Chapter 22: The gyrfalcon asks for help Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Ning Xiaoyao flipped over the wall to leave the Supreme Splendor Hall and stood outside sniffing the air. She couldn’t catch whiff of the kitchens, so she gave the wall an unhappy kick. Because she’d used a little too much strength, the wall trembled twice before bits of sand and rock fell down from the top. Startled, Ning Xiaoyao stood there in a daze until she saw that the wall was still intact. Only then did she release a breath of relief. What could she do if they made her pay for a fallen wall? (Author: Can you be a little more conscious of your identity as an emperor? ╮(╯﹏╰）╭ )
Rubbing her stomach, Ning Xiaoyao decided to walk around. She could definitely find something to eat in an Imperial Palace as large as this.
At the same time, Grand Preceptor Xie was standing on a paved path near the Supreme Splendor Hall. Against the evening light, its eaves curved up towards the horizon, the glazed tiles of the roof ridges stretching out into the north sky. Though they were submerged in darkness, these sleeping quarters of the emperor and empress had existed through successive dynasties of Ning surname sovereigns. No matter who was its master, it would always stand tall and lofty, momentous and imposing.
“Grand Preceptor,” a head eunuch hastily ran to his side before bowing and speaking in a low voice. “This servant greets Grand Preceptor.”
“How is Lou Zigui doing?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked.
The head eunuch shook his head. “His Majesty settled him in the main sleeping quarters. This servant isn’t clear about any specifics.”
“Those men from the Black Frost Cavalry were left in the palace by His Majesty, too?” Grand Preceptor Xie asked again.
“Yes,” the head eunuch said. “Those generals didn’t allow this servant to approach the sleeping quarters. This servant couldn’t see His Majesty, nor find out whether this was truly His Majesty’s decree. Oh, Grand Preceptor, those generals brought an imperial physician to the rooms. This servant heard that the physician examined Lou Zigui’s injuries.”
Grand Preceptor Xie was certain that Lou Zigui would die within three days, so he didn’t care whether or not he had a physician. Instead he said, “If they want medicine, just give it to them. Give them anything they want, don’t enrage His Majesty.”
The head eunuch hurried to bow. “Yes, this servant understands.”
“At the assembly three days later, that is, His Majesty’s first time in court,” Grand Preceptor Xie said, “I’ll go meet His Majesty up front. You’ll all need to make preparations.”
“Yes,” said the head eunuch.
Grand Preceptor Xie smiled coldly as he looked at the tall Supreme Splendor Hall. Admittedly, he’d been wrong about Ning Yu, but she was too naive if she wanted to rely on Lou Zigui to free herself. Three days later, when Lou Zigui died from poison, he’d like to see Ning Yu’s expression when she sat in the Hall of Golden Chimes[1. Hall of Golden Chimes (金銮殿) - jinluandian, a popular name for the emperor’s audience hall in the imperial palace.] after her wasted efforts. How would she face all the officials and the other imperial sons who missed their chance at the throne?
The head eunuch saw Grand Preceptor Xie off as he swaggered away. Meanwhile, Ning Xiaoyao was standing behind a stone seat on the paved road, digging her fingers into her palms. She had to go to an assembly in three days? She was screwed again. What was an assembly? She didn’t understand a thing!
After Grand Preceptor Xie left, the head eunuch straightened up and beckoned towards the direction of the Supreme Splendor Hall. A few nearby eunuchs hastened to his side.
“Don’t bother with the Supreme Splendor Hall anymore, tell everyone to withdraw,” the head eunuch told the rest. “Whatever those military men want, give them. Prepare well for His Majesty’s assembly in three days’ time.”
The other eunuchs all expressed noises of assent.
Ning Xiaoyao narrowed her eyes at the head eunuch. This guy had even sent people to keep a watch on her? Could she still live happily if he existed? She lifted her eyes to look at the block of stone that acted as a seat by her side. Actually, it was a lantern stand, but because the previous emperor had passed away only recently, the Imperial Palace didn’t allow any bright lights to be lit. Right now this lantern stand didn't have any candles, so it just looked like a giant block of stone in Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes.
The head eunuch said, “All of you, go back. I’ll go see the empress dowager.”
The little eunuchs bowed to send the head eunuch off. Seeing him come closer and closer, Ning Xiaoyao stuck out a hand and pushed the block of stone by her side. The force of her push broke the stand in half, and the top half toppled perfectly on top of the head eunuch, knocking him to the ground. He gave out a piteous cry before fainting beneath the pile of rubble, scaring the other eunuchs silly.
Ning Xiaoyao dusted off her palms and said, “He’s wounded and disabled. Take him to the empress dowager’s hall to treat his wounds. Eh, all of you can look after him there, there’s no need to come back.”
The eunuchs stared at Ning Xiaoyao, who stood up straighter.
“What are you doing? You guys want to beat me up?”
Ning Xiaoyao wasn’t an emperor who took the rule when she came of age, so her words sounded far less effective than Empress Dowager Xie’s. But even so, the eunuchs didn’t dare disrespect her. They knelt on the ground and kowtowed to her, afraid to even spare the head eunuch a glance. Ning Xiaoyao stepped aside to avoid their bows and looked at the head eunuch buried beneath the rock. His head had been split open, his left leg broken, his right hand fractured to the bones. Ning Xiaoyao scratched her head. She’d used too much strength and left him in a terrible state.
With a cough, she said, “If you don’t want to beat me up, then save him.”
The eunuchs crawled up from the ground and ran to the head eunuch’s side. They stood by his crushed form, at a loss.
“Move the stone first,” Ning Xiaoyao told them. The eunuchs hastened to shift the stone. Ning Xiaoyao was about to leave when she turned back to ask, “Can someone tell me where the kitchens are?”
“... …” said the eunuchs. Calling the imperial kitchens a simple ‘kitchen’ was a type of common speech they hadn’t heard since entering the palace. One eunuch raised a hand to point out the directions as he shook with fear. The rest of the eunuchs were shaking too as they lifted the rock. Before today, none of them had feared His Majesty because he’d been sniveling and tugging on the empress dowager as soon as he entered the palace. If anything, he seemed even more cowardly than them. But now, hehe, the eunuchs had to say, just look at the aftermath of their head. Ning Xiaoyao couldn’t know their thoughts and threw a thanks at the eunuch who pointed out the way before rushing towards the imperial kitchens.
“His, His Majesty gave thanks to me,” the eunuch was stunned silly by Ning Xiaoyao’s words. He could hardly believe it as he told his companions.
“... …” None of the other eunuchs could believe it, either!
Before Ning Xiaoyao got very far, a still young gyrfalcon fell from the skies to land at Ning Xiaoyao’s feet. If Ning Xiaoyao hadn’t withdrawn her foot in time, she would’ve stepped on him.
“Big Boss Black says you understand what they say,” the gyrfalcon said. “Can you understand me, too?”
Ning Xiaoyao nodded. “What did you find me for?”
“Please save my master!” the little gyrfalcon tried his best to lift his head and look at Ning Xiaoyao. “I can help you catch lots and lots of rabbits.”
Ning Xiaoyao fell silent. Couldn’t she catch her own rabbits if she wanted them? “Who’s your master?” Ning Xiaoyao squatted down to ask.
“My master’s the commander of the Dragon Guards[2. Dragon Guards (龙禁卫) - long jinwei, imperial bodyguards specially tasked with protecting the emperor.], his name is Shadowgale,[3. Shadowgale(影风) - Ying Feng. Ying means “shadow,” Feng means “wind.”]” said the gyrfalcon. “The empress dowager said the late emperor left a decree at his death to bury his Dragon Guards alive with the dead.”
“Whaaa?” Ning Xiaoyao said. “Bury alive with the dead?”
“That is, they want my master to die,” the gyrfalcon cried.
“I know what ‘bury alive with the dead’ means,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “But did the late emperor say such last words?”
“It’s fake!” the gyrfalcon grew agitated, its voice loud and shrill. “The late emperor clearly said for my master to protect the new emperor well! My master said, the Dragon Guards are only loyal to the emperor.”
Then wouldn’t these Dragon Guards be the bodyguards left to her by that conveniently dead dude? Ning Xiaoyao was surprised. “Why does the empress dowager want to kill them?”
“Grandpa Ash said they heard that wretch, the Grand Preceptor, telling the empress dowager that my master and his men couldn’t stay,” the gyrfalcon sounded indignant. “They couldn’t allow the Imperial Palace to have people who only listened to the emperor. Awoooo, I want to eat them up!” the gyrfalcon furiously flapped his wings.
“Stay calm, stay calm,” Ning Xiaoyao quickly picked up the gyrfalcon in her embrace, smoothing its feathers as she comforted, “You’re a falcon, not a wolf. Don’t learn to howl like one.”
A large piece of skin was missing from the gyrfalcon’s left leg, the injury a result of his struggles from the rope that restrained him. Ning Xiaoyao’s finger shone with green light before the injury healed. Mm, Ning Xiaoyao nodded, looks like it’s no problem if I treat small injuries like these.
The gyrfalcon glanced at the leg that had stopped hurting before rubbing his head against Ning Xiaoyao’s face. “Your Majesty, save my master. The empress dowager’s planning to kill him tonight. If you save my master, not only will I catch you lots of rabbits, I’ll even tell Big Boss Black that you’re a good match for Supreme Commander. If Big Boss Black won’t let the two of you get together, I’ll peck his butt!”
Ning Xiaoyao was left feeling awkward. What did her relationship with Supreme Commander have anything to do with that fat black furball? Was there ever a cat that liked to meddle in other people’s business like that one?!
“Your Majesty,” the gyrfalcon cried. A falcon should have a sharp and keen-eyed stare, but this little falcon’s eyes were full of tears. If Ning Xiaoyao didn’t agree, he was going to cry.
“Let’s go,” Ning Xiaoyao stood up. “Lead the way, I’ll go save your master.” If an innocent person was going to get hurt, why wouldn’t she go save him?
The gyrfalcon immediately cheered up and flew up from Ning Xiaoyao’s arms. He led the way as he spoke, “Your Majesty, you’re a good person!”
“Mm, I think I’m one too,” said Ning Xiaoyao. “That’s right, who was that Grandpa Ash you mentioned just then?”
“Grandpa Ash is the old mouse who lives at the empress dowager’s hall. Besides Grandpa Tortoise who lives in the ancestral hall, Grandpa Ash is the oldest one here in the palace,” the gyrfalcon explained.
“... …” said Ning Xiaoyao. A falcon calling a mouse ‘grandpa?’ This wasn’t scientific!
A black shadow suddenly scurried out from a grove of trees beside the road to stop at Ning Xiaoyao’s feet with a cry. “Miaow.”
“Miaow your sister,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “All I did was get Supreme Commander laid. You going to bite me?”
Big Boss Black looked coldly at Ning Xiaoyao. “Ninny, stop your wishful thinking. Supreme Commander deserves a better girl.”
Was this enough, or what? Ning Xiaoyao wanted to kill this fat cat with a kick. “Like hell you know,” she cursed him.
“I won’t lower myself to the same level as a ninny like you,” Big Boss Black bared his fangs.
The gyrfalcon stood on Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder and shouted, “Scram! I’m going to save my master!”
Big Boss Black said, “The empress dowager has the late emperor’s testamentary decree, so how are you two supposed to save him? Ninny, can you really defy your father’s words?”
“Aren’t those words fake?” Ning Xiaoyao said.
Big Boss Black swished his tail. “Then how are you going to prove it?”
“The empress dowager was the one to bring out the decree,” said the weasel called Great Immortal as he ran out of the copse as well. He looked at Ning Xiaoyao and said, “Falsifying an imperial decree is a death sentence. Your Majesty, do you want the empress dowager dead?”
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