Li Qitian never would’ve fathomed that Pang Xiao would dare talk back at him like this. I am the emperor, the most noble of all living beings! All under the heavens belongs to me! Pang Xiao is just a subject, how dare he adopt this tone in front of me! Does he want to rebel!
Feeling that imperial dignity had been affronted, Li Qitian leveled a furious finger at the prince. “Do you know who you’re talking to! Do you know who you’re accusing! Would We possibly send men to kidnap your wife!?”
Pang Xiao briefly underwent a titanic struggle with his emotions and ultimately succeeded in not hacking the man in front of him into two.
“Your Majesty.” He raised a cupped fist salute, a smooth motion from rain-drenched and mud-splattered muscles. Scars, large and small, criss-crossed honey-colored skin—souvenirs from battles gone by and records that evoked respect from others.
Pang Xiao’s tone wasn’t as shrill as the emperor’s. Rather, he continued in a calm, measured pace, “My wife kept me company through hardship and pain in the disaster zone. She went hungry everyday in incredibly poor conditions and spent her energy worrying over the people. Though she is just a woman, she possesses a benevolent heart that cares deeply for the people. Her only thought is to somehow do something for them, so she never complained in front of me.
“When she saw that people had no food or medicines, she sold off her dowry to buy provisions. She even diverted all of the production from her farms to the soup kitchens and refused to accept payment for the goods.
“Her help relieved much of the pressure on me and saved many citizens from the prospect of death. I say this not to flaunt her achievements as Prefect Gong, Magistrate Li, and the people of the old capital and Yang County all know this.
“She refused to set aside her work even when she fell ill. I was the one who forced her to travel back to the capital for recovery. She’s weak and frail, completely different from a rough and tumble man like me. I’m tough and can handle beatings and falls, but how can a fragile woman like her endure the cold, hunger, and destitute surroundings of the disaster zone?
“But I was wrong, truly wrong. If I’d known that letting her take this route would have her meet with kidnapping from the Dragon Riders and then be buried underground, I’d rather her stay sickly and feeble by my side. She’d at least be alive then! People call me a good man for helping Your Majesty conquer the world and being the sharp sword in your hand, but despite that, I couldn’t even protect my wife.”
Pang Xiao’s head hung and liquid dripped from his disheveled hair—no one knew whether it was rain or tears. It slid down the hard angles of his handsome face, dribbled from his chin, and landed on his well-defined chest.
His words elicited pity and sympathy from all those present. Here stood a hardy man with striking battle accomplishments, but he hadn’t even been able to protect his sweet, new wife. Those unearthed from the cavern were the Dragon Riders that Li Qitian had sent to search for the treasure. Who would believe that the emperor had nothing to do with the princess consort’s circumstances?
Li Qitian’s lips vibrated with fury, but he had no idea what to say. Just who did Pang Xiao think he was fooling with this act of ardent love?? If the prince really worried about née Qin’s health, why had he brutally carried the girl off in the very beginning and created trouble for her at every turn?
The emperor quite suspected that Pang Xiao was involved with the treasure disappearing in the first place and had purposefully sent Qin Yining to her death. It was a ploy to generate sympathy, so as to cover up his own shady deeds!
“You don’t need to be this sad,” the emperor rumbled. “We will refrain from determining your responsibility for the time being. The excavation shall come first. Discussion of this matter can wait until the truth has been uncovered and the situation made clear.”
“So Your Majesty means to say you’re certain that I sent out a woman to fight for the treasure?”
Li Qitian’s expression darkened. Indeed, no man would leave such an important task in the hands of a woman. He knew that the Qin girl was highly intelligent and different from a typical noble girl, but this wasn’t common knowledge.
His purposeful display of temporary leniency in exchange for later recrimination showed him as overly wily and harsh. In fact, it seemed rather low and base behavior in front of so many Dragon Riders.
“Forget it, We understand your dejection at losing your princess consort. We will pursue your impertinence no further, but you must be more mindful.” Li Qitian put one hand behind his back and pointed the other at Pang Xiao.
The prince couldn’t care less about debating the emperor. Rationally speaking, he knew that he shouldn’t argue with Li Qitian in front of others as well. Thus, he raised cupped fists in return and went back to digging at the cavern.
The soil was loose after the cave-in and continued digging slowly exposed the bodies of the Dragon Riders and Azure Justice. The men uncovered a few chests at the very end; the faint sheen of silver could be seen inside.
Li Qitian’s eyes lit up and he hastily ordered the chests be hauled away for inventory. Meanwhile, Pang Xiao discovered an opening in the wall not too far behind the chests. The faint sound of dripping water traveled out from it. He poked his head in and then turned back to call out to Huzi, “Bring me a lantern!”
The bodyguard roared up to the people on the surface to pass him a lantern and handed it over to the prince, who was stooped on the ground. Pang Xiao peered into the opening again. “Is anyone there? My dear?”
Rustling sounds traveled back from the hole and a weak, female voice answered. “Your, Your Highness? Is that Your Highness?”
“It’s me! Is it Bingtang? Where’s the princess consort? Come on out, who else is inside?”
Bingtang huffed back weakly, “I can’t move because my leg’s broken. Jiyun’s also with me. She’s hurt too.”
The highly anxious Pang Xiao hopped in with Huzi and rescued Bingtang and Jiyun. Jiyun was covered in sword wounds and fainted from too much blood loss, whereas Bingtang’s leg was more likely than not broken, as her face paled with pain everytime she moved.
Having heard that survivors had been found, Li Qitian approached them with his hands behind his back.
Pang Xiao grabbed one of Bingtang’s arms. “The princess consort? Where’s your mistress?”
Tears trickled down the maid’s face. “I, I don't know either. Someone came after us and the princess consort hid me behind the chest. She told me to find a way out, so I kept hiding. I saw someone dressed in a Dragon Rider uniform slash the princess consort and open a huge wound on the back of her shoulder. She bled so much. It was such a chaotic battle in the cavern.”
Bingtang snuck a look at Li Qitian then and changed the topic. “Her Highness and we were traveling along just fine when we ran into a group of bandits. They were even dressed like Dragon Riders! They took Her Highness and her guards swore to fight to the death, but they were outnumbered in the end. We don't know if the princess consort is alive or dead…”
When he heard that Qin Yining had taken a blow and bled profusely, terror-stricken panic filled Pang Xiao’s heart. He had no mind to spare for considering which of Bingtang’s words were real and which were fake. Is my wife alive or dead? She had Bingtang hide, but she didn’t hide herself. Bingtang and Jiyun are my darling’s shadows in normal times, so where is she if the two of them hid in that hole?
Had his darling been killed or buried here?
When his thoughts travelled here, Pang Xiao had nothing to spare for anything else. He hopped in frantically and continued digging out the cave-in. Huzi arranged for men to take care of Bingtang and Jiyun and went off to find doctors and medicine for them.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
You tell 'em, Pang Xiao! And seriously Li Qitian, how money-grubbing can you get?