Chapter 78: Supreme Commander's true face Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
A small sparrow flew up from the window ledge of the reception pavilion, circled around Prince Zhi’s courtyard once, then headed towards the palace.
“Grand Preceptor was already arranging for your death before His Majesty ascended the throne,” Prince Zhi said inside the pavilion as he looked at Lou Zigui. “If it was really a self-injury ruse, then you and the Grand Preceptor would’ve had to plan everything out before the late crown prince died. You betrayed His Highness Crown Prince?”
The candlelight flickered briefly in the pavilion. Lou Zigui still looked as calm as ever, his lips still curved up into a smile. “His Highness Crown Prince was simply unlucky,” he said to Prince Zhi. “How could an unlucky person like that become emperor? Moreover, even if His Highness Crown Prince had ascended the throne, his first thing would’ve been to dissolve the vassal lords. Does prince think well of that?”
So Xie Wenyuan found out from Lou Zigui that I was doing business with the Northern Hu before he found me himself? Prince Zhi stared at Lou Zigui and couldn’t help but feel that the entire situation was too mystifying for him to untangle.
“Prince,” Lou Zigui said, “Can Song Jin accompany your caravan to leave the capital city tomorrow?”
“Is the current quarrel between His Majesty and Xie Wenyuan a sham as well?” Prince Zhi asked.
“It’s simply a power struggle,” Supreme Commander Lou replied, which was equal to saying nothing at all.
For the sake of power, His Majesty could either quarrel with the Grand Preceptor or join hands with him to dismiss the vassal lords. Since Prince Zhi couldn’t get a clear answer, he simply stopped asking and nodded his head. “Tomorrow evening, have Song Jin go to the north gate.”
Lou Zigui rose and gave him a bow. “Many thanks to prince.”
Prince Zhi didn’t see him off, but simply waved his hand. “You may leave.”
Lou Zigui turned and walked out of the reception pavilion. Prince Zhi remained sitting there by himself. If Lou Zigui and Xie Wenyuan know that I’ve been dealing with the Northern Hu, what of Ning Yu? Wouldn’t he know as well? Maybe I shouldn’t stay in the capital city after all, Prince Zhi realized with a start as he stared at the flickering candlelight.
“Once you’ve exited the capital with Prince Zhi’s caravan, find a way to leave their group,” Lou Zigui quietly instructed Song Jin on their way back to the palace. “The road will be dangerous, so be careful.”
Song Jin couldn’t help but feel his heart ache when he recalled the money his Supreme Commander had given away. Now General Song felt like dying even more at his words. “Will Prince Zhi betray us even after accepting our money?”
“He’s untrustworthy to begin with,” Lou Zigui said as he urged on his horse. “What, you believe him?”
“Then why did you give him so much money, Supreme Commander?” Song Jin said, still pained. “If it was given to the troops, we…”
“That money was simply collateral,” Lou Zigui interrupted Song Jin’s angry rant. “If we didn’t give Prince Zhi something he likes, would he agree to bring you out of the capital?”
One person offered a bribe while the other accepted, leaving both parties in the wrong. This was the only way to strike a deal with a bastard like Prince Zhu, who could even neglect the duties of his forefathers at Qiufeng City for the chance to turn a profit.
“Would he, would he turn me over to the Grand Preceptor after bringing me out of the city?” Song Jin asked.
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Lou Zigui replied. “But either way, it'll be safer if you travel alone.”
Song Jin nodded and followed after Lou Zigui in silence for awhile before he spoke up again. “Is there still hope for Yongning like this?” After seeing his share of imperial clansmen and court officials, General Seventh Song couldn't help but question their plight.
Lou Zigui turned to look at Song Jin and laughed. “I was thinking of whether Prince Fu can get skinny.”
“.......” went Song Jin. Supreme Commander, if you don't want to talk about it, there's no need to forcefully change the topic to Prince Fu.
“Do you think Prince Fu will get skinnier?” Lou Zigui asked.
How am I supposed to answer that question? Do I call the shots on whether or not he loses weight?
“Can Prince Fu really get skinnier?” Shadowgale was asking Ning Xiaoyao the very same question in the little flower garden behind the main hall.
“Don’t worry,” Ning Xiaoyao was currently stuffing red bean cake into her mouth. She grinned as she asked, “Did Little Peach Blossom make these?”
Shadowgale’s expression turned stiff.
“Don’t be like that,” Ning Xiaoyao sat below the wutong tree. “Come on, tell me about your Little Peach Blossom. How far have you gone?”
Shadowgale didn’t want to talk with Ning Xiaoyao anymore. Was now the time to talk about Little Peach Blossom?! Meanwhile, a little sparrow landed on Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder and started chirping by her ear.
“........” went Shadowgale. It couldn’t be that His Majesty’s raising this sparrow, too?
“Windy, go take a walk with Little Peach Blossom and chat about life with her,” Ning Xiaoyao took the little sparrow into her palm as she spoke to Shadowgale, who could only withdraw. He wasn’t in any mood to go find Little Peach Blossom for company, because he wanted to be on night watch duty over Prince Fu!
After Shadowgale left, Ning Xiaoyao asked the sparrow, “Supreme Commander really said those things to Prince Zhi?”
“Yes, chirp~” the little sparrow bobbed its head.
“You’re lying!” Big Boss Black jumped out from behind the Wutong tree with an fierce shout. “You have to be the Grand Preceptor’s bird, sent here to sow discord amongst us. Miaow, I’ll eat you up!”
Big Boss Black leaped up into the air, only to be buffeted aside by Ning Xiaoyao. The little sparrow shook its body of feathers and said seriously, “Xiaoyao, I’m not the Grand Preceptor’s bird.”
Ning Xiaoyao rubbed the sparrow’s chubby tummy. This she believed, because she’d never seen a bird cage in the Grand Preceptor’s estate before. He wasn’t some bird enthusiast. (Author: Even if the Grand Preceptor kept a bird, he wouldn’t keep a sparrow of all things, right? o(╯□╰)o )
Big Boss Black sprawled on the ground as he meowed, “Xiaoyao, this damned bird must be tricking you. Supreme Commander isn’t that type of man!”
Grandfather Sparrow took the chance to alight on Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder, and the little sparrow spoke up again. “Grandfather Sparrow, Wheat isn’t lying.”
Grandfather Sparrow’s tone was stern. “Xiaoyao, Wheat is a good child, he wouldn’t lie.”
“Miaow!” Big Boss Black’s fur was standing on end.
Ning Xiaoyao nodded. “Mm, I believe Wheat. Come on, Wheat, I’ll treat you to some red bean cake.”
Wheat was very happy, because red bean cake was super yummy. Grandfather Sparrow looked at Ning Xiaoyao in concern. “Xiaoyao, what do you plan to do?”
Big Boss Black scurried up Ning Xiaoyao’s leg and cried, “Xiaoyao, you can’t kill my Supreme Commander, ah!”
At this moment, there was no smile on Ning Xiaoyao’s face. “He actually gave money to Prince Zhi,” she muttered to the animals. “If I knew about this earlier, I would’ve used the money for myself, ah!”
“........” said the little animals. Aren’t you missing the point?
“You,” Grandfather Sparrow said. “Xiaoyao, Supreme Commander knew about Prince Zhi’s liaisons with the Northern Hu, oh. From what I understand, he doesn’t want to annihilate the Northern Hu at all. He’s worried that he’ll be abandoned by you once the threat of the Northern Hu is gone.”
“Ah?” Ning Xiaoyao said. “Isn’t it good to do business?”
“Of course it isn’t good,” Big Boss Black bared his claws at Ning Xiaoyao again. “If you sell iron to the Northern Hu, then they can make weapons. If you sell them grain, they can fight without having to go hungry. How could this be any good?”
“.......” went the little animals. Black Tubby, can your Supreme Commander still live after your words?
A dark shadow fell across Ning Xiaoyao’s face. His Majesty Ning raised her head and saw Lou Zigui standing right in front of her, so she simply asked, “Supreme Commander, you knew that Prince Zhi was doing business with the Northern Hu, so why didn’t you say anything?”
Lou Zigui froze in place before Ning Xiaoyao. Wheat and Grandfather Sparrow flew onto a branch, while Big Boss Black hid behind Ning Xiaoyao’s legs. The chirping and meowing flower gardens immediately turned silent. Ning Xiaoyao gave Lou Zigui a perplexed look and said, “Tell me about your reasons.”
Lou Zigui hid the hand holding an oilpaper package behind his back before he asked, “Your Majesty knows all about the conversation between me and Prince Zhi?”
Ning Xiaoyao replied, “Yes, I have little pals at Prince Zhi’s estate.”
“.......” said Lou Zigui. Little pals again?
Wheat gave a cheerful chirp from the branches. He was one of Ning Xiaoyao’s little pals now! Grandfather Sparrow pecked him on the head. Now wasn’t the time to be happy. They had to keep a solemn silence.
“I,” underneath the tree, Lou Zigui spoke. “I can explain.”
Ning Xiaoyao crossed her legs and sat down to prepare for a long talk.
Lou Zigui said, “I was thinking of it this way. Without these business deals, the Northern Hu would invade the borders more frequently.”
“Really?” Ning Xiaoyao didn’t understand. What kind of logic was this?
“The Northern Hu people have no iron, cloth, or tea. They’re lacking in many types of medicine. Aside from their flocks, they have nothing else,” Lou Zigui explained. Meanwhile, Ning Xiaoyao imagined a savage world in her head. So in other words, I live in a feudal society while those Northern Hu live in a prehistoric one? (Author: Don’t make wild guesses, ahhh!)
“I can understand the thoughts of the Northern Hu,” Lou Zigui half-knelt in front of Ning Xiaoyao as he lowered his voice. “When their parents, women, and children are starving to death before their eyes while we Yongning people have plenty of provisions, why wouldn’t they kill their way to our lands?”
Ning Xiaoyao thought it over. “So because they’re starving to death, they come over to kill and pillage? What kind of logic is that?”
“If there ever comes a day when you’re starving to death, I’d go steal, too,” Lou Zigui said as he looked at Ning Xiaoyao, who felt a little floored.
Lou Zigui said, “I wouldn’t be able to just watch you die. That’s why I can understand what the Northern Hu are thinking.”
Ning Xiaoyao dug her fingers into her palms. For some reason, her heartbeats had sped up.
Lou Zigui said, “Those years I spent at the border were extremely tough. Even the top soldiers of the Black Frost Cavalry couldn’t kill more than 40% of their numbers. Xiaoyao, it’s not that I fear death, but that I don’t want to send my soldiers to their death. If the Northern Hu weren’t trapped with no way out, they wouldn’t invade us so readily.”
Ning Xiaoyao clutched her head in thought. In other words, if we fill the stomachs of the Northern Hu, they won’t quarrel with Yongning anymore? “That’s not right,” Ning Xiaoyao dropped her hands. “Although doing business has its positives, they why does the government--I mean, the imperial court--disallow it?”
“Because we can’t,” Lou Zigui replied.
Could he speak properly? Ning Xiaoyao glared at him. Lou Zigui wanted to stroke Ning Xiaoyao’s head, but withdrew his hand under Ning Xiaoyao’s stare. “If business is done in secret, it’ll limit the goods sent over the border and jack up their prices as well. As long as the Northern Hu don’t die, but don’t eat their fill either while we deplete their wealth, it’s not a bad deal in my eyes. But if large numbers of traders did business with them, it’d only benefit the Northern Hu. A few merchants would profit from the trade, but it’d hurt our country as a whole.”
Ning Xiaoyao scratched her palms as she shot another glance at Supreme Commander Lou. So you’re letting Prince Zhi be all sneaky with the Northern Hu? A black-bellied schemer, that should be your true self, right?
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