Who colluded with Duanmu Yao?
Everyone was stunned by his words. Tang Zijin, who’d kept silent the entire time, actually stood up and spoke. “Someone from the Tang Clan?”
“It wouldn’t have been one of your lordship’s men, would it?” Long Feiye retorted.
“Just what happened?” Tang Zijin had wanted Long Feiye to marry Duanmu Yao in the past, if only to claim control over and to borrow Western Zhou’s strength. But despite all his hopes, this was the outcome. He was very clear that Duanmu Yao was the enemy now.
Chu Xifeng explained the entire process from beginning to end, leaving both Tang Zijin and Lady Tang astonished. Compared to their own men, they too agreed that Long Feiye’s subordinates at the Yaoshui estate were less likely to collude with Duanmu Yao and leak any details. After all, Long Feiye treated his subordinates exceptionally harshly. But the Tang Clan was filled with all sorts of members. However…
“Not many people know the location of the Yaoshui estate in the first place!” Lady Tang remarked.
“Then lock up all the people who do. Interrogate them one by one. I refuse to believe that we won’t find the truth!” Tang Li said sharply as he narrowed his eyes. A dangerous aura surrounded his body. “Who had the gall to collude with Duanmu Yao? Are they sick of living already?”
“That’s right. Interrogate them one by one using that...that, what’s it called again…” Lady Tang was still thinking of the word when Han Yunxi helpfully reminded her.
“Right! Rat torture! That’s the one,” Lady Tang rejoiced and glanced at Han Yunxi with a ‘you understand what I mean’ look. “Rat torture for the interrogation will definitely get us results!”
Aunt Ru only stood on the side with her lips tightly pursed in a rare moment of silence.
“This is a massive oversight! Even if we kill the wrong person, it’s better than outright letting them go! My Tang Clan accepts no traitors amongst its ranks!” Tang Zijin’s expression was stern. “Aunt Ru, you shouldn’t go with them. I’ll leave this task to you. You and Chu Xifeng should investigate thoroughly. Don’t forgive the offender, whoever it may be!”
Aunt Ru dearly wanted to join Lady Tang’s betrothal party, but the disturbance of this matter made it impossible for her to refuse the request.
“Any problems with that, Aunt Ru?” Long Feiye asked.
“None whatsoever! How could I have any problems?” Aunt Ru replied hastily. “Tang Li’s wedding is an important affair, but this is even more vital. You can depart without worries, just leave this to me!”
“Chu Xifeng, cooperate with her! If there’s any progress, report it as soon as you can,” Long Feiye instructed coldly.
“This subordinate understands!” Chu Xifeng obeyed respectfully.
Long Feiye’s tone and attitude were both unkind. Nevertheless, Tang Zijin didn’t dare to object, even as his senior; any greater consequences from the betrayal would result in the entire clan being punished. That night, Long Feiye remained in Tang Li’s courtyard. Supposedly, Tang Li was riddled with anxiety about his upcoming wedding and required a heart-to-heart with his elder brother. Han Yunxi remained in Lady Tang’s quarters. According to Lady Tang, she was caught up in her emotions and needed a third party to plan some details with her. Meanwhile, Aunt Ru had no chance to rest as Chu Xifeng whisked her away to help with the investigations.
The next morning, Han Yunxi and Long Feiye used the Tang Clan’s specially formulated face masks to disguise themselves as Lady Tang’s handmaiden and a carriage guard respectively. The two of them made a perfect pair flanking Lady Tang on both sides. Although it was just a betrothal party, the assembled group looked quite smart. Lining up in front of the Tang Clan doors, they reminded Han Yunxi of her former honor guard for her wedding day. Four guards led the road in front while Tang Li rode on a high horse behind them. Behind him was Lady Tang’s carriage with her and Han Yunxi inside. Long Feiye rode on horseback outside as protection. Behind them was the carriage with the wedding nanny and the fortune-teller in tow, with the betrothal gifts bringing up the rear. Aside from the ten individual Tang Clan assassination weapons, there were also ten entire carts worth of gold, silver, and other valuable treasures.
Lady Tang had only prepared two carts at most for appearance’s sake, but Han Yunxi changed her mind. “Cloud Realm Trade Consortium doesn’t lack money, but neither does our Tang Clan.”
Though others might not understand, Lady Tang immediately knew what she meant. As the wife of the clan head, she had bypassed all the complicated procedures and simply ordered men to fill up eight more carts with stores from the warehouse. The party was about to set off when Aunt Ru suddenly burst out and chased them down the mountain. “Wait!”
Lady Tang lifted the curtains and looked back unhappily. “The auspicious hour is already here, what’s there to wait? We can talk after we return.”
“Didn’t we agree on two carts worth of gifts? Why is it ten now?” Aunt Ru asked.
Lady Tang was not good with finances, so she didn’t even know how much silver she had in her moneybags. It was Aunt Ru who managed all the money affairs.
“We’ll talk when I get back. It’s not good to miss the auspicious hour!” Lady Tang insisted.
“It’s only a betrothal procession, what’s there to worry about with auspicious hours? Bringing so many gifts will only make it seem like we value that girl. Two carts for appearance’s sake will be enough!” Aunt Ru was quite the stingy sort.
Han Yunxi simply sat in the carriage with her eyes closed, too lazy to argue with Aunt Ru.
“I only have one son, and the Tang Clan only has one young clan master. No matter what, his marriage affairs can’t be shameful! These betrothal gifts are the face of the Tang Clan, which we can’t afford to lose! It’s set! Someone come, we’re setting off!” Lady Tang got straight to the point.
“Sister-in-law, didn’t we agree on the numbers beforehand?” Aunt Ru grew desperate.
She and Lady Tang had spent an entire day discussing this before Long Feiye and Han Yunxi arrived. From the betrothal party to after the wedding, even how they should make things difficult for Ning Jing after she birthed children--they’d planned out every single step. She had given Lady Tang no end of schemes, all of which Lady Tang had accepted.
Yet the woman was going back on her words right as she departed for the betrothal meeting? Just what did Han Yunxi discuss with Lady Tang last night?
“We can still change them even after we settle on things,” Lady Tang said in a low voice. “Just don’t get involved in Tang Li’s wedding affairs. Hurry and find that traitor, or else I won’t be able to stop worrying.”
Lady Tang dropped the curtains as the party set out. Aunt Ru looked after them in shock, her heart growing more and more uneasy. Although Lady Tang loved fighting with her over little things, the woman usually listened to her on important affairs. But Lady Tang hadn’t said a peep to her about the change in betrothal gifts. Ever since elder sister Tang Yiwan passed away, she had taken her place to search for clues to the Perplexing Butterfly Illusion. The rest of the Tang Clan’s affairs were beyond her reach, since it was elder brother’s wife who managed the household.
Later on, once Lady Tang had grown lazy, she stopped managing things personally and accepted Aunt Ru’s help. As her aid increased, so did her power, until she was managing all of the Tang Clan’s financial affairs. Aunt Ru’s heart was all for the Tang Clan and East Qin. However, she had her own selfish desires, too! Anyone who held power for a long time always feared losing it one day. She was already the equivalent of the second-in-command in the Tang Clan after Tang Zijin. No one else should think of being the third or fourth!
She had wanted to guard against Tang Li’s wife because she feared the woman would usurp her position in the clan one day and help Lady Tang manage her affairs. Once Tang Li and Ning Jing’s wedding was set, she actually exhaled in relief, because there was no way Ning Jing would ever earn Lady Tang’s trust now.
And yet, Han Yunxi came to kick her plans awry! It looks like she’d have to get rid of her as soon as possible, whether by hook or by crook!
Three days after Han Yunxi and the party set out, Cloud Realm Trade Consortium sent people to meet them and lead the way. They traveled north for a few more days before reaching a large canyon. The further north they went, the thicker the snow fell. Grass was growing in the south amongst the singing orioles, with flowers blanketing the warm ground with the feel of summer days, and yet the north--especially in the mountains--was still harboring a chill in the air and was covered in ice and frost.
Before entering the canyon, their guides stopped to whistle a signal. A team of black-suited guards appeared at the sound.
“What’s this for?” Tang Li grew guarded.
“Young Clan Head Tang, don’t be alarmed. They’re simply here to guide the horses. Please put on these blindfolds. It’ll only take an hour before we reach Ten-Thousand Commerce Hall,” the guide replied respectfully.
They didn’t want them to know the way down the canyon? But that was their main motive for the betrothal party today!
“And if this young clan head isn’t willing?” Tang Li asked coldly.
He was dressed in robes of ethereal white as he sat astride his tall horse, but his expression was the complete opposite: That of an ignorant, incompetent, silk-clothes fop. The guide couldn’t help but wonder how President Jing blindly fell for such a man. Since this was to be their future son-in-law, the guide didn’t dare to slight him.
“Young Clan Master Tang, please quell your anger. This is a Cloud Realm Trade Consortium regulation, not just measures against your group specifically. Aside from members of the Ten-Thousand Commerce Hall, even members of our own consortium must enter the canyon blindfolded. Please forgive us.”
“How big is this canyon? We still need to travel for an hour?” Tang Li’s face showed nothing but impatience, but he was actually probing for answers.
The guide was quite smart and replied, “It’s because the mountain roads are difficult to traverse. We need to walk slower with safety in mind first.”
“In other words, we wouldn’t need to travel for an hour if we moved quickly?” Tang Li asked next.
The guide simply changed the topic. “Young Clan Head Tang, let’s hurry on down. President Jing and the others have been waiting for quite a while.”
“She’s that impatient to see me?” Tang Li laughed out loud, his voice full of scorn.
The guide turned incensed. President Jing is such a good girl. Why did she stick herself with this pile of cow dung? And now she’s being humiliated, too! He almost lost it there and then, but he suppressed his temper to reply, “Young Clan Head Tang, let’s go.”
“Then get a move on! Come, let’s go!”
Tang Li purposely ignored the matter of the blindfolds. Meanwhile, Long Feiye pondered over every word the guide had said, while Han Yunxi and Lady Tang secretly giggled inside the carriage. Seriously, Tang Li was a great actor. Even they wanted to give him a kick or two.
Unable to bear any more of this, the guide had the black-suited guards spread out to bar passage to the engagement party.
“Young Clan Master Tang, I heard your mother had someone calculate the auspicious hour for the two families to meet. If we drag this on, we might miss it entirely. I ask that you all blindfold yourselves to follow me down the canyon,” the guide’s tone was quite severe.
“There’s still two hours left until my mother’s auspicious hour. Didn’t you just say travel only takes an hour? What’s the rush? As I see it, we can rest here for an hour before we continue down!” As Tang Li spoke, he waved a hand. “Someone come, prepare to rest here. Bring over this young clan head’s wine.”
Are they going or not? The guide couldn’t wait to chase this pack of people away--the sooner the better, so President Jing wouldn’t have to marry such a hedonistic son of rich parents. But his judgments held no weight. Moreover, if he didn’t bring the group to Ten-Thousand Commerce Hall and earned the blame from his superiors, everything would be his fault.
He had someone report the situation to President Jing while he suppressed his rage to coax them again. But no matter what he did, Tang Li still refused to accept the blindfold and go down into the canyon.
Ning Jing was already in a bad mood, so the news of his refusal only made her more sour.
“No need to push them! They can come or leave as they like! This young lady would like to see just how long they’ll delay! In the end, we’ll see who’s begging whom!” she stated coldly.Previous Chapter Next Chapter