Chapter 824: Crafty, convincing Ning An

Han Yunxi’s arrival at Ning An’s palace greatly surprised the woman. She prepared to bow, but was stopped.

Ning An was much younger than Han Yunxi imagined. Despite being Ning Cheng’s elder sister, she was only a couple of years older than him. Han Yunxi saw none of the usual serenity surrounding that of a woman who was supposedly a reverent Buddhist. Instead, she looked a capable, experienced, and keen-witted fierce woman. It reminded Han Yunxi of Ning Jing, who had cried herself a face full of tears in front of her. Who knew how she was doing with Tang Li now?

Although some women cried, they shouldered burdens just as heavy as men. The strength within their bones were just as strong. Ning Jing and Tang Li fought with each other over the rights to arms trade routes and assassination weapons. Now their battle had turned into a conflict between East and West Qin. The Tang Clan were Long Feiye’s most secret supporting forces. Even though Long Feiye had been revealed as the East Qin imperial heir and the Baili army as the Bai (Mermaid) Clan of the past, no one had found the connection between East Qin and the Tang Clan yet.

How much did Ning Jing know?

“Your Royal Highness, Long Zun[1] is right in the backyard. This subordinate can take you there,” Ning An’s words interrupted Han Yunxi’s thoughts.

The little emperor was named Long Zun, a personal moniker bestowed by Emperor Tianhui himself. After ascending the throne, his reign title was known as Yong Guang (永光), or Eternal Light. Although he was the emperor, the number of times he’d held court could be counted on one’s fingers. No one outside the palace considered him their sovereign, and even less did any officials put him in their eyes. Everyone even called him directly by his name. 

The saying went that mothers relied on their sons for status, but here the son followed the mother in being equally worthless and cheap.

As Han Yunxi was led through the rooms, she saw a tiny bundle tidied up on a table. This should be Long Zun’s luggage. She slowed her steps and looked around the room. It was obvious that the space had been cleared out for Long Zun and his wet nurse to live in. Ning An was located right next door. Before Chu Qingge’s death, the little boy had always been with his mother.

“There’s only this much luggage? Is that enough?” Han Yunxi asked offhandedly.

“That’s all he has. When Chu Qingge was alive, she never bothered with this child or give him anything. All of these are clothes,” Ning An said. She saw that Han Yunxi didn’t look very well, but didn’t speak up. She only wondered why the woman was so concerned about Chu Qingge’s son after being at odds with his mother for so long?

Han Yunxi stopped walking and slowly sat down, opening up the bundle while asking unhappily, “You call the shots in the harem. Tianning’s imperial clan might be weak, but your Cloud Realm Trade Consortium is rich and arrogant in its place? Can’t you even afford a few sets of clothes for a little child?”

“A misunderstanding! Your Royal Highness,” Ning An hastened to explain, “The allowances for the harem are issued by this subordinate, but we’ve never given Chu Qingge any less than she deserved. Everything still followed the old customs of the empress dowager. The child is Chu Qingge’s own; if even she didn’t care for him, how could outsiders be allowed much leeway in her place?”

“That’s true!” Han Yunxi laughed coldly. She picked out all of the outfits from the bag and looked at them in amusement without saying anything else. Ning An had no idea what Han Yunxi wanted to do, but her eyes didn’t budge from Han Yunxi’s fingers an instant. 

Naturally, Han Yunxi was racking her brains for a way to get her question to Long Feiye out of the palace with Long Zun. First, she had to make sure Ning An didn’t find out. Next, this piece of luggage would pass through multiple hands between the Tianning capital city and Medical City. How could she make sure the message was safe? Finally, how was she supposed to make sure the item got into trustworthy hands after reaching Medical City? 

This was a risk. If anything along the way went amiss and clued Ning Cheng into the truth, then Han Yunxi’s game was over. She couldn’t began to imagine what he’d do to her after shedding his sheepskin for wolfskin. 

But this was her only chance!

“Your Royal Highness, these there something wrong with them?” Ning An grew impatient.

Han Yunxi arched a brow at her. “What do you think?”

“This subordinate…” Ning An thought it over. “These are normal children’s clothes. There are no problems with them.”

Han Yunxi immediately threw away the clothes in her hands, then swiped the rest of the pile off the table. Fuming, she cried, “If the medical academy saw these things, won’t they curse us West Qin as heartless rogues who couldn’t even treat a child kindly? Chu Qingge is already dead. This child is in the Ning Clan’s hands, so the Ning Clan needs to take responsibility for him. If you can’t even take care of a child, how is your family supposed to help this princess defeat the world and treat its people well?”

Han Yunxi stood up and spoke in a low tone. “Ning An, it’s a small matter to lose face for the Ning Clan, but a big problem to lose Medical City’s heart! Gu Beiyue’s whereabouts are still unknown while I’ve left the city as well. Right now, the medical academy is being run by the Vice Council and Council of Elders. Department Head Shen Jueming is currently in command of the Vice Council, while Elder Luo Zuishan leads the Council of Elders. Both of them utterly loathe those who maltreat children. Gu Yuntian tried to protect Ling Guyi when news of the forced labor broke, but these two were the most vocal protestors. In the end, they helped banish Ling Guyi from Medical City.”

Ning An immediately understood Han Yunxi’s words. Although Han Yunxi had more power than Long Feiye to command Medical City, the Ning Clan still couldn’t afford to offend them. Once West Qin showed its flags and began its formal struggle with East Qin for the world, the support of Medical City would become crucial. Whether it was help from the medical front or through people’s hearts, the resulting effects would be substantial.

The Ning Clan had to avoid offending Medical City and even needed to ingratiate itself with the establishment by leaving a good impression. In other words, Han Yunxi was reminding her that sending Long Zun over was a excellent chance to win their favor.

“Thanks to Your Royal Highness for the reminder!” Ning An rejoiced.

Slyness stole upon Han Yunxi’s eyes before she said matter-of-factly, “No need for thanks. Just do this well. Everything is for the sake of our West Qin’s great cause!”

Ning An issued orders right then to add all sorts of clothing, shoes, hats and the rest to his pile of things. Han Yunxi listened quietly before she finally added, “How could one wet nurse be enough? At least give him a sensible old maidservant, a few court ladies and eunuchs, and some guards to be by his side. If possible, a study companion would be best as well.”

Ning An stared at Han Yunxi as inklings of doubt crept into her eyes.

“Is it too much?” Han Yunxi asked.

“Your Royal Highness, this...would it be too much and too clever for our own good?” Ning An asked.

Han Yunxi rolled her eyes impatiently. “If you don’t do this, how can you express your compassion towards this child properly? He’s different from other children, so even overindulging him is understandable.”

“Your Royal Highness, this child is an orphan. After sending him to Medical City, he can’t very well remain an emperor who lives in comfort and high positions, right? Even if we send these people with him, Medical City will send them right back,” Ning An said.

“That’s exactly what we want Medical City to do! After they send them back, you’ll send a few more right over to express your sincerity. And they’ll have to be sent under your name. After a couple of turns, you and Department Head Jue will get to know each other better, won’t you?” Han Yunxi couldn’t help but sigh with emotion. “Ning An, when it comes to matters of business, you really can’t compare with your little sister.”

Ning An couldn’t find any words to retort, but only felt that Han Yunxi’s plan could truly buy off Medical City’s heart and make their future negotiations easier. She accepted the advice at face value and immediately ordered people to do as Han Yunxi instructed.

“Remember, you have to find reliable people,” Ning An instructed her retainers. Han Yunxi drank her tea while blinking her crafty eyes, lost in thought once again. 

The original plan was to send Long Zun off today, but Han Yunxi’s machinations delayed the trip by two more days. While she was thinking to herself, a child’s cries rose from the backyard. Han Yunxi hurried over and saw Long Zun struggling fiercely in his wet nurse’s lap while bawling at the top of his lungs. Occasionally, he would cry out something unintelligible between his sobs.

“What’s going on?” Han Yunxi asked.

“He was like this when they sent him here. After playing by himself, he suddenly starting crying and refuses to be coaxed. No one knows what’s the matter,” Ning An replied.

“Doesn’t he know how to talk yet?” Han Yunxi asked in alarm.

“He doesn’t even know how to say ‘mother.’ The wet nurse says this child learns at a much slower rate than other children his age. He’s already over two, but only just learned to speak. He hasn’t even fully mastered walking yet,” Ning An replied honestly.

“The early induced labor probably hurt him,” Han Yunxi felt stifled at the thought and suddenly thought of Gu Qishao.

At this moment, Long Zun began fussing again and even pointed towards the door.

“Could he be searching for his mother?” Han Yunxi asked. 

The wet nurse gave the crying Long Zun over to some court ladies before she hurried to her side. “Your Royal Highness, this child wouldn’t look for his mother. The number of times that Empress Dowager Chu’s held him can be counted on five fingers. Even when she’s sitting right in front of him, he never acknowledges her.”

“He probably doesn’t even know what a mother is. It’s likely he’s scared because he’s unused to these new surroundings. Hurry and take him away, don’t let him disturb Her Royal Highness,” Ning An scolded. After being sterile for so many years, she had mixed feelings when faced with little children.

The wet nurse hastily picked up Long Zun, but the little child had suddenly grown silent at the sight of Han Yunxi. After staring at her awhile, he pointed his tiny finger towards the door again and cried, “Mother…”

He wanted to find his mother!

Even if his mother didn’t want him, he wanted her, ah!

Immediately, the room fell into a hush except for the boy’s crying noises. In the world of a child, there was no such thing as goodness or evil, status or gain. There were only his pillars of support linked to his bloodline. This child had no idea what kind of person Chu Qingge was, nor in whose hands he had fallen into. He had even less concepts of Cloud Realm Continent’s current chessboard. All he knew was that he had a mother.

Who said he wouldn’t bother looking for her?

In this world, even such a little child had been hurt by the machinations of profit and plot. What was the point of such struggles? People like them couldn’t even satisfy the whims of a tiny baby. What right did they have to call themselves “powerful?” Had East and West Qin ever considered how their mutual grudge would earn the hatred of countless innocent civilians?

“Hurry and get him out of here!” Ning An suddenly raged. It was unlike her to be so anxious and unwell. How could she have avoided being pregnant all those years as Emperor Tianhui’s consort? The only reason laid in the fact that she never allowed herself to bore a child! 

As the cries of the child faded away, both Han Yunxi and Ning An exhaled in relief. 

“Ning An, East and West Qin used to occupy separate territories in peace. Who instigated the war between them?” Han Yunxi asked seriously.

She had learned from Long Feiye that a flood had wrecked the southern regions in the past, creating pestilence and famine from the crop failures. Both East and West Qin had sent out imperial envoys to fight the natural calamity, but West Qin had spread rumors amongst the victims that the East Qin imperial prince was a star of disaster reincarnated into human form that would bring countless catastrophes upon Cloud Realm Continent.

The East Qin imperial clan was weak back then. Its crown prince was about to ascend the throne, but West Qin’s rumors had been seized upon by the other East Qin princes to their advantage. When the East Qin emperor died, the struggle for the throne began, leaving the royal courts in an unstable state. West Qin then took their chance to start a war…

1. Long Zun (龙尊) - Long is a surname that means “dragon,” same as the one in Long Feiye; Zun is “respected.”

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