To be a disciple of BaoShan SanRen, truly it was a life that had more complexity than Song ZiChen ever imagined. Xiao XingChen knew a lot about many creatures, his skills beyond the powers of even hailed geniuses of major sects at his age. He carried himself with a pure sort of grace, a smile on his face and laughter ready to tumble from his lips, but the more they spent time together the more the… other facets of his previous reclusive lifestyle showed.
“Song-daozhang,” Xiao XingChen breathed out, gripping his arm, “Those…?”
Song ZiChen squinted. “What's wrong with them?”
For the first time, embarrassment colored Xiao XingChen’s face. “Their name?”
Huh? Song ZiChen's head blanked. People name their chickens?
Silence fell for a moment, and the air turned awkward. “Ah, well—”
Oh. It took a while for the thought to make sense, but Song ZiChen understood it now. Xiao XingChen legitimately had never seen chickens before, most likely—his first foray into civilization was a nighthunt, and Baoshan Sanren likely did not keep livestock up in a secluded mountain. Clearing his throat, Song ZiChen finally answered. “They're chickens.”
“The females are the plumper ones, without the red things on their head and chin,” Song ZiChen added. “They're hens. The male ones are roosters.”
Xiao XingChen’s eyes were wide. “Ah, I see now. That explains the difference. Thank you, Song-daozhang. It must've been a stupid question.”
This must have been the first time Song ZiChen had seen him embarrassed—there was a light dusting of red on his cheeks, and his right hand inched towards his neck as if ready to rub at them. It was a strange, somewhat fascinating sight—seeing him as something other than the driven, compassionate and kind ray of light he was when he interacted with others and drew Shuanghua.
“Ah, no, I…” Song ZiChen struggled to find the correct words, and held his hand up. “I reckon there weren’t chickens in BaoShan SanRen’s mountains. People have to learn about these animals at some point. For a lot it’s just a lot earlier.”
Xiao XingChen’s expression could’ve rivalled a clear day’s sky. “Song-daozhang really is understanding and kind. Would it be all right if I ask these questions whenever I see something I’ve never seen before? Of course, Song-daozhang shouldn’t feel pressured to accept.”
Song ZiChen blinked. “It’s all right. Okay.”
So that was the beginning of their agreement.
They came across donkeys, sows, goats and horses—the quadrupeds, it was safe to say Xiao XingChen had been introduced to the ones that mattered. His reactions varied:
“Ah, so those are horses! I was suspecting that, too, since what they say about it seems to fit these ones, but it’s good to know for certain.”
“Uh, what?”, as he stared at pigs.
“So they’re like fatter, shorter, and slightly more temperamental cousins to horses?”
And, for goats—
Xiao XingChen nervously laughed. “They do look rather… tenacious.”
“They’re goats,” Song ZiChen said.
In the distance, a man tried to herd them all back to a place as the sun set in the west. Song ZiChen and Xiao XingChen remained where they were, on the road leading out of the city, just staring at a man wrangling with his livestock in mild angry desperation.
Xiao XingChen’s voice was carefully regulated, making him sound like he was trying to hold back from choking on something. “I just wanted to say, those horns sit at our hip height.”
Xiao XingChen tilted his head, surprised at Song ZiChen starting the conversation for once. “Yes?”
“Did you know… silks come from caterpillars?”
“Song-daozhang, you’re joking.”
There was a thoughtful frown on Xiao XingChen’s face the entire time they walked down the street to the markets, and after wondering in silence for so long, Song ZiChen finally caved in and asked.
“Oh, I was just wondering. You said those things back near the butcher’s place was a dog, right?”
Song ZiChen blinked. “Yes.”
“But you said the other week that another was also a dog… I can see some resemblance in the shape, but how come they’re also so different? Not just the size, but the general shape, fur, facial features….”
Suddenly, Song ZiChen doubted all he knew, too.
“ZiChen! Is this what they call tigers?”
“XIAO XINGCHEN GET AWAY FROM THAT THING!”
“Wh-whoa. They’re somewhat bigger than I imagined!”
With a soft puff of breath, Song ZiChen snuffed out the candle and climbed into his bed in the inn. It hadn’t been an intense day at all, but travel did wear one down after long enough—though they hadn’t fought anything in the past two days, Song ZiChen was more than grateful for a night’s sleep before the night was halfway over. Folding his hands over his stomach and closing his eyes, Song ZiChen let his breathing slow into peace.
Then Xiao XingChen’s voice broke the silence. “ZiChen?”
A pause. Xiao XingChen mulled over his words.
“Were you serious when you said silks come from caterpillars?”
Another pause. Song ZiChen shut his eyes tighter. “Yes. Good night, XingChen.”
“ZiChen? Song-daozhang?! Song Lan!”