Chapter 683: It’ll be an eventful autumn

Tang Li had come to send them off, but Han Yunxi already cloistered herself in the carriage and refused to come out. She’d given Long Feiye a warning glare that morning with the scarf wrapped around her neck--a clear sign that she didn’t want to see anybody.

Actually, Tang Li had wanted to discreetly ask Han Yunxi for a few more medicines or poisons. Unfortunately, he didn’t dare call her out with Long Feiye blocking the way. Once the couple left, Tang Li hurried back up the mountain again. The first morning after her wedding day, the bride was supposed to offer tea to her parents-in-law. He had already discussed things with his mother, planning to have her play the villain and torment Ning Jing while he played the hero, protecting her. Even if he couldn’t subdue Ning Jing within a year, she’d at least stick to him for his protection alone. The tea offering ceremony would start with his mother’s bullying, so he had to hurry back and make preparations. 

Meanwhile, Han Yunxi and Long Feiye were still keeping tabs on their situation despite leaving the Tang Clan. It wasn’t for the sake of gossip, but because she needed a definite answer on the status of Ning Jing’s dowry. As expected, Long Feiye’s agent in the Tang Clan brought them news by on the same day. Ning Jing really had made the arms trade agreements part of her dowry. Han Yunxi read the detailed letter without knowing whether to laugh or cry.

It had also included a meticulous account of Ning Jing’s greetings to her new in-laws this morning. Before Lady Tang had a chance to bully her, the girl had already carried out her dowry and given a show of force. It was a Cloud Realm Continent-approved arms trade token at a presidential level. Ning Jing had said she was capable of raising herself and didn’t need the Tang Clan’s support. After that, the two women devolved into a war of words. Tang Li never had the chance to defend his wife against his mother because...Lady Tang had lost the fight!

“What is it?” Long Feiye asked.

“I don’t know if Tang Li can handle Ning Jing,” Han Yunxi said as she handed over the letter. 

Long Feiye glanced over the contents before he laughed. “A good loss.”

“What do you mean?” Han Yunxi was clueless. “She lost on purpose?”

“Since she lost, Tang Zijin will treat this seriously and strengthen Tang Li’s seat as clan head.” 

Han Yunxi immediately understood and sighed with emotion. “Just how many times must Tang Li have kowtowed to Buddha in his last life, to be blessed with a mother like her in this one!”

Since Lady Tang had lost to Ning Jing, Tang Zijin would undoubtedly fret and support Tang Li more. Whether it was authority or wealth--or even armed strength--he’d use it all to defend against Ning Jing. In this way, Tang Li would be the clan head in both status and name. Lady Tang had done everything like so just for her son’s sake.

Tang Li won’t suffer any losses with Lady Tang there, Han Yunxi mused to herself. Long Feiye simply went back to being quiet. Tang Li really was a lucky fellow. His mother had always cleaned up his messes, no matter how many big mistakes or hot potatoes he touched. She would never allow Tang Li to fight or take something by force when she could ensure that he led a peaceful and happy life. 

“What are you thinking about?” Han Yunxi asked. She never thought Long Feiye could space out, too.

“Nothing,” Long Feiye said, before drawing her gently into his arms. One of his hands patted her rhythmically on the back as he thought of other things.

“Something you can’t tell me? Or a person on your mind you want to keep private?” Han Yunxi teased.

“A person,” Long Feiye answered.

“Who?!” Han Yunxi grew serious. She didn’t think Long Feiye could make jokes like these in earnest.

“My master in the sword sect,” Long Feiye murmured. “The summer season is when he gets frequent bouts of insanity.”

Han Yunxi paused before she said, “Long Feiye, why don’t we bring Doctor Gu up so he can have a look at him?”

“No good.” Long Feiye’s tone made it final. Han Yunxi had never been to , so she didn’t know anything about its situation. She wouldn’t press the issue; these matters could wait until they saw him in person and she gauged his condition. It wouldn’t be too late to reopen the topic then.

Once their carriage left the borderlands of , they headed straight south. Their ride was an intentionally unassuming one, and Uncle Gao was a very low-key driver. Chu Xifeng and the shadow guards protected them secretly from the sidelines, thus ensuring that nobody knew of Long Feiye and Han Yunxi’s itinerary. 

The weather during the fourth month of the lunar year still felt like spring in the north, but had long settled into early summer temperatures in the south. The green mountains and full streams mixed with the sounds of cuckoos and misty rain. As the fires and smoke of battle raged on behind them, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi headed onwards to the picturesque scenery of . Ning Cheng was probably too busy to worry about their whereabouts now, but someone had been keeping an eye on them the entire time. This was none other than Jun Yixie’s master, the former head of the Hundred Poisons Sect and member of the Seven Noble Families’ Wind Clan, Bai Yanqing! 

Currently, he and Jun Yixie were staying in the Northern Li emperor’s side palace. The Northern Li emperor had gone on an inspection tour in the east to personally check on the status of the three great horse farms, with Bai Yanqing and Jun Yixie accompanying him in secret. Though the farms belonged to the crown prince on paper, they were also under the complicated jurisdiction of the second imperial prince. Of course, after the plague attacked the horses, all three were now under Jun Yixie’s control… rather, they were controlled by his master Bai Yanqing. Bai Yanqing had not only created the cure for the plague, but even developed a special type of forage grass that could be mixed with medicine to quickly heal the battle horses back to their normal condition. 

Typically, a foal needed four years to grow into a fine battle steed. Three years were spent on growth while training was reserved for the next six months. With this new and improved fodder, even newborn foals only needed two years before they were battle-fit. Thus, the Northern Li emperor had sent men to secretly trade in battle horses with Cloud Realm Trade Consortium while taking young foals from its own country’s herdsman. Once they were fed the fodder, it would only take a few months before they were ready to enter the battlefields. However, there had been no developments from Cloud Realm Trade Consortium lately. Horses had been bought from the herdsmen, but their numbers were far from enough. 

Despite his inspection tour, the Northern Li emperor had still brought along his battle map. Now he spread it on the table to point at while discussing its current conflicts with Bai Yanqing. 

“Heheh, after all those twists and turns, General Chu went back to Western Zhou again,” the Northern Li emperor sighed with feeling. “What a shame, what a shame!”

If not for the heavy losses of the three horse farms, his cavalry forces could have entered the battlefield themselves and forced their way into Western Zhou and Tianning. He never expected Tianning’s internal strife would lead to the country splitting up and developing into this mess in the western regions. Northern Li had truly lost a golden opportunity!

“Your Majesty, have you heard of this story from Tianning?” Bai Yanqing smiled as he stroked his beard. He was dressed in ash gray robes and looked very calm, like some sort of mysterious, lofty expert.

“What story?” the emperor asked.

The old man lost his mare, but it all turned out for the best,” Bai Yanqing said, while Jun Yixie hastened to explain.

“Your Majesty, these three countries are bound to be caught in a long struggle. Thus, Your Majesty still has the opportunity to send troops south once the battle horses are ready. Then you’ll be the sitting fisherman reeling in all the fish.”

“Hmph. Judging from our current battle horse numbers, even two years won’t be enough to ensure victory! Zhen won’t fight an uncertain war. Don’t forget, the Duke of Qin’s naval forces are still eyeing us from the .” Without a doubt, the emperor’s greatest enemy in his mind was Long Feiye.

“Your Majesty, do you doubt this old man?” Bai Yanqing smiled coldly. Compared to Jun Yixie’s air of respect, he was neither servile nor weak before the Northern Li emperor.

“Bai Yanqing, how is Zhen supposed to have faith in you? The most fertile lands in all of Cloud Realm Continent are all under the Duke of Qin’s command. It’s already close to summertime weather in the south and a few months from now, it’ll be harvest season! The fires of war can’t even reach down there. When the time comes, Western Zhou and Tianan will be asking him for grain. He wouldn’t miss out on taking Ning Cheng’s territory then!” the Northern Li emperor responded icily. 

Both Western Zhou and Tianning were barren countries with limits on their crops. If war broke out, all agriculture and livestock raising would halt. Tianan Country wasn’t in the center of the fighting and had reasonably good land, but they’d definitely lose more manpower for the fields to fund their war campaigns. Thus, their harvest yields would drop as well. Once all of the grain reserves were gone, both sides would seek it from external sources. That would be the moment the south central regions profited from the fray.

Knowing Long Feiye’s personality, he wouldn’t want money for grain, but a chance to send his own troops, splitting up the Tianning territory with Western Zhou and Tianan. Despite these truths, Bai Yanqing ignored the emperor’s words with a smile.

“Your Majesty, please trust this old man. This will be an eventful autumn for the Duke of Qin! As long as the crown prince can hurry up and expand the horse population, this old man will fulfill the promise I once pledged to Your Majesty.”

Seeing the Northern Li emperor hesitate, Bai Yanqing added, “Your Majesty originally trusted this old man. If you don’t believe me now, then this old man will be disappointed.” His eyes were still pools of mystery that remained unperturbed in spite of everything. 

The Northern Li emperor recalled Bai Yanqing’s first vow. He had claimed the Wind and Black Clans would remain loyal to the Northern Li imperial family and unite Cloud Realm Continent together. Because of that, the Northern Li emperor had conferred Jun Yixie his title as Duke of Kang and given him endless authority. Bai Yanqing was considered his distinguished guest and given endless respect. He looked thoughtfully at the man for a long time before coming to a decision. 

“Someone come, issue orders to the second imperial prince. He’s to cross the snow mountains and buy large quantities of horses. Zhen will give him three months time to complete the task. If he can’t get enough animals, he doesn’t need to come back!”

Beyond the lofty snow peaks of Northern Li lay Cloud Realm Continent’s northernmost borders. It was the last piece of undeveloped land on the entire continent, the home of a savage tribe that devoured raw meat and fowl, the Wintercrow Clan.

Three years ago, the Northern Li emperor had sent his first expedition beyond the mountains and ran into this clan, along with the best horse breeds they’d ever seen: Wintercrow horses. By now, construction had finished on a mountain road that led directly to the clan. But the clansmen there were tough as nails and never acted in good faith. It was difficult to strike any deals with them, and even simple business propositions could turn fatal. Buying large numbers of horses was even less likely. Northern Li had already sent out ten special envoys, but none of them had ever returned.

The emperor never held out much hope of getting his horses... But with the western regions embroiled in conflict down below, he had to give it one more try. If Bai Yanqing had the confidence to curb Long Feiye, then attacking during autumn when the armies were short on provisions would be the best time to catch them unawares. No matter what, he had to get enough horses before the time came.

Bai Yanqing’s eyes flashed craftily as he rested his hands on both shoulders to express his well-wishes. “May His Second Highness have the best of luck!”

“Imperial father, erchen[1] is willing to go along and protect the second imperial prince,” Jun Yixie volunteered.

The Northern Li emperor looked at him with hesitation.

1. erchen (儿臣) - a self-referential pronoun reserved for the sons (or adopted sons) of the emperor.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter