Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Living to Suffer - ch2

Translator: ayszhang
Editor: Marcia

Living to Suffer chapter 2
The prequel to TDDUP


Ch’in Ching, courtesy name[1] Hengsu,[2] was anything but proper and serious. As he bandaged Shen Liangsheng’s wounds, he exchanged names with the man. As soon as he heard his patient’s name, he snickered, “A bowl of cold water, born at the wrong time.[3] What an auspicious name.”
Shen Liangsheng did not respond and let the man apply medicine all over his body. He knew his external injuries were not urgent, but the internal ones would take at least a month’s rest and even longer for his powers to return completely. The date was approaching, and the sect was in need of manpower – how troublesome.
“Your pathways have been greatly damaged, and it is of utmost importance that we restore and strengthen your core.” Ch’in Ching stuffed the riot of jars and bottles back into a case. “If you focus on rehabilitation for forty, fifty days, you may well recover eight-tenths of your former ability. The remaining two-tenths, however –”
Ch’in Ching noticed Shen Liangsheng’s unwavering gaze on him and assumed the man was thinking that the recuperation time he prescribed was too lengthy, so he shook his head and began to explain. “This is not something to rush through. I would be lying if I said there were no ways to help you recover your power more quickly, but those methods will leave residual problems for you a few years in the future, and I do not want to use them. You are still young with a long life ahead of you. It’s not worth it.”
“You are a good doctor.” Although Shen Liangsheng did not feel gratitude, his statement was sincere. But then again, when he occasionally came across a worthy opponent, he would also sincerely say, “your instruction was very valuable” as he sheathed his sword and the adversary fell once again into the cycle of reincarnation. Therefore even his sincere compliments were not the most auspicious signs.
“That is very kind of you.” Ch’in Ching walked to the shelf and picked out a celadon bottle. “As I was saying, the remaining two-tenths…” He walked to the table and poured a cup of water before saying forthrightly, “I analyzed your pulse earlier and found that I had been careless. The mantra that you practise is so unusual that I’m certain I cannot help you. With those remaining two-tenths, you are on your own.” Taking the bottle and cup to the bed, he tipped out two red pills and handed them to Shen Liangsheng. “To be taken orally.”
Shen Liangsheng did not take the pills but merely continued to stare at Ch’in Ching, making no effort to disguise the query in his eyes. Although the Five Skandhas was a hidden gem of the sect that only the hufa could practise, the chianghu[4] was not unaware of its existence. If this Ch’in-taifu[5] had caught this crucial detail and was still willing to help, then it was not a simple matter of kindness.
Despite his patient’s unresponsiveness, Ch’in Ching was not at a loss. He grabbed Shen Liangsheng’s hand and thrust the pills into it. “Only you and I are in this space; not another soul. Certainly on our way here you have seen the obscurity of this location. Also, considering the protective circles placed here, it is not a place one can simply visit. I have given my word to save you, so I naturally have no intention to harm you. I am a doctor, and you my patient, end of story. It is late now. You are free to stay or leave as you wish.”
With that said, he returned to the table and poured himself a cup of water. The dull ache in his chest seemed to abate after he gulped down the liquid.
In reality, however, Ch’in Ching knew that the pain did not exist, and that it was merely a figment of his imagination when he thought of the predestined outcome of this game.

After moments of silence, Shen Liangsheng inquired coolly, “What is it you desire?”
Ch’in Ching turned around and arched a brow. “In return for saving your life, naturally your devotion, body and soul.”
Ch’in Ching was hardly a wicked man, yet amongst the good he was a rogue. He was quite fond of gambling and lewdness – particularly the latter. Whenever he came across an attractive person, he could not resist trying to press his advantage using provocative language, regardless of gender. Although he did not have the guts to actually do anything, and this man before him was not someone he could afford to offend, he would not be the bawdy Ch’in-taifu if he did not seize the opportunity when it was handed to him on a silver platter.
“You are a doctor, and I your patient, end of story?” The same utterance coming back again as a question in Shen Liangsheng’s calm voice sounded a bit sarcastic to Ch’in Ching’s ears. The man must have been mocking the doctor for losing sight of his promise as a medical practitioner almost immediately after declaring it.
With a puckered face Ch’in Ching sighed inwardly as he looked at Shen-hufa lying in bed. This mister surely was distant and quiet but was also very clever with his tongue. Pity that such a pretty face could not belong to a pristine beauty.

Saying no more, Shen Liangsheng swallowed the pills and went to sleep fully clothed. His instinct told him this man would have a request for him sooner or later. That he did not say it now meant there was room for future negotiation. One favour in return for another – deals were the most trustworthy method of interaction.
Three days passed by the time he woke again. The medicine prescribed by Ch’in Ching was efficacious– his core was strengthened and his ch’i flowed unobstructed through his pathways. Even the external application of medicine was very effective – nearly all his wounds had scabbed after merely three days, and perhaps they would be completely healed in a few more.

“How do you feel? Can you walk?” Ch’in Ching knew the potency of his own prescription and correctly estimated the time to check in on his patient. Incidentally, Shen Liangsheng was slipping on an outer robe and leaving the bed.
“Thank you. The external injuries are of no concern now.”
“For the next month, you are to bathe in the medicinal spring for four hours every other day. This way.”
Ch’in Ching led the man out from the hut and through a complex pathway of twists and turns. They finally arrived at a pool shrouded in light mist that carried a fresh, bitter herbal fragrance. Without reticence – it could be said that there existed no reticence between two grown men – Shen Liangsheng stripped naked and sank into the warm pool.
Ch’in Ching’s attention was not on the man but rather the blood-stained clothes on the ground. He suggested nicely, “You can throw them out if they are not worth much. If you want to keep them, you must wash them yourself.”
“As you please.”
Ch’in Ching picked up the clothes and took a few steps before turning back. He remembered that the man had not washed all this time. “I will get the soap bar so you can clean your hair, too.”
When Ch’in Ching returned with the cleaning supplies, he found a senseless Shen Liangsheng sitting in the pool, eyes closed, seemingly asleep again.
“This spring might not be the best with the hot weather. You can come in the evening next time.”
Shen Liangsheng did not reply, and Ch’in Ching continued by himself. “You should not actually fall asleep. The water is not deep, but karma might just let you drown.”
“I will leave these here. Surely, you know how to wash your hair?”
“Shen-hufa, oh Shen-hufa, I am Ch’in-taifu, not Ch’in-laoma[6]….” Ch’in Ching heaved a defeated sigh. “So this is what it means to command with silence.”

In reality, Shen Liangsheng was not trying to oppress the doctor but was concentrating on his mantra and ch’i.
According to the Heart Sūtra,[7] the five skandhas are empty. In the void there are no forms and no feelings, conceptions, impulses and no consciousness; there is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; there is no colour, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea.
But the mantra dictated the exact opposite. It sought to create form out of the void, generating an endless flow of ch’i while heightening the senses to the surroundings.
He felt his hairpin gently being removed and his strands falling loose.

Ch’in Ching removed Shen Liangsheng’s hairpin, letting loose the strands. Dipping a wooden scoop into the hot water, he poured it over the man’s head.
The dark strands snaked down like swimming ink.

– felt fingers combing through his hair and untangling each and every knot.

Shen Liangsheng had bled so much that day that the blood had soaked his hair and formed a sticky clot. Melting now in the warm water, it flowed in faint rouge tendrils into the pool.
Ch’in Ching’s eyes chased after the tendrils that quickly dissolved into a sheer veil over the soft ripples. Beneath the veil was the naked body of one who practised martial arts year-round, and on the body were several gashes whose scabs were so gnarled they appeared alive – a coiled crimson python whose head rested on the man’s chest right above a nipple. Hissing, its forked tongue darted back and forth sliding over the nub.

– felt those hands brushing his hair and rubbing his scalp and nape, firmly at times and nimbly at others, the pattern of which was…unpredictable.

The sunlight beamed down through the water as though it were nonexistent. As Ch’in Ching’s gaze drifted lower, it came upon an unobstructed view of the manhood lying dormant between casually splayed legs. Any evocative fantasies he might have entertained were deterred by the overly artless image.
Ch’in Ching retracted his eyes and decided to stare only at Shen Liangsheng’s face while he focused on the work in his hands.
Flowing brows and eyes. Straight nose and thin lips. Cold like the tundra after a snow. Sharp like the icicles hanging off pines. It was not a fiendish complexion, but the malice was strong.
Also… Ch’in Ching averted his gaze, not even daring to look at the man’s face now. He wondered how it was possible for a naked man to still look so chaste and abstinent.
And it must be noted that the more forbidden…the more delicious the fruit.

– felt the heat from the water seep into his body filling him with a subdued, feather-light numbness. The medicinal smell was thickening, but there were another distinct strain in the air. The herbal scent coming from a certain someone approached like a faint shadow treading through the fog, edging closer and closer.

Casting his gaze down towards his own nose and heart, Ch’in Ching was determined not to let it wander any further.
But no matter where his eyes were pointed, the slippery strands of hair between his fingers were like an inescapable net in which a fish was writhing and struggling…. Letting go in a panic, Ch’in Ching stumbled back. His awakening erection rubbed against his undergarment like a fish in a net – in pain whether the net was tight or not.
But because death was inevitable, staying alive in the water for a moment longer only meant more suffering.

– and felt the hands suddenly leaving as the silhouette that had almost revealed itself instead slipped back into the fog, never to be seen.

“A change of clothes is on the ledge. You can come up yourself when you’ve completed the session.”
Clearing his throat, Ch’in Ching turned and left Shen Liangsheng alone in the pool. After running his ch’i through his body once, he slowly opened his eyes.
Hair, huh… A rare, trivial thought ran through his mind as he took a strand between his fingers.
Hair was essentially useless. No pain came from cutting it; it would recover its length if left to grow. But sometimes it was versatile, as the thread used in hsüan-ssu[8] diagnosis.
Out of the many distractions of the mind, only the flames of lust could not be concealed, and if one attempted to, it would only burn more fiercely.

[1] A courtesy name was originally used to replace a man’s given name after the age of 20, after which time only the person himself and his elders are allowed to use his given name. It was said that one’s given name is used for differentiation while the courtesy name should show the man’s qualities.
[2] (heng), ‘eternital’ or ‘eternity’; (su), ‘solemn’ or ‘respectful’.
[3] ‘Liang’ means cool and ‘sheng’ means to be born. 生不逢時 or ‘born at the wrong time’ and is a way of saying that the person was born with bad luck and misfortune.
[4] Loosely termed, a parallel world that exists outside of mainstream society and its government
[5] A suffix that means doctor.
[6] Mother, or in this situation, a caretaker.
[8] Literally ‘suspended thread,’ it refers to a method of pulse diagnosis where a thread is tied around the patient’s wrist and the doctor reads the pulse through vibrations detected via the thread. This was used so that imperial doctors would not physically touch or sometimes even see his female patient of higher status.

Celadon bottle in the shape of a calabash, similar to what was mentioned in this chapter. The actual calabash or the bottle gourd is often used to store water and small items like pills. The imagery is often associated with Taoism and gods.

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Further reading:

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A note for those who are confused... "[Shen Liangsheng] felt his hairpin being gently removed.] starts the "- felt ..." paragraphs, but these paragraphs are interjected with narration from CC's perspective. Each paragraph break signifies a major shift in perspective, so readers should pay attention to it because the breaks are not random.

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