“I can sell them, but I have a requirement.”
“Master, what requirement?”
“We can sell it on the street but I want to at least sell it in a shop.”
“The shop is very expensive.”
“That’s the point, because my writing needs to be expensive too, otherwise I will feel ashamed.”
“Ok, ok, ok, I will listen to you.”
After completely losing to Sang Sang’s argument, Ning Que decided to fight on after surrendering so he could retain some benefit or reputation. Eventually, he agreed to open a shop and sell his calligraphy. Now the real problem they faced was finding a suitable place to set up a shop.
The day before yesterday, they found an inn when they wanted one. Today they needed to find a shop for rent, but such luck does just suddenly show up. Even heaven wouldn’t provide such good opportunities for people. So in order to find places, they had to find a real estate agency.
The manager of real estate, like commanding an army, took out a map and pointed out some empty places and casually spoke some prices. Ning Que and Sang Sang first looked at shops that surrounded the palace, then moved to places that surrounded the government offices, and eventually ended up choosing Chang An’s east side, which was known for chaos and disorder.
Even though Chang An was really big, it was still densely populated. So the rent was really expensive everywhere. It could be said that an inch of ground was equally as expensive as an inch of gold. Even in the cheapest area east side of Chan An, it’s still hard to find a proper place. They only had less than 200 silver coins to use as rent. Therefore, they didn’t have many options. For two days, they followed the manager around to seek places, but they still had no luck..
On the third day, they finally heard some good news. Having suffered from Ning Que and Sang Sang’s demanding conditions, the manager excitedly waved his arms and told Ning Que that someone was transferring a small painting and calligraphy shop to another individual at the forty seven alley on East city. The shop had all the supplies needed for calligraphy. The monthly rent was 15 silver coins, transferring fee was 50 silver coins, and the lease still had one and a half years left. All of criteria suited Ning Que’s requirements perfectly, which were Sang Sang’s.
Ning Que and Sang Sang looked at each other and saw the surprise and happiness in both their eyes. The price was indeed cheap and the location based on the map was not bad. However, everything needed to be seen to be confirmed. Moreover, opening a shop to sell writings was directly related to their life living in Chang An for the next several years. They were being careful and did not accept it immediately. Instead they asked to take a look at the small painting and calligraphy shop.
When the three arrived at the location, both the shop renter and master were not present. The manager opened the door that was coated heavily with dirt. The three people walked into the small shop. Some scrolls of writing hung on the white walls. On the east wall, there were writing brushes, ink sticks, paper and inkstones on the wooden frame. The most satisfying part was that this shop had a backyard and within the backyard, there was a well. Ning Que and Sang Sang casually walked and looked around thinking that the cheap rent was somewhat intended.
“I don’t like these paintings and calligraphies. The transferring fee needs to be cheaper.” Ning Que looked at the scrolls that filled up the entire wall and looked at the fake and pretentious handwritings on the scrolls. Frowning and said, “The writing brushes, ink sticks, paper, and inkstones are all inferior goods, but they can still used. I can take them like taking garbage but they should be counted as grants.”
Sang Sang looked up at Ning Que with a prideful smile thinking ‘master just said some beautiful words’. The manager was about to cry thinking back at the past two days. He already knew how cheap the master and maid couple were but he didn’t expect them to be this cheap! I am simply a manager, not your foe, why did you have to keep making me suffer?
After the manager had suffered for a long time, they finally made an agreement. Sang Sang took out a silver box from her bag. She counted carefully many times before she handed out the silver coins. The two sides signed a contract and from this moment on, the small paintings and calligraphy shop on the 47 alley at east city officially belonged to Ning Que.
After they happily sent away the manager, Sang Sang put down her bag and took out a handkerchief to cover her hand and face. She pulled out a big towel out of nowhere and fetched a bucket of water from the backyard to began doing chores.
Thinking that they might sign the contract today, the two already checked out and came with their luggages. If they could save a day of dorm fee, they would definitely do it. Apparently that manager didn’t notice this detail, otherwise he might had set a higher price. However, its more likely that he would be scared off by this cheap duo and pass out.
The little calligraphy and painting shop was filled with the smell of dirt. The skinny Sang Sang laboriously moved around with water bucket and cleaned up the place. Occasionally she would lift her arm and wipe her forehead that was not covered by the handkerchief even if there is no sweat.
Ning Que wasn’t concerned about these things. He took a chair and sat by the door looking at the faint corner of the city. He looked at the silent 47 alley and the shadows of pagoda trees on the sides of the street. He felt that this place was sort of elegant. The future business would definitely be great, and he spent so little money. Having felt delighted involuntarily, Ning Que said with a smile, “Master’s hand got itchy!”
The busy Sang Sang also had a good mood today, replied, “At night.”
Roughly after dinner, Sang Sang unfolded a scroll, took out an ink stick and an inkstone. She poured water into a plate and slowly grinded the inkstone by moving it in a circle on the plate. Shortly ink came out.
Everything was left from the previous owner. Even though they were not great quality, they were a complete set. Ning Que already held a pen and waited silently aside. On the penholder in front of his right hand, there were six writing bushes. The radii of the each brush was hard to tell.
As the poor quality ink liquefied, there was no fragrance but instead there was a bad ink smell. The brushes on the penholder weren’t the best for writing but he didn’t mind the small details. His face was filled with a hopeful smile. His left hand’s thumb and index fingers, which he kept behind his back, kept rubbing each other as if the hand was itchy.
The so called “itch“ was not that he wanted to steal silver, not that he wanted to hit Sang Sang’s skinny butt, but because he wanted to write calligraphy.
Ning Que loved calligraphy. Even if there were no writing equipments, as long as there was a tree branch or big black umbrella, he would frequently write on the ground. In 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 plate and dragged around. The hair of the brush absorbed the ink entirely and Ning Que stood upright. He quietly looked at the paper in front of him and raised his brush. As the brush was lifted, it felt like a sharp blade was drawn from its sheath and as the brush landed on the paper, it felt like a blade was cutting into a bone. As his wrist moved slightly, a line appeared on the paper.
This line was thick and heavy just like the thick eyebrows of a strong man.
As Ning Que started the first stroke, he stopped slightly but continued smoothly. After all these years, the way of calligraphy was carved deeply into his mind and soul. He didn’t need to pay any attention to the paper and was able to skillfully write the words onto the paper. As the brush moved from right to left, a simple yet carefree scent leaped out of the paper.
The first work of calligraphy Ning Que wrote in Chang An only contained two sentences.
“The mountains may stand tall and the rivers may run wild, there can be thousands of beautiful sights in this world. But if there isn’t the Old Brush to engrave them, then they will all be forgotten in time.”