Pang Xiao naturally noticed people spreading such hearsay as he travelled, but he didn't take it to heart in the slightest—his mind was completely occupied by thoughts of Qin Yining.
Qin Yining fell into a constant state of discomfort ever since boarding the carriage. Whether it was because her body was too weak or that traveling was taking a toll on her, her nausea intensified as they traversed bumpy roads.
Things were bearable when the road was flat, but when it was uneven and riddled with potholes, the carriage would shake so much that Qin Yining couldn’t keep down anything she ate. Pang Xiao’s heart ached so terribly for his darling that he ended up wrapping Qin Yining in a mink cloak and carrying her in front of him atop his horse.
Yi Binghu was immensely impatient, but urging them to hasten would be completely useless as their progress was tied to the princess consort’s condition. Therefore, Yi Binghu felt that their return to the capital would drag on interminably and be delayed to the end of the year.
Seven hundred miles outside the capital stood the Valiant Tigers encampment, which had become a part of the local scenery. Stationed along the foot of the mountains, an army of a hundred thousand men formed a city of their own.
In a large tent situated in the middle of the campground, Ji Zeyu stood pensively before a massive map with his arms crossed. He was dressed in a fiery red cloak with stiff, small collars that rounded out his look.
The map was a topographical depiction of the four northern border gates and Tartar border terrain. It was so detailed that it marked mountain rivers, creeks, and even a forest, a clear indication of how well Ji Zeyu knew the northern border after years of guarding the region.
A frowning head eunuch Li Guanwen was half inclined behind Ji Zeyu; he’d been here for nearly forty-five minutes.
Ji Zeyu had been in this exact position when Li Guanwen arrived, and seemed to have heard nothing after Li Guanwen relayed the emperor’s message to him. Or had Prince Consort Ji not heard him because he was contemplating some great dilemma concerning warfare or national security?
Li Guanwen pondered whether he should bring up his inquiry once more, but he was also afraid of interrupting Prince Consort Ji’s train of thought. Growing bored of idly standing around, he craned his neck to peer at the map. As someone whose daily activities were limited to the meager confines of palace walls, he couldn’t make heads or tails out of the map no matter how long he stared at it.
Thus, Li Guanwen was left with no choice but to continue waiting patiently. Since men of martial arts disciplines were usually very sensitive to their surroundings, perhaps the prince consort would notice there was a person standing behind him soon enough.
And so he waited for another fifteen minutes.
Finally, Li Guanwen began to lose his patience. As a favored subordinate of the emperor, it wasn’t uncommon for people to curry favor with him whenever he was out and about. What was truly rare was for him to be given the cold shoulder.
Though Ji Zeyu was the supreme commander of the Valiant Tigers in addition to being a prince consort, Li Guanwen was still an imperial messenger—to treat him this way was equivalent to disregarding His Majesty!
When his thoughts traveled here, Li Guanwen cleared his throat. Not daring to startle Ji Zeyu, he gently repeated himself. “Prince Consort Ji, His Majesty means to ask to what degree is your control over the Valiant Tigers? Please tell me so that this servant may report back to His Majesty and assuage his worries.”
Ji Zeyu, however, gave no response and continued studying the map.
Anxiety, irritation, and displeasure from being ignored chased each other in the eunuch’s heart.
“Prince Consort Ji? This servant has been sent in His Majesty’s stead to inquire after how much control you exert over the Valiant Tigers.”
Again, he received no response.
Li Guanwen began to suspect that Li Zeyu meant to stand there until he turned into a statue. Impatience boiling over, he was just about to ask again when Ji Zeyu suddenly turned around and fixed his stunning eyes on the eunuch in a frigid stare.
The prince consort’s eyes exuded a frosty aura that nearly froze Li Guanwen stiff. Despite being clothed in burning scarlet, it only served to accentuate Ji Zeyu’s proud, noble self. It was as if his entire being had been carved from ice, and he was thoroughly unapproachable.
Li Guanwen stared blankly, a shiver coursing through his entire body. At the same time, Li Zeyu coldly called out, “Men.”
“Yes, sir!” A troop of ten men rushed inside the tent and bowed in synchronized salutes. “Commander!”
Ji Zeyu indicated Li Guanwen with a pale, slender finger. “One hundred boards across the back. Take him away.”
“Yes sir!” The soldiers immediately responded and dragged Li Guanwen out of the tent without another word.
Li Guanwen was so terrified that he dropped his ivory horsetail whisk and didn’t think to adjust his cap that’d been knocked askew.
“What is the meaning of this, Prince Consort Ji?!” he squawked shrilly. “This servant is here on His Majesty’s orders! Do you mean to revolt with this kind of treatment?!”
Despite Li Guanwen’s wailing, the subordinates dragged him out of the tent with all their might, not faltering in the slightest.
I’m done for, I’m done for! Why did I have the misfortune of catching Prince Consort Ji planning a revolt?! Your Majesty, I became the protruding nail in carrying out your orders, you’ve sent me to my death!
As he struggled, panicked tears streamed down Li Guanwen’s face out of fright.
Just as soldiers were about to haul him through the tent flap, Ji Zeyu spoke up again. “Unhand him. You may stand down.”
Though confused, the ten soldiers saluted him in unison without question.
“Yes sir.” With that, they exited the tent in formation. The only people left in the tent were Ji Zeyu and Li Guanwen.
“Do you understand?” Ji Zeyu asked, a mild expression upon his face.
Li Guanwen's knees buckled, leaving him wheezing on the floor. His face had gone so pale that he was whiter than a sheet of paper.
After what seemed like half a day, he finally caught his breath and looked blankly up into Ji Zeyu’s aloof face. His brain—which had shut down from fright—regained its capability for thought.
“This servant understands Prince Consort Ji.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Aw, I'm a little sad the Valiant Tigers went over to Ji Zeyu so easily though.