Chapter 44: Were you very happy when you saw that I had come?
Shen Qiao asked, “Did they say their name?”
The little priest said, “Not yet. Hurry up and go take a look!”
Growing up in the monastery, the boy had never seen such a big occasion. Even before Shen Qiao could reply, he was already shouting his way out to notify the abbot.
Shen Qiao walked up to the entrance. Just like the boy said, there were some carriages parked outside, and a group of people were unloading chests off them.
The crew was led by a man dressed like a servant. But, he was not an ordinary servant. Judging by his appearance and his clothes, he was at least a personal attendant who directly served a master.
Seeing that Shen Qiao had walked out, the man took a step forward. However, he didn’t come close. “May I ask if you are Shen Qiao?”
“I am,” Shen Qiao said.
The other person said, “I am here to deliver these gifts at the order of the Duke of Pengcheng District.”
Even though Shen Qiao already knew the answer in his heart, he still asked, “Who is this Duke of Pengcheng District? I’m afraid I don’t know him.”
The other person seemed rather displeased. Instead of answering Shen Qiao’s question, he simply replied, “The Duke of Pengcheng District said you had done him a favor in the past. ‘A drop of water given in need shall be returned with a burst of spring.’ Therefore, he asked us to deliver these gifts. We hope you would kindly accept this small gratitude from us.”
Without waiting for Shen Qiao to reply, he commanded the coachman and the rest of the servants with a clap of his hands, “Open the chests.”
Right at that time, the abbot of the White Dragon Monastery rushed out after the two little priests to greet his guests. However, before he even had time to say hi to Shen Qiao, he was already attracted by those chests being opened.
And they immediately let out a gasp!
It wasn’t because they were surprised. Rather, the voices were filled with disbelief.
It was because the chests were not filled with money or treasures or brocades. They were filled with nothing but donkey meat burgers!
As soon as the chests were opened, the steaming, mouth-watering aroma of donkey meat greeted them right in the face. The abbot and the two little Daoist priests couldn’t help gulp hard.
With a disdainful look on his face, the servant sneered, “The Duke of Pengcheng District asked me to pass a few words for him. By the grace of you, he was able to eat a few of your burgers, and now he would like to pay you back tenfold. We don’t know if these are enough. If not, we’ll send over a few more boxes!”
Shen Qiao showed no anger or fear. It was quite the contrary —— he even replied with a smile, “That’s enough. I was just concerned about where to get my dinner since the kitchen was already closed. I have to thank your master very much for his timely help. At least I don’t have to worry about my meals for the next couple of days.”
The servant probably didn’t expect that Shen Qiao would react this way. After a moment of shock, the disdain on his face grew even stronger. He obviously thought that Shen Qiao had given in too easily. In his mind, this person must have offended his master in the past, hence the latter decided to pay him back by using such a method.
With these thoughts in mind, he didn’t take Shen Qiao seriously and only nodded, “Then I’ll return to report to my master.”
He made a gesture, and the servants on either side immediately dumped the donkey meat burgers out of the chests.
The abbot and two little priests cried in great flurry, “What are you doing?! The burgers are now dirty!”
The servant laughed aloud. “Master asked me to give you these burgers, but he never said that boxes were included!”
The donkey meat burgers fell all over the floor. The juice inside them flew out, and the aroma quickly attracted many insects. They buzzed around the burgers. Even if the abbot and the little priests wanted to pick the burgers up, brush off the dust, and then eat them, they dared not do so now. They could only choke with silent fury as they stared at the burgers with regret written all over their faces.
The smile finally disappeared from Shen Qiao’s face. His countenance slightly darkened.
When Chen Gong was still living in that broken temple, he didn’t even have the money to buy burgers. A hot meal was all it took to fill him with joy. But now, he could even do something like this just to vent his own anger. One couldn’t help but wonder whether it was because that power and wealth really could becloud a person’s heart, or whether it was the environment that was capable of changing a person’s mind and nature so easily.
The servant slowly stopped and looked back, “What else do you need, mister?”
Shen Qiao said, “Finish these burgers before you leave.”
The servant couldn’t help laughing, “Mister, you must be kidding. They are gifts for you from my master. How can we eat them? Take your time and enjoy!”
He turned around. However, he wasn’t able to walk far before his triumphant smile turned into horror.
He felt pain in his wrist, a pain so sharp that he could barely stand.
And before he knew it, Shen Qiao who was originally more than ten steps away from him was already standing in front of his eyes.
Face distorted by pain, he groaned, “Let..go… Let me go!”
Shen Qiao’s voice dropped, “Heaven bestowed grains upon us, and we shall treasure them with the utmost respect. There are many who are still starving outside the city. Therefore, please finish these burgers before you go.”
Startled, horrified, and flamed with anger, the servant shouted, “Who do you think you are?! Do you even know who we are?! The Duke of Pengcheng District is the Emperor’s favorite…”
Shen Qiao’s face looked cold and indifferent, “I don’t know a Duke of Pengcheng District. If you don’t want to eat these, none of you shall leave today.”
It seemed that some of them simply refused to take in his words. Right after Shen Qiao finished, a coachman turned around and broke into a run immediately. However, before he was three steps out, his body suddenly fell forward and he was unable to move anymore.
Shen Qiao asked, “Will you eat it?”
The servant shouted, “Shen Qiao! If you dare humiliate me, my master will definitely get revenge against you a hundred fold! Don’t you ever regret it later!”
“Will you eat it?”
“I dare you… AHH!!!!”
He screamed in anguish. The fierce appearance on his face instantly turned into one of extreme pain, for Shen Qiao had grabbed him by the wrist. No one could tell what Shen Qiao did exactly. There wasn’t any fracture or injury on the other person’s wrist, but the servant appeared to be in so much pain that he could barely stand it. It gave everyone else a chill by looking at him.
“Will you eat it?”
His tone was just as calm and gentle, but his eyes slowly turned from the servant to the rest of the crowd.
Those whom he glanced over all bowed their heads and dared not look directly at him.
At this point, the attendant did not dare to act arrogantly anymore. The tone of his voice changed drastically as he trembled, “Just to let mister know, our master only asked us to send over these burgers. He didn’t tell us to dump the burgers out. It was me, it was all my idea. Please forgive me, mister. You are the bigger person. I’m sure your mind is too broad to haggle over these kinds of things with us!”
Shen Qiao said, “If you really want me to let it go, then you should finish these burgers. Otherwise, if I am to ask your master about it, your master will inevitably take his anger out on you. You need to think carefully about it.”
The waiter wanted to cry, but no tears came out. So he had no choice but to get on the ground, pick up the burgers, and start eating.
Those burgers on the ground were already cold. The servant could even taste the sand and stones mixed within as he ate them. Ever since started serving Chen Gong, he had been eating even better than the general well-off families. When did he ever have to eat food like this that even the dogs in the mansion would not eat? He almost cried when he bit down. But since Shen Qiao was still watching him from the side, he had no choice but to swallow each mouthful with the expression as if he was eating shit.
Seeing that the other people who came together with him were all staring at him, he couldn’t help but roar, “What are you waiting for?! Come and help me eat these!”
Despite the fact that they were reluctant in every possible way, because that servant was very much favored by their master, they had to follow after him and crouch down to eat the burgers.
The Duke of Pengcheng District had always been the center of conversation ever since the day he became the Emperor’s new favorite —— even the abbot of this monastery had heard about him. Seeing how Shen Qiao showed no trace of politeness towards these people, he was so astonished that he even forgot to close his mouth.
The young priest pulled the abbot by the corner of his robe a few times and whispered, “Master, if that Duke of something District comes back for revenge, will we be inflicted?”
The abbot turned to him and groaned in a low voice, “Shut up! Do you not see how skilled he is in martial arts?!”
Shen Qiao heard him, but he pretended he did not. Those people, after eating a dozen or so burgers each, all stated with mournful faces that they really couldn’t eat anymore. They pleaded with Shen Qiao to let them go.
However, there were still at least a few dozens of burgers on the ground. Shen Qiao shook his head, “Even if I let you take the burgers back, there’s no doubt that you’ll just throw them out on the way. Don’t even think about leaving today before finishing them.”
The servant trembled with fear, “But mister, my master is still waiting for me to report to him!”
Shen Qiao said, “I’m sure he’ll send more people over if he doesn’t see you. Won’t you have more people helping you with the burgers by then?”
The servant dared not speak anymore and focused back on eating.
From evening all the way till nightfall, more than a dozen or so people gobbled up and wolfed the food. It was not until their bellies were round and their faces ashen did Shen Qiao finally make them stop.
It was almost like a great amnesty to them. At this point, they could hardly keep their backs straight, so they had to help support each other as they respectfully came to Shen Qiao to apologize.
Shen Qiao said, “Go back and tell your master that I’m only stopping by this place temporarily. In fact, I’m leaving tomorrow, so there’s no need to even think about harassing the abbot because of me.”
The servant forced out a smile, “Mister Shen must be joking. How could we dare!”
Despite what he said, he was actually planning on doing so if Shen Qiao hadn’t pointed it out.
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything else and let them leave.
After making sure that those devils had left, the abbot finally came up and sighed, “Mister, you have caused great trouble to our monastery. We’ve always been secluded and withdrawn, and we have never stirred up disturbances. Today, trouble has fallen to us from the sky, but just what have we done to deserve this?”
Shen Qiao said apologetically, “There’s no need to worry. This shouldn’t have had anything to do with you in the first place. I’ll visit that person myself and clear things up with him tomorrow. They won’t come to you anymore.”
The abbot was still a little unhappy, “It better be like that!”
Shen Qiao took out a few copper coins from his sleeve and handed it to him, “I’ve inconvenienced you. I don’t have much on me, but please accept my token of goodwill and let me know if this is enough.”
Only then did the abbot’s face clear up a little. He looked at the two disciples who were staring at him, then coughed lightly, gathering up his sleeves. Once the copper coins were enclosed in his hand, he said, “This is enough, though barely. It’s late, and the wind is quite harsh. Come back in and rest.”
Shen Qiao smiled and went in together with them.
The two small priests originally thought that there’d be donkey meat burgers to eat. However, after all the misfortune happened out of the blue, instead of burgers, they got only a show to watch. While the abbot fretted over the possibility of offending someone, the small priests on the other hand were extremely excited, especially the young priest who had previously lazily received Shen Qiao. His attitude had also changed drastically, and his gaze now practically radiated light.
“Mister Shen, do you know who those guys represent? They’re under the Duke of Pengcheng District, the new favorite minister of the Emperor! I heard that for him, the Emperor was even willing to be the…”
The unfinished words vanished under the pain of being hit in the back of the head by the abbot.
“That’s not something children your age should say!” the abbot scolded.
The little priest cradled the back of his head, feeling wronged, “But you were the one who told us!”
The abbot rolled his eyes at him, “Shouldn’t you go cook already? Your master is about to starve!”
The little priest said, “Didn’t you say one shouldn’t eat after noon?”
The abbot said, “If we live a peaceful and secluded life as usual, then of course two meals a day is enough. But today, after being pulled into such a mess for no reason, the anger I experienced was so great that it even made me hungry. Even if you don’t eat, shouldn’t you at least consider your master?!”
The little priest muttered to himself, “I’ve only ever heard of anger making one full, not making one hungry.”
The abbot made a gesture of hitting him, and the little priest quickly dodged his way out as soon as he saw it. “I’ll go cook!”
“What an ungrateful disciple!” Clearly in a bad mood, the abbot said as he rubbed the other little priest’s head, “Chuyi does nothing but fool around all day. If he could only be as well-behaved as you, Shiwu.”
Shiwu smiled shyly and lifted his head to ask Shen Qiao, “Mister Shen, our monastery has few ingredients, so I can only cook something simple. Please bear with us. Would you like to eat noodles or rice?”
The abbot paled in fright, “You wretched child! I just praised you and you’re already causing mischief! That flour was supposed to be saved for New Years!”
Right after he finished speaking, the abbot immediately realized he had said too much. He hastily turned his head to glance at Shen Qiao, and then shamefully closed his mouth.
Shiwu laughed, “Mister Shen is our guest. Master always teaches us that we must know our manners. I’ll go help senior brother!”
Before the abbot could reply, he too had run off.
“Wretched kid!” The abbot was unable to stop himself from muttering, thinking how unfortunate he was today. Not only was he not able to have any donkey meat burgers, but they were even going to rob him of the little amount of flour he had saved.
As if he could read the other person’s mind, Shen Qiao took out a few more coins from his sleeve and handed them to the abbot with a smile, “I’m so sorry for letting you spend so much on me!”
“No no, that’s not what I meant!” The abbot wasn’t thick-skinned enough to take the money after all, so he pushed it back, which brought him closer to Shen Qiao. Only then did he realize that there was something strange with Shen Qiao’s eyes, “So your eyes…?”
“It’s from an old illness. They work a little better during the day, but I can’t see very well at night.”
“I see. What a pity!”
He didn’t probe further on the subject, “By the way, how did mister offend the Duke of Pengcheng District?”
Shen Qiao briefly explained how he and Chen Gong had met each other in the rock bottom of their life and decided to travel together. When the abbot heard that Chen Gong brought Mu Tipo back and recommended Shen Qiao to him in order to free himself, he couldn’t hold himself any longer and cursed out, “Biting the hand that fed him! What a shameless bastard!”
He thought about the scene he had witnessed just now and sighed, “Mister Shen, you should make sure you’re well-prepared yourself if you’re going to look for someone. You can totally tell that servant is a vile character. I wouldn’t be surprised if he exaggerates everything in front of Chen Gong and makes Chen Gong resent you even more.”
Shen Qiao said, “Thank you very much for the warning, abbot. There is something I’d like to ask you about. Have you seen a group of people traveling by recently? Within the group are two seniors, and the rest of the people are either young men or women, all very attractive. They may or may not have been wearing Daoist robes, but they should be carrying swords.”
Although he had already offhandedly asked the little priest earlier, he still remained unconvinced and wanted to confirm it again.
The abbot thought for a moment, then shook his head, “Not that I remember. There are quite a number of Buddhist temples and monks in Ye City, but Daoism isn’t popular here. As for Daoist priests, well, there aren’t many other monasteries besides the White Dragon Monastery. If they wanted to seek shelter at a monastery, they’d probably come to this one. If they didn’t come here, then they definitely wouldn’t have gone to the other monasteries either; they would’ve probably changed into ordinary clothes and stayed at a hotel instead. Anyway, Mister Shen, if you want to look for someone, this is not the right way to do it. If the other person intends to hide from you, it’s very easy for you to miss them. Besides, are you certain that they are indeed traveling north around this time?”
Shen Qiao replied with a bitter smile, “You’re right. I’m just giving it a try.”
As they were talking, they heard the little priest calling from the kitchen, “Master! Mister Shen! Dinner is ready!”
The abbot subconsciously walked a little faster. Suddenly, he remembered that Shen Qiao was still next to him, so he quickly came to a halt and smiled awkwardly, “Come. Let’s go eat!”
The dinner couldn’t have been simpler —— noodles freshly made from flour and water, both were readily available. Not even a drop of oil could be found, not to mention meat slices. Plain noodles sprinkled with chopped vegetables, with some self-made pickled radish on the side —— a meal enough to make the abbot’s the two little priests’ eyes twinkle.
The abbot swallowed hard and said to his young disciple, “Serve our guest first.”
“Yes, master.” The young disciple was too honest that he simply piled Shen Qiao’s bowl with noodles and vegetables and radish to the point that it couldn’t hold anymore. The mere sight of this pained the abbot so much that he couldn’t help but repeat, “That’s enough! That’s enough! The guest won’t be able to finish it if you keep on piling more!”
Shen Qiao smiled in agreement, “He’s right. Just a little for me is enough. Don’t give me too much!”
While they were still trying to be polite to each other, they once more heard someone knocking on the gate of the monastery outside. On a quiet night like this, the sound appeared to be extremely clear and loud, making one’s heart flutter.
The two little priests looked at each other in blank dismay, “It’s late already. Why is there still a guest?”
“Don’t tell me that those guys earlier have returned to cause us more trouble!”
“Master, should we pretend that we didn’t hear it?”
The abbot also felt a bit nervous, “How about we wait for a second? He might just stop after a while.”
His older disciple asked doubtfully, “That can’t be. If they’ve come back for revenge, even if they haven’t burst the door open already, they would have knocked it down at least. How can they keep knocking like this? It can’t be-it can’t be a ghost, right?”
The abbot scolded, “Stop saying nonsense! I’ve told you not to listen to those people under the bridge telling absurd ghost stories. I’ll go take a look and see who is disturbing people from their peaceful night!”
Shen Qiao said, “Let me go. You three can eat first. There’s no need to worry.”
The abbot got up immediately after him, “But your eyes…”
Shen Qiao pressed him back down, “It’s fine. I’m used to it now, and I can tell. I just need to borrow a lantern.”
The younger disciple brought a lantern right away. The abbot took the opportunity and sat back down, thinking to himself that even the noodles were getting cold while still keeping up the superficial courtesy, “Be careful. Make sure to call out to us if something’s not right!”
Shen Qiao replied, “I will. You don’t have to wait for me.”
He walked out holding the lantern in his hand. The White Dragon Monastery was quite big. One could still tell its magnificent scale in the past. It was just that time had already claimed its glory, leaving it in a pile of ruins. There were only three people guarding such a large monastery. One couldn’t help but sigh as they walked between the empty buildings at night.
Shen Qiao too thought it was Chen Gong sending more people for revenge. However, after he opened the gate, he sensed neither clamour nor noise from the darkness outside. There was only one person standing there with hands clasped behind him, their figure and manner appeared to be quite familiar.
Shen Qiao didn’t even need to raise the lantern up to recognize who that person was. Surprised inside, he blurted out almost subconsciously, “Sect Master Yan?”
“Why? Are you not happy to see me?”
Under the moonlight, Shen Qiao, holding a lantern in his hand, gave a sincere and welcoming smile, “Of course I am! Hurry and come in. Have you had dinner already?”
Yan Wushi wasn’t going to answer such a boring question, but when he opened his mouth, he somehow heard himself replying, “Not yet.”
Shen Qiao smiled, “Then you’re just in time. The abbot has boiled some noodles! Please come in.”
He was able to make out most of the place during the day, but his eyes didn’t work as well at night. Even with the lantern in his hand, he still couldn’t see the road. On top of that, since he wasn’t very familiar with the paths here, when he led Yan Wushi into the monastery, he accidentally stumbled himself and nearly fell down.
If the others knew that a martial arts expert who was capable of defeating Duan Wenyang and killing Huo Xijing had tripped himself over some stone stairs, they would probably laugh their heads off.
Luckily, an arm reached out from the side and wrapped around his waist just in time to stop him.
“You seem to be in a bit of haste. That’s unusual.” Yan Wushi said.
Shen Qiao stifled a laugh, and without further comment, he said, “The noodles are getting cold. Since you’ve yet to eat, let’s walk faster.”
Who would have thought that after he brought Yan Wushi back to the kitchen, the abbot had just slurped the last piece of noodle into his own mouth while rubbing his round belly. He regretfully said, “Mister Shen, you came too late. The noodles are already gone.”
Shen Qiao introduced Yan Wushi to them, “This is Mister Yan. He’s my friend.”
The little priest got up and said, “Mister Shen, I left a bowl for you. You can share it with Mister Yan.”
“You’re too meddlesome!” The abbot scowled with a roll of his eyes.
Originally, he was about to complain that they had only saved one bowl. Why had another one come along? But after seeing Yan Wushi standing behind Shen Qiao, he unconsciously swallowed the sentence back. He could hardly keep his dignity as the abbot in front of Yan Wushi and even started fidgeting. In the end, he had no choice but to drop a “Take your time” as he hurriedly got up and left.
The young disciple brought over the bowl of noodles that Shen Qiao hadn’t had a chance to eat earlier and glanced at Yan Wushi with some embarrassment, “There’s only one bowl left.”
The noodles had already stuck together into a lump. Yan Wushi probably wouldn’t eat this kind of food even if one begged him to do so.
Yet for the people in the White Dragon Monastery, it was a precious ration that they had been saving for several months. In fact, they had even planned to save it till the New Year, but because of Shen Qiao’s arrival, it was brought out early.
Shen Qiao thanked the little priest. Then he said to Yan Wushi, “Why don’t we share it?”
Yan Wushi replied, “No thanks.”
Shen Qiao smiled, “The noodles are a bit cold, but their pickled radish is very good. You should try some.”
Knowing that Yan Wushi always cared about things being clean, he cleaned the chopsticks first before moving the radish and vegetables —— those that hadn’t touched the noodles —— from his own bowl into the one in front of Yan Wushi. He then poured some sauce over his own lump of dry noodles and started eating.
Yan Wushi stared at the half a bowl of vegetables and pickled radish in front of him and frowned. After a long time, he finally picked up his chopsticks and forced himself to take a bite.
The taste wasn’t as bad as he had imagined.
“Has Sect Master Yan finished your business?” Shen Qiao asked.
“Not yet.” That was all Yan Wushi said. He didn’t mention whether he had met the person or not, nor why it was not finished, but Shen Qiao didn’t ask either.
Yan Wushi suddenly changed the topic, “Were you very happy when you saw that I had come?”
Slightly surprised, Shen Qiao nodded and smiled, “Yes. I thought we wouldn’t see each other for a long time after we last parted. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Isn’t this something to be happy about?”
“I heard you said that I was your friend when you introduced me to them.” Yan Wushi said as he gently rubbed the edge of the soup bowl with his finger. He seemed to be rather amused.
This type of soup bowl had very poor workmanship. Since it had been used for many years, there was a thick layer of grime accumulated on it which could no longer be washed off.
“Yes. It’s a lot easier to say you are my friend when traveling outside. This way, they won’t question it either.”
“What do you think? Deep inside, do you really see me as your friend?” Yan Wushi asked, staring straight at him.
Shen Qiao said, “Studying under the same teacher makes people companions, while sharing the same goal makes people friends. Even though we haven’t studied under the same teacher, nor do we share similar goals, since you saved my life, and we have been involved with each other and traveled together for so long, I would say we’re friends at least.”
“Are you not afraid of others saying that you have given up on yourself and attached yourself to the Demonic Sovereign?”
Shen Qiao laughed, “As long as I know what I’m doing, that’s enough. Why should I care about what other people think? Ever since I left the mountain, I have been deeply moved by what I hear and see. They make me understand that back then when I shut myself away from the rest of the world, I was practicing nothing but small virtues. As for Sect Master Yan, you assist the Emperor of Zhou —— if he could really unite the countries one day and bring peace back to the world, then people don’t have to wander about or trade their children for food anymore; as long as they have the ability to work, they can get paid for their labor —— that’s probably the True Virtue.”
Yan Wushi sneered, “You don’t have to praise me like that. Yuwen Yong and I are just using each other to get what we want. Everything I do is because I want to do it. It’s never because I think about others.”
“Even if it is out of bad intentions, if it leads to good results, wouldn’t you say it is still achieving Virtue?”
Yan Wushi stared at him fixedly for a while. After a long time, he finally said, “So, we’re friends.”
Shen Qiao nodded with a smile, “If Sect Master Yan doesn’t mind me reaching out of my league.”
A strange look flashed across Yan Wushi’s face. Before Shen Qiao could take a closer look at it, Yan Wushi had once again resumed his lazy and nonchalant manner. “This monastery is way too simple and crude. Is there even a room for me to stay?”
Shen Qiao smiled, “Then I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to stay in the same room with me for now.”