“Carefully, now, carefully!” Che demanded, rather unnecessarily. Jin was exceedingly careful with his windows. It was the most expensive part of the house, after all. Four large glass windows-- three for the front, one for the back--, four smaller windows, and the rest would be made of treated paper, and have large shutters. The panes themselves were two layers of glass, which according to Jin would help keep the cold out.
It turned out that Jin’s assessment would likely be accurate. The walls of the house were made of sturdy hardwood, the kind of trees that blunted axes and saws alike. They were as paper before Jin’s saw blade. It tore through the planks with a harsh, almost buzzing sound, carefully arranged to exactly the size he would need for the windows.
While Jin was cutting, Che was inspecting the glasswork, taking measurements, and examining hinges. After he did that, Jin would lift them into place, while Che made sure everything joined correctly, and that the glass wouldn’t shatter due to any twists or warps.
The Xong brothers, meanwhile, were put to work on the floors. Gou Ren took the ground floor, while Yun Ren took the second floor. True to Jin’s words, the planks were already cut, and premeasured. All that was left was to hammer them in, in the order that they were shown.
Really, Xian and Che were more impressed with how the boys were doing, rather than their own speed. The Xong brothers were moving far faster than he expected them too, even while seeming spectacularly bored, and almost vacant throughout the process. Gou hefted an entire stack of twenty planks, and began tossing them up to his brother-- who easily caught the heavy floorboards, and put them aside with a world of thanks. Their hammers drove in nails in but two strikes, and the floors were exactly as neat and flat as Jin described.
Their breathing was deep and steady. Almost like his own breathing was, when he had to perform the rituals of Hong Yaowu. Both he and Jin were watching them--before Jin shook his head, and got back to work.
It was not back-breaking labour, but it was intensive. They toiled for hours, and the sun was starting to set--but they did indeed, finish putting in all the windows in a single day-- even the one on the second story. The Xong Brothers finished putting in the planks-- they would be sanded, lacquered, and waxed tomorrow. Xian expected them to be tired from the ordeal. Instead--
“Lets go, Chun Ke!” Gou Ren shouted, grabbing an oddly-shaped stick, and a disc made out of stone. His brother raced after him onto the ice, where they began a game of tackles, shoves, and a speeding stone disc.
“....how the hells do those brats have so much energy?!” Che demanded, sitting on a stump. Xian’s old friend was rubbing his back and squinting at the boys. He winced as they collided with a bone-jarring crunch-- only for both of them to start laughing, and continuing on their shoving match.
“Elder Hong, Elder Yao-- it's ready” Jin said, as he came back around the front of the bathhouse.
“Brother Che, Jin, Brother.” Che scolded him. “Honestly, you’re too polite for your own good!” Jin looked a bit sheepish at the reprimand, scratching the back of his head. Xian smiled at him.
“You’ve already called me father once--continue that, Jin.” Xian said, clapping him on the shoulder.
Jin’s smile got cheeky. “Sorry pops, I’ll keep that in mind.” Jin said, putting on an inner-city accent. The kind of speech pattern that the guttersnipes, gangs and his wife used. Xian rolled his eyes at the irreverence, and reached up to cuff Jin’s ear for his cheek. The boy dodged deftly, his smile growing wider.
There was a yelp, and an oof as Gou Ren flopped into view, spun end over end by Chun Ke’s tackle. He groaned in pain, but didn’t seem seriously hurt, despite being folded in half by the boar’s charge. He popped back up, ready to go, when Jin caught him.
“I promised you guys a steam bath last time, and everything is all heated up.”
Gou Ren shrugged, as his brother jogged up beside him.
I splashed more water on the rock, and then returned my hands to Brother Che’s back, the older man sighing in contentment.
I had replaced the normal pool of water with a slab of rock, and that was being heated instead of the water. It was sauna time, after a hard day of work. Che had been grimacing and pressing his hand against his back so I decided on a bit of steam relaxation. Or “Naked with the boys part 2, electric boogaloo.”
In any case, there had been a crack about my dangly bits from Gou Ren. Tigger’s statues hadn’t been anatomically correct, as she hadn’t really seen me naked. But I held my peace. Vengeance was a dish best served cold, after all. Though in this case, it would be hot, because we’re in a steam bath...and I’ve lost control of this metaphor.
I wasn’t spectacular at massages, but I knew enough not to hurt someone. And qi makes everything easier, once you know how to use it. I remembered my father from before, with his own back pain.
“Gods damn it, why couldn’t you have been born here.” Che muttered. “I could have an apprentice, and my flower would still be at home. You like blacksmithing, don’t you? Every man should!” He started grumbling under his breath.
He was lamenting that Meihua wasn’t married to me again. I didn’t say anything, and finished working the knot out of his back. Honestly, If it wasn’t for the save, and how I helped her out, I don’t think Meihua would have liked me much. I had seen her grimaces on the way to Verdant Hill the first time. I was a bit too boisterous for her. Tingfeng was a quiet, scholarly sort. She fit the town life better too. While she had a bit of muscle, as no one was allowed to sit on their asses in Hong Yaowu, I got the feeling that she didn’t like working too much. And Tingfeng’s family had a couple of servants to take care of the more heavy physical labour.
I kind of wondered about how Xian would think of it, but his eyes were simply closed, and he was at peace, enjoying the steam bath. I certainly wouldn’t want another man making noises about poaching my daughter’s husband for his daughter.
My soon to be father had a build that I really should have expected, but caught me by surprise anyway. He was a bit thin, and wiry, but he looked strong, with well defined muscles. I had been expecting a bit less, but it was xianxia land. His hair was the same green-tinted shade as Meimei and little Xian had, and he had a small beard. He looked pretty dignified, and was probably what most people in this world would consider attractive, aside from a rather large scar on his arm. He was about 5’5, so a full half foot shorter than I was, but then again, the only man who I had met so far that matched my height was Yao Che.
“....this is very nice.” Xian finally declared. He looked at peace with the world, and like he was genuinely happy to be here.
I grinned back, all of my teeth showing, and slapped Che on the back.
“You’re done. Now we cool ourselves down… and start the medicinal treatment.” I declared.
We all walked outside into the snow, Che stretching and grinning at his range of motion. We simply drank in the fruits of our labour, the exterior of my house looking finally like a proper house. The exterior was very japanese with the engawa, or veranda that enclosed the building, even going out over the water of the river as a pseudo dock. The back river was deep enough to jump into and fish in, though fishing that close to Washy’s lair was a fool’s errand.
We took a couple of minutes to cool down, and then we all got back into the sauna for the second steam.
It was time for my revenge.
“Now, lay down here. This will improve the circulation of blood, and allows you to sweat out even more impurities.”
Gou Ren eagerly laid down. Grinning, I brought out the bundle of branches. The venik, or bundle of oak leaves and branches, would be my instrument of death. I mean, I was telling the truth, It did help improve circulation. But I had added a few more branches to it, thicker ones that would certainly smart when they hit.
Make dick jokes all day would you? You’re courting death!
Gou Ren shrieked as I slapped down the branches, with a little more force than was probably necessary, onto his ass. I held him down, and smiled at him.
“Jin?!” he yelped out.
“It's medicinal. It's supposed to feel like this.” I hit him again.
“What--Elder Hong, there's no way this can be--” Smack “son of a whore Jin!”
Xian stroked his beard, considering for a moment.
He pronounced death upon the Xong brothers and Che. “I do believe that this will have significant benefits.” He declared.
I grinned. Gou paled. I could feel him struggle a bit-- really, far more than I should be able to.
I had some suspicions about Yun and Gou. But… well, I would wait and see.
I cheerfully worked him over with the branches, and then tossed him in the river.
I made it back just in time as Yun Ren tried to bolt, his eyes opened wide in terror and desperation.
“Going somewhere?” I asked him, my hand clamped on his shoulder. His eyes jumped all over the place, searching for a way out.
“I didn’t make as many jokes?” he tried, smiling hopefully.
I said nothing, and simply pulled him back into the bathhouse. My smile was upon my face the entire time.
“Go easy on me? Please? I’m sorry--Bastard of three fathers!”
“Mmm. That was most pleasant.” Xian stated. I had pulled out the thicker branches when it finally came time for his turn, so things were decidedly less painful.
The others glared, but had accepted their punishment. “I guess I do feel a bit more lively.” Che grudgingly admitted, and shoveled more rice into his mouth, “Rice shouldn’t be allowed to be this good.” He muttered.
Dinner tonight was fish hotpot. I was actually starting to run low on a bunch of my veggies. I had a lot more people over than I thought I would have, and Chunky, Peppa, and Washy added to the mix was depleting things a bit faster than I liked.
Well, I’m not going to stop feeding them, I’ll just have to ration my own food out a bit better. And soon, it would be spring. I was ready and raring to go. People thought this was impressive? They ain’t seen nothin yet!
We finished dinner, and began lazing around. It was certainly a lot brighter with the windows installed, even at this time of night.
“Jin, what are these, if you don’t mind me asking?” Xian asked, his eyes gleaming with curiosity. He had been a scholar.
“The gears… well, they’re for a water wheel. I was just messing around, to see If I could power a mill with them, but…. I’m not the greatest at this sort of thing.” And ain’t that the truth. I was shit at mechanical engineering. I spent most of my time staring at diagrams and wondering what the hell I was doing.
“Well, Brother Che knows his way around such things, as does Brother Bao, so you might want to ask them. I’m afraid such engineering projects are largely beyond me--I spent more time on medicine than on gears and pulleys.”
I pointed to the next item. “Well, Concrete. Or liquid stone.”
Xian examined it. “I’ve heard of such things before. One of the southern tribes, at the very edge of the continent used something similar. They gave His Imperial Majesty a faulty recipe for their liquid stone, and they were destroyed for the insult.”
Well… alright then. You learn something new everyday. “It seemed like a good idea. If it makes things easier for us, then I think it's a worthy investment.”
Xian nodded. “And the last?” he asked.
I was a little bit confused that he didn’t know the last one, he had mentioned keeping bees before.
“A beehive.” I said.
“A beehive?” he asked, looking suddenly interested. “What is the purpose of the shelves, then?”
Wait--were beehives like this invented a lot later than I thought they were? I didn’t even know that there were other ways of keeping bees! Did they just tear open the entire damn hive?
“...so the bees build their comb in it? So you can take them out without destroying the hives?”
Xian’s eyes widened. “They will truly follow the frames?”
“Yeah, they just have to be close enough together, but not too close together.” I reached in and grabbed the frame, pulling it out easily. “Build them a nice house, and they’ll stay for years.”
Xian stared at the hive for a bit longer, thinking deeply.
“Where did you learn--I suppose it doesn’t matter. You start this spring?” He asked.
“Yup. I can make you some if you want, father.”
He chuckled. “I shall take you up on the offer. Just one or two for now, to see how they work.”