She finally awoke in the afternoon amid the aches and pains of her protesting body. Pang Xiao had already finished negotiating with the city lord. He crouched by the bed, not looking like he’d done any strenuous activities at all. In fact, he looked so relaxed and alert that it almost seemed like he’d taken some nutritious tonic.
Qin Yining shot him a fierce glare as she rubbed her sore waist.
Pang Xiao smiled and kissed her hand. “You’re awake! Are you still uncomfortable? We can rest once we enter the city and arrive at the relay station, alright? Be good, we have to get up now.” He pulled her up as he talked, almost like he was coaxing a small child.
Qin Yining flushed with annoyance. “I’m not a child, there’s no need to be so sappy.”
“Sappy? How was that sappy? Darling? Baby? Dearest baby? Baby sweetheart?” Pang Xiao deliberately lowered his voice and murmured into her ear with a deep, magnetic voice. The whispers made her heart pound wildly and her face turn even redder.
“Who’s your baby sweetheart! You’re the baby sweetheart!”
When Pang Xiao saw how flaming red her cheeks were, he couldn’t help but pull her onto his lap and rock her like he would a young child.
“Say, why do I like my darling so much? I’m only speaking the truth. You are my darling, my sweetheart. I feel anxious and miss you so much without you by my side. I didn’t feel so intensely like this before.
“Oh, of course I would miss you then, but it wasn’t how things are like now, where I can’t bear to part from you for a single moment. After this incident, if you aren’t in my line of sight, my heart seizes up in fear that someone has taken you away from me again.” At this, he lowered his head and kissed her forehead. “Tell me, when did you steal my heart?”
Qin Yining buried her face in Pang Xiao’s chest, exposing only the tips of her red ears. Her voice was muffled, “Utter nonsense, who taught you to say such things?”
Seeing that Qin Yining was truly caught in a fit of shyness, Pang Xiao didn’t continue his line of flustering proclamations. He helped her change, put on her socks and shoes, and even combed through her hair with his rough, clumsy hands. Although his handiwork wasn’t that skilled and hurt her scalp from all the tugging, the end result was a pretty bun.
He finished off his attentions with the black mink overcoat and carefully sorted out her collar before smiling, “My darling is truly beautiful,” and smacked a loud kiss on her cheek.
Qin Yining’s face flushed beet red, a shade even brighter than her rouge. She couldn’t bring herself to look straight at Pang Xiao, just ducked her head and obediently followed him out of the tent.
Huzi and the rest of the Elite Tigers were already ready. When they saw Pang Xiao and Qin Yining emerge, they led their horses into formation and stood at attention, arranging in orderly rows.
When everyone had tidied up their belongings, Pang Xiao shouted, “We ride!”
“Understood!” With that order, the group mounted their horses and rushed to Skyzone Pass, the northernmost gate between Tatar and Great Zhou territory.
Great Zhou’s northern border was guarded by four citadels: Skyzone Pass, Skywolf Pass, Skyaxis Pass, and Skygates Pass. Amongst them, the closest to the front lines was Skyzone Pass. It was the same area that Ji Zeyu had once led the Dragon Riders to defend.
Although the Dragon Riders were still stationed here, their commander-in-chief had undergone quite a few changes. They were currently led by Kang Qiong, one of Li Qitian’s men, but he wasn’t getting along with his captains and lieutenants.
Ever since the Faithful Prince of the First Rank committed treason, things at court were as if hot oil had been ladled into hot water. Everything was in complete chaos and since Li Qitian knew that Pang Xiao had brought his manor guards to Tatar, he arranged for a trusted general to take a hundred men to Skyzone Pass so that the prince could be arrested on sight.
The official dispatched was called Yi Binghu, a twenty-nine year old fifth-rank General of Militant Loyalty. Although currently affiliated with the barracks of the Metropolitan Region, he had a connection to the Valiant Tigers as well.
As was common knowledge, Pang Xiao’s Valiant Tigers was a hundred thousand man cavalry who’d all undergone stringent selection and training. Even if they entered the troop, it wasn’t a guarantee they would forever have a place. Examinations were conducted every once in a while to determine who continued to make the cut.
Yi Binghu had stayed for only a month in the Valiant Tigers as he’d failed to pass the examination. He’d wanted to bribe the overseeing officer, but had been caught by a passing Pang Xiao and was harshly reprimanded in front of the men.
Yi Binghu’s clan hailed from Northern Ji and had produced many government officials. Since young, he’d always thought of himself as a noble son of the heavens, so being publicly humiliated by Pang Xiao had formed a strong grudge.
After being expelled for a string of minor offenses resulting from his scheming and plotting, he employed his family’s connections to snag a position in the capital’s barracks. However, resentment still seethed toward the prince afterward.
Li Qitian knew about their history, which was why he’d arranged for Yi Binghu to guard Skyzone Pass in case Pang Xiao really returned. It wasn’t just Yi Binghu either—the hundred men he led were all soldiers who’d been expelled from the Valiant Tigers.
The emperor was making use of their resentment and giving them a chance for revenge. This way, he didn’t need to worry about his men helping Pang Xiao or making things easy for the prince.
Hey guys, just poking a head back out to say that I think I've finally gotten life under control a bit, and mega apologies for disappearing like that. If you ever want to get ahold of me, I can be found in the volare Discord!