Ning Donghuan wolfed down his food as he let out compliments from his mouth, “Who would have thought that in such crude surroundings there was actually a hidden tiger here? How could a mere cook maid from a village official’s residence end up making food that tastes just as good as the food from Zhenxiu Restaurant? Do you think if I bring this cook maid back to our estate that I’d be able to eat delicious foods all the time?”
How could Yu Xiaocao actually correct him and let him know that this table of food had actually been personally made by her? Wouldn’t that be blowing her cover? She didn’t want this stupid idiot to rush over and ask Village Official Wu to transfer his servant over and hurriedly interjected, “In actuality, the food is just so-so. It must be that you are too hungry, which is why you think the food is that good! By stating that the food here is even better than the food from Zhenxiu Restaurant is too much of an exaggeration! As for the cook maid, it’s better you not ask for her. Otherwise, the people here will mock us for being so unsophisticated despite living in the capital!”
After he stuffed his belly full, Ning Donghuan paced around the courtyard a few times and couldn’t help but ask his older brother, Ning Donglan, in the end, “Second Older Brother, do you think the food we ate today, which looked very ordinary, tasted even better than the food made by the head chef at our family’s estate?”
Ning Donglan secretly glanced over at Yu Xiaocao and slowly shook his head, “I didn’t think so. This Wu Family’s cook maid’s skill could only be considered average. Perhaps it really is as Royal Prince Guo said. You were probably ravenous after spending the entire day on the road and then taking care of the horses. Thus, anything you ate would taste incredibly delicious.”
“Is there something wrong with my taste buds? That can’t be true ah. I’ve always been a picky eater, so how could I possibly mistaken good food for average?” Ning Donghuan muttered to himself as he tried to figure out just where he had gone wrong.
The next morning, at breakfast, Ning Donghuan frowned the entire time as he ate. The food he had today seemed to have been made by an entirely different person. It truly was as his second older brother said. The food here was incredibly average. Perhaps he had been delusional last night from hunger?
The group of people traveled merrily, enjoying the thrilling sights of untamed nature the entire way as they basked under the warm spring sun. The entourage escorting ‘Royal Princess Jinan’ was sometimes in front of them and sometimes behind them. All in all, the two groups were only about ten to fifteen kilometers apart the entire time.
“In front of us is a desert mountain and there is no sign of human habitation there. After passing the mountain, I believe there is a small town about five kilometers away. Tonight, we could spend the night there. However, judging by the time right now, we’ll need to ride hard in order to get there in time.” Once again, Yu Xiaocao’s map came in handy. The sun was already in the western part of the sky. They needed to go past a mountain and then had a few more kilometers to go to get to the town. If they wanted to settle down before it got dark, they needed to speed up their current leisurely pace.
It had already been eight days since they left the capital, which meant that other than eating and sleeping, they spent most of these days on horseback traveling. After the novelty of the journey had passed, the rigors and fatigues of their trip had long caught up onto the delicate bodies of these noble misses and masters.
“Eh? We need to speed up again ah?? My legs are about to fall off and my waist is about to snap in half. Didn’t we go out to have fun ah? Why do we need to hurry up so much?” He Wanning listlessly lay across her horse and swayed with each step. She looked like a soldier who had been solidly defeated.
“Compared to camping out in the wilderness, I would much rather prefer being able to rest in a safe and comfortable area. If we need to ride hard then let’s do it. It’s still better than camping out in these woods. The mountain in front of us looks a bit desolate and creepy, so it’s likely that there might be wolves or other nasty creatures there!” Yuan Xueyan thought longingly about being able to rest at a guesthouse in the small town in their warm, soft beds. After traveling for a whole day, if they weren’t able to get a good night’s sleep, then how would they be able to handle the rest of the journey?
The incredibly intelligent and perceptive Yuan Xueyan looked again at the people who were escorting the fake ‘Royal Princess Jinan’. She knew that this trip out to the northern borders was not as simple as it looked. The maidservants who were around the fake Royal Princess Jinan all had the bearing and demeanor of Chunhua and Qiushi, so it was likely that their identities were out of the ordinary too. Furthermore, there were soldiers from the Jin Wu Guards within the group. This meant that the trip to the stud farm was likely to be going across roads that were not that peaceful.
In addition, Younger Sister Xiaocao had always intentionally or otherwise kept their group a certain distance away from the other one. It was as if the group in front of them was a small carrot that they had to follow. It looked like something definitely had occurred at the stud farm!
“Alright ah! For the sake of being able to eat well and sleep well, this old maid will do her best!” He Wanning gritted her teeth and spurred her beloved steed further in the direction of the desolate mountain. The group of people stayed together as the sounds of their horses' hooves broke the silence around them.
The mountain wasn’t very high. The official road wound around the edges of the mountain. Although the road was on the more craggy side, it didn’t impede the horses at all as they went forward. As the horses cantered forward, Ning Donghuan looked all around him as he quietly muttered to himself, “I wonder if this mountain has any wild pheasants or hares around. If we’re able to catch some to add to our dinner, that’ll make this trip a little less hard.”
Yu Xiaocao couldn’t resist the urge to rebuke him, “Have we shorted you on food or drink these past few days? Every time we stop to rest, you’re the one who eats the most out of all of us and yet you’re the one with the most complaints too! This isn’t good, that isn’t good, but no matter how bad it is I’ve never seen you stop eating!”
“Argh...it’s because I have no choice! Every day we spend so many hours on the road, so if I didn’t eat enough, how would I be able to endure this? How could I allow myself to become super skinny? The flavor is truly not that great but you won’t even allow me to complain a bit?” Ning Donghuan flapped his lips and turned his head to address Xiaocao, “Royal Prince Guo, do you still have any flaky pastries left? Give me a piece so I can fill my tummy!”
Although Golden Jadeite was not as intelligent as Little Red, it was still much smarter than most of the other horses along. She didn’t even need to direct it and it was able to run steadily on these mountainous roads. Yu Xiaocao retrieved a piece of sesame flaky pastry from her pouch and had the horse get closer to Ning Donghuan. When the two of them were side by side, she stuffed the pastry into Ning Donghuan’s outstretched hand.
“Eat slower to avoid choking! This is the last piece, so you won’t be able to eat more even if you want any!” Yu Xiaocao gave this foodie the evil eye. This fellow only came along to cause trouble. If he wasn’t able to eat the flaky pastry, he would definitely complain and slow down the entire group.
“Hey! Royal Prince Guo, you’re quite good! You brought along so many pastries from the Yu’s Shop on this journey. I’ve learned a lot this time. The next time I go out, I need to bring some more tasty snacks and pastries that are easy to transport with me. The flaky pastries may be gone but don’t you have dried meat ah? Don’t hide it from me, this young master’s eyes are very sharp ah!” Nign Donghuan munched on the pastry and didn't forget to eye the dried meat that was with Xiaocao.
“We need to stop for a bit. There’s something going on in the distance!” Ning Donglan, who was at the front of the group, suddenly made the signal to tell them to stop. He lightly pulled on the reins in his hands and had his horse slow down to a stop.
Because they were traveling on hilly roads, no one was riding very quickly, so they all swiftly came to a stop after seeing Ning Donglan’s signal. Ning Donghuan swallowed down his last bite of pastry and drank a gulp of water as he asked in puzzlement, “Second Older Brother, why did you stop so suddenly?”
“Shut up!” Ning Donglan glared at him and turned his head to listen. A gust of mountainous wind blew by and he could hear the faint sounds of people shouting and weapons clanking. Xiaocao’s senses had been sharpened by mystic-stone water so she was able to pick up on more than other people could. She frowned and then turned to command Chunhua, who was behind her, “Go in the front and take a look. If there’s something wrong, come back to report!”
“Yes!” Chunhua went forward after getting her order. Ning Donghuan stared at her back as he frowned deeply. Why did this short bodyguard give off such a familiar feeling to him?
“Royal Princess Jinan’s carriage has been in front of us this entire time today. Did something happen to her?” Ning Donglan glanced at Xiaocao. Luckily, the real Royal Princess Jinan had gone out incognito. Otherwise, the person in trouble would be her right now. Although this young maiden was quite intelligent and capable, she was still an ordinary little girl without much way to defend herself. It’d be quite likely for her to get injured in a chaotic situation.
When Ning Donghuan heard this, he immediately blurted out, “Since Royal Princess Jinan is in trouble, then what are we waiting for? Let’s go up and help right now!”
Ning Donglan scowled and glared fiercely at his stupid dunce of a brother. The target of these foreign tribes was right in their midst. If they rushed forward now, wouldn’t they be walking right into a trap? He quietly said, “Royal Princess Jinan has the emperor’s hidden guards protecting her as well as the elite troops under General Lu’s command. If they are unable to fend off these attacks, then what can our small group do by rushing forward rashly? It’d be in vain. That being said, we also have two weak and delicate young maidens in our group and a youthful royal prince. We absolutely should not make a rash decision!”
“But we also can’t just sit back and watch Miss Yu get attacked ah! Miss He and Miss Yuan, aren’t you Miss Yu’s best friends? We shouldn’t be fair weather friends...yeouch!” Ning Donghuan didn’t even get to finish his thought when a heavy slap interrupted him.
Ning Donglan pulled back the hand he used to hit his brother and coldly said, “Just who are you calling fair weather friends? Are you saying that if we send our lives into an unwinnable situation, that’s called being a good friend? Or are you saying that to be a good friend, we should just show up and allow the enemy to use us to threaten Royal Princess Jinan? You stupid idiot!”
Just as they were about to get into a heated discussion, Chunhua, who had been sent up to make inquiries, had returned, “Master, Royal Princess Jinan’s group was attacked by some people from a foreign tribe. Although the attackers were quite bold and fearless, the group wasn't very big and has already been beaten back by the Jin Wu Guards. Royal Princess Jinan hasn’t been injured and was only a little bit frightened by the situation.”
Yu Xiaocao lowered her head down to think for a bit before she opened her mouth, “If their target truly is Royal Princess Jinan, why would they send such few people along to attack her and get pushed back? Isn’t that beating the grass to scare the snake ah?”
“I think that these foreigners were only trying to sound things out. They were trying to see whether the group ahead actually had the target they had in mind. It looks like the rest of the journey will not be very smooth anymore!” Ning Donglan now truly admired the person who came up with this decoy plan. With the group in front of them to draw the attention of the enemy, it was a lot easier for him to keep the real Royal Princess Jinan safe on this journey.
He Wanning was now alert and excited. She sat up straight and excitedly said, “Let’s rush forward and catch up with them. Perhaps we’ll encounter some of the enemy running away. This old maiden’s whip isn’t just for show and I’m certain I can make them cry for their parents!”
“Just stop ah! With your cruddy abilities, you wouldn't be able to harm a single person on a real battlefield. Those foreign tribes are as sturdy as a bear, very skilled, and extremely cruel and vicious. Calm down and don’t add to the mess!” Nign Donghuan had also been given a tutor who taught him how to ride and do martial arts. However, he didn’t like to work hard and wasn’t as proficient in these areas as his second older brother. Despite that, even he looked down upon He Wanning’s so-called ‘whip skills’, let alone more skilled people.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s thoughts: Ning Donghuan lost out on the brains...