Zhenji had lost, not only did they lose 20,000 warhorses, they had lost the ability to wage any effective war for the next 10 years,
With a black and white document and the Zhenji monarch’s seal to validate the agreement, there was no way for Zhenji to back out of this.
More importantly, Grand Xia was still the strongest empire in this world. With the moral high ground on their side, any attempt to renege on this deal would be instantly met with the 200,000 strong Black Feather Army of Marquis Buyi. By that time, their mission wouldn’t just be a defensive one.
All that remained for the officials of Grand Xia was to iron out the details. With the military marquises stationed outside of the capital, all who remained in the Imperial City were basically administrative officers and confucian officials. Even so, they were more than enough to handle such a matter.
Having held up his end of the bargain, all he had to do now was cultivate while waiting quietly for the Emperor’s edict.
Finally, on the third day, the Xia Emperor’s edict was passed down. By royal decree, Prince Hua’s daughter, Xia Miaoyu was to be named Princess Miaoyu and be sent off to Zhenji. On the marriage entourage’s list of names was Ning Chen’s name.
Zhang Sun and Qing Ning were stunned by the Emperor’s edict, especially Zhang Sun who on top of being shocked was furious!
Having been in the palace for so long, she was naturally able to guess the inner workings behind such a nomination. His name was obviously added as a last minute decision and had no bearing on the entourage as a whole. The fact that his name was added in meant that someone had begged the Xia Emperor to do so.
In the entire palace, the only person Ning Chen could get into contact with and was able to influence the Emperor was the Ninth Princess.
“Very good, very good!”
As she stood in the main hall of Weiyang Palace, she bellowed, her face significantly darker than a minute ago: “Men, bring Ning Chen to me.”
“I’ll go instead.” Qing Ning pleaded, clearly worried about the way the situation was developing.
“Stay put.” In her fit of anger, even the tone she took towards Qing Ning was noticeably harsher. She knew that Qing Ning had a very good relationship with Ning Chen and so this was even more of a reason not to let her go.
It wasn’t long before the figure of Ning Chen slowly entered the room, his face calm, devoid of his usual shyness or any trace of fear.
He knelt down and kowtowed for the first time.
Seeing him roused her anger even more. She banged the table with her fist as she raised her voice: “Do you really wish to leave that badly?”
He raised his head and answered calmly: “My Queen, as you know, my personality simply isn’t suited for the palace, as long as I remain here, it will only be a matter of time before I get into serious trouble.”
“This Queen is the one and only Queen of Grand Xia, are you saying I can’t even protect you! Exactly what are you afraid of!” As she spoke, her anger grew even more. She wished for nothing more than to have this cup of tea thrown at the former’s face.
“I’m afraid that one day, when I’ve caused a serious enough problem, the first one to go after my head would be Your Majesty.” He sighed softly.
*bang* She finally had enough of him and viciously tossed the teacup at him. The cup shattered on his forehead with a loud crash, showering him with debris amidst a stream of blood.
“You’ve disappointed me greatly.”
She said so in an extremely upset tone as she closed her eyes. His refusal to lower his head even now had greatly disappointed her.
“Announcing the Ninth Princess.”
It was at this moment that Xia Yanyu came in. As she entered the hall, her eyes opened wide in shock at the scene before her.
She knew that her Royal Mother would be angry but she didn’t expect her anger to be so great.
She harshly commanded as her eyelids jerked open, revealing a pointed glare at Xia Yanyu.
The color drained from her face slightly as she heard the word kneel. This was the first time she had ever seen her Royal Mother so angry.
Within the palace, everyone wore a mask of their own, rarely showing their true thoughts. Her Royal Mother’s current expression was clearly one of rage.
“How dare you, after all these years this Royal Mother has raised you, you actually dared to scheme against this Royal Mother.”
Her anger raged as she glared at Xia Yanyu. Each and every one of her subordinates had really done it this time!
Having been angered to the extreme, her fury began to transform into hate. Hate for two parties. One was herself and the other was them. She hated them for being so disappointing but even more so, she hated herself for being left in the dark.
However, what’s done was done. The Emperor’s royal edict had been passed down. Even if she were to speak up now, there was no way for the Emperor to rescind his decree. A monarch’s words were never to be taken lightly and were definitely not to be changed because of another’s whims.
With the entourage set to leave at the end of the month, there was less than 20 days left which meant that Ning Chen had less than 20 days left in the palace.
A wave of fatigue washed over her heart as she lost the will to pursue this matter. She waved her hands and said: “Since you wish to help so much, his remaining confinement of five months will be borne by you. You may leave.”
“Royal Mother.” She stammered in a startled voice.
“Leave!” Zhang Sun snapped as she slapped the table.
“Yes…” Xia Yanyu reluctantly bid her farewells and left with a turn of her body.
She had miscalculated this time.
With the departure of Xia Yanyu, there was now only one person left kneeling. Qing Ning stood by the side, silent, not daring to plead on Ning Chen’s behalf. She knew that her Majesty was extremely disappointed, even she herself couldn’t understand his actions.
Even if he wanted to leave the palace, all he had to do was ask. Given her benevolence towards him, she would eventually relent. There was simply no need for him to be so hasty about leaving the palace.
As she looked at the blood running down the face of the kneeling eunuch, the memories of his escapades flashed through her mind. She suppressed the anger in her heart and said: “This Queen will give you one last chance, if you are willing to admit to your mistake and obediently return after escorting the princess, this Queen will take it that this incident never happened.”
Ning Chen sighed deeply, still not saying a word. With things the way they were, how could he turn back now.
If he didn’t want to die in the palace, he must leave this place as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, there was no way for him to communicate this to Zhang Sun and so he could only remain silent.
“Good, very good!”
She angrily rose to her feet and stomped out of the hall.
Qing Ning looked at him with mixed feelings before leaving as well without saying a word.
And so, Ning Chen continued kneeling there, silently, his heart torn by guilt and grief.
Time passed and the radiant sun of day soon gave way to the serenity of the night moon. Within the bedchambers of Zhang Sun and the main hall, the lamps burned as brightly as they did during the day, illuminating the kneeling silhouette on the floor.
The palace maids came several times throughout the day to change lamps. None of them dared to tarry long lest they faced the wrath of Zhang Sun.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to admit his mistake, but rather it was that he couldn’t, there was simply no way he could return after leaving the palace. He could lie to the entire world but Zhang Sun was the one person he didn’t want to lie to.
In the backyard, Qing Ning sighed as she stood silently in her room, looking at the lit lamps in the distance. Her heart was a mess of emotions at the moment. Whether it was Zhang Sun or Ning Chen, she knew that both of them were stubborn people. This time, there was really no turning back.
She didn’t understand why Ning Chen had to choose this route.
However, it wasn’t just her who held this confusion. Even Zhang Sun couldn’t figure out what the reasoning for his actions was. Having entered the palace not long ago, he was an easy person to read. Smart, arrogant and a person who repaid kindness with gratitude. Though, he was stubborn to the point of being silly at times.
Exactly what was it that drove him to want to leave the palace so badly.
As time ticked by, Zhang Sun and Qing Ning ended up not getting a single wink of sleep. Throughout the night, Ning Chen maintained his resolute stance as he knelt silently. Those in the dark remained in the dark until the end while those who knew simply weren’t able to speak.
The sun had risen once more and Zhang Sun had other matters to attend to. As she passed by the main hall with Qing Ning in tow, she seemed to pause momentarily but immediately changed her mind and continued on her way.
It didn’t take long for rumors of last night’s incident to spread out of Weiyang Palace. By the next day, the entire palace knew that the Empress was furious at a certain junior eunuch and that he had even spent the night kneeling in the main hall. However, no one knew the reason for her anger.
Another noteworthy matter that raised eyebrows was the rumor that the bride in this marriage wasn’t actually chosen by the Xia Emperor but had instead volunteered for it. Despite his best efforts, Prince Hua ended up giving in to his daughter’s wishes.
With her appointment as a princess, this marriage was basically set in stone and had to be carried out according to the customs of royalty marrying out. As the Empress of Grand Xia, Zhang Sun was also the master of the Imperial Harem and thus had to oversee the preparations personally. With this matter occupying the majority of her attention, she had no time to spare on other matters.
And so, Ning Chen’s kneeling was gradually forgotten by the members of the palace. From time to time, they would sigh and lament the fate of such a talented junior eunuch.
It was said that the royal household was merciless and there was no better example than this; no matter how talented you were, a single mistake was all it took to for you to hit rock bottom.
Three days later, the unrelenting eunuch finally collapsed. Upon hearing this, Zhang Sun’s hands trembled but her face maintained its usual placidness. She merely said to “take good care of him” before putting aside this matter once more.
From that day on, no matter where she went or how busy she was, she didn’t allow Qing Ning to follow her.
His unconscious bout didn’t last long before he woke up once more. Having replenished his nutrients and taken some medicine right away, his condition had basically stabilized. Even so, his face still retained its paleness and slight dehydration.
Having arrived not long after he woke up, his haggard appearance wasn’t lost on Qing Ning as a look of worry flashed across her face. She lightly chided him: “Was it really worth all that suffering?”
Ning Chen smiled weakly and said in an equally weak voice: “The situation dictates that I must do so. I’m sorry about that.”
“The person you should be apologizing to is Her Majesty…”
“Ah.” He shook his head while wearing a pained smile.
Seeing that, she knew that there was not much else to say. “Must you really leave?” She asked with a light sigh.
“Definitely!” He replied with a nod.
This was the last chance for him to do so. If he wasn’t wrong, after the matter of the marriage has been settled, the recent batch of eunuch, including him, would definitely have to undergo another round of inspection.
By then, no one could save him. Zhang Sun’s reputation might even get sullied in the process.
Two days later, his body had basically recovered. Seeing this, Qing Ning took the opportunity to leave the palace. Upon her return, she brought with her a strange herb which gave off a faint chilly aura the moment she opened the box.
“Swallow it.” She said in a serious tone.
Hearing that, he swallowed the herb without once suspecting her. As it slid down his throat, he was struck by an overwhelming taste of bitterness followed by an all-encompassing chill that permeated every corner of his body.
“What was that?”
“Divine Frost Herb.” She answered calmly. “The True Qi in your body belongs to the cold element and should benefit from this herb as it quenches your base. You should notice an increased cultivation speed in your future trainings.”
Ning Chen only understood half of what she said and thus zeroed in on the parts he did understand. “Was it expensive?”
“It didn’t cost any taels.” She answered blandly.
It didn’t cost any taels but it certainly did cost her Spirit Jades, however Ning Chen didn’t need to know about this fact.
“From today onwards, I’ll teach you some Body Techniques. You better be prepared for it.”
As she said this, she turned around and walked towards the doorway. “Follow me.”
He obediently followed her into the backyard where he was greeted with the sight of dancing flower petals as the autumn wind of October blew through the flower garden.
The moment those words left her mouth, her body flickered as it swayed like a little boat in the ocean of flower petals. Even as she gracefully danced in the wind, not a single petal fell upon her body.
Ning Chen stood there watching, his eyes and jaws wide open. How overpowered was this girl? Their ages weren’t that far apart so why was there such a gap between the two of them?
A moment later, Qing Ning halted her steps and turned towards Ning Chen.
“Did you manage to catch all of the footwork?”
He furiously shook his head. Like hell he could…
“How much did you get?” She asked, not minding his answer one bit.
He scratched his head, slightly embarrassed as he took a couple steps forward and drew a giant circle on the ground.
“Just this step.”
Her face fell immediately as she forcefully restrained herself from beating him up. That was the spot where she started at!
She stepped forward and kicked away his right foot and scolded him, “Single leg, stand there. I better not see you switch legs during these two hours.”
He sharply inhaled as his mouth grew taut from the pain. However, he didn’t dare to cry out in pain and merely followed her instruction to stand on his left leg albeit shakingly.
A minute later, he felt his left leg begin to go numb as the swaying started to intensify.
However, with the withering gaze of Qing Ning on him, he didn’t dare to switch to his right leg. He gritted his teeth and dutifully carried on.
Two minutes later, he had almost lost all feeling in his left leg except for his knees which burned with pain. His injury from kneeling hadn’t fully recovered and had chosen now to rear its ugly head.
She watched indifferently from side as he struggled to deal with the numbness and the pain. She could tell from a glance that his knee injury wasn’t a chronic one. Besides, even if it was painful, it was one he had brought upon himself.