Cry of the Midnight Jackdaw - Chapter 6
When Xiao Zuo went out the door, he lifted his right leg and stepped over that high door sill, got dazzled by the high sun outside the door, and immediately, a wave of dizziness made him stagger.
He barely propped himself and stood steady, then senselessly climbed into the sedan chair, and closed his eyes like he had been drained of strength.
As a monarch of a country, he was unable to protect a country’s citizens, allowing frequent chaos of war, losing their homes; As the owner of a family, he was unable to protect a palace of maids, [having them] live on in shame, and be reduced to prostitutes. Xiao Zuo felt that this brief life of his was like floating duckweed, with no roots to be tied down to, going along with the flow, harming others, and harming oneself.
Zi Wan had taken care of him since he was young, and to him, she was not merely a maid, but more of a friend that they shared life and death with. No matter what, he could not just helplessly watch her be reduced to entering the brothel. Xiao Zuo knocked on the door plank, and called out to the driver, “To the Third Entertainment House.”
Ever since he was born, he was coddled in the palace, and when he occasionally went out of the palace, it was to go to the hunting grounds to hunt, or pray to ancestors during New Years. Xiao Zuo was at this age and yet never went to this kind of debaucherous area such as the brothels- he slightly hesitantly stopped at the entrance for a while, but still went inside.
Just as he stepped through the doors, he was met with a few gorgeously dressed ladies with fragrances that greeted the nose inside. It was late autumn, yet they still boldly dressed with silk dresses, only covering with a transparent outer garment on the outside, pulling at him while thinly-dressed, “Young sir, over here.”
Probably seeing that he appeared handsome and was also the look of a shy fledgling, those ladies by the entrance immediately all came around, pulling at his hand, unwilling to let go.
Xiao Zuo alone faced four, five young ladies, and seemed a bit inadequate. He pulled his hand out in a fluster, then asked, “May I ask if your procuress is here today?”
Once those young ladies heard this, they all knitted their eyebrows, and said how disappointing one after another. One of them brushed their clothes, and slowly asked, “What business does the young sir have with Mother?”
“Just lead me there.” Xiao Zuo glanced at their slightly irritated expressions, and suddenly was fortunate to understand, and took out a few gold leaves, then placed them in that lady’s hands. That lady lifted her head up to look at him, did not say anything anymore, then got up and walked inside, “Follow me.”
That lady led Xiao Zuo up the building, and knocked on the door of a room, saying, “Mother, there is a wealthy sir looking for you.” Very soon, an aged madam applied with thick makeup poked her head out and looked at Xiao Zuo, then said, “Come in.”
“Procuress, I hear that the courts have sent a group of government prostitutes here, is that true?”
The procuress doubtfully looked at him, then lowered her head to stroke the gold bracelet on her fair arm, “Where has the sir heard of such?”
Xiao Zuo knew that in between her words, it complained that he did not give enough money, and thus also took down the jade pendant he was wearing, and placed it in her hands. Once that procuress got the jade pendant, she carefully looked at it for a while, placed it inside her clothes, and with her voice filled with some smiles, “There certainly has been such thing, what does the sir want to know?”
“Is there a lady by the name of Zi Wan in their midst?” Xiao Zuo paused, “Not too tall, with a mole in between the brows.”
“Let me think.” The procuress knitted her brows and gave it some thought for a moment, then said, “Oh, there is one. That lady is quite fierce, not willing to take in customers at all, and tried seeking death for a few times. She is now shut in the firewood room.” The procuress pursed her lips. “If Sir wants to redeem her, this old one will persuade you to let that idea go. Ones who are registered as governments prostitutes are not ordinary, they are members of slavery destined by Heaven, it cannot be changed anymore.”
“Then can you accommodate me, and allow me to see her?”
The procuress weighed the gold leaves in her hands, then nodded her head, “Follow me.”
The two then went downstairs, passed through the main hall clamouring with sounds of people, then twisted and turned and entered a corner piled full with random items with dust all around.
The procuress stopped walking, then pushed open a wooden door squeezed in between some items. Xiao Zuo’s heart was seized tightly- the rays of light in the room were dim, a wave of humid, stale air came right to the face, mixed with the scent of blood, making people gag immediately. He barely made out an outline of a figure curled up into a ball in the corner, and heard the procuress say, “Hurry up, don’t speak for too long. I will be waiting at the door for you.”
Xiao Zuo nodded his head just as he wished, received the torch the procuress handed over, and found an oil lamp on the table and lit it. From the dim yellow light of the lantern, he finally saw how that person looked clearly.
She was still wearing that purple-red sheer dress from the palace, but at this time, it was stuck with specks of filth and blood, and was long beyond recognition. The hair was all a mess and undone, scattering around the head, bunched up together in locks and locks. That person buried their head between the knees, the legs were shackled with iron chains, while both hands tied behind the back with rough hemp rope.
Xiao Zuo felt a wave of heat surging up towards the eyes. He sniffled, and lowered down his voice to a very soft level and asked, “Zi Wan?” That person did not move one bit. He held in his breath, and very carefully fixed the hair blocking her face, revealing that mole in the middle of her brows.
Xiao Zuo’s arm stiffened briefly. He endured and suppressed the urge of wanting to hug her and cry out loud, and called out again with a shaking voice.
That person still did not respond. Xiao Zuo fixed his expression, and thought, perhaps Zi Wan had fainted. He forcefully held in the slight whimper just about to overfill his throat, then pushed open the door and walked out.
“Done?” The procuress lifted her head up and glanced at him.
“En.” Xiao Zuo’s forehead hung with a few hairs, covering over just about all the corners of his eyes that reddened. He took out a jade pendant from his sleeves again, and placed it before the procuress’ eyes, “This jade is Lan Tian jade from the northeast. It is the utmost rarest. You…… you help me take care of Zi Wan, is that alright?”
Once the procuress saw that jade pendant, she could not conceal the joy in her features, and hurriedly agreed. She held that jade pendant in her hands like it was a treasure, and turned it over to look, then happily spoke up.
“Rest at ease, Sir, I will definitely treat her like my own daughter and take care of her well.”
The ducal residence’s horse carriage was still stopped at the entrance of the alleyway. Xiao Zuo dejectedly staggered the entire way like he had been drunk, and used both hands and feet to climb into the carriage, then sunk into the cushion. The heart seemed like it had been burned by a great big fire, with no inch of grass left alive, and all that entered his eyes were bleak ashes.
“Duke, you’ve finally come back.” Qing Xing held a cloak while waiting at the entrance of the ducal residence. Seeing that Xiao Zuo came down from the carriage, she hurriedly came up to help him put it on, “It is already autumn, there is much dew in the nights of the capital, careful not to get cold.” Xiao Zuo seemed like he did not hear it, and went inside on his own. He entered the bedchambers with floating footsteps, and turned his hand to shut the doors.
After Qing Xing called out from outside and did not hear a response, she no longer called out. Xiao Zuo heard her footsteps gradually going far off, and his back leaned against the wall, sliding down. He took out that embroidered pouch from his chest with trembling hands, and muttered to himself while slightly sobbing.
“Queen Mother, this son is powerless, unable to protect those big like Liang, unable to protect those small like Zi Wan. In this world right now, there is nothing this son yearns for. On that day the country fell, this son should have buried himself along with the country, but it is not too late now. Once this son sees Mother, then I will ask for forgiveness from Mother, and ask for forgiveness from Liang’s citizens.”