Plundering the Dao of the Immortal Journey Chapter 40
Undulating ripples covered the river as several fishermen threw their nets into the water. These fishermen had their sleeves rolled up, and their pants folded, ready for a day of hard work.
On board the ship, the captain was huffing on his water pipe as he sat on the deck. The bamboo pipe that he was inhaling from was the height of half a person. There was a hole near the bottom of the pipe, and tobacco was placed on top. The captain placed his mouth on the mouthpiece and inhaled viciously, as smoke bellowed from the pipe and the water within it gurgled vehemently. This pipe contained water, and the longer the water had been in the pipe, the stronger the smell emitted. He stood up, completely satisfied and stretched his muscles.
Another person approached the ship, and the captain didn't think much of it. As he got closer, he immediately stood straight and said enthusiastically, "It is Master Xu. Sir, how come you're free to visit?"
There were several people watching from the pier, observing Pei Zi Yun as he got off the ship and disappeared. It was only after this had happened that Master Xu appeared. It looked like there weren't many passengers aboard this ship, only a few old women were sitting within, waiting for it to finally depart. Master Xu's expression looked severe as he said, grumbling, "Let's talk inside!"
The ship was rather spacious. They entered the cabin which was dimly lit. There was a candle flickering on the table, almost losing it's light, the ember burning from it was rather small as it emitted a faint glow.
Master Xu sat down and faced the captain as they spoke, the captain's voice trembled with fear and reverence.
Master Xu stared hard at the captain, as he flipped open his fan, "How has business been lately?"
"With the blessings of the ship owner and yourself, I am able to make a living for myself to feed my family."
Master Xu replied with a harrumph and said, "With a ship like this, you should be able to make 200-300 taels of silver a year easily."
The captain didn't know how to respond to this. Master Xu flared his nostrils and continued, "Third brother He, I haven't come today for this matter. Rather, the owner of the ship has an instruction for you."
The captain lowered his head, "Whatever the owner's orders are, please fire away. This servant will listen."
Master Xu then told him all that he needed to know and told him to cooperate. As he heard the details, the captain started sweating profusely and waved his hands, "This I cannot do. The boy is a student, and is going to the province. His title is at least that of an Elementary Scholar. Should something happen, I would have to face capital punishment and get beheaded."
Master Xu immediately retracted his smile, as his faced turned sour and vicious. He said irritably, "I am not asking you to kill anyone. All you have to do allow me onboard, and follow my lead. The plan is for him to fall overboard, and drink some seawater. He will only sustain minor superficial injuries, what are you afraid of?"
"Besides, this is an order from the ship owner. You are under his payroll, and you understand the rules. If you refuse, you won't be breaking the law, but we won't spare you."
Hearing the threat issued, the captain's legs turned soft as beads of perspiration formed on his forehead. Among ship captains making a living on this river, nine out of ten of them worked for this owner.
When an issue crops up and money was available, money shall be used. If authority was present, it shall be wielded. The captain and his ship had come under the daily protection of the owner. Now that he needed something to be done, should the captain refuse, he will be punished severely. What's worse than the punishment itself was that he won't be able to make a living on this river anymore. And even if he managed to find a job on the river, it won't be with this owner, and he won't be granted such a lofty position. Then he wouldn't have money to raise his family, and they will die of hunger and be fed to the fishes.
The ship captain was extremely flustered as he agreed, "Okay, okay, this servant shall do it."
Cold sweat of perspiration formed, and he used his hands to wipe them away. He looked wide-eyed at Master Xu who laughed loudly. Master Xu left the ship and spoke to several people on the pier. He then returned and said, "Later when we depart, take it as if I am a worker aboard the ship."
"I wouldn't dare to place you beneath me, Master Xu!"
"Relax, I used to be a crew-member aboard a ship as well." Master Xu sniggered.
After Pei Zi Yun had his fill, he walked out of the restaurant and had the sun beat down on his skin mercilessly. Trees were lined on both sides of the walkway, casting shadows onto the ground.
When he reached the bank of the river, he noticed that several passengers were already on board. It seemed like it was ready to make its departure soon. He then made his way onto the ship.
As soon as he approached, he noticed one of the sailors staring at him. He had a fierce looking gaze, as if he could murder someone just by glaring at them. Pei Zi Yun thought that it was rather strange. When did this sailor arrive? Why did he have such an unkind expression to him?
Upon further inspection of the ship, it was clear that this ship was catered specially to ferry people between different destinations. There were two stories, and an open air deck on both ends of the ship. There were several workers on board, going about their duties. He even got a look at the kitchen chef from outside. Although it seemed like there were crooks mixed in with honest crowd, this ship had been in business for a long time. It probably isn't involved in illegal dealings?
Just as he was hesitating, the captain inhaled another puff from his pipe, his face brimming with happiness, "Valued guests, please board the ship now, we are almost full and are departing soon."
Pei Zi Yun smiled as he touched his sword before following the captain aboard.
He stepped onboard the platform, and realized that further up was the stairs that led up to the second floor. This ship wasn't the biggest and only had two floors. He followed the captain up the flight of stairs. While he was walking up, he noticed that within the cabins were several people sitting inside.
Seeing the look of suspicion on his face, the captain introduced them, "Those people inside are similar to yourself, young master, they are headed for the province to take their examinations. They arrived this afternoon and I have settled them in the room beneath the stairs."
Pei Zi Yun took at a closer look within the main hall, and saw that some people were sitting in there. There were students, elderly folks, women and even children. It wasn't full however, and had several empty seats. He continued his ascent up the stairs.
Once he had reached upstairs, he noticed that there were several rooms, but were all rather small.
The captain brought him to a room, and opened the door. Pei Zi Yun glanced inside and realized that the room wasn't very spacious. There were two windows inside and the view was that of the sea. The river sent ripples around, as sunlight glimmered. When the hull of the ship collided with a bigger ripple, it made a splashing sound.
Observing the surroundings of the room, there was a bed and a desk.
The captain then said, "Master, this is the best room on the ship."
He could faintly hear the sound of some students reading and reciting poems next door. The captain then said, "The room next door is also occupied by students preparing for the examinations. That's why you hear them studying and reading, but there are four people in a room."
Pei Zi Yun felt that his room was quite tidy and clean, albeit slightly small. But it was already quite good that a ship of this size has a room like this. Remembering that the people downstairs had to squeeze with everyone else, and considering the view from here was good as well, he agreed, "Fine, I shall take this room."
He fished out a piece of silver and handed it over to the captain. He felt it to see if it was genuine before smiling, "Good. Young master, we provide three meals a day in the main hall."
Pei Zi Yun nodded his head, and he felt the ship starting to move. There were twenty three people on board the ship, all for different purposes. There were merchants, Elementary Scholars looking to take the examinations, and even goods traders. At this moment, a student came up to him and saluted, "I am Yu Guang Mao, and am heading to the province to take the examinations. It's a pleasure to be able to meet brother Pei and be on the same ship as him."
Pei Zi Yun clasped his hands and returned the salute, "Brother Yu is too kind. We've met before."
Some sound could be heard from the cabin next door as three more students emerged. Their ages ranged from twenty seven to slightly above thirty. They've all met before at the Elementary Scholar's literary event a few days past.
When the three of them met Pei Zi Yun, they were all elated and came to exchange greetings. Pei Zi Yun then said, "It must be my fellow students, brother Li, brother Wang and brother Yi. All of you are taking the examinations as well?"
They had plenty of topics to discuss between Elementary Scholars, but it mainly revolved around the upcoming examinations. These Elementary Scholars had taken the examinations a few times before, or at least once and were somewhat familiar with what it was going to be like.
Pei Zi Yun noticed that their room had many mattresses, and had little space to walk. He felt strange since these Elementary Scholars shouldn't be poor by any mean.
Yu Guang Mao let out a hearty laugh and said, "The examinations come once every three years, and is coming up soon. I've tried it once before and it wasn't easy. Since the few of us are close, we decided to bunk together. So I told the captain that I wished to add a few more mattresses to the room, so we can stay together. This is a good opportunity for us to study together and share insights!"
Hearing these words, and seeing how cramped up their living space was, he knew that they weren't speaking the truth. It was probably due to the fact that they were broke and thus had to resort to this. Pei Zi Yun didn't want to cause them to lose face and their dignities, and so he replied, "My few brothers are really hardworking. It looks like I have to take a leaf out of your books."
When he finished talking, the Elementary Scholars forced a laughter.
The captain didn't walk far away. Seeing that this Elementary Scholar recognizes some friends almost instantly, he was extremely worried. Based on the instructions, all he had to do was to ensure he falls overboard and into the river. However, seeing the tide right now, who knows what could happen if one had the misfortune of falling over. If this young master was alone, and he drown in this river it wouldn't be so bad. But all his Elementary Scholar friends were here, they would certainly make a ruckus and alert the authorities. Sweat beads began to form on his forehead as he wiped them off. He approached the Elementary Scholars and said, "The ship departs now, young masters. Without any incidents, we should be able to reach the province within three days."
After he had finished, he left the room. The Elementary Scholars didn't think much of it. After talking for some time, the five of them had started to get acquainted with each other. They then said to Pei Zi Yun, "In this examination, all the talented Elementary Scholars will be participating. Between us, we wouldn't know who would make it and bring glory to his ancestors."
Speaking like this, the Elementary Scholars all sighed, the atmosphere was that of despair and loneliness. Pei Zi Yun tried to console them, but he realized that he couldn't find the right words to say, and thus returned to his room to study.
The weather had started to turn dark, and someone knocked on the door. It was the fierce looking sailor who had come to tell him that a meal was being served. He thus followed him to the hall where he had his meal. He decided that the dishes served were good. There was steamed fish, vegetables, eggs and even fruits. Amongst them however, the fish tasted the best. He lingered around the table, waiting for some of his friends to joined him, but they never did. Feeling slightly strange, he headed back up.
Nothing of event happened in the evening, as the sounds of studying could be heard next door. As the night became deeper, the sounds of reading gradually stopped as well. The entire ship was thrown into silence.
"Oh, there's someone crying?"
It was in the middle of the night, and Pei Zi Yun had been awoken by someone crying. Listening carefully, several people were consoling him, "Brother Yi, what's wrong?"
"..... My family is poor and can only afford to eat plain dishes. In fact, we can only afford to eat fish two or three times a year. Even in such hardships, my mother managed to save money for me to take the examinations. And I am already thirty three. If I don't make it this time, how can I bear to continue like this. I just have to grit my teeth and find a job as a lowly teacher, and earn ten taels of silver per year."
"And I couldn't help but think of all these at night, filling me with emotions. Please don't let me disturb you." the voice then quietened down. Gradually, it was silent once more except for the occasional sound of bed creakings. Obviously, the people next door were all unable to sleep and were tossing in their beds.
Pei Zi Yun was unable to sleep as well, yet didn't wish to disturb them. He wore his clothes and walked out to the deck, as he admired the vast sky, littered with millions of stars. He thought to himself, 'In reality, how many students can actually achieve success?'
'Most students will spend their entire lives shedding blood sweat and tears, all the way till their hair had turned white, while success continues eluding them.'
'That's why I can appreciate the value of the Plum Blossom. And is the same reason that the original owner couldn't bear it, and gave away the weapon to change his entire life. And just as well. People in their youths are always so hot headed and impulsive, such idiocy. Only when one is thirty or forty, and have experienced the hardships of life, can understand how valuable this is.'
Just as he was pacing up and down the deck, he unintentionally stumbled onto a corner where he overheard voices. The voices were speaking in very hushed tones and seemed very familiar to Pei Zi Yun. It seems like he's heard this pair of voices earlier today. It belonged to the fierce sailor and captain. The captain had some doubts in his voice and said, "You really want to make a move against the Elementary Scholar?"