Chapter 215: Bartering
The page boy nodded without thinking. “Then I’ll take you to the event. Follow me closely. It’ll be bad if you end up in the wrong place.”
“Alright.” Jun Huang and Nan Xun followed the page boy to a more brightly lit room. They were stunned by what they saw.
There were a great many people here, including important officials and their companions. Everyone had something of great value with them.
This was the annual trading market. Only bartering was allowed. Money was as useless as a piece of paper here.
None of the participants were regular peasants. Jun Huang realized how lucky they had been. If they had not followed the finely-dressed man and were thought of as his servants, the guards watching the door wouldn’t have let them in.
To enter the market, however, they had to go through another round of checkup. The guard frowned when he saw that they were empty-handed. “Where are the valuables you’ll use to barter?”
Nan Xun took out a fine piece of antique jade. It was from the chief of the tribe he had conquered at the border. Of course, the chief’s attempt to bribe Nan Xun failed. He still took out the tribe in the end.
He found the jade when he was cleaning up the battlefield. He took it on a whim. After meeting Jun Huang and knowing that she was a jade lover, he had been thinking about giving her the jade, but alas, he couldn’t find a good excuse. He didn’t expect it to be of use today.
The guard checked over the jade and concluded that it was a rare piece of great quality. He let them in without another word.
Jun Huang had never seen this piece of jade. She raised an eyebrow at Nan Xun. “Didn’t expect you to hide this from me.”
“I… I wanted to give it to you as a gift, but haven’t had the chance,” explained Nan Xu. “If I didn’t have to care about what other people thought, I would have given it to you already.”
Jun Huang curved her lips and chuckled, smoothing away the uncertainties in Nan Xun’s heart. He stayed closely at Jun Huang’s side.
Once they entered the market, they realized that their imagination paled in comparison to the real thing. They had assumed that the market would be similar to the other ones, only that people traded with items rather than currencies. They were wrong.
Jun Huang had thought that Nan Xun’s jade was a rare enough items. Inside, though, almost all the items being traded were more valuable than the jade. Luminous pearl from the South Sea, jade scepter from Mount Penglai… The varieties of items here was beyond anyone’s imagination.
Their entrance attracted a couple people’s attention. One of them set his eyes on the jade in Nan Xun’s hand. He came up to them with a smile. “Is the gentleman interested in a trade?”
Nan Xun looked over at him. It was a middle-aged man holding a bracelet of Buddhist prayer beads. Behind him were two page boys. He looked like a wealthy man.
Before Nan Xun could say anything, Jun Huang spoke up, “What are you offering?”
The middle-aged man turned to Jun Huang. Appreciation flashed through his eyes after he got a good look at Jun Huang’s handsome face. Nan Xun narrowed his eyes and stepped in between them. His sharp gaze settled on the man.
Even though Nan Xun didn’t take any obvious action, the man, who had built his own business in this large city, noticed Nan Xun’s protectiveness. He smiled awkwardly. “The gentleman seems like an extraordinary man, and you sound like an honest sort. I’ll gladly make acquaintance with someone like you.”
The man’s words got on Nan Xun’s nerves. He took Jun Huang’s hand and led her away. The man stopped him with a servile smile. No one knew if he wanted a trade for the piece of jade, or for Jun Huang. “Why don’t the gentlemen hear me out?”
“I think we can give him an opportunity,” Jun Huang said calmly. “We have the time.”
Nan Xun thought for a moment before nodding. “As you said.”
They entered a room in the corner. This served as a negotiation space for visitors of the market. The middle-aged man sat on one side, while Jun Huang and Nan Xun sat shoulder to shoulder on the other side.
For a moment, none of them talked. The man poured each of them a cup of tea, drafting a speech in his head.
Nan Xun and Jun Huang didn’t intend to start the conversation. Jun Huang played with Nan Xun’s jade with her head lowered, while Nan Xun drank his tea and threw glances at Jun Huang every once in a while. Finally, the middle-aged man couldn’t stand the silence. He said, “The piece of jade looks pure and refined. Is the gentleman willing to part with it?”
“What are you offering in return?” Nan Xun asked directly. He didn’t want to waste his time.
With a smile, the man took out a small box. Inside was a tiny token - intricate, but the use was unknown.
“This is the token of my organization. Anyone with this token can ask my men to do something for them. It’s of great value. Many have tried and failed to acquire one.”
The man boasted. Jun Huang and Nan Xun shared an odd look.
Jun Huang huffed silently. She might not know all the gangs and organizations in the martial arts world, but the House of Heavenly Fiends, she knew, ranked among the top. There was no need for them to rely on anyone else. The name written on the token was unknown to her. The man must have been trying to exploit them, thinking that they were regular visitors.
“I’m afraid there’s no deal. Excuse us.” Nan Xun didn’t want to get involved with this man in the first place. He pulled Jun Huang away. The man, failing to read the room, grabbed at Jun Huang’s other hand.
Nan Xun drew his sword and hit the back of the man’s hand with the dull side. The man let go in pain, whining. Nan Xun almost killed the man then and there, but Jun Huang stopped him.
“Keep your dirty hands to yourself,” Jun Huang snapped, staring at the man with cold eyes. “You’re no fool. We’ll pretend this never happened. You hear?”
“Yes, yes. I’ve crossed a line.” The man scrambled away, muttering apologies. He’d been scared witless by Nan Xun’s show of force.
Even after the man had left, the scowl remained firmly in place on Nan Xun’s face. Jun Huang sighed. She knew what Nan Xun was angry about, but there were things she couldn’t bring up. She slowly exhaled, pretending to not notice his furrowed brows.
It took some time for Nan Xun to calm himself. “Let’s go.”
“Have you heard something?” Jun Huang said suddenly.
Nan Xun focused on listening and heard the noises coming from the room next to them. Without a word, they both put their ears to the wall.
The conversation was faint and difficult to follow, but Jun Huang was sure that it was about Water Cloud and the current political situation in Eastern Wu.
Those people were cautious enough to keep their words vague. Jun Huang and Nan Xun didn’t want to stay too long and risk attracting troubles. They walked out of the room without needing to talk to each other.
They had thought that the middle-aged man was exploiting them, but it turned out there were people trading favors here. No one knew if the others would honor their promises. Those who knew one another had to rely on their mutual understanding to make a deal.
Jun Huang and Nan Xun wandered around the market. It was an eye-opening experience. If the House of Heavenly Fiends holds a trading market such as this, Jun Huang thought, it’ll be a much better event than this one. Jun Huang shared her thoughts with Nan Xun, who gave her a nod and a smile.
“Perhaps we’ll be able to do that one day,” Jun Huang said, her eyes crinkling. She believed that it would be a good idea. “Then we can get to know the different factions. And the House of Heavenly Fiends will be known in all parts of the world.”
Nan Xun smiled indulgently as Jun Huang enthused about her vision. Neither he nor Jun Huang noticed how tender he looked. They walked among the stands, surrounded by items of great value. They looked like both brothers and friends. Some people were drawn to them by their strong presence, but none found anything strange about them.
After some time, Jun Huang sighed and said, “We should go. We’ve gathered enough information. I’m worried that something will happen if we stay. Let’s leave.”
Nan Xun agreed. This was Eastern Wu after all. They had to be careful and stay discreet.
No one was looking at them. They could leave without drawing any attention.
As soon as they reached the door, though, a merchant cried out, “Come! Take a look! This is a sacred fig tree sculpted from the finest jade stone of the last ten centuries. The craftsmanship is out of the world. This is the national treasure of the fallen Western Que! It’s said that the emperor of Western Que used to pray to this jade tree. Come take a look at this priceless treasure. If you don’t check it out today, you’ll never have the opportunity!”
Jun Huang froze. Her head snapped to the source of the voice. A big crowd swarmed toward the merchant. The pillar keeping herself upright fractured and wavered. She stood there, motionless. Her chest contracted painfully like she had lost the ability to breathe.
Nan Xun tightened his grip on Jun Huang’s hand reflexively. He was worried that Jun Huang wouldn’t be able to control herself. Under the circumstances, he wouldn’t blame her.
No matter how calm and collected she appeared to be, no matter how steely her eyes usually were, at time like this, composure was the last thing on her mind. She couldn’t possibly care less about how other people saw her.
“I don’t see anything special about it,” a young man said. “What’s so valuable about this tree? Besides, Western Que is no more. Their national treasure can’t be anything special.” He affected a scared expression. “Maybe it’s this thing that caused the destruction of Western Que. It’s a bad omen!”
Previous Chapter Next Chapter