelmed by sorrow for a long time. A child well provided for in the 21th century could never imagine such a miserable scene: In the severe winter, snowflakes fluttered in the air and the ground was all covered with ice and heavy snow. Many old people and children only wore thin clothes and huddled around small fires to warm themselves, shivering, their skins blue with cold. Children with chilblains on their hands and faces stared at the bowl of cold porridge in front of them with hungry eyes, as if it was their only hope.

There were no loud cries but a spatter of sobs echoing in the sheds. A mother held her feverish child who was critically ill and had no strength to cry. From time to time there was a faint cry of hunger from the child, which tugged at Minglan's heartstrings.

"… At that time in my hometown, we were hit by the flood and all our farmland was destroyed. Without harvests and grains, my younger brother fell ill. So my parents sold me for money." Xiaotao recalled what had happened to her in the past and said in a calm tone, "I once heard the oldest man in our village say that people in this dynasty lived a better life than those in previous dynasty did because every family had its own farmland and paid no rent. In times of turmoil of previous dynasty, civilians had no farmland. All farmland belonged to rich and influential families. Once natural or man-made disasters befell them, they couldn't pay land rents. They suffered from cold and hunger and finally had to sell their children for money."

Minglan nodded slightly. In the later stages of a dynasty, the problem of annexation of land would become more serious. When peasants had no means of livelihood, the old dynasty would be replaced with a new one and everything started over again.

Qinsang was also depressed and said in a low voice, "My family once had about 2 acres of farmland. When the weather was favorable, the harvest was enough to support the family. But that year a new county magistrate took office and used every means to exploit civilians for money. He even wanted Sister Yinhua in our village to be his concubine. Sister Yinhua's family refused him. He got angry and arrested Sister Yinhua's father and brother on a trumped-up charge of resisting the grain levy. They were convicted as unruly delinquents and were tortured in the prison. On the third day Sister Yinhua went to the county magistrate's mansion. But her father and brother couldn't stand the cruel torture and died early in the prison. The villagers came to reason with the county magistrate but his butler shamelessly said to Yinhua, 'You has slept with my master. Don't bring disgrace on yourself.' Later, Sister Yinhua dashed herself headlong against the stone pillar at the gate of county government office and died."

Minglan felt deeply grieved at this sad story. No wonder some people said "A county magistrate can easily ruin a poor family. And a governor of a prefecture can exterminate a whole clan." In feudal society, the happy life was like a piece of thin paper for civilians, which could be pierced by any natural calamities and man-made misfortunes. Minglan suddenly counted herself lucky to be reborn in the Sheng family.

"What did this matter have to do with your family?" Luzhi missed the point and felt puzzled.

"Sister Yinhua was my brother's fiancée."

Everyone's face turned solemn.

Qinsang stirred the charcoal fire in the stove with a poker and the flames cast a soft radiance over her face. "My brother couldn't restrain his anger, so he went to the county government office and wanted to avenge his fiancée. But he was beaten half to death by the bailiffs and thrown out of the office. My father was so angry that he fell ill. The two men in our family both needed to see a doctor, but without labor to grow crops we didn't have enough money to treat them. My grandmother said that the farmland should be kept for the men to plant crops when they recovered. So they didn't sell the farmland; instead, they sold me for money. At the same time, Sister Yinhua's young sister and brother were also sold. Alas! No-one knows where they are now."

Danju asked softly, "Do you still remember the name of the county magistrate?"

Qinsang shook her head, the velvet flower pinned in her hair shaking slightly. "I don't remember his name. I was only five or six years old at that time. I only remember that when I left the village, the village head and precinct heads were talking about calling on the villagers to pool money to send children to school. They hoped one of the children could become a Xiucai and help the villagers when they were bullied… Later, I heard that the county magistrate was accused of oppressing people. His superior searched his house, confiscated his property and dismissed him. Finally, he was exiled to remote areas for penal servitude. I was so glad to hear that. But the pity is Sister Yinhua is dead and her family has been broken up. Now their house and farmland have fallen into disuse and no villager mentions them again."

Everyone felt sorry for Yinhua and her family. After a long silence, Qinsang cheered herself up and smiled, "Two years ago, my family sent me a letter telling me that our family financial situation improved. My eldest brother and second brother were married. My younger brother is now studying in school. My parents also said they wanted to redeem me when they had enough money. I wrote back and refused their kind offer. I live a good life in Sheng Mansion. Every month I can get 0.2-0.3 ounce of silver. It's more than my father and brothers' monthly pay. I save up all my money and one day I will bring home the silver for them so that they can buy more farmland."

Minglan, who had been listening to them quietly, couldn't help asking at this moment, "Your family sold you instead of selling farmland. Don't you hate them?"

Qinsang flushed slightly with laughter and said, "I blamed them for some time but later I straightened out my thinking. With farmland, father and brothers, the condition of my family can be improved. It also pained my mother who finally decided to sell me after a long struggle and thorough inquiry about a better middleman. I was so lucky to be sold to Sheng Mansion and attend upon Lady Minglan. Without being scolded or beaten, these years I have eaten well and dressed well. I also get along well with sisters. So there is nothing to complain about."

Minglan was stunned for a while. In the House of Clear Dusk, Qinsang was not put in an important position. She was not as attentive and considerate as Yancao, nor as efficient and capable as Luzhi. So her monthly pay and reward were less than others. But she had no complaint; instead, she was content with her life. When she mentioned her family, she still had affection for them. In conclusion, Qinsang was a good-natured and honest girl if ever there was one.

It was the first time Minglan saw the kind nature and honesty of common people living in the bottom of the society. They were like the soil, lowly but true. Minglan liked Qinsang's character and smiled, "If your family's financial situation has improved and your parents really want to take you home, I will free you. There's no need for them to pay any silver. I guess they have arranged a marriage for you. Well, by then I will give you a dowry."

Blushing to the ears, Qinsang stamped her feet and said with shame and vexation, "Lady! How can you talk nonsense! I will tell Fang Mama about it!"

The room resounded with the laughter of girls and all the sadness was driven away. After telling Old Madam Sheng her decision, Minglan devoted three-quarters of her private savings to buying grains and quilts for the refugees. Her maids also donated some silver.

"You have lost most of your savings. Do you feel comfortable now? Even if you use your money to help the refugees, many refugees will still be frozen to death." Old Madam Sheng looked at Minglan with a meaningful smile.

Minglan nodded earnestly, "I know what I have done is just a drop in the bucket. But I will try my best and do all I can to help them. Brother Changwu says that when the spring comes, the government will make arrangements for their future lives. For those who want to return to their hometown, they can go back to Anhui. As for homeless people, they can open up wasteland and settle down in Youyang. Everything will be all right by then. So I hope they can get through this cold winter."

Old Madam Sheng took Minglan in her arms and sighed with a smile, "You little fool."

In late January of the second year of Chong De, bandits in Eastern Anhui Province, Western Zhejiang Province and Southern and Western Jiangsu Province, acted in a tyrannous manner. They often robbed the refugees and plundered helpless towns. They burned, killed, looted and committed all sorts of crimes wherever they went. Moreover, many of the refugees, who didn't have any place to go, took to the hills and became bandits.

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Changwu and many hot-blooded officers asked their superiors for agreement several times and hoped to lead the garrison to go out of town and suppress bandits. But the magistrate of Jinling prefecture and commander of the garrison firmly refused their applications. Now there were uprisings of war everywhere outside. The most important thing for them was to close the city gate tightly and protect the civilians in Jinling City. How dared they open the city gate and send the garrison to suppress bandits?

Changwu got angry because his applications were all rejected. So he asked for leave and returned home.

"I have told you many times that you shouldn't glare at your superior and argue with him. You must control your temper! Harmonious interpersonal relationships are very important in official circles." Afraid that relations between Changbai and his superiors reached deadlock, Sheng Wei gave him a good scolding right to his face.

"Father, you have wronged me. When my colleagues remonstrated with Commander Hu by banging the table and smashing wine cups, I just stood by and kept quiet." Changwu straightened up his neck, his face reddening, "That was why I asked for leave and returned home. Otherwise, I don't know how to face them."

Minglan standing by comforted, "Brother, don't worry. You are not the military official of Jinling City. It's reasonable for you not to involve in persuasion. By the way, what about the war outside? I feel that it's fairly peaceful in the south of our country. Has Prince Jing marched north smoothly?"

"No!" Changwu responded scornfully, "He's just daydreaming! His soldiers are a disorderly mob. All bluff and bluster, but in their bones they're incapable persons. They were defeated as soon as they entered Shangdong Province. The army was cut off in the middle. The latter half of the army withdrew to Xu Prefecture. They were ambushed in a valley. The first half of the army fled to Zhuang Prefecture. I think now most of them must have been wiped out."

As the words fell from his lips, all people in the room were relieved. Sheng Wei and Changsong smiled at each other and set their mind at rest. Old Madam Sheng smiled and fidgeted with her rosary beads. Li shi put her palms together devoutly and recited "Amitabha" repeatedly. Wen shi served them tea and fruits with a delighted smile. Pinlan snorted slightly and turned to Minglan, whispering, "Prince Jing is so useless!"

Minglan patted her chest, sat at the table and poured herself a cup of tea. Then she drank it slowly.

After walking around the room two times with anxiety, Changwu let out a long sigh and said in despair, "Sister Minglan, you are right. Now I don't need to go back to the capital. In my opinion, Prince Jing and his army are likely to be annihilated before they arrive in capital city. Now only the armies participating in suppressing the rebel army can win honor. If I had known the situation early, I would have joined the army."

Seeing that Changwu's face was covered with disappointment and vexation, Sheng Wei changed the subject, "Which army has His Majesty sent to put down the revolt?"

Changwu stopped walking, sat down in the chair and replied, "I guess that His Majesty has been on high alert to guard against Prince Jing's rebellion for a long time. Over the past few months, on the surface he reinforced public order in the capital. In fact, he secretly moved half the soldiers of Five Armies Battalions to the suburbs of the capital city and ordered them to train hard. Even when the war broke out in the north of Xinjiang, His Majesty didn't use this army to put down the revolt. After Prince Jing rebelled, the army finally marched south secretly and ambushed the rebels in Xu Prefecture."

While saying that, Changwu felt a bit more comfortable. His army, Zhongwei Guardian Team was subordinate to Three thousand Battalions. Even if he had been in the capital, he would have had no chance to go out to battle.

"Five Armies Battalions? I remember that Old General Gan commands it. He is indeed an experienced marshal." Sheng Wei had done business with armies several times, so he knew something about national armies.

Changwu shook his head, "The commander isn't Old General Gan. He is a new general promoted by His Majesty. He's the son of the noble family in the capital. I hear that His Majesty thought highly of him when His Majesty was a feudal lord. This time His Majesty takes the occasion to promote him. Obviously, he will have a bright future."

Minglan's eyes lit up. She smiled, filled her cup with tea and said, "Really? The general has a good eye for things and people."

The Emperor was the eighth son of the late emperor. He was the most inconspicuous prince. Compared with him, Third Prince was more knowledgeable; Fourth Prince was better at martial arts; Fifth Prince was more noble; Sixth Prince was better at handling people; the other young princes born in the late emperor's old age gained more favor from their father. Besides, his mother was the lowliest concubine of the late emperor. It was amazing that the new general had made approaches to the Emperor when he was just a neglected feudal lord. The new general showed great discernment in his choice like Warren E. Buffett did.

Sheng Wei was also interested in the new general, secretly planning to build a relationship with him, and asked, "Who is he? Have I heard him before?"

Changwu seemed disillusioned with the promotion and sighed, "Yes. His name is Gu Tingye."

Everyone in the room except Minglan looked blank because they had never heard of this name before.

With a mouthful of tea in her mouth, Minglan was holding up her teacup and staring at it for quite a long time before she swallowed the tea and asked cautiously, "Mm... I've never heard of such a thing. Brother, even though the military officials don't have to get promoted step by step to be high-ranking officials as the civil officials do, can a man who has no government official position be promoted directly to the general?"

It was really a glittering promotion. Three months ago, Gu Tingye had been a leader of swordsmen and led the members of Cao Bang to eliminate the pirates in Yongtong Canal. Now he was appointed as the general to suppress the rebellion. Was it a cooperation between soldiers and civilians?

Minglan's question cheered Changwu up. He was an experienced military official. But since Prince Jing had started the armed rebellion, his younger cousin, Minglan had always pointed out the right way to him. And he had to admit that she had made penetrating and reasonable analyses. Now he finally had a chance to show off his knowledge.

Changwu let out a long sigh of relief and said loudly, "Sister, General Gu was once a seventh-ranked official of Twelfth Guardian Team."

"It's just a junior official post with very little to do. Many men of the noble families in the capital have the same positions. But none of them is promoted to general." Minglan almost couldn't withhold her laughter. Her assumed suitor, Liang Han had the same official post.

Changwu reported the military information that he had known from Jinling to his family in an envious tone, "Above all things, General Gu wins great recognition from His Majesty. Since His Majesty ascended the throne, he has been promoted to the fifth-ranked commander of the Capital's Guarding Team. This time he leads the army to suppress the rebellion by secret decree of the emperor."

Minglan was speechless. She licked her lips and gave a hollow laugh. Then she walked up to Changwu and poured him a cup of tea with an innocent and pure expression on her face. "Brother, you are knowledgeable. No wonder my father often praises you for having keen insight."

Changwu grinned and felt more comfortable. Minglan was a lovable girl who was good at flattering others in a proper way. Changwu decided that he would beat her future husband severely if he gave her the cold shoulder.

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