The Tyrant’s Cannon Fodder Male Empress Chapter 76

Chapter 76

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The imperial physicians decided on a prescription, completely ignoring Xue Yao’s proposal to isolate the patients.

This problem was evidently much more severe than the challenges of the Road to Shu and procuring provisions.

Although it could not be confirmed that this plague was the Black Death, it was unmistakably a highly lethal contagious disease with an almost 100% mortality rate.

Without the cooperation of these imperial physicians and the local residents in implementing isolation measures, Xue Yao found himself with no viable options.

The bubonic plague was indeed a city-destroying level of threat, with an extremely short incubation period. Once infected, within a mere three to seven days, the afflicted individuals would succumb to the disease..

In historical records of plagues, just the 14th-century bubonic plague alone killed over half of the English population and more than seventy percent of the French.

It also spread to China in 1910.

Even in the early 20th century, the medical community widely believed that the bubonic plague was transmitted from rats to humans, rather than through human-to-human transmission.

In ancient China, there was no understanding of the Yersinia pestis bacterium, and the physician Wu Xuanchong, who wrote the “Method for Treating Bubonic Plague,” believed that the disease’s pathogen originated from the local atmosphere.

What was considered common knowledge in modern times was a trial-and-error process in ancient times, with no concept of prevention, hygiene, or sterilization.

In this situation, Xue Yao had only one option – to urgently dispatch a 600-mile message to the Crown Prince, and request an immediate appointment as the head of epidemic control and grant him temporary authority to deploy troops in three counties.

It had to be enforced through the use of military strength.

In truth, the Crown Prince didn’t hold such significant authority. If he did, Xue Yao would have presented these demands before arriving.

To secure these powers, it required the Crown Prince to petition the Emperor. However, the Crown Prince aimed to keep the epidemic under wraps and resolve it swiftly, to prevent blame for natural disasters and human calamities.

But now, the situation couldn’t remain hidden. If it was indeed the bubonic plague, the death toll in these three counties would likely exceed fifty percent in the future.

The reason the epidemic hadn’t continued to spread outward was probably due to the limited external communication of these three counties. This plague spread too quickly, and the refugees carrying the disease likely perished locally before escaping.

Once the physicians dispersed, Xue Yao quickly penned an urgent letter and had Fourth Zhang deliver it to the relay station. Afterward, he returned to his quarters to retrieve the masks he had prepared in advance, distributing them to the imperial physicians.

He earnestly implored the physicians repeatedly, emphasizing the necessity of wearing masks during patient visits and washing hands with soap immediately afterward.

In the following days, Xue Yao refrained from accompanying other physicians on their rounds.

Now, he awaited the Crown Prince’s response. If he gained authority over the troops, Xue Yao would immediately enforce the isolation of the patients.

If the Crown Prince continued to conceal the situation and failed to mobilize troops, Xue Yao would set off on his journey back to the capital.

There was no choice but to await death if he stayed, and he still had a chubby little dumpling to care for.

However, after six days passed without receiving a response from the Crown Prince, Xue Yao received devastating news.

The people of Pingrong County intended to gather and perform a “Ward-off Plague Deity” ritual.

From the local officials, Xue Yao learned that this ritual involved having the patients sit collectively at the altar.

Shockingly, the ritual even included the consumption of water mixed with ash, a potentially deadly act.

Despair and helplessness were emotions Xue Yao hadn’t experienced in a decade.

If such a “mass contagion ceremony” were to actually take place, Pingrong County would be in grave danger.

Xue Yao promptly visited the county magistrate of Pingrong, showing him a letter bearing the Crown Prince’s seal and his personal signature, requesting his cooperation to prevent the assembly of the people.

This put the magistrate in a very difficult position.

The Ward-off Plague Deity ritual did not violate the imperial law, and there was no official reason to suppress it based on principles or logic.

Pingrong County had just endured natural disasters and now faced an epidemic. The common people were already suffering greatly. Stopping them from seeking divine intervention to ward off the plague might lead to significant unrest.

Xue Yao noticed the county magistrate’s reluctance.

“Master, the Crown Prince specifically dispatched me to Pingrong County to manage the epidemic. In a few days, he will send me the official military command token, so I won’t need your assistance. However, until the token arrives, the situation is urgent. I implore you to cooperate.”

The county magistrate put on a placating smile but remained unyielding, “Since the Crown Prince has sent you to control the epidemic, why not allow the people to perform the Ward-off Plague Deity ritual?”

Xue Yao: “……”

Explaining contagion to him at this juncture was like speaking a foreign language. Even the most persuasive words wouldn’t sway him.

So, there was no choice but to…

“Do you know who my grandfather is?” Xue Yao’s expression turned stern.

It was time to pull out the big guns!

Pulling rank or dropping famous names, this tactic worked in all eras, ancient or modern.

The county magistrate paused, nervously responding, “I am ashamed to admit my ignorance…”

“Zhou Chong,” Xue Yao stated directly.

The county magistrate found it hard to believe, “Zhou… Master Zhou? Is it that…”

“That’s right,” Xue Yao smiled slightly, “He’s Zhou Chong, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Imperial Cabinet and the Minister of Personnel.”

The county magistrate, accompanied by his staff, followed Xue Yao to the site of the ritual to prevent the common people from erecting the sacrificial altar.

As expected, they faced fierce resistance from the local residents.

Elderly people, desperate to save their children, knelt and wept at the county magistrate’s feet, pleading for mercy on behalf of the people.

The county magistrate looked conflicted as he helped the elderly stand, attributing it to superior orders.

He claimed that “superiors” prohibited private rituals among the common people because a Daoist priest had already been summoned to perform a ritual in the capital, and the plague deity would soon depart.

Xue Yao knew that the “plague deity” wouldn’t leave so easily and warned the common people that their ritual not only wouldn’t drive the deity away but could attract more harm.

Naturally, no one believed the words of this young aristocrat dressed in noble attire.

However, the common people dared not provoke the authorities. Seeing the county magistrate’s mix of persuasion and coercion, they reluctantly dismantled the altar.

However, it seemed that among those who had constructed the altar, there were latent patients. That same day, seven households developed symptoms of the plague.

Some speculated that the cancellation of the initial ritual, along with the dismantling of the altar, had angered the plague deity, leading to more lives being taken.

Consequently, the common people urgently began preparations once more for the ritual.

Xue Yao hurried back to the county office, requesting the county magistrate to intervene once more.

This time, the common people were less willing to be deceived. The authorities used force to disperse the crowds, arrested several instigators, and only then managed to quell the situation.

Every day, when the imperial physicians went on their rounds, eunuchs arranged by Xue Yao monitored them to ensure they wore masks and washed their hands.

While this measure was meant to protect their lives, many imperial physicians couldn’t help but feel humiliated by this peculiar young man. They believed that Xue Yao, leveraging the Crown Prince’s authority, was intentionally toying with and demeaning them.

Xue Yao’s actions in Pingrong County consisted solely of enforcing mask-wearing and handwashing among the local people who wanted to gather for a ritual. He never conducted consultations or discussed prescriptions.

It was easy to imagine that the private opinion of the imperial physicians regarding this young man had reached an all-time low.

Xue Yao couldn’t explain himself in this matter and could only remain calm, focusing on eating, sleeping, and waiting for the official military command token.

On that particular night, as Xue Yao slumbered, he vaguely sensed a chilling draft creeping over his neck.

In a drowsy state, he pulled his blanket higher, and his hand inadvertently encountered something cold.

Xue Yao’s body tensed, and he slowly opened his eyes.

In the pitch-black darkness of a moonless, unopened-windowed night, he could make out a pair of eyes reflecting a few glimmers, glaring at him with fierce hostility.

Xue Yao’s blood rushed to his head in an instant, his scalp tingling.

“Don’t make a sound,” a stranger with a rural accent whispered.

Xue Yao held his breath, and his eyes gradually adapted to the darkness. By the bedside stood a plainly dressed, burly man with a cloth covering his face, leaving only his eyes exposed. He held a farming sickle against Xue Yao’s neck.

“Stay calm,” Xue Yao tried to keep his voice steady.

“Stay calm, my balls! My father just passed away three hours ago, and I want you, you dog official, to accompany him in death! It’s all because of you that we couldn’t ward off the plague deity! You won’t let us!”

“Don’t get agitated,” Xue Yao lay still on his bed, maintaining eye contact, “I’m not an official, and I’m not preventing you from warding off the plague deity. I just don’t want you to attract the plague.”

“Nonsense!” The enraged man, breathing heavily, scolded vehemently, “You’re not an official? Then why does the county magistrate listen to you? It was you who ordered the dismantling of the altar that angered the plague deity! You dog official!”

He became increasingly agitated as he spoke, gripping the sickle tightly, his eyes showing a murderous glint.

Xue Yao saw his intention to harm and immediately said, “Think about your wife and children!”

The man, who had been ready to attack, paused, his grip on the sickle loosening. “What about my wife and children? What do you want with them?”

“If you kill me, your entire family will be executed.”

“Who would know it was me who killed you? After I kill you, I’ll climb over the wall!”

Xue Yao tried to intimidate him, “Forensic examiners can tell from the blade’s marks that it was your sickle that killed the person.”

The burly man shivered at the words, looking down at his sickle, then angrily declared, “I’ll throw it in the river!”

“Then buy a new sickle?”

“Yes! Buy a new one. Who could tell?”

“But what if the constable notices your family’s new sickle? How could they not suspect you?”

Solving a murder case wasn’t that simple, but Xue Yao thought the man appeared gullible and easy to deceive.

The burly man was indeed taken in by his words. His hand gripping the sickle trembled uncontrollably.

Apart from the man’s heavy breathing, the room was filled only with the pounding of Xue Yao’s heart.

His mind was in turmoil at this moment, filled with chaotic thoughts.

He had never imagined he would die so inexplicably at the hands of a stranger.

He had wanted to save people, but this rescuer had been misunderstood.

If this sickle were to come down, what would be the point of his second chance at life?

The Crown Prince’s position was no longer secure.

He also raised the Long Aotian cub into a husky.

What could be done?

He couldn’t accept this fate.

“Calm down a bit. I’m not an official. I came all the way from the capital to Pingrong County to save all of you.”

Xue Yao looked into the burly man’s eyes with sincerity. “The last time I was here, I distributed low-interest grain to you. It was the grain I painstakingly collected from Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Did you borrow any grain? Do you remember? When you registered, I sat near the government office table to make sure nobody tampered with the records and took advantage of the common people.”

The burly man’s eyes gradually widened, carefully examining Xue Yao’s face.

In reality, Xue Yao wasn’t present to supervise the grain distribution all the time, and most of the farmers had never even seen him.

Xue Yao felt there was potential in this situation. A farmer seeking revenge for his father, even at the risk of his own life, how evil could he be? With a bit more persuasion, perhaps he could save his life.

“My maternal grandfather is a high-ranking official in the capital, and he cares for the people. My family is from Jiangsu, and we have no connection to Pingrong County. I have no grudges here. Why would I harm the local people? Instead, I lent over a million stones of grain to the three disaster-stricken counties. To put it bluntly, if something happens to the common people, I’ll be left with nothing but a loss.”

The burly man probably couldn’t find a rebuttal. “Then why did you stop us from warding off the plague deity?”

“Because your kind of ritual is, in fact, inviting the plague deity.”

Explaining scientific principles wouldn’t work, so Xue Yao had to combat superstition with superstition. He made up on the spot, “In our capital, a genuine celestial master predicted that you were deceived by the lie of the plague deity and were strengthening the deity’s power through this ritual. That’s why he sent me to stop it.”

The burly man retorted angrily, “What kind of nonsense celestial master do you have in the capital! This ritual has been our county’s tradition for hundreds of years! It can’t possibly be a lie of the plague deity!”

Xue Yao fell silent and watched him calmly.

Inside, he was actually quite anxious.

What to do? He couldn’t think of any more excuses.

“You’ve run out of excuses, haven’t you?” The burly man sensed his lack of words.

“You don’t believe me,” Xue Yao said, “So, would you be willing to make a bet with me? If you agree, I’ll persuade the magistrate to allow your group to perform the ritual.”

The burly man asked in confusion, “What kind of bet?”

Xue Yao took a deep breath and explained, “You can perform the ritual, but only five representative villagers who are determined to hold the ritual against all odds will be allowed to attend. You’ll follow your custom, and after the ritual, everyone must disperse immediately and return home. I’ll make a bet with you: among the five village representatives who participate in the ritual, at least three will contract the plague and die within five days! If this prediction comes true, it should prove that this ritual invites the plague rather than sends it away, right?”

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