This problem wasn’t something that could be resolved in an instant. Fortunately, no one was forcing him to figure it out, so there was no pressure, On the contrary, Senior Brother Jiang was afraid that he would take things too hard, and came up with ideas to console him.
Senior Brother Jiang and the other two older disciples were taken in by Master while they were young. Returnflow Mountain was their home, while Master and the people on the mountain were their relatives. When it came to their Little Junior Brother’s pain of losing a relative, although Senior Brother Jiang and the rest had never experienced it, they were still able to understand his sorrow.
The room that Xiaodong lived in did not have many decorations. When he and his uncle visited Returnflow Mountain, all they brought was a small cloth bundle. Bundled within was two sets of fresh clothes and a few necessities. When he officially settled down in Returnflow Mountain, the decorations in the room were then brought in by his Senior Brothers and Senior Sister. The first thing brought in was bedding for the bed, and the rest were slowly added in. Fourth Senior Brother had even gifted him two books, paper, ink and a pen. Before he was aware of it, this initially chilly little room was slowly filled to the brim.
It wasn’t that Xiaodong wasn’t aware of their kindness. However, on one hand, his heart was in unbearable pain from reminiscing about his uncle, and on the other, he did not know how he could repay the kindness of his Senior Brothers and Senior Sister. He felt that he was unworthy of their kindness.
No one else knew about the things Eldest Senior Brother mentioned to him on that day. Jiang Fan was unaware of the details as well, and he even thought that Xiaodong had been lectured by Eldest Senior Brother for his bad swordplay. He felt like he had let down Xiaodong down.
Little Junior Brother’s sword techniques were taught by him after all. He must had done a bad job teaching, leading to Little Junior Brother being lectured by Eldest Senior Brother. He even intentionally brought over a box of halva to console him.
Xiaodong felt even more guilty receiving this box of sweets, and was even more embarrassed towards Senior Brother Jiang’s misunderstanding.
“Senior Brother, it’s not your fault. My heart is still hazy, that’s all. Eldest Senior Brother told me to ponder over it properly in the next few days, and that it’s not too late for me to learn sword techniques after clearing my doubts.”
“Your heart?” Jiang Fan scratched his head, “Eldest Senior Brother said this?”
“Haah, that’s difficult then,” Jiang Fan frowned and said, “Senior Brother is usually really easy to talk to, but when it comes to such matters, he’s a little stubborn. Even Master can’t do anything about it. If the problem was something else, I might’ve been able to give you some ideas. I can’t really provide you much help when it comes to such matters.”
Xiaodong said, “It’s something that I should think about on my own in the first place. If someone else were to tell me the answer, then the principles can’t become mine.”
Jiang Fan stressed over this with him. “Haah, if Eldest Senior Brother asked me this, I wouldn’t know what to answer with either. Why do I have to practice martial arts and swordplay? Because I’m Master’s disciple, I obviously have to pass down the teachings of Returnflow Mountain. However, if we have to develop the sect and make it flourish, then you shouldn’t put hopes on me. I’m the stupidest among all of Master’s disciples. Eldest Senior Brother is a given. He has great aptitude and impressive comprehension ability, and I’m completely fine with that. Senior Sister Linglong is both daring and smart, she’s much stronger than me. Junior Brother Chen is someone with lots of things going on in his mind as well. Though he usually doesn’t talk much and always has that look on his face, he’s not having it easy either…”
The moment Jiang Fan started the conversation, he couldn’t stop. Even Xiaodong had temporarily forgotten about his troubles and curiously asked, “Who else is left in Senior Brother Chen’s household? How long has it been since he first came to Returnflow Mountain?”
“It’s been almost two years.” Jiang Fan lowered his voice a little, as though he was afraid that someone would overhear them. “He has a hard life as well. The Chen Household is actually really well renowned, and when compared to Returnflow Mountain, they are much, much stronger. When Junior Brother Chen’s mother passed away, his father married another woman. The new wife brought along a child with her, and the child’s surname was changed and was taken in under the Chen pedigree. I’ve heard that, though in name, that child was brought along by the new wife, that child was actually born under the same father as Junior Brother Chen, and was even merely a year younger than Junior Brother Chen.”
Xiaodong had to ponder for a short while to understand the complexity within.
He never expected that Senior Brother Chen would have such a hard life.
“As they say, a stepmother would result in a father becoming like a stepfather to his own child. Junior Brother Chen had no choice but to leave his household and be apprenticed to Master. Other than keeping the surname Chen, he can no longer return to the Chen Household.”
Though Senior Brother Chen still had a home and relatives, he and Xiaodong were in the same situation.
From the matters concerning Chen Jing, the conversation circled right back to the start. Senior Brother Jiang sincerely said to Xiaodong, “Though it’s only been a short while since you came, including Master, no one on the mountain is treating you as an outsider. If your mind is still in a haze, there’s no hurry. And I’m here to support you.”
“Among us brothers, Eldest Senior Brother is a given. No matter what and when, he’s the Eldest Senior Brother. Able to handle all of the affairs of the mountain perfectly, he is the eldest disciple that Master relies heavily on. He is also the Eldest Senior Brother that all of us respect. I’m guessing that there’s an eighty percent chance that even in his dreams, Senior Brother is thinking of how he can spread the name of Returnflow Mountain far and wide. When it comes to such affairs, I will feel troubled just by thinking about it. As for Senior Sister Linglong, she’s especially strong-headed. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but she will definitely become one of the strongest swordsmen. There’s no need to mention Junior Brother Chen either, as he’s holding back a bundle of resentment in his heart. I’m the one with the worst prospects, and I don’t have much talent in martial arts either. If I’m asked why I’m holding a sword, or what path I wish to take in the future, it’s all unclear to me too. I’m not even the least bit stronger than you.”
Xiaodong could not help but laugh at Senior Brother Jiang’s words.
Senior Brother Jiang was saying such things to console him, after all. From Xiaodong’s perspective, Senior Brother Jiang had a lot of good points. He was a honest person, and treated people really well.
“If you ask me if there’s any wish I have in my heart, then I hope to see everyone well. I hope to see Master being more famous and respected than he is right now. I hope to see Eldest Senior Brother stand above all of the swordsmen in the current young generation, and I hope to see you and Junior Brother Chen grow up well and healthy… As for myself, I don’t have any great skills of my own, but I will do anything I can to help out our sect and Master.”
Xiaodong laughed, “Third Senior Brother, you’re still going on about how you don’t carry any clear aspirations? From how I see it, your heart is more resolute than the average person.”
After this long conversation with Senior Brother Jiang, Xiaodong finally had a vague direction in mind when it came to his own affairs. However, it was still too blurry, and the inkling disappeared quickly. Before he could grasp hold onto this sliver of thought, it disappeared without a trace.
After sending off Senior Brother Jiang, Little Dong got up and opened the trunk at the head of the bed. He took out a sabre that was tightly wrapped in cloth.
This was the sabre that his uncle had left behind.
Xiaodong slowly unfastened the layers of cloth. When it was completely released, he slowly pulled the sabre from its sheath.
Light swayed across the blade. Though it was bright and glossy, the glistening light felt extremely gentle, not the least bit blinding to the eyes.
If his uncle in the underworld were to find out how hopeless and frail he was right now, he would definitely be angry, right?
No, he might not be mad, but instead worry for him like he had always done in the past.
Xiaodong was unwilling to see this happen.
He was unwilling to become the burden of others as he had always been.
His uncle had always been dragged down by him in the past. In order to take care of him, up until his death, his uncle did not manage to start a family. Master was worried about him, along with his Senior Brothers and Senior Sister.
Xiaodong turned to look outside the window.
The weather grew colder by the day. The northern winds incessantly blew, and the tree leaves were all about to completely fall off, spreading a thick colourful layer onto the ground. Sweep, and more would fall after. Sweep, and more would fall after. No matter how much they were swept, they couldn’t be swept completely away, so they were simply left as is. The crisp, brownish leaves would make rustling sounds when they were stepped on.
As for himself and his future, Xiaodong only had a vague idea in his mind. If he had to clearly convey it, he wouldn’t be able to do it.
Fortunately, Eldest Senior Brother did not force an answer out of him immediately, and he had Senior Brother Jiang Fan encouraging him on the side as well.
“How old is Little Junior Brother? When I was at his age, my mind was in an even bigger mess. As they say, one would only become clear-headed at the age of forty. Little Junior Brother is still young. We only have to teach him slowly, and he will naturally come to understand it himself.”
Imparting Xiaodong with sword techniques became Eldest Senior Brother’s responsibility, and he was truly starting over from scratch. No matter if they were sword moves or footwork, Eldest Senior Brother patiently taught, demonstrating and correcting Xiaodong over and over again.
Though Eldest Senior Brother and Third Senior Brother both taught the same Introductory Sword Techniques, Xiaodong faintly sensed that sword techniques would change depending on the user. Different people would have different interpretations over the same set of sword techniques. When Eldest Senior Brother demonstrated this set of sword techniques, he looked as if he was traversing on clouds and flowing with the river. It was not the same for Third Senior Brother, where every move of his was firm, which felt heavy and dense. Senior Sister Linglong once demonstrated this set of sword techniques for Xiaodong as well, and her every move was filled with sharpness and ruthlessness. Spectators would feel as if they were suffocating a little from watching her swordplay.
It was the same set of sword techniques, yet it had so many different forms.
If we had to talk about Xiaodong himself, his swordplay was no longer riddled with so many errors, and Eldest Senior Brother no longer called it a mess.
Learning martial arts was one matter, but Xiaodong’s relationships with his Senior Brothers and senior Sister had gotten much better as well. Third Senior Brother was coincidentally celebrating his birthday today. The lot of them came together to eat longevity noodles, and all of them prepared a birthday gift of their own.
Eldest Senior Brother’s gift was the heaviest. What he pulled out was a long sword box, and everyone stared straight at it with wide-open eyes.
Eldest Senior Brother smiled and said, “Master left behind a note and instructed me to give this to Third Junior Brother. When he headed down the mountain, Master was afraid that he wasn’t able to hurry back in time and would miss out on Third Junior Brother’s birthday. After this year, when Master returns, he will most likely officially impart you the Returnflow Sword Techniques.”
Eldest Senior Brother prepared a gift of his own as well, and coincidentally it was the same as Senior Sister Linglong’s gift – a sword tassel. Because Chen Jingzhi and Yun Xiaodong did not prepare any physical gifts, both of them stood up and spoke a few lines, wishing him a long, blissful, and auspicious life.
Jiang Fan was so happy that not only was his face red, but even his eyes turned red. He turned around and hurriedly wiped his face. The rest acted as if they hadn’t seen anything, and not a single one of them exposed him.
Xiaodong was wrapped tightly today. This was his first time experiencing winter on Returnflow Mountain, and unlike his Senior Brothers and Senior Sister who had incredible martial prowess, he was still fearful of the cold. On the very first day of winter, he was already wearing a cotton jacket. If the weather were to turn even colder, he had to put on another. During Làyuè, he was already wrapped in three cotton jackets of different sizes. From afar, he looked like a large olive that could stand and walk on its own.
Since the room was warm and he was already nourished with a warm soup and the warm dishes, he first took off the outermost jacket, and a few moments later, he took off another one. Now he was wearing a small, close-fitting lined jacket, and his face was puffy red from the heat.
Third Senior Brother carried the sword box deeper into his room, and then returned to his seat. “Master truly treats us very well. I wonder just where he is currently at, and when his return will be.”
Master had been really hasty in his departure. He rushed out before Eldest Senior Brother came back, and even now he had yet to return. The New Year was already within sight, could it be that Master was going to pass the New Year outside again? Was it impossible for him to rush back?