Chapter 3.1: Self Improvement

Court Lady

Sheng Chumu lay on the bed in a daze. Blood continued to flow from his nose.

Junhui stood by his side, helping him to wipe his nosebleed. He looked at the huge bruise on Sheng Chumu’s face and wanted to laugh but did not dare. His lord really dared to say anything and do anything, in order to chase a girl. He had such little ability but stubbornly wanted to fight someone that had trained in the Jiuhua mountains. Of course, he would be destroyed.

“Serves you right. You know you obviously can’t beat him, but you still agreed to fight. Great, now you were knocked out in a single blow. What an embarrassment.” Du Ning said exactly what Junhui was thinking.

Sheng Chumu grumbled, “How was I to know Fu Tao was being serious? He embarrassed me in front of Fu Rou. I will not forgive him!” He was not angry because he had lost a fight.

Speak of the devil. Third Madam and Xu Youtong were in the midst of dragging the stubborn Fu Tao over. Third Madam looked extremely apologetic. On the other hand, Xu Youtong seemed to want to claim credit as he boasted about how he had to persuade Fu Tao to come over and apologise. 

“We agreed before the fight that if he got injured, he can’t blame me. What kind of young lord is he if he doesn’t keep his promises? He doesn’t even count as a man!” Fu Tao refused to accept this.

 “You!” Sheng Chumu fumed. So what if this brat was good at martial arts? Was it impressive? He was the son of Duke Lu!

“How dare you talk back? Hurry up and kneel down!” Third Madam was afraid of losing this valuable relative and hit her son’s back with all her might, even pretending to cry. “You are not going to kneel? Okay then you won’t have me as your mother. I might as well die!”

Fu Tao was tough on the outside but soft on the inside. Even though he really did not want to, he had no choice but to kneel. 

Du Ning suddenly let out two dry coughs. Following Du Ning’s gaze, Sheng Chumu looked towards the door and saw Fu Rou about to walk in with Ziyun. In a frenzy, he hopped off the bed and immediately held onto Fu Tao, who was getting ready to kneel.

Sheng Chumu declared out loud, “Brother Tao, there is no need! We had a fair fight and victory belongs to whoever was stronger. Today, I have lost. In the future, you can’t be petty when I defeat you.” Emitting heroic spirit, he exerted his strength and hit Fu Tao’s chest twice, as a way of venting his anger. “Ha ha!”

With the exception of Du Ning, everyone in the room was stunned.

“You aren’t going to conspire against me, right?” Fu Tao was still confused. Just a moment ago, Sheng Chumu’s entire face was black. In a split second, he had completely changed. 

“I hardly got to know you, Brother Tao. Of course, you wouldn’t know what I am like. I am not the kind of person to flaunt and step over others just because of my family background.” Sheng Chumu wore a sincere expression as he grabbed onto Fu Tao’s hands. He patted Fu Tao’s hands, putting strength into it, as a way of getting ‘revenge’.

“You really don’t blame me?” Unlike Sheng Chumu, who could put on an act, Fu Tao had a genuine nature and started to believe him.

“Of course!” Sheng Chumu smiled, “I can only blame myself for being too careless. I always thought that all the martial arts experts were in the palace. Never would I imagine that there are such powerful experts among the people too. If Brother Tao would allow, I wish to learn how to punch from you.”

“Fine. You do things uprightly and are direct. I am willing to teach you.” Fu Tao agreed. 

Third Madam and Xu Youtong finally relaxed.

Seeing the relaxed scene in the room, Fu Rou turned and left quietly with Ziyun. In her naivety, she reflected on her own narrow-mindedness. In the beginning, she had believed that someone like Sheng Chumu, who came from a powerful family, would be dishonest and lazy. Who would have known that he would be so magnanimous and tolerant?

Ziyun assessed Fu Rou’s expression. “It has been a while since I saw you smile so happily.”

Fu Rou froze as she covered her face, a blush taking over. Humorous, kind, proud but not arrogant. He was even magnanimous. It was as if heaven had granted her wish and dropped this man from the tree in front of her.

Fu Rou lowered her guard and Sheng Chumu, who spent his days around her, could sense it. In the following days, Sheng Chumu gave it his all. He knew that every day, Fu Rou would always go to a corner of the garden to do her embroidery. So, he dragged Fu Tao to learn martial arts near her, intentionally removing his shirt. An act!

He knew that Fu Rou liked men who were good at both literature and martial arts. So, he intentionally reads a book near the front door of Fu Rou’s garden. Another act! He knew that Fu Rou always passed by the pavilion when she left her courtyard. So, he got the guards to pretend to fight, making it seem as if he was unrivalled as he beat them. Yet, another act!

However, he couldn’t keep up the act for long and the real test was about to come. Previously, Sheng Chumu had boasted about his calligraphy skills. Therefore, Fu Yin had dragged Fu Rou along to learn from him. 

Sheng Chumu secretly cried for help. With his little knowledge, it would already be considered an achievement if he could read aloud without getting the characters incorrect. He has never practiced his calligraphy before. But of course, he couldn’t say that in front of Fu Rou and had to act confident.

Junhui took his time to prepare the materials. He slowly spread out the paper and grinded the ink. Lastly, he dipped the brush in. He looked worriedly at Sheng Chumu’s blank face. Junhui wondered if he should try to stall for more time.

Sheng Chuno took a deep breath as he moved the brush swiftly over the paper.

There were four large characters written over the paper: 自强不息 (To strive for self-improvement)

Junhui’s lips formed a O. He could not help but shake his head in admiration. What was the saying - It takes ten years to polish a sword? His young master was a fine example of what it means to take ten years to write four characters!

Fu Yin was impressed. “It is very well written.”

Sheng Chumu had the audacity to say, “One should keep on striving for self-improvement. For as long as we live, we have to work hard and never be lazy.”

Fu Rou looked admiringly at the beautiful calligraphy. “Young Lord makes a lot of sense. Humans have only one life, we shouldn’t waste our time. It is a pity that so many young nobles do not have the same resolve as you do. They spend their days indulging in alcohol, ladies and other vices, becoming hedonistic.”

Sheng Chumu forced himself to swallow and smiled to hide the truth, “I hate hedonistic young nobles the most. They don’t repay their country and only know how to play around. I always use these four characters to remind myself that I cannot just enjoy the shade that my father has provided for me but have to keep moving forward.”

Fu Rou lifted her eyes and coincidentally locked gazes with Sheng Chumu. Sheng Chumu smiled warmly at Fu Rou. Fu Rou blushed as she averted her eyes.

Fu Yin did not seem to notice the exchange between the two, “Brother Chumu, your words are very beautiful. Quick, help me write a pair of verses so I can bring it to show my father.”

Sheng Chumu silently cursed as he ran out of tricks. “This… ”

Junhui smartly intercepted, “Characters can’t be written randomly. Calligraphy is a study that cultivates one’s moral character. Didn’t you want to learn calligraphy? You have to first start by learning these characters.  The shape, feel and meaning…don’t you think that there is a lot of knowledge in these characters?”

Fu Yin nodded dumbly. Sheng Chumu carried on, “You should first ponder over these four characters. Once you truly understand, I will teach you others.”

Fu Yin held the piece of paper that had the four characters written on it. Satisfied, she left the room.

Fu Rou hesitated, “Can I…”

Sheng Chumu became nervous. “What?”

Fu Rou was slightly timid. “I want a written scroll as well.”

Sheng Chumu froze. Junhui secretly tugged at Sheng Chumu’s sleeve.

Sheng Chumu seemed to regain his consciousness as he was surprised and happy at the same time. His brush flew across the paper as he finished. It was the same four characters.

Sheng Chumu personally handed it over to Fu Rou, “For you.”

“Thank you.” Fu Rou accepted it happily. She walked over to the window and admired it. 

Junhui pretended to pack up as he muttered to Sheng Chumu, “Congratulations, you have managed to move Lady Fu Rou.”

Sheng Chumu muttered back, “When Master punishes me, he always forces me to write (自强不息) strive for self-improvement. After writing a thousand times, I can’t believe I actually used it to move someone. Worth it, so worth it!”

Junhui smiled non-stop. “That’s right. The only calligraphy Young Master is good at are these four characters.”

Sheng Chumu glared at Junhui. Junhui immediately shut his mouth. 

Who knew that the test today did not end there. Fu Tao ran in hurriedly. He had just gotten a military book but could not understand its contents. He wasn’t sure if Sheng Chumu understood and asked if he could teach him.

Sheng Chumu had wanted to pretend to be humble and slip away. However, Fu Rou said, “How can a general’s son not understand the art of war?” And he immediately braced himself as he declared that he could. He took the book and pretended to be focused on reading it. In reality, his mind was just a straight black line. Other than the book title <<Wei Liaozi>>, he was completely unable to understand the contents of the book. 

“Are you confused after reading <<Wei Liaozi>>?” Thankfully, Sheng Chumu was quick-witted. 

“How did you know I was reading <<Wei Liaozi>>? You really know everything. I found the right person.” Fu Tao was foolish.

“No wonder.” Sheng Chumu pretended to ponder hard. “Everything has a sequence. A young child has to first learn to hold a brush before they can learn to write. You have just started learning military tactics and have yet to learn the steps but are trying to run.”

Fu Tao replied with “Oh”.

“When it comes to military books, Sun Tzu should be the first. In his book, he writes about all the basics of war. How to act as a general, how to lead your troops, how to arrange formations. Have you read ‘The Art of War?” Sheng Chumu held his breath as he prayed for heaven to help him.

“I haven’t.” Fu Tao shook his head.

Sheng Chumu’s eyes glimmered, “No wonder. You have messed up the reading of a good book like <<Wei Liaozi>>.”

Carrying on, Sheng Chumu expressed his opinion on how Fu Tao should first start by reading <<Sun Tzu>> before moving on to <<Mozi>>. Once he has thoroughly understood those, then he can continue onto <<Wei Liaozi>>.

Respect shone in Fu Tao’s eyes. “Brother Chumu, you make a lot of sense. You must have read ‘The Art of War’ before, right?”

Sheng Chumu could not confess that he has only ever heard of the name and resorted to smiling.

Fu Rou, who had been listening, immediately interjected, “Of course, Brother Tao. Since Young Lord is so well-read in military tactics, he would have definitely learnt ‘The Art of War’ and must be extremely good at it.” She looked back at Sheng Chumu and smiled.

Sheng Chumu seemed to lose his soul as he nodded.

Fu Tao clapped his hands. “Oh right, Brother Chumu, you should be my teacher.”

Fu Rou’s look of anticipation made the overconfident Sheng Chumu proceed to boast, “Of course, I will teach you!”

Fu Rou was extremely happy, thinking that there was finally someone who could help her restrain Fu Tao’s wild temperament. She ordered Ziyun to bring a bottle of wine to officially thank Sheng Chumu for agreeing to teach Fu Tao.

“I have conditions for teaching him.” If he did not take advantage of the situation now, when would he? Sheng Chumu pounced on the opportunity.

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