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Zhou Yu walked very slowly, and in the misty autumn rain, he recalled the prominent officials and eminent lords that he had met back when his father was in Luoyang. Perhaps, he could write a letter to them… but in the chaos the imperial court was embroiled in because of Dong Zhuo entering the capital, it was difficult for them to guarantee the safety of their own lives. How would they have the effort to spare to help other people with their matters?
On the slope of the mountain, the sky was darkening. Zhou Yu hesitated for a long while, before knocking on the door of a temple.
“Master Zhijing,” Zhou Yu said, “Let me borrow a lantern.”
The wooden door opened with a creak, and the young acolyte said, “The great master requests for Zhou-lang to join him for a cup of tea and to warm himself by the fire.”
Zhou Yu smiled. “Others calling me Zhou-lang is fine, but why are you also joining them in calling me that?” Saying this, he rubbed his finger along the young acolyte’s face, before placing his fishing rod by the door, taking off his bamboo hat, and without waiting for permission, he set foot in the temple.
An old monk was currently grinding a tea cake. His white brows and white hair framed his eyes, and when Zhou Yu walked in, he didn't speak. Instead, he sat down in the hallway filled with the autumn wind and rain that swept across the mountain. Zhou Yu's father used to come to Mt. Gu a lot when he was still alive to play chess against the old monk. After Zhou Yi bid farewell to the world, from time to time, Zhou Yu would come by to visit. Whenever he arrived, his hands would be empty, and they would never talk. Since the old monk practiced the Mute Sect's teachings, which dictated that one should speak very little and act more, he almost never spoke. Once in a while, he would send someone a significant glance. If they understood, then they understood, if they were unable to perceive it, then that was that.
The boiling hot tea flowed into the ceramic cup in front of Zhou Yu. The surrounding mountains were silent, and only the green pines on the slopes let out quiet sha sha sounds. Usually, Zhou Yu loved this place the most since he could speak freely, or he could even choose to not even speak at all. If he wanted to, he could talk; if he didn't wish to, he could just sit there, drink tea, and stare off into space.
“How did the great master know that I would come today, to even have prepared a cup for me?” Zhou Yu thought about it for a moment, before answering his own question. “Yes, it’s most likely because Lu Zijin also crossed the door of this temple once.”
“You two are like a weight that does not leave the scale, and a scale that does not leave the weight.” The young acolyte smiled as he walked forward. “When Young Master Lu came by earlier, he also managed to get a cup of tea. The cup that Zhou-lang is currently drinking from is the exact one he was drinking from earlier. Now, we can wash one less and spare ourselves some effort.”
Zhijing handed the cup to Zhou Yu, who received it with two hands. The young acolyte walked into the hallway, his hands sliding the paper doors closed. After the dull sliding sound, Zhou Yu and Zhijing turned into two paper cutouts cast by the warm yellow light.
“No news has come yet from the merchants who traveled towards the Silk Road,” Zhou Yu sighed. “If Father was still an official in Luoyang, then perhaps Shu County wouldn’t be in such dire straits now.”
Zhijing only listened quietly to Zhou Yu’s words. He didn’t cast any judgement; all he did was lift the teapot and add more tea to Zhou Yu’s cup. Zhou Yu continued, “When I compare myself to my late father, the difference is really too large…”
As he spoke, his shadow shrank in on itself a little, and a note of self-reproach entered his voice as he continued. “I cannot resolve the worries of my mother and neighbors.”
The wind swept through the mountains, and thousands of pine trees swayed and rattled. Zhijing poured out a third cup, which Zhou Yu drank. He then was silent for a moment, before continuing, “Great master, I’m considering if I should personally take a trip to Luoyang in a few days.”
Zhijing’s response was only to glance once at Zhou Yu, before the little acolyte pulled the paper door open, saying politely, “Young Master Zhou, it’s time to head down the mountain, the sky is already dark.”
Saying this, the young acolyte turned to gather some items. Zhou Yu placed the empty cup lip down on the table, pondering for a few short moments, before saying hesitantly, “But I am just one of the common people. I have not passed the Xiaolian, nor do I hold any power in the capital. Autumn is coming, and my aging mother at home is afraid of the cold, which really makes me… unable to not worry about her… ay!”
The young acolyte walked over, a bag of medicinal herbs in his left hand and a lantern in his right, saying, “This medicine, made into a paste, is for the old madam. Young Master Zhou, if you would.”
Zhou Yu took the medicine and hugged it to his chest, saying to the young acolyte, “No need to see me off, I’ll be going now.”
But neither of them had expected that Great Master Zhijing would personally walk down the hallway, put on wooden clogs, take the lantern from the young acolyte’s hand, and make a “after you” gesture, indicating that he would personally see Zhou Yu down the mountain.
An idea flashed through Zhou Yu’s mind, and he suddenly understood that today, Zhijing might open his Buddha’s mouth and tell himself a little something. After all, the Mute Temple on Mt. Gu rarely saw visitors, and whether you were a person of important standing or some great landowner of a region, all would have the door shut in their face by Zhijing. Renowned scholars of the world had also never been seen off by this old master of the Mute Sect of Chan Buddhism who practiced the core concept of inner peace. This was a historical, unprecedented first.
“Great master, please,” Zhou Yu hurried to bow.
With that, Zhijing’s outfit, a set of monk’s robes slowly turning white, fluttered in the autumn wind as he carried the lantern, walking in front, entering the curtain of rain as thin as oxhairs flying all about in the air. Zhou Yu followed behind, walking along silently.
The mountain road was as dark as pitch, and the only spot of light was Zhijing’s lantern up ahead. Zhou Yu’s thoughts wandered for a long time, but in the end, he couldn’t resist opening his mouth. “Does the great master have any words he wants to say?”
But Zhijing’s footsteps did not stop, shining the light of this single bright lamp and the shadows of the two people across the mountain, through the pine grove, and over the pitch black land. He led Zhou Yu straight to the foot of the mountain, where the hubbub of Shu County was not far in the distance.
Zhijing handed the lantern over to Zhou Yu, who stood there dumbly. Right after, Zhijing put his hands together, fingers interlaced and palms pressed together, as he bowed in farewell to Zhou Yu.
But then, Zhijing made another movement that was wholly out of Zhou Yu’s expectations. In a formal gesture of respect from the Chan school, he performed a great gesture of respect by kneeling and kowtowing to Zhou Yu.
“Great master!” Immediately, Zhou Yu was a little at a loss for what to do, and he was about to kneel down to return the gesture, but Zhijing rose. With a turn and the long sleeves of his monk’s robes fluttering, he left just like that, not even turning back to give Zhou Yu a look.
With the lantern in hand, Zhou Yu stood in front of the main gate to the monastery, and at that moment a multitude of emotions coursed through him. Was Zhijing’s intention… to let himself travel far, or was there another meaning to it?
It wasn’t until the chill gradually crept over him that Zhou Yu, lantern still in hand, took step after hesitant step, finally returning home. As soon as he entered the estate, servants immediately rushed up, each of them exclaiming anxiously that they had waited for the young master for a good part of the night. The ones in charge of tending fires went to start one, the ones in charge of brewing some ginger tea brewed some, and the estate was filled with a bustle of activity.
Though Zhou Yu heard the commotion, he didn’t react to any of it. It wasn’t until he had changed into a clean set of robes that his mother rushed out, reproaching him, “Where did you run off to? Spending a good half of your day there, the family was almost worried to death.”
Zhou Yu broke a bing apart with his hands and fed it to the falcon, saying, “I took a stroll up the mountain.”
“Did you go see old monk Zhijing?” Mother Zhou asked.
Zhou Yu hurried to nod, and with that, Madame Zhou sat down across from her son. Separating the mother and son was a low table. Zhou Yu then said, “Bofu’s letter has also come.”
Madame Zhou looked over the letter once, before saying, “This is a really big inconvenience on his part. Making him run around all day at your beck and call, you’re mistreating him.”
Zhou Yu replied, “Bofu did investigate, but he didn’t manage to get any news either. More likely than not, he also doesn’t have any way of resolving this.”
Madame Zhou let out another sigh, her forehead wrinkled in worry. Zhou Yu pulled out that bag of medicine and said, “Great Master Zhijing and I chatted for a while.”
“Back in the day, when your father was still here,” Madame Zhou sighed, “he treated you very well, and before the Mute Sect was even founded, he said that your accomplishments in the future would not be lesser than his.”
Zhou Yu’s heart was moved at that, but he didn’t dare to turn to meet his mother’s gaze. Madame Zhou, upon seeing the medicine, then asked, “What is this?”
“The medicine that Great Master Zhijing prescribed for you.” Zhou Yu opened the parcel, and Madame Zhou took a glance, before saying, “This medicine was meant for you, right? Mother’s not ill.”
Zhou Yu also felt this was a little strange, and upon seeing that the little bag only had a few herbs in it, he brought it under the light to inspect more closely. Madame Zhou said, “Isn’t this wangbuliuxing?”
Zhou Yu fell silent. In that instant, he understood Great Master Zhijing’s meaning.
A piece of brown wrapping paper, containing three kinds of herbal medicine: zhimu, yuanzhi, and wangbuliuxing
“Wangbuliuxing…” Zhou Yu murmured.
But Madame Zhou hadn’t understood the meaning hidden in these medicines, nor did she understand that the great gesture of respect that Zhijing had performed at the gates of the monastery was to send Zhou Yu off, to request that he go to Luoyang and fix the world and calm the people, so that he could save the living beings of the world. Mother Zhou looked towards the hallway, saying, “Yu’er.”
“Yes… yes.” Zhou Yu lifted his head to look at his mother.
Mother Zhou said, “How much longer are you planning to stay at home to keep your old mother company?”
Zhou Yu replied, “Mother, I’m always worried about you…”
"In these past few days," Madame Zhou interrupted Zhou Yu's words, "Mother was constantly wondering if it would be better to arrange a marriage for you, so that you could settle down in Shu County, run the silk store, marry a wife and have children. Or if I should follow your father's wishes for you that he had when he was alive, and urge you to spend all your effort on the world instead?"
Zhou Yu's eyes immediately reddened.
"That year," Madame Zhou said, "Mother asked you if you wanted to go with Bofu to Chang'sha. You said that there were a number of family matters, both large and small, that required your attention, and that you would be in mourning for three years and not travel far. In reality, what you were thinking in your heart, Mother also knows."
Zhou Yu didn't say any more. Madame Zhou continued, "As of today, the business has also come to a halt. With how I see it, the store should be closed soon. If you keep waiting like this, the years of your youth will all be wasted in this kind of a place."
"When your father was alive, he had you read books not so that you would hole yourself up in Shu County," Madame Zhou said as she rose. "As for the rest, Mother doesn't need to say anymore, you do as you see fit ba."
Zhou Yu lifted his head, sending his mother off with his eyes.
In the depth of the night, Zhou Yu knelt in the courtyard, and he kowtowed three times, with great respect and diligence, in the direction of his mother’s room.
Madame Zhou’s shadow was cast onto the window, and only after Zhou Yu rose and left did the door get pushed open with a creak.
Many days later, in front of the misty mountain stream, Zhou Yu, with a sword strapped to his back and a satchel tied to him, rode his horse as he and Lu Su traveled along one bank of Lake Chao, entering Mt. Gu.
"Zijin! No need to see me any further!" Zhou Yu reined his horse to a stop, before shouting backwards to Lu Su, "I'll go first to Luoyang to check out the situation, you can go back now!"
Lu Su replied, "No, no, I'd better go back and give them a heads up and go with you on this journey. No matter how I look at you, you look like a feral dog, that's not a great look."
Zhou Yu smiled. "When I'm not around, I leave my mother in your care."
Lu Su's forehead wrinkled slightly, and he asked, "You'll be alright?"
Zhou Yu smiled and waved his hand. Lu Su teased him in response. "Now that you're going to see your Bofu, your expression is so happy that it's blossoming with joy."
Zhou Yu realized that he had been too obvious in his expression, and he immediately adopted a serious look, saying solemnly, "In all seriousness, I'm going to Luoyang just to figure out which direction the wind is blowing…"
“Go quickly,” Lu Su said. “Don’t explain, the sun is about to set.”
Zhou Yu: “...”
Lu Su tossed a heavy bag over, saying, “Keep it on you!” And saying this, he chirruped his horse to turn. Before he left, he remembered something else, and he said, “When you see Sun Bofu, give him my regards.”
Zhou Yu then said, “Zijin!”
Lu Su, his back to Zhou Yu, turned his head slightly back. Zhou Yu continued, “Tell the family members of the merchants that they shouldn’t worry, I’m going.”
Lu Su replied earnestly, “Return safely. No matter what, be safe and well.”
The two horses each left in their own direction, one returning to Shu County, while one headed towards Mt. Gu, both taking leave of the other in the dense fog.
“Jia!” Zhou Yu’s voice had a note of uncontrollable joy as he raced through Mt. Gu.
“Jia!” The autumn sky above was vast, and the yellow leaves covered the ground. The falling leaves on either side of the military road danced across the heavens and earth in the wild wind as far as the eye could see. The fields were patch upon patch of golden yellow, as if the chessboard of the heavens and earth were covered with a bright woven carpet.
“Jia --” Thousands of mountains sped by him and the rivers flowed swiftly as he left Yangzhou via the Lu River. One early morning, many days later, Zhou Yu managed to catch the first ferry passing through the torrential river. After landing on the other side, he didn’t stop anymore, going north through Xiapi County before turning west. The distance between him and Sikang grew smaller and smaller, and the wild shrubbery and weeds on the side of the road and fields left to run wild also increased in number.
Many days later, Zhou Yu, who had been sleeping outdoors, bowed in front of a creek, lifting some water in his cupped hands to wash his face and rinse his mouth, when he saw a corpse drifting down with the flow of the stream. Sword wounds covered the body.
Zhou Yu was silent for a moment, only to see another corpse drift downstream.
He poured the water from the waterskin that he had just filled back into the stream, before leading his horse forward, one hand on the hilt of his sword. It wasn't until he had traveled some li away that he saw the corpses of citizens scattered alongside both sides of the road, their skeletons clearly defined, completely starved to death.
"Study medicine? Become a doctor and cure people's illnesses?"
His father's words resounded in his ears.
“I’m only afraid that though you may be able to save people, you won’t be able to save the world.”
“Study letters instead, be a literati.”
“What you are curing is the world, and who you are saving are the people.”
Young Zhou Yu hadn’t understood the meaning of those words, and he merely turned his head to look in the direction of the splendor of Luoyang. Dazzling Yangzhou, with bamboo and silk pouring in, thousands of lanterns hung everywhere.
“I see that these, these, and those… aren’t they all pretty good?” little Zhou Yu asked.
“After you grow up, you will understand,” Zhou Yi sighed, stroking his beard as he shook his head indulgently.
This year, Dong Zhuo invaded the capital, and the world experienced a famine. Bodies of starved citizens covered the wilderness, and their corpses covered the streets. Across the desolate land, Zhou Yu could no longer recall that initial burst of giddiness and satisfaction that he had felt when he left home. His heart was heavy and burdened, and an inexplicable emotion welled up in it. He could still remember, when he was small, when he had come with his father to the capital, that Sikang and Hongnong had clearly not been like this then.
It had not even been ten years yet; how had things come to this? Zhou Yu rode alone on his horse as he wandered along the military road, a little bit of hesitation in his heart. This strange world was clearly no longer the Hongnong that he knew. The villages that he and his father had rested their feet at eight years ago when they traveled to the capital had long since been burned to ruins; the humans had left, and the buildings stood empty.
He needed to find Sun Ce’s troops as soon as possible. Zhou Yu finally realized the severity of the situation, so he spurred his horse into heading west, endeavoring to find Sun Ce before night fell. But, just as he turned the corner around a mountain, he heard distant sounds of slaughter.
In the twilight, blood covered the ground in rivulets by the bank of the stream, which was a startling scene to behold. Zhou Yu was greatly shocked by this; the entire stream had been dyed a purple black, and it was obvious they had been fighting for almost a whole day.
On one side of the battlefield was a group of soldiers wearing black armor, and the other side was wearing white helmets with red tassels. Only, under the fierce battle, the white armor had already been dirtied, while the black-armored troops each lifted the long blades in their hands, which danced up and down, forcing the white troops to the side of the stream. Several times, Zhou Yu wanted to move in, but he thought again about the opponents’ prowess, and heading in alone to battle might be dangerous.
He couldn’t catch sight of the battle pennants of either side, so Zhou Yu directed his horse to wander around the outskirts, searching for the flags of either side’s commanders. The white troops were being slaughtered to the point that the ground ran red with their blood, and they had already been forced into the stream itself. The black-armored troops once again changed their battle formation, forming up into one long line. Clearly they had been trained well, and as Zhou Yu observed the battlefield, it was as if there was an invisible thread connecting those thousands of people together as they charged in different directions, trying to break through their enemy’s defenses.
There was no flag for the commander, but every one of the troops knew where the commander was. The battle prowess of this troop was already the highest amongst all of the ones that Zhou Yu had seen in his life, and he no longer hesitated, spurring his horse on to charge right in.
But, just in that instant, the white troops counterattacked, and their soldiers rushed over, shouting war-cries loudly. Listening to those accents, Zhou Yu thought that they were northerners, and their warhorses didn’t look like southern horses either, so he pulled back in retreat. But the other side clearly didn’t want to let him go, and in an instant some tens of people rushed towards him in hot pursuit.
In his heart, Zhou Yu cried out his bitter grievances, what are you chasing me for! And with that, he turned the horse’s head around, rushing towards the black-armored troops. The two sides were currently in the heat of battle, and neither of them had ever expected a person to come charging in between them. The sky was also darkening, and the scene fell into chaos.
“What person is that?” The black-armored troops’ commander was tall and lithe, and with his legs clasped around his horse’s flanks, he waved his long halberd and went rushing in, only to see, with a turn of his head, that hothead, with his stumbling, unintentional progress, who had blundered right into the battle formation. His subordinates shouted, “Zhugong! We don’t know that person’s background!”
“Retreat --” the commander cried.
The black-armored troops immediately retreated like the tide, but the white troops latched onto pursuing Zhou Yu like a winding snake. Zhou Yu had no choice but to pull out his sword as he galloped away at high speed. With a clang, the sound of the ancient sword Chijun rubbing against the sheath rang out clearly, echoing through the mountain valleys, as if it was a dragon’s roar in that growing twilight!
“Good sword!” the commander cried.
In that moment, Zhou Yu had no way to respond, but the white-armored soldiers had already caught up to him, and one of them thrust out with a spear! With a bend of his body, Zhou Yu flipped off the back of his horse, hanging upside down off of it, before flipping up swiftly from the other side. The ancient sword flashed with a cold light, and with a ding, it sliced the tip of the spear into two!
“Good!” This time, the black-armored troops thundered with applause. Zhou Yu’s forehead was covered in sweat as he saw that several of the white-clad soldiers had already raced up, and their long spears blocked all his routes. Zhou Yu flew into the air, his martial robe fluttering, as he swung his long sword. In midair, he flipped over and turned, facing behind him as his long sword swung in a beautiful circle, before his body flew backwards in the air. With one foot, he stepped on his horse’s head, before executing another clean, easy backwards flip.
The warhorse let out a long whine as it continued to neigh, and Zhou Yu’s silhouette swept past as it landed back on the horse.
In this moment, Zhou Yu had already escaped the ambush, and he re-appeared some tens of steps away.
That lithe, tall commander of the black-armoed troops lifted his helmet, revealing a pair of sharp, bright eyes. Right after, he placed his halberd behind his back, before retrieving an arrow, nocking it to the bow, and shouting, “Ambush!”
In that instant, the black-armored troops backed away with a shua like a group of ants, and Zhou Yu’s eyes reflected the silhouette of that tall, powerful commander under the crimson red of the dying sun. The light reflected off the tip of the arrow.
At the same time, the white troop’s soldiers rushed up once more, arrows flying like moths towards them. Zhou Yu realized that, even if he could split himself into thousands, he had no way to avoid this hail of arrows. He could only let fate decide, and he flattened himself against the back of his horse, tightly squeezing his eyes shut.
In that instant, both sides loosed arrows at the same time. As soon as he loosed an arrow, the black-armored commander reached back, pulled out another, nocked it, and loosed it. Like an illusion, that first arrow headed directly for the sharp arrow flying towards Zhou Yu, and it instantly split that long arrow into two. With another arrow, the soldier right behind Zhou Yu pursuing him fell off his horse. The third, the fourth, and the rest of the arrow shafts flew like a rain of flower blossoms through the sky. With that, the white troops fell, men and horses both, into a mess on the ground.
The black-armored troops let out a shout as they rushed forward like a tidal wave to slaughter. The white troops could sense that defeat was coming, and they had no energy left to defend. The two sides began their last round of assault. In the battle formation, Zhou Yu bumped around back and forth as he did his best to control his horse, but suddenly the back of his collar tightened, and he was lifted into the air by a powerful arm.
“What is a scholar doing out here?” That chilly tone betrayed that that was the commander’s voice, and right after, Zhou Yu began to struggle with great effort, shouting, “General, please have mercy! I am…”
Before he finished speaking, that commander conveniently flattened his palm, chopping down with the side of his hand against Zhou Yu’s neck. Zhou Yu’s vision instantly grew dark, and he fell backwards on his horse, unconscious. The black-armored commander moved Zhou Yu to sit behind him on his own horse, before roaring, “Men, retreat!”
A gong sounded in a rhythm of retreat. The white-clad troops had already retreated into the wilderness, too tired to keep fighting, but the black-armored troops still raced behind, as if they had not yet fought their fill. There were those who loosed curse upon curse for their enemy to keep fighting them, and others who kept firing arrow after arrow.
moon: and after a long, long time, twin jades breathes again! we are hoping to move to semi-regular updates, but no promises yet, more to come in the near future.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.