Chapter 217: The wind always blows against the tree that sticks out

Chapter 217: The wind always blows against the tree that sticks out Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.

Ning Xiaoyao couldn’t understand Elder Li’s concerns. Why should I give a salary to that bastard if he doesn’t want to work? “Elder Li, just what are you so worried about?” She too, had a face full of concern as she looked towards Elder Li.

Elder Li apologized. “It is this subject who is useless.” At a time like this, he could only admit the truth. Despite being hailed as the head of the clear stream faction, he could only stand and watch a man like Xie Wenyuan take over half the court.

Ning Xiaoyao scratched her head. “Old gramps, it’s not like you know how to fight or can enter the battlefield. That can’t count as you being useless, right?

Elder Li began to suspect that he and His Majesty were talking about two completely different things.

“Don’t worry. Eat and drink like you should,” Ning Xiaoyao patted her chest and promised, “I’ve got this, I’m really fierce when it comes to fighting.”

Elder Li knitted his brows. “This doesn’t have anything to do with fights.”

“If I can’t do it, there’s still Supreme Commander,” Ning Xiaoyao said immediately. “He can even fight the Northern Hu, much less some rebel bands.”

All of the people in the hall looked towards Lou Zigui. Though the Supreme Commander’s expression was calm, it seemed like his mouth had just twitched into a grin for a second.

“Moreover,” Ning Xiaoyao added, “Our General Tao’s pretty formidable too, ah.”

Elder Li looked sternly at Tao Yu, who was standing in front of the table, before he said, “Tao Yu has no experience leading troops into war. Your Majesty says he’s formidable, but how can you be sure?”

Ning Xiaoyao arched a brow. “If our General Tao was a useless idiot, would Grand Preceptor Xie would have suppressed him the entire time to make sure he didn’t outshine his son-in-law? General Tao’s experience can be summed up in one sentence: he’s a tree that grew too well, so Grand Preceptor Xie was the villainous wind that constantly abused him.”

Everyone present could tell that His Majesty was praising Tao Yu, but it still took time for them to decipher her words.

“The wind always blows against the tree that sticks out,” Lou Zigui explained to Fang Tang and the rest with his hand against his forehead.

The Lord Protector gave a hollow laugh and remarked, “Your Majesty is talented in literature.”

Ning Xiaoyao stood ramrod straight, feeling extremely smug. “I think I’m pretty talented in literature too.”

Prince Fu couldn’t even look at Ning Xiaoyao anymore. This wretch is just too shameless. Elder Li simply glanced at the Lord Protector in silence. I never thought such an honest man would spout such outright lies.

“The Grand Preceptor is no fool,” Ning Xiaoyao told Elder Li. “He wouldn’t have waste all that effort if Tao Yu was useless.”

“But wasn’t it just an issue between first wife versus concubine’s children?” Elder Li asked.

“That’s right, ah. Tao Chen was born from the big wife and Grand Preceptor Xie’s son-in-law,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “And the result? He still wasn’t as capable as Tao Yu, who was born from a concubine---the little wife. Wouldn’t the Grand Preceptor do his best to beat down Tao Yu then?”

The Lord Protector quickly glanced at Tao Yu. It was rather hurtful to acknowledge that he was born from a ‘little wife.’ Ning Xiaoyao sniffed and patted herself. “I was born from a little wife as well. We can’t always let you big wives’ children get all the gains. Aren’t we little wives’ children human as well?”

Ning Xiaoyao’s complaints completely floored Elder Li. He couldn’t accuse His Majesty of spewing nonsense when Empress Dowager Xie really had been Concubine Xie in her life. B-but who would ever refer to themselves like that?

Born from a little wife, born from a little wife….the words reverberated in Elder Li’s head like a chant without stopping. The Pei brothers exchanged glances and decided to keep quiet. It’d be better if they pretended not to have heard a thing at all. Lou Zigui’s gaze on Ning Xiaoyao turned heavy as he considered the implications. If this girl had been born from the empress, what kind of scene would we have instead?

Ning Xiaoyao felt Lou Zigui staring at her and turned to give him a grin. Lou Zigui quickly lowered his head as his hands formed into fists. If the empress had given birth to Miss Ning, then she would’ve been betrothed long ago or even married by now. How would she ever have had the chance to meet me, Lou Zigui?

Ning Xiaoyao saw that Elder Li wasn’t speaking to her at the moment, so she pulled Prince Fu in front of Tao Yu despite the man’s desperate struggles to get free. This was the second time Tao Yu had heard Ning Xiaoyao speak of little wives and concubines. Last time it was in private, so Tao Yu simply thought Ning Xiaoyao was lowering herself to comfort him. Perhaps it was even a ploy to win him to her side. But this time Ning Xiaoyao had proclaimed it in public. Tao Yu suddenly felt for the first time in his life that he could calmly face the reality of his birth origins. When Ning Xiaoyao drew near, Tao Yu quickly bowed. He wasn’t good at talking, so he couldn’t express the feelings in his heart. All he could do was increase his respect towards her.

“General Tao,” Ning Xiaoyao said as she patted Prince Fu’s shoulders. “This time, my uncle’s coming with you.”

Tao Yu quickly raised his head, a little lost. “The prince is accompanying this subject?”

“Mhm,” Ning Xiaoyao nodded before explaining everything she’d already told Prince Fu.

For a long time after that, nobody in the hall said a word. Spending money to quell a calamity was a never before seen solution to these men. Ning Xiaoyao felt a little uncertain in the face of such silence, so she scooted over to Lou Zigui’s side and tugged on his sleeve. “Is my method too foolish?” she asked in a small voice.

Lou Zigui looked down towards her. Ning Xiaoyao wore a pained expression. “If it is, then you guys can just pretend I didn’t say a word.”

Lou Zigui gently brushed against Ning Xiaoyao’s hand as he subtly leaned towards her to ask, “Has Prince Fu agreed to it?”

“Mm, he has,” Ning Xiaoyao said.

“You didn’t force him to?”

“This is for the sake of the country and his own family. I don’t need to force my uncle to agree, ah,” Ning Xiaoyao glanced at Big Boss Black, who was perched by Lou Zigui’s feet. Black Tubby might have bitten Prince Fu, but that was because of his bad mood, not because we wanted to extort the man. (Author: Where have you ever seen a cat that loses its temper suddenly enough to bite someone and draw blood?)

Lou Zigui looked at Prince Fu, who was standing there mumbling unintelligibly to himself. Judging from his expression, he didn’t look agreeable to the proposal. Someone tugged on his sleeve again, and Lou Zigui turned back to see Miss Ning blinking at him. Ning Xiaoyao was very anxious whether her idea would fly. She needed some sort of confirmation.

“Well done,” Lou Zigui smiled at her quietly. “This is an excellent idea.” Thinking up something like this is already very good. Making Prince Fu agree to it would be even better.

“Then it’s done,” Ning Xiaoyao relaxed visibly. “Now we have money. How is your transfer of the troops going, Supreme Commander?”

Lou Zigui pulled Ning Xiaoyao to the table where his list of things lay. Ning Xiaoyao swept over the written contents. She could recognize the names and characters, but not who the people were. “Tell me how many troops you can transfer at once, and how quickly,” she said after rubbing her eyes.

“Within half a month, we can move 60,000 men and horses,” Lou Zigui replied.

60,000 was a lot of people. Ning Xiaoyao nodded before grabbing a cup of water from the table to drink. “And how many men are in Big Boss Xiang’s hands, according to the message?”

“300,000,” Lou Zigui said.

Pfft--- Ning Xiaoyao spat out all the water she drank. Using 60,000 men to fight against 300,000? Don’t screw with me! “That there,” Ning Xiaoyao ignored the water by her lip to speak. “What about after half a month? How many more men can we send?” She was paving a path of glory for General Tao, not sending him to his death, ah!

“Another 100,000,” Lou Zigui said.

“Even 160,000 wouldn’t be enough,” Ning Xiaoyao fretted.

“We can’t move the others,” Lou Zigui pointed at a few names on the list, before lowering his voice. “Those are all Xie Wenyuan’s men.”

Ning Xiaoyao stole a peek at Prince Fu, feeling that she wasn’t just sending Tao Yu to die, but her uncle as well. Lou Zigui lifted a hand to wipe off the water by Ning Xiaoyao’s lips and stated, “We don’t need to match the enemy’s forces when defending a garrison. Fenglin City is located on high ground and surrounded by deep waters. It’s easy to guard and hard to attack. As long as the local refugees don’t join up with the rebel bands, we’ll be able to hold the fort.”

“But is it just a matter of holding the fort?” Prince Fu now approached the table. “Would guarding the city actually drive off those rebel bands?”

Lou Zigui folded up his list of names and tucked it away before replying. “Those rebel bands need to eat too. If they attack for a long time without success, they’ll run out of provisions. As the royal court sends in a steady flow of reinforcements, they’ll be forced to retreat.”

“19 cities, oh,” Ning Xiaoyao gesticulated. “They’ve already taken over 19 cities, so why can’t they find more grain from those?”

Lou Zigui only stared at Prince Fu, who coughed once.

“W-what’s the situation now?” Ning Xiaoyao asked.

Pei Yan spoke up this time. “The prince is mighty and powerful. All of East Ji’s harvests went to Prince Fu’s estate. It isn’t the harvest season yet, but last year’s grain is either in Fenglin City itself or was used by the prince to do business. If the rebel bands want grain, even taking over 19 cities won’t help. Neither the local governments nor the people have much grain on hand. The rebels can only fill their coffers if they seize Fenglin City.”

Ning Xiaoyao stared at Prince Fu and resisted the urge to beat him up. The hell?!

The now handsome Prince Fu flushed scarlet under Ning Xiaoyao’s judgmental stare. He somehow managed to say, “If this prince didn’t do this, all of East Ji’s grain would have fallen into the rebel bands’ hands by now…”

“Alright, alright, enough already,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “Stop being so shameless.”

Prince Fu flung his sleeves and fell silent.

“When you go back this time, divide up the grain along with the land and money,” Ning Xiaoyao said.

“What?!” Prince Fu cried out.

“For the sake of staying alive.” Ning Xiaoyao said, “Why are you still being petty when faced with imminent death? Moreover, you’re making it sound as if those things still belong to you!”

Prince Fu fumed. “Why wouldn’t they belong to this prince?”

“You can tell people that after the country’s collapsed,” Ning Xiaoyao looked at him slant-eyed. “Anyways, do all these fields really belong to you? You sure are something. Let me ask you a question, just when did your fief extend to the entirety of East Ji?”

Prince Fu fell silent once again.

“It clearly serves you right for doing something so stupid,” Ning Xiaoyao pointed a finger at him. “Divide up the land around Fenglin City first. I’ll send a capable official to take care of the land in East Ji.”

Prince Fu only felt pained and unresigned to it all, but he was hard pressed to preserve Fenglin City, much less all of East Ji. Even if I rise to the Heavens, I still wouldn’t be able to save that much! He could admit defeat in his heart, but his words were still stubborn. “Then what did Xie Wenyuan rely on to stir up trouble as he likes in court?”

“This will have to wait until we meet my father at the Yellow Springs. We can ask him then,” Ning Xiaoyao said seriously. “Then it’s decided.”

“......” said Prince Fu. What did he say? ‘Then it’s decided?!’

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