As the ancestral home of the Wu family, the Wu residency in Yunzhou was far from modest. It occupied one-sixth of Qinlingjun City, and apart from this enormous residency, 40% of the estates in the city belonging to the Wu family. Amongst them were dozens of stores selling rice, cloth and other household goods, as well as horses and carts and so on. If the Wu family had a monopoly on steel within the state of Great Jin, then within Qinlingjun City they had a monopoly on everything — on people's eating, drinking, s***ting, p***ing, and sleeping. Everything about the lives of the people was intimately connected with the Wu family.
Apart from one man.
The Great Jin's Governor of Yunzhou, Ma Tianchang.
Ma Tianchang, male, 48 years old, Great Jin's Governor of Yunzhou, and the close confidant and aide to the current Emperor of Jin. 10 years ago, he had been posted to Yunzhou as governor. He was not only the youngest governor in the history of Jin but also generally acknowledged as the most competent too.
In those 10 years of service, he had made this strategic county, located on the border with the Northern Yuan, flourish like water flowing endlessly from a spring. And from his second year in office, those horsemen of the Northern Yuan who had so often trampled the grasses and valleys of Yunzhou were never again to be seen.
10 years ago, Yunzhou was a strategic military town with jurisdiction over several counties and a population of no more than 50,000,000. After only 10 years, there were now 360,000,000 people under the jurisdiction of Yunzhou.
10 years ago, on the border between Yunzhou and the Northern Yuan, there was only a small fair, with smuggling running rampant. After 10 years, there were already 18 trading routes along with 29 fairs opened between Yunzhou and the Northern Yuan, and the tax income had correspondingly increased enormously, with the amount paid by the county into the imperial coffers being more than 102 times greater than it was 10 years ago.
Similarly, in these 10 years, the people of Yunzhou, they knew the Governor Mansion but not the imperial court; they knew Governor Ma, but didn't know the Emperor!
The Governor Mansion was located at the northernmost point of Qinlingjun City. It was a very large building, and although it could not be compared with the home of the Wu family which occupied one-sixth of the city's area, it was still one of the largest buildings in Qinlingjun City.
Deep into the Governor Mansion, into the 18th compartment, was a serene little courtyard. It had a pond, a rockery, a pavilion, trees, plants and flowers; the basic configuration of a typical noble family's courtyard.
The pond in the courtyard wasn't big, the rockery wasn't anything special, the trees and plants were normal, and as for the pavilion, it was already starting to become dilapidated. It looked like the state of this official residency was a little out of step with its reputation.
Beneath the pavilion sat a middle-aged man of slender build, with a fair and handsome complexion. Under his chin was a short, straight, jet-black beard, and he sat quietly with a book in his hand, reading at his leisure. He wore a long cyan gown which, although it was clean and made with the finest craftsmanship, looked very old, with some areas a little discolored. At a glance, you could see that this had been worn for not a few years — to a common person this was no big deal, but to Ma Tianchang, the Governor of Yunzhou's seven cantons with 300 million people under his jurisdiction, who every year added hundreds of thousands of taels of silver to the national coffers, this was a rather wretched appearance.
The middle-aged man under the pavilion was indeed Ma Tianchang, Governor of Yunzhou of the Great Jin.
There was a fragmented sound of footsteps coming, and from the corridor connecting to the pavilion, a maid dressed in pink hurried towards him.
Hearing these footsteps, Ma Tianchang frowned slightly. He did not like to be disturbed when reading; when he looked up at the maidservant's figure hurrying towards him, there was a look of displeasure in his eyes. However, this expression of dissatisfaction was gone in a flash, before the maidservant could notice it.
"Your Excellency, Madam has an important matter that she wishes you to attend to!" The maid approached Ma Tianchang, bowing her head and speaking delicately, although with a hint of tension in her voice. Every now and often she would ever so quickly raise her head to take a quick peek, and her gaze was filled with reverence and admiration.
"What's it?" This type of little trick could not fool Ma Tianchang, however, he did not plan to do anything about it. He just asked softly in a tone of voice that was mild, yet full of magnetism, like a cleansing spring breeze.
"Mrs Zhen of Mingyi School has come to see Madam, coming together with Master Ji!"
Hearing these two words, Ma Tianchang's eyes flashed. "'Moral Fighter' Ji Zhongtang!?"
"Indeed, Ji Zhongtang, Master Ji!" The maidservant said.
"What's he doing here!?" Ma Tianchang furrowed his brow a little tighter. "He and I are total strangers!"
"As for the details, I'm afraid your humble servant girl doesn't know!" The maidservant said carefully. "Madam has already invited Mrs Zhen into the residency, and Master Ji is drinking tea in the study room. From his appearance, it seems as though he has something important to discuss with Your Excellency!"
"I know!" Ma Tianchang said. "You go with Madam to wait upon them!"
The maidservant replied carefully, and had noticed through her intuition that Ma Tianchang seemed like he was suddenly very unhappy to hear about Ji Zhongtang.
After the maidservant had left, Ma Tianchang put the book he had in his hand onto the stone table under the pavilion, straightened out his clothes a little, and stepped towards the study room.
In the study room of the Governor Mansion, a middle-aged man in grey was slowly pacing back and forth, carrying a faint smile on his face as he inspected each row of books on the bookcase. On the table was a cup of half-drunk tea. Suddenly, his footsteps came to a halt, and his faint smile lit up into a wide grin.
"Master Ji, we're honored by your presence! Please forgive me for not coming out to meet you, I apologize deeply for my lack of manners!"
From a distance, he could hear the distinctive magnetism of Ma Tianchang's voice approaching.
"Well, well, well, I, Ji Zhongtang, boldly invite myself in, and hope Your Excellency will not mind." Ji Zhongtang turned round, smiling with the familiarity of a relative to welcome Ma Tianchang. The two people greeted each other with the demeanor of old friends, and a child standing to the side promptly topped up their tea.
They made chit-chat together for an hour or so, before finally reaching the main topic.
"And may I ask what brings Master Ji to my residency today?"
"Oh, forgive my inviting myself… I've come about something concerning my nephew's marriage!"
"Phh… !" Ma Tianchang jolted with a start and snorted half of his tea out from his nostrils, spilling the other half over the chair. The footboy standing by the doorway also stared blankly, and then hurriedly came forward to clean up the mess. Now and then he glanced up at Ji Zhongtang, with a strange expression.
So, it looks like I'm very bold!
Looking at this situation, Ji Zhongtang sat to one side smiling wordlessly.
"Apologies, apologies, I'm lacking in manners!" Ma Tianchang said a little awkwardly, wiping a wet spot from his clothes. "It's just that what you've just said, I don't quite understand… what has your nephew's marriage got to do with myself?" From his appearance it seemed like he wanted to say, "But I'm a man, are you sure you meant to say nephew and not niece?!"
"Your Excellency, you're so amusing!" Ji Zhongtang said, cupping his fists together in a show of respect. "I've heard for a long time that your Excellency's daughter is of an elegant appearance, and now that she's of marriageable age, I think she'll be a good match for my nephew. Therefore… !"
"You mean Linglong?!" Ma Tianchang raised his eyebrows, and stared right at Ji Zhongtang, and spoke in a stern, measured tone. "Forgive me for speaking frankly. My daughter is indeed of marriageable age, but to betroth her to your nephew… I'm afraid the age gap is too wide."
"Age is not a problem, and besides, their age gap is no more than 16 years… Shaoyou is just a little over 30, a good match for your precious daughter!" While speaking, he produced a letter from his coat, and with both hands presented it before Ma Tianchang.
The envelope was completely blank, without a single character. Ma Tianchang looked at Ji Zhongtang in confusion, and opened it, and when he saw the writing on the letter his complexion whitened. He read the letter carefully, and as he read his expression stiffened, and after a while, he let out a long sigh, and carefully folded the letter before placing it back inside the envelope and concealing it in his coat pocket. He raised his head and said, "If this was an ordinary affair, this would be the end of it, but as it is of such great significance…. Please allow me some time to think it over!"
"Of course!" Ji Zhongtang said, "This is a big deal, naturally you must consider it at length. I won't disturb your Excellency any further — I'm staying now at Tongfu Inn, courtyard number one. If you've come to a decision, please dispatch someone to notify me. I bid thee farewell!"
"You can see yourself out!" Ma Tianchang sat upright and motionless, and a faint smile had already re-appeared on his face. He picked up the tea by his side and sipped it gently, not looking at Ji Zhongtang.
A trace of anger flashed for a moment in Ji Zhongtang's eyes, and then he cupped his hands towards Ma Tianchang before turning to leave.
Ma Tianchang quietly sipped his tea, and an oppressively tense atmosphere filled the study room. The footboy standing by the doorway arched his back where he was standing, and a look of terror was upon his face. He dared not even exhale.
After he had drunk his tea, Ma Tianchang slowly raised his head, gazing toward the stone footpath outside the entrance to the study room. His gaze slowly became colder, and he waved his left hand over the table, tapping it gently.
"What's his game? Testing me out, pressuring me, trying to make me stand in line… or does he have some other intention? Mingyi School, and the White Blademaster Lu Shaoyou, are they very great… hmm… ?"
Finally, with a cold chuckle, he finished his thinking, stood up, and left the room. His figure seemed to bring a cold wind behind it, causing the footboy by the doorway to shiver.
His Excellency, the Governor, was angry, so it seemed.