Princess Agents: 特工皇妃楚喬傳
Chapter 106 The Coming Storm
"You're a child of the OuYang House?"
In the extremely small tent the four sat upright and still. Zhuge Yue examined the child up and down, noticing he was dressed in luxurious silks, and spoke quietly.
The little child seemed to be scared silly, like a frightened rabbit, plump and shaking as he sat on the ground. His head shrank inward, his eyes timidly stealing glances at Zhuge Yue, and then he stretched out a small hand to pull on his sleeve and cry pitifully, "Daddy…"
"I am not your father!"
*pa* When he slapped the child's hand away the child's mouth deflated, looking as if he was about to cry, but strongly resisted, not daring to.
Chu Qiao frowned, turned towards the other child and said seriously, "Star, did you bring him here?" Though little Star appeared very young, there was cleverness in her large eyes, and after hearing the question she stole a glance at Chu Qiao but said not a word.
"If you don't answer me I will kick you both out right now."
Star quickly raised her head and said in a childish voice, "Then if I tell you, can you just kick me out?"
As soon as she said these words Chu Qiao immediate paused and her frown disappeared. Then she asked, "Star, didn't you know that you would be in trouble if you brought him?"
"I…I knew." The little girl covered her mouth and her brow wrinkled tightly. "I can't bring him back to my family's tent. Daddy will tell steward Lin."
"So you brought him here?"
The little girls' head drooped dejectedly, "Mm-hm."
"Do you know one another?"
"We're really good friends!" Little Star lifted her head high, her childish face very serious. She puffed out her little chest, as if proclaiming a righteous oath with her words, "We've played together this entire trip!"
"Daddy.…" The child next to her again tried to pull at Zhuge Yue's sleeve, shriveled his mouth and lamented, "Mo'er is very hungry."
After being glared at by Zhuge Yue, the child turned to Star for help. His expression was that of hunger to the point of hardship, bullied and helpless, likely unable to even recognize the word 'friend'.
"Wait just a bit longer!" said little Star as she pat his shoulder, her eyes bright and clear.
Zhuge Yue and Chu Qiao were a bit stunned. This little daughter of a slave family would take such a risk and try her best to save another child simply because they had played together along the way. The word 'friend' as it was spoken from her mouth was actually a certainty, so firm that it garnered profound respect from the two adults beside her, neither of whom could utter another word in contradiction.
Such a sense of justice without second thought may have long disappeared in the world of men.
Chu Qiao's face softened and she asked quietly, "Where did you find him? Where have you two been hiding?"
Seeing Chu Qiao's expression relax, little Star's daring expanded considerably as she proudly answered, "Last night there were so many big soldiers, I was really scared so I hid in the back of the meadow. It was there that I saw a mister, and I recognized him as part of the same family as Mo'er. There was a big bird on his back and I had seen it before. His whole body was covered in blood, kneeling in the meadow, and he was holding Mo'er. He already wasn't breathing, but he was still tightly holding Mo'er without letting go. Mo'er was so scared he wanted to cry but he couldn't, he was so pale. That's when I took him out. I waited for the soldiers to leave and I took him back with me.
"Back?" asked Chu Qiao, eyebrow raised.
"Mm. But when Mommy saw she wouldn't let us inside, and Daddy just looked at Mo'er and panicked, saying he would report him. I knew that if the soldiers found out, Mo'er would be killed just like that other mister, so I pulled him along with me and ran away, and all day we stayed hidden in the meadow."
Mo'er sat on the ground, his head bowed and his mouth in a pout. He was listless, as if he was unaware the other three were talking about him at that moment. The child was simply too tired, staying hidden for so long as people were hunting him down to kill him. Hungry and thirsty, and the Daddy in front of him was still very mean, he had no interest in listening to these people talk. His head was muddled and he just wanted to sleep.
"Then why did you bring him to us?"
"I…I…." Little Star frowned, drumming up her courage for a while, then finally said in a small voice, "Big sister you're very kind, and this…this Big Uncle is still very fierce and powerful…."
"Big Uncle?" Zhuge Yue suddenly blinked and thumped little Star on her head, "Little rascal, don't carelessly label people!" (TN: Star uses a term “大叔" which is an honorific given to older men which literally means Elder Uncle. Another honorific would be Big Brother for a younger man. Zhuge Yue doesn't want to be seen as "old".… LOL)
Chu Qiao glanced at Zhuge Yue, and she naturally understood what Star meant. When the men rushed into the camp last night, they immediately had an encounter with Zhuge Yue, and it came to the point where they wanted him to kneel before them. But Zhuge Yue, being who he is, would never suffer these petty annoyances. In two moves he sent the two escorts crawling.
Luckily the Liu household had astute stewards, and they knew these two were just ordinary folk, having been introduced by escort leader Yu previously as a pair of rich travelers, origins unknown. They had nothing to do with the matter and Liu Xi had no desire to stir up more troubles, and so did not pursue it further.
Last night the families of Wang, Jia and OuYang lost their lives, with only this small, young master as the sole survivor. Thinking upon it further it was almost certain that an OuYang servant had protected him, risking his life to help him escape only to die before leaving camp, whereafter the child was discovered by the little slave girl and hidden away.
Liu's people thought the child had been saved and escaped, thus the search was directed outside of camp. But he was actually hiding in plain sight, preserving his strength. Little Star's parents knew their daughter had rescued the child, so they dared not report him.
Chu Qiao sighed and said, "Star, do you know it was very dangerous for you to do this?"
"I know," little Star's face was grim, and in her little mind perhaps she couldn't fathom why her rich little friend had fallen to this point overnight, she scratched her head and asked, "But what can we do?"
Right, what could they do? Would she have to betray her friend?
"So you brought him over to find us, and even instructed him to call us 'daddy' and 'mommy' in order to gain our sympathy?"
The little girl's head drooped lower and lower, as if realizing her actions were not altogether righteous.
Chu Qiao took a deep breath, and reached out to bring little Star into an embrace, and heaved as sigh, "You really are a good child."
At that time, with the sound of a *plop* the little boy's head fell askew, and landed against Zhuge Yue's chest and continued to sleep in his lap, drooling out of the side of his mouth, his small stomach moving in unison with his breaths, snoring a little as he slept soundly.
"Get up! Who let you sleep like this? Get up you…."
The little boy reluctantly opened his eyes, saw Zhuge Yue's face flaming with anger which caused his eyes to crumple dejectedly as he said in a tiny, grievous voice, "I'm so hungry…."
From outside, they heard the sudden sound of noisy footfalls, and the two children were at once stiff, frightened like little birds at the sound of a bowstring. Little Star was like a mother hen, at once hugging Mo'er as he trembled and shook. Her eyes darted left and right, but there was nowhere to hide. In the end, they settled behind Chu Qiao, tugging her skirts and crouching underneath.
Even through their connection as they tugged her clothes she could feel their panic and fear, and she hearkened back to a time many years prior, when Xiao Qi with her severed arm asked as her whole body shuddered, "Big sister Yue'er, is Xiao Qi going to die?" At the time, she had answered 'no', she had promised that nothing would happen to her. But not an hour after she had spoken those words that child was thrown into the cold waters of the lake, never to be seen again.
The footsteps neared their tent but passed right by, obviously not coming for them.
"Big Sister, I have to go back."
LIttle Star said timidly, "I'm afraid my dad will say something, I need to go back and see."
Chu Qiao looked at little Star, and then looked at the little child of the OuYang household, staring back at her eagerly, and in that moment made up her mind. She then lowered her head and said to the little boy, "If you want to eat something, go and plead with him."
The little child looked dumbstruck, then with great trepidation looked in Zhuge Yue's direction. Seeing the man's expression unchanged, the panic in his little face increased. He flinchingly inched two steps, and with a *peng* he knelt on the floor and started to cry. He was unable to properly form the words, nor could they understand what he was saying. They only heard the repeated sound of the child bowing his head onto the floor inside their tiny tent. The child frantically bowed his head over and over, and gradually his words became clearer, crying as he said, "Please I beg you, I beg of you…"
Even a four year old child would even know what sort of plight he faced.
His house had fallen, he was chased by people wanting to kill him, and even though he was still small, he unfortunately understood that his own future was far from good.
When this all started, Zhuge Yue was able to continue furrowing his brow in a tight frown, ignoring and uncaring, but gradually his expression loosened. He was almost rough when he pulled the child up from the ground, then looked at the boy indignantly.
The child was nearly frightened silly, and shrank his mouth to cry, "Daddy…."
"There's no need to call me that!" Zhuge Yue shouted in rage, but who knew that as soon as he said it the child looked as if he should start bawling again. Zhuge Yue immediately sighed, and said resignedly, "Just don't call me that, and…and you can stay."
Clever little Star was suddenly exuberant, and promptly said, "Mo'er, call him Uncle, if you call him Uncle you can stay here!"
Although the child didn't seem to understand this concept of 'uncle,' he did as he was told, seeing Zhuge Yue's expression faintly ease up. He suddenly cried out and rushed forward and hugging tightly at Zhuge Yue's neck, wailing as he said, "Uncle, the grown ups…killed…Daddy and Mommy…set fire….to kill Mo'er…blood…*sob*….dead people…."
With just this title, Zhuge Yue became like family to him, and he cried loudly in complaint to his kin. There was no hatred in that voice, and perhaps he was too young to understand what the word 'hatred' meant; he was simply frightened, hurt and besides, unhappy, and irritated. Only these seemingly indifferent emotions now would change over time and take root, sprout into a tree with flourishing foliage, and at the top, it will fill with seeds of revenge.
Just like Yan Xun.
The enemy he remembered now was only a group of adults, and he didn't know their identity, background, status, or even a name, let alone surname. He only knew that those who killed his parents were not children but adults. And right now these adults were not letting him eat, sleep, or go home. They wanted to wipe him clean off the slate and were doing their best to kill him.
This time, Zhuge Yue did not push the child away, and as the little body shuddered with crying, he draped a hand around the child's ear, gently holding his neck, just as though they were family.
Little Star's eyes were red, then she said, "Big Sister I'm leaving, but I'll come back tomorrow."
As soon as the girl was about to leave Chu Qiao reached out and tugged her back, turned around and gave her a small knife and placed it in her hand, saying in earnest, "Star, be careful. If anything happens, come find Big Sister."
The child suddenly burst forth a wide grin, she waved farewell at Mo'er, carefully acknowledged Zhuge Yue with a glance, and hurried out.
The wind outside was cold, and the little girl's figure scampered away amid the gusts. Chu Qiao got up and stooped by the tent flap, only to see the little child run farther away, yet without forgetting to turn back and wave. In the darkness she was unable to see her face, but because the wind was so gusty it felt as though the child was talking to herself and Chu Qiao was unable to hear what Star was saying. She could only look up into the sky's dark canopy, towards the various constellations above, the fate of every person tracked into its fabric.
Everything seemed to be a cycle: she saw that child from far away and it was though she was looking at herself. As the years passed something had collapsed at the bottom of her heart, and as the wild wind blew the flapping tent she suddenly felt cold.
"Does it feel familiar?"
At the sound of the soft voice behind her, Chu Qiao turned to see the little child nestling in Zhuge Yue's arms, his little shoulders still shaking as if his crying continued. Zhuge Yue looked at her, his eyes penetrating, and several years of recollection flew by in that gaze. Everything seemed to have returned to the starting point and they reverted back to who they were at that time, young and immature; but now it seemed there was more to endure, as if their burdens had multiplied.
Chu Qiao smiled lightly, "She really is a strong, good child."
"Mm," Zhuge Yue nodded, then said, "I seem to recall another who was even stronger."
With a 'whoosh' the wind picked up and blew the yellow earth. Out in the wilderness no birds flew. A cluster of dark clouds in the distance floated closer.
"Uncle, I'm hungry."
The child was tired from crying and his darkened little face was rather comically streaked white with tears. He had very impolitely broken the peaceful silence, chewing his fingers and very matter-of-factly protesting towards his newly appointed relatives.
"Mo'er is really very hungry."
Well, for the time being, they would let go of those lamenting sighs and painful feelings from the past. Zhuge Yue looked down at the little thing and frowned, "So you're hungry. What do you want to eat?"
"Hm…," the little boy frowned, thinking hard, "Is there any abalone soup?"
His face turning purple, Zhuge Yue frowned a "No!"
Not that? The little continued to ask, "What about golden roast squab?"
Zhuge Yue's expression was rather unsightly as he answered in a low voice, "None."
"Clean steamed shark fin?" (TN: this kid is used to fine dining, these dishes are expensive/rare even in modern times, and rather difficult to obtain in ancient times….)
"You don't even have that?" The little boy was very dissatisfied as he frowned, suspiciously eyeing these relatives he just recently acquired, skeptical of their financial status. "Then, then there's always golden roasted suckling pig, Uncle, Mo'er doesn't like eating vegetables…."
Zhuge Yue's complexion was darkened black, and the child knew how to read expressions so he immediately sighed and said reluctantly, "That…then…then I could eat some braised pork, it's just that…I only want venison, I don't like to eat pork, and I really don't like beef…."
"F***!" (TN: OMG don't swear in front of children!!! But I'm laughing so hard right now….)
Zhuge Yue suddenly cried out, grabbing the child in a rage and furiously said, "You little whelp! You play me!"
"Hey…" the little child started crying immediately, crying as he felt wronged, "All right, braised pork is fine, Uncle, you're really poor!"
This was the first in the world, the first person to say Zhuge Yue was poor to his face.
Chu Qiao watched them, and her heart suddenly felt better as she dropped the tent flap, smiling as she came back inside. She pointed at the bowl of white porridge that was set aside and said, "You haven't eaten all day, let's first start with some porridge."
The little child lifted the bowl as if a bit offended, then he put out his little tongue to lick it, as if the porridge was poisoned. But as soon as he took a gulp he was suddenly surprised, then the lifted the bowl and gulped down giant mouthful by giant mouthful.
"Big Sister, this porridge is real tasty!" the little boy happily grinned from ear to ear.
Chu Qiao sighed, for how could something cooked by Zhuge Yue taste good, but perhaps it was because the child was starving.
"Hey! Don't call her Big Sister, little runt."
Zhuge Yue said it in a deep voice, his face still dark.
The child glanced, then ignored him as he continued to eat the porridge.
"Big Sister, this is really delicious."
"I told you not to call her Big Sister."
The child frowned, annoyed at this man who bothered him as he ate, and frowned as he asked, "Then what? Should I call her Mommy?"
"What Mommy?" Zhuge Yue was a bit angry, irritated that it was so difficult to follow a four year old child's thinking. "Don't call her that because I said so!"
"Then what should I call her?"
"Call, call her Xing'er…."
"Nope," the child shook his head and said decisively, "Mo'er can't remember that, it's too confusing."
"You little brat!"
The child was actually very smart, and they were momentarily suspicious as to whether they had been played….
Outside, the outlook was uncertain, the volatile situation calling them to act accordingly.
For example, when later in the evening it was time to go to bed, Chu Qiao lay on one side, Zhuge Yue lay on the other, and the little scamp lay in the middle. Though a large box partitioned Zhuge Yue and the other two, the situation was still a bit ambiguous. The child was smiling very satisfactorily as he lay down, and then he said something that would make one spit blood.
"Daddy told me that he and Mommy had business to attend to at night, so Mo'er hadn't slept with them for a long time now."
*Cough, cough, cough!*
Zhuge Yue had been drinking water and suddenly choked on a sip and loudly coughed up a fit.
Chu Qiao also suffered from a very red face and smacked the child on the head, saying, "So many things to say, hurry up and sleep."
"Mm!" the child knew she wasn't angry, resting his head back and laughed, wriggling a few times into the quilt, and happily closed his eyes.
Outside the wind was blowing hard, moaning against their tent.
Suddenly a trace of cold wind blew in from outside. Chu Qiao was not sleeping, at her side a little thing being hunted had surreptitiously appeared, and there were many things to plan.
She felt the child kick the quilt off, and Chu Qiao reached her hand out to pull it back up.
However, as soon as her hand reached out, in that moment it encountered a long, slender finger. In a split second, as if shocked by electricity, Chu Qiao retracted her hand, her fingertips cold, her face red.
Zhuge Yue was also seemingly stunned. He reached over the box to help the child straighten his quilt.
The atmosphere inside the tent was a bit strange, with no one saying a word, with only the slight sound of low breathing, reverberating quietly inside the tent, and the occasional sound of a child smacking his lips.
Life was really a curious thing.
"You're not asleep yet?"
Zhuge Yue's voice sounded a bit low, though quite awake, apparently also unable to sleep this entire time.
"Mm," Chu Qiao nodded and said softly, "I'm a bit worried."
The wind picked up again, howling like a wild beast, and Chu Qiao worried that it would rain tomorrow.
"Just sleep," Zhuge Yue said slowly, and then turned away without saying anything else. Chu Qiao even thought that he had fallen asleep, but then, she heard him speak again, in a low voice, very simple and kind, gentle, yet extremely resolute to the point of being reassuring, "You have me."
The wind outside was strong, but in that moment, inside the narrow tent it was nice and warm.
As long as one had a tent, no matter how strong the wind, it could not blow inside.
In the latter half of the same night, a fast horse arrived in haste, rushing into the camp grounds, bringing news of Feng SiYe of Xian Yang.
At that time, Yan Xun was already asleep, but his sleep was uneasy, and even before the messenger arrived, he had already startled out of his slumber. A cold sweat on his forehead, he had even dreamed of the young child of the OuYang household. All along the journey he had seen the plump little boy, always grinning, and a few times the child had curiously even wanted to approach him.
But in his dream he saw the little child with his face drenched in blood staring back at him, holding a knife with fully red eyes watching him. Then, the child abruptly raised the knife, but instead of stabbing him stabbed Chu Qiao who was beside him, straight into her heart. The child's face was sprayed with fresh blood as he killed, but continued to gaze at Yan Xun with a dismal expression. The child's smile belonged to a demon that had crawled out of hell as he said cruelly, "I will destroy you, destroy your everything!"
Yan Xun was sweating profusely, his white night shirt entirely soaked with it. His breath was still racing as he endlessly recalled the previous nightmare in his mind.
"Must destroy the roots, destroy the roots…."
Yan Xun looked as if he was still halfway in his nightmare, muttering over and over, and then he suddenly raised his head and called out, "Someone attend me!"
"Yes, my lord!"
"Find the little child of the OuYang household. At any cost I will see his corpse before dawn!"
The servant was slightly dumbfounded, but in an instant his icy cold voice responded, "Your servant obeys!"
At that moment, another follower ran inside, knelt on the ground and said quietly, "Feng SiYe's courier has arrived."
"Feng Mian?" Yan Xun slowly frowned, and said in a deep voice, "He should have arrived by now."
He strode out of bed, took up a pile of robes, and Yan Xun 's face suddenly changed, casting aside any hint of unease, again becoming the cool and wise king of Yan Bei. In a deep voice he said, "Go, go forth and see what glad tidings Xian Yang has for us."
Translator's notes: This is a very interesting turn of events in the Xing/Yue dynamic. In the beginning, Zhuge Yue was a little prick, a pampered little prince who literally let his servants get away with murder. And yet, traveling with Chu Qiao, it seems he's developed something of a heart and he's learned compassion, patience, and understanding, even if he's not very good at any of those things yet. Yan Xun unfortunately goes the opposite direction, starting out as a good-natured child, but giving in to hatred, contempt and cruelty to the point of being driven mad by these things.
My favorite scene in this chapter was when Chu Qiao decided she would help the children, and turned to Zhuge Yue for him to agree, making it seem like he was the ultimate decision maker. Unwittingly, she already knows how to handle this man. ^__^;
Despite their past, it's rather difficult to hate Zhuge Yue when he's being rather heroic….