Poem of the Bamboo Branch
Extra: Zhuzhi Ci 1 (Poem of the Bamboo Branch)
Zhuzhi-Lang had known for a very long time, that it was a repulsive creature.
Even in Nan Jiang, which was infested with monsters, he could be called a freak among monsters.
At that time, it was not called Zhuzhi-Lang; it was nameless. Generally speaking, there was no one who would have that kind of leisure to think of a name for something that was half-human and half-snake when they saw it slithering on the ground. Even if they had the skill to, the demons of Nan Jiang would rather give it a kick or two, or tie its tail into knots, or study whether this thing has an Achilles’ heel and if it will die when they attack its vulnerable spot1.
Its daily routine was very simple: slither, look for water, slither, look for food, slither, get into a dogfight with the other demonic beasts.
Even though its appearance was not ideal, it was not disadvantaged when it came to fighting. In contrast, not only was its limbs soft and nimble, its disgusting look could often distracted its opponents during battle because of their discomfort.
Therefore, this ugly and hard-to-deal-with thing was extremely unpopular in Nan Jiang.
Even a cultured nobleman like Tianlang-Jun sized it up for some time the first time he saw it, then said in all seriousness, “So ugly.”
Of course, the black-armored generals who stood apathetically behind him could not answer. As if Tianlang-Jun was grumbling to an unknown person, he repeated, “It’s too ugly.”
The emphasis of this sentence was too strong, it shrank a little.
Nevertheless, it felt like there was no genuine contempt in the criticisms of this noble; it had seen looks of scorn and revulsion too many times, it was not like this at all.
Tianlang-Jun gracefully squatted and stared at it, asking,” Do you remember your mother?”
It shook its head.
Tianlang-Jun said, “Well, it’s just as well. If I had such a mother, I’m afraid I would rather I don’t remember.”
It did not know what it should say. Of course, even if it knew, there was no way it could say it; it could only hiss in a low, hoarse voice.
Tianlang-Jun laughed and said, “However, there are some things I should still tell you. Your mother is dead. I’m her elder brother. I came to see you at her last request.”
The demons are a cold-blooded lot. Even when it came to the death of their own blood kin, they were able to skate it over lightly in just a sentence.
It felt nothing, and just nodded its head blankly.
Tianlang-Jun seemed to have lost interest and flatly said, “Alright. I have fulfilled her last wish. These are all your subordinates. From now onward, this place belongs to you.”
The ‘subordinates’ he referred to were those hundreds of black-armored generals who were following behind him. Although these things did not have minds and could not think, they were also not afraid of pain or death, and would not tire out or stop in their tracks; they could form an invincible army, and yet they were just casually handed over to a monstrosity that was half-human and half-snake.
He stood up, patted the imaginary dust off his hem, and turned around to leave. By some curious phenomenon, it sluggishly wiggled to follow.
Tianlang-Jun looked back, perplexed, “What are you following me for?”
Snake boy did not dare to move. Seeing this, Tianlang-Jun took another step, and it started to wiggle in a crawl behind him.
Tianlang-Jun stopped in his tracks and curiously asked, ”Can’t you understand what I’m saying?”
After two or three repetitions, Tianlang-Jun simply ignored it and went on ahead on his own with his hands clasped behind him. Snake boy thus clumsily ‘followed’ him.
Tianlang-Jun’s identity was special, his lineage distinguished, and his status extraordinary; naturally, he had no lack of enemies. Along the way, there were countless troublemakers. Tianlang-Jun clearly did not need anyone’s help, but it always fought tooth and nail with everything it had, contributing whatever meager strength it could give.
After several incidents, Tianlang-Jun could no longer ignore its existence.
He took a couple of glances at snake boy who was covered all over with cuts and bruises and gave his appraisal, “It’s still too ugly.”
Hurt by those words, snake boy shrank back. Tianlang-Jun smiled again, “And stubborn. That’s not very likable. “
After following him for so long, it had never flinched from any kind of difficulties and obstacles. And yet in front of this unkind remark, it had the urge to immediately turn around and run, no, crawl away.
Who knew, the next moment, Tianlang-Jun touched the crown of its head with his bare hands and sighed, “It’s so ugly and stubborn, I can’t endure this anymore.”
A bizarre, warm and cool current slowly gushed through its four limbs and body.
But how could it have four limbs?
Very quickly, snake boy discovered that its originally deformed limbs had somehow given way to fully intact limbs. Ten fingers, which it had once considered delicate and out of his reach, now grew on his new palms.
This was the body of a young man. About fifteen or sixteen of age, with fair complexion and a slender body, healthy and complete. Tianlang-Jun moved his hand away, his jet-black pupils reflecting a figure in white.
Propping his chin in his hand, Tianlang-Jun said, “I think this looks better. Do you have any objection?”
He opened his mouth, wanting to speak. It was not easy for him to get a human form, but his tongue and mouth refused to obey. A syllable belatedly slipped out from his mouth only after half a beat, preempted by a warm liquid that slid out of his eye socket.
Although Zhuzhi-Lang firmly believed that Junshang was always right, he secretly thought that Junshang was a bit of a dork.
After getting acquiescence to follow Tianlang-Jun, there was a long period of time where Zhuzhi-Lang still went without a name.
Tianlang-Jun hardly ordered people around, thus he had never need to call for his name. And so they continued to muddle along like this for several months.
It went on until one day when he wanted to find an anthology of poetry from the human world. He could not find it after hunting high and low for it, and so he had no alternative but to ask someone to help him. It suddenly occurred to him then, that he still had a nephew who was inconspicuously parking himself in the corner of the study.
But after a “hey”, he actually could not think of something to continue the sentence. Tianlang-Jun frowned for a moment and asked, “Did I ever ask for your name?”
He honestly replied, “Junshang, this subordinate has no name.”
Tianlang-Jun asked, perplexed, “How is it possible that you have no name? This is so strange. Then what should I call you?”
He replied, “Junshang can call me whatever he likes.” Having said that, he walked over to the front of a bookcase and retrieved the poetry anthology – which Tianlang-Jun had randomly shoved in after he had finished reading it the last time – and presented it to him with both hands.
Tianlang-Jun was very satisfied as he took the book and said, “It’s no big deal not to have a name, we will just pick one.” He lowered his head, turned over two pages at random, chose a word, and casually said, “Let’s call you Zhuzhi-Jun.”
His eyesight was good; he took a couple of glances.
Between the willows green the river flows along, my beloved in a boat is heard singing a song.
The west is veiled in rain, the east basks in sunshine, my beloved is as deep in love as the day is fine.
Zhuzhi-Ci (Poem of the Bamboo Branch2). He shook his head.
Tianlang-Jun said, “Don’t like it?” He handed the book over. “So picky. Then pick one yourself.”
He did not know whether to laugh or cry. He replied, “Junshang, only nobles can be addressed this way.”
Tianlang-Jun said, “So young, and yet so fastidious. Forget it, we shall call you Zhuzhi-Lang in that case.”
He did not really put his heart into anything he did. He did not put his heart into giving him a new life, neither did he put his heart into giving him a name. He even did not even put his heart into the birth of “Zhuzhi-Lang” at this time, in this place.
But no matter how indifferent he was, or how much he treated everything as child’s play, he was still the Tianlang-Jun that he would go through fire and water, risk life and limbs, for.
Little could he imagine that Tianlang-Jun was also mulling over whether this nephew had been a snake for so long that he had became a little silly.
He would not address him as uncle; it had to be Junshang. He would not stay in Nan Jiang to be a carefree feudal lord; he had to come and be an errand boy. He would not accept a good name of a good status; it had to be one rank lower.
He was indeed a little silly. But well, there was nothing anyone could do, considering that being soft in the head was a lifetime matter. Let him be.
Tianlang-Jun really, really liked everything to do with human beings from the bottom of his heart.
Most probably, he felt that the demons were a bunch of cold and boring things. It was a different story for this foreign race, with his fervor for humankind nearing abnormal and his romanticization about humanity nearing exaggeration.
Every time he took a trip out, the place he would pay the most visits to was the frontier lands. He would traverse the boundary, and have a cup of wine while listening to storytelling for a short duration, or wander about enjoying the beauties of nature for a longer duration, whether if it was for a year or so was never a matter of contention.
Supposedly, Tianlang-Jun did not like to be followed; the black-armored generals were usually sent out in thousands and hundreds. But for one, Zhuzhi-lang was never long-winded, and secondly, he was never meddlesome. He would only just tag along silently behind him; it was like he never even existed in the first place. Occasionally, he would help to pay the bill or run errands and stuff, and he was really handy to have around and attentive to his needs, thus Tianlang-Jun did not particularly dislike him.
Even when he met up with that maiden Su, they did not mind him being around. They tacitly treated him as a snake that could not understand the human language and words of love, often minding their own business and acting as though there was nobody else present.
Only once did Tianlang-Jun spoke to chase Zhuzhi-Lang away, even using the word “scram”. That was the only time Tianlang-Jun, who had always aspired to be a true gentleman, said one of the most crudest words he had ever uttered.
- 打蛇打七寸 – Chinese proverb; literally means ‘to hit a snake, hit it seven inches below the head (where the heart supposedly is). It basically means to attack someone’s weak spot or hit somebody where it hurts.
- Original poem: 杨柳青青江水平，闻郎江上唱歌声。 东边日出西边雨，道是无晴却有晴。This is a poem by Liu Yuxi, a poet of the Tang Dynasty, who based it off a folk song. To put it simply, the poem is about the mixed feelings (bafflement, affection and hope) of a young maiden who was unsure if the gentleman she liked reciprocate her feelings (he was indifferent before) when she heard him singing about his feelings for her from the river; it was after a sunshower, and the sky was clear on the East bank while it was still raining on the West bank, leading our maiden to equate his ambiguous feelings with the equally ambiguous weather. Source for the English translation: Wu, J.H & He, Q.S (2014) Poetry Translation: An Intertextuality Approach, CS Canada Studies in Literature and Language, 9(1), 43-50 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8bb0/b692cd32528c8a40066a08927dba87454090.pdf