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    Chapter 201 - Whom Did You Sleep With?

    In the winter, the rush grass withered, and since they were weaving mats, it could be used immediately after being cut. It was rare for Mother Chen to come out, so she found it fascinating to see the children practicing. The sun was shining brightly on this open space, so Chen decided to leave the rush grass near the training ground and asked Sang Luo to wait. He would return with a few small stools for her and the others to sit on while weaving.

    No sooner had he left than Chen Dashan, seeing them return, abandoned his role as second master and left the children to practice on their own. Spotting his grandmother, Gan, and Sang Luo, he hurriedly caught up with Chen Lian, whispering, "How did it go? Did the Zhou family agree?"

    He saw a smile on his grandmother's face.

    Recalling the secret conversation between Sang Luo and the old lady, Chen Lian smiled and replied, "Grandma said that it's not something that can be agreed upon right away. We'll have to visit again in two days. But I think it will work out."

    Whispering, he congratulated Chen Dashan, "Congratulations."

    Chen Dashan was ecstatic, almost losing his bearings. He discussed with Chen Lian, "Stay in the valley for another two days tomorrow, okay? I need to search for some things in the mountains."

    Country weddings were not grand affairs, and under the current circumstances, it was unrealistic to hold a feast. Thus, he wanted to prepare a more substantial dowry, not wanting to shortchange Zhou Ge.

    Chen Lian knew Chen Dashan well enough to understand his intentions from his words. He chuckled and said, "Go ahead. For such a good thing, if you need help, just pick a few of these boys. They're all capable now, even your Second Shan and my younger ones can hunt small game. They just need to be guided by a skilled hunter before they venture out on their own."

    Chen Dashan had witnessed Chen Lian's disciples' skills earlier that morning and knew that Chen Lian wasn't exaggerating. He agreed, "Alright, I'll try to find some fresh game. Tomorrow, I'll take Second Shan deeper into the mountains."


    During the day, Sang Luo and Mother Gan wove mats, while Shen Lie led a few boys to dig up a considerable amount of yellow mud. They used it to plaster a layer of mud wall outside the wooden house where Shen An and Shen Jin lived. Heavy curtains were hung inside the entrance of both the cave and the wooden house, and with furs and thick blankets, the nights would be much warmer.

    Worried about her grandson's marriage, Mother Chen decided not to return to the valley just yet. She stayed in the outer village, where the Chen family's cave was slightly larger than Shen Lie's, with two beddings that could barely accommodate the four of them.

    It was only because she stayed that she discovered Shen Ning living with Shen Lie and Sang Luo, leaving the old lady stunned.

    She couldn't very well ask Shen Lie or Sang Luo about this matter directly, so the next day, she discreetly called Shen Ning aside for a chat.

    Shen Ning truly didn't understand these nuances. Growing up without parents by her side, she hadn't given such matters much thought as a child. In the valley, every family had been living together, so in her eyes, their current living arrangement seemed entirely normal.

    Mother Gan did live outside, but the Shi family's cave was far from Shen Lie's. Besides, Shen Ning and Sang Luo practiced martial arts and woke up early each day. There was also an additional wooden house built beside the Shen family's, so how could Mother Gan know that Shen An and Shen Jin were the ones occupying the Shen family's wooden house?

    Aside from Mother Chen, no one else had paid attention to these details.

    "You say you sleep with your eldest sister-in-law?"

    Without hesitation, Shen Ning nodded.

    Aunt Chen's eyes widened. "Then where does your older brother sleep?"

    "On the futon. We have one stored under our bed that we pull out at night."

    Aunt Chen was flooded with questions, her mind completely baffled.

    It made sense in the valley, but how could this still be the case here? In a house, Sang Luo would be sharing a room with Shen Ning?

    Suddenly, she recalled the hanging screen between two beds in Shen Ning's room back in Shili Village. With a stunned expression, she asked Shen Ning, "Has your sister-in-law been sleeping with you all along?"

    Shen Ning sensed that something was amiss, though she wasn't sure what. She hesitantly nodded.

    Aunt Chen slapped her thigh and exclaimed, "Oh dear!" It seemed they had never consummated their marriage.

    The elderly woman looked at Shen Ning with a headache. Seeing no one else around, she whispered, "Are you stupid? How can you sleep with your sister-in-law? Your older brother and his wife should be the ones sharing a bed. How did it end up being you and your sister-in-law?"

    Goodness gracious, what kind of situation was this?

    Shen Ning was equally stunned. Although she didn't grasp the deeper implications of the old woman's words, she understood the surface meaning. She wasn't foolish; it was just that no one had ever taught her about such matters. Without exposure or observation, she hadn't paid attention to these things.

    Especially in the valley, everyone followed this custom. Her brother and sister-in-law seemed to take it for granted, so she hadn't given it much thought.

    With Chen's vague hint, she understood, "So... So... Should I move tonight?"

    There was still space in Shen An and Shen Jin's room. By shifting her brother's couch, it would be enough for her.

    "Move, move, move! Oh, you silly girl, what can I say about you?" Shen Lie's marriage was a strange one; after a year, he had never even shared a bed with his wife.

    Considering Sang Luo's embarrassment, he added, "Don't tell anyone that I suggested this, and don't let your sister-in-law know that I know. Just say that you've grown up and don't feel comfortable sharing a cave with your brother, so you requested to move to the wooden house."

    As Chen spoke, she nearly slapped her thigh but instead patted Jinning's head twice, "You're such a simpleton."


    Jinning decided to change rooms.

    Sang Luo was still in disbelief, "Why would we change now? Everything's fine as it is."

    Unable to directly mention Chen's advice, Jinning didn't know how to explain. Recalling Xu Wenying, she fabricated a story, "I noticed Wenying does this too. She believes that girls should avoid close contact when they grow up. So, she doesn't live with her father, uncle, or cousins; instead, they have separate spaces in the cave. She has her own section, while her brothers share another. Our wooden house also has room. Brother, could you move your couch over for me? I'll hang a grass curtain by my couch, and it'll be like my own private space."

    Speaking casually, Shen Lie almost choked on his words, clearing his throat several times before he continued, "Moving over is fine, but the daybed won't be moved. There's extra wood, so I'll build you a bed."

    He and Sang Luo had also lived together before, but without the daybed, it would have been unbearable; just thinking about it made him uneasy.

    Shen Ning only remembered Old Lady Chen's instruction to move. The daybed was not important to her, and she didn't understand its significance. Hearing her brother offer to make her a bed, she was delighted, "Alright, then Brother, could you bring me a thin blanket and two wolf pelts tonight? I'll add more dry grass and use one pelt for padding and the other for covering. With the wolf pelts on top, it will be warm."

    Shen Lie agreed, and Sang Luo didn't give it much thought. Shen Ning usually spent her days with Xu Wenying, so it wasn't surprising that Wei Lingzhen, who was particular about manners, had taught Xu Wenying these rules. As for the cave, before Shen Ning, she, and Shen Lie left the valley, they had already been living together for quite some time, so there was no issue there.

    Shen Lie went to borrow a saw from the Chens. When Old Lady Chen heard that he was building a bed, she was taken aback.

    Why would anyone need to beat the bed?

    So it turns out that the hidden alcove under the bed was still reserved for Shen Lie.

    But she couldn't exactly voice her thoughts on this matter.

    Well, well, it was certainly better than having Shen Ning sleeping beside her.


    In the blink of an eye, it was the third day. When Chen Dashan returned from the mountains with two sika deer on his back, alongside Chen Ersan, Gani brought the news of the Zhou family's agreement to the marriage.

    Not waiting for another day, when Shen Lie returned to the valley to fetch wolf pelts for Shen Ning two days prior, Chen Dashan accompanied him and prepared the betrothal gifts, which he now presented along with the two newly hunted sika deer. The four grandchildren, two helpers to carry the items, and Gani made the journey together to deliver the gifts.

    Two measures of rice, two measures of mixed beans and grains, two jars of salt, six hides, two bolts of new cloth, sixty pounds of smoked meat, and the two sika deer.

    This dowry was not only generous for those seeking refuge in the depths of the mountains but would have been considered abundant even during peaceful years. Salt, grain, cloth, and meat – all were scarce necessities for everyone at present.

    The entire Zhou family was stunned by the sight of such a substantial offering.

    With only one cave as their home, there was nowhere to hide. As marriage negotiations were underway, there was no need to be overly cautious. Thus, Chen Dashan and Zhou Ge finally had the chance to meet again after a two-month interval.

    Unlike before when each held their own thoughts, this time, everything was clear, and their exchange carried a sweetness in their gazes.

    In the countryside, there weren't many strict rules, and even less so in these times of refuge in the mountains. Ignoring formalities, Zhou Ge retreated into the cave while Chen's grandmother and Zhou Laizi's wife began discussing the wedding date.

    Rather than keeping her daughter by her side for longer, Zhou Laizi's wife preferred that her daughter join the Chen family sooner.

    Her trust lay in them, for the relative peace in the mountains was tangible, and one could never predict when strangers might arrive. Although the village was populated, Zhou Laizi's wife had more faith in Shen Lie, Chen Dashan, and their group, believing that her daughter would be safer within the Chen household.

    With one party earnestly seeking to wed, and the other willingly consenting to marry, the wedding date was easily agreed upon. They chose November 28th, considering the time needed for both families to prepare for the nuptials.

    On the other side, Chen Dashan and the Zhou father and son were overjoyed upon hearing that the wedding was less than ten days away; their lips curled into wide smiles, causing Zhou Dalang and Zhou Erlang to chuckle.

    At this point, Zhou Lazi's wife and Old Lady Chen exited the small courtyard. They went to the adjacent larger garden where they continued their private conversation. Only then did the Chen family members return home.


    With the preparations for Chen's family to welcome their future granddaughter-in-law, the most crucial task at hand was naturally to renovate the house. They converted the cave directly into a new bridal chamber. Following the example of the Shen family, they built an outhouse and a woodshed outside the cave, which would be inhabited by Chen Youtian and Chen Ershan.

    Not to mention adults, even the children in the valley had become proficient in felling trees and constructing wooden huts. With dozens of them working together, progress was swift. Chen Youtian was busy crafting a new bed for his son and daughter-in-law, while the two old beds would be moved to his own wooden house for use with Second Mountain, and any other family members who occasionally ventured out of the valley could find accommodation.

    With the Chen family constructing a new house, Chen Dashan remained outside the village daily. Shen Lie and Sang Luo began contemplating a wedding gift for Chen Dashan.

    In this mountainous region, any gift they could think of had to come from the mountains themselves.

    "I'm thinking of trapping a few live sheep and bringing them back. We can build a pen to keep a couple for ourselves, and give one or two to Dashan as a gift," suggested Sang Luo.

    Sang Luo enjoyed drinking goat's milk, but after leaving the valley, the milk from the female goat there was mostly reserved for the elderly and children within. She herself couldn't indulge in it often. Hence, Shen Lie had carved a stone mill, allowing them to occasionally make soy milk and tofu, but that was the extent of their luxuries.

    Shen Lie had been longing for this for a long time, but he just hadn't been able to leave previously. Now that Chen Dashan was staying here, it was the perfect opportunity for him to try and find a solution on his own.

    When Sang Luo heard about raising sheep, her eyes lit up. She looked at Shen Lie and asked, "Are they still easy to find now?"

    Animals were actually quite clever. With so many people living in the area, the nearby mountains were frequented by hunters every day. Apart from small creatures like pheasants and rabbits, most of the others had retreated deeper into the wilderness. It wasn't easy to catch larger prey on the outskirts anymore. Even Chen Dashan had to venture far to hunt antelopes.

    Noticing her interest, Shen Lie's gaze flickered. "To find specific animals deep in the mountains would require some luck. It might take two or three days. Would you like to come with me?"

    His eyes were filled with anticipation, longing for her company.


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