I look at the printed copy of the silk book full of words and then at the expression on Uncle Three’s face. It didn’t seem like he was joking. Was it possible that Uncle Three had reached such a transcendental level that he could see the image from the words? But no matter how you looked at it, it was impossible for this old and unscrupulous guy who ate, drank, gambled, and whored around to have any kind of immortal roots.
Uncle Three trembled with excitement and said to himself, “Where did these people get such an amazing thing? How come I’ve never been able to find something like this? This time, I’m really fortunate. It seems like they still don’t know what this is. We can overtake them before they even start digging.”
I was really confused, “Uncle Three, maybe I’m a little stupid but can you really see the map amidst such tiny words?”
“What do you know? It’s called script mapping. In other words, the detailed geographical location of that place is written in these words. Most people wouldn’t understand this kind of thing, but fortunately, your Uncle Three here has some experience. In this world, I’m afraid there are no more than ten people besides me who can understand this thing.”
My Uncle Three didn’t have many skills, but ever since he was a child, he had studied a lot of strange and unorthodox ancient texts and code words. To put it simply, he studied anything that was uncommon. Take, for example, Xixia’s Five Illustrations of the Wooden Text and the earliest Jurchen Ya characters.(1) Uncle Three could understand them and talk about them in great detail so it came as no surprise that he knew this thing was script mapping.
But he was the kind of person who liked to take advantage of others, so you had to play dumb in front of him. Otherwise, he’d dismiss you with a single word. So, I put on a naïve expression and asked him, “Oh, does it say go left and then go right and when you see a big tree in front of you, turn right and you’ll see a well, at which point you start digging? Is it something like this?”
Uncle Three sighed, “You’re such a lousy student. Your comprehension is so bad that it seems our family will be finished with your generation.”
I looked at him sighing like that as if he were regretting it from the bottom of his heart and couldn’t help but think that it was a little funny. “What are you saying? My dad didn’t teach me any of this stuff and it wasn’t like I was born knowing it.”
He had a smug expression on his face as he started explaining, “This kind of script mapping is actually a kind of secret code. It has a strict format, so as long as you draw what the written text describes according to the format, you’ll end up with a complete map. So don’t underestimate this silk book even though it only has a few words. You don’t know how complicated the information it contains is. For all we know, it might even tell us how many bricks were used in a certain location.”
As soon as I heard this, I immediately became interested. Ever since I was a child, my family wouldn’t let me go out on any grave robbing expeditions. But this time, I had to get Uncle Three to take me to have a look and snag some treasures so that I could survive my current economic crisis. As I was thinking this, I asked him, “Then can you see whose tomb it’s written about, or whether the person was an influential lord?”
Uncle Three wore a pleased smile on his face, “I can’t fully understand it now, but this tomb should belong to a nobleman from the State of Lu during the Warring States Period. The fact that his tomb was recorded in this silk book using this secret script mapping technique shows that this person’s position should be quite high. Moreover, this tomb is so heavily concealed that it must be worth a visit.”
I looked into his eyes shining with excitement and found it a bit strange. This old guy was so lazy that he normally wouldn’t even bother to step out of the door of his own house. Did this mean that he wanted to go out and see the tomb for himself this time? It sounded like it would really be a fantastic story for the ages, so I hurriedly asked him, “What? Uncle Three, are you really going to dig this tomb up yourself?”
He patted me on the shoulder, “You don’t understand this, so let me tell you something. In the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasty tombs, there are certainly treasures, but they can only be described as wonderful workmanship at best. When it comes to the ancient royal tombs during the Warring States Period, however, you’ll never be able to guess what’s in them. The tombs of that time period are the places where magical artifacts can be found. They’re all things that can’t be found in the world! Do you really think I’d want to miss out on this?”
“Are you so sure? Maybe there’s nothing in it.”
“Impossible, didn’t you see this pattern?” He pointed to the strange fox face, “This is the mask worn by the earliest people in the State of Lu when they were offered up as sacrifices. There must be someone with a very special identity buried in this tomb. They may have even been more respected than the emperor at that time.”
“Maybe it was the emperor’s father,” I blurted out.
Uncle Three glared at me and tried to put the pictures away, but I pressed my hands down on them and smiled at him, “Uncle Three, don’t be in such a rush to put them away. I was the one who brought them here, so take me with you so that I can get some first-hand experience this time.”
“That’s out of the question!” He shouted. “Digging up this tomb isn’t as easy as you think. There’s no air-conditioning in that place and it will be full of traps. You may die at any time. You are your father’s only child. If anything happens to you, he’ll skin me alive.”
I also started shouting, “Then screw it! Just pretend I never came!” I jerked the papers out of his hand, turned my head, and started walking away.
I knew Uncle Three. Once he came across something he liked—whether it be antiques or women—all of his principles went out the window. I was certain I had him at this point, and sure enough, I had only taken a few steps when he immediately surrendered. He caught up with me and grabbed the papers in my hand, “Ok, ok, ok. You’ve got me. But you have to agree to stay outside of the grave robbers’ tunnel when we go down. How about it?”
I immediately became elated and thought to myself, will you really be able to stop me when I want to go down? But I just quickly nodded and said, “You got it! When we head out, I’ll listen to everything you say and do whatever you want me to do!”
Uncle Three sighed helplessly and said, “The two of us can’t do it alone, so I’ll call in some experienced guys tomorrow. I’ll solve this script mapping in the next few days, but you have to help me buy some things.” As he spoke, he quickly wrote out a list and handed it to me while adding, “Don’t buy any knock-offs. And be sure to prepare some equipment and clothes that we can use to pretend to be ordinary travelers. Otherwise, we’ll be arrested before we even reach the place.”
I nodded to show my understanding and then got to work.
The things Uncle Three wanted were a bit tricky to find. I figured he was deliberately trying to make things difficult because the things on this list generally weren’t available in stores. They included things like waterproof miner’s lamps that could be taken apart, threaded steel pipes, shovel heads that could collect soil, pocketknives, folding shovels, short-handled hammers, bandages, nylon ropes, and so on. I had only bought half of the things on the list and ended up spending nearly ten thousand yuan. Feeling distressed in my heart, I cursed the old fox for being stingy despite being so rich.
Three days later, I met up with my Uncle Three, two of his old grave-robbing buddies, and the young man who had bought my uncle’s “dragon back” good that day. The five of us traveled more than a hundred kilometers west towards the Temple of Seeds in Shandong.
Speaking of this place, how should I describe it? The best I can say is that it was in the middle of nowhere. We first had to take a long-distance coach, then a long-distance minibus, then long-distance motorcycles, and then an oxcart. When we finally got off the oxcart, we looked all around but didn’t see anything. Then, a dog came running towards us. My Uncle Three patted the guide he had hired and said, “Old man, are we supposed to ride this dog next? I’m afraid it might be too much for him to handle!”
“No,” the old man laughed. “This dog is a messenger. There aren’t any cars on this last leg of the trip, so we have to make do with a boat. The dog will bring the boat to us.”
“Can this dog swim?”
“He can swim well, he can swim well.” The old man looked at the dog, “Lu Dandan, go and take a swim.”(2)
The dog was really intelligent and actually jumped into the river and started swimming around. When he came back up, he shook his fur out and then lay on the ground with his tongue hanging out.
“It’s still too early. The boatman definitely hasn’t started work yet. Let’s take a break and have a smoke.”
I glanced at my watch, “If he hasn’t started work by 2:00 p.m., then what’s your boatman’s schedule like?”
“He’s the only boatman here, but he’s also the best. He starts working whenever he gets up, and sometimes, he doesn’t work at all. It really makes people anxious.” The old man smiled. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. The river god here really favors him. If anyone else enters the cave, they definitely won’t make it out, but he’s always fine. If you can ride mules, we can climb over the mountain and get there in a day. But you guys have so many things that the mules in our village won’t be enough for you.”
“Oh,” Uncle Three immediately became excited when he heard about the cave and took out the decoded map. He kept treating it like some kind of treasure and wouldn’t let me see it. As soon as he took it out, we immediately leaned over to look at it, all except for the young man who just sat off to the side without saying a word.
To tell you the truth, my uncle’s two buddies were easy to get along with. They were both real people. But this guy was like a tightly sealed oil bottle.(3) He didn’t even say a single word the whole way through our journey. He just looked straight up at the blue sky, as if it would suddenly fall down. It was so annoying! I spoke a few words with him at first, but then I got bored and simply ignored him after that. I really didn’t understand why Uncle Three had brought him here.
“There’s a cave—it’s really a river cave—just behind this mountain,” Uncle Three said. “How about it, old man? Does this cave eat people?”
The old man smiled, “That’s a story left over from previous generations. I can’t remember it clearly. The villagers used to say that there was a snake spirit in the river channel, and none of the people who went into that cave ever came out. Then, one day, the boatman’s great-grandfather came out of the cave on a boat, saying that he was a peddler from outside. But how could a peddler run around carrying a boat? Everyone said that he was the transformed snake spirit, but he just laughed and said that he had bought the boat in the next village over. If they didn’t believe him, they could go to the next village and ask. They ran to the village and asked, and sure enough, it turned out to be true. They believed that the monster in the cave was finally gone, but several brave young people who went to explore the cave never came out. Since then, only the boatman’s family could go in and out. Do you think it’s strange? As time passed by, their family continued doing this business and have done so up until now.”
“Then is the dog the same?” I was a little curious. “Didn’t you say it’s a messenger?”
“This dog was also raised by the boatman’s family. But other people’s dogs and cows can’t leave that place once they go in.”
“With such a strange thing occurring, no one from the government has come to investigate it?”
“That would require them to believe us.” The old man knocked his old tobacco out onto the ground.
Uncle Three frowned and then clapped his hands, “Lu Dandan, come here.”
The dog was really obedient and eagerly came running over. When Uncle Three picked him up and smelled him, his face immediately changed, “No way, is such a thing really in that cave?”
I also picked him up and smelled him, but the terrible odor made me choke and start coughing. This dog’s owner was really lazy. I had no idea how long it had been since he had given this dog a bath.
One of Uncle Three’s buddies, Pan Zi, started laughing loudly, “You want to be like your Uncle Three but you’re still too young.”
“This damned dog, why is it so smelly?!” I gagged while trying to hold back my nausea.
“This dog grew up eating corpse flesh when he was a pup,” Uncle Three said. “That place is a corpse cave. It’s not surprising that we have to wait a certain amount of time before entering it. But that boatman, I’m afraid when he was a child, he was also…”
“No way!” I was so scared that my hair was standing on end. Even the silent Poker-Face’s expression changed when he heard this sentence.
My Uncle Three’s other buddy, whom we called Ah Kui, was a big guy who was almost as big as the ox pulling the cart, but he was very timid. “What the hell is a corpse cave?” He asked softly. “Will something happen when we go in?”
“I don’t know. A few years ago, I also found a cave like this in Taiyuan, Shanxi. It was a place where the Japanese put the corpses of those they slaughtered. Wherever there’s a corpse cave, there must have been a massacre—that’s for sure. At that time, it was fun to do experiments there. I’d put dogs and ducks on a bamboo raft, set up a camera on it, and then push the raft into the cave. The cave went on for a little over a kilometer. I prepared a long enough rope, but when I tried to pull it back out, the bamboo raft wouldn’t budge. The inside of the cave was pitch black, so I didn’t know where it had drifted to. Later, I tried to pull the bamboo raft out again, but I had only tugged on the rope a few times when the bamboo raft suddenly turned over. And then… ” Uncle Three spread his hands out. “In the end, I only saw half of a face. But it was too close to the screen to see whether it was a dog or something else.
“In ancient times, if you wanted to go through this kind of cave, then a group of dead and living people would need to pass through together. If it was just a living thing by itself, it definitely wouldn’t be able to get out once it went in! But I heard that there’s a place in Shanxi where people feed corpse flesh to children at an early age. That way, the corpse scent accumulates in their bodies. By the time they grow up, their bodies smell no different from dead people. Even ghosts won’t be able to see them. Old man, is your boatman from Shanxi?”
The old man’s expression changed slightly and he shook his head, “I don’t know, that was his great-grandfather’s time. It was long before my time.” He suddenly looked up at the sky and then shouted at the dog, “Lu Dandan, go and bring your boat over!”
The dog whimpered and then jumped into the water and swam to the back of the mountain.
At this time, I saw Uncle Three give Pan Zi a meaningful look. Pan Zi secretly took out a backpack from the luggage pile and put it on his back. The young man sitting off to the side also stood up and pulled his bag out of the luggage pile. Pan Zi walked behind me and whispered in the Hangzhou dialect, “There’s something off with this old man. Be careful.”
<Chapter 2><Table of Contents><Chapter 4>
(1) Xixia= Western Xia dynasty 1038-1227 of Tangut people occupying modern Ningxia and parts of Gansu and Shaanxi. They were overthrown by Mongols. The Jurchens were a Tungus ethnic group, predecessor of the Manchu ethnic group who founded the Later Jin Dynasty and Qing Dynasty. The Ya in “Ya characters” can mean something like “ivory or tooth”.
(2) Lu Dandan= Donkey balls
(3) There it is guys, our first “Menyouping” (闷油瓶) reference. Direct translation is “stuffy oil bottle” but that sounds stupid in English so any future “Menyouping” references will be “Poker-Face”. Fun fact, the “ping” in Menyouping forms part of the PingXie ship name fans came up with (that’s Poker-Face x Wu Xie if you somehow didn’t know).
5 thoughts on “Chapter 3 Temple of Seeds”
Xiaoge!!!! Panzi!! (Sob) aaaah it’s so nice to meet you all again for the first time
LikeLiked by 1 person
Such a different feeling this time around.
“That it seems our family will be finished with your generation.” Yes, It was he who jinxed Wu Xie, (He has someone to take care of so he didn’t think about marriage.)
So cool to see the moment where our baby meets these guys for the first time. 👏
thank you for the chapter
Thank you so much for your translation efforts!!!