Translated with: Jia<3
Xiao Chiye, having rushed his way back on his horse at top speed, rested for a night, although he had to get on his horse and head back after the hour of zi1 tonight. He ran on a tight schedule, and he had gone to great efforts to painstakingly save up these two days of free time. He had been on the move for eight or nine days in a row in order not to delay the transportation of supplies to the site of battle. And he had done it all just to see Shen Zechuan.
But who would have thought that he would end up so angry?
Xiao Chiye held up Meng and removed the anklet on Meng’s leg before putting it back on, causing Meng to flap its wings and throw a tantrum. Xiao Chiye threw a tantrum too. He was vexed, feeling angrier the more he thought about it.
Ji Gang returned from his stroll with his birdcage in hand. He was taken aback to see Xiao Chiye, but after a moment of hesitation, he entered all the same. Xiao Chiye paid his respects to the shifu. Due to Xiao Chiye’s height, Ji Gang had to raise his head to look at him.
“The war in the north is in a critical situation.” Ji Gang handed over the birdcage and said, “Your shifu must have been having a tough time fighting battles.”
Xiao Chiye hung up the birdcage and said, “It has been tough on him. Shifu often thinks of you and mentions you from time to time.”
Ji Gang placed his hands behind his back and said, “I’ve never fought a battle, so I can’t be of help there. You rushed back in such a hurry; is there an important matter you have to attend to?”
Xiao Chiye thought not yet, although the reply from his mouth was, “The Beiyuan Hunting Grounds have been given to me, and the Imperial Army intends to remain stationed there. I came back to ask Lanzhou about the progress. Once it’s almost time, I’ll arrange for someone to come over.”
Ji Gang knew that these were all matters they spoke of in detail and at length, so he nodded and did not probe further.
It was rare for Xiao Chiye to come across Ji Gang, so he seized the opportunity to say, “Did Lanzhou fall ill on the way to Chazhou? Shifu, he’s a picky eater. With you to keep an eye on him back at home, he would still pick a little of each dish to eat a little. Even when he falls ill, he is willing to take his medicine. But once he’s out on business, everyone around him listens to him, and without anyone to keep watch on him, he’d dare to pick and choose his food.”
Ji Gang was reminded of this as soon as he heard Xiao Chiye, “Oh, right! I was going to give him a piece of my mind yesterday!”
“He steered you away from the topic.” Xiao Chiye finally stopped tormenting Meng and lifted his arm to let it go. “He has a guilty conscience. No doubt he wouldn’t dare to mention it to you.”
Ji Gang nodded, but then, sensing something odd, he asked, “Why would he have a guilty conscience? Is Chuan-er hiding something else from me?”
“Yeah.” Xiao Chiye said with a slight furrow of his brows. “There is a large gash on his left hand. The return journey was long, and they didn’t change the dressing meticulously enough on the way back. When I saw it last night, the wound on his palm was almost festering from all the sweating.”
The color drained from Ji Gang’s face. He hurriedly followed up with a question, “Where’s he?”
“Sleeping.” Xiao Chiye paused for a moment before continuing. “He slept late last night, and he was pretty exhausted too. He was all worn out when he woke up this morning. Shifu will have to keep an eye on him in the future, lest he doesn’t take his health seriously. I’m far away in Libei, and plenty of what I know depends on what he shares with me in his letters. If he has the intention to keep it from me, then I would be kept completely in the dark.”
Ji Gang straightened up. “I have to watch him change his dressing.” Then, he thought the better of it and sighed. “He wasn’t quite nursed back to health back then when we were staying at the temple. The physicians we called for were all useless men who could not come to a diagnosis. His body is weaker than others. The longer time elapses, the more it has to be taken care of. You know it too. When he entered the capital, he was first tortured in the imperial prison followed by a flogging, and then there was your kick… That was one brutal kick! If not for my old acquaintances in the Imperial Bodyguards coming to his aid on the sly, Chuan-er would’ve been long dead. His health was in a terrible state at that time and to hide it from the others, he took medicine. Now I’m worrying day and night, precisely because I’m afraid.”
Xiao Chiye kept silent for a moment, then suddenly lifted the hem of his robe and fell to his knees. He set both palms squarely on the ground and kowtowed formally to Ji Gang.
Ji Gang was promptly stunned. “What are you doing?”
Xiao Chiye maintained his position and spoke with his head bowed to the ground. “Six years ago, when I rode my horse across Zhongbo, the man I hated the most was Shen Wei. I held him in contempt for abandoning the city and fleeing, and I also feared the Empress Dowager’s support for her puppet, and so I kicked Lanzhou in Qudu. Shifu is right. My kick back then had been brutal. I’d done it with the intent to take his life.”
Ji Gang choked, momentarily tongue-tied. Afraid that Shen Zechuan could hear him from inside the room, he turned his head away and let loose a heavy-hearted sigh.
Xiao Chiye paused for a moment, then continued, “It’s all my fault that Lanzhou is in such ill health today. The physicians in Zhongbo are incapable; I’ve already gone and invited Venerable Yideng over. When the war subsides after autumn, my shifu will come and take his pulse too. Even if Lanzhou is utterly difficult to care for, I still want to do it. But I’m currently stationed far away in Libei, and the deliveries of provisions for the military cannot be delayed; If I cannot see him, I don’t feel at peace. Incidents like what happened in Chazhou cannot keep happening, but I have neither family nor close friends in Zhongbo, and can only ask this of shifu. Shifu, Lanzhou abruptly came face-to-face with adversity in his youth, and he likes to keep things to himself. Even when he’s in pain or sorrow, he keeps mum about it. But he treats you as his father. As long as you’re by his side, he will take your feelings into consideration and show more regard for his own health. I don’t have any other request; all I ask is for you to scold him a little more, so that he will know the errors of his ways and feel pain—the next time he does something like this, shifu, lash out at me, Xiao Ce’an!”
Ji Gang stood rooted to the spot, stunned and stupefied, feeling as if there was something not quite right with those words, yet at that point in time he could not quite put his finger on what exactly was wrong with it. He looked towards the window, where he heard a light clink of a teacup from the other end of the bamboo blinds, just one sound, and then all was quiet again.
◈ ◈ ◈
The frogs in the pond had been entirely removed, and the courtyard was very peaceful after dinnertime.
Xiao Chiye went to have a shower after his meal. Lang Tao Xue Jin and Meng had already been fed. Shen Zechuan stood under the eaves and scooped up a handful of the newly planted orange jasmine. There was no one else in the courtyard, but there was a small table with snacks under the eaves, bathed in the evening glow of the sunset. Shen Zechuan sat down and gazed out into the distance at the setting sun, lost in his thoughts.
Xiao Chiye walked out, damp from his shower, and crouched down behind Shen Zechuan as he dried his hair. Shen Zechuan grasped the orange jasmine and turned his head back. Xiao Chiye lowered his head and kissed Shen Zechuan. The setting sun was a hue of reddish-orange, and the world, silent and still; even the wind was tactful enough to leave this portion of the courtyard to just the two of them.
Shen Zechuan suddenly turned around and pounced on Xiao Chiye. Partially leaning back against the door frame, Xiao Chiye hugged Shen Zechuan tightly and pressed the tip of his nose against Shen Zechuan’s cheek, saying in a fierce tone, “You’re pressing against my injury.”
Shen Zechuan threw the pieces of orange jasmine into Xiao Chiye’s pocket, “Let me touch it.”
Xiao Chiye did not let him. He grabbed hold of both of Shen Zechuan’s wrists and pulled him towards himself. He was strong and fit, and so it did not strain him the slightest to bear Shen Zechuan’s weight. Even the way he sat was carefree and unrestrained. Both of them cuddled together, from dusk to night.
Actually, Xiao Chiye had been very unhappy for the past half-month.
The Shasan camp that the Imperial Army had taken back had been given to Guo Weili, and when Guo Weili came to take over, he bumped into Gu Jin. Both of them found the other an eyesore, and friction was also increasing between the soldiers under their commands. Xiao Chiye swallowed this grievance and took over Wu Ziyu’s position in the Bianbo camp, but escorting the transportation of supplies was far more difficult than he had imagined. He was bossed around by the commanding generals of the respective military camps at the site of battle, and even after retreating to Dajing, he still had to submit a full and detailed report to Xiao Jiming regardless of its significance. After leaving the military tents, he had to socialize with the merchants from Luoxia Pass and Huaizhou, often drinking through the night. Then he would have to ride off to another camp, even before the sky had turned bright.
But he had no intention of telling Shen Zechuan any of these.
Xiao Chiye thought of the folk songs of the Hongyan Mountains; he did not know how to sing them and could only hum its melody playfully. Shen Zechuan had his eyes closed as he slept amidst the delicate scent, his head resting against Xiao Chiye, and his hands clutching at the front of Xiao Chiye’s robe. Xiao Chiye held him in his embrace, humming until it was about time before he picked him up and carried him back into their room.
Shen Zechuan did not loosen his grip, so Xiao Chiye bent over and blew lightly at his palms, then crouched down and watched for a short while before saying, “I’m still angry.”
Shen Zechuan partially opened his eyes and poked at Xiao Chiye’s cheeks, whispering, “Don’t be.”
“All you do is lie to me, you…” Xiao Chiye was momentarily at a loss for words. “Is er-gongzi this easy to deceive? You sure are remarkable to be bullying a pure and innocent young master.”
Shen Zechuan rolled over to lie on his stomach and faced Xiao Chiye, head to head.
Damn, this gaze.
Xiao Chiye could only swallow his indignation. He pinched Shen Zechuan’s cheeks and spoke in a raspy voice, “Go on, keep acting cute with me. It’s futile, Shen Lanzhou. If you give yourself another stab the next time, I’ll die immediately in Libei. I won’t exist anymore, do you hear me?”
Shen Zechuan nodded, all well-behaved.
Xiao Chiye leaned closer and bumped his forehead against Shen Zechuan’s. “I have to go.”
Shen Zechuan did not let go. “When will you be back next?”
Xiao Chiye had no answer for that. He stroked Shen Zechuan’s cheeks with the pads of his fingers. “Soon. There are still plenty of matters to attend to, but things should get easier once autumn arrives.”
It was already the hour of zi. Shen Zechuan released his grip and gazed at Xiao Chiye.
Xiao Chiye had never felt standing up to be this difficult. He swiftly put on his arm guard and let down the bed curtain. Finally, he lowered his hand and brushed across the tip of Shen Zechuan’s nose with a finger. “Sleep well, Lanzhou.”
Lang Tao Xue Jin left the city under cover of the night, with Meng following Xiao Chiye along as it soared the skies and headed north.
Chen Yang had already come to meet up with him mid-journey. Xiao Chiye could only sleep for a couple of hours upon reaching the Bianbo camp, after which he had to head north to the battlegrounds immediately. At the very exact moment Xiao Chiye left Cizhou, a donkey trotted into the territory of Zhongbo.
This donkey was carrying a man bent over its back. It was impossible to tell if this person was dead or alive. A couple of hungry meowing sounds rang out from within the opening of his sleeve. The man opened his eyes with great difficulty, looked at the pitch-dark road ahead of him, and closed them again.
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