Chapter 677 - Sudden Revolt in the Palace
Chapter 677 Sudden Revolt in the Palace
It didn’t take long for Qingyu to return from the Lord Protector’s Manor with a new piece of news. It was said that there had been a haunting in the prayer hall of the manor.
Rumor had it that an older maid became ill from the fright of seeing a ghost.
A long time ago, the Cloud Reflection Courtyard was said to be haunted too. No one dared to come close at that time, not even during the day. Even though the rumors died down later on, a few people who were deeply affected by the events said that the situation was still grave then.
Therefore, even though only a maid had seen the ghost, the rumors spread like wildfire in the manor.
The prayer hall used to be Madam Dowager’s favorite spot. It was later used to imprison Madam Ling for some time. Now that Madam Ling was dead, everyone feared that she was the ghost. It was said that Madam Ling was an evil woman when she was alive. Even in death, she might become a malicious ghost. The situation was much worse than in the Cloud Reflection Courtyard.
Ning Xueyan listened to the report carefully. She didn’t treat it as just an interesting rumor. She looked at Qingyu and frowned. “What did the maid see?”
“She didn’t see anything. She said that a candle suddenly lit up in the prayer hall and that she heard a faint crying from inside. The maid is responsible for the prayer hall, so she remembered very well that the candle was unlit before. Naturally, no one could have gone there to cry.”
The prayer hall was located in a secluded corner of the manor. Besides Madam Dowager, no one liked going there. Even if the servants of the manor were upset about something, they wouldn’t have gone out of their way to visit that place. They would be punished if they were discovered.
The night came soon enough. The weather was poor today, and the sky was filled with dark clouds even at night. Ning Huaiyuan stood in front of a large boulder with a few men dressed in black. They were on a mountain surrounded by rocks, so the large boulder didn’t seem out of place.
“Young Master Ning, are we going in now?” The boulder had been pushed aside with just the right force. Ning Huaiyuan looked at the newly-revealed opening with a grim expression. This was his fifth time returning to the capital since he left for good.
He had personally requested to return to the capital this time. All he could do was focus on one obsessive thought: kidnapping Ning Xueyan. She hurt his mother and two younger sisters and rendered him miserably homeless. He wanted to ruin her and destroy her reputation in revenge.
He wanted to take her to the frontline of two armies and tie her high up on the flagpole! He wanted to see if Ao Chenyi could continue the war then!
He would hang her, the Empress of a nation, high up in front of the two armies and use her to force Ao Chenyi into backing off so that Annan could become independent from Chu State and establish their own state. Even if she could return to the palace afterward, only death awaited her.
Who would believe that the Empress would still be untouched after being kidnapped?
His goal in coming here was kidnapping Ning Xueyan. He desperately wanted to see her shocked and panicked face, to see her pleading with him tearfully, to see her kneeling at his feet…
He wanted her to die…
“Let’s go!” They had explored the tunnel yesterday without any trouble. The secret tunnel was a piece of information that they learned from a maid of the late Empress who was left wandering in the wild.
It was apparent that it had been a long time since anyone used the meandering tunnel. Under Ning Huaiyuan’s leadership, the men in black carefully made their way to their destination. Ning Xueyan must be asleep at this hour but Ao Chenyi might not be. It was said that Ao Chenyi had been working hard to reverse his image as the willful Prince Yi.
He must still be awake at this time.
That was what Ning Huaiyuan was thought, but he barely scratched the surface. Not only was Ao Chenyi in Ning Xueyan’s bedroom, but he had arrived a long time ago. He brought his documents with him with the plan of carving out a firm place for himself in her residence from now on.
The door of the secret tunnel opened quietly, and a man in black poked his head out to look around. When he noticed nothing wrong, he gestured at the others inside the tunnel. The others nodded and exited the tunnel together.
Ning Huaiyuan took the lead in walking past the bedhead, where he saw a small bulge on the bed. In the barely-lit room, he could see a woman’s beautiful hair sprawled all over the pillow.
He waved a hand and took a step behind. A man in black walked past him and toward the person in bed, holding the handle of his saber. The plan was to knock the person unconscious and take her out of the place via the secret tunnel without alerting anyone.
However, their plan was thwarted by a surprise.
The woman under the blanket suddenly turned over, sat up, and grabbed the handle of the saber at an impressive speed. She pressed down hard on the skin between the man’s thumb and forefinger, and the man immediately felt numbness and a lack of strength in his right hand. The next thing he knew was that his saber was snatched by the woman.
Before the man could cry out in surprise, a dozen or so imperial guards emerged out of nowhere in the hall and clashed with the men in black.
Ning Huaiyuan didn’t bring many men with him. He took only a few imperial guards on his long journey past the war frontline. The journey would have failed if there were too many of them, so they were completely outnumbered by the many palace guards that appeared in front of them. It didn’t take long for all of them to be captured.
Candles were lit, brightly illuminating the bedroom.
The imperial guards forced Ning Huaiyuan and his men to kneel.
The doors of the main hall swung open, and Ao Chenyi slowly walked in with Ning Xueyan. The servants had fetched chairs a long time ago, allowing them to take a seat.
Ning Xueyan looked at Ning Huaiyuan, who was forced to kneel on the floor. A trace of coldness crossed her eyes. When Qingyu mentioned the haunting at the Lord Protector’s Manor, she had a hunch that Ning Huaiyuan had returned. No one else would have gone to the prayer hall, never mind crying there.
She had long known that Ning Huaiyuan hated her. Madam Ling was his biological mother. Ning Ziyan and Ning Yuling were his biological sisters. Back then, he had helped Madam Ling to hurt her. She wasn’t a saint and she would never dream of showing mercy to all living beings. It went without saying that she wouldn’t save someone who tried to harm her.
Ao Chenyi narrowed his eyes with a malicious expression. He looked at the kneeling Ning Huaiyuan and asked with some interest, “Did Wen Xueran send you?”
“What does it matter if it’s His Highness who sent us?” Ning Huaiyuan understood his situation well. Under such circumstances, death was inevitable no matter what he said. Thus, he chose to be stubborn and glare at Ao Chenyi.
“It looks like Wen Xueran is the one who can’t continue the war between us anymore. That’s why he would try to threaten me with a woman.” A sharp glint flashed in Ao Chenyi’s eyes as he looked coldly at Ning Huaiyuan. His thin lips were curved into a slight smile.
Ning Huaiyuan was stunned but quickly raised his head and retorted, “Nonsense! His Highness just wants to end the war early out of concern for the people. I’m sure you understand what a good deal it is to exchange a woman for world peace!”
“When you put it that way, Wen Xueran sounds like a good prince who is concerned about the wellbeing of the world,” Ao Chenyi replied lazily, with a hint of coldness in his voice.
“Of course!” Ning Huaiyuan said proudly. “His Highness is of course a good prince who is wholeheartedly concerned for the world. Your Majesty, if you’re still concerned for the world, you shouldn’t bother with such trivialities. It seems that His Highness understands the big picture better than you do.”
“Oh. It seems that I need to thank you for coming to kidnap my Empress, and thank Wen Xueran for rebelling and plunging the people of Annan into war for the sake of the world. I heard that Annan folks are living a tough life these days. Apparently, nine out of ten families there have lost everything! It’s all thanks to Wen Xueran, I suppose. It seems that I really have to thank him.”
Ao Chenyi’s words were accompanied by a malicious smile on his lips. In Ning Huaiyuan’s eyes, the smile was as cold as it was bloodthirsty.
Those words stupefied Ning Huaiyuan into silence. Wen Xueran was a major contributor to the rebellion of the three feudal princes of Annan. For him to make Wen Xueran out to be a saint, not even he could convince himself.
“Since Wen Xueran sent you here, I’m sure he understands that you might not come back!” Ao Chenyi waved his hand carelessly.
A few imperial guards stepped forward and dragged Ning Huaiyuan out of the palace hall.
“Tyrant! How can you kill us without even asking questions? You’re still Prince Yi, the Demon King from before! His Highness is the rightful Emperor!” Ning Huaiyuan had a hunch that things were about to go very wrong for him. He kept struggling while cursing Ao Chenyi. When he looked at Ning Xueyan, all he could see was apathy.
Suddenly, he remembered how she had looked when she was young. She looked so gentle and pure under the plum blossom tree back then. He thought he had forgotten about these memories. He thought that he simply wanted her life to avenge his mother and sisters. Yet somehow, those feelings had crept into his heart without his realization.
But, this wasn’t too bad either. At least he wouldn’t have to suffer from intense hatred every day and live a life worse than death. Many times, he would rather that it was he who died. That was why he insisted on coming to the capital and kidnapping Ning Xueyan this time. It represented his determination to die after failing his mission.
From now on, Ning Xueyan would be Ning Xueyan and Ning Huaiyuan would be Ning Huaiyuan. If there was a second life, he hoped that they would never meet!
The imperial guards didn’t let him say more and dragged him out with force. The Emperor had made his intentions very clear. These criminals should die as punishment for daring to touch the Empress. These guards were Ao Chenyi’s trusted aides. It went without saying that they knew how much he cared for the Empress.
These criminals should pay for daring to enter the palace and harm the Empress! If Ning Huaiyuan wasn’t the Empress’ brother, his whole family would have been killed!
Ning Xueyan stood up when Ao Chenyi did and asked, “Are we winning against Annan?” Ning Huaiyuan’s words seemed to suggest that things weren’t so simple.
“I think Annan’s campaign is on its last legs after dragging it out for so long. Wen Xueran can’t afford to fight anymore. The nine barbarian states have sent their troops as well. Annan is stuck between our country and the nine barbarian states. It’s hard for him to take even a single step.” Ao Chenyi glanced at her with a slight smile. He grabbed her hand and led her toward the side hall.
Ning Xueyan blushed, embarrassed that he was holding her hand in front of so many people. She looked around uneasily but she was feeling all warm on the inside, enough that her limpid eyes were gleaming. She saw that everyone was lowering their heads, pretending not to see or hear anything. She decided to toss her embarrassment out of the window and pretended that she didn’t notice either, and followed him to the side hall.