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    The Black Horse

    Chapter 40

    A Friend Who Harms Another is not a Reliable Friend

    Translated by Wook
    Edited by sienz


    Zhao Ziheng had been raised luxuriously and honorably since young. A large number of entourages would follow him when he went hunting at the imperial hunting grounds, but, as for the result of the hunt… He had never cared about showing his noble prestige.


    Just like the hunters from the countryside, they measured the distance between the alleys using their feet. Personally going into the depth of the forest and climbing the trees were arduous hunting methods that he had never tried before. When they set off, he was still somewhat terrified: “What if I can’t walk anymore?”


    Bai Shiqi generously offered a solution: “Don’t worry. In case you can’t really walk anymore, I’ll carry you.”


    Shu Changfeng’s eyes shook a little: “We will not trouble Young Leader Bai. If the Thirteenth lang could not walk anymore, this subordinate will be the one to carry him.” In his mind: If His Highness knows Bai Shiqi is carrying your esteemed self, what will he think of it?


    Zhao Ziheng believed their words and joyfully followed Bai Shiqi into the forest. He was tricked into digging holes, setting up traps, climbing trees, and walking through the steep mountains, which resulted in palms full of blisters, two heavy legs that seemed like they were filled with leads, and cheeks that were full of scars from thorns scratching along the way. He screamed at the mountain: “Shiqi, I’ve been disfigured!”


    Bai Shiqi calmly replied: “Have faith in Old Man Huang’s medical skills.”


    Zhao Ziheng was carrying two rabbits that were dripping with blood, and sat under a tree without any intentions to move another step: “I really can’t walk anymore! I don’t want to walk anymore!”


    Bai Shiqi‘s hands were full with two pheasants and two nests of bird eggs were hung around her waist. She was staring at an imposing-looking wild boar that was passing through the forest and could not help but drool: “Roasted wild boar is also delicious…” It was a pity that this “dear friend” ran in the opposite direction of the trap they had dug. Alas!


    Zhao Ziheng looked at the Taoist temple at the distance and said gloomily: “Shiqi, you promised you’d carry me back!”


    Bai Shiqi smirked, pulled Shu Changfeng, who was also carrying rabbits in his hands, and ran while shouting: “If you don’t want to walk back by yourself, then just stay here for the night! There are tigers, wild boars, pythons, and the likes at night, it’ll be quite lively!


    One could hear her clear and joyous laughter ringing throughout the mountain. Shu Changfeng, who was being dragged by her, almost laughed out loud and stumbled. When he looked back, Zhao Ziheng was looking blankly at them and seemed like he could not respond for a while. He only reacted after they had already run ten steps away with a loud shout: “Bai Shiqi, how dare you trick me?!”


    Bai Shiqi turned her head and stuck out her tongue, and shouted back with an extremely annoying expression: “Then why don’t you come and hit me?”


    Zhao Ziheng’s two legs were like two pillars that did not obey his command. They were stiff and heavy, each step was like dragging a huge stone. He wanted to cry seeing Bai Shiqi dragging Shu Changfeng away. The sun was already set, and once it got completely dark, it would not be possible to return back to the Taoist temple. Thus, he gritted his teeth in tears and rushed forward.


    Now he deeply understood the truth: It is a mistake to make friends with a bandit, a friend who harms another is not a reliable friend!


    How could he believe Bai Shiqi, who was like a living bandit’s, words?


    Zhao Wujiu had finished the acupuncture and was soaked with medicinal water. He was sitting in his wheelchair in the courtyard with a medicinal book in his hand. The mountain was cold, and Zhu Shoumei brought over a thick cotton-padded mattress to cover his knees out of consideration. He looked at the mountain in the distance, then looked at the sky, and said: “Shiqi should be back by now.”


    Zhao Wujiu remained silent as if he had not heard of it.


    About an hour later, Bai Shiqi and Shu Changfeng burst into the courtyard like a whirlwind. When Zhao Wujiu looked up, he saw the two rushing hand in hand. His expression changed at once: “Changfeng—“


    Shu Changfeng had been prepared to return with Zhao Ziheng on his back, but he did not expect to return under Bai Shiqi’s deliberate prank, moreover, she was so mischievous, which made it fun and amusing. As a result, when he rushed into the courtyard, the smile had not been wiped from his face. Hearing Zhao Wujiu’s voice made him automatically follow Zhao Wujiu’s gaze and checked his focus, only to find that the two people… had run back while holding hands.


    He hurriedly withdrew his hand, while Bai Shiqi gasped slightly after the run and laughed with her hands supporting her knees: “Ziheng is so stupid! He’d even believed my words.”


    Zhu Shoumei came over after hearing her voice, and seeing her appearance, he could guess what this was all about: “Shiqi, did you give someone a hard time again?”


    Bai Shiqi felt discontent: “Big Brother Zhu, I don’t like hearing these words you’ve just said. What do you mean by me giving someone a hard time?” Then she said pompously: “Ziheng is in poor health. Shu Changfeng and I brought him into the mountain to toughen his body. It was clearly for his benefit!”


    —Other people trained their horses and hounds, only Bai Shiqi trained her companion by running all over the mountain!


    Zhu Shoumei smiled and nodded: “Yes, yes. You really care about Brother Zhao’s body. How considerate of you.”


    Bai Shiqi liked to play and joke around since she was young, and also grew up in the shipping group, so she could easily blend in with anyone. Even those naughty boys from his childhood, Da Pang, Er Gouzi, Xiao Shitou, had been made her subordinates in the end. Let alone Zhao Wujiu’s manservant, who was treated as her playmate.


    What’s rare was Zhao Wujiu. This person was always solemn, but upon seeing Zhao Ziheng, who was so exhausted from running and becoming like a dog, panting with his tongue out, he actually approved Bai Shiqi’s method: “Ziheng should run more.”


    Zhao Ziheng had suffered a loss on the first day, so when Bai Shiqi proposed to go into the mountain again the next day, he hesitated and struggled. However, Bai Shiqi asked in an innocent tone: “Ziheng, don’t you want to go and see if there’s any prey in the trap you’ve dug?”


    Last night, Bai Shiqi had made a fire and had roasted rabbits and stewed chicken outside the Taoist temple, while Zhao Ziheng had busied himself with gathering the firewood. He did not know whether it was because he had overworked himself or because the rabbits had been brought back with his own effort, but it was the best food he had ever tasted in his whole life.


    Zhao Ziheng gritted his teeth: “I… I’ll go!” At worst he would just have to run home again.


    As far as the benefits were concerned, after Zhao Wujiu’s physical training during their journey, he found that he was actually not as fragile as he had thought. He could run back in one breath without the help of the others, and after waking up today, he did not feel too much pain. On the contrary, the pleasure was greater than the suffering.


    He remembered the sweet scent of the forest in the mountain, the calls of the birds, the fat rabbits that had trouble escaping, and the appearance of Bai Shiqi who almost drooled because of the wild boar… The mountain was actually pretty fun.


    Yesterday, the robust wild boar had a good ability to escape from danger, however, another one, which was not as old and as experienced as it, came out for food in the middle of the night, and fell into the trap they had dug.


    Hearing the sound in the trap from a distance, Zhao Ziheng ran over and exclaimed excitedly: “Shiqi, we got the big guy!”


    It was not a waste of their efforts.


    In just 20 days, the mountain behind the Taoist temple was almost wrecked by Bai Shiqi. The moment the day began, she’d pulled Shu Changfeng and Zhao Ziheng out. Sometimes they would also walk with Zhu Shoumei with medicinal baskets on their backs. Several people resulted in a good harvest. They would go down the mountain as hunters and sell what they could not finish eating.


    Zhao Ziheng was already used to it. He normally spent money like flowing water, however, he was not willing to spend the little silver he had obtained from selling games. He held them in his arms like treasures, and was teased by Bai Shiqi: “Ziheng, I never knew that you’re actually so stingy.”


    Zhao Ziheng had been running on the mountain for days. Recently, he did not feel that his legs were heavy, his complexion had become a lot darker, and he had become a little stronger. When talking about livelihood, he also understood a little bit of the world: “I never knew how to value silver before. Now I know that it’s not easy for the farmers and hunters.”


    In Shu Changfeng’s mind: If His Highness heard of this brilliant enlightenment of yours, I don’t know how pleased he would be.


    Bai Shiqi smiled and rocked on her heels back and forth: “Oh ho, where does this come from ah? Have you understood the sufferings of common people?” She put her fingertips together and added: “There are many forms of suffering in this world; forging ironware, poling a boat, grumbling about one’s life. You must have not experienced any of them. Since you’re interested, why not take this opportunity to experience it yourself?”


    Zhao Ziheng was frightened by her smile that seemed to be filled with malice, and having learned from his personal experiences, he replied: “Since you said suffering, then I don’t want to experience it anymore.”


    Lately, Bai Shiqi has had a lot of opportunities to show off her cooking skills, especially grilling and stewing meat. Because of that, the salt in her pouch was used up, so they went to an official salt-selling store to buy refined salt. However, once they went in and asked about the price, Zhao Ziheng gasped in shock: “… So expensive?” Those silvers he had gotten from selling games couldn’t even get him salt.


    The salt seller was someone who had the support of the local feudal official from the back, so his way of speaking was somewhat arrogant and unkind. Three people who appeared like they had been running around in the mountain area, entered wearing coarse cloth and pants. Although they looked good feature-wise, however, clothes made the people just like saddles made the horse. At a first glance, they seemed like three poor guys. The shopkeeper raised his voice and said unkindly: “If you can’t afford it, get out. Don’t stand there and become a hindrance!”


    He swatted his hands to drive the people away.


    When did Zhao Ziheng ever receive this kind of treatment from a mere shopkeeper? When he was about to flare up, he was dragged out against his will by Bai Shiqi. When he turned his head, he saw the official salt store, however, the front door looked desolate. He realized that something was wrong. The three strolled along the street for half a day, tailing behind a robust-looking man who was carrying a large wicker basket into an alley. They then bought half a catty (around 250 grams) of private salt from the man before returning.


    “What’s going on?” Having been blessed with several silver pieces in his hands, Zhao Ziheng was now aware of the sufferings of the common people. They obviously could not afford the salt from the official salt store before, he did not expect that they would be able to purchase salt from some random guy with a basket on the street with a price that was several times lower, with an almost similar color and coarseness. Wasn’t this fishy?


    Seeing the curiosity on his face, Bai Shiqi sighed: “You fool! The price of the salt from the official salt store is so high that ordinary people can’t afford it, so they secretly buy some private salt to eat. It’s not like you can just stop eating salt, right?”


    “Private salt?”


    Zhao Ziheng had been living in a high environment, while Shu Changfeng had spent a long time at the barracks, so they were not aware of the situation of the people in Jiangnan. What’s more, the populous and famous Jiangnan had the largest production of salt and tea in the country. So why ordinary people couldn’t even eat official salt and had to risk buying private salt to eat?


    Selling private salt is a crime!


    “Could it be that the local government is overflowed with private salt, so it doesn’t matter?” Zhao Ziheng was puzzled.


    Bai Shiqi rolled her eyes: “Why didn’t you question the price of official salt? The ordinary people are forced because they can’t afford official salt anymore, so why isn’t the government taking care of it?”


    “This…” Zhao Ziheng’s rationality said that selling private salt was illegal, however, his sentiment believed in Bai Shiqi’s standpoint. He also wanted to ask the same thing: “Why isn’t the government taking care of it?”



    Translator’s note:
    This is actually the… turn point? of the story. The conflict starts here, although it won’t be as… explosive as in other stories, conflict is still conflict ~

    The problem will be regarding the Jiangnan salt road (More specifically the Lianghuai’s salt road), which was one of the many salt roads that existed in real history from 1674 – 1681 during the Kangxi era. It earned its name from the massive amount of salt that’s being transported along the network (either via land or water, but in Jiangnan, mostly via the Huai River which was mentioned several times already in this story) just like how the silk road earned its name from Chinese silk that the merchants transported along the trade network of Eurasia and North Africa. There are several officials appointed by the government as salt officers (in literal Chinese language as I can’t find the brain cells to try to make it English) or salt road to inspect these networks. The inspectors are called salt road officers as well. It is confusing, yes.


    Read only at Travis Translations


    Wook's notes:

    There goes my brain cells in my effort to translate the news phrases... .


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