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The Legend of Kao Meng De

By Scen

::Tsao-Wa Castle, Northwestern Fa-Bul::

Wen-Ruo was an Imperial messenger of great favor within the Imperial City. Few mere messengers had the use of their own palanquins or entourages, but on account of Wen-Ruo's favor with the Court Astrologer, he had such luxuries. He also had the most choice of assignments when the Imperial City had need of the relaying of messages or the carriage of Imperial Decrees, and so he picked his tasks at liesure, based upon his preferences of travel or the prestige of the assignment.

There were fewer assignments Wen-Ruo could think of that could rival carrying a personal invitation from the Emperor to the court of Lord Kao Meng De, one of the wealthiest land-owners in the Fa-Bul province. 

Wen-Ruo was received in a fashion to which the messenger had grown accustomed, and was ushered into the palace of Lord Kao by the house servants. He found Kao in one of the sitting rooms, where he was painting. His eldest son, Kao Yan, was attending him, though he sat near the window practicing his violin.

"The Emperor summons all the Lords and Governors of the provinces to the Imperial City to make a report on the state of the Empire," Wen-Ruo said, after formal introductions, and before unfurling and reading aloud the exact decree that had been written by the Emperor.

While Wen-Ruo read, Kao continued his brushwork. The painting he was now working on was one of many monumental mountainscapes that he had created, as it was the popular style across the Empire at that time. He was proud that he had perfected an ink-wash technique of painting mist and clouds across his mountainscapes, in homage of such mountainous scenes as were often found in Northern Fa-Bul.

After Wen-Ruo was finished reading, Lord Kao continued painting, as if he had not heard the message at all.

"I must ask if the Lord plans on attending?..." Wen-Ruo asked.

"Must you?" Kao said finally, as he drew a fine brush, wet its tip with ink and began to draw in some detail-work on the slopes of his mountainscape.

From his place near the window, Kao Yan laughed. "If it means you will be able to depart, you may tell the Emperor that the Kao family will be represented in the Imperial City," Yan said.

Wen-Ruo turned his gaze on the elder Kao, who merely shrugged. "I am not inclined to dispute what my son has said," Kao replied.

"You would do well to treat me with the courtesy I am due," Wen-Ruo said. "Would the Emperor similarly suffer to be in your company?"

Lord Kao, laughing, apologized and gave the messenger a small, trifle of a gift of gold to show him some respect. Hurriedly the messenger and his entourage left, and when they did Lord Kao and his son had time to reflect.

"The tax remittance is generous," Yan observed.

"I choose to remain insulted," Lord Kao said. "Who does that boy think he is? Off at a monastery for the balance of his reign, and now he deigns to return to the seat of Imperial power and ask us what is the state of the Empire."

"You must hide your contempt, father," Yan cautioned. "Taunting Imperial messengers is one thing... but in the Imperial City we cannot afford to lose the friends we have."

"You forget your place, my son," Lord Kao said, smiling as he took up his brush again. "I am not new to this game; the playing of it is second nature to me. I will go and attend the Emperor, and make nice as I'm sure he would appreciate."

"One thing I must tell you," Yan said. "My contacts in Yurang province tell me that Lord Wing has asked the Emperor, by way of the Court Astrologer, if he will take his daughter, Sai, in marriage."

Lord Kao stopped and set his brush down. "Wing is marrying into the Imperial line?" Kao asked.

Yan nodded. "That is his plan. I have not heard if the Emperor has accepted, but it would not be surprising."

Kao stroked his mustache, then picked up his brush again. "Go to your sister, Yulai, and tell her to prepare to travel with me. I shall take her along to the Imperial City."

Yan smiled. "I thought you might say so. She is already prepared."

Kao swelled with pride; Yan had been groomed from a very young age to one day become Lord Kao's successor. His love for Yan, his pride in how well Yan had taken to his father's lessons, and the dream of one day passing all he had built down to Yan as Lord of Tsao-Wa, was the one indulgence that Lord Kao allowed himself as a departure from his philosophy of ability-over-birthright. He was sure that his Divine Master, Sung Chiang, the Patron of Thieves, who in every way embodied all the ideals that Kao Meng De held dear, would forgive him that trifle.

So it was that Lord Kao Meng De and his daughter, the Lady Kao Yulai, departed for the Imperial City to meet with the other Governors and Lords. 


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