Bi De sat upon the Great Pillars, and was content. Another day upon this Blessed Land, and another phase of the Moon to observe. Tonight, the Moon was once more full, shining brightly in the heavens.
It was the start of the second cycle he had witnessed in this world. Or, Bi De supposed, as it was a cycle, it had no true defined beginning or end now did it? It simply was, turning through the seasons whether he was aware of it or not. A never-ending spiral through time.
He was satisfied with this. To know that this cycle was here before him, and would be here long after. And yet though the cycle continued, it changed. Though they went through the same motions, they progressed. Each foot in front of the other, following their own path.
Bi De reflected upon his own march forward.
Bi De followed the way he knew. He announced the sun’s arrival in the morning. He patrolled vigorously at night. He exalted in the world around him, in both the base mysteries, and the profound. His voice rose, and his Great Master praised his calls.
And, he got to relive his most enjoyable memories. At first, when the Great Works began anew, he thought that he would be assigned some other task. Yet his Lord had held out his arm, and welcomed him once more onto his broad shoulders.
The memories of when he was just a young, jumped-up and foolish bag of bones and feathers, arrogant and stupid.
He had changed. He had progressed. And in this new cycle, he would endeavour to do the same.
He descended upon the base creatures that dared to impede his path, and left the rest for his gaggle of hens and offspring. The Great Master was training Ba Be, the ox, in the use of a powerful artifact. He would watch the ox closely, for if his Master was bestowing such a gift upon him, then he was sure to have some sort of potential.
The Great Master’s smile was warm and soft, as he placed his hands upon the base earth, and tamed it with a gentle hand.
These things were good, and right. He reached around with his beak, and preened the sleeping form of Sister Ri Zu.
Each day, a gift from the heavens.
I took deep breaths, filling my lungs with sweet spring air.
I had really missed this feeling. There was just something about it. The air was almost charged with energy, and it was driving into my soul, stirring me to action.
My plans were ambitious this year. Very ambitious. Last year had been the set up, this year was go time. And I was off like a damn rocket.
Besides, the faster I got the prep work done, the faster I could take it easy. Farming was hard, difficult work, but you had a surprising amount of time to kick back and relax, outside the crunch periods of spring and fall.
My section of the fields were mostly done being prepped. On the other side, both Xiulan and Gou Ren were a bit slower. But its not like I was waiting on them. There was always just that little other thing to accomplish, and I got nothing by breathing down their necks. They would finish when they finished.
So I was slacking a bit too. Juuuust a little bit though.
“Alright, which one is this?” Meiling asked her student, offering her a seed. It was the third one she had given to her, and each one before then, Rizzo had guessed right.
I smiled at the scene as I worked, cutting the eye off a potato. Rizzo examined the seed intently, her little nose twitching away.
‘Coriander, Master!’ the little one finally squeaked authoritatively. “Grows best in light shade, in a cooler part of the garden.’
Meimei nodded her head proudly.
“And this one?” she asked. Rizzo actually looked a bit insulted, and I could tell why. Peppercorns were easy.
‘In the pots over here, Master. They require little, though must still be tended for the best results!’ Rizzo declared again.
“Good, good. Now, which of these is poisonous, and which is medicinal.” Meiling brought out two identical looking mushrooms.
I turned my attention to the potatoes, but kept an ear open to Rizzo’s lessons. This stuff was interesting!
The “earth apples” that Xiulan had been given by the merchant weren’t any kind that I was familiar with. They were kind of like russets in size, but had smooth, bright purple skin once you got the dirt off.
They tasted pretty good too. Nice and fluffy, and they took the butter we had well.
I cut into a potato, carving off a section with a sprouted eye, and laying it to the side so that it could dry for a couple of days. Letting them get “calloused” helped prevent rot, and was why you let them dry out a bit instead of burying them immediately. Small potatoes you could just chuck in the ground, no questions, but these bigger ones needed to be taken care of.
I finally heard Rizzo’s answer.
‘Master tries to trick-deceive this one!’ she cried. ‘Both are poison, both are medicine!’
Meimei’s grin was massive. “Good!” She praised, and Rizzo puffed up with pride. “You’re absolutely correct. In small doses, the Two Colour Gill Mushroom can reduce swelling and inflammation, and open constricted blood vessels. But take it in too large a dose, it can render the muscles unable to contract properly, leading to paralysis, and in extreme cases, death.”
Huh. You learn something new every day. Xianxia mushrooms are kind of nuts.
“Now, for today, we shall finish planting this section of the herb garden.” Meimei demanded. “Remember to mark each section carefully, some of these are mildly poisonous.”
Rizzo nodded eagerly, and got her little hoe out, ready to work. It was cute as heck. Meiling walked over to look at the taters, and work more on the little signs she was making for the herb garden. I wasn't too familiar with some of the stuff Xian had given us, and told her so. So she had started working on the signs, and in the meantime, I was to study a scroll when I had the time.
“Shes doing well then?” I asked.
“Yes. She hasn’t studied food as much as medicine, but she did very well today. I’m quite proud of her for figuring out the trick question.” She had a look that was half pride, and half affection on her face.
We worked together in companionable silence for a little. I cut up our bag of sprouting potatoes, and she checked her father’s written note, against little satchels of seeds.
Our silence was broken by Peppa, who had two baskets tied to her back, filled with mushrooms and fiddleheads. Big D wandered beside her, looking incredibly pleased with himself.
And not just any mushrooms, what looked like morels.
I was about to offer to cook dinner, when Meimei’s eyes widened in pleasure.
“I’m cooking!” she demanded, looking the fiddleheads and morels over and sniffing at them eagerly.
I raised an eyebrow. ‘You like these that much?” I asked as I took a drink of water.
She nodded happily. “My mother used to make this dish. It tastes really good.” She paused for a moment, and gave me a sly look out of the corner of her eye. “It also supposedly improves stamina and fertility--though I hardly think we need help with that. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was with child already.”
I nearly choked. The thought was both terrifying and exciting, and drove home how much I really hadn’t been thinking.
Yeah, tilling fields with a beautiful woman was fun and all, but actions have consequences. Wake up, work, and then go to bed after having some fun meant that for all our little talks in the mornings, our communication had suffered a bit.
I grabbed her hand when she went to get up, and pulled her into my lap instead. She was all tense and tightly wound, her muscles bunched up.
“Meiling…” began at her curious look. I swallowed thickly. “Are… are we ready for that? Are you ready for that?” I asked nervously.
She seemed surprised that I was even asking. “...a little bit late to be thinking about that, no?” she mused, raising an eyebrow. “That's something to think about before we engage in nightly activities.”
I grimaced. She sighed, and bonked me on the head. “Did you hear me complaining?” She asked, and I conceded the point. Meiling was an... enthusiastic partner.
“....we can stop?” I offered, a bit reluctantly. “Just so that we can think about it more?”
She sighed again, and learned back into my chest. “....If I was against the idea, I know how to make a medicine that will prevent conception.” She finally said quietly.
Huh, they had those here? I guess it made sense.
“That I have not taken any.... Besides, you were right when you said we nearly had children already. It can't be too much different than this.” She looked at Rizzo and Peppa.
“.... our kid is going to be worse than both of us put together just for you saying that.” I mused.
She laughed, and it turned into a hiccup as she stared out over the land.
We sat together for a while, enjoying the sun hanging low in the sky. Finally not working. Just… sitting together. Some of the tension drained out of her shoulders as we sat together. Dinner might be a little late tonight, but that was fine.
Her grip tightened on my hands. I could feel her fingers shaking a little.
Ah, I was wondering if, and when this would hit.
“..I should really go and make supper, I -- I need too….” She muttered, tugging at my hands, but I wouldn’t let her go. She bit her lip, trying to hold back the tears welling in her eyes.
“Homesick?” I asked her. Hey, I was a bit perceptive. And I ...knew the feeling. I knew that feeling very well. It was a constant companion in the early days. You could cry all you wanted, and it wouldn’t change anything. Staring at the ceiling, and wondering where the void in your heart could be filled.
Work did work, if you did enough of it. But people and emotional support were better.
“Hu Li said that it would pass if I kept busy… “ she mumbled, mentioning the Xon brother’s mother. “Just need to keep busy, so I don’t think about it. Besides, this is my home now, and I… I…”
She thumped her head into my chest. I rubbed her back as she got it out of her system. My shirt got a bit wet.
“We’ll go visit soon. I want to see pops and your little brother again.” I told her, as my hand went in circles around her back.
She nodded into my shirt.
“...and tell me next time, if you think things are getting too much. We need to talk more as it is, anyway.”
“I’m not a delicate flower. You don’t need to coddle me.” She grunted.
“Never said you were. You have to hold me when I feel like this too, ya know?”
Meimei took her head away from my chest, and scrubbed at her eyes. “Men are to be stoic in bearing, and never show such unsightly things.” She said stiffly. “But be thankful, for your loving wife will forgive any weakness you might have.” Her smirk was a bit crooked, but at least there was a spark of amusement dancing in her eyes.
“Thank you.” she whispered. She pulled away, and this time I let her. She cleared her throat, and brushed down her robe.
“I’ll go get started on dinner now. You go and collect the others.” she commanded. I got up to do as she asked.
“And Jin….” I turned back to my wife, who had a bit of a flush on her face. “No slacking on your duties, husband.”
“I am not lewd, I am a proper wife, attentive to her duties!” she shot back, glaring.
“You’re the one who got the recording crystal out. You’re lewd.”
Her eyes narrowed into slits, “Go get the others.” Her voice was a razorblade.
I beat a hasty retreat, heading for the rice paddies.I was probably going to be paying for those words later, but at least Meimei was in a better mood now.
There, I was treated to quite an amusing sight.
I struggled to hold my laughter in as I watched the scene unfolding before me. Gou Ren was stripped to the waist, and absolutely covered in mud. Both of his hands were pressed against the terrace wall as he concentrated, sweat pouring down his body as he made sure it was well and truly reinforced.
“All right, Chunky. Go for it.” He declared.
My Chunky Boy squealed happily, and launched into motion. His trotters tore up the ground and a slight rumbling heralded his charge. He lowered his head, and slammed into the wall with earth-shattering force.
Massive, hairline cracks radiated out from the impact point, but amazingly, the wall held. Gou Ren whooped like a madman and started dancing around, pumping his fist and thumping his chest.
I was impressed. He had gotten good at Qi reinforcement.
Chunky hopped and danced with him.
“HAHAHAHA!” My castle walls are the greatest in the realms!” He cackled.
“How's this going, boys?” I asked, and Gou Ren turned to me with a smile, saluting.
“No rain is knocking these over. The toughest terraced walls, bar none!” He stated triumphantly.
Sure, I had asked him to reinforce the terraced walls, but I had no idea how or why he decided that they needed to be able to stand up to a Spirit Beast.
I nearly asked him why, but at the eager triumphant gleam in his eye, I just didn’t have the heart to. Chunky butted into my leg happily, proud to have helped. He left muddy head marks all over my pants. I gave him a good scratch..
“Good job on the terraces.” I praised, and looked him up and down. He was really, really muddy. “Go wash up.” I suggested, “Meimei’s in a bad mood, and unless you want her to drag you by the ear to the river again, I’d go in willingly.”
He finally seemed to notice just how dirty he was, and nodded. He eyed Chunky shiftily. “Race you to the water!” he shouted, and immediately started running.
Chunky squealed in protest and shot off after him, incensed at the foul cheating.
I shook my head with amusement, and went to grab my other “farmhand.”
On the way, I wandered past Afro, Pompom, and Fuzzy. The sheep were grazing, and were supposed to be watched over by Tigger, but my cat was conked out on top of Afro, fast asleep in the warm afternoon sun.
Xiulan, in contrast to Gou Ren, was leaning against a fence post, her arms crossed, and deep in thought. Her hair, normally left to flow freely, was tied into a rough bun, and she was weaning one of my spare rough shirts, instead of her normal silk getup.
She was wearing one of mine, because she couldn’t close any of Meiling’s properly. Better too baggy, than about to burst out.
She sighed, as she stared up at a cloud.
“Xiulan.” I called, and the woman nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Master Jin!” She yelped, looking like a kid that got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She bowed immediately. “This one apologises--She did not--I was merely--”
“It's alright. Everybody needs a break, now and then.” I waved her off, and she raised her head, looking a bit confused.
“Ah...I see?” she asked.
I leaned against the fence post, and looked up at the sky. It was a beautiful blue colour, with only a few white, wispy clouds travelling across it.
I patted the post next to me. Xiulan tentatively walked back, and resumed her position. She got antiser and antsier as we waited, until she caved.
“...Master Jin… this one does not understand. What purpose does this lesson serve? Your other disciple practises Qi reinforcement, yet I am here. Have I displeased you?”
Ah. I guess it was a bit rude of me to use her as free labour, but she had offered. Maybe I misunderstood her intentions? Meimei had said she didn’t think Xiulan was here to learn farming, exactly, but she had seemed real eager for the first bit.
Maybe she was just having an off day?
“What purpose does the lesson serve?” I asked, “Well, what were you trying to learn from it?”
Xiulan paused, and lowered her head again, looking embarrassed. “This one stands chastised, Master Jin.” she whispered.
I looked to the field. The rows were neat enough, but… I could tell her attention had started to waver.
Well, everybody had their own skills.
“...I’ll teach you how to water the Spiritual Herbs tomorrow.” I told her. Hopefully that would make her a bit happier, but instead, she slumped.
“...as you say, Master Jin.” she murmured.
“Come on, let's go get dinner.” I encouraged her.
She was still frowning at the field, but she left with me.
Meimei’s mom’s mushroom and fiddlehead recipe was really, really good. There was even a kind of strange, almost coffee like undertone to the dish, and it surprisingly fit.
I got my dishes together, and brought them into the river room. I was one of the last to clean up, and Washy was there, waiting for me eagerly. The drab brown carp slapped his fins against the stone eagerly, hungry for more leftovers even after he got a full meal.
Smiling, I handed my plate to him. He lunged forwards, and cleaned my plate, splashing sounds.
Until his pupils dilated, and he started jittering around, his tail slapping the water like a motorboat. He shot off into the river like a torpedo, cavitation bubbles swirling around him.
My fingers were tapping rapidly against my leg. I was starting to get a bit jittery.
There was only one culprit, and I was fairly sure I hadn’t been poisoned.
I walked back into the main room, and noticed that everybody else was missing.
“Meimei. What did you spike my food with?” I asked. I was getting really, really bouncy at this point.
She looked like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, as she stirred something into a cup of water. Honestly, it smelled a little bit like really, really strong coffee.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, dear husband.”
“Are you kidding? I’ve been waiting for you to try something ever since I threw you into the mud pit!”
She looked almost offended by that statement.
“I’ve been trying ever since Meihua’s wedding. You’ve ignored the itching powder, the blueskin dye, and the coughing candy. You didn’t even notice.” she deadpanned, frowning at me.
That… was hilarious, actually.
My wife finished mixing, and drank whatever concoction she had made.
“What is this stuff, anyway?” I asked, bouncing on the balls of my feet.
She shrugged, her face starting to flush, and her pupils dilating slightly.
“My father’s energy drink. He takes it sometimes, when we have big orders from Verdant Hill, or when lots of people get sick.”
I stared at her.
“Oh? Are we going to be sleeping tonight?” I asked her.
“Probably not.” She returned, putting down the cup. She pulled one of the ties on her robe, undoing it.
She turned and fled for the stairs, but I caught her, throwing my wife over my shoulder like a sack of rice, and racing towards the bedroom.
She was laughing the whole way.