Qingyun Temple is the most famous Buddhist temple around the capital of the Great Xia Dynasty. Whether they are commoners or dignitaries, they would visit Qingyun Temple for worship a few times a year.
Shen Mian also frequently visited Qingyun Temple, although she was young and did not believe in gods or Buddha. Since childhood, Shen Mian had shown a talent for painting, and her father happened to be friends with Master Wenkong from the Qingyun Temple. Consequently, she was enrolled under Master Wenkong's tutelage and stayed at the temple for a few days every month to study painting.
In the last few days, she had completed a painting of "Guan Yin Giving a Son" in the Buddha Hall. After drying it, she went to find Master Wenkong, ready to bid her farewell and return home.
Master Wenkong was reading the palm of a young gentleman. He said, “Born with a destiny of wealth and honor, as long as you do no evil, you will live a life free of worries."
Upon hearing this, Shen Mian snickered. She couldn't help but say to the handsome young gentleman, "Sir, my master says this to everyone he meets."
Master Wenkong hears his student's disrespectful remark but doesn't get angry. Instead, he laughs and says, "You always try to undermine your master's reputation. Have you finished what you were supposed to do?"
"Done. I was about to say goodbye to you," replied Shen Mian.
After a moment, Master Wenkong proposes, "Perfect timing. You don't have to be picked up. This is the Prince of Jingguo Mansion, Jiang Shizi. He is heading back to his mansion and can give you a ride."
Then he points to Shen Mian and says to Jiang Shizi, "She is my student, the second daughter of the Shen Yushi Mansion. Please could you give her a lift home."
Upon hearing the proposal, Shen Mian quickly refuses, "No need, I can go on my own."
Shen Mian's grandfather once held the reigns of the Yushi Mingju, a tenacious man who was not afraid to express his anger. His retirement was eagerly anticipated by the royals and ministers, only for her father to return from outside and re-enter the Yushi Mingju.
Her father inherited his father's style, and he was arguably even more outspoken, even daring to criticize the Emperor. Just a few days ago, he challenged the emperor during a morning court, infuriating him to the point where the Emperor threatened to transfer him.
The father of Shen Mian, Shen Bing, and the father of Jiang Shizi, Duke Jingguo, were old rivals, often bickering in court. Even coming to the brink of engaging in a physical confrontation, this matter had become the capital's laughing stock. Therefore, Shen Mian had absolutely no desire to interact with Jiang Shizi.
Jiang Shizi examined her from top to toe. She indeed bore a slight resemblance to Shen Yushi. She was not exceedingly beautiful, but, with a rounded and pleasant face, she tended to lean towards being cute and refined.
"It doesn't matter," Jiang Shizi responds warmly, "I will give Miss Shen a ride."
Shen Mian continued his polite refusal, "There's no rush, I'll stay and accompany my teacher for another day or two."
"Aren't you eager to return home and prepare the dowry for your sister?" Master Wen Kong retorted, seemingly looking for payback for her earlier interruption and showing no mercy in his words.
Shen Mian was left speechless and dare not look at Jiang Xinglie.
Of course, Jiang Xinglie knew why Shen Mian had persistently declined. He then joked, "Madam Shen need not worry that I will abandon you halfway. The rumors about your father and I are nothing but the laughingstock of the court and countryside."
Upon hearing this, Shen Mian knew that it was improper to refuse any more and said, "I will then trouble you today, Prince Jiang."
At this moment, the young novice monk brought over a long box. Shen Mian realized that it was a scroll painting inside. Her teacher, Master Wen Kong, was skilled in painting various Buddhist deities such as Guanyin, Tathagata Buddha, and Arhats, etc. His paintings were hard to come by and were highly sought after by noble ladies.
It seemed that Prince Jiang was also here to request for a painting for his mother, Shen Mian thought.
Jiang Xinglie took the box with both hands, then handed it over to Shen Mian. "Madam Shen, please hold this for me. Let's go."
Holding the painting, Shen Mian bid farewell to her teacher, "Teacher, I'll leave now. I'll come again next month."
"Hmm, go ahead. Remember to bring something for me," Master Wen Kong instructed.
With a forced smile, Shen Mian responded, "Hmm, I won't forget."
With that, she followed Jiang Xinglie out, still holding the painting in her hands. A satisfied smile crept on Master Wen Kong's face as he muttered quietly to himself, "Serendipity, serendipity."
"Master! Master! Do you want sister Shen Mian to bring some Qing Tuan? I want some too," the young novice asked.
"Food isn't important, quickly recite your scriptures," Master Wen Kong rebuked, patting the novice's bald head.