Volume 7, Chapter 4: Visit

Warning: insects


Baryou. Gaoshun’s son. Basen’s older brother.

He’s a member of the Ma Clan known for producing many warriors, but the person himself had more talent in the literary side of the literary and military arts pairing— or rather, he possessed no talent in the military arts.

And so, that was why Basen, his younger brother, became Jinshi’s assistant.

Baryou will be completing office work as Jinshi’s aide for the time being, while Jinshi himself goes on an expedition.

“Will Baryou be okay?”

“Yes. I think he’ll be okay.”

Rocking around in a carriage for half a day. To finish the task as quickly as possible, they changed horses at every town, and alternated coachmen. Nonetheless, escorts included, they had around ten subordinates with them.

An expedition group of this size was a little small for someone of Jinshi’s status, however expanding the entourage takes time. In order to swiftly inspect the site, he forced the others to go along with his whims.

Thus, he forgave them for the selfishness with the members. Currently, the one next to him wasn’t Basen, but Gaoshun. Basen was escorting on horseback.

No offence to Basen, but Gaoshun was still better as Jinshi’s advisor. He borrowed him from his majesty.

There was revenge for his majesty using Gaoshun to ease his workload included though.

“That guy has been physically weak since long ago. I heard that he was recuperating at home due to his illness, though,” Jinshi said.

And yet, it was Jinshi who made an unreasonable request and brought him along, but he felt awkward about the deterioration of his condition once again.

“You can call it an illness, but it’s the usual,” Gaoshun said.

“The usual?”

“Yes. This time, he didn’t hit it off with his boss from the same department, and opened a hole in his stomach. He vomited a torrent of blood on his boss’ table, was carried to the medical office and promptly retired from his office. This was around three months ago?”

He wasn’t fine at all. He’s been bad at socialising since a long time ago. Jinshi recalled how that guy got loose bowels whenever he interacted with people he couldn’t get along with.

As if he read Jinshi’s look of unease, Gaoshun made a comment. “My daughter is there to assist him. Now that her baby has gotten quite big, she said she wanted to return to work.”

“Then… it should be, okay?”

Gaoshun’s daughter. Basen and Baryou’s elder sister. She already has two children, and greatly resembles Gaoshun’s wife, a strong-willed woman. Wouldn’t Baryou’s stress get worse, he couldn’t help but think.

“Take a look. We have arrived.” Gaoshun looked out the carriage window.

Jinshi also gazed out. He saw an isolated village amidst a tranquil rural landscape. Amongst the rows of simple shacks, he could see a large estate rising up from behind them. “There?” 

“Yes. Shall we head straight for the village chief’s residence?” 

“No, before that. Can Rihaku come along?”

Rihaku. The military official who somehow had the aura of a dog. He doesn’t get agitated even with a glance at Jinshi’s face, moreover, he had a generous personality, so Jinshi valued him. This time, Jinshi nominated him and had him accompany them as an escort.

“Understood.” Gaoshun then called for Rihaku from the window. It was faster for Jinshi to call him directly, but it was better if he doesn’t show his face too much. He planned to wear a mask outside.

It was most suspicious, but if they give out Gaoshun’s name, the village chief probably wouldn’t probe deeply.

“What is it, Jinshi-sama?” Rihaku lightly hopped onto the moving carriage.

This man, who knew Jinshi from his eunuch days, didn’t call him by the long-winded name “Prince of the Moon”, but by Jinshi.

“You’re from the countryside, right? What are your thoughts when you see this village?” Jinshi asked.

“Even if you ask me…”

“For a farming village, the houses are sturdily built. It might seem simple to the big shots, but it’s proper. However, the locust damage appears to be particularly dreadful.”

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The plain appearance was due to the awfully worn out pillars.

“I heard from my grandfather, that locusts not only eat grains, but also gnaw on house frames and clothes.”

It was bound to look somewhat worn out.

“According to the reports, the remaining crop have all been harvested and are being stored in the warehouse.”

“This talk is headache inducing.” Rihaku’s face stiffened.

“Unfortunately, having it occur during this season might have been fortuitous.”

If it were during wheat harvesting season, the damage would be a much more severe. Otherwise, if it travelled south, it’ll be dangerous due to the rice farmlands in the region.

“It’s hard to see from here, but there are dead insects on the ground. It’s from the extermination preparation performed beforehand. Despite how it looks, the damage was fairly minor.”

Rihaku shook his head in relief while sighing. His actions were a little disrespectful, but he was aware of his timing, so Jinshi let it pass. Above all, it was a relief for Jinshi. Gaoshun also said nothing, appearing to take Jinshi’s feelings into consideration. Basen would snarl on this occasion.

“Then I’ll be heading out. Since Basen-sama will glare at me,” Rihaku said.

Not long after he left, the carriage stopped. Apparently, they had reached the village chief’s house.

Apparently, it wasn’t amusing to Basen that Jinshi valued Rihaku. The dog-like man quickly alighted from the carriage.

Jinshi put on his mask and followed.

The house of the village chief, though the supports and the roof were bitten, was splendid enough. He understood that from Rihaku’s incredulous expression.

“Rather than a house, this is more of an estate, huh.” The man dared to say that.

There was a canal surrounding the estate, with a lake in the centre of the garden. It looked stylish, but with the lack of greenery, it seemed desolate.

It looked stylish as a reservoir for the paddy field, but let’s not mention that part.

Jinshi stood behind Gaoshun.

The village chief who was rubbing his hands together, lowered his head at Gaoshun while glancing at the suspicious, masked man, that is, Jinshi.

Was even the interior of the estate splendid enough for a village chief? He speculated as he listened to Rihaku’s mutters from behind his mask. Whilst he looks simple-minded, Rihaku is sharp.

“Come here.”

The place the village chief guided them to was a room that had been prepared for a banquet. For Jinshi, who was tired of imperial court dishes, the meals could be considered plain, but it was probably excessive for a farming village in the countryside.

“….”

Gaoshun didn’t even glance at Jinshi, but he knew the gist of the message he wanted to convey. “We’re not here for a banquet. Tell us about the circumstances of the village.”

Jinshi was used to Gaoshun’s usual polite way of speaking. His overbearing manner of speaking sounded somewhat refreshing to him.

“Y-yes.” The village chief panicked and made servants clear the large, long table of food. Apparently, he was nervous at the prospect of government officials from the capital visiting. The room was thoroughly cleaned; the garden could now be seen from the window. It may be a prized garden, but he could see it was littered with the remains of dead insects.

The village chief brought over a rough sketch of the village.

“We can skip the introductions. Please speak directly and in detail,” Gaoshun said.

“Yes. It was an incident from half-a-month ago—” The village head started to speak.

Half a month ago, they witnessed a dark cloud approach from the northwestern skies.

Although it wasn’t yet the rainy season, they had observed rain clouds, and that was when they heard the ugly sound. The real form of the dark cloud over the empty horizon was a large swarm of locusts.

As soon as the swarm reached the village, they devoured the unharvested rice. The villagers fended against them single-handedly with torches and nets, but no matter how many they killed, how many they caught, the numbers never decreased. On the contrary, they weren’t satisfied with just the rice, but also chewed on the villagers’ clothes, shoes, even their hair and skin.

The menfolk burned the locusts every time they caught them, killed them every time they caught them.

The women and children took refuge inside the house. The womenfolk killed the insects that slipped through the cracks and the children trembled in the corner of the room.

The locust onslaught continued on for three days and three nights.

“This is what I wore at the time.” The village chief gently presented the clothes. The clothes made of durable linen were torn in several places. The dye had yet to fade, so he could see that it wasn’t worn out due to time. “We made insecticides, but it was like trying to cool a hot stone with droplets of water before such a huge swarm.”

So the drugs are indeed insufficient huh, Jinshi bit his lip.

“There’s this as well.” The village chief went out into the garden and stroked the stark trunk of a tree. “All the lush leaves have been eaten up.” He sighed deeply.

“The insects…”

“We killed what we could, burned what we could. The bodies are gathered at the back of the village. Would you be inclined to take a look?”

It won’t be a pleasant sight, surely, but Jinshi had no choice but to inspect it.

Under the guidance of the village chief, they headed to the back of the estate. As they drew closer, the number of dead insects increased, crunching under their feet.

“…”

Let’s stop with the detailed imagery. However, let’s just say that a large hole had been dug, where a black mound spilled out from within.

Apparently, some of the escorts were bad with insects. They covered their mouths and held back their nausea.

“Is this everything?” Gaoshun confirmed with the village chief.

“Everything we could deal with.”

“Do you know how many escaped?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Gaoshun stroked his chin. “Basen.”

“Yes.” Basen became spirited at his father’s call.

“Ask around about the damages suffered by villages in the vicinity, in detail. You can return in fifteen minutes on a fast horse, right?”

“Understood.” Basen swiftly left to question the villagers about the surrounding villages.

Jinshi’s brows moved up and down beneath his mask.

“What shall we do?” Gaoshun asked Jinshi quietly.

“No—” At this point, Jinshi can consider the whole incident to be resolved. However, there should be something else he had to do beyond this.

If the crazy pharmacist maiden was here, what would she do?

Jinshi suddenly crouched down.

The dead, unmoving locusts had swollen abdomens close to bursting. Beforehand, the locust swarms were a shade darker and their legs were shortened. If he remembered correctly, they were the colour of the soil.

Jinshi took out a small blade from his breast pocket.

“…” He pierced the torso of a locust. It wasn’t a good feeling. However, if Maomao was here, she would probably do this.

He dissected one locust, then another.

The villagers looked on doubtfully, but they shouldn’t have the liberty to get bothered by it.

Jinshi lined up the torsos he cut open.

“This is…” Apparently, Gaoshun had noticed Jinshi’s intentions.

Jinshi didn’t know much about insects. However, he could imagine what was inside them, at least.

The swollen abdomens were filled with long, thin, yellow tube-like things.

It was autumn, and winter will come around once it ends. Insects cannot overcome the cold winter, leaving survival to the coming generation.

“Eggs?”

Jinshi cast down his eyes at Gaoshun’s voice.

What will the locusts with swollen abdomens do next?

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“The locust plague has yet to end,” Jinshi muttered under his mask. “Scorch the earth.”

The surviving insect eggs had to be burned.

The wheat crops in spring will end up as feeding grounds for the hatched insects.

- my thoughts:
So I got curious and searched up locust eggs.... if rice was yellow :/
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