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A Building at the tombs of the Ming Emperors
scan10015.jpg
All but one of the Ming emperors are buried in a valley near Beijing (Photo: G. Graham)

Prologue and Chapter One

 

PROLOGUE

Beijing, China:  The Present Day

 

An Fuling, Professor of Chinese History and Literature at Beijing University, stood gazing in rapt admiration and wonder at the three jade sculptures before him in their bullet-proof and climate-controlled glass display case.  The largest sculpture was of two dragons, one black and the other white, and it stood glowing in the light of the flood lamps mounted at each end of the case.  Set before this piece were two much smaller jade sculptures, a white bowl and a statue in black of Guan Gong.

The two smaller works had been brought from the museum in Beijing’s Forbidden City, but the central sculpture of the two dragons had come from much further away.  The return of the dragon carving to China had become something of a sensation, thanks largely to a press release in the People’s Daily from the Ministry of Culture which announced that one of the greatest jade sculptures ever created had been unexpectedly found and was now on display in the Beijing Art Museum of Stone Carvings.  The room set aside for this special display was thronged with citizens and tourists, all curious to see this remarkable work.

Professor An had to push and elbow his way through the milling crowds to reach the display case, and, although the sculpture had been described to him already, he was still overwhelmed by its beauty and perfection.

It is home at last, he thought.  Home after nearly six hundred years and untold thousands of miles.  I knew it would come back where it truly belongs.

“Excuse me,” said an American voice, “do you speak English by any chance?”

“Yes, a little,” An answered.  “Can I help you?”

“Thanks.  I guess this is the famous dragon sculpture everyone’s getting so excited about?”

The man was about forty, dressed in a sports shirt and slacks and looked to An the very epitome of the thousands of tourists who came to Beijing every year.

“Yes.  This is it.”

“Well would ya’ mind telling me what all the fuss is about?  I mean, why is it so darn important?”

“It is one of China’s greatest treasures,” said An.  “It was made during the Ming Dynasty, here in Beijing, but it has only just been found.”

“No kidding,” said the American.  “What happened to it?”

“That is a long story,” said An.  “It was taken out of China, and traveled across continents and oceans, it was bought and sold many times by many famous people, and stolen more than once as well.  Men even died in their attempts to own this jade.  It’s history is most fascinating.”

“That right?”

An nodded.

“It is a magnificent thing, isn’t it?” he asked the visitor.

“I guess,” said the tourist doubtfully, “if you’re into dragons in a big way.”

“The dragon is very important to the Chinese people,” said An.  “It is a mythic animal, the symbol of good fortune,  prosperity and abundance.  Tradition says the Chinese people are the descendants of dragons.”

“How come you know so much about the carving?” asked the American.  

“It was found by a friend of mine,” said An.  “And it is because of her that it has now come back to China.”

“Oh,” said the American.  “Well good for her, I guess.  I think the thing’s kinda’ gaudy though.”

“But just imagine finding a piece of jade of two colors like this, and then being able to carve it into something so beautiful.  Think of the skill it must have taken.  It is not gaudy, it is magnificent.”

“Maybe,” shrugged the visitor.

“And don’t you ever wonder how ancient objects survive?”  An asked.  “How they come to be here today after so many years?”

“Can’t say as I do, really,” answered the visitor, and turned to go.  “But thanks for the explanation anyway.”

The tourist was swallowed up by the crowd, and An watched him go.  The poor man has no soul, he thought sadly, and then returned his attention to the dragon sculpture.

It is astounding, he thought, utterly astounding.  And what a journey it has taken in its long life.  What a journey indeed.


 

PART 1

China: The Second Year of the Reign of Emperor Dai Zong, Seventh Ruler of the Ming Dynasty, 1451 CE

 

Chapter One

 

Gau Lisan, known in the city of Yunnanfu as The Jade Hunter, rested in a flat-footed squat in the shade of a gnarled and twisted old willow tree.  Before him flowed a broad stream, its waters brown with silt, and old Gau regarded it with deep satisfaction.  This bountiful stream had yielded him jade aplenty over the years, and now, swollen by runoff from heavy rains in the high hills, it might well do so again.  He put his head slightly to one side, bird-like, and listened intently to the sound of the water as it dashed headlong and foaming down the slope, and caught the crack and rattle of stones and boulders being tumbled along in the swift current.  He nodded his head slowly and knowingly.  There will be reasonable pickings here when the flood abates, he told himself, unaware of what the spirits of this place had ordained for his future.

As he lingered beneath the old tree, listening to the music of the water and the rhythm of the stones, his thoughts turned unbidden to the fortuneteller who sat each day on his square stool behind a battered wooden table in a narrow side street by Yunnanfu’s largest temple.  Old Gau never failed to consult this venerable seer before departing on an expedition, but on this occasion the fortuneteller’s response had been cryptic beyond understanding.

The grey-bearded old gentleman rested his  spectacles on his nose and hung a long ribbon from each side of them over his ears to hold the round lenses in place.

“You will find something old that will become something new,” the old man said, looking up from his complicated lunar almanacs and astrological charts.  “Something that will bring another man greatness, but will be your ruin; something of great price whose true worth you will never know; something of beauty yet a harbinger of death; something which many great men will covet and yet which the greatest of all men will spurn.”

Old Gau had thrown the toothless fortune-teller a few coppers, which the man deftly caught in a brass bowl, and left thinking the old fool must have finally lost his wits.  All he had asked was whether his search would be fruitful, and for answer he received gibberish.  He had not understood it then, and it was no clearer now.  He shook his head and dismissed the matter.

Gau Lisan straightened himself and, turning, walked the few paces from the stream bank through the heavy undergrowth to the small clearing where his son, Gau Yi, knelt before a small fire preparing an evening meal.  The young man looked up and raised his eyebrows.

“So?” he asked.

“I think it will be good,” answered Old Gau.  “There has been heavy rain up above and the water brings us much to look at.  All we can do now is wait until the water recedes.”

Gau Lisan settled himself onto a fallen log and looked about him.  There was thick forest on all sides, and the walls of the valley rose into the surrounding hills in waves of green that darkened into purple as the evening shadows advanced.  He drew in a deep lung-full of air and slowly exhaled.  This was the secret place to which he had come so many times before in his quest for jade.  No one knew of it save himself and his son.  It had no name, although they always called it Gau Jiamg, the Gau River, and it flowed hidden by the all-concealing forest.

What will there be this time, he wondered.  He had found the finest imperial jade here, emerald green and lustrous, but there had been many other colors as well.  All were of the best quality and fetched a handsome price from the merchants in Yunnanfu.  If the stream were generous once again, they would go home well satisfied.

Once, years before, he had foraged up the stream high into the mountains in hopes of finding the source of the elusive jade within its native rock, but he had had no success.  The spirits of the natural world guard their secrets well, and, in the end, after days of tortuous climbing he gave up and resolved to be content with whatever the stream saw fit to bring him in its own good time.  The gods must have looked kindly upon his humility, for the stream had been generous ever since.     

Gau accepted a bowl of boiled rice and vegetables from his son and, holding it to his mouth, ate swiftly.  They spoke little as they ate, and as Gau Yi went to the stream to rinse their bowls and cooking pot, Old Gau wrapped himself in a blanket and settled down for sleep.  He was tired after a full day of climbing the wooded slopes of the Yunnan Plateau to reach this place, and although he was a robust man of fifty, he was, nevertheless, becoming increasingly aware of new aches and pains in his limbs and no longer slept well on the ground.  He knew he would soon have to pass the work on to his son and then he would stay at home and watch his grandchildren grow, a prospect he found rather pleasing, particularly of late.

The next morning arrived in a blaze of grandeur, which painted the hills in red and gold, and the two men rose with the sun and hurried down to the stream.  The flow was as strong as ever and they had no choice but to continue their wait.  Old Gau chafed at the delay and paced about the small clearing while periodically returning to the stream to observe the water level.  He always tried to show the gods humility, but patience was another matter entirely. 

In the late afternoon, the current began to recede quickly and Gau announced that the following day would bring them their opportunity.  As he sought sleep that night he thanked the spirits in anticipation of success. 

The next morning Gau Yi, having found a relatively comfortable bed amongst some moss and dried ferns in the shelter of a large tree, slept late, and did not waken until the sun was well up and the green hills stood shimmering in the new light of day.  He rolled over, wincing as an errant root dug into his ribs, rubbed his eyes and looked across the clearing to where his father had been sleeping, but Old Gau was nowhere to be seen.  The young man stood up, lifted his arms in a long satisfying stretch and quickly set about twisting his long black hair into a tight bun over his right ear.  This done, he made for the stream where he knew he would find his father.

As he pushed his way through the thick tangle of low, broad-leafed bushes and twisting vines, he caught sight of Old Gau squatting on the stream bank and noticed as well that the water’s flow was much abated.  He came to his father’s side, grinning sheepishly.

“I am sorry, my father,” he said, with a deep bow.  “You should have awakened me.”

Gau Lisan said nothing but slowly rose to his feet.  He was not usually a man given to long silence and his son looked at him in some surprise.    

“Is all well?” he asked, a little apprehensively, and for answer Old Gau simply raised his hand and pointed to a place at the edge of the water, some ten or twelve paces in front of them.

“Heaven blesses us,” he said.

Gau Yi, mystified, looked in the direction his father pointed and his mouth dropped open in sheer, blank astonishment. 

“It cannot be,” he said.  “It is not possible.” 

“It is possible,” replied his father.  “It is before our eyes.”

The two men stood looking in awe at what the spirits of the stream had delivered up, both of them trying to grasp the magnitude and wonder of what they beheld.  It was a veritable boulder, irregular in shape and much too heavy for one man to move unaided, milk white and as lustrous as the finest pearls from the deep Southern Ocean.  Somewhat polished by the water, the stone glowed in the morning sun as if it were a huge jewel set by some divine hand in the beauty of its natural surroundings. 

When Old Gau left the ancient fortuneteller he entered Yunnanfu’s great temple as he always did to burn incense before the serene-faced image of Lord Buddha and beg a blessing, but he had never in his life seen a blessing such as this.

“It cannot be,” said Gau Yi again.  “It is quartz.  Nephrite at best.”

“No, it is jade,” said his father, his voice almost reverent.  “I have been out to look at it.  When I first saw it I thought my eyes made sport of me.”

Gau Yi stared at the huge white boulder as it lay reflecting the sunlight in its matrix of loose stones.  If it truly is jade, he thought, can such a treasure be real? 

“What can we do?” he asked.

Old Gau made no reply, and his son followed him as he picked his way across the rock and boulder-strewn ground that had so lately been streambed.  They reached the boulder and Gau Lisan bent and studied it once again.

“Purest jade,” he said simply.  “It is too heavy to have come by the flood, I think.  It has been here a long time and has been uncovered.  See how firmly it is set into the ground.”

Between them, with the aid of a thick branch, father and son heaved the massive boulder out of its deep resting place, and as the ponderous rock finally rolled free it revealed its ultimate secret to the two astounded men.

“By all the gods in heaven and by my father’s dry bones,” exclaimed Old Gau, breathless from his exertions, “see now what is here.”  But his son already stood agape and speechless.

The great stone was indeed pure white, but for only about half its bulk, the other half was black.  For most of its length the line that divided black from white was clear and remarkably sharp, but at one end it dissolved and created a series of alternating black and white segments of various sizes.

The two men levered and manhandled the heavy stone to dry ground and Gau Yi then made several trips back to the stream with his cooking pot while his father rested.  They rolled the boulder over and over, rinsing off all the stream’s mud and grime and then sat down, out of breath, and allowed themselves an uninterrupted viewing of this wondrous gift from the spirits of the stream.

“Amazing,” said Gau Yi, as a new and glittering thought suddenly illuminated his imagination.  “And are we not now rich men, father?”

Old Gau nodded slowly and began to laugh.  It was nothing more than a deep and quiet chuckle at first, but it quickly grew into a joyful peal of mirth into which his son joined with enthusiasm.  The two men clapped each other on the back and capered about like small children at play.

“Heaven has sent us a miracle,” said Old Gau, at last catching his breath and attempting to retrieve some dignity, “but we must make plans now.  If word of this is gathered we shall not be rich men, we shall be dead men.”

The cold hand of somber reality brought Gau Yi quickly down to earth and he regarded his father respectfully.

“What, then, shall we do?” he asked.

“We must first hide it until we can decide how best to take it back to the city.  Perhaps we can manage to move it to some safe place where a cart can be brought.  Obviously we cannot bring one up here.  We might then move it into the city hidden under a load of straw or some such.”

“My father,” said Gau Yi, “I know exactly the place, but I am not certain we can move it that far.”

“Tell me,” said Old Gau in some surprise.  He knew his son for a bit of a dreamer and not often given to making useful contributions to discussions of this nature.

“The first time ever you brought me here, when I was only ten, you showed me a cave hidden amongst the rocks close by the place where we left the road from Yunnanfu and entered the forest.  I remember it well because you allowed me to play there many times after that.  I have not seen it for years, but surely it must still be there.”

“Perfect,” cried his father, wondering if perhaps this great find had somehow imbued his son with a measure of practical common sense.  “Nothing could be better, and I had forgotten it completely.” 

“But can we get it there?” asked Gau Yi doubtfully.  “It is a long way.”

“True,” said his father, his mind already at work, “but it is almost all downhill, and we have plenty of rope.  If we are careful, we can lower it down the slopes using the trees as our strength.”

“And the uphill parts?” asked Gau Yi wryly, his eyebrows raised.

“Lord Buddha and all the spirits have given us this stone,” replied his father with an air of calm conviction.  “They will not abandon us now.”

And so it was that for the rest of that day and all the next, the two men toiled and heaved and manhandled the great boulder of precious jade on its slow and ponderous way down the hillside towards the Yunnanfu road and its safe hiding place.  They tied it firmly, and, as Old Gau had predicted, were able to snub the rope around convenient trees and slowly lower the stone down over the leaf-covered forest floor.  Gau Yi’s fears were confirmed when they were confronted by several uphill climbs which challenged Old Gau’s ingenuity and taxed their strength to breaking point.  They were forced to rest frequently, their shoulders and backs aching and every muscle and sinew in their arms and legs afire. 

Gau Yi, on his father’s instructions, cut stout poles from the biggest bamboo thickets and used them to lever the boulder slowly and painfully up the slopes while Old Gau once more used trees to take up the strain on the rope, step by agonizing step.

For three hours on the second afternoon it rained heavily, and they slipped and slithered over the sodden ground and cursed their bad luck.  Once, they nearly lost their hold on the stone and for a terrifying moment it seemed poised to plunge into a steep gully from which it could never have been recovered.  With an extraordinary effort Old Gau planted his feet in the sucking mud, and with a bellow and a mighty heave gave his son the few moments he needed to brace up the stone with a bamboo pole.

By evening they were wet to their very skins and their hair was plastered down on their heads as the blinding rain finally ceased.  The world grew quiet once again as the roar of rain in the forest gradually subsided.  Absolute exhaustion threatened to overwhelm them both, but their task was nearing its end.  From the brow of one last steep hill they looked down to where the cave would be and saw the Yunnanfu road winding like a yellow snake, through the green carpet of the valley bottom below them.

As he toiled and sweated through those two purgatorial days, Gau Yi dreamed of his new life as a rich man.  He was nearly thirty years old and had long believed it was more than high time for good fortune to pay him a visit, and now it had finally done so.  He would buy a good piece of land and with it become even richer off the rents paid him by his tenant farmers.  Perhaps he would also take a second wife, later a third, and even some concubines?  Yes, that would be fitting for a wealthy landowner, and he could then be sure of doing his filial duty by providing more grandchildren for his father to be proud of.  He would make sure his daughters had their feet bound to show the world it was not necessary for them to work, and besides, lily feet were beautiful and would help his daughters to good marriages.  Perhaps, his thoughts raced on, his sons would become scholars and enter the civil service.  Yes.  That, too, would be fitting, and he resolved to require it of them.  Education, he knew, was vital, and if it became too much for his purse he could simply raise the rents on his land.

Gau Yi knew, of course, that whatever money came from the sale of this remarkable stone would belong to his father, but he did not doubt he would receive at least a portion of it.  He was an only child and he, his wife and ten-year-old son lived under his father’s roof as was proper.  They would all continue to live in the same house, albeit a new and larger one no doubt, and as his wealth grew along with that of his father, their status would climb.  Their world would become elegant, refined and graceful.  Perhaps he should turn to scholarly pursuits himself?  No, leave that to his sons.  It would be enough for him to dress in finely embroidered silks and make his choice at mealtimes from twenty dishes prepared especially for his delectation by the army of servants he would employ, rather than having to eat whatever was placed before him as he did at home now.

Of course, he ruminated, the family Gau did not exactly live in poverty at present, but their house was small and they had no servants.  Gau Yi knew it was his father’s skill in the quest for jade that provided them all with an adequate, if not entirely luxurious, existence, but jade hunting was an arduous occupation and usually uncomfortable and dirty.  Now they had found this treasure stone, however, their days of plain living were gone forever, and Gau Yi reveled in dreams of a plentiful future.  I shall allow my fingernails to grow, he thought, and wear long guards over them made of lacquered ebony or ivory, perhaps, to show all men I no longer perform manual labor.

For his part, Old Gau thought of nothing beyond his plans for getting the stone into Yunnanfu, and after that, into the hands of whichever merchant would give him the best price.  He wasted no time in idle dreaming; his concerns were far more practical.  He was not a man widely noted for his patience, but the finding of this great jewel had given even him considerable pause, and he curbed his natural tendency for haste in favor of careful planning.

Once the stone was within the courtyard of his house it would be safe and prospective buyers could be invited to come and bargain.  It must all be done with the utmost discretion, however, for if news of this find were to be trumpeted about the city, there would be considerable danger.  The boulder was worth a lifetime’s fortune and thieves would know it.  He needed to see it sold as quickly as he could and leave such headaches to the new owner. 

The task of finding a new owner represented a spiky problem in itself.  As soon as he began to solicit prospective buyers the word would spread like fleas in a marketplace.  Old Gau realized extra care was needed now lest this blessing from the Lord Buddha become a curse upon them all.  How is it to be done, he asked himself repeatedly, as idea chased idea through his head.  How is it to be done?

“It is not much further,” said Gau Yi, breaking into his father’s thoughts.  “Just down this last hill.  The cave must be somewhere near the road.” 

And near the road was exactly where they found it at last. 

With their strength all but gone they painfully rolled the great stone into the mouth of the cave, effectively concealed in a tangle of undergrowth and rock debris.

“Unless you know it is here,” said Gau Yi, gasping for breath, “it is invisible.”

“Then let us hope we are the only ones who do know it is here,” wheezed his father, leaning heavily on the great piece of jade. 

It was now past dusk and darkness soon cloaked the valley and further concealed the two men and their treasure.  Too exhausted even to think of food, they lay on the dry floor of the cave and slept as though dead.

#

A brilliant dawn of burnished copper and gold proclaimed the coming of the next day; dappled sunlight filtered through the undergrowth and into the cave.  Gau Lisan awoke and stirred his stiff limbs carefully.  His joints protested vehemently and his bones creaked as he sat up and rubbed his face, suddenly remembering where he was and what had brought him there. 

He sat for a few moments studying the boulder again and noticing how the patches of morning sun reflected off its white surfaces and caused the black parts to glow and shimmer.  He felt like a small boy discovering with excitement that yesterday’s wonderful birthday gift had been real after all.

He looked across at his son and noticed he still lay in deep sleep with one arm over his face, snoring with a gentle and resonant sonority that conveyed a sense of absolute repose and relaxation.  He roused him remorselessly.

“Ho there,” called Old Gau, shaking the young man by the shoulder.  “Up now, lazy one.  We must eat and then there is work to be done.”

Gau Yi, summoned back to reality from sensuous dreams of wives and concubines, sat up in some displeasure.

“What is it?” he asked irritably, before realizing, as had his father, where he was.

“Food,” said Old Gau shortly, “and then I must go and find a cart.”

“There is only the rice left over from yesterday,” said Gau Yi, getting to his feet.  “There is nothing else.”

“So be it then,” said his father, rising stiffly.  “Come.  I want to be on the way before the sun is too high.”

Their hurried meal completed, Gau Lisan instructed his son to remain in the cave with the stone and stay out of sight.

“I will go into the city if I must,” he  said, “but I would prefer to find a house nearby where I can procure a cart.  I will be back as soon as I can.”

“But,” began his son in protest, “you should rest.”

“Obey me,” ordered Old Gau.  “I shall go and you shall stay.”  And with that pronouncement, he departed.

As Gau Yi settled himself to wait, his thoughts turned once more to run along pleasant lines of comfort and ease.  With any luck at all, this had been his last night spent on hard ground and the battle with this great boulder marked the end of physical toil.  He was about to become a man of leisure.  He reveled anew in the shining wonder of it all and conjured up images of himself as master of a noble and wealthy household.

After three hours, sounds of an approaching intruder roused him from his contented reverie and he seized one of the bamboo poles as a weapon.  The newcomer pushed through the underbrush at the cave mouth, and as Gau Yi drew breath to issue a challenge, his father appeared.

“You should have announced yourself, my father,” said Gau Yi, lowering the pole.  “I was ready to crack your skull.”

“I have a cart,” said Old Gau, ignoring his son’s words and warlike stance, “but all is not completely well.”

“How so?”

“There is nothing with which to hide the stone.  I could get no straw and I could not afford to buy a whole cart-load of vegetables.”

“But we cannot walk into the city with this stone in a cart for all to see,” Gau Yi said.

“Of course we can’t,” snapped Old Gau impatiently.  His son’s instinctive grasp of the blindingly obvious often irritated him, especially when he was wrestling with a difficult problem.  His previous hopes that the finding of the stone had had a beneficial effect seemed groundless after all.

“We will collect leaves,” said Old Gau, after a brief moment of thought, “and use them to pad the stone in the bottom of the cart so that it will make no sound.  We will load the stone into the cart and then cover everything with firewood.”

Gau Yi began to gather leaves into a pile at the mouth of the cave while his father brought up the cart with its reluctant bullock.  They spread the leaves thickly over the boards and with the rope, using two stout tree trunks as a ramp, they began to heave and roll the great boulder onto its protective bed.  Twice they failed, and the stone slid down the ramp to the ground, forcing them to leap aside to avoid injury, but at long last the jade rested safely in the cart.

“Now,” panted Gau Lisan, “the wood.”

For the next three hours the two men ranged throughout the surrounding forest bringing back armloads of firewood filling the cart until the pile rose higher than the sides and completely covered the stone.  Gau Lisan walked around the laden cart scrutinizing it from every angle.  Then, satisfied, he allowed himself a brief smile. 

The bullock protested at the load as they goaded it into motion, carefully guiding it down the final few paces of hillside to the edge of the trees.  As luck would have it there was no one in sight and so they emerged from the forest and onto the Yunnanfu road.

“Remember,” said Old Gau, as they moved off, “we have spent yesterday collecting wood, nothing else.”

They walked along the muddy yellow track towards Yunnanfu, and as they drew near the city more people appeared on the road going to and fro about their business.  Old Gau’s nerves were stretched as tight as the strings of a pipa and he imagined he could hear the jade bellowing forth and announcing itself to every passer-by. 

“Ho there,” it shouted.  “Here I am.  Under the wood.”

He glanced at Gau Yi who appeared to be walking with an elaborate nonchalance.  Gau imagined his son’s ostentatious walk invited everyone to ask what was in the cart, but in reality, no one spared them a second glance.  Of what possible interest can we be, he asked himself.  We are but two ordinary men with a load of firewood.

Once in the city, the crowds and the winding, narrow lanes afforded them further anonymity.  They hurried the plodding and recalcitrant bullock along as best they could, but their progress seemed agonizingly slow as they moved through the surging masses of people in the markets and open squares.  Twice they were forced to stop and allow the passage of sedan chairs bearing wealthy persons or officials, and once became entangled with a large funeral procession carrying paper replicas of houses and other possessions to be burned during the ceremony and thus made available to the departed in the afterlife.  Old Gau was in a fever of impatience, but was finally beginning to think they would actually reach home after all, when, just as they drew near to Bamboo Grove Lane where his house was situated, they were hailed by a familiar voice.

“Greetings, Gau Lisan.  Good day and good fortune to you both.”

“And to you, Fang Yulin,” answered Gau, trying not to let his frustration show.  “It is good to see you,” he added, with an artificial smile and no trace of enthusiasm.

“No jade today?  Only firewood is it?” asked Fang with a laugh.  “Or are you hiding something?”

It was a chance remark, but it struck the two men through the heart.  Could he know, Old Gau wondered.  Surely that was impossible.

Gau Lisan forced a short laugh and replied, “That’s right.  Only firewood.  No secrets today, I fear.”

In truth, Fang Yulin often bought raw jade and Gau had already determined upon offering him an opportunity to bargain for the stone, but this was not the time to pursue the matter.  At this moment it was imperative they get safely home, and Gau excused himself and explained they were already late and must make haste.

“It is strange to collect firewood which is so wet,” observed Fang mildly, as Gau Yi prodded the grumbling bullock into motion once again.

“It will dry,” said Old Gau, as cheerfully as he could.  “Good day.  Good day.”

Fang watched them as they moved off, his eyes narrow.  Old Gau shot a surreptitious glance back at him, and urged the bullock on. 

“Jade Hunter,” Fang called after them, “it seems your bullock struggles somewhat.  That firewood of yours must be very heavy indeed.  Or do you have a secret today after all?”

“Pretend you do not hear,” hissed Old Gau under his breath, as they turned into the lane and came in sight of the house.

“Curse him, and curse our bad luck,” said Gau, as they stopped the cart outside the red-painted gates of the courtyard.  “He knows we have found something, and he will even now be on his way to the teahouse to tell his friends.  Everything has now become more difficult and dangerous.”   

 

Find out what happenes to Old Gau and his family, and learn the whole story of the jade boulder when Jade Hunter is published in 2007

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