Chapter 239: Till Death Do Us Apart
After Wang Dashan took his leave, Ling Zhang was in a pretty good mood. Everything was going as planned. Those who had made an attempt on him had either been thrown into prison or fled with their tails between their legs; others harboring grudges against him had all been laying low lately, and none of them had been so bold as to mess with him. He planned that after his drugstore successfully opened to business and went on the right track, he would focus on his cultivation and try to reach the third layer of the mental cultivation method as soon as possible, and then when the reply of the Millennium Pavilion arrived, he and Yuwen Tong as well as his grandfather would pay a visit to the Millennium Pavilion; and when they returned from that journey, it would be about time they started making preparations for the wedding – if nothing unexpected happened during their stay in the Millennium Pavilion.
Although having not given a definite answer to that question of Yuwen Tong’s yet, he and Yuwen Tong were no doubt getting married, given how much their relationship had advanced.
Yuwen Tong clearly had come to know his thoughts, which was why he had acted much more boldly the last few times they’d made out. Yuwen Tong had sounded him out every time, and maybe the next time he would… Ling Zhang dismissed this thought from his mind and raised his head, pondering, ‘I’m a man as well. I shouldn’t resign myself to this situation so easily. It’s true that my kung fu is not as good as his, but if I put more efforts into it, maybe the next time I’ll be the one on top. If I don’t give it a try, I’ll never know for sure whether it’s possible or not. So I must not give up. Next time I’ve got to find a chance and get on top of Yuwen Tong.’
Seeing the weird glint mixed with a faraway expression in his eyes, which was somewhat spooky, Yuwen Tong couldn’t help but ask, “What are you thinking?”
“I… Nothing. It’s just that Uncle Zhao said there’d be a hearty lunch at noon, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Ling Zhang, who trusted Yuwen Tong wholeheartedly, had been immersed in thought when he’d heard Yuwen Tong’s question, and he’d almost made an honest response subconsciously. Fortunately he’d realized what he was talking about and stopped himself in time from letting the cat out of the bag.
Yuwen Tong knew Ling Zhang too well to fall for these words. Besides, the look on Ling Zhang’s face just now hadn’t really been like that of someone thinking about lunch; in fact, it had seemed that he was pondering over something strange, and he had specially kept it back from him… Did it have anything to do with him, by any chance?
Yuwen Tong had quite some speculations in his mind, but though he was resourceful and secretive and had many a conjecture, he still couldn’t guess what Ling Zhang had thought about just now. After all, the Marshal who had always been very confident had never considered the possibility of anybody getting on top of him some day.
On that day, the lunch was indeed sumptuous. There was meat of pheasants and roe deer, which Yao Yi and some others had personally caught on the hill behind the manor; there was also some kind of vine with small, oval leaves, which tasted somewhat bitter and was typically used for preparing drugs, but which, when dried and added to pheasant soup, imparted to the soup an appetizing flavor leading people to endless aftertastes. This kind of soup was particularly suitable to drink in this season. Ling Zhang’s eyes glinted with sheer contentment every time he took a sip of it.
Also, the braised chicken nuggets were extremely tantalizing and tender. The roe deer meat had no strong smell and was so delicious that Ling Zhang nearly bit his tongue. The former chef in the manor was said to be a mess cook serving in the army under the command of Old General Yuwen. He’d been a famous chef before joining the army. After being wounded in a war when serving in the old general’s unit, he’d come to the capital city, and all his family had been living in this manor since then. The current chef was the former one’s son, and his culinary skill was just as consummate as, if not better than, that of the head chef of the Taibai Tavern.
The day before, the reason why he and Yuwen Tong ended up doing that under a tree was because he overate first and then went on an after-dinner walk with Yuwen Tong. Therefore, earlier this day Ling Zhang had planned to control his portion. Besides, it was noon, and the weather was hot; there was no place out there suitable for an after-meal walk, so Ling Zhang really didn’t want to overeat, but… he still did. Had Yuwen Tong not stopped him, he would have consumed another bowl of soup.
Ling Zhang, feeling that he had so little self-control, reproached himself for quite a while after having his fill of food and drink.
Yuwen Tong, however, believed this couldn’t have been more normal, for Ling Zhang had barely reached adulthood and was still growing, and any virile young man at his age was in a period of his life when his appetite was supposed to be the heartiest. Furthermore, he had been practicing kung fu, which entailed a lot of strenuous exercise, and the day before the two of them had several consecutive bouts of making out, too. It would’ve astonished him had Ling Zhang managed to keep from overeating.
Since it was inadvisable to go for a stroll, Ling Zhang had no alternative but to sit for a while and then slowly walk around the house along the corridor outside.
“Alas, I feel an old man,” Ling Zhang sighed.
“There’s no need to rush into your advanced years,” remarked Yuwen Tong. He had almost blurted, “I’m sure I’ll beat you to an old age,” but forborne to do so after a brief trance. He didn’t want to say that. Merely in his late twenties as he was, he had an illusion that he was Ling Zhang’s senior by many years. Before this day he had never felt this way, and on this occasion it suddenly struck him like a stab in his heart.
He also recalled that Ling Zhang had once told him his grandfather was wearing a disguise, that his true face actually looked as young as that of a thirty-year-old man. Ling Zhang had started cultivating internal energy following the mental method of the Millennium Pavilion – did it mean that he’d appear young in his declining years like his grandfather?
For an instant, Yuwen Tong was panic-stricken. He scrupulously searched his brain trying to find out whether the cultivation method he’d been following would generate the same effects as that of the cultivation method of the Millennium Pavilion. After a few moments, he came back to his senses and remembered that ageless appearance resulted solely from powerful internal energy. Given that the cultivation method he’d been following was also top-notch and not necessarily inferior to that of the Millennium Pavilion, he believed as long as he put more effort into his cultivation and reached a higher level, he would be able to retain his thirty-year-old looks as Ling Zhang’s grandfather did.
As this thought occurred to him, he felt that this was a task which virtually brooked no delay. Yuwen Tong had always regarded himself as a boor and had never paid much attention to how he looked, but surprisingly, after he started a romantic relationship with Ling Zhang, he’d grown to care about his appearance so much.
Ling Zhang was unaware that a flurry of thoughts had flitted across Yuwen Tong’s mind in a brief instant. After hearing Yuwen Tong say there was no need to hurry into his advanced years, he couldn’t help but chuckle, “Do you think there’ll be a day when the two of us need the help of walking sticks to have a walk in this place? If that’s the case, we’ll be supporting each other – two old men strolling around, each holding a walking stick – I bet that’ll be quite a funny scene.”
The whirl of thoughts in Yuwen Tong’s mind quieted as he heard this remark of Ling Zhang’s, the look in his eyes growing mild. Ling Zhang had already started picturing the two of them leaning on canes in the evening of their lives, walking hand in hand. Didn’t that mean the two of them growing old in each other’s company till death did them apart?
“I’ll carry you on my back if you’re too old to walk,” said Yuwen Tong.
On hearing this, Ling Zhang gave a snort, wanting to say that there was no telling who’d be the one needing to be carried, but then he suddenly recollected that Yuwen Tong was older than him. What if Yuwen Tong died of old age before him? Ling Zhang felt a twitch of panic, subconsciously dismissed this idea from his mind and said, “Then you’ll have to pay extra attention to your balance when you’re carrying me. I’m still growing and have been eating a lot. I’m sure I’ll be quite heavy when I’m old.”
Yuwen Tong smiled, “Rest assured, I won’t let you fall.”
Thinking that it would be quite fun being carried by him, Ling Zhang stopped this walk, stepped back inside and said, “Come on. I’ll let you have a try in a while.”
His eyes glinting dangerously, Yuwen Tong looked at him. Have a try? He could lift him up with one hand, not to mention carrying him on his back.
Of course he would carry him, but…
Yuwen Tong reached out a hand to stroke Ling Zhang’s belly and said with a worried face, “It’s so much bigger. How did you manage to stuff all those in it, anyway?”
‘I should keep an eye on him from now on. Binge eating is definitely bad for his health.’
Ling Zhang had no idea what Yuwen Tong had just made up his mind to do, that in the future, whenever Yuwen Tong was having dinner with him, he would always be stopped from eating more after having a moderate portion, no matter how delicious the food was, and there would be several occasions when he, in his anxiety, was only too anxious to eat Yuwen Tong alive.
Sure enough Ling Zhang was unaware of any of these at this moment. He removed Yuwen Tong’s hand from his belly and said, “Keep your hand under control.”
Something occurred to Yuwen Tong and he dissolved into snicker.
At first Ling Zhang was confused as to what was so funny, and after a few moments, he got a shrewd idea of it and chucked Yuwen Tong out of the house into the sun.
Yuwen Tong raised his head to look into the sky, feeling the sultry air. Thinking that it was about time, he drew Ling Zhang outside and the two of them slowly walked towards the hill behind the manor.
“Your stomach will feel much better by the time we reach the pavilion.”
They made some preparations the day before. Also, Zhao Shude had some time ago had the pavilion cleaned. Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong, each wearing a large bamboo hat to shield themselves against the sunlight, headed for the hill at a gentle pace. When they were on the hill, there was a lot of tree shade and the bamboo hats were no longer necessary, so they took them off, carrying them with their hands.
When they’d been wearing the bamboo hats, the two of them had had to walk with a certain distance between them. Now the bamboo hats were no longer a problem, so Yuwen Tong took Ling Zhang’s hat, stacked it on top of his, carried them with one hand and reached out the other hand to hold Ling Zhang’s.
Ling Zhang, whose palm was wet with sweat because of this, grumbled about it but made no attempt to withdraw his hand.
There were cicadas singing on the trees all around. Though the weather was very hot, minds of the two of them were in perfect peace.
All bloodshed and fighting in the border areas as well as those interfering troublemakers in the capital city had been ejected from Yuwen Tong and Ling Zhang’s heads respectively.
Yuwen Tong, holding Ling Zhang’s hand, walked to the pavilion located on the hillside. In front of the pavilion on its side stood a tree as big as the one outside the courtyard house in the manor that they stayed in. Yuwen Tong said that this tree had been transplanted here under his grandfather’s orders during the construction of this pavilion, that the tree had been sizeable at that time, and now it was even larger.
The towering tree was of a height greater than that of the two-storied pavilion, overshadowing it.
Hanging from protruding cornices on the rooftop of the pavilion were many eaves-bells, which made a pleasant jingling sound when wind blew by.
The pavilion covered a considerable area. In front of it was an even open space, and there were stone tables and stone chairs under the towering tree. Areas on the two sides of the building had also been paved. Standing beneath the tree, Ling Zhang could even hear the sound of water gurgling.
Yuwen Tong walked over and said, “Behind the mound on this side of the pavilion is a small waterfall and a lake.” Then he led Ling Zhang round the giant tree behind which was a walkway with steps built with rock. Proceeding along the walkway, they turned a corner and their view suddenly widened. In front of them was a lake, beside which was a small waterfall. Because of the hot and rainless spell, the water was not abundant, but it was quite cool. Trees flanked the lake and the falls, shielding them from the sun.
A winding brook was carrying water of the lake away down an incline. It was not steep, so the water was not flowing very fast.
“This stream leads to the manor. The water in the lake at the Roosting Dragonfly Pavilion comes from this place,” said Yuwen Tong.
Ling Zhang’s eyes slightly brightened. He scooped up some water with his hands and splashed it on his face. “It feels pretty cool.”
Right at this moment, the sky began to darken slowly, the sunlight gradually blocked, wind starting to blow in gusts.
“A heavy shower is coming. Let’s go back to the pavilion first. We may have another stroll after the rain,” said Yuwen Tong.
Ling Zhang rose to his feet and headed back with him. When they reached the pavilion, it was already very dark, branches of trees on the hill wobbling in the wind, their leaves whooshing, Ling Zhang’s robes fluttering as well. The sultriness of the weather was being blown away by the wind, and the rain was looming, a boundless canopy of black clouds overhead.