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After their lunch, they once more took the “grand tour”. Their clothes had dried fast, and they were freshly warm from the fire. Only the room they had been in was mostly finished. The other rooms of the house were uninsulated, and their floors were bare. The walls were up, and the roof on, but it wasn’t yet a home. He had the beginnings of a kitchen, but he cooked in his “living room” and the fire in there. The rest of the house had the second floor blocked out, but not entirely installed yet.

It was an odd house, very unlike the normal manors, and walled in courtyards.

The most interesting room in the house was the one closest to the river, in that part of the river was inside the house. It wasn’t frozen over, for the walls of this room were the only other ones insulated, and it was very cold, but it wasn’t as damp as they were expecting.

“This is mostly for the summer.” Jin said, “but it's for easy access to the river. Keeps things cool in the summer, like milk, and if you need it, cheese. Just put it in a container and drop it into the water. And it's easy to wash the dishes. Look, we’ve already got an assistant. Its been hanging around for the last week.”

And sure enough, a carp had risen to the top of the water, eager to get some of the leftovers from their soup bowls. It was a rather drab thing with brown scales, and short whiskers. Jin rinsed the bowls out, and the fish eagerly ate what came off of them.

“Aren’t you concerned with it flooding, Brother Jin?” Yun Ren asked, studying the banks of the river.

“A little,” Jin admitted, “but it would need to rise quite high, and see this grate?” At their nods, he continued, “Its a pipe, and it goes under the house, to the other river. If this rises so much it starts to spill over, it will take the water here back outside. Unless its completely catastrophic, everything should be fine.”

They nodded.

“I can’t wait to see it when its finished. But if you need some extra hands, call upon us. We need everything ready for our princess here.” Gou Ren said, grinning at Meiling.

Jin nodded. “I’ll hold you to that.” He said with a leer. “Speaking of extra hands though, I’ll need some help with how to build proper storage for medicinal herbs, and the tools.”

“Are you planning to start making medicine, Jin?” Meiling asked. He had been attentive when she spoke on it.

“I’ve an interest, but it's mostly for you. You said you liked studying medicine. Theres going to be a bit of a library here too, once I can afford the scrolls and books--”

“Yun Ren, Gou Ren, out.” Meiling demanded, cutting Jin off.

The boys took one look at her face, and wisely fled.

Meiling grabbed Jin’s shirt and pulled him down. There was no way that she could have bugged him if he hadn’t allowed it, but he obliged her.

Her kiss wasn’t gentle. It was full of passion and fervor. She pushed, and Jin backed up until he hit the wall, and then slid down it, pulling her into his lap.

His hands reached up her sides, and she held onto his neck with both arms, one hand pressing into the back of his head so that he couldn’t escape, though she doubted he wanted to.

When they finally separated, flushed and panting, Meiling whispered to him, “If you spoil me this much, I might become a useless woman.”

Jin laughed at his words thrown back at him, though he looked a little dazed.

Meiling decided that this look was very cute on him.

////////

Meiling hummed in contentment, laying in front of the fire. She would have drifted off to sleep long ago, if the boys hadn’t started getting rowdy again.

Her bath had been pleasant, relaxing, and just the thing she needed. Jin had a building outside that had a large tub, over what looked like the beginnings of a forge. With each pump of the bellows, the temperature increased, heating the water far swifter than she was used to. He had heated the water, and added dried herbs to it, leading to a fantastic smelling, luxurious soak. If Yun Gen and Gou Ren weren’t here, she could have maybe asked Jin to join her, even without them being married yet… but they were here, so after she finished, all three of them were crammed into the tub that had been spacious for her, but not so much for three nearly grown men.

Which of course, led to them starting to shove one another, which escalated into splashing.

And now they were running and jumping into the stream, into the ice cold water, and running back into the tub while shouting and whooping.

She had gotten an eyeful of all three of them when she opened the door to check what the hell they were doing, before wisely deciding to retreat. There were some battles she knew better than to fight.

She loved them all, she really did, but heavens, those boys were morons sometimes.

Still, Jin had good tea, the cushions were comfortable, and she had a medical scroll. It was one she had already read before, but it never hurt to refresh oneself.

She was in the middle of reading the section on poultices when the door opened, coming along with the scent of the moon with a medicinal undercurrent.

She started, and looked up. The chicken, Bi De, had opened the door and come in. He then closed the door with a flap of his wings.

He turned to her, bowed in greeting, and Meiling inclined her head. The rooster was satisfied, and clucked.

From out under his vest, a little head peeked, and a small rat clambered off the roosters back. The smell of medicine, and the smell of the moon separated.

The little rat bowed to her.

Meiling once more inclined her head, a little nonplussed. Were there more spirit beasts on Jin’s farm than actual animals?

The little creature got itself a tiny bowl, evidently it’s bowl, and served itself a small portion of the leftover rice. Hesitant, it approached her, sniffing at her smell.

It squeaked. Medicine, it almost sounded like to her ears. Healer-Friend.

“Ah… yes, I make medicine.” She confirmed to the rat, and it brightened. Somehow.

Helped Brother Chun Ke! She once more “heard.” The rat bowed low, kowtowing before her. Great Master teach Ri Zu!

Meiling had no idea how to respond to that.

/////////

You know, sitting naked in a tub with two other dudes isn’t something I’ve ever done before. My memories of the before told me that this should be mortifying, but I crushed that feeling down. I had seen them naked before.

Honestly, it was kinda nice chilling with the boys. Once we were all “rivered out” at least. I’d done a couple of polar dips before. They were bracing, but this wasn’t too bad. And being able to get into what was essentially a hot tub right after, with a bottle of rice wine? Well, that just made it fun.

Especially when it wasn’t your rice wine. Yun Ren had some nice stuff.

We sat around for a while, just soaking. Yun Ren had one of my bathing cloths over his eyes, his head leaned back, while Gou Ren was deep in thought. It was one of those nice silences. The ones where you just enjoy the other person’s company.

Yun Ren held out his hand blindly, and I passed him back the bottle. He nodded and took a swig, while his brother started to frown.

Gou Ren seemed to decide something, and composed himself.

“Brother Jin, I was wondering, this spring--” He sighed, and composed himself, “I was wondering if you needed some help, on a more...permanent basis.”

I blinked, surprised at the offer. “What about Hong Yaowu, can they spare you?” I asked him.

Gou Ren nodded. “If you don’t need help thats fine. You haven’t needed help so far, but you’re going to be married, and if you’re planning on expanding…”

I considered his words. I probably would need help. I was strong, fast and enduring, but I couldn’t be everywhere, and the harvest showed me that even a little bit of help made things a lot easier. But I also had my animals, and they were willing to help out. Did I need a permanent farmhand?

“...I’ll need to draw up a list of what I’m planning to do next year. I can’t promise permanent employment right now, but there's definitely some things I’ll need help with. And I’ll need to work out whats proper compensation.”

Gou Ren nodded at my words. “I wasn’t expecting an answer today, anyway.”

A thought struck me. “Actually, I have a better idea. I’ll teach you the way I grow my rice, and then you can teach the rest of Hong Yaowu. Or anything else I come up with.”

Gou Ren’s eyes widened. “You would share that knowledge, Brother Jin?”

“Of course. I’m going to have family and friends in Hong Yaowu.”

The brothers smiled at me.

“Well then, I hope I am a worthy student for your teachings.” Gou Ren said.

We stayed in a little longer, before it was time to head back in. The tub was emptied, and we dried off.

As we walked into the house, and happened upon a strange scene.

Meimei was reading a medical scroll to Rizzo, pointing to each character, and carefully enunciating each word. The little rat was sitting on her shoulder, and nodding along, and squeaking occasionally. With Meimei’s soft smile, and patient voice, she looked almost like a mother teaching her child.

She eventually noticed us staring at her.

“....What?” She asked us, “She's a better student than my little brother.”

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