# 177. Business Trip Xu Qi’an didn’t stay at with the second princess for too long, as in the afternoon he still had to patrol. Thus, he had to bid her farewell. Biaobiao was reluctant to let him go, saying with a frown: “Xu Ningyan, I can go tell Father to give you a job in the palace, and be our guard.” *What future is there in being your guard? You really want me to be your workhorse…* Xu Qi’an said helplessly: “Your Highness, your subordinate still has some aspirations.” Clearly, being Biaobiao’s workhorse did not have the future potential of serving under Wei Yuan. Emperor Yuanjing spoiled Biaobiao, since not only was she able to pout and act coquettish, but also because she was cute and naive, and had no schemes in her heart. As for Princess Huaiqing and the other royal children, they were always looking to push their own confidants into powerful positions, seeking any opportunity to do so — such as the Sangpo case. When Biaobiao tried to ask Emperor Yuanjing to pardon Xu Qi’an’s death penalty to no effect, Xu Qi’an had already seen what type of person he was. “Second Princess, what strife is there, your subordinate is only a small Nightwatcher.” Xu Qi’an’s heart said: *We’re not suited together.* “No one else is interesting, they’re always timid and jumpy when talking to me.” Lin’an pouted her small mouth, swinging her legs, “I don’t like to read, I can’t play the qin or draw, I’m bored every day in the palace. When I was little brother crown prince would come play with me, but now when I go find him, he just frowns, and always says he’s busy.” *What a poor princess, like a bird of paradise in a golden cage… but isn’t Princess Huaiqing free to go in and out…* Xu Qi’an thought a bit, and thought it through. Huaiqing was the type of strong, independent woman where if you give her three thousand soldiers, she could command all under heaven. She was clever and well versed in many matters, and was scarily able. Out of all of Emperor Yuanjing’s daughters, none could really compare to Huaiqing in in talent and finesse. Lin’an however, was different, she was a little princess with a mischievous temper, with no thoughts or schemes, and was easy to be manipulated by ambitious and malicious people. Xu Qi’an naturally automatically struck himself off the list of said people. “The solution is quite simple; Your Highness can move to your own manor. The Imperial city is much more interesting than the palace complex itself.” Xu Qi’an said. Lin’an was a princess royal with noble titles; she had her own mansion in the imperial city. “Then tomorrow come to Lin’an Manor.” Biaobiao said. Before lunch Lin’an arranged a palanquin to go to Jingxiu Palace. Noble Consort Chen had invited her son and daughter to her palace to have lunch. During lunch, as the crown prince was eating Consort Chen’s carefully prepared meal, he suddenly said: “I overheard from the servants that Wei Yuan gave the Empress a secret ingredient, which cured her anorexia.” Consort Chen laughed, “Indeed this is the case, it seems to be called … chicken bouillon? I heard that after one adds a little bit of it to one’s cooking, the flavour it adds was hard to forget.” The crown prince saw Noble Consort Chen’s longing, “If mother wants to try some, son can go to the Empress to ask for some.” Consort Chen smiled: “I heard Princess Huaiqing went to ask for some, but was refused.” Both mother and son felt a bit helpless. Princess Lin’an looked at her mother and brother, and confirmed with them: “It’s chicken bouillon yes?” The crown prince looked at her: “You’ve heard of it too?” The simple-minded Lin’an didn’t ever pay much attention to gossip floating around the rear palace, and so she shook her head: “Today Xu Ningyan gifted me a thing, it was also called chicken bouillon.” She summoned a maid: “Go get it for me from my palace.” Fifteen minutes later, the maid, panting and puffing, returned, the small bottle from Lin’an’s palace in her hand. The crown prince first snatched it over, took off the cork, and sniffed it. What hit his nose was a sharp umami smell. Just by smelling it, he couldn’t experience it’s mystical properties. “Get the kitchen to heat the food up a bit more, add some of this … chicken bouillon, let us try it?” The crown prince’s suggestion got the approval of his mother and sister. Not long later, the palace maids brought back the newly steaming hot dishes. The three royals didn’t immediately pick up their chopsticks however, looking towards the maid. The maid first used a silver needle to test for poison, and then picked up her own bowl and chopsticks.[^1] She tried each dish in turn, and after all were tried, the crown prince saw a clear reluctance to stop in her eyes. She didn’t dare continue eating however, merely looking at the food with great longing. After a while, seeing that the maid was fine, the crown prince hurried her: “Serve us a bowl of turtle soup.” The maid simultaneously ladelled soup, and laughed: “Your Highness’s eyes are sharp, this soup’s flavour is difficult to forget.” The crown prince impatiently took the bowl, took a long sip, and exclaimed: “What a different flavour… mother, Lin’an, try some, you need to try some.” Consort Chen hadn’t seen her son this happy in a long time, and felt happy for him too. Lin’an had already made her move. She didn’t go for the turtle soup, rather picking a piece of vegetable. As she chewed, she unconsciously reached for another mouthful, then another… After lunch, Noble Consort Chen, having not seen her son and daughter eat so happily in a long time, was extremely happy. “What a thing, but it’s such a small bottle… how much effort would the royal kitchen need to attain this level.” The crown prince sighed, and without batting an eyelid stowed the bottle into his own sleeve pocket. Biaobiao’s eyes widened, as she pounced over, clutching the crown prince’s sleeve with an iron grip, her willow-thin brows almost vertical: “It’s mine!” “Isn’t that Xu Qi’an your person, you can go ask him for more.” the crown prince spoke sternly, “Let go.” “I won’t let go, this is mine.” Neither brother nor sister could come to an agreement, and so they got Noble Consort Chen to mediate. Consort Chen scolded them with good natured laughter: “How old are you now, you’re like children. If you want your mother to say, leave it with me, this is fairest.” “…” Both the crown prince and Lin’an turned their heads, continuing to fight. … *I never knew that what Xu Qi’an gave me is so precious.* Biaobiao sat in her palanquin, fiddling with the bottle filled a third up with chicken bouillon. That little bit of dissatisfaction she had with Xu Qi’an had slowly evaporated all away. She wasn’t really that dumb, when Xu Qi’an was taking advantage of her she was only keeping one eye open, one eye closed is all. Since if she did not get him over to her side, this Bronze Gong would immediately rush into Huaiqing’s embrace. He also knew how to speak well, he also knew how to play, and so Lin’an didn’t want to let him go. Thus she was happy to give him some useless paintings and silver. *This small Bronze Gong’s double dealing is really adept, I need to go confirm…* Lin’an said: “Go towards Huaiqing’s place.” Coming to Huaiqing’s manor, they ignored the guards’ trying to block them, and Lin’an with her pale face raised met that dastardly Huaiqing in the front hall. The two extraordinarily beautiful women exchanged looks. On Huaiqing’s pale, graceful face, her eyebrows furrows slightly: “What are you doing here.” “I heard that Wei Yuan gifted mother Empress a special ingredient, that cured her anorexia. This has spread around in the palace.” Lin’an walked over to an antiquities shelf, her red dress trailing behind her, and traced her hands around the blue paintings on a porcelain pot, saying casually: “Does Sister Huaiqing have any?” “I do not.” Huaiqing said emotionlessly. “You really don’t?” Lin’an immediately turned around, her eyes sparkling, “restless and stirring” written across her oval face. Princess Huaiqing stared back, saying lightly: “Why would I lie to you.” “Well I’m happy you don’t.” Lin’an — Biaobiao — took out her little bottle, and happily waved it around, laughing loudly: “I do!” “…” Seeing that Huaiqing’s expression was not right, she was even happier, but to stop herself from being beaten up, she immediately took her retreat, her show-off performance finished: “We’re going now, you don’t need to escort us. Oh, right, this was gifted to us by Xu Ningyan.” *Xu Ningyan…* On Princess Huaiqing’s smooth white forehead, a vein suddenly bulged slightly. … The next day, after eating lunch at the Goulan, the three Goulan-goers picked their teeth, and with large pompous steps came back to the constabulary. They had an hour break for lunch, and so the three Nightwatchers wanted to return to the constabulary to cultivate. Today Xu Qi’an also paid the bill, though this time they were just there for food, and nothing more. A martial artist’s home usually didn’t have much spare food at hand. After freeloading off Xu Ningyan for several days, Song Tingfeng felt a bit embarrassed, and seeing that there was a stall selling oranges on the street, said: “You two wait here, I’ll go buy some oranges.” “Oy, I’ll go buy them, you wait here.” Xu Qi’an stopped him. “Ningyan, you’re too kind, too kind.” Song Tingfeng maintained his stance. “Anything else is fine, but I must be the one to buy oranges. If you really want to buy them, then you’re paying next time we go to the Jiaofangsi.” Xu Qi’an said angrily. Song Tingfeng thus admitted defeat. Returning back, Xu Qi’an received Wei Yuan’s summons. *Daddy Wei is liking me more and more…* he happily ran towards the Tower of Noble Spirit, and after the guard had sent word of his presence, he met the azure-cloaked Wei Yuan in his tea room. This great eunuch with his whitening temples and scholarly manner was just in the middle of drinking tea. He pointed to the seat opposite him: “Pour yourself some tea.” Xu Qi’an, stomach full of alcohol, didn’t actually want to drink any tea, but still poured himself a cup nonetheless. “You must not drink on duty.” Wei Yuan lectured. “Oh you, apart from having some sense of justice the rest of you is filled with bad habits. You’re flippant and insincere, undisciplined, constantly going in and out of the Jiaofangsi. If I were your political enemy, you’d already be reincarnating into the next life.” “… your subordinate knows his mistakes.” Xu Qi’an put himself in the role of younger brother — no, son, that made him feel much better. “Whatever, the rivers and mountains are easy to move but a person’s nature is hard to change. If a person was that easy to change, then there would not be countless myriads of them on this world.” Wei Yuan had a very large tolerance of his underlings’ misbehaviour, and so didn’t press the matter. After taking a sip of tea, he handed over a dossier: “You need to go to Yunzhou.” *Yunzhou?* Xu Qi’an sat up straight, and began reading carefully. “A couple days ago, the Nightwatchers received a secret letter, which said that the Military Commissioner-in-chief Yang Chuannan has been secretly conspiring with bandits, supplying military supplies, and making profit from the trade.” Wei Yuan took another sip, continuing: “The second day after receiving that secret letter, the Qi clique moved with fiery speed, manufacturing the ‘corruption case’, using a large group of gold and silver gongs as their chips to force us to compromise.” *The Commissioner-in-chief of Yunzhou is part of the Qi clique? No wonder the Qi clique seemed so determined to beat down the Nightwatchers, they were hiding such an important thing.* *If I didn’t have my dog-shit luck, then would Wei Yuan have been prepared to use all those Gold and Silver Gongs to exchange for the Yunzhou Commissioner-in-chief? Wei Yuan is really cold… right, Number Two had said that the reason why Yunzhou’s bandits were difficult to rout was: the mountain bandits had the high ground, but also because they had plenty of military supplies — they weren’t any ordinary bandits, they must have had someone’s support.* *The Qi Clique is far away in the capital, and cannot remotely do anything, thus they must need a local official’s help…* Xu Qi’an had a great realisation. Wei Yuan continued: “After the message reached the capital, that spy died mysteriously, without saying anything more. His real identity was a registrar in the Regional Military Commission. “But he’s dead, and his proof is nowhere to be found. I have already reported this to His Majesty, and he will send an inspector general from the Censorate to Yunzhou to investigate this matter. “Your objective is to protect the inspector general, as well as find evidence.” Xu Qi’an, feeling himself in a somewhat difficult position, asked: “Why do I need to go to Yunzhou?” *Still not so willing…* Wei Yuan said: “This matter will be overseen by Jiang Lyuzhong, you will go along to learn in the field.” Xu Qi’an immediately felt a lot more reassured, “There’s… there’s one more matter. Duke Wei, chicken bouillon shouldn’t be consumed in large amounts, it easily causes thirst, so you should tell the kitchen to be conservative with it.” Wei Yuan had just lectured him, and not only did he not seek revenge, but even gave good-intentioned advice, Xu Qi’an felt that he was far too nice. Wei Yuan did not speak, pointing at the door. “Your subordinate will go now.” Xu Qi’an immediately ran off. --- [^1]: Silver is a test used for sulphur compounds - it reacts with sulphur to form silver sulphide, which takes on a black tarnish. This doesn’t actually detect for many poisons, but in ancient times arsenic (one of the most commonly used poisons) often contained sulphur impurities, which would be detected.