Jiang Kangchen was awakened by the sounds of morning exercise. When he woke up, he was disoriented for a moment and couldn’t figure out where he was. It wasn’t until he felt the obvious soreness in his body that he fully woke up. The bed was very hard and after the long journey, he finally reached his destination.
His whole body relaxed, exhaustion washed over him, and he felt pain all over. He got up from the bed, his body stiff, and slowly made his way to the table. He picked up the teapot on the table and poured himself a cup of tea. The water was cold, but he was very thirsty and didn’t care.
After quenching his thirst, Jiang Kangchen began to feel a bit cooler. He quickly put on his clothes, found his supply of paste (a medicinal supplement), and took two spoonfuls. His stomach immediately felt better.
He then moved his stiff muscles a bit and left the tent. Senior generals like Dai Mingrong and Dai Zhanxiao had their own residences in the pass and although they couldn’t compare to the capital, they were much more comfortable than the tents. However, they all chose to stay in the tents and share the hardships with the soldiers.
As soon as Jiang Kangchen came out, someone approached him and said, “Lord Jiang, I’m Cao Dong. The general sent me to assist you. Are you hungry? I can fetch you some food.”
Jiang Kangchen stopped him and said, “No rush. I want a pot of hot water and I brought my own provisions. I’d like to make some porridge for myself.”
“Very well, I’ll prepare it right away.”
Mornings at Tiger Pass were quite cold and Jiang Kangchen rubbed his arms for warmth as he returned to his tent. Inside the tent, it wasn’t much warmer, so he added a few pieces of charcoal to the extinguished brazier and lit it. At this moment, he deeply missed the warm houses with heating in Xiushui Village.
Cao Dong arrived quickly, bringing some dry rations and even a small stove with bowls and chopsticks. Jiang Kangchen had a sip of hot water, washed his face, and lit the charcoal. He started feeling better. Instead of having Cao Dong wait on him in the tent, Jiang Kangchen insisted on making the porridge himself.
The white rice he was using had been specially polished by Shao Yunan before he left the capital. It was the best quality rice he could find in the supply store and it had been polished once more to ensure each grain sparkled. There was only one bag because Shao Yunan had told him to make porridge when he returned. However, he had been too busy in the capital and hadn’t had the chance to eat it, so he took the bag with him when he left the capital.
When the aroma of the rice porridge wafted out, Jiang Kangchen licked his lips, thinking he should ask Shao Yunan for some more rice next time. It smelled so good, even better than the rice he had eaten in the capital’s noble households.
Little did he know that re-polishing the rice was just a cover-up; this rice was actually from the space. Jiang Kangchen had a severe stomach ailment, which was why Shao Yunan had given him a bag of this rice to help with his digestion.
“Is Master Jiang awake?” Jiang Kangchen stood up and replied, “I am awake.” The tent flap was lifted and Dai Zhanxiao walked in, carrying a cloth bag. When he saw Jiang Kangchen making porridge, he furrowed his brow and asked, “Why is Master Jiang cooking porridge by himself? Where is Cao Dong? Hasn’t he come over?”
“Cao Dong came, but I wanted to make some porridge myself. Besides, I don’t have much to do right now. Making porridge keeps me warm. Did the Young General have a meal? This rice was given to me by Shijing and Yunan. I haven’t had a chance to eat it yet, so I brought it with me this time.”
Hearing that it was given by his younger brother, Dai Zhanxiao ignored the mention of Wang Shijing and replied, “In that case, I won’t stand on ceremony. Master Jiang, there’s no need to be so formal; you can call me by my name.”
“How can that be? You’re the Mighty General appointed by the Emperor and I’m just a courtier.”
“But you’re my brother’s elder and come to think of it, I should call you ‘Elder Brother.’ Our grandfathers were also close friends. I remember, didn’t Grandfather Weng adopt you as his son?”
Jiang Kangchen replied, “Uncle Weng recognized my brother Kangning as his adopted son, but in my heart, he is also like another father to me.” Dai Zhanxiao said, “In that case, I should call you ‘Big Brother Kangchen.’ You can call me Zhanxiao.”
Jiang Kangchen thought about it and didn’t refuse. He said, “What you said makes sense. Uncle Weng and the Old General have a deep friendship and they’ve known each other for many years. I won’t be so formal with you in private.”
While Uncle Weng and the Old General had a close relationship, because the men of the Dai family were almost always stationed at the border, they rarely returned to the capital. As a result, they weren’t familiar with the people in the capital, so Dai Zhanxiao hadn’t even met Jiang Kangchen and Jiang Kangning before, and he only vaguely recognized their father’s generation.
The porridge was ready and Jiang Kangchen scooped two bowls of it, accompanied by the millet “wwo wwo” (steamed dumplings) that Cao Dong had brought. These were steamed dumplings made from millet flour, not the golden little millet dumplings found in modern society.
The white flour in ancient times was often dark because of the technology and the wheat wasn’t ground very finely, so there were many wheat bran particles mixed in. In addition, this was a border region where even getting enough to eat was a problem, so the food wasn’t particularly refined.
Millet “wwo wwo” was hard and dark, but it was already dry rations that would fill one’s stomach. Don’t be fooled by Dai Zhanxiao’s fourth-rank general title. The food he ate was quite ordinary. At most, he would go hunting for some wild game to satisfy his cravings. That night, the steaming white rice porridge made him feel hungry.
Dai Zhanxiao didn’t stand on ceremony either, he blew on a spoonful and found it wasn’t too hot, so he took a bite. “Ah, delicious!” Jiang Kangchen saw this and said, “Shao Yunan said that you shouldn’t eat hot food; otherwise, you might get a sore throat.”
Dai Zhanxiao looked up and Jiang Kangchen picked out two pickles from a clay jar he had brought and chopped them with a knife. He said, “These are pickles and they were specially supplied for the General. They were made by Yunan.”
Dai Zhanxiao replied, “Big Brother Kangchen, could you tell me more about Yunan? My father, the General, said he’s my little brother, but I’m worried that I’ll be disappointed in the end.”
Jiang Kangchen said, “Even if it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity, having a friend like Yunan is still a good thing. Yunan regards me as his elder brother, but I see him as my benefactor.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s talk more while we eat.”
Around noon, Dai Zhanxiao finally emerged from Jiang Kangchen’s tent. His expression wasn’t as relaxed as when he had arrived, nor was it particularly heavy or joyful. He went to find his father in the general’s tent and on the way, he ran into the two brothers, Shi Zhuang and Shi Qiang, his subordinates.
Shi Qiang excitedly said, “General, I bought all the sheep available at the market. A total of sixty-three! I also told the sheep sellers to bring more. As many as we can get, and that we need their hides as well. I also bought 30 kilos of flour, so the brothers can make millet ‘wwo wwo’.”
Shi Zhuang, on the other hand, seemed concerned. “General, isn’t it a bit unfair for our vanguard army to have all this to themselves? On my way back, I’ve already been questioned by several people. Some are saying that officials from the capital have given us a lot of money and there’s been a lot of talk about it. Even General Li sent someone to inquire. And do we really have that much money to buy all this? What if they come to collect the money later and we can’t produce it?”
Dai Zhanxiao replied calmly, “If someone asks, just say you don’t know and that I instructed you to make the purchases. As for the money, rest assured, we have enough.”
Shi Zhuang said, “We really didn’t know. Since the Young General says it’s enough, I won’t worry anymore. But about eating separately…” They had been ordered to collect sheep, hides, and provisions since early morning, and they were told to get as much as they could. Shi Zhuang was completely in the dark.
“I have my reasons,” Dai Zhanxiao said, raising his foot. He didn’t go to his father’s tent but headed to the vanguard army’s training ground instead. “Spread the word. The vanguard army will have a day of rest today. Everyone should gather at the training ground to slaughter the sheep and enjoy a feast!”
Edited by: Jaisland