Shuo Feng did not return to Lanzhou City, instead, he and Zhuoyue traveled south along a tributary of the Canglan River until they reached a small town that was blooming with spring flowers.
The town’s walls were not high, and the meandering river flowed around it. The banks of the river were lined with green willow trees, and their verdant colors accentuated the spring atmosphere. The name of the town, Xiaochun (1), was very appropriate.
Xiaochun was a peaceful little town where there were rarely any guards interrogating passing travelers. However, today was different from usual. It was unclear whether the troops dressed in Mingguang armor had come from the prefecture or elsewhere. Still, they were coming in and out of the city gate, comparing the faces of passersby with portraits, and their expressions were stern as they conducted strict searches.
“What’s going on?” The merchants in the tea shack looked towards the city gate and whispered among themselves, suddenly realizing, “Could it be because of the ten miles of corpses outside Lanzhou City a few days ago? It’s really scary to think about it happening in broad daylight.”
“In this world, could it be the Purple-Clothed Guard…?”
How could they bring up the group of evil stars known as the Purple-Clothed Guard for no reason?
The old man wearing a straw hat was afraid of getting into trouble and quickly picked up the tea kettle from the fireplace, pouring fresh tea for the merchants. He nervously tried to smooth things over and apologized, “Let’s not talk about national affairs, let’s not talk about national affairs.”
Talking about national affairs made the customers’ faces change. They looked both fearful and distressed. Since the change of regime in Daliang, the various tribes rebelled, and the Southern Liang court was isolated, with insufficient military resources and weak national strength. However, the emperor still stubbornly allocated a large number of military funds to establish the Purple-Clothed Guard, to check on people’s livelihoods and suppress people’s grievances.
But the Purple-Clothed Guard was clearly a group of palace watchdogs. In addition to the guards in the imperial capital’s yamen, there were also many undercover agents lurking among the people, using them to suppress the common people and consolidate imperial power.
In this chaotic era, there were many people who had been raided and wiped out by the Purple-Clothed Guard for no apparent reason. Their methods were cruel and fierce, and even the famous General Ling’s clan from Da Liang was not spared.
However, everyone present was ordinary people who did not want to invite trouble. So everyone in the tea shack laughed it off, raising their glasses and talking about this year’s tea and cloth business.
Unexpectedly, someone brought up the topic again.
“The Purple-Clothed Guard?” A voice of a young man full of curiosity came.
“Who’s the clueless one?” The merchants looked angrily towards the source of the voice.
It was a young boy with a face covered in dirt. Despite this, his eyes were well-shaped, with curved edges and soft curves that made his pupils look black and clear.
Sitting next to him was a petite girl, her head always lowered as she held a teacup, making it difficult to see her face. The skin on her exposed jawline was smooth and graceful with slightly darker skin
The merchants thought to themselves, “What a pity,” before their expressions suddenly changed, and they stared intently at this pair of rural siblings.
Of course, this was just a disguise by Shuo Feng and Zhou Yue. Since leaving the city of Lanzhou, Zhou Yue had used her illusion skills to hide their faces. She had also shrunk the Ji Hua sword into a small wooden sword and tied it to Shuo Feng’s wrist with reeds from the nearby river. This was to cover their tracks since they didn’t want to attract attention from ordinary mortals.
The sun shifted slightly from one corner of the tea shed, and there was a hint of early summer heat in the air in May.
The fat old man next to them looked hurriedly at the soldiers patrolling the city gate and whispered to Shuo Feng, “Boy, keep your voice down. Do you want to lose your head?”
The fat old man continued to mutter to himself, wondering if this young boy was brave or just inexperienced.
Shuo Feng paid no attention to the curious glances of the people around him. He finished his tea, squatted down, lifted the girl onto his back, and threw a piece of silver on the table before leisurely walking away on the main road.
This was their plan to enter the city.
A pair of rural siblings relying on each other in these troubled times was quite common.
The guards carefully compared the pair to a portrait, and in front of him was a young boy holding a sleeping girl on his back, showing a shy and nervous smile. “She’s my little sister, and she’s seriously ill. Within a ten-mile radius, only Xiaochun City has a decent clinic. Can you please help us, sirs?”
Zhou Yue coughed a few times, appearing weak and barely breathing while on Shuo Feng’s back.
The guards still stretched out their hands, their faces serious, like a thick wall blocking the city gate.
This was because they were asking for the pair’s passage permit to enter the city.
Shuo Feng pretended to cry, with a trembling voice, “I’m sorry, we lost it while walking on the road…”
“They lost their travel documents? Then they cannot enter the city.” The guards’ faces turned grim and tried to stop them.
But the young man took out a handful of silver from his waistband and stuffed it all into the guard’s hand.
There was no reason to stop people from entering the city. Although the siblings didn’t have a permit, saving a life was more important than anything else. This was the emperor’s order, and they were just following it.
“Well, in that case,” the leading officer said as he took the silver, a friendly smile appearing on his face. “Since you saved a life, it’s like building a seven-level pagoda, as the Emperor teaches. We’ll just let you pass for the sake of convenience.”
The guards waved their hands in disgust, afraid of catching any disease, and let the two of them enter the city.
They headed towards the direction of the clinic. At the corner of the street, the two of them missed the blue cloth curtain with the word “clinic” and quietly disappeared into the shadow of the eaves.
In the midst of the blooming spring, a pair of handsome young man and woman walked out.
Xiaochun City was not as lively as Lanzhou City There were no vendors on the street, only a few hawkers carrying poles walking through the streets and alleys, shouting loudly to do business.
Zhou Yue curiously looked at the hawker with eyes as round and big as white porcelain, as if she had never seen such a novel thing before.
Feeling someone’s gaze on his back, the hawker also turned his head, and he saw the incredibly beautiful young girl, stopped steps, and couldn’t help but smile.
Suddenly, a hand blocked Zhou Yue’s sight. The young man’s fingers were slender, with a small black mole on the fingertip of his ring finger and a fair palm with a thin callus. The knuckles on his wrist were distinct, with slightly protruding veins, elegant and beautiful.
“Zhou Yue, I have a house near here. Let me take you there to rest,” Shuo Feng jumped in front of Zhou Yue and asked excitedly, blocking the gaze of the opposite side of the street.
Zhou Yue looked up and saw the boy’s unrestrained smile. His eyes were full of undisguised anticipation and pride, making people want to fulfill his wishes unconsciously. Although she couldn’t continue watching the interesting and novel things, she also smiled and nodded, clapping her hands to make the young man even happier, and said. “Sure, sure.”
There was a small courtyard with only one entrance. In the center of the courtyard, there is a large water tank that dispels the heat in late spring. The clear water surface is dotted with blooming white lotuses, and the transparent water light sways a circle of ripples among the interlaced lotus leaves.
A slender finger as thin as a scallion stirs up the water in the tank, and the water reflects the flawless face of a girl like warm jade. She is still wearing her white veil and green dress, her feet lightly tapping on the wooden bench, and the blue skirt swaying in the breeze, revealing glimpses of her tender toes like young lotus shoots.
The courtyard door creaks open, and the skirt fell down and twirled in the wind like a blooming blue flower.
“Shuo Feng, you’re back?” Zhou Yue looked at the hurried young man who came in from the courtyard door and smiles.
Shuo Feng has already changed into a new sky blue robe, still wearing his gold and jade accessories, showing the free and easy demeanour of the Jianghu (2). After settling Zhou Yue in small courtyard, he hurriedly went to the street to buy things. At this moment, he was moving all his packages and items into the house, his face red and his forehead covered in sweat. Zhou Yue also jumped off the wooden bench to help.
They were both not the type to make other people suffer.
The young man and girl smiled at each other, their faces sparkling with joy.
Zhou Yue sat on the edge of the bed, holding her face and saw Shuo Feng come over with a cloth bag on his chest. He stood in front of the girl and opened the floral cloth bag, revealing a pair of delicate and exquisite embroidered shoes, made of peach-pink soft satin and embroidered with golden silk intertwined lotus flowers.
Shuo Feng was a little embarrassed. “When we get to Qiongzhou City, I will give you a better pair, with pearls and precious stones all over the shoes.” He gestured with his thumb and forefinger, forming a circle. “It’s this big.”
Zhou Yue’s clear voice rang up, “Shuo Feng, I feel a little giddy.”
Shuo Feng’s face turns red, but he still insists on putting on the embroidered shoes for the girl. With her feet wearing the embroidered shoes swaying in front of him, he stuffed the moon-white clothes from the cloth bag into Zhou Yue’s hands and then ran from the courtyard without looking back.
The sunlight gradually descends, and the color of the blue stones in the small courtyard became darker. The moss in the gaps between the stones extended like velvet in the sunset.
Shuo Feng sat on the small stool where Zhou Yue had sat before, threading beads onto a reed string with a single-minded focus. Each pearl and gem sparkled beautifully in the evening sun. Of course, these were all Shuofeng’s private collections from his travels over the years, but the main focus of this bracelet was the reed string and a small wooden sword charm, which looked rather peculiar.
Light footsteps sounded, and a graceful girl stood in front of the young man.
Zhou Yue had changed into a new moon-white dress, but she was still puzzled. “Shuo Feng, you don’t have to spend so much money on me,” she said.
Shuo Feng looked up at her with bright, shining eyes, his chin propped up by his right hand. He said earnestly, “A sword can be beautiful too. If you’re beautiful, I’ll be happy.”
Hearing the young man’s sincere words, Zhou Yue’s heart softened. She had been about to say that she was just an object, not worth the trouble. But she changed her mind in a heartbeat. She also lowered her eyes, lifted the hem of her skirt, and lightly jumped in front of Shuo Feng, twirling on her tiptoes as the golden lotus flowers bloomed under her feet. She said happily, “I also think it’s beautiful and I really like it.”
In the sunset’s afterglow, Zhou Yue noticed that the young man had already finished braiding the bracelet. Perhaps he thought the grass rope she had braided was too ugly, or maybe she couldn’t bear to see the pearls and gems mismatched like that.
After a long pause, she spoke slowly, “When you complete the technique of guiding Qi (3) into your body, I will teach you the art of storing swords. Then you can store the Ji Hua sword in your sea of consciousness.”
But the young man raised a clean and bold smile, dangling the small wooden sword on the bead rope and refusing, “No, you made this for me with your own hands. I won’t take it off. Besides, I want everyone in the world to know that this is my sword.”
He was truly a mischievous and naughty boy. But Zhou Yue couldn’t help feeling that he was good like that and couldn’t help but smile.
The warm and beautiful small courtyard in the sunset was like an ordinary household in the bustling little city, with wisps of smoke rising, completely hidden in the mundane world.
Zhou Yue: I really like the dress Shuo Feng bought for me.
Shuo Feng (blushing and flustered): She says she likes the dress I bought, does that mean she likes me too?
1. Xiao Chun is a Chinese term that means “little spring” and is also used to refer to the early spring season. As a name for a town, it could be a perfect choice for a place known for its natural beauty, especially during the springtime. The name “Xiao Chun” evokes imagery of a serene, picturesque town nestled in a verdant valley or surrounded by rolling hills covered in lush, green foliage. It could also suggest a place where visitors go to renew and invigorate themselves, much like the season of early spring, which represents renewal and growth.
2. Jianghu refer to the world of martial artists and adventurers who exist outside the bounds of traditional society. In fiction, jianghu is often portrayed as a lawless and chaotic world, where martial artists roam and engage in battles for honor, revenge, and justice.
3. Qi is a concept in traditional Chinese culture that refers to a vital force or energy that flows through all living things. It is believed to be the fundamental substance that animates and nourishes the body, and imbalances in the flow of Qi are thought to be the cause of many health problems. Qi is also an important concept in various martial arts, where it is believed to be the source of strength, agility, and other physical abilities.