Chapter Thirteen The wicked prison warden
Li Yi had a high fever.
In late summer and early autumn, the daytime heat turned the prison cell into a steamer, and at night the autumn cold was so intense that the dampness and humidity entered the bones. Li Yi was never a strong person and within a few days he became feverish.
Ping An was sensible and only wiped his tears quietly at night when he thought Li Yi was asleep.
In this situation, the more one burned, the worse it was. When Ping An saw that Li Yi could not even drink water anymore, he was so anxious that he cried and screamed. He was beaten several times and even lost two teeth before the prison warden came to take a look.
The prisoners in this place were all important criminals who had not been tried or convicted yet. According to the law, they were not yet ready to die. If it were not for the safety of his job, no matter how much trouble Ping An made, the warden wouldn’t move half a point.
The guard who was ordered to investigate went behind the threshold bar and after a short while came out shaking his head, “Master Wu, it doesn’t look too good, what do you think?”
Wu Jin glared at his men; could it be that it was just a waste of time?!
He was a low-rank Luan Yiwei, not even a minor officer. If it wasn’t for the extra money from guarding prisoners and enjoying the taste of power, he would have already gone back to the yamen to sort out paperwork. Who would want to suffer here?
Not much money had been made yet, and now this unlucky guy was going to cost him money?
Wu Jin really did not want to care about Li Yi’s life, but he had to take care of him while he was on duty. He had been told by his superiors these people should keep their breath and their meeting with the King of H*ll should be delayed until a decree was issued.
The prison guard could see Wu Jin’s unhappiness and echoed it in his words, “These remnants of the previous dynasty are so spoiled. They’ve just come here a few days ago and already they can’t handle it anymore. Now they’ll die and we’re going to suffer.”
“There’s no point in talking now! We have to find a way to keep him alive!”
“Master Wu, don’t worry, just give him a couple of pills and he’ll be fine.”
“Who doesn’t know that a couple of pills will help, but what about the money? When this scoundrel came in, there was no one poorer than him. I don’t know where he came from, he even brought a eunuch with him, but who knew he wouldn’t even have a copper coin on him!”
As for the other remnants that were caught, it was true that a lean camel was bigger than a horse. In the past, people like Wu Jin wouldn’t even be allowed to touch their door. For example, the Minister of Household who was locked in the third cell was the man whom Wu Jin saw parading the streets when he’d won the position of number one scholar that year.
As for the rest of them, Wu Jin didn’t recognize them. Even if he heard the captain mention a few names, he couldn’t match the number. He didn’t need to know them as a prison warden anyway; this was a secret prison. Just watch the prisoners; to know more might not be a blessing.
Moreover, now that all these people had fallen, it was useless to know their names.
Now their households were seized and confiscated one by one. Unlike in other prisons, it was impossible for friends and relatives of the prisoners to come visit them and bring them things, so, the prison warden had no chance to accept bribes; but it was also the only reason why Wu Jin could get this job.
He was content with the fact that he had stripped these young lords and masters of their silk garments and jewelry they wore on their hands, heads and waists. All in all, it was not a bad catch.
The most unpleasant person in the whole prison was the shabby one in front of him. The clothes he was wearing when he arrived were fine, but he had no gold or jade on him. As for the little eunuch’s clothes, they were just sackcloth and pants. Not even a single copper coin could be found, how could the two of them be this poor?
Wu Jin did not know that Li Yi had escaped during his nap, so he did not have the leisure to decorate himself with gold and jade before coming out.
Wu Jin was depressed that he could find any money on Li Yi, so his eyes naturally moved on to the man.
Li Yi was now lying in the east corner of the cell, looking weak. His black hair was slightly wet and scattered over his temples. His jade cheeks burned hazy red and his eyes were tightly closed but his eyelashes were fluttering. It was a sight one could hardly look away from.
Wu Jin thought this man really deserved to be called a ‘beautiful person’; he was so sick that his skin was reduced a bit but it just made his bones more profound. Wu Jin also read a book and knew that beauty was in the bones, not in the skin; and this man’s bones were fine bamboo, not a rotten wood frame.
Never mind his romantic appearance, money, money, money. It would be great if this man could be sold. He was sickly and a bit too old, but he was also a young master of the previous dynasty and he certainly knew some calligraphy and might even be able to play a song or two, so the price would be higher.
“Master Wu, why don’t we sell this unimportant one? You’ll have some silver and make some money back.”
Wu Jin gave the guard a smack on the head, “What a stupid idea, is it up to you to decide whether he’s important or not? He’s still someone from the previous dynasty, even if he’s in bad shape. If you sell him and the captain comes to collect him, you won’t be able to replace him even with a hundred of you!”
“Aigoo!” The jailer hugged his head and shrank to the side, “Grandpa Wu, what are you thinking about? I’m talking about that little eunuch! It’s not like he’s someone significant, he was just caught along with that man.”
Wu Jin was stunned; he was right!
Although the money from selling the eunuch was not much, it would be enough to buy medicine, and there might be even some left over.
“Go get two portions of medicine, and add a quilt for the night, a torn one will do. Don’t spend a fortune on medicine either, just tell the doctor that it needs to keep him breathing, the cheaper the better.”
With a potential source of money, Wu Jin was much more refreshed as he gave orders.
The guard responded promptly and went to the cell to retrieve Ping An.
Li Yi was awakened by Ping An’s heartbreaking cries and managed to open his eyes to see the guard holding him; half of Ping An’s body was already dragged outside the cell.
Li Yi was so heavy-headed that he could barely prop himself up and when he spoke, his throat hurt unbearably.
“Leave him alone!”
Li Yi was not the emperor’s grandson for more than ten years for nothing. It was the ancient times. The difference between higher and lower classes was like the difference between heaven and earth. As Li Yi suddenly assumed a killing stance, even though the guard knew it was an empty shell, he still stopped subconsciously.
For the first time Wu Jin felt that Li Yi was a genuine prince and the emperor’s grandson, and that the imperial clan was the imperial clan after all. No matter how bad the situation was, his aura was still great.
“You are sick and have no money on you. Naturally you have to sell your companion so that there is silver to cure you.”
Wu Jin was more or less in a good mood because the beauty was pleasing to the eye, and now that he had money, he didn’t mind explaining.
Unexpectedly, hearing it, Ping An who was making a fuss, obediently stopped moving. Li Yi coughed violently, “cough… you… what would it take for you to leave him alone.”
Wu Jin made a couple sarcastic comments and told the guards to hurry up and drag the man away in exchange for money. Suddenly, one of the two guards stepped out, the same Li Liu who had reminded him of the sale.
“Master Wu, you forgot about that opportunity?” Li Liu’s ratty eyes flickered.
As soon as Li Liu mentioned it, Wu Jin instantly reacted.
Before starting his work as a warden, Wu Jin had enquired about the fact that large families did not just lump their money together in one place.
Anyone who entered the prison would be stripped of their belongings as the first step, and the second step would be to suffer from the guards, forcing the prisoner to reveal where they had hidden their money.
Among those people Wu Jin really dug up a few rich men. Whenever there was a harvest, Wu Jin ate a lot of meat and gave the guards some meat broth to keep them motivated to continue interrogating people.
The idea was not to get them killed. As for injuring or maiming them, it didn’t matter much.
It was a pity that after the last round of investigation, less than a fifth of the prisoners could still be salvaged, and most of them were already at the end of their ropes.
Wu Jin had not tortured Li Yi because he had fallen ill before it was his turn, but now that Li Liu had reminded him, he immediately remembered.
When Wu Jin told him what he meant, Li Yi thought he had misheard. He was a prisoner, a commoner who had been abolished for many years, so how could he have any hidden silver money?
He took a closer look at Wu Jin and saw that he was not joking.
Li Yi was worried; his family’s money was wiped out by the rebel army a long time ago. Later, he spent the golden leaves for Ping An’s medical treatment. There was everything in Su Wang’s palace but Li Yi had taken nothing with him when he escaped.
“What, you still can’t part with the bit of silver you hid?” Wu Jin saw that Li Yi did not open his mouth and was dissatisfied, but he still advised patiently, “You should think about it. With money, you can save your life and you can keep someone to serve you for some time, so that you can live comfortably.
The money is out there, but it’s not certain that you’ll have the life to go out and get it. What are you going to do with the money when you’ve lost your servant? Besides, your little eunuch was the one who desperately called us to find out about your illness.
If you do as you’re told and give me the silver, I’ll make sure you’re well fed, clothed and have medicine for the rest of your life. Look at the one in the east cell next to you, after giving me two hundred taels…”
The man, Wu Jin, knew how to set an example: there was a carrot and there was a stick, and it was up to these nobles who had never suffered before to choose.
He had said it all, but he still saw that Li Yi was thinking hard.
“What, you still won’t talk? It seems that you are determined to stay alone. Drag him out!” Wu Jin was also furious; it seemed that the life of his little servant was not enough to exchange for the place of the hidden treasure.
Hmph, when I sell the guy, I’ll hang up this life of yours and torture you to death, then you will be willing to speak up.
Li Yi was so angry that he wanted to burst into a series of curses, and the first one he wanted to curse was Zhao Shen. Then as he thought of the regent’s house full of treasures, he wanted to ask Wu Jin to go directly to Zhao Yuan to ask for them.
But outwardly he had to say kindly, “I have no money right now but I can make some for you.”
Wu Jin laughed for a moment, “What, you have an immortal art of gathering treasures.”
“Please give me a brush and some ink and if you take my paintings to sell, any art establishment in the capital will be willing to pay a big price for them.”
Afraid of his disbelief, Li Yi added: “Not to mention two hundred taels, if someone offers less than eight hundred taels, you can go to another place without hesitation.”
Wu Jin was astonished, but he felt that this man did not seem to be talking nonsense, “Who are you? Are your paintings so valuable?”
Li Yi had to reveal his identity, “I am the abolished Prince Yin of the previous dynasty. You are not a member of the scholarly community and most likely do not know the reputation of my paintings. I had a few paintings when I lived in the palace, but since I became a commoner, no more paintings have come out, so now you can sell them for a good price.”
It took Li Yi nearly five years to regain his painting skills after his wrists were injured by Zhao Shen, and since then he burned all his paintings as soon as they were finished and never kept them.
Wu Jin was still skeptical. Li Yi, on the other hand, had been holding on for a long time first in shock, then in distress, and now he knew he could no longer support himself.
He did not care whether Wu Jin listened it or not and directly began to list: “If you use silk for painting, the best option is plain silk provided by the imperial court. If you cannot find it, the second best option is the Wang family or the Zhong family silk from Suzhou, and if not, the Song family silk from the south will do.
If you use paper, the best option is the Mingren Hall paper from the palace, if not, the second best is Xuan’s bamboo shadow paper, if not again…”
Li Yi barely made it to this point before he simply passed out.
Ping An broke away from the dumbfounded guard and pounced over, “Young master!”
“Quick! Get him awake first.”
If the main guy was down, regardless of whether his paintings could be sold or not, the money would fly straight out the window.
The guard hurriedly went out and was back in half an hour with a bowl of medicine for Li Yi to drink.
After Li Yi had taken the medicine and fell asleep, Wu Jin asked Ping An about the paintings and felt that he could give it a try.
When Ping An finished speaking about the paintings, he remembered to go over the materials for Li Yi afterwards.
“When the young master paints, apart from silk and paper, he needs brushes and ink as well. I won’t talk about the ones from the palace either, knowing that it’s impossible for you to get them. The best is Shi Ji’s double brush and again the second best is Fei Yunxuan in Huzhou. The ink should be Xuan Ling ink, but if not, San Ji ink will do.”
Wu Jin was completely puzzled. Although he did not understand what Li Yi was talking about, he knew one thing very well: before he earned a copper coin, he would have already paid for a bowl of medicine. So it was absolutely impossible to ask him to pay for paper and brushes.
After two portions of medicine Li Yi’s fever had gone down. When he got up, what he had in front of him was a stack of linen paper prepared by the prison to record confessions. The ink on the right-hand side was a tung oil ingot ink you could get from the street for three copper coins.
As for the brush, its bristles looked like it had exploded; it looked like Li Yi did in his previous life, when he had dyed and permed his hair too much and ruined it almost to the point of going bald.
Li Yi finally understood that he’d met Zhou Bapi (1) today. Even if he was as skilled as Wu Daozi, his paintings on this straw paper would still be recognized as imitations or the most inferior type of pirated copies. How could they be sold for money?!
(1) A greedy landowner from Gao Yubao’s novel; figuratively, a personification of greed