Thousand Autumns – Chapter 25
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Ah-qiao, he’s insulting you.
“Tujue?” Someone else asked curiously, “Why would the Emperor of Zhou start a war with the Tujue? Why would he fight over their wild, unmanned land rather than the affluent Central Plains?”
The man replied, “While wars and expeditions continue on in the Central Plains, the Tujue people are also expanding in the northern region. They have even defeated the powerful Persian Empire. China has an abundant amount of natural resources — its rich and fertile land also fosters many talented people. Aggressive as the Tujue people are, how could they let go of this great opportunity? Right now, under the reign of Taspar Khan, the Tujue have never been more powerful in its history. With the arrogance of its people, this advantage in strength is guaranteed to lead to ambition. If they want to invade the Central Plains, the two countries, Qi and Zhou, will certainly be the first to bear the brunt.
“From the Northern Zhou’s perspective, the Qi’s national power is declining each day. Thus, Qi country is their perfect target, while the Tujue are also a pain in their ass. If the Emperor of Zhou is a wise leader, he will not let this great opportunity slip by. Compared to these two, the Chen Dynasty should be put off for a later time. Not to mention, the Great Chen is not a weak country that one can easily manipulate. Even if Yuwen Yong wants to attack the Chen, it won’t be a matter of just a few words. All of you are simply worrying too much.”
“What this mister said does make sense.” They all whispered to one another.
Someone asked, “Mister, since you referred to it as the ‘Great Chen’, does that mean you’re a citizen of the Chen Dynasty?”
“That’s right.” The man admitted it straightforwardly.
Someone else commented, “Mister, I’ve been observing your behavior and manners. You don’t look like a common merchant — you’re more like a scholar. This is a gathering place mostly for the merchants, so I’m afraid it will bring disgrace to your status if you stay here.”
The man explained with a cough, “I’m not a scholar, nor am I a merchant. I’m just here to join the fun.”
He was talking with such confidence and composure a moment ago, but his body remained seated upright like a pine tree. Everyone here was a merchant who had traveled through countless places. How could they not tell from the man’s behavior that he was obviously from an aristocratic family? However, since the man had no desire to reveal his identity, they didn’t question him either. The topic thus returned to the local customs of the Zhou Dynasty.
Shen Qiao was slightly moved by his speech and sunk into contemplation. Before he realized it, Yan Wushi had already fed the stewed goose into his mouth.
He even asked affectionately, “Ah-qiao, does it taste good?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
It would be ungraceful to spit out things that were already in his mouth, so he had to swallow it with much difficulty. Even his face was slightly distorted because of it.
Were it not for the fact that Shen Qiao slightly understood Yan Wushi’s personality, he would really believe that the other person wanted to take him as a boytoy. However, in fact, the reason why Yan Wushi did this was simply because he had a sudden impulse to see Shen Qiao get angry. It was but amusement for him, just like when he decided to save Shen Qiao under Half-Step Peak back then.
Yan Wushi had nothing to do with what people would call ‘a good person’. He would never act or save others for the sake of helping people. If someone else was saved by him, they might just take it for granted and wouldn’t feel indebted to Yan Wushi at all. But Shen Qiao was a genial and upright gentleman. Besides, in his mind, the other person had done a favor for him. No matter what Yan Wushi’s original intention was, he had benefited a lot from it after all. As long as Yan Wushi was not doing anything immoral, Shen Qiao would let him go and wouldn’t fuss about it.
However, this personality of Shen Qiao’s was exactly what made Yan Wushi want to continuously toy with him. He wanted to find the other person’s bottom line. In fact, he would grow happier every time he saw Shen Qiao get mad.
After being tricked once, when Yan Wushi passed over another spoonful of soup, Shen Qiao refused to open his mouth no matter what.
The others didn’t know what was going on between them. All they could see was one person trying to feed the other person, while the latter was rejecting the former rather reluctantly. This further confirmed their assumptions about their relationship. It was common to see cut-sleeve men since the Wei and Jin dynasties. The merchants were all knowledgeable and experienced men. Despite being a little speechless on the inside at how open these two people were in public, they didn’t react over it.
Shen Qiao had gotten a lot thinner due to his illness. Much of his dignity as a sect leader was also lost. When he was neither mad nor intentionally keeping his solemnity, he looked like a perfectly delicate and harmless sick beauty. Yan Wushi appeared to be a man not to be trifled with, but his attitude toward Shen Qiao was rather careless as he continued teasing him now and then. Seeing that he didn’t seem to be extremely fond of Shen Qiao, someone else itched to have a try. He came over and tried to strike up a conversation. “Good evening, mister. May I have your name? I’m Zhou Fang, from a merchant family in Longxi. I wonder if we can get to know each other a little bit?”
Yan Wushi didn’t even get up. He remained where he was and asked lazily, “What’s up?”
Zhou Fang could be counted as a local big shot in the Longxi area. Seeing that Yan Wushi neither said his name nor paid any attention to him, he couldn’t help but feel a little unhappy, “Is he your favored boy? Mister, I’m willing to pay 20 gold if you let me have him.”
Yan Wushi replied with a laugh. He turned around and said to Shen Qiao, “Look, Ah-qiao. Even if you don’t make a living in the pugilistic world, you can still earn a lot of money with your face alone. After I sell you to him, I’ll find a chance to take you away and find you another buyer. This way, within less than a month, we’ll be able to afford a large residence with beautiful servants in Chang’an!”
Shen Qiao was already used to Yan Wushi’s nonsense. He didn’t even pay attention to him but said to Zhou Fang, “Mister Zhou, you are mistaken about me. I’m not a boytoy.”
His manner was naturally revealed the moment he opened his mouth. It was gentle and slow, much like the wind passing through a forest. Just by listening to Shen Qiao’s tone alone, Zhou Fang knew he was the one being frivolous. A person like Shen Qiao would never become someone’s boytoy.
“That was rude of me, please don’t mind it.” Zhou Fang was a little embarrassed. “May I know your name, mister? Will you grant me the pleasure of knowing you?”
“I’m Shen Qiao.”
“‘Qiao’ as in ‘the wood (Qiao) in the south’?”
“It’s ‘Qiao’ as in ‘I came to appease all gods in the world, including the ones in rivers and high mountains (Qiao)’.”
Zhou Fang let out a gasp. He smiled apologetically, “It’s a rather rare character. Well, this small misunderstanding today actually led to us getting to know each other. Therefore, please excuse my rudeness, mister. I’ll definitely come to your place with a formal apology some other day.”
Shen Qiao laughed, “Mister Zhou is too polite. There’s no need to come over. My eyes are bad, and I’m afraid it’s not very convenient for me to treat my guests. If we ever meet again in the future, I’ll make sure to treat you to some wine.”
Since Shen Qiao had already ended it here, it would be inappropriate for Zhou Fang to insist anymore. He cupped his hand and left a few more lines in courtesy, then excused himself.
Yan Wushi had a lot of fun watching the exchange. He didn’t say anything to interrupt their conversation and only laughed after Zhou Fang had left, “Ah-qiao. You are not cute at all. We could have had that 20 gold, but now it’s gone.”
This kind of conversation happened countless times every day. Shen Qiao was already used to it. He simply ignored Yan Wushi as if he didn’t hear anything.
He wanted to get back to his room but Yan Wushi stopped him, “It’s early spring right now. Flowers are blooming in the city’s outskirts. Let’s go take a look first before returning to your room.”
When Yan Wushi opened his mouth, rather than asking for opinions, it was usually to state his decision.
Shen Qiao was not his match in martial arts right now, but that didn’t mean that he absolutely had no right to make decisions when they were together. After hearing what Yan Wushi said, he shook his head, “No thanks. Sect Master Yan may go as you please. I’ll just return to my room.”
Yet Yan Wushi grabbed him by the wrist and refused to let him go, “You stay in your room all day long and do nothing but stare blankly. I’m being considerate of you by letting you take a walk for relaxation.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
It was true that he stayed in his room all day long, but he wasn’t just doing nothing. He was either practicing martial arts through meditation or studying The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Therefore, over these days, while his body was getting better and better, his martial power was slowly recovering as well. Right now, he had already regained about fifty percent of his martial arts before he was injured. It was just that The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was truly a broad and profound book. He couldn’t even say he had fully comprehended the volume Qi Fengge passed onto him back then.
Now he had the Book of Free Will on top of that. It might seem like something one could go into a rapture about since other people wouldn’t be able to get it even if they asked for it. Shen Qiao thought about it day and night, only to feel that Tao Hongjing was indeed a heavenly talent. What he wrote was so profound and abstruse that it was not something one could comprehend in a short amount of time. Since he was blind, he didn’t need to walk around during daytime, so he just pondered over it in his room by himself. In fact, he would be occasionally enlightened with ideas about this and that, which could count as entertainment out of the boring meditation.
But when Yan Wushi wanted to do something, others never had the chance to refuse. Shen Qiao was not his equal, so he could only let Yan Wushi drag him away.
They hadn’t walked far before a voice came from behind, “Sect Master Yan, wait for a moment, please!”
They stopped and turned back. Shen Qiao squeezed his eyes and studied the people who had come. Since he had been injured quite a few times, his body condition was not very stable, and it was the same for his eyes. Sometimes he was able to approximate people’s silhouettes, while other times it was just pitch-black. His eyes had recovered a little more recently. Under the sunshine, he recognized from their clothes that it was the person who had been talking during the meal.
From the way they nailed Yan Wushi’s identity, they obviously came prepared. Perhaps they were also the reason why these two people appeared in the compartment a moment ago.
The man in the yellow robe approached them and stopped at about five or six steps away from them. He cupped his hands and saluted, “I am Xie Xiang from Linchuan Institute. Greetings to Sect Master Yan.”
There was another person with him who was slightly older. “Zhan Ziqian from Linchuan Institute. Best wishes, Sect Master Yan.”
Yan Wushi made no comment. He glanced at Zhan Ziqian, then turned his eyes back to Xie Xiang. “So you’re Ruyan Kehui’s favorite disciple?”
Xie Xiang replied, “I don’t deserve Sect Master Yan’s compliment, but Ruyan Kehui is indeed my master.”
Yan Wushi was surprised, “Why did you think I was complimenting you? I haven’t finished yet. You look just so-so.”
Xie Xiang’s mouth twitched.
Shen Qiao: “…”
Zhan Ziqian: “…”
Shen Qiao was good-tempered. Yan Wushi had been trying to stimulate him in every possible way, so he got used to and was already insensitive to these insults and ridicules that were as sharp as blades. Yet he still sympathized with this young man in front of him.
He heard about Xie Xiang before. He was from the Xie Family in Chen Commandery, and he was the most remarkable disciple in Linchuan Institute within his generation. Rumor had it that Ruyan Kehui was going to pass his mantle to Xie Xiang, and the latter didn’t disappoint his master either. Despite his young age, he already had a deep understanding of everything Ruyan Kehui had taught him and was one of the top experts from the young generation.
Moreover, it was said that he was surpassing his master even in Confucian studies. Linchuan Institute often invited Confucian scholars from all over the world for debates, and Xie Xiang would always come first in such events. For a person like him, others would treat him with courtesy at least for the sake of his master, not to mention that he was an outstanding person as well. When had he ever been taunted like this?
A person whom Ruyan Kehui cared about a lot would not be an impulsive person. Anger only flashed across his face and Xie Xiang had already resumed his composure, “I’m here to deliver an invitation from the Master in Charge of Linchuan Institute. He would like to meet Sect Master Yan in Huiyang Restaurant in Changan on May 5th.”
Yan Wushi sneered, “If Ruyan Kehui wants to see me, he can come himself. What’s with all of this?”
He turned around and was going to leave at once. Xie Xiang’s tone of voice grew deeper, “May I know if Xiang has the chance to exchange a few moves with Sect Master Yan?”
Yan Wushi pulled a smile and suddenly pointed at Shen Qiao, “If I say you aren’t even his match, will you believe me?”
One could only blame that Shen Qiao’s appearance was too deceptive. In addition to the intimacy Yan Wushi had shown a moment ago, even Xie Xiang was mistaken about Shen Qiao. He frowned. Without even glancing at Shen Qiao, he retorted, “Sect Master Yan is a legendary hero. Why would you bring disgrace to yourself by insulting me with your boytoy?”
Shen Qiao had already moved a little farther from them, but Yan Wushi pulled him back at once and spoke with a tone that was almost dripping with honey, “Ah-qiao, he’s insulting you. Are you just going to tolerate it?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He was just quietly standing on the side. Why would he be implicated still?
Shen Qiao: Sect Master Yan is so skilled at fanning up the flames and driving a wedge between others. I really admire how you wish to bring the world into chaos.
Yan Wushi: That’s because I like you, therefore granting you this honor.
Shen Qiao (surprised): That was a sarcasm. Can you not tell?
Yan Wushi: Ah-qiao, even your sarcasm is so gentle (づ￣3￣)づ╭
Shen Qiao: … (Speechless)