Chapter 163: A Rest Stop
Pang Xiao shook his reins and had his horse walk alongside Qin Yining’s. The white and black horses clip-clopped slowly to the road.
Qin Yining smiled. “Are you that miserly, Your Highness? Alright, how would you like to me thank you?”
“With the rest of your life. What do you say?” Pang Xiao chuckled.
Qin Yining’s face exploded with red and she glared at him. “Why do you always make jokes like these, Your Highness? You’re not a lecher, but you always mouth off like these. People will make fun of you if they hear.”
“Who would dare?” Pang Xiao drew close to Qin Yining and looked at her seriously. “Besides, I’m not joking.”
Qin Yining pursed her lips and blinked, not saying a word. She allowed Pang Xiao to keep holding her reins so that the two horses walked together.
From the prince’s angle, he could see her scarlet ears and neck, as well as the nervous fluttering of her long lashes. He was delighted when she didn’t say anything back.
She wasn’t rejecting him, which meant she didn’t dislike him. Maybe she even liked him too?
No rush, no rush. There’s hope as long as she doesn’t dislike me.
Pang Xiao chuckled and suddenly urged the horses into a gallop to the road.
Qin Yining was taken off guard by the sudden movement and groped for the reins. “Why did we suddenly speed up? That scared me!”
The wind carried her sweet admonishment to Pang Xiao’s ears. They were soft and gentle, starting an itch from the bottom of his heart. The sky was blue and the trees green, the heavens were great and the earth vast. He was riding his beloved horse with his beloved girl at his side. Pang Xiao felt contentment in this moment as he never had before. A heroic feeling flourished in his heart and he threw back his head in hearty laughter.
The laughter traveled on the air, infecting Huzi and two Valiant Tigers behind him with similar untroubled and dashing feelings. They laughed as well.
An army fight song popped up in Huzi’s mind and he belted it out at the top of his lungs. “Wearing iron, bearing armor, wielding blades! I roam the battlefields with you, a long road staring ahead.” 
Huzi’s voice rang out clearly with youth. Such stirring music suddenly appearing beneath the sweeping skies summoned similar emotion in Qin Yining. Just as she wanted to turn back and look, Pang Xiao’s low, resonant voice sang on as well.
“We sweep foes together and brave life and death! My heart falters not as I battle with you by my side.”
The two Valiant Tigers also joined in loudly. “Conquering the south and expelling the north, our song fears nothing with comrades by my side!”
The men’s rich voices were without sophisticated technique, but brimmed with intrepid daring. They had their comrades by their side and hot blood thrumming in their veins. Beneath the great expanse, they roared out their battle song with striking passion. It gave one the feeling of a momentum that would shatter mountains and evoke tidal waves, trembling Qin Yining’s heart. She too had the urge to let her horse speed free and wild over the plains.
These were true men who lived and died on the backs of their horses. Despite their differences in nationality, they too would rather suffer themselves so that they could bring peace to their people in these troubled times.
But how did that compare to the opulence and corruption in the Great Yan capital? The trash emperor and trampress sought merrymaking from day to night and committed utterly ludicrous acts. They had plenty of courage to set up loyal subjects, but didn’t have the charisma to fire a bow on the field or ride against their enemies. Sorrow spread in Qin Yining’s heart.
Pang Xiao slowed down after a while. The Qin fourth miss focused her eyes ahead to see an enormous group of people not too far ahead. She immediately noticed that the official in the lead wearing bright red robes was Qin Huaiyuan. The other people were wearing various court robes. She couldn’t see their faces clearly and didn’t know them, but could tell that there were Great Yan officials and Great Zhou soldiers intermingled in the crowd.
Her heart skipped and beat and she looked questioningly at Pang Xiao. The prince had already let go of her reins and was riding to the front with Huzi and the two Valiant Tigers.
Qin Yining naturally slowed her horse down and came to a halt with Bingtang.
“Miss, are they…” Bingtang was a bit taken aback and asked in a quiet voice.
“Probably here for a sendoff. Today is probably when the prince is leaving.” Qin Yining was hard pressed to conceal her complicated look and gave a long sigh, an inexplicable feeling of loss in her heart.
He probably set all of this up just so he could see me one more time. They’d just spent a few happy and easy moments together, but farewell was suddenly staring at them in the face. Unexplainable sadness welled up in her, and she discovered with shock that tears were actually forming in her eyes.
This is bad.
What kind of relationship did she have with him? Why was she sad?
When Qin Huaiyuan saw that his daughter was following behind the prince, and that her and Bingtang’s horses were particularly handsome and tall, he knew that the prince had gifted the horses to them. Their presence was also likely because of the prince. He felt rather resigned.
There were many officials present from the Ministry of Rites today. Rumors about Pang Xiao and Qin Yining were already thick and fast. The prince had declared his affections in front of everyone and then gifted her a residence. And now, his daughter was present on an occasion in which no women were usually present. Wasn’t this further verifying their relationship?
The officials from the Ministry of Rites started up their pleasantries with Pang Xiao while the escorting and send-off parties moved forward neatly. Making use of the prince being at the head of the group, Qin Huaiyuan quickly walked up to his daughter. “You and Miss Tang can go back first.”
Qin Yining nodded, but who knew that Pang Xiao actually caught wind of these words, despite his great distance away?
“We’re already quite far from the capital, it wouldn’t be safe for Miss Qin to travel back alone. Why not have her join the retinue and go back together later, Grand Preceptor Qin?”
The officials next to him looked at each other with expressions of great understanding. Meanwhile, Lian Shengjie was lost in thought as he stared at Qin Yining on her white horse, his eyes visually drooling over the girl.
With no other recourse available, Qin Huaiyuan sighed and climbed onto his horse. “Come with me then. We’ll go back together later.”
Qin Yining nodded again and levied a fierce glare at Pang Xiao, even though he was far away. Even though she knew that it was probably that he couldn’t bear to part just yet and wanted to spend some more time with her, it still irked her that he’d made all these plans and hadn’t told her about them.
However, her glare had the exact opposite effect. Pang Xiao burst out laughing and suavely continued chit-chatting with the officials. It was Qin Yining who flushed hotly with anger.
This mode continued for roughly an hour before the officials readied to turn back. The remaining journey would be under the purview of Great Yan soldiers and Pang Xiao’s elite Valiant Tigers. The group slowly ground to a halt and Pang Xiao turned to Lian Shengjie.
“This prince is being summoned back to the capital, leaving the matter of war reparations in Sir Lian’s hands. This prince hopes that Sir Lian won’t lose sight of proper business and disappoint His Majesty.”
The corner of Lian Shengjie’s mouth twitched. He’d had fear beaten into him and wanted to hide whenever he saw the prince. Even though Pang Xiao was using lofty, lecturing tones, all the minister wanted was for the prince to hurry up and get out of here.
And so, he raised an exceedingly polite cupped hand salute. “Don’t worry, Your Highness.”
Pang Xiao arched a brow with a smile. At this interaction, those in the retinue who suspected that the prince had lost favor with the Great Zhou emperor reconsidered their speculations.
The Faithful Prince of the First Rank was the Great Zhou emperor’s sworn brother after all. If he really had lost favor, would someone as proud as Lian Shengjie be so meek when upbraided? It looks like the rumors have to be taken with a grain of salt.
Pang Xiao steered his horse towards Qin Yining. Thundercloud’s glossy, black mane intersected with Whitecloud’s shimmering silvery-white one as the two precious horses bid each other farewell. The prince looked at Qin Yining with a faint smile, the look in his eyes making her want to jump off Whitecloud and run away. She was deathly worried that he’d pop out with some other astounding declaration.
“A sendoff of a thousand miles yet results in farewell in the end. Take care of yourself, Miss Qin.”
Qin Yining heaved a sigh of relief. “Take care, Your Highness.”
Pang Xiao raised cupped hands towards Qin Huaiyuan. “Grand Preceptor Qin.”
“Safe travels, Your Highness.” Qin Huaiyuan returned the gesture.
Their masters having said their farewells, Huzi pulled a funny face at Bingtang. It really was goodbye this time.
Pang Xiao and Huzi turned their horses around to the head of their entourage. Qin Yining looked at his departing figure with faintly furrowed brows.
But suddenly, a cacophony of weaponry and hoof steps sounded from the two sides of the ride. People looked wildly around to see three dozen riders charge out of the shrubbery. Everyone was wielding a blade, the edges glinting coldly beneath the sunlight. They dashed out with violently sharp momentum.
“Kill him!” The trees shook with the force of the roars as the men hurtled into the retinue in the blink of an eye. No one had thought that assassins would be lying in wait here!
Qin Yining’s red lips were pressed tightly together as she swiftly weighed up the fighting strengths of both sides. She was just about to turn back and speak to her father when she suddenly felt something tighten around her waist. She flew into the air and landed in a warm embrace.
Pang Xiao had charged towards her and yanked her from Whitecloud to protect her in the safety of his arms. He drew his sword and madly defended against the swords around them, slapping the scabbard on Thundercloud so that the horse bolted forward like a streak of black lightning. It surged forward, bringing Pang Xiao and Qin Yining out of the chaotic fray.
“Don’t let them get away, after them!” The assassins yelled furiously, whipping their horses in hot pursuit.
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