During the spring time of year thirteen, rain poured down upon a city in the region of the Tang empire.
Chapter 1: Rain in Wei, Youngster in Wait
This city is the city of Wei located in the northwestern borderline of the empire. Since the original purpose of the settlement was to counter the invasion of barbarians from the Great Plain, the walls of the fort have been reinforced to an extreme degree. As a result of the enhancements, the walls protecting the city had a sturdy and muddy external appearance.
When the wind started to blow during the dry seasons, the mud on the walls will break off and swirl around in the air only to land on the cheaply made military camps and on the soldiers themselves. The mud invaded every part of the city painting the city brown from inside out. When people went to sleep and shook their blankets, a mini-sandstorm can form out of the dust.
It’s early spring and soldiers welcomed the rain cheerfully because it would wash away all the dusts on the roof. More importantly, the eyes of people seem to be cleansed by the long missing rain - At least the eyes of Ma Shi Xiang are flashing under the rain.
As the highest rank officer in Wei City, Ma Shi Xiang’s current attitude can be described as humble. Although he is unsatisfied about the muddy foot prints on the luxurious carpets, he covered his dissatisfaction up perfectly by acting surprised.
He bowed before an elderly dressed in a dirty rope. “ Well-respected elder, although I’m not sure what other materials the noble guest in the camp needs, I did prepare a hundred soldiers for escort if she desperately wants to leave tomorrow.”
The elder smiled warmly and pointed at the shadows in the camp while shaking his head to show no complains. Suddenly, a cold and proud female voice came out of the camp. “There is no need, just finish your own business.”
Ma Shi Xiang did not spent too much time to figure out the true identity of the noble guest in the camp when their mass entered Wei city this morning. He showed no sign of negative attitude or complaints against her self-centered and harsh response.
The silence in the camp broke off when the guest suddenly spoke, “The trip from Wei City to the capital has to go through Mount Min. The roads in the mountain may collapse any minute due to this heavy rain...... Get me a guide from the military so I can get through the mountain safely.”
Ma Shi Xiang was stunned for a moment until he remembered a hateful guy. He thought deeply for a few seconds and answered, “it shall be done.”
Outside of the military camp, several military officers look at each other with different facial expressions, some felt sorry, some felt reluctant to let go, some felt rejoice while some felt surprised, but none of them had expected that Ma Shi Xiang will actually choose that person to serve as the noble’s guide.
“General, are you really ready to let him go that easily?” One officer said surprisingly.
Wei Village is not big, even summing up all the officers and soldiers the city won’t have more than three hundred soldiers. The military camp far away from rich places sometimes seems more like a bandit’s nest. The so called “general” is simply the lowest rank in the army. However Ma Shi Xiang direct troops extremely strict, or we can say this Wei Village “bandit” leader really liked others to call him “general,” so even during daily conversation, his subordinates always addressed Ma Shi Xiang as general.
Ma Shi Xiang, wiped off the rain on his face, looks at the yellow ponding near the military camp and took a deep breath.“We can’t always keep him in a place that can’t support his talent. The response of the recommendation letter had came on for more than half of a year already. A bright future is ahead for that kid, and he has to go to the Capital to take the test to get into a respectable academy. Also, him going with the noble to the capital will bring him favor when he go to the capital.”
“I doubt that noble will care...”The military officer answered irritatedly.
The door behind opened and a pretty maid walked in, looked at Ma Shi Xiang and the military officers “Let me see the guide.”
She did not hide her arrogance at all while facing the court’s general, after all, she is the personal maid of the noble.
Prime Minister’s door guards, nobles’ maids, prince’s guests are the most troublesome type of people to deal with. If you get close to them, you will get complaints but if too far away, you will get trouble. They are the most annoying to deal with. So naturally Ma Shi Xiang really didn’t want to deal with these kind of people. He casually talked for a bit and called one officer over to take this noble’s maid to meet the kid.
When the rain had finally paused, the city of Wei was as clean as it can be. Along the way, trees along the side started to show the early signs of spring, yet the city is too small even though the landscape is so beautiful. Not soon after, the officer already led the maid to the destination, a shabby but lively room.
Hearing the noises from the room, the maid frowned slightly ‘Are they really drinking wines in a military camp during the day?’ Wind blew up the curtains, the sound inside suddenly got clear, as expected, the people were playing the finger-guessing game(a drinking game at feasts, kinda like rock paper scissor), but they are not playing the regular one -- as the maid listened to the details inside, a quick humiliation appeared on the maid’s pretty face, and she secretly clenched up her fist.
“Let’s play a lustful finger guessing game, uh! Who is lustful? Uh, you are lustful! Who is lustful? Uh, you are lustful! Who is lustful? Uh, you are lustful!.... ”
The filthy sounds echoed back and forth and seem to never end, actually, the game lasts for a really long time and there hasn’t been a winner yet. The maid gets more and more angry as time passed. She lifted the curtains and gave a furious look into the room, and saw a kid at the first moment, who sat opposite to the desk.
That kid is about 15 or 16 year old, wearing a cotton-made jacket that was commonly seen in the troop. His jacket was really dirty, his hair was curled up, and a bit oily, but his face was really clean, which makes his freckles really clear.
“Who is lustful? Uh, you are lustful!”
Completely different from the dirty words, the kid’s facial expression is especially serious. Not only did he not look lustful, but also his face suggested a sense of holiness. His right hand keeps playing this finger guessing game, giving out his fist like the wind. It seems like winning the game is more important than his life.
The long lasting game finally ended, the black hair kid waves his right arm forcefully, declaring his victory, and smiled happily.
However, the kid’s opponent didn’t want to admit his loss, and insisted that the kid changes his fist when he is yelling “Who is lustful?”So the room becomes a mess as the people started to argue. The audiences on the sides each had their own inclinations, and no one is able to convince the others. At this time, someone suddenly shouted out, “As usual, listen to Sang Sang!”
Everyone then puts his eyes toward a corner of the room, there was a 12 year old girl moving a bucket. She was really skinny, her skin was dark, and she has a common face. The clothes she was wearing seems to be way too big in comparison to her size, most likely her master stole this clothes from somewhere. She was moving a bucket that was probably heavier than her own weight, and it’s obvious that she looked very tired.
The little maid whose name is “Sang Sang” puts down the bucket and turns around, soldiers look at her nervously, they are just like the gamblers waiting for the dealer to declare the result. Obviously, people can tell that such situations happened more than once already.
The little maid frowned as she looked at the kid, then looked towards the angry soldier who sits opposite to the kid with a serious expression, “At the 23rd turn, you gave out scissor, he gave out rock, but you said ‘he is lustful,’ so you lost at that time already.”
The people all started to laugh, and spread out. That soldier scolded as he pays the money, the kid accepted the money happily. He taped the soldier’s shoulder to show honest console,
“Think optimistically, this entire Wei city...... no, this entire world, who can win against me, Ning Que?”
The maid’s facial expression was filled with disappointment, so the general who stood next to her was starting to worry as well. He clinched the curtain with his fist, took a deep breath, and was about to cough to warn Ning Que but the cold stare of the maid interpreted his actions.
After stopping the general to warn the guy, the maid followed the youngster and his servant out the camp to observe them carefully. The general had no idea what the maid wanted to do, so he thought it was an exotic habit of people from the upper class.
The youngster named Ning Que did not show any special routine on his way home. He bought some food, chatted with the fat lady at the tavern, and seemed to enjoy his life. The only thing that angered the maid was that the tiny servant following Ning Que was struggling to carry a heavy water barrel while he showed no sign to help.
Even though the empire had a specific and strict social structure, the culture was very simple and honest. Even in the capital, where prosperity and immorality coexist, people could not just stand there and see a little girl suffer without feeling sympathetic.
“They allowed servants in the military?” the beautiful maid asked the general calmly, trying to suppress her anger.
The general scratched his head and answered,“There was a huge drought and famine few years back, countless refugee poured into the southern states and the border cities. There were dead bodies everywhere on the sides of streets. I heard Ning Que dug Sang Sang out of dead body piles and saved her. He was an orphan as well. They lived and supported each other to this day.”
The general continued, “when he enlisted, his only request was to bring the little girl into the Wei city,” he looked at the maid and explained carefully, “we all know the rules of military does not allow such situation, but their condition was quite special. It was hard to push a little girl into her doom, so everyone just pretended......to know nothing.”
After listening to the explanation, the maid started to feel better, but after looking at Ning Que carrying the roast chicken around cheerfully while the little servant struggled to move the water barrel, her mood turned terrible again. “Is this living and supporting each other? he clearly wanted to kill that little girl!”
Wei city truly was small, after a little while, the four man crew arrived at a small house in the southern part of the city. There was a tiny rock garden outside of the house, and around the garden there was a simple fence where the maid and general were standing and looked into the house.
The tiny maid pushed the water barrel next to a tank and stepped onto a small wooden bench. She used all of her strength to pour the water into the tank. Quickly, she started to wash the vegetable and cleaned the rice. Waiting for the food to cook, she took a piece of rag and started to wipe the desks, chairs, doors, and windows. Not for long, steam rose from the stove and covered around her small body.
Although it was raining last night, the water didn’t wash away the dust on the windows, but rather left muddy watermarks on them. These watermarks had been quickly erased by the wiping of Sang Sang. The small house had suddenly became much brighter and cleaner.
It was clear that she does these chores daily, her actions were swift and experienced. It was easy to feel silly and sympathize for the girl when she move around busily as sweat ran down her face.
Except the guy, Ning Que seemed to be lacking these two emotions. He calmly sat on a bamboo chair with his left hand flipping through an old book and his right hand holding a tree branch writing things on the wet muddy floor. Sometimes when he started to ponder, he throws the tree branch away and flipped his palm upward, and there would be a cup of hot tea served right to him.
The soldier of Wei city got used to this frame for a while now, so they didn’t see anything out of place. But the gaze of the noble guest outside of the fence got colder and harsher by the moment. Especially when she saw that the young maid had to check up on the youngster and serve his needs while she did the hard chores, the noble guest’s complexion frozen and was filled with hatred.