Qin Yining's brows furrowed at this. "What are you saying? I didn't bring this up with you so that I can return to the capital. Living conditions may not be as favorable here, but don’t you feel more at ease if you can keep an eye on me yourself? If I am to return, wouldn’t that be the same as sending another hostage his way?"
His wife’s words rendered Pang Xiao temporarily speechless. This was what it was like to have a wife whose mind was sharp beyond measure—not only would the flaws in his arrangements be pointed out, he had no way of refuting her concerns.
"I’m just worried you’ll suffer by staying here with me. You may not have noticed, but you've lost so much weight during this time. It's been one disaster after another, which isn’t good for your anemia. Bingtang has always stressed the importance of looking after your health, but you can't do that if you're with me. Not only are you unable to live in blissful peace, you're under constant stress. I took you as my wife so that you can live comfortably, but you’re always suffering because of me."
Qin Yining's heart was already helplessly soft for him. The fact that a deadly, assertive man like Pang Xiao allowed himself moments of weakness in her presence was the greatest indication of how much he trusted and respected her.
She extended her arms to embrace her husband. "Don't worry. I was a very healthy child growing up, so I'll be fine. What's more, I have Bingtang looking after me everyday. What can possibly happen to me? This is a matter of life or death. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I abandon you to live in the lap of luxury on my own.
"Say what you may, but having Azure Justice and the Silver Masks work together was my idea. Now that something’s gone wrong, I must take responsibility."
"My darling, don't say such a thing. We shared the same thoughts back then. You proposed the idea to help me, and I agreed to it only after careful consideration. Even if you somehow punched a hole in the sky, I would also take responsibility! What kind of man would I be if I hid under the skirts of my wife whenever things went awry?" Pang Xiao involuntarily reached out to grab Qin Yining's hands, his brows furrowed. "Do you understand? No matter what you do, I will share your burden. You are not to push yourself if I don’t ask you to!"
Her hands began to hurt from his tight grip, but she couldn't bring herself to let go the bony, chapped, yet warm hands covering her own. She knitted her brows together slightly before speaking again.
"We are tied to one another as husband and wife. I should shoulder whatever burdens you bear for me. I thought we were equals, so what’s this talk about who's hiding behind who’s back? If the one who sits on the throne decides to execute you, do you think he will let me off?"
"Pah, forget that nonsense at once!" Pang Xiao pinched Qin Yining's cheek. "You little rascal, must you really bring up the greatest worry of all?"
Qin Yining had hit the nail right on Pang Xiao's deepest fear. His greatest fear wasn’t losing his life, but dragging her down with him because of his selfish decision in marrying her.
Seeing his face grow red with anxiety, Qin Yining knew he worried for her. She sighed and nestled herself into Pang Xiao's arms to alleviate the tension. "Alright, let's not quarrel over this. In any case, I’m not returning to the capital. What do you think of what I proposed earlier?"
The prince pursed his lips in long contemplation. "It can be arranged, but it will be very dangerous. You must take everyone you need when you go."
Qin Yining dimpled. "Don't worry. I will have five Silver Masks with me if I include Auntie Cao. Such an entourage would befit the emperor of Great Yan himself. How dangerous can it be?"
Pang Xiao was beyond reluctant—how could he not be, knowing Qin Yining was putting herself at risk for his sake? Li Qitian had men stationed around the city, but he gave them no further orders, nor did they take any further action. There was no way of knowing what he was up to. What's more, it was entirely possible that Pang Xiao was being watched everywhere he went, making it impossible for him to join his wife.
Qin Yining's plan was rather simple.
The Princess Consort of the First Rank was worn out from extensive travel—and her health had never been good to begin with. The perils she faced on the road had shaken her so badly that she’d fallen ill. Thus, the Faithful Prince of the First Rank was sending Her Highness back to the capital for medical attention.
So the next day, Qin Yining was overcome by her illness, throwing the servants in the yamen into a frenzy. By the third day, she appeared pale and jaundiced to those who saw her, her eyes unfocused and lifeless as if she would pass out at any moment.
Seeing the princess consort in such a state, Magistrate Li pulled Pang Xiao's sleeve with great urgency. "This is all because of the earthquake! The esteemed Princess Consort, eating like commoners and living under such duress for so long—it's no wonder someone as frail as she would fall ill!"
"It’s just like you say," Pang Xiao agreed, vexed. "It's all my fault—I've been so busy that I neglected to look after her. Her body has always been weak, but she trudged through wind and rain to accompany me to the disaster zone. It seems that old afflictions have caught up with her once again."
"What will you do, Your Highness? Living conditions here are less than ideal, and there aren't any good doctors to consult."
"I plan to have some men escort her back to the capital so she can be treated. As for His Majesty, I will write a formal report to explain the situation." Pang Xiao couldn't help but sigh.
Magistrate Li had been spending almost every waking hour of the past few days with the prince, so he had nothing but respect for the war god.
"Worry not, Your Highness," he replied immediately. "This subordinate's words don't carry much weight, but I will also write to His Majesty so that he won’t misinterpret your actions."
Moved, Pang Xiao looked at Magistrate Li. Phoenix-shaped eyes filled with gratitude, he smiled and clapped the magistrate on the shoulder. "My thanks!"
Magistrate Li smiled and waved a hand, his face flushed with embarrassment. "It's the least I can do for the prince and princess consort, as it is my duty to speak the truth to His Majesty. How does that merit your thanks, Your Highness?"
"Regardless, I must thank you," Pang Xiao replied sincerely. "Government officials with the same sense of justice and duty as Magistrate Li are in the minority."
Such praise had the magistrate flush even redder. He waved his hands frantically and exchanged a few more pleasantries before hastily excusing himself, very much flustered.
And so, the day after Pang Xiao and Magistrate Li filed their reports, soldiers and servants escorted Qin Yining out of the yamen. They headed in the direction of the fissure that Cao Yuqing had mentioned.
Though they traveled by carriage, the road they took had already been repaired, so they wasted little time and arrived by noon.
Dressed as a man, Cao Yuqing sat up front as their driver. She lifted her gaze to exchange looks with Jingzhe and the other three Silver Masks. Once they understood their orders, the four Silver Masks headed off in different directions to scout the area.
It wasn't long before they returned and reported there was no one around lying in wait. Only then did Qin Yining step off the carriage and follow Cao Yuqing to the underground opening with the rest of her retinue.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
It's catch up day!! Sorry for the delay, had a minor scare with the virus over the weekend. But all good now! Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy!!