Chapter 120 – Lotus
After leaving the waterside pavilion, it was more accurate to say that Qu Chenzhou was pushing Madam Bai forward rather than supporting her.
They were looking for a place to rest and have someone bring them a change of clothes. The room where they had rested before was not far away, but Qu Chenzhou took several detours at the crossroads, choosing routes with fewer people. Even Madam Bai quickly realized that something was amiss.
“Chenzhou?” She sent her maid ahead and struggled to support her stomach as she asked in a low voice, “Where are we going? Did Zhongming give you any orders?”
“Shizi didn’t give me any orders. Madam, trust me this once, and follow me this way.”
Although they couldn’t see anyone, he knew that the Empress’s people were searching for them from behind. If they are caught, Madam Bai would be taken away to be alone with someone, and with his strength, he wouldn’t be able to stop it. No matter what the circumstances, the child would probably not survive.
Behind Madam Liu, it was indeed the Empress secretly plotting.
He believed that the Empress was already on guard against outsiders, and there must be even bigger moves within the palace. Who would be the target? Madam Liu? Concubine Xian? Concubine Yu? Concubine Ming? Or the Emperor?
But there was no time to think about these things now.
They needed to find Zhongming or General Bai as soon as possible. Since they had determined that the danger came from the Empress, the best way to take refuge was to get out of the West Garden as soon as possible.
Based on his memory of the West Garden, although they took a few detours, they were not too far away.
They passed through another moon cave gate and could faintly hear lively shouts and the clashing of weapons, as if people were sparring.
“Chenzhou…” Madam Bai frowned, leaning on the rail of a lotus pond with a pale face. “Let’s take a break.”
Qu Chenzhou wiped his sweat and asked a maid to quickly find General Bai. He then supported Madam Bai on the other side and whispered, “Madam, be careful of Madam Liu and the Empress in the future.”
Madam Bai was not a naive little girl. She had sensed that something was wrong since Qu Chenzhou spilled tea on her clothes, otherwise she wouldn’t have been protecting him all the time and not let the Empress touch him even with a finger.
At this moment, hearing him mention “Madam Liu” in his words, she already had some guesses in her mind, but the mere mention of those words made her bones chill.
But this child spoke so sincerely that she couldn’t bear not to believe him.
“Chenzhou…” She was about to reach out and touch Qu Chenzhou’s head when he suddenly turned his head to the direction they were heading.
Ever since he entered the Western Garden, Qu Chenzhou had been keeping in mind the divination Madam Bai received today – “A dragonfly on the tip of a lotus flower, a bow full moon.”
This divination was vague and he could not decipher its meaning, but just now, when he spoke to Madam Bai, he suddenly noticed the lotus pond beside them.
A dragonfly suddenly flew up from the tip of a lotus flower.
He hurriedly turned his head with joy and in the sunlight, he seemed to see a tiny reflection in his eyes.
The arrow was on the string.
Liu Zhongming’s gaze was fixed on the circle, where two people were dodging and weaving, thoroughly enjoying their fight. However, his mind couldn’t concentrate at all.
Earlier, the person he sent out came back and reported that Chenzhou was wandering around the garden with his aunt and had spoken with a few ladies before retiring to rest.
Later, he was informed that the Empress had summoned his aunt and Chenzhou had gone with her. His heart had been in his throat ever since.
But the Empress couldn’t stay outside for long, and his men couldn’t constantly loiter around the area. So, there was no further news for a while.
He was sitting too close to the Emperor and had tried to glean some information when he had the chance to slip away, but there had been no news from his aunt’s side.
After taking his seat, the Emperor teased him a few times, and his father also looked at him. So, he could only sit still and not move.
Moreover, the person on the field now was Bai Shiyan.
He was lost in thought for a moment, and when he noticed the person next to him standing up and being replaced by another, he knew trouble had come knocking. However, he kept a straight face and looked straight ahead.
“Shizi isn’t going to play?” The person poured him a cup of wine and handed it over, without showing any of the resentment he had just felt when he lost.
Liu Zhongming seemed to have just noticed that the person next to him had changed, and he was surprised. “It’s General Liao.”
“Shizi is not planning to stretch his muscles and bones?” Liao Guangming nodded at him and asked.
“General Liao is joking,” he raised his cup to the person and took a sip. “With my meager skills, I wouldn’t go up there and make a fool of myself.”
“Shizi is humble. Perhaps because of your young age, you may not know that Lord Marquis’s spear skills are supernatural. Even my master could barely defeat him back then.”
Liu Zhongming listened with a knot in his heart.
He had indeed heard people say that, but he had never seen his father wield a sword or a spear. Even he had learned from his uncle. It seemed like the person was trying to drive a wedge between him and his father.
Moreover, deliberately bringing up General Pei’s victory over his father and provoking him?
“Mhmm,” he replied calmly, “Winning and losing are commonplace in warfare. A single mistake can determine the outcome. General Liao need not take it to heart.”
Liao Guangming’s face looked unpleasant for a moment, but he quickly recovered and laughed it off, “Shizi is right, there’s no such thing as always winning or always losing.”
Liu Zhongming did not look at him directly, but instead smiled slightly. It was clear that his attitude was different from usual, with hints of both yielding and advancing, indicating that he had something to ask for from Liu Zhongming.
The timing was indeed perfect.
Last year, the abandoned burial ground was properly flattened by the hired migrant workers, and fragrant sandalwood was planted. Following Qu Chenzhou’s suggestion, they even left a few vacant spaces.
As a result, not only was the location appropriate, but there was also room to build a martial arts training ground and temporary military barracks, and even the forest for mountain training was planted.
There was no better place than this.
He increasingly regretted his previous obstinacy and conceit and even felt that handing over his family’s assets to Qu Chenzhou to manage and receiving a monthly allowance was not a bad idea.
His gaze fell on the battlefield, where Bai Shiyan’s techniques were fierce and powerful, pressing his opponent so hard that he couldn’t lift his head, which was completely different from the previous match.
“What does Shizi think of Ren Rui?” the person beside him asked again.
Although everyone in the capital knew of Liao Guangming’s unscrupulous ways, Liu Zhongming had to admit that Ren Rui, who came from a wild background and had Qi Wang supporting him, was like a mad dog, as Qu Chenzhou said.
This mad dog somehow managed to bite Liao Guangming.
Although they deliberately stirred up trouble, if Ren Rui hadn’t instigated the officials from the Southern Bureau to fight against the Jinxiu Ying, it wouldn’t have gone so smoothly.
To make matters worse, in today’s imperial martial arts competition, Ren Rui walked onto the stage with his spear, grinning and directly pointing at Liao Guangming.
As usual, Liao Guangming would not be afraid of him, but in recent years, the main task of the Jinxiu Ying has always been to raid and kick down doors. Liao Guangming hasn’t been on horseback with his spear for a long time, and Ren Ru kept targeting his weaknesses.
The Emperor spoke, and he couldn’t help but step forward with a stiff scalp.
After all, he was a disciple of Pei Xiao, not a soft-shelled shrimp that could be kneaded by anyone. Even if he was a bit rusty, Liao Guangming still held the upper hand.
Ren Rui kept retreating while fighting.
Suddenly, Bai Shiyan nudged Liu Zhongming, and at that moment, they did not miss the fleeting smile on Ren Rui’s face.
In an instant, Ren Rui’s long spear was disarmed, and he was standing in front of Liao Guangming’s spear.
However, this was just a sparring match that had to stop at a certain point. If it ended with blood splattered three feet, it would be difficult to conclude. Liao Guangming stopped in time, but in the moment when the two horses passed by each other, Ren Rui took advantage of the opportunity to knock him off his horse with a palm strike.
The Emperor couldn’t understand this, and didn’t know that Ren Rui had relied on trickery to turn the tables. He naturally praised Ren Rui.
Liao Guangming usually had too many enemies, and even Bai Shining wouldn’t explain anything extra, while the others pretended to be deaf and dumb.
He had planned to admit defeat and leave, but Ren Rui was making modest remarks again, praising his martial arts skills to the sky and saying that he was better at arranging troops and fighting bandits, wanting to compete with the brothers of the Jinxiu Ying.
Liao Guangming knew too well what kind of people he had under him, so he refused directly. Unexpectedly, Qi Wang spoke up beside him, mentioning the attack he had suffered in Luo City two years ago.
Luo City was not far from the capital, and it was a prosperous place. The activities of bandits were rampant, making people fearful.
Qi Wang took the opportunity to suggest that since the terrain in the Western Garden was limited, rather than arranging military formations, they should focus on serving the people and stabilizing the region. He wanted to see who could pacify the bandits.
Liao Guangming was about to refuse, but Bai Shining stood up and volunteered to take on the challenge for him. He even offered to send his second son, who was causing trouble at home, to participate.
Before Ren Rui could say anything, Qi Wang humbly admitted that he believed that Bai Shining was a talented young general and if Ren Rui were to face him, he wouldn’t stand a chance.
Qi Wang and Bai Shining continued to exchange compliments, making Liao Guangming feel increasingly uncomfortable.
After some pleasantries, the emperor spoke, and Liao Guangming had no choice but to accept the challenge.
Liu Zhongming absentmindedly scanned the crowd. His men had not been seen for a while, and he was anxious.
He and Shilei had to accompany the emperor, but Shiyan and Qingchi were free to move around. Now he could only hope that the two of them hadn’t forgotten their instructions.
“Qi Wang is impressive, and Ren Rui is undoubtedly a talented general. But I have faith in Commander Liao. I even bet on him with Shiyan earlier. Don’t let me down, Commander, or I’ll lose my bet,” Liu Zhongming said.
“Thank you, Shizi,” Liao Guangming forced a smile. He had never been so humiliated before, surrounded by people who wanted to bet against him. He had no choice but to change the subject. “Speaking of bets, I feel it’s more straightforward and enjoyable to bet against you, Shizi.”
Liu Zhongming understood Liao Guangming’s gesture and knew that he was trying to use Pan He as a bargaining chip to exchange with him.
Pan He had been trapped in the Jinxiu Ying for a while, and when the other party pressed, he pretended to not understand.
“Is that so? I’m happy to as long as you are, Commander Liao.”
Seeing that the game was over and Bai Shiyan had already received his reward, Liu Zhongming was anxious to leave. It was better than just standing around here playing Tai Chi. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone hurriedly approaching him.
“Shizi,” the man lowered his voice and glanced at Liu Zhongming’s side. “Little Brother Qu has taken Madam Bai and left. We don’t know where they went.”
Liu Zhongming’s heart tightened. He knew Qu Chenzhou’s abilities. In the vast Western Garden, if he wanted to avoid being found, it would be difficult.
Something must have happened.
He immediately got up, but before he could get off the platform, he saw a maid next to his aunt rushing over from the Moon Cave Gate.
The noise on the platform immediately quieted down, and Bai Shining apologized and jumped down the steps.
“General!” The maid didn’t know what had happened, but she saw Bai Shining and held onto him as if he were a lifesaver. “Madam is over there…”
Before she could finish her sentence, someone in the distance screamed loudly, and there was chaos everywhere.
“Someone fell into the water!”
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