[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 1

New novel! If the bunny was all fluff, this is all darkness. Folks, get ready for a roller coaster of depression.

Chapter One,
Fall of the Country (I)

“Your Majesty! Your Majesty!” De Qing[1] took small steps, and swayed every few steps while running inside from the door. The hat he was wearing also loosened up, revealed a few white hairs, adding an extra ten years to him.

He originally had a horsetail whisk in his right hand, but within the panic, he clipped it underneath his armpit, and tottered and slightly tripped over an accessory box someone left in the palace, then bluntly knelt in front of Xiao Zuo[2]. He was typically dignified, but at this point, he could not care for those things for appearance’s sake. His eyes were all red, and he used the gold-threaded sleeves to recklessly wipe his snot, then said with a sob, “Your Majesty! It’s not good, it’s not good, the Jin army has already reached outside the Meridian gate!”

The Meridian gate was the final gate of the imperial city, and past the Meridian gates, would be the Xuan Zheng Palace that Xiao Zuo was sitting in right now. The time right now was the afternoon of an autumn day, the sun outside the palace hall had already passed, while the layers of eaves and palaces blocked that remaining sliver of evening light tightly, without letting a bit of daylight in.

The inside of the palace was dim, the candles on each of the pedestals long already burned out, and the palace maids who took care of the lights probably long already tied their fine fabrics and escaped from a side gate, only leaving a pool of wax connect with the pedestal, like the damp and cold lichen at the bottom of a well.

The inside of the palace was only left with a personal maid of Xiao Zuo’s and two guards in front of the palace. The rest all spread and ran off. The surface of the shining gold tiles were scattered all over with jewels and accessories, gold bracelets, hanging ornaments, reflecting with a gloomy cold light.

Xiao Zuo was wearing a bright-gold dragon robe- the surface was embroidered with a gold dragon with five claws majestically glaring with its eyes, but compared with the gold dragons on the four Pan dragon pillars within the palace, it bore a slight comical taste to it. Within the spacious Xuan Zheng Palace, once these words of De Qing’s came out, faint echoes resounded from all around, scaring his fragmented heart again. De Qing put a hand over to stroke his chest, and limped in front of the royal throne and gasped with crude breaths.

De Qing was an elder beside Xiao Zuo, and followed him since Xiao Zuo was born, though normally, he would take his identity as Ji Le Palace’s main eunuch to pressure the bunch of small eunuchs following behind him to each call him De gong’gong, but frankly was always very loyal, Xiao Zuo ignored those petty actions of his, and always had one eye open with one eye closed.

“Have Mother Consort and the princesses in the back palace been sent off yet?”

De Qing let out an aye, “Commander Xu personally sent them off from a side gate, they should be safe already.”

Xiao Zuo nodded his head, then after a long time, he stood up from the imperial throne like he used all the power in his body, and suddenly felt a wave of dizziness. The pale face swayed, the maid from the side hurriedly helped him up. Xiao Zuo waved his hand, “Why are you still here?”

Zi Wan[3] took out a handkerchief and wiped the cold sweat on his head, and even had the strength to smile, “Zi Wan originally took care of your Majesty, if your Majesty is still here, how can Zi Wan leave?”

Xiao Zuo opened his mouth, but in the end, did not say anything. He lightly patted Zi Wan’s hand, like he threw out all the many words along with this light pat.

“Help me(zhen)[4] over to the door to look.”

The front of the Xuan Zheng Palace was planted with two big and tall parasol trees[5], with the meaning of having phoenixes rest with grace. At this time, a half of the phoenix tree’s leaves were laid on the ground, while the bright yellow colour was just like the dragon robe on Xiao Zuo’s body. A gust of wind blew by, and the yellow leaves dispersed along with the wind in a drifting manner. Xiao Zuo’s heart suddenly was like it was fiercely pierced by an awl, he immediately grasped Zi Wan’s hand tight, and abruptly started coughing.

“Your Majesty, the Jin army has already passed by the Qin Zheng Palace, and are heading towards the Xuan Zheng Palace now.” The guard the Xiao Zuo just sent out to check entered the hall, and in an instant, the inside of the palace seemed to go a bit colder, unknown if it was because of the frosty air he brought in from outside the palace, or if it was the despair and woes inside people’s hearts.

I(z) understand.”

De Qing at this time already climbed from the floor. The two legs were already soft and could not stand up, so he used both his hands and legs to move towards Xiao Zuo- after all, the tiles of the Xuan Zheng Palace were ornamental, even crawling on it was very suitable.

De Qing pulled at the lower hem of Xiao Zuo’s robe, and spoke with a cracked voice, “Li Nu[6], please escape, if you do not escape now, it will be too late!”

Xiao Zuo shook a bit. when Queen Mother gave birth to him, it was not a full term yet, and he was all wrinkly when he just born, just like a small cat. The former emperor very intimately called him Li Nu, and only the elder who always followed him knew of this.

Xiao Zuo let out a long sight, and crudely sewed back the heart that had a crack in it, and at first glance, seemed like he returned to that impenetrable look. He knelt down, separated De Qing’s hand one finger at a time, then shook his head, “Li Nu can leave, but I(z cannot.”

Xiao Zuo sighed, “If you are scared, you can first leave. I(z will not stop you.”

“Scared? That year, the former emperor and empress left your Majesty in this old servant’s care, how could this old servant betray the former emperor and empress, and betray your Majesty?”

De Qing wiped his face, recklessly hit his legs, then fixed his headpiece, and barely stood up with a totter. The pair of rough big hands helped Xiao Zuo flatten the wrinkles on his robes, then he lifted his head up, “Just let this old servant accompany your Majesty into the next journey.”

Xiao Zuo’s eyes turned hot, and just as he wanted to say something, he heard a bunch of bumbling noises outside the palace, and could still hear the orderly and stern sounds of the Jin army’s cavalry’s iron heels stepping over the white jade bridge within the palace as well as the noisy sounds of wind with the autumn breezes scraping over the flags.

At this time, he seemed to have suddenly obtained some thousand-mile eye or good hearing, and saw the Jin army’s leader wearing armour, riding on a big horse over, rising that long spear that drunk blood in his hands, with the red plum blossoms shaking along with the steeds’ movements, dancing and flying all around. The warriors all around moved with orderly steps, singing Jin’s military songs in their mouths, with a strange tune, like it was mixed with the north’s winds, sands, and blood, as each word pounded onto Xiao Zuo’s heart.

“De Qing, help me(zhen) fix my dress.” Once he really came to the steps of poor mountains and exhausted water[7], Xiao Zuo’s heart instead calmed down. He wore the imperial clothing for the morning courts, his headpiece had gold pearl ornaments threaded into strings, with ninety-one golden pearls representing a paramount son of Heaven. De Qing shook with his hands, and fixed the crown on his head. Xiao Zuo looked at the two parasol trees outside the window in the end, with bright-yellow fallen leaves and mottled branches, and he then turned around and sat on that jewelled throne engraved with two dragons with his head up.

Once it entered autumn, the back palace maids would put a soft cushion on the throne. Xiao Zuo tossed that feminine cushion embroidered with lotuses and leaves aside randomly, and straightly sat on the ice-cold throne.

The court robes were not cold, but at this time, Xiao Zuo felt a bone-piercing frost climb up from the legs, so cold he shook. Like he was spiting someone, he kicked that cushion even farther, or perhaps it was from his own overly clear and ever so vivid future- his own future, from now on, the delicate palace maids and their weaved silk, and jade trees with beautiful branches would turn into fine powder along with Nan(south) Liang, and what would accompany him, would perhaps be a jail where one would no longer see the day, or perhaps a stream of white silk, a cup of poisoned wine, all like this imperial throne, cold, and icy.

“All hands listen!” In a direction a few steps away, Jin’s general’s shout could be heard clearly in the Xuan Zheng Palace. Xiao Zuo froze for a second, and in front of his eyes, that seven-chi tall, rough-browed and square-faced general had already taken one step into the palace in this daze, letting out a low and deep “thump”.

Bai Xiao’s[8] iron armour was mixed with the two army’s soldier’s deep-red blood- some had already congealed into lumps of blood, while some were still warm, dripping downwards, flowing with a long, winding bloodstain on the dazzling tiles.

“Who might you be?”

The personal guards following behind Bai Xiao already stood to the two sides of the big palace with experience. At this time when Xiao Zuo met eyes with him through the big palace, the yellow and dim faint light created a shadow on Bai Xiao’s crude profile. Xiao Zuo gripped the cold arm of the chair tight, but he still arrogantly lifted his chin, like he was only receiving a messenger of an outside country making a pilgrimage as usual. Except, his slightly shaking eyelashes and the taut sweaty back, made a crack in the hard outer shell he propped up with ardour.

Bai Xiao paused at the front of the doors, and clasped his fist and made a bow, then said, “This lowly one is the country of Jin’s Bai Xiao. His Majesty has ordered to invite Nan Liang’s imperial family to move to a side palace, please come with me.” After finishing, he turned to make a posture of asking him out, and lifted his eyes to look at Xiao Zuo.

Troubling as it were for him to still give this monarch of a fallen country enough face, his courtesy was complete, and could be called to be very respectful. That insolence that Xiao Zuo long already prepared circled around his throat, and was blocked, unable to be let up, yet could not be swallowed either. He choked for a bit, and the cold sweat in his palms dampened the pure-gold dragon head again and again. He then stiffly nodded his head, “Allowed. Guide me(zhen) there.”

De Qing beside him hurriedly helped him up, but Xiao Zuo only felt his two legs shake. The armour on the Jin soldiers surrounding from all around let out a thick air of bloodiness that made him gag. He bit down with his teeth wanting to make his own steps seem a bit more steady, but as he stood, he felt half of his body go numb, and his vision turned into a series of black.

Xiao Zuo fiercely bit at his tongue, and the sudden pain and the spreading taste of iron opened up a gap in his dizzied brain, and finally let in a bit of white light. He stood straight in this sliver of clarity, and took a long breath in, then lifted his leg up and walked forward.

Right out from the front doors of the Xuan Zheng Palace with a left turn was the side palace. On the entire way, stood the Jin army- seeing that Xiao Zuo came out, some could not help but secretly glance at him, they were probably very curious what kind of pale-faced and fiendish-teethed monster this person was, that they could be so ill-fated as to meet with an end of a fallen country’s monarch. Xiao Zuo suddenly met with a treatment of a fierce tiger in a cage, and was observed by the people to their content. He felt that at this time, it was like he was stripped of his clothes walking in the most flourishing streets in the capital, spat on with bits of saliva by his citizens, piercing into his spine.

He immediately gave out, and all relied on De Qing having the attention to see and come over to help him up that he then did not make a joke of himself in front of the Jin army. Xiao Zuo tightly pursed his whitened lips. The Jin army to the two sides in front of his eyes was practically no different from the little ghosts in front of the Nai He Bridge[9], with Bai Xiao at the front being the Bai Wu Chang[10] leading the way. Xiao Zuo closed his eyes, and stepped onto this path to the underworld one feet at a time, and blankly thought, this crime of a fallen country’s monarch, probably would have him go down to the hell of oil[11].

After finally dragging out this path that normally took two or three steps to finish when going up for the morning courts, Xiao Zuo swept a gaze through the family members shrunk into balls in the side palace- those who slightly had authority or had information long bought the guards and ran away, the ones left now were some lords and dukes of the fringes, emptily hanging with the names of an imperial relative, yet did not have a bit of real authority, who walked at the very back every time they had a ritual for the heavens. Xiao Zuo was slightly relieved, a majority of Nan Liang’s imperial family was kept, even if he died, he could pretend to console himself that his country had not died off yet.

3 thoughts on “[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 1

  1. [1] 德清- de, for kindness, moral, virtues. Qing, for clear, clean. Clear virtues.

    [2] 萧琢- xiao, for dreary, the desolate. zuo, from 琢磨 (zuo mo), meaning to mull over, ponder over things. The same term can be read as zhuo mo, which means to carve and polish, refine.

    [3] 紫菀- aster, a type of flower. Broken down, zi, for purple, wan, also read as yu for luxuriant.

    [4] For my sanity, each pronoun that is not a first-person 我(wo) will have its pinyin form up top. This particular one is 朕(zhen), specifically used by emperors to address themselves, and emperors alone.

    [5] 梧桐- or, phoenix tree.

    [6] 狸奴- an affectionate way of saying cat (猫) in the olden times.

    [7] Expression for being at the end of one’s resources. No more could be done.

    [8] 白骁- Bai, for white, or clean. Xiao, for the brave, valiant.

    [9] 奈何桥- a bridge all the spirits pass to reincarnate. They say an old grandma called Grandma Meng awaits at the head of the bridge with a soup to allow the spirits to forget their past to be able to have a good reincarnation.

    [10] 白无常- one of two officers of the underworld who guides spirits in the living realm to the dead. Read more from chp38 of Zhao Ge’s footnotes.

    [11] You can search what kind of people go into this kind of hell, but those who do are stripped of their clothes and sent into hot oil to fry.

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