Thousand Autumns – Chapter 7
Quality Check: Kai
First published on Ainushi.
Sorry I’ve been busy recently IRL, hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with the progress in the next couple weeks…;w; We’re all waiting for Yan to show up…
Synopsis: Do you want to be blind like me?
Chen Gong stood in a daze for quite some time before he could respond, "Did you bring these back?"
Shen Qiao nodded. "Didn't you ask me to bring back three donkey meat burgers?"
Chen Gong noticed that the clothes the other person had been wearing was now replaced by a brand new blue robe. The grey one he had originally worn was now spread underneath as a bedding. The man remained clean and neat, the same way as before. He might have taken a bath and tidied himself up somewhere.
"Where did you get the money?" Chen Gong asked suspiciously.
Shen Qiao laughed, "Through moral means, of course. Just take a look at my condition. Do you think I'd be able to steal or rob?"
Chen Gong grunted, "Who knows?"
Nevertheless, he still picked up a burger. It felt warm and soft as he touched it, obviously fresh out of the oven. He opened the paper wrap and readily took a bite. The burger was baked to a golden crisp; the gravy inside dripped out as the bun was bitten into, diffusing the surroundings with a mouth-watering aroma .
Chen Gong’s craving was so greatly aroused that he ate two of them in one breath. As for the remaining one, he didn't want to finish so soon and, after a moment of thinking, decided to save it for breakfast tomorrow, so that he could eat it right before going to work.
He turned his head to look at Shen Qiao. The latter was still sitting there cross-legged, holding the bamboo stick in his hands. His eyes were lightly closed. Chen Gong was not sure whether he was just resting with his eyes shut or actually thinking about something.
"Hey, where are you from?"
Shen Qiao shook his head: "I don't know. I tumbled during the trip and injured my head. There are lots of things that I can't remember."
"If you don't want to talk about it, then don't! Why bother coming up with excuses! You think it's that easy to trick me?" Hardly acknowledging it as an answer, Chen Gong lost interest in the conversation and laid straight down.
However, perhaps it was because he had eaten too much, Chen Gong tossed and turned but just could not fall asleep. He failed to hold back from opening his mouth again, "Hey! Seriously, where have you been during the day? How did you manage to make money?"
A soft voice came from the other side: "Fortune telling by bones."
Chen Gong sat up towards him with a thump: "You know how to tell fortunes by bones?"
Shen Qiao was still sitting there, with his legs crossed, as he laughed, "I wouldn't call it 'tell' really. Whether a person is rich or poor, there are always some clues on one's hand. It's just a small trick to get by."
Chen Gong became interested, "Then why don't you take a look at mine to see whether I'll be rich in the future?"
Shen Qiao replied, "Let me touch your hands."
Chen Gong gave him his hands, and Shen Qiao ran his fingers through them for a moment. "You are used to carrying heavy objects, so you should have a temporary job in either rice shops or on the pier, right?"
"What else?" Chen Gong was not stupid. He knew that there were thick calluses on his hands and the other person must have made an assumption based on that.
"You are stubborn, with an unyielding disposition that won't easily admit defeat. Yet, you are also somewhat skeptical; you must have fallen out with your family at a young age, and it's likely that you have a stepmother or a stepfather back at home."
Chen Gong's eyes widened in spite of himself, "Anything more?"
Shen Qiao smiled, "In troubled times like now, there are indeed many opportunities. With your temper, if you join the army, you might be able to achieve great accomplishments in the future."
Chen Gong asked, "How did you figure out all of this?"
Shen Qiao explained, "You have a local accent, therefore it's impossible that you are a refugee who fled here from other places because of the famine. Local residents usually have houses, unless something happened to your family. Considering your temperament, it's more likely the situation that I've just said, that you fell out with your family. But even if you have fallen out with your family, if your biological father or mother is still around, it's unlikely that they will just sit by and watch you stranded outside in wind and rain. Therefore, it should be the case that either your father married a harsh stepmother or both of your parents have passed away when you were young."
Chen Gong was finally somewhat convinced after hearing Shen Qiao patiently account for his reasonings one by one.
He asked again, "Then how do you know that I can make something of myself by serving in the army?"
Shen Qiao said, "You don't want to be bullied by your stepmom, so you left home out of resentment and would rather live here. Also, you fought with the beggars for a donkey meat burger last night. It's clear that you are someone who is ruthless to others as well as to yourself. With a temper like this, you should be able to adapt well to the military environment."
Chen Gong harrumphed, "So, you simply look down on people like me after all, don't you? Someone like me who can't even fill their own stomach yet still plan to rob you. Talking in such a roundabout way only to make fun of me!"
Shen Qiao laughed, "Having experienced misfortunes like this myself, how could I make fun of other people? Didn't you ask me about fortune telling by bones just now? I'm just using you as an example to explain. It's quite accurate, isn't it? Even though you can't make a lot of money with it, at least it's enough for a meal."
Chen Gong said, "Since you make it sound all pretty like you know about everything, then why are you still so down-and-out? Did you get robbed by bandits somewhere on the way?"
Shen Qiao replied, "I guess you could say that, since I can't remember it myself. Sometimes my brain works just fine, while other times not so well. Many things appear to me only as vague memories. Fortunately you let me stay here, otherwise I really don't know where to spend these nights. In fact, I still have to thank you very much for it!"
After such flattery, Chen Gong felt much better that even the three donkey meat burgers that he had received seemed like a matter of course to him, as if he had really defended Shen Qiao.
"Well then, three burgers for tomorrow still! Don't you think that you can get away with it just by chatting with me for so long!"
When Chen Gong returned to the shabby temple the next evening, there were three donkey meat burgers in the same place as before. On the other side, Shen Qiao also had one in his hand. He was eating it in such a composed manner that it seemed like he was eating some kind of exotic delicacy rather than a donkey meat burger.
'What an affectation!' It was hard for Chen Gong, who was in his rebellious years, to not make a humph in his mind, as he turned his head to open the paper wrap, then took a bite ferociously.
The next evening when Chen Gong came back, there were again three burgers just as before. Even though Shen Qiao answered every question Chen Gong asked and was extremely good tempered, Chen Gong simply felt that they did not belong together, and their conversations were disagreeable to him as well. What the other person said was rather unintelligible to him, while his ferocity and bullying were ineffective on Shen Qiao. Like punching a pile of cotton, even though he was the one showing off his power, in the end, the sullen one was also himself.
His intuition told him that Shen Qiao was not a simple man, not only because of his clothes, which remained clean and neat all this time, nor his gentle and frail appearance that resembled much of a scholar–it was a gut feeling that was hard to explain or to understand.
Even though both of them had to live under the shelter of this shabby temple, somehow he just felt like he was inferior in front of the other.
Chen Gong did not like this feeling, therefore he did not like Shen Qiao either.
This place was extremely cold at night, with winds passing through all sides of it. Apart from the two living men, rats would probably be the largest population in here. His shoes were worn out, and something might have bitten his toe. Chen Gong cried out an “Ouch!”, but, unwilling to get up just to vent his anger on a rat, he simply curled up more tightly.
Besides the whistling wind, there seemed to be sound of footsteps coming from outside.
But on a hellish windy night like this, who would come to such a shabby place?
Chen Gong was about to doze off when he suddenly heard Shen Qiao's voice: "Someone is coming."
Right as he opened his eyes, he saw a few figures slipping in sneakily with clubs and staffs in their hands. The two leading ones looked awfully familiar. He scrutinized them again–they were clearly the two beggars that he fought off the other day.
A shiver ran through Chen Gong and it instantly woke him up completely. He quickly got up on his feet: "What do you want?!"
One of them laughed, "Eldest Chen, ah, Eldest Chen. Weren't you acting all haughty that day that you even threw us out? We’ve called the Beggar Sect bros in the city today. Let's see if you still dare act arrogant!"
Chen Gong spit on the ground. "What Beggar Sect?! A bunch of beggars hanging out together and you are shameful enough to call it the Beggar Sect?"
The other person shouted angrily, "Still talking shit even at death's door, huh? Don't beg for forgiveness later! Bros, this brat was the one that took our territory! Oh, there's also a newcomer on the side. He has money on him. Let's take them down together, collect their stuff and get everyone some drinks with it!"
Even at a glance, Chen Gong was obviously penniless. If he had money on him, at most it was probably just enough for a few buns. However, the other person was different, with how clean and neat his clothes looked. Those clothes alone, after they rip it off him, would probably sell for at least a few dozen coppers.
Five or six figures pounced on Chen Gong all at the same time. While Chen Gong did have brutal powers and a ruthless fortitude, he was still just a teenage boy less than twenty, who would not even be considered bulky. The other party was much more powerful with the number of people they had, and he was knocked down after only a few exchanges, receiving heavy blows on both his face and body. Even though they had no intention to take his life, they still beat him with all their might that even the corner of Chen Gong's mouth started to bleed. He had no other choice but to try to protect the vulnerable parts of his body as much as he could from their attacks.
The beggars savagely searched all of Chen Gong and found only thirty wen  in the end. One of them spit and then complained, "What bad luck! He’s such a pauper! Eldest Lai, didn't you say he had at least fifty wen on him?"
Eldest Lai smiled apologetically, "Maybe he spent it all? Look, isn't another one right there?"
The group all cast their eyes toward Shen Qiao and found him still sitting there quietly. Holding a bamboo stick in his arms, he did not move at all, as if he was frozen from fright.
One person asked suspiciously, "How come it seems to me that something's wrong with his eyes? Is he blind?"
Relying on the number of people he had, Eldest Lai shouted at Shen Qiao, "Hey! Give me your money! And we, your grandpas, shall spare you from a beating! You hear me?"
Shen Qiao shook his head, "I earned all of my money through hard work. I can't give it to you."
Eldest Lai sneered, "Yoho? You got some bones! That's fine, you can keep it then. You wouldn't even give us a donkey meat burger two days ago. Today, your grandpas will make you bleed money!"
They pounced upon Shen Qiao together, the same way as they did to Chen Gong.
They weren't taking this weak-looking scholar seriously at all.
Eldest Lai was the fastest. He punched directly at Shen Qiao's face, while trying to grab the edge of his opponent's robe with the other hand.
According to his posture, the fist should have arrived first, followed up by his opponent toppling backwards onto the ground, so that he could throw himself on top of the other person and sit on him.
A searing pain suddenly emanated from his wrist!
Before he could realize what had just happened, he was hit once again on his waist, making him involuntarily fall onto his side, knocking over the comrade next to him. Bumping into each other, the two of them ended up twisted into a lump.
There was no light inside the shabby temple. On a windy night like this, the moon was vaguely visible, occasionally covered by passing layers of clouds.
No one was able to see clearly how Eldest Lai fell down, therefore none of them stopped their rush–they were still throwing themselves at Shen Qiao.
Yet, within a few smacks, several more fell onto the ground, one after another.
"What kind of sorcery is this?" Eldest Lai was unwilling to give up. He shouted as he recovered his balance and tried to jump on Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao's eyes were recovering rather slowly. During the night, when the light was dim, all he could see was a blurry block of shadow. In a moment of carelessness, he was shoved to the floor by Eldest Lai. A punch immediately landed right on his chest, the pain of which caused a sharp intake of cold air.
Pulling it off with only one blow, Eldest Lai went straight to seize the bamboo stick in Shen Qiao’s hand. However, his waist suddenly went numb. The bamboo stick from the other person poked towards him, though as simple as it seemed, he just couldn’t grab it as he reached out his hand, and ended up getting poked firmly on his nose bridge. Crying out of pain, he covered his nose with both hands and fell to the side. The blood that flowed from his nose streamed out between his fingers.
No one could have expected that this situation would take such a turn. Shen Qiao was striking here and there alone with his stick. His moves seemed completely random, yet the beggars were unable to come close to him at all. Instead, they soon fell apart under Shen Qiao’s offense, wailing all over the temple.
Shen Qiao said coldly, "I'm showing mercy to all of you already, yet you are still not leaving. Are you waiting for me to stab your eyes, so that you will be blind like me?"
His voice was light as a feather, yet amidst the howling of the wind, it sounded particularly horrifying, as if it was coming from a ghost.
Eldest Lai and the others did not dare to stay any longer. They jumped on their feet and ran out immediately. This time, they did not even dare leave any ferocious parting shots. Wetting their pants in terror, they disappeared in a flash.
"You should just stab their eyes and make them blind!" Chen Gong complained resentfully, "There's no need to be polite to those kind of guys!"
Shen Qiao was supporting himself with the bamboo stick and did not respond. One could vaguely see his shoulders moving up and down, as if he was panting lightly.
Chen Gong had finally realized at this moment, that since Shen Qiao could even fight off all of those beggars, he himself would be nothing more than a piece of cake. Luckily, the other did not bother with him giving orders about this and that before, otherwise…
A panic slightly seized him after these thoughts, that even his tone became more courteous as he uttered, "Hey! Umm, Shen Qiao? Mister Shen? Senior Shen?"
Right after his words, the other person suddenly slid down along the pillar behind and collapsed to the ground.
 Mouth-watering Aroma: Original words was 焦香, a burned aroma.
 Wen (文): Unit of money, the coppers mentioned above.