Chapter 1: Mo Family’s Village
Translator: Cenniwdyl Editor: Caron_
Dawn rose in the eastern sky. The crows of roosters marked the start of daily life at the farm.
Each family rose from their slumber. The women started to boil water and cook. The men either carried water back home or tidied up farming tools before they ate breakfast and started their work for the day.
This was a subsidiary village of Liancheng County in Jin Country. Its population was about three to four hundred people. However, there was only one surname here – everyone here was part of the same clan. Thus, the villagers used their surnames as the village’s name and it was known as the “Mo Family’s Village.”
Several houses were scattered randomly on the east side of the village. A certain yard with a brick house looked extremely conspicuous among these clay houses because the materials used to build it were obviously far superior to the other houses – its roof tiles were thick and its brick walls were neatly arranged. With one glance, it was apparent the bricks weren’t created with the traditional method usually used by the villagers. Unlike the yard fences of other clay houses which were built with several branches and rattans, its fence was made of meticulously-arranged bamboo poles.
However, the house was also in a more run-down state than other houses; broken roof tiles were left unrepaired, one side of the courtyard fence was broken and the vegetable field in the yard was a complete mess.
At this moment, a door in the small yard was opened. A little girl with a golden complexion and a braid came out. She was about seven years old, very petite, seemed malnourished and was wearing old-fashioned clothes. However, she looked clean and tidy. Every strand of her hair was combed tidily and her clothes also looked very neat.
The girl opened the door to a chicken cage to let the chicken out then she walked towards the kitchen beside the house. In the kitchen, she used cold water to wash her face and rinse her mouth. When she finished, she lifted her sleeves to scoop some water from the water jar and used the water to wash some rice. She then moved a small stool beside the stove, stood on top of it to pour the rice into a huge wok, and lit a fire.
Liancheng County was located in the southern part of Jin Country. The climate was warm and fit for farming rice. Thus, rice straw was also used to light fires. Fortunately, this was the case as it would otherwise be impossible for this young girl to split firewood.
It didn’t take long before the sound of movement appeared from the main house. A pale-looking woman walked into the kitchen.
The little girl, who was starting the fire, hastily jumped up and said, “Mother, why did you get up? Go and rest for a while; food will be ready soon.”
The woman smiled and stroked the girl’s head. She said, “Tiange, let Mother do these things. You should go and play.”
“No!” The little girl insisted and pulled her mother into the house, saying, “Mother, you mustn’t catch a chill. I can do these things.”
“These tasks are nothing…”
“My ability to do these tasks should suffice. Mother, do you want to faint and make me worry again?”
The little girl’s words rendered the woman speechless.
The little girl spoke again: “Mother, just rest up properly… When you’re alright again, I won’t have to do these things anymore.”
The naivety in those words caused a smile to appear on the woman’s face, yet that smile was steeped with bitterness. The woman’s tone became softer as she said, “Alright, Mother will get well as soon as possible and won’t make Tiange suffer again in the future.”
Reddish lights appeared in the eastern sky. Their porridge also started to emit the sweet smell of rice. The little girl stood on a little bench and cautiously scooped up two bowls before heading towards a jar in the corner of the room to select a few pickled vegetables. She then brought all of those, one by one, to the main room.
They only had clear, bland porridge and pickled vegetables without any other dishes. Of the people in the room, one was sick and the other was a little child. It was no wonder both of them looked pale and unhealthy. The woman seemed distressed as she watched her daughter working hard, but the little girl was engrossed in eating her porridge and didn’t notice anything.
Having finished their breakfast, the woman groomed her daughter’s hair for a moment and picked up a throw hanging on the wall. She hung it on her daughter’s shoulders and said, “At school, you have to listen to your master and study hard.”
“En! I’ll go to school now.”
The sun gradually rose higher in the sky. The little girl walked to the Ancestral Hall on the west side of the village, stepping on countless dewdrops along the way. From time to time, boys would run on the road, laughing and joking around.
Seeing her walking on the road, a ten-year-old boy stealthily followed behind her. All of a sudden, he rushed forward and pulled her braid, laughing all the while. “Mo Tiange, your braid is extremely ugly! You better shave your head clean!” When he finished taunting her, he ran away, disappearing from her sight in an instant.
Mo Tiange glared furiously at the boy and said, “Give my ribbon back to me!”
Yet that boy actually raised his eyebrows and made a face. “Give it back to you? Why should I give it back to you? Grab it if you can! Come! Grab it!”
How could a child bear this kind of provocation? Mo Tiange tossed her hair and went to chase the boy.
“Haha! Stupid! I’m here!” The boy was very agile and sturdy. Her thin, weak body was no match for him. Every turn of his body was able to shake her off, causing her to seethe with anger.
After a while, Mo Tiange was panting from chasing him around. At this moment, from a distant place behind her, a girl’s voice appeared, “Brother, what are you doing?”
The two of them stopped after they heard this voice.
A girl of about six to eight years old ran towards them. Seeing Mo Tiange’s messy braid, she instantly glowered and said, “Brother, I forbid you from bullying Tiange! Give her ribbon back!”
The boy, who still seemed fierce just earlier, suddenly showed a bitter expression. He said, “I was only joking with her.”
The girl raised her eyebrows and glared at her older brother. “You still dare to argue with me! If you don’t give it back to me, I’ll go home now and tell Father that you bullied our younger sister!”
The boy’s expression became even more bitter. He said, “What kind of sister is she? She doesn’t even live with us.”
“Our grandfather is someone Tiange calls ‘Grandfather’ too; how could she not be our sister? If you argue with me again, I’ll really go home now and tell Father!”
“Okay, okay, I’ll give it to you, okay?” The boy threw the ribbon in his hand and walked away.
Seeing him leaving, Tiange said softly, “Tianqiao, thank you.”
Mo Tianqiao smiled and said, “No need to thank me – it was his fault. Here, back to you!”
Mo Tiange took the ribbon back, carelessly tying her braid.
“I’ll do it.” Watching her work so sloppily, Mo Tianqiao bluntly redid her braid. She was half a head taller than Mo Tiange so she could smoothly complete the braid without having to squat down.
Having finished braiding Mo Tiange’s hair, Mo Tianqiao carefully took out a paper-wrapped package from her pocket. She opened it and said, “Tiange, come and eat some cake.”
Mo Tiange took the package – it was a piece of yam cake. She whispered, “Thank you.”
Normally, she ate neither cakes nor candy. Her mother was sickly and her situation had been the same up till now. Although they never starved, they also never had a surplus of food. It was only during New Year’s and other big festivals when her grandfather’s family would buy candies that she would get a little share.
Tianqiao and her brother, Tianjun, were her uncle’s children. Tianqiao treated her well and always shared her snacks with her.
“Let’s eat together.”
The two of them walked together towards the Ancestral Hall, eating the cake along the way.
Mo Family’s school was located in the Ancestral Hall on the west side of the village. The village’s old scholar was the master who had been teaching the children in the clan to read. Since it was the clan’s school, the children in the Mo Family’s Village could attend without having to pay any tuition.
However, the village’s people had been farming for generations. Most of them only wished for their children to be able to recognize a few important words. It was enough if they could count and do simple math. The children typically came to study in the mornings and worked to help their families in the afternoons. Only a few children bearing their family’s high expectations would stay at the school until the afternoon.
The two girls walked into the Ancestral Hall. A lot of children were already sitting, filling the room. The youngest was about six-seven years old while the oldest was about thirteen-fourteen years old. All of the children were boys except for the two of them, Mo Tiange and Mo Tianqiao.
Most people believed that a woman’s virtue was having no talents. The Mo Family’s school also adopted the same beliefs – it was very rare for the daughters in the Mo Family’s Village to go to school. What most girls knew was only how to help with household chores from the moment they woke up. Only more progressive households sent their daughters to learn to read.
That was the case with Mo Tianqiao since she was the direct descendant of the Mo Family’s patriarch. Being the patriarch’s granddaughter and having the same mother as the eldest grandson made her extremely valued in the family. Not only was she named after her brother, but she was also sent to school along with her brother.
The two of them, Mo Tianqiao and Mo Tiange, were the only ones to be named after the seniors in the family.
But Mo Tiange’s situation wasn’t the same.
Mo Tiange’s mother was originally the fourth daughter of the patriarch and she was known as the Fourth Lady. She wasn’t the daughter of the patriarch’s wife – she was born illegitimately when the patriarch was young. Hence, the whole family felt very indifferent towards her. She was sick from the moment she was born and continuously had minor illnesses throughout the years. This caused the family to treat her with even more indifference.
Ten years ago, a scholar came and stayed in the village. It was unclear why, but after meeting her a few times, the scholar actually asked for the patriarch’s permission to marry her. Although the patriarch wasn’t fond of this daughter, he was still afraid the man had malicious intentions. Therefore, the patriarch told him if he wanted to marry into their family, he had to take their name and live in the village from that point on. Who would’ve guessed the scholar would agree? Before long, the two of them became husband and wife and lived in the village.
Unfortunately, in their third year, this scholar went on a trip to a faraway place. He hadn’t been seen since. Because her father hadn’t returned, Mo Tiange became the only descendant of her small family and was thus raised like she was a boy. Not only was her surname was “Mo,” but her name was also given according to the names of seniors in the family.
Back to present day, when the class became too noisy, a cough came from inside a nearby room. All the children in the room quieted down. An old, bearded, and dignified-looking man of about fifty years old came out from the room.
Seeing as the students were sitting obediently and none of them were being noisy, the Old Master nodded in satisfaction. He picked up a book from the table and asked, “Have you memorized the first part of yesterday’s ‘Disciple Gauge’?”
The classroom became even quieter. These children only came to school to learn to read. If they were taught ten words, it would already be considered good if they could memorize even half of them. How could they memorize a book?
The Old Master frowned and started to call out their names. “Mo Tianjun, recite this part!”
Although Mo Tianjun promptly stood up, his face crumpled. There was no trace of the arrogance and complacency he had when he was bullying Mo Tiange.
He stammered and recited, “When parents call, the response mustn’t be slow. When parents give a command, mustn’t be lazy. When parents teach, must… Must respect and obey. When parents reproach, must comply…”
The Old Master nodded and said, “Correct, continue.”
“Warm up parents’ bed in the summer, cool them down in the winter. Greet the elders in the morning, wait for them to sleep at night. When you go out, must tell your parents. When you come back, must… must…” After he recited up to this part, he stopped and thought anxiously for a while. However, he really couldn’t remember the remainder of the passage.
He raised his head to steal a glance at the Old Master’s expression. Seeing the Old Master’s severe expression, he hastily lowered his head again.
“Hmph!” the Old Master gave a cold snort. He asked, “What did you do yesterday evening? How are you only able to recite so little of it?”
Mo Tianjun stammered for a moment but didn’t dare to answer.
Upon hearing that, Mo Tianjun’s expression became bitter. However, he didn’t dare to rebel against the Old Master’s orders and could only step forward, cautiously extending his left arm.
The Old Master held a ruler in his skinny hand and slapped it on his other palm several times. Mo Tianjun was frightened upon seeing this, so he simply offered his palm and looked away.
The ruler was raised high and a “SLAP!” hit his palm hard. None of the children dared to make even the smallest noise as they were afraid they would be next.
Mo Tianjun’s palm was already red after five hits. The Old Master withdrew the ruler and said, “Next! Mo Tianwei!”
“Yes.” A child stood up and started to recite, “When parents call, the response mustn’t be slow. When parents give a command, mustn’t be lazy. When parents teach, must respect and obey. When parents reproach, must comply…”
Although this child recited with some difficulty, he recited all of it. The Old Master’s wrinkled brows finally loosened. He said, “Go over it again at home. Next!”
Sensing that Tianqiao was shifting around, Mo Tiange asked in a whisper, “Tianqiao, what’s wrong?”
Mo Tianqiao showed a bitter expression and whispered back, “I didn’t memorize it either. I’m not sure I can recite it completely.”
“Quickly memorize it now. There’s still time.”
“You’re right.” At lightning speed, Mo Tianqiao opened her book and started to silently recite in her heart.
Mo Tiange promptly stood up and answered, “Yes, Master.”
She thought for a moment before she began to recite, “When parents call, the response mustn’t be slow. When parents give a command, mustn’t be lazy. When parents teach, must respect and obey. When parents reproach, must comply. Warm up parents’ bed in the winter, cool them down in the summer. Greet the elders in the morning, wait for them to sleep at night. When you go out, must tell your parents. When you come back, must greet your parents in person. Where you stay should be permanent, your work shouldn’t change often…”
“Mourning period should be three years. Pay homage daily to the deceased, always remembering parents’ grace. Neither eat meat nor drink wine. Parents’ funeral arrangements have to be according to etiquette. Sacrificial offerings to parents have to be done sincerely. Treat deceased parents with the same respect as if they were alive.”
A faint smile appeared on the Old Master’s face. He said, “Good! You recited it very well! Today you should start reading ‘Younger Brother’s Duty’.”
She sighed with relief and opened her book to read the next part.
Although these Mo family’s children didn’t care whether they did good or bad in their studies, the Old Master was a scholar, so he was very strict with each lesson. Earning his praise wasn’t an easy thing to achieve at all.