The clumsy little boy reached out his head out of princess Li Yu’s arms and looked curiously at Ning Que. He acted like Sang Sang and put his head in Li Yu’s hug once again, his little face rubbed against her shirt and some mucus stayed on her shirt.
Li Yu took out her handkerchief and wiped the Barbarian little boy’s face without feeling disgusted. She turned her head toward Ning Que and said nonchalantly, “Serve me after you get to Chang An, I will give you a good future.”
Ning Que already guessed the true identity of the barbarian little boy, but he never thought the princess would treat her stepson with such love and care. His evaluation of her changed slightly. Since he was thinking about her actions, his reaction was a little slow. He waited for a moment and said, “Your honor, after I arrive Chang An I will be attending the entrance exam of the Academy.”
People could have multiple explanations for a single sentence. Ning Que’s reply can be understood as he did not have time to serve the princess, or it could be understood as a rejection. In his rejection contained his pride – if he did get into the Academy, the princess did not need to worry about his future, because everyone who graduated the Academy will succeed.
“Are you sure you can obtain the permission to take the entrance exam, and successfully pass it?” Li Yu looked at him coldly and continued, “Although Tang Empire treat the educated with fortune and respect, but this “treat” has its limits. If you believe all of the educated can find their opportunity and become successful, why did Scholar Liu from the last dynasty wasted his life in the brothel.
Ning Que looked at her and said earnestly, “I understand, that’s why I am here asking Your Highness to help me clean up the unnecessary obstacles. I don’t want to miss my chance of getting into the Academy just because I am poor.”
Li Yu stared back him with suspiciousness and remained silent for a long time. She did not understand why did this young soldier reject her invitation so directly with such a calm tone.
Let it be known that she was the most beloved princess of the emperor and the entire empire, while Ning Que was just a regular soldier in a borderline city. If it was any other person, even if they obtained the permission to take the entrance exam to the Academy, they would still accept her invitation with gratefulness and joy.
After the long moment of silence, she said quietly, “I will help you, because I owe you.”
After finishing her sentence, she lost her interest in the conversation. She stared at the campfire with the little boy in her arms, and slowly her eyes turned watery. The elder, Lu Qing Chen, was still meditating beside the campfire, while on the other side the guards had already fallen asleep. The night in the forest darkened, sometimes the bird chirped at the starry sky on top of them.
Surprisingly Ning Que saw the tears in her eyes, following her sight, he realized that she was looking at the corpses of the Great Plain barbarians and guards.
Thinking about how she helped the boy clean his nose, seeing now she was feeling sad for the subordinates, Ning Que’s impression towards the princess changed again. He thought silently, even though she is an idiot, she is still a nice idiot.
Sang Sang fell asleep on his knee. The only ones who still opened eyes are he and Li Yu. The two people quietly sat, suddenly, the barbarian boy got out from her arms, rubbed his eyes and said he couldn’t fall asleep and wanted to hear a story. Li Yu felt embarrassed, thinking that she had already forgotten all the stories she heard during childhood, and how can she tell the romantic stories she heard in adolescent period to a little child?
The barbarian boy did not say a word, but stared aggrievedly at his nominal mother, appeared to be very pitiful. Ning Que smiled, looking at the embarrassed princess, made a cough.
“Wheats are gold and yellow, oats are green….the eggs broke itself one by one, but the biggest egg still had no any movement…..Mother Duck looked at the big and ugly child, looked at him swimming happily in water, said proudly, “ See, she is not a horrifying chicken, she is my own child.”
“But she is way too ugly. No matter where she went to, she will be judged by everyone. A wild duck says, as long as you don’t marry any of the duck in my specie, then it’s none of our business.”
“One night, when the beautiful sun fell from the west, the ugly duckling sees a flock of birds flying up in the forest. The duckling never saw such pretty things. They have long and soft necks, and white and bright feathers. They are flying to a warm country.”
“After a winter, the ugly duckling is surrounded by several swans. She feels ashamed, thinking that she is so ugly, yet the swan kindly pecks her feather…she looks into the pond, suddenly realizing that she is so pretty…Spring comes, sun is very warm, people look at her and start to dance and sing, excitedly yell, “Look! There is a pretty swan!”
Ning Que picked up the scorched firewood, drew randomly lines on the ground, looked down and told a very old story. This story was so simply, yet so sad and happy. The barbarian boy lied on the princess’s body, largely opened up his eyes and listened. Li Yu herself also gradually felt fascinated by the story. Sang Sang woke up at a time no one noticed. She heard of it when she was really young, but she still quietly listened to it, having a childish smile on her face.
The night got darker, the children who listened the story eventually went into their dreams. Li Yu remained silent for a really long time, suddenly said, “Your story is too deep, Little Wild won’t understand, but I still want to thank you, thank you warning me something…I, like that Mother Duck, will treat him like my own child. He will be my pride. When we return to Chang An, I will never let anyone sneers at him. In the future, whether or not he can fly up like the swan….it depends on himself.”
Ning Que rubbed his head and smiled, said, “Actually, I did not think that much. This is a story I told Sang Sang during childhood. She always thought that she was black and ugly, and therefore had low self-esteem. Therefore I made up this story to comfort her.”
“No matter what, this is a good story.” Li Yu smiled as she looked at him, said, “The ugly Duckling being looked down upon, through her own effort, finally became the lovely and respected swan. This is very encouraging.”
Ning Que’s hand slightly stiffed, looked at him and said seriously, “You are wrong. This story will only cause lots of people to feel hopeless, because the ugly duckling will never become a swan. She….originally was a swan, like you and your child, but real ugly duckling, forever is an ugly duckling.”
Li Yu silently looked at the youngster’s face, thinking about these words, faintly realized something.