// Chapter 8 : Eclipse
01 Jun 2019

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It’s been 3 days since Jian Bin has gotten a glimpse of the outdoor air.

Ever since he was brought back by Qi Zhikan, the young lad would not allow him to leave his bed, claiming that his leg has not properly healed.

Every morning, Qi Zhikan would come into the room with a hot bowl of porridge. At night, he prepared and cooked the various animals he hunted during the day for Jian Bin to try.

He also prepared a wooden barrel of warm water for Jian Bin to bathe in. After Jian Bin’s appalled reaction when his clothes were changed while unconscious, Qi Zhikan made sure not to intrude the young man while he was bathing.

Three times a day, Qi Zhikan would deliver a bowl of herbal medicine right to the young duke’s bedside, much to Jian Bin’s lack of enthusiasm. One cannot blame him; the medicine was incredibly bitter.

The fourth day was no different.

“You’re not making me drink that again.”

“You’re drinking this if you want to walk again.”

Jian Bin sighed. He slowly took the bowl from Qi Zhikan’s hands. He placed it close to his mouth and stared at the dark liquid that reeked of bitter herbs. He simply could not bring himself to swallow another mouthful of this.

Seeing Jian Bin’s hesitation, Qi Zhikan took out the secret weapon he has been hiding in his other hand–candied hawberries on a stick.

“Tanghulu?*” Jian Bin gasped. (A/N 1)

“I know you don’t like the bitterness of medicine, so I made this for you. After finishing the medicine, you can eat this tanghulu. It’ll help you combat the bitter aftertaste.”

Jian Bin nodded and hastily gulped it down.

Qi Zhikan handed Jian Bin the candied snack as he had promised.

While watching Jian Bin munch on the hawberries, Qi Zhikan said, “Coaxing you to drink medicine is like coaxing a little kid.”

Jian Bin seemed to have no reaction towards Qi Zhikan’s teasing. “These past few days have been toilsome for you. Thank you, Qi Xiansheng.”

“Hmm? If you want to thank me, then don’t sound so distant and call me Qi Xiansheng.”

“Then how do you prefer me to address you?”

Qi Zhikan thought for a moment and said, “Since I call you Xiao Ma, then why don’t you call me Xiao Qi?”

Jian Bin smiled at Qi Zhikan’s suggestion. “Okay, Xiao Qi.”

It was the first time Qi Zhikan saw Jian Bin smile at him, or even smile at all. Even though he has been attentively caring for Jian Bin these past few days, the aloofness the young man’s displayed towards him was apparent.

Suddenly hearing the words “Xiao Qi” come out of Jian Bin’s mouth made Qi Zhikan’s heart overflow with a strange feeling of warmth and affection that he could not explain. He gazed at Jian Bin, who was sitting up on his bed.

“Xiao Qi? Are you okay?” Jian Bin wondered why Qi Zhikan stopped talking and simply looked at him without blinking.

Qi Zhikan finally snapped himself out of a trance, “There’s… something on your lips.”

Bits of the sugar syrup has smeared on Jian Bin’s lower lip, giving it a glossy red color.

Jian Bin used his fingers to attempt to wipe off the stain but missed and could not see the red that Qi Zhikan spoke of.

“Here, let me help you.” Qi Zhikan sat down beside him and used his sleeve to gently press against Jian Bin’s lips.

Thump. Thump.

Qi Zhikan felt like he could hear his own heartbeats.

‘It’s beating faster…’

He locked eyes with the person in front of him. Gazing into Jian Bin’s dark eyes, Qi Zhikan’s mind became overwhelmed with a million questions.

Why do these eyes feel like they bear so much sorrow? Why did he feel like the person before him had many troubles buried deep inside, but could not speak of it? Why was he still unwilling to tell him his real name?

Despite being so close, he felt like there was an unseen barrier between the two.

After a moment, Jian Bin nervously turned his head away. “I…umm… I think it should be good now.”

“Oh… yeah. Sorry.” Qi Zhikan quickly stood up and pretended to adjust his tunic.

The room became silent as both of them avoided looking at each other.

“Zhikan! Can you go outside and bring in the dried herbs for me? I’m a little occupied at the moment!” Qi Zhikan heard his father yell from the kitchen.

He let out a small sigh of relief as if his father had just rescued the current awkward situation.

“You, uh… if you’re busy then you don’t have to stay here and accompany me,” Jian Bin said.

“If I leave, won’t you be really bored?”

Jian Bin smiled half-heartedly. “I will be bored but I don’t want to be a burden and distract you from your duties.”

“You will never be a burden.”

Jian Bin, “…”

Qi Zhikan bent over, grabbed Jian Bin’s arms, put them over his shoulders, and lifted Jian Bin up to carry on his back.

Jian Bin was astonished, “W-what are you doing?!”

“I’m taking you outside with me to get some sunlight.”

“But you don’t need to carry me like this?!”

Qi Zhikan, “What are you nervous about? This isn’t the first time I’ve carried you.”

Knowing that his body was too weak to resist, he decided to give in and let Qi Zhikan carry him to the front yard.

The fresh mountain air was incredibly soothing. The gleaming sun rays and sounds of chirping birds could set any man’s heart at peace.

“You’ve been lying in bed for several days now. The weather is not bad today. I want to use this opportunity for you to enjoy what nature has to offer,” said Qi Zhikan.

He put Jian Bin down to settle on a small wooden bench as the two took a moment to admire the tranquility of their surroundings.

“How do you know I’m not someone who also grew up in the mountains?” Jian Bin asked.

“Seeing the way you dress and act, you can’t be someone who grew up in the wild like me. You must be a city person. If I’m not wrong, your family must have some kind of big influence or authority in the cities.”

Jian Bin did not reply. Qi Zhikan understood that Jian Bin did not want to reveal more about his background so he decided not to pursue any further.

“It’s quite humid here in the forest,” said Jian Bin, changing the subject.

“This air is good for your wounds. I’ll take you out every day so you can bask in the sun and maybe make friends with some of the birds.

“Jian Bin, “I won’t be staying here for long. There are probably people out there looking for me right now. At that time, I’ll have to leave.”

“This area is very difficult to find. My father set up many traps and formations to prevent people from disturbing us. The path to our cottage is like a maze,” Qi Zhikan explained.

“Disturbing you? Why are these people trying to look for you and your father?”

“I won’t hide it from you. Have you heard of the bladesmith people call Qi Shifu?”

‘Qi Shifu. Qi Zhikan. Turns out that the renowned bladesmith that forges swords for my military is Xiao Qi’s father,’ Jian Bin thought and shook his head at his own foolishness.

Upon seeing Jian Bin’s reaction, Qi Zhikan stated, “I assume you’ve figured it out.”

“I never would’ve guessed that I’ve been living in the same house as Qi Shifu these past few days. What an honor.”

“Now don’t say that to his face. It’ll only raise his ego even more,” Qi Zhikan joked.

“I haven’t gotten the chance to thank him for treating my injuries. Thinking about it, he hasn’t come to see me once ever since I woke up. Could it be he doesn’t like me being here very much?” Jian Bin asked.

“He’s like that. Don’t mind him. He’s just not used to having someone else in the house, but he does have a good heart,” Qi Zhikan replied.

“Once I’m able to walk again, I’ll personally go thank him. I’ll also need you to accompany me off the mountain if others can’t come here.”

Qi Zhikan frowned at that thought but hid his emotions. “Your leg fracture is very severe. I’m afraid you’ll be here for a while but I’ll do my best to treat you and guide you out when the time comes.”

Jian Bin nodded.

The sounds of birds chirping suddenly stopped. A cold breeze blew over. The sky turned dark within seconds–the sun nowhere to be seen.

“What’s happening?!!!” Jian Bin exclaimed with a quivering voice.

Qi Zhikan looked up to analyze the celestial phenomenon. After comprehending what was happening, he realized that Jian Bin has been gripping tightly on his arm this entire time.

He spoke with a smirk, “It’s just a solar eclipse. Are you scared?”

“I…” Jian Bin felt his cheeks getting red. “It’s just I’ve never seen one before…”

Qi Zhikan, “It’s my first time seeing it too.”

Jian Bin, “You are really brave. You had no reaction to it at all.”

“A mountain man is naturally more daring. Perhaps, I was born this way so I can protect my loved one in the future.”

“Then with you here, I have nothing to be afraid of.”

Qi Zhikan turned to look at Jian Bin in surprise. Realizing what he just said, Jian Bin retreated his hand and avoided Qi Zhikan’s gaze.

“I… I meant, I still need you to lead me off this mountain,” Jian Bin stuttered.

Qi Zhikan grinned to himself.

“Xiao Qi, what are you thinking?”

“I tend to not believe in astrological readings. My father says they’re all bogus. That’s why I’m not sensitive to these events. I heard the rest of Tianji believes they are signs of–“

“I want to rest. Help me inside,” Jian Bin interrupted.

Qi Zhikan was puzzled at Jian Bin’s sudden shift in tone.

Jian Bin raised one arm to express his urgency of wanting to go back in, so Qi Zhikan did not speak any further and carried him on his back to reenter the cottage.

End of Chapter 8


*A/N 1: Tanghulu (糖葫芦), a Chinese snack made from hawberries coated in sugar syrup and skewered on a stick

Thanks for all the support lately! I might not reply to all comments but I get very ecstatic reading every one of them!

See you in the next chapter!

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