Chapter 544: Testing the Heart

While she was hesitating, she suddenly felt a familiar feeling, and she instinctively embraced the man in front of her.

Noticing her subconscious actions, Xiao Tuo finally acknowledged her fate. It seemed that even her body was accustomed to this man.

“Look at me.” A voice ordered beside her ear, which brooked no questioning.

She wanted to turn her head away, but Zu An turned her head right back.

Xiao Tuo felt extremely helpless as she caught sight of the satisfied smile in his eyes.

As they continued to gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, though, she suddenly felt a spark of tenderness blossom within her. Even though it was faint, she knew that her actions were no longer a result of sticking to a mission.

After goodness knows how long, Xiao Tuo found herself huddled within Zu An’s embrace, looking at him quietly.

He was already fast asleep. Even though Xiao Tuo was also exhausted as well, her mind was currently in a mess, and there was no way she would be able to follow suit.

Thoughts constantly raced through her mind, and as she observed them silently, she suddenly grew surprised. She noticed that her head was mostly filled with thoughts about this king and that she rarely thought about Lian at all.

Xiao Tuo looked at the man next to her, a complicated expression on her face. Could she really have developed feelings for him?

In the end, however, her exhaustion won out, and she gradually drifted off into the land of dreams. As she was dreaming, her brow furrowed, and her expression clearly mirrored her inner panic. She subconsciously moved closer towards Zu An. Only when she felt his body’s warmth and sensed his heartbeat did she gradually calm down.

When Xiao Tuo awoke the next morning, she discovered how closely she’d curled up against him as she slept, and her face grew bright red. She hadn’t expected to be so attached to him even when she was sleeping.

As she stared at his face—angular and strong, as though sculpted by a master—she blushed. This incapable king is pretty good-looking, I guess.

Her mind drifted off, absorbed by its own thoughts. Whenever she was with Lian, she found even breathing difficult, and most of her memories with him were filled with bitterness and suffering. Yet her memories of her time together with this man were much sweeter. Why was that? Could this be what love really felt like?

“I’ve heard that if one stares at someone for more than fifteen seconds, you will fall in love with them. You’ve been staring at me for quite a while.” Zu An’s teasing laughter echoed through the room.

Xiao Tuo’s heart skipped a beat, and she recoiled away from him. “You… you were already awake?”

“I woke up when I heard a certain someone’s heartbeat speed up.” Zu An pulled her slender waist straight into his arms. “We’re already a couple, there’s nothing to hide.”

“A couple…” A trace of warmth seeped into Xiao Tuo’s ice-cold heart.

Before she could say anything, however, she felt his weight on her. “It’s still early in the morning!” she cried out in alarm.

“So what if it’s morning?” Zu An seemed utterly unfazed.

Xiao Tuo’s pretty brows drew together slightly. She snorted, and then said, “You incapable king…”

She had always used this term as a way of cursing him, but now, there seemed to be a more ambiguous meaning behind it.

After they had played around for a while, Zu An called over his trusted aide. “Pass down the order that Manman… ahem, ahem… Fu Hao is to be granted the white banner and the yellow axe. She does not need to report to me first before making decisions regarding any military decisions.”

In this age, the white banner and the yellow axe represented royal power, and had never been granted to any other subject before.

Xiao Tuo was lying within the inner chamber, a complicated expression on her face. It seemed the king truly favored his queen. Furthermore, the extraordinary trust they had in each other was truly a rare and precious thing.

She knew that all of Lian’s efforts to drive a wedge between them and create unrest in Yin Capital had failed completely.

Zu An’s voice sounded again. “Inform everyone that I am taking Xiao Tuo as my lady. Have Fu Shuo and the others sort out the formalities.”

In the Shang Dynasty, the term ‘lady’ was synonymous with ‘concubine’.

Xiao Tuo was well and truly shocked. She had always assumed that she was nothing more than a toy to him. After all, she had entered the palace with ulterior motives, and she had accepted that this alone was to be her fate.

However, he had now acknowledged her as his lady. In the future, no one could treat her as a maid anymore, and had to greet her respectfully as Lady Tuo instead.

Even though she wouldn’t have as much authority as the queen, the difference was not terribly significant.

A sudden thought struck her. Even if Lian really had succeeded, this would be the best fate she could have been granted.

She was never a stupid girl. She knew that, by serving Wu Ding in the manner she did, none of the court officials would have ever agreed to her becoming the queen, even if Lian did not mind it.

Becoming one of his concubines was already the best she could have hoped for. What would have happened if Lian truly held her actions against her?

She had grown up with Lian, and she understood his temperament perfectly. She had just chosen not to think about this issue too deeply. However, having listened to Zu An’s analysis the previous night, she knew that he was correct. There was nothing good waiting for her if Lian had succeeded.

Now, Lian had absolutely no chance of success, and both her family’s lives and those of the people in her state were hanging on her decision.

She saw Zu An return to the inner chamber, and her expression grew complicated. “My king, Xiao Tuo doesn’t deserve such honor. I feel too ashamed to accept this. Please rescind that order!” she said.

The king truly treated her well, but the more he did so, the more guilty she felt.

Zu An laughed heartily. “A king cannot go back on his word so easily. Since I have already granted it to you, all you need to do is to accept it. Of course, if you feel that you haven’t done enough to earn it, there is something you can help me with.”

“Something that I can help with?” Xiao Tuo was bewildered. She couldn’t think of anything that the king couldn’t do himself, but had to rely on her for.

Zu An handed her a bamboo slip. “Pass this on to Lian.”

Xiao Tuo was shocked. She could read his intent even without looking at the contents. “No, I cannot harm him! My king, I will serve you with everything I have, but please do not make me personally do something so cruel!”

Even though she had given Lian some false information, she had only done so out of ignorance. Now that she knew that this was false and harmful information, how could she bring herself to deceive Lian?

Zu An smiled and said, “What’s wrong? You still can’t forget about him?”

Xiao Tuo remained silent. How could she let go of her childhood sweetheart so easily?

Zu An said coldly, “Xiao Tuo, there are times when we have to do things we don’t want to. If you don’t do this, how will I ever be able to trust you completely?”

Xiao Tuo bit her lip. She knelt in front of Zu An and begged for forgiveness. “Xiao Tuo knows that there is no way I can gain my king’s trust, but I cannot do anything to betray big brother Lian either! My king, please grant me death.”

“You cannot do anything to betray Lian?” Zu An laughed. “Haven’t you already done so several times last night?”

Xiao Tuo immediately blushed a bright red. She had slept with Zu An before for the sake of her mission. Lian had been aware of it as well, which was why she was able to keep her conscience clean.

However, with all that had happened last night, she had abandoned her mission and romped around with the king. To a certain extent, she had already betrayed Lian.

Zu An continued, “How about this? Let’s make a bet. Pass this information to Lian. If he trusts you and acts according to this piece of intelligence, then I will never force you to do anything again. I’ll even let you leave the palace and return to his side.”

“Really?” Xiao Tuo felt an initial burst of excitement when she heard this, but when she realized that this meant that she would be completely separated from Zu An, she hesitated.

“I’m not done yet.” Zu An’s tone changed. “If he doesn’t trust you and doesn’t act according to the information, then from today onwards, you will forget your past and fully devote yourself to me. What do you say?”

Xiao Tuo’s mouth fell open. She had a million things she wanted to say in that moment, but only a single word came out. 

“Fine!”

She was also curious as to what choice Lian would eventually make.

Zu An smiled when he saw Xiao Tuo processing the possibilities. He had never truly expected Xiao Tuo to have abandoned Lian completely.

If she had agreed to it without any hesitation, Zu An would not have been pleased. After all, how could he possibly trust a girl who would betray her childhood sweetheart so easily?

However, having her past lover on her mind was not ideal either. In fact, it would make it even harder for him to trust her.

As such, he decided upon this method of dealing with her. Even though Xiao Tuo was full of hope, he knew that there was only one possible conclusion.

The heart is best not tested.

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