Chapter 29: Outside the General's Mansion
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
The inn, naturally, wasn't really called "There is an Inn". After putting up for the night, Ning Que and Sangsang left the inn while rubbing their eyes and yawning. They had yet to recall its real name.
They asked for directions from a motherly-looking old woman in the street and then headed to the south of Chang'an. Along the way, they had to keep asking for directions when crossing the alleys and streets. Eventually, two big pagoda trees came into sight.
Seeing those trees, Ning Que's head was flooded with his childhood memories. They ought to be vague, but was surprisingly vivid. He thought for a while with his eyes closed, and then led Sangsang to the two big trees.
A secluded lane, which could narrowly accommodate a horse carriage, separated the two big plants. The unfamiliar mansions on both sides were very quiet. Towering trees stretched out from their courtyards, blocking the spring light and leaving a cool shade for the few pedestrians underneath.
They reached the middle of the lane, where two mansion gates sat opposite each other. In the mansion on the right, the two solemn stone lions by its entrance were very clean, without any visible dust or fallen leaves on it. The vermilion gate was tightly shut and the copper rings just hung there.
On the contrary, the mansion on their left was in a derelict state, with the paint on its gate chipping and the fragments of its two strip seals languidly blowing in the wind. Only one stone lion remained, with the other one missing. But even the remaining one was left dilapidated and incomplete, with darkened mud collecting behind it and some patches of what seemed like coagulated blood.
The shabby stone lion in front of Ning Que reminded him of a childhood memory. Back then, he and his childhood playmate Xiaoshun were punished with domestic discipline by the superintendents in the mansion. That was because of their horseplay beside the stone lions. Later, when Ning Que walked past the alley at the corner, another picture dashed into his brain. At the age of 4, he had bravely carried Xiaoshun and ran away from home to escape their teacher's physical punishment.
Sangsang's eyes moved back and forth between the two big gates and Ning Que's face. She could feel the complexity and depression in his young master and couldn't help being sentimental with him. The wind in the alley, somehow, was a little cold for her.
The dilapidated mansion belonged to former Xuanwei General Lin Guangyuan. In the first year of Tianqi era when the Emperor was doing his inspections in Nanze City, a huge collusion and treason case broke out in the capital Chang'an. The prince personally oversaw the investigations, with the prime minister and other high-ranking officials assisting. Lin Guangyuan was eventually charged for treason and his whole family was executed.
This case had long been judged as an ironclad, and no one, both in the court and among the people, wanted to overthrow the conviction. Even if there were people who still remembered the case, they only lamented the death of innocent servants. Further, they condemned Lin Guangyuan's heinous crimes. To them, the former Xuanwei General not only ruined himself, but also implicated many innocent people.
In the ten years, the imperial court seized the General's Mansion, and there had several times where it was offered as a reward to other officials. However, these officials politely rejected the offer without hesitation upon hearing that this mansion was ominous. After all, they were unconcerned about losing out when there were so many opportunities available in Chang'an with its vast land and numerous mansions. Thus, the General's Mansion was abandoned and left to deteriorate.
When Ning Que passed through the gates of the General's Mansion, the sorrow inside his eyes dissipated and no more signs of unusual emotion remained on his face. He walked ahead as usual, without slowing his footsteps. Sangsang, carrying the large, black umbrella on her back, laboriously trotted behind her young master. The big black umbrella repeatedly bounced against the girl's back, the flapping sound seemingly representing the beat of passing time.
The two serenely passed through the long lane and entered through the vermilion gate and broken door ordinarily. They looked so ordinary that they seemed like the most common of travelers accidentally breaking into an alley in Chang'an on a spring day.
"This mansion is considered haunted and ominous, and yet the one opposite is highly coveted. Do you know why? That year, Xuanwei General lived opposite to Official of Counsel. When Xuanwei General's entire family was executed, the Official of Counsel was instead promoted quickly in his career. He is now a scholar of the Imperial Library. It's easy to guess that many fourth or fifth-grade officials are eager to feed off some of that luck by living in his former mansion, isn't it?"
At a restaurant at the corner of the alley, Ning Que and Sangsang occupied a small table at the corner and enjoyed a quiet meal of ordinary dishes and gruel. They were, in fact, carefully listening to the conversations between the people who lived in the area. These neighbors had been living here for over ten years, some even spanning several generations. Yet their favorite topics were the treason case committed by the Xuanwei General and the rapid promotion of the Official of Counsel. These topics were evergreen to them despite their daily discussions. For Ning Que and Sangsang, such chats suited them well.
"When it comes to Scholar Zeng Jing, the old man was just an Official of Counsel, but he got a quick promotion in his career out of the blue. There was, in fact, an interesting story behind it. I wonder if any of you have heard of it."
"That issue was so sensational that the imperial court issued a decree. Do you think there's any chance the folks here have not heard about it?"
A middle-aged man shook his head and said with a hint of irony, "As a dignified Official of Counsel, he unexpectedly married a ferocious wife. It wasn't unusual that she did harm to the concubine's pregnancy because of her jealousy. Worse, she even tried to punish the poor infant after a difficult birth. If the court hadn't given a decree, who knows what would have happened in their mansion."
"All you people know was the imperial court's decree, but do you know who was the one who issued it?" The one who spoke earlier wore a sneer on his face. He bowed in the direction of northern Chang'an with his two hands holding up and said, "Let me tell you. It was the Empress. She became wrathful after hearing about the situation and personally wrote a letter to Zeng Jing, ordering him to give his wife a severe lesson."
The people drinking around the table looked at each other and then gave understanding smiles. The nation knew there was a fantastic empress in Tang Empire, who had the emperor's favor and absolute trust. She even had the authority to review state documents and appoint officials. The empress was once just an ordinary imperial concubine in the palace, or in folk's words, she was just a concubine. She only became the first lady after the former died.
Everyone could understand why the empress, with her background, paid so much attention to the domestic affairs of the Official of Counsel and was furious about his wife's abuse of his concubine and newborn.
"Zeng Jing's wife came from a major family in Qinghe Prefecture, so he chose to be tolerant in most cases. But despite his reputation as a coward, Zeng Jing can be ruthless if needed to be. After receiving the empress' letter, he summoned the entire family at night and flogged three stewards to death. These stewards were the ones who tried to murder the concubine's newborn. Later, he slapped his wife twice and sent her back to Qinghe Prefecture in a small palanquin, before decisively divorcing her!"
"The old official's decisiveness then was perhaps emboldened by the empress' authority. But his resolution and ruthlessness impressed the Empress. Later, coupled with other factors, the old official was rapidly promoted and is now working in the Imperial Library! There is a saying that blessings often underbelly misfortunes. Who could imagine that the ferocious wife's cruelty against the concubine and her baby would end up leading to the man's lifelong status and fame?"