Ka Zuo had someone carry the old fool a little farther and gag his mouth.
Although Ka Zuo couldn’t be considered as someone coarse on the outside and soft on the inside, at the very least, he had sharp ears and keen eyes. He had actually heard the conversation between Luda and the old man.
Ka Zuo muttered indecisively to himself for a moment, then told the men to take the old fool directly to Suo Laimu. He also told them to secretly keep an eye on Luda.
Talking about Luda…
Luda naturally knew who his A’die was. He even remembered that when the slaves were being escorted at that time, Chang An had slashed down the man who had been locked up with him.
That move had made Luda deeply impressed by Chang An from then on.
He wasn’t a slave child who was born with the nature to like serving others, but when he learned that he was assigned to Chang An, he felt a glimmer of joy in his heart.
Like Qingliang, he was afraid of that man who expressionlessly killed people with a blade. But unlike Qingliang, he wasn’t afraid of killing, nor was he afraid of becoming that kind of man.
When the Great Elder rebelled, he was young and knew little of those affairs. He followed Chang An with repressed fear and longing until that unprecedented natural disaster helped accomplish his aim.
Now, Luda had grown into a sturdy, young beastman, and he had nearly forgotten that he had an A’die who had been hostile to the Chief and his people.
No longer in the mood to play in the woods, he sullenly walked back. His heart was torn in two, not knowing who he should “favor”—his Shifu and them, or his blood-related A’die.
One side was alive; the other, dead. One side was in their prime and in power, while the other was already a thing of the past, already becoming the bones under the yellow earth, and…
One side refused to live under the same sky as the other, yet his debt of gratitude towards them weighed as heavily as a mountain. The other side bound him to a disgraceful background, yet it also gave him his life.
Teenagers liked drilling, drilling, and drilling into a bull’s horn1钻牛角尖– to waste time on an insoluble or insignificant problem. As a result, Luda became so aggrieved that he took out his anger on Qingliang, who was diligently training with his wooden sword on a stake.
Luda was beside himself in rage, and he rushed to Qingliang like an angry calf. With no explanations, he hit Qingliang’s fat butt using the handle of his blade. Qingliang let out an “ouch,” and Luda’s weapon bounced back with his great elasticity. He jumped three feet high and covered his buttocks with both hands as he looked at Luda in disbelief.
Luda pointed at his nose and said angrily, “You’ve been learning for a year, but you still haven’t changed your wooden sword. You waste, what can you do in the future?”
He lost his temper without any warning. Qingliang didn’t know what he was harping on about, and he just listened dumbly.
Luda kicked up a fuss, “We’re going to war, what can you do? Burden! Waste!”
Qingliang’s large eyes quivered, too ashamed to look at him, let alone refute.
Luda threw down the jiandao in his hand. He was so angry, his face bulged up like a toad, and he turned around and left.
Even he himself didn’t know why he was venting out such a big temper on Qingliang. He just suddenly felt that if it hadn’t been for the sake of saving the life of this waste, Chief Luo Tong may not have made such a farce of handing the tribe over to others, and the Great Elder and his people wouldn’t have had to commit a crime. Luda would have also been a proper and noble child from a warrior family, and he wouldn’t have had to face making a choice between morality, emotions, ethics, and vanity.
Why was such a waste born to be the Chief’s child? Why was he so important that, because of him alone, so many people fought and killed, and friends turned into enemies?
Luda ran all the way back to his own hut. On his bed, he lay like a pancake, turning over and over. Then suddenly, he remembered something, and he got up again. He silently ran to the yard, picked up the jiandao he had thrown there, and on his way back, gave Qingliang a fierce look in passing.
Qingliang was like a scared little bird that played dead. Seeing him, he shuddered for a moment and sank straight down to the foot of the wall, also pretending to be an innocent stake.
On that day, after Hua Yi went out of Chang An’s tent, he took Suo Laimu and secretly summoned the head of the group of refugees. Before dusk, when nobody was paying attention, Lu Quan took a small group of people, followed the head of the group of refugees out the small gate on the side of the city wall, and then left silently.
Coastal areas were indeed much less affected by the freezing than the inland areas. More people had survived by chance than in the vast forests and grasslands in the interior. So according to these fugitives, there were actually many refugees of their size around here.
Unfortunately, however, Black Wind Puya’s lair seemed to be nearby. They had been dormant for a long time after the cold winter passed, so perhaps they were also recuperating. When winter came, all things stopped growing, so they started having time to come out to clean and to sharpen their blades.
This group of scattered refugees could have originally still survived, but upon encountering Black Wind Puya, eight generations’ worth of bad luck poured out at once. They were captured as slaves, and with no ability to resist, they could only stay still like fish on a chopping board.
Hua Yi then came up with a plan around these people.
As a mercenary, any danger pressing over his head was no real pressure. He saw them all as opportunities.
Although he felt that the tribe in his hands was not yet fully prepared, and after only a year or so, had not yet reached the level of real affluence and military strength, he didn’t mind letting the men sharpen their blades and claws in battle. Black Wind Puya gave him a chance to realize his ambition—He would not only use this opportunity to kill this ghost tribe that had been rampant on the continent for many years and to make a name for himself, but he would also take this as an opportunity to include the entire coastal area into his pocket.
Hua Yi secretly sent out two groups of people. One was led by Lu Quan, who asked the head of the refugees to lead the way and secretly contact the refugees scattered in various places. And the other group was led by Shan Xi.
In order to cover up their beast marks, Suo Laimu smeared on their hands some ointment made from the fluids of the stem of a water plant mixed with some kind of shell powder.
Shan Xi was originally a tall and slender man, not very much like a beastman, and this time, he had entirely become a harmless, “weak and gentle” sub-beast. They were to find the traces of those crafty, old merchants, and Hua Yi’s order was that, no matter what, they had to be captured back to the city.
To Suo Laimu, this matter was like drawing legs on a snake2画蛇添足 – a superfluous act. If Chang An were to go, there’d be no need to draw anything. He was already a sub-beast. Moreover, when he walked outside, no one would think of checking his hands. He himself had a look that was even weaker than the average sub-beast.
Unexpectedly, Hua Yi flat-out rejected this idea and gave Suo Laimu a threatening look. If Suo Laimu were to mention this matter again, he would shove his head down a puddle.
Suo Laimu knew that Hua Yi had always been very “generous,” so he never expected that he would start protecting his food this time. Being met with a mild rebuke, he inexplicably rubbed his nose, withdrew, and went out.
Once outside, he saw Chang An waiting at the door.
Suo Laimu couldn’t help but size up this young man. He felt that Chang An’s temper may not necessarily be much better, but it was with a patience that was incomparable to others. When he was quiet, he was like a sharp weapon in a quaint sheath, hanging for decoration and without a trace of sharpness showing—perhaps because he didn’t think much of himself—but when pulled out, he was very much unstoppable.
He stood there quietly, making people feel he was willing to stand there even till the end of time. There was no hurry and no urging, so much so that, for most of the day, nobody knew he was outside. When he was willing to wait, he could really stand there without saying a word.
Seeing Suo Laimu come out, Chang An nodded politely.
Suo Laimu sighed internally—But ah, Chang An, after all, was not an iron blade. The more he grew up, the more he was like a flesh and blood person.
So long as the blade was constant, it could last for a long time and for thousands of generations, but what about people?
Suo Laimu stared at Chang An’s face, which was distinctly less ruddy than others’. He was fine just now, but suddenly he was lost again. He stood there staring at Chang An like a fool, until Chang An nudged him and asked, “Hey, what’s the matter with you again?”
It was then that Suo Laimu gave him a look that was as if his soul had left his body, practically drifting away with its feet not touching the ground3脚不沾地 – idiom meaning “very fast”, and he muttered vaguely under his breath, “If people are not permanent, then why do they always pursue permanence? Can we pursue ‘permanence’ in this life? And what is permanence? If the tree doesn’t wither, if the earth doesn’t age, and if the sky never goes desolate…”
Chang An watched Suo Laimu’s top hat waving in the direction of the sea breeze, flapping crazily in the wind, and thought of how Suo Laimu should go find A’Ye to see if there was any medicine for him to take.
When Hua Yi heard someone talking outside, he quickly came out and pulled Chang An into the room while complaining, “Why didn’t you enter? Is the North wind delicious?”
Chang An meekly let him pull. “Just listening to you guys talk makes me sleepy. I don’t want to give you trouble.”
“You sleep in your… Wait, how did you get this!” As soon as Hua Yi lowered his head, he suddenly saw a new wound on Chang An’s hand, a long one. The flesh turned over and became pale, and it seemed to be still bleeding all the way to the wrist.
Chang An drew his hand back and lowered his head, somewhat embarrassed.
Hua Yi pulled his chin and forced him to raise his head. “Speak!”
“My swimming skills aren’t good. I wasn’t careful and let the reefs scratch me.” Chang An was a bit bashful when he admitted he wasn’t good at this, but then he paused, and unable to grasp the point, he added, “If it were on land, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Hua Yi frowned deeply. Seeing that Chang An really had a layer of cold air over his body, he probably just came back from the sea and had taken a bath. His hair wasn’t completely dry, and when Hua Yi reached out to touch it, it was still a little damp. At once, he was angry, and he ruthlessly poked him on the forehead. “Did you take the wrong medicine? Going to the sea when it’s so cold, do you hate you can’t die fast enough? Or do you hate that I can’t die fast enough?”
But then Chang An suddenly caught his hand and put a cool, round thing on it. Hua Yi was surprised, and when he looked down, he saw a plump sea pearl on his palm.
Hua Yi had practically forgotten that there were still some people in his tent who hadn’t left yet, and they were now forming a circle around them and craning their necks to watch. After a moment of bewilderment, he asked with an odd look on his face, “Is this for me?”
Chang An nodded and said, “Bu Dong’s little son found a lot of pearls when he went to sea. I asked him to take me there. Do you like it?”
Hua Yi suddenly didn’t know what to say. He thought, What the f*ck, I’m not a lady who wears flowers on her head or strings around her neck, what do I need pearls for? This guy is already an adult, but he doesn’t look like it. So careless with his life, going to the sea in the middle of winter. What the hell is he doing?
Distressed and angry, Hua Yi itched to press him down and spank him on the butt. But looking at Chang An’s expectant look, he couldn’t bear to disappoint him. His face turned blue, then red, and then once again blue. Words of reprimand repeatedly rose to his throat before being forcibly swallowed back, stifling himself to death. After a long time, he vaguely choked out a sentence, “En, it’s very nice.”
The circle of men all marveled together, and some even thoughtfully inspected the Chief’s ass.
Seeing Chang An giggling, Hua Yi promptly put away the pearls into his sleeves. He picked up Chang An by the back of his neck and almost threw him onto the little couch. He quickly wrapped him in animal skins and quilts, turning him into a little fleshy worm. Then he pressed him hard on top of the head, wishing he could also push it down into the quilt.
Chang An poked his head out with difficulty. “I have drunk some herbs to drive away the cold.”
Hua Yi said with a stinky face, “Drink a few more bowls.”
Chang An: “For dinner?”
Hua Yi: “Why do you have so much nonsense—And you guys, what are you looking at? Do you have any business here? Get out of here! The city walls don’t need men to guard? The garrison doesn’t need people patrolling?”
The crowd standing in a circle saw the spectacle of the Chief being given pearls as a betrothal gift, and they were perfectly satisfied. Seeing Hua Yi fuming in shame, they immediately burst into laughter and scattered.