This chapter has been brought to you by me, and larkspur.
Chapter 42: Insecurity
Seeing magpies in the morning was a good omen.
Zhang Yi did not know that even before the exams had begun, he was fated to be a direct disciple of the master of Celestial Seal Sect.
Any kind of weighing of merits and drawbacks, or even consideration of the present and future could not stop true affection. Love and hatred were the strongest emotions in the world.
“She is more vicious than we imagine, just as we expected, and hard to deal with,” Jing Liuli stopped the carriage and said slowly to Ding Ning, a hint of coldness flashing through her eyes.
She heard the cat scream and knew, without even looking, what had happened in the courtyard.
“I harmed this cat.” Ding Ning shook his head helplessly, “I originally wanted to take it back to Ink Garden to raise it well.”
Jing Liuli turned to frown at him slightly. She did not know if his words were true or just random.
“Since she is so difficult, and people are helping us, the plan has to change.” Ding Ning ignored her gaze and thought with his head bowed. “We are going to the south city.”
Jing Liuli nodded, looked in the direction and started to drive. At the same time, she asked softly, “What are you going to the south for?”
Ding Ning said, “To find her old lover.”
Jing Liuli raised her eyebrows and said, “Did you not say to not move him first?”
Ding Ning said after a moment of silence and said, “Zheng Xiu is cruel and ruthless but she has great tolerance. The only thing she cannot tolerate is someone taking over her private property.”
Jing Liuli turned to glance at Ding Ning and said, “Why do you understand the empress so well?”
Ding Ning said, “Do not go off topic. Also, you will know in the future why I know her so well.”
Jing Liuli frowned and thought. “You say she is the least tolerant of someone taking her personal property. What does that have to do with going to meet this palace attendant’s old lover early?”
Ding Ning looked at her back and said calmly, “Surpassing one’s authority is taking over her personal property, using cultivators without her permission is taking over her personal property. If that cultivator dies and it is not her intent, that is something she cannot tolerate. Palace Attendant Rong has followed Zheng Xiu for so many years. It is not possible for her to have secretly taken some of Zheng Xiu’s cultivation treasures or concealed some information. She would not dare. But she is someone who can speak in front of Zheng Xiu. Everyone in Changling knows that her actual status is above most court officials. If she needs to do something, she only has to express a certain attitude at times. So after so many years, she must have inadvertently made some mistakes due to her own power. She may not have done it deliberately… but she cannot avoid accidents. Her old lover was with her for many years. I think that he knows many things about her.”
Jing Liuli thought intently and said, “You speak sense, but even if her old lover knows, why will he tell you? In Changling, even I cannot misuse punishment.”
“Your direction of thinking is wrong. The sword is often the last solution,” Ding Ning said softly. “Since even the other people around the empress know this palace attendant is similarly cruel, then her old lover will also know. Temporary love and emotion may blind one’s eyes, but over time, that person will become sensible and easily see the true nature. If her old lover really loved her at the start, and sees her clearly now, I fear that they are mutually using and relying on each other.”
Ding Ning looked at her back and said, “He will feel insecure. We are going to use his feeling of insecurity.”
“The sword is usually the last solution… in your own sect, you cannot use your sword casually at any moment. “Jing Liuli looked down and thought of how her master had killed someone with a blow right under the eyes of Emperor Yuanwu during the Min Mountain Sword Trials. She said slowly, “I frequently have gains when following you.”
Ding Ning looked at her and said softly, “I only hope I will not lead you astray.”
Jing Liuli said coldly, “The path is determined by the mind. Going astray or not cannot be blamed on others.”
Ding Ning nodded. He said, “Turn right on the main street ahead.”
Changling was large so the carriages could not be fast when moving through the streets.
Even though Ding Ning had directed the closest path, Jing Liuli’s carriage only reached a tea garden in the south suburbs near noon.
The tea garden was not on the hills. It was planted beside mulberry fields next to a river. Those tea leaves appeared fat, but in the eyes of the nobility who liked teas, they were not worth a mention. So these leaves were usually casually picked at random over time, cooked and then sold to street-side shops.
Especially those tea shops with large bowls on the sides of the government roads. The rougher the taste, the more it appeared to have tea flavour. Those people resting there would have their thirst quenched with a bowl of cold tea.
The people of the tea garden were doing their best to use their produce. So when Ding Ning and Jing Liuli reached this tea garden, a clear tea fragrance mixed with an oil fragrance came from a bamboo hut inside.
Ding Ning sniffed and smiled, saying, “Old tea and old goose.”
Jing Liuli looked at him and did not express an opinion.
“Let’s eat first.”
Ding Ning smiled, and stopped her from walking forward by walking towards the bamboo hut.
There was a crude stove built with rocks outside the bamboo hut.
On the stove was a black metal pot with a chopped up old goose. The goose had been cooked for a long time with thick tea leaves. The soup was like a sauce and shone with oil. But the tea leaves appeared to have absorbed a lot of oil so it did not look greasy.
A tall middle-aged man in plain robes was sprinkling garlic and adding the last seasoning.
Seeing Ding Ning and Jing Liuli approach, and sensing the pair’s presence, his expression froze slightly.
“Let’s eat,” Ding Ning did not waste words, and said again.
He carried over two wooden benches from the side, took two sets of cutlery from a side table to wash with clear water, and then sat down next to the pot. He scooped out rice from a jar on the side to fill a bowl each for himself and Jing Liuli. Then he picked up the bowl the middle-aged man had placed by himself a long time ago and helped fill this bowl as well.
Seeing Ding Ning’s movements, this middle-aged man just frowned slightly but did not speak up to stop him.
The middle-aged man asked politely once Ding Ning picked up a piece of goose meat, “How does it taste?”
“Not as good as the chefs outside, but it has a special flavour.” Ding Ning smiled and said, “Even more importantly, this goose is a truly old goose.”
The middle-aged man’s expression eased. He stopped speaking and started to eat.
After a bowl, he saw the bottom of the rice jar and asked, “How about cooking more rice?”
“That’s good. Let’s talk about some things while it cooks.”
Ding Ning nodded, looked at the polite middle-aged man and said, “No wonder Palace Attendant Rong has liked to come here to your place all these years. You really are unusual. You do not ask about intentions, and are casual. This will make someone like her, who has too many matters on her mind, feel comfortable.”
The middle-aged man was washing the rice, and shock appeared in his eyes when he heard Ding Ning’s words. “You are Ding Ning?”
Ding Ning bowed shallowly and said, “I am White Goat Cave’s Ding Ning.”
The middle-aged man took a deep breath. He continued to wash rice as he placed some washed vegetables into the pot with the cooked goose. He said hesitantly, “Why did you have to make no allowances at all?”
“She was the first to do it.” Ding Ning looked at the middle-aged man and recovered his usual calm. “Even if she would have let Old Man Xue see for just a second, I would not be like this now.”
The middle-aged man skillfully tossed the metal pot and allowed the pot’s heat to just cook the vegetables he had put in before. He put the jar with rice onto the stove and said sincerely, “But there is no use in you coming to see me. Even if you kill me, there is no use.”
“You should be more important to her than that cat.”
Ding Ning shook his head and added wood to the stove. He said as he gazed at the new flames, “When I showed some thoughts of dealing with her cat, she ordered her cat killed.”
The middle-aged man sat down and became silent.
“Now, the question is, do you think she will guarantee at any cost that you will not be harmed at all by me?” Ding Ning looked at the silent middle-aged man and said calmly, “If you feel she will, then you can stand firmly on her side.”
Seeing the silent middle-aged man, Ding Ning paused for a long time. Then he asked directly, “If I do nothing today, eat two more bowls of your rice, and then leave, do you feel that she will think nothing happened between us?”
Translator Ramblings: I’ve never had tea goose but I have had tea-smoked duck before and it is so good.