C30 – Unlucky Rabbit
Lu Zheng puzzled over Zuo Shaoqing’s empty-handed arrival, wondering why he hadn’t brought any food with him. After all, if he’d made the effort to come, couldn’t he have brought something to eat?
Zuo Shaoqing didn’t pay any heed to Lu Zheng’s slight annoyance. When he noticed that only two of the six large sesame seed cakes and six meat buns remained, he couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow.
He glanced at Lu Zheng’s seemingly bottomless stomach and was tempted to check if it was true.
“Ahem, my apologies, I was considering going out to find something. The shops are closed during this time of year.” In reality, Youuxi Town had a night market every fifteen years, and today happened to be the fifteenth.
Lu Zheng observed Zuo Shaoqing’s curved lips and starry eyes, sensing that Zuo Shaoqing must have encountered something favorable. He didn’t question the transparent excuse.
Although the young man would always smile when he saw him, the smile rarely reached his eyes. It seemed like a mask covering his face. However, tonight, that smile appeared more genuine.
Zuo Shaoqing clapped his hands and suggested, “How about we head up the mountain later and try to catch a rabbit for roasting?” He found it quite amusing. Without waiting for Lu Zheng’s agreement, he swiftly left the room.
The mountain path, damp from the recent rain, became slippery. Zuo Shaoqing’s high spirits waned after he slipped for the third time. At this point, he hadn’t spotted any signs of wild game.
He had initially believed that with his current Qing Gong skills, capturing hares and pheasants would be a breeze.
Leaning against the bed, Lu Zheng addressed the empty air, “Yinyi, please assist him without being noticed.”
Zuo Shaoqing felt a tinge of disappointment. After combing the forest twice without any success, he was determined not to return empty-handed. He had already boasted to Lu Zheng, and returning without anything would be rather embarrassing.
As he ventured deeper into the jungle, drops of water occasionally fell from the trees. Zuo Shaoqing found it increasingly irritating, and after a few more steps, he was about to lose his cool.
A quarter of an hour passed, and there were still no signs of any wildlife. In frustration, Zuo Shaoqing kicked a tree trunk, causing rainwater to shower down on him.
Consequently, Third Master Zuo, who had been feeling down, was on the brink of losing his composure.
Yinyi, who had been concealed in a tree, watched the somewhat immature young man in disbelief. It was hard to fathom that this young man was the one destined to rescue his master.
He silently untied the rabbit he had captured earlier and tossed it towards a tree behind Zuo Shaoqing.
A distinct “thud” resonated through the dark night. Zuo Shaoqing turned around and saw a rabbit hitting a tree before gently falling to the ground.
His eyes sparkled. Was this what they meant by a stroke of luck? Wasn’t his fortune a bit too favorable?
Zuo Shaoqing picked up the rabbit and held it before his eyes. The unfortunate creature, still drawing its last breaths, wobbled on its four legs and seemed to chuckle toward the heavens. “You hapless fellow, why didn’t you look where you were going?”
Zuo Shaoqing could never have anticipated that someone would take the trouble to catch a rabbit and toss it his way in such a pitch-dark night within such a dense forest.
Upon returning to their thatched cottage, Zuo Shaoqing presented the rabbit to Lu Zheng as if it were a precious treasure. “Take a look, what a plump rabbit!”
Lu Zheng couldn’t bear to witness the smug expression on his friend’s face and responded nonchalantly, “Go ahead and finish it off.”
“Huh?” Wasn’t it already dead? How were they supposed to kill it again? Zuo Shaoqing was thoroughly perplexed.
A slight twitch in Lu Zheng’s eyes accompanied his low-toned question, “Weren’t you planning to roast that rabbit? Do you intend to consume it raw? Truly impractical for a scholar!”
Zuo Shaoqing lowered the rabbit he had been holding, momentarily forgetting his initial intention to roast it.
Lu Zheng could deduce from Zuo Shaoqing’s expression that attempting to transform a bookworm into a practical outdoorsman was an exercise in futility.
“Skin the rabbit and remove its internal organs.”
Zuo Shaoqing complied, locating the solitary carving knife within the hut and then venturing outside to dissect the rabbit.
Taking a life was a straightforward task, but preparing a rabbit for consumption was far from it.
Lu Zheng waited indoors for three minutes until Zuo Shaoqing returned with a rather intimidating-looking rabbit. Any semblance of appetite immediately deserted him.
“What’s next?” Zuo Shaoqing inquired, somewhat sheepishly.
“Stoke the fire in the charcoal brazier and secure a branch to skewer the rabbits for roasting, do you comprehend?” Lu Zheng had resigned himself to the idea that this supper was beyond salvaging.
Fortunately, Yinyi was present, eliminating any concern about hunger. Otherwise, he would have been reluctant to squander a rabbit on Zuo Shaoqing.
Zuo Shaoqing swiftly followed instructions, placing the rabbit on the brazier and keeping a vigilant eye on it.
“Remember to turn it occasionally,” Lu Zheng instructed as he settled cross-legged on the bed, closing his eyes to focus on healing his wounds.
Zuo Shaoqing suppressed a smirk and shifted his attention from the rabbit to Lu Zheng. The contrast between the elegant and noble Young Master Lu and the rabbit on the spit couldn’t be clearer. Consequently, Zuo Shaoqing gradually lost interest in the roasting rabbit.
The process of roasting meat demanded finesse. Zuo Shaoqing switched the skewer from his left hand to his right, and after repeating the process ten times, the rabbit’s skin merely underwent a subtle change in color.
Upon reopening his eyes, he observed the teenager propping up his chin with one hand while holding a branch with the other. At the branch’s end dangled a half-cooked rabbit, with half of it succumbing to the flames. The sizzling of the dripping oil added to the atmosphere.
Letting out a sigh, Zuo Shaoqing rose from his bed. He snatched the half-charred rabbit from Zuo Shaoqing’s grasp, and in response to Zuo Shaoqing’s bewildered expression, he amusingly passed the roasted rabbit to him, teasing, “Care for a bite?”
Zuo Shaoqing blushed as he gazed at the hunk of rabbit meat. He took a step back and stammered, “N-no… I’ve lost my appetite… Please, enjoy!” With that, he made a hasty exit without even saying goodbye.
Lu Zheng observed as Zuo Shaoqing swiftly disappeared into the night. He rubbed his chin and mused to himself, “I didn’t expect this young man to possess Qing Gong skills. I may have underestimated him.”
It wasn’t until Zuo Shaoqing descended the mountain that he realized he had used Qing Gong to escape in front of Lu Zheng. Though it wasn’t a closely guarded secret, he couldn’t help but feel embarrassed about his actions.
He turned back and surveyed the darkened mountainside, filled with regret over his earlier behavior. He wished he had forced the roasted rabbit into Lu Zheng’s mouth to see if he would still find it amusing.
Zuo Shaoqing clandestinely returned to his own residence, shed his clothes, and retired for the night, planning to feign ignorance about the entire incident. He hazily contemplated, “Maybe I’ll have Lil ‘Six deliver the meals tomorrow.”
Inside the thatched cottage, Yinyi emerged from the shadows, tidied up the room, and placed a cleaned rabbit on the spit. He adeptly turned it over, and soon the aroma of roasting meat filled the air.
Lu Zheng rose and circled the house a few times before instructing Yinyi, “Go and investigate the Zuo Family.”
“Understood.” Yinyi had already identified someone surnamed Zuo as the target of his inquiry. This was perhaps the only individual in the world who could be subjected to such treatment by his master. After tidying up the house, he retreated into the shadows and quickly vanished into the forest.