Chapter 288: Peach Blossom
The mountain vanished. Far, far off in the distance, a mountain range was just barely visible.
The sky, was no longer blue. Instead, it was as red as flame, because it was dusk.
The dusk carried with it the afterglow of the setting sun, which trickled across the land to blanket over a small county-level city. The walls surrounding the city had existed for many years, which was clear from their ancient appearance. They were covered with blotches and marks, evidence of the passage of time.
Atop the walls, a few guards lazed about. Occasionally the faint sounds of their laughter and chatting would drift down into the bordello below. There was a new girl in town, and their laughter contained the beauty of anticipation which comes in life.
Horse carts lined up to enter through the city gate; atop each cart sat a driver brandishing a whip and bellowing out directions to his horses as they ambled toward the city center.
The sun was setting, but oppressive heat still held sway over the land, turning it into something like an oven that wanted to bake the earth.
There was no wind or rain.
The only thing that existed was arid heat.
This walled city was not very large; it was only a county after all. People walked the streets in groups of two or three, cooling themselves with fans, occasionally cursing the weather.
The most lively places in the town were the teahouses, where a cup of cold tea could dispel a bit of the heat. On a sweltering summer evening like this, gossiping with friends and neighbors there was the primary pastime of the populace.
Other than the teahouses was the town bordello, which was a place for rich people. Many men who passed by couldn’t restrain themselves from glancing up at the gorgeously dressed young ladies who leaned against the wooden shutters up above. It was enough to make any man’s heart burn, and then cause him to think about how unbearable the weather was.
If a man’s wife walked with him past the bordello, her face would twist with jealousy and she would hastily pull him away. A more shrewish wife might look up at the licentious, headstrong girls up above and curse them a few times.
It was said that the girls in the bordello were as delicate as flowers and as refined as jade, almost inhuman. Inside, the rooms were filled with ice cubes and cute servant girls with fans. Because of this, rich customers had the luxury of enjoying an ice-cold breeze.
Supposedly, the bordello also abounded with delicious food and wine…. Every man wished to go there, either for the girls, the food or the ice cubes.
“Look, the point is, this place is awesome!” said Meng Hao in a low, earnest voice to the two kids next to him, clenching his fists tightly. Both the kids were around the same age as him, twelve or thirteen years old. “You guys just don’t have any sense of brotherhood!”
Meng Hao put his arms around their shoulders. One was skinny, the other chubby. Both looked excited, but at the same time, a bit shy and nervous.
Meng Hao gave them a very serious look, as if he were a Sect Patriarch arranging to hand over a legacy. “Tomorrow, I, young master, am being sent away to boarding school. From now on I’m handing over the title of Eastern Emergence County’s #1 Bully to you two. Don’t forget, you can’t do anything to ruin young master’s reputation!”
If… if they were in some sacred location, then perhaps his words would carry some power. But unfortunately, the three of them were currently lying on their bellies atop a wall.
What was inside the wall was nothing other than the bordello, and the wall they were on surrounded it. Further inside was a two-story building, connected to another building which filled the front of the courtyard. From their position on the wall, they could clearly see the shadows of men and women inside the second story windows. The sound of chatting and laughter drifted out.
The fat kid, whose face was covered with freckles, excitedly said, “Young master Fang, don’t worry. The name of the #1 Bully in Eastern Emergence County will always belong to you. As for us two, #2 and #3 Bullies, we will definitely maintain your reputation!” The skinny kid next to him nodded enthusiastically.
“Good, I know I can trust you two,” Meng Hao replied solemnly. “However, you still need your gang initiation plaques. Today, your final test has arrived. Now pay attention. Soon, someone is gonna come out. When that happens, you have to throw these bricks as hard as you can!”
Each of the kids held a brick which was about the size of their own hand.
“That damned bastard!” said Meng Hao through gritted teeth. “He dares to go chasing after my Peach Blossom!? Young master is definitely going to find out who exactly it is who has the gall!” He glared at the second story of the building. Panting, he continued, “Peach Blossom promised me that she would wait until I grew up, and then she would sleep with me. Who could have guessed that some damned son of a b*tch would dare to go pick on her!” His heart filled with rage. When the other two kids saw the look in his eyes, their hearts filled with intense admiration.
“He definitely deserves to be the Elder Brother,” they thought. “The #1 Bully in Eastern Emergence County has a mistress. He’s for sure the only twelve year old kid in the entire county who could pull that off!” They exchanged a glance, and their expressions grew more fanatical. As far as they were concerned, anyone who could enter the legendary bordello and get a mistress, had skill that reached to the Heavens. To be able to talk about it openly made them feel even more proud.
Soon, enough time had passed for an incense stick to burn. Evening had fallen, and the moon was rising. The second floor balcony door opened, and a beautifully dressed young woman led a middle-aged man out by the arm. He appeared to be drunk, and they talked in soft tones as they emerged.
The moonlight was thin, and the sky somewhat dark, making it difficult to see their exact appearance. However, Meng Hao could instantly recognize Peach Blossom. Immediately, his eyes grew red, and he shouted, “You crusty son of a b*tch, young master’s gonna beat you to death! You dare to see my Peach Blossom!” With a howl, he hurled the brick. With equally vicious howls, the two kids also threw their bricks.
“Young master is gonna… huh?” Meng Hao was just about to charge into the courtyard when his body began to tremble. The drunk, middle-aged man easily dodged the three bricks and then raised his head furiously. As soon as he saw Meng Hao, he gave a slight smile. Then, his fury burned hotter.
“You little bastard!” he cried. “This is mutiny!”
Meng Hao instantly began to shiver.
“Father….” All of his ardor and sincerity evaporated, as if freezing water had been poured over his body. He immediately leaped off of the wall and began to run. His two sidekicks’ faces went pale with fear, and their calves burned as they raced off.
“We’re finished. Finished! Fang Mu’s father is the former #1 Bully in the county! Now he’s a constable, so he can kill people without blinking an eye…!” The two kids’ faces were as pale as death as they fled.
After the three of them vanished, the middle-aged man stood in the courtyard, both angry and amused. The idea of a son making a move on his father was both infuriating and hilarious.
“That little bastard never studies and has no skills whatsoever. Sending him to study in boarding school is definitely the right decision!”
Late that night, Meng Hao ambled through the streets, heaving continuous sighs. When he finally reached the main gate of his house, he looked at the lights shining from within and gave a deep frown.
“Why did it have to be dad…? Oh, mother, you left too early. If you hadn’t gone, things wouldn’t be like this. I’m going to go have a few words with him for you!” He had just pushed open the gate leading into the courtyard, when suddenly he began to cry.
“Mother, I miss you! Mother, you visited me in my dreams last night and told me to go visit Peach Blossom…. Mother….”
“Shut up!” bellowed an angry voice from within the house. The door opened to reveal Meng Hao’s father, the middle-aged man from before. His brow was furrowed, and he looked haplessly at Meng Hao. “Quit your faking! Why aren’t you in bed yet? I’m taking you to the boarding school early in the morning to meet your new teacher.”
“I’m not going!” cried Meng Hao, taking a step back. “I want to go to regular school! All the people in the city are going to laugh at me!”
“You little bastard. Still up to the same old tricks at your age….” The man frowned, then suddenly rushed forward and grabbed Meng Hao, who was just getting ready to run away. He lifted him into the air and spanked him on the bottom a few times.
The slapping sounds rang out clearly, but there was no pain. Things had been like this for Meng Hao since he was young. He and his father had only each other to depend on. Every time they had some sort of disagreement, his father would put on the appearance of being very strict, but couldn’t actually bear to hit him hard.
“What good is regular school?” his father roared. “You need to learn to respect the teachers and their teachings! You need to learn about ethics! Are you gonna go, or not!?”
“I’m not going!” cried Meng Hao, his eyes rolling.
“You…!” Meng Hao’s father raised his hand high into the air.
Meng Hao hurriedly said, “If you promise to never go see Peach Blossom again, then I’ll go…. You can go see anybody else, just not her!” He was afraid his father might actually start to spank him hard this time.
Meng Hao’s father wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. He lowered his hand, placing it onto Meng Hao’s head and tousling it gently.
“Alright. You’re growing up, kid, and I can see that you have a fertile imagination. Fine. From now on, I’ll never see Peach Blossom again. I’ll leave her for you. After you grow up, I’ll arrange for her to be your concubine!”
“Really?” said Meng Hao, his eyes growing bright.
“You’re still not in bed?!” He glared at Meng Hao as he released him. Meng Hao beamed with joy as he ran into the house, threw off his clothes, and jumped into bed. He had some beautiful dreams that night.
Early the next morning, when the sky was just beginning to grow light, Meng Hao’s eyes were still blurry as his father dressed him.
Father glanced at son, and could see that he clearly hadn’t gotten enough sleep. A solemn expression covered his face, as well as love and kindness, something Meng Hao didn’t often see.
He reached down and picked up Meng Hao, just like he had when he was young. Meng Hao’s head fell onto his shoulder, and he continued to sleep. Meng Hao’s father grabbed the gift he planned to present to the teacher, and then left.
Along the way, his gait was a bit unsteady. Carrying such a large boy wasn’t an easy task.
An hour later, they reached the main gate of the house of a famous old man who lived in the east part of the city. Meng Hao’s father woke Meng Hao up and then put him down. Then, he knocked on the door, and entered the courtyard.
Meng Hao was left yawning out in the courtyard as his father entered the house, so he didn’t see his father respectfully clasping hands and making other imploring gestures.
Not much time passed before his father emerged. Next to him was an old man with a full head of white hair. His features were ancient, but full of vigor. It gave him a noble and prestigious bearing, much different from that of an ordinary person.
This was especially true of his eyes. They were filled with profundity, as if they contained stars within them. Anyone who looked at them would be entranced. The old man gazed down at Meng Hao.
This gaze seemed to be able to see lives that had been lived, and lives yet to be lived.
This gaze seemed capable of piercing through the haze to see all three lives: past, present and future.
This gaze made it seem as if this young man’s entire life had been lived for the purpose of coming here and kowtowing three times to become his apprentice.
A long moment passed, and the old man nodded slightly.
Meng Hao’s father looked down at Meng Hao and said, “A Master is like a father. Fang Mu, I want you to respect your Master. Respect him even more than you respect me! If you can’t do that, then you aren’t my son!” With that, he left.