Alongside the fluttering peach blossoms, a ray of light came in, and under its great radiance, innumerable shattered dreams were awakened, mended, and healed.
This extra is available only in the 2nd volume of the physical, simplified version. It gives us insight into Xiang Shu's childhood in Chi Le Chuan. There will be some spoilers for Dinghai Chapter 100s about Xiang Shu's POV. Turn back now if you don't want spoiler! Read at your own discretion!
"I hope his heart will be as vast as the prairie of Chi Le Chuan and as broad as the sky of the land beyond the Great Wall."
"In that case, let's call him Shulü Kong, ba."
The first thing Xiang Shu remembered in his life was: When he was four years old, his mother brought him along when she was personally delivering a horse at their home. At that time, he understood why it was called "life."
"If this goes on, would there be more and more horses on the prairie?" Doubtful, little Xiang Shu asked his mother.
"New life will be born," Xiang Yuyan said in a gentle tone, "old life will also depart. The wheel comes full circle, new life will not cease to appear."
"Depart?" asked little Xiang Shu. "Mom, go where?"
Not long after, Xiang Yuyan used her own departure as an answer to her son's question. Xiang Shu was inside the golden tent that day, flipping through the scroll written by his mother when suddenly, he heard a sound of something falling to the ground outside.
"Mom! Mom!" Xiang Shu ran out in panic.
The events that followed caught him unprepared; he only remembered his father made him wait inside the tent while the clansmen were bustling about. After a long time, he peeked out of the tent, only to see a flock of crows producing a sound that shook the entire world.
The flock spread their wings and flew past the edge of Chi Le Chuan, towards the end of the sky.
After his father returned to the royal tent, he washed the leftover blood from his hands; he was surrounded by the elders and leaders of all tribes. After his mother's departure, every tribe rushed in one after another, wanting to arrange a new marriage with the Tiele King.
The Tieles weren't like the Hans; they had no obligation to abide by the customs. For them, Xiang Yuyan's departure was just an insignificant, trivial matter.
He didn't cry; it was only because his father, Shulü Wen also didn't cry. His mother, when she was still alive, had asked him to learn from his father in every way. Whatever his father did, Xiang Shu would naturally follow.
In reality, starting from the sound that had been produced from the outside of the royal tent up until now when everything had been concluded, it was merely a short span of half a day. Xiang Shu was still in a daze, he didn't understand what these matters meant to him.
Amidst the confusing noise, Shulü Wen washed away the remaining blood left by his deceased wife's sky burial from his hands, then said one word at a time, "Do. Not. Continue."
"In the end, the Prince needs a mother," an elder said. "The Great Chanyu also needs a queen to run and manage affairs."
"The Four Seas and the prairies are all the Great Chanyu's land, and all of the people under the sky are all the Great Chanyu's people," said another person. "Chi Le Chuan also needs a matriarch…"
"I've already made up my mind, you don't need to say anything anymore," Shulü Wen said. "When she was still alive, the Queen always said, 'A lifetime, forever a pair.' Although I only spent a few years with her, it's already 'a lifetime' to me, and Kong'er is our evidence. From now on, this matter must not be brought up again."
After a moment of silence inside the royal tent, Shulü Wen said again, "Chi Le Chuan will certainly have its new queen. Kong'er will also give you all an account in the future."
And so, all the tribes inside the tent scattered, leaving only Xiang Shu and his father to sit in silence.
"Your mom is gone." The Tiele King stroked his son's head. "From now on, it's just you and me. Kong'er, sleep ba."
"Where did she go?" asked the four-year-old little Xiang Shu warily. "When will she return?" In a hurry, he took a glance, but ultimately, he was only able to catch a sight of his mother that was no longer conscious before the clan members stopped him from seeing Xiang Yuyan anymore.
"She went to a place she wanted to go; to a place she ought to go," replied the Tiele King. "The wind will cease to blow and the snow will thaw. In the land where the peach blossoms are in full bloom, that is where we shall find our solace. There will be a day where Dad has to go too. The wheel of life comes full circle, new life will not cease to appear; that's all there is to it."
After the light inside the royal tent went out, it was dark. On that dark night, Xiang Shu lay down at his usual place. Meanwhile, on the bed his mother and father used to share together, there was only his father's lone figure.
His father was tall and imposing, and he was the most powerful man on the prairie, but at this time, his back seemed incomparably lonely.
He heard his father's low cry in the stillness of the night, whimpering hard just like a wild animal which throat was blocked.
From that day onwards, Xiang Shu didn't speak much.
He read the books left by his mother in silence, and learned to tend to his father in silence; these things were the ways he could, even only by little, reconnect with his mother.
He remembered his mother had mentioned about the South and Jiangnan on more than one occasion. Jiangnan… for the people of Chi Le Chuan, it was a very far place. He was still very young, too young that he couldn't ride a horse or walk to traverse the Great Wall.
But one day, he would go to the South to have a look —— this was like a promise between him and his mother.
He held all these thoughts in his heart, and for years, he kept being taciturn. Every day, when the father and son interacted, it was like those silent shows on the stage.
The clansmen wanted to go south of the Great Wall to request for a Han doctor to diagnose Xiang Shu, but Shulü Wen just said, "Let him be, some people just don't like to open their mouth; more thinking and less talking, what's the big deal about it?"
Shulü Wen knew that there was nothing wrong with his son; he was just momentarily in a trance because he had lost his mother. He believed that his son could slowly move on in the end —— everyone must experience this kind of thing.
He also knew that Xiang Shu didn't completely shut his mouth. At least, when Che Luofeng came, Shulü Wen saw his son speak. That time, Xiang Shu whispered something to Che Luofeng, but when Shulü Wen passed by, the two children stopped talking at once.
Shulü Wen didn't really like the Rourans. However, the children hadn't done any wrong, and younger generations shouldn't become the object of the enmity of the previous generations. Although Shulü Wen didn't want to interfere with his son's choice, he nevertheless hoped that he would be more cheerful, and so, he deliberately gave him more time with his peers.
Once in awhile, Xiang Shu would raise his head and look at his father, but still, he wouldn't speak.
As Xiang Shu grew up, Shulü Wen said in his heart that he was able to read the meaning of Xiang Shu's gaze.
My son is a gentle person by nature, just like his mother. He isn't like anyone else on this prairie. Hidden beneath his cold and indifferent exterior, is a heart as vast as the blue dome that encompasses everything in this world.
Because of this, he thought that he didn't give him the wrong name in the first place.
Shulü Wen was very satisfied with his son.
At the age of 7, Xiang Shu got his first horse. It was a tribute from King Akele.
Shulü Wen began to teach him how to ride and shoot, as well as martial arts. Xiang Shu's level of comprehension was so high that he could master any martial arts as soon as he was taught. Shulü Wen had never seen such a talent in galloping throughout the land beyond the Great Wall. Maybe he inherited it from his mother?
During her life, Xiang Yuyan was also a martial artist. Although her arrival in the land beyond the Great Wall was inexplicable and she had also forgotten the majority of things, she still remembered her martial arts. In a short span of a few years, she had copied down a large amount of martial arts illustrations as well as works from various schools of thought in the Central Plains based on her memory. The Tiele King was afraid that his teaching would waste his son's time, so he had him study the books left behind by his mother on his own.
Not long after, Xiang Shu was able to catch snow foxes and shoot down wild geese in the sky. You see, even Shulü Wen had to spend no less than six years to get to this point.
Until one night.
Seven-year-old Xiang Shu silently got up. He took a bow and quiver, put on his hunting boots, wore his fur coat, and went out pulling a horse —— he had wrapped the horse's hooves with cloth since a long time ago.
In a few days, it would be the Autumn Close Festival. Xiang Shu had to complete his plan today. By the time of the Autumn Close Festival, Chi Le Chuan would hold a grand celebration. Undoubtedly, his father would be unable to escape from his responsibilities now; he was also unable to stop him.
"Jia!" Xiang Shu said in a soft voice. He had devised this plan for no less than three years.
Che Luofeng waited behind a tree and once he saw Xiang Shu, he nervously showed himself.
"Did you bring the stuff?" asked Xiang Shu in a small voice.
Che Luofeng gave Xiang Shu a purse containing some heavy gold ingots. Xiang Shu had it tied to the horseback, then nodded to Che Luofeng.
"Have you really thought about it?" Che Luofeng got on his own horse and said to Shulü Kong, "I'll send you off."
"Don't send me off too far." Seven-year-old Xiang Shu was still a child; anxiousness, excitement, many kinds of mixed emotions currently resided in him. In the dark, his voice trembled a little, "You still have to go back."
Che Luofeng said, "Where are you going anyway?"
"Central Plains, Jiangnan," said little Xiang Shu as he urged his horse. That legendary place seemed like a sacred land in his dream. "The wind will cease to blow and the snow will thaw. In the land where the peach blossoms are in full bloom, that is where my 'heart' lies."
Che Luofeng's lips moved but he didn't speak.
Little Xiang Shu's expression was solemn and serene, as if he had gone on a pilgrimage. It was as if, so long he could cross over the Great Wall, he would see peach blossoms dancing in the breeze and filling the whole sky, as well as peach orchards and terraces all over the place, while his mother, wearing a gentle smile on her face, stood at the side of the stream, waiting for him.
"Six days by horse from here," Xiang Shu said, "is the Great Wall. After crossing the Great Wall, you'll be able to go to the Central Plains. After arriving on the Central Plains, you can go all the way south once again to get to Jiangnan. Look."
Xiang Shu took out a map scroll made of sheepskin, and borrowing the light of the bright, faraway moon, he looked at it carefully with Che Luofeng.
"Will you even come back?" asked Che Luofeng.
Xiang Shu didn't answer. After a moment, his gaze went into the distance before returning to Che Luofeng. Imitating the words from the book, he told Che Luofeng, "In the future, we will meet again."
"Jia!" He urged his horse to speed up, disappearing when he reached the edge of the vast prairie.
Che Luofeng stayed on his horse for a long time, blankly staring. After that, he changed his horse's direction and went back to Chi Le Chuan.
Xiang Shu left Chi Le Chuan bringing along some rations and money. The weather was getting colder nearing the Autumn Close Festival, only, the mighty force that engulfed the North was already behind him. Along the way, he stopped at the crimson maple forest, made a fire, had a quick rest, then continued his journey once again. No matter day or night, as long as he had some strength, he would advance towards that wall that looked similar to an enormous dragon, extending all over the world for thousands of years.
The Great Wall encircled another kind of world; that world was like a utopia, a place where people outside its encirclement would forever be unable to strive for. With each passing day he ran away, he was getting closer and closer to the land of his dream.
The moment the Great Wall appeared on the horizon, Xiang Shu could hardly control his heart's excitement.
Trembling, he dismounted and looked at the imposing wall in a daze. Winding for thousands of miles, it was exactly as his mother described: everlasting.
Xiang Shu nearly cried. He trembled and moved forwards a few steps, kneeling on the ground.
"The Great Wall," he said to himself.
He knelt down and made a voluntary kowtow gesture towards the South. Just like kowtowing towards Chi Le Chuan, towards the legendary Carosha in the North, or towards the great rivers between heaven and earth, this gesture was to show his respect. Raising his head, he touched the top of his forehead and chest with his finger, then he turned over his hands so that his palms lay flat upwards. This series of gestures was the Tieles' rite of courtesy that meant "I offer to give all I have."
He just stood there and looked for a very long, long time. The wind roared amidst the vast plain, and at this time, in the presence of this eternal historical relic, he actually had a rare feeling of homesickness. Although, at this time, he was still unclear of what this feeling was, instinct stopped him and made it difficult for him to move any closer.
He was like a lonely traveler, and at this moment, he was the only person in this world.
But all of a sudden, a voice was heard.
"Don't go over there," Shulü Wen's voice rang out, "you won't find what you desire."
Xiang Shu turned around and found that his father's lonely figure was standing not far from him. His father left Chi Le Chuan and chased after him without any rest. In the end, he stopped his son, whose heart was as rebellious as a hard-to-tame horse, right before he entered the Great Wall.
The Tiele King, after learning about his and Che Luofeng's plan, put aside the hustle and bustle of the Autumn Close Festival and immediately went to chase him.
"Your mom is already dead," Shulü Wen's heavy voice rang out once again, "the people don't want you to be broken-hearted, so they told you that she went back to the South to seek treatment."
"I know," replied Xiang Shu in a calm manner, "I know all about it."
The Tiele King quietly looked at his son, then said little by little, "Then, for what reason do you still want to go to the South?"
Xiang Shu looked away, avoiding his father's gaze.
"I don't know," replied Xiang Shu.
"Think it over before you go," said Shulü Wen. "Do you want me to accompany you to climb over the Great Wall and have a look?"
Xiang Shu didn't respond, and Shulü Wen also didn't scold his son for his absurd act of completely throwing away his father and Chi Le Chuan's people behind him.
Xiang Shu didn't know why, but he was a little scared.
Shulü Wen said, "Let the thing inside the dream remain in the dream, ba. Kong'er, wait until the day you can make your dream come true, and then, go uncover it once more."
Xiang Shu stood stubbornly without moving.
Shulü Wen said again, "Of course, you can also cross over right now. Today is probably what the Hans always says to be ‘the Will of Heaven.' Dad knows that once you leave, you will unlikely to come back again. You have to think about this clearly."
Xiang Shu still didn't answer.
"Dad won't leave Chi Le Chuan," Shulü Wen said in the end, "but Dad won't stop you."
Xiang Shu looked towards his father. Shulü Wen's temples had been stained with wind and frost. Finally, Xiang Shu turned his horse around and decided to follow after his father, going back home. Before leaving, as if unwilling to part, he turned his head and glanced at the Great Wall.
"Have you ever crossed the Great Wall?" said Xiang Shu.
"En," answered Shulü Wen.
Xiang Shu asked, "What is it like over there?"
Shulü Wen replied, "I can't say. You have to see it with your own two eyes in the future. You'll definitely go over there one day, but not now."
All of a sudden, Xiang Shu asked, "Have you ever been to Jiangnan?"
"I haven't," Shulü Wen said in a serene voice. "I'm the Great Chanyu, I can't leave my people for too long."
Xiang Shu once again looked back and saw the Great Wall gradually disappeared at the boundary of the mountain ridge. While he was still looking back, Shulü Wen had already shouted "Jia!" to urge his horse to leave, and Xiang Shu could only catch up with his father. The two of them rushed back towards Chi Le Chuan.
On that Autumn Close Festival, Che Luofeng and Xiang Shu had to endure a harsh beating. After the event, the two of them vowed and became Andas.
At the age of 12, Xiang Shu's reputation as a martial arts genius had spread all over the prairie. He could shoot down the fastest flying objects between heaven and earth, could catch up with the king of horses that moved just like the wind, and some people even said that he could shoot down dragons in the sky.
When he was 14 years old, some Xianbei bandits invaded their territory and massacred three Gaoche's troops. Xiang Shu followed his father to the battle, and from a hundred steps away, he shot dead the leader of the bandits, further increasing his fame.
He was no longer the youth from back then; he had become a tall and powerful man. He was dressed in the Tiele leather armor and only wore a protect-heart mirror, leaving his chest and lower abdomen exposed. But, he still spoke so rarely, outside towards his clansmen and his Anda, he kept a very discreet and serious attitude.
That day when another bandit appeared, he took a fabled sabre of the Gaoches from his father's hand, then stormed deep into the mountains alone with his horse. At dusk, he was covered with the enemy's blood as he slowly walked out of the canyon, using some tree leaves to wipe the bloodstain on the sabre.
This war had made Shulü Kong famous, but Shulü Wen had also suffered injuries because of this war.
He began to learn from his father how to handle the disputes of all the tribes. He became a substitute for the Great Chanyu and wielded the golden seal; everything under heaven listened and obeyed his orders.
In his 15th year, Xiang Shu led officers and soldiers of the three tribes: Tieles, Rourans, and Xiongnus, to some expeditions.
By 16, Xiang Shu finally repelled the Xianbeis for the last time, making Chi Le Chuan's influence spread north of the Great Wall until the end of the world.
The Four Seas and the prairies are all the Great Chanyu's land, and all of the people under the sky are all the Great Chanyu's people. When Fu Jian came to Chi Le Chuan, he expressed goodwill towards the Great Chanyu and his great exploits, in order to be granted the Golden Conferment of Purple Scroll.
However, Xiang Shu didn't give him the Purple Scroll, because, after some discussions among the tribes, their opinions were surprisingly unified: The Central Plains is unlike the former Central Plains. One day, Chi Le Chuan's blue sky will cover the area south of the Great Wall and unite the vast land, including the Qins and the Jins'.
At that time, Shulü Wen had already run out of time. Fu Jian had a burning ambition, and if he got the edict, it would be more difficult to keep him in line.
Not long after, Shulü Wen passed away, and Xiang Shu took over the position of the Great Chanyu. Xiang Shu was faced with the same kind of unending quarrel just like before: The elders of all tribes wanted him to get married. All of a sudden, he understood how his father had felt in those days.
"Guwang will be away for a while," Xiang Shu said all of the sudden.
At once, there was silence all over the royal tent; everyone looked at each other in surprise.
"Where to?" Che Luofeng asked, still at loss, "Anda, you just took over as the Great Chanyu!"
"Shi Mokun will temporarily take over the Great Chanyu's duty and will hold the golden seal," said Xiang Shu. "I'm going to trace the whereabouts of that Han doctor. That's it, now disperse."
That very night, Xiang Shu left Chi Le Chuan on his horse, just like ten years ago. This time, he turned his head and saw the Chi Le's mountain range that extended forever into the distance.
"You're leaving again." Che Luofeng's figure emerged from under the tree.
Xiang Shu looked at Che Luofeng. It had been ten years since then, and many things had happened.
"This time, will you even come back?" said Che Luofeng.
"I don't know," replied Xiang Shu.
Che Luofeng said, "You're going not because of that doctor nor because of the death of your father; you just want to go to the South. I've always known, just like your father, you want to look for a Han wife."
Xiang Shu didn't reply, and Che Luofeng said again, "Is it not good to stay here? A few years later, when the time comes, we can go together."
"No," said Xiang Shu. "These few years, I've always felt that on the other side of the Great Wall, in that place where peach blossoms bloom abundantly, there's someone waiting for me. This premonition is getting closer and closer to me now, and I can't wait any longer."
Che Luofeng said, "From childhood until adulthood, you've never forgotten this all along."
Xiang Shu pressed on both sides of the horse and shouted, "Jia!"
Compared to his voice from ten years ago that trembled with nervousness and excitement, it was different now; everything had turned upside down. His voice had become mature and firm. The mulberry fields had turned into the azure sea several times; this time, he seemed to have understood that his fate had come and guided him to his future, and that future had been waiting for him all this time.
Soon enough, he had become a tiny black dot amidst the gale in that vast plain.
But just six days later, when he climbed over the Great Wall and saw for himself the land of his dream for the first time, he was at a loss, and even slightly unable to accept it. At the same time, he also finally understood why his father had asked him not to go any further.
It was because inside the Great Wall, except that mountains were still mountains, and trees were still trees, the scenery, if compared to Chi Le Chuan's scenery, was quite different. What was once a magnificent and unattainable remnant, was now under his feet. To the south of the Great Wall, there was only a boundless land, a fierce wind that never stopped, as well as a blizzard on the hilltop that came along with the autumn.
Haughty and distant, desolate and unknown.
He sat on the Great Wall all night, listening to the sound of wolves coming from a faraway place. Gazing into the distance towards the southern edge of the horizon, Xiang Shu couldn't tell how he was feeling for a moment.
When he looked back at where he came from, Chi Le Chuan had completely disappeared.
"Is this the South?" muttered Xiang Shu.
At dawn, he led his horse and set foot into the Central Plains. What he saw was only burnt villages and charred corpses of the people left behind after plundering, as well as the grayish-black sky.
There were no peach blossoms, no water pavilions, no black roofs, and no white walls.
At last, he met his mother's people. He tried to communicate with them, but they were even more uncivilized and unreasonable than the people of Chi Le Chuan. He killed a lot of people and was eventually imprisoned, and finally, he was taken to Xiangyang.
Inside the prison without any light, the wind had ceased to blow, but the snowflake flying in from the hatchway had not thawed.
He sat in the corner of his cell, watching as the crescent moon turned into a full moon, and a full moon into a crescent moon again. Time moved very slowly, and in the end, the paradise filled with peach blossoms shattered and he was left with the abyss full of blood and misery.
From the beginning until the end, he refused to accept that it was just a beautiful lie told to him by his mother when she was still alive.
Until he gave up all those ideas and realized that his wishful thinking was a stupid joke.
But he was never afraid of death.
Because, as his father had said, The wheel of life comes full circle, new life will not cease to appear; that's all there is to it.
Amidst the darkness and loneliness, he felt peach blossoms flying past; it was like the last small comfort left to him by those who had already left.
However, the moment he made up his mind to give up, outside the prison door, there was the noise of collision, the sound of footsteps, as well as the voice of a stranger.
Alongside the fluttering peach blossoms, a ray of light came in, and under its great radiance, innumerable shattered dreams were awakened, mended, and healed.
"Open the door," said Chen Xing.
—— Extra: Youths Don't Know the Taste of Sorrow · End ——
The title of this extra is from “Ugly Slave”, a poem by Xin Qiji, written during the Southern Song Dynasty.
Special thanks to @lilfayt#7115 for providing the photos of the extra since mine is still miles away…
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.