Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Warm and gentle seas caressed Danzhou Harbor during the month of March. The spirit of spring took center stage as the entire mountainous region bloomed with unnamed yellow flowers. Every single household used this flower to steep tea. Drinking this tea outside while chatting with the neighbors became a pastime. The fragrance of this flower tea hung in the air while walking through the streets of Danzhou Harbor, neither too strong nor too faint. It brought about a sense of purity and greatly lifted spirits.
When night came, spring rain often followed. It blended into the night with gentle breeze, silently nourishing the earth. In Danzhou Harbor, the black roof tiles and stone-paved roads were covered in the mist created by the rain.
The light rain fell softly onto the tarp that hung outside the grocery shop, barely making any sound. The water washed off layers of dust, giving the storefront a more uplifting look. However, once again, the store was closed. After telling the Countess he was heading out, Fan Xian went to the store and drank with Wu Zhu while shelling peanuts.
The people of the estate should have known that Fan Xian liked visiting that store, but they all thought he was mere greedy for the blindman’s alcohol. It was indeed good alcohol, but Fan Xian also felt like it was an effective excuse for him to go out. It was impossible for him to interact with Wu Zhu completely out of sight of others, but they still took care.
A kitchen knife lay on a dry chopping board. There were no bits of vegetables on the blade; the knife apparently hadn’t been used in a while.
The crackling of peanut shells resounded. Fan Xian threw a piece of peanut into his mouth and chewed slowly. It wasn’t until he chewed the solid kernel completely into an aromatic pulp did he raise the small drinking cup to his lips. Taking the cup, which was only about three fingers wide, he downed the entire thing in one go.
He wasn’t drinking yellow wine today, but rather tribute-quality wine from the capital with a rather high proof. Drinking it reminded Fan Xian a bit of Wuliangye.
Fan Xian wasn’t in a hurry to ask questions, because he knew Wu Zhu was a simple person who wouldn’t keep him waiting for too long.
Wu Zhu wasn’t sitting across from Fan Xian. He held a bowl of yellow wine and sat in a dark corner. He started talking in a faint voice.
"They named The Lady Qingmei; her family name was Ye. I was her house servant. Many years ago, the Lady and I ventured away from home…"
"Ye Qingmei…" this was Fan Xian’s first time hearing his mother’s name. Strangely, a sense of warmth spread through his chest, so he smiled and drank another cup of wine. Out of amusement, he refrained from asking a question… about where they lived; Wu Zhu would answer it if he wanted to.
"We lived in Dongyi City for a few years. From the day of her birth, The Lady showed intelligence and understood many things. She also had a kind and gentle heart. Because of that, she started a business in Dongyi City at the age of fifteen. However, since she was rather young, she did everything behind the scenes and had a shopkeeper pretend to be the owner."
Fan Xian’s hand stopped in midair while holding onto his cup. He could not help but ask: "What does having a kind and gentle heart have to do with doing business?" He wasn’t curious about his mother’s innate intelligence or why she could make money at fifteen. During all these years, he had already guessed it: his mother must be someone who couldn’t be judged based on general common sense.
Wu Zhu answered in an emotionless voice: "the Lady was saddened by the suffering of the common people, so she enjoyed performing kind deeds. When Dongyi City was flooded, the one who set up the most congee stations was the Lady. She knew if she wanted to help more people, she must obtain money. It was from there that she started to figure out ways to earn money."
Fan Xian nodded as he accepted his mother’s logic.
"Her business did very well. Gradually, some people noticed she was the real owner and began plotting. I ended up killing them all."
Wu Zhu’s voice was very flat when he said it, but Fan Xian realized it must have been extremely tense during the time. If Wu Zhu thought the business was doing well, it must be true. People always say "wealth plagues its owner". A fifteen-year-old girl owning so much property really would invite unwelcome ambition from immoral lowlifes. But after realizing what type of bodyguard his mother had, Fan Xian disregarded his unreasonable concern.
Suddenly, he remembered something, and asked with a frown: "My mom’s last name was Ye, what that also the name of your shop?"
"So it was!" Fan Xian’s face was filled with astonishment: "I heard people mentioning the name. Over a decade ago, it seems, it was the number-one business. But I never thought it belonged to my mother."
"I didn’t know exactly how big her business got." Wu Zhu said very calmly, "That was not part of my job. The Lady thought I had killed too many people, so she closed her business in Dongyi City and went to Qing Kingdom, settling down in the capital."
Fan Xian felt it wasn’t that simple: Closing up shop in Dongyi City and then coming to Qing? There was a better explanation than that.
Wu Zhu continued: "the Lady started her business again after coming to the capital, and she once again did very well. Later she became acquainted with some people, including Sinan. Everybody seemed to listen to what she said and prepared things according to her ideas. Eventually they changed a few things and came into conflict with Qing’s royalty, who felt their benefits were being threatened."
Wu Zhu paused a bit. "Once, Qing was fighting a war on the eastern front, and the defenses in the capital were practically empty. I happened to be away from the city after a major incident. As you can imagine, the Lady’s security was compromised… the nobles sent out people and murdered the Lady. When I got back, I only managed to save you, and brought you to Danzhou Harbor."
This event Fan Xian knew very well, he also knew those "enemies" were all killed over ten years ago. He believed that whoever was still talking about revenge must have had something to do with his cheap father and the Overwatch Council.
There was a long period of silence. The sound of rain outside became noticeable.
"That’s it?" Fan Xian felt troubled; his mother’s entire life was narrated in such a few sentences? What was her business? What did she do that made all the royalty of Qing get rid of her? Why would the famous Fei Jie of the Overwatch Council respond with the utmost respect whenever his mother was mentioned?
"Basically… that’s it." Wu Zhu chose his words carefully.
Fan Xian sighed, admitting that Uncle Wu Zhu really wasn’t much of a storyteller. A bitter smile appeared on his beautiful face as he realized he must ask the questions himself.
"What was my mother’s business involved in?"
"Luxury items, military supplies, ships, food supplies; basically, anything that could earn her money."
Wu Zhu answered casually, but Fan Xian was startled by each one of the items. His two lives made him realize that, people who could manage such business much have some grand backgrounds. His mother was a single woman, and yet she brought her house up to such a terrific level.
"Then what happened to the business after my mother died?" Fan Xian was most curious about this, as according to the national laws of Qing, he should be the sole inheritor of his mother’s grand legacy.
"I heard later everything was taken by the Qing government."
Fan Xian gave a bitter smile and shook his head. As soon as he heard it all became imperial property, he gave up the idea of suing to get it all back. Changing the topic, he grinned: "Ye Qingmei must have been quite the name back then. I heard that when my mother came to the Capital, she gave the Commander of Defense a beating."
The oil lamp flickered.
Hearing Fan Xian’s words made Wu Zhu remember something. The corners of his lips perked up as if they were rusty hinges—Wu Zhu was showing a gentle smile.
Fan Xian’s wrist froze, his drinking cup fell onto the table and rolled several times. Inside his mind, he was screaming: "A smile… he just smiled!"