She woke up cradled in warm arms. Her forehead was pressed under his chin. Their legs were tangled together. It felt right. She opened her eyes. She could see each and every pore on Jin’s chest. The slight traces of salt from dried sweat. When she took a breath, she smelled everything. Their own activities. Bi De, Chun Ke-- who was nearly invisible to her before--, Xiulan, the Xong Brothers. Seven fragrances from the Spiritual Herbs. The scent of fire, and cinder, nearly overwhelming. The smell of the earth.
And the warmth in her stomach.
She had her suspicions. That something like this would happen to her too. She hadn’t broken anything, like the Xong brothers, but there was something there, just under her skin. Some might think Jin had done it on purpose, that he might have some nefarious deed planned.
She didn’t believe that. What kind of nefarious deed could he possibly have planned for her?
She could feel it. The Qi, like a placid lake inside her. The Xong brothers had complained about having to meditate for hours, but when she called for the energy, it answered. The minor aches and pains faded away, as Qi filled her limbs with power and vitality. But it was not all her own energy. It smelled of fresh soil, of light, warmth, and life. It wrapped around her, it held her as if hugging. An eager friend, ready to help.
She sighed fondly, and let it go. Like water, the power slipped through her fingers, and returned to the earth. She looked up from where she was laying at her husband’s face. The thick eyebrows, the light dusting of freckles on his cheeks, and the look of absolute peace on his face.
Jin woke. He came out of his slumber with a contented smile, as he opened his eyes and beheld her.
“Good morning, beautiful.” he whispered. His eyes were warm and soft. One of his fingers brushed the hair from her face, his palm warm against her cheek.
She placed her own hand over his. Their foreheads pressed together.
She could certainly get used to waking up like this.
I was in an excellent mood as I made breakfast. We had decided against any kind of morning exercise, and had instead just gone down to face the music. I have to admit, it was kind of damn embarrassing to have people cheer on the fact that you had bonked your wife, but I was on cloud nine, and Meimei had barely blushed.
And yeah, everybody was still here. It would last two more days. Two more days of booze and partying. At least we got to have our breakfast without anybody bothering us. Well, everybody except Xiulan, she had wanted to talk with us about something. As soon the the door closed, she got straight to the point.
“You want to stay here for a while?” I asked Xiulan as I put the plate of pancakes on the table. She was pressing her head to the floor of the house, in full kowtow mode.
Xiulan was pretty dramatic, wasn’t she?
“Yes, Master Jin. This one would beg your hospitality, and your guidance, if it pleases you. This Xiulan will help with any task you need her to, or require.”
Huh. Another cultivator who wanted to learn how to farm? I thought I was the only one. I looked to Meiling, and she was looking at Xiulan shrewdly. She met my eyes, and after a moment’s hesitation, nodded.
“Sure, you can stay for a while, and I’ll teach you some of what I know.”
The cultivator girl looked up, with stars in her eyes. “Now eat up, I made enough for three.”
Breakfast was as delicious as always. I remained serene, even through the sounds of Xiulan. And so began the first day of my marriage. We didn’t actually spend that much time together. As soon as we walked outside, Meimei was grabbed by Hu Li and Meihua, and dragged away to discuss how the night went.
Xiulan somehow got dragged into it too.
I had a few things to do.
The Ten Poison Resistance Herb-- and thats a mouthful-- had to be repotted. I didn’t know exactly how to take care of this one, but it was a gift, so I would try my hardest.
The trees needed to be planted as well. They were looking a little beat up, and Xiulan hadn’t taken the best care of them. I was just considering calling her over, and telling her what she did wrong, when the Magistrate approached. He looked a bit peaky, like he hadn’t slept too well.
“Rou Jin, This one must apologize, but matters of the bureaucracy call. I would beg leave from the festivities.”
I nodded. “You do what you have to do, Lord Magistrate.”
I stood from where I was planting the sapling, and bowed to him. “I wish you good health and good fortune, Lord Magistrate. And thank you, for everything you’ve done. If you ever need a hand, I can make myself available.”
He seemed a bit surprised by what I had said. His face shifted through emotions quickly, before he settled on a small smile. “I will….keep that in mind. Enjoy your wedding, Rou Jin. May it bear much fruit.” and with that, the Lord Magistrate left, deep in contemplation.
I returned to my task. It didn’t take too long, but I was a little hot when I finished.
“Jin!” Yun Ren called gesturing me over. The rest of the men stood there, eager. There were cups of wine.
There were many, many cups of wine.
“Chug, Chug, Chug!”
“How many bottles is that fish on?!”
“Oh, the old spry whore~!” Xian and Meiling sang, as the crowd howled with laughter.
“Hey, can we talk about this, it was a good image--!”
“An exhibition match is perfectly acceptable, Disciple Yun Ren. You have the first blow.”
Yun Ren wasn’t an idiot. He turned tail and fled. Xiulan, her cheeks flushed from alcohol, shouted with outrage and went after him. Yun Ren was surprisingly good at dodging.
I threw him to the wolf when he tried to use me as a meat shield though.
Big D danced, kicking along the fence. He was really quite handsome, and that was a word I never thought would apply to a chicken. His moves looked a lot like Xian’s fire dance, if I’m honest.
I laughed at the red faced woman holding a bottle of wine. She had a predatory gleam in her eye. “Shirt off. Now.” Meiling demanded, licking her lips. I obliged her. This time was a lot more fun.
Both Yun and Gou pressed against my arm with all their might. And then Che added his strength, and that of all three cows, and the horses. Then Chunky, Peppa, and Tigger grabbed a hold of ropes tied around my wrist. I didn’t budge. It was great fun throwing them all into the mud.
The Children cheered as they jumped into the ice-cold stream. Washy grabbed a rope in his mouth, and took off like a jetski, dragging the shrieking kids behind him. I made sure they didn’t stay in for too long, though, and the bath warmed them back up nicely.
This is what I wanted. The laughter. The company. The joy and even the sorrows.
The rest of the celebrations passed in a bit of a drunken haze. A three day party sounds fun--until you have a three day party. Everybody was absolutely shattered at the end of it, and my back was a little bit sore.
Slowly but surely, my house emptied.The villagers said their goodbyes. Yun Ren clapped my shoulder. Meihua kissed Meiling on the forehead, and told her to come visit when the child was born.
Eventually, even the last of our family had to go. Meiling’s little brother had wept bitter tears when he learned his sister wasn’t coming home with him, clinging to Meimei’s skirts. He was gently pried off by his father.
“Goodbye, my daughter.” Xian looked like he was to bow, yet instead leaned in and hugged Meimei tightly. His teeth clenched, and his eyes were watery. He let her go, and turned to me.
“Goodbye?” I asked, “It’s ‘see you later’, pops. Well be around often enough that you’ll get sick of us!”
Xian barked out a laugh, and held out his arms for me too. I hugged him tight enough to hurt a bit, and he pounded my back.
“I’ll be seeing you soon then, children.” he declared, picking up little Xian.”I wish you good health, and good fortune.”
The last of our guests left. I breathed a sigh of relief, and turned back from the gate, walking up the hill. The hill where I built my trusty little shack on.
I stared out over my home, with Big D on my shoulder. In my mind’s eye, I saw the land as it had been. The massive rocks, the scraggy brush, and the overgrown forest, littered with dead wood.
How I had arrived, full of uncertainty, having made an impulsive decision, with only Big D and a few chickens as companions.
The months of isolation. The time forcing myself to think about anything other than my circumstances.
Meiling walked up and leaned into my side. Chunky and Peppa trotted up and sat, rubbing each other with their noses, and oinking happily. Tigger brushed against my leg, and Rizzo scampered up Meiling’s shoulder.
Gou Ren knelt down beside the pigs, and scratched Chunky affectionately. Xiulan approached, staring oddly at the shovel in her hands, and switching her grip on it like it was a staff.
We all stared out over my farm. At the freshly planted trees, the new house, and the markers for where the fields were supposed to go.
It wasn’t heaven quite yet. But I would be damned if I didn’t give it my best go. I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. Something stirred beneath my feet, perking up. It felt friendly and eager. Warm and pure. I supposed even the land was excited for the spring.
I metaphorically patted it on the head.
We stayed there for a while, drinking in the moment. A warm wind blew through rustling grass and flowers, and shaking the still naked boughs of the trees.
In the distance, Washy breached the river, leaping so high he cleared my roof before splashing back down.
Big D opened his mouth, and issued forth a joyous cry.
“You tell ‘em, Big D.” I said affectionately.