Chapter 231: The mama won’t be able to rest in peace unless the enemy dies Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
As Ning Xiaoyao took her sugar qilin from the peddler with satisfaction, Zhou Junqi set down the spade in his arms at Iron Buddha Temple while two little monks lifted Zhou mama’s corpse into the freshly dug grave. The empress approached her mama, whose head had been reattached by the local monks, while her body was wrapped up in multiple layers of gauze. She looked much better than before, but the empress still felt saddened when she realized Zhou mama didn’t even have a coffin to her name.
Zhou Junqi propped himself up before leaping out of the grave, then had two more monks pull him upright. One of them asked, “Fellow apprentice, do you need our help to bury this patron?”
Zhou Junqi shook his head. “I can take care of the rest by myself. Many thanks to you both.”
The two monks murmured an Amitabha to Zhou mama’s body before turning to leave. Once they were gone, Zhou Junqi told the empress, “Don’t be sad anymore. Let’s bury your mama.”
The empress nodded.
Once again, Zhou Junqi picked up the spade and began to level dirt back into the hole. But Empress Zhou then took out a wooden hairpin from her clothes and said, “This needs to go with the mama as well.”
Zhou Junqi glanced at the hairpin, which the empress had taken from Zhou mama’s neck stump yesterday.
“This is what I gave my mama when I was still a child,” the empress gently stroked the hairpin as she spoke in a low voice. “She’s always kept it on her person, just like she’s always been by my side. I never thought she’d ever meet with such a bad end.”
Zhou Junqi set down the iron spade and extended a hand towards the empress. “Hand over the hairpin to me. Don’t linger over much on such thoughts.”
The empress still took some time to stare at the hairpin before finally giving it to her brother. Zhou Junqi placed it next to Zhou mama’s body before jumping back out of the grave and filling it in with more dirt. Because he could only use one hand, it took him almost an hour to bury the woman completely. The entire time, the empress stood watching from the side, her eyes dark. She couldn’t stop thinking about all of Zhou mama’s good points and felt that everyone---His Majesty, the empress dowager, the Grand Preceptor and their entire family---deserved to die.
Zhou Junqi stuck three sticks of incense in front of the grave, preparing to pay respects to Zhou mama. But the empress only said sadly, “It’s no use.”
“What?” Zhou Junqi turned to face her.
“The mama won’t be able to rest in peace unless her enemies are dead,” the empress said.
Zhou Junqi was too surprised to utter a word. Meanwhile, the empress turned and walked with quick steps towards the rooms. Zhou Junqi then chased after her and grabbed her by the hand. “What are you going to do?”
“Wait,” Empress Zhou replied. “Until the empress dowager summons me back into the palace.”
Ning Xiaoyao munched and crunched on her sugar candy before devouring her entire qilin. She turned back to see Lou Zigui and his sugar flower basket, which he handed over easily.
“Eat,” he said.
“N-no need,” Ning Xiaoyao refused even as her eyes fixated on the candy.
“I don’t like eating things like this,” Lou Zigui said. It was already awkward enough walking down the streets with it in his hands.
“Is that so, ah? Then I won’t hold back,” Ning Xiaoyao took the flower basket and bit it. Sweet! So good!
“Fang Tang will be leaving the city with Prince Zhi today at noon,” Lou Zigui suddenly murmured. “I’ve sent people to pass on word to Prince Zhi that he doesn’t need to come into the palace and formally bid you farewell.”
“Oh,” Ning Xiaoyao was wholly focused on her candy.
“Are you going to blame me for deciding things on my own?” Lou Zigui asked.
“Nope,” Ning Xiaoyao replied. “Supreme Commander, where are we going to eat next?”
“......” said Lou Zigui. Looks like there’s no need to pursue the topic anymore.
“General Tao will win his battles,” Ning Xiaoyao said after some thought. “Definitely.”
Lou Zigui smiled and nodded. “Yes.”
“I’ll wait for the good news of his victory,” Ning Xiaoyao stuffed the rest of the sugar drawing into her mouth, wishing that she could get the good news as soon as tomorrow.
“Grand Preceptor, second young master’s been sent off to the army by His Majesty. What should be done?” one of the officials from the Grand Preceptor’s faction asked in his leader’s estate.
Grand Preceptor Xie only told the assembled men to wait. He wanted to see just how the empress was planning to kill Ning Yu. Just like that, the empress, His Majesty, and Grand Preceptor Xie all said they would wait, and they all ended up waiting an entire month.
One month later, a yawning Ning Xiaoyao half-listened as Elder Li petitioned her about something or another at the Hall of Golden Chimes before one of the messengers called out from outdoors.
“Your Majesty, a battlefield report from East Ji!”
“Quick, send in the messenger with the updates!” Ning Xiaoyao immediately grew alert. Next came a military officer dressed in armor into the hall, a message cradled in both hands as he entered with bowed head. Shadowgale took the paper and passed it on to Ning Xiaoyao, who opened it up and scanned the contents for words like ‘victory’ or ‘win.’
In the end she delightedly crowed, “General Tao won!”
“We subjects congratulate Your Majesty,” the officials all fell to their knees posthaste to offer their praises.
Elder Li asked, “Have the rebel bands withdrawn yet?”
“Urk,” Ning Xiaoyao looked down to read the letter again, then announced, “The rebel bands have withdrawn. General Tao’s already recovered 10 cities, but he said he’ll take back the remaining 9 soon enough.”
Elder Li nodded his approval. “Tao Yu is a talented soldier.”
“Mhm,” Ning Xiaoyao agreed, “General Tao is super tough.”
Aside from the Grand Preceptor’s faction, who remained silent, all of the other officials began to sing Tao Yu’s praises. Ning Xiaoyao finished reading the missive before having Shadowgale reading it aloud for the officials to hear. Shadowgale took the paper and raised his voice to read. In the meanwhile, Ning Xiaoyao stole a peek at Tao Yu’s father, only to see his face turn from red to purple, then an interesting shade of ashen white. She felt great watching the interplay of emotions across his face. That’s what you get for looking down on Tao Yu!
After Shadowgale finished reading, Ning Xiaoyao looked at Tao Shidong and said, “Your Excellency Tao, what are you feeling right now?”
Multiple eyes shifted to look at Tao Shidong, who only lowered his head in silence. Elder Li gave a cold snort. “Tao Shidong, His Majesty is asking you a question. If you don’t know the answer, just say you don’t know. What kind of logic is not answering at all?”
“It’s alright,” Ning Xiaoyao said cheerfully. “Let His Excellency Tao think it through and organize his reply. I’m not in a rush.”
Tao Shidong was pushed to a corner until he had no choice but to copy Elder Li’s words. “Tao Yu is a talented soldier.”
Grand Preceptor Xie then added, “Your Majesty, those with talent may not necessarily be virtuous men.”
“Heheh,” Ning Xiaoyao chuckled. “Grand Preceptor, you want to talk virtues with me?”
Grand Preceptor Xie replied, “Is this official not allowed to discuss matters of virtue with Your Majesty?”
Ning Xiaoyao only felt that Grand Preceptor Xie was growing more shameless by the day. “That’s not it. I only feel that you have none yourself, so we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.”
The officials at court only felt that His Majesty’s tongue was getting sharper and more venomous by the day.
“Your Majesty shouldn’t make such jokes with this officials,” Grand Preceptor Xie said.
Ning Xiaoyao was very serious. “I’m not joking.”
One of the men from the Grand Preceptor’s faction coughed lightly before he forcefully changed the subject. “Your Majesty, is there still enough grain for the East Ji troops?” Their side couldn’t take it if His Majesty cursed Grand Preceptor Xie all day long.
Ning Xiaoyao rolled her eyes at him. “If it’s not enough, why don’t you donate some yourself for the sake of the country and our military?”
The man fell silent.
“Court adjourned,” Ning Xiaoyao rose to her feet and quickly found an excuse before Elder Li could speak again. “I’m going back to Supreme Splendor Hall to further study the battle report. That fellow who brought the message,” Ning Xiaoyao paused to beckon to the officer in question, “Come, come, come, return to Supreme Splendor Hall with me. Tell me all about your battles.”
Now Elder Li had no excuse to keep Ning Xiaoyao here for state affairs. War affairs were more pressing. She ran like a streak of smoke out of the Hall of Golden Chimes and into the sunshine, where she felt much more comfortable.
“Let’s go,” Lou Zigui walked over and raised a hand to block the sun shining in her face. He didn’t like girls who were too tanned.
Ning Xiaoyao sighed. “Every time we have court, I want to go to sleep. Supreme Commander, what should I do?”
Lou Zigui didn’t speak but silently walked by her side. That wasn’t something he could help with.
“Ah!” Ning Xiaoyao suddenly exclaimed as she handed over the battle report. “Supreme Commander, take a look.”
Lou Zigui was reading the battle report as he walked while listening to the sound of Ning Xiaoyao crunching sugar beans by his side.
“Say, Supreme Commander, do you think General Tao can capture that Xiang Nong[1. Xiang Nong (项农) － Xiang is a surname that means “nape of the neck,” Nong means “farmer.” Another way to read this is “Farmer Nong,” if they’re referring to the man by his profession rather than his name.] that’s leading them all?” Ning Xiaoyao asked suddenly.
Lou Zigui shook his head. “Once the rebel bands retreat into the mountain range between North Ji and South Ze, there will be nothing but peaks for miles. The mountains are high and the woods dense, which will make battle difficult.”
“Oh,” Ning Xiaoyao pouted a bit.
“Tao Yu is much too prudent,” Lou Zigui murmured as he read. “He should push forward faster with his generals.”
“Really?” Ning Xiaoyao blinked.
Lou Zigui finished reviewing the report and folded it up neatly. “It would be good if I could go.”
Ning Xiaoyao realized that Supreme Commander Lou would always grow super confident when talking about war affairs. She didn’t understand war herself, nor if he meant good or bad news by his words. She scratched her head and asked, “This is General Tao’s first time leading troops, so it’s not wrong to be more prudent, is it?”
Lou Zigui smiled at her. “I wasn’t faulting him.”
Ning Xiaoyao fell silent. Yet I didn’t hear you praise him, either.
Lou Zigui turned back and instructed the officer who’d brought them the letter to join them before he started asking the man all sorts of battle questions. The two of them spoke in the usual manner of military men, succinct and to the point without wasting a single word. Ning Xiaoyao started out listening with an eager ear, but soon lost interest in the conversation. There were things about battle arrays and soldier formations that she didn’t understand at all.
Shadowgale saw that Ning Xiaoyao was drifting further and further away from Lou Zigui and the military officer, so he quickly stepped forward and asked, “Your Majesty doesn’t want to listen? Should this servant tell Supreme Commander to move their conversation elsewhere?”
Ning Xiaoyao felt rather ashamed. “It’s not that I don’t want to, but that I can’t understand them.”
“......” said Shadowgale.
Ning Xiaoyao walked forward, looking like she wanted to ask Shadowgale something a few times. But each time she stopped herself before speaking.
Shadowgale could only ask, “Does Your Majesty have a question for this servant?”
Ning Xiaoyao said, “I want to ask who they mean by that Xiang Tiange.[2. Xiang Tiange (项天歌) - Tian is “sky, Heaven, celestial,” Ge is “song.”] The military officer mentioned the name.”
Shadowgale’s mouth twitched. “Xiang Tiange is the foster son of Xiang Nong.” How could His Majesty not know this? Elder Li has been forcing His Majesty to take lessons everyday, but just what is he teaching His Majesty?
“An adopted son, huh,” Ning Xiaoyao muttered to herself.
Shadowgale continued, “Xiang Nong has no son of his own, just a daughter.”
Ning Xiaoyao arched her eyebrows.
“What does Your Majesty want to say?” Shadowgale asked.
Ning Xiaoyao replied, “Nothing. I was just thinking, would this foster son and that daughter be a couple? That’s what happened to Qin Xuan and Miss A’Xin, oh.”
Shadowgale suddenly felt weary at heart and didn’t want to say anything else anymore.