Chapter 3: Opening the Door (1)
The sky was slightly bright mixed with the hues of darkness and before the crowing of the chicken, Chen Ping had already gotten up.
The thin blanket really could not contain the heat and Chen Ping…
When he was a kiln apprentice, albeit never truly one, he put himself in the habit of waking up early and going to bed late. After taking a deep breath, Chen Ping stretched his back and walked out of the courtyard.
Turning his head, he saw a slim and delicate figure with back bent while carrying a bucket of water using both hands as she pushed open the gate open with her shoulder.
It was the servant girl.
She should be fetching water from the iron well in Apricot Flower Lane right about now.
At the easternmost city gate, there was a person in charge of the town’s business trip and night watch. Normally, he’d receive and transfer the letters from the outside.
Next, Chen Ping would deliver those letters to the people of the town and he’d be rewarded one copper taels per letter. This was the road he’d take to get through life no matter how difficult it may be.
It was enough.
His life was enough.
After raising his head up the sky for the second time in February, he thought about his sad, solemn life.
In Song Jixin’s words, he was born poor. Even if for some god miraculous fortune that he is able to enter a good house, he, Chen Ping, would not be able to stay.
Over the past two days, Song Jixin said that the spring cold froze and killed the youth, but Chen Ping did not understand it at all. As for surviving the yearly winter, it’d grow even colder in spring.
Chen Ping experienced it personally.
Song Jixin said it was the spring cold reversal—powerful as a horse lancer on the battlefield. Many people would die a horrid death under the spring cold reversal.
The town was not surrounded by walls. After all, mentions of bandits and thieves were rare, if ever they came. Rather, only a city gate and rows of old fences stood sloppily upright.
When Chen Ping jogged past Apricot Flower Lane, he saw many women and children gathered around the iron well.
After passing another street, Chen Ping heard a familiar sound not too far away. Toward the direction of the sound, there stood a school opened by those old giant families. The teacher there was a foreigner. When Chen Ping was young, he’d often peek through the windows and stick his ears in to listen. Though the teacher was strict, he never once stopped the children from their pursuit of learning, Chen Ping included.
Later on, Chen Ping went to the dragon kiln outside the town to be an apprentice. He never went to school again.
Further on, Chen Ping passed a stone archway. Because the archway was built with twelve stone pillars, the common locals liked to call it ‘Crab Archway’. The actual name of the archway was different from what Liu Yang said, a country bumpkin like Chen Ping.
Liu Yang envied the craftsmanship and inadvertently called the archway a crab. Chen Ping laughed and shook his head. The archway existed for a hundred years at most; there was no reason to call it a crappy name.
Liu Yang, envious, asked Song Jixin, the illegitimate son of a rich man, a question, “How big is the hat of a scholar? Is it bigger than the iron well?”
It caused Song Jixin to blush blue.
At this moment, Chen Ping ran past a circle-like dodecahedron. Each side had four big inscriptions cemented written somewhat strangely. The words said were: “Not To Be Forgiven”, “Naturally”, “Don’t Beg”, and “Rushing the Bull With the Wind”.
According to Song Jixin, all the inscriptions but one had all been altered. Of course, even if a simple youth like him wished to get to the bottom of it, it’d all be in vain. He did not even know the name of the country that was on the tip of his tongue.
Not far away from the memorial archway, he saw a luxuriant old locust tree. Under the locust tree was a tree trunk moved by someone. After a few chops, there were two pieces of limestone at the bottom of the trunk.
Every summer, the townspeople would enjoy the cool air. The fortunate ones—the wealthy ones to be exact, their elders would fish out baskets of cold fruits from the well, and after their children’s children had eaten their fill, they’d form gangs and play in the shade.
Chen Ping would often trek up the mountains and dive into the water.
He ran to the gate near the fence and stopped in front of the solitary yellow mud house.
There weren’t many outsiders living in the small town, and logically speaking, since the official kiln had long burnt down, there should be no new faces.
When Old Man Yao was still alive—there was once a time he was caught drunk as he said to his disciples, Chen Ping and Liu Xianyang, “We are the soul heart in the kiln business. We make kilns to His Majesty the Emperor and Her Majesty the Empress. No matter how rich the commons are, no matter how powerful the officials are, if they dare touch the kiln, they’ll be beheaded.”
That day, Old Man Yao had a different fortitude of spirit.