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Translated by Wook
Edited by sienz
Moonlight illuminated Sanqing Hall. A servant boy was sleeping in the side hall.
Zhu Shoumei was reclining on the couch inside Huang Youbi’s room, looking at the beams with his eyes open. Master’s snoring sound from the back room fluctuated like a tide, making his mood fluctuate along with it.
After the argument that happened, Huang Youbi had finally decided to let Bai Shiqi stay in Zhu Shoumei’s room. Zhao Ziheng had said: “The three of us have to squeeze in one room, but Bai Shiqi gets one room for himself. Isn’t this too unfair?” Then he politely asked: “Shiqi, how about the two of us stay together?” Before he got slapped by Zhao Wujiu on the shoulder: “Just sleep where you’re supposed to sleep, why spout so much nonsense!”
Zhao Ziheng was aggrieved, even though his grievance was unreasonable.
There were some things on Zhu Shoumei’s mind. Normally, this small couch was used by Master to sit and lie on. At the moment, Zhu Shoumei could not even stretch his legs, so he could only half-bent his body, because of that, he could not fall asleep.
The white moonlight shone upon the window, and he could not help but think about his childhood.
Zhu Shoumei had been an orphan and had been adopted by an old beggar when he was a child. He had been living a bumpy life back then, to the point of begging with a dog stick. The old beggar passed away that winter, and Zhu Shoumei almost did not survive the winter that year when he left— Fortunately, Huang Youbi had been on his way back from medical practice and passed by the ruined temple. He had found him suffering from a high fever and had saved his life.
Afterward, the skinny and nameless boy stayed by Huang Youbi’s side as a medicine boy. His name had been given afterward when they had saved a scholar from the Zhu family, and after the scholar became aware of his life experience.
Zhu Shoumei had been diligent and studious since he was young. A person who had experienced a bitter life would naturally know how hard life was now, so he dared not slack on his study of pharmacy. Aside from assisting the Master in his daily life, his spare time had been used to study medicine. As it happened, Bai Zhenting had brought Bai Shiqi, who had broken her leg from a fall, over and entrusted her to Huang Youbi to be treated.
Bai Zhenting’s original words were: “This bastard of my family is really amazing, if not, how could he fall and break his leg. Brother Huang, you may discipline him as strictly as you wish!”
At that time, Huang Youbi had been living temporarily in the countryside of Suzhou and had rented a three-room clay house, not far from the village where a scholar taught children in a school. After healing the wife of the scholar who had been bedridden for several years, he had allowed Zhu Shoumei to attend the school.
Zhu Shoumei only had so much time in a day, not only he needed to attend school, when he returned, he also needed to study medicine, cook, and help Huang Youbi dry the herbs. His life had been very busy, and one day, a child with a broken leg was added to the house. It was a 7 to 8 years old kid, with red lips and white teeth, looking more lovable than him. Whenever Huang Youbi went to the mountain to gather herbs, he would always warn him: “You keep an eye on Shiqi. Don’t let him run around.”
At that time, his nature had been overcautious. His mind still had the law of survival he had learned back when he was still begging, like a little beast protecting its food. Huang Youbi’s words made him feel a deep sense of crisis in his heart. He had always felt that this kid was here to snatch his master away. He had not dared to throw the kid out and risked angering Master, but he had not been willing to care for the kid as well.
Bai Shiqi was born as the first child of the second generation of Jiangsu Shipping Group, with a small group of little soldiers under her hand. She had suddenly been separated from that life and had been thrown by Bai Zhenting to the countryside, and so, her loneliness quickly sprouted. Upon seeing Zhu Shoumei, she affectionately called him repeatedly, “Shoumei, Shoumei” right away, and had commented on him: “The old man who named you must have bad intentions, you’re already so skinny and weak, do you still need to be called Shoumei? It would be better to call you Pangmei!”
[The Shou character in Shoumei means thin, while Pang means fat or plump.]
Zhu Shoumei treasured his name very much and basically cherished everything that belonged to him. Hearing Bai Shiqi insulting his name, he took advantage when Huang Youbi had gone out and pressed Bai Shiqi to the ground to beat her. However, he had his neck locked and had rolled in the mud on the ground. His clothes had become so dirty and completely unpresentable, and the left sleeve was ripped from being pulled. He was so angry that he nearly cried— This was the clothes that Master had begged the auntie next door to sew. It was so dear to him.
Seeing his crying face, Bai Shiqi was very puzzled: “If the clothes got dirty, just change to another one. Why are you crying??”
Zhu Shoumei glared at her ferociously: “What do you know?!” How could a child loved by both parents understand his grievance?
The classmates from school were loved by their parents, even some of the grandparents were alive. Which one of them understood his sufferings?
Zhu Shoumei hated the child in front of him. He found a chance to go into the mountain to gather medicine and enticed: “There are many wild fruits in the mountain. I’d usually pick and wash them in mountain spring water. They taste sweet and sour, and are very delicious.”
As expected, Bai Shiqi was clamoring and argued to go. Her leg was still bound with a plank fixed on the leg. She had to use a crutch to help her walk and sometimes made Zhu Shoumei carry her on his back. Zhu Shoumei had been reluctant most of the time, but in front of Huang Youbi, he would be obedient.
He carried Bai Shiqi into the mountain and kept cursing “what a fat kid” during the whole journey. Perhaps a child that was loved by the parents had never even experienced hunger before, having so used to eat until one’s gotten full and plump, which made him so tired that he might die with the kid on his back. After desperately carrying the other person halfway up the mountain, he found an excuse to gather herbs and leave her to rest. But he actually ran away by himself.
That afternoon, Zhu Shoumei had been uneasy. The man and Heaven were fighting inside him. Countless times he had wanted to return, yet countless times he had also denied his thoughts. When the sky darkened, he eventually panicked when he thought whether his master’s eyes would be filled with hate when he welcomed him later. Perhaps Master still believed that his intentions were not proper, just like those kids from the village who had been secretly cursing him. Perhaps he still believed that he was “a feral child without parents to discipline”. He immediately felt like a heavy stone was crushing his heart and wasn’t able to breathe properly.
The more he thought about it, the more uncomfortable he felt. He could not help but run halfway up the mountain in one breath, but Bai Shiqi had not been at the original place. He was drenched in sweat, and yelled at the top of his lungs: “Bai Shiqi—”
Before he shouted out another word, there was a sleepy voice above his head: “So noisy!”
When Zhu Shoumei looked up, he had found that Bai Shiqi had been sleeping on the branch of a tree. She turned over impatiently and was about to fall off. She had muttered: “You’ve disturbed this young master, weren’t you planning on not coming back?”
“I-I… I… Who said that I wasn’t going to come?”
Bai Shiqi had turned over and sat up. She hung a rope on the taller branch and slid down, then she took the rope back and stuffed it into her clothes. She was carrying a small cloth bag in the other hand and stuffed it to him while complaining: “It was originally grilled until golden brown with a smoky scent, but after it’s been left the whole afternoon, the taste has changed quite a lot. I couldn’t throw it away though. It would be a waste of this little master’s craftsmanship.”
Zhu Shoumei smelled the scent of meat.
He opened the bag. He did not know what was the lining of Bai Shiqi’s small cloth bag made of, to his surprise, it was oil-proof and water-proof. Even cold, barbecued meat was still barbecued meat. Zhu Shoumei bit down fiercely. It was more delicious than dried meat, and he swallowed it fiercely. Afterward, with eyes brimming with tears: “How did you… How did you get it?”
Huang Youbi had never paid particular attention to food. It was enough as long as it kept him from being hungry and cold. However, the child was greedy for meat for no reason. The rabbits and pheasants in the mountain forest were seen as walking food, but since he did not have the ability to hunt, he could only watch.
“I caught it ah.” Bai Shiqi patted his shoulder: “Let’s return. It’s already late, Old Man Huang will scold us.”
Old Man Huang had not been courteous toward the guest Bai Shiqi, when it was the right time to scold, he would scold. He was even more fierce than the sensitive little apprentice.
Zhu Shoumei was carrying Bai Shiqi with roasted rabbit meat in his hand. He could not spell out how well it tasted. Moving with one foot in front of the other, he carried Bai Shiqi down the mountain. He was anxious and frightened, afraid that Bai Shiqi would spill his deeds to Huang Youbi. Countless reasons had he come up in his mind, ranging from “I forgot…” to “I got too absorbed with gathering herbs…”, yet none of them were useful.
Huang Youbi saw the two children only came back after dark. He had wanted to flare up, but Bai Shiqi took the lead and spoke first: “Old Man Huang, your family can’t even eat meat. If my father comes back and sees me becoming as thin as your little apprentice, won’t he feel distressed? We went hunting in the mountains!”
Bai Zhenting had never wronged his son materially and had left a generous consultation fee for Huang Youbi. Unfortunately, Huang Youbi, who was an expert at spending money as he had a generous and kind heart, quickly helped the poor from the same village, so the dishes in the house were still vegetables, leaves, and radishes.
He felt a little guilty in his heart, and when he questioned the two children who “went hunting in the mountain”, he became less angry: “What can you two little children hunt?”
Zhu Shoumei was relieved and quickly handed the roasted rabbit that he had eaten to Huang Youbi: “Master… Shiqi really could hunt rabbits. This is the roasted rabbit for you!”
Huang Youbi took it and looked at it under the lamp. It turned out to be rabbit meat, and it smelled very fragrant. He tore a rabbit leg and gave the rest to Zhu Shoumei: “You guys eat it!”
That had been the first time Zhu Shoumei ate roasted rabbit meat and he thought it was the best food in the world.
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