TITLE: Mourn Their Courage
Liu Jie left his wife and son to their bedtime rituals and closed the door of the room they shared. The clamor of voices from the inn's first floor enveloped him in an instant. It was twice as loud as when they'd arrived last night.
The Peach Orchard Inn was a two-storied square, hollow in the center with rooms along opposite walls. Latticed windows blocked most of the autumn wind, but let in sunlight during the day. The servants had already lit the paper lanterns tonight. The fragile lights swayed as he passed. He stared over the railing at the crowd below and grimaced. The room was packed. Too many people vied for the innkeeper’s attention.
All he wanted was a cup of rice wine. He sighed and went downstairs.
Jie stepped off the landing and was accosted by the smells of heated wine and steamed vegetables. He wound his way to the bar. Flashes of conversations accompanied him.
"My parents are too old to run the farm themselves. . ."
A wall of blue and tan hemp robes, many patched and worn, blocked his path. He stood on tiptoe to try and see over the crush of men crowding the bar. At last, he pushed between two of them and looked for the innkeeper.
An unrolled silk scroll mounted on the wall caught his attention. The weave of the ivory fabric was intricate and the Imperial Chop blazed like a crimson brand in a corner.