Travelling with the assurance of the solid earth directly below the carriage was indeed comforting compared staring down from outside of Jiang’an.
The imperial carriage and nine others silently traversed through the forest, the only sounds apart from nature’s beckon constituting the carriage driver’s calls, and the occasional grunt of protest from the horses.
Regarding the carriage drivers, An Fei could only release an appreciative sigh.
…the empress, perhaps due to her awe-inspiring attainment in cultivation, had only stocked up on incompatible supplies.
Strictly meaning, candied fruit, nuts, and dried variants of meat and bread.
One was solely incompatible with a traveling environment where a decent food supply was impossible to obtain within the middle of a forest, and the other was tiresome to eat with limited water.
Thinking about the two days that she had to gnaw on the thick piece of jerky that Feng Yu Xin had cheerfully distributed to the three maidens, the young girl shuddered in terror.
The leathery surface and unsalted taste, not to mention that as it slid down her throat, there was an equally sufficient chance of getting lodged and stuck halfway down…
…Zhang Yuewen had indeed choked on a piece of beef jerky, thus necessitating the change.
“Your Imperial Highness, the carriage at the front has come to a stop!” the carriage driver called from outside of the cabin.
“Mm,” Feng Yu Xin slowly hummed in response.
Taking a glance at the three young maidens who where playing a makeshift game of Go using two types of candied nuts, the empress raised her voice towards the carriage driver.
“Then let us stop. It’s close to becoming evening, having a break isn’t outrageous.”
“Understood, Your Imperial Highness!” the carriage driver responded in a respectful tone, before whipping the air above the horses with the whip.
The eight horses gradually slowed to a trot, then halted alongside of the lead carriage of the convoy.
Other than the initial change in speed and the final stop, An Fei couldn’t detect anything from within the cabin, causing her to applaud the makers of the imperial carriage one more time.
The suspension of the wheels was truly worthy of its praise!
“We’re finally stopping for the day?” Zhang Yuewen rolled her neck and stretched, her body singing in pleasant agony after having remained seated for numerous hours.
“Sister Xi, Sister Fei, let’s go outside! Outside, where the three of us can finally breathe some fresh air, ah!”
Luo Xi gracefully nodded in assent, before grasping the young girl’s hand as she made her way out of the cabin.
With Zhang Yuewen leading the path, the three young maidens departed from the imperial carriage, only to be struck with numerous gazes of envy.
Each carriage housed approximately three people, and they envied the participants within the Imperial carriage not only for the prestige it garnered by sitting next to the Empress of Great Yong, but also because the blackwood carriage possessed far greater suspension compared to theirs.
Their bodies felt as if they were about to fall apart, yet these three Young Misses have the nerve to appear tired before them!?
“This Elder Sister here, ah,” a Young Miss complained towards her companions sitting next to her with dejected expressions.
“She not only gets the opportunity to ride with the Empress, but she also doesn’t have to worry about her bones being lit on fire. Look at her! Strutting around like that before the rest of us, what arrogance!”
“That’s right! What family is she from, to not display any respect towards Sister Yan? Sister Yan is from a prestigious family, but this Young Miss doesn’t even spare a glance…”
Raising an eyebrow at the muffled complaints issued from the girls’ mouths, Zhang Yuewen cheerfully turned towards the two other maidens following her.
“Look, aren’t they attempting to deface our reputation?” the belle revealed a callous smile.
“Shouldn’t we go and greet them, as the daughters of Imperial Censors and Uncle Wei?”
“…is that even appropriate?” Luo Xi frowned at the suggestion.
“They’re just being piteously jealous that we have the permission to be seated in a carriage of higher quality, do we really have to…”
“…what does Sister Fei think?” the belle pressed again, her countenance reflecting a desire to stir up trouble.
The young girl continued to stare at the forest scenery, an absentminded gaze behind her veiled countenance. Eventually, An Fei opened her mouth to respond to Zhang Yuewen.
Revealing an exasperated stare towards the two young maidens who reflected an indecisive expression, Zhang Yuewen released a heavy sigh, trudging back to sit against the wheels of the imperial carriage.
In her mind, she too thought that such a matter would be quite troublesome whilst traveling towards the Taiyi Sect…
Forget it, it seemed that she was going to have to play Go with candied nuts with Luo Xi, or become like An Fei and sleep all day long…
Turning away from the grumpy Zhang Yuewen, An Fei returned to observing the forest surrounding them on all sides.
Compared to the limited scenery she could observe during the nighttime incident directly after the transference array that had flung them away from Jiang’an, the sea of trees and plantlife before her was suffused with a powerful vitality.
Some of the herbs and trees nearby radiated a soft, colored light; most were shades of green.
…these herbs would certainly be beneficial to everyone in the convoy, all except for her…
A sea of wild grass swaying with the wind’s breath in a gentle tempo under her feet, and unbreachable walls of deciduous trees that stood tall in the spring atmosphere that prevented her vision from traveling farther than a few dozen meters.
The trees were several dozen meters high at the minimum, and An Fei could faintly spot one surging towards the sky in the background.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t approximate its position within the complex maze of plantlife, nor did she dare to.
Regarding this forest, the empress had uttered one statement before deigning not to speak about the topic any further.
“Dangerous, teeming with creatures that can eliminate cultivators of the Core Formation Realm with ease…” the young girl repeated to herself.
The forest was quiet except for the soft chirping of birds, where were the creatures that the empress spoke of?
Not to mention, the carriage drivers thoroughly explored the forest each day to obtain wild game for dinner… they couldn’t be Nascent Soul Realm cultivators either, no?
“Sister Fei, are you still thinking about what the empress spoke about earlier?”
Luo Xi’s voice suddenly rang from behind, causing the young girl to jolt and whirl around. After a brief moment, An Fei dipped her head into a nod, the twin scarlet irises glinting with an irrefutable interest.
“The Empress naturally regards to creatures that similarly cultivate the atmospheric spiritual qi and roam the forest. Although these creatures are predominately superior to human cultivators regarding innate strength and agility, their presence is thoroughly limited due to the vast scale of the forest.”
“As long as we remain by the outskirts… there wouldn’t be many opportunities to encounter such a creature…?” the young girl asked in a quiet voice.
“Of course,” Luo Xi nodded with an encouraging smile.
“Creatures that cultivate the atmospheric spiritual qi tend to roam around the inner depths of the forest, thus we should be safe -“
“…where are we in the forest, then?” An Fei suddenly mused, her words halting the young maiden’s speech.
Luo Xi could only quieten, her gaze gradually becoming solemn at the young girl’s question.
It was probable that only the empress was aware of their exact location, yet she didn’t instruct the carriage drivers regarding their path through the forest.
Her hand drifting around her chest in a sudden burst of anxiety, the young maiden stepped towards the cabin to ask the empress a vital –
“Ah! They’re back!”
A young girl from a nearby carriage cried out in happiness. Leaping up in delight, the Young Miss gestured towards her companions, each looking towards the western fringe of the gathering in expectation.
Returning with deer and rabbits strung onto wooden sticks and branches, were ten middle-aged men dressed in working clothes.
The carriage drivers strode directly towards the center of the gathering, more specifically towards the fire cheerfully lapping at the wooden offerings.
“Your Imperial Highness, we have returned!”
Settling the secured deer and rabbits onto a carefully constructed cooking rack, the carriage driver responsible for the imperial carriage rushed forward to respectfully bow to the carriage.
After a moment of calm silence, the cabin door slid open to reveal a yawning Feng Yu Xin who stepped down onto the ground.
“Deer and rabbit for tonight?” the empress remarked in a dry tone.
“Do you have the necessary condiments to make an appealing dish? Bengong remembers that on this trip, olive oil was not one of the prepared supplies?”
“Your Imperial Highness, do not worry!” A middle-aged man smiled with a simple bow.
“Although olive oil would work best with venison, the extract of mulberry and lemon will suffice as an alternate solution. Additionally, the stock of mutton soup can serve as an effective ingredient in roasting the deer.”
“Then let us have a scrupulous feast,” Feng Yu Xin clapped in praise.
As the carriage drivers began to work on preparing the feast with several of the Young Misses knowledgeable in the field of cooking, the empress sank into a sitting position besides An Fei.
The young girl blinked in surprise, not knowing how to respond.
However, she did admit that with the roasted venison speared on a stick was indeed succulent and delicious, even though the olive oil had been forgotten.