“What did I do to deserve that hostility and sarcasm?”
Li Mu felt he had been wronged out of no reason. “It’s not me who claimed that I have peerless intelligence. It’s this brownnose, Zheng Cunjian… And even if I did say it, it has nothing to do with you lot. Do you just have to mock me like that?”
For a moment, Li Mu simply wanted to snap back. But after giving it a thought, he decided to let it go, because tonight he was here to experience… no… to admire the beauty of the girls in the brothel. He did not want the little conflict to grow into a bummer.
Sitting next to him, Zheng Cunjian narrowed his eyes.
In the city of Chang’an, there were only a few people who dared to taunt him, but the men at the neighboring table were certainly not one of them.
However, since Li Mu didn’t flip at their rudeness, he was not in the position to meddle in. But he deliberately bore the faces of those men in his mind so as to sort the problem out with them later. Those imperceptive men just frustrated his attempt to butter up Li Mu, so he definitely would not let them off the hook. After all, he had earned the title ‘Heartless Scholar’ by real actions.
But seeing Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian both did not make any retorts, the six young men at the neighboring table were getting more and more unscrupulous.
“Haha, seems you do know when you ought to behave since you didn’t try to retort and bring shame on yourselves. Do you know who the man beside me is?” A short stout scholar, who was plump as a wax gourd, sneered, “The one sitting next to me is the first disciple of the Hanshan Academy in Chang’an. He is the real unmatched talent. He is surely going to be a champion in this year’s imperial examinations. Haha, I wonder if there is anyone in the Fragrance Alley of the Musical House that doesn’t know my fellow brother, Lin Qiushui.”
As the stout man talked, the fair-skinned young man with luxurious clothes and a jade pendant, who was the first to speak a moment ago, held his chin up haughtily, unnecessarily indicating that he was the first disciple of the Hanshan Academy.
The rest of the young men at that table were all wearing the same clothes as the short and stout man. Apparently, they were the students at the Hanshan Academy.
Upon hearing that remark, Zheng Cunjian’s expression altered slightly but he did not say anything.
The Hanshan Academy was quite influential within the city of Chang’an. A lot of officials and dukes were graduated from that academy. Plus, the academy in this world was not merely a place for studying books. Martial arts were also included in the courses. Hence, the outstanding disciples cultivated by the Hanshan Academy were all adept with both the pen and the sword.
Nevertheless, Zheng Cunjian would never give up getting back at his enemies just because of that.
He had plenty of means to persecute others. If one day those darn scholars were found dead in gutters, no one would trace their death to him.
Soon, a fit of chortles was heard from the opposite direction. Someone at another table cackled, “Hum, Hanshan Academy? Big deal! At the last imperial exams, how many passed the tests? Is the number larger than our Fengming Academy?”
To Li Mu’s left, there were also about seven young scholars sitting at a table. The one speaking was a tall, lanky, and dark-skinned scholar. He had a hook nose and a pair of thick, sharp brows. He was squinting habitually, which made him a little malicious. Judging by his dressing, he must come from a different academy, and that was supposed to be the Fengming Academy.
At that condescending question, Lin Qiushui hammered the table and stood up. “Do you dare to compare the ranks of your Fengming Academy with that of our Hanshan Academy? Liu Muyang, you lost to me at the last poetry competition. How come you have the guts to defy me now?”
That dark-faced scholar with a hook nose also snapped his folding fan shut and got up. He said in a cold tone, “Last time, you already knew the question before the competition started and made sufficient preparations. I, being careless of your little moves, was tricked into losing to you. But tonight, at this poem-composing party of the opening day, I will certainly strike you down.”
“Oh, really? Liu, I’m afraid you don’t have that kind of ability.” The stout scholar from the Hanshan Academy immediately backed Lin Qiushui up.
The men from the Fengming Academy were all fretted. They all stood up and joined the quarrel.
The hall on the first floor of the Holy House, which was quite boisterous in the first place, became more tumultuous at once.
The squabble between two groups of scholars soon drew a lot of attention from the other audience. Two madams in charge of maintaining the order in the hall hastily came over to quiet them down.
At that scene, Li Mu burst out laughing in spite of himself.
“Those are the scholars of the Western Qin Empire! They can fight each other in a brothel without considering their image and reputation. How can the empire expect a bunch of men like them to be good governors of the common folks?”
But as Liu Muyang, the scholar from the Fengming Academy, caught the sight of Li Mu laughing, he snorted, “Brat, what is so funny? You didn’t dare to complain a word when you were berated a moment ago. Why do you have the face to laugh now? How stupid are you? You really have no sense of shame.”
“Right. We should never be like this coward, who is too chickened to answer back even when he has been called names.”
“He didn’t dare to look up when that darn Lin Qiushui abused him. What a poor guy!”
“Forget it. Don’t mind him. He is just a nobody. Guys, let’s focus on what kind of poem that can win the heart of Miss. Hua.”
The group of scholars all shot disdainful looks at Li Mu.
Li Mu was struck dumb at once.
“Fuck, what wrong did I do now?”
“Laughing is wrong? Why am I so unlucky today? Did I miss something?”
Just as he was about to lose it, he heard a loud bang. Someone had pummelled the table Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian was sitting at and asked, “Boy, these seats are not taken, are they?” But without waiting for the two to answer him, he directly settled himself in one of the empty chairs at Li Mu’s table and hailed his companies, “Hey, these seats are not taken. Come over here.”
The next second—
Five figures had squeezed into the chairs before Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian.
Generally, a table in the hall of the Holy House could accommodate eight persons. The table Li Mu was sitting at was a little smaller than the rest, but its position was very good. However, when the six strangers swooped in, the table seemed crowded, causing Li Mu to lose his interest in the show.
In truth, Li Mu was already enraged and about to hit the ceiling. But as he saw those strangers were in the uniforms of the disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club, he hesitated. Upon a closer look, they were all wearing soft armor made of rare materials and seemed to be the elite disciples. The six of them all had quite high cultivation, only that from their behaviors, they did not know Li Mu. Obviously, they were not on the scene when Li Mu turned the Heaven Sword Martial Club upside down.
After figuring out their identities, Li Mu felt like doing kind of a prank. An evil plan surfaced in his mind, and he decided not to fly off the handle but to keep sitting there, void of expression.
Zheng Cunjian was baffled by Li Mu’s quietness. He was under the impression that Li Mu had never been so good-tempered and tolerant. He must have his reasons for doing it. Thus, the Heartless Scholar also stifled down his anger and sat in his seat without comment.
On the other side, when the scholars from the Fengming Academy and the Hanshan Academy saw what just happened, they all broke into a roar of laughter and started a new round of mocking towards Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian.
The other guests in the hall also began to cast pitying, sympathetic, and dismissive looks at Li Mu and Zheng Cunjian. Most of them probably thought they were just poor scholars or people without any background who hoped to come to fame by taking advantage of Miss. Hua’s opening day.
That kind of thing had already occurred before. Some pedantic penniless scholars carried the poems that they composed by racking their brains to Miss. Hua’s opening day, wishing to achieve instant fame. No wonder there was a theory that a man of letters was destined to be with a famous prostitute. Wen Zongfu, an impoverished scholar, was said to become well-known and rise to power since he happened to strike Madam Gongsun, the most popular prostitute in Qin City back then. His way of making his mark had been followed by many other men of letters. However, the results they obtained varied.
Today, right here in the hall, there were a good number of ordinary-looking scholars waiting for the beginning of the opening moment.
One of them was even wearing ragged clothes, his ear matted with dirt, and his face clearly unwashed for days. But his eyes were gleaming greedily, while transfixed on a certain position on the third floor, as if he were a wolf that could not wait to swoop on its prey.
Finally, when a dancing performance finished, the moment that everyone had been looking forward to tonight arrived.
The opening hours of Miss. Hua Xiangrong finally came.
People in the hall, and even those in the private rooms on the second floor, all had been put on edge.
Madam Bai Xuan, the master of the Holy House, came out first and said a few welcome lines, and then she went straight to announce that the opening hours officially started. Next, ten maids who were all dressed in male scholar dressings in light green came down from the third floor and stood in a line. In front of each maid, a desk was set up, and the writing brushes, ink sticks, paper, and inkstones were put on them.
“Tonight, the theme Miss. Hua selected is one word—woman. Everyone, please show your talent with a poem base on this theme.”
A good-looking madame at the landing of the second floor released the theme with a smile.
The hall instantly was drowned by surprised yells.
Some guest looked quite chagrined and disappointed, for the excellent works they had composed or acquired with effort beforehand were utterly different from what Miss. Hua was asking them to create. It seemed that they did not have a chance. They might as well scratch their heads and concoct some ragged verses, but those works were not suited to be displayed on this serious occasion, which would render them being laughed at.
“Damn it, didn’t the source say tonight’s theme is an ode to the moon?”
“Well, what I learned is praising the plum blossom…”
“That darned Zhang Guigong swindled ten pounds out of me. What a bastard. Well, I got no shots this time.”
Some guests started to curse.
Seeing the various reactions of the guests, Li Mu was forcibly intrigued about Hua Xiangrong, the top star in the Holy House.
That woman appeared to be quite influential. She was almost as charming as the superb celebrities back on Earth. No, even those superb celebrities were not that appealing. Miss. Hua could attract half of the entire famous people and the nobles in Chang’an on each of her opening days, which was held three times a month. Li Mu noticed that those in the hall had all come here with some preparation. Now that they did so, he could imagine how much effort those more distinguished in the private rooms on the second floor had put for tonight’s event. Perhaps they had spent a thousand pound of gold for a win.
Shortly after the theme was released, a man came up to one of the desks and wrote down a poem.
“There was a beauty in the south. Her face would make flowers blush. Looking in the mirror in the morning, and leaning against the window at sunset. All men loved her beautiful faces, but who could she confide in? Soon she would bid her youth, and her glory was not going to last for long.”
The one who wrote it was exactly the unshaven man in rags that Li Mu had spotted before. After finishing the last word, he laughed out loud and tossed the writing brush onto the ground, seemingly unperturbed by the result.
“Brilliant work!” Someone from the crowd complimented.
“It’s surely a good poem. The name of the place and the character all fit in. And the conception is special.”
“Hum, though the poem is fine, the idea behind it is too arrogant. It indirectly satirizes that Miss. Hua’s beauty cannot last long. So, how can it make to the next round?”
“You rogue, are you playing the hard-to-get game to draw Miss. Hua’s attention?”
Guests muttered their varied comments.
Those fans of Miss. Hua felt quite indignant, because they thought the arrogant man was scoffing at Hua Xiangrong for making profits by her beauty. Some even had an impulse to punch him. Only that arrogant man was still laughing, standing behind the desk with a sneer on his face.
At the sight, Li Mu shook his head dismissively.
Regardless of the quality of the poem, the behavior of this arrogant man was really too much.
When he took a careful look, Li Mu detected that his legs were shaking behind his saggy robe. Evidently, he was putting on a show. Although his acting was good, he did not seem to have any guts.
After a while, the review was completed. A maid coming down from the third floor announced that the ‘beauty poem’ had been selected to enter the next round. It had gained the acknowledgement of Hua Xiangrong. When the maid dried the ink, it was hung up on the second floor.
It was the first poem that had been chosen tonight.
Now, that unshaven man laughed more wildly. He was then led to a round table that was placed by the side in advance to take a rest and have some tasty food.
The rest of the guests immediately began to envy that man in rags.