Chapter 3: Sunrise

Over six hundred families resided in this town.
Chen Pingan was more familiar with the slums of the town, the areas of the rich and wealthy hard to access.
A mud-caked boy like him was not welcomed there.
Those areas had wide streets, most of them paved with big chunks of limestone.
On rainy days, instead of one’s foot stepping and splashing in mud, they would be greeted by smooth limestone.
After centuries of being stepped on, the limestone had become as smooth as glass.

There were four prestigious families in this town: Lu, Li, Zhao, and Song.
These families had funded the town school and possessed two or three kilns outside the town.
The official residence of the previous kiln overseer was on the same street as these families.

Almost all the ten letters that Chen Pingan had were to be delivered to rich families.
This made sense.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Someone who could afford to travel out of town and send a letter back to their family was probably from a well-off family. 

Chen Pingan went to two places to deliver nine letters: Blessed Street and Peach Leaf Lane.
He was a little nervous, his feet stepping on the large pieces of limestone.
He slowed down his steps, feeling self-conscious.
He felt his straw sandals were dirtying the street.

The first letter Chen Pingan was going to deliver was for the Lu family, whose ancestors had been bestowed with a splendid jade charm by the emperor.
Chen Pingan stood at the entrance, uneasy.

The wealthy often put special attention towards their image, the Lu family was no exception.
Two stone guardian lions were at the entrance, putting on an imposing air.
Song Jixin said that these lions could war off evil spirits.
Chen Pingan did not know much about evil spirits.
He was more curious about the stone ball that seemed to be in the guardian lion’s mouth. How did they sculpt such a ball? 

Chen Pingan resisted the urge to touch the stone ball and walked up the steps.
He banged on a brass lion gate.
Soon, a young man opened the gate and walked out.
When he heard Chen Pingan was here to deliver a letter, he grabbed the letter, turned around, and walked into the residence, slamming the gate shut as he went.

Chen Pingan continued to deliver letters with nothing notable happening. 

On the corner of Peach Leaf Lane, there was a family of little repute.
A short old man opened the door.
After taking the letter, he smiled and said kindly, “Thank you, you must’ve worked hard.
How about coming in and having some rest?”

Chen Pingan gave a shy smile before shaking his head and leaving.

The old man put the letter in his sleeve and stopped.
He raised his head and looked into the distance, his gaze muddled.

His gaze swept the surroundings before focusing on the peach trees that were on the sides of the street.
The giant old man squeezed out a smile, turned around, and left.

Not long after, a cute little oriole landed atop the branch of a peach tree, softly chirping.

The last letter Chen Pingan had to deliver was to the teacher of the town school.
As he ran towards his destination, he passed by a young taoist dressed in an old taoist robe.
He was sitting upright behind a table, a hat, which resembled the shape of a blooming lotus, on his head.
A cup of fortune sticks laid on the table.
When the young taoist saw Chen Pingan run past him, he said hurriedly, “Hey, young one, don’t miss out.
Come, draw a stick.
This little one will try to read your fortune, foretell your ups and downs.”

Chen Pingan did not stop, just turning his head and declining the offer.

The taoist was not willing to give up.
He leaned forward and raised his voice.
“Young one, I normally would charge ten copper to read someone’s fortune, but today I’ll make an exception.
I’ll only charge you three cents! Well, if you end up drawing a good fortune, you might as well pay an extra copper, and if you draw superb fortune, I’ll charge you five copper then.
How about it?”

Chen Pingan’s footsteps faltered.
The taoist got up quickly, sensing his opportunity.
He said loudly, “It’s early in the morning, and you’re my first customer today.
This one seeks to do good deeds.
As long as you sit down and draw a stick, I’ll even write some talismans for you.
They’ll help honor your ancestors and give you good karma.
With my skills, although I can’t guarantee you a rich next life, I’ll make you a bit luckier.
You should give it a try”

Chen Pingan turned around, a little unsure.
He sat on the bench in front of the taoist’s stall.

A country taoist and a shabby boy, both broke, sat opposite to each other.

 The taoist smiled and motioned at the boy to draw a stick.
Chen Pingan hesitated and suddenly said, “I won’t draw a fortune stick.
Can you just draw a talisman for me?”

Based on Chen Pingan’s memory, this wandering taoist had already stayed in this town for around five years.
His appearance had not changed during this time.
He was also friendly towards everyone, reading people’s fortune through fortune sticks, palm-reading, and things of that nature.
On the table was a cup of 108 fortune sticks.
Interestingly enough, over the years, no one had drawn a superb fortune stick.
No one had drawn a bad fortune stick either, as if there were no sticks that indicated bad fortune out of the 108 fortune sticks.

During festive times, the townsfolk found it acceptable to pay ten copper to try their luck with this taoist.
Of course, if one was short on money, they would not make such an unprofitable transaction. 

It would be incorrect to call this taoist a scammer.
There were a lot of people in this town.
If the taoist was just a fake, scamming people for money, he would have been kicked out of the town a long time ago.
The main skill of this taoist did not lie in fortune-telling.
Instead, it lay in treating minor illnesses.
Many people had recovered from their illness after drinking a bowl of the taoist’s talisman-treated water.

The taoist shook his head and said, “I shan’t be deceived.
We agreed that I would only write talisman after you drew a stick.
You would then pay me five copper.”

Chen Pingan said in a soft voice, “You said three copper before.”

The taoist laughed.
“I mean, you’ll pay me five copper if you draw superb fortune.” 

Chen Pingan made up his mind and reached for the fortune sticks.
He then suddenly raised his head and asked, “How did you know I have five copper on me?”

The taoist straightened his back.
“This one has a keen eye when dealing with fortune and wealth.”

Chen Pingan drew a fortune stick. 

The taoist smiled.
“Don’t be nervous, young one.
Everyone’s destiny is different.
What is destined to be will be.
What is not will not.
Don’t force it.
View the abnormal as normal, and let fate take its course.”

Chen Pingan put the stick back where it was.
He said respectfully, “Sir taoist, how about I don’t draw a fortune stick? I’ll give you five copper, and, in exchange, could you make the talisman better?”

After thinking for a moment, the taoist, smiling as usual, nodded.

A set of calligraphy tools were on the table.
The taoist asked Chen Pingan his parents’ names, birthplace, and birth date.
Then, he took out a piece of talisman paper.
In one fell swoop, he completed the talisman.

As for what the taoist had written, Chen Pingan had no clue.

The taoist put down his brush and blew on the ink.
“When you get home, stand by the door and burn the talisman.”

Chen Pingan took the talisman solemnly.
After storing it carefully, he took out five copper coins, placed them on the table, and gave the taoist a thank-you bow.

The taoist waved his hand, signaling to Chen Pingan to get along with what he was doing.

Chen Pingan ran to deliver the last letter.

The taoist leaned back in his chair, glanced at the copper coins, and reached out to collect them.

At that moment, a nimble tiny oriole flew down, landing on the table.
It pecked one of the copper coins.
Soon, it lost interest and fluttered away.

“The oriole wants peach blossoms which have yet to bloom.” The taoist flicked his sleeve and sighed.
“You can’t change fate.”

Two fortune sticks slipped from his sleeves on accident and fell on the ground.
The taoist let out an oopsie and picked them up quickly.
His eyes darted in every direction.
Then, after making sure no one was looking, he breathed a sigh of relief and hid the two fortune sticks in his loose sleeves.

The taoist coughed, put on a serious expression, and waited for his next customer.

He lamented, It’s easier to make money from those women.

Among the two fortune sticks hidden in the taoist’s sleeve, one was a superb fortune stick, while the other was a bad fortune stick, used for special moments.

This was one of his little secrets.

Chen Pingan took light steps, as he ran towards the school.
He arrived outside the school, the nearby bamboo lush and vibrant.

Chen Pingan slowed down and heard the mellow voice of a middle-aged man from inside the building.
“Repeat after me, ‘Sun’s rising, a hero dons their robe, searing, upright, bright’.”

Then, the clear voice of a boy entered Chen Pingan’s ear.
“‘Sun’s rising, a hero dons their robe, searing, upright, bright.”

Chen Pingan looked up, seeing the sunrise in the east.
It shined brightly.
He was mesmerized.

When he awoke from his stupor, the schoolboy was shaking his head while reciting the passage the teacher requested with ease.
“Spring bloom, the world shakes, living beings awake, sleep soon, awake early, stroll out, and free yourself with what this world brings about.”

Chen Pingan stood at the entrance of the school, hesitant to speak.

Dressed in a cyan robe, the middle-aged scholar, his hair turning gray, turned his head and then walked out of the room.

Chen Pingan presented the letter to him and said respectfully, “This is a letter for Sir Qi.”

The scholar, a practitioner of Confucianism, took the letter and said warmly, “Feel free to come here and listen when you have time.”

Chen Pingan felt a little awkward.
He would probably never have time to come here and listen to the scholar’s teachings.
He did not know what to say.

The scholar smiled and said in understanding, “No matter, despite the teachings being in books, humans, in the end, act outside of books.
May you be on your way.”

Chen Pingan breathed a sigh of relief.
He bid his goodbyes and left.

After running a fair bit of distance, Chen Pingan suddenly got shivers down his spine.
He turned his head around and saw the scholar was still standing at the gate.
The scholar’s figure was bathed in sunlight, resembling that of an immortal.

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