Nightfall - Chapter 73

Published at 9th of April 2018 09:20:46 AM

Chapter 73

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As they approached the Academy and entered the meadow, they found that those pink clusters were not just peach blossoms. There also was a mass of apricot blossoms in full bloom, though the peach blossoms still outnumbered them. The pale-pink peach buds were hiding behind the apricot blooms as they looked up, bashfully and secretly, at the passersby who intruded on their peaceful place.

Sangsang curiously climbed onto Ning Que's shoulder and looked out of the window, watching as they got closer and closer to the Academy. Farther beyond was a striking, huge mountain mostly clouded by mist. She found herself feeling at ease, as she smiled with her eyes squinted in a cheerful mood.

The candidates who were waiting for the Academy examination all stepped out from their carriages. They quickly formed lines on the spacious slate ground under the instructions of the officials of the Ministry of Rites and instructors of the Academy before they rested in Yanyu verandas that were on either side.

The candidates were from all walks of life. Most were picked out by instructors of the Academy from village institutions, and the rest were recommended by different official departments. Over 70 candidates were from the Military Ministry's recommendations alone. Although there were many people resting in the Yanyu verandas, the space was large enough to accommodate all of them without it feeling cramped.

Above the slate ground was the main structure of the Academy, clouded in thin mist and blossoms. As the structure was quite magnificent, flanked by two sidewalks that looked just like two wings of a phoenix from a distance, it looked extremely grand and majestic with a clean and clear atmosphere.

What Ning Que was concerned about now had nothing to do with the appearance of the Academy. Should he be enrolled, he could spend a few years appreciating its beauty with his own eyes and measuring its width with his own feet. But presently, he was worried that the number of candidates in the Yanyu verandas would be probably over 500, yet the Academy only accepted 200 students. Ning Que was aware that out of five they only took two, so the chance of him being one of them was not high, therefore, he became inevitably paranoid.

The candidates in the Yanyu verandas appeared to be quite composed and at ease, they were neither talking to each other nor hitting the books at the last minute. The finest young men in the Tang were all gathered here. Among them, there was a 30-something, weather-beaten lieutenant, and an under-14-year-old prodigy who was brought to Chang'an by one of the instructors form a rural village that was checking around uneasily. Certainly, no one wanted to reveal themselves as having a lack of confidence.

Yet Ning Que was becoming less confident as time went by, with his right hand quivering slightly. Several times, he had been quite eager to ask Sangsang to fetch the mock exams in the bag, but ultimately disciplined himself not to do so. When he had finally set his mind to quit pretense and had decided to cram at the last moment, a sudden solemn court tune floated over the slate ground.

The Yulin Royal Guards arrived in formation, the Guards of Honor walked in lines, and officials from all departments showed up followed by the visitors who had bought their tickets for the ceremony. Next came the bodyguards, the prince, the royal family, Her Majesty, and His Majesty. Having sat for a long time, the students all stood up from their seats and made a deep bow with their hands folded in front as they all chanted together, "Long Live His Majesty!" Alas, Ning Que's final cramming time was now gone for good. Just as Ning Que was whinging in his mind, he suddenly saw a lady with an attractive profile who was dressed splendidly that walked in quietly and slowly. She was none other than the princess.

The Fourth Princess of the Tang Lee Yu was flanked by eunuchs, maids, and nannies. As they gradually walked by, they received fervent admiring looks from the unmarried young scholars, as well as surprised and uneasy looks from the ministers and officials. She then walked along the sidewalk to the center and made a bow to His and Her Majesty before she quietly stood at the left side of the emperor.

Though it might be different than the story that some enemies in other countries imagined, or what some conspirators or paranoids like Ning Que might have thought, the royal power did not stand in opposition to the Academy. Only a few knew that His Majesty had studied in the Academy for two years in his youth anonymously. On every festival or occasion, he would come over for vacation and even stay as long as a month in the winter time.

If the royals of the Tang inwardly did indeed dread the power of the Academy, there would not be a ceremony as grand as this on commencement day, and the emperor would not consider it his second home either.

All the officials perfectly understood His Majesty's deep feeling for the Academy and the importance of commencement day. Hence, they were astonished when they saw the appearance of the fourth princess, Lee Yu. Looking from a distance at the two ladies who were standing beside the emperor, they were filled with mixed feelings. Returning from the grassland less than a month ago, the fourth princess had exhibited to everyone that the emperor's affection for her was unrivaled in the world. They wondered what the empress standing on the other side would think about this.

The bell behind the mountain tolled, indicating that this was the first assembly for the examination. All of the students in the verandas rushed out on the command of the Instructor of the Academy and walked across the main structure into the inner yard.

The Tang Emperor smiled satisfyingly as he watched all these high-spirited and handsome scholars walk into their exam rooms.

Taking notice of his father's pleasant countenance, the fourth princess Lee Yu smiled and said, "Congratulations, father. All of these talents will be at your liberty."

Upon hearing those words, the emperor laughed out loud, expressing neither a look of approval nor disapproval.

The empress said nothing but looked up tenderly at her husband. Her eyes were filled with admiration as she touched his hand with her plump right hand approvingly.

Looking at his wife and daughter on each side of him, officials standing on both sides, and promising students who would become useful pillars for the Tang someday, the emperor was filled with satisfaction. All of a sudden, he noticed a person was missing. He frowned and asked one of the officials, "The Headmaster of the Academy still… doesn't want to come?"

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The official bowed and answered with fear in his voice, "The headmaster believes that the Academy examination was meant for you to choose talents, and it was unnecessary for him to be here. Besides, he is preparing his luggage for his upcoming departure that will be in a few days."

Something just occurred to the emperor's mind as a penitent expression crossed his face, like a child who did something praiseworthy yet failed to hear praise from his father. He slowly patted the stone banister and said with a sigh, "I barely remembered that the headmaster will go away earlier than in past years."

He turned around for a last look at the mountain behind the Academy, which was partly visible in the clouds and mist, and remained silent for a while and then bowed with folded hands in respect.

Some 10 miles from this mountain was a pavilion, in which a monk and a Taoist priest were drinking tea and chatting. It was still early in the morning and no one could comprehend how they could be in such a good mood this early.

The monk was in his 30s, with a calm and composed countenance, and looked like someone who was out of this world. He stared at the crossing lines on the ground for a short while, then looked up in the direction of the mountain and the Academy, and suddenly said, "I heard that the Headmaster of the Academy is very tall."

The Taoist priest was usually a dignified and serious person, but today seemed a bit light-hearted and casual. Stretching his hand and snapping his fingers, he answered, "Yes, very tall indeed."

"How tall is he?"

"How could a nobody like me know that?"

"You, the Nation Master, don't have a clue?"

"And you're the younger brother of the emperor! Yet you know nothing, just like me?"

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