It was like their first meeting.
She was dressed like a man in white robes, her black hair tied up with a single ribbon above her head. There were no feminine ornaments on her person, and her dress was clean and clear-cut. However, her elegant and unrestrained air, coupled with her slender figure like a jade tree facing off against the wind, gave her away as a woman. Her facial features were too fine, and her clean face free of makeup was pure and exquisite in its details.
This was Han Yunxi’s first time seeing Ning Jing in person, and it was much better than listening to some rumors. She suddenly wanted to see what the girl would look like in full makeup and phoenix coronet on the day of her wedding.
She’ll definitely be beautiful!
Even so, Han Yunxi couldn’t ignore the capable, steady air emanating from the girl. The longer she looked, the more similarities she found between her and Ning Cheng. She wasn’t sure if she could tell because she was aware of their relationship or because Ning Jing truly was that similar to her brother.
Lady Tang was seeing Ning Jing for the first time too. She murmured softly, “At least her looks are on par with Li’er’s.”
Han Yunxi laughed to herself. While the two of them studied Ning Jing, she treated them as air and headed towards Tang Li with a purposeful stride. Tang Li couldn’t help but recall the impassioned scenes of that night at her approach and the tips of his ears began to burn. He only recovered his senses when she was standing right in front of him and prepared to stand, but it was impossible with her pressing so close to him.
What’s the meaning of this? She’s going too far!
Lady Tang grew restless and prepared to speak, but Han Yunxi pressed a hand on her shoulder to calm her. Tang Li wasn’t an easy foe, either. He remained seated with his hands behind his head, arching a brow at her with a frivolous smile. “Long time no see. Did you miss me?”
The hands hidden inside Ning Jing’s sleeves clenched into fists. She nearly punched him there and then, but held herself back to glare at him from above. “You haven’t answered my question yet.”
Tang Li only looked at her with amusement. “How do you know that this young clan head didn’t bring a heart?”
He pressed a hand over his chest while beckoning Ning Jing with a finger. “Come, have a touch. It’s warm!”
In the silence, everyone heard the sound of Ning Jing’s fists clenching once again. Lady Tang realized for the first time that her son was quite good at flirting with women! Han Yunxi’s mouth just twitched. She didn’t know what to do with him. They had already accomplished their mission to scope out the area today. There was no need for Tang Li to keep putting up his act! It was better to finish quickly and go back to prepare for the actual wedding ceremony. If he wanted to seduce Ning Jing, he had plenty of chances in the future. Why act so wild on Ning Jing’s turf now?
“Fine then!” Ning Jing laughed, then bent down. One hand rested on Tang Li’s armrest while the other reached for his chest. Tang Li froze, staring at her hand. He never thought she’d dare! His hand remained firmly pressed over his chest, refusing to move.
Ning Jing avoided his hand entirely and simply slipped her hand inside his robes, digging deeper while prying his fingers loose. Tang Li lost it and anxiously dropped his arm. Very soon, Ning Jing had accurately pinpointed the location of Tang Li’s heart and touched it lightly before a cold smile rose to her face. At that, everyone grew alarmed; Han Yunxi, who didn’t know martial arts at all, was worried. After all, it’d be simple for Ning Jing to kill Tang Li with her hand so close to his heart. But Tang Li felt no sense of danger at all. He only stared blankly at Ning Jing, breathing in the fragrance wafting off her body. He didn’t have a chance to look at her closely that night, so he was experiencing her beauty for the first time.
Han Yunxi gave Lady Tang a light push, and she quickly cried out, “Tang Li, you can’t be so impolite!”
Just who was she supposed to be lecturing here?
Tang Li finally regained his senses and quickly pulled Ning Jing’s hand away, then soundlessly shoved her aside. “It’s only a joke. Jing’er doesn’t mind, right?”
Mother and father had passed away early, and none of the clan elders had ever called her that. What right did he have to use such a nickname with her? A trace of disgust flickered in Ning Jing’s eyes despite the smile on her face. “So it was only a joke, ah. In other words, your heart to marry me is cold?”
Tang Li was left momentarily speechless.
Ning Jing laughed out loud. “It’s only a joke! Young Clan Master Tang doesn’t mind, right?”
“How could I?” Tang Li didn’t want to argue with her anymore. He would deal with her after she was brought into the Tang Clan.
“Cough, cough. Ning Jing, you can’t be so impolite! Hurry and pay your respects to Lady Tang,” the (fake) ex-president Ouyang finally spoke up.
Ning Jing quickly turned and gave a large, formal bow to Lady Tang. She was natural and at ease, respectful without being humble.
“Hurry and stand up, let me have a look at you.”
Lady Tang endured a stomach full of fury to pull Ning Jing warmly with a hand. She examined her carefully and exclaimed, “A true model of beauty! Cui Hua, wouldn’t you say?”
Cui Hua? Han Yunxi almost missed her cue before she spoke up, “Yes, yes! Young mistress and young master really make a ‘brilliant young scholar’ and a ‘beautiful woman!’ They’re a perfect match!” Han Yunxi murmured in a low voice. The wedding nanny scooted over to sing her praises as well. Ning Jing only smiled slightly without a word.
Most of the betrothal duties were finished, so Lady Tang was of no mind to dawdle. She exchanged a few more words before standing up to bid farewell. Ning Jing didn’t go to send her off, but Tang Li turned back at the door to say in an adoring tone, “Jing’er, wait ‘til I come to wed you!”
Outside, the mountains were as dark as ink. Tang Li was a spot of white in a sea of black, his tender smile like the focus of a painting that etched itself into Ning Jing’s mind. This would become the deepest memory of Tang Li in her life.
Once everyone had left the room, Ning Jing began a count of all the betrothal gifts. She picked up the Pear Blossom Rain Needles and examined it a few times, but couldn’t figure out how it worked or which buttons to press, much less in what order. Although she really wanted to test the mechanism for herself, she didn’t dare. She knew there was a limit to the number of needles stored inside, and that once one was used, it was gone for good.
Since Ning Cheng wanted this specifically, it was best not to tarry. She glanced over the other assassination weapons and found herself equally at a loss. “Someone come, send all of these over to the clan head. You must take utmost care. If any one of them is damaged, it’ll be your heads!”
Then she inspected the ten carts worth of riches and jewels. Each cart had ten chests full, making a total of a hundred chests. She estimated their worth in her head.
“Young Miss, the Tang Clan really was generous with their gifts! That wedding nanny was right, this has to be the number one in betrothal gifts in the world!” gushed a servant girl as she smiled.
Ning Jing cast a side glance at the girl, who immediately shut up. Still, a curve rose to her lips. She assumed that the Tang Clan wouldn’t give anything more beyond the assassination weapons, but they actually offered this much... The betrothal gifts were not only the face of the husband’s family, but a sign of how much they valued their future bride. She and Tang Li’s marriage might be happening under extenuating circumstances, but underneath her fierce personality, Ning Jing still had the soft whims of a girl. After all, you only got married once in your lifetime.
As she stroked the various treasures, she began to get a little nervous. She...was really going to get married!
Ning Nuo emerged then, all smiles. “Ning Jing, you received such a large batch of betrothal gifts. How is Cloud Realm Trade Consortium supposed to supply your dowry now?”
“I’ve said it before, I don’t need you butting into my business!” Though she still disliked Tang Li, it was Ning Nuo that she despised most of all!
“I came precisely to remind you of one thing: Lady Tang once said that the Tang Clan can still afford to raise you with no dowry at all!” Ning Nuo said. “The Tang Clan gave so many betrothal gifts precisely because they don’t lack for money! Your mother-in-law is quite formidable!”
Ning Jing understood. If she didn’t bring enough dowry to get married, her mother-in-law would probably eat her alive!
“Someone come! Give me the list of Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s armaments!” Ning Jing demanded coldly.
Ning Nuo grew alarmed. “What are you planning?”
“I don’t need you to get involved! Just try and waste words with me again!” Ning Jing warned.
“Ning Jing, I’m telling you now, if you dare to gift those armaments to the Tang Clan, big brother won’t show you any mercy!” Ning Nuo grew serious.
“Who said I’m giving them away? The Cloud Realm Trade Consortium has already accepted the betrothal gifts. The dowry will be determined by me since it’s mine! The Tang Clan has never given their weapons to outsiders. As I see it, this is a chance!”
Ning Jing figured that she could bring a few of the Tang Clan’s assassination weapons into the public and make a killing in business!
“This...isn’t a bad idea!” Ning Nuo finally understood what she was thinking…
Lady Tang’s group left the canyon only a short while before taking a side path to throw off any pursuers. Tang Li and Long Feiye now joined the two women in the carriage.
“With Ning Jing’s personality, she wouldn’t just have treasure and jewels in her dowry. Besides money and wealth, Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s most valuable assets are their shops and stores. They have complete chains of shops in all sorts of trades and professions,” Han Yunxi analyzed the situation carefully. “Ning Jing wouldn’t marry into the Tang Clan empty-handed. She wants to get some advantages from the Tang, so her aim will be for the Tang Clan assassination weapons. Her first choice will be to go the arms trade route!”
“She’s in control of the dowry, so that’s a risk. Be careful that she doesn’t incur a debt for the Tang Clan!” Tang Li remarked.
Although gunpowder-powered weapons existed in the Cloud Realm Continent, their numbers were sparse. Weapons determined victory in wars, so the arms trade was a highly sensitive area of business. Ning Jing wouldn’t be foolish enough to get directly involved.
Long Feiye patted Tang Li’s shoulders and bluntly inquired, “She’s already your person. Can’t you take her things as well?”
Now the weight of the responsibility was laid across Tang Li’s shoulders. He glanced over at Han Yunxi and said, “Sister-in-law, is that the truth?”
“My things are the Duke of Qin’s things while the Duke of Qin’s things are my things. In the end, my things are still my things!” Han Yunxi grinned brightly.
Long Feiye had no objection to this, while Tang Li just exhaled. He leaned listlessly against a wall, intertwined within his own conflicts. How was he supposed to make Ning Jing his? After a few more days, his free and careless days would be over!
“Yunxi, that gold ingot…” Lady Tang trailed off worriedly.
“Don’t worry. That gold ingot is our key to gaining access. At the very least, it’ll take us to the front doors of the great hall down in the canyon.” Han Yunxi had done a lot of work on the gold ingot. At the end of the month, when Tang Li came to pick up his bride, she and Long Feiye would come along to rescue the elder captives!
Meanwhile, there was still a major undertaking to be done within the next few days, and that was to smoke out the traitor inside the Tang Clan! Once they were back, Long Feiye immediately found Chu Xifeng and Aunt Ru to hear of their investigation progress.
“There are still 10 more people left for us to interrogate. The others can all be eliminated from suspicion,” Chu Xifeng reported.
“And if those ten are also absolved?” Long Feiye asked coldly.
Chu Xifeng felt at a loss. “This subordinate isn’t fully aware of the internal situation at the Tang Clan. I would have to ask Aunt Ru for ideas.”
“Interrogate them first,” Aunt Ru demanded. “As I see it, the traitor is sure to be one of those ten. If rat torture isn’t enough, we can try something else. The fear of death will come to them in time! Traitors to the Tang Clan must die!”
In a marked contrast to her previous silence, Aunt Ru was back to being ruthless and to the point again. A complicated look flickered past Long Feiye’s eyes before he made his demand, “Bring in all of the remainders. Your lordship will interrogate them personally!”
2. My things...are still my things… - an adaptation of a modern saying by married women: “My things are my husband’s things while my husband’s things are my things. In the end, my things are still my things!”