Chapter 18: The Green Monster
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Wei Caihong found him with the little girl feeding her milk and singing to her.

“How I wish you could have given me a babe, my Emerald.” Said Wei Caihong as he was followed by Wei Zhaohui and Han Shanyuan. “This little boy says he is to live with us?”

Nikola placed the milk down and nodded.

“My weapon’s apprentice. He will live in Wei Zhaohui’s room and…”

“No way! I’m not sharing!” Nikola turned to frown at his son who immediately wilted at the look. “It’s my room.” Said Wei Zhaohui more calmly.

“And there is enough space for one more inside.” Reprimed Nikola. “And, as I was saying before I was interrupted, little Miss Han Fengfan will be staying at my and Wei Caihong’s room. So, we can be there for her if she cries at night.”

“She won’t, Niki. She is never a bother.” Said Han Shanyuan and he received a hit over his head from Wei Zhaohui.

“Just who do you think you are addressing so casually? My mama is…” He couldn’t finish the sentence as Wei Caihong tugged at his ear.

“Apologize or you won’t eat tonight!” He said sternly and his son bowed his head.

“I’m sorry Han Shanyuan.” His ear was released and he ran towards his still frowning mother.

“Can I see the baby?” He asked and Nikola pulled the bundle with the little girl away from his son.

“She is no toy. Go work on your calligraphy and make space for the new bed to be brough in into your room.”

“You have a bed ready for me?” Asked Han Shanyuan and he was holding his hand right above his heart. There were tears in his eyes.

“We do, and a crib for your little sister.” Said Nikola. He had made them from the soil. He would still need to put something soft on them but they were big enough to make sure that their new owners were comfortable.

Han Shanyuan ran up to Nikola and hugged him. Then his stomach rumbled and Nikola showed him a plate with rice, vegetables and pork chops on the table.

“Don’t wait for us, kid. Eat up and then we will give you a bath and tuck you in.”

“Can you also tell me a story?” Asked the boy hopefully. “My mama always told me stories before bed. That is if you can spare the time, Niki.” What a wonderful apprentice he had picked. Nikola thought to himself. Then Wei Zhaohui hugged Nikola too, using himself for a barrier between his mother and this new addition to his family.

“Mama will be too busy singing me a song, sorry.”

“Wei Zhaohui!” Yelled both Nikola and Wei Caihong at the same time. “What has gotten into you?” Asked Nikola worriedly. His son had never acted up before.

“Is this how we are raising you?” Wei Caihong’s disappointment was evident in his voice. Wei Zhaohui deflated again and he released his mother.

“I’ll go work on my calligraphy now.” He said and then dragged his feet towards his room. In the corridor was a barebones bed and Wei Zhaohui jumped over it. Well, this was simply unfair. He finally had a family and now he was going to be…replaced. Thrown back out on the street or passed over to uncles Basil and Bjorn. He clanged his fists. He just needed to show his parents that he was better than Han Shanyuan at everything! Then he begun to put away some of his toys so that there was space in his room for the second bed.

Han Shanyuan was eating happily as Niki was singing for the four of them. The song was fast and jolly and the boy smiled at his luck. Sure, little master Wei didn’t like him much, but he had been excited about meeting little Han Fengfan. He could win him over. And they would be a family. Maybe then master Wei would talk Niki into adopting him and his sister. That would be heavenly. He needed to visit his mother’s grave to tell her of all this. Tomorrow after school he’ll go. He won’t be able to bring Han Fengfan with him this time, but he was sure that his mama would be happier if her little girl was somewhere warm.

After he ate, he received his bath and then he was put into one of Niki’s robes and then he watched as Niki and teacher Wei picked up the bed and carried it inside where there was a big empty space. Wei Zhaohui was working on his calligraphy and pretended that he didn’t pay them any attention. Although he stole a glance at his parents. Once the bed was set and Han Shanyuan was tucked in the two husbands went to check over Wei Zhaohui’s writings and then they assured him it was to their satisfaction. After which they left the two boys together to make dinner.

“Hey, little brother.” Said Han Shanyuan from the bed. Wei Zhaohui scrunched up his nose and pretended to keep on writing. “Psst, little brother!”

“I’m probably older than you! And we are not brothers!” Barked Wei Zhaohui from his place at the desk. Han Shanyuan got up from his bed and then picked in at Wei Zhaohui’s writing.

“Wow, you are really good at this. Can you give me some pointers? I have trouble remembering this character.” He pointed at one particularly hard character and Wei Zhaohui smirked at him.

“Of course, you would. You are not naturally gifted jade like me.”

“Will you help me or not?” Han Shanyuan was trying his best not to snap at the other boy. Why did he have to be so difficult?

“I will. First, you start with a dot…” When Nikola came to call Wei Zhaohui for dinner, he found the two boys sitting side by side, writing. He smiled at that and then went on his tip toes to the boys and placed a hand over each of their shoulders.

“It’s good that you two get along. Han Shanyuan, would you like to come eat some more? And meet my uncles Basil and Bjorn. Uncle Basil thought me all about blacksmithing.”

“I will. Thanks Niki!” Wei Zhaohui grumbled something about how his mother shouldn’t be addressed as such but Nikola tugged at his ear and the boy stopped complaining. On the table Han Shanyuan was feeding his sister some rice. She was a lovely little baby with blue eyes and dark black tuffs of hair. But she had no baby fat and that worried her brother. But surely this would change now that they had a roof over their heads and someone to feed them. He vowed to work hard so that Niki will be happy.

During the meal Wei Zhaohui kept stealing glances at the little girl. He picked up a plum and tore a small piece of it and then gave it to Han Shanyuan.

“For your sister.” He said, not looking at the siblings.

“Do you want to give it to her yourself?” Asked Han Shanyuan and then Wei Zhaohui snatched the piece of fruit back and then put it over the little girl’s mouth. She stared at him and smiled but didn’t make a move to eat it.

“Come on, little princess! Fruits are good!” He pushed the fruit closer to her mouth and then the little girl teared up and let out a sob. Panicked Wei Zhaohui got his hand away and watched as the girl stopped trying to cry.

“Let me. You have to have a technique, kid.” Said Azazel as he took the fruit from Wei Zhaohui’s hand and then begun to make horse noises, as if there was a carriage. The little girl giggled and opened her mouth for the fruit. Azazel blew her a kiss and watched in satisfaction as she opened and closed her little hand as if to catch it.

“I want to try again!” Said Wei Zhaohui as he tore off another piece of plum. “Here comes the carriage for the little princess.” He said, making horse noises too and the little girl accepted his offering. He clapped his hands together and looked at his parents.

“I think she likes me!” He exclaimed and then he got more of the plum in his hands.

“Be careful not to overfeed her. She may become ill.” Said Wei Caihong as he watched his son eyeing the plum bowl on the table.

“Can she at least finish this one?” Wei Zhaohui pointed at the plum in his plate from which he had been feeding Han Fengfan from.

“But just that one. She ate a lot today.” Said Nikola. “Do you want to burb her later?” He asked and watched as his son’s face scrunched up in confusion.

“Huh?” He asked.

“You hold her close and massage her back until she burbs. It helps her food settle in her stomach.” Explained Nikola and Wei Zhaohui nodded.

“I can hug her, sure.”

They finished their meal and by the end of it Wei Zhaohui talked Han Shanyuan into handing him the little girl over so he could hug her. He was humming her a tune as he massaged her back and then she let out a loud burb.

“I did it! Mama, did you hear?” Asked an ecstatic Wei Zhaohui and then his sleeve was tugged. He saw Han Shanyuan who had his arms opened wide. Reluctantly he returned the little girl to her brother.

“Time for bed, now. Tomorrow is the last day before the winter break, isn’t it?” Said Nikola. There wasn’t enough money for heating in the school and so now that it was colder the children would be let home.

“Yes, mama. Are we going to go to the beach after school? While it’s still sunny?”

The kraken had moved closer to the beach, and so had the mermaids. It was dangerous there now and people didn’t even go into the forest anymore. It must have something to do with the bait Rudra had set in one of the caves. The Shiva spend all his time in them now. He had his armor and trident and waited for the kraken to take the bait. He also killed off any mermaid that swam to try and kill him and sold their parts to the market. Many women were crowding the market trying to get mermaid hearts and mermaid pearls. Ariel had been horrified but when Nikola had explained to her who Master Wang really was, she had simply bowed her head.

“Maybe once Master Wang defeats the kraken we can go.” He said and then he looked to Wei Caihong. “How did they do in the exam?”

“So far Wei Zhaohui’s essay is the best written one, no mistakes were made in either the grammar or the spelling. But Han Shanyuan had written his with a far greater passion. Even though he has some mistakes it made me think. I wonder to whom I will give the first place in the ranking.” The school ranking was very important. Whoever was first would travel to the next town and present his or hers essay in front of a bigger audience. And if he was picked even there he or she would go to the next town and so forth until the capital. Then they would have the chance to read their essay to the emperor and receive a diploma for their talents.

Wei Zhaohui looked down at his hands. His talent was thanks to the magic drinks his mama gave him. Han Shanyuan must be very talented to make his papa doubt.

“I will sleep on it and decide tomorrow. No matter which one of you wins we are all going to be travelling to the capital. I’m sure that the other essays in this country are no match for the two of you.”

Then Han Shanyuan bowed his head.

“Teacher Wei, you are too kind. But I can’t show an essay with mistakes to the emperor. Please give the first place to Wei Zhaohui.” And it was the truth. He would be happy with a good grade for his essay. But he wasn’t going to waste the emperor’s time with childish mistakes.

“Wei Zhaohui can give you lessons and you can help him by debating over his ideas with him.” Said Wei Caihong. He was going to correct Han Shanyuan’s mistakes before forwarding the essay. But now that he thought of it that felt like cheating. And the little boy was hard working, he wouldn’t appreciate it.

Han Shanyuan looked at Wei Zhaohui and extended his hand.

“Friends?” He was stubbornly looking at his own hand and he expected for the gesture not to be returned. But then his hand was gripped gently.

“Friends!” Replied Wei Zhaohui. If it had been him, he wouldn’t have given up the chance to present his work in front of the emperor. And if his father thought that Han Shanyuan could prepare him for the debates that would be happening in his defense of his essay then he would take his word for it.

Nikola leaned on Wei Caihong as he watched the two boys. They had a rough start and Nikola thought he understood why Wei Zhaohui had been so difficult earlier today. He had witnessed it on more than one of his own grandchildren. The boy didn’t want to be replaced and Nikola wouldn’t even think of it. He just needed to show the children that they were each loved in their own way.

An arm wrapped around him and Nikola turned to look at Wei Caihong who leaned down and kissed him. The children giggled at the display and even little Han Fengfan made something between a giggle and a gurgle at the display. Soon it was bath time and after that all the children were tucked in their beds.

Nikola stood by the baby’s crib and played with her hair. The girl waved her arms around. She was holding onto Nikola’s curls and was waving them around like veils. Wei Caihong’s heart was melting at the picture. Nikola looked at peace now. He went and hugged his husband from behind and kissed his neck. Then he moved the kiss a little to the left and then he sunk his fangs.

Nikola gasped softly in his arms but didn’t stiffen. Once Wei Caihong was done, he kissed the spot and extended his arms so that he could tickle the baby.

“She is special.” Said Nikola as he relaxed in his husband’s arms. “She has nearly as much magic as I do.”

“So, she is not fully human?” Asked Wei Caihong as he rested his head on Nikola’s shoulder so that he could look at the girl’s face. There was nothing out of the ordinary there.

“I don’t think she is. Although she doesn’t have the aura of a Nephilim either. I suppose time will tell.”

“It doesn’t make a difference. She is our little girl now and that is all that is important.” Said Wei Caihong. He had the sudden urge to adopt these two new children into their family.

“Let’s adopt them.” He said but Nikola shook his head.

“We’ll raise them but we can’t adopt them. Didn’t you see how Wei Zhaohui acted towards Han Shanyuan earlier? And tomorrow when you announce the grades make a debate in the class. Invite some of the villagers too. Give some of your other students a chance to defend their essays for the first rang. Otherwise, people will talk that you are giving the first place to Wei Zhaohui only because he is your son. They will spoil his victory.”

“I suppose that will be good practice for whoever wins for the debates in the future. But I’ll still give those two the highest grade. How are your businesses going along?” Asked Wei Caihong. Nikola invested in many things in the village. And he had a steady profit coming in from them.

“Well, Madam Tao is going to be extending her house to make a proper workshop. She will be working in my shop while the construction is being done. And Xu Song has ducklings for now, but once they grow up, she will breed them for her stuffed duck stand. And my jewelry caravanner came back and gave me the mother of all commissions. Oh, and we are now the proud owners of some land near the forest’s edge. I think we should plant some mandarins there. I make a nice jam out of them.”

“You got someone to sell you their land?” Asked Wei Caihong in amazement. People around here lived off their land. For Nikola to have gotten his hands on even a small piece was a miracle.

“Well, the land is rocky and unfertile.” Said Nikola and Wei Caihong groaned thinking that someone had dupped his husband. “But that is nothing some hard work and a little magic can’t fix. And once the people see that things grow on our land, they might begin to put in requests for their own land to be bettered.”

“Be careful not to expose yourself.” Said Wei Caihong as he held Nikola tighter. He didn’t know what he was going to do if the villagers turned against Nikola.

“I’m always careful. I will use a lot of digging and fertilizer as well as a little water regulation. Heck, I might even not need to use magic at all.”

“It’s best if you don’t.” Wei Caihong tugged Nikola towards the bed but the little girl refused to let go of his hair and Nikola was soon reduced to giggles.

“You are both so demanding. Wei Caihong, we will need to expand the house. Do you think our neighbors will sell their house if we find them a plot of land somewhere else?”

Wei Caihong considered it. Their left neighbor, Madam Zhao, was a grouchy old hag who only talked to them when she needed something from them. But their right neighbors, the family Lin, were an understandable bunch.

“But why do you need more space?” He asked as Nikola was tickling Han Fengfan in an attempt to get her to let go of his hair. The little girl was giggling and waving her arms around but seemed to only hold on tighter.

“We can get more children.” Said Nikola and Wei Caihong felt as if he melted at the words. “Not to adopt them, I don’t want to make Wei Zhaohui feel expandable. But to teach them things? Maybe when we leave, we can take some of them and help them settle so that they could ply their trade.”

“I’d love that.” To have their children around them even once they left the village would be a blessing. And something told him that they would adopt more where they go. “Come now, little princess. Let go of your mama.” He said as he begun to tickle the girl too. He leaned too much, however, and one cluster of Nikola’s hair was released in favor of one cluster of his own being captured. He snorted at that and reached out to try to pry her hands from his hair but she teared up.

“We can take her to bed with us.” Said Nikola, equally amused.

“We might as well or we won’t be sleeping tonight. To be held captive by a baby.” Nikola picked up the girl and they crab walked to the bed and laid down in each other’s arms. The little girl didn’t let go of their hair during the whole night.

Bright and early Han Shanyuan woke up. He needed to go ask for his copper and then visit granny Nuo Nuying’s stall and…no, he didn’t need to do that anymore. He smiled and pinched himself. Yes, this was definitely real! He jumped up and made his bed. He had a bed now; he hadn’t had a bed ever since his mother died of the fever shortly after Han Fengfan was born. Today he needed to go to his hiding spot and take all of their keepsakes. He’d ask Wei Zhaohui to clear him some space so that he could put them on display.

He wasn’t given his routine for today so he supposed he would be going to school as usual. He ran to the bathing room and washed in cold water, not wanting to wake up his benefactors. Then he put on yesterday’s robes on and rightened them around himself. Then he went into the kitchen determined to start on preparing breakfast only to see Basil and Bjorn already there with Basil steering something delicious smelling in a pot.

“Do you need help?” He asked and Basil smiled at him and pointed at the free spot next to Bjorn.

“For porridge? Nah. You sit tight and breakfast will be ready in a bit. Or you can go wake the love birds, your sister and Wei Zhaohui. They need to bathe and get ready for the day too.”

With this new task in hand Han Shanyuan jumped up and ran first to Niki and Wei Caihong’s room. He found them curled up around his siter who was awake. She waved her little hands at him. She was holding hair in each of them. Han Shanyuan smiled and went to tickle her just bellow her chin so she would let go. She liked gripping his hair too, even if his only reached to his shoulders. Her giggles woke up the sleeping pair. Niki reached out a hand and patted Han Shanyuan fondly.

“How did you got her to let go?” He asked and Han Shanyuan demonstrated tickling his sister below her chin. Nikola’s finger soon joined him and the little girl caught, which was their cue to stop. Nikola picked the child and got up, Wei Caihong following him. They went into the bathing room and when Nikola didn’t see any ashes in the little stove, they kept stocked with wood for appearances, he turned to look at Han Shanyuan.

“Didn’t you warm your water before you took a bath?”

“I didn’t want to risk starting a fire.” Answered the boy truthfully.

“Well tomorrow you wake me. What if you get sick?” Han Shanyuan’s head was lowered but he was smiling. It was good to have someone taking care of him again.

After the bath Basil came into the dining area with the porridge and Bjorn in tow and they had a breakfast once the porridge cooled. Once again Han Shanyuan was feeding his sister, but this time Wei Zhaohui was sneaking in spoonfuls of his own porridge to the little girl. Then, when his own porridge was eaten Wei Zhaohui extended his hands and Han Shanyuan handed him the little girl and begun to eat his own breakfast.

“There is going to be a debate for the first place.” Said Wei Caihong from the head of the table. “I expect you both have good arguments for your key points.”

“But, isn’t my essay the best written?” Asked Wei Zhaohui. Surely all his hard work on his calligraphy had to amount to something, right?

“Grammatically, yes. You don’t have a single mistake.” Said Wei Caihong and then he pointed to Han Shanyuan. “But his mistakes are so few that they can be excused and his passion for what he writes overshadow them.”

“What was your essay about, Han Shanyuan?” Asked Wei Zhaohui. What could be so extraordinary about it?

“It’s about how to manage your expenses when you live alone. What is yours about Wei Zhaohui?” Asked Han Shanyuan shily. Ever since Wei Zhaohui had helped him with his calligraphy yesterday, he had begun to act better towards him.

“It’s about workshops that accept children and why it’s wrong.” Said Wei Zhaohui and Han Shanyuan frowned.

“But, how could it be wrong? Your father gave me a chance to work for him and now I have a roof over my head. Do you have any idea how many more children would jump at this opportunity?”

“Children should have time to go to school! I wrote that in my essay!” Replied Wei Zhaohui, his raised voice making the little girl in his arm tearing up. Han Shanyuan snatched his sister away from Wei Zhaohui.

“And what will they learn when their stomach grumbles and they have to live off a half a steamed bun a day?” Han Shanyuan’s voice was equally raised and soon Nikola snatched the little girl from his hands and stood up to get her to her crib.

“Safe your arguments for the debate.” Said Wei Caihong sternly but not before Wei Zhaohui pointed at Han Shanyuan and spoke.

“Your arguments fall flat and your idea for an essay is such a pity party. What will you teach everyone? How to…”

“Enough!” Yelled Wei Caihong and he pointed at the door. “Get out, Wei Zhaohui and wait outside.” The boy stood up and ran outside. Han Shanyuan’s head was held down.

“You should just let him have the first place, teacher Wei.” Said the boy but there was a slight waiver in his voice. “I made mistakes, after all.”

“Han Shanyuan…a copper a day to the poor isn’t really enough, is it?”

The boy sucked in a breath. He didn’t mean to sound ungrateful. Before teacher Wei begun to feed the poor, he had days in which he didn’t eat so that he could make sure that there was enough food for his sister.

“I know you can’t spare anymore, teacher Wei. And I don’t ask for more.”

“Before you earned money doing chores, didn’t you? Has Nikola spoken with you about your pay?”

The boy waved his hands around and looked around the room. Basil and Bjorn were looking down at their plates. In this family they didn’t do charity even though they were both rich. Bjorn’s mead was an instant hit with the adults and Basil took on commissions which were very profitable. Han Shanyuan wondered if they felt guilt.

“You don’t need to pay me! I’ll be learning a craft. And I get to live here with my sister and we are warm and fed.”

“The normal wage for an apprentice is three silvers per day. I will talk with Nikola and arrange that you get them. If you save them, for we will take care of your living and school expenses, you will be able to get your own smithy running when your apprenticeship ends.” The boy should have had their forge, for Wei Zhaohui didn’t need it. But the two boys didn’t get along despite Han Shanyuan’s attempts. And if Han Shanyuan ranked first today, for Wei Caihong was going to give the guests the chance to pick the number one, then it would only get worse.

Nikola entered the room, without Han Fengfan, and sat back down next to Wei Caihong to finish his porridge.

“So, charity.” Said Bjorn as he scratched the back of his head. “How do I go about it?”

“Are you kidding?” Asked Wei Caihong as he pointed his spoon at his sort of grandson. “You thought me about the true nature of charity and how it differentiates with simply handing out things.”

“Well, yes. But I have no idea what people need.”

“Food in their bellies, clothes on their back and somewhere warm to spend the night, Master Bjorn.” Said Han Shanyuan and he covered his mouth. What if Bjorn gets angry at him now? Oh, why didn’t he keep his mouth shut?

“There has to be something more specific. A way to give them these things with them actually earning them. But there are too many people for me to hire them all.” Said Bjorn as he poked at his porridge with his spoon.

“Once Master Wang defeats the kraken then we can become a fishing village again. Then everyone will have food to eat.” Said Han Shanyuan.

“I just wished he would hurry. The mermaids are crowding into the caves trying to get away from the kraken. And…”

A thunder sounded and rain begun to pour outside. Wei Zhaohui ran inside, soaked.

“Do we still have to go to school today?” He asked and Wei Caihong sighed.

“Yes, son. Now prepare the umbrellas. Han Shanyuan, help him. He’ll show you where they are.”

As soon as the two boys were out of hearing range Wei Zhaohui ducked his head.

“I’m sorry. Your essay must be something else if papa is overlooking the mistakes.”

“You must have some good points too if you are considered for first place.” Offered Han Shanyuan. The two boys grinned at each other and extended their hands towards one another.

“Let the best one in the school win.” Said Han Shanyuan and Wei Zhaohui winked at him.

“We both know it would be me.”

“Prat.” Said Han Shanyuan, but he was smiling brightly. Was this how it was like to have a brother?

The debate was heated and the title ended up going to Han Shanyuan, his topic being a little too close for comfort for most of the poorer residence of the village. Wei Zhaohui received second place and people commented on his beautiful writing. He vowed to write about how good it was to adopt a child for the state exam. He wasn’t going to be showed up again.

They returned home. The rain hadn’t let up during the entire day. Then, just as Nikola was putting the finishing touches of their dinner, a man burst into their home. He was soaked to the bone and he was crying.

“Wei Caihong! Wei Caihong! It’s Master Wang! He killed the kraken but he is heavily wounded. You have to help him!”

“Where is he?” Asked Wei Caihong. He knew the truth about Master Wang, or rather Rudra, and he wondered what traditional medicine was going to do for him.

“He is outside. Should we carry him in?”

“Yes, quickly before he catches his death in this cold.”

Master Wang was barely clutching to life as they carried him in. His left arm had chunks bitten off it, just small enough to have come from an octopus’ tentacles. There were people crowding in the room and they refused to leave even when Wei Caihong looked at them pointedly. He would need to heal the angel himself. He just hoped he could pass the healing chants he knew for calming songs. Determined to do this he turned to Nikola.

“Get the kids to their bedroom. And bring me some herbal paste for all these wounds, my Emerald.”

Nikola nodded at him and grabbed Wei Zhaohui and Han Shanyuan and rushed them out of the room. All the while Wei Caihong couldn’t help but wonder: where do angels go when they died?