Chapter 398 - The Highest Bidder Wins
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“That was in the past, but ever since…”
“What nonsense are you going on about?” A high-pitched, nasally voice cut in.
They collectively turned back to see Mother Bao of the House of Serenity swaying her stocky body as she walked in, fanning herself with a soft, fluffy fan as she pushed those ladies aside. She added, “You lot, what rubbish are you talking about here instead of serving our customers? Quick, shoo, go off and bring in our other esteemed guests.”
“Yes, Mother!” None of those ladies dared to talk back and dispersed, each one tottering off to find themselves another customer.
Mother Bao grinned at Ji Yunshu, her eyes scrunching up into a fine line as she smiled, “Hoho, isn’t this Master Liang? Pardon my late arrival, how about we head up to the third floor, and I’ll have my best girls come and serve this master.” She was a mama-san, as decorated with gold and ornaments as a christmas tree! [1. A mama-san is sometimes called a madame. She is an older lady that oversees and manages the other prostitutes in a brothel.]
Ji Yunshu retracted her gaze and asked, “What happened to that Miss Yu’in? Why is her business so bad these days?”
“No, no, there’s no such thing - why will Miss Yu’in have any trouble? She’s our most well-known dancer here; many people travel from far and wide just to watch her dance for a moment. But she’s not getting younger - I, Mother Bao, have watched her grow up from a young girl and she’s practically my daughter. Tonight’s stage was prepared especially for her - whoever can afford it can bring Yu’in home.”
“So an auction?”
“Auction? What does that mean?”
“Nothing much. Since Miss Yu’in will be taking centre-stage today, then this young master will wait till nightfall.”
“Sure, sure, sure. Then how about you two young masters find a good seat on the third storey? Otherwise, it’ll be a full house when it nears that time.”
“Fine!” Ji Yunshu agreed in a split second, ignoring Jing Rong’s displeasure as they made their way upstairs.
Mother Bao noticed the silent Jing Rong as they got up. She leaned towards him purposefully, speaking in a nasally, strangely fluctuating tone, “This master is so good-looking, you must be Master Liang’s friend. I wonder… what type does this young master like? Mother Bao can arrange everything for you.”
“There’s no need.”
“Aren’t you here to have fun? Pleasure? There’s still some time, how about…”
Jing Rong shot her a stern glance, “I said there’s no need.” Mother Bao flinched backwards; she knew her boundaries - since she was so outrightly rejected, she could only continue waving her fan as she showed them the way upstairs.
Once they found a good seat, Ji Yunshu asked Jing Rong for a silver ingot, handing it over to Mother Bao, “No need to send any girls - just serve us a pot of good tea. We don’t want to be disturbed.”
“Yes, yes, yes. The tea will be here shortly. Then I won’t bother you two masters any longer.” She tossed that ingot in her hand and practically hopped away in glee.
“How are you going to repay me for that silver ingot?” Jing Rong rapped his knuckles on the table.
Ji Yunshu looked at him out of the corner of her eye, “I seem to recall that you still owe me a sum of money.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve agreed to take on the ‘Lin Capital Case’, and solved the ‘Missing Girls Case’. You said you’ll reward me with a sum of silvers - how long has it been already? I’ve yet to even see one cent.”
“You greedy moneydigger.”
Ji Yunshu scoffed. “Money rules the world; a penniless man is bound to suffer.”
“When you become Princess Rong, there won’t be any need for you to even worry about money. What this Prince owns is yours - then, this Prince will order a bed crafted from gold for you. You can sleep on that gold all you want.”
Ji Yunshu was speechless. The two of them bickered back-and-forth, not the least bit fatigued.
Mother Bao sent a servant with tea and cakes for them, her silver ingot safely in her pocket.
Jing Rong chatted incessantly from morning till night as they waited for what they came for. He talked about his childhood in the Eighth Prince’s Estate, what happened when he entered the palace, about establishing his own estate once he was conferred his royal title, or those strange and interesting things that he had experienced… He even brought up what he had previously shared with Liu Qingping, recounting their conversation word-for-word for Ji Yunshu. He described flowers blooming from rocks, willows that wept blood, river monsters… Ji Yunshu’s ears began to hurt from his talking and she tossed out, “Then what about your Imperial Mother? I’ve never once heard about her from you.”
Jing Rong’s expression darkened in the blink of an eye. He gulped down his tea in one shot. “I don’t want to talk about the past.”
Ji Yunshu was not one to dwell on things; since he did not want to speak of it, then she would not ask.
Unexpectedly, Jing Rong continues speaking on his own volition. “My Imperial Mother passed away a long time ago. She was banished to the Cold Palace for a tiny mistake and hung herself the next day. Ever since, this Prince had neither backing nor support.” He took another sip of tea.
Ji Yunshu’s clenched painfully in sympathy; this must be why Jing Rong had never been favoured by Qi Zhen Emperor all these years. But what mistake did his Imperial Mother commit?
The two of them sat like this in the House of Serenity for the entire day.
As dusk fell, more and more people gathered in the House of Serenity, most of them here for that Miss Yu’in. Looking down from the third storey, the first floor was so packed with people that there was little room for movement. The lanterns outside were brightly lit, a colourful sight complementing that already luxurious round stage.
Ji Yunshu remarked, “I think nobody knows that those three dead people saw the ghost here at the House of Serenity. Only those in the yamen and the House of Serenity are aware. Otherwise, if those men knew about what happened in that ‘Moonlit Dream’ room, I bet there wouldn’t be that many people here tonight. Mother Bao must also have been worried that the news would eventually get out, so she’s selling Miss Yu’in whilst they are all still in the dark. She could still earn some money from this transaction.”
“Then what exactly do you want to do?” Jing Rong was frustrated.
“The highest bidder wins - didn’t Mother Bao tell you just now?”
“You want to buy her?” Jing Rong was startled!
Ji Yunshu shrugged her shoulders, “Why else did you think we’ve been sitting here all day for? Just to have a cup of tea?”
“Ji Yunshu, are you out of your mind? Why would you want to buy a woman?”
“You’re the one that’s out of your mind.” Ji Yunshu narrowed her eyes as she rebutted, “Since this string of events occurred in the ‘Moonlit Dream’ room, that means that Miss Yu’in was definitely present at that scene. She must have seen something, but the case files state that she saw nothing - isn’t it strange? Since ghosts don’t exist in this world, then that Miss Yu’in must know something but she’s purposely hiding it.”
Realisation dawned upon Jing Rong. “So, you want to buy her and pry that information from her?”
“I’m not buying her, you are.”
Before he could say anything, screams erupted from the floor below. The crowd began to shuffle forwards as they cheered, each one fixing their leering eyes on that round stage. Mother Bao stood just in front of those muslin drapes, her fan still in her hand as she addressed the crowd with a sickly sweet smile, “We have kept the masters waiting.”
“Hurry up, we’ve been waiting for too long.”
“Mother Bao knows that you have all come for Yu’in. Our Yu’in is the top act of our House of Serenity, but this Mother Bao will painfully give her up today. I’m sure the masters today are familiar with our rules - there is only one way if you want to have Yu’in, and that is to bid. Whoever offers the highest price can take Yu’in away.”
Tensions within the crowd began to run high.
“Yu’in is mine!”
“This young master has nothing but money.”
“I’ve travelled from a very faraway place for Yu’in. I must get her today.” Those young masters had already began their tussle.
Mother Bao quickly calmed the crowd. “I’ve stated the rules; as long as you can afford it, you can have the girl. It’s time, let my Yu’in appear!”
As soon as she finished speaking, a svelte figure started her descent from a long cloth from the third storey, spiralling down right into that covered stage.
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