Chapter 8: Perhaps it really was a tribulation of love
I had no intention to flee from Liubo after I destroyed the Thousand-Lock Pagoda. Even if I didn’t like this incarnation of Moxi’s very much, I couldn’t let him fall prey to other people. At the very least, I needed to protect him and his purity through this lifetime.
But the old fogies of Liubo didn’t know what to do with me. Neither could they lock me away nor could they defeat me. That night, they lost a mighty lot of hair in distress.
In the end, it was my Moxi who resolutely said: “Lock her behind my residence. I’ll personally keep an eye on her.”
While the crowd hemmed and hawed, I was the first to nod my head, drawing a glower from Moxi.
Once I thought of our living together in the same compound, I generously let go of any complaints I might have had.
Liubo was presently regarded as the Holy Land of the religious community. The Venerable Zhonghua was head of Liubo. By this logic, his residence must not be too shabby.
But by the time I was brought back to his residence, I was almost moved to tears.
A tranquil plum garden that was somewhat incongruent with Liubo emerged behind his majestic residence. It wasn’t yet winter, but the forest was covered in snow. There, red blossoms flowered brilliantly, carrying their fragrance for miles after miles. Everything had apparently been created from magic.
“These… these flowers…” My voice sounded slightly shaky.
Unauthorized individuals were prohibited from entering Zhonghua’s residence, so at this point, there were only the two of us. As he watched the garden filled with plum blossoms, his countenance greatly softened and he answered me in a much better mood: “It’s one of the very few things I like.”
I blinked back the mist in my eyes.
Moxi, Moxi, even though you had drunk Old Meng’s soup, you hadn’t forgotten this muted fragrance and the pureness of snow? You still remembered the quiet plum garden?
The garden was enclosed inside a force field Zhonghua had created to preserve the plum blossoms at its most beautiful on a winter day. Stepping into it was akin to stepping into his enchanted confinement.
I nevertheless gladly let him confine me.
Seeing me walk into his spell, Moxi wasted no word before indifferently turning around to leave. I gazed after his back while gently touching the snow-capped plums. I suddenly returned to a day long, long ago when the white-bearded priest had said to me to the knowing nods of his head: “Love trial.”
Perhaps it really was a tribulation of love.
A stone’s tribulation of love…
Time began to go by in utter ennui after several days of confinement. No matter how beautiful this scenery was, I became sick and tired of looking at it. I thought of asking Moxi to give me a few books so I could keep myself entertained, but I never even saw his shadow after several days of lurking by the force field’s boundary. I was awfully disappointed.
Day after day, I sprawled out by the force field’s boundary to trace circles and call Moxi’s name. Of course, the name I called was Zhonghua.
In spite of my untiring effort, he never once appeared.
But when I finally quit calling him, it only took him a few days to show up.
At that time, I was learning the ancient art of steeping tea using melted snow. Of course, I had no tea, so I cut down a plum bough and used the branch as firewood while cooking the flowers, trying to see whether that many blossoms would yield a pot of porridge.
While I was wondering whether I should cut down another bough, Zhonghua arrived with a forbidding expression on his face.
I waved to him beatifically.
He briskly strode over and glanced at the plum tree I had uprooted, asking: “Are you cooking plum blossoms?”
“Wouldn’t you say this is a lovely activity, Venerable?”
He scoffed: “Is burning the lyre and cooking the crane (1) something delightful in your eyes?”
an idiom used to mean the desecration of sacred things
“Well now,” I began in seriousness, “we still have to see what kind of wood the lyre was made from. Good wood will naturally result in fragrant grilled meat. That crane also can’t be too old. Otherwise, killing it wouldn’t be very kosher.”
He took a deep breath and only said after calming down: “You’re not allowed to touch any more of my plums.”
“No can do.” I shook my head with a sense of rightness. Seeing that his face was about to explode, I explained: “It’s boredom that killed your plums. If I weren’t so bored, I wouldn’t have paid attention to them. I stood there yelling by the force field’s wall for days on out but why didn’t you answer me?”
“What is it that you want?”
“Books. The latest ones. As well as melon seeds and green tea.”
“We don’t serve people here in Liubo,” he said while turning away.
“They must not have grown so easily, but I bet these many trees should be enough to last me a few days.”
The departing figure slightly paused.
When I woke up the next morning, a heap of books was lying on the ground.
I flipped these books open as I muffled my giggle. Moxi, Moxi, you are so adorably stuffy in this lifetime!
My days went by much better with these books as company. After all, I had spent so many wasteful days in the underworld, I might as well guard Moxi here in the company of red plums and white snow.
One fine day, I was suddenly in the mood for a walk. I took a book with me as I strolled under the shadows of the forest, taking in the the plum fragrance all the while.
I startlingly felt as though I was returning to an existence from a time long past. I had lazily stayed at home all day. Then, Moxi came home from school. He pushed the door open, letting sunlight flood in, and softly called to me: “Sansheng.”
Enjoying the residual sound of this precious memory, I closed my eyes imagining the former Moxi right by my side. He matched my stride whenever I took a step, just enough so that I could have a place to lean on whenever I wished to.
I walked and paused, walked and paused, as if Moxi was there to follow my every step. I opened my eyes. Red plums were still standing proudly against the snow before my eyes, but when I looked back, I was startled to find Moxi really standing among the plums, watching me intently since Heaven knows when.
I smiled happily while swallowing back the word “Moxi” on the tip of my tongue in exchange for “Zhonghua.” Ignoring his barely perceptible frown, I cheerfully whirled my way to him with open arms.
He leaned to the side to avoid me. Instead of hugging empty air as I had thought, I felt myself hugging a small, violently trembling figure. I held this little thing out at arm’s length for a look and was quite surprised at my discovery: “Chang’an! What are you doing here?”
This was the little priest who thought I wanted to pluck his yang in order to nourish my yin. He looked so much like the former Moxi that I never could help myself from adoring him.
Unable to do anything but shake, he didn’t offer me an answer.
I gave Moxi a questioning look. He stared at Chang’an before coldly uttering: “Reflect on your wrongdoings,” then waved his sleeves and turned to leave.
When he saw him leaving, Chang’an desperately broke away from me to run after him, sprawling on the ground while crying in snots and tears. “Your Most Reverend! Your Most Reverend! Don’t leave me here by myself! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!”
I wiped my sweat. What did I even do to deserve this? When we spanked the little priests last time, didn’t I let only him go? But now the ungrateful kid was this afraid of me?
Moxi waved his sleeve and helped Chang’an up. Scarcely giving me a glance, he said, “One month of self-reflection is already lenient considering you had fought with your fellow classmate to the point of severely injuring him. Stop crying, it’s a disgrace.”
I blinked rapidly, coming to understand Moxi’s intention. Thinking back, my conduct for the past few days must have convinced him that I wasn’t really a murderous demon. This was how he could assuredly throw his errant student here to scare him with my notoriety.
What could I do but bewail my own grievances?
Moxi brushed his robe and easily went away, leaving Chang’an lying on the floor crying till his whole body convulsed.
I gave his head a poke. He looked up to me with swollen eyes. I kindly smiled to him: “Let’s talk?”
After struggling to talk to him for half a day, coaxing and tricking, I finally got why he was sent here.
If we were to talk about this, then we’d have to begin from the time I brought the Thousand-Lock Pagoda down to free the wolf demon. I had thought he would know to run far away once I let him go and bury that proverbial hatchet. Who knew that wolf demon would be so stubborn. He not only didn’t hide, he even assembled a group of demons who bore grudges against Liubo to destroy it in one fell swoop.
Once they knew of the wolf demon’s sinister plan, Liubo naturally could not sit still to await its own demise. A decision was thus made to gather the leaders of other major monastic sects to jointly come up with a defensive plan.
It was against this backdrop that Changan’s story began. It was said that when the little priests of Liubo were preparing for tomorrow’s banquet, Changwu who was spanked by me last time was still recuperating in bed. He was so bored that he made a fuss about wanting to eat the fruits reserved for the banquet guests. When he happened to see Chang’an pass by with the fruits, he wanted to ask for one. Chang’an, being an honest child, refused. The back and forth argument eventually turned into a larger fight, and when Chang’an couldn’t hold himself back any longer, he ended up pushing Changwu.
Because Changwu was already injured, his head busted when he got pushed down from bed by Chang’an. This scene was seen by an elder who was passing by. With Changwu crying hysterically, Chang’an had no way to defend himself…
And so here he was.
It was extremely upsetting to see the face that looked so much like Moxi’s from the last lifetime crying in snots and tears. I tried all sorts of ways to pacify him, even vowing to take revenge for him. He finally stopped crying, and after sniffling for a long while, asked me, “You’re… you’re so good to me because you want to wash me clean, then… then pick me, right?”
My mouth twitched. I really wanted to know what kind of ideas his master normally stuffed in his head. I pinched his chubby cheeks, smiling deviously. “Of course. But I just want to pick your venerable Reverend. I want to pick him clean, pick till he’s exhausted to death!”
“His, His Most Reverend…”
I placed my hands over my heart and said with all the affection in the world: “That’s right, you’re a quite good-looking chap, though unfortunately still too little. Your Most Reverend, on the other hand, has long taken over my heart. My heart is filled with his presence, my mind is filled with his grace. I think of his voice before going to sleep, I think of his face the moment I rise. I miss him like crazy whenever I don’t get to see him, but when I do see him my heart thrums wild. Heaven knows how long my heart has been his. I’m head over heels in love with him, and I don’t know how to stop. I just want to tell him how I feel…”
“His Most Reverend.” Chang’an pointed behind me.
I looked back, but all I saw was a pure white robe skirting by the plum trees, bringing the snow on a plum bough floating down. He left in such a hurry that I couldn’t even detect his figure.
And then he was gone…
“Was it really your venerable Reverend? The Venerable Zhonghua?”
Chang’an nodded, thought for a moment and then said, “When he left, his face was red.”
Baffled, I sighed softly while muttering: “Moxi, Moxi, how did you become so useless in this lifetime? All I did was confess to you…”
Although the nights were cold here, they weren’t quite freezing. I had always lived by the Wangchuan, so I didn’t fear the cold. But Chang’an was different. No matter how gifted he was, he was still only a human. I laid out a quilt for him in the small cabin, lit the firewood, and then spent the night outside.
Why go outside? Obviously because if that child saw me next to him, he’d never go to sleep!
After all, I was a kind spiritual being.
When I woke up the next morning, I was surprised to see Chang’an holding a quilt over me. Seeing me opening my eyes, he gave a start, shook like a leaf, and kept backing away. He staggered for a few steps before falling over awkwardly. I sat up to help him, but he stumbled and ran away.
My hand suspended in the air as my veins popped blue. I wanted to suppress my irritation down but I just couldn’t. As profanity was about to leave my mouth, he poked his head out and said to me: “Umm… umm, you can sleep inside the house tonight. It’s cold out…”
I stared at him quietly for a moment before sighing: “My name is Sansheng.”
He blinked. Only after a long time did he timidly try to call me: “San… Sansheng.”
Pleased, I nodded and went inside the house to find the book Zhonghua had sent me a few days ago, then leaned against a plum tree to read in comfort. This was a tale of a romantic reunion, of a broken mirror whose pieces eventually rejoined. I was in the exact mood for it, and was therefore very invested in my reading.
I ignored Chang’an and he naturally did not dare to disturb me. The day went by very peacefully… if not for tonight’s banquet, that is.
With the wolf demon’s retaliation approaching, Liubo’s banquet to gather the major sects was scheduled for today.
I finished my book by the time night fell. When I looked up, I found Mount Liubo awash in light. It was so bright that even the sky was illuminated.
Zhonghua’s sorcery for making force fields was so good that he had really given me no hole to crawl out from. Besides seducing Moxi, eavesdropping was my second biggest interest. I had so much time on my hand that I was bored enough to take a stroll around the plum forest. But when I detected no loopholes, I gave up and turned around to wash for bed.
Just then, I saw two white figures flashing across the back door of the main hall. Curious, I took a closer look. Hey! Weren’t they Venerable Zhonghua and the nun who was called ‘grandmaster’…?
At this point, I saw the nun pulling on Zhonghua’s sleeve. There was an urgency on her countenance but since Zhonghua’s face was hidden in the shadows, I could not see his very clearly. They were making my imagination run wild…
I inwardly gritted my teeth and fisted my hands.
What are you two trying to do?!