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Chapter 9: Youthful Zeal
The Zhushan District of the Ba Commandery was a special place. It even had another name, “Zheng City.”
Back when the Qin Dynasty was fighting the Han, Zhao, and Wei Dynasties, the first country it had conquered was a small country, the country of Zheng.
The land of Zheng was only as large as one of the present commanderies of the Qin Dynasty. It was a weak country, and at an important location. Even though the monarch of the Zheng opened the doors and allowed the armies of the Qin Dynasty an unrestricted passage, the Qin Dynasty still found an excuse to conquer the country because the movements of the Qin armies were easy to track and it was inconvenient to station armies there.
Most of the youth and labor force in the Zheng was forced into hard labor. They were sent to build water reservoirs and irrigation for farmland. When the Qin Dynasty set up the Ba Commandery, the majority of the Zheng was decreed to the Ba Commandery to settle in the remote mountains.
Those that survived the pain of having their country conquered, the hardship of hard labour, the dangers of crossing mountains and rivers, and poisonous snakes and insects in the Ba Mountains, died of old age. Their descendants settled in Ba Commandery. Most of the residents of the Zhushan District in Ba Commandery were descendants of the Zheng.
Due to the passing of a generation, these descendants had accepted becoming people of Qin long ago, but they still retained many a native habit.
Perhaps it was the eventuality of living under the shadows of several large countries that turned the anxious people of Zheng especially superstitious. Each year, they paid obeisance to the ghosts and gods by observing numerous ceremonies and temple festivals. The popular temple festival that Xue Wangxu had mentioned to Ding Ning, initially, was the Kitchen Fire Festival to worship the Kitchen God.
The Feng Family of the Ba Commandery in the Zhushan Country were not of the Zheng.
When the Yuanwu Emperor ascended the throne, and needed the people of the Ba Mountain Sword Field to demonstrate fealty, all the disciples of Ba Mountain Sword Field who attested their absolute loyalty to the Emperor through their actions, regardless of their cultivation or mediocrity as outer sect disciples survived.
Formerly, Feng Qianzhuo of the Feng Family was an ordinary disciple of the Ba Mountain Sword Field. The reason that the Feng Family lived well in the Ba Commandery and were like a minor marquessate was because of a reality that many people were unwilling and not daring to mention.
The most noble woman of the Qin Dynasty, Her Highness the Empress, was a member of the Zheng people. Just like the lady of the Xie Family, Empress Zheng Xiu’s family was nobility that had evolved in Changling. Zheng Xiu grew up in Changling, studied and cultivated there.
After all is said and done, the Zheng people were still the Zheng people. Even though she had ascended to the throne of empress, no one knew how much blood and turbulence was needed to accomplish this.
In the bloodiest years before the ascension of the Yuanwu Emperor, everything that she evinced made people believe she was a true member of the Qin. She had no special sympathy towards the Zheng people. But when the situation in Changling stabilized completely and she became the noble empress, many people found that she, who was especially cruel and ruthless in many matters, held some softness towards the people of her former country. The officials who were softer in treating the Zheng people would get some special treatment.
The Feng Family had been especially kind to the Zheng people when they had been forced to move to the Ba Commandery to settle. Add to that what the Feng Family’s actions when the Ba Mountain Sword Field was destroyed, the Feng Family became the most prestigious family around the Zhushan District soon after the Yuanwu Emperor ascended to the throne. They had the power to manage the nearby copper and tin mines and were greatly respected by the Zheng people around the Zhushan District.
“The medicine you mentioned in Ba Commandery that can heal me, what is it?”
Ding Ning asked Xue Wangxu over the monotone of the carriage wheels pressing over the thinly iced road.
“It is an appearance fixing orb.”
Since there was no dearth of time, Xue Wangxu was not in a hurry. He spoke slowly as though narrating a story. “The Appearance Fixing Orb that I speak of is of course not those fragrant pills that the fragrance and powder shops in Changling make using pollen and honey. This is an ancient orb that has a special ability to protect one’s appearance.”
“After His Majesty ascended to the throne, stopped the wars, and ceased restricting the immigrants from settling in Changling, Changling became the largest city in the world. The Ba Mountain region is a commandery, but it still is a terrible place compared to Changling. You may be unaware, but many years ago, the Ba Mountains always had many cultivation sects.”
“The Ba Mountains had many spirit veins in the past that were much stronger than White Goat Cave’s spirit vein. So many sects formed here. Even now, while the spirit veins have dried up, there are still remains of many sects in the Ba Mountains.”
“The second year after His Majesty’s ascension, my sect senior brother was travelling in the Ba Mountains when the ruins of an ancient sect was discovered. Many cultivators went to search for treasure. My sect senior brother found an appearance fixing orb.”
“The medicinal energy that the appearance fixing orb emanated, can nurture the five organs, and maintain one’s appearance. But when my sect senior brother found this appearance fixing orb, another cultivator tried to snatch it from him.”
“That cultivator was Feng Qianzhuo of the Feng Family in Zhushan District. My sect senior brother was defeated, and he stole the appearance fixing orb.”
At these words, Ding Ning subconsciously shook his head. His gaze landed on the Last Flower Sword. He couldn’t help but recount Zhangsun Qianxue’s words to him when he joined White Goat Cave.
Changling was a place where countless favors and grudges gathered.
For instance, right now. This remnant sword originally had no connection to White Goat Cave and Xue Wangxu. But imperceptibly, this sword inexplicably entangled with many events from the past .
“In those years, my cultivation was not much higher than my sect senior brother. An opponent my sect senior brother could not defeat, was most likely one I could not defeat as well.”
Xue Wangxu glanced at Ding Ning, his words calm. “Also, that appearance fixing orb could be absorbed. Me and my sect senior brother thought that the other would have absorbed the appearance fixing orb after stealing it. And with the Feng Family’s relationship to the Empress’ family, we could only accept this result and not think about it.”
“But then you found that he had not absorbed this appearance fixing orb?” Something in his eyes made Ding Ning ask.
Xue Wangxu shook his head disdainfully. “Several years ago, I heard that Feng Qianzhuo had a penchant to beauty, so he gave his appearance fixing orb to his concubine to use.”
Ding Ning frowned and did not mask his disdain. “Then he is a very faithful person. Most of those who like beauty would be bored of looking at a face, no matter how beautiful, for very long.”
Xue Wangxu laughed. “He also gets bored, so he had three concubines share this appearance fixing orb. This way, before he feels bored, at least the concubines he likes can maintain their beauty.”
Ding Ning laughed coldly. “Such a good idea. Pity he did not use it on his cultivation.”
“In reality, when one cultivates for a long time, they will ponder over what meaning there is.”
Xue Wangxu looked at Ding Ning as he spoke in all seriousness. “When one feels there is no possibility of progress and does not want to accomplish anything or fight in wars, one is bound to feel there is no meaning in cultivation. It is better to pass the rest of their life with wine and beautiful concubines.”
Ding Ning grew silent. He knew that Xue Wangxu spoke the truth. But Xue Wangxu owed him a debt. So in his view, even though Xue Wangxu felt there was no meaning in cultivation, he was not fit to live a life of luxury with a group of concubines.
“For you, cultivation has meaning.” Xue Wangxu looked at the silent Ding Ning and smiled slightly. “For me, holding my peace my entire life, and having this one moment of glory before the end will please me. Do not feel you owe me anything. Also, you will have to compete in the Min Mountain Sword Trials. Even if you say I am obsessed, even if White Goat Cave no longer exists, if a student from White Goat Cave is able to enter the top three of the Min Mountain Sword Trials, I will be happier than anything else. Just thinking about the possibility right now, and the expressions of those powerful people, I am very happy.”
Ding Ning looked at the excitement on the other’s face and smiled. He couldn’t help but imagine that scenario as well. He felt that he too was happy. He couldn’t resist smiling and said, “I do not feel if you are obsessed. While White Goat Cave is just a name to many people, it is life to you. However, I heard that Min Mountain Sword Trials will not be the same as the sword trial of Green Vine Sword School. There are distinctions among the top three. So entering the top three is not the happiest thing; if we compete, we have to compete for the top stop.”
Xue Wangxu stilled slightly. He saw absolute confidence in Ding Ning’s smile and calm gaze. He almost pulled several strands of his beard out.
“You want to fight for number one?”
“Even if I have said so much to you, you still possess such confidence?”
Xue Wangxu shook his head and then seemed to laugh in rage. “If you really secure the first place, this old man will unleash youthful zeal, disrobe and run around the sword river in front of Min Mountain Sword Sect.”
“I will get number one.” Ding Ning said confidently. Then he looked oddly at Xue Wangxu. “In your younger years, people liked to take off their clothes and run around? You have such strange habits?”
Xue Wangxu roared with laughter, his hands slapping the seat as though he had returned to his youthful times.
“Young and frivolous, singing and drinking, who knows of the frivolous matters, how much time has passed, how many mistakes there were, how many people have left? But it is hard to turn back, and there is no chance to do it again.”
At Xue Wangxu’s words, Ding Ning closed his eyes thought to himself. “Old Man, you are in your dusk, but I will follow you and give you true glory.”
Translator Ramblings: Appearance fixing orb is really not as nice as beauty orb but … Beauty Orb sounds like a makeup product.