Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
The New Year
For the next few days, Zhang Cai and his family continued to work on the construction of the well. Fortunately on the sixth day, the water that everyone was hoping to see finally appeared. At the last moment, they managed to build the well right before winter, which could be considered a huge accomplishment. Everyone felt relief in their hearts. While Zhang Cai was busy handing out the remuneration to the fellow workers, Zhang Xiaolong and his two brothers were busy tidying up the road from the field to the well. The gloomy winter clouds were now overcast in the sky and little bean-sized snow started to fall, signaling the start of winter.
The first snow storm began to fall, and the cold winter wind became even colder, which also meant that the new year was arriving soon.
Zhang Cai was very pleased with the accomplishments of the past year; his family now had an additional plot of land with its own well, the grains produced by this field could be stored as rations in the case of a drought. Therefore, on the upcoming New Year, he asked Guo Sufei to prepare some New Year specialties so that everyone could enjoy the upcoming celebrations to the fullest. His mother-in-law was already very old, so her living to see another year was a cause to be happy for. However, her body has also gotten worse over the past few days, and she had to lie in bed during half the day. Whether she could live through another year was still uncertain. When he thought of his parents and his recently-deceased father-in-law, Zhang Cai eyes grew even more determined to celebrate and enjoy the impending New Year.
Farmers do not celebrate the New Year very extravagantly. They would usually prepare a few more dishes, and prepare the food in larger portions. As for the New Year specialty goods, they were simply the sundries that Zhang Cai bought from a market outside the village. He had also purchased a few foodstuffs that were not usually found at home, which the three brothers gazed at enviously hoping to sneak an early taste. Apart from settling the matters of the New Year celebration, Guo Sufei also went around the village to meet their relatives on matters relating to her eldest son’s marriage. However, from the ever-changing mood on her face, it was evident that those matters were not going as smoothly as she hoped.
Time seemed to pass faster in the bustle of the Zhang household, and before long, the New Year finally arrived.
On New Year Eve, as the whole family gathered around the stove discussing about the events of the previous year as well as Zhang Xiaolong’s approaching marriage, a sudden shout could be heard from outside the village. A large commotion seemed to be stirring outside. “Could the bandits have come?” A sudden worrying thought struck past Zhang Cai’s head. However, this was unlikely to be the case because the households among the villages in the area were all very poor. Thus, the nearby bandit stronghold had no reason to come to a place where even the birds would not leave their droppings at. Even though Zhang Cai thought that way, he dared not let his guard down. Thus, he called his three sons to carry their hoes and any other metal objects, as they walked out of this house carefully. The fence surrounding the Zhang’s courtyard was only as high as half a person’s height, so they could immediately spot the current situation in the village. In the village, there were many people who have gathered into large discussion groups. There were also people who were sprinting about, but none of these people were familiar faces. Despite the fright that was visible on everyone’s faces, there were also hints of excitement. Assessing the current situation, Zhang Cai called his children back into the house and ordered them to put away their “weapons”, while he went out alone to fish for more news. The three brothers were naturally not willing to stay behind, so they stealthily left the house and went to gather information from the similar-age peers.
There were many people out in the village standing or sitting in small groups, all discussing about same topic. Zhang Cai walked towards one such group who were carrying pipes, and pushed his way to the middle until he saw the familiar face of blacksmith Liu. Patting his shoulders, Zhang Cai asked, “Old Liu, what is happening? Why is there such a large commotion outside?” Blacksmith Liu quietly smoked his pipe, and on seeing that it was Zhang Cai who asked, he tapped the pipe a few times, put on a fresh patch of grass, and then inhaled deeply.
“Old brother, did you know that north of our village is the stronghold of the XiCui mountain bandits?”
Zhang Cai replied, “Of course I do, they are the largest bandit group within these hundreds of li, how could I have not heard of them? However, they would usually target the more affluent areas in the north, why would they come over to this side?”
Blacksmith Liu took another smoke on his pipe, and replied, “True, but do you remember that not long ago, Mr. Wu from the Xin village dug up a container of valuables?”
Zhang Cai felt like the light has finally dawned on him. “Could it be that…” He did not dare probe any further, as he realized the reason for the bandits’ attack. Wealth should be kept hidden, otherwise, what positive outcome could arise when bandits have set their sights on your wealth?
Seeing that Zhang Cai remained silent, butcher Guo who was on the side squeezed over and mysteriously said, “Furthermore, Mr. Wu initially feigned ignorance, which piqued the fury of the bandit leader who immediately held the tens of people in the household as hostages at the shrine, before sending some of his men to overturn the house. Finally, they found a pile of treasure at the bottom of the vegetable cellar, and feeling deceived, they massacred all the hostages before burning down the shrine. Fortunately, even though Xin village is slightly larger than us, they also live in impoverished conditions, so the bandits did not continue their plundering and instead warned the rest of villagers not to report the matter to the authorities, or they would soon follow the Wu family.”
Blacksmith Liu said, “Disaster disguised as a blessing indeed, a few days ago they were still thinking that they have struck rich, but now, they all perished under a calamity. What a waste~”
Butcher Guo continued, “Not every member perished though. Mr. Wu’s younger brother’s wife went back to our village to visit her parents, and has yet to return today, so she managed to avoid the calamity. Earlier on, if not for someone spreading the news over, she would still be kept in the dark. Furthermore, the person who spread the news over also said that before the mountain bandits left, they tied a girl onto a horse, and although her face was not visible, it is most likely to be Mr. Wu’s daughter whom they brought back up into the mountain.”
The three Zhang brothers who were standing behind their father suddenly felt chill after hearing the news from the villagers. Even though they have heard of the atrocities by these bandits, but those were just hearsay. Now that a tragedy has fallen unto someone close to them, as Mr. Wu was one of the few learned people who taught Zhang Xiaohua, even though he did not see it with his own eyes, Zhang Xiaohua felt fear and grief pervade his heart. Subconsciously, he rubbed the bracelet on his arm, thinking, “Luckily the thing I dug out was not a real treasure. Even if it was so, I must definitely not tell anyone to prevent disaster befalling on me and my family.” It was how the idea of every man for himself imprinted itself onto the young boy’s heart.
The three brothers told their father that they wanted to personally go over to Xin village to scout the situation, but Zhang Chai refused their request. After all, New Year was approaching and it was inauspicious to see bloodshed or misfortune. Furthermore, the Wu family house has probably reduce to a pile of mud and debri by now, and the scene would be quite traumatic, not to mention that the authorities have probably arrived, and going over would invite interrogation from them.
As the discussion died down, the villagers eventually scattered back to their homes. No matter what happened, their personal affairs are more important that other people’s business. Sweeping the snow from their doorsteps was a superstition that even farmers follow to avoid such a calamity falling on them.
As Zhang Cai and the three brothers returned home, they saw their grandmother and Guo Sufei huddle around the stove fire. Then, they recounted the news to both of their shock. Both women then prayed to the heavens so that the deceased could be reincarnated sooner, and that their own family would not experience such a tragedy. Even after the sky turned dark and the oil lamp in the middle of the house was lit, Zhang Xiaohua’s grandmother was still crying out, “Disaster disguised as a blessing, disaster disguised as a blessing indeed.”
Even though the New Year has returned, the Guo village atmosphere was not as vibrant as the previous years. Under the dark night sky, only the innocent children were carrying their lanterns and playing around, because only they could preserve their naivety in the face of human cruelty. Most of the villagers were like the Zhang household, they enjoyed a sumptuous dinner to pack away the previous year worth of weariness and to welcome for a better, more comfortable future ahead, but at the back of their heads, they could not forget the unfortunate incident of the Wu family. Thinking that in this dog eat dog world, it is difficult to avoid the mentality of putting oneself before others, and to hope for self-protection in such a bleak environment.
The New Year which should have been lively and exciting just passed quietly that way. Whether or not there was joy, sorrow, rewards or pain in the dreams of other people, Zhang Xiaohua had the same dream of the bright lights again.
The way farmers celebrate the New Year was actually pretty simple, apart from visiting each other’s houses, they would also visit the distant Lu town town fair. Every New Year day, the Lu town has a street that would be bustling with people and liveliness. Everyone would be dressed in their new clothes, while bringing along a full pouch to enjoy the atmosphere of the new year festivities.
For the Zhang household, Guo Sufei had to stay at home to look after Zhang Xiaohua’s grandmother, so Zhang Cai brought his three sons to the Lu town instead. Lu town was about thirty li south of Guo village.
There were not many streets in the town of Lu and there would not be as much excitement on normal days. It was not difficult to rally the people during the New Year. Everyone was more than willing to spend a year’s accumulated worth of energy to squeeze among the crowds in the streets. There was a road that stretches from the north to the south, and it was slightly larger than the other streets. There were also many stores opened on both sides of the road. No matter what they were selling, business appeared to be extremely good. Apart from the stores, there were several vendors who set up their stalls outside these stores, hawking their wares loudly and lugging customers over. On normal days, if the store owners were to see such street vendors, then they would chase these people away without hesitation. However, today was a special occasion as everyone was seeking to enjoy the liveliness, and nobody would commit an inauspicious act of spoiling the atmosphere.
Because of this, the street which was not very wide to begin with became even more crowded, and for the three brothers who were following their father, their eyes were all over the place not knowing where to start.