Jun Yixie’s soldiers had received this letter in secret after they finished inspection of Su Xiaoyu’s courtyard. Someone had literally stuffed it into their hands. Inside was only written two lines: There’s a spy in Tiger’s Prison. East and West Qin have formed an alliance and will rescue the hostages come spring while leading a punitive expedition north.
Although the message was short, it revealed the truth at the den. Even the stupidest Jun Yixie could figure out that he’d been tricked by Ning Cheng!
“What a Ning Cheng! He was screwing with this lord!” Jun Yixie threw the letter onto his table with enough force to create cracks in the wood. If East and West Qin had formed an alliance and were heading up north in spring, that meant all of their skirmishes in the past few months were sham--a play meant for him. How could any of this be possible with Ning Cheng’s orders, too? He had kept close watch on the man, so who else besides Bai Yuqiao could have delivered the message on Ning Cheng’s behalf?
Jun Yixie was furious beyond belief. This had to be the biggest loss and stumble of his lifetime. It was nothing but pure humiliation! He rushed out of the tent and headed for Ning Cheng’s quarters. Nothing would quell his temper beyond slaying the man!
“Master! Master, stop!”
Jun Yixie’s retainer chased after him and even had the daring to grab him by the hand.
“Seeking death?!” Jun Yixie whirled on him with cold eyes.
“Master, you can kill Ning Cheng now, but what about Han Yunxi and Long Feiye?” the retainer murmured. His name was Hao San (郝三), a man who had followed Jun Yixie for over a decade. Although he was a mere aide, he had seen and experienced much at his master’s side and gradually grew more intelligent. Like the eunuch to an emperor, he would often give Jun Yixie suggestions and good ideas.
Hao San’s words calmed Jun Yixie down. He realized that the ploy against him involved not only Ning Cheng, but his backers Long Feiye and Han Yunxi. Seeing this, Hao San hastily added, “Master, talk inside the tent. Though it’s a crisis, this is also a chance!”
Indeed, if this dangerous situation was used to his advantage, he might even get Han Yunxi and Long Feiye in one shot. Without a word, Jun Yixie returned to his tent and neatly put the message away, then asked, “What’s the intention of the person who delivered this letter?”
Before coming up with a counter-strategy, Jun Yixie naturally needed to understand the intentions of the sender. That was because it was none other than Uncle Cheng who had delivered the leak! Besides Jin Zi, whose origins were unclear, Jun Yixie had long figured out the backgrounds of all his hostages, Naturally, he knew Uncle Cheng’s relation to Ning Cheng.
Why would he betray his master?
He didn’t want to know the details, but he had to make sure whether this Uncle Cheng’s letter was wholly trustworthy! After a pause, Jun Yixie said, “Send someone to Tiger’s Prison and keep an eye on Bai Yuqiao! Remember, don’t startle the snake in the grass.”
Hao San immediately went to put the orders in effect. As expected, a few days later one of Jun Yixie’s men intercepted a letter from Bai Yuqiao to Three-Way Black Market. Opening it up, Jun Yixie found nothing but a page of numbers. It was impossible for him to understand the contents of such code.
“Master, it’s very possible this is a Di Clan code. It should have been written by Ning Jing. How about...we find Uncle Cheng to check it out?”
“Heheh, this lord will make a personal trip!” Jun Yixie said icily.
For the sake of keeping things under wraps, nothing changed at Tiger’s Prison. Bai Yuqiao had no idea that her letter had already fallen into Jun Yixie’s hands.
“If master leaves the army so abruptly, it’s inevitable that Ning Cheng will get suspicious. How about...this subordinate go in your place?” Hao San asked.
Jun Yixie weighed the options before agreeing. He would pay sporadic visits to Ning Cheng’s tent these days to invite him for drinks and discuss war strategies. For now, he was holding back his temper to preserve his strength by waiting. Once he had made sure of everything, he would lure both Han Yunxi and Long Feiye here and catch them like a turtle in a jar--easy prey! He didn’t mind killing Ning Cheng right before their eyes when the time came.
Back at Three-Way Black Market, everyone knew Uncle Cheng had the greatest objections towards Han Yunxi, but no one could predict that he’d expose the secret and betray Ning Cheng. Thus, no one was worried over the plight of Ning Jing’s group yet.
Meanwhile, Long Feiye didn’t fault Tang Li for issuing false orders and chasing off Baili Yuanlong’s group. He didn’t so much as speak on the matter, so no one else was aware of it besides Xu Donglin and Han Yunxi. For one thing, the crime for stealing a command token to issue orders was severe. If it was exposed, the idle members of the East Qin faction would raise a row. For another, Myriad Merchant Hall would never let their son-in-law Tang Li roam about freely in the Di Clan after finding out the news.
Thus, Long Feiye delayed his meeting with the Di Clan delegation while debating his final decision on the northern expedition. Over the past few days, he never brought up the topic and split his time between urgent dispatches and drinking tea in Gu Beiyue’s courtyard or playing chess. Gu Beiyue had enough tact not to bring it up, either. Han Yunxi ended up sitting on a swing by their side, watching them from a distance in her fox-fur lined robes.
Gu Beiyue would always be wearing his snow-white robes, his every move quiet yet elegant like a hermit removed from the world. Long Feiye had white brocade robes on the inside and a rare violet fox-fur robe over it, making him seem noble, mysterious, and luxuriously dominant.
Han Yunxi suddenly felt that these two were equals despite being lord and vassal. Gu Beiyue was enough to sit and rise together with Long Feiye, while Long Feiye was accepting of Gu Beiyue! With Gu Beiyue’s talents and disposition, he could definitely claim a piece of the world for himself if so desired. Anyone in lofty positions would fear and guard against him. Yet Long Feiye did not and held no such reservations.
After their argument the other day, Long Feiye ended up backtracking to her side soon afterwards. She didn’t sleep either, but sat there fuming until he walked inside and began to brew tea at the table to drink. She didn’t argue with him, but sat far away from him spacing out until she finally fell asleep. Then Tang Li knocked on the door, setting into motion events for the rest of the night.
Since then, she hadn’t gone out of her way to pay Long Feiye any attention, nor had he moved to speak to her. However, every night he’d come to their room and hug her to sleep. Many people were wondering whether Long Feiye had delayed the meeting with the Di Clan delegation because Baili Yuanlong’s faction had yet to show up. Yet for Han Yunxi who knew the truth, she understood that Long Feiye had already made his choice. He agreed with Gu Beiyue’s views and wanted to delay the expedition, or else he’d never let Baili Yuanlong’s group go just like that. Right now, Long Feiye wasn’t thinking about the time to head north, but his agreement to Tang Li.
The choices of a sovereign could be right or wrong, with ruthlessness being a matter of course between the options. Yet whatever the case, someone would be treated coldly in the end anyways. Long Feiye was figuring out how to be cruel to Tang Li, who hadn’t gone anywhere at all. He loitered in East Origin Hall, whiling away the days until his big brother came to give him the final say in person.
Han Yunxi was waiting too.
In the middle of spacing out, she heard Gu Beiyue laugh. “Your Highness, my generosity!”
Han Yunxi turned to see Gu Beiyue had won the game. He and Long Feiye had played five bouts in the past few days. Although Gu Beiyue won this round, Long Feiye was still a notch better. It was still early, so Han Yunxi assumed they’d go another round, but Long Feiye actually rose to bid his farewell. Han Yunxi’s heart grew alarmed as she stood up to watch Long Feiye walk through the door. He’s leaving so early? Is he going to find Tang Li?
Han Yunxi watched on in silence, but Long Feiye stopped at the door to turn towards her. He stood for awhile before striding her way, taking her hand, and leading her away. Han Yunxi could only follow him blankly, but quickly broke into a grin.
Men of action even mend their arguments with physical gestures.
Long Feiye led Han Yunxi to Tang Li’s courtyard, where they saw him staring dully at a small booklet in his hand. Han Yunxi knew that these were Tang Li’s collection of notes and reminders for a pregnant woman and the first month after her birth. He had gotten the information after grilling Gu Beiyue for answers.
Supposedly, he had gone back to the Tang Clan both to oversee the sharpening ceremony for the military weapons and to make preparations for Ning Jing after childbirth. Now it seemed that those efforts would be for naught. Han Yunxi always thought she was glib-tongued, but now her heart felt nothing but tangled. Instead, it was Long Feiye who didn’t hesitate as he strode inside.
Tang Li recovered just in time to quickly put away the book and chuckle at them cheerfully. “Big bro, did you find me to drink tea?”
This brat’s still pretending? He was clearly waiting the entire time.
Long Feiye patted him on the shoulder and said with all earnesty, “I came to tell you that the punitive expedition for the north has been delayed until summer. You should make preparations.” He then paused, before adding, “And also…”
“Big bro, don’t worry,” Tang Li cut him off. “I won’t run off to Tiger’s Prison on my own. I promise I’ll keep to my word!”
Long Feiye’s hand stiffened. He didn’t say anything beyond pulling Tang Li close for a hug, then letting him go. Neither he nor Han Yunxi hung back, but soon left. Perhaps Tang Li would be able to relax then instead of trying so hard to look alright. Long Feiye’s steps on the road back were extremely slow. Han Yunxi finally spoke up with a sigh. “Long Feiye, when will this world find true peace?”
When will the wars stop? When will the separations end? When will all of these difficult choices disappear?
Long Feiye peered up at the floating clouds in the sky, his gaze filled with determination. “Soon, very soon…”
After being gloomy all these days, Long Feiye had finally given Tang Li his answer. Now feeling lighter, he instructed Xu Donglin to rearrange a meeting time with the Di Clan delegation before retiring early to bed. Long Feiye had a bad habit: when he was working overnight, Han Yunxi could sleep early, but when he slept early, Han Yunxi couldn’t work overnight. She was just planning to cultivate her poison storage space when he wrapped his arms around her and pulled him down into his embrace.
Knowing he was exhausted, Han Yunxi didn’t thrash about because it’d wake him up. Yet she wasn’t sleepy and soon recalled something important in the midst of her boredom…