Chapter 2: Eight Characters of Birth and Life
Upon seeing that the person who had come was blind, everyone let out a sigh of relief.
“This person came at just the right time. Being a fortune-teller, he probably understands the customs of how to swear brotherhood.” Chu Huairou said.
“Hehe, wanting to eat a tortoise and a fresh turtle presents itself.” The fatty said with a smile.
Hearing the voices of people speaking in the temple the Blind man stopped, “Friends, will you allow me to come inside and take shelter from the rain?”
“You won’t be able to find any place else if you continue walking. So just come on in.” Lu Pingchuan said while making every effort to make his voice sound like that of an adult.
“Thanks.” The blind man spoke words of gratitude. He continued tapping the ground with his wooden cane. After entering the main hall, he groped about from the entrance and sat down whilst leaning onto the east side wall.
Within the hall, there was a bonfire, and from the luminance of the bonfire, everyone was able to clearly see the appearance of this blind man. This man was not tall, his appearance was not abnormal. Even though his eyes were closed, but one could clearly make out that his eyeballs had become withered and distorted. Probably on account of drifting all year round, his skin colour had become very dark, and his face bore the hardships of travel.
The blind man’s clothes were already soaked. After sitting down he removed the bundle on his back and groped through the opening. There were a change of clothes, a pair of old shoes, there were even some divining objects. In addition to this, there was a paper bag and inside of it were two flatbreads.
The blind man took out a piece of bread and brought it to his mouth before chewing on it slowly.
All the while that everyone had been living here, there had been many instances of destitute and beggars coming to take succour here. Therefore, they didn’t care too much about the appearance of this blind man. Moreover, the blind man had already opened his baggage earlier revealing its contents to the crowd, removing everyone’s wariness towards him. After boiling some hot water, Nan Feng took a bowl of hot water and delivered it to the blind man who thanked him after eating the bread.
After returning to his original spot, Nan Feng once again looked at the blind man. Earlier when he had delivered the water, he had found out that the teeth of the blind man were very neat, there were no tartar stains. This was contrary to common sense. Let alone other 50-year-old people, even 30-year-old younger people would also rarely have such clean teeth.
After the blind man finished eating the bread, Lu Pingchuan walked over to ask for the customs relating to swearing brotherhood. The blind man answered in reply. The person spoke at a steady pace, neither too fast, nor too slow. The words were articulated clearly, with rarely a pause in between, and spoken with a gentle ease.
After receiving directions from the blind man, everyone began to act accordingly. Lu Pingchuan took Mo Li to arrange incense sticks and yellow paper. Nan Feng went along with Fatty to go fetch a rooster. What was called arranging was actually stealing. Naturally, fetching also meant stealing, since they had no money.
When Nan Feng and Fatty left the temple it was still raining outside, but the rain was getting lighter.
“Give me a sip.” Fatty reached out his hand towards Nan Feng.
“Of what?” Nan Feng blurted out.
“Wine.” Fatty put on his begging face.
Nan Feng waved his hand to and fro, “Not much left, We have to leave the remaining for the swear.”
“Just one sip.” Fatty continued to beg.
Nan Feng shook his head.
“We are brothers who faced trials and tribulations beside each other, and you are not willing to let me drink wine?” Fatty tried the method of provoking.
Nan Feng ignored him and hurried eastward following the main road.
The fatty didn’t continue asking to drink. He was very depressed, and he followed behind melancholically.
After walking just a few tens of steps, Nan Feng stopped, and handed out the bottle from his bosom to fatty, “Promise to me, only one sip.”
The fatty readily promised and reached out to grab the wine flask.
Seeing the fatty not use the nozzle and rather pulling open the lid of the flask, Nan Feng hurriedly reached out to take it back but he was too late. The fatty had already drunk a big mouthful.
Nan Feng shook the wine flask finding the remnant part filling only the bottom of the flask.
Seeing Nan Feng showing signs of anger, the fatty rushed to stifle it, “I stood by my promise, I only drank a sip.”
Nan Feng once again shook the wine flask, and determining that the remaining wine was not enough for one person to take a sip, he casually slipped the flask once again to fatty, “Later, we’ll go separately. You go steal rooster, I will go arrange for another flask.”
“Ok, Ok.” Fatty cheerfully took the flask, “Right, what did you and Chang Le discuss during the meal time?”
“Chang Le seems to have a big load on his mind, but when I asked him about it, he refused to tell.” Nan Feng said shaking his head.
The fatty nodded while parroting, “This fellow doesn’t get along too well. At the time that you hadn’t returned, Boss Chu had tried feeding him medicine, but he knocked away the bowl in anger.”
“I’ll ask him later when the time comes,” Nan Feng stopped and after looking left and right, “I’ll go South, and we’ll rendezvous here later.”
The fatty waved his hand and began walking eastward.
Wine was essentially brewed from grains, and at a time when there was a shortage of grains, wine would naturally be a luxury. The taverns and inns were kept a strict watch on wine, and it was very difficult to steal wine from the wine cabinets. The wine on the cabinet was not the target of Nan Feng. The wine cabinet would always be by the side of the proprietor, there would always be someone wandering around this piece, one cannot eat the grass at the border of the nest. However, all visitors at the inn wanted the wine in their room, and it was not that much of a problem taking from there.
Late autumn was already cold, and the rainy day was making it even colder. The guests at the inn were mostly drinking to drive out the cold. After about half an hour, Nan Feng succeeded. For beggars, stealing was a livelihood skill, simply begging would have resulted in starvation a long time ago.
When he returned to the rendezvous point, the fatty was already waiting for him, with the unlined upper garment bulging around his upper arm.
As the two people returned through the same road back to the broken temple, Lu Pingchuan and Mo Li had already returned a while ago. The space in front of the idol had also been cleaned. The Oath of Friendship was a big event, and everyone in the temple had gone to the back of the temple to wash their faces with the water jar.
After returning to the broken temple, everyone looked at Lu Pingchuan. Lu Pingchuan once again looked at the blind man sitting by the wall on the side for advice, “Mister, please do us a favour and give us step by step directions.”
The old blind man was already reclining down, and upon hearing Lu Pingchuan’s words, he propped himself with his arm once again began sitting while leaning onto the wall, “Swearing Brotherhood is a major event in one’s life. According to the customs of the ritual, the ceremony requires gifting three animals, preparing five crops, stating eight characters of birth date, narrating one’s entire life, vowing on the book of prayer, and offering sacrifice to inform the heaven and earth.”
After the old blind man finished speaking, everyone looked at each other in dismay.
“Mister, can you make it a tad simpler?” Lu Pingchuan said frowning.
“Do you think swearing brotherhood is a joke?” The Old Blind man shook his head.
Lu Pingchuan went on to speak, “Mister, we all already have the same feeling of brotherhood. Today is just a matter of crossing the formalities.”
The old blind man didn’t answer immediately, and after remaining silent for a while he spoke, “Now with the left being the senior, arrange yourselves in seniority from left to right and kneel down onto the ground facing the idol.”
After the old blind man finished speaking, everyone started to kneel down in order, with Chu Huairou kneeling down at the left most spot, Lu Pingchuan second left-most and the fatty being the third left. The one right-most was that little boy named Mo Li, the second right-most was the wine-stealing Nan Feng, and the third right-most was the mute girl.
“Chang Le come quickly.” Lu Pingchuan beckoned at Chang Le who was sitting by the wooden pillar in the main hall.
Chang Le glanced at Lu Pingchuan and shook his head.
Lu Pingchuan glared angrily at him and raising his voice up a notch said, “Come quickly and kneel down.”
Looking at Lu Pingchuan getting angry, Chang Le said shrinking inwardly, “I don’t want to implicate you all.”
“What nonsense are you spouting?” Lu Pingchuan glowered at him.
“Chang Le, come quickly,” Chu Huairou beckoned to Chang Le, “We all are one family, where is the talking of implicating.”
Chang Le looked at Chu Huairou, then again looked at the angry Lu Pingchuan the looked at each and every one of these companions of his. He straightaway stood up and walked over to kneel down between the fatty and the mute girl.
“Clearly enunciate your eight characters of birth and life.” The voice of the blind man sounded out from the southern wall.
“Clan name Chu, personal name Huairou, Bing Wu Yi Si Yi Wei Chou Shi (丙午已巳乙未丑时),14 years old, native of Qinan County Lingxi Village.” Chu Huairou was the first one to speak. On account of her having washed her face earlier, her appearance was looking comparatively vivid. Chu Huairou had an oval face with gentle and soft facial features making one feel a sense of familiarity. [TLNote: These “丙午已巳乙未丑时” are the encoding of someone’s birthdate down to the seconds into eight characters. These are then used to determine one’s fate and divine one’s fortune. I tried to decode these characters many times, but found it too troublesome to get into. Just note that these eight characters are grouped up as two with one heavenly stem and one earthly branch in each group also known as “Pillar” like 丙午 here is one pillar with 丙 as the heavenly stem and 午 as earthly branch. They are thus called Four Pillars of Destiny representing Year, Month, Day and Time respectively. Since, it is not really that relevant to the story, I will leave it just like this. If you want to know more feel free to read up here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Pillars_of_Destiny%5D
“Surname Lu, name Gang, styled Pingchuan, Bing Wu Bing Zi Shu Yin Zi Shi (丙午丙子戍寅子时), 14 years old, originally Da Li Prefecture’s Temple Appraiser Lu Zhengqian’s son.
“Eldest Brother, Do I also need to say all that?” Fatty turned his head left expectantly.
Lu Pingchuan turned to look at the blind diviner, “Mister, we are all orphans, a few haven’t even seen their biological parents ever, not to mention eight characters of birth, they don’t even know their names, how would they be able to enumerate all this.”
“As you wish.” The blind diviner said casually. The oaths of these brats were tantamount to farce in his eyes.
“Fatty, 13 years, seem to have been born in Lin County, should have been born in the fourth month.” Fatty said. A man’s plumpness or thinness depended mostly on congenital veins. Fatty had been very plump since childhood, but his skeleton was not small. Even though he was fat but he was not short, moreover his eyes were very big, only lacking cleverness.
“Gongsun Changle, 13 years old, Born at noon on the eighteenth day of the sixth month,” Changle said. Even though his age was still young, but the outline of his facial features had already been determined and compared to Lu Pingchuan they were more rigid, his cheekbones were higher, and eyebrow bones protruded.
That big-eyed girl was mute, she couldn’t say a word, so she remained anxious. Nan Feng to the side gestured to her suggesting that he would help speak on her behalf while she nodded repeatedly.
Nan Feng cleared his throat, and pointing towards mute said loudly: “She also has no name, we all call her Big Eyes, she is also 13 years old.”
The fact that she couldn’t hear the voice didn’t mean she couldn’t understand through mouth movements. The mute looked gratefully towards Nan Feng, and when Nan Feng turned to smile at her, she hurriedly shifted her line of sight.
“12 years ago I was thrown outside this temple’s external door and was rescued by Uncle in this Temple who saw me. On the day that I was picked up there was a South Wind blowing, so thus I got this name Nan Feng (South Wind). Nan Feng said.
“Luckily on that day North-West Wind was not blowing.” Fatty said curling his mouth. [TLNote: I can’t for the life of me figure out this word play, the only thing that I can relate it to is the saying “Drinking the North-West Wind” which means having nothing to eat. A state of abject poverty]
Lu Pingchuan glared at the fatty, but said instead, “Mo Li, you speak.”
“My name is Mo Li, I originally had a piece of jade, on top of it the words Mo Li were written, but I no longer have that piece of jade. A few years ago, fatty had fallen ill and eldest brother had pawned it saying that he would later redeem and give it back to me. Oh right, I am eight years old.” Mo Li was still young, and he couldn’t arrange his words properly.
After everyone finished speaking, the blind fortune-teller once again opened his mouth, “Swear.”
“Follow after me,” Lu Pingchuan looked around at everyone waiting for everyone to nod, before swearing in a loud voice, “On the Firmament, today we are seven brothers and sisters, and from this moment onwards will be enjoying blessings and enduring misfortune together.”
“Burn the incense on paper.” The blind man once more directed.
Everyone got up and began burning incense on paper.
“Smear lips with blood.” Blind man spoke further.
Not everybody understood the meaning, but Lu Pingchuan and Chu Huairou understood. Chu Huairou looked towards fatty, “Take out that rooster that you caught.”
There was not much wine, so only one bowl could be poured out. After pouring out the wine, Lu Pingchuan urged the fatty, “What are you dawdling for, bring it over.”
“Eldest Brother.” The fatty standing outside the door had a slightly strange expression.
“Suffocated to death?” Lu Pingchuan asked.
“No, it’s still alive.” Fatty said.
“Then what are you waiting for, quickly hand it over.” Lu Pingchuan urged.
“This one, this one, it was dark and the lights were out, I also couldn’t see clearly…..” Fatty didn’t dare come in out of fright.
“He must have grabbed a duck.” Nan Feng said with a laugh.
“It’s a chicken, just……”
Just as fatty was feeling embarrassed, the blind fortune-teller gave him a solution, “You all have women amongst you, using a female chicken is also possible.”
After fatty heard these words, he walked in holding the hen.
Lu Pingchuan took out a dagger from his waist and chopped the neck of the hen. The blood dripped into the bowl completely. He crouched down and let Mo Li have a sip, after that Nan Feng, and when everyone had finished drinking, just after finishing off the remaining wine, he turned and smashed down the wine bowl with all his strength, “If our thoughts and beliefs are not united, then brothers will break apart, just like this bowl…..”