# 6. Dumb, Dumb Second Uncle “Hey!” Caiwei, the yellow-skirted girl called out, flashing her eyes, “How can salt turn into silver?” After the words left her mouth, she hesitated, pulling out a sugarcane stick and handing it over. “Here, for you.” *Are you bribing me…* There was no longer any sign of the other two people. Xu Qi’an returned her gaze, thinking, and replied “This commoner once read in an ancient tome about the alchemical process of turning salt into silver.” Her eyes widened, “Where is that book? Who wrote it?” *That book’s called “High School Chemistry”, as to its author… mm, People’s Education Press?* Xu Qi’an replied, “The book has long since been destroyed. However, I have remembered some of its contents.” Caiwei’s breath suddenly became sharp and heavy, “Quick, tell me.” Sighing, Xu Qi’an responded “This lowly commoner is in imminent danger, I’m afraid I really do not have the energy nor will to teach.” To this, she merely rolled her eyes, snapping back “You’re a sly one, aren’t you? The Sitian Jian does not interfere in the affairs of state; what your fate is, is up for His Majesty to decide. There’s no point in trying to get any benefits through me.” “Then why don’t you take me in as a student? With the status of the Sitian Jian in the royal court, taking someone who’s merely guilty by association should be of no issue.” Xu Qi’an merely wanted a backup plan, in case the tax silver couldn’t be found. Caiwei’s eyes moved up and down, inspecting him intently, “You’re clearly a martial artist, why do you want to be an Arcanist?” Cultivation must be started early; most cultivators built up their foundations from when they were children. To switch now from martial to arcane arts, would be far too late a proposal. “Whether or not I can protect myself under your shadow isn’t important, mostly I just admire your Grandmaster’s style.” His words were earnest and sincere. “Then tell me the contents of this alchemical book.” she hesitated, before replying. Her eyes were clear and bright, of almond shape, with night black pupils, a perfect contrast of black and white. In the previous world, Xu Qi’an had only seen such clear eyes on young children. “Its contents are extremely abstruse and difficult. I’m afraid you might not even understand just the fundamental rhyme. One needs to be taught these profound concepts in simple language for it to sink in deeply.” He began to fish. Chu Caiwei[^1] rolled her eyes again, not taking the bait, “In the Nine Provinces, all under heaven, none are masters of the art of alchemy more than our Sitian Jian.” “Hydrogen helium lithium beryllium boron carbon nitrogen oxygen fluorine neon sodium magnesium aluminium silicon phosphorous…” Xu Qi’an began to recite, fluently like flowing water. “???” *What is he saying?* Caiwei was dumbstruck for a good while, before her eyebrows fell into a sharp frown, “You’re playing with me. Our Sitian Jian only takes in young children as disciples.” She snatched back the sugarcane stick from Xu Qi’an’s hand, and with light footsteps, walked away, skirt hem fluttering. *But I’m also a child…* Xu Qi’an opened his mouth, and closed it again, not making a sound. Then, he quickly realised: when the Sitian Jian takes disciples, they take them when they’re babies. *Eh, that’s a dead end.* … Two days went by in a flash, as Xu Qi’an stayed in his cell, full of anxiety and fear. He feared that the silver could not be recovered in time. If he were to be sent away, then even if it were found later, that would do him no good. Furthermore, what if Governor Chen was a black-hearted little maggot, taking Xu Qi’an’s efforts and presenting them as his own? Still a death sentence. But what could he do? He had done everything within his power. What can a lowly prisoner really hope to achieve? “I’ll just wait for heaven’s judgement…” Xu Qi’an sighed in sorrow. Clang! The metal door at the end of the corridor opened, and a jailor walked in, holding a flaming torch. He pulled out his keys, and opened the door, “Xu Qi’an! You can go!” Xu Qi’an was overjoyed, pumping the air with his fists, “The silver was recovered?” “Come with me to sign yourself out, then you can go.” The jailor looked him up and down, “Your luck is really something.” “What about my uncle?” Xu Qi’an asked anxiously. “Less chit-chat, more walking.” Angrily, the Jailor struck Xu Qi’an’s behind with his torch, beating him out of the cell. In the constabulary, under the arrangements of a minor official, he signed his name and made a fingerprint, before receiving the clothes back that he had been wearing before he was arrested. An officer escorted him out of the Capital Region Constabulary, from the back door. At this time, a faint light was spreading in the east, and the streets were empty and cold. … Clang! Xu Pingzhi was suddenly awoken by the sound of the iron door being opened. He opened his eyes, revealing bloodshot eyeballs. The dishevelled and dirty Xu Pingzhi had features much like his nephew. On the other hand, his firstborn son Xu Xinnian, had features far too handsome to ever be described in the same breath. In the cell opposite, the sleeping Li Ru[^2] shuddered, and opened her eyes. Her face was sallow, and an expression of utmost fear showed on her face. With a corridor between them, the husband and wife looked at each other. Li Ru mournfully said “Dear husband, I’d rather die than go into the Jiaofang Si.” This year she was thirty-five, and she had looked after herself well. She was a woman of extreme grace; even having stayed in a cell, frightened and scared for five days, even if her face was sallow, she still couldn’t hide any of that charm within her eyes. What sort of place is the Jiaofang Si? A woman’s purgatory, nay, hell. The bruise-ridden Xu Pingzhi opened and closed his mouth, not managing to say a word. Hot tears suddenly poured down, “Dear wife, it’s my fault. May us husband and wife both travel to the Yellow Springs[^3], in the next life I’ll do everything for you, I’ll make it up to you. But our poor children, and that nephew of ours.” Five days had passed. What was facing him was the chopping block, what awaited the women was the Jiaofang Si. Apart from Li Ru, the Xu family had two daughters, not yet married. One was just sixteen, the other merely five. They were curled up in the corner of the cell, having also been awoken. The five year old rubbed her eyes, twittering “Mummy!” She knew not the fate that was about to befall her. The sixteen year old sat up straight, unkempt silken hair framing a pale melon-seed shaped face, with small red lips, large enchanting eyes. Her nose was not small like other women, but rather tall and straight, thus making her features seem extraordinarily outstanding, extremely fine and attractive. Almost like a statue. She unconsciously leaned towards her mother, her thick eyelashes trembling due to fright. Several prison guards, carrying swords, walked in with large steps. Li Ru’s eyes flashed with hopelessness and acceptance. Xu Pingzhi clutched the bars with both hands, his knuckles going white, teeth gritted. Having lost the tax silver, failed in his duty, he knew that he should pay with his life, but to also pay with the lives of his wife and daughters, he would not accept that, not even in death. Especially the young one, she was only five. If she were to be sent to and raised at the Jiaofang Si, her entire life would be darkness. As parents, how could they ever accept that? “Xu Pingzhi, come with us, sign and stamp, and you can leave.” One guard opened the cell door, not putting manacles on them. He stood back, hitting his scabbard against the bars, expressing that they can come out themselves. “I, Xu Pingzhi have loved king and country my whole life, our whole house is loyal… eh? What did you say?” Xu Pingzhi was afraid that he had misheard. What? “We can go? You said we can go?” Xu Pingzhi was momentarily in disbelief, “Why, what happened? Aren’t you going to take me to be beheaded?” “I don’t know,” the guard snapped back, “This is the boss’s orders, if you want to know you go ask him yourself.” Both confused and anxious, Li Ru held her two children, and the whole family followed the guards silently, to the end of the corridor. “My dear, they… they aren’t lying, are they?” “How could one joke about this?” Xu Pingzhi was badly hurt, his pace unsteady and painful. His head was like a foggy ocean, within which lay the joy of avoiding certain death, and the deep, deep confusion of the situation. Li Ru suddenly had a thought, “It’s Xinnian, it must be Xinnian these past days, getting contacts here and there, that managed to let the court open the net for us.” The more she thought about it, the more sure she was, carrying on excitedly “Don’t forget, my dear, Xinnian’s teacher was the vice-minister[^4] of the Ministry of Law in Yuanjing 18.” Yuanjing 18[^5]…, that was over twenty years ago… Xu Pingzhi thought something was wrong, however he could not think of anyone else it could be, having little in the way of personal relations at court. “Perhaps.” “I’ve always said our Xinnian is a dragon amongst men[^6]. Back then when I wanted him to study martial arts, you adamantly refused; only Xu Qi’an that rascal could practice.” “Mum, rabbits are so cute, I want to eat rabbit.” Biting her own finger, the young girl raised her head, an expression on her round plump face that could only be described with the word “gluttonous”. “You only ever know to eat…” the short-tempered Li Ru unconsciously scolded her, but looking at her young daughter’s dirty face, her anger was immediately extinguished, “Dear, we’ll have rabbit to eat very soon.” Xu Pingzhi did not bother to explain to his wife that “your son has no aptitude for martial arts”. After all, no matter how many times he said so, his wife would always automatically overlook the fact. In a mother’s eyes, her child would forever be the best. After reaching the room where he had to sign, he borrowed a pen from the official there, and signed his name with shaking hands. Pressing on his handprint, Xu Pingzhi felt as if he had some sort of sublime grace. Just like a plant sprout buried under the ground, seeing sunlight for the first time. The world suddenly seemed so good, even if he was not better off one copper coin. His wife did not need to sign her name, merely stamp her handprint. Xu Pingzhi could not resist his curiosity, and bowing to the official, asked, “Gracious Sir, please may I- may I know why my crime has been pardoned?” Li Ru’s gaze instantly snapped towards the official. “The case has been solved, the silver retrieved.” The official responded. “The silver was retrieved? Haha, good, good! Damn those monsters, they dare steal silver from our Great Feng?” Xu Pingzhi was rather excited, simultaneously laughing and thinking that, under the laws of the Feng Dynasty, even if the silver was found, he had still failed at his duty. Given that retrieving the silver was not his merit to take, why would the crown pardon his death penalty? Even if they were to loosen it, it would be at most to send him to the frontier. “Mister Xu, here is your uniform, keep it safe.” The official handed over a green eighth-rank official’s robe. *They even gave me back my old job*… Xu Pingzhi realised something was not right, and at the same time as taking the robe, asked solemnly, “Good Sir, please may you enlighten this official on a question?” With an official’s robe in hand, that “this official” once again carried some weight to it. Logically, even if his death penalty was pardoned, he wouldn’t be handed back his old job. “The laws of the Great Feng say, that if the elders of the family fall afoul of the law, the young can perform a great merit, and with it atone for the wrong.” “It really is Nian’er[^7], dear husband, Nian’er helped the crown recover the silver.” Li Ru gasped, overjoyed. “Nian’er…” Xu Pingzhi’s eyes began to seep liquid, “My dear, dear boy.” The official looked at the husband and wife pair, saying flatly “It was your nephew Xu Qi’an. He helped Governor Chen solve the case. He just left jail.” — [^1]: 褚采薇, still Caiwei, her surname is Chu, it just gets introduced very suddenly [^2]: 李茹 [^3]: The Chinese underworld, or “Hell” [^4]: 侍郎; it isn’t a perfect translation [^5]: In Ancient China they count using the “Era name” of the emperor, and how many years they have ruled. Naturally this is then year 18 of the Yuanjing (元景) Emperor. [^6]: Very Chinese idiom, considering that dragons are revered the meaning is easy to see, and sounds better than replacing it for an English equivalent. [^7]: Still Xu Xinnian - Intimate nicknames, like from parent to child or between husband and wife, often take one character of the given name (usually the second; Nian) and add an -er suffix onto it. (儿, to express “child” or “dear” or “baby”)