Powerful Eunuchs Chapter 1
Suddenly, Xie Yilu* burst out of sleep, like being stamped by a malicious foot in the dark, or pressed by a massy hand on the chest up to smother. Feeling his throat being burnt by liquor, he opened his eyes, a mess of scattered cups and plates came into sight. The bowl of Moist Glazed Noodle* that ordered before he drank down was still there, he lightly touched it and found it already cooled down. He covered his mouth and retched for a little while. "Kacha." A snap came from his right side, "Kacha." Again, another snap. There might be someone snapping sunflower seeds*.
"Aya, Mr.Liu," Diagonally opposite him, a twink was flirting with a pinched, coquettish but also languid voice, fast and slow, quite debauchedly.
Xie Yilu threw his sight to the right, in the dusky dawn, in the moribund candlelight, there was an arm as white and delicate as a lotus root wearing a gold spiral bracelet*, and a lovely face as tender as a pudding, as small as a palm, with a flower plugged in the bun. It was such a big white peony that even dragged the bun crooked.
Since Xie stared at this twink, the twink also turned back to look at him. His eyebrows were truly slender willows, and the spring was rippling in his twinkling eyes. He opened his lips covered with rough and revealed a sense of smile, "Awake?"
There was not too much respect in his voice, instead, Xie Yilu could feel kind of intimate. Xie Yilu nodded and replied, "What time is it now?"
"About the fifth watch*?" The teen dressed as a young lady said leisurely, in a not totally southern or northern Nanjing dialect, while still continuously cracking sunflower seeds between his teeth, " The governor of the ministry has already left."
Only fourteen or fifteen-year-old? Xie Yilu thought. It should be the most beautiful youth, but he just killed it by covering himself in lady's dresses and teasing and inviting men to drink. "It's time to end."
"End?" The twink seemed like hearing a joke and raised his eyebrow quite high, "I do know these guys in the Ministry of War, if they go back home at this time tomorrow, it could be said as 'Early'."
Along the direction that the twink pointed at with his cocked pinky finger, Xie Yilu looked around the whole banquet. Some were reclining, while some were lying on the floor. The only awake one or two were also holding a darling* in their arms while their clothes were untied. They moved their mouths close to the singers' faces while murmuring "oh, my sweetheart."
"Is there any water?" Xie Yilu turned back.
The twink spread out his hand, a handful of black sunflower seeds fell on the table, "Ha, guys coming here are looking for fun. We have liquor, no water." He spun to face Xie directly, looked him up and down curiously,"They said you are demoted from Beijing."
However, Xie Yilu disdained to fall into talk with him,"Liquor is fine."
"You offended someone?" The twink brought up the flagon, leaned it to pour a little liquor into two porcelain cups, put them a little bit far," One round, I'll feed you if you win."
Xie Yilu slightly got angry, so he stood up to fetch that flagon. However the young boy took this favorable situation and snuggled up into his arms which made the whole Xie dropped. That was so-called Romantic Debt, but Xie Yilu couldn't afford it. He was new here thus didn't want to stir up any trouble himself in the demimonde. So he asked in a lukewarm attitude,"What to play?"
" Nanjing-style guessing, you're not familiar," The twink recognized his displeasure but pretended not, still leaning in his arms softly like there was no bone in his body. Xie Yilu was afraid that he wasn't able to hold him therefore he reversed his hands. As soon as he turned his hands, the boy pillowed on it without any bashfulness and lightly rub his palm using his fluffy bun and soft cheek." But Beijing-style guessing, I'm not familiar…"
Xie Yilu got embarrassed in his attractive staring," I am just a rank sixth Zhushi*, there is no need for you to….badger with me."
The boy replied in a gentle voice," I appreciate your good look, can't I?"
Xie Yilu blushed immediately. When he was still in Beijing, he also came out for banquets like this and they also requested darlings on the banquets. But he had never seen such a bold one in Lianzi Hutong. Saying that he was unbridled, but in reality he is presumptuous, saying that he is presumptuous, but not offensive: “You overstep the customs!”
The boy puffed a laughter, “My sweet buddy,” he said, pressing close along with Xie Yilu's stiff arm, “Nanjing is a spot of gold consumption, no principles, no rules,” he moved even closer, so close that he could even kiss Xie Yilu’s mouth, “Only four words belong to this place,” He paused and said without sound, gently blowing warm breaths through lips, “liquor, beauty, wealth, will.”
This was such a pretty and bright face that wouldn't lose even compared to a lovely girl. Xie Yilu got stunned for a while, then withdrew his arm bluntly and stood up unstably. He stroke away a chair and stepped towards the door. The sculptured door closed tightly. He reached out to give it a hard push.
The chill wind of the early spring kissed his face.
The crescent still hung under the eaves. Birdsong like "Cuckoo" came from phoenix trees. Xie Yilu pushed the door to be fully closed backhand, then as he turned his head a little bit, he saw a solitary silhouette standing in the left-hand winding corridor, straight and thin. He recognized and spoke out, "Mr.Qu?"
The figure stood up, the Dashan* with a round collar swung with the breeze: “Yeh*.”
The man was holding a fan, slowly stepped out of the dark corridor. There were moonlight first pouring down on his brand new silver belt, then his fully embroidered rank sixth egret Buzi, and finally a juvenile handsome face.
Qu Feng, also named Qu Simu, also a Rank sixth Zhushi transferred to Nanjing Ministry of War along with Xie Yilu this time, "Awake just now?"
Actually they were not acquaintance, the conversation happened several hours earlier in the banquet was their first one. Therefore Xie Yilu was quite surprised that Qu Feng began the chat without complex honorifics, but he replied in the same way "I'm not a good drinker."
Qu Feng smiled, very brightly, showing up his two canine teeth on both sides, which made him looked so childish, " Practice it! Being in Nanjing is no more like in Beijing, drinking ability is the first gate to the social world."
A fit of wind blew from the west, pushing the dense cloud to cover the moonlight. Pine branches were singing. Maybe because of drinking some liquor, Xie Yilu was so casual, almost presumptuous, "Why don't you stay in the room?"
But Qu Feng didn't mind his rude, he curled his lips candidly, "In that room?" He looked up and showed the whites of his eyes, "I can't stand."
They seemed to the same kind of young men. Xie Yilu stepped forward and stopped near his side, "listen to your accent, you are a local?"
"I'm from YingTian Fu*, formerly working in the Ministry of Rites* as the Zhushi in the department of sacrifice. The transfer this time is between the same ranks."
He had a kind of temperament, Xie Yilu could feel it just after these several words, a natural free and easy temperament belonged to those rich and dignitary young men. " From the Ministry of Rites to the Ministry of War, you are going up."
Qu Feng's eyes were very beautiful, long and slender and the ends went up. Through those eyes, he glanced at Xie Yilu, "From the Court of Censors in Beijing to the Ministry of War in Nanjing, you are going down."
Xie Yilu stayed mute.
" Saying that you offended one powerful eunuch?"
Xie Yilu stretched out the left forefinger and pointed to the sky, " I offended the 'Forefather' who is in charge of the Sili Jian*."
Qu Feng looked quite interested by hearing that, "Shua——"he opened his fan in this early spring, " What's the matter?"
" I came from the List of Jiashen*. The 'Forefather' picked for this one in person. All others on the list went to visit him for gratitude, except me."
Qu Feng raised one of his eyebrows high extremely respectfully, while his eyes sparkling like stars. "So brave."
Xie Yilu promptly waved his hands. " How can I be compared to your Nanjing people? Even the flirting guys are so presumptuous."
"In this room?" Qu Feng was confused, pointing at the engraved door with his fan, "Which one?" After thinking for a while, he suddenly was enlightened, " What you mean, isn't the one wearing a white peony?"
Xie Yilu didn't imagine that he could get it at the first guess, but Qu Feng, not like that unrestrained earlier, became gingerly. "How could he be regarded as a normal one? Zheng backed him up in the sly!"
Xie Yilu approached him even closer, "Which Zheng?"
Qu Feng grasped his hand at a stroke, his five fingers were so cold that made Xie Yilu feel like his heart was caught directly, "The places in which there are the most eunuchs must be Beijing and Nanjing, Beijing is another story, but in Nanjing," By saying that, he dragged Xie Yilu to a farther place, "There are two powerful eunuchs. One is the Fourth Rank Commander-in-chief Weaving Eunuch, Liao Jixiang*. The other is the top of the head of Nanjing, Garrison Eunuch, Zheng Xi."
Xie Yilu felt like there were chill beads of swear emitting on his back immediately but he couldn't tell why.
"The one you talked about, surnaming Guo and named Xiaozhuo, is this to Zheng," Qu Feng shaked out his hand from the sleeve, only put up a little finger and then shook it with some embedded meaning, "Still Pampering."
Eunuchs bred some darlings like pets, there were also the same things in Beijing, but Beijing was on earth right in the sight of the emperor, most of the noble people wouldn't take the risk to do this. Xie Yilu wondered, "As he is being pampered by Zheng, why does he still show up…"
Undoubtedly it was in the night, Qu Feng still felt not safe enough and looked around for a while, "Just treat my words as what a drunk said please," Qu Feng approached even closer just like attaching Xie's ear, "Guo Xiaozhuo is the eye of Zheng, only for listening what others say in those banquets!"
Qu Feng's clothes were incensed by Calming Spice, it still smelled so sweet up to a little bit hateful. Xie Yilu was approached near him, feeling a sense of embarrassed, " That accounts…"
He thought of what Guo Xiaozhuo said as "these guys in the Ministry of War", absolutely he didn't think high of these officials, so how to explain his expressions of love, those thinly veiled expressions? Xie Yilu thought, was it true that "he thought he was handsome enough"?
Qu Feng was about to continue, however something happened at the small corner door which was not far away, the bolt was moved to sides several times, "Ga-Zhi-", the door was pushed from the inside, there came out a monk in the cassock, then a row of men in official suits. The leading pair both were holding a white lantern, with a big "Weaving" on it. Xie Yilu recognized them as the eunuchs at the first glance. The one walking in the center was wearing a green yisha without a buzi, and there was a worn long backsword hanging on his belt.
Those men also saw them and even turned back to look at them for several times. The green yisan took leave of the monk respectfully, then led others walking away along the broad street. As he was walking, the jade pendants hanging on his gold belt were hitting each other and making a silvery sound.
"Who are they?" Xie Yilu asked in a very low voice.
"Men in the Office of Weaving," Qu Feng turned his body, looking like not willing to make any conflict with them, "The leading one is called Zhang Cai."
As they walking closer, Xie Yilu could look clearer and then discovered that the green yisan called Zhang Cai obviously was a kid. He had slimed eyes, a small mouth, and was of the similar age as Guo Xiaozhuo, his jaw was still round, kind of plump but cute.
Lightened by the moonlight, Xie Yilu could tell his yisan was made of Gold Weaving Satin*. Zhang Cai was raising his head relatively with a pride, just like a real official. He passed by quickly at the head while continuously staring at the front. The tinkling sound of the jades slowly drifted away with the orange candlelights.
"He is subordinated to Liao Jixiang," Qu Feng packed up his fan, which meant to go, "from Goryeo."
There used to be many eunuchs gifted by Goryeo in Beijing, so Xie Yilu wasn't surprised. However he got interest on that monk, "Why a monk appears here?"
" Actually this is a court belonged to the Ling Fu Temple. The front part is settled to be THE garden to hosting banquets and serving guests, and if you pass that door," Qu Feng pointed at the corner door which Zhang Cai just came out from, "The rear is the monastic rooms."
Xie Yilu was really at a loss whether to laugh or to cry, " These monks are truly good at doing business."
"The liquor we drank, the dishes we ate, all were what the monks employed others to make," Qu Feng laughed brightly and seized Xie into his arms intimately, " Let's go, go back to drink!"
As talking about drinking, Xie Yilu felt his head aching, "I can't drink anymore," He escaped from Qu Feng's arm, turned around, and went several steps away like fleeing, "I'll leave now, you can just tell them I already got drunk, please!"
"Did you bring your litter?" Qu Feng found him funny. As he laughed, his canine teeth appeared, quite saucy, "You can take mine. As you step out of the gate, on your left, the litter hanging a soft blue curtain is the one."
Xie Yilu kept holding his fist into another while stepping away, "Don't bother, I can walk and face the wind to sober up!"
It was a beautiful night, and also with a beautiful moon. And besides, this was a quite elegant garden, lying fantastic rocks, lattice windows and small pools alongside the road. When he calmed down, the wind blew through pine branches filled his ears. This was the first day as he arrived in Nanjing. With a feeling of being drunk, Qu Feng, Guo Xiaozhuo, Zhang Cai, all seemed to be in his dream.
As he walked out of the garden, there was a long street. The early riser already opened his wonton booth at the cross. He looked back, there truly stood an old stele in front of the gate, vaguely engraved with "Ling Fu Temple". A small temple located in such a busy area, it was no wonder that it would do some mundane businesses.
He walked leisurely, along the garden wall which was covered by moss. As he looked back casually, he saw a deserted stone lamp at the head of a narrow lane along the wall. There was something vibrating to the wind in the lamp cave, slightly but reflecting a white light.
He moved closer to look at it. It seemed like a pile of paper fully filling that cave. He whipped out one piece.
It should have been a glance without care. But he was shocked just like being hit by the lightning and rooted to the spot. That was such a beautiful calligraphy. Those folding angle strokes were as solid as jagged old pine branches, the tenuous connections between the throw-away and the press-down were as elegant as wild cranes flying in the clouds. Pause and inflex rigidly and strongly when hiding the strokes, run gently as the smog when showing the strokes. It was so free like a man liberated from complicated clothes and shoes. At some parts, it was so powerful like iron swords, while at others, so coquettish like silver hooks.
He was stunned and fished out all the papers at once, then spread them one by one. Almost what on the paper were poems which went as "Treat the plum like an intimate from my motherland, regard the bamboo as a soulmate by my side." or "The clouds on the sky are truly like my dreams, while the years and months that I have are flowing like a river."and etc. But there was one piece, started with an intertwining of lament and resentment, finished in the fusion of coarseness and frankness, with just four words on it: Hard to speak out!
Hard to speak out!
So thin the paper was, but so fully it contained the bitterness and sorrow of the scholars! Xie Yilu felt his eyes getting warm, tears were about to drop. A tiny spot was touched in his heart, he just got enamoured like this.
He held those papers and span at the spot like a fool. Then he stamped his foot and ran towards his home while his head bending down. His house located at Santiao Lane near Xi'an Gate, and there was only one long-term retinue in the house. As he ran in, he directly headed to the study, unfolded papers and ground the ink without calling the retinue to serve him. Until he finished about twenty pieces, he finally got one satisfying, the one with words in the running script*: I am all ears.
After putting down the writing brush, he folded the paper carefully, hid it near his chest and ran outside again.
*Xie Yilu: 谢一鹭，also named Xie Chunchu, 谢春锄，major character, seme.
*sunflower seeds: 葵花籽, a popular kind of Chinese snacks, like nuts. Actually, it also could be translated as "melon seeds". But I personally think sunflower seeds match this character better. [There are many different flavors and kinds of melon seeds, and eating it is really a good way to kill time. My favorite is sweet watermelon seeds.]
*Moist Glazed Noodle:水滑面，a kind of Chinese ancient folk noodles, after blending flour, water, and salt into a paste, punch it for hundreds of fists, then slice it into strips as wide as a finger and sink all the strips into cold water for about two hours. Then boil them in water.
*Spiral Bracelet: Chuan, 钏, a traditional wrist accessory, derived from normal bracelet (Zhuo, 镯), at first, people put several bracelets together on the wrist at the same time, later, they directly flatten the gold or silver strips, then curve them into spiral ones.
*the fifth watch: Wu Geng, 五更, according to Chinese traditional timing mode, from the time that the city gate closes in the evening(about 19:12 )to the time it opens in the morning (about 4:48), there would be divided into four periods for soldiers to go on patrol. And each time they hand over, the drum would be beaten, and plus the two times of drumming at the gate closing and opening, there are five drumming times. So when the fifth watch is the time when city gate is about to open, which means, the dawn.
*darling: in the original text, Xiao Chang, 小唱，people who live on singing and pleasing guests.
*Zhushi: 主事, an official position, mainly takes the charge of recording history and compiling books.
*Dashan: 大衫, a kind of Chinese single layer cloth, always longer than the knees when it is put on.
*yeh: actually in the original text, when Xie Yilu said, "Mr.Qu?" Qu Feng replied, "Mr.Xie." In Chinese, this might be a way for these two guys to say "Hi." Xie Yilu was not sure if that figure was Qu Feng, but Qu Feng knew who he was, so he just called back his name to show "Yes I am Qu Feng."and a respectful "Hi." But in my poor knowledge, English people always greet others by saying their own names[I am not sure]. And besides, "Mr.Qu?"seems like a question, so just to avoid misunderstanding, I change the reply to a simpler one "Yeh."
*YingTian Fu: 应天府, Nanjing's name in Song Dynasty. [I'm not sure why he chose to say "YingTian Fu" instead of Nanjing because he was a Ming citizen. Maybe it's because that YingTian Fu in Song Dynasty was famous for Education, I mean, one of the best official Shuyuans ( ancient college) located in Nanjing during Song. Maybe Qu Feng tried to express that he was a legitimate scholar which was always a symbol of integrity and the opposite of those bad power. Just a GUESS.]
*the Ministry of Rites: 礼部, another ministry in the Six Ministries in federal China. Literally six ministries should be at the same rank, but people always thought there was still a difference between them.
*who is in charge of Sili Jian: in the original text, it was "Zhangying, 掌印", which literally means that the man who hold the seal that symbolizes the power to charge a department.
*List of Jiashen: 甲申榜, As you might know, the government used the imperial examination system to select officials in federal China. People wrote several essays about different themes, and examiners would choose a regular number of examines to put on a list that would be shown to the public. Jiashen is the 21st of the 60 year round in Chinese Calendar, so List of Jiashen means the officials who were selected through the tests in the year of Jiashen.
*Liao Jixiang: 廖吉祥, uke.
*Gold Weaving Satin:
*Chinese ancient garden:
*the running script: