A stranger claiming to be a woodcutter? What did this mean?
"Lord, we rest during daytime and work during the night, so we are not familiar with the ones who sell firewood, but we will immediately ask them tomorrow," stuttered one of the guards.
"We will question them thoroughly," added the other.
The man looked at them pensively, without saying anything.
The sound of footsteps broke through the night, followed by this shout and four men.
When he saw the newcomers, the man released his grip on the two watchmen.
They immediately huddled together.
"What is it?" asked the man.
The four shook their heads.
"There is no trace of him", they said.
'They are actually looking for someone?' thought the watchmen as they shivered. 'And that someone is a woodcutter? A woodcutter can rouse the Jinyiwei?'
A frigid gaze cut through their disorganized thoughts. The two immediately froze.
Fortunately, the man waved his hand dismissively.
The two felt like they had received a great pardon. These people seemed ordinary, unlike the Jinyiwei in the county who made everyone uncomfortable. They looked to be friendly and unassuming, and they dressed like the masses.
But now that the watchmen knew their identity, they did not dare treat them as ordinary people.
The two watchmen didn't even remember their gong before running off as fast as a wisp of smoke.
"Lord, did you find anything?" asked a man.
The hundred-man commander looked into the night.
"I cooked two days worth of food here, but did not find out anything valuable," he said, then paused. "But didn't you guys say he could sell firewood for money?"
At this, he smiled.
"After all, he is a woodcutter."
"I remember now."
Several streets later, the watchman noticed his missing gong, and he also remembered something else.
"I know a kind of woodcutter."
The other was somewhat puzzled.
"There are different kinds of woodcutters?" he blurted out.
This sounded a bit strange.
"There are different kinds of firewood, and so woodcutters are divided as well," said the first watchman meaningfully. "You forgot, long ago, there was firewood in Outer Mongolia that wasn't made from trees, but people. So there was a new kind of woodmen."
"Could it be the Woodcutter of Shubi Lake?"the other watchman said bluntly, his look a bit complicated. "That is a legend." [Note]
It was a legend.
A long time ago, before the fall of a mighty dynasty, there was a group of fierce soldiers who found entertainment in slashing horse bandits in the countryside. They called themselves woodcutters. The most famous one was an expert from Shubi Lake.
These legends were almost swept away with the dust of history, until the Duke of Cheng came slaughtering into the northern territory. A group of people there then recalled their ancestors who were brave warriors that made up the team of woodcutters.
They would often venture into Jurchen territory alone, like the warriors of the past. They called their activities woodcutting, and they called themselves woodcutters.
These people were extremely brave, leaving the Jurchen very annoyed. The biggest thing was that their identities were all mysterious. They were not soldiers of the Zhou state, and no one could place their origin. They appeared like gods and disappeared like devils.
"The Jurchen once offered a reward for the capture of these woodcutters. Actually, they didn't even need to capture them. Just describing what these people looked like was worth the reward," the other watchman said.
"This amazing?" the other watchman asked in shock, before covering his mouth.
The two walked more cautiously down the alley.
"Yes. Later, the Jurchen official who issued the notice was found by a woodcutter. The woodcutter then said to him, 'If you want to look at me, then you'll have to pay up. Then I'll let you look your fill'," the watchman continued in a whisper. In the darkness of the night, he couldn't help but visualize the woodcutter's grand attitude and actions.
The other could not help his excitement. He bit his fingernails and asked, "What happened next?"
"The official's head was cut off by that woodcutter." The first watchman hand chopped at the neck of his companion.
The other one shrieked.
This scream was particularly shocking in the dark, causing the one doing the scaring to also cry out in alarm. Lights appeared on both sides as people around came out to ask what was going on.
The two watchmen burst into a sprint.
"You scared me."
"You're too much of a coward."
"What happened next?"
"The woodcutter hung the official's head from his horse. It is also said that he put the head in a room and walked in and out. He declared his word was good, and that he would cheat neither the old nor young, and once he collected the money, he would let him look his fill."
"Oh, it's really scary, but does it mean that these people who cut firewood are not warriors? If it wasn't for the benefit of the Zhou state, why would they want to hunt the Jurchen?"
"Probably because those woodcutters don't like discipline and do not listen to orders from the government and army, so they act on their own."
"Aiya, don't talk about these things. Regardless of these matters, we should leave quick."
The night was plunged into silence again.
A pot was lifted from a stove, and the bubbling spicy soup within it was ladled out.
An ordinary, friendly looking man who looked like a real stall owner readily poured soup into four bowls and placed them in front of the four people.
They were sitting upright in obedience, like children waiting for their elders to distribute the food.
"Hundred-man commander, are you going to investigate these woodcutters?" asked one of them.
The one addressed put the pot back on the stove. He took out a hand towel from his waist to wipe his hands. His actions were so natural, like he had spent his whole life simmering food here.
"You can investigate them," he said, "but have the local Jinyiwei do it. We will continue south," he said, reaching out and tracing the direction on the table.
"The government office in Huaiqing has increased their manpower."
One of the men sitting on the table drank a big mouthful of soup. The spiciness made him stick out his tongue.
"It's almost June and we still haven't caught this brat. I really wanted to send him as a gift for Lord's marriage." The man's words were muffled by his tongue sticking out.
"What a joke. What would Lord do with a gift like him?" said the one-hundred man commander pleasantly, "Lord does not know him."
The four men no longer talked but ate their soup.
"But why did one-thousand man commander want us to investigate the south?" asked one man, putting down his bowl. "The woodcutter should have ran away by now, escaped. How could he flee south? Wouldn't he be throwing himself into a trap?"
One-hundred man commander shook his head.
"Lord said it, so it must not be wrong," he said. "Just do as he says."
The four people responded affirmatively, then left after drinking their piping hot soup. The one-hundred man commander collected the bowls and chopsticks like an old hand. He hummed a tune as he rinsed the tableware in this summer night, then used a towel to wipe them clean before putting them in a case. Then he extinguished the stove. He left unhurried, with his hands behind his back.
When the sky glowed with light, four or five men in an inn were looking outside the window.
"The weird thing is, why were there suddenly so many Jinyiwei?" one asked quietly.
"If there's more, there's more. They do what they do, we do what we do. Mutual noninterference," said another.
He hadn't finished speaking when the person across from him slapped his forehead.
"What mutual noninterference? Is our work so just and honorable?" The man stared at his companion. "If we act like this, it's easy to be noticed by the Jinyiwei. These people can make problems out of nothing. If we beat the snake out of the grass now, it will remain small. Getting Lord involved will cause trouble."
The man bent his neck in affirmation.
"What should we do then?" he whispered. "That Fang Family's cripple didn't see?"
The man next to him glared at him and shut the window.
"If he didn't see, he didn't see. He can't stay in Runan forever," the lead man muttered softly. "Tell Lord that the plan has changed; new preparations must be made."According to the author, this is a reference to the Shubi Lake Woodcutter from the fifteenth chapter of the web novel "Nightfall", which is also being translated by QI.