Chapter 73 - Cage and Shackles
It was very hot inside the house, unusually hot. Four pots of fire were burning furiously.
The raging flames lit up the walls and the ceilings into a bright red.
Ah Fei's face was red as well. His whole body was red.
He was in between the four pots of fire. He was bare chested and wore only a pair of worn trousers.
His trousers were drenched with water.
He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily.
His entire body looked exhausted and on the verge of collapse.
A white-haired old man sat in one corner of the house puffing on his pipe.
Streams of smoke puffed out from his nose as he filled that corner of the house with a hazy fog.
He was indeed a peculiar person.
No one knew from where he came, and no one knew to where he would go.
In fact, nobody knows who he is exactly. Perhaps he is just a poor old story teller.
Or perhaps, he really is the incomparable 'Sage of Heaven'!
But no matter what, he is definitely the first thing that will catch your eye when you step foot into this house.
Ah Fei's eyes were shut and he didn't notice the people that had entered.
Sun XiaoHong looked shocked and exclaimed, "Grandpa, what are you doing?"
Mr. Sun's eyes were still closed. He puffed on his pipe and a cloud of smoke came from his mouth.
"I am steaming him." Mr. Sun replied.
Sun XiaoHong's eyes opened wide and asked, "Steaming him? He isn't a bun or a crab, why are you steaming him for?"
Ah Fei really looked like a crab that was being steamed alive.
Mr. Sun smiled and said, "I'm steaming him because I'm trying to force the alcohol to evaporate from his body so that he can sober up."
His eyes shifted to Li XunHuan as he continued, "I'm also trying to force the courage up from his blood so that he can become a whole new man again."
Li XunHuan smiled and said, "If that's the case, I think I have to take a turn at being steamed as well. But I'm afraid that if all the alcohol is steamed out of my body, I'll end up as an empty shell."
"So besides wine, there's nothing else in that body of yours?" Mr. Sun said.
Li XunHuan let out a sigh and said, "Perhaps, also a belly full of inopportunity."
Mr. Sun laughed and said, "Well said! If that belly wasn't full of knowledge, how would such insightful words come out of your mouth."
He suddenly stopped laughing and said, "Actually I've always wanted to steam you. I want to see what else is in that body of yours besides wine and knowledge. I want to know what Old Man Heaven used to create a person like you."
"And then what?" Sun XiaoHong said.
"And afterwards I want to gather up the entire world and stuff their stomachs full of whatever I find in there." Mr. Sun said.
"So they'll all be a bit like him?" Sun XiaoHong said.
"Not just a bit, the more the better." Mr. Sun said.
"Then won't everyone in the world will be exactly like him." Sun XiaoHong said.
"And what's wrong with everyone in the world becoming exactly like him?" Mr. Sun said.
"There would be something wrong." Sun XiaoHong said.
"And what's that?" Mr. Sun said.
Sun XiaoHong lowered her head and fell silent.
This grandfather and granddaughter pair always spoke in a back and forth manner. One would ask, and the other would answer. Any other person would find it impossible to interrupt them.
It was only now that Li XunHuan had an opportunity to speak.
"Elder if you are suggesting that the entire world become exactly like me, I'm afraid that there's only one type of person who would agree." Li XunHuan said.
"What type is that?" Mr. Sun said.
"Wine vendors." Li XunHuan replied.
Mr. Sun smiled and said, "The way I see it, there's only one type of person who wouldn't agree to this."
"Who?" Sun XiaoHong said.
But as soon as that word left her mouth she wanted to take it back.
She already knew what her grandfather was going to say.
Her grandfather smiled at her and said, "You."
Sun XiaoHong's face blushed red as she lowered her head and said, "Why ... why wouldn't I agree?"
"If everyone in the world was exactly like him, then you wouldn't know which one you would want." Mr. Sun said with a smile.
Sun XiaoHong immediately turned around, trying to hide her face which was as red as fire.
Was her heart also on fire?
The spring flame of a young maiden. Mr. Sun let out a hearty laugh and began taking another puff from his pipe.
He didn't seem to notice Lin XianEr in the room at all. Perhaps he was ignoring her because he didn't even glance at her once. He also didn't notice that his pipe had went out.
The house suddenly fell silent. The only sound that could be heard was the crackling of the burning embers from the fire.
Lin XianEr walked over in front of Ah Fei.
Other than Ah Fei, she didn't look at anyone else.
The raging fire reflected on her. Her face was half white and half red. When it was red she looked like a mischievous angel. When it glowed white she looked like a lonely ghost.
People have two faces as well. At times we are beautiful and at times we are repulsive.
Except in her case, she always remained beautiful.
If she was an angel, she would undoubtedly be the prettiest angel in all the heavens. If she was a lonely spirit, she would definitely be the most beautiful ghost in the underworld.
But Ah Fei had seemingly made up his mind. No matter who she was, he would never look at her again.
Lin XianEr let out a sigh and said, "I came all the way here because I wanted to tell you two things. Whether you want to listen is up to you."
Ah Fei didn't seem like he was listening at all.
But why did it look like his entire body had frozen solid?
"That day, I know I hurt you a lot, but there's nothing else that I could've done. I didn't want to see you die in ShangGuan JinHong's hands. It was the only way I that I could've convinced ShangGuan JinHong to spare your life." Lin XianEr said.
Ah Fei still didn't look like he was listening.
But why were his fists clenched?
"I came here today not to beg of you to understand or to beg of you to forgive me. I already know that we're through ..." Lin XianEr said.
She let out a long sigh before continuing, "I'm telling you this because I want your heart to feel at ease. All along I've wanted nothing more than for you to live on happily. But as for me ..."
"You've said enough." Sun XiaoHong interrupted.
Lin XianEr smiled bitterly and said, "You're right. I've said too much."
She really didn't say another word. Lin XianEr turned around and started to walk out.
She didn't walk fast but she didn't turn around either.
Ah Fei was still silent, his eyes still shut tightly.
Lin XianEr's eyes had turned towards the door.
Li XunHuan held his breath.
He knew that if Lin XianEr really did walk out that door, Ah Fei would never see her again.
As long as Ah Fei never saw her again, he could start over.
Lin XianEr understood very well herself that if she walked out of that door, she'd be walking out of the world.
Her steps didn't slow down, but there was a slight hint of fear in her eyes. While it was as bright as day inside the house, it was a pitch black night outside of the door.
Although the stars still shined brightly, she never bothered to look up at the night sky.
She only adored the dizzying brightness of this material world.
She adored praise, flattery, and applause. She enjoyed extravagance, excess, and luxury. She loved to be loved and she loved to be hated.
She lived for these things only.
Without these things, even if she did live on, it would be like a living grave.
The darkness was drawing closer and closer.
That look of fear in her eyes had slowly turned into resentment and hatred.
At that moment, she wanted to kill every single person alive.
But at that moment, Ah Fei suddenly stood up and said loudly, "Wait one second."
"Wait one second!"
Who knew that these three simple words could change many a life?
At that moment, Lin XianEr completely changed as well.
Her eyes filled with charm, confidence, and pride. She suddenly changed back into an incredible beauty.
In fact, she had never been so beautiful before in her life.
Pride and confidence is a woman's best makeup.
A woman without pride and confidence, no matter how beautiful she is, still will not have that magnetic attractiveness to them.
This is analogous to how women will always assume that as long as a man is successful then he will be attractive.
Success is a man's best makeup.
Lin XianEr stopped, she didn't turn her head but sighed lightly.
Her sigh was extremely low, but it carried an extremely sad and distressful tone.
One would never expect such a bittersweet sigh to come from her mouth, especially considering how magnificently beautiful she appeared right now.
Li XunHuan's heart sunk.
He knew that there was no music or sound in this world that was more effective than her sad helpess sigh in touching a man's heart. Not the sound of crumpling autumn leaves nor the sound of flowing rivers; not the desolate lyre under the bright moon nor the midnight flute singing to the wind was a match for her desperate whimper.
He hoped that Ah Fei would look at him for a moment and hear him out.
But Ah Fei's eyes were set on Lin XianEr, and his ears could only hear her voice.
"I've finished saying what I had to say. I can't stay any longer." Lin XianEr said.
"Why not?" Ah Fei said.
"Because I made a promise that I would only say two sentences and then would leave immediately." Lin XianEr said.
"You want to leave?" Ah Fei said.
"Even if I didn't want to leave, someone will chase me out." Lin XianEr said.
"Who? Who would chase you out?" Ah Fei said.
His eyes suddenly lit up with strength as he proclaimed loudly, "Why are you letting anyone chase you out, this is your home."
Lin XianEr turned around and looked straight at Ah Fei.
There already were tears in her eyes, those eyes that were as soft and delicate as droplets of water.
After a long while, she sighed again and said, "Is this still my home?"
"Of course. As long as you are willing, this will be your home." Ah Fei said.
Lin XianEr's feet started to move again. She seemed as if she was about to throw herself into Ah Fei's embrace, but suddenly stopped and said, "Of course I am willing, but I'm afraid others aren't."
Ah Fei gritted his teeth and said, "Whoever objects can leave."
He seemed like he was avoiding Li XunHuan's eyes and didn't care what anyone thought.
Mr. Sun really did succeed in getting his blood to boil, forcing his courage back up. Not only that but he also steamed all the emotions in his heart right to the surface.
When a person's body is at its weakest, emotions are at their most abundant.
His eyes never left Lin XianEr as he said, "In this house, no one can chase you out, only you can chase others out."
"I really want to be together with you, but, they are your friends too ..." Lin XianEr said with a smile as tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Anyone who is unwilling to be your friend is no friend of mine." Ah Fei said.
She threw her arms around Ah Fei and said, "Hearing you say that, I am satisfied. I don't mind what anyone thinks about me, I won't mind how anyone treats me, I won't let any of that bother me."
The door was still open.
Li XunHuan slowly walked towards the door and out into the darkness of the night.
Sun XiaoHong followed him out. She bit her lips and said, "Are we going to leave just like that?"
Li XunHuan didn't say a word. No words would come out.
She staggered along angrily and said, "I can't believe that he is that kind of a person! He would actually still treat her that well ... he is totally ungrateful! He cares only for love and betrays his friends!"
Li XunHuan let out a long sigh and said, "You've misjudged him."
"How so? You're saying he really isn't that type of person?" Sun XiaoHong said.
"He isn't." Li XunHuan said.
"If he isn't then why would he do what he just did?" Sun XiaoHong said.
Li XunHuan's voice dropped, "Because ... because ..."
He just didn't know how to say it so Mr. Sun continued for him.
"He did that because he just can't control himself right now." Mr. Sun said with a sigh.
"Why can't he control himself? Its not like someone is forcing him under knife-point. No one is tying him down." Sun XiaoHong said.
"You're correct that no one is forcing him, but he is shackling himself up." Mr. Sun said.
Mr. Sun sighed as he continued, "In fact, everyone in this world has their own shackles and cage."
"Well I don't." Sun XiaoHong said.
"You think you don't because you're still a child and you don't understand it yet." Mr. Sun said.
Sun XiaoHong's voice rose, "Even if I am a child, fine! Then what about him?"
She was pointing at Li XunHuan, and continued, "He's not a child, yet he doesn't have any shackles or a cage either."
"Of course he does." Mr. Sun said.
She looked over at Li XunHuan and asked, "Do you?"
Li XunHuan smiled and replied, "I admit that I do."
"He never takes anything to heart. Even if people insult him or wrong him, he would never be upset by it. Such that people would start to think that he reacts that way because his courage has disappeared." Mr. Sun said.
Li XunHuan smiled.
"But once he finds out that his friends are in danger, he will abandon all else in order to save them. Whether its enduring boiling water or walking through fire, or having blades pierced through his chest, he would do it all in an instant ..." Mr. Sun said.
He sighed and continued, "Because 'friendship' is his cage. Only this type of cage can steam his vivacity to the surface! Only this type of cage can have his blood bubbling with courage!"
"Then what about a person like Long Xiao4Yun, does he have a cage as well?" Sun XiaoHong said.
"Of course." Mr. Sun said.
"And what is his cage?" Sun XiaoHong said.
"Wealth and power!" Mr. Sun said.
"But the reason he wants to kill Li XunHuan can't be for wealth and power. He knows that Li XunHuan is not the type of person who would fight over wealth and power with him." Sun XiaoHong said.
"The only reason he wants to kill Li XunHuan is because his heart has shackles." Mr. Sun said.
"What shackles?" Sun XiaoHong asked.
Mr. Sun looked over at Li XunHuan and then stopped talking.
The expression on Li XunHuan's face was gloomier than the night itself.
Sun XiaoHong suddenly realized the answer.
Long Xiao4Yun despises Li XunHuan because he is suspicious, and envious.
He is suspecting that Li XunHuan will avenge all that he has ever done to him.
And he is envious of Li XunHuan's honor and generosity, because he can never be like that.
Suspicion and envy are his shackles.
Most people in this world have these shackles as well.
What are Ah Fei's shackles?
Mr. Sun looked up into the bright night sky and sighed, "Ah Fei's shackles are completely different from Long Xiao4Yun's. Ah Fei is chained down by love."
"Love can be considered shackles as well?" Sun XiaoHong said.
"Of course, in fact they are much heavier than any other kind." Mr. Sun said.
"But does he really love Lin XianEr? It seems like he only loves her because he cannot have her." Sun XiaoHong said.
No one replied.
Because no one can truly answer her question.
She sighed and looked at Li XunHuan and said, "He is your friend. You better figure out a way to help free him of his shackles."
Li XunHuan slowly turned to look back ...
The light from the window in the house had gone out. The lonely hut sat in the western winds under the dark night. It seemed to resemble the type of person that Ah Fei was: stubborn yet resilient, but lonesome.
Li XunHuan bent over and started coughing again.
He knew that no one could help free Ah Fei from his shackles.
The only person who could free him was himself.