Chapter 95 - Entering School

In the past, the young men of the village often went into the mountains to trap some hares and kill some pheasants because they had seen Hunter Zhao and Yu Hai make money from hunting. However, ever since Yu Hai had his accident, other than the highly skilled Hunter Zhao, most of the other villagers didn’t dare to go into the mountains anymore.  

Old Zhang had lived in Xishan Village for many decades and this was the first time he had heard that a vicious animal like a wild bear was in the mountains! Even though the wild bear had been killed, who knew what other ferocious animals and creatures lived in the mountain?

Yu Hai grinned, “It’s not a big deal. As long as you don’t go deep into the mountains, you won’t have any issues. People in nearby villages go through the forests by the mountains every day. After all these years, have you heard of an accident occurring? At that time, it was because we had not been careful and alarmed a bear who had just woken up from his winter nap. Without precautions…in the future, as long as we’re more careful we’ll be fine.” 

Old Zhang simply sighed and shook his head. He took out two of the three copper coins given to him and said, “Your children don’t take up much space, so you only need to pay for one person. Your family doesn’t have an easy life…” 

Xiaocao thanked Grandpa Zhang. Although her family currently didn’t lack the one or two copper coins, all of them still felt grateful for Old Zhang’s kindness and good intentions.  The two siblings chose a middle spot on the ox cart and leaned their backs against Little Shitou’s bag as they squatted down. Yu Hai sat next to Old Zhang in the front and spent the time chatting with him about nonessential things. Qian Wen sat next to the two siblings as he quietly read aloud from a book. His head bobbed gently with the cart’s movements.

The ox cart started and stopped several times. When it passed by the third village, the cart was finally full of people going into town. Xiaocao and her younger brother had been squeezed solidly into the middle of the vehicle and couldn’t even extend their legs out. Although it was uncomfortable, Xiaocao felt that it wasn’t the right time to complain. Qian Wen apparently seemed to sense her discomfort and decided to switch places with her. This allowed her to sit at the side of the cart and dangle her legs down. It was certainly more comfortable than curling up her legs.

Xiaocao smiled gratefully at Qian Wen. Meanwhile, Little Shitou had managed to squeeze himself in between his father and Grandpa Zhang. He had taken Old Zhang’s bullwhip and was using it to draw pictures in the air... 

It hadn’t reached breakfast time when the cart arrived in Tanggu Town. Xiaocao had carefully cradled a delicate woven basket the entire road there. Inside the basket were some gifts that she planned on giving to the academy’s headmaster. With Qian Wen to guide them, the three of them managed to go straight to Rongxuan Academy. 

The main gate to the school was large and spectacular, and on the top of the gate was an inscription board with ‘Rongxuan Academy’ written on it. In fact, those words had been personally written by the emperor emeritus himself. The schoolyard had been designed along symmetrical lines and had a deep courtyard. The main building was built on the central axis, and the classroom that the headmaster personally taught in was located at the exact middle of the complex. The other lecture halls were divided into two rows at the sides. The dining hall, worship hall, and ancestral hall were ordered around the left and right of the main wing.  

The layers of sights within the courtyard gave off a wondrous and marvelous atmosphere. There was a pond with a stream, a stone bridge, and pavilions...a person walking around could hear the faint cadence of students repeating the words they read in their books. This was a place that dripped of culture and learning, and people visiting couldn’t help but feel a sense of deep reverence and fascination...  

With Qian Wen’s guidance, the three of them managed to smoothly enter through the academy’s main gate. As they walked through the secluded and quiet avenue, they couldn’t help but walk more lightly than they usually would. 

It was currently the meal time at the academy, so Qian Wen directly brought them into the ‘canteen courtyard’. The area was split into two courtyards. One of them was naturally the place where the students were able to eat food. The other smaller area was a bit more elegant and it was for the teachers.   

Xiaocao tightly squeezed on the handle of her basket and joyfully followed Qian Wen from behind. When they arrived at a round gate shaped like the moon, they were stopped by a student who was dressed in a black robe, “Student, this is the courtyard where the teachers eat. If you want to partake in a meal, please go over there.” 

Qian Wen respectfully gave a greeting and quietly replied, “Brother, if you don’t mind, could you report to the headmaster and tell him that the little boy from the docks that he had accepted into the school is here to report for duty…” 

The headmaster had personally accepted a new student? The youth wearing the black robe peeped inquisitively at the little boy who was wearing an entire set of brand-new cotton padded clothes and the man and little girl who were clothed shabbily. He paused for a second and then nodded, “Please wait a moment here…” 

Inside the canteen, Headmaster Yuan was having a snack with the academy supervisor and the official of rites and history. When he heard what the student prefect reported, his eyes immediately lit up and sillily asked, “Is the girl that’s with him about seven to eight years of age? Did she come empty-handed? Did she really not bring anything?”

The academy supervisor was considered an old friend of his and knew that he never received other people’s gifts. Flabbergasted, he silently asked himself why his old friend would ask something like that. Isn’t this...isn’t this making it obvious that you want something from her? What sort of person could make his old friend do something so out of character? The official of rites and history also gave the headmaster a bewildered glance. 

The student prefect secretly peeked at the headmaster and quietly replied, “The little girl had a basket in her hands. There was a piece of rough cloth covering the top, so I don’t know what’s in the basket.” 

Inside his heart he felt that this was not right and proper. The three of them looked like they came from an impoverished family, what kind of poor gift could they give? Could be a few chicken eggs, or a bunch of dried vegetables, at most it’d be an old hen. What was there to look forward to? 

Yet, when the headmaster heard his reply, his expression became even more excited. The old man stood up abruptly with a ‘whoosh’ and paced around a few steps as he guffawed, “Looks like this little girl has some sense in her head! Quickly, quickly, let those people come in!” 

Qian Wen felt even more surprised when he found out that the headmaster would personally receive the Yu Family. Just what kind of talent did Little Shitou have that made the esteemed headmaster favor him so much? 

However, when the three esteemed scholars of the academy came out to personally receive them, Qian Wen felt extremely privileged to be able to bask in the glory of others. He bowed deeply to the headmaster, academy supervisor, and the official.  

Headmaster Yuan noticed that he was wearing the uniform of a student: a long gown. He smiled at him and nodded his head, “Are you a student in the junior class? What’s your name? Are you from the same hometown as Yu Fan and his sister?” 

They had to admit, Headmaster Yuan had a formidable memory. After all these days had passed, he could still clearly remember Little Shitou’s full name. As for being able to recognize Qian Wen as a student in the junior class, that wasn’t because he had an impression of Qian Wen. Instead, the classes at the academy: primary, junior, middle, and advanced, all had different uniform colors.  

The children in the primary class wore long robes that were an ink-blue color. The junior class had sea-blue, the middle class was azure blue, and the advanced class wore a pale moon-blue. By looking at the sea-blue uniform Qian Wen was wearing, Headmaster Yuan could tell in a glance what class he was in. 

Qian Wen respectfully bowed to Great Scholar Yuan in a reply to his question. Headmaster Yuan stared obviously at the basket in Xiaocao’s hands and carelessly encouraged Qian Wen with a couple of sentences. The boy felt overwhelmed with favor by his attention.   The old man waved his hand in dismissal to let Qian Wen go eat a meal and then he smiled toothily at Xiaocao. He rubbed his hands in anticipation, “Little girl, what’s in your basket? The greedy monster inside my stomach is already rumbling, quickly take it out...”

The academy supervisor and official of rites looked at each other and then simultaneously turned their heads away——we don’t know this shameful man, we don’t know him... 

“Esteemed headmaster, you really have a good nose! I brought over some braised pig head meat and pickled fish. Do you want to try them?” Xiaocao took out two plates of tantalizing braised food from the basket and placed them on the table in front of the three important figures of the academy.  

“Braised pig head meat? Is that the dish that the emperor emeritus loves the most? That’s fantastic...ah! You two, didn’t you both say that you were full? If you’re full, then leave, quickly leave now…” Headmaster Yuan protected the two plates of food like it was his beloved treasure. He wanted to keep his beloved food away from the two hungry wolves that were his old friends. 

The academy supervisor and official of rites had been friends for him for a long time, so they naturally knew what type of personality he had. They looked at the table full of food that had been barely touched and the wine cups that had only a sip taken out. The two of them looked at each other bitterly and silently got up to leave——it looked like they needed to have the kitchen make another table of food. 

The two men glanced at the raggedly clothed Xiaocao and thought, ‘This little girl looks like she comes from a very poor family, yet she can bring out something that our old friend, who disdains the food from the imperial kitchen, likes so much? Isn’t it just a plate of pale red meat and a few messy looking strips of fish? Does he really need to protect them?’

The supervisor and official both sat down at a nearby table and sat face to face drinking wine as they watched Headmaster Yuan’s movements and expressions. They first saw him pick up a piece of pork with the skin on it and carefully chew the bite to taste. His eyes closed in pleasure, and his body language showed that he was very satisfied with the taste of this dish.

It was just a piece of pork, how delicious could it be? Could it possibly be that their old friend’s taste buds had degenerated and he was no longer that picky? The two men then saw the headmaster pick up a fish about the size of a young child’s palm. A fish that size had a lot of thin bones, right? Eating it had to take a lot of effort, they needed to see how their old friend would eat this. 

Headmaster Yuan evidently also had some doubts, and he asked the little girl a couple of questions. After hesitating for a short period of time, he then popped the fish into his mouth. Supervisor Meng and Official Yao felt like they could feel the multitudes of small fish bones piercing their mouth and both of them coughed to clear their throats.  

As for their old friend, Headmaster Yuan, his eyes, which had originally been opened wide, and slowly closed into a line with his chewing movements. This type of expression clearly showed that he was enjoying the taste of a culinary delicacy.  

Ehhhh? How come when their old friend was eating the fish he didn’t spit out a single fish bone? And he also didn’t seem to get poked by any bones? Is the fish the type that didn’t have any bones? That couldn’t be right. Official Yao, who had grown up in the rural country, had recognized early on what type of fish that was used. It was a crucian carp and it definitely had a lot of tiny bones! 

This little girl, what kind of spell did she cast on the headmaster that he could eat fish with tiny bones in it without any sign of pain or suffering... 

Official Yao couldn’t sit there anymore! That can’t do, he needed to figure out what was going on. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to eat and sleep for the next few days!

Official Yao quickly stepped over to Headmaster Yuan’s table and snatched a little fish when the old man was in the midst of speaking warmly to Xiaocao. Before the other man could object, he quickly stuffed the fish into his mouth.

Headmaster Yuan was immediately stunned. He had known Official Yao for almost fifty years, and he knew that his old friend had come from a poor family. Thus, Old Yao didn’t have any expectations for food, as long as he could eat his fill, then he was content. 

Today Old Yao knew that there was something special to be had. He knew that the little girl’s fish had to be a dish of unique taste and splendor. Thus, he didn’t care about his reputation and had snatched food from his plate. After being stunned for a second, Headmaster Yuan snarled, “Old Yao! You’re really too much! How could you steal the pickled fish that the little girl made especially for me as a sign of her filial respect? I...I...I’m super angry at you!!” 

At this moment, Headmaster Yuan put down his chopsticks and threw himself at his old friend who was still chewing on the fish that he loved. Official Yao continued to eat the fish that had melted completely in his mouth, yet his hands were not idle. He continuously managed to dodge and repel his old friend’s ‘offense’.  

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Myst's Thoughts

Sanguine’s Thoughts: Pfffttt! These old men are really too funny!

Translator: Sanguine