Madam Zhong sat next to her husband’s body and cried. Nothing could be heard in the teahouse except for her heart-wrenching sobs. Jing Yi struggled out of Shao Hai’s embrace and ran over to his mother’s side, hugging her neck. “Mommy!” He looked at his father with a frightened expression, unable to understand what had happened.
Madam Zhong turned around and hugged her son back. That’s right. She couldn’t lose herself in her grief. There was still their son to take care of. And Ah Lei wouldn’t want her to cry. He had always loved her smile.
She wiped away her tears with the back of her hand. With a frighteningly calm expression, she stood up with Jing Yi in her arms and turned around to Qiang Wei. This man … If she had understood it correctly, he was that person’s subject. If it concerned Jing Yi, he would help.
“Please, bring my son back home.”
Qiang Wei nodded and took Jing Yi from her. The boy didn’t want to leave his mother though. She had only ever cried once and that was when they had met that bandit in the forest. Remembering this he felt a sudden sense of crisis.
“Mommy!” He flailed his arms and tried to get back to her but Qiang Wei dragged him out of the teahouse.
“Be good. Your mother has to do something difficult. You’re helping her if you’re not there. Let’s go home, alright? You mother’s going to come over after she’s finished.”
Jing Yi didn’t want to go. Especially since he didn’t even know this strange man. But then again … His mother had entrusted him to this man so he should be a good person, no? Jing Yi looked up at him with limpid eyes.
Qiang Wei smiled. This was the crown prince’s reincarnation. He had to do everything he could to help him. “What is it, little one?”
Jing Yi tilted his head. That manner of speaking to him … “Do you know grandfather?”
“Grandfather?” Qiang Wei hadn’t seen Qiu Ling’s sagely-old-man appearance and couldn’t understand what the boy was talking about.
“Who’s your grandfather? I thought you only had your parents and your uncle and aunt.”
Jing Yi shook his head. “No, there’s grandfather too.” He pursed his lips, leaned in closer and lowered his voice. “You know, grandfather’s a dragon!”
Qiang Wei’s lips twitched. Grandfather was a dragon? That should mean … ‘grandfather’ was His Majesty? Did their king know he was addressed like this? Considering his vanity … He might go insane hearing this. Qiang Wei would probably be stunned silly if he knew that his king had fabricated this ‘grandfather’ himself.
After getting over his mental shock, Qiang Wei smiled. “If he’s a dragon, I probably know him. There aren’t that many dragons, you know?”
“So you’re a dragon too?”
“I thought so!”
“Oh? How come?”
Qiang Wei’s smile stiffened. Please, little boy, never repeat these words in front of His Majesty. You’re going to get me killed this way! “I’m certainly not as nice as your … ahem … grandfather.”
“That’s true.” Jing Yi pursed his lips. “So … What happened to father?”
Qiang Wei looked at the boy and sighed. “I’ll tell you when we reach your home, alright?”
“Alright.” Jing Yi hugged Qiang Wei’s neck and let him carry him home.
Qiang Wei put the boy down in his room and sat before him on the floor. “About your father …” He prepared to explain but hesitated. How to tell something like that to a child? He couldn’t just say ‘Your father is dead, he won’t come back ever again’, could he?
“Mn … Let me tell you a story first, alright?”
Jing Yi nodded and waited for what Qiang Wei wanted to tell him.
“So … many, many years ago, we dragons had a king we loved very much. He was really powerful and inspired awe in everyone who saw him but he was also really caring to his subjects. All the dragons were looking up to him. The males wanted to be like him and the females wanted to marry him.” He paused and looked expectantly at the boy. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a reaction.
Qiang Wei smiled wryly. Little boy, shouldn’t you inject something at this point? Like asking what happened next? Or at least ask for the king’s name! But Jing Yi still waited for him to continue without uttering a single sentence.
Qiang Wei couldn’t take it any longer and coughed in embarrassment. “Anyway … One day the demons attacked. In fact, they didn’t really attack the dragons but the gods instead. But the gods have … quite the close relationship to the dragons so when the gods seemed to be losing the war our king set out to help them. He battled with the demon king for four days and four nights and finally managed to kill him.”
Qiang Wei said so but his face fell. “Unfortunately, the demon king had managed to hurt the dragon king with the cursed weapon he wielded. Though the wound seemed to heal, the dragon king got weaker and weaker as time passed and finally … he took his last breath.”
Without knowing how Mister Zhong had died, Qiang Wei had somehow brought up the story involving the very same weapon to explain his father’s death to Jing Yi. Maybe this was fate at work or maybe it was because the previous dragon king’s death had just been as mysterious to the dragons as Mister Zhong’s death was to Qiang Wei now. They had taken a long time to figure out it was related to the demons’ soul-devouring dagger and maybe they never would’ve realized had it not been for the fact that quite a few of the gods and dragons who had fought in the war died under such mysterious circumstances.
Jing Yi still only looked at Qiang Wei, patiently waiting for the end of the story.
Qiang Wei sighed. “We were devastated when our king died. Many of us thought that it might be the end of the whole dragon race. But then …” He smiled unconsciously remembering that day. “When the demons had already elected their new king and were trying to take revenge on us for their loss, somebody stepped forward to save us. He was …” Qiang Wei shook his head not knowing how to describe what he had seen that day.
“He was no less awe-inspiring than our previous king. When he slightly lifted his hand the winds roared and the clouds gathered above our heads bringing heavy rain and rumbling thunder and flashes of lighting that scorched the earth and charred those vicious demons to a crispy black. And amidst all this chaos he just picked up some sword that someone had dropped and plunged into the fray, chopp— er … defeating that new demon king and saving us dragons once again.”
Qiang Wei patted Jing Yi’s head. “That man became our new king and even though the old king’s passing was still bitterly bemoaned, we were satisfied. So what I want to say is: Little one, your father is like our old king. He fought valiantly for the sake of his own people — that is you and your mother — but finally, he lost. He won’t be returning.”
Jing Yi looked at him with a pale face, understanding dawning in his eyes.
Qiang Wei tussled his hair. “It’s alright. He was … He certainly was content to be able to help the people closest to him even if he had to give up his own life for it. And you don’t have to worry. Someday, when you require help, someone will come to your aid just like our new king appeared when we needed him the most and you’ll find that other people can become just as important to you as the people who passed on. It’ll still hurt not having them at your side anymore but there will be other good things. So, don’t be too sad. Your father wouldn’t like that either. He’d certainly like it more if you still smiled and continued on with your life to become such a great hero like he had been one.”
Jing Yi nodded. He didn’t understand everything but the last thing the man in front of him said was pretty easy. So, I should smile and become a hero. Remembering these words, Jing Yi started to mull over what a hero was. He would definitely do what his father expected of him!