Nightfall - Chapter 75

Published at 9th of April 2018 09:20:49 AM

Chapter 75

If audio player doesn't work, press Stop then Play button again

Having lived a hard life since childhood, Ning Que was considerably good at controlling his emotions, or one could say that he suppressed his real feelings, changing a look of sadness to joy. He seldom reflected those bygone days. Presently, he was in an Academy examination room, looking out of the window at the apricot and peach blooms, hearing surrounding whines about the comprehensive question. He could not help but recall those difficult days when he had studied hard on all subjects day in and out.

Thanks to those tough days, the right answer quickly flashed into his mind as the question was really simple to him, and he exclaimed, "This is quite Er (a homonym for two and silly)!"

That was true indeed—the answer was just the ordinary figure "two".

Ning Que dipped the writing brush in an ink pad and meticulously wrote down on the paper: "The Headmaster of the Academy drank two bottles of wine, and cut a mountain of peach blossoms."

In a pavilion far away from the Academy, a Taoist priest perused over the black and white pieces on a chessboard and moved his right-hand fingers in the air, seeming as if he was playing piano or catching a breeze. Suddenly, his fingers paused, and a black chess piece jumped out of its bowl and sat on an intersection of vertical and horizontal lines.

As the leader of the Southern School of Haotian Taoism, and the Nation Master, it was no surprise to see Li Qingshan effortlessly and nonchalantly play like this. It was peculiar, however, that a deep frown grew on his brow, and it seemed that he was reluctant about playing with the monk.

The monk, known as Huang Yang, now lived in Wanyan Tower in Southern City, Chang'an. Rumor had it that he once went to the Unknown Place in the Wilderness and studied at the Upper Buddhism School. Then by chance several years ago, he met the emperor and they had been sworn brothers ever since. Consequently, he earned his shining title—Younger Brother of the Emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Yet, the monk lived a consistently ascetic life, reading and chanting translated Buddhist Scriptures in the pagoda, and seldom went outside.

Huang Yang peered at the chessboard quietly. Then following his gentle blink, a white chess piece rose and dropped onto the board, without a sound being heard. The white piece blocked the freedom of the black ones, and the captured black chess piece was removed from the board to where seven or eight of the pieces were piled up. None of his movements could be seen at all.

Of course, no one dared interrupt when the Nation Master and the younger brother of the emperor were playing chess. The ordinary monks and Taoist priests never had a chance to have a closer look at this scene, otherwise, they would have marveled at their extraordinary skills.

Li Qingshan looked at the black and white chess pieces, shook his head, and said, "Since when is there such a rule saying that one guard should serve when His Majesty is in the palace, and when outside of the palace, two should serve? As if there were someone who dares to do anything to His Majesty, let alone at the Academy, which His Majesty visits. How could anything possibly happen there?"

Huang Yang smiled, looked into his eyes, and said, "I don't know."

Li Qingshan sighed and said, "I believe you've heard about what happened to Chao Xiaoshu? It's a shame. Should he have entered the Knowing Destiny State 10 years ago, there would be no place for you and me to serve as guards for His Majesty."

Huang Yang shook his head and answered, "Whether no experiences are gained in the Jianghu world or the opportunity to realize the lake in the palace is had, even if you are a promising prodigy, no one can be sure that you'll enter the Knowing Destiny State."

Li Qingshan disagreed. "You were doing menial work in the pagoda, not knowing what really happened. Chao Xiaoshu would have been enrolled in the Academy and entered the Second Floor on his own. It would have been easy for him to enter the Knowing Destiny State if he was on the Second Floor and taught by the Headmaster of the Academy."

Huang Yang remained silent for a while, then said gently, "It was a blessing to be taught by the headmaster."

Li Qingshang considered his clean-cut looks, then ridiculed himself, saying, "Others thought that we never met each other in person, yet hadn't the slightest clue that we never met in the Academy."

The monk was the rightful Buddhist protector while the priest was the leader of the Southern School of Haotian Taoism. No matter what they desired to do, their statuses would not allow them to enter the Academy. Even on commencement day when the emperor and all the officials were celebrating in the Academy, these two most respectable men could only sit far away from them and play chess.

"When will the headmaster be leaving?"

"After commencement day."

"He did his best."

Huang Yang looked at Li Qingshan quietly, and said, "I still wonder how tall the Headmaster of the Academy is."

After a long silence, Li Qingshan answered, "My instructor once mentioned that he was as tall as several floors."

Pausing for a moment, Huang Yang showed a genuine smile followed by a slow sigh. "The Second Floor is high enough to enter, and taller than that... that's incredibly tall!"

The calligraphy and etiquette tests came just after the art tests. Ning Que's confidence was now replaced with a deep worry. Sangsang's considerations made perfect sense—Her young master was busy gobbling up egg noodle soup, chatting with girls in the House of Red-Sleeves, killing people in Spring Breeze Pavilion, and calculating how much he earned each day. It came as no surprise that he had insufficient time to review and memorize the mock tests. It was pointless, even though he recited all of them, as he lived in the mountains and grasslands where he could not possibly have had access to all that knowledge. If you asked him to write down the Article on the Response of the Tao, he could probably do it, but more than that would be too much to ask.

Ning Que did not plan to submit a blank paper, as it would make him too conservative, like the younger brother of the emperor. Therefore, he carefully wrote all over the paper, from front to back, as if what he wrote was the right answer. That was another question lifted off of his mind, for he was merely hoping that the instructors would at least give him a "hardworking" score.

During the writing, he cleverly pulled some tricks, as he knew the only advantage he could tap into was his neat handwriting. Therefore, he put all his attention on his handwriting and deliberately chose the Hairpin-style Small Regular Script, which he seldom wrote in.

There was definitely nothing to hide from choosing that type of script except gender, which Ning Que intended to hide. As the Hairpin-style Small Regular Script could easily be mistaken as having been done by some beautiful lady with an official background, some pity scores might be earned.

Visit for extra chapters.

The bell tolled again, as it had come to the end. Ning Que was a bit lethargic when he left the exam room. He lifted his shoulders and spread out his arms when he saw Sangsang's anticipating face. Accompanied by Zhu Youxian, he had a hasty lunch and prepared for his afternoon tests.

He was confident about the afternoon's tests. So when confronting all the fervent looks from the instructors and examiners, Ning Que looked around at all the musical instruments and made a resolute decision, which was... to quit.

He was no musician like the ones in the House of Red-Sleeves, let alone knew how to blow a flute, and he felt frustrated thinking about that. After this, all students were led to a stretch of open lawn outside the Academy, where dozens of handsome horses were brought in front of them. A military general stood off to the side, emotionlessly looking over those eager or not-so-eager faces.

The course of toxophily was Archery, and you were allowed to choose to do it either on a horse or a carriage. Ning Que, of course, chose to shoot on a horse. All those years that he spent in the City of Wei on horses with swords and arrows convinced him that he would pass muster.

Sangsang clutched her hands tightly, cheering for him from a distant patch of ground near the lawn.

He smiled and walked to the center of the lawn.

In a spacious and bright room in the Academy, a group of instructors were gathered to review the papers that had been answered in the morning. Most of the instructors were old and experienced and had seen many tests like this. They leisurely carried teapots and long cigarette holders, chatting and reviewing. Some instructor then commented,

"This year's Academy entrance exam was devised by Eldest Brother, who is moderate by nature, unlike Second Brother, who made most of the students cry last year."

"Simply looking at the comprehensive question, everyone knows the Headmaster of the Academy likes to drink. One bottle, to half, to half of the half, to the last drop... How could the headmaster chop half of the drop with a sword? As simple as this is, how could so many get it wrong? What on earth is in their heads?"

Some said curiously, "Maybe it's not easy for them. Yet, I'm more interested in how many bottles the headmaster did drink and how many masses of peach blossoms he did cut during the trip to West-Hill."

Some laughed, answering, "The headmaster drank seven big bottles of wine, and cut all the peach blossoms of West-Hill."

"The legend goes that the headmaster did drink the bottles of wine, yet it was someone else who had cut all the peach blossoms of West-Hill. The Youngest Uncle, who was also on the trip with the headmaster, was more likely to do such things with that hot temper."

Hearing the Youngest Uncle, all of the instructors paused a second, then returned to their conversations, someone saying, "The peach trees in the Academy were planted by the Headmaster of the Academy himself. The old priests of Haotian Temple of West-Hill came here every time and were extremely pissed, their expressions were worse than if they had lost their mothers. I do think our headmaster is wicked."

The instructors were all laughing out loud, as teasing the most respected West-Hill temple seemed to be their favorite everyday sport.

You had to admit that the Academy in Southern City was indeed a wicked place.

The instructors went back to reviewing the papers, and an instructor picked up one of the papers, and read it loudly, "'The Headmaster of the Academy drank two bottles of wine, and cut a mountain of peach blossoms.' Right answer indeed. I noticed this student is one of the quickest who wrote down the answer. I think he deserves an A."

"Grade A, no doubt. I only have one question. Why is the student's answer not the written form of two, but the oral form of two?"

"Maybe just his habit? Or does the oral form mean something to him? I'm quite puzzled." 

Please report us if you find any errors so we can fix it asap!