The Shen family did not pay attention to the rule ‘be quiet at the table, be quiet at bedtime'(1). While eating, Teacher Shen gave Chang Geng a lecture about ‘the Great Learning'(2), after a while he started to lose his main focus point and ended up mixing ‘how to maintain steel armor in the winter’ into his lecture.
He was a man of extensive knowledge; whatever subjects he could think of, he talked about. On one occasion, he even enthusiastically explained to Chang Geng the methods to prevent and control horse-related diseases that even a deaf man like Lord Shiliu could not listen to it anymore and had to force him to shut up.
After finishing his lecture, as Teacher Shen was cleaning the tableware with dissatisfaction for he hasn’t had the chance to talk more, he said to Chang Geng:
“Today, I have to finish fixing up all these Iron Armors. Those people did not give them proper maintenance causing the joints to get all rusted. I may have to go out to pick some herbs in the afternoon. Ge Ban Xiao and the others have all asked for a day off, do you have any plans?
Chang Geng: “I will go to the Generals Slope to practice my…”
The word ‘sword’ had not yet even left his mouth, when he turned back Shen Shiliu had already hung up his iron sword on the wall and declared: “My son, come, the Giant Kite will probably return to the city today, let’s us go join in on the fun.”
Chang Geng was powerless: “Yifu, I just said to Teacher Shen…”
Shen Shiliu: “What? Speak louder.”
Great. Here we go again.
The Giant Kite came and went, every year was the same. Chang Geng couldn’t think of anything refreshing and new, but before he could protest, Shiliu had already half-dragged half-pulled him out the door.
The summer heat had not subsided, people still dressed in thin garments. Shiliu’s whole body was clinging onto Chang Geng’s back, the scent of bitter medicine encircled all around him.
Just like in his dream…
Chang Geng suddenly felt strangely unnatural. He bowed his head to avoid his yifu, covering his nose and pretended to sneeze.
Shiliu smirked and teased: “Someone is missing you, could it be the young lady with a round face from Old Wang’s house?”
Chang Geng finally couldn’t help it anymore, his expression stiffened and he bluntly said: “Yifu, teasing your son like this…is it appropriate?”
Shen Shiliu would, of course, pay it no mind. He smiled and said: “Not appropriate? Oh, I have never been a father before. I do not know the proper boundary. I will be more mindful next time.”
Whoever tried to talk some sense with Shiliu, they would surely blow up in anger.
Chang Geng slapped the hand of this indecent man off of his shoulder and walked out first.
Teacher Shen said from the back: “Shiliu! Remember to come back early to chop the firewood!”
Shen Shiliu walked as if his feet were lathered with oil and shamelessly replied: “Can’t hear you, goodbye!”
Chang Geng who was pushed into a half-run half-walk asked him: “When did you start to become deaf?”
Shen Shiliu only laughed, his expression unfathomable.
At this time, the two just passed by the main entrance of Chang Geng’s house, the main gate creaked then opened.
A woman in a long white dress came out, and as soon as Chang Geng caught sight of her, the irritation mixed with annoyance on his face immediately vanished.
It’s as if a bucket of cold water had been poured on him from head to toe. The eyes that were still trying to suppress anger suddenly became hollow – even the fire and liveliness were withdrawn altogether.
The woman was Xiu Niang, Chang Geng’s mother in name.
She was no longer young, yet her beauty had not faded away for one bit. Standing in the morning light, she resembled the sketch of a delicate beauty.
Such a woman, even if she was a widow, should not be wedded to just a lowly mayor from a small town far out in the border.
Xiu Niang fixed her attires, put her hands together, and bowed down with utmost grace: “Lord Shiliu.”
Shen Shiliu only directed his improper behaviors at Shen Yi. In the presence of a woman, he immediately took the shape of a true gentleman. He slightly leaned sideways and avoided looking directly at Xiu Niang’s face. He greeted with refined courtesy: “Madam Xu, I’m taking Chang Geng out for some fun.”
”Thank you for your trouble,” Xiu Niang smiled without showing teeth. Then she turned to Chang Geng and whispered softly: “Your father is coming back today. If you go out, remember to bring a box of lip color back for me.”
She spoke as soft as a mosquito – as if the words could vanish into thin air, but before Chang Geng could answer, Shen Shiliu had cut in first: “Madam, rest assured.”
Chang Geng: “…”
Only now did he have some vague ideas about his yifu’s ‘deaf rules’ — Shen Yi’s every word, he would not ‘hear’ any of them; other people’s words, he must evaluate whether he liked ‘hearing’ them or not, and as for those young misses and ladies, even if a female mosquito made a faint noise, he could without a doubt hear them crystal clear.
Not only was he a lazy loiterer, he was also a flirt!
It’s as if the term “gold and jade appearance yet rotten inside”(3) was made just for him.
When the Giant Kite would come back, the children from all the nearby neighboring towns would gather together for the occasion at the city’s gate. Whenever there’s a crowd, there will be people who’d take advantage of it and start their business. They slowly formed a large scale market, the locals called it “Yan Zi market.”
Shen Shiliu had never learned to read other people’s expressions. Even if he did notice, he would still pay it no mind.
He seemed to be unaware of the mood of his adoptive son as he roamed around on the overcrowded market excitingly, taking interest in everything he laid eyes on.
Chang Geng was already filled with annoyance, he also had to follow Shiliu’s every step and constantly keep an eye on him so he wouldn’t get lost.
In recent years, the world was not stable, people were poor, and most of the trades in the market were small things that the local farmers produced. There were no delicious food and nothing good to drink, it was boring enough to kill.
It was said that wars were the reason for making the lives of people more difficult, and the taxes paid for by the common masses became heavier and heavier after each year.
But in the past, after each battle, they were always able to recuperate for a while.
Yet, no one knew why in the recent years, the people seemed to never have enough room to catch a breath.
Counting the recent twenty years, Great Liang first had the Northern Expedition, then had the Western Expedition, became a great nation, and earned respects among the neighboring countries, upholding immense honor.
But it’s strange that the people were getting poorer and poorer.
Chang Geng was bored to death wandering around the market that he wanted to let out a deep yawn. He only hoped that this country-bumpkin Shiliu who was curious about everything would tire himself out soon so they could go back. He would rather be Teacher’s Shen assistant instead.
Shen Shiliu bought a bag of roasted salted beans and ate them while he walked. And as if he had eyes on the back of his head, he stretched out a hand and accurately inserted a salted bean into Chang Geng’s mouth.
Chang Geng was caught off guard, accidentally licked his finger, and ended up biting the soft meat of his mouth in panic. He called out in pain and angrily glared at the trouble-bringer Shiliu.
”Withered flowers can bloom again, a person’s youth cannot remain.”
Shen Shiliu did not look back. He picked up a single bean, lifted it up, and pointed in the direction of the sun. His hands were incredibly beautiful, slender and white, like a pair of hands belonging to the youths of pristine families, more befitting to lift a chess piece, or to carry a notebook; holding this black bean was very unsuitable.
Shen Shiliu said with the manner of someone who had been through many ups and downs: “When you grow up, you will understand that one’s youth is only as big as the size of a bean, it would pass over you in the blink of an eye. Never again will it return. Only then will you realize how much time you have wasted. “
Chang Geng: ” …… “
He really could not understand, how can someone like Shiliu had the audacity to talk about such thing as ‘wasted time’?
Just then, the crowd of people near the city gate suddenly burst into cheers.
Even if one is half blind, one can still see the “Giant Kite” lowering down from the distance.
There were countless flaming fins pointing upward, a million white smoke bursting out, their steam resembled cotton wool falling right out of the sky.
Then, a huge ship slowly emerged from the vast expanse of the smoke, the eight dragon heads decorating the front of the ship appeared as if they’re real, and cut through the clouds as it moved forward with unparalleled might.
Shen Shiliu was startled at first, then he tilted his head, the cinnabar-color beauty mark on his earlobe appeared to be flashing red. He frowned, whispering: “How come the ship is so light this year?”
But his words quickly faded into the loud thundering noise of the Giant Kite surrounding them and the lively cheers of the crowd. Even Chang Geng, who was right by his side, did not catch this.
The children began to hold onto their own small bamboo baskets, fighting to get in the best position and wait for the rations.
A group of officers and men lined up and moved out, and the soldiers in charge of signaling were standing behind the three zhang(4) tall tong hou, awaiting command.
The ‘tong hou'(5) is like a big horn, placed side by side on the wall of the city. There is a circle of green rust on the outside, pleasant looking, and their shape resembled a carved flower.
The commander took a deep breath, raised his voice and spoke into one end of the tong hou, the sound coming out from the other end was magnified dozens of times, echoing endlessly.
”Kite had returned, open – the – passage -“
Two rows of officers and men upon hearing the command, grabbed the huge wooden wheel handles on the tower, and shouted in union. They were topless, showing their muscles, and using their strength altogether, the wooden wheel from above spun around and the path made of large stones under the city was divided into two.
The numerous interlocking gears were twisted in a circle, and the stone bricks on both sides were divided into two roads.
The earth split open, revealing a deep dark river underground, running through the entirety of Yanhui town.
The commander blew a long sound from the tong hou and the sound carried throughout all directions.
The Kite also responded with a roar. Then, countless flaming wings were simultaneously exerted, and the steam were frantically surging all around – it was ready to land.
The first patch of ‘Rations’ rained down from above, the groups of little children underneath were in a frenzy, all reaching out to grab hold of them.
Unfortunately, the path for sending out Rations was short. Very soon, the Giant Kite landed at the center of the river, proudly stood still on the water surface, and came to a halt in front of everyone.
The ship’s body struck awe in one’s heart, and the faint glimmer of the cold metal was full of unspeakable killing intent. The signaling sound of the ship was strangely dreadful and tragic; it wouldn’t stop resonating throughout all of Yanhui Town, like fallen souls on the battlefield from many millennia had woken up and sung in unison.
The Giant Kite entered the city along the dark river, little by little, cutting through the water. A soldier onboard made a long signal.
”Light – off -“
The ship’s two flaming wings were immediately extinguished: there was a burnt scent comparable to that of firecrackers that had been blown up lingering in the air. The Giant Kite marched forward, flowing with the river’s current, decorations with the shape of dragons all around its body resembled totems from another time and age, bringing along with it a demonic aura.
Chang Geng was watching the Giant Kite attentively from the crowd. Even though he said that he did not want to come and he had seen the Kite returned many times, yet when facing the real deal, he was still stunned by the impressive size of the ship.
The Northern Patrol unit was already this mighty, then the national weapon —The Black Iron Camp’s three major factions — what kind of poweress would they behold?
The young boy who was confined in this remote and narrow corner of Yanhui town could not picture it no matter how hard he tried.
The Giant Kite approached, the heat waves from the already extinguished ‘flaming fins’ flashing onto one’s face. Chang Geng subconsciously went to grab the person next to him and said: “The Kite had arrived, there are too many people here, let’s step back a little.”
But no answer came, he grabbed on to thin air. Chang Geng turned back and found that his troublesome yifu had disappeared.
(1) 食不言寝不语; idiom; Don’t talk while eating, don’t speak after lying down for sleep
(2) Daxue 大學 “The Great Learning” is a Confucian Classic. It is part of the canon of the Sishu 四書 “Four Books”, to which it was added as integral Confucian writing on the order and harmony of society. It was originally a chapter of the ritual classic Liji 禮記.
(3) 金玉其外，败絮其中; idiom; gilded exterior, shabby and ruined on the inside
(4) zhang 丈, an ancient unit of measurement, equal to 3.2 meters.
(4) tong hou 铜吼, literally copper roar, name of the speaker in this universe.