Chapter 1: The Village by the Forest
“Second Fool” opened his eyes and stared at the mud and thatch roof over his head. The quilt covering his body was a deep yellow color and had a musty smell, but it was so old that its original color couldn’t be distinguished anymore.
Next to him lay his second brother, Han Zhu, who appeared to be in a deep slumber. Sounds of snoring intermittently floated over as he slept.
Five feet away from the bed was an earthen wall that had suffered from numerous cracks due to passage of time. From the other side of the wall came the nagging voice of his mother and occasionally the deep breathing of his father, who was smoking his pipe.
Second Fool slowly closed his eye, trying to force himself to sleep. He knew that if he didn’t go to sleep now, he wouldn’t be able to wake up early the following day, and if woke up late, he wouldn’t be able to go up to the mountains with his good friends to gather firewood.
Second Fool’s real name was Han Li. This elegant name was not given to him by his parents. When he was born, his parents had offered two pieces of cornbread to the village’s Elder Zhang in return for giving the baby Han Li a second name.
(TL: “Second Fool” [er leng zi 二愣子] in Mandarin has a pleasing sound despite of its meaning)
When Uncle Zhang was young, he had attended school with the wealthy children from the city. He was the only one in the village to know how to read a few words, so more than half of the children in the village were named by him.
Han Li was called “Second Fool” by those in the village. Despite of his name, he wasn’t stupid looking or foolish; on the contrary, he was actually the smartest person in the village. But just like the other children, aside from when they were home, nobody called him by his official name “Han Li”. Instead, they called him by his pet name “Second Fool”
The reason why he was nicknamed “Second Fool” was due to the fact that there was already someone named “Fool” in the village.
But this type of nickname was nothing. There were children in the village named “Doggy” and “Dumb Egg”. These names weren’t nearly as pleasant-sounding as “Second Fool”.
Because of this, Han Li had some consolation even though though he was not very fond of his nickname.
Physically, Han Li was very ordinary. He was tan and matched the generic descriptions of a child born in a farming community. Deep in his heart, however, he had matured faster than others of the same age. Ever since he was young, he had yearned that one day, he would be able to walk away from his small village and explore the fertile lands of the outside world that Uncle Zhang had always talked about.
Han Li had never dared to speak of his dreams to anyone else in the village because they would be deeply shocked. After all. leaving this place was a notion that even adults didn’t easily think about, let alone a small child. Children around his age only knew how to chase chickens and pet dogs. They had never entertained the strange notion of leaving the village.
Han Li’s family had a total of seven members., including two older brothers, one older sister, and one younger sister. He was the fourth eldest in his family and had turned ten this year. Together, they lived a hard yet honest lifestyle. Very rarely did they get to eat meat and fish, but the entire family was content with living with what meager resources they had.
At this moment, Han Li was hovering between a state of sleep and consciousness. As he slowly drifted to sleep, only one thought was on his mind: While in the mountains, he had to picked more red berries for him younger sister whom he doted the most!
The next morning, at noon, Han Li was shielding himself from the scorching sun overhead with the shade cast by a pile of lumber on his back. Wrapped around his chest was a pouch filled to the brim with red berries that bounced with each step as he walked home. He had no idea that at this moment, there was a guest in his home, a guest that that would change his destiny forever.
This guest was actually someone who had very close blood ties with Han Li; it was his Third Uncle!
Rumors said he was the shopkeeper of a restaurant in the nearby city. According to his parents, Third Uncle was the most capable within their family. The Han family had, after a few hundred years, finally produced someone like his Third Uncle, a figure with status and respect that was unrivaled within the family.
When Han Li was young, he had only met his Third Uncle a few times. Han Li’s older brother was a blacksmith’s apprentice in the city thanks to Third Uncle’s introduction. Every so often, this Third Uncle would even bring some food for his father and mother to bring home to eat. Because he had looked after Han Li’s family with great consideration, Han Li had a very good impression of him. Even though his parents never said anything, he knew that in their hearts, they were very grateful.
Han Li’s eldest brother was the family’s pride and joy. As an apprentice to a blacksmith, minus the living expenses, every month he would be able to bring home 30 copper coins. And when he finally graduated from his apprenticeship, he would earn even more money!
Every time his father and mother talked about their eldest son, their spirits would soar with pride. Although Han Li was young, he was tremendously envious. The best work he could find was to be the apprentice of a craft master and rely on the crafts he made to earn money.
So when Han Li saw the brand new satin robes and the round face that belonged to his Third Uncle, Han Li was overjoyed.
Setting down the firewood in a corner outside of the house, he went to the front of the house to greet his Third Uncle. “Third Uncle, Han Li greets you.” After doing so, he obediently stood to the side and listened to his Third Uncle chat with his parents.
Third Uncle beamed at Han Li as he opened his mouth, praising his nephew. “What a sensible child!” After complimenting Han Li, he turned his attention back to Han Li’s parents and explained the reason for his visit.
Because Han Li was young, he wasn’t able to fully understand the words his Third Uncle was saying, but he could roughly understand the meaning of it
It turned out his Third Uncle’s restaurant had the backing of the Seven Mysteries Sect. This sect was divided into the inner and outer divisions, and not too long ago, Third Uncle had been officially recognized as an outer disciple. That meant that he could bring a child from the age of 7 to 12 to take the Inner Disciple Examinations.
Once every 5 years, the Seven Mysteries Sect would formally issue invitations for youngsters to take the test for becoming Inner Disciples. The test would officially begin the following month. Third Uncle was a smart and astute man who was childless, so naturally he thought of Han Li, who met the age requirement.
The moment the usually docile Father Han heard the words “Jiang Hu” and “Sect”, along with many other phrases he had never heard before, he felt very hesitant. Bringing his smoking pipe to his lips and giving it a puff, he sat down without saying a word.
(TL: “Father Han” is the title of Han Li’s father)
According to Third Uncle, the Seven Mysteries Sect could be considered one of the best sects within several hundred miles.
If one were to become an Inner Disciple, not only could he or she cultivate martial arts as well as eat and sleep for free, one would also receive a monthly allowance. Not only that, but for those who participated in the Inner Disciple Examinations but do not pass, they could still enter the outer division and become a outer disciple like Third Uncle. They would still be able to have the opportunity to help the Seven Mysteries Sect handle its external affairs.
Upon hearing the possibility that his son could receive a monthly allowance, and could even become as successful as his Third Uncle, Han Li’s father finally decided to give his approval.
After getting the approval from Han Li’s father, Third Uncle felt elation in his heart. Leaving behind two silver coins, he said that in a month, he would return and escort Han Li to the testing area. During this period of time, Han LI’s father had to ensure that Han Li was clothed and well fed to improve his constitution so that it would be easier for Han Li to pass the test. After giving instructions, Third Uncle bid farewell to Han Li and his father, patted Han Li on his head, and left for the city.
While Han Li didn’t fully comprehend his Third Uncle’s words, he could understand that he would be able to earn money in the big city. It seemed that his dream from before was going to come true, making him so excited that he couldn’t fall asleep for the first few nights.
After one month had passed, Third Uncle returned to the village, escorting Han Li to the testing site. Before he left, Han Li’s father repeatedly instructed Han Li on ways of proper behaviour. One must be honest, have the capacity to endure, and avoid unnecessary conflicts with others. Meanwhile, Han Li’s mother urged him to take care of his health and to eat and sleep well.
The day finally arrived when Third Uncle came to take Han Li away by carriage. As his parents gradually disappeared from his sight, Han Li bit down on his lips in order to prevent his tears from flowing down his eyes.
Although he had always been more mature than other children of the same age, he was still a ten year old child. This was the first time he had left home, so he naturally felt depressed. A homesickness developed in his heart. He was determined to rush home after he struck riches, never to be separated from his parents.
What Han Li didn’t know was that, from this moment on, money has lost its meaning to him. He had already chosen to embark on a path different from ordinary mortals. He had chosen to enter the world of cultivation, walking his own path towards immortality!