Chapter 183: Having Meat in the Army (3)
Both Xiao Hongyu and Captain Guo’s gazes turned in unison to He Changdi. He Changdi looked up with a stiff expression; his deep eyes drew their attention, but screamed his innocence.
Zhang Mai awkwardly coughed into his fist. Embarrassed, he said, “Captain, I was a little too hasty with my words. The meat I mentioned was something that Zixiang’s wife sent to him via messenger.”
Life was tough out here in the border troops. Even a captain wouldn’t be able to eat meat more than once a month out here. If someone wanted some, they would have to hunt it themselves out in the plains, and that was only when they were on a rare vacation. However, with the arrival of winter, the animals were all in hibernation. It was getting harder and harder to find anything to hunt. Suffering from meat withdrawal was an all too common problem out here amongst the northern border troops.
The troops did not maintain contact with the Tuhun or the nomadic barbarians, and they didn’t raise any livestock in their camp either. The amount of meat available to them was pitiful.
Zhang Mai shared a tent with He Changdi, and usually took good care of his junior. Big Brother Zhang was older than He Changdi by a whole decade, and had already been in the army for about that long as well. He had participated in countless battles and was Captain Guo’s most trusted subordinate. He had much experience to share, but his years in the army had left old wounds on his body, so his health wasn’t as good as the others.
Furthermore, Liangzhou had just entered winter. After sweating it out on the training grounds and getting hit by a blast of cold wind, coupled with the aching of his old wounds because of the chill, Zhang Mai had caught a cold. It had unfortunately manifested in a high fever, leaving him bedridden.
The old doctor in camp had come over to take a look. All he had done was some acupuncture, and then had prescribed some medicine. As for food and water, that was all left to the patient’s means to supply.
When Captain Guo was notified of his situation, he ordered the army cooks to send a pot of white rice porridge to Zhang Mai. Captain Guo had had nothing better to offer.
Since He Changdi shared a tent with Zhang Mai, he took up the responsibility of caring for him. As he watched Zhang Mai grow ever paler and skinnier due to his illness and old wounds, He Changdi quietly took out the translucent shredded beef that Chu Lian had sent to him. He scooped some out of the jar and placed it into Zhang Mai’s porridge.
When the bedridden Zhang Mai saw the shredded beef covered in oil sitting on top of his usually plain porridge, his eyes went completely wide.
Zhang Mai didn’t stand on courtesy with He Sanlang, and quickly wolfed down his porridge in only a few big gulps. After he was done, he wiped his mouth and pointed at the bowl, asking with surprise, “Where did that come from?”
The normally taciturn He Sanlang then said, “My wife sent it over.”
Zhang Mai laughed out loud, which only ended up making him cough. “Since your wife sent it to you, you must have eaten much of it in the past. Why don’t you leave the rest of it for your big brother here? It’ll be good for my recovery.”
Although He Sanlang looked calm and composed, Zhang Mai still hadn’t expected him to be such a tough nut to crack. He Sanlang refused to answer him. In the end, he only gave Zhang Mai that shredded beef a few more times. When Zhang Mai had recovered, he had searched through every nook and cranny of that tent, but it was pointless. He couldn’t find where He Changdi had hidden that little jar of translucent shredded beef.
Zhang Mai could only shake his head and smile.
When he had overheard that kid Xiao Hongyu talking about eating meat, Zhang Mai had simply mentioned He Changdi’s store of meat casually.
Although Captain Guo raised his troops with love, he trained them very strictly. He might seem coarse and open-hearted on the surface, but he actually wasn’t too easy to get close to. Zhang Mai had been serving under this superior officer of his for many years, so he understood him a lot more than Xiao Hongyu and He Changdi did.
Right now, though Captain Guo called these two kids his ‘brothers’, they weren’t all that important to him on the inside. In order to soften the steel walls of Captain Guo’s heart, some small tricks were needed.
For example, this small matter of eating meat.
Zhang Mai had seen He Changdi’s ability. He came from a good background and had proven that he had both ambition and the talent to back it. He was also a good kid inside. Unfortunately, perhaps since it was his first time in the army, he still fell a little short when it came to interacting with others. Zhang Mai didn’t know why, but he guessed that it might have been due to how he grew up when he was a child. That kid liked to keep a blank expression; although half of it was usually hidden by his full beard, it was inevitable that the combination of He Changdi’s appearance and attitude would give a bad first impression.
When he had first started interacting with He Changdi, Zhang Mai hadn’t really liked him. He had toiled for ten years to get to this position of lieutenant, while He Changdi had gotten in just by a letter from Prince Jin.
However, after interacting with him more, he had slowly began to approve of this young man. When he had fallen sick, He Changdi had taken very good care of him despite his cold expression. From his clumsy actions, Zhang Mai could tell that He Changdi had never really taken care of someone before. It was then that Zhang Mai had set down his initial misgivings and fully accepted this junior of his. He had come out now with the intention of helping He Changdi out.
Xiao Hongyu’s eyes were alight. He quickly moved up to He Changdi and stared at him with wide eyes. “Brother He, you really have meat?!”
Although he spoke with some degree of yearning, he didn’t ask for it outright. Still, Xiao Hongyu’s desire was visible; his drool was about to drip out of his mouth.
Captain Guo didn’t press He Changdi at all. Instead, he continued eating the hard wheat pancake in his bowl. He looked up with a smile and shot He Changdi a glance.
Zhang Mai was starting to regret trying to help this blockhead out, seeing as he hadn’t realised what he was supposed to do. He kicked the wooden stool under He Changdi and said, “You stupid brat, what are you blanking out here for? It’s just something your wife sent you. It’s fine if you couldn’t bear to let me eat it, but now you’re even refusing to serve it to the captain?”
He Changdi pressed his lips together and stood up. He bowed respectfully towards Captain Guo and said, “Please wait for a moment, Captain.”
He Changdi returned soon enough carrying a small jar. He placed it on the table and opened the lid; the unique smell of pickled beef drifted out and filled the room.
“Captain, it’s all here now. Please try it.”
He Changdi ordered someone to bring another bowl. He poured the remaining half of the translucent shredded beef into it.