6 Your Responsibility Now

The guard remained silent, standing at attention as if waiting for further instructions—a consummate professional.

"How old is he?" Master Zhenli asked, his gaze settling on the boy.

"The farmer said five," the guard replied, momentarily raising his hand to scratch his cheek before remembering his formal setting. "My lord," he added hastily.

Zhenli didn't seem to mind the brief lapse in the guard's decorum. He scanned the boy with an intrigued smile. "So, about six years, accounting for the time it took for the mother's belly to grow. Fascinating! Sect had sent him this far to get the iron they needed for their swords. He opened the path to Meteorite Iron. Seems like that wasn't the only thing he managed to open," he mused.

Then he asked abruptly, "Who is the mother?"

The guard, known as Jiao Shen, shifted his stance, visibly uneasy. "Couldn't say, sir. The old man just left the boy, saying he's Yuanjing Xuan's son and he couldn't care for him anymore. Suggested that the one who sired him should take up that responsibility now."

Zhenli shrugged, seemingly unbothered by this lack of information. "The child looks well taken care of. I'm sure the mother will come asking within a week or two. She'll miss her young one. But, boy, what's your name?"

"Wuyi," Wuyi replied. Whether he had no other name or was simply echoing what he had been called, he couldn't say. He was never told if he had any surname.

Zhenli looked briefly surprised, and perhaps a flash of pity crossed his face. But it was gone as quickly as it appeared, leaving him looking merely puzzled or mildly irritated. He glanced back at the map that still awaited his attention on the table.

He spoke, "Don't worry, kid. No one outside the desert knows what your name truly means. If you ever go back to your clan, no one will bat an eye at your name."

"Alright, something needs to be sorted for him, at least until the Yuanjing Clan is informed. Jiashen, make sure he gets some food and a place to sleep for the night. We'll figure out the rest tomorrow. Can't have offspring of the Yuanjing wandering the lands. Give him to Boluo," Master Zhenli stated, his voice carrying a sense of finality.

"Sir," Jiao Shen acknowledged, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, simply accepting the command. He gripped Wuyi's shoulder firmly, turning him towards the exit.

Wuyi hesitated for a moment. The chamber was comfortably cold, a stark contrast to the scorching heat and sand-filled streets he had just walked through. His feet, which had started to regain feeling, yearned for the coolness of the room. But Jiashen's grip was unyielding, guiding him back into the dim, hot hallways.

As they left the chamber, Wuyi felt a pang of regret. The corridors outside seemed darker and more endless in comparison to the inviting atmosphere he had just left. Struggling to keep up with Jiashen's brisk pace, he felt tired. Perhaps sensing his discomfort, or maybe just growing tired of his slowness, Jiashen suddenly hoisted Wuyi onto his shoulder as if he weighed nothing. "You're a dusty little thing, aren't you," he commented, not unkindly, as he navigated through a maze of hallways, staircases, and turns.

Finally, they reached a room bathed in the golden glow of a bustling kitchen. The aroma of cooking food filled the air, and for a moment, Wuyi felt hungry.

The kitchen was expansive, its walls made of sun-baked bricks that gave off a warm, earthy glow. Several guards lounged on wooden benches, their laughter and chatter filling the air as they enjoyed their meals around a grand table. The atmosphere was thick with the aroma of spiced meats, the sweet scent of rice wine, and the underlying musk of men who had spent their day in labor.

To combat the desert heat, damp clothes were hung around the room, their moisture evaporating to cool the air. Smoky tendrils wafted from a large, crackling fire that dominated one corner of the kitchen, where a cook was busy turning a sizzling chunk of meat on a spit. The smell was tantalizing, and Wuyi felt his stomach twist in hunger.

Vats of wine lined the walls, their contents fermenting in the heat, while dried meats and herbs dangled from the overhead beams, adding another layer of scent to the complex aroma of the room. The table itself was a miscellany of food and utensils—bowls of steaming rice, platters of sliced fruits, and various meat dishes that Wuyi couldn't even begin to identify.

Jiao Shen placed Wuyi abruptly on the corner of the table, nudging a man engrossed in his drink. "Boluo, this young one's your responsibility now," he announced, then turned away to grab some food.

Breaking off a piece of bun, Jiao Shen cut a slice of dried fruit and handed them to Wuyi. He then went to the cook and began cutting a sizeable piece of meat from the spit. Wuyi eagerly began to eat the bun and fruit, his eyes darting towards the meat.

The man named Boluo put down his wine bowl and looked at Jiao Shen with a mixture of curiosity and annoyance. "What's the meaning of this?" Boluo questioned, reminding Wuyi somewhat of Master Zhenli in his demeanor. His hair and beard were a wild black, and his angular face bore the tan of outdoor labor. His eyes were brown, and his hands looked skilled. He smelled of horses, desert hounds, blood, and leather.

"Master Zhenli ordered it. The boy is your responsibility," Jiao Shen answered.

"Why should I care?"

"Six years ago, when the Sacred Sword Sect had sent people here, you were the personal attendant to Yuanjing Xuan and his horses, weren't you?"

"And?"

avataravatar
Next chapter