“I took most of it long ago.”
Ji Zeyu jumped down from his horse with a dashingly smooth motion and threw the reins to a random attendant behind him. He proceeded on foot by Pang Xiao’s side.
“Did you kill Qin?”
The two passed through the city gates and strolled down the bustling streets, neither of them talking for the moment.
Both were tall and handsome; one flaring a dominating aura in a black, sable fur cloak, the other cold as ice in a white, fox fur cape. The two of them side-by-side drew looks from many Great Zhou commoners.
Many recognized that the one in black was the commander of the Valiant Tigers, Faithful Prince of the First Rank, Pang Xiao. The one in white was the commander of the Dragon Riders, Marquis of Northern Stability, Ji Zeyu.
But because they were outside and no one knowing if the two military figures had important business to discuss, no one came up to greet them.
As they walked along, Pang Xiao fretted over Qin Yining’s health. Great Zhou’s capital was in the north, terrain that she’d never ventured to before. She already found the winters of the south to be freezing, so how would she be able to endure the winters here? Not to mention her health was poor to begin with and she lacked sufficient qi in her body. She’d even still been coughing when he left.
Undisguised concern seeped into Pang Xiao’s expression, a detail completely captured by Ji Zeyu.
After a long pause, so lengthy that the prince had forgotten what they were talking about, Ji Zeyu suddenly remarked, “Don’t worry about it.”
The baffling statement out of nowhere confounded Pang Xiao.
The marquis had already taken the reins back from his attendant. He flipped onto the back of his horse. “His Majesty has ordered me to set off, so I’ll be on my way.”
“So quickly?” exclaimed a surprised Pang Xiao.
“Mm. Until next time.” A rare upturn graced Ji Zeyu’s lips as he smiled faintly and lifted a cupped fist salute.
The prince sighed softly. “Alright then, until next time.” He too raised a cupped fist salute.
The smile vanished from the marquis’ face. He cast a frosty look over Pang Xiao’s group before he steered his horse away.
Huzi shivered. “The Marquis of Northern Stability is as always, alright! He looks at you like he’s feuding with you.”
Pang Xiao shook his head with a smile, and then sighed. “Forget it. since we’ve come back, let’s enter the palace to greet His Majesty.” Or else those lackadaisical sloths at court would seize on some imaginary offense and censure him for not respecting the emperor.
Now that he was back in the capital, he needed to be at constant attention to handle whatever was happening around him.
Waters were murky in the swamp at court. Though it’d all been for Great Zhou, all the villainy since the founding of the dynasty had been committed by Pang Xiao. Add to that torturing to death those who’d harmed his father — the surrendered Northern Ji officials all viewed him like he’d killed their fathers, to say nothing of his generally horrific reputation outside. It was almost impossible to guard against all of the overt and covert threats lobbed at him. He had to be constantly on his toes, and then some, to deal with it all.
Furthermore, the one on the dragon throne had always borne an uneasy grudge towards him.
Things developed exactly the way that Pang Xiao had thought they would.
Within the august and stately palace.
A middle-aged man, dressed in golden imperial robes, of average build and benevolent features used both hands to lift up a kneeling Pang Xiao. His voice was filled with delight.
“Please do rise, sage younger brother. You’ve been out to war for so long. Us brothers haven’t talked in many moons. Your brother has truly missed you!”
Pang Xiao took a few steps back to stand beneath the dais and responded respectfully, “Your subject feels the same. Have you been well, Your Majesty?”
“Well, absolutely well, apart from missing you dearly. You’ve handled Great Yan beautifully. The ceremony of surrender and transition is just far too mundane with so much miscellany. We didn’t want you to further tire yourself and decided to have you come home. You don’t blame Us, do you?”
“How would I ever, Your Majesty?” Pang Xiao smiled. “I can’t be happy enough! You know best that anything that’s a hassle or burdens the brain is an incredible bore to your subject. If I had the effort to spare to do all that, it would be better spent on a few cups of fine wine!”
“Haha! That’s true!” Li Qitian laughed heartily. “You’ve gone through a lot on this excursion. You’ve also spent more than enough time in the battlefield. Your family misses you dearly, and you should spend more time by their side. Besides, recent times have been far too exhausting for you. We plan on temporarily having the Minister of Bureau of Military Personnel, Zuo Jinwei, act as the commander of the Valiant Tigers. You can stay in the capital and rest with peace of mind. What say you?”
This was taking back his command!
Pang Xiao looked down and respectfully performed a grand gesture of greeting. “Your Majesty’s orders are a perfect match to this subject’s heart. I thank Your Majesty greatly for the imperial favor.”
It appeared that Li Qitian hadn’t expected Pang Xiao would agree so easily. He blinked, then smoothly curved his eyes with the force of a smile. “Good, very good! We will bestow upon you a hundred acres of fertile fields, a hundred taels of gold, and ten beautiful women for concubines. You must rest well during this period. Great Zhou still requires your efforts!”
“Your Majesty need only to give the order. Your subject is more than willing to dash my brains out on the ground in service.” Pang Xiao respectfully thanked the emperor again.
He’d still been the commander of the Valiant Tigers when he entered the palace.
But by the time he’d left, he’d been stripped of his authority and had relinquished his command token. He was an idle prince with just a title and no official position.
Apart from his personal guards, eunuchs bearing rewards also trailed behind him. The entourage was capped off by ten beauties of varying shapes and sizes.
Huzi frowned and whispered to his master. “Your Highness, how will the fourth miss react if she finds out that you already have ten imperial concubines before she’s even set foot past the door?”
Way to seriously put his foot in it!
Pang Xiao was expressionless, but he was as annoyed as could be.
Once he returned to the manor, he had the servants settle in the ten beauties and went to pay his respects to his mother, maternal grandfather and grandmother.
As Pang Xiao reunited with his family, he was left unawares that Ji Zeyu had exited the capital from the northern gate. The marquis was supposed to lead his men to the north to battle the Tatars, but made a large circle after leaving the city and headed straight for Great Yan in the south.
“Miss, take this hand warmer. Don’t catch a cold again!”
In the spacious carriage, Jiyun shoved a bronze hand warmer into Qin Yining’s embrace.
The girl quickly cupped her ice cold hands around it before feeling much better. She smiled. “I don’t catch colds that easily! Don’t worry, my health is much better now. I just hadn’t anticipated that Great Zhou’s winters would be so frosty. It’s rather difficult to be traveling in conditions like these.”
Ten days ago, the Commandery Prince of Yan had set off for Great Zhou with his family and the first batch of surrendered officials and their families.
As the Yan dynasty was to the south, snowfall was rare and usually didn’t stick to the ground. But the closer they drew to the Great Zhou capital, the chillier the days became. When they finally reached the city of Liang and crossed over into Great Zhou territory, a silvery landscape greeted their eyes. Snow sparkled from leaves and branches all around.
Such frigid weather was hard for southerners to acclimate to.
Thankfully Qin Yining had spent some time living near the border when she was young, so she found it easier to adapt compared to other members of her family.
A disturbance flared up at the head of the convoy at this time, making all of the carriages slow down.
Qin Yining looked forward quizzically. “What’s going on?”
“Let me go take a look.” Jiyun hopped off.
On this trip, Weichi Yan, his women, and the palace servants brought up the rear. The Duke of An was in front of him, then Advisor Gu, and finally the Qins. There were more than a dozen carriages in front of the Qins.
Jiyun craned her neck around, only to be greeted by a sight that drained the color from her face.
A large group of burly men dressed in animal pelts and wearing masks were charging over the glittering, white snow. They crashed fecklessly into the convoy with swords and clubs, hacking at whoever they saw. They especially dragged out all the woman to run them through into the ground!
“Miss, get off the carriage, hurry! Hurry! It’s bandits!” screamed Jiyun.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Hey guys! Apologies, my apologies. I haven't died. It was a four day weekend here and my time kinda got massively eaten up. Also had some issues with a toxic new neighbor and cops were called. >< My deepest apologies!
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