After several rounds of drinks, the atmosphere between the two wasn't as tense as it’d originally been.
Pang Xiao rinsed out his mouth. “Did you have anything particular in mind when you sought me out today?”
Ji Zeyu put down his chopsticks and studied the dishes in front of him. He suddenly lifted his head, a complex mix of emotions swimming in his expressive, naturally flirtatious eyes. All distilled to silence in the end.
“You like the Qin girl?”
Pang Xiao hadn’t expected that his sworn brother would be so direct. He didn't want to keep anything from Ji Zeyu, so nodded. “Yes, I do like her.”
“But don’t forget, she’s the daughter of the man who killed your father!” Ji Zeyu’s tone grew a bit urgent.
Pang Xiao looked down, a thousand thoughts running through his mind as he went over everything that had happened recently. He sighed in the end. “I know.”
It looked like he had to be slightly on his guard. He wouldn’t hurt his brother, but neither could he be completely open and trusting.
Seeing the prince’s crestfallen spirits and conflicted expression, Ji Zeyu connected this reaction to Pang Xiao carrying off the Qin girl and interpreted things in a different way. Some sympathy actually flourished in his heart.
“Forget it. Since you like her, it’s no big deal to keep her by your side in the future. She’s so young, it’s not like she participated in that affair. She bears no fault for it—and wasn’t she stolen away and thrown into the wilderness? If it wasn’t for her good fortune, she wouldn’t have lived until today.
“Just treat her hardships of yesteryear as penance for the sins attributed to her. You’re a hero, there’s no need for you to nurse a grudge against a little girl. And also, do less of this carrying-people-off business in the future. It might destroy your reputation.”
Ji Zeyu’s voice was low and his tone noncommittal, but every word he spoke was out of consideration for Pang Xiao.
Outsiders only knew him as an ice cube who kept everyone at an arm’s length away. However, Pang Xiao knew that though this fellow normally didn’t talk much, that never was the case when it was just the two of them.
They were sworn brothers after all. The brotherhood of so many years wouldn’t be wiped out that easily.
“Alright.” Though the prince couldn’t explain the details to his brother, that didn’t impede him from accepting Ji Zeyu’s good intentions.
The marquis smiled slightly at Pang Xiao’s reaction, then sighed. “I was too rash and impulsive that day when I attacked the surrendered Yan convoy. I didn’t know then that you really did like the girl, and that you’d go in search of her. That’s all my mistake. Thank goodness she’s fine and you’re fine, or I’d really die of guilt and regret.”
Gossip of Pang Xiao rescuing the girl had been relegated to a fantastic tale of nonsense. Zuo Jinwei had paid a heavy price for his secret reports and playing the emperor for a fool. The prince had been able to completely extract himself from the mess in the end.
Pang Xiao grinned brightly at Ji Zeyu. “I have to thank Sir Zuo for that. I didn’t actually do anything.”
“Oh?” Ji Zeyu arched a brow.
However, Pang Xiao didn’t care to continue this topic. Pivoting, he said, “I haven’t congratulated you on your upcoming nuptials yet. Marrying the Princess of Anyang isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You need to grasp the opportunity well.”
Becoming prince consort would mean that the marquis would be Li Qitian’s brother-in-law. By then, even if the emperor was wary of the nobility, he’d have to think twice before touching Ji Zeyu. He’d have considerations of face and family ties to consider first.
Ji Zeyu naturally understood that Pang Xiao was thinking of him. His answering smile was a bit forced. “I have no feelings for Anyang, and I know she likes you. His Majesty issued the decree for the marriage—the two of us can only obey it.”
“I thought so.” Pang Xiao reached out and clapped Ji Zeyu’s shoulder. “I know you very well. You’re so used to freedom and never had the time of day for any girl. How would you possibly acquiesce to marrying the princess? Once you’re the prince consort, some parts of your future will be set in stone. You’ll have to make ten times the effort of others to take another step forward.”
“I’m not afraid of any of that.” Ji Zeyu smiled faintly and drank from his cup, his Adam’s apple bobbing through a high, pure-white collar. “I’m most afraid that us three brothers will end up at each other’s throats.”
The third floor of the Ascending Sparrow had been reserved entirely by them. Close followers were on guard outside, so they spoke with perfect comfort and ease.
Pang Xiao’s lips stretched with melancholy. “They say that holding a position means that one will be concerned with anything to do with it. There’s some truth to that. How would any of us back then have ever thought that one day, we’d want more because of an increase in status?”
“Not out of greed, but for self-protection,” Ji Zeyu interjected.
“Right, for self-protection and to protect those we care about.” Pang Xiao nodded.
The two looked at each other and chuckled wryly.
They were both in the same position, their deeds so glorious that their liege had become wary of them.
Pang Xiao knew in his heart of hearts that they were both holding back in today’s conversation, that both were on their guard. But this was inevitable. Their current positions meant that they could no longer be as carefree as before.
With great accord, the two drank and chitchat idly, setting aside the weighty discussion of business. They talked about what they’d seen and experienced since they’d parted, the sights of the different regions of the world.
There was quite a bit of difference between Tatar territory in the north and Great Yan to the south. As the two chatted, they seemed to experience the world through the other’s eyes.
Any outsider would’ve been immensely surprised to see how the two were interacting. Even Li Qitian had never seen such a talkative Ji Zeyu or the true Pang Xiao behind all of his masks, just simply enjoying a gathering with friends.
Pang Xiao and Ji Zeyu shared the same thoughts at the moment.
No matter how their worlds changed, no matter what path they walked in the future, it would be enough if they could reminisce past events, tease and argue with each other, and set aside all thoughts of identity and conflict when they met in the future.
Dusk fell when they’d enjoyed themselves to their hearts content. They summoned servants to help them change as both had had a bit too much to drink. Though they weren’t plastered on the ground, they were in very high spirits.
Alcohol had painted Ji Zeyu’s face was a deep red, further emphasizing his unparalleled beauty. “Pang Zhixi, your silver-white Ferghana horse is with me now. I’m not giving it back.”
“Unacceptable, I gave it to Yining.” Pang Xiao accidentally let slip Qin Yining’s given name, thanks to alcohol loosening his tongue.
Ji Zeyu frowned. “Too bad. Finders keepers. What does a girl want with such a good horse?”
Ji Zeyu snorted with laughter. “I don’t care, I’m just informing you. What, are you going to come steal it from me if I don’t give it back?”
“You…” Pang Xiao chuckled himself. “Since when did you become so shameless? You’re the one who took my darling’s possession. You’re a man! Isn’t it embarrassing to take a little girl’s horse?”
“Who says I’m just taking a horse? I… cough cough…” A dry throat sent the marquis coughing, which then sent him vomiting. His followers quickly helped him rinse out his mouth.
Watching from the side, Pang Xiao wanted to throw up as well. The marquis waved at him without lifting his head.
“Let’s drink again some other day,” Pang Xiao said. “I’m heading home now.”
Ji Zeyu nodded wordlessly. It wasn’t until his brother’s horse was far from the tavern that Ji Zeyu took a seat on a round chair, massaging his temples with his eyes closed. He sighed softly.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Man, this brotherhood is honestly beautiful.