My Prison Life
“Limestone can only be mined from deep mountains after toiling tirelessly. Flames cannot tickle limestone. I do not fear braised ribs. All I wish for is to ensure pork shoulders are never lost.” – Ming Feizhen, spring, Yuansheng’s 31st year, written from prison.
The characters I carved onto the wall with my finger looked fine, strong and manly. Regrettably, my genius creativity had my appetite in overdrive.
Ah Neath, you will regret locking me up. Let’s see what you can do without me. Besides, I only copped a touch. It’s not like I made off with a tit or something. Hmph.
I crossed my arms and belted, “I’m being unjustly imprisoned. This is oppression! This is inequality! This is robbery of human rights! I want freedom! Freedom!”
“Shut up!” the prison guard howled. “Behave yourself, you dead man walking!”
The prison guard, actually, all of the prison guards were from the Central Plain or had to be descendants of people from the Central Plain.
Nanjiang didn’t have dungeon prisons long ago, and the eleven states still didn’t really use them. Their climate was warm, sunny and humid, so going underground for construction projects was never on their bucketlist. The prisons they used to have were simple cages for beasts. You couldn’t just build something with absolutely no knowledge, which was why people from the Central Plain were hired to build the dungeon prisons and guard them.
“Bro, I’m on death row. Don’t I get a farewell meal or anything?” I bet my head the prison guard I was speaking to swindled people out of their money many times in the past.
Black and White Reflection stated that the three hardest types of meals to eat in life were meals you begged for as a beggar, meals you leeched off your partner’s family whilst putting up with their attitude and the last meal you had before you kiss your neck goodbye. I already joined Hong Jiu in begging for a meal. I already had meals from my in-laws at Jingan’s place. The only one I had yet to try was the one before losing my head.
From what I heard, the farewell meal was supposed to consist of a bowl of meat, a bowl of veggies and a bowl of rice. Given it was one’s final meal, the taste should’ve been different to usual; no longer were you tasting food but life.
I had been longing to try out the taste of a farewell meal, and I wasn’t going to have another opportunity to try it, so why not? Even though I wasn’t going to die, I wanted to get into my role so that I could taste the authentic version.
“What sort of prisoner on death row tries to talk his way into a free meal? Listen, smart aleck: the date for your execution hasn’t been decided. When it is, I promise you’ll have a meal.”
How long you going to make me wait? You’re just stalling…
The prison guard went back to his seat to drink: “Why would you trigger His Majesty of all things? My pay has been delayed for five months. Thanks to you pissing him off, my pay is going to be delayed for even longer.”
“Your King owes you? Wow, I didn’t expect prison guards to be disgruntled over wage issues.”
“Wh-what are you talking about now? Who said His Majesty owes us?!’
“What did I say? I just said I was hungry and asked when I’d be getting my farewell meal.”
“By the way, the peanuts on your table are pretty good.”
Since Ah Neath personally gave the order to have me incarcerated, it suggested that I was possibly someone qualified to speak to her face to face. Accordingly, the prison guards weren’t too harsh on me, lest it come back to haunt them.
The disgruntled guard passed me a handful of peanuts. “I’ll have someone bring you a farewell meal later… You’re the first person I’ve met who threatens a prison guard for a meal.”
I relished the crunchy sensation of peanuts in my mouth and then had a swig of wine. “Bro, why are you still here if you’re not getting paid?”
The guard zoned out for a second. “It’s not like His Majesty wants to deprive us. When I was stationed as a sentry for the palace, His Majesty treated us well. Since he hasn’t completed the ceremony, there are a lot of restrictions imposed on him. We all know,” the guard stopped to survey the surroundings and then whispered, “it’s the fault of… Long-story short, it’s the fault of certain people in the government.”
“Oh, Princess Consort?”
The guard jumped to his feet as if a debt collector came for him. “Don’t put words in my mouth! I never said that! Don’t get me in trouble.”
“I have better things to do than implicate you. I was just asking if you know about her corruption.”
“Wh-who are you? Wh-why are you asking about that?”
“Hah, why do you think I was arrested?”
“Wasn’t it because you touched his chest?”
“… That’s the story the public is told. Do you know the real reason?”
“Mm… You even touched his behind?”
What the fook, mate?! Why you got to go sexual?! And why do you think I’d be so eager to feel a man?!
“I’m in here of my own volition because I’m trying to investigate the government’s internal affairs. When the entire government is corrupt, where would you find the most innocent people? In here. Bro, you didn’t finish what you were saying. Your salary seriously being withheld?”
“Yeah, I’ve been performing free labour for five months.”
“Damn, must be tough, huh?”
“If this keeps up, I won’t even be able to feed my kid. When I take the guard dog for a walk, I sometimes look at it the same way it sees crap.”
“D-damn. Do you know why you aren’t being paid?”
“Not really, but they say it’s all because…” he lowered his voice further, “Her Highness, Princess Consort, wants to raise some soldiers, so she’s embezzling money to feed them.”
“How’d you find out about that?”
“There’s no shortage of people being thrown in here. They occasionally mention state affairs while they’re here, and they are literally cussing when they talk about her. I hear these things from others. Didn’t you say there are innocents? I wasn’t sure if the accusations were true or not, but I’m confident now. The officials brought here are all executed in less than three days, which is why, eh, where’s my wine cup? Wh-when did you take my cup?!”
“In other words… your Princess Consort decisively offs anyone who catches her. I hate to imagine how vicious she is when she gets angry.”
“If you offend her, you might as well consider yourself dead. I heard she’s raising soldiers of her own that are superior to His Majesty’s guards. If she wants to kill you, she might just silence you in prison instead of scheduling your execution.”
“You mean… them?” I pointed to the fifteen-odd warriors in black armour behind the guard.
The group encroached upon us slowly and precisely, blades ready to harvest.
“Tsk, tsk, your Princess Consort sure is quick. She’s already discerned I’m special and wants to eliminate me.”
The guard tried to run, only to be kicked back to my cell, winding him in the process.
I had another drink: “They’re pretty good. They could kill you with their first swing. The reason they kicked you over here is to kill you in front of my cell. That way, they can fabricate a scenario where I killed you, and then they can drag me out to butcher me under the guise of executing a prison breaker. Experienced and vicious. Seven out of ten from me.”
The terrified guard didn’t hear anything I said. Instead, he frisked himself for a key. The guards only carried one key each, each key being for a different cell. They had no clue which key their cell was for, but who cared when their life was hanging by a thread? Sadly for him, his key wouldn’t fit no matter which way he tried to insert it.
“You’re pretty fast, bro, seeing that you realised you should release me first.”
The guard looked to his side and rubbed his eyes. “Wh-when did you get out?”
“Man, I could crush your cheap iron rails with one hand.” I massaged my shoulders and continued, “Guess I won’t be getting my farewell meal this time. Hey, bros, I hear your employer is gorgeous. Take me to her. I want to see how good she looks.” I waved two open hands about. “I’m good with these.”
The poem at the start of the chapter is a parody (specifically the second part) of Yu Qian’s poem “Limestone”. The “I” is “pork shoulders”. Technically, the “limestone” word should be omitted or treated as “I”, but you wouldn’t understand what’s going on if I don’t make it clear that we’re talking about limestone.
Farewell meals – Those on death row were served one final meal, reportedly more sumptuous than usual, before they were beheaded because they didn’t want the dead starving on their journey to the other side.