Qiang Jin Jiu – Chapter 192 : What The Snow Beckons

Translated with: Jia<3


As soon as the new year was over, Zhongbo was hit by a blizzard. The sudden snow came so hard and fast that there were incidents of houses collapsing in the various prefectures. Fortunately, the repair of the bridle paths had been expedited before the new year, so communications from Chazhou and Dunzhou to Cizhou were not cut off. Luo Mu and Tantai Hu made timely reports of the casualties and dealt with the situation before dawn, keeping the damage caused by the disaster under manageable control.

The advisors in the study stayed up all night. Likewise, Shen Zechuan did not get any rest either. 

“The previous year’s heavy snow was a disaster in our Cizhou, so before the snow fell, the yamen has repeatedly confirmed the inventory of the granary reserves.” Zhou Gui flipped through the book on the table. “Meanwhile, the reinforcement of residential dwellings is indeed a problem. We cannot wait to come up with a solution only when the houses collapse every year.”    

“But,” Kong Ling sat opposite him, “where will this extra expense come from? There isn’t any money left to spare due to the war this year.”

Shen Zechuan had been pinching the center of his brows until it was now a little red. His head was spinning as he sat in the main seat. The clicking sounds of abacus beads being flicked in the partitioned area had never stopped once; the people in there were all assistants who had been specially transferred over from the shops in Hezhou and Juexi to assist with the accounts. Charcoal braziers had been set up inside the study as it had been chilly the past few days, but after several hours with that many people crammed in the room, the study grew unbearably stuffy. 

“The war is of crucial importance,” Shen Zechuan said, “so let’s not cut down on the military expenses for the various prefectures. Have it allocated from the taxes and duties paid by the merchants last year.”

“The period before spring is a hurdle we have to overcome. As long as we can survive these three months, things will naturally take a turn for the better once the snow melts.” Yao Wenyu made a slight attempt at reassurance. “The tea the merchants obtained from the mutual market has also been selling well at the Port of Yongyi, so we can increase the commercial tax by an appropriate amount this year.”  

“If we are going to keep the copper mines in Juexi going, we have to deal with the Provincial Administration Commission of Juexi.” Shen Zechuan turned his folding fan and pushed aside the cooled tea beside his hand. “Whether things can still keep running smoothly after spring this year will depend on how Qudu decides to play their hand.” 

Jiang Qingshan personally assumed command of Juexi, so he was most well-acquainted with the business dealings coming and going in the territory. If Qudu ordered him to choke off this tea trade route running through the northwest, it would be indeed a blow to Cizhou. 

“On the bright side,” Kong Ling rubbed his knees, “the timely snow augurs a good harvest.” 

“That’s indeed the case for our three prefectures, but the commoners of Fanzhou and Dengzhou will suffer.” Shen Zechuan had been thinking of Fanzhou these days. “King Yi seized the granaries of the two prefectures for himself before the turn of the year, and many people have starved to death even before the snow fell. I’ve been having sleepless nights turning and tossing over this matter.” 

“We are going to pit our troops against Duanzhou in the second month,” Zhou Gui said. “So it’d be best to settle the issue with Fanzhou and Dengzhou now.” 

Cizhou Garrison Troops had only 20,000 soldiers. Including Dunzhou, they had 30,000. They had to face up against the Biansha Cavalry from Duanzhou in the second month, as well as split their energy and attention to dealing with King Yi. As such, there would be a void in Cizhou’s defenses. If the Eight Great Training Divisions came feeling their way over from Dancheng during that period of time, they would be really overwhelmed.

“It’s also an opportune moment now to take down Fanzhou.” Yao Wenyu brushed aside the tea foam. “King Yi is so insatiably greedy that the commoners in Fanzhou have long been voicing their discontent. He can’t last for long. Why don’t we make the first move and issue an official denunciation-cum-proclamation of war?” 

“It’s different from the ‘bandit suppression’ situation a year ago now that Cizhou has reached an agreement with the northern and southern battlefields. Assuming we make the first move to issue an official proclamation and King Yi refuses to surrender and insists on fighting, it will give Qudu a reason to deploy their troops.” Kong Ling, who had always placed priority on “stability”, was not in favor of the idea. 

“Mister Chengfeng has a point, but the Prefectural Lord has already been appointed before the new year, so there is no benefit to keeping an outward show of peace with Qudu.” Yao Wenyu did not take a drink of his tea. He looked at Shen Zechuan. “In my opinion, Qudu will not dare to dispatch their troops now even if they have a reason to.” 

Kong Ling was still of the opinion that it was inappropriate. “If the crime of rebelling against the state is substantiated at this moment, the business in Juexi this year is bound to be affected. All things aside, if Jiang Qingshan were to make use of this opportunity to seal the Xi clan’s copper mine, wouldn’t our losses far outweigh the gain? Your Lordship, in my humble opinion, the better tactic would be to send troops to Fanzhou on the quiet.” 

“His Lordship’s occupation of Zhongbo is already a foregone conclusion. Even without this proclamation, Jiang Qingshan will still think of a way to seal the Xi clan’s copper mines.” Yao Wenyu said.

Both men differed in their views and held fast to their own arguments. 

Shen Zechuan tapped his folding fan against his fingertips and said a moment later, “Shenwei, draft up the proclamation.” 

They discussed the entire night in the study. Seeing as the arrangements had been more or less made, Fei Sheng called for the attendants to serve breakfast. Everyone helped themselves to the meals and hurried back for a rest, considering that they were going to continue with the in-depth discussion of the plans for the deployment of troops at night.

When Kong Ling rose to his feet and saw Yao Wenyu about to head out, he turned aside to lift the curtain for him. Yao Wenyu bowed to him, and Qiao Tianya entered to push him away. After everyone had left, Zhou Gui trotted along the corridor, panting for breath as he caught up with Kong Ling. 

“Oh, my!” Zhou Gui rubbed his chest with one hand and reached out with the other as he shouted, “Chengfeng, Chengfeng!”   

Kong Ling stopped in his tracks to wait for him. “You should have called out to me earlier if you have something to say. This walkway is extremely slippery. If you were to fall in a moment of carelessness, it would take you a long time to heal!”1 

Catching his breath, Zhou Gui lamented with a wave of his hand, “I could still run several li along the fields the year before last, but I really can’t do it anymore this year. It’s truly the case that time flies, and old age now beckons.” 

“Look at the rush you are in.” Kong Ling tightened his fur collar around him to keep out the bitterly cold wind. “Are you here about what happened earlier?” 

“It has been a long time since I last enjoyed the snow with you.” Zhou Gui tried to cover it up only to make his intent all the more conspicuous. “My wife has been keeping a close watch on me these days, and I have been looking after my grandson the whole day in the residence. Today’s just perfect.” 

Kong Ling sighed and said ruefully, “You’d do better not to learn to be so furtive like the others.” He drew back his hands and took shelter from the wind before continuing, “there’s no need to persuade me. I will not change my opinion.” 

Zhou Gui could only say, “Still, don’t harbor a grudge against Yuanzhuo because of this.” 

“Do you take me for a kid?” Kong Ling walked side by side with him. “The fact that Yuanzhuo can speak frankly without reservations shows that he has a clear conscience. A difference in political views is only inevitable; it’s mindlessly playing along that’s taboo. I understand that, and so does Yuanzhuo, and that’s the Prefectural Lord’s stance on the whole matter given that he didn’t seek us out for a private discussion.” 

Zhou Gui had been castigating himself because of Gao Zhongxiong’s incident. He no longer took decision-making into his own hands and always had to ask Shen Zechuan before taking action. During the recent discussions of official business, he also told the advisors on his payroll not to be complacent, fearing that they would clash with Yao Wenyu again. 

Zhou Gui saw a branch of the withered willows in the courtyard snap, and the wind sent it falling into the snow and over to the corner of the wall. Having caught his breath, he said dejectedly, “I’m just afraid it will cause us to be even more estranged from one another…” 

“Water which is too clean has no fish.”2 Kong Ling raised his hand to brush away the snow on his white temples. He schooled his expression and said with all seriousness, “Which yamen in the world is truly without blemish? You’ve been the prefectural prefect for so many years in Cizhou, and you know that it’s equally complicated both in the upper and lower echelons. There is no end to vices such as corruption and bribery, and they can never be fully eradicated. You have done a good job managing it the previous years, and the Prefectural Lord understands that too. From start to end, he has never blamed you or taken it out on you. Killing those two advisors was merely a reminder to you, not a warning. Your cautiousness of late will only serve to remind him of this matter.” 

Tough was the governance of one’s subordinates, as was deference to one’s superiors.

Zhou Gui took a few steps and said despondently, “… My father-in-law was reluctant to recommend me for an official post in the capital also because he assessed that I was not cut out for it. I have no sense of propriety when it comes to certain matters, and I have to rely on fumbling my way through trial and error in order to determine whether to tighten my control or relax my approach. This is too difficult for me.”

“Since you have not done anything against your conscience, why do you have to be so terrified?” Kong Ling shook his head slightly. “Don’t make a conscious effort to give way to Yuanzhuo anymore. He is intelligent and quick-witted, so how can this little thinking of yours escape his eyes? You’ll only end up creating a genuine rift over time.” 

◈     ◈     ◈

It was gusty when Shen Zechuan was on the way back to his residence. Fei Sheng held his arm out to hold up an umbrella to shield Shen Zechuan from the wind, but the wind was so strong that it sent Shen Zechuan’s coat flapping all over. 

With his back to the wind, Fei Sheng said, “Master, let’s switch to a sedan.”

Shen Zechuan could barely open his eyes from the intense wind, and he was so freezing cold that the tips of his ears had gone red. “It’s just a few steps; why would we need a sedan for that?” 

But it’s cold!

Fei Sheng was worried that Shen Zechuan would catch another cold with just these few steps. He had been exceedingly careful these past few days both outside and inside the residence. Even the hallways in the courtyard had thick, heavy drapes hung up, the bottom of which the attendants would weigh down whenever they entered and exited to keep the cold out. For prudence’s sake, the ground heating system inside was also kept running at all times. 

After much difficulty, they made it through the main entrance. Ding Tao, who had been waiting in the side room flanking the principal room, immediately jumped out. Along with Li Xiong, he stood in front of Shen Zechuan like a block of wall.  

As they shuffled along slowly, Shen Zechuan said with a headache, “You may stop shielding me from the wind. Let’s leave quickly. All we’re getting standing here is a draught of wind. It won’t be long before one of us collapses.”

Ding Tao had grown taller again during this period of time. “Master’s instruction was to shield you so that no wind can pass through, or he’s gonna whip me.” He patted Li Xiong and shouted against the wind, “Daxiong, move faster!”  

By the time Shen Zechuan finally reached the veranda, his cloak had already been soaked through with snow. It felt uncomfortable to have it covering his neck, all dripping wet, so he raised his hands to undo it. Fei Sheng took it in a fluster and called for the maidservant to dry it. He was also about to drape a new cloak over Shen Zechuan, but the latter simply went on ahead without even looking back.   

Fei Sheng had been in such a state of elation after having gotten the assignment of recruiting new members back in Dunzhou that he even found Qiao Tianya pleasing to the eyes when he saw the latter upon his return. During the period of time Shen Zechuan was in Libei, he remained at home with Ji Gang, mulling over the Ji Clan’s Boxing Style while listening to the latter. Now that Shen Zechuan had returned, he was like a mother hen going all out to take meticulous care of Shen Zechuan in every way possible. 

The Marquis has to run around the battlefields now, see! 

Fei Sheng thought as he followed behind Shen Zechuan. 

So long the Prefectural Lord did not fall sick, the Marquis would be happy and would not send dirty looks his way later. Everyone was going to be a family in the future. He could not always remain a thorn in Xiao Chiye’s flesh.  

Shen Zechuan entered the main hall and huffed into his hands as he took his seat. Fei Sheng asked, “Master, are you going to drink the medicinal decoction simmering over the stove now?”

Shen Zechuan did not want to drink it. He had not been ill the past few days, and he was concerned that he might get a nosebleed from over-nourishment should he continue taking all these tonics and medicines. Moreover, there was no one at home other than Ding Tao who had candies. So he pretended not to hear and continued to flip through the documents on his table.

Noting that Shen Zechuan’s expression remained unchanged, Fei Sheng waited by the side. After a moment, he spoke up again like clockwork. “Master, the medicine—”

Shen Zechuan patiently raised his head and looked at him.

Fei Sheng pretended not to comprehend the expression in Shen Zechuan’s eyes. There was not only Xiao Chiye but also Ji Gang backing him on this issue, and they were both people that Shen Zechuan could not afford to offend. 

Shen Zechuan could only relent in resignation. “Go bring it over.” 

Fei Sheng swiftly left to get the medicine, but a moment later, it was Qiao Tianya who lifted the drapes to enter. 

“Yan Heru is here.” Qiao Tianya did not put the drapes back down and turned around to look again. “This jabbering brat ran over to Yuanzhuo to make a ruckus. I’ve brought him over.”  

Shen Zechuan dipped the brush in ink and said, “he’s here to deliver the silvers. Treat him with a little more courtesy.”

Before they could finish their conversation, a person came in from under the drapes. Yan Heru was all decked out from head to toe in a brand new, vivid red and golden-threaded brocade robe with embroideries of, unsurprisingly enough, golden ingots. There was a string around his neck, with a brand new abacus hanging off of it. It was so tightly strapped on that a red mark had formed on his nape, but even so, he could not bear to take it off. 

The eyes on this lad’s fair face curved into crescents as he jovially exclaimed, “Here I’ve come to extend my new year greetings to Your Lordship! Happy Spring Festival! I wanted to come and pay my respects to Your Lordship a while ago, but alas, it turns out you were in Libei! See, the moment you came back, I rushed right over. I’ve not only prepared precious gems and jades for the Marquis but also picked out for Your Lordship a number of pretty—” 

Fei Sheng, who was carrying the bowl of medicine behind, locked eyes with Qiao Tianya. With a raise of his arm, Qiao Tianya held Yan Heru down. 

Libei was in mourning, and Cizhou had not gaily decorated its streets for the festivities this year either. Shen Zechuan and Xiao Chiye themselves were both dressed in plain, mourning clothes, and Shen Zechuan had even removed his jade earring during this period of time. Who would have known that Yan Heru would be so insufferable the moment he opened his mouth? He was simply asking for a beating. 

Shen Zechuan wrote “REJECTED” on the paper and did not even spare Yan Heru a single glance.

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Credit: Thanks to MaruChan for pointing out the typo and Tea for proofreading! <3

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Footnotes

  1. 伤筋动骨一百天 literally, takes a hundred days for the bones to knit and for the tendons to heal.
  2. 水(至)清则无鱼 literally, water which is too clean has no(/few) fish, i.e., one should not demand absolute purity, you cannot expect everyone to be squeaky clean.