To the South of Wei city there exists a small stream that can’t be counted as a river and a small slope that can’t be called a mountain next to the stream. There was a small house that didn’t even have a courtyard under the slope. The raining clouds were vanishing early in the night. The bright stars poured their light onto the stream, slope, and house, giving them a beautiful silver glow.
Ning Que walked slowly. dragged his shoes under the star lights. When he saw the house he and Sang Sang lived in, his speed became even slower. But as long as he was walking, no matter how slowly he walked, he will still arrive at his destination. He pushed open the fragile and useless fence, moved towards the door and saw the light emitted by the oil lantern shined through the openings. Ning Que coughed lightly, “What do you think about moving to the capital?”
The door was pushed open and a squeaky noise pierced through the calm and quiet night of the borderline city.
The small maid, Sang Sang, squatted beside the door, her thin figure was elongated by the light of the oil lantern. She pointed at the wooden door and answer, “Didn’t you always wanted to go to Chang An? By the way Ning Que, when are you going to steal some oil from the firearm camp? This door has been squeaking for several months now, it’s really annoying.”
“Who uses those difficult firearm anymore? If you want oil, I will ask the impedimenta camp tomorrow.” Ning Que answered instinctively, and suddenly realized, “Wait, I wanted to talk about something else. Besides, if we really were to leave, why would you care about this broken door?”
Sang Sang stood up, her small body seemed extremely thin in the cool spring breeze. She looked at Ning Que, and said seriously with no other emotions, “Even if we were to leave, there will still be people living in this house, and they are still going to use this door.”
After these two leave, will there really be people living in the broken-down remote house? Ning Que thought silently, and a feeling of remorse slipped out of his heart. He sighed lightly and slid through the exit next to Sang Sang, “Start packing at night.”
Sang Sang fixed her scattered hair carelessly, looked at his back and said, “Ning Que,
I don’t understand why were you so interested in that thing.”
“No one can resist the temptation to become stronger. Besides, that thing is pretty important for me.”
Ning Que knew that the maid already figured out his true thoughts. He looked at Sang Sang’s small but dark face, “You know we can’t live in Wei city for our whole life. The world is vast, there are a lot more countries besides the Tang empire. We should go out and explore the world. Even if we talked small, Chang An has much more opportunity than Wei city. We can earn more money and advance faster there.That’s why I will get into the Academy for sure.”
A knowing expression came onto Sang Sang’s face. Since she was still young, her features had yet to extend and mature; the dry climate of Wei city did not help much either. It was hard to call her pretty with her dark, rough face and her thin, dull hair, maybe not even cute.
But she had a pair of unique eyes. They were long and thin, similar to that of willow’s leaves. They were also bright and clear, almost if they were carved out from ice. Since there weren’t much emotions shown through her eyes, Sang Sang did not appear to be a poor twelve years old maid, but rather a mature woman who had seen all the struggles and problems in this world. This difference between her actual age and her expressions made her seem cool and unearthly.
Ning Que, on the other hand, knew it was all an illusion. From his point of view, Sang Sang was just a girl who lacked the effort to think. Since these two had been living together for years, she always depended on Ning Que, she started to become too lazy to think by herself. Since she was too lazy to think by herself, she appeared to become stupider by the day. To cover up her stupidity , she started to speak less frequently and used shorter phrases, therefore she appeared to be cool and unearthly.
“No, not stupid, but clumsy.” Ning Que thought of something, and correctly himself.
There was a long period of silence. Suddenly, Sang Sang raised her head and bit her lips. She had a fearful expression on her face, which was rather rare to see, “I heard……. Chang An is very big, and there are awful amount of people.”
“The capital is grand and sophisticated. Ten years ago the population had passed a million, the rent there is pretty expensive as well. Living in Chang An sure is no easy task.” Ning Que signed slightly and saw her nervous expression. Then he smiled, “Don’t be afraid of the large mob, you just need to pretend that Chang An is a bigger version of Wei city. When we get there, I will take care of the business with strangers and you take care of house chores. If you are really scared then just go out less.”
“What is the monthly price of food in the capital?” Sang Sang’s willow leaf eyes widened and stared at Ning Que. “Will it exceed four silver coins? Then it will be several times higher than Wei city’s price.”
“If I do get into the Academy, we will need to use some good fabric to make new clothes. Plus guests will come to our house, maybe classmates or something. If any of the teacher think I am worth investing in, then they might come lecture privately. So you need to atleast make a new set of clothing. I estimated we will need to use at least use ten silver coins.”
Ning Que answered and wrinkled his eyebrows. But in reality he was just speaking nonsense. He had no idea that ten silver coins was nothing in the eyes of students in the Academy, it may only pay a regular meal in a decent restaurant. Ning Que’s situation was quite similar to a famous joke – the farmers were chatting in the field and always thought the queen was making meat buns while the princess was chopping onions. The meat bun was as grand as a sea, and the onion was as tall as a mountain.
But this seemingly underestimation passed the limit of the small maid. She thought for a while and suggested wholeheartedly, “It’s too expensive…… Ning Que, is it fine not going to Chang An, and you don’t go to the Academy?”
“You have to think about the future!” Ning Que rebuked, “When I graduate from the Academy, I can definitely become an official in the court. At that time even if we use ten silver coins a month, it will be nothing compare to my salary. And what is not good with Chang An? I just hope there won’t be too many makeups in Chen Jin store.
Clearly makeups were a weakness of the little maid. She sank into a deep inner struggle with herself about the decision. After a while she whispered, “But what about the few years that you are attending the Academy? My needlework is nothing compare to the ones in Chang An’s market, we may not sustain the high cost!”
“Well, that sure is a problem. I heard you can’t hunt in the forests around the capital because they belong to the emperor….. How much money do we have left?”
The master and servant exchanged eye contacts and cooperatively walked to a wooden chest. They opened the chest and took out a nicely locked box. There were many small pieces of silver, clearly they were the savings of the two, but it was not much to count.
Looking at the silver coins in the wooden box, none of the two counted. Sang Sang said quietly, “I counted the night before yesterday, there are 76 silver coins and some small changes.”
“It seems like we need to find a way to earn money after moving to Chang An” Ning Que spoke with a determined face.
“Yes, and I will try to improve my needlework by a bit.” Sang Sang answered with a determined face.
At night, Sang Sang kneeled to make the bed. She moved rapidly with her skinny knee, and quickly finished organizing the quilts. She then pushed the middle of the pillow with her small hand, caused it to concave inward, thereby forming an arc which Ning Que can sleep most comfortably. Next, she picked up her own quilts, jumped out of the bed, walked to the room’s corner, and started to make her own bed, which was simply put together with two wooden box.
Turning off the light, Ning Que left a bowl on the windowsill. With the help of starlight, he went into the bed. Yawning, he made an extremely comfortable sigh and closed his eyes. After a while, a sound that he has been hearing every night ever since he started living in the Wei City was heard from the corner of the room.
The night seemed to have no difference from every other night in the past years. They would fall asleep alongside the starlights of the Empire’s frontier. But in reality, both the master and servant couldn’t fall asleep tonight. Maybe because they felt uneasy as they were about to enter a new world or maybe because of Capital Chang An’s prosperity and wealth. The two people in the room could hardly calm their breaths down.
A long time had passed, Ning Que opened his two eyes and looked at the window’s paper. (in ancient China, window is not made of glass) “I heard that…..the girls in Chang An aren’t really afraid of coldness. They wear little clothes with collars widely open and their bodies all are very white. Not sure if this is real….I can’t remember much, I was too young then. ”
He turned over his body, looked toward the dark and gloomy corner, asked, “Sang Sang, do you feel ill recently? Do you feel cold? ”
In the darkness, the little maid seems to shake her head. Somewhat it can be seen that she tightly grabbed the quilt, with eyes closed, yet with an extremely rare smile on her face, whispered, “I heard that Chang An’s girls have pretty white skins. Everyday they use such good perfumes and lotions, how can they not have pretty skins? ”
Ning Que smiled, stared at her and said, “Don’t worry, after I earned money later, you can buy any perfumes and lotions you want in the Chen Jin store.”
Sang Sang suddenly opened her eyes, her willow leaf-like, long and thin eyes reflected bright star lights, said seriously, “Ning Que, you promised.”
“We said before, you need to remember to call me ‘master’ later on in Chang An, to show that I am respectable.”
That year, Ning Que digged out the sick and cold Sang Sang from a pile of corpses, and they struggled to arrive to the city of Wei. From then it’s been seven to eight years. Even though Sang Sang’s status was a maid, and she did stuffs that a maid should do, she never called him master. This didn’t represent anything but simply a habit.
Today, the little maid Sang Sang was forced to discard this habit.
“Ning Que…..master….You need to remember what you promised, the perfumes and lotions of the Chen Jin store.”
Ning Que nodded his head. His sight fell on the snow-like starlights on the side of the bed, for no reason. His heart slightly tightened. He felt the emptiness he had suffered many years ago. He looked back to the dark night outside of the window and took a glance at the stars. Then looked down and started to long for his homeland. He whispered, “Today there is still no moon….
Sang Sang, who lied on the wooden boxes of the dark corner, huddled up like a little mice inside the slightly cold quilt. She made an attempt to pull the quilt, in order to ward off the coldness outside. By the way, she tried to smoothen the boxes, so the gap between them doesn’t cause the “bed” to feel as rough. She heard the whispers coming from the window, thought, Ning Que….master began to talk nonsense again.