Chapter 11: Gift of a Hairpin
Recently, Fang Hua’s movements had gotten more eccentric.
His expression looked very suspicious too…
Typically, he’d stay in the house fiddling with medicinal plants, or adjusting some things with his weird and fantastic pills. He’d only take a trip every half month to visit the markets to buy some rice. Sometimes he’d bring back a pair of ducks or chickens and let them loose in the courtyard until life ran its course, feeding them grains on occasion.
I was grateful for such actions…
After all, he still remembered that these animals had different tastes than himself.
Sometimes I wondered what would happen if he never took me in. Maybe he’d never leave his house and just guard the plants and flowers for the rest of his life. He’d never talk with ordinary people, much less go bargain-shopping for groceries.
I remember when I first arrived, he rarely talked. For half a year, the words I spoke with him didn’t add up past ten sentences. It was as if ignoring people was routine for him, as if he was a noble figure who live outside the realm of mortals.
This piece of land rarely saw humans. We had no neighbors for hundreds of li in four directions. The house was surrounded by a bamboo forest: clean and quiet, elegant and calm, a good place to live in seclusion.
In the past, I used to think our meeting at the run-down temple was a simple coincidence. When the Fang Hua of that time met the pitiful me, with no one else to depend on, he must have been looking to adopt a child and nothing more.
But I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
Fang Hua naturally preferred quiet, and didn’t seek fame or fortune. He always descended the mountain with a fixed goal in mind. That time when we met–was it serendipity, or intentional?
I couldn’t tell anymore. After that serious illness in my youth, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. How would he know my birthday, or my age? It was really weird.
I’ve thought too much…now everything’s tangled up…
My brain seized up and my eyelids felt heavy. My entire person wanted to sleep. Sprawled on the stone table, I yawned as I stared at the tightly shut door, spacing out. Fang Hua kept going out these past days, so it was rare to see him. Sheesh, he’s such a hard guy to understand…
Suddenly, there was a noise from the door. I gave a start and woke up half-way, getting to my feet.
A figure appeared outside the gate, his shallow red robes covered with dust. But it was still hard to take one’s eyes away from the sight. His expression looked somewhat tired and sleepy as he stared blankly in my direction. “Shao’er, what are you doing still standing there? Shouldn’t you be soaking in your herbal bath?”
I wanted to ask where he went, but the words didn’t come. I only said in a low voice, “I’ve already heated up the water, but I forgot which medicinal plants I should add in again…”
He smiled. “It is a little complicated, though I’ve told you plenty of times already. Look at what kind of memory you have.”
Actually, my memory was very good…
By listening and watching, I’d grasped the general properties and types of all sorts of medicines. But since I knew them so well…I also understood which combinations of plants had no effects on me.
Lowering my head, I followed along behind him. I listlessly brought over some hot water and poured it into the tub. I watched him lift up his sleeves and pluck a few herbs, considering them inch by inch as he added them into the water.
I bit my lip…
They were all ingredients to help a person relax and adjust their breathing, and had no use whatsoever for eliminating poisons. There were a few plants that were unfamiliar, but I secretly tasted some a while back and found them raw and astringent. They turned my tongue numb and made my insides churn.
I didn’t know what those two leaves were called either, only that they were very difficult to find in this world.
But…after spending so long soaking in this mix of plants, my skin was as dark as ever, so I began to lose interest. I stole a glance at Fang Hua, who was diligently moving his sleeves aside to reach into the water and test the temperature.
“Your body is weaker than a typical boy’s so I can’t use stronger medicine on you. This poison has stayed in the body for so many years that it’s not something we can get rid of quickly. Making your own body harmonious is the first step. If you don’t have any internal energy then it’s impossible. During these days, you should soak in these herbs more often until you acquire Qi and your posture improves. Then I’ll use a different method to expel the poison.”
Wait a minute…
What did he just say?
This tub of water is for me to increase my internal energy?
“Soaking one day in here is equal to cultivating five years. It’s something that plenty of martial artists can’t even dream of accomplishing.” And he said this all in such a casual tone.
I’m going to go nuts…
Why didn’t you say so earlier! I thought it was weird! These days, I’d feel some sort of Qi surging around inside me whenever I closed my eyes…looks like it was internal energy.
I immediately bent down to undo my sash and robes before I halted, suddenly aware of a certain detail. I looked over with a dumbfounded stare. “Yifu, why aren’t you leaving yet?”
“I’ll help you wash your back.”
It’s fine, I don’t need that!
Two hours later, I walked out with my head bathed in steam. Fang Hua was drinking tea at the stone table, smiling as he waved towards me. I lightly stepped over, furiously shaking my hair. He shook as I splashed him all over with water.
“How unruly. Did you take a bath or just wash your hair? You didn’t even dry it first, be careful you don’t catch a chill.”
I was ridiculously happy.
Just thinking that I’d gained five years’ worth of internal energy made my face split open in a grin. He couldn’t help but sigh before standing up, taking a cloth out from who-knows-where to cover up my head. Those warm and gentle fingers slowly rubbed it dry.
It’s really comfortable.
“Yifu, you said Shao’er would get a gift at fifteen years.” I leaned back and fell into his torso, rubbing the damp hair against his robes. Clutching his sleeves, I brazenly asked, “Where’s Shao’er’s present?”
He couldn’t help but smile as he dug inside his sleeves, pulling out an object that he placed in my palms.
It was neither made of wood nor jade, but something blood-red in hue, finely polished to a simple yet elegant shape. A nostalgic scent wafted from my fingers as I caressed it gently, but I couldn’t recall what it was.
“Do you like it?”
“Un.” The pattern was simple and unsophisticated, as if it had been handmade.
“You’ve almost come of age, so you shouldn’t wear your hair loose all the time. Tie your hair up nowadays, you’ll look more energetic.”
“What kind of wood is this made from?”
It didn’t seem like it…
Do you think I’m stupid, that’s even more impossible.
It’s weird, this feel really familiar. I’ve definitely smelled this scent somewhere else.
“…this…I’ll tell you in the future, don’t just sniff it blindly.”
He reached out from behind me to take my hair, wiping his hands on my robes before coiling it two or three times. Then he took the hairpin from me, hesitated a moment, and said, “Shao’er stayed with yifu for so many years. You must be lonely.”
I was suddenly seized with panic before I could react. My scalp hurt, and when I touched my head…
My hair didn’t even get to dry before he tied it up. The air was so humid. If you tied up half-wet hair like this, you’d grow lice!
Fang Hua had never called himself yifu in front of me. That was the first time, which was why I was so surprised and forgot to reply him. Before I turned fifteen years old, I thought I would live with yifu for the rest of my life. But I was wrong.
It was when he appeared.
The second day after Fang Hua gave me the hairpin, he calmly followed Fang Hua back. He was tall and slender and straight as a ramrod, dressed in a robe adorned with plum blossom branches that made him seem seven parts elegant and three parts heroic. He looked a bit older than me, and his every moment was graceful and noble. From a long way off, he spotted me with a clear smile.
He said, Shao Hua, I know you.
He said, Shao Hua, I’ll be living here now with you and Fang Hua.
Nobody had ever called me by my full name before. Yet I remained staring fixedly at one point. His slender white hand held Fang Hua’s, the ten fingers closed together, but Fang Hua just smiled and said nothing.
The rain fell as a fine drizzle, the mist covered waters surrounded us for tens of thousands of li, the sun began to set.
A single strand of the willow tree, a single measure of feelings.
-o- [Most up to date translations for this series can be found on volaretranslations.]li (?) ?a traditional Chinese unit of distance approximately half a mile, or 500 meters long. qi (?) ?air, chi, energy that circulates within the body, etc. Chinese medicine believes in treating qi to gain a healthy body.