A prim and proper lady sat at a table, surrounded by papers. Her head was held high, her bearing was one of exacting poise. She observed the pieces of paper, and the half-unrolled scrolls before her with a critical eye, observing numbers and expenses and receipts.
A gentle breeze took the sweet scent of spring to her nose, and the sounds of pastoral bliss entered her ears, through the soft crackling of the chickens and the soft moans of the cows.
She turned her attention to her assistant, as she finished grinding and preparing the ink to be used today, the smaller woman’s dexterous fingers swiftly letting the ink come to the desired consistency, one that would glide across the paper like a breeze, and let every inch of the lady’s delicate writing be observed.
The lady nodded her head in thanks to her assistant, and picked up the brush. With consummate grace, she gathered the ink on the tip of her implement, and with deft strokes she began her task.
That Pi Pa’s writing was so neat when she was using her mouth was a point of pride for her. She had practised long and hard to get the lines so perfectly straight, with just the right amount of flourish!
A true lady made do with what she had, and could work anywhere, and with any tool she pleased. Even if she was out in the wilderness, a true lady must be capable of preparing a meal fit for an Emperor, with only what she could find around her!
So knew Pi Pa.
Her Master and Mistress, bless their souls, had gone to visit family. Pi Pa, as any good Lady of the House, had taken it upon herself to consolidate the House’s records. It was a task that they could surely do themselves, but it was a job Pi Pa was most pleased to aid them in.
They had spent the morning collecting the numbers The Master of the House kept, his receipts, and his record of expenditures. Of course, Pi Pa had permission for this task. The Master had been bemused, when Young Miss Ri Zu had requested such things, but he had allowed it and in doing so allowed Pi Pa her duty.
It was time to begin. Pi Pa finished titling her report, and gazed at the first item.
She considered it some more.
She tilted her head to the side, nodding her head as she looked at the scroll.
She turned to Young Miss Ri Zu.
‘...I do not know what these are for either, Sister Pi Pa.’ the little rat admitted.
The scribble of numbers and letters was… well, it was sloppily done and absolutely appalling. There was no sense to it that she could discern, and there were often things crossed out or stacked on top of each other.
There was also a drawing of The Mistress of the House’s face in the corner with hearts surrounding it. That part was well done, if oddly stylized.
She was sure the numbers made sense to the Master of the House, but to the rest... well, she would not disparage the Master of the House, no ma’am!
The next one should be better, she decided, and put the main scroll aside.
The next one wasn’t better. It was just as chaotic as the last, though at least with the two compared, she could perhaps see some sort of pattern. Though this one had even more drawings. This time of what looked like gears, and there were parts circled and arrows directing certain numbers to where they were supposed to be.
Pi Pa felt the slight twinge of a headache coming on. Something inside her screeched with the incoherent rage of a bureaucrat encountering a misfiled report.
She instead switched to the Mistress of the House’ own scroll, which only detailed the herb garden so far. Which was understandable, she had not been here long, and she had not the time to go through the expenses properly.
Pi Pa dutifully copied these out. But the rest. Well, the rest she would have to do herself. A proper inventory as well.
She looked at the Master of the House’s scrolls again.
...Inventory first. Young Miss Ri Zu declared that she would stay, and try to make sense of Master Jin’s numbers.
So Pi Pa set off. First, was the house. The jars of “pasteurized” milk that were in the river. The only two bottles of Rice wine left. The near complete lack of any real herbs from last year. They had eaten all of those, and had to wait for them to grow anew. In fact, most of their larders, save for the eggs, were largely empty. It was a mild concern. They had the bounty of the land, and she knew the Master of the House had already taken precautions to make sure such a thing would not happen again.
Twenty one chickens. Of which, sixteen were egg-laying females. Of their rice, five bags remained, after the sales, the gifts, destruction by those wicked, wicked rats, and the amount of food people ate when they visited. It was still more than enough to last them until the next harvest, however, so it was dutifully noted.
They also had an untapped goldmine. The Master of the House was yet to sell even one of the thirty-two large jars of Maple Syrup. Such a thing would render their coffers flush. How much would they sell for, she wondered? It was a new commodity, and those with coin would surely pay handsomely for it!
She hummed, as her Dear trotted up beside her, nuzzling into her neck. She trotted along the fields, as her Dear fell into place beside her, chuffing happily at her company.
If only every man could be so good and kind.
Next, she trotted to the bees.
The small, buzzing creatures wisely got out of her way as she sauntered up with her Dear, not even attempting to put their nasty little daggers where they did not belong.
Or they might just be...consumed.
A Lady was to have a firm hand on the rest of the servants. And Pi Pa had them well in hand, yes she did.
The bees protested not at their examination, staying well away from her as she examined the comb inside the hive. It was coming along nicely. Even the one that Bi De had found had the start of her brood, though that one was nowhere to be found. Likely diligently preparing for her brood. Though it was odd that some of the other bees were standing guard for her, oddly subdued, and positioned at the entrance. Unmoving sentinels.
Hmmmm. Something to keep an eye on, at least.
Finally, she observed the fields. Young Sir Gou Ren was in charge of five acres of Rice. Forty bags of rice was two hundred and twenty silver coins. Half an acre yields around eighty bags. Therefore…
For five acres, this would mean that on the rice alone, if it was all sold well, The master would make back his investment in the land this year. And this was not counting the fifteen acres of wheat, another two acres of rice that the Master of the House was experimenting with, and the half acre of earth apples.
Pi Pa nodded her head, and returned to the house. They would be able to have a wedding party every day, and still be fine after this year’s harvest.
Satisfied with this, she began her march away, back to the house. They did take a detour, however. It was too nice a day to not travel around great Fa Ram.
Her dear even picked a flower to put behind her ear. Such a gentleman!
But even this pleasant break had to end. She and her Dear pressed their noses together, and they departed their separate ways.
She entered the home, once more ready to tackle the Master’s notes, when she happened upon a scene.
Tigu stood menacingly over Ri Zu, the little rat glaring up at the cat, not budging an inch. The cat’s body was tense as a coiled spring, filled with barely contained violence.
Pi Pa sighed, and got ready to separate them, opening her mouth daintily--
When Tigu inclined her head, in the barest form of a bow.
‘This Young Mistress demands that Sister Ri Zu teaches her of Bees.’
Ri Zu’s eyes widened with surprise.
Oh? This was an interesting development.
The rat’s eyes narrowed.
‘No.’ Ri Zu said simply, crossing her little arms.
They glared at each other.
The cat launched herself. A tiny needle appeared in Ri Zu’s hands.
Both of them let out shrieks of shock and terror as Pi Pa took them well in hand.
Or in this case, well in mouth. Little girls needed to learn to be polite, and not start fights near her paperwork.
‘Now, what does one say, when they wish for a favour?’ Pi Pa asked pleasantly.
Ri Zu and Tigu were stood across from each other. They were damp and bedraggled, eyeing Pi Pa warily.
‘Tigu.’ Pi Pa prompted.
She could see the bunched muscles, and veins bulging as the cat bowed properly. It looked like the act physically pained her.
‘This Young Mistress…’ The cat paused, and looked about to choke, ‘Humbly requests your guidance, Sister Ri Zu.’
‘And what does a proper lady say to such a request, Young Miss Ri Zu?’
The rat’s eye twitched, as she bowed back properly.
‘Ri Zu would be honoured to teach her fellow disciple her way. It will be a true test of Ri Zu’s ability to teach one so...difficult.’
Claws unsheathed, but Tigu didn’t move.
‘Very good! It only took three attempts, but we shall fix such things, yes we shall! You shall be ladies yet! Now come, both of you we have a task.’
Both Tigu and Ri Zu glared at each other.
‘You court death.’ the cat snarled to the rat.
‘The only one Ri Zu courts is Brother Bi De.’ Young Miss Ri Zu returned primly. ‘You court never being allowed back in Master’s bed.’
There was another explosion of movement.
There was another sucking sound, as the two little girls yelped and disappeared.
Pi Pa examined Master Jin’s scroll again. It did have some form of pattern that she could discern now. It still needed correction, but it wasn’t as bad as she feared. And his receipts were organised by date, which calmed her tremendously.
She wrote down another figure. It was a bit difficult with her mouth full, but she maintained her writing admirably. This would take a while to go through. If that villainous glutton, Wa Shi was here, she would have gotten him and made him work for his meals!
And check her work. Taxes were annoyingly difficult.
But alas, such things were not to be. When Wa Shi returned however, he would find a nice big pile of chores for him to do.