unsheathed – Chapter 108: Spring Hunting

Chapter 108: Spring Hunting

Chapter 108: Spring Hunting

At the border of the Great Li Empire, the gates of Yefu Pass[1] were wide open. The small number of light cavalry stationed at the city decided to march in the dark of night, something they rarely ever did. Even though there were only a thousand of them, the orderly thud of the warhorses' iron hooves onto the ground still caused the earth to quake. It was as if someone were beating a war drum with vigor and speed. This was a sound that could send ardor and zeal coursing through one's blood.

Beside the post road, a general tugged on his reins and brought his horse to a halt. There was a solemn expression on his face.

A young lieutenant with a vicious scar on his face hurriedly came over on his horse. After slowing down and stopping next to the general, he asked in a soft voice, "General Han, what's the reason behind this accelerated march toward the north and surprise attack? The Great Li Empire has vast expanses of territory to the north of Yefu Pass, so how can there possibly be large groups of bandits or rogues? Even if there are, the responsibility of dealing with them shouldn't fall on our cavalry unit anyway, right?"

"There are some questions that you shouldn't ask," the stocky general replied in a deep voice.

The young lieutenant grimaced in reply. However, he did indeed stop his line of questioning.

The general from Yefu Pass hesitated briefly, and this was most likely because he was feeling uncomfortably stifled as well. After organizing his words, he explained quietly, "Not only is our cavalry unit marching north, but almost half of the infantry and cavalry units from the northern border passes and military towns are marching north tonight as well."

The young lieutenant faltered upon hearing this. "Seasonal hunting that occurs on a four-year cycle? But this isn't the right season! We only just attended a spring hunting session last year, so even if we're to hold a large military exercise this year, it should be in the summer."

The general unconsciously stroked the soft mane of his steed as he replied, "The Ministry of War will naturally give us an order when we arrive at the location. There's no need for us to speculate."

More than 100 kilometers to the west of Red Candle Town, there rested a small and lonely mountain in the middle of the wide Embroidered Flower River. The local residents had a crude name for this mountain that sat upstream Steamed Bun Mountain.

There was a lone temple of the mountain lord on this mountain, and incense and offerings to this temple never ceased. It was said that this temple was extremely efficacious, with people receiving whatever they prayed for children, wealth, and so on. This brought wide renown to the temple, and it was a landmark that scholars and officials had to take a boat and visit.

The spring night was chilly, and the undulating waves in the river sent splashes into the air. One could vaguely make out a green carp that measured a meter in length speedily swimming toward the lone mountain. What was surprising was the fact that there sat a young child in bright red clothes on the back of the fish. This child was only as tall as a palm, and like a horseman holding onto his reins, his hands were tightly gripping onto the two whiskers of the green carp. The child bounced up and down with the movements of the carp and river water, and his entire body was soaked. His face was pale, and a string of curses and expletives flowed from his mouth.

The green carp suddenly stopped when it reached the shore, causing the child to be ruthlessly launched onto the land. The child took a tumble, covering him in grime. He turned to the green carp that was swimming back to the river bank in a leisurely manner and roared, "A crooked stick will surely have a crooked shadow. Your owner is a bloody bitch..."

The carp suddenly turned around to glare at the child on the shore. The latter almost wet his pants in fright, and he shouted "good men don't argue with women" before turning around and sprinting to the temple of the mountain lord.

The temple was still open, and it took the small child a great deal of effort to climb over the door threshold. After landing inside, he looked up at the funny-looking clay statue that was covered in peeling paint and placed his hands on his hip, shouting, "Your lord almost drowned in the river! Are you not going to hurry up and kneel down to accept my command?! Do you think I won't dare to punish you for profound disrespect and chop your head off?"

There was a loud thump.

The child in red was kicked out of the temple as if he were nothing more than a mere stone.

A short man sat on the door threshold and cursed, "An incense boy born in the temple like you actually dares to pretend to be this lord's lord?"

The man and child were truly alike.

The child was panting in exertion, and he bared his teeth and wore a look of grief as he climbed up to sit on the door threshold with much difficulty.

The man frowned and asked, "What's wrong?"iscover nw chaptrs n n0e(l)bi(.)com

"I'm a bit hungry," the child mumbled.

The man lifted his hand and pretended that he was going to hit the child, causing the young boy to wrap his arms around his head and exclaim, "I eavesdropped some information from the city god pavilion just then. I heard that the Ministry of Rites and the Ministry of Astronomy issued two secret orders, commanding all of the mountain gods and river gods within a 500-kilometer radius of Red Candle Town to await further orders. They're not allowed to leave, and they're not allowed to cultivate in seclusion either. They have to stand by and immediately carry out any orders.

"If they're absent when called, they'll be given the death penalty! Holy **! If it weren't for me telling you this news, you would have been screwed over by someone ages ago with your lazy personality... Someone would have borrowed this 'knife' to kill a person. Oh, I forgot that you're not a person."

This time, the small child was smacked and sent flying into the temple.

The man stood up and gazed in the direction of Red Candle Town. His expression was solemn, and he told the child, "I left some food in the censer for you. Remember to eat it sparingly."

"It's good that you still have some conscience. Anyway, I truly don't understand how you've gotten yourself into such a terrible situation. Your miserable self is the longest-serving mountain lord in the continent, but you've somehow got a crappy relationship with all of your colleagues. Disregarding that, even your crustacean subordinates dare to ignore your orders. Tell me, how was I so unfortunate to be born in your censer? Sigh... I should find a better censer to reincarnate into in my next life..."

The child in red continued to grumble and complain. However, this didn't stop him from deftly climbing onto the incense table and diving into the copper censer that still had seven sticks of incense inside.

As he returned to Pillow Relay Station, Cheng Sheng discovered that the little boy next to him was gritting his teeth at times, and heaving sighs at other times. It was as if he were contemplating a choice that would decide his survival.

Li Huai finally stopped in his tracks. He mustered his courage and asked, "Old Cheng, I have 30 copper coins on me, so can we return to that bookshop and buy a book? How much is the cheapest book there? Will I still have any change left?"

The man who had been referred to as "Old Cheng" didn't know whether to laugh or cry. After pondering this for a moment, he replied in earnest, "That's difficult. That bookshop is widely regarded as the most unaffordable in Red Candle Town. Unless it's a scholar who has a hobby of collecting rare books, few people ever go there to purchase books. If you really want to buy a book, I know two large bookstores on the east side of town. Confucian classics, scripts from the myriad teachings, strange and miraculous tales... I can haggle good prices for you if this is what you're after."

The stubborn little boy shook his head and replied, "No, it has to be from the bookstore we just visited!"

The 30 copper coins were Li Huai's secret life savings. More than half of it had been stolen from his uncle's family, while the remaining portion of it was from his sister, Li Liu.

Earlier, Chen Pingan hadn't tried to act generously at his own cost, buying the expensive book without question. Nor had he rejected Li Huai and shown an unwillingness to spend so many silver taels. Instead, he had asked Li Huai if he was going to read this book.

This caught Li Huai by surprise. Even though he answered in the affirmative he would naturally flip through this book in a casual manner when he was bored Li Huai actually had little interest in this book, Severed Water Cliff.

However, Li Huai was very happy that someone was willing to spend 10 taels of silver for him.

Li Huai wasn't stupid. The little boy was well aware of whether someone was nice to him or bad to him.

Pairs of straw sandals, the bookcase that he was about to receive, and this book Severed Water Cliff... He owed Chen Ping'an so much, so he naturally felt like he had to repay the favor somehow. Otherwise, he would feel guilty and uneasy.

In reality, Li Huai didn't like Zhu Lu, nor was he especially fond of Lin Shouyi, someone who he had gone through thick and thin with. Instead, he found Li Baoping to be quite decent. This was the little girl who had frequently bullied him while at school.

The person who Li Huai liked the most was the carefree and goofy A'Liang.

As for the poor boy from Clay Vase Alley... Li Huai was a little afraid of him.

Cheng Sheng looked down and saw the serious expression on the little boy's face. Sure enough, he possessed an immortal aptitude as that person had said. There were some fated opportunities that would indeed benefit one's mentality. The relay station deputy suppressed a smile. Perhaps he could help this little boy by giving him a slight nudge in the right direction. In the future, this might even turn into a profound favor that he could benefit from. When showing kindness to others, showing kindness to 1000 mortals was oftentimes far inferior to showing kindness to a single immortal. This was something that he had personally heard about and personally witnessed. It was the absolute truth.

Cheng Sheng brought the little boy back to the alley between the two streets. The young store owner was sitting on the doorstep and looking at them with a wide smile on his face. It was as if he had anticipated their return.

At the same time, a hunchbacked old man with a lantern in his hand walked toward Li Huai and Cheng Sheng from the other side of the alley.

The young store owner slowly stood up and waved his hand at Cheng Sheng, saying, "The bookstore is closing up for the day. You can bring the little boy over another time."

Cheng Sheng immediately turned around to leave, not forgetting to take Li Huai with him.

After confirming that the two of them had left, the graceful and refined young man immediately lost his demeanor of calm and composure. He appeared respectful and slightly uneasy as he cupped his fist in respect and said softly, "Rushing Tranquil River's Li Jin pays his respects."

The gray-haired old man stood in front of him with one hand behind his back and one hand holding his lantern. He nodded before stepping into the bookstore. The young man shuffled to the side to let him pass, after which he stood up and followed the old man inside. The old man casually slid the handle of his lantern under some books as he turned to face the handsome young man. He sighed with emotion and remarked, "You looked like this 40 years ago when I first met you, and you still look like this today. How enviable..."

Li Jin tightened his grip on his folded fan and replied with a faint smile, "To species like us, being able to live as humans is the greatest fortune that we can enjoy."

The old man nodded and didn't offer a retort.

"That group of people being able to stay at Pillow Relay Station... Was this organized by you?" the young man asked in curiosity.

The old man remained silent.

Li Jin smartly kept his mouth shut.

He had opened this small bookstore 100 years ago, and it was here where he observed the world with a cold gaze. He had seen all kinds of things and witnessed all kinds of tumult in the official courts he was no stranger to the imperial court of the Great Li Empire. If one wanted to reserve so many good-quality and medium-quality rooms in Pillow Relay Station, one needed to at least be an assistant minister to one of the six ministries. Of course, this was ignoring the three palace ministers.

Beneath the ministers and assistant ministers in the Six Ministries was the position of palace minister this was someone who was responsible for overlooking the departments subordinate to the ministries. The palace minister was a fifth-rank official[2] served by external officials. Generally speaking, palace ministers and external officials weren't influential people. However, there were three palace ministers who were an exception to this rule, wielding unimaginable power.

This was the merit inspection official in the Ministry of Personnel, the martial examination official in the Ministry of War, and the ritual official from the Ministry of Rites. These three officials didn't enjoy a high status, but they enjoyed immense power that drew much attention in the official courts. Once they were dispatched outside the capital, they would definitely enjoy special treatment and be viewed as provincial governors.

One was responsible for the inspection and promotion of all local officials under the fourth rank.

One was responsible for the selection and examination of martial artists in the empire, and more so responsible for the recruitment of martial artists from the cultivation world.

One was responsible for the grand rituals of the empire and was a frequent adviser to the emperor whenever he needed advice regarding the strategic direction of something. This seemingly low-ranked official was oftentimes a scholar from the Confucian schools or academies.

The unremarkable old man standing before Li Jin was one of these three officials.

Forty years ago, Li Jin had once gifted two books to a poor scholar heading to the capital to take the imperial exam. To his astonishment, this poor scholar was promoted time and time again, eventually becoming the palace minister of the Ministry of Rites' Ritual Office. This was a lofty and influential position.

To Li Jin who was in the mortal world far away from the imperial court, however, there was another layer of meaning to this position. It was rumored that this small office that most officials couldn't even find the gates to was secretly in charge of choosing and appointing official gods of mountains and rivers. Even though this office didn't have the power to make the final decision, they did indeed possess the critical ability to recommend candidates.

Li Jin had eventually learned of the old man's position through the officials and merchants passing through Red Candle Town. He had sent countless letters to him, yet it was as if these letters had all vanished into thin air, with none of them receiving a reply. Li Jin didn't dare to protest, and he could only stop sending letters in disappointment.

For the past 100 years, the "young man" who called himself Li Jin had painstakingly tried to become the official river god of the Rushing Tranquil River. He had sacrificed a lot and tried to go through many avenues, yet all had ended up in vain.

"You should know the reason why the Rushing Tranquil River doesn't have an official river god," the old man suddenly said. "That's why I pretended not to see the letters you sent me. It's not that I don't want to help, it's just that I'm truly unable to."

Li Jin smiled bitterly before nodding and replying, "I understand. As long as the emperor doesn't agree, I'm afraid that even the words of the minister from the Ministry of Rites won't be of any use."

The old man smiled and carefully observed the young man before him this person would change his appearance every two or three decades. He squinted his eyes and continued, "However, an opportunity sits before you now. It's completely up to you whether you dare to fight for this opportunity or not."

The young man's face didn't light up in excitement, and he instead asked, "I heard that several new gods were appointed in Dragon Spring County, what was previously Jewel Small World. The emperor appointed a river god in the Dragon Whisker River, a river god in the Iron Talisman River, and a mountain god each in Cloud Drape Mountain, Lamp Bearer Mountain, and Downtrodden Mountain. He appointed five gods at once, three in the mountains and two in the rivers. This has already exhausted a huge portion of the emperor's accumulated wealth. If he's so stretched, how can he possibly spare a valuable position for the Rushing Tranquil River?"

"Rest assured, this isn't some kind of conspiracy targeting you," the old man said with a smile. "To put it bluntly, you're not powerful enough for me to personally target you."

The young man felt slightly embarrassed and angry. However, realizing that he still had to depend on the old man for help, a look of helplessness quickly spread across his face. He didn't say anything else.

The old man's expression became serious as he explained, "With Red Candle Town as the center, all of the officially appointed mountain gods and river gods, and all of the candidate mountain lords and river guardians within a radius of 500 kilometers need to stand by and await further orders. They need to be prepared to participate in a siege at a moment's notice.

"In addition, the northern border passes including Yefu Pass have all dispatched large numbers of elite cavalry and sent out innumerable scouts and reconnaissance teams. As for you, Li Jin, I definitely wouldn't have revealed this information to you were it not for your gift of two books at that time. Your existence makes no difference at all."

Li Jin was absolutely stunned. "Why are they mobilizing so many forces inside the border of the Great Li Empire? What are they laying siege to?"

"A single person," the old man replied honestly.

Li Jin looked the old man in the eyes, and it didn't seem like he was lying. "Palace minister, is there anything you need me to do?" he asked slowly.

The old man smiled and replied, "Just a minor matter that should be well within your abilities. I simply need you to keep an eye on a man who's just arrived in Red Candle Town. Having come onshore from Rushing Tranquil River for 200 years, I know that you've done quite nicely in Red Candle Town. You're more familiar with the waterways than the city gods, and you're more familiar with the customs and happenings in the small town than the two river gods. Moreover, if the records in the capital aren't erroneous, then you're even in possession of a few precious green darkness fish from the ancient books. These fish are especially suitable when it comes to investigation and secret communication in small areas."

Li Jin's expression grew dark.

"Relax," the old man said in a taunting voice. "I know that green darkness fish are one-in-one-hundred-year treasures. However, I haven't stooped as low as to covet them yet."

"No, it's just me projecting my shortcomings onto someone else," Li Jin said with a self-deprecating chuckle.

He paused for a moment before asking, "And that person is?"

"A man wearing a bamboo hat," the old man answered slowly. "There's a small silver gourd tied to his waist, and he's also traveling around with a bunch of children. Those children are from Jewel Small World, or what's now known as Dragon Spring County. As for the man's true identity... The spies from the empire haven't determined this yet."

Li Jin was dumbfounded. "That person came to my store just then."

The old man's gaze became intense.

"It was just a coincidence," Li Jin said carefully.

The old man waved his hand and warned, "It doesn't matter. From now onward, remember not to give anything away. It's better to do nothing than to make a mistake. If you alarm him by accident, there's probably no need for you to worry anyway because you'll most certainly be dead at that time. Even if he doesn't kill you, I'll make sure to personally kill you.

"If everything goes well, however, I don't dare to promise you the position of official river god of the Rushing Tranquil River. What I can do though, is to get the emperor to remember your name first."

"Can this be considered as 'being known and appreciated by the emperor'?" Li Jin asked in self-ridicule.

The old man stopped his act of randomly grabbing books and flipping through them. He turned around and asked, "What, you're unwilling to take this risk?"

Li Jin roared with laughter and replied, "Fortune favors the bold. In any case, there's no need for me to personally join the fight, so this is a deal where I can only win and not lose. I accept your offer!"

He snapped his fingers, and two especially slender and exquisite fish materialized near his shoulders. Their senses were linked with his, and anything that they saw, he saw too.

The fish swished their long tails and instantly vanished from sight.

Before leaving, the old man smiled and remarked with emotion, "The books in your store are still this expensive."

Only at this moment did Li Jin see shadows of the impoverished young scholar from the old man.

The old man retrieved his lantern and left the store.

After exiting the alley, he came across a burly man with his arms crossed before his chest. The two of them continued side-by-side, and the burly man asked, "You're not afraid of overdoing things?"

"Since the net has already been tightened to this point, it won't make a difference even if Li Jin suddenly goes mad and decides to spit the truth to that A'Liang," the old man replied casually.

"At the end of the day, you're still trying to return the favor of him giving you two books?" the man said with a huff.

The old man smiled in conceit and said softly, "No matter what, favors owed by me are worth a little something, right?"

Zhu Lu said that she wanted to eat some tanghulu. Even though Zhu He was slightly puzzled when did his daughter suddenly develop a sweet tooth? this wasn't an excessive request or anything. Thus, he walked around with his daughter to look for a stall.

After wandering around for a while, they finally came across someone carrying a large number of tanghulu and loudly peddling his goods on the streets and alleys.

Zhu He didn't like tanghulu, but Zhu Lu decided to buy three skewers at once. This confused Zhu He again. However, the young girl smiled and said that one was for her, while the other two were for the young mistress and Chen Ping'an.

She also said that she wanted to apologize to Chen Ping'an tonight. At the very least, she had to say sorry to him. Otherwise, she wouldn't feel at ease.

Zhu He felt as if a weight had been taken off his shoulders. He was extremely happy at this moment.

The two of them returned to the relay station, and they learned that Chen Ping'an and Li Baoping had already arrived back a while ago.

Zhu Lu was yet to finish her tanghulu as she walked to the courtyard of a good-quality room. She asked her father to deliver a message to Chen Ping'an, telling him that she would wait for him here.

Zhu He strode away, and he couldn't help but chuckle in his mind. His daughter was far too sensitive, no? What was so embarrassing about apologizing to someone?

It wasn't long before a young boy in straw sandals appeared on the other side of the painted corridor. He slightly quickened his pace when he saw Zhu Lu sitting on the bench.

There were a dozen or so pieces of candied fruit scattered on the bench next to the young girl.

Zhu Lu smiled as she stood up, and she placed her hands behind her back in a seemingly shy manner.

She walked toward the young boy.

1. Yefu literally means wild man.

2. In the Chinese imperial court, the first-rank official is the highest-ranking official.

Chapter end

Chapter 31: Beating Around the Mountain
Chapter 32: Peach Leaf
Chapter 33: White Dragon Disguising as a Fish
Chapter 34: Gathered Together
Chapter 35: Licorice Root
Chapter 36: Ancient Book
Chapter 37: Fist Technique
Chapter 38: Ninth Tier
Chapter 39: Cursing the Locust Tree
Chapter 40: Returning the Courtesy
Chapter 42: Prodigy
Chapter 43: The Young Boy and the Old Dog
Chapter 44: Coming to Light
Chapter 45: Sunlight
Chapter 46: Skirt Dagger
Chapter 47: Going Alone
Chapter 48: The Hunter and the Hunted
Chapter 49: Porcelain Shard
Chapter 50 (1): One Who is Destined for Great Things
Chapter 50 (2): One Who is Destined for Great Things
Chapter 51: Confrontation
Chapter 52: Shudder
Chapter 53: Gift
Chapter 54: Facing the Enemy
Chapter 55: Feeling Proud in the Spring Breeze
Chapter 56: Nodding Bodhisattva
Chapter 57: Sword Nurturing Gourd
Chapter 58: Teacher
Chapter 59: Sleep
Chapter 60: There's a Ghost
Chapter 61: Helpless Pawn
Chapter 62: Falling Tree
Chapter 63 (1): So That's How It Is
Chapter 63 (2): So That's How It Is
Chapter 64: The Three Chens
Chapter 65: Jewel
Chapter 66: Looking Up
Chapter 67 (1): Long Journey
Chapter 67 (2): Long Journey
Chapter 68: Spring Under the Heavens
Chapter 69: Night
Chapter 70: Daylight
Chapter 71 (1): I’ll Like You for a While Longer
Chapter 71 (2): I’ll Like You for a While Longer
Chapter 72: Black Cloud
Chapter 73: Wooden Figure
Chapter 74: The Fire Dragon Roams the Water
Chapter 75: Mountain Selection
Chapter 76: Back to Back
Chapter 77: Entering the Mountains
Chapter 78: Another Dream
Chapter 79: Spring Welcome Seal
Chapter 80: Leaving the Mountains
Chapter 81: Imperial Preceptor
Chapter 82 (1): Master and Student, Senior Brother and Junio
Chapter 82 (2): Master and Student, Senior Brother and Junio
Chapter 83: Dreams
Chapter 84 (1): I Have a Sword
Chapter 84 (2): I Have a Sword
Chapter 85 (1): Conclusion of the Examination
Chapter 85 (2): Conclusion of the Examination
Chapter 86 (1): Walking the Same Path
Chapter 86 (2): Walking the Same Path
Chapter 87 (1): Little Teacher
Chapter 87 (2): Little Teacher
Chapter 88: Grand Entrance
Chapter 89: Two Heads
Chapter 90: Heavy Rain
Chapter 91: Jade Hairpin
Chapter 92 (1): Bamboo Bookcase
Chapter 92 (2): Bamboo Bookcase
Chapter 93 (1): There's a Character on the Wall
Chapter 93 (2): There's a Character on the Wall
Chapter 94: A Feast for the Eyes
Chapter 95: Too Small a Place
Chapter 96: Demons in the Mountains and Rivers
Chapter 97: Bowing to the Mountain
Chapter 98: The Meddlesome Mountain God
Chapter 99: The Mountain God and the Bamboo Saber
Chapter 100 (1): The World Beneath One's Feet
Chapter 100 (2): The World Beneath One's Feet
Chapter 101: Guard the Mountain
Chapter 102: Soaring White Ray
Chapter 103: Bamboo Building
Chapter 104: Sharing the Spoils
Chapter 105: Rootless Duckweed
Chapter 106: People from All Walks of Life
Chapter 107: Fishing Net
Chapter 108: Spring Hunting
Chapter 109: The Young Boy Has Some Words to Say
Chapter 110: All Good Things Must Come to an End
Chapter 111: Bamboo Hat
Chapter 112: Powerful Individual
Chapter 113: Unparalleled Might
Chapter 114: Seeing A'Liang Again
Chapter 115: There's an Old Scholar In the World (1)
Chapter 116: There's an Old Scholar In the World (2)
Chapter 117 (1): There's an Old Scholar In the World (3)
Chapter 117 (2): There's an Old Scholar In the World (3)
Chapter 118 (1): There's Righteousness In The World
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