Ning Chen mulled over the matter for a moment. If he went back like this, all that awaited him was a severe round of paddling. Given that Zhang Sun was still angry with him, going back now was just asking for a beating.
Suddenly, an idea struck him. Based on the matter Li Er told him about two days ago, there might just be a way for him to avoid getting beaten up. He turned towards Qing Ning and said, “ Sister Qing Ning, I have something to report.”
Her eyebrows flickered, “Go ahead.”
As he leaned into her ears, her intoxicating aroma wafted into his nose causing a sudden rush of blood to his blood. He immediately dispelled his inappropriate thoughts and told her his idea.
“Is this true?” Her eyebrows knitted together as her face turned solemn.
“One hundred percent.” He reaffirmed with a nod.
“Alright then, I’ll report this to Her Majesty. As for your request, I can’t be the judge of that. You have to seek Her Majesty’s views.”
Having said that, she immediately turned around to leave, not wanting to delay this report for even a second. However, after just two steps, she stopped and gave Ning Chen a glance. “Stay here and don’t even think about running away.” She warned him.
“Definitely, definitely.” He nodded absentmindedly. His thoughts having already drifted to escaping. To him, waiting for Her Majesty’s edict didn’t seem like a safe bet.
With that, she left, leaving Ning Chen with a shellshocked Li Er standing by the side.
He led her by hand back to the back hall but she quickly freed herself from his grip and stepped back. “Who are you?” She asked, her eyes slightly red.
“Keep it down.” He whispered in a hushed tone as he looked left and right.
“Don’t treat me as a fool, I knew from a glance that that lady isn’t an ordinary person. And don’t tell me that Her Majesty is the name of a person.” As she pressed him in an unsteady voice, her tears dripped onto the floor with a pitter and patter.
Ning Chen was left without any other options. He couldn’t just let a little girl cry by herself in broad daylight, that was just too heartless. And so, he reluctantly told her a summary of how he entered and left the Palace.
Of course, this didn’t include that fact that he was a fake eunuch. That part underwent a bit of a makeover. This makeover naturally extended to the fact that he escaped from the palace as well. That part was changed to him leaving the palace for a mission. As for why he didn’t return, he told her that he messed up and didn’t dare to return.
He didn’t want to lie to Li Er but this was a serious matter that affected others as well. The moment this matter gets exposed, anyone who got involved with him in the slightest of ways would get into deep trouble.
“Then why did she return by herself?” By now, she had totally forgotten that she was angry with him and was instead enthralled by his recounting.
Ning Chen petted her on the head and said, “Two days ago, didn’t you tell me that the Zhenji emissaries posed a difficult question to Grand Xia? I swapped the answer to that question for clemency.”
As he said that, his heart sank. The feeling of having your life controlled by another wasn’t one that he enjoyed. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was just that.
“You’ve really solved that question?”
Li Er didn’t pick up on the hint of resignation in his tone but was instead taken aback by the fact that he knew the answer. To her, the question posed by the Zhenji emissaries was unsolvable.
Ning Chen put his feelings back in order once more and said with a light smile, “There’s no such thing as perfection in this world. Perfection is merely a fraud waiting to be undone. While their question might seem unsolvable, it’s actually full of holes and can be solved by just about anybody.”
“I can’t do it.” Li Er pouted as she rebutted.
“That’s because you’re stupid.” He said in a teasing tone.
After half a month of messing around, the Zhenji emissaries finally revealed the intentions of their visit. It was to propose on the behalf of their monarch.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a big issue, after all, the imperial household was full of ladies. The Emperor merely had to bestow the title of Princess onto one of them and marry them off. However, the Zhenji emissary specifically asked for a direct descendant of the Xia Emperor; this was a totally different matter.
The Emperor had a lot of sons and daughters but there was only one of marrying age and that was the Ninth Princess, Xia Xinyu. This particular princess had a bit of a storied past to her: her mother, an imperial concubine, had passed away after giving birth to her leaving her with only a brother.
Zhang Sun couldn’t bear to see the pair suffer alone and so she took both of them in and raised them as her own.
The 16 year old Xia Xinyu had inherited the peerless beauty of her mother and had a voluptuous body to boot. To the people of Grand Xia, she was a shining pearl akin to idols on Earth.
This request had infuriated the Xia Emperor but in the midst of this fury was a hint of helplessness as well.
Grand Xia was besieged on multiple fronts by external problems. In the north was the Mongol Horde and in the west was the Eternal Night Cult. Both were biding their time, waiting for the chance to step into the Central Plains. While Grand Xia was strong, it couldn’t afford to add one more front to this list of problems.
What angered him even more was that the Zhenji emissaries even suggested that he give them Bairuo Plains, the territory connecting the two countries, as a wedding dowry.
Everyone knew that Bairuo Plains was an important source of iron for Grand Xia. This territory alone supplied about 40% of the iron used to make Grand Xia’s weaponry and armor. Giving this away would severely damage their economy.
Naturally, they were flatly rejected.
However, the Zhenji emissaries weren’t stupid enough to think that the Xia Emperor would accept this so easily. This wasn’t their aim either.
After a round of negotiations, both sides finally decided on a compromise. Zhenji offered up 20000 warhorses as a wager, all Grand Xia had to do was answer three questions regarding bravery, wisdom and luck. If Grand Xia failed, they didn’t have to give up Bairuo Plains but they had to lease it out to them for three years.
This strategy of advancing by retreating was truly an ingenious move by them. They made use of the fact that Grand Xia wasn’t willing to go to war to push them into a corner. Furthermore, they announced it to the world in order to further pressure Grand Xia. As long as the compromise was reasonable, Grand Xia had no reason to reject it.
As expected, the Xia Emperor agreed but with an additional clause. If Zhenji lost, the princess to be married off would be chosen by Grand Xia.
The emissaries had no issue with this. To them, Bairuo Plains was the main objective, the issue of marriage was merely an excuse.
The Xia Emperor had his own thoughts as well. The main reason why Grand Xia was so afraid of the Mongols was in large part due to their armored horses. While Grand Xia was strong, it had a fatal weakness; its lack of horses!
To be exact, it wasn’t that they had no horses but rather they had no warhorses. The mongols were nomads by nature and were all sturdy horsemen and archers. Furthermore, they were known for their prized horses known as Ferghana horses. This particular breed was exceptionally suited to warfare and had a high chance of producing a warhorse.
Grand Xia severely fell behind on this front, less than one in every ten horses became warhorses leading to a severe shortage in horses for the army.
20000 warhorses was pretty much half of Zhenji’s reserves and was definitely a big boon to Grand Xia. And so, the Xia Emperor agreed to the deal despite his reservations.
What he didn’t expect however, was that even the first question of bravery would stump them.
It wasn’t that Grand Xia was lacking in bravery, it was just that the question they put forth was impossible.
It was to retrieve a needle from boiling oil and the person who did so had to be chosen by the other party.
It wasn’t a matter of bravery but simply that no one was able to pull out such a fine needle with such a restriction.
The various officials of Grand Xia had performed multiple experiments but they all ended in failure. The wise men of Grand Xia tried adding water, alcohol and vinegar to the oil but they all failed.
Zhenji had given Grand Xia three days to think of a solution and tomorrow was the last. This was why Qing Ning had rushed back to the palace after receiving his promise.
Zhang Sun hadn’t gotten a single of wink of sleep because of this problem. Upon seeing Qing Ning return back without Ning Chen, she didn’t have any mood to enquire about this.
Qing was sent out five days ago to search for Ning Chen and this was the first time she saw Zhang Sun after leaving the palace. Seeing the haggard expression on her beloved queen made her heart ache. Knowing what ailed her, Qing Ning immediately brought up the matter of Ning Chen.
She slammed the table angrily. “It’s already such a dire situation and he still dares to talk about conditions. Bring him back here, if he dares to resist, knock him out and drag him back.” Her brows joined together as one as she half shouted this out.
Qing Ning immediately left for Ling Yan Pavilion upon receiving the order.
At the same time, in Ling Yan Pavilion…
Yue Hanyi had just returned to the pavilion but immediately rushed to the back hall in order to find Ning Chen. The purpose, to talk about the production method of his soap.
Ning Chen looked at the little girl standing beside him with a look of shock. Within it, was a complicated mix of emotions that couldn’t be expressed.
“I won’t give it up.” Ning Chen immediately rejected it without any intention to negotiate.
“10% will go to Young Master.” Yue Hanyi offered him in a serious tone.
However, he didn’t think much of this offer and maintained his silence.
Seeing his lack of reaction, her brows furrowed and she said in a low voice, “40% and nothing more.”
Ning Chen gave her a cold snort and replied, word by word. “I’m not saying!”
Yue Hanyi’s eyes narrowed before returning back to her usual smile an instant later. In a soft voice, she said, “Since Young Master isn’t willing, this lady won’t press the issue any further.”
At the side, Li Er was besides herself with anxiety. She didn’t understand why Ning Chen was so adamant about this matter. She quietly tugged on Yue Hanyi’s sleeves and gave her a pleading look.
Yue Hanyi sighed upon looking at her puppy dog eyes. “I know that Young Master dislikes Hanyi. If this lady isn’t wrong, Young Master must’ve assumed that Ling Yan Pavilion was keeping these ladies against their will and so he had such a drastic change in attitude.”
“But does Young Master know how many brothels there are in the Imperial City? Does he know how many female slaves there are here? At least in the Pavilion, they have the choice of whether to sell their body.”
As she said this, she turned towards Li Er, a look of affection crossing her beautiful face as she did so. “Take Li Er for example, she was sold to the red light district at a young age and has no one to support her. If she left the Pavilion, exactly where would she go to?”
Li Er walked up to him, her eyes red and head slightly downcast. She tugged at her arm and timidly apologized, “I’m sorry. I just wanted you and Sister Hanyi to make up. That’s why I told her about the soap.”
“It’s alright Li Er, I’m not angry.”
Ning Chen lifted his hands and petted her gently on the head before turning to Yue Hanyi. “I can give you the method to produce soap. Furthermore, it won’t be the method you got from Li Er but will instead be the true method. However, I have a request.”
As he said this, both of them were stunned, especially Yue Hanyi. She was a lot more worldly than Li Er and knew the value of that bar of soap. Judging from his words, he still had more to offer.
“There’s nothing to be surprised about. That bar of soap was meant to please Li Er. It’s fine as a toy but if you wish to produce it en-masse, you would encounter a lot of unsolvable problems.”
Having said that, he told her the real method of producing soap. This included how to cook stone into quicklime and then how to cook that quicklime. This quicklime would then be turned into lye which would be mixed with lard in order to form soap.
As he recited the lengthy process, they stared at him with a dazed look. They seemed to understand yet not understand what he was saying.
Noticing their confusion, he asked for some paper and ink and then wrote down the entire process in detail. He even added in some illustrations at the more complicated points before handing it over to Yue Hanyi.
After looking through the paper for a long time, she finally got the gist of it and couldn’t help but exclaim, “Young Master is truly a master.”
“Young Master is too humble.”
“You’re too kind.”
While he appeared to be humble, he was in cloud nine at the moment. Praise me, come on, praise me more!
Yue Hanyi chuckled slightly. In the end, he was still a teenager. That stupid look of happiness after his tantrum was cute in its own way.
“Ning Chen, it’s time to leave, follow me back to the Palace.”
It was at this moment that an aloof figure entered the scene and with a few steps whisked him away…