The Longest Day in Chang’an: A Race Against Time - Chapter 85 - Haizheng (22:00-22:59) Part 4
Chapter 85: Haizheng (22:00-22:59) Part 4
At this moment, he was standing at the intersection between Anxing Fang and Chongren Fang. There was an arch bridge at this place, below which the Dragon Head Canal was flowing past. Standing at the top of the arch bridge with his hands on the handrail, he could see all the festive lanterns nearby. Since this bridge was an excellent place for enjoying the beauty of the sea of lanterns, apart from Zhang Luo, there were numerous Chang’an residents on the bridge attempting to elbow their way to the top where they could get the best view of the scenery.
In order to keep disturbance away so that he could concentrate on his duty, Zhang Luo had specially assigned three tough hombres to stand beside him, who were using wooden staffs to keep residents out of the small area around him. But there were too many of them. The whole bridge was jam-packed with people jostling each other. The three guards, unable to make much difference, had been pushed back again and again and were now merely an inch away from Zhang Luo.
Zhang Luo checked the time. According to the plan, in a quarter, all the craftsmen that he had selected himself, officials of the Ministry of Mining as well as servants wearing black overgarment would congregate at a designated spot near the Xingqing Palace and then go to the giant lantern pavilion to make preparations for the final candle-lighting. Seeing the bridge getting more and more crowded, he decided to leave ahead of schedule and expound to some details about the candle-lighting to his subordinates.
Though they had rehearsed it many times and it was very unlike that anything would go wrong, Zhang Luo believed that one could never be too cautious.
He bade his guards to walk before him and force citizens aside so that he could get through. He was just about to leave the bridge when there was a sudden ripple of exclamation through the crowd, and with that people were brought into a disturbance. Somebody seemed to be scattering Flowermoney. Zhang Luo’s eyes widened with anger. ‘Scattering Flowermoney at such a crowded place? The one who’s doing this should be arrested and then flogged to death!’
Soon, the disturbance spread from one end of the arch bridge to the top of it. Citizens on the top of the bridge were unaware of what was going on. Some of them attempted to get down to grab some Flowermoney. Some just wanted to leave the place as soon as possible. Some others were just moving with the crowd, having no idea what had happened. The whole bridge was instantly thrown into total confusion. Many people lost their balance, fell off the bridge and landed on others, crying out loud. The three guards were also separated. Zhang Luo was pinned against the top of the stone handrail decorated in high relief, his upper body beyond the edge of the handrail, alarmed yet unable to move.
He reprimanded loudly but couldn’t make any difference. Right at this moment, somebody among the crowd stretched out their hand to Zhang Luo and with that he felt somebody nimbly push him over the handrail sending him falling towards the canal below the arch bridge.
With a plump, he fell into the canal splashing water in all directions, but none of the nearby citizens noticed this accident. They were still yelling, jostling and arguing. The three guards, who observed their superior fall into water, were rather panic-stricken but not in horror or despair, since the Dragon Head Canal was not deep enough to cause anybody to drown in it. As long as they managed to get to the bank and save their superior as soon as possible, they believed that a couple of rebukes were the worst punishment they could get.
Zhang Luo himself was the only one who knew that he would never be able to make it out of the water alive. He didn’t know exactly when, but somebody had slit his throat. He could do nothing but keep sinking down, unaware of where the canal would take him. Sooner or later –maybe the next day, maybe the day after that –his body would be salvaged, and then people would found that he did not die an accidental death by drowning.
But that wouldn’t happen on this night.
“Hurry! Somebody got hurt!”
An anxious cry emanated from Jing’an Department. All nearby soldiers on duty looked in that direction and saw that a Persian was arduously guiding an injured man black all over out of the hall. That injured man was wearing a terribly worn cape made of Huohuan cloth(Fireproof material used in ancient China), face covered in soot.
The solders were very surprised. All those who were able to escape should have escaped from the hall long ago. How come there were still people in it? Besides, all people of Hu origin had been forbidden to enter this department. How come this Persian was still here?
“I… the prison… out… this man… alive…” Es said in poor Tang language, gesticulating. The soldiers understood the general meaning of his words. This guy was originally in the prison, and the door was locked, so it took him some time to get out. On his way out, he saw this man who was still alive and dragged him out in passing.
All these soldiers on duty had been drafted to this place on short notice and were totally unaware of the identities of those that had been locked up in the prison of Jin’an Department. Besides, who would specially venture into the scene of the fire and then tell such a lie? Added to this Es’ handsome looks and sincere tone, they immediately believed his story.
This injured man was wearing a fireproof cape, which suggested that he was among the first batch of people entering the hall to perform firefighting. Realizing this, all soldiers flicked a glance of admiration at Es. ‘This Persian prisoner saved a stranger while he himself was running for his life. He must have stayed in central mainland for a long time and is nurtured by our local culture of humanity and kind-heartedness.’
Two soldiers stepped out on their own account and helped Es carry the injured man, heading for the hall of the Jingzhao Office where all injured people were receiving medical treatment.
While walking, Es secretly prayed in his mind for God’s forgiveness for his lying. A while ago, Zhang Xiaojing had indeed been hit by a rafter near the parterre. Fortunately, that rafter had hit the Mada first and slightly changed its direction. Otherwise, Zhang Xiaojing would have been killed. However, the flames on the rafter had caused some terrible burns in his back, which was why those soldiers raised no further questions about his identity.
At this time, the confusion outside Jin’an Department had basically subsided. Most rescuers had arrived and were performing their respective duties. Isolation strips, emergency passages and common passages had also been properly designated. The injured man and Es were soon led to the Jingzhao Office. Some apprentice physicians were responsible for performing preliminary examination. After that, they would send the injured to different areas according to the severity of their injuries and then send for physicians to treat them.
On this night, there were too many injured people, and all those apprentice physicians were terribly busy. They had no time to scrutinize the faces of the injured and certainly had not noticed the order for arrest issued by Jingzhao Office. As a result, when an apprentice physician saw Zhang Xiaojing, he merely checked his front and back with an emotionless face, and then wrapped a strip of brown cloth around his foot, which meant that the injury was minor. As regards Es, he was given no strip of cloth.
Zhang Xiaojing was guided into the hall. All desks had been emptied out. On the ground lay dozens of wounded people at random, who were letting out groans constantly. A dozen physicians in blue robes and the same number of apprentice physicians were walking around among the patients. All of them were sweating buckets.
A physician walked over and noticed that this man lying there was rather strange. Apart from the burns in his back, he also had many fresh saber wounds in him. The physician was just about to ask about it in detail when he suddenly smelled a foul odor of urine given off by the man’s face, knitted his eyebrows in disgust and gave up the intention of asking. He roughly turned Zhang Xiaojing over letting him lie prostrate on a felt blanket, snipped open his shirt to reveal his back, poured some raw colza oil over the burns, scattered some powder made from rhizome of Chinese atractylode, and then informed him brusquely, “Leave it to dry!” After saying this, he hurriedly walked away.
Es, who was unharmed, was only given a teacup of mulse to ease his discomfort in the throat.
It would take some time for the colza oil to soak into his skin, so Zhang Xiaojing had no choice but to lie still on the felt blanket. Es looked around curiously and suddenly observed that, at a corner of the hall, there were two screens inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which happened to have made a small private space of the corner. Outside the two screens stood two guards on duty, as if some big name was lying inside, so he walked up to the corner.
Es, endowed with the ability to gain people’s trust, managed to have the guards let their guard down after merely chatting with them for a few moments. They told him that the one lying inside was a mole planted in Jing’an Department, who had to be under close surveillance. While chatting with them, Es took advantage of this opportunity and stole a glance inside through the gap between the screens, finding that there was indeed a man lying inside. He took no further action, quietly returned and described to Zhang Xiaojing the look of the man that he had seen.
“That’s Youde…” In the knowledge that the man was Xu Bin, Zhang Xiaojing heaved a sigh of relief. At least he was still alive. As regards Xu Bin’s being regarded as a mole, Zhang Xiaojing believed that Xu Bin probably had been incriminated by him. He greeted his teeth trying to pick himself up but was stopped by Es.
“Commandant, if you go there right now, they will surely find out who you really are. As chance would have it, I happen to have just had an idea…”
Es whispered something into the ear of Zhang Xiaojing and then quietly walked to another corner of the hall, where there were a bunch of servants busy making colza oil with a wooden trough. The bottom of the wooden trough was wrapped in a piece of silk, which was used to strain off the oil. Below the trough was a basin used for containing the freshly-made oil. On the side, there were also four small stoves. Water in the pots was boiling.
Since there were too many patients on this night, even hot water and this kind of most primitive medicine were in shortage.
All people were busy doing their jobs with their heads down and none of them noticed Es. He tiptoed to the corridor outside the hall, walked to a position close to the corner of the hall, softly stretched out his arms and, by dint of a corridor column and the carved railings, climbed up onto a side beam. Es fished a big bag of cloth waste out of his front inner pocket, which had been used for dressing wounds and collected by Es a few moments ago. He rolled those strips of material into a ball, stuffed a piece of glowing charcoal into it, which he had just taken from one of those small stoves, and then jumped down to the ground.
After a short while, thick black smoke wafted from the corridor into the hall. At the sight of the smoke, people in the hall, who had just survived a big fire and were still in horror, could not see the source of the smoke and instantly came to believe that the fire next door had spread over.
Taking advantage of the disturbance, Es, in pure Tang language, yelled, “Fire!” All people in the hall were thrown into confusion. Guards hurriedly ran out to the corridor with the intention to find the source of the smoke. The two guards guarding Xu Bin were also alarmed. In the knowledge that Xu Bin was still in a coma and unable to flee, they left the corner to offer help.
Es, who had been hiding nearby peeping, immediately seized this opportunity and quickly wormed his way into the space behind the two screens.
Xu Bin was still lying on a couch, his eyes closed. Es walked up to him and stooped down to whisper into his ear, “An old friend from Fuyuan entrusted me with the task of delivering a message to you.” Xu Bin’s eyeballs abruptly rolled in response to this remark.
Fuyuan was a tavern that Xu Bin and Zhang Xiaojing went to on regularly, which was known to themselves only. This remark of Es brought Xu Bin to the immediate realization that this man was sent here by Zhang Xiaojing. Es said, “The situation is dire, and it’s inconvenient for commandant to come here himself. He sent me here to ask you if there are any other lost items found in Changming Fang that are stored elsewhere.”
Xu Bin opened his eyes and looked at him in perplexity, as if not having understood. Es repeated, “Chang’an is face with the danger of imminent destruction. Where else could we get some lost items found in Changming Fang?”
Xu Bin kept silent for a few moments. Though he didn’t know who Es was, he had trust in Zhang Xiaojing.
“The evidence chamber in the left side-hall.”
“Is there another place apart from that?” Es flicked a glance at the outside and went anxious. The guards seemed to have already found the source of the thick smoke and was probably going to return soon.
After a silence longer than the last, Xu Bin replied, “Jingzhao Office…”
Eyes of Es lit up in the knowledge that there was indeed another location where proofs found in Changming Fang were kept. He persisted, “Which room of Jingzhao Office?” Xu Bin answered, “The consultation hall in the right wing.”
Jingzhao Office had jurisdiction over Wannian County and Chang’an County. Normally, it didn’t try any cases directly, but if there was a case in which either of the two county governments was unable to pass judgement, they would submit it to Jingzhao Office. As a result, in the complex of Jingzhao Office, there was a specially designated consultation hall.
There had been too many physical evidences that Jing’an Department had found in Changming Fang. Most of them had been stored in the evidence chamber, and the rest of them had been transferred to Jingzhao Office. Firstly, staff members of Jingzhao Office were on vacation and a lot of rooms were unoccupied. Secondly, by doing this, Jing’an Department could give Jingzhao Office the feeling that the two departments were dealing with this case collectively, so that they wouldn’t feel a mere figurehead.
Xu Bin was the one who had handled these bureaucratic trifles, and even Li Bi might not know the details about them.
Having got this message, Es hurriedly walked out of the screens. He had just turned around when the two guards came back. Seeing this Persian had shown up for the second time, the guards appeared suspicious. Es hastily stammered an explanation. “Fire… He can’t walk… Carry him away…”
A moment ago, when someone yelled “Fire!”, the Tang language that person used was very pure, but this Persian Buddhist monk was stuttering, so the guards had no suspicion whatsoever that he was the one who caused the confusion. They merely believed that he was here trying to save the man inside out of kind-heartedness, so they waved their hands signaling him to leave.
Es told Zhang Xiaojing the message he had got from Xu Bin. Subduing the sharp pain in his back, Zhang Xiaojing turned over and sat up. Though he was in deep worry about Xu Bin, there was nothing he could do to help him, given the current situation. ‘At least he’s still alive.’
Zhang Xiaojing didn’t know where, but Es had managed to find a dirty blue physician’s overgarment. Es helped Zhang Xiaojing put it on and then guided him towards the outside of the hall. On their way, people who saw them all believed that he was transferring a patient and nobody asked any questions.