What was the background of Tang Li’s fiancée?
Tang Li could only chuckle. “I...don’t rightly know.”
Han Yunxi thought he was joking. “You can tell me in secret. I won’t sell you out.”
Tang Li continued to chuckle. “I really don’t know. If you know, don’t tell me either. I don’t want to know.”
That woman had been hand-picked by his father, not him, so he’d rather spend his entire life single rather than marry her.
Currently, Han Yunxi was sharing the same horse as Long Feiye and nestled in his arms. She looked up doubtfully at Long Feiye and asked, “You know, right?”
Long Feiye’s reply left her even more speechless. “Your lordship was never interested in finding out.”
As it turned out, he’d helped Tang Li escape his marriage for over a year without ever bothering to check the background of the female’s family? In the end, Han Yunxi ended up chuckling too.
“The ones who were chasing us back there were all martial arts experts. I suspect their origins aren’t simple at all.”
Tang Li grew agitated at her words. “Back then, they found over 50 top level experts to surround this young master. If I hadn’t used the Pear Blossom Rain Needles on them, heheh, the consequences would have been unthinkable!”
“Could it be that they’re from one of the mercenary cities? Like the City of Daughters?” Han Yunxi asked, her curiosity piqued.
“Or part of some big financial group. As long as they have the money, they could employ an entire assassin city,” Tang Li had no feelings towards his fiancée, but he didn’t avoid the subject, either.
“There’s only a handful of groups like that in this world…” Han Yunxi trailed off, before growing alarmed. “They can’t be from the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium, right?!”
This was the first time Tang Li had ever given serious thought to his fiancée’s identity. He pondered over a bit before proclaiming, “It’s quite possible!”
“If they really are, then you should hurry up and marry her so you can scope out their inner workings,” Han Yunxi teased. “I heard their new representative, Ouyang Ning Jing, is still dawdling about in Medicine City with the Council of Elders.”
“If it’s Ouyang Ning Jing, this young master could reconsider,” Tang Li joked back. He had heard updates on Medicine City from Chu Xifeng. That Ouyang Ning Jing was a lot harder to deal with that Ouyang Ningnuo. She was young, yet a strong and stubborn woman.
Han Yunxi only cast him a scornful look. “It’s no guarantee that she’d even want to marry you!”
Han Yunxi and Tang Li chatted aimlessly the whole way, occasionally breaking into arguments. Long Feiye had zero interest in their topics, but didn’t interfere with their talk. Of course, that was because Han Yunxi was dealing with Tang Li instead of some random man. As they continued west, the landscape grew bleak and dreary until the influence of winter. A few days later saw them entering the borders of Western Zhou at last.
Emperor Kang Cheng naturally hadn’t forgotten how the Duke of Qin had refused to marry Princess Duanmu Yao in the past. The humiliation it’d cost Western Zhou was still fresh on his mind, but as the sovereign of a nation, he couldn’t make Long Feiye his enemy over such a minor detail, nor refuse his overtures to work together. After all, the Duke of Qin had gained the most from Tianning’s civil strife. Even now, his every moment sent ripples through every single country on the continent today. Emperor Kang Cheng had no real idea why the Duke of Qin would suddenly pay him an official visit now, but he remained open-minded and attached high importance to the event. His men had gotten in contact with Chu Xifeng long ago to make arrangements for the visit.
His original plan was to receive the Duke of Qin as soon as he had stepped foot into Western Zhou, but that idea was rejected. To this day, he still had no idea about the Duke of Qin’s whereabouts and was forced to wait for news of his official arrival. Unexpectedly, other news reached him first---an unexpected tidbit about the Great Qin Empire’s Nether Clan. The source was unknown, but within a few days, all of Cloud Realm Continent was talking about it. Apparently, the Driving Arrow Arts of the Nether Clan had once again resurfaced on the continent. Emperor Kang Cheng was discussing this very matter with various important officials in his imperial study after the morning court session.
“The Nether Clan’s Driving Arrow Arts? Everything was fine, why are there suddenly rumors of that now?”
“Your Majesty, there are no waves without wind, no smoke without fire. I’m afraid that someone must have witnessed it for themselves.”
“Allegedly, the user shoots an arrow with only their bare hands. I wonder how it works?”
“Your Majesty, the Seven Noble Families of the Great Qin Empire have gone into hiding for years. Now that there’s suddenly news of them, this old official thinks it’s only the beginning!”
“The two imperial dynasties from that time are already extinct. Even of those Seven Noble Families have the skills, so what? Cloud Realm Continent’s long changed hands. Your Excellency Li, don’t be like that man of Qi who feared that the sky would fall.”
“The Seven Noble Families have deep roots and an abundance of talent in their clans. If we allow them to strengthen themselves to their former glories, the consequences will be unthinkable! As this old official sees it, Cloud Realm Continent’s four nations, four great cities, sword sect and Tang Clan all need to work as one to destroy the Seven Noble Families before they rise against us like a prairie fire!”
“This junior official begs to differ! As this official sees it, the Great Qin Empire is now nothing but dust. If there’s enough good faith, we could choose someone else to lead the Seven Noble Clans. Anyone who earns their support could regain the glory as a unifier like the former days! May Your Majesty show clear precedence and give a show of force first! Do not let the Seven Noble Clans fall into another’s hands!”
As the various officials and ministers deliberated, the contention grew heated. Only General Chu, standing in the very front of the crowd, didn’t express an opinion. Noticing this, Emperor Kang Cheng asked, “General Chu, what do you think of this matter?”
General Chu was plagued with a guilty conscience which left him stifled and depressed! He was almost ready to lose it and walk away. He had been waiting for Long Feiye to pressure the Chu Clan with terms while holding Chu Tianyin hostage. But the man hadn’t contacted them at all. Now the 15th was almost nigh, but rumors of the Driving Arrow Arts had spread instead. It had completely caught the Chu Clan unawares.
Just what is Long Feiye planning by spreading these Driving Arrow Arts rumors?
Faced with Emperor Kang Cheng’s questioning, General Chu had no choice but to be prudent. Heaven knows whether Long Feiye had already told the emperor something on the sly?
“To reply Your Majesty, this all might be mere hearsay. It’s hard for this soldier to make a judgment on the matter.”
“Suppose it was true. What would you think then?” Emperor Kang Cheng pressed.
“If it was true, then this soldier would approve with His Excellency Chen’s views. The Great Qin Empire has already turned to dust. If the Seven Noble Families have a mind to come back again, then they’ll need a new leader.”
At this, His Excellency Li replied, “Leaving aside the matter of the other six clans, wasn’t the Nether Clan a traitor to their own masters? It was their clan that murdered the last surviving heir of West Qin in the past! Such wicked hearts cannot be tolerated!”
The Nether Clan’s “assassination” of the West Qin imperial heir was probably the most well-known piece of history from the Great Qin Empire’s fall. General Chu’s eyes flashed with a hint of anger, but he could only keep his feelings to himself. He resentfully kept quiet as the other officials entered a new round of debates. General Chu was waiting for Emperor Kang Cheng to speak up, but the emperor hadn’t expressed his own views from beginning to end. This only made General Chu all the more uneasy.
After he went back, General Chu found Chu Yunyi first and vented his suppressed wrath against Chu Tianyin and Witch Aunt. Alright, so the two had tried murder Long Feiye and the rest at the Poison Sect’s underground palace. But why reveal their Driving Arrow Arts in the process? How are we supposed to salvage the situation now?
“Just what is the Duke of Qin planning?”
Chu Yunyi had been in a sorry mood ever since catching wind of the rumors yesterday. He now waved his hand, indicating that General Chu should sit down after his explosive rant.
“No matter what he’s planning, we still need to make ample preparations. West Liang is our only path of retreat. Any news from Medical City?” he asked.
General Chu finally exhaled at his words. “I’ve just received an update. Lady Lianxin’s agreed to work with us and will be here in five days’ time to discuss the details.”
“Did she say which Elder she’ll be asking?” Chu Yunyi pressed.
General Chu could only shake his head. “In any case, those three are the only options. It’d be nice if we get Head Elder Ling, but...that chance seems slim at best.”
“No matter what, we have to seize this chance. As for the Duke of Qin…”
“If he won’t come find us to chat, why don’t we find him? At least we’ll get a sense of his intentions?” General Chu suggested hastily.
Chu Yunyi pondered the issue for a long time before rejecting the idea. “It’s already almost the 15th. We’ll need to wait until he arrives before we can find him for any chats. If he really dares to expose the truth, our Nether Clan won’t leave the matter at that even if it’s a life or death struggle. Either the fish dies, or the net capturing it gets torn!”
A few days later, Long Feiye’s group finally reached Western Zhou’s imperial capital, White City. Emperor Kang Cheng sent the crown prince Duanmu Baiye to receive them outside the gates, an honor only inferior to sending the emperor himself. One could very well perceive the high status of the Duke of Qin, and how much importance Emperor Kang Cheng attached to the matter. At the very least, he had expressed some consideration. Since Long Feiye had came on an official visit on his own initiative, Emperor Kang Cheng didn’t plan to act petty on account of the first failed marriage alliance.
Duanmu Baiye possessed neither Emperor Kang Cheng’s breadth of mind or foresight. He still felt distressed for his little sister’s sake and was extremely unwilling to greet their guests. Yet, the emperor’s orders were absolute, so he could only obey. He was going to find Chu Tianyin to accompany him, but the man wasn’t in White City, so he ended up going by himself. Actually, he could bring along a big group of officials with him as well, but he’d never do something so grand just to give Long Feiye more face!
Tang Li didn’t show himself, so Duanmu Baiye only saw Long Feiye and Han Yunxi. After both sides exchanged some civil, if cold, words, the guests changed carriages and continued with their silent journey. Duanmu Baiye delivered the two to Chief Minister Lin[1. Chief Minister Lin (卿林大人) - qing lin daren the title given to the official in charge of reception at court of tributary envoys and foreign emissaries/guests. Lin is a surname that means “wood, forest.”] at the Court of Dependencies[2. Court of Dependencies (鸿胪寺) - Hong Lusi, a central government agency responsible for managing the reception at court of tributary envoys, foreign emissaries, etc.] before preparing to leave.
But when he saw Long Feiye taking pains to care for Han Yunxi while drinking tea, even pouring her a cup first, he couldn’t help but double back with a question. “Duke of Qin, a few days ago I heard Yao Yao say that your master missed you very much. You haven’t visited Celestial Mountain in years, I suppose?”
Han Yunxi could tell that Duanmu Baiye was silently standing up for Duanmu Yao. She only pretended to hear nothing and continued to sip her tea. It wasn’t clear whether Long Feiye was listening, but he ignored Duanmu Baiye as well.
Duanmu Baiye didn’t get mad, instead purposely picked a seat right in front of him. “Duke of Qin, call this crown prince if you decide to pay a visit one day. This crown prince hasn’t seen Yao Yao in a long time, either.”
The way he put things made it seem like Long Feiye would go up the mountain and visit Duanmu Yao as well. It was impossible for Han Yunxi to avoid the little stirrings of her heart. The last time she’d really fought with the girl was over the marriage alliance matters. She too, was hoping for the chance to visit Celestial Mountain so she could thoroughly teach that woman a lesson. There was still a debt to pay for the last time Duanmu Yao tricked Long Feiye away and got him severely injured!
When Duanmu Baiye saw that neither the Duke of Qin nor Han Yunxi were bothered by his words, he doubled his efforts. “Duke of Qin, time certainly passes fast. When Yao Yao first met you, she was still a little girl! She used to chase after you all day when she was younger.”
“Aye, I had thought you left the position of Qin Wangfei empty for her back then. But in the end, childhood sweethearts can’t compare to marriages sanctioned by an emperor,” Duanmu Baiye sighed.
Han Yunxi finally had enough. She could take it as they came, but Duanmu Baiye’s words were really going too far. He could talk about Duanmu Yao’s merits all day and she’d only treat him as a joke, but him bringing up “Qin Wangfei” to her face was like a resounding slap.
If this doesn’t count as bullying, then what does?
Countless people were watching their every word and action during this trip to Western Zhou. If word got out that Duanmu Baiye had mocked her, how was she supposed to keep carrying the mantle of Qin Wangfei?
Han Yunxi was about to speak up when Long Feiye placed his hand over hers and held her back.
What….does he mean by that?