She had stayed with Gan Tian Chi the first five days of the lunar new year. Since it was the new year, she had been given some time off, thus she spent it freely roaming around the city.
For the most part, everything had become uneventful to her, as the peak of celebration had passed, and it would not be as lively as it was five days ago until the near end of the holiday, which was ten days away. Xue'er looked forward to when that celebration would start, but in the meantime, she had to figure out where to spend her time.
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She wandered around for a bit until she smelled the scent of the house that burnt down a few days ago. Xue'er looked to the house that had been charred and boarded up with wooden planks. The black smut had completely covered the red vermillion so much that the color had become a deep red shade of its own. It was quite pleasant to her eyes as bright red vermillion was the only color she had seen the past few days.
There was a pale yellow notice pasted just outside the wall, that wrote the details of what happened. There was a total of four people that died within the house, the head of the household was listed as Sun Cheng. The cause of the accident was stated to be an accident resulting from a candle tipping over, and the smoke causing the people inside to become unconscious and thus couldn't escape, a terrible accident.
A lie should have at least three parts truth to it, Xue'er mused as she looked on to the empty street the house resided on. The people must have thought it to be inauspicious to walk by such a home that burnt to the ground right before the new year and decided to avoid it. Oh well, there were fewer people to walk through, which was a plus.
Xue'er pondered for a while, thinking of what she could possibly do with all this time when she saw an old lady passing by with a basket of fruit in her hand. Within the basket, there were only small apples and apricots that grew in this cold climate, so it wasn't so costly to buy.
Her head tilted as she looked at the old lady walking away.
Right, she had to prepare a small abode for herself when she would no longer be living at the inn. It was not as though she was planning to stay there for long either, considering that she only returned to sleep, and there was no need to stay there either.
She quickly made her way out of the town and out away from the high walls that supposedly kept the town safe from invaders, going to the wildlands that were outside, inhabited by small villages that had taken root many generations ago.
After scouring around for a while from above the treetops, she finally found an isolated place that was far away enough and inhabited by wild animals that no average person would wander around.
There were old and malnourished pine trees with its thistles, a dry brown color and falling on the ground, coating the dirt ground with a blanket of thin wilted needles and fallen leaves. As far as one could tell, this place once breathed life, that disappeared altogether. The empty and dilapidated cottages had been built in a neat row, how long ago, no one could truly be certain. One could tell that this was once a small village, that perhaps had no more than ten families together, there was a small well that was on the edge of town, it sparked Xue'er's interest.
Though the cottages appeared to be livable on the outside, it was quite bare on the inside, with nothing more than a pile of straw as a bed, and a kitchen deprived of firewood. There was even one house that had a hole through the roof, with pieces of the roof inside the house.
She spent a great deal of time trying to make the place liveable, from a fireplace in the middle of the dirt floor room to the small broken jars for collecting water when it rained or cooking. She had found bits and pieces here and there from the surrounding abandoned structures.
When she was done organizing, there were still quite a few days to go until the peak of celebration was to occur, so it was decided to go on an outing to see if there could be a few suitable things.
The place that Xue'er decided to visit was a small city by the name of Lin Zhi. It was smaller in terms of population to the border town, but in terms of wealth and prosperity, it could truly be considered a city, as Xue'er could see the brightly lit lights in the lanterns even in the daylight.
But the city was not much different, all houses and people decked in vermillion, with many vendors selling the same candies and treats to be eaten during the festivals.
Outside the city was where fruits were the best, and free of charge. Xue'er brought her basket, and picked a few apricots and pears first before going into the city.
This Lin Zhi city was about two hundred Li from the border town. A decent distance, but it was actually only about a three day riding journey away from the border town and could be considered the last major city on one's journey between Eastern Jin and Northern Wei.
There were so many posters made of yellow paper that lined the walls upon entering the city. Each one depicting a different face, there were men, women, young and old, whose faces each had a pair of lifeless eyes without any facial expressions. On each paper, there was a statement of their names, clans, and crimes that they were wanted for. Along with the number of taels they were worth, as though they were nothing more than livestock, and could be exchanged for a price.
Xue'er looked to see there were barely any soldiers anywhere, there were none who bothered to search those coming in and out of Lin Zhi city. At this rate, even if a fugitive walked right through the gates, no one would ever know.
It was no wonder she didn't see the soldiers anywhere near the border town, so it was because they believed the town to be a small place and not worth their time to go to a small town. This was not the first time she heard of the incompetence of the soldiers.
Then again, perhaps it was because the emperor was far away, and his power did not reach the people of the north in a deep seed of rooted fear or reverence that came in the first place, or the many higher ranking officials who were filled with corruption, taking all the resources of the people before the supplies even made its way up north. Maybe that was why the people north did not care for imperial power. Within their lifetimes, there would not be a glimpse they would catch of the emperor's robe anyway, what was there to care about when there were no benefits to living in the kingdom either.
There was a poster that made Xue'er stop in her tracks, her eyes filled with an inexplicable emotion. She saw the face of a young woman with an egg shaped face, because of how lifeless the eyes were painted, Xue'er almost couldn't recognize the woman to be Rou Furen whom she had met at the border town, her name was Yan Xiaorou, next to her was the face of her husband who was Fang Yimu, which the poster stated as being a traitor to the kingdom.
There were also fifty taels of silver as a reward for each person that was captured.
She knew that such an amount would be able to support an ordinary family for a few years. An extra incentive to get the people of the north to do the dirty work.
Xue'er looked at the posters again, this time to find the portraits of the mother and son whom she had met near the poisonous forest.