Ning Que awoke from a sudden pain. His pupils dilated from the shock and horrification he felt. He unbuttoned his shirt and started feeling around his chest area, but all he could feel was sweat and not his broken heart. Relieved, he patted himself and slowed down his breathing.
He glanced over at Sang Sang, who was still sound asleep. He looked at Sang Sang’s small face and suddenly felt that it was a blessing to be alive.
He didn’t want to tell Sang Sang about the horrifying nightmare he just had. Just recalling a small portion of the dream made him uncomfortable. He figured that it was best to forget about the dream.
The next day, the worn carriage started traveling again in the squeaky noise of its wheels. Following the guarding riders, the group continued southward. Around ten in the morning, the carriages stopped at a small village near Chang An. A messenger from the capital who represented the entire official court had already been waiting there for the princess for the past few days.
Ning Que jumped out of the carriage and stood at the side of the cheering crowd. He looked into the distance. There was a hint of a dark gray structure of a city. Nevertheless, it was very far away. Even if he squinted his eyes, he couldn’t make out the structure clearly. Ning Que guessed to himself that that place must be Chang An.
The intricate and fancy welcoming of the princess started to move along slowly, but this time, the master and the maid were not asked to follow.
Ning Que and Sang Sang stood on the sidewalk and watched the fancy carriage slowly pass them. The window was closed shut. Ning Que thought about the princess and the small barbarian prince sitting inside the carriage. He remembered the campfire and laughed a little.
The corner of the curtain of the fourth carriage that passed by them was lifted. The elder, Lu Qing Chen combed his white beard and smiled while gesturing to Ning Que. Ning Que bowed deeply in return.
The guards and the barbarian soldiers didn’t unmount when they passed by Ning Que. They just gestured to him on horseback while wearing apologetic expressions on their faces. The social status and manner of the empire were strict. Although the guard leader, Peng Guo Tao was expected to have a great future in Chang An, he didn’t dare show any emotion in front of the court officials. The barbarian soldiers were relieved after they gestured Ning Que goodbye. Since the Lumberjack of Shu Bi Lake was no longer around, the barbarians’ hopes for entertaining themselves in Chang An were high.
The riders from the Gu Shan Province watched the surroundings with caution. Their leader, Hua Shan Yue glanced one last time at Ning Que and sped up to follow the carriages. He gave little acknowledgement to Ning Que as if he didn’t exist, and brushed Ning Que off as a powerless character.
Ning Que did not care much about getting Hua Shan Yue’s respect. Afterall, he was the son of a high class noble, and the most outstanding character among the youngsters of Tang military department. However now that Ning Que had left the Army, he was only a commoner of the lowest class. Even if he was lucky enough get into the Academy, he would still only be at the bottom of the Empire court officials. No matter what perspective this relationship is seen under, he and the general would have no future relations.
However, was he really willing to take this from the general? Ning Que couldn’t bring himself to such a dishonorable position so he decided that he would re-encounter the arrogant young general some day in the near future and give him a piece of his mind.
After the princess and her guardians had left, the population of the small town took a dip. However, the town itself became more lively. The vendors who didn’t dare to come out before suddenly showed up. The merchants who tried to avoid conflicts by shutting their doors now reopened their doors and began to manage their businesses.
Ning Que sold the shabby wagon for a cheap price at a store. Ning Que patted Sang Sang’s shoulder to show consolation because the shabby wagon and old horse had followed them for many years in Wei City. Anyone would feel unwilling to sell a thing that was such a big part of their past.
They did not choose the wide and open official route, but instead walked slowly along the field away from the official route. At the side, the flowers were flourishing, the butterflies were slowly flapping their wings, and the bees were humming. Eventually, the tears at the corners of the little maid’s eyes dried up. Her two hands were tightly wrapped around the laces of the bag. She dragged the package that seems to be even bigger than her. She laughed occasionally as she walked and looked around on the field.
Under the sun, Ning Que took over the heavy package, and chatted with the little maid. Even though he usually could not get a response from her, he was still happy to be talking. He looked over the countryside landscape and saw a farmer resting in the field. Ning Que waved his hands and pretended to catch butterflies as they flew away.
He had left Chang An when he was very little. Later on, he had lived in Mian Mountain, the Great Plains, the Wild Plains, and a small frontier city. In his surrounding, there were only vicious jungle, boring grass land, and ubiquitous danger. Now, he have returned to the center of the Empire. He was looking for a calm and comfortable life. He couldn’t hide his excitement and happiness.
They walked for about two to three hours. A shadow suddenly spread over their heads from the brook and peach forest to the front. Ning Que thought that it was still not night yet and just previously, the sky had not shown any signs of rain.
He looked up confused. He saw a black wall in front of him. This wall was so high that it seemed to have no end. It covered half of the sky and also covered the sun. Faintly, they could see three black dots continuously flying in a circle in a high position near the wall.
Looking to the left and right, they could not find the end to the wall. They were surprised by how long this city was. It stood silently between the sky and the land. Sang Sang’s eyes widened as she looked at the great city and the crowd of people on the official route that was not far away from them. In awe, she asked, “Is this Chang An?”
The three black dots in the sky flew to a lower point and turned out to be two eagles helping a younger eagle practice flying. They had a nest on the wall. This wall had experienced thousand years of erosion and seemed ragged on the surface but its insides were still indestructible.
The younger eagle learned how to fly and returned to its nest. Ning Que looked up to the greatest city in the world and smiling sincerely. He was happy to finally return to the city that he had abandoned for many years.
Chang An, long time no see.