“Who was it?!” Ning Cheng demanded.
The entire room was dumbstruck by his outburst. Although they had no idea what was going on, they didn’t dare harbor any curiosity on the matter. Without prompting, they all left the room, and the last man even closed the door behind him.
The eunuch was scared stiff as well. “It’s unclear. They say the culprit left no traces.”
Even when angry, Ning Cheng looked immensely handsome. His eminent features turned even more impressive beneath his rage, but the people around him were too afraid to face him directly.
Still, he managed to calm down and ask, “Where’s Chu Tianyin?”
“He’s been in this whole time. The day before yesterday, he entered battle with Western Zhou and has yet to stop,” the eunuch reported.
“Summon Zhang Shihong from the Board of War.” Ning Cheng rose to his feet and walked to the battle map spread over the table. He stood straight with arms crossed, looking every inch the domineering, steel-blooded general despite his lack of armor.
Once the Board of War’s representative arrived, Ning Cheng immediately issued orders, “Transfer 5,000 cavalry units from in the northwest towards the south. Then move 10,000 infantry units from the Yunlong garrison post in the east to . We’re going to besiege ! Issue orders that anyone who captures Chu Tianyin will be awarded 10,000 gold taels!”
“Your Highness Ning, this…” Zhang Shihong mustered up the courage to ask, “Why this? General Chu is resisting the Western Zhou forces at Fenglin, this…”
Before he could finish, Ning Cheng slowly turned to glare at him. His cold expression scared Zhang Shihong into silence. “Yes, this official will do it right away!”
With the two elders gone, Ning Cheng had lost control over . Chu Tianyin would revolt for sure! Once Zhang Shihong was gone, Grand Concubine Ning hurried over. She had just received the same news from Cloud Realm Trade Consortium. “Could the Tang Clan be involved in this?” she asked.
Ning Cheng considered it briefly before replying, “Not necessarily. Everyone in the world knows that Tang Li is marrying Ning Jing. The rescuers might have seized the opportunity to do the deed.”
“But it’s not easy to slip in and out of Ten Thousand Commerce Hall in the canyon and whisk them away!” Ning An reminded.
“You’re saying…” Ning Cheng grew serious.
“Tang Li and Long Feiye aren’t just acquaintances!” Ning An declared clearly.
Ning Cheng finally grew restless. If the Tang Clan and Long Feiye are connected, then Ning Jing’s marriage just got all the more complicated.
“There’s still time to stop Ning Jing now! We can’t just sacrifice her in vain,” Ning An said urgently. It was already a risk for Ning Jing to bring along her arms trade rights as part of her dowry. She was a capable woman, but still was a woman in the end. How was she supposed to deal with an old fox like Long Feiye?
“This is only speculation at this point. If the Tang Clan has no connection with Long Feiye, then it’ll be hard to cancel Ning Jing’s wedding,” Ning Cheng hesitated, before adding, “For now, we’ll see if Chu Tianyin seeks refuge with Western Zhou or Long Feiye. The answer will become apparent soon enough.”
If the rescuers could seize the chance during Ning Jing’s wedding day to find Ten Thousand Commerce Hall, then Chu Tianyin must have fed them clues ahead of time. Most likely, the man had already exposed the relationship between the Ning Clan and the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium.
By now, Chu Tianyin must have heard the latest news as well. He would definitely be getting ready to rebel next! Last time, General Chu had suffered grievous losses from the previous battle. It would be impossible for him to head the Chu Clan, which meant Chu Tianyin had two possibilities before him: either surrender to Western Zhou or join up with Long Feiye.
It’d be apparent which side was Chu Tianyin’s ally soon enough.
“Isn’t it too much of a risk to wait and see?” Ning An asked.
“At most, we’ll lose . Your lordship can afford the loss,” Ning Cheng replied calmly. “Ning Jing should have arrived by now, right?”
“Tomorrow is the 28th. The auspicious hour is in the morning, so she should almost be there,” Ning An answered.
“Tell her that since she’s used the arms trade to make up her dowry, she should find a way to gain control over the Tang Clan’s assassination weapons within one year. Otherwise, she can forget about ever coming back.” Ning Cheng’s voice was ice-cold.
Ning An’s heart ached for their little sister, but she didn’t dare to object. Forget about the greatest event of her life, if Ning Cheng wanted them to sacrifice their lives for the cause then they had no choice but to obey. At the same time, he’d give up his own life for their goals if necessary. The mission of the Ning Clan was their pride and more important than anything else.
The unrest of the western regions was about to escalate into a storm, but Ning Jing was ignorant to it all. She sat in her sedan chair and remained mute during the entire trip besides the bare necessities like eating, sleeping, and bathroom breaks. She assumed that Tang Li would chatter away the entire time, but he didn’t talk to her at all. The whole trip was so quiet that Ning Jing almost forgot she was part of a wedding procession. Still, she was all too glad that he was keeping quiet. She could use this time to study the Tang Clan and figure out how to deal with all sorts of obstacles. Despite being at the bloom of her youth, she lacked the typical maiden’s heart. She knew that Lady Tang wouldn’t forgive her easily for scheming against her son.
The wedding procession that had come to pick her up was quite chilly. Undoubtedly, they reflected Lady Tang’s attitude as well. Thinking up to here, a cold smile crept upon Ning Jing’s features. Does Lady Tang think this will hurt my feelings? Or humiliate me? She’s underestimating me then.
Since they weren’t treating this as a wedding, she’d care about it even less. She’d like to see who’d come out the victor by the end!
On the 28th day of the third lunar month, the bridal procession arrived on time at the foot of the Tang Clan’s . The carriage slowed to a stop as Ning Jing stole a peek outside. However, there were no decorations on the Tang Clan’s gates at all, nor any sizable crowd. There were also zero signs of festivities in the air. She gave a snort before putting on her wedding veil and resuming her seat. Soon enough, the wedding nanny came to help her off the sedan chair and onto a bridal carriage that would take her up the mountain.
Han Yunxi and Long Feiye observed the scene from one of the mountain’s overhanging cliffs. Tang Li led the procession while the carriage brought up the rear. The wedding nanny jogged beside it. There wasn’t even festive music in the air. It was hard for any observer to recognize this as the arrival of the new bride to the young clan head.
“I never expected someone to have an even worse wedding procession than me,” Han Yunxi said with some amusement. At least her ride through the city had been a lively affair. Entire streets were emptied out to watch her arrive at the groom’s house.
Actually, Ning Jing wasn’t too much worse off than Han Yunxi. At least Tang Li had gone to pick her up personally. At least he’d spent time planning this whole trip out so he’d disappoint her first and surprise her later. When Han Yunxi had gotten married, she’d stepped into the groom’s house by herself. Long Feiye stood behind her with hooded eyes. It wasn’t clear whether he heard her words, but he reached out to hug her at the same time she turned around. At this, he averted his gaze and withdrew his hands, feeling a little flustered. What was I doing just now?
Meanwhile, Chu Xifeng had arrived by their side. He was crowing with delight. “Your Highness, esteemed wangfei, Ning Cheng’s surrounded the Chu Clan troops Now Chu Tianyin has gone to ally himself and his soldiers with Western Zhou.”
Long Feiye was very pleased. Everyone was going according to plan. He was certain that Emperor Kangcheng wouldn’t refuse Chu Tianyin’s surrender now, even if he didn’t truly accept them. A little bit of pretending now didn’t hurt anyone. In the end, Empress Xue’s death would still be blamed on Ning Cheng. Meanwhile, Ning Cheng would stop suspecting them once Chu Tianyin allied with Western Zhou. Of course, he’d have even less time to suspect the Tang Clan after that.
Chu Tianyin’s actions didn’t disappoint him.
A shadow guard arrived in the wake of Chu Xifeng with a report, “Your Highness, esteemed wangfei, Lady Lianxin has already told a few deputy directors of about the induced labor issue. News will spread very fast!”
Long Feiye nodded, while Han Yunxi broke into a smile. It had to be said that Long Feiye’s moves had been exquisite. Of course, Gu Qishao had helped them immensely, too! Once Lady Lianxin exposed the issue of the forced labor, it’d both unmask Head Elder Ling’s crimes and put the blame on Chu Qingge and Ning Cheng as well. Even though the original culprits were the Chu Clan elders, Ning Cheng would end up shouldering their guilt instead!
When the news broke out, many people would believe that Chu Qingge had allied herself with Ning Cheng on purpose to commit regicide and put her son on the throne. Long Tianmo would seize the chance to use that as an excuse to solicit Emperor Tianhui’s former subordinates. Soon, Ning Cheng would have to deal with both internal and external threats. Long Feiye would only have to watch and reap the rewards as Western Zhou, Tianning, and Tianan started fighting amongst themselves.
This was the true manifestation of the idiom, “planning strategies within a command tent while determining victory from a thousand miles away!”
Ning Cheng might have won last time, but now his losses would be even more severe!
“Issue orders to keep a close eye on any developments in Northern Li. The Baili Navy should be prepared to move out at any time,” Long Feiye commanded.
“This subordinate understands!” Chu Xifeng immediately withdrew.
Northern Li was the greatest variable during this critical time. Naturally, Long Feiye would take measures to guard against them. If the country tried to send troops south to interfere with the western regions, the Baili Navy would travel north along the eastern sea to attack them. Long Feiye was about to reap his rewards from the chessboard, so he would allow no one to mess up the game. Of course, with Northern Li still recovering from its losses, it was likely they’d just sit and watch for now.
Once everything was taken care of, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi put on special, skin-thin face masks and headed to the Range. There, they would join Tang Li’s wedding. Long Feiye wasn’t very interested, but he was only going to keep Han Yunxi company.
Ning Jing was still ignorant of the troubles headed for the Ning Clan. Currently, she was exchanging bows with Tang Li at the altar. In the massive hall, Tang Zijin and Lady Tang presided in high seats with other elders from the clan flanking them on both sides. It was a solemn affair without a hint of cheer. Ning Jing couldn’t see her surroundings beyond the red wedding veil, but she could sense the serious atmosphere. Once she finished her three bows, she allowed the wedding nanny to lead her towards the bridal chamber.
Suddenly, Tang Zijin stood up and cried, “Hold on!”
What for? Is he going to cause trouble for me in front of everyone here?
Ning Jing mentally prepared herself, but Tang Zijin simply stood up and announced, “Today is Tang Li’s wedding day. He’s become an adult with a family now, so this old man and her ladyship have prepared a big gift for him.”
Lady Tang was bewildered. She glared unhappily at her husband. Did Tang Zijin truly mean to give a gift, or was he just going to try and create difficulties for Ning Jing? Whichever the case, shouldn’t he have discussed this with me first? Instead, he was putting her name with his! She was about to stop him when Tang Zijin suddenly took off his ring symbolizing the status of clan head and announced, “Today, this old man shall give the position of clan head to Tang Li. From this day on, Tang Li shall control the entire Tang Clan in my place!”
A commotion rose from the crowd at his words. Lady Tang could only gape. “Zijin, you…”
Tang Zijin gave her a warm smile before turning to regard Tang Li sternly. He walked in front of his son and personally put the ring over his thumb.
“Tang Li, father will leave the Tang Clan in your hands. You must be worthy of our thousands of disciples.” So speaking, he patted him on the shoulders and added, “Don’t throw so many tantrums from now on, or run off the mountain whenever you want.”
Hearing this, much of the stunned crowd began to understand what he meant. The former Tang Clan head was using this method to keep Tang Li in line so he’d stick around the Tang Clan. He’d really given thought to this!
Lady Tang covered her mouth, feeling touched by the scene. She always thought that Tang Zijin didn’t dote on their son at all, but now she realized he spoiled him even more than she did. Of course, Tang Li could only hide his own bitter suffering since he already knew the truth. He cast a resentful glance towards Long Feiye and Han Yunxi, who were hidden amongst the crowd. In the end, the one who truly considered anything for his sake was Long Feiye, but it was unclear whether Tang Li realized this fact.
Ning Jing’s fingers turned cold upon hearing the announcement. If Tang Li’s the clan head now, does that make me the lady mistress of the clan? Will I be stuck looking after with him from now on?
While she was still in a daze, sounds of congratulations filled the air. Of course, the wedding nanny soon spoke over them all. “Send them into the bridal chambers!” she cried.