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338 Pigeon Soup I



Mrs. Zeng could not shake off the odd feeling for the entire night.

She was no longer the first to laugh or the one to laugh the loudest when the Empress made a joke. She did not join in either when the prime minister's wife gossiped about what happened in Chang'an. Instead, she stared at the dark and skinny little handmaiden beside Princess Lee Yu in a daze.

Her odd behavior had gathered some attention, especially from the ladies who had noticed that she was staring at the Princess. They all thought that it was rather odd. She did not emerge from her reverie even when the royal secretary's wife called her many times, and she had to gently nudge her to get her attention.

The royal secretary's wife lowered her voice and asked in concern, "Why are you so out of it today?"

Mrs. Zeng smiled painfully and did not explain because she could not explain it. She did not understand why the little handmaiden felt so familiar and why her heart was twinging in pain.

The ladies could not help feeling confused by the presence of the little handmaiden beside the Princess as they chatted over tea with the Empress. When they had two pots of tea, the prime minister's wife could not help but ask about it. The Empress smiled and introduced Sangsang to the rest simply.

That was when the ladies realized that she was Ning Que's handmaiden. Even though they still had many doubts, they did not continue their questions. Furthermore, they were of noble status. While they did not treat their maidservants at home like dogs, they were of two different worlds. They asked about Ning Que casually, giving the Empress face.

Mrs. Zeng watched her companions speak with the little handmaiden and could not help asking questions as well. However, she did not care how many calligraphy pieces Sir Ning could write in a day. Instead, she asked for Sangsang's age.

Sangsang was not used to the atmosphere in the palace. If it wasn't for the edict and Lee Yu's promise to accompany her, she would rather cook porridge in the Old Brush Pen Shop. When she ate her meal served by the palace maids earlier, she truly felt that Ning Que was right to say that the palace was not a place for eating.

She felt that the questions the noble ladies asked were very tedious until someone asked for her age. She thought that the question was simple and immediately answered seriously, "I was born in the Yuan year of Tianqi era."

Mrs. Zeng lowered her head and counted on her fingers for some time before she calculated that the girl was about to turn 15. After a short pause, she said mournfully, "My child would be the same age as you are if she had lived."

The ladies present in the palace were all close to the Empress and they all knew of the incident of the ferocious wife who had tried to kill both the concubine and child that had created a ruckus in Chang'an in the Yuan year of Tianqi era. They could not help but look at Mrs. Zeng sympathetically when they heard that.


The Empress comforted her.

Mrs. Zeng looked at the little handmaiden seated behind the table and smiled bitterly. She thought that she must have missed her deceased daughter too much, that she had lost all decorum looking at a girl the same age as her child. She really shouldn' have acted that way.

There were many things that were difficult to get rid of once you have thought about it, just like Mrs. Zeng's pity for Sangsang that had appeared out of the blue. She tried to convince herself that she was just missing her daughter, but could not help looking at Sangsang dazedly.

She felt that Sangsang looked more and more familiar as she looked on, especially the girl's tanned skin and beautiful willow leaf-shaped eyes. They all made her look really familiar. She could not help but ask, "I heard you mention, that you lived in the City of Wei in your early childhood with Sir Ning. Was the sun at the frontier fortress too strong, causing your tan?"

Sangsang was startled for a moment before she shook her head, saying, "Young Master said that I have always been tanned."

Mrs. Zeng could not help but fall into a daze when she heard her reply. She did not care how others looked at her and stared staring at Sangsang intently, as if there was something really beautiful on her face.

The tea had turned cold, and the feast ended. Everyone bade their farewells.

Mrs. Zeng stood outside the palace. She stopped the two when she saw Lee Yu and Sangsang.

Lee Yu frowned, not knowing what the Grand Secretary's wife was trying to do.

Mrs. Zeng knew very well that as the Empress most ardent supporter, she had not treated the Princess well. In fact, she had offended the Princess several times. That was why she spoke in a gentle and humble tone.

"Your Highness, I felt a sense of connection to this little girl when I saw her today. You know about my child... and I hope that Your Highness could agree to let me escort her home."

Lee Yu looked at her silently. It seemed that the Grand Secretary's wife really wanted to travel with Sangsang, even bringing up her daughter who had passed 15 years ago. Why would she do this? Could it be that the Empress had finally discovered the importance of the Academy entering the human realm and have decided to get close to Ning Que in such a roundabout manner?

As she thought about this, she decided to refuse the lady's humble request. She smiled and said, "Sangsang doesn't like to interact with strangers."

This was true. Sangsang was unwilling to interact with others. If they had not been in contact over the past two years, even Lee Yu would find it difficult to enter her world, much less the Grand Secretary's wife whom she had never met.

At this moment, Sangsang who had stood beside Lee Yu silently suddenly said, "Sure."

...

...

"Your name is Sangsang?"

"Yes."

"It's an interesting name."

"It's alright."

"Who named you?"

"Young master."

"Your young master is one of the greatest calligraphy of the world. He must have great talent in the art of poetry. The name he chose is certainly good, but what do the characters in your name mean?"

"There is no deep meaning. Young master said that there was a barkless and leafless Sang tree by the road where he found me. He found me really similar to it and called me Sangsang."

"Where did your young master find you?"

"In the Hebei county. He has already forgotten the exact spot. We went to search for it once when we left the Min Mountain. But there were already shoots growing in the field, and many trees had grown to replace the barkless and leafless tree, so he could not recognize the spot."

The lights were bright in Chang'an this very night. There were many traveling and the streets were packed with people heading towards the Eastern City. Even the horse carriage of the Grand Secretary of the Imperial Library could not pick up speed and could only move slowly behind the people. However, Mrs. Zeng did not mind and was even a little happy because of it.

The journey was long, and she could spend more time with Sangsang in the carriage and ask her more questions. Sangsang was also obviously different from her usual state. She answered all the questions from the lady and had spoken more tonight than the previous months added together.

However, her memory of what had happened then was hazy, and what she knew were recounts from Ning Que. That was why she could not give Mrs. Zeng the answer she wanted no matter how she asked.

No matter how long the journey was, it would eventually reach an end.

The horse carriage of the Grand Secretary stopped outside the alley of the Lin 47th Street.

Sangsang got off the carriage and bowed politely to Mrs.Zeng.

Mrs. Zeng looked at the slender figure before the door dazedly, her heart twinging for an unknown reason.

She had not been able to ascertain anything and knew that she might have been thinking too much. However, she had grown to like the girl and thought that it'd be great to have a daughter like that.

Mrs. Zeng lifted the curtains and asked uneasily, "Are you willing to visit the Grand Secretary Mansion as a guest?"

Sangsang pondered over it as she held the key in her hands. She figured that it'd be some days before Ning Que would return home and that the smoked meat was ready and did not need watching anymore. There was nothing to do even if she stayed at the Old Brush Pen Shop. And so, she nodded.

...

...

An odd guest arrived at the mansion of Zeng Jing, Grand Secretary of the Imperial Library, a few days later.

It was odd because the guest was a little handmaiden. There were many mansions in Chang'an belonging to officials, but no one had ever heard of any family inviting a handmaiden as a regular guest. That was why, when the chamberlain had led the handmaiden to the back courtyard, the servants by the willow tree all pointed at her in badly disguised surprise.

And when the servants saw the wife of the Grand Secretary coming up to the door to welcome her, and even held the hands of the little maidservant with a smile that was larger than her face, they were even more surprised.

It didn't take long for those at the Grand Secretary mansion to find out the identity and background of the little handmaiden. There was plenty of gossip about it and many thought that their mistress was indeed the most loyal lady of the Empress within Chang'an. She was willing to lower herself just to make Her Majesty happy.

Grand Secretary Zeng Jing was not in his mansion. Perhaps he had, like the servants, thought that inviting a little handmaiden especially was too demeaning to his station. That was why only Mrs. Zeng and Sangsang were present for lunch. The spread was scrumptious and there were four or five servants waiting on them with carefully concealed expressions.

Sangsang had waited on others all her life. Or to be more exact, she had waited on Ning Que, and was not used to being waited on. She seemed more subdued and was more silent that she was in the horse carriage during the lantern festival.

Mrs. Zeng watched as she ate her meal and traces of pity would occasionally flash in her eyes. She looked at the maid beside her.

The maid understood, and brought out the pigeon soup that had been prepared earlier.

Mrs. Zeng carried the soup and walked to where Sangsang was sitting. She said, "Look at how small you are, you need some nourishment."

As she said this, her hand slipped, and the bowl of pigeon soup landed at Sangsang's feet.

Sangsang stood up and looked at her soaked dress and shoes. She did not say anything.

Mrs. Zeng said frazzled, "This... hurry, go and wash up."

Her cotton dress and shoes were soaked with the oil from the pigeon soup and did indeed need some washing.

However, Sangsang did not move. Instead, she looked at her dress hem and shoes silently.

She sensed that the lady had poured the pigeon soup on her intentionally.

Because she saw very clearly, that the lady held on to the bowl tightly and her hand had not slipped.

Sangsang was not angry. The pigeon soup had been placed outside for a long time and cooled down. It wouldn't have scalded her even if she had poured it onto her face. Furthermore, she did not sense any ill intent from the lady. Instead the lady was very kind. But why had she done that?