True Story in the Capital
Sun rays came as nature’s easel, but the fog from last night’s rain obscured the brilliant colour. Mornings were always bustling with life in the capital, though the energy slowly started up comparably to one dragging themselves out of bed lazily in the morning.
Cause always creates an effect. Effects always have a cause.
Seldom has any event negatively affected the livelihood of the people during Yuansheng Dynasty. So far this year, things have been looking positive on all fronts.
Although resident homes in Nanjing were considered elegant when compared to the standard of the era, who could say for sure how it was behind the blue-brick walls?
The owner of Dai Manor, subordinate of the secretary of work, had enough income to start feeding a concubine next year and begin construction on a new section in his manor for her. When he married her, his guests had the chance to feast their eyes on his manor that would be better described as a mansion given its tall ceilings, pavilions and spacious stacked buildings.
Loitering on the streets late at night is illegal and, though not as strict as previous dynasties, drinking on the street curb before the sun rose would result in a caning during Li Clan’s reign. In previous dynasties, violators would be whipped with bamboo strips if the city guards were feeling lenient. Otherwise, the guards had the authority to execute violators on the spot. During aforementioned dynasties that existed prior to the last three hundred and sixty years, city guards never hesitated to whip offenders, making sure to be ruthless enough for those nearby to hear and take note.
Owing to the laws, the three employees of Dai Manor whispered as they drank out the front of the manor. They had nowhere else to go for they finished up late last night – a product of their low work productivity. Alcohol was their only means of denying the cold, and ducking behind the shrubs was their only means of avoiding detection from guards. Thankfully, the long night was coming to an end.
“Someone say something. It’s almost daybreak. We can’t fall asleep now after weathering hell all night.”
“Oh, I know. Have you heard about Bei’s Inlaid Silver Gems?”
“Wha? Waz ‘hat?”
The storyteller flashed his two yellow teeth: “Within a radius of a hundred and eighty kilometres, jade is a hot commodity. Hawkers are calling out for leads, yet jade merchants don’t bother; they even let customers fiddle with their jade since they won’t find any premium jade products. Only when they catch a customer they’re after will they bring out a real premium good for their customer to check out, only to ask for a ridiculous price. Once the deal is sealed, they put their premium one away and then sit back again. Their indifferent façade is what gives them their air of mysteriousness that draws people in.
“There aren’t many stores selling jade items in the capital, so they’re easy to find. Among the stores in the north, east, south and west of the city, everyone agrees Bei’s Inlaid Silver Gems, the store in the west, uses the best materials. Even though they’re a small store, their golden plaque out front has existed for longer than the current dynasty.
“Seven generations of Bei Clan have been in the jade trade in the capital, and nobody has been able to take away their reverence as the King of jade trade despite them not being among wealthy jewellery merchants. When you talk about jade, you’re speaking Bei Clan.
“There’s no shortage of rising stars among jade shops in the capital. We have Emerald Boat City and Verdant Mountains in the last decade. The first choice for officials and the imperial palace is Snowfall Store since they interact the most, but their second choice is always Bei Clan’s store because, ‘You can’t go wrong,’ as they say. It’s only fair when they inherited even the most traditional artisan business. Most don’t have the patience to wait two or three decades, but they have the patience to start their training program, from nurturing an artisan into one up to their standards.
“Unfortunately, this generation of Bei Clan isn’t so glorious. Their head is soft-hearted. His wife is a tyrant who beats him with words. The good news is that their artisan, who carries the Chai surname, has remained loyal.
“The story goes that Bei Clan’s current patriarch pleaded his parents to keep the artisan when the artisan was homeless. In their patriarch’s presence, people commend him for finding such a competent and loyal artisan. Behind his back, they call him useless. Nonetheless, things have been operating as per usual until recently…
“Artisan Chai has a pretty daughter who is turning fifteen this year, so he’s worried about Mrs. Bei giving her a hard time, but he gave in to his daughter whims like always. He tried to talk to Mrs. Bei to no avail. In the end, though, he lets her continue to be with Young Master Bei since the two are childhood friends, and Young Master Bei does take care of her.
“Last year, the two of them went to the lantern festival, yet Young Master Bei came home alone with his face covered in blood and bruises. Let me correct myself there: a pedestrian recognised him and carried him home because he was already unconscious. They had to carry him since, when they went to help him to his feet, he cried out in pain due to a broken leg.
“Mr. Chai went to Bei Manor to ask for his daughter, only for Mrs. Bei to splash alcohol on his face and drive him out with a pole. He tried to reason with her, only for her to scream, ‘Thanks to your daughter, my son is on the verge of death. You want to question me now? If you lost your daughter, give birth to another one!’
“Mr. Chai replied, ‘How can you say something like that? What did Ning’er do? She went missing when she went out with your son. How can you shirk responsibility?’
“Mrs. Bei derided, ‘Without my husband, where would you be today? If you don’t want to die, scram!’
“Mr. Chai didn’t even get to see Patriarch Bei in the end. He knew something wasn’t right when he caught of glimpse of Young Master Bei’s condition on the way out. He, therefore, went to the local magistrate for help. Sadly, they ignored his distressed pleas. All they ever did was entertain him for procedure’s sake.
“Half a month later, everything went back to normal for Bei Clan. Young Master Bei was back in the shop, albeit on crutches, to help his father with accounting jobs, while Mrs. Bei was still scolding her husband all the time. Everything went back to normal, except Mr. Chai’s daughter was still missing. It was then that he realised she didn’t go missing. She was kidnapped.
“What do you think of the story, huh?”
“’hat’s it? ‘hat’s duh end? What happen to Miss Chai? Was she killed?”
“Kukuku, use your brain. I hear Emperor Yuansheng has a jade sculpture from Mr. Chai. If he didn’t stay with Bei Clan, his worth would be ten times what it is. You know how many people are dying to hire him? You think a magistrate would brush him off? If he requested aid, there should be lines of people eager to help him; hell, they’d even send him presents after helping him. Don’t you think it’s odd the way he was treated? Furthermore, Bei Clan is famous, as I pointed out, yet they’re just going to pretend nothing happened after their young master’s leg was broken? Would you forgive me if I cut your balls off?”
“Whoever touches me willy, me fight him to duh death!”
“Exactly. So why would Bei Clan do nothing about it?” He knew there was nobody around at this hour, yet he couldn’t resist the urge to check before whispering, “The kidnapper must either be affluent or a scary outlaw.”
“Who would it be?”
“Hehe, I… only heard this elsewhere, so I only know this much. If you want to know more, pay Jianan House a visit. Hey, I’ve been doing all the talking. You say something.”
The man who kept silent the entire time had another nip of wine. “I do know what happened next.”
The man smiled but somewhat poignantly in contrast to the other two: “I happened to witness it with my own eyes when I carried bales of rice to Jianan House and passed by Bei Clan’s entrance.
“Mrs. Chai searched every nook and cranny of the city for her daughter, implored people she knew for help, eventually resorting to even consulting gods and diviners who scammed her family a chunk of their savings. The stress and depression took its toll on her, culminating in her passing out one day on her way to pray at a shrine.
“Subsequent to helping his wife settle down, Mr. Chai headed to Bei Manor. The first thing to enter his line of sight upon entering was the jade bowl he crafted for his first project. As his life flashed before his eyes, he took out a short blade in his left hand and slashed his hand. As Patriarch Bei cried and bled, the elder kowtowed in silence despite the blood gushing out. He didn’t know what else he could do besides return the skills Patriarch Bei allowed him to acquire.
“Patriarch Bei helped him up and went inside. His wife could be heard nastily castigating him from the front of the house, perhaps even more than usual. She slapped him so hard that it you could hear it from outside, sending him into furniture. He came back out with his eyes red and a heavy sack in his hand.
“Through the small opening of the pouch, the gold ingots inside were visible. Equally eye-catching, though was the small wooden token in there, but you know I’m not literate, so I don’t know what the character on there was.”
The character on the wooden token was “Yan”.
“Anyhow, Patriarch Bei shoved the gold and token into Mr. Chai’s shirt and said, ‘Use the money to pave the way; you’ll need it. The token… is something a hero gave my father. He said it can be used to request aid when needed.’”
“Ask who for help?”
“Patriarch Bei told him, ‘Take them. Go to Liu Shan Men.’”
It was time for the trio to get moving. The man with the yellow teeth hiked his brows and contorted them in an assortment of shapes. The man who delivered the bale of rice still looked solemn. Meanwhile, the buckteeth man couldn’t stop smiling to himself.
“Why are you all giddy when it’s such a tragic story?”
“Dun make me sound like a bad guy. Of course I feel sorry for her when I watched her grow up. Duh thing is, Liu Shan Men.”
“What do you know?”
“Last time I made a delivery to Liu Shan Men, a girl opened up.”
“Boy oh boy, I ain’t ever seen a girl as beautiful as her! Her unblemished skin. Her beauty… What, you don’t believe me? She does exist! She… she… man… She looks like that!”
The other two followed his finger and then forgot to breathe. Their leaping hearts weren’t the reason they didn’t hear her footsteps; she really did tread lightly. Never did they think anyone could have such an elegant gait. She was unmistakably gorgeous, but it was her behaviours, that faint upward curve at her lips that teased their hearts that had them in the clouds. Given the choice, they wouldn’t spare an inch of their hearts for all of the girls behind her if they had to choose between just her or all of the maidens.
“At your service.”
“Smash it open.”
The girl in blue next to their leader bound toward Dai Manor’s door and shattered the timber doors with her iron hammer. The guards were too busy quaking in their boots to do a thing upon seeing the group in uniform and having just witnessed the door break down.
“Who dares vandalise Dai Manor?!” Bei Clan’s steward rushed to the door. Howbeit, he shut his trap upon discovering who their visitor was.
“Report to your master that Liu Shan Men’s female constable, 0807007, Ming Juese is here for tea with him.” Ming Suwen had the dimple of a woman who expected that reaction from the men.
The steward couldn’t explain properly what happened to his master, almost resorting to dragging the latter out of bed. Nonetheless, he eventually came back out to invite the group in.
Ming Suwen headed in with a few constables, while others stayed outside. The three men by the door were completely stupefied until she disappeared, where they then felt the world lost its purpose. Suddenly, Ming Suwen poked her head back out, giving the world meaning again and reviving its wilted flowers. With a cheeky smile, she instructed, “They were drinking prior to dawn… Don’t forget to bring them back with us to cane, ‘kay?”