“Air pump?” Xie An tilted his head, looking at the object that Han Jiao had drawn, which looked like a dog bone.
“It’s used to inflate cuju balls,” Han Jiao explained.
“Oh…” Xie An nodded somewhat awkwardly. After a pause, he tactfully reminded Master Han, “The balls we play with in the palace mostly have bamboo frames, and you can wrap them in several layers of thick leather. They have a better feel than those feather-stuffed balls and are more durable than inflated ones.”
Han Jiao noticed that Xie An was somewhat dissatisfied with his sketch concept.
This was quite normal. In ancient soccer, they indeed used inflatable bladder balls. These were made with animal bladders, like pig bladders that could be inflated and then tightly secured with a rope. Most kids played with this simple and natural type of cuju ball, but it was too light for a satisfying kick.
In the palace, the cuju for the young princes was more refined. It had to balance weight, durability, and the feel on the foot. Therefore, most cuju balls had a meticulously crafted bamboo core, and the outer layer could be wrapped in high-quality leather, providing a better feel compared to the traditional feather-stuffed balls, resembling modern leather balls.
But these balls still lacked the consistent and flexible elasticity of air. So, Han Jiao planned to create a real leather ball for the big boss.
Han Jiao pointed at the pentagon-shaped leather fabric sketch on his paper and explained, “This type of ball, even though it has an inflatable core, is made by cutting and sewing high-quality leather, just like the bamboo-core balls. Its exceptional elasticity and trajectory when kicked under force surpass those of the typical inflated core balls you may have encountered before. I’ve calculated that using eighteen pieces of sheepskin for sewing, it will be much smoother to kick than the bamboo-core ball. It won’t go off course if your toe hits the hollow section of the bamboo. The feel is unparalleled compared to any cuju you’ve experienced.”
“Really?” Xie An was somewhat surprised. Such words sounded too far-fetched. If it were someone else saying this, Xie An would probably have scoffed, but Master Xiaobai was a formidable person in his eyes, and it didn’t seem like a joke. Xie An felt a bit excited.
“Since I dared to present my work in front of Your Highness, it’s not an empty claim.”
Xie An carefully examined the sketch on the paper. “So, are you planning to sew a ball and inflate it directly? We’ve also considered such a ball before. We had the palace craftsmen tinker with it several times, but it didn’t work. Leather balls without a frame aren’t difficult to inflate. The problem is sealing them. A strong kick would deflate them, so they must have a bamboo frame to support them.”
Han Jiao turned to the second page of his sketch and began explaining the special features of the new leather ball. “This leather ball has a special self-sealing air vent. Naturally, it’s easy to lose air, but the ball I’m envisioning uses a special elastic sealant, and the air vent is as thin as an embroidery needle. After inflating, the vent naturally closes. Not only do you not have to worry about kicking the ball flat with force, but you can kick it continuously for two, three, five, or six days without any air leakage.”
Astonished, Xie An stared at Master Han with an open mouth. It took him a while to regain his voice. “Can you really blow air through a hole that small?”
Han Jiao produced the first page of his sketch again. “That’s why I’ve also prepared a special pump. It doesn’t take much effort to inflate it. One can even do it by hand or foot, and it will fill the ball completely.”
Xie An looked puzzled, glancing at the messy drawings on the paper and then at Master Han’s determined expression. “But how can we make this a reality?”
Han Jiao said seriously, “This is where I need the help of Your Highness and the palace craftsmen. This idea is undoubtedly feasible, but my craftsmanship is too crude. Additionally, I’ve heard that in foreign tributes, there’s a rubbery material obtained from rubber trees. I need to use this tribute to create the sealant for the leather ball. About half the size of a mooncake should suffice.”
Nowadays, in Great Chu, rubber trees weren’t widely grown within the country. After all, they thrived in regions like Guangdong, and transportation wasn’t easy. It was challenging for the common folk to obtain natural latex. They had to scrape it from tribute goods.
“Wow!” This exclamation didn’t come from Xie An but from Xie Jing, who was eavesdropping on their conversation in the front row. He turned and shouted, “Master, you’re not joking, are you?”
From eavesdropping until now, Xie Jing couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. He snatched the sketch paper from his younger brother.
He expected to see intricate parts dissected like Lu Ban’s lock, but instead, what he saw were a bunch of distorted, child-like scribbles.
“Mmm…” Xie Jing was momentarily at a loss for words. He truly hadn’t expected Master Han’s drawing skills to be so surprising.
Han Jiao was a bit embarrassed. “My drawing skills are rough. I apologize for any disappointment. But this kind of ball can indeed be made.”
Suppressing a sudden feeling of letdown, Xie Jing flipped through several pages of sketch paper, came to his senses, and looked up at Han Jiao. “I believe in you, Master!”
“Master Xiaobai is incredible!” Xie An exclaimed excitedly, giving the table a light thump.
Seeing the two princes overjoyed, Han Jiao had a relieved… fake smile on his face.
He was quite disappointed. Han Jiao had thought that when he mentioned the “no air leakage” feature, the big boss would immediately grab the sketch paper and eagerly inquire about the design details.
Han Jiao cast a sidelong glance to the stinky little brother on the right.
Xie Duo continued quietly reading his book.
When did this kid become so studious?
Han Jiao suddenly noticed something amiss.
How could Xie Duo have glistening sweat on his forehead and nose?
It was quite cool in the study room, wasn’t it?
“After the lesson, let’s go to the Needlework Bureau first and ask Master Liu!” Xie Jing said with joy.
“Sounds good!” Xie An leaned forward, circled around Master Han to look at Xie Duo, and shouted, “Ninth Brother! What are you daydreaming about? Did you hear what Master Han said?”
Han Jiao’s heart skipped a beat, eagerly perking up his ears. Although the big boss seemed nonchalant in response, at least he had noticed the commotion. Surely, he would be interested in the new cuju ball design!
“What did he say?” Xie Duo spoke lazily, a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead, seizing the moment to turn one eye towards them. His “indifferent” gaze greedily fixed on the new cuju design sketch by the little child prodigy.
“Master Han has designed an air-tight leather ball!” Xie An took the sketch from Eight Brother and prepared to hand it to Ninth Brother.
Xie Duo laughed mysteriously.
Han Jiao was very nervous. What did that laugh mean?
Had the big boss sensed his deliberate attempt to please him? Would he dislike this form of flattery?
In fact, Xie Duo, who had been sulking all evening, was now quite pleased and had perked up.
The little child prodigy had put in so much effort, coming up with this ingenious idea for a leak-proof cuju ball. Naturally, it was designed with the number one cuju master of Great Chu in mind. Who knew how many nights the cotton-made child prodigy had spent under the candlelight…
Xie Duo’s lips curled with a smile as he took the sketch and glanced down, but his smile froze instantly.
This sketch seemed like it was drawn carelessly on the way to the study, right?
It was as if someone had randomly picked up a bone to fool a stray dog.
“What’s this…” Xie Duo frowned, about to hand the sketch paper back to Xie An, when he suddenly appeared beside him, taking him by surprise.
Master Han had stealthily moved his chair to Xie Duo’s side, cleared his throat, sat up straight, and fixed his gaze ahead, preparing to warmly welcome the big boss’ enthusiastic inquiry.
Influenced by the little child prodigy’s enthusiasm, Xie Duo unconsciously took back the sketch paper, suppressing his aversion, and examined it carefully. Only then did he glance at the little child prodigy and asked in a hushed tone, “Did Master Han draw these with his feet?”
“I drew them with my hand,” Han Jiao’s enthusiasm waned, and he looked seriously at the big boss. “I drew them over and over. I hardly slept for a night.”
Xie Duo gazed skeptically at the incredibly ugly sketches. “In those first few dozen times, were you practicing how to use a brush?”
Han Jiao immediately defended himself, “I may not be very good at drawing, but I have expertise in my field…”
“A Confucian scholar well-versed in poetry and books,” Xie Duo nodded, “I already knew that.”
Han Jiao: “……”
This stinky little brother still remembered his self-praise from the slip of the tongue during the encounter with the kidnappers!
“If Your Highness thinks the drawings are too ugly, then…” Han Jiao reached out and snatched the sketch paper from the boss’ hand, simultaneously growling, “Give it back to me!”
Unexpectedly, the big boss raised his hand, instinctively avoiding Han Jiao’s dashing attack!
Trying to outmaneuver the eccentric big boss in reflexes, wasn’t that inviting humiliation?
To save face, Han Jiao smoothly withdrew his hand that had grabbed nothing, pretending to scratch his ear.
Unexpectedly, the initially disdainful big boss was amused by his dignified action. His sharp eyes narrowed, as if warm, twinkling rays of light had emerged.
However, right after that, Xie Duo restrained his smile, cast him a reproachful look, and then apathetically lowered his head to resume examining the sketch.
The little child prodigy wasn’t only acting cute in front of Xie Duo. Last night, even from a few yards away at the carriage, Xie Duo heard Sixth Brother’s laughter.
Han Jiao felt a strange sense of sweetness inside. Strangely enough, the big boss, with his bug-level looks, had a truly endearing smile. If he refrained from misbehaving, Han Jiao would be happy to pet the boss.
But it seemed like the big boss was still quite upset. After briefly revealing his adorable little fangs, they vanished almost instantly.
It appeared that just offering the new cuju design wasn’t enough. Han Jiao had to officially apologize for leaving without a word yesterday.
This stinky little brother was indeed quite petty.
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