Chapter 8: The current Shen Qiao is not the whole Shen Qiao
When Shen Qiao woke up, he saw an old beam above his head. Rotting for years, it seemed ready to fall down at any moment.
Someone next to him was shaking him by his shoulders.
Unable to determine where he was at the moment, he murmured subconsciously, “Junior martial brother, stop it.”
“Who’s your junior martial brother?” Chen Gong was not in a good mood. “You slept for a good two days! I spent all of my money paying for you, but it was still not enough, so I took yours for now. Even that was only just enough for three days. If we can’t pay by tomorrow, they’ll drive us out! Then we have to go back to living in the shabby temple!”
Shen Qiao answered with an “oh” and spaced out for quite some time, staring at the beam across the roof with blank eyes. Chen Gong had no idea what he was looking at.
It irked him to see Shen Qiao acting in such a way, as if nothing in this world concerned him. He could not help but to give Shen Qiao’s shoulder another push. “Say something at least! Stop staring! We are now staying in an inn! I was afraid that they’d come back for revenge, so I moved you out of that shabby temple. I even invited a doctor for you. The doctor said that your qi was … umm … stag-something and there was …. errmm … some kind of coldness inside your body–a very difficult situation anyway–and wrote a lot of prescriptions. I even spent all of my money on them!”
Shen Qiao composed himself and replied, “Tell him to stop prescribing medicine. They are useless. It’s my body, so I know, it’s not something that can be cured in such a short time.”
“What’s the use of saying that now? I already brought the medicine back. Do you think it’d be possible to return it?!”
“Oh, then forget about it.”
Chen Gong switched to a half-squatting position, bringing himself to Shen Qiao’s eye level. “Hey! Since your skills are so good, how about we go perform martial arts on the streets for a living? Or we might as well join the Six Harmonies Association. There is a Sub-Hall of their sect right here in this district. With your martial arts skills, there’s no doubt you’ll find a good position. You can bring me in together with you at that time…”
Shen Qiao asked, “What is the Six Harmonies Association?”
Meeting Shen Qiao’s vacant and innocent eyes, Chen Gong had no choice but to hold back his temper and explain patiently, “It’s a sect that does business on both land and water. Their main business on land is the convoying of goods. I’ve heard that they gather information for others as well. In short … Anyway, it’s this big sect that’s really amazing! I got to know about this only because I happened to hear other people talking about it. What do you think? Let’s go join the Six Harmonies Association! Then you won’t have to go fortune telling everyday, and I won’t need to carry rice sacks either!”
By the end of his explanation, he had already grown excited.
Shen Qiao shook his head. “I have told you before that I can’t remember much. That move last night was nothing more than a flash of intuition. Not to mention that my eyes are bad, what job can I get even if I go? It would be better to stay quiet and continue to make money here.”
This sentence was like a bucket of cold water dumped on Chen Gong–even his smile was completely washed away.
Although Shen Qiao was unable to see clearly, he could still sense the boy’s dismay. “You are still young. Don’t dwell on how to accomplish things with just one move. We are not people in the pugilistic world. Hastily joining a martial sect like this without knowing its rules and customs, don’t you find it inappropriate?”
Chen Gong was very unhappy. “I don’t know what is ‘inappropriate’. I only know that the money I make from carrying rice sacks everyday is not enough to even pay for our rent. Filling the prescription costs money. Food also costs money. Sure! You are the noble and virtuous one! But will money just come to us out of nowhere? It’s not like I steal or rob. Don’t make it sound like I have nothing else to do besides dreaming about money falling on my head everyday… Hey! Hey! What’s wrong? Don’t freak me out! All I did was to chide you a little!”
Holding his head with both hands, Shen Qiao waited till the burst of pain had passed before he slowly said, “I won’t go to the Six Harmonies Association. I’m going to Mount Xuandu.”
Chen Gong asked curiously, “Mount Xuandu? Where is that?”
Having grown up in the Funing District without ever receiving an education, his knowledge was quite limited. The reason that he had heard of the Six Harmonies Association was that it had a Sub-Hall right in this district. As for the other sects, he knew little of them.
For him, the pugilistic world was just too far out of reach.
Shen Qiao shook his head without a word and started spacing out again.
Chen Gong complained snappishly, “Hey! Say something at least! I used my own money for the doctor and your medicine! Don’t tell me that you’re not going to pay me back!”
Shen Qiao assured, “I will set up a fortune telling stall in the next few days just like before. It won’t take long before I can pay you back.”
Seeing that he had zero interest in turning to the Six Harmonies Association, Chen Gong could not help but to feel dispirited. Having nothing but the little strength he gained from carrying rice sacks, who would even spare him a glance without Shen Qiao?
“What kind of place is Mount Xuandu?”
He was so pissed off that he almost thought that Shen Qiao would be the death of him, “Bullshit! Of course I know it’s a mountain! I’m asking you why you would want to go there!”
“I don’t know either. Someone said that I came from there, so I want to go back to see.”
“Where is that mountain?”
“Near the tri-border between Qi, Zhou, and Chen.”
Chen Gong was shocked, “THAT far? Then how did you end up here, all the way from there?”
Shen Qiao felt a bit of helplessness as he explained again, “Didn’t I tell you before? I forgot a lot of things. Even now, I still haven’t recalled them all yet. If I knew the reason, why would I still say something like going back to check?”
Chen Gong thought for a moment and suggested, “How about this? I’ll go together with you. You don’t have to pay me back either, as long as you can teach me a few moves so that I can bring down six or seven guys like you. After we arrive at Chen Dynasty, I’ll go join the Six Harmonious Association, and you’ll go to your Mount Xuandu. What do you think?”
Shen Qiao asked, “Funing District is your hometown. This is a peaceful place that is rarely exposed to warfare, somewhere distinctly different from the outside world. I’m heading all the way to the west. The closer we get to the border between Qi and Zhou, the more chaotic it will become. I have no other choice, but why should you go on such a dangerous journey?”
Chen Gong kept a straight face as he answered, “Both of my parents are dead, and my house was taken by the children of my stepmom. Rather than staying here, carrying rice sacks in Funing District, it’s better for me to go find a way to make a living out there. Didn’t you say that I’m suitable for joining the army? Then at least I have to get to places where wars break out often and soldiers are urgently needed in order to join one, right? I don’t want to live my whole life like this, being a coward so useless that even beggars can bully and look down on me!”
Shen Qiao fell into silence for a moment. Then he conceded, “Fine then…”
His sentence had barely started, but Chen Gong had already knelt down right before his bed with a plop. “Esteemed Master, please accept this bow of respect from your disciple!”
“…” The corner of Shen Qiao’s mouth twitched a bit, as he was torn between crying and laughing. “You may get up. I don’t take disciples, and I can’t take disciples. As for the moves I know now, since I might not be able to remember them completely, I can only teach you the ones I do recall at most. I don’t even know myself whether they are effective, so there’s no need to take me as your Master.”
Hearing these words, Chen Gong quickly got up and said outright, “Alright. But you’re older than me, so I’ll call you ‘elder brother’ from now on. If someone bullies me again, you’ll have to step up for me!”
Shen Qiao only smiled. Without replying, he spaced out again.
Chen Gong looked at him speechlessly for a moment. Seeing that he showed no sign of snapping out of it, he had no choice but to turn around and leave for now.
Shen Qiao had been seriously injured during his fall from the cliff. It was true that his condition was utterly dangerous back then, since all of his bones were broken, but these injuries had more or less recovered during the three months of recuperation in the spare mansion.
The parts that were truly damaged all the way to the fundamentals were his internal organs and martial arts, with the latter almost completely vanished during that accident. Since he was left with nothing at the moment except fragmented memories and a half-crippled body, recovery was easier said than done.
Were it to happen to any other people, this would be a blow not much less compared to a thunderbolt. However, during the time when Shen Qiao and Chen Gong stayed together, Chen Gong was the one actually getting mad most of the time.
The two of them did not go back to the shabby temple. Instead, they bargained with the innkeeper for a good price and rented straight for a month. During the month, Shen Qiao continued his fortune telling in front of Duke Jiang Temple; Chen Gong carried on with his temporary job of carrying rice sacks, while at night he would study martial arts under Shen Qiao. His foundation and aptitude were good, so after a month, his moves actually resembled those of a real martial artist. But without the help of inner qi, it was just an empty shell after all–enough for handling normal bullies and rogues but useless if he were to run into real martial artists.
When the month ended, Shen Qiao and Chen Gong left Funing District and set out on a journey to the west.
Ever since he had left the spare mansion, Shen Qiao had not seen Yu Shengyan and the others again. Even though Funing District was not far from the spare mansion he had previously lived in, at the fortune telling stall he set up at Duke Jiang Temple, all that he heard and saw everyday was market activities which could not possibly be more mundane and commoners who could not possibly be more ordinary
The martial world seemed extremely far away to him, so far that sometimes Shen Qiao felt there was no need for him to go to Mount Xuandu. Spending the rest of his life in Funing District would not be a bad choice actually.
Nevertheless, the occasional faint tightness in his chest , the stabbing pains in his bones, which were just reconnected not long ago, during cloudy and rainy days, the past that flashed across his mind, and the inner qi that roamed all over his limbs and bones from time to time, all reminded him– the current Shen Qiao was still not the whole Shen Qiao.
To the west of Funing District was Huai Prefecture. It was a large prefecture and was also close to Zhou, thus the security there was tight. Since the Regional Inspector  of Huai Prefecture was usually directly appointed by the Emperor, in addition to Inspecting Censors frequently coming over for inspection tours, the area was often under martial law.
The world had stayed divided for a long time already, but the countries issued no prohibitions on border trades between each other. Yet the Regional Inspector of Huai Profecture, Shen Buyi, was the only one who handled matters strangely. After he took office, he immediately ordered closure of all mutual trade districts along the border between the two countries and that merchants who were caught participating in the mutual trades would be severely punished without exceptions. He also reported to the Emperor, claiming that the mutual trade districts were easily accessible means for the spies of Zhou to sneak in and investigate the layout of the border defense of Qi. He even suggested to close mutual trades in other regions of Qi as well. Even though the Emperor of Qi, Gao Wei, did not adopt his proposal, he still highly praised Shen Buyi’s loyalty and even issued a decree in recognition of it.
Not only did Shen Buyi overextend himself in government affairs, he also excessively fawned on the high officials and nobles of Qi. As a result, often someone from the Emperor’s inner ministerial circle would speak on his behalf, which was the very reason he was able to ascend from a petty District Defender, all the way to the Sir Governor  now of an entire prefecture, striding on the road of success.
Considering the high expenses if they were to enter the city, Chen Gong and Shen Qiao decided to put up in the monastery outside the city instead, and then enter the city to resupply the next day. This way, they could leave the city and be off on the road again by afternoon.
The name of the monastery was Beyond Clouds Monastery. It was called a monastery, though in fact it was not much better than the shabby temple they stayed previously in Funing District. There were only three monks in it: an old monk who was the abbot, and two little monks that were adopted by him.
The monastery was rather humble with only two side rooms. One of them was for the elder abbot, while the other one was for the two little monks. Besides these two rooms, a common sleeping quarter  was all it had.
Chen Gong was used to living a hard life. In that shabby temple in Funing District, not to mention common sleeping quarters, there wasn’t even a blanket. So for him, the current condition here was already great. Shen Qiao was rather easy going and took things as they came, thus he naturally had no complaints.
Only after they entered the common sleeping quarter, did they find out that another group had arrived before them. It was a group of four young men, and they had two huge chests inside the room with them.
Chen Gong held a hostility and wariness towards strangers, therefore it was not likely for him to open his mouth just to scrape up an acquaintance with them. Shen Qiao’s eyes were not good; even if he wanted to greet them, he could barely see clearly what they looked like. The four people had no intention for a closer relationship either. They sized Chen Gong and Shen Qiao up and down inconspicuously, and after seeing their unsteady steps  and plain clothes, they paid no further attention to them.
Not long after, the two little monks came over, carrying their beddings in their hands.
With two additional people, the common sleeping quarter that was not very big in the first place, appeared even more crowded.
Displeased from deep down, Chen Gong was unable to hold back his mutterings: “Six people is already a lot, yet now there are two more!”
The little monk heard it and whispered to him, “Benefactor, there was a young lady among the benefactors over there. Since it would be inconvenient for her to rest in the same room with us, we left the side room to her. After all, to help others is to help oneself.”
Women would certainly stay seperated by themselves, so Chen Gong could not say anything else in spite of him not feeling happy about it. By then, he noticed that those four people all carried weapons on them, he dared open his mouth even less. However, as he stole a glance from the corner of his eye, he seemed to have discovered something all of a sudden and was incessantly excited. Taking the opportunity when leaving for dinner, he pulled Shen Qiao closer and whispered, “Did you see? Those guys are from the Six Harmonious Association! I saw the symbol of the association on their clothes and those chests! It’s exactly the same as the one in Funing District!”
Shen Qiao responded with a smile, “Since my eyes are not good, how could I see?”
Chen Gong’s excitement was not affected in the least. “If I find a chance to strike up a conversation with them, and they end up feeling pleased with me, do you think that they will agree to let me join the Six Harmonious Association?”
Shen Qiao knew that Chen Gong yearned wholeheartedly to join the Six Harmonious Association. Even after they had traveled such a long distance, his original intention had not changed.
He slowly responded, “I think it would be the best for you to not try.”
 Regional Inspector (刺史 cishi): a regular supervisory post intended to provide disciplinary surveillance over personnel in all units of territorial administration in a geographically prefixed Region.
 Sir Governor (使君 shijun): An honorific title given to the officials of a region.
 Common Sleeping Quarter (通铺 tongpu): basically a big wide wooden plank bed that allows multiple people to sleep together on it side by side.
 Unsteady Steps: An expression indicating they have no inner qi in them.