The new girl was very diligent with her work, chopping a day’s worth of firewood in a short period of time. They were neat and evenly sized, quality and quantity guaranteed. Auntie Hong sang her praises to everyone she met and soon, Lei Lei’s good reputation had spread far and wide. Even Steward Zhao had a much more pleasant expression whenever he saw her.
The next morning, the gongzi arrived at his practice location to see that Lei Lei was already waiting there with six logs of firewood beside her.
“Can you split each of them into eight pieces with just one move?”
“I’ll give it a try.”
With one more log, the task has become more difficult and challenging. The gongzi feels that it would be very helpful for his martial arts practice so he doesn’t hesitate, immediately unsheathing and wielding his sword to split the logs as per her requirements.
“Good kung fu, good swordsmanship, there’s improvement!”
“I’ll get it, continue your practice.”
On the third morning, Lei Lei was waiting in the bamboo forest as usual, with seven logs of firewood beside her.
Wielding his sword, the gongzi split them into fifty six pieces as required.
He’s really “idiot”. Smiling happily, Lei Lei left with the firewood in her arms.
On the fourth day, Lei Lei was waiting with eight logs of firewood.
Eight logs of wood should have been split into sixty four pieces but this time, one move only resulted in fifty eight pieces.
As usual, Lei Lei praised him: “Good! Good swordsmanship!”
Having reached his limit with this challenge, the gongzi wasn’t very satisfied with the results. Ashamed, he said: “This is the extent of what I can do, it’s still too slow.”
“It’s alright, it doesn’t matter,” Lei Lei waved her hands, encouraging him, “it’s already very good that you can do this. With more practice in the future, you can strive to achieve sixty four pieces with just one move!”
However, the gongzi felt very troubled. At the thought of this lady going through the trouble of putting the props in place and clearing up the mess, he was determined to give his all during practice and make the most of it: “I’ll give it another try.”
Before Lei Lei could react, the pieces of wood on the ground flew up again and flashed before her eyes. He stood unmoving but the sword seemed to have a life of its own, swinging to and fro. Wood chips flew everywhere.
In the blink of an eye, half of the firewood was destroyed.
“Don’t——” Seeing that he wasn’t following the requirements, Lei Lei rushed forward and clutched his hand, “Don’t, don’t cut it! If you cut it, it can’t be burned anymore!”
The gongzi froze: “Burn?”
Lei Lei let go of him, bending over to pick up the surviving firewood as she grumbled: “You…really. If you wanted to cut more you could’ve just told me so, I can go and get a few more pieces for you. Now look, how can they be burned when they’ve been cut like that!”
The gongzi finally sensed that something was wrong and his face darkened: “You were chopping firewood?”
Realising that she had made a slip of the tongue, Lei Lei stood back up, a piece of firewood in each hand. She explained: “Since you’ve already practiced your swordsmanship, it’s a waste to just throw away these firewood!”
With a tight grip on his treasured sword, the gongzi took two steps forward and said coldly: “You made me chop firewood with the Feng Ming sword?”
Frightened at the thought that this person wanted to butcher her, Lei Lei threw away the firewood and took two steps back, her hands outstretched in front of her: “Chop firewood? Of course I wanted to help you with your practice but after you’re done, we can’t just waste these firewood. I only pass it to the kitchen to burn, it’s on the way.”
The gongzi took two more steps forward, his voice tinged with anger: “The sword is a weapon, how can you treat it as such!”
Lei Lei took two more steps back, retorting: “The knife can also be used to cut vegetables and kill chickens. Why can’t it be used to chop firewood?”
The gongzi was extremely furious but didn’t have a response for her. After a long time, he said: “Xiao family’s Feng Ming sword upholds justice, upholds virtue, and condemns evil. It is renowned in the whole world and countless evil people have died under its blade, how can you defile it like that!”
Lei Lei stuck to her point of view: “How do you know that this is defiling it? It’s good to uphold virtue and condemn evil but helping to chop firewood is also doing a good deed. Look, it would take me a whole day to finish chopping this pile of firewood but it’s nothing to you. This saves time and labour. After you’re done with your practice, the kitchen would have a day’s worth of firewood. We’re killing two birds with one stone! After swallowing her saliva, she continued in an apologetic and placatory tone: “Anyway, even if you didn’t cut firewood, you would also be cutting bamboo. Isn’t that the same?”
“How could it be the same?” The gongzi raged.
“You’re still cutting it, what’s the difference?” Realising that his expression was gradually becoming weird, Lei Lei halted mid sentence, as if she had understood something. “If you’re worried that your treasured sword will become blunt, I’ll find a shabbier sword for you to use next time.”
“You!” The gongzi took another two steps forward.
All reactionaries are paper tigers! Lei Lei didn’t retreat any further. For the sake of being able to work without a hitch in the future, she plans to persuade him with her eloquence: “Actually, the division of labour in the manor isn’t appropriate. There are so many who know martial arts but it’s only the ones who don’t know martial arts who are assigned to chopping firewood. It’s a total waste of ability and time. What’s the point of learning martial arts? It’s to use it!”
“Martial arts is not for chopping firewood!”
“Of course, martial arts is used to uphold justice but don’t you think that it’s practical to use martial arts to chop firewood? You can save time while also practicing your martial arts……”
The gongzi’s face was as dark as charcoal as he tried his best to control the urge to crush her to death. Sheathing his sword, he turned and left.
Lei Lei squatted down and continued to mourn the scraps of firewood.
On the fifth day, the gongzi arrived at the bamboo forest as usual. When he saw that Lei Lei was waiting there again, his face immediately sank and he turned to leave.
“Don’t go!” Lei Lei rushed forward to stop him. “I’ve thought things through. You’re passionate about your craft and I understand your feelings. Your sword is sacred and must be used for upholding virtue and condemning evil, not for chopping firewood. Look, I didn’t bring any firewood today.”
The gongzi turned his head to see that there was really no firewood and his expression became gentler.
Lei Lei intends to have a good relationship with this person so she pointed to the Feng Ming sword in his hand, praising: “Good sword!”
This was a good sword. The gongzi nodded.
Lei Lei touched the blade: “It’s your family heirloom?”
The gongzi nodded.
“After so many years of usage, has it become blunt?”
“It won’t get worn down?”
After giving it some thought, the gongzi finally organised his words and explained, “It’s controlled using internal force so it’s not affected.”
Indeed, the swordsman’s magic weapon really didn’t require any maintenance. It was fine even after hundreds of generations of usage. Who said that diamonds were of the highest quality? Lei Lei clapped her claws and marvelled: “Good sword! Good sword! Your swordsmanship is so good, can you teach me a few moves?”
Thinking that she was eager to learn, the gongzi didn’t give it too much thought, thinking briefly before earnestly recommending: “Those who use the sword are steady and strong, with the focus on physical might. Females are naturally dispositioned to be weaker and few are able to become masters in swordsmanship. It’s better to learn the dagger.”
“No, I don’t need to master it. I just want to learn a few moves.”
“A few moves?” The gongzi had an ominous premonition.
“The few moves you used to cut firewood,” Lei Lei explained. “Since your sword can’t be used to chop firewood, I can learn it and chop the firewood myself. I don’t need such a sacred sword anyway. In the future, you’ll be in charge of cutting people and I’ll be in charge of chopping firewood. That way, it’ll be fast, efficient and effortless.”
Stunned, the gongzi’s expression gradually darkened and he let out a “hmph!” before making a move to leave.
Lei Lei grabbed onto him anxiously: “Having martial arts but not using it and insisting on using an axe to chop slowly, don’t you think that it’s stupid?”
“Let go.” he said in a restrained voice.
Today’s firewood had yet to be chopped, how would Lei Lei be willing to let go: “Why don’t you practice a few more times……”
“Xiao Bai, kind Xiao Bai. I can’t chop it, help me out by practicing a few more moves?”
The gongzi finally lost his patience and shook off her hand before leaving.
From behind him came Lei Lei’s yell: “Hey, hey! If you don’t chop it, there won’t be anything to eat at noon!”
The gongzi was angry! As if they had discovered a shocking secret, all the servants passed the news to each other in private, then one after another, they deliberately walked past the room’s door. Everyone admired the gongzi’s expression at least once. The gongzi had a strict upbringing since his childhood and with the addition of the Xiao Xiao Feng Ming sword’s Xinfa requiring composure, self-control and an abstinence from impulsivity, it has resulted in him forming this kind of mature and cool-headed temperament. Even if he were to get angry, he would rarely lose control in front of people. Therefore, everyone was curious. Who exactly was so capable to anger him to the point that he lost his temper like this?
Everyone soon understood. Lunch at Bai Sheng Manor was late for a full hour.
Because he had been raging just moments ago, as he now faced Aunty Hong and Lei Lei, the gongzi appeared much calmer than others.
Unable to cook a meal without firewood, Aunty Hong looked like she felt wronged while also blaming herself: “We ran out of firewood halfway through preparing today’s meal. Fortunately, Wu Shun went to chop more otherwise everyone in the manor would really have to go hungry.” Sighing as she looked at Lei Lei: “This girl is dainty and physically weak, she’s unable to chop firewood. It’s better to arrange for her to help out elsewhere, she’s unable to help out in the kitchen.”
Lei Lei gave this explanation: “It’s mainly because I’ve never done any physical labour and it’s too difficult to chop firewood any other way, it doesn’t suit me.”
What other way? You can’t chop it so you got someone else to help. The corner of the gongzi’s mouth twitched, totally forgetting that he had previously gotten angry because of this matter.
Hearing this, Aunty Hong said with a smile: “I should’ve known, with her looking so delicate and beautiful, that she’s from a distinguished family and had lived comfortably. How could she have done manual work like ours before? It’s the thought that counts.” Pulling her hands, she said kindly: “Look, your hands are blistered. Why don’t you just take a break.”
Lei Lei did not speak.
The gongzi frowned: “Forget it, you can stay here in peace. There’ll be others to do these tasks.”
As a transmigrated girl, how would Lei Lei be willing to have her talents buried: “Although I don’t know how to chop firewood, but I can cook.”
The moment she said this, the gongzi and Aunty Hong were both sceptical: “You?”
Wanting to show off her skills, Lei Lei grabbed onto this opportunity: “I’ve learned to cook in the past. The taste should be pretty good and you’re bound to not have tasted those dishes before.”
It dawned on the both of them that they had put her talent to use at the wrong place.
Seeing that Aunty Hong had no objection, the gongzi nodded in agreement.
The next day, Lei Lei was formally promoted to Bai Sheng Manor’s cook. With a spoon in her left hand, a knife in her right hand and a large apron tied around her waist, she completely looked the part.
“How does this thing work?”
“You don’t know?” Aunty Hong was shocked.
“Forget it, I won’t use this.”
“Will the rice be cooked if done like this?” Aunty Hong felt uneasy, “Shouldn’t the steamer be used?……”
“Yes, it can. I won’t use that.”
“Oh dear, it’s burnt! The fire needs to be smaller. No, no, add less firewood……”
“The pastries I made.”
“There’s too much ground pepper and sichuan pepper!” Aunty Hong couldn’t hold back her coughs, her eyes tearing up.
“Ah, that wasn’t chilli powder?”
“There’s also too much chilli powder. The gongzi doesn’t eat those, cough cough……”
Everyone was choked out of the kitchen.
At long last, after everyone in the manor had waited for more than two hours, their lunch finally arrived — at every table was a pot of hard rice that could be used to shoot birds, a few plates of strange, colourful dishes with unknown raw materials and a black plate of pastry that emitted a burnt smell.
Everyone fiddled with their chopsticks before gathering the courage to taste it. They then sat stunned for a long time before leaving their seats one after another.
Lei Lei sat down and tasted the dish with her chopsticks, chewing twice before spitting it out. Wiping her mouth with her hand, she calmly analysed and concluded: “This dish should’ve been delicious. It’s mainly because I’m not used to the tools here and lack practice. It’s inevitable that I was unable to grasp it on my first try and I’ll be fine after familiarising myself with it.”
Familiarise? Countless eyes were filled with disgust.
Someone outside the door reported that the gongzi’s meal had been returned untouched.
Lei Lei got up and fastened her apron: “I’ll make dinner for everyone.”
Steward Zhao was forcing down a mouthful of rice when he heard this and his beard started to quiver. He immediately put down his bowl, his previous prejudice about her “freeloading” forgotten: “Guniang, it’s too much trouble. Let Aunty Hong do it.”
“Nevermind, it’s alright. I’m glad to do so.”
Aunty Hong rushed up to hold her back: “It’s the thought that counts, these tasks are exhausting, just leave it to us, no one will blame you.” Desperately winking at everyone: “Am I right?”
Everyone nodded simultaneously.
Lei Lei was resolute: “How can I do that?”
“Why not? Everyone knows that you’re a kind girl,” Aunty Hong tore off her apron and together with the kitchen fire servant girl, pushed her towards the exit, “Our kitchen is not lacking in manpower, it’s enough with the both of us around. How could we really let you do these manual tasks? You can come around when you’re free, just to keep us company and to chat.”
Feeling that this meal didn’t reflect her skills, Lei Lei opened her arms and grabbed at the door frame in a desperate struggle: “Actually, I can still……”
No one wanted to hear her next words and everyone lent a hand in pushing her: “Just go, just go.”
“Hey, hey! I’m just unfamiliar with the kitchen tools,” Lei Lei was reluctantly being pushed towards the door and she shouted, “Just let me try it out a few more times and I can make something none of you have ever eaten……the most delicious things!”
The most delicious things? Everyone believed that this was possible in the future but no one dared to contribute their stomach to someone else’s creations so they stood in the doorway, covering it completely.
Seeing that she simply refused to leave, Aunty Hong had a sudden bout of inspiration: “Why don’t you see if the gongzi needs you to wait upon him?”
Wait upon “Xiao Bai”? Sure enough, Lei Lei stopped insisting: “In that case……alright.” She turned to leave but stopped after taking two steps: “If there’s anything you need help with, remember to call for me!”
Everyone was relieved: “Sure, definitely.”
Due to his strict training since childhood, it wasn’t the first time the gongzi had gone hungry. Guessing that this girl would’ve most likely angered everyone, he decided to go to the kitchen to mediate. Who knew that as soon as he reached the courtyard’s entrance, he would see Lei Lei being coaxed out of the dining hall by a group of people.
The corners of his mouth raised and he turned to walk back.
“Xiao Bai! Xiao Bai!” came a yell from behind him.
The gongzi felt very helpless. This was a far cry from the etiquette education he had received since he was a child. Bai Sheng Manor’s reputation had spread far and wide, and everyone in Jianghu addressed him respectfully as Master Xiao or Xiao Gongzi but this girl was now constantly calling him Xiao Bai.
His footsteps halted and he looked at her sideways.
Lei Lei said: “It’s like this, they say that they have enough hands in the kitchen.”
The gongzi was speechless. How could they not lack people? He reckons that Aunty Hong will soon come and ask to look for another servant girl.
Lei Lei was joyful: “They asked me to wait upon you.”
Slightly flustered by her gaze, how would the gongzi dare to let her wait upon him. Shaking his head: “No need, you can just stay here at ease.”
Lei Lei said: “That won’t do. Actually, there are many things that will be better with my help, such as practicing your sword skills. Anything that you want to try out, I can get it for you, and I certainly won’t ask you to chop firewood anymore. Also, your clothes are always in these two colors, it’s too old for you, you’re only twenty-four! I’ll prepare other colours for you to switch between. As for your meals and sleep……” She stopped talking.
That handsome face had suddenly turned red.
Lei Lei started plotting with evil designs, it turns out that such an honest and upright handsome man would also have such thoughts, and even blush. Should she throw herself on him and take liberties with him, flirting and acting frivolously?
Having seen the tricks of Qian Yue Cave’s beautiful women countless times and having experienced bigger situations, the gongzi had an unusually strong resolve and quickly collected himself. Probably embarrassed, he didn’t speak and only gave her a faint smile before leaving.
Whenever the gongzi smiled, it was especially bewitching, like he was a totally different person. Slightly pursed lips and the smiling eyes that glanced at her sideways, it actually seemed to contain a hint of darkness, a complete contrast to his usual serious image. It’s a pity that ever since that breathtaking smile the first time they met, she had rarely seen it again. Now that it was suddenly revealed, Lei Lei was well and truly struck on the spot.
What a handsome man, Lei Lei exclaimed in admiration.
For the next few days, no one in Bai Sheng Manor came to her for help. Even Steward Zhao was more courteous whenever he saw her, no longer showing any dissatisfaction towards her for freeloading. Hence, Lei Lei became the most idle person in Bai Sheng Manor. Of course, she was very dissatisfied with this situation and persisted with finding a job. All day long, she wandered around following the gongzi. When the gongzi practiced his sword, she applauded. When the gongzi was thirsty, she passed him a cup of tea. Her ability to weigh someone’s words and observe their expressions improved greatly. At first, the gongzi had felt apologetic but at her insistence, he stopped mentioning it.
Today, Lei Lei was strolling mindlessly when she reached the walkway’s corner and heard several people talking.
“I’ve heard from Steward Zhao that Chief He will only return after the Mid-Autumn Festival.”
“It’ll take that long to investigate Jia Kong City?”
“Something major happened at Xi Sha faction the day before yesterday, there was an assassination attempt on Leader Wen. Although it fell through, they’re insisting that the assassin was sent by Nan Hai faction. Now that two major factions have brought their dispute right in front of Chief He, he’ll obviously have to help them mediate.”
It turns out to be a group of servants that were sitting and chatting on the fencing of the covered corridor. After a few days of staying here, Lei Lei had become familiar with most of the people at Bai Sheng Manor. The person who was currently speaking was Wang Cong who followed Steward Zhao. He was always the one who brought back the latest news from Jianghu. Hearing the three words “Nan Hai faction”, Lei Lei immediately thought of the handsome man she had met at the inn, who was possibly named “Leng Sheng Yin”, so she came out from behind the pillar.
Wang Cong sighed: “A mere Longevity Fruit has stirred up trouble to the point that the three major factions have broken off relations, causing everyone in Jianghu to have absurd speculations……”
Lei Lei interrupted: “What exactly is going on with that Longevity Fruit?”
1. Xiao Bai’s Feng Ming Sword is written as ‘凤鸣刀’ and the word 刀 (Sword) can also translate to Knife / Dagger↩
2. 眼睛绿了 – Literal: Eyes turn green. I don’t actually know what this means because I’ve never heard it being used this way but based on the fact that Lei Lei’s cooking was horrible, I’m assuming that it means disgust.↩