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Chapter 3 - A Clever Debate

Nothing to Lose


"I came from where I came."


Translator(s): moon
Editor(s): jelly, namio, opal

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The people do not fear death, so what is the use of threatening them with it? The worst that could happen was that he was killed, and that meant he had nothing to lose. If they killed him, he’d just continue to transmigrate, and next time he’d transmigrate to become the person that killed him.

A-Dou turned it over in his mind before finally coming to a decision. He lifted his head and stared at Kongming, bolstering his courage to say, “What did xiansheng… just say?”

As he spoke, he couldn’t keep his emotions fully under control and let out a shiver. At that, he saw Zhuge Liang’s eyes gleam and his brows furrow slightly as if he had discovered something illogical. A-Dou’s eyes met Kongming’s and he had no way of prying his gaze away; he only felt that those dark black pupils held a certain compulsion, causing his own brain to become muddled, and he muttered, “Who am I?”

“Where are you from?” Kongming asked slowly, with a tone seemed to hold a kind of hypnotic power.

“I’m from…” A-Dou’s eyes glazed over.

He seemed to recall that when Zhuge Liang was young he had been a disciple of Zhang Daoling, so he had a full repertoire of dao skills. Zhang Daoling was the founder of the Tianshi sect, and if Zhang Jue of the Taiping Dao, Yu Ji of Eastern Wu, and others of the same generation traced their origins back, they would all connect irreversibly to this Tianshi sect. At the moment, as soon as Kongming saw A-Dou and observed his strange behaviors, he hid a few Daoist teachings in his words to ensnare his opponent.

But the events of the world were ever-changing, and Wei Yan also had a time when he rushed into the main tent of the military camp and knocked over a large oil lamp, so it could only be said that Zhuge Kongming’s plan was doomed to fail.

Before A-Dou came, he had scarfed down a stomach-full of mung bean pastries, and after being digested, those things made him feel uncomfortably stuffed, so he let out a burp.

The burp was very clear, and with a ge sound his entire body grew alert and awake. Despite all his planning, Kongming could never have planned for such a burp, and it was so sudden that he startled. Before he could recover his wits, A-Dou’s eyes had already recovered their usual clarity, and he smiled and said, “I came from where I came.”

A-Dou asked in return, “Where is teacher from?”

And with this, it was Kongming’s turn to be ensnared; the only correct answer to this Buddhist teaching from several thousands of years ago was indeed “I come from where I come”. A-Dou had just finished his answer, so Kongming couldn’t borrow his words and fall into a set pattern; he needed to respond with an answer that had a new meaning. Even if you’re the invincible military strategist of a generation, there’s no way I'd be torn apart that easily, and there’s no way you can answer so vulgarly, “I came from my mother’s womb.”

The master and the disciple stood there for a long while before A-Dou let out a few fake laughs and adopted the demeanour of a small, harmless animal as he asked, “What did teacher call me out here for? A-Dou just came from stepmother’s place.”

A-Dou could almost see a bunch of wild curses floating in the air above Kongming’s head, tangling into a blob of black lines as countless question marks undulated around them. After a short moment, a lightbulb lit up with a ding over Kongming’s head, and he asked, “What exactly did you do last night?”

A-Dou chuckled darkly in his heart as he pulled out the explanation about him wanting to use the bedsheet as a swing; it was a lie filled with gaps and omissions, but Kongming was obviously using the terrain to get off his mule, when his intention was not on this. For a while, his mind seemed to be far away. It wasn't clear if he was thinking about how to answer that question, or if he was thinking about how A-Dou was different today than from before. Finally, he said, “Did you read the book that I handed you last night?”

A-Dou’s eyes darted to the left and right a few times, before he smiled and answered with a question. “The book? I forgot.”

Kongming originally had not given Liu Shan any book. These words were a test for him, as he was well aware that this rip-off A-Dou was quite slippery. The two words “I forgot” could be interpreted as he “forgot the book” or that he “forgot to read”. Kongming only felt that today’s rotten mud was very different from his style in the past, and there was an air of knowing the most but speaking the least. But just as he was about to add the question, “What?”, he saw that Boyue had already finished wiping down the table and chairs and railings. Afraid that Liu Shan would be subject to another scolding, the boy cautiously tiptoed in.

Kongming could only answer, “Let it be, this master recently has been busy with matters of politics, so starting tomorrow you and Boyue do not need to come for class. When I have the spare time again, I will send people to call you over, now go.”

A-Dou was just letting loose a sigh of relief, but in that instant his expression caught Kongming’s attention. Just as he was about to call Jiang Wei over to leave, Kongming said, “Wait.”

A-Dou’s heart wrenched. Kongming asked, “Why are you covered in sweat?”

A-Dou sucked in a breath before turning around and answering, “Ah, teacher, I just saw your eyes and I thought of someone, no, I saw someone.”

Kongming revealed a smile that had a deeply hidden meaning as he said, “Speak without fear of the consequences.”

A-Dou responded, sincere without equivalent, “Teacher’s eyes were so bright that I saw a person’s silhouette in them. Originally, I thought it was my own, but it wavered back and forth and I couldn’t see it clearly. Looking closer, I suddenly saw my dead mother smiling at me…”

As soon as these words came out, Kongming couldn’t help but let loose a cold shiver, and the corner of his mouth twitched faintly. He hurriedly waved his fan and sent A-Dou and Jiang Wei off.

After leaving the military camp, A-Dou spotted a maid carrying a shallow wooden bucket walking leisurely past the front of the hall. The bucket seemed to be holding some sort of soup, and he successfully called her to a stop before asking, “What are you doing?” 

At first, that maid ignored him, continuing on her hurried journey without stopping for him, but Jiang Wei’s eyebrows furrowed and he shouted, “How dare you!” The maid was forced to stop in her steps, and she responded, “It’s the medicine the commander brewed for zhumu.”

A-Dou asked suspiciously, “Medicine?”

The maid’s expression was hesitant as she responded, “Zhumu is not… well-adapted to this land…”

Jiang Wei grabbed A-Dou’s hand and said, “Whatever, don’t concern yourself with the affairs of these low-born people.” The maid left resentfully.

 

The sun gradually inclined to the west, and Jiang Wei still had to go practice his martial skills. Though A-Dou didn’t want to give up yet, he had no choice but to go back to his own room to rest.

Jing Province was originally a hot region, and the inside of his room had been baked by the sun until it was as hot and stuffy as a smithy. This time period didn’t have air conditioning or electric fans, so A-Dou couldn’t sit still. Wasn’t he the crown prince? Calling someone over to fan him should be allowable, so he called for a maid. One shout, then two, and as he shouted he only wanted to kick the leg of the table and smash a chair. In the end, he couldn't resist and stuck his head out of the window, only to see two maids sitting in front of the hall, patching up something.

“Come here to help this young master… this crown prince…” A-Dou thought about it, but he didn’t know what he called himself, so he said, “Come here and fan me! It’s so hot! Do you want me to die!”

A-Dou sat by the side of the bed, but for every wave the maid did, she stopped three times. He shot her a look and she continued to fan, but every now and then she would laze about and slip up again, and for a long time there would be no movement. A-Dou’s chest was stuffed full of suppressed rage, and he grabbed that fan over to fan himself as he said, “Whatever, whatever, bring the food, I want congee for lunch, my stomach’s so hungry it’s banging on my insides.”

The maid stared incognizantly at A-Dou and the smile slid off her face. “There is no food until the mao hour. Has hunger confused the little zhugong’s brain?”

“What?!” A-Dou cried hysterically. “Who set these rules? No food until seven o’clock at night?!!”

After hearing that maid’s explanation, A-Dou finally understood. Liu Bei had always lived simply, and in the summer, the lights would be lit and dinner would be served at the mao hour. Aside from Sun Shangxiang, who married over from Eastern Wu, the kitchen in the Jing Province manor was not allowed to light the stove for anyone else. Every meal was made at the same time before being brought to the rooms.

Zhuge Liang, Zhang Fei, Guan Yu, and them were as close to Liu Bei as his own hands and feet, and their rough tea and weak rice were all taken in the same place. Sun Shangxiang’s meal was one they dared not neglect, and the kitchens would add a side dish and a soup, carrying the meal box over to serve her. If they caused the Eastern Wu princess to become haggard and thin, then perhaps war would break out between the two countries.

A-Dou wanted to cry without shedding tears, and he tossed the feather fan to the ground angrily. The only thought in his heart was: fuck that pei--”, grass sandal-buying cheapskate!

 

Zhao Yun, as one of Gongsun Zan's main generals, had married at seventeen and had two children; but later his wife passed due to illness, and he swore allegiance to Liu Bei. A man in the prime of his life, all alone, entering the army, naturally had no way to take care of two infants, so he could only let his seven year old eldest son Zhao Tong take his four year old brother Zhao Guang and return to their mother’s brother’s family with a courier.

A twenty something year old young widower, in the eyes of the old families of Jing Province, was naturally the best choice for their daughters to marry. However, Zhao Yun had not even one whit of meaning to remarry, and he lived a simple life with his disciple Jiang Wei.

In the evening, when he was done teaching martial skills for the day, the master and disciple returned to their living quarters -- a civilian home outside of the governor’s manor. Jiang Wei entered the inner room to go make dinner, while Zhao Yun lifted up a pitchfork and added some hay into the feed trough for the horses, before placing one hand on the horse’s forehead and smiled gently as he said, “Staying in the courtyard all day, I imagine you can’t run well anymore.”

“Although the old steed has been stabled, it still dreams of galloping a thousand li; shifu has not yet reached his years of decline, how are you also feeling this emotional?” A voice that carried a hint of cheekiness in it came from behind him.

Zhao Yun didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. He turned and said, “Why have you come here?!”

The one who came into the courtyard was indeed A-Dou. Zhao Yun stared at A-Dou for a moment. He felt that after the events of last night, the A-Dou of today was completely different, but that appearance was still wholly, completely the A-Dou that he was familiar with.

A-Dou suppressed that crafty look in his eyes, and he put on a facade of being extremely pitiful as he said, “I’m hungry, but they aren’t serving dinner in the manor, so I came to shifu’s place to beg for something to eat.”

The smile slid off Zhao Yun’s face, and he could only let Liu Shan into the inner room before instructing Jiang Wei to add some dishes.

Zhao Yun held the position of the Yamen General, but his quarters didn’t even have a single servant, and everything he did was on his own power and with his own effort. Jiang Wei was Zhuge Liang’s successor; this pair of master and disciple squeezed into a shabby, dilapidated civilian house, the inside of which was dark until the sun set below the mountains and Zhao Yun lit the oil lamp. Seeing this, A-Dou felt his heart twist, but Jiang Wei excitedly placed dinner on the table, and said, “How have you come, you always say that the food in the manor is good, but you left behind the prepared food to come here…”

“Don’t talk about it anymore,” A-Dou bewailed. “That estate’s not suitable for human habitation.”

Zhao Yun had just lifted a small cup of wine to his lips, and when he heard these words he almost choked. He said, “Zhugong is currently building the foundation of his empire, and it really isn’t easy. If you don’t understand it then let it be, but how could you say those words to outsiders?”

A-Dou refuted, “Shifu and Boyue aren’t outsiders, am I not allowed to talk about how I was bullied by a lowly maidservant now?”

Zhao Yun had sworn allegiance to Liu Bei for a few years now, and he had known for a long time that the servants in the governor’s manor looked down upon A-Dou. He lifted one hand and rubbed A-Dou’s forehead as he said, “Don’t think about it anymore, eat.”

On that table were several side dishes, and the flavor of the sauces was very powerful: there were eggplants fried in oil, fresh greens stir-fried with cured meat, and a porcelain bowl which held green peppers fried with frog. The frog meat was tender and juicy, lying in the midst of the green peppers like a piece of white jade that gave off an enticing aroma. Seeing this, A-Dou’s appetite quickly grew. He tossed all frustrations out past the clouds of the Nine Heavens, picking up his chopsticks and devouring the spread, and once in a while laughing and chatting with Jiang Wei as he managed to stuff two large bowls of rice down his stomach.

After the meal, A-Dou and Jiang Wei cleaned up the bowls and the chopsticks, squatting together on the ground around a wooden basin washing the dishes, when Jiang Wei said quietly, “The people in the manor bullied you? I’ll go tell the commander.”

A-Dou suddenly thought it through, and he smiled. “Whatever, it’s nothing big, and plus, don’t I still have you and shifu?”

Jiang Wei saw that A-Dou’s sleeves had some water splattered on them, and he extended a hand to help him roll up his sleeves. The two youths were similarly clean and fresh in appearance, looking like beautiful jade, and their handsome faces were also pressed close together. As their breaths mingled, he could almost see the down on Jiang Wei’s upper lip; A-Dou’s heart swayed with uncontrollable emotion. When he looked again into Jiang Wei’s eyes, he felt that that gaze was like water, and he only wanted to use that momentum to scoot forward and kiss him.

He suddenly heard Zhao Yun call from next door, “Gongsi.”

“He’s calling you.” Jiang Wei’s face was still tinged red, and he said, “You go, I’ll wash,” before he lowered his head down.

A-Dou got up and rubbed at his temple; he still felt a little dizzy. He strolled over to Zhao Yun’s room and sat down on the bamboo chair, tilting his head to take in Zhao Yun’s handsome features. He saw Zhao Yun put down the scroll in his hand, and Zhao Yun spoke. “The commander said that you and Boyue don’t need to go for lessons anymore?”

A-Dou smiled. “En, he didn’t say how many days, just that as soon as he was done he would send someone to inform me.”

Zhao Yun sank into silence for a moment, before he said, “Do you know what shifu is thinking about?”

A-Dou’s answer was just a throwaway line, because he hadn’t expected that there would be so many odd details to pay attention to. When Zhao Yun reminded him just now, he finally thought it through clearly; Zhuge Liang wouldn’t stop classes for no reason, so Zhao Yun probably wanted to ask about whatever plans that Kongming had for the time that these classes were on hold. Because Kongming would be too busy attending to other matters, he had put a stop to the classes to give himself more time.

As soon as he thought this through, he understood, and he responded, “Is my dad about to send out the troops? Is it because the commander will be too busy that he stopped classes?”

Zhao Yun smiled lightly. “How have you become so much smarter? Before, was that mediocre and dumb attitude all a pretense? And how did you think it through and decided to stop pretending today?”

A-Dou was extremely embarrassed and wildly answered with a few sentences, before Zhao Yun continued, “This time zhugong wants to send troops to Hanzhong, and even the commander can’t get a good handle on how long it’ll take to succeed…”

A-Dou’s heart jolted, and he asked, “Pang Tong, that uh, Fengchu, is also going?”

When he was asked this question, Zhao Yun felt it was a little strange, and he responded, “That depends on zhugong and the commander’s plans. Where did this question come from?”

A-Dou’s expression grew hesitant as he shook his head a few times; he remembered the matter of Pang Tong taking an arrow during the conquest of Luo City. Liu Bei conquered Hanzhong, capturing Yi Province and taking advantage of the situation to steal away Chuanshu, but in this battle Pang Tong died an unfortunate death.

Fengchu and Wolong were equally famous. If A-Dou was to live out his life in this turbulent world, discounting any talk of conquering the world, if he wanted to at least settle for not becoming Duke Anle who was kept under house arrest, he would need the support of these people.

The only hard question was how to keep Pang Tong alive. As A-Dou sank deeply into thought, Zhao Yun turned around and used his large, warm hands to cover Liu Shan’s palms as he said, “Right now, it’s impossible to say if shifu will stay and guard Jing province, or if I will be sent out with the rest of the troops. Gongsi, you are a good kid.”

A-Dou smiled. “That’s a given.”

Zhao Yun stared into A-Dou’s eyes, before he smiled slightly. “The world has slandered me, cheated me, disgraced me, laughed at me, looked down upon me, cheapened me, vilified me, and lied to me. How should I treat it?”

The expression contained in his eyes was as warm as the rising sun, causing a mirroring thread of warmth to unconsciously rise in A-Dou’s heart as well. Just as he was about to ask, Zhao Yun smiled. “Go back, alright? Don’t let others get worried searching for the little zhugong when they can’t find you in your usual spot.”


Translator's Comment:

moon: and after much delay, due to me, we finally have chapter 3! chapter 4 coming at an unspecified time in the future


This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.

Contributors

moon

Translator, writer, avid reader. 吃刀群众. Jiejie enthusiast.

Reach out to me via the links to the right if you would like to re-translate any of my works. Please allow 2 business days for a response to an email or a DM.

namio

gege simp

opal

filled with regret

jelly

yolk heathen

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Nyan
Nyan
4 months ago

Thank you for translating this chapter!