The guards atop the palace walls had a clear view of the Elite Tigers weaving in and out of the city to hand out flyers. They immediately took the grave risk of cracking open the gates and slipping out to grab one of the flyers, then delivered it to Zhou Meng in the inner palace.
He clenched his fists and slammed them on a wooden table beside him when he scanned the wedding announcement between the ‘Prince of Xiyue’ and ‘Goddess’. The tea set atop the table wobbled from the disturbance.
“This is utter nonsense! This prince is right here and my wedding has been foiled. Who is this Prince of Xiyue?!”
The maids and guards beside him mutely lowered their heads at once. They’d never seen Zhou Meng cut such a sorry figure. He’d been ruler of Xiyue by divine right ever since birth and had been revered as such. His existence was frequently hailed as the greatest blessing bestowed upon the people, and he was the master of Xiyue that all her denizens venerated.
Whatever he desired, he obtained; even the beautiful Miss Pang had agreed to be his consort! There wasn't a single one of his imperial concubines, children, and subjects who didn’t revere him like a god.
But today, Zhou Meng’s unshakable position was wavering thanks to a ragtag bunch of outsiders! Stricken, he’d been forced back to the palace, not daring to open the gates. Their brute of a leader had even shot an arrow through his topknot, shaving off a considerable amount of his hair.
Though he was able to cover up his new bald spot by combing his hair over it, he couldn't shake the feeling that all of his maids, wives, and concubines were laughing at him. The subjects who were there when it happened were another story entirely—they’d seen him pinned to the wall with their own eyes!
His pride and dignity had been trampled into the mud like it never had before. The only thing on his mind now was revenge! He was going to capture the brute who’d spirited away his goddess, nail him to the execution stage, and whip him senseless! Then, he would shred him slice by slice!
“Such insolence, utter insolence!” Zhou Meng furiously crumpled the flyer into a tattered ball, tore it to shreds, then flung the pieces onto the ground for a firm stomping.
“Send for the great general! I’d like to see what kind of trouble those outsiders can stir up! They think to distribute provisions to the people? Who dares touch my provisions without receiving word from me prior?!”
Already frozen in fear from Zhou Meng’s outburst, the maids rushed to make themselves scarce as soon as they received their orders.
Zhou Meng summoned his greatest general to court and asked after the situation with the Minuo tribe. He relaxed slightly upon learning that they were still stationed at their camp without any intent to change their operations.
“Gather our soldiers and horses tomorrow and teach them a good lesson! The provisions are the priority here—we mustn’t let them think of touching a single bag. You will bring the provisions to me without leaving a single grain behind!”
“Understood, please be at ease, Your Grace!” The general raised a cupped fist salute as he received his orders.
Zhou Meng waved his hand in dismissal.
When night fell that day, the Xiyue prince didn’t summon a single one of his wives or concubines, nor did he allow his bodyguards to take even half a step away from him. He arranged for more than a hundred guards to keep a tight watch around his sleeping quarters. Only then did he feel at ease enough to fall into slumber.
The guards diligently carried out their duties, patrolling outside his chambers in groups of ten without a moment’s rest. There was nothing out of the ordinary for the first half of the night, but they still didn’t dare let their guard down.
None of them noticed a shadowy figure slip into the prince’s chambers as quick as a phantom, then leave through a blind spot between the patrols. The figure entered and left with grace, departing the palace without a sound.
The next day, the servant girls noticed that their prince had yet to rise, even when it was past the hour of the dragon. They gently hailed his name outside the curtains of his bed, but growing realization that something was wrong crept up on them when no response was forthcoming.
They pushed aside the curtains to see the lord lying perfectly straight on his back with his hands folded over his stomach, his face stark white with a green tint and completely bloodless. No matter how they called him, he didn't react.
One of the servant girls summoned the courage to gently touch Zhou Meng’s arm.
“Your Grace, Your Grace, you......”
He was ice cold to the touch!
“AHH——” Piercing screams rang out.
Startled, the guards charged inside. When they went to their liege’s bed to check his condition, they found themselves dumbstruck.
“Send for the imperial physicians! Call for the princess consorts! Hurry, hurry!”
It wasn’t long before the senior princess consort, second princess consort, and third princess consort hurried over. The three of them crowded around the bed, only to confirm that Zhou Meng had indeed passed on! Sobs and wails rang out in a noisy din to see their husband having departed the world.
The senior princess consort hastily ordered, “Summon all senior officials to the palace and get to the bottom of this! And you, examine him carefully. Find out how exactly the prince died!”
Hands trembling, the two imperial physicians shook as they came forth to examine the body. Not only did they find no wounds, there wasn’t any trace of poison!
“Ah, the prince bears no external wounds, nor has he been poisoned. He was not suffocated to death either, he just, just, died of natural, natural causes, like he simply fell asleep, and then suddenly passed away......” The imperial physician’s voice quivered uncontrollably.
“Utter drivel!” Angered, the senior princess consort kicked the physician. “The prince is in his prime. How could he have died in his sleep? It must be that you’re too incompetent to find out what’s really happened!”
The great general and other senior officials were beside themselves with shock at the imperial physician’s verdict. They rushed forward to take a look as well. It was just as the physician had said—there were no physical wounds, nor did the prince seem as if he had been poisoned or asphyxiated
“The, the passing of the prince is indeed odd. Can it be, can it be he was summoned by the gods......”
“It must be that Pang witch! It must be her!” the third princess consort suddenly screeched, “She’s not a goddess, but a witch! She's the one who killed the prince! She must be the one who's killed the prince!”