Marquis Of Grand Xia Chapter 16: Soap...we meet again.
Ning Chen had always seen himself as a rare genius who even the heavens themselves, favored. While he didn’t dare to call himself a genius that was only seen once every thousand years, he was confident that a genius like him, only came about every 800 years.
But now, with the path towards being an expert,nay, an expert among experts, laid before him in this golden scroll, he actually wasn’t able to understand it...how painful it must be for him to face this cruel reality!
As he looked at golden scroll before him, he pondered. Did this, neither metallic nor wooden scroll, require a drop of his blood in order to recognize him as its master, thus allowing him to cultivate the contents within?
He thought about this for a second before putting it aside. Odd and painful rituals like these do not seem to be worth it.
The first few lines of words were still discernible to him and so he decided to practise those first. It’s just body strengthening after all, he could always ask Mu Chengxue for an explanation, the next time he saw her.
Calm the heart and Qi. Center the Dantian. Manipulate the technique. And...he still didn’t feel a thing…
However, he wasn’t disheartened by this. After all, there’s always a warm-up period. Perseverance is the key…
First round, second, third, fourth…
93th, 94th, 95th…
209th, 210th, 211th…
The rooster crowed and the sun began its ascent one more. It was morning and as Ning Chen opened his eyes, he nearly cried a river. Where’s the body strengthening I was promised?! Why didn’t I feel a thing?!
Today was going to be a busy day as well and so he had to put aside researching this problem for now.
It was still the crack of dawn and his shift hadn’t started yet. He made use of this time to pay the kitchen a visit. As he entered the humid kitchen, he was greeted by a delicious fragrance. There was a woman busy cooking at the stove. With a slap of his face, he put his winning smile and said: “Morning Big Sister.”
The woman glanced at him before blandly saying: “ Who are you bluffing boy, I’m old enough to be your mom.”
“Hgh…” Ning Chen awkwardly smiled. “Morning Auntie.”
“Alright, what you want?” The woman maintained her neutral attitude as she busied herself with the cooking.
He rubbed his nose shyly and said: “I would like to have some lard.”
The woman stared at him for a while but after a round of thinking, she acquiesced. She pointed at the jar beside the stove and said, “ Over there, you can grab it yourself but don’t let anyone see you do so.”
Ning Chen’s face immediately lit up as he thanked her. “Thanks Auntie.”
He grabbed a porcelain bowl from the side and spooned half a bowl full of lard into it. He glanced left and right as if he was searching for something.
A moment later, his eyes lit up as he found what he was looking for. It was a rag. he grabbed the rag and wrapped up a bunch of ashes he found beside the stove. With that, he flashed her a silly smile before leaving with a spring in his step.
The woman stared at his leaving back for a moment before giving out a light sigh as she continued with her work.
“Such a pretty little child, too bad his head is a little damaged.”
As for Ning Chen, he was naturally unaware of the image he had left behind and happily went about his business.
The yard in the back hall was extremely big, but the ladies in the Pavilion rarely came over and so the place was relatively quiet. As he sat atop a stone step, he set up a small fire and placed a flat rock atop the fire. With his makeshift stove set up, he placed the lard laden bowl on top of the rock and patiently waited for it to melt.
He wasn’t idling around either while it melted. He took out a teapot and poured the ashes he got from the kitchen into it. After which, he added some water and rapidly stirred it with a stick he found lying on the ground.
In the past, he would mess around with this whenever he had time to spare. While he didn’t have a complete grasp of the ratios, he still managed to succeed from time to time.
This was one of the oldest method of creating soap. However, since he didn’t have any caustic soda, he had to make do with ashes. It was a rather harsh set of conditions, but it was all he could make do with.
As the lard slowly heated up, Ning Chen pinched his nose as he slowly poured in the ash slurry, all the while trying to block out the disgusting smell of lard melting. Once the slurry teapot was emptied, he gingerly pushed the bowl away with his stick and began stirring it.
“Jeez, that was smelly…”
Stars flashed before his eyes as he was nearly knocked out by the wafting stench of lard. He finally couldn’t stand the stench anymore and ran into a nearby room, emerging a while later with a cloth covering his nose.
“Hey, what are you doing here? It smells like something died in here!”
It wasn’t long before Li Er ran into the yard, her nose pinched tight as she did so. Within her eyes, was a barely contained rage from being abruptly aroused so early in the morning. Ning Chen’s weapon of mass destruction had a greater range than expected.
“Li Er, come over for a second and help me stir this. I’m about to collapse from the smell.” Seeing the little girl, he unabashedly asked her to come over.
“No way.” Li Er immediately backed away in fear of getting dragged into the this smelly bit of labor.
“You tiny breasted bimbo, wait till I’m done with this, by then you’ll be begging to help me.” With his propriety scared away by the stench, his bad mouthed nature was in full display.
“You...hooligan!” She glanced at her chest before screaming at him, her face, a beet red. However, she ended up staying as her curiosity got the better of her. She wanted to know what he was up to this early in the morning.
“It’s bubbling.” He was momentarily stunned by the rising layer of foam on the bowl but immediately strode forward, ignoring the stench, and furiously stirred the mixture.
Without his knowledge, Li Er had made a trip to the kitchen before coming back to see him. Seeing that he was still busy messing around with that vile mixture, she stood at a distance and called out to him.
“It’s time for breakfast.”
“I’m busy, can you bring it over for me.” He casually shouted back, his eyes never leaving the mixture for a second. This was a crucial moment that didn’t brook a moment of distraction.
“Not helping. You can starve to death for all I care.” She immediately rejected him, the brush with his acidic tongue still fresh in her mind.
She waited at the side for a while but upon seeing that he had no intention of eating. She stamped her feet in anger before leaving with a frown on her face.
A few minutes later, she came with a bowl of food in hand having finished her own breakfast herself, the reluctance still apparent in her as she approached the yard.
“Time to eat!” She shouted from a distance.
However, he was too busy to notice her.
“Time to eat!” She shouted once more.
He continued stirring.
With a pinch of her nose, she angrily made her way to him, her feet stomping on the grass with every step and her face red with anger. After putting down the food, she leaned into his ear and screamed: “ TIME TO EAT!”
The little girl’s shrill voice pierced his ear drums, giving Ning Chen the fright of his life, nearly knocking over the bowl as he jumped in surprise.
“Right away, right away…” He threw her an offhand reply before continuing with his stirring. This was a crucial moment, he mustn’t leave, even for a second.
“The food’s going to be cold soon.”
Seeing that he still didn’t want to eat, she finally gave up. With a pout of her tiny lips, she said, “Go have your breakfast, I’ll help you stir it.”
He gave her a strange look as those words left her mouth. Wasn’t this girl throwing a tantrum just a while ago? What’s with this sudden change of heart. However, he didn’t give this much thought as the rumbling in his stomach got worse.
He handed the stick over and instructed her, “Be careful, don’t knock it over.”
“I got it. You’re such a nag!” She snapped, all the while stirring with one hand and pinching her nose with the other.
Ning Chen watched the little girl work from a short distance away. As he chowed down the warm breakfast, his eyes glistened and a salty taste graced his palate.
“Why are you crying?” She exclaimed in surprised as she watched him from the corner of her eyes.
“It’s nothing, the stench is just a little strong.” He replied as he rubbed his eyes and flashed her a smile.
“Well then, just sit a bit further away.”
“It’s alright, I’m used to it.”
His heart was a filled with a tender warmth as he continued eating the food she brought him. This girl was just too kind. Even if she was a little brash, it was just a disguise she had to put on to protect herself.
“Alright, I’m done eating. Switch with me.”
He gulped down the remaining food in a couple of mouthfuls before walking over to her. He grabbed the stick from her and nudged her to the side as he went back to stirring once more.
“Li Er, help me return those bowls, once you get back, I’ll have something nice to show you.”
“Hmph, all you ever do is boss me around.”
She reluctantly picked up the bowl and walked towards the kitchen, all the while throwing him a glance as she took a few steps. By now, she was extremely interested in what he was making.
“It’s almost ready.” He muttered to himself as he saw the lard and ashes mixture begin to have a reaction together. His face lit up as the horrid stench dissipated. His luck wasn’t as bad as he thought.
“Is it ready?” Li Er asked, the anticipation dripping from her voice.
Ning Chen put out the fire and poured the molten substance into a bunch of rags he prepared beforehand. He tied up the rags into a cloth sack before giving it a tight squeeze. As he did so, the remaining lard began to flow out from the sack.
A while later, the molten liquid began to solidify into a light brown bar. He broke into a huge grin upon seeing his little chemistry experiment succeed.
“What’s this? It looks kinda ugly.” She pouted upon seeing the highly anticipated item turn out to be such a dull looking bar.
Ning Chen flushed a little; it was a little ugly but he wasn’t good at dying or molding it.
“Little girl, what do you know. This is going to be a great item. Follow me.” In order to restore his image, he decided to show her the greatness of his product, hopefully, teaching her his greatness at the same time.
Li Er followed him into the house with a dubious look on her face. She didn’t believe him but at the same time, she was curious about what he was trying to pull.
“Li Er, stretch out your hands.” He flashed her a devilish smile.
“What are you planning?”
She asked hesitantly but still stretched out her hands in the end.
He let out a roguish laugh before wiping his lard-stained hands on hers. In the blink of an eye, her tender little hands became grimy and sticky.
“Ah, what’s that for, your hands are still dirty!” Her face fell in instant as immediately withdrew her outstretched hands. Unfortunately for her, it was already too late.
As she looked at her lard-coated hands, her eyes reddened and began to tear up as she threw him a pitiful look.
“Sigh, Li Er, don’t cry. I was just playing with you.” Seeing the little girl cry sent him panicking as he profusely apologized while coaxing her.
However, it didn’t work as the water works continued, her face just as heart-wrenchingly pitiful as before.
“There, there, Li Er, don’t cry. I’ll wash them for you, alright?” He immediately brought her to the wooden basin as he continued with his gentle coaxing.
She didn’t respond and continued her crying.
By now, he thoroughly regretted his little bit of mischief. He immediately dipped his hands in the water before lathering up with his soap bar. After a thoroughly wringing, he dipped them into the water once more, washing off the soap suds.
Without even bothering to dry himself properly, he flicked the water off hands and immediately showed them to Li Er. In a gentle voice, he said, “See, isn’t it clean now?”
She had completely forgotten to cry as her eyes focused on the miraculous sight before her. Her eyes darted back and forth between his hands and the water in the basin as if she couldn’t wrap her head around what she had just seen.
Seeing that she stopped crying, he replaced the dirty water in the basin and brought it back in front of her. “Li Er, give it a try.”
By now, there was barely any doubt left in her eyes as she stuck her hands in the water and lathered up in a similar fashion. After a few rubs, she dipped her hands into the basin once more and washed off the suds.
“Come, you can dry off using my clothes.” He said with a smile.
Li Er broke into a smile and actually wiped her hands on him.
The grimy little claws were now gone, all that was left was a pair of sparkling clean hands. As she stretched out her hands, she immediately hid her satisfied smile and pretended to be angry.
“Give that to me.”
Ning Chen winced in pain as he heard this; he didn’t want to part with his baby so soon. After a mulling over it for a while, he replied in a bargaining tone, “Leave me half of it.”
She pouted and gave him the silent treatment once more, her hands still stretched out.
“What about a quarter?”
In the end, he had to give her the entire soap bar. However, as he looked at her happy figure skip off into the distance, he couldn’t help but smile, any traces of reluctance, gone with the wind.
This soap was meant to be a gift for her. As for profiting off this, he never considered it for a second. After all, if he suddenly came up with a bunch of new inventions, it would inadvertently draw Zhang Sun’s attention onto him. That would truly be a suicidal move on his part.
In order to preserve his little life, he needs to lay low...
Special thanks to Steve Granger, Ichitsuzen, and LaRue Martin!!