The guide felt a sense of relief at Ning Jing’s orders. He stopped trying to coax Tang Li’s group and grinned instead. “Then Young Clan Head Tang, your group can rest first. We’ll set out when everyone’s not so tired.”
Then he went to sit on a rock himself, the very picture of going with the flow.
Tang Li’s mouth twitched. Although he didn’t mind dragging things out, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi still needed the cover to rescue the two elders imprisoned in the consortium. Tang Li glanced back at Long Feiye. It would be their turn next.
Long Feiye couldn’t get much intel from the guide’s exchange with Tang Li, but he’d already sent men to familiarize themselves with the terrain. The only mystery left was this large canyon, which they’d left alone for fear of startling the snakes in the grass. If Cloud Realm Trade Consortium was alerted into putting up its guard, it would be much more difficult to save the two elders when the time came.
Thus, they had to use more prudent methods for their investigations. Long Feiye gave a slight cough, which signaled Han Yunxi to help Lady Tang out of the carriage. She didn’t forget to secretly wink at him, which he returned with a curve of his lips. Even with a completely different face, Han Yunxi’s wink was still as bewitching as always.
Once Tang Li saw his mother and Han Yunxi walk over, he continued to keep up his act. Quickly dismounting his horse, he cried out loudly, “Mother, the wind is strong here. Why did you get out of the carriage? Hurry and go back! Rest well. In the future I’ll have your daughter-in-law personally pick you up!”
Lady Tang only glared at Tang Li and ignored him before looking toward the guide. He quickly rose to his feet and said, “Lady Tang.”
“This brother, my son, is ignorant and rude. For my sake, I ask that you please do not lower yourself to argue on his level,” Lady Tang said seriously.
The guide was pleasantly surprised by this show of favor and stood bewildered. Meanwhile, Lady Tang swiftly pressed a large gold ingot into his waistband. “Let’s pretend that none of this ever happened. Don’t you go spreading it about, either. Hurry and bring over the blindfolds. It’s better that we get into the canyon faster to avoid missing the auspicious hour.”
The guide touched the gold ingot by his waist and knew it to be sizable. He smiled inwardly. While Young Clan Head Tang is shameless, Lady Tang is all about face! If Tang Li dragged things out here, news of it would really disgrace the Tang Clan.
“Your ladyship exaggerates! Nothing much happened just then. If you’ve rested well, then let’s set out on our journey,” the guide quickly made way.
Tang Li observed this all in silence. Although he didn’t know why, he was certain the gold his mother had slipped the guide was questionable at best. Knowing his mother’s personality, she would rather turn back than wait around here any longer. How did Han Yunxi manage to curb his mother’s temper after only just a few days? Moreover, now that she had his mother on her side, would he ever need to fear his father again?
At this, Tang Li realized he shouldn’t be thinking that way. Han Yunxi wasn’t going to be his future wife, after all. What was the use even if she won over his parents? It was more useful to have Long Feiye as a shield to protect her from any bullies in the Tang Clan.
“Still not leaving? If we miss the auspicious hour, see how this ol’ mother will deal with you when we get back!” Lady Tang scolded sternly as she passed by Tang Li.
Tang Li only held an air of (fake) resentment as he allowed the black-suited guards to blindfold him. He didn’t dare to voice a single word of protest. The guide only smiled coldly at his reaction, then told one of his men, “Go and report to President Jing that Young Clan Head Tang greatly fears Lady Tang, so much so that he wouldn’t even fart in her presence. Meanwhile, it was Lady Tang who asked to be led to the canyon first for fear of missing the auspicious hour.”
Was Tang Li really afraid of Lady Tang?
In actuality, Lady Tang was nervous the whole way back to her carriage. This was her first time ever scolding her son. She couldn’t bear the thought. After all, she hadn’t raised her voice to Tang Li even once ever since he was born. She doted on him so much that his own father both envied and hated the boy out of jealousy.
Once Tang Li and the rest were wearing their blindfolds, the black-robed guards began to lead their horses down the mountain. Meanwhile, the guide secretly took the gold at his waist and tested its hefty weight before slipping it into his sleeve in satisfaction. Even after he died, he wouldn’t know that it was this gold ingot that took his life.
Hoofbeats and wheels rolled against the ground as the long procession vanished quickly into the canyon. A guard was even stationed in the carriage, making it impossible for Han Yunxi and Lady Tang to converse. The two of them had talked non-stop the whole way here from morning to night. Relationships between people really were determined by affinity; Han Yunxi liked Lady Tang’s disposition, while Lady Tang greatly enjoyed Han Yunxi’s personality.
If Han Yunxi wasn’t Long Feiye’s consort, Lady Tang mused to herself, I definitely wouldn’t allow Tang Li to miss out on a daughter-in-law like this.
One hour later, the carriage stopped. The black-robed guards helped them undo the blindfolds and withdrew. Han Yunxi raised the carriage curtains and saw that they had arrived in a huge garden comparable to the size of the . Had it been specifically designed for the canyon?
Directly in front of them stood a broad and imposing hall, looking splendid in green and gold. Its aura was comparable to that of an imperial palace. An old man dressed in golden silk robes stood at the entrance. When he saw Tang Li dismount his horse, he slowly descended the steps. Tang Li was filled with doubt. This old man was dressed quite well and carried a distinctive air about him. He was…The guide quickly rushed forward. “Old Master, this is Young Clan Head Tang from the Tang Clan.”
“Young Clan Head Tang, this is President Jing’s father, the ex-president of the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium.”
Ning Jing’s father? The Di Clan’s clan head?
A complicated look flickered past Tang Li’s eyes before he hastened to bow. “Very pleased to meet you.”
Ning Jing’s father had shown up, but not her mother. Perhaps she had already passed away. In any case, Tang Li didn’t care, so he didn’t ask. Meanwhile, Han Yunxi had already guided Lady Tang out of the carriage. The old president quickly came to greet them. “And I expect this must be Lady Tang?”
“Precisely. Old President Ouyang, very pleased to meet you.” Lady Tang remained polite.
The two exchanged greetings before ex-president Ouyang invited them into the hall. Han Yunxi accompanied Lady Tang while Long Feiye stood by the entrance instead. Noticing this, the old man smiled and said, “Come in with us. The guards here are strict, so you can set your mind at rest.”
“These are the rules of our Tang Clan. Just leave him by the door, it’s fine,” Lady Tang explained.
The old man didn’t press the issue. As they entered the main hall, Han Yunxi was the last to go in. She stole a peek towards their guide and found that he had left down a side hall instead. Inside, the hall was empty besides a few servant girls. Ning Jing was nowhere in sight. A wedding was an important affair equivalent to the life of one’s mother and father. It was unsuitable for Ning Jing to be absent, but their circumstances were too unique. It would only be strange if Ning Jing showed up, considering her temper and bearing.
Tang Li secretly felt a little disappointed when he saw nobody around. Because today was simply the betrothal meeting, he only needed to show up without saying any words and ended up sitting quietly on the side. Meanwhile, Lady Tang and old President Ouyang began discussing matters with polite banalities. It took a while before they got Ning Jing’s Eight Characters (her year, month, day, and hour of birth in four pairs, each consisting of one Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch) and had the fortune-teller calculate a fortuitous wedding date.
Naturally, the fortune-teller had been arranged beforehand to give the most satisfactory results to both parties. Han Yunxi was dispirited to find that Ning Jing was only 19 years old---three years younger than Tang Li! She had thought the girl was much older. For such a young girl to have Cloud Realm Trade Consortium in her grasp was no simple thing! Leaving aside all the complicated relationships involved, Tang Li had managed to snag quite a catch, despite being a rich son who never fretted much about anything in his life.
She stole a peek at him, hoping to poke fun with her look, but Tang Li was actually lost in his own thoughts.
“The twenty-eighth day of this month is the auspicious hour and lucky day. But the bride must pass over the threshold of the door before . It’ll be inauspicious if she crosses after !” the fortune-teller said as he stroked his beard.*
Both the old president and Lady Tang nodded without protest. The fortune-teller went on to talk about a few other details while the two old people listened. An hour or so of talk thus passed by smoothly. Finally, Lady Tang gave a glance towards the wedding nanny, who was better suited to speak in her place.
She and ex-president Ouyang began to talk about customs and usual practices before they got to the subject of the betrothal gifts.
“Old President Ouyang, here are the betrothal gifts from the Tang Clan. There are 10 assassination weapons and ten carts worth of gold, silver, and jewels,” the wedding nanny patted the chests with a cheery laugh. “The Tang Clan is one of the most generous groom’s clans I’ve ever seen. Leaving aside these 10 weapons, the ten carts worth of treasure definitely deserve to be called Cloud Realm’s best! Here is the Tang Clan’s good faith and sincerity on full display! President Jing is very lucky!”
At this moment, Ning Jing curled up her lip contemptuously from her hiding place in a corner. Yes, ten carts worth of treasures was a big sum, but she didn’t lack for wealth herself! The riches she controlled in her hands, along with the ones she created for Cloud Realm Trade Consortium each year, were hundreds, if not thousands of times greater than these measly 10 carts. She was more interested in the 10 assassination weapons because her older brother had specifically given instructions on them.
Old President Ouyang rose to his feet and looked past the chests of treasure to the one containing the weapons in the back. The wedding nanny quickly opened them up to reveal 10 smaller treasure chests. These she opened one by one with introductions. The last chest contained the Plum Blossom Rain Needles. “This is the second-ranked treasure of the Tang Clan. The young clan head has looked after it all this time. You can regard it as his heartfelt feelings for gifting the Plum Blossom Rain Needles as part of the betrothal gifts.”
“His heart is clear,” the old President Ouyang finally felt his heart sink back into his chest. He was simply one of Ning Jing’s subordinates, ordered here to put on a show. She had instructed him to see the Plum Blossom Rain Needles in person, or else the wedding would be for naught.
“Can I marry Ning Jing if I don’t have a heart?” Tang Li suddenly gave a careless laugh. Those who didn’t know any better would only assume he was acting frivolously again, but Lady Tang and Han Yunxi both knew his words had a double meaning:
The Plum Blossom Rain Needles had long since been used up. Now there was only an empty husk with no center--no heart--inside. Old President Ouyang only smiled and avoided answering, but Ning Jing couldn’t take the jibe. She had already decided to ignore this man, but his words spurred her to give him a second look. Seeing him sitting there with that expression on his face, coupled with his tone of voice, made her feel unwell all over. She could bear it when hearing accounts from the guide, but now she’d seen his true face for herself. It was impossible for her to bear him. How could she….just how could she have been so blind?!
Besides his robes of white, there was nothing ethereal about him at all! When was he ever as handsome and light-hearted as the breeze? How was she supposed to deal with him for an entire year? And she even had to stay in the Tang Clan during that time!
Finally, Ning Jing stalked out into the open and declared, “Tang Li, if I say that you can’t, will you give up on marrying me?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
*Author’s Note: In ancient times, one month had 28 days (according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar).