Amber 王婉璇 180452001
Herman, an isolated old soldier from a ruined southern country, led a weird life in his eighties. After nearly one hundred years of division, the new emperor established a unified empire, receiving the meritorious officials of each country to the capital located in the Central Plain and giving them a better life, for which everyone who had survived the endless wars was grateful, except Herman.
Actually, although Herman had been a soldier in the south, his hometown was in the Central Plain. Displaced for most of his life, Herman finally returned home, but there was no smile on his face. What occupied him every day was going to the hills to collect thatch with a basket on his back and a little flag in it. His neighbors knew nothing of his strange behavior except that he valued the flag, which had been given to him by the general he had followed, seemingly more than his life.
“Take the thatch to the enemy camp!” Herman suddenly shouted to himself, shocking passers-by as he trudged home with the thatch on his back. These words were the order given to him by General Lucian during the Mountain War fifty years ago, which, in his heart, was the glory of his lifetime.
Decades were not enough to obscure Herman's memory of the Mountain War in which he was ordered to lead a squad at midnight to thatch enemy’s camps in preparation for General Lucian’s fire. In his spare time, Herman liked to talk heatedly about the war with his neighbors, telling them how difficult it was to march in the heat, how calm General Lucian was when he commanded, and how spectacular the fires of the night of the counterattack were.
“...You know what? The fire made the night sky brighter than day and the clouds redder than sunset!” Herman bragged about his exploits, completely oblivious to the lack of interest in the subject around him. So, when the story was over, he received no response.
“Umm...” a kind girl broke the ice, “Who's General Lucian?”
“What?” Herman suddenly turned red with anger, stared, and then yelled at the girl, “Don't you know what a great General Lucian is?”
Realizing that someone had not heard of General Lucian, the octogenarian veteran became so mad with anger that the little girl began to cry. Seeing this, people around him quickly advised him to calm down. After all, at his age, anger is a dangerous thing. Meanwhile, a warm-hearted woman took the little girl in her arms to comfort her, so that the little girl gradually stopped crying.
After this, it was almost certain that Herman was a madman.
Although Herman failed to control his emotions, his head was clear. He was right. General Lucian had made a name for himself after the Mountain Wars. Southerners regarded him as the patron saint of their country, while Easterners shuddered at the sound of his name. But history is like a river, of which the heartless rolling waves sweeps away heroes. General Lucian passed away more than thirty years ago. How could a little girl born in the Central Plain know of his deeds? Even though Hermann's country had long since died, he still wanted to maintain its ridiculous and meaningless dignity. A careless word from someone would be taken as an offence from his perspective.
Instead, he was a man of no faith who put life first. This thought served him well when an arbitrary power took over his hometown. At that time, everyone fled in tears, except for Herman, who calmly thought of ways to make a living in the south. He was selected by the southern army by virtue of his extraordinary martial arts skills and given unprecedented glory for fighting the enemy on the battlefield. In contrast to the troop who would only drive him away from his home town, Herman felt a sense of belonging that he had never felt before. Most of his comrades were refugees from the north like him. They looked out for each other, so the hardships of life did not erase the warmth of human nature. He could certainly get more warmth there than in the Central Plain, where family power is prized. For the first time, he was determined to do everything in his power to protect that place.
What impressed him the most was the Mountain War, the deadly contest between the two countries. There was not a single general at the time who dared to stand up and take responsibility except Lucian. The enemy's army was so powerful that they could not find a breakthrough but held out for most of the year until the summer heat forced them to camp in the woods, at which moment Lucian found an opportunity to annihilate the enemy by fire. Taking the enemy by surprise, they succeeded in driving the eastern enemy out of the south, which made the splendid war go down in history.
In Herman’s hometown, there was such a beautiful legend called Farewell My Concubine, which tells the story of a beauty who committed suicide to show her determination and loyalty when the king's army was defeated.
Herman had always kept the command flag which General Lucian had given him, swearing to live and die with his country. After the Mountain War, General Lucian was feared by the emperor and finally killed for malicious words from courtiers. His son became a mainstay but had never won the trust of the emperor. After his country was taken by the enemy, Herman, in his eighties, numbly followed the others back to the Central Plain and lived a peaceful life. Although he always dreamed of fire or shouted “Kill the enermy!” for no reason, he never remembered the story of Farewell My Concubine or his original oath.
One day, on his way back from collecting thatch from the hills, Herman saw a bony dog lying limp on the ground, surrounded by four small, fluffy puppies. The dog gave Herman a complicated look, as if to warn him off or to ask for help. Herman put the puppies in soft baskets filled with thatch and picked up the dog, heading for his home.
Since then, Herman had brought thatch from the mountains every day for the dogs to use. Lively dogs always amused him, so he often took them up the hill in a thatched basket. The pole of General Lucian’s flag was a little sharp. He was afraid the dogs would get hurt. So instead of carrying it in the basket up the hill, he put it in a long box and put it away.
He had a regular walk with the dogs every day. When he met neighbors, they often praised his dogs for their beauty and cuteness.
“What lovely dogs! Look! They are getting fat again!” his neighbors said. “I remember they were very thin at first. I can’t believe you are so good at keeping dogs!”
“Haha...” Herman blushed under the praise, “It’s not that I'm good with dogs, but that they are willing to grow...”
Days of peace were as tender as the morning sun.
Some colourful coatings on the market caught Herman’s eyes. As the dogs grew, they needed a bigger house. Herman had recently made one for them out of wood, but it had no color. He thought the dogs would be happy if their house had been painted a nice color.
“Can I help you?” The familiar accent shocked Herman.
“Are you from the south?” Herman asked in surprise. Something opened the door in Herman’s memory that had been closed for so long.
“Yes.” replied the boss, “now business is very popular in my hometown. Many people have become rich. Unwilling to be left behind, I have taken some goods and come here.”
After a few brief exchanges, Herman walked away with two buckets of paint, smiling.
Time never returns, but when winter is gone, spring is going to come again.