Chapter 8: The Cemetery
Translator: Nyoi_Bo_Studio Editor: Nyoi_Bo_Studio
Fan Xian was perplexed by Fei Jie. Why would a father care so much about his illegitimate child? Why would he hire a teacher especially for him? If all he needed was someone to teach him to read, then why did he send for this old weirdo?
Fan Xian could see that Fei Jie recognized Wu Zhu. He didn’t feel it was right to interrupt their conversation, and so he sat on the bed and played dumb, with a distracted look on his face.
Waiting for the masters to explain everything, Fan Xian loosened the bed sheet that he had bound Fei Jie with, then hid behind Wu Zhu giggling, acting the fool.
But the two imposing men in front of him were fully aware that he was no ordinary child.
Daylight was beginning to break. The sounds of crowing roosters and servants boiling water could be heard faintly in the distance.
“At some point, I’d like you to explain how you know who I am,” said Wu Zhu coldly as he led Fei Jie out of the door.
Fan Xian’s heart skipped a beat. He had no idea how he should explain it. When he travelled the hundreds of miles to Danzhou with Wu Zhu four years ago, he was barely a few months old. He racked his brains, but couldn’t think of a good excuse; all he could do was blame that strange old man for his frightening intrusion.
The city of Danzhou had begun to rouse itself awake, but the unremarkable shop showed no signs of being open.
Hidden in a secluded room within the shop, Wu Zhu eyed Fei Jie coolly. “What is that cripple up to?”
Fei Jie could be considered a great expert in more ways than one, but faced with the rumored cold-blooded viciousness of the blind youngster, he was nervous. “The young master will one day be a grown man,” he replied, “and he’ll face a lot of problems in the capital. The earlier he is prepared for them, the better chance he has of success.”
Wu Zhu lifted his head to face him.
Though he knew full well that he was blind, Fei Jie always felt that behind the cloth that covered his face, Wu Zhu was staring at him with murder in his eyes. “If you object, Master Wu,” he said, “I shall return to the capital. I am sure that the master will treat your complaint seriously.”
Wu Zhu shook his head. “I thought the cripple sent you for more than that. It’s not that simple.”
“Correct.” Wu Zhu was the only one who dared to speak about the master that way, thought Fei Jie. “The master has never found the box that the Lady left behind,” he said, bowing his head as he spoke. “He is very worried that someone may find it, and so he has asked that you advise him on the matter, Master Wu.”
“It’s no use looking,” said Wu Zhu flatly. “The Lady destroyed it before she passed away.”
Fei Jie nodded and turned to leave. Stopping, he frowned. “There’s something odd about the young master. He’s only four years old, and yet you’ve let him study such a powerful form of zhenqi cultivation. Are you not worried something might happen?”
“What’s odd about it,” replied Wu Zhu as he stared at the man who was soon to be the young master’s teacher, “is that I never taught him any zhenqi. That’ll be your job.”
Fei Jie rubbed the wound on his head, which was beginning to ache. He had a bad feeling about all this. Forcing a smile, he took his leave.
After he had left, Wu Zhu made his way into a secret room within the shop. There in the corner stood a dust-covered box. Though his eyes may have been covered by a length of black cloth, anyone could have seen that he was deep in thought.
Later that day, a strange man came to the Count’s mansion. Presenting a card with his name on it, he received an audience with the Countess. Somehow, he gained her trust, and was invited to serve as the second tutor for the young master of the Fan household.
The servant girls quickly spread this strange news. How could this roguish-looking old man, his head covered in bandages, be qualified to act as tutor for the adorable young master?
In the library, Fan Xian kneaded his tutor’s back, massaging it with his fists. Considering the ugly business with the porcelain pillow that had transpired the night before, he felt that he had best get back in Master Fei’s good books as soon as possible.
“It wasn’t my fault, sir!” He said in a voice so sweet and childish that even he felt repulsed by it. “You had a knife, and I’m just a little boy, so I was scared…”
I had the knife because I had to pry open the door, thought Fei Jie. I just wanted to take a peep at what the fabled bastard child had grown up to look like. How was I to know he suffered from insomnia?
It was perhaps an inevitable misunderstanding, and unfortunately it had left him with an aching head. There had to be some way he could be compensated for his troubles.
“I thought you were going to teach me something in secret,” said Fan Xian.
“That’s right,” replied Master Fei. “In a lot of folk tales, a young child meets some strange traveller and learns some mystical art, and no one around them has any idea what’s going on. That sort of thing actually happens a lot.”
Fan Xian fixed Master Fei with a stare as he talked.
“But there are more than just fools in this world, and you are not my daughter-in-law, and I do not care for climbing walls every day.” Fei Jie stared sternly back at the young boy. “Given that I’ve pretended to be a teacher, it is better that I use this as an opportunity to teach you.”
Fan Xian giggled and climbed onto his lap. “Teacher, do you know my papa? What is he like?”
Fei Jie’s face went red. He knew this young child was ruthless, no matter what sort of innocent act he put on, yet he was filled with a sense of powerlessness. On hearing the question, he paused in thought for a moment. “The Count is a friend of my boss’, so he asked me to come and teach you. You can call me your teacher.”
“Teacher, what are you going to teach me?”
Fei Jie laughed, and his brown-flecked pupils flashed with an unusual light. “I… am a master of poisons. I have come to teach you how to use poison to kill, and how to avoid being poisoned by others.”
He thought his words would frighten the young boy to tears, but he quickly realized that the little boy standing in front of him was no ordinary child, so trying to scare him in this way would be of no use.
Sure enough, Fan Xian’s big eyes were filled with excitement, and he fluttered his long eyelashes as he blinked with fervent interest. “What are we waiting for? Do you want me to go catch some rabbits to experiment on? Or maybe some frogs?”
Fei Jie turned away, dumbfounded. Was this kid really only four years old?
Several months later, at a burial mound a dozen or so miles away from Danzhou Harbor, faint dawn began to break in the pale eastern sky. It spread across the gloomy cemetery, making it seem even ghastlier and more dreadful.
With his hands tucked into his sleeves, Fei Jie stood outside the cemetery looking at the young master who was stooping in an open grave with trembling brow.
Under the pretext of going on an outing, Fei Jie had taken Fan Xian away from the Countess for several days. They had actually gone to the cemetery to dig up corpses to study the structure of the human body.
He knew that the young master Fan Xian was no ordinary child, but as he watched him acclimatize so quickly to the gloom of the graveyard, steady his mind, and dissect the corpses as he had been learning that month, he couldn’t help but feel rather horrified.
Fei Jie was a professional, used to dealing with corpses all the time. But he had never come across a four-year-old boy who was so calm around dead bodies.
The prim, handsome boy, surrounded by the fetid stench of death, wore a face mask as he yanked the entrails out of a half-rotted corpse.
It was an utterly ghoulish scene. This second life was about as miserable as the first one, thought Fan Xian horribly.