“Your Highness,” began Huzi. “You really did take too much of a risk this time. Even if it was for the fourth miss, you shouldn’t… Though you’ve made it back now, that doesn’t mean His Majesty is completely in the dark. He definitely knows exactly what’s happened, and he’ll make use of this to cause a lot of trouble for you. What will you do then?”
How would Pang Xiao not know this?
But when he wanted to do something from the depths of his heart, it didn’t matter what the consequences were. At least now, he could be certain that Qin Yining was still alive. He could finally be relieved from daily nightmares of a corpse lying by the side of the road.
Pang Xiao wasn’t afraid of anything beneath the heavens, save for Qin Yining suffering or getting hurt. But this time, he really hadn’t fully considered everything. Then again, who would’ve fathomed that Ji Zeyu would be so impulsive as to ignore imperial orders and go attack the surrendered convoy!
But upon further thought, some wryness swelled in Pang Xiao’s heart. Was Ji Zeyu really just seeking revenge for a good brother?
With their long-running relationship, he knew Ji Zeyu to be a highly shrewd, sharp, and deep individual—on par with the emperor. As the commander of the Dragon Riders, he dominated the north and had a death grip on the Tatars. How would someone with such bravery and astuteness be the sort to rush into something without thinking of the consequences?
Pang Xiao didn’t need to think too deeply to know that Ji Zeyu was killing two birds with one stone, but he didn’t want to think so ominously of a brother.
Thus decided, he ignored the rumors swirling outside and matched stories with his mother and maternal grandparents, then ran off to continue playing the patient.
Having trudged through snow and long distances, the Valiant Tigers had also finally reached the capital.
When Li Qitian heard that Zuo Jinwei had returned with his men, he immediately had the Five Armies , Firearms Division, and the Three Thousand,  as well as the ten thousand Dragon Riders that Ji Zeyu had left outside the city walls, block the returning Valiant Tigers outside the city gates.
When Zuo Jinwei learned that the troops had been intercepted, a surge of indescribable excitement and anticipation barreled through him. The emperor had received his reports, right?
Pang Zhixi’s deeds threatened to eclipse his master, yet he didn’t know the value of discretion. Anyone with half a brain could see where the greater picture was trending to. And he, Zuo Jinwei, had gotten evidence of such a large crime as soon as he’d taken control of the Valiant Tigers! No matter what the rewards were, his position in the emperor’s internal ranking would advance another step.
Didn’t those Valiant Tiger bastards refuse his authority? Weren’t they willing to put their lives on the line whenever Pang Zhixi gave the word? He’ll show them just who their real commander is!
Blazing with self-righteousness, Zuo Jinwei steered his horse forward and had the men wait in place.
The troops sent by the emperor lined up in a great formation outside of the city gates. Their congregation didn’t spook the citizens, since the Valiant Tigers and Dragon Riders had been filtering back to the capital over recent days. Large military encampments outside the city walls were a common sight, and soldiers often entered the city.
However, the sight of two armies facing off in front of the city gates was a new one. At this time, a disturbance filtered through from the city gates.
Sitting primly on his hose, Zuo Jinwei craned his neck curiously to see what was going on.
The newly appointed Minister of the Bureau of Punishments, Qi Rugang, led a stream of department personnel out of the gates. He declared roughly to the guards at the gate, “Watch the gates carefully! Only exit is allowed through the gates today, all entrance is forbidden!”
The guards on duty had no idea what was going on, but given the highly tense atmosphere, they were worried about incorrectly executing any orders. They quickly passed on the word to all the city gates.
Zuo Jinwei clenched his fist with elation. There was no way that Pang Zhixi could sneak inside the city now! Let’s see what excuses he comes up with when His Majesty interrogates him!
He also cast a quick look at his vice general, who immediately came forward understandingly. “We’ve had eyes on the carriage all this time. He’s still inside, sick.”
Zuo Jinwei nodded with satisfaction and dismounted, walking forward with a perplexed and irritable expression. “What does Sir Qi mean by all this?”
Qi Rugang flicked a lofty glance at Zuo Jinwei, pausing before moving to dismount.
Zuo Jinwei busily cursed up an inward storm at how fake the minister was being.
The surrendered Northern Ji officials had always been estranged from officials like Zuo Jinwei, the latter had fought by the emperor’s side to carve out his dynasty. However, the former hated Pang Zhixi even more so. Today, Qi Rugang would be a blade drawn across Pang Zhixi’s neck.
Zuo Jinwei kept a tight grip on his temper and continued evenly, “Sir Qi has closed the city gates. Is this to keep my Valiant Tigers outside the city? How can you do such a thing??”
Scorn rose in Qi Rugang to see Zuo Jinwei play to the hilt the role of a caring commander. He raised cupped hands in return. “Don’t be in a hurry, Sir Zuo. This official is here today for the matter of the Faithful Prince of the First Rank deploying troops for his own use!”
Deathly silence descended upon the scene. Pang Xiao’s name was simply too renowned in Great Zhou, particularly in the capital!
The one who’d captured Northern Ji’s capital was Pang Xiao. In the eyes of the enemy, he was a murderous god of violence. In his own people’s eyes, he was an undefeated god of war.
Thanks to the blocked city doors, more and more commoners were gathering. Everyone watched the scene unfold with curiosity.
Surrounded by so many people, Zuo Jinwei spent a great deal of effort to keep the schadenfreude from showing in his expression. He asked quizzically, “The prince deploying troops for his own use? But he told this general that he had imperial orders to lead twenty thousand men out for military exercise.”
The vicinity erupted in a hubbub when this was declared.
If what Minister Qi said was true, then what the Faithful Prince of the First Rank had said about military exercises was clear and blatant falsification of imperial orders!
Many people knew that Pang Zhixi no longer held command of the Valiant Tigers. Deploying troops without wielding a command token could be viewed as treason, and he’d even lied to the current Valiant Tiger commander to do so!
This meant that he’d committed triple crimes of defiance of imperial orders, troop deployment for suspected treason, and forging an imperial decree. Whoever did such a thing would be without a doubt, sentenced to death!
Citizens discussed hotly amongst themselves as solemn expressions descended on the Valiant Tigers.
The scene grew restless again as strains of conversation grew ever louder. Things were about to get out of control.
Zuo Jinwei chortled endlessly to himself, but maintained a grave expression on his face. “Sir Qi must get this right, this is a very important matter. You can’t levy accusations without proof and do the prince an injustice.”
As part of the cohort of former Northern Ji officials, Qi Rugang had nothing but disdain for Pang Xiao and Zuo Jinwei. He had absolutely no patience for this act.
“No proof? General Zuo’s secret report made it clear that the prince had deployed the troops of his own accord and lied that it was on imperial orders for military exercises. You were the one who provided all the evidence. This official is just following the lead and here to arrest a traitor. What kind of games are you playing at here?!”
Those simple words laid out Zuo Jinwei’s dual agent nature to the Valiant Tigers. He immediately felt countless pairs of eyes fix onto him. If looks were tangible, he would’ve been flayed alive and dismembered by all the soldiers.
It was a bit awkward to be revealed like this, but serious business was at hand, so he didn’t waste energy arguing with Qi Rugang.
“This general was just conveying the truth. As His Majesty’s subjects, we should remain firmly in our places. We should never deceive our liege. Since Sir Qi is here, proceed as the Bureau of Punishments would handle the matter. To avoid suspicion, I will not be involved in any part of today or interfere in anything.”
Having delivered his pretty speech, Zuo Jinwei retreated off to the side.
Qi Rugang cast a sidelong glance at the general and stated to his own men. “Have the Faithful Prince of the First Rank come out.”
Those who’d come with the minister were also former Northern Ji officials. They all hated Pang Xiao and would never give him an any easy time in anything. They bounded towards the returning Valiant Tigers as soon as the order was issued, commencing an exhaustive search of the twenty thousand that had come back.
At the same time, a disguised Great Zhou emperor Li Qitian was hidden within the crowd. He was wearing an inky-green cotton cloak, accompanied by head eunuch Li Guanwen, and craning his neck forward with interest.
His excitement was on par with Zuo Jinwei’s. He’d created such a grand spectacle today so that Pang Xiao’s crimes would be announced to the rest of the world. Even if he killed Pang Zhixi for them, no one would say he was afraid of his subjects and thus getting rid of them after extracting all use! Instead, they would curse Pang Zhixi for not appreciating his good fortunes and attempting treason instead.
None of them noticed a ferociously frowning Ji Zeyu in another corner, clad in a black cotton cloak and hiding half his face in the collar.
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Why does this feel like the mantis stalking the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind... heh!
This is the full 300th chapter! Zomg, it feels like yesterday that we were getting started with ROS!! We have a short and sweet quick event to celebrate and a Q&A session on Discord this Sunday, May 12!
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