Chapter 2 - The Last Fortune-telling

Book One

Chapter 2 - The Last Fortune-telling

Note : Since this is an historical novel, I'm going to use the old way to romanize Beijing, just to give a feel that it's an era before the Republic of China corrected the pinyin to Beijing. For Chinese, Beijing has always been Beijing. For the rest of the World, the old way of romanizing the name made it looks like Republic of China changed the Capital's name when they used the correct pinyin. XD


Ye Xiaotian, a male in the prime of his youth at 19 years old. His family lived in Peking, on Xuanwu street, west of Quzi lane. He was a jailer of the Ministry of Justice, stationed in Black Word, Prison Sector One. Due to his perceptivity and intelligence, he was promoted to be the prison chief of Black Word by Lord Liu, the official in charge of the prison’s management, at the beginning of the 8th year of Wanli Reign.

He inherited his position of jailer from his old man. The Old Ye family’s inherited legacy was a position of jailer. This was a regulation established by the Old Hongwu Emperor in which the son succeeds his father’s work, perpetuating a generational inheritance.

The idea was that if you were from a family of soldiers, then your son must also serve the army. If your wife can’t give you an able son, then you can go find a male from your relatives’ house to fill the vacant position. If your relatives don’t have any able males in their family, then you can just randomly pick or kidnap or use whatever method was the most efficient to get one from the street. Anything goes, as long as you can get one able male to take on that duty.

But if you were from a family of kitchen servants and still hadn’t learned how to stir-fry, and by the time your old man dropped dead, you simply cannot cook. Never mind cook, when the time came for the authorities to summon people to prepare a meal, you would probably be unable to even light up the fire to cook. In any case, your cooking would not be palatable for anyone to eat. If you were from a medical-oriented family and didn’t understand medicine… Let’s observe a moment of silence in tribute to all of your future patients.

The Ye Family’s jailer position was passed on to Ye Xiaotian’s father, the only heir to the family at that time. However, Father Ye was a very hard working man, and in one shot, found himself father of twins. The oldest was Ye Xiaoan and the youngest, Ye Xiaotian. Xiaotian was an unexpected discovery, thus the “Tian” in his name meant “add” as in adding another son.

Ye Xiaotian really didn’t like his tacky name, but since people were already used to it, it was no longer possible to make a general announcement everywhere for a change of name. Therefore, after he repeatedly protested to his father, they changed the “Tian” that meant “add” to the “Tian” which meant “Heaven”.[1]

Since Father Ye’s jailer position could only be passed on to one of his sons, according to logic, it should have been passed on to the firstborn, Ye Xiaoan. However, when Xiaoan was young, he received a terrifying experience when he lifted his quilt and discovered a caihua snake, that had escaped from the next door restaurant, hidden in his quilt. From then on, he became particularly timid and well-behaved.

Father Ye thought about what kind of people were gathered inside the Celestial Prison. That place wasn’t suitable for his well-behaved son. Hence, he took out all of his savings and gave it to his eldest son to open a workshop that produced rice oil. As for his position as jailer of the Celestial Prison, this prospect fell on the shoulders of his second son, Ye Xiaotian.

Ye Xiaotian returned to the Celestial Prison after he went to buy food and wine on behalf of the imprisoned Assistant Minister Huang. Looking up, he saw that the color of the sky had changed. It would soon be time to change over to the next work shift, so he hurried on. Just as he entered the Celestial Prison, to his surprise, he saw from afar Lord Liu, the Prison Management Official, walk through the doorway of a room. Ye Xiaotian promptly came to a standstill and greeted Lord Liu from afar.

The Prison Management Official’s name is Liu Yong, fifty years of age, possessing a face with reddish complexion and a small stature. Despite his height, he had a solid build and was dressed almost the same way as Ye Xiaotian. The difference, apart from the color of the clothes, was the presence of the red character “甲”[2] in the back of his black clothes.

A Prison Manager was a rank 9 minor official post[3]. Even though it was a low rank, it was still an official post. What’s more, Lord Liu managed the administration inside Prison Sector One, Black Word, and was the kind of person who would rather say one word instead of two, causing him to have a certain bearing, a kind of out-of-the-ordinary impression of disdain.

Ye Xiaotian gave a polite smile, “Greetings Prison Manager Liu.”

Hn!

Liu Yong snorted as he cast a glance at the box of food in Xiaotian’s hand. He knew Xiaotian had made some extra money. Nevertheless, every month, every jailer would show their respect to him with gifts. Therefore, he turned a blind eye to these harmless practices.

Prison Manager Liu spoke, “You’ve returned at the right time. The kitchen has just prepared some wine and meat. Deliver it to Yang Lin in a moment.”

Ye Xiaotian asked in a strange tone, “For what unfathomable reason would they send more food for Yang Lin? Ah! Could it be that his case finally received a verdict? This… Are they going to send him to the market?[4]

Ever since Ye Xiaotian took over his father’s duties, he had delivered countless extra wine and meat meals inside the prison. However, most of those deliveries were paid by the criminal officials. In truth, there were only five times when his food delivery meant the end of a human life.

Liu Yong didn’t reply but merely glanced at him before turning around and abruptly leaving. Ye Xiaotian was startled for a moment. He faintly shook his head then walked towards Prison Sector One, Black Word.

Ye Xiaotian delivered the ordered food and wine to Assistant Minister Huang. Then he turned and walked until he was in front of Yang Lin’s prison cell, and saw Yang Lin sitting cross-legged on the ground. He was holding a few stones and throwing them in the air in front of him. He muttered to himself while watching how the stones fell on the ground. From what could be seen, he was divining using Fu Hsi’s I Ching[5][6].

Ye Xiaotian made a clear coughing sound. “Lord Yang.”

Yang Lin lifted his head and saw Ye Xiaotian. At once, he abandoned the stones and happily went to welcome Xiaotian. He asked while laughing, “It seems that little brother is very interested about the West’s astrology. Do you wish for this old man to continue calculating your fate?”

Ye Xiaotian smiled and replied, “Sure! But using that thing made by the Westerners to calculate my major life events, it completely made people feel weird. Lord Yang, how about you look at my appearance instead?”

As long as he had the chance to show off his skills, Yang Lin would feel extremely happy and would even agree to use physiognomy. Otherwise, he won’t even choose to divine with physiognomy[7]. From in between the wooden fence, he observed Ye Xiaotian carefully and in detail for a long time. Afterwards, he stroked his palm while sighing, “Little Brother, your skeleton is clearly unusual with sinister red lips, big eyes, refined eyebrows which could only be an appearance of abundant wealth…”

Eh?” Ye Xiaotian stroked his eyebrows as his brows raised.

Yang Lin continued, “The shape of someone’s forehead is a link to their wisdom and their luck. Your forehead is high, flat and full. Therefore, you possess intelligence and wisdom. In a few years, you will have great fortune. The nose is linked to wealth and romance. Your nose is straight, upright and ample when connected with the forehead, it means that money will flow in for you in a few years with peach flowers on both sides.”

“These words… you’re serious?” Ye Xiaotian’s smile stretched. The Yang Lin’s kind words were what everyone loved to hear. Even though Xiaotian knew perfectly well it was fake, he touched his nose’s bridge while suddenly feeling that his look was really pretty good.

Yang Lin sternly spoke, “Of course I’m serious! The truth is… your luck with the ladies is reflected in your eyes. Although you don’t have peach flower’s eyes, the shape is not too far from it. As for your nose, it looks stalwart and imposing, straight and generous. All those characteristics combined together… Hehehe! Lots of luck with the ladies also requires good wealth to follow, what do you think?”

Hm. That makes sense, very logical.” Men are creatures that could never say they don’t look good. Ye Xiaotian agreed with Yang Lin’s words at once, but he still looked at the old man with a skeptical look. It was too troublesome to unmask this charlatan on the spot.

Yang Lin stroked his sparse beard and continued in an unhurried and contented manner, “Your ophryon is wide, glossy and has a certain luster, add that to a pair of lively eyes with rising corners, people with those kind of features could easily handle their work. Furthermore, your ears are big and fine with a glossy white color and clear outline. Yet, you have thick ear lobes. That is truly the appearance of someone with good luck. Your lips are red; your teeth are white; your philtrum is deep and wide; you will marry a good husband and bear plenty of sons, also…”

Ye Xiaotian’s expression stiffened and exclaimed, “Marry a good husband and bear plenty of sons?!”

Yang Lin hurriedly spoke, “It’s a mistake! It’s a mistake! I mean if you were a woman, your appearance would indicate that kind of fortune, but you were born as a male. So with your facial features, it represents abundant wealth. Hehehe! Little Brother, you are blessed with the Three Stars[8] of Wealth, Status and Longevity shining brightly. Everything will go according to your wishes throughout your whole life.”

Ye Xiaotian refrained from laughing out loud, but he shook his head in ridicule. “Lord Yang, I want to clap my hands at your perfect flattering skill. The Three Stars of Wealth, Status and Longevity shining brightly? Sigh! I’m still just a jailer, to what extent would I be well-regarded?”

The hair on Yang Lin’s head, or what’s left of it, suddenly shook as he spoke in seething anger, “Nonsense! What great flattering?! This was all shown on your facial features. Let me remind you that I am Yang Lin, the Ministry of Appointments’ grand Minister of Foreign Affairs. Countless high officials and reputed personnages, when they saw me, would have to bow and bend their knees, and fawned all over me. Is there even a need for a senior like me to curry favor in vain with an insignificant little jailer?”

Ye Xiaotian extended a finger and pointed to inside the prison and spoke with mockery, “Lord Yang, you need to wake up. Right now, your status has fallen to that of a prisoner. Besides, heroes don’t mention their past glory!”

The upright rare strands of grey hair suddenly drooped, softly sticking to his read scalp. The sight was similar to the antenna of a dispirited battle cricket when it lost its will to fight. Yang Lin angrily replied, “Even though I am a prisoner right now, in my childhood, I attentively studied the Book of Changes and could be considered an expert in the field of physiognomy!”

Ye Xiaotian said with a smile, “That’s good! Then, continue with your lucky words. Xiaotian will believe milord’s words this time. In a moment, I’ll go buy some wine and meat and will treat you. Consider it as my payment for your good divination.”

Yang Lin became incessantly surprised when he heard Xiaotian’s words. He repeatedly expressed his thanks. However, Ye Xiaotian had only took five or six steps when, suddenly, Yang Lin turned around, pounced toward the wooden fence and grabbed the bars made of wood. He shouted, “Ye Xiaotian, stay where you are!”

Ye Xiaotian slowly halted. He unhurriedly turned around. A light smile was still hung on his face like before. Yang Lin tightly grasped the fence while looking at him fixedly. He then spoke slowly, “Last meal! Is that this old man’s last meal?”

Ye Xiaotian’s right eyebrow slightly rose before returning to its original position. The smile on his face slowly vanished.

Yang Lin observed the change and chuckled bitterly. His big, yet emaciated hands clenched the fence tightly. His body seemed like it was pressed down by 30,000 catties of stones as he slipped down centimeters by centimeters until he finally reached the ground. He spoke in a hoarse voice while wearing a bitter smile, “My time… has finally come…”

Ye Xiaotian slowly walked back. He looked at Yang Lin through the space between the prison door. He shook his head and took pity on the old man. “Lord Yang, why not open your heart and mind and enjoy your final dinner? Why should you overthink?”

Yang Lin mournfully said, “All my life, I only did three things : deceive myself, deceive others and got deceived. Now, I’m going to die. This old man is innocent. I refuse to be a muddled ghost!”

Ye Xiaotian helplessly shook his head. He wanted to leave, so he turned around, but, all of a sudden, Yang Lin leaned forward. His thin and dried up old hand stretched out from behind the fence and managed to grab Xiaotian’s ankle. His sunken cheek was pressed against the fence and he loudly shouted, “You must not leave! This old man has something very important that needs your assistance!”

Ye Xiaotian used force to try and break free from Yang Lin’s grip. Yet, who knew from where Yang Lin pulled out so much strength, he tenaciously held onto Xiaotian’s ankle. Ye Xiaotian’s struggle was entirely unsuccessful.

He frowned and slowly squatted down. A cold expression gradually appeared in his eyes. “Lord Yang, are we very familiar with each other? Indeed you and I are not acquainted, don’t have kinship and friendship is simply out of question! I’m merely an insignificant little jailer. As long as it’s within the scope of my abilities, I won’t refuse making things easier for you. However, I won’t agree to anything that goes beyond my power!”

Ye Xiaotian’s voice was gentle and light, but the tone used was very firm. “When my father put this iron rice bowl in my hand, he also gave me a few words of wisdom, ‘Abide according to regulations’. Ever since the Yuan Dynasty, we, the Ye Family, have always been jailers for the Ministry of Justice. Even after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, replaced by the reign of Hongwu Emperor, our Ye Family still guarded the Celestial Prison as jailers. As long as we don’t make mistakes or an accident occurs, the Ye Family will continued to eat from this iron rice bowl!”

The corner of Ye Xiaotian’s mouth slightly rose, unknowingly exposing a trace of a sneer. “What we have grasped is a lowly job. If I were to put it more bluntly, even if one day the Great Ming Dynasty fell and the emperor family’s heads dropped, we, low-level government servants whose tasks are cheap labor, won’t need to suffer much. Would any rulers of the world have no need for us? We will still continue to eat from this rice bowl. Lord Yang, I care a lot about this rice bowl even if in the eyes of you, nobles, this job is beyond cheap. I ask you to think twice if you plan to break this rice bowl of mine!”

Yang Lin’s hoarse laugh resounded before he said, “You don’t need to be afraid. Did you think I will forcibly make you release prisoners? Even if you agree to it, do you even have the ability? I simply want… you to help me send out a message. If you agree with my request, this old man have a large reward for you.”

Ye Xiaotian shook his head. He didn’t ask what the reward was at all, but refused the shady request without the slightest hesitation. “Lord Yang, did you know that there is a law saying that, if someone is caught colluding with convicts, even if it was helping them send messages once, it would be considered a capital offense?”

Yang Lin became distressed. “I clearly know that, at present, I have been discarded by people, who do I have left to collude with? I just want you to send a message to my family. What’s more, you can do it after I died, this… this shouldn’t be considered as violating the law, right?”

Ye Xiaotian’s eyes focused on him and said, “Just this?”

Yang Lin vigorously nodded, “Just this!”

Ye Xiaotian let out a sigh before he blurted out, “You say there’s a large reward. What is it?”

Yang Lin blanked before replying, “Eh… Reward of fifty taels of silver, how about that?”

“Fifty taels?”

Ye Xiaotian’s eyes shined and straightforwardly agreed, “Lord Yang, what last words you have, you can say it now!”


[1]  (tian for add); 天 (tian for heaven or sky. It could also be used for day, but not in this context.)

[2] The character甲(jiǎ) could mean a lot of thing, but, in this context, it's an ordinal character part of the Celestial or Heavenly Stems, a system of ordinals, that is used similarly like the roman numbers (i.e. I, II, III, IV, V, etc.). In Ancient China, starting from the Shang Dynasty, the Heavenly Stems were used in concomitance with the Earthly Branches to created the Sixty-days cycle which was used as the base for one of the Ancient China's calendar system. For more informations, click here.

[3] Imperial China used the Nine-rank system to rank their officials in term of importance and prestige. Rank 9 being the lowest while rank 1 is the highest. Each rank is divided in two, but between rank 4 to 9, it's further divided with two more sub-grades for a total of 30 grades in total. In the raws, it didn't precise the exact rank for Prison Manager Liu. We could suspected he had the lowest grade or slightly above. For more informations on the Nine-rank system, click here.

[4] Criminals get behead in public at the market. (I'm not sure I would want to buy a watermelon after seeing an execution...)

[5] In Chinese mythology, Fu-Hsi or Fuxi is the First Emperor, husband of Nüwa, who was his twin sister. He's like Zeus, minus the numerous lovers. His story seemed more merged into reality than Zeus though. It is say that the Book of Changes (a.k.a. I Ching) was his creation. For more informations, click here.

[6] I Ching is also known as the Book of Changes which was mentioned as a footnote in last chapter. It's just to let you guys know that the book has different names because of the choice made by professional translators at that time struggling the same way we, novels translators, struggled in front of lots of chinese terms.

[8] The Three Stars is the three stars on Orion belt. For the Chinese, it represented the three deities for Wealth, Status and Longevity. For more informations, click here.


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