Even with so many mountain gods, can’t even scrape together enough to form a mahjong table.
One night passed and no more earthquakes appeared.
The people of Zhushan County were in shock. At dawn, they were busy preparing joss sticks and ingots* while kowtowing to the Gods and spiritual beings they knew and praying for safety. Every household smelled of incense, while the large and small temples on the streets were filled with people and smoke.
(*元宝, yuánbǎo: a silver or gold ingot/ mock ingot (burnt as offering in worship)
Constable Qin sneezed heavily. He rubbed his nose and complained, “These Gods eat incense every day and not afraid of choking.”
Behind him, the yayi* promptly gave him a meaningful look, making Constable Qin lower his voice.
(*衙役, yáyì: bailiff of a feudal yamen)
Although the folk customs of Zhushan County are simple and honest, they can’t say such disrespectful things in front of a temple.
“I’m one of those people. My old mother believes in Buddhism, and would hold a string and knock on a wooden fish; my daughter-in-law, would turn to Lishan all day long to burn incense, saying it’s to turn my misfortune into blessings*... we’re in Zhushan County. Aren’t we thousands of miles away from Lishan?” Constable Qin couldn’t restrain himself at all and angrily said, “As for my old man, every time I passed by the Baiyan Mountain God Temple, he’d demand that I kowtow to it and burn incense. I’m not a woodcutter, why would the mountain god bless me?”
(*逢凶化吉, féngxiōnghuàjí: misfortune turns to blessing (idiom); to turn an inauspicious start to good account)
“Maybe these Gods, Buddhas, and Immortals know each other!” The yayi next to him laughed and interjected, “Just like one big family, they’ll see each other when they look up. They’d eat around a table and play pai gow*. Who knows who’s dating who, ah!”
(*牌九, páijiǔ: pai gow (gambling game played with dominoes))
Constable Qin was busy for a whole day yesterday. Not long after he slept, he encountered the earthquake in the middle of the night, and he stayed up for a long time. Now he’s irritable and with cheeks puffed, he’s making a fuss.
“Okay, okay. Master Li said that we should send these blankets to the villages. Let’s go early and return early.”
Constable Qin quickly clutched his nose, stepped on the snow, and said that while preparing to leave the town.
It just so happened that when he turned around, he saw Mo Li.
“Doctor Mo?” Constable Qin quickly asked in surprise, “Where did you come from?”
It’s still early and the pharmacy hasn’t opened yet. Although Mo Li didn’t carry anything in his hands, there were traces of snow on his upper body, as if he had walked a long way. His clothes were the same ones Constable Qin saw yesterday and hadn’t been changed.
“There was an emergency last night, so I was out of town.” Mo Li casually said.
He’s a doctor, and it’s common for people to visit a doctor in the middle of the night, so the others wouldn’t go into details.
Constable Qin quickly asked Mo Li for a home remedy for alleviating fevers, then smiled and left.
After not walking far, Mo Li heard the yayi ask Constable Qin in a low voice: “Doctor Mo didn’t visit anyone. He didn’t even have his medicine bag. There’s even some dirt behind his clothes…”
“Alright, are you solving a case? If the person didn’t want to say it, what would they do if you ask so much? Let’s go quickly and we could have a meal back in the yamen* after this errand.” Constable Qin said in an angry tone.
(*衙门, yámen: government office in feudal China / yamen)
Doctor Mo silently picked up the hem of his clothes, and sure enough, there were stains that he got in the cave last night. His teacher was right. He’s talented in medicine, but he didn’t have any talent in lying. When it came to ordinary people like Constable Qin and the others, he was immediately exposed.
Mo Li had a very confusing night, thinking about dragon veins for a while, and spiritual beings for a while.
He didn’t know why the Great Capital’s Golden Dragon asked him to go to Xianyang.
He had lived in Zhushan County for nearly 20 years and was familiar with everything here. Now that he suddenly knew his true identity, Mo Li was a little unable to return to his senses, and even—— couldn’t accept it.
Because it meant that if he wanted to find the same kind, he must leave Zhushan County and Qi Mao Mountain.
The doctor couldn’t help but remember what he overheard from the yayi just now about how the Gods, Buddhas, and Immortals in the world all knew each other, and secretly wondered if that was true. He didn’t want to meet a great personage who could call the wind and the rain. According to the county’s records, the mountain gods mentioned should be fluffy foxes or weasels that liked to tease people. Anyway, as long as they don’t like to eat people, everyone could live together in harmony. Everyday brewing tea, drinking wine or playing chess. In spring, go for a walk. In summer, go boating. In autumn, listen to stories. In winter, appreciate the snow. All year round, they’d enjoy themselves.
——but no, there’s nothing at all.
Mo Li walked back to the pharmacy with heavy steps and saw Aunt Ge holding dried willow branches and slapping them on the courtyard walls, taking one step to chant a sentence, and then taking five steps to sprinkle a handful of dark things.
“…ya, Doctor Mo is back.” Aunt Ge was still holding a dustpan with some ash in the bottom. When she turned around, the ashes in it happened to be blown up by the wind and went all over Tang XiaoTang.
The freshly baked black doll wiped his face blankly.
Mo Li couldn’t help but laugh. Tang XiaoTang pursed his mouth as tears rolled down his eyes.
“Tang child, when did you run behind me?” Aunt Ge quickly put down her things, dragged Tang XiaoTang, and walked into the house. “Don’t rub your eyes, don’t touch, aunt will find you some water.”
Mo Li followed them. Elder Qin was punching slowly in the yard. Seeing Tang XiaoTang being carried in like a black monkey, he smiled and said: “Shi Zhi, did you bring this monkey down from the mountain?”
Qin Lu saw his disciple come back safely and his nervous heart immediately calmed down.
“Teacher.” Mo Li put away his messy thoughts and saluted respectfully.
Tang XiaoTang, who couldn’t hold back anymore, cried. Aunt Ge was in a hurry, so Mo Li reluctantly picked up his young junior brother, and while coaxing him, said to Qin Lu: “XiaoTang is just at the age where he wants to save face. If you say that he’s short, he’ll be angry for a long time. Why would teacher tease him?”
Elder Qin knew that he’s wrong, so he stroked his beard and stopped talking.
Aunt Ge repeatedly said that it was her fault. She first poured hot water on a clean cloth and held Tang XiaoTang in her arms to wipe his face.
Tang XiaoTang’s face was black and white due to crying, making him look even more ridiculous.
Fortunately, Aunt Ge took him to a room to change clothes, so Mo Li didn’t have to continue to bear it.
“What’s this for?” Mo Li asked, looking at the bottom of the half-full dustpan on the ground.
“It’s a way to get rid of evil spirits.”
Uncle Ge, the accountant of the pharmacy, smiled embarrassedly, “the willow branches are soaked in water and the ash should be very old. Going around in a circle with these can drive away bad luck at home. This is the way to ask the kitchen god for a blessing. Now that it’s freezing cold, I can’t find fresh willow branches, so I could only find more ash.”
Mo Li looked at Qin Lu silently, and Elder Qin shook his head with a smile.
——even as a learned scholar, I don’t know the prescriptions for praying for God and worshiping Buddha in every household in Zhushan County.
Everyone had their own set of customs, and each believed in their own ways, and they have even divided the jurisdiction and responsibilities of all Gods. It sounded like there’s many of them, but in fact, there’s no one at all. Mo Li could only sigh.
On the table in the main room, there’s a plate of vegetable buns covered with a bowl, for fear that the heat would escape.
Mo Li went to the kitchen to fill a bowl of porridge, and when he returned to the room, he found that only Elder Qin was eating slowly.
“Did XiaoTang already eat?” Mo Li glanced at the food on the table. According to Qin Lu’s habit, he counted how much he ate at each meal.
Qin Lu nodded.
While eating, no words were spoken. Elder Qin put down his chopsticks and asked inquisitively: “What did you see in the mountains? When the earthquake happened, did you encounter any danger?”
Mo Li didn’t know how to answer. He thought about it in his heart, swallowed the last mouthful of gruel, rinsed his mouth, and then whispered: “This student is safe and sound. It’s just that I don’t understand the dragon vein at all. I want to go to the yamen to ask Master Li again.”
“Shi Zhi, you have something on your mind.”
Qin Lu could tell at a glance that Mo Li didn’t tell the truth, and he usually wouldn’t ask him, but now with the frequent visions, he’s afraid that his student was sick again, so Elder Qin had to ask.
“Shi Zhi, ah. You are smart, studious, and gifted with good character. With a student like you, there’s almost nothing to worry about, but this teacher has always been worrying about you.”
“I suggested that you become a doctor in Zhushan County. You agreed and did a good job. The people here respect you very much and even Magistrate Xue is no exception. Two years ago, I suddenly wanted to make XiaoTang a disciple, but he’s young and I didn’t have the energy or the time to teach him, so I put him in the pharmacy, and you took good care of him. But you know, why do you think I arranged all this?”
Qin Lu is a man of courtesy. Every time he uses “I” to talk to Mo Li, Mo Li knew that this was a serious conversation. Since he became an adult, although they still call each other teacher and student, Qin Lu would talk to him like they’re peers. He no longer regarded him as an ignorant child who didn’t have any thoughts and could only be given advice in everything. He wasn’t ordered on what he must do, so Mo Li respected Qin Lu from the bottom of his heart.
He might be born with some things.
But there were some things that Qin Lu taught by example which let him understand.
“Teacher is kind to me like the mountain, and you have a clearer view of world affairs than me. You must have a reason for making these arrangements.” Mo Li didn’t know Qin Lu’s intentions, but he also had his own guesses.
“The art of medicine requires continuous treatment and saving lives in order to make progress. People are born, grow old, get sick and die. Illnesses are inevitable. Doctors can see all kinds of situations in the world, and tempering their mental state is also good for inner strength cultivation. As for XiaoTang, teacher just doesn’t want to see him ruin his talent.”
Qin Lu listened to the movement by the door, confirmed that Tang XiaoTang wasn’t nearby, and then shook his head: “What you said is correct, but it’s not everything. Although XiaoTang has a good talent, it’s much worse than you. And I’m older, so I don’t know how to teach him in just a few years.”
Mo Li took Qin Lu’s pulse a few days ago and said in disbelief: “Teacher is in good health, and you can still live for eight or ten more years. It’s no problem to live enough to write an epitaph for Minister Xue.”
Qin Lu couldn’t laugh or cry. If Magistrate Xue heard this, Magistrate Xue will have insomnia again.
“Shi Zhi, ah. I did this hoping that you’ll live this life without any worries. When you were a child, you shut yourself indoors and didn’t like playing with other children. Growing up, you’re still that stuffy gourd. If I didn’t tell you to go practice medicine outside, I’m afraid you won’t know how to talk to strangers.”
Elder Qin sighed and said, “Now, you have a home and your own life in Zhushan County, I even left you XiaoTang… It’s difficult for a doctor to heal themselves. You are fellow disciples, and it’s good to take care of each other. But Shi Zhi, you’re always alone. It’s as if even with all these, you don’t fit in. You have a lot of words hidden in your heart, and a lot of concerns. What are you thinking?”
Qin Lu felt distressed at the bewildered expression of his student.
In his early years, he thought that Mo Li’s loneliness was due to having no father or mother. Since he didn’t know how to live, he took the effort to arrange this current life for Mo Li, so that Mo Li could do his best without worrying about it. But the loneliness and desolation on Mo Li never disappeared.
Mo Li sat at the table, not knowing how to explain.
He likes Qi Mao Mountain, Zhushan County, and the people and things here.
Xiao Tang is good, and so is his teacher. Everyone in the county government is very nice, including Minister Xue and Master Li.
But——no one can accompany him forever. Mo Li will use a transformation technique to make himself older year by year, but there’s always an end. However, he can’t ever “die”.
Teacher will go, and so will Xiao Tang.
Because they’re human and he’s a spiritual being.
That’s why he wanted to find the same kind.
The author has something to say:
Mo Li not only wants to find spiritual beings but also wants to live with them in Qi Mao Mountain.
But finding another dragon vein won’t work since each one has its own territory.
This is why Mo Li clings to being a spiritual being and continues to stick to it.
I spent half the time translating the first ten paragraphs. That was torture.
FYI, the previous translator used the term ‘spiritual beings’ to refer to either monsters or demons. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll make it more literal, but for now, I’m just following the previous translator. If there came a time where differentiation needs to be made, I’ll refer to spiritual beings as either demons or monsters.