[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 66

Chapter Sixty-six,
Crab Tasting

Since the last Pine Wind tea party, this would be considered the fourth time Xiao Zuo came to Pine Wine Pavilion. In the three times between, he would go together with Fu Zhan Chuan- Xiao Zuo looked handsome, his talent in poems naturally had a lucid and straightforward style to it, those who came to the Pine Wind tea parties were all scholars and poets of the same ages too, so Xiao Zuo very quickly got familiar with them, and normally, he would occasionally drink and write poems with them, how scholars’ characters originate from agarwood[1], so they say.

Xiao Zuo was originally not wiling to come this time, Jin’s crabs could not compare to those of Nan Liang, after all, the northern lands lacked mountains and water, so the taste of the crab meat would always be a bit inferior. He was also not someone who extremely liked eating crab, so he was truthfully a bit disinterested in this crab-tasting banquet. Ever since that time he parted from Qing Shuang on bad terms, he sunk into depression for a period of time, not going out the doors everyday, and only stuffed himself in the room and looked at books to kill time. He Xuan could not bear to watch it go on, so forcefully pulled him outside to ease him up.

After everyone made their round of greetings, Xiao Zuo drank a few cups of light alcohol down, and the maids long waiting at the door brought the fragrant golden crabs in.

Xiao Zuo hung his head down and looked at the golden and crisp crab meat, the top uniformly spread with grated ginger and cucumber slices, but just as he lifted his chopsticks to taste it, He Xuan slightly turned over, and said in a soft voice, “Do you know why this dish is called golden crab?”

“Is it not because the grated ginger on top looks like gold?”

“Not quite.” He Xuan lifted his brows, and explained with interest, “Rumours say, during the Xing dynasty, an emperor especially liked eating crab, but he had extremely picky tastes, and was not satisfied with any of the crabs the imperial kitchen made for him. This emperor’s temper was also very violent, if he was not in a good mood that day, he would have that chef who did the crab executed.”

“One day, this emperor travelled to Jiang Nan, and had a dream in the night. In the dream, an immortal bestowed him a secret recipe for golden crab, with crab meat as the main dish, laid with grated ginger and cucumber slices and other ingredients on top of the plate, like gold crumbs to the eye. After waking from the dream, this emperor then had people make this golden crab according to the recipe for him, except, when this emperor ate it, the grated ginger on top turned into real gold, and then died after finishing it.”

Xiao Zuo just grabbed a chopstick full of grated ginger and put it in his mouth, but when he heard this, his hand shook, and slightly stiffly placed the chopsticks down, then said, “It must be that the matter of this emperor killing innocent people got known by the immortal, then bestowed divine punishment.”

“En.” He Xuan hintingly said, “Kindness and evil cycles round, all to be reciprocated one day.”

“Don’t you not believe in ghosts and gods normally?” Xiao Zuo was a bit curious, “You must have made this story up to scare me.”

“That’s right.” He Xuan mischievously curved his eyes, “Don’t you like it?”

“Nope.” Xiao Zuo pursed his lips, he took up the chopsticks and occasionally poked at the crab meat, and said, “One should carry their treasured swords, to remove the injustice of the world[2]. If each and ever matter needed to rely on the divine, how could one protect the commoners.”

He Xuan did not follow up, he played with the jar of wine in his hand as though in deep thought, then poured a cup for himself.

About a dual hour later, Xiao Zuo swept a gaze over the seats, everyone had some leftovers remaining, He Xuan just now was called away by a person from the courts, saying there was something that needed handling last minute, Xiao Zuo sat in the corner by himself, and lowered his head thinking to something.

“Xiao’xiao!” Fu Zhan Chuan energetically patted Xiao Zuo’s shoulder, and pouted his lips, “You have a fight with Qing Shuang, but how come you don’t even pay attention to me? Even though I looked at you for half a day, you didn’t even give me a single look back.”

“I was thinking to something just now, and didn’t notice.”

“What are you thinking about?” Fu Zhan Chuan pulled a chair and sat by Xiao Zuo. Since there wasn’t anyone around, he poured himself a cup of wine, and lazily sipped on the wine and asked.

“I heard that the one providing disaster relief for Nan Liang this time is Liu Guang Yuan, I am a bit concerned.”

“This Liu Guang Yuan certainly isn’t some good thing.” Fu Zhan Chuan knitted his eyebrows, “However, he should still have some sense of propriety, and would not do some out-of-bound thing. Furthermore, that time, Jin separately attacked from the east and north, Liu Guang Yuan is merely the east expedition army’s general, the north expedition army’s Bai Xiao is not some pushover either, with Liu Guang Yuan restricted by Bai Xiao, there shouldn’t be anything big.”

“Let’s hope.” Xiao Zuo’s voice was muffled, he buried his head into the crook of his arms, and wearily closed his eyes.

Fu Zhan Chuan originally wanted to ask just what happened between him and Qing Shuang, this Qing Shuang was typically unmoved, so if he didn’t want to say it, even if he were beat dead, he would not get an answer out of him. But now with Xiao Zuo’s worried and exhausted look, he could not open this mouth of his, and only lightly patted his back in comfort, “It’ll be alright.”

However, this mortal realm held many multitudes of living creatures, constantly with many who did not get what they want, with few whose wishes come true.

As Xiao Zuo carried a book and was strolling to He Xuan’s study, through the latticed window, He Xuan’s voice was intermittent like it had been blown to a faraway place by the northern winds, with only a few scattered words leaking into Xiao Zuo’s ears.

“Liu Guang Yuan…… rebel army…… revolt……” He Xuan’s voice was not loud, his tone was also low and deep, Xiao Zuo strangely thought at this time, he especially liked how He Xuan would sometimes suppress his throat when speak, depressed and also gentle, like the slight gusts when Jin entered spring and flowers bloomed.

“Who is outside?” That figure speaking with He Xuan moved. Before Xiao Zuo had time to move away, that person already first opened the door, and looked at him with knitted brows.

He Xuan sat on the chair behind the table, he only indifferently glanced at Xiao Zuo, and did not have some fluctuating expression of surprise. Xiao Zuo watched He Xuan wave his hand, then that person very respectfully withdrew, and closed the door.

“Ask away.” He Xuan lifted his chin at him, “What you want to do, as long as I know, I will speak.”

Xiao Zuo slightly hesitated for an instant, he lightly coughed, rearranged the disorderly emotions quickly in his mind, then opened his mouth.

“How are circumstances in Nan Liang now?”

“The north expedition army Bai Xiao is in charge of and the east expedition army that Liu Guang Yuan is in charge of fought over merits, and opened battle nearby Qing Ling. For now, both sides looked to still be evenly matched, I’m afraid they will be in stalemate for some time.”

He did not think that those words Qing Shuang said to him that day, in the end, became true.

“Better to take firewood from under the cauldron.” Qing Shuang said, “Don’t you still have some former subordinates in Nan Liang? We can use this matter and make it bigger, put it to death then revive.”

Xiao Zuo did not agree that time- once war rose again, it would be another disaster for the commoners. Nan Liang’s commoners could not suffer any longer, he only wanted them to properly live on, he already owed them too much.

“You……” Xiao Zuo’s lips looked pale, without a colour of blood on the face, just like he had been painted with layers of white wax by someone, pale and shaky, like a wandering lone soul.

“I’m fine.” Xiao Zuo quickly took one step back, he hung his head down, the loose hairs on his forehead was like a veil on the head a ghost in the hazy candlelight, he repeated again, with his voice uncertain, “I’m fine, I’ll head back first.”

He Xuan’s consoling words dryly stuck by the mouth, about to chafe his skin, but in the end, he was unable to say it out loud. He slightly wearily extended his hand and kneaded his brows, the left hand that originally wanted to extend out gripped into a first, and slightly regretfully got placed on the leg in a fluster.


One thought on “[Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw] Chapter 66

  1. [1] There aren’t any relevant idioms in connection with scholars and agarwood, but I’ve come across a comparison of the production of agarwood with life in general. Agarwood’s fragrance originates from its resin, only produced when the tree is injured or is infected by a mold, and secretes the resin to combat the infection. In a life of bliss with no hardship or concern, one leads an ordinary albeit boring life. But if one undergoes through many experiences in their life, their life will be more colourful and meaningful, and perhaps more worth living. In our context, perhaps the education scholars go through, the hardships they endure as they lament for the world or country translate to their ability to write their profound essays, poems, or other literature. Suffering contributes to one’s writing ability. This could all be bullshit and I’m completely off from what the author intended though. Who knows.

    [2] Adapted from a line off of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In a world of chaos, men should carry their sword, and make outstanding achievements.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s