Mila felt refreshed after her bath. It was a little lonely, with no one to help wash her back. Baths were normally a happy affair, chatting and laughing with friends as they soaked in the springs. The city was nice, but the village was truly home.
She had dressed into some city clothes, given to her by Lin. Red silk long pants, and a long shirt, with golden trim and gilded buttons. Unfeminine, but comfortable and practical. The high collar and long sleeves had its own sort of elegance, and her hair had been done by some of the servants, a simple brushing doing wonders. A small clip kept her hair back, a wood carved lotus flower she bought from Charok. She walked out, hungry for lunch.
Rain walked out from the room next to hers, almost the same time. He was dressed in the same type of clothes, with lovely pearl buttons on a black shirt. A wide belt around his waist held his sword, worn in the small of his back. His hair cropped short and unadorned, he was slack faced and contented.
“Hello. I like your hair clip. It's very lovely.” Rain smiled and commented offhand. He walked off, following a servant. That idiot, just throwing out compliments, as if that would make her happy. She had kept close watch on him after his fearsome performance with the bandits, but he seemed like the same idiot as always. A bigger idiot than she thought, in fact. He sported several bites, from when he tried to hug his quin. The idiot never learned, was too impatient with Zabu. Mila didn't hate that about him, though. He loved quins, always feeding them and petting them. Some of the more docile quin's would even approach him for hugs, having learned he would always give treats in exchange. It was ... endearing.
She followed on his heels, making her way to the dining hall, where they were seated at the head table with Lin, a small, round 6-person table out on the veranda overlooking the lake. The entire group of visiting villagers and guards were filtering into the room, in small groups. Taduk always fed everyone when they came to visit, a gracious host. Mother and Papa were already there, sitting together, chatting with Taduk.
“You look so handsome Rainy.” Lin held her hands together in front of her face, adoring him. “You look pretty as well, Mi-Mi.” She grinned that toothy smile of hers. Sumila grinned back at her best friend. So cheerful and happy, always a delight to be with.
“Thank you for the clothes Teacher, they're very beautiful.” Rain bows to Taduk, who waves it off. “Thank you as well. You look very adorable, Mei Lin.” He sat down between Lin and Taduk, and began conversing with Taduk and Father. An odd person, Rain is. He rarely converses with people his own age, but seems so comfortable around adults. He only ever spoke to her if he had questions, never to simply chat. She sat down between Lin and Mama, chatting with Lin about things that happened in their separation.
Lunch was delicious, all sorts of roasted meats and steamed vegetables, along with deliciously crisp rice. It was served with a fish broth, milky and peppery, a wonderful meal. Mila ate ravenously, as did everyone else. Travel food grows boring quickly, although Rain had cooked surprisingly delicious meals. Wine was poured for the adults, and Rain as well, who drank like a fish. Towards the end of the meal, he was laughing uproariously at Papa's jokes, red-faced and telling terribly lurid jokes of his own.
Lin poked Mila in the cheek, and whispered, “You're staring at Rainy.” She grinned at her, all teeth and impish eyes. “I told you, he's the best, ya?”
Mila's face heated up. “I'm not staring. He's just laughing like an idiot, it's impossible not to notice.” She took a sip of her tea. Lin let it go with a smile, and started asking about the village instead. Mila was happy for the change in conversation, telling Lin about the gossip she had missed.
When lunch was over, Lin dragged Rain and herself away by the hand. “Rainy is going to take us shopping, okay?” She hurried forward without waiting for a reply.
“Why do we need this idiot? We can just go shopping together, leave him behind”, Mila protested. She had already spent twelve days with him riding beside their wagon. She didn't need to go shopping with him as well.
Lin ignored her, as well as Rain's attempts to beg off. They exited the manor and took a rickshaw, Rain sitting in the middle, Lin hanging on his arm, pointing out landmarks and areas of interest. Mila sat as far as possible, sulking. Her best friend was too focused on Rain. She had looked forward to spending time with her, and he was ruining it.
After arriving, they wandered through the market area. Rain would always praise Lin when his opinion was asked, causing her to smile so widely, her eyes would almost disappear. He spent his time otherwise looking around, not like a village yokel, but as if he were taking in the sights, something he simply did everyday. He fit in, in the city, the lifestyle. Perhaps he would come live here all the time, once he came of age. Many of the villagers chose to leave for the city, an easier and more settled life. She absently felt some cloth, mind elsewhere, pretending to browse.
“Ah, is that a sash and veil? I'm sure it would look lovely on you.” His stupid voice broke through her musings. She glanced at him, lips pursed. Such a natural womanizer, always throwing out compliments, how her clip was nice, or how smart she was. She turned back to the article she was touching, truly looking at it for the first time.
Her hand darting back, she turned and punched Rain in the face. His head flew back, nose bleeding. “You.. You... You pervert!” She stormed off to find Lin. A lech, a degenerate, a pervert of the highest order. That's what Rain was, and she had to protect Lin from him.
My head is spinning a little. I just got sucker punched in the face, so it's understandable. Sumila can throw a punch, wow. I take out a cloth to wipe my face, keeping my body back so blood doesn't drip on my new clothes. A short minute of concentration, and my nose stops bleeding, and I wipe my face clean. The shopkeeper hands me a bowl of water to rinse my face with, and I nod in thanks.
“What was that about? I just told her it would look nice on her.” I vent, to no one in particular. Crazy girl, like mother like daughter. “It's a nice jeweled sash and veil.”
The shopkeeper chuckles, a lovely tanned woman, in a headscarf and tunic. “Young lord, the item the young lady was admiring is no sash. It is a shawl. The veil and shawl are worn as a set, and southern women like myself will wear them to dance.”
“Ah, I'm not a lord. I don't see how that makes me a pervert. It's a lovely shawl.”
She grins. “The dance is for their husbands. The shawl and veil are all that is worn when dancing.”
I flirt a little with the shopkeeper, chatting a bit. I'd like to see her dance in one of those shawls. I end up buying an embroidered scarf for Alsantset, a lovely little piece of stitching. I plan to get souvenirs for everyone, but I don't really have that much money. The scarf was half a silver piece, and I'm not sure if that's expensive or not. 100 copper pieces to a silver, 10 silver pieces to a gold. I have 10 silver pieces from Alsantset, so it shouldn't be too bad. It should technically feed a family for a year? I don't know how well they would eat though. I really should earn my own money somehow. I hear the prices of food, and it's much lower, 3 to 5 coppers for snacks, like skewers or dumplings. So I spent 10 skewers worth on a scarf. Is that good?
Looking around, I try to spot Sumila and Lin, but they are nowhere to be seen. I guess I done goofed, with the stripper outfit. How was I supposed to know? Besides, Sumila is way too young to be wearing something like that. Akanai wearing that though... I cough. No. That woman is the devil.
Why was Sumila even looking at it? Maybe she has a sweetheart in the village. 15 is old enough to be fooling around with people your age. I guess without the fear of pregnancy, kids can be more adventurous.
I wander around the Bazaar. It's a chaotic and colorful place, with stalls and wagons, carts and towels, all displaying a variety of wares. They have everything, from services and lessons, to fruits and food. There's even a guy selling exotic animals, like furry birds. I kinda want them, but the price is several golds. I can't afford that. Bucket list. When I'm rich, I'll get an aviary. Or should it be menagerie? Both? Start a terror bird farm, spice the meat with 11 different herbs and spices and deep fry it. I'll be rich. Business idea, right there.
I pick out a few more small gifts, a tea set for Baatar, a jade comb for Sarnai, a nice cap for Charok, and some toys for the twins. I only spent 6 silvers in total, and most of that is the tea set. He may have sold me off to Akanai, but he is still my Mentor. I need to keep looking, trying to find something for Taduk.
I buy a drink at a stall, a jug of delicious rice wine, for 35 coppers. The wine was infused with some sort of fruit, white and fleshy, the drink sweet and smooth. Not as good as Taduk's plum wine though, that was exquisite. I'd finally had some alcohol, and it was as wonderful as I sort of remembered and/or imagined. I can't get enough. I continue to wander around, looking at knick knacks and assorted merchandise while drinking my wine. It's a nice city, beautiful, once you get past the slums. Sad thing, those slums. Especially so close to so much beauty.
Someone pushes me aside roughly, and my jar of wine tumbles out of my hands, wine spilling out of the broken container. What the fuck. “Hey!” I call out to the idiot. “Be a bit more careful, friend. A word would have been enough.”
A bald muscle idiot stares venomously at me. “You be more careful. To dare stand in the way of my young master, you've got guts.” He grabs me by my new shirt. “You should be thankful I don't beat you like a dog.” He lifts me into the air.
He's stretching my new clothes. What an asshole. And an idiot. If you're going to grab someone, don't leave your thumb sticking out. It's like a little lever for your entire arm. Grabbing his thumb in one hand, I twist it hard. “I don't like being touched, baldy. A simple word, and I would have stepped aside. No need to be rude.”
“Release me now, or I'll – Arh ah ah stop stop.”
Baldy is bad at learning. I continue twisting his arm, forcing baldy down to his knees.
“I – Ah – apologize young hero, I did not – Urghhh – know. My most humble and sincere apologiesssss.” Baldy's back is in an arch, trying to relieve the pressure on his shoulder. He's probably had enough. It was just a small thing. No need to go too far. I release him, and he darts away, hiding behind his young master, I presume. Shit he has like 2 more guards. Didn't notice that. O well. Time to leave.
“Hmph. To be strong armed by a child. Disgraceful.” A slender youth, with black hair and pale skin stood, an open fan in his hand. A nice shirt, embroidered with a crane and trees. The clothes here are all so pretty. I wonder where I can get a shirt like that. How much will it cost? He snaps his fan closed and points at me. “You have guts, to dare disrespect me. You think you can just walk away from that? Kowtow thrice before me, and I may let you off lightly.”
Are you serious? He wants me to beg him? Worthless fancy pants idiot. I look around for another stall selling wine. I didn't even get to eat all the fruits in mine. It was so good. I should also get some skewers. A bit of snacks to go with the alcohol.
“Insolence. I gave you fair warning. Take this.” The young master is throwing a punch. I slap it aside. Not too bad, but not that great either. His face goes red in anger, like he can't believe it. Just a simple parry, guy. Calm down.
Tucking his ridiculous fan into his belt, he claps his hands and takes a stance, both fists forward. So theatrical. He throws a flurry of punches, but he doesn't hit that hard nor is he very fast. Killing him is no good, but how much am I allowed to hurt him? Blocking and dodging, I wait for the guards to step in, but no one comes. In fact, people are starting to gather and watch. This is bothersome. I'll just give him a couple bruises. Lowering my guard, I go on the offensive, trading punch for punch, all of mine landing on his forearms and biceps. After a few minutes of trading, his arms are dangling at his sides, too bruised for him to even lift. Ha, do you even lift, bro? He keeps spouting more bullshit, but I ignore him mostly, wondering at what to do next.
Did I go too far? He's a young guy, maybe 18. I might have hurt his pride. He stands there, glaring at me, out of breath, defiant even though he's beaten. I like that, some real guff. I smile at him and clasp my hands. I should class up my speech a bit. “Let us end our spar here, call it a draw. No need for us to continue with this interruption. Just remember, don't judge a book by its cover. A lesson to be learned, young master. Courtesy costs nothing, but discourtesy can cost you everything.” I burp. Dammit. Ruined my exit. Turning to leave, I saunter away, feeling proud of how I handled that.
“Young Hero, beware!”
I quickly duck and step back, throwing my elbow back. It connects in the chest of one of Young Masters guards. A crack resounds, and the guard falls to his knees, bleeding and unable to stand. The second guard grabs me from behind, pinning my arms. A reverse headbutt loosens his grip, and an elbow to the head sends him to the ground as well. He should find better guards. I laugh. Maybe he's hiring. I could use a job.
Young Master looks murderous. And also ridiculous, with his arms hanging there. Just heal yourself, idiot.
Another young master type steps out, slim with dark brown hair, around the same age. He applauds slowly, a big smile on his face. “Excellent. Good speech, Good fight.” He looks at the other young master. “DuGu Ren, it seems you've kicked a metal board this time. You should leave.” I recognize the voice, he's the one who warned me. What a nice guy.
Young Master glares at the new guy and yells, “This is no concern of yours, Tong Da Fung. Scram.”
These damn names are hard to remember. Tong Da Fung smiles, a fake one that doesn't reach his eyes. “I was concerned about you, little Ren. But if you do not wish my help, then I wash my hands of this.” He steps back and nods his head at me. I nod back, and turn to 'little Ren'.
“Do you know who I am?” Ren is backing away. “Do you know what will happen if your attack me again?”
“Nope. Don't care either. The question is,” I ask while smiling at him, “Do you know who I am?”
Ren's eyes widen, as he racks his brain. “W-Who are you?” Haha, idiot.
“Perfect.” I punch him twice, not too hard. Just enough to give him two swollen eyes, puffing up as I watch. “Remember the lesson. This could have all been avoided, with just a bit of courtesy. You can go now.” I wave dismissively, trying to look dignified, while Ren stumbles away. His guards are still on the ground though. I may have killed them. Leaning over, a few pokes confirms that they are both still breathing.
Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I went too far. I didn't need to hit him that much. I feel kinda bad about it. The poor little guy was defenseless. I guess I'm a mean drunk. That's no good. I should reflect on this later. For now, more wine. Damn, I should have made him pay me for my drink!
Fung steps forward and clasps his hands at me. “Young Hero, my name is Tong Da Fung, Son of Tong Da Hai, the Magistrate of Shenhuo.” He's young, maybe one or two years older than me. So his dad is a judge eh? That's probably a pretty good job too. Fung is dressed even fancier than Ren.
“My name is Rain.” I clasp my hands and give him a nod. I need a better moniker, a title or something. Rain, Sect Leader. Rain, Dragon Slayer. Rain, Sexy Beast. O damn, I shouldn't have given my name. I just ruined my anonymity.
“Profound words, Young Hero Rain. Courtesy costs nothing, but discourtesy can cost you everything.” He grins. “You seem to have trouble following your own advice.”
Shrugging, I give him a grin. “I have an excuse. I'm young and drunk.”
He laughs, and says, “Come, Young Hero Rain, let me replace your drink for you. I would also like to speak more with you, get to know this Young Hero. Such insightful words, simple yet profound.” He smiles and prattles on. He puts his arm around my shoulder, talking about proverbs and idioms and what not. He doesn't seem like a bad guy. Plus he did try to warn me.
Whatever, I want another drink, and it's no fun drinking alone.
And everything is better when the drinks are free.