Chang Geng struggled to stand on his toes. He looked over the crowd with difficulty and shouted: “Shiliu!”
There was no response. The crowd chasing the Giant Kite began to surge up all at once. Some cheered, some called out “It’s here!”, some yelled “Stop pushing!” with frustration.
Chang Geng was bumped into by several people at this point, his irritation growing more and more. He shouted as loud as he could: “Yifu!”
The crowd started to rush along the side of the dark river. Chang Geng, on one hand, had to struggle to keep himself steady against the flow of people, and he also had to look back and forth for Shiliu. He started to break out in a sweat. The amazement upon seeing the Giant Kite just now had all evaporated.
Having this kind of yifu took years of your life away!
Chang Geng angrily thought to himself: “Shen Shiliu truly just monkeys around. On such a hot day like this, having nothing else to do, he really had to run out here to see a crowd of people!“
At this moment, someone loudly shouted: “Stop pushing already, someone fell down!”
As Chang Geng was looking left and right, he started to look in the direction of the yelling involuntarily.
A small group of people on the riverside was starting to fall into confusion.
“My god, how can someone really fall down!”
”Go and find the military officer on duty!”
”Make way! Please make way! Can’t move …”
Chang Geng was about to move out of the way of a person who was desperately trying to get out when he faintly heard: “Lord Shiliu, be careful!”
Chang Geng was stunned. Suspecting that maybe his nerve was getting the best of him, he stepped forward to grab someone who just broke away from the crowd: “Who is falling? Is it Shen Shiliu?”
The man may or may not even had caught what Chang Geng was saying, he absentmindedly nodded: “Seems to be – let me go first.”
There was an explosion inside his head. He was standing in the heat of the Giant Kite yet a layer of cold sweat broke out on his back.
At that moment, he immediately took a deep breath and quickly moved against the flow of people and towards the shore with the fastest speed. His feet stumbled a bit before he could grab the railing to steady himself.
He rushed to look down and saw that there was indeed a person struggling in the water.
The water surface of the underground river was about six or seven feet deep down from the ground, one could not make out its bottom, cold and dark. Large white waves were continuously crashing. The person inside the river had nowhere to grab on to, even their struggles could not be heard from where Chang Geng was, and there was no way to figure out who it was down there.
Chang Geng took off his coat: “Let me through! Please make way.”
Someone called out: “You can’t jump straight in! Someone get the boy a rope!”
It was unclear who had quickly stuffed a rope into his hand. Chang Geng grabbed it. He looked up and glanced at the Giant Kite that would arrive at any moment now, and jumped into the river without hesitation.
”Tighten up! Hurry! They will be washed away when the Kite gets here!”
The force of the incoming Giant Kite caused a wave higher than a grown person to rise up, crashing onto Chang Geng’s chest as soon as he jumped in. Water got into his mouth and he almost got swept away. He quickly grabbed onto the rope hanging from the shore and tried to wipe his face.
The loud sound of the water crashing and the noise of the Giant Kite slowing its speed was deafening, Chang Geng’s vision was filled with nothing but white waves. He can vaguely make out the shout of someone on the shore: “Stop letting the rope out any further! The Giant Kite is coming! Pull the boy up quickly before it’s too late!”
Chang Geng: “Wait!”
But all the noises in the water were so loud that he couldn’t even hear his own shouts.
He motioned his hand to signal for the people on the shore to stop pulling the rope back in, while he struggled to swim towards the place with the most intense waves at the same time.
In the midst of chaos, someone held on to his hand that was frantically searching around, and Chang Geng could not think much in this situation. He quickly grabbed the person’s wrist and pulled them into his arms. He hadn’t the chance to see who it was, the Kite already rumbled as it move forward.
The people on the shore did not dare to delay, the rough rope that was tightened around his waist suddenly gave force, his entire body felt heavy as several men on the shore joined together to pull him in.
After coming out of the water surface, he felt that the weight in his arm was a little off. Chang Geng quickly blinked away the water droplets on his eyelashes and suddenly found that the person he pulled up was not Shen Shiliu all along. It was the eleven-year-old child: Cao Niangzi.
At this time, a long signaling horn from the Giant Kite pierced through his ears, he could not afford to think anymore. He yelled out and helped the half-conscious Cao Niangzi to go up first.
The people on the shore shouted and tried their best to pull the two boys up, but they were slightly too slow. Chang Geng’s feet were still outside the river bank. The Giant Kite’s momentum had not stopped, and a flaming fin was about to sweep across his legs. It was still a distance away yet one could already feel the hot and intense heatwave.
”The flaming fins cannot be touched!”
At this moment, a pair of pale hands quickly reached out, passed through all the screams, and grabbed Chang Geng’s arm pulling him straight up. The group of people exclaimed and backed away. Chang Geng felt as if he almost flew right out of the crowd, but ended up falling into the arms of a man.
He involuntarily took a deep breath, a medicinal scent instantly immersing into his nostril. Chang Geng jerked his face up, the tip of his nose almost grazed Shen Shiliu’s clear-cut jawline.
Shen Shiliu’s expression was heavy: “I looked away for a second and you’re already causing troubles!”
Being scolded first, he suddenly could not say a word.
Shen Shiliu: “There are so many officers and men on the shore, does anyone need a child like you to come to the rescue?”
Chang Geng: “…”
His heart that was hanging in the air fell back into its place. The blood that gathered in his chest flowed through his numbed limbs like water flushing through a floodgate. At this point, he can finally let out his first breath, there was an uncomfortable feeling as if his internal organs were turned upside down. His two legs were so soft that he almost could not stand.
Cao Niangzi has been carry to the side, coughing a few times then slowly woke up. Seeing that the child was no longer facing serious problems, Shiliu hauled Chang Geng out of the crowd, a deep scowl visible on his face. Chang Geng, whose legs were still weak and shaky, was being dragged away by Shiliu. He scolded him as they walked, “The temperature of the fin did not subside yet. If you touch it, it can sweep away half of your legs. Do you want to be a cripple for the rest of your life? Young kid who does not know his own limits…”
Chang Geng was still shakily trying to steady himself, but Shiliu the ‘villain’ had already stolen the words right out of him before he could say anything first. His anger suddenly bubbled up.
He shouted on the top of his lungs: “I thought you fell down!”
Shen Shiliu lifted two long eyebrows: “Stop finding excuses! I am already a grown man, how can I fall into the river for no reason?”
Chang Geng: “…”
His heart that was easily worked-up over concern was being cast aside like it was nothing. Burning red heat rushed from his neck to the root of his ear. He couldn’t tell if it was from embarrassment or anger, just that even water could not put away this flame anymore.
“All right, don’t stay here anymore,” Shen Shiliu reached out and touched Chang Geng’s long wet hair. He untied his own outer robe and wrapped it around Chang Geng. “This place is too chaotic. I will not argue with you about this matter today. Hurry home and change your clothes, pay attention not to catch a cold.”
He was quite generous too!
Chang Geng violently slapped away the hands of Shiliu, his fingers accidentally bumping against something hard inside the sleeve.
Shen Shiliu: “Oh, that is the lip-color that I just bought, remember to bring it back to your mother…. Hey, Chang Geng, where are you going?”
Chang Geng did not wait for him to finish; he ran away without saying a word.
Chang Geng knew full well that he was being stubborn. He purely reacted on impulse upon hearing someone else’s words. He had not yet even seen who was falling down, but he already panicked and jumped in after. Getting scolded by yifu was perfectly reasonable.
But thinking about the moments before as concern burned up in him, this man was just casually picking out lip color! The fire of anger that was now consuming him made his chest hurt too much that he could not suppress them down no matter what.
Shen Shiliu was suddenly left behind by Chang Geng, awkwardly rubbing his nose. He came to the conclusion that every young boy must go through a certain period where they’re unpredictable and moody.
First-time-father Shen Shiliu was quite concerned, he thought to himself: “If I knew beforehand that something like this would happen… I’d have saved the iron wristband for this situation. He is definitely mad for real this time, how will I coax him now?”
He stood near the river with both hands behind his back. The Giant Kite had moved past from his side, the lights at its tail were flickering. The dark river behind it was slowly closing up.
Shen Shiliu was only concerned for a brief moment, he began to stare at the direction of the taillight, but his gaze was not as scattered as usual when looking into the distance. Then, his brows slowly crunched together.
Suddenly, his figure disappeared into the crowd like a fish in the water. His footsteps were silent, his movements extremely fast, unlike the usual days where he would search around half a day just to find the doorway.
Chang Geng headed back home. The hot summer wind blew through the cold river water on his body making him a little calmer, the irritation and the scowl on his eyebrows gradually dissipating.
His eyes resembled Xiu Niang’s immensely. The facial contours that have just started to mature were very deep. They were not like the people of Central Plains… but they were not very similar to foreigners either. In short, it was a very special kind of good look.
Chang Geng has just stepped into the house when he immediately saw the old maid standing on her toes and looking out. The old maid was taken aback when she first caught sight of his messy appearance: “Oh no, how did you become like this?”
”It’s nothing,” Chang Geng said weakly. “Someone fell into the river, I jumped in to help them and got wet.”
The old maid took a small step behind him and whispered: “Madam said that we should not serve up the meals yet, I assumed she wanted to wait for the Mayor — Ah yes, Madam had also asked that young master come over to her chamber, she said there were some private matters between mother and child.”
As Chang Geng stepped forward, his shoulders involuntarily tightened, and after a while, he nodded. He first returned to his own room to change into dry clothes. Sulky and annoyed, he carefully folded Shen Shiliu’s robe, then picked up the box of lip color and went to Xiu Niang’s room.
The old maid was curious about Chang Geng and Xiu Niang’s strange mother-child relationship, but did not dare to inquire them about it. And so, she followed him planning to eavesdrop.
Standing in front of Xiu Niang’s door, Chang Geng fixed up his attire, as formal as meeting with a guest. It was only after he looked proper and tidy enough that he lowered his head and knocked:
There was a cold and clear voice of a woman coming from the inside: “Come in.”
Chang Geng reached out and pushed the door open. After entering, he looked back and saw the old maid peeking at them. She was startled upon meeting his gaze and looked away. When she looked back again after a bit, the doors had been closed and nothing can be seen anymore.
Xiu Niang’s room was very dark, and the sun-facing window on one side was covered up by her.
It’s as if she did not want to see any light, she was sitting alone in a dark corner, facing a mirror.
Chang Geng looked at her figure from behind and frowned slightly.
He did not know what had gone to Xiu Niang’s head. She wore a soft-yellow dress and put up her hair in the style of an unmarried woman. Years had treated her well, coupled with the darkness of the room that easily covered the wrinkles around her eyes, she really appeared like a woman in her twenties.
As Chang Geng was about to call out to her, Xiu Niang took the lead and spoke first: “With no one else around, do not call me mother — did you bring the lip color back?”
Chang Geng heard this. He swallowed back the second ‘mother’ that was about to leave his mouth, then walked over and gently dropped the box that has been warmed up in his palm on her makeup table.
”Oh, this color is very lovely. Very bright,” Xiu Niang finally showed a rare smile.
She rubbed a little bit of it with her fingertips, wiped it across her pale lips, and looked at herself in the mirror with enthusiasm. She asked, “Does it look good?”
Chang Geng stood coldly on the side not making a single sound. His heart felt strangely dark for he did not understand why she asked him to come here.
As he was thinking about it, his eyelid on one side suddenly twitched twice without warning. Chang Geng felt disconcerted, there seemed to be some kind of ominous premonition swelling up in his heart.
At this moment, Xiu Niang opened her mouth: “In the future, you can stop calling me mother in front of outsiders.
“Our path as mother and son, it ends here today.”
She lifted her face that had been fully made over, stretched out a pair of fragile hands like a piece of grass as if intending to adjust Chang Geng’s collar.
Chang Geng backed away in surprise: “What do you mean?”