Chapter 77: Is this man really loyal to his sovereign? Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
That night, Prince Fu ate a bowl of red-braised pork and drank two big bowls of chicken soup. Ning Xiaoyao stood outside the prison cell on her tiptoes to spy on Prince Fu eating through a tiny window, talking to Shadowgale at the same time.
“Don’t just judge Prince Fu by his size. Actually, he doesn’t eat all that much.”
Shadowgale didn’t need tiptoes to see inside the cell, but he didn’t care about how much Prince Fu ate. He was more worried over how the prince would lose the promised weight.
Ning Xiaoyao lowered her heels to the floor and said, “Let’s go back to eat dinner.” Watching someone else eating meat and drinking soup was like a form of torture for Ning Xiaoyao.
Shadowgale’s voice grew serious. “Your Majesty, how about if this servant takes Prince Fu out for a jog?”
Inside the prison, Prince Fu was already lying on the floor to sleep after his meal. ‘It’d be impossible for him not to get fatter,’ Shadowgale thought anxiously.
Ning Xiaoyao thought it over. “It’s fine to take him out for exercise. But Windy, you don’t have to make it sound like you’re walking the dog. We still need to respect the prince.”
“........” said Shadowgale. For whose sake do you think I’m worried?
“Let’s go,” Ning Xiaoyao pulled Shadowgale away. “He’ll get skinnier, so let’s go back for dinner. Red-braised pork, oh!” When Ning Xiaoyao thought of the red and oily meat, she practically flew out of the prisons. Shadowgale’s feet nearly left the ground as he was dragged along, his handsome face distorted by their speed. It wasn’t comfortable at all to be pulled along like a kite, but the Head Commander of the Dragon Guards didn’t struggle against the flow. After all, how could he defy His Majesty? ‘Besides,’ Shadowgale thought in embarrassment as he looked at Ning Xiaoyao’s petite frame, ‘Even if I struggled, it might very well be useless. My lightness techniques can’t be compared to His Majesty, and as for my fighting skills...heheh. I don’t think I’m His Majesty’s match there either.’
After Ning Xiaoyao and Shadowgale left, Prince Fu rubbed his stomach while lying on the floor. He didn’t feel any skinnier, so he relaxed and took out the Jiangnan set of 24 brushes for a look. Then he hugged them close to his chest and fell asleep.
When Ning Xiaoyao arrived back at Supreme Splendor Hall and sat down at the table, her eyes swept over all the people waiting for her to start the meal before she asked, “Huh? Where’s Supreme Commander and Little Song?”
None of the Black Frost Cavalry generals said a word, but kept their heads lowered and pretended they hadn’t heard anything. Their Supreme Commander had taken the military fees he’d gotten from His Majesty and took Song Jin out the palace to find a way to deliver the money to Anyuan County. Although their Supreme Commander sometimes used underhanded methods to complete his goals, all of the generals decided to play deaf in front of Ning Xiaoyao. On a subconscious level, they didn’t want His Majesty to know of Supreme Commander’s other, darker side.
Fang Tang handed over a bowl of rice and mumbled, “Supreme Commander took Song Jin and went out of the palace.”
Immediately, all of the generals glared at Fang Tang. What were they supposed to say if His Majesty asked them more questions?
But Ning Xiaoyao simply reached with her chopsticks towards the red-braised pork and said, “Oh, so it’s like that. Let’s start eating, then!”
“..........” said the generals. Is His Majesty too open-minded, or just too at ease with our Supreme Commander?
Ning Xiaoyao stuffed red-braised pork into her mouth at lightning speeds. With two fewer people at the table, she could eat a lot more pork! (Author: That’s right, His Majesty Ning is precisely stubborn about such types of goals. ╮(╯▽╰)╭）
Meanwhile, Prince Zhi, Ning Guangyuan, was sitting in the courtyard of his estate in the capital city. Next to him were his best conversation partners from amongst the various imperial clansmen. Yongning’s imperial clansmen were currently deeply worried and sick at heart. Generations of imperial monarchs had glorified and nurtured their clansmen, but now an emperor like Ning Xiaoyao had suddenly appeared out of the blue. None of the princes could take it.
“If His Majesty uses this as a pretense to kill Prince Fu,” Prince Xi, Ning Guangzong said, “Then who would he aim for next?”
The various princes exchanged glances. It was unlikely that any of them could escape.
“So, His Majesty is planning to dismiss the vassal lords?” Prince Qi, Ning Guangbei[1. Prince Qi, Ning Guangbei (祈王，宁光北) - Qi means “to implore, pray request,” Guangbei means “northern lights, radiance from the north.] asked.
“None of His Majesty’s brothers have been granted enfeoffments yet,” Prince Zhi observed. The clansmen fell into silence again. Not only was Ning Yu trying to control their enfeoffments, he wanted to take their lands away from them as well. Anyone could tell that he was the same as the late crown prince, completely incompatible with vassal lords like themselves.
“Right now, he’s still distracted with Xie Wenyuan,” a clansman murmured softly. “Once he gets rid of Xie Wenyuan, we’ll…”
Prince Xi slammed his hand on the table to cut off the speaker’s words.
“Let’s see how His Majesty will take care of Prince Fu first,” Prince Zhi sighed as he shook his head. “Joining together with Xie Wenyuan is like trying to ask a tiger for its skin. The Xie Clan is still His Majesty’s maternal clan. What if everything turns out to be an act to trick us all? Prince Fu was caught at the Grand Preceptor’s estate. Could Grand Preceptor Xie be completely innocent in it all? If Ning Yu could act out a self-injury ruse with Lou Zigui, why can’t he pretend to have a falling out with Xie Wenyuan as well?”
Prince Zhi’s proposal seemed possible, which caused cold sweat to break out on the clansmen’s backs. If that was the truth, then that little Emperor Ning Yu had too many hidden depths. What an insidious person.
“Let’s see what he’ll do with Prince Fu first,” Prince Zhi repeated. “Before we know what he’s thinking, we shouldn’t do anything at all. If we’re innocent, Ning Yu won’t be able to do anything to us.”
Prince Zhi and Prince Fu had always been leaders of the imperial clansmen. Because none of the others had any good ideas, and because Prince Fu’s own plight was unclear, they naturally listened to Prince Zhi’s words.
Lou Zigui and Song Jin were just standing around Prince Fu’s courtyard when they saw him sending off the rest of the imperial clansmen.
“They really did come here just to discuss things,” Song Jin said.
Lou Zigui glanced coldly at Prince Zhi standing on top of the steps. Once the clansmen had all left, Supreme Commander Lou walked out from a patch of poorly lit streets and headed for Prince Zhi’s front gates. As soon as Prince Zhi saw him, his parting smile for the clansmen turned stiff on his face.
Lou Zigui stopped at the foot of the stairs and bowed respectfully towards Prince Zhi. “Prince.”
Prince Zhi glanced in the direction that Lou Zigui had come from. Seeing nobody else there, he spoke. “Come in,” Prince Zhi beckoned before turning back towards the doors.
Lou Zigui brought Song Jin with him into the courtyard, where they walked to a reception pavilion. When Prince Zhi turned back, he glanced at Song Jin. Song Jin backed up a few steps and waited by the entrance. The reception pavilion wasn’t very big, though it was filled with delicate, exquisite furniture and ornaments. As Lou Zigui swept his gaze over the objects, he suddenly recalled Ning Xiaoyao’s nearly empty rooms. Then he gave Prince Zhi an unfriendly glance.
Prince Zhi hadn’t grown up being frightened by every little thing, so Supreme Commander Lou’s glare only made him straighten his posture. “Has Supreme Commander come on His Majesty’s orders?” he asked.
“No,” Lou Zigui replied.
Prince Zhi relaxed. “Oh, then what has Supreme Commander come to find this prince for?” (Author: Is His Majesty already something much more fearsome than Supreme Commander Lou in the eyes of you princes?)
Lou Zigui took out a thick packet of silver drafts[2. silver drafts (银票) - yinpiao, ancient form of paper money, which could be exchanged for real silver at banks.] from his sleeve and placed it on the tea table before pushing it towards Prince Zhi. Prince Zhi’s eyes glanced over the number on the topmost silver draft and asked, “What does Supreme Commander mean by this?”
“I know that the prince is sending out a consignment of goods to your territory tomorrow,” Lou Zigui said in a low voice.
Prince Zhi gave a start.
Lou Zigui chuckled, and continued, “Prince Zhi is rather daring.”
Prince Zhi suddenly sprang to his feet. His territory was Qiufeng City[3. Qiufeng (秋丰) - together, the characters mean “luxuriant autumn.”], near Anyuan’s Six Provinces that made up the borderlands of the country. He had been the only one of Emperor Mingzong’s imperial sons who had actually led troops into battle, so he’d been granted Qiufeng City in order to monitor military intelligence from Anyuan’s Six Provinces. Unfortunately, Prince Zhi had never taken such responsibilities to heart. Instead, he had started business deals with the Northern Hu instead. Technically speaking, that was betraying his country. Prince Zhi had always been prudent in his dealings, so he didn’t know how Lou Zigui had found out.
“I defended those borders,” Lou Zigui said as he smiled. “Why did prince think you could hide things from my eyes?”
Prince Zhi slowly sat back down. If Cuckoo Lou had come to find him, then it was probably for blackmail, rather than make him stop his business dealings. “I have something to bring into Anyuan as well,” Lou Zigui pointed at the stack of silver drafts. “This is my freight fee. Does prince think that it’s enough?”
Prince Zhi stared at the silver drafts on the table without saying a word.
Lou Zigui laughed again and said, “You were the one who got those letters accusing me of communicating with the Northern Hu on the Grand Preceptor’s behalf, correct?”
The hand resting on Prince Zhi’s leg twitched.
Lou Zigui said, “I thought that prince wouldn’t force me on a road to death since I was helping you keep the peace. I see now that I was mistaken.”
Prince Zhi asked, “Does Supreme Commander have any proof?”
Lou Zigui lowered his voice. “Prince, rather than asking me whether I have any proof, why don’t you consider why Xie Wenyuan would know you could help him get those letters from the Northern Hu?”
Prince Zhi’s hand twitched again.
“Those letters are fake,” Lou Zigui said. “The Northern Hu used prince, just as how the Grand Preceptor is using you now. How does it feel to be a pawn?”
Prince Zhi slowly relaxed his clenched fists and murmured, “This prince doesn’t understand Supreme Commander’s words.”
“The delivery this time is very important,” Lou Zigui said as he stared at him. “I ask that prince takes special care.”
“You,” Prince Zhi was a little ticked off from feeling like he was in the palm of someone’s hand.
“What Xie Wenyuan wants is to lord over all and obey only one,”[4. lord over all and obey only one (一人之下万人上) - yiren zhixia wanren shang, a saying that means to have authority over everyone else and only serve one person; in other words, a person second in power to the emperor himself.] Lou Zigui said. “How does prince know you’re not simply a thorn in Xie Wenyuan’s side?”
When Prince Zhi recalled his suspicions about Ning Yu and Xie Wenyuan acting in tandem, his heart rose to his throat.
“I can pretend I know nothing about the letters,” Lou Zigui continued to speak in a soft voice, “And since I never ‘knew’ that Prince Zhi had dealings with the Northern Hu in the past, I can keep feigning ignorance in the future. What does prince think?”
Prince Zhi gave Lou Zigui a penetrating stare. “Just so this prince can help you with a single delivery?”
“Song Jin will follow along with prince’s caravan,” Lou Zigui said. “I’ll only be at ease if it’s my own men looking after my goods.”
Prince Zhi said, “You want this prince to help you deliver people? Lou Zigui, you want to transfer the Black Frost Cavalry to the capital city?”
“That’s my business,” Supreme Commander Lou replied. “No matter where the Black Frost Cavalry goes, it won’t affect prince’s position, will it?”
Prince Zhi touched the silver drafts on the tea table.
“Prince can certainly seek out Xie Wenyuan. But how can prince shift away an entire Qiufeng City?” Lou Zigui asked.
Prince Zhi replied, “This prince thought you’d hate anyone who did business with the Northern Hu.”
His Excellency Supreme Commander wore a guileless smile as he murmured, “The fact that I of the Lou family can settle at Anyuan’s Six Provinces is precisely because there are Northern Hu beyond the borders. If the Northern Hu didn’t exist, it’d be hard for my Lou Clan to survive. This is the principle behind the saying, a drawn bow needs a flying bird to shoot.”
Prince Zhi sucked in a breath. Is this man really loyal to his sovereign?