In the Chi Le Chuan region, nomadic residential areas beyond the pass occupied vast areas comparable to large cities within the pass like Ye City and Xiangyang. Areas were divided according to the tribes; the Tiele tribe lived in the east. The Great Chanyu’s living quarters was surrounded by mountains on both sides and faced this settlement beyond the Great Wall with no city wall. Beyond the settlement, a lot of nomads travelled here their families, and after spending a short summer here, they would join the Ancient Covenant and prepare to usher in the prolonged winter that would arrive soon.
Chen Xing thought that it was really beautiful here. There was peace in the bustle, and the scenery was gorgeous as well. After climbing halfway up the mountain at the back, one would have a panoramic view of the plain. Xiang Shu’s clansmen were very unconstrained and lively as well; they would ride horses, play ball games as they wished, and idled their time away all day. Cheering joyfully, laughing all the time, idling their time away, not doing anything productive, all the while waiting for winter in the meantime.
But why is it that Laozi, a guest who came from afar, needs to clean your room for you?! It’s not like I’m a servant! Chen Xing really wanted to throw the cloth onto the floor, but he couldn’t resist his curiosity as he glanced around the place where Xiang Shu lived.
It doesn’t seem like a place that belonged to a man with a wife and children, but he could tell that someone used to live here.
Chen Xing grew up living with his master and found this kind of feeling very familiar. Xiang Shu may have lived with his father before he grew up, and his mother was probably around at an even earlier time.
He casually wiped the bookshelf and flipped through the books on it. He hardly recognised any of the words written in them, but he could identify quite a lot of pictures. Most were illustrations of martial arts, manuals for horsemanship and archery, records of weapons, expositions of veins and acupoints by outsiders, as well as a map of the area beyond the Great Wall. There were numerous registers of names as well.
When the sun was setting in the west, people singing and dancing could be heard outside. Xiang Shu came back.
Xiang Shu, “What are you doing? Don’t touch my things!”
Chen Xing almost threw the rag at Xiang Shu’s face and said angrily, “What do you think? Is it a rule here for guests to clean your rooms?!”
Xiang Shu was stunned, but he smiled.
Ever since he returned to the Chi Le Covenant, Xiang Shu mood has improved a lot. It was Chen Xing’s first time seeing Xiang Shu smile, and once he smiled, this guy instantly seemed more handsome. The air around him that rejected all strangers immediately disappeared, and what took its place was a warmth that was even more gentle and amicable than that of Tuoba Yan.
But Xiang Shu immediately withdrew his smile and said, “Get dinner ba, follow me.”
That night, Tiele held a grand celebration. Bonfires were lit throughout the whole Chi Le Chuan to celebrate the return of the Great Chanyu. They drank wine, roasted fish, and ate meat under the mountain range, their singing voices resounding through the skies. Chen Xing sat next to Xiang Shu. A subordinate offered a roasted leg of lamb and handed him a silver knife. Chen Xing’s appetite was greatly whetted; he sliced off the meat and was about to eat it when the people around him chided him angrily.
Chen Xing, “?”
Everyone started berating Chen Xing and motioned for him to serve the Great Chanyu his food. Chen Xing grabbed the knife and really wanted to stab Xiang Shu to death.
“They said that you aren’t being sensible.” Xiang Shu casually said, then explained to the surrounding people before everyone slowly sat back down.
So Chen Xing could only slice the meat off and hand it to Xiang Shu first. Xiang Shu only ate a bit before raising his hand and said, “Leave it for yourself ba.”
So everyone began to eat dinner. Not long after, a woman supported an elderly man over, who should be the elder of one of the tribes. He sat down and exchanged greetings with several elderly people that Xiang Shu had brought back from Chang’an, engaging in some idle chatter with them. Xiang Shu didn’t interject and just drank some wine. He would glance at Chen Xing from time to time. Chen Xing ate his roast lamb and kept speculating from the expressions of the people around him. He heard Fu Jian’s name being mentioned many times and guessed that they must be badmouthing him.
Xiang Shu placed an empty glass next to his hand, signalling to Chen Xing to pour him some wine.
Chen Xing said, “You plan on storming into the pass, taking Fu Jian down, and seizing his place as emperor?”
Xiang Shu casually said, “Depends on my mood.”
Chen Xing, "......"
Chen Xing poured a full cup of wine for Xiang Shu, then asked again, “What about your promise to take me to that whatever mountain to look for the Dinghai Pearl? You said you’d take me.”
Xiang Shu, “Wait.”
Although Chen Xing knew it was a bit impertinent of him to urge Xiang Shu to start working on the first day of his return, but he still had worries on his mind so he couldn’t help but say, “You aren’t lying to me ba?”
Xiang Shu glanced at Chen Xing in disbelief to mean, “am I such a person?”
“If you don’t believe me, then get lost right now!” Xiang Shu said angrily.
As soon as Xiang Shu raised his voice, everyone stopped talking and looked at them. Chen Xing immediately said, “Don’t get angry, don’t get angry, it was a slip of the tongue. Come, Great Chanyu, I’ll give you a toast!”
Chen Xing was afraid that this bunch of barbarians would cause trouble for him, so he quickly filled his cup with wine and smiled as he wanted to give everyone a toast. He motioned to the rest to convey that, see, we’re not fighting. Yet Xiang Shu held Chen Xing’s head with one hand, held the wine bowl with the other, and forced the wine down his throat.
Chen Xing: “!!!”
The other attendees could only hear them speaking in the Han language and didn’t know what had happened, so they soon resumed their conversation.
Chen Xing was choking badly, and he said angrily, “You……”
But Xiang Shu ignored him. He faced the people on the other side and asked in the Xianbei language, “When will the Akeles tribe come?”
That person answered respectfully in the Xianbei language as well, “Great Chanyu, according to the usual practice in previous years, they will rush to Chi Le Chuan before the third of October.”
Chen Xing suddenly thought that this wine seemed pretty delicious? It was sweet and didn’t burn his throat, so he started pouring and drinking it on his own.
Xiang Shu casually said, “The Akeles tribe is a branch of the Xiongnu. They operate somewhere far north, and as for the exact location of Mt. Erchilun, this tribe is clearer about it than I am.”
It was the fifteenth of September today. It was still alright to wait until the third of October. Chen Xing drank his wine and said, “If you’re busy, you can just draw a map for me, and I’ll go by myself.”
Xiang Shu revealed a ridiculing expression on his face, “Do you know what it would be like during winter if you continue heading north?”
Chen Xing, “At worst I can just wear a few more layers……”
The guard on the side said in Xianbei, “Wait for Che Luofeng to come back, he may be able to bring with him news of Akeles.”
“Che Luofeng is my Anda,” Xiang Shu didn’t look at Chen Xing, and instead stared at the bonfire in a daze, “Who grew up with me. He left Chi Le Chuan and went to the North to hunt. He went quite far away this time; I can ask him when he gets back.”
Chen Xing ate a lot of roast lamb that was on the salty side, so he felt quite thirsty and lost count of how many bowls of wine he drank in succession. His head was spinning; the wine tasted sweet and seemed to be brewed from honey and goat’s milk. He unwittingly drank more and more of it, then his head knocked onto the table. He didn’t hear what Xiang Shu said before he collapsed, thoroughly intoxicated.
Xiang Shu, “……”
“He drank a whole vat!” A guard sitting on the other side cried in surprise, “Not bad!”
While Chen Xing was drunk, he felt as if he had been carried back to the tent by Xiang Shu. A blanket covered him, and he felt thirsty at midnight. Singing and drunken laughter could still be heard outside. He said, “I want to drink water.”
So Xiang Shu had to feed him with a water bottle. Chen Xing then turned over and fell asleep.
Early in the morning, Chen Xing woke up. The marble white colour of dawn appeared on the horizon; the merriment throughout Chi Le Chuan had died down, and everyone was still sleeping soundly.
“Xiang Shu, I want to take a bath……” Chen Xing scratched his body, sat up, and said.
“What?” Xiang Shu had been tormented by Chen Xing for an entire night. He wore an unlined garment, got up, and glanced at him irascibly.
“I want to take a bath,” Chen Xing said, “Where can I go to get some hot water?”
“Wash yourself in the river.” Xiang Shu said impatiently.
Chen Xing, “I’ll catch a cold. I want to take a hot bath.”
“You don’t want a hot bath.” Xiang Shu rejected Chen Xing, “Say another word, and I’ll throw you into the river.”
Chen Xing, “……”
Xiang Shu only properly woke up when the sun had risen three poles high, then he took Chen Xing to a stream to take a bath.
“It’s so cold.” Chen Xing wailed as soon as he entered the water, but Xiang Shu just looked grumpy. He stripped himself bare and went into the stream. Chen Xing had seen this several times, and they had bathed together when they first entered Chang’an. But for some reason, his face suddenly felt hot to the touch, and he was a little embarrassed.
Xiang Shu’s figure was like a wild horse’s -- slim, yet it had a very manly ruggedness. His skin was fair and smooth, and didn’t seem to contain the slightest hint of the Tiele people’s boorishness. Especially the contours of his back and long legs -- they were absolutely alluring.
“Wipe my back! What are you looking at?” Xiang Shu said.
Chen Xing, “Why should I? I’m not your slave! I’ve had enough! Xiang Shu! If you treat me as your servant again, I’ll……”
“You’ll what?” Xiang Shu mocked, “What will you do?”
Chen Xing, “Do all of you look down on the Han people? I finally know now; when they asked you who I am, you said that I’m your ‘servant’, right? You don’t harbour good intentions after all; you just got me to come to your tribe to serve you!”
“What else then?” Xiang Shu asked in reply, “You want the Great Chanyu to serve you?”
“You’re a Protector!” Chen Xing said.
“Get lost! Wipe my back!” Xiang Shu said, “Will you do it or not?”
Chen Xing held up a cloth. Xiang Shu wanted to reach out and press him down, but Chen Xing quickly dodged. In a moment of carelessness, he slipped while in the water and almost fell in. Xiang Shu grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the water, so Chen Xing could only help Xiang Shu wipe his back angrily.
Xiang Shu casually said, “If you’re capable enough to let them witness your strength, no one would dare order you about like a servant.”
Chen Xing, “Okay. Even if you aren’t a Protector, is this how you guys treat your guests?”
“You’re not a guest.” Xiang Shu studied Chen Xing’s naked body, and he was about to say, “You followed along by yourself,” but his breathing stopped for no reason, then he slightly turned his body sideways.
Chen Xing, “Don’t underestimate people.”
Xiang Shu avoided Chen Xing’s gaze, turned his head sideways, and raised an eyebrow at him to signal, ‘please do as you wish’.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Caro.