Palace Full of Delicacies

Chapter 97 - Mind Reading

Chapter 97 - Mind Reading

It was freezing cold, and after halfheartedly trying to extract information, the esteemed cats were all hungry. So, everyone decided to eat first and then deal with the mermaid's matter later.

Since he hadn't anticipated that both the Imperial Uncles and King Zhao would join for the meal, Su Yu's dishes were somewhat insufficient. So, he simply brought out a hot pot.

On a snowy day, there's nothing more comforting than gathering around the fireplace and enjoying a hot pot with family.

The Flying Stone Department had prepared a split-pot hot pot according to Su Yu's request. One side was filled with seafood broth, while the other side was filled with spicy red chili oil. It bubbled and boiled over the charcoal fire, immediately filling the room with a delicious aroma.

Fresh shrimp, fish slices, along with Su Yu's homemade fish balls, shrimp balls, and crab sticks, were all boiled in the broth. Even without dipping sauces, they were delicious.

Su Yu improvised a few dipping sauces on the spot: sesame sauce, seafood sauce, soy sauce, and garlic sauce, each tasty on its own or mixed together.

His Highness King Zhao insisted on trying every dipping sauce, taking a bowl of each and tasting them one by one. He found each one delicious and kept alternating between them with every bite.

"Mmm, remember to bring the dipping sauces next time for the ceremonial offering." King Ling tossed a fish ball into his mouth, sucking in air as it was still scalding hot.

Last time during the ceremonial offering, they had fish ball hot pot, and because there weren't many dipping sauces available at Anguo Tower, they simply ate them directly after dipping them briefly. It was still delicious, but now with the dipping sauces, the flavor was even better.

"Isn't it inappropriate to bring these for the ceremonial offering?" Su Yu raised an eyebrow. Last time, it was already quite challenging for King Li to sneak in a packet of tea leaves. How was he supposed to carry a bunch of hot pot ingredients to the altar?

"Why wouldn't it be appropriate?" The King Su fed a small bite of fish to the Eldest Prince squatting beside him. "Our ancestors would be pleased to see dipping sauces too."

"Mew!" Swallowing the fish, the little kitten echoed in agreement.

"You don't even know what we're talking about, yet you're chiming in." King Ling tapped the little kitten’s head.

"Mew?" The Eldest Prince tilted his head, then opened his mouth and bit off a piece of fish ball from King Ling's chopsticks.

After the bustling lunch, a pile of cats lounged motionless on the cushions of Beiji Palace. Su Yu glanced at the snow falling heavier outside. "What should we do about the mermaid?"

Although the deep sea was cold, it didn't snow there. The pool in the Azure Palace contained freshwater, so with this weather, it might freeze over. There was a risk of turning that delicate girl into a frozen fish. If that happened, the only clue they had would be lost.

The black-and-white large cat lay on the cushion, its eyes half-closed as if dozing off, while its black-and-white striped tail swayed slowly behind it. Two small cats pounced and played with the large tail, while the black-and-yellow large cat leaned against its older brother, yawning, completely unaware of Su Yu's concerns.

His Majesty the Emperor glanced disdainfully at the pile of lazy cats on the cushion. "Send the mermaid to Anguo Tower.”

The mermaid had too many things on her mind. He might not be able to get her to answer all questions by interrogating her, so it would be best to leave it to the State Teacher.

Su Yu was about to nod, feeling relieved that his own Emperor was reliable when suddenly he was lifted up by the Emperor and thrown onto the bed. Then, the Emperor pounced on top of him. "Your Majesty? Aren't we supposed to go to Anguo Tower?"

The Emperor held the warm and silly servant close, giving him a nudge, then yawned: "Let's go after Zhen wakes up."

Su Yu: “...”

After the group of esteemed cats had their fill of sleep, they leisurely took the mermaid to Anguo Tower. They found out that the Royal Tutor was still on the sixth floor, ‘Studying the stars’.

"I told you that Twenty-One definitely hasn't woken up yet. What's the rush?" King Ling yawned and settled himself on the soft couch

King Su furrowed his brow and took out the chubby little cat and the vest-wearing kitten from his arms.

"Hongyi, take Da Mao with you and go upstairs to fetch Imperial Uncle."

"Why do I have to go?" His Highness King Zhao widened his eyes. Waking up Imperial Uncle was definitely going to result in a beating.

"Go if you’re told to go." The Emperor flicked his younger brother's head.

Under the threat of his older brother and Imperial Uncles, the chubby little cat reluctantly carried the vest-wearing kitten on his back and climbed the stairs.

On the sixth floor of Anguo Tower, thick snow-white carpets were spread out. However, for King Zhao's short legs, walking was quite strenuous.

"Mi!" His uncle carried him staggeringly up the wide bed. The Eldest Prince was quite intrigued as he walked on the soft bed. With each step, his small paws sank into tiny indentations.

The chubby little cat squatted at the edge of the bed, flicking his ears with his hind legs. He hesitated as he looked at the sleeping beauty in the center of the bed. Seeing the black-and-yellow furball daringly climbing up with the thin blanket in its grasp, he lifted his paw but ultimately didn't move forward to stop it.

Instead, he silently covered his eyes with his paw. Hopefully, Imperial Uncle would take into consideration how small this fellow was and not swat him away.

The Eldest Prince climbed onto the State Teacher's chest and stumbled forward. The cub liked the calm aura emanating from the State Teacher very much. Following his instincts, he leaned in and sniffed the jade-like handsome face, then stuck out his tongue and licked the elegant nose.

The long eyelashes fluttered slightly, and the cold, beautiful eyes slowly opened. In them were reflected a pair of amber-colored eyes, gazing back at him with innocence and confusion.

After enjoying a round of tea on the second floor, the State Teacher finally came downstairs, carrying the two kittens. The vest-wearing kitten looked excited, rubbing its head against the snowy-colored robes incessantly, while the chubby kitten was held limp in the State Teacher's hand, clearly having been disciplined.

"Oh, Hongyi, what trouble did you cause this time?" King Ling sat up abruptly and pretended to come forward to take the chubby kitten from the State Teacher.

The State Teacher gave him a cold glare.

King Ling awkwardly chuckled twice, then stood up with the chubby kitten in his arms, offering the soft couch to the State Teacher.

The State Teacher also didn't stand on ceremony, casually swaying his wide sleeves as he leaned back on the soft couch. The kitten on his robes naturally climbed onto his shoulder and nestled there.

"What's the matter?"

"King Jing sent a mermaid." The Emperor pointed towards the mermaid cowering by the pillar.

Out of the water, her fish tail transformed into legs. Her silk sharkskin dress remained dry despite being splashed with water. At this moment, she appeared as an ordinary beautiful woman.

The mermaid, upon hearing that he was the State Teacher, couldn't help but raise her head to look at him. As she did, she froze in place. His features were picturesque, his demeanor elegant.

With long hair as white as snow, he seemed like an exiled immortal who had mistakenly wandered into the mortal world. What was even more remarkable was the peaceful aura emanating from him, which made one involuntarily relax and feel the urge to worship him.

With these thoughts in mind, the mermaid acted accordingly. She approached slowly and gracefully, then bowed deeply, her excitement evident.

"The sea maiden pays her respects to the State Teacher." She hadn't expected to encounter an Ancient Auspicious Beast here! It was rumored that auspicious beasts were kind-hearted and aided the weak. If she could earn his favor, perhaps she could receive his assistance and escape from the clutches of these ferocious beasts.

The State Teacher’s cold gaze swept over the mermaid. He slowly raised his hand, taking the small furball from around his neck and placing it gently on the soft couch, then smoothed its fur. He spoke in a voice as melodious as shattered jade:

"Why bring a live fish to the tower? This damp weather isn't suitable, dry it out in the sun before bringing it here."

The mermaid lifted her head abruptly, staring at the majestic auspicious beast before her in disbelief.

Su Yu glanced at the visibly distressed mermaid and cleared his throat.

"Imperial Uncle, this mermaid knows about the whereabouts of the late Emperor..."

"Is that so?" The State Teacher finally gave the trembling mermaid a proper look, leaning forward and propping his chin up with one hand. "Raise your head."

The mermaid lifted her head, gazing into the State Teacher's clear and beautiful eyes. Those eyes were simply mesmerizing, as pure as the mountain stream, captivating anyone who looked into them. In just one glance, one couldn't help but feel a sense of inferiority and filthiness within their own hearts, gazing up at this noble and untainted presence.

"What is your name?" The State Teacher's voice became ethereal, drifting in and out of reach.

"Hai Zhu." The mermaid replied, seemingly entranced as she gazed up at the State Teacher, her eyes slightly unfocused.

"How did you get here?" The State Teacher held down the furball, who was attempting to jump off the soft couch, and flipped him over, extending his slender fingers to scratch its little chin.

"My family is responsible for trading sharkskin silk and pearls with people on land. We come to shore every year. This time, we encountered a group of sea monsters near the coast, I got separated from my family, and got caught in a large fishing net and brought ashore..." The mermaid obediently revealed her background and circumstances.

Su Yu looked on in surprise at the scene, nudging the Emperor beside him, whispering: "The State Teacher's charm is truly extraordinary. Look at how he captivates people, making them spill everything."

The Emperor glanced at him. "So clueless."

"Huh?" Su Yu felt the disdainful gaze of the Lord Cat. "What's wrong?"

"It's mesmerizing." King Ling kindly explained.

Su Yu widened his eyes. He had thought before that the State Teacher was exceptionally intelligent for knowing everything, but he never expected that he truly possessed divine powers! He wanted to ask Seventeenth Uncle a few more questions, but he was pulled away by the Emperor.

"Hmph!" This foolish slave didn’t ask Zhen first when he had questions. His Majesty the Emperor was a little displeased and bit Su Yu’s neck in punishment.

"Hey!" Su Yu's face instantly flushed. He looked around and saw that the Imperial Uncles were all focused on listening to the mermaid's story, which relieved him.

The Emperor didn't relent, embracing him from behind and quietly explaining the mystical powers of the State Teacher in his ear.

The State Teacher's eyes and voice carried divine power, capable of soothing hearts and controlling minds. Previously, Su Yu had speculated that the State Teacher could read minds, which wasn't entirely wrong.

Under the influence of the State Teacher's power, the mermaid revealed her origins clearly and comprehensively.

The shark silk is precious, and although people knew it was woven by deep-sea merfolk, they didn't know how it was traded on land, but now they understand.

This mermaid, named Hai Zhu, along with her family, was responsible for communicating with the outside world among the merfolk. Every year, they bring items like shark silk and pearls, disguised as merchants, to the area around the East Sea to sell them in exchange for some items from the shore.

This year, when they came ashore, they coincidentally encountered King Jing, who was struggling to catch fish in the shallow sea. Sea monsters caused the merfolk to become separated, and Hai Zhu's father was bitten by a Qing Yu. Fearing it might attract more bloodthirsty fish, the merfolk hurriedly left, but the unlucky Hai Zhu accidentally got caught in King Jing's fishing net.

King Jing scrutinized the mermaid for a long while. Regardless of her attempts to coax and smile, he remained unmoved. Finally, with a sweep of his hand, he decided to offer her to the Emperor, conveniently saving this year's tribute.

"The island is near where my tribe resides, but it's very dangerous there." The mermaid spoke, trembling involuntarily as she mentioned the place where the late emperor was.

"Is there a way to go there?" The State Teacher asked, picking up his tea and taking a sip.

"You can swim there." The mermaid replied honestly. Although it's a long way from the coast to the island, with many reefs, dangerous shallows, and sea monsters along the way, as long as you swim slowly through the shallow waters, it should be fine.

"Nonsense." The State Teacher said, placing the cup back on the table and withdrawing his gaze.

The mermaid suddenly came to her senses, stunned for a moment, only then realizing what she had just said, her face changing drastically. She had revealed the secrets of her clan all because the person in front of her was too good-looking! Unable to accept this fact, the mermaid girl's eyes rolled back, and she fainted.

Watching the mermaid on the ground with lingering fear, Su Yu suddenly remembered the time when he hadn't signed a blood contract. It seemed that the State Teacher had looked at him in the same way back then. At that time, besides thinking that the State Teacher's eyes were really beautiful, he had only been stunned for a moment.

"Those with pure hearts are less likely to be enchanted." The State Teacher said seriously.

Su Yu blinked, was he being praised for his pure heart?

"Having a pure heart means being naive." Said King Ling with a grin. "Twenty-one used to say the same about me."

Su Yu looked at King Ling's expression that seemed to say ‘We're of the same kind’ and couldn't help but twitch his lips. He really didn't want to become like Seventeenth Uncle, not at all.

The State Teacher sat up and threw the furball on the couch to the chubby cat who was stealing fish shreds on the small table. "Leave the mermaid here. There's a pool in the seventh room on the fourth floor."

"Yeah, it's true. Putting her in the Bixiao Palace might easily freeze her." King Ling said as he pinched a piece of shredded fish and chewed on it. He realized the State Teacher was looking at him, and then he understood that his younger brother wanted him to carry the mermaid to the fourth floor. "Twenty-one, do you boss your older brother around like this?"

The State Teacher remained silent, staring at him.

After a moment, King Ling resignedly lifted the unconscious mermaid and began to climb the stairs.

"What's your plan?" The State Teacher asked An Hongche.

"It's quite far away, and ordinary ships probably won't make it." The Emperor frowned. "We need to discuss this with King Jing when he returns."

The State Teacher nodded slightly, recalling his older brothers who were still alive, a cold light flashed in his eyes: "It's not suitable to go out to sea in winter. We'll go in the spring."

Meanwhile, on a distant island.

"Ah-choo!" The late emperor, or rather, the current Retired Emperor, suddenly sneezed. "Why does Zhen suddenly feel cold?"

"If you're cold, then go sleep underneath!" The golden-colored big cat beneath him retorted.

"Hmph, someone must be thinking of Zhen." The Retired Emperor grunted, giving his mischievous younger brother a swat. "Ninth, go fetch more firewood."

Back at the Beiji Palace, the Emperor immediately issued a decree to summon King Jing to the capital. Then, he unfurled a sea chart, his gaze fixed upon it in silence.

"Your Majesty, should we inform the Empress Dowager about the fact that the late emperor is still alive?" As the sky grew dark, Su Yu was about to take the Eldest Prince to the Ci’an Palace.

"Let's not say anything for now." An Hongche shook his head. Things were still uncertain, and besides, the time the mermaid saw the golden cat was a year ago. There's no telling what might happen in between. The Empress Dowager had only just come to terms with the news of the former Emperor's passing. It was better not to give her false hope.

During the New Year, the Wangyes were originally scheduled to return to the capital for a reunion. Now, King Jing received an imperial decree, prompting him to return to the capital ahead of schedule.

"Due to the auspicious snowfall, the sea monsters have gradually diminished. With just one heavy snowfall, Chen can return to the capital..." The reply from King Jing came swiftly, indicating that as soon as there was heavy snow, he would be able to return to the capital.

"Why is that?" Su Yu was puzzled. What did snow have to do with sea monsters?

"Snow is considered auspicious, especially heavy snowfall. With the blessing of Da’an’s State Teacher, the snow carries the divine power of the Bai Ze, which can intimidate the sea monsters and keep them quiet for a while." Replied the Emperor, glancing up at the pale gray sky. With heavy snowfall approaching, that person would soon arrive. [TL_Note: In the folk beliefs of imperial China, Bai Ze also symbolized the ability to expel ghosts and ward off evil spirits.]

The author has something to say:

Small Theater:

Mermaid A: Ancient auspicious beast, please accept our worship!

Mermaid B: Ancient auspicious beast, please bestow blessings upon us!

Mermaid C: Oh, only remaining deity in the world, please guide us!

State Teacher: Don't wet my carpet, come back after you’re dried.

Thus, following the guidance of the auspicious beast, the merfolk clan perished.

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