Back to Ancient Times To Make Pen Pals [Teaser] - 1
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Translators: ShiXiaoLing(aka LemonSquash)
This is the second-ever project I am working on and since it is Historical and I am inexperienced, I may make some mistakes. Please leave your comment in the comment section or contact us on our Discord channel to let us know. Thank you and enjoy!!!!!!
It rained after the Tomb-sweeping festival(1).
After many days of rain, everywhere in Wushan County was damp, and one could find mushrooms by the corners of the walls even if they didn’t pay attention (T/N: I guess this signifies the arrival of spring).
After such a long time, the sun finally came out today, and people were bustling about washing and drying. Even the county government official’s house was no exception.
The faint fragrance of Chinese honey locusts(2) travelled into the study through the opened windows and doors. It awakened the middle-aged man who was quietly flipping the pages of a book.
The man paused, looked up and asked his loyal servant, Old Zhou who was waiting by the side, “Are they doing laundry in the back?”
“Ah. It’s sunny today, so my wife had us do the laundry early in the morning.”
The man nodded: “No wonder one can smell Chinese honey locusts here.”
“Not really.” Old Zhou sighed with a smile, “The weather in the south is different from that in the north. It’s so wet that when the sun comes out, we have to rush to wash and dry.”
“Each place has its way of supporting its inhabitants.”
Just as he was talking, light footsteps were heard from outside. Shortly after, the door was opened from the outside and a small head peeked in: “Dad? Are you busy?”
It was a cute little girl with double buns on the top of her head, dewy grape-like eyes and a round pink face.
The man relaxed his frown and waved to her, “Come in.”
The little girl immediately laughed her eyes into a crescent shape, raised her skirt a little and ran in happily towards him. She greeted them both and said, “Dad, Uncle Zhou!”
The latter bowed with a smile in return to the greetings.
The girl’s surname was Zhu, and her name was Yuan. She was 11 years old. The man in the study was her father, whose name was Zhu Xiuqi. He was in his 30’s this year. He was the newly appointed official of Wushan County who had just taken office last year.
Zhu Yuan pounced on the desk and said, “Dad, I heard you brought back a lot of books yesterday?” Her black eyes glanced straight towards the two stacks of old books on the table.
Zhu Xiuqi naturally knew her thoughts, but still didn’t clarify for her. He only asked in a warm voice, “Why did you come here at this time? Have you finished your practice?
Zhu Yuan smiled and said, “Dad, did too much reading make you stupid? What time is it no–” before she finished talking, she felt a sharp pain on her head.
“Dad!” She held her head in protest.
“Don’t ignore the difference between the young and the old.” Zhu Xiuqi reprimand.
Zhu Yuan grimaced, and without letting him attack again, she pointed at the two stacks of books on the table and asked expectantly, “Can I borrow these books for a few days?”
Zhu Xiuqi smiled kindly, and then mercilessly refused, “No way!”
Zhu Yuan was disappointed.
“You should focus on your homework now. It’s fine to look through miscellaneous books occasionally, but you can’t read so many books.” Zhu Xiuqi patiently explained, and then, he began to ask about her homework, “Dad has been busy these days and doesn’t have time to check-in on you. Have you been naughty? Can you recite Mencius yet?”
Zhu Yuan pouted and replied, “I’m not a boy, I don’t need to take the imperial examination.”
Zhu Xiuqi looked towards her sternly and said, “Who said that reading is only for the imperial examination? The purpose of learning idioms is to understand the truth, to differentiate between right and wrong, and to cultivate one’s moral character and regulate one’s family… “
This was how he would start nagging. Zhu Yuan did not admit defeat and quickly interrupted him, “I can already recite everything without thinking – I do my homework every day.”
Zhu Xiuqi’s face became gentle, “Read the old books hundreds of times, read them carefully and think about them deeply. Reading is the best thing to do, memorization is the foundation of learning.”
Zhu Yuan hugged his arm and tried to act cute, “I know that already. If you don’t believe me, you can test me.” With her father being busy recently, she was sure he didn’t have time to test her.
Sure enough, after she said that, Zhu Xiuqi finally showed a smile on his face, “Fine then, wait until I finish this, I will check it later.”
Zhu Yuan finally let out a sigh of relief.
“Also…” Zhu Xiuqi did not intend to let her go, and then he asked again, “What about your calligraphy practice? Have you been slacking off lately?”
Zhu Yuan lowered her head and said: “Dad…”
Zhu Xiuqi cleared his throat and continued, “It seems to me that you were lazy with calligraphy practice.”
Zhu Yuan shrunk her neck with a guilty heart. Calligraphy practise with a brush was way too difficult for her, she would rather pinch a charcoal piece and write than practice with a brush!!
Zhu Xiuqi hummed thoughtfully: “If you don’t practice your handwriting well, future –” he suddenly paused. His eyes turned towards the two stacks of books on the table and then he asked her, “Do you want to read these books?”
Zhu Yuan was startled, then nodded hurriedly: “Yes!”
Zhu Xiuqi smiled cunningly, “If you want to read them, go ahead and take them.”
So easy? Zhu Yuan was surprised, “Really?”
“But…” Zhu Xiuqi turned around.
She knew there was a catch. Zhu Yuan listened seriously.
“These are the county annals of Wushan County. They are well written in terms of local conditions and human relations. Since you have nothing to do with your free time, you can copy them, and then you can have a good look at them and increase your knowledge. “
Zhu Yuan, “……”
“After all, these are county annals. It’s not easy to keep them for a long time. You can start copying them now.” Zhu Xiuqi finalized the decision and then turned towards Old Zhou, “Have the servants move these county annals to the back study.”
There was nothing to gain from saying anything anymore.
Zhu Yuan muttered, “I can copy them as I like, these are just a few thin books.” I can copy such a thin book in a few days, it won’t take too long to finish.
Zhu Xiuqi smiled silently.
A quarter of an hour later, a few boxes of county records were moved into the backyard study.
“Young lady Xia Zhi, please wait a moment!” Old Zhou, who was carrying books called out to Xia Zhi, the maid close to Zhu Yuan, with a smile. “There are still two more boxes in the back. I’ll ask you to help clean them up later.” After all, these were the general history of a county. It was better to be careful.
“Yes!” Xia Zhi made a sound of agreement, “Sorry to inconvenience you, Old Zhou Bo.”
There were still two boxes?! When she was in the study, she only saw two piles.
Zhu Yuan’s whole person was not good: “Zhou Bo, are you mistaken? How do you still have two boxes?” She was afraid to believe it.
Old Zhou laughed and said, “No mistake. I picked it up from the county government.” Then he bowed and backed out.
Zhu Yuan, “……..”
She was so naive!
Zhu Xiuqi was so determined to teach her calligraphy…..
She looked up towards the sky and sighed, “Even the heavens are trying to kill me, so I’ll have to—“
Xia Zhi snorted, but hastily restrained her laughter when she received a scornful glance. She advised gently, “Miss, please stop sighing. There are so many books, why don’t you hurry up and start copying them.” The brush and ink had already been properly prepared.
Zhu Yuan sighed again.
She picked up the thinnest book from the box and went back to the desk.
She sat down, rolled up her sleeves, opened the book and picked up the brush.
With a sad face, Zhu Yuan surrendered to her fate and started copying the great ordeal.
The wooden stool overturned and the books fell to the ground.
The quiet environment in the study was broken.
Various princes and students in the lecture hall all turned around.
However, Xie Zheng frowned and stared at the book on the ground.
The lecturer assigned by The Hanlin Imperial Academy(3) hurriedly walked over. “Your Highness, what’s wrong?” He was on duty to give lectures today. It was the time for the princes to practice calligraphy. Xie Zheng was always sitting in the back of the class all by himself, reading a book. The lecturer had to ask because the prince was not good at taking care of himself and would always cause a ruckus in class.
Xie Zheng paused and raised his head to look around, then slowly pointed to the book on the ground and said casually, “There was a bug.”
Everyone’s expressions were a little strange. The younger princes had not yet been properly taught at home, several people snorted and hurriedly tried to cover their mouths.
His brother Xie Lu who had already turned eight years old didn’t have to worry about this. He jumped at the opportunity and said, “Brother, why are you still afraid of insects?”
Xie Zheng’s face remained calm and he retorted, “What’s wrong with that?”
Of course, he wouldn’t have any problem. Xie Yi grimaced, “You have a straight face every day, I thought you were really capable.” He was already so old and still afraid of insects. As for himself, he could play with them since he was five.
Xie Gu, the second eldest, sneered, “Third brother, you are too –“
“Cough,” Just then the lecturer cleared his throat, “ It was nothing but a small mishap. Your highness, please continue with your studies.” Then he winked at the other lecturers.
Other lecturers were not stupid. They busied themselves trying to attract the attention of the rest of the princes.
It was just a passing episode.
The on-duty lecturer picked up the book and flipped through it. He didn’t find the insect. So, he handed it back to Xie Zheng and said in a soft voice, “The insect must have run away.” Then he asked about his homework, “Has your highness read《Zuo Zhuan》? Are there any questions related to it?”
Xie Zheng quietly received the book and followed the topic. “There are indeed some questions. Mr Lao, can you help me and explain a few of them?” He flipped through a few pages of the book, omitted some strange things and pointed somewhere he asked, “Sir, can you elaborate on this sentence?”
The lecturer took a look and nodded, and then explained in a soft voice, “There is no hot sunshine in winter, no cold climate in summer, no desolate wind in spring, and no continuous rain in autumn….(4)”
Xie Zheng’s gaze was fixed on the page of the book as if listening intently.
But his heart was going through a storm.
The copy of Zuo Zhuan in front of him was only given to the princes and other royal relatives. Not only was the cover the same, the font, the font size, but even the ink spots on the pages were also the same.
Therefore, there could never be dirty pages or overlapping ink stains.
Even if the secretaries did make a mistake…… How did they make ink characters….. Alive?
In front of Xie Zheng, in addition to the original book, there was also a layer of winding and crooked ink characters. They seemed to come alive and appeared out of thin air, then slowly disappeared. As if the book had a life of its own.
——He was so frightened by the sudden appearance of this ink that he dropped the book subconsciously.
He was so confused.
Although he had different experiences compared to an ordinary person, he was still sceptical regarding these strange and unpredictable things.
He glanced at the lecturer who was currently explaining in a low voice. He looked calm, didn’t speak fast or slow. His logic was clear and he was analyzing and being long-winded as usual. Nothing out of ordinary.
It was like he couldn’t see these ink characters that were incessantly floating in front of him.
Xie Zheng suppressed his thoughts and kept staring at the pages of the book. He took a closer look and concentrated.
The crooked ink characters slowly surfaced. From top to bottom, left to right. Slowly, one by one. It was as if someone invisible was writing them.
These ink characters overlapped with the regular script in “Zuo Zhuan”, which could make one feel dizzy when they looked at it.
If it wasn’t for the crooked font, which was much bigger and more awkward than that on the page. it would be hard to see the content.
“…… Fifteen miles north of the county, Xiaoxian is located in the Shanxi Province. The two mountains stand, as usual, the rush of communication……”
This was …… Geography?
“Third royal Highness, is there any ambiguity in the explanation of this minister?”
The lecture interrupted Xie Zheng’s thoughts.
He nodded slightly, “Mr You Lao, Thank you for your explanation.” These lecturers were all scholars selected by the Imperial Academy. Even if he didn’t want them by his side, there was still no need to offend them.
The lecturer smiled, cupped his hands behind his back and left quietly.
Xie Zheng withdrew his gaze and continued to focus on the pages of the book.
A moment later, he closed the <<Zuo Zhuan>> and opened another book on his desk.
The crooked ink characters appeared slowly again.
It haunts and follows him.
- Qingming Festival, also called Tomb Sweeping Day or Pure Brightness in English, usually falls on April 4 or 5. Qingming (清明) is the second of 24 solar terms on the traditional Chinese solar calendar. It is also a time for people to go outside and start enjoying the greenery of spring.
- Chinese honey locust: It is one of the alleged “50 fundamental herbs” used in traditional Chinese medicine. Gleditsia sinensis has been used in China for at least 2000 years as a detergent. The thorns of Gleditsia sinensis are used as a medicinal herb in China and Korea and may have antitumor properties. The thorns of Gleditsia sinensis LAM. (Leguminosae) have been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of inflammatory diseases including swelling, suppuration, carbuncle and skin diseases
- Hanlin: refers to academics employed as imperial secretaries from the Tang onwards, forming the Hanlin Imperial Academy (翰林院), lasting from Tang dynasty until 1911
- This sentence comes from “Zuo Zhuan·The Four Years of Zhao Gong”, which is a metaphor for orderly four o’clock a year and harmonious solar terms.