Chapter 1

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Translated by Nanming


Volume Ⅰ: The Roc's Long Flight[2] :

Chapter 1

Cheng Qian was at the nominal age [3] of ten, but he grew too slowly to keep up with his age.

Around noon, he carried firewood from the courtyard into the central hall. As it was hard for him to carry a whole bundle, he had to run back and forth twice. He only then wiped off the sweats and buried himself in cooking.

His father was busy receiving a guest these days, so chores including washing dishes, cooking, making fires and chopping firewood, all fell on his shoulders, driving him as busy as a spinning top, as if he could raise a tired wind anytime and anywhere.

Due to his short stature, it was somewhat inconvenient for him to operate a large pot, although he could already reach the top of the kitchen range. So he got a stool from the corner to step on.

The four legs of the stool varied in length. Since the age of six, Cheng Qian had learned to cook stepping on it. Heaps of times he came close to falling into the pot and turning himself into a broth, but eventually he managed to get on in harmony with that uneven stool, keeping an unstable balance.

Today, his big brother came back when he was adding water to the pot on that stool.

His big brother was already fifteen, and had grown into a young man. He walked in the central room silently with a smell of sweat, took a sweeping look around, then lifted his young brother down from the stool and gave him a rude push on the back. "Leave it with me." He said in a muffled voice, "You can go and play."

Cheng Qian, of course, wouldn't really go out. "Big Brother!" The lovely boy called out, and then squatted aside, blowing the bellows loudly.

Cheng Dalang [4] looked down at him with complicated eyes, not uttering a word.

There were three sons in his family, Cheng Qian was the second. He had been called "Cheng Erlang" until a guest's arrival the previous evening.

Dalang was aware that he could hardly call "Erlang" anymore, for his second brother, along with the convenient nickname, would make a complete change and go somewhere far away.

The guest that visited the day before was a Taoist, whose name was unknown. He unblushingly referred to himself as "Muchun Zhenren [5]". But he might not necessarily have any genuine abilities, judging by his appearance — he had a sparse goatee, a pair of half-closed bird eyes and slender feet showing beneath the pleats of his robe fluttering in the wind — he was more like a fortune-teller who swindled and bluffed than an immortal with an ethereal bearing.

Zhenren just passed by on his tour. He came up to ask for a bowl of water and never expected to see Cheng Erlang.

Cheng Erlang had only just run back home from outside then — there was an old Tongsheng [6] in the village, who had failed in the imperial examinations many times. He recruited students and taught them reading. In spite of his very little learning, he demanded quite high emoluments. He turned up his nose at things like self-made cured meats, fruits and vegetables, and only true gold and silver would be accepted. Moreover, the amount depended — as soon as he pissed it all away, he'd stretch out to his students for more.

As a man with such bad conduct, he was totally unqualified to be a teacher, who could transmit wisdom, impart knowledge and resolve doubts. But there was just no way, as it wasn't easy for children in rural areas to get education, considering that there wasn't a second teacher within a radius of one hundred Li [7].

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