Chapter 120: Southern Kingdom
Translator: Translation Nation Editor: Translation Nation
Pei Zi Yun was walking along the streets. The history of the Southern Kingdom stretched back to a thousand years. For successive generations, people who lived within the Southern Kingdom ran it as an autonomous region independent from the Emperor and Imperial Court. Hence, the layout and structure of these cities were extremely unique and different from most other cities. Their streets crisscrossed along the intersection. The houses and buildings within the cities showed their simple and unadorned lifestyles.
The streets were lined with shops on both sides selling a variety of items. There were many people on the streets as well, and they were dressed quite unusually, carrying bamboo baskets over their backs. A group of sixteen or seventeen years old men wore caps while carrying their children.
"Eggs, I'm selling eggs!" An old woman carrying a basket full of chicken eggs was shouting.
"Grasshoppers for sale, freshly fried grasshoppers for sale! Three coins for a stick!" A young boy was selling a stick of grasshoppers as a snack.
The people on the streets were packed like sardines. Several women carried a basket as they came out to buy vegetables and other fresh food. When they saw something they liked, they would place it in their baskets after paying for it.
Pei Zi Yun was dressed neatly and looked smart. As he walked along the streets some girls turned to look at him, as if they were waiting for him to approach them.
At this point, Pei Zi Yun looked at his surroundings and creased his eyebrows. The people around here spoke in a different dialect. Chinese was not the primary language here. He then thought to himself, 'The previous dynasty had lost this region for a hundred years. Roughly half of the Traditional Chinese culture has been lost in this area.'
'Although the new dynasty reclaimed this area and started controlling the region, the culture and language of the citizens wasn't something that could be changed easily.'
A young man looked at Pei Zi Yun, with gleaming eyes. He then approached Pei Zi Yun and bowed, "Young Master, Young Master, where are you from?"
This person was dressed in the traditional Han Chinese robes, and spoke in Han Chinese as well. He looked to be somewhat bloated in the stomach. As he approached, Pei Zi Yun hesitated before laughing, "What can I do for you?"
The young man smiled, "It must be Young Master's first time here in the Southern Kingdom, and you must be unfamiliar with the place. My humble name is Hong Lin, and I can bring you around to see the sights and tour the city. It's just that you will have to pay me."
"Oh, how much do you charge?" Pei Zi Yun asked curiously.
"Young Master, it's not much. I only ask for 10 silver taels. Then, you can call on me anytime you wish. I grew up here and know everything there is to know. If you meet with any problems, I can help you out too. This is a good deal." The young man smiled.
"10 silver taels? Do you take me for a fat sheep? Hmph." Pei Zi Yun pushed past him and continued walking. He was shocked that a person he didn't even know would demand such an expensive price for something so simple.
Seeing Pei Zi Yun leave, the young man hurriedly caught up with him, "Young Master, Young Master. 5 taels. Fine, 3 taels. I can't go any lower. I'm only earning money for being hardworking and at your disposal."
"I shall give you 1 silver tael. Take it or leave it." Pei Zi Yun waved his fist, "A proper guide would not even cost me 300 coins a day. You're asking for too much."
"1 silver tael is fine too." Hong Lin laughed as he caught the silver tael that Pei Zi Yun tossed. After touching the tael and biting into it, he warmly pointed out, "In the Southern Kingdom, the weather changes very often. A part of the city could be raining and the other could have a clear and sunny sky at the same time. Hence, a person should always be dressed for all four seasons here in the Southern Kingdom. Young Master, if you wish to explore the area, you will have to prepare in advance."
The climate within the Southern Kingdom changed very often and abruptly. The difference in temperature could be very great as well, and the city could see any of the four seasons at any time. Pei Zi Yun already knew this beforehand and was well prepared for this. He waved his fists again, "Cut the crap. Show me the way, I wish to visit the broker. I have things to do."
Hong Lin then led Pei Zi Yun. He seemed like he was extremely familiar with the broker, "Uncle Hong, I've brought you a customer."
A middle-aged man came out. When he saw that it was Hong Lin, he frowned before welcoming Pei Zi Yun. He smiled at Pei Zi Yun, "What requests does Young Master have?"
"Tell me more about the Southern Kingdom." Pei Zi Yun looked around before saying, "This is not a good place to speak. Let's go and find a restaurant to speak."
Uncle Hong from the brokerage firm was somewhat hesitant about meeting Pei Zi Yun at first, and yet when Pei Zi Yun suggested this he replied enthusiastically, "Good, Young Master. Very well."
"Young Master, I know that Four Directions Restaurant here in the Southern Kingdom is very reputable." Hong Lin smiled before leading the way.
Four Directions Wine Restaurant
Although the Southern Kingdom was vastly different from the the mid-region of the country, this restaurant looked very similar to any other restaurant. Pei Zi Yun observed the place before smiling, "The style of this place is good, but there isn't enough charm in poetry here."
As he entered, he realized that they even had private rooms, and went into one of the room. Pei Zi Yun retrieved a tael of silver before instructing, "Serve us some dishes."
The waiter received the silver before smiling and bowing, "Yes, yes!"
Uncle Hong's face changed too. He had seen how generous this person was. A silver tael for a table was a generous amount to give. He then put on a serious face before looking at Pei Zi Yun, "If Young Master wishes to explore this place and have fun, take a look. Across this place is High Holy Temple. It's symmetrical on all four corners and is thirteen stories tall. There's even a golden colored bird on the roof. In fact, if you look, there is one bird every two meters. People refer to this temple as Golden Rooster Pagoda as well."
Pei Zi Yun looked far ahead, and saw that the golden paint over the copper bird had started to peel off. He then asked, "Why do you place golden roosters on top of the buildings?"
"It's been said that golden birds are able to vanquish dragons. There are plenty of mountains here in the Southern Kingdom, and sometimes the streams from the mountains flood our villages and cause damage to property. Placing these golden birds on our roofs are a way of preventing the damage from becoming too severe. In the past, there were whistles on the mouths of the birds. Whenever the wind blew, these birds would whistle continuously. Over time, dust and dirt got caught within the whistles and now they do not make any sound."
At this point, it was noon and the sun was shining brightly overhead. The three of them sat in discussion, as delicious dishes were served up. After having some wine, their ears started to flush from the heat. Pei Zi Yun then said, "I wish to understand more about the Southern Kingdom, please tell me more."
The middle-aged man was named Hong Kuai. As a broker, he was privy to most of the news and gossips within the city. If not, how could he succeed as a businessman? When Pei Zi Yun asked him, he thought for sometime before replying, "Here in the Southern Kingdom, there aren't many Han Chinese like you and I, and we aren't the most prosperous people here. The people who controlled the entire area are the government offices and the tribe chieftains, who are also appointed by the government."
"Since the growth of the empire has been much slower than before, many Han Chinese from the cities came here in search for jobs. Only then did our businesses improve." Shen Kuai extended a pair of chopsticks and scooped up a large piece of meat before drinking his wine.
"Based on the way I see it, on one hand, the Imperial Court repopulated many Han Chinese here. On the other hand they're controlling the tribe chieftains like puppets. I think...." Hong Lin was about to continue when he was interrupted by Uncle Hong, who cleared his throat.
Pei Zi Yun was unaffected and said, "Tell me about the leaders of the Southern Kingdom, the tribe chieftains, and the different races."
This was not a sensitive topic and the three of them continued drinking their wines before speaking. They both of them were familiar with this place and knew about the happenings. After listening to them explain more, he started to form a clearer picture of this place.
Pei Zi Yun then picked up some peanuts to eat. He then thought to himself, 'Based on what I've heard, there are four people who fit my purpose. However, his excellency Wu ranking as an official is too high. Even if I make a visit as a High Scholar, it would raise some eyebrows.'
'His excellency Dai is of an average rank. Even if I do pay him a visit, I can't get much help from him.'
'And there's a Registrar Official as well. His family had a tribe chieftain from the previous dynasty. Hence, he has blood relations with many other powerful people as well. Although his rank is considered small, his influence is far reaching. What's more, he appreciates literary arts, I can consider going to him.'
'As for the last one, his rank was too low to make a difference.'
As he thought about this, he laughed, "Come, let's all drink."
When the wine and meat were done, Pei Zi Yun then tossed a tael of silver to Hong Kuai. Hong Kuai was somewhat inebriated as well, having drank slightly too much wine. However, he appeared to be extremely alert when it came to receiving the silver. Since Hong Lin often hung out with bad company and was used to drinking, he did not appear too drunk. Pei Zi Yun then told him, "Take me to Registrar Official Shi Ba's house."
Pei Zi Yun and Hong Lin then went to buy some gifts before they made their way to the Registrar Official's house.
The Registrar Official's Mansion was rather lavish. Pei Zi Yun went up and provided a note to indicate his presence for dropping by, "Ying Prefecture Top Scorer Pei Zi Yun requests an audience."
When the door guard saw him, he chuckled and said, "Young Master, please wait."
Shortly after, a normal looking Han Chinese man came out, looking rather surprised. He then politely asked, "You're the Top Scorer Pei who wrote ?"
"When I heard that it was Pei Zi Yun, I thought that your name sounded very familiar. I then recalled your poem, which was very impressive. Please come in."
"Serve the tea!" Following the Registrar Official's instructions, a pair of serving maids stepped forward and served them both tea.
"Registrar official, your excellency is too kind with his words." Pei Zi Yun replied humbly.
"I'm not being kind, it's the truth from the bottom of my heart." The Official then looked at Pei Zi Yun, "I wonder if Top Scorer Pei has any slightly more recent works which he'd care to share with me?"
Looking back at the Official, Pei Zi Yun's heart fluttered before replying, "I do. When it comes to poems and essays, it requires a great deal of inspiration. My last work was written for the Emperor and the Grand Princess."
"Oh?" When he heard Pei Zi Yun speak, his eyes lit up, "Top Scorer Pei had been granted an audience with the Emperor and the Grand Princess? The Southern Kingdom is far away from the capital, and we've not heard of this matter yet. Please explain more."
Pei Zi Yun then briefly summed up his visit to the capital city and said, "As for this poem, it doesn't sound as nice as compared to when it's read."
"Master Top Scorer, please wait." The Official's face was full of delight, "Bring me some ink and quill."
Immediately, a serving maid brought the inkstone, paper and quill. The Official stepped up to prepare the ink and Pei Zi Yun retrieved the quill. He then started writing. With every word he wrote, the Official gasped in delight, "Indeed a renowned literary Scholar!"
He then stopped smiling before hesitating, and finally placing the paper on the table. He then raised his head and asked, "I wonder what master Top Scorer wants me to do. I am just a mere Registrar Official, and not worthy to do great things."
Pei Zi Yun smiled, "Registrar Shi, you think too little of me. I've met the Emperor personally, and the Grand Princess. I have quite a reputation to my name, and have mansions and lands. I do not lack silver as well. How could I possibly put your excellency in a spot?"
"It's just that I have a relative from my clan, who had been in the Southern Kingdom. I've read my ancestral family tree and finally found out about my missing relative. My mother instructed to me to look for him, since he's related to us. It's just that I'm not familiar with this place, and thus came to your excellency for help."
When the Registrar Official heard this, his tense features immediately relaxed, and he looked somewhat apologetic, "So that's the reason. May I request for master Top Scorer to tell me the name of this relative, so that I can do my research."
"Li Xian Lian, he's a Daoist." Pei Zi Yun then said, "We're just not sure about what happened to him after reaching the Southern Kingdom. Neither do we know what he did here."
"This should be easy enough. Master Top Scorer, tell me your address. I can order someone to search up the information, and inform you after." The Official said, smiling. Since he was a native, and he came from a family of tribe chieftains, he understood the entire area and knew every mountain and stronghold. It can be said that he had people on both sides of the law and even had contacts within the native population as well. Finding someone should not be too difficult for him.
"I do not have an address as well. How about this, I shall find an inn nearby to stay so that you could reach me there." Pei Zi Yun replied. After sometime, he made his exit.
'Who said that this man was forthright, outspoken and enjoyed literary arts?' Pei Zi Yun thought to himself as he left the mansion. He then laughed, "This man is extremely crafty and deceitful."
Although they had only known each other for a short time, Pei Zi Yun was able to understand why the Official acted refined and likable. Ever since the dynasty reclaimed the Southern Kingdom, this man turned over to the Imperial Court and pretended to be fascinated by the Han Chinese's culture and literary works. He did this so that he could earn the favor of the court, and was thus appointed as an official.
'It might even be the tribe's attempt to penetrate into the government and plant a spy for their own benefits.'
'However, this is none of my business. This man is a leading figure among the locals, and finding someone should not be hard for him. My relationship with him would only go this far.'
As he was pondering, he cleared this throat, "Hong Lin, take me to a clean and reputable inn."