Did she hear wrong? How could it be that this old man, this simple vendor that she thought he was, actually turned out to be the
This had to be a joke.
"You heard right," the old man confirmed, "and you should thank me a little too. If I didn't tell my disciple to cut a little slack on anyone named Yu, perhaps your friend— or you— would not have passed as easily through the exams, though I believe that you do have enough talent considering the response you gave in the second exam and your painting in the third one."
Yujia thought back to the fact that for the first two exams, she somehow miraculously ended up one step away from failing. She thought it was just pure good luck in the past, but now… it was all because of this old man, this founder of Lingxin, who spoke in her favor? Why did he do so? Was it because she was such a good customer of his ink? And did that mean that if that day, she didn't buy so much ink, perhaps she would've failed already in the first exam?
Amidst all her questions, Yujia managed to ask, "Your disciple… who's that?"
"I think you may have met him in the induction part after the exam, right? Ye Yunhe, that kid?"
Ye Yunhe? The school head's son? That was his disciple?
"Are you the school head?" Yujia blinked.
"Nah. I passed that role off to an irritating fool many years ago. At some point and time, one just gets tired of managing all that stuff, you know? I'm doing what I like now, which is selling ink without anyone going out of their way to bow and acknowledge me everywhere I go." The old man waved his hand in a dismissive manner.
"So… you really likes to be a merchant in your spare time?"
"I guess?" The old man shrugged. "I'm just always looking for new types of art supplies to experiment with. If you've noticed, all of my colored ink were made with new methods and pigment instead of the traditional types, which is why the colors are much more vivid than what the typical market ink has. A pity that the current trend is black and white painting…"
A small smile began to spread on Yujia's face the more she heard him speak.
If this old man was the school head for Lingxin, then surely he had lots of wealth stocked up. He was interested in innovative art as well, making him a very potential investor. Yujia didn't come to the festival to think about these matters tonight, but now that she had such a perfect opportunity in front of her for her to take, why wouldn't she?
"Elder," Yujia began her persuasion as subtly as possible, "it just so happens that I'm interested in experimenting with new art supplies too!"
His eyes instantly lit up with interest. "Ah, really? What kind? Ink? Brushes? Paper?"
"Neither. I've invented something completely original, something that's like a brush but can write and draw smoothly without dipping it in ink."
"Such a thing is possible?"
Yujia's hands folded and she fidgeted with some of her fingers while she cast her eyes down. "Yes. But, well, the thing is… my family doesn't support me in what I'm doing. I've tried having others invest in this invention to bring it out to the public, but just because I'm a girl, no one thinks that I can accomplish anything great…"
Tears began to swell in her eyes when she put on her "sad little lady" look.
"Nonsense!" the old man snapped, "Those people are idiots. If you can come up with your own invention that's so powerful, what's the matter with being male or female? Although I do agree that in one point in time, I believed in those things too, I've lived for long enough to change my views and know that they're wrong views. Besides, back in the day when my wife was still alive, she was the only one who understood art to the same degree that I did, much more than all those ignorant men…"
His eyes glazed, as if reminiscing the past.
The frown on Yujia's face transformed into a small smile upon knowing that this truly was a good chance. She continued, "Oh well. In the end, I don't have that many funds myself. I don't think that I can possibly share my invention with everyone else because of that."
"I'll fund you!"
"Really?" Yujia's head looked up. That declaration from the old man was much quicker than she expected.
"Just bring and show me your invention tomorrow, and I'll fund you if I like it enough."
Yujia scratched the side of her face. "But we are nothing more than acquaintances, or vendor and customer. I don't think that it would be right…"
The old man wrinkled his nose. "Who determines if it's right or not? Who cares if I'm practically a stranger to you? All I care about are new inventions in the art world. If I said I'll fund you, I'll fund you." He stared at her for a second, then said, "Alright, if you're really unwilling to work with a stranger, just call me your master, and then I'll be your teacher and we won't be on terms of strangers anymore."
"Huh?" Yujia's eyebrows shot up at the speed of lightning when she heard that.
What was that sudden suggestion from the old man?
She was looking for an investor, not a master! She didn't need anyone to teach her about art at the moment. Originally, she continued to decline his offer since she thought that it would encourage him to give her some money on the spot, but she didn't expect him to come up with this proposal!
"What, do you think that you're not worthy enough to be my student? I've seen your response in the second exam and your painting in the third one. You definitely have enough talent to learn under me," the old man stated when she didn't have a response.
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Yujia still didn't know what to say.
The old man seemed to interpret her shocked silence as a sign of her lack of trust in him. "I get it if you don't think that I'm trustworthy," he went on, "so how about this? Give me your name, and tomorrow afternoon, come over to Lingxin. There'll be a guide at the front of the school that divides the section between the market and the academy. Tell him your name, and he'll lead you to me, where I can prove to you that I'm the founder of the school and you can feel safe with choosing me as your master."
What was this?
Really, what was this old man saying?
Yujia didn't know how to reject him, but he seemed to have his mind set on taking her in as a disciple for some reason. Was he really just so awed by her painting in the last part of the exam that all along, this funding proposal was just an elaborate trick to just get her to become his disciple? That couldn't be it, right?
Why couldn't she just get an investor without any other strings attached?
"You're… what?" Yujia took a step back, her jaw dropping.