A year later, Tong Yu Er gave birth to Miao Chu He’s eldest son, named Miao Yan Jin, in September. The newborn baby was fair and chubby, making everyone fond of him. The family treated him dearly and they often fought over who would get to hold him.
Since Tong Yu Er’s milk was insufficient, they hired a nanny to help take care of little Jin. Lu Xiao Shu and Xiao Xue were both very lucky as they did not have to watch over the baby all day like their brother back then.
It was fine for Xiao Xue, but it seemed like an impossible task to have Lu Xiao Shu patiently care for a child. She would only play with the kid whenever she felt like it. The only thing she would never be fed up with was poking her finger in the baby’s fair, chubby, and pinkish little cheek. She had a lot of fun poking him, feeling very satisfied with the feeling.
Back then when she was little, she too was poked in the cheeks by her family, especially her uncle. Every time he dropped by to visit, he would play with her by poking her cheeks. Now, would it not be fair to take her revenge on his son?
What a pity that Miao Cui Lan would nag at her every time she saw it. She scolded Xiao Shu for being ignorant even though she had grown up. How could anyone simply poke a baby’s face for fun? Little Jin was starting to get annoyed whenever he was poked in the cheeks. The nanny agreed with Miao Cui Lan and watched out for Lu Xiao Shu whenever she came near, giving her a stern lecture similar to Miao Cui Lan’s.
Lu Xiao Shu was upset as she thought, Mother, you’re so biased! Why didn’t you stop them when they were poking me back then? It feels like I really am adopted!
The summer a year later seemed to have arrived too early. The Tomb Sweeping Day(1) had just ended, yet the blazing sun was so hot that it was unbearable to be outside.
(1)Usually happens around April every year.
That day, Lu Xiao Shu walked past the yard of her house and saw her sister and the nanny playing happily with Little Jin. Out of boredom, she joyfully skipped to the pond at the backyard to tease the fish with leaves.
Out of a sudden, she remembered that Mr Wu was supposed to go to the city to run some errands today. The wheels were turning in her mind as she sped out of the backyard with a grin on her face. She passed through a bamboo forest and walked along the little path heading to the academy near Mr Wu’s house.
As she peeped into the classroom from the window, she found that her brother was, as expected, not in class. There were about twelve or thirteen students chatting, dozing off, reading, or writing.
Without a second thought, Lu Xiao Shu headed to the other side of the hill. Her brother must be catching sparrows with Lin Fang.
Lin Fang was Master Lin’s youngest son and he was from the Lin Family in the city. The Lin Family was a well-established family in the city which was almost like a syndicate. In addition to running legitimate businesses like restaurants and inns, they also managed the city’s ports and terminals, land transportation, brokers, brothels, etc. All the good-for-nothings in the city were under the jurisdiction of the Lin Family. They had to at least work in the Lin Family’s ports if they wished to stay in the city.
Master Lin had three sons and two daughters before having Lin Fang, while his eldest grandson was a few years older than Lin Fang. Since Lin Fang was a lot younger than his siblings, he was spoiled since he was little. Master Lin loved him too much to discipline him, sending him to Feng Ye Village to study with Mr Wu after hearing that Mr Wu was knowledgeable and very kind. The Master had a little servant called “cricket” follow Lin Fang to the academy and they would have a carriage to send and fetch them every dawn and dusk.
Nevertheless, no one knew that Lin Fang hated life in the city and he was happy and energetic whenever he was in the village. As long as Mr Wu did not notice them, they would sneak out to the hills to loiter. It just happened that Lu Qi did not have the will to study and they were both more daring than everyone else, causing trouble everywhere they went. They quickly became best friends who never left each other’s side as they skipped classes and cheated on exams together.
Eventually, Lu Xiao Shu reached the valley, and she could hear some noises of people fighting from afar. It piqued her curiosity as she lightened her steps and tiptoed towards the source. Pulling aside the leaves and branches that blocked her view, she saw two figures fighting with bamboo swords with precise and skilful techniques.
Lu Xiao Shu had learned taekwondo, judo and boxing in her past life. She did try to practice her skills a couple of days ago when she felt like her body was getting better for combat. That was why when she noticed the ancient martial arts, she was immediately attracted to it with her curious eyes wide open.
Since the Lin Family could become a tyrant in a city full of thugs, their martial arts must surely be good. Lin Fang had obviously inherited their family’s trait as his every move was executed with precision, and his transfer of energy was very smooth too. Lu Qi’s skills were on par with him as he probably learned everything from Lin Fang. It was not surprising that Lin Fang would teach him those seeing how close they were.
Meanwhile, Lu Xiao Shu made mental notes of their martial arts as she spied at them excitedly.
Just when she got hooked, her heart paused for a split second as she heard a sudden whistle of the wind from the back as if it was a sneak attack. In a split second, she sidestepped and tilted her head downwards to avoid the hit, sending a sharp kick at the attacker from behind. She kept her hands busy as well by sending a punch following the kick. The powerful punch landed on the attacker’s shoulder bone, causing him to yelp in pain.
“What’s that?” Lu Qi and Lin Fang paused as they were taken aback by the yell, and they hurriedly rushed towards the source.
When Lu Xiao Shu took a closer look at the guy curled up on the ground and grimacing in pain, she exclaimed, “Cricket!” She was fuming with anger as she had a dangerous look on her face while her hands were on her hips, “You nasty damn cricket! How dare you attack me? Do you have a death wish?”
When both Lu Qi and Lin Fang saw her here, they were beyond surprised.
Cricket massaged his shoulder and grimaced as he got back up onto his feet. He said after patting the dirt from his clothes, “How would I know that it was you? Look at you, you don’t even resemble a girl! Besides, you were spying on them! I, I’m loyal to my Master, and I was just standing guard—”
“Standing guard?” Lu Xiao Shu was beyond angry, “Why would I not look like a girl? Is this the first time you’ve met me?” She had on a pair of beige shorts and her hair was braided into two braids in a simple style without flowers. How would she not look like a girl? His remarks hurt her pride deeply.
She huffed and sneered at him, “Look at you! Aren’t you ashamed to be on guard with your skills?”
Cricket’s face distorted as he stuttered, “You, you, you, you snuck up on me!”
“Only a dog would sneak up on you!”
“You, you were spying on us! That’s not a gentleman’s way!”
“I’m a girl anyway!” Lu Xiao Shu laughed.
Cricket was angry and speechless as he massaged his shoulder with a sour face.
“Quiet!” Lin Fang glared at him as he turned to Lu Xiao Shu and looked at her from head to toe, “You’re the one who beat Cricket?”
Lu Xiao Shu huffed, “He’s the one who snuck up on me first!”
“Are you hurt? Did anything happen to you?” Lu Qi got anxious when he heard them and he rushed forward to check on her.
“I’m fine! The one who’s hurt is him!” Lu Xiao Shu stated, pointing at Cricket.
“Really?” Lu Qi and Lin Fang exchanged glances in shock. Cricket was not bad at martial arts and was much better than Lin Fang. He was one of the more talented ones among the younger generation in the Lin Family. Otherwise, Master Lin would not have him serve his precious youngest son. However, the kid lost at the hands of Lu Xiao Shu. How could that not shock them?
Lu Qi and Lin Fang’s shock was a huge humiliation to Cricket. He could not help but complained, “That’s not fair! I wasn’t paying attention just now. This girl is no match for me! We can spar again if you don’t believe me!”
Lu Qi was just about to object but Lu Xiao Shu clapped happily, “Okay! Let’s spar again if you want. I’m not afraid of you! Heh, but I wouldn’t want to fight you for fun. I should get a prize if I win, right?”
Cricket boasted angrily, “There will only be a prize if you lose! Me losing? I’ll write my name backward if that ever happens!”
Lu Xiao Shu sneered at him, “That’s ridiculous! What does writing your name backward have to do with me? What good would it be for me?”
Lin Fang’s interest was piqued and he chucked, “If Cricket loses, I’ll pay you a hundred silvers in his place! If you lose, then—”
He could not come up with anything since he was making a bet against a girl.
Lu Xiao Shu smiled, “If I lose, I’ll do whatever you want me to do when you decide later. As for Cricket losing, I don’t want any money. Instead, he’ll be my servant. How does that sound?”
“In your dreams!”
“Fine, that settles it!”
Both Cricket and Lin Fang said almost simultaneously.
“Master, you don’t want me to serve you anymore?” Cricket’s expression was hurt as he looked at Lin Fang pitifully.
Lin Fang huffed, “Stupid! Are you already certain that you’ll lose?”
Lu Xiao Shu snorted and laughed.
Cricket knocked his head and grinned widely, “Oh, right! Master, you’re a genius! There’s no way I would lose!”
“Hey,” Lu Qi was getting anxious as he watched them decide the fight. He interrupted, “This… How can this be allowed? My sister is a lady! Stop this nonsense, Xiao Shu!”
“Don’t worry, Young Master Lu. I promise not to hurt Xiao Shu and will show her mercy.” Cricket said confidently.
Lin Fang chuckled, “Why are you so worried, Lu Qi? We’re just playing around. I’m sure this wild girl won’t get hurt, am I right?”
Lu Xiao Shu bobbed her head and grinned brightly, “Of course not! I won’t let you down since you’re so confident in me, Lin Fang.”
Suddenly, Cricket got anxious, “Master, I thought you were on my side!”
“Well, my brother should be on my side!”
“Oh, Xiao Shu! You better not play this game of theirs. Cricket has been training his martial arts since he was little. How could you win against him?” Lu Qi was beyond frustrated that his sister did not understand where to draw the line.
On the contrary, Lu Xiao Shu smirked and winked coyly, “How would you know if I hadn’t been practicing martial arts since I was little? In fact, I’ve been practicing ever since I was in my mother’s womb!”
Cricket clapped and snorted, “You’re just boasting! Come on, show me the martial arts you learned in your mother’s womb!”
“Oh, dear. Let’s watch from the side. Why are you so worried when we’re here watching them?” Lin Fang dragged Lu Qi aside.