Fu Li wanted to kick him, but it was inappropriate with all the people in the house, so she could only say through clenched teeth, “Has the wind blown your brain away?! They are just teasing you; how can you fall for it?!”
Still not believing it, A-Yi tugged at Fu Li’s leg and asked, “Then why are all of you here? This place is so remote! If it weren’t for something important, all of you wouldn’t get together for sure!”
It would not do for Fu Li to state it too plainly right before Shan Yue and Shan Tian. She wanted to gloss it over, but A-Yi looked up at her and persisted in getting his answer, giving her such a headache that she could not hold herself back from smacking A-Yi on his back.
“Get up now!”
A-Yi said, “I don’t wanna.”
Fu Li could do nothing about him. She said, “In any case, it’s not to play matchmaker for you! There’s no suitable family within ten li1 of this place. What’s more, which maiden can put up with you the way you are now?! You’re already this big, and you still so insensible. Get up!”
A-Yi stood up briskly. He patted his brocade robe and said, “Just say so if it isn’t. At least tell me if you are going to so I can prepare for it. There’s something I need to say first.”
“I’m all ears.” Cang Ji said.
A-Yi glanced at Shan Tian and said, “I’m not gay.”
Shan Tian was holding the bowl of sweet soup Shan Yue had prepared for him. He stirred on hearing A-Yi, finally realizing what had just transpired. This person was really a baffling one. He was as proud as a peacock, and so paranoid under that layer of human skin. Shan Tian scooped the red dates and ate it without so much a single glance at him.
◈ ◈ ◈
After A-Yi came, the atmosphere naturally livened up. Shan Yue was fond of him too and often called him over to her side. Having gotten his elder sister’s hint, A-Yi patiently accompanied Shan Yue every day. It was not known if Shan Tian had guessed Zong Yin’s identity, but he stayed close to Shan Yue and never let her out of his sight.
It was the Spring Festival just a few days later. Everyone had a small gathering in Zong Yin’s courtyard. Jing Lin did not drink much, but Cang Ji was already flushed from the wine by the time the gathering was about to break up. When both men stepped out of the door to leave, Cang Ji suddenly leaned against the door frame and refused to move any further.
“Hold me by the hand.” Cang Ji said, “It’s so dark and windy outside. I’m scared to be out there on the road.”
A-Yi was holding a cloak behind him when his expression instantly darkened. He said, “Dage, are you drunk? You are the most formidable when it comes to tearing others apart with your bare hands. What is darkness to you?”
Cang Ji “tsked” and turned to say to him in disdain, “Are all the feathers on your tail grown out? I want you to shut up.”
“Dage, you are so honorable and righteous, handsome and free-spirited.” A-Yi randomly threw him words of flattery. “It’s the new year. Shouldn’t you give me some lucky money?”2
Cang Ji tossed A-Yi a gold pearl. A-Yi said, “Who cares about this? This is not what I want.”
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His interest piqued, Cang Ji asked, “Then what do you want?”
A-Yi furtively leaned back. It was only when he saw that his Ah Jie and Shan Tian had yet to return from the kitchen that he moved closer to Cang Ji and asked, “You are my dage, right?”
“Spit it out if you have something to say.” Cang Ji said, “I still have a warm bed3 waiting for me at home.”
A-Yi said, “Then you have to stand up for me! As sworn brothers, we are like kin brothers! Dage, he’s that lad who fought with me from the capital to the City of Xitu. If I hadn’t slipped away midway after seeing that I wouldn’t make it here in time, both of us would still be stuck on the road!”
“What grudges do you have with each other?” Jing Lin stood in the snow and said, “Make yourself clear.”
“He scammed me of my money.” A-Yi said with righteous indignation.
“Keep your tail straight when you lie.” Jing Lin said coldly.
Unhappy, A-Yi said, “But he really hit me! Jing Lin, you don’t know about it, but that thing in his hand doesn’t seem to be an ordinary object at all. It really drew blood when it came smashing at me.”
“That lad…” Cang Ji’s voice was deeper after he had drunk wine. His gaze shifted to the house at the side. He said slowly, “… is indeed odd.”
“I knew there was something off with him!” A-Yi was itching to have a go. “Dage, let’s drag him into the mountain and interrogate him!”
Fu Li walked out as she wiped her hands and asked, “Interrogate who? What are you going to do again?”
A-Yi instantly draped the cloak around Cang Ji’s shoulders and silently slipped along the wall to make his way inside.
Fu Li asked suspiciously, “What’s he scheming again?”
Jing Lin asked, “Where’s Xiaoshan?”
“He said he heard movements outside the courtyard, so he went to see if it’s a wild animal.” As Fu Li spoke, she exchanged glances with each of them. “Shall I see you off?”
“Your Jiu-ge is going to lead me home by the hand.” Cang Ji strode down the stairs with the cloak hanging over him. “Don’t get in the way.”
Behind them, Fu Li stood all by her lonesome self and shouted, “Jiu-sao, don’t jump into pits on intention!”
Cang Ji stepped into a pit and tilted over to press down on Jing Lin. Catching a whiff of wine on him, Jing Lin tightened his cloak around him and held his hand as he led him home.
◈ ◈ ◈
“Thirteen green talismans obstacles.” Midway through their journey, Cang Ji became the one who was leading Jing Lin by the hand. He measured his steps from the luminosity of the snow and turned back to look at Zong Yin’s courtyard. “The talismans Zong Yin dug three chi4 down under the ground; this courtyard is thoroughly covered all around. When the time comes, Fu Li will assist Shan Yue in the delivery of the child, while Huashang will stand guard at the third layer. Zong Yin and I will be outside, and there’s also you and A-Yi to patrol the area. If it’s just Zui Shan Seng who comes, he won’t even be able to enter through the door.”
“Even if Li Rong comes, it will take a few hours.” Jing Lin said, “It’s just that I can’t figure it out.”
Cang Ji gave him a hand and questioned, “Can’t figure it out?”
“Dong Jun said that a major-league devil would be born on the eastern sea.” Jing Lin said, “It’s closely related to ‘birth’. But this child is just a jiao dragon, so who is the major-league devil? He would definitely not mention this for no reason.”
“He summoned us here, but he himself hasn’t come.” Cang Ji said, “What exactly is his intention? To date, he has still yet to reveal it.”
With an “uh-huh”, Jing Lin grasped Cang Ji’s fingers and said, “His relationship with Lan Hai and Qing Yao is different. I suspect that his investigation has thrown up many findings. It’s just that he’s unwilling to tell us.”
“It will all be clear when the time comes.” Cang Ji pushed open the door and edged along the veranda with Jing Lin to enter the room.
◈ ◈ ◈
The moment the luminous pearl in the room was picked up, the little stone figure jumped off the couch and ran around in a few circles. On seeing this, Cang Ji stuffed Jing Lin into his arms and said, “Where are you cold? Once I give you a few bites, you won’t be cold anymore.”
Jing Lin asked, “You will bite every single part that’s cold?”
Each time Cang Ji hugged Jing Lin, he wanted to rub and pinch him. He placed Jing Lin at the edge of the couch, and tipsily bit his way down Jing Lin’s neck inch by inch. Gradually, he pressed Jing Lin down onto the bedding. Jing Lin reached out his fingers to scrape across the back of Cang Ji’s neck.
“Where are you cold?” Cang Ji covered up the luminous pearl and fondled him in the darkness.
Jing Lin’s garment was in disarray as he nibbled wetly on Cang Ji’s ear and neck. Exerting his strength, Cang Ji turned his head to seek Jing Lin’s mouth and pinned him onto the bedding.
The potency of the wine burned Cang Ji up. He did not hold back.
Jing Lin kept gasping for breath, but Cang Ji found his target each time. He was using a lot of strength tonight.
Jing Lin grasped him so hard that his fingertips were all reddened. There was no part of his body that was still cold. It was so hot all over him that he felt weak. All he could do was to whimper and sob while drenched in sweat.
Cang Ji was satisfied.
He liked it this way. He wanted Jing Lin to cry, to pant, to let him have his way. Each cry of “gege” each time urged Cang Ji to go at it with even more vigor down there. He immersed himself in the pleasure of it. There was simply no way he could stop.
◈ ◈ ◈
Cang Ji had a full meal this time, and he had more or less sobered up now. After they were done, he let his hair down, fell over to the bed, and then scooped Jing Lin up onto his body to cover himself. This was the moment when Jing Lin was the easiest to coax. No matter what he said, Jing Lin would always just “uh-huh” in agreement. Cang Ji was not in a hurry to sleep; he simply loved to tease this man.
“Why didn’t you call me gege when we were out there?” Cang Ji asked him softly.
Jing Lin’s breathing was still ragged, and his tongue was still feeling numb as he answered, “Not calling for you to hear.”
“Someone was calling for me so urgently earlier.” Cang Ji pinched Jing Lin. “Who was that then?”
Jing Lin quibbled. “Don’t know him.”
“I know who he is.” Cang Ji carefully kissed Jing Lin on his eyes and brow. “Panting and moaning and crying. Only I know who he is.”
Jing Lin closed his eyes and let him kiss until their lips met again. Amidst the lingering warmth and tenderness, Jing Lin sucked him in small mouthfuls—Cang Ji was the one who taught him this. Cang Ji pulled up the blanket over them and played with him under it. Both men’s breath intertwined as they clung close and intimately to each other.
“Let’s stay here in the future.” Cang Ji said, “Gege will close the door and play with you every day.”
“Lust befuddles the mind.” Jing Lin sprawled over his chest and half-propped up his head. “Dijun is going to be mocked.”
“Only those who have a lover can do this.” Cang Ji laced his fingers with Jing Lin’s. “It’s right and proper, open and aboveboard.”
“If I can’t remember…” Jing Lin gazed at him. “You mustn’t cry secretly, either.”
“Of course, I won’t.” Cang Ji said, “Even if I want to cry, I’ll hug your thighs and cry. How do you even spell the word ‘secretly’?”
Jing Lin curled his toe slightly and scraped it across Cang Ji’s calf. He was hot to death at the moment. Cang Ji lifted the blanket, exposing both men’s intertwined legs.
Jing Lin lowered his head and glued the side of his face to the side of Cang Ji’s face.
“Of late.” Jing Lin said softly, “I seem to be getting smaller.”
“You are small to begin with.” Cang Ji took him into his arms and said, “You are younger than me by many, many years. There are many things you have to wait for me to teach you.”
“I can no longer be compared to Lord Linsong.” Jing Lin closed his eyes.
Cang Ji stroked the back of Jing Lin’s head in silence, then turned his head over and kissed the corner of Jing Lin’s eye. He said, “This is how you originally are. No one in Heaven and Earth can make you sever your feelings and desires. Your joy, anger, sorrow, and happiness that other places can’t accommodate, you can leave them all with me here.”
He seemed to hear Jing Lin let out a snort. The little stone figure also scrambled its way onto Cang Ji’s chest. Both men held hands with interlacing fingers. Cang Ji listened as Jing Lin’s breathing gradually evened out, and his heart, as tranquil as still water, bloomed with happiness.
◈ ◈ ◈
Shan Yue suddenly groaned as she jolted awake from her dream. Zong Yin immediately got up from the couch to hold her hands and asked in a fluster, “What’s the matter? Did the baby kick you again?”
Shan Yue felt a wave of contraction pain. She was already sweating profusely. With her lips whitening, she braced herself to say, “Zong… Zong-ge! I’m afraid, I’m going to…”
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Zong Yin held her hand with one hand and wiped her sweat with the other hand. He shouted, “Fu Li, Fu Li!”
Next door, Fu Li rose on hearing his shouts. She entered the room and lit the lamp. She was momentarily stunned when she saw the situation, but said right after, “What’s happening? It’s not time yet!”
Shan Yue started shaking. As she trembled, she said, “Cold, so cold…”
Fu Li was not paying attention earlier, but now, as she looked towards the window, she saw that the ice was already about to climb it way into the window! She immediately took off her outer garment, rolled up her sleeves, and said, “Call A-Yi. Tell him to call Jiu-ge over quickly! There’s something odd with this coldness. I’m afraid the child his or herself can’t stand the mortal flesh. If we don’t induce labor, the child will cause the death of the mother!”
Zong Yin stood up, and Shan Yue grasped his hand. Her tears kept falling involuntarily, yet she pushed herself to smile at him. Even at this juncture, she was still urging him, “Put… put on a coat when you go out…”
Zong Yin’s eyes stung as he silently kissed Shan Yue’s fingertips. On the other side, A-Yi was all sprawled out on his back in a sleep so sound that even thunder could not move him. Shan Tian rose from another bed. Without even needing Zong Yin to push the door open, he had already strode out of the door and said, “Is Ah Jie in labor now? I’ll go boil some water!”
A-Yi was still in dreamland thousands of li away while hugging his pillow. Fu Li yelled through the wall, and he swiftly sat up and said, “she’s giving birth? Now?! What do I do? Call dage and Jing Lin, right?!”
A-Yi tossed his pillow away and jumped off the bed to step into his boots before he dashed out. The instant he opened the door, a violent gale on the outside came assailing towards him. It was so cold that he shivered. When he fixed his eyes for a look, his expression changed into one of displeasure.
“What’s the meaning of this? Are you blocking the way on intention?!”
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, 1 li = approx. 500m
- 压岁钱 like the modern day hongbao, traditional gifts of money given to children during the Spring Festival, or lunar new year.
炕(头) specifically (the warmer end of) a kang bed-stove, a heated bed commonly seen in northern China
- 尺 chi, a Chinese foot; i.e., one-third of a meter