Chapter 229: A cold and emotionless smile

Chapter 229: A cold and emotionless smile Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.

Imperial Physician Gao only exchanged a few words with Lou Zigui in his rooms before his face turned ashen white. He then went with one of the Black Frost Cavalry generals in a carriage out of the palace and traveled overnight to the city walls at the south of the capital.

Zhou mama’s headless corpse had already been dug out of the ground. The robes that Ning Xiaoyao had taken off her own back to drape over her were long gone, while the body itself was thick with the stench of rot and decay. A few Dragon Guards that were stationed to watch over the corpse kept a healthy distance from its overpowering smell.

The general who brought Imperial Physician Gao here was named Shen Mu.[1. Shen Mu (沈沐) - Shen is a surname that means “sink, keep down, lower,” Mu means “to wash one’s hair, be given/receive kindness, a favor, etc.”] As General Shen Mu approached the corpse, he told Imperial Physician Gao, “I still have something to do, so I’ll need to take my leave. Imperial Physician Gao, please wait here a moment.”

Imperial Physician Gao’s face fell. He stared at the decaying mess and muttered, “She’s already rotted away this much. How can we still identify her?”

Shen Mu grinned. “Compare the neck stump with the head. If it matches, then she’s surely that old mama.”

“.......” said Imperial Physician Gao. He’s only a soldier, but his words are very logical.

Shen Mu turned to leave with two Dragon Guards on horseback. Meanwhile, Imperial Physician Gao covered his mouth with a cloth and crouched in front of Zhou mama’s body. He’d seen this woman before because she was the empress’s most trusted mama who held clout in her court. He never thought that it’d only take a few days before her corpse had been broken apart like this. From his sleeve, he took out a few different colored porcelain bottles and sighed. Do people who know more about their masters’ secrets die more wretched deaths? What will be my fate in the future?

After scattering some medicinal liquids and powders over the body, a strong, fragrant musk rose from the corpse. Of course, it was soon overwhelmed by the rotting stench again. Imperial Physician Gao removed the cloth covering his face and fanned the air in front of his nose until he was sure the smell of musk was gone. Then he stood up and increased his distance from the corpse.

One hour later, Shen Mu returned with his men, but didn’t get off his horse. “Is everything finished?” he asked.

Imperial Physician Gao nodded. Shen Mu dismounted to inspect Zhou mama’s body, before taking out a wooden hairpin from his robes. He carelessly stuck it into the stump of her neck before rising and beckoning the Dragon Guards forward. They moved to rebury Zhou mama’s body back in the dirt.

Once that was done, Shen Mu circled the area of the makeshift grave before going back to Imperial Physician Gao. “We’ve done our job, let’s go back to the palace now.”

Imperial Physician Gao silently climbed onto his horse. He had anointed Zhou mama’s body with medicine that could induce a miscarriage. It was likely that Shen Mu’s casual addition of the hairpin was no good thing, either. He glanced at the general riding by his side and swallowed the question rising to his lips. He didn’t have the guts to ask Lou Zigui the why when the man instructed him to do this task, and he still lacked any courage to question things now.

--

Xie Laibao had two pageboys carry him into Grand Preceptor Xie’s study. Inside, Grand Preceptor Xie was half lying on the bed. His medicine was finally starting to take effect, making him seem less swollen than before. But Grand Preceptor Xie’s face still looked terrible. He didn’t even look in Xie Laibao’s way when the man came into the room. Xie Laibao dismissed his pageboys and forced himself to sit up and pay his respects to Grand Preceptor Xie by calling his name, but received no response.

Xie Laibao said, “Master, General Chen sent someone over who’s waiting right outside the gates. Would you like to meet with him?”

When Grand Preceptor Xie heard that Chen Lu had sent someone over, he finally looked over and asked, “Have the Zhou siblings finally made a move?”

Head Steward Xie replied, “This servant asked, but the messenger said the general told him to only tell you in person.”

“Have him come in,” Grand Preceptor Xie said.

Soon enough, Chen Lu’s messenger arrived in the study. Grand Preceptor Xie recognized him at once as one of Chen Lu’s bodyguards. The bodyguard bowed in greeting before repeating the words that the empress dowager had presented with Zhou mama’s head. Hearing that, Grand Preceptor Xie simply waved a hand without a word. Seeing the bodyguard just standing there, Xie Laibao hastily spoke up. “You should withdraw first.”

The bodyguard didn’t ask any questions, but obediently left the room. Xie Laibao waited until he was gone before turning back towards his master. Grand Preceptor Xie was currently rubbing his temples, so Xie Laibao slapped his thigh and proclaimed, “What is empress dowager thinking? Something’s just happened with second young master, and yet she---aye!” He sighed.

“She wants to draw the empress to her side,” Grand Preceptor Xie stated simply.

Xie Laibao gave a start. “Wait, why didn’t the empress dowager discuss this with you first  then, master?”

Grand Preceptor Xie dropped his hands, his temples red from his recent massage. Xie Laibao feigned carelessness as he remarked, “That mama’s corpse is still buried at the foot of the southern gates. Wouldn’t it had been better to have just sent her the entire body?”

Grand Preceptor Xie looked at him. “Zhou mama’s body wasn’t sent out of the city?”

“To reply master, no, it wasn’t,” Xie Laibao answered. “It’s buried right at the corner of the south city wall.”

“Esteemed Empress Dowager said that His Majesty threw Zhou mama’s corpse to the dogs,” Grand Preceptor Xie intoned.

Xie Laibao nodded. “Yes, that’s what that soldier said.”

Grand Preceptor Xie stared at the canopy of his bed before silently cursing his eldest daughter in his heart. Idiot. His eldest daughter would never try to take Ning Yu’s life. At most, she only wanted the empress’s help so she could control Ning Yu---perhaps using poison or other methods such as torture to leave her too bedridden to manage court affairs. Yet Ning Yu knew how to treat herself; furthermore, she had a miraculous doctor by her side. How could it be easy to injure her? If the empress dowager failed, her attempts to kill her own son would label her a cruel mother. Ning Yu could use that pretense to seal up the empress dowager’s palace forever and then use any excuse she wanted to raise arms against their Xie Clan.

“Master,” Xie Laibao asked cautiously, “Should we send someone into the palace to see Esteemed Empress Dowager?”

“Send Zhou mama’s corpse to Iron Buddha Temple,” Grand Preceptor Xie said. “Hand it directly to the empress, but there’s no need to tell her anything else.”

Xie Laibao’s expression grew blank.

“You’ll take people to complete this task,” Grand Preceptor Xie added.

“Yes,” Xie Laibao still looked blank, but he simply accepted the orders without further questions.

“Father!” a girl’s wretched cries came from outside the study door.

Hearing this, Xie Laibao remarked, “It’s Second Young Master’s wife.”

“Have her return to her rooms,” Grand Preceptor Xie said after a twinge of annoyance.

Xie Laibao quickly muttered an assent before calling for his two pageboys to carry him back out. It wasn’t long afterwards before the second daughter-in-law’s cries faded away. Grand Preceptor Xie finally exhaled a sigh of relief and decided to think of other ways to deal with Ning Yu. Instead of killing her, it’s better to make the empress believe she can’t trust His Highness or the empress dowager. Then the empress will have no choice but to kill Ning Yu herself and take advantage of the chaos afterwards to escape with her brother.

And once Ning Yu is dead, Xie Anji’s situation will be resolved as well. Grand Preceptor Xie massaged his throbbing temples again. I should of thought of this idea much earlier. When he got to the empress dowager, he shook his head. We’re done with each other and out of sorts. It looks like I can’t keep around this daughter of mine anymore.

--

Xie Laibao brought a bunch of retainers and Chen Lu’s bodyguard to the south city walls, where they searched around until they found and dug up Zhou mama’s body. After brushing aside the mud and dirt, the rotting stench from the corpse caused everyone to back away. One of the retainers who dug her up examined the body a few times before calling out to Xie Laibao on his chair in the distance.

“Head steward, there’s a hairpin stuck in the corpse.”

“What?” Xie Laibao appeared to look rather surprised as he ordered the pageboys to carry him to the corpse.

“It’s a wooden hairpin,” the retainer added.

“Worthless little thing,” Xie Laibao said after glancing at the hairpin stuck in the neck stump, which had been carved to resemble a plum blossom at its end. “It probably belongs to that woman and was only left behind because it was cheap. Leave it there. It’s unlucky to touch a dead person’s things.”

None of the retainers had any interest in the hairpin, so all of them muttered in the assent.

“Alright,” Xie Laibao said. “Take the body out of the grave and move it overnight.”

The retainers bore the brunt of the stink as they lifted Zhou mama’s corpse from the dirt, wrapped it in a straw mat, and placed it onto a cart. Xie Laibo told Chen Lu’s bodyguard, “Sir soldier, please lead the way. Grand Preceptor ordered this item delivered to Iron Buddha Temple.”

The empress dowager had delivered the head, while the Grand Preceptor was now delivering the body. The bodyguard really had no idea what these two masters were thinking.

“Go on,” Xie Laibao tightened his collar before commanding. A row of men pulled Zhou mama’s headless corpse with them as they headed for the northern gates.

Once all the humans were gone, a pack of vagrant dogs gathered from different corners of the area to the empty grave. They circled around the place before one of them asked their leader, Big Yellow, “Last time they cut off the head and took it away. Now they’ve taken the body as well. Big boss, just what do these humans want to do?”

Big Yellow tossed a pawful of dirt at the grave before leading his band of brothers away from the spot. He looked in the direction where Xie Laibao and the rest had left before finally admitting, “I don’t know.”

“......” said the other dogs. If you didn’t know, boss, why did you stare after them for so long?

“Should we tell Xiaoyao?” one doggy asked.

“Xiaoyao’s the emperor who looks after the living. Would she bother with the dead as well?” Big Yellow asked.

“I know, woof,” a mottled dog replied. “It’s King Yan who looks after the dead.”

“Then this has nothing to do with Xiaoyao,” Big Yellow proclaimed. “No need to mention it. I hear that Xiaoyao’s busy preparing for war right now, and that’s more important.”

None of the other dogs objected to their boss’s words.

“Then it’s set,” Big Yellow finished. “Disperse and look for food.”

With the meeting adjourned, the various doggies ran off in different locations to vie for their empty stomachs.

--

Xie Laibao’s took out the Grand Preceptor’s command token at the north gates to gain passage. Once they were out of the city, he reminded the men pulling the cart, “Be careful, don’t leave anything behind.”

The gatekeepers shut the gates behind their retreating forms. One hour later when they changed shifts, one of the military officers was seen talking and joking with his companions all the way back to the barracks. An hour after that, the same officer appeared in a room at Supreme Splendor Hall, where he reported to Lou Zigui, “The Grand Preceptor’s men have already taken the body out of the city. They brought along everything they should have brought as well.”

“Understood,” Lou Zigui nodded. “You’ve surely worked hard coming here to report this.”

“This humble one doesn’t dare accept such compliments,” the officer bowed before quickly withdrawing from the room.

As the lamp light on the table flickered, Lou Zigui’s lips curved into a cold and emotionless smile.

--

Inside her bedroom, Ning Xiaoyao was sleeping soundly next to Big Boss Black, her stomach a little round from stuffing herself with food. Everyone was busying themselves this night, but His Majesty was the only one who’d fretted herself to sleep.


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