The Lord Magistrate checked over the prices one last time as he paced around his office. It was sure to be enough to placate the cultivator.
At least he hoped it was. He may need to make a request of the man, and if he was not sufficiently plied, he might refuse.
Reports had come in of Sun Ken, the Whirling Demon Blade and his ilk having come north. Reports that were days late. Really, was it so hard to use a transmission stone?! The roving band of scum had been damaged, but most of their cultivators had survived, according to the scattered reports. His men were scouring the countryside, searching for him. He had authorized the use of minor transmission stones as well, just in case his men found anything. They were rare, and expensive, but he wanted to have as accurate information as possible.
He hoped to find him before any more villages were destroyed. They were his tax base!
Damn the Verdant Blade, couldn’t they have taken them out?! He didn’t want to have to deal with cultivators! He might even have to personally visit the places of devastation. He hated the smell of blood. He always had to take that disgusting concoction to calm his stomach before he emerged, to make sure he wouldn’t void it.
It was even worse because Sun Ken would occasionally hide after attacks, and then ambush the relief parties. If there was one thing he hated more than blood, it was danger. He always ended up freezing. He wanted to run, heavens damn it, not stand there like some unflinching, stoic fool.
The patriarch was stern and unflappable, after all. The men and women under his aegis couldn’t see weakness. They might not think so highly of him then.
Damn cultivators, damn Sun Ken, and damn Rou Jin. Damn all of them. Why did they have to come here?!
His stomach was killing him.
“Lord Magistrate, any more of this, and you’ll wear a hole in the floor.” First Archivist Bao chided around his dumpling. “I see no reason to be worried. He is a calm man. I‘m sure he will hear you out, especially after he learns what kind of vile demon is lurking about his home.” He ate another bite of his lunch.
His second lunch.
How dare he chide him about nervous habits, when he ate when he was upset?!
But it had the desired effect. His pace stopped, just as a guard came in, and bowed. “Lord Magistrate, sir, he has arrived.”
“Excellent, excellent. His demeanor?” He asked.
“He seems to be pleased with the recording crystal, Lord Magistrate,” the guard replied. “He also obtained candied orange peel, cinnamon, sugar, and several other spices, along with red lacquer, rabbit fur, red glass bottles, bells, and the antlers of a deer.”
He considered the strange purchases.
And decided he had no idea what the cultivator would use them for.
He turned to Bao, and the other man nodded.
“Good, good, thank you Ren Ji.” He told the guard, who puffed up with pride. He always had been good with names. It cost him nothing to remember them, and his men were all the more loyal for it. “Now, if you could fetch him? I must speak business with him.”
“At once, Lord Magistrate.”
It did not take long for the cultivator to arrive. He hadn’t changed much since he had last laid eyes on him, nearly a year ago now. If one didn’t know better, he could be mistaken for any other farm boy, if a slightly taller specimen.
He had a large, happy grin on his face as he entered.
“Lord Magistrate, First Archivist, I hope you are in good health.” The cultivator said, clasping his hands in the proper courtesy.
The Lord Magistrate was certain the boy was mocking him. No, he was not in good health! His stomach felt like there was molten lead inside it! He longed to throw his inkwell at him, but stayed his hands. He would have to curry favour with this man.
“I am well, Rou Jin.” he said, as stately as he could. “Has our Verdant Hill treated you well?”
“Yeah, thanks for telling me about the rice, First Archivist.” The Lord Magistrate’s eyes shot over to Bao. He had thought they had agreed not to question the cultivator about this, and then bring it up next time! Thats what they had agreed on!
He started sweating.
“And I trust things have been resolved satisfactorily?” he asked, hoping that he would be pleased.
“Better than satisfactory, really. Thank you for finding the recording crystal for me. I really needed this. And don’t worry about the rice. It was an honest mistake, and I don’t mind selling it at that price, if you can’t afford the higher one.”
Well! Well, that was good at least. The cultivator was doing this as a reward to them. It was good to confirm such things.
But now came the hard part. He was happy, and now he would potentially make him angry.
“Well, it is good that all parties were satisfied. I would ask you something, however. Have you heard news of Sun Ken?” He asked leadingly.
“That he's dead?”
His face froze. Sun Ken was dead?
The cultivator was calm, and absolutely serious. The Lord Magistrate’s gut churned. His mind raced. He made a choice.
“Ah...yes, that joyous news, yes.” He managed to get out. “Ah, well, I just wished to inform you of his demise, if you hadn’t heard already!”
Rou Jin nodded his head. “Well, thank you for informing me. Did you need anything else?”
“Oh, no, no, I just wanted to make sure everything was fine after our little mix up. You know how things are!”
The cultivator smiled brightly at him. “Then if that is all, I need to get back home. I’ll be leaving today. I hope that the heavens favour you, Lord Magistrate.” He bowed to him.
“...and you as well, Rou Jin.” He replied.
The cultivator left.
The Lord Magistrate whipped his head around to the First Archivist. He shrugged, looking just as perplexed as he.
One of his Scribes rushed in.
“Lord Archivist, priority message from the Verdant Blade Sect! Sun Ken, the Whirling Demon Blade, was slain by Cai Xiulan, Young Mistress of the sect!”
“...Was he now?” The Lord Magistrate asked.
“Yes, Lord Magistrate!”
“Well, that is good news. I will make an announcement in… one hour. You’re free to go, Zang Wei. and close the door behind you.”
“Yes, Lord Magistrate!”
The scribe left. The Lord Magistrate slumped onto his desk, and groaned.
“...this is good news.” The Lord Magistrate decided.
“Indeed.” The first Archivist said, putting down his food for the first time since they had found out Sun Ken had come north. “But how did he know that he was dead, if we just got the news?”
“I don’t care. Sun Ken is dead. The cultivator is happy. Recall the men.”
It was good news! It was a good day!
Now, if only his stomach would cease it’s incessant roiling.
You know, I realise why everybody likes the Magistrate now. The man was really nice. Calling somebody up just to apologise for the rice mix-up? He should have had people for that, but he did it himself.
No wonder he was “The Patriarch of the Verdant Hills!”
I smiled. I’d have to do something nice for the guy.
Still, fast and productive. The recording crystal was mine. The only problem was, like most “profound” things, it didn’t really come with an instruction manual. I’d be futzing around with this thing for a while, to make sure It recorded the way I wanted.
The spices and orange peel were for my family gingerbread recipe, red lacquer for my sligh, and antlers for my pigs. Glass to decorate a tree. Rabbit fur, for the white trim. Yes, I know the “traditional” garb of jolly saint Nick was invented by that corporation, but it was iconic, and stuck around for a reason.
In any case, this was the shortest I’d ever been in Verdant Hill, because this time I was in a rush. As soon as Peppa and Chunky had gotten back with the kid’s “Christmas List” I had started running.
Turns out you can make the trip in a day if you really push it.
Nearly to the solstice. Hopefully they’d like my additions, even if it wasn’t traditional.
Ho, ho, ho, boyos.
Jin-ta Claus is coming to town.