Chapter 6 Yan Clan and Hong Clan
Liuhe Town was the largest town within the entire Qinghe County, it was located not too far or too near from the county seat. However, it was still a distance of three to four li away. Following the preliminary examination today, both Su Chang and Qi Donglai had traveled from the county seat all the way to Liuhe Town in order to inform Yan Dechang of what had occurred. Following which, Yan Dechang had immediately made the return journey to the martial arts academy of Qinghe County with the two in tow.
Usually, this short distance would be nothing to Yan Liqiang. During his time spent back at home, every single day was a nonstop session of tempering and toughening his body; he would run for at least a distance of ten li. Now, however, he was only able to sit on the bullock cart that Yan Dechang had called due to his injuries. In this manner, he began his journey back to Linhe Town from the county seat in the wobbly cart accompanied by his father..
After passing through the gates of the county seat, a vast amount of farmland could be seen stretched across the land as far as the eye could see. The road that led to Liuhe Town could be found between the acres of farmland.
The traversing bullock cart creaked and groaned as its hard, wooden wheels rolled against the earthen road. Although the cart wobbled slightly as it moved, it remained quite firm and steady, supporting their weight without a problem.
Presently, the night had neared. There were no longer any signs of farmers still working in the farms. Only the sound of croaking frogs could be heard in the background, along with the aroma of paddies wafting about the air. Three bright moons of various sizes gradually began to reveal themselves from under the cover of the night. The luminous and resplendent stars began to take after the moon and were beginning to appear one by one. The once mysterious and boundless void now seemed to be flooded with an inexhaustible source spiritual energy, dictating the ebb and flow of the stars in the sky.
Yan Dechang was silent as he sat in the cart, he gave off the impression that he was currently in a bad mood. Yan Liqiang on the other hand, lifted up his head to study the starry sky from within the gathering darkness from atop of the cart. He savoured the universe’s beauty and immensity as his mind was enchanted by the stars. In Yan Liqiang’s opinion, although he had lost in the tournament, and even if there was a likelihood that he had fallen prey to a scheme, he still wasn’t the dispirited in the least. In contrast, he felt slightly exhilarated as someone like him who was supposed to be dead, had been given the opportunity to live again. He was already blessed to be able to sit here and watch the starry sky in this manner.
The driver of the cart was acquainted with Yan Dechang. As he sat in front, controlling the cart, he was unable to read the expressions on the father and son’s faces. While he drove, he rambled incessantly. "So today is the preliminary examination for Qinghe County’s Martial Arts County Trial. I’ve long heard that Master Yan’s son is of the best in Liuhe Town for his age group. During the county trial’s preliminary exam this time around, he will certainly rank among one of the best! By that time, your son will have already officially participated in the Martial Arts County Trial and obtained good results; there will be a chance for him to enter the Pingxi Prefecture’s martial arts academy and meet a great master as a result. He will be able to learn the most profound forms of martial arts and techniques. The moment he advance to a Martial Warrior in the future will mark a significant point in his career, truly allowing him to bring honor to his ancestors! The days of achieving meteoric success is imminent! Master Yan, you can now hold your head high when you say that you’re from the Liuhe Town and Qinghe County! Oh right, Master Yan, did your son manage to get into the top three…?"
"No!" Yan Dechang dejectedly replied without saying anything more.
When he heard Yan Dechang’s words, the cart driver cast a backwards glance at Yan Dechang. He finally realized that Yan Dechang wasn’t in a good mood. Conscious of his words, he revealed an embarrassed smile and kept quiet.
Halfway down the road, a clear and crisp sound of thundering hooves echoed from somewhere behind the bullock cart Yan Liqiang was riding in about two li away from Liuhe Town. As the thundering hooves gradually approached them, Yan Liqiang turned around only to see a steward accompanied by two of the Hong Clan’s servants as they rode three rhinodrake steeds and pursued them from behind. When the three rhinodrake steeds overtook their bullock cart, the steward from the Hong Clan pulled the reins, prompting the three steeds to slow down simultaneously, placing themselves in an adjacent position to the bullock cart.
Hong Clan’s steward was dressed in a long, blue robe with the two ends of his moustache at either side of his lips; a shrewd expression could be seen on his face. On the other hand, the two servants wore gray tight-fitting clothes along with a saber strapped to their waists, giving off the aura of intimidation.
The gaze of the Hong Clan’s steward observed the father son duo. He then revealed a wicked smile and greeted Yan Dechang. "Isn’t this Blacksmith Yan? What a coincidence! I never would have thought that we would run into each other here!"
"Oh, does Steward Hong also have matters to attend to outside?" Due to the fact that this fellow had actively greeted him, Yan Dechang couldn’t pretend as if he hadn’t hear it. Hence, he responded in a half-hearted manner.
"Hahaha! Hadn’t my Young Master Hong Tao been ranked in the top three in today’s martial arts preliminary exam? When our master found out this morning, he quickly sent me to deliver the good news to Young Master Hong Tao’s elder uncle and third uncle in an adamant manner. In two day’s time, our master is arranging a feast of celebration in honor of young master Hong Tao achievement of being ranked among the preliminary exam’s top three! Entering the martial arts academy of Pingxi Prefecture is already definite. As for your son...oh right, I heard he was knocked down from the arena by our Young Master Hong Tao today. He fainted on the spot and was badly injured. He had only fought in the preliminary exam once and was already sent to the medical hall after. I wonder if your son alright now?"
Yan Dechang’s face instantly darkened. He slightly clenched his fists, before stiffly replying, "My son is fine. Thank you Steward Hong for your concern. "
"That’s great! It’s great that he’s alright!" Steward Hong’s expression did not change, he was still beaming with smiles. "My master had always said that everyone is one big family. We should help each other if something were to happen. We have collected a lot of good healing medicines in our medicine room back in our Hong Clan. If needed, you can come to our residence to look for our master. My master has always been kind hearted. He won’t refuse to help... "
"Hmph…" Yan Dechang snorted directly.
"During these past few days, the rhinodrake steeds from our Hong Clan has travelled quite a far distance so their horseshoes have been slightly damaged. We’ll still need to trouble Blacksmith Yan to make a couple of sturdy horseshoes for our Hong Clan’s steeds someday. If your esteemed son is not successful in the county trial this year, he can still consider becoming a servant for our Hong Clan! Our master has always admired youngsters with a knack for improvement, someone just like your son. Hahaha..." laughed Steward Hong heartily. Once he had finished laughing, he didn’t bother to see Yan Dechang expression, and urged his steed to leave.
"Might I trouble Steward Hong to send a message to your Young Master Hong Tao..." Yan Liqiang suddenly spoke after maintaining his silence throughout their conversation. This caused Steward Hong’s movements to slow down and halt his tracks in order to shift his gaze to Yan Liqiang in puzzlement. He then curiously asked, "What would do you like for me to pass on to Young Master Hong Tao?"
"I would like to request Steward Hong to tell young master Hong Tao that I, Yan Liqiang, thank him for the lesson he taught me in the arena today!" Yan Liqiang smiled at Steward Hong; his demeanour was filled with dignity, everlasting elegance, grace, and calmness. There wasn’t the slightest trace of resentment or anger to be found in his tone. Instead, he appeared to be genuinely honest and sincere. "As the saying goes, losing and winning are common occurrences within military operations. And the loss that I, Liqiang, had suffered today was due to my lack of skill. With regards to Young Master Hong Tao’s methods in battle, Liqiang admires them greatly! I have no complaints in my heart! I only have Young Master Hong Tao’s drive and motivation as inspiration to push me forward. Liqiang will definitely put in a greater amount of effort from now on and exert myself harder with twice the effort as the result! I won’t disappoint the name my father has bestowed on me and I hope that one day, I will have another chance to ask for guidance and learn from Young Master Hong Tao!"
Head Steward Hong’s once relaxed face was now faintly distorted; it had begun to turn serious when he heard Yan Liqiang’s words. From the amount of spirit he felt oozing from Yan Liqiang’s words as well as the limitless fighting spirit emanating from him, was this youth really defeated in the preliminary exam?
Instead of ridiculing Yan Liqiang further, he cast a serious gaze towards Yan Liqiang. It was as if this was the first time he had encountered Yan Liqiang. After a moment of tension, he nodded his head without speaking. Soon after, he prompted his steeds to move and left with the two servants in tow, leaving behind only the thundering sounds of hooves. In the blink of an eye, they had already vanished without a trace from Yan Liqiang’s line of sight.
Yan Dechang also eyed his son in a peculiar manner. He had never expected that his reticent and introverted son would utter such a sentence in this situation. It was as though he had spoke from the bottom of his heart. After listening to Yan Liqiang’s words, his furtive gloom and dejection had been greatly reduced in spite of everything.
The bullock cart stopped on the road for a period of time. Only when dust storm kicked flying by the three rhinodrake steed had settled did the bullock cart move towards Liuhe Town once again at a slow and unhurried pace.
Both the Yan Clan and Hong Clan were situated within Liuhe Town. However, the latter is a rich family who had absolute authority, whereas the other was the town’s blacksmith. The issues between the two had originated from Yan Liqiang. Due to the fact that Yan Dechang had forced Yan Liqiang to diligently practice martial arts everyday during his youth. This essentially pushed Yan Liqiang to make a small name for himself amongst the youngsters in Liuhe Town. Unfortunately, Hong Clan also had a young master who was aged similarly to Yan Liqiang. Thus,, the Hong Clan would naturally never allow their reputation to be tarnished by that of the son of a blacksmith in Liuhe Town under these circumstances. It was when Yan Liqiang had reached the age of ten in particular when the Hong Clan had been directly and also indirectly targeting the Yan Clan. Moreover, Hong Tao of the Hong Clan had been trying to suppress Yan Liqiang further...
Yan Liqiang’s residence was very easy to locate in Liuhe Town as his residence was situated right beside the Willow River. The entirety their land, which was inclusive of the courtyard, rooms, stable, as well as Yan Dechang’s blacksmith workshop occupied a total land area of more than three mu. But even from a distance, one would still be able to see the large chimney above their residence’s blacksmith workshop.
Apart from Yan Liqiang and Yan Dechang, there were also two other people living in their residence. One of of two was a disciple named Zhou Tiezhu whom Yan Dechang was currently nurturing within the blacksmith workshop, whereas the other was an old servant named Mother Wu.
Mother Wu was mute. From as far as Yan Liqiang could remember, Mother Wu had always been living together with Yan Liqiang and his father. According to Yan Dechang, Mother Wu had been a refugee and in the year when Yan Liqiang was born, Mother Wu had fled from the soldiers and ran all the way up north to the Qinghe County all by herself. Finally during the heavy winter, she caught a cold and collapsed by the road in a state of near death. Yan Dechang had been the one who found her, he took her in and called a physician to heal her illness. Eventually, he allowed her to stay in his residence in return for being responsible for doing menial chores of the house. Such a task included chores such as doing the laundries, preparing meals, and cleaning. From then on, Mother Wu had always stayed with them in this residence.
When Yan Liqiang returned, Mother Wu behaved like usual. She had already finished cooking the dishes and was currently warming the food in the pot. Upon seeing the return of Yan Liqiang and Yan Dechang, the mute Mother Wu quickly took out the dishes from the pot and served them.
There were four people eating: Yan Dechang, Yan Liqiang, Zhou Tiezhu, as well as Mother Wu. Yan Liqiang had heard from his father that when Mother Wu had first came to their home, she had refused to eat at the table even if she were to be beaten to death. However, after having stayed at Yan’s residence for so long while wholeheartedly doing chores, Yan Dechang requested that she ate with them on the table as though they were one family.
The meals that Yan Dechang, Zhou Tiezhu and Mother Wu ate were very simple. It consisted of string beans, bok choy, radish soup, rice and a plate of deliberately made salty fermented soybean curd.
On the other hand, Yan Liqiang’s meal was made to be more sumptuous than theirs due to his bodily conditions. The table was filled with ordinary homemade dishes with the exception being the small pot that had been placed before him. When the lid of the pot was removed, a concentrated and rich aroma of ginseng quail stew pervaded the air from the pot...
This was something special that Yan Dechang had especially prepared for Yan Liqiang. He was determined to not take any of it for himself. As for Mother Wu who had seeked refuge at Yan Liqiang’s house, it could have been said that she had seen her shares of cannibalism before. Hence, she never touched meat or fish after she was safe. And as for Zhou Tiezhu, as Yan Dechang’s disciple, he was awfully well-behaved in front of Yan Dechang. He naturally wouldn’t behave in an inappropriate manner on the dining table. He would eat whatever Yan Dechang ate, so much so that whenever he saw a dish that Yan Liqiang loved to eat, he would instinctively avoid it. He either grabbed less of it or completely refrained from eating it. Thus, because of this, the broth cooked in the pot was solely eaten by Yan Liqiang.
The income of this household obtained had only come from Yan Dechang. The sole blacksmith, Yan Dechang, was capable of supporting the four as well as a rhinodrake steed. On a daily basis, they would eat as the steed chewed. Although his wages as a blacksmith were not bad, earning him more than the average Joe, the household still lived a fairly poor life. This was as Yan Liqiang in particular still needed to participate in martial arts training. There was a saying in this world, and the saying goes: the poor studies while the wealthy trains in martial arts. Due to the resources required for one to properly train in the martial arts, the expenses were much greater. Hence, this was why their financial situation had become more tight.
Apart from times of celebration, such as important festivities like Chinese New Year where Yan Dechang would request that Mother Wu add a few more dishes and eat some meat dishes with Yan Liqiang and Zhou Tiezhu. Yan Liqiang was the only one who was able to have fish and meat throughout three meals in a day in the entire household. Therefore, he was never lacking in nutritions.
Because of his job as a blacksmith, so long as he ate his fill and consumed enough salt, he would be okay with not eating a lavish meal. But the same would not apply for a person training in martial arts. These were words that Yan Dechang had once told Yan Liqiang.
As he gazed at the set of entirely different dishes on the table, he couldn't help but reminisce about the fact that this day of special treatment was similar to the ones he had received from the past few years. He once again found himself gazing at Yan Dechang who only had two sets of clothes to change in and out of for the four seasons of a year. Yan Liqiang couldn’t help but feel the trembling of his tear ducts and began to feel an indescribable weight from his chopsticks…