"Are you giving this kite to me, Zhou Yu?"
Editor(s): jelly, miri, moon
On that day many years later, at the Battle of Chi Bi, the flames of war raged all across the river.
Warships collapsed with a loud bang, lightning and thunder crackled across the sky, red lotuses blossomed as far as the eye could see, ship masts tilted to and fro, corpses floated by the millions, as the river ran red with blood.
When this hellish sea of blood reflected in Zhou Yu’s eyes, once again, he suddenly recalled that afternoon when he first met Sun Ce.
That year, Zhou Yu was only four years old. Springtime had just arrived, and the peach blossoms fluttered through the sky.
Zhou Yu had just woken up from an afternoon nap. He was crouching over the pond, feeding goldfish when the sound of loud laughter came from behind him. Before Zhou Yu could turn around, a child of the visiting guests kicked him right into the pond.
Zhou Yu fell into the water with a splash, while the naughty culprit pointed at him and let out a loud laugh. However, contrary to the child’s expectation, Zhou Yu did not let a panicked cry for help, nor did he start yelling at him angrily. Zhou Yu, dripping wet from head to toe, choked on a few mouthfuls of pond water chilled from the late spring air, before he swam to the other side of the pond, clambering out as he let out a loud sneeze.
Grinning, the child ran up to him and teased, “Ya! You know how to swim!”
He scooted up to Zhou Yu until his nose was almost pressed against Zhou Yu’s face and said, “You’re going to cry! You’re going to cry!”
Zhou Yu used his sleeve to wipe away the water from his face. The child let out a loud, gleeful laugh, “You’re crying!”
Immediately afterward, Zhou Yu silently grabbed the child’s collar and gave him a quick, clean punch to the face.
The little child did not anticipate that Zhou Yu would start beating him up without warning, and he immediately let out a cry for help as the two began to wrestle with each other in the flower garden. Zhou Yu threw a preemptive strike and continued landing punch after punch onto the child's nose bridge. The child realized this type of fighting was too violent, but when he wanted to run away, he received a heavy blow to the back of his head, and fell to the ground with stars in his eyes.
Zhou Yu climbed onto his body, holding the child down, as he proceeded to beat the life out of him. At first, the child was still able to cry for help, but later, he was brutally beaten to the point where blood streamed down from his nose, and even if he wanted to yell for help, he had no strength to do it. The servants inside the house were startled by the commotion and immediately ran outside, crying out in fright , “Little young master!”
The two families' servants were scared out of their wits as they all rushed up to separate Zhou Yu and the child who was being beaten. That day, Zhou Yu’s father punished him by spanking him with a wooden paddle, and he cried and yelled as he was held down in the courtyard. Meanwhile, the child that got beaten up by him was on the verge of his last breath, and after being affected by the chill, he caught a cold. This, in addition to him almost breaking his nose, meant that he laid in bed, unable to rise at all. The Zhou family had to quickly invite a good doctor over to treat him, and it took ten whole days before he finally got better.
From his childhood up until now, that was the only time Zhou Yu’s father ever hit him. Even after so many years, every time he recalled that vicious paddling, he couldn’t help but feel a vague, throbbing pain from his behind.
When he was little, Zhou Yu went with his father to Luoyang, where his father was taking up a post. The famous scholar Xu Shao—the same person who famously described Cao Cao as “a capable advisor in a peaceful time, a dangerous hero in a turbulent world”, upon seeing Zhou Yu, politely commented, “This child will accomplish great things in the future; he is a born leader.”
Upon hearing this, the corner of Zhou Yi’s mouth twitched. He blew aside his beard with a seemingly disdainful breath, before saying indifferently, “Hm. Well, let’s just see first.”
Several years later, Zhou Yu finished reading all of the books in Luoyang, and even in a city as large as that, Zhou Yi still couldn’t find a suitable teacher for Zhou Yu. So, at the age of twelve, Zhou Yi arranged for him to return home to Shu County. Since both of his parents were aging and the world outside was chaotic, it would be best to have him go home to help take care of the family’s business while studying Xiaolian to become an official, before taking up a position as an official in Luoyang.
However, over the past few years, the current political climate had grown worse and worse, and even his father, who had been serving in Luoyang, resigned from his official position and returned home. Another spring arrived, and with it came blazing fires that broke out across the turbulent land and refugees springing up from all around. Taking advantage of such chaos, the Yellow Turban Army , under the command of Zhang Jue, rebelled and pillaged counties and villages all across Jizhou, Yangzhou and the surrounding regions. Even the northern trade routes the Zhou family’s silk store used were blocked off several times.
Afraid of being implicated in the issue of the Yellow Turban Army, his father retired and returned home with a cartload of books and two old servants. In his mother’s words, it was better to resign from that official role and come back home to start a business, than to prevent the family from having no one to look after it
Zhou Yu sat in his home, waiting anxiously for his father to return home. His homework was going to be examined, his sword practice was going to be inspected, and the family’s business would be asked about; in addition, what he had learned and done, and who he had been with during these four years couldn’t be glossed over. Zhou Yu recalled how his father often warned him not to make bad friends, but what was considered a bad friend, and what was considered a good friend? He couldn’t help but remember back when he was four years old, that boy Sun Ce, who had fallen gravely ill in his own home. His father and the Sun family had diligently interacted then, but now, Zhou Yu didn't even know how the county magistrate of Xiapi, Sun Jian, was doing.
The chaos of the Yellow Turban Rebellion raged across eight provinces at once, and they committed atrocious acts like hanging local officials and burning down prefectural residences. Even the Wu Prefecture was not spared, and Zhou Yu couldn’t help but dread that the Sun family had fallen prey to them as well...
As Zhou Yu was deep in thought, a house servant came to inform him, “Young master, the old master sent a message that he arrived at the foot of Mt. Gu last night. He probably left this morning and should be on his way home.”
Zhou Yu immediately stood up and straightened up his clothes. In reality, ever since he woke up that morning, he had fiddled with his attire numerous times, straightening them to the point where they couldn’t be any straighter. He fastened his sword to his waist, planning to wait for his father to pass Mt. Gu and cross over Lake Chao before he went to greet his father in person.
Zhou Yu felt restless. As he paced back and forth in the hall, he couldn’t help but recall his father’s frequent scoldings, that “of those who wield the sword, most are wandering swordsmen who sow chaos, and go about butchering their peers and slaughtering pig-like officials”, and he quickly put down his sword. However, when Zhou Yu thought it over again, with the way the world was right now, it would still be better to bring his sword. He went back and forth like this quite a few times, worrying over it endlessly, but in the end, he left with his sword in hand.
He urged his horse to Lake Chao and took a ferry over the lake, where Mt. Gu was located on the other side. In the middle, there was a narrow path surrounded by cliffs on both sides, and a stream of crystal clear water quietly flowed like silken fabric through the mountain in a winding path.
The cliff sides echoed with the incessant chirps of apes as birds soared high above the peaks. The lofty summits rose across a small plank path, to the backdrop of azure waters against the green mountains, which rose layer by layer, ever higher. Zhou Yu felt that he had stepped into a painting, and the memory of back when he was four came to his mind. After Sun Ce recovered from his illness, his father forced him to apologize for his mistakes, and even had him kowtow to Sun Ce three times.
Since apologizing wasn’t enough, Zhou Yu had to grit his teeth and make a kite for Sun Ce as an apology gift. However, with Sun Ce’s childish temperament, it only took a few days for him to forget the bad blood between them. He even apologized to Zhou Yu to make amends, and the four-year-old Zhou Yu didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. In the end, while the two of them caused a big ruckus with their fight, it was a fight that led to friendship, and Sun Ce held the kite in his hand as he nagged Zhou Yu, wanting to fly it. Little Zhou Yu then came with him to Lake Chao to fly the kite together.
That afternoon, a bamboo raft gently glided across the surface of the river, and the rows of pine trees stretched along both banks like they were made from quick strokes of a brush. The two little children sat on the raft, Zhou Yu holding the long pole aloft with great difficulty as he learned how to steer the raft from the experienced ferryman, pushing the raft along the river. Meanwhile, Sun Ce was flying the kite off to the side, which wobbled back and forth a few times before it began to soar in the narrow confines of the canyon...
When the boat reached the shore, Zhou Yu pressed his sword with one hand and leaped steadily onto the shore. Without looking, he flicked his wrist, and the copper coins landed into the bamboo tube with a “dalang”.
“Young master, please take care,” the ferryman said, smiling as he dangled a blade of straw in his mouth.
Zhou Yu turned back, cupping his hand in greeting before walking towards the mountain path. The fresh rains of spring had drizzled down earlier, and the ground was covered with mud. After taking a few steps, Zhou Yu suddenly felt that the ferryman from earlier was a new face, and he vaguely felt that something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. As he walked and pondered, he realized that the ferryman on the boat appeared to have a powerful build, with clearly defined muscles as if he was a martial arts practitioner.
However, ferrying a boat required a lot of bodily strength, so in the end, Zhou Yu could not explain why he felt that this was unusual.
Amongst the vast, jade-green mountains, there was not a single sound of birds chirping. When Zhou Yu passed through the forest, almost arrived at the inn, a servant of the Zhou family hurriedly rushed out, propping himself against the tree as he gasped for breath. Zhou Yu’s heart immediately leaped into his throat.
“Young master! Young master!” the servant said, panicked, “Old master, he……”
“Calm yourself.” Zhou Yu suppressed a wave of dizziness that rose to his head, managing to say, “Talk slowly, don’t panic.”
The servant’s breathing evened out a little, and he said, “The Yellow Turban bandits were wreaking havoc…… When our old master was staying at an inn outside Mt. Gu last night, a group of Yellow Turban bandits came to rob us, and they took everyone at the inn who were couriers or traveling merchants as hostages. Our family’s carriages are still outside the newly-established inn...”
There was a sudden ringing in Zhou Yu’s ears, and he almost lost his balance. He rubbed his temple as hard as he could, and it took a while before he came back to his senses. He stammered, “The Yellow Turban bandits...How come they’re even on Mt. Gu? Wait, Pinggui, you……”
Zhou Yu finally calmed himself down and began to think. His father had already retired from his government position, and upon being taken hostage by the bandits, he had neither money or goods, nor any women of his family traveling with him, so there was nothing of value that could be taken— which meant that they probably took him to extort a ransom from his family. With this, his father’s life was probably not in danger.
“Quickly, go to the Shu County magistrate to report this,” Zhou Yu ordered, “Then go home and inform Fourth Uncle about what happened, but do not let my mother know about this.”
The servant nodded his head, his face set in an expression of astonishment. Zhou Yu then said, “Now hurry up and go, quickly. I’ll go scout out the situation.”
Holding his sword in his hand, Zhou Yu decided that instead of taking the main road, he would go through the peach blossom grove, and he picked and leaped his way through the trees. He continuously comforted himself: his father had been an honest government official throughout his career, and had never committed any types of unjustifiable acts, so the Zhou family shouldn’t suffer much from this misfortune for the most part, and though it was a shock, it wouldn’t pose any actual danger. The Yellow Turban bandits probably just wanted some money, and as for however much they asked for, they might just have to give it to them.
After walking for half a day, Zhou Yu’s heart simmered with an indescribable restlessness. One moment, he was thinking about how to rescue his father and the other innocent traveling merchants, and in the next, he worried about how the government was planning on dealing with this issue. He was afraid that their actions would startle the hidden enemy, which would hurt the hostages. And then, he started to feel troubled about what would happen if his mother learned about this issue; her health had always been poor, and he was afraid that the news would shock her more...
By the time the sun was setting in the west, Zhou Yu finally arrived at the Mt. Gu inn.
The sunlight at twilight turned his silhouette into a long, dark streak. Before his eyes, the inn at the bottom of the slope had been reduced into nothing but black ashes. Almost half of the building had collapsed, and several charred dead bodies lay among the ruins.
There were only eight characters written on the near-crumbling courtyard wall: The Heavens are dead, and the Yellow Turbans have risen.
Suddenly, within the ruins, there came the low, hoarse sound of a man weeping. Zhou Yu’s heart trembled, and he couldn't help but pick up his pace. As he approached the inn, Zhou Yu peeped into a small crack from the brick wall. Among the dilapidated ruins where the embers had not extinguished yet, he saw a man kneeling on one knee facing a wounded person.
The man drew out the dagger at his waist, and with a sharp fall, the sobs, as if they had been cut off, came to an abrupt end.
Zhou Yu’s heart skipped a beat, and he held his breath, not daring to alarm the robber, as he slowly approached.
His sword came out of the sheath, and the bronze sword’s body gleamed as bright as snow, reflecting the brilliant red sunset.
“Who’s there?” the man shouted, suddenly alert.
Without saying anything in response, Zhou Yu barged in, angrily roaring, “Put down your weapon!”
Immediately, a staff flew towards him, coming silently into his field of vision. Zhou Yu held his sword horizontally at his chest to block, and with a sweep, the sword and the staff collided with a “clang”. The collision of metal was like a dragon’s roar that echoed under the blood-colored sky at dusk.
“Very good!” the man loudly praised. As he and Zhou Yu turned to face each other, their eyes met, and Zhou Yu’s focus wavered for a split second.
It was only the short pause of an inhale and an exhale, but in that moment, thousands of years passed as fate shifted and changed.
That person turned out to be a young man about the same age as Zhou Yu. He wore a clean-cut martial robe, and with dark ink-like eyebrows, the young man’s unrestrained demeanor seemed to resemble a fine landscape painting. His dark pupils shone brightly against the white of his eyes, the corners of his lips curved upwards slightly, and his high nose-bridge all lent him a heroic air. Zhou Yu inwardly praised his good looks;he hadn’t expected the Yellow Turban bandits to have such an exceptional personage amongst them.
As the young man looked at Zhou Yu, face-to-face, astonishment also flitted briefly across his face.
In the next instant, both of them came back to their senses. Zhou Yu immediately pulled back to retreat, stepping onto the wall with a single foot, and with a powerful kick, the charred, blackened wall couldn’t take any more, and it immediately collapsed with a crash.
The young man swept his staff, gathering up the fallen, broken tiles with a corkscrew spin of his staff, before swinging it back out, sending up a rain of blossoms as he chased closely after Zhou Yu!
At this time, the two of them had already gone from ambushing each other in the inn to waving their swords and staves around in the open, and they began to do battle in plain sight! The youth’s staff style was dependent on big movements, practicing a fierce, hard approach, and with every downwards sweep of the staff, a gust of wind would rise in response. In an instant, the inn had been flattened, and Zhou Yu backed up, again and again as he was caught up in the wind generated by the staff. It was as if he was a leaf caught in a wild storm, and the more he fought, the more he was in shock; he was actually unable to defeat this bastard, he had underestimated his enemy too much!
Zhou Yu decided to withdraw and dodge, and with a flash he escaped into the peach blossom grove. However, the young man did not give up at all, following Zhou Yu like a shadow follows a body. The trees were densely packed all around, suppressing most of the staff techniques, and the youth pulled his iron staff back, changing the style he used, taking up a form more focused on precision and jabs. As soon as Zhou Yu saw his techniques, he immediately knew that this youth was definitely taught by a famous master, and he could not be some ordinary mountain bandit.
“Halt!” Zhou Yu shouted. “I’m not a bandit!”
“Do you admit defeat?” the youth asked, smiling.
Without knowing why, Zhou Yu suddenly grew furious. Although he was enraged, he stayed silent, thinking to himself, this young master chose not to fight only because it was needless to do so, you think this young master is afraid of you? And he instantly turned, his sword following his body, before sending a rain of swords down upon the other!
The youth had originally wanted to pull back, but when he saw that Zhou Yu was attacking out of rage, he immediately had the thought that it would be easy to win. He let out another cry of “Good!” and body and staff moved as one, and he darted forward!
Zhou Yu’s bronze sword spun in the air, its body already turning into thousands of streaks of sword shadows shining with a cold light. He feinted, one turning into three, three turning into ten as they appeared, layer by layer, before with sweep of an edge, peach blossoms filled the air. A single petal flew over, landing on the spine of the blade.
In an instant, that youth moved to avoid the point of the blade, and right after, Zhou Yu’s sword flew across horizontally. The petal on the blade was held in place by the stagnant layer of air surrounding it, and with his thrust, it didn’t fly off. In the next instant, the sword flowed like water, turning from soft into hard, sweeping the staff aside!
That move was an ancient sword technique from the Warring States called Assassinating Qin. When all else failed, a dagger was drawn; the blow was not meant to kill, but its intent was hidden in the single blow within that sky filled with peach blossoms.
Time seemed to freeze, and that youngster’s pupils shrank abruptly, his eyes reflecting the silhouette of Zhou Yu’s sword-wielding figure, before the two of them both let out an angry shout.
“Retreat!” Zhou Yu let out an angry thundering shout.
There was a rustling sound, and tattered peach blossoms filled the air, before being carried along by the strong breeze and flying toward the young man. The young man then loudly called, “Gongjin! Show mercy!”
In that moment, Zhou Yu stilled, and the young man charged in against the wind generated by the sword. The staff struck out, and in the instant that success was almost in his grasp, Zhou Yu lost his grip on it. The staff struck the body of the sword, which flew off to the side and pierced into the trunk of the tree. At the same time, Zhou Yu couldn’t stop his momentum, and his entire body crashed wretchedly into the embrace of the young man.
Zhou Yu was rendered speechless, before he instantly remembered a certain disgraceful bastard that he hadn’t seen for so many years ……
“Are you going to cry?” that child approached him, shoving his face at Zhou Yu as he made threatening faces at him, his nose almost poking into Zhou Yu’s face.
“He’s crying, he’s crying……” that childish voice rang out from his memory.
“Are you giving this kite to me, Zhou Yu?”
“Yu, as pretty as fine jade. I’m called Sun Ce, the mastermind, and when I issue a command, no one can refuse……”
The two children floated back and forth on a sampan amidst the scenery of the azure jade-like river, the mountains dark as ink, the endless clear sky, in which a lone swallow flew homeward…… The kite's long-tail fluttering behind it, drifted with the wind under that blue sky.
That young man was indeed Sun Ce, and at that time he only let out a “haha” before approaching Zhou Yu and hugging him tightly, then giving him a noogie. Zhou Yu shoved him away aggrievedly, telling him not to fool around. Sun Ce dragged Zhou Yu along as Zhou Yu dragged his sword, and it wasn't long before Zhou Yu was dragged far away by this big monkey-like old friend.
Night fell on the western side of the mountain, and a campfire was set up by the inn, its fiery light shining on the faces of Zhou Yu and Sun Ce.
“……My father had me come here to investigate this very matter, “ Sun Ce said. “I didn’t expect that Uncle would actually be in the inn.”
Zhou Yu’s brows furrowed deeply, and he let out a short, distracted hum. Sun Ce patted Zhou Yu’s shoulder again and said, “Don’t worry, they only want money. I’ve already sent someone back to report.”
“I’m just afraid that……” Zhou Yu didn’t even get to finish his sentence before Sun Yu hooked his arm around his neck, covering his mouth with the other hand.
Zhou Yu, “……”
Sun Ce laughingly pushed him away, before giving him a light punch again. Zhou Yu really couldn’t get used to this friendly, enthusiastic way of interaction; he couldn’t resist wanting to puff up like an angry cat, but he couldn’t summon up his anger.
“How have you been over the past few years?” Sun Ce asked. “When I first heard you were studying in Luoyang, I wanted to go and meet up with you, but my father had just received a new post in Changsha, so we couldn’t leave.”
“Not bad,” Zhou Yu replied casually, absentmindedly adding more fuel to the campfire. “Reading books, keeping the books, taking care of my home business, obeying my father’s teachings, looking after my mother…… the years passed in the blink of an eye. What about you? How did you manage to recognize me right away?”
“You were holding the ancient sword Chijun that my father gave to your father as a present. How can I not recognize it?” Sun Ce smiled.
Zhou Yu nodded his head slightly, and Sun Ce patted his back as he muttered to himself, “My mother stuffed a younger brother to me, and I’ve had to deal with unnecessary troubles all day long, to the point where my brain is fried. It’s all just the same old same old, reading books, practicing martials arts, training the troops for battle……”
“Heh.” Zhou Yu began to chuckle. He shook his head, but he didn’t know whether he was laughing at Sun Ce or at himself. This fellow’s life was much more exciting than his own; he didn’t seem like he could stop for even a moment.
Zhou Yu then asked, “Why did you come here by yourself? Your father’s not concerned about you?”
Sun Ce let out a “hehe”, before throwing away the haystalk in his mouth. He raised an eyebrow at Zhou Yu, saying, “Go to sleep, replenish your strength, so that tomorrow we can go up to the mountain to investigate.”
Zhou Yu felt that his words were strange, but Sun Ce had already laid himself down, so Zhou Yu had no choice but to sleep with apprehension in his heart.
The night wind blew, scattering the peach blossom flowers about in a flurry. Zhou Yu had been running around all day, and at this moment, tiredness seeped into him, yet he still tossed and turned restlessly, worrying for his father’s safety. Sun Ce, on the hand, slept soundly, and in a short few moments his breathing evened out, and he entered his dreamscape. Countless thoughts continued to torment Zhou Yu, and it wasn’t until the moon rose high into the sky that he finally couldn’t hold out any longer, and he drifted off to sleep.
Interesting shot game: take a shot every time Sun Ce let out a “haha” or Zhou Yu overthinking things again.
Also, this novel has many Three Kingdom period references in Chinese history. Highly recommend everyone who started reading this to search up a crash course on the Three Kingdom period to get a better understanding of different historical characters and settings in this book.
Here’s a very simplified version of almost everything: https://youtu.be/26EivpCPHnQ
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cytaoplasm.