The path to the Wintercrow Clan was undeniably dangerous. But the Northern Li wasn’t worried for Jun Yixie’s personal safety as much as who would be responsible for the horse farms and snow mountain affairs once he was gone. If Jun Yixie died at the Wintercrow Clan’s hands, who would take over those two meaty responsibilities?
Originally, the business of horse trading fell under the crown prince’s jurisdiction, but the Northern Li emperor was sending the second imperial prince to the north because he didn’t want to risk the crown prince’s life. A country needed its leader and a heir to the throne. If both the second imperial prince and Jun Yixie went north, then the horse farm and snow mountains would fall into the crown prince’s hands. Although the emperor regarded his son highly, he didn’t want him to grow too powerful. After all, Crown Prince Long Tianmo was a prime example of too much power in the wrong hands!
As he hesitated, Bai Yanqing spoke up. “It’s not certain that the second imperial prince can succeed in this endeavor alone. With Yixie coming along, this old man will worry less. Barbarian tribes fear strange powers and chaotic gods most, so Yixie’s poison skills should be enough to face them.”
The Wintercrow Clan was extremely backwards, especially when it came to medicine. Many incurable illnesses were attributed to supernatural beings or monsters. Jun Yixie could show off his poison skills there and perhaps even be regarded as a god. Anyone considered a deity in the Wintercrow Clan was free to command them as he wished.
“Poison arts! That’s not a bad idea! Beloved official, why didn’t you say so earlier?” the emperor grew enlightened.
“To be frank, I just thought of it myself,” Bai Yanqing admitted.
Like that, the Northern Li emperor agreed to the arrangements. Bai Yanqing and Jun Yixie left the hall before master whispered to disciple, “Find someone to tell the news to the crown prince a few days later. He won’t miss out on the chance to vie for favor.”
Jun Yixie’s lips curved up into a cruel smirk. “Master is wise and brilliant. Your disciple definitely won’t disappoint master.”
Anyone who could bring back the horses would be rendering meritorious service and gain command over the warhorse stocks. The crown prince would definitely refuse to let the second imperial prince take all the credit. Jun Yixie had ways to whisk the crown prince off to the Wintercrow Clan as well. When the time came, it’d be up to him to determine their deaths. Once the Northern Li emperor lost both his sons, it’d be like losing his left and right arms. Even if another imperial prince gained his support, he’d be hard-pressed to contend against Jun Yixie at court! After the emperor grew older, it’d be even less certain to see who inherited the lands of Northern Li at last!
Jun Yixie had wondered why master wanted him to keep a close eye on Northern Li’s internal affairs instead of meddling with external conflicts. Now he could understand. If he hadn’t lost to Long Feiye and Han Yunxi, he would still be the Northern Li emperor’s trusty ally. Master’s grand chessboard hinged on the ultimate goal of controlling all of Northern Li.
Bai Yanqing and Jun Yixie headed towards their tent before the former spoke up. “Cloud Realm Trade Consortium is the biggest variable in this case. We cannot ignore the grain and horses in their hands.”
“Master, just what is the relationship between the Ning Clan and Cloud Realm Trade Consortium? When the Ning fought against Western Zhou, the consortium sold multiple red coat cannons to the Ning Clan,[1. Ning Clan and Cloud Realm Trade Consortium - lest we get confused, the general public only knows the Ning Clan as Great General Ning Jing and Grand Concubine Ning (formerly Noble Consort Ning) in Tianning Country. Cloud Realm Trade Consortium is supposedly run by the Ouyang Clan, with Ouyang Ning Jing as its president and Ouyang Ning Nuo as the ex-president that HYX and LFY deposed after the Grand Medicine Testing Convention.]” Jun Yixie remarked.
Bai Yanqing only shook his head. “Something fishy, that’s for sure.”
“And also, Ning Jing actually married into the Tang Clan. The plans to grow medicine in the snow mountains was delayed because of her wedding plans. What’s their relation to the Tang Clan?” Jun Yixie muttered to himself.
“You don’t need to pay attention to those details. Just make preparations. Be careful when going to the Wintercrow Clan this time,” Bai Yanqing said seriously.
“Don’t worry, master. It’s only a minor issue.” Jun Yixie was always full of self-confidence. At this moment, his junior sister and Bai Yanqing’s foster daughter, Bai Yuqiao entered the room.
“Go and prepare yourself. You’ll set out tomorrow, so take a trip back to the capital first.” Bai Yanqing waved him off, but Jun Yixie lingered behind.
“Master, about Long Feiye and Han Yunxi…”
“Do your own job well,” Bai Yanqing grew unhappy. Despite his reluctance, Jun Yixie had no choice but to leave. He was curious about how his master would deal with Long Feiye and Han Yunxi, but didn’t understand why the man told him to keep away from the latter. Just what kind of schemes was he cooking up? Every time he asked, master either changed the topic or chased him away. He had been waiting for ages for an answer.
“Master, are there secrets between us as master and disciple?” his usually arrogant, cold gaze was filled with stubborn grievance as he stared at the older man.
“You doubt your master?” Bai Yanqing put on a long face.
Bai Yuqiao silently withdrew to one side at the exchange. When she saw her proud and lofty senior brother act as obstinate as a child, she couldn’t help but feel her heart ache. She knew all about master’s plans and wanted to slip them to senior brother many times, but ultimately lacked the nerve.
“No! Since master doesn’t want disciple to interfere, then disciple will simply obey,” Jun Yixie said before turning to leave.
He had already reached the door when Bai Yanqing called out coldly, “You’ve already lost multiple times at that woman’s hands. What right do you have to meddle in her things at all? Don’t worry, master will avenge you for the humiliation at Long Feiye’s hands. You don’t need to be hasty.”
Hearing this, Jun Yixie’s dimmed eyes lit up. He turned back and respectfully made obeisance with cupped hands. “Many thanks to master!”
Bai Yuqiao only felt helpless at the sight. She knew that senior brother must be too caught up in his happiness right now. He didn’t even notice that master had mentioned payback for Long Feiye, not Han Yunxi. That woman should be the true target of Jun Yixie’s vengeance considering how many times he’d lost to her.
“What are you still dawdling around for?” Bai Yanqing’s stern tone broke Bai Yuqiao’s train of thoughts. She quickly ran over and handed him a secret missive.
“Master, an express message from the City of Daughters 800 li away.”
The City of Daughters had long fallen under Bai Yanqing’s control. Jun Yixie was ignorant of this fact. As Bai Yanqing read through the letter, he suddenly laughed out loud. “As expected, my guess was correct!”
Bai Yuqiao was curious, but didn’t dare to ask for details. It was only after Bai Yanqing tossed the letter onto a table that she saw its contents and grew astonished. Supposedly, the empress dowager of Tianan Country had given an extremely high price for the City of Daughters’ number one expert, City Lord Lady Leng Yue[2. City Lord Leng Yue (城主冷月) - chengzhu Leng Yue, “city lord” was formerly translated as “city head” in chapter 217. The term has since been updated. Leng Yue means “cold moon.” The City of Daughters is ruled by the Leng Clan, whom we also met in chapter 217 with its assassin Leng Shuangshuang.], to kidnap a certain person.
Bai Yuqiao grew terrified upon reading the victim’s name. “Master, it looks like you were right.”
Bai Yanqing narrowed his eyes until they were gleaming with killing intent. “It’s him without doubt!”
Bai Yuqiao feared her master’s bloodthirsty side the most. It lacked his usual scholarly, refined air and gave him the aura of a sinister avenger. She didn’t understand why her master held such hatred within them, but only hoped that he would treat her senior brother well. Please, don’t let master turn senior brother into a tool for revenge.
“How are investigations going with the Mermaid Clan?” Bai Yanqing asked next.
“Still proceeding. It’s not hard to deal with them underwater, but it’ll be more difficult on land. Disciple will hurry as best as I can,” Bai Yuqiao replied.
“Very good. If this succeeds, master will tell you the whereabouts of your younger sister,” Bai Yanqing said happily. “Now go to the City of Daughters and tell Leng Yue to accept this transaction no matter what!”
Bai Yuqiao left with the orders, but exhaled as soon as she left the tent. One hand went to rest over her chest, where her heart was beating fast. Master hadn’t mentioned her little sister for years now. She was raised as his foster daughter and assumed she was an orphan, but many years ago, master had suddenly mentioned the fact she had a living little sister around the same age. Back then, master had said that this was all he knew, but she knew he was lying. She understood him much better than senior brother.
“Little sister…” Bai Yuqiao covered her mouth. Despite feeling happy, her eyes were damp with tears. It had been ages since she cried, too. “Little sister...where can she be?”
It was different, knowing that you had family. She suddenly felt less lonely than before.
The peaceful Northern Li was undergoing great changes beneath the surface. It was still unknown whether Long Feiye would catch on to these developments within a month. That’s right, just one month!
Because the fifth month of the lunar year was the best season to visit Celestial Mountain. The paths were clear and the weather perfect. After taking care of matters in South Ning and calculating the travel time, they could expect to reach the foot of the mountain around then. Their trip from Reclining Dragon Range to South Ning was very quick. But bad news greeted them from a shadow guard as soon as they stepped into its borders.
Even though it was the middle of the night, Chu Xifeng didn’t hesitate to wake Long Feiye. “Your Highness, it’s a disaster. Grand Concubine Yi’s disappeared!”
Long Feiye’s eyes flew open, while Han Yunxi woke up in alarm.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“The servant girl in charge of bringing her meals tonight discovered her missing. All of the guards around the Buddhist ancestral hall were slaughtered with a single sword wound. Judging from the scene of the crime, she must have been kidnapped. Whoever did it had formidable martial arts skills,” Chu Xifeng reported.
“Any other clues?” Long Feiye was calm despite the catastrophic news.
During the internal unrest in Tianning, Grand Concubine Yi had been whisked away by the shadow guards like everyone else and sent to South Ning. The Buddhist ancestral hall built in the new Duke of Qin’s estate became her home. She spent her days chanting scriptures and praying, having withdrawn from secular life. But Grand Concubine Yi was no mere former concubine. She might not know all the details, but she did know Long Feiye wasn’t really the former emperor's son!
That detail alone was enough to threaten Long Feiye. Thus, he had refused her request to retire to a nunnery and kept her under house arrest in the estate’s ancestral hall. Three teams of shadow guards were assigned for her protection. Her past year had been spent in peace, but now this had happened instead!
Who had kidnapped Grand Concubine Yi?
“There’s been nothing else yet. Your Highness, shall this subordinate hurry back first?” Chu Xifeng was very anxious.
Before Long Feiye could reply, Han Yunxi spoke up. “Let’s go back together. If the kidnapper didn’t take the grand concubine to threaten us, then he or she is probably someone who suspects His Highness’s birth origins.”
“I’m afraid it’s probably the latter,” Long Feiye’s eyes flickered with malice. “Long Tianmo!”
Both Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager had suspected his birth and even hired killers from the mercenary cities to vie for Mama Su, a mama who had been present when Grand Concubine Yi gave birth. Without any other clues, Long Tianmo was their most likely suspect. While Emperor Tianhui had fled west, the empress dowager and the former imperial uncle had all remained in Tianan under Long Tianmo’s alliance. The old woman was the only person besides Tianhui who suspected Long Feiye’s birth. Currently, she was Tianan Country’s empress dowager.
That very night, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi left their carriage behind to hurry on horseback with Chu Xifeng to South Ning Prefecture.
Translator's Note: Lol at that Chekov's gun. Who wants to bet that Han Yunxi becomes new goddess of the Wintercrow Clan sometime down the line instead? Jun Yixie, you're just setting yourself up for regret...
Also, make sure to check out today's chapter announcement post for some really cool PGC-related info!