All Under Heaven – Chapter 9

Zhao Nuan discovered something huge.
On the way back to Changle, they had to go past Minhou. Zhao Su wasn’t in a hurry as there was nothing coming up. After meeting up with Zhao Nuan, the two of them simply strolled along slowly back to Changle, as if to gain more knowledge or experience of the world.

When he was in Fuzhou, he was busy preparing for the Provincial exam, he didn’t have any time to look around. Minhou was close to Fuzhou and could still be considered a Provincial capital. To make up for not looking around Fuzhou, Zhao Su booked a tavern there and intended to stay for two days before continuing on their journey home.

Even though Zhao Su had decided to go down the road of the Imperial Examinations, he hadn’t put all his eggs in one basket.

In recent years, he relied on selling medicinal herbs to Hui Chun Tang. Mother and son were frugal and saved some surplus money. At that time, Changle had just suffered a great flood, and the county was in a mess. Nine out of ten merchants had left, so Zhao Su seized the opportunity to buy a small shop at a low price for Lady Chen to sell some small pastries. Lady Chen had quite good culinary skills, and the pastries were tasty and cheap, and she’d often come up with some new and unique flavours and designs. Everyday, the shop would fill up with locals who wanted to taste pastries made fresh daily, after a while, the shop made quite a name for itself in Changle.

Zhan Lai, the County Magistrate at the time, was also a close friend of his teacher and Zhao Su also had a good relationship with Hui Chun Tang, so that there were no bullies to make trouble at all. They quickly made the initial capital back, and by the end of the year they had turned a profit, and the shop business was booming. Although, mother and son weren’t rich, it is a world of difference compared to their situation before. 

Business in one county has its limits, no matter the size of the business, if there was an unexpected calamity or mishap, then they’d be left with nothing. Zhao Su had seen more than half of the businesses destroyed during the previous flood. So he knew he couldn’t put his eggs in one basket. The stay at Minhou was also an opportunity to inspect the place to see if there was a possibility of creating another branch of the shop right here. The places were relatively close so it would be easy to coordinate.

Of course, this was in its very early stages of development.

“You’re always so mischievous, why did you slink off? Chen Zhu must have a lot of contacts, to be friends with him will definitely bring benefits so why were you in such a hurry to come back?”

Zhao Nuan was no longer the fool from back then, hanging out with Zhao Su all these years, seeing him pass the County exam and opening up his own shop, had made his wish to go into business himself ever stronger. It was just a shame that his father would never let him go down this road, so he could only help out Zhao Su and Lady Chen from time to time and use that as a learning opportunity.

“A wide range of contacts is not necessarily a good thing. In all likelihood, these relationships are mostly likely skin-deep. If you really run into trouble, do you really think these people will come to your aid.” Zhao Su smiled, and then changed the subject to him thinking about opening another branch for the shop.

Zhao Nuan listened and suddenly said “How do you get all these random ideas?”

“I’m still considering it and aren’t I just throwing some ideas around with you now?”

“You’re right though, Changle is not that big and last year, Zhan da-ren was transferred to Henan. We don’t know the new County Magistrate. In order to prosper in the long-run we need to start planning now.”

Zhao Su was quite surprised, the simple-minded Zhao Nuan was also starting to think about the future.

“Well, if we opened a branch here, what would be the benefits? We don’t know the County Magistrate here either.”

Zhao Nuan smiled: “Are you trying to test me? Minhou is very close to Changle, so it’s convenient. Actually I reckon it’s better to open the new branch in the Capital, to be under the feet of the son of heaven, the first of its kind in the Capital!”

“… you’re thinking too far forward, for next year’s Metropolitan exam, scholars from all over the country will be gathered together in the Capital. I still need to pass the exam and get a ranking. Not to mention, I’ll have to get into the 2nd class of rankings to have a chance of getting into Hanlin Academy. Let’s not even talk about following that.”

Zhao Nuan stretched: “Isn’t this exactly what we’re talking about. To be honest, I’m really hoping to open up a shop in the Capital, so that once you become a Court Official, the shop will have someone to rely on, if us two xiongdi put our minds together, we can achieve anything, haha!”
Zhao Su took what he was saying as crazy talk: “Firstly, you need to settle things with your father, if I really pulled you over to help me, he would eat me.”

In fact, at this precise moment, Zhao Nuan hadn’t even managed to pass the County exam, but Zhao Shenyu hadn’t given up hope that his son might still get on the honour’s roll. At first, he still looked down on Zhao Su, until the day that Zhao Su was able to pass the county exam, he then gradually accepted their friendship.

The two continued chatting along, until Zhao Nuan said that he wanted to go see what all the fuss was about at the market. Zhao Su actually wanted to go to the fabric store to buy some for Lady Chen, so they decided to meet up later and went their separate ways.

After going into the store, Zhao Su headed straight for the bright coloured fabrics, stroking the soft fabric and very shortly bought quite a few rolls. He was feeling quite ashamed that in the last few years, even though their finances had much improved, he had not once thought about buying something nice for his mother.

Just as he was stepping out of the fabric shop, he saw Zhao Nuan running past furiously.

Zhao Su shouted out to him: “Are you getting chased by a dog?”

Zhao Nuan stopped, his face was white, he grabbed Zhao Su’s shoulders whilst panting loudly.

Zhao Su could see that something wasn’t right, so he patted him on the back to help him catch his breath: “What’s happened?”

Zhao Nuan went up close to whispering in his ear and said: “Just now, I ran into a guy, he seemed….. seemed to be Wukou!”

Zhao Su’s face dropped.

In fact, Zhao Nuan had bumped into a man who asked him for directions, although he had a bit of an accent, at first, Zhao Nuan hadn’t paid much attention to it. But then the man kept asking more questions such as who was the richest family in Minhou and where was the Government Building of Minhou.

Zhao Nuan got suspicious, so he randomly answered his questions. Zhao Nuan then followed the man from afar and saw that he went to meet up with a few others. He approached to eavesdrop, but discovered they were not speaking in the local dialect or even mandarin at all.

Before arriving in this time period, Zhao Su had always thought that the Wokou were just a handful of Japanese vagrants, who were causing trouble in the Southeast Coastal Provinces for a couple of decades and it was just that the soldiers at this time was wholly incompetent.

But he discovered later that this wasn’t the case at all, at least, the fault was entirely on the army.

At this time in Japan, it was the Warring States period. During this period, either this General was defeated, or that Prince was robbed of territory. The lower-classes naturally had the same fate as their masters. Many desperately went into exile on the sea and became Japanese pirates. It is impossible to look back and grab Japan, so North Korea and China became their targets, especially China, as it was vast and rich, and legend has it that there are inexhaustible gold and silver treasures, as well as silk.

These people had experienced the crossfire before, even though they had been defeated on the battlefield, but their skills cannot be underestimated. They worked in small groups and ran as soon as they stole what they wanted. They were more flexible than ordinary troops. In addition, there are people who helped them which made it even easier. In the end, they were very skilled at what they did.

Therefore, in the last ten years, the Southeastern Provinces were utterly devastated. The Wokou came to steal stuff, they even killed people. Many people who had spent their lives saving up for a home, finding a wife, and having kids, lost everything overnight to the Wokou, paying even their lives. Howls and screams were everywhere, it was a devastating scene.
Two years ago, Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou were stationed in Zhejiang, so the Wukou didn’t dare to invade, instead they gradually turned their sights on Fujian. The people of the coast were petrified of the Wokou. Even if they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, they had heard the stories of the Wokou’s crimes. Almost everyone was on edge, even Zhao Nuan had been influenced and immediately was suspicious of these people.

Zhao Su asked: “Can you be sure it is the Wokou?”

“I’ve never heard Japanese before, but they were acting very weirdly so they definitely aren’t good people anyway. Plus, why would you suddenly ask about the location of the Government building and where the richest family lives?”

“Which way did they go?”

“I followed them for a bit, but I think they started to suspect and I lost sight of them, but it looked like they were on the way to the outskirts of the city. Oh right, I did memorise some of the phrases I heard.” Zhao Nuan immediately parroted that half a phrase he had heard.

Although Zhao Su didn’t understand Japanese, especially not the Japanese of this time period, he was still able to discern from the sound of it that it was indeed Japanese.

He frowned: “This is a difficult situation, we don’t have any evidence, even if we go to the Government building, they will think we’re mad.”

Zhao Nuan joked: “Aren’t you Jieyuan-gong, just use your title, who would dare to mess with you?”

Zhao Su laughed lightly: “The County Magistrate is jinshi, why would he care what a jushi has to say, let’s go!”

“To where?”

“Government building.”

“Eh? Didn’t you just say that no one is going to believe us?”

“To believe or not to believe is up to them, to speak or not to speak is up to us.”   

As expected, at first, they couldn’t even get in the front door of the Government Building. After Zhao Su announced who he was, he was invited inside out of respect for his Jieyuan title. The County Magistrate greeted them personally. After exchanging some plaisanteries, they recounted the whole story, the County Magistrate went along with them for the sake of conversation and then they were asked to leave.
Zhao Nuan was confused: “What is the meaning of this, he didn’t even say what he was going to do?”

Zhao Su pulled him along the road: “Let’s go! They didn’t believe us.”

“What if it’s really the Wukou?”

“Then we’re really out of luck, Changle is very close to Minhou, if Minhou really has Wukou then they’ve probably set their sights on Changle as well.”

Be that as it may, the two rushed back to Changle and didn’t even bother going home first, they rushed to the Government Building directly.

The current County Magistrate was called Yang Rufu, he achieved jinshi in the 35th year of Jiajing. When they arrived there, it was actually lunchtime and the County Magistrate was eating. However, hearing that it was this year’s Jieyuan, he immediately laughed and came out to greet them: “I heard that in Fuzhou, there was a gathering for the juzi that is still taking place. Why didn’t Shaoyong stay a few more days there before rushing back here? This official had planned to put on a feast for you and Bo Xun. This time we have Jieyuan and the Yayuan in Changle, it is such an honour.”

Zhao Su replied: “Speaking of which, when we were on the road coming from Minhou, we stumbled on a matter that we have specially come to let you know.”

Yang Rufu was astonished: “What matter?”

Zhao Su recounted everything simply and in the end added: “Because we couldn’t be sure of their identity, the County Magistrate of Minhou didn’t believe us. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, it’s best if da-ren puts preventative measures in place early.”

Yang Rufu couldn’t believe that Zhao Su had disturbed his lunch for this nonsense. Plus, it was just baseless hearsay, it made him slightly angry, but seeing that he had just got the title of jieyuan, he decided to not make a big deal of this and agreed just for show, but his attitude had entirely dampened.

Zhao Su knew from his body language what Yang Rufu was thinking, so he could only offer up a few plaisanteries before taking his leave with Zhao Nuan.

Zhao Nuan sighed out loud: “What should we do now?”

“Go home first, you secretly left without permission for so long. You should go home and accept your punishment.”

Zhao Nuan looked anxious: “Can I hide out at your house for a few days?”

“You can avoid it now but not forever!” Zhao Su didn’t pay attention to him. “My house doesn’t have a spare room!”

“Are you kidding me, what’s the room in the west wing for?”

“It’s for storage, unconcerned people shouldn’t enter.”


After the two went their separate ways, Zhao Su walked towards his house. Two years ago, when they had earned some surplus money, he bought a small house which he carefully renovated. The house wasn’t big but had ample space. Lady Chen even started to grow some fruits and vegetables in the back garden which gave sufficient harvest in the right season. Dai Gongwang left his old servant to Zhao Su before leaving so Zhao Su put him in charge of the household. He also bought a few servant girls to help around the house and to serve Lady Chen.

Seeing the familiar buildings, Zhao Su couldn’t help but smile. He slowed his pace and walked slowly closer to his house.

Dai Zhong was just leaving the house to attend to some errands. As soon as he opened the door he saw Zhao Su, he shouted out surprised and happily: “Gongzi is back!”

Then he turned his head back to the house and loudly shouted out: “Gongzi is back- -!”

Zhao Su begrudgingly said “Dai-bo, there’s no need to make such a ruckus, didn’t I only just leave for a few days?”

“No, it’s completely different!” Dai Zhong welcomed him inside “You’re the jieyuan gongzi now, if lao-zhuren1lit Old Master he is referring to Dai Gongwang knew this, he’d be so happy!”
Zhao Su, hearing him mention his teacher, started to feel a bit worried. “When I was in Fuzhou, I already wrote a letter to teacher, I reckon he should be able to receive it in the next few days.”

Dai nodded happily: “That’s good, that’s good!”

The maids brought over some hot towels, Zhao Su dabbed his face whilst walking: “Where’s my mother?”

Before finishing his phrase, he could already smell the delicious scent of food wafting towards him.

Lady Chen was standing by the table arranging the bowls and chopsticks, seeing him arrive, she smiled lovingly: “You’re back, let’s eat.”

She didn’t ask him about the exam, nor did she make a fuss about his return. She simply said those five words. Just like back then when they were living in that scrum, no matter how much Zhao Su achieved outside, in Lady Chen’s eyes, he would always just be her son.

Plus, she was still wearing the same robes as before, she was still as beautiful as before, but only had a few more white hairs on her head. This was what family should feel like.

Zhao Su felt a warmth in his heart: “Yes, your son is home.”

“Come quick and sit down. There’s the green onion meat patty and the drunk chicken that you love the most. You must be tired to death?”

“I’m okay.” Zhao Su grabbed large bites of the food without caring about his manners. He buried his face in the food: “The dishes at home are still the best.”

“Slow down, no one’s gonna take it from you” Lady Wen ladled out a bowl of soup, she smiled: “I heard that my son is jieyuan?”

Zhao Su felt that his stomach wasn’t empty anymore so he put down his chopsticks and slowly slurped on the soup and then nodded “Yep.”

Lady Chen didn’t say anything else.

Zhao Su was a little astonished, he lifted head to see that Lady Chen was looking down overcome with emotion. She didn’t lift up her head again for a good moment, her eyes were red. “Su-er is so talented, even if mother died now, I’d die with no regrets.”

“Mother!” Zhao Su hated when she was like this, he could only say: “There’s still a long road ahead.”

“Yes, it’s a great day, I shouldn’t be talking like this.” She used her sleeve to wipe away the tears from the corner of eyes. Lady Chen smiled: “From the day that you got jieyuan, there has been an endless stream of people coming to the door. Luckily you came back at noon, they have all gone to have lunch otherwise, you would have been mobbed at the door.”

“Is anything the matter? How’s business at the shop?”

“Business is very good, since you got jieyuan, there have been more people coming to buy the pastries. I didn’t want to give the workers more so I’ve been selling the same amount as before each day.”

Zhao Su nodded in agreement: “It’s better this way.”

Lady Chen laughed: “Although I am an uneducated woman, I still understand the value of money. Making more money would only invite jealousy.”

“Mother is wise, you’re right.”

“Smoothtalker! Did you know why all those people have been coming to the door everyday? 9 out of 10 of them are here to matchmake you.”

Zhao Su accidentally spat out the mouthful of soup he had on his mouth, coughing and choking.

He just caught his breath and was just about to speak. When the housekeeper came to say that Zhao Nuan had an important matter and needed to see him.
Author’s note:

The appearance of the ML…Well, it’s not far now… Actually, I think it’s interesting to watch Zhao Su struggle first, what do you think?

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