When the autumn wind blew across the mountain, leaves that should be yellow turned yellow, those that should be red turned red, and those that should fall, fell. Foliage scattered as far as the eyes could see, and the sky seemed bluer, taller, and clearer than before.
It was Yun Xiaodong’s first autumn on Returnflow Mountain. He had climbed this mountain to be apprenticed to a master during spring. With the three seasons – spring, summer and autumn – added together, half a year had passed. However, rather than a part of Returnflow Mountain, he still felt like a visitor.
Master Li Fulin had several disciples under his wing, but only five had been officially apprenticed and were considered inner-chamber disciples. The eldest senior brother had the surname Mo with the given name Chen, but Yun Xiaodong had yet to see him. On the day he was accepted into the mountain, his eldest senior brother had already been dispatched by Master for work matters. His destination must have been extremely far, seeing as he had yet to return. The senior sister second to him was surnamed Wang. Because Master bestowed her with the Linglong Sword, she had stopped using her previous name and changed it to Linglong. Next up was Third Senior Brother Jiang Fan, whom Master called Fan’er. Probably due to his accent, it always sounded as if Master was calling him Food’er, and that was why Third Senior Brother’s nickname was Fooder. Everyone cheekily referred to him that way, but he never got angry, always keeping a hearty smile on his face.
The three of them had grown up on the mountain since they were young. They were orphans, and had been taken in by Master as little children, so their master-disciple relationships were naturally closer than usual.
Compared to them, Fourth Senior Brother Chen Jingzhi and Yun Xiaodong were both admitted into the sect halfway. Fourth Senior Brother came from a place called Dao An, which was several kilometers away from Returnflow Mountain. It was rumoured that the Chen Family was large and rich, and that its members prospered. He didn’t know why Fourth Senior Brother would leave his home and come all the way to Returnflow Mountain to seek apprenticeship. Well, every family had its own difficult circumstances.
Originally, Yun Xiaodong lived with his uncle, who was old friends with Master. When his uncle’s old injuries relapsed, he concluded that he would not survive, and had dragged himself to Returnflow Mountain with all his remaining strength. After entrusting Yun Xiaodong to his old friend, he had drawn his last breath.
Out of respect for his old friend, Master accepted the talent-lacking Yun Xiaodong as a disciple. Yun Xiaodong thus settled down on Returnflow Mountain. Before he noticed, half a year had gone by. When dressed in Returnflow Mountain’s blue and white daoist robes, and with his hair tied into a bun, he looked just like everyone else.
However, Yun Xiaodong had always felt that he was different from everyone else.
Even the accent he made whenever he sleep-talked was completely different.
He had practiced the Rudimentary Sword Techniques for a few months and had gotten considerably familiar with the steps. However, during his spars with Third Senior Brother, he was still frequently reminded during their exchanges, “Junior Brother, what you’re using is a sword, not a saber.”
Such words coming from the kindest Third Senior Brother meant that he was likely not born with the disposition for the sword. If he were to display such moves in front of Master, he would definitely make an even bigger fool of himself.
He missed his uncle, and his family. However, he also understood that both his uncle and family were long gone.
Yet he couldn’t see Returnflow Mountain as his new home.
Naturally, the Rudimentary Sword Techniques would not be personally taught by Master. Senior Sister Linglong had a very short temper. When Xiaodong was unable to pick up a set of moves after being taught twice, by the third time, she would be seething with anger. Third Senior Brother was the one who taught him this set of sword techniques, and only Third Senior Brother had such patience. He taught him over and over again, and did not spurn him for being dumb either. He even told stories of his pathetic self when he first came to the mountain to console Xiaodong.
“You see, your senior brother spent close to a year learning this set of sword techniques as well. Back then, Eldest Senior Brother was the one who taught me. He would teach me on day one, and I would remember it all, but after waking up on the second day, I would end up forgetting everything. I would remember everything to the end, and then up end forgetting what I’d learnt at the beginning. Junior Brother, you’re already much better than I was back then. See, even with my aptitude, I was still able to climb to where I am right now, so you will definitely be able to learn this too.”
As Third Senior Brother had put it this way, Yun Xiaodong was left with no choice. All he could do was work hard and practice every move and step. He forcefully tried to change the habits formed while learning saber techniques. However, how could such habits be so easily changed?
When he woke up early one morning to practice, Third Senior Brother came to deliver two sets of washed clothes wrapped together into a huge bundle. Sounding very embarrassed, he said, “Junior Brother, I sought out these two sets of clothes for you. Because all the clothes on the mountain didn’t fit you very well, these clothes are brand new. I sought out a Junior Sister to help trim their sizes to fit you. You should be able to wear them right away.”
Yun Xiaodong hurriedly thanked Third Senior Brother. Third Senior Brother did not immediately leave after delivering the clothes. Instead, he once again explained a few sword techniques, and as Xiaodong’s interest grew, he even demonstrated a few moves. After Third Senior Brother left, Yun Xiaodong took out and tried on the clothes. At that moment, Senior Sister Linglong came.
Presently, she was only about sixteen years old. She had a slim figure and an oval face. Her brows were both black and thick, and her eyes were especially dazzling.
“Junior Brother, Junior Brother, let me bring you down the mountain for a shopping spree.”
Before Yun Xiaodong could even reply, “Not going,” Senior Sister had already pulled him out the door. “It’s Market Day down the mountain, so it will be really lively! Food, drinks, toys, useful tools, all sorts of things are being sold. I’ve got to tell you, the meatball soup at Double Groove Arch is the best. Then there’s the bun shop in the eastern side, which sells especially aromatic meat buns and vegetable buns. I see that you’ve grown a bit this past year, your shoes don’t fit anymore, right? Let’s take this opportunity to buy two new pairs. After all, the weather will turn cold soon. I’ve got to tell you, the mountaintop will be the first to turn cold. Frost has already appeared these last few days.”
Senior Linglong was like a firecracker when she started speaking, and she did not stop for even a single moment. Yun Xiaodong couldn’t find a single opportunity to interrupt. He also wondered how Senior Sister had such incredible strength, as he felt like the hand that gripped him was an iron plier. No matter how much he struggled, he couldn’t break free. Even as she continued speaking, she had already dragged him out the door.
Did all ladies who practice martial arts have such incredible strength, or had Senior Sister been born with divine strength?
At the doorstep, the two of them encountered Fourth Senior Brother Chen Jingzhi. He seemed to have just returned from his sword practice at the mountaintop as his pants were still stained with mud. He was momentarily stunned when he saw the two coming out the door, and asked, “Senior Sister, are you two planning to head out?”
Linglong said, “We’re heading down for a stroll. Lil’ Four, why don’t you come with us as well?”
Chen Jingzhi shook his head. “I’m not going. Senior Sister and Junior Brother, please return early, otherwise Master will worry.”
Linglong waved her hand. “Master isn’t here. He headed down the mountain last night. He will definitely not be checking on your skills today.”
While they headed down the mountain, Linglong told him, “Lil’ Four is just too old-fashioned. Even if I were to drag him out to play, he would just look unhappy and bring down everyone’s mood. You mustn’t learn to behave like him, acting like an old man even at such a young age.”
How should he respond to her?
All Yun Xiaodong could do was let out a vague hum. It served as an answer, at the same time not clearly agreeing with what she said about Fourth Senior Brother.
A town was at the foot of Returnflow Mountain, and a Market Day would occur every eight to ten days. People from all around would hurry into the town, making it especially lively. Linglong brought him to the bridge to have a taste of the meatball soup, and then bought a huge, bright red pork knuckle from somewhere else. Wrapped in an oily paper bag, she stuffed it into his hands. The knuckle was even larger than Xiaodong’s face. No matter how he looked at it, he couldn’t find a good place to bite, and thus decided to carry it around in his cloth bag.
Senior Sister seemed to frequent this place, and the boss of the meatball stall was familiar with her as well. He gave them an additional piece for free, and even said to Xiaodong, “Customer, you don’t sound like you’re from around here, huh?”
Anyone could tell that he wasn’t from this place.
Putting aside the hard-to-explain knuckle, Senior Sister Linglong even joyfully brought him to listen to a show. A stage could be found in the eastern end of the town, and every Market Day a show was conducted. He couldn’t understand a single thing they sang, and all he could get out of it was that an elderly man and woman were crying and weeping on stage. After his legs went a little numb from all the standing, he finally managed to understand a little of the story. Rather than a couple, the two on the stage were mother and son. The elderly woman was complaining about how unfilial his son’s wife was.
Below the stage, someone was selling snacks. Linglong bought two fried tofus and energetically urged him, “Come on, eat one. It’s really delicious.” While speaking, she stuffed one piece into her own mouth and the other into his. Seeing as the tofu would be stuffed up his nose if he didn’t eat, he had no choice but to open his mouth.
However… however, why did it smell so weird?
“Does it stink?” Linglong said matter-of-factly, “Stinky tofu is of course stinky.”
Since it was already stuffed it into his mouth, he couldn’t possibly spit it out. He later wondered just how he managed to swallow that piece of tofu. In the end, he didn’t manage to eat that huge knuckle either, and instead brought the heavy thing back to the mountaintop.
While climbing the mountain, he felt a light headache. He at first thought that the wind outside might have gotten to him. In the end, the moment he got back, he laid on the bed without touching dinner. His entire body felt blazing hot, and he began to vomit and dry-heave.
He was giddy from fever. He sensed someone trying to feed him water, but he couldn’t keep it down and instead puked it out again. His body was burning hot. He leaned his face against the wall, trying to absorb even a tiny bit of coolness. Someone tried to pull him back, but, teary eyed, he groaned and tried to break free in order to press against the wall again.
The few people next to him were initially gravely anxious because of his illness. Seeing him act so spoilt, they were speechless for a moment. Third Senior Brother finally said, “At the end of the day, he’s still young.”
The moment Third Senior Brother thought about how his only relative had just passed away, and that he had been left all alone on Returnflow Mountain without anyone that he could converse with, Third Senior Brother felt that this junior brother of his was really pitiful.
Today, Linglong brought him down the mountain so that he could play and enjoy himself. After all, staying cooped up on the mountaintop would make anyone feel gloomy. At the very least, he might loosen up by heading down the mountain. However, they never expected that a kind act would lead to such a disaster. They weren’t proficient in the medical arts, and neither Master nor Eldest Senior Brother were present. As it was late in the night, they couldn’t even invite anyone to have a look at him. They didn’t know if he had gotten a cold or if he had eaten something bad, but seeing how high his fever was, it was definitely not a minor illness.
“I found a few medicines from the pill room, but I don’t know which one is suitable for him…” Chen Jingzhi pulled out a few bottles and jars.
Jiang Fan shook his head. “That won’t do. Without reading his pulse, we can’t just feed him any random medicine.” There were many mountain folks and hunters on Returnflow Mountain, and they often came to request medicine whenever they were injured or sick. However, Master never gave away these medicines easily. The ones for exterior use were one thing, but those for internal use could be given only after determining exactly what kind of illness the patient had.
They didn’t know if Junior Brother had eaten something bad or if he had caught a cold, so how could they possibly feed him any random medicine?
Linglong was the most anxious among them. “Why don’t I bring Junior Brother down the mountain and have a doctor in town look at him?”
She couldn’t help but feel anxious. She had initially wanted to bring Junior Brother down to let him have fun for once. However, she never expected that her good intentions would end up this way. Seeing how Junior Brother had gotten so incredibly ill, her heart couldn’t feel at ease.
Jiang Fan shook his head. “That won’t do. There’s no moonlight tonight, and with how strong the wind is, Fishback Slope and Lonewood Bridge are both too dangerous to cross.”
If it could have been done, he would already have brought Junior Brother down the mountain.
Putting aside how difficult it was to cross the mountain path at night, even if they were to successfully reach the foot of the mountain, there weren’t any decent doctors in town. There was only a doctor who could heal bruises. Ina small town of about a hundred families, how could there possibly be a brilliant doctor among them? If there was, the townsfolk wouldn’t need to climb the mountain to look for Master whenever someone fell severely ill.
“But what do we do about Junior Brother?” Linglong was about to cry from worry.
Jiang Fan pondered for a moment. “I’m going to bring over a basin of warm water to clean his arms and legs with.”
At the very least, it would help drop his temperature a little and he wouldn’t have to feel so hot.
Linglong stood up before him. “I will go. I will fetch the water.”
Seeing that she had taken the initiative before he did, Jiang Fan said to Chen Jingzhi, “Junior Brother Chen, head back and get some rest. It’s already pretty late.”
Chen Jingzhi shook his head. “Senior Brother, I can still help you. After all, it wouldn’t be convenient for Senior Sister.”
If he didn’t bring this up, Jiang Fan wouldn’t have realized it either.
Indeed, though Junior Brother was young, they were still of different genders. If Senior Sister stayed here, it would bring about several inconveniences. They would have to take off Junior Brother’s clothes and clean his body, and such work couldn’t be left to Senior Sister.