Translator: TransN Editor: TransN
“I can sell them, but I have a requirement.”
“Young master, what’s it?”
“We can’t sell them on the street. We should have a storefront first.”
“A storefront is very expensive.”
“That’s the point. Because my calligraphies need to be expensive, too. Otherwise, I’ll feel ashamed.”
“Well, well. You’re the boss.”
After completely losing to the little handmaiden, Ning Que decided to fight on after surrendering to retain some benefits and his reputation. Eventually, he agreed to open a shop to sell his calligraphy. Now the real problem they were facing was finding a suitable storefront.
The day before yesterday, they found an inn when they wanted one. Today they needed to find a storefront for rent, but such luck did not show up every day. Even the generous Haotian wouldn’t provide so many opportunities for people. So to find a storefront, they had to find a real-estate agency.
The steward of the real-estate agency took out a map, pointing out some empty storefronts as if commanding an army, and casually mentioned their prices. Under Sangsang’s strong requirements, they first looked at storefronts that surrounded the local governments instead of the palace, then skipped the storefronts in the Northern Area, wealthy Western District, and desolate Southern Area, and eventually ended up choosing the Eastern Area, which was known for chaos and disorder.
Chang’an was really big but still densely populated. So a storefront’s rent here was really an inch of gold per inch of land. Even in the cheapest Eastern Area, it was still hard to find a proper storefront. With less than 200 taels of silver in total, they did not have many options and had no results after following the steward of the real-estate agency to look around for two days.
On the third day, they finally heard some good news. Having suffered from tiredness and torture, the steward excitedly waved his arms and told Ning Que that someone was transferring a small painting and calligraphy shop at Lin 47th Street in the Eastern Area. The shop had all the supplies needed for calligraphy. It was 15 taels of silver for the monthly rent and 50 taels of silver as a transferring fee with a remaining lease of one and a half years. All of this perfectly met the requirements of Ning Que… but mainly, Sangsang.
Ning Que and Sangsang looked at each other and found the surprise and happiness in their eyes. The price was indeed cheap and the location on the map was not bad, either. However, seeing was believing, let alone that opening a shop to sell calligraphies was directly related to their living in Chang’an for the next several years. Therefore, they did not accept it immediately but asked to take a look at the small painting and calligraphy shop first.
When the three arrived there, both the shop renter and former boss were not present. The steward used the key to open the dirty wooden door and then they walked in. With some scrolls of writings hanging on the white walls, this small storefront also had calligraphy stationery on the wooden frame of the east wall. The most satisfying thing was that it had a shop in front, a house behind, and a well in the backyard. Ning Que and Sangsang casually looked around, and thinking of the cheap rent, a sense of willingness arose in their minds.
“I don’t need these paintings and calligraphies. So the transferring fee should be cheaper.” Ning Que looked at the scrolls that filled up the entire wall with their fake and pretentious handwriting. He frowned and said, “Though the calligraphy stationery is of inferior quality, it can still be used. I can reluctantly take it, but it should be free.”
Sangsang looked up at Ning Que with a prideful smile, thinking of the young master’s clever words. The steward of the real-estate agency was about to cry, thinking, “I had already known, young master and handmaiden, how mean you were these past few days, but I did not expect you to be this mean! I’m simply a steward rather than your foe. Why do you two have to keep making me suffer?”
After the steward had suffered for a long time, they finally agreed. Sangsang took out a silver box from her bag and carefully counted the silver many times before she handed them out. The two sides signed a draft contract and from this moment on, the small paintings and calligraphy shop at Lin 47th Street in the Eastern Area officially belonged to Ning Que.
After they happily sent away the steward of a real-estate agency, Sangsang put down her bag and took out a handkerchief to cover her head and face. Then she pulled out a big towel out of nowhere and fetched a bucket of water from the backyard to begin doing chores.
Thinking that they might sign the contract today, the two checked out from the inn and took their luggage with them. If they could save a day’s inn fee, they would do it. Apparently, that steward didn’t notice this detail, otherwise, he might have set a higher price. However, it was more likely that he would be scared off or lose his mind by this mean couple of young master and handmaiden.
The little calligraphy and painting shop was filled with the smell of wet dirt. Skinny Sangsang laboriously moved around with a water bucket and cleaned up the place by standing on a stool and hunkering down. Occasionally she would lift her arm and wipe her forehead that was not covered by the handkerchief, though there was no sweat on it at all.
As usual, Ning Que wasn’t concerned about these things. He took a chair and sat by the door, looking at the faint corner of the Imperial Palace, the lonely Lin 47th Street and the shadows of pagoda trees on the street’s sides. He felt that this quiet and elegant place would definitely bring good businesses in the future. Besides, with so little money spent, he could not help but feel delighted and said with a smile, “It’s time for writing!”
Busy Sangsang also had a good mood today, so she firmly replied, “Night is better.”
After a rough dinner, Sangsang unfolded a scroll on a gleaming table and took out an ink stick as well as an inkstone. Then she poured water into the inkstone and rolled her sleeves, so she could lift her wrist as well as expose her fingers. By slowly grinding the ink stick in the inkstone by moving in a circle, the ink shortly came out and became much denser.
Everything was left from the previous owner. Even though they were not of great quality, they were counted as a complete set. Ning Que was already holding a writing brush and silently waiting aside. On the penholder in front of his right hand, there were five or six writing brushes, but the quality of the brush tips was hard to tell.
As the poor-quality ink liquefied, there was no fragrance but a bad ink smell. The brushes on the penholder weren’t the best for writing, but he didn’t mind those details. With a face filled with a hopeful smile, he kept his left hand’s thumb and index finger behind his back, continually rubbing them as if he felt itchy in the heart.
The so-called “itchy” was not because he wanted to steal silver or spank the little handmaiden Sangsang’s skinny butt, but that he wanted to write calligraphy.
Ning Que loved calligraphy. Even if there were no calligraphy stationery but only a tree branch or a big black umbrella wet with rain, he would frequently write on the muddy ground or bluestones. For the sixteen years of his life, writing calligraphy and meditation were undoubtedly the most important things to him.
The thick brush was dipped into the inkstone and dragged around to absorb the ink entirely. Standing upright, Ning Que quietly looked at the paper in front of him and raised his brush from the inkstone like a sharp blade drawn from a sheath. As the brush landed on the paper, it felt like a blade was cutting into a bone. Every time he slightly moved his wrist, a vertical line appeared on the paper.
This vertical line was dense and heavy just like the thick eyebrows of a strong man.
As Ning Que started the first stroke, he stopped slightly and then continued smoothly. After all these years, the way of calligraphy was carved deeply into his mind and soul. So he didn’t need to pay any attention to the design and was able to write the words on the paper skillfully. As the brush tip moved from right to left, a simple yet carefree style leaped out of the paper.
The first work of calligraphy Ning Que written in Chang’an only contained two sentences.
“When mountains stand tall and rivers run wild, there can be countless beautiful scenes in this world. But if there isn’t the Old Brush to draw them, then they’ll all be forgotten sooner or later.”
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