Chapter 60: Looting and being looted Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Just after celebrating the fact that Ning Yu knew nothing of the grain depot, Grand Preceptor Xie remembered the Imperial Jade Seal. Immediately, he pounded the account book on his table. Xie Laibao shut his mouth as soon as he saw the Grand Preceptor’s reaction.
“Bring a few extra men with you tonight when you go over,” Grand Preceptor Xie ordered Xie Laibao, who hastened to demur.
Then he asked timidly, “Grand Preceptor, will something happen tonight?” Almost everyone in the Grand Preceptor’s estate knew that His Majesty was at odds with their Grand Preceptor. When Grand Preceptor Xie mentioned bringing more manpower, Head Steward Xie immediately thought of His Majesty.
“If anything does happen,” Grand Preceptor Xie said coldly, “There’s no need for you to risk your lives, either. Just come back. If they want to steal, then this old man will make it hard for them to steal a single grain.”
Three generations of Xie Clan members had looked after the grain depot in the western suburbs. There was a switch inside the storage area that was connected to a system of irrigation canals filled with kerosene1. If anyone triggered the switch by the entrance, the kerosene would be lit on fire and destroy the entire depot. Grand Preceptor Xie’s paternal grandfather had set up the system in the past. That was because if anyone discovered their Xie Clan secretly harboring army provisions, then they’d be hard pressed to escape the death sentence. The fire was meant to destroy all the evidence. Because the depot had gone through three generations of Xie Clan members without ever being discovered, this switch had ended up being an ornament instead. If Grand Preceptor Xie hadn’t made his remark just then, Xie Laibao wouldn’t have even remembered the switch.
“Grand Preceptor?” Xie Laibao could discern the meaning hidden in his words. If anyone tried to steal the grain, they could just watch the granary burn to ashes. Even so, Head Steward Xie felt pained by the thought.
“Go on,” Grand Preceptor Xie waved a hand.
“Yes,” Xie Laibao could only obey.
Grand Preceptor Xie pinched the thick account book between his fingers. Since he and Ning Yu were on different paths now, how could he leave her any satisfaction? While Grand Preceptor Xie’s men were arriving with their grain delivery, Supreme Commander Lou had already sent men out in groups before night fell. The four main gates of the capital city were filled with people streaming in and out everyday. Humans, horses, and carriages formed a constant stream of traffic. One hundred men dressed as peddlers, laborers or coolies mixed in with the crowd in twos and threes to leave the city. Even if the guards had been given instructions by Grand Preceptor Xie to inspect for any people from the palace, they weren’t able to discover these 100 disguised Dragon Guards. Meanwhile, the eunuch that Empress Dowager Xie had sent out with a letter for the Grand Preceptor’s estate was detained outside the palace by an imperial guard. The letter was confiscated and the person captured, then locked away in one of the dungeons beneath the Supreme Splendor Hall.
Ning Xiaoyao was completely ignorant of Supreme Commander Lou’s actions. After eating dinner, she and Erya started scraping off royal insignias from various gold, silver, and bronze wares until it grew dark. When the sun set, a crescent moon showed its face in the skies. Black clouds rolled across the horizon until it began to rain heavily. Ning Xiaoyao despaired in the face of such annoying weather, her bad mood leading her to devour half a basket of meat buns. Shadowgale and the rest began to worry that she’d hurt her digestive system if she kept wolfing down food.
“The rain’s too heavy,” Lou Zigui said as he looked out the window. “Maybe you shouldn’t go.”
Ning Xiaoyao was putting on a palm-bark rain cape when she replied, “Hehe, did you forget about Zheng A’Niu2 already?”
Supreme Commander Lou couldn’t say a word after Ning Xiaoyao had struck his Achilles’ heel.
After Grand Preceptor Xie finished his dinner, he started pacing back and forth in his study, seemingly anxious. His second steward Xie Laifu3 rode a fast horse to the manor doors before running all the way through to the study.
“How is it?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked.
Second Steward Xie was drenched from head to toe by the rain, but bowed and replied, “May Grand Preceptor set your cares at rest. The grain has long been delivered and the head steward is currently taking men to move them to the granary.”
“Have there been any unusual movements around the grain depot?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked again.
Xie Laifu was quick to shake his head. “None. Your servant brought men to walk around the perimeter of the granary and didn’t see anyone.”
Only then did Grand Preceptor Xie sit back down. He’d really thought too much of Ning Xiaoyao.
“Grand Preceptor,” a servant in charge of the gates came in a rush and stuttered, “Grand Preceptor, it’s n-no good. Elder L-Li brought a whole bunch of officials, and, and yamen runners from the Ministry of Punishments here.”
Grand Preceptor Xie had hardly warmed his bottom on the chair when he stood back up again. “What’s he come to do?”
The gatekeeper said, “Elder Li said that the estate had a t…torture chamber. He’s here to inspect it.”
“………” said Grand Preceptor Xie. Which old and great families didn’t have torture chambers of their own? Did that old Li eat the wrong medicine or something?!
Currently, Elder Li was standing in the heavy downpour, his skinny frame looking tall and sturdy in the rain. “Charge inside,” Elder Li said to his pupils and the Ministry of Punishment’s yamen runners while looking at the half-open gates of the front door. “We live on the official’s salary given to us by the sovereign, so we have an obligation to repay that imperial benevolence.”
“Achoo!” Crouching in the bushes, Ning Xiaoyao muffled her mouth in a sneeze. Lou Zigui placed his own cloak on her shoulders until she was entirely enveloped beneath his form.
“Cold?” Lou Zigui reached out a hand to touch Ning Xiaoyao’s own.
“Not cold,” Ning Xiaoyao rubbed her nose. “If I didn’t see wrong, this is a cemetery, right?”
Although the barren hills before them had no gravestones, each and every mound of earth looked like graves no matter how she saw them.
“It’s a cemetery,” Lou Zigui confirmed, pulling Ning Xiaoyao into his embrace. He figured that Ning Xiaoyao had never seen such a gloomy sight. “These are called grave mounds.”
Ning Xiaoyao wanted to prostrate herself before Grand Preceptor Xie for placing his granary amongst the grave mounds. He really knew how to find a hiding place!
Shadowgale silently climbed down from halfway up a slope and slipped into the bushes to report, “Your Majesty, the head steward of the Grand Preceptor’s estate brought people to the entrance of the grain depot. Your servant saw them just deliver grain inside. There’s quite a few carts parked outside.”
“You get a ‘like,’” Ning Xiaoyao said. They were planning to steal the grain when their foes delivered more to the depot. Not everyone had this kind of luck.
“Then we,” Now Shadowgale was looking at Lou Zigui, “Then how are we supposed to go over?”
Ning Xiaoyao rustled the bushes as she leaped out of them and said, “Do we need to pay attention to details if we’re here to plunder the place? Fellow looters, let’s pounce!”
“Pounce?” Shadowgale asked Lou Zigui.
Lou Zigui thought it over. Robbing and looting seemed to involve capturing people and goods, so all the looters had to do was pounce. He rested a hand on his forehead and began to seriously wonder whether this girl had been born as a bandit. When Shadowgale saw that His Majesty had all but disappeared, with Supreme Commander Lou ready to follow, he couldn’t help but blurt out, “We’re just going over like that? Don’t we need to hide our faces?” Were there such thieves who went to rob in plain view?
“Why do you need to hide your face if you’re helping His Majesty?” Lou Zigui asked.
“……” said Shadowgale. That’s right. Anyways, they’d already fallen out with the Grand Preceptor. So what if they robbed him in plain sight?
“I’ve, I’ve never done the work of bandits before,” Shadowthunder muttered on the side.
Lou Zigui replied evenly, “I haven’t done it either.”
“……..” said everyone else. Was there a need to say that out loud on purpose?
Xie Laibo patted his chest as he saw the two stone doors of the granary swing shut. He exhaled a breath. After listening to the Grand Preceptor’s instructions that day, Head Steward Xie’s heart had been beating at least 200 beats per minute. He brushed the rainwater off his face. The grain was now stored inside with the doors all locked, and nobody had shown up to steal it. It looks like he’d been scaring himself with his worries all day.
Ning Xiaoyao stepped next to Xie Laibo and raised a hand to pat his shoulder. “Hey.”
With the heavy rainfall, the water-repellent lanterns could only illuminate a small area of space. Xie Laibao didn’t recognize Ning Xiaoyao at first glance and snarled, “Who are you? You dare to pat this sir’s shoulder? Bastard!”
Ning Xiaoyao fell silent. Why did this steward have such a bad temper? Big Boss Black was perched on her shoulders as well, and couldn’t take it anymore. Was his ninny a person that just anyone could bully? He leaped up and clawed at Xie Laibao’s face.
“Yowch!” Caught completely off guard, Xie Laibo met the cat’s claws straight on before covering his face to howl painfully.
“Who is it?!” the guards that had protected the grain immediately started shouting at Ning Xiaoyao.
Ning Xiaoyao raised her hand and slapped Xie Laibao to the ground. “You’re pretending to not know me?” she asked.
A flash of lightning lit up the night sky above their heads, followed by a rumble of thunder. This time, Xie Laibao clearly saw Ning Xiaoyao’s face and began to tremble so hard that he couldn’t breathe. This, this person had shown up after all!
“Take this scoundrel into custody!” the leader of the grain guards raised his staff and pointed at Ning Xiaoyao with an order. Most of the Xie Clan’s guards rarely met their match, because everyone who heard of the Xie Clan’s name in the capital feared them. Who would really dare to fight against them? One order from their leader sent the guards rushed towards Ning Xiaoyao.
Xie Laibao peed his pants. His His Majesty? They were simply rushing to their deaths! “Don’t, ahhh–” Head Steward Xie wanted to shout for them to stop, but his words soon broke into a wretched cry. His Majesty had lifted him above her head and thrown him at the incoming hordes like a giant boulder.
“Miaow!” Big Boss Black chased after Xie Laibao. This man was unforgivable, so he was going to make sure his face was covered in blood!
The hundred or so Dragon Guards caught up in time to see Ning Xiaoyao fighting the guards with a brick in her hand again. Without a word, they joined in the fray. Aside from Song Jin, who was attending to garrison duties at the imperial palace, Fang Tang and the rest had all come along. When young General Fang saw the two groups of people duking it out between the grave mounds, his throat grew choked with emotion.
“Do we have to fight? As soon as His Majesty reveals his identity, will any of these men dare to fight back? Or do we have to keep things secret today so that Xie Wenyuan won’t know we did this?”
Lou Zigui could only sigh repeatedly as he watched Ning Xiaoyao dancing her way through the crowds with a brick, knocking people down one after the other. Would it be any use if he told her to stop fighting? “Let’s go help out,” Supreme Commander Lou told his subordinates. Since they were going to fight, then they’d be absolutely merciless and force these people to concede defeat.
Head Steward Xie cradled his head as he rolled around on the ground. His own Grand Preceptor had still underestimated His Majesty’s ferocity. Don’t risk their lives? Just come back? What was the use even if they didn’t risk their lives? His Majesty wasn’t letting them off one bit! When the cries of battle finally stopped, Xie Laibao lifted his head to look around him. Without exception, all of their guards had collapsed on the ground.
“Miaow!” Big Boss Black clawed Xie Laibao again, this time on the back of his head. Head Steward Xie Laibao had already been dragged around by half the hair on his head. Though he tried to hold it back, he still couldn’t help the pained cry that flew from his lips.
Ning Xiaoyao walked to his side and said in surprise, “Huh, still alive?”
Xie Laibao crawled to his knees and started to kowtow. “Your Majesty, spare my life!”
“Open the doors,” Lou Zigui ordered Shadowgale.
“Y-you can’t, ah!” a guard shouted. “Without the key, the door will activate the switch inside and burn up the entire granary!” He didn’t want to die. Once the grain depot caught on fire and destroyed all the grain, wouldn’t these people kill them to vent their anger instead?
- kerosene (火油) – huoyou. Ancient Chinese had started using underground oil fairly early in their history. You can check out a diagram of ancient Chinese oil drills here. ↩
- Zheng A’Niu was one of the conscripts under Lou Zigui’s command who invaded the Grand Preceptor’s estate at his orders to trick him into thinking they were after the Imperial Jade Seal. He was one of five men who allowed themselves to be captured, tortured, and interrogated by the Grand Preceptor’s men. Unfortunately, Ning Xiaoyao wasn’t there that time, so he died from internal injuries incurred by torture. ↩
- Xie Laifu (谢来福) – Laifu literally means “come, wealth.” It’s an interesting naming scheme that matches Head Steward Xie Laibao (谢来宝), who is “come, treasure.” ↩