After waking up in the morning on their second day at the tavern, the master and the maid tidied themselves and prepared to dress up. Because they were going to different departments to obtain licenses to take the entrance exam to The Academy, they wanted to have more energetic appearances. Ning Que sat in front of the window and watched the sun rise. In his hands was a book. His eyes were half closed as he waited for Sang Sang to finish brushing and tying up his hair. He hadn’t anticipate the pulling pain from his scalp. He turned his head around and looked at the young maid slightly frustrated, “Is it that hard to tie up my hair?”
“You can try it yourself if you want. You always tie up your hair casually, but today you want your hair to be tied up like the other students and I have never learned how to do that.” Sang Sang pulled her hands which were holding the comb back and answered irritatedly.
“Just look at your attitude and you call me master!” Ning Que answered annoyed, “Do you know who’s the master and who’s the maid? Just a few words of complaint and you tell me to do it myself! You have to understand, I am about to enter The Academy. I am a true intellectual. If you don’t know how to tie it, then just go learn how. I will need my hair to be combed that way everyday!”
` After seeing the sculpture of the Phoenix Street yesterday in the rain, the emotions of the master and maid were troubled. They didn’t understand their feelings then and they couldn’t be sure if their feelings were actually real. On top of the confusion, there were other reasons that contributed to the sour atmosphere between the two. So, they didn’t talk about the event that happened yesterday.
Ning Que looked at Sang Sang’s dark face and laughed, “Okay, okay. After finishing up my business, I will take you to Chen Jin Store.”
After hearing this sentence, Sang Sang raised her little head and smiled. She turned around to take up a knife from a package. Ning Que took the knife and walked toward a small yard in the back of the tavern and started practicing. His actions were precise, powerful and skilled, but the way his puffy hair moved along to his actions made it looked quite silly.
The Tang Empire was the center of the world and Chang An was respected by every nations out there. In some sense, The Academy was the core of the Tang Empire and it earned praise from all the Tang citizens. Sometimes the influence of the Academy exceeded the power of the royals.
Ever since he knew about the Academy when he was young, Ning Que never understood why the Tang Empire or for that matter, the royals, allowed such a faction to exist. There can be only one sky above the people’s head and there can be only one sun in the sky, so how can one empire have two voices?
It didn’t matter if he understood the reason, at least after today he would finally realize the status and reputation of the Academy in the Tang empire. He also felt the respect and fear that the official court felt towards the Academy. Just a simple entrance exam of the Academy requires three stamps out of the six departments of the government and only officials who were fifth tier or higher in rank were qualified to give stamps.
After visiting the department of military, the department of officials, and the department of Mannerism, Ning Que saw more officials who were ranked higher than fifth tier in one day than he had in his entire life. Luckily his identity was yet to convert from soldier to regular citizen or else he would need to visit the department of Ministry as well. Although the weather of spring was nice and warm, running back and forth in Chang An really tired him out. Ning Que thought to himself, if the government was trying to attack Nin Jin, would it be this troublesome?
The ranking system of the official court of the empire was strict and Ning Que was just a little soldier from a borderline village with no background. He thought he would be scoffed at many times. He didn’t expect the officials to just let him go after seeing his name and not trouble him.
After thinking thoroughly, Ning Que realized that the princess helped him get special treatment. Because the princess returned from the Great Plain and survived an assassination attempt, surely there will be festivals in the palace and investigations in the dark. But the princess still remembered her promise. Other people would be grateful, but Ning Que isn’t like others because to him a promise was a promise. He didn’t owe the princess anything even if the promise was made around the campfire when the princess was still undercover.
After obtaining the last stamp from the department of Mannerism, the sun was tilting southward and falling in the sky. Luckily the departments of the Tang empire were pretty efficient and the place that distributed the tickets to the entrance exam of the Academy wasn’t too far from the department of Mannerism and the place was still open. There were three young men who had just obtained the permission to take the entrance exam. They gathered around the door and discussed quietly.
“We can’t always live in an inn because then we won’t have much time to get familiar with our classmates.”
“It’s probably a good idea to move to the Academy earlier. Maybe we can even get to know some upperclassmen.”
“Living in the Academy is not cheap. It’s even more expensive than living at the Yue Lai Inn which is the best inn in Chang An. I am so envious of the students who attended during the 1st empire period. At that time, food and dorm were all free in Academy.”
“Why do we even save this little money? I think we should get to the Academy one day earlier so we can be familiar with the environment and increase the chances of passing the entrance exam. I heard that the military department gets crazy this time. It recommends more than seventy students…”
Ning Que was ready to walk in but suddenly he stopped and looked towards that young scholar. He greeted the scholar with a bow and asked, “Do you mean……now the Academy no longer provides free dorm and food?”
The three people looked at Ning Que as if he was an idiot, maybe they were going to
say, “if you don’t even know this, why are you here?”
Ning Que’s favorite thing to do is to make fun of others and call them idiots in front of Sang Sang or behind people’s back. Now, he was being treated as an idiot in front of Sang Sang. Obviously he could not tolerate this, so he turned back and entered the door.
By the time Ning Que walked out again, the young scholars outside the door had already left. Otherwise they would see the youngster’s pale face and would definitely sneer at him for a while.
Sang Sang was waiting outside the door the whole time. She used the big black umbrella to block off the sun so that her face wouldn’t get darker. She was happy that she came up with such a good idea. Suddenly, she saw Ning Que’s face and became nervous. She jogged over and asked, “What happened? The Academy does not allow students taking maid with them? Did you tell the people inside that I can help do some labor for the Academy as long as they give me a place to live?”
“That is not the problem.” Ning Que spoke in a hoarse voice and dried up lips. “I just asked. The Academy does not provide food and shelter at all, which means if I get in, I have to pay thirty silver coins every month.”
“Thirty?” Sang Sang subconsciously raised her voice, screamed, “**** the school!”
After saying this sentence, she realized that it was meaningless. She frowned and looked at Ning Que and said, “Master, we have a total of 76.34 silver coins saved. On our way to Chang An, we followed the princess so we spent no money. Summing up the money we got from selling the wagon, general’s aid, and the gambling debts we don’t even have two hundreds silver coins. After arriving at Chang An, we lived in an inn for two days, ate five meals…”
Ning Que prevented Sang Sang’s rambling and said uneasily, “The entrance exam will be in a month, which means we have to live in inn for a month. You have to count this expense too.”
If Sang Sang could see her face now, she might feel a bit happier because her small dark face looked more white due to the surprise and uneasiness of the situation.