// Chapter 7 : Serendipity
31 May 2019

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In the isolated mountains of Tianji, a young man was casually heading home after a long day of collecting wood in the forest.

Qi Zhikan (齐之侃, 20), the handsome son of a bladesmith with dark eyebrows and round eyes. Qi Zhikan grew up in the mountains and rarely had contact with people of the outside world. Although he had limited education, his father often relayed to him tales of past warriors and their honorable feats in battles.

Located in the southeastern region, Tianji is the only of the four vassal states under Juntian to have not declared independence. It has a natural mountainous terrain, abundant of tall trees and hills. It is also agriculturally independent.

Tianji is known to be a very superstitious state. Its citizens proudly practice sorcery; astrological readings are well-regarded. Tianji often seeks to the Ursa Major constellation for guidance. Because of those reasons, it has very unique customs compared to other states.

Qi Zhikan took the usual route home, carrying a basket of wooden sticks on his back.

He suddenly noticed someone lying on the road ahead of him and walked up to get a closer look at the motionless figure obstructing his path.

It was a young man, dressed in all white just like Qi Zhikan. The difference was that his clothing was made of expensive material unlike Qi Zhikan’s common fabrics.

The scratches on the man’s face showed that he must’ve been sustained some kind of injury and fell unconscious. Despite being in his current state, the man was quite good-looking.

Qi Zhikan dropped his basket of wooden sticks. He carefully lifted the young man up and carried him on his back.

After a while, Qi Zhikan finally reached his home–a wooden cottage up in the high, remote mountains. Although the cottage was nothing extravagant, it was very clean and well-kept. Racks used to dry herbs were laid out in the front yard. In the back stood a straw tent with a large fire pit and iron bars beneath it. It was obviously a workshop belonging to a skilled bladesmith.

As he walked through the fences, a middle-aged man greeted him with a smile.

“Zhikan, you’re home.” Qi Renfan was too busy collecting the dried herbs from the racks to look at his son.

“Father,” Qi Zhikan greeted.

Qi Renfan glanced up and finally noticed that his son was carrying someone on his back. “Who’s that?!”

“I…found him in the woods unconscious…”

“So you just brought him back here?! Where’s the wood?!”

Qi Zhikan was afraid to look at his father. “I left it behind…”

Qi Renfan grunted in disapproval.”I know you don’t like having strangers come to our home but I couldn’t leave him there to die.” Qi Zhikan spoke in a low voice as if he knew he was at fault.

Qi Renfan clicked his tongue and then turned to look at his son. After a moment of deep thought, he said, “Take him inside and I’ll check his wounds.

“Qi Zhikan grinned happily. “Thank you, Father!”

After placing the young man on his bed, Qi Zhikan’s father went over to check the man’s pulse. Qi Zhikan watched concerningly from the side. Although his father isn’t a certified physician, his medical skills can be considered proficient enough.

Qi Zhikan respected his father very much. Qi Renfan was a man of many talents. He was skilled in the verses, medicine, and martial arts, but his true talent laid in sword-making. Forging swords to sell to Tianji’s generals was his main method of earning money. Besides that, he rarely interacted with people below the mountains. He forbade his son from leaving the mountains without his permission, and the only times Qi Zhikan was permitted to go out was to gather materials.

Qi Renfan’s swordmaking abilities caught the eyes of many citizens throughout Tianji. Eventually, his reputation became so widespread that he became known as the renowned ‘Qi Shifu’ throughout Juntian. Many sought him to forge their swords only to be bluntly rejected. Qi Zhikan often wondered what his father’s background was for him to be so knowledgeable in all these fields, but every time he wanted to ask, he was immediately shut down. Even Qi Zhikan admitted his father was an eccentric geezer.

“Father, how is he?” Qi Zhikan asked, reaching his neck out to peak at the young man.

“He’s fine. He fractured his leg so he won’t be able to walk for a while. There’s a bit of blood on his clothes. He must’ve gotten a flesh wound on his chest. However, none of these injuries are life-threatening–some medicine and rest and he should be fine. Help me clean his chest wound while I go prepare some herbal paste.

“Just as Qi Renfan was about to stand up to head to the kitchen, Qi Zhikan interrupted him. “What about the scratches on his face?”

“Just a couple minor scratches, nothing too deep. They’ll heal by themselves.”

Qi Zhikan nodded in relief.

Qi Renfan looked at his son suspiciously. “…why are you so concerned about his appearance?”

“Uh…I…” Qi Zhikan was at a lost for words.

Qi Renfan chuckled to himself and gave his son a slight slap on the back of the head. “Hurry and clean his wound before it gets infected.”

Once his father has left to prepare the medicine, Qi Zhikan began preparing a bucket of warm water and a wet towel. He took off the man’s outer garments and placed them on the corner of the bed to be washed later. He began untying the man’s inner garments to reveal his pale chest that was indeed wounded as his father has suspected. It was not a small injury, although not a major one either. Luckily, the bleeding has stopped. He gently pressed the damp towel on the man’s wound to clean off the remaining blood.

After rinsing off the towel, Qi Zhikan was about to wipe off the dirt around the man’s neck as he noticed his hair was covering a stringed object. He carefully lifted the man’s head to pull what was a long necklace with a silver pendant engraved with a pattern he has never seen before. He then placed it back on the man’s chest.

Qi Zhikan continued to clean the rest of the man’s wounds, including the minor scratches on his face and hands. After applying the medicinal paste that his father had given him, Qi Zhikan grabbed a set of new clothes from his wardrobe and carefully dressed the unconscious man.

That night, Qi Zhikan sat at the small table in the middle of his room while the man rested in his bed. His father had long fallen asleep in another room. He was very tired but wanted to stay awake in the case the man regained consciousness, so he decided to stay up to keep watch.

“Wh–who are you?” a feeble voice broke the silence of the night.

Qi Zhikan glanced over from his seat to see the man has finally woken up. He rushed over to help him. “You’re up!”

The man was still too weak to sit up by himself and could only rest on Qi Zhikan’s chest as support.

“You’ve fractured your leg. Luckily, your injury isn’t too grave. If it hadn’t been for me, you’ll probably be some mountain beast’s dinner by now.”

The man looked at him distrustingly. “…who are you?”

“Me? My surname is Qi. Qi Zhikan. I passed by on the road and saw you fainted on the ground. I was afraid you’d be eaten by some wild beast, so I brought you home,” he said with a friendly smile.

The man did not respond and continued to look at him, their faces just inches apart.

“…is there something on my face? Why are looking at me like that?” Qi Zhikan asked.

The man finally spoke, “Thank you.”

Qi Zhikan grinned. “I still don’t know your name. As your savior, shouldn’t you at least tell me your name?”

“You can just call me Xiao Ma.” (A/N 1)

“Xiao Ma?” Qi Zhikan chuckled. “Okay. I’ll call you Xiao Ma then.”

‘From his expensive clothing and accessories, not to mention that strange necklace around his neck, his background mustn’t be simple. Add to the fact that he just passed out in the woods for no reason… and is hiding his real name from me…’ Qi Zhikan thought.

Little did Qi Zhikan know that the person he was clasping onto was an incredibly powerful figure.

Jian Bin (蹇宾, 23), Duke of Tianji, with black hair, smooth skin, and coral lips. At first glance, his expressions may seem serious and stern for such a young person. Having faced many oppositions by his subjects in court, Jian Bin has learned to become a cautious and skeptical person.

“By the way, why were you injured in the woods?” Qi Zhikan asked.

“I… I fell down from my horse.”

“Xiao Ma fell down from his horse?!” Qi Zhikan tried to hold in his laughter.

“What’s so funny about me falling from my horse?”

Qi Zhikan shook his head. “Nothing. You must’ve been going very fast to suffer from such a fall.”

Jian Bin did not reply.

He suddenly glanced down to notice that the clothes he was wearing earlier were not the same. He lifted his hand to peak down the collar of his shirt to find his chest wrapped in bandages. He sat up from Qi Zhikan’s chest and exclaimed, “You changed my clothes for me?!”

Qi Zhikan looked at him, dumbfounded. “Your clothes were dirty and had blood on it, so I took the liberty to help you change into my clothes. I also bandaged your wound.”

Jian Bin felt his face getting hotter. He grabbed the blanket and pulled it up to his chest.

“Why are you acting so shy? What’s done has been done. You don’t want to sleep in dirty clothes, do you…?” Qi Zhikan asked.

Jian Bin sent him a death glare.

“Alright, alright. From now on, if you want to change, I’ll let you change yourself, okay?”

Jian Bin, “…”

Qi Zhikan sighed. “It’s already late. You should get some rest.”

As he was about to walk out of the room, Jian Bin asked, “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to sleep on the bench in the living room. My cottage is small; there are only two rooms. You’re in one and Father is in the other. I’ll just sleep out there for the night.”

“…won’t it be cold?”

“Where else can I sleep? You’re already sleeping on my bed…”

Jian Bin, “…”

Qi Zhikan smiled, “Don’t worry. I’m a mountain man. Some cold breeze is nothing too hard to handle. I’ll see you tomorrow morning!”

With those words, he stepped outside and gently closed the door.

Now left alone in silence, Jian Bin stared at the single candle flickering in the bedroom. After some pondering, he pulled the blanket over and wandered off to sleep.

End of Chapter 7

⚔️———————————–⚔️

*A/N 1: Xiao Ma (小马), literally translates to little horse

One of the fan-favorite couples has appeared! Wooh!

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