After it was known that Qin Yining was with child, Pang Xiao spent every day like he was celebrating the new year. Tao Jun compounded his joy by holding a banquet every night—a great coincidence that happened to delay the prince’s return to the capital as well—so Pang Xiao went through his days with even more joyous gusto.
As for Yi Binghu, it went without saying that he wasn’t invited to Pang Xiao’s gatherings with his Dragon Rider brothers.
He felt something clawing at him every time he heard another person mention who Pang Xiao had been feasting with, or men singing praises of the prince’s fighting prowess after sparring with him.
This man had plainly committed the grave crime of treason, so why was he living his best life? His wife was pregnant, he garnered the admiration of those around him, and even his popularity among the people grew.
Conversely, Yi Binghu was here by royal decree, yet cast aside and thoroughly ignored like a dried vegetable. The Dragon Riders couldn’t be bothered with him, and even those he’d brought from the Metropolitan refused to take orders from him. They also never treated him with as much respect as they showed Pang Xiao.
For Yi Binghu, every passing day felt like a year. If the prince continued to dilly-dally like this, would His Majesty take his anger out on Yi Binghu when they finally returned to the capital? Though the emperor had been the one to send the decree, it wasn’t uncommon for those who didn’t execute orders to his liking to still experience his wrath.
In contrast to Yi Binghu’s turmoil, Qin Yining had never lived in such comfort before.
When Pang Xiao wasn’t attending a banquet, he was essentially joined at the hip with her. He served her tea and water, personally fed her, and spent the rest of his free time massaging her shoulder and legs. He even once attempted to carry her when she needed the washroom, which had earned him a swift kick from a furiously blushing Qin Yining.
Though Qin Yining had little appetite and often felt nauseous, she was elated to be so carefully doted upon by Pang Xiao.
On this day, Pang Xiao once again moved to take his leave.
“I really must be going. Spring will be upon us soon and we must travel slightly slower than we’d anticipated before. I estimate it will be summer by the time we return to the capital. We have already delayed our return for too long, and it will be difficult explaining ourselves to His Majesty.”
Having closely interacted with the prince for almost a month now, Tao Jun could read Pang Xiao’s strong determination to return to the capital. It wasn’t right for him to keep delaying the prince like this. What’s more, though Yi Binghu couldn’t make sugar sweet if he tried, he could definitely make vinegar sour without even attempting to. The situation would become sticky if he really decided to tattle to the emperor.
With this in mind, all Tao Jun could do was sigh. “His Highness must treat this matter with utmost caution. I shall await your good news at these borders.”
Pang Xiao nodded with a smile and clapped Tao Jun on the shoulder. "I appreciate your concern, thank you for your hospitality.”
"Say nothing of it. Your Highness is a good friend of my former commander and a war god that my brothers admire. What I’ve done is nothing worthy of gratitude. If we have the chance to get together again in the future, we must drink together until the sun comes up."
Pang Xiao smiled. "Indeed,” he vowed. “Let us meet again.”
He then excused himself to make arrangements for their departure; servants busied themselves with organizing the luggage.
Yi Binghu finally heaved a sigh of relief to see the prince getting a move on. Up ahead were Skyaxis Pass and Skygates Pass, he certainly wasn’t going to let Pang Xiao delay the trip any further. Otherwise, it would be more than a year before they returned to the capital.
His worries would later be proven groundless—Pang Xiao had no intention of postponing their journey to begin with, so he wasn’t about to deliberately delay their upcoming travels. Though the guards of Skyaxis and Skygates Pass welcomed them with eager hospitality, the prince stayed only for two days before setting out once more.
Their travels were smooth-sailing once they passed through all four major passes of the border. Seeing their shortening distance to the capital, Yi Binghu was finally able to heave a big sigh of relief.
The closer they were, the more he could call on men from his own faction—Pang Xiao would be increasingly less capable of stirring up trouble.
After a month of long faces, Yi Binghu finally broke out into a wide grin. However, no smiles were to be found just a few days later.
As the emperor’s instructions were for Yi Binghu to indulge the prince with patience and allow Pang Xiao to return with pomp and circumstance as befitting his station, every citizen on their way back knew that the Faithful Prince of the First Rank was returning to the capital with his princess consort.
Since the princess consort had killed the former Tatar khan and the prince was an awe-inspiring hero, the general populace held the couple in extremely high regard. As Li Qitian had previously declared to all that Pang Xiao was a traitor who had defected to Tatar, it was incredibly thought provoking that he now appeared again in public with the princess consort, and with his usual entourage.
Not only did the people gossip, so did the scholars and officials of court exchange notes.
Ultimately, the rumor mill was divided into two schools of thought: one faction held the view that nefarious masterminds were behind the accusations of treason, since Pang Xiao had made significant contributions to Great Zhou and his princess consort had killed the Tatar khan. The emperor should severely punish those involved!
The other faction believed His Majesty was the originator behind the rumors because he envied the prince’s military accomplishments. This brought back memories of what had happened to Pang Zhongzheng back in the day.
Of course, no one dared voice the second version aloud; they only whispered it amongst themselves in secret. But since it was a sensitive subject involving confidential imperial affairs, that only made such speculation all the more convincing.Previous Chapter Next Chapter