During the second year of Jack's life, his eldest brother married a girl from a neighboring village. Almost everyone from Raging Ox village, Jack's village, gathered and built the newlywed couple a simple house in a couple of days. Jack, his father, and his brothers spent all the free time they had for the next couple of months to add a few rooms and a barn to it. Jack mostly carried light pieces of wood and studied the construction techniques of his seniors.
He was surprised to find out that his eldest brother was, in fact, seventeen years old at the time. His surprise mainly stemmed from the fact that Aolie looked at least twenty-something years old. When he asked around a bit more he found out that most people he considered older, were on average 3-8 years younger than his estimations. The older the person, the harder to tell.
Aolie met his wife, Shi Nugao, while helping out the Village Chief with an errand in the neighboring village. A dirt road went through the middle of the village and supposedly connected it to other villages up and down it. The Village Chief, Kong Nuanken, soon found out about Aolie's interest in Shi Nugao and helped them and their parents arrange the whole thing.
The Village Chief was a younger cousin of Jack's grandmother so he came by to their house from time to time to chat or ask for help with certain tasks. He had two daughters that he married off who had families of their own so he got lonely from time to time. He was also one of the few people in the village that knew how to read, somewhat.
Every time Kong Nuanken came over to their home Jack tried to get him to teach Jack how to read. He had only seen a few written words in the village, but all of them looked like strange rectangular glyphs. Apparently, each had its own meaning, and you had to know the glyph and some commonly used tricks to figure out what it meant. Jack thought that the good old alphabet reigned superior in every aspect; too bad no one in this world used it.
At first, Jack tried to subtly hint to Kong Nuanken his wonder of what the "pictures" meant and pretended that with the right teacher he might have some interest in reading. But after all of his coy efforts ended in failure, he decided to for once use his unfortunate state and acted like a child. He cried, threatened, and begged until the older man got too exasperated and agreed to teach him once every five days when he had time.
As Jack grew older the number of his chores grew with him. His main two consisted of feeding the animals in the early morning and taking the Kui cattle out for grazing.
The Kui looked like a bipedal light brown cow with short stubby front legs, the bulls had a single horn growing from the middle of their forehead which they used to compete for dominance. Their powerful back legs allowed for a decent speed when they got riled up, but they mostly remained placid in their grass chewing activates. Jack only needed a light switch to get the wandering Kui back into the herd and a few voice commands to get them moving.
With time on his hands during his kuiherding activities, Jack started to think about his future.
For the majority of his almost 7 years, he'd been trying to figure out the workings of this new world he found himself in. His family and the villagers, in general, made things difficult. Most of them had only gone as far as a couple of villages down or up the road for their whole lives. And even the most traveled of the lot, the Village Chief, had only visited a couple of days distant small town a few times in his life.
Every time Jack tried to act like a child and ask a few questions about the state of the world he'd either get laughed off, told to mind his business, or told that he didn't need to know that. Jack didn't suspect that the villagers tried to hide something from him; he believed that they just didn't know and didn't want to look ignorant in front of a child.
Jack still remembered the time his cover was nearly blown and he decided to stop asking suspicious questions.
One day in his fifth year of life he pretended that a friend of his, Shen Xianshu, a grandson of the Village Chief, had told him that he heard that there existed people in the world that could step on clouds and destroy mountains with a single slap.
Jack's mother nearly ripped his ear off for spreading such tales while fretfully glancing up at the skies. His grandmother even smacked him with her cane a few times when she heard about it.
Shen Xianshu got it worse when Jack's mom told his mom. He couldn't walk right for a whole week and didn't know why.
Later that night while trying to fall asleep Jack heard the hushed voices of his parents and his grandmother coming from the kitchen. He usually wouldn't care, but due to the incident during the day, he decided to sneak up to the bedroom door, which he shared with his third brother who was in the middle of a deep snore, and leaned an ear to it.
"… don't know what to do with him." his mother was saying in a distressed voice.
"We'll have to teach him to stop asking his endless questions. I'll give him more chores from tomorrow so he doesn't have time to bother the people in the village." came his father's rumbling voice.
"The boy isn't right." his grandmother's voice croaked "He never was."
"What do you mean, mother?" asked Su Meimu with concern.
After a short pause Kong Ganrong's voice started "I didn't want to worry you previously, but I've seen something like this before, during my youth. Someone started causing problems in the village. Even a couple of houses got burnt down and a few people's animals went missing. At the time no one knew who was doing it. Luckily for us, an immortal passed through our village at the time, as lucky as one can get with one of those. The immortal appreciated our hospitality and decided to help us out. Soon enough he caught a little boy and executed him in the village square in front of everyone. The immortal said that he had a demon hiding in his heart. We had no major problems after that." she finished with a slight rattling cough.
Jack had never heard his grandmother talk so much in his life, and what she said sent shivers running down his spine. 'Are these immortals the same type of people as Bai Xiatuo and his brother?' he wondered. He felt a physical need to jump out of his room and ask his parents, but he reined it in as he felt certain that if he did he would be the next kid on the chopping block.
A long silence followed Kong Ganrong's story. A slightly hoarse-voiced Song Fengtian broke it "You think Tanda's possessed by a demon?"
Another few tense seconds passed by as Kong Ganrong finally answered "I don't know, maybe. Tanda was always strange. The boy the immortal executed seemed normal at the time too."
'What do you mean strange?' Jack thought in puzzlement as his small forehead wrinkled up. He thought that he adapted quite well to his new life.
"What do you mean strange, mother?" asked Su Meimu in a confused voice.
Kong Ganrong replied with a snort "You gave birth to the boy, you know; just don't want to admit it to yourself."
Another silence followed, broken by Su Meimu's tentative words "He doesn't talk a lot. But all children have their quirks, he's no different."
Kong Ganrong answered with another snort "Doesn't talk a lot? He barely speaks, and when he does he sounds like an adult. But even then his eyes never stop moving, looking around, observing, thinking. You can see it in his little beady eyes that he's scheming something."
"You go too far." Song Fengtian interrupted in a slightly raised voice.
"Too far?" Kong Ganrong asked in annoyance. "Normal children cry, when did Tanda cry?"
"What are you talking about? I hear him whine almost every night. And even if he didn't, why should my son have to cry to make you convinced that he isn't some kind of…" a light scraping of wooden chairs on wooden floors sounded out as Song Fengtian started.
"No, husband." interrupted Su Meimu's thin voice. "You're proving mother's point. He never cries during the day, only at night when he goes to sleep do the sobs start."
Jack's heart almost stopped. 'Damn, damn, damn! God damn the dreams!' he cursed his nightmares for the millionth time in his life. They had stayed a constant companion through his two lives, ever since the war. He totally forgot what impact they usually had on people. He barely breathed as he leaned harder on the door.
After a prolonged silence Song Fengtian's voice rang out "Even so, I will not suspect my son of any evil doings without proof. All you have is old wives' tales and guesses. If he doesn't do anything harmful to others you will do nothing." A light bang resounded after his steely declaration as if someone slapped the table.
Su Meimu's voice said in a calming tone "Of course, husband. I would not allow it either."
After a few seconds of tense silence Kong Ganrong said "Very well, I will listen to you this time. But if anything suspicious happens again I will take this to the Village Council."
A long silence followed her proclamation, so long that Jack started suspecting that they left when he heard a slightly defeated voice come from his father "Agreed."
A cold lump of fear settled in Jack's stomach at that moment. He tried to go to sleep that night, but couldn't make the dreams take him out of fear that the noises he made would prompt his parents to drag him out of bed.
In the morning his parents and grandmother acted as if nothing happened. They went about their business and acted normally towards him. At that moment Jack decided to follow all the village rules to a T and tried to gather as much camouflage as he could around himself so they wouldn't suspect him again.
While he went about behaving as a proper village boy should, in secret he started planning for what would happen if they found him out. He hid dried rations around secret hiding spots only he knew around the village and beyond. He had a few escape routes planned out, he only missed a solid weapon he could use in case of emergency.
Most of the villagers used wooden spears for protection from wild animals and hunting. No one used any metal weapons because no one had any, only old tools and cutlery. Jack had no chance to steal a knife from his home; they were carefully guarded by his grandmother at all time. He heard once that the cutlery served as her dowry.
While Jack racked his brain about his current problems a stone whizzed past his head.
It snapped him out of his ruminations immediately and he dropped down to the ground and rolled away from his previous location in a practiced manner.
"Told you-you can't hit him!" a child's glee-filled voice rang out from where the stone came "You owe me a chore."
"Damn it!" came another child's upset voice.
Jack recognized them immediately; those voices belonged to two big parts of his cover. His eldest brother's four-year-old son, and his nephew, Song Farong, and the Village Chief's grandson Shen Xianshu, a burly eight-year-old.
Jack sprang up from the ground, found a rock of his own, and threw it back at Shen Xianshu. The aim was true, but it lacked power and landed a few meters in front of his target.
"Hah, you're too weak, Tanda!" laughed Shen Xianshu as the two boys walked towards Jack.
"Only because you're a couple of years older, Xianshu!" Jack yelled back with a smile as he neared his friends.
"Nah, you'll never be able to throw a stone further than me." Shen Xianshu said as he flexed his arm with a self-satisfied expression on his face.
"And you'll never gonna be able to beat me in anything else." said Jack as he lightly punched Shen Xianshu's shoulder while he thought 'Throw stones further, eh?' and a wide smile spread across his face.
Here's the first chapter of the week, hope you like it.
I might bang out another one later today if I find the time.
In other news, I had an eventful weekend and in celebration of Cultivating Civilization going over 10k words, I'll tell you what happened in the comments.
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