A child marries into another family. A girl weds another, and marries out.
"A man absorbs the woman, and the woman joins the man's family. When a daughter grows up, she will marry out and have another family," Eldest Madam Ning said with a sigh. She stroked Ning Yunyan's shoulder next to her. "It really is quite lamentable. You raise them till they are old, and then they are no longer part of your family but given to someone else. That Miss Jun's mother, if she were here, would definitely be happy yet sad."
Ning Yunyan squirmed away from her mother, pulling at Eldest Madam Ning's hand.
"You hated to take her as your own daughter," she said with a snort.
Eldest Madam Ning sent her a level gaze.
"Now that this girl has a family, it will be peaceful," she said. "I can be at peace."
Ning Yunyan's lips curled.
"What's peaceful. Once she becomes a widow, she'll be even more unrestrained. Once a widow makes a fuss, trying to join our family, it will be even more shameful," she grumbled.
Eldest Madam Ning slapped the table.
"What nonsense are you saying? That a widow can enter our family?" She made a face. "Your Elder Brother has already said it. From now on, you are not allowed to bring up that surname Jun again."
Ning Yunyan pouted, but did not say anything.
Eldest Madam Ning continued flipping through the history book. Ning Yunyan kept twisting where she sat.
"Mother, now that Jun Zhenzhen is married, can I go out?" she asked, her eyes sparkling.
"Why would you need to go out? Didn't you get to see all your cousins and relatives at New Year's?" Eldest Madam Ning said, not sparing her a glance.
"Mother." Ning Yunyan pulled on Eldest Madam Ning's sleeve. "I haven't left the house in two months."
"Why are you in such a rush to get out?" Eldest Madam Ning said with a smile. "Should I introduce a family for you to marry?"
Ning Yunyan felt embarrassed and awkward. She pushed herself into Eldest Madam Ning's embrace. The older woman smiled and stroked her back. The servants outside saw the intimate mother-and-daughter pair and smiled secretly.
"Okay, okay, I know that you have been suffering." Eldest Madam Ning played with Ning Yunyan's hair. "You are a very good kid. There is no need for you to be bothered by her."
Ning Yunyan made an affirmative sound, but obviously nothing had really entered her ears.
Eldest Madam Ning obviously saw it and smiled and stroked her shoulder.
"I said, she is no longer a girl. She is now a Fang, not Jun," she said, not a trace of a smile in her eyes. "She is no longer alone, she is part of the Fang Family. She will live and die with them. If people were to bully her now, no one can say that they are bullying an orphan."
The Fang Family was a large family and also did business. It would be hard to escape the changes of the market, and she couldn't just go around blurting out that people were bullying her.
Ning Yunyan understood this and grinned.
"Mother, then I can go out?" she asked. "I won't go to the city; I'll just stay in Beilu."
Eldest Madam Ning dodged this evasively.
"Your uncle has returned and your aunt and them will leave in two days," she said. "If you remember what I said, then you can accompany them."
Ning Yunyan knew that this was her mother's implied agreement, and she happily promised.
"Eh, what about Big Brother? Is he going with Aunt and Older Cousin?" she asked.
When she spoke of Ning Yunzhao, Eldest Madam Ning frowned.
"Your Big Brother did not say anything about going out," she said.
"Okay, okay. Big Brother has long been out of the house. This time he should spend a few days here," Ning Yunyan said happily.
"Spend, what spending. Next year he is taking the imperial examinations. This is a pressing time for his studies," Eldest Madam Ning rebuked. "You just go and play; don't bother your Big Brother and interfere with his studies."
"Mother, I won't bother Big Brother to play. He does it on his own," Ning Yunyan said, grinning.
"Plays what?" Eldest Madam Ning said without thinking, not really paying attention.
"Lanterns," said Ning Yunyan. "Mother, Big Brother has a lantern on his desk."
"There are two hanging in front of your bed." Eldest Madam Ning laughed and said, "I am going to chant a Buddhist scripture now, so go and find your sisters to play."
Ning Yunyan was sent away by her mother.
"Big Brother is playing with his lantern," she said to the servant girl next to her. "That lantern is the kind from the lantern festival, not some sort of antique. It can't be used for light as he studies, but Big Brother has it on his table…"
When she said this, she paused, seeming to think of something.
"It can't…" she muttered to herself.
"What do you mean, Young Miss?" her personal servant asked.
Ning Yunyan wrung the handkerchief in her hands.
"I am going to see Big Brother," she declared.
Not the other young misses to play? The other girl hastened after Ning Yunyan who had slipped away.
Ning Yunzhao's study was in a lateral court to his own courtyard was very tidy though he had been in the capital for most of the year.
When Ning Yunyan ran in, a small servant boy was washing the brushes in the courtyard.
"Young Miss… Noble Son is busy…" he hurried to say.
Without him finishing, Ning Yunyan had already ran past him and into the room.
It was very warm inside. Ning Yunzhao was wearing an everyday white robe with an unadorned belt, standing still in front of a bookshelf.
A piece of paper was hanging on the bookshelf. Drawn on it was a Go board, the white and black pieces constituting a Go arrangement.
This paper had been hanging there since the Lantern Festival. Was it so beautiful? How come everytime she came Ning Yunzhao was standing in front of this drawing in concentration?
"Big Brother, what is that?" Ning Yunyan asked curiously.
Ning Yunzhao collected his senses.
"Nothing," he answered. Then, feeling that his answer was too brusk. "It's an ancient Go arrangement. I'm trying to solve it."
Ning Yunyan disliked the four arts of zither, Go, literature, and painting the most. Though she had no choice but to study them, she could not understand why Big Brother and other people liked them so much.
"Big Brother can definitely do it." She giggled.
Ning Yunzhao smiled, but did not say anything.
Maybe. He was trying his hardest. Perhaps that girl might have met her match in this Go game. He didn't know whether she solved it or not.
Thinking of that day and her red eyes, he couldn't straighten out his emotions.
But this Go board was truly very hard to solve. He, until now, had not gained even an inkling. That girl did have better Go skills than him, but she also would be baffled.
Is that why she was so angry?
This difficult Go arrangement had been solved by someone else, a wild guess of a beggar.
But when he thought of her sharp playing style—she shouldn't be so small-minded.
A girl's reproachful voice made its way through his ears.
Ning Yunzhao looked at his disgruntled little sister and smiled.
"Big Brother, did you hear what I said?" Ning Yunyan asked displeased.
"I did not. I was focusing on this Go arrangement," Ning Yunzhao said seriously, pointing.
When he admitted it so honestly, Ning Yunyan couldn't say anything. She stood in front of the desk.
A small lantern was situated next to the brush holder.
"Big Brother, can you give me this lantern?" she said suddenly, picking it up. "It would look nice in my room."
"That cannot be," he replied.
Ning Yunyan pouted slightly, her expression hurt as he looked at him.
"A gentleman does not seize what others like." Ning Yunzhao smiled at his Little Sister.
"Big Brother, what is good about this lantern? I just want to use it for a bit, then I'll give it back to you." Ning Yunyan giggled.
"If you like it, then I will go buy you one," Ning Yunzhao said with a smile. "Little Sister is not the type of person to make trouble for no reason. What did you come here for?"
Sometimes Big Brother was very agreeable, but other times he would not enter oil or salt .
Ning Yunyan knew that she would definitely not be able to take the lantern. So she couldn't say she had come here for the lantern. Fortunately, Ning Yunzhao had talked to her first.
"Oh, Mother was asking when you were leaving? Are you going with Aunt?" she said smoothly, putting down the globe lantern.
"I will speak over this with Mother," answered Ning Yunzhao. "I will leave several days from now. I will go speak about it to Mother personally."
As he said this, he gathered his cloak to leave. Ning Yunyan followed after him, and saw Ning Yunzhao enter Eldest Madam Ning's living quarters. Ning Yunyan stood outside, her expression changing.
"It's strange," she said.
"What is strange, Young Miss?" asked her personal servant girl.
Ning Yunyan looked at the entrance to Eldest Madam Ning's courtyard.
"Big Brother is strange, and it's definitely because of a woman," she said.
She must not talk nonsense. Her personal servant girl nearly jumped in fright.
"How do you know, Young Miss?" she whispered. "Tenth Noble Son hasn't been with any girl since he returned. Though there are plenty of young misses who want to meet Noble Son, he avoided them all. Even this Lantern Festival he was together with the other noble sons. Your servant asked around, and they hadn't met any girls. You cannot say such nonsense."
Ning Yunyan wrung her handkerchief.
"I am not talking nonsense," she said. "This is intuition, a woman's intuition."
 enter oil or salt: stubborn