Grand Tutor Kong stopped stroking his beard, his voice becoming serious. “Continue.”
Su Xi-er looked at Tan Ge and smiled faintly. “This servant is ordinary; why don’t we talk about Tan Ge instead? When we entered the Imperial Library, before I had the time to notice her dressing style, I could already smell the faint scent of sandalwood from her. Refined peacefulness accompanies the scent of books; scholars value peacefulness. But if one were to perform a piece, that would enhance the essence of reading books. That is to say… Tan Ge, you come from a family of scholars, am I right?”
Tan Ge was impressed that Su Xi-er was able to determine so much just from hearing her name. After all, there are a lot of people from music and dance houses who also have the same character ‘ge’ in their names.
Tan Ge’s eyes showed some admiration as she gave a small nod. “Miss, you are very talented with your words; it’s a shame that you have been hidden away in the Palace Side Quarters.”
All of this was noticed by Grand Tutor Kong. Both of them have their strengths. Su Xi-er is clever with her words, meticulous with her thought process, and every word she spoke was on point. Tan Ge is polite and genuine; she didn’t look down on Su Xi-er because of her status as a palace maid from the Palace Side Quarters. I can see that the admiration in Tan Ge’s eyes is sincere.
Grand Tutor Kong nodded, but he could only pick one court lady in the end. Thus, he decided to pose another challenge for them. “Come with me.”His feet turned towards the Calligraphy Pavilion, prompting the two ladies to follow along.
The strong smell of ink entered their noses before their eyes adjusted to the light, revealing a room full of writing desks. Each desk had a set of brush, ink, paper, and inkstone on top of it, and the walls on either side were lined with bookshelves of copybooks, making it convenient for people to access.
Grand Tutor Kong pointed at the writing desks. “You have the time it takes to burn an incense stick. Grind the ink stick by yourselves and write on a sheet each. If you are not confident in your writing, you can use the copybooks from the shelves. When the time is up, I will check them and decide which of you get to enter the Imperial Library.”
Su Xi-er and Tan Ge nodded in unison before each going to a writing desk. Tan Ge had learnt calligraphy from a young age, so she knew all about the strokes and styles. Having found her own style through studying the work of other famous scholars, Tan Ge had found her individual writing style and didn’t need to work from a copybook. As such, she immediately began grinding the ink stick.
However, Su Xi-er was different. She had always been good at calligraphy in her previous life, and had been able to perfectly copy the writing of other famous scholars. It was to the point that even Grand Tutor Liu had complimented her before he had passed away. The problem was that she had deigned to imitate other people, even if she had a talent for it. Fusing the gracefulness of females and the firmness of males, perhaps it was inevitable that the strength and force of her brush had given birth to its own unique style that was henceforth known to Nanzhao’s literary world as the Lan Script.
Of course, Yun Ruofeng had banned the use of the Lan Script after Ning Rulan’s death, even going as far as to burn all of the copybooks used to teach it. However, the Lan Script had already started to spread to other countries.
Su Xi-er walked to the shelf and carefully looked at the copybooks. If there is one with the Lan Script, I will use that one and write it in my own style. Otherwise, I will just make do and imitate another style.
Being too good at writing without imitating would only arouse suspicion with my current identity.
When Grand Tutor Kong saw this, he could only sigh to himself. I will lower my standards when I judge Su Xi-er’s writing. It’s unreasonable to expect a maidservant from the Palace Side Quarters to have writing as good as Young Miss Tan.
Grand Tutor Kong was all but certain that Su Xi-er’s calligraphy would lose out to Tan Ge’s, but he didn’t know that when the allotted time was up, his eyes would nearly fall out of their sockets.
1. In case it wasn’t very clear, this paragraph is mainly Su Xi-er explaining how she guessed Tan Ge’s family background from her name. The explanation of the characters in her name is at the end of the previous chapter.
3. In this case, the copybook contains examples of calligraphic scripts for others to copy when practising calligraphy.
4. The time can vary due to different types of incense and other factors such as the environment, so it can range from about 15 minutes to an hour, though it should usually be assumed to be roughly 30 minutes to an hour.
*sigh* it's sad how people are often discriminated against due to their backgrounds :/