Chapter 278: The Two Big Brothers Are Kissing
Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong were not really surprised to hear the young man correctly say their names, for they actually had anticipated this some time ago.
The young man nodded and rose to his feet. Though casual, his bearing was pleasant to the eye. Color the bird flew back to the young man’s shoulder and gave a squeak.
“Cong, it’s time to return.”
On being called, the boy meekly stood up. “Uncle, what about these two big brothers?”
“Come with us,” the young man said to Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong.
Now that someone was offering to take them inside, of course they wouldn’t stay here and keep waiting. Besides, although not having asked about the young man’s identity, they believed that he definitely had a high status in the Millennium Pavilion, given his powerful internal energy.
Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong rose from the ground, put out the fire, quickly gathered up their stuff and then followed in the young man’s wake. “Thanks.”
“You don’t have to thank me. Take it as a recompense for the roast pheasant.” The young man leisurely proceeded, holding the boy’s hand.
In front of them was a lofty hill, and it was at the foot of this hill that they’d just stayed. Eyes on the towering hill, Ling Zhang was deeply puzzled. He wasn’t seeing any inhabitable areas. Had people of the Millennium Pavilion hollowed a cavern out of the hill and been living in it, by any chance?
But as they followed the young man forward, the scene ahead them seemed to be changing.
They first entered a dense wood. All trees in it were fairly ancient and had very thick trunks, their criss-cross branches and luxuriant foliage overhanging the path, blocking most of the sunshine as well as people’s view of the high hill. Ling Zhang guessed that they were probably going uphill, but after walking in circles at the young man’s heels in the wood for some time, he began to feel that there was something out of the ordinary going on. On the surface, this young man was as though he was idly taking them for a stroll, but in fact there were regularities in the route he chose.
Along a tortuous pathway, they made it out of the wood and the space ahead instantly became bright and open. It was not a cavern but a basin with high hills on three sides of it, in which carpets of green grass and giant trees could be seen everywhere. There were also paddies divided by a criss-cross of pathlets as well as a stream worming its way across the basin from the opposite end, providing profuse water resources. As where they were standing was not the commanding height, they couldn’t get a panoramic view over the basin, but judging from the distance between the three hills on its sides, this basin was vast.
Ling Zhang looked back and saw the dense wood they’d just crossed that was dark and seemingly boundless, but the lofty hill he’d caught sight of before entering the thick wood was nowhere to be seen.
This was a formation which had given them an illusion. They’d thought they saw a lofty hill ahead of them, but actually the hill was a lot further away. People who went into the wood would be lost in it if they couldn’t figure out a way to crack the formation; those lucky ones might be able to get out of it by fluke, but they’d never find the hill they saw.
Of course, to find the entrance of the wood, people needed to get through the numerous natural barriers and formations first.
This place was indeed very difficult to find.
“Let’s go. People here are very wary of outsiders. You need to stay close to me. If you wander off and get your asses kicked, don’t say that I never warned you,” said the young man.
After hearing the last remark of his, the two of them naturally followed close behind him.
They went through the paddy fields and some country cottages which seemed to be a village, saw some members of the Millennium Pavilion who dressed like peasants, but whose clothes were of a very different style from that of attire worn by people in the outside world. There were also women, children and youngsters.
Everybody’s face took on an expression of surprise mixed with revere when they saw the young man. They slightly lowed their heads to pay their respects to him, but their attitudes were spontaneous and there was no distance in them. Children would run over and cluster around him, calling him “Brother Yanlai.”
As Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong were clearly outsiders, everybody wore a confused and watchful look on their face when they clapped eyes on them, but seeing the young man leading the way for them, they did no more than size them up. Ling Zhang could sense that all people here, except for children, more or less had some kung fu, and no matter whether they were powerful or not, they were not to be taken lightly.
Ling Zhang kept in mind what the young man had just said, not daring to straggle behind.
Yuwen Tong held his hand, signaling him to relax. Naturally, Yuwen Tong was a great comfort to Ling Zhang.
“They are all descendants of then supervisors or servants of the Deca-Millennium Pavilion. Hundreds of years has passed. Now they’re all just common folks trying to get by,” said the young man.
Ling Zhang looked at him. Just now those adults had all been very respectful to him, and children had called him “Brother Yanlai”, and his internal energy was so powerful that his prowess as a kung fu practitioner seemed to be even greater than his grandfather’s. Who was he exactly?
“This is a retreat away from the world,” said Yuwen Tong.
“It’s a retreat away from the world but also a prison. There are always some trying to get out,” said the young man.
Ling Zhang felt it somewhat weird to hear these words coming out of the mouth of a young man. After all, this man seemed to be no older than him, and his words and deeds had so far been casual and unreserved. How come he suddenly started talking like an old man?
“All young people are like this. They want to seek their fortune in a broader world, especially when they believe they have something secure to rely on. This is not really disagreeable. After all, you need to go around to gain experience while you’re young so that when you’ve been around, you’d be ready to take on greater responsibilities. Many saints of the olden days believe that he who excels reads as many as ten thousand books and travels as far as ten thousand miles, don’t they? Even when a dynasty is dying, there are still enthusiastic youngsters trying to make a difference. Youth means vitality. No place would remain stagnant forever,” remarked Yuwen Tong.
It was a while before the young man walking in front replied, “Even if the price is blood and death?”
Yuwen Tong said, “There are always bloodshed and deaths in this world, aren’t there? Common people die each and every day for all kinds of personal grudges, and there wasn’t a single dynasty the rise of which was not accompanied by the loss of countless innocent people’s lives. Even in peaceful times, people bleed and die for a variety of reasons. This is what the world we’re living in is like, and it always has been, but there are always a lot of people refusing to give up, both in ancient times and nowadays. They fight and struggle to shape the world in ways they deem right, pushing the wheel of history forward, leaving their respective trails in their wake. The Millennium Pavilion is an amazing place, suitable for nursing wounds, both physical ones and mental ones, but there’s nothing wrong with young people who haven’t seen the outside world longing to go out there to see what it’s like. The reason why your ancestors came here to live in seclusion was because they were physically and mentally drained and needed a place where they could rest and build up strength, but now it’s been centuries, and I think people here have had enough rest. In our way of numbering the years, sixty years makes a cycle, like a revolution of a wheel. The outside world has been through numerous ups and downs during nobody knows how many revolutions of the wheel of time, but here, time seems to have stopped passing, and there hasn’t been a single revolution. What’s the point of having a life like this?”
Ling Zhang unnoticeably gave Yuwen Tong’s hand a pull in order to remind him to take it easy and stop talking nonsense. What if the young man got angry and chucked them out?
Yuwen Tong impassively patted the back of his hand, implying that there was nothing to worry about.
Sure enough, the young man didn’t get angry. He just kept silent for a while and then said, “Alas, sometimes I really feel betwixt and between. You sound as though I was the meanest teacher in that place you call ‘school’, who imposes a lot of restrictions on everything, but what choice do I have? There are a lot of people here. And if I let any of them get out at the wrong time, they’d definitely end up dead.”
“What about now? Do you think the time is ripe?” Yuwen Tong asked him.
Ling Zhang gave him a dirty look. Why was he asking questions as though he knew about the situation very well?
Yuwen Tong smiled at this dirty look and stealthily pecked him on the ear to console him.
As chance would have it, the little boy walking hand in hand with the young man twisted his head around just in time to see this. “Oh,” he exclaimed, his mouth instantly falling wide open into the shape of an “O”.
Ling Zhang flushed scarlet, feeling terribly embarrassed at the sight of the greatly astonished little boy. He tried to free his hand from Yuwen Tong’s grip, but Yuwen Tong refused to let him, grasping his hand tightly.
Resigned, Ling Zhang had no choice but to smile at the boy in an attempt to gloss it over.
But unexpectedly, the boy turned his head back and abruptly threw his arms around the young man’s leg. The young man halted to look down at him. “What are you doing? Keep walking.”
“Uncle, the two big brothers were kissing! Mom said that only a man and a woman who have feelings for each other can kiss. Can two men kiss as well?”
Ling Zhang abruptly widened his eyes. ‘Oh, boy.’
After hearing this, the young man flicked Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong a glance which was dripping with reproach, as though criticizing them for setting a terrible example for his nephew with their improprieties.
In his awkwardness, Ling Zhang was just about to explain when the young man said to the little boy, “They’re getting married, so of course they can kiss each other.”
“But I thought only a man and a woman could get married.”
The young man lowered his head to look at him. “Well, some people out there just love to try new things. You’re not to follow their example.”
“Okay.” The boy cast a backward glance at Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong, his eyes unmistakably suggesting that he was wondering what kind of new thing this was.
Ling Zhang, “…”
The young man directly scooped up the boy. “You’ll understand when you grow up, and you’ll grow faster if you’re less picky about food and eat more vegetables.”
“Uncle,” the boy said to the young man in a drawling voice, “You yourself hate vegetables.”
The young man affected a scowl. “I’m an adult. You’re not.”
The boy, unconvinced but unaware of how to contradict this, put his chubby arms around the young man’s neck, keeping silent, but he was still looking at Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong, his eyes glinting, clearly still quite interested in them.
Ling Zhang was actually sweating with shame. After thinking for a while, he recalled that in the past, when Ling Maomao had been this boy’s age, he was also very curious about a lot of things and was always asking searching questions. Those had really been trying times for him.
Because of this interruption, the young man didn’t give an answer to Yuwen Tong’s previous question.
Ling Zhang looked at Yuwen Tong, who winked at him, signaling him to be patient.
After quite a while of walking, they crossed an orchard and were suddenly greeted by a sea of flowers of a myriad of colors growing on a slope. The majority of them were red. At the foot of the slope was a reed marsh…
In front of them lay a vast lake in the middle of which was a large island which boasted palaces, temples, pavilions, terraces and towers with bronze bells hanging from cornices. The whole island looked like a splendid manor. It seemed to be even bigger than the residential compound of the Yuwen family, approximately covering as much area as the imperial palace of the Great Yue did. At the centermost area of it stood a luxuriant, towering phoenix tree.
“Here we are.”
Ling Zhang cocked an eye at the front and saw that his grandfather was walking onto the ferry crossing on the opposite side. Astonished at the sight of them, he took a flying leap and swooshed across the broad lake, merely tapping on the lake surface once with his toes, and soon landed before them. “Clan Leader, Zhang’er, how did you come to be here together?”