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A multicolored bird of unknown species landed on Jing Qi’s shoulder. He surveyed it in astonishment for a time, feeling like there was no livelier a place in the world than Nanjiang, since it seemed to never run out of vitality all year round.
A Nanjiang teen ran in, took a measure of Jing Qi once with big, inquisitive eyes, then gathered in close to Wu Xi’s ear to say a few things into it. Wu Xi nodded and turned to Jing Qi. “My teacher… hm, the previous Great Shaman, who we now call the Illustrious One, wants to meet you.”
Jing Qi’s eyes, which had been shooting about randomly everywhere, suddenly became straightforward, and he turned his head to ask, “What did you say?”
“I told him about you before. He’s wanted to meet you for a long time.”
Jing Qi felt his lips dry up a bit. “What… did you say to him?” he questioned, after a little bit of being dazed.
“I told him that you’re the one holding my jade ring,” Wu Xi answered, smiling.
In that split second, Wu Xi felt like Jing Qi’s facial expression subtly distorted. “What’s wrong?” he asked, despite knowing the answer.
Jing Qi shook his head rapidly, then nodded, then shook his head again, then said helplessly, “Can… can I go change my clothes, first?”
He dashed away in a frenzy. Wu Xi wasn’t sure why, but watching his panicked back put him in a great mood. He lifted his hand, and the little viper orbiting inside his sleeve slithered out, its tongue flicking. It coiled around his arm, rubbing against him affectionately. The wind of the jungle and mountains blew past, bringing the unspeakably damp and humid smell of earth with it…
This was home.
Never in the past had he ever had a feeling as intense as this. At that instant, his taut heart relaxed like a snapped qin string. His entire being languid, he was indescribably overjoyed; this sensation was too blessed, making him feel like he was in a trance and that all this wasn’t real. He had to think, could this be another bout of Dream Stupor?
For that, he secretly curled his fingers and pierced through his palm with his nails.
It hurt. He smiled.
Jing Qi only came out after dawdling for over half the day, having changed out of those half-old clothes he was used to casually wearing and into a long, moon-white robe. That extraordinarily pale blue appeared somewhat gloomy at first glance, but, as it happened, his complexion from having just recovered from serious injury gave it the white luster of jade. A palm-wide piece of satin was tied around his waist. Under the sunlight, very complex decorative patterns could be seen in silver thread on his sleeves, with a white jade pendant hanging at his side. He appeared to be quite a bit ceremonious, and that solemnity covered up the sense of frivolity naturally circulating his peach-blossom eyes, giving him the pressing air of nobility.
Wu Xi looked him up and down. In the end, he couldn’t think up any nice-sounding verses for him, so he simply commented, “You look good.”
Jing Qi gave him a smile, but it was slightly stiff. If he had been asked to meet the Nanjiang Illustrious One as Prince Nan’ning, he could have been very cool and collected, and might have even brought a jar of wine over. But, now… he felt, for some reason, that this was a delicate matter.
In his more than three hundred years of past incarnations and present life, this feeling analogous to meeting one’s mother-in-law… was still a first-time experience. All of these feelings were, truly, not for any outsiders to know about.
“Teacher is an easygoing man. You don’t need to be nervous,” Wu Xi unexpectedly spoke again.
Jing Qi spluttered for a good while. “Out of which eye are you seeing any nervousness on me?”
Wu Xi smiled wordlessly, leaving him to get flustered all by himself. Luckily, Jing Qi’s skill at controlling his emotions was top-notch, and he calmed down in short order, slanted him a glance, then straightened out his sleeves while feigning placidness. “Are you going to bring me to him, or what?”
The arc of Wu Xi’s grin got even wider, and he walked in front without saying anything. In the midst of this, he caused countless peoples’ bewildered stares; that… smiling man, with his eyes curved up… was the Great Shaman?
The former ruler of Nanjiang, and now-retired Illustrious One, was currently holding that massive pipe of his in his mouth, dragging on it, and looking the utmost of tranquil. Even so, the old man shot a look at the doorway for a minute, and fidgeted like there were nails growing under his butt — his curiosity was evident. Soon, an attendant came to report that the Great Shaman had brought someone over.
The Illustrious One’s eyes swiftly brightened. His back automatically straightened, but then he stopped, relaxed his form again, and put on a very indifferent air. “Hm. Go invite them in,” he ordered, casual.
The attendant had served him since childhood, and had been by his side longer than Wu Xi. Seeing how he was, he couldn’t help but grin inwardly, affirm respectfully, then leave. The Illustrious One’s venerated rump, again, had to lean forward, and he turned his ear towards the sounds outside.
In due time, he heard the attendant say, “The Illustrious One invites you two inside.”
“Okay. Many thanks to you,” his unfilial disciple Wu Xi replied. Immediately following that, his voice changed in intonation — it was as plain as ever, but somehow had an unspeakable gentleness contained within the way he spoke quietly to yet another person. “Here. There’s a sill at the entrance, take care.”
Tch. One could wring water out of that tone of voice… the Illustrious One narrowed his eyes, thinking to himself that the brat really had been domesticated. After that, he hurriedly sat upright and still, putting the wretched expression on his face away.
For some reason, once Jing Qi walked in, saw the white-haired, white-bearded old man with a pipe in his hand, and then caught clear sight of the man’s eyes, he promptly stopped being nervous. Not only was he not nervous, but he got a vague, subtle sense that he had met someone of the same kind as he. Thus, he smiled, performed a bow befitting of one that came after, and spoke before he could. “This lesser scholar, Jing Beiyuan, pays my respects to the Illustrious One.”
The old man set down his pipe and stood up as well. “I didn’t know that Prince Nan’ning would be gracing me with his presence. Please excuse this old decrepit for not going out to greet you.”
He spoke Great Qing Mandarin quite fluently, yet Wu Xi found it odd; it seemed like his Teacher wasn’t the least bit surprised. He forever felt that the man knew everything, and even if he had already grown up and taken Nanjiang over from him, he still believed that the respectable elder was the wisest person he had ever seen his whole life.
Clearly, sometimes, putting on a convincing act was also a form of wisdom.
While the Illustrious One asked them to sit, he got a glimpse of Wu Xi’s expression. As if he could read his thoughts, he smiled and said, “That day, you said that your justification for going back was for the sake of the one that held your ring. I then thought that, for this person to have such a great crowd roused for their sake, they definitely couldn’t be an unmarried woman from a major household, nor a jade-like girl from a humble household; they had to be someone of power and nobility. It appears that even though I’m aged, I’m not completely muddled yet, to have guessed right.”
He looked at Jing Qi. “Only, you being willing to come with this dumb disciple of mine to our barren wildlands is what’s rather surprising, Prince. I can tell that he’s not devoid of good aspects, at least.”
The other smiled. “The ruler who pays my salary is the one who I’ll die for. Prince Nan’ning has long been martyred in the capital’s war, and now he has less than half of his rotten life remaining, his husk filled with chaff. That the Great Shaman was willing to take this scholar into his care is my great fortune.”
Wu Xi didn’t really understand what their back-and-forth courtesy was about, but from the Illustrious One’s expression, he got the indistinct feeling that those words didn’t sound that pleasing to the ear. Right when he went to speak, he got put back by the old man’s glare. Jing Qi caught this out of the corner of his eye, and merely smiled as he lowered his head to drink his tea — boy, your teacher is worried that you’ll get yours.
The Illustrious One narrowed his eyes again, picked up his pipe anew, put it to his lips, took a deep inhale, and then blew it all out. “Though you say that, Prince, it is ultimately human nature… for one’s homeland to be hard to part with.”
“If one doesn’t leave the chunk of land under their feet, how will they know how big the world is?” Jing Qi asked with a smile.
“How big the world is? Our Nanjiang isn’t that big a place.”
“A mountain doesn’t need to be tall. So long as an immortal lives in it, it will have a name.”
The Illustrious One was stunned for moment, taking a careful measure of Jing Qi. The latter watched him, undisturbed. For a short instance, the two old foxes smiled as they observed each other.
Later on, Wu Xi was depressed to find out that the two were real kindred spirits. Back when he had just arrived at the capital, he had felt that there was a certain something about Jing Qi that was similar to the Great Shaman, and he only now realized that that feeling hadn’t been off in the slightest. At the onset, they scoped out each other, exchanged only a few slightly confrontational words, then spoke of a few irrelevant matters like they were alternatingly shooting off Buddhist allegories. It wasn’t until it was nearly time for dinner that Wu Xi found an opportunity for them to take their leave.
Prior to their departure, the Illustrious One said, “Wu Xi, I’m old, and I’ve spent my entire life in this place. I want to get out of it and take a look around. My luggage is already packed — I feel at ease handing Nanjiang over to you.”
Wu Xi was taken aback, turning to look at his aged teacher.
The man smiled. “You’ve grown up.”
On the road back, Wu Xi eventually couldn’t help but interrogate Jing Qi. “Every now and then, I get the general feeling that I’m stupid. Ninety percent of what Teacher says, I can’t understand. I didn’t expect that you two would be kindred spirits.”
Jing Qi paused, giving him a weird look. “Why… are you so honest?”
Wu Xi raised his brows, only to hear Jing Qi sigh and tell it like it was. “I didn’t discuss anything with him. I didn’t even understand the words that came out of my own mouth.”
Wu Xi stared blankly at him. Jing Qi shook his head and smiled. “It’s the same way with your Teacher. How could you understand words that he himself doesn’t? He’s just messing with you. How could there be that many profound things while one passes through life? I don’t understand what I say, and him being able to pick up the conversation illustrates that he also doesn’t understand what I say. Pairing our sentences is nothing more than idle senselessness to whittle time away. Dressing up as a deity, yet playing the ghost… is, at times, a type of amusement as well. When you get older, you’ll understand.”
Sometimes, beliefs and mental myths would collapse, making one completely despondent. Then, slowly, despondencies like that would start to pile up, and a child would grow into an adult.
The Illustrious One said that he would leave to wander, so, the very next day, he left his book behind and walked out, with absolute squeaky cleanness.
Later on, Nanjiang chose a new Shamanet; a four-year-old boy named Lu Ta. He had a pair of big eyes, was very cute and clever, and never cried or fussed. His physique for practicing martial arts was inferior to Wu Xi’s, but he was intelligent, and had the ability to never forget something once it passed his eyes.
Jing Qi straight-up acknowledged him as his de-facto son, but, in truth, when they played somewhere together, it wasn’t clear who was the papa and who was the son.
Lu Ta was bright, and bright children were generally heavily inquisitive. Gradually, he discovered that despite his Teacher being good to his dad, he was also very ‘strict’. For instance, he would force Dad to eat things he didn’t like, wouldn’t allow him to sleep too much, and didn’t give him any chilled sweet soup to drink.
Ultimately, one day, when his dad took advantage of Teacher being out to take the snake meat out of his own bowl and fling it into Lu Ta’s bowl, the latter couldn’t help but ask, “They said that you used to be a really, really big official in the Great Qing. Why are you afraid of Teacher?”
Jing Qi continued with using his chopsticks to pick stuff out, his face the same as ever. “What would I be afraid of him doing?”
Lu Ta counted off on his hands one by one. Teacher won’t let you do this, Teacher won’t let you do that, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven — it practically made people point in wonder. He was baffled as to why his dad was always so easy to bully, and why no matter what he said, he would always admit his error with an upright bearing, only to make the same ‘offense’ the next time. Thus, Lu Ta questioned him about it.
Jing Qi reached out and pet his head, smiling. “He’s entirely mine, so I naturally let him have this little tidbit.”
Following that, the most unprincipled dad in the world put down his chopsticks. “Ah, Lu Ta, Dad will tell you that if you want to be a good man, you first need to have the accommodating stomach for it,” he said, honest and sincere. “Your wife having some minor temper tantrums would be a very normal thing; if they don’t do it to you, who else could they do it to? If you can’t tolerate them, could you tolerate anyone?”
Lu Ta nodded, half-understanding him.
“You have to take good care of who’s yours. You can’t provoke them into anger. If you actually do, then set aside your posturing and coax them properly. It’s not anything difficult. Whoever your wife is, is whoever you’ll love dearly. You’ve seen that your Teacher, from day until night, is always getting interrupted in the middle of his meals by someone, and that’s pretty hard on him. Me coaxing him a lot is how it should be.”
Lu Ta nodded again, then respectfully called out towards the entryway, “Teacher.”
Jing Qi’s entire body stiffened into a human-shaped rock.
Ages after, he turned his head to look at Wu Xi — who had been leaning against the doorframe for who-knew-how-long — and squeezed out a smile. “You… came back pretty quick…”
He then walked out, suddenly, and without a single sound.
For some reason, even after listening to his explanation, Lu Ta, in this instant, still thought that his dad was a bit terror-stricken.
The next day, he didn’t see his dad all through the morning. It wasn’t until noon that the man was discovered to have just gotten up; his movements were a bit uncoordinated, and he looked exhausted.
Lu Ta held in his skepticism this time, and didn’t ask more after it. He heard an attendant, Ah-Qing, say that last night, the Great Shaman shut his door and allowed no one to disturb them, but when he got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he accidentally passed by, and heard intermittent sobs coming from inside.
Remembering the faint purple bruise exposed under his dad’s collar, Lu Ta quietly shuddered, and obediently went to work on his assignments.
He thought to himself, Teacher is a truly horrible person.
The translator says: Seems ‘Mom’ isn’t the favorite parent.