Winter had come, and although it was snowing, the coldness was still within the range of what people could bear.
The strong beastmen were also able to go out in pairs to survey the terrain and bring back some prey and some plants that had not frozen to death. Once, Hua Yi and his men went out for a whole day and a whole night before returning. They climbed over the highest mountain, and unexpectedly, they saw the sea.
A group of land beastmen gazed at the boundless sea for a long time, all with the same stupefied look—Suo Laimu, this bastard Shengun, actually took them all the way to the easternmost part of the continent.
Suo Laimu was very dismissive of their fuss. He thought this was the safest place in the entire continent, bar none. When the coldest winter really came, these country bumpkins who had never been twenty li away from home would realize what true wisdom was.
Since then, two or three people would be sent out by Hua Yi everyday. The fast-footed would come back the next day, and on the third day for the slightly slower-footed. They were also fortunate enough to have a taste of what was in the sea.
Chang An squatted down and stroked the sea with his hands. He felt that the water was warmer than the land. He drew close the hide on his body and sneezed with a disheveled face.
The night before last, Luo Tong’s son Qingliang had a quarrel with Luda again. And it was all because Qingliang liked to squat at the side and look over their goddamn business while Luda was being taught the way of the blade—well, actually, it was all Luda’s one-sided quarrel. Qingliang was just crying. Two little cubs—one going ying, ying, ying, and the other going weng, weng, weng1ying, ying, ying is an onomatopoeia for crying, and the other, weng, weng, weng, is most likely an onomatopoeia for loud buzzing, all the way until midnight. Chang An got so annoyed, he made Luda stop training. He then picked up the crying Qingliang with one hand and threw him to his father.
Luo Tong also knew what kind of goods his son was, so he simply forced a smile and said nothing. He had injured his leg while they were fleeing, and A’Ye had been looking over it—There were not many doctors in the tribe, and most of them had died on the trip. A’Ye was now the only one left. The herbs and medicinal powder for injuries that she’d brought with her had long been used up. Aside from washing with salt water and immobilizing with a splint, A’Ye couldn’t do anymore2巧妇难为无米之炊 – Author actually used an idiom here, which goes “Even the cleverest housewife cannot cook without rice.” for Luo Tong’s leg.
With each day getting colder than the next, Luo Tong’s leg got worse.
This irresolute yet overly doting father of a former Chief felt he was about to die, and he was worried to death. Beastmen had always been strong, and Luo Tong was still in his prime. He had never thought about what his son would do if he were to die one day. It was only now that he was caught unprepared did he suddenly get worried. How would his crybaby of a son live in the future?
If possible, Luo Tong naturally hoped for him to join Luda and learn at least a little something about self-defense from Chang An. However, Qingliang was like a large baby with slow growth. Until now, he dared not speak to Chang An when he saw him. Even as he looked on over them eagerly, he’d avoid meeting his eyes.
Such a useless son with no future. Luo Tong was so ashamed, he could hardly open his mouth to talk to Chang An.
Hua Yi pushed along a small boat and shouted to Chang An in the water, “Come up! Come up!”
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The boat was made from logs of wood found on the seaside. Suo Laimu supervised its making. Although it had nothing special to look at, it was quite sturdy. Beastmen were used to hunting, so they knew how far to go and when to stop. They would not go into the deep sea. They’d just take a swim by the coast to catch some fish and shrimps, and it was very easy.
Chang An was actually a little afraid of the water. He grew up in the mountains, and the deepest mountain stream had a limit to its depth. So long as he could doggy-paddle twice, he wouldn’t drown to death. But the sea was different. It was so big, it had no boundaries. Chang An had always suspected that it was actually connected to another world. Aboard a swaying boat, he couldn’t help it.
But there was nothing to be done about it. Suo Laimu had said that, sooner or later, it would be too cold for them to get out of the cave. They had to stock up on dried meat, and the sea was the best source of food. Chang An had no choice but to brace himself to it.
But although he hadn’t revealed his fear of the water, Hua Yi had already noticed it, and so he deliberately plotted to keep the boat unsteady.
After a moment’s hesitation, Chang An, who still didn’t want to touch the sea water, poked his saber into the sand. Lightly supporting himself on the long blade, he crossed over through the air and then landed on the small boat not far away. That flexible waist made Hua Yi’s heart itch. Pinpointing the exact moment Chang An landed on the ship, Hua Yi deliberately made a heavy tug on the oars. It hit the reef on the shore where the boat was tied to, and the boat immediately tilted to one side.
As expected, Chang An couldn’t keep steady. As the boat tilted, Hua Yi put the oars aside, then calmly opened his arms to embrace him fully. With a smile on his face, he said, “Bouncing up and down on the boat, have you turned into a monkey? Look, it tilted.”
Chang An had naturally seen him hitting the stone, but after a long time, he also already knew what kind of person Hua Yi was—So long as it wouldn’t kill or cause a fire, he seemed to be always playing such lowly tricks.
Chang An pushed his arms away and tried to stand up by himself, but Hua Yi wouldn’t let go.
From the depths of the sea came only the sounds of wind and water. Not even a seabird could be heard. The only living beings were the two men on the boat—Chang An and him.
Hua Yi didn’t want to let go at all. As a young man full of energy, holding a person in his arms made his heart jump wildly. It was as if he had drunk too much strong alcohol. All the blood raging in his body excited him.
With no one else around, he indulged himself. Hua Yi took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and slowly put his chin in the crook of Chang An’s shoulder. Chang An was wearing clothes so thick, Hua Yi couldn’t feel the bones on the crook of his shoulder. All he could feel was the soft piece of leather. It was wrapped tightly around him, but it also exposed a part of his fair neck.
Hua Yi’s hands were fastened around his waist. His expression was calm, but in his heart turned all kinds of dirty thoughts within a twinkling of an eye. If his thoughts were also entities, they would have long scrambled to squeeze out of his mind and drill down Chang An’s collar. This man in his arms would be stripped in a flash.
Chang An keenly felt something. Despite the fact that Hua Yi did nothing and was even like a gentleman, the rate of his breathing was being suppressed, making the fine hairs on Chang An’s neck instinctively rise on end one by one. Chang An couldn’t describe the feeling.
Seeing Hua Yi not letting go, Chang An impatiently nudged his forearm with his elbow. He didn’t use much force, but that touch was still very much on Hua Yi’s body. Hua Yi’s hand went numb, and he finally let go of him.
The sea breeze ruffled Hua Yi’s hair. He seemed to be thinking about something, and when he loosened his hand, he had gone into a trance.
Chang An observed his complexion and asked, “Do you have a bad stomach?”
Hua Yi looked up at him. He rowed the oar lazily, thought over something for a moment, then suddenly spoke out without warning, “Be with me, okay?”
Chang An was stunned for a moment. He didn’t seem to understand what he said. He went to the side and creased his brows at Hua Yi.
As soon as Hua Yi met his gaze, he shook his head and thought to himself: It’s not yet time.
Hua Yi then pretended to look into the distance. Imitating Suo Laimu’s enigmatic expression, he said, “Nothing, just teasing you—I’m afraid it’s going to be windy.”
Chang An: “Did the Wind God also tell you?”
“Scram.” Hua Yi laughed as he scolded him. He let the boat go forward for a while, then stooped over outside the boat to pull up the net.
In the beginning, they used jiandaos and long swords and tried to pierce through the fishes in the water. It was difficult to judge the exact location in the water, but they were experienced hunters after all, and it was not long that they had figured out the trick as they fumbled about. After that, Suo Laimu personally went to the beach and proposed to them to use the nets they would use during hunting.
The net was a good thing, and very soon, shells were even added to their recipes.
And perhaps it really was going to be windy. On this day, the fishes were particularly noisy. They were a bit like headless flies, knocking into each other east and west.
Hua Yi didn’t let Chang An do anything, only letting him help in moving the boat. Chang An was at odds with the water. Once aboard the boat, his hands became feet. And when you let him cast a net, he’d also get himself inside it.
After a few nets, Hua Yi had caught many fish, shrimps and shells. The boat was soon half-full. He hummed a little tune with a mixed northern and southern accent, and said to Chang An, “I think we’re done for today. Turn the boat around. We have to go back. The sea is not very calm today.”
As Hua Yi said so, he went to pull up the last net, but then his hand suddenly sank. He seemed to have caught something big.
His face immediately changed. He took out his nine-inch blade and held it in his mouth, ready to cut the net at the first sign of trouble. Hua Yi knew that both their swimming skills were average and that the sea was no place to show off their valor.
However, as he tentatively pulled the net up, the thing inside struggled a little.
Hua Yi winked at Chang An, telling him to be on guard. If something was amiss with the thing they pulled, they’d have to chop it right away. After that, both his hands suddenly heaved up, lifting up the net from underwater with extraordinary force. The fresh fish and shrimp were leaping and frisking about as they struggled, but amidst them was a large thing wrapped up in seaweeds and laying still.
Hua Yi opened the net and pulled out the seaweeds, only to find that inside lay a “man.”
If not for the fish-like gills around his neck and the fish tail below his waist, he would have been a young man.
Then, under the two men’s gaze, the man broke away from them and, like a beastman turning from his beast form to his human form, his gills slowly faded away and was soon concealed on his neck. His tail disappeared and became two slender, bare legs.
Chang An blinked. “A beastman turning into a fish… a fish beast?”
“……” Hua Yi was silent for a while, then somewhat helplessly explained to the ignorant mountain child, “This should be a mermaid. It was said that they lived in the deep sea, but after all these years, no one knew if they were actually real for no one had ever seen them. I never expected them to really exist … But strange, how could the mermaid reach the shore?”
Hua Yi crouched down, stretched out a hand, and pressed it on the man’s neck, judging, “He’s alive.”
This mermaid had quite a lot of bruises on his body, and on his shoulder, was some kind of wound. The skin was turned over so deeply, they could see the bones, and it was also white with all the blisters from below the neck to the shoulder blades. And perhaps it was because he had lost too much blood, his lips were white as well.
Chang An couldn’t hold back his curiosity and reached out to poke at the mermaid’s bare skin. Hua Yi knocked his hand away with a black face and reproached, “What are you blindly touching?”
“The skin is soft,” Chang An said in surprise. “I thought there’d be scales.”
Hua Yi: “……”
Chang An defended, “Beastmen also have hair after turning back into humans, so why can’t fishmen have scales?”
Hua Yi asked with a bad stomach, “What hair? Where’s the hair?”
Chang An pointed at his hair, then pointed at the light hairs on his arm, and then finally glanced at his crotch.
Hua Yi was silent for a long time, not knowing how to discuss the matter of “hair” and “scales” with him, so he simply waved his hand and said, “You… You get the hell outta my way.”
When he saw Chang An still eyeing the unconscious mermaid as some novel thing, he finally couldn’t bear it. He took off the outermost layer of hide he was wearing and draped it around the naked mermaid. Then he shoved Chang An’s shoulder and said angrily, “What are you looking at? What’s so good to look at in a naked man? Go look at yourself! A mermaid has been washed ashore. How could it turn up over here when it came from deep below the sea? Still not rushing to go back—You damned bastard who can’t even doggy-paddle well!”