Chapter 172: A counter-scheme to a scheme Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Ning Xiaoyao watched the forsaken Little Peach Blossom and wondered what was up now. Am I supposed to raise this flower now?
“Deliver her to the empress dowager’s palace,” Ning Xiaoyao told Shadowbolt, who ran up and gagged the girl before picking her up and leaving. Keeping her around any longer to shout and rant would only make his elder brother-in-arms all the more miserable.
Once Shadowbolt took Little Peach Blossom away, Ning Xiaoyao looked at Shadowgale and tried to think of some more comforting words. If it wasn’t for the conflict between her and Empress Dowager Xie, the Little Peach Blossom incident wouldn’t have happened at all. Because of that, she felt rather contrite.
“Your Majesty, this servant really is fine,” Shadowgale spoke up first. “This servant thanks Your Majesty for revealing that court lady’s true face before any serious mistakes were made.”
“Forget that,” Ning Xiaoyao waved a hand at him. “I’ll find you someone better in the future. Let’s believe in a world where there’s more good people than bad, alright?”
Shadowgale’s tone turned reverent. “Your Majesty is correct.”
While Ning Xiaoyao was optimistically judging the state of mankind over in Supreme Splendor Hall, Grand Preceptor Xie was smashing teacups in his study. The still-recovering Xie Laibao didn’t dare to lift his head from his travelling chair.
“Lou Zigui,” Grand Preceptor Xie hissed out the name between gritted teeth.
Head Steward Xie said, “Master, it’ll be bad news if those seven officers successfully reach the southern armies’ soldiers.”
Grand Preceptor Xie rested his hands on the table, his veins popping up beneath his skin. “We cannot kill them,” Grand Preceptor Xie said to himself. His fingers drew absent circles on the surface of the wood as he rejected idea after idea in his head. Send assassins after them? No, wouldn’t that just confirm that I wanted to kill them? Moreover, I don’t have substantial grounds to murder those seven just yet.
Don’t send assassins after them? No,that won’t do either. If I don’t send the killers, Lou Zigui will still send fake killers under my name. Expose his scheme? Impossible, those seven officers won’t believe a word I say now.
Wait until they leave the capital before making a move to eliminate them? Here was an idea, but what if one of the seven were to escape from his grasp? It would cause no end of troubles for the future.
The south. Grand Preceptor Xie rested a hand against his forehead. I’ve already lost the Jiangnan navy, but now Lou Zigui’s wrested another group of men from me? He shook his head. I cannot allow Ning Yu to consolidate any more power and be able to rise against me. But how do I hold her back?
Xie Laibao sat with his head bowed, his face full of apparent anxiety as he cursed his own inability to help his master.
“Even Prince Zhi has gotten wind of such news,” Grand Preceptor Xie muttered under his breath. Xie Laibao quickly looked up at his master again.
“Prince Zhi has formed an alliance with Lou Zigui,” Grand Preceptor Xie stated while scowling. Xie Laibao looked like he’d been scared to death.
“This—Master, what do we do now?”
“Lou Zigui is pressuring this old man,” Grand Preceptor Xie seethed.
He’s not just pressuring you, he wants your very life, Xie Laibao thought privately.
“On what grounds does that Cuckoo Lou have to pressure me?” Grand Preceptor Xie seemed to be asking Xie Laibao for an answer even as he asked himself.
Xie Laibao said, “Master, Lou Zigui is only a common military man. Perhaps he’s simply doing this to vent his temper. How—how could he possibly outwit you, master?”
Grand Preceptor Xie’s fingers suddenly stopped drawing circles on the table. Xie Laibao only assumed that he’d spoken the wrong thing and quickly dropped his head.
“This old man recalls that a caravan left Prince Zhi’s estate recently to return to Qiufeng City,” Grand Preceptor Xie muttered.
“Something like that did seem to happen,” Xie Laibao piped up.
“Lou Zigui’s agent must be on his way to Anyuan,” Grand Preceptor Xie viciously slammed the table.
Xie Laibao gave a start. “H-how could this be?”
“Someone, come!” Grand Preceptor Xie bellowed at the door. One of his personal guards replied an assent and quickly entered the room.
“Go investigate,” Grand Preceptor Xie commanded. “See which one of the Black Frost Cavalry officers that came with Lou Zigui to the capital haven’t shown their faces recently.”
“Yes,” the guard obeyed and silently withdrew.
Xie Laibao’s eyes rolled in his sockets before he said, “Master, it’s hard to tell whether or not that some of the Black Frost Cavalry members have simply been staying in the palace this entire time.”
“Someone must have gone back,” Grand Preceptor Xie insisted. Xie Laibao couldn’t push any further. If he said that was impossible, his master would start harboring suspicions against him.
“You may leave,” Grand Preceptor Xie gestured at him.
Xie Laibao called for the pageboys outside the door, who then came in to lift up his travelling chair and take him back out. Grand Preceptor Xie sat in his study until his cup of tea turned cold, staring at the liquid as he pondered. Doesn’t Lou Zigui know that by revealing Prince Zhi as his piece, I’ll know he sent an agent back to Anyuan? This isn’t right. Grand Preceptor Xie shook his head. Lou Zigui would never be so stupid. What exactly is he planning?
An hour later saw the seven military officers bowing to Lou Zigui in a thick patch of forest outside the southern city gates. “Supreme Commander, we’re off.”
Lou Zigui nodded. The seven men had changed into commoner clothes by now. They mounted their horses and galloped out of the forest. There were quite a few pools of blood lining the little path in the woods, with weapons scattered aplenty. They were all obvious signs of a fierce fight to the death.
Once the seven officers had left, Lou Zigui had the Black Frost Cavalry generals take their men to wait outside the forest. None of the generals dared to speak and did what they were told. Lou Zigui hadn’t had to wait long before Prince Zhi galloped into the bloodstained woods. He didn’t dismount his horse when he reached Lou Zigui, but simply said, “Supreme Commander, this prince has already spread the news on your behalf. But Xie Wenyuan didn’t fall for the trick.”
Lou Zigui took the reins of Prince Zhi’s horse, allowing the man to dismount and look at him straight on. “Also, wouldn’t Xie Wenyuan know that Song Jin left for Anyuan with my caravan, now that I’ve spread the news myself?”
“Yes,” Lou Zigui nodded.
“You,” Prince Zhi was utterly mystified. “Song Jin is still on his way to his destination. Aren’t you afraid that the Grand Preceptor will send his forces after him?”
“The Grand Preceptor wants His Majesty’s life,” Lou Zigui murmured instead.
Prince Zhi stood still for awhile, lost in thought, before he suddenly raised a hand to point at Lou Zigui. “Xie Wenyuan may be too preoccupied with your general slipping into the city up north to worry about His Majesty now. But let this prince pose you a question, Supreme Commander. If your Black Frost Cavalry loses the chance to enter the city because of this distraction, who will protect His Majesty then?”
A swallow took flight off a branch in the forest, passing right over Lou Zigui’s head.
Prince Zhi said, “Once Xie Wenyuan takes care of the Black Frost Cavalry, how will you protect His Majesty then, Supreme Commander Lou? Bring in troops from the south?”
Lou Zigui’s voice was as low as it always was. “The path from the capital to Anyuan is filled with the Xie Clan’s eyes and ears. I never had any hope that Song Jin would get to Anyuan in one piece.”
“What?!” Prince Zhi arched an eyebrow at Lou Zigui’s comment. “Could it be, Supreme Commander, that you sent Song Jin to his death?”
“Song Jin isn’t a rash man,” Lou Zigui stepped closer to Prince Zhi. “I trust that he won’t court death on his own.”
“Then what are you planning?!” Prince Zhi cried.
Lou Zigui murmured, “Your Highness should return to Qiufeng City now.”
Prince Zhi didn’t immediately process Lou Zigui’s words. After he thought it over, he glanced over at him and asked, “You want this prince to personally escort your own subordinates to Anyuan!?”
Lou Zigui replied, “While Xie Wenyuan is preoccupied with sending killers after Song Jin, he’ll be too busy to bother with Your Highness’s affairs.”
Prince Zhi said, “Don’t you think Xie Wenyuan would account for the fact that you might send more men?”
Lou Zigui’s lips curved into a smile in response to Prince Zhi’s query.
“You,” Prince Zhi gave a start. “Don’t tell me, the men that you send with my company will simply be targets for Xie Wenyuan as well?”
Lou Zigui didn’t reply. Since Prince Zhi already understood everything, there was no need for more explanations.
“Then you,” Prince Zhi sputtered, “How many men are you planning to send out, then?”
Supreme Commander Lou didn’t say a word.
“Are you telling me you don’t trust this prince?” Prince Zhi said next.
Lou Zigui replied, “It’s now that I don’t trust Your Highness. I just haven’t thought things through yet.”
Prince Zhi had nothing to say to that excuse. How am I supposed to force an answer when the other party had none?
“What does Your Highness think about the matter?” Lou Zigui asked.
Prince Zhi was a man who hated to suffer losses, so he simply chuckled and said, “Supreme Commander, perhaps you’ve forgotten? His Majesty still hasn’t given us a proper explanation for the official salaries. How is this prince supposed to leave the capital?”
Supreme Commander Lou now had headaches whenever people mentioned the issue of money as well. Where am I supposed to go and find his silver? Miss Ning had managed to grab a bunch of valuables from Old Madame Xie, but the amount was hardly enough to cover two years of official salaries to all of the imperial kinsmen. It’d be like trying to put out a blazing cart of wood with a single cup of water.
Prince Zhi said, “When Supreme Commander returns to the palace, please ask His Majesty on this prince’s behalf.”
Lou Zigui could already imagine Miss Ning’s expression of utter death if he had passed on the question.
“Supreme Commander?” Prince Zhi felt much better after rendering Lou Zigui mute.
“This one will deliver Your Highness’s words,” Lou Zigui said. “But it’s better for Your Highness to make preparations for a quick journey. Xie Wenyuan’s soldiers aren’t just there for show, you know. I trust that Your Highness has no wish to see the land fall under Xie Wenyuan’s command, either.”
“This prince will give you a thorough answer,” Prince Zhi tossed these words at Lou Zigui before mounting his horse and galloping off.
“White Wolf Gorge.”
Currently, Ning Xiaoyao was sitting in the little flower garden while talking to a goose. “With that kind of name, does it mean that the gorge is full of white wolves?”
“……..” said the wild goose A’Ming.1 No wonder they all say she’s a ninny. She is pretty foolish.
Big Boss Black simply scratched Ning Xiaoyao and said, “So it’s full of white wolves just because it’s called White Wolf Gorge? You really think humans would choose to live next to wild wolves? Miaow!”
Ning Xiaoyao scratched her head, unrepentant. “If there aren’t any white wolves, then why call it White Wolf Gorge at all?”
Big Boss Black replied, “You’re asking this cat why you foolish humans made up a name like that?”
A long haired white-furred cat spoke up, “Xiaoyao, our big boss has never gone beyond the borders, meow~”
“Hear that? Then you should just shut up!” Ning Xiaoyao whacked Big Boss Black on the head. “I thought you knew all about it, but you’re just as clueless as I am!”
Big Boss Black flashed his claws. Ning Xiaoyao put up her fists in response. When A’Ming saw that the cat and human were about to fight again, he turned to Grandpa Sparrow and asked, “Does Xiaoyao really want to rescue that man?” If she was so worried about him, why would she still be in the mood to tussle with a kitty?
Grandpa Sparrow flew down and perched on Big Boss Black’s head and told Ning Xiaoyao, “Xiaoyao, let’s talk about the main issue first! Weren’t you going to save Supreme Commander’s big brother?”
That’s right, Supreme Commander’s big brother! An embarrassed Ning Xiaoyao withdrew her fists and dug out a piece of white paper from a bag before spreading it on the ground. She picked up an ink-dipped hairless brush in her hand and said, “Brother A’Ming, ah, tell me about the specifics of this White Wolf Gorge. I’ll draw a map for us.”
A’Ming replied diligently, “After leaving through Nightcrow Pass, keep heading north and you’ll reach it. I’ve gone to White Wolf Gorge plenty of times, so there isn’t any mistake.”
Ning Xiaoyao fell silent. Just keep heading north? The world is round, ah. If I keep heading north, I’ll just go around the entire Earth!
- A’Ming (阿鸣) – A is a suffix used for nicknames, Ming means “ring, make a sound, the cries of birds/animals/insects. ↩