Chapter 1 – Opening the Coffin to Paint Out Bones
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Qizhen year 20th, Beiliang country, Jinjiang city.
One day in January, the fickle weather made the once clear bright sky abruptly turn into heavy downpour with flashes of lightning and rolls of thunder. The slippery narrow road built from limestones seemed to be covered by a layer of silver water.
Ji Yunshu held the umbrella in one hand, while carrying a delicately crafted sandalwood box in the other. She walked like this the whole way from the Ji family home to Zhou Mansion’s entrance.
On the first month of the Lunar Year, every house was filled with joy. However, at Zhou Mansion, only white satin and several white lanterns were hung in front of the entrance.
It just happened yesterday. The Zhou family’s young miss suddenly got into an accident and died!
Ji Yunshu readjusted her umbrella and brushed the rainwater off of her shoulder, before carefully examining the sandalwood box she held under her arm. This box was her precious tool to make a living. She absolutely cannot let it get even slightly wet!
If it wasn’t for the county magistrate requesting her service, she really didn’t want to go. To have to work at the beginning of the year was a really unlucky sign.
“Teacher, you’re finally here.”
The mansion’s pageboy ran towards her. Then he held onto his waist while panting as he anxiously called out. It didn’t come as a surprise that he called her “Teacher” instead of “Miss” since she was dressed as a man in very simple yet elegant clothes.
Ji Yunshu nodded. She followed the pageboy to the mourning hall situated in the rear court. All the servants in the mansion were kneeling on the ground with their heads lowered. Everyone was crying and wiping their tears.
Inside the mourning hall, Lord Zhou wore a purple and black satin gown, his hair rolled in a high topknot. His expression was grave, accentuated by his lips, which were pressed until they were as thin as a thread. His bloodshot eyes were marked with signs of tiredness.
Next to him, Madame Zhou was crying, but her sobs could not be heard. She was in so much pain and grief that death seemed like a deliverance to her. Yesterday, when she learned of her daughter’s sudden death, she had fainted on the scene. Right now, she still hadn’t gotten over the shock and appeared to be supported by a few servant girls, so she wouldn’t fall on the floor again. In her former days, Ji Yunshu was used to seeing this kind of scene when she did her job.
Lord Zhou noticed Ji Yunshu’s arrival. He glanced at his wife and signalled her to retreat to the side.
“Teacher Ji, I’ll trouble you. When my daughter was alive, she loved wearing pink the most and liked grooming and dressing herself well. When she was free, she would go to the garden to admire the plum blossoms. Due to her weak body, she didn’t go out often, but yesterday… She fell down from the attic and smashed her head on the fake mountain. Her face…”
“Lord Zhou, rest assured. I, this humble one, understands.”
Ji Yunshu responded. Then, she put down the sandalwood box and opened the lid. Inside the box, there was many handcrafted and elaborate painting tools. The box had three layers. The first layer contained seven to eight small brushes with silver ridges engraved with a luan bird and clouds. The second layer was shaped to have numerous indented slots that served to mix paint with water. The last and third layer of the box contained 48 different paint colors in various basic spectrums. The box itself was a piece of art, but the inside was fully-equipped for the needs of the task.
Several maidservants kept glancing curiously inside the box. They had never seen this kind of painting supply before. A pageboy came back with a brocade silk which he spread out on the table, so Ji Yunshu could draw next to the coffin.
Within the coffin, one could see the Zhou Family’s young miss’ face festering from the numerous places where her flesh was split opened. White bones could be seen protruding out of her cheeks. While her eyes had long burst out of their sockets with one hanging out below and the other eyeball pushed upwards. Her nose bridge was also completely fractured. Despite that, the fall didn’t cause any damage to her lips or teeth. These descriptions matched the appearance of a person who fell from an elevated place. With that kind of appearance, who could look at her corpse without feeling nauseous?
Ji Yunshu looked once more at the hair rolled in a bun and the corpse’s clothing. The Young Miss was dressed in a high-quality and beautifully embroidered pink clothes. They were neat and tidy. Gold and silver head ornaments were inserted into her black hair, forming a harmonious image.
This Zhou family definitely deserved to be called a rich family. It’s no wonder that the county magistrate begged her to come over.
After Ji Yunshu carefully observed the corpse. She turned to the table and took out several paints, then picked the third brush. She traced a few lines in black ink on the brocade silk. It didn’t take long for a shape to take form under her brush. After the basic outline was drawn, she slowly outlined the details, then colored the drawing. Afterwards, she reassessed her painting. The surrounding people became stupefied at the sight of the image she painted.
There was a rumor about a great painting master from Jinjiang city that worked for the yamen as a yamen runner. That person was rumored to specialize in recreating the portrait of dead people, regardless of whether the corpse was badly mangled, burned or decomposed beyond recognition, even a portrait could be drawn out from a pile of bones. With a pair of skillful hands and a sandalwood box, that person could bring miracles to life.
After an hour and 30 minutes, Ji Yunshu put away her brush and patted off the dust on her sleeve.
Click here for more information  A yamen runner is the lowest position for menial labor/servant in a yamen. They are separates into different tasks and ranks. The color of their uniform differ following their tasks.They are usually employed for various odd-jobs from sedan bearers, door guards, secretary to policemen and jailers. The common point is they work in a yamen. In other words, they are the government’s servants. Of course, since Ji Yunshu helps the county magistrate solved more cases and identified most of the unidentified corpses, she got special treatment and isn’t consider as a normal yamen runner.