“Lost it.” Li Qingshan answered with a hard voice, like someone pulled back to the cruel reality from a fascinating daydream.

“Go find it quickly, you dare to lose our family’s bull. Let’s see if your brother won’t beat you to death, you spendthrift thing. If the bull’s lost, you can also get lost!”

“It’s my bull!” Li Qingshan walked out of the door in great strides. He was afraid he’d beat up this wench if he still didn’t leave, but if he really did this then he couldn’t stay in the house anymore. He couldn’t find another shelter to stay in either. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.

He went back to the bullpen only after sunset, utterly exhausted. His bright eyes swept around the empty bullpen, then dimmed again.

Li Qingshan’s everyday work, apart from ch.o.r.es and taking care of the bull, was to take the bull and help the work at the landlord’s house, so he could make a little money for his family.

Today he had no bull for the whole day, so he could only do the same work as the other hired hands. This was work that even adults found exhausting, not to mention a teenager like him, and he didn’t even eat any breakfast.

Compared to the body’s fatigue, the insults and curses of the farm’s steward were trivial ordinary things. He fell head first on the stack of hay and didn’t want to think about anything anymore, but his belly started gurgling.

You could imagine, in this kind of environment, even if you had lofty aspirations they would be worn away beyond recognition, leaving only the body’s most basic instincts behind.

While Li Qingshan was half-asleep, he heard the “bang” of something heavy falling. He opened his eyes and saw a strange face, with a row of fangs both long and white. He jumped in fright, and only after waking up completely did he notice it was a wild boar dead not long ago, still radiating warmth.

The green bull was crouching in front of the trough, watching him with a “laugh.” He could already faintly distinguish the expressions on the green bull’s face.

The curtain of the night fell. In a village house Big Wife Li was complaining to Big Brother Li: “This small b.a.s.t.a.r.d, he really doesn’t look like anything, he unexpectedly lost such a big bull, no, he must have secretly sold it. Impossible, he must go live by himself, or he’ll surely harm us if he continues like this.”

Big brother Li was over thirty years old, built tall and strong, and was a famous bully in the village. But he was very humble with his young wife: “He can leave, but those several mus1of good land have been distributed to him in front of the village elders.” They had used the pretext of Li Qingshan being too young and unable to work the farm to occupy this piece of land. Now they still hadn’t given it back, but if Li Qingshan officially left they would be forced to.

“Isn’t steward Liu always after this piece of land? Just sell it to him, if this little b.a.s.t.a.r.d has guts he can go ask it back from him.”

“But what if he doesn’t agree to sell?”

“Starve him for three days, do you worry he’ll still refuse?”

Big Wife Li suddenly sniffed while the two were in the middle of their discussion: “Do you smell something?”

“Smells really good, looks like someone’s cooking meat.”

“It’s not the new year or a festival, what cooking meat. Looks like, looks like, it’s very close.”

The two people followed the smell and came to the bullpen. Inside they saw a pot hanging over a fire, and a thick soup boiling in the pot, scattering a fragrant smell around.

The light of the fire swayed in the darkness, casting Li Qingshan’s shadow on the walls.

Sister-in-law Li swallowed her saliva: “You little brat, where did you steal the meat?” She wasn’t only lazy but also greedy. Looking at this meat soup she even forgot about Li Qingshan offending her, and she went up, stirring the pot with the ladle.

Big brother Li on the other hand had sharp eyes and saw with one glance the thing Li Qingshan was sitting on, exclaiming: “Wild boar!”

Wild boars could be said to be extremely dangerous things in the mountains. They had tough skin, thick muscles and they were hard to wound with blades. Ordinary hunters would give way and retreat if they met one, to say nothing of catching them.

“I picked it up at the foot of the mountains when I was looking for the bull. It was injured, it was probably forced in a tight spot by hunters.”

Li Qingshan told them the pretext he had prepared beforehand. He absolutely had to keep the green bull’s existence a secret, otherwise if the rumor of a monster bull spread out, more likely than not some celestial temple would come knocking at his door.

Big Brother Li was half-believing and half-dubious. He also smiled: “Brother you really have the dumb luck of a dumb person, wait until I drag this boar to the market, I can sell it for a good price for sure. We’ll store the money to find a wife for you.” At the same time he also saw the green bull inside the bullpen, thinking in his heart that now they weren’t in a rush to kick him out. Wasn’t this bull still able to do some farm work?

Li Qingshan watchd Big Sister-in-law Li stir the pot looking like she couldn’t wait to grab a piece and have a taste, and his good mood at boiling meet was suddenly entirely ruined. He slapped Big Wife Li’s hand away: “Don’t randomly touch it.”

Big sister Li covered her hand and retreated, howling in grief: “Look at your little brother, you still didn’t believe me when I said he takes advantage when you’re not at home to bully me womenfolk. Now it’s right in front of you, you can see yourself.”

Bully you? Li Qingshan only felt a burst of nausea. At least if you were named Pan, I wouldn’t suffer a loss.2

Big brother Li’s expression became abruptly gloomy: “Is this how you treat your sister-in-law?”

Li Qingshan lowered his head and said: “I already have plans for this meat. Now I’m not so young anymore, it’s time I go live on my own.” This was something he was thinking about already while boiling the meat. He already had no desire to keep bowing his head under those eaves.

Big Brother Li hadn’t expected Li Qingshan to raise this matter first before he could open his mouth. He was startled then became greatly angry. He was a simple-minded village fellow and wasn’t someone who could keep his rage inside. He clenched his fist as he went forward, about to give Li Qingshan a beating. He’d drag this wild boar off first and see later.

Li Qingshan could see that something was amiss as he approached. He stood up, grimness written over his face, but feeling some weakness in his heart. His body and bones weren’t mature yet and he’d exhausted himself the whole day without eating anything, how could he resist a burly adult fellow. The corner of his eyes flickered toward the green bull, but the green bull was watching this scene as if watching a play, and didn’t manifest any desire to help.

Right when Li Qingshan was crying bitterness in his heart and ready to get beaten, big brother Li stopped his steps, his vision falling on Li Qingshan’s right hand.

This coa.r.s.e big hand was holding a similarly coa.r.s.e short knife with a rough blade edge that was still dull even after polis.h.i.+ng.

This was the short knife Li Qingshan had bought at the market with the savings from living frugally for all these years. It was useful in many places, right now he used it to cut the meat.

Li Qingshan suddenly understood that his brother was afraid, not afraid of himself but afraid of this knife. Before this moment he had never realized the shoddy short knife in his hand actually had the power to deter other people.

Li Qingshan was only an ordinary student even in his former life, and although he’d fought a few times they were only conflicts between students. Even adding his two lives together he didn’t have the experience of facing people with weapons.

Understanding this, Li Qingshan clenched the short knife in his hand. He deliberately raised it like a wild beast baring its fangs, even if he radically didn’t dare use this thing.

Big Brother Li immediately took a step back, Big Wife Li also didn’t dare to howl so wildly anymore, and the two people unexpectedly retreated out of the bullpen, showing a very disappointed expression. They cursed outside then went back inside the house to discuss their “great plan”.

Li Qingshan turned a deaf ear, and put even the meat’s fragrant smell in the back of his mind. He only stared at the short knife, his face vaguely reflected within. This cheap product worth a few silvers had protected him just then, sparing him from suffering physical pain, sparing him from insults, and also preserving his spoils of war.

Although it was a matter of course, but at that moment it seemed like his mind had broadened and everything had become clear.

The green bull crouched in front of the trough and watched at him with a smile.

The light of the fire swayed and the giant black man on the wall stood holding a knife. At this precise moment, a young man understood the exact value of power.

After a long time, Li Qingshan sat down once more, tweaking his ear and scratching his cheek as he looked anxiously at the pot: “How much longer do I need to cook this meat?” Originally he was already someone who couldn’t be happy without meat. Those dozen years had really been a bitter hards.h.i.+p for him. When his parents were still there he could still eat a few mouthfuls during new year or holidays, but now even without mentioning his parents pa.s.sing away, those few slices of meat weren’t enough for Big Wife Li by herself.

At this moment even immortal pills placed in front of him wouldn’t make him as impatient as this pot of meat.

The boar was a big fat boar and this pot of meat actually cooked for no less than half the night.

The soaring flame, the floating aroma, the crackling sounds, the young man concentrating all his attention, all of this condensed into a picture that wasn’t lacking in sentiment and poetry, as rustic and primitive as it was.

Finally, even without sprinkling any salt, not to mention other condiments, Li Qingshan ate until he almost swallowed his tongue. No matter fat or meat, several pounds of flesh went inside his belly, and finally he even drank the meat broth clean.

If someone asked at this moment what happiness was, he would definitely answer that happiness was a pot of meat.

1. A mu is a Chinese surface unit equivalent to a 1/15th of an acre.

2. Reference to Pan Jinlian, a fictional character and a famous villainess in Chinese culture. She’s an archetypical femme fatale, described as beautiful. She appears in Water Margin among others.

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