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    The Black Horse

    Chapter 44.1


    Good Intentions

    Translated by Wook
    Edited by sienz


     

    Jiangsu Shipping Group had a contact point at the shore of Lianghuai. The moment the news about Bai Shiqi’s appearance at the inn passed around, her subordinate came to pay his respect and helped rent the place for her. He then respectfully invited her in.

     

    “The last time I saw the Young Leader was when I went to Suzhou last year for the New Year’s greeting to Leader. I didn’t expect the Young Leader to come to Baoying during your idle time.”

     

    Normally, Bai Shiqi looked undependable. However, when facing her subordinates, she looked very reliable: “I have something to do in Baoying. I heard that there were some disturbances in Baoying a couple of days ago?”

     

    The shipping group guy was about thirty years old with a square and reddish-brown face coupled with rough and thick limbs. He would not attract any attention to himself even if he got thrown into a crowd of people as he looked like an ordinary coolie guy on the street. Though, the way he spoke was neat: “Young Leader is well-informed. A few days ago, the official salt store owned by the Huang family was destroyed. By the time the county government sent their people, the salt store had been robbed clean, and the mastermind behind has not been found yet.”

     

    Zhao Wujiu and Yu Ang strained their ears to hear, but unlike them, Bai Shiqi was straightforward and asked: “Third Brother Deng, do you know why the private salt dealers have disappeared recently?”

     

    The man’s surname was Deng, and he was the third sibling in his family, so the brothers on the dock called him Third Brother Deng. However, he did not dare being addressed this way by Bai Shiqi: “Young Leader should just call me Old Third Deng, how could this humble one dares being brothers with Young Leader.” He smiled sincerely, but his eyes looked shrewd. His gaze swept to the left and right, and finally muttered: “Regarding this matter… This humble one has heard some news about it, but it would not be suitable for outsiders to hear.”

     

    What he meant was obvious. Zhao Wujiu and the others were outsiders, so they were not suitable to hear the news.

     

    Zhao ZIheng did not even think of himself as an outsider: “Your leader and I are brothers, just tell us quickly.”

     

    Old Third Deng hesitated for a moment and kept his mouth shut.

     

    Bai Shiqi: “It’s okay, these people are close friends. Besides, it’s a matter of the salt group, which has nothing to do with our shipping group. So it’s fine for Third Brother Deng to just say it.”

     

    Old Third Deng: “It is said that the disappearance of the private dealers is related to this matter. Some time ago, a renowned official was sent to investigate the Lianghuai‘s salt road. I don’t know how long he’s been gone, but he was so unlucky to have encountered the pirates the moment he set foot on the border of Lianghuai. In the end, he sank into the river as fish fodder.”

     

    Yu Ang, the unlucky official who sank into the river as fish fodder: “… …”

     

    “It’s just one unlucky official. So what if he sank into the river? What does it have to do with private salt? Since everyone can’t eat without salt, they will have to run to official salt stores, right?” A faint smile flashed within Bai Shiqi’s eyes, and she deliberately swept her gaze to Yu Ang, whose face looked tense, and asked: “Master Yu, what is your opinion on this matter?”

     

    Yu Ang couldn’t endure it and his face darkened. He couldn’t keep pretending to be deaf and mute even though it was his benefactor who was treating the court’s law as nothing. Fortunately, he was tolerant towards this person: “Young Leader Bai, the dealings of private salt is not beneficial for the country’s taxation, how could the local official indulge in those private salt dealers? If the higher-ups had gotten some concrete proof of this deed, those people might lose their official positions!”

     

    Old Third Deng noticed that his tone of speaking was a bit strange, so he wanted to say something in reply, but then, his young leader quickly shut  Master Yu’s mouth with sarcasm: “Of course ah. The people up there must care so much about their taxes. Which one of those officials genuinely cares about the death and life of common people? The price of official salt is so high, but why does it matter if the common people can eat it when compared to those lord officials in their comfortable halls? Everyone pretends to care about the well-being of the country and the people, but in reality, they only care about those silvers that you call taxes. Do you know how many people you have in this country? Do you know how many of them are suffering from illnesses due to lack of salt? Sure enough, silver is all that matters, while the common people are just ants!”

     

    Yu Ang had been devoting his whole life to the monarch. He had learned the laws and the decrees and had heard a lot of unusual lawsuits. A plate with “Upright and Honorable Yu” engraved was even placed in the middle of his house, and he was often praised by the emperor. He truly did not expect that one day he’d be struck dumb by a youth in this Baoying County.

     

    And this youth had a bad temper. As if it was not enough, she suddenly stood and rudely said: “Old Yu, I saved your life not to let you put on airs in my house. Since you’re penniless, you should start working around the house from tomorrow on. Even though your body hasn’t fully recovered, you should still be able to wipe the dust off the table, right?”

     

    The blue veins on Yu Ang’s head twitched. For the first time ever, he missed the plank used to interrogate the prisoners. It was thick and wide, and the head of the plank was stained black. It was a color formed by god knows how many people’s blood. It had the power to instill fear. When people saw it, their calves would weaken, wanting to kneel down to beg for mercy.

     

    Unfortunately, Bai Shiqi did not know the thoughts that went through his mind, and she was too lazy to talk any more nonsense with him, so she directly ordered: “Third Brother Deng, go and get cleaning rags and a feather duster for Old Yu. He can’t do heavy work, but light work should be okay. I don’t have money to raise idlers. Besides, the impoverished common people suffer many things in their lives. It’s impossible for Lord Yu to become so fragile from his injuries that he can’t even lift a feather duster.”

     

    Zhao Wujiu: “… …”

     

    Letting a senior official wipe off your table with a feather duster, Shiqi, only you would dare to do such a thing!

     

    Zhao Ziheng was eating melon with gusto, thinking that finally the person who suffered under the devilish hand of his good brother Bai Shiqi was not him. What a good thing.

     

    Yu Ang: “… …”

     

    This old man should copy the saying of “A loose tongue may cause a lot of trouble” a hundred times once he returns, as a way to cultivate his moral character.

     

    A penny stumps heroes. Not to mention that he was sick and poor now. He can’t even mention money for medicine or leaving Bai Shiqi’s place to live alone, he also wanted to tackle matters of the state tax, but he didn’t know where he had dropped the official seal. Regardless of whether he stayed at Lianghuai or returned to the capital, his path would still be arduous. So what was there to argue about?

     

    And so, he turned into a mute once again, and peace came into the living room.

     

    Bai Shiqi gestured for Old Third Deng to continue.

     

    Old Third Deng went on: “Since that unlucky official became fish fodder, news had been spreading that the Imperial Court may send another official to investigate Lianghuai’s salt road. After sinking one, it wouldn’t be a problem to sink a group, right? So everyone went into hiding and will emerge again once the officials from the capital finish their businesses. Since the brothers of the salt road are gone, the official salt stores saw their opportunity to profit and increase the price by 30% from the normal price. Many people can’t afford to eat salt anymore, and there are the old and the young back home, so they can only rush to the official salt store to vent their anger.”

     

    Bai Shiqi regretted deeply: “I came too late and couldn’t catch up with the good things, had I come in time, I would’ve gone to the store as well and smashed a few things.” People wouldn’t just start breaking things at other people’s stores for no reason. So she could understand why everyone vented their anger because of the unscrupulous and ridiculously high selling price from the official salt store.

     

    “But in the end, it’s not quite right to smash the stores. It’d be better to report it to the government first if there’s something wrong.” Once these words came out of his mouth, even Zhao Wujiu himself felt that he was being hypocritical.

     

    If the government managed the price of salt of official salt stores in Baoying County in the first place, the incident of beating, smashing, and looting wouldn’t have happened.

     

    Most of the time, the government was not reliable, so the people could only rely on their own strength. 

     

    Bai Shiqi felt that Zhao Wujiu was being old-fashioned and dull. So she said: “So the government actually can do something else aside from receiving money?” According to the governance of the country, the tax money should be used for public infrastructure construction. But the officials seemed to have no such idea. When building bridges and making new roads, the government called for donations from wealthy households. The development of private schools was also a matter of the local gentry, which meant it had nothing to do with the government.

     

    Zhao Wujiu suspected that if he argued more, Bai Shiqi might arrange a job of sweeping the courtyard for him, so he could only shut his mouth wisely.

     

    The room finally calmed down, and Bai Shiqi asked: “So what’s with the master of the Wu family being unconscious?”

     

    Old Third Deng smiled and sighed: “The master of the Wu family may be out of luck. He was only standing in front of his own store, and the private salt looters mistook him as one of the salt store’s people. It is widely spread now that he took the blame for somebody else.”

     

    Bai Shiqi: Taking the blame for somebody else may not even be real, but getting hit and suffering injuries is a real thing.

     

    After the reunion, Old Third Deng still had something to do on the dock, so he hurriedly left.

     

    The pitiful Yu Ang still did not know which of his words had offended Young Leader Bai, so he turned to Zhao Wujiu for guidance. However, the other party only said thoughtfully: “I could… somewhat understand.”

     

    Although Bai Shiqi was mischievous, looking at how much she cared about the lives of her subordinates, she must be sympathizing with the situation of the common people. Yu Ang suddenly brought up the matter of taxation, when the common people she cared about couldn’t even eat salt, obviously, she would look down at the lord official.

     

    Yu Ang was surprised: “What does Your Highness understand?”

     

    Zhao Wujiu smiled: “Since Lord Yu can’t understand, please dust off the table while thinking more about Young Leader Bai’s words.”

     

    Yu Ang: Do you think this is some kind of meditation?

     

    His words were full of riddles.

     

    ***

     

    Wu Dai had been in a coma for a few days, and his family members’ hearts grew anxious. They had invited Huang Youbi who checked his pulse and asked Zhu Shoumei to come forward for another diagnosis. From the bag he carried with him, Zhu Shoumei picked out the thickest acupuncture needle to be inserted in a certain area.

     

    Since Wu Dai was still unconscious, there was a possibility that he had a blood clot in his head.

     

    Huang Youbi was a skilled and bold person. He placed the needle neatly. It turns out the thickest needle is hollowed in the middle. After it is inserted, the blood will drip out slowly. And as the sky darkened, Wu Dai slowly opened his eyes.

     

    “You finally woke up.”

     

    Under the lighting, Wu Dai regained his consciousness. He was not able to speak clearly and could only look at Huang Youbi with a grateful gaze. Huang Youbi patted him twice over the quilt: “Recuperate well, don’t worry about anything else.” Then he fell asleep again.

     

    Wu Jing and Wu Rong heard that their father had regained consciousness. Before they could feel happy from his awakening, they saw that he was once again sleeping. They were shocked. They held onto Huang Youbi’s from both sides: “Uncle Huang, my father fainted again. Come over! Save him!”

     

    Huang Youbi checked his pulse again and announced Wu Dai’s condition with a smile: “Your father’s illness has finally stabilized, but because his body is too weak, he went to sleep again. When he wakes up, he’ll be completely fine.”

     

    The master and disciple felt hungry after being busy for half of the day. Moreover, there were also Bai Shiqi and the others. When they finally asked about the others, Wu Rong immediately felt ashamed. He was so anxious about his father’s illness and had thrown aside his responsibility to the housekeeper. 

     

    The housekeeper was called in a hurry, and only then did Huang Youbi know that Bai Shiqi and the others had gone outside to find a place to rest, and they had left a contact address.

     

    Wu Rong was extremely ashamed: “I… I was so focused on my father’s illness…” He had even forgotten about the guests, and had let them hanging in the side hall for hours.”

     

    Wu Jing complained about her elder brother: “Brother, no matter how anxious you were, you shouldn’t have neglected the guests.” She poured tea for Huang Youbi and his disciple. When it was Zhu Shoumei’s turn to receive the tea, she smiled amiably at him and lowered her head slightly.

     

    It was a pity that her eyes had become red and swollen recently. It could still be considered pleasing to the eyes when she cried, however, not so much when she smiled. As such, her smile seemed unfriendly in Zhu Shoumei’s eyes. He hurriedly stepped a few steps back, took the tea she had poured, and thanked her again and again: “Sorry for the inconvenience, Young Lady Wu!”

     

    The master and disciple stayed in Wu’s house all night until Wu Dai was out of danger, then they insisted on finding the place where Bai Shiqi and the others had been staying.

     

    Wu Rong could not keep them any longer, so he sent a sedan chair for them.

     


     

    Translator’s note:

    Lianghuai (两淮)  refers to most areas of Huai River on the north of Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province.

     


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    Wook

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