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Chapter 13: Commander Yang
One’s looks could sometimes become a pretty good mask. That was a principle Zhongli Shuo had utilized in her previous life when confronting higher officials. Her excessively fanciful appearance had established the image of a monarch who had a fondness for shallow things and paid no attention to politics in the hearts of a great many people. During the phase where she had just ascended the throne and powerful ministers monopolized Court politics, she used that face to numb all them, ignoring political affairs with a beaming smile and watching as those in authority fought each other for their own benefit. When not a one of them could get that, they apparently pushed the Empress’s people into the top seats in a compromise, and she could take her power back bit by bit.
The mother who raised her, apart from teaching her the chiba, also taught her one truth. When conducting oneself in life, you must always have your chest stuck out and exist in this world with dignity. Even though, later on, she had run into a copious amount of people who abandoned their dignity so they remain alive, Zhongli Shuo never forgot those words. To the extent that, just for them, she would relinquish a piece of her unadulterated self so that she could pander and socialize, all to lift herself up as Emperor of the people so that they could have enough dignity to get by in life.
There was clothing to wear and food to eat. They could stand up and walk, not needing to kneel on the ground and beg. There were books to read, and they access to those shallow, romantic things. Those were points she, as the regent, had to achieve. If her health had been a little better, and after eight or ten years with the Empress’s assistance, she might have actually been able to head off a restoration. She would have fit in with the word ‘Bright’ as it’s used in ‘bright virtue is friends with toil, a famed saint is encircled by deeds’, and not in the Empress’s words, ‘a stately and beautiful appearance’.
But her life wasn’t that great. She might have had too grave of wrongdoings, too, as she was ultimately unsuited for the word.
It didn’t matter, though. The Empress had already done it. On the day she had woken up, she had laid in bed for a fortnight, already sensing that all sorts of things from her previous life had dissipated like smoke, along with her body. What could make her reminisce them was Zitong alone.
Her Empress was the sole person she was unable to let go of in this world, whether that was out of respect or love.
Being born into the royal family was something she didn’t have a choice in. Before she hit sixteen, she optimistically believed that she’d at least be able to choose what kind of person she’d become. Thus, she became the Cervine Scion, as well as a young folk medic in a run-down temple.
After she hit sixteen, she was stil optimistically believing that she’d at least be able choose what kind of Heir Apparent she’d be. Yet, she wasn’t one for even a year before she ascended the throne.
The ruler of a country was incomparably respected. She had no choice but to be Emperor, but she genuinely could go on according to her own will from then on. Reality was cruel, however; she could only, once again, believe with a little bit of optimism that even if this was different than what she’d hoped, she would eventually earn definitive success so long as she strove hard.
She was good at smiling when facing all misfortunes and hardships. That’s why, later on, when she had to die, she optimistically believed then, too, that she’d be able to choose how she did that, at the very minimum.
There were too few options all throughout her life, but each time, she never regretted them.
The lone time she did regret was the start of that summer, before the palace gates, when she didn’t say those words to the Empress. That was because, back then, she believed that she’d still have a decade ahead of her, and never thought that her life would be as short as it was. Therefore… she hadn’t once thought to choose doing that.
Now that it’d come to this, she didn’t know whether to be more remorseful or more glad, because she hadn’t told her and was regretting it, but maybe if she had told her, it would cause the Empress to remember a departed soul’s adoration and feel guilt over it.
As she burned in the flames, she thought about how if she had the chance, she would say it all, and then she’d genuinely possess a sole opportunity for choice.
That’s not right, though. There were many, many opportunities for choice, now.
So many, that she could happily live in this world with dignity.
She knew she was sixteen. She knew how to face her teacher, what appearance she should put on before her parents, how to act towards her elder sister, and how to respond to the Gilt Robe Guard. As a result, when confronting the underling at the door, Zhongli Shuo, who had never once forgotten who she was, chose her own approach.
She was Yuezheng Su, inexperienced young Scion of the North-Quelling Marquis. She wanted to display her dedication in seeking someone out, so she made an expression that wouldn’t disgust others in a timely matter – exactly like how she would face those vigorously ambitious, powerful ministers from back in the day. “I don’t know the name of the Miss at all, but I remember what she looks like. Also, I told her who I was; Yuezheng Su, second legitimate child of the North-Quelling Marquis. Let’s do it like this; would it possible for you to help me write a notice? I remember that this department hall has signs put up to report when lost items are found. I want to thank that Miss from the bottom of my heart, so can you help me make a sign saying that my gift for her is in the Hall?”
The teen spoke with honesty and sincerity. The subordinate in the mauve official’s uniform was stumped by her words that seemed correct, yet were completely wrong. A good moment later, the kind-faced person bust out laughing. “Scion, that’s a lost-and-found, and can only be posted on when someone might be looking for something. You can’t do that…” The Hall’s rows of notices were all filled up full; if one wanted to find someone, they’d just go look in the office.
“Let’s do it like this; you tell me what that Miss looks like and what distinctive traits she has. There were quite many Sers of the South Gate that went to Findragon Pavilion last night, but if we look look through them carefully, we’ll be able to find them.” Maybe she was naive and cute enough, or the title of the North-Quelling Marquis was coming into use, to then cause a subordinate who didn’t have patience for trivial matters to have the inclination to help her look for someone.
Zhongli Shuo thought of how the Empress had changed her face to be so average and unsurprising last night, that it caused her to not recognize it at all – how could she describe what she’d looked like? Besides, even if she did so, they definitely wouldn’t be able to find her. Further still, she wasn’t expecting to discover the Empress at the South Gate at all; she merely hoped that someone would take note of her, and if she came across one of the Empress’s few people, there wouldn’t be anything better.
Firmly implementing the plan she could get away with due to her age and status, she simply held her gift box and continued to make conversation with the attendant. Following the passage of time, all the underlings the Hall that were tending to matters had noticed her here, and began to give her ideas one after the other.
After learning she was Yuezheng Ying’s ‘little brother’, a subordinate told her, “Miss Yuezheng is a friend of our South Gate’s Sir Yang Yuting. He’s a Deputy Commander of the Gilt Robe Guard with a great deal of Sers under his command. You might as well request Miss Yuezheng to ask for you, Scion.”
When someone said that the Scion had come to repay a favor, a burst of zeal spread all throughout, and the big party wanted to put up a notice for her.
Yet another teased that with the Scion being so antsy, she might have taken a fancy to that Gilt Robe Miss.
Zhongli Shuo simply stood there with her box near the hall’s receiving door, listening to these Sers give her ideas. She has to say… this group of on-duty Gilt Robe underlings had really gotten a bit too leisurely in this prosperous Dynasty.
By the time Deputy Commander Yang Yuting arrived at the office and stowed away his nameplate to skip out on work for an appointment, the hall’s news had already run its rounds.
Today was a great day, as the first of the New Year. Yang Yuting was straightening out his Vermilion Bird uniform, immensely pleased as he walked towards the receiving side door, his mucking about on the first day of the first month about to begin. Only, when he got there, his gaze was drawn to a little red horse.
Oh my… this thick mane, the bright red coat, that look of a divine steed… why did it look so much like Blood Unseen, who he had coveted for such a long time yet Yuezheng Ying never let him have?
With another look, he saw a teenager who was standing beside the hall’s side door. With that tall, young body, charming young face, vividly scarlet, embroidered robes, and face that seemed familiar – couldn’t this be Yuezheng Ying’s ‘younger brother’ that had never shown her face before?
Yang Yuting stopped in his tracks, observing her again. Curiosity prompted him to inexplicably walk over towards Zhongli Shuo.
Right as he came in, he heard a subordinate say, “Scion, I’m afraid the search would be hard based on what you’ve said.”
What was this kid looking for? That in mind, the ever-gossip-loving, ever-nosy Deputy Commander Yang blurted something out. “What are you trying to find, little brother?”
At a young male voice sounding out right beside her ear, Zhongli Shuo turned her head to have a handsome-looking, casually elegant man projected into her eyes. She’d never seen him before, so she hesitated on whether or not she should answer. An underling behind her then spoke up. “Greetings, Commander Yang. This is the North-Quelling Marquis’s young Scion, who came here looking for someone.”
Hearing that, she internally understood that the one before her was her elder sister’s friend. Thus, she gave him a bow. “Greetings, Sir Yang.”
She looked very similar to Yuezheng Ying, only younger. Yang Yuting wondered if the woman was also this cute at age sixteen. With such a musing, his mood got all the brighter, and he gazed at Zhongli Shuo with an affable look.
“You’re Ah-Ying’s little brother? You’re called Su, right? Who are you looking for? Tell me, I might be able to help you find them.”
He gave off a friendly aura; maybe it was her illusion, but she could even see a trace hint of eagerness in his eyes. Maybe he and her sister had a good relationship, but, that really wasn’t casual talk. After thinking it over, she recounted everything word by word from Yuezheng Su’s point of view.
He listened to her with great interest until she was done, pondering this deeply as he nodded and stroked his chin. “Hm… how about this. You leave the stuff with me, and I’ll help you by asking around.”
His reply was so straightforward that it startled her a bit. Yet, she very quickly became overjoyed, nodded, and cupped her hands towards him. “Then I’ll have to trouble Sir Yang with requesting you to find that kind Miss for me.”
“It’s nothing.” He smiled, putting out a hand to take Zhongli Shuo’s little giftbox, though he couldn’t help but peek at that bright red horse. “Did your sister give you that horse?”
“Mhm. It was her gift,” she nodded.
Yang Yuting ‘oh’ed, then gave it a few more looks, the color of regret in his eyes extremely obvious. She saw that and promptly understood, smiling as she talked to him. “Do you like Red Shadow, Sir Yang? I like it too.”
“I do, of course I do.” The man who had an interest in collecting rare horses nodded, watching her with quite some sympathy. “You gave it a name? Red Shadow, that’s very fitting. This is rare steed, you have to take proper care of it.”
The way he talked… was precisely like if Red Shadow had been his before. She nodded in understanding. Yang Yuting put away that pitiable expression of not getting what he was looked for and smiled. “Alright, I’ll do this all for you, you go on back now. It’s a bit cold today, you mustn’t bring harm to yourself.” All he knew was that Ah-Ying’s baby ‘brother’ didn’t have great health.
She thanked him once more, and after seeing the subordinates off one by one, she mounted her little red horse named Red Shadow and headed home feeling at ease.
Yang Yuting was someone of the South Gate; that question of hers would certainly lead to other things being asked. In short, one or two layers up, it’d be learned that this was something for the Regentess. The Emperor’s things, before instructions on what to do with them were decreed, were always to be retained. In that way, accepting it would all depend on the Empress.
The odds were 50/50, which was already enormous. Maybe the Empress would get her New Year’s Gift this year. It wouldn’t matter if she didn’t get it this time, in any case; there’d always be next time.
With hope in her heart, the teen swayed back and forth as she rode with loose reins down the South Gate’s long street, relaxed as she headed home.