Chapter 197: Your schemes, my schemes
Ning Xiaoyao munched on the guoba in sheer bliss, feeling that the ones Shadowgale bought her this time were even better than the ones she ate before. Her gaze on him grew more fervent, making Supreme Commander Lou feel like anyone could snatch her away from his side just by offering her some food. This made him feel extremely stifled in his heart.
Shadowgale felt a bit better after seeing Ning Xiaoyao so happy. Whatever happened in the future, Head Commander Shadowgale still felt a little contrite towards His Majesty from the morning’s events.
“If Your Majesty thinks they’re good,” Shadowgale said, “Then this servant will help Your Majesty buy them again next time.”
“Alright!” Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes shone.
Shadowgale bowed, “This servant accepts the decree.”
“I remembered,” Ning Xiaoyao spun towards Lou Zigui as she bit into another mouthful of guoba. “You lied to me.”
Supreme Commander Lou felt his heart grew more stifled than ever. Of course, he wasn’t the only one. Back at the Grand Preceptor’s estate, Grand Preceptor Xie was half sitting, half lying on his chair, staring at the wilting, pathetic form of Xie Laibao before him. The head steward wished he could jump into a hole.
“Say it one more time,” Grand Preceptor Xie said.
Xie Laibao boxed his ears first, his face absolutely miserable. “This servant deserves death. The Poison Sect members didn’t all die, but a good number escaped. Grand Preceptor, this servant deserves death.”
“Don’t be in a such a rush to die,” Grand Preceptor Xie looked like he had trouble breathing. “How could the fish have fled from our net?”
“Th-this servant deserves death, this servant doesn’t know,” Xie Laibao replied. “This servant saw that everyone had arrived and the food was on the tables before I left. By all logic, General Tao Yu shouldn’t have had any problems. How---how could anyone have survived that rain of arrows? Master, this servant really doesn’t understand!”
Grand Preceptor Xie stared at Xie Laibao, who was sporting a weeping face as he soundly boxed his own ears again. “This servant deserves death.”
“You saw that rain of arrows?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked.
Xie Laibao gave a start. “Master, this servant saw the bodies. All of them were covered in ten or more arrows. This servant just can’t figure out how the arrows grew eyes and missed some of their targets.”
Of course arrows don’t have eyes, but the archers who shot them do. It’s impossible for any of the Poison Sect members to escape tens of thousands of arrows while seated all together in one banquet hall. Grand Preceptor Xie next asked Xie Laibao, “Did Tao Yu send any men to chase after the survivors?”
Xie Laibao replied, “This servant asked General Tao, but he said that there were no other people besides the bodies there. This servant---” Xie Laibao put on a pained expression, “This servant couldn’t very well argue with General Tao. Master, if those people escaped with injuries, they should have left bloodstains on the ground. This servant brought men to search as well, but aside from the woven mats in the plum blossom garden, there were no other bloodstains.”
“Then that means they weren’t injured,” Grand Preceptor Xie said in a low voice.
Xie Laibao replied, “But this servant was standing watch outside the entire time. This servant didn’t see anyone leave the banquet or the plum blossom garden.”
“You didn’t leave your post at all?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked.
Xie Laibao nodded, but turned looked up in thought before adding, “General Tao found this servant for a chat, but it was only for a little while.”
The Poison Sect members all have good martial arts skills. A moment would have been enough for them to escape. Grand Preceptor Xie looked coldly at Xie Laibao before he suddenly asked, “Is Yan Hong dead or alive?”
Xie Laibao couldn’t be bothered with the fact that his bones were still healing and fell to his knees. He sprawled in front of Grand Preceptor Xie’s bed and sobbed, “Master, Yan Hong escaped, but this servant never meant to let her go. If that was my intention, may lightning strike me dead and curse my family to unnatural deaths ah, master!”
Grand Preceptor Xie didn’t comment on Xie Laibao’s vow, but simply said, “You should withdraw first. Tell Tao Yu to come in.”
Xie Laibao assented pitifully before wiping his eyes and calling for the pageboys to carry him out. Tao Yu soon entered Grand Preceptor Xie’s study and knelt on one knee to make a formal bow.
“Rise,” Grand Preceptor Xie murmured.
Tao Yu got to his feet. He had heard that the Grand Preceptor was severely swollen from his bug bites, or possibly poisoned, but seeing him in the flesh gave him a fright. This has to be poison, right? What kind of bug bites would reduce someone to this state?! (Author: Cough, cough, General Tao. A little ant named A’Mo is looking at you right now~)
Grand Preceptor Xie said, “Xie Laibao told this old man that a few people escaped from the plum blossom garden.”
Tao Yu had no qualms upon self examination and replied, “Grand Preceptor, this soldier and the head steward counted the people together, then re-counted them before I let the arrows loose. There were no people missing.”
“Who accompanied you and that servant for the headcounts?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked next.
Tao Yu replied, “A few servants from the estate and two guards from this soldier’s side.”
Grand Preceptor Xie stared at Tao Yu. The estate’s servants would definitely listen to Xie Laibao, while the soldiers would defer to Tao Yu. Neither parties could count as reliable witnesses.
Tao Yu said, “Grand Preceptor, this soldier has no reason to let anyone escape. This general only knows that they’re people of the jianghu, but nothing else.”
Although Grand Preceptor Xie’s face was too swollen for anyone to tell his expressions, he still smiled at Tao Yu and said, “It’s this old man’s servant that was incompetent.”
Tao Yu didn’t speak, but his expression warmed.
“How is your family doing?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked next.
Tao Yu lowered his voice. “Father and mother’s health aren’t doing too well.”
Grand Preceptor Xie sighed. “This old man will give an explanation for Tao Chen.”
Tao Yu was the son of a concubine but had stayed with the first wife since his childhood. He was unfamiliar with the late Tao Chen, who had become the Xie Clan’s son-in-law. If he could act, he’d be putting on a face moved to tears of gratitude by now, but he wasn’t that type of man. All he did was bow towards Grand Preceptor Xie and say stiffly, “Many thanks to Grand Preceptor Xie.”
Grand Preceptor Xie said, “You can withdraw. When there’s time, visit home often and spend time with your parents.”
Tao Yu replied with an affirmative but didn’t take the words to heart. As a concubine’s son whose birth mother had died over a decade ago, he was practically invisible inside the Tao Clan despite being a general. Whether or not he existed didn’t matter to his family, so he didn’t feel a need to show up at home at all.
Xie Laibao watched Tao Yu leave with his own eyes as he shook with fear by the study door. He ended up waiting for two whole hours before Grand Preceptor Xie finally said, “Come in.”
Xie Laibao hastily ordered his two pageboys to carry him inside, where he sat by Grand Preceptor Xie’s bed, too afraid to even breathe.
“Send men,” Grand Preceptor Xie told Xie Laibao. “Capture Tao Yu.”
Xie Laibao’s eyes widened instantly as his voice grew shrill. “M, Master?”
“This old man wants to interrogate him,” Grand Preceptor Xie said.
Xie Laibao replied, “Master, was it Tao Yu who secretly set the Poison Sect members free?”
“This old man has no proof,“ Grand Preceptor Xie said, “But I find him suspicious. With the example of Xie Anwu, that unfilial son, before me, I can’t help but suspect Tao Yu since he’s concubine born himself. He’ll never have any prospects at home, so he could only seek refuge with the likes of His Majesty.”
“His Majesty? Then, the Poison Sect and His Majesty…” Head Steward Xie stopped to soundly box his ears again. If Grand Preceptor Xie didn’t suspect the Poison Sect of harboring His Majesty’s spies, he never would have ordered them killed after failing to uncover the spies himself.
Grand Preceptor Xie said, “This must be done in secret.”
Xie Laibao replied, “This servant understands. But Master, Tao Yu is still from the Tao Clan. If we capture him just like that, what do we do about his family?”
“It’s best if he has no connections with His Majesty,” Grand Preceptor Xie said coldly. “If he’s one of His Majesty’s men, then Tao Chen’s death will be tied to him. Nobody will ever accept a concubine’s son that plotted to murder the son of a first wife.”
Xie Laibao’s heart was still filled with fear. This was how his Grand Preceptor dealt with others---even in death, your name would be ruined for ages. If he ever finds out I’ve betrayed him, I can’t began to imagine what he’ll do to my family. He calmed his nerves before asking, “Master, how should we deal with the fugitives?”
“One of them must be the spy,” Grand Preceptor Xie replied. “But this old man has no use for them anymore. None of them can hurt me. Send orders to have their pictures sent to the justice courts so they can apprehend those murderers.”
“Yes,” Xie Laibao obeyed.
“Grand Preceptor,” a guard called from outside.
“Speak,” Grand Preceptor Xie said.
The guard stood outside the door and reported, “Esteemed Empress’s servant Zhou mama was captured by Esteemed Empress Dowager’s men.”
Xie Laibao gave a start and glanced at Grand Preceptor Xie, who didn’t even lift his head. “I understand,” he replied. The guard left.
“Master?” Xie Laibao called softly.
“Let the empress dowager investigate her,” Grand Preceptor Xie said. “This old man wants to know if the empress is pregnant as well.”
Xie Laibao feigned disbelief. “How could that be faked?”
“How do you know if it’s simply not one of His Majesty’s schemes?” Grand Preceptor Xie countered. If he wasn’t doubtful himself, he never would have let Zhou mama slip away from Iron Buddha Temple. Xie Laibao shook his head, showing that he’d never considered that possibility. After he left to dispatch his orders, Grand Preceptor Xie heaved a long sigh. Eldest daughter has grown distant from me. (Author: You even hoped that the empress dowager would die. How could you think that she’ll care for you again? (⊙_⊙)?)
Crouched in the corner of the room, A’Mo asked one of his fellow ants, “Is Tao Yu a good guy or a bad guy?”
The ant replied, “He killed people.”
“So he’s a bad guy?” A’Mo asked.
“But would anyone that bastard Grand Preceptor Xie wants to hurt be a bad guy?” the ant asked back.
A’Mo considered it before he finally said, “Those humans are too complicated!”
“Go tell Xiaoyao about this,” the little ant said wisely. “Let humans worry about human affairs.”
A’Mo nodded with his feelers before sticking to the wall and crawling outside. Xiaoyao can worry about this instead.
Xie Laibao sent out the men to capture Tao Yu before ordering someone else to update Lou Zigui with the news. Once that was done, Head Steward Xie went to find a painter to draw the likenesses of those Poison Sect fugitives and sent the drawings to the justice courts. They were to capture Yan Hong and the rest as murderers and bandits of the jianghu.
“Tao Yu?” Fang Tang asked questioningly from inside Supreme Splendor Hall.
“Chen Lu is still dead set on staying loyal to Xie Wenyuan,” Lou Zigui murmured. “So we might as well find someone to stand up as an equal against him.”
“But why pick Tao Yu?” Deng Rong was lost as well. “He might find his days in the Tao Clan unsatisfactory, but he’s still part of their family.”
The various Black Frost Cavalry generals all looked at Lou Zigui. Their Supreme Commander had grown harder and harder to read ever since he was put on the execution platform and sliced bit by bit.