The wind stung against their faces.
Liu Shu Yi’s tear tracks across her face dried and then moistened, and then dried once more. At this moment she really wanted to cry loudly but didn’t dare do so. She could only allow her tears to flow silently.
“Enough, willow branch1, don’t cry anymore. We’ll reach the campsite soon. We can then find reinforcements and hurry back to save them. Those guards back there were so skilled and that Ah Yan is pretty skilled herself. They’ll definitely be fine.”
Chu Ming Chen pursed his lips tightly and nodded.
“But there were so many wolves. They are all carnivorous!”
“It’ll definitely be fine. Don’t cry anymore. We’ll have our hands full after getting back to the camp.”
Liu Shu Yi recalled the fatty fourth prince’s words. “Why did you tug me earlier and not let me ask questions?”
Chu Ming Chen really wanted to open her head up and check what was inside.
“You’re really a dunce! The crown prince used us as scapegoats. It would be fine if it was just the two of us, but don’t forget the Zhenguo Duke’s grandson and the fourth prince were there as well. The crown prince must have been panicked at the time, but after escaping he would inevitably have some thoughts. It’s fine if nothing happens to Shen Qi and the rest, but if something did happen, even the crown prince wouldn’t get off easily.”
Liu Shu Yi turned deathly pale and gripped his arm tightly. “You mean he will…” she left the words “silence them” unsaid.
Chu Ming Chen’s heart trembled. “I don’t know either. We can only take it one step at a time. That’s why you must stop crying. We can’t let anyone get suspicious at the campsite. Let’s check out the situation before going in.”
He then ordered Liu Shu Yi’s two guards. “This matter must be kept secret. Keep your mouths tightly shut.”
The two guards understood the severity of the matter and nodded.
In the middle of the woods, a large pack of wolves surrounded a group of people in a semi-circle.
The group of people divided their roles clearly, and their rhythm had yet to be disrupted by the attacking wolves.
Luo Huai Yuan who stood behind Yan Yan suddenly slapped his leg. “Oh no, we should have sent one of our people along earlier. If the crown prince’s thoughts turn malicious, I really suspect something might end up happening to them. Whether they can even enter the campsite is uncertain.”
Yan Yan’s hand trembled. She shot her whip out and continuously struck back two ambushing wolves. “Don’t speak blindly!”
Shen Qi’s expression was unusually solemn. “I feel what little fatty is saying could be possible. However, the ones in danger aren’t them. It might very possibly be us. The crown prince doesn’t recognize Liu Shu Yi and Chu Ming Chen, but he definitely recognizes me and little fatty.”
“You mean he might very possibly gather people and come silence us or get rid of the evidence?” Yan Yan asked with a frown.
Silencing them meant finishing the job if not all of them died. Getting rid of the evidence meant erasing traces of the crown prince’s group. It would seem like they had just unfortunately stumbled into the wolf pack themselves, and had nothing to do with him.
Of course the key was that the crown prince had underestimated their abilities. They naturally knew their group would be fine, but the crown prince didn’t. If he felt they were dead for sure or at least tragically wounded, it would be hard to say if he was willing to take any risks.
Yan Yan said hesitantly: “This wouldn’t happen, right?”
“What if he thinks we’re done for, or will suffer heavy losses? The crown prince wouldn’t risk harming his reputation. Furthermore, Empress Xiao definitely wouldn’t leave something behind for Senior Concubine Xu to use against him.” Lui Huai Yuan pointed out, his tone very grim. Only at this time would he reveal a different side to his normally silly self.
Many things seemed simple, but as long as the royal family was involved, it would become complicated.
“However, it’s ok. Little sis Ah Yan, don’t worry. I will definitely protect you!” After speaking, Luo Huai Yuan gave Yan Yan a splendid smile.
Yan Yan suddenly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Of course saying all this was a little early. Everything was merely their assumptions. But despite this, they couldn’t help but become cautious. After all, a moment of inattention may cost them their lives. Now, the best thing to do was to conserve their stamina and wait for an opportunity to move.
Although Yan Yan’s skills were extraordinary, this was the first time she encountered such a complicated situation. Her expression couldn’t help but turn serious.
Shen Qi was the same. At this time, the effects of the Zhenguo Duke Estate’s education became apparent.
Shen Qi methodically arranged everyone into shifts. Half of the people defended against the wolves while the other half rested and recovered. He and Yan Yan also split up the work. At this moment, Shen Qi waved his spear continuously against the wolves while Yan Yan and Luo Huai Yuan went into the inner layer and rested under the tree.
“Don’t worry little sis Ah Yan. Although your good friend seems a little dumb, the brat with her was quite clever despite being timid. I especially instructed them to be careful after returning and find the Zhenguo Duke first. Everything should be fine.”
As long as the Zhenguo Duke knew about this, they would have several options available and nothing would happen to them.
“Hopefully that’s the case.”
Luo Huai Yuan looked at Yan Yan’s solemn expression and changed the topic with a smile. “Little sis Ah Yan, you haven’t responded to my words back then. I already confessed to you. What’s your answer?”
Yan Yan became embarrassed again when recalling that matter. “What’s a confession?”
He sighed in his heart, leaned in close and said quietly: “It means I like you.”
Yan Yan pushed him away with a red face. “Don’t speak nonsense.”
“I’m not speaking nonsense. Are you still unable to see my feelings?” Luo Huai Yuan’s face looked like he was mourning his father’s passing, and was a little aggrieved. “Look how I didn’t run away. Since I could ride Little Green for such a long distance to find you, I could definitely have run off with him again. But if you don’t leave, I won’t leave either. I will accompany you through life and death. Do you still not understand my feelings?”
Luo Huai Yuan’s eyes were filled with complaint. Yan Yan actually felt afraid to look at him.
They spoke very quietly and were in the innermost layer. No one paid attention to what they were saying.
“Little sis Ah Yan, I really really like you a lot! Will you marry me and be my consort?”
Luo Huai Yuan grabbed Yan Yan’s hand and looked at her very seriously.
Don’t you know this attitude is very shameless? Who forcibly asks a girl this in public?
“I, I….” Yan Yan wretchedly turned her face away, her voice as soft as a mosquito’s buzz. “I don’t know what you mean by ‘like’!”
What does it mean to like?
Yan Yan had read some popular stories before, but didn’t agree with the feelings between man and woman written within.
A grand proper lady from a wealthy household actually had a chance encounter with an impoverished scholar. After several private meetings between the two of them, a moving relationship was born. Afterwards, that lady’s father didn’t despise the scholar for being a commoner and married his daughter to him.
A number of years later, that scholar became the top scorer in the imperial exam. The emperor saw his talent and felt only such a person could be worthy of his princess. Therefore, he wanted to marry his pampered daughter to him. But that top scorer already had a wife and even several children.
His wife couldn’t bear harming the scholar’s prospects and voluntarily demoted herself to a concubine and let the princess take her place. That princess saw the generosity of the original wife and decided to follow this female hero’s example, thus serving the husband on the same level as his first wife.
The story ended there.
Yan Yan had snorted disdainfully while reading it.
First of all, it wasn’t possible for a major household’s lady to have a chance encounter with a poor scholar. Which major household’s daughter wasn’t surrounded by an escort of servants when she went out? Were those maids and grannies all dead?
There was even less need to mention private meetings, unless that noble lady’s martial arts were as good as hers and could go over the wall. Furthermore, since they were a major household, her father was definitely an official, and maybe even nobility. How could he match his daughter with a commoner? Could all the young masters in the capital have died?
And forget about the fact that his majesty would marry the princess to him after he became the top scorer. First of all, becoming a top scorer was just the starting point of his career. He had to start as a sixth-rank official at the Hanlin Academy and slowly make his way up. Some were able to stand out, but others vanished into the crowd.
Of course, that wasn’t the point. The point was that the emperor wouldn’t disregard his reputation and force someone to marry just because he might become someone important in the future. This was a major taboo in the Grand Xi. As the ruler of everything under the heavens, his majesty was naturally able to do so, but what was the benefit?
Merely to fulfill that poor scholar’s fantasy?
Yan Yan read several books and the stories were mostly similar.
She came to a conclusion. The author was definitely a poor scholar that wrote down his daydreams to scam some silver.
But what did it mean to like someone?
Yan Yan definitely wouldn’t act like the girls in those books. She felt they were extremely absurd. If she were that lady and the princess had her eye on the scholar, she would definitely not willingly become a concubine. She would fight to the death.
That wasn’t liking. That was just being stupid and ignorant. Yan Yan still knew this.
Actually Yan Yan also had real examples.
One such example was long, long ago when she felt her mom liked her dad extremely much. For a woman to lose her sense of self, to the extent of making herself and her children suffer, it couldn’t be just attributed to simplemindedness.
She had seen how Yan Ting was able to easily sway Shen Yi Yao’s thoughts and emotions. It made her shiver a little. She couldn’t figure it out after pondering for a long time. In the end, it was still Luo Huai Yuan who told her the answer.
Because Shen Yi Yao liked him, she would cover her own eyes.
Due to this, the ignorant Yan Yan finally understood the outcome of “liking” someone.
But was that what it meant?
It made people so blind?!
She didn’t like this sort of blindness. It made her feel frightened.
Yan Yan’s question seemed to have stumped Luo Huai Yuan.
He pondered for a while before slowly speaking: “To like someone is to want to be together with them, for a very, very long time, never to part. They could be very happy when together, very carefree without worries. Seeing each other would drive away their worries. When she isn’t there, he’d miss her. When she is, he couldn’t bear leave her side, wanting to stay with her forever and not go anywhere….”
Luo Huai Yuan’s voice was gentle and emotional, but Yan Yan didn’t realize it. She was seriously considering each case one by one.
She was rather happy when she was with little fatty Luo. This was because he was a huge clown, and would have a lot of jokes. When she wasn’t with him, she did think about him, but that was just worrying for his safety. It wasn’t to the extent of being unable to part with him. Often times, she wished to give him a ruthless beating, so how could she be unable to part!?
After analyzing things, Yan Yan came up with the conclusion. “I don’t think I like you.”
Something flashed across Luo Huai Yuan’s eyes. It was just an instant and it couldn’t be clearly seen.
He covered his eyes with his chubby hands and wailed as he fake cried. “How could you possibly not like me? I like you so, so much. You’ve truly hurt my heart too much!”
“Enough, stop messing around!”
Yan Yan was a little embarrassed and gave him a shove. Unfortunately he was too heavy and she couldn’t push him away. Instead, her hand was grabbed.
“Little sis Ah Yan, you can actually think of it this way. Even if you don’t like me at the moment, it’s no big deal. You can marry me and then we’ll slowly cultivate our feelings.”
He wiped his fatty face which still had a smile. He was clearly still messing around, but was also clearly nervous.
Well, no, his expression didn’t reveal anything. However, his urgent tone revealed some clues.
“Actually I feel you do like me, but just don’t know it yourself. Your mom wants to discuss marriage for you. Do you feel you can accept getting married to a complete stranger? He wouldn’t accept you for who you are. He wouldn’t appreciate your nature and habits, and doesn’t understand that these are the best things about you. Even if all that works out, it still wouldn’t be that simple for him to marry you. A girl’s marriage is truly too important. Look how unhappy aunt is due to marrying a scumbag.”
“There’s also your dad. He’s so scummy and has now taken the initiative to approach Senior Concubine Xu’s faction. Based on his personality, he definitely has some thoughts on your marriage, and wants to use you to get in the second prince’s good books. The Zhenguo Duke has always remained politically neutral. Are you willing for him to get involved because of you?”
“How did you know my dad wants to marry me to the second prince?”
“Ah?” Luo Huai Yuan shouted in astonishment, attracting countless gazes.
He hurriedly let go of Yan Yan’s hand and put on a nonchalant appearance. He grabbed a waterskin and stuffed it into her hands. Only after everyone turned away again did he lean back in and whisper urgently: “Your dad really wants to marry you to that bastard. I’m telling you he’s not a good person. His heart is just as black as the crown prince’s. Furthermore, he has several palace bedmaids. You definitely don’t know what those palace bedmaids are for, but are you able to accept sharing a man with many girls? He won’t just be your husband, but will also have others. Also, Senior Concubine Xu and the empress are struggling so fiercely. You will definitely become a target at that time.”
Regardless, Luo Huai Yuan was completely unscrupulous in vilifying the second prince. He put him down, smeared him black. It was best if he could make little sis Ah Yan disdain him.
What he thought was alarmist talk before was actually already in Yan Ting’s mind. This damned Yan Ting actually wanted to sell his daughter!
“See? See? They are all so bad, you might as well marry me. Let me list the benefits. First of all, I will treat you very well, even better than I treat myself. I will cherish you like a treasure. Although I’m not handsome, I’m very cute. You also feel I’m very good, right? Also, I will earn money for you to spend. I’ll earn a lot, a lot of money. We can eat whatever we want and do whatever we want. You don’t like frivolous men, so I will definitely not spare a glance for anyone else. I’ll pass my days by your side….”
Yan Yan was in a daze. Hearing the still teenaged boy in front of her making these promises, it would be a lie to say she wasn’t moved. Actually, his words matched her thoughts completely.
For example, she had always hated how men had harems. Often times when she thought about marriage, she would be at a loss. She knew her own temper and knew that she wasn’t someone who was likeable. She wasn’t able to adapt herself to others and didn’t know how to flatter. Her temper was awful enough, and it was harder to have her speak gently to someone than it was to peel off her skin. She also had a prickly nature, and there would definitely be endless arguments in the future. She would either tear her husband’s household apart or they would get rid of her.
She knew she had her shortcomings and would occasionally hate herself. However, she never considered changing who she was. Her mom had said several times that she would suffer after marriage if she didn’t change her personality…..
He actually knew what was in her heart. Actually, he had always known, right?
Hearing him chatter on made it seem that marrying this little fatty Luo was also pretty good.
At least he knew her temper. Every time she lost her temper and beat him up, he would accept it with exaggerated suffering and scream his head off. However, he would always sidle up with thick skin when she was feeling nervous and coax her into a better mood.
“The Zhenguo Duke Estate doesn’t marry into the royal family. My mom and my grandfather definitely wouldn’t agree to this. His majesty wouldn’t either.”
Yan Yan didn’t dare look at his startled expression anymore. Her emotions were very complicated at the moment. She picked up the whip by her side and went to switch out with Shen Qi.
She struck back pouncing wolves one whip at a time. Yan Yan had trained for a long time and the whip was already an extension of her arm. Her hands never shook when she used it. However, only she knew that her hands were currently shaking.
The Zhenguo Duke Estate never married into the royal family?
How did he not know about this? Then how did the little consort get married to him in his past life?
It seemed there were many things that were still a mystery in his past life. It actually made Luo Huai Yuan’s emotions unusually chaotic.
Liu Shu Yi’s group finally reached the campsite.
Because they were prepared, they had tidied up their appearance and erased all suspicious signs before slowly approaching the gates.
Looking from afar, the camp seemed to be normal.
Liu Shu Yi was about to head over when she was grabbed by Chu Ming Chen.
He considered some more and told her a few things before letting her ride Black Jade and approached the gate with a guard. The other guard stayed behind with the other two horses. One was Luo Huai Yuan’s and one was Shen Qi’s.
There were four or five soldiers guarding the gate, all seeming bored. The nobles had all gone hunting, and only they had to remain vigilantly guarding the gates.
Soldier X spoke quietly to soldier Y: “What do you think our leader meant earlier?”
“How should I know?!”
“Wanting us to keep an eye out for people without any reason. There wasn’t even a description so what do we look for!?”
“If he wants us to keep an eye out then we’ll keep an eye out. Don’t talk so much rubbish. Careful not to let our leader overhear.”
At this moment, they saw three people approaching from the distance. One was trotting ahead on a horse. The young girl on the horse didn’t seem very experienced and the horse wasn’t going fast. The soldiers knew their horses, and they all sighed at how this fine vegetable was eaten by a pig. Such a fine steed had actually fallen to a little girl with poor horsemanship.
Behind her was a fair-skinned delicate teenager. He yelled as he ran: “Cousin, don’t be angry anymore. I won’t dare to do it again.”
The lovely person on the horse ignored him, and instead started going faster. They kept up the pursuit as they approached the gate before the teen finally caught up and blocked the horse.
He panted from exhaustion and leaned on his knees. “Cousin, don’t be angry with me. It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have lost control and tried to kiss you. I won’t dare to do it again!”
“You’re still going on about it! Keep talking and I’ll beat you to death!”
The little girl’s face was flushed and she was pouting with anger. Her eyes were teary and she spurred her horse into the camp. The teen didn’t dare block her and could only let her pass while continuing to chase and apologize. The person dressed as a guard followed behind looking helpless.
The soldiers at the gates watched the show happily. This noble household’s delicate young master was really daring. He actually wanted to kiss that young girl. Tsk tsk. However, the relationship between cousins was always complicated. They might suddenly become lovers someday.
The soldiers all chuckled ambiguously.
A person dressed as a soldier walked over. “Some people just entered. Did you guys see clearly who they were?”
A short soldier said: “We did. It was a pair of little lovers, and they were even cousins. The two of them were arguing. We watched them with wide-open eyes. They weren’t suspicious people.”
“What horses were they riding? Was there a greenish white one?”
“There was only a black horse. That girl was riding….”
As he spoke, the soldier also realized something was wrong. This was the hunting grounds. To leave the campsite, there were very few who weren’t riding a horse. Three of them only had a single horse….
He cried out in alarm and looked inside, but unfortunately the people had already vanished without a trace. He hurriedly brought up his suspicions.
The leader cursed quietly. He raised his hand and wanted to speak, but stopped and scolded instead: “Few successes and plenty of failures. This daddy merely went to the bathroom and you guys were able to screw up so much!”
After speaking, he hurriedly turned and headed inside.
In the center of the campsite, inside the empress’s tent.
Empress Xiao’s tent was naturally extraordinary. It was like a simplified version of a small palace. It was fully furnished with seats and tables. Everything was luxurious.
The bedraggled crown prince was slumped in a chair. The empress stood in front of him scolding: “What should this seat do with you? To actually make such a careless mistake. This situation was originally something that could be used, but now it can no longer be disclosed. Instead, there’s a mess to deal with….”
“Mother empress, your son also didn’t want this. Things were just truly too desperate.”
Empress Xiao naturally understood this. But this matter had wide-reaching implications that made the usually steady empress unable to maintain her calm.
Her expression was very stern. “This seat has already ordered people to go clean up the mess. You just shut your mouth tightly for me. This seat will have someone send you out later. You continue hunting, and return around the right time. This seat will handle things here….”
At this moment, a palace maid walked in urgently. She stepped forward and whispered something in the empress’s ear. Her expression immediately changed.
The crown prince urgently asked what the matter was.
Empress Xiao slowly let out a long breath and spoke with a frown: “That side has sent someone back for reinforcements. They have already entered the camp. Now, you must hurry and make a trip with this seat to the Zhenguo Duke’s tent. Although he’s gone out with his majesty, the Zhenguo madam is still there.”
“Didn’t we have our people watching the gates?”
“It’s too late to wonder about it. Come with this seat first.”
The crown prince was currently a mess and needed to tidy himself up. Empress Xiao swiftly gave him a slap.
Her gaze was burning and she said severely: “Things have already gotten to this point and you’re still worried about your appearance? If this matter gets out of hand, it’s uncertain if you can still remain the crown prince.”
The crown prince was panicking now.
Empress Xiao calmed herself down. “The Zhenguo Duke Estate’s people have always been tactful. Hopefully they will be tactful this time as well. Don’t put on airs as a crown prince after we head over. Act as pitiful as you can for me.”
After speaking, she ordered that palace maid to have someone get the people she had sent off earlier to return.
By the time Empress Xiao arrived, the Zhenguo Duke Estate’s tent only had the Zhenguo madam and some servants. There weren’t any strangers present.
But she no longer dared rely on a fluke at the moment.
She called out “aunt” and covered her face with her handkerchief as she teared up. She kept apologizing that her child had caused a disaster. The crown prince stood with his head lowered, looking remorseful and unsettled. The palm mark on his face was plain to see.
The Zhenguo madam was completely confused but didn’t reveal any expression. She then heard from the empress what had happened.
Empress Xiao spoke extremely honestly and didn’t change anything at all. The only thing she kept hidden was what they were going to do initially that ended up failing.
“You’ve watched the crown prince grow up and should know he isn’t a bad child. He just did something muddleheaded due to shock. He hurried over and told this seat the moment he got back. This seat has already scolded him ruthlessly, and brought him here to apologize.”
The Zhenguo madam panted urgently and fainted.
A servant on the side hurried over and pinched her central acupoint. The empress also urgently called for an imperial physician.
The Zhenguo madam suddenly awoke, her face deathly pale. “Then where’s my Qi’er? Hurry and have people go save Qi’er!”
The empress stood up looking annoyed with hereself. “Right away. This seat was muddled from panic.” She then said sternly to the crown prince: “You caused this mess, go clean it up yourself. Bring the people back unharmed. If they are missing a single hair, we’ll see how you explain things to your royal father and the Zhenguo Duke.”
The crown prince’s face was sorrowful. “Your son will go at once, and will definitely bring them back. If anything happens to young master Shen, your son will atone to the realm with his life!”
He cupped his hands and lowered his head before leaving the tent, looking rather bleak and desolate.
Empress Xiao sobbed urgently. “Which evil person harmed my crown prince so? They’re forcing this mother and son pair to die.”
The empress calling her “aunt” was just out of respect. The Zhenguo madam naturally wouldn’t be so shortsighted. She forced herself to sit up and comforted: “Empress shouldn’t be upset. This misfortune will definitely turn to blessings.”
What was up with this? She should clearly be the most upset, but instead the empress was more upset than she was. She even had to turn around and comfort her.
Having been the Zhenguo Duke’s wife for so many years, the Zhenguo madam naturally wasn’t stupid. Of course she understood what the empress was trying to do.
As expected, Empress Xiao started reminiscing with her about how very very very cute the crown prince was when he was young, and how he was praised by the imperial tutors after growing up. She fell just short of saying her son was outstanding and also the crown prince, so if anything happens to your grandson don’t even dream about having him compensate with his life.
Of course that wasn’t all. Empress Xiao was merely feigning weakness. No one wished harder than her that nothing had happened to the Zhenguo Duke’s grandson. It was even fine if the fourth prince died as long as Shen Qi was fine. If Shen Qi didn’t die, they could avert disaster. If Shen Qi died, then they would be surrounded by enemies.
Like the crown prince guessed, Empress Xiao seemed to have also understood who was responsible for this. She could almost imagine Senior Concubine Xu laughing wildly at this moment.
Outside the tent, Shen Yi Yao’s face was filled with worry. An equally worried-looking young girl stood next to her. A maid was in the middle of speaking with her.
Empress Xiao had no choice but to come act weak. Of course she wasn’t just there to act pitiful, and has other intentions. It’ll be brought up later. The crown prince isn’t too smart, but the empress has always been intelligent.
The reason the empress and crown prince are mentioned isn’t just to move the male and female lead’s relationship along. Little fatty Luo will have some trouble marrying Yan Yan, and needs assistance. This whole matter points to Senior Concubine Xu’s faction. Guess if Yan Ting was involved.