13 The Young Master Paints

Yu Zixu is painting a scene of mountains upon mountains upon mountains.

It is a simple painting, the strokes of his brush short and swift as he dots the details onto the scroll. Most painters agree that paintings of landscape should be captured with a few brisk marks of his brush to create a blurred, distant appearance, but Zixu disagrees. Perhaps it is his style— a style of detail when there should be none and a style that achieves the effect of being clean and uncluttered from a faraway glance.

With a few more flicks of his brush, he scatters millions of little raindrops onto the scene. Water droplets seem to almost drip from the top edge of his painting, vanishing as they descend down into the rolling fog between each mountain. He decides that this painting will be a picture of a quiet rainy day, as tranquil and calm as his current mood.

Zixu is about to create some light jade-blue ink by the side to add a bit of color to accent the mountains when he is interrupted by someone pushing the door open and entering his room, the person's footsteps loud and familiar.

He doesn't need to turn around to know who it is— there was only one person who entered his study without his permission, and that person was Bo Zhiyuan, both his friend as well as the second young master of the very honored Bo family.

"Zhiyuan, what do you need?" Calmly, Zixu picks up the green inkstick and grinds it against the inkstone, watching as ink slowly emerges.

Swiftly, Zhiyuan moves so that he's situated right in front of Zixu, resting his head on the palm of his hand. "Painting mountains again?"


Zixu liked painting mountains. There was something about watching his paintbrush add on layers and layers of mountains that always made him go back to painting them.

Zhiyuan silently watched Zixu paint for a few moments before interrupting again. "So, I bought another painting recently."

"You did?"

"Yeah." Zhiyuan traces an imaginary scroll in the air. "I don't have it with me right now, but it looks really good. Sort of like yours."

This catches Zixu's interest. Although his friend certainly wasn't a professional and enjoyed wasting money, it was rare for him to compare another artist's work to Zixu's. Carelessly, Zixu asks, "How much did you pay for it?"

Zhiyuan answers with an equally carefree tone. "Thirty-five silvers." He pauses a bit, thinking. "Though, if I remember correctly, they were originally selling it for fifty. I got a good deal, didn't I?"

Fifty taels? Zixu purses his lips. Thirty-five or fifty, both were still in the mid-to-high range for paintings. Then again, Zhiyuan was someone who didn't exactly understand how much money that was worth, so that usually explained his actions. He had as much gold and silver as he wished under his fingertips.

"I'm curious to see the painting of yours now." Zixu smiles lightly.

"Don't worry!" Zhiyuan straightens himself. "I already commissioned the same artist to paint me a picture for Luowei, since you know, we're getting married soon." A soft expression comes across his face, and Zixu is amused of how lovestruck the other was whenever they talked about his fiancee, Zhou Luowei, a daughter from a government official with as much political standing as Bo Zhiyuan's family.

"And how much did you pay for that painting?"

"Eighty-five. I wanted the painter to give me a scene of Guilin, so I'll probably have to throw in a few extra silvers. Good art comes with a price, right?"

Even after all these years of being friends with Zhiyuan, Zixu was still amazed at how easily he threw these numbers around. Sure, the Yu family was not poor either, but Zixu at least knew something called wise spending and conservation.

"Do you even know who the painter is?"

At Zixu's question, Zhiyuan shrugs. "Nope. There was sort of this girl, a maid, I guess, selling her old master's paintings, and I was interested. So, I bought it."

Sometimes, Zixu doubted how sane his friend was. Why would he spend a total of one hundred and twenty silvers on a painter he didn't even know the identity of? What if the painter was a fraud?

Zixu sets the brush in his hand down, looking at Zhiyuan in the eye. "How many times do I have to tell you that you can't judge the quality of someone's work by the cost?"

Holding his hands up in defense, Zhiyuan looks bewildered. "I swear, I have my reasons! Even though I admit I definitely like to buy things… because of how much they cost, I think you would've thought the painting was worth that value if you've seen it with your own eyes! It's that good."

"Aren't you just thinking of more excuses?" Zixu sighs.

There are a few moments of brief silence before Zhiyuan breaks it with a groan. "Alright, I admit, I definitely thought more about the price than the quality."

"You're going to get scammed a thousand gold taels by someone someday, and you'll be perfectly fine with it because 'the price over quality', right?" Zixu casts a pitying gaze towards the other.

Zhiyuan catches onto the sarcasm and mocking, laughing loudly. "I mean, we all know that if it's a thousand gold taels, I'm sure that it's definitely going to be something good." He grins widely. "Well then, you keep painting your mountains and being the perfect young master of the Yu family. I have a wonderful commission I paid for waiting for me to negotiate and discuss."

Smiling again, Zixu directs his attention back onto his painting. "Go ahead then." He picks the brush back up, dipping it in the settled light blue-green ink and applying a touch of it against the horizon. His movements are steady as he traces the color back onto the mountains, and while he does so, he can't help his thoughts from going back to Zhiyuan and the commission that would surely turn out to be a waste of money.

Oh well.

Zhiyuan would be Zhiyuan, never learning his lessons even if he really did throw away hundreds of siler for no particular reason. For now, Zixu should simply focus on finishing his painting.

And therefore, he does.
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