Magistrate Li was just the same as Gong You—nursing some misunderstandings of Pang Xiao due to the prince’s infamy.
Newly armed with the prefect’s explanation and hearing how Pang Xiao’s family and Minister Qin had sold off family business to donate as aid relief, the magistrate’s eyes reddened with gratitude. Their benefactors didn’t even want word to spread of their good deeds!
No one swimming in the murk of politics was a fool. Everyone had a steelyard balance in their hearts. Pang Xiao had made an actual donation, but didn’t make a big deal of it and had no intention of publicizing his deed to the world.
Yang County was so close to the old capital, yet the magistrate wouldn’t have had the faintest inkling had Prefect Gong not enlightened him. How would the emperor, off in the distant capital, know of this at all?
This meant that the prince really just wanted to do something for the people at this time, and he didn’t want to toot his own horn for it. He’d rather stay in the shadows and quietly do what he could.
Such actions were a thousand times better than those who proclaimed with great fanfare that they would deliver aid, but never followed up those words with action—and million times better than the nonexistent imperial rice!
Who in the world would be so willing to give help at their own expense? Those present were well aware why the prince did all this mutely.
Magistrate Li sniffled loudly, a bit more gravity in his expression when he next faced the married couple.
“Don’t worry, Your Highness, this official promises you that every copper coin will be used where it’s most needed, so that more of the people will survive!” His voice boomed sonorously, evidence of his resolve.
Infected by the high emotions, Pang Xiao nodded with immense gratification. “I’m sure that with our joint efforts, more of the people will live on!”
Blood boiled in the prefect and magistrate’s veins; they nodded heavily. “They will!”
The group rested in the county yamen as the night grew long.
Bugs and mosquitoes abounded, worrying Pang Xiao that his wife would once again be bit by a venomous insect. He didn’t sleep much all night, getting up every now and then to shoo away mosquitoes.
He was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as usual the next morning, nothing out of the ordinary to be gleaned from his bearing. After Qin Yining helped him dress, she joined him in surveying the county.
Possibly because it wasn’t the epicenter of the quake, the situation in Yang was slightly better compared to the old capital. A lack of multi-storied or brick buildings meant that there were far fewer injuries and fatalities.
When patrolling the city, the group discovered several large residences showing evidence of recent repairs. One complex had even made their walls higher.
Such actions simply protested one’s innocence too much. It was an easy guess that there must be provisions stored within that residence.
“Are the Dings and Peis still demanding that price for their grain?” asked the magistrate.
Gong You nodded painfully. “Not only are they unwilling to lower their price, they even seemed inclined to raise it after being asked a few more times!”
Magistrate Li cursed through grit teeth. “Those rich bastards without a heart! This was how they fleeced the people back in Great Yan, and now they want to sup on the people’s blood and flesh!”
“I say that they’re just looking to profiteer from the government in these times of distress!” Pang Xiao’s low voice burned with rage, a throbbing forehead tendon testament of his fury. “If the officials don’t accept the price they want, they’ll have reason to say that His Majesty isn’t feeding the citizens!”
“Your Highness’ analysis is right. These people are the heartless rich and aren’t worthy of being people at all! We should teach them a harsh lesson!” Being younger, Magistrate Li had a more impulsive personality.
Pang Xiao was a domineering, straightforward sort, and his thoughts happened to coincide with the magistrate’s. “Don’t rush, I’ll go visit them for a chat.”
Used to sweeping across the battlefield, all he needed was one sharp look to intimidate someone if he set his mind to it.
The magistrate and prefect were reassured by the prince’s attitude. If he was truly willing to put his mind to the task, surely the issue of feeding the people would be resolved. The two suddenly felt that their pillar of support had materialized with the arrival of Pang Xiao.
As the men made their survey, Qin Yining headed off on her own with her people. She searched for any clues that Azure Justice may have left in the city.
Since the emperor said the treasure might be in Yang County, then it would be in the hands of alliance if the Silver Masks hadn’t swallowed it whole.
It was one thing if Azure Justice had thoroughly betrayed her and didn’t care about frenzied revenge from Qin Yining and Pang Xiao; otherwise, they would definitely contact her.
Qin Yining’s group split up and finally located three marks that the alliance had left behind.
“Madame, look. The combination of these three marks means that you should go to the mountain in the north, the one we passed by yesterday.”
Qin Yining nodded. “Destroy them all. It’s enough that we know.”
“Understood.” Xiaoman surreptitiously erased all of the marks.
“Madame, are you planning on going?” asked Jiyun in a low voice.
“You probably shouldn’t,” Bingtang hastily advised. “They suddenly changed their minds and didn’t tell you where they moved the package. Now they’re popping up again and want you to take a torn and broken mountain path? They’re up to no good!”
“That’s right, madame, I also find this suspicious,” concurred Dahan. “Be careful and decide after discussing with the lord. Don’t go by yourself and fall into a trap.”
Qin Yining knew that they meant well. She also felt that this wasn’t something she could handle by herself.
After the day’s surveying, she returned to the yamen and hid in their room, whispering with Pang Xiao.
He put his arm around Qin Yining’s waist and pillowed his chin on her shoulder. “You really found secret symbols?”
“Yes, but I didn’t dare go alone.” Her head was tilted back as she whispered her response into his ear. “I fear that things aren’t as simple as they seem.”
“Thank goodness you didn’t go. I received a secret message from the capital today. Remember the men I left with father-in-law? He sent the note.” Pang Xiao lowered his voice even more and huffed right into Qin Yining’s ear. “The emperor’s secretly arrived in Yang County. All of our movements are under surveillance. He’ll immediately learn of any abnormalities, leaving us no room to defend ourselves.”
The princess consort stiffened, chills of horror running down her back.
Thank goodness she’d formed the habit of leaning on Pang Xiao and wanting to discuss everything with him first! If she’d struck out on her own like before, she would’ve played right into the enemy’s miserable hands, dragged down her husband, exposed Azure Justice, and even implicated the two families back in the capital.
“Thank heavens I didn’t go.” Qin Yining heaved out a long sigh of relief.
“That’s right.” Pang Xiao kissed her forehead. “From now on, we focus our efforts on the mission. Ignore everything the alliance sends about the treasure and make sure we don’t give anything away. Our families will be in danger otherwise.”
Her back drenched with sweat, Qin Yining bobbed her head rapidly.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Holy hell okay this is terrifying.