“What are all of you thinking?! Have you already forgotten the favor that His Majesty has shown us!? You followed me out of the capital, so you should be listening to my orders! I am ordering all of you to arrest the Faithful Prince of First Rank and his consort right now and bring them back to the capital immediately!”
Yi Binghu was ready to tear his hair out from fury. In fact, his hair had puffed up so much that it looked like he already had, and his howls of outrage would be enough to cause an avalanche on the snowy peak far away.
However, none of the people closest to him were listening at all! Although he was here on imperial orders, it wasn’t like his own orders were an imperial edict. If no one was willing to listen to him, what could he do alone?
This was brought to light even more since Pang Xiao’s group was stabbing into him with the force of their glares. He was willing to bet that if Pang Xiao gave the order, his private soldiers and entourage would throw caution to the wind and charge him in a fiery blaze of mutual destruction.
When his thoughts traveled here, a chill ran down Yi Binghu’s spine. He was still young and had his entire life ahead of him. He didn’t want to lose his life for no reason here!
Therefore, he didn’t continue shouting after receiving no response. He could only gnash his teeth and refrain from saying anything that might infuriate the other side.
Off to the side, Pang Xiao exchanged some more greetings with old acquaintances before turning to Yi Binghu. “You came with good timing. This prince is just about to return to the capital to see His Majesty, so you may escort me there. Open the gates.”
Could they escort him in a prisoner’s carriage, please?
Yi Binghu clenched his jaw, able to speak only after a long moment. “If Your Highness wishes it so, how would we dare refuse?”
In any case, the closer they were to the capital, the more of the emperor’s men there would be on the roads, which decreased the chances of Pang Xiao’s group escaping. It would be much easier to complete his mission that way.
However, Kang Qiong offered a timely interjection, “Your Highness has arrived at Skyzone Pass after enormous difficulty, so you must share at least a drink with your brothers before leaving. Besides, the banquet’s already prepared. It would all be a waste if Your Highness passed it by. The brothers with Your Highness must also be in need of a few cups to warm up their bodies, and I’m sure Her Highness would like to rest as well.”
Yi Binghu clenched his teeth and glared at Kang Qiong, secretly finding him to be an incredible busybody. None of this had anything to do with Kang Qiong, so what was he sticking his nose into things for!
Scanning the strained look on Yi Binghu’s face and reviewing his nervous antics up to this point, Pang Xiao kindly let him off the hook. “If this is the case, how can I disappoint Grand Marshal Kang’s kind intentions?”
Hearing that, Kang Qiong smiled broadly. “Your Highness, this way, please!”
“Grand Marshal Kang, I’ll be in your care.”
Kang Qiong and Pang Xiao both dismounted, heading into the city together. Yi Binghu was left hanging off to the side—out of sight and out of mind. As Pang Xiao and his men followed the defenders of Skyzone Pass into the city, Li Daniu and the rest by Kang Qiong watched with growing anxiety.
They didn’t possess the qualifications to feast with Pang Xiao even if they did enter the city. However, they completely worshipped the prince and wanted to partake in whatever aspects of his presence possible by following him closely. When they saw Yi Binghu stay silent, impatience shifted their feet.
Yi Binghu could clearly sense just how great Pang Xiao’s prestige and popularity were in the army. It seemed like all of the soldiers in this border station revered him like a god, and the general’s earlier actions only served to make him look like a clown.
Embarrassment and anger flooded his mind as he once again cursed that old fox Kang Qiong for being such a bootlicker. He clearly knew how much his subordinates adored Pang Xiao and had seized the chance to invite the prince to a banquet. What a truly wily old fox!
Head racing with thoughts, Yi Binghu called out to those around him only when he saw the city gates about to close. “What are you guys staring for? Waiting for your precious prince to personally escort you in?”
Yi Binghu dug his heels into his horse’s stomach and sent it bolting forward. His subordinates looked at each other, lips curling in disdain as they followed their commander into the city.
Qin Yining was led to the rear wing of the manor, whereupon Kang Qiong’s wife, née Chen, showed her one of the best rooms.
“Your Highness must be very tired from the journey. The pass is bitterly cold and cannot compare to the capital, but we do have plenty of warm rooms. I hope Your Highness finds it to your liking.”
“Madame Chen is too courteous, this is already wonderful. There’s no need for Madame Chen to clear out the main room for me. His Highness and I are just here for a short stay and will soon depart for the capital, there’s no need to go to all this trouble.”
Nèe Chen was rather happy to hear the princess consort refer to her as Madame Chen. Many people called a married woman by only her husband’s surname, but some with their own businesses or an exceedingly good reputation would still be called by their maiden names. By calling her Madame Chen, Qin Yining was treating her with utmost respect.
Nèe Chen looked at Qin Yining’s face again and thought about the princess consort’s social deftness. She truly is Wise Pan An’s daughter, someone far different from any other woman!
It was no wonder that the prince was so enamored that he would continue to search for her in the face of thirty-three imperial edicts. He didn’t hesitate to bear the crime of treason in order to go deep into Tatar territory to search for her.
There was likely no woman beneath the skies who didn’t envy Qin Yining after hearing how devoted the God of War was toward his consort.
After meeting Qin Yining face-to-face today, nèe Chen understood. Sure enough, the princess consort was an outstanding woman. Otherwise, the hard-tempered steel that was the God of War wouldn’t have melted into soft glue in her hands.
The two shared a mutual admiration for each other and chatted merrily as they entered the main room together. Nèe Chen ordered for hot bathwater and servants to stand by the ready, carefully giving another onceover to the room’s charcoal, bedding, and so on, and only took her leave when she made sure all was in accordance.
Qin Yining soaked herself in the tub of hot water and closed her eyes, enjoying the rare moment of leisure. Looking back on everything now, it almost seemed like everything she’d gone through, being kidnapped by the Tatar and the painful experiences in the desert, had been just a dream.
Tsk tsk tsk, we're back to Great Zhou alright. Petty schemes at court abound.