The Petty Bai Shiqi
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Translated by Wook
Edited by Wook
Chapter 14 : The Petty Bai Shiqi
Zhao Wujiu trained his brother like he did a soldier, without the slightest affection. Bai Shiqi was acting as a supervisor. Two boatmen were assigned to each of his personal guards to protect and teach them. As for himself, he took the responsibility to suppress Zhao Ziheng hard-heartedly and paying extra care to extinguish his laziness, he formulated a very harsh working and resting schedule. When the ship arrived at Huai’an, the worn-out Zhao Ziheng needed to support himself by holding onto the wall and he had successfully learned to swim in dog-paddle style. Although his posture was slightly ugly, he could finally swim happily in the company of the boatmen.
Shu Changfeng and the others were already trained to be ambitious and courageous people. Now their movements in the water were also vigorous, fully displaying the good stamina they had maintained from many years being on the battlefield.
Huai’an had always been the waterborne transport hub between the northern and southern part of the country, it also acted as the bridge in shipments. The Governor of Water Transport1 and the General Administration of Customs coordinated with 7 provinces in the central and 2 other provinces in remote areas. The central government appointed 6 people with powerful connections as high officials to hold governmental posts. Currently, the one who occupied the position of Governor of Water Transport was Xun Bai, whose power was prominent. Not only acting as a supervisor for water transport, but he also held the position of inspector-general. His department structures were tremendous, his jurisdiction including storage warehouses, shipyards, and garrison yards. The number of civilians, ministries, and military people who worked under him reached up to 20.000 people.
After the ship reached Huai’an, it needed to be inspected by the yamen2 who worked for the governor. Boatmen and sailors from shipping boats, merchants who came to the south to sell commodities, and many tourists gathered here. Moreover, Huai’an granaries were always full, the ones reserved for emergency and the ones open for use were never lacking. There were also rows of shops and restaurants inside and outside of the city. It was very lively on any side, looking thriving overall, not inferior to Yangzhou.
Even though Zhao Wujiu was born in the capital, developed the grandeur of the imperial family, and had been living surrounded by gold and jade, he grew up in the frontier. He set off when he was 16, so he was already accustomed to seeing the sunset in the river and the lone mist of the desert, however, he had never set foot in Jiangnan. Seeing the magnificent view in Huai’an for the first time, even though it was not visible, his heart also fluctuated endlessly. As expected, the affluent and populous Jiangnan really deserved its reputation.
It was the first time the guards under him, from Shu Changfeng to Yu Jinsheng, went to the south, and they looked like they did not have enough eyes to look around.
The weather in Jiangnan was still hot. Aside from shipping boats and merchant boats, there were also tender and charming young ladies selling food and snacks on boats alongside the Huai River. Bai Shiqi sat on the bow of the ship and dallied with a woman below who was selling small fermented fish, and asked things like “Does it smell good? Is it sweet? Can I have a bite?” and other nonsense. The boatman whose boat was hired (by the woman) burst into laughter, and the little lady’s face rose like a summer pink lotus. Shyly and angrily, the lady tossed the paddle towards Bai Shiqi’s back, she raised her head and started to scold: “Bai Shiqi, are you buying or not?”
(alcohol fermented fish)
Bai Shiqi rolled her big eyes and wanted to take advantage of the other person: “If you let me have a bite, this young master will buy everything that’s left!”
However, the little lady was also shrewish, she raised her head and scolded: “Then get down here and have a taste ah? See if I don’t break your legs! Come down if you have the ability ah?”
Dallying with young ladies was Zhao Ziheng’s expertise. Moreover, the female below was around 15-16 years old. She was pinching a green-colored skirt, wearing a white jacket with yellow flower pattern blouse. She looked tender as if one pinched hard enough, water would pour out. His heart itched, and he incited Bai Shiqi: “Why don’t the two of us go down together?”
Zhao Wujiu coughed heavily, making Zhao Ziheng jammed like a chicken that was caught in the neck. He squeaked and did not dare to say a word. His hands were at Bai Shiqi’s back, secretly shoving twice, hinting her to go down to the little lady’s boat to satisfy his greed.
Bai Shiqi slid down smoothly using the rope at the ship railings. She was hanging upside down, when nearing the little lady’s head, she pulled one of her pigtails and easily put one silver ingot into her hand. The boatmen above were cooperating with each other in tacit understanding, clearly, they often helped the young leader to do these kinds of things, they pulled the rope speedily. Before the paddle in the little lady’s hand managed to hit, Bai Shiqi was already pulled up.
The boatmen who were watching laughed loudly. One of them looked below at the little lady: “Hey, Little Lady Liu, our family’s young leader has been helping your business back and forth, why don’t you just return with our young leader and become his concubine, eating good food and drinking until warm is better than selling fish in Huai River, right?”
Liu Ya’er almost cried because of this little bastard Bai Shiqi. Even though a big customer, every time she bought her things, she would always provoke her first and she would not be able to vent. Curses rained down from her mouth: “Let your family’s young master take a look at himself on Huai River. Even if he comes to marry me with palanquin with eight carriers, this great aunt will not agree!”
Bai Shiqi yielded hypocritically and looked at herself on the water. From the ship railings, one obviously would not be able to see the reflection clearly. Looking full of herself, she spoke: “This young master is incomparably handsome, but you don’t think much of me. Don’t know what sort of immortal big brother do you want to marry?”
Liu Ya’er cursed while pretending to pack up the fishes: “Anyway it will not be you!”
A boatman hoisted a basket down, and let Liu Ya’er filled it with the fermented small fish before pulling it up. Everyone crowded the basket and started looting, but they still remembered to preserve Bai Shiqi’s share.
Bai Shiqi picked up a few small fishes and filled her mouth. She took the porcelain plate a boatman had handed over and brought it to Zhao Wujiu: “Cousin Brother, have a taste. This girl’s mouth is relentless, but the fermented fish she made tastes superb, even the bones are crisp, and it is very fragrant.”
Zhao Wujiu pinched his eyebrows and looked at her disapprovingly: “Why did you harass the young woman?” If the soldiers under him were caught harassing women, they would certainly get punished by a military rod, and their buttocks would be beaten into pieces.
Shu Changfeng and the others held their breath with rapt attention. Even the boatmen who were still looting the fermented fishes stopped and foolishly looked at Zhao Wujiu.
Bai Shiqi’s eyes were bright like stars, with a smile she wandered: “… Because she is pretty ah.”
Zhao Wujiu’s face darkened: “So you have to harass her just because she is pretty?”
Bai Shiqi was stumped, she racked her brain to recall past events that led her to become “enemies with deep affinity” with Liu Ya’er. From her brain she scooped out a fragment of memory: “She is already fierce since she was a child ah, she bit me when she was just 3 years old.” She pulled her sleeve and showed him a faint teeth mark: “Look, at that time she nearly took a chunk of my meat.”
That year she was around 8-9 years old and wanted to act like a kind little elder brother, so she praised Liu Ya’er’s elder sister, Liu Xie’er, and said that she was pretty. All of sudden this girl pounced over and bit her wrist ruthlessly and would not let go. Had Bai Zhenting and Liu Cheng not heard of the news, it would not be surprising if Bai Shiqi lost a chunk of meat on that day.
In modern terms, Liu Ya’er was simply a fierce milk3.
Zhao Wujiu did not expect that the two people had known each other since they were young, however, Bai Shiqi still remembered this old matter that had happened to this day. He expressionlessly chided her: “You are a tall man, how come your tolerance is so small? Why couldn’t you just accommodate the little lady? Even this old matter of many years you still remember!”
Bai Shiqi could not care less, smiling happily she replied: “If it were not for her being so shrewish and keep resisting, making me afraid that if I bring her home, my inner yard will become unpeaceful, I would have married her already and tease her slowly at home.”
Zhao Wujiu: “… Obstreperous!”
Bai Shiqi: “Many thanks Cousin Brother for your praise! My dad often says that too.”
She offered the fermented fish again: “Have a taste?” This big master’s three views seemed to be grown according to the book of loyalty and justice. He could not see others went askew and could not help but want to straighten them. She did not know how this shortcoming came to be, so she could only use food to block his mouth.
Zhao Wujiu picked the fermented fish from the plate and brought it to his mouth. It was as crispy and delicious as Bai Shiqi said with a slight sweetness. The more he chewed, the more fragrant it became. His mind that had originally planned to smash her spoiled shortcomings ruthlessly gradually calmed down. In the end, he only sighed deeply: “Can’t you change? After all, harassing women is not a good thing to do.”
He had come to an understanding. When Bai Shiqi dallied with girls, it was purely only to make troubles. In her eyes, he could not see the slightest bit of lust. Indeed, her obstreperous nature still made one’s head ached.
Bai Shiqi had been askew since she was little and even when she grew up, she had never thought to straighten herself. Finished feeding on several small fishes, she muttered in her heart: Even my dad does not care so much about me, big brother, your esteemed self is way too idle!
However, on the surface, she was still very docile and nodded repeatedly: “What Cousin Brother said.”
The shipping boat pulled over, an official who managed the canal brought a group of soldiers for inspection. The official was a 40 years old man, with a square face and wide forehead. Apparently, he was very familiar with Bai Shiqi and he said amiably: “Shiqi lang has returned?”
Bai Shiqi returned his greetings: “Lord Tian has worked hard. I noticed that your eyelids are looking a bit blackish, paperwork keeping you busy? I have some medicines to help refresh and clear one’s mind, should I go and tell Qin Liu’er to deliver your esteemed self a bottle later?”
Tian Zongping did not pretend to be polite either: “Thanking Shiqi lang then.” He glanced at the people who were waiting on the boat, and appeased: “Routine inspection, you are not carrying any fishy items, right?”
Bai Shiqi smiled unperturbedly: “I often go through this river, how can I not understand the rules?” She wanted to go to Tian Zongping’s side to hand him some silver, but unexpectedly, Zhao Wujiu had signaled Shu Changfeng with his eyes.
Shu Changfeng walked over, stood in front of Tian Zongping, and firmly said: “Lord Tian, right?”
Tian Zongping inspected and had dealings with shipping boats on normal days. He was most able to inquire from one’s appearance. The moment he saw Shu Changfeng, he could smell the bearings of someone who was in a high position from the noble aura. He suddenly stood respectfully: “How should I address this brother?”
“This humble one is surnamed Shu.” Shu Changfeng made a gesture: “Lord Tian, to this side please.” He invited Tian Zongping to the side by himself and took out a token from his bosom.
Tian Zongping took a look, and his complexion changed abruptly. He nearly kneeled down: “Zhou, Zhou…”
Shu Changfeng looked at him meaningfully: “My household’s master does not want to alarm other people, will it be possible for Lord Tian to make it easier for us?”
How could Tian Zongping dare to retort, he promptly gathered his subordinates: “Get off the ship quickly. This ship is exempted from inspection.” With His Highness Prince Zhou here, how could he dare to inspect the ship? Even if he found something fishy in the cargo, today he would not be able to receive benefits from it.
After a short time, Tian Zongping took his subordinates and retreated cleanly. The silver that Bai Shiqi had prepared was not used at all.
1 The Governor of Water Transport: a senior official sent by the central government to supervise water transport affairs throughout the city (in Ming and Qing dynasties). Source: baike.baidu.com
2 yamen: basically police office in modern days.
3 fierce milk: I don’t know how to translate this to English. It is a Chinese internet slang word to describe the appearance of a person who looks childish but actually not childish. And the person’s angry appearance only makes people to think they are still cute.
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