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Jin hadn’t been lying when he said the way he did things took a lot more work with the rice. Separating the seed, growing it in the little patches, and then transplanting it. Transplanting it at the correct distance too. Jin had made a little device for him out of wood. You rolled it across the field, forming little squares an exact width apart. You then planted the rice in the intersection between the squares, which Jin said would make the yield the best. Something to do with root crowding, and rice needing space.

Come to think of it, he had been rather exacting about the wheat rows too. To the point where he measured them with a ruler. They were to be as straight as possible, and each one an exact distance apart.

Hong Yaowu used their own method. One that had been passed down for generations. It worked. They ate rather well, most years. The only year he knew the true pangs of hunger was that year of sorrow. Like all the bad luck in the world hit Hong Yaowu at once. He shook his head to clear the memories. Those were in the past. He didn’t like dwelling on them, or even remembering them, really.

The only good thing he got out of that year was a prickly, spiky, almost sister in Meiling. Nothing brought people together like shared misery.

At least he wouldn’t have a sore back this year. He shuffled backwards and planted at nearly walking pace, and with the easy guides,.his mind could wander freely. Though most of the time he just found himself zoning out. Meditation was easy, when you didn’t have to sit around and concentrate.

“After this, you said inter row tillage twice a week, huh?” Gou Ren asked his comrade, and Jin nodded.

Twice a week was a lot. A backbreaking amount. An amount that if Gou Ren wasn’t a cultivator, he would refuse to do it. Yeah, the yields were better, but there were easier ways to kill yourself. Unless….

“You got some strange looking device for this? I saw you drawing that weird seed drill earlier.” Gou Ren had seen the odd designs. Jin’s drawing skill was technically competent, but the amount of “question marks” Jin had put on the page had been amusing.

Not that Gou Ren could talk. He couldn’t make any sense of what Jin wanted, and neither could Meiling.

Jin flushed a bit. “Hey, the seed drill you guys have looks different than I’m used to!” Gou Ren guessed so. The thing in Jin’s drawing had looked huge, with multiple prongs coming off it, not like the one man affair they had back home. The damn rickety thing did make things easier, but it was annoying as the hells to use.

“As for a device for this, I’d need to talk to Brother Che about getting what I want made… but for now.” He held up a hand, and formed it into a claw, making pawing motions at the air.

“With our hands?” He asked, aghast, “Come on, Jin, thats going to take forever!”

Jin laughed. “Yup. You just gotta have some fun with it. I did time trials a few times, or…” At this his eyes became shifty, “I tied a couple of rocks to my back, and pretended it was training a few times.” He sounded kind of embarrassed at the admission, and muttered “Ahni Me training.”

Ahni Me training. That sounded awesome! The image came to Gou Ren. Toiling in the fields, with hefting a giant rock with ease, his powerful muscles rippling, Miss Cai staring at him….

He quietly resolved to tie some rocks to his back at the first available opportunity. He may not become some kind of legendary general, but he was a cultivator! And that sounded like cultivator training!

Okay, mostly he just thought he’d look like some kind of amazing warrior.

They lapsed into silence again. Gou Ren completed his row.

“Hey, Jin?”

“Yeah?”

“How is Miss Cai doing, anyway?” He asked, remembering the gaunt, defeated look on the beautiful woman’s face. It hadn’t suited her.

Jin paused, and scratched his head.

“...Better, maybe. I haven’t been listening in on the conversations, but they’ve been talking at night. It seems to be helping.” Jin gave him an awkward smile.

“You said she was sick, right?”

Kind of like she was sick. Sometimes, you can heal from this stuff on your own, but sometimes… well, talking to somebody about it is the best medicine.”

Talking as a medicine, huh? Gou Ren frowned. Sounded weird.

“Hey, Gou?” Jin called his attention, and he turned back toward his friend. “If you ever got something you want to talk about, I’m here. Meimei too, yeah?”

It was an odd offer, but by the look in his eyes, Jin was really, really serious about it.

“Yeah, I will.” he promised.

Jin’s smile came back, and he nodded firmly. They got back to work

“You know, I’m a bit surprised your brother hasn’t come around, but they’re probably working him like a dog in the village.” Jin mused, “After this we should grab him and go hunting or fishing. Time with the boys, you know?”

Now that was an idea he could get behind. Meiling was alright, for a girl, but he wanted to be able to talk about manly things without interruption.

Like how to woo women. Miss Cai was a swan, and he was probably the toad in that old analogy, but it couldn’t hurt to at least try right? If she said no, it was not really any of his business to get angry.

Actually, on second thought, he probably wouldn't ask Jin. He doubted Miss Cai would enjoy getting thrown in a mud pit, or hit in the face with snow.

========================

Ganbei!” Jin shouted, holding up a bottle. The wine clinked together, and all of them took pulls, echoing Jin’s sentiment. Bi De crowed, and the rest of the animals made noises of joy, with their own little cups. “To the first year of many!”

Done. They were as done as they could be for now. Every big job finished, every crop that could be planted now planted. Of course, there was always more work. Jin had a massive timetable drawn up, but these were all things that could wait.

Now, all they had tonight was a bit of a party, and then they would be heading off home tomorrow.

Heavens, he couldn’t wait to see his brother again.

The table was full of food. Plates of pancakes, some honey-glazed duck, venison dumplings. All wonderful food.

There was even some mooncakes, oddly. Miss Cai’s normally composed face had broken completely at the sight of them, before it firmed up again. She was slowly chewing one with her eyes closed.

Which is when Jin of course, unveiled some of his newest creations.

“Maple fudge” and “ice cream”. The cows were already donating to the cause. A cup of cold milk in the morning, straight from the river, was fast becoming a fixture of Gou Ren’s mornings.

He took a bite of the delightfully cold treat. It was delicious. Everything Jin made was delicious.

Gou Ren wondered where in the hells he came up with these things. Or maybe they were more common in the city? Well, that was one reason to see if he could go to the Dueling Peaks. The food. There was probably so much interesting food there.

There was a moan of pleasure, and this time it wasn’t from Miss Cai. Meiling was staring at the bowl of ice cream with rapturous glee.

“I thought you would like mint the best.” Jin declared. “Just needs a bit of chocolate, and it’ll be even better.”

They laughed. They ate. They drank, and made merry.

Jin got out his pipa, and slammed out an upbeat, thundering tune as they clapped along. He saw out of the corner of his eye, Meiling grab Miss Cai’s hand, and pull her to her feet. The other woman nearly stumbled at the sudden movement, but allowed herself to be pulled into one of Hong Yaowu’s dances, as Meiling linked their arms together.

The shock soon turned into a soft smile. The unsure steps steadied, and soon, she was dancing like she had been doing it for her whole life. He took another pull from his bottle as he watched, and frowned, at finding it empty.

He didn’t feel anything--

Oh, there was the buzz.

Gou Ren smiled, and leaned back against Chun Ke. He hoped his brother was having a fraction of the fun he was.

=====================

“Yeah, go to bed, I’ve got this.” Gou Ren waved away Jin and Meiling, starting to clean up. Hey, they made the food, he cleaned things up. A system as old as time.

It wasn’t too messy anyway. Even though there were a bunch of animals constantly in the house, it was clean enough.

He hummed as he worked, stacking plates and cleaning them off. It was fast and easy, but slightly slower than Wa Shi was here. You didn’t actually have to clean the plates much with him, he did them for you. You actually had to work a bit now, instead of just chucking the dishes in.

He finished the plates, and moved on to the bottles, collecting the couple of empty ones, and the one full one.

He paused, and squinted at the bottle. It was completely full. Whoever had this hadn’t drank a drop.

He glanced at the spot on the table. Meiling? Not drinking? Yeah right, it was probably just a mix up. He shook his head and got back to work.

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Again, Break on April 5-9th.

 


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