(Chen Xiao as Zhu Zhan Ye aka Young Master in my novel) (Lin Geng Xin as Zhuo Hao in my novel)
The daily rhythms of the Ku Wen monastery about the vast city of Bei Xing, gently filled the silent morning air, lifting the spell of sleep and bringing the city to life. Yu Zhu opened the shutters to her little shop of the corner of the busiest street in the city.
“Little Girl!” The warm hearted woman of the bun stand waddled over, “You’re embroidery’s becoming very famous all over town, and you’ve only been here a few months. Even the magistrate’s wife, they say even she’s taking notice!” The woman’s eyes widened at the gravity of the compliment, “If you keep selling like this, you’re going to be famous across the kingdom.”
Lin Yu walked out, slightly bleary eyed, her mouth wide open in a yawn. Wu Ma tsked at Lin Yu’s messy sight. Lin Yu grinned and grabbed Wu Ma’s arm, “Wu ma, I’m hungry.” Wu Ma’s heart softened at the beautiful girl’s pleading glance and grabbed a bun, “One of these days you’ll have to pay me in gold for all the food I’ve given you.”
Lin Yu grinned and kissed the woman’s cheek. Wu Ma came over with a bun for Yu Zhu, “Here. You’ve been losing weight since I’ve met you two. Put some meat back on those bones.” Yu Zhu laughed, “Wu Ma, if you keep feeding us, we’re going to look like pigs.”
“What’s wrong with a little meat on the bones?” Wu Ma smiled, the wrinkles deepening on her face, “Besides, you two are already know as the most beautiful girls in the city. I heard that even some of rich sons of officials and merchants are talking about you two.”
Lin Yu twirled, her beauty more apparent than a blossoming lily in crystal waters. Wu Ma sighed, “But still, you shouldn’t work as a dancer. Even if you don’t live in the dance houses, people will think and say terrible things about your reputation.” She frowned at the grins on both girl’s faces, “Yu Zhu as the older sister, you really should stop Lin Yu from dancing, it’ll ruin your reputation too. How will both of you get married?”
Yu Zhu and Lin Yu both laughed, and Yu Zhu replied, “Wu Ma, if the man I married cared that much about my reputation, I wouldn’t marry him for all the gold ingots in the world.” Wu Ma looked disapprovingly at Yu Zhu’s flippancy. Yu Zhu came over and grasped the old woman’s hand, “I know you care about us and treat us like daughters, but trust me, we can take care of ourselves.” She smiled a little sadly as if she was thinking about someone, “I don’t want a man who can’t see me for who I am.”
The young master paced restlessly in his room like a caged tiger. He snapped at his servants to prepare a horse for him. Bao Lu came running after his master, “Young Master, your wound’s barely closed. You shouldn’t…”
The young master glared at him to be silent. Bao Lu sighed as he followed his master out. They rode to the outskirts of town and past the gate. They silently rode up the stone mountain to where the golden Ku Wen monastery was nestled. Bao Lu grabbed his master’s arm, “Young master, this is forbidden. No one is suppose to see him. You coming here, it’ll raise the alarms. You’re visiting someone whose suppose to have disappeared off the face of the earth.”
The young master shrugged, his tone nonchalant, “No one will know. For all they know I came here to rest my weary heart.”
The young master stopped. Two monks walked out steadily and bowed to the two men. “Masters, are you here to pray? If so, let us lead you to the main temple. This is the entrance for novice monks”
The young master put up his hands with a welcoming grinn, “I came to see novice, a lowly trainee that lives here. Where is Zhuo Hao?”
The two monks glanced at each other. Finally one of them said, “We do not have anyone by that name. you are mistaken”
“Good monk” The Young master’s eyes seemed to be warning him, “I am not one to be lied to. And I can not be responsible to what happens if you do not tell me where Zhuo Hao is.”
The monks seemed unpreturbed by the thinly veiled threat, “We have no one by that name.”
The Young Master said nothing but began to enter the temple. The two monks blocked him, and the young master clenched his fists.
“Stop!” Zhuo Hao yelled, he came tumbling out of the monastery, his hair barely tied, a shoe in his hand and the other on the wrong foot. The two monks saw him and bowed respectfully, he waved them away. He walked up to the young master, “Zhu Zhan Ye. You mad man, what the hell are you doing here?” He grinned at the Zhu Zhan Ye and grabbed him in a bear hug, “It’s been too long.”
Zhu Zhan Ye winced as the pain in his shoulder shot up. Zhuo Hao frowned and looked around, “Let’s go to my room and you can tell me why you’re here.” He glanced cautiously around, “Does father know you’re here? I heard he forbid anyone from visiting me” Zhu Zhan shook his head, “No one will dare tell him.”
They sat in the plain little room, and Zhu Zhan Ye looked around, his eyes took in the spareness of the place. Zhuo Hao came in with steaming cups of tea. Bao Lu jumped immediately to help. Zhuo Hao smiled, “It’s not a palace, but it’s a neat little place, isn’t it?”
Zhu Zhan Ye bit back his words he sighed, “Have you been well, brother?”
Zhuo Hao grinned and sipped his tea, “Yes. This place has all the peace and quiet I need. i’m no longer bothered by the people I don’t want to see. Or the lies they tell.” Zhan Ye shook his head, “So you leave me to deal with all the troubles while you live the peaceful life.”
There was sadness and guilt in Zhuo Hao’s eyes, “I was never meant to lead the life you and eldest brother lead. I think father saw that, it was the right choice to let me go.”
Zhan Ye glared at him, “You were sent here so you can repent for your sins for a few months and come back. That was five years ago. Come back home and help me.”
“You’ve been doing fine.” Zhuo Hao pointed out, “but I heard you were injured in battle?”
Zhan Ye’s eyes were bitter, “Yes. I was lucky that I was wearing the armor you gave me. It means I had to leave the battlefield. I got bored at resting, so here I am.”
Zhuo Hao was curious, “What are you doing in this city? Shouldn’t you be in the capital?”
Zhan Ye grinned, ” I’m catching a thief on the orders of our beloved Emperor.” There was a hint of sarcasm as he uttered the sentence, but his voice become somber, “I came here to talk to you about that, actually. Have you heard anything about the Midnight Thief? He’s been causing trouble in many of the kingdoms, three months ago, he came here.”
Zhuo Hao swallowed but remained calm, “No. But I always thought the name was a bit redundant. It’s not as if thieves rob in the middle of the day.” Zhan Ye shook his head, “Sometimes I think you are the least mature of us.”
Zhuo Hao laughed, “What do you want brother? I still have morning prayers .”
Zhan Ye smiled and stood, “I know you monks are good listeners, as people often come to tell you their troubles. I need to catch this thief, as father has tasked me to do. Help me gather as much information as you can, and I’ll put in a good word for you in front of father.” He looked at his younger brother and grip his arm, “come back, I’m sure all is forgiven.”
Zhuo Hao shook his head, “I’ll help in whatever I can. But don’t tell father it was me. I have no wishes to return.”
The other man grinned painfully before leaving, “Keep your eyes open, brother. With your help we might just catch the bastard.” Zhan Ye walked away as Zhuo Hao’s smile disappeared from his face, he sighed and walked back into his rooms.
Zhan Ye and Bao Lu entered back into the town, they leisurely strolled through the city and found themselves on the wide street of the most prosperous shopping district.
Zhan Ye didn’t care for any thing, nor did the items cause any wonderment. He walked through it without too much thought, it was the fastest way to the inn he was staying at.
“Young Master.” Bao Lu quietly said, “Shouldn’t we take care of the magistrate?”
“I’ve written to Father. Within a few days there will be an investigation.” Zhan Ye told him, “If he and his family dies, he will have no one to blame but himself.”
“What if he comes after you.” Bao Lu asked worried, “He doesn’t know you are… who you are. What if he tries to silence you?”
Zhan Ye grinned, “I’d like to see him try.” Bao Lu said nothing, he knew that his master was strong, but against someone as slippery as the Magistrate, he wasn’t quite sure if he and the prince would be enough.
“Your stuff is crap!” three handkerchiefs floated on in front of Zhan Ye and Bao Lu. A wealthy looking girl glared at a beautiful girl in front of an embroidery store. “They say you could do the phenoix stich but it looks like it was made by a chicken.” The wealthy girl’s eyes were malicious as her companion tittered behind her, “They said that some beautiful seamstress has set up shop here, but all I see is some sub par country bumpkin.”
The embroidery mistress raised her head proudly, there was no hint of emotion on her face, “Mistress, if you don’t like my craft, then take your business elsewhere. You standing here squawking so loudly, it’s ruining the atmosphere of this beautiful day.”
Zhan Ye stopped to admire the embroidery girl’s pluck, not to mention her otherworldly beauty. He frowned, surely he had seen other girls as pretty as this girl. But for the moment, he couldn’t remember any of them.
The wealthy girl’s face grew red and she raised her hand, intent on slapping the embroidery girl. She swung and missed, hitting her hand on the shop pillar instead. She ignored the pain and raised her hand again, Zhan Ye stepped in and grabbed the wealthy girl’s wrist. “Is this the way cultured ladies in this city are raised? Some one as beautiful as yourself, I would hardly think it possible.”
The wealthy girl turned around, about to blister the speaker when she saw him. On his pale, handsome face was a pair of obsidian eyes that drew her gaze like a pair of magnets. He exuded handsome elegance only sons of very wealthy houses could. The air of authority and gentle contempt was intoxicating. The wealthy girl blushed, her hand went limp in his grasp. She briefly considered faking a faint in his arms just to stay longer.
Zhan Ye saw her intentions and quickly let go. “Perhaps you and your companions should rest else where, the sun is too much for delicate flower like yourselves.” The other girls, hypnotized by his voice and face, silently nudged their leader as they shuffled away, ashamed that such an regal man caught them behaving so badly.
Zhan Ye grinned at the embroidery shop girl, “You can thank me now.” Her eyes widened and for a second it looked as if she was pitying him. Zhan Ye frowned, there was something familiar about her, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The embroidery shop girl quickly turned around, and Zhan Ye for some reason found himself following her, “I said, you can thank me now.”
Yu Zhu raised an eyebrow, “Thank you for what?” She asked sardonically, “You just caused a scene outside of my shop.” Zhan Ye’s mouth dropped open, no one had ever talk back to him. “I just got rid of those girls for you.”
“You made me enemies.”
He barked a laugh, “You weren’t making friends with them when I arrived.”
She looked at him, “You master, if you aren’t going to buy something, you’re wasting my time. I have things to make, customers to take care of.” For a moment Zhan Ye was without retort, “I’m a very busy person.Do you think I’m some busy body with nothing to do? ”
“You certainly aren’t doing anything in my shop.” Yu Zhu said and made shooing motions with her hands as if she was shooing away a chicken, “Now please, I run one of the best shops in town and I have a reputation to upkeep, customer orders to fulfill.”
Yu Zhu smiled brightly as well dressed women came in, welcoming them jovially. The shop became crowded once again as women flocked to see the embroider girl’s designs. She ignored the handsome young man as if he was a fly on the wall.
Zhan Ye’s eyes sparkled dangerously, if she didn’t want to be grateful, he’ll make her suffer. He said loudly “If you truly do run one of the best shops in town, then you certain will be able to do this. Make me 100 embroidered handkerchiefs by sundown tomorrow. Each has to be different from each other. All in gold silk no less.” The women around him started whispering, wondering if the embroidery girl was brave enough to take the challenge. Yu ZHu realized that he had backed her into a corner, it annoyed her. He grinned as he took out two bars of gold from his sleeves, “Since you boast that you are the best embroidery shop in town, you can surely accomplish this. If not close down the shop and leave town.”
Yu Zhu’s eyes sparkled at the challenge, “And if i do? What will you do?”
Zhan Ye grinned, “In addition to this gold, anything you want.”
Yu Zhu smiled wickedly at him, “You’ve got a deal.”