"How do you whistle them? Teach me too."
Editor(s): jelly, namio
Always support our Chicken Lord by buying the original work whenever you can! Link for each platform's guide to purchase the raws can be seen on our FAQs.
As expected, Li Xiao’s plans for an autumn hunt resulted in nothing.
The next day, Li Xiao ended the court session very early. He expressionlessly lifted his brush and wrote, as Lin Wan, wrapped in a golden and blue cotton robe, perched by Li Xiao’s shoulder. Quietly she spoke to him, clearly comforting Li Xiao with gentle words as she laid out the pros and cons of the situation to him.
Li Xiao was unheeding of her words, and he didn’t want to keep arguing. A moment later, he mustered up a smile, before turning and gently kissing Lin Wan’s face, indicating that she didn’t need to say anymore.
Outside the hall, Xu Lingyun had just risen. An autumn breeze lifted the petals of the cotton rosemallow scattered across the yard. In the hall, the emperor and empress were as beautiful as two statues as Xu Lingyun landed on the ground.
“Lord Xu.” An old eunuch came over, holding a plate in his hands. “The empress is bestowing this gift upon you, but there is no need to thank her this day.”
Xu Lingyun lifted the red cloth and saw a small silk bag placed on top. In the bag was a stack of Jiangzhou sliced walnut pastries.
No gift could be as practical as these snacks. Xu Lingyun’s eyes lit up as he took those slices and bowed in thanks, before asking casually, “When are we setting off on the autumn hunt?”
That old eunuch shook his head and sighed regretfully. “Word has it that yesterday, His Majesty flew into a great rage during the morning court session, and today the major officials delivered their accounts books in conjunction. I’m afraid that this year’s autumn hunt may not happen after all.”
Upon hearing those words, Xu Lingyun’s spirits fell from their heights, and he said shortly, “Oh.”
The old eunuch left, and Xu Lingyun went back to his room to retrieve the book, thinking that if he told Li Xiao more of the story, perhaps his lord’s spirits would lift a little. He craned his neck around the door, peeking into the room, only to see Lin Wan saying something quietly, at which Li Xiao began to chuckle to himself. It looked like he was no longer angry.
When Li Xiao glanced up, he happened to see Xu Lingyun turn and walk towards the garden. He plucked a cotton rosemallow that he then pinned to his lapel, before standing by Taiye Pond, staring into its depths woodenly.
Xu Lingyun pulled out that small bag and broke off a piece, bringing it to his mouth, before Li Xiao’s voice sounded from behind. “What are you eating? Let this king taste some too.”
Xu Lingyun hurried to rise and greet his king, and Li Xiao sat down on a stone seat at the side of the pavilion, taking the snack that Xu Lingyun handed to him. “This year’s autumn hunt won’t be happening.”
Xu Lingyun smiled. “Don’t let it weigh on your mind, Your Majesty. It’s no different if we go in the coming year instead.” Though he said it like that, there was a faint tinge of disappointment in his words.
Li Xiao sighed again and said easily, “This feels discomforting. You sit ba.”
Xu Lingyun lifted the hem of his robe as he sat down on the railing of the pavilion, smiling as he said, “These honeyed walnut pastry slices are a specialty of the Jiangzhou region. Though Your Majesty may not find anything special about it, this subject has eaten it ever since he was small.”
Li Xiao nodded slightly. He couldn’t taste anything special about it, so he asked, “Did you bring the book?”
Xu Lingyun pulled himself together and pulled out the book from his sleeve, smiling as he said, “I brought it.”
Li Xiao replied, “That night, after you fell asleep first, this king read to the part where Chengzu moved his residence to Tingzhou. This king doesn’t know why, but it feels like this king was personally present at the scene, because I can dimly imagine a few things.”
As Li Xiao spoke, Xu Lingyun earnestly studied his eyes, but as soon as their gazes met, Xu Lingyun flipped open the book and said mildly, “That night, Zhang Mu went to deliver the letter, which called in the people of the Jianghu…”
“One moment,” Li Xiao said. “This king wants to ask you about something. What do you think of Chengzu, Zhang Mu, and Fang Qingyu?”
Xu Lingyun closed the book, and after thinking about it, he said, “Their honorable deeds and past blunders are impossible to comment on.”
Li Xiao rose and clasped his hands behind his back. “This king knows that you have thoughts about this in your heart. Speak, this king will not fault you for that.”
Xu Lingyun smiled. “I’m not afraid of being punished…”
Li Xiao’s sword brows rose. “Then why do you not speak?”
Xu Lingyun said, “I’m afraid that Your Majesty will laugh at me.”
Li Xiao reprimanded him, “You laugh all the time in that careless way of yours.”
Xu Lingyun smiled gently. “Teacher Fufeng said before that Chengzu was a great emperor.”
Li Xiao gazed at the autumn colors around Taiye Pond as he said slowly, “What needs to be done for one to be considered a great emperor?”
Smiling, Xu Lingyun answered, “This subject also cannot name any specifics, but throughout history, it has been said that accompanying a lord is like keeping a tiger company, and Chengzu undoubtedly put in all of his effort into accomplishing his work. To his subjects, he was at times close, and at times distant. Sometimes he would be close to Fang Qingyu, sometimes to Zhang Mu, wandering back and forth between these two senior officials that supported him in all his affairs. He truly would hit them with a stick before giving them a sweet reward. To outsiders, he was a complex individual, but to Fang Qingyu and Zhang Mu he was so straightforward that they committed themselves wholly to his cause. Chengzu was used to acting according to the circumstances he found himself in, so he spoke whatever words his opponent wanted to hear. He couldn’t afford to offend the Sun family, and he had to make Sun Yan carry out those tasks willingly and happily.
“Before Chengzu returned to the throne, he never turned on Sun Yan, nor did he heed the cold reception that the Sun family gave him. It wasn’t until many years after he took the throne that Chengzu found an excuse to wash the generations of the Sun family in blood, uncaring of Zhang Mu and Sun Yan’s relations as he tore apart Sun Yan’s family, leading to the annihilation of a large clan of the Western Plains that had been around for four hundred years.”
Li Xiao spoke, “This period of history is one that this king has heard Teacher Fufeng speak of before. Back then, the influential families were scattered across the sixteen states, too large and cumbersome of an area to be effective, which made unification of my Great Yu difficult. Chengzu did away with the influential families of each region; on the surface, it seemed as if he was slaughtering his subjects, but in reality he was establishing the foundations of my Great Yu for hundreds of years. If he hadn’t done so, with the corruption of the previous court’s sundry officials, the state would have held very little power in comparison. If the various influential families were still around, then this country would no longer be the Great Yu of today. It cannot be said that his actions all arose because of his personal grudges.”
Xu Lingyun nodded slightly, before smiling. “What is real and what is an illusion is difficult to say, as thoughts are unable to be captured by people. Being a subordinate of this person must have been very arduous.”
Sitting down again, Li Xiao said, not in a hurry, “This king, however, feels that Fang Qingyu’s thoughts are harder to guess at.”
Xu Lingyun said, “Teacher said that Fang Qingyu wasn’t a good person, but he was a good man. He was not a loyal subject, but he was a good subject.”
Li Xiao couldn’t resist chuckling at that, and Xu Lingyun continued, “This subject believes that to gain a subject who is loyal to the point of dying a cruel death for their cause, you cannot pull others in to form factions and band together for selfish reasons. Being sentenced to death for voicing their thoughts, submitting books in unison in the name of concern for the citizens and the country, these kinds of things cannot be allowed to occur. Otherwise, if you were to petition on behalf of the people, wouldn’t that be the same as making the emperor your enemy? With that, the credit goes to the officials, and the ruler becomes the villain instead. If it happens once or twice, it’s easy to brush off, but if matters persist like that, what emperor would not grow angry?”
“That is natural,” Li Xiao replied mildly. “But it is a tradeoff between the two, with society as the more important, and the lord as the lesser. All say that a ruler’s heart is hard to understand, but in reality the human heart is unpredictable, and the thoughts of officials are even harder to determine.”
Xu Lingyun smiled gently. “His motivations are what it all depends on. If he faces the death penalty for his words when his goal was to protect the person on the dragon throne, and his words and actions were all for the stability of his lands, and for his lord’s name to echo throughout the years, what lord would not understand that in his heart? Humans are not grasses or trees, which are unable to have any emotions. Though there may be parts that are difficult to think through, the part that will always be understood is that that subject was doing so for his sake. But, if this subject was performing such actions for clearing his own name, speaking on behalf of thousands of citizens, though the actions may be the same in the end, is a great taboo to an emperor. Subjects who are truly loyal are never afraid of being the villain.”
Li Xiao nodded slightly. He himself had long suffered the pain of having the senior officials of the court conspire against him. The Lin faction held great power, and they had the vague notion of oppressing the Tang family faction. This was a measure that had been devised when the empress dowager was still listening to court sessions from behind a curtain, because she was afraid that the Tang family’s military official faction was growing strong without an opposition to keep them in check. But after Li Xiao had taken the throne, this little bit of lurking peril that hadn’t been cleaned up yet gradually rose to the surface to the point where in the court, Lin Yi had taken over half of the country. Though it hadn’t reached the stage of being “hard to control”, it was still a great headache for Li Xiao.
Lin Yi, especially, often used the people as an excuse. Every time Li Xiao reviewed new policies or account books, Lin Yi would take all the credit in the end. With the autumn hunt and the emptying of the treasury, Lin Yi had gathered various officials to admonish him in unison, forcing Li Xiao to retract an order he had already issued in full view of the entire court. In the end, Li Xiao had both assumed a stern, harsh role and had also helped Lin Yi achieve the reputation that he wished for. In reality, he hadn’t satisfied either side, and became viewed as a tyrant instead.
Xu Lingyun said, “Subjects that do not form factions are good subjects, because one, they don’t cause a headache for the emperor, and two, they show that they can accomplish their duties on their own, without any outside help; Fang Qingyu was very smart. When he accompanied Chengzu in moving up in the world, he accepted Sun Yan’s bribe on the surface, but as soon as he turned, he sold them out. He never made friends either, doing his work solely on his own. Until they returned to the capital, the only person that he relied on was Chengzu himself.”
Li Xiao nodded slightly. Xu Lingyun continued, “With that, Chengzu knew that Fang Qingyu could only rely on him, so he didn’t suspect him. If you think about it, if a man can sell out his whole family and land himself in such a situation, that means for his whole life, he would only have Chengzu in his gaze. What reason could Chengzu have to kill or punish him?”
“And after they entered the capital and Chengzu reclaimed the throne, Fang Qingyu adopted another visage: extravagantly renovating his own estate, using his connections to oppress the people, turning a blind eye to his own servants beating citizens to death, giving and receiving bribes, and adopting an arrogant, dominating attitude. When he went to court, he blocked the path of the six ministers’ carriages, swaggering in on his own. For a single heated exchange, he dragged the Grand Secretariat out past the Wu Gates to beat him up, and his reputation was blackened beyond belief…”
Li Xiao chuckled. “Too terrible to listen to.”
Xu Lingyun said gleefully, “The entire court censured him, and the civil officials banded together to impeach him. The Six Ministries wanted nothing more than to peel off his skin and consume his flesh. Even Tang Hong, who had worked with him for three years, couldn’t stand him, not to mention my Great Yu. Throughout the thousands of years of history recorded in the annals, this was a unique situation.”
Li Xiao: “Then why did Chengzu continue to protect him?”
Xu Lingyun: “Because no one liked him. Fang Qingyu accomplished his duties on his own without any outside help, so naturally the only one he could rely on was Chengzu. In the entire court of military and civil officials, none of them were on good terms with him, and each of them wished that he would fuck off sooner, so of course he couldn’t form any factions either. If Chengzu wanted to kill him, there was no way that anyone would step out to plead for mercy on his behalf, so Chengzu didn’t end up killing him at all. This subject believes that this is the highest level of playing wise to ensure his own survival.”
Li Xiao: “He’s smarter than Zhang Mu.”
Xu Lingyun sighed. “Zhang Mu was the one most tired from living.”
Li Xiao: “What do you think of Zhang Mu compared to the rest of them?”
Xu Lingyun smiled very lightly. “This subject believes that, of these people, Zhang Mu appears to be the most abnormal. Or perhaps, it could be said that none of them were normal, but he was the most normal of them. Zhang Mu’s thoughts were like an infant’s. No matter how Chengzu treated him, he never had a single moment of doubt. He was loyal to his friends, wholly sincere in his treatment of Chengzu, and when they came into conflict, everything would give way to Chengzu…”
“He had almost lost all sight of himself as he lived,” Xu Lingyun said quietly. “But in the end, he really couldn’t bear it any longer. That moment when Chengzu poured out two cups of wine, expliciting stating that he should drink that ‘Dream of a Life Departed’ so that they could be together in their next life as well… Your Majesty, if I keep talking, the sky’s going to grow dark.”
Li Xiao: “Tell the story ba. After talking over this with you, this king has suddenly thought through many things.”
Xu Lingyun flipped open the book to a page with tears in his eyes.
“Legend has it that that day, Chengzu found Zhang Mu in the flower garden…”
Legend has it that that day, when Li Qingcheng entered the garden, Zhang Mu was still facing the wall. The two of them stared at each other for a while, before Li Qingcheng suddenly said, “Your subordinates have come.”
Zhang Mu: “You go give them orders. What is mine is yours.”
Li Qingcheng: “Without seeing the Ying-zhu, how can they listen to my commands? Go, go quickly!”
Li Qingcheng pushed from behind, but Zhang Mu didn’t budge at all. Li Qingcheng put his shoulders and back into it, shoving at him, and finally, Zhang Mu couldn’t stand still anymore. He took a step away, causingLi Qingcheng to trip and fall forwards. Zhang Mu hurriedly turned and grabbed Li Qingcheng’s hand, and the two of them headed out of the main hall.
The moment Zhang Mu appeared, the people of the Jianghu all grew agitated.
“Ying-zhu!” someone shouted, rising to their feet.
Li Qingcheng passed in front of the gathered crowd, bending down in front of each of them and lifting them to their feet. “All of you rise, Mu-ge and I grew up together, we’re as close as brothers…”
But Zhang Mu suddenly opened his mouth and interrupted him. “He is my master, listen to his orders.”
Li Qingcheng furrowed his brows unhappily, and for a while the hall was dead silent. Finally, it was that madam who had spoken first before who chuckled in understanding and came forward. “Ying-zhu, after many years of not seeing you, you’ve grown much thinner than before…”
The gathered members of the Jianghu once again circled around Zhang Mu, tugging at his hands, each of them sighing in pity. The old woman had two trails of warm tears flowing down her cheeks as she came over, leaning on her cane, asking unsteadily, “How come your visage has been ruined?”
At that time, in the courtyard outside that hall, there were quite a few people shuffling their feet as they peered into the hall. Chattering quietly amongst themselves, they caused a noisy din.
Zhang Mu nodded silently. The old woman stroked the side of his face tenderly before letting out a long sigh. “Ying-zhu, was this burn left behind by the fire back then?”
He waved his hand, indicating that he would not answer that. Boss Liang explained, “Ever since he was young, Ying-zhu has never liked to speak. Disperse, disperse, listen to Young Master Li’s orders ba.”
With that, Li Qingcheng’s expression finally grew a little better, and he said to the group, “I need reports on the situation. As for compensation… where are all of you from?”
The comers were a mixed bunch, and when they opened their mouths, their responses widely varied. Boss Liang answered for them, “This family of xiongdi were all members of the Mt. Yingyu Manor who were treated by the old lord. As of today, the young lord is still here, so how can we shamelessly ask for recompense?”
Smiling slightly, Li Qingcheng replied, “Since these gathered xiongdi are to carry out their duties in Ting City, you will need some money to spend on food and drink. It’s just a little bit of silver, so if you don’t mind, please accept it for now. We can discuss the details later… Tang Hong!”
Tang Hong heard the call and went in to grab the silver, bringing it out. Li Qingcheng personally took the plate and went around the hall in a circle with it. The gathered people all took some, of varying amounts, rich and poor, greedy and frugal alike, each of them taking what they needed.
Li Qingcheng then handed the plate to Tang Hong and had him go outside to scatter the silver. He then shook out the hems of his robes before sitting down, smiling as he said, “Ying-ge and I met when we were young. Both our families have come down since in the world, and we are currently taking shelter with the Sun family of Ting City, but this series of circumstances is not to our liking. We want to find an opportunity to do some business. Right now, we’re just newcomers, and we’re not very familiar with this place yet, so we’d like to hear about the current situation in the city as soon as possible.
“This matter is easy when we speak of it. No one should need to take any action; all that needs to be done is for you to perk your ears up, but if you were to call it hard, it would also be hard. After all, this is all a little bit related to the Sun family and the government manor of Ting Province. I don’t know if you geges can help us out. Otherwise, if it’s really too troublesome, that’s not an issue, we can stay friends…”
But Boss Liang interjected, “What kind of words are these! Listening for news is easy, you can count on us to do it! What does xiandi want to know about?”
One scholar supplied, “Of the gathered xiongdi, some reside in Ting City, and some others make Jia City their permanent residence. In these two places in the Western Plains, no one is more familiar with all of the talk that happens at street corners and in little alleyways than us.”
As if a heavy burden had been lifted from him, Li Qingcheng said readily, “I can’t remember a lot of information at the moment. I have an attendant surnamed Fang who’s currently waiting in the courtyard, how about I have him explain?”
When Fang Qingyu and Tang Hong received their orders, they brought the group outside, and finally Li Qingcheng let out an actual breath of relief. He knew that since Fang Qingyu was handling the rest, there was no need for him to be anxious over them, so he began to ponder over the matter of how to use this group of people.
With a brush in hand, Li Qingcheng scribbled and drew on a sheet of paper, his mind wandering. Fang Qingyu and Tang Hong were both outside, and only Zhang Mu stood silently in the hall.
After the Jianghu people from the Yingyu manor left, Zhang Mu hadn’t stopped watching Li Qingcheng in a daze.
Li Qingcheng knew that Zhang Mu was watching him, but he didn’t lift his head, continuing to doodle.
As he sketched, the tip of Li Qingcheng’s brush suddenly paused, and Zhang Mu immediately swiveled his gaze away.
“I’m your master?” Li Qingcheng asked, into a patch of silence. “Who is whose master? It’s a blessing from the heavens if you manage to act politely to me.”
Zhang Mu repliped, “I… Mu-ge wants you to be happy, I’m afraid that they won’t treat you like … ay.”
Li Qingcheng suddenly understood, and a sense of warmth enveloped his heart. A moment later, he said, “Come over and sit ba. Where’s the arctic gyr?”
Zhang Mu strode in front of the table, lowering his head to watch Li Qingcheng as he opened his mouth and said, “This is Mu-ge’s fault.”
Putting his brush down, Li Qingcheng waved his hand at Zhang Mu, indicating that he should sit. “Mu-ge, we two depend on each other for our mutual survival. Don’t bring up Sun Yan’s younger sister with me. Let’s just be like this, alright? That is such an impossible thing, and if you talk about it too much, it serves no other purpose than to make it harder to bear inside.”
Zhang Mu lifted his hand, but Li Qingcheng wrapped his arms around his waist, pillowing his head on his thighs as he laid down. When he lifted his head, he watched the burn scar on the side of Zhang Mu’s face, and at that, Zhang Mu felt a little uncomfortable. Li Qingcheng had him turn his face to that side, saying quietly, "I don't reject you, you don't reject me either. Have you forgotten it again?"
Zhang Mu: “I haven’t forgotten.”
He then pressed two fingers against his lips and whistled once. From outside came a whooshing sound as the arctic gyr flapped its wings, flying in.
“It’s this talented?” Li Qingcheng grew excited once again. “How did you whistle? A single whistle can call it to you? Try it again?”
The warmth returned to Zhang Mu’s eyes, and he turned his head, his fingers in his mouth as he blew that whistle again. The arctic gyr flapped its wings and flew over, landing on the stand.
“Not enough time has passed yet, it only understands ‘come’ and ‘go’,” Zhang Mu said. “I taught it those commands just yesterday.”
Li Qingcheng rose and said, “Wait wait wait, how do you whistle them? Teach me too.” And saying this, he grabbed Zhang Mu’s hand and stuck his index and middle finger into his mouth, blowing on them.
When Zhang Mu’s fingers entered Li Qingcheng’s mouth, his face flushed red to the base of his neck, but he didn’t dare to move.
Li Qingcheng blew a few times, but no matter how he puffed he couldn’t make a tune out of it. He then realized that he too had fingers, and he tested it on his own, but he couldn’t make any noise, and he frowned. “Does this also work only in a specific way?”
Zhang Mu stiffly pulled his fingers away, gazing fixedly at Li Qingcheng as he lifted that hand, crooking three of Li Qingcheng’s fingers seriously, before bringing his index and middle finger to his own lips. He held them in his mouth, and with a circulation of air, he blew. The arctic gyr flew over again.
Li Qingcheng swallowed down his saliva. He felt that where his fingers touched Zhang Mu’s lips, they were gentle and warm to the point of almost being too hot to touch, causing a dim burning impulse to take root in the depths of his heart.
Fang Qingyu came in from outside, and Li Qingcheng immediately pulled his fingers back. As he did, his fingers brushed over Zhang Mu’s lips. He gathered his sleeve as he said, “They’ve all been assigned?”
“They’ve all been assigned,” Fang Qingyu said coldly, appraising Zhang Mu with hostility.
There was glee in Zhang Mu’s eyes as he got up and stood at one side, holding the fledgling eagle in one hand. Zhang Mu’s hand was large, and though the fledgling had grown quite a bit, it was still not as large as Zhang Mu’s palm.
Fang Qingyu pointed out, “I have established a new mode of communication. Whenever Boss Liang sends for something to be done, even if the returning report has nothing to do with it, as soon as he gets it, he’s going to report to me and Tang Hong. The twenty-man team in the estate is split into four squads, and every day they will come outside and get in contact with us. At the very latest, three days later, all of the reports can be gathered.”
“Thanks for your hard work,” Li Qingcheng drawled. “What do you want as a reward this time?”
Fang Qingyu didn’t answer as he glanced out of the corner of his eyes towards the arctic gyr in Zhang Mu’s hand. He asked casually, “Has the falcon not yet been manned?”
Zhang Mu said mildly, “A falcon that has been reared since childhood does not need to be tempered brutally. At its lowest point, it received a bit of food from His Highness, and that has already caused it to develop devotion for him. In this life, it will never betray His Highness. All that is needed is several months of training for it to be a fully fledged falcon.”
That one phrase cut Fang Qingyu’s criticisms short, but Li Qingcheng asked, “How is it trained?”
From that day on, since he had nothing to do, no matter if he was lying down or standing up, Li Qingcheng began to watch Zhang Mu train the falcon, while Fang Qingyu and Tang Hong went to wander Ting City to establish connections on the inside.
Zhang Mu used a black cloth to carefully blindfold the fledgling falcon, before he had it stand on a wooden branch. The falcon’s claws were chained with a metal chain, which was fastened to one side of the wooden post.
Li Qingcheng had heard of a few methods of raising falcons, and he couldn’t help but plead, “Don’t be too rough, I’m afraid of it hating me.”
But Zhang Mu pointed out, “After ten plus days of starvation, its first bite of food was what you fed it. It won’t hate you through this entire life.”
A thought suddenly grew in Li Qingcheng’s head, and he asked teasingly, “What about in the next life?”
Zhang Mu glanced at Li Qingcheng, saying, “As for the next life, it’s hard to say.”
Li Qingcheng began to smile. Zhang Mu’s face was a little red as Li Qingcheng said, “You speaking like this is pretty good. Speak more, don’t stand around like a piece of wood all the time.”
Zhang Mu stopped speaking again, and Li Qingcheng chided him. “Speak.”
Zhang Mu shook his head. Li Qingcheng furrowed his brows unhappily, and Zhang Mu hurried to explain, “You speak, let it hear your voice more.”
Li Qingcheng pondered for a bit. What was he supposed to say to an eagle?
“Hey son, in the coming days, I’ll build you a golden mews, and you’ll have a jade feeding trough…” Li Qingcheng said.
But Zhang Mu said, “It doesn’t want these.”
When Li Qingcheng thought about it, he agreed. The arctic gyr cooed low in its throat, and Zhang Mu placed it on the wooden rod. Suddenly, with a vigorous shake of the rod, the arctic gyr fell down, headfirst.
At that, Li Qingcheng was greatly frightened. Just as he was about to rush up to catch it, the fledgling falcon spread its wings, dragging the metal chain with it as it flew, circling around before landing back on the rod.
Zhang Mu explained, “I’m letting it learn how to stand firmly on a wrist.”
Li Qincheng nodded and said, “Son, can you recognize laozi’s voice?”
Zhang Mu suddenly shook the wooden rod again. The fledgling falcon stood there timidly. After several repetitions, no matter how much strength Zhang Mu used, he couldn’t shake it off from its perch.
“Good falcon,” Zhang Mu said. “Now it’s standing steady.”
Li Qingcheng sat for a little while longer, but Zhang Mu continued to make those same motions as he had before. He grew bored watching this scene, so he went outside and walked around for a bit before returning to the hall to read books. Zhang Mu didn’t call for him. It wasn’t until twilight that Zhang Mu finally ordered some troops to bring a bucket of warm water so that he could bathe the arctic gyr.
Standing outside the pitch-black mews, Li Qingcheng found that there was a hole in the paper window. He scooted over to the hole, peeping in, only to see that Zhang Mu wasn’t there, and the arctic gyr was squatting, dripping wet, on its stand.
Where was Zhang Mu? Li Qingcheng looked left and right, before pushing open the door and entering. As he did, he lifted his head and asked, “What’s wrong with our son? Is it sick?” As he spoke, a pebble flew past his ear with a light sound, hitting the stand. The wooden rod shook, and the arctic gyr plummeted down, headfirst, once again.
The arctic gyr flailed pathetically on the ground, before finally managing to fly back onto the stand.
Li Qingcheng walked out into the garden to see Zhang Mu sitting by the pool, one foot propped up on a rock as he whittled away at a bamboo rod with a small knife.
He asked, “You haven’t fed it yet today?”
Putting the bamboo rod away, Zhang Mu flicked another pebble that he picked up off the ground. It flew past with a whoosh, passing through the hole on that window paper, and struck the wooden rod again. The arctic gyr fell down, staggered, and then flew back up to its perch.
Zhang Mu said, “From now on, we cannot feed it for three days.”
Li Qingcheng protested, “It’ll starve to death!”
Zhang Mu shook his head, before bending over and picking up a small bowl by his feet. There was a small shallow plate to the side, which held a powder in it. In the bowl was a strong tea.
Curiously, Li Qingcheng picked up a little bit of the powder on the plate, only to find that it was salt mixed with small grains of sand. Zhang Mu mixed the salt and sand into the tea, before he went in and came out carrying the young falcon by its wings, pinching its beak open.
Li Qingcheng said, “A little… a little gentler.”
Zhang Mu said, “Pour that down its throat.”
The arctic gyr’s eyes had been covered, and it thrashed incessantly, letting out gugu sounds of pleading from its throat. Li Qingcheng didn’t even dare to say a word, thinking that if they kept causing it such suffering, then when the falcon heard his voice, more likely than not, it would hate him from this day on.
Zhang Mu pinched the falcon’s beak, opening it wide, urging him on. “Don’t be afraid, do it now.”
Hesitating, Li Qingcheng brought the bowl to its beak, pouring a bowl of strong salt tea mixed with grit into the arctic gyr’s mouth.
Zhang Mu glanced at Li Qingcheng before settling the falcon, saying, “You’re not afraid of the Xiongnu hating you, yet you’re afraid of a falcon hating you.”
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.