[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 63

Chapter Sixty-three,
Old Wish

Perhaps it felt Xiao Zuo’s resentment towards Jin’s autumn cold weather, since it rained that day, the entirety of Shang An’jing was continually sunny for a half a month, and considering the days, it was soon Jin’s Moon Festival.

The Moon Festival is Jin’s most important holiday in autumn. On this day, families would bathe and burn incense, then dress in clothes washed in new starch, then pray to the moon at home come nighttime. If it was in a city where there were more people, like the capital Shang An’jing for example, they would hold other bustling activities. Zi Wan long already heard about it, and when Xiao Zuo came back from walking outside, she pulled him aside and excitedly spoke to him about it.

“Duke, it’s going to been the Moon Festival in two days! I hear that there is going to be a particularly big lantern festival at the vermilion street in Shang An’jing, and they will continuously set fireworks for a whole quarter hour!” Zi Wan pinched a cloth with a look of admiration, “From what Ling Xiang said to this servant, the night of the Moon Festival will be the day many young lords and ladies confess, underneath the layers of lanterns, with fireworks and flowers above the iron bridges, handsome lords would pick the lost handkerchief of a lady in front, a sorrowful and beautiful romance between a scholar and a beautiful lady……”

Xiao Zuo blankly watched the constantly chattering Zi Wan, and did not have the heart to interrupt her, it must be those servant girls the residence newly hired these few days, so Zi Wan had more free time, and hid in her room to sneak a peek at her collection of strange books. He remembered when Zi Wan cleaned up his room, she even sneakily took it out to read over, what was it called again?

Xiao Zuo thought about it, and faintly recalled it being called something like San’niang Records……

But…… how long has it been since Zi Wan has been this happy? Ever since last autumn, Zi Wan followed him through many hardships all the way to Shang An’jing, he did not see her genuinely smile like this for a long time already. Though the Zi Wan in his memories wasn’t of an especially energetic nature, she was also an innocent and romantic lady who liked smiling, if not because of……

Xiao Zuo hung his eyes down, the past would always be unbearable to recall, but in this half a year under He Xuan’s protection, the crown prince residence had blocked off the public spears and hidden arrows and winds and rain for him- Zi Wan and him, and De Qing of course, seemed to finally start to live seriously. He would discuss with the chef regarding how much sugar should be put in yesterday’s vinegared fish for a long time, while Zi Wan now also started getting so excited she was emitting light because of the soon-to-come Moon Festival, as for De Qing…… now that De Qing was mentioned, he felt that he had not seen him for a long time already.

Just when Xiao Zuo was spacing out, Zi Wan slightly unhappily used her hand to poke him, with her willowy brows upright, and said, “Duke, did you not hear what this servant said?”

“I’m listening, I’m listening, a sorrowful and beautiful romance between a scholar and a beautiful lady!”

“That was from a long time ago! This servant already spoke to the part about praying to the moon!”

“What praying to the moon?”

Zi Wan got a bit thirsty from speaking, she poured herself a cup of water and finished it, then continued speaking, “This servant isn’t too clear on it, it’s something that people need to do during the Moon Festival, the duke can wait for his Highness to return and ask him.”

Once he got reminded by her, he got a bit excited as well, so when He Xuan came back in the afternoon, he mentioned it in passing.

“Moon Festival?” He Xuan put down the documents in his hands, and raised his eyebrows and asked with a smile, “How did you know about it?”

“I heard Zi Wan say it would be very lively, what do they do in general?” Xiao Zuo propped his chin and sat in the vine chair to the side, and tilted his head to look at him. He Xuan gave it some thought, then said, “The Moon Festival certainly is the liveliest holiday in Shang An’jing’s autumn, the prefectural governor has already prepared for it for a long time now.”

“As for the general contents, it is basically bathing and burning incense, offering prayers towards the altar. Men would hope to step into the Toad Palace[1] early, and befriend the immortal osmanthus, while women pray for looks like Chang’e, fair as the white moon, and will end around Xu[2]. Once it turns to Hai[3] the vermilion street each year will have lanterns and fireworks. I’ve gone to it once, it certainly looks good.”

“Your Highness has only gone once in these many years?”

He Xuan lifted his eyes up, dubiously looking at Xiao Zuo, “Because…… everyone would go see the lanterns together with their beloved.”

“Then……” Xiao Zuo slightly dejectedly hung his head down, and lightly asked, “Then who did your Highness go with that time?”

He Xuan satisfactorily looked at Xiao Zuo’s conflicted look of wanting to know but not willing to listen, because of this awkwardness, he made a strange pose on the vine chair, He Xuan then mischievously narrowed his eyes, and teased him, “Me.”

He Xuan paused, “That year, I went with Xu Yu Hang.”


He Xuan bit down on his back teeth, extremely did not want to bring up the aching past from that year, and unwillingly elaborated, “That year I was small, I only wanted to watch the excitement, so I brought Xu Yu Hang together. Who knew once we arrived at the main street, the entire street would be filled with couples holding hands together, we were so embarrassed we didn’t know if we should stay or leave……”

He did not think that his Highness the Crown Prince actually had such a time he lost face, so Xiao Zuo found it hard to hold in his laugh. He Xuan glanced at him, and slightly narrowed his eyes, “Unfortunately, this Moon Festival, I have some work matters to attend to, and don’t have time to go play.”

“There’s still work even on the Moon Festival, huh.” He Xuan watched Xiao Zuo look just like a dejected little kitty hanging its head down, he pretty much could imagine his ears drooping down due to disappointment, Xiao Zuo lowered his head and muttered, making He Xuan slightly unbearably change the topic, “However…… I can recommend you a few stores that make good festive lanterns. Xu Yu Hang brought it up with me last time, as well as the best place to watch fireworks.”

“Alright.” Xiao Zuo nodded his head without energy, with his tone all weak.

He Xuan could not help it, and reached out and scratched Xiao Zuo’s chin, and lowly laughed, “Oh, you……”


He Xuan took back his hand like he was innocent, yet thought of teasing him, stroked Xiao Zuo’s soft hair, and purposefully lowered his voice- his voice was originally low and deep, and at this time, it seemed like half of it was hidden in his throat, making hearts itch, “Nothing.”

Days would always go by fast with eager anticipation, and under Zi Wan’s unending blabbering, the Moon Festival finally arrived. Actually, two days ago, the servant maids in the crown prince residence already started preparing, the girls in charge of washing who were only separated by a door from Zi Wan’s room long already washed all the old clothes, and then had to wash and scent the new clothes ordered from the tailor’s as well, busying for quite a while. Xiao Zuo naturally did not know any of this, he only felt Jin’s festive air on the day of the Moon Festival.

Early in the morning, Ling Xiang took great care to hang rabbit-style lanterns all around the residence. Each window was stuck with cut-outs of immortals moon-gazing, making medicine under the moon, things that had to do with moonlight, making this crown prince residence seem like a human realm Guang Han Palace[4] at a glance.

At that time, Xiao Zuo was in the room washing up, he took a tooth pick and brushed his teeth, his eyes idly watched Ling Xiang hang the lanterns, while he constantly thought, then He Xuan would be Immortal Chang’e of Guang Han Palace. He Xuan was good-looking, of a cold nature too, and quite matched this Guang Han Palace- but it was hard to imagine the look of him being unable to sleep, holding a cold pillow and dropping with tears. If it was He Xuan, he would probably directly smash all the things in Guang Han Palace, and drag off Hao Gang[5] who disturbed his good dreams to be whipped.

Once Xiao Zuo thought to here, he could not help but laugh. Last night, he did not know what He Xuan was on, they tossed about for half the night, so with this laugh of his, it made him in a bit of pain. He slightly sucked in a breath of air, scolded He Xuan once inside, then placed down his mouth-washing cup, and prepared to eat something.

When he went through the corridor by the garden, he coincidentally saw Zi Wan and another maidservant readjusting a platform, so he slightly curiously walked over to ask, “What is this?”

That small servant looked at him, and after bowing, she crisply said, “This is the moon-praying altar used for the Moon Festival, it’s heard that only women pray to the moon in the south, but our Jin is not the same. Regardless of men or women, they all need to pray during the Moon Festival. The duke can also give it a try at night, and experience the traditions of Jin.”

Xiao Zuo got a bit excited from her explanation, and then carefully studied that platform again. It was a wooden platform about one person tall, they were tying colourful ties to the altar, and when winds came, those ties would dance along with the wind- if it was in the night, underneath the moonlight, it would really have the makings of immortals from the highest skies drifting with their sleeves.

Before Xiao Zuo woke up from his noon nap, he got pulled up from the bed by Zi Wan. With slightly disorderly hair, he looked at Zi Wan with a slightly bitter gaze, “What is it?”

Zi Wan smiled at him, and ignored his rejection, “Once it’s night, it will be time to pray to the moon. Right now, this servant will bring the duke to wash up and change clothes, and in a moment, we will need to burn incense.”

Thus, Xiao Zuo hazily got pulled by Zi Wan into the bathtub and bathed for a long time, and then, a bunch of small servant girls sent over the ceremonial robes for the moon-praying, that robe was a sky-blue colour, and looked to be extremely wide. When Xiao Zuo wore it and walked in a circle outside, he felt the cold winds dig inside from the sleeves, Xiao Zuo could only console himself that perhaps this was what immortals riding the wind felt like.

Because these clothes were drafty, Xiao Zuo was determined to stay in the room and not go out in the cold, and when the moon-praying altar was finished decorating, Zi Wan came in to urge him, “Duke, the outside has finished decorating, let’s first burn the incense.”

Xiao Zuo helplessly lowered his head and looked at the loose clothing, then accepted his fate and went out, “Let’s go.”

It was currently evening, the horizon’s final smear of red still did not dissipate, illuminating this altar to seem like it was painted with a layer of rouge. The top of the wooden platform was now already placed with an incense table as well as fruits and nuts for tribute, He Xuan was not here, so the first in the residence to put up incense became Xiao Zuo. Ling Xiang counted three sticks of incense and placed it in Xiao Zuo’s hand, and helped him light them.

Xiao Zuo followed their instructions and bent his waist and bowed three times, although he did not know if Jin’s moon god would fulfill the wishes of a foreigner like him, he still closed his eyes, and pretty much piously prayed in his heart.

“Oh god of the moon, accept this small citizen’s bow.”

“One wish for Nan Liang to never burn with the fires of battle, and the commoners to flourish. A second, for Zi Wan and De Qing’s peace and happiness.”

“A third…… a third for He Xuan, for no worries in a lifetime.”

He silently recited it, then put the three sticks of incense in his hand into the incense pot. That willowy smoke hovered up, disappeared in the night’s winds, unknown if it could reach the skies for the gods to hear.


One thought on “[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 63

  1. [1] From an ancient fable, there is a three-legged toad on the moon, the palace in the moon hence is the Toad Palace. The immortal osmanthus (仙桂), is also an osmanthus tree that grows on the moon, according to legends. In plain words, men hope to be successful in their careers AKA be a government official like the rest.

    [2] 戌时- around 7 to 9pm.

    [3] 9-11pm

    [4] 广寒宫- The Moon Palace, also the place where Chang’e stayed on the moon.

    [5] Another character who appears on the moon. Legends surrounding him will vary to some degree, but he is sent to the moon as punishment to cut down the moon osmanthus, known to be a giant, undying tree. Of course, he fails because every cut he makes on the tree will recover in no time, exiling him on the moon forever.


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