Chapter 5: Harsh Truth

Song Jixin took Zhi Gui to the old locust tree.
The shade of the tree was crowded with people, around fifty people sitting on benches and chairs, which they brought from their homes.
Occasionally, a child would tug on an elder, imploring them to play.

Song Jixin stood by Zhi Gui near the tree’s shade.
He saw an old man standing under the tree.

He held a big white bowel in one hand, the other hand behind his back.
An animated expression on his face, he said loudly, “Having first given you a summary on dragon mountains, let me now talk about progenitor dragons.
Tsk, they’re truly a sight to behold.
Around three millennia ago, there once was an immortal.
He devoted himself to cultivating in the land of gods, affirming his dao.
He was a hero and wielded a brand.
For some reason, he had a hatred for the dragons.
He wandered the world with only his sword for three centuries, slaughtering any dragon he came across with a single slash.
Upon finding no progenitor dragons left to kill, he disappeared without a trace.
Some say he went to the peak to discuss dao with the originator of dao.
Others say that he went to the distant heavenly paradise of Buddhism to debate scriptures with Buddha.
He could also be sitting at the Gates of Hell, preventing evil spirits and calamities from entering the human world.”

Spit sputtered, while the old man talked.
The townsfolk showed no reaction, their faces blank.

Zhi Gui asked in a low voice, “What’s a brand?”

Song Jixin smiled.
“It’s a sword.”

Zhi Gui said angrily, “This old man is just showing off his knowledge.
Can’t even tell good stories.”

Song Jixin glanced at the old man and said, “There aren’t many literate people in our town.
That storyteller is wasting his time.”

Zhi Gui asked, “What’s the heavenly paradise of Buddhism? Can people really live to three hundred? How can someone be in hell? Isn’t that where the dead go?”

These questions were also on Song Jixin’s mind.
However, he did not want to show his lack of knowledge, so he said casually, “All made-up.
This stuff probably came from some unknown books.
Just stories made to entertain the country folk.”

Suddenly, Song Jixin felt a tingling sensation.
The old man had glanced at him.
Although it was only for a split second, Song Jixin still felt it acutely.
Despite this, he thought nothing of it.
He shoved this feeling into the back of his mind.

Zhi Gui raised her head to look at the old locust tree.
Trickles of light dripped from the gaps of the leaves.
She stared at it, captivated.

Song Jixin turned his head and stopped.

His maid was starting to grow up.
She seemed very different from that shriveled, frail girl in his memory. 

Back when Zhi Gui was twelve, he bought the best freshly-brewed wine in town and took out a stolen porcelain vase, which was glazed and decorated with pictures of green plums.
He poured the wine into it and then sealed it with lute before burying it into the ground.
This was in accordance with a practice he got from a book.

Song Jixin suddenly said, “Zhi Gui, that fellow Chen Pingan is a piece of stubborn rotting wood but somehow lives a meaningful life.”

Zhi Gui did not answer, her eyelashes slightly shaking.

Song Jixin muttered to himself, “Oh, Chen Pingan, you’re not a bad person.
You’re just too stubborn, impossible to change.
That’s why, even if you become a potter, even if you work hard, you are not destined for good things.
That’s why Liu Xianyang’s master, Yao, did not recognize you even till the end.
How unique.
A piece of rotting wood.
Impossible to change.
Chen Pingan, you poor bloke, no matter what you do, you will always be the same, your feet caked in mud…”

Song Jixin chuckled to himself dryly.
“But, why am I more miserable than him?”

Zhi Gui did not know how to comfort her master.

Song Jixin and Zhi Gui were the subject of gossip with the well-off people in Blessing Street and Peach Blossom Lane.
This was due to Song Jixin’s “father,” Sir Song.

The most popular among the overseers sent by the imperial court was Sir Song.
Sir Song was unlike those aloof officials from before.
Sir Song did not burrow himself in his official office doing his own thing or decline visitors to better focus on his studies.
Instead, he personally participated in the firing of pottery, getting his hands dirty.
After ten years, the scholarly Sir Song had his skin tanned, his clothes the same as peasants.
He was humble and approachable, even spending a thousand gold on the construction of a bridge.

Unfortunately, the imperial pottery fired from the town’s kilns were not up to standard, whether it had to do with the glaze quality or structure, leaving the pottery masters puzzled.

In the end, someone from the imperial court probably felt the steadfast and diligent Sir Song was not getting the proper recognition for the work he was doing and got him transferred back to the capital.
When Sir Song left, he did not bring along a certain child.

Sir Song and the townsfolk were on good terms.
In addition, with the current overseer, close to Sir Song, paying close attention to Song Jixin, Song Jixin lived out his days in the town without worry.

The origins of the maid, Zhi Gui, were a topic of great discussion.
The people living in Muddyrun said that it happened on a bitter winter, the snow blanketing the roads.
A foreign girl was begging on the road and passed out at the entrance of Song Jixin’s house.
If someone had not found her in time, she would not have made it.

The old man who did chores for the overseer had a different story.
He swore that Sir Song had brought an orphan from a foregin place to keep his illegitimate son Song Jixin company and attend to him.
Sir Song wanted to make up for the fact he could not recognize Song Jixin as his son.

In any case, once Song Jixin gave the girl the name Zhi Gui, the father-son relationship between Sir Song and Song Jixin was all but confirmed.
The wealthy of the town knew that there was an inkstone that Sir Song treasured most.
The words “Zhi Gui” were engraved on the inkstone.

Song Jixin awoke from his stupor and smiled brightly.
“For some reason, I still think of that damn four-legged snake.
What do you think, Zhi Gui? I even threw it into Chen Pingan’s yard, and it still ran into our house.
Say, could it be that Chen Pingan’s shithole is so shabby and crummy that not even a snake is willing to enter it?”

Zhi Gui thought about it seriously and then replied, “Some things are just fate, right?”

Song Jixin gave her a thumbs-up and said, “Yes, some things are just fate! Just like Chen Pingan is fated to continue living that crummy life of his.”

Zhi Gui chose to stay silent.

Song Jixin said to himself, “Once we leave town, I’ll leave Chen Pingan to take care of the things in the house.
Will that guy sneak some stuff out while I’m away, hmm?”

Zhi Gui said softly, “Sir, that can’t be…”

Song Jixin smiled.
“Hey, Zhi Gui, do you know what it means to embezzle?”

Zhi Gui blinked, her eyes like a cloudless sky.

Song Jixin smiled and looked towards the south.
His voice containing a hint of yearning, he said, “I heard there are a lot more books in the capital.
More books than you can imagine.”

At that moment, the storyteller said, “Although there are supposedly no more progenitor dragons left, the descendants of the progenitor dragons like the flood dragon and horned dragon still exist in the mortal world… perhaps…”

The old man slowed down to add suspense.
When he saw that the audience had no reaction, bored, he continued, “Perhaps… they’re hidden among us!”

Song Jixin yawned.

A locust leaf fell from the tree and fluttered, falling in front of Song Jixin.
Song Jixin reached out and grabbed the leaf, catching it between his two fingers.

Chen Pingan planned to go to the east gate to collect the five copper owed to him.
When he came by the old locust tree, he saw the locust leaves fluttering before his eyes.
He reached out, wanting to catch one of them.

Then, a breeze came by, and the leaf that was just in his grasp slipped past his fingers.

A strong boy, Chen Pingan took a step to the side.
He wanted to intercept the leaf.

However, the leaf did a somersault and turned away.

Chen Pingan refused to give up.
He scuttled around, jumping around.
He tried several times, but it was to no avail.
He could not grab the locust leaf.


A boy in a school robe brushed shoulders with Chen Pingan.

The boy, who was skipping class, continued walking.
Unbeknownst to the schoolboy, a locust leaf laid on his shoulders.

In his stall, the taoist closed his eyes and entered a state of meditation.
He murmured, “Who said lady luck has no favorites?”

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