Chapter 5 - Fish Swimming To A Faraway Place

Book One

Chapter 5 - Fish Swimming To A Faraway Place


Ye Xiaotian concealed Yang Lin’s testament before leaving the prison. His tone was respectful as he greeted the several yamen runners waiting at the entrance, “Brothers, thank you for waiting.” The yamen runners nodded in reply before they walked into the prison.

Earlier in the morning, some jailers had rushed over after receiving the news about Ye Xiaotian. Several yamen runners of the Ministry of Justice walked to the entrance. Amongst them, Old Niu stood in front of Ye Xiaotian. A little over 50 years old, Old Niu was a long time colleague of Ye Xiaotian’s father. Ye Xiaotian exclaimed, “Uncle Niu!”

Old Niu nodded and said to him, “I heard about your family’s situation. Hey Xiaotian, you’re a good child, not to mention gentle and kindhearted, filial to your parents and respectful to your elders. So to say, mostly everything about you is good. It’s just that sometimes… your temper is a little… stubborn like a mule.”

Ye Xiaotian smiled like a bashful young maiden. Nothing in his smile could hint at his obstinate nature.

Old Niu continued to earnestly preach, “Of course, now that you’re older, it’s been a while since the last time you acted stubborn. However, remember that the outside world is the not the same as inside our prison. When traveling outside, you have to be a bit more careful. It’s better to only say 70% of what you think. If you encounter any unfavorable situations, you also shouldn’t act stubborn, alright?”

Ye Xiaotian courteously replied, “Uncle Niu, what you say is right. I will certainly not act stubborn.”

Hm, hum, hum!”

As Old Niu made approving sounds. Ye Xiaotian clasped his hands towards the group of jailers from Prison District One before leaving. Two tall jailers stepped forward, each walking to either side of Xiaotian, appearing as if he was being sent out by Ox-Head and Horse-Face[1].

One of the jailers said, “Chief, it should be nothing for you to travel outside. Us brothers are not worried about you. Just based on your cleverness, you can trick other people into happily jumping into a hole full of manure and still make them feel you’re a good person. Ah! You probably would bully them instead of them bul-”

Ye Xiaotian pretended to be angry as he spoke, “Bullshit! Is my heart that black?”

The group of jailers spoke unison, “Black! Really black! Totally and utterly pitch black!”

Ye Xiaotian, “...”

One jailer firmly said, “Chief, although is it true that your black heart is really black, it certainly will keep you safe, which is also really good. We brothers remember and admire your loyal character from the bottom of our hearts. Although we hate to part with you, let us at least throw you a farewell dinner before you depart.”

Ye Xiaotian’s heart was a bit touched. He halted his steps, turned to face everyone, and once again clasped his hands together, “Brothers, I appreciate your kindness and good intentions. Tomorrow’s matter, do it today; today’s matter, do it at once. Since I have to leave eventually, there’s no need to be sentimental and fussy about it. I’m leaving the capital today. I won’t be drinking farewell wine, but wait for my return and let us brothers go drink a welcome back wine.”

Everyone knew that he still needed to meet with the prison management official to handle some things. Seeing that he had already made the arrangements for his departure, they no longer kept him. One after another, they stood there and clasped their hands in goodbye.

“Chief, have a pleasant journey!”

“Chief, go early and come back soon!”

There were some mischievous jailers who put a wooden stick in Ye Xiaotian’s hand.

Ye Xiaotian asked in surprise, “What is this?”

A jailer said with a smile, “Chief, if later you find yourself in a difficult situation, you can use this stick to beg for food or beat dogs.”

Everyone heartily laughed. Ye Xiaotian also couldn’t help but laugh and scolded them, “Get lost, you stupid egg! I, Ye Xiaotian, have created wind and raised water in the small world of the prison. Finally, under a bigger sky, I can make a magnificent appearance. Wait and see! If I don’t obtain great fortune and riches, I, Ye Xiaotian won’t return!”

“Wow! How ambitious!”

“If you want to obtain, you will obtain it!”

“Chief, we will wait for your return in glory!”

“Tell us Chief, where are you going? Everyone in Black Word are capable people!”

Ye Xiaotian’s eyes swept across all the familiar faces in front of him. His smiling face gradually vanished the longer he stared at them. Suddenly, he turned around, and took several steps before coming to an halt. He raised his arm high above his hand and clenched it in a fist, a figure of pride for the people behind him. He smoothly hit the empty air with his fist before he directly left in great strides for the Prison’s Management Official’s office.

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Inside the room identified by the sign “Prison Management Official Liu Yong”, prison manager Liu was sitting behind a desk. His brows slightly knitted when he heard Xiaoan explain the reason of his visit. Ye Xiaoan was timid and honest, so once he saw Prison Manager Liu’s brows knitting, and taking into consideration the authority brought by Liu Yong’s position, he couldn’t help but be nervous. He started to feel like he didn’t have enough energy left to continue facing the pressure and his speech became even more laborious with his stuttering. Hearing this, Prison Manager Liu became more annoyed.

In fact, as long as the Ye family had an able-bodied male to fill the position of jailer, there was no problem. It didn’t even matter who filled the position as long as the quota was filled. This kind of matter wasn’t something difficult to handle. Prison manager Liu also had no reason to oppose Ye Xiaoan taking over. But, however much the little brother Xiaotian was bright and clever, it seemed, Xiaoan was in terms of being inarticulate. As a result, Liu Yong was extremely displeased.

So when he saw Ye Xiaotian came in, he didn’t hold back, saying to Ye Xiaoan, “You go out first. I need to have some words with your little brother.”

Ah!

Ye Xiaoan made a silly smile. He turned to Ye Xiaotian and gave him a grateful smile mixed with some embarrassement. Ye Xiaotian amiably patted his big brother’s shoulder. He wasn’t overcautious with his actions as prison manager Liu was still some distance from him.

Ye Xiaoan quietly walked out and carefully shut the door behind him.

Once the door was closed, prison manager Liu still hadn’t relaxed his knitted brows. He asked Ye Xiaotian, “Did your father’s mind turn into old paste? Xiaoan is such an open and guileless child. To send such a person to this kind of place, if he didn’t eat some loss, what can he do here? Did your father force you to yield your position? Tell me the truth, I, this official, will advocate for you.”

Ye Xiaotian said with a smile, “Many thanks, milord, for your thoughts. However, I was willing to do so. Milord, it’s true that my big brother is simple and honest, and is not someone who is capable of leading. However, it’s because of that personality of his that it’s very unlikely that he would commit any outrages and spoil any of your plans.”

“May I ask milord to look after my big brother a bit in the future? With milord looking after him, who will dare to bully him? As for me, I have received much of your care for so many years. It’s very unlikely that I could find such a good job outside of the Celestial Prison. If one day this youngster carves a name for himself, I absolutely will not forget your grace.”

Liu Yong’s expression eased. With a smile he said, “Youngsters really can talk well! Since things have turned out this way, I will not become the villain. So, then, go out and take a good look of the world. I heard that next year the Celestial Prison is to be expanded. At that time, there would be a vacancy for a jailer position. I will hire you upon your return.”

Ye Xiaotian’s heart was exultant. ‘Isn’t that an excellent way out later?’ He promptly bowed and expressed his thanks, “Milord, your grace is as heavy as a mountain range. I will never forget this!”

Liu Yong chuckled before saying, “You’re usually so shrewd and clever; I’m just taking advantage of it. Naturally, I’m reluctant to let you leave. As long as you just work for me later on, I certainly won’t treat you unfairly.”

Ye Xiaotian inwardly cursed, “Working for you later, what kind of benefits exist? If only you demanded less monthly gifts to show our loyalty, I wouldn’t need to work so hard each month to rake in money just to be empty handed in the end. That, would be considered being treated fairly!”

Although his mind was whirling a mile a minute with such thoughts, not a single inkling of his thoughts appeared on his face. Just when Ye Xiaotian nodded and bowed to thank Liu Yong, the door abruptly opened with a bang! and several Imperial Court Runners[2], dressed in black uniforms replete with a skull cap burst in. There were clearly only two people in front of them, but they still swept the whole room with a glance out of habit. Tone laced with arrogance, one of them asked, “Who is Liu Yong?”

Prison Manager Liu slowly stood and hesitantly replied, “It’s this official. You are…?”

At that moment, behind that group of Court Runners, someone entered. Prison Manager Liu recognized the person who just entered and couldn’t help but be stunned. It was his immediate superior, Prison Head Luo Zhan. Prison Manager Liu hurriedly greeted Luo Zhan, “Lord Luo, these people are…?”

Prison Head Luo said with a calm expression, “Liu Yong, these people are Court Runners from the Imperial Bureau of Censors. They are looking for you.”

A Court Runner took the initiative. He raised his big thumb and arrogantly spoke, “Our esteemed senior official, the Governor-General, sent us to bring you in for questioning. Let’s go!” As his voice fell, two Court Runners rushed towards Liu Yong with iron chains. After a loud crash!, Liu Yong was captured and dragged away.

Prison Manager Liu screamed in desperation, “Th-th-this… How did this come to be?! Lord Luo! Lord Luo, why would the Censorate want to question me?”

One of the Runners barked impatiently, “Hey! Stop with all this nonsense and go! A tiny little prison manager like you surprisingly dared to deceive the law: wantonly receiving bribes and colluding with criminals to pass messages. You still dare to put on an act? If there was no evidence, how could his lordship the Governor-General bring you away? Hurry up and march!”

All the Imperial Court Runners also left as quickly as they came, like a gust of wind, with Prison Manager Liu. Prison Head Luo didn’t appear to catch sight of Ye Xiaotian, simply letting out a cold snort and leaving to arrange someone to take over Liu Yong’s duties as soon as he was dragged away.

Ye Xiaotian stood, frozen in place and utterly bewildered. After a long time, suddenly, a thought crossed his mind, his heart jumping at the merest possibility of it being true, “Prison Manager is my immediate superior. Earlier, as soon as he mentioned that he wanted me to follow him, misfortune befell him. Could it be the effect of the Illuminated Yang’s whatever bad luck curse? No way! No way! Even if the curse is real, I still haven’t left the capital yet. I couldn’t possibly have broken the promise yet.”

Ye Xiaotian racked his brain, and finally convinced himself that what happened to Liu Yong had nothing to do with him. He softly sighed as he gazed at the door still swaying lightly on its hinges and started being sad, “Prison Manager Liu, you’re such a good person, how could you be arrested? You still haven’t finished settling your promise with me… Ah~

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With Prison Manager’s sudden arrest, that way out, that pie from the sky, ended up being nothing but passing smoke to the eyes. Ye Xiaotian could only bet all his hopes on that 500 taels of silver. Thus, he departed from the capital, apprehension heavy in his mind, but his steps light with unlimited hope for the future.

He was like a newly born little fish swimming inside a tiny bay. From his fingerling days to a fish, he had only swam and grown in calm waters. In this place, he was familiar with everything from a single strand of a water plant down to every grain of sand and every lump of stone.

However, suddenly one day, the strong current of fate swept him all the way into the big sea. Therefore, inside the very small fish’s heart bloomed an indescribable terror. It could only slowly explore that whole new world.

Fortunately, Ye Xiaotian’s ability to adapt was very strong. This whole journey to the South, from overly cautious and restless, he very quickly adapted himself to a traveler’s life, getting more and more used to the constantly changing environments and situations.

The further he traveled South, the more different the customs and the dialects became compared to the North. If he passed through a remote and desolate place, it was extremely difficult for him to find someone who could use Mandarin[3] to converse, especially when he needed to inquire about directions.

Fortunately, Xiaotian mostly just used inns as a resting spot on his travels. When he needed to ask for directions, all he needed to do was ask the big boss of the inn or the village head. At most, it would be a troublesome half a day until he gets his answers.

He ate on the go and slept in the wild, living frugally to save money on his journey. After two months, finally, the other end of the world was in plain sight: Jing Zhou prefecture of Huguang province.

When he departed from Peking, he had 500 coins, but now, only less than 20 coins were left. Originally, he only left with enough money for a one-way trip and didn’t prepare any for the return trip. However, after he was done with his promise, he should be holding onto a huge amount of 500 taels of silver, right?


[1] Ox-Head and Horse-Face are guardians of the Underworld. Click here fore more informations and pictures.

[2] Imperial Court Runners (差官) is a term I translate myself since I couldn't find the English equivalent through the references I have right now. I probably would need to go to the library and spend a few hours searching through more history references books which was not an option. Since this Government position contained the 差 (chāi), the same character found in yamen runners, it was thus reused to form the current term.

Unlike yamen runners, Imperial Court Runners are officials which are temporarily assigned and dispatched to different kind of missions for the Imperial Court. Their status are much higher than yamen runners. This from what I read on Baidu.

[3] Fun fact : In the novel, the author used the term 官话 (guānhuà) which means "Officials language". China was a country that had a long history of wars and conquests with numerous kingdoms and dynasties falling and founded through passage of time. Thus, the population is composed of a wide variety of tribes and ethnic minorities in addition to the Han people. To make the country run and assuring a certain cohesion between officials from different regions and provinces, all officials used the same language which is Mandarin, a.k.a. Officials language. Although, it was only in 1728 that the pronunciation started to become uniform. For more info, click here.


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