Chapter 13: Banquet
Translator: Translation Nation/chuchutrain Editor: - -
Pei Zi Yun let out a hearty laugh before picking up his chopsticks and feasting on the dishes before him, "A banquet like this would be very expensive to organize. What is the point of it?"
The previous owner had a memory of it that flashed past as he pricked his ears and began chatting, knowing that he will understand sooner or later.
It seems like this was hosted by a High Scholar of the previous dynasty. Although he belonged to the previous empire, he was still admired and respected by people from the current dynasty. He loved to study and was charitable and knowledgeable. He was also very wealthy.
And so this High Scholar from the previous dynasty refused to take up another post in court and decided to personally mentor the new generation of Elementary Scholars and High Scholars. He would organize this banquet for the seven counties that belong to the capital, inviting the top ten students from each county and also those have proven themselves in any way.
At this banquet, there would be a chance to prove your literary skills by writing essays or poems, and the High Scholar will give you tips. If you are able to earn his approval, not only can you make a name for yourself, but there are expensive prizes to be won as well.
All these scholars were all in the city for this very banquet.
Suddenly, the crowd erupted with cheers and there was a great deal of shouting. The High Scholar had arrived.
Pei Zi Yun craned his neck to get a better look and saw a fierce looking old man walking in front. This old man looked extremely angry and was exchanging words with the High Scholar as they proceeded upstairs, two people following behind them.
The High Scholar did not look like he was older than forty years old and sported a moustache and beard on his face. He did not dress abnormally and had dark pupils that left a deep impression on those who met him.
Pei Zi Yun ate his food slowly, deep in thoughts. He recognized this High Scholar. The name Yue Qiu Shan flowed into his mind.
(TL: His official name was Yue Qiu Shan, but he was also called Zi Run by people he was close to)
This old man was clearly a court official as could be told by his demeanor and actions. As he thought harder, it came to him: It was the nation's palace High Scholar Fu Yuan!I
Official Fu Yuan was the Minister of Rites in Imperial China, but had since retired.
As soon as these two men were seated and were settled in, someone stood up and shouted, "Students be bold and offer us your valued opinion on these matters."
The first person would begin by composing a verse of poetry or prose and someone else would continue. Whoever was speaking would command the attention of everyone in the banquet.
This young master was dressed very smartly and had a confident aura about him. He managed to attract the attention of Fu Yuan and Yue Qiu Shan. He took a deep breath and then proceeded to vocalize his thoughts.
Pei Zi Yun raised his head to get a better look at this man before his gaze quickly turned into an icy stare.
It was Zhang Jie Yu!
To speak about this man, Pei Zi Yun had no relations with him. However, the original owner had clashed with him on numerous occasions. He had caused the original owner to lose much time just by making his life difficult.
He suddenly recalled, "And what relations does Yue Qiu Shan have with Zhang Jia Yu?"
At this point, someone recited a poem and earned the approval of the old man. Tang Zhen too, felt that it was a good poem.
After some time had passed, Official Fu Yuan had set a topic on, 'beginning of spring'. This was the diversity of the banquet. Never following a particular format or set of rules. When one person sets a topic, anyone and everyone could respond.
The three of them were still deep in thought, trying to figure out a way to the topic when Pei Zi Yun glanced outside and saw a fisherman sailing past. He then called the serving staff from the restaurant to bring some ink and paper.
The three of them were shocked at the speed at which he came up with a solution and surrounded him. He completed the poem in a couple of strokes, and Tang Zhen decided to read it out for everyone to hear.
"The fisherman sailed west, against the clear waters with their illuminating lamps.
For a long while, he encountered nobody except for mountains and waters.
As he looked up at the sky, he felt one destiny with the skies."
A few people gasped and praised the quality of it while others were still dumbfounded, unable to pass judgment on the quality of the poem. Yue Qiu Shan's eyes shone as he exclaimed that it was a good poem. And Pu Yuan too nodded his head in approval, smiling.
As the poem began to spread, people started to talk and acknowledge that it was, indeed, a fine piece of work. The serving staff in the restaurants had no qualms providing paper and ink upon request of these scholars. Whenever the paper and ink was given, some of these scholars would begin writing, while others would keep the unused ink and paper for themselves.
Pei Zi Yun stood up to drink his bowl of soup as he watched some scholars keeping the ink and paper for themselves. The serving staff did not seem to mind as well. Whenever they saw the scholars taking the remaining writing materials, they looked away and pretended not to see as well.
Feeling puzzled by what he had witnessed, he noticed someone was staring right at him, and he looked right back. He then saw Ma Ji holding his poem as someone else was reading out aloud. When Ma Ji saw Pei Zi Yun, Tang Zhen, Wang and Li sitting together, his facial expression changed, looking viciously over.
At this point, the person seated on his left was Scholar Wang, who had felt his gaze and stared right back at him as well. A group of people a few tables were all in conflict with each other.
At this point, Pei Zi Yun realized that Scholar Tang, Li and Wang were hiding something from him. The three of them probably had some unspoken conflict going on with Ma Ji and his group of friends. Just as he was about to ask what the problem was, a loud cheer was erupted from the crowd in front.
Someone in front started calling for Pei Zi Yun. Scholar Wang pushed Zi Yun and said "Zi Yun, your essay was quite good, now its is your turn to go onto the stage."
As he finished, he pointed to the stage in front and saw Fu Yuan and Yue Qiu Shan judging the quality of Zhang Jia Yu's work.
From where Pei Zi Yun was, he noticed that Zhang Jia Yu was confident and elegant in demeanor, replying to Fu Yuan's questions with ease and meeting the approval of both Fu Yuan and Yue Qiu Shan.
"It seems like the whole point of this banquet was for the scholars to showcase their talents and gain renown and approval." Pei Zi Yun then understood and lost his stage fright. Just as he was walking up, someone else walked up together with him.
Seeing three participants on stage, they greeted each other by clasping their hands in traditional greeting. Fu Yuan exclaimed, "We have three handsome and elegant young men!"
They launched into a commentary and gave pointers about everyone's works. Zhang Jia Yu came in first, followed by the other person who came in second and Pei Zi Yun came in third. It seemed like Fu Yuan was not as willing to make small talk with the two of them compared to Zhang Jia Yu.
As soon as the discussion was over, a waiter brought a tray over. A look at the items on the tray revealed them to be prizes. The first prize was a painting, the second prize was an ink stone with engravings of plum blossoms on it. Since the painting was rolled up, nobody saw the contents of it.
A student then pointed at the ink stone and said "That is a tribute from Plum Blossom mountains from the previous dynasty. Red rose ink stone, it is a very popular and rare item. Those that have been circulating are known to be gifts from the emperor himself. Before the chaos came, it was hard to extract the inkstone from Plum Blossom mountain and thus there are very little of these around. For those people who actually own it, they use it to show their status.
This student finished his entire report of the ink stone in a single breath. After listening to this student, everyone understood the value of this inkstone and looked on in envy.
Even Fu Yuan had a reaction to the gift. He looked at Yue Qiu Shan and said, "Zi Run, I knew you have in possession a plum blossom ink stone, but you insisted you did not. And you even hid it away from me until today and gave it away as a prize in front of me? You are not afraid I will throw you in jail?"
Yue Qiu Shan laughed and replied "Ping An brother, if you really want to punish me, you have to drag me personally to jail. But as for this plum blossom ink stone, don't you think about it!"
"Aiya, if i had known I would've been more persistent in asking." Fu Yuan or also known as Ping An (TL: Official name and real name) thought for awhile before realizing something was fishy about this Yue Qiu Shan and thus asked, "Zi Run, this inkstone was given to you by your teacher from the previous dynasty. All these years I've been looking for it and you would not give it to me. And today you have used it as a prize. Not right, not right. Honestly, I want to know your reason. If you are in any difficulty, tell me and I will resolve it."
Yue Qiu Shan sighed and replied "Brother Ping An, these past few days I've been feeling like my energy and concentration are lacking. I am worried that by keeping this inkstone with me, it will follow me to my grave. So instead, why not give it to some of these bright scholars? Looking at them always reminds me of my past self; full of life and vigor."
As he said this, his eyes moistened and the two of them stopped speaking.
Pei ZI Yun then noticed the person who came in second. He had a particular poise about him; full of grace and class. He had an extremely intelligent look and a pair of eyes that showed his capabilities and were as dark as ink. He dressed well and wore a jade pendant around his neck that glistened under the light as he stared at the inkstone.
Pei Zi Yun too looked at the inkstone from Plum Mountain and felt a certain envy. However, he knew that it was not his fate to win that item. Looking at his prize, he had won a book and some money. Pei Zi Yun saw the two prizes before him and could not help but compare them as he felt somewhat disappointed.
In an instant however, he changed his perspective. This High Scholar hosted the banquet and forked out money and treasures in order to add renown to his name. Since Pei Zi Yun was able to get something out of it, he should be more than happy.
Just as Yue Qiu Shan was about to distribute the prizes, Fu Yuan stopped him and said, "Zi Run, I have been eying this prize for so long. Since i am unable to own it, let me give it away as my consolation."
Yue Qiu Shan could not help but laughed and sat down saying, "Brother Ping An, brother Ping An."
As he was saying this, he stood up and sat down again.
While the prizes were being presented, and it was time for Pei Zi Yun to receive his, there was an unexpected occurrence. Just as Fu Yuan picked the book up to hand it over to him, a sort of change in expression came over him. It looked like shock and surprise, but he hid it well enough that nobody else saw it except Pei Zi Yun, who was standing the nearest. Seeing a reaction like this, he thought it was strange and did not know the reason. The old man then said some words of encouragement to him.
The three of them who won prizes looked grateful as they returned to their seats. Immediately, Tang, Wang and Li surrounded him and wanted to see his prize. The second prize was so rare and had such value that they had expected the same for the third prize. However, it was a book titled, 'The Chronicles of Plucking Flowers' and was written by Yue Qiu Shan himself.
Seeing it was just a book written by the host, the crowd dispersed in disappointment. They had assumed he received something of value. Tang, Wang and Li all thought that the book was boring and had no value to it.
Pei Zi Yun did not feel anything as he was holding on to it and felt slightly disappointed as well.
He casually flipped the pages of the book. He read that it had contained painstakingly written essays by Yue Qiu Shan. However, there were no "legacies" of any knowledge or powers within the book causing him to feel some regret. He had come to this banquet expecting nothing and had walked away with extra knowledge and a book, thus should not be disappointed by what he did not receive. He realized he was being greedy and laughed before keeping the book in his clothes. Estimating the number of silver taels inside the pouch that he has received, it felt heavy and seemed like there was at least ten taels.
At the conclusion of the competition, after the prizes had been given out. Some students were unhappy that they did not receive any prizes and hated themselves for not achieving top three. Most people were however envious of the three prize winners.
In the name of envy, there were a few people who were especially unhappy to see Pei Zi Yun and his three friends. Right after the conclusion of the banquet, they saw Ma Ji taking his group of friends and leaving hurriedly without the face for any confrontation.
Tang, Wang, Li and Pei Zi Yun walked down the stairs together as Pei Zi Yun suddenly recalled the look Ma Ji gave to him. He had wanted to ask about it again when Tang Zhen asked, "Zi Yun, why didn't you take the ink and paper provided just now? These are all expensive items that we could get for free."
Pei Zi Yun had some conflict and asked, "These are all possessions of the host, how can we just take it like that?"
Seeing the conflict and confusion on his face, the three of them began to laugh, "Zi Yun, Zi Yun. You have lost a great deal just by not knowing that the inkstone and paper were given feely. That was a gift from the High Scholar to everyone. He knows that scholars are always poor. And we forgot to tell you about this."
Pei Zi Yun, still unable to understand his motive asked, "What is his reason for doing this?"
The three of them were in high spirits having drank a little wine. They all clambered to speak and said, "There is a backstory to this. A few years ago, the same banquet was being held where all the top scholars were invited. A few of them happened to stumble upon the room in which all the prizes and memorabilia were kept. They were greedy and thus after completing their poems, they all sneaked in to steal some items. After the end of the banquet, the number of items there were considerably less than before."
"When High Scholar Yue found out, he made an announcement that all the items in the room would be eventually given to the scholars who attends the banquet. And those that went in to steal the items were all overjoyed that their actions had such an outcome!"