After quarrelling with Bei Shi, Chang An felt much better. Even the tightness in his chest seemed to have abated a little.
This was the first time in his life that he had ever quarreled with someone. Chang An had always been very disdainful of those little brats in the Bald Eagle tribe who jabbered too much but couldn’t even take a hit. He couldn’t be bothered to argue with them.
His former guardians, Zhe Yan and A’Yan, were of the same kind. When Zhe Yan got angry, he’d feel unwell and be unable to sleep at night. The next day, he’d cough so hard as if he was gonna die. When the wind blew, he’d shiver a lot.
Chang An couldn’t argue with A’Yan either. He had never known what his A’ma looked like, and his only understanding of women was through A’Yan. Her arms were so warm, and her voice was so soft that people listening to her would fall asleep. She was also very delicate and emotional. Whenever she was sad, she’d cry buckets of tears. Chang An was always afraid that she’d drain all the water in her body if she continued crying, so how could he dare provoke her?
And umm, there was the carpenter… but let’s not mention it.
And Bei Shi? At first glance, one could already tell he was very strong. Chang An was not at all worried about making him angry.
Chang An knew that Bei Shi was strong, but as for how strong he was, it was beyond his imagination. The child had discovered early on that all the unusual monsters on this entire mountain would hide from Bei Shi. Yet somehow, perhaps out of instinct, Chang An just wasn’t afraid of him. There was even an inexplicable sense of trust in him.
He just knew that this man would not harm him.
Chang An encountered the first setback, but did not give up.
After taking a breath, he picked up his saber, and dived back to a training where one couldn’t see the end of. This time, he made fewer strikes. After every swing, he’d examine himself and try to adjust accordingly. No move was done half-heartedly. It was as if his whole person was growing on that saber that nothing around him could disturb him. It had reached the point where he’d forget to even eat and sleep.
It was not until it was very late that Bei Shi came to drag him away, intending to instruct him to make a fire. Chang An made a soft sound of surprise. He woke up with a start and realized that the tender skin between his palms had been completely worn away by the handle of the saber.
But Chang An didn’t care about it. He grimaced for a while and wiped off the blood dripping from his nose. Then he ran off with a spring in his step to light a fire.
Bei Shi had wanted to ask Chang An if it hurt, but the words got stuck in his throat at the sight of the boy walking away with blood dripping all around.
The man was stunned for a long time before finally saying with a smile, “Little brat.”
This little brat was persistent in training everyday, never stopping for one moment. At night, he’d climb up the roof and sleep there—Bei Shi had only said it casually, but Chang An took it seriously.
Bei Shi’s daily life consisted of hunting, gathering medicine, taking care of the sprouts in his garden, and sometimes forging new sabers. The forging would depend on his mood. Sometimes, he wouldn’t be seen moving for ten days to half a month, and at other times, he wouldn’t take a break for three to five days.
Other than that, he was actually bored out of his mind. When he was free, he’d give Chang An some advice or squat beside him and tease him a little.
In the beginning, Chang An would get so angry by the teasing that he’d want to bite someone. As time went by, however, he got used to it, and gradually learned the skill of not reflecting joy or anger on his face.
From the beginning, Chang An already had a good command of the saber, and after receiving guidance from Bei Shi, his understanding of it deepened. One day was a thou—well, not quite a thousand miles, unfortunately1一日千里 – Author is making a pun on the idiom “One day, a thousand miles,” which is used to refer to rapid progress..
Chang An could only keep practicing with the saber. Even though he understood this, he still couldn’t wield it fast enough to catch up with the moving veins on the Qiongjiang tree.
But he was not discouraged.
He knew that Bei Shi was teaching him a very great skill. And the greater the skill, the more that people couldn’t get it because of its extreme difficulty.
Although he was young, he understood the principle of life in his mind: To obtain the unparalleled things of this world, one must be ready to suffer a pain equally unparalleled.
Three months later, Chang An was still camping outside. He never once mentioned to Bei Shi that he wanted to go inside.
Regrettably, the Qiongjiang tree still stood in high spirits, accepting the challenge of this persistent little wolf pup day after day. Meanwhile, Chang An had already curled his first saber.
He became thinner, literally looking like a lovesick man with no thought for tea or rice2 茶饭不思 – having no appetite. Yet his eyes were very clear, unshaken and unconfused.
Bei Shi looked on from the sidelines. He felt that this wolf pup was very unlike a child and was more like an unrelenting ascetic.
The man slowly reacted, remembering what his teacher once said to him: If a person could truly have no distractions, could only think about one thing every day from morning to night, and only do this one thing, then in less than three years, he would have a small achievement. In ten years, it would be bigger. In thirty years… he would be unparalleled in the world.
Bei Shi couldn’t understand back then. How could there be someone who, aside from eating and drinking, could only focus on one thing alone?
Then he met Chang An.
Half a year passed, and winter came. The snow roared down from the summit of Yufeng Mountain and covered the entire northern continent. On that day, the sky was overcast, and in the afternoon, snow as big as goose feathers began to fall.
Bei Shi had stocked a lot of food for the winter, so now he was warming himself up with a cup of wine made from the sap of the Qiongjiang tree. He sat comfortably on the edge of the bed and looked at Chang An who was in the backyard.
Neither wind nor rain could move him. Bei Shi looked at him and thought that, let alone snowing, the little brat could still stand in the yard and slash at the tree without changing his face even if it were to rain down knives.
Chang An held the handle of the saber with both hands and fixed his eyes firmly on the trunk of the Qiongjiang tree. He stood there, unmoving; in his eyes, there was no room for anything else but that tree.
The snow grew heavier and heavier, hitting Chang An in big clumps and almost burying him underneath it.
Bei Shi was surprised to find that the rate of Chang An’s breathing was changing with a certain pattern. With his eyesight, he could see that the little guy was about to become one with the tree, and that there was a strange connection between the tree’s flickering patterns and Chang An’s breathing.
Bei Shi couldn’t help but stand up.
At that moment, he saw the little guy move. Right now, Chang An still only knew one move—the one that he once used to slay the Eagle Wolf.
At the moment the saber was delivered, he twisted his body sideways. Drawing force from the rotation of his body and from the earth beneath him, the blade buzzed, splitting the large snowflakes in the air and colliding with the hard bark of the tree. Bei Shi’s pupils couldn’t help but shrink.
Bei Shi clearly saw the child catch onto the changing patterns of the Qiongjiang tree, but before the edge of the saber arrived, Chang An was too exhausted to push it through. Yet, for the first time ever, a shallow white mark was clearly left on the bark.
The saber suddenly flung away from Chang An’s grip and landed several zhang away. He staggered and took two steps forward when he finally couldn’t take it anymore and collapsed into the snow. He didn’t get up again.
Bei Shi hurriedly put down his cup of wine. He ran towards Chang An and scooped him up. The child’s face was blue, his lips were purple, and he looked like he couldn’t breathe. Bei Shi stretched his hand to press upon his chest, but he couldn’t feel a heartbeat!
While in his arms, Chang An unconsciously grasped his chest. He desperately tried to curl up but was unable to move.
He could see and feel nothing, save for a point in his heart that was turning numb. There was an indescribable pain in the numbness, and it slowly spread from his heart to his entire front and back.
He gasped for air, but he couldn’t even take a breath in.
Bei Shi applied pressure on Chang An’s chest several times, but the child still did not respond. In desperation, he punched him in the chest. Like a small, dying fish, Chang An straightened and stiffened up like a fully-drawn bow.
For a moment, Bei Shi even thought he was dead.
However, after what seemed like ages yet was only just a moment, Chang An trembled and breathed softly. He closed his eyes and fell into Bei Shi’s arms. Bei Shi once again pressed his palm on Chang An’s chest, and this time, he could feel the chaotic heartbeat through the boy’s fragile body.
Bei Shi was startled for a moment, then he carefully picked up Chang An. He took off his robe and wrapped it around him. He wiped Chang An’s forehead which was wet from cold sweat and melted snow, then carried him into the house.
Only then did he feel relieved, as if it was he himself who had gone through a life and death experience.
When Chang An woke up later in the middle of the night, Bei Shi knew. After hearing the child cough twice, he was quickly awoken. However, he pretended to be still asleep in order to observe what Chang An would do.
Chang An sat on the edge of bed and clutched his chest for a while. Bei Shi’s punch was so powerful that it almost broke his bones. His chest was blue and swollen, and it would probably be like that for weeks. As soon as he caught his breath, he quietly picked up the pillow that was half his length, dragged out the small thin blanket sewn from the tattered hide, and carried them up to the roof.
Chang An slept in the snow.
He often bickered and quarrelled with Bei Shi, not knowing how to respect him as his teacher, yet he had always remembered the condition of not being allowed to enter the house until he had “cut enough trees to build a shed.” Chang An would meticulously carry out this promise to the very end.
But on such a cold night, how could a little pup without two pieces of meat on his body stand the cold?
Sure enough, after a while, the sound of cutting trees came from the backyard forest. Bei Shi stood by the window, looking at Chang An awkwardly practicing his saber with the light of the cold, clear snow.
Looked like the little pup came up with a practical and wonderful way to drive out the cold.
Suddenly, Bei Shi felt that… he really couldn’t accept this little apprentice.
The most important quality of a man with a saber was neither his retentive memory nor his infinite physical strength. Rather, it was his indestructible courage and unimaginable amount of perseverance.
Bei Shi hesitated. He rarely hesitated in his life, but this time, he suddenly did.
When one had seen many things, his judgment would be relatively accurate. However, a person’s life was limited, and one could never be right all the time.
Bei Shi himself did not know what the future would hold for such a child.
He had no way of judging. He couldn’t even remember what kind of heart he held for the saber in his hand when he was as young as Chang An.
The night breeze swept through the patches of Qiongjiang trees, rustling the leafless branches and letting the snow fall in a flurry.