Sympathy and Admonishment. One Slap Each.
“What are you doing?! Your boss is suffering at the front, while you’re enjoying life.”
Hong Jiu drowsily replied, “Leader, it’s not like it’s my first day in the pugilistic world. I can go without sleep for ten days, but all these people speak in monotone voices. They could cure insomnia with their voices.”
Fair game. They were always doing things synchronised. More importantly, they were painfully slow.
“You can’t handle this much? How you going to be Shaman Monarch?” slighted White Cleric, always giving me attitude.
If you ask me, people would likely think White Cleric was the leader and not me. First of all, he trailed three metres behind me. Secondly, he didn’t even have to walk on his own legs. He had four people carrying him on a litter and four people clearing a path for him.
“Easy for you to say when you’re being carried. We’re walking with our own legs. At our current pace, when will we ever get back?” I griped.
“Get back? It usually takes His Majesty Shaman Monarch three months to finish his inspections. We’ve only just started.”
Three months? So this is what you had planned, huh? You want me to promote you for free for three months? You wish! What the hell is this “usually” business when there hasn’t been a Shaman Monarch for a damn century?!
“It is your duty to propagate our religion and give people a sense of security. It is only right to devote some time to them. This is a necessary part of our faith.”
“I feel like punching you is also necessary! I bet this idea is yours. Else, you wouldn’t be supervisor.”
“How can you say that? You are a peerless fighter. Cough, cough. We old people cannot hold a handle to you. It is understandable for us to be slow.”
Speak for yourself! All two hundred chaperones look healthy and capable enough to fight. You’re the only sickly elder! Since you asked for it, don’t blame me.
I spun around and halted, causing Wood Guardian to almost bump into me.
I spun Wood Guardian around to face the followers in the rear and whispered, “Translate this for me: everyone, our order has always been a symbol of glory. All children of Xiacang Anxi look up to us, not because of Shaman Monarchs but also thanks to your efforts.”
Although most of them couldn’t understand me, the fact that they could all hear me in their heads – Voice Transmission – impressed them. Subsequent to hearing the translation, their pride illuminated their faces.
“You are all warriors. When you march, you are marching soldiers. How can we give people the impression that we are weak? People will laugh at us for moving at a snail’s pace!”
I could see I was getting to them owing to their ashamed reactions.
“My followers must be warriors in every aspect.” I stretched a hand up. “Follow me! Charge!”
Yangyang followed suit, raising her hand and crying, “Follow His Majesty’s lead! Charge!”
With me in the lead, we bolted through the forest at full speed. As a consequence, White Cleric had an experience akin to a raft ensnared in violent waves until he fell off.
“Ow! Who stepped on me?! Stop! Stop! St-, mm!”
Somebody eventually stuck their shoe in White Cleric’s mouth.
I wasn’t going to tell anyone that the person who knocked White Cleric’s litter over was a smart, handsome flower boy.
We arrived at the first village significantly earlier than predicted.
“What were you thinking?!” White Cleric thundered in a breathy voice. “Please… Please go contact the villagers to… to reinforce our order’s faith. What did you knock their building down for?!” White Cleric pointed to the splintered timber house behind. “And over two hundred of you had to crash it! How deep is your resentment?!” White Cleric then turned around to puke for a while. I suppose he hadn’t engaged in any rigorous exercise in a while.
In regards to the small house that was smashed to smithereens, well, we didn’t decelerate, so I first crashed into the house by accident. Hong Jiu almost crashed into me, but I slipped away. The two hundred behind him then rear ended him. Let’s just say we were lucky nobody was inside, and it was a timber home – the compensation bill shouldn’t be too high.
The houses in the quiet and aesthetic village were miniature versions of Ol’ Ge’s – minus the resplendent materials, decorations and multiple storeys. Don’t ask me if they were Nanjiang style of Wanyu style. They shaved thick wood and bamboo to use as columns for their homes, elevating their foundation off the ground. The vacant space underneath their floor was used to house cattle and whatnot.
Wood Guardian told me the village had a population of a thousand. The majority of villagers planted crops, farming herbs or hunted for a living. There were easily over a thousand similar villages in Wanyu, so they made up the majority of Wanyu’s population. The common denominator between all villages and cities was that the largest building was always the shrine.
The villagers fetching water all carried bamboo baskets and hunting machetes. Droves of women carried clothing to the creek to wash. The elders in the village set herbs out under the fruit scaffolding to dry. While there were plenty of kids playing chasey or following adults around, there was one boy quietly grinding his mini bow, grumpy with the fact that he wasn’t allowed to join the hunters.
When my leg moved toward them, I felt my feet sink into something warm and squishy.
“Don’t tell me it’s what I think it is…”
“What are you overreacting for, ignorant fool. It’s just Abopan,” Wood Guardian scoffed. “It’s our most effective fertiliser that can drive bugs away whilst nurturing soil. It’s made from special terxue. Every village uses it.”
“Oh, I see. I see. I thought I stepped in poop. What’s terxue?”
“In Mandarin, it’s cow dung.”
It is poop, then! This poop is practically dry! Wait… You purposely didn’t warn me out of resentment for me sleeping you with my shoe, didn’t you?! That explains why my left shoe is involved in both cases.
Iron Guardian prompted, “Please get on with some business. Your followers have already begun announcing your advent. All the villagers will soon assemble to welcome you; you should prepare to greet them.”
Whilst cleaning my shoe, I dismissively grumbled, “It’s not like I’m incompetent.”
Assuring followers? Easy peasy. I did that already. I was revered when I proselytised people in Western Regions.
I went over to two guys working with big buckets in the field and grabbed one of their hands. “Buddy, thanks for believing in me, and thanks for supporting me! Hallelujah. Mama mia!”
Three people behind me aggressively coughed one after the other.
“Wear some more clothing if you’re cold.”
“Your Majesty, can you get more into your role. You are the venerated Shaman Monarch,” Iron Guardian lowered his head to tell me in a stifled voice. “Not to mention he is charged with handling manure.”
“So what if he’s handling manure?! I’m trying to understand the people as best as possible!” I patted the guy on the villager on the shoulder. “Keep at it. You’ve got a bright future.”
The villagers, presumably all of them, came into my sights, all showing fear, astonishment and respect to the point that they thought I’d eat them. I didn’t think “zealots” would be enough to describe their reverence for me.
I called Yangyang over to my side to have her interpret for me. Having learnt from my previous experience, I wore on a smile and strolled over to an elder. “Hey, mister, you been well?”
Yangyang stole a glance at me before she translated. I presumed she referred to the elder in a more respectful term.
The elder dropped onto his knees, tears spilling out from his eyes. I wasn’t surprised Hong Jiu exclaimed, “My goodness me, what a genius! He’s the perfect candidate to be one of the six bags elders!” Well, only Beggars Sect would want that sort of “genius”.
I swear to god all the sentences the elder conveyed were identical. Since I didn’t understand a lick of what he said, I asked Yangyang, “What happened to him? Is someone in the family sick, or is there a plague outbreak?”
“Uh… He says he has no money…”
Because of me?! You knelt faster because I came, which means you have to donate? Have you been extorting these people?! How much have you been taking from them?!
Iron Guardian derisively expounded, “I have never come across such an incompetent Shaman Monarch. Do you not remember our rules? It is the obligation of followers to donate if they use lands His Majesty blesses. Ever since Shaman Monarch Palace’s establishment, every village within a hundred kilometres of Mount Wanyu has to pay on time.”
Well, poor them for being your prey.
I pulled the elder up and told him, “Please get up, Elder. We can negotiate your financial difficulties. Worry not. I am in charge here. I shall give you a discount.”
Jumping before Yangyang could interpret, White Cleric dragged me off. “You cannot do that! Your Majesty, the donations are a rule. We are protecting their lands. As Shaman Monarch, you must take their money.”
“Did you not hear the man? He has no money. Ask those with money for some more to cover. You can’t just take by force.”
“We are not taking by force. Since they accepted our faith, they must offer sincerity. They need to eat, but we do not? Besides, what do mean take from someone with money? Does it look as though there is any wealthy family in this decrepit village?”
“Yet you’re demanding donations from them?”
White Cleric smugly contended, “There is no cure for their poverty for it is a product of their destiny. No matter how poor they are, they can live as long as there is a ray of hope, and that hope is our faith. The only way they can be at peace with themselves is if they line our pockets. This is called the psychological administration system. Your Majesty, if you want to be Shaman Monarch, you need to adapt to our standards.”
“You mean your robbery system? Besides, you heard the man. He has no money. Be it you ask for one or a million, he only has zero. What are you going to do?”
“Nothing. Your followers have already commenced work, though.”
As soon as I looked over, an injured villager went reeling out of his house. Fit he may be, but he could only take so much. He was begging on his knees as blood poured from his mouth. Nearby, several followers surrounded defenceless villagers.
“Squeezing money out of no money is the duty of your two hundred followers.” White Cleric cockily looked my way. “Or do you plan to challenge our f-”
“Stop!” I howled, startling the followers about to assault the villagers and impelling the villagers to kneel.
I strolled over to the three young followers who were confused as to what they did wrong. “Still young, yet,” I grabbed one by the collar and raised a hand, “you’re learning all the wrong crap!”
I smacked the three one after another, sending them spinning through the air.
Bags in Beggars Sect – I have a suspicion non-wuxia veterans have forgotten what this is all about, so allow me to repeat. Each member carries at least one pouch-like bag, and the number of bags he/she carries indicates his/her rank in the sect. An elder in the sect is second only to the chief.