Darkness gradually wrapped around the city, and evening lights began to lighten the streets.
The Musical House, which was located in the Fragrance Alley on the East Main Street, was about to usher in its busiest hours of a day. Faint music and singing were fluttering out from the alley. Like the Rouge River running across the end of the Fragrance Alley in the east, the melodies of singing and dancing could be heard in the alley every evening, luring numerous men to go in and have a look.
Li Mu, who had never been here before, followed the lead of Zheng Cunjian and entered the Fragrance Alley.
This alley was much wider and stretching much further than the Pig-Herding Alley. The road was several kilometers in length and could accommodate four carriages driven by eight horses to run shoulder by shoulder. The ground was paved with the best flagstones, which fit smoothly and were very neat. The alley was lined with delicately-built wooden houses of all sizes, each of which had red or pink lanterns hanging from the roof.
The road was packed with people. Some were soldiers riding horses, some were scholars sitting in carriages. From their dressing, Li Mu could tell most of those who came to the Fragrance Alley were the rich or the powerful.
The buildings on the sides of the alley all had different names, such as the Beauty Terrace, the Jade Hall, and the Wonder Pavilion. And the inscriptions on the plaques were all from reputed scholars or celebrities in Chang’an, which looked quite magnificent. What was more, on the terraces of each building stood several attractive girls in very revealing dresses, waving at and flirting with passers-by.
The alley was filled with chuckles of beautiful girls and the aroma of fine wine that drifted out from the buildings on each side. Indeed, such views and scent would level up any man’s hormones.
In fact, the Musical House was just the general name of the brothels that were run by the government. It branched into a variety of entertaining businesses, just like a company on Earth could have many flagship stores. The Beauty Terrace, the Jade Hall, and many other buildings that Li Mu had seen as he rode down the road were all affiliations of the Musical House, though each of them had their own strong points in attracting clients. According to Zheng Cunjian, every business had a popular girl as their ace card.
Listening to Zheng Cunjian’s briefings while strolling along the road, Li Mu felt he was having an eye-opening moment.
He had to admit that he was also tempted by the scene. It was no wonder that this place was the dreamland of countless men, for there were so many pretty girls here. So far, he had already caught sight of a dozen stunning faces.
“There are a total of 37 brothels in the Fragrance Alley, all of which belong to the Musical House. And there are also some that cooperate with the Musical House. If you ask me which one is the most famous one, I would recommend the Splendid Jade Hall, the Skyline Terrace, and the Holy House in the far end of the alley. Young Master, which one would you like to go to?” inquired Zheng Cunjian tentatively.
Li Mu answered on the back of his horse, “Doesn’t matter. You decide.”
Since this was the first time he had visited brothels, he gradually began to have ‘stage fright’.
But it was only natural. For any virgin would feel bashed when he first came to this kind of place.
“Well then, let’s head for the Holy House. It sits by the Rouge River. Many of the girls there are from noble families and excel at dancing and singing. Plus, they are all unmarried, only making a living as a performer. If Young Master fancies any of them, you can take her home without smearing your good reputation.”
At present, Li Mu’s Epigraph of My Shack had spread across the city of Chang’an, so he was well-known for his literary talent.
Since ancient times, people had thought a famous man and a beautiful woman would be a perfect couple. In brothels, men of letters were more popular among girls than men practicing martial arts, because once a talented writer or a poet created a work about any of the girls and it became in favor, the girl would be famous overnight and be valued twice the price she was before.
Half an hour later.
Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian settled themselves in two seats in the hall of the Holy House.
Due to the special status the well-known Heartless Scholar had and his frequent visits to the Musical House, Zhen Cunjian was allowed into the Holy House once the doormen saw his face. The procuress of the Holy House, an exceptionally gorgeous woman who had barely reached her thirties, hurried over to welcome them in with a broad smile.
She offered to bring them to a fine private room upstairs, but Li Mu turned her down.
After all, he was only here to feel the atmosphere, not to order any service. Thus, sitting in the hall with the other customers might make it more real for him.
“Be my guest, Young Master. If you have any request, just let me know at any time,” said the beaming procuress who was called Bai Xuan.
In fact, Bai Xuan was still quite young. She was around thirty, tall and well-shaped. Her skin was smooth as jade, and her features were extremely exquisite. She had an aura as pure as snow, which made her seem otherworldly. Li Mu could hardly associate such a beautiful woman with a procuress. If he had not known this first, he would have believed she was a rich lady from a prestigious family.
Li Mu nodded at her with a smile but did not say anything.
Then, Bai Xuan turned round to greet other customers.
But of course, there were only a few that she ought to welcome in in person.
As Bai Xuan left the table of Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian, she was still guessing what the identity of the seemingly immature young man was, because he had had the celebrated Zheng Cunjian from the local government as his company. Furthermore, he appeared to be superior to the Heartless Scholar. And what was more surprising was that the young man had cut his hair short, but no completely bald like a monk. He looked vigorous and energetic, and his eyes were exuding confidence. Simply judging by that look, the procuress knew he was not an ordinary man.
After running the Holy House for so many years, Bai Xuan’s ability to take cues from a man’s appearance and demeanor was already at a high degree of proficiency. Thus, she detected Li Mu’s extraordinary traits at first glance.
She immediately summoned several trusted madams who were maintaining the order of the place and whispered to their ears that they needed to keep an eye on Li Mu, be careful not to offend him, and make sure they did anything to please him. After that, Bai Xuan’s suspended heart slid back to its position.
She also deliberately tried to remember Li Mu’s appearance.
Because she had a feeling that that young man would become a quite great figure. In the future, he might visit her place again.
But Li Mu, on the other hand, did not notice so many details.
When he sat down, he pretended to be composed and started looking around at the interior design of the Holy House.
Just like what Zheng Cunjian had told him, this Holy House was not a place doing sexual business. The decoration inside was quite refined, almost like a bookstore. It had an unusually civilized elegance, and the busboy and the maids working here were all dressed like scholars. Their smiles were mild and polite, not raffish at all, which were actually more intoxicating.
The Holy House was a three-storied building.
The dome over the third floor was transparent, as though it were a massive bowl made of glass. Now, the night had fully descended and the twin moons were hanging up in the sky. The pure moonlight poured down through the transparent dome and landed on the hall on the first floor, casting a layer of frost on everything, which made the place look more sacred.
In the hall on the first floor, there were about fifty similar rosewood tables strewn over the place. By then, almost all the tables were taken. And like other restaurants, the tables were laden with delicious dishes and wine, while a dancing performance was going on at the central stage.
Standing on the stage were all pretty girls less than sixteen. Each of them looked like a fairy. The dance they were performing was quite elegant. The moonlight filtered through the glass and fell right on the stage, rendering the gorgeous dancers more like surreal fairy maidens living on the moon. The audience could not help but be head over heels for them.
Well, of course, all the shows were normal art performances.
It was the rule in the Holy House that those performers were only selling their artistical shows but the sex. Truthfully, nearly all the girls working here abided by this rule, unless they agreed to do more on their own accord. If not, no one could force the girls to provide special service to any customer. Based on this, it was easy to know that the store owner, Bai Xuan, certainly had an unusually powerful background.
Time ticked by.
At about eight o’clock in the evening, if counted by Earth time, the hall was finally full of audience. The place was heavily packed because many customers who came late had no seats and chose to stand by the aisle.
“I’ve asked around. Tonight is the opening day of Miss. Hua, the number one girl in the Holy House. Such days come once in ten days. That’s why there are so many guests here tonight.” Zheng Cunjian told Li Mu after taking a walk around the hall.
The Miss. Hua he referred to was the most popular girl in Holy House, whose stage name was Hua Xiangrong. Rumors had it that this Hua Xiangrong was born in a royal family. Her real name was Shangguan Yunyu. She had unparalleled beauty and an exotic body scent that could attract butterflies. Since childhood, she had been known for her beauty. She was also very smart and had the knack for literature. However, fate just meant to make her suffer. At the age of fourteen, the Shangguan family was purged when they were involved in a political disturbance. Her parents and older brothers were killed or sent into exile. She was sadly forced to be a prostitute and thrown to the Musical House. But fortunately, the kind Bai Xuan, the procuress of the Holy House, took her in, preventing her from being sexually insulted. In recent years, her popularity boomed, almost allowing her to contend for the most favored girl in Chang’an.
“Three months ago, this Miss Hua, who usually only entertained the guests with one dance a day, unexpectedly announced that she would have three opening days every month. Although no one knew why she made such a change, it is true that she is not doing it for money, because she has declared that whoever is talented enough to write a poem that strikes her heartstrings could enter her room behind the scene and spend a beautiful night with her, regardless of his look or wealth.” Zheng Cunjian added in some extra information.
The so-called opening day was similar to the day a woman working in a brothel ended her pure performing life and started to be a real prostitute, which meant she had to follow the arrangement of the brothel under certain conditions ever since then. By contrast, the opening day was selected by her will. On that day, she could pick the guest she favored and take him to her room. But she was not bound to offer him special service. Mostly, she would only have tea with the guest and talk about literature or arts.
In a nut, the opening day allowed the woman to befriend with the man she fancied. If they hit it off, the man could totally go to the next base. But the whole thing was up to the woman’s decision, and the brothel could not bend her to their wishes.
Nonetheless, a popular but lofty dancer or player once started taking men into her room on opening days, it always gave the others the impression that she was perhaps sleeping with that guy, thus she was no longer that pure and innocent as she used to be. For that reason, many top girls of brothels were reluctant to do opening days before they were determined to live a life as a prostitute. Once they did, they would look cheap.
“Miss. Hua has had opening days during the past three months, but none has been able to touch her with a brilliant poem yet. So, she has let no man in her room,” Zheng Cunjian said with a smile, “Young Master, your intelligence is peerless. Perhaps you can have a shot tonight.”
Li Mu scratched his nose and gave a bitter smile.
“Hell with you! Peerless intelligence? That Epigraph of My Shack is a copy of the work of an awesome poet on Earth!”
Li Mu only intended to learn about what a brothel in the ancient times was like. He was not prepared for this. After all, he had zero talent in literature. Thus, he utterly did not want to enter tonight’s so-called competition.
However, the high praise Zheng Cunjian just said entailed a burst of sarcastic laughter from the neighboring table.
“Huh? Peerless intelligence? How dare you talk big like that? You are really overrating your abilities!”
“Well, these days, there are some men who have the face to brag about themselves on any occasion.”
A young man wearing a jade pendant even looked into Li Mu’s eyes. He studied Li Mu’s appearance, only to find that he was extremely young, and in no expensive clothes or with precious accessories. Naturally, he took him as a poor scholar who expected to make a name through this event. Therefore, without scruples, he taunted, “You, baby boy, have hardly dry behind the ears yet, but how dare you claim to be peerlessly intelligent here? Like the donkey who doesn’t know its face is long, you truly have a serious lack of self-knowledge!”