As xia0xiao1mei pointed out, can a gathering of the Zhou family really only be just a simple birthday bash?
Chapter 17.2 – The Moon Shines Upon Home (2)
The night of the birthday banquet, Grandmother was brought to the family manor.
The elderly woman enjoyed watching traditional Chinese opera, and the theatre in the manor, which had previously not been used for a long time, had been opened again.
The lights glimmered and danced.
When they arrived, the seats of the theatre were already filled. In the main hall on the first level, the people were seated three to each table, and thirty or forty tables were spread across the floor. From that location, if one were to raise one’s head, several beaded curtains could be seen on the second and third levels, but what lay behind each curtain was indistinct and difficult to clearly discern.
Such a scene seemed like it should have been taken from the antiquated Minguo period.
Irrespective of old or young, every person who was present, if he was a man, would without exception be wearing traditional Chinese men’s attire, and if she was a woman, would be wearing a cheongsam. On the first floor, the majority of people were those who belonged to a generation or position of lower seniority than Zhousheng Chen, and now, they all, one after another, rose to their feet. Zhousheng Chen would merely smile and nod but did not pause his strides.
To Shi Yi’s surprise, she actually spotted Du Feng and two other men sitting in the corner of the main hall.
Zhousheng Chen noticed her abnormal behavior and also glanced in that direction. “They are required to monitor Zhou Wenchuan’s movements and not let him out of sight.”
Shi Yi hesitated but then still asked, “Du Feng’s true identity, did you know about it very early on?”
He nodded. “From when he appeared and met your friend, I had already known.”
“Zhou Wenchuan…” She wanted to ask him what he was intending to do about him.
Understanding her unspoken question, he told her concisely, “Prior to any formal charges being laid, I will arrange a place for him to stay, but he cannot leave that place, otherwise no one can guarantee his protection. This, for him and for everyone, is the best outcome.”
The two of them had followed the staircase up and were at the second level already.
This particular level was actually mostly people from the older generations. They did halt their steps here, stopping briefly to exchange quiet conversation and greet each of the elders. These elders were all people she had briefly seen on her first arrival at the old manor, but this time was altogether different from the previous time.
The levels below were indeed lively and made the third level appear quiet.
In the openness of that space, besides the girls who were serving tea and water, there were only a handful of people, all of them of the same generation as Zhousheng Chen.
Even for such a grand event, Zhousheng Chen’s uncle had not made an appearance.
The Zhou family was quietly handing over all of the family business, and the speed at which the former leader was fading from the people’s view was unexpectedly swift.
Shi Yi did not know how, amongst the intricate and complicated relationships, Zhousheng Chen had taken the power and control of the Zhou family from the hands of Uncle, who had held them for so many years… But she surmised that, since he had been born into the world bearing the Zhousheng surname and had made it to thirty years old without experiencing an “accidental death,” these were enough to demonstrate that he was qualified to be the successor.
Grandmother had taken her seat behind the beaded curtain well beforehand and was waiting to watch the performance.
Keeping her company beside her was Zhousheng Chen’s mother and Tong Jiaren. Amid such a joyous and harmonious atmosphere, one could not tell in the slightest that Tong Jiaren and Zhou Wenchuan did not have anything to do with one another anymore.
Simply from observing this scene, Tong Jiaren appeared to be the most virtuous and thoughtful of grand daughter-in-laws and very much had the elderly woman’s affections.
When they arrived, several of the girls who were walking back and forth serving tea all greeted him with “Eldest Young Master.”
Hearing this, the elderly lady naturally turned around to look, and from behind the beaded curtain, she beckoned at Shi Yi. “Ah, Shi Yi, come.”
Zhousheng Chen smiled and indicated for her to go over.
Shi Yi hurriedly slipped past the curtain and crouched down in front of the elderly woman.
“Why don’t you sit here?” Supporting her protruding belly, Tong Jiaren said in a quiet tone, “The air here isn’t very good. I want to go outside for a walk.” As she spoke, she had already stood up with a smile.
Although she did not make mention of it, everyone understood that, after today’s farewells, Tong Jiaren would have no association with the Zhou family anymore.
On the other side of the beaded curtain, Shi Yi could only see that in the end, Tong Jiaren had let a young girl hold her arm to support her, and when she brushed shoulders with Zhou Wenchuan, their eyes did not even so much as intersect…
Each gesture and movement, each frown and smile of these people behind the beaded curtains were like performance after performance of plays that had been rehearsed in advanced. Peaceful, loving, and warm. As if the scheming and plotting against one another, the mindset that one must die in order for the other to live had never existed. As if Wenxing truly was only somewhere abroad undergoing treatment and rest and could not make it back to offer her birthday wishes. As if Tong Jiaren and Zhou Wenchuan still had a harmonious marriage…
The only unusual detail was that there were two men accompanying Zhou Wenchuan, and upon closer scrutiny, one could see that these two, who appeared to be Second Young Master’s attendants, were unmistakably restricting his movements and freedom. Zhou Wenchuan needed to make an appearance so as to not cause Grandmother to perceive anything out of the ordinary. And perhaps, this would be the last time he would show up out of necessity for his presence.
Shi Yi was somewhat lost in thought as she watched Zhousheng Chen take a seat in front of Xiao Ren.
Nonchalantly, he picked up a white Go chess stone between his two fingers. Xiao Ren quietly greeted him, “Big Brother,” and he smiled in return.
“Have a seat, Shi Yi.”
Grandmother gently took her hand into her own, pulling her attention back to where she was.
She shook her head. “No, it’s fine, Grandmother. I’m good like this.” Her half-crouched posture was the perfect position for talking to the elderly woman.
The old woman gave her a little smile. “You and Wenxing are the same. When you talk to this old woman, you always like to crouch down in front of me.” As she spoke, she gently patted her own knee. “When she was small, she even liked to lay on her tummy right here…”
Shi Yi also smiled and answered her with an “mm.”
Downstairs, it had gradually grown quiet. The Chinese opera show had started.
Shi Yi did not really understand what she was hearing, but she did find it to be novel, the instrumental accompaniment to be refreshing and lovely to listen to, and the vocals to be soothing and sweet. Grandmother was enjoying this, and when she heard something she found pleasing, she would give a sentence of praise over how strong the foundation was of the singer’s traditional singing technique.
Shi Yi would answer her, while occasionally allowing her eyes to glance over at Zhousheng Chen through the curtain of beads.
From time to time, he would smile and give pointers to Xiao Ren.
The feeling that was exuded was rather familiar.
It was similar to the affection he had once poured on Wenxing.
The opera concluded with Grandmother’s repeated praises.
Shi Yi gently exhaled a breath and discovered that her legs were a little numb.
“Look at you, always looking out there.” With a smile, Grandmother lowered her voice and said, “Keeping this old woman company through an entire show must have been hard. Go out to get some air now.” As the elderly lady lightly patted her hand, her gaze landed on that string of eighteen prayer beads, and for a moment, she seemed caught up in her own thoughts before she sighed, “In the Zhou family’s line of legitimacy, you are the true, legitimate wife of the eldest son, both in name and in fact… Oh, thank goodness… Thank goodness…”
Grandmother seemed immersed in her own world.
Her words were all ones that Shi Yi could not really understand.
Confused by what she was hearing, she was about to ponder more deeply on them, but Zhousheng Chen’s mother had already placed her hand firmly over hers. “Shi Yi, Grandmother needs to rest now.”
Her tone was detached, even a little cold.
Shi Yi nodded. “Alright.”
She stood back up on her feet, but because her legs were still somewhat numb, she stopped behind the beaded curtain for several seconds.
“Mother.” Zhou Wenchuan had stepped up to the other side of the curtain, and quietly, he requested, “I want to say a few words to Grandmother.”
Zhousheng Chen’s mother seemed not to think too much of this and agreed with an impassive sound of acknowledgement.
This particular space was not large and was used only for watching theatrical performances.
It could hold only four wooden chairs, so when Second Young Master lifted the curtain and entered, the two men following naturally could not go in with him and could only wait immediately outside the curtain, truly staying right by him and not letting him out of sight…
She wanted to avoid Zhou Wenchuan and moved to lift up the curtain.
In that instant, someone grabbed her wrist.
Zhousheng Chen immediately sprang to his feet but then, halted all his movements.
He could see a gleaming knife blade pressed against the middle of Shi Yi’s back.
Zhou Wenchuan had been stripped of his gun already. How had he gotten ahold of this knife? He had no time to dwell upon that question.
With a low chuckle, almost as if he was whispering into her ear, Zhou Wenchuan greeted, “Eldest Sister-in-Law.”
Shi Yi froze.
Their two bodies were very close.
She could hear the sudden, furious beating of her own heart as well as Zhou Wenchuan’s slightly ragged breathing.
Madam Zhou, whose back had been facing them, quickly realized that something was amiss, and when she turned back, she saw the knife. “Xiao Chuan [Little Chuan]…”
However, Zhou Wenchuan was faster than her, and silently, he mouthed to his mother, “I am now your one and only son…”
He was smiling, but Madam Zhou’s brows gradually knit together. “You can’t…”
“I can,” Zhou Wenchuand stated, not offering any further words.
“Xiao Ren, Grandmother is tired,” Zhousheng Chen suddenly spoke up, but his words were addressed to Xiao Ren, who was beside him with eyes that had already grown icy and were fixed unmoving upon Zhou Wenchuan. “You stay with Grandmother and go downstairs with her.”
He knew that, in doing this, Zhou Wenchuan was making his final, desperate bid.
After he finished saying this, he patted Xiao Ren’s shoulder lightly.
Xiao Ren ultimately did restrain himself. In silence, he walked past the beaded curtain, bent over at the waist, and said, “Grandmother, let’s go back and get some rest.”
“Oh… it’s Xiao Ren,” Grandmother said with a little laugh. “Oh, yes, yes… Rest…”
The elderly woman did, indeed, seem to be weary. She rose slowly from her seat, and falteringly, she allowed Madam Zhou and Xiao Ren to help her up and walk at a leisure pace toward the top of the staircase. There, someone was already waiting for her, and after carefully helping the elderly woman onto his back, that person carried her downstairs.
The entire room was so quiet it was frightening.
There were only the sounds, drifting up from the levels below, of casual chatter amid the music of traditional Chinese instruments.
The elderly woman’s every movement had seemed like a film played in slow motion.
Even up to the moment she left, she had not detected that the people behind her had noiselessly raised their pistols, racked the slide, and aimed them at Zhou Wenchuan.
Zhou Wenchuan was unfazed.
The knife slid upwards from Shi Yi’s back and pressed against her neck. “I’ll trouble you, Eldest Brother, to give your gun to me.”
Grinning, Zhou Wenchuan looked directly at Zhousheng Chen.
After all the needless people had left, without saying a word, Zhousheng Chen pulled out the pistol that had been on him and tossed it through the curtain of beads. The gun landed with a “smack” by Zhou Wenchuan’s feet. With a deft flick of his foot, the gun was kicked up into the air and landed in his previously empty right hand.
Zhou Wenchuan did not delay and once the gun was in hand, he racked it and aimed it directly at Zhousheng Chen.
“What else do you want?” Zhousheng Chen’s eyes were fixed on him, a deep look in them.
Zhou Wenchuan let out a laugh. “I want you dead.”
“And then, you will take over the Zhou family?”
Zhousheng Chen spoke slowly.
He waved his hand, indicating that no one should make any movements.
To guarantee that Zhou Wenchuan would not do anything to Shi Yi, he even ensured that all the fatal points on his body were exposed and facing the muzzle of Zhou Wenchuan’s gun.
“In this Zhou family, only you and her are outsiders.” Zhou Wenchuan’s voice was so close, and it carried a derisive tone that caused chills down one’s spine. “I am Xiao Ren’s brother by blood, Mother’s one and only son. Your death means I live.”
A shocking and outrageous statement.
All the secrets were no longer secret.
Zhousheng Chen was his father’s sole offspring. In recompense to his father, Madam Zhou, as his “birth mother,” had raised him for nearly thirty years when his real birth mother died. When he learned of his younger brother and sister’s secret parentage, he had remained silent about it.
Unfortunately, human relationships and affections were fickle and could change between warm and cold.
In the Zhou family, what he had felt had always been cold more than warmth.
“Let her go.”
“Zhousheng Chen,” Zhou Wenchuan interrupted him, “don’t try to dodge. If you dodge, she will die. Walk towards me.”
Zhou Wenchuan knew that he could shoot now.
But, he did not trust anything. He was afraid his shot might go askew and miss and was even more afraid that, in that split second of life and death, Zhousheng Chen really would choose to evade his bullet.
He needed Zhousheng Chen to come closer.
So close it would be impossible to evade. Then, there would be no chance of error.
“Just look after your own knife.” Zhousheng Chen stated, “If she dies, you will, without question, be dead as well. If I die, you might still have a chance to live.” Without the slightest hesitation, he walked toward that beaded curtain, which was swaying ever so gently.
“No matter what happens, you are not to shoot,” he commanded everyone.
Closer and closer.
Only ten steps away now, a distance where escaping the bullet would not be possible. A single shot was guaranteed a strike in a fatal point.
Downstairs, loud cheering suddenly erupted as the show on the stage gradually entered its climax.
No one had noticed the show that was playing out on the third level.
All that anyone could see was the outline of Second Young Master’s back standing in front of the low railing.
As Shi Yi listened to Zhousheng Chen’s voice, she tried desperately to make a sound.
Large tears streamed forth, but the knife was shoved tightly against her throat, and she had lost her ability to speak.
“Shi Yi, don’t say anything.”
Zhousheng Chen’s voice was low and carried a calming strength.
But her eyes were covered in a misty haze and she could not hear clearly… She was on the verge of asphyxiation. Explosions of white light flashed before her eyes, and the pressure being applied against the handle of the knife caused her to be completely mute. Only her tears continued to flow relentlessly. She did not know whether he was near yet, whether he was already in the range where he would be unable to escape Zhou Wenchuan’s shot… A feeling of despair began to spread from the deepest reaches of her heart.
All of a sudden, there was the light click of the trigger being pulled.
In that instant of overwhelming fear, she grabbed fiercely at Zhou Wenchuan’s arm and rammed him so that his entire body flew towards the railing.
She wanted him to live.
Even if that meant she died.
Almost immediately following, there were the sounds of another two gunshots.
Completely caught off guard by the sudden force, Zhou Wenchuan lost his balance and plunged together with Shi Yi over the railing.
民国. The Minguo period in China was from 1912-1949. See footnote  in Chapter 5.1.
 There are many styles of traditional Chinese opera. While the style is not specified here, Chinese opera may incorporate pronunciations and vocabulary from different dialects. In addition, certain pronunciations of words may be modified to allow them to be more easily vocalized. As a result, even native Chinese speakers do not necessarily understand what is being sung in traditional Chinese opera.
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