It took twice as long for Pang Xiao to travel from Skyzone Pass to Skywolf Pass than before, as he was afraid of Qin Yining catching a cold. Using his authority as an imperial prince, he gave her the largest, warmest carriage and stopped to rest whenever they happened upon beautiful scenery. If they came across a small town where there was a marketplace, they would also make a short stop as well.
It didn’t seem like they were sinners returning to the capital with a heavy heart, what with the way they stopped to smell the roses ever so often. Rather, it seemed as if Pang Xiao were taking the princess consort out on vacation.
Yi Binghu’s head ached out of frustration, yet those around him held Pang Xiao in particularly high regard—they assented to every request the prince made.
Qin Yining lifted the carriage’s curtain and looked out to see Yi Binghu’s face all scrunched up; he seemed to have lost some weight over the past few days.
She leaned back into Pang Xiao’s embrace. “At this rate,” she murmured, “General Yi’s robust physique will be no more. He’s barely eaten anything over the past couple of days.”
Leaning against a large cushion, Pang Xiao was lying half down with his long legs propped up. He held a book about military tactics in one hand and hugged Qin Yining against his chest with the other. The two of them shared a thick blanket; Qin Yining even had a little portable heater in her lap, warm and comfortable as could be.
“That man is both crooked and pompous. It would do him some good if this experience tempers his character. If not, there’s little else we can do about it. He was kicked out of the Valiant Tigers because his temperament is too unstable. Something like that could easily affect the state of the army as a whole.”
Qin Yining couldn’t help laughing at that. “It seems that you have a rather deep understanding of your subordinates. As the saying goes, one should put the right people in the right place.”
Pang Xiao chuckled and kissed the top of Qin Yining’s head. “It’s like playing chess—you must know the function of every single piece and what they are capable of when arranged on the board.”
Qin Yining nodded and turned over in Pang Xiao’s arms. “That's why I say that man doesn’t come close to you.”
Her approving tone tickled a burst of laughter out of Pang Xiao. “Your heart is biased towards me, so you always think well of me no matter what it is.”
“That’s not true. Anyone who sees clearly can tell who is more outstanding. If you weren’t truly excellent, why would the men of the military, men with no fear of killing or risking their lives, approve of you?”
Tens of thousands of compliments from outsiders couldn’t hold a candle to how happy one word from Qin Yining made him feel. Pang Xiao cheerfully kissed her on the cheek.
“For the lady to approve thusly, this husband is most delighted,” he murmured in a low voice.
Qin Yining buried her face into Pang Xiao’s chest. “You and your glib tongue,” she retorted, her lips just barely concealing her mirth.
“What’s this glib tongue you speak of? I mean every word I said from the bottom of my heart.”
It was too warm beneath the covers and her cushion too comfortable; Qin Yining’s head buzzed, her eyelids growing heavier as she clutched her hand warmer.
The sight of his darling curled up in his arms like a kitten intensified Pang Xiao’s urge to coddle her. He slowly patted her back and murmured as if cooing to a child. “Sleep. I'll watch over you.”
Qin Yining closed her eyes and slipped into a deep slumber.
After eight days of crawling progress, the entourage finally arrived at the second checkpoint of the northern border: Skywolf Pass.
As they approached, Pang Xiao switched to riding horseback next to Qin Yining’s carriage.
Yi Binghu mentally cursed Pang Xiao for being a wily fox. He usually enjoys the luxury of riding in a carriage like the woman, but changes to a horse after arriving at the border so he can pretend to be a man!
Pang Xiao noticed the odd look in Yi Binghu’s eyes, but he didn’t take it to heart. As he led the retinue to the gates of the Skywolf Pass, someone shouted down at them from the top of the guard tower. “State your name and business!”
“We are escorting the Faithful Prince of the First Rank back to the capital and seek passage through Skywolf Pass,” Huzi called out. “Please open the gates.”
Jumbled footsteps sounded from the gates. A moment later, someone leaned out to take a look. After confirming that they were indeed who they said they were, the man descended from the tower and the gates opened shortly after.
A troop of guardsmen came forward and flanked them in two lines. A tall, strong, and armored middle-aged man with a scarred face followed in quick strides, sword in hand. Seeing that the other man was on foot, Pang Xiao jumped down from his horse. Behind him, the Elite Tigers followed suit.
Yi Binghu smirked and scoffed lightly. “Just look at him put on this show.”
Standing next to him were Wei Erbao, Li Daniu, Qian Dongji, and a few others who had long developed a distaste for Yi Binghu. But seeing how he outranked them by quite a bit, there was nothing they could do about him except go along with the Elite Tigers and dismount from their horses.
Yi Binghu stuck out like a sore thumb as the only one still on horseback. In the end, he had no choice but to dismount as well with a dark look on his face. The general who oversaw Skywolf Pass was a non-nonsense man—surely he didn’t intend on going against royal decree and letting Pang Xiao off easily!
Thinking this, Yi Binghu quickly strode in front of Pang Xiao and raised a cupped fist salute at the approaching man. “General Tao.”
"General Yi. So you’ve found the Faithful Prince of the First Rank’s entourage and are accompanying them on their return?"
These words practically had Yi Binghu’s brain exploding with fury. Accompanying them? No, he was dragging back a traitor to stand trial!!
But when he turned his head back, he was greeted by the sight of a majestic carriage, impressively arrayed troops, and the illustrious prince himself—all of this pointed toward him accompanying them on their travels, not guarding a criminal.
Yi Binghu’s face became as black as thunderclouds. “Yes, I located the prince,” he answered stiffly. “I trust that the general has arranged temporary accommodations for the prince and his company?”
“The relay station is indeed ready to receive them at any time, but His Highness is a distinguished guest. This general shall have the rear residence organized at once for His and Her Highness.”
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