Nightfall - Chapter 100

Published at 9th of April 2018 09:21:22 AM

Chapter 100

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Ning Que pushed open the red-painted door and lifted the bead curtains to enter the dimly lit and quiet room. He had consumed two large bowls of sobering soup and took a refreshing warm bath. He had also lied on the bamboo bed that someone had once died on, receiving a strong treatment from a master masseur. Most of his drunkenness had already been teased out and he felt much more clear-headed now.

Looking at the woman who hid her perfect figure wrapped in unremarkable clothing, her wide and smooth forehead as well as the lines on the corner of her eyes, he felt he would rather be drunk at this moment. He could guess what he would be experiencing next. Though he thought this woman was being unreasonably strict with him, he must admit there was concern in her stern ways. Thus, he couldn't refuse and only painfully suffer it.

"Since I haven't seen you around in awhile, I thought you've finally entered the Academy and learned to behave yourself. I thought you'd finally understand the importance of seeking knowledge. Who knew your learning didn't increase by much yet you've made large strides in the art of drinking."

Mistress Jian looked at him calmly, wearing no hint of bitter hatred. Yet it was her neutral tone that stressed him greatly. He hemmed and hawed, but no words came to him. He forced himself to be composed to ease his awkwardness yet he suddenly hiccuped. The smell was unpleasant.

She scowled at the sour smell that filled the room and glared at him. In a flash, she wore a self-mocking smile as she found herself her anger was completely unreasonable. How could she keep allowing this lad in front of her suffer for the sins of that man? She kept her voice as calm as possible and said, "Tell me what you've learned in the Academy lately."

Ning Que accepted a cup of strong tea from Xiaocao and took several large sips to calm himself. He earnestly expressed his thanks and cleared his throat before conscientiously explaining his life in the Academy.

"It sounds like you've been diligent. Since you don't have a foundation in calligraphy and rites, you need to put more effort into them instead of giving them up. You need to know that you'll need to live on these skills after you leave the Academy, whether you'll be an official or just a shepherd."

Mistress Jian smiled in relief and her crow's feet deepened when she heard how Ning Que visited the old library every day. "Since you enter the library each day, you must be aware of the mystery of the Second Floor."

"Yes," he answered politely.

She pondered over this for a moment before asking seriously, "When do you think you can enter the Second Floor?"

He raised his sleeve and covered his mouth, forcibly suppressing the urge to hiccup or even vomit. "Only those who are cultivation geniuses can enter that place, while my physical condition isn't fit for cultivation at all. I dare not to even covet entering the Second Floor."

"Can you be more ambitious, kid? It wasn't easy to be accepted into such a good institution so you must seize your opportunity. What's there to covet or not to covet…"

She frowned at him, wearing an expression as if she wanted to sigh about his lack of ambition. Back then, she saw with her own eyes how that man had ostentatiously made his way to the Second Floor on his donkey. Her mind had vaguely associated Ning Que with that man and she couldn't help wanting to remedy her past regret. She continued to persuade him, saying, "The Academy is a place to create miracles. But if you yourself think that it's impossible, who else can help you?"

Ning Que didn't know about the man who traveled Chang'an on his little black donkey, eventually carving out a name for himself. Yet that man had disappeared just as suddenly like a duckweed in a rainstorm. Ning Que naturally didn't understand why Mistress Jian would show so much concern for a poor brat like him. He knew there was a reason for it but decided not to care about it. In the end, he was still grateful for the ardent teachings of this kind woman.

That was precisely what he lacked in his life. What he had experienced at the backseat of a bicycle in his previous life was perhaps another form of concern, but he didn't like it. In this life, he had also once enjoyed such devotion but all was devoured by bloody affairs when he was four. He was truly thankful to her, or perhaps even moved, and that made him answer her questions prudently. This inevitably slowed down his speed, which was something that irritated Mistress Jian.

"We're neither family nor friends. If not for my impulse, I wouldn't have bothered to tell you these. So don't you have any conflicting emotions. I'm not trying to harm you by telling you to cherish your chance to study in the Academy."

She looked at him and continued rather seriously, "I've told you that rich scions like Zhu Youxian can have fun here but a poor kid like you don't have the right to. It's the same for today too. The noble girls like Ms. Situ and the Jin sisters can play here, but not you. The only reason why they're trying to get close to you is that they think you're fun. They're curious about you. Their interest isn't malicious but it's, after all, not true respect."

"If you want to be true friends with them, you need to foster an ability and charisma that can win their respect. If you can step into the Second Floor of the Academy, I believe everyone in the world would be willing to befriend you."

She picked up her cup of Gold Orchid dew and took a sip to moisten her throat. She raised her head and continued calmly, "You can come here in future to relax, but not too frequently. You can't drink too much wine either. I'm a madam so naturally, I won't call it degrading to indulge in brothels, but I also don't think it's something elegant or beneficial. 30 years ago, the great poet Mr. Caocun spent the first half of his life in brothels, but who dared to disrespect him? He even ended up marrying the prime minister's daughter, but this wasn't because his time in brothels had won him a great reputation. In the end, it was because of his incomparable talent!"

"The Tang Empire values talent. They wouldn't bury you as long as you have the talent and ability, whether you're downstairs or upstairs, inside or outside, a lad from a border town or a nobleman from Chang'an."

After the lesson from Mistress Jian ended, Ning Que went downstairs with a hand over his forehead. He found the gathering to be over and learned from the steward that it was Ms. Situ who ultimately paid the bill. He felt fortunate that he could keep his 2,000 silvers for a little longer.

Just as he was about to bid Dewdrop and the other courtesans farewell, the maidservant Xiaocao impolitely herded him into the horse carriage under the order of Mistress Jian. She then told the driver to send the drunk lad back to Lin 47th Street as soon as possible.

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Inside the carriage, Ning Que was jolted up and down to the point that he wanted to vomit but for some reason, he remained rather sober. He continued to ponder over a serious question. He was willing to sacrifice his health and spirit to enter the old library and the Second Floor because of his interest and also his desire to strengthen himself and seek revenge. Did he now have to add another reason to it? So he could be received well in brothels?

While his mind was in disarray inside the carriage, another guest had visited Dewdrop. Being one of the most popular courtesans in the House of Red Sleeves, she had the right to select and even turn away guests except for some regulars like the censor Zhang Yiqi. However, she had to hide her weariness and pour tea for this late-night guest.

"Go and wash your face. Pretty women like you shouldn't look as dirty as an old fellow like me."

This guest was a thin and tall old man. He wore an incredibly worn Taoist robe, with grease stains all over and grains of rice stuck in the seams. He looked dirty to the extreme, but his face was relatively clean, with several strands of long beard just under his chin. His slanted eyes were tilted upward and the obscenity within was also extremely dirty.

Dewdrop smiled and followed her maidservant to once again wash up.

She only knew the guest was important, for Mistress Jian had told her ahead of time. She didn't know his identity nor his job. When it came to appearances, it wasn't ever something she or her fellow courtesans cared about. What was important was the generosity of this man called Vitality-protecting God. In his three times here, he had only ever touched her and never bed her. There was no reason for any brothel women to dislike him.

The filthy, tall and thin Taoist poured himself a cup of wine and sipped without any worry. In boredom, he caught the sight of a balled-up piece of paper by the wine pot. It was an ordinary paper from an account book where he could vaguely read the words. Out of the inclination fostered in his decades of cultivation, he instinctively picked up that ball of paper and carefully spread it open on the table.

There was a line of words without any clear distinctions. Coupled with the messy and tilted handwriting, the note was something unpleasant to read.

It read: "Sangsang, your master is drunk today and won't be home to sleep. Remember to drink the chicken soup left in the pot."

His messy brows tightly knitted at these words. Yet surprisingly, he didn't frown out of disgust. Rather, he was completely shocked and delighted.

The tall and thin Taoist carefully appreciated the scribbled words, his eyes finally landing on the words 'chicken soup'. He dipped his skinny finger into his wine and began imitating the writer's style with strokes on the table.

The wine on the tip of his finger was transformed into characters on the rosewood table. They had little difference with the two characters that Ning Que had written on the memo. A flow of Tao seemed to have penetrated the wine following the Taoist's figure, entering the depth of the rosewood table. It then transformed into numerous tiny whirls and disappeared.

Outside the room, Dewdrop was putting on her makeup. She seemed to sense something and stiffened when she saw the reflections of twinkling stars in the water inside the basin. For some inexplicable reason, she suddenly felt homesick for the warm home that only existed in her dream. Her eyes were filled with tears as she thought of how she had never enjoyed the chicken soup made by her mother.

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