Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The first day of the first month of the year 1228 in the Ziyun Era.
As the saying went: “A new year, a new beginning.” On the first day of the year, many ordinary families in Qingshan Town were willing to splurge on a meal at the expensive Yunxuan Restaurant.
This year, however, they realized upon arriving at the main entrance to Yunxuan Restaurant that it was not open for business.
There was a notice on the tightly shut door:
Yunxuan Restaurant will be closed temporarily. There will be a special promotion on the first day of reopening—all food and drinks at half price.
“Yunxuan Restaurant is closed?”
“I suppose it’s because of what happened yesterday.”
“I heard the chefs, waiters, and servant girls of Yunxuan Restaurant have all fled… except for Fu. I thought it was just a rumor, I didn’t expect it to be true.”
“When Yunxuan Restaurant next opens for business… I fear the boss might no longer be Zhou Donghuang.”
After some debate about the matter, the group of people gathered outside Yunxuan Restaurant gradually dispersed, making their way to other smaller restaurants.
Zhou Donghuang had maimed the young masters of the three elite lesser families from the prefecture capital the previous day. The staff of Yunxuan Restaurant, fearful of retaliation due to their association with Zhou Donghuang, had fled as a result.
In the end, big as Yunxuan Restaurant was, only Chief Steward Fu remained. Therefore, Zhou Donghuang allowed Fu to close Yunxuan Restaurant as staying open would be pointless.
All the staff had fled, and without manpower, doing business was impossible.
Of course, not only had the staff of Yunxuan Restaurant left, the servant girls and guards from the Magnolia Guild had also left.
Just like the staff of Yunxuan Restaurant.
Faced with the three elite lesser families of the prefecture capital, they also had no confidence in Zhou Donghuang and were fearful of being dragged down with him and dying at the hands of the three elite lesser families.
Suddenly, the whole compound behind Yunxuan Restaurant had become eerily quiet.
When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter.
Sitting at a stone table in the front courtyard and drumming his fingers on the table, Zhou Donghuang shook his head with a rueful smile. He was not displeased because he could empathize with these people.
Now, all in all, there remained only Granny Lian and Fu other than him and his mother.
“Fu, you have manifested your qi, haven’t you?” Zhou Donghuang asked, smiling at Fu who was standing to the side respectfully.
He was surprised that Fu had stayed. After all, faced with the possibility of death, no one else had been willing to face it together with him when their own lives and those of their families were at stake.
“Boss, Fu has not been blessed with talent and is able to manifest only two or three hundred jin of strength,” Fu replied, scratching his head with an embarrassed smile.
“Who else is in your family?” Zhou Donghuang asked again.
“I am an orphan.”
The smile on Fu’s face faded, and he lowered his eyes, a look of dejection flashing across his face.
“In the future, my mother and I, and Granny Lian as well, consider you our relative,” Zhou Donghuang said with a gleam in his eye. “And you don’t need to call me boss, just call me ‘Young Master.’ Also, during these two days, expend all the qi in your body. I will pass on to you a new technique and give you some qi-gathering elixir… if all goes well, you will be able to attain level-one of Qi-gathering within half a year, regardless of how little talent you have.”
That Fu had stayed proved that he was willing to gamble his life on Zhou Donghuang, and Zhou Donghuang would not shortchange such a person.
He also intended to pass on a technique to Granny Lian and provide her with some qi-gathering elixir.
Difficult times bring out true character. What had happened so far had caused him to no longer view Granny Lian and Fu as outsiders.
“Young Master, don’t trouble yourself.” Fu shook his head with a bitter smile.
In his view, there were only several days left to live, and there was no need for such trouble.
“Why not? You think I cannot deal with those three lesser families?” Zhou Donghuang easily guessed what was on Fu’s mind and was unable to stifle a laugh. “Fu, you stayed… just to wait for death with me?”
“Young Master, those three lesser families are all elite lesser families… they have more than ten level-three adepts of Qi-gathering in total.”
Previously, when Zhou Donghuang had maimed the level-two adept of Qi-gathering from the Li family of the prefecture capital, Fu had feared for Zhou Donghuang and dreaded that people from the Li family would come seeking revenge.
Now that Zhou Donghuang had maimed the young masters of the three elite lesser families, he did not believe that Zhou Donghuang could survive their wrath.
He advised Zhou Donghuang to leave, but his advice had fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, he could only wait for death with Zhou Donghuang.
He had already given his life to Zhou Donghuang the day before when Zhou Donghuang had stood up to defend him.
Before Zhou Donghuang could speak, Granny Lian burst into the front courtyard and reported respectfully to Zhou Donghuang, “Young Master, there is someone outside looking for you. He says he is called ‘Freezing Wind.’”
An image of a young man with a stern face, dressed all in black surfaced in Zhou Donghuang’s mind. It was the second-in-command of Green Wolf Bastion, Freezing Wind.
“Young Master, he rides a ferghana horse; I don’t think he is an ordinary person,” Granny Lian warned.
“Fu, go and show him in.”
As Zhou Donghuang instructed Fu to show Freezing Wind in, he replied to Granny Lian, “Granny Lian, he is the one who escorted me on my journey to Ningping Town, the second-in-command of Green Wolf Bastion.”
“That’s him?!” Granny Lian was shocked.
She could never have imagined that the decent-looking young man she saw was in fact a bandit who could kill a man without blinking.
Shortly, Freezing Wind was led into the front courtyard by Fu.
“I acknowledge Young Master Donghuang.”
Freezing Wind bowed respectfully to Zhou Donghuang upon entering.
“What brings you to look for me?” Zhou Donghuang asked.
“I originally planned to visit Yunxuan Restaurant for a meal and pay my respects to Young Master Donghuang… but when I got here, I saw that Yunxuan Restaurant was closed,” Freezing Wind replied. “I heard what happened yesterday when I was outside just now. Young Master Donghuang, I came to ask you… are you still accepting people here?”
Swiftly and succinctly, Freezing Wind presented his motive for seeking out Zhou Donghuang.
“If you will accept me, I want to leave Green Wolf Bastion to follow you and work for you.”
“Work for me?”
Zhou Donghuang was momentarily dumbstruck and gave Freezing Wind a searching look.
“You are the second-in-command of Green Wolf Bastion, and you have men under your command. Why would you need to renounce that identity and follow me? Moreover, you are now aware of my current circumstances… aren’t you worried that when the three elite lesser families send people to kill me, they will kill you too because of your association with me?” Zhou Donghuang asked with a laugh.
“Young Master Donghuang, actually from the first time I saw you in action, I have wanted to follow you and work for you… however, it would not have been appropriate at the time if I had said I wanted to follow you and work for you,” Freezing Wind said. “Today, knowing that Young Master Donghuang is facing difficult times, I know my opportunity has arrived.
“Although the three elite lesser families are powerful and Young Master Donghuang will struggle against them… I still want to follow you, and even if I die in the conflict with the three elite lesser families, I will have no regrets.
Freezing Wind spoke very earnestly, looking at Zhou Donghuang resolutely in the eye and without any fear.
A person had many opportunities to make choices in their lives. Some choices, if made correctly, could lead to a bright future.
A wrong choice could very well turn out to be catastrophic.
“If you are willing to leave Green Wolf Bastion and to follow me instead and work for me, isn’t that the same as betraying Green Wolf Bastion? I have no interest in traitors,” Zhou Donghuang said plainly. “Today, you may betray Green Wolf Bastion, and tomorrow, you could likewise betray me.”
“Young Master Donghuang has misunderstood,” Freezing wind replied with a sigh. “Actually, I never wanted to be a bandit. I stayed with Green Wolf Bastion only to repay the grace shown by the commander of Green Wolf Bastion when he saved my life that year. Now, whatever grace there was to be repaid has been repaid. I have the chance to leave Green Wolf Bastion, and I don’t want to stay there.”
Freezing Wind and Zhou Donghuang were looking each other in the eyes unblinkingly as he said this.
The eyes were the windows to the soul, and with the thousand years’ worth of experience that Zhou Donghuang had, he could naturally tell that Freezing Wind spoke truthfully.
“If I guess correctly… there is another reason that you are choosing to follow me, which is that you want to gamble everything, am I right?” Zhou Donghuang asked meaningfully, with a suddenly profound look.
The profound look Zhou Donghuang gave Freezing Wind made him feel completely exposed, and he nodded without hesitation.
“I admit this is true,” he acknowledged. “If Young Master Donghuang is unable to withstand the trials from the three elite lesser families, I, Freezing Wind, will die together with you. If Young Master Donghuang successfully withstands it… I am certain that you can give me a better future!”
Freezing Wind spoke plainly and with no deceit.
“That makes sense,” Zhou Donghuang smiled lightly. “If that is the case, go and get your belongings and put your affairs in order; then come and find me.”
Zhou Donghuang agreed to Freezing Wind’s proposal and granted his wish to work for him.
“Many thanks to Young Master.” Freezing Wind’s eyes lit up, and he bowed hastily in thanks. “Tomorrow, I will come looking for you, Young Master.”
Right then, Freezing Wind began to address Zhou Donghuang as ‘Young Master’ instead of ‘Young Master Donghuang.’
After Freezing Wind left, Granny Lian looked at Zhou Donghuang worriedly.
“Young Master, there is nothing good among bandits… isn’t it rather unseemly to allow him to follow you?”
It would have been inappropriate for Granny Lian to rebut Zhou Donghuang when Freezing Wind had been present earlier.
Now that Freezing Wind had left, she could not but help remind Zhou Donghuang.
“Granny Lian, you can rest assured, I am a good judge of character.” Zhou Donghuang shook his head with a smile. “Moreover, under the present circumstances, do you think an ordinary person would dare follow me?”
Freezing Wind was honest, straightforward, and of good character, and he suited Zhou Donghuang just fine.
Moreover, he was now in need of people.
Having an adept of Qi-gathering with a reasonable ability working for him would give him more peace of mind when he would be away on long journeys in the future.
Compared to his mother, Lin Lan, Freezing Wind was more resilient.
This was because Freezing Wind was younger and more talented than her.