Qin Yining rushed off to the front hall, Bingtang and Jiyun in tow.
"This family seems to be quite upstanding, Your Highness,” murmured Bingtang. “We should be safe enough staying here for the time being.”
“Mm, we needn’t worry that they'll cause trouble for us, at the very least,” Qin Yining replied softly. “It’s just that the situation outside is too hectic. I fear something will go awry.”
“His Highness has already sent the Elite Tigers to set up defences with Jingzhe and the others,” Jiyun pointed out. ”With Huzi patrolling the streets and the Dragon Riders by the prince’s side, he should be able to deal with any emergencies that may arise.”
“That’s good, but the situation is still dire. The people don’t know His Highness is their disaster relief ambassador. If they learn that the ambassador doesn’t have their rice, things definitely won’t remain as peaceful as they are now.”
Jiyun nodded gravely while Bingtang muttered with resignation, “All crows are equally black no matter where they’re from. It’s always the people who suffer the most.”
Qin Yining let out a long sigh.
Li Qitian may have set Pang Xiao up, but his judgment wasn’t so impaired that he couldn’t tell right from wrong. However, all rational thought flew out the window upon finding the treasure. Every action he took and every motivation that bestirred him was for the sake of the riches.
It couldn’t be helped, what with the incredible amount of wealth it represented. From what Pang Xiao disclosed to her, only a few of the boxes held silver. The rest were filled with gold and jewels; one box even contained antique paintings worth a small fortune in themselves. The total value of everything was well over seven million silver.
The annual budget for the Dragon Riders and Valiant Tigers was no paltry sum. Yet, that amount would easily keep them funded for five years and with silver to spare. It was enough to solve the emperor’s most pressing worries in one neat stroke.
Money was the siren call of misconduct indeed. Li Qitian’s principles were nowhere to be found in the face of such immense capital.
Then again, he had no one to blame but himself for his own paranoia. If he had trusted Pang Xiao from the start to handle matters, would things have devolved to such a state?
When she arrived at the bailiff’s office, she was greeted by Pang Xiao. Gong You was nowhere to be seen.
“Where is Sir Gong?”
“Sir Gong is out patrolling the city with a few of his men.” Pang Xiao pulled Qin Yining over, stuffing a piece of rolled-up paper into her hand and indicating for her to read it.
She unrolled the note and carefully looked over its contents. When she jerked her head up, astonishment colored her features. Though curt, it contained a world of information.
It was a secret decree from Li Qitian conveying that the treasure had indeed been stolen en route. Pang Xiao and Qin Yining were to continue tracking it down!
According to Li Qitian’s investigations, the perpetrator had transported the treasure to a place in the old capital named Yang County. The general proximity was confirmed, but Pang Xiao would still have to track down exactly where it was being kept.
Tidal waves of shock stirred in Qin Yining’s heart. The address she’d agreed upon with Azure Justice and the Silver Masks wasn’t located in Yang County!
Could there be a mistake with Li Qitian’s findings?
That was impossible. No matter how incompetent Li Qitian may be, he wouldn’t blunder when such a large fortune was at stake. In other words, it meant something had gone wrong with those she’d sent to intercept the treasure!
Who was at fault, Azure Justice or the Silver Masks?
Or had they worked together and conspired to betray her, splitting the treasure between them?
Seeing the distressed look on Qin Yining’s face, Pan Xiao immediately murmured words of reassurance. “It’ll be alright. Don’t think too much of it.”
Qin Yining stared at Pang Xiao, flabbergasted. “What exactly went wrong here?”
Pang Xiao chuckled briefly. “Perhaps nothing. Or it may be that something suddenly happened, so they had no other choice but to send the treasure elsewhere. You should trust them instead of letting your imagination run wild and stress yourself out that way.”
“Don’t console me.” Qin Yining laughed wryly and shook her head. “That’s impossible. The one at the top didn’t make any preparations apart from waiting to welcome the treasure. Why would he make any sudden moves? If it weren’t him, it’s even more unlikely for others to do anything else. Everything was conducted in secrecy. We were stuck in the mountains for over half a month. Either the person who leaked our intelligence was killed, or is one of his to begin with."
How would Pang Xiao not understand the situation?
But with Qin Yining this upset, he didn’t want to rub salt into her wounds.
She herself had previously said not to completely trust Azure Justice completely. Though the Silver Masks were loyal, they were too few in number. It would be difficult for them to take control with such paltry numbers.
The situation was moving into the direction they dreaded the most. How were they to remain unfazed?
“My dear, don’t think so much. You’ve done enough already, and you handled it all better than most women would have. There’s no controlling the outcome of such matters, so you can’t blame yourself.”
Qin Yining rubbed her forehead wearily and muttered, “I know, but the reason we’re in this situation is almost definitely because someone taking orders from me is a spy. Most unsettling of all is that I don’t know yet which faction they belong to. Your Elite Tigers would never betray us like this.”
Pang Xiao felt his heart ache for her darling and drew her into his arms. “The fact that you were able to do so much has helped me immensely already,” he whispered. “Truly. The Elite Tigers have eyes on them everywhere. Were it not for you, we would be helpless to do anything but watch our enemy have his way. I may not have a rebellious mind, but I also have no desire to be a sitting duck. My dear, you’ve already helped me a great deal.”
Qin Yining sat down and wrapped her arms around Pang Xiao’s toned waist, burying her face into his abdomen.
There were times when she felt truly exhausted. However, she and Pang Xiao were irrevocably tied to each other now. As husband and wife, if one person retreated from fatigue, the resulting stress would be transferred to the other in equal measure.
Under such dire circumstances, she couldn’t afford to relax her guard. She had no wish to cower behind Pang Xiao for protection; that would only make her his burden.
She had to meet him in competence and strength in order to walk alongside him as his equal.
“I’m fine.” An easy smile blossomed when she next stood up. “His Majesty wishes to track down the Yang County treasure, and we can’t not take action. We will need to carve out time to carry out his order. Furthermore, I want to see if I can’t get in touch with the Silver Masks and Azure Justice.”
Pang Xiao bent down to kiss her forehead, smiling. “You’re absolutely right. We’ll do whatever you say. When I left, Sirs Xie and Xu were both very concerned. They wanted to come, but I had them stay because not having anyone I trust in the capital worried me even more. When they were the ones fretting, I told them I would have you by my side as my strategist. The way things are now, it would appear I made the right call.”
That brought a smile to Qin Yining’s face. “You’re merely humoring me. I’m no strategist. I just have a few clever tricks up my sleeves.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. If the average woman were as clever as you, they would easily rule an entire nation as empress, never mind running a household.”
“Nonsense.” Qin Yining rebuked Pang Xiao with a light pinch.
His wife finally in a better mood, Pang Xiao breathed more easily and laughed. “I’m going out to survey the city. After discussing with Sir Gong, I’ll start by visiting the neighboring district officials. I’ll parlay that into a visit to Yang County. We’ll leave no tracks this way and will give no one any reason for suspicion. Let sleeping dogs lie, as it were. I’ve arranged for my men to send word about the situation in the capital, so we should hear from them soon enough.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Holy... so what the heck happened to the treasure?