Chapter 542: Cards on the Table

His trusted aide waited until Lian’s anger had passed before saying, “At least miss Xiao Tuo was able to give us some information. Because of that, we… aren’t losing out.”

He had a hard time finding the right way to phrase things. In the end, that was the most appropriate thing he could find.

Lian’s expression sank. “Xiao Tuo has indeed been of great service to us. Have we prepared our countermeasures using her information yet?”

His trusted aide nodded. “We’ve already finished all of our preparations. We’ve even roped in many unhappy chancellors who had been deliberately suppressed by Wu Ding.”

“Good.” Lian’s expression eased a little. “Oh, right. There is something else that needs to be done. I need you to make a trip.”

“This subordinate won’t hesitate to complete any tasks the high priest needs me to take care of!” his aide said right away, clasping his fist at his master.

Lian looked in the direction of the imperial palace. The image of Wu Ding pressing down on his childhood sweetheart made him clench his fists so tightly that his nails were about to dig into his skin. “Find a way to contact Fu Hao on the front lines. Let her know that this incapable ruler of hers has already begun playing around with other women from the moment she left, and that he is spending all his days messing around the palace.”

His trusted aide’s eyes brightened, and he said with admiration, “The High Priest’s tactics are truly marvelous! By ruining their relationship, even if Fu Hao returns victorious, their relationship will never be the same again. The fiefdom under Fu Hao is powerful, which makes her one of Wu Ding’s most powerful allies. If Fu Hao ever chooses to withdraw her support for him, he will be finished!”

He sighed deeply, full of admiration for what he was witnessing. He didn’t fully approve of the high priest sending his own beloved woman into the palace, but now, he could see that the high priest really was someone with acute foresight!

Lian sneered as well. “There isn’t a woman in this world who does not feel jealousy. Make it look natural. We don’t want Fu Hao to grow suspicious.”

The trusted aide clasped his fist. “I understand!”

“Go, and do what needs to be done.” Lian waved his hand. He’d spent such a long time laying out his plans, and it was now about time to reel in the net. It was also time for that incapable king to feel some pain.

A few days later, Zu An was lying in Xiao Tuo’s warm embrace, relaxing as she fed him grapes one by one.

Zu An was fully immersed in the enjoyment of this heavenly lifestyle when someone hurriedly brought in a report from outside the palace.

“It’s already so late in the evening. What kind of secret report could there be? Leave.” Zu An was slightly annoyed, and refused to see the messenger. He turned around and buried his head in Xiao Tuo’s chest.

Xiao Tuo blushed and said in a gentle voice, “My king, these matters of state are extremely important. I’m sure he’s come with important news, especially if he’s bothering you so late.”

She had already been contacted by Lian beforehand, so she knew what was going on. She had her own part to play.

Xiao Tuo sighed when she looked at the man who was resting comfortably in her embrace. From the time they’d spent together, she had begun to realize that this man wasn’t as bad as she’d always thought he was. On the contrary, he actually treated her pretty well.

She had rejected him at first, but later on, even if her mind wasn’t willing, her body instinctively welcomed him. In time, even she began to wonder if she was truly unwilling or not.

No! Big brother Lian is the one I love! I entered this palace for his sake. You cannot let this incapable king deceive you! She warned herself constantly.

She had secretly taken a look at many of the king’s confidential documents during their time together, and she’d also overheard his conversations with his trusted aide, all of which she reported to Lian. She was already too deep undercover to back out now.

“Fine. Since Xiao Tuo is asking me to, I’ll grant him an audience,” said Zu An with a chuckle. He gestured for the messenger to come in.

Xiao Tuo felt slightly entranced by his smile. This man really did treat her quite well. She couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him.

In a few moments, someone entered and offered him a report. He was a mid-level commander in Wu Ding’s army, and he had risked this trip back to inform him about the situation on the front lines.

Fu Hao learned that her husband had taken in a new woman soon after she had left. While she was braving dangers day after day on the battlefield, the king was playing around in the palace. This left her infuriated, and many of Fu Hao’s subordinates were angered as well. All of them advised her to break away from him.

Many of the members of Wu Ding’s own guard learned of this, so they sent someone back to let him know, as they were all worried that something might happen. That way, he could make some preparations himself. The best countermeasure would be to send another general to take her place before she truly made her decision to rebel.

After listening to the report, Zu An’s expression grew thoughtful. He tapped his finger lightly against the table.

Xiao Tuo immediately rushed over and knelt down. “My king, this is all Xiao Tuo’s fault! I’ve ruined your relationship with the queen! Please, send me to the queen and let her punish me.”

Zu An’s eyes grew cold when he heard what she said. She claimed to be begging for forgiveness, but in actuality, she was offering herself up as living proof of the discord between the king and queen. If it hadn’t been him and Pei Mianman playing the roles of the king and queen, she might have truly accomplished her objective.

He turned to look at the commander. “Are you certain that you heard the queen voice her thoughts of rebellion?”

“The queen has not expressed any clear attitudes on the matter yet,” clarified the commander. “However, she is clearly uncertain, and her aides are inciting her against you. Respectfully, she might point her spears at you at any time. Once she returns to Yin Capital, she might start a huge rebellion!”

Zu An chuckled. “You’re quite sharp. You knew that I wouldn’t believe you if you said that the queen is rebelling. Instead, you worded your statement ambiguously to make me second guess myself.” 

The commander stiffened, and Xiao Tuo frowned as well. Things did not seem to be going according to plan.

“Someone drag this liar away and have him executed!” commanded Zu An.

According to the customs of the Shang Dynasty, it was well within his rights to turn this man into a human sacrifice as punishment. However, Zu An could not stomach such a decision, so he decided to let him have an easy death instead.

In a flash, two tall guards entered the room. They each grabbed the commander by an arm and took him away.

“I am being wronged, my king! Everything I said was true!” The man struggled frantically, but there was no way he could break free.

Zu An couldn’t be bothered with him anymore. Instead, he marveled at the cultivation of these palace guards. That officer was quite strong himself, yet he was less than nothing before those two guards.

The skeleton warrior that had been guarding the gate seemed to share a similar build as them. No wonder it had been so ferocious.

The commander’s anguished voice gradually faded, and the palace became quiet once more.

Xiao Tuo’s expression was pale. She couldn’t help but say, “My king, why did you have him put to death without even investigating if what he said was true? What if all the things he said really did happen? Also, if you sentence him to death straight after he rushed back from the front lines, wouldn’t that decrease the morale of our loyal soldiers?”

“There is no way what he said is true,” Zu An replied indifferently. “I trust the queen, just as I know the queen trusts me. There can be no betrayal between us.”

What kind of joke was this? He knew exactly what kind of relationship he and Pei Mianman shared.

To a certain degree, they were both tourists in this world. They only had each other, and there was no way they would let themselves be deceived by the natives, let alone the fact that they were lovers who had already braved great dangers together.

He had wondered all along what the most dangerous part of this trial would be, and among the things he suspected, the difficulty of communicating across a great distance was a big concern. After all, rumors could distort the real truth. There were many examples of this that even junior high students knew about. That was why he had been careful to warn Pei Mianman about these dangers before she left.

“But then, given the way my king treats me, aren’t you already betraying the queen to some extent?” Xiao Tuo said weakly.

Zu An fixed his stare on her. “You tried to seduce me while harboring ulterior motives, and I was merely playing your game, using you to mislead the one behind you. Why would the queen blame me for that?”

Even though this was what he said, he still felt rather guilty inside. However, he decided that Manman probably wouldn’t mind whatever happened between him and an NPC.

Xiao Tuo felt as if she had been struck by lightning. She continued to deny it feebly, mumbling, “My king, what are you saying? I… I don’t understand.”

Zu An chuckled. “Xiao Tuo, I know you were sent by Lian. The two of you were childhood sweethearts, and shared a deep affection for one another. I didn’t expect him to send you to the palace to serve me. That was truly a great sacrifice.”

“You… you knew about everything.” Xiao Tuo felt the last of her strength leak out of her. For some reason, however, she felt no fear. Instead, it was as though she had been released from an iron cage.

“That’s right. I knew from the very beginning.” Zu An walked over to her and looked at her. Then, he carried her and walked over to the bed.

Xiao Tuo finally snapped out of her daze, and began to struggle frantically. “No! Let me go!”

Zu An’s voice was icy cold. “You’ve already served me many, many times. The two of us were practically glued together. Why are you suddenly behaving like this?”

“That was different!” Xiao Tuo began to sob. She could numb herself before with the thought that it was all for the sake of her mission, and that it was all part of her lover’s plan.

Now that everything had been exposed, however, how could she continue to remain with this man?

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