*yìfù -义父 meaning: adoptive father, foster father, Godfather
Chang Geng took the well-brewed bowl of medicine and entered his young father’s chamber.
Shen Shiliu’s room only had a single dimly-lit oil lamp, its glow was the size of a bean, similar to that of a firefly.
He was sitting by the window. Most of his face was hidden under the shadow of the lamp,only a portion of it was visible and he appeared to had fallen asleep. Shen Shiliu did not wear a hair-crown(1), his hair scattered all over. Two small beauty marks the color of cinnabar rest under the corner of his eye and on his earlobe, looking like they were created by a needle. The only meager source of light in the room was all taken in by this pair of beauty marks, almost too blinding.
Watching him under the light, his charm seemed to have multiplied three times more than usual.
Anyone would appreciate beauty, even if he’s already accustomed to it, Chang Geng’s breathing still can’t help but stagnate, he blinked quickly, as if to clear away that dazzling blood-red spot from his eyesight.
He cleared his throat and raised his voice: “Shiliu, take the medicine.”
The teenager was undergoing a voice-changing period. It is a little difficult to talk to this half deaf. Fortunately, this time Shen Shiliu has heard it, and the sound of the hyun that had the ability to urge people to urinate had stopped.
Shen Shiliu’s eyes narrowed to see Chang Geng standing in the doorway: “Where are your manners, who did you just call?”
In reality, he was only approximately 7-8 years older than Chang Geng, and was not yet married. He was fully aware of his good-for-nothing nature and had fully prepared to live this life alone unable to wed a wife. But suddenly he got a son whom he did not have to raise himself; he wanted nothing more than to hold firmly onto the boy. Without anything else to do, he could only assert his role as his “father” to emphasize the point.
Chang Geng ignored Shiliu and carefully put the medicine bowl in front of him: ” Drink while it’s still hot, it’s no longer early, hurry and lie down after you finish drinking.”
Shen Shiliu puts aside the hyun(2) and took the medicine bowl: “How ungrateful, was it not a good life being my son? I have wasted so much effort in treating you so well.”
He drank the medicine without difficulty, downed it in one go unmistakably used to it. He took two mouthfuls of plain water that Chang Geng handed him for rinsing and waved his hand: “There was a market in Changyang today, I brought home something exciting for you. Come here.”
Shen Shiliu then bent over to search around the desk and due to his eyesight, the tip of his nose appeared as if it could graze its surface. Chang Geng had no choice but to respond: “What are you looking for? Let me look for you.”
Then he couldn’t help but complain: “I have already grown up, have you got nothing else to do but keep on bringing me children’s playthings?”
If you have so much free time on your hands, why not just stop causing me trouble and let me study more useful things, Chang Geng rolled this thought in his head, and as the words were about to come out, it felt a little hurtful, and he did not say it.
All year round, Xu Baihu seldom stays home, he is a good and honest man who was very kind to Chang Geng, although he does not often communicate with his stepchild. Thinking about it, Chang Geng had spent these most crucial years of his life with this improper Adoptive Father.
Shen Shiliu was a loiterer; spending day by day wasting time was one thing, but he must always drag Chang Geng along with him! If not to go to a market gathering, then it’s to go horse riding.
On one occasion he even found a “puppy” for Chang Geng to raise – causing Teacher Shen to turn green from fright. This blind man could not differentiate between wolf and dog and ended up bringing back a small wolf cub.
From a young boy who was growing into an adult, how much willpower does one need to not be ruined by Shen Shiliu’s bad habits?
Chang Geng truly felt frightened as he recalled.
By nature he was not the type that loved to play around, everything had his own planning that he would strictly follow. He did not like to be bothered by others; the constant disturbance from Shen Shiliu was greatly irritating.
But his irritability did not usually last long for Shen Shiliu truly loved him as a son, and was not taking advantage of him despite what his words may sound like.
That year when Chang Geng was infected with a severe illness, Xu Baihu was not at home as per usual. Physicians said that he was in danger. It was also his young Father who took him home and watched over him day and night endlessly for three days.
Every time he went out, no matter near or far, no matter what his business might be, he will surely present Chang Geng with some small toys or snacks. Chang Geng didn’t love these things, but he can’t help but love the fact that Shiliu kept him in his thoughts at any time and any place.
In short, every day that Chang Geng saw Shiliu, his irascibility would be extremely strong, but the moment he would not see the man, concern raised up in him.
Chang Geng sometimes thought to himself: although Shen Shiliu was not a martial man, nor was he scholarly, nor was he someone who can at least work himself to the bone, but in the future, will there be anyone who would be fooled by his good looks?
In the future, his young Father would eventually get married, birth his own children; would he still remember this adopted son?
When he thinks about this subject, an indescribable feeling stirred up inside. He found a square box on Shiliu’s table. He briefly shook off the train of thoughts in his head. He took it to Shen Shiliu: “This?”
Shen Shiliu: “It’s for you, open it.”
Maybe it was a slingshot, maybe a package of cheese, nevertheless, it could not be anything of worth – Chang Geng opened the box without any expectation and scold: “You have to learn to save money even if we have some to spare, moreover, I am…”
The next moment, he saw the item in the box, and suddenly shut his mouth, his eyes widened.
There was an iron wristband(3) in the box!
The so-called “iron wrist buckle”, in actuality was part of light-weight armors used in the military, very convenient as it is only a circle wrapping around the wrist, therefore it often got taken apart from the armor to be used separately.
The iron wristband is about four inches wide and can contain three to four small knives inside. The knife was made with unique craftsmanship, can be as thin as a cicada’s wings, can also be referred to as the Xiu zhong si(4).
It is said that the best Xiu zhong si when firing off from the Iron wristband, can split a single hair apart within a few feet distance into two in the blink of an eye.
Chang Geng was startled: “This… Where did you get it?”
Shen Shiliu: “Shh – don’t let Shen Yi hear, this is not a plaything, he will start nagging again if he saw – do you know how to use it?”
Teacher Shen himself was watering the flowers in the courtyard. His hearing wasn’t impaired, he could clearly make out the conversation inside the house. He did not know what to do with this half deaf person who uses himself to measure others.
Chang Geng had followed Shen Yi to learn how to disassemble iron armors, he skillfully put on the iron wrist buckle, only then did he discover a special feature of this object.
Xiu zhong si was not easy to make, and there were very few floating around. Most of the iron wristbands on the market were old and used goods from the army. The size was, of course, also of an adult man. The one brought back by Shen Shiliu was obviously a size smaller, a perfect fit for a young teen.
Chang Geng was stunned, Shen Shiliu knows what he wanted to ask, and slowly said: “I heard from the merchant that this is a defective good. There is nothing wrong with it, just that the size is a little small. Still nobody wanted to purchase it, eventually he sold it to me for a cheap price, I couldn’t use it for anything, you can play around with it. Just be careful, don’t hurt anyone.”
Chang Geng seldom let his delight showed: “Thank you…” Shen Shiliu: “Thank who?” Chang Geng quickly cried: “Father!”
“Submit to whoever feeds you(5), bastard!” Shen Shiliu laughed and put his arm around Chang Geng’s shoulders, sending him off. “Go home, don’t go stay out too late on the month of Forsaken Spirits.”
Chang Geng listened to it for a while and pondered, it turned out that today was July 15th.
He walked back to his home through the side door, as he entered the doorway, he suddenly felt that the tune Shiliu was blowing on the hyun was a bit familiar, although it is completely off tune, but it truly resembled the tune of < Song Xi>, a song that was used as a burial cried among the people.
“Is it appropriate?” Chang Geng silently thought.
Shen Shiliu sent Chang Geng home, bowed his head to search around quite awhile, eventually found the outline of the door and carefully stepped over to close it.
Teacher Shen, who was waiting in the courtyard, offered him a helping hand with a blank expression and led him back to their place.
Teacher Shen: “Iron wristband that was made by the best kind of iron, the three blades inside were created by Master Qiu Tian Lin himself. After the Master had passed away, they have stopped producing and selling it… defective goods?”
Shiliu did not answer.
Teacher Shen: “All right already, don’t play coy with me – do you really want to raise him as your own son?”
“Of course I do, I like this child, righteous and benevolent,” Shiliu finally said, “That person probably also have this idea in mind. If I can really make him my heir and pass him my name, those people will be relieved. He could also live a much better life.”
Teacher Shen was silent for a while, then whispered, “You have to make him not resent you first- are you not worried at all?”
Shen Shiliu smiled, lifting the hem of his robe and pushing the door into the house.
He said with a shameless face: “There are loads of people who resent me already.”
This night, lights floated on the river; souls returned home.
Chang Geng was stirred up before dawn arrived, his body in a fervorous state, a thin layer of sweat on his back, his loincloth wet.
Every adolescent will experience such fright and confusion at least once – even if there was already someone to teach them in advance.
But Chang Geng did not panic, nor was he confused, he was nonchalant, he sat in bed for a moment, then proceeded to get up and washed up casually. There was a slight undetectable disgust lingering on his face.
He goes out to fetch a bucket of cold water, scrub his still-growing body from head to toe, took out the neatly folded clothes besides the pillows, drank the tea that had been left there overnight, and started the day’s study session as usual.
Chang Geng did not know what other people’s dreams were like.
But he himself didn’t actually have any Spring dream. He only dreamt of a snowstorm that could freeze people to death.
The wind of that day was like a white fur, ruthlessly passing by, the blood from his wounds had already condensed into ice slag before they could flow out, the roar of the wolves was far and near, he could no longer smell the rusty scent of blood, every breath brought in more pain, and the bittersweet scent that cut deep into one’s bone.Chang Geng’s limbs were stiff, his lung burning. He thought that this snow would swallow him whole.
When Chang Geng woke up again, he found that someone had used their outer coat to wrap him in and carried him away.
He remembered that the man was dressed in white robes, a scent of bitter medicine lingering on his body. When he saw that Chang Geng was awake, he did not say a word, he just took out a wine jug and gave him a sip.
Chang Geng didn’t know what kind of wine it was, he never had the chance to taste it again. He only remembered that even the Shao Dao-zi (a type of wine) that was sold outside of town wasn’t this strong. It was like fire rolling down his throat – burning all the blood in his body with just one sip.
That person was Shiliu.
It was immensely vivid. The sensation from the dream of Shiliu’s hands carrying him still lingered on his body. Chang Geng still could not comprehend, wassn’t that person a sickly man? In such frightening ice and snow, how can there be such steady and powerful hands?
Chang Geng looked down at the iron buckle wrapped around his wrist. He did not know what kind of material it was made of, even after pressing against his body for a night, it did not warmed up even the slightest. With the coolness of the cold iron, Chang Geng quietly waited for his heart and boiling blood to cool down, sneered, and mocked the ridiculous thought of “Seeing your Father in a Spring dream”, then went to lit up the lamp and started his reading as usual…
Suddenly, there was a “rumbling” sound in the distance, the ground and the small quarters were shaking and vibrating. It was only a moment later that he remembered that counting the days, it should be about time that the “Giant Kite” of the Northern Patrol unit returned.
“Giant Kite” was a large ship with a length of more than 5,000 feet. The ship had two wings and was composed of thousands of “flaming fins”. When the Giant Kite would take off, all the “flaming fins” would sprout out white steam altogether, creating a dreamy imagery, every “flaming fins” burned Ziliujin(6) the size of a bowl inside, flashing a faith purple-red gleam in the vast expanse of smoke. It seemed like a million lights.
Since fourteen years ago, the Northern Barbarian bowed to pay their tribute. Every year on the 15th of the first month, there would be dozens of Giant Kites setting off from the border areas. They each would take an established route, their might displayed for thousands of miles. They could also observe each and every move of the barbarians.
In addition to deterrence and inspections, the Giant Kite was also responsible for sending the tributes of the various northern tribes back to the capital, mainly “Ziliujin“.
The Giant Kite was loaded with nearly a million pound of Ziliujin, its returning footsteps were a bit heavier than when it took off. You can hear the angry blowing noise of “flaming fins” from within 20, 30 miles.
The Northern Patrol unit would set off on the first month of the year and would only return in six months time after departing.
(1) an accessory to put your hair up in a bun or ponytail, as seen in ancient dramas and such
(2) hyun is a type of musical instrument with an egg shape with holes on it.
(3) 铁腕扣, tie wan kuo
(4) meaning: a thread hidden inside a sleeve
(5) 有奶就是娘: Chinese idiom, literally means “The person who feeds me with milk is my mother.”
(6) Ziliujin-紫流金: direct translation: flow of purple gold – is a type of oil that power every steampunk gadgets in this universe, ranging from gears in the military to household objects and more, very crucial and immensely important, you’ll see this term coming up a lot throughout the book