Cheng Huang temple was covered with spider webs and dust. Originally, it was not a very popular temple, now it was even worse with the current turbulent times. Lin Yuan used a rag to wipe at the table then set up the offerings. The offerings were made by Si Niang, a few white buns and a plate of cabbages, nothing else. Normally there would be roasted chicken but Lin Yuan was even unwilling to spend on it for himself, let alone as offerings. 

 “Ai.” Brother Dao let out a sigh: “In the past Cheng Huang temple was not this bleak.” 

Jiang Gui used a wooden stick to sweep up the spider webs, hearing brother Dao he chuckled: “Actually it is about the same, only you didn’t come the years before.” 

After saying so Jiang Gui took a scroll of painting and hung it up next to Lord Cheng Huang (TN: Shing Wong, deity in Chinese mythology). 

Lin Yuan examined it for awhile but still could not recognize the abstract looking person in the painting. 

Jiang Gui: “How can you not recognize, this is second lord Guan Yu (TN: military general under warlord Liu Bei).” 

Lin Yuan nodded, expressing his understanding. 

Just as Lin Yuan thought everything was ready, the voice of one of brother Dao’s guys came from outside: “Brother Dao! I caught a chicken!” 

Brother Dao went outside and brought the chicken in by its wings. 

Jiang Gui sighed: “It’s a pity the times are not good, otherwise we must prepare san sheng (TN: literally translates to three sacrificial animals).” 

Lin Yuan asked: “What is the san sheng?” Although he liked to read historical novels but in relation to swearing brotherhood he was not too clear. 

Jiang Gui: “Pig meat, fish, and eggs are the san sheng.” 

Lin Yuan: “……” 

If swearing brotherhood must require this many offerings, then forget it, after all in the ancient times the offerings were not taken back and eaten after they cooled down instead it remained there until it spoiled then it was thrown away. 

They remained busy for another while. Brother Dao poured the wine in the bowl, made a cut on the chicken’s neck and let the blood into the wine. Then he took out the knife he always carried on him and gave his finger a cut, dripping a few drops into the wine bowl.  

“Here.” He handed the knife to Jiang Gui. 

Jiang Gui looked a bit timid at the prospect, trying several times before making the cut, looking as his blood dripped into the bowl with heartache. 

Using a knife on yourself did require courage. 

Lin Yuan tried when he was young, if not careful even a piece of metal strip could cut your finger but if intentionally then it was more difficult as your brain would control your body to not harm yourself. 

As a result Lin Yuan decided decisively: “Brother Jiang, I have never used a knife on myself before, help me out.” 

Saying so he stretched a finger forward. 

Jiang Gui while saying: “How can I possibly”, gave Lin Yuan a cut in the finger without hesitation. 

Lin Yuan: “……” Why do I see that particular expression of joy at other’s misfortune on Jiang Gui’s face. 

The three of them then separated the bowl of wine and blood concoction into three separate bowls, one person holding one bowl and knelt in front of Lord Guan’s painting. 

Brother Dao, with a solemn expression, announced: “Let us begin.” 

“The skies above, I, Li Congrong with Jiang Gui and Lin Yuan from this day forth will be friends as close as brothers.” 

“The skies above, I, Jiang Gui with Li Congrong and Lin Yuan from this day forth will be friends as close as brothers.” 

It was only now that Lin Yuan finally knew brother Dao’s true name. 

So he was a pause late before speaking: “The skies above, I, Lin Yuan with Li Congrong and Jiang Gui from this day forth will be friends as close as brothers.” 

“Henceforth, we shall enjoy the same blessings and withstand the same difficulties. Do not beseech to be born on the same year, same month, and same day, but we beseech to die on the same year, same month, and same day. If I violate this vow then let the heavens rain thunder upon me.” 

Saying so, the three of them drank the wine and blood concoction in one gulp. 

As he was drinking, Lin Yuan thought, drinking blood is truly not hygienic, what if someone had harmful bacteria? Then wouldn’t that mean misfortune for three? 

“Third brother, fourth brother.” Brother Dao was in a good mood, grasping Lin Yuan’s and Jiang Gui’s hands. 

Lin Yuan asked in a quiet voice: “And the second brother?” 

Your order starts with the third number? 

Brother Dao patted Lin Yuan’s shoulder intimately: “Yang Zi’an is also my sworn brother.” 

Lin Yuan said sincerely: “Big brother, you have quite a few brothers.” 

Brother Dao laughed loudly: “Just giving me some face (TN: to give respect/appreciation). That second brother is also a straightforward fellow and is also working with us, you guys calling him second brother will not lose out.” 

Lin Yuan/Jiang Gui: “……” 

“We should find a day to drink together.” Brother Dao said with a smile. In these times, sworn brothers were even closer than blood brothers. 

“Big brother.” Lin Yuan said to brother Dao, “second brother Yang is still on my land.” 

Brother Dao rubbed at his nose: “Then we can wait until he comes back.” 

Yang Zi’an was an honest fellow. He took his guys to Lin Yuan’s land which was completely new fertile land. As the land would become thinner the more you farm it since farming families didn’t have enough fertilizer so they must sow in cycles. 

Sow for a year then leave it for half a year to let the earth recover itself. 

They found a flat land to build grass huts, using mud and hay to reinforce the walls which could be dried in one to two days. At night they slept on hay, 40 men squeezing in together. In this way the cold would not be felt. 

Food was prepared by Lin Yuan and was carried with them when they left for his land. 

There were coarse grains and fine grains but they usually ate the coarse grains. The fine grains were eaten every three days. If one was still hungry then it was combined with coarse grains. 

“Compared to before it is much better.” A man held a bowl of porridge which was rather thin but at leaat there was white rice. He drank it carefully, sighing in satisfaction, “before there was no white porridge, only bran.” 

The person next to him was eating a bun: “Drink it quickly, my bowl is already finished.” 

The man ignor6es him, patting the earth: “Tomorrow is the beginning of harvesting. Boss truly said 50% of harvest?” 

Yang Zi’an came out from the grass hut, blowing warm air into his palms: “Boss said it, I expext he also dare not lie to us.” 

The man nodded: “Right, we have so many of us, even if he were to lie then he must think it over.” 

There was also a youngster eating buns with their porridge nearby, saying with hope: “I don’t have excessive hope for receiving that many grains, just looking forward to eating my fill everyday. Being tired is nothing, in the past at my old home the boss only gives 20% to us and we must farm on an empty stomach.” 

“My mama saved her portion for me and my brothers, she then starved to death.” 

“After mama died, dad fell and broke his leg in the mountains, with no money to buy medicine, he also died.” 

The man sighed: “Who doesn’t have a similar past.” 

Everyone had a painful past, saying it aloud, were they competing on who was more miserable? 

The youngster smiled at the man: “As long as everyday I can eat fully.” 

Yang Zi’an took up a hoe and farmed along with his men. He was born in a family that worked the land and also undertook academic studies so he recognized some words as well as farming. He never spoke of his past to anyone though. 

His family in his old hometown was a wealthy family but they didn’t have tenant farmers. The land was farmed by his family’s servants instead. 

Later, a group of bandits passed by. Yang Zi’an at the time was at his friend’s place in the neighboring town. When he came back he found himself to be orphaned and his home destroyed. 

His whole family had been massacred, even his two year old baby brother did not escape. 

Even now he wanted revenge, but what could he use for revenge? Have these guys go fight for their lives with those bandits? 

He could ignore his own life and death but what rigjt did he have to request the same of his men who were like friends to him? 

Over time, the idea of revenge buried itself deep in his heart. He never said anything nor did he bring it up. 

Just as they finished breakfast and prepared to work, a group of people could be seen heading towards their direction. 

Yang Zi’an: “Don’t be anxious! Take your hoes! Pick up anything heavy!” 

If these were bandits, then they must prepare to fight, at least they should have weapons on hand. 

The crowd moved in closer. Only then did Yang Zi’an discover Li Congrong at the head of the crowd. 

“All of you put down the weapons, it is brother Dao.” Yang Zi’an shouted out. 

 Hearing this the people at his side then put down the heavy objects they planned to use as weapons. 

Brother Dao arrived first, behind him followed a group of artisans in tight sleeved shirts. And behind the artisans were refugees barely covered qith rags for clothes, all of them malnourished and shivering in the cold. Their faces showed their uncertainty and loss of what to do. 

Yesterday morning, a tall muscular man arrived suddenly, saying that he had work for them, a meal for a day’s work. Hearing this, they arrived since they had nothing else to lose. The most was wealthy families tricking them to become family servants with a slave contract. But being a servant was better than the days they were currently living. 

So long as they didn’t starve then doing anything was fine.  

“These people are here to build a house.” Brother Dao said, “both farming and building will not be affected.” 

Yang Zi’an looked at the refugees: “And you are here to supervise them?” 

Brother Dao grinned, showing white teeth: “Can’t leave them alone. With no strength they’ll listen, with strength and food in their bellies who knows.” 

Yang Zi’an: “That is the truth.” 

Brother Dao suddenly shifted closer, whispering: “I brought a roasted chicken and some wine. We can enjoy a cuppa later.” 

Yang Zi’an heard roasted chicken and couldn’t help swallowing profusely. He was already craving it, he couldn’t remember the last time he tasted roasted chicken. 

These years, don’t even mention meat, he ate whatever was at hand, even tree bark and grass roots. 

When fleeing, a lot of people ate the wrong thing and slowly their bodies became unwell. That he had lived till now was fortunate. 

At the moment, the artisans had the refugees first build grass huts, next to the ones already built by Yang Zi’an’s men. Although artisans did not have high status but they were still respected for having true skills. Even the grass huts they built were better than the huts Yang Zi’an and his men built. 

Yang Zi’an was pulled away by brother Dao to eat roast chicken. 

With a cup of wine and a chicken leg, brother Dao ssid with a wide smile: “Gege found you two younger brothers.” 

Yang Zi’an: “…..” 

Back then, he was tricked into swearing brotherhood with brother Dao. He guessed those two unlucky fellows had a similar experience as he did. 

Brother Dao: “You know them as well, one is Jiang Gui and the other is Lin Yuan. Later when you see them, you must call them third brother and fourth brother, don’t forget.” 

Yang Zi’an took a bite of chicken leg, thinking privately, based on Li Congrong’s hobby, he estimated that he would have a fifth brother, sixth brother, seventh brother, eigth brother before long. Maybe even a eightieth brother. 

Forget it, there was roast chicken to eat, it was better not to think of worrisome thoughts. 

If everytime brother Dao swore brotherhood there was chicken to eat, then this business was still acceptable. 

AN: Yang Zi’an: “This fellow just likes to swear brotherhood all over the place, I, Yang Zi’an will rather starve to death, or jump to my death than admit that I have N numbers of little brothers.” 

Li Congrong: “Come, have a piece of chicken.” 

Yang Zi’an: “Zhen xiang.” (TN: literally translates to ‘truly savory’. It is a popular phrase used in Chinese internet language that is used to describe slapping your own face, or going back on your own words. It came from a movie where the MC goes to the countryside but all he wants is to go back to the city and claims he will rather die and jump to death than eat the food there. Several hours later he eats the food and says “Zhen xiang.” LOL)

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