Back in the tent, ‘Pang Xiao’ flung off three layers of blankets to take a look at himself in the reflection of a water basin. He turned back to Xie Yue. “Sir Xie is stunning indeed! Your art of disguise is absolutely magical! You can even change voices with the help of medicine!”
The one who’d received Zuo Jinwei and delivered the nonsense about military exercises was naturally a disguised Qin Yining.
Xie Yue waved a hand and responded humbly, “You praise me far too highly. This is all just smoke and mirrors. Thank goodness you remained lying down. The gig would’ve been up had you sat upright, as there is no method available to disguise height.”
Qin Yining smiled. “No worries. I’ll claim that I’m sick once we start moving. I’ll take a carriage back to the capital. Judging from General Zuo’s expression just now, it looks like he’s already sent out the secret report criticizing the prince for falsifying imperial orders.”
“Indeed.” Xie Yue wore an answering smile. “I gave specific orders for it not to be stopped. Both reports have gone out, entrapping Zuo Jinwei firmly into your plot.”
“His Majesty is a cautious person and won’t do anything without firm proof. Even if he receives word, he’ll be concerned that it’s a trap and won’t easily search the prince’s manor. The second report will confirm that the prince isn’t at home. His Majesty will want both person and evidence, so the time he spends waiting for this absolute certainty is our opening.”
“Precisely.” Xie Yue agreed with approval. “Miss Qin has a most excellent plan. The time in which His Majesty hesitates is enough for His Highness to return home and continue pretending sick. Even if the manor is searched, we will be fully prepared.”
“And if His Majesty doesn’t search the manor and believe Zuo Jinwei’s second report that the prince is in the camp? He’ll wait for the twenty thousand Valiant Tigers to return to the capital and catch him in the act of deploying troops for his personal use!
“But how would I possibly let them do that? I’ll get rid of the disguise when we return to the capital. They won’t be able to find the prince even if they turn the entire camp inside out. We’ll see who’s committed the crime of deceiving the emperor then!” Qin Yining laughed darkly.
What, would she wait for someone else to protect the one she’d chosen, instead of take action herself? Whoever wants to scheme against Pang Xiao has to get through me first!
Zuo Jinwei wants some easy pickings in the form of the Valiant Tigers? He’d first have to prove that he had the ability to do so!
Xie Yue was completely, utterly, and absolutely won over. He bowed respectfully to Qin Yining. “His Highness was in too much of a hurry to give much thought to any plans. With Miss Qin’s stratagem, we’re in no danger of anything going wrong!”
He was well and truly accepting of the Qin fourth miss now. I knew that the prince had a good eye of character! What daughter of an enemy? The Qin miss was obviously the best candidate for a sage wife! With her wits, she’d be able to entrap the prince himself if they weren’t careful!
At the head of twenty thousand Valiant Tigers, Zuo Jinwei returned to the capital triumphantly with those he’d rescued. Adrenaline coursed through his veins the entire time. He fixated his eyes on Pang Xiao’s carriage, deeply afraid that the slippery fellow would run off halfway.
But Pang Xiao behaved himself on the trip back. Perhaps due to his severe sickness, he didn’t even leave the carriage. He only kept a young commandant by his side, and a young girl they rescued in the mountains was the one in charge of his medicine.
Zuo Jinwei once summoned the little girl for an interrogation, but she turned out to be mute and only knew to stare skittishly at people. The naive air of a simple person from the woods wreathed about her, fully quashing any interest the general had in questioning her.
At the same time in the capital, the Zhou emperor Li Qitian was barely suppressing his anger after reading the second report from Zuo Jinwei. He flung the report onto the table and picked up the white porcelain teacup next to his left hand.
In his rage, the teacup lid rattled in his hand, almost spilling the tea within. He flung the teacup to the ground with high emotion. “Who made this tea? How are We to drink it when it’s so hot??”
“Please forgive this servant, Your Majesty!” A maid off to the side dropped to her knees and kowtowed.
Everyone knew that it was impossible for that cup of tea to be too hot. In serving the emperor, they had to perfectly handle every last detail. The tea would’ve been the perfect drinking temperature. The emperor was being this way simply because he’d encountered something that made him unhappy and was taking it out on them.
Head eunuch Li Guanwen immediately walked up with a bow. “My deepest apologies, Your Majesty, it is this servant’s oversight.” He glared at the maid. “Get the hell out for your punishment!”
The command frightened the maid out of her wits and she almost tumbled to a sitting position on the ground. This was a thunderbolt of disaster out of the blue for her, an unforeseen bout of calamity!
But what other thoughts dare she have? She might not even have the life to undergo punishment if she said any more.
“Forget it, it’s not a big matter.” Li Qitian sighed after calming down. “You’re all dismissed. Li Guanwen, you remain.”
“Understood, thank you for Your Majesty’s favor!” The maid sighed with relief and kowtowed thrice, grateful tears streaming down her face, before fearfully backing out.
The eunuchs and maids serving in the imperial study where all Li Qitian’s confidantes. He used only those he trusted in his private spaces. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to relax even in his own territory. What he was doing now was just another way to buy hearts.
The eunuch was very used to the emperor using both carrot and stick at the same time. Li Qitian didn’t speak until only the two of them were left.
“Do you know what was in the report?”
Li Guanwen brought over another cup of tea with a smile. “What a question, Your Majesty. This servant only knows to serve at your side everyday, what would I know about the outside world? If Your Majesty wants me to know, I will naturally know.”
Li Qitian flung the report over. “You sly fox, take a look.”
Li Guanwen held up the paper with both hands and took a close read, his expression changing drastically. “Does the Faithful Prince of the First Rank… want to rebel?!”
“Hmph! There’s never a quiet day with these fellows! They all think We’re an easy target. He’s handed the Valiant Tigers command token over, but still acts like this!”
Li Guanwen bent low and didn’t dare say a word until he was certain that imperial anger had abated somewhat. “It looks like the prince is true towards the Qin fourth miss. Look at the panic he was thrown in when something happened to the convoy of surrendered Yan officials. All he can think of is charging there with troops. It looks like the old saying of ‘even the most valiant of heroes will fall to a beauty’ is true.”
An involuntary smile blossomed on Li Qitian’s face when he heard a eunuch analyzing beauties and heroes. “You know quite a bit for a castrated man.”
Li Guanwen smiled diffidently and changed the topic. “Your Majesty, it’s too dangerous to have the Valiant Tigers camped outside the city. You need to have preparations in place.”
Li Qitian thought for a moment. An amiable curve upturned the lips of a normally affable face. “Where is Ji Lan now?” 
“In response to Your Majesty, the Marquis of Northern Stability is still kneeling outside. He’s been out there for a full day and night.”
Li Qitian sighed. “Though he was brash this time and created quite a spot of trouble, he did this out of utmost loyalty. He even knew to come back and admit his guilt. Have him rise and come see Us.”
“Understood, this servant will go immediately.”
Li Guanwen departed the imperial study with a bow, helping the kneeling Ji Zeyu to his feet. The head eunuch first had a junior massage the marquis’ legs and apply ointment to the bruises on his knee before conveying respectfully, “Your Grace, His Majesty would like to speak with you.”
jay heaved an inward sigh of relief and thanked the eunuch with a frosty expression before entering the imperial study.
The eunuch made to follow, but the emperor dismissed him as well. No one knew what the two men discussed.
Meanwhile, having secretly returned to his manor, Pang Xiao had also received word that Ji Zeyu had returned to the capital and requested an audience to admit his guilt.
The prince’s brow was furrowed. He remained silent for a very long time.
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AWW. 'her chosen'? Too cute, too cute! Yining baring her teeth!