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The day was done. They all sat, exhausted, against the wall of Jin’s hut. Even tireless Jin had started to falter. But now, they sat together, hot and sweaty. Yun Ren and Gou Ren were down to their loincloths, slumped to the side and greedily drinking water. Even Meiling was stripped to the waist, with only her dudou preserving her modesty, groaning at the state of her sore fingers and back. Even Big D had been enlisted, carrying Meiling’s completed baskets to Jin, and getting more fibers so that she could weave.

But they were done. True to Jin’s words, at the end of the second day, the last of the rice was harvested.

83 40-kilo bags of rice. An extraordinary number, for the small amount of land that Jin had put to plough.

Yun Ren sighed with contentment after he finished his drink, running his hands through his matted sweaty hair, and grinned at the vessel. A bamboo tube, with a groove cut in it, so that a lid could be screwed on. Meiling was having trouble opening hers, her red, overworked fingers shaking and slipping, until Jin reached over and opened it for her.

“Brother Jin, this is quite the vessel. It's certainly easier to work with in the fields.” He said, and made to hand the empty thing to Jin, who shook his head.

“Keep it, Brother Yun Ren. They’re easy enough to make. I actually broke a couple gourds when I first started, and spilled a lot of water. These were more durable, and easier to clean.”

Gou Ren moaned, pushing himself up into a seated position. “Brother Jin, you worked us like oxen,” He complained, but looked with pride upon the many baskets, “But to see the work done is always a pleasure.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Jin asked with a soft smile. They sat in companionable silence, the cool breeze a balm upon their sweaty bodies.

Eventually, Jin got up and stretched. “Come on, let's get cleaned up, and then I’ll start dinner. We’re having crayfish tonight.”

The river was still warm at this time of year, and with the small bar of soap that Jin had, the dirt and grime was washed from their bodies. It told of their exhaustion that the normally quarrelsome brothers did not even try to dunk each other once, nor attempt to start any splash war.

Instead, Yun Ren simply handed his brother a comb. Grumbling Gou Ren dutifully brushed first his elder brother’s hair, and then Meiling’s while Jin prepared for them a meal.

First, he dredged up the baskets along the river. Then, Jin split the crayfish in two, removing it’s gut, and then in his wok, added peppercorns and oil, as well as leek, ginger, and garlic. He fried it until the crayfish was red, and then served it over rice.

Big D dined on the leftover crayfish.

This time, everybody camped out in Jin’s little house. Meiling did not even offer a token attempt at subtlety, simply pulling Jin into the bed with her, much to the brother’s amusement.

“Oh no, brother! We must act to preserve Brother Jin’s purity!” Yun Ren japed. “No wonder Elder Hong sent us along, his daughter is a lusty beast!”

Gou Ren snorted, and looked at them with tired eyes. “I think hes fine. Shes already asleep.”

Yun Ren barked out another laugh. “Indeed,” he said, and sat down. He had a considering look on his face.

“Brother Jin?”

“Yes, Brother Yun Ren?”

“Take good care of our Meiling, yeah?”

Jin nodded, and pulled Meiling closer to his body.

“To the best of my ability.”

///////

“Mph. Gou Ren, you lout, off.” Meiling woke to the sounds of and annoyed Yun Ren, Gou Ren having rolled over onto him in the night.

It was still the early hours of the morning. Meiling sat up and yawned, stretching to get the kinks out of her back.

There were none. In fact, she felt great, despite the work she had done. Her muscles were still sore, but there was none of the outright pain that she was expecting. Jin was still asleep beside her, as was Gou Ren, but Yun Ren was already sitting up, looking annoyed at his brother.

“Good morning.” Meiling whispered to him, and got a muttered greeting in return.

“Start the fire, I’ll get the eggs?” Meiling whispered, and Yun Ren nodded, holding a hand to his arm and stretching.

He paused, and then stretched his arm further back. He looked content, and then got up to grab the wood, while Meiling went to the coops. On the way out of the house, she noticed Bi De, the spirit beast, on one of the fence posts. He turned to her, in the light of the pre-dawn, and bowed.

Meiling returned the greeting. The chicken nodded, satisfied, and then, to her surprise, hopped onto her shoulder with a light step, like he did with Jin. Her hand came up, and she stroked his magnificent chest feathers to approving clucking sounds.

Gathering the eggs was easy. Bi De simply squawked, and the hens moved aside obligingly. Yun Ren had the fire started when she got back, and the first light of dawn creased the horizon. Bi De lept from Meiling’s shoulder, back onto the fence posts, and greeted the morning.

Jin thanked them both, as they cooked breakfast, and Jin went off to start loading his cart for the trip back to Hong Yaowu.

For breakfast was eggs and leftover rice, shared in good company.

////////

Meiling held on for dear life as the cart careened down the road. Beside her, Yun Ren prayed.

Honoured ancestors, preserve your unworthy son, for he is a fool of great proportions..

Gou Ren, naturally, was howling with laughter at their predicament.

It had started after they had loaded the cart, with a full forty bags of rice being loaded and strapped down. The cart was most certainly overloaded, the frame bending, but not breaking under the immense weight. Gou Ren had praised the craftsmanship, but Meiling noticed the truth. It had Jin’s qi in it.

They were ready to go back home. Jin bid goodbye to his spirit beast, who bowed low to him in supplication, and took up his vigil on the fence of the farm.

The Xong brothers looked worried about the load, and were gauging how they could help push it, when Jin lifted the front of the cart with ease, and without a hint of effort, began to walk with it.

They looked at eachother, and shrugged.

The pace was pleasant, and the weather mild as they set off, but it was already nearing noon.

“Tomorrow evening I’d reckon,” Gou Ren said, looking up at the sky. “Maybe a bit longer, my legs are still sore.”

Meiling agreed. The pain was coming back, though it still wasn’t that bad.

Jin gestured to the cart. “Hop on, I’ll get us there by tonight.”

It was quite rude, for them to sit, and have Jin cart them around like he was their lesser, but he was insistent.

So they got onto the cart, on top of the bags, and Jin bid them to hold on.

And then he started running.

Which led them here. Hanging onto a cart of rice, while Jin ran as fast as a horse.

“Brother Jin, can you go any faster?!” Gou Ren asked excitedly.

“DON’T YOU DARE, JIN ROU!” Meiling screeched, top preoccupied with holding on to slap the idiot for his idea.

Yun Ren just kept praying.

Jin was right. They reached Hong Yaowu by nightfall.

Meiling and Yun Ren were pale, while Gou Ren wanted to hook up the hogs to a wagon to recreate the experience.

///////

One of the scout-searchers had returned. It stunk-smelled of joy musk.

“Yes-yes. We have scent-smelled it. The fine-good qi, and tasty-delicious food.”

Lord-Master was intrigued. These lands were bad-poor. They had been defeated-crushed and driven out of their First-original nest-warrens, in the lands of much-plenty. Many-Many of their number-count had perished, and they were all that were left-remained.

To find-locate a new place of qi? They would need it to grow-restore their numbers.

“Good-Good. Find-Locate the Land’s guardian, and seek-know it’s Might-strength.”

“Yes, Yes, Lord-Master. I hear and obey!” Its servant scurried off.

The Lord-Master nodded, and turned to one of it’s other servants.

“Wake-Rouse the Nest-Warren. We go-move tonight.”

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A note from Casualfarmer

A Dudou is essentially an ancient bra.


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