Within the crowd, Li Qitian’s forehead was knit tightly as he looked suspiciously at Zuo Jinwei.
Zuo Jinwei was the Minister of Military Affairs and the commander of a hundred thousand Valiant Tigers. It was understandable if his ambitions had grown to wanting sole authority after wielding great power. But would he be so bold as to frame Pang Zhixi and deceive his liege, all for his own profit?
Li Qitian actually didn’t know who he should believe.
Meanwhile, Qin Yining was still effortlessly slinging everything onto Zuo Jinwei.
“Master Zuo, you said you wanted to be introduced to my father and then to Prince Yan. Looking at what you’ve done today however, let’s forget about all that. My father is an upright and righteous man. He won’t want to run with petty criminals!”
If Zuo Jinwei still didn’t understand that he was being framed, then he’d really be a fool. Literally hopping mad, he stabbed a finger in the vicinity of Qin Yining’s nose.
“Slander! Where did a wild chit like you come from? How dare you pretend to be from Great Yan? How dare you wag your tongue like this?! When have I ever done anything like that? I didn’t rescue you at all!”
A frown crossed Qin Yining’s forehead and she turned back to look at the other rescued Yan citizens. She didn’t say anything, but her unruffled composure told everyone that Zuo Jinwei was lying!
Having watched the show for quite a while, Qi Rugang fully understood now that Zuo Jinwei had set up a plot that’d made even the emperor a pawn. He stalked forward furiously to inspect the carriage.
Upon finding no sign of Pang Xiao, he called out loudly, “Have you all made a thorough search? Is the Faithful Prince of the First Rank really not among the men?”
“Sir, no sir!”
Some of the young Valiant Tigers, the ones closer to Pang Xiao and tapped to possibly join the Elite Tigers, had completely grasped the situation at this point.
One of them murmured in a tone pitched perfectly to travel o the crowd outside, “That’s strange. The prince has turned over the command token and I hear he’s sick. Shouldn’t he be resting at home? Why would he be with the troops?”
“Yeah, has Master Zuo gotten confused about something?”
Master Zuo was indeed very confused. He had no idea how a living, breathing person could disappear. He’d entered the carriage as a man, but exited as a dainty little girl!
All of his hairs were raised on end as cold sweat dripped down his forehead. He was really in a bind. There were two main conclusions to his secret report—the first that Pang Zhixi had illicitly sent out troops, and the second that the prince had created fake official orders.
And now there were twenty thousand Valiant Tigers being held off by the Firearms Division, Five Armies, Three Thousand, and another ten thousand Dragon Riders. The Bureau of Punishments had also announced that only exit from the city was allowed. Such an enormous affair could’ve only been commanded by the emperor.
And the emperor had done all this because he’d believed Zuo Jinwei’s reports and wanted to publicly arrest Pang Zhixi.
But reality had somehow progressed in a completely different way! Would the emperor eat him alive if this matter turned out to be a disaster?!
Within the crowd, Li Qitian’s forehead was knit together even tighter, while Ji Zeyu seriously assessed Qin Yining for the first time.
A girl of the inner residence, able to fearlessly, logically present her side in public, in front of an audience, and neatly remove Pang Xiao from the situation while dumping the mess onto someone else?
This isn’t a simple character.
Various thoughts travelled through everyone’s minds. No change flickered through the Valiant Tigers as the military regulations were strict. They weren’t allowed to talk when standing in formation, but the same hardly applied to the citizens.
Everyone clustered in threes and fives, the low buzz of conversation everywhere. Everyone was speculating if the emperor wanted to get rid of Pang Zhixi. Some with sharper political acumen were even wondering if the emperor wanted to eliminate one of the founding subjects of the nation.
The remarks filtered into the disguised Li Qitian’s ears, feeling like crisp slaps on his face. He wasn’t a decrepit ruler, he was a wise and noble one! He would never do something like discarding an old subject once all the hard work was done, at least not on the surface. He wouldn’t allow the historians to record him in such an awful way.
But the noise of chatter reverberated through his eardrums as gossip raged ever more wildly, like he really had done something! All of this was because of that bastard Zuo’s secret report!
As the situation settled into a stalemate, a new strain of conversation traveled from the city gates. A loud announcement sounded shortly afterwards, “Presenting, the Faithful Prince of the First Rank!”
Heads looked over in the direction of the city gates to see a carriage rolling out. It had red lacquer wheels, a magnificent cloth covering on the roof, and radiant tassels swinging—the standard accoutrements of an imperial prince.
When the carriage travelled closer to the crowd, Huzi leapt down from the shaft and lifted the door curtain to reveal a wan Pang Xiao firmly wrapped in thick furs. The prince clambered down from the vehicle, stifling some coughs as he did so.
Zuo Jinwei stared at Pang Xiao like he was seeing a ghost. Does this guy know how to teleport?
The prince’s sickly condition had been on display for all to see back in the military camp. But he’d disappeared once they’d returned to the capital, and come out from the city instead!
Qi Rugang approached with a frown to make his bow. “Greetings to Your Highness.”
The crowd followed suit. “Greetings to Your Highness.”
Pang Xiao waved a hand and coughed twice more. “No need for such formalities. This prince heard that someone’s levied an accusation of private troop deployment? And that this prince lied to Master Zuo in order to lead twenty thousand Valiant Tigers to the Great Yan border?”
“Um…” Sweat increasingly beaded on Zuo Jinwei’s forehead.
“Has this prince demonstrated an overly jovial nature that Master Zuo is deluded into thinking I’m an easy target? I’ve been sick for many days and remained within my manor, how dare you accuse me of mutiny and treason?! His Majesty has pitied my overwork and commanded me to rest. I don’t even possess the command token anymore, how am I to deploy the Valiant Tigers?!
“Not to mention, I’ve been resting at home these days, but you say that I’m at the Great Yan border, and mouth some nonsense that I said it was for military exercises? What kind of colossal gibberish is this??”
Pang Xiao pointed at Qi Rugang. “Sir Qi, it would behoove you to investigate thoroughly before taking action! Do you not know where to find my manor? If you suspected me after receiving Master Zuo’s report, why do you not call upon me first? Or are you intent on making a fool out of yourself in riling up so many?”
Qi Rugang was beet red from the exhortations. How am I the one behind any of this? It was all His Majesty!
But accept he must, his new role as the imperial scapegoat.
Visible steam was almost rising off of Li Qitian’s head, but what could he do? He truly regretted his decision to be completely sure of everything. Why hadn’t he searched the prince’s manor? If he’d obtained evidence of Pang Xiao’s absence, would the prince be so cocky now?
But honestly, was the truth of the matter this time Pang Xiao deploying troops for personal use, or Zuo Jinwei framing Pang Xiao because the minister wanted power in his hands alone?
Possessing an innate paranoia, Li Qitian had no idea who he could trust at this point.
Apart from those disguised in the crowd, Pang Xiao’s position was the highest amongst those present. He coughed a few more times before ordering, “Open the gates and allow normal passage. Don’t keep everyone bottled up here. It’ll only impact everyone’s day-to-day. In addition, put up those from Great Yan in the guest inns.”
His phoenix-eyes finally rested on Qin Yining for the first time after reeling off all of the instructions. Dancing twin flames in his orbs made as if they wanted to burn the girl to a crisp on the spot.
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Snicker. Oh you Valiant Tigers. I like you!
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