# 18. Going Shopping with the Sisters The core essence of poetry is in the relationship between the tones. As long as this doesn’t change, even if he was in another world, the poems he learnt during his nine years of compulsory education still had much room to show their potential. Xu Xinnian gave him a glance, and raised his head, “*In the sky there is a bird, on the ground a bug, the bird swoops down, and the bug returns to the cycle of life.*” “Pff…” Xu Lingyue covered her mouth, hiding her laughter, but nonetheless was sternly stared at by Xu Qi’an. Her round face went red, as she quickly looked down. *Too sharp a tongue, I really want to hit him.* The corner of Xu Qi’an’s mouth twitched. This was a poem the original Xu Qi’an wrote at the age of ten. At that time the person responsible for teaching the three children of the Xu family to read (Xu Lingyin was no more than a little tadpole), was Auntie’s father, that Xiucai grandfather. One time, the Xiucai grandfather tested them on their poetry, and that was how this poem of uncanny merit came about. Auntie mocked, “Ningyan, it’s not that Auntie looks down on you, but the old Xu family only came out with one scholar son. You and your uncle’s characters look like crawling bugs. “If you can’t even write well, how can you write poetry?” Auntie pouted, and even when rolling her eyes having utmost grace. Uncle felt awkward, as he cleared this throat, “Ningyan, these scholarly issues, let’s just not get involved. Today is your rest day, shall we have a spar in the yard?” Hidden within those words, was something saying *you young brat, don’t make a ruckus, you don’t know how these scholars work. You lose face and even your old uncle gets a scolding from his own wife.* “*Yellow Clouds covering a thousand li, and the sun setting dim;*” Xu Qi’an spoke calmly. Auntie rolled her eyes again, and focused on her porridge. Uncle wiped some grease from the corner of his youngest daughter’s mouth. Xu Xinnian however frowned. He couldn’t get much from this one sentence, but the fact that Xu Qi’an could compose such a perfect seven-syllable line, was already very unexpected. “*In whirling snow, the north wind drives south wild geese;*” Xu Xinnian paused for a moment, as in his mind, a landscape drawing started to form. Xu Lingyue raised her head, energetic eyes looking at her elder cousin with disbelief. Xu Qi’an lowered his head, drinking porridge, not speaking any further. “What comes after? What comes after?” Xu Xinnian anxiously asked. This felt like sitting in the tea hall, listening to the old storyteller telling his stories, and just as he was getting to the most intense, most spectacular bits, to suddenly stop them in their tracks: “If thou wished to know what comes next, please, come and listen next time.” It could make a person angry enough to want to hit a man. “I don’t know how to write poetry,” Xu Qi’an lightly and absent-mindedly sent Auntie a look. He only thought that Auntie today looked extraordinarily beautiful, and had no intention of wanting her to apologise. Auntie’s Carslan-big eyes opened wide, as she turned her head to ask her son, “Is this poem really good?” Xu Lingyue said softly, “Very vivid!” Whilst her reading was limited, she could hear that those two opening lines were some of the best seven syllable rhymes she’d heard. Seeing that both her son and daughter had this attitude, Xu Pingzhi was stunned, staring at Xu Qi’an unblinking, his eyes showing shock, as well as expectation. “*On the road ahead, surely will be friends dear and true; Throughout the land is there anyone who knows not you?*[^1]” Xu Qi’an chewed his *youtiao*[^2], and casually threw out the last two lines. *Pa’ta*… The chopsticks in Xu Xinnian’s hands fell onto the table. “On the road ahead, surely will be friends dear and true; Throughout the land is there anyone who knows not you…” he muttered to himself, sunk deep within the imagery created by this poem, unable to get himself out. Xu Lingyue’s delicate body shook, as she felt goosebumps rise up her arm. Xu Pingzhi smiled, “Fuck, why does listening to it give me the shivers?” Auntie didn’t want to back down, though she agreed with her husband’s words. When Xu Qi’an was still studying, this type of stunned feeling was common whenever he read any of the most famous works of poetry in his books. *Yellow clouds covering a thousand li, and the sun setting dim;*
*In whirling snow, the north wind drives south wild geese;*
*On the road ahead, surely will be friends dear and true;*
*Throughout the land is there anyone who knows not you?* Xu Xinnian unconsciously stood up, his face turning a little red with excitement, making his already handsome and graceful appearance seeming ever more… tender. Such a work of art! Even though he was not good in the arts of poetry, as a scholar who has read the old anthologies through and through, he knew a good poem when he heard one, and like any scholar, naturally welled up with excitement, emotion, with hot blood coursing through his veins. “When… did you learn to compose poetry?” Xu Xinnian stared at Xu Qi’an intently, his expression bright, stunned, and confused. “When did I say I don’t know how to write poetry?” Xu Qi’an laughed, “Could a poem I wrote when I was just literate compare to now? I’ve always somewhat of a talent for poetry, but I could never express it, is all.” “So Ningyan is the Xu family’s academic prodigy after all,” Xu Pingzhi was over the moon, smiling widely, “If I had known, I would have had you reading books, and Cijiu practicing martial arts.” Auntie still didn’t want to admit defeat, as she opened her mouth, but could not come up with an appropriate response. *No… if that were the case, then I wouldn’t be a good scholar, and Xinnian not a good martial artist…* Xu Qi’an knew deeply that pre-transmigration that Xu Qi’an was a dullard; reading would be simply just wasting time, and it would be better for him to have dropped out of school to do manual labour. Xu Xinnian also wasn’t the fighter type - to want a tender-skinned, thin, delicate young man to eat hardship, and harden his body? “However, this poem was written by Ningyan. Cijiu, listening is one thing, but you can’t take it for your own; that’s not how a scholar acts.” Uncle said. “Heh,” Xu Xinnian laughed, not deigning to reply to his father. Who was he to speak? Turning his head to Xu Qi’an, he said “Let me borrow this poem, I’ll make sure to say the author was you.” *Fuck off if it’s me…* Xu Qi’an nodded gently, “Go on then, take it to pretend… to show off in front of others.” To show off in front of the masses, is a scholar’s calling. He had always intended to give this poem to Xu Xinnian, to build up his connections. Whoever is put down as the author, he didn’t mind as much. It was not as if he wanted to get into scholarly circles, so poetry to him had no particular use, which is also the reason why in the past month he had never used poetry to show off. His environment didn’t allow for it. All day he would be hanging out with a bunch of sword-waving baton-swinging bailiffs. It would be more use to teach them how to sing *The Lasso Pole* then to recite poetry at them. “What’s the poem’s name?” Xinnian asked. *… I forgot.* Xu Qi’an’s face stiffened, “I made this poem on a whim, it has no name. You think of one.” … After finishing breakfast, Xu Xinnian brought from the back yard his father’s beloved horse, and left hurriedly. Uncle and nephew were sparring in the yard. “Not bad, you’ve improved. If you want to improve even more, you’d have to enter the Refining Qi stage, but qi requires heaven and earth to intersect within you to be formed.” Uncle Xu took a towel from a servant, and wiped his brow, “Apart from bathing in medicine, you also need a Refining Spirit martial artist to help you open heaven’s door. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to enter Refining Qi.” Refining Spirit was a martial artists’ seventh rank cultivation. “What are you trying to say, uncle?” Xu Qi’an wiped sweat off his face. “In the Campaign of Mountains and Seas, I was on a hair’s breadth from death, and only then did I get enough merit, for a higher up in the army to help me open heaven’s door, and enter Refining Qi.” Uncle Xu sighed, “The second year after coming home, I had Xinnian.” “Today, the world is peaceful, and so you won’t even be able to gain any merit, so how could you Refine Qi? If you don’t Refine Qi, does that mean you’ll never make a family? “Ningyan, your uncle is getting old, and my only wish is to see you marry, and have children. Only this way can I live up to your dead father.” “Well, I’ll take it one step at a time,” Xu Qi’an replied noncommittally. Apart from gaining merit, there were other ways to advance in cultivation, and that was by throwing money at the problem. Both medicine and high-rank cultivators, can all be solved with money. Many lawbreakers were martial artists, and so the crown kept stern control over the number of martial artists, establishing that Refining Spirit cultivators could not privately open heaven’s door for anyone, and if they wanted to do it for their own children, they had to report to the government. However, as of present the bureaucracy in the Great Feng was falling apart, corrupt officials doing as they wished, and the authority of the crown was weakening day by day. Even if they didn’t want to break the law out in public, there were still many Refining Spirit cultivators on the black market, willing to make a trade. If Xu Qi’an tried his hardest to make money, he could save up enough silver to make up for the lack of merit. However, he’ll forever be in Refining Body, what use would that stick of his be then? Auntie came over with the two girls, standing under the eaves, shouting, “Husband dear, the weather is nice, you should take Lingyin and Lingyue to the market.” Uncle Xu frowned, “I have business.” “Isn’t today your rest day?” “I’ve already arranged with my coworkers to go out together, we’ll be leaving in a bit. How about, let Ningyan take them out to play.” The two young daughters were usually kept at home, and couldn’t just go out and wander about as they pleased. Xu Qi’an looked over, just in time to meet his barely sixteen year old sister’s sparkling eyes. This outstandingly graceful young girl pursed her lips, feeling some embarrassment, lowering her head. “Sure, I just so happen to be free.” Xu Qi’an nodded. *Thinking back now, in the last life I took my sixteen year old sister out shopping. I was still in the golden years of eighteen then. Of course, that little sister could not compare with Xu Lingyue.* --- [^1]: 高适《别董大》「千里黄云白日曛,北风吹雁雪纷纷。莫悉前路无知己,天下谁人不识君?」 [^2]: Chinese battered dough strips, similar to American Indian fry bread, but more airy, a popular breakfast food (and food in general)