Chapter 60: Can you guess who I am now?
Bona returned with the flock of sheep at sunset. Just like usual, she first drove the sheep to their pen except for the little lamb she was holding in her arms. Instead, she brought it with her as she went knocking on Shen Qiao’s room.
Shen Qiao soon came to open the door. After he saw Bona, he greeted her smilingly, “You’re back.”
He turned his body sideways, but Bona, fearing that Yan Wushi would lose his mind again like yesterday, did not go in. She only stuck her head into the room and looked around.
But that person merely sat on his bed and quietly stared at her. His expression didn’t seem as violent as the day before either.
Bona asked, “Has he fully recovered yet?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, forcing a smile. “I’m afraid he’s worse.”
Bona let out a sound of surprise and was all the more afraid of entering.
Shen Qiao didn’t know how to explain the complex situation happening with Yan Wushi. He could only try to summarize it in a few words, “He was hit on the head, and is now sometimes sober and sometimes not —— most of the time he’s not.”
“Is he sober now?” Bona asked. She looked at Yan Wushi curiously, and the latter looked back at her. His emotionless black eyes somewhat made her shiver.
“…No, he’s not,” Shen Qiao answered.
Bona panicked a little, “Does he still clutch people’s necks?”
Shen Qiao said, “That I don’t think so. Right now he has a mind similar to that of a young child, and he can’t even speak clearly. It was my fault last time. I was too careless. I will not let him harm you and your grandfather again.”
Bona had never heard of something like this before. She looked at Yan Wushi and blinked.
Yan Wushi actually blinked back.
Shen Qiao: “…”
He kneaded his temples.
Bona thought for a moment, then put down the lamb she was holding. She drove it towards Yan Wushi and said cheerfully, “How about letting him play with the lamb? The children in the village all like lambs.”
The lamb was white like snow. Just the sight of it made people want to hug and rub it in their bosom. Even Shen Qiao thought it was very lovely.
But Yan Wushi knitted his eyebrows as he saw the baby lamb totter towards him, lowering its head in an attempt to sniff at the lower hem of his robe. Suddenly, he flung out his hand and shoved it to the side.
The lamb bleated. It stumbled for a few more steps, then sank to its knees.
Bona, who was now too worried to think about her fear of Yan Wushi, hurried over and picked up the lamb.
Shen Qiao also turned to Yan Wushi, scowling in displeasure, but the latter only looked back with a pair of innocent eyes.
“Bona, I will take care of this. You can go do what you need to do.”
Bona clearly hadn’t recovered from the small incident just now and was still in a state of shock. She nodded and took the lamb with her as she left obediently without saying anything else.
Shen Qiao asked Yan Wushi, “Why did you push the lamb away?”
Yan Wushi did not answer. He just stared at Shen Qiao.
But Shen Qiao seemed to realize something.
No matter how much a person’s disposition shifted or how confused their memories became, some of the most basic things deeply etched into people’s bones would never change. Yan Wushi had always been a suspicious man, and this fact would remain true even if he had only a few scattered memories left.
Shen Qiao said, “Give me your hand so I can take your pulse.”
Yan Wushi held out his hand.
There was a sharp contrast in his attitude towards Shen Qiao and Bona.
However, Shen Qiao knew it was due to the other person’s almost magical intuition: he knew that Shen Qiao would never hurt him.
Shen Qiao put three fingers on Yan Wushi’s wrist, asking, “Are you able to move your arms and legs now? Can you walk?”
Yan Wushi nodded, “I can. But dizzy…”
Shen Qiao tried to remind him, “You told me this morning that it is now too late to go back to Chang’an. Do you still remember it?”
Yan Wushi replied with a blank stare.
Shen Qiao couldn’t help but sigh heavily.
“Why don’t you lie down and take a rest?” Shen Qiao suggested, thinking maybe the person would become normal again the next time he woke up.
Even if Yan Wushi continued to mock him with burning satire, it would still be better than this state of complete ignorance.
But Yan Wushi said, “Don’t want it.”
He meant he didn’t want to sleep.
When it came to ordinary children, there were always many ways to coax them into doing something, but this person clearly was no child. Looking at Yan Wushi’s face while saying such tender and soft words as if to a kid, Shen Qiao simply could not do it.
The two of them gazed at each other in speechless frustration when they suddenly heard someone knock on the door.
Shen Qiao, as if he was just released from long-term imprisonment, unconsciously heaved a sigh of relief and got up to get the door.
It was Bona outside.
She made some oil pancakes and brought it together with the lamb soup.
The two exchanged a few words at the entrance. Shen Qiao thanked her. After Bona left, he finally closed the door and came back inside.
He put the lamb soup and the oil pancakes in front of Yan Wushi. “Are you hungry? Let’s eat.”
Yan Wushi glanced at Shen Qiao. Then he quickly lowered his head and muttered, “You feed me.”
Shen Qiao: “… ”
Yan Wushi didn’t hear a reply for quite some time, so he looked up at Shen Qiao and said hesitantly, “Like last time. Kis…”
If I knock him out right now, will he wake up with a more normal personality? Shen Qiao brooded in all seriousness.
As if he had sensed the danger, Yan Wushi swallowed the unfinished word “kiss” into his stomach, his entire body curling up at the corner of the bed.
With another sigh, Shen Qiao pushed the lamb soup towards Yan Wushi and picked up the oil pancakes himself. He broke off a small piece, put it into his mouth, and chewed on it slowly.
Only then did Yan Wushi move back from the corner and reach for the soup bowl.
Both his meridians and bones were damaged during the fight. His hands were shaking slightly while holding the bowl, but it was already a lot better than when he first woke up.
As Shen Qiao watched Yan Wushi lower his head and slowly sip the broth, he suddenly thought of something and asked, “Did you ask me to feed you because you were suspecting the soup?”
Because if that were the case, Shen Qiao would be the first one to drink the soup, and if the soup was poisoned, he would be the first one to fall.
Yan Wushi didn’t reply, but his silence was enough of an answer.
Shen Qiao should feel angry, but he only said calmly, “I don’t know how much you still remember. Even if I tell you that I have no intention to harm you, you probably won’t believe me. But Bona and her grandfather are both kind people. Since we’re living at their place, you should take it down a notch to avoid hurting their feelings, and I won’t let you harm others again either.”
Seeing that Yan Wushi remained silent, Shen Qiao didn’t know what else to say and also stopped talking.
He once believed that absolute sincerity could melt even a heart of stone —— given enough time, even people like Yan Wushi would eventually be moved, but now he finally realized how wrong he was.
No matter what kind of a person Yan Wushi became, he only trusted himself.
The two of them sat separately, one on the bed, one next to the table. They were not very far apart, but their eyes did not cross.
More precisely, Shen Qiao was eating with his head down, while Yan Wushi was looking at Shen Qiao.
After a while, Yan Wushi finally opened his mouth, “Pretty. Brother…”
Shen Qiao shuddered at those words. Just as he was about to correct the other person, he suddenly heard some noise outside.
He listened attentively for a moment, then suddenly got up and started walking towards the door, not forgetting to turn his head to warn Yan Wushi on his way, “Stay here and don’t come out.”
On the other side, Bona also heard the noise. She didn’t think much about it and thought her grandfather had come back, so she cheered and ran out to greet him.
As soon as she opened the gate, she saw a small troop approaching at full gallop, raising a cloud of dust behind them.
Her grandpa was not among them.
Bona immediately remembered that Shen Qiao and his friend were still here. Suspecting that these people were coming after them, she closed the gate at once and turned around to tell Shen Qiao.
However, the other party was even faster than her. He reined up and dismounted the horse, then strode up to the gate and kicked it open at once —— everything was done so smoothly that it left Bona no time to react.
Bona let out a sound of surprise. The impact created by the door-kicking pushed her several steps back. She staggered and almost fell on the ground.
But a hand reached out and held her retreating body by the waist, stopping her from falling back further.
Shen Qiao moved his hand away as soon as he helped her stable herself. He turned to those people and asked, “Who are you?”
A person from the back of the group dismounted his horse. He walked up to them, pulled down the kerchief covering his face, and cupped his hands at Shen Qiao, “Sorry that my men’s rudeness startled this young lady. There were too many people back then at the inn, and we didn’t get a chance to talk much, so I came here looking for you. How have you been doing recently, Daoist Priest Shen?”
Every man deserved a fresh appraisal every now and then. His speech was polite and refined, and even his smile brimmed with confidence. One could tell with a glance that he must be used to being in a high-ranking position and living in a favorable environment. He was no longer that past Chen Gong who was illiterate and rough-tempered, yet also attentive.
There were also some familiar faces among the people Chen Gong had brought with him. Shen Qiao recognized a couple, and Murong Qin, the head of the Murong Family in Country of Qi, was one of them. He was there that night when experts from all places gathered at the Beyond Cloud Monastery to fight for the goods escorted by the Six Harmonies Association. As time passed by, things changed. Seeing this martial expert who worked for the imperial court of Qi now become one of Chen Gong’s subordinates, one couldn’t help but sigh at the unpredictableness of fate.
Shen Qiao withdrew his eyes from Murong Qin, Tuoba Liangzhe and the others. He looked at Chen Gong and asked in a deep voice, “This village is distant and out-of-the-way, and yet County Duke Chen was still able to find your way here. May I ask from where did you hear my whereabouts?”
Chen Gong glanced at Bona and smiled, “I met an old man. He must be this young lady’s grandfather, I assume?”
Bona was alarmed yet still somewhat confused, but Shen Qiao’s expression changed slightly as soon as he heard it. “Whatever you have come here for, make it between us only. There’s no need to pull others into it.”
Chen Gong, on the contrary, comforted him, “Don’t be so nervous. I just wanted to ask him where you were. Since I got the answer already, I won’t do anything to him. The wind is pretty strong out here, not the best place for conversations. Are you not going to invite me in?”
When Bona heard that her grandfather was captured, she almost collapsed. Shen Qiao stretched out a hand to help her. After a brief moment of silence, he said, “Please come in.”
Murong Qin and the others were going to follow behind, but Chen Gong stopped them: “Daoist Priest Shen is a man of honor. He won’t do anything to me. You can wait outside.”
As the number one martial expert of the imperial court of Qi, Murong Qin assumed such arrogance that night in the Beyond Cloud Monastery. But now, he looked timid in front of Chen Gong like a mouse before a cat, acting on each order without an extra word. He cupped his hands at Chen Gong, then brought the others with him to guard the outside.
Chen Gong followed Shen Qiao into the room. He let out a sound of surprise and then smiled, “Where’s Sect Master Yan?”
Shen Qiao didn’t answer. The other person had probably gotten a lot of information from the old man already. After they each took their seat, Shen Qiao directly asked the question, “What has brought you here, County Duke Chen?”
Chen Gong smiled, “We are old acquaintances after all, and you did me a favor before. It would be too brute and inhumane of me to bite the hand that once fed me. Therefore, Daoist Priest Shen doesn’t need to give me that face.”
Shen Qiao replied flatly, “I dare not claim the credit for myself. County Duke Chen has already repaid that small favor with several chests of burgers. If County Duke Chen could show us mercy and agree to release Bona’s grandfather, I will be deeply grateful.”
“He’s doing fine, and I will let him go. There’s no need to worry. When we were in the royal capital, there was something I wanted to talk to you about, but you left in a hurry and disappeared almost immediately after. I had no choice but to take the last resort.”
Shen Qiao didn’t respond.
Chen Gong didn’t mind his cold attitude. After a brief pause, he added, “The reason I came here today is because there is something that I would like to cooperate with Daoist Priest Shen on.”
He then changed the topic, “There’s a rumor out there that Sect Master Yan is dead. I never expected for him to still be alive, much less that you are the one who saved him. From what I know, Yan Wushi treated you very poorly, yet you are willing to forgive him and even requite evil with good. Such a breath of mind is truly admirable!”
Shen Qiao was not someone who liked to satirize others. However, he was triggered by the fact that Chen Gong used the old man as a hostage, and he couldn’t help but reply, “Since there are people who return kindness with ingratitude everywhere in this world, how is requiting evil with good any stranger?”
Chen Gong understood the implied meaning immediately, and his expression changed slightly. But the next moment, he smiled again as if nothing happened, “It’s been a long time since we last saw each other, and Daoist Priest Shen has become quite sharp-tongued. I wonder what those martial experts who ambushed Yan Wushi would do if they knew he was still alive. Daoist Priest Shen’s martial arts skill is admittedly superb, but even if you can fight Yu Ai by yourself, can you deal with Guang Lingsan and Duan Wenyang at the same time? Not to mention that old monk Xueting.”
“Is making such a speech the so-called cooperation County Duke Chen was referring to?”
Chen Gong said, “Of course not. Has Daoist Priest Shen ever heard about Ruoqiang?”
Shen Qiao repeated it twice in his mind. It sounded like a person’s name. He shook his head.
Chen Gong said, “It is stated in The Book of Han – Memoirs of the Western Territories: ‘The first country outside the Yang Pass is called Ruoqiang.’ This small country was later destroyed by Shanshan.”
It was surprising how a person who had been illiterate just last year could now recite from The Book of Han in perfect ease. Even though the emperor of Qi was a muddle-headed ruler, if he were to dote on someone, it must be because there was something extraordinary about him. From this perspective, Chen Gong was indeed worthy of the emperor’s favor.
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything. He quietly waited for the other man to continue.
Chen Gong said, “I’ll be honest with you. Ruoqiang is rich in jade veins. Although it has been destroyed, the ruins of the ancient city are still there. It used to produce in abundance a kind of chalcedony that isn’t seen anywhere else, and I want to find it. As for why I want to collaborate with you, for me, your martial arts skill can be a great help, while for you, there’s another thing that grows around the chalcedony called jade cistanche. It can reconnect fractured bones and muscles and is an amazing remedy for internal injuries. I think Sect Master Yan will need it.”
After he finished, he waited for Shen Qiao to respond in silence.
The room was quiet, except for the occasional sobbing from Bona whose eyes were red-rimmed from crying.
After a long time, Shen Qiao finally said, “You’re afraid that I will refuse to go with you, so you’re keeping Bona’s grandfather somewhere else and using him to threaten me.”
Chen Gong admitted, “That’s right. I don’t know why you saved Yan Wushi. Since he treated you poorly in the past, I’m not sure if you are willing to put yourself at risk for his sake. But from what I know, you’re not the kind of person who can just sit idly and watch innocent people get implicated because of you.”
Shen Qiao said flatly, “Thank you for knowing me so well.”
“So, Daoist Priest Shen has agreed?”
“Do I have any other choice?”
Chen Gong smiled, “Well, you don’t. Relax. That old man is fine. I’ll let him go after we come back.”
“You release him first, and I’ll go with you.”
Chen Gong shook his head and smiled, “That’s not possible. Why would Daoist Priest Shen even say something like that? You will only go with me wholeheartedly when the old man is in my hand. Oh, right. Considering the fact that Sect Master Yan’s health might not be in a good state, I already asked my men to prepare enough food and medicine for him. You don’t need to worry about bringing him along.”
Chen Gong said those words to test Shen Qiao, because he suspected that even if Yan Wushi didn’t die from the joint attack of five great masters, he would at least be disabled. In either case, it would be very difficult for his martial power to recover to the state it was before.
However, Shen Qiao didn’t make any comment and showed no signs of continuing the topic. Chen Gong could only say, “If there’s no other problem, let’s set off early tomorrow morning. I’m sure Murong Qin has already found us a good dwelling for tonight. I’ll go take a rest first and meet you tomorrow. You should have a good rest too. There’s still a long way to go to Ruoqiang. We need to recuperate well and conserve our strength.”
After he finished, Chen Gong got up and left.
“Mister Shen…” Bona looked at Shen Qiao for help.
Shen Qiao finally showed a bitter smile, “I don’t even know how to express my apology to you. This is all because of me. I promise you I will come back soon, and I will make your grandfather return safe and sound as well.”
He took out all of the little money he had left on him. “Take these. Just in case you need it.”
Bona shook her head. “I don’t want it.”
Shen Qiao said softly, “Be good. Stay at home and don’t go far unless you need to. I will definitely bring your grandpa back safely.”
No one could resist being told by Shen Qiao to “be good.” Bona’s heart had been rushing about in distress all this time, but now she gradually calmed down. She didn’t blame Shen Qiao for bringing troubles to her family, because the kind and considerate girl knew that Shen Qiao must be a hundred or even a thousand times more miserable than she was.
She nodded. “You…be careful.”
Shen Qiao smiled at her soothingly and said only four words, “It will be fine.”
Just as Chen Gong expected, Murong Qin had already occupied a relatively cozy house in the village through some unknown means. The original owner was driven out and forced to stay at someone else’s place. All of the villagers avoided these unexpected newcomers like deadly scorpions, but luckily, Chen Gong had no intention to stay for long.
Early the next morning, Murong Qin came to knock on Shen Qiao’s door on Chen Gong’s order.
After the third knock, the door was opened from the inside, and Shen Qiao stepped out with Yan Wushi.
It had been a while since the latter last got up and walked on the ground. His limbs were still quite stiff, plus he was also seriously injured internally and every step he took would stir the wounds. He walked very slowly.
On that night in the Beyond Cloud Monastery, Yan Wushi descended out of the blue and completely destroyed The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Even Murong Qin and the others were greatly humiliated by his venomous slander. At the moment, seeing that the once formidable sect master had lost his power, his face pale and his body eaten up by disease, Murong Qin couldn’t help but delight in the other’s misfortunes. He sneered, “I’m sure Sect Master Yan still remembers the old friends from the Beyond Cloud Monastery. You don’t look so well, do you?”
Murong Qin couldn’t care any less about Yan Wushi who was now a public enemy to the whole world —— every political and martial force could not wait to kill him.
The other person’s face remained impassive. Even his eyes looked like they had just been soaked in well water; the iciness within them could pierce right through people’s bones.
Somehow, being stared at by such a pair of eyes, Murong Qin was unable to spit out more of the unpleasant words he had prepared.
Chen Gong walked over slowly and gracefully, followed by quite a number of people.
He now seemed like a man with great bearing; he was no longer that helpless young boy who was oppressed by his stepmother and ran away from home in resentment. Environments could change a man’s manners, and cultivation could change a man’s inner qualities —— when a person’s status and position changed, it would naturally affect their temperament as well.
“Daoist Priest Shen, are we ready to go?”
Shen Qiao nodded.
Chen Gong said, “We’ll ride on horses first. There’s a small town right before we enter the desert, and we will switch our mount there.”
He looked so relaxed and carefree, not at all worried that Shen Qiao would suddenly turn hostile and take his words back. Because althoughBona’s grandfather was still in his hand, even if Shen Qiao took Chen Gong as a hostage, they would still be outnumbered. In fact, Chen Gong’s men could just grab a random villager as a hostage and Shen Qiao would have no way around it.
Shen Qiao also understood this very well, so he did not act rashly.
“What do you need the chalcedony for?”
Chen Gong laughed, “I thought you would ask me about it yesterday, but you waited until now. The chalcedony is extremely important to me, but the ruins have been deserted for many years. I don’t know what kind of dangers we will face on this trip. More people is more strength. I wasn’t going to choose you at first, but the show you put up in the royal capital gave me a lot of confidence. With Daoist Priest Shen joining us, we will be twice as powerful!”
Shen Qiao said no more. Seeing that the other person led over two horses, he said, “I will share one with him.”
Chen Gong glanced at Yan Wushi, asking, “What kind of injury did Sect Master Yan suffer? He looks a bit stupid. Can’t he even recognize people anymore?”
Yan Wushi replied coldly, “I still recognize you. I just don’t feel like saying nonsense. Do you think playing up to Gao Wei is enough to make you a top dog? In my eyes, you are still just a nobody.”
Chen Gong’s face changed slightly, but he reached out and stopped Tuoba Liangzhe behind him from drawing his sword.
“Sect Master Yan is a true hero, using brave words even when you have fallen into dire straits. I hope you can still make such a speech when the Tujue people and the Buddhist sects know you’re still alive.”
Yan Wushi sneered, “Did Gao Wei only teach you how to work your mouth on his bed? If you are not convinced, feel free to show me what you’ve got.”
Chen Gong frowned. He was a little uncertain and thought it might be that the information he got was wrong. Could it be that Yan Wushi not only survived but wasn’t even injured at all, and that the five masters were all tricked by him?
He knew this was extremely unlikely, but even the strangest things seemed rational and expected when they were related to an evil troublemaker like Yan Wushi.
Not to mention Chen Gong, even Murong Qin and Tuoba Liangzhe were not without fear.
Just like how bigger trees had larger shadows, the greater a person’s fame was, the more protection it provided. The sect master of the Cleansing Moon Sect’s mere existence by just standing there was enough to make everyone question themselves.
As the old saying stated, only evil people were capable of tormenting other evildoers. Shen Qiao could never achieve this no matter how strong he was.
Chen Gong didn’t waste too much time. With a single wave, everyone got on their horses and was ready to set off.
Shen Qiao let Yan Wushi get on the horse first, while he himself sat in front of the other person to steer the horse.
A dozen or so horses slowly trotted on the road. Wind and sand covered their voices, and it became all the more difficult to talk, because as soon as they opened their mouth, they could taste sand.
No one liked eating sand, so they all nuzzled their chins into their breasts and only communicated with hand gestures.
Yan Wushi tightly wrapped his arms around Shen Qiao’s waist from behind, his chest right up against Shen Qiao’s back. He moved his mouth next to Shen Qiao’s ears and said softly, “Ah-Qiao, are you satisfied with how I handled it?”
As soon as Shen Qiao heard that gentle tone, he knew it wasn’t the “normal” Yan Wushi.
He noticed that he had been sighing more often these days than ever before. “Is it Xie Ling?”
Yan Wushi was a little surprised. “How do you know that my old name is Xie Ling?”
Shen Qiao found himself speechless.