Lan An and He Peng

He Peng and Lan An arrive at the Sky Angel  Inn to secure the private room. The Innkeeper shows them a room on the third floor, it is simply decorated with a few quaint paintings of village life, it has comfortable furniture. He Peng walks over to the window, he can see the ice covered mountains, for a moment he thought I will miss this place. He looks over at Lan An who is talking to the Innkeeper, people think His Highness is cold and indifferent but He Peng knows differently. Wang Li Jie easily could have ignored Yang Chang’s plea for He Peng to accompany Lan An but he allowed it. That is why he will be loyal to whoever this girl is Wang Li Jie wants to protect. He sees the negotiations have been finished , Lan An nods to the Innkeeper and pulls He Peng over to her side.

     “He Peng, pay him.”

     “When my Master arrives he doesn’t want to be disturbed. We will order the food from your kitchen and deliver it to the room ourselves.” Lan An clutches onto He Peng’s arm, she has never been in charge of anything , she worries something might go wrong. He reassuringly puts his calloused hand on her hand delicate small hand.

     “Understood.”

     The grey haired Innkeeper wonders what is going on, the town is buzzing, strangers have arrived with carriages of  food and supplies. Now these two want the third floor for their Master, for a meeting. He scratches his head, well with the gold I received from that crazy golden haired man I will retire tomorrow anyway. The banker looked at the gold ingot then informed him it was of the highest grade, he didn’t even have enough silver taels and banknotes to exchange. He has always wanted to take his wife to a warmer kingdom, now that they are old the Winter freezes their bones. Wan Cuifen can run the Inn, he feels a bit guilty he was instructed to give her exactly one hundred taels from the gold ingot.

     “I will take my leave then, anything you need the girl Wan Cuifen can help you”

    They nod, “Thank you.”

     After he leaves the room and they are alone the atmosphere becomes relaxed.

     “Peng who do you think His Highness is meeting?”

     “How would I know?”

     They walk over to the window and look at the street below. “Is that Huang Howan walking down there ?” Lan An does not like that girl , she bullies her constantly when no one can see.

     He pulls the curtain , so they aren’t visible, “Yes”

     Lan An turns and hugs him, “Peng I’m very happy we are going to accompany Zhang Xiaolian.”

   “An from what Yang Chang told me this is a very strange situation, I’m not so sure it is good for us.”

     “You will see she is kind hearted and His Highness loves her dearly.”

     “ How do you know that?”

     “I can see the way he looks at my mistress, he is scary most of the time but when he is with her he seems ..I don’t know..human..haha”

     He rubs her fluffy hair, “Watch what you say. But he won’t be accompanying Zhang Xiaolian , Chang told me she will be with the God of War, Yun Tai and Feng Tian. One is a fearsome warrior, the other is a notorious playboy, seems like a strange pair. I saw Yun Tai once when they were coming through my village after a Demon War.”

     “Oh I have heard of him, what did he look like?”

     “You want gossip?” Ha ha.. he bends down and kisses her lips. She is so cute, I don’t know what I would have done if we had to separate.

     She pushes him away, “He Peng, don’t tease!”

     “He was very tall sitting on an ink  black horse, the horse had gold rope woven in its mane I recall..”

     “Describe him not the horse!”

      he chuckles and takes her hand,“Let’s go to a food stall, I’m hungry, I want some braised pork skewers. I will tell you as we walk. His Highness should be here by midday so we need to hurry and eat, since you are rich you are buying right?” 

     “He Peng!” She loves this man, he always makes her laugh. He has a big black beard and eyes like obsidian, with rugged good looks. His eyes twinkle when he laughs but there is a cloud behind them she can tell, he doesn’t like to talk much about his past. They walk out of the room, go down the stairs through the restaurant. The restaurant is half full and there is a woman sitting on a wooden stage playing the zither.

     “We should just eat here, I have never seen a show before.” Lan An is staring at the woman on stage, she never had a chance to go into a town or city. She was raised in the palace, her mother was a palace cook. She could hear music when there was a banquet but she wasn’t a serving girl so never went inside the banquet hall.

     “No, I think we should just go to a food stall, it will be faster and cheaper.”

     “You are right, if they arrived and we were sitting in the restaurant it might look as though we were taking advantage of being sent ahead here.”

     When they arrive outside  the Inn they see Yang Chang. He calls out to them as they cross the street. “Peng, over here.” 

     “Chang” He Peng grabs Lan An’s hand and hurries to meet Yang Chang.

     “Have you finished distributing the food?”

     “No, that little wench Huang Howan is still speaking with the Mayor. I think they are conniving together to make a profit. I overheard her tell him it is ridiculous to pass all these supplies from the palace to these peasants without a gain for her and the Mayor, since they were doing all the work of organizing it. I don’t think he is a simple man from the looks of him, for a Mayor of a small village like this he was wearing blue brocade robes and had three heavy gold with ruby rings on his fingers. I feel I have seen him somewhere before but I can’t place him.”

     Lan An shakes her head, “Yang Chang best not to get involved, tangling with that bully girl never ends well.”

     “They didn’t see me I was leading the horses to get some water so I was a distance away. Girl, Peng knows this, don’t ever tell anyone, he leans down to her ear, “but I was once in the God of War’s Army, my martial arts are not weak. I could hear every despicable word they were saying, trying to make a profit off His Highness’ goodwill, shameful!”

      He Peng remarks, teasing Lan An,“We are going down the road to where the food stalls are do you want to join us? Lan An is buying!” 

     “Yes, come with us, you can have whatever you want to eat”, She tenderly touches his sleeve, Yang Chang is like a father, he never married or had children so he dotes on her. She would like to repay his kindnesses towards her and He Peng.

     “No, you two go ahead when those two swindlers finish their evil collaboration I will need to distribute the goods. I’m going to do my best to thwart their plans of robbing the carriages.”

     Lan An looks at him with concern, “Be careful.”

    “Don’t worry about me, enjoy your lunch, I noticed the one food stall has chestnut cakes, your favorite An. You should hurry before they are gone there was quite a line.”

     Chang Yang hobbles off the opposite direction to where he had tied the horses. His one leg is shorter than the other since he was born but he never let it hinder him.

    He Peng and Lan An briskly walk to the end of the street where the vendors are located. “Peng did you know Yang Chang was once in the Army?”

     “He talks about it once and awhile when we are drinking wine late at night. He joined as a young man and spent most of his life with the army fighting Demons. He is proud he was the personal cook for Yun Tai in the last Demon War.”

     “WHAT? Why don’t I know of this?”

     Lan An only knows him as a very skilled cook, and a gentle man. When she helps him in the kitchen they usually talk about herbs and food, she tells him of her hopes and dreams with He Peng. It was brave of him though to ask His Highness to allow He Peng to go with Zhang Xiaolian.

     “You know he is a quiet man, the only time it comes up in conversation is when he has had too much wine. He tells stories that make my hair stand on end. I don’t think his stories are fit for a young girl’s ears.”

     They arrive at the food stall that is selling braised pork, “Ahh..that smells so good.” The aroma is wafting from the cooking fire the vendor has set up behind his stall. He Peng has been working since before dawn and is starving.

     Lan An is happy to be able to buy He Peng lunch, smiling she says, “I will take eight skewers of your braised pork, those on the end, the ones with the spicy looking sauce, please Sir.”

     The vendor looks at the pair in front of him, obviously they are servants from a wealthy family and probably are paid well. The young girl’s coat is made of Silver Wooly Bear, the only place you can get a coat that quality is in Myriad Cloud City. They are probably foreigners whose Master has come to cultivate in the mountains. He decides he will overcharge them, she is holding a small embroidered money pouch that looks full of coins.

     At a table across to the left a man dressed like a villager is watching the scene. His clothes are drab and brown, but the simple clothes can’t hide how handsome and refined he is, he has golden hair and stunning amber eyes. He watches as the scene unfolds. So, that vendor wants to take advantage of that young girl, I wonder what he will say.

     “Miss that will be five silver taels each so for eight, 40 silver taels.”

     Lan An grimaces, looks at her pouch of coins, she gave the gold she received from His Highness to He Peng to save for their marriage and she had only kept two hundred silver taels. Hmmm, is that the correct price, it sounds expensive for braised pork skewers.

     She looks at He Peng at the next stall over, he didn’t wait for her, has walked there to buy her the Chestnut cakes because the line is so long. What should I do, should I haggle with the stall owner. No,  Peng is hungry and the other stalls look like they are short on skewers. Hmmm

     Kang Long Wei can see the cute little servant girl glancing at her man, yes, he looks like he could easily eat eight skewers. Should Ihave some fun with that stall owner?

     “Well Miss I have other customers, do you want them or not.” The greedy vendor is getting impatient, if the man who was with her returns, it might not go well.

     She smiles sweetly and says, “Yes, please wrap them in oil paper please.”

     Lan An is about to pull out the coins when Kang Longwei approaches the stall. “Wait Miss, I think the stall owner made a mistake in his pricing.”

    The vendor glares at Kang Longwei, “Mind your own business!”

     Lan An looks up at the man intervening, he is taller than He Peng and even though he is dressed as a peasant he has a noble air to him.

     “No, it’s fine wrap them up.”  Peng is out of sight right now,  Lan An is feeling anxious.

     The stranger waves at her not to open her pouch yet.

     “I was just here and the same braised pork skewers were two silver taels each.” He sends out some internal energy towards the vendor. The vendor feels he can hardly breathe. Who is this man, his martial arts skills must be at the highest stage. He barely looked my way and I.. his throat starts to close up. He begins to cough up some blood, motioning to the man to release him .Kang Longwei releases the pressure and the man gasps for air.

     “My mistake, my mistake, my addition was incorrect, this gentleman is right, two silver taels each, sixteen taels total,” his eyes plead with the tall man to leave him be.

     Lan An is not a simple girl she could feel the pressure the tall handsome man exerted on the stall owner. She bows to him in thanks but doesn’t speak, best not to know who he is. Kang Longwei walks off satisfied, glancing back at the terrified vendor. He could see how grateful the girl was by her deep bow and the look in her eyes. but she probably is a servant from a family that doesn’t want to be conspicuous. She would have paid her hard earned forty taels not to cause a problem. She was cute.

     The vendor begrudgingly wraps up the eight skewers and tosses them on the counter to Lan An, “Leave, don’t come by here again.”

     He Peng walks over holding one piece of Chestnut cake  he got the last one, the people behind him had to disperse. ”Lan An, you should enjoy this cake it was the last one!” She pulls him quickly away and looks to see if the stranger is gone, Peng wouldn’t like what just happened. No, he wouldn’t have liked it at all! All I need is his temper to flare..oh my..

     He Peng starts to sit at the table the stranger had just left so he could eat, he is ravenous and this meat looks tasty. “NO!” Lan An blurts out.

     “What?” he had just set the food on to the table.

     “Peng let’s go by the river to eat, it would be pretty, I saw people were skating on the ice.”

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