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

Chapter 104

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The Uncertain Future of Three Sisters (1)

In January of the second year of Chong De, General Gu Tingye, who was appointed by the Emperor, led 3,000 infantrymen and 1,000 cavalrymen to leave the suburbs of the capital and march south. He lay an ambush in Luqiao town, Yang County, Shandong Province. After the battle started, he commanded the cavalry to charge the rebel army three times and cut the army in the middle. The morale of 30,000 rebels dropped. Prince Jing personally led the crack troops to flee north to Zhuang Prefecture.

In February of the same year, Gu Tingye sent half of his soldiers to help the garrison of Zhuang Prefecture to confront the enemy. Then he headed the light cavalry to march south day and night and lay in wait in Lingyan Valley, south of Xu Prefecture, where the routed troops were bound to pass. He made full use of the terrain and defeated the rebel army with a force inferior in number. The imperial army wiped out more than 13,000 rebels and caught Prince Jing's accomplice, Prince Tan alive. After that, he ordered the garrisons of Yue Prefecture and Malong Prefecture to deal with the remaining rebels.

In late March, Gu Tingye led his army north to join forces with the troops led by General Shen Congxing who was Empress Shen's younger brother. They made a joint attack on Prince Jing's remnant troops in Zhuang Prefecture. Prince Jing was soundly defeated and his remnant troops fled in disorder. From then on, local garrisons opened the city gates and went out to annihilate the remaining fugitive rebels. In April of the second year of Chong De, when Prince Jing fled to Mount Xiaoshan, his bodyguards killed him and surrendered. The battle called "Mutiny of Prince Jing and Prince Tan" lasting for nearly half a year finally ended.


In May, flowers bloomed during the warm spring and Yongtong Canal was safe for ships. All the roving rebels and bandits were dealt with. Old Madam Sheng returned to the capital by ship with Minglan and Changdong. Minglan had encountered the pirates on the way to Youyang. But the return journey was smooth and peaceful. Bright red blossoms and green willows along the river bank looked beautiful. Swallows flew back to north in the clear sky. The beauty of the scene filled Minglan with enchantment.

Old Madam Sheng, Minglan and Changdong often sat in the wing-room on the two-story ship, brewing a pot of tea, eating fruits, talking cheerfully and humorously. They looked at the busy boatmen on the banks and the mariners who kept loading and unloading, feeling relaxed and peaceful as if the rebellion had not happened a few months ago.

"Changdong, after drinking this cup of tea, you should go back to your room and study hard. Don't leave your room until we get home." Old Madam Sheng said as she sat on the soft couch and looked out of the window to admire the view.

Changdong blushed with shame. Minglan immediately put in a good word for him, "Grandmother, Brother Changdong hasn't got lazy in the study these days no matter how chaotic the situation outside was."

"I know," Old Madam Sheng said, "Your father told me that he wanted Changdong to attend the imperial examination holding to admit young scholars in February of this year. But Changdong missed the chance to test his ability because of this rebellion."

Minglan gave Changdong a pitying look. He was only twelve years old. Changdong put down the teacup and looked at Minglan with an air of martyrdom. Old Madam Sheng ignored her granddaughter and grandson's imploring expression and continued, "Master may get annoyed because Changdong missed the Child Examination. So he will probably give Changdong a quiz as soon as we return home. We will arrive in the capital in a few days. So he'd better make a last-minute effort for the quiz."

Changdong was clear-headed and knew that Old Madam Sheng was reminding him to study hard for the quiz. He respectfully made a bow to his grandmother and went back to his room to study. Minglan looked at his figure disappearing and sighed, "A grey-haired aged person who still studies intensively will realize that it's useless to read poems and books…"

Old Madam Sheng gave a snort of warning. Minglan instantly added, "When a young boy begins to learn knowledge, he should pay more attention to his study."

Old Madam Sheng twisted her lips into a faint smile and said, "Cut out the banana oil. Have you only learnt how to show off your eloquence in school? Did you pack up the luggage? Don't forget to write notes and stick them on the valuables."

Minglan nodded, peeled a tangerine and stuffed a segment of the tangerine into Old Madam Sheng's mouth from time to time. "Everything has been done. After several nights of packing, I have sorted out the gifts for Sister Rulan and Sister Molan's fifteenth birthday and the presents for Madam and Sister-in-law Hai," she answered with a smile.

Sheng Wei and Sheng Yun were born to be shrewd traders. Every year they earned a lot of money and were generous to their relatives. In return for the pair of jade-inlaid lotus-shaped silver cups Old Madam Sheng brought to Pinlan as the gift for her fifteenth birthday in the past, this time they sent Molan a delicate gold phoenix hairpin as a belated gift for her fifteenth birthday. The gift for Rulan was a flower-shaped ruby-inlaid gold hairpin. Minglan got a pair of delicate jade-inlaid gold cups. Besides, they also gave some valuable jewelry to Wang shi and Hai shi.

It was worth mentioning that Minglan had got one more gift in the ancestral mansion. Some time ago, the refugees gradually dispersed and the influential families in Youyang resumed contact. So Li shi's sister-in-law frequently came to visit the Sheng family. The madam always took Minglan's hands, looked at her carefully from the floral designs of her embroidered shoes to the earrings on her ears, and praised her continually. Before leaving, the madam gave Minglan a pair of white jade bracelets which were valuable and beautiful.

Minglan refused to take the bracelets because ancient girls shouldn't accept other people's gifts at will. But she finally accepted them because Li shi told her that it was just a gift given by the elder at the first meeting.

"I hear that the son of your aunt's sister-in-law, Li Yu is now studying in Songshan Academy. He is a learned man. And he intends to attend the imperial examination held in this autumn," Old Madam Sheng said slowly, "The pity is that Molan can't wait any longer. Otherwise, Li Yu is a good match for her."

Wang shi gave the appearance that she wouldn't keep Molan in the Sheng Mansion for a long time. So Molan had no time to wait until Li Yu passed the imperial examination. Minglan wondered if the marriage between Molan and Juren Wen had been set down. When she remembered her own marriage, she came up to Old Madam Sheng and whispered, "Grandmother, I would rather die than marry into Marquis Yongchang's Household."

Old Madam Sheng glared at Minglan and said with a straight face, "Don't flatter yourself. Madam Liang hasn't said anything like she wants you to be her daughter-in-law."

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Minglan looked a bit embarrassed and said, "I'm just trying to look ahead at what might happen and be ready to handle it. I wish Madam Liang wouldn't have the intention. But if she had..." Minglan bit her lips, squatted down at Old Madam Sheng's feet and rested her head on her grandmother's knees. Then she continued with a woebegone look, "Grandmother, if Madam insists on marrying me to Liang Han, you must turn her down. I'm incapable of dealing with Lady Chunge. I'm afraid that I will be bullied by her."

Old Madam Sheng glared at her and scolded, "You are a girl. Don't talk nonsense. Your parents and I will arrange a marriage for you. Keep your nose clean, and don't interfere in this matter. I won't do something against you."

Minglan rubbed Old Madam Sheng's neck with her head and giggled.

When Changdong reviewed all the books he had taken with himself, they arrived at the wharf. Old Madam Sheng, Minglan and Changdong disembarked from the ship in high spirits and saw Steward Laifu lead a group of servants waiting at the dock. They climbed into carriages and headed back to the capital. After a few days they arrived at the city gate of the capital. To their surprise, Hai shi came here to welcome them in person.

Although Old Madam Sheng and Minglan were confused, they gave no indication on their face and obediently moved to a big flat-roofed carriage with blue silk curtains, four brass lamps hanging at its corners. When they just got down from the original carriage, several female servants came up and tried to take Changdong and Minglan to another carriage at the back. Old Madam Sheng glance at Hai shi who looked haggard with a sallow face.

"Let your Sister Minglan stay. She will reach the age of fifteen in a few months. There is no need to keep something from her," Old Madam Sheng said calmly.

Hai shi bowed her head and flushed slightly. She asked the servants to bring Minglan back to this carriage.

After checking the travel permit at the city gate, the carriages of the Sheng family slowly rumbled along the road towards the Sheng Mansion.

"Now you can tell me what happened in our family." Old Madam Sheng sat with her back against a light olive brocade pillow. Minglan leaned over to smooth the wrinkles on the pillow. Then she took some lily incense from a small box beside her and threw it into an incense burner.

Hai shi looked calm and thought for a while before she said wearily, "After Minglan left, something happened... Grandmother, we wanted to write a letter to you. But Master guessed that you must have started the journey back to the capital, so he told us not to write to you in case of giving the secret away."

Old Madam Sheng suddenly opened her eyes and asked frankly, "Did something happen to your sisters? Which one?"

Hai shi was a bit surprised, her eyes reddening, and said in a choked voice, "Grandmother, you are so wise. It's… It's Sister Molan."

"Don't beat around the bush, come straight to the point! Make it clear before we arrive at our mansion." Old Madam Sheng was experienced and shrewd.

Hai shi took out a handkerchief to wipe her eyes and slowly narrated, "Sister Molan was forbidden to leave her house and didn't need to greet Madam every day. Madam thought she well-behaved and wholeheartedly made arrangements for her marriage. She went to inspect Juren Wen with Master and Changbai, and all of them were satisfied with the young man. They made an appointment to see Old Madam Wen but were delayed by the turmoil caused by war. At that time, it was unsafe to go out. Later, the rebellion was suppressed and the marriage was put back on the agenda. But we didn't expect that last month… last month…"

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