[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 2

Chapter Two,
Fall of the Country (II)

Bai Xiao stood in the middle of the large palace and coughed, then the buzzing of tears from the relatives down there stopped. He spoke, “His Majesty has not yet given a decree, tonight, I will ask everyone to rest here for tonight. When his Majesty’s decree comes tomorrow, we will make a decision”

“No need.” Xiao Zuo tightly gripped his own sleeves, with not even a sliver of colour on his lips. He paused for a bit, then continued to speak, “The son of Heaven guards the gates of the country, the king dies for the state[1]. I(z) am Liang’s king, I am aware I am decrepit and powerless, ashamed in the face of my ancestors, and have no face to continue living on. Today, I(z) ask that General Bai give me a conclusion.”

“Your Majesty!”

“Your Majesty!”

Just as his words fell, he then saw De Qing as well as Zi Wan both kneel before him. De Qing was shaking, and two locks of white hair scattered from his forehead, making him age half a lifetime. Zi Wan instead had both her eyes go red- the neat sky-facing hairstyle she normally had dispersed one half at this time, very dejectedly pulling to one side. The two people grabbed at the sides of Xiao Zuo’s clothes each, Zi Wan used her sleeves to wipe away some tears, and once the words reached the mouth, she already was in tears.

“Your Majesty! Your Majesty is still not yet of age, you are at a good age right now, how can you already follow the former emperor? Even if your Majesty does not think for Liang’s citizens, do not think for those princesses and imperial relatives, your Majesty should……”

Zi Wan stopped for an instant, and suddenly, like she caught onto some life-saving grass, said hurriedly, “Your Majesty…… your Majesty should, for Zi Wan…… yes, do it for Zi Wan! Zi Wan has served your Majesty since your Majesty was eight, and has made tiger dolls for your Majesty, flew kites with your Majesty. Now that I have finally seen your Majesty grow up, how could your Majesty be so cruel as to abandon Zi Wan, abandon Liang!”

“That right, your Majesty! By leaving a green mountain, one will not worry if there will be no wood to burn. This old servant at this age will not die with regret, but your Majesty cannot have this kind of thought, how could you let this old servant face the former emperor……”

Zi Wan saw that Xiao Zuo did not say anything, and bit down, then reached out and took down the hairpin in her hair, and said with red eyes, “Your Majesty, Liang has not yet fallen, if your Majesty insists on seeking death, then this servant will not dare to stop it, but can only go first, and ask for forgiveness in front of the former emperor!”

After saying this, she closed her eyes, and lifted her hand, about to pierce the hairpin towards her neck. Xiao Zuo was so scared that cold sweat came out, and stole the hairpin from her hands and threw it to a side, then said with shaking hands, “Why bother with this!”

“Your Majesty, Liang’s citizens are still waiting for your Majesty!”

Xiao Zuo froze, and lifted his eyes to look outside the window. The red sun sunk in the west, leaving one half to linger beside the Ji beast showing its teeth and claws. The light just so covered over that pair of round eyes of the Suan Ni[2], instantly making the divine beast turn a bit benevolent.

The heart he just forced to turn cold and hard once again softened, and weakly collapsed to half a side, no longer able to bring up a new, hardened courage. After a long while, Xiao Zuo sighed, “Forget it, one day is one day.”

Bai Xiao was constantly standing in the middle watching them just now, yet did not say anything to stop it. At this time, he walked over at an appropriate time, and respectfully gave a bow, “As the moving army is plain and unadorned, we will not set out dinner. We ask that you guys stay here for a night.”

“Thank you, General.” Xiao Zuo returned a bow, Bai Xiao then took a group of people out the palace, only leaving two groups of guards standing at the door of the palace, separating the space inside the palace and outside the palace into two worlds.

When trees fall, the monkeys scatter. At this time when the country was about to fall, the monarch was no longer monarch, and subjects were no longer subjects either. After Bai Xiao left, each relative took up a corner of the palace, and lightly spoke while leaning on the walls, as though once Nan Liang fell, even speaking in a loud voice had become some unforgivable sin, something one would be beheaded or have their eyes gouged, or be completely exterminated for, like they were afraid they would bother those army men outside the door. They lowered their own bodies lower and lower, anxious that they couldn’t return to their mother’s wombs and turn into a spider or mole cricket, and then have a reason to go out openly.

The side palace was originally not big. Normally, it was used for a brief rest when Xiao Zuo went up and down from the courts, only placed with a small couch and a few chairs- other things like partitions were long moved away by the Jin army, and without the stuffy objects, the not-big side palace seemed all empty and barren.

Xiao Zuo stood to one side of the palace against the light with his head down. A group of relatives secretly glanced at him- each and every one of those imperial relatives who would normally send some memorials every half a month to the palace to say some unimportant trivial matters curled up by themselves at this time, with not one person willing to go over.

Zi Wan got out a small cushion from somewhere, and laid it at the corner of a wall for him, then helped him to sit on it, and said to him while massaging his shoulders, “They don’t even burn some charcoal in this side palace, the nights are so cold, how could this be any good.” Xiao Zuo clutched at the soft fur of the cushion, and bitterly laughed, “Never mind it, now that the country has fallen, we don’t know how it will be tomorrow, let’s just temporarily accept it for one night.”

“It will be a great inconvenience for your Majesty.”

Xiao Zuo waved his hand, “Don’t busy yourself either, we still need to endure for one night, sit down and rest for a bit.”

“Aye.” Zi Wan nodded her head. She was wearing the imperial uniform composed of thin veils in the day at this time, and normally, after it turned to night, she would need to add a cloak. So when cold winds seeped in front the windows all around that were not yet shut, and she couldn’t help but shiver.

Xiao Zuo gaze turned dark. By his ears were all small, intermittent, suppressed, and shivering sniffles, the winds in the night were a bit stronger, engraving those parasol trees’ branches that seem like a bunch of demons randomly dancing on the window papers, making it much more ghastly through this layer of hazy window paper.

He was only sixteen, seventeen too, having the burdens of the country pressed too long, the thin shoulders were almost about to bleed from the pressure.

The future was also that unclear, whether it was life or death, all of it was controlled in another person’s hands. He felt this period of time was so tense it was too exhausting, each night he laid on the bed, when he closed his eyes, there would be the image of soldiers on the frontlines waving their blades rushing to the front to kill, the shouts, the drums, all shook so much he would be unable to sleep night after night.

He barely managed to nap for a while, but in his dreams was the Jin army fiercely stepping over the Meridian gates, the flying dust bringing up clouds and clouds of dust on that white jade bridge, so he had to force himself awake once again. He touched the back, an inevitable a bunch of cold sweat, dampening the clothes.

He shook his head. At this time, he couldn’t even bring the thought of worrying what kind of decree Jin’s emperor would give, and felt like he finally finished a long drawn-out war- both parties already were exhausted, whether they were victorious or defeated was of no concern anymore, and after taking back the soldiers after such hardship, and returning to the base camp in a fluster, all the limbs and bones were all heavy, and severely aching. Xiao Zuo leaned against De Qing, he no longer wanted to think of anything, and closed his eyes with fatigue.

Gu……” As though purposely going against Xiao Zuo, at this time, his stomach inappropriately resounded. He originally did not want to pay heed to it, but the feeling of starving, for these ten or so years, was considered a first time, so at the moment, even with his eyes closed, he could not sleep at all. Just as he opened his eyes, he saw Zi Wan all sneaky, running over with an anxious expression, with the hem of the imperial dress full of filth.

Xiao Zuo froze, “Where did you go?”

“This servant…… this servant……” Zi Wan opened her mouth, with both hands hiding behind, hesitating with her gaze dashing around for a long time, and then finally biting down, she said, “This servant saw your Majesty hungry, and so took some cakes over. Your Majesty, do have some.”

“Cakes? From where did you get the cakes in this side palace?” When Xiao Zuo doubtfully looked at the few bean paste cakes in Zi Wan’s hands, the corner of his eyes swept by the crumbs of the cake sticking to the corner of her dress, and a nameless fire burned right in his nerves like crushing through dry weeds and rotten wood, even the fear and despair pressed in these few days as well as the hibernating madness that Xiao Zuo forcibly propped and hid tightly were all burned up. He snatched those few pieces of cakes, and fiercely threw them to the ground, and angrily said, “Who do you think I am? Even if I die, I will not eat such dirty things!”

“Mercy, your Majesty, mercy! It was this servant who was no good, this servant was no good!” Zi Wan turned anxious too, and knelt down on the ground and constantly kowtowed her head. De Qing also pleaded, “Zi Wan was also got impatient for a moment, your Majesty, you mustn’t be angry, if you injure your body, it would do no good.”

Xiao Zuo glared with his reddened eyes, and firmly stared at the mess on the ground, and gasped with crude breathes in big mouthfuls.

“Hah, you really think you’re some true dragon or some son of Heaven? Throwing temper tantrums here!” The soldier on night’s watch bent down to pick up the broken up bean paste cake, and looked at Xiao Zuo with ridicule, and provoked, “The son of Heaven truly does not know of the hardships of the common folk, regular families could only eat some rice and flour in the new year and festivals, this bean paste cake only had some dust on it, yet made you throw this big of a temper, Nan Liang truly is nearing its fated end!”

“Insolence!” Xiao Zuo was so angry his lips trembled. His nails pinched into the flesh, yet he couldn’t feel it at all, and subconsciously raised his voice, “The country of Liang has merely met with disaster for the time being, who do you think you are, to think it would be your turn to speak!”

“Who do I think I am?” This soldier laughed in his extreme anger, and lifted his leg about to kick him, “I’ll let you see who I am!”

“Stop!” Bai Xiao just so happened to pass by in the night patrol, and stopped the soldier in time, and reprimanded them with a few words in a calm fashion, then apologized to Xiao Zuo, “They are lacking in disciple, I hope you would not blame them too much.”

De Qing was afraid the anger would get to Xiao Zuo’s head and say something he could not take back, and hurriedly said, “General Bai has been kind, it was not something important originally, General Bai, you should return to your duties.”

Bai Xiao nodded his head, then took that soldier from a moment ago out the door. When opening the door, a gust of cold air surged in, rolling and submerging the palace’s air. Once the doors closed, Xiao Zuo then hung his eyes down, and heavily leaned on the wall to the back, the piercing coldness instantly spread along the shoulder blades to all over the body, making him so cold he chattered his teeth, and bit down on his tongue with blood coming out.

That sliver of faint bloody air finally sucked up the final sliver of anger dry. He then took in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and curled the corners of his lips in self-ridicule.

That’s right, the him now was merely just the king of a fallen country, useless and moral-less, and even delusionally wanted to put up what emperor’s act.

In this night, Xiao Zuo only had a few murky dreams the entire time. One moment was Queen Mother pulling his hand singing for him, one moment would be after the Emperor his Father passed away, when he wore the pale-white mourning clothes. In between, he would be startled awake a good few times by the whistling cold winds outside the room, and when it was close to the fifth watch of the night[3], he then slept a bit deeper, but then Bai Xiao already brought guards to push the door and come in.

A rustling hint of coldness instantly swept up the side palace, blowing awake the Nan Liang imperial family in the whole palace spread all around. Xiao Zuo slightly arduously opened his eyes, and saw that Bai Xiao’s hands held an imperial decree, unclear if he was happy or angry from his expression.

The entire palace of people firmly stared at that thin sheet of satin, and Xiao Zuo subconsciously gripped his hand tight. The dragon robes stained with dust was pulled by him so many times there were many wrinkles, and that pair of bright and shining dragon eyes that looked down from the top instantly sagged and drooped from the wrinkles, like a snake on its last breath coiling at the back.

Bai Xiao coughed, then said, “His Majesty has decreed……”

Once these words came out, the whole palace knelt down with shuffling sounds, even more neat and orderly than the flags and weapons of the Jin army. Xiao Zuo was slow on the uptake, and stood there in a daze like a dry wooden pole, especially glaring. His heart thumped, while that pair of military shoes on the guard to the side already stored up strength. He wanted to bend down his legs as he shook, but these legs, ever since birth, had only knelt for the heavens and knelt for his parents, never for another person. At this time, they very stubbornly stiffened, bent half a day, and yet could not be bent down.

De Qing reached out and pulled him down. Xiao Zuo seemed like he was forced to step over that pit in his heart, and abruptly fell onto the tiles, making an echoing thump. Thankfully, the court clothing was thick and heavy, so this kneel of Xiao Zuo’s did not hurt the bones and muscles. He lowered his eyes, and listened to Bai Xiao speak.

“…… Confer the abolished emperor, Xiao Zuo, as the Nan Hun Duke[4], to immediately move to the capital….” Xiao Zuo only felt his ears buzz, Bai Xiao’s extremely powerful voice seemed to be separated by a curtain, and couldn’t be heard clearly, he faintly caught onto a few key words, he then already used up all his strength, his stiff spine stood up, and only remembered he shrunk that pair of constantly shaking hands into the wide sleeves, and forcibly hold in the tears that were about to burst from the eyes, and lightly closed his eyes.

2 thoughts on “[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 2

  1. [1] From 《礼记·曲礼》. The full line for this is “不和亲、不赔款、不割地、不纳贡,天子守国门,君王死社稷。” meaning, [We] will not make peace, not make amends, nor cede territory, nor pay tribute. The emperor/son of Heaven guards the country, [hence] the emperor dies with its country. So loyal to ones country they would rather die than to surrender.

    [2] 脊兽 (Ji beast), statues placed above the eaves. This refers to a number of beasts that are placed in specific order (after a figure of an immortal being the very first). The Suan Ni is part of this, being the fifth son of the dragon (from how the dragon has nine sons). Its appearance is similar to that of a lion’s.

    [3] 五更- or just before dawn.

    [4] 南昏侯- nan, for south. hun, I’m assuming as a part of 昏君, meaning being a self-indulgent ruler. Hun itself can mean dusk, or muddled. Not exactly a happy title, especially when it reminds one of their constant defeat and even laughs at how terrible a ruler they were.

    Liked by 3 people

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