After going around the vegetable garden, he arrived at the kitchen located at the back. He pushed the door open, just to find a figure standing near the stove, with his back facing him. He immediately recognized the government uniform; other than our clean-handed County Magistrate-daren, who would he be?
The man whose back was facing him did seem lanky, but his back was straight, with a dashing, elegant air surrounding him. As he stood still over there, he looked slightly like “the cranes from Hou Mountain, and the clouds at the peak of Hua Mountain1 ”. Yet he gave off an aura of righteousness, possessing a strong character. That person probably noticed his presence, as he turned his head around.
Once he looked at the person, he was stunned for a while. It wasn’t as if he had seen every single beauty in the world, but due to his position, after living in Fang Jun for so many years, he did come across a few famous and talented people in his country. Those with handsome or beautiful looks were, naturally, not that uncommon, not to mention the fact that many concubines in the imperial harem were famous beauties of the country. Thus, he wasn’t very likely to be seduced by looks.
The reason for his short bewilderment obviously wasn’t because the Magistrate-daren who had just turned around was too alluring, but it was due to him feeling that the person in front of him seemed to have just walked out from an ink painting. A charming facial structure; a pair of slightly raised but friendly eyebrows with long, thin and slightly curled eyes; a straight nose; a pair of water-colored lips; a lanky yet straight posture; an elegant, idyllic aura; never had he seen someone looking so…much like a painting. Everything about him looked light and faint. The person didn’t wear any strong colors, but he gave off a fresh and refined vibe.
Mo Shu looked at the person opposite him, dazed for a bit, and blinked, “Nan Ge Er?”
He smirked. Gosh, even the Magistrate-daren, who appears in one moment and disappears in the next, know this name of mine.
“Xiaode2 gives my greetings to daren.” He saluted, bowing down.
“Don’t stand on ceremony.” Mo Shu waved. “Even though you’ve arrived quite long ago, I never found time to visit you.”
“Xiaode doesn’t dare to trouble daren.” He carefully answered while bowing.
Suddenly, a pair of warm palms landed on his shoulders; one hand patting his shoulder while the other patting his waist. “Told you not to stand on ceremony, stand up straight.”
Upon hearing that, he has no choice but to do so and looked at the Magistrate-daren in front of him.
“How’s your recovery going?” Magistrate-daren asked casually.
“Thank you for your concern. Xiaode is fine now.” Even though he seemed amiable, the habits developed from many years of palace life made him suspicious of anyone’s kindness. No one could ever predict what kind of expression would be made after a smile.
Mo Shu gave him a once-over before raising his lips a little into a smile, “Your body isn’t all that great, so you don’t really have to do everything in the office. If you can’t finish it, leave it to me when I come back.”
He couldn’t even dare to imagine how such a godly person would look like when doing chores…
“Xiaode doesn’t dare to.” Treating it as if the other was just saying it out of formality, he casually replied back out of formality. He had already been accustomed to doing such things. In the past ten or so years, to let his brother live in the devotion of others, he was used to grovelling to others, while hiding daggers in his smiles. In the end, despite his position as a prince, he was unable to change his humbleness when facing others. Now, he did so naturally, without finding it difficult.
However, Mo Shu simply raised his eyebrows, “You don’t believe me? Before you came here, chores like washing laundry were all done by me.”
He smiled and nodded, “Daren is so humble, no wonder everyone respects you.”
Even if he didn’t believe him at all, saying such flattery had already become a habit of his. Thus, those words spilt out from his mouth offhandedly and sincerely.
With his eyebrows perking up, Mo Shu replied, “I had no choice; there isn’t enough money, so I have to do them myself.”
The corner of his lips twitched as he lowered his head, “Xiaode realises my mistake.” Do you have to be so blunt? Where has your pride as a magistrate gone to?!
Mo Shu chuckled, “Do you want to take back your compliment?” His voice was clear and soothing, complementing his aura.
“Xiaode doesn’t dare to…” He muffled with his head lowered, slight irritation bubbling up in his heart. That fellow is toying with me, isn’t he?!
“You don’t need to be so formal.” Mo Shu Let out a faint laugh, his hand reaching out to stroke his head, “Come to think of it, it must’ve been troubling for you to go through all this; you’re so busy every day that you can’t even have a proper meal.” He sighed, “I’ll make it up to you next time.” He was two heads taller than Nan Ge Er, so it was convenient when he set his hands down. Hence, he pressed on Nan Ge Er’ head and rubbed on it. So round and nice to touch.
So, you know you are overly miserly too? No salary and no full meals to eat, isn’t this an abuse to workers? He muttered secretly in his heart.
All of a sudden, Nan Ge Er heard a strange noise, so he lifted up his head instinctively to look at the person opposite of him. It’s not what I think it is, is it?
On the contrary, that guy was open about it as he laughed, “Do you know where we can get food? I’ve given my breakfast to a beggar on the roadside.” Unlike the yamen runners, since Mo Shu rarely had the time to come back for breakfast, aside from preparing his dinner, the kitchen aunty would also place all leftovers into a bag so that he could just bring it along as breakfast the next day.
Nan Ge Er made a face. Can someone be even more stupidly nice than this? You reduced the government office’s expenses till the bare minimum, probably even used your salary for philanthropy, and now, you even give away your breakfast to others? Why Isn’t anyone stopping this guy?! The thought of being an employee of such a person made Nan Ge Er feel a massive pressure weighing down on him unconsciously…
At the moment, the kitchen auntie hasn’t arrived yet, and the yesterday’s leftovers were given to a beggar as a favor… Will he be fine with eating the vegetables from the vegetable garden outside? Nan Ge Er gritted his teeth a little as he thought in his heart. His fingers in his sleeves pinched unintentionally. Wait, what is this round thing?
“Parched peas.” He suddenly remembered the snack that the greengrocer gave him, taking it out as he spoke. Say… he probably won’t eat them, right?
However, in the end, the man opposite of him smiled merrily as he took over the bag of parched peas from him, “That’s great.”
…Are you seriously going to eat this?! Isn’t this a children’s snack? I don’t even want to eat them; how can you eat this without any shame?! Even though it’s just parched peas, this ethereal man is able to make eating each grain look so enviously elegant and dashing… Indeed, there is a huge difference between one person to the next. Nan Ge Er felt morose.
Although you look elegant and dashing, you still can’t change the fact that the snack you are munching on is something even children older than ten scorn on – parched peas! He muttered in his heart.
After finishing the peas, the guy passed the bag back to him, while solemnly expressing gratitude to him, “Thank you.”
Even he got quite apathetic at that response, “… It’s only parched peas…” and that was even something that he didn’t plan on eating. He instantly felt quite pitiful for the person in front of him.
Forget the fact that someone with the position of a magistrate had nothing to eat, he even had to rely on parched peas to appease his hunger, isn’t that a bit too deplorable? Having no money was a tragedy itself; it is an even greater tragedy to enjoy giving money away everywhere when he had none himself! After being in this world for such a long time, he abruptly thought of that.
“Well, I have something going on; I’ll thank you next time. Bye.” Mo Shu smiled at him, stroking his hair again, before leaving.
It seemed like he would be going out again. Actually, he did have a look at the meals Magistrate-daren ate. It was no better than the ones he had, or should he say, it was a bit worse off. Mo Shu had gruel when he had congee; he had rice bran when Nan Ge Er had rice noodles; the poor magistrate had pumpkin soup when he ate pumpkin… He figured that Mo Shu specially ordered it so. But, isn’t this too… He couldn’t even describe his complex feelings. A heavenly person living in such an impoverished life… and even looked joyful doing so…
Nan Ge Er couldn’t just resign to this. If such casual, uncontrolled splurging continued on without the awareness of the danger lying in wait, Nan Ge Er would have to worry about his future meals. As he pondered, he temporarily stopped what he was working on, and headed to Er Gou Zi’s house beside the office.
Er Gou Zi’s family just had a clutch of chicks hatched out, so he borrowed a few to rear, as the backyard was empty anyway. Thus, he would be able to sell their eggs when the chicks grew up. Of course, Er Gou Zi readily agreed on his request of rearing three chicks on credit, while assuring him repeatedly that he could pay back anytime since the money wasn’t urgently needed.
After that, he spent the afternoon learning rearing techniques from Er Gou Zi’s grandma at Er Gou Zi’s house. In truth, he had nothing else to do after finishing simple cleaning chores. By doing so, he could pass his time too. In the end, he brought three yellow little chicks back, using an evening’s work to build a simple fence, and placed them inside.
Looking at them running around cheerfully, Nan Ge Er started gaining some confidence in the future ahead. He thought that if he planned well, he probably wouldn’t starve due to Mo Shu. Since the citizens here led very simple lives.
1 An excerpt from a poem by Sikong Tu. Describing a proud and aloof person. More info: http://www.davidpublisher.com/Public/uploads/Contribute/551902393b213.pdf (page 6)
2 Xiaode=> used by subordinates to address themselves formally in front of their superiors. Literal: my humble self