The crowd who sat around the table lamented about the past. Ning Que and Sang Sang sat in a corner and silently listened to the crowd’s discussion while eating their gruel and vegetables. Ning Que did not have a strong impression of Zeng Jing but he remembered Zeng Jing’s fierce wife pretty well. He didn’t know who was right and wrong in the family drama that affected the royal palace but these events didn’t bother him much. What he actually cared about was the situation regarding the mansion on the opposite side of the scholar’s house……
“Compared to Sir Zeng Jing, General Lin Guang Yuan was pretty unlucky……..well, not exactly. That man dared to betray the empire. Even if he had given his life a thousand times, he would still not be forgiven for his crimes. But the servants in the mansion did not deserve the punishment.”
An old man picked up his chopsticks and poked through a salty egg with the sharp tip. He swallowed the egg with a sip of bean milk and sighed, “You guys didn’t see it with your own eyes. I was there when the massacre happened. Screaming and yelling filled the General’s entire mansion. Human heads were falling like watermelons on the ground. The blood covered the entire ground and it overflowed out of the bottom of the doors. It was horrifying.”
“I don’t want to speak well of that traitor but sometimes when you think back about things like this, it is really sad. There were several officials who were close with the General but no one stood up to speak for him after the massacre. No one even tried to clean up the corpses after the incident.”
The elder put down his cup, looked around the tavern and then glanced at the street outside of the door. He lowered his voice, “Have you heard of the city entrance guard Huang Xing? He was an subordinate bought by the General back from the borderline. He was the one to confess that the General was betraying the empire. Where is this man now? Last time I heard, he was working for the prince. He has a great fortune before him!”
“And that captain who worked under the general, I heard he is doing pretty well right now too. Who knows if these people think about the heads in the General’s mansion when they are too busy enjoying their newfound wealth and power.”
No matter how slowly they ate, the meal was bound to be finished. The carefree Chang An citizens drank their last drops of bean milk and ended their daily chat. They gestured goodbye to each other.
Ning Que and Sang Sang were still sitting at the small table in the corner. The gruel on the table was already cold and the veggie was already dried out by the wind but they still didn’t want to leave.
“Master, what is your relationship with the General?” Sang Sang looked at him and asked seriously.
Ning Que smiled and answered, “Of course I am related to the general.”
“I asked…..what relationship, not related or not.” Sang Sang corrected him.
Ning Que fell in silence. His smile faded and he answered with a sincere tone, “This relationship….can not be spoken of. You are my maid and if I speak about it, the government will execute us both.”
Sang Sang looked at him in the eye and knew he was joking. She shook her head, “Master, you are just speaking nonsense.”
“In the Tang Empire, the amount of people who were killed for nonsense is no less than the number of people who were killed by barbarians.” Ning Que laughed and answered, “Sometimes we know what’s going on, but we can’t speak of it because just merely talking about it will lead to death. Until then. we will just speak nonsense.”
After finishing his sentence, he picked up his chopsticks again. He rolled up the sleeve of his right arm, and his eyes landed on the five small dishes and two bowls of cold gruel on the table. He was unsure of what to do next to kill some time.
At this moment a young man walked into the restaurant. The man was very skinny and had an ordinary face. His most obvious trait was his dark skin. His black face looked like the back of an old oven. It was even darker than that of Sang Sang.
Sang Sang rarely ever saw people who were darker than her. Involuntarily, she looked up curiously at him. She then felt doing so was impolite but she was surprised to find out that this black and skinny young man was walking towards the corner. Her body got rigid for a moment and she clutched the middle part of her umbrella handle using her right hand.
The dark and skinny man was not going for them. He walked directly to the table next to them and sat down. He ordered several dishes. Sang Sang felt more relax but she didn’t take note that this dark and skinny man was sitting back to back with Ning Que.
When the dark and skinny man walked into the restaurant, Ning Que didn’t recognize him. They had met in the forest in Yan Kingdom when they were both really young. The dark man had called him little Ning, and Ning Que had called him little Black. Now many years have passed and Ning Que has become a youngster and little Black has grown to become a calm and determined adolescent.
Ning Que picked up some pickles with chopsticks and put them into his mouth. He chewed them slowly and it made the sound “pu chi pu chi,” which sounded like a girl who couldn’t help but laugh as she covered her mouth. After chewing for a long time, he realized that the pickles were sour veggies that he disliked the most. Coincidentally, they were Sang Sang’s favorite.
“Seems like you lived a good life all these years.” Ning Que said while stifling his laughter.
Sang Sang put her chopsticks on the small dish of sour veggies. She appeared to be slightly mad at how her master changed his personality today and robbed her favorite food. Suddenly, she realized that Ning Que was addressing the dark skinned man who had just walked in. She froze her movement as the chopstick was about to touch the dish.
The dark and skinny man’s shoulder slightly twitched, as if he was trying to hold his laughter too. He said, “Not as good as you. Even a jerk like you actually passed the primary test of the Academy and deceived this little girl to become your little maid. In fact, she does not seem to recognize me anymore.”
“How old was she seven years ago? She was not a genius like me who knew things innately.” Ning Que picked up a bowl of gruel and replied, “Tell me the important things. Among those who murdered my entire family, how many did you find out? Also, among those who slaughtered your entire village and who tried to hide Xia Hou’s evidence of crime, how many did you discover?”
The dark and skinny young man answered, “That year the first person accused Lin Guang Yuan of treason, everyone in the world knew. However, it’s hard to find out about the people who made statements to conclude the case. I only found out that two of the people got out of jail eight years ago. They are still in Chang An. Ironically, these two people did not really live good lives. I am not sure if they regret the decisions they made that year.”
Ning Que did not look back. He pondered silently. Yet the dark and skinny young man suddenly looked back, frowned and said, “Why do we sit back to back? Why do you mail through a twisted path? Where did you learn all these miscellaneous stuffs? How come I feel like we are two spies from enemy countries?”
Ning Que covered his forehead and sighed. Looking at his dark and skinny man’s face, he said, “Weren’t you carrying out the military department’s command to lurk as a spy in a gang? How am I supposed to know that you are an amateur spy?”
The dark and skinny young man laughed, opened up his arms and said, “Who cares about spying, we haven’t seen each other for many years. I have to see how you and Sang Sang look like now.”
Ning Que unwillingly opened his arms, gave him a hug in the dark corner of this shabby restaurant.
The dark skinny young man was called Zhuo Er. He was Ning Que’s first friend in this world.
The time they met was very coincidental and the reason they met was very coincidental. It was so coincidental that the two men became friends who would never betray or separate from each other over the time period of telling two stories.
This was because they had the same goal in their paths of life: to kill Xia Hou.
Or maybe also that prince.