Chapter 3: Promise
Young Master Shen’s snake venom was cleared away and his consciousness had recovered; Young Master Shen could eat by himself and was leaning on the bed reading; Young Master Shen was basking in the sun in the courtyard again…
Good news came one after the other. Although for Shen Qingxuan, it was merely holding on to his last breath for a few more years, it did not prevent the old butler from burning the funeral articles to ashes in a single fire, neither did it prevented Master Shen from sending a company of traveling merchants to the Southern territory in great exultation, paying the merchants that send the two “miracle antidotes” that year with high interest as gratitude.
The banquet was set up, family and friends sat down in full house.
The aroma of the wine curled around the mountains and forests. The servants who had been living in edge in these several days now dared to speak loudly.
Shen Qingxuan sat on a wooden wheelchair with a fox-fur overcoat draped over his body. The small soft silk quilt on his knees wrapped tightly on both his legs. He held a thin book in one hand and read it quietly with his head crooked. The clamorous conversations, the sounds of music drumming, and the melodious collision of cups from the outside hall slipped into the semi-closed windows.
It was just that all these things seemed to have little to do with him.
After a while, Shen Qingxuan felt somewhat thirsty, but the tea was already cooled. Holding the cool porcelain in his hand, Shen Qingxuan recalled the palm that rested on his forehead that day. Although it was a completely different tactile sensation, that hand and this porcelain cup possessed the exact temperature; It was cold and lack of human touch.
His train of thoughts turned around and returned back to his hand. Shen Qingxuan rocked the brass bell and when he was done, he took this thing that had accompanied him for many years into his hand and fiddled with it out of habit.
The servant who had heard the bell’s call quickly pushed the door in. Without waiting for his instructions, she smartly poured away the herbal tea and re-poured hot water. She also poked the charcoals in the furnace and once again placed it back on Shen Qingxuan’s leg.
When all things were settled, the servant stood aside and said softly, “Young Master should rest earlier even if he is not drinking. He is just getting a little bit better, and he is tired from reading the book, it will not be good.”
Shen Qingxuan nodded slightly and drank a cup of tea. He picked up the book again to continue to read.
When the servant saw this, she lighted up a few more oil lamps and it enabled the illumination to be even brighter. Only then did she closed the door and withdrawn back.
In a short moment, the wooden door of the room was once again pushed open. Shen Qingxuan lifted his eyes to see a young married woman with her beautiful thick hair towered up standing outside the door. Her face wore hesitation as she looked inside.
Their line of sight met. Shen Qingxuan somewhat distracted expression very quickly revealed a faint smile. Although his throat was unable to utter any sound, the mouth shape was undoubtedly calling out: Second Mother.
“Xiao Xuan.” Although she was young, she was graceful. Her expression relaxed as she strode through the threshold of the doorway. “Are you feeling better?”
Shen Qingxuan nodded.
“Ever since you were bitten by a venomous snake, the family has been in an anxious state,” The woman sat down in a chair beside him. Her expression was tender as she touched his face with distress. “Eldest Sister had been praying for your blessings in the Buddhist Hall. When she heard that you were well, she went to pray again. She wasn’t able to see you today, so I brought your little brother with me.”
Shen Qingxuan just gave a slight smile. He took the brush and ink at hand and wrote on the paper: I’ve worried Second Mother painstakingly. Since little brother has come together, do ask him to talk to me. How is Mother’s health?
The woman looked at it and carefully answered, “It’s getting late and your brother is throwing temper again. I’ve asked him to accompany you tomorrow. Eldest Sister is in good health. The day before yesterday, she even specially cooked vegetarian bamboo shoots for the family to taste. But you were bitten by a snake. I don’t know who blabbed the news to her and she cried for two days. Fortunately, you have a good blessing. Eldest Sister knows you are all right and she went back to the temple to redeem her vow to the god.”
When Shen Qingxuan heard this, he naturally felt discomfort. He was in a daze for a while before he wrote some more words and had a light chat with her.
The married woman said, “This mountain is full of beasts and poisonous insects. It’s better for you to go home with me. It also saves the family from worrying. Eldest Sister and I are married women, it’s not good for us to go out often to see you.”
Shen Qingxuan wrote: Although there are many ferocious beasts, it’s not easy for them to hurt people. The servants take good care of me very well. This time it is merely an accident. The climate here is suitable. The doctor also said that this body of mine must recuperate. Although going back home is good, it is still not as good in the quiet mountain.
When the woman saw it, she sighed and remembered something again. She busily said, “Before I came here, Eldest Sister enjoined me to ask you if you have any girl in mind?”
Shen Qingxuan was stunned for a moment, and he quickly wrote: I understand the meaning of my mother’s thoughts, but with this body, even if there are many girls who are willing to marry me, I’m afraid I can’t afford to live up to their expectations. The responsibility of inheriting the torch, it’s better to let my little brother bear it for me.
The married woman looked at the yet to dry ink marks and sighed again, “Even if you don’t say it, everyone in the family knows. It’s just that you are such a good boy. You arrived at this world only to meet misfortune and suffered endlessly, yet you won’t say anything about it. You won’t even get to leave behind your heirs. I’m not your blood-related mother, but I’m also…” Her words had yet to finish and the rim of her eyes was reddening. She at once bowed her head and her vocal cord was choked with emotions.
Shen Qingxuan was also silent. His sight lay straight to the woman’s slightly trembling head. Who knew what he was thinking of, the fundus of his eyes was of an unmeasurable profound as if there were a thousand of thoughts revolving and twisting around.
However, very instantly, he had reverted back to his normal state. He took up his pen and wrote again: Second Mother needn’t feel down-hearted. Perhaps the reason for my fate to be in such was that I’ve done too much evil in my previous life and I am simply repaying in this life. As the eldest son, I am ashamed that I could not contribute to my country and my family.
As soon as he wrote hereunto, he changed the subject and continued to write: Little brother has just reached adulthood, although he is smart, he lacks experience. Recently, I heard that he has the desire to serve as an official. The vicissitudes of the officialdom are unpredictable. Second Mother has to stay beside him and give more pointers.
The subject involved parents and children. Surely enough, the married woman gathered back her tears and whispered, “What do I as a married woman know? On the contrary, you read plenty of poetry and books. If you can help your brother, that would be more than good.”
“Second Mother need not be modest. Little brother might be outstandingly intelligent, but he lacks flexibility. With Second Mother beside him giving advice, and Father to organize things, it will not be difficult for him to get a meteoric rise.”
“You really makes me feel relieved.” The married woman put down the paper and revealed a smile.
Shen Qingxuan also smiled and wrote again: It’s just that little brother has to take over his elder brother’s responsibilities all at once at this young age. To honor their parents with filiality, to show loyalty to their country, it was really difficult for him.
The woman shook her head and said, “Both of you are brothers. It’s part of the course. Do not speak as if it was a separate issue.”
After another moment of talking, Shen Qingxuan was weary, and the married woman hurriedly told him to take care of his health before leaving.
After she left, Shen Qingxuan sat alone in his chair for a long time. His eyes resting on the white paper filled with words and sentences on the table. It was unknown as to what he was going through his mind as he exposed a helpless smile permeated with mockery. He took a moment before he tidied the paper in order and rang the bell to call for the servant. He took the iron basin, and with a single fire, he turned the paper suffused with the ink fragrance into ashes.
The night was so deep that the noise in the outside hall had quietened down. Shen Qingxuan ordered the servant to open up the windows. He wrapped himself up tightly with the fox coat and leaned on the chair as he watched the night outside the windows. This night, the stars and the moon were thin. Occasionally, the mountain wind blew through, lifting the strands of hairs at his forehead repeatedly.
After a long time, Shen Qingxuan suddenly moved. He pulled out his hands from the heater and moved his wheelchair to the front of the table. He spread the paper and ink and penned down: You are here.
He pushed the paper to the center of the table and showed it to the air. It was quiet all around.
Shen Qingxuan merely smiled and waited quietly.
After a moment of silence, the room that only contained him revealed an extraordinary sight.
Surprisingly, the white paper on the table moved despite the lack of wind. The brush laying aside the inkstone also stood erected. It dipped in the ink before shifting to the paper and slowed down. The saturated ink and paper gradually carved out characters. The handwriting was upright and it answered Shen Qingxuan’s question, it wrote: How do you know?
Shen Qingxuan was still smiling and blinking at the space with a keeping-the-listener-in-suspense bearing.
This air was just like that day. It was filled with the sudden sweet fragrance of plants and wood. The smell was akin to a forest after a fall of rain, and there was a kind of cold freshness.
That day when the filthy blood spewed out of his body while his mind was in a whirl, this smell that emerged around the him who was encircled by putrid smells was akin to a beam of abrupt brightness that descended in the darkness. It was deeply engraved in Shen Qingxuan’s heart.
He could have never forgotten it all his life.
Shen Qingxuan suddenly sucked in his nose, and then wrote with some astonishment: Did you go to the hot spring at the mountain top?
The man still did not reveal himself. Nevertheless, he took the brush and gave a response to his question: Yes.
His original doubt was answered by Shen Qingxuan’s question and was spontaneously solved. The hot spring had a unique sulfur smell and this was where Shen Qingxuan’s origin of the question came from. He also understood how Shen Qingxuan knew of his arrival.
His sense of smell was like a beast.
But no one went on to extend this topic but rather they went on to converse about other things.
Although Shen Qingxuan received his mercy and managed to keep his life, he always kept in mind that he was a snake demon, not a race of his own. He was not without caution.
Yet he did not ponder on how this demon was like a human being; he had a name, had a family name, he enjoyed soaking in the hot spring but would not mention anything about it and here he was still accompanying him through a brush and paper for an hour.
Despite the indifference of his simple and concise writings, he possessed unusual patience.
For such a remarkable demon like himself, he was sure to have a more succinct way to go through this dialogue. Shen Qingxuan had experienced it before, however, this snake just discarded that method and choose not to use it.
Since he lost his speech, Shen Qingxuan still communicated with others frequently, but no one had ever been so willing to this extent, patiently, with a brush and paper, bit by bit writing out for him to see. The time of an hour was not long and when compared to the lifespan of a human, it was just a speck, yet it collapsed the precautious in his heart without needing to say, even more so, it produced a subtle kind of closeness.
Taking the paper full of handwriting and putting it aside, Shen Qingxuan smiled as he dipped into the ink-saturated brush on the newly laid white paper and continued to talk with him: If I were to assist you in successfully passing your tribulation, would I get anything as a return gift?
Very soon, besides the clean handwriting, there appeared a line of upright handwriting, which was as simple as ever: Grant you recovery, just like an ordinary person.
Shen Qingxuan’s wrist trembled and the ink-saturated brush’s tip scratched heavily on the snow-white paper.