Chapter 16: Stripping Before the Enemies
Translator: Atlas Studios Editor: Atlas Studios
The male servant looked pleased as he handed a copper basin to her. “Go get some water from the upper stream, head over to the second carriage, get some rose water and hibiscus dew from Sister Jinyan, mix them together and then send it in. Remember not to contaminate it with your dirty hands. Alright, that’s all. I’ll go help Her Highness get changed.”
There was gloat in the servant’s face as if he had just found the perfect scapegoat. Needless to think, because of the condition of her face, Pei Yuan was in an extremely terrible mood. Also, since she had always been bossy, those attending to her would just be in for a tougher time; any right-minded servant would avoid getting close to her. Why else would this fellow be willing to pay his way out?
“Have you turned into a statue?” he asked sarcastically, seeing that Meng Fuyao wasn’t receiving the basin.
She raised her brows, looked at the basin and smiled, before reaching for her money sack inside her sleeves.
“You foo–” the male servant paused, his eyes slowly opening wide.
On the hollow of Meng Fuyao’s palm sat a golden leaf that couldn’t have weighed under 100 grams.
According to Taiyuan’s currency system, 50 grams of gold could be used to exchange for 20 silvers, and one silver could be exchanged for 1000 coins. It was an amount that even three years of slogging in King Qi’s court would not get him.
He inhaled a deep, cold breath, his face blank.
Meng Fuyao waved her golden leaf in his face. “Recognize this?” she asked kindly.
Staring at it with a face as white as a sheet, he staggered, “It’s… it’s gold…”
His reaction gathered a grin from Meng Fuyao. “Yes, this is 100 gram of gold, enough for you to feast on the most expensive dishes in Yanjing’s finest inn consecutively for a month.”
She smiled and loosened her fingers, allowing the golden leaf to fall to the ground.
As the servant subconsciously bent his body down, Meng Fuyao’s boots reached the leaf first.
She picked her leaf up and pushed it to the servant who was staring blankly at her and holding the basin. “I’ll trouble you to go get some water from the upper stream, head over to the second carriage, get some rose water and hibiscus dew from Sister Jinyan, mix them together and then send it in. Remember not to contaminate it with your dirty hands. Alright, that’s all. You may go.”
She flicked the bottom of the basin up toward his face, and asked in the exact manner as he had earlier, “Have you turned into a statue?”
When she raised her foot slightly, the golden leaf sparkled amid the dust, as if enticing him with a seductive gaze.
With his teeth clenched and hands trembling, the male servant steadied the basin and strode over to the stream.
Not following after him, Meng Fuyao simply lifted her brows and muttered, “What a pity…”
She kicked under the golden leaf, and it flew up and onto her palm. She kept it unhurriedly before shaking her head gently. “If you’ve had the backbone to reject me, I would’ve given this to you for real. Now… you don’t deserve it.”
She spun her index finger, on which the string of coins was dangling off, causing it to spiral out of control. Clap– half a month’s worth of inexpensive meat had dropped to the ground, where the leaf had had been.
“Take your meat money back. Do you know why meat in Yanjing’s stew stalls is so cheap? Rat meat is what they serve, I heard.”
With a laugh, Meng Fuyao turned to leave and quickly disappeared into the shade like a passing breeze.
The cluster of trees in which she disappeared into was completely still.
Some time later, a faint shadow emerged from behind a tree. It was the man in white, his robes clean and lips cherry red.
He turned, with a look of interest, toward where Meng Fuyao was. “It’s been hard on you,” he spoke lightly.
A response came immediately, “Fulfilling your orders comes first, and not even death can get in the way, what’s more, a little humiliation.”
It was that very snobbish young servant, and by his feet sat the glistening copper basin.
Except, his demeanor now was a complete opposite of what he had portrayed earlier.
“What do you think?” the man in white asked, after quite some time.
After some thought, the servant replied, “You sensed nothing from that pull earlier?”
“I did,” he answered with a meaningful look in his eyes. “The angles of Pei Yuan’s scars came from a skill that’s out of the ordinary. This lady may be hiding her abilities well, but I did feel a little something when saving her.”
“But,” he continued with a smile, “From that pull, I’m certain that she’s not one of Qi Xunyi’s.”
“Do you think they deserve someone like her?” the man in white sighed deeply, yet with a vague smile.
“An amazing individual…”
Yuan Zhaoxu had been observing as Meng Fuyao was fleeing the scene. Seeing her vanishing into the autumn mountain range with a light and graceful motion resembling that of a bird, he broke into a soundless smile before strolling toward the advisor’s carriage.
“Move slow and follow Qi Xunyu to Yanjing. I’ll take her first to prevent getting into their line of sight and into trouble.”
The advisor narrowed his eyes and gave Yuan Zhaoxu a look of satisfaction as if feeling proud of his nephew.
“Where are you going?”
“Yanjing. My motive’s been to use your visit to Taiyuan, to celebrate the emperor’s birthday, as an excuse to have some contact with Qi Xunyi, so why would I miss this opportunity?”
“Your call,” the advisor chuckled.
“And I heard that he… he’d be there too.”
“Ah? Isn’t he under house arrest in Tiansha city? Is the emperor letting him out?”
“The dragon won’t be trapped forever; it’ll rise when a chance presents itself,” Yuan Zhaoxu remarked, turning around to face the horizon, as if deep in thought. Despite that, his eyes were becoming increasingly bright. “The gales from the 4 seas that will sweep up all 5 continents have risen…”
“Why must we stray from the main troops?” Meng Fuyao asked while building a fire and using her dagger to skin a freshly-hunted pheasant with swift movements. “And, why must I go with you?”
Yuan Zhaoxu rested against an old tree, making himself comfortable on top of a stock of fallen leaves. Sir Yuan Bao stuck his bum out while flicking the leaves toward his owner to provide more cushion.
His posture – facing Yuan Zhaoxu was piling leaves onto his body while his stumpy legs kicked the dirt behind, where Meng Fuyao sat – was odd and uncomfortable to watch.
Initially, Meng Fuyao wasn’t bothered enough to start a dispute with an animal, but after choking on a few mouthfuls of dust, she decided that some animals knew not what was good because they had too much courage and too small of a brain. Hence, she tore a big piece of fleshy thigh meat from the grill and forced it into his mouth when he wasn’t alert.
That sent Yuan Bao, a vegetarian, down to the river to rinse his mouth, and peace returned to the fireplace.
It was then that Yuan Zhaoxu answered, “Sure, you can take your own sweet time if you want to be watched by the wolves all day. Also, I haven’t mentioned anything about you having to follow me. You did so on your own accord.”
After some thought, Meng Fuyao realized that he wasn’t wrong. Embarrassed, she raised her voice, “Well, there’s only one route connecting Mystic Essence Mountain and Yanjing.”
Casting her a smiling glance he remained quiet, not bearing to correct this self-deceiving fellow that there were other available routes.
The branches crackled in the fire, which gave their individual faces a red flush, as if drunk. The rising air was intensely warm to the point of making the highly-hung moon appear less cold.
The smiling man lifted his brows, which drew focus to his brilliant black eyes and hair. With red lips even brighter than the fire and features like those found in ancient drawings, the man was practically a homme fatale.
Meng Fuyao remained seated but kept her eyes down on the fire. She was determined not to let his handsomeness cause her yet another episode of heart arrhythmia.
Therefore, she was eventually driven to leave since that man was letting his eyes wander all over her body. “I’m going for a stroll,” she blurted and stood, somewhat with a sense of relief.
Smiling and looking up at the sky and then into the dark forest, Yuan Zhaoxu said nothing as he couldn’t bear to tell her that taking a stroll was a comical excuse.
His smile irked Meng Fuyao. “I’m going to sing,” she added.
Her declaration lifted his brows in doubt, which pleased her very much, and she went off to “sing”.
Not wanting Yuan Zhaoxu to overhear her “singing”, she walked quietly to a spot far away before squatting down and dropping her pants. Her pants were halfway down when she stopped.
It was strangely still in the forest, save for a little breeze, and even the owls and insects had gone unusually mute that night.
A fragmented moonbeam shone down on her, casting a long shadow onto the ground. Her shadow, too, was being sliced into sections by rocks and trees. A rough silhouette was still distinguishable, nevertheless.
Still in a half-squat position, she slowly pulled her pants up while eyeing her own shadow. ‘Legs, hands, neck, head… that’s right, but what’s that semi-circle thing protruding from that squarish rock?’
Sweat soaked her palms and got to her pants, while her heart started thumping so loudly that it became audible amid the silent night.
It was the top of a human head.
Grabbing onto her pants tightly, Meng Fuyao cursed at herself for having to come this far to take a piss. She did not know how many people were lying in ambush but was pretty certain that they were all waiting for her to drop her pants completely before making a move.
It was no longer possible for her to drop her pants and neither was it wise to pull it up at that moment.
Just like that, she remained in the half-squat position until her back started aching.
That semi-circle moved slightly as if getting impatient.
After doing some calculations, she realized in despair that the distance between them would not allow her to pull her pants, belt it up and free her hands to counterattack in time.
The extreme stillness brought by extreme tension was gradually interrupted by the babbling of a faraway creek or the flapping of wings of a nocturnal bird.
Meng Fuyao’s black eyes flickered as she clenched her teeth amid the darkness.
Her eyes sparkled brightly, releasing a baleful and unswerving aura that was absent in ordinary girls.