Chapter 3: Aunt Zhen
Translator: Novel_Saga Editor: Novel_Saga
The Da Qi Kingdom stood in the neighbourhood of the Yan and the Huang Kingdom. Its territory was within a peninsula that protruded out from the eastern lands. The Eastern Sea lay to its east, and a wasteland belonging to several barbarian tribes lay to its west. The three kingdoms had been allies since hundreds of years so that they could fight with their common foe.
The Da Qi Kingdom lay in the middle of the peninsula. So, it was jammed between the other two countries. It had the strongest military; it claimed that its standing army consisted of a million soldiers. The Huang Kingdom’s military was ranked second in strength. The Yan Kingdom’s military was considered to be the weakest. The Da Qi Kingdom’s capital area was directly controlled by its central government. The kingdom had nine prefectures apart from this area. These prefectures had been subdivided into thirty-six districts. Each district administered ten-odd cities. No one was aware of the exact number of towns and villages in the kingdom.
Feng City was the capital and the largest city of Quan Zhou. It was possibly the fifth-largest city in the entire Kai Yuan prefecture. The Jin Clan was considered to be one of the most influential clans in Quan Zhou owing to the large number of fields and manors held by them on the outskirts of the city. Their main export items were medicines and ores. So, they were able to influence almost half of the events in Quan Zhou.
Jin Cheng – the blue-robed butler – gave this information to Shi Mu on their way to Feng City. He enjoyed a high status among the servants since he was the diplomatic butler of the Jin Family. He was – at the very least – well-respected by the Jin Family’s riders.
They had to go through two cities to reach the Feng City; it took them almost a month. They went through the city gate, and headed towards the north-western part of the city.
Shi Mu stared out of the carriage-window at both sides of the streets. Shi Mu’s entire world before setting out on this journey had been the small fishing village that he had been born and brought-up in. The nearby village was the largest ‘city’ that he had ever been to.
Feng City lived up to its status of being the largest city in Quan Zhou. The crowded streets were a scene of complete chaos; the towns-people walked past various kinds of buildings.
Their carriage gradually slowed down. But, it took them another hour to reach their destination – an ordinary-looking manor. Shi Mu noticed a white fan hanging from the side of the gate as he got down from the carriage. But, his expressions didn’t change. He followed the blue-robed old man through the gate and into the manor; the riders stayed back, and stood beside the carriage.
Shi Mu soon arrived in a hall; a memorial ceremony was being held there. The hall had dull white streamers and linen all around. A ten-year-old girl stood with a married woman inside the hall; both of them wore the traditional white dress of mourning.
The woman looked around thirty years of age; her appearance was natural and graceful. She half-reproached Shi Mu – with tears streaming down her face – as soon as she saw him. “Too late! You’re too late! Your father passed away the day before yesterday. I don’t know what you think of him… but you’re his true son. Come and see him. We can talk about other matters later on.”
The young girl had red and swollen eyes; she seemed extremely sad. Her face expressed a tinge of curiosity and eagerness as she saw her half-brother for the first time.
Shi Mu gazed at the black coffin that lay in the middle of the hall. His mind was still struggling to make sense of the whirling mess that these rapid series of events had caused.
The woman stopped scolding the boy as she followed his gaze. The blue-robed butler seized the opportunity to approach her. He then whispered something in her ear, and retired quietly.
Shi Mu managed to move forward after a long while. He walked to the coffin and spoke in a calm voice, “Open the lid… I wish to say goodbye to my father.”
Two burly men approached the coffin from the hall. They pushed it open as the woman clapped her hands twice. A man lay quietly in the coffin; his features resembled that of Shi Mu’s. Shi Mu’s face became pale and dull as he lowered his head and gazed at the body. He only moved after a long time had passed. He then took out an ordinary-looking bronze mirror, and placed it beside the body without uttering a single word.
“This is…” the woman furrowed her eyebrows and said.
“I don’t know why he abandoned my mother… but it was her last wish to have this mirror buried with my father,” Shi Mu answered slowly. He then turned to light an incense stick in the burner in front of the coffin. After that, he kowtowed three times in front of his father’s coffin.
The woman hadn’t expected this. But, she didn’t stop Shi Mu from gazing at the coffin with a forlorn look on his face. She finally waved her hand, and the two burly men closed the coffin.
“Follow me; this is not the place for us to talk. Your father wanted you to know something before he died,” the woman said. Then, she led him and the girl to the adjacent smaller hall.
Shi Mu raised his eyebrows. However, he followed her silently.
The woman turned to the boy once they arrived in the adjacent hall. She then said, “It seems that I haven’t wasted my time in asking Butler Cheng to bring you here. You’ve already kowtowed to your father… I’ll not ask for anything more. I’ll not ask you to call me mother either; you may call me ‘Aunt Zhen’. This is your half-sister – Yu Huan.
“Yu Huan, come and meet your brother.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Brother Mu,” Yu Huan greeted him in a clear and melodious voice. The girl had curved eyebrows that sat atop her large eyes. Her mouth was delicate, and stood out in contrast with her prominent nose. She looked cutely clever and mischievous as she moved her eyeballs. The stiff expression on Shi Mu’s face gave way to a forced smile as he nodded to the girl.
“Your father married into the Jin Family… but he possessed his own manor in the suburbs. This wealth can only be accorded to him. And, it’s yours since you’re his son. I only wish to live with Yu Huan in this manor. I’m a Jin… and I have no need for this money. One of the reasons why he died so young was because he had made a huge contribution to the Jin Family. The reward for his contribution hasn’t come yet. Now, you have two choices as his successor…” the woman paused for a moment.
Shi Mu looked at her in surprise.
“… I can arrange for you to receive a Qi Ling pill from the Jin Family as the reward. It’ll provide you with an opportunity to pass the enrolment test of the Kai Yuan martial arts school; or I can arrange for you to be awarded a title of nobility. Of course… the Jin Family won’t be able to give you a title of high nobility. But, it’ll ensure that you stay rich all your life; even your sons and grandsons will benefit from this reward,” the woman looked into Shi Mu’s eyes as she spoke in an earnest manner.
“A real title of nobility?” Shi Mu knitted his brows and asked.
“That’s right. There are five levels of titles in the Da Qi Kingdom. Each of them comes with its respective status and power – Gong, Hou, Zi, Nan and Xun. Your father’s contribution and Jin’s influence will be able to secure a title for you without any difficulty. In fact, we can even offer to make you an official in the court,” the woman explained.
“I don’t care about the titles; I’ll take the Qi Ling pill,” Shi Mu replied without any hesitation.
“Consider the offers carefully before you make your decision. I’d take the second option if I were you…” the woman said with caution; she seemed surprised by Shi Mu’s answer.
Shi Mu took a momentary pause. He then said, “What do you mean by that?”
“How much do you really know about being a warrior… and Qi?” the woman asked bluntly.
“Are you trying to say… Aunt Zhen… that are you a warrior yourself?” Shi Mu was surprised. The woman didn’t answer. Her figure flickered and appeared near a wall in a moment. She then lifted her arms. A gold tinged sword appeared in her hands; it seemed ready to strike.
The woman moved the sword with a loud crashing sound; it seemed as if the Heaven itself was being pierced. The rapid movement of the sword made several illusory images in the air. Then, the sword found its way back in the wall with a clean and cold sound. Its hilt hung out; it was still shaking.
Shi Mu was amazed.
“Don’t judge me by my appearance. I’m one of the three advanced Hou Tian Warriors of the Jin Clan. How else will I be able to get you the exorbitantly priced Qi Ling pill from the Jin Family? One may not get an opportunity to do so even if one has the money to buy it. But, a dead man is quickly forgotten by the living. There are a few members of the family who believe that your father’s contribution doesn’t deserve a reward such as these rare herbs. So, there will be irritation and disdain if you ask for the Qi Ling pill. I can help you this time… but I’ll not be able to do so in the future. ”
“I’m determined to be a warrior… and I’ll do whatever it takes,” Shi Mu replied without pausing.
“I’ll not persuade you further… since I see that you’ve made up your mind. Tell me the different levels of warriors… to the best of your abilities,” Aunt Zhen sighed and said loudly.
“The various levels are the Tempered Body, the Real Warrior and the National Guardian. I’ve heard that one is ranked equally with the aristocratic ministers after they’ve achieved the National Guardian level,” Shi Mu answered.
“You were taught this at the village school? That’s not bad. But, you must understand that even the best instructors at those martial arts schools are nothing in comparison to real warriors. How can you expect to learn the real division of levels from them?” Aunt Zhen said.
She was not surprised by Shi Mu’s answer; she seemed to have predicted it.
“Please teach me, Aunt Zhen,” Shi Mu requested.
“Commoners use titles such as the Tempered Body, the Real Warrior and the National Guardian. The real levels of warriors in Dong Zhou are differently organized. The true titles are Martial Disciple, Hou Tian Warrior, and Xian Tian Warrior respectively. Any Disciple is allowed to study the art of Body Tempering at the beginner’s level. But, one may not be able to accomplish much in life without the gift of fine bones. Those who have perceived real Qi and are able to practice real Qi arts become Hou Tian Warriors. They can match a hundred armed men when aided by Real Qi. These are what commoners like you call the ‘Real Warriors’. The Xian Tian Warriors can make use of their ‘innate’ Qi. This can only be achieved by establishing deep connections into their dantian… once their Qi quality and control has reached a certain level.
“These Xian Tian Warriors are the best of the lot. If it takes ten Martial Disciples to kill one Hou Tian Warrior… then even hundreds of Hou Tian Warriors will fall short of bringing any harm to one Xian Tian Warrior. This is due to a Xian Tian Warrior’s ability to use his Real Qi to manifest outside the body in order to kill from a distance. There is a qualitative difference between a Hou Tian Warrior and a Xian Tian Warrior; it’s a wall which is impossible to cross. But, very few people will ever be able to reach the point of becoming a Xian Tian Warrior.
“As per my understanding… there are only seven or eight Xian Tian Warriors in all of the Da Qi Kingdom,” Aunt Zhen explained.