Jin Zi went to see Ning Cheng at the same time he saw Mu Linger coming out of the man’s room. Ever since they settled down at this estate, Mu Linger had been avoiding him. Because Jin Zi was under watch from the shadow guards, he was more or less under house arrest. However, he hadn’t requested to see her, either.
Now that they ran into each other, Mu Linger’s first reaction was to avert her eyes. She didn’t know what she felt so guilty about. Perhaps it was because she hadn’t fulfilled her promise to him to get his indenture agreement. She fled to the sidelines while Jin Zi’s gaze trailed after her in silence. It wasn’t until her figure vanished from sight that Jin Zi stepped forward to knock on the door.
In a cold voice, he announced, “Ning Cheng, I’m here!”
“Come in!” Ning Cheng said in a heavy voice.
The shadow guards stood watch by the door while Jin Zi entered. He saw that Ning Cheng wasn’t lying in bed, but sitting on a long bamboo couch on the side. Jin Zi walked over and examined him before grinning coldly. “I never thought your life would be so hardy.”
“Have a seat,” Ning Cheng intoned.
Jin Zi sat down. Back as a hostage in Northern Li, he and Ning Cheng had minimum chances to speak. However, he could perceive by the man’s eyes that he hadn’t told Jun Yixie much. He and Ning Cheng were master and servant in name, but also friends for over twenty years. Of course, they were also each other’s enemy. Jin Zi had used the business of Three-Way Market’s gambling halls to open up a black market private bank. He had long earned enough money to buy his indenture agreement back and even offered prices hundreds of times higher than the market price. But Ning Cheng refused to sell. On this matter, he and the man were absolute enemies.
After sweeping his gaze over the tea on the table, Jin Zi laughed coldly and said, “Heheh, since when has Ning Clan Head switched to drinking tea?”
All these years, he’d seen nothing but wine at the man’s tables.
“Doctor Gu won’t give me wine. How about you help a brother out and bring me two tankards?” Ning Cheng smiled.
“Brother?” Manager Jin laughed out loud. “Brother, do the things you promised me as a brother back then still count?” Back at Myriad Merchant Hall, Ning Cheng had agreed to give him the indenture agreement as long as he took care of Mu Linger and gained the Mu Clan.
If not because of that promise, how could he proactively chase after a stupid girl like her? And if he hadn’t chased after her, how could he have provoked Han Yunxi into standing up for the girl, tricking away his private bank, then racking up massive debt when Mu Linger used his gold card to start a spending spree? If he hadn’t owed such a huge debt to Kangan Private Bank, how could he have teamed up with Uncle Cheng to kidnap people? And end up in today’s sorry state? And take a fancy to Mu Linger of all ghastly coincidences?
Ning Cheng had been waiting for his visit, just as he’d been waiting for him to wake up. It was about time to settle accounts!
Mu Linger couldn’t convince Han Yunxi to give up the indenture agreement, so he could only place his hopes on Ning Cheng.
“Of course it still counts! When have I ever failed to give you what I promised?” Ning Cheng retorted.
Jin Zi’s lips curved up into a cold smile. He didn’t speak, but simply extended his hand.
“Jin Zi, you haven’t finished that matter yet, so isn’t it too early to ask me for the indenture agreement?” Ning Cheng arched his brow at him.
“Mu Linger has already agreed to marry me and even told her big sister,” Jin Zi replied.
Ning Cheng laughed out loud. “Does this count as fixing her up? She could tell her big sister the truth at any time. Even I won’t be able to protect you then!”
Before Jin Zi arrived, Mu Linger had a long talk with Ning Cheng. He knew very well how the man had threatened the girl. This “threatening” had no relation to “fixing her up!”
At last, Jin Zi knew why Mu Linger had come to find Ning Cheng. He suddenly burst into laughter, so much that even Ning Cheng, who knew him best, had no idea what was going on. Although it was a cold laugh, it still carried a hint of desolation.
“Release that girl. Within three months, I’ll figure out a way with you to get your indenture agreement back,” Ning Cheng said seriously.
“Why should I believe you?” Jin Zi retorted coldly.
“When have I ever lied to you?” Ning Cheng’s voice chilled as well.
Of course Jin Zi knew Ning Cheng was a man of his word, but he still refused. “No can do!”
Ning Cheng asked, “Is it fun to force a little lass like this?”
“I never forced her!” Jin Zi denied vehemently. “She can go tell Han Yunxi and Long Feiye the whole truth any time! I never stopped her!”
“Jin Zi, you’re using that girl’s kindness!” Ning Cheng fumed.
Jin Zi lost his temper as well and rose to his feet. “I never forced her to treat me with kindness!”
Perhaps he was waiting! Waiting until she stopped being kind, or until his own heart gave up. He had tried his best to give up on her and failed. Now he could only stall until someone else passed sentence on him to kill his heart. What else could he do?
Ning Cheng had never seen Manager Jin so upset. He gazed at the man for a long time, then asked, “Why?”
“Ning Cheng, you haven’t met one yet, so you wouldn’t understand,” Jin Zi said as he sat back down.
Ning Cheng fell utterly silent without a word. Jin Zi soon stood back up. “Farewell!”
At last, Ning Cheng spoke. “Jin Zi, I don’t care about your matters with Mu Linger, but we can still talk about getting your indenture agreement back.”
Now Jin Zi sat down with renewed interest. “Looks like you didn’t find me for Mu Linger’s sake today.”
Ning Cheng stood up and asked, “How about putting together a tiger army? Come with my calvarymen to trample Northern Li? We can fight all the way to Wintercrow Country and East Wu, where I’ll have the princess give you your indenture agreement.”
A smart man like Jin Zi knew Ning Cheng wanted to use his taming skills to subdue Jun Yixie’s Black Clan factions in Wintercrow Country as soon as he heard the words “tiger army.” If they could quash Jun Yixie’s cohorts, it’d be much easier to finish off the northern expedition.
“Help me repay my debts to Kangan Private Bank first, then give me 10 million taels. Otherwise...forget it,” Jin Zi immediately stated his terms.
Ning Cheng laughed out loud. “Fine!”
Mu Linger had no idea of Jin Zi and Ning Cheng’s agreement. For the past few days, she had shut herself up in her rooms, refusing to see Manager Jin or chase after her Qi gege like the old days. It wasn’t clear whether Manager Jin missed her, but Gu Qishao shouldn’t. He basically spent all his time around Han Yunxi, either lounging on the roof and staring at the skies or sleeping in a tree.
While they waited for Deputy General Xue to arrive, Northern Li’s situation changed. The small cities closest to the Three-Way Battlefield surrendered voluntarily. Jun Yixie’s soldiers either fled or pledged their lives for revenge. Some even set up their own factions or surrendered to the Northern Li emperor. Seizing this chance, the emperor demanded more surrenders from nearby territories and began preparations to delay the war. As long as the battles went on until winter, the southern troops would grow more and more unused to te climate here. Then they’d have greater chances to win.
Baili Yuanlong soon found out about his plans through Noble Consort Xiao, who was still favored within the Northern Li court. She was none other than one of his daughters and Baili Mingxiang’s older sister. Her original name was Baili Mingxia (百里茗霞), but she changed it to Xiao Mingxia (萧茗霞) and falsified her origins. During her youth, she was concealed in the Xiao Clan of Northern Li and entered its palace ten years ago. Five years after that, she became favored by the emperor.
Long Feiye had been preparing to lure Bai Yanqing out with Perplexing Butterfly Illusion while questioning Helian Zuixiang, Bai Yanqing’s hidden spy within the Han Clan. Unfortunately, even though they threatened her with little Yi’er, she didn’t tell them any details about Bai Yanqing.
Today another secret missive had come from Northern Li. Long Feiye glanced at its contents before turning quiet and hesitant.
“What’s wrong?” Han Yunxi asked. Long Feiye would definitely spare little Yi’er and only use him to scare Helian Zuixiang a bit, which was why she hadn’t required him to bring the boy back.
“Helian Zuixiang committed suicide and left you a letter in blood,” Long Feiye handed over a piece of white silk.
Han Yunxi only creased her brows. In her eyes, a white-eyed wolf like Helian Zuixiang was too good for something like death. Still, when she read the bloody words on the silk, her heart felt stifled.
There were only a few lines. They didn’t explain much nor even apologized, only pled for her to not tell little Yi’er the truth and keep being his big sister.
Han Yunxi smiled coldly. “She’s certainly intelligent. She’s so certain that I’ll dote on little Yi’er?”
“Exactly so. She understands you very well and knows it’s your weak point,” Long Feiye said mercilessly.
Han Yunxi gave a snort of contempt. “No, it’s my strong point!”
Long Feiye could only smile helplessly. It was impossible to seize the chance to beat this woman down. Actually, this wasn’t her strong point either, but her skill. Certainly, a kind heart and mercy were strong points, but to do good deeds, one needed more than excellent character. Skills were required as well. Thus, kindness and mercy could be seen as skills of their own at times.
Han Yunxi immediately declared, “Bring little Yi’er back.”
The shadow guard on the side asked, “Princess, what if that child asks after his mother? Should we say...for the sake of saving him, she sacrificed herself?”
“No! I don’t want little Yi’er to feel any guilt!” Han Yunxi rejected. “Tell him that the Northern Li royal court kidnapped them and wanted his mother to be their slave. His mother would rather die than submit, and thus sacrificed her life! Tell him not to cry, but to feel proud of his mother.”
Long Feiye looked at Han Yunxi with amusement. Seeing him silent, the shadow guard immediately went to do as he was told. Han Yunxi turned back and caught Long Feiye’s gaze.
“What’s wrong? Is it inappropriate?” His gaze always made her doubt herself.
“Help me birth a son. I want to see how you raise him,” Long Feiye smiled.
He liked daughters because they would resemble her; he wanted a son because he wanted her to raise him. Had he ever thought of having children for children’s sake?
Han Yunxi walked over and hugged Long Feiye around the waist, raising her head to smile at him. “If your son knew this was the reason you wanted him, he’ll never be close to you!”
Long Feiye shook his head. “He can only be close to me.” In other words, his son wasn’t allowed to be close with Han Yunxi. She didn’t manage to process this line in time, because Long Feiye had descended upon her with a kiss.
Even Long Feiye yearned to dote on her beauty and kindness forever when his feelings reached the tipping point. Unfortunately, he’d just pushed her against the couch when a subordinate announced from the door, “Your Highness, princess, Deputy General Xue is here and begs for an audience in the courtyard!”
Deputy General Xue’s speeds were beyond expectations!
Long Feiye was still lying on top of Han Yunxi with an ugly expression on his face. Han Yunxi had long broke into a grin as she said with purposeful meaning, “Your Highness, it’s important to give priority to the bigger picture.”
Long Feiye glared at her and didn’t move…
LOL the first part of this chapter was a mix of "Jin Zi stands up, Jin Zi sits down, Ning Cheng stands up, Ning Cheng sits down." These two should go play musical chairs, sheesh~
And I don't know man, I know HYX means well, but she just comes off as manipulative here to me. This is her little brother....is she ever going to tell him the truth when he grows up? Or have him live in blissful ignorance forever? I understand her protecting him as a child, but hey....you're telling him the Northern Li royal court where he's been staying for the past year was just full of enemies trying to act against his mother? Man, that's gonna mess him up if they were treating him kindly and stuff (I can't imagine LFY telling Noble Consort Xiao to abuse the kid), or potentially damage his worldviews on the goodness of the world. Not that HYX and LFY's world is that clean to begin with...
I think the saddest, most ironic twist is that little Yi'er wanted to grow up fast and protect his big sister, but it was his big sister's husband that indirectly caused his mother's death.
If that's the case, maybe it's best to let him never know. Grow up loving his big sister even more for saving him, getting closer to his icy brother-in-law (who he disliked compared to GBY) until he finally learns to admire him for his oh-so-amazing OPness and power and...yeah okay, I can't buy into this, it's too ick on all sides. Sigh. Okay, prolly my anti-OPness-radar kicking in against our male and female lead again.
I also find it ironic that I supported the couple's more bloodthirsty/ruthless schemes earlier on in the novel, but now I find them more and more cruel when they're just being pragmatic. Ahaha, human hearts are so fickle.