Pang Xiao leered. “This prince appreciates the compliment. I confess to be no match for the vice general in terms of disgusting shell games.”
“What?! When did I do such a thing?”
“You detained the treasure that belongs to His Majesty, pretend to be his most trustworthy subject, use your military authority to steal the treasure, and try to scapegoat this prince at all cost. What’s that if not a shell game??”
“Shut your stinking mouth!” Hopping mad, You Meng jabbed a finger at Pang Xiao. “Don’t think you’re actually something just because you’re a prince! Everyone knows your background! How dare you throw your weight around when you have no troops under your command! We can just imagine how cocky you were to His Majesty when you led the Valiant Tigers. No wonder you were stripped of power!”
The last line did its job and hit a sore spot with Pang Xiao. If everything beforehand had been histrionics, the emotions inspired by this taunt were straight from the heart.
He had devoted his life and energy to the Valiant Tigers. He and everyone part of it were true brothers that had braved life and death together. It’d taken just a single word from Li Qitian to send him elsewhere. It was a bitter pill to swallow for even the most open-minded person, let alone someone constantly distrusted like Pang Xiao.
The prince’s expression hardened. Instead of continuing the argument, he took his wife’s hand and shoved You Meng aside. “Piss off!”
“Ai! You can’t leave!”
Pang Xiao paid them no mind. He forcefully pushed away those blocking him. His strength, combined with his internal energy, rendered futile the efforts of the Dragon Riders who tried to detain him.
You Meng urged a few more guards to catch up.
Pang Xiao and Qin Yining didn’t travel far after leaving the group, opting to return to the carriage to rest. Nothing happening in that cave was a concern to him any longer.
Inside the carriage, Qin Yining nestled against her husband’s shoulder and gently caressed his calloused hand. “Don’t be upset. It’s no use getting upset with that kind of people.”
“I know.” Pang Xiao lowered his eyes and clasped Qin Yining’s hands in his, playing with them.
His wife smiled. “And there’s no need to feel any regret. Even though you no longer have your command, the fraternity you share with those brothers is still there. As long as everyone is still here, a day will come when you all can fight side by side again.”
These words were a balm on Pang Xiao’s heart. He raised his eyes to his wife’s beaming face and smiled despite himself. “Why is everything so clear when seen from your perspective?”
“Because I’m gifted with a clear mind, duh.” Qin Yining laughed lightly.
Pang Xiao enveloped his wife in his arms and pecked her on the cheek. “Thank goodness I have you with me. I’m afraid I might’ve beaten someone up.”
“No, you wouldn’t have.” Qin Dining burrowed into her husband’s embrace. “You’re a man of reason. You know what you’re doing and what you should be doing. I wasn’t worried at all.”
Pang Xiao felt extraordinarily comforted and assured to have someone who knew and trusted him unconditionally. He smiled with contentment. It was his great fortune to have someone here for him in these challenging times.
Notes brought in by the messenger pigeons kept Li Qitian well-informed. The emperor finally found utter peace of mind after reading the two most recent memos.
The first note came from Pang Xiao, reporting that the treasure had been recovered, but that You Meng might appropriate it for himself. The prince requested more troops be dispatched to keep a closer watch, lest someone should make a move when the opportunity presented itself. At the end, there was a small sentence grumbling about Li Qitian’s mistrust of him.
The second note came from You Meng, and the message was short and clear. The treasure had been found and was being inventoried for transport. The vice general estimated it would arrive in half a month. Also, the Faithful Prince and Princess Consort of the First Rank remained not far from the cave. The prince was suspicious of You Meng, but the former’s loyalty to the emperor was indubitable.
For Li Qitian, double blessings graced his doorstep. The treasure was found, and the incident shed light that he was being too small-minded towards the prince. Pang Xiao was still his loyal subject.
The emperor carefully reread the note a few more times before burning it with the candle.
Li Qitian heaved a long sigh. The silver would be a tremendous help to the relief mission. Perhaps he could manage to spare a good part of it for contingent use down the road.
The emperor’s fine mood rubbed off on the imperial officials, and the capital basked in an air of harmony and amity.
Pang Xiao and Qin Yining’s living quarters might be subpar at the moment, compared to their sumptuous residence in the capital, but the pair was in great mood.
Thanks to the imperial decree, Pang Xiao had no recourse but to stay put until further notice. Counting everything and hauling out chest after chest was a tedious process. It wouldn’t do for him to take up residence in the carriage, so he mobilized his men to cobble together a triangular, bamboo shack.
Qin Yining was accustomed to living in the mountains. With Pang Xiao’s men to help, the couple didn’t need worry about the basic necessities of life, so they whiled their days away in leisure.
The princess consort even took her husband out foraging and hunting. Of course, they did so under Dragon Rider surveillance, arranged by You Meng.
Longbow in one hand, Pang Xiao wrapped an arm around his wife’s shoulder.
“How wonderful it’d be if all of our days were just as carefree. Self-sufficiency wouldn’t be a worry, and we wouldn’t need to bother ourselves with other concerns.”
Qin Yining smiled. “We’ll be able to live like this one day. Life will get better as long as we put our hearts into it.”
This confident and steadfast side of Qin Yining was what Pang Xiao admired the most. It was so refreshing when compared to women who clung to fortune and authority.
Concerned that news of the treasure might get out, You Meng was particularly cautious with excavation and transportation.
Early this morning, the Dragon Riders finished prepping the transport carriage.
“Should we send this batch away first, or should we wait until everything is consolidated and send all of it together?”
The vice general wavered. What if tragedy struck and the substantial load of cargo was lost?
But if the inventory was transported in batches, the guards would have to be thinned out to keep tabs on each carriage. He’d be in great trouble should even one carriage be lost along the way.
Feeling cornered, You Meng wracked his brains.
Despite himself, he looked in the direction of the prince and the princess consort, who were enjoying each other’s company in the bamboo shack a short distance away.
He would like to consult Pang Xiao about the logistics, but his outburst earlier laid to rest any possibility for conversation. Neither was the vice general so thick-skinned as to go to the prince, cap in hand, for advice.
If he was to wait for the emperor’s instructions, it’d make hogwash his earlier promise of delivering the treasure in half a month. It’d spell even more trouble if the emperor felt that he’d been lied to.
Mulling over the pros and cons, You Meng grit his teeth. “Let’s just wait. It’s safer if all three hundred of us escort the caravan together.”
The Dragon Riders did as they were told.
Being just a stone’s throw away, Qin Yining and Pang Xiao caught snippets of the conversation. They exchanged a glance and quietly puttered around with other matters at hand.
Pang Xiao released the last messenger pigeon after You Meng and his men labored for two days.
His letter reported on the number of chests in the caravan and what was stashed in each respective chest. The prince also cautioned the emperor to be on guard against embezzlement.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Hmm, erupted in open hostility a bit too early eh, vice general?