Chapter 4: Oriole 

If Chen Pingan had not gone to Blessing Street and Peach Leaf Lane, he may have never realized how dark and narrow Muddyrun was.
However, he was not discouraged at this realization.
He just stretched out his hands and smiled.

He walked to the front of his house and found the door to the front yard wide open.
Thinking he had been robbed, he ran into the yard and saw a tall boy sitting on his doorsteps. 

The boy yawned lazily, his back to the locked door of the house.
When he saw Chen Pingan, he stood up in a hurry and dashed towards Chen Pingan.
He clenched Chen Pingan’s arm tightly and dragged him towards the door of the house.
He said in a suppressed whisper, “Hurry up and open the door, I have something important to tell you!”

Chen Pingan could not break free of the boy’s grip.
He opened the door, and the strong boy, who was two years older than him, released Chen Pingan and walked carefully to Chen Pingan’s wooden bed.
He shoved his ear to the wall.

Chen Pingan asked curiously, “Liu Xianyang, what are you doing?”

Liu Xianyang ignored Chen Pingan’s question.
After two minutes, Liu Xianyang finally returned to normal.
He sat on the edge of the wooden bed, his face showing a mix of relief and helplessness.

Only now did Liu Xianyang realize what Chen Pingan was doing.
Chen Pingan was crouched near the door, his body leaning forward, and using a small candle to burn a piece of yellow paper.
The ashes of the paper fell on the doorstep.
Chen Pingan seemed to be chanting something.

Liu Xianyang was Yao’s only apprentice.
Yao, to the end, never considered Chen Pingan an apprentice.
According to the customs of this town, if the apprentice did not do the tea ceremony with their master, they would not be considered master and apprentice.
Chen Pingan and Liu Xianyang were not neighbors, their homes quite far away.
Liu Xianyang had introduced Chen Pingan to Yao back then in light of what happened in the past.

Liu Xianyang used to be a notorious troublemaker.
When his grandfather passed away from an illness, he was twelve.
Tall and strong, he terrorized the neighbors and gave everyone a headache.
Eventually, he angered some children from the Lu family.
They ended up clobbering him in Muddyrun.
He was up against impulsive boys, boys who did not pull their punches.
Liu Xianyang was beaten black and blue.
The people living in Muddyrun were the bottom rungs of this town.
They dared not interfere in such a messy situation.

Song Jixin was not afraid in the slightest at the time.
He sat atop the wall and watched the action, rejoicing and reveling in the chaos. 

In the end, a frail child mustered up the courage and ran through the streets, shouting in a hoarse voice, “Murder, murder…”

Hearing the word murder, the children of the Lu family were jolted from their murderous rapture.
They looked at Liu Xianyang, who was on the ground and covered in blood head-to-toe.
Liu Xianyang was on his last breaths.
Scared of the consequences, they looked at each other and made a run for it.

However, Liu Xianyang was not exactly appreciative of the child who saved his life.
In fact, he would come every so often to tease the orphan.
Unyielding, the child did not cry, no matter how much Liu Xianyang bullied him.
It was only when Liu Xianygan saw that the orphan, Chen Pingan, would probably not make it through the winter did he finally grow a conscience.
Already an apprentice potter, he took the orphan west to the location of the kiln, which was at the bank of the Bao river.
They had to cross several miles of snowy road through the winter to get there.
To this day, Liu Xianyang is still amazed that such a scrawny kid, whose legs were as thin as bamboo, managed to arrive at the kiln. 

Yao took Chen Pingan in, but there was a world of difference in his treatment between him and Yao.
Although he also beat and scolded Liu Xianyang, it was obvious he did it with good intentions.

For example, one time Yao hit Liu Xianyang too hard and Liu Xianyang’s forehead was oozing with blood.
Liu Xianyang, a hardy youth, did not mind, but Yao minded it very much.
The old man regretted his actions.
Embarrassed to show weakness to his disciples who he treated sternly, he ended up in a conflicted state on what to do for what to do, unable to get Liu Xianyang out of his mind.
Finally, he called Chen Pingan over to send Liu Xianyang a bottle of ointment for the wound.

For many years, Chen Pingan envied Liu Xianyang.

He did not envy Liu Xianyang’s talent, strength, or his sociability.
He simply envied Liu Xianyang’s fearlessness, his ability to follow his heart and do it without the care in the world.
He did what he wanted.

No matter where he was, no matter who he met, Liu Xianyang would be able to get along with them.
Due to his grandfather’s poor health, Liu Xianyang became independent at a very young age.
He could wrangle snakes, catch fish, and obtain bird nests.
He was resourceful and could use wooden bows, fishing rods, and slingshots.
He could do it all, the best at catching loaches and eels in the town.

In fact, when Liu Xianyang dropped out of school, the teacher of the school, Sir Qi, went to Liu Xianyang’s grandfather on his sick bed and told him he would not charge a penny for his teachings.
However, Liu Xianyang resolutely disagreed and said that he wanted to make a living.
He did not want to read books and study.
Sir Qi said he would pay Liu Xianyang to be his book boy, but Liu Xianyang still refused. 

In the end, Liu Xianyang still got by just fine.
Even with the passing of Yao and the banning of kilns, he was spotted a few days later with the blacksmith at Qilong street.
He was kept busy, starting on the construction of a hut on the south side of town.

Liu Xianyang watched Chen Pingan blow out the candle and place it on the table.
He whispered, “Heard any strange noises recently? Like…”

Chen Pingan sat on a stool and waited for him to finish his sentence.

Liu Xianyang hesitated for a moment and did something unprecedented.
He blushed.
“Like a cat meowing in the heat…”

Chen Pingan asked, “Did Song Jixin learn to meow or Zhi Gui?”

Liu Xianyang rolled his eyes.
He was wasting his time with euphemisms with Chen Pingan.
He put both hands on the bed, bent his elbows, and then straightened out his arms, his butt leaving the bed and feet leaving the floor.
He sneered.
“Zhi Gui who? Her name is clearly Wang Zhu.
That Song guy always likes to show off.
Probably just saw the characters ‘Zhi Gui’ from a random book and used it without a second thought.
What the hell does it mean? Wang Zhu should cut ties with that prick of a master.
What terrible thing did she do in her previous life to be forced to suffer with Song Jixin?”

Chen Pingan had trouble following Liu Xianyang’s rant.

Liu Xianyang snorted.
“Don’t understand? Have you ever wondered why Wang Zhu never talked to you again after you helped her carry that water bucket? It must be Song Jixin’s doing.
He’s so controlling, probably got jealous of her being with other men and forced her to stay away from you.
If she didn’t obey, he would break her legs and throw her—”

“Song Jixin wouldn’t do that to her.
He’s not a bad person.” Chen Pingan could not take it anymore and interrupted Liu Xianyang. 

His anger piqued, Liu Xianyang said, “What do you know about good and bad people?”

Chen Pingan looked at Song Jixin, his eyes clear.
He said softly, “Sometimes, when she works in the yard, Song Jixin sits on the bench and reads her stuff in the Record of Places.
When she’s with Song Jixin, she smiles.”

Liu Xianyang stared at Chen Pingan. 

Suddenly, the crude wooden bed collapsed, unable to support Liu Xianyang’s weight.
His butt hit the ground.

Chen Pingan held his head with both hands and let out a sight, feeling a headache coming along.

Liu Xianyang scratched his head, stood up, and kicked Chen Pingan playfully.
He grinned and said, “Whatever, it’s just a broken bed.
I came here to bring you some good news.
This news is worth far more than some broken bed!”

Chen Pingan raised his head.

LIu Xianyang said smugly, “My master Ruan left town and went to the bank of a stream in the south.
He said that he needed some help digging.
We didn’t have enough people, so I brought you up and said that you were pretty strong despite how you look.
Master Raun agreed.”

Chen Pingan stood up and was about to say his thanks.

Liu Xianyang stretched his hand out.
“Stop, stop! I don’t need your thanks.
Thank you isn’t going to cut it for the huge favor I did for you.
You owe me big time!”

Chen Pingan smiled awkwardly.

Liu Xianyang looked around.
There was a fishing rod in the corner of the house, a slingshot lying by the window, and a wooden bow hung on the wall. 

He strode out of the door, paying attention to avoid the ashes of the talisman.

Chen Pingan looked at the back of Liu Xianyang’s large figure.

Liu Xianyang suddenly turned around and looked at Chen Pingan.
He crouched and planted his feet on the ground.
Then, he charged forward and threw a hard punch.
After straightening his waist, he let out a laugh.
“Master Ruan told me that I only need to practice this fist art for one year.
Then, I’ll be able to punch people to death!”

Feeling it did not show off enough, Liu Xianyang performed a strange kicking motion with his feet.
He smiled and said, “I call this the crotch-kick.”

Liu Xianyang pointed at his chest and said proudly, “I’m quite the talent.
You know how I basically mastered Yao’s pottery ‘switchblade’ art, right? Well, something similar is happening with the fist art Master Raun taught me.
Master Raun said I was a once-in-a-century martial arts genius! If you stay by me, you’ll be living that good life in no time!”

When Liu Xianyang saw that Zhi Gui, the maid, had entered the house, he suddenly lost interest in acting cool.

He said to Chen Pingan casually, “Oh yeah, I passed some old man calling himself a ‘storyteller.’ He said he had all sorts of interesting stories to share.
You can check him out when you have time.”

Chen Pingan nodded.

Liu Xianyang walked away from Muddyrun.

This untamed youth who traveled alone was the subject of many of the town’s rumors.
He liked to say that his ancestors were generals that led soldiers into battle, so his family had a suit of armor that had been passed from generation to generation.

Chen Pingan had seen this suit of armor personally once, but the armor was hideous.
It was twisted and warped like the knots of trees.

Also, Liu Xianyang’s peers told a different story.
They said his ancestors were, in fact, deserters.
They had deserted the army, escaped to this town, and settled down, fortunate to escape the government’s pursuit.
The final nail in the coffin was that some people claimed to witness with their own eyes how Liu Xianyang’s ancestors ran from the battlefield and fled to this town.

Chen Pingan crouched at the door, lowered his head, and began blowing away the ashes.

At some point in time, Song Jixin had arrived at the yard’s wall, his maid Zhi Gui by his side.
He shouted, “Want to come to the locust tree to play?”

Chen Pingan raised his head.
“No.”

Song Jixin smirked.
“So boring.”

He turned his head to Zhi Gui and smiled.
“Zhi Gui, let’s go! Let’s buy you a jar of peach pollen fit for a king!”

She smiled shyly, “A small jar will do.”

Song Jixin put his hands behind his back, his head held high, chest pumped up.
He took big steps forward.
“My Song family, elegant and pomp, the bells ringing, officials for generations, our tassels swinging.
For what shall we bear the disgrace of being stingy?”

Chen Pingan sat on the doorstep and rubbed his forehead.
When Song Jixin didn’t say weird nonsense, he really wasn’t that bad.
However, at times like this, if Liu Xianyang was present, he would definitely say that he would smash Song Jixin in the back of the head with a brick to shut him up.

Chen Pingan leaned against the door of the house, thinking of tomorrow.
It will be mostly similar today.
The day after tomorrow will also be similar.

The cycle would repeat.

It seemed he, Chen Pingan, would be like this for the rest of his life.

Before finally being swallowed by earth.

Just one blink, and before he knew it, he would be in his next life.

Chen Pingan looked at the straw sandals on his feet and burst out laughing.

Stepping on limestone is really different from stepping on mud.

Liu Xianyang left Muddyrun and passed the fortune-telling stall of the taoist.
The taoist called out to him.
“Come, come, this one sees that your complexion is burning up, which does not bode well.
You mustn’t be afraid, for I have a way to purge your misfortunes.”

Liu Xianyang was a little surprised.
This taoist told people’s fortunes but had never actively solicited business.
People would come to the taoist on their free will, curious about their fortune. Could the closing of the kilns cause this taoist to go broke? He’s down on his luck and needs food, so he’s trying extra hard to get customers, ah? Liu Xianyang said with a mocking smile, “Profiting off misfortune, hmph.
Trying to bankrupt me, trying to cheat me of my money? In your dreams! Just fuck off.”

The taoist was not annoyed.
He shouted to Liu Xianyang, “Beseech a hundred years of fortune, yet disaster strikes.
To seek safety, burn the incense… burn the incense…”

Liu Xianyang turned around and ran towards the fortune-telling stall, cracking his knuckles.
“Burn the incense? I’ll burn your stall first!”

Spooked, the toaist got up, wrapped both arms around his head, and scurried off, not caring about the stall.

At the stall, Liu Xianyang looked at the state the taoist was in and chuckled.
He looked at the cup of fortune sticks on the table and shoved it over.
The fortune sticks slid out of the cup, making a fan shape.

Liu Xianyang pointed at the taoist who had stopped in the distance.
“I’ll beat you up the next time we meet!”

The toaist clasped his fists and bowed, entreating for mercy.

Liu Xianyang decided he had enough.

The taoist waited until Liu Xianyang was far away before going towards his stall.
He sat in his stall and sighed.
“The world has changed, people more difficult.
It’s not easy for this little one to make a living.”

Suddenly, the taoist’s eyes lit up.
He shut his eyes quickly and shouted, “Frogs ribbit in a pond, chaotic, one’s heart stinging, fame drifting, unstable, as wind sweeps the world!

A boy and girl pair had clearly heard the taoist’s words but had no intention of stopping.

The toaist opened his eyes slightly.
Seeing he was about to lose business, he slammed the table and raised his voice, screaming, “Good fortune awaits one, any position a possibility, in tune of Tao, spirit, essence, vitality, flourish!

Song Jixin and Zhi Gui continued moving forward, not stopping.

Disheartened, the taoist muttered, “Today’s not my day.”

Song Jixin turned his head without warning and flicked a copper coin to the toaist.
He beamed and said, “A thank you for the blessing.”

The taoist caught the coin hurriedly and opened his palm.
He looked at it and frowned.
Such a small amount of money, a single copper coin.

But.

The taoist placed the copper coin on the table.
In a blink of an eye, an oriole swooped down and landed on the table.
It lowered its head and pecked at the copper coin.
Then, it picked it up with its mouth and looked up at the taoist.
The oriole’s eyes showed sparks of intelligence, no different from that of people.

The taoist said softly, “Go on, you shouldn’t stay here long.
It’s not safe.”

The oriole vanished.

The taoist looked around, his gaze finally landing on the stone archway in the distance.
His gaze just so happened to focus on the plaque with the phrase “A sword rages, clashes” inscribed on it.
The taoist sighed, “A pity.” 

He then added, “If I sold that outside, wouldn’t it be worth 1,800 silver?”

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