Chapter 86: His Majesty Ning's empty pockets Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
Half of Prince Zhi’s side courtyard had been swallowed up by the flames. Prince Zhi himself stood in the streets, looking at Xie Laifu as if he was a dead man. Xie Laifu kowtowed for his life as he spoke of how His Majesty had captured him on the road. Once again, the imperial clansmen were startled by his words. His Majesty came personally to set the fires and kill us?
“Heh,” Xie Laifu’s words halted at Lou Zigui’s cold laugh, and he saw Lou Zigui looking at him. While Prince Zhi looked like he wanted to kill the steward and feed him to the dogs, Supreme Commander Lou had a much calmer gaze. “Do you really need to drag His Majesty into everything?” he asked.
Supreme Commander Lou’s speech was short, but it was enough to leave a profound message in the clansmen’s minds. What did it mean to drag His Majesty into everything? Clearly, Lou Zigui was telling them that this was all the Grand Preceptor’s idea. Everything that His Majesty did was according to the Grand Preceptor’s instructions. Xie Laifu wished he could cut his own head off this instant to show that his words were the truth!
“Tell me,” Lou Zigui asked, “Why did His Majesty want to knock over the courtyard wall?”
“........” said the imperial clansmen. You still need to ask? Obviously, he was planning to murder us.
Second Steward Xie wanted to tell the truth, but his words stopped at the tip of his tongue. His Majesty had come for the sake of saving a dog--no, a wolf. That wolf was too fat, so it’d gotten stuck in a hole at the bottom of the wall. If I say this, Second Steward Xie thought as he looked at the princes standing around him. Will anyone believe me?
“Take action when the other party doesn’t expect it,”[1. Take action when the other party doesn’t expect it (出其不意) - chuqibuyi, Lou Zigui is quoting from Sun Zi’s The Art of War here.] Lou Zigui turned towards Prince Zhi, whose face looked even more swollen than before. If it was twice as swollen in the start, now it was double that size. Anyone who saw him would have to stop and stare.
Prince Zhi opened his mouth and spat out some bloody saliva before his gaze on Xie Laifu turned even more fierce. His group had just reached the base of the wall when it toppled inwards. What did that mean? It meant that someone had been keeping watch on them! All of the clansmen that Prince Zhi had invited over to talk strategy had good brains of their own. What Prince Zhi realized, they realized as well. Grand Preceptor Xie not only wanted Prince Zhi’s life, but all of theirs as well!
Lou Zigui said, “This one has reminded Prince Zhi in the past to be careful.”
Prince Zhi stared at Supreme Commander Lou.
“This one urges prince to release this servant. It’ll be all for the better,” Lou Zigui recommended.
Prince Zhi’s swollen face twisted into an ugly expression as he growled, “You think this prince is afraid of that Xie Wenyuan?”
Lou Zigui laughed. “That wasn’t what I meant. It’s just that prince has no men on your hands at present, only guards.”
Now the imperial clansmen’s faces were blanching as well. A powerful dragon couldn’t crush a snake in its own haunts. If they wanted to fight Xie Wenyuan in the capital city, there was no way that they’d win.
“Before beating a dog, you have to look at its owner,” Supreme Commander Lou said. “Especially since this servant belongs to the Grand Preceptor. Even if prince tore his corpse into 10,000 pieces, what of it?” The implied meaning was that there was no point for Prince Zhi to take out his temper on a servant when he couldn’t even presume to touch the Grand Preceptor. If news of that spread, wouldn’t he simply be a laughingstock?
Prince Zhi’s smile was cold. “If this prince doesn’t even dare to kick a dog raised by that Xie Wenyuan, wouldn’t I be even more of a laughingstock?”
Lou Zigui readily accepted the advice as he admitted his wrongs. “Prince speaks rightly. It was this one who was wrong.”
“Take him out to be beaten,” Prince Zhi ordered as he pointed as Xie Laifu. “Leave him alive, then toss him back to the Grand Preceptor’s estate!”
After Prince Zhi’s guards accepted the order, they hesitated. They were already standing in the streets, so where else could they drag this man? In the end, their leader decided to have the men bring Xie Laifu to the street entrance. As usual, there weren’t many people there besides a troop of soldiers under the Nine Gate Infantry Commander’s and a bunch of commoners who kept their distance and spoke in hushed tones.
“Beat him,” the leader of the guards said as his men threw Xie Laifu to the ground. The guards moved forward and thoroughly beat him up. Like this, Second Steward Xie Laifu joined Head Steward Xie Laibao to be confined in bed with heavy injuries. (o(╯□╰)o)
“Since prince is safe and sound,” Lou Zigui said as he took his leave in the street, “Then this one will now depart.”
“Supreme Commander, don’t be so hasty to leave,” Prince Zhi said. “Let’s find a place to talk.”
On one side, the imperial clansmen all stared at Prince Zhi’s swollen face, which had distorted his features beyond recognition, and privately thought it’d be better for him to find medical help first.
Lou Zigui thought so as well. “Shouldn’t prince find a doctor first?”
“No need,” Prince Zhi said as he spat another bloody mouthful of saliva onto the ground. Because his gums had been injured, his mouth wouldn’t stop bleeding. But Prince Zhi believed he could hold on because he’d once fought on the battlefields as well!
Lou Zigui gave him a bow. “Then this one will accept deferentially instead of declining courteously.”
Prince Zhi was different from Prince Fu, who had enjoyed comfort and wealth as a nobleman all his life. While Prince Fu only bothered with his lands, he’d never take action beyond moving his mouth when someone bullied him. Prince Zhi was much more difficult. He was a man who loved wealth and sought vengeance just for an angry look directed his way. As Lou Zigui saw it, he was the one most likely to cause Grand Preceptor Xie headaches.
The Dragon Guard who’d left Lady Xiang’s estate to search for Lou Zigui first saw Xie Laifu getting beaten up at the entrance to the street, then Supreme Commander Lou riding his horse amongst ten or so imperial clansmen. They were heading towards the west end of the lane. The Dragon Guard wanted to chase after Supreme Commander Lou, but he was stopped by Prince Zhi’s jittery guards when they turned their arrows on him. If he hadn’t flashed the Dragon Guard medallion by his waist in time, he would’ve earned a beating himself. Once he made his intentions clear to Prince Zhi’s guards and looked back up again, Lou Zigui had already disappeared. The Dragon Guard had no choice but to return and report to Ning Xiaoyao.
At that moment, Ning Xiaoyao was standing outside a snack stall. The owner of the stall stared at the duo who had been hovering by his stall for about half an incense stick’s length of time before taking out the cooked egg yolk guoba from the pot. The egg yolk came from duck eggs dipped in red chili oil. When they were fried with steamed husked rice covered in wheat flour in a pot of oil, the golden yellow hue and enticing smell were already enough to thoroughly infatuate Ning Xiaoyao. After all, she’d never seen such snack food back in her world.
“I want to eat that,” Ning Xiaoyao whispered to Shadowgale, who was looking gloomy. It wasn’t because he thought His Majesty was shameful for being such a glutton, but because he hadn’t brought any money with him today!
“How about we go back and get some money?” Ning Xiaoyao asked.
Shadowgale lowered his voice and respectfully said, “Wait here awhile, Your Majesty. This servant will take some money from the house we came from before.”
“Alright,” Ning Xiaoyao hastily nodded her head.
At the same time, a few married women carrying baskets on their arms approached the stall to ask for the egg yolk guoba. When Ning Xiaoyao saw the number of egg yolk guoba dwindling before her very eyes, her face turned black. It was obviously her who’d gotten here first! (Author: Who do you have to blame? You didn’t bring any money.) Shadowgale listened to the various matrons list out their orders to the stall owner and did some mental calculations. He realized that if each of the woman bought their share, there would be no meaning even if he went back to get some money, because all the guoba would be sold out by then. It really was a tragic ending.
Ning Xiaoyao could only look on helplessly. The snow wolf pup in her arms echoed her helpless expression. Shadowgale mused that it’d be too shameful to expose their identity here and force the stall owner to hand over the guoba. Maybe I can steal some instead?
There were still two more egg yolk guoba left in the bamboo display basket. The young stall owner looked at Ning Xiaoyao and asked, “You want them?” The duo outside his window had been standing around for ages. He’d feel sorry if he didn’t at least ask them.
“N-no money,” Ning Xiaoyao swallowed her drool.
The matrons who were buying guoba all looked askance at Shadowgale. This full-grown man had taken his little brother out without bringing any money along? Just look at that guy. Seems like he’s the kind of worthless wretch who can’t even afford to raise a wife and kids.
The stall owner was a good man, so he told Ning Xiaoyao, “Then you can trade some things for it instead.”
Ning Xiaoyao had a pained look on her face. She’d fed the remaining half of her sugar beans to Little Tangerine, so now her bag was even cleaner than her face. “I, I have nothing to trade with, either.” Ning Xiaoyao muttered, her head hanging.
“.........” said the stall owner. So the two of you were just standing by the store to enjoy the smell?
Ning Xiaoyao stared at the last two guoba in the basket. Egg yolk guoba too, I’ve never eaten them before, ah. Just what do they taste like? They’ve got to be delicious. Licking her lips, Ning Xiaoyao asked, “When will the next batch come out?”
The stall owner shook his head. “I’ve used up all my duck eggs. This is the last pot. If you want them again, you’ll have to wait ‘til next month.”
C r a c k--
Ning Xiaoyao’s heart shattered into pieces.
Shadowgale’s heart wasn’t feeling all that great, either. This was their, Yongning’s, emperor. He was the one who gave away huge sums of money and large piles of rice and flour to the masses everyday. But in the end, His Majesty couldn’t even afford to eat a single piece of guoba. Shadowgale was saddened by that thought. He took off his sword and placed it on the chopping board before telling the stall owner, “I’ll leave my sword here with you first. I’ll get money to trade it back later.”
This was the first time in his life that the stall keeper had met someone willing to trade in a saber for some guoba to eat. He looked at the sword on his chopping board, then at Shadowgale, completely stunned. Ning Xiaoyao suddenly slipped out and ran to the middle of the streets.
Shadowgale pointed at the stall owner and said, “I’m reserving those guoba, ah.” Then he turned to chase after Ning Xiaoyao.
“............” went the stall owner and the women who’d came to buy guoba. Those two harbor such deep feelings for guoba?
“Miss Ji!” Ning Xiaoyao blocked the path in front of Ji Yuerong’s horse.
Ji Yuerong was scared to death upon suddenly running into His Majesty. She pulled on the reins with all her might. Her battle horse, Big White, was only three centimeters away from crashing into Ning Xiaoyao’s face.
“It’s me, ah,” Ning Xiaoyao backed up a couple of steps so Ji Yuerong could see her face. No matter how poorly Ji Yuerong thought of Ning Xiaoyao, she was still required by protocol to get off her horse and bow to her. Before she could, Ning Xiaoyao extended her hand and asked, “Can you lend me some money?”
The young Miss of the Ji Clan was utterly floored.
“Can you?” Ning Xiaoyao asked.
“How much do you need?” Ji Yuerong asked.
“10 copper coins,” Ning Xiaoyao said as soon as she sensed that she had a chance.
His Majesty wants to borrow 10 copper coins from me? Ji Yuerong suddenly felt as if her entire world had turned a little surreal.
“Urk, if that’s not okay, five will do as well,” Ning Xiaoyao lowered the price when she saw that Miss Ji had no reaction.
Ji Yuerong counted out 10 copper coins from her purse and gave it to Ning Xiaoyao, then watched as Ning Xiaoyao ran to buy two guoba, keeping one for herself while handing the other to Shadowgale. Ji Yuerong was certain that she had to be dreaming and that none of this was real.
Delicious! After finally eating some egg yolk guoba, Ning Xiaoyao felt like life was perfect. She ran in front of Ji Yuerong again and offered her a little piece with an excited expression. “Hey, it’s on me. You try some.”
Street food. A piece of guoba about half the size of one’s palm.
This wasn’t food that an eldest young Miss of a general’s family would eat, but when Ji Yuerong saw how Ning Xiaoyao looked like she’d eaten some celestial pill, she picked up the guoba and took a bite. Mm, it really is pretty tasty...
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