The old merchant stayed in the tribe for more than three months, until the wild sprouts of wheat matured. He contentedly took with him countless corals, valuable pearls, dried fish, and the most precious seeds of the wheat sprouts.
To the tribe, he left a whole courtyard of weapons, slaves, as well as a precious, little freebie.
That freebie was a map.
The old merchant feared little of death that he drew on leather a map of all the places he had ever been to. Spread out, that map was more than a zhang-long high and a zhang-long wide. The mountains and rivers were all clearly marked, not a single one left behind. Even places where he had met anyone and how big their tribe was were all clearly marked.
The old merchant was cunning. One glance at those numerous walls and gate towers, he knew at once that the owner of the place was ambitious.
With a wave of his hand, Hua Yi included all the dense forests, high mountains, canyons, and plains into his territory. And with the sea behind him, his resources were even more abundant. The old merchant had his eye on this big customer, and he planned to have long-term cooperation with him. Not being stingy was a great gift to start with.
Aside from the map, he also presented two dancers to Hua Yi.
Many people in the continent sold slave girls, but not many sold dancers.
Most of the dancers were either orphans or born from a family of slaves. When they were very young, they were sold to the merchants as slave girls, from which the merchants would choose the prettiest ones. They would be carefully cultivated into women so beautiful, they could cause the downfall of a city.
They were different from the burly women of the tribe who ran the house all day long and worked in the dirt.
They were even different from the noblewomen and ladies in Chiefs’ and Elders’ families.
From a young age, dancers would learn how to please others. Their faces were like spring flowers, soft as soap, and with fragrance emanating from their hair. In the past, such a beauty was rare. Only the richest tribal Chiefs could have one, and outsiders were not allowed to see them.
Who knew how the old merchant did it, but while everyone was running for their lives, he managed to keep two such people, and even kept them blooming and fresh.
It’s just that the continent was currently in shambles, and those who could afford to pay a high price for a woman’s lustful service had not lived to see this moment. The old merchant knew this, so he decided to cut off his flesh and simply used these two “treasures” to gain a favor.
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Unexpectedly, the old man’s move only ruined things. These two “treasures” made Hua Yi’s face black for a whole month. He always thought that Chang An would lose his soul when he stared at them.
It was only natural for Chang An to take a second look at such beautiful people. He was actually very innocent and didn’t want to do anything, just looking at them with curiosity and admiration. But then Hua Yi was like a magical barrier. He was very unreasonable.
So long as he caught him looking, Chang An’s ears would never get any silence.
No matter how he started scolding him, within a couple sentences or so, Hua Yi would manage to get back to telling him the same words of advice: “You’re still young. Don’t indulge in s*x. What are those dancers? They’re just a bunch of skin, beautiful to look at and fascinating to the eye, but they’re not any good, pulling men into an abyss…”
Such words were more or less like these, but from Hua Yi’s mouth, he could say the same thing in a hundred different ways.
When Chang An first saw Hua Yi trying to cheat his way out with the Divine Grass in that dense forest, he knew that the man had a three-inch tongue1三寸不烂之舌 – a silver tongue, an eloquent tongue. However, it was only now did he truly realize what it meant to have a tongue like a reed2巧舌如簧 – different idiom, but same meaning as the previous one.
Chang An couldn’t stand it. Fortunately, the beastman warriors had a new batch of weapons, and Chang An was given the task in training the beastmen, who were all a good deal taller than he was, in a newly set-up field every day.
In order to avoid Hua Yi, he would lead the people in patrolling around the tall and wide city walls and gate towers every day at dawn. Although the city walls were not yet done, it would still take them until noon before they could finish the patrol, even if they were fast on their feet. The afternoon was their training time, and so long as there was still one person in the martial arts field, Chang An would never leave, staying there with that person until the end.
Come dark, he would go around Hua Yi again. He wouldn’t even go home. He’d take Luda with him to scrounge at any place where a family’s madame would cook delicious food.
Despite this, however, Hua Yi still miraculously managed to catch him every now and then and nag him about it.
He’d tell him off over and over again that it made Chang An mad. Then Hua Yi would look at him as if he wanted to say something, his expression deeply sad and bitter, looking at him with aggrieved and worried eyes. Chang An could only keep his anger inside. He really couldn’t afford offending him.
Chang An feared nothing in heaven or earth, but he was most afraid of people nagging. Hua Yi grabbed this weakness of his like taking away the firewood from under the cauldron3釜底抽薪 – to take drastic measures in dealing with a situation, telling Chang An off ‘til he was drained and to the point he now avoided any woman he saw. Even with the doctor A’Ye, who routinely prepared his medicine and checked his body while she was at it, Chang An kept a guarded distance of three feet away. Immediately afterwards, he would furtively look around, then feel relieved when he didn’t find Hua Yi. He would give A’Ye a quick smile and then run away like a thief.
This move was extremely insidious. Suo Laimu suspected that after this ordeal, Chang An’s scalp would feel numb whenever he’d see a woman. Whether he could still get hard or not, it was hard to say.
Other than this, the days were busy.
People raised livestock, harvested wheat sprouts, saved seeds, plowed fields for crops on the plains, and went out to sea on the other side of the mountains. Then at this year’s Autumn Hunting Festival, A’Fen’s family’s little Jila, who had narrowly escaped death, officially took on his late father’s name. By the time he was three years old, he was able to speak well, and he became a little mud ball that could roll about and make trouble.
The soil seemed more fertile than in previous years. The fields that the people tended to were able to produce a harvest of wheat sprouts that were more than what they had expected. When the first barrel of wine was poured into Hua Yi’s wine cup, he drank so much, it made him so relaxed, he wanted to stand on top of a mountain and shout.
But after relaxing, he carefully put away his wine cup and started planning how he could get Chang An drunk on the night of the Autumn Hunting Festival.
Getting Chang An drunk was not as easy as it seemed. Although Chang An had learned of the benefits of wine, his restraint was not at all like a young man in the prime of his life. No matter how much he loved to drink, he always remembered the fact that he would get confused if he drank too much. He and Suo Laimu were like two old fogeys cultivating purity. Each held a small cup in a manner a bit more reserved than an unmarried young woman. After a long time, they still didn’t take a sip. Very much already stopping before they could overdo it, they just sat at the sidelines as they watched others getting wildly drunk.
After drinking too much, Luda became very clingy, especially to Chang An. He just sat there giggling without saying anything, and Chang An had to instruct Qingliang to carry him away.
However, no matter how restrained Chang An was, in the end, he had still drunk a few sips. His heart beat faster and his blood flowed faster than usual. When Chang An looked at Qingliang and Luda, his face actually showed a little worry.
Suo Laimu looked on with amusement. He found it interesting how Chang An, this “blade,” had been with people for so long that he was beginning to be tainted with the scent of people. He even learned how to frown meaningfully. And so Suo Laimu asked, “What’s wrong? Are you gonna teach that silly boy Qingliang?”
Chang An shook his head, and after a long while, he said, “Luda likes the jiandao too much.”
He didn’t speak like Hua Yi, so he couldn’t describe how he felt. Liking a jiandao was actually no big deal; everyone had their own preferred weapon. At the very least, a jiandao was more normal than a zhang-long saber. However, Luda with a jiandao always made Chang An feel a bit uneasy. The boy studied and practiced diligently, and every move was well-executed. But when it came to the real thing, his horizontal and vertical strikes were too mediocre4匠气十足 – literally, “the craftsmanship is too heavy.” It’s all craft and no talent. It’s good, but just good. There’s no originality.. In Chang An’s eyes, it was only a rigid imitation and couldn’t be considered as learning.
For so long, Chang An felt that Luda had only truly learned one move, and that was the forward thrust.
It was a move where you condense all the strength in your body into that characteristic sharp point of the jiandao. It was a move full of hostility, where you stake everything on one single throw.
Suo Laimu listened, but before he could say anything, a special flute sound burst out.
An unmarried young woman dressed in gorgeous clothes played a very cheerful and touching tune on a short flute carved from wood. When the crowd heard this, they laughed ambiguously in tacit understanding.
Then a bold girl took the lead in jumping up to her feet. She felt for a ribbon of fresh flowers out of nowhere and threw it towards a young beastman. At first, that young man didn’t react, stunned in place for a while. Then his face reddened to a pulp, and with his head bowed, he picked up that colorful band of cloth like a little wife.
Several men around him immediately shoved his shoulders and started cheering rowdily.
Then the crowd became lively. Flowers wildly flew around for a while, mesmerizing Chang An’s eyes.
He couldn’t help but wonder, “What are those for?”
Suo Laimu took a sip of wine and smiled. “This is called ‘Ask for the Way by Throwing a Flower.’ You throw a flower to the person you like, and if they accept, then it means they are willing to be with you. If they don’t take it, you won’t lose face, for after a while, things will get messy, and everyone will have only one goal in their eyes. No one could care less about whose joke it was.”
Chang An suddenly understood. “Oh.”
Suo Laimu looked at him and, suddenly smirking, he said, “But I’m sure no one will dare throw flowers at you.”
There were a lot of girls that passed by. Though Chang An didn’t talk much, he was quite good-looking and was always gentle to girls. He was like a beast that would hold back its claws and fangs before its family, and it was very popular with the girls. Many people smiled at him as they passed by, but no one really threw flowers at him.
Chang An was puzzled and asked, “Why not?”
Suo Laimu pointed to the hairband loosely binding his hair.
Chang An blankly felt for his head. “What’s wrong with my head?”
Suo Laimu opened his mouth to speak, but then Hua Yi came out of nowhere, put his hands under Chang An’s armpits, and picked the whole person up in a rush. With a conspicuous laugh, he said, “It’s okay. Your head is fine. Don’t listen to that drunk Shengun.”
But it was if Suo Laimu didn’t see Hua Yi’s point at all, and he instead laughed and said, “Silly boy, wearing someone’s stuff means promising yourself to them. You already have an owner, so who would court trouble for themselves by hitting on you?”
After he said that, he jumped up and ran away, and sure enough, Hua Yi’s life-threatening kicks chased after the Shengun’s honorable butt.
Suo Laimu scurried away with his head in his hands, and Hua Yi was deadly determined to clean him up. It was as if he was afraid to stay where he was and listen to what Chang An had to say on the matter, so he leaped into the crowd to avoid it and chased Suo Laimu all the way out.
Being suddenly told the “secret” that everyone but him knew, Chang An was stunned in place.