Chapter 4 – Yang Lin’s Curse
Old Ye smacked his lips and repeatedly warned, worried, “Then… go, but you must be careful on the road. Although the world is still at peace, the road of life is filled with dangers and human hearts can be sinister. Remember, don’t take rough trails and don’t travel at night. If you arrive at a desolate and remote area, you must stay together in a group with other people…”
Old Ye endlessly prattled on for a long time. Ye Xiaotian couldn’t help but smile. “Dad, rest assured, I know. Although your son has never left home to travel to faraway places, your old self has no need to worry. Where do you think your son works at? At the Ministry of Justice’s prison!”
“What kind of people are imprisoned inside a prison? Which of them don’t have extensive experiences? From the age of three, I always accompanied you while you were on duty at the Celestial Prison. Three years ago, I took over your position as a jailer. After hanging around those ogres and demons for so long, how can I not pick up some skills, right?”
Old Ye was amused by his son. He laughed while heartily scolding, “This old man had guarded the prison all his life. With your current ability? AH! Did you practice them enough? But what you said is also correct. For a man, having a little ambition is also good. When dad was young, I also had ambition. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accomplish them.”
Ye Xiaotian asked, curious, “What were your ambitions?”
Father Ye smiled, then started to laugh in an embarrassed manner, “Dad remembers that it was during Old Jiajing’s reign. At that time, I was eating a tanghulu on the street when I suddenly caught sight of Old Jiajing Emperor going out on an inspection tour. The Emperor’s ceremonial weaponry, then that awe-inspiring bellow…”
Ye Xiaotian couldn’t help but laugh, “Dad, it can’t’ be that after you saw such a scene, you immediately let out a big sigh and said something like ‘This is what we called a man of character’, right?”
Old Ye also laughed then stared at his son, “Nonsense! Aren’t you afraid of being beheaded if those kind of words are overheard? Besides, how could your old man have such an ambition?”
He sighed, and stroked his thigh before sighing again as he fondly recalled his memories, “At that time, Dad was standing on the side of the road, watching the Emperor’s majestic attire as he passed in front of me with eight tall white horses, four awe-inspiring lions and, above all, two fierce tigers.”
“I was extremely envious and thought to myself, when would I also be able to raise tigers and be so impressive when I go outside? I was bewitched by the idea of owning a tiger. Then, in an instant, so many years have gone by. I’m already at this age but still haven’t realized this desire…”
He barely said up to that point when a roar blasted through the air from the main room of the house, “Are you done yet? Your lecture should be over by now, so what are you still acting angry for and refuse to eat? Won’t your sons be laughing at you for being so childish? Old fart, get out here! If you don’t want to eat, then this old lady won’t cook for you later!”
Old Ye’s expression immediately changed when he heard the voice, and he replied in a great hurry, “Coming! Coming! I’m coming!”
Ye Xiaotian burst out in laughter, “Dad, didn’t you already realize your wish?”
At first, Old Ye was startled by the question. Shortly after, comprehension dawned upon him. He couldn’t help touch his forehead and scold Ye Xiaotian while laughing, “You smelly brat! If your mother heard that, let see how she’ll beat you up!”
Ye Xiaotian rose and walked into the main room just in time to see his big brother shuffling back and forth outside of the room. Xiaoan timidly squinted at his father’s figure, not daring to go forward. Ye Xiaotian immediately walked up to him and grabbed his big brother by the shoulder. He spoke in a warm and friendly tone, “Big Brother, come. Let’s eat together. After we’re done, I’ll come with you to pick up sister-in-law.”
Old Man Ye glared at his eldest son. His mouth opened, but when he met his wife’s glare, he thought better of it. He angrily grabbed a steamed bun and ruthlessly bit down on it. Even if he was as mighty as a tiger, he also feared the tigress in his house.
Xiaotian’s sister-in-law’s and her husband’s feelings were pretty good. However, it was undeniable that the timid and straightforward nature of her husband had created some regrets. Now that Xiaotian’s jailer position was being transferred to his older brother, would she return back to him? She felt somewhat guilty toward her brother-in-law because of his actions, so when she saw him, she looked sheepish and somewhat shy.
Ye Xiaotian was accompanying his older brother. Without a hitch, his sister-in-law returned home with his brother. Satisfied, he walked back home with them to discuss the matter of him going on a journey. Although Ye Dou-shi was fierce when faced with Old Man Ye, she loved to dote on her sons. She was also someone who had never left the capital. The thought of her son leaving for a journey far away from home and the possibility of him suffering hardships made her teary-eyed.
As a result, Ye Xiaotian had no choice but to console his mother first. He made arrangements to discuss everything with his father and brother tomorrow instead. Yang Lin had just eaten his last meal tonight, so they won’t carry out his execution tonight. However, since his execution was early in the morning, there wasn’t enough time for him to slowly enjoy his last meal.
At dawn, he would be escorted in a prisoner cart pulled by an old ox, along with the other death row prisoners and displayed before the public’s eyes until they reached the execution ground at around noon. Therefore, Ye Xiaotian had to hurry to the Celestial Prison early in the morning if he wanted to obtain Yang Lin’s testament.
At dawn the next day, the Ye family’s father and sons left the house. Each of them had a different task. Father Ye would go the county yamen to check with the official there if his son could apply for a travel permit. In fact, in Wanli times, the travel restrictions for common people weren’t as severe as it was during the early Ming Dynasty. However, having a travel permit in one’s possession made going throughout checkpoints and staying in inns much less troublesome. As for Ye Xiaotian and Ye Xiaoan, both brothers would directly go to the Ministry of Justice’s prison in order to hand the job position over at once.
Early in the morning, there weren’t many people on the street apart from workers transporting stools and the farmers going into the city with their vegetables cart. Rarely would one find vehicles slowly circulating on the street of Peking…
This kind of scene, Ye Xiaotian was used to seeing every day. However, today, when he looked at such a familiar scene, it endeared itself even more to him because he knew that it would take a very long time before he could possibly see such a wistful scene again. In his mind, Jingzhou prefecture in Huguang province, was a place that existed at the other end of the world!
In a prison cell inside Black Word, Prison District One, Yang Lin was sitting in a corner, holding his knees. He was foolishly hoping that there was a scuffle above his head to help him see better as he frequently deduced his fortune using the I Ching. His palm was stroking the several shiny little pebbles that lay unmoving on the ground next to his feet.
Ye Xiaotian walked to the front of the prison cell and quietly looked at Yang Lin for a long moment before he called out, “Lord Yang!”
Yang Lin heard his name and slowly raised his head. His expression was the very picture of bewilderment as he looked toward Xiaotian. But even from a distance, his gaze was focused and didn’t leave our young prison chief. Ye Xiaotian frowned and lightly stressed his words, “Lord Yang, about that request of yours, I’ll do it!”
With only these few words, like withered grass reviving under rainwater, Yang Lin’s haggard body abruptly radiated some kind of indescribable vigor as he launched himself toward the prison cell’s fence. He excitedly asked, “You’ll do it? You will really do it?”
Ye Xiaotian nodded. He put down a small box he was carrying and spoke, “There is paper, writing brush and an ink-stone inside. Please hurry because in a moment someone will bring you… onto the road.”
The last sentence seemed somewhat cruel when said, but right then wasn’t the time to be tactful. The yamen runners were already waiting to bring Yang Lin to the execution ground. Giving due consideration to Ye Xiaotian’s face, they refrained from doing so right away. To help them wait patiently outside, Ye Xiaotian had also greased their palms with a bit of compensation.
Yang Lin hurriedly nodded before his old hands, shaking, opened the small box. He took out the brush, paper and ink-stone that was given by the prison. He spread the paper out on the floor, picked the brush and dipped it into the ink. His eyes were focused, but soon tears trickled down like pouring rain.
Ye Xiaotian didn’t hurry him again. He wasn’t unreasonable. If at this time he urged Yang Lin, it would have been extremely cruel of him. Fortunately, Yang Lin also knew that his time was running out. He didn’t delay any longer and rapidly wrote his last will while his tears dried, carving tracks across his face.
His writing was like moving clouds and flowing water. When he was done, he carefully blew dry his testament that was smudged at places with his tears, then carefully folded it. When he was done, he turned back toward the fence and told Ye Xiaotian, “I already wrote in details the address where the letter should be delivered to on the envelope. The promised reward is also written inside the letter.”
Ye Xiaotian nodded, and put away the letter inside his clothes, near his chest. Finally he picked up the small box and said to Yang Lin, “Goodbye!”
“Wait a moment!”
Yang Lin suddenly extended his hand and grabbed Ye Xiaotian’s wrist. His expression revealed an inkling of viciousness.
Ye Xiaotian frowned before asking, “Lord Yang, do you need anything else?”
Yang Lin unexpectedly bit his own fingers and used his own blood to draw three rows of strange curved patterns on Xiaotian’s wrist while mumbling in some kind of language incomprehensible to Ye Xiaotian.
The young prison chief didn’t struggle. He was bewildered as he looked at Yang Lin smearing bloody inscriptions on him while muttering weird sounds. He waited until the old man was done to inquire about his suspicions, “I’m just delivering a letter. Is it necessary to be this cautious? May I ask Lord Yang what kind of arcane blessing did you just bestow upon me?”
Yang Ling let out a long breath, and his hollowed cheeks stretched into a ghost of a smile, “Who said this was an arcane blessing? This is a type of curse technique from the southern borders that I learned. It uses blood as a medium and life as fuel, and one’s last wish as a guide. You can only apply this curse once in your life!”
Ye Xiaotian was shocked from what he heard, he asked, “A curse? And here I thought that what you were writing on my wrist was a protective charm. Who do you want to curse?”
Yang Lin gave him a supercilious look before replying, “I drew it on you, so naturally I’m cursing you!”
Ye Xiaotian was truly dumbfounded by the reply. His brain blanked for a while before he suddenly jolted and angrily shouted, “You’re cursing me?! I have no grievance or hatred with you! I even agreed to travel a thousand kilometers to deliver your letter, but you went as far as to curse me?!”
Yang Lin coldly smiled in reply, “Rest assured. As long as you abide by your promise, this curse won’t activate. However if you fail to honor your words and didn’t deliver my testament…”
Yang Lin’s voice great more sinister as he continued, “Regardless of your intentions, if you have not complete my request as agreed, this curse could immediately activate. From then on, you will lead a poverty-stricken life; everything you planned will deviate; a family wrenched apart and you will died without being able to close your eyes!”
As the darkness of the night still lingered, the air inside the Celestial Prison turned gloomy and cold, a very peculiar strangeness could be felt as Yang Lin’s sinister voice resounded. It was as if a freezing draft blew and seeped deep inside the people’s heart.
Yet, Ye Xiaotian couldn’t stifle his laugh, “All right, all right! My Lord Yang, death is near at hand and you still believe in those kind of superstitious things. Last time when you told my fortune by feeling my bones, you told me that my frame was extremely sturdy and won’t need to fear any gods or demons. Can your curse even work on me?”
Yang Lin suddenly realized that and slapped his forehead, “That’s right! This old man almost forgot about that matter! The curse won’t work on you, the curse won’t work on you… urgh… I’ll just modify the curse. I curse you… curse that anyone who followed you will be struck with bad luck!”
Ye Xiaotian was baffled as he asked, “If other people had bad luck, why would it matter to me?”
Yang Lin mischievously sneered, “Regardless on how it works, don’t you need to pay respect to a senior or find a supporter? If you’re a scholar, your chief examiner will have bad luck. If you’re a merchant, your sponsor will run out of luck. If you want to be an official, your supporters will meet with misfortunes. Whoever followed you, they’ll be hit with bad luck. With this, do you still think you’re lucky?”
Ye Xiaotian was at a loss for words. It took quite a while before he could cordially spoke to Yang Lin, “Lord Yang!”
“Although you and I are neither relatives nor friends, when you came here three years ago, I had also just started as a jailer at that time. It could be said we knew each other for a long time, but now you wanted to stab me in the back. It made my heart fill with unease.”
Yang Ling emotionally stated, “Days can go by as before one’s heart is revealed. This old man has been imprisoned for three years, none of my old friends could be seen and there was no traces from my close relatives. At the end of the day, there’s only you who thought about me. This old man could also be comfort a bit.”
Ye Xiaotian lightly gripped his hand and said emotionally, “I really hope that next year on the same day, I’ll celebrate your death anniversary, you old bastard… humph!”
 Jiajing’s reign is between 1521 to 1567. For more informations on Jiajing Emperor, click here.
 Tanghulu are candied fruits on skewer. Traditionally, they coated with sugar a fruit called Chinese hawthorn, but nowadays, all kind of fruits, even tomatoes, are skewered and candied. Here’s a picture of it and for more informations, click here.