OMF V1C45 Sounds Like Highway Robbery

It had been midday, when the Zhongs reached the capital. Now, the sun was already setting and Mister Zhong had still not returned to his wife and child and was instead running everywhere through the streets of the capital. His clothes were drenched in sweat by now and he had to stop to gasp for breath. There were fewer people on the streets, too, making it even more difficult to find someone, who knew his cousin’s stall.
“Did I really start at the wrong side of the city?” He looked down the street he was on. He had gone quite a distance from the place he left his wife and son. It probably wasn’t wrong to say, that he had already circled half of the outer districts, but everywhere was the same. This street, too, wasn’t any different: There were no food stalls and the people had never heard of his cousin’s name.
Mister Zhong didn’t know what to do any longer. Go back? But he didn’t want to tell his wife, that he still hadn’t found his cousin. Continue to search? But it was already getting dark and he couldn’t let his family wait much longer. Furthermore: Who said, that he’d be able to find his cousin’s stall before night fell? Even if he did, his cousin would most likely have already packed up for the day and hurried home.
Mister Zhong could only sigh and return to his family dejectedly.
Madam Zhong needed only one glance to understand, that her husband didn’t have any luck. She picked up Jing Yi, who had already fallen asleep, and walked toward him.
Mister Zhong shook his head, as soon as they met. “I couldn’t find it. Nobody had heard of it before.”
“We probably started on the wrong side. Don’t worry, we’ll find it tomorrow.”
“Yes, just … what to do with them?” He nodded toward the horses and furrowed his brow. We really shouldn’t have taken them. “We don’t have much money to begin with. Finding a room for us three tonight will already be difficult. How could we pay for places in a stable? And it’s too late to sell them or just send them away.”
“There is nothing we can do. Let’s just look for an inn.” Madam Zhong carried her son down the road. She also would have liked to find her husband’s family today, but it couldn’t be helped.
The family of three made its way through the streets of the capital again. They didn’t need long to find an inn, but when Mister Zhong went inside, to ask if they had a stable or some other place to keep the horses, the owner shook his head. Mister Zhong could only leave the inn and shook his head at his wife. They hurried further along, but none of the inns at the edge of the city had a stable or even enough room to let five horses wait there for a night.
Mister Zhong grit his teeth and led his family deeper into the city. The houses took up more room the farther they went and finally, one of the inns had a stable. It stood right next to the house itself and could even be seen from outside.
Mister Zhong mumbled a bit and searched for their small stack of copper coins. This was everything, his family had managed to save up over the years, and quite a bit had already been depleted through their journey. They hadn’t minded sleeping outside, if they could, but they still had to eat and six weeks were a long time. Though thanks to the horses, their journey had been cut short in the latter half.
Would these couple of coins be enough for a night in such an inn and a place in the stable? And would it be alright to use them? What if helping his cousin didn’t work out and they had to return to the village? What would they live off, if he spent these coins now?
He looked at his wife, clearly hesitating. Madam Zhong gave him a strained smile and adjusted her son’s position in her arms. “There is no other possibility. We didn’t find one in the outskirts and we have to stay somewhere.” The capital wasn’t like a small town or village. If the soldiers patrolling found people loitering around on the streets by night, they wouldn’t be gentle. They might beat them up, throw them into prison or even kill them. It depended on luck, what awaited them.
Mister Zhong nodded heavily and sighed. “You’re right. It’s just …”
“I know. Just go and ask. If it’s not enough, we can think about what to do after that.”
Qiu Ling took one glance at the inn and sighed: There were cracked tiles on the roof, dust coated the windowpanes and cobwebs decorated the edges. The door creaked in the angles, when Mister Zhong entered. This definitely wasn’t a good place. It was probably even the worst place in this vicinity.
Qiu Ling threw a glance at Jing Yi. Nothing should happen here, right? With another glance down the street, Qiu Ling disappeared and reemerged in the inn. The room was only sparsely lit. Hardly enough to see its center. Qiu Ling smiled half-heartedly, changed his appearance into that of a middle-aged man, who had traveled far and seen everything, and stopped hiding his presence while in the shadows. With the dark robes, he was wearing, he was nearly invisible.
Meanwhile, Mister Zhong had walked to the counter and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Sir, we’d like a room for tonight and a place in the stable for our horses.”
The owner looked up, eying Mister Zhong from head to toe, and curled his lips. It was obvious, that Mister Zhong was not somebody he could make a good deal with. “That’s one liang”, he still tried to push his luck. The person in front of him was obviously not from the capital. Maybe he had brought all his savings with him and could actually afford it?
“One … one liang?” Mister Zhong went pale. How would he have so much money?! One liang, that was a string of copper coins! He hadn’t even had half of that at the beginning of their journey!
The owner sighed. He knew, that what he had imagined had been too good to be true. “Well … You look like you came from far away. In this case, I could accept 500 copper coins.”
Mister Zhong’s hands trembled. 500 copper coins? Where was he supposed to get that much?
Qiu Ling snorted in the shadows and made his way over. “Sounds like highway robbery to me.”

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