Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
Return journey (1)
Zhang Xiaohu pondered for a moment and his face returned to its usual colour, he smiled and said, “No problem, station head Luo, I am still inexperienced and have overlooked this matter. I didn’t realize that my younger brother’s arrival would cause so much trouble to the team. In that case, Zhang Xiaohua will stay in my room, and I will report the other expenses to the bookkeeper so he can record the expenses separately, and I shall settle the outstanding amount after we return to the escort station again.”
Station head Luo smiled and said, “That would be best, deputy station head Zhang. Do not misunderstand me, these details are something that we leaders have to take note of in order for other people to not question our ethics and methods. If not, it will not be good when they turned in their complaints to the station. I am not attacking you personally so I hope you do not get offended.”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled and replied, “Why would I blame you, you are doing this for my own good. I would still need station head to remind me on more of such matters in the future. Alright, I shall take my leave now if there is nothing else.”
Station head Luo smiled as he waved his hands, “There are no others matters, I feel assured when you are in charge. It has been hard on you during this trip, I will let fourth master Wen know of your effort when we return.”
Zhang Xiaohu hurriedly cupped his fists and said, “Station head Luo is the person who has put in the most work, I dare not claim his efforts to be mine.”
After finishing his sentence, Zhang Xiaohu hurriedly exited the main room.
As station head Luo watched Zhang Xiaohu’s back as the latter left, the smile on his face turned into a scornful smirk.
After Zhang Xiaohu left the room, he first announced the matter of their planned departure back to Pingyang city to the rest and instructed them to make their own preparations. Everyone was ecstatic upon hearing the news and they whooped in joy before scattering back to their respective rooms.
Zhang Xiaohu waited for everyone to finish their celebration before he called the bookkeeper in front of them and told him to keep a separate record of his younger brother’s expenses in the book from the until they returned to Pingyang city.
The bookkeeper was surprised, he asked, “Head Zhang’er, why bother doing this?”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled and said, “My younger brother joined us by coincidence and have added pressure to our finances, his food and accommodation will be unfairly borne by our brother’s hard earned money, so it is better if you keep a separate account so I can settle his expenses with the escort station when we return.”
The bookkeeper was still confused and he continued, “He is only a child so how much additional expense will he bring to us? I don’t think there is a need to do this.”
The surrounding people were also confused, and Yuan Changqing even said loudly, “Don’t bother, head Zhang’er, Zhang Xiaohua is not just your younger brother, he is also all of our little brother, so who cares if he eats or drinks a little here? Why do we need to draw a separate line? It makes us look distant instead.”
Zhang Xiaohu only smiled as he looked at the rest but he still instructed the bookkeeper to keep a separate account.
The courtyard was not large so Zhang Xiaohua who was in the room could still overhear their conversation. When Zhang Xiaohu returned to his room, he hurriedly asked the former, “Second brother, what is the matter? Have I caused you trouble by coming here?”
Zhang Xiaohu pinched his little face and said, “It’s nothing, aren’t you just giving us only a little more expenses to bear? Not to mention all the silvers that you harvested from yesterday, wouldn’t Huanxi mountain villa provide its employees additional allowance for outside journeys? Just give them the extra money instead of inviting any unwanted idle talk.”
“Oh…” Zhang Xiaohu became enlightened and he said, “Did station head Luo say this, why is he so picky?”
Zhang Xiaohu patted Zhang Xiaohua’s head and said lovingly, “You are still young, wait till you grow older and you will understand naturally by then.”
Zhang Xiaohua nodded thoughtfully, his mind was quick to realize the situation even though Zhang Xiaohu did not reveal much. Since the matter was raised up, how could he not understand what happened?
Unfortunately, he did not really come for a mission so he was unsure if the mountain villa would provide an allowance for him. If there wasn’t any, he would have to take a portion of his savings and give it to Lotus escort, and just the thought of it made his heart ache, so he felt rather displeased with the station head.
How could Zhang Xiaohua be the only person who was unhappy with the station head? Everyone in the courtyard who had heard Zhang Xiaohu’s words were at first curious, so they asked the bookkeeper secretly seeing that Zhang Xiaohu was unwilling to elaborate. Hence, it did not take much effort for them to figure out the truth, and many of them scolded station head Luo severely in their hearts while feeling more admiration towards Zhang Xiaohu, and thus, their opinion of these two leaders differed even more.
The following days were ordinary, Zhang Xiaohua did not dare to step out of the courtyard since he had to pay for his own expenses, what a joke, how could he bear to do so?
Actually, the real reason why Zhang Xiaohua stayed indoors was because he had been alone outside in the wilderness for a while, so he could not bear to leave the company of the team after finding them with so much difficulties. Furthermore, where could he go in this chilly weather? Look for flowers in the snow-filled mountains? Please, Zhang Xiaohua just returned from there, why would he want to go back so soon?
Furthermore, Zhang Xiaohua recently stirred some trouble in town so Zhang Xiaohu was honestly afraid that the other party would return for revenge, so he nagged at Zhang Xiaohua to persuade him to stay within the confines of the station.
Zhang Xiaohua liked this kind of lifestyle as well, when he had nothing to do in the morning, afternoon and evening, he would practice his fist martial arts in the courtyard. There were many delivery hands who were doing the same thing in the courtyard as well so Zhang Xiaohua did not attract much attention, but as for elder Yu’s sword martial art, Zhang Xiaohua could not practice it so he would wave his small sword around in the privacy of Zhang Xiaohu’s room instead.
The thing that made Zhang Xiaohua happiest was that at the bookkeeper’s room, he found many travel journals that described the affairs of faraway places. Zhang Xiaohua felt as though he picked up a treasure and begged with his life to borrow them to read, and the bookkeeper who had not read them himself gave in despite being reluctant initially. Hence, Zhang Xiaohua would read the journals at times and practice his martial arts when he felt bored.
While Zhang Xiaohua was idling away, Zhang Xiaohu was kept busier instead as almost all the matters in the escort team were handled by him. As for station head Luo, he became a taichi master who would redirect most of the work to him, so Zhang Xiaohu was naturally busy like hell and out most of the times to discuss the matters relating to the activation of the escort team with the merchant client, so much so that even Zhang Xiaohua would not see him often.
However, Zhang Xiaohua had one thing he was jealous of his brother. Zhang Xiaohu would not practice his martial arts the way he would anymore, every night when the former returned back to his room, he would sit down in a lotus position and start to meditate. While Zhang Xiaohu was practicing his inner energy techniques, Zhang Xiaohua would daze at a corner not daring to disturb the former. But for most of the times, Zhang Xiaohu would wait for Zhang Xiaohua to fall asleep before he practiced his martial arts.
After working so busily for those few days, everyone in the escort team had finally packed their belongings and the discussion with the merchant had come to a close. On that particular day, the homesick people in the escort station finally saw the day when they would set off back to Pingyang city.
It was a bright and sunny day and even though the snow had yet to melt, the wind which came from the north was no longer as chilly, so it was the perfect day to begin their journey.
At the entrance of the small courtyard, the escort team’s belongings filled up four carriages fully to the brim, while at the side of the procession was many horses. Zhang Xiaohua placed his second brother’s belongings inside a carriage and looked enviously at the escorts and delivery hands who were standing beside the horses. After such a long time, he has yet to experience riding on a horse yet.
Not long later, some horses rushed over from the alley, and they were indeed Zhang Xiaohu and the rest who had escorted their merchant client over to the carriages. There were more carriages from the merchant’s side and the total procession added up to around twenty carriages. Hence, the two groups formed into a large one, and after some check calls, the whole procession began to move.
Although Zhang Xiaohua would have his meals and activities in the courtyard, he didn’t realize that there were so many people until right before they were about to depart when he counted dozens of people from the escort team.
Right then, it was Zhang Xiaohu and his team who were leading the way to scout in advance while most part of the procession was guarded by station head leader Luo and the other bodyguards. Around the carriages which belonged to the merchant which contained their products were small triangular flags with the word “Lotus” embroidered on them. As for the end of the procession, it was where Zhang Xiaohu and the other delivery hands were located, and apart from the bookkeeper and a few helpers, most of the rest were riding on the horses while bearing weapons on their waist looking awe-inspiring.
Even though there were many people and carriages, everyone was disciplined so there was no disorder at all. Not long later, the procession left the small town and was travelling on the highway. Zhang Xiaohua initially thought that with such a large procession and many carriages, movement would become cumbersome and slow but he was proven wrong as the speed of their advance was no slower than the carriages which Ou Yan and the others used on their journey.
Even though Zhang Xiaohua wanted to ride on his own horse, he was still arranged to sit in one of the carriages with the bookkeeper and the other helpers. At the beginning, Zhang Xiaohu did not have much time to accompany him so he could only ask the bookkeeper to look after Zhang Xiaohua in his stead. When they reached the highway and the procession was travelling at a steady pace, Zhang Xiaohu took some time off from the front of the procession and went to the carriages at the back. When he saw Zhang Xiaohua’s unhappy expression, he asked, “Xiaohua, we are already on the road back to Pingyang city so why are you still unhappy?”
Zhang Xiaohua pursed his lips and said, “I am of course glad that we are going back, but I can’t always be sitting in the carriage. I want to ride a horse as well, and I can see some horses without any riders at the back. Can you let me ride them?”
“Haha,” Zhang Xiaohu laughed when he heard Zhang Xiaohua’s complaint, he said, “So it is like this. Xiaohua, it is not that I don’t wish for you to ride them, but horse riding is a skill to be acquired and if you have never ridden a horse before, you will need to take some lessons first before getting on one. The horses in our station are used to travelling out on jobs and are much wilder so they are not suitable for beginners like you. We can discuss this again when we reach the escort station and I can also find you a milder horse there.”
Zhang Xiaohua realized that horse riding was not as simple as he thought after listening to Zhang Xiaohu’s explanation, but he was still adamant and said, “Aren’t the horses at the back mild? Let me try riding them too.”
Zhang Xiaohu’s expression straightened as he replied, “Xiaohua, don’t be stubborn. We are escorting a client, how can I let you be so wilful? Even though the horses at the back seem mild, it will be a different case when they have a rider on their backs. Furthermore, those horses are to be used in an emergency if the horses at the front encounter an accident, so they cannot be used so casually.”
Zhang Xiaohua helplessly rolled his eyes and did not speak further after hearing Zhang Xiaohu’s explanation.
Actually, a person’s personality can be quite strange. Take Zhang Xiaohua for example, his behaviour and mindset would be mature like an adult when he is alone but if a relative or elder is beside him, he would revert to a childlike mentality more appropriate for someone his age. Perhaps, this is due to the human nature of habit and reliance.
Since he could not ride a horse, Zhang Xiaohua did not press any further and obediently looked out at the scenery.
The scenery outside was not much different from before, the snow and ice from winter had yet to melt but there were hints of green life in the fields and forests outside. Occasionally, there would be some movement in the river, or some mischievous children bringing their dogs to play in the snow.
The procession’s speed was very fast and the chilly wind would blow generously into the carriages. Zhang Xiaohua draped a cotton shirt over his body out of habit, and this cotton shirt belonged to his second brother Zhang Xiaohu. As for the travelling clothes that he wore initially, they were already washed and kept by Zhang Xiaohu who could not help but cry when he packed them, his younger brother has no new clothes to wear to pass the New Year and even though it was still winter, he was still wearing travelling clothes meant for autumn weather which was even torn by a knife. He could only lament that there was too little time and the coat shops were still closed in celebration so his younger brother had to make do with his own cotton shirt. Even though Zhang Xiaohua insisted that he did not feel cold, how could Zhang Xiaohu believe his words? Hence, Zhang Xiaohua wore the oversized cotton shirt which had large gaps of the cold biting wind to blow through.
When the bookkeeper who was sitting beside saw this, he shrunk his neck and asked, “Xiaohua, aren’t you cold?”
Zhang Xiaohua smiled as he replied, “Nope, Mr. Mo, I don’t feel cold at all.”
Mr. Mo smiled and said, “Such a sensible child, it is fine. If you feel cold, I still have another woollen coat, and although it is too large for you as well, it should be enough for to block the wind.
Zhang Xiaohua was speechless for a moment, he smiled and said, “It is fine, I can still endure it even though the weather is slightly cold. How can youths grow up faster if they can’t bear the cold?”
It was strange sometimes, Zhang Xiaohua was obviously not feeling cold when he said the truth, others would think that he was trying to reassure them and felt that he was a sensible boy which made them care for him even more. Hence, Zhang Xiaohua came to the realization that he could not speak the entire truth, but pepper some falsehood with truth at the same time.
Zhang Xiaohua looked at the scenery for another while before feeling bored again so he asked, “Mr. Mo, I have a question to ask you.”
Mr. Mo said, “Sure, what problem did you encounter?”
Zhang Xiaohua asked curiously, “Mr. Mo, I feel that the weather and scenery outside seem to differ from the areas closer to Pingyang city. I am guessing that Pingyang city should be extremely cold by now, which heavy cold winds and thick layers of snow, and the trees should be bare off their leaves, but it is not like so over here. Even though there is much snow, I don’t feel too cold and the wind carries slight warmth. If you look over there, you can even see something green that is growing.”
Mr. Mo smiled as he explained, “You are right, Zhang Xiaohua, the weather is indeed different here compared to around Pingyang city. The weather feels warmer because the humidity is higher so you don’t feel as cold as you would in Pingyang city.”
Zhang Xiaohua asked, “Why is that so?”
Mr. Mo replied, “That is simple, here is south of Pingyang city and is closer to the sea.”
“Sea? Ah!”, Zhang Xiaohua yelped out involuntarily, “I almost forgot that I have not seen the sea from here yet!”
Zhang Xiaohua patted the back of his head regretfully, why did he not remember to view the sea during the last few days when everyone was preparing to return? According to the books, the sea was vast and boundless, and it shared the same colour as the sky, while the entire scenery would be grand and beautiful. Zhang Xiaohua wanted to see this for himself yet now that he was so close to the sea, how could he miss the opportunity like that?”
Seeing Zhang Xiaohua’s upset expression, Mr. Mo smiled and said, “It is alright, you can always come back again to see the sea. The town we were in is close to a small part of the inland sea so you would not be able to see much. If you want to experience the boundlessness of the sea, it is better to take a boat out and travel.”
Zhang Xiaohua smiled bitterly since he had no other choice.
He asked, “You mentioned that this weather is related to the sea?”
Mr. Mo explained, “The town is near the sea so its humidity is naturally higher, and the sea water would not freeze even in winter so they can affect the weather around it. Furthermore, this place is naturally closer to the south than Pingyang city so you would feel much warmer here.”
Zhang Xiaohua nodded his head in acknowledgement as though he understood the explanation, then pondered for a moment before asking again, “In that case, Mr. Mo, if I continue to go south, won’t it be warmer there?”
Mr. Mo smiled as he replied, “That’s right. According to what I know, the southernmost place is a large expanse of sea and the weather there is always warm so you cannot see any snow.”
“Ah? It’s like that?” Zhang Xiaohua became surprised, “If so, then the children over there will not be able to build snowmen and have snow fights. They’re so pitiful.”
Mr. Mo said, “That’s right, but they will have their own source of entertainment which you don’t have. On the other hands, if you continue to head northwards, there is another sea there which is frozen throughout the year, and the ice is even taller than mountains. The people there supposedly use ice to build their homes.”
“Ah? That’s so strange.” Zhang Xiaohua felt surprised again, he said, “If there is only winter throughout the year, they will not get to enjoy playing in the river, that’s very pitiful as well.”
Mr. Mo said, “Actually, there are many amazing places in this world just that we are unaware of them. How great will it be if we can transverse the entire world.”
As he shared his perspective, many little stars appeared in Mr. Mo’s eyes.
Zhang Xiaohua asked curiously, “In that case, why don’t Mr. Mo head out to explore the world? Even if you cannot visit every single place, touring around an area is still possible right?”
Mr. Mo replied in a helpless tone, “There are too many things that are beyond our understanding in this world, there are uncountable dangers out there but I do not have the ability to protect myself from them so how would I dare to go over? Even after leaving Pingyang city for two days, I will find myself in danger of being eaten by wild beasts. Sigh, there is no choice but to read other people’s travel journals to satisfy my curiosity.”
Zhang Xiaohua also felt some empathy when heard the other party spoke of his view, there were many things in this world that required power to run. He would naturally become food for the wild beasts If he stubbornly went out to explore the world without any self-preservation abilities.
The two continued to chat for some time but perhaps because Mr. Mo woke up early that day, he became sleepy and closed his eyes to doze off. Zhang Xiaohua did not continue to talk, he searched for the travel journals in his knapsack and took one out to read.
Even if he could not visit the place himself, reading about them through books was still fun in itself.
Time passed like that, and the procession did not stop for lunch. Instead, Zhang Xiaohu rode his horse over and passed Zhang Xiaohua and the rest some dry rations which they casually ate while they continued to hurry on the road.