Chapter 24: Negotiations

With two of the three couplets answered, Ning Chen began answering the last couplet.

However, it was at this moment that the emissary of Zhenji made his move. With a stealthy swish of his sleeves, a gust of wind blew forth and rushed for the incense stick in the entranceway.

The military officials were stunned by his sheer audacity and couldn’t react in time to the sudden change.


The violent gust of wind instantly extinguished the mostly burnt out stick of incense.

“Time’s up, you lose.” He stood up and proclaimed coldly.

This sudden development was one they hadn’t prepared for. No matter how furious the Xia Emperor or his officials were, they couldn’t do a thing to the emissary as they had no concrete proof of his subterfuge.

At the desk, Ning Chen was stunned by the sudden display as well. His eyes narrowed as his hands took a sudden turn. With several brushstrokes, he changed his original answer.

一二三四五六七,(One, Two, Three, Four, Five , Six, Seven)

孝悌忠信礼仪廉!(Filial Piety, Respect, Loyalty, Honesty, Etiquette, Morals, Integrity!)

The gathered officials looked at his answer in confusion. However, they soon changed to a look of amusement.

Only allowed on

The meaning of this couplet was apparent for all to see. It was even simple enough for the military officials to understand. Among the Eight Virtues venerated by the ancients, Filial Piety, Respect, Loyalty, Honesty, Etiquette, Morals, Integrity and Shame, only Shame was missing. The meaning was clear, shameless! It was a thinly veiled insult to the Zhenji emissary.

“Well Coupled!” A confucian scholar immediately exclaimed.

While their defeat was already set, this simple sentence vented the collective frustrations of those gathered here.

One, Two, Three, Four, Five , Six, Seven.

Filial Piety, Respect, Loyalty, Honesty, Etiquette, Morals, Integrity, Shameless. Definitely shameless!

The emissary’s face immediately darkened, any elation from winning was instantly destroyed by the couplet. Was Grand Xia’s destiny still as strong as ever? Even a junior eunuch was able to foil his plans.

“Little Gong gong, this one has a question.” He smiled coldly and said:


(Dào liáng shū mài shǔ jì zhèxiē zázhǒng nǎge shì xiānshēng)

“Rice, spiked Millet, pulse, wheat, glutinous millet and common millet. Which of these hybrids are the first to ripen?” [1]

The officials were in an uproar. There wasn’t even an attempt at disguising this insult!

Ning Chen turned around and looked at the emissary. He said in a cold tone that gave no grounds:


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(Shī shū yì lǐ chūnqiū xǔduō jīngzhuàn hébì wèn lǎozi)

“Poetry, Documents, Geomancy, Rites and Annals. All are classics, is there a need to ask Confucius?” [2]

“Great job!”

The gathered officials were roused once more. What a good “is there a need to ask Confucius?” This junior eunuch was a genius, a bonafide talent.

Atop her seat, Zhang Sun’s eyes glimmered with appreciation. Losing the battle but not losing the war, this kid really came through for her this time.

“That’s enough.”

The Xia Emperor got off his dragon throne and announced the outcome. “This match is a loss for Grand Xia. This emperor looks forward to the emissary’s next round.”

“This one will do his best not to disappoint the Xia Emperor.” The emissary coldly retorted.

And so, the assembly came to an end, due to Ning Chen’s impressive showing, he had received a number of appreciative gazes from both the civil and military officials. The Xia Emperor had even given him one hundred taels of gold as a reward.

Unfortunately, every cent of it was confiscated by Zhang Sun.

On the road back to Weiyang Palace, Ning Chen was markedly dejected. But Zhang Sun had already made her decision so who was he to object to it.

However, before his sadness could pass, a certain peice news made it to him through the grapevine. It was a piece of news that was intimately connected to him, and had scared the living daylights out of him the moment he received it.

The missing eunuch from the Purification room had been found in the pond located in the courtyard next to the Purification room.

As he paced about his room, heart racing and cold sweat running down his back, he had the urge to simply escape several times. Now that the corpse had been found, it wouldn’t be hard for an intentful person to find out that the eunuch went missing on the day of Mu Chengxue’s assassination attempt. Forming a link between the two would only be a matter of time.

If this was the case, that particular batch of eunuchs would have to be inspected once more.

Confessing to Zhang Sun wasn’t an option either. He already had a crime to his name, adding one more might just be the nail in his coffin. There was simply no guarantee that she wouldn’t execute him in a fit of anger.

Zhang Sun had treated him well so far but he simply couldn’t take that risk.

“Escape, that’s right, I must escape!”

His pacing halted. A look of determination flashed across his eyes. It was only a matter of time before the Palace found out about his duplicity, if he doesn’t leave soon, he might not even get the chance to do so later on.

The problem was, how was he going to do so?

He just knocked out a junior eunuch earlier this morning. Zhang Sun would definitely keep a tighter watch on him from now on. Escaping would almost be impossible.

“Ahh, such a headache.”

He had finally made up his mind to run away but yet he was powerless to do so. Ning Chen scratched his head in frustration, unable to find a solution out of his predicament.

“That’s right! The Ninth Princess.”

His eyes lit up at the thought of that ravishing princess. He couldn’t win against Zhang Sun but that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t work on Xia Xinyu instead.

In just these two days alone, he has had to dip himself in oil and answer couplets all to prevent this princess from getting married off. After all that, he didn’t get paid a single cent for it and now his life was even in danger. It’s about time for this Ninth Princess to repay some of these favors.

As of now, both sides had won a round each, with the last round that could decide her fate being held tomorrow. The first two rounds were about bravery and wisdom respectively but in actuality they were just a battle of schemes between the two parties.

Grand Xia had Confucian thinking deeply ingrained not only in its culture but in its governance as well. In terms of shamelessness, they were notably lacking compared to the antics of the Zhenji emissary.

Thankfully, Ning Chen’s skin was thick enough to make up for it.

As long as they won, process be damned.

The so-called round of “luck” definitely wasn’t going to be as simple as those gullible officials thought it would be. His surname was Ning not ‘Stupid’ after all; there’s no way that emissary would pose a problem based solely on luck.

If Grand Xia was to win, it would have to send away a female close to the royal family for marriage. If he truly wanted to escape, this would be the best time to do so. All he had to do was make infiltrating the bridal entourage a matter that was set in stone before Zhang Sun found out.

Of course, if Grand Xia were to lose, it would be the Ninth Princess that would be sent off instead, making matters significantly more difficult for him.

However, whichever outcome it was, his best option was still to negotiate with the Ninth Princess. The reason was simple, whether Grand Xia won or lost, she would still be the person with the most influence on the Xia Emperor.

And the Xia Emperor’s edict was the only thing that could extricate him from Weiyang Palace.

His most pressing matter now was to figure out a way to get the princess to persuade the Xia Emperor on his behalf, to issue such an edict.

Fortunately, the princess had a habit of visiting Zhang Sun every morning and night, so meeting with her wasn’t an issue.

As expected, just as the sun began to set, Xia Xinyu came right on schedule. She wore an emerald green dress. A pair of long flowing sleeves covered the majority of her arms except for a pair of pearly white hands that looked as elegant and smooth as silk.

As she walked, her billowy skirt flowed behind her as if grass grew behind her with every step she took. A orchid fragrance wafted through the air as the bewitching teenager got ever closer.

Without a doubt, she was the most beautiful girl in the world, with the favor of the heavens and earth concentrated into one ruinous beauty.


Ning Chen had been waiting along this road all this time, ready for their inadvertent meeting.

She recognized this eunuch in an instant and stopped.

His name was widespread throughout the Imperial City right now, having foiled the Zhenji emissary’s plans several times.

However, she also knew that this eunuch was under confinement right now. This was a fact that only a handful including her knew about.

“Imperial Mother hasn’t lifted the restriction on you, has she?”

She asked out of curiosity. Normally, such a momentous achievement would’ve more than made up for his crimes.

“Ha ha,” He laughed awkwardly and didn’t elaborate any further. Not only did she not lift it, she even confiscated his reward money.

Xia Xinyu was naturally sharp enough to understand the meaning of his laugh. Up till now, she didn’t understand what her Imperial Mother had in mind for Ning Chen.

Suddenly, she whipped her gaze back onto him sharply. She had almost forgotten; shouldn’t he still be in confinement then? What was he doing here?

“Little Gong Gong surely has a reason for waiting here. Do you have something to discuss with me?” She asked softly as her crystal clear eyes narrowed.

Ning Chen was slightly taken aback by this change in attitude. Looks like she wasn’t as innocent as her appearance would suggest. But then, was there ever a simple person in the palace.

Now that the cat was out of the bag, he cut straight to the point and respectfully replied, “This one wishes to enter the bridal entourage, this one hopes that Ninth Princess would aid this one in this endeavor.”

Her brows wrinkled as she gave it some thought. A moment later, she got the gist of his request and asked out of curiosity, “Why are you so adamant about leaving the palace, don’t you know that if you’re caught, even her Imperial Mother can’t protect you this time.”

“Please aid this one!”

“Why should I help you?”

He gave her question some thought before replying in a serious tone, “I’ll do my best to ensure Grand Xia’s victory in the third round. That way, Grand Xia would not only get to keep Bairuo Plains, Princess wouldn’t have to leave for a foreign country either.”

A strange look crossed her face as she asked, “How can you be so sure of your victory and how do you know that the other officials won’t be able to do it as well?”

“The truth speaks for itself.” He calmly replied.

It was a simple response. While he had done his best to hide it, the pride within those words wasn’t so easily erased. He wasn’t an arrogant person but neither was he self-deprecating.

After having lived in two worlds, it wasn’t just his age that had increased.

As they said, aging without dying was the mark of a demon. His current situation wasn’t that far off from a demon. [3]

“I would’ve never expected such a personage beside Imperial Mother.” She said so softly, her lips breaking into a slight smile as she stared at him.

“Princess is merely mistaken.” He flatly replied, abandoning his previous facade of respect.

“Alright, I have to pay a visit to Imperial Mother. As for your terms, I’ll consider them.” She smiled before gracefully turning around to leave.

He heaved a heavy sigh of relief upon seeing her leave. As expected, none of these palace women were easy to deal with. They rarely took a definite stance.

However, he was sure that she would make the right choice. After all, his request was a simple matter for her and forcefully making him stay really wasn’t a wise move.

Having stayed in the palace for 16 years, she would know this as well. He was confident that if she actually went back on her word, he would be able to make her pay a steeper price. It was only a matter of time.

He respected Zhang Sun and was subservient towards her out of gratitude for her protection. However, this didn’t mean that he would allow others to discriminate or step on him.

At his core, he wasn’t one to take things lying down.

With that matter settled, he suddenly remembered that he hadn’t thanked Qing Ning yet for saving him.

Plus, he still couldn’t make heads or tails of the later parts of that golden scroll.

At this rate, he might lose his mind cultivating this technique.

His face grew graver as he thought about this. He gave the golden scroll in his hands one more look before skipping off to Qing Ning’s room.

Compared to some palace princess, he rather spend time with Qing Ning. While she was fierce, it was an endearing kind of fierceness.


[1] “稻粱菽,麦黍稷,这些杂种,哪个是先生?”

(Dào liáng shū mài shǔ jì zhèxiē zázhǒng nǎge shì xiānshēng)

Refers to a line from the Three Character Classic by Meng Zi: 稻粱菽,麦黍稷

“Rice, spiked Millet, pulse, wheat, glutinous millet and common millet.”

The word 杂种 refers to hybrids in this case but also has a double meaning of bastard child.

The word 先生 refers to which ripens first but also has a double meaning of Mister/Teacher etc.

This entire line is essentially an insult formed from a dual meaning method of creating couplets. The story behind it is a person was trying to insult a teacher(先生) by insinuating that he was a bastard. To which he replied the following:

[2] “诗书易,礼春秋,皆是正经,何必问及老子!”

(Shī shū yì lǐ chūnqiū xǔduō jīngzhuàn hébì wèn lǎozi)

“Poetry, Documents, Geomancy, Rites and Annals. All are classics, is there a need to ask Confucius?”

诗书易,礼春秋(Poetry, Documents, Geomancy, Rites and Annals) are all confucian classics

正经 is saying that they are all classics but also has the dual meaning of being proper.

老子 (Confucius or Laozi) is also the way a person refers to himself in a slightly haughty manner.

[3] Usually, the derogative term in Chinese for a cunning old man/woman is old demon. It has the connotation of why aren’t dead yet even though you’re already so old.

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