While all this was going on, what was the soon-to-be focal point doing?
He was brushing his teeth with a toothbrush. It was one that he fashioned simply out of pig bristles. As the makeshift toothbrush scrubbed across his teeth, it would leave behind a part of itself as it did so.
At the crack of dawn, Ning Chen squatted down in front of his room door, leisurely brushing his teeth while spitting out pig bristles. As he focused on the delicate task at hand, he was oblivious to the arrival of Qing Ning. All he knew was that she was there the moment he looked up.
He gave her a wu wu as a form of greeting before continuing to brush his teeth.
“Her Majesty is looking for you, follow me.”
With a hurried tug, she dragged him away without any warning.
Ning Chen was startled by her sudden move and had no time to rinse his mouth before he got dragged away.
“Hold on, let me have some water first.”
“There’s no time, there will be time for you to drink later on.”
He grimaced. The two aren’t the same…why don’t you try having a mouth full of salts?
With her half dragging, half carrying him along the way, the normally long distance between Weiyang Palace and Revelations Hall was covered in the time it took to brew a cup of tea.
Along the way, Qing Ning gave him a brief rundown of the situation. As he listened, he quietly scorned the actions of the emissary; for a human to be so shameless was a miracle in of itself.
In actuality, the biggest problem with retrieving a needle from a pot of oil lied with the person retrieving the needle. Previously, the emissary had proposed that each side would pick this person for the other side. It was a perfectly reasonable condition. However, the officials of Grand Xia didn’t expect the depths they would stoop to in order to win this match.
Right now, there were a total of five people on the side of Zhenji and each of them was a practitioner of the martial path. In that case, would it even make a difference if Grand Xia chose a person?
Having realized this, Zhang Sun immediately called for Ning Chen, hoping that he would have a plan. Martial practitioners were able to protect their bodies with True Qi. To them, reaching into a pot of oil wasn’t a big deal for them and so, Grand Xia was at a major disadvantage in this match.
Upon reaching the grand hall with Qing Ning, he whispered into Zhang Sun’s ears, advising her on this matter.
“Will this work?” She asked, clearly worried.
“Your Majesty will know when it happens.”He lightly nodded as he replied.
“Qing Ning, get this done.”
She gave a slight nod as she gave out the instructions; this was all she could work with for now. Winning the first round was best but at the very least, they wanted a draw.
Within the grand hall, the various court officials as well as the Zhenji emissaries were seated on the sides, enjoying the feast while watching a dance performance, clearly different from a certain envious eunuch.
Ning Chen didn’t even get the chance to finish brushing his teeth, let alone have breakfast. As he thought about this, his mood soured even more. He looked at them, flashing them a shy smile while quietly sending their entire family his wishes.
Suddenly, he felt a gaze fall upon him. Withdrawing his gaze, he turned towards the source and received the shock of his life.
Wan…Imperial Concubine Wan!
Among the women he met so far, Mu Chengxue and the Ninth Princess, Xia Xinyu, ranked amongst the top for beauty. In terms of being dignified, Zhang Sun would come in first for sure. Misgivings aside, Qing Ning was a rare beauty was well.
However, in terms of feminine wiles, Wan Yunsang was unmatched. 70% appearance and 30% seductiveness, she was in every way a ruinous beauty.
Of course, this wasn’t to say that the previous candidates weren’t charming in their own right. It was just that each of them had their own glaring flaws. Simply put, Mu Chengxue was too cold, Ninth Princess was too young, Qing Ning was too fierce while Zhang Sun was…too scary to rate.
Was getting stared by this beauty a good or a bad thing? If someone said it was a good thing, Ning Chen would’ve given him a slap.
He immediately lowered his head, quietly hoping that Wan Yunsang didn’t recognize him. On his first day in the palace, he ended up offending this noble lady and while she didn’t seem to mind then, who knows what she thought in her mind.
Thankfully, her gaze passed by without stopping on him. His tense body immediately relaxed as he heaved a sigh of relief.
Unbeknownst to him, Wan Yunsang had almost forgotten about that matter but the moment she saw him, she was immediately reminded of it; who told him to stand beside Zhang Sun.
She withdrew her gaze, the corners of her mouth curving up slightly in a bewitching smile that stirred the hearts of those she swept her eyes over.
Zhang Sun was naturally aware of this gaze but chose to keep quiet as she waited for Qing Ning to prepare the items.
In this momentous gathering of nobility and royalty, eunuchs were the last people one would pay attention to. Even if a scheming person were to notice this unknown little eunuch standing behind the Queen, he wouldn’t put much stock in this. After all, in the thousand year history of Grand Xia, eunuchs were never the focal point.
Atop the dragon throne, the Xia Emperor sat there calmly, even without showing any anger, his face exuded a domineering aura. For him to have protected such a large empire for 20 years, the Emperor definitely wasn’t a simple person.
Zhang Sun had already sent word to him last night and so the star of today’s show was her.
The Emperor wasn’t the least bit worried about this arrangement as he calmly waited for her move. No one was more familiar with her personality than him, unless she was absolutely confident in her plan, she wouldn’t interfere.
Last night, she had sent him a simple sentence, “Grand Xia won’t lose the first round”
The meaning was clear, this match would end in a draw or a victory. To him, there was no better outcome and so he left this matter to her.
As for the Zhenji emissary, he was even more nonchalant about this. From the beginning, his position could be said to be untouchable, waiting a moment longer wouldn’t hurt his chances much.
After a long wait, Qing Ning was finally back. As she took her place behind Zhang Sun, she signalled her readiness with her eyes.
Zhang Sun acknowledged her readiness quietly and without any visible change in expression, nodded at the Emperor.
“Bring in the cauldron of oil.”
Having received her signal, he finally broke his silence and sent out the edict.
A short while later, a giant cauldron of oil was brought into the hall along with a stove. Beneath the cauldron, the stove roared with flames even as it was being carried in.
“This emissary may make his choice.” The Xia Emperor said, signalling the start of the match.
As the words left his mouth, the officials of Grand Xia shivered subconsciously. They weren’t afraid of dying but this didn’t mean that they weren’t afraid.
Truth be told, their worries were unfounded. No matter how daring he was, the Zhenji emissary wouldn’t dare to force a Grand Xia official to stick his hand into the oil cauldron, at least not in the court of Grand Xia.
The candidate was obvious one. It was either a palace maid, a guard or…a eunuch. Essentially, people who had no power or background.
Taking this further, the guards were martial practitioners and were thus ruled out automatically. The palace maids were still females in the end. Even if the emissary didn’t care about this fact, he still wouldn’t want to bear the infamy of bullying women. And so, all that remained were the eunuchs.
Ning Chen was a clever kid and immediately realized this. That was why he kept his head lower than anyone else in the room. If the situation allowed it, he would’ve retreated right away.
After all, he already did what was asked of him, why must he perform such a thankless task.
After giving the cauldron a look over, he found the setup to be satisfactory and so proceeded to make his choice. He gave hall a cursory sweep and immediately locked on Ning Chen who had his head lowered to the extreme. He had the perfect status, age and was even a non-practitioner; there was no better candidate than him.
“Will this little Gong Gong do the honors.”
If Ning Chen were to know of his thoughts right now, he would’ve definitely aired his grievances, he was a martial practitioner after all! Truly!
Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t even entered the tier system of the martial path and had even lost his True Qi just a couple of days ago. It was no wonder that the emissary mistook him for a non-practitioner.
Zhang Sun was stunned by what he said. The emissary actually chose Ning Chen as the candidate. However, amidst her concern for him was a hint of expectation. Up till now, she had done her best to mask the existence of Ning Chen in order to protect him from the machinations of the court. This was why she didn’t report his contributions no matter how large they were. Even in front of the Emperor, she made sure to cover up this fact.
However, in the short duration they were together, she knew in her heart that she couldn’t do so forever. That was why she always held that bit of expectation. She wanted to see exactly how much he would shine once he was free of her protection.
On the other hand, Qing Ning’s thoughts were a lot simpler than Zhang Sun’s. She was only worried whether this kid would create a ruckus in the court.
Was Ning Chen happy about this? No! Did he want to perform such a meritorious service? No! After all, he was a eunuch. Exactly how was he going to get promoted? By becoming the Head Eunuch?
Not to mention that the original problem still remained: he was going escape sooner or later. There was no way he would spend his life in the Palace.
The reason why he chose to help her was one, to placate her anger and two, because she treated him relatively well till now.
This current situation definitely wasn’t what he wanted. He knew that from today onwards, the eyes of the court would turn towards him. No matter who it was, whether it was Concubine Wan or the Xia Emperor, no one would allow such an unknown factor to remain beside Zhang Sun without any form of investigation.
Ruthlessness was a hallmark of the royal family. It was so for the Emperor and it was so for Concubine Wan. It was even so for Zhang Sun.
Seeing him hesitate, Zhang Sun raised her voice slightly: “What are you afraid of? Go forth boldly, if anything happens, this Queen will bear the consequences for you!”
Being chastised cleared his mind slightly, he knew that there was no avoiding this situation.
He took a couple of steps forward before turning around once more to look at Zhang Sun, clearly worried. His meaning was clear, you better live up to your words!
Zhang Sun didn’t bother with his gaze. She was the queen after all. If she couldn’t even protect a little eunuch, she might as well give up her position as queen.
In the middle of the hall, the cauldron of oil sat there bubbling away. By now, the stove had reached a scorching level and the oil above it had began to smoke. Ning Chen waited till the bubbling reached its highest point before reaching into the cauldron. He then flashed the Zhenji emissary a radiant smile and mouthed, “F*** you.”
The emissary’s face darkened in an instant. While he didn’t know what the little eunuch said, even a fool would know that it wasn’t anything good.
However, knowing that this kid was about to get fried, his mood immediately got better.
Ning Chen stuck his left hand into the cauldron and his expression instantly changed.
He stuck it in!
Within the hall, the brows jumped on everyone’s brows. The more squeamish ones turned away, not daring to look on.
He inhaled sharply, his eyes turning red instantly as his body began to tremble. His arm in particular caused the oil in the cauldron to spill over from his violent shaking. As the slick liquid spilled onto the flames below, the flames roared even higher.
Seeing this, the emissary’s grin widened even further as if what was in the cauldron right now wasn’t the arm of a little eunuch but the entire Grand Xia dynasty.
However, his face froze up the very next instant.
In front of the cauldron was a trembling, oil covered arm that had in its hands, a needle as thin as a strand of hair.
The needle fell to the ground with a barely audible ding as the little eunuch fell to his knees, his face contorted from the pain. The hall was silent except for the loud grinding of his teeth as he clutched at his arm.
“Summon the Imperial Physician!” Zhang Sun raised her voice, startling everyone in the grand hall.
An unknown official shouted in excitement as he slammed his hand against the table, all decorum forgotten.
What followed was a round of cheering for the brave unknown eunuch who triumphed over the pain.
A look of satisfaction flashed across the Emperor’s face as he looked at the kneeling figure before returning once more to his stoicness.
The Imperial Physician arrived a short while later and with the aid of a guard helping Ning Chen up, escorted him out of the hall.
Zhang Sun’s face darkened the next moment as she swept her gaze over the party of Zhenji. “Qing Ning.”
She accepted the command and retrieved the needle on the floor, placing it in the cauldron once more.
After this simple action, she turned towards the five men of Zhenji and calmly said, “I’ve long heard of the martial prowess of Zhenji, however, I wonder how true the rumors are.”
As those words left her mouth, she lightly stepped forward and said in a chilly voice:
“May I know, who wishes to step forth?”