# 180. Xu Xinnian: I Have No Family Considering the issue of oil and smoke, the kitchen of the boat was located in the upper deck of the hold, in a place easy to ventilate. The kitchen’s wall and floors were painted in a fire retardant red lacquer. This lacquer’s main ingredient was the sap of a “bug-eating tree”, which was resistant to both flame and water. Thus this type of tree has been planted far and wide at the encouragement of the Ministry of Industry, and used widely in construction. In the kitchen, a few cooks were busy preparing the noon meal, so busy that they had worked up a sheen of sweat even in the winter. The pot on the fire was filled with fish soup stewing, as steam bubbled against the lid, and a thick fragrance filled the air. Xu Qi’an followed the scent to the kitchen, and not minding anyone else, went over and opened the lid: “Is the fish soup done?” “It will be done very soon!” The cooks were shocked that an official would come into a smoke and miasma filled place like the kitchens. Xu Qi’an stared at the light brown fish soup, the colour owing to the addition of soy sauce. He took a sniff, and said: “Give me a ladle.” A cook immediately gave him a ladle, and Xu Qi’an ladelled a mouthful of soup. Tasting it, he said with surprise: “It’s less fishy than I thought” Owing to the lack of seasoning, and chefs’ skills, most freshwater fish dishes in this world had an earthy, fishy taste that was difficult to get rid of. Naturally, this didn’t apply to the fanciest restaurants, such as Guiyuelou, their chefs were capable enough to manage. Hearing this, a cook said proudly, “Of course sir, we live on the water, and eat fish every day, so there’s no one who knows how to cook a fish better than us. As to how to get rid of the smell… hehe, that’s a secret.” He didn’t want to reveal his methods. Xu Qi’an snorted, “This official also has his own secret recipes, which can increase the savouriness of this soup by several fractions.” The cooks didn’t believe him, but they didn’t rebut him out loud, not daring to. However, their disapproving expressions were not hidden at all in their eyes. Xu Qi’an thus took out a porcelain pot containing the chicken bouillon. “S- sir…” The cooks turned pale with fright. They had worked on government boats for many years, and had served many officials, developing a natural sensitivity to matters of food. If the officials on the boat were to be poisoned, then they would be buried along with them. “What are you scared off, in a bit you can taste the soup for poison yourself.” Xu Qi’an comforted them. Not only were the cooks not comforted, but they were even more worried. Xu Qi’an first poured a little bit into the soup, and tasted it. Feeling that it was not enough, he added a little more, and after a couple times of this, nodded with satisfaction. “Come, taste it!” He ladelled out a spoonful of soup, and gave it to the cook that spoke up. Seeing Xu Qi’an taste it himself gave the cook a measure of braveness. He hesitated a bit, but took the spoon, and drank. In an instant, his eyes opened wide. The savoury fish soup covered his taste buds, as with a gulp, the cook instinctively swallowed it down. In his mouth was left a lingering umami. “It’s… it’s so good…” the cook became excited, “Sir, what, what is this recipe, what is this marvellous recipe, please may sir teach us.” Xu Qi’an: “Heh.” … Inspector general Zhang sat on his bed, hand on his forehead, trying to resist the rocking of the boat in motion. After eating the medicine given to him by the white cloaked arcanists, he felt a little bit better. An attendant brought over hot tea: “Sir, when we leave the capital region, the winds will be smaller, then you’ll not have so much of a headache.” The inspector general nodded, and took a sip of tea. “It’s time for lunch, your servant will bring it for you.” The attendant said. “No need,” Inspector General Zhang waved him off, pinching his brows: “This official is nauseous, and has no appetite…” Just as the words left his mouth, his nose twitched: “What is that smell?” From the open window the winds blew in a savoury fragrance, that tugged at the inspector general’s appetite, making him slowly start to drool. “Gulp…” he swallowed down saliva, his gaze reaching out of the window, mind elsewhere. He was silent for a while, before saying: “Whatever, although I have no appetite, it’s not good to not eat. Get some food for me… mn, although that fish soup’s fishy odour is difficult to stomach, we cannot carry ourselves above everyone else, and must eat the same as our soldiers.” The attendant happily took the order, and jogged out of the room, thinking that the inspector general was a worthy scholar, even shameless sentiment could be expressed in such a subtle manner. Xu Qi’an and his colleagues sat in the large hall below decks, eating and chatting idly. “This fish soup is the best, I’ve never drank anything so awesome in my life.” “Yeah, even the fishiness adds to it.” “If I can drink this type of soup every day, then I’ll happily spend the rest of my days on a boat.” The Nightwatchers ate with great energy, enjoying the surprisingly delicious fish soup. Jiang Lyuzhong had a table to himself. His eyes were closed, as he enjoyed the umami fragrance of that soup. Calling over the cook, he asked curiously: “This soup’s flavour is not like usual, it’s nothing this official has tasted before, how did you make it?” *You must have some sort of secret ingredient…* Jiang Lyuzhong thought. He wasn’t after their secret ingredients though, being genuinely just curious as to how this legendary soup was made. The cook looked towards Xu Qi’an, “It’s that sir’s secret recipe, it has nothing to do with me.” All the Nightwatchers looked over. “What are you looking at me for, this is the Sitianjian’s formulation, it has nothing to do with me.” Xu Qi’an said immediately. He knew this bunch of morally deficient Nightwatchers, Jiang Lyuzhong included, was bound to think up of any way to get some off him. The group immediately looked to the three white cloaked arcanists. The youngest of them said: “What are you looking at me for, the Sitianjian’s formulation was given to us by Master Xu.” *Motherfucker, these white cloaks just want to argue don’t they…* Xu Qi’an lampooned. Just then, a group of armoured guards came into the hold, simultaneously sniffing the delicious smell of fish soup, and silently taking their own simple dinner. In this envoy to Yunzhou, there were twenty Bronze Gongs, six Silver Gongs, one Gold Gong, Inspector General Zhang and his three attendants, and one hundred *Huben* royal guards. In total, this made a hundred and thirty one. These royal guards lived in the cramped and dark bottom deck, and didn’t eat with the Nightwatchers. Naturally, there was no fish soup for them. The men’s noses twitched, as they silently swallowed down saliva, looking longingly at the fish soup. Xu Qi’an thought for a moment, before calling over the cook: “Is there more fish? If not, go catch more, cook these soldiers a pot of soup, make sure everyone gets some.” As he spoke, he handed the bottle over to the cook: “If there’s not enough, call me for more.” The Huben guards’ eyes immediately lit up, as they unconsciously straightened their back: “Thank you, Sir.” *I’m too soft hearted, too soft hearted, all these problems I have to bear…* Xu Qi’an nodded, “I’m called Xu.” “Thank you, Sir Xu.” Just then, Inspector General Zhang’s attendant walked in, announcing loudly: “Is there still fish soup, our master would like some.” Everyone roared in laughter, and the hold was filled with merriment. … The capital, just before dusk. Xu Xinnian returned to the capital. He wanted to go home to get some more clothes, as well as some rice and silver. Students studying at the Cloud Deer Academy must pay tuition every three months. Furthermore, they must bring their own food; the academy gave them lodging but not catering. Thus Xu Erlang would come home regularly, dropping off his dirty clothes at home and bringing along three months worth of silver and food. “Hss…” He pulled the reins on his horse, stopping outside the Xu manor, finding with shock that the door was locked. This was no small matter, as there were still servants in the manor. Even if the Xu family was not present, and not receiving guests, the doors would still be locked on the inside; a lock on the outside indicated that no one was there at all. Xu Erlang’s heart sank, as he had a bad feeling. He dismounted, and came to the wall. Taking a deep breath, he said clearly: “Vaulting walls and flying over rafters!” He took a few steps back, feeling a coursing energy fill his limbs, and with a little run, leapt over the three metre tall wall, landing lightly on the other side. The manor was quiet, and there was no one to be found. Xu Xinnian walked from the outer courtyard to the inner yard, opening door after door, his sister’s, his parents’, the servants’… the place was deserted. Most importantly, everything in the manor was moved away, and what was left in the rooms were only empty bed frames, with all the duvets missing. *Where’s my home? Where’s my massive home… right, I guess the house is still here, but where’s my family?* Xu Xinnian stood blankly in the yard, thinking over his life. *The door had a lock on it, but not an official seal, this means that it wasn’t big brother committing some other sort of crime… all the possessions have been moved away, but there is no dust on the ground, everything is tidy, thus we haven’t been robbed…* Xu Xinnian used his deduction skills to come to a conclusion: they had moved. *Why did no one tell me of this? Did they forget that they had a son in the Cloud Deer Academy?* Xu Qi’an wanted to shout out in anger. *Bugger…* Immediately after, his face turned, as he quickly buffed himself, before vaulting over the wall, getting on his horse, wanting to get out of the city before the gates closed. Just then, the faint sound of drums came over, drums indicating the closing of the city gates. … The new house. Uncle Xu was on night patrol that day, and had to leave just after dinner. Auntie looked at her husband, and asked: “Normally, Erlang would be back now, wouldn’t he? He didn’t bring much money last time.” As a mother, she naturally cared most about her son, and always had in mind when he would return home. “It’s roughly around now.” Uncle Xu said without much care. “Dalang… did he write to him?” Auntie asked. “Dunno.” “What does ‘dunno’ mean?” Auntie’s brows turned near vertical. “I didn’t ask him.” Uncle Xu replied, before finishing his meal, attaching his scabbard, and putting on his helmet: “I’m going out now, look after Lingyin, make sure she doesn’t go to the well. Also, don’t be worried that this place is haunted, the house isn’t haunted.” Uncle Xu left the house. That night, he was leading a patrol around the outer city, and when he passed his old home, he saw a figure squatting by its door, hugging his knees, face buried in his arms, shivering with cold. Beside him was a horse, listlessly snorting and stamping its hooves. There was no curfew in the outer city, the common people could come and go without restriction, but the city guard had the power to interrogate on the spot. Seeing that someone was outside his own home, Uncle Xu naturally went up to check. He was just about to shout at him, when the torchlight fell upon the figure’s scholar gown, and he suddenly seemed very familiar. Uncle Xu did a double take, thinking *this can’t be…* “Erlang?” He said waveringly. That figure in scholar robes raised his head, his face beautiful without flaw, his expression haggard. It was indeed Xu Erlang. Father and son looked silently at each other for a while, as Uncle Xu felt his scalp tingle: “Why didn’t you sleep in an inn?” *That god-damned Xu Ningyan, he didn’t write a letter to his brother.* “I have no money.” “Why not rest in the manor?” “The horse will be stolen.” “Why not return to the academy?” “The gate’s shut.” “… the family’s moved to the inner city, we forgot to tell you. Mn, there’s a curfew in the inner city, father will take you to a tavern.” Xu Xinnian slowly turned his face away, his voice empty: “Respected Sir, I have no family.” Uncle Xu: “…” … In the night, the moon shone brightly. There were only so many rooms on the boat, and Xu Qi’an as a Bronze Gong didn’t have his own quarters to himself. He shared a room with Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao. Their beds were placed next to each other, all in a row. He turned to look left, and saw Song Tingfeng’s face facing him. Turning to look right, he saw Zhu Guangxiao facing him. Xu Qi’an suddenly thought of a joke: If you were sleeping between a man and a woman, would you face your arse towards the man or the woman? *Arse-towards-girl would be called gay, but arse-towards-guy would leave your rear fortifications undefended, if I were in this situation, I’d face up…* Xu Qi’an was in the middle of idle lampooning, when a knock sounded on the door. From outside came Inspector General Zhang’s attendant’s voice: “Sir Xu, our Master has invitations.”