Would the door close first, or the person leave first?
It was such a little detail, but Han Yunxi and Long Feiye were quibbling about it yet again. Still, it didn’t last more than two exchanges.
“You go first,” Han Yunxi said for the second time, and Long Feiye really did turn to leave. Her heart gave a soft lurch as she fumbled for words. Without another look, she shut the door before leaning against it with her head.
She thought back to her exchange with Lady Tang earlier at the foot of the mountain, about love and “everything.”
“Long Feiye, is it alright if you don’t leave at all?” she muttered softly to herself.
In actual fact, Long Feiye was still there! Once he heard the door shut, he stopped walking and tapped against the ground to take flight like a startled swan. His figure was as captivating as a demon as he silently landed on Han Yunxi’s roof. He hadn’t visited Tang Li very often in the past few days, preferring to stand guard by Han Yunxi’s side.
After all, this was the Tang Clan!
He controlled most of the powers under his thrall, but here had always been an exception. In terms of status and position, the Tang Clan was inferior to the Baili. In terms of power and influence, it paled to the south central regions and its provincial governor. In terms of pure martial arts, it had long been outstripped by the shadow guards stationed at his Hidden Enclosure.
No one in the Baili estate dared to say no to him, the provincial governor of the south central regions only followed his lead, and the Hidden Pavilion guards didn’t have a single member from the Tang Clan, but were picked out over the years from the ranks of Celestial Mountain Sword Sect disciples. They were loyal to him unto death.
In contrast, the Tang Clan always pinned him down on account of their secret relations by blood. Tang Zijin and all the rest might be his subordinates, but they were also his elders in the family. The Imperial mother had entrusted them with the task of reviving the country before she died. In summary, he didn’t have complete control over the Tang Clan.
Long Feiye rested his hands behind his head as he laid on the roof, staring at the stars above. His dark irises looked ever blacker and more mysterious than the skies. Soon enough, Chu Xifeng arrived with a soft report. “Your Highness, we’ve investigated everything about Grandmother Kong. It’s all been arranged to plan.”
“Mm. The days are getting warmer. It’s about time for the snake to come out of its hole,” Long Feiye’s voice was cold like the night wind, chilling one to the bone. Actually, his understanding of ‘luring the snake from its hole’ differed from Han Yunxi’s interpretation. She wanted to lure out Duanmu Yao, while he had no desire to see the girl ever again. His target was Aunt Ru.
“Your Highness, esteemed wangfei...failed tonight, isn’t that right?” Chu Xifeng couldn’t help but ask.
“She’s a woman, so it’s hard for her to stop being soft-hearted. Let her do as she pleases,” Long Feiye remarked.
“Esteemed wangfei isn’t soft-hearted at all. She’s only merciful to children, like Su Xiaoyu.”
Esteemed wangfei was no idiot, but she lacked His Highness Duke of Qin’s icy calm. Kong Xi’s death had turned her impulsive. Actually, that incident had already startled the snake in the grass. Aunt Ru was quite a prudent woman and would have told Duanmu Yao what had happened. Under these circumstances, probing Duanmu Yao was pointless. The best choice was to start moving from Kong Xi’s angle instead!
However, Long Feiye had already invited Grandmother Kong with no results. Kong Xi would rather die than expose the identity of the true traitor, which proved that the culprit had not only used the old woman to threaten Kong Xi, but also probably had other hidden threats against them too. This was the most valuable piece of evidence that Kong Xi had left them and was the key to cracking this case.
Chu Xifeng was muttering to himself. Although he couldn’t remember how many of his men his mistress had saved, he recalled how often she spoke up for them back at the Duke of Qin’s estate! She wasn’t soft-hearted, just kind.
It wasn’t clear whether Long Feiye heard his muttering, but he said coldly, “It’s good that she failed. The traitor will stop being on guard all the time.”
“Right! Esteemed wangfei’s scheme wasn’t for naught! I bet Aunt Ru is gloating right now,” Chu Xifeng grinned.
Long Feiye rose to his feet and swept his gaze across the silent mountains around them. “Tang Yiru…” he murmured aloud.
Chu Xifeng was startled. This was the first time he’d heard His Highness call Aunt Ru by her full name. Without a doubt, he had steeled his heart to deal with the Tang Clan. But even so, he couldn’t really do anything against Aunt Ru or Tang Zijin, right? They were his aunt and uncle after all!
“Your Highness, the Tang Clan isn’t just anyone. I ask that you think thrice!” Chu Xifeng couldn’t help reminding him. Actually, the Tang Clan head and Aunt Ru had rarely clashed with His Highness before Han Yunxi appeared. Leaving aside their blood relations, the Tang Clan was as loyal to the East Qin Dynasty as the Baili. Aunt Ru had been too impudent this time, but she hadn’t exposed any secrets beyond the location of the Yaoshui estate. Her main target was only esteemed wangfei. In the end, it was all because she was worried about Han Yunxi’s birth origins!
Long Feiye laughed coldly. “Yes, it certainly is different! They have no idea how big your lordship’s aspirations really are.”
Even if it wasn’t for Han Yunxi’s sake, he had long wanted to hold full control over the Tang Clan. That was because Tang Zijin and Tang Yiru only had room for the East Qin in their hearts. They didn’t even understand him as well as Baili Yuanlong. With different paths and principles, they couldn’t work together at all!
Chu Xifeng had only a hazy notion of his master’s thoughts. He sighed and said, “Master, at least don’t ruin the young Tang Clan head’s big day.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll give him a big gift as his older brother!” Long Feiye declared icily.
Seven days remained before Tang Li’s wedding. Each day, things grew more and more festive at the Tang Clan. Lady Tang was a tactful woman. She never brought up the events of that night again, while Han Yunxi did as Long Feiye advised and stopped probing. She did her best helping Lady Tang to prepare the various details of the wedding. Aunt Ru stopped being withdrawn and quiet and started worrying more about the details of Tang Li’s nuptials. Unfortunately, all of her ideas were rejected by Lady Tang.
Today, Han Yunxi and Lady Tang were discussing the problem of decorations for the wedding hall when Aunt Ru arrived again. Han Yunxi was suggesting that Lady Tang didn’t need to decorate so many rooms as long as she took pains with the bridal chamber.
“If you leave the other places untouched and just dress up the bridal room, Ning Jing will feel disappointed at first. But she’ll get a big surprise after she lifts her veil!” Han Yunxi declared.
Lady Tang praised back, “Repress her, then raise her up. What a wonderful idea!”
Tang Li sat on the side as he listened and nodded his head like a stalk of garlic. He had no objections.
“What kind of logic is that? Are you all trying to curry favor with Ning Jing?” Aunt Ru smiled coldly as she walked inside.
“Exactly,” Lady Tang smiled. She didn’t want to, but for the sake of helping Tang Li get those arms trade deals sooner, she and Han Yunxi had thought up all sorts of things to win Ning Jing’s maidenly heart.
“Sister-in-law, have you been deceived by the Ning Clan’s lies? Why should we try to win over Ning Jing? Hasn’t Tang Li been disgraced enough?” Aunt Ru declared unhappily. The words were designed to strike at Han Yunxi, who simply sipped her tea in silence.
“What are you saying?” Lady Tang said unhappily.
“Mother, Aunt Ru’s calling you stupid and easy to trick!” Of course, Tang Li had to put in his two cents.
Aunt Ru smacked him upside the head. “Stinking brat, no sense of propriety at all. What impudence!”
“Mother, Aunt Ru’s cursing you again. This time she’s saying you didn’t discipline me well,” Tang Li chuckled as he teased her.
“You!” Aunt Ru raised her hand again, but Lady Tang caught her by the wrist.
“So indiscreet! What if you injure him? You know what that mouth of his is like! I’ve told you so many times already, but why do you insist on arguing with your juniors?”
Aunt Ru could only relent while Tang Li stuck his tongue out at her with a my mom’s protecting me expression on his face. What can you do about that? Aunt Ru’s face turned black at the very sight. She sat opposite Han Yunxi and asked, “Sister-in-law, you’re not really going to provide for that damned girl Ning Jing, are you?”
“That’s a secret!” Lady Tang answered mysteriously.
“Aiya, since when have we been outsiders?” Aunt Ru laughed at herself in disbelief. She cast a glance at Han Yunxi and added, “No, we’re even less than outsiders now.”
Han Yunxi still kept silent, but Tang Li grew impatient. He was about to retort when Lady Tang suddenly hit the table.
Aside from Aunt Ru, even Tang Li and Han Yunxi were startled by the sound. They all fell silent, Aunt Ru harboring dread beneath her feelings of resentment. She assumed Lady Tang was about to lose her temper, but the woman only cried out, “Aiya, I just remembered something!”
Aunt Ru exhaled in visible relief, but Lady Tang then said, “Yiru, I’ve been meaning to ask, but how are the investigations going for the traitor? That’s very important! It’ll be best if we can ferret them out before Tang Li’s wedding day. You and Chu Xifeng shouldn’t disappoint me.”
“There’s…there’s been no progress yet. I’ll do my best,” Aunt Ru replied.
“What do you mean, your ‘best?’” Lady Tang grew unhappy. “Don’t tell me you still have no idea!”
“It’s been somewhat of a conundrum. I’ll talk about the details with you later. There’s still something I have to do, so I’ll leave first.” Aunt Ru really wanted to go. She disliked this topic, but she paused to look at Han Yunxi again at the door. The girl was currently talking to Lady Tang about something else and even smiling.
She suddenly felt like she’d been nothing but a laughingstock just then, trying to provoke Han Yunxi. But that woman had her sister-in-law and Tang Li on her side and was completely free from any worries. What kind of skills gave her the right to earn sister-in-law’s trust? She’s probably only just relying on the fact that Feiye favors her!
Aunt Ru then decided that she’d have to scheme in earnest with Tang Zijin once Tang Li’s wedding was over. They needed to get rid of the stinking girl with her unclear origins. But she’d hardly reached her courtyard when Chu Xifeng came running over. “Aunt Ru, come quick! There’s a situation!”
“What situation?” Aunt Ru asked urgently.
“We’ve found the traitor! It’s Kong Xi’s close friend!” Chu Xifeng muttered.
A flash of alarm flittered past Aunt Ru’s eyes, but she quickly calmed down. There was nothing to panic about! After all, she was the true traitor! But after Kong Xi’s death, Duanmu Yao was the only other person in the world who knew the truth. She had given her a heads-up as soon as Kong Xi’s interrogation had ended. No matter what Long Feiye and Han Yunxi tried, they’d never be able to trick an answer out of the girl.
Duanmu Yao had told her everything that happened on the mountain pavilion that night. She was certain that Long Feiye and Han Yunxi would have given up by now and stopped suspecting her. So what if they found Kong Xi’s friend? She was only a servant girl in the needle grinding house, a girl named Jin Se who was ignorant about everything!
She had nothing to fear at all!
1. Jin Se (锦瑟) - Jin means “brocade, bright and beautiful,” Se is the name of a 25 or 16-stringed plucked instrument, somewhat similar to a zither.