11 Part 11
When she rejoined Jiang in the small town where she'd first met Ida, he was understandably floored by the amount of gold she showed him.
"One of the chests is yours," she told Jiang. His mouth fell so hard and fast Lian could swear there was permanent damage.
"From almost getting you killed to a chest full of gold. You're a pretty forgiving woman Zhao."
"I wouldn't have any gold if it weren't for you. A quarter is more than a fair finders fee."
They departed then, their horses and carts girded for the long trek into the trio of mountain ranges as winter had come in. The snow came down so thick and high that the soldiers who maintained the road worked around the clock to keep it clear. It was cold, but they stopped often at roadside fires and were dressed in the warmest clothes Wamai could offer.
When they reached the border, Ida said his goodbye in the traditional Wamaian fashion – a bow, and a grasping of forearms. Lian instinctively pulled on his arm and hugged him, and whispered in Wamaian in his ear. He was crying when they parted.
"What did you say to him?" Jiang asked.
"I told him it's not too late to start a new family."
They managed to convince the border guards that the half-chest of gold Ida had helped with was more than enough of a tax, by offering those same guards a few of the Wamaian coins. Those border guards were going to be the richest men in that corner of the Empire. Well, almost the richest.
They returned to the Three Paths Inn and found Zu, the keeper, drunk. Winter had driven out the travelling customers, and the locals that came around during the day didn't care if Zu could stand or not. Lian walked in, grabbed Zu by the neck, took him outside, and tossed him into the horse trough full of freezing cold water.
Sufficiently awake, she proceeded to lay out her terms.
"I have here half a chest worth of gold with our name on it."
"Our name?" He asked, still quite drunk but trying very hard to not be.
"That's right. You see Zu, you, me, and Jiang are going into business together."
"That's right. I'm buying you out of this inn, because frankly you're terrible at running it. And then I'm going to walk over to the magistrate's office in Forest Meadow and incorporate a new company with three partners. And this half-chest of gold is going to be our capital. And then you're going to stop drinking, learn some customer service skills, and fix this place up better than it's ever been."
It took Zu's alcohol-soaked brain a few seconds to understand and refute. "But this place is a shit hole. No one comes here. You'd be throwing your money away buying an inn like this."
"I have a feeling trade with the Wamaians is going to be picking up in the next little while. All sorts of merchants and treasure-seekers are going to be winding up in Three Paths. And they're going to need a place to sleep and it's got to be more decent than what you're offering right now. So fix this place up or I'll kick you out of the partnership and you really will have nothing to do but drink."
Something – whether it was the abruptness or the fact that she was Shuli Go, or just a woman – worked, and Zu the innkeeper never drank again. Jiang, as a merchant who worked in that part of the Empire, would collect Lian's share of the profits, and keep an eye on Zu to ensure he wouldn't pour all the money down a wine bottle.
The business permit itself cost another half-chest – the magistrate came out the richest of any of them, when the amount of work invested was put into consideration. Lian and Jiang decided to travel together back towards the more populated centers in the Empire, his standard merchant carts and paperwork acting as good enough cover for the remaining gold. They just hoped they would remain ahead of the magistrate's gossip of a Shuli Go and merchant with thousands of gold coins in their carts.
"You've only got one and a half chests left Zhao. What are you going to do with it?"
"Half a chest, once we get to a proper city."
"Where is the other chest going?"
"I have a debt to pay with that one."
"Must be some debt."
"You have no idea."