“I got the best deals anywhere.”
Chapter Forty Five - Auction
Huang Ming and Sunli soon found themselves before a large, stately building. A large signboard proclaimed its name as the “Hall of Treasures and Antiquities”. Its entrance was flanked by two large marble statues of Chinese lions, each resting one paw on a globe of solid jade the size of a man’s head. It was a blatant display of wealth, to openly place such precious material in public. Of course, there would be immense effort required to pry the jade from the stone sculptures. Not to mention, the two burly guards at the doors proper; each specimen as tall and well-built as his brother Huang Ke and just as daunting with the large sabres sheathed by their sides.
Between them was a pretty woman who was dwarfed in comparison to her guards. She was dressed in a flowing, blue robe with upturned collar lines that exposed her collarbones. The exposed, creamy white skin was accentuated by a decorative choker studded with purple and white pearls around her neck. Her lustrous hair was tied up with a hairpin with a three-flower motif that were also studded with pearls. Two simple hair braids were left down behind the ears, framing her flawless face.
Her red lips smiled and her eyes lit up when she saw Huang Ming approaching. “Young master, welcome to our hall,” the woman said and bowed.
“You know of me?”
The woman laughed gaily, a pleasant sound that could charm any who heard it. “After Lady Cao Tianyun’s competition, who does not know of your name, o’ Young Master Huang Ming.”
“It was my brother who won the competition,” Huang Ming said modestly.
“Yet, it was you who gained the most from it. Your brother Huang Lang was already famous, but it was you who emerged with the most recognition,” the woman replied. ‘Most improved recognition,’ the woman neglected to add.
“Then you have me at a disadvantage, for it seems you know about me and yet I do not know you,” Huang Ming said with a grin, knowing what she had implied.
The beautiful woman bowed once more. “I am Lin Hua, and my family runs this hall. May I ask if you are buying or selling?”
“I wish to purchase a gift for a friend, but I have no idea what to get him.”
Lin Hua smiled happily. “You are in luck, there is a preview today.”
“What does that mean?” Huang Ming queried.
“We offer the opportunity for some to view the items before the actual auction.”
“Wouldn’t that invite the risk of collusion? If the bidders know who are bidding on what, they might plan with each other to avoid unnecessary competition and drive down the prices.”
“Ah, but only a select few are invited for the viewing.”
Huang Ming chuckled. “So you would only call upon those who are obviously enemies with each other,” he said.
“Young master is most discerning,” Lin Hua smiled slyly. “We would be honoured if you would join us, perhaps you might find something that matches your requirements.”
“I’m afraid that I don’t match your requirements,” Huang Ming said depreciatingly. The original Huang Ming hadn’t left him with too much in cash, and his parents were still leery and cautious about his allowance.
“Do not be burdened. Please come in and take a look.”
She led them into the huge hall. Huang Ming and Sunli noted the presence of armed guards at every corner, each were grim-faced and their eyes sharp and alert. Lin Hua saw that her guests were curious.
“Do not mind them, they are here to protect the peace. They are necessary with so many valuables and large amount of money changing hands in here. Not to mention, we often have dignitaries and people of importance participating,” she explained.
Huang Ming nodded as he took in the sights. It was a very spacious hall to seat a hundred customers and their associated entourage. He could see various exhibits enclosed in glass cabinet displays just like in a modern day museum, each under the vigilant attention of a nearby guard. Various pieces of art and calligraphy adorned the walls, with one catching his eye.
“Wealth can be the means to quest for the best in life,” he read aloud.
Lin Hua blushed, clearly embarrassed. “That was written by my father,” she said.
“It is good writing,” Huang Ming said truthfully. There was a certain force exerted on the paper, the same sort of powerful, strokes found in the calligraphy written by his own father and mounted in their martial hall.
“I have always felt it was too glaring,” Lin Hua revealed.
‘Then what about those huge jade balls outside?’ Huang Ming thought. But instead he said, “It does not say that wealth is the best method, just that it can be.”
Lin Hua’s eyes flashed appreciatively. “Indeed, it is as you say. There have been many who had read that piece and immediately thought that money is the only way,” she confided.
“That’s because they only have wealth and nothing else,” Huang Ming said cynically. “Such people are used to getting their way by opening their wallets.”
A few steps behind him, Sunli rolled her eyes. ‘You were one such person yourself,’ she thought waspishly, recalling what she and Zhao Hongqi had found out about him when they had heard about the engagement.
Then Huang Ming admitted, “I know this, because I used to be such a person myself.”
Sunli was startled and nearly gasped in surprise, thinking that the foppish man had read her mind.
“Something wrong?” Huang Ming asked when he felt her gaze. The guardswoman shook her head hurriedly. Huang Ming frowned, but shrugged it off when he saw that Sunli was not going to elaborate.
He turned his attention back to Lin Hua. “What sort of items are available today?”
“It would be quicker to show you, please follow me,” Lin Hua said and thereafter personally led Huang Ming to the glass cabinets to explain about each item on display.
“This is the sword known as the ‘Jade Dragon’, wielded by General Yin twenty years ago. He was a Great General of our country, and I believe he was a contemporary of your father. As you can see, the wooden handle is missing, but the blade itself is still sharp and deadly. It can be easily be refurbished into a great weapon once more…”
“Here we have the book known as ‘The Virtuous Doctrine’, written by the sage Shi Tzi over four hundred years ago, part of a collection of six volumes. The last owner bequeathed the books to us and decreed that each volume was to be sold separately over time. We have honoured his wishes for three generations and this is the last volume in our possession. There are rumours about a great secret should all six volumes are reassembled…”
“On this treated goat-skin parchment is the map of the known world, drawn by the legendary explorer Ban Qian. Surely you know of his exploits, he had braved the perils of the barbaric hordes and returned with tributes and knowledge of the minor nations. Unfortunately, much of his memoirs was destroyed in a great fire. This map is one of the few surviving remains of his grand expedition…”
Huang Ming could see the liveliness in Lin Hua’s eyes as she talked. It was obvious that she had great love for knowledge and history as she lectured on each piece’s background. Her excitement and passion radiated from her being, making her all the more attractive. Every now and then she would sigh quietly to herself, and Huang Ming knew she was forlorn at the thought of seeing the items being sold and taken away from her.
“You are very knowledgeable,” Huang Ming commented.
“I grew up with such things all my life,” Lin Hua said. “My father and grandfather often told me stories and encouraged me to know such things in order to sell them.”
“It must be difficult to let them go after learning so much about them,” Huang Ming said as he stared at the map with genuine interest.
Lin Hua blinked. “Yes, it is,” she said as she glanced at him meaningfully.
“What’s this? Who is the one that Lin Hua deigns to entertain personally?” a loud voice washed over them.
A peaceful bubble,
Broken by trouble.