Xiao Tuo couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Even though he wasn’t speaking loudly, every word rumbled like thunder.
She never would have thought that her childhood sweetheart would push her into the arms of another man! He had even told her to do everything she could to seduce him!
She suddenly wondered if she had made the right choice.
As if he could sense the change in her emotions, Lian’s voice softened. “Xiao Tuo, I know that I’m being unfair. If you don't want to do it, then just leave the palace. I won’t serve as the high priest anymore, and the two of us can just travel the world. I refuse to believe that Wu Ding can catch us so easily.”
The maid was somewhat tempted at first, but she calmed down when she heard the last part. “Big brother Lian, how can I be that selfish and let your years of hard work become wasted? You are the well-respected high priest. How can I make you follow me into a life of hiding? Furthermore, you’re the one who should be king, so why should you run? Big brother Lian, I like you, so of course I will help you.”
Happiness blossomed within the heart of the man across from her, but he maintained his outward appearance of heartbroken grief. “But I’m making things difficult for you! No, let’s try to find another way.”
The maid pressed her finger against his lips. “It’s already too late to change the plan now. Don’t worry, I’m willing to do anything for your sake.”
Lian held her hands, his voice full of emotion. “I’m the one at fault, for being so useless that I have to sacrifice my own woman to achieve my goal.”
The maid’s expression blossomed with happiness when she heard the words ‘my woman’. After all, her big brother Lian had never publicly admitted to this before. Now that she heard him say this, she felt as though any sacrifice was worth it.
“This has nothing to do with you. It was Wu Ding’s father who disregarded the rules and selfishly passed on his throne to his son, wronging you in the process.”
“Xiao Tuo…” Even though Lian had ulterior motives, he was still moved by the devotion that his childhood sweetheart was showing towards him. In that instant, he almost felt reluctant to send away his beloved girl.
After all, the high priest was already a well-respected position. Why was there a need to strive for the throne? He even had a lovely girl at his side…
The maid’s heart beat frantically as she and her lover held hands. Her face gradually reddened, and a different mood began to surround this place.
The two of them slowly drew closer and closer. For some reason, the image of what had taken place last night appeared in her head, and her body suddenly stiffened.
This slight reaction also snapped Lian out of his trance. He quickly let go of her hands, his back dripping with cold sweat. Lian, you bear a heavy familial responsibility on your shoulders! How can you let mere feelings get in the way of such important matters? Are you going to throw away all the years of hard work that everyone has put in?
Wu Ding would definitely realize something was wrong if he took Xiao Tuo’s virginity. Everything would be ruined if he became suspicious!
“Xiao Tuo, you’ve been away from the palace for quite some time now. It’s time for you to go back.” Lian’s eyes grew clear again, and his voice was perfectly calm.
A hint of bitterness swirled within the maid’s eyes, but her mind was a mess as well. She didn’t say anything else, merely bidding him goodbye before leaving.
Lian’s expression was pained as he watched the beautiful figure of his childhood sweetheart slowly disappear into the distance. The two of them had shared a deep affection for each other since they were young, and there was no way he could remain hard-hearted.
He clenched his fists tightly, hatred shrouding his face. “Wu Ding, I will definitely chop your corpse up to ten thousand pieces!”
The maid was extremely nervous when she returned to the palace. How in the world am I supposed to seduce that incompetent king?
When she remembered his shameless and perverted behavior, though, it became clear to her that she probably wouldn’t have to do a thing. He would probably seek her out on his own.
She thought about his romp with the empress in his bedroom earlier, and how he’d carried her to bed as well, and she grew more convinced of that notion.
At the moment, though, Zu An wasn’t in the mood to attend to her. He had left the room quickly in order to participate in the ceremonial sacrifice.
A country is often built on sacrifice and battle.
For the Shang Dynasty, these two things—sacrifice and battle—were valued above all else, and at this time, both matters were intersecting.
Almost all of the high-ranking individuals within the Shang state were present at the altar, which was surrounded by row upon row of warriors.
Three thousand of them were elite troops under the command of Fu Hao, while another ten thousand were part of Wu Ding’s personal guard. Each one of them was well-built, strong and muscular.
Such an army was considered massive in ancient times. Sending out troops in the thousands was already unusual, and this time, more than ten thousand troops setting out together was unprecedented.
Behind their serious expressions, a hint of nervousness lurked. None of them knew how this battle would end.
Both Lian and Xiao Tuo rushed over to the ceremony separately. Xiao Tuo’s information had come too late for the high priest to have made any preparations, and he could only do as Wu Ding and Fu Shuo wished.
Either way, Fu Hao leading the troops wouldn’t affect his plan. To a certain degree, it even made it even easier for him.
He knew how much was riding on the outcome of this battle. Even though he was eager to see the king’s troops wiped out, causing him to lose all of his prestige, he didn’t dare show any hint of it. One misstep, and everyone might suspect him of stirring up internal strife.
He respectfully and formally completed the first part of the ceremony. After burning the tortoiseshell, he interpreted the cracks that formed on its surface, declaring that the deities had decreed a victory. Everyone cheered.
Of course, he subtly played around with the phrasing of it, so that he wouldn’t end up trapping himself. This way, even if their battle ended in defeat, he could still push the blame onto the king instead.
The others who were present at the ceremony noted nothing amiss, but Zu An was already suspicious of him from the start, and obviously picked up that something was not right.
However, he kept his suspicions to himself. He trusted Pei Mianman, and in the course of history as well. Pei Mianman would surely return victorious, and the high priest’s plans would amount to nothing.
He examined this hidden boss. This man was rather well-built, and taller than the people around him. Despite the face paint, he gave off a heroic and mighty aura. This man… is almost on my level.
The ceremony seemed like hocus-pocus Zu An, and he had very little interest in all this superstitious nonsense. He spent the time sharing intelligence with Pei Mianman through ki transmission.
When it came time for the sacrificial offerings, though, both of them frowned. Because this ceremony was more important than ever before, only selected the most important human lives had been chosen as offerings. Ten or so Qiang Faction captives were brought out.
When he saw that these captives were about to be decapitated and have their innards fished out, Zu An hurriedly called matters to a halt. He ordered that livestock be used in their place.
It wasn’t because he was some Mother Teresa; he just didn’t want these human sacrifices to end up on his dinner table after being cooked. He’d learned from Ya Zhang that these offerings were made into delicacies after they had been offered to the deities, and he’d also confirmed this tradition with Fu Shuo and Xiao Tuo.
More than that, however, he knew that these captives were much more valuable alive than used as sacrifices.
Why was Huo Qubing able to fight within the vast Hexi Corridor with just a single army, leaving the Huns trembling in fear? Back then, the Han people had never even been to that area, yet he seemed to have his own personal GPS system!
Aside from his obvious military talent, this was largely due to his use of Hun slaves. He was able to achieve his military miracle by having them lead the way.
The current situation was similar. The forces of the Qiang Faction were primarily located around the Shanxi and Gansu regions. Even though he’d drawn a map for Pei Mianman, it was only enough to give her a broad overview of the area. Only the locals would know more detailed topography.
How could he afford to kill off these living maps?
He shared his thoughts with Pei Mianman, and she immediately agreed with him. The two of them would protect this group of people.
Everyone else present was shocked. Why weren’t they going to use the highest quality human lives as an offering for the ceremony? What if they incurred the wrath of the heavens?
Lian almost laughed out loud. If something bad truly ended up befalling their army on the battlefield, he had the perfect way to blame it all on Wu Ding. This saved him quite a bit of work! As such, he also encouraged this change.
Just like that, the army of the Shang State began their relentless northwestern advance to face an unknown fate.
Back in the palace, Zu An was left to deal with all manner of government affairs. They swept away some rebel forces that were hiding in Yin Capital as they waited painfully, minute by minute, for news to return from the battlefield.
Finally, one night, Xiao Tuo found herself outside the palace bedroom. She took a deep breath to steady herself. She knew that she couldn’t stall any longer, especially since her big brother Lian’s forces had suffered attacks these past few days. She had to earn the king’s trust and obtain some vital information as soon as possible.