Barking Up the Wrong Tree – Law’s Profoundness
Su Xiao silently followed behind Secretary Leng’s official litter toward the Ministry of Justice’s office. He had yet to say a word to Secretary Leng ever since the end of the meeting. Su Xiao wanted to speak, but Secretary Leng’s fast-paced nature and calm exterior were contradictory; he was a man who acted fast. Before Su Xiao could even greet Secretary Leng or ask where the office was, Secretary Leng just dropped, “Follow me,” and then got into his litter.
The Ministry of Justice was an hour away from the Forbidden City via litter. Fortunately for Su Xiao, his internal energy gradually improved thanks to practicing the mental cultivation Ming Feizhen taught him. Hence, he didn’t pant or feel tired in the slightest.
Judging from the office’s exterior, it wasn’t markedly different from Liu Shan Men. They were both constructed according to the imperial court’s regulations. Liu Shan Men, however, had been established for a long time and was renovated countless times since its establishment. Thus, it was different to its original painting. That being said, the Ministry of Justice’s office resembled a building built a century ago. The original designer would be moved to tears if he learnt his design hadn’t been altered in any shape or form. Though not notably impressive in appearance, the meticulous attention devoted to it surpassed the other five ministries’ buildings.
The men at the door didn’t utter a word when Secretary Leng, surprising Su Xiao. When the Qilin Guards’ superiors’ returned to the office, there’d be groups welcoming their superiors back, acting similar to valets or something. At Liu Shan Men, members would also greet their superiors.
Once they were inside, Secretary Leng provided the office members with a simple introduction of Su Xiao’s background and dropped jaws: “Su Han will be working at our office henceforward. Provide him with his own room.”
Someone went to arrange things for Su Xiao straight away. Meanwhile, the others crowded around him. They almost thought their head had a change of personality to score such a beautiful bosom friend. They learnt Su Xiao was actually promoted talent and Secretary Leng’s student. Secretary Leng was a loner and never had a pupil; Su Xiao was his first. Hence, they even tried to curry favour with Su Xiao, showering him with respect. Su Xiao shivered. Secretary Leng was an oddball to him; however, the others were no different to Liu Shan Men’s officials.
Secretary Leng didn’t voice any opinions on the matter. He gave Su Xiao a tour of the office, and then suddenly asked, “You are from Suzhou?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Su Xiao, touching his head. “I am from Suzhou. I have been in Nanjing for less than half a year.”
Secretary Leng nodded: “Since you are a foreigner, have you been to the various entertainment areas in Nanjing?”
Su Xiao was delighted to hear the question, for he interpreted that to mean Secretary Leng was an approachable individual. He replied, “I have! I often go out with my buddies at Liu Shan Men. I have been to many places in Jinling.”
“Mm, what do you like to do?” asked Secretary Leng, nodding again. He added, “No wonder why they say your martial skills are dismal.”
“This man gets on my nerve!” was the first impression Secretary Leng gave him.
Su Xiao proceeded carefully thereafter and didn’t speak again unless asked. Still, he kept his answers to single sentences. Secretary Leng asked, “Su Han, how old are you?”
Su Xiao was tall; his long and slender legs made him look very good next to Ming Feizhen, ahem, prevented him from looking too short. That was why his age was often overestimated. He explained, “I usually say I am sixteen… but I am not actually sixteen yet. I was born in the summer of August, fourteenth year of Emperor Yuan Sheng’s reign.”
“That makes you fifteen, then. You’re quite successful for a young one.”
Su Xiao didn’t have the foggiest clue as to why he was complimented. He touched his head and embarrassingly responded, “N-Not really. I am just lucky.”
Secretary Leng quietly remarked, “Since you were instated as an official at fifteen years of age, you almost beat Vice-Captain Shen’s record for youngest female official.”
“… I am a male!!” exclaimed Su Xiao
Secretary Leng titled his head. An official at the office popped up behind him out of nowhere and exclaimed, “Huh?! Don’t lie!”
Su Xiao: “Why are you slandering me?!”
After the tour, Su Xiao also finished learning about the operations and links at the Ministry of Justice.
“I will give you a tour of the prison later.”
Su Xiao nodded: “Oh.”
“What, are you afraid?”
“Prison? I am all right. Teacher Leng, is it a scary place?”
“Not at all,” replied Secretary Leng, shaking his head. “Only a lot of people die there.”
The Ministry of Justice’s vice-minister, seeing Su Xiao’s fragile appearance, couldn’t resist giving him extra attention: “Constable Su, there are lots of criminals in the prison. Given your pretty appearance, you should just get a glimpse.”
Su Xiao: “It is no big deal. I have run into similar circumstances while on duty before. There is no need to accommodate me.”
Vice-minister: “You are an erudite among young heroes, Constable Su! So, can I take it that you have seen criminals on death row before?”
“No,” replied Su Xiao, with a smile. “I have performed an autopsy using chopsticks, however.”
When they arrived at the door, they heard a ruckus. As Su Xiao and Secretary Leng went to go and see what was going on, someone sprinted into the front courtyard through the main door. She plopped himself on the ground and, whilst crying, shouted, “This is unfair! Where is justice?! This is catastrophic!”
She wore clothing made from coarse cloth and dressed as a housewife. Judging from her appearance, she was a roughly thirty-five to thirty-six years old farmer. The workers at the office immediately tried to pull her to her feet, but she was stronger than anticipated. She shoved the officers aside and continued crying about an injustice, the government was unfair and what have you in a resounding voice, literally calling everyone out of their work stations.
The vice-minister fumed, “Insolence! Where are you from? This is no place for you to be stirring trouble. Men, take her away.”
“Hold it right there!” shouted someone a t the entrance.
Ten burly and tan men entered. It was apparent they were farmers from a glance and was with the woman. One of them thundered, “You officials back each other up. Where do you plan on taking the poor homeless woman? Will you not give up until she is dead?!”
Upon glancing over to the door, they noticed the worker at the door was out cold. The men didn’t appear to know martial arts. Nevertheless, they packed a punch and were a big group. The workers at the office weren’t martial artists, so they were easily overwhelmed.
The woman cried, “This is unfair! Look at how you officials are dressed! My poor husband’s crops! He came to work in the capital in winter, only for you officials to arrest him. You people framed him for underground fighting and locked him up.”
The woman cried louder and louder. The male farmers tried to sooth her: “Sis, don’t cry. We’ll make sure these damn officials serve you justice today.”
Vice-minister: “Who are you cursing?! You backwater people better start showing some manners!”
The farmers brayed, “And you’re still overbearing. By the sounds of it, you’re going to turn a blind eye to this, aren’t you?!”
Several farmers raised their fists and confronted the officials. Although the Ministry of Justice operated the place, the officials working there were all weak. They were no match for the big men. When the farmers advanced, they retreated. Su Xiao was the only one to step forth: “What are you doing?”
Secretary Leng extended an arm, stopping Su Xiao and stepped in front of him. He said, “Don’t fight. There are too many of them.”
In Su Xiao’s mind: “He’s protecting me?”
Secretary Leng: “I don’t know martial arts. Once a fight breaks out, I will die in the chaos.”
Su Xiao: “…”
The farmers were illiterate; however, they weren’t barbarians. They didn’t intend to hit the officials when the officials cowered. The toughest man glared: “Are you going to do something about Sister Niu’s problem or not? What happened to the officials of this world? Does the people’s wellbeing not matter to you?”
Su Xiao didn’t perceive them to be a group harbouring ill will based on the woman’s crying. He, therefore, gently said, “Uncle, what exactly is the problem? Please explain the situation to us. It will not help your case or help us do our job if you just yell as you are doing.”
The big man spat to the side then answered, “I, Mao Dali, may not be bright, but I’m fully aware one doesn’t set foot inside a government office while alive and doesn’t go to hell when dead. If we could get our point across via normal means, would we have to resort to making a scene?
This is Sister Niu. Her man came to the imperial capital to work for two months while there was nothing to do in the fields. Somebody deceived him into a harsh job. You people then arrested him. How is that any different to killing him? Brother Niu is an honest man who never loses his temper. He’s weaker than his wife. How could he be into underground fighting? After you arrested him, Sister Niu lost her means of survival. There are still months of winter to go. How do you expect a widow and her child to bear through it?”
Su Xiao understood the situation after listening. He wanted to hear more details, but nonetheless, Secretary Leng spoke up first: “You have made a mistake.”
Mao Dali: “What do you mean?”
Secretary Leng calmly explained, “The matter is not in the Ministry of Justice’s hands. You need to see Shuntian Prefecture. If you wish to open a case, you need to go to Shuntian Prefecture’s office. Her husband is not locked up here.”
Vice-minister: “If the people of the city report every trivial issue to the Ministry of Justice, would we ever have any time to ourselves?!”
Mao Dali: “Y-You scum shelter one another! This is blasphemy! Sister Niu, let’s end this here. We shouldn’t have come here. We can’t rely on any of these officials.”
Sister Niu didn’t stop crying for a second from the moment she entered. Mao Dali’s statement only added salt to her injury. She exclaimed, “We don’t have any clothes or food back home! Without him, I might as well die!”
Su Xiao couldn’t bear watching them. He quietly asked, “Teacher Leng, how about w-“
“It is the law,” replied Secretary Leng, maintaining a straight face as always. Calmly, he said to the vice-minister behind him, “I need to give Su Han a tour of the office’s prison. I am leaving this matter in your hands.”
Secretary Leng was blatantly indifferent to the farmers’ problem, earning Mao Dali’s ire: “Let’s go. I can’t stand these bastards and their condescending attitude.”
Mao Dali helped Sister Niu up and went to stomp off, only to hear Secretary Leng ask, “Where are you going?”
Mao Dali: “What, you won’t let us leave even though you won’t get involved with the case?”
Tone nonchalant, Secretary Leng replied, “You have not received your punishment. How can you leave?”
Secretary Leng continued in his usual voice, which was the same even when he conversed with Su Xiao: “The thirteen of you barged into the Ministry of Justice’s office and started a ruckus. According to the law, citizens who trespass into government property and cause a disturbance are punished with ten canes.”
He appeared completely indifferent to Sister Niu’s tragic situation. He didn’t sound or look as though he was threatening the group; he seemed dead serious.
Over thirty tough-looking men in the office’s uniform emerged, indicating they were aware of the situation but didn’t act, because they were awaiting Secretary Leng’s orders. The group, who were obviously martial artists, immediately approached the group to apprehend them. The farmers were taken out with single punches. The sudden reversal left Su Xiao flabbergasted.
They rolled the farmers over. One person held them down while another caned them with the merciless canes. The farmers cried and groaned. The men were burly enough to handle it. Alas, Sister Niu’s tragic cries alternated with the sound of the impact.
The ten canes went by very quickly, but the consequences were dreadful. The twelve men bled; Sister Sao was in an even worse state. Yet, the officers didn’t give them the chance to catch their breath. They threw them out of the office right away.
Su Xiao felt his hairs perk up. He felt he finally saw Secretary Leng’s character. Secretary Leng was calm the entire time. He, perhaps, saw it as a natural course of matters. Su Xiao raged to himself, “How can he give such cruel commands with a straight face?! They’re all honest and upright people. They came to open a case to contest a false accusation. Not only did he ignore them, but also punished them!”
Su Xiao thundered, “She was just looking for her husband! She only trespassed due not having anyone to report to! How could you be so cruel?!”
Secretary Leng glanced at Su Xiao out the corner of his eye: “She broke the law; her punishment is perfectly justified.”
Su Xiao, livid, argued, “She’s unaware of the law, though! Her husband was arrested; she didn’t have food or clothes for winter. She’s pitiful as she is. The beating has only diminished her faith in the law and government. Why do you refuse to handle it at your own discretion?”
“That is not my job. She should report it to Shuntian Prefecture.”
“If Shuntian Prefecture can do it, why c-“
“We are from the Ministry of Justice,” interjected Secretary Leng, cold as always.
“The Ministry of Justice handles all crimes in the lands. Right behind me is this nation’s law guide.”
Secretary Leng calmly responded, “If a criminal was to escape under my watch, would anyone honour the laws of the nation again?”
Su Xiao broke out in a cold sweat. He never thought of the questions asked of him.
“Everyone has their own role. This is my role; therefore, I am responsible for fulfilling it. The same principle applies for you,” stated Secretary Leng. He walked a few steps and said, “Your job is to fulfil the job His Majesty assigned you. Follow me to the Ministry of Justice’s prison. Now.”
*Su Xiao refers to himself as “Your student”, which is a very formal way of addressing yourself with your teacher.