“Excuse me for a while, Consort, I'm going to violate my propriety.”
A quarter of an hour later, Xiang Shu was drinking milk tea and chatting with King Akele in the Akele's royal tent.
Chen Xing washed his hand with shaojiu, intending to go into another small tent to deliver the consort's baby. King Akele was a robust, tall, and sturdy man close to fifty. He looked fierce but was still very courteous towards Xiang Shu.
Chen Xing looked at the consort and discovered that the situation was already a bit dire. After one day and one night, he was afraid the mother and child would not be able to survive. He hurriedly went back to look for a pellet that could strengthen the heart.
“In case she isn't able to support it,” Chen Xing said, “I will protect the Consort.”
Xiang Shu said a few words to King Akele, they both nodded, and he translated: “Save the Consort.”
Xiang Shu put down his teacup, wanting to help, but Chen Xing made him stay behind to look after King Akele who on the surface appeared as if nothing had happened, yet his trembling hands betrayed him.
The Consort's complexion was deadly pale, and several tribeswomen were helping at her side. Giving birth on the prairie was truly like living on the edge, very dangerous if compared to the Hans who were in the South.
Chen Xing gave the Akele's consort medicine and performed some acupuncture on her. Soon enough, her complexion was restored, and she looked carefully at Chen Xing, saying: “You... you are...”
“I am the Great Chanyu's friend.” Chen Xing held her hand then said, “You can speak Han language? Consort, try to push hard.”
“Xiang... Xiang Yuyan's child, in... where?” The Consort said wearily, “Is he here, too?”
“Xiang what Yan?” Chen Xing suddenly realized something, a hypothesis forming on his head, Xiang Shu's mother?! A Han? As expected, Xiang Shu does look like a Han!
“You two know each other?” Chen Xing was flabbergasted.
“You... are also a Han,” the Consort held Chen Xing's hand, “what's your name?”
Chen Xing was about to say some words, but then he suddenly came back to his senses, he hurriedly said: “Now is not the time for idle gossip! Concentrate on giving birth first, we can talk again after that... Consort, come on, exert yourself!”
The Consort, her hair all disheveled, used all her strength and screamed loudly: “AAAH——”
“Excuse me for a while, Consort, I'm going to violate my propriety.”
Saying so, Chen Xing condensed the Heart Lamp and pressed it on the Consort's heart acupoint. The bright light shone and protected her heart acupoint, and once again, he began to perform acupuncture on her. Chen Xing used every means that he had.
Exactly half a sichen later, all the tribeswomen cried out in joy.
Chen Xing asked: “Did it work? What did they say?”
“Head... the head came out,” Xiang Shu translated from outside the tent.
Chen Xing: “The outside is cold, you go back and drink tea. Consort, keep trying! You're going to make it!”
Outside, a large crowd had surrounded the tent. In this freezing weather, Chen Xing was sweating all over, changing needles, putting needles in, feeding medicine to the consort, and stimulating her last bit of willpower, until the cry of an infant finally resonated. Chen Xing felt as if a great weight had been lifted from him and nearly collapsed right away.
Another quarter of an hour later, Cheng Xing made 'glug', 'glug', 'glug' sounds as he poured more than half a pot of milk tea down his throat in the Akele's royal tent, gasping for breath. King Akele and the Consort's maternal uncle household personally came over to express their thanks. Chen Xing wanted to return the gifts, but Xiang Shu waved his hand, indicating that he should not be too modest.
“If something given by the Xiongnus is returned, it will be considered humiliating,” Xiang Shu said.
Chen Xing had no alternative but to accept them. It was snowing heavier and heavier outside, and they would have to at least wait until tomorrow to be able to cross the river back to Chi Le Chuan. King Akele cleaned up a warm tent, arranged it properly, set up a charcoal fire, and let the two men go ahead and sleep. After one night, the outside had almost developed into a snowstorm, the sky dark and the earth black, and it was impossible to distinguish between day and night. Xiang Shu took Chen Xing to the Akele's royal tent to drink tea, eat roasted meat, and chat.
The Xiongnu language spoken by the Akeles was way older than the language spoken by the rest of the Hus in Chi Le Chuan. The syllables used a lot of ancient sounds, and even Xiang Shu sometimes didn't understand it. In Chen Xing's ears, they were similar to crows' rattling, and it made his head spun.
The Consort came out hugging the baby, whose eyes hadn't opened yet, and showed it to the crowd. Chen Xing cheerfully smiled, touched the baby's clenched fist, saying: "It's a little prince."
King Akele, ever since the death of his firstborn, had been heirless for so many years. Now that the consort was nearly 50, she had given birth to another one, and he was deeply moved. He asked Xiang Shu to name his child. Xiang Shu didn't decline and gave the child the name "Nadoro", which, in the ancient Xiongnu language, meant "the ocean under the mountain".
Chen Xing signaled with his eyes, wanting to ask King Akele about the matter of the map. Xiang Shu nodded and took out the parchment.
"You brought it with you?" Chen Xing felt slightly moved. He recalled that Xiang Shu, when they had first departed, had indeed been a little behind him, so it should be because he had to get the map.
Xiang Shu said a lot of words to King Akele and showed him the map. King Akele was skeptical; he looked over it carefully for a moment before ordering his men to look for someone.
“He said he didn't know, but some old hunters in the tribe might know something,” Xiang Shu explained.
Chen Xing's heart was perturbed; he could only pray, hoping that there were clues.
Inside the tent, the only thing that could be heard was the crackling sound of the furnace fire. The Consort handed over the baby to the wet nurse, smiling as she said: “Is Chen Xing a relative from your maternal uncle's side?”
“What?” Xiang Shu was stunned, saying: “No, he's the one I met in the Central Plains... A friend.”
Chen Xing nodded then concentrated on drinking his tea. The Consort then said: “Then, did you find any of your mother's family?”
“No,” Xiang Shu answered, “there was much chaos because of the war, I'm not planning to look for them. My father had also been trying to find them all these years to no avail.”
Chen Xing didn't dare to interrupt, but Xiang Shu seemed to know what he was thinking and said, “My mother is a Han.”
Chen Xing nodded his head, and the Consort said once again: “In the blink of an eye, 20 years had passed.”
Xiang Shu huffed, a little lost in thought, glanced at Chen Xing, and ended up meeting his eyes. Chen Xing's heart was doubtful, and he was a little restless. Xiang Shu conveniently said: “It's fine. The fact that my mother is a Han is not a shameful matter.”
The Consort laughed and said: “He didn't know? You can clearly see it by his looks.”
Chen Xing had asked Xiang Shu before, but had nearly got beaten up for his troubles. As a result, he had been afraid to ask again. Xiang Shu only said in a light manner: "After my mother died, my father was full of sorrow, making the clansmen refrain from mentioning my mother. As time passed, the Ancient Covenant started to think that I also didn't like anyone mentioning it, so no one dared to talk about it."
“Shulü Kong's mother,” the Consort said, “was indeed quite beautiful, very beautiful.”
Chen Xing said: “You can just look from her son's appearance to know that fact.”
Xiang Shu spoke casually, “Hence, my Han name follows my mother's surname, and now I'm telling you.”
Chen Xing thought for a moment, then said: “In the future, if you have a chance, you can go south to try and find your maternal uncle's family, I remember there is a large and influential family with the surname 'Xiang' among the Hans...”
“Xiang Yu,” Xiang Shu spoke casually.
Chen Xing nodded, saying, “Yes, he's a famous person in Pengcheng. After the large scale migration to the South, most of the Central Plains' scholars moved to Kuaiji, I can't say for sure, but you can try asking around Kuaiji.”
Xiang Shu indifferently said, “We'll see.”
The Consort said: “When Yuyan was still alive, she said she still had one Han friend, her foster elder brother, whose name I have sadly forgotten. Maybe you can try tracking this man down to find out more. Maybe he's still in the world of the living?”
Xiang Shu: ”?”
Xiang Shu was a little at loss, so the Consort said: “I remember that year, it was on the edge of Lake Barkol.”
“When did she go to Barkol Lake?” Xiang Shu asked.
“22 years ago, before you were born.” The Consort said, “The first time I saw her, she was walking all the way north. She said she was looking for someone, a man.”
Xiang Shu said, “She came to Chi Le Chuan 20 years ago, that's what my father had said when he was still alive.”
The Consort didn't want to argue, smiling as she said, “Then, I must've remembered it wrong.”
“Where is Barkol Lake?” Chen Xing was baffled after listening to everything.
The Consort spoke: “Further to the north from here, in the place where we graze during summer.”
Xiang Shu interrupted: “2 years before giving birth to me, she had already been outside the Great Wall?”
The Consort tried hard to remember, but it was still unclear. Chen Xing asked, “What's wrong? Is it inconsistent with what you remember?”
Xiang Shu frowned and said, “My dad told me that the year he met her, she was being pursued by her enemies and fainted in the prairie outside the Great Wall. When my dad went hunting, he unintentionally saved her. From then on. she settled in Chi Le Chuan, and two years later, she gave birth to me.”
Chen Xing was a little curious about her enemies, but in the end, it all happened in Xiang Shu's past. Since the other person didn't mention it, it was no good to ask and dig up the matter after all. So, it was once again quiet in the Akele's royal tent, until the men ordered by King Akele came in, bringing two old hunters. First, they bowed in courtesy to Xiang Shu, saying “Great Chanyu”. They got up to read the parchment, then said some words.
The Consort began translating: “There is indeed such a place; they asked the Great Chanyu how does he know about it.”
With a strong archaic accent, Xiang Shu said not to waste their efforts to ask. Chen Xing was immediately full of joy and spoke: “Where is it?”
Thus, the two old hunters began to spread out another parchment, drawing the route to the place. The Consort said, “They said, this is a cursed place, and mountain ghosts often show up. 10 years ago, they had entered it once to hunt...”
“Mountain ghosts?” Chen Xing was astonished, “What is a mountain ghost?”
Chen Xing had only heard of 'mountain demons', which, in ancient texts, had never been recorded down as 'mountain ghosts'. A mountain demon had an appearance of a one-legged creature with a child's face and was a supernatural being that lived deep in the mountains, but they had also gone extinct a long time ago.
“The deads,” the Consort said, “are buried in the mountains. If they don't rot after some years, they will become mountain ghosts.”
Chen Xing: “!!!”
Xiang Shu: “...”
Chen Xing and Xiang Shu looked at each other and thought: Aren't those drought fiends?!
“Go on,” Xiang Shu commanded.
Once the two men finished drawing the map, they built on and backed up each other's stories. The Xiongnu's legend about the place named “Carosha” was indeed true, but they didn't know from what period it originated from. It was rumored that in some ancient era, when there were still no written records, a dragon god fell in the north, turned into three smaller mountains, and the blood flowing out of the dragon formed a big water body.
It was once a sacred mountain where the Xiongnu had buried their dead warriors. Over time, the decomposed dragon god's body formed the marsh gas that gradually revived those corpses, and those who accidentally broke into the mountain would forever unable to leave the place.
Chen Xing thought that each tribe had many such legends, and since the main purpose of them was to dissuade people from recklessly disturbing the burial grounds, the legends were spread even more mystifyingly. They ought to be drought fiends, and they shouldn't be there of all places. Running all the way there to make a pile of drought fiends, with the cold weather and the frozen ground that could easily turn them into ice sculptures, where they could only stay motionless and could even get buried in the avalanche, who had enough free time to do such a troublesome thing?
Xiang Shu then said: “The mountain ghost you saw, what does it look like?”
The two old hunters vividly described it, but neither of them had actually seen the mountain ghost's true face. Chen Xing breathed a sigh of relief, but then, he noticed that the Consort and King Akele had been exchanging looks, and he felt something was a little off.
Xiang Shu nodded and thanked the two of them, then handed the map to Chen Xing.
“Tomorrow, when the Xarusgol River has completely frozen, the Tiele and Xiongnu tribes will be able to cross the river, escorting you until you reach Chi Le Chuan.” Xiang Shu told King Akele, “The location for the camp has already been chosen; it is the same location as last year.”
King Akele thanked him once again, then Chen Xing suddenly asked: “About the mountain ghosts, is there anything else you know?”
Maybe it was purely based on his intuition, but Chen Xing couldn't help but ask this question because he persistently felt that perhaps there was some matter that King Akele and the Consort were afraid of.
The Consort shook her head, her expression a little stupefied.
King Akele diverged from the topic, saying something to Xiang Shu. Xiang Shu also noticed, but he didn't push for more and just nodded.
That night, the entire tribe began to tidy up their things and prepare to cross the river the next day. Chen Xing returned to his tent. The day was indeed very cold, and this was just the beginning of winter. If there were no Yin Mountains to shield them from the wind, this group of people would likely survive no more than two months with how ruthless the cold in Xarusgol riverside was.
Chen Xing's whole body felt cold, and he trembled slightly. Xiang Shu lightly said, “With this constitution of yours, you still want to go north. The North is even colder.”
Chen Xing said, “I've been very idle these days, just have to wait until I recovered a little.”
Xiang Shu opened his quilt slightly, saying: “Come and sleep here.”
Chen Xing couldn't ask for more, he was shivering all over his body. He held his quilt, wrapped himself in it, went to Xiang Shu's quilt, and wormed his way into it, thinking: Che Luofeng once tried to get into your quilt, only to have you kick him out, but you unexpectedly treat me nicely?
“Is the Consort hiding something? I think King Akele also seems to know something.”
“Matters that other people don't want to say, you mustn't recklessly mention them.”
Chen Xing replied: “You've been quite calm and good-tempered these days, and you haven't been mean to me.”
Xiang Shu: “I'm not crazy. If you speak nicely, why should I be mean to you?”
Chen Xing warmed up a lot as soon as they lay down together, his whole person coming back to life. The two men were covered by the same quilt, so the space felt awfully small, and since their faces were nearly stuck together, it made Chen Xing's face actually go red. Without waiting for him to say it, Xiang Shu turned to lie flat on his back, so they would not end up being too close. In the end, he bent one knee inside his quilt, slightly moved against the blanket.
Chen Xing's heart suddenly leaped, and for a moment, his heart churned with confusion and ambiguity. He recalled that day under the tree, the words he had said to Tuoba Yan... I don't think I like Xiang Shu ba. No, no... Chen Xing forced the idea out of his mind.
Maybe, a sense of dependency towards the Protector? Ever since Chen Xing had become aware he had to find a Protector, he had brimmed with indescribable expectations for that person whose name and origin was unknown to him. Every time he was near him, that expectation seemed to have morphed into reality.
Chen Xing kept tossing and turning, he couldn't sleep well, and his heart was in a mess. From the corner of his eyes, he suddenly discovered that Xiang Shu seemed to be looking at him, so he turned sideways, wanting to say something.
Xiang Shu’s mother is a Han and his father a Hu, NOW WE KNOW WHY HE’S SO GORGEOUS! And Chen Xing, did you just admit something there?
Anyway, my copy of Dinghai Vol. 1 had arrived in xiin’s place a couple of days ago and I’M STILL HAPPY! I GOT CX’S NIGHT LAMP GUYS!
And… we made a Feitian-dedicated Discord server, if anyone wants to join here’s the link.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), namio and Caro.