Joy of Life - Chapter 532 - The Song Of Jingdou’s Cicadas[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:49:42]
Chapter 532: The Song Of Jingdou’s Cicadas
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The end of summer in the seventh year of the Qing Calendar was hotter than in previous years. The first autumn rain had yet to arrive. The three months of heat gathered in the streets of the private residences and could not be dispersed by the wind. It made Jingdou feel like it was covered by a cotton blanket near a hot stove.
After the Jingdou residents rose in the morning, they would feel a thick layer of sweaty residue on their skin. After having washed up and left the house, another bucket of sweat would well up. In one day, one would feel that their body was endlessly sticky and be uncomfortable.
However, the cicadas were happy, crying out with all their might. Except, they were not shouting themselves hoarse or crying out the last sorrows of their life like they did in the late summer and early autumn of other years. Rather, it seemed they were keeping some energy and creating reverberating sounds with great ease and skill. The chirping sounds repeated continuously among the green trees outside of Jingdou. It disturbed people in their rest and ridiculed their difficult situation.
A green bamboo pole suddenly split its leaves and accurately pierced into a spot on the branch. The cicada that had been singing at the top of its voice only felt its vision go white and a layer of something being smeared all over its face, preventing it from opening its mouth. In its urgency, it wanted to use its limbs to pull at it. However, even it was caught in the sticky substance, unable to escape ever again. The cicada could only sigh and think to itself that it was true, one should not be pleased too early.
A young eunuch gazed with pride at the tree. Reaching back, he gently and softly put the bamboo pole away and picked up the cicada that had been caught, throwing it into the big cloth bag at his side. Just as he was about to continue, he caught sight of the person by the wall of the courtyard enjoying the shade on a bamboo chair. He trotted over eagerly and said something close to the person’s ear. He opened the cloth bag like he was presenting his accomplishments for the other person to see.
The eunuch lying on the bamboo chair was Hong Zhu. He slanted his eyes and glanced down, making a noise of acknowledgement to show that he knew. After thinking for a while, he furrowed his brows and said in a low voice, “How many times have I told you? You need to stick the wings together, yet you always aim for the head. You’ve only caught this many during this time? When the empress dowager is disturbed from her rest, are you going to go accept a beating?”
The little eunuch quickly begged for forgiveness. He then led the other dozen eunuchs, who were standing in a daze under the trees, to continue sticking the cicadas.
Hong Zhu half leaned on the bamboo chair and watched the figure of the eunuch with narrowed eyes. For some reason, he remembered the situation when he had first entered the Palace. There were many trees in the Royal Palace, so there were a lot of cicadas. Since this year was very hot, it had continued until this month. The nobility in the Palace had long grown irritated at the cicada song. Fortunately, Hong Zhu had thought of this idea and had sent a few groups of eunuch to various places in the Palace to stick cicadas.
No wonder the Emperor and empress both liked him. Such a meticulous and thoughtful servant was rare.
Hong Zhu forced a smile. This was something Sir Fan junior had thought him. Presently, Sir Fan junior should be at Dong Mountain. Hong Zhu wondered how the Emperor’s worship of heaven was progressing.
When the Qing Emperor had left the capital to worship heaven, he hadn’t followed precedent and left the Crown Prince in charge. He had asked the empress dowager to rule in his stead. The politics of this was clear. Everyone in the Palace was carefully waiting for the day the Emperor returned to the capital. Each person’s heart was anxious. All kinds of rumors flew round and round. The empress dowager was holding court from behind a curtain while the Eastern Palace had long lost power. In the entire rear of the Palace, there wasn’t a single nobility who stood out to take the lead. A kind of panic inevitably appeared in the peace within the palace walls.
Hong Zhu was different in this mess of panic. He originally had wanted to stay in the Eastern Palace to serve the empress and Crown Prince. For some reason, the empress dowager had transferred him to Hanguang Palace. Half a year ago, the Eastern Palace caught fire. Everyone in the Royal Palace knew that all the eunuchs and serving girls in the Eastern Palace and Guangxin Palace had died mysteriously. Although no one dared to discuss this matter, they became a bit more fearful and kept their distance from Hong Zhu, who was the only person to survive.
Everyone had died, but Eunuch Hong was still alive. This was terrifying in and of itself.
Hong Zhu stood up. His heart was rather dim. He was a slave, but he was one who valued friendship and loyalty. Thus, he didn’t know what to do with himself in the Palace Looking at the decline of the Eastern Palace, he actually felt some pain.
He headed toward Hanguang Palace with his body slightly bent. Although he was very young, he already began to have the aura of a dead person like old Eunuch Hong.
The soldiers at the 13 city gates were forcibly keeping themselves alert in the oppressive heat as they carefully checked and examined the documents of the people entering the capital. The Jingdou garrison army raised their level of alertness in the Yuantai Camp. The thousands of Imperial Army soldiers protecting the Royal Palace stood on the high palace walls and used a suspicious gaze to examine everything at their feet.
The entire strength of the Jingdou defenses was controlled in the hands of these three military groups. In the present quiet and strange situation, if there was any slack, it could cause a major problem.
None of the three factions could become complacent at all. With the Great Prince in the lead, they forcefully crushed any disloyalty and unusual movements.
The common people were not as nervous as the officials and military. In such hot weather, the prosperous citizens of Qing Kingdom did not want to stay in their hot and stuffy homes. They had the habit of ducking into shady tea shops to drink the inexpensive cold tea and enjoy the large leaf fans the palace treasury produced. They talked about recent events in court and trivial gossip about their neighbors.
For the common people of Jingdou, the Royal Palace was not all that different from their neighbors.
The cicadas sang loudly on the trees outside the tea shop. Some were so blind that they stopped on the tea shops green banner, turning the large “tea [JW1]” character into “thistle.” The chirping cries perfectly drowned out the discussion of the busybodies inside the shop.
They were discussing the matter of the Emperor going to worship heaven. The rumors had gone around for months. Everyone knew the Emperor had truly made up his mind this time to depose the heir. However, for the past two years, the Crown Prince had been kind-hearted and composed. He was different from how he was in the past. Everyone, including the officials and common people, were wondering in their hearts, Why was the Emperor deposing the heir?
Not many people asked this openly, but there were people who dared to talk about things secretly. All in all, the Jingdou people had sufficient sympathy and comfort for the Crown Prince. Perhaps it was because they all had the psychological need to sympathize with the weak or perhaps, as elderly people, they wanted the world to be a bit more peaceful and didn’t want there to be too many waves because of the deposition of the heir.
The people of Jingdou and officials in court had no idea that the storm about to sweep through the intersection of summer and autumn in the seventh year of the Qing Calendar would roll through like thunder in a way that no one had expected, sucking in everyone and all the land in Jingdou.
With a whoosh, the great wind swept through Jingdou’s wide streets without any warning. It rose through the dense private residences, passing and sweeping through. The wind had come too suddenly. It blew off the shady hat of the fruit stall owner who had their head down in drowsiness, revealing a pair muddled eyes. The wind sent the fruit rolling madly. It blew so hard that the cicadas on the green banner outside the tea shops could not hold on and dropped with a crack to the ground.
The guests sitting by the railings in the shop looked out in curiosity, feeling confused. It had already been stuffy for three months, was a timely autumnal rain going to finally fall?
Then, they watched as the originally clear blue sky was suddenly covered by layers of rain clouds surging in front of the southeast direction. It was as if Jingdou was covered with a large lid as a shadow enveloped all the people in the city.
The layers of clouds turned and rolled endlessly, as if countless dragons were lining up in order. At times, wisps of clouds pulled out and appeared terrifying.. Such thick rain clouds foretold the storm that was about to arrive. Looking at these clouds, the storm was probably going to be unusually ferocious.
The guests in the shops were joyful rather than shocked. They thought to themselves that the heavens were finally allowing the world to become clearer.
With a crash of thunder, the rain finally came pouring down. The pedestrians on the streets all sought shelter, while the guests in the tea shops narrowed their eyes and watched with great joy at the long unseen rainwater and special beauty that seeped out after the manors were soaked through.
The rainfall was not particularly strong, but it was particularly cold. In barely a moment, the guests in the shop began to feel shivers of cold and couldn’t help but be surprised. In the past, the autumn rains had always come down gradually. It always needed to rain at least three times before the heat could be driven away. Why was the rainwater so cold this year?
Given the knowledge of the people in this time, they didn’t know that a dozen days ago, the largest hurricane that summer rose above the East Sea. This hurricane headed straight for Dong Mountain and poured down an endless amount of rainwater 50 li away from the shore. Without losing any power, it continued straight into the hinterland of Qing Kingdom with the water vapor and moisture from above the ocean.
This hurricane was interesting. It did not cause much disaster along the way. Rather, it brought an instantaneous drop in temperature and water to the long overheated Qing Kingdom.
The guests rubbed their hands as they drunk the hot tea and quietly cursed the heavens for being too strange. No one had brought an umbrella when they came out, much less a raincoat. They could only suffer the shivers of cold in the shop.
“What happened?” Someone suddenly asked as they looked in the direction of the city gate.
Hearing these words, the people who liked excitement all moved closer to the tea shop’s railing and looked in the direction of the city gate. Separated by distance and layers of foggy rain, it was difficult to see what had happened. They could only vaguely sense some movement and panic of the soldiers. Jingdou’s city gates were set in four directions and guarded by the 13 city gate soldiers. It was always guarded strictly. It was rare for a situation such as the present one. Thus, the guests were all very curious.
It couldn’t be an army coming to attack the city. Putting aside the inherent absurdity of this, even if there was an army coming to attack Jingdou, the outer garrison would be the first to meet the enemy. The scouts set up in corner towers by the city gates department would ring the alarm at the first instant.
The clip-clopping of horse hooves rang out as they stepped through the rainwater on the street. It sounded urgent.
The guests stared. They saw a handsome horse speeding anxiously from the city gate. There was only this one horse. Everyone understood that there must have been some urgent message entering the city, so everyone relaxed.
Seeing the white foam around the mouth of the horse and the dirty and sallow appearance of the rider on the horse, everyone’s heart tightened again. They all quietly wondered to themselves if something had happened at the borders.
The rain continued to pour down. The exhausted horse drew on its last reserves of strength and ran for its life against the wind and rain. The stern looking rider with tattered robes showed no compassion at all for the life of his steed. He waved the horsewhip in his hand ruthlessly and urged the horse to maintain its fastest speed. Stepping through the street below the tea shop, it sent up a wave of rainwater and shot straight in the direction of the Royal Palace.
Fortunately, the rain had arrived first, chasing the pedestrians and stall owners to the eaves at the sides of the street. Otherwise, who knew how many people this rider’s careless charge would kill.
The guests watched as the man and horse disappeared into the rain and into the end of the Chang Street. Involuntarily, they let out a breath and digested the dead-silent tension earlier. They looked at each other, not knowing what exactly had happened in court.
“Tied with a white cloth…” a slightly older guest suddenly said in a trembling voice.
The tea shop became even quieter. Although the Jingdou people born later had not lived through the large battles when Qing Kingdom was expanding its borders, they had heard of it talked about. Back then, in the most wretched of the three Northern expeditions, tens of thousands of the Qing army had been injured or killed. That year, the rider bringing the news from thousands of li away also had a white cloth tied around him.
“The rider bringing the news…” someone asked in confusion, “Didn’t Governor Yan just win?”
“It’s an express horse from the army.” It was clear that the slightly older guest was once in the army. His voice continued to tremble. For the messenger to wear a white cloth, something major must have happened.
The discussion in the tea shop abruptly stopped. Everyone, including the waiters and shopkeeper, all sank into silence. Everyone stood silently by the railing, looking at the street in the rain and silently praying that nothing had gone wrong with their country.
“Here they come again!”
Inside the tea shop, a young man cried out anxiously and helplessly. At this moment, there was no longer an panic and unease at the city gate. There was only a stern atmosphere and wariness. The second rider was even faster than the first. He was like a streak of smoke, speeding past the tea shop.
This rider wasn’t wearing any armor, only deep black clothing. Holding the reins with one hand, his feet kicked urgently. His face was covered in black tracks left by the rain.
The left arm that was holding the reins had a piece of white cloth tied to it. His right hand was holding up something like a token. He charged straight through the city gates, along Chang Street, and toward the Royal Palace.
Everyone in the tea shop looked toward the guest that had shown in-depth knowledge of court earlier with expectant gazes, hoping they would hear some good news from his mouth.
The old guest’s face was deathly white as he mumbled, “It’s the Overwatch Council.”
After some more time, a third thousand li express message once again forcefully charged through the city gate guarded by the gate guards and stepped onto the rain-soaked street below the teashop. Like the previous rider, this one was similarly wretched. It looked like riding thousands of li, changing horses and not messengers, to deliver the report to Jingdou in the quickest time possible was a tiring and difficult task.
The rider on the horse did not feel tired. He only knew that if he didn’t deliver this astonishing news as quickly as possible into the Palace, Qing Kingdom might encounter huge problems.
The rainwater washed over the rider’s face that had been split open under the baking sun and attacked his red eyes. It could not hold back his speed. The horse sped past Chang Street in the direction of the Royal Palace.
There was also a white cloth tied to his left arm.
At this moment, the guests in the tea shop had become numb to the repeated shocks. They all opened their mouths but couldn’t say anything. Although they didn’t know which faction of the court the third rider represented, they knew the message the third rider brought to Jingdou must be the same one. Having received confirmation from three factions, then some disaster must have befallen Qing Kingdom.
There was a deathly silence in the tea shop. Everyone had lowered their heads. The elderly guest sat down shakily with a deathly pale face. Everything went black in front of his eyes as he fainted to the ground.
Everyone rushed over to rescue him. No one noticed that the rain had lightened up slightly outside. Although the rain lightened, the cold had arrived. The cicadas that had been full of bluster a moment ago finally began to feel that the will of heaven could not be denied and that life was fickle. They also could feel the mournful chill of autumn and began to burn through their own life. In Jingdou’s large streets and little avenues, they sang their last song endlessly.
Chirp… Chirp… Dead[JW2] … Dead…
Jingdou sank into a previously unknown state of fear and confusion. People didn’t know what had happened. It was only in the evening that they heard the clock in the corner building in the Royal Palace. Slowly and shockingly, it began to ring out with the red dusk after the rain in the background.
Dong! Dong! Dong!
In the depths of the palace, there were many people in the expansive Taiji Palace, but it was completely silent. The Qing empress dowager, who was temporarily in charge of national politics, had walked out from behind the beaded curtain. Her phoenix robes were severe and dignified.
The empress dowager stood silently in front of the dragon chair. Her right hand was being held by Eunuch Hou. Hong Zhu was waiting at the side with brush and ink but saw the empress dowager’s hand clearly. It was shaking uncontrollably in Eunuch Hong’s hand.
Inside the palace, the three messengers, whose energies were already stretched to breaking point, knelt. The rainwater on their bodies soaked the luxurious carpet. They remained kneeling with their heads lowered, not daring to make a sound. They were terrified that they, an unlucky crew, would eventually destroy the good fortune of this palace that had stood proudly for over 30 years.
The empress dowager glanced at the three of them coldly. Gritting her teeth, she cursed sinisterly, “What’s all this crying?”
After saying these words, the concubines in the palace, who were sobbing mournfully, forcefully stopped their tears but could not wipe away the horror and fear on their faces.
With Eunuch Hong’s support, the empress dowager sat down in a chair next to the dragon throne and said, “Immediately seal the Palace. Prince Heqing will organize the Palace’s defense. Those who disobey will be beheaded.”
There was a wave of agreement from below while the Great Prince, with hot tears in his eyes, raised his head in surprise and glanced at his grandmother. He felt the heavy burden on his shoulders. His emotions were unusually violent at this time, so he could not understand what the empress dowager’s order meant.
The empress dowager continued, “Summon the scholars Hu and Su into the Palace.”
“Summon the Commander of the City Gates, Zhang Fang, into the Palace.”
“Immediately close the city gates. They are not to be opened without my orders.”
“Delay Dingzhou offering prisoners of war. Have Ye Zhong return within two days. It is hard work on the borders. National matters should come first.”
The empress dowager’s brows suddenly furrowed. Although she had been calm the entire time, she still felt a buzzing beginning in her head. She lightly rubbed her temples and said, after thinking for a moment, “Summon King Jing, Minister of Revenue Fan Jian, and Qin Heng into the Palace.”
The empress dowager said coldly at the end, “Have the empress and Crown Prince move into Hanguang Palace. Lady Ning and Yi Guipin should come as well. Also, bring the Third Prince.”
The Great Prince lowered his head and felt his heart tighten. He knew that his grandmother still did not have faith in him. However, with the mournful atmosphere at present, he would not quibble over such things.
The day had already turned to dusk. The sound of clocks had stopped outside. The candles in Taiji Palace swayed and appeared to be gloomy and uneasy. The present controller of Qing Kingdom, the already old empress dowager, suddenly coughed. A complicated emotion flashed through her eyes. Faintly, she said, “Have the internal court invite the Eldest Princess and Princess Chen to live in the Palace temporarily. Have Fan Xian’s pregnant concubine also enter the palace.”
The empress dowager had not managed matters for a long time. However, each of her orders right now touched people’s hearts clearly. She was trying, in the shortest possible time, to segregate the entire city from the outside world and have the figures who may cause turmoil controlled within the Royal Palace.
Suddenly, a childless concubine cried out manically, “Fan Xian assassinated the Emperor! The empress dowager is going to wipe his family. How could his family enter the Palace?”
After these words came out, the palace was silent. The empress dowager looked at the concubine like she was looking at a dead person and slowly said, “Drag her out and bury her.”
A few guards and eunuchs came forward and dragged the already manic concubine out. Who knew which patch of flowers or tree they would bury this poor woman under.
The empress dowager swept her gaze coldly across the people in the palace and said in an icy voice, “Mind your mouth and head. Don’t forget, there is plenty of empty land in this Palace.”
There was sorrow in everyone’s hearts, but they didn’t dare say anything. Their feelings of sorrow and confusion were the same as the concubines. They weren’t crazy, so they didn’t speak.
“Where is Chen Pingping? Why hasn’t he entered the Palace?” The empress dowager asked with an icy expression.
Hong Zhu stopped the brush in his hands. Meeting the empress dowager’s questioning look, he said in a trembling voice, “After Director Chen was poisoned, he returned to Chen Garden to be tended to by the royal doctors. He probably still doesn’t know…”
The empress dowager’s gaze turned icy. She gritted her in rage and said, “Send orders to that old dog. Tell him if that he doesn’t get into the capitol, mother and son are all going to die!”
The people left, and the Palace fell silent. After she had made the most stabilizing arrangements in the shortest amount of time, the empress dowager of the Qing Kingdom suddenly seemed to have the energy sucked out of her. She collapsed against the back of the chair. She slowly closed her eyes. A tear wet the lines by the corner of her eye.
[JW1]”茶” – tea
[JW2] The onomatopoeia for the sound of crickets is phonetically similar to the phrase “dead”