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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Joy of Life: Volume 1 Chapter 4

Volume One: The City by the Sea
-- written by Maoni

Chapter 4: Late Night Visitor

“Are you thinking about something?”
The little girl sitting by Fan Xian’s right hand side asked with pouted lips while the two servant girls were busy setting up the dinner table. The little girl was a bit skinny and had somewhat darkish skin. Sitting right next to Fan Xian, whose face was almost as pretty as a girl, the little girl appeared even more pitiful.
Fan Xian reached out and rubbed the yellowish hair on the little girl’s head.
“I am thinking about what kind of tasty food you get to eat every day in the Capital City,” he grinned.
The little girl was the daughter of the Count of Southernland, Fan Xian’s younger sister. They shared the same biological father but had different mothers. Her name was Ruo-Ruo.
She had always been feeble since birth. The Old Madam loved her granddaughter very much, so she sent for her a year ago and kept her in Danzhou for recuperation. A year had already gone by and there still wasn’t much of an improvement. The hair on her head still looked sparse. Born into the family of a government official, she never lacked warm clothing or good food. Her symptoms must have resulted from premature labor, not malnutrition.
Fan Xian found himself quite fond of the little girl. Even though he dealt with her using the attitude of an uncle, treating her as an adorable little kid, playing with her, telling her stories, in everyone else’s eyes, such an attitude became the clear proof of a loving brother-sister relationship.
Nevertheless, due to Fan Xian’s awkward status – a baseborn son, which is very different from a legitimate daughter – the servant girls intentionally avoided mentioning anything regarding the other Count’s Manor in the Capital City.
Since the brother asked, the little girl sincerely started counting with her fingers the tasty things she had enjoyed back in the Capital City. The memory of a three-year-old is surely quite limited, so all she did was to repeat candied haws[1] and dough figurines[2].
It was quite late when dinner was over. The setting sun was already half hidden by the other side of the continent, and the dense twilight began to envelop the entire manor.
“Alas! Ruo-Ruo, you are indeed a Weak-Weak[3]!”
“Brother is teasing again!”
“Alright, alright! What story would you like to hear today?”
“Snow White.”
A big grin suddenly appeared on Fan Xian’s face out of nowhere. Luckily there was no one else around; otherwise one would be shocked to spot such a queer grin only capable by grown-ups appearing on the face of a four year old boy.
“How about a ghost story?”
“No! I don’t want it.” Fan Ruo-Ruo was quite frightened, shaking her head vigorously. Tears quickly formed around her eyes and two streams of tears soon rolled down her darkish face. Evidently, she had been tormented by ghost stories many times in the past year.
Teasing this little girl was only one of Fan Xian’s many vulgar hobbies. What he was best at was bantering with those servant girls. He frequently told ghost stories to those youthful blossoming girls, who always ended up jostling tightly into each other’s embraces screaming and shivering on top of the bed.
Although it was out of the question for Fan Xian to flirt with the young girls vocally for the sake of concealing his true self, he always enjoyed the sweet and tender hugs at these times.
He would always reassure himself with the argument that as a young kid, he was still in a phase where touching was very desirable. So what he did was completely normal and warranted, not something shameful.
Every time the servant girls became curious as to how he could have known so many terrifying stories, Fan Xian would always make his teacher liable. The direct result was that all the servant girls now eyed the teacher with a disgruntled look. “The Count is paying a handsome salary for you to give lessons to the Young Master, yet you teach him ghost stories. It is already evil to scare a little kid, but it is even more evil to scare us, the blossoming flowers.”
After the usual evening ghost story telling was over, the two servant girls, still carrying a mixture of frightened yet satisfied looks, attended to the little guy’s evening hygiene routines and then shut the door to let him sleep.
It seemed to be just another ordinary night.
Fan Xian pushed the hard and uncomfortable porcelain headrest[4] to the side, and then took out a winter robe from the chest of drawers. Folding it into a nice rectangular shape, he made himself a “pillow”.
He rested his head against the “pillow”, but his two eyes remained open. They shined dimly in the dark night as he remained awake for a long time.
He had accepted the fact that he was reborn into this world, but he was still not used to the customs. It should have been around nine o’clock in the evening, and it was not a comfortable feeling to sleep so early. Besides, he had already slept too much on the sickbed in his previous life.
He stroked the surface of the bed board with his hand and felt better with the conclusion that no one could easily spot the secret casing he had made. As he became more relaxed, naturally, the inner energy inside him began to circulate gradually and he slowly approached the state of meditative trance.
“What kind of life should I live in this world? And how should I spend the next few decades? Maybe I’ll even have many wives and concubines like an ordinary noble man,” Fan Xian’s mind wandered.
Just on the edge of entering the emptiness of mind, Fan Xian was suddenly awoken by an unannounced visitor.
……
……
“Are you Fan Xian?”
A man appeared by his bed all of a sudden. With a grain of abnormal brown in the pupils, his eyes only showed the coldest apathy, clearly indicating his indifference to life.
The question was actually asked nicely. But if such a question was asked by someone who had sneaked into your bedroom at midnight, wearing a mask on his face, holding a dagger in his hand, with a few small bags pinned to his waist, the question could be very terrifying.
If Fan Xian had been a real four-year-old boy, he would surely have screamed on the top of his lungs at the first sight of this queer uncle.
Even if he did all his thinking with his toes Fan Xian could still comprehend that a night traveler capable of sneaking into the Count’s Manor without triggering any alarms had to be someone with high caliber Kung Fu and very possibly, a cruel mind. If he had made any attempt to scream, most likely the man would not hesitate to break his neck in a split second.
At that thought, Fan Xian couldn’t help but feel quite pleased with his calmness. Working hard to suppress the growing uneasiness, he cleared his throat gently. Then putting on the most lovely baby face he could manage, he threw himself forward!
……
……
“Daddy, you are finally home!”
The four-year-old boy dove into the assassin’s arms, tears streaming, and held onto his waist tightly. But the boy’s arms were too short and could not completely circle around the waist. So instead, he grabbed the man’s robe tightly as though he was afraid the man would just suddenly disappear.
Perhaps the boy used too much strength when grabbing the robe, with a tearing sound, a strip of the robe came off.
The man frowned. Without any obvious movement, he suddenly freed himself from Fan Xian’s hug, and then just stood there, dumbstruck, as if he was still trying to work on why this baseborn son of the Count of Southernland had called him Daddy.
Meanwhile, he was also very puzzled. His robe was the top of the line gear of the Bureau. Even a knife wouldn’t have easily cut through it. How was the young kid able to easily tear it apart?
Fan Xian was even more baffled, so much so that he felt as though his heart began to bleed – during times when he managed to be alone, he had always experimented with the power of the nameless inner energy inside him using rocks in the rockwork hill in the courtyard. When he found out that he could almost manage to crush those not-too-hard rocks into bits and pieces with his tender little fingers, he started building some confidence in his self-defense ability.
That wasn’t an easy task to lower the man’s guard with the tears of a four-year-old. Directing all the inner energy to his fingers, Fan Xian thought he had a pretty good chance to subdue his opponent. But who could have imaged that all he was able to achieve was to tear a few strips off the man’s robe.
Something big was bound to happen now.


[1] http://www.lannyland.com/jol/TangHuLu.jpg
[2] http://www.lannyland.com/jol/MianRenEr.jpg
[3] The Chinese character for “weak” has the same pronunciation as the character in the girl’s name.
[4] Typical in ancient China before pillow was invented.


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