There were some things about life as a farmer that Meiling didn’t particularly enjoy. One might think, as the headsman’s daughter, she would be exempted from the difficult, or disgusting, tasks. That she merely tended to herb gardens and made medicine. But that was not how Hong Yaowu did things. Hong Xian was just as ready to lend his aid in toiling in the fields as he was in preparing medicine, or healing the sick and wounded.

It was an ancient pact. The pact of feudal lords, and her father, continued the duties of the village patriarch, unbroken for generations. To be the patriarch meant something, in Meiling’s opinion. Maybe it was her birth, but she considered few of the men with the title of “patriarch” worth the name. They might have power and wealth, but if one neglected their ancient duties, to care for and protect their charges, then they were not lords at all.

But she digressed. She had to do her share of fertilizer shoveling and cleaning up after...well, one lost fluids rapidly when affected by the flux. Normally out their ass.

And speaking of asses, she put her hand into the water and focused, heating it again to boiling. It stung a bit, but it was bearable.

“You were right, everything looks normal.” Meiling told her husband. Jin smiled sheepishly.

“Sorry for making you do that again, but I’d rather have a second opinion, and you’ve done this more than me.” Jin went to scratch the back of his head, paused, and switched to his other hand with a grimace.

She smiled. She would have preferred not to stick her hand up there, but… he trusted her. He trusted her skills, knowledge, and didn’t mind asking her questions

Indeed, examining the heavily pregnant cows was a filthy task, considering where one’s hands had to go. It was easiest to check the calf from that position. Make sure there were no complications, like a breech birth, and one might even be able to feel if the umbilical cord had wrapped around the neck.

A smirk formed on her lips, as Jin patted the mildly distressed cow, trying to calm her down from the intrusion.

“Hey, Jin. We’re hole siblings.” She said cheekily, using the crude idiom referring to men who had shared a prostitute.

Jin’s face went from incredulity, to disgust, before he burst out laughing.

He raised his hand in bewilderment when he finally regained his breath. “What the hell, Meimei? That's disgusting!” He managed to get out through wheezing laughs.

They looked at each other, and burst into laughter again.

“How soon do you think?” Jin asked her, still smirking.

“Soon. Maybe even this week.” She replied. They were extremely close now, and they would be calving soon. One of the disadvantages of a spring calving was all the work one already was doing, and the spring rains sometimes made the calves sick.

That most likely would not be an issue here, however. She looked up at the tall ceiling. Two of the walls still were not yet complete, but the barn was coming along nicely. For the fact that it had only taken Jin two days of work, interspersed with making sure the hives were ready. It was still something wondrous, to see the barn raise so swiftly and surely.

“Right, lets go take a bath.” Jin declared. He wrapped his clean arm around her shoulder and started walking. She allowed herself to be dragged along. Jin was obsessed with cleanliness. She was clean by nature and practice, but Jin demanded a bath every night. Instead of just a wipe with a wet cloth.

The heated water was extremely nice, she had to admit. And Jin didn’t care if the bath was with him, either. Xiulan was good company, if overly polite.

“Indeed. We must clean ourselves of our effluvium, after our strenuous time penetrating the fine ladies of this establishment.” Meiling japed, getting another bout of laughter from her husband.

They strolled along the property. Things were finally slowing down after the mad dash to complete the fields. Essentially, all that was left was to the rice, finish the barn, and have the calves birthed. And then, they would finally have some time to rest.

Jin had promised her, at the first available opportunity, he would take her home—to her village, to see her father and brother again.

She couldn’t wait.

She was in a great mood... until she smelled cut grass. Normally, the smell of freshly scythed grass was one she enjoyed immensely. This, however, was just on the wrong side of pleasant. She had noticed this one in the morning, and it had gotten worse throughout the day.

She looked around and found Tigu and Xiulan. Both seemed to be in a foul mood. Xiulan looked downright exhausted and was rubbing her forehead. Tigu was... sticky? Her fur was matted, and she looked just about to kill something.

Jin’s arm tightened on her shoulder. He caught her eye and nodded his head in the direction of the two irritated-looking women.

“Are you sure?” she asked. She was rather looking forward to leaning back against his chest and letting her own worries slip away into the heated water.

He nodded. “I’ll wash the clothes instead.”

Women’s work, her mind supplied. Jin didn’t seem to care.

She got up on her toes, and they shared a kiss. “Acupuncture kit, please,” she whispered. Jin nodded obligingly.

Well, time to see what the matter was.

“Xiulan, Tigu! Come join me!” Meiling called. Both of the other women looked up, a bit startled, but with a glance at each other, they nodded.

They really looked like they needed a bath.


“ did you get this all over you?!” Meiling asked, aghast. There was wasp-paper, honey and bits of bug strewn throughout Tigu’s fur.

“After her failures yesterday, she asked me to accompany her. She mistook wasps for bees, again, and raided a yellow lance nest head-on.” Xiulan muttered. “Then she tried to dig out a bee nest that was underground. She dug it up too fiercely and ended up in the honey. In the confusion, the queen escaped.”

Tigu turned, absolutely scandalized, and hissed at Xiulan. She struggled for a moment like she wanted to get at the woman, but Meiling simply gripped her by the scruff and the cat went limp.

“You are going nowhere until I clean you.” Meiling stated bluntly. Tigu let out a few token grumbles, but remained limp. The little beast even started purring when her fingers went to work, cleaning the silken fur.

Meiling watched Xiulan out of the corner of her eye. The woman was morose, hugging her knees to her chest, sitting on one of the benches.

“...and you?” Meiling asked. Xiulan looked for a moment like she wasn’t going to say anything, before she deflated.

“I made a mistake, and pushed too hard, too fast. Again.” Xiulan explained. She winced, then rubbed her forehead again.

“Did whatever happened hurt you?” Meiling asked, concerned.

Xiulan paused and took stock of herself.

“...only my pride, I think.” She whispered. “And my forehead. Like hitting stone.”

Meiling shrugged. “Then there is little problem in trying again, but slower this time, no?”

Xiulan sighed, a tired smile coming to her face. “You are right, Senior Sister. This was a light rebuke. I shall try again. Slower this time.”

Meiling nodded. She ran her fingers through Tigu’s fur one last time and turned to the other woman.

“Grab a towel, and lay on your front, Xiulan. You look like you could use some relaxation.”

Xiulan’s eyes focused on the acupuncture needles, her body tensing further, before she abruptly relaxed.

“I entrust my body to you, Senior Sister.” Xiulan said, her voice soft. Meiling coughed at the phrasing.

Meiling set Tigu aside, the cat mewling softly as her fingers left.

Xiulan’s skin was impossibly soft and smooth. Every time Meiling touched it she wanted to just run her hands up and down the other woman’s body for the pure tactile sensation. Not in any sexual sense. It just felt so interesting.

But it was a veneer. The smooth, soft skin ended abruptly, and gave way to unyielding flesh that was like metal chords. Especially when Xiulan was this tense.

Meiling frowned. She knew mortal acupuncture, but not cultivator acupuncture. She was fairly certain she wouldn’t hurt the other woman, but she would just focus on the muscles, just in case.

The first needle refused to penetrate flesh, instead just bending.

Meiling took a calming breath and got out another needle. This one was carefully reinforced with Qi

She took her time, observing every reaction, as she placed the needles carefully into the muscles. It took a strange amount of effort to put the needles in. She placed each one precisely, like she did for Elder Che when father could not do it.

When she placed the last needle, Xiulan’s body abruptly relaxed, and the other woman let out a groan of pleasure that turned Meiling’s ears pink. Seriously, this woman! Meiling shook her head. She would need to either ask Jin, or Xiulan herself, for more scrolls on acupuncture. They were all cultivators, so that meant she would need better arts to adjust their bodies properly.

Or so she thought. Maybe she didn’t? It never hurt to learn.

A paw batted at her arm, and Tigu stared entranced at the needles.

“Okay, fine, yes, you too.” Meiling sighed.

She soon had an utterly relaxed cat, and a puddle of a woman, steaming in the water.

...She would have to see if Jin wanted to learn acupuncture. It just wasn’t the same to do it to yourself.

Yet all good things come to an end. The other girls staggered out of the bath and into the evening air. Well, Xiulan staggered. Tigu just curled up in Meiling’s arms. Jin was sitting with his back against the house. He had the bee that Bi De collected in the palm of his hand and was carefully feeding it some maple syrup The rooster was looking on, interested at the little, surprisingly docile insect. While the young queen could feed herself, and make a new hive by her lonesome, it was best that she didn’t work too much, especially after being separated from her swarm.

He raised an eyebrow and gestured towards Xiulan. Meiling shrugged. She didn’t know what was bothering the other woman, but she was in a bit better mood now.

There was a commotion as Chun Ke, Pi Pa, and Gou Ren exited the forest. Chun Ke had a thick branch in his mouth with a hive upon it, but the bees were nowhere to be found. Gou Ren raised a hand to Jin.

“We’ve got more!” he shouted, patting a box on his back. “A whole hive, thanks to these two!”


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