62 The Fourth Miss Asks Her Questions

    By the time that late noon arrived, where only a few more hours would lead to a sun slipping behind mountains, Yujia decided to get up and do something purposeful with her life.

    Hui'er had returned. Yujia didn't know when she did- she was likely sleeping when her maid came back- but when she woke up, Hui'er was wiping the tables and organizing the cabinets like usual. Hui'er dusted off the tops of the wooden cabinets, then turned to see her Fourth Miss sitting up.

    "Miss, do you have any plans?"

    "Yes," Yujia answered, "I have some. But first, I have to go to the market to answer some of my uncertainties."

    Hui'er wrung the wet towel in her hands into a copper basin, saying as she did so, "Alright. Is there anything you need me to do?"

    "No. Just come along with me."

    Yujia reached to the side, taking out the sheer fabric she previously used to cover half of her face. Surprisingly, last night, the pimple under her mouth went away on its own, a truly magical feat considering that it went away as noticeably as it came. That meant that she didn't need to wear the sash, but from what she heard from everyone, it was important to keep an anonymous identity in the market.

    It was considered shameful for young misses of merchant families to sell their work to earn money in the first place. If others found out that the Yang family's Fourth Miss was doing so, surely the Old Master would become the laughingstock of all the merchants. So, what she was informed previously by Hui'er was that the Old Master was alright with her selling her embroidery in the market as long as her identity remained anonymous. The same concept should apply to painting as well.

    That was why Yujia made sure the knot tying the two ends of the fabric together at the back of her head was tight. She didn't want any identity slips that could potentially harm her ability to sell things to happen.


    As the two went through the market, heading in the direction of Lingxin Pavilion that they learned of from asking passersby, Yujia decided to ask Hui'er some more questions, since questions were always good.

    "Hui'er, I'm sure you know by now that I have no intention of marrying into the Yu family. But say if I failed, and I did, what is the family like?"

    Hui'er thought for a few moments, then responded, "The Yu family's Old Master controls silks and salts, the two main businesses. So, they're the third biggest family. His previous main wife died, so his current wife has only been main wife for four or so years. Other than those, he has three concubines, I think?"

    Yujia grimly smiled. She knew of this already from knowledge she learned before, so she posed a more specific question. "What about the rest of his family?"

    Hui'er had to think even more about this, likely because, unlike the Yang family, the Yu family was more foreign to her. "He has two sons, and I can't remember if it's his family that has a young miss or if it's the Bo's. The Fifth Miss is marrying the First Young Master, and the Second Young Master is bedridden for his entire life, so the public had never seen him before."


    The news was not what she expected to hear. It was interesting to see how each family's dynamics were different. The Yang household only had three different wives, yet they had five total young misses. On the other hand, the Yu household had five total wives, yet their children were still so little.

    Though if one were to analyze the two families and decide which family was better, the Yu family would still win. It wasn't just because of their financial status. In a society like this one where boys were valued over girls, even if the Yang family had fifty young misses, that would not be enough to compare with a single young master of the Yu family.

    The Yang family was truly pitiful for not having any male descendants.

    A few more moments of walking with small conversations passed before the two arrived at the arched gate of Lingxin Pavilion.

    Yujia's first thought was that the place was stunning.

    When she saw the Bo villa, she thought that it was a grand structure as well. Now, comparing the two together, she could only say that the Bo villa dulled in comparison.

    The arched opening of the academy reached up towards the sky, carved out of white stone that looked as pure as ivory. Walking up to the arch, she noticed the details carved into the stone, picturing mountains and trees, almost like the work of a painting. The walls by the side were made out of similar white stone, though the walls were not solid, but rather a set of connected, overlapping arches, tightly gathered together yet still allowing light to shine through. The path under Yujia's feet faded from plain dirt to a paved white stone path, occasional stones having the carving of certain names of accomplished artists from the school.

    Once Yujia walked inside, she found herself in a separate little marketplace, one that was much neater and cleaner than the normal civilian marketplace. Each stall matched the ones next to it, having a table covered with white cloth, and a variety of different art related materials lying underneath it. Carefully planted trees created a backdrop behind the grounds. At a closer look, Yujia noticed that the stalls to the left of the path sold art supplies, while the stalls to the right sold paintings and other types of art, such as pottery and statues.

    She decided to explore the tables of art supplies first. It was interesting to see that the tables were all organized as well by types of art supplies. Each table only sold a certain type of supply, and the division made it easier for buyers to find the materials that they wanted quicker.

    One table near the middle with colored ink caught her eye, so Yujia went there first. It was the emptiest table of the lot, with only one other person standing there looking at ink. The rest of the tables had at least three or so people busily analyzing the goods. Once Yujia arrived at the table, it seemed like the person who was there before finished their purchase too, taking their goods and leaving.

    The vendor behind the table, an old man who looked too ancient to fit in with all the middle-aged vendors, looked ecstatic to see her. Business was probably not going that well, so he valued every customer that he could get.

    "Young Miss, are you interested in buying some colored ink? The current trend is to use only black and white, but I promise you that if you use the vibrancy of my colors, any work you create will look beautiful!" He pushed a piece of clean paper and a brush out to her. "If you don't believe what I say, then try some of these colors for yourself!"

    Yujia picked up the brush and dipped it in the red paint first, swiping it across the paper. The color was indeed brilliantly bright. She proceeded to wash her brush and test the other colors as well, finding that the pigments were all rather excellent except for the purple and yellow which didn't quite live up to the rest of the colors, but were still decent by themselves. The red was still best though, by far.

    "Good right?" The vendor nodded proudly. "I'll sell them at a discount to you too, Young Miss. Only six taels for all six colors. Usually, I would sell them for twelve."

    Yujia smiled. "I do like these colors, but I didn't come to buy things today. I was coming to ask some questions."

    "Oh? What questions?" The merchant leaned against the table. "I might not look like much, but I've been here longer than all these others." He gestured at the other stalls and vendors. "I know the school inside out."

    "Well then," Yujia began, glad to find someone that could help her out so quickly, "how does this work?" She pointed at the stalls. "Are you a student of the academy?"

    He really didn't look like one. The vendor was just too old.

    He laughed when he heard her question. "No, no, I'm just a merchant who has connections with the academy. Most of these people selling art supplies are, but some are just plain merchants who've created art supplies and want a better opportunity to sell them. They submit some of their products to Lingxin, and they test out the quality. If it lives up to their standards, they'll sign a contract and let them sell it, as long as part of their profit goes to the academy. The students are the ones selling the paintings though."

    "So that's how it works..." The academy was actually pretty smart by doing this. It was a good and easy way to earn profits. Yujia had her question of whether or not students could sell art here answered, though she still had one other one. Thus, she continued. "Is the school accepting new students?"

    The vendor looked at her with a strange look. "Yes, there's a quarterly examination four days from now... but the academy doesn't take female students."

    "Ah." Yujia waved her hands, quickly lying to solve any suspicion the old man might have. "I'm not asking for myself. My friend wants to pursue the arts, and he's feeling a bit sick lately, so I came to ask for him."

    "Who is this friend you speak of?" The vendor asked, still slightly skeptical.

    Many fake names ran through her head, but Yujia decided to name a surname that belonged to the family that she would soon belong to if she didn't succeed in what she planned. She thought that she had the right to at least use it if she was planned to marry into it.

    "His surname is Yu," she answered, an open smile on her face.

    The vendor wasn't able to see her lips through the veil, but he could tell through the expression in her eyes that she seemed honest enough. He put his suspicions aside.

    "Thank you for answering my questions," Yujia went on, "I didn't plan on buying anything originally, but your colors are truly of high quality. I'll take two of each, and one extra red."

    A big smile spread on the old man's face. "Young Miss, you are too generous!" He went behind to crates of colored inkstones, taking the colors she wanted. "Since I gave you a discount, that would be thirteen taels total."

    Yujia took out her satchel of twenty-three taels and handed over thirteen of them. This meant that she only had ten left, but that wasn't too bad. She had alternative purposes for the colored ink she bought too, so it wouldn't be that much of a waste or a bad deal.

    The exchange occurred, and Yujia now held a heavy bag of inkstones and inksticks that she gave for Hui'er to hold. She gave one last word of thanks to the vendor, then left the marketplace and the large arch of the academy, her goal in mind accomplished.


    Evening came, and an old man who others believed to be just a simple vendor packed up the colored ink he sold in his stall, cleaning his station. Then, he left the place, slowly walking his way into the school. While he walked through the academy, many leaving students bowed at his presence, recognizing his true identity. He paid no heed to them, waving and continuing on his way.

    When he entered through a circular arch that led to a picturesque garden with a pond filled with unbloomed lotus plants, he eyed the red pavilion that was at the very center. Inside of it sat a painting figure, illuminated by a newly lit candle.

    In his slow movements, he walked across the bridge strung between land and pavilion.

    The figure who was painting looked up from his work. He was a dashing young man in his late twenties, his features slim and defined. Seeing that it was his master that came, he stood up and clasped his hands, giving a brief bow.

    "Your father let you paint here today?" Gruffly, the old man asked.

    "Yes- I wanted to capture the pond during sunset, so I asked him." The young man answered respectfully, a small smile spreading across his face.

    "Well then, it's better to see you here than your father anyways. I can't stand him."

    The young man smiled a little upon hearing that. His master always pretended like he hated his father, but in the end, his master did pass the academy down to his father's control anyways. He wouldn't have done that if he didn't have trust in the other man. That was why he remained wordless about the remark until he remembered something he had been curious about all day.

    "Master, how did the bet with my father go? Did you sell ten sets of colored ink today?"

    A broad grin expanded on the old man's face when he heard the question. "Ha, your father will definitely be sorry when he says that I wouldn't be able to sell any ink that I make myself! Not only did I just sell ten, one customer of mine even liked the ink so much that she bought thirteen sets!"

    The young man smiled a little, unsure of how he was supposed to respond to that. He wanted to be happy for his master, since he did win the bet, but he wasn't sure if that his father would feel the same way. Luckily for him, he didn't have any time to say anything, since his master continued speaking.

    "Oh, you're in charge of the exam four days from now, right?"

    The young man nodded. He was.

    The old man tilted his head upwards towards the rising moon. "If you see anyone with the surname of Yu, give them a little bit of advantage."

    "Why?" The young man raised his eyebrows. "Yu? Are you talking about someone from the Yu family? Last time I remember, you had no correlation with them."

    "No- just the female customer I talked about, she mentioned a friend by the surname of Yu that is participating in the exam. I want to do something nice for her by giving her friend an advantage since she gave me such a wonderful event to rub in your father's face."

    All that the young man did was blink a few times and turn back to his painting. He didn't see how it was a worthy exchange to give another individual a better chance at passing the exam just because a friend of theirs bought some extra ink, but then again, his master always gave back more than necessary. He would just follow as what his master said.
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