Agarwood like Crumbs (沉香如屑) Novel Translations

Chapter 1: Fish Soup and Coffins

Reading Time: 10 minutes
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The sunset at the horizon is a fiery red color, illuminating the snow and causing it to turn a light shade of red. It’s a charming sight to see.

HuMan stumbles on the snow covered ground, leaving a trail of fresh blood. He is a notorious thief in Jiang Yang, but after his last adventure ended up with him getting ambushed, he ended up in this miserable state. 

From time to time, he would sigh, rip off a piece of fabric from his clothes, bend down, and wrap the cloth around his feet. After being chased for 3 days and 3 nights, his shoes have already been worn out from the thorns and stones on the mountain. HuMan’s feet are freezing cold- he’s painfully aware that his feet have probably gotten frostbite.

He’s both hungry and thirsty as he walked alongside the river. It wouldn’t be easy to catch a fish in the river, but for a thief like him, who has strong martial art skills, it can’t be too difficult. He reached into his pocket- there was only a towel and a couple pieces of silver- but there was nothing that could start a fire.

Since there’s nothing to start a fire with, even if HuMan managed to catch a fish, he would have to eat it raw. Normally, he wouldn’t tolerate this, but when he’s starving and desperate and there is a glimmer of survival, he’s willing to do what needs to be done.

HuMan staggered to the edge of the river, about to wade into the water, when he heard the sound of somebody already in the water. About 20 steps away from him, there was a woman in light green clothes kneeling on the edge of her boat, placing towels into the river, and then wringing the water out. 

His eyes lit up. He first looked around vigilantly but the ones who were chasing him were already gone. Other than him and this lady, there was nobody here. He slowly approached the lady on the boat. The lady appeared to not have seen him, still taking out a robe from her basket and washing it in the river.

The robe that she was washing was a man’s robe. HuMan slowly inched forward, trying to see if there was anybody else in the boat. The longer a person is wounded, the more cautious that person is, in case they make another mistake. This applied to HuMan.

HuMan thought of a story he once heard in the JiangHu: there was a young man who once hunted in the wilderness, and there was a gorgeous maid always beside him, carrying a silver cup and a jade cup, so that others will immediately know that he came from a rich family. Immediately, there was a thief following him, a really famous thief, hoping to steal the man’s treasure. This theif became famous because of his cunning and cruel manner, never being afraid to murder someone. After a while, the thief was finally found: his corpse lying in a river in the mountain, his eyes wide open, and there were no wounds, other than a small cut between his eyebrows.

Once HuMan remembered the entire story, he felt his body get cold, and was too afraid to get closer to the boat. He suddenly heard a cough coming from the boat, and a man with a weak voice called out, “YanDan, come here.”

The lady immediately stood up and entered the boat’s cabin. When she went inside the cabin, HuMan could already smell the tempting aroma of delicious food.

He gathered up his courage, and walked towards the boat. Coincidentally, the lady came out of the boat cabin, seeing a dirty and rugged stranger walk towards her. She stammered, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

HuMan forced a smile, “Don’t worry, I’m a shopkeeper, but I met some pirates along the way, and they stole all of my stuff. So I ran away, and ended up here.” The sentence wasn’t the entire truth, but it wasn’t entirely all lies either.

YanDan’s eyes showed sympathy, and smiled a little, “I thought that you were a bad person at first.” She was already really beautiful before, but once she smiled, she became even prettier.

HuMan walked forward, and told her, “I’m already so hungry I can barely move, you’re such a pretty person, your heart must also be pure, can you please give me some food to eat?”

YanDan shook her head apologetically, “I can’t make the decision, I have to ask our Childe.” She turned around, carefully making her way back into the boat’s cabin, “Childe, there is a shopkeeper outside, he’s running away from pirates and hasn’t eaten food for days. Can I bring him inside and give him food?”

The person inside replied, with the same weak voice as before, “It’s cold outside, let him in.”

YanDan turned to HuMan and smiled, “You can come inside.” HuMan had sharp eyes, and could tell from a glance that her hands were pretty and very white, her fingertips were soft, which meant that she definitely doesn’t know martial arts, and hasn’t even done normal day to day chores before.

In the middle of the boat cabin was a young man wrapped in blankets and leaned on a soft pillow. The man’s face was pale and had a sickly flush on his cheeks. He bowed feebly, and said, “please sit. I am very ill, so I won’t stand up, sorry about the lack of politeness, please don’t blame me.”

HuMan was secretly ecstatic, but managed to maintain a nonchalant expression, “thank you, childe.” HuMan is exhausted, and it will probably only take two to three days for him to recover. On the boat, other than him, there is a weak girl, and an ill childe. Once he had eaten his fill and recovered, he could control these two people easily. 

YanDan brought over a cushion for HuMan. Once he sat down, he could smell the aroma of the delicious food, but managed to not get tempted by the food, “How can you two stay in the wilderness? This place is very unstable and there are also a lot of forts nearby, so staying here is really dangerous.”

The young childe sat up straight, and replied in a gentle and refined manner, “I saw that the snow scenery here is pretty, so I rented a small boat, hoping to stay there for a couple of nights. I can’t forget my dear friend’s reminder, after tonight, we will leave.”

In a glance, HuMan saw that the childe’s hairpin was made of white jade, made in an impeccable manner and shined with luster and warmth. He must be very rich, as his jade hairpin was very valuable. A childe this rich must be coming to the wilderness to see the snow scenery must be a scholar looking to write some poems. This was what HuMan thought, but he pretended to admire the childe very much, “Only a person as elegant as you can enjoy the snow scenery. I don’t know your name, and because I’m only out of danger with your help, once I get back, I will make sure to pray for you two to live a long life.”

Right after he finished speaking, he heard YanDan chuckle lightly, but when the childe looked her way, she . Then, the childe turned towards HuMan and told him, “I am YuMo. This is a small thing, helping you out of danger, there is no need for you to remember it.”

HuMan repeated the name “YuMo” a couple of times, certain that there’s nobody in the jianghu named YuMo.

The sun fully set beneath the horizon and the cold wind blew harder. But the fire in the fireplace was still burning vigorously and you can’t even feel the cold air blowing in.

YanDan picked up 2 pieces of wet cloth, folded them, and placed them around her hands, and brought the burning hot pot to the table. You could smell the delicious aroma and see the soup still boiling with white bubbles.

It was a pot of fish soup, which had been cooking for quite some time in the fire, so the soup was slightly white, the fish’s body was white oily.

HuMan unconsciously started drooling. YanDan took out a bowl and chopsticks, and first scooped a bowl of fish soup for HuMan, along with a piece of fish. “Please eat.” And then, she spooned another bowl of fish soup, kneeled by YuMo, and blew at it to get rid of some of the heat.

In two to three gulps, HuMan had already finished all of the soup, and didn’t even bother taking the bones out of the fish. After his stomach wasn’t empty anymore, he sighed with satisfaction.

Meanwhile, YuMo couldn’t even swallow a spoonful of the soup. YanDan patiently took a spoonful of soup, blew over it, and brought it to his mouth. Before YuMo could swallow it, he had a coughing fit, and coughed all of the soup out. YanDan panicked, and stroked his back, trying to soothe his coughs. “Childe, if you don’t want to eat, then don’t force yourself. Once you have an appetite, I can make some more soup for you.”

YuMo nodded and leaned against his cushion, not speaking at all.

YanDan filled HuMan’s bowl with more fish soup, speaking quietly, “the Childe’s not well.”

HuMan took the bowl, “After some healing, he should be fine, but it depends on his luck.” He rolled his eyes and made a decision. He definitely wouldn’t keep this sick childe, but the young girl was rather cute and gentle, as well as being good at craftsmanship. It wouldn’t be bad to take the girl and make her into his concubine.

After dinner, HuMan suddenly said, “I’ve already filled my stomach, and I have nothing to pay back for your kindness, so how about I tell you a story?”

YanDan smiled, “Sure, I love listening to stories.” YuMo leaned back and said nothing.

The story that HuMan wanted to tell was a very popular story in the JiangHu, and his very last test for the two of them. As long as they were from the JiangHu, there’s no way they haven’t heard this story before.

“This story takes place in QingShi Town. There was a boy, a very poor one, and his father died, and there was no money for a proper burial, so the only thing he could do was drag his father to bury him in a random place. But this little boy was still filial, so he thought that if he just let his father’s body outside, then the wild dogs might eat him, so the boy dug a hole. Digging, and digging, he suddenly heard a clinking sound. He saw that there was something shiny in the ground. Guess what?” HuMan asked mysteriously, but YanDan only shook her head, not knowing what would happen, so he continued. “There was a cup made of gold, already flattened. The boy jumped into the pit, and used his hands to dig. After a bit, he already managed to dig out several butterfly-shaped pieces made of jade. He had never seen something this precious, and the jade could be traded for a lot of money. He brought the treasure home, forgetting about burying his poor father. The news that he dug up a couple pieces of treasure spread quickly, and many people came to question him, but once they opened the door, they were shocked. Guess what happened?”

YanDan still shook her head, “I don’t know.”

HuMan slammed his hand on the table, causing the lantern to jump up a bit, “The boy had already died in his home, his eyes wide with shock, his face turning purple, as if he was really scared. The corpse had already rotted, and there were many bugs crawling in and out of his body. His hands were still holding those couple of pieces of jade. And the people who took his jade, after a couple of days, were all dead as well. The symptoms were exactly the same as the little boy.

YanDan’s face showed that she was very scared and even YuMo’s eyes slightly widened.

“It was like a disease, everybody who touched the jade died. Finally, a group of talented people came to QingShi Town, and they kept on finding the tombs and breaking into them. In the middle of the tomb was a coffin. The coffin was very thick, the wood it was made of was very high quality, and there were jewels embellishing the wood. The coffin, by itself, could be sold for a really good price. They opened the coffin, and there was only a girl lying inside there, a beautiful girl. The girl looked like she was alive.” HuMan said, his voice trembling a little, “The girl suddenly jumped up, put her hands into the leader’s heart, and dug out his heart. The leader’s eyes widened, his face twisted into a horrified expression, and died without resistance. The rest all ran away as fast as possible.”

As she listened, YanDan was more and more scared, and shrunk towards YuMo. YuMo patted her shoulder lightly, and spoke in a comforting manner, “The earth and heavens are both righteous, why would there be ghosts in our world? As this story spread, the words became more and more twisted, so don’t believe it.” 

HuMan only smiled, not refuting what YuMo said.

After a while, YanDan suddenly said, “Oh no, I forgot to dry the clothes that I washed earlier.” She stood up, and quickly hurried to the stern of the boat. HuMan stared at her, thinking that she was rather cute. YuMo closed his eyes, and lied down.

HuMan, seeing an opportunity, took out a dagger, and walked slowly towards YuMo.

The fire in the fireplace burned vigorously, the red light reflecting on the childe’s face, making him even more handsome looking. HuMan suddenly rushed forward, covered the childe’s mouth, and raised his dagger. He could see YuMo’s eyelashes trembling slightly, as he slowly opened his eyes.

As the sun rose from the east, the thin layer of snow covering the riverbank melted. There were still a couple of pieces of thin ice floating on the LanXi river, as the small boats headed northward, following the river’s flow.

A young and handsome man stood at the tip of the boat, tilted his head above the sky, and closed his eyes. When he opened them, his eyes were red, “Are you done packing? We’re almost at the shore.”

The boat’s curtains lifted, and a girl wearing a light green robe came out, her hands holding a basket with quite a few things in them, “alright, alright, stop urging me.” She bent down, and threw the basket, along with everything in them, into the river. The basket floated away along with the river, the dagger sunk to the bottom with a *plop*, and the only thing floating ontop of the river was a man’s clothes, dirty and ripped up, as well as a purple pot.

“That man seems like he really was hungry, he even ate the leaves and mud with relish*,” she smiled and looked up at the childe next to her. 

“You knew what that thing was, yet still came over to try to feed me it. You’re really getting braver and more rebellious.” He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, they became black again. “I think that you’re more and more restless.” He said the last sentence with a smile.

YanDan smiled, “That mortal had a bad heart, his hands are stained with blood, such a disgusting spirit and you even dared to eat it! Even the leaves and mud are cleaner than him.”

YuMo took a moment to recollect, and nodded, “Indeed, he wasn’t too clean. But it’s still better than nothing. If you eat a spirit that’s too pure, then the heavens will punish you for it, and I don’t want to shorten my life.” He squinted his eyes, his face full of satisfaction, “If you let yourself suffer, but make the world a better place, what can’t you bear?”

YanDan was silent for a long time, but couldn’t help saying, “You’re a fish with such thick skin.” **

YuMo stared at her, joking, “What’s wrong with having thick skin? Plus, fish and lotuses are basically the same.*** If I have thick skin, then you have thick skin as well.” He pointed at the highest mountain covered with white snow, “We’re almost home.”

*It seems that because the two of them are demons, they were able to transform mud and leaves into that “delicious” fish soup that HuMan ate with relish

** There is a saying in China, if you have “thick skin” (direct translation), it means that you aren’t embarrassed by anything. “You’re a fish…” is basically because YuMo is a fish demon.

1 thought on “Chapter 1: Fish Soup and Coffins”

  1. Absolutely love how each of the stories he told cautioned him about greed leading to one’s demise…but he couldn’t control his own greed and ended up meeting a fate worse than the thief, grave robbers or the people stealing the broken jade. SMH.

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