Chapter 178: Is it true love? Is it a personal enemy? Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Ning Xiaoyao escorted the empress out of the palace at the northern gates. Although she knew the empress must have packed money in those bags of hers, she held back her pain to hand over two silver drafts of her own. “Be careful with everyone once you leave the palace, especially for the empress dowager. If you need anything, have Zhou mama come back to find me.”
The empress nodded with a yes. Ning Xiaoyao quickly glanced at the empress’s stomach before she waved at hand at Zhou mama, who was in charge of their little carriage. “Go on now.”
The single rider carriage quickly departed from the gates. The empress lifted her window curtains with her hand to peer back at the quickly shrinking palace. She had been a bird in a cage for so long that she suddenly want to jump for joy at this newfound freedom. Perhaps a smile or laugh would do as well, but what came out were tears instead.
“Empress, sit tight,” Zhou mama said, her face covered by a veil as she urged on the horses. “Don’t let anyone see you.” The palace was the empress dowager’s domain, but the capital city belonged to Grand Preceptor Xie. It would be best for people to learn of their travels as late as possible.
In the end, the empress’s gaze settled on the slight figure standing just inside the palace gates. Her guilty conscience flared up momentarily before she released the curtains and settled back into the carriage. Don’t think about that anymore, Empress Zhou told herself. Between His Majesty and Xu Feiyu, I will always pick the latter.
Oil Jar perched on Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder to watch the carriage disappear into the distance. “Will the empress be alright?” he asked Ning Xiaoyao.
“She’ll have her older brother by her side and track down her General Xu as well,” Ning Xiaoyao rubbed her nose as she murmured back. “Maybe she and her big brother will even run away tonight.”
Oil Jar’s mouth opened wide.
“She wants to escape?” Big Boss Black asked. “Then Xiaoyao, what will you do?” No matter how good the empress might be, Big Boss Black was still worried about Ning Xiaoyao. She was his number one priority after Supreme Commander Lou.
Ning Xiaoyao simply shrugged. “What else can I do? Announce that the empress died, of course.”
Oil Jar squeaked. “So you’ve already thought it through, Xiaoyao. How formidable!”
Ning Xiaoyao chuckled. Fake deaths and whatnot were plenty good as a verbal excuse. Although she’d just come up with the idea on the spot, challenges like this were still nothing to her. (Author: If that’s the case, then why did you only come up with the idea now…)
Ning Xiaoyao hummed a tune as she personally shut the palace gates and glanced at the two imperial guards on duty. “What did you guys see just then?” she asked.
The empress hadn’t shown her face and stayed inside the carriage the entire time, while Zhou mama had obscured her identity with a veil. The two imperial guards had only seen His Majesty hand over two silver drafts to the occupant of the carriage but not the identities of the travelers.
“Your Majesty, this servant didn’t see a thing,” the two guards on duty replied.
“Then did you guys see me?” Ning Xiaoyao asked next.
The two imperial guards looked at the emperor before them. Most sovereigns were described with metaphors such as ‘a green dragon on the left shoulder and a white tiger on the right,’ but their sovereign had a cat on his left shoulder and a mouse on his right. They weren’t even wondering why the cat hadn’t eaten the mouse yet because His Majesty’s current getup was truly an insult to his status.
“No, we servants didn’t see Your Majesty,” the imperial guards replied with a straight face.
Satisfied, Ning Xiaoyao asked one officer, “Little bro, what’s your name?”
The officer hastened to say, “To reply Your Majesty, this one’s surnamed Zhou. My full name is Zhou Mu.”1 Mu meant ‘wood.’
“You’re nothing like a blockhead,” Ning Xiaoyao said as she patted Zhou Mu’s shoulders while thinking of his name.
Zhou Mu only trembled as he spotted Lou Zigui walking their way. The Supreme Commander looked to be in a foul mood. Hearing the footsteps, Ning Xiaoyao turned and greeted Lou Zigui with a grin.
“Supreme Commander, why did you show up?”
Lou Zigui glanced at the shut palace doors before turning back to Ning Xiaoyao. “This subject requests Your Majesty to return to Supreme Splendor Hall.”
“Oh, sure,” Ning Xiaoyao didn’t object. Since she’d already sent off the empress, why shouldn’t she go back to her own palace? Lou Zigui next glanced at Oil Jar on Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder, who quaked at the sight of the man. His eyes are like ice! I’m scared to death! Oil Jar jumped off Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder and fled.
“What’s wrong?” Ning Xiaoyao knitted her brows. She’d finally noticed that Supreme Commander Lou looked very unhappy.
Behind them, the imperial guards stood with their heads bowed but their ears wide open, waiting to hear the reason. Lou Zigui simply brought Ning Xiaoyao along until they were far away from the guards, then asked, “Why did you send the empress out of the palace?”
“Because the empress dowager wants her dead,” Ning Xiaoyao explained.
“She’s going to Iron Buddha Temple?” Lou Zigui asked.
“Ah?” Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes widened. “You even guessed that?”
Lou Zigui rested a palm against his forehead. Zhou Junqi was at Iron Buddha Temple, so where else in the capital could the empress go? She didn’t have any other relatives.
“That’s right, ah,” Ning Xiaoyao continued. “I sent the empress to Iron Buddha Temple. It’s not like the late emperor can crawl out of the earth and bite me for defying his orders.”
Lou Zigui’s face was wooden. “The late emperor wouldn’t bite you.” How can dead people come back to life?
“Exactly, yeah,” Ning Xiaoyao while wearing a very reasonable expression.
“The empress dowager wants to deal with you,” Lou Zigui said. “So why would she divvy up her resources to target the empress? Just because the empress helped you prepare that spring banquet?”
“That’s not it? Then did the empress oppose the empress dowager in some way?”
How was His Majesty Ning suppose to expose the empress’s private affairs? After thinking it over for awhile, Ning Xiaoyao finally settled on an answer. “In any case, it’s all schemes and fights between women.”
Lou Zigui stared at Ning Xiaoyao. Saying that is like saying nothing at all.
At this moment, Shadowgale arrived with a team of Dragon Guards in tow. Lou Zigui told Shadowgale, “The empress left for Iron Buddha Temple, send your men to guard her along the way. After you see Zhou Junqi, tell him that His Majesty has already discovered the truth of Prince Hong’s death from the past and is planning to straighten things out.” Lou Zigui paused here, before adding, “And also, His Majesty will find time to visit him at Iron Buddha Temple.”
Shadowgale looked to Ning Xiaoyao first after hearing Supreme Commander Lou’s words. Ning Xiaoyao had no idea what the truth of Prince Hong’s death could be, but she still nodded at him and said, “Do as Supreme Commander says.”
Shadowgale accepted the orders and left the palace with his Dragon Guards.
“It’s not wrong for you to bestow favors on Zhou Junqi,” Lou Zigui patted Ning Xiaoyao’s head after the Dragon Guards left.
Ning Xiaoyao blinked. When did I bestow favors to the empress’s big brother? Why don’t I know about this?
Lou Zigui continued, “Back then when Zhou Junqi acted on the emperor’s orders to quell the bandits, it was Xu Feiyu’s duty to protect Prince Hong and his family. But Prince Hong and his family all died by the bandits. Because Xu Feiyue earned the Grand Preceptor’s protection, all of the blame fell onto Zhou Junqi’s shoulders.”
Ning Xiaoyao’s jaw dropped wide enough to fit in an entire apple. That can’t be right. Where’s the true love story? That surnamed Xu ruined the empress’s big brother like that, but he’s still the empress’s lover? Is it true that love makes all women blind?!
Lou Zigui said, “You didn’t know about this?”
Ning Xiaoyao shook her head. How could I have known?!
Now Supreme Commander Lou was puzzled. “Then why are you bestowing favors on Zhou Junqi?”
Ning Xiaoyao stared at him. “If I say I’m not, will Supreme Commander think I’m an idiot?”
Lou Zigui looked back at Ning Xiaoyao. They stood next to each other, one looking down while the other looked up. Finally, Ning Xiaoyao dropped her head and took another apple out of her pouch to munch on while she walked. No need to ask. Judging from Supreme Commander’s attitude, he’ll definitely think I’m stupid.
“You,” Lou Zigui began as he followed behind her.
“Don’t talk,” Ning Xiaoyao handed Lou Zigui an apple as well. “I want some peace and quiet.”
Lou Zigui accepted the apple but didn’t eat it. “Why would I think you’re an idiot?”
Ning Xiaoyao glanced at him before spitting out, “It’d be weird if you didn’t.”
“……” said Lou Zigui.
Ning Xiaoyao polished off her apple without wasting a bite, even swallowing down the core. Lou Zigui saw her finishing it off with gusto and figured it was time to speak, only to see the girl take an even bigger apple out of her bag and crunch on it. Seeing that she wanted more time to think, Supreme Commander Lou had no choice but to continue to keep mum. As Ning Xiaoyao expressionlessly ate her apple, she looked quite concentrated. Actually, if Ning Xiaoyao’s head had a pot of water right now, it’d be boiling over. From what Supreme Commander just said, Xu Feiyu should be a mortal enemy of the Zhou Clan siblings. Then where did this ‘true love’ pop out from?
The quiet Big Boss Black on her shoulders finally spoke up. “The baby in the empress’s stomach definitely belongs to Xu Feiyu, there’s no mistake.”
“That there,” Ning Xiaoyao turned to look at Lou Zigui. “I’m going to the bathroom. Supreme Commander, let’s meet in the Supreme Splendor Hall.” After that, she took Big Boss Black and sped off.
“……” said Lou Zigui, who was left to stand in place. If she’s not going back to Supreme Splendor Hall for the restroom, then where’s she off to now? Isn’t she afraid of exposing her secret?! Ah, wait. Supreme Commander stopped fretting and made a 囧 face. Why do I even need to worry about her going to the bathroom?! (Author: This…Supreme Commander, if you don’t even know yourself, who would? (╯▽╰))
Ning Xiaoyao brought Big Boss Black to the little flower garden in the palace so she could continue her meeting with her little pals. She took out the apples and divided them amongst Grandpa Sparrow and Yellow Great Immortal while repeating Supreme Commander’s words.
Oil Jar, who’d come back ahead of Ning Xiaoyao, asked, “Did the empress accept a traitor as her husband?”
Ning Xiaoyao really felt like Oil Jar was a cultured little mouse to speak so well.
“No way, right?” Wifey Magpie couldn’t believe it.
Ning Xiaoyao said, “Anyone of you know what happened that year when the empress’s big brother failed to suppress those bandits?”
Grandpa Sparrow shook his head. “It didn’t happen in the capital, so none of us saw.”
Ning Xiaoyao said, “Grandpa Sparrow, none of you looked into it?”
Before Grandpa Sparrow could answer, Big Boss Black said disdainfully, “Who’d bother asking about you humans?”
Ning Xiaoyao had no words to say to that.
“Oil Jar can’t figure it out,” Oil Jar shook his head at Ning Xiaoyao.
Ning Xiaoyao asked, “Is Xu Feiyu truly the empress’s man?”
“Truly,” Wifey Magpie said. “When the two of them got together, my cousin and his wife saw everything. My cousin’s wife said she really did see the empress bleed. That’s what you humans call the virginal something something.”
“……” said Ning Xiaoyao. Does anything that happen at the Grand Preceptor’s estate escape those two magpies’ eyes?
- Zhou Mu (周木) – This is the same Zhou shared by the empress and Zhou mama, but it’s a common enough last name that he’s probably completely unrelated. Mu means ‘wood.’ ↩