Xiulan rose from her blessedly dreamless sleep with the early morning sun, as she always did. It was still a strange contrast. In the Verdant Blade Sect, the mornings were completely silent as the members of the sect performed their morning meditations. In the wetter months, the still and unmoving forms of the disciples were often covered in drops of dew, like the Blades of Grass they contemplated. It was only once the sun was well and truly risen that some activity began. It started slowly, and gained energy throughout the day as the morning contemplations and cultivation completed. But it was nearly always quiet, as to not disturb the meditations of others.
Here, there was no such silence. A rooster would immediately begin shouting at the rising sun, and with the rooster’s harsh scolding, everyone rose from their beds. It was almost like the army camp she had been in. The men thundering their horns to wake their comrades, and the grumbling that followed. But there was no breakdown of the tents, no marching orders being barked out.
She could almost imagine First Disciple Bi De in a soldier’s helm, commanding his men to rise. It was an amusing and terrifying thought.
The men and women rose, and started their daily toils. Xiulan let the soft voices, and the sounds of a village waking up wash over her. The sounds of life. There was no more urgency, with the planting well and truly complete.
All Xiulan had known was the near frantic energy of the spring season. Now, it was as if the entire village had breathed a sigh of relief.
Instead, there were games brought out, or tools taken into the center of the village, so that people could talk as they maintained their hoes and shovels.
She watched over them, as she circulated her Qi. not truly cultivating, just moving it around, and making it do as she wished.
Her muscles were relaxed, if a bit sore, after Senior Sister had attended to her last night. The acupuncture and massaging had left her feeling refreshed, and the lack of dreams had left her energised.
A cup clinked down beside her, and the aroma of tea reached her nose. Senior Sister’s father had surprisingly quiet footsteps.
“Thank you, for looking after my son.” He whispered.
Gratitude. Earned gratitude, as humble as her task was.
She bowed her head in acknowledgement, and took a sip of tea. It was a surprisingly rich flavour, as good as any she had ever tasted, despite its humble origins. It’s warmth settled into her belly.
“Thank you.” She returned. He smiled at her, and sat down beside her, nursing his own cup.
She turned her attention back to the village, when the peace was interrupted.
“Ca Wa Bun Ga!” Senior Sister shouted. There was a splat, and then the village echoed with Master Jin’s uproarious laughter, and Senior Sister’s giggling. She squinted down, near the outskirts, where Master Jin was laying in his wife’s arms, in a mud pit and laughing too hard to move.
Had she picked him up and jumped in with him?
The master of the village started laughing as well.
“That’s how they started courting.” Xian explained to her conspiratorially, a big smile on his face.
…..Truly, Senior Sister was an existence who defied comprehension some times.
I hummed happily as I took a bite of the cheese presented to me. It had an interesting flavour. Strong and pungent, like a particularly powerful gruyere cheese. It was a shame I had found it so late. We were to be leaving soon, but that wouldn’t stop me from enjoying it. My wife was behind me and holding her nose, staring baffled at me.
“...how can you like that, it smells like death!” she whined.
Hu Li started laughing. “Your boy just has superlative taste!” she declared haughtily.
She was probably just glad somebody else liked the cheese. Most people seemed to really detest the smell, and a third of the village was lactose intolerant. Which was honestly less than it should be, considering that we were all “chinese”. Wracking Rou’s memories couldn’t bring up any thoughts of milk, so I guess further south, the lactose intolerance was higher.
But a nice cheese sauce pasta, or ravioli wasn’t on the menu tonight.
Some people said you could make Pizza without tomato sauce, and substituted in creme sauce.
These people were fucking heathens, and I had joined their ranks because of a damn craving.
Mozzarella wasn’t too hard to make, even when you had to kludge some of the ingredients. I was used to rennet tablets, or having it in liquid form, made from the stomachs of a calf.
I didn’t know you could apparently get it from thistles, and I’m not talking about Meimei. Such a useful plant.
The other side of the equation was some vinegar, because none of the citrus had lasted.
So tonight, we would be having knock-off creme sauce pizza. Absolutely heretical, but some of the sausage I had last night tasted a bit like pepperoni, and that had sparked a mighty need. Come to me, my dear tomatoes! I need you!
Hu Li was nice enough to start the curd for me. The only down-side to having a thistle based rennet is that it could take a while. Like… twelve hours, some times. Which was annoying, but serviceable.
“I’ll have to buy some of this off you.” I decided, as I finished the cheese and Meiling’s face paled, while Hu Li’s smile got brighter.
“...please don’t eat any in the house.” Meiling begged, staring at the cheese like it was the devil himself.
I suppose it might be, she was looking a little green. I sighed, and put my thoughts of cheese sauce on hold.
Hu Li handed me one of the pails of milk, and frowned at it. “This isn’t going to taste like anything at all.” Hu Li complained, “This kind of thing is best with yak milk, not that we get it often. A bold flavour!”
I shrugged, while Meimei made over exaggerated gagging motions at the mention of yak milk.
“It tastes enough for what I need it to.” I explained, as we headed to the bigger, communal kitchen.
And walked straight into a cartoon.
I knew Xiulan had been helping Meiling more and more in the kitchen. My wife and Xiulan had been getting along really well, even more so than usual after we found her with Xian.
Xiulan was at the center of a storm. A knife chopped on it’s own, the pieces of mushroom, all perfectly equally sized, arcing high into the air and depositing themselves into a wok.
Other women seemed to swirl around her, depositing more things to cut on cutting boards, or just watching in awe. Several heads of garlic were reduced to paste in moments. A cleaver rose up and started slicing through a large root, the kind that normally took several strikes to get through.
“Miss Lanlan!” a voice shouted, Ty An, I think her name was? She threw a batch of spring onion in the air towards a wok, and I finally saw Xiulan’s face, a mask of concentration. She was sweating, her hair held out of her face by a cloth.
A knife flew through the air, intercepting the onion, and cutting it into pieces. They were a bit big, and imperfect. The knives wobbled uncertainly in the air.
All you needed was a musical accompaniment, and it wouldn’t look out of place in an anime.
Using sword skills for cooking. I was always fond of the fantastical becoming mundane. And being able to telekinetically control knives was extremely useful.
Meiling cleared her throat loudly, and everyone froze. The knife nearly dropped, and she plucked it out of the air easily.
“Xiulan, thank you for all your help.” Meiling said warmly, and the older woman nodded her head.
I couldn’t see Meiling’s face, but the rest of the women paled as she turned her attention to them.
“The rest of you…. Back to work, and bother her no longer.”
The rest of them fled.
The pizza was... serviceable. That's all I’m going to say. It certainly wasn't the greatest, the moza was too sour, and the creme sauce made it too rich. My disappointment was immeasurable, and my day was ruined, but that's what I get for trying to innovate without thinking things through.
Eh, not everything could be a winner.
I was sitting on the roof of the shrine, looking out over the village, and having another slice of my crappy pizza. The nights were just starting to get warm here, and the frogs were singing their little hearts out, eager to get busy.
Xiulan walked out from the forest, a sleeping Xian held in her arms. She handed him off to a waiting Meiling, and took the one handed hug she was pulled into with a smile.
...did they have godmothers here? Maybe, maybe not. But Auntie Xiulan had a nice ring to it, when we did eventually have kids.
I turned back to my pizza.
...this is actually kind of nasty, now that its cold.
I ate it anyway.
I was a little surprised, when I heard the tapping of feet, letting me know that somebody else was on the roof with me.
Xiulan was looking nervous, and taking obviously calming breaths, with two cups of tea in her hands.
“Master Jin...can I talk to you?” She asked quietly.