Chapter 30: Reunion after Seven Years
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
The crowd around the table sighed, lamenting those words. Ning Que and Sangsang listened silently to their comments as they fiddled with the pickles in the dish in their corner. Even their way of drinking the gruel sound like sighs. Master Zeng Jing left little impression on him. Instead, it was his tough wife who left a lasting impression. As for their family brawl that stirred the royal family, Ning Que had no intention to judge. It had nothing to do with him anyhow. What he was concerned about was in the place opposite to the official's mansion...
"Compared to Master Zeng Jing, General Lin Guangyuan had no luck... Eh, that's not right. What I meant is that since he dared to betray our country, he deserved more than a thousand deaths. But… it was those in his household who were pitiful."
The old man picked up his chopsticks and poked the salted egg with the tip. He licked it before sipping the cheap White Lotus wine, as a way of flavoring it. Sighing, he said, "You didn't see the scene with your own eyes. I was there when the massacre happened. Dying screams echoed in the air. The sound of heads falling as if they were watermelons splattering onto the ground, and the blood… seeped from beneath the gate. It was a miserable sight!"
"I'm not trying to excuse that traitor. However, when pondering over some of the things in this world, I felt somewhat grieved and sad. At that time, the whole neighborhood knew there were officials who had a good relationship with Xuanwei General, but yet after the accident, nobody stood out to support him. What was worse was that no one was willing to give him a burial."
Putting down the wine cup, the old man subconsciously scanned the tavern and the street outside. Then he lowered his voice and asked, "Have you ever heard of Lang Huangxing, a chief guard of the capital gate? Xuanwei General was the one who brought him to the capital from the frontier fortress. But it was him who was the first to accuse the general of treason. If you wonder where the man is these days... He has thrown himself into the prince's lap, living a conceited life!"
"The Zhaowu Lieutenant who was involved in that affair is also said to be enjoying life now. I wonder if they'll occasionally think about the corpses when they indulge in alcohol and women? If they think about it, what do they feel about it?"
The old man continued to sip the wine, flavoring it with salted yolk. However, no matter how slow he ate, there would certainly be an end. Those idlers of Chang'an finished their daily quota of wine as mandated by their ferocious wives and ended their chat. With smiles and bows, they bade farewell to one another.
Ning Que and Sangsang remained seated at the small table in the corner. Their porridge had already turned cold, and the leaves of the pickled cabbage were dry from the wind, but yet they show no intention of leaving.
"Young master, what is your connection with General's Mansion?" Sangsang stared at him, asking earnestly.
Ning Que answered with a smile, "Of course there is a connection."
"I mean... what kind of connection, instead of whether there is one." Sangsang carefully corrected him.
After a moment of silence, the smile on Ning Que's face gradually faded. He explained solemnly, "But this connection can't be revealed. You're my handmaiden now. If the public finds out, the imperial court will behead us both."
Looking into his eyes, Sangsang thought he was joking. She shook her head and answered, "Young master, you're talking nonsense."
"In our Tang Empire, the number of people who died because of nonsense is no less than those killed by barbarians." Ning Que broke into laughter. "Sometimes we all know the truth, but we're refrained from speaking it out for the truth may cause death. If we're forced to speak the truth, then we can only speak nonsense."
Finishing those words, he picked up his chopsticks again and rolled up his right sleeve. He then glanced over the five dishes of pickles and the two bowls of cold porridges, debating how to kill time next.
At this moment, a young man stepped into the tavern. He was a plain-looking, thin man. His most impressive feature was his dark complexion, which rivaled that of a worn pot's charred bottom. It was even darker than Sangsang's skin.
Perhaps it was because Sangsang rarely saw anyone with skin darker than hers. She couldn't help her curiosity but keep looking at the man. When realizing that it was impolite of her, she was just about to look away, but she noticed that the man was walking towards them. That made her stiffened. She stretched her hand across her back to hold her black umbrella.
However, instead of going to them, the man found a seat at a neighboring table and ordered some dishes. Sangsang somewhat relaxed. But what she failed to notice was this dark and thin man was sitting with his back against Ning Que in close distance.
Ning Que didn't recognize the man when he stepped in. After all, they were too young when they first met in the woods in the Yan territory. Back then, this man called him Little Ning and he called the man Blackie. Years had elapsed. Ning Que was now a teenager while his peer had become an unflappable young man.
Ning Que pinched a piece of pickle with his chopsticks and placed into his mouth, chewing like a lady who was striving to hold in laughter. It was only after several chews that he realized he was chewing on pickled lettuce. He hated it, but it was Sangsang's favorite.
"Looks like you lived well these years," he said, his glee suppressed.
Just as Sangsang's chopsticks were about to reach the edge of the pickled lettuce, a slight tinge of grumble appeared on her face. She was wondering what made the young master scramble for the pickles he liked the least. Hearing those words from Ning Que, she realized he was speaking to the dark, thin man. Her hand holding the chopsticks froze.
The shoulders of the man quivered as if he was also trying to stop himself from laughing out loud. He replied, "Not as good as yours. Such a wicked guy like you passed the initial evaluation of the academy and even made that little girl from back then your handmaiden. You're really wicked... By the way, she seems to have forgotten about me."
"Seven years ago, she was just a little kid. It's not as if she's a natural talent like me." Ning Que took his bowl, responding sourly, "Get to the point. How much information have you found out about those assholes who killed my family? Also, how much information have you found out about the scoundrels who slaughtered your village and later helped Xia Hou cover it up?"
The dark, thin young man answered, "Everyone knows who first brought the charge of treason against Lin Guangyuan, but it was still unclear who helped to ensure the verdict. I learned that two of them were out of prison eight years ago. They still live in Chang'an and lead ordinary lives. I wonder if they regret what they did back then."
Ning Que did not turn around. He was still contemplating. It was the young man who turned and frowned. "Why are we sitting with our backs against each other? Why do we need to send our letters through so many middlemen? Where did you learn these tricks? Why does everything make me feel like we're spies from opposing sides exchanging information?"
Ning Que put his hand over his forehead, signing in resignation. Looking at the man's dark and earthy face, he said, "Damn it. Didn't you say you're now designated by the Ministry of Military to go undercover in some gangs? I didn't expect your spy work to be so unprofessional."
The dark, thin young man grinned and opened his arms wide. "To hell with being spies! I must see with my own eyes how Sangsang and you have grown these years."
Ning Que unwillingly opened his arms to hug the man in the gloomy corner of the shabby tavern.
The dark, thin young man was named Zhuo Er, the first friend Ning Que made in this world.
Their first encounter was a coincidence. Even the reason for their reunion was a coincidence. Thus in the span of telling two stories, they decided to be a loyal companion to each other for life.
Because they shared a similar goal: to kill Xia Hou.
Or perhaps the prince as well.