Last chapter recap: Ning Yi shows Elders Qin and Kang his different calligraphy styles and a new poem.
Chapter 19 Loyal Subject
“… Is this a full poem, or just some fragmented lines?” Beside the Qinhuai River, Elder Qin asked Ning Yi.
On the side, Kang Xian sighed, “The three-peak’d mountain is half lost in azure sky, the two-fork’d stream by Egret Isle is kept apart … even if they are fragments, they are masterworks …”
Ning Yi looked at the poem, and then laughed. “Ah, fragments.” He spread his hands. “I do not understand poems …”
“This boy is not honest. Otherwise, we can get some good poems today …”
While they stated such a complain, it was usual for authors to only have fragments when writing poetry. The pair of old men did not say more, and started to discuss the calligraphy. Calligraphy was a specialized field. Poetry could be said to be written by others, but the characters could not be said to be written by others. Also, the several scripts had their own systems. Both men were masters of this field, and naturally could see the skill at a glance.
To calligraphy masters like them, the strokes had their soul and bones. The characters written with charcoal might not reach the level of a master, but showed enough skill. Just like Nie Yun Zhu, no one in an era like this would think that someone would practice this kind of writing at home. People that could write like this with charcoal would naturally have even greater skill with brush calligraphy. For them, those scripts, that they had never seen before, were of indescribable value.
The italic characters at the end were novel, but had no value to study and just like a slightly more skilled game for children. Yet the “The three-peak’d mountain is half lost in azure sky, the two-fork’d stream by Egret Isle is kept apart” written in Song script and skinny script was profound and pleasing to see for the two.
These two scripts originally appeared during the Song Dynasty. The history of the Wu Dynasty was similar to the Song Dynasty with many scholars and great development of Confucianism over time. All kinds of innovations appeared during the pursuit of novelty and change. These two scripts undoubtedly were the most novel and fitting to the present sense of beauty.
Being one step ahead of the times was to be a genius, but two steps ahead, a madman. These two scripts coincidentally were built on the foundations of this era, and appeared to have changed tangibly to make a material breakthrough. When Ning Yi wrote this, he might not have thought too much. At most, he wanted to give them a small shock to depict the problem. But even if he did not actively think, he would subconsciously make all the complicated calculations and select for the simplest result. There was no reason to hide these things of culture, and the “unreliable” italic script at the end coincidentally could prove that he liked to play. He could preserve the shock of the Song script and skinny script while turning the impact into something natural rather than pointed.
As the two discussed calligraphy, Ning Yi was silent most of the time and occasionally only spoke of some of the crucial things he knew. These two people were true scholars and had better basic technique than he did. He would listen more and speak less. He was bored these days and was trying to improve his calligraphy. Just a few words would be of benefit to him.
If he was an ordinary scholar, the two most likely would not teach him like this. Of course, if the two were in a teaching mode, they would target their teachings to their students. There would be no benefit to ordinary students to hear too much. Ning Yi had strong abilities to absorb, understand and organize knowledge. He only admired the two’s vast knowledge, but did not revere them or listen to them blindly. There was no harm in him listening.
The discussion of calligraphy continued for about an hour. The pair occasionally wrote and drew on the white board with charcoal. Their hands had turned black and they went to the water to wash their hands after. Elder Qin and Elder Kang did not discuss the charcoal and brush. With the skill that Ning Yi showed, if he made a change in the little school, he did not need their advice. Of course, if he wanted to promote this, there would be questions.
Ning Yi clapped his hands, and then shook the water droplets from his hands. He said, “Actually, charcoal is not good to write with. In a few days, I plan to get some plaster and make a few chalks. When I paint the board black, the words in white would be clearer than now, and it would be easy to clean.”
“Plaster?” Elder Kang said in puzzlement. “What is the chalk?”
“Burn the plaster with fire, add water and mix before forming strips with a mold. They can be used to write, and will not be as blurry as charcoal. Our hands will not be as dirty as well.”
Plaster and limestone already existed in the Wu Dynasty.
Elder Kang thought and then said, “Yes, after plaster is burned, it can be used to write … ha, you do not need to find anyone else. If you want them, this old man can order someone to make a batch for you. What are the size and shape requirements? Also, are there anything else to pay attention to?”
Ning Yi knew Elder Kang was a wealthy man. Since the other had spoke, he would not refuse. He sketched out what chalk would look like. The process of making chalk was simple. Even if one did not deliberately attempt to make them, the hard pieces that naturally formed in some plaster caves could be used to write. There was not much to speak of. “You can have the craftsman try a few times, or add in some sticky impurities to find the best mixture for writing.”
“This old man will do so. A’Gui.” Whenever Elder Kang left home each day, he would have four servants following him, two male and two female. He called one of them. “You also heard Young Master Ning’s words. When we return, send the order.”
The person bowed and said, “Yes.”
“Haha, we were discussing the scripts and our tea cooled …”
Previously, all three had been holding charcoal and naturally couldn’t go drink their tea. It was late in the day now and they had no desire to play another match. The group sat by the tea stall for a while, and Kang Xian’s servant girl came over with new tea. The white wooden board was still placed on the side, and the topic of the discussion was still on the scripts. Not long after, Elder Qin started to comment on the style of the calligraphy masters of the present. He himself was skilled in calligraphy and he was confident as he commented, and even teasing Kang Xian’s writing. Kang Xian laughed and cursed, “Clerical script, cursive, this old man is not as good as you in those. But for regular script, you are far less than this old man.”
Elder Qin smiled and said, “This is specialization. Honorable Ming lectures people all the time with the gentleman’s conduct. If your calligraphy is lacking, you will lose authority. Honorable Ming is the only person in history who practiced the regular script to such a level just to lecture others …”
After joking for a few moment, Elder Qin thought a moment and changed topics, “… however, Li Heng’s writing makes this old man think of a person. This person is also from my Qin Family and has great talent. In the past, when I was at Dongjing, he once travelled and stayed with this old man. He has outstanding talent, conversation abilities and had a good hand. His style is similar to the style of Li Heng’s ‘The three-peak’d mountain is half lost in azure sky,’ with great appearance and structure … however, his writing at the time had not been set and I do not know how he is now.”
Ning Yi’s eyes twitched slightly. On the other side, Kang Xian laughed. “Is Honorable Qin speaking of the present palace aide to the censor-in-chief, Qin Gui, Qin Hui Zhi?”
Elder Qin nodded. “Exactly this person. A few years ago, when the Liao people went south, they once captured his family. However, this person was brave and cunning. He went into the lands, was able to work with the Liao. A few years ago, when the Liao attacked Shanyang, he was able to take the opportunity to come back south with his family. Oh … he is now the palace aide to the censor-in-chief?”
“Last month, the imperial bulletins mentioned this matter. Due to his southward return, he is being heavily used now, especially since he did not forget his wife during times of danger. It is said when they were in the Liao Country, the Liao wanted to detain his wife. The two put up a play in order to return together. During their escape, they were discovered by the Liao. They managed to escape under the protection of several loyal servants who died. It can be seen they are good masters … oh, the battle at the front lines is not successful. His deeds appear especially valuable. However, right now at court, it is not unanimous praise. There are many suspicions about his return. They think that the matter is suspicious and fishy…”
Elder Qin thought a moment and shook his head. “This is hard to say. A gentleman should not specular without proof. Based on what this old man saw, this person is honorable, and generous. His worries for country and the people are not a pretense. We will see how he will be in the future. Ah … speaking of this, Hui Zhi’s old home is in Jiangning. If he returns in the future, Li Heng should meet with him, you may have a common language…”
Ning Yi blinked and then rubbed his nose. A moment later, he laughed and nodded half-heartedly.
Elder Qin and Elder Kang did not see anything wrong. Kang Xian took a sip from his teacup and looked at Ning Yi. “Li Heng has such talent, you really have no desire for scholarly honor?”
Purely in terms of time, Ning Yi and the two had not known each other for long. Just as Kang Xian said, they just played weiqi and talked. But scholars like them mostly thought of country and the people. To working for the world and the people, to continue the work of the sages, to desire the peace of the world, to learn martial and scholarly skills to serve the imperial family were all things that did not have to be discussed. While Elder Qin only leisurely played weiqi and Kang Xian also looked like an indolent wealthy man, there had to be complicated reasons behind all this.
From their contact in these days, from the Prelude to the Water Melody in Midautumn, and the chalk pens today, all of this told them that Ning Yi undoubtedly had talent. Then their puzzlement became clear. Like in the past, Elder Qin would occasionally lament that it was a pity he was a zhuixu, but that was just a lament and not a question. But the question this time had a different meaning.
From the conversation this afternoon, Ning Yi’s desire to refuse a reputation as a scholar was clear. He did not appear to be joking or was half-hearted. Who in the world had no thought to scholarly merit? There had to be another reason. These two both had high status. Since Kang Xian asked the question with such an attitude, he truly had pity for talent.. This was already … planning to act and help.
The autumn wind blew across the river and moved the willow branches. Elder Qin raised his teacup, slowly blowing on the tea leaves, his gaze straight as he waited curiously for Ning Yi’s answer. Feeling the meaning in the words, Ning Yi shook his head nonchalantly.
“I know that if I say this, people may not believe me. However … I do not want to do some things. Talent, reputation, scholarly merit, I am not willing to touch them. This is … true.”
Translator Ramblings: This chapter was done … like two weeks ago and then Word crashed with the edits.