Desert Arc ー Chapter 22 (Part 1): The Place Where an Old Friend Rests in Peace
Little Zheng, Classmate Zheng Wenhao, was tall and had a well-built physique. He appeared to be close to 1.9 meters. It was probably because he grew up in the north since he was young and consumed much stuff like cheese and all mutton feasts which were high in protein. With straight eyebrows slanting upwards and large eyes, the little fellow considerably resembled a hero in a traditional graphic novel or a hero in a war of resistance from a revolution propaganda poster. The weapon he carried around with him was a sword which I reckoned was only for decoration purposes. He claimed to be 20 years old this year but based on my assessment, he appeared to be at most 17 or 18 years old.
Men exaggerate their age like how women downplay their age. It was all for comforting themselves and numbing the opposite gender. However, when it came to Classmate Little Zheng, it seemed to be a little more complicated.
This little fellow was currently sticking to Xiao Xuan like superglue. He jabbered on and on, “Elder Brother-in-law you haven’t come to our house to eat for a very long time our chef has learned a few new dishes from the capital you should give it a try and see if it tastes authentic a pack of wild wolves came from the west and I heard that the wolf alpha has white hair on its head when are we going to look at it are you free after a few days why don’t we go hunting together the sheeps should already be fat*…”
*T/n: The original text has no commas at all so I followed accordingly to show how he went on and on.
I secretly asked Mister Sun, “When did he follow us?”
“He arrived the second day we exited the pass.”
“This fellow has always been like this?”
“Young General Zheng reveres His Highness very much.”
I calculated in my heart. Xiao Xuan was only around 14 years old when he came to Xi Yao City. He married after a year so he would be 16 years old. Little Zheng was probably still a wimpy kid with snivel who was simple and honest that year. For someone like Xiao Xuan who plays many tricks, it should have been a piece of cake for him to win his favor and worship.
It was a good thing to have a cult of personality. Grandpa Mao had once said, ‘Nikita Khrushchev never set up a cult of personality. His downfall was that no one worshipped him.’
At this moment, Little Zheng remembered about me and asked Xiao Xuan, “Elder Brother-in-law, when did you remarry? Why didn’t you inform me at all?”
Xiao Xuan was completely perplexed. “Remarry?”
I wanted to slip away but Little Zheng was even faster and had already pointed at me. “Isn’t she the one?”
Xiao Xuan turned his head towards me. He twitched the corner of his mouth and he gnashed his teeth. “Xie——”
I quickly did a ‘behead’ gesture. He hastily changed what he was going to say. “——Min! What funny things are you up to?”
I laughed heartily. “Just a fib for delight, brighten up the atmosphere and enhance relationships.”
But Little Zheng was clearly in disagreement. He hollered, “You lied to me! You this woman…”
I rebuked, “You’re already such a grownup person already. You don’t know how to reflect when you’re deceived but blame the other party instead. To think you’re even Old General Zheng’s son!”
The simple and candid Little Zheng actually stopped talking and began reflecting upon his own mistakes.
Xiao Xuan pulled me over and asked softly, “What nonsense have you spouted?”
As his subordinates were present, in consideration of his public image, I could not casually pat his shoulders or arms so I could only pat my own hand. “I merely said that Jue Ming is our son.”
Xiao Xuan did not fly into a fury. Instead, he furrowed his eyebrows as he mused about it. “This is also good.”
“It’s also quite good for you to say it like this!”
“What good!” I yelled, “Do I look like a woman who has given birth to such a big son like Jue Ming?”
Xiao Xuan had a deadpan expression. “Didn’t Little Zheng not suspect?”
“That’s because he is a dope!”
Little Zheng was retorting at one side, “Hey hey!”
I roared at him, “Continue reflecting!”
Little Zheng lowered his head to contemplate again.
I pulled Xiao Xuan to walk a few steps away and asked, “What do you mean by this?”
Xiao Xuan smiled sinisterly, revealing his Colgate teeth. “Just let others think that Jue Ming is my illegitimate son. That saves me the trouble from thinking of methods to make up an identity for him.”
“There’s no problem even if you acknowledge 50 million illegitimate sons but why do I have to be the mum?”
“You’re the first one who admitted!”
“That was only for the purpose of bullying Little Zheng.”
Little Zheng cut in again, “Hey hey!”
Xiao Xuan threw him a sentence. “Don’t interrupt when adults are talking.” Little Zheng huddled at one side with grievances.
I pointed at Xiao Xuan’s nose, “Don’t say that you, a widower, have no beautiful female confidant for so many years! Solve your own matters by yourself! Don’t defile my innocence!”
Xiao Xuan smiled. “What if I really don’t have?”
I made a fist, rested my chin against my hand, clenched my teeth and plastered on an expression of shock. “Could it be that you like men?”
“Cough! Cough!” Mister Sun who was the side finally could not bear to watch on any longer and stepped in. “We should leave this matter aside for the time being. We can just don’t offer an explanation to the rumors in the streets outside first.”
I didn’t let the matter drop. “Then what about my reputation?”
Mister Sun showed a smile that resembled a fox. “Young Lady, as long as your body is upright, you don’t have to be afraid that your shadow is askew.”
“Public opinion is powerful enough to melt metal, accumulated defamation can melt the bones.” An ominous glint shone in my eyes.
Mister Sun smiled as he stroked his beard. “Young Lady taught this old fellow a sentence on the way. ‘Let the facts speak for themselves.’”
Xiao Xuan broke out in laughter. I fiercely glared at him. “If I can’t marry due to this, I’ll definitely become a Rear Trailing Spirit and disturb your whole life until you feel uneasy even when sleeping and eating.”
Xiao Xuan rubbed his stomach. He looked left and right and changed the topic. “I’m hungry. Is there food?”
I shouted, “Hey hey!”
Little Zheng said, “I want to eat Braised Pork Balls in Gravy*.”
I sneered, “You look like a Braised Pork Ball.”
“Don’t vent your anger on a child.” Xiao Xuan patted Little Zheng’s shoulder. “Let’s go eat.”
Of course I couldn’t tag along when they went to eat. Although I grew up in a modern society where women’s rights had surged, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I honestly abided by the so-called traditions of men being superior to women and maintained a distance of approximately ten meters from men. They would go to their dinner party and drink with girls attending to them while I would return to my courtyard.
Xiao Xuan had a villa called Bai Chuan(Hundred Rivers) Residence. This name was similar to how that pool which was half the size of a basketball court in my high school, was named Dong Hai(Eastern Sea). These names all carried a wish so beautiful that it was unrealistic. There was only a Gan Lan River in the prairie. Our school would only have a student who could pass the university entrance exams of Tsinghua University and Peking University every few years.
Bai Chuan Residence was specially for finding a place for Prince Yan’s guests. Old Monk and I stayed in there. My neighbor was Little Zheng, Classmate Zheng Wenhao.
After moving into Bai Chuan Residence, the number of times I met Xiao Xuan was very few. He would have an expression of hardships and exhaustion every time, making me feel sorry for him quite a bit when I saw him. He sent a few servants over. One was a little young lady called Yi Lan(Yī Lán). Her facial contours were more defined and her eyes were of a light brown color. I only found out that she was from a minority ethnic group when I asked. There were many people like her who were from a different tribe or with mixed blood in Xi Yao City and the whole of the region at the frontier. Yi Lan spoke the Han Language(Chinese) fluently but on the contrary, she was unfamiliar with her own native language.
The summer nights of Xi Yao City were a little cool. I sat in the courtyard as I ate the authentic Niagara Grapes* while Yun Xiang was playing with Little Jue Ming at one side. I yawned before I suggested, “Jue Ming, don’t wear a kasaya tomorrow. Start letting your hair grow in the future.”
Yun Xiang was not at ease. “Miss, does Prince Yan agree?”
“I’m Jue Ming’s mum in the future. I naturally have the final say regarding my own son. In the future, even if I want him to cosplay, even Prince Yan has no position to protest about it.”
Little Jue Ming was elated. “Elder Sister, then can I attend school with other children?”
“Of course you can.” I pinched his cheeks.
Little Jue Ming clapped his hands joyously. “Then can I look for Pin Lan(Pǐn Lán) to play?”
I asked, “Who is Pin Lan?”
Yun Xiang replied, “Mister Sun’s niece.”
I cupped my hands around Jue Ming’s face and inspected carefully. “I wasn’t able to tell that you’re actually a romantic type.”
The next day, I bumped into Xiao Xuan’s military soon. As soon as I woke up early in the morning, I heard the thundering sounds. When I gazed outside and saw that it was a clear and boundless sky, I couldn’t help but be bewildered. I only found out later that they were the sounds of the soldiers’ footsteps.
I took Little Jue Ming to go to the city wall to watch. Upon looking down, we saw the black helmets and silver armors, pikes standing in great numbers and spirited war-horses. The soldiers’ movements were uniform. They were in high spirits and yelled their slogan resoundingly.
Xiao Xuan was dressed in a black armor with a thick red cloak draped over his shoulder and he wore a crown on his head. I could not see his expression clearly from afar but I presumed that it must be stately and solemn. There were twelve cavalrymen dressed in black behind him who were mounted on black horses and following him tightly from behind. Due to their identical style of clothing, it was very eye-catching.
Mister Sun explained to me, “Those are the Twelve Iron Cavalry. They are death soldiers* personally trained by His Highness.”
*T/n: (Elite) soldiers who fight valiantly and are not afraid of sacrificing themselves
“Death soldiers?” I stared blankly for a moment. “Those people who don’t blink their eyes when they’re told to die?”
Mister Sun replied with an affirmative.
I didn’t understand. “He has so many subordinates so why would he still be chased by people in the woods until he had to flee everywhere?”
“His Highness was worried that the people over there would notice so he intentionally left his personal bodyguards behind.”
So risky. Was he testing the other party’s wisdom or testing his own luck?
I looked at those twelve people. They were in black armor and covered up their faces so it was hard to see how they really looked. Their posture was vigorous as they sat on horseback. I reckoned that they were also people with extraordinary prowess. Such outstanding talents were employed by Xiao Xuan. After all, Xiao Xuan wasn’t that ‘Xie Zhaoying’ who only knew how to buffoon.
As Xiao Xuan urged on his horse and passed by the front of the troops, thousands of soldiers shouted loudly in unison, “Mighty Prince Yan——” Their voices resonated in the skies. I felt the ground under my feet shake.
Amidst the cheers of honor and acclaim, Xiao Xuan remained calm and steady. He sat tall and straight on horseback and was dashing. For the first time ever, I saw what constitutes the imperial elegant demeanor from him. I just felt that that figure was a little unfamiliar.
Little Jue Ming suddenly pulled my sleeve and pointed to a golden and dazzling thing, “That is the very fierce elder brother from that day.”
On closer look, it was Little Zheng who was dressed in a golden armor. Little Zheng also had a red cloak and a Ferghana horse* while his guandao** was kept in a cherry red sheath. When he stood there, it could simply be printed into an enlistment poster for Prince Yan’s army——or an advertisement to look for a partner.
*T/n: Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferghana_horse
**T/n: Similar to the naginata.
An image as reference:
I hastily asked Mister Sun, “Why is Little Zheng also among the troops? Isn’t he the son of Tai Zhou’s governor?”
“The Zheng Family and Prince Yan are actually one family.”
“That is to say that Prince Yan can also use Yi Zhou’s soldiers?”
Mister Sun didn’t answer but only revealed a smile that contained some other overtone. This old fox.
Hello! Not sure how many of you read my announcement but anyway, I should be back for now! A slightly slightly longer part since I have been away for quite some time. ><