Chapter 173: The empress dowager buys people’s hearts Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Ning Xiaoyao spun the hairless brush between her fingers as she asked A’Ming, “Then how long do we have to keep going north?”
“Very, very long, oh~” A’Ming replied.
Ning Xiaoyao asked, “Then how long is very very long?”
A’Ming replied, “Very, very long, ah.”
“……..” said Ning Xiaoyao. It’s really hard to communicate with you, isn’t it?
A’Ming lowered his head to peck at a few rice grains in a basin as he added, “Xiaoyao, if I eat too much of this, I’ll have trouble pooping.”
“Hm?” Ning Xiaoyao’s train of thought were distracted by A’Ming’s words. “Geese like you have constipation problems, too?”
Big Boss Black scratched Ning Xiaoyao’s hand and meowed, “Supreme Commander’s big brother, Supreme Commander’s big brother, Supreme Commander’s big brother!”
“Don’t get agitated,” A’Ming said in a slow voice. “Even if you know where your Supreme Commander’s big brother is, there’s no way you can save him right now anyway.”
“Our Supreme Commander’s big brother?” Ning Xiaoyao echoed blankly.
A’Ming held his head up high. “I am a wild goose from beyond the Great Wall!”
Ning Xiaoyao blinked. I see, so this is a foreign goose.
A’Ming nibbled on a bit of salted fish next and added, “It’s not good to eat too much salty things either, your feathers will fall out.”
“Why are you so fussy, miaow!” Big Boss Black wanted to bite this goose to death. Ning Xiaoyao grabbed him and held him in her lap.
Then she asked, “Brother A’Ming, can you verify that one slave is Supreme Commander’s big brother?”
A’Ming replied, “I’ve heard the Wolf King of the Northern Hu call him Lou Jing,1 ah.”
“Who’s Lou Jing?” Ning Xiaoyao asked automatically without giving the name another thought. Abruptly, the little flower garden fell silent as all the animals stared at her. Instead of showing his claws this time, Big Boss Black bared his fangs and prepared to bite her until Ning Xiaoyao whapped him on the head.
Then Big Boss Black shouted, “Lou Jing is Supreme Commander’s big brother, ah! You ninny!”
Realizing that she’d been a blockhead yet again, Ning Xiaoyao was shamed into fury. She shouted back, “I could’ve figured it out on my own without your help!”
Big Boss Black didn’t want to talk to Ning Xiaoyao anymore.
A’Ming quietly asked Grandpa Sparrow, “Do you guys really believe that she can save Lou Jing and bring him back?”
Grandpa Sparrow suddenly realized that he wasn’t confident enough to nod and say yes…
“Hey, hey,” the hurt Ning Xiaoyao spoke up. “I can hear what you’re saying.”
A’Ming only lowered his head to keep eating his salted fish. Grandpa Sparrow asked, “Xiaoyao, what are your plans?”
Ning Xiaoyao folded up the white paper and placed it back in her bag, before saying, “I’ll find a chance to leave for the borders sometime. If the people there won’t tell me where White Wolf Gorge is, I can ask the animals for directions.”
“That works,” A’Ming replied.
Ning Xiaoyao patted her chest. “I’ll use actions to prove that I’m dependable to you all.”
“Stop boasting,” Big Boss Black looked askance at Ning Xiaoyao. “You should set a date to travel first. Do you think you can take a step outside the border without killing a scourge like Grand Preceptor Xie first?”
Ning Xiaoyao clutched her head. That’s right, ah. That is a real problem. Unless I kill off that old Xie geezer, I won’t be able to leave without worrying.
“Someone’s coming,” a little sparrow called from the Wutong tree branch above their heads. Ning Xiaoyao raised her head and saw Shadowbolt running her way. The fourth commander of the Dragon Guards saw the wild goose by her side as soon as he entered the gardens and gave a start. Isn’t it supposed to be impossible to domesticate that kind of bird?
“Fourth Lightning,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “How did the Little Peach Blossom issue resolve itself?”
Shadowgale quickly recovered his senses and walked to Ning Xiaoyao’s side. “To reply Your Majesty, this servant delivered Little Peach Blossom to the empress dowager’s palace.”
“And Windy?” Ning Xiaoyao was still worried about Shadowgale.
Shadowbolt replied, “Big bro went to the palace gates. Your Majesty, I think he’s alright.”
“Do you think he’d cry in front of you if he wasn’t?” Ning Xiaoyao asked.
Shadowbolt was left unable to reply.
“Aiyo,” Ning Xiaoyao fretted. “There are so many things I need to worry about!”
Shadowbolt said, “Your Majesty, is there anything this servant can do?”
“Help Windy find a wife,” Ning Xiaoyao replied immediately.
Shadowbolt shut his mouth. He couldn’t help with that when he couldn’t even find a wife for himself!
“Fourth Lightning, have you ever heard of White Wolf Gorge?” Ning Xiaoyao asked suddenly.
Shadowbolt shook his head. “Your Majesty, where’s that?”
Ning Xiaoyao sighed. “One of the imperial hunting parks owned by Northern Hu’s king.”
Shadowbolt scratched his head. He had no idea why His Majesty was suddenly concerned with Northern Hu hunting grounds.
Currently at the empress dowager’s palace, Little Peach Blossom was kneeling in front of Empress Dowager Xie as she trembled uncontrollably. Empress Dowager Xie examined her from head to toe. Here was a girl with peach-like eyes, a slender waist, and clear, lucid eyes. Was Shadowgale blind to ignore such a beauty before his eyes?
Little Peach Blossom hadn’t knelt long before she started crying and kowtowing. “Esteemed Empress Dowager, have mercy. This servant really don’t know where things went wrong.”
“That’s true, ah. This Dowager can’t figure it out, either. His Majesty was actually able to tell that something was wrong,” Empress Dowager Xie raised a hand to help the girl up. A ray of hope shone in Little Peach Blossom’s chest as the empress dowager allowed her to rise. She’s not going to kill me?
Empress Dowager Xie’s expression was divided between eight parts helplessness and two parts grief. She seemed a completely different person from the woman who had faced off against Ning Xiaoyao earlier.
“You should leave,” Empress Dowager Xie told Little Peach Blossom. “This Dowager doesn’t want your life, but it’s hard to tell what His Majesty thinks on the matter.”
“E-Esteemed Empress Dowager,” Little Peach Blossom stammered.
“You were born from an official’s family,” Empress Dowager Xie said. “So you’ll have your share of support after leaving the palace. His Majesty only knows you by Little Peach Blossom, so This Dowager promises that he’ll never find out your true identity.”
Little Peach Blossom fell to her knees again.
“Go on,” Empress Dowager Xie added. “Just treat everything that happened in the palace as a nightmare. Find yourself a husband outside the palace walls.”
A mama stepped forward with a bundle, and Empress Dowager Xie said, “This Dowager shall reward you with this. It should be enough to last you the rest of your days.”
Little Peach Blossom kowtowed her head against the ground three times towards Empress Dowager Xie.
“Leave now,” Empress Dowager Xie murmured softly. “You should go quickly, while This Dowager can still protect your life.”
The mama placed the bundle in Little Peach Blossom’s hands and led her out of the palace gates. The other court ladies and eunuchs who saw her crying face could only worry for themselves. Suppose His Majesty really tried to kill Esteemed Empress Dowager one day? What would happen to us then?
Meanwhile, Lou Zigui had reached the palace gates and dismounted from his horse. He gave the reins of his battle stallion, Little Red, to one of the imperial guards who came to greet him and went inside.
The mama led Little Peach Blossom towards the exit as she spoke. “Your ancestors accumulated virtue to bless you an escape from death this time. After you leave the palace, you should look out for yourself.”
Little Peach Blossom only nodded in silence.
“You have to remember Esteemed Empress Dowager’s great kindness,” the mama added.
“Yes,” Little Peach Blossom assented. Her words and expression betrayed nothing beyond her gratitude, but Little Peach Blossom was very clear in her heart that she never would’ve ended up like this if she hadn’t worked for the empress dowager in the first place.
One of the Dragon Guards stationed in the shadows saw the mama lead Little Peach Blossom out and ran to report to Supreme Splendor Hall. Meanwhile, Lou Zigui had run into Shadowgale at the entrance and beckoned for him to accompany him. Then he muttered, “Little Peach Blossom is one of the empress dowager’s agents. His Majesty didn’t know how to break the news to you, so let me tell you instead.”
Shadowgale’s expression didn’t change. “Just earlier, Esteemed Empress Dowager brought her to Supreme Splendor Hall, so I already know her identity. His Majesty told me everything.”
Lou Zigui’s steps stilled. “What was she doing there?”
Shadowgale told Lou Zigui everything that had happened in Supreme Splendor Hall in his absence. Lou Zigui couldn’t curse the empress dowager outright, but he only smiled coldly once Shadowgale had finished.
Shadowgale said, “It was my fault. I’ve met with that court lady multiple times, but I never saw anything off about her.”
Lou Zigui asked, “Has that court lady ever asked you about His Majesty’s affairs?”
Shadowgale shook his head. “No, not even once.”
“She didn’t reveal any weak points, so it’s only natural that you didn’t suspect anything,” Lou Zigui said. “There’s no use over thinking things. She was only a woman, after all.”
Shadowgale could only nod in agreement. By the time they and the rest of the Black Frost Cavalry reached Supreme Splendor Hall, they spotted a Dragon Guard running over from the direction of the empress dowager’s palace. Lou Zigui stopped at the foot of the steps and waited until the man had arrived, before asking, “What’s happened?”
The Dragon Guard glanced at Shadowgale before reporting, “Esteemed Empress Dowager has ordered a mama to bring Little Peach Blossom out of the palace.”
Lou Zigui furrowed his brows. Empress Dowager Xie certainly knows how to buy people’s hearts. “Which door did she leave from?”
The Dragon Guard said, “A small door on the southern side of the palace.”
Shadowgale was about to leave when Lou Zigui raised a hand to stop him. He then told the Dragon Guard, “Take a trip outside the palace. Be sure to bring back Little Peach Blossom’s head.”
The Dragon Guard replied with an assent and prepare to leave, when Lou Zigui suddenly called out, “Hold it. Don’t go. You—” Supreme Commander Lou now looked towards one of his Black Frost Cavalry generals, “You go instead.”
The general obeyed and walked away with large strides.
“You men are officials of the palace,” Lou Zigui explained to Shadowgale and the other Dragon Guard. “There’s no need for you to create these kind of grudges with the empress dowager.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Ning Xiaoyao had strode out from the doors of Supreme Splendor Hall and appeared in front of Lou Zigui in a flash. “Who’s going to create a grudge with the empress dowager?”
“It’s nothing,” Lou Zigui said as he pulled Ning Xiaoyao up the steps. Dropping his voice, he added, “We were just discussing about how the empress dowager sent that Little Peach Blossom out of the palace.”
“Ah?” Ning Xiaoyao looked over at Shadowgale, who seemed as normal as ever.
“Don’t worry about that anymore,” Lou Zigui said. “She was nothing but a court lady, so when will you stop thinking about her?”
“Well dang,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “Why would I worry about Little Peach Blossom? I’m only fretting over where to find a good girl for Shadowgale. There’s plenty of women in the palace, but how do I know whether they’re agents of the empress dowager?”
Lou Zigui said, “The females in the palace are all Your Majesty’s women.”
“Heheh,” Ning Xiaoyao chuckled. Lou Zigui glanced at her before he remembered. Right, this is a girl too…
“Did those seven men go back?” Ning Xiaoyao decided to change the topic. It was borderline abuse talking about girls and love with Supreme Commander when he didn’t understand either topic.
“They have,” Lou Zigui said. “Xie Wenyuan didn’t send any men after them like we expected him to.”
Ning Xiaoyao blinked.
“But I arranged for men to play the role of killers sent from the Grand Preceptor’s estate,” Lou Zigui added as he reached out to stroke Ning Xiaoyao’s face. She shook her head a few times and prepared to speak.
“Are you going to call me a bad guy again?” Lou Zigui asked.
Ning Xiaoyao swallowed the words sitting in her throat and said, quite against her will, “No, I was thinking you were really dashing, Supreme Commander. Yay~” Ning Xiaoyao made a victory gesture with her fingers.
“……” said Lou Zigui.
- Lou Jing (楼璟) – Jing has an archaic definition that means “luster of jade.” ↩