076 Happy Birthday
Today, Fan Luo City’s most affluent family, the Lu household, spread the shocking news that their eldest miss, Lu Wan’er, had become a hairless simpleton, with nothing but a dull look in her eyes. Though the officials of the Lu family banned the discussion of this topic several times, it was like “swathing flames with paper”*, the news spread throughout the streets and alleyways of the city.
(TL NOTE: Common Chinese saying, meaning it was a futile effort to stop the scandal, as the truth comes to light sooner or later.)
And the mother and son from Feng Tai City’s Yang family, who were just discussing the prospects of marriage between their children, left Fan Luo City on the same day, desiring to return to Feng Tai City, a thousand miles away. This match, though neither side clearly stated it, was presumably not possible anymore.
Not too many days later, Lu Wan’er too was sent hundreds of miles away to a vacation resort bordering Huan Sha City, from then on never taking another step back in Fan Hua Town, where tongues wagged from all directions.
Su Shuilian heard the terrible news passed on through Xi Cui’s lips.
If she wasn’t once acquainted with that Lu Wan’er, she would’ve merely listened to the talk, at most offer a bout of sympathy and pity for the maiden. After all, as a girl raised in deep seclusion to protect her innocence, someone chopping her beautiful hair all off in the course of a night, shocking her into a half-wit, how big of a grudge could a person have held against her?
But in this situation, she knew who Lu Wan’er was, and even had encounters that, though not one too intimate, made them less than strangers. She held sympathy for her as a woman, who suffered such humiliating treatment. However, she considered herself lucky that she had left Fan Luo City. From this point on she shouldn’t have another chance to disturb her peaceful life with A Yao.
That being said, in reality, her heart is also ruthless, is it not? Su Shuilian laughed in spite of herself and shook her head, immediately sorting out her emotions, removing the muddled conjectures she had in her mind. Lowering her head and intently embroidered the set of three differently sized, and differently styled pouches she intended to gift to Xi Cui, as a part of her dowry.
Lin Si Yao held his hand outside of the embroidery room and calmly watched her for a moment, subsequently turning his back and returning to the kitchen.
That’s right, he was the one behind the business with Lu Wan’er. Chopping off her hair, was merely to warn her that from now on if she held any malintent to harm Su Shuilian, what he’d cut next wouldn’t be her hair, but her limbs and facial features connected to the rest of her body by flesh and skin. As for the shock turning her into a dullard, that was her not having enough guts to withstand what was just a petty punishment in his eyes, one that warned against a more significant penalty.
He just didn’t think that the Lu family’s security was so loose regarding such moral matters, this sort of ugly gossip spread across every street and alley in just the span of a day, and because of this, it has even spread into the ear of the little woman at his side, this is what he couldn’t have predicted.
In the central room, he could hear her chatter with Xi Cui in the embroidery room, as well as hear her gasp, from fear and shock, after learning of this incident. He was afraid that she’d associate this with him, and be afraid of him afterward. He clenched his fists. Anyone could fear and hold aversion towards him, and it would be no matter to him. Anyone but her. She was his wife, the woman he loved deeply inside his heart, and he would not allow her to be afraid of him, no matter what.
However, it seems now, that her distress should have dissipated.
Lin Si Yao suddenly felt that all was beautiful and well in the Fan Luo city without Lu Wan’er’s interference. Even the ever lingering spring rain that pitter-pattered steadily, was a lot more pleasing to his eye.
“Fortunately… fortunately…I rejected that commission…or, in my opinion, the ones who would have been chopped of their hair and left as brainless dolts, would have been our Thundering Winds Gang’s fifty-three brothers,” Hua Yu’er from the Thundering Winds Gang took a hand and wiped away the cold sweat from his face, pacing in circles around the conference room, counting his fortunes nonstop.
“Big boss, then now…”
“Now? Now naturally we continue living our days as we always do. We’ll take whatever commissions we have to. Of course, memorize our gang’s laws again, don’t make the same mistakes as before.” Hua Yu’er waved his imposing hand, and unstructured Xiao Si to inform the various brothers of the gang to review the crew’s rules again.
Thinking back, the “Thundering Winds Gang” he created single-handedly, was only, in the beginning, created to follow the whims of his old, wholeheartedly kind mother. To provide shelter for parentless orphans from the wind and rain of the outside world. As to why it had become somewhat like a thug-like gang, it was only to give his brothers/comrades jobs.
“Thundering Winds Gang” took on a motley variety of commissions. As long as one needed some legwork done, a handyman to do all sorts of odds and ends, a personal bodyguard, and other short-term work like that, they’d take the job. Of course, in between those jobs, there wasn’t a lack of deep pocketed lords, who’d pay big money for the gang to act as hired roughnecks, to prop up an occasion and et cetera. Since the pay was so generous, he assented to this type of job without a second thought. To not worry his kind-hearted old mother, he went out of his way to set the eight big gang laws, included in it, a rule of not laying a hand on women and children.
But…but, he had the once in a blue moon chance to feast his eyes on fifty glistening silvers, and for that, he broke the gang laws and encountered such a mighty character. Sigh, it makes no matter if he mentions it now, no matter at all, from today on, they should keep lawfully accepting those commissions that don’t commit offenses against reason and nature, and just think of it as accumulating virtue for his old mother.
“Bang!” Right as he was thinking, the conference room’s front door was kicked in from the outside. A burst of ill wind followed, zooming into the room.
“Who is it?” Hua Yu’er leaped up from his chair in a shock.
Only to be met by a person’s shadow, whirling into the room at full speed. What came after was an aura of raw killing intent, filling the whole chamber. That was…the aura possessed exclusively by a killer…a true killer…
“Ah Yao, Aunt Lao said that the village head’s ox pulled cart is going into town today to pick up shipments and they’re planning to get a ride with it. Are we going as well?” Su Shuilian, just returning from Aunt Lao’s place with XiaoChun, rushed into the south courtyard and breathlessly asked Lin Si Yao, who was in the middle of laying out plums to be dried.
Lin Si Yao laughingly helped her wipe away the sweat seeping from her brow, and said adoringly, intending to pamper her: “I’ll take you there.” Him taking her there, meant that he’d be using qigong, of course. Su Shuilian nodded her head, “Then I’ll go give Aunt Lao the word, telling them to go along first.”
“Don’t be in a hurry, we’re setting off in just a moment, and we can drop by en route to give them the word. “ Lin Si Yao dragged her towards the central room. He didn’t have the heart to see her run back and forth again. The work at hand was finished as well, and setting off early wasn’t a bad idea.
Today was first day of the third lunar month, the day Su Shuilian decided on to be her sixteenth birthday.
The heavens had eyes, and they ended the lingering spring rain that had been going on for about ten days, and the long-lost sun reappeared.
Lin Si Yao had already notified the two families, Lao and Tian, the day before and had already reserved a room large enough to fit about ten or so people some days ago, and today they would go to Wu Qin Restaurant to celebrate her birthday in a grand manner that she deserved.
Before Lin Si Yao left, he gave XiaoChun a look, signaling him to guard their home well.
As for XiaoXue, she’d long taken her three little wolf cubs, who’d just opened their eyes for only a few days, and moved their den to the lawn of the south courtyard.
XiaoChun exasperatedly rolled his eyes, lying in front of the big jujube tree, cozily basking under the sun’s warmth with his sister companion’s little wolf cubs, who were frolicking intimately.
Fine, he’d go to the north courtyard to watch over the house. If what happened last time occurred again, and he let rascals and outlaws wander into their home on the sly, he wouldn’t be able to save his pelt from a skinning. He didn’t mistake the chilling gaze Lin Si Yao shot towards him before he left for the road. Wuwuwu…in reality, he also really wanted to go into town and take a peek at the boisterous bustle.
Lin Si Yao held Su Shuilian, and in a few flying steps, left the ox pulled cart the two families Lao and Tian, along with village head Wang, which in total was eight people, far behind them.
Tian Dabao naturally followed closely behind them, his feet carried by the mysterious teleporting steps, chasing after Lin Si Yao’s shadow with all his might. His master said that today was the day he’d test him on his qinggong, if he didn’t lose them, it’d count as a pass, and he could order whatever grand dishes he wanted today at noon, he could pick anything he wanted to eat…hm… what delicacies were there at Wu Qin Restaurant? The forest fowl cooked in sesame oil that master’s wife brought back last time was really good, and the crispy roasted duck wasn’t bad either…Oh yikes…where’s master? Oh no, Tian Dabao shook his head emphatically, stopping himself from thinking about the mouth-wateringly tantalizing delicacies, putting all his effort into galloping at full speed, in an attempt to catch the two who’d already disappeared without the flicker of a shadow of Lin Si Yao and Su Shuilian.
“Tut tut…Dabao also possesses such formidable strength? This brat is finally good for something. Da Fu…this time around you don’t have to be worried anymore, right?” The laughing Lao Youkun teased Tian Dafu.
“Heh…listen to what this older brother is saying, Dabao only knows how to do a few fancy tricks, it has no relation to where he’s good for something or not. As long as he’s healthy, we’re satisfied.”
Though Tian Dafu said all this, the expression on his face had long betrayed the pride inside his heart.
Was it even possible not to be pleased? Thinking back on all the hard work and effort he put into carpentry, the silvers he saved up actually fell behind what this brat earned in about half a year. Just look, as soon as this spring started, he followed his master over to Xiu Feng, and actually netted an old tortoise. His mother loathed to eat it, so she took it into town to be sold, and earned three silvers for it. Tut tut, this brat’s luck was really extraordinary.
“If it was up to me to say, Xiao Bao’s master really knows a few tricks of the trade! Just look at his abilities a moment ago, wasn’t it like the martial heroes of, whatcha ma call it……. the Jianghu? Yeah, the word is Jianghu, that’s right.” Auntie Lao also offered up much praise, slapping her thigh in approval.
“Auntie Lao, where is the Jianghu?” said the younger Tian girl, eyes glistening as she glanced at Auntie Lao, demanding an answer from her with much curiosity.
“Cough…cough…little girly, I, your Auntie Lao, only heard it mentioned by those storytellers, and as for where exactly the Jianghu is located, I’m not too sure myself.” Auntie Lao’s old face blushed a vivid red, explaining this to the younger Tian girl embarrassingly. Her antics provoke a wave of amused laughter amongst the group.
She remembered when she was just a child, and she accompanied her old father into the city, and they chanced upon a storyteller’s booth. She just wanted to drag out her stay there until she finally relented, after hearing the story a few times over. Therefore, any definitions she knew such as Jianghu and martial hero, all were ones she guessed from a state of semi-understanding during this incident. Now, she had witnessed a real martial master like Lin Si Yao, and her memories from the storyteller’s tales had resurfaced. The advanced gongfu that allowed one to drift a number of kilometers in the blink of an eye, the martial hero that could retrieve the heads of villains with a wave of the hand…the so-called Jianghu, it should refer to the meeting grounds of renowned swordsman like Lin Si Yao, with incredible martial arts skills of no ordinary talent, right?
When the band of travelers finally arrived at the doorstep of “Wu Qin Restaurant”, the sun had already risen to the meridian.
Lin Si Yao and Su Shuilian waited for Dabao to finish ordering a large table of rich, sumptuous courses. Afterwards, the three formed a party to take a walk around the area, and they brought some cheap baubles that pleased both the eye and the mind.
These included some delicately carved mahogany, a strangely shaped inkstone, and a lovely and novel wooden folding screen…until she had spent all of the silver inside her little purse, and that’s when she finally let the matter drop.
Lin Si Yao couldn’t resist ruffling her hair, and he softly asked: “Why didn’t you choose some valuable ones?” Her birthday present shouldn’t just all be some inexpensive knick knacks.
“Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean I’ll definitely like it.” Su Shuilian gave him a look. Oh men, do they not understand that price doesn’t determine the true value?
It depends on what it is. Like him…the price set on his person might not be the highest, but he’s her favorite and most beloved. That’s all that’s needed, is it not?
After dining on a lavish birthday feast at “Wu Qin Restaurant”, they insisted repeatedly on not accepting any gifts, but they could not wrestle over the modest politeness of the two households.
The Tian family gifted Su Shuilian a bracelet; a dark green string of round and fragrant sandalwood beads. It was personally smoothened by Tian Dafu himself. He already started preparing it very early in the year when he heard Dabao say that Su Shuilian’s birthday was today. After the course of three months, no one would consider it roughly done.
“Si Niang, I also have a present to give you. But since it’s not convenient to bring with me, you’ll see when you get back.” Tian Dabao also took the chance to offer up his treasure.
“Okay, thank you.” Su Shuilian nodded her head, patting the shoulder that was about to pass her in stature with a laugh.
“Girly, I only found out yesterday that your birthday was today, and didn’t have the time to prepare. I know you like flowers, so I divided up two pots of Clivia plants, and I’ll get Yongqiang to send it over for you.” The Clivia plants that had bloomed for seven to eight years in the forest near Auntie Luo’s home already had a pretty advanced root system. Yesterday, A Yao invited their family to come to celebrate the occasion, and she had no time to get ready, so she made sir Lan divide up about half of it into a pottery clay bowl, as a gift.
And the village head Wang, who was forced by the two, including Su Shuilian, to stay and eat a meal, was even more ashamed. His old face blushed, as he rubbed his hands together, saying “What shame, what shame, to not give a present and still bumming an extravagant meal off them.
“You all are too polite. If we insisted on getting presents, how would we have the nerve to invite you all to come with us? Today, using the opportunity of the birthday, was only a way to thank you guys. Over this half a year, if we didn’t have you, how would A Yao and I have familiarised ourselves so fast to living in town?” Su Shuilian smiled as she explained the reason that they invited all of them to come feast.
Of course, this was only Su Shuilian’s idea. Lin Si Yao’s view on this was just the contrary. He was willing to invite those two families Lao and Tian, and Wang Gengfa, solely because of his wish for her to have a happy and enjoyable birthday. As for etiquette such as thanking the neighbors, factors like that were never within his calculation range.
After they dined and wined to satiety, the group of people split their ways for their own individual activities.
Lao Youkun’s father and son pair followed the village head to go and pick up the shipment.
The two mothers took their own daughters and happily started browsing the periphery.
Lin Dabao, under Lin Si Yao’s eye signaling, left a step early, with much exasperation, to give XiaoXue and XianChun the large, leftover chunks of meat from the feast, and, while he was at it, accompanied them to watch over the house and guard the courtyard.
Lin Si Yao held Su Shuilian in his arms, and they slowly strolled to the grand lakeshore, in no hurry. They reclined on each other, basking in each other’s company, on a bench by the lakeside. They gazed at the willow branches, which were sprouting green shoots, sweep over the surface of the lake, swaying where the wind guided them. Occasionally, waves of ripples rose, circles over circles expanding open, and their hearts felt suddenly relaxed and refreshed.
“Happy birthday!” Lin Si Yao pulled from his lapel a high quality and skillfully carved jade pendant in the shape of a phoenix, and he hung it onto Su Shuilian’s neck for her.
“This is?…A Yao… though, I really like it, but, it’s really costly, is it not?” Su Shuilian lowered her head, grasping this small, but exquisite, jade phoenix pendant, and asked, not being able to hold back the question.
According to Dabao’s occasional disclosures, he basically handed all the silver he earned from selling field products over to her, though he left a bit of pocket change for himself, it shouldn’t be enough to buy a jade phoenix pendant so fine and smooth to the touch.
“As long as you like it.” Li Si Yao watched her gently stroke this jade pendant, the laughter in his eyes not decreasing even by a bit. As expected, wearing this kind of jewelry suits her the most, the contrast of the jade green against the background of her pale white skin, made it even more crystal clear.
“But…” she raised her head and looked towards him, eyes welling with concern, and murmured a question in a deep tone: “You…didn’t take up your job from before again, did you?”
“Where is your mind going?” Lin Si Yao was stupefied for a long while, half understanding the meaning of her words. He glared at her, unable to laugh or cry,: ”Since there’s you now, I won’t do it.” She actually suspected that he spent blood money on her, earned from killing others.
“Then it’s good. Sorry, A Yao, I was just too surprised. But…didn’t you give all the silvers you earned to me?” Su Shuilian saw that he seemed to take offense at this, and hurriedly explained, apologetic.
“If Dabao netted an old tortoise, could I have not gotten one too? Dumb!” He glanced at her, should he say that she trusted him too much? Never suspecting that he might have left a portion of the silver on him?
“Oh, so that’s it…”Su Shuilian nodded her head, understanding now, and immediately after, she cast a side glare at him, full of reproachful embarrassment, “If you didn’t say, how would I know?”
“Okay, it’s my fault, from today on, no matter how big or trivial, I’ll report all happenings to you with no exceptions, is that good?” It’s hard to come by him grinning so broadly, the dimples by his lips bloomed, and she was caught off guard, mystified.
Lin Si Yao took the chance to lower his head and peck a kiss on her full, fragrant, cherry-red lips. Su Shuilian held her face in her hands, yelping from surprise, and he kissed her again, finally retracting after that, satisfied.
“It’s getting late, let’s go home.” He knew she was afraid of being embarrassed, and stopped teasing her. Her whole self would be his tonight anyways, in all directions and ways.
He pulled her up, and they ambled slowly along the lakeside, to the city gate. Only then did he pull her into his arms, and speed towards Fan Hua Town.
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