The greatest city, Chang An, deserved its fame. Because the city was so big, eighteen gates were built; multiple gates in each direction. Even so, the nobles and commoners who entered and exited the city daily would congest the gates and the gates did little to mitigate the long lines on the official route.
Ning Que and Sang Sang stayed on the long line and finally arrived at the gate of the city just when evening was approaching. Seeing the stern soldiers who were carefully checking packages, Ning Que involuntarily thought about the traffic scene in the capital of another world. He laughed and complained a bit about the long lines.
Although he complained with a low voice, the surrounding native citizens complained really loudly. Tang people were simple but doughty. None of them would be afraid of the stern soldiers, but none of them dared to ignore the empire’s law and rush through the gate.
After a long time it was finally Ning Que and Sang’s turn. The soldier took the military certificate that Ning Que had with him and found out that this youngster was actually his comrade who had accomplished many achievements in the frontier. The soldier’s stern face became kinder and friendlier, but when he saw the three knives fastened on Ning Que’s back, he frowned involuntarily.
“These are handed down from the older generations of the family. My ancestor had told me…” Ning Que explained carefully.
“The knives are your life….” The soldier gave him a bored look and said contemptuously, “I have to hear similar excuses at least eight hundred times. Kid, just save your time and put down the package. Two little children carrying such a large package, how is that even coming to learn? That is literally moving your entire house.”
He turned towards Sang Sang and saw the big black umbrella on her back. Frowning slightly he asked, “What kind of umbrella is this? How is it so big?”
Sang Sang turned back and grabbed the middle part of the big black umbrella. She looked up at the soldier and said “The umbrella is my life.”
The soldier looked at this little black girl and lifted his thumb praising, “Such saying …is new.”
Ning Que, who was undoing the tie of the package, smiled bitterly. Ning Que knew that to others it may seem like a joke, but to Sang Sang it is reality.
The big package contained mostly quilts, blankets, and other miscellaneous things. The only noticeable things were the hard wooden bow and several packs of arrows. When the soldier saw them, he had a slight facial expression change.
The doorway to Chang An was long and dark. The distance from one side to the other was very large; therefore the exit looked like a small hole emitting light. The sun could be faintly seen in a far distance. The red sunlight poured upon the city but was quickly devoured by the darkness and noisiness of the night.
Ning Que and Sang Sang followed the crowd and headed towards the doorway. Sang Sang switched the position of the heavy bag on her back so that the string lay on a more comfortable position. She asked curiously, “Master…..Is every citizen from Chang An as chatty as that soldier?”
“About right.” Ning Que answered, “The wealthiest people all over the world are concentrated in this city. That’s why Chang An’s people are very proud. But as they are proud, they are also modest and lenient on the surface because they need to show their good demeanor. Plus, they are a group of people with good demeanor.”
“But if people can’t express their pride, they will be unable to restrain themselves. How do citizens of Chang An solve this problem? ……..They talk! From the carriage driver to the official in courts, all Chang An citizens are skilled in chatting. From rumors in the royal palace down to the jokes in hotel and brothels, there seems to be nothing they are unaware of. Of course, the thing they like the most is to use a nonchalant tone to discuss about worldly news and warfare events, as if they all are the prime minister of the empire.”
Sang Sang laughed a little because she was amused by Ning Que’s explanation.
Earlier at the doorway to Chang An, the soldier did not confiscate nor destroy the umbrella. Now the big black umbrella was on the back of Ning Que, while the three knives were collected into their package. The string of the hard wooden bow was also taken off. After doing all this, the talkative soldier finally let them through without further interruption.
The Tang citizens believe in strength and power. If there were no suitable weapons on their hands, they wouldn’t feel comfortable. Therefore the empire was lenient on the policy of controlling weapons. The city Chang An allowed people to equip swords but not knives. Bows were allowed but their strings must be taken off. However, military crossbows were banned, but this was the only limitation.
No one cared if you put the string back on the bow and took out your knife after entering the city. The government didn’t care, the military didn’t care, and the emperor living in the royal palace didn’t care either.
Ning Que and Sang Sang were used to living around the border. Every night in Wei city there were no light besides the candles in the tavern. There was no noise except the talking of the guards. They thought they would see a city asleep when they entered Chang An at dusk, but they never thought that the Cang An at night was…..
A city that never slept!!
The lights shined from the streets brightened the roads as if it were daytime. The streets were full of people, some were shopping on the sidewalk and some were looking at the stars in the sky.
The attires of Tang people, especially the Chang An citizens, were very simple and easy. A tight short sleeved shirt expressed their sharpness. A man was wearing a shirt with bigger sleeves, but his sleeves were also cut short. Two arms were hanging out of the sleeve. The design was made for him to easily pull out the sharp sword on his waists.
The green shirt man walked on the streets equipped with his sword. His long hairs were flowing in the air as if he was an uncommon swordsman. But when he saw a circus in the street, the man will also stop and stare at their tricks like the ladies around him. He clapped and applauded when the circus finished their tricks, but when the clowns started asking for money he returned to his cool look of an uncommon swordsman. He wanted to appear like he despised the dirtiness of money.
The clothes of Chang An women were simple as well and revealing, or in another word exposed. In the warm days of spring, the ladies on the street hang their arms bare out of their dresses. Some seducing women were wearing low top, the whiteness of their breasts were attracting the attentions of young men.
On the street, the barbarians who hanged wineskin on their waist were curiously looking around the city. The officials from Yue Lun Empire were combing their beard and going from taverns to taverns. The merchants from Nan Ji were drinking on the high buildings and observing the stars. Sometimes their bold laughter could be heard on the streets. A trace of flute music swirled into the street from an unknown household.
It seemed like the wealth and prosperity of the entire world had flown and concentrated in Chang An. It was exciting and was reveling. Boldness and tenderness coexisted; violence and beauty highlighted each other.
Ning Que held Sang Sang’s small hands and walked through the ocean made out of people. The surprising expressions on their faces revealed the fact that they were from rural areas.
There were all kinds of makeup on the street. Sang Sang was stunned by the varieties of product and opened her eyes widely.
A young lady was walking in front of Ning Que. How come her hip under the skirt was so round? A girl went past them laughing, why did she smell like flower? Why did the beautiful women standing near the sidewalk winked, maybe they thought the youngster was cute?
Ning Que held Sang Sang’s hand and happily looked around them, he forgot that Chang An was such a unique and memorable place. He didn’t want to move from his spot.
Since they didn’t want to move from their spot, they walked slowly. The streets finally quieted down. The two were about to rest their minds a little, but they were interrupted by a yelling in the crowd. Suddenly, a wave of Chang An citizens flown in and blocked the next corner ahead of Ning Que.
“There is a duel!”
Across from a tightly packed crowd, they could faintly see two men staring hostilely at each other, both men’s parts of their right sleeves were cut off by sword, dropping the floor between them.
The world suddenly became silent. Every audience who stayed to watch tightly shut off their mouth. Keeping the equity of the duel already became every Tang civilian’s habit. There was a rule even for watching the bustle.
“In a duel, cutting off the sleeve represents challenge, if you accept, then you have to cut off your sleeve too.”
Ning Que grabbed Sang Sang’s hand, attempting to squeeze out of the crowd. He explained to her, “Such duel is called living match; only a victory is needed. There is also a duel called dead match, in which duelists have to fight till one died. Such duel needs to get a confirmation from the court. The challenger in a dead match needs to give his own left hand a cut, if the opponent accepts, he has to do the same thing.”
“Can he not accept?” Sang Sang asked.
“Of course he can.” Ning Que wiped out the sweat on his forehead, patted the packaged Sang Sang carried on her back, ascertaining that no thieves were nearby, continued, “Yet sometimes people, especially men could be easily turned into idiots. They would get crazy for things such as women, love, honor, all these miscellaneous things.”
The two squeezed out of the crowd, Sang Sang raised her black face and asked confusingly, “Why don’t we stay? I remember that in Wei City you love to watch the scene of bustle. That year when killing a pig, you squatted by the side and watched for the entire night.”
“I watched people killing ox and goats often, yet killing a pig was the first time in history in Wei City. Of course I had to carefully watch such strange thing. However, duel is such a common thing in Chang An. There will be always opportunity if we want to watch.”
Ning Que said calmly, “Furthermore, we are now in Chang An. I just want to get into the Academy and study. I don’t want to cause any trouble. So, from now on, we should behave like two dogs, tuck our tails.”
Sang Sang shook her head and thought, I don’t want to be a slut, as for you master, just kill some people in Chang An, things like tucking tail was really not suitable to you.
“Find a lodge.” As if had read her mind, Nnig Que said with a frustrated emotion, “I am tired.”
Sang Sang pointed to a building on a street in front of them, said, “Look, there is a random lodge.”