Uncoincidentally, the random lodge was named The Random Lodge. But even after they slept there for one night, Ning Que and Sang Sang could not remember the name of the lodge when they walked out the next morning.
They found a kind old lady and asked for directions. Afterwards, the master and the maid walked towards the southern part of the city. They continued to ask multiple people for directions until they found two big locust trees.
The moment he saw the locust trees, Ning Que recalled a vague memory of his childhood. He closed his eyes, thought for a few moments and then lead Sang Sang onto the path.
There was a silent and gloomy street right between the two locust trees. It was big enough for carriages to pass through, but it wasn’t anything fancy or magnificent. On the two sides of the streets were sound-proof houses which were inhabited by people. Many tall trees stuck their branches out the walls of the houses and created nice shades.
At the center of the street, there were two houses — one on each opposing side. The guarding stone lion on the right side was majestic. It was well-kept as it had no dust or leaves on it. The house on the right has its red doors closed and its door ring rested silently.
This wasn’t the case for the house on the left. The paint on the door of the left house fell off due to lack of maintenance. Two banners were flowing in the air as the wind blew. There was only one stone lion left as the other had disappeared for some unknown reason. Even the remaining lion was broken. Its ears and claws were missing. The backside of the base of the stone lion had collected a pile of black mud which looked like solidified blood.
Ning Que looked at the broken stone lion and remembered how he used to play around the statue with Xiao Shun. He remembered getting caught by the adults in the mansion and getting punished. Then he walked past the corner of the street and remembered how he led his friend who was going to be punished by his teacher to run away from home.
Sang Sang switched her eyes between the shut doors and the expression on Ning Que’s face. She felt his sadness and loneliness but she didn’t know why. She started to feel sad as well, and the wind between the streets began to feel cold.
The house in ruins was the former general Lin Guang Yuan’s mansion. When the emperor traveled to the southern region of the empire to visit, a huge traitor case was discovered inside the capital. The prince himself judged the case. Prime ministers and court officials spectated the process. The verdict was that Lin Guang Yuan had betrayed the empire with foreign powers. The entire Lin family was executed.
The case was already finalized and no one in the court thought about reviewing it. Even if some people remembered this event, they cursed Lin Guang Yuan because the innocent maids and servants in his house were executed along with the family. Not only did he die with a bad name, he also dragged so many innocent lives down with him.
The general’s mansion was confiscated by the government. A decade after the incident happened, the government tried to gift the mansion to other officials. No one accepted this award because of its history. For this reason, the mansion was left empty all this time and fell into ruins.
After walking past the doors of the general’s mansion, Ning Que expressed a hint of dejection in his eyes. However, this was no normal for Ning Que. He didn’t even stop or slow down at the doorway of the mansion. He continued walking so Sang Sang, who was carrying the big black umbrella had to jog to catch up. The big umbrella bounced up and down on the girl’s back. The sound of collision was like the ticking noise of a clock.
The two walked through the long valley quietly. They walked between the red door and the ruined door just like two regular tourists who were lost in the small valley of Chang An during spring.
“No one wants that haunted house, yet the house facing it is on high demand. Why? That year when Xuan Wei General and Minister of Commune each lived on one side of the street, Xuan Wei General’s entire family was exterminated while the Minister of Commune climbed in rank. Now he’s a scholar at Wen Yuan Cabinet. How many rank four or five officials do you think would like to benefit from the house that he had lived in?”
In a restaurant in the corner of a street, Ning Que and Sang Sang both sat around a small table and quietly ate gruel while listening to the chatter among the residents. To the old residents who had lived here for decades or even generations, the most worthy thing to chat about were definitely the general’s treason and the minister of commune’s new prestige. They talked about these subjects daily and yet, they did not get tired from the topic. This catered exactly to the master’s and the maid’s intentions.
“As we talk about the scholar Zeng Jing, he was only a Minister of Commune before. But now, he have ranked up quickly. Have you guys heard the reasons behind it?”
“The thing became so serious that year, even the people in the palace intervened. Who here haven’t heard of it?”
One middle aged man shook his head and scoffed, “He is the Minister of Commune, yet he married a brutal wife. His legal wife became filled with hatred due to jealousy that she even attempted to harm the child when the concubine was pregnant. This was not strange. However, after that concubine luckily gave birth to the child after hard experiences, she [legal wife] still wanted to harm the poor child. Eventually, if the people in the palace had not decree a command, who knows what trouble she could have caused in the family.”
“You don’t know who in the palace gave a word, don’t you?” The person sneered, then made a bow with hands folded in front, “I tell you, it’s the queen who was angry after learning about this. She personally wrote a letter to Zeng Jing telling him to regulate his wife.”
The people sitting by the table looked into each other’s eyes, smiled as if they all knew by heart. Everyone in the world knew that Tang had an excellent queen who was favored by the emperor and who was given absolute trust. She even had the power to read over officials’ reports to the throne. At that time, the queen was only a common imperial concubine in the palace. But she became the legal wife later on.
Due to her background, the Queens felt that it was reasonable to intervene. She cared deeply about the Minister of Commune’s family affairs and got angry at the minister’s legal wife’s bullying of the concubine and attempt at murdering her own son.
“Scholar Zeng Jing’s legal wife was from a big noble family in Qing He Province. Because of her background, Zeng Jing had to forbid most of what she did. However, no one had expected that the coward scholar could be so bold and harsh when he actually took action! Immediately after the queen gave her words, scholar Zeng Jing gathered his family overnight, killed three butlers who had interfered with the concubine from giving birth, then he used two smacks and one little sedan to send his wife back to Qing He Province. He actually repudiated his wife in a such quick and clear way!”
“That year, the minister made such quick decision mostly because he had to save himself from the queen’s pressure. However, unexpectedly, since he did it so quickly and cleverly, he actually obtained the queen’s favor. The queen thought that this person could be of use and in addition to other reasons, the minister was given an easy path in court. And now he is in the Wen Yuan Cabinet! No one had imagined that the brutal wife’s attempt to kill the concubine and the son would actually lead to a man’s lifelong accomplishment.”