Chapter 35: I want to give the refugees a home Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Lou Zigui knitted his brows as he saw Ning Xiaoyao leading a little girl by one hand while carrying a little boy with the other. “You want to take them away?”
Ning Xiaoyao was spitting with anger. “Can’t I? If I can’t help everyone, can’t I help a little girl?”
The little girl ducked behind Ning Xiaoyao, afraid to look at Lou Zigui. Ning Xiaoyao took the girl’s hand and walked forward, saying, “Don’t fear, it’s my house. Can’t I decide who lives in it?”
Lou Zigui stood up, his expression somewhat helpless. There were millions of refugees in the world, so what was the use of saving this brother and sister pair? Ning Xiaoyao walked a few steps before having the girl carry her brother to wait for her by the street. She ran back herself.
“You have other business?” Lou Zigui asked.
Ning Xiaoyao slapped herself on the forehead. “Their grandfather’s body is still in the alleyway.” She’d almost forgotten. This wasn’t the apocalypse where one abandoned corpses if one couldn’t take care of them. Dead bodies should be buried, right?
Lou Zigui hastily reached out to pull Ning Xiaoyao back. “Don’t look.”
But Ning Xiaoyao already saw the situation inside the alleyway. She hadn’t left for a few minutes before the old man’s limbs had been hacked off his body. A large pot was already sitting atop a pile of wood, while a few men were attempting to start a fire. Ning Xiaoyao stared blankly there, before turning to look at the other alley. A fire was already burning beneath a pot there, and a tiny hand hung over its edge. The crying woman from before was sitting right by the fire, a broken bowl in her hands. Lou Zigui had planned to cover Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes, but after some hesitation, he drew her into his arms instead.
“Don’t look,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t look at them.”
Eating the bodies of their own kind. Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes dropped. Should she rejoice over the fact that they hadn’t started killing humans for food yet? In the apocalypse, there were no other options. Both agriculture and soilless culture gave pitiful crop yields. Much of the lands had been seized by the zombies and were unsuited for cultivating crops. But what was the cause of famine in this world?
Lou Zigui half carried Ning Xiaoyao as he walked forward. He wanted Ning Xiaoyao to see the hardships of the refugees, but he never meant to scare her. The little girl saw Lou Zigui half-carrying Ning Xiaoyao past her and picked up her little brother, who was sucking on his thumb. Then she quietly followed behind them. Ning Xiaoyao heard the girl’s footsteps and lightly pushed Lou Zigui’s hand aside. She wanted to say some comforting words, but found that her brain had short-circuited. The words wouldn’t come.
“Grandpa was eaten by them,” the little girl rubbed her eyes as she spoke.
Ning Xiaoyao’s hand subconsciously tightened around Lou Zigui’s.
“You knew?” Lou Zigui asked.
The little girl nodded. “Those who die are eaten. Grandpa was like this too.”
Ning Xiaoyao further tightened her grip on Lou Zigui, who could only lift his hand and pull her into his arms again. “Where’s your mother?” he asked the little girl.
“She ran away with another man. Big brother disappeared.” the little girl looked at Lou Zigui, then at Ning Xiaoyao. “Sir, I really am twelve years old. I can work. When my little brother grows up, he can work for sir as well.”
This girl who was at most ten years old kept on insisting she was twelve. Undoubtedly, she feared that they’d think she was too young and weak to work. Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes reddened before she walked over to hug the girl. “What’s your name?”
“Erya [1. Er Ya (二丫) - a name that literally means “second lass.”],” the little girl said her own name then, as if fearing Ning Xiaoyao would forget her little brother, added on, “My little brother’s call Xiaoqiu [2. Xiaoqiu (小球) - literally “little ball.”].”
Ning Xiaoyao wrapped Xiaoqiu into her arms and bumped foreheads with Erya. “I’m Xiaoyao. From now on, just follow me.”
Only then did Erya knew for sure she and Xiaoqiu could live. She knelt on the ground and kowtowed to Ning Xiaoyao. Many people watched them from the alleyway, but their faces didn’t show any signs of envy. This was Erya and her brother’s good fortune, their fate in life. You couldn’t get things like this just through envy. How could Ning Xiaoyao let Erya bow to her? She pulled the girl upright and took her hand as she walked forward.
The stench of blood filled the air. Ning Xiaoyao could almost hear the water coming to boil. Lou Zigui walked behind Ning Xiaoyao and watched as she raised a hand to rub her eyes. He suddenly regretted bringing her along this path. Protecting the family, serving the country, and governing the lands were all men’s work. Why did he want a young girl like her to see the hardships of the people? Did he want this girl to shoulder a task that had left so many men at their wits’ end?
Ning Xiaoyao walked and walked until she suddenly stopped to turn around with a serious expression. “Did the Northern Hu bring calamity to those people?”
Lou Zigui shook his head. The Northern Hu were an outside threat, but the refugees were part of internal conflicts.
“Then tell me, Supreme Commander,” said Ning Xiaoyao, “Why don’t they have homes anymore?”
Lou Zigui raised a hand to wipe away the dampness by her eyes before replying softly, “Because of natural disasters, because of man-made disasters. Because Yongning is beyond a cure.”
Ning Xiaoyao couldn’t understand the deeper reasonings behind Lou Zigui’s words, but she did understand one thing. There were about two hundred thousand refugees in this country. Three generations’ of emperors had ruled past unlucky reigns. If it wasn’t drought, it was flood. If there weren’t locust plagues, then there were earthquakes and epidemics. The commoners suffered these disasters and lost their homes, but the dynasty was incapable of helping them. Thus, everyone had no choice but to leave their homes and live as nomads to beg for a living. The dynasty had to fight wars, send disaster relief, provide for the immense members of its imperial clan and those scholarly-ranked literati who didn’t need to pay taxes. Thus, the dynasty placed even more pressure on the commoners who lived in lands untouched by disasters.
“This is a man-made calamity,” Lou Zigui told Ning Xiaoyao. “Farmers labor for a year, but their crops don’t even make up half of the taxes they need to pay. Deficits lead to severe punishment, where the offenders are captured and placed into forced labor. They’d be forced to leave their wives and children and break the family apart, so of course they’d chose to flee instead.”
Ning Xiaoyao felt like dying. What kind of crappy place was this?!
The scent of meat drifted from behind them. Lou Zigui pulled NIng Xiaoyao away. Ning Xiaoyao’s nose was far keener than Lou Zigui’s, so she’d caught whiff of the meat much earlier. After following Lou Zigui a few steps, Ning Xiaoyao said, “Though I don’t know if it’ll work, I’ll do my best.”
Right now, Lou Zigui wanted to leave this place as quickly as possible, so all he did was ask, “Do your best doing what?”
“I want to give the refugees a home, so I’ll do my best,” Ning Xiaoyao said sincerely.
Lou Zigui stopped as he turned to look at her. Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes were still slightly red, but her face was serious. Back in her world, she put her life at stake to strive for humanity’s survival. Now that she was here and so many people were suffering, she’d just put her life at stake and strive again. Besides, the ways of this world couldn’t be any harder than the apocalypse, right? Ning Xiaoyao didn’t believe that she couldn’t do something good in this world!
Lou Zigui was a bit distracted. Ten years ago, the crown prince had worn an anxious expression while firmly saying, I want to give the refugees a home. Now ten years had passed. The person who had told him that back then no longer existed, but his little sister was now saying the exact same words. Suddenly, he seemed to wake up with a start as he looked at the streets around them. Finally, his eyes settled on a Wutong tree standing behind Ning Xiaoyao.
Ten years ago, on this very street and before that very tree, the crown prince had spoken the same words. Time always flowed by at lightning speeds. When you thought you’d never see something again, it’d always let you re-experience those bygone scenes, hear those bygone words. Inexorably, it seemed as if time had mysteriously turned backwards.
Ning Xiaoyao raised her hand and waved it back and forth in front of Lou Zigui’s face. Were the words she said too touching for him? When Lou Zigui recovered his senses, the soft and pretty youth before him seemed to have faded into the evening light, leaving two bright eyes to stare at him.
“Hey hey, “ Ning Xiaoyao yelled, “What’s wrong with you?”
Lou Zigui said, “Then what are you going to do?”
“Ah?” Ning Xiaoyao replied. “I’ll decide on things one by one. Let me get through the court assembly in two days’ time first. If my words are useless, then I can’t accomplish anything.”
Lou Zigui nodded.
“What you said just then,” Ning Xiaoyao added, “About Old Xie controlling two generations’ of emperors and the country half-dead like this, does it prove he’s incapable? If he’s useless, what’s he still doing around the palace? I’ll make him go away.”
“But the Xie Clan’s already a large tree with deep roots,” Lou Zigui countered.
“Large...large tree with deep roots?” Ning Xiaoyao echoed. “I’m talking about that old man Xie, why are you bringing up trees with me?”
“... …” said Lou Zigui. Here they go again, the topic was changing once more.
“I and him and the empress dowager too, we’ll just go torment each other,” Ning Xiaoyao waved a hand. They could talk about trees later. “Right now, my goal is to pass through the trial of court assembly. Then I’ll go look for money.”
“Look for money?”
“Yeah. If you have power but no money, you still can’t do a thing. Even if it’s planting crops, you still need money to buy the seeds first, right?” Ning Xiaoyao explained. “With cash on hand, the heart won’t panic. That’s a truth.”
Lou Zigui cradled his forehead.
NIng Xiaoyao tugged on his hand. “Let’s go back. Maybe I can find some money if I dig around my rooms. Tomorrow I’ll have Windy take that money and buy some food to give everyone.”
“There are too many refugees in the capital. Your Majesty can’t afford to raise them,” Lou Zigui shook his head. “Moreover, the total number of refugees in the world number in the millions. How can one person like Your Majesty support them all?”
“Give me some time, let me think it over,” Ning Xiayao said. “I still haven’t figured out how to get through that court assembly.” When she got to this topic, Ning Xiaoyao felt vexed and dejected again. She really wanted to kill that father and daughter pair ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..
Lou Zigui’s heart was filled with murderous intentions as well, but he was clear that killing Xie Wenyuan and Empress Dowager Xie now wouldn’t eliminate the Xie Clan.
Once Ning Xiaoyao finished feeling annoyed, she turned to see Erya standing beneath the Wutong tree, taking care of her brother as they ate sugar beans. Ning Xiaoyao straightened her posture at the sight. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Last night she was still Supreme Commander’s number one mortal enemy, but weren’t they pals now?
“Bad guys can’t be smug forever, just as good guys can’t be unlucky forever,” Ning Xiaoyao stuffed a sugar bean in Lou Zigui’s mouth. “I think our luck’s picking up now. Things will improve.”
The sweet flavor of sugar filled his mouth as Lou Zigui’s hand rested against Ning Xiaoyao’s head. His voice was soft as he spoke.
“His name was Yanhui. Your older brother was Ning Yanhui.[3. Ning Yanhui (宁燕悔) - Ning is a surname that means “peaceful, to pacify,” Yanhui means “the swallow returns.]”
Ning Xiaoyao was speechless. Why were they talking about older brothers now? Wasn’t there something off with all this?!
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