There were 3 towns in Qing River County, and the county government was located in the biggest one among them – Qing River Town.
20 years ago, Shen ZhiMo* the county magistrate had his son when he was in old age. Now his only son was dead, and that made him exhausted physically and mentally. It looked like the lamp was using up its last oil. The one last motivation that kept him going was to avenge his son.
Sitting in his courtroom with a messy bun on his head, he gazed at Xing Li for a while, and asked weakly: “A painter?”
“An insane painter.”Xing Li said, “In his belongings, we have found talismans, paper, and brushes used for painting. The honorable magistrate must know that these wandering painters are low-class citizens, many of them are criminals. Your inferior officer has done his investigation in Gai County. I analyzed the information, and pointed out his sword, so he admitted his crime.”
Painter is a kind of occupation. Dao is formless, but everything has its own spirit. Some people tried to form these spirits by fixing them on calligraphy and paintings.
The calligraphy here meant talismans. Most priests knew the technique of creating and using talismans, and the greatest master among them was called the talisman saint. There were currently 2 saints in the world, the other one was the sword saint.
However, paintings… are just paintings. Some people with lesser Taoist power could steal a little bit of the spirits from the world, and seal them into paintings using ink, pigments and brush. Such paintings do have magical effects, but painters are not respected like the priests were. In the eyes of knowledgeable people, painters were the same as those swindlers who sold “life-saving golden pills” on street.
Skilled painters could sometimes create a “godlike artwork”- like the painting of pines and cranes behind the county magistrate. Hanging it in the courtroom made him relaxed, maybe even extended his life.
However, by the time of the current dynasty, which had lasted for more than 400 years, the methods of painting had started to die out – after all, painters are not protected by their sect like the priests and swordsmen were.
Now fish and dragons jumbled together in the field of painting. Real painters were rarely seen, and the rest were just swindlers how fed on foolish common people.
My son was killed by such an inferior painter?
Looking at his sad face, Xing Li added to his words: “He was young, and had made some progress in his Taoist practice, but having committed such horrible crimes, he won’t be forgiven. I hope my old magistrate could recover from his sorrow soon.”
After quite a while, the county magistrate breathed out, and said: “The court won’t open tomorrow.”
Xing Li was stunned for a moment, and then he understood it.
“Sure.”He said, “He will try to escape from the prison tonight. Does our magistrate want to see him before that?”
The unclear eyes of Shen ZhiMo moved slightly, and then he put his hands in his sleeves. “You have followed me from Yun Province to Qing River, and LiHeng*, he had been so close to you since his childhood. I trust you.”He said.
His answer was just like how Xing Li expected. The old man may want to see the murderer, but he was afraid his fury would kill himself when he see Li YunXin.
Xing Li bid farewell, turned around, but after he took a few steps, Shen ZhiMo talked again: “Hunter Xin said it was a monster.”
Xing li turned around and answered seriously: “I think he might be scared too much and couldn’t express it clearly. Such a cannibalism is not different from monsters and animals.”
After a pause, he breathed deeply and continued: “LiHeng always called me Brother Xing, and your inferior officer also… always treated him like my own brother. Even if you didn’t tell me to, I would risk my life to avenge him. Fortunately, justice is delivered by the heaven, today… today…”
He started to choke, so he breathed deeply again to restrain his emotions, and apologized: “Your inferior officer is sorry for losing his temper, my magistrate…”
“Go, just go.”with tears flowing down on his face, Shen ZhiMo waved his hand, and said: “Don’t let him die so easily!”
Xing Li walked out of the courtroom, and breathed out. A moment ago he looked so sad that he couldn’t control his emotions, but now all those sorrows had disappeared from his face.
His magistrate was too old.
The words of the young man…Xing Li believed them, because he had seen it.
Light came into the cell from the roof. The prison must be old and in disrepair. Lying on the moisture straws, Li YunXin was thinking about what to do next.
He had never regarded himself as a painter. Actually he was always pretty curious about the occupation.
He woke up, or we can say, was born in a mountain village in Ding Province. The mountains there were not so green, and the water there was not so clear, even the soil was not so rich. It was just another common village in the Great Qing Empire*.
His parents were really nice and smart. Li YunXin thought they must be hermits who had seen through the red dust (the secular world) , and the thing his father taught him when he was 4, 5 years old proved that.
It was on that day, he knew that there were spells in the world.
One day they had ran out of salt for cooking, and it was very far from their place to the market in the county. Thus his father took out a piece of paper and painted a bowl on it. Then he dipped his brush slightly in the rest of their salt, and stroked in the bowl. Finally, he picked the paper up and shook it in the air.
As he did this, pure salt fell from the paper.
Maybe the young father just did this to entertain his child. The moonlight flower tree in their yard was blooming under the light of setting sun.
The father knew his son was special, so he started to teach him the technique, and told him people who mastered it were called painters.
“They put everything in their paintings, even heaven and earth. From rivers to mountains, from Sumeru to a seed, the world was compressed by painters into tiny pieces of paper.”
The “painters” his father talked about may be different from normal artists, but Li YunXin was not clear about it.
The daylight from above turned gold, and then stopped leaking from the cracks. Li YunXin knew it was now evening.
He heard footsteps in the corridor. A constable walked up to the door of his cell with a tray in his hands. He looked at Li YunXin, opened the door and put the tray on the floor.
“Eat!”The constable said with a mean voice, “You are lucky that Sir Xing regards you like a important person, and didn’t treat you with only water.”
Somebody called him, so he looked at Li YunXin for one more time and went out after closing the door.
Li YunXin check the food given to him: half a steamed corn bun and half a bowl of gruel. It was actually pretty good, since those villagers couldn’t afford corn buns as a part of their daily diet.
He hesitated for a while, and took a sip of the gruel. Then he started to eat the bun slowly. After starving for a long time, he must take it slowly, or thing would get worse.
When the food he ate made him feel better, he took a look at the door. Actually he already noticed that when the constable went out – the door was not locked, maybe he forgot it.
Li YunXin gazed at the door with a complex face. He realized that something strange was happening. He didn’t know if it was a rule to open the door before delivering the meal or not, but what he knew was that the gap between the bottom of the door and the ground was enough for the meal to pass through.
What’s more, the lock was rusty. If the lock was used every time a meal was delivered, it wouldn’t be like this now，and that means that the constable unlocked the door and left it that way on purpose.
Well, now he saw what was happening here. Maybe a real 14-year-old boy won’t have a clue, but Li YunXin wasn’t one.
Officer Xing wanted a scapegoat. Li YunXin would have done the same if he was the officer – kill the prisoner when he is trying to escape, and the case will be closed, nobody will have to hunt any demon.
Figuring this out, Li YunXin felt released. That means nobody would try to stop him if he went out now and walk into the night, so…
After having his meal, Li YunXin found a comfortable place in the straws, and fell asleep.
However, those 2 constables who hid near him was not so comfortable. They waited for a while, but didn’t hear the sound of the door opening or the footsteps they expected.
“That kid didn’t see that?”
“…Maybe. He’s just a kid, after all.”
“Damn, what a silly goose.”
“Make some noise!”
The constable in black sighed, and shouted out: “Keep your eyes on the door! Let’s grab a drink together after this.”
“Go, go, go! I’ll take care of this.”
After acting and waiting for another while, they finally heard something.
They heard snores.
“Damn this silly goose……”
- Shen ZhiMo 沈知墨: The magistrate of Qing River County.
Shen: A family name
Zhi: To know
- (Shen) LiHeng立恒: The county magistrate’s son
Li: To stand
- The Great Qing Empire大庆: Qing=To congratulate
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