Chapter 33: Do You Feel Hot?

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Mu Zhiming and Gu Heyan walked to the big stone by the town gate.
The stone had been standing still for more than 100 years, despite the sandstorms, the cold, and the heat of the desert.
As if waiting in complete silence.
Mu Zhiming was the first to approach.
When he stroked the rough surface of the stone, he softly whispered in his mind: ‘What secrets are you hiding?’

“It has words.” Gu Heyan said, as he motionless stood there, blocking some of the wind for Mu Zhiming.

Mu Zhiming nodded.
He noticed the inscriptions present on the stone yesterday.

As the two looked carefully at the stone, they noticed that the words weren’t painted with dye, and most of them had faded away due to the sand brought in by the wind.
It was because of this that neither of them could understand what was written on the stone.
They even looked more like pictorial symbols than words.

Mu Zhiming looked at the ‘words’ for a long time, and he even reached out to touch the carved marks, as if in a trance.
Mu Zhiming then tilted his head, looked down, and pondered for a long time.
However, no matter how much he thought about it, nothing came to mind.

Around noon, they were both hungry and clueless.
Therefore, they had no choice, but to return to the village.
They planned to borrow paper, brush and ink to trace the words present on the stone, then take it with them to the inn in order to study it more closely.

When they finally returned to the inn, they couldn’t find the innkeeper at the front hall, but soon they heard some noise coming from the courtyard.
When they went out, they saw the innkeeper holding a rusty iron cover at the corner of the courtyard.
This iron cover was covered with yellow loess.
If you didn’t look at it carefully, you wouldn’t even notice it was an iron cover, which was integrated with the ground.

“Hey, the two Gongzi are back.” The innkeeper warmly greeted them both.

“What are you doing here, boss?” Mu Zhiming asked with curiosity.

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The innkeeper wiped his sweat with the back of his hand and replied: “There’s a cellar for storing sweet potatoes here.
I want to open it, so it can be ventilated and exposed to the sun.
But I didn’t know how rusty this was, and I don’t know how I can open it, ah.”

“We’ll help you.” Mu Zhiming went forward as he pulled up his sleeves, bent down, and held the handle of the iron cover.
However, before he could exert any force, he heard Gu Heyan say close to his ear: “Let go, I’ll do it.”

Mu Zhiming turned to look at him.

“Let me.” Gu Heyan said again.

Mu Zhiming obediently let go of the handle and gave way to Gu Heyan.
Gu Heyan then walked over, grabbed the handle, frowned slightly, and exerted some force, finally lifting the iron cover.
At that moment, a dull sound was heard, and the cellar was successfully opened.

“Aiya! Thank you, Gongzi!” The innkeeper was grateful.
“Are these two Gongzi hungry? I’ll go prepare your meals!”

Probably because the innkeeper had prepared the food in advance, the dishes were served very quickly.
Soon after Mu Zhiming and Gu Heyan sat down, the innkeeper brought over large bowls as well as some dishes on a wooden tray, then set them on the wooden table: “Enjoy your meal, Gongzis.
Call me to clean up after you’re done eating.”

“Wait, Boss, what’s this?” Mu Zhiming asked in confusion, as he pointed to a clay jar the size of half an arm in height placed on the table.

“This is our specialty.
It’s called ‘fermented milk1’.
Since you helped me open the cellar just now, I’m giving you this!” The innkeeper replied with a smile.

“That’s very kind of you, Boss.
Thank you.” Mu Zhiming happily opened the seal of the clay jar.
A strong, sweet, and greasy milk fragrance entered his nose.
After taking two small bowls, Mu Zhiming poured out the creamy white liquid from the clay jar, and then handed one to Gu Heyan: “Here, He-xiong.
Since this special delicacy was given to us by the Boss as thanks, let’s have a taste.”

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Gu Heyan took the small bowl and thanked Mu Zhiming.
Then, he took a sip and frowned slightly.

“How does it taste?” Mu Zhiming asked.

Gu Heyan mumbled: “….Too sweet.” After saying that, he picked up the bowl and took another sip.
This time, Gu Heyan swallowed the liquid slower than before.
As if he was carefully gauging the taste, he stared at the bowl in his hand, with a witty expression.
After some time, Gu Heyan finally said: “It’s not bad, you should like it.”

When Mu Zhiming looked at Gu Heyan’s antics, he was unable to contain a huge smile.
At that moment, Mu Zhiming thought of his past life: ‘Back then, we weren’t close and didn’t know each other very well.
Whenever I used to hear other people talk about Gu Heyan, I always had a disoriented feeling that it was impossible for him to be real.
In the end, I couldn’t seem to remember anything else about Gu Heyan, other than that he was known as: an iron-blooded General who serves and protects the Country with loyalty as well as righteousness.’

‘But now, that same Gu Heyan, who is in front of my eyes, is no longer just a character who’s part of a story told by a storyteller on the street.
He’s a young man of flesh and blood, who has likes and dislikes; someone who, when muttering the words ‘too sweet’, looks adorable to the extreme.’

Mu Zhiming was stupefied.

‘Wait….Did I just think that Gu Heyan….was cute?’

‘Did I really find the invincible General, who has fought on the bloody battlefield, and can beat 10 people with only one hand….cute?’

Have I gone insane?!’

“What’s wrong?” Gu Heyan suddenly opened his mouth and said, pulling Mu Zhiming back to reality.

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“Uhm….” Mu Zhiming was so flustered, he had to lower his head in order to hide his turbulent emotions: “I just….thought that these delicacies don’t correspond to the customs of the Great Jin, but rather with the food that the Gouji Kingdom likes.”

“….” Gu Heyan looked at Mu Zhiming somewhat suspiciously, but in the end, he didn’t ask.
He simply nodded in response: “Hmm.”

Mu Zhiming then pretended to be calm, and continued: “The folk customs of the Gouji Kingdom are bold, rough and straightforward.
For example, they never slice the meat before presenting it at the table, and the whole piece is delivered directly to the diner.
Due to this custom, most Great Jin scholars think the Gouji people are rude and barbaric.
But I disagree.
The world is as vast as it is diverse.
When you think about it, each place has its own unique beauty and peculiarities.
Another example, the Gouji writing looks like a painting, and their way of reading is also quite different from that of Great Jin.
They are….”

Mu Zhiming suddenly fell silent, as if he was pondering over something.
He was frozen in place, looking straight ahead, with an unfocused gaze.

Before Gu Heyan could ask what was wrong, he saw how Mu Zhiming hurried to pick up the paper with the words they had taken from the stone.
As he looked at the text on the paper, Mu Zhiming immediately stood up with delight, even shouting: “I got it!”

“What?” Gu Heyan asked.

Mu Zhiming said: “These words are from the Gouji language! The reading order of their writing is from bottom to top and left to right, which is the complete opposite of ours! That’s why I couldn’t recognize it at first sight!”

After being enlightened, neither of them could care about eating anymore, so they simply took a steamed bun to fill their stomachs and rushed back to the town gate.

Although the wind and sand had eroded the traces of the carvings on the stone, Mu Zhiming was smart as well as clever enough.
By half-guessing and half-mistaking the text, he was able to overall understand what was written on the stone.

The Gouji Kingdom once had a powerful Monarch, whose honorary title was ‘the Great Khan Baal’.
When he was young, he went through a violent military and political coup in the Gouji Kingdom.
As the defeated party, he had to flee to this village.
The villagers, who were kind-hearted, hid him and took care of him without second thought.
Later, when Gouji troops arrived, they searched the entire village and even tortured people to extract confessions from them.
However, none of them handed over the young Khan Baal, who was still a little boy at the time, to those pursuers.
The villagers didn’t know about the political disputes in the Gouji Kingdom.
They simply acted on their stubbornness and goodwill to protect a child.

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After such an event, the Great Khan Baal returned to the Gouji Kingdom and became the Monarch.
The first thing he did after ascending the throne was to carve his gratitude on a large stone, which would later be placed at the entrance of the village.
In this way, the Great Khan Baal swore an oath: as long as this stone remains, the Gouji people will consider all of the people of this village as friends.

Many years have passed since, and Khan Baal has long since passed away.
However, the oath he made has remained intact, and has been passed down, from generation to generation.

Mu Zhiming finally figured out why a stone could stop the foreign troops from plundering this village, and even figured out why this village was called ‘friend’ on a map made in the Gouji Kingdom.
However, the reason why the Gouji Kingdom suddenly sent troops to invade Great Jin remained unsure.

With mixed feelings, Mu Zhiming and Gu Heyan returned to the inn.
By the time they arrived, it was already getting dark.
Even though they couldn’t have a good lunch, they could eat their dinner properly.

Since Gu Heyan and Mu Zhiming left in a hurry at noon, Mu Zhiming didn’t have the opportunity to drink the fermented milk the innkeeper gave them.
Thus, the first thing Mu Zhiming did at dinner time was to taste that drink.
After pouring the fermented milk into a small bowl, he picked it up and took a sip.
Right away, Mu Zhiming could feel its soft and creamy texture, as well as a unique, sweet taste to it.

Gu Heyan guessed right.
Mu Zhiming did like it a lot.
Since he liked this beverage he had never tried before, Mu Zhiming couldn’t stop himself from drinking more and more.
After dinner, the milk brew in the clay jar was almost emptied out, most of which ended up in Mu Zhiming’s stomach.

Once they were done eating, the two asked the innkeeper to clean up the wooden table and bring some tea.
At that moment, Gu Heyan hesitantly spoke: “Please tell me….”

“Hmm?” Mu Zhiming, who was sitting lazily now, with a hand supporting his head, squinted at Gu Heyan: “He-xiong, if you have anything to say, just say it.”

Gu Heyan finally asked: “Aunt Liang and the rest, how are they?”

Mu Zhiming smiled and replied: “Aunt Liang, her son and her daughter-in-law are all good.
Wen Zhongcheng and Miss Juan had a son a year ago.
The child is cute and quite smart.
I even chose his name! When the frontier is at peace, please go back to the Capital to see them.
They miss you a lot.
Aunt Liang would often tell me about your childhood, saying that you would always forget to eat and sleep as you should because you were too focused on practicing the sword.
She also told me that she was afraid you….well….she was afraid that no one would take care of you in the military camp….and that you won’t remember to eat well….”

Mu Zhiming said the last sentence somewhat vaguely, because he soon realized that something was wrong with him.
As he raised his eyes to look at Gu Heyan in confusion, Mu Zhiming asked: “He-xiong, do you feel hot….?”

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