Having said that, the Sage fell silent. What had to be said was said; all that remained was to rely on this junior standing before him. At the end of the day, the future had to be decided by the younger generation themselves; he had done all he could already.
It was at that moment that the grand duke who had been silent up till now suddenly interjected: “Ning Chen, are you willing to entrust the little Great Khan to the court?”
“Impossible!” Ning Chen eyes opened wide in surprise for a moment after which he swiftly rejected that request.
Hearing that, Duke Taishi’s face grew solemn. Words dripping with righteousness, he continued persuading the teen: “The matter of the Great Khan’s abduction is of utmost importance, I hope that you will consider it seriously. As long as you are willing to cooperate, even becoming a marquis isn’t impossible.”
“There’s no need for you to waste anymore words on this matter. There’s nothing to negotiate here. The little Great Khan can only belong in the hands of one person and that person is me.” Ning Chen firmly refused once more in a tone that brooked no discussion. Of the officials in the court right now, he trusted no one, least of all that emperor.
He had promised little Ming Yue already, promised that he wouldn’t hand her over to anyone. Since he said so, he had to see it through.
Ever since she came to Grand Xia, he was the only support she had. Should he let go now, how was that seven year old girl going to survive?
As long as he still had a breath in him, this matter was out of the question!
Frowning, Duke Taishi patiently continued: “Having the little Great Khan stay in your possession will accomplish nothing. At the end of the day, negotiations have to be done by the Imperial Court, your words alone carry no weight and can’t decide anything.”
At that, Ning Chen remained silent. What the grand duke said was true. If they ever wanted to negotiate with the Mongol Horde, the Imperial Court would be most suited for such a task.
Seeing that his words were starting to sink in on the silent teen, Duke Taishi continued persuading the boy: “Listen to me, hand over the little Great Khan, only then can Grand Xia gain a moment of reprieve. Since you even risked your life to infiltrate the Mongolian palace. I’m sure you won’t stand idly by and watch Grand Xia lose this war.”
Ning Chen listened solemnly to the man’s words. He didn’t wish to refute them directly but neither did he wish to comply. Calmly gazing at the current head of Confucianism, he countered with a question of his own, “Duke Taishi, I know that you are the current head of Confucianism, I also know that Confucianism places the utmost importance in morality. Thus, I have a question for you.”
“Back then, I promised the little Great Khan that I wouldn’t hand him over to anyone. In your words, tell me is Grand Xia more important or is a promise more important?”
Hearing that, Duke Taishi’s face seized up for a second as he struggled to answer the question. His rationality told him that Grand Xia’s thousand years of legacy had to be more important than a personal promise. However, he was the head of Confucianism; how could he suggest that the teen betray his words.
At the side, the Sage sat there as silent as always, his calm, wizened face never wavering for a second.
With no way to persuade the teen, Duke Taishi fell silent. After a long deliberation, he finally looked up. It seemed like he had come to decision. “Follow me back to the palace to see His Majesty. I’ll persuade His Majesty to confer the title of Marquis onto you to allow you to negotiate on behalf of the empire.”
Ning Chen’s eyebrows jumped upon hearing that. That sounded like it could work but in actuality, it wasn’t possible at all.
More than anyone else, he knew how bloodthirsty the Emperor was right now. He wanted to murder him more than anything else because his existence was an eyesore to the empire. Initially, it was merely a matter of the black powder recipe. Now however, things weren’t that simple anymore. Having escaped the Emperor’s clutches time after time again, the Xia Emperor was undoubtedly livid.
And it had to be said that an emperor’s authority had always been merciless and unreasonable since time immemorial.
With a straight face, he said, “Duke Taishi, does your esteemed self truly believe that this method would work? The Xia Emperor wishes to kill me, that much isn’t a secret, who can guarantee that once I return to the palace the Xia Emperor wouldn’t just try to kill me again. And who can guarantee that Old Eunuch Pei wouldn’t suddenly attack me. While I’m not afraid of death, it doesn’t mean I wish to seek death either, especially not at the hands of an erratic emperor.”
Once more, the grand duke had no rebuttal for his words. What Ning Chen said was all true, the Xia Emperor now was someone even he couldn’t recognize anymore.
“I can’t promise much, but I can guarantee that should His Majesty try to kill you, I will step in to hinder Pei Gonggong.” Having said that, Duke Taishi gazed at him with an immeasurably solemn look, “ For the future of Grand Xia, I hope that you will be willing to take this chance with me.” (TL: Gonggong: a way to address eunuchs.)
Hearing that, Ning Chen frowned a little. He wasn’t particularly shocked that Duke Taishi was able to hinder Eunuch Pei. As the head of Confucianism, he had to have some trump cards of his own. What gave him pause was whether or not this trip was even worth the risk.
With regards to the Emperor, he truly didn’t have a good impression of him; there was just no way this increasingly despotic Emperor would let him go like that.
However, the words of Duke Taishi had indeed caused him to waver. At the end of the day, he didn’t wish for Grand Xia to collapse either.
“I can accompany you back to the palace. However, you have to promise me, should anything happen to me, you must protect the life of the little Great Khan, swear this upon the thousand years reputation of the Confucianism school of thought!”
That was his answer after careful deliberation. He accepted the duke’s suggestion but at the same time he made his own as well.
Without hesitating for a second, the duke nodded and said, “Alright, I promise you.”
“Now that the decision has been made, it’s time for the both of you to be on your way. If you have time to spare in future, you may visit the academy again.” Said the Sage calmly.
“Many thanks for the Sage’s guidance today, this junior bids his farewell.” Ning Chen respectfully bowed.
“Teacher, your student bids his farewell.” As he said that, Duke Taishi took a couple of steps back and paid his respects as a student.
After the two of them left, the Sage lifted up his brush and began writing down a word on a piece of paper, hands shaking yet forceful at the same time.
Returning to his old room, Ning Chen found little Ming Yue still sound asleep within so he pulled up a chair and quietly waited at the side.
Standing beside him was Duke Taishi who seemed like he was about to say something but thought better of it in the end. The grand duke didn’t want to risk offending the teen at such a sensitive time.
Thus, the two of them waited like that for over four hours before little Ming Yue finally stirred from her sleep. Sitting up, she turned to Ning Chen who was still by her bedside and smiled.
“You’re awake? It’s time for us to leave.” He straightened up her cloth hat while he said that in a soft voice.
“The imperial palace.”
At that, the girl’s body violently trembled and she paled immediately. Her eyes started to glisten and threatened tear up at any moment.
Seeing that, Ning Chen’s heart couldn’t help but ache. Reaching out, he gently pulled her into his embrace and said, “It’s alright, we’re just going to negotiate some terms with the Xia Emperor, it has nothing to do with you.”
Eyes still glistening, she raised her head and asked, “Really?”
“Alright, since he’s awake, it’s time for us to leave.” Said the Duke Taishi.
It was then that little Ming Yue finally noticed that there was a stranger in the house and hurriedly pulled herself out of his embrace and wiped off her tears. No matter what, she didn’t want anyone to see her fragile side.
She was the Great Khan of the Mongols and represented the entire Mongolian Empire; weakness was the last thing she should ever show in front of a person from Grand Xia.
Of course, the bad man was an exception.
“Do you want to walk or should I carry you?”
Reaching out to grab his much larger hands, she then trotted out of the house without even throwing a glance at Duke Taishi.
Seeing that, Ning Chen quietly sighed to himself. Back when they weren’t so close to each other, she was this arrogant and stubborn as well. Thinking back on it, it was merely a little girl’s attempt at protecting herself.
Before she could even remember things, she was already the Great Khan. Not only did she have to hide her identity as a girl, she had to make sure not to show any weakness.
In this world, the easiest person to be was an emperor but at the same time, it was also the hardest person to be.
The academy wasn’t that far off from the imperial palace. Should one take a carriage there, it would merely take about a day to reach it. While the grand duke was in a hurry, Ning Chen wasn’t. Thus, what should’ve taken a day ended up taking two days instead.
After arriving at the imperial palace, Ning Chen helped little Ming Yue off the carriage. Instead of entering the palace however, he promised Duke Taishi that he would do so the next morning.
From the resolve in his voice, the grand duke knew that there was no changing his mind so he merely nodded his head and left on the carriage.
Walking around for a while, he casually found an inn and after paying for the fees, climbed the stairs right away.
After stepping into the room, he promptly shut the door tight after Ming Yue. He had her sit down quietly on the bed after which he started channeling his True Qi into the girl’s body.
With the Xiantian guarding the palace, he mustn’t show any negligence or the fact that she was a girl might get discovered. Now that his True Qi was circulating within her body, that old eunuch shouldn’t be able to discern her true gender unless he came into direct contact with her.
“Ming Yue, get some rest tonight, we might have a battle ahead of us tomorrow but don’t worry, I’ll be there by your side.” He whispered while gently ruffling her hair.
“Mhm.” She nodded her head before promptly lying down.
Night fell and as Ning Chen sat in their new room, he took this opportunity to maximise his cultivation time. Within his Dantian, beside the two Qi whirlpools, a third aura began to coalesce. It was an ocean blue light that spun around in waves. As the spiritual energy swirled around it, the blue light rapidly condensed to form a tiny Qi whirlpool.
An instant later, the true Qi he had suppressed till now was directed into that whirlpool, filling that feeble whirlpool up within the blink of an eye.
All those days ago in Xinchao Pass, the elder marquis imparted ten years of his cultivation onto him. Back then, he used up the greater half of it to breakthrough but didn’t expend it all then because he didn’t dare to risk destabilizing his cultivation base. Now that he had a firm grasp on the cultivation techniques of the Zhang Sun clan, there was no better time to use up the remaining energies.
However, it had to be said that his talent truly wasn’t that good. After cultivating for so many days since then, he had only completed a few steps.
At the end of the day, the techniques of the Zhang Sun clan were more suited to those of the Zhang Sun clan.
While it was true that nothing might happen in the palace tomorrow, there was still no harm in being prepared. After all, there were a bunch of experts lurking in the palace other than that one Xiantian.
Within the room, the spiritual energy waves began to grow stronger and stronger. At the same time, the third Qi whirlpool grew larger as well while it continuously consumed the elder marquis’ cultivation. This state continued until it firmly reached parity with the other two Qi whirlpools.
However, because it hadn’t gone through the baptism of cultivation breakpoints, its base wasn’t stable. Once it was activated in a fight, it would quickly run dry and would take a long time to recover.
At the end of the day, there was no such thing as a free lunch in this world, the more you put in, the more you got out of it. Even with the these two additional Qi whirlpools aiding him, his greatest weapon and support was still the Scroll of Life. That was the base of his entire cultivation.
Back in the camp of the mongols, an urgent report had just arrived on the desk of Fan Lingyue. Flipping it open, her eyes narrowed.
So, he finally returned to the Imperial City.
A heavily armored officer stepped into the tent: it was the head of the heavy cavalry unit, Qing Wuyou. Ever since Yang Hong was tasked with guarding Heaven’s Gate, the duty of guarding the Lady Strategist fell onto him.
“Tell Wuheng that her chance will come very soon. There is only one shot at this so no matter what, she mustn’t fail!”
“Understood.” Qing Wuyou respectfully accepted the mission and promptly left the tent.
Now she was alone once more, she couldn’t help but violently cough into her hands. Lowering her hands right after, one could see a glaring shade of red on them…