It was clearly Long Feiye who sent the assassin after Empress Xue’s life, but now Han Yunxi had been unjustly accused of the deed. Ever since she became Qin Wangfei, Han Yunxi had been maligned countless times. By now she was used to it, but she couldn’t help a goofy smile at Long Feiye as she stood at a loss.
She wasn’t afraid of Ning Cheng smearing her good name. Empress Xue’s corpse was still present, which meant they could track down the truth easily. She was no coroner, but she could still find ways to uncover the woman’s true cause of death. As long as the truth was publicized, her guilt would be washed clean.
But there was no way she could do that now! Not when the true culprit was none other than her husband Long Feiye.
Han Yunxi sprawled across the tea table, feigning a stern glance at the man without a word. Still, her eyes were warning enough for him.
Long Feiye, you figure out what to do about this!
Long Feiye walked over and brushed a few strands of her hair. “Are you afraid?”
He’s provoking me! Han Yunxi glared at him wordlessly.
Long Feiye broke into an easy laugh. “Your lordship will simply admit to the deed.”
Han Yunxi immediately slapped his hand away. “How are you supposed to admit to anything without proof? If I won’t admit it, you definitely can’t! Even if you’re beaten to death!”
Long Feiye was waiting for those very words. In a stern voice, he shouted, “Someone come, bring brush and ink!”
He was going to write a letter in return to his master, so Han Yunxi scooted over to look. She discovered that the reticent man had written a whole slew of words in rows that filled the page. The general idea was that Duanmu Yao had no right to make unfounded, malicious claims without evidence. If she could prove that Han Yunxi was the one who hurt Empress Xue, then he wouldn’t get involved in their grudge. Otherwise, he’d accuse Duanmu Yao of framing false charges and request his master to step back from the entire affair.
Once Long Feiye put down his brush, Han Yunxi asked, “Just like that?”
“Mhm,” Long Feiye sealed the missive and even marked the envelope with his personal stamp to make sure that no one would peek ahead of time.
“So once your master agrees, he won’t be able to meddle in the future, even when it’s revealed that you were the true mastermind behind the killing?” Han Yunxi teased.
Here was a real loophole! Of course, Long Feiye wouldn’t be stupid enough to expose himself as the culprit. His ultimate goal was to prevent the sword sect master from getting angry. Moreover, he didn’t want to offend Western Zhou’s imperial court, either. Northern Li had been idle for the past few years, but they were paying attention to everything that happened south of their borders. Western Zhou was an invaluable ally in keeping back that threat.
Once Long Feiye had someone send off the letter, he and Han Yunxi sat back calmly to wait. After all, Duanmu Yao had only tattled to her master. News of the accusation had yet to spread, so it would be foolish to make the first strike. As a matter of fact, Duanmu Yao was already waiting for their reply at that same moment. She was staying in the borderlands between Yaoshui and with her mother’s corpse, which she had taken out of the army barracks. In one hand she held the item that proved Han Yunxi was to blame. She was waiting for updates from her master before she dealt Han Yunxi a fatal blow!
That woman had not only stolen her childhood sweetheart but the mother who loved her best. How could she bear it all? This time she would thoroughly rip her reputation to tatters to pay back the debt of blood, no matter what sacrifices she had to make!
“Princess, a letter from Celestial Mountain!” one of her servant girls came in with a message from the sword sect master — not written by the man himself, but by the servant she’d arranged to stay by his side.
Duanmu Yao only knitted her brow at its contents. “His insanity acted up again?”
Master had already received the Duke of Qin’s reply, but because one of his mental fits had flared up again, he didn’t read its contents. Neither did he allow anyone else to unseal the letter, so nobody knew what her senior brother had said.
“Princess, the Duke of Qin wouldn’t dare to violate the sword sect master’s words. As this servant sees it, let’s proceed with the plan on our side. A quick battle will force a fast decision and avenge the esteemed empress sooner, so she can rest in peace,” the servant girl murmured.
Duanmu Yao’s voice was cold. “This princess was only giving master a cursory update after all. Chu Qingge gave me such solid evidence that it’ll be impossible for the Duke of Qin to silence the public. He won’t be able to protect that slut once I expose her. I refuse to believe that senior brother would go against the entire world just for her sake!”
The more she thought, the angrier she felt. Right there and then, she issued orders to spread word that Han Yunxi was the murderer of Empress Xue. Three days later, she was to face off against her one-on-one at her door to repay the blood debt. At the same time, she called the Duke of Qin into account for allying with Western Zhou while allowing Han Yunxi to commit such an atrocious act. The news soon sent the now calm western regions into a frenzy of activity as everyone paid attention to the sensational news.
Chu Qingge’s temper exploded as soon as she heard the updates. Ignoring the fact that she was surrounded by servants, she cursed Duanmu Yao without any sense of dignity. “That brainless slut! How is she expecting the Duke of Qin to like her when she’s such an idiot? Her and her wild fantasies!”
She was the one who gave Duanmu Yao “proof” of Han Yunxi’s crime, but it was only so the girl could cause more difficulties for their shared rival. Instead, she’d dragged His Highness Duke of Qin into the muck as well!
“Does she have any right to call Long Feiye into account? Why does he have to explain himself to her at all?!” Even at a time like this, Chu Qingge’s hatred was purely directed towards Han Yunxi. She held no ill will towards Long Feiye, nor did she wish to see him hurt in the slightest.
But when the cries of her baby suddenly rose from an inner room, Chu Qingge came back to her senses. Her servants were all standing around incredulously, uncertain as to why their empress was so agitated. Neither did they dare to ask. Head Elder Ling and Lady Lianxin had gone for a few days to pick medicinal plants from the mountains, leaving Chu Qingge to take care of her baby herself. Although she loathed the child, she still felt anxious when he cried. She was about to go inside when Ning Cheng appeared.
As the prince regent, he had the freedom to enter and exit Tianning’s harem quarters as he pleased. Nobody would dare to stop him. Today he was dressed in resplendent court robes, looking every inch the honorable and respected noble. His proud and haughty form filled the entire room with pressure as he stepped inside.
“Greetings and good fortune to Your Highness Duke of Ning!”
Everyone in the room fell to their knees. A few servant girls couldn’t help but steal a few peeks before ducking their heads timidly. They feared him, but couldn’t help admiring him as well. Ordinary women couldn’t afford to have him in their fantasies, but all the women here did.
Chu Qingge turned around and almost mistook Ning Cheng for Long Feiye again. She knew he wasn’t, but still couldn’t help staring at him blankly for a while. Ning Cheng had no idea what her look meant, but he disliked it. Ignoring it completely, he strode towards her. The prince regent was still required to pay respects to the empress dowager despite his rank. However, that custom had been abolished as soon as he took the title in .
“Aiya, what wind is this to blow Your Highness Duke of Ning to my doors!” Chu Qingge smiled.
Ning Cheng only muttered, “Once you finish using that acupuncture needle, remember to return it to your lordship.” When he finished, he turned to leave.
“That’s it?” Chu Qingge didn’t believe it. He came on his own just to tell me this little thing? The evidence she gave to Duanmu Yao was one of Han Yunxi’s personal acupuncture needles, provided by none other than Ning Cheng. She assumed that he’d found the thing just to frame Han Yunxi, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
“Remember it. If it’s lost, your lordship will put the blame on you!” Ning Cheng warned as he stalked off without turning back.
“Is there still use for that acupuncture needle? What else are you planning to do?” Chu Qingge followed him out the doors. Anything to do with Han Yunxi always caught her interest.
“Just do the things you’re supposed to do. What’s the use of caring about so much?” Ning Cheng lectured coldly.
“Don’t worry. I definitely won’t disappoint you!” Chu Qingge was confident in her skills, as well as Duanmu Yao’s strategy. Still, Ning Cheng only saw them both as a pair of numbskulls! They wanted to scheme against Han Yunxi, yet they had no idea that their actions would affect Long Feiye far more. Han Yunxi was Long Feiye’s official consort. How could anything she chose to do slip past Long Feiye’s eyes? Anyone with brains wouldn’t believe that Han Yunxi was the one who murdered Empress Xue, but that Long Feiye had done the deed, or that he’d put her up to it in the first place!
“Tch, women involving themselves in government affairs? Long Feiye, take that!” Ning Cheng snorted disdainfully as he slowly strode into the palace.
Reality proved Ning Cheng right. Once the news spread, everyone was either interested in Duanmu Yao’s faceoff against Han Yunxi or suspected Long Feiye of arranging the murder. Western Zhou’s Emperor Kangcheng couldn’t sit still once he heard the news. He personally penned a long letter to demand that Long Feiye explain himself. Otherwise, Western Zhou and Tianning’s south-central region would have to stop their alliance forevermore! Even Long Tianmo and Mu Qingwu in Tianan suspected that Long Feiye was guilty.
“Qin Wangfei has no cause or reason to kill Empress Xue! If something like that really did happen, the Duke of Qin must have been pulling the strings!” Mu Qingwu was already lamenting how unfair the accusations were towards Han Yunxi.
“As I see it, there’s something fishy about this whole thing. If the Duke of Qin really wanted to strike, he wouldn’t need to have Qin Wangfei do the deed for him,” Long Tianmo muttered to himself.
Great General Mu was uninterested in the matter at all. “Qingwu, any news from Northern Li’s horse farms recently?”
“I’ve received updates that ’s horse farms are claiming foals en masse from the herdsmen populace. There’s been no news from the other two,” Mu Qingwu replied.
Great General Mu was unhappy. “That’s common news. Do I need you to report that? Raising foals is only a matter of course. And you’re treating this as legitimate intel?”
Foals needed at least three years of training before they could be groomed into battle horses. Last year, had lost much of its mature stock from three to fifteen years old, so they needed more than fresh foals to fill in the gaps! If Northern Li was missing battle horses for the next three to five years, how were they supposed to keep surviving in the Cloud Realm Continent?
Mu Qingwu lowered his head in silence.
“Unless Northern Li can afford to transfer their remaining horses, they won’t involve themselves in the chaos of the western regions. If they keep out of the fray, the western regions will belong to the Duke of Qin and Duke of Ning. We can simply watch their show!” Great General Mu declared, before adding, “Most likely, Ning Cheng is using Duanmu Yao to stir up controversy about Empress Xue’s death.”
Both Long Tianmo and Mu Qingwu were impressed by his deductions. Old ginger was spicier (shrewder) after all! Long Tianmo knew he couldn’t match Ning Cheng’s strength at present, so all he could do was to conserve power and store up energy for now…
Although Northern Li wouldn’t get involved in the chaos down west, its emperor urged Jun Yixie again and again to pay attention to signs of trouble there. Despite being expelled from the imperial clan, Jun Yixie was still equal to his emperor’s left and right arms, a treasured sword at his beck and call. He was quite impatient to team up with Duanmu Yao again to sow chaos in the western regions, but his master had warned him to stay away. Thus, he had no choice but to watch without getting involved.
Currently, he and his master Bai Yanqing were playing chess. He couldn’t help but ask, “Master, do you think Duanmu Yao will win this round?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter