To Predict Matters First Isn’t Strange
Idler’s Note: I’m sorry! The chapter is a little late as I had a bad case of insomnia and I couldn’t focus enough to be able to do the translation (It probably didn’t help that I had to do all-nighters to make the deadline for one of my freelance jobs). I can only be grateful to spell-check that I sound coherent at all right now. On a freaky note, it might or might not be a coincidence that today was the day of the Ghost Festival or “Yulan Pen” (盂蘭盆). The English name is derived from the colloquial name for the festival, which is “Gui Jie” (鬼節). This is the Chinese version of Halloween and is a day when the dead were believed to be able to visit the living. Since Chinese culture practices ancestor worship, this isn’t necessarily as scary as it sounds so long as the dead are properly venerated. An associated superstition with this day is the belief that the Ghost Festival, which is usually on the 15th night of the 7th month (14th day in southern China) of the year is when ghosts and spirits can come out from the underworld since that is when the gates open. This traditionally extends to making the entirety of the 7th month a “ghost month” or “gui ye” (鬼月) and in the past, could lead to some families abandoning their babies who were born during such an unlucky time under the erroneous belief that such children were calamitous and would bring ill fortune to their families.
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Err… That is a slightly depressing note to end this on so please cheer up by watching this live stream of kittens!
Disclaimer: This translation is by a fan for fans. Any opinions or commentary presented here are translated as is written by the original author. Any remarks by the translator will be in footnotes or in an editorial aside. The original work is the property of the author and any other associated copyright holders in their respective territories. Please do not reproduce, redistribute, or resell this translation anywhere else without permission! If you are reading this anywhere else but on WordPress, then it is being reposted without permission from the translator! If you are the copyright holder and/or have licensed this work for English publication and wish for this translation to be removed, please contact me to do so. Thank you!
Of course, Cheng Lingxiang didn’t assume that Song Jing-gong didn’t wish to speak. It was nothing more than waiting for him to ask about it. So for the sake of the silver, he asked anyway.
“For Zijin to speak thusly is to see me as an outsider. Is there something that’s not going well? Speak of it so we can discuss it in detail together—it’d be better than you suppressing it in your heart on your own.”
“Since Milord has asked about it, Student will naturally obey. It’s this vegetable oil. It sold well over these few days but in the end, it attracted trouble. The morning actually had some street punks run over to the location of my booth selling the oil to claim that there was someone who had gotten poisoned from eating it and even found a doctor to provide testimony.
How could Student have encountered such matters before? Those men insisted on Student giving them 50 silver taels. Student works as an aide for others so just where could 50 silver taels be found? It really couldn’t be helped, ~ah. If the money still isn’t given tomorrow, perhaps those men will go grab Student to see them in court.1
Quite a lot of vegetable oil was sold over these past few days along with those deep-fried items in the morning that had been made using this oil. If it really had poison, why is it that only one person was poisoned and the others are fine? Student really wishes to argue but has no words, ~ah.”
Song Jing-gong spoke while shaking his head and sighing, causing anyone who saw him to think that it really was like that.
Cheng Lingxiang glanced at the package on the table. The silver there was more than what they were asking for. No money? If there’s no money, then how are you bringing it over to me? It was fine though. It wasn’t a big deal. It was just a bunch of street punks who wanted to extort some money. I didn’t think that Song Jing-gong’s temper would actually be so large and that he would rather take out even more money to give to me than to give it to those street punks though.
Fine, at least he himself gained some benefits. Only, this money was really a bit much. Could it be that he wished to let him have these men thrown into jail? Then, sentence them as felonies—this still required some inquiry to be feasible.
“Really, how outrageous!2 Zijin, rest assured. This county3 will decide for you. Today, you go and write an appeal;4 send it here tomorrow morning. This county will definitely thoroughly put away those men who damage others’ wealth and reputation.”
“Milord does not need to be so angered. Sanshui County here could be said to be secure and prosperous from Milord’s administration. Only those few who are blind5 would even dare to be like this so this sentencing wouldn’t be required if Milord could be requested to help with the persuasion. Under Milord’s governance, it can be assumed that there wouldn’t be those kinds of unreasonable people.”
Song Jing-gong advanced with a retreat6 and applied pressure with his praise to see just what the county magistrate would do.
“Zijin speaks truly. Then how about this? Wait for tomorrow so I can send people to find and bring over those men to clear Zijin’s reputation. Zijin doesn’t need to worry. Oh, the day is late. Zijin probably hasn’t taken in food yet—why not eat a bite or two here?”
Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang naturally understood that to not care about this matter wasn’t possible. It was good that they didn’t force it too much. From now on, it looked like if they had issues, he’d still need to help out, ~ah. Otherwise, accepting this much money would scald his hands.
“Many thanks, Milord. Dinner has already been prepared back home and there are people waiting for Student to return so it would be inconvenient to be so bothersome. Milord is busy so please prioritize the body. Student will bid farewell here.”
Seeing that the matter was nearly over with and that sending the guest away7 had already begun, Song Jing-gong stood up and gave another salute before respectfully turning around to leave. Behind him, the sound of ‘Escort Mister Song out for me’ could also be heard.
The morning of the second day, Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang sought out people to ask after this matter. Finally, those people under him all knew of it. Once the matter was relayed, Cheng Lingxiang suddenly felt a headache. Why did they have to encounter this wastrel,8 ~ne? It could more easily handled if it were any other person. So he could only command someone to go find Song Jing-gong as he had to discuss this thoroughly for a bit.
Obeying the summons, Song Jing-gong hurriedly rushed over and upon seeing the county magistrate and his facial expression, knew that this matter was going to be hard to accomplish. Without waiting for him to speak, ~ne, Cheng Lingxiang had already begun talking.
“Zijin, ~ah, I’ve already found out yesterday that the person leading them is Zhou Xihu,9 the nephew [fraternal]10 of this prefecture’s11 Military Depot Officer12 Zhou Kong.13 I will go call him over to ask today. If he is really missing 50 silver taels, then I’ll just give it to him. If it’s not like that, then Zijin will have to make other plans.”
Cheng Lingxiang really didn’t have any methods he could think of, either. If they really wanted money, then big deal—just hand over half of the yesterday’s silver to them. But he feared that their designs were on something else. Then that couldn’t be dismissed with just 50 silver taels.
Hearing this, Song Jing-gong also knew it was trouble. The Prefectural Military Depot Officer, which was the prefectural division chief14 who assisted the Prefectural Governor15 in managing the taxes and warehouse, an official of the 6th full rank.16 A county magistrate didn’t dare easily offend them, either. He saw that he really would need to ask for clarification before thinking of another way. So he said:
“For Milord to tell Zijin the truth, Zijin is endlessly grateful. Here, Zijin will go back to wait for the news. If that Zhou Xihu is only asking for 50 silver taels, Zijin would definitely offer it up. If… Zijin will need to return to the manor to discuss it. Kindly request of Milord to please help delay for a day—at most a day for a certain result.”
“Oh? A solution can be had after only 1 day? Zijin, rest assured. No need to be anxious. To delay him for 3 or 5 days is still possible. After all, 1 day is a bit short—only enough time for Zijin to leave and return.”
Cheng Lingxiang assumed that Song Jing-gong had grown confused from worry but having taken the money, he naturally had to provide a bit more help.
“No need. Once Zijin returns to the manor, there’ll be a solution. To be able to return here straight away, 1 day is enough.” Song Jing-gong said with certainty.
“If that’s so, then Zijin should first go back and wait. When I’ve finished asking Zhou Xihu, I’ll have someone inform Zijin. This official, I17 can see that Zijin has such certainty—could it be that there is an adept at the manor?” Upon seeing Song Jing-gong’s gaze was genuinely calm, Cheng Lingxiang had grown rather curious.
When Song Jing-gong thought of how he had lost in the first place and then the money made in deal after deal that he had witnessed afterwards, his face gained more than a hint of reverence as he nodded his head.
“Correct. This matter would be difficulty piled upon difficulty for Student but for that person, they’d scorn even ruminating over it. When that person is unmoving, they are as a peaceful breeze and gentle sun; when they move, they are like a fierce gale and torrential rain. Student had the fortune to experience it once and then, went over there to become an aide.”
County Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang knew that this Song Jing-gong had previously swindled some people and his methods were uncommonly extraordinary so hadn’t thought that he’d actually ever lose, too. Feeling it to be even more interesting now, he asked: “Could it be that Zijin fears that person?”
“Afraid, really afraid. Just once and Student nearly didn’t even have the chance of turning things around. Afterward, that person even let me go.18 Otherwise, I would be inside the county jail at this moment. And the person by that person’s side—these two people gathered together are like the union of the qin [zither] and xiao [flute],19 the admiration of the world, second to no other.”20
Thinking of Little Mister and Little Miss Juan-Juan at the manor, a trace of a smile appeared at the corner of Song Jing-gong’s mouth that even bore just a little bit of pride.
“If that’s so, then Zijin should go back first. Here, I will do this as quickly as possible.”
Cheng Lingxiang, seeing that Song Jing-gong spoke of the two people over there like they were divine sages, didn’t even believe him. But he could still use the incident this time to ask. Within his heart, he already had some considerations. Zhou Xihu wouldn’t lack that little bit of silver and would definitely have a greater scheme so he’d just see how that adept at the manor would handle it.
Song Jing-gong replied in confirmation before returning to wait. Cheng Lingxiang hastened to order people to go find Zhou Xihu to ask him in person. Zhou Xihu didn’t even deny it and directly spoke out loud his own intentions. He wished to acquire the recipe for that vegetable oil. He had used that oil before and for these past few days, he’d been using vegetable oil for every meal. The flavor was better than any of the other oils and even if it were used to light lamps with, the smoke was lesser, too.
Seeing their intentions were like so, Cheng Lingxiang didn’t comment either and had people tell Song Jing-gong of this matter. As for what to do, then they’d have to look to that adept that Song Jing-gong had spoken of.
Upon receiving the news, Song Jing-gong hired a carriage and quickly galloped in return. After entering the courtyard house, not even taking care to drink a sip of water, he blurted it all out before looking at Little Mister as he waited.
Just as he thought, when Little Mister and Little Miss heard this news, they weren’t a bit worried. Not only were they not concerned, they even smiled.
“Little Mister, there’s a countermeasure?” Song Jing-gong, seeing that Little Mister and the two weren’t anxious, also began to relax.
Zhang Xiaobao, deliberately holding back, also nodded: “Unh, have Shiliu take the things out and hand them over to Zijin. Zijin, I’ll tell you what to do.”
Having Shiliu take out the stuff and give it to Song Jing-gong, Zhang Xiaobao then spoke to Song Jing-gong. Song Jing-gong’s eyes brightened as he enthusiastically nodded his head: “Little Mister, you [honorific] rest assured. I’ll definitely handle this matter. So it was originally like this. The matter shouldn’t wait. I’ll go now.”
After giving his guarantee, Song Jing-gong, carrying the broth23 that Shiliu had prepared for him, turned around to exit as he had the coachman drive the carriage back towards Sanshui County over there.
When Song Jing-gong had arrived, it was nighttime again. This time, Song Jing-gong was like before as he didn’t stop to rest before going over to the yamen [govt. offices]24 here. Once he caught sight of the magistrate, he said his request:
“Milord, Student has returned and asks Milord to help out by acting as a middle man. Since it is dinner time, Student desires to invite that Zhou Xihu to dine at Waterview House.”
Cheng Lingxiang, seeing Song Jing-gong’s face was colored with pleasure, felt much surprise. Could it be that there really was a way to resolve the issue? Calculating the time it would take for Song Jing-gong to make a round trip, he had just gotten back there when over there, someone had already thought of a method. How was this possible?
“Zijin has a plan? The adept over there thought of a way in a while after hearing your words?”
Cheng Lingxiang asked with some expectation.
“No, Student had just entered the courtyard house and finished speaking of the matter when that person had Student take the item that had already been prepared in advance and then instructed Student a few words. Student didn’t dare delay and immediately came back here. They seemed to already know.”
Whenever Song Jing-gong recollected the circumstances of his return, his whole body shook with excitement. Little Mister, they really were too terrifying. Today, he finally witnessed what calculations that overlooked nothing really was. Zhuge reborn could only be like so.
Cheng Lingxiang shared in the surprise together with him, too. It looked like that manor really did have adepts, ~ah. Right then, he didn’t even hesitate so while he sent over people to go invite Zhou Xihu, he brought Song Jing-gong along with him to walk toward Waterview House. He didn’t even ride a carriage or palanquin,25 walking while he asked.
“Could Zijin divulge on what idea that person came up with? I am curious here.”
This time, Song Jing-gong didn’t directly reveal it and apologetically smiled: “Milord, forgive Student for not being able to tell this time. When Zhou Xihu has arrived, everything will naturally be revealed.”
“Oh? If so, then let’s wait for a while. I’ve heard it said that several dishes in Waterview House were all produced by that manor of yours. What connection is there with that adept?”
Seeing that Song Jing-gong wasn’t speaking, Cheng Lingxiang didn’t force him to, either. In a bit, he’d be able to find out anyway. Thinking of Waterview House’s new dishes, he casually asked about it.
“Milord indeed has eyes bright as torches.26 The vegetable oil, spicy sauce, and those dishes were really all by that person.”
As Song Jing-gong conversed with the magistrate, they arrived at the Waterview House. Zhou Xihu had already arrived first and requested a single room so upon seeing Song Jing-gong, he spoke up and said: “What? Mister Song has thought it through?”
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The Chinese expression used here of “jian guan” (見官) literally means to “see the official,” which is an euphemism for a court appearance since for most people, seeing a court official is the same as seeing a judge and that implies appearing in court as either the plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit. For these reasons, I have translated for the gist rather than the literal meaning. ↩
“Qi you ci li” (豈有此理) translates to “how could there be such logic.” You will likely see this as an outburst in a lot of historical Chinese settings, fictional or otherwise, as this is an idiom that’s perfectly suited for politely and elegantly saying WTF in Chinese. In order to try to encapsulate the brevity of this phrase (it’s only 4 syllables and can be said pretty quickly) along with its meaning, I’ve simply translated it as “outrageous.” ↩
Cheng Lingxiang literally uses “ben xian” (本縣) or “this county” to refer to himself because he legally could represent the county itself because of the office he holds. ↩
I’ve translated “zhuangzi” (狀子) as “appeal” though when you break it down, it basically means “form.” It is really more of a general term for a legal document or brief that could be submitted to open a case or investigation with the ancient Chinese courts. Since most of the cases that people could request opened ranged in severity from civil issues like inheritance rights or property disputes to criminal matters like a grievance or accusations of wrongdoing, the one who submitted the appeal was basically treated as a plaintiff, even in murder cases. Note that murder cases with plaintiffs were usually because the plaintiff suspected the individual who had previously been assumed to have died of natural causes of really being a victim of homicide and/or had a possible suspect who they wished to accuse so this would be a situation where the courts combined the investigation and judicial proceedings in one. ↩
I chose to translate this as “blind” though Song Jing-gong actually says “bu kai yan” (不開眼) or “not opening (their) eyes.” ↩
“Advance with a retreat” is how I literally translated this 4-character couplet “yi tui wei jin” (以退為進), which poses the idea of adopting a conciliatory attitude where concessions are made or there is a visible and momentary retreat in order to advance a greater strategy or goal. This is actually an idiom that has its origins in a Han dynasty text called “Fa Yan” 《法言》 or “Exemplary Sayings” by Yang Xiong (揚雄). This text was deliberately modeled to resemble the Analects while posing ideas contrary to Confucianism. ↩
“Song ke” (送客) basically means to “send off the guest” and describes the etiquette that a host would follow in order to polite invite a guest to leave. In ancient China, this process could either be exquisitely formal or be just barely shy of unpardonable rudeness depending on the situation. A polite invitation for a guest to leave also relied on the guest being observant and considerate enough to realize the host’s request and then choosing not to overstay their welcome. Sometimes you will see a host drink their tea to send their guest away in historical Chinese settings because it was an unspoken cue or hint that the host wasn’t available to properly see to the guest’s hospitality so they should also be a good guest and leave. ↩
I’ve translated “bai jia zi” (敗家子) as “wastrel” and it literally means “defeat family son/child” in Chinese. This is a term that’s typically applied to prodigal sons who were spoiled and thus had no money management skills and wasteful with their family’s resources. Such sons were considered to be the reason for why their families would eventually suffer a downfall (and also for a Chinese saying stating that wealth couldn’t be retained past the 3rd generation). ↩
Zhou Xihu (周西虎) has the surname of Zhou/周 with a name that means “west (xi/西) tiger (hu/虎). ↩
“Zhizi” (侄子) means nephew and can be used generically. However, if you wish to be specific about its meaning, it is the term that is used for the son of your brother. The term for your sister’s son would actually be “wai sheng” (外甥). However, more often than not, Chinese people will just use zhizi/侄子 universally. I have noted “fraternal” in brackets next to it though because it is useful information since you can now immediately deduce that Zhou Xihu’s uncle is his father’s brother. ↩
I am translating zhou/州 as “prefecture.” However, this character can also be translated as “state” in modern day geography since California is “Jia zhou” (加州) and Texas is “De zhou” (德州) in Chinese. ↩
“Si Cang Can Jun” (司倉參軍) was an ancient position that had its origins in the Han dynasty and originally was the title for those who served an assistive role as quartermaster and military advisor. As with a lot of ancient Chinese official titles, over time because of the change in bureaucracy, what you see may not be what you get so this position might or might not have anything to do with the military. However, for my sanity, I will be translating these titles as literally as possible. ↩
There wasn’t any commonly agreed upon English translation that I could find for these official titles so I had to break it down based on a character by character basis to translate them. “Chang Si” (長司) basically works out to be “chief division/management.” Interestingly enough, the modern-day incarnation of this title is reversed and called “Si Chang” (司長). ↩
“Zhou Cishi” (州刺史) technically translates to “Prefectural Inspector” as they “inspected” the prefecture on the Emperor’s behalf. This is another position that evolved ever since its origins with the Han dynasty government from serving as a form of Imperial Auditor (Cishi/刺史 from the homophonous Cishi/刺使) to be more of a directly administrative government official. To reflect this and to avoid reader confusion as well as for clarification purposes, I translated this title as “Prefectural Governor,” which I will sometimes abbreviate to “Governor” since it seems to be the best term to use in order to show that this is a government official who oversees a prefecture, the ancient Chinese version of a federal state. ↩
“Zheng liu pin” (正六品) is an official grade within the nine-rank system or the “jiu pin zhong zheng zhi” (九品中正制) that was used to classify the officials within the different levels of the Tang dynasty government. It was first implemented during the Three Kingdoms period with the 1st level being the top tier and the 9th level being the very bottom that could be further subdivided into zheng/正 or “proper/full” and cong/從 or “subordinate/deputy,” shang/上 or “upper” and xia/下 or “lower.” ↩
Cheng Lingxiang is referring to himself in the third person as “ben guan” (本官), which I have translated as “this official, I” since it is slightly proud in tone. ↩
Song Jing-gong actually says “fang wo yi ma” (放我一馬) or literally, “released a horse to me.” This is basically a colloquial idiom to describe going easy on someone or giving them a break. ↩
The Chinese considered the ensemble of the qin/琴 and xiao/琴 to be the best matching pair of musical instruments so a duet with them was considered the perfect melodic union. So Song Jing-gong’s original dialogue of “qin xiao he bi” (琴簫合壁) is a slight modification of the usual Chinese expression for this belief of “qin xiao he zou” (琴簫合奏), which means “duet of the qin and xiao.” I have noted the qin, a 7-stringed musical instrument that is plucked, as part of the zither family and the xiao as a type of flute. Because the Chinese had more than one instrument that fell under the zither or flute family of musical instruments with their own characters or names for each of them, I resorted to the pinyin rather than translating as a generic zither and flute in this case. ↩
“Wu chu qi you” (無出其右) basically means “none appears more right than they are.” This makes more sense when you know that ancient cultures including the Chinese considered the right-hand side the most distinguished. So for nobody else to be able to claim the right-hand seat means that they are second to none. ↩
“Guo Nian” (過年) is the colloquial way to refer to the very first day of Chinese New Year, which is formally known as the Spring Festival or “Chun Jie” (春節) in general, or the act of celebrating the new year. “Guo Nian” (過年) literally means to “pass (the) year.” ↩
“Bing tang hulu” (冰糖葫蘆) literally means “ice sugar bottle gourd.” This is a Chinese sweet that was made by dipping Chinese hawberries (Crataegus pinnatifida) into sugar syrup until it hardened into a candied coating before then being skewered by bamboo sticks. It was called “bottle gourd” or hulu/葫蘆 because the stick of candied berries resembled the shape of a bottle gourd. You can see pictures of this treat on the Baidu page here. To try to mitigate reader confusion, I translated the name as “candied gourd fruit.” If that isn’t a satisfactory choice for you, please let me know what you suggest as an alternative! ↩
I’ve translated “qing tang” (清湯) literally as “broth” or “light soup” though it could also be a Chinese dish that is wontons in a clear soup as stated by the Baidu page. However, I can’t definitely confirm from the context given whether the author means it is literally a clear broth or if he is referring to this dish. ↩
The Yamen (衙門) was the local administrative office and public residence of the area’s mandarin or government official. It acted as the centralized court house, main administrative seat, and central records for all of the bureaucratic needs required for governing. In addition, the ancient Chinese form of prototypical police officers were usually attached here as deputies to the officials. In a way, the yamen was the worst place for commoners to have to visit because it was the ancient Chinese version of the police station, DMV, jail, and courthouse all rolled up into one! Because it is hard to fully communicate its central nature with just the generic “government offices” as its translated meaning, I will be resorting to the pinyin and noting its meaning in brackets next to it. ↩
A palanquin or sedan chair is a jiao/轎 in Chinese. It was a form of litter that was typically an enclosed box that was hoisted on the shoulders of the litter bearers. However, more luxurious forms could be the equivalent in size of a carriage with more prestige attached to the amount of bearers. They were invariably a sign of status and could be accompanied by a retinue of servants. You can visit the Chinese Wikipedia page for some pictures here. ↩
“Hui yan ru ju” (慧眼如炬) is a bit of a pun here as it literally means “bright (smart) eyes like torch.” The wordplay is in the “hui yan” (慧眼) part since it can refer to an uncanny sight that can see the future and past or simply mean perceptive insight. But since hui/慧 is a character that means both “bright” and “intelligent,” using a simile for torches adds to the wordplay. So Song Jing-gong is wittily complimenting Cheng Lingxiang for being eagle-eyed and insightful enough to notice the adept’s hand in the subtle new changes Xiaobao is introducing.