The next morning, Mister and Madam Zhong took their son to the restaurant in the side street Qiu Ling had told them about. They left the horses at the stable of the inn for the time being since they were unsure if Mister Zhong’s cousin had enough space for them.
Although the restaurant was located in a side street, it was in a good location and had become well known in the capital. It was one of the more frequented establishments which might also be due to the fact that it was located at the crossroad of two streets. Even now when it was still early people approached the building. A servant was waiting at the entrance to lead the guests to an unoccupied table.
Mister Zhong and his family stopped in front of the building, unsure of what to do next. This was a new world for them.
The building had two floors and an entrance that was broad enough to enter with a group of five or six people lined up next to each other. A black plaque hung above the middle of the entrance with golden signs. This was probably the restaurant’s name but neither Mister nor Madam Zhong could read so they could only stare at the beautiful lines.
Above the sign, a man stood on the balcony in the second story, looking toward the main street as if he was waiting for someone.
Madam Zhong tugged at her husband’s sleeve. "Is this really the right building? Look at that man up there. He’s dressed so well. Do you really think your cousin has such customers?"
Mister Zhong scratched his head. He wasn’t sure about that either. "Well, it should be the one the Daoist Master was talking about. We did pass it yesterday."
Mister Zhong’s gaze roamed over the building once more. The wood was lacquered and on the doors and the balcony even carved into intricate designs. The ridge of the house was decorated with the image of a dragon that stretched its head into the air as if it would fly off the next moment or maybe swallow the tiles around it.
From what he could see of the interior from their spot on the street, the rest of the restaurant didn’t look much different. Not far from them stood a table with a set of eight chairs around it, each of them with carved backs and armrests. Five of the chairs were occupied by customers and judging from the sounds coming out of the building there were a lot more people inside.
Mister Zhong gulped. He somehow hoped that this wasn’t his cousin’s restaurant. He would have felt much better if he had to help out at a food stall. This kind of restaurant … it wasn’t a place where they should be.
Well, his cousin was waiting for him so he couldn’t just leave. He had to go up and ask if this was the right place at least. Bringing himself to do so was easier said than done though. Even the servant at the entrance was better dressed than him. If it turned out that this was indeed not his cousin’s restaurant, it would seem as if he wanted to worm his way into some rich family to lead a comfortable life! He hadn’t that much face to lose.
"Just go!" His wife nudged him.
Mister Zhong took a deep breath and went up to the servant. There wasn’t another way. He had to ask. "Excuse me, I am searching for Zhong Gang."
The servant eyed him suspiciously. "Who is that supposed to be?"
"Uh …" Mister Zhong shrunk his neck. He hadn’t been sure in the first place and now that he was confronted with the servant’s harsh attitude he wanted to back down right away.
Qiu Ling sighed. He shouldn’t have hidden his body and just accompanied them the whole way. How could everything go wrong with this family?
He slipped into the restaurant, found an inconspicuous corner and dropped his spell. In a flash, he walked to the entrance and pretended to have just heard the conversation. "Zhong Gang? Isn’t that the owner?"
Mister Zhong looked up, feeling a sense of déjà vu. Indeed. The man who had come out of the restaurant was the one that had helped him in the inn yesterday! Mister Zhong broke out into a smile when he saw his savior.
"The owner?" The servant eyed the Zhongs again. "What do you want from him?"
Qiu Ling snorted, shook his head and stepped out of the restaurant. "Wouldn’t one normally tell that to the person they want to see?"
The servant gritted his teeth. He wanted to rebuke that brazen guest but he didn’t dare to. That man might seem as if he had traveled for a long time but the quality of his clothes and how he told his thoughts as a matter of course clearly showed that he was somebody with a status that couldn’t be offended. The servant could only force a smile and nod.
"Of course, of course. I was just wondering if I could be of any help to the guests until someone can report to the owner."
"Ah, no, no, that … isn’t necessary." Mister Zhong felt embarrassed. He was just a normal villager. How did he become a guest just through some words? This man was really special. He turned around and wanted to thank him but nothing could be seen of that man anymore.
The servant also turned around. He waved one of the other servants over and sent him inside to get the owner. He himself turned back and eyed the Zhongs suspiciously. If the owner didn’t want to see them, he would gladly chase them away. Just imagining it let him smile.
Mister Zhong relaxed his tensed shoulders. Look at that! That servant had seemed quite hostile at first but now he was even smiling at them! Sure enough, this was a good restaurant. Sure, it was very fancy but the people were still nice.
Madam Zhong glanced at her husband and shook her head. How could somebody misunderstand other people’s intentions this much? Her husband was really too naive!
Meanwhile, the restaurant’s owner was on his way down to see who these 'shabby people' were that the servant had described. When he reached the entrance he found a fuming servant, a man with a goofy smile on his face and a woman rolling her eyes with a child next to her.
The owner laughed heartily. "Ah Lei! You already came. I thought you’d only arrive in a week or two!" The owner hurried toward Mister Zhong and pulled him into a bear hug. "Ah, it’s so good to see you again!"
Mister Zhong smiled even happier and hugged the man back. "Ah Gang! Haha, some things happened on the way here. That’s why we were faster than expected."
"Tell me about it inside. Come on, come on. This has to be your beautiful wife? Ah, you didn’t brag for nothing!" He went over to Madam Zhong and smiled, then bent down to Jing Yi. "Oh? And who is this?"
Jing Yi looked up at him, his doe eyes wide.
"Ah, what a cute child! This has to be your wife’s younger brother!"
"No, no. That’s my son."
Zhong Gang turned around to Mister Zhong and lifted his brows. "How did you manage to get such a cute child? Ah, don’t tell me out here. Let’s go in. You must be hungry, right?" He already hurried back into the building and waved at the two servants without waiting for a response. "Bring our specialties up for my guests." Then he rushed further inside.
Mister Zhong and his family could only hurry to keep up with him. The two servants stood at the entrance that seemed somehow empty now. They exchanged glances and both thought the same: What exactly had just happened?