The two woke up early the next morning. They hurriedly got dressed and had a light breakfast before heading out.
For the homecoming, Sang Wan did not bring a single maidservant from Ning Garden1Ning GardenSang Wan & Shi Fengju's place of residence with her to her parental home. Instead, she instructed Zhide to have her chamber and the garden looked after and only brought Liu Ya along.
As for Shi Fengju, he made a few adjustments so that only two manservants, Zhang Huan and Shi Ming, as well as their wives, Li Yan and Song He, who aided him occasionally, accompanied him to Sang Wan’s parental home.
Two horse-drawn carriages had been prepared beforehand; one for Sang Wan and Shi Fengju, and the other carriage behind them for the maidservants. His two confidantes would steer the carriages, and their wives, together with Liu Ya, would be in the other carriage. The gifts that had been prepared were kept neatly in the compartment of the carriage the maidservants were in.
Before leaving, Shi Fengju glanced at Sang Wan, looking for her green light. Upon seeing her smile and nod at him slightly, Shi Fengju waved his hand and ordered everyone to board the carriages.
The carriages drove past the gate and left the Shi household behind them. The sounds of the horseshoes hitting the pebbled floor gradually faded into the distance. There, behind a dense cluster of pomegranate trees, stood Gu Fangzi with a gloomy face.
“Pa!” The branch she was holding snapped in half and the green leaves in her hand crumpled. Her pale white palm was stained with different shades of green.
However, Gu Fangzi cared not for the stains on her pale white palm. Instead, her eyes boiled with rage as she gazed in the direction of the gate.
That woman! Her cousin had gone to accompany that woman back to her parental house!
Though she knew the homecoming was unavoidable, she could not help but feel sullen. Her eyebrow rose slightly as the smile Sang Wan had given to Shi Fengju just then floated in her mind. The devious seed in her heart began to grow.
“Shi Fengju has no feelings for her! Shi Fengju has no feelings for her…” Gu Fangzi murmured to herself, only to pout her lips and shake her head as she sighed. “To run out here to take a look, I sure asked for it! What’s there even to see? Seriously!”
The carriages left the city gates. Pulling the curtains away, the many slopes of the distant hills could be seen. Sang Wan’s hands, clutching tightly to a handkerchief, finally relaxed and her body occasionally swayed from side to side, as if she were trying to suppress her excitement and nervousness. Shi Fengju could not help but size her up.
Sang Wan laughed awkwardly, ” To think that I’m about to meet my brother and his family, my heart’s feeling a little nervous!”
“Chi!” Shi Fengju suddenly burst into laughter. “It hasn’t even been a week since you last saw them. What’s there to be nervous about?”
Sang Wan was suddenly dazed by Shi Fengju’s words but managed to force a smile. “That’s true. It has only been a few days. I sure am hopeless! Hēhē!”
A few days? To him and everyone else, that might be so; however, to her, it had already been several years! To finally be able to see her blood relatives, whom she had not seen for several years… how could she not feel nervous? How could she not feel a sense of longing?
Her honest and good-natured elder brother, her daring yet simple sister-in-law, her lovable nephew and niece; did they still look the same as before? Would they still treat her well, like before? Of course, they would! Why? Because all the unpleasantness had yet to begin, or better still, would never begin!
Sang Wan’s heart did a few somersaults, but she quickly held a deep breath.
“No need to feel so anxious; there’s still a two-hour journey to go! If you’re feeling tired, you can close your eyes for a while.” Hearing Sang Wan snap out her reply, Shi Fengju stopped and dared not joke with her. He should be an understanding person. Perhaps every newly-wedded bride felt this way?
Sang Wan’s heart was in chaos, but upon hearing those words from Shi Fengju, she instinctively closed her eyes to organize her thoughts. She gave a slight nod to Shi Fengju and leaned against the side of the carriage.
As noon approached, the carriage finally arrived at the outskirts of Yangliu Town’s Sihe Village. Sang Wan’s parental home was located near the east entrance of the village.
The Shi family’s carriages, drawn by two strong and healthy horses, were gorgeous; the wheels were half the height of a full grown man and the body was thickly coated with paint and decorated with magenta flowers sewn from fine silk. Each carriage’s four sides had a gold tassel and were decorated with sachets hung from a string of jade beads. As the carriages entered the village, they immediately attracted the attention of many villagers. Although there were only two carriages, they still garnered the envy of many. Seeing that the carriages were heading towards the Sang family’s house, many couldn’t help but lament in their hearts. Nothing less from Qingzhou’s Shi family! Impressive! Moreover, there were a number of children giggling and following closely behind the carriages as they enjoyed the liveliness within the village.
The carriages halted at the entrance of the Sang family’s house. Liu Ya, who was dressed in new clothes, hurriedly jumped off the carriage and went to assist Sang Wan as she exited the carriage.
Not far away, in the bustling crowd, stood many wives gossiping among themselves. “Yí, isn’t that Liu Ya? The dress she’s wearing and those beautiful ornaments in her hair; āi, I’ve never seen such beautiful clothing before! The Shi family sure is rich; even a maidservant’s apparel looks better than ours!”
“Though I didn’t think so in the past, it now seems like that lass has definitely set a new standard of beauty!”
“The Sang family sure is lucky!”
“An unimaginable amount of riches! Soon, the Sang family will be basking in them! They sure hit the lottery this time around!”
While the crowd was gossiping among themselves, Sang Wan had stepped out of the carriage. The crowd’s gaze immediately landed on her.
Dressed in bright red, she wore a traditional jacket over her dress and her sleeves were embroidered with gold. A twin magenta rabbit was sewn onto the bottom of her dress to bring the symbol of joy. The dress was tailored perfectly for her slender and delicate figure!
Sang Wan stood majestically for a moment. A beautiful peony flower was slipped neatly behind her ear and her hair bun was decorated brilliantly with ornaments of pearl and jade. The crowd was met with her brilliance and their gaze became fixated on her. The ornaments she wore were not things they had ever seen before, but they recognized the pair of ruby earrings, as large as the base of a thumb, and they swayed with her movement. All in all, her appearance was exceptionally eye-catching.
The Sang family’s doors squeaked open and Sang Wan was welcomed by her elder brother, followed by her lovable nephew and niece, Sang Quan and Sang Nuan, who were holding on to Nanny Xu’s hand.
“Ah Wan, welcome back!” Sang Hong rubbed his hands as he came forward. Everybody could see that he was somewhat nervous.
“Big Brother!” Sang Wan smiled as she led Shi Fengju to meet her oldest brother.
Shi Fengju cupped both his hands and greeted him with a “Big Brother,” and Sang Hong quickly greeted him back.
Sang Quan and Sang Nuan were very comfortable with Sang Wan. Though the lady in front of them looked wealthy, her attitude remained gentle like before. Immediately, they greeted her, “Auntie!”
Freeing their hands which were held tightly by Nanny Xu, the two launched themselves forward into Sang Wan’s arms and giggled together with her.
“That—” Sang Hong gave a dry cough and invited the young couple into his humble courtyard. Suddenly, they heard a middle-aged man driving the crowd away rudely. “Hey, hey hey, what are the lot of you gathering around here for? Shoo, shoo, there’s nothing for you to see here! Before the lot of you offend the important guests, shoo! Disperse, the lot of you!”
“Qiè!” The crowd spat in distaste and slowly dispersed. Those who spotted their children at the scene immediately pulled them away, and in the blink of an eye, the area emptied.
Sang Wan could not help but frown a little. Her heart dropped. Her second aunt and second uncle had arrived!
But before Sang Wan could react, her second uncle, Sang Pingliang, took the initiative to come forward and exchange a warm handshake with Shi Fengju. As he did so, he grinned from ear to ear. “Keke, this is the new member of our Sang family! What a talented young man you are! The villagers don’t know proper manners and may have disturbed my new nephew-in-law, but I hope my new nephew-in-law is an understanding man. Still, there is no need for a person of your standing to be around people like them! Come, come, have a seat inside my house! I’ve prepared some good tea for you to enjoy; quickly, please, my good nephew-in-law, quickly!”
With that, he glared at his wife, who was having a conversation with the two wives following Sang Wan for the homecoming, and chided, “What are you standing there for? Quickly, invite the important guests and serve them!”
“Āiyō! I just felt a little muddled after feeling happy for our Sang Wan! Ladies, please come! Ai, and the men standing there too, come along!” Li Shi clapped her hands and warmly invited the group to their house.
However, Shi Fengju felt a little disgusted with Sang Pingliang’s excessive flattery and frowned a little. Both his hands were tightly held by Sang Pingliang, which added to his discomfort. Though he tried a few times to shake the other man’s grasp off, it was all to no avail. Any more strength and the situation would have become more awkward, so he only smiled helplessly. But to be honest, though the loud flattery echoed in his ears, he had no clue what Sang Wan’s uncle had just said.
Sang Wan bitterly cursed to herself. Though she made several winks to signal her oldest brother, all he did was nibble his lips. He simply had no means to stop Second Uncle Sang.
Watching her second uncle and second aunt as they led Shi Fengju and the group to their own house, Sang Wan became anxious. She remembered this incident clearly from her past life. Second Aunt Li and Second Uncle Sang slyly led Shi Fengju and the group to their house; even all of the gifts ended up moving there. Once her sister-in-law returned and realized the situation, she immediately scolded Sang Wan for lacking conscience; to have forgotten who had helped her with her wedding day! The two elders hadn’t been easy to deal with either; they bickered with her sister-in-law and Sang Wan ended up with tears trickling down her cheeks due to the anxiety and shame. The Shi family members, on the other hand, stood at the sidelines as they relished the scene…
“Second Aunt Li and Second Uncle Sang, that’s the wrong direction. Our house is right here!” Sang Wan could not wait any longer and stepped up to intervene.
At the same time, while Sang Pingliang was giving Sang Wan a cold glare, Shi Fengju took the chance to retract his hands and hurriedly went up to Sang Wan. “Then let’s go in!”
Sang Pingliang and Li Shi stared at each other for a brief moment.
“My dear Sang Wan, those words seemed a little aloof, don’t you think? What’s with this ‘your house’ and ‘our house?’ Are you not Sang Pingliang’s niece? Can I not show some good hospitality to your husband? Your father is long gone, and since that’s the case, shouldn’t a good uncle like me show hospitality in his stead? No need to feel modest. Come, come, uncle’s house is just up ahead!” Sang Pingliang gestured gently while trying to hold back the crease on his forehead. Deep down, he chided this ungrateful niece of his for not knowing her place.
Sang Wan laughed coldly to herself. In these few years, when had this ‘uncle’ ever taken care of her and her siblings? It was an utter insult to even have him as an uncle!
An uncle who always complained and scolded her and her siblings about how her own father was not fated to become an official but still pursued that useless dream of his that resulted in their family’s current financial state! He even chided her brothers for not only following their useless father’s footsteps but also tutoring others! Might as well return to plow the fields; that way, there’ll at least be rice in the bowls! In short, his attitude towards them was, ‘If you don’t listen to me and end up starving, I will not care. Nor will I be bothered to, so don’t ever find me if that were to happen!’
When her second brother had finally received a few students and become a private tutor, her second uncle demanded half of the meager wage he had earned, saying that the students had been found by him.
Her second aunt was no different. She went around gossiping about Sang Wan, saying that the Shi family would one day ask her to leave and that Sang Wan should have taken a better look in the mirror as her becoming the daughter-in-law of the Shi family was nothing but wishful-thinking!