The melting of the snow revealed the shambles that had once been the Lin family farmstead. The deep winter froze to death many people. The ones still living gathered together and relied on breaking into homes and committing robberies to make a living. Lin family, the region’s well-known wealthy family, obviously became a target, regarded as a piece of fat meat. The once busy and lively Lin family farmstead had become an abandoned residence, not a person to be seen inside.
Old father Lin lay down in the bushes, ears to the ground, hearing the footsteps moving farther away. Only then did he sigh in relief and returned into the forest.
“Master.” An old family servant came running from another direction.
“They have left.” Old father Lin said to the old servant, who also said, “that side has gone too.”
The both of them went deeper into the forest, the women and children were all hiding in comparably safe places. Mother Lin’s hand held onto Buddhist prayer beads as she sat on the ground and prayed. At her side sat a couple of young girls. They were still at the zong jiao age (TN: a period of time in ancient China to refer to girls from the ages 8-14 and had their hair tied into two knots on the head that look like sheep horns, therefore known as zong jiao), looking at old father Lin, still unknowing of what had occurred.
They only remembered being awakened on one night by servants and running with the adults, their home going up in flames as they looked back.
After leaving home, they kept walking. The food they took with them was not enough so they must rely on wild herbs and berries to stave off hunger. But wild herbs and berries were also not enough, there were too many refugees who did not bring enough food with them either.
The servants were also at a loss of what to do, they had stayed at Lin family this many years and had never seen such situations.
Old father Lin sat to the side and said to his wife: “The snow has melted, we will continue walking to the south and find Yuan’er (TN: Adding ‘er’ to the end of names is an expression of familiarity and affection, same as adding ‘xiao’ in the front of names).”
Yang shi‘s (TN: Adding ‘shi’ to end of surnames is used to refer to women’s maiden names. In ancient times women do not change their last names to their husband’s but add their husbands names to the front of their own like ‘Lin Yang shi’. But mostly it is shorten to just ‘Yang shi’.) tone was cold, always had been, treating her husband indifferently: “En.”
Last year Lin Yuan already sent a message telling his family he was at Wu city. Old father Lin was glad his son still remembered to send the family a letter, and also glad the messenger came in time.
“Mama.” The young girl moved closer, she was afraid, only feeling safe at the side of her parents. Yang shi did not have any children of her own. Including Lin Yuan, all the children were born from servant girls. Village people did not practice taking concubines. Even if servant girls gave birth to the master’s children they were still servants and must still work. Only their food and clothes would be better.
The young girl’s birth mother was Yang shi’s personal servant girl and was currently boiling water.
Old father Lin still had the mood to tell a joke: “It’s a good thing I have the foresight to have Yuan’er leave for the north. Otherwise we would be one of the refugees and have no place to settle down once we are there.”
Yang shi spared him a glance: “Yuan’er was only 14 when he left.”
Because of this, she had yet to give old father Lin a good attitude.
Old father Lin: “The children of farming families can start their own families at 12. Besides, the message says our Yuan’er has land and a farmstead. That’s my boy!”
His voice was filled with pride.
He only had one son, but this son was worth ten of other people’s sons.
At that time the Zhang family also had their son go south but they had yet to receive any messages. Up until the bandits came they could only flee and most likely became one of the refugees now. Only knowing to go south, but with no specific place in mind.
Yang shi continued to chant her Buddhist scriptures and didn’t bother anymore with old father Lin.
She was born in a scholarly family, her father a literati, their home filled with books. Her mother died early but her father hadn’t married again.
As a result, it was not until 24 before she married, and only because they no longer had any rice left to eat.
In these times, an 18 year old girl who had not married was considered a spinster let alone a 24 year old woman.
But Yang shi did not feel ashamed. She did not love her husband, neither did she love her husband’s home. She rather practice calligraphy the whole day then speak one word to her husband.
Old father Lin: “We will sleep during the day and travel at night so that others will not discover us.”
The servants all nod.
Although having just experienced a frightening nightmare, the servants were still quite obedient and did not take the chance to run away, instead staying by the Lin family’s side. They were very clear that once they left they would also become refugees. At that time they would be worse off than now.
But following after the master and lady, they could take shelter with young master.
It would be like before, there would be food to eat as long as they worked.
They did not know how long they have walked, sleeping in hidden places during the day and walking by the moonlight at night. Sometimes they would stunble across the corpses of people who starved to death, mangled and ripped apart by wild animals.
Extreme fear had them being even more careful and alert.
Everyone only dared to dress in rags, the woman even rubbing mud and dirt onto their faces and putting hay in their hair. They wore rough and ragged clothes that they had never worn before and walked barefoot on the road.
They looked more and more like one of the refugees.
When they arrived at Wu City it was aleady autumn.
They spent half a year on the road in order to come here.
Old father Lin lost two daughters on the way, both from eating the wrong things which caused them to fall into fever. They could only bury them on the side of the road.
A total of three daughters but only one was left. The last one Yang shi took by her side. When gathering wild herbs and berries, Yang shi always tried them first and seeing no problem after awhile had passed before giving it to the child. Although the child was practically a bag of bones, but at least she survived.
Some of the servants also died while some became separated.
Looking at the city gates, old father Lin could no longer hold it in. His knees weakened and he kneeled on the ground, tears and snot covering his face.
Behind him the servants were no better, following his lead as they broke into sobs.
“Move away!” The soldiers that guard the gates shooed at the refugee arrivals, they would not let them into the city, “Move along!”
Old father Lin quickly said: “Soldier ye, we are not refugees, my son is in Wu City, I am here to take shelter with him.”
Saying so he even took out a gold hairpin which originally belonged to Yang shi. On the way here only some jewelry remained, anything else of value was lost or used. He smiled ingratiatingly: “Soldier ye, please accomodate us.”
The soldier examined the hairpin and even bit at it, only when making sure it was real gold did he ask: “What is your son’s name?”
Old father Lin: “Lin Yuan! My son is named Lin Yuan!”
The soldier paused, then smiled: “What a coincidence.”
Saying so he hollered in the direction behind him: “Brother Jiang! Your brother’s father has arrived!”
Old father Lin listened in bewilderment and saw a man coming out from the gates, in his twenties and wearing a thin cotton shirt. His hand was holding a white bun that he was currently eating. Old father Lin swallowed profusely when he saw the white bun. In his whole life he had never craved this much for a plain white bun then he did at that moment.
Jiang Gui looked at the refugees in front of him, all wearing rags. It was a good thing that the autumn weather had yet to cool. He recognized none of them.
“This uncle?” Jiang Gui only just started to say something.
Old father Lin quickly said: “Big nephew, I am Lin Yuan’s dad!”
Jiang Gui: “Do you have any proof?”
Old father Lin said immediately: “Yes, yes, my son has a beauty mark behind his ear.”
Jiang Gui: “…..” I never looked behind Lin Yuan’s ear, how would I know?
“Do you have anything else as proof?” Jiang Gui asked again.
Old father Lin then gabe the address of his hometown and described clearly the situation of all Lin family members.
This Jiang Gui knew so he said quietly: “At night I will drive an ox cart out. How many of you in total?”
Old father Lin was confused: “My son is not in the city?”
Jiang Gui: “He is in the farmsetad outside the city, I will bring you to him tonight.”
Old father Lin was not afraid of being lied to after all, the only valuables they had left are just some jewelry. It wouldn’t be a big deal to give all of it away. So long as he could find his son everything would be worth it.
Therefore, the next day at noon, Lin Yuan who was standing in the fields looking at the harvest, saw his third brother bringing over a group of refugees.
Even Er Liang did not recognize the Lin family members.
Could it be that Jiang Gui felt they still lacked people so he sent another group over?
“Third brother.” Lin Yuan went over. Dressed in a tight sleeve shirt so as to move easier because the past half-year he often walked around the fields. His physique also improved due to being more active. In fact, when the harvest came earlier he even helped for a few days.
The crop planted was rice, and because the soil was fertile the tenant farmers all said that the output was more than they had been seeing in the past.
But before Jiang Gui responded, a figure threw themself on Lin Yuan. The person looked rather plump but Lin Yuan did not feel the weight to be too heavy. He was about to push him away when the person started crying: “Son ah! My son ah! Dad has come!”
Old father Lin?
Old father Lin!
Lin Yuan was slightly shocked, after all in the original owner’s memory old father Lin was an extremely obese middle aged man who was always wearing silk and practically the epitome of a rich landlord. But the man in front of him was dressed in rags with a face covered in dirt.
Er Liang also came over, he examined carefully before yelling out: “Master!”
“Er Liang!” Old father Lin also yelled out in reply.
Er Liang sobbed: “Master, master, you have suffered! Lady! Lady!”
Er Liang ran towards Yang shi, his parents were also at Yang shi’s side. Seeing Er Liang their eyes also filled with tears.
Lin Yuan was after all not the original owner. He might have the memory but he did not inherit the feelings as well. He couldn’t cry real tears but only lower his head pretending to cry.
The small group was full of crying and sobbing. It took a while before everyone calmed down.
Lin Yuan lead them over to the house. Old father Lin did not despise it for being simple or crude, instead thinking his son rather smart. This way it wouldn’t stand out and besides, it was big enough for this many people to live in without feeling cramped.
“Dad and mama’s room is here.” Lin Yuan lead them to the largest and best room.
Old father Lin looked at Lin Yuan with gratification.
His son matured faster than he imagined. He felt that the most correct thing he ever did in his life was to have his son travel south.
“Si Niang!” Lin Yuan hollered: “Make some dough drop soup!”
Si Niang responded and went in the direction of the stove.
Er Liang dug through the clothes chest looking for clean clothing that old father Lin and Yang shi could change into.
“Big brother!” A small and skinny young girl threw herself into Lin Yuan’s embrace. She hugged Lin Yuan tightly, not letting go no matter what.
Old father Lin quietly said: “Your oldest and second little sister passed away on the way here.”
Lin Yuan’s body was a bit stiff.
Old father Lin said: “Just buried on the spot, did not set up a headstone.”
Children who died young or prematurely could not have a headstone.
The little girl tightly held onto Lin Yuan, she knew that as long as she found big brother then she would be able to eat her fill.
Lin Yuan patted the little girl’s head, his voice gentler than he thought: “Quickly wash your hands, it will soon be time to eat.”
Only then did the little girl reluctantly follow the servant to wash up.
Lin Yuan thought, the family was all together now. His ability had limits so he didn’t know whether he could protect them all.
He hoped original owner would guide them from heaven.
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