“Come in, come in, Master Jin!” Guan Bo the merchant called out to the cultivator, as he sat down at his desk. Master Jin took a seat in a plush chair set before his desk. Servants rushed in after the pair of men to attend to them. A pot of steaming water, kept hot so that tea could be served immediately, was set down on a side table along with a selection of pastries and fine sweetmeats. Juices chilled by a frost crystal and rice wine in a carafe warmed to perfection completed the exquisite selection.
In truth, Guan Bo had heard about a man entering the city with a giant cart and made the deduction himself yesterday that it was Master Jin. However, he did not dare presume to approach the cultivator before he was ready to speak. Guan bo had assumed the cultivator would approach at his leisure, if at all. But Guan bo had been hopeful he would have another rewarding meeting. So he had cleared most of his schedule, and given the staff and servants the depictions of his strong cultivation, and heroic frame, along with his name. He even had a room prepared in his home. There was, after all, many tales of cultivators suddenly appearing in the night, and so he had strived to accommodate him.
It was bad luck that the man had arrived when Guan Bo was doing one of the few tasks he had to personally attend to, but at least he did not seem upset about having to wait.
The merchant carefully studied the cultivator’s expression as he took his seat. The freckled man held a bag over his shoulder and another of those glorious jars sure to be filled with ‘maple syrup’. Both had a mark on them, half maple leaf, and half rice stalk. He put both precious containers down and smiled at Guan Bo.
“Master Jin, have you been well?” Guan Bo asked as they made themselves comfortable.
The cultivator nodded. “I have been excellent. This has been a wonderful year, and my wife is with child,” Master Jin said with a happy grin.
“How wonderful! Please, permit our company to send you a gift in this auspicious time!” Something suitably for a first child. Perhaps another dress for his beautiful wife? Or something for the household?
Master Jin looked surprised and pleased by the offering and nodded. “And yourself? How have you been?”
“Never better. My wife was best pleased with my return, and my company was delighted with my acquisitions. I was actually preparing another caravan to go up north, though if you’re already here, we may conduct negotiations at your leisure.”
Master Jin picked up a pastry and took a bite, humming at the taste. Guan Bo’s mind whirled, trying to figure out how to take their current relationship further. He was obviously a man who valued his wife, if the first thing he stated was her pregnancy. Perhaps he could introduce him to his family?
“So, how has the maple syrup been selling?” he asked after he finished swallowing.
“Excellently, Master Jin! Your statement of its value at Verdant Hill was, of course, correct. Half of one jar was used as a sampler, then the Jade Dragon restaurant purchased the second jar for one hundred and eighty silver coins, the third sold for two hundred.”
Prices that had given him some favour. Guan Bo, always seen as one of the less skilled of his family’s merchants, suddenly had a venture that could prove immensely profitable. A good contact with a cultivator, and a very pricey and suddenly in-demand good. His star was on the rise!
The cultivator nodded, mulling over the prices. Over twice that which had been paid to him, but there was no way Guan Bo was going to mislead him about that. After the success of the Royal Jade Dragon restaurant, the others were clamouring for more of the golden liquid. “What did the travel expenses look like?” he asked, and Guan Bo nodded. The right sort of question.
The month-long travel time, the guards, and the wagons all did start to add up. “The expenses were thirty Silver Coins, Master Jin.” Though most of that was the guards, and the losses he incurred waiting around in the town. He would most certainly be able to cut that down. “Of course, in light of this product’s success, we are most assuredly willing to renegotiate prices,” Guan Bo reassured the cultivator. “Does one hundred and twenty coins sound acceptable at this time?”
If he was a mortal, his trading company likely would have attempted to keep the purchasing price at eighty. Cultivators, however, demanded a different price.
And keeping the cultivator happy was a priority.
Master Jin considered the price, and nodded. “That should be fine,” he decided. “Though I did not come here just for the syrup. I have a few other things to sell, as well as a request.”
Guan Bo could feel his eyes light up.
“Of course, of course. What is it you wish for us to aid you with, Master Jin?” he said eagerly.
“I know the Imperial Government normally buys rice… but what exactly are the rules about selling higher grades?” he asked leadingly.
Rice? That wasn’t quite what Guan Bo was expecting, but he dutifully answered anyway.
“Silver and above are considered commodities, instead of an Imperial Essential, and may be sold like any other good, to whomever the seller pleases,” he stated. “While the prices of the three standard grades are ironclad… The Spiritual grades tend to be much more fluid, due to rarity. Silver grade rice is on the cusp of regulation, and has a generally fixed price.”
“That does make sense.” Master Jin nodded, and held up the rice bag he had brought in with him. “So, how much would something like this sell for? The Lord Magistrate said it would be too expensive for them to purchase at Verdant Hill.”
Guan Bo nodded. Most likely silver grade rice, then, but he took the bag anyway. Having a supplier for silver grade rice was something one had to look out for. It grew so rarely in their hills that it had to be imported.
“Ah, it has been a long, long while since this Guan Bo has graded rice!” he said. He stood, getting out his lens, and his scale. All pieces he had been trained with, but rarely got to use.
He set himself up, zeroing the scale, and making sure the lens was in proper order, as the cultivator took out some grains from his bag. Even a quick glance at the rice revealed it’s quality.
Excitedly, he took a grain of rice from the cultivator. Silver grade, grown here in the Azure Hills, instead of imported from without! A miracle of miracles.
He stared at the fat grain, its polished sheen, its faint, pearlescent glimmer.
Guan Bo did not need his scales and lenses. He knew silver grade rice. He ate it once upon the mid autumn festival, and once upon the new year every year, a gift from his family.
This was not silver grade rice.
“A full bag of this?” he eventually managed to ask.
“Yeah. I’ve got three hundred in the cart,” Master Jin said, simply jerking his thumb over his shoulder.
Three hundred?! Guan Bo almost swallowed his tongue in shock.
“All I could fit in the cart. I’ll have to make half a dozen trips or so just to get everything down here…” he grumbled.
1,800 bags of Gold Grade Rice. At least.
Their largest order ever for silver grade rice was a hundred bags for the Lord Magistrate of Pale Moon Lake City.
Guan Bo could feel himself getting light-headed. His forehead grew damp, as sweat started beading uncontrollably. He took a breath and calmed himself.
“I… excuse me, Master Jin, I must… I must go and speak to my superiors.”
The cultivator nodded, stretching his arms above his head.
“No problem. Do what you have to,” he stated.
Guan Bo stood. As soon as he was out of the room and the door closed behind him, he broke into a sprint.
The upper members of the Azure Jade Trading Company sat at the Azure Jade table. A single piece of polished jade shaped by master craftsmen into a table wide enough to seat thirty people. The table reflected a soft blue glow interspersed with veins of white and green.
Master Jin had been surprisingly accommodating about the need for a private meeting, and was currently touring warehouses. His guide was instructed to take him wherever he wished to go, even if it was normally off limits to outsiders. Guan Bo was a bit nervous as he waited. The true source of his nerves was the slight buzz that filled the air.
Six of their number were at the head of the room, their hands pressed against the transmission stone. The sound was fuzzy, and the connection would occasionally break, but it had to be done.
“I see. You were right to contact me.” An aged female voice echoed from the stone. While Guan Bo’s grandfather was officially the head of the company, and a fine businessman, every member of the family knew that his wife, Shan Daiyu, was the one who made most of the heavy decisions. She was currently at the Dueling Peaks, holding their auction in the heart of the Grass Sea.
There was a brief pause, as she thought things over.
“Yinxue, Ping, head to The Howling Fang Mountains, and Yellow Rock Plateau. Leverage some of our contacts there,” she commanded decisively, her voice was a whip, and it startled Guan to attention. “Start immediately.”
“Yes, Honoured Mother,” His uncles barked, making the gesture of respect, even though she wasn’t able to see them. Grandmother had always had that kind of effect on people.
“Li, manage the shipments to Grass Sea City.”
“As you say, honoured grandmother,” a cousin obediently agreed.
“Liquidate what we need to. Accommodate his demands accordingly. We will be his primary contact. Make sure this happens,” the woman rattled off commands.
Guan Bo knew such a thing was big, but for his grandmother to go so far… well, the entirety of the Azure Jade Trading Company was being mobilized.
“Little Bo, you said he was married?” The voice turned its attention to him.
“Yes, Grandmother,” he squeaked out. “A peerless beauty.”
“Hmm. In the end, he is a man,” she eventually decided. “Chyou. See if you can deepen our relationship with him. You will become our primary contact.”
Guan Bo’s sister flushed for a brief moment, as the request was made, but it swiftly faded.
“Yes, grandmother.” She said, and Guan Bo saw the calculation in her eyes. His sister always did remind him of their grandmother.
“And... what shall I do?” Guan Bo asked.
“You will be rewarded handsomely, Little Bo. You have done well, but we shall take things from here.”
He knew the decision was final. Guan Bo sank into his chair, and sighed.
So much for his rising star, and his plans. He’d be shuffled off to another post.
The Trading Company eventually got back to me. I was actually a little nervous, walking into what was essentially a board meeting. A bunch of steely-eyed merchants wanting what I had put me a little on edge.
Honestly? I hadn’t been taking this as seriously as I should have been, in retrospect. I was still just operating on “good rice” equals expensive, and having the Azure Hills equivalent of a Fortune 500 company shit itself then call an emergency meeting was a bit beyond what I was expecting.
So with a brief breath, I walked into the lion’s den.
It was like something out of a period drama, we were seated across from each other on cushions. There were several older gentlemen, all seated when I arrived, who rose and greeted me as I entered. They were a bit stereotypical looking, long hair tied into a topknot with few mustaches on some of the otherwise bare faces. There was also a younger woman, who looked about Bo’s age, maybe in her early twenties, seated to the right of the old man at the front and center.
She was eye-catching, and had a bit of a resemblance to Bo. Her lips were painted red, and her face was pale. Her green eyes were framed in rose eyeshadow, and her unusual red hair was done up in an elaborate braid.
Guan Bo was off to the side. Nearly at the end of the line of people. Further in the corner, the only man with a table sat with a pad of paper and a brush, ready to take notes.
As one the men and woman of the Azure Jade Trading Company bowed, the lowest I had ever seen somebody go beside Xiulan after we saved her life.
“We, The Azure Jade Trading Company, greet Master Jin,” they intoned.
Was I supposed to bow here too?
“Master Jin, thank you for your time. We hope that we have not unduly infringed upon it.” The old man said, his head still lowered.
I shrugged. “It hasn’t been too long.”
The men and singular woman raised their heads in perfect sync. “We thank you for your consideration. This one is Guan Xi, Head of operations while my honoured Grandfather, and Master of the Azure Jade Trading Company is indisposed at the Dueling Peaks. He begs your forgiveness for not being present.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” I said simply.
Xi’s eyes brightened just slightly, a smile coming across his features. The man in the corner, I noticed, was writing down everything we said. A scribe, for a business meeting, I guess.
“I have requested your attention to clarify a few matters. While our Guan Bo is a fine member of our company, the value of the goods you propose to exchange requires the oversight of one of a higher rank in the company. One with more experience, and of a higher position. Our Master, Guan Yang, offers to conduct business himself, when he returns. In the meantime, if it pleases you, we would assign one better suited to accommodating you. ”
All of their heads bowed again. Including Guan Bo, who had a resigned look on his face.
I considered it. Business was all about relationships, really. Now, I wasn’t much of a calculating man, but it is better to do business with somebody who owes you a favor.
“Guan Bo has been great. I’m fine if our relationship continues as it is,” I said. The old man was the picture of serene grace, but Bo’s head snapped up, his eyes wide with shock and gratitude.
If he wasn’t my friend before, he certainly was now.
“As you desire, Master Jin.” The old man said, stroking his beard. “I am sure you see the value in our Guan Bo. And should you desire anything else, our Guan Chyou will be our point of contact, if it pleases you. She will be available at all times to meet your needs.”
The woman offered me a warm, pretty smile, and a deep bow.
I nodded absently. Kinda like a secretary, or Bo’s assistant?
“Then, Master Jin, we will proceed with negotiations.” The members of the trading company versus a street rat and a farm boy.
I swallowed, as I faced the united front.
In the end, I’d like to think I’d given a good battle. I certainly gave it my best shot. We settled on the price of fifty silver coins per bag. Nearly ten times the amount of a bag of even Silver Grade rice. The price alone was a good one: if I sold my entire harvest I would have more money than to know what to do with. Hell, even just these bags were more than enough to basically retire with.
I guess Meimei would be getting a bit of a bigger library than she bargained for.
But, as always, sometimes the more valuable thing isn’t the main, direct price of goods you get.
It’s the perks.
Preferred shipping of goods. Inroads to suppliers. Information. The Lord Magistrate was a god damn wizard, getting me tomatoes, but he was, at the end of the day, in a remote location.
Hell, I didn’t even have to pay for any inns I stayed at anymore. Like… ever. The Trading company would be footing the bill.
To use another modern analogy, I was getting wined and dined, then taken golfing. Something novel to both parts of my past. It was a little bit nice, getting my ass kissed, I’ll admit. An effective business tactic, to make somebody feel more important than they were.
We both got a set of the contracts, written by the scribe. Nothing seemed out of order, so we concluded our business for the day, and I got taken to a fancy restaurant for a feast.
And I may have had a bit much to drink, considering Chyou kept filling my glass, and the men of the company started toasting to my health, and good business.
“To your health, Master Jin!” one of the men called, and I obligingly drained the drink, nodding to the man. As I set down the cup, Chyou attentively refilled it. I nodded my thanks, and she bowed her head, as I took another bite of the food. This place was pretty good, and everything had gone bright, and pleasantly bubbly. Bo was already sheets to the wind, and passed the hell out.
I leaned back with contentment, as I popped another dumpling in my mouth. Maybe I had drunk a bit much, but after describing my interest in alcohol, the company had brought a lot of drinks out for me. Including one special one that they said was like a thousand years old or something, but the memory of it was a tiny bit fuzzy. It was real good though.
I noticed a shadow, watching me from the roof, and nodded to Big D. The Rooster bowed his head, and left.
Which reminded me that I should probably get to bed soon.
I waved to the bigshot guy, who nodded his head. “We have rooms available, should it please you.” he said, still remarkably sober.
I mulled it over for a second, before nodding. I’d go and get the rest of the guys in the morning.
“This way, Master Jin,” Chyou said, and I got up to follow her. We walked in silence for most of the way, Chyou beside me. She had been pretty quiet, aside from occasionally giggling at something I said.
“So, you’re going to be my guide in the morning too?” I asked Chyou.
The woman nodded, as we reached the building, and Chyou got out a set of keys, unlocking the door, and revealing a well furnished room.
“Of course, Master Jin, I am here to see to your every need.” There was an inflection in her voice that was slightly flirty. I wasn’t sure I liked it.
I frowned a bit at the insinuation, and the woman’s flirty smile fell from her face. Ah, crap. I didn’t mean for that to happen. Things were hard enough for women in this world. Getting assigned as a secretary, and told to flirt with the bigshot customer probably sucked.
The happy buzz faded. I didn’t want her to have to walk on eggshells around me, so I thought for a second.
“How familiar are you with medical scrolls?” I asked.
The woman paused; seemingly surprised at the question.
“Not too familiar, but I know many who are, Master Jin.” She said tentatively.
“‘S good! Could you get a list for me, of what most of them think are the essentials?” I asked. There, something I needed, where she wouldn’t have to interact with me for a while.
She seemed a little confused, her eyes narrowing slightly. Curiosity, and something cunning lurked in those eyes, before her smile returned in full force.
“Of course, Master Jin. I shall have it prepared for you,” she agreed. “Do you need me for anything else tonight?”
“Nah. G’night. Thanks for the room, yeah?” I waved her off.
I slid into the bed as the door closed. I’d have a lot to do tomorrow, getting the rest of the stuff I needed, and having Noodle help me with the glass stuff. But at least I wouldn’t have to go searching around for suppliers, with an army of merchants eager to get me discounts and direct me where to go.