A Nail To A Kingdom (4. Silk In Fish's Stomach)
4. Silk In Fish's Stomach
Several months elapsed after the festival day. Winter came and was gone. Spring was the season full of hope, energy, and joy. In one afternoon, Chen was on his way home after finishing the farming work, Wu came running to him, still panting.
“Hey, Sheng, did you see the drafting announcement posted on the village bulletin board yet? This time, the quota is 500 men to be drafted from our Da-Zhe village. Volunteers are also welcome, too.”
“Really?” Chen was unhappy to hear this news first. But at the second thought, he quickly calmed down. DF and Li were planning to get married soon. He did not like to witness the wedding scene. Perhaps it was a good timing for him to get away from his home village. So, he volunteered himself to the service.
After about one week, Chen and Wu were among the 900 draftees, 500 from Da-Zhe village and 400 from a neighboring village, setting out to travel to XianYan, the capital of Qin, on foot. The entire battalion was led by two Qin government officials. Since Chen and Wu were better educated than others were, they were chosen to be small platoon leaders.
The deadline of arrival was set to be roughly one month thereafter. Tardiness of arrival was absolutely prohibited. In spring time, however, in the areas south or north to Yanzi River, rain poured often, which made the dirt roads very muddy, and hence hard for travelers to trudge on. Each of the draftees also had to help carry some dried food, sleeping mattresses, and cooking utensils, which added more weight. It was the fate that rain continued to fall continually for many days. At a certain juncture, it was obvious that there were no ways for this draftee battalion to make in time to XianYan.
One night, tired and depressed, they finally found a rundown temple to rest and sleep. Chen and Wu unrolled their sleeping mattresses, lying down side by side. The moon even took a brief peek behind dark thick clouds at their faces through the broken windows of the temple. But through the broken window also came the gusty wind. At night, it brought chilly effects.
“Wondering what DF is doing now,” Chen was saying in his heart, wiping off a rain droplet dripping down to his forehead from the temple ceiling, and covering himself with a blanket.
“Pining for DF again? If you are wise, don’t la. She will belong to another man very soon. Sorry ah. Pining too much for a hopeless case is harmful to your health,” Wu tried to console Chen. Another wave of wind rushed in, causing Chen to sneeze.
“Listen,” Wu suddenly perked up his ears.
“What?” Chen looked at Wu, quizzically.
“Listen carefully, I seem to hear from the wind sound, crying, ‘Chen Sheng Wang2’, are you not hearing that?” Wu lowered his voice. (Wang2 means “King” in Chinese).
So, they both perked up their ears and listened to the wind. The more they listened to the blowing sound, the more they seemed to hear the wind whining, “Chen Sheng Wang, Chen Sheng Wang.”
That night, the two almost did not sleep. They two whispered for a long time, and secretly drafted up a daring plot.
In the next morning, when the draftees woke up, they panickily found the two government officials dead, apparently strangled by ropes. While they all did not know what to do, Chen and Wu jumped onto a table, and Chen waved his hands, signaling the draftees to calm down, and started speaking,
“My brothers, if you panic, I do not blame you. Yes, they are dead. Brother Wu and I strangled them last night. We are all doomed anyway, because we are unable to arrive at XianYan in time. So, whether or not we follow the government laws all the way to XianYan does not matter. Today, brother Wu and I decided to form a troop and revolt against the government. Yes, indeed, revolting is very risky. But we have no choice. If we all unite and win the revolution, we may see a ray of hope of living.”
Chen and Wu paused for a moment. Their eyes took a quick survey of these 900 draftees, and then Chen continued,
“Right now, it is your choice. If you do not want to be involved, you can walk away and leave. If you do not mind taking a risk, wishing to be brothers with us, then do stay.”
Only a few shook their heads, appeared fearful, picked up their belongings, and walked away.
“Good, brothers, let us now celebrate. Brother Wu in the early morning, went to the nearby morning market, and bought some rice wine and 5 fishes. Sorry, this is all the money he and I had, could not afford to buy more. Let us cook the fishes right now, jointly drink some fish soup and the wine.”
As soon as the cooks took the fishes, and sliced open their fleshy bodies, they hurried back, shouting,
“Ahhh, look, look, look what I found. Here is a piece of silk found inside the fish’s stomach. It says, ‘Chen Sheng Wang’. What does that mean? Brother Chen, see, you will be the king appointed by the divine?”
“Really?” Chen pretended to be surprised to learn such a finding, too.
“And, brothers, if you just quiet down for a moment, and listen to the wind blowing, what do you hear? Don’t you hear the howling, ‘Chen Sheng Wang, Chen Sheng Wang’, too?” Wu added a remark timely.
When the fishes were cooked, everybody lined up, approached the pot, used the sharpened bamboo sticks to punch their thumbs, and let droplets of blood drip into the soup. Then they all drank the bloody fish soup together, vowing to unite as brothers in a holy campaign to overturn such a corrupt cruel government.
“Cheng Sheng, our king, Shen Sheng, our king!” they hailed in unison.
Afterwards, they turned back to Da-Zhe village swiftly, amassing as many as bamboo sticks from the mountain, and attacking the county government. Immediately, they took over and controlled the county government castle. Having heard this news, starved and oppressed civilians, be it from nearby or from afar, scholars or vagabonds, came to join this fledgling military force, denouncing the Qin government.
Chen Sheng was officially elected to be the emperor. He appointed Wu as his bishop. This revolting force became the pilot light of a later fierce nationwide fire. Qin government was eventually overturned after this internal turmoil, which lasted for a few years.
But Qin was not overturned by Chen himself. He almost succeeded, but not quite. His fate was similar to that of his Go game with Li. He unfortunately messed up his end game. He himself became corrupt and arrogant after having tasted the sweetness of his initial victory, then was killed in a battle, shortly afterwards.
Historians do not know what happened to DF, neither do they know if there was a continuation of DF and Chen’s relationship. Had it been Chen who won the Go game, would it be possible that DF would have been a strong attachment to him, that he would not have volunteered himself, and thus that this pilot light of revolution would not have been lit?