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"That's my business." Meng Fuyao smirked evilly. Both Zhan Beiye and Wuji's guards had arrived. If all of them combined powers, it would not be difficult for them to leave the Xuanyuan palace. She stayed only because she had something else in mind.
After staring at her for a moment, he removed the fake water sleeve that he often used when he turned into a crossdresser. "Soak it in alum water, then place it on top of the fire to read."
Meng Fuyao praised him and said, "Your Majesty, you really know how to find a good hiding place. No one would have thought that you would wear this name list every day so openly."
"Sometimes, I even casually throw it on my cupboard or bed." Xuanyuan Min laughed sneakily. "Xuanyuan Cheng keeps infiltrating the palace with his own men, but those fools will never be able to realize."
Browsing through the water sleeve in her hand, Meng Fuyao smirked. With the exception of those in the palace, which of these officials and generals were actually individuals who could be settled by Xuanyuan Min, who allegedly ascended the throne at a young age and had never been in contact with important officials before he was fetched to Kunjing?
When their gazes met, both turned their heads away. Both of them were smart, and nothing more had to be said.
"Xuanyuan Cheng relies most on two officials and generals each - Senior Minister Situ Mo and Grand Scholar Yao Ling, and Commander of Capital Defence, Li Yuan, and Commander-in-Chief of the Five Armies, Tang Dusong. Each one of them is in control of their own forces and are highly domineering. They are not on good terms with each other," said Xuanyuan Min, and he ill.u.s.trated in the air. "Of course, the bulk of the military power is still in his hands. The Ministry of War and Commanders-in-Chief are only in charge of registering soldiers, making policies, and training recruits."
"Oh," remarked Meng Fuyao as she thought of the similar military system of the Ming Dynasty. After thinking for a moment, she had an idea, but she chose to say something else. "Since you still need another month, removing Consort Xian and Consort Shu will have to wait for a while. I know what to do, and you can scram now."
After kicking away the unreluctant and pestering crossdresser, Meng Fuyao walked towards the inner room and reached her head inside. "Are you better?"
Shadow Blade was recuperating in bed, but his eyes gleamed in an instant. Then, he smiled nonchalantly. "Not too bad."
He got up and looked at the garden, and his eyes looked as though they were smiling. "You're such a natural tormentor."
Glancing sideways at him, Meng Fuyao thought that his expression had some change. However, she did not comment much. "Don't even know if I'm being nosy."
"They are lucky enough to have you be nosy." For once, Shadow Blade did not mock her. Looking at the energetic lady who was wrapped in a huge furry coat, out of the blue, he reached out and gently wiped away the juice at the corner of her mouth. He smiled. "Are you staying to make dinner?"
His move was sudden but very gentle, and it brushed past like the wind. Meng Fuyao could feel the cold finger at the side of her lips, and a fresh aroma wafted by. Just a moment later, he retreated his hand. When Meng Fuyao looked up, she caught his expression. She saw her entire reflection filling up his clear eyes, and could not help but step back.
However, with every step that she took backward, Shadow Blade took a step forward. Both of them quiet, and the atmosphere was eerily silent. When Meng Fuyao took her third step, her back came into contact with the window.
Without any more s.p.a.ce for her to retreat, Shadow Blade smiled and extended his hands once again. Meng Fuyao also raised her head and smiled at him.
Then, she did a backflip, and with a bang, she flipped out of the open window.
Shadow Blade's hand froze in mid-air. He watched as that woman happily hopped towards the garden in the palace, picked up a black furry creature which was spying, and ran off while scolding it. Moments later, he slowly put down his frozen hand and gently pressed it on the window frame.
She… cared about the vast territory and the political turmoil, was willing to deal with the treacherous methods used in the court and harem, handled mutual deception and ruthless killings, but strangely, rejected the feelings of romance and affection.
The bitter winter was about to arrive.
Holding the burner in hand, she stared at the gloomy weather and ordered her attendants. "Is Consort Xian feeling better? Send some of the ginseng from Xichang to her again."
The eunuchs received the instructions and asked, "Your Highness, the gardener attending to Consort Xian's flowers was sacked… Eunuch Li found another gardener. According to tradition, he has to be screened by you."
Meng Fuyao waved her hand and said, "Send him over." She was about to turn and leave, but she suddenly stopped in her tracks. "Wait, let me take a look."
When the gardener was brought to her, Meng Fuyao stared at the figure and instructed all surrounding attendants to leave. "Come, I have instructions for you."
The gardener followed her meekly, and when Meng Fuyao stepped into her palace, she immediately turned around and grabbed his face. The corner of her lips raised and she laughed. "You lad! I was still thinking of some way to secretly sneak you into the palace, but you actually thought of such a method to come in by yourself!"
Tie Cheng gave her a stare. "I'm always left behind by you, so I can only think of ways by myself."
In a good mood, Meng Fuyao patted his cheeks. "Good boy, you have to train these skills when you follow a master like me. I think I no longer have to teach you," she said. However, when she surveyed Tie Cheng's expression, she was stunned. "You seem unhappy?"
Blinking his eyes, Tie Cheng replied, "No."
Meng Fuyao stared at him suspiciously. "I still don't know how you entered."
"I registered myself, and Eunuch Li sent me to become a gardener."
"Nonsense!" Meng Fuyao stared at him in the eye. "Are gardeners in the palace recruited this easily? Many guarantors and pieces of evidence are required, but you can't even distinguish all the flowers from one another. That old dude would have to be seeking death to recommend you to come. Tie Cheng!"
Tie Cheng shivered.
"Are you going to lie even to your master?" shouted Meng Fuyao with a stern expression.
Helplessly, Tie Cheng swallowed his saliva. 'My master's so sharp that few in the universe are able to match up to her. It won't be possible to fool her. Furthermore, since Little Seven has become a laborer in the imperial kitchen, Meng Fuyao will definitely come across him. By then, I won't be able to keep anything from her."
With a sigh, he told her about how he met Little Seven.
At first, Meng Fuyao listened to him quietly. When she heard of how Little Seven was going to be castrated, her expression finally changed.
Grabbing Tie Cheng, she asked him sternly, "It happened? It really happened?"
Tie Cheng gave a vague answer. "He was about to kill someone back then, and he wore his clothes very quickly. I didn't get a clear look, but I saw… blood."
Releasing her grip, Meng Fuyao pushed Tie Cheng out of the room. When she turned back, she knocked her head against the wall. "That freaking child, freaking child, freaking child, freaking child…"
And no one knew who she was referring to.
Tie Cheng's jaw was agape, and he felt pitiful looking at how she banged so hard that flakes of paint were coming off the wall. But he did not dare to stop her. Suddenly, the curtain to the inner room was flipped open, and Shadow Blade dashed out and used his body to block the wall.
Meng Fuyao's head banged directly on his chest.
While she did not express the pain when she banged against the wall, she shouted "aiyo" when her head came into contact with Shadow Blade's chest. Her eyes resembled that of a wolf, but the rims of her eyeb.a.l.l.s were already red.
As he lowered his head, Shadow Blade looked hurt, but that expression vanished in a second. His fingers gently brushed away the flakes that were stuck on her forehead, and he said in a low tone, "The wall's pitiful, don't bang against it. Bang against me instead."
Meng Fuyao could not help but laugh, and tears streamed down her face.
As she stood stiffly, tears dropped from her eyes like beads of pearls. Some rolled across her fair cheeks, and some directly fell beneath Shadow Blade's collar. His collar became wet and heavy, just like how his feelings were.
Looking at the hurt yet stubborn girl, who refused to slouch and become weak even when she cried, Shadow Blade felt a wave of emotions sweep past him. In the end, he gently held her shoulders and said, "Please, if you want to cry, do it without any fears. You crying this way is instead making others more hurt."
Meng Fuyao pushed him away, but he tightened his grip. "I'm only lending you my shoulder. Do you think that I will bear to lend my heart to you?"
Teary-eyed, Meng Fuyao smiled and sighed, and she rested her head on his shoulder. Shadow Blade made sure to not cross the line when holding her, and as he looked up, he revealed his exquisite jawline. Dazedly and with much sadness, he stared at the turbulent weather and the snowflakes in the horizon. Moments later, he felt that the cloth on his shoulders became even wetter than his collar, and he could vaguely feel that person shamelessly using his clothes to wipe off her mucus. After that, she ensued her, crying. "I'm so unfortunate, yet so lucky…"
Shadow Blade stiffened and looked pitifully at his miserable collar. Slowly, he let out a sigh.
'I am lucky as well to have met you, though… it is also my misfortune.'
As the new gardener was able to plant vegetables, the Empress cherished his talent and instructed him to stay. She gave him the responsibility of teaching the concubines the art of planting vegetables and instructed her attendants to find another talented gardener for Consort Xian.
Before that, she had instructed Tie Cheng. "There is no need to let Zhan Beiye know of this," she said.
With a poker face, Tie Cheng nodded—this expression had remained so ever since his master cried on Shadow Blade's shoulders. When Meng Fuyao looked over, she could clearly see what was written on his face: not another one!
Meng Fuyao sighed, and she had no intention to explain to this freaking child. She was simply not in the mood.
A few days later, in the middle of a meal, Meng Fuyao flipped over her table, and it crashed to the floor with a loud bang.
The entire room of concubines was shocked. All of them placed their chopsticks down, left the table, and shivered as they knelt on the floor.
In an angry tone, Meng Fuyao shouted, "What kind of bird's nest cabbage is this? The bird's nest looks like strands of noodles, and the cabbage has been done up like a vegetable!"
Everyone went: "…"
The head eunuch of the imperial kitchen quickly came to ask for forgiveness with a scrunched-up face. 'Well… bird's nest do look like noodle strands… and cabbages and vegetables are pretty similar…' he thought.
"The fire was too small! The quality of the water used was poor! That will affect the quality of the dishes!" Meng Fuyao continued to lash out her anger, and she added, "Who brought the firewood? Who started the fire? Who collected the water? The degree of the fire is most important for this dish! You need the coal that is burned from the ten-year-old Paulownia firewood found on Mountain Jade River, the water from Ningdai Springs - which has to be downstream as upstream water is only suitable for brewing tea. So who chopped the firewood and collected the water! Everything's not right with just one mouth!"
The eunuch wiped away his cold sweat… what a picky eater…
"Your Highness, the person who carried the firewood, burned the coal and brought the water, is a new eunuch called Little Seven. Your poor servant has not educated him well. Your Highness, I plead for your forgiveness…" answered the head eunuch answered. He turned around and barked his orders. "Get that Little Seven here to admit his wrongdoing before Her Highness!"