Captain Tan lived a charmed life. He held a high position in his hometown. He had two healthy sons, and a third child on the way. His friend at his favourite bar gave him a discount.
But most importantly of all, he served a man who was worthy to be served. His life had a purpose higher than his own. The Patriarch of the Verdant Hills was aptly named. They were on patrol, headed back to Verdant Hill, after The Lord Magistrate had gone to personally oversee the flooding preparations.
Tan vaguely remembered people lamenting the flooding before the Lord Magistrate came. Sometimes, entire villages were washed away. The “Gutter” as it was derogatorily called, held great wealth, both mineral and in fertile farmland— but the floods were violent, and unpredictable. They raged as they pleased, and cost many men their lives. Until the Lord Magistrate came. He commanded his learned men to assemble a defence against the flooding. With his own stern hand, and the coin of Verdant Hill, he constructed several channels, focusing the water and diverting it from the villages. Now, the floods were largely a memory. The channels were carefully maintained, now the Gutter served the people of Verdant Hill.
Yet the Magistrate toured anyway, to meet his people, and listen to their woes.
He truly was a man with peerless virtue! Every one of his guards walked with straight backs, knowing that they served such a man!
The Lord Magistrate was even walking at their head, instead of in his carriage, leading the march into his town. He took a breath as they passed the gates.
“A fine day today, isn’t it captain?” The Lord Magistrate asked. “This spring looks to be beginning wonderfully.”
“Indeed, Lord Magistrate!” He responded. The Magistrate nodded, stroking his chin.
“Men! Thank you for accompanying me upon my excursion, but as of now, in our fair Verdant Hill, I hardly need your protection. I bid you rest and recover, and I shall call upon you when I require your services again!”
“Yes, Lord Magistrate! Thank you, Lord Magistrate!” The men shouted as one voice, bowing. The Magistrate kept walking, as the rest of the men desperced. Only Captain Tan remained, walking back with his master. He had reports to file with the clerks.
“Welcome back, Lord Magistrate!” A street sweeper called.
“Good day to you, Lord Magistrate!” A young woman with a child on her back greeted.
It was only right. The Lord Magistrate led the way back to the palace, a soft smile on his face.
The people made way, and greeted him. A father instructed his child in the proper way to hold his hands, so that he may pay his respects, and the Lord Magistrate inclined his head to the child graciously.
“We pay our respects to the Lord Magistrate!” the clerks called, as they crested the steps, and entered the palace.
“Good day to you all. Now, have there been any developments?”
One of the guards stepped closer, and whispered in the Lord Magistrate’s ear. “He came into the palace looking for you, Lord Magistrate. He met with your lady wife, Lord Magistrate. Nothing untoward happened, and from what she said, he came to give you a gift.”
Tan frowned at the mention of the Cultivator. He knew that his presence was something unheard of in the Verdant Hill, but the Lord Magistrate had managed to easily navigate the man’s strange temper.
The Magistrate nodded, his face a stern, and serious mask. “I see. I must deal with this, if there is nothing else.”
His man shook his head. “Nothing that cannot wait, Lord Magistrate.”
The Magistrate set off, and Tan followed behind, in case his services were required. Soon enough, they were in the Magistrate’s office. His lady wife was sitting at his desk. She was a beautiful woman, with the only blemish being premature greying— it was said that she had been caught in the backwash of a cultivator’s technique, and even that had been enough to harm her.
“Are you alright, my wife?” The Lord Magistrate asked, concerned.
She nodded. “I had just come in to inspect the maid’s work when he arrived.” she reported. “He said he wanted to give you a gift, and asked if we enjoyed the herbs. I assume he was talking about the herbs and rice we had?”
The Magistrate nodded, and opened the bottle that his wife handed to him. The Magistrate examined it for a moment, and froze. Tan thought he saw his master’s cheek twitch, but it was surely just his eyes narrowing in contemplation.
“Then he mentioned his wedding, and wished that I have a good day.” The Lord Magistrate’s face smoothed over completely.
“Ah. yes. The wedding. Are the animals and wine prepared?”
The Magistrate’s wife nodded. “Inspected this morning.”
“Good, good.” The Magistrate said distractedly as he stared once more at the jar.
The magistrate sighed. “There should be some presence. I must give him some face, after he has given us so much. Captain Tan, inform the others that I will be unavailable for a few days. This is something that must be done, but discreetly.”
Tan nodded his head. What a brave man, the Lord Magistrate, to boldly delve into a cultivator’s den!
“Why does he keep giving us gifts?” The man asked, irritated and perplexed. “And dear wife, could we swap today, I am in dire need of some relaxation.”
“You’ve had three in a row already, husband. But I am not ungenerous, so I’ll take care of you tomorrow.” the woman returned as she disrobed. Her husband nodded. ”Perhaps this is just how highly he values your service? He is by all accounts a generous one.”
The man sighed, and got the hemp rope. He offered it hopefully to her for a moment, but at her reproachful glare relented. He wrapped it expertly around her wrists. “I suppose all signs point to that.” He threaded it through the ring on the top of the bed, and pulled tight.
“Oh?” The woman perked up, “your stomach feels well enough for this one?” she asked as her arms were pulled above her head, and she was lifted onto her toes. She enjoyed the sight of his muscles flexing as he took her weight.
“...It stopped hurting soon after our “meal.”” He said, sounding of all things upset. “It's terrifying that he could see through my ailments so perfectly.”
“As you say, my husband.” The woman sighed, and cleared her throat. ”Ah, you brute, you court death! When my father hears about this, he will flay you alive!”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Bandit king again?”
“You’re better at the bandit king than the demon.”