Chapter 4: Because you're a Trịnh

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As if having sensed the old woman's appearance in advance, Điền Quý had been sitting upright since who knew when. From his shirt pocket, the young man presented a pack of pipe tobacco ("thuốc lào") and a copper comb:

"These are some gifts from home to show my gratitude."

The old woman wore a typical traditional brown dress. Her head was covered by a scarf, her hair tied into a rooster tail, distinctively of Northern rural women's headwears of the last century. She took the pack of tobacco, bring it to and away from her nose, sniffing for a while before finally putting it down:

"It is truly thuốc lào Tiên Lãng."

Traditional rural wear of Northern Vietnamese women last century.

Traditional rural wear of Northern Vietnamese women last century

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She then took the comb and flicked at it with one finger. Immediately, the comb let out a powerful and deep sound, much like that of a gong. Phượng Ngân, who was sitting right next to her, had to cover her ears. Her head shook with dizziness, unable to comprehend how an object that size could be capable of such a loud noise.

"Ah, it is Ngũ Xã Copper. Since your heart is true, so shall mine be. Pray tell, what is it you seek information on this time?"

[Translator's note: Tiên Lãng and Ngũ Xã are famous villages for the production of thuốc lào and metal works/blacksmith, respectively.]

Điền Quý shrugged:

"Oh, nothing much. This time I was hired by this lady to dig up an ancient tomb."

"If it was just any typical tomb, someone like yourself wouldn't need to consult an old water lady like myself, would you? Pray tell me, then, what kind of catastrophe do you seek to unearth this time?"

"Ah, it's nothing of the sort, ma'am! There's only this sixteen-word instruction: 'The mute opens up; The dead's closed smile. Rounded pond, unrounded well. Crooked star fruit tree.' All I ask from you is advice on how to proceed."

As soon as he finished speaking, Điền Quý quickly covered his ears with both hands.

Before long, the old woman was shouting:

"Not a catastrophe my ass!"

Then, as if only now realizing there were other customers around them, she lowered her voice:

"Graves and tombs are never simple matters, young ones. It's best if you can just forget about digging up this grave. Heed this old woman's advice, children, no matter the riches, you have to be alive to enjoy it."

Before Điền Quý could say anything, Phượng Ngân had already started earnestly:

"This matter is very crucial to me. Please help us, ma'am!"

The old woman frowned, then said in a tone that didn't allow any argument:

"If it was anyone else, they can go ahead and go die down there. But you cannot!"

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