Xia Wen panicked and looked around anxiously: “What can I do? Is he scared silly?
He shouted loudly: “Guards? Guards! Someone come quickly! Get a doctor for my brother! Anyone?”
As with Xia Xing, no response came from outside the cell.
Worried, Xia Wen kept calling out to Xia Xun, louder and louder, and in the end, he was shouting his name into Xia Xun’s ear.
Xia Xun’s state did not change. Xia Wen looked at him and felt that he was even paler than the paper man at Xia Xing’s funeral.
He kneeled beside Xia Xun, took one of his hands and begged in a panic: “Xia Xun, don’t scare me! We are the only two left in the Xia family! You can’t afford having any more trouble! Your brother— your brother has no one else left!”
At a loss, he suddenly recalled a vague memory from his childhood. Xia Wen had a friend who had a friend who saw a man kill a pig in the market and was so frightened that he became dumb and mute, just like Xia Xun was now.
His parents invited all the doctors in the capital, but no one could cure him. Later, an old auntie in charge of the family’s shopping brought her own godmother from the village, who used two red chopsticks to hold his fingers and hit him on the face with a peach branch.
After a few blows, he cried out an “oh” and returned to normal.
The godmother said that he had been spattered with pig’s blood and was possessed.
In a prison cell there were no chopsticks, let alone peach branches. Xia Wen did not care. He used his fingers as chopsticks, pinching Xia Xun’s middle finger fiercely.
Xia Xun seems to have a reaction, his eyelashes fluttering gently.
Xia Wen was afraid that the force of his hand was not enough, so he simply lifted up Xia Xun’s hand and put his fingers into his mouth, using all his strength to bite hard.
The two rows of teeth marks appeared on Xia Xun’s knuckles. His originally frozen eyes suddenly moved and his eyelids blinked slowly as he looked in Xia Wen’s direction: “…hurts…”
Xia Wen was overjoyed: “It hurts, good! Hurts is good! It hurts just right! Look at me, do you know who I am?!”
Xia Xun said in a dreamy voice, “You are… eldest brother.”
Xia Wen grinned, but his smile did not last long, quickly turning into crying without him realizing it.
He gripped Xia Xun’s hand and said, choking:
“…great …great …Dad and Mom are gone, I thought… thought you were gone too…”
He was an adult man and he was squatting in front of Xia Xun, whimpering and shedding tears.
Xia Xun looked at him in a daze.
Xia Wen cried for a little longer and gradually calmed down some, wiped off the tears on his face against his shoulder, still holding Xia Xun’s hand and refusing to let go.
Xia Xun seemed to feel sad too, mumbling: “Big brother, did I cry…?”
It was the first time he called him “big brother”, before he had always respectfully called him “eldest brother”.
Xia Wen sniffed.
“No, you… are very brave, and also…” he paused and said: “Also, in fact, all these years the family did not treat you well, you don’t need, no need to shed tears for them, but they… took even you…”
Xia Xun nodded, saying nothing else.
He propped up his hands on the ground and stood up, then drifted like a wandering spirit to the corner of the cell and sat down there, hugging his shins and burying his face in his knees, shrinking into a tiny ball.
He stayed in this corner for three days, without a drop of water, until one the fourth day, Xia Wen’s wife came.
His sister-in-law looked haggard, her face was shrunken, her eyes bloodshot. Her sickly body became even thinner and she looked like a piece of dry wood in her heavy robe.
After the Xia family’s incident, she ran around, trying to do something to give her husband a chance to live.
For three days, she searched for all the people she could find, and even went to see Qi Yan personally, but did not manage to find a way to turn things around.
She spent a lot of money to bribe the prison warden to get a brief meeting with Xia Wen.
As soon as she saw Xia Wen, two trickles of tears immediately flowed over her frightened, helpless face.
Xia Wen also had hot tears in his eyes, holding her hand tightly through the bars.
“My lady… My lady… I made you suffer!”
His wife, with tears in her eyes, took out the paper and the brush hidden on her bosom and handed them to Xia Wen.
“Husband, husband… I have inquired, they all said that if you are willing to write a confession and confess the crimes you have committed, then I will hand it over to His Majesty and you might be able to stay alive! I’ll wait here and go to the palace when my husband finishes writing it!”
Xia Wen took the paper and the brush, but did not write anything. Wiping away his tears, he said bitterly:
“It’s not as simple as you think.”
His wife said, “Is my husband worried that I won’t be able to see His Majesty? Don’t worry, I’ll sacrifice my life to go to the palace to meet His Majesty!”
Xia Wen shook his head.
“Even if His Majesty is willing to see you, it won’t help.”
She asked pitifully, “Why?”
Xia Wen smiled miserably.
“Because I remembered who Qi Yan is.”
At the time of the Qi family’s accident, Xia Wen was already fourteen years old, a teenager, and at that time he had heard some rumours that his father, Xia Hongxi, had gotten his current official position by framing the Qi family.
He vaguely remembered that the Qi family had a child who was the same age as Xia Xing, and his name was Qi Yan.
“If he really is the child I remember, he will certainly not spare me and Xia Xun. After all… my father is his father’s enemy, the two of us are the sons of his enemy. He hated my father to the point that he could cut off his head with his own hands, how would he spare us brothers? Father’s case will certainly be ironclad due to his efforts, he will never leave a loophole to make it possible to reverse the case. No matter what you do, it is impossible to save our lives…”
His wife refused to believe it.
“No… it can’t be! I will definitely be able to save you—!”
Xia Wen asked her to say nothing more.
“It’s just as well that you have brought the paper and the brush, I have something to write for you.”
He laid the paper flat on the ground and wrote down a few lines quickly without thinking or pausing, so it was clear that he was writing something that had been brewing in his mind for a long time.
After writing, he pushed the brush and the paper outside and walked deeper into the cell, turning his back and refusing to look at his wife again: “Take it and go! In the future… no need to come back!”
The lady hastily picked up the paper, read it twice and helplessly raised her sad eyes.
“The letter of separation… husband doesn’t… want me anymore?”
Xia Wen turned his back on her and said in a cold, stiff voice:
“Go home. Not Xia Mansion, but back to your own home! I have written that after my death, if there are still family assets that have not been confiscated, they will be all handed over to you, as a way… for our Xia family to compensate you. You can go. From now on, do not appear in front of me!”
After that, no matter how hard the lady pleaded, Xia Wen did not turn back once.
But Xia Xun could see clearly that Xia Wen raised his fist to his mouth and bit down on it to keep himself from crying out and his anguish being noticed by the lady.
Xia Xun thought blankly, Xia Wen loved her so much. When he said these words, his heart must have been even more painful than hers, right?
He slowly spread out his left hand.
The bandage that Qi Yan had personally wrapped around his hand had fallen off, and his fingers that had been burned and twisted were exposed.
He had been burned so badly, but the pain caused by the fire was far less than the pain Qi Yan inflicted on him.
The lady was tired of crying, and at the constant urging of the prison guard, she gave up.
The letter of separation written by Xia Wen’s own hand was crumpled in her grip, as she stumbled out of the prison, swaying and shivering.
After she left, Xia Wen’s pretence collapsed. He crouched on the ground, clutching the straw around him, crying like a child.
Xia Xun tried to pick him up; when he moved, his collar loosened and something fell out of his placket.
Xia Xun picked it up and saw that it was the comb that Qi Yan had given him.
That morning, he was sitting at Qi Yan’s home, eating acacia leaf cold cakes, feeling that he was the happiest person in the world.
Who would have thought that a few hours later, the man who used to comb his hair would destroy his family and send him to jail.
His hand on the comb gradually clenched, the teeth of the comb leaving deep indentations in his palm.
He was muttering, as if asking Qi Yan, and asking himself:
“Did my father really kill your father and mother…? Then what you have said to me, how you treated me, it all must have been… Did you just, just approach me to get revenge…?”
Xia Xun did not believe it. Even if he was to die, he still refused to believe.
That night, after Xia Wen fell asleep, he called the guard.
“Sir, please pass one thing out for me, I will reward you.”
Xia Xun had a few silver ingots in his pocket, so he gave them all to the guard. The guard weighed them twice and shoved them into his pocket.
“Tell me, what is it? And to whom?”
Xia Xun handed him the comb and said:
“Give this to Master Qi Yan and tell him that Xia Xun asked him to come to meet him in prison. When he sees it, he will surely come.”
The guard wondered, “Who is Qi Yan?”
Xia Wen told him, “He is the official who is presiding over the case of our Xia family, he has a handsome face and a mole at the corner of his eye. He will definitely come to the Judicial Review Court in the next few days to retrieve the dossier. Please keep an eye out for me and when he comes, deliver this to him.”
The guard took the comb and left, and Xia Xun’s long wait began.
He waited for ten whole days.
After ten days, Qi Yan did not come but the guard returned. He said:
“The first two times he was always surrounded by people and I did not find the opportunity to approach him. Last night he was finally alone. I quietly approached him and showed him the comb but he did not respond. I asked him if he knew this thing and he said he didn’t!”
Xia Xun was confused: “…what…?”
The guard said: “I am willing to help you, I can pass your words, but he didn’t care about you, so I can’t help it! That lord is out of the question, if you want to live, find someone else to intercede!”
Xia Xun’s face was ashen, as if he was struck by lightning.
“Yes, yes…” he whispered. “Why didn’t I think of that? I am the son of Xia Hongxi, he hates me too much… how can he come to see me… and how can he be sincere with me at least for a moment…”
The guard pushed the comb into the cell.
“I give this thing back to you. Do you have other people you want to send a message to? I can do it again for you, for the same price as last time.”
Xia Xun gave him a bleak, bitter smile and retreated back into the shadows of the cell.
“No need to… you take it…”
The guard looked at the comb for a few moments and saw that it was inlaid with a few tiny pieces of jade, so he gladly accepted it.
Before leaving, he said to Xia Xun: “I didn’t take your money for nothing, I’ll let you know something. The case of you two brothers will be judged soon. From my experience of many years, the situation is not good. If you still have connections, take advantage of these days to use them.”
Xia Wen was asleep but the sound of their conversation disturbed him. He woke up just in time to hear this last sentence.
He rose to his feet and rushed to the bars, asking eagerly:
“Master guard, master guard! Why is the sentence coming so soon? No one has even interrogated us yet?”
The guard scratched his head.
“I’m not sure, I just happened to hear a few words yesterday, the official who is presiding over the case said that the evidence is conclusive, there is no need to interrogate.”
Xia Wen’s legs weakened and he leaned against the bars, covered in cold sweat.
Xia Xun muttered: “…He must hate us so much…”
The guard had seen too many death row inmates and was used to this scene; chanting “It’s cold, it’s cold” and rubbing his arms, he left.
A few days later, the emperor’s decree was issued.
The two men who were prepared to die did not lose their lives. The emperor sentenced them to exile and sent them three thousand miles away to Lingnan.