“Though Azure Justice is a motley group, they still have some courage and fighting spirit to their name. There may only be six Silver Masks, but they’re all elites. They knew a long time ago that there’s almost three hundred Dragon Riders escorting the treasure back, and they know roughly when the return trip was to set out. They’ll have made detailed plans and know where and when is best to make their moves. So I think we don’t need to worry about this.”
Pang Xiao breathed his words out softly, sending shudders down Qin Yining when his hot breath huffed into her ear.
She wanted to rub her ears, but her arms were firmly ensconced in the blankets by her husband. She could only nuzzle his shoulders with her ears.
The prince chuckled softly as the motion made Qin Yining seem so much like a cute, little woodland animal.
She didn’t know what her husband was thinking as she bent her mind to analysis. After a while, she whispered back, “The Silver Masks will be the more loyal. I’m not so sure about Azure Justice.”
She lowered her voice even further. “The alliance head was once my maternal grandmother, and she only formed the alliance so she could seek revenge. After obtaining justice, she no longer wanted to be involved. Perhaps she could already tell that the alliance was becoming hard to control. She pulled out and gave it to me.
“Though I’m their leader in name, and they might come to me for help or even to take responsibility when something goes awry… in all honesty, they wouldn’t listen to my orders at all if there’s nothing in it for them.
“They were once traitors in Great Yan and aren’t legitimate citizens of Great Zhou even now. All of them do business with the Tartars along the borders. They only obeyed me this time because there’s some profit to be made. But I really have no faith in their loyalty.”
Pang Xiao thoroughly understood her concerns now. He kissed her temples and comforted her in whispers. “Don’t worry, this isn’t your fault no matter what. My men are all under surveillance and you’re the only one we can rely on. We had no choice in this matter. Better utilizing them than having the treasure fall into Li Qitian’s hands.”
“I’m actually very conflicted myself. If we don’t do anything, I’m afraid Li Qitian won’t end up spending much of the silver on the people. He’ll pour it all into the army, which will only be bad for you. That’s why I decided to intercept it. Whether it's the aristocracy or Li Qitian, none of them can have it fall into their laps. In our hands, we can at least ensure that it will be used for good.
“If it comes down to all out hostility between you two one day, we’ll be in a stronger position then. But sometimes, I still feel guilty.” Qin Yining sighed softly.
Trapped in the game as they were, she could find no other way to protect her loved ones and survive.
The prince quite understood her feelings, because he felt the same. None of them represented only themselves now. They were responsible for those who followed them, which meant that every action entailed more consideration.
“Don’t think too much, we were forced into this as well. It’d be best if it’s a success. If it’s a failure, then we’ll just deal with it,” Pang Xiao murmured into her ear. “But this is one of the trips that I’ve felt most peace of mind on, because I have you by my side.”
Qin Yining smiled as well. “That’s right. Thank goodness I’m here with you, or I would’ve fretted myself out of my mind in the capital.”
She dodged with a soft chuckle when he kissed her neck. The two bantered for a while longer before closing their eyes to rest. Looking like she was asleep, Qin Yining’s mind raced furiously onwards.
She was still worried.
Things would still be fine if the operation failed and their people got away cleanly. If not, and a couple were captured, all would be a mess if they were outed.
It was naturally for the best if Li Qitian didn’t get his way in things, but further conflict might occur between Azure Justice and the Silver Masks with the treasure in hand.
The Silver Masks in the capital that Li Qitian was aware of didn’t dare do anything remotely suspicious. The four she’d brought with her were counted for as well. Therefore, the only ones they could mobilize this time were the six floating around outside.
Those six possessed adept martial arts and professional training. She really didn’t know which side would come out victorious in a scuffle—Azure Justice with the advantage of numbers, or the Silver Masks with superior skill.
All she could pray now was for something like that not to happen. They had no more messenger pigeons and no way to contact the outside world given the heavy guard. In such isolated circumstances, the only thing they could do was wait.
Half a month quickly passed by.
The days grew hot and bugs appeared in multitudes. It was almost two months since the earthquake, yet the disaster relief convoy was trapped in the woods because of an imperial decree having to do with the treasure.
Life may be inconvenient, but their day-to-day was guaranteed. Unfortunately, Qin Yining had been bitten by a venomous mosquito two days ago. The bite had hardened into tough lump that itched and ached. It even showed signs of infection, and she burned with a low fever the two days.
“How are you feeling, my darling?” Pang Xiao fanned her with a round fan and rubbed the palm of her hand with sympathy.
“Don’t be so worried, I’m not that frail and pampered. It’s just a little infection from a bug bite. I’ll be fine.” Qin Yining smiled.
“This is all my fault. If I hadn’t brought you out with me, you could’ve stayed at home and not live in a forest full of mosquitoes.” Vexed regret flapped at Pang Xiao, and his resentment of Li Qitian grew a bit larger.
“Don’t think nonsense. Do mosquitoes only live in the mountains? Besides, we brought Bingtang with us. We can be at ease with her here.”
Pang Xiao nodded and responded with some gratification. “Thank goodness you brought her. Who would’ve thought that we’d be stuck in these mountains for so long? There are a lot of bugs and snakes now that the days are hot. It’s no difference to us coarse men, but you’re in weak health and have to suffer with us for no reason at all.”
The princess consort flung open her arms and grinned at her man. He was so much like a child sometimes, and now resembled a long-suffering, large dog with his tail stepped on.
The joy and delight that blossomed in his eyes when she opened her arms was infectious. Pang Xiao placed his arms next to her her and buried his face in her shoulder and chest. Enveloped by her faint, elegant fragrance, he couldn’t refrain from taking a few deep breaths in.
“My darling, you smell so good.”
Her arms around his head and shoulders, Qin Yining blushed and mock-retorted, “What silliness is this. I don’t have any lotion on me, so how would I smell good?”
She rarely put on makeup since they lived in the woods now.
Skeptical, Pang Xiao buried his face even more firmly and inhaled deeply. “It’s not the smell of lotion, it’s you. You smell good.”
The deep notes of conviction made Qin Yining’s face flame. She didn’t let go and simply enjoyed the peaceful moment of the two of them hugging each other.
“Your Highness, an imperial decree’s arrived!” Huzi’s call from outside the door broke the serenity.
Pang Xiao and Qin Yining blinked at each other before quickly rising to accept the decree.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Aw, these two!