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I wrote this to cluudle's prompt "A story from a previous incarnation of someone in the main Nai story.". It occurs quite some time ago....

The learned scholar was sitting in a tea house Xindong Village.  He had before him a teapot, two cups and a mahjong set.  What he wanted was someone to talk to who was not the village headman.  Zhou Mang was a good man but there were things that he wasn’t telling the official from the provincial capital.  Said official was glad that he hadn’t told the headman, in whose large family farmhouse he was billeted, that his commission came in fact from the Solar Emperor himself.  As a supposed representative of the provincial governor he was receiving hints that one of the Zhou nieces was a sensible, good looking girl who would make him a fine concubine – he was too much the coward to want to know how they would react to his actual rank and circumstances.

“Is anyone sitting here or are you hoping for company?”  The speaker was a well set up man of about the scholar’s own age whose clothing was flashy but worn.

“I was hoping for company,” replied the scholar easily.  “Would you care for tea and a game of mahjong?  My name is Ju Lee.”  He bowed without rising.

“Ah, the man from the provincial capital come to look at bridging the river!”  The newcomer smiled and added, “You’re the subject of gossip for li around, you know.  I am Gou Hu, and I do a little of this and that to keep body and soul together.”

“A necessity,” agreed Ju Lee pleasantly.  “So, tea and a game?”

“If I may,” said Gou Hu as he sat on the stool opposite the scholar.  “I admit that I am happy to be your guest for the evening.”  He accepted the cup of tea from Ju Lee, saluted his host with it and drank a little before he put it down so that he could help shuffle the tiles.  The two men worked quietly to build their walls until Gou Hu asked, “So, what’s it like building bridges?”

“A little more complicated than this,” admitted Ju Lee.  A roll of the little stone dice made Gou Hu the dealer for the first hand and as the other man dealt the tiles he went on, “Mahjong doesn’t involve land ownership and property rights while bridge building frequently does.  Also, people don’t seem to realise that the best place for the bridge might not be where the ford is.”  He set up his hand of tiles in front of him.

“So the road to the river crossing might be through the woods instead of the town?”  Gou Hu grinned then said apologetically, “I’ve heard that the salt merchants petitioned for a bridge so that they can still trade when the river is in flood.  I’ve also heard that there have been riverfront acquisitions in the village.”

“I’d gathered that,” remarked Ju Lee as he laid out the first Pong of the game.

His opponent laid out a Kong, saying, “My connections tell me that Ju Lee is the personal name of the current incarnation of the Radish Seed Scholar.”

“And you would be the bandit known as Dog Fox,” replied Ju Lee as he picked up one tile and discarded another.  “I’m not going to send salt merchants through the woods for you to plunder, you know.”

“And you’re not going to let said salt merchants impoverish a bunch of peasants whose land they’ve forcibly purchased, are you?”  Gou Hu added apologetically, “I’m a professional bandit and I can do without an influx of desperate need-to-bes.”

“I quite understand,” said Ju Lee gravely, then the two men clinked their cups and drank in another salute before going on with their game.

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Thank you.

If you've read everything then you've met the current incarnations of both these gentlemen.

I'm pretty confident about Dog Fox, but I don't have a good guess for the Radish Seed Scholar -- has his title come up before? (Or he could be the fellow who was with the Solar Emperor-to-be in that other long-ago story...)

Not subtle. Glad they understand each other. :)

The character has come up but not the title. :)

<eyes him thoughtfully> Nai's brother, the reincarnated scholar stubbornly studying engineering rather than the classics? :)

*whistling loudly here with a grin"

Oh, gosh, I would buy that. *bounces*

Ha. That was witty, and who they are in their current reincarnation amused me.

Read this after cancelling having dinner out, for reasons of awkwardness. It cheered me up immensely. Seems right to send to you what I would have spent on the food. ^_^

Thank you! And I'm glad it helped you feel better.

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