Chapter 442: Digging One’s Own Grave

Qin Yining’s head spun when she rushed to her feet. She leaned against the entrance to the shack and took a few deep breaths, waiting for the vertigo to pass.  

Pang Xiao was a few steps out the door before registering his wife’s absence. His head whipped around to see her leaning against the doorframe and hurried back to hold her. “What is it? Are you feeling dizzy?” 

“I’m alright, just a little woozy. I’ll be fine in a bit.”

Brows knitted in worry, Pang Xiao supported his wife as she steadied her legs to walk forward. 

All of the guards and Dragon Riders knew that the princess consort had fallen ill over the past couple of days. 

After this period of time together, they’d found Pang Xiao and his wife to be easygoing and affable. The couple neither put on airs and pulled haughty faces, nor did they vent their frustrations on others at will. The guards and Dragon Riders had since had a complete change of heart of the young couple. 

Seeing a delicate beauty trapped in the mountains for half a month and put through this much ordeal inspired much sympathy and compassion. 

Hence, it gutted them to see Pang Xiao supporting the frail princess consort—a wisp of a girl—out the shack.

It was an imperial guard who delivered the decree. Everyone fell to their knees as he unfurled the golden cloth. 

The content in the decree was rather concise: The Faithful Prince and Princess Consort of the First Rank was to leave for the disaster zone straightaway to oversee relief efforts. The Commandery Prince of Yan and Old Secretariat Gu were to be escorted to the capital.

Pang Xiao kowtowed before accepting the decree. He asked the guard with a smile, “His Majesty has received the delivery of the treasure, I assume?”

The guard shook his head and forced a smile out. “His Majesty never received the treasure. The guards sent by Prince Consort Ji traveled a long way and in fact, almost made it to the disaster area. Not once did they spot the treasure escorts. It seemed that they just vanished into thin air. Even the chaperones of Vice General You Meng and the Dragon Riders disappeared as well.”  

“What!!!” Pang Xiao’s eyes widened from shock. “How is that possible? This prince saw the treasure boxed up and loaded onto the carriages with my own eyes! They didn’t set off until I was sure that everything was organized and accounted for! Was…was it You Meng who did it?”  

The guard shook his head again and sighed. “His Majesty is furious and hasn’t been able to sleep a wink since receiving word. He asked that I deliver the imperial edict to Your Highness, along with a reminder.” 

“Please.” Pang Xiao listened with respectful attention.

“His Majesty had intended for that treasure to cover the cost of food and supplies for the relief mission, but it looks like a delay is inevitable now. His Majesty knows that the prince is truly capable and asks that Your Highness do everything possible to help the people and reassure them. This is, after all, Great Yan territory. It’s been a long while and the most current situation is unknown, we’re hazy about the happenings in the disaster area. Your Highness will be handling with a hot mess not unlike a pot of porridge. But His Majesty has every faith that Your Highness will be resourceful enough for a solution.” 

The furrows on Qin Yining’s forehead grew deeper as she listened. What was that supposed to mean?

They’d been stalled here for more than half a month and was already late to deliver aid. Did Li Qitian not send other backup at all?

There was no money in the national treasury, that much she knew. But as an emperor, having no money didn’t justify having no conscience! 

It’d been nearly two months since the earthquake ravaged Great Yan. Local officials had taken on every responsibility to preserve social order. How would the refugees sustain themselves without food, medicine, supplies, and emergency funds to fall back on? 

Those who’d been buried under the debris when the earth dragon had first turned over would’ve had a chance at survival, but the delay in the rescue mission had likely cost them their lives. 

Yet, the treasure was the only thing in Li Qitian’s sights. He had all but forgotten the people!

Instead of sending someone to comfort them after dragging his feet for such a long period of time, he was now sending Pang Xiao to pick up the mess without food, money, or supplies! The prince had to fend for himself; it was an impossible mission!

Was the emperor expecting Pang Xiao to cut off his own flesh to feed people??

Or did Li Qitian think a glib tongue would suffice to keep everyone mollified?

The emperor was practically having Pang Xiao dig his own grave by thrusting to him a territory that hated him the most! Putting him at the mercy of mounting public anger was to kill him with a borrowed knife!

Li Qitian was simply too malevolent and ruthless; he was determined to destroy Pang Xiao by hook or by crook!

Pang Xiao was clued in to these truths just as the same realizations flashed through Qin Yining’s mind. However, he had no choice but to put on a mask of great delight. 

“It is my great honor that His Majesty thinks this highly of me! Please return and convey my assurances that I will not disappoint him. I will see it be done.” 

The imperial guard—the edict bearer—was nonplussed.

Anyone not a fool could easily point out the twists and turns of this particular game. Someone as courageous and intelligent as the Faithful Prince of the First Rank would never fail to see through the emperor’s plan, yet he accepted the edict with joy. What did that say about him? 

That the Faithful Prince of the First Rank was loyal, with nothing to hide.

Visibly touched by Pang Xiao’s assertion, the imperial guard answered with emotion, “Rest assured, Your Highness, I will report back to His Majesty what you said."

Nodding with a smile, Pang Xiao added, “I’ll be troubling you, then. His Majesty must be emotionally and physically wearied these days. Please ask Grand Supervisor Li to keep a closer eye on His Majesty’s diet and sleep. Summon the imperial physicians to check on the emperor as often as need be. State affairs are crucial, but His Majesty’s health takes precedence.”

“Very much so.” The guard nodded solemnly and presented the edict to Pang Xiao with both hands. Afterwards, he mobilized his men to get Yuchi Yan and Gu Shixiong ready for arrest back to the capital. 

The Dragon Riders left behind to stand guard remained by Pang Xiao’s side to protect the young couple. Pursing her lips, Qin Yining stumbled into the bamboo shack. 

The entourage of guards and maids dared not urge the couple to set out straight away.  Bingtang and Jiyun rushed into the shack on Qin Yining’s heels. 

Pang Xiao cupped his fists at Dragon Riders apologetically. “This period’s been hard on all of you, brothers. Let’s get preparations underway before we take off.” 

“Your Highness need not be this polite. It’ll be good for the princess consort to rest a bit more. It’s no trouble at all.” 

“This prince thanks you for your consideration.” Pang Xiao cupped his fists again gratefully. 

The men hurried to return the salute. 

Watching Pang Xiao’s tall and strapping back, they couldn’t help but feel admiration for the prince as he walked toward the shack. 

How could anyone not be inspired by a legendary god of war who had trampled over so many enemies? Not only that, but he’d proved his prowess as an official in the imperial court and cherished his wife in private as a doting husband! His straightforward character and dominating bearing inspired reverence from the heart. 

Pang Xiao was oblivious to the loyalty and respect he’d unknowingly harvested from many of his subordinates. His wife’s health had completely occupied his attention. 

Bingtang dressed Qin Yining’s wrist wound on the wrist. 

“I’ll forage for more herbs in a bit, Your Highness. You need to take a few more doses of the medicine. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine. However, no excessive mental or physical exertion.” 

“I understand.” Qin Yining smiled at her maid with gratitude. 

Bingtang and Jiyun took their leave after Pang Xiao entered the shack. They grabbed a few others to forage for herbs together.

Pang Xiao sat sideways by Qin Yining and said feelingly. “It looks like life has other plans for us.” 

“There’s no such thing. Everything’s just fine with my health. I’ll be my old self again after a few more days of medicine, and I’ll also have Bingtang put together what’s needed for the trip. Let’s not dally here. We need to head to the disaster zone as soon as possible so that gossip doesn’t start circulating.”

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etvolare's Thoughts

What.. the.. hell?? Li Qitian's gone insane!