Chapter 89: Lady Xiang says, it's dog eat dog Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
After the sun set and Xie Anyi finished speaking with the imperial physician that was looking after his father, he quickly returned to Grand Preceptor Xie’s bedroom and stood in front of the bed.
“Father,” he called in a low voice.
“Did the person who went to scout for news return?” Grand Preceptor Xie didn’t even ask for his diagnosis, only for updates from the outside.
“He’s back,” Xie Anyi replied. “Half of Prince Zhi’s side courtyard’s been burnt up. The imperial clansmen accompanied Lou Zigui to drink tea at the Tender Fragrance Teahouse.[1. Tender Fragrance Teahouse (茗香楼) - Ming means tender tea leaves.] It was impossible to find out what they were talking about, but Prince Zhi has since settled down in his side courtyard.”
Grand Preceptor Xie tugged at his collar, short of breath.
Xie Anyi timidly added, “In other news, His Majesty took the Ji grandfather and granddaughter pair to the Drunken Immortal. His Majesty also captured a woman--father’s mistress.”
Grand Preceptor Xie’s eyes flew open, and Xie Anyi hastily lowered his head. After a long time, the Grand Preceptor murmured, “Both the Black Frost Cavalry and the Ji Clan soldiers are far away from us. What are you afraid of?”
Xie Anyi quickly shook his head. “Father, your son isn’t afraid.”
“Qin Xuan will arrive at the city in three days’ time,” Grand Preceptor Xie suddenly changed the topic. “You’ll pick him up personally outside the city then.”
Xie Anyi immediately turned reluctant as he murmured, “Young née Wang is going to the temple in three days’ time to fulfill her vows. She’s still pregnant right now, so son wants to accompany her.”
Grand Preceptor Xie stared at Xie Anyi without saying a word. The eldest son of the Xie Clan couldn’t even hold out for a second before he nodded. “Son understands. I’ll pick up Qin Xuan in three days’ time.”
“His Majesty took away all the things in the storehouse,” Grand Preceptor Xie said, “We cannot have any more problems with our businesses in Jiangnan. Don’t offend Qin Xuan during this period.”
Xie Anyi’s voice was very small. “He’s been docile and obedient all these years, he…” Xie Anyi swallowed the rest of his words when Grand Preceptor Xie kept staring at him. The Grand Preceptor waved his hand to dismiss his eldest son, then sighed as the door closed behind him. He wore an utterly exhausted expression. The current political situation was completely out of his grasp, a constant uncertainty that made him ill at ease.
About an hour later, the Grand Preceptor’s own wife, Lady Wang, came personally to his rooms with medicine.
“Give some things to my eldest daughter-in-law,” Grand Preceptor Xie said after drinking some medicine. “Make sure they’re good things.”
“Yes, this wife understands,” Lady Wang agreed in a low voice. She already knew of the Grand Preceptor’s mistress outside the estate, but she couldn’t show her dissatisfaction in front of him. Her and her Wang Clan all depended on this man’s protection, so no matter how discontent or uncomfortable she felt, she couldn’t let him see.
“You may leave,” Grand Preceptor Xie waved his hand as usual. Lady Wang left the bedroom and soon met with her niece from the Wang Clan. This niece was none other than Xie Anyi’s equal wife[2. equal wife (平妻) - pingqi, a man’s second wife with the same supposed status as his first and proper one.] younger née Wang. Her stomach was round from her pregnancy, and two servant girls supported her on both sides as she walked.
“What are you doing?” Lady Wang quickly had née Wang stop walking and approached her instead.
Young née Wang looked like a fragile, delicate type. Despite this, she glanced at Lady Wang before saying, “Just then, Eldest Young Master told me that he can’t accompany me to the temple three days later. I came to tell mother[3. mother in this case refers to Lady Wang, who’s her mother-in-law in the Xie Clan despite being her aunt in the Wang Clan.] that I won’t be going, either.”
Lady Wang patted née Wang’s hand and said lightly, “Endure it for the next few days. That foster son from the Qin Clan’s coming back to the capital city. The Grand Preceptor still has to use him. Do you understand what mother means?”
The Qin Clan. Née Wang lowered her head until the loathing in her eyes faded away, before looking up with a smile. “I understand. Don’t I honor and respect big sister Qin everyday? I can’t force elder cousin to like her if he doesn’t want to, ah.”
“What ‘elder cousin?’” Lady Wang rebuked née Wang. “You have to call him your husband.”
Née Wang stuck out her tongue. Even though she was clearly a married woman and pregnant, she still acted like the young Miss of a household. A mama in charge of household affairs came by just then to stand respectfully in front of Lady Wang.
“Take some rolls of cloth and gift them to eldest young madame,” Lady Wang said, “Just say that it looks like summer’s around the corner, so she can make a few summer dresses with them.”
The mama accepted the command and withdrew, while née Wang lowered her head and refused to speak. Lady Wang lightly stroked young née Wang’s cheek. “It’s only a few rolls of cloth. Why the long face?”
Young née Wang immediately changed her expression into a docile smile. “That’s not it. I was just thinking that big sister Qin dresses plainly all year. It’s right to make her a few colorful sets of robes. That way, she’d look more cheerful too, won’t she?”
Lady Wang gave a cold snort. The two servant girls waiting on née Wang both understood. Their mistress was nitpicking eldest young madame’s faults in front of Lady Wang again. What kind of mother-in-law liked seeing a daughter-in-law who was gloomy all the time, like she was keeping vigil over a grave? After she finished getting angry at eldest young madame, Lady Wang looked at little née Wang by her side and sighed. If they didn’t have to control the Jiangnan navy, this girl of her Wang Clan would never be an ‘equal wife.’ Equal this, wife that--the name sounded well enough, but what difference was one from a concubine?
“I’ll have someone give you some hair ornaments later. There’s a set made from jadeite in the capital and another set that the empress dowager sent to our home. Only two sets exist in all the capital, so mother will give them both to you.”
Young née Wang replied, “I can’t take those. Mother, you should wear them.”
“I’ll give them to you,” Lady Wang turned to order her own female servant, “Go to my rooms and take that set of hair ornaments to Cuiyun’s[4. Cuiyun (翠云) - “jade cloud, emerald green cloud.”] rooms.” This daughter-in-law of hers might lack status, but Lady Wang had always treated her kindly in other matters. Little née Wang wore a tranquil smile. She was filled with delight, but she’d never reveal the fact that she was a shallow, snobbish type who loved wealth.
At the same time, Ning Xiaoyao was in the bedrooms of her own palace, looking over a map. She carefully studied the southern coastline on the map before asking Shadowgale, “So you’re saying that the Xie Clan’s doing business in Jiangnan?”
Ning Xiaoyao asked, “Then where’s the Jiangnan navy stationed?”
Shadowgale pointed at a few locations on the map. Ning Xiaoyao looked over the places before she murmured, “What kind of business is the Xie Clan? How can they afford to raise armed forces numbering in the tens of thousands?” After making some inquiries, she’d found out that the total number of soldiers in the capital city and its environs numbered to 40,000 strong. Even if the Xie Clan got a high salary from the government, they couldn’t raise 40,000 soldiers on that pay alone.
Shadowgale shook his head. “This servant doesn’t know. Should we ask Supreme Commander?”
“No need. Have him concentrate on interrogating that Northern Hu woman instead,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “That’s right, has she said anything yet?”
Shadowgale shook his head again. If the woman had spoken, Supreme Commander would’ve left the torture chambers by now. Ning Xiaoyao studied the map some more. Just then, Shadowgale had pointed out seaports for her. Doing business, Ning Xiaoyao thought as she rubbed her chin. The Xie Clan probably wouldn’t have any partnerships in their business. Maybe they’re actually smugglers?
“Your Majesty?” Shadowgale saw that Ning Xiaoyao had spaced out while staring at the map, and shouted at her.
“Windy,” Ning Xiaoyao said, “Three days later we have to grab Qin Xuan and take him into the palace before the Xie Clan does.”
“This servant understands,” Shadowgale obeyed.
“If he doesn’t want to come,” Ning Xiaoyao added, “Just ask him, ‘Do you still want Miss A’Xin to find happiness?’ I think General Qin will definitely be willing to follow you then.”
“.......” said Shadowgale. What kind of subject would dare defy a summons from His Majesty? Why do I have to waste words with Qin Xuan? And also, if I say Miss Qin’s name just like that, won’t Qin Xuan beat me up?
“Your Majesty, we can’t call a lady directly by her name,” Shadowgale lectured Ning Xiaoyao quietly.
Ning Xiaoyao blinked. What’s the logic in that?
“A lady’s name can only be used by her family members and husband,” Shadowgale added.
“So I can’t say ‘Yuerong?’” Ning Xiaoyao asked.
“Yes,” Shadowgale nodded.
The heck. Ning Xiaoyao wore a damn it all expression. Do women even have human rights here?!
Shadowgale backed up a step, feeling as if he’d hurt His Majesty’s feelings. After thinking it over, he asked, “Your Majesty’s set your heart on Eldest Miss Ji?”
Ning Xiaoyao wanted to spit up blood. The gender’s all wrong, how am I supposed to have a love affair with her?
Shadowgale continued, “If Your Majesty takes a fancy to Eldest Miss Ji, you could take her into the palace.”
“Enough, don’t say any more,” Ning Xiaoyao raised a hand to stop Shadowgale. If he kept going, she’d spit up blood for real. “You’re a bachelor yourself, so stop worrying about my love life,” she retorted.
Struck in his weak spot, Shadowgale couldn’t say another word.
“Supreme Commander’s almost beaten that Northern Hu woman to death, miaow!” a cat meowed from outside the window. Ning Xiaoyao turned to see the fat, long furred cat called Little White reporting to Big Boss Black on the situation in the torture chamber. Big Boss Black jumped off the window ledge and ran away. He didn’t want ninny to think that Supreme Commander was a cruel and savage man. Ning Xiaoyao simply turned back to her map. She’d say she’d leave the Northern Hu woman to Supreme Commander for interrogating, so what was there to worry about?
Inside the torture chambers of the Hall of Punishment, Lady Xiang’s skin was covered in injuries. She’d lost consciousness from the torture until a splash of cold water woke her up again, making her let out a wretched cry.
“Speak,” Lou Zigui said from his seat on the chair. “Does the Grand Preceptor know you’re Northern Hu?”
“It’s dog eat dog,”[5. dog eat dog (狗咬狗) - gouyaogou, literally “dog bites the dog,” a saying used to insult two opposing sides by claiming they’re both equally vile. In this case, Lady Xiang is equating Grand Preceptor Xie to the likes of Lou Zigui.] Lady Xiang spat at Lou Zigui.
“Mother,” Fang Tang cursed from behind Lou Zigui. “You’ve still got a stubborn mouth? Keep beating her.”
“Treat her wounds,” Lou Zigui said instead. “We’ll stop today’s interrogation here.”
Fang Tang grew anxious. “Supreme Commander!”
Lou Zigui rose to his feet and slapped a hand on Fang Tang’s shoulder, telling him to be quiet. One of the eunuchs in charge of the torture ran out to find a doctor. Lou Zigui walked in front of Lady Xiang and said coldly, “If we let you die, wouldn’t it simply be a release for you?”
Lady Xiang struggled in her bonds, her body already exposed beneath her clothes. She smiled and said, “Supreme Commander’s been staring at my body the entire time. What do you think of my looks?”
Lou Zigui smiled back. “Any body that can satisfy the Grand Preceptor’s lower body is naturally a good one. A pity that it’s too dirty.”
Lady Xiang’s smile faded from her face.
“None of the high-status women from Northern Hu would demean themselves to be a spy, much less one who serves the enemy with her body,” Lou Zigui lifted Lady Xiang’s chin and stared into her eyes. “We’ve caught so many spies already, but I never expected a fish to escape our net. Do you think the Grand Preceptor can protect you?”
“Then what does Supreme Commander want?” Lady Xiang asked. “You want me to testify that Xie Wenyuan’s colluding with the enemy?”
“Hahaha…” Lady Xiang laughed out loud.
“I’ll see you again tomorrow,” Lou Zigui released her and told the eunuchs on one side, “From now on, don’t let her get a wink of sleep. Keep her conscious for me the entire time.”
“Yes,” the two eunuchs obeyed immediately.
“Lou Zigui!” Lady Xiang shouted.
Supreme Commander Lou left the torture chambers without turning back.
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