Fang Zhao managed to rush back to Muzhou and reach Shanmu Farm one day before the competition. Wu Yi and Su Hou were waiting for him, the two of them unable to suppress their grins.
"Fang Zhao, what is that dog made of? You know, when Bingo ate a field mice and had the runs, I was so scared I nearly had to visit the hospital and lie down myself." Wu Yi had not expected that his one decision would have such returns, and he had placed the hopes of the farm on this competition. Back then, when he had found out that Bingo's stomach was upset, his soul had nearly left his body. Throughout the night, he had spent quite a bit to hire a few famous veterinarians from the Eastern region. Luckily, there were no complications and it only affected the next day's performance in the competition. However, all this was secondary. As long as it could recover, the competitions that followed would be no issue.
After that, Wu Yi had gotten the vets to check up on every single dog. Probably because they only ate dog food in the past, this time when they ate indiscriminately, there were some reactions. Other than Bingo, the other dogs had some ailments—they just were not so obvious. Only Curly Hair, who had eaten the field mice and nibbled on wild grass, was not affected. The vets checked a few times and their assessment was: "Perfectly healthy! Not a single parasite!"
However, Fang Zhao could not answer that question either. Back then, on the black street, the boss of the drug store, Ai Wan, had raised this matter and even done a genetics test. That also had not yielded any precise results. Hence, Fang Zhao did not know either.
Wu Yi only asked out of curiosity and had not really expected an answer. As he continued, Wu Yi laughed happily again and told Fang Zhao about his cousin bringing her dogs over to the farm two days ago.
Wu Yi's cousin was the owner of the Carrot Farm that had been very popular early on in the season. Unfortunately, they had not made it into the finals, whereas the little fellow who had collaborated with Wu Yi had qualified for it. Hence, Wu Yi's cousin had brought her dogs over for an exchange session and to share their thoughts.
No one had expected that the two teams of dogs would have a fight. Even the farm's guard dog Chubby Black had joined the fracas and was bitten a few times. It was Curly Hair that helped it take revenge by biting back and removing a few bunches of fur from the other side. Because of this incident, Wu Yi and his cousin had almost had a falling out.
Remembering the circumstances then, the sides of Wu Yi's mouth curled slightly. Winning a fight was a good thing!
And through this incident, Wu Yi's cousin deeply understood that the small curly-haired dog being the lead of this sheep herding team was not without reason. That fighting spirit that it possessed was just too strong!
However, compared to before, Su Hou was more silent. When Fang Zhao and Wu Yi were talking, Su Hou did not utter a single word.
"I have no idea what's wrong with that little fellow. Two days ago, he cooped himself up in his room for another day, and when he came out, he had become all silent. Could it be that he had an argument with his family?" Wu Yi was puzzled. He had asked Su Hou a few times, but every time, he realized that Su Hou seemed embarrassed to reply him and mumbled about not replying. As his attitude toward training was still all right, Wu Yi had not pursued the matter. Young kids were probably like this—as they were maturing, it was normal for their moods to be unstable.
Early the next morning, everyone took the flying transport and headed for the competition grounds of the Eastern region finals.
Compared to the previous rounds of competition, the competition grounds for the finals were much bigger. Many celebrities would be there to spectate and a number of old farm owners who had past glories would be there to commentate. Not only that, the live broadcast would have an explosion in viewer numbers.
During the normal competitions, generally, people from the Eastern region would watch the Eastern competitions and those from the Western region would pay attention to the Western competitions. But when it came to the region finals, the entire Muzhou would tune in. People from the Western region also wanted to know which four teams would pit themselves against their own superstar teams.
Su Hou had received messages from his classmates back in Qingcheng. Qingcheng was situated an area located right in the middle of the Eastern and Western regions. In the past, it was considered part of the Eastern region, then considered part of the Western region after that. Thus, before this, people from Qingcheng observing the Eastern region competitions were lesser. Most people there only knew that Su Hou had bought a farm and stormed into the finals only through media reports.
"Come on, Brother Hou! We will all be watching!"
"Young Su, I will wager on your team to win! You must put in extra effort!"
"Young Su, yesterday, I eavesdropped on our form teacher saying that if you stormed into the continental finals, she wouldn't hassle you about your absences for class as long as you do not fail your exams."
The sheep-herding scene was so big in Muzhou that, during crucial competition periods, a lot of those working and schooling could watch the live broadcast and most companies and student leaders would approve. This sort of situation would never happen in other continents.
Seeing all this, the calm and collected mentality that Su Hou had trained up with great difficulty during the normal rounds of competition unraveled and he begun to get nervous.
Watching the competition were not just his classmates and teachers but other members of the Su family as well. Members of the Su family might not have paid attention to the normal rounds of competition, but for this sort of important day in the competition, they would surely be there.
He felt some excitement and some apprehension, and thinking about the publicity video that Fang Zhao had created for him made him feel even more complicated. He had handed the video over to the organizers yesterday. He had watched that video a number of times, and every time he saw it, he felt a different feeling.
However, compared to Su Hou's complicated feelings and Wu Yi's nervousness and anticipation, the shepherd dogs were still their old selves. To them, the Eastern region finals were not too different from the other rounds of the competition. The competition grounds were just a little larger, the terrain more undulating, and the herding a little more difficult. What was nervousness? They did not know anymore—in any case, as long as they followed Curly Hair, it would be fine.
Curly Hair was lying beside Fang Zhao's feet, licking his front paw. Occasionally, when someone mentioned him, he would raise his head and cast a glance before continuing to lie down.
Su Hou had also received a few messages. It was from one of his older female cousins. What she meant was that many members of the Su family were watching the live broadcast. She had already wagered a sum on Dongshan Farm to win—as for how much, she refused to say.
An elder male cousin of his sent: "Come on! Little Fatty Su!"
Su Hou wanted to cry. He was still young and could not bear that much pressure. He thought for a bit, found an excuse to retire to the lone restroom, and watched the video Fang Zhao had given him twice more.
Wu Yi realized that Su Hou seemed too stressed out today and had originally wanted to find him for a pep talk. Although he was nervous too, as an elder, he needed to act calm in front of the younger ones. He had not expected that, when Su Hou came out, he was full of fighting spirit and vigor. This made Wu Yi swallow the words he had prepared.
Every single team's viewing gallery, as well as the other viewing halls for spectators at the competition grounds, each had their own holographic projections and sound systems.
Muzhou people were nouveau riche. Even if they did not understand hardware equipment, they still used very high quality ones. This was because, when they could not tell when the equipment was spoiled, they would just purchase a more expensive one.
Before the competition, there would be a segment where every team got to have an introduction and publicize themselves. This was a good time for an advertisement and it was free of charge. Almost the entirety of Muzhou would watch it.
Su Hou had drawn number eight for his entering sequence, which would be toward the back. The publicity film would also be shown in the order of the entering sequence.
The previous seven teams' brief introductions were more or less the same. They were all reputable farms and were just promoting their brand name. Therefore, in their publicity films, the ones that occupied the most screen time were the farm owners, followed by the star dog of each team, and then all sorts of that farm's products.
"Almost there!" Wu Yi was a little excited. He had not seen the video yet. Su Hou had been too embarrassed to show it to him. However, Su Hou had told him that, other than the participating dogs, the video would also feature Shanmu Farm's name and Wu Yi would make an appearance. That was enough for him.
"Next up is the team that rose abruptly in this year's Eastern region sheep-herding competitions. I'm sure everyone is already familiar with them. Moreover, the owner of this farm is extremely young. The rapid rise was a surprise to many, but now they have achieved the qualifications to enter the Eastern finals using their own strength!" The commentator's voice echoed all around and was followed by a broadcast of the video submitted by Dongshan Farm.
Those watching the competition perked themselves up, especially those from the Western region of Muzhou. They did not know much of the Eastern terms, but they were curious about Su Hou! What sort of publicity film would Little Fatty Su put out? Would he publicly declare war on his half siblings? Woah, even thinking of that made all these people excited!
At the start of the film came Su Hou's voice.
"I wish to take part in a sheep-herding competition! I want to take part in the finals!" This was something Su Hou had said many times.
A youngster with a child-like face appeared on the screens to go along with those innocent, stubborn words. His eyes held a crazed self-belief, as if he had grasped tomorrow in the palm of his hands.
Even if people did not recognize Su Hou by name or background, just by looking at the image, most people could see that he was a pampered fatty from a rich family. And his straightforward talk of "wanting to take part in the finals" was in fact "an exaggerated opinion of his own abilities" and a display of "the ignorant have nothing to fear."
The background music bellowed and brought with it incredible thickset emotion. It was not intense but slow, and the flimsy string tones seemed to foretell something.
A string of words appeared on the display:
[I borrowed money to purchase a farm, but it was not as I had expected.]
Su Hou had only appeared a month after the sheep-herding season had started through buying a participating farm and obtaining their qualifications. This sort of thing happened every year and it was not a rare sight.
Before Dongshan Farm had risen to prominence, the information that everyone could obtain online was only a few images of how Xishan Farm used to look like. The small majority who were well informed knew only limited information through word of mouth. Later, when Dongshan Farm became more well known and more people wanted to get to the bottom of the matter, the farm was no longer like that.
What was Xishan Farm like when Su Hou had purchased it?
After the words on the display appeared and faded, the image changed.
An exquisitely clothed rich young master brought his bodyguards and rode a superior flying transport, traveling a great distance to the western part of Muzhou's Eastern region, to a remote and vast farm.
The sound of a flute joined in the melody. It was a flute the Muzhou people were familiar with, a flute that was manufactured in a furnace using clay. It was an ancient method. This sort of flute was rarely used in other continents, at most brought back to keep as a souvenir.
In the middle of the bleak and lonely flute melody, the image depicted rotting, worn-out wooden fences surrounding a vast and desolate patch of earth that only had a few weeds growing on it. The rundown courtyard seemed like it had been left alone for who knows how long, braving the winds, sun, and rain. The door was swaying off its frame in the wind. A few dispirited dogs were lying there sleeping, completely uninterested. In the dusky twilight, the tall and faded signboard of "Xishan Farm" looked insignificant and laughable against the mountain ranges in the background.
Two images appeared on the display. One was of the images that were publicly available online, and the other was an image of the farm the first time Su Hou had seen it after purchasing it. At the same time, an image of the certificate of ownership that Su Hou owned, which showed the large sum of money used as well as the name of the original owner of Xishan Farm. However, everyone understood that this person would have long escaped.
They did not hide anything. This had been added in to Su Hou's accord, just like a failure displaying his scars for all the curious people to see.
Some people would play it down, but it let people understand what had actually happened with one look.
"This is the rumored incident where Young Master Su got cheated?"
"Su Hou was too anxious."
"Kids are like this, too impulsive."
People who saw this began to discuss.
During that time, lots of people online viewed this incident with a "look at the fool" attitude.
There was a woodwind solo as the piano and string accompaniment gradually dissolved. The low sound of a violin played a frail harmony that seemed like slow sighs.
In the display, Su Hou's eyes, which were full of eager anticipation, turned murly, like a fish that had leaped out of the water expecting to transform into a dragon. However, as it was falling, it realized that it would land itself in an even worse problem: dry land.
A harmony of high- and low-pitched strings played, and a feeling of experiencing a drop in elevation, as if an icy cold wind blew across on top of a summit, chilled listeners to the bone.
The display faded to black. A square window appeared, glimmering with a little light. Under the window and lit up by the glow was a figure sitting down with his head in his knees. From the plump figure, one could tell that he was probably Su Hou. The dusky image of Su Hou sitting alone in the cold and gloomy room was like a young animal caught in a trap, helpless and at a loss.
The soft flute tune that carried an air of sorrow diluted. With the blare of a trumpet, the music's sorrowful mood gradually weakened. Drumbeats set a measured rhythm, with each beat sounding closer to the ear.
In the display, through the square window, the rays of light gradually became brighter. The surroundings of the figure were covered by a sheen of golden light.
It was a new day, the sun had come up.
Not just from the window, the sunlight entered through the holes in the wall and the doorway. The dark became brighter, dispelling the gloom.
The figure that had been quietly sitting there raised his head and slowly moved. He turned to face the window and squinted as the light shined on his face. Looking out the window, the glass had a spiderweb-like crack on it, creating a psychedelic tint as light passed through it. The cracked glass did not block out the entire scenery. After his eyes adjusted to the light, he looked through the window as though he saw something.
Getting up, he walked to the dilapidated door and pulled it open.
As the sunlight shone on Su Hou's body, the scene warmed up. His disheveled hair was blown by the wind, and the fresh buds of grass beside his feet swirled up as if they were dancing.
A woodwind score brought about a bright and cheery tune full of warmth, as if the lush grassland had faced a gentle and fresh wind that dispersed all the gloomy coldness. The low pitched sounds of brass, wood, and string carried a firm and mighty tone, giving it a forceful theme.
At this moment, the music had a little variation. The accompaniment of brass and string, through a detuning method, became even more intense. Within the persistent beating of the drums, the flute carried a rising strength. The strings were like an explosion of life. Just like the passing of winter, flowers would bloom once more, and the grasslands would return to their former green glory.
Two lines of words appeared on the display:
[I do not know anything.]
[But... I will learn.]
Previously, the stifling and sorrowful sounds had become more and more feeble. With the base of a piano, bright and expansive sounds joined in. Every note seemed to be kneaded into the deepest recesses of one's soul.
In the display, Dongshan Farm had a few more employees. Su Hou followed this people as they worked. One of the workers pointed at the soil and was talking; afterward, he pinch a little soil and placed it in his mouth to try. Su Hou followed suit and his entire face contorted in disgust. The old man laughed and continued speaking, and Su Hou squated at his side, listening attentively.
A few old farm owners would not just look at but would try out the soil to understand their farms. Many elders watching this live broadcast flashed knowing smiles.
Wu Yi had once said that straw contained the four seasons within, and he'd meant it. From the taste of the straw, they could tell its growing process, speculate the changes in the condition of soil, and understand whether changes in climate had affected the harvest. For the same reasons, those that tried soil were just like this too. And in the eyes of many old farm owners, people who did this were responsible farm owners who treated their plot of lands seriously, totally different from a foreigner's impressions that they were "merchant landowners."
What followed immediately after in the display was Su Hou talking on his communications device and, after that, running toward the flying transport. He did not even have time to change out of his suit. His legs were full of mud, and bits of grass were matted in his hair.
After that, the flying transport took off and flew high up. The gust created from the transport blew away all the dried grass on the parking ground. The roar of the engines blended in with the accompaniment, creating an uplifting tempo, and brought about a feeling of flying, heading upward and forward into an empty sky.
[To know nothing about the world, to be ridiculed, to be treated with contempt. All these are insignificant, as long as we keep moving forward.]
The melody carried on from the first part and unfolded. The main theme was a string score with a flute accompaniment. The layer tones became thicker and more distinct as the accompaniment expanded. The trumpet's blare continuously uplifted the spirits of the listeners. The tense music became lively and vibrant.
The display was now showing an overhead view. Large grasslands full of life could be seen.
A flock of sheep was walking about slowly, and a few shepherd dogs were running about vigorously.
Beside Shanmu Farm's signboard, a cap-wearing Wu Yi stood there smiling. He extended both his arms and gave the youth a hug.
"To a pleasant partnership!"
[I want to stand on the instructor's platform for a sheep-herding competition.]
In the display, there were eyebags under Su Hou's eyes. His hair was made even messier by the wind, as if he had not taken care of it in a long time. Paired together with that pale, chubby face of his, it seemed a little comical, yet those two youthful eyes were burning with a steadfast desire.
From being ignorant to clear-headed, from being at a loss to having an unwavering determination, step by step, they pressed on against this predicament. How it would all end—success or failure? That was not important.
The brass leading the tune became high spirited, and the sonorous beating of the drums became more forceful with each beat, as if following the choice his heart had made.
Wu Yi's voice sounded. "You need to get them to acknowledge you quickly and let them accept you."
After this was a scenario where Su Hou ate and slept with the shepherd dogs.
In the display, after Su Hou fed the dogs, he would carry his own bowl and sit randomly beside the dogs at the doorstep. He gulped down food that did not look very good. The people of Muzhou could tell right away that was not some exquisite food; it was even worse than what they normally ate daily.
At night, he slept with the dogs in the kennel.
At the start, when the dogs lazed around, they kept a distance from Su Hou. The display returned to Dongshan Farm's dog A, Bingo, and a close-up shot of the apparent dislike in his eyes.
However, the image changed. Every day, Su Hou would close the gap with these shepherd dogs, to the point where some dogs would rest next to Su Hou.
No longer with any self-pity, the string music became more vigorous, like a sword drawn and ready to attack. The melody became heavier once again and the rhythm and tempo increased, gradually intensifying, as if power was flowing in bit by bit. The tone of the harmony changed, symbolizing him constantly working hard.
Su Hou ran through the lush green fields with the shepherd dogs.
Over the music, Wu Yi's coarse voice echoed across the grassland. "Very good! Continue giving them instructions. Keep up, you have to keep up! Don't be left behind! Run after them!"
Why not use the field car?
Because many shepherd dogs would remain guarded against the field car, and it was not beneficial for getting closer to the shepherd dogs. Competition instructors basically would run together with the dogs at the start of training till the dogs had good enough judgement and were capable of reacting on their own. Only then would the distance gradually increase, as the instructor would not need to be close by, feeding instructions.
With running came falling. After falling, he would climb back up and continue running. The three bodyguards did not stay beside him—they just watched from nearby. Every day, they helped spray medicine and treat all the wounds and cuts on Su Hou's body.
Su Hou's fair and chubby face lost its fat, and he became tanned.
Su Hou was a newbie, and he did not have adequate time to slowly adapt. Therefore, he needed to spend even more time together with the shepherd dogs, running together, herding together, shouting out commands non-stop, shouting the names of every single dog and letting them remember his voice. He had no time to worry about shouting till he became hoarse; he needed to remember all his commands.
The display switched to Su Hou's first competition. He had been so nervous he'd turned pale, his body had froze, and his frantic mistakes had told everyone that he was a newbie,
Seeing this, lots of people thought, With that poor skill, don't even bother appearing and losing face!
However, many people watching the broadcast, especially those from the Eastern region, fell silent. Because they knew what would happen next.
Dongshan Farm's success, as well as their continuous accumulation of points.
"Su Hou requests to issue commands!"
"Su Hou requests to issue commands!'
"Su Hou requests to issue commands!"
At different competition venues, different commentators all said the same line. From the display, everyone could see Su Hou's transformation from his first time giving out commands. From being hesitant and nervous, he became firm and steadily issued the correct commands.
In the cheery melody, there would occasionally be a few cumbersome chords. However, these were only momentarily there. It was as if the melody had been entrusted with a sort of intense and unwavering disposition. The rustling of the wind moved forward as the sound of flute and piano seemed a hopeful smile.
The display split into two. On on side appeared Su Hou requesting to issue commands. On the other side was an everyday situation of Su Hou training together with the dogs.
The tune's turnaround, with the shrill of brass and the flowing piano, was akin to a seedling that had struggled to emerge from the earth and, through much hardship, had grown up into a tall tree capable of withstanding the harshest winds.
Even if the later competitions no longer required Su hou to step in, everyone knew at that moment that he was not simply standing up there as a decoration.
The brass and string medley rapidly ascended, and ascended, and ascended, all the way till it hit a splendid instant!
"Dongshan Farm have taken first place again and have gotten themselves ten points. With this, they have secured qualifications into the Eastern region finals. Congratulations, Dongshan Farm!" the commentator's voice rang out from the display.
Su Hou, who looked like a normal farm employee now, rushed down from his spot on the instructor's platform and hugged the seven shepherd dogs emotionally as carefree laughter floated from the area.
Now at the conclusion of the competition, the screen displayed Dongshan's placing. Su Hou stood up from the grass, not bothering to wipe away the fragments of grass, sheep wool, and dog fur. Panting, he looked up at the screen and brought a fist to his chest. His heart was throbbing intensely from all the joy, his eyes shimmering with tears.
That was the jubilation of victory, and a triumph that his heart had earned.
Amidst the cheery melody, each musical note was robust but not conceited. The music was not overpowering nor romantic but intimate yet unyielding—akin to the firm belief that the people of Muzhou held toward their motherland and this competition.
In the display, the newly constructed "Dongshan Farm" signage was set up on the grass. The once sparse and empty spaces had been partitioned out, and new shoots were growing in the fields. Amidst the drizzling rain, a new lease of life had been breathed into the farm.
Back at Dongshan farm, Su Hou was standing in the middle of two fields. He took off running against the wind then suddenly stopped. Turning back in the direction of the muddy road he'd taken, a grin appeared on his muddied face.
[I might have wept bitter tears after encountering problems, but as I kept moving forward, I realized how far I had come by gritting my teeth and moving forward.]
The piano played out a beckoning pitch as woodwinds, brass, and strings joined the fray as the entire orchestra converged for the epilogue. The majestic blend of sounds brought about a victorious and proud vibe as warmth flooded the entire body and raised the spirits up. It was as if a young eagle was spreading its wings, waiting for the wind to pick up before flying off in search of new glories. Surging forward with a clear heart and unafraid of the future, this was the spirit of youth.
The ending of the video was a group photo. Su Hou and the seven shepherd dogs were at the forefront, and at the background stood two people. One was Wu Yi, and the other was Fang Zhao.
Videography: Wu Yi, Su Hou, Fang Zhao
Editing: Fang Zhao, Su Hou
Soundtrack: "Chasing Wind"
Composer: Fang Zhao
However, very few people paid attention to the end credits. Even more people were thinking about the Su Hou depicted in the video. This short publicity film had made people view Su Hou in a different light.
After the video ended, the commentator was silent for close to five seconds before he lightened the mood with a joke, "Do you know the sort of person that I dislike the most?"
An invited esteemed guest sitting beside the commentator asked, "What sort?"
The commentator replied, "Those that are born well off but are still especially hardworking."
The esteemed guest laughed, "It can't be helped. We might not be able to see it, but Su Hou has put in a lot of effort. He is a real role model."
Those that were familiar with Su Hou were bewildered.
Su Hou, that retard?!
Of course, people watching the live broadcast online thought differently.
"I took a screenshot of the last photo at the end of the video. Everyone take a look at the person standing at the back; doesn't he look familiar?"
"You were not paying attention when watching. It was obviously mentioned that the person was Wu Yi, the owner of Shanmu Farm."
"Rubbish. Obviously I know that is Wu Yi. I was talking about the other person beside him!"
"Who is that? I don't think he appeared in the publicity video."
There were people who quickly recognized him right away.
"What the f*ck, Fang Zhao!"