After sending off Tang Li, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi set off. Logically speaking, they should be halfway to Celestial Mountain by now and arrive in another half month. But the unexpected trip to the Tang Clan delayed things so they were behind schedule. It typically took a month to reach Celestial Mountain from the Tang Clan. In one month, it’d be the third lundar month. Leaving aside anything they might meet during their trip, there was a long travel time between Celestial Mountain and Three-Way Black Market as well.
Time was tight.
Han Yunxi’s group forgo the carriage in favor of riding horseback into the dust. The couple never asked after Gu Qishao’s whereabouts because they were certain the man was around, just in hiding. That night, when they stopped to rest by a river, Gu Qishao suddenly showed up and extended his beautiful, tapered fingers towards Long Feiye.
“Hand it over!” he said brusquely.
He had secretly followed Old Loony last night and sat on his roof, before quietly sending him down the mountain and backtracking to the group. Naturally, he saw how Old Loony had handed Xu Donglin a box to give to Long Feiye.
Without a word, Long Feiye relinquished the item. Han Yunxi was curious, but Gu Qishao didn’t shy away and opened the box in front of them. Inside laid a single copper coin tied up with red string. Gu Qishao gave a start before he recovered with a grin. “It looks pretty nice, doesn’t it.”
Han Yunxi saw that there was a unique etching on the coin and leaned over for a closer look. Seeing this, Gu Qishao offered her the coin. “If you like it, I’ll give it to you. This is something good, there’s only one of it in the entire world.”
“I don’t want it!” Han Yunxi refused instantly. Can’t he show a little more consideration? He’s giving away something Pill Furnace Master gave him so freely.
Gu Qishao was still smiling. “If you don’t want it, I’ll hold onto it until the day you wanna play around with it.”
Han Yunxi rolled her eyes and ignored her.
Gu Qishao took custody of the coin then. Eventually, he found a chance to hang it back around his neck with no one noticing.
After a brief rest, everyone resolved to move on despite their exhaustion. Whenever they thought of Ning Jing and Mu Linger, they held on despite all weariness. Before setting off, Long Feiye had instructed Xu Donglin to send a letter to his master expecting their arrival in ten or so days. At this breakneck pace, they could actually make it within that timeframe. But just who would get Long Feiye’s letter in the end?
Currently, they were rushing for their lives towards Celestial Mountain. Bai Yanqing and Jun Yixie, on the other hand, were expecting them to rescue the hostages at Tiger’s Prison. The latter had already increased the guards around the compound, its three inner levels and three outer levels. He was determined to have Long Feiye and Han Yunxi leave their lives here.
Myriad Merchant Hall and Bai Yuqiao had been exchanging messages smoothly this entire time, so neither Long Feiye’s side or Bai Yuqiao knew of Jun Yixie’s dealings behind the scenes. As the delivery date approached, Ning Jing’s movements grew more and more labored. It was almost impossible to hide her bulging belly. She had stayed indoors for five entire days to avoid any potential accidents. Any danger to her now would put two lives at risk.
At the moment, Mu Linger was helping Ning Jing massage her feet. Her feet and hands had started swelling up mid-way through her pregnancy, sometimes feeling sore. Mu Linger wrote a few prescriptions to help her with the swelling, but couldn’t stop the pain. Now she was massaging Ning Jing’s wrists.
“Big sis Jing, don’t be nervous. A month’s already passed, so my big sis and the rest should be here very soon!”
“Big sis Jing, there’s only a few more days left. You have to relax. As long as you give birth to the baby, it’ll all be alright.”
“Big sis Jing, there’s Bai Yuqiao, so nothing chaotic will happen. Although she’s a really irritating girl, she’s dependable when it comes to work.”
“Big sis Jing, if you’re nervous, just think of the baby. Do you want to have a boy, or a girl? That’s right, say--”
Ning Jing finally cut Mu Linger off with impatience. “Alright! If you’re nervous, then be quiet and focus on your work!”
Ever since Ning Nuo sent them a letter saying that the rescue mission and northern expedition would be delayed by a few months, Mu Linger had started to panic. Even so, she insisted on saying Ning Jing was nervous instead. If Ning Jing wasn’t stuck with a swollen belly and too lazy to move, she would have lost it ages ago.
It really was very annoying!
Mu Linger blankly shut up, but soon couldn’t help babbling again. “Big sis Jing, Jun Yixie won’t sent anyone to inspect us during these days, right?”
Jun Yixie’s scouts always arrived at unexpected times, almost exposing them on multiple occurrences. If Bai Yuqiao hadn’t been on guard, Ning Jing would have been outed long ago. Mu Linger was anxious! She kept worrying that Jun Yixie would sent inspectors here while Ning Jing was giving birth. What then?
“He won’t!” Ning Jing intoned. She was clear on how dangerous her situation stood, but she never told Myriad Merchant Hall about Jun Yixie’s unscheduled inspections.
Ning Nuo’s letter had detailed the reasons for the delay in the northern expedition and accused Long Feiye and Han Yunxi of going back on their word, scolded Tang Li as less than a man for sacrificing her and Ning Cheng just to minimize risks to the army. But who was Ning Jing? She could tell right away that something else was amiss, or else Han Yunxi would never do such a thing. Even if there was no reason, it was perfectly justified to delay the campaign on account of the weather!
She and Ning Cheng were already sacrifices by being in Jun Yixie’s hands. Who cared about the size of their sacrifices now? All of this was for the sake of uniting East and West Qin and paving the way for a smooth northern expedition. If the army had to risk the frost just for the sake of their safety, how much would this sacrifice be worth? Ning Jing’s heart was clear and righteous after braving through countless storms in the markets. To her, this was simply a transaction that concerned human lives and the future. A business like this was cruel to both the enemies and one’s allies.
However, this time she had to be ruthless to her own child as well. Beyond her clarity and sternness laid fear and panic. But she would never say it, much less admit it.
“But big sis Jing, what if…” Mu Linger had never experienced so many things as a younger girl, yet she was wholly concerned over Ning Jing and her baby instead of herself. She had taken care of mother and child for half a year now and even told Ning Jing she wanted to be the godmother. How could any mother not fear or fret for her child?
“There’s no ‘what if!’ Close that crow’s mouth of yours,” Ning Jing said icily.
At that moment, there was a rhythmic knock on the door. Both women recognized it as Bai Yuqiao’s signal, and Mu Linger quickly opened the door to let her in. Bai Yuqiao had brought along a bunch of medicinal ingredients that Mu Linger had prescribed to expedite the delivery. Ning Jing was supposed to take them once she felt contractions so it could reduce her pain and speed up the labor process. Bai Yuqiao didn’t dare let any of the Tiger’s Prison servant girls collect the ingredients, so she sent one of her trusted aides to get them from the next county over.
“Miss Bai, any news from the battlefields?” Ning Jing was asking after news of Ning Cheng.
“They finished their final battle a few days ago. The Northern Li emperor lost and both armies stopped the war to wait. I can’t get any news of Ning Cheng because Jun Yixie’s been controlling the army recently. It’s not easy for my scouts to move about rashly,” Bai Yuqiao replied honestly.
It had been a month since she last sent news to Ning Cheng about the delay in the northern expedition.
“Ning Jing, your matter is more urgent. Don’t bother with your older brother anymore!” Bai Yuqiao turned serious. “My senior brother sent two midwives over…”
Ning Jing froze before Bai Yuqiao could even finish her sentence. Originally, Bai Yuqiao had arranged for two midwives who lived in the same courtyard and listened to orders. But now Jun Yixie had suddenly sent down two of his own, which meant he was determined to take the baby away. Struck dumb, Ning Jing remained senseless for a long time. Leaving aside the fact that Jun Yixie had his sights set on the baby, the two new midwives would definitely find out that she was the one who was pregnant.
“Can’t we refuse them?” Mu Linger fretted.
Bai Yuqiaos shook her head. She had already tried to by claiming the new midwives weren’t familiar with “Mu Linger’s” state and had gotten rejected by Mu Linger herself. However, Jun Yixie sent orders that it had to be his two midwives presiding over the birth. Bai Yuqiao didn’t dare press any more. If she insisted on her way, senior brother would definitely suspect her. Thus, she had come today both to deliver the medicine and discuss the matter with Ning Jing and Mu Linger.
The three of them fell into silence. Even Bai Yuqiao felt that it was hopeless. Finally, Ning Jing said, “Then let them come. It’s going to happen sooner or later.” After hearing of the delay in the northern campaign, she had mentally prepared herself to lose her child. It didn’t matter whether the baby was hers or Mu Linger’s; as long as it was born in Tiger’s Prison, it’d be taken away.
“We can’t!” Mu Linger was furious. “Big sis Jing, that’s your child. Don’t you feel any distress?!” As she spoke, tears streamed down her face. She couldn’t bear it even as their caretaker, much less Ning Jing herself.
A sharp pain touched her heart as tears swam in her eyes, but Ning Jing stood strong and decisive. “Miss Bai, let’s figure out how to prevent Jun Yixie from suspecting you.” If her pregnancy was exposed, Bai Yuqiao would be in mortal danger too. And if that happened, then the entire northern expedition would be in peril!
Bai Yuqiao recovered her wits at Ning Jing’s words and realized this all too late. She grew flustered, but it was Mu Linger who spoke up. “I have an idea! As long as you’re willing, big sis Jing, I can let the baby come out early!”
Both Ning Jing and Bai Yuqiao whipped their heads towards her words.
“What did you say?” Ning Jing was shocked.
“Mu Linger, you really have a way?”
Mu Linger said, “I have a prescription that will induce pregnancy within an hour of ingestion. But…”
“Will the baby be alright?” Ning Jing asked.
“Neither the mother or the baby will be in danger, but…” Mu Linger hesitated. If it wasn’t for the circumstances, she would never propose the idea. This was a banned prescription of the Mu Clan.
“But what? Hurry up and tell us!” Ning Jing grew impatient.