Qin Yining rode alongside Pang Xiao. Their group had just reached the city gates when the doors slowly creaked open. A hundred soldiers flooded out of the citadel, assembling into formation on both sides. They unsheathed their swords, blades gleaming as they leveled their weapons at Pang Xiao.
A man more than forty years old quickly followed, clad in a suit of golden armor and mounted on a horse. A burly, middle-aged man followed behind him, the capital barracks’ armor he donned particularly eye-catching.
Pang Xiao grabbed the reins of his horse and Qin Yining’s with one hand, and toyed with his whip in the other. He raised a brow with a smile. “Not bad, so you’ve prepared a great crowd to greet this prince. I am quite pleased.”
Yi Binghu’s face purpled from anger and he nearly fell off his chestnut horse. He urged his mount forward, rebuking, “Tch! How dare a treacherous bastard like you babble nonsense here!”
Pang Xiao completely ignored his would-be captor and nudged his horse forward with a grin at the man in golden armor.
“Grand Marshal Kang, long time no see.” He raised a cupped fist salute in greeting.
“Your Highness,” Kang Qiong hastily returned the gesture and smiled as well. “Your Highness must be weary from the journey, so please enter the pass to rest and recover. This junior official has already ordered servants to prepare the best rooms for you to freshen up. Hot water and alcohol have all been readied, along with a welcoming banquet. All that awaits is Your Highness’ presence.”
“My thanks for Grand Marshal Kang’s arrangements.” Pang Xiao nodded, smiling as he led Qin Yining and his brothers into the city.
Seeing this, Yi Binghu swelled up with rage. With a sharp kick at his horse’s sides, he charged up and blocked Pang Xiao’s path.
”Absolutely not! A traitor like you cannot enjoy such honored treatment! You should still possess a modicum of shame since you know to return to your nation. After betraying Great Zhou, you now return as a criminal! You should be thankful already that you aren’t in shackles, how dare you daydream of sitting down at a welcoming banquet?” Yi Binghu unsheathed the sword at his waist with a ringing swing, pointing it straight at Pang Xiao. “Arrest this traitor on the orders of this general!”
Further silence echoed.
Whether it was Kang Qiong’s Dragon Riders or Yi Binghu’s men from the Metropolitan Region barracks, no one moved. Each of the Elite Tigers was expressionless, their eyes chilly as frost as they stared down at Yi Binghu, almost as if they were looking at a dead man. The hair on the back of Yi Binghu’s neck rose from fear.
A cold wind swept by, highlighting how ridiculous his readied stance was.
”Do something! Wei Erbao! Li Daniu! All of you!” Yi Binghu turned around, angrily pointing at his men.
Pang Xiao snorted as he urged his horse forward again, not minding Yi Binghu’s leveled sword in the slightest. He called out each of the soldiers’ names as he passed through the group of soldiers from the Metropolitan Region.
“Wei Erbao, did you gain weight again?”
“Li Daniu, stop laughing, look at that mouthful of blackened teeth you have! I told you a long time ago to cut back on the smoking!”
“Qian Dong, just look at yourself. Did Wei Erbao steal all your food again?”
“Tsk tsk, Wu Xiaogui, how come you still look like a skinny monkey?”
Pang Xiao accurately named every person he passed and engaged in some teasing banter with each soldier. It was clear that even though these men had failed to remain in the Valiant Tigers, the prince still remembered every single one of them. He even clearly remembered their likes and personal circumstances.
When these people saw Pang Xiao, their eyes all lit up with admiration. There wasn’t the slightest trace of resentment or bitterness.
Li Daniu guffawed before covering his mouth in embarrassment. “Your Highness, it’s too hard to give up smoking. Wait ‘til I’m done training and try out for the Valiant Tigers again. If I make it, take me in please!”
His straightforward answer elicited laughter from the crowd.
Pang Xiao smiled. “That won’t do. The current commander of the Valiant Tigers is Ji Lan. I’ll chat with him later. If you’re good and manage to get his approval, I’ll have him accept you.”
“Ah! Your Highness, many thanks!” Li Daniu’s reply was loud and resounding.
The Ji Lan that His Highness mentioned was the son-in-law of the emperor, Ji Zeyu, and the former commander of the hundred thousand man Dragon Riders. He was a hero equally as famous as His Highness, and commanders with such prestige in this era could be counted on one hand. If he could earn Ji Lan’s approval, that would be just as well too!
Pang Xiao chatted amiably with everyone, fostering a casual and lively scene. Rather than Yi Binghu leading his men to intercept the traitor, it looked much more like a reunion between Pang Xiao and former members of the Valiant Tigers.
By now, Yi Binghu was in a complete daze. He looked at the men who were supposed to be arresting Pang Xiao, yet were talking to him with faces full of admiration and worship. They clearly didn’t have the slightest intent of arresting him, a realization that both worried and infuriated Yi Binghu.