“Third Young Master, how are you here?” Commander Zheng almost didn't recognize the wan and sallow figure in front of him and exclaimed in surprise .
After Zhu Junyang identified the person in front of him, he grabbed onto the commander’s shoulder and hurriedly said, “Zheng Yun, my lady mother . . . and Yu Xiaocao, are they okay? Have they been injured?”
Commander Zheng grimaced from the tight grip of the prince and stated, “They’re all okay, all okay! This subordinate will take you to see the princess consort now . ”
Zhu Junyang loosened his hold on the other man’s shoulder and the tight feeling in his heart finally relaxed . Commander Zheng led the way in front . After receiving Xiaocao’s instructions, the mountain villa’s guards were all patrolling within the misty and foggy forest .
Commander Zheng took a brief glance at the royal prince and calculated the time . Yesterday, at around noon, the Wokou pirates had arrived . The capital was around four hundred kilometers away, and, at top speed, it must have been late at night when the news finally arrived . Third Young Master must have ran straight to Dongshan Village as soon as he got the news ah!
It only took him slightly more than a day of travel to get to Dongshan Village . The prince absolutely must have ridden his horses at top speed in order to finish the four hundred kilometer journey so quickly . Just how many horses were dead of exhaustion from his trip? What about Third Young Master’s Black Cloud? It couldn’t have been left on the side of the road right? Although Third Young Master usually looked very cold and reserved, he had always been very filial to his lady mother . No wonder the princess consort treated him more lovingly than the heir to the estate and Second Young Master . Her efforts had not been wasted on him!
However, how could the commander of the bodyguards know that the royal prince, who had been praised to be very extremely filial, was more worried about Yu Xiaocao at this moment? Although Zhu Junyang was also concerned about his lady mother, there were still over twenty or so skilled bodyguards to protect her . In addition, the mountain residence also had a dozen or so servants to take care of her . It was likely that she was perfectly safe through all of this .
As for the light of his heart, Yu Xiaocao, other than her parents, the rest of her family was either the elderly or the young . If they encountered the Wokou pirates, they had no way to resist ah! Throughout his whole breakneck journey, images of a tiny scared face and bloodied dress kept flashing through his mind . . . the demon that had been hibernating for a long time in his heart finally started stirring up again . He did his best to squish down the violent tendencies inside him as he was afraid that if he lost control of himself, then he would lose precious time to get to the village and Xiaocao would…
Perhaps he didn’t even notice it himself, but that clever and adorable little lass now had a firm foothold in his heart . Her importance had even eclipsed the mother whom he respected and adored .
They circled around the Dongshan villagers . Before long, Commander Zheng very quickly brought Royal Prince Yang to the cave that had been designated to them alone . As soon as he stepped into the cave, Zhu Junyang immediately spotted a slight figure in front of a simple stove in the corner . The person’s back was turned towards him . In that second, all of the irritability had left his body . Seeing that familiar figure reassured his heart and it was as if some hole inside him had been crammed full .
“Third Young Master?” Commander Zheng turned his head and saw that the prince had stopped moving forward . The youth was staring fixedly at a corner, so the bodyguard couldn’t help but call at him . It was as if he had just woken up from a dream . Zhu Junyang went forward with large steps towards the figure that had been the object of his worries for so long .
When the people outside the cave, who were all busy doing their tasks, saw Zhu Junyang, they all cried out in delighted surprise, “Third Young Master!” and “Your Royal Highness!” .
The young royal prince? Wasn’t he in the capital? A few days ago, she had gotten a letter from him that said that he probably still had half a month more before he finally finished his tasks . How could he suddenly appear at these caves? Yu Xiaocao was very confused as she turned around . Before she could clearly see what was going on, she had been pulled into a warm and gentle embrace .
Yu Xiaocao stiffened for a moment . In both of her lives, she had never been this intimately held by a man before . The amount of heat on her face was almost enough to fry an egg . This hug was filled with the scent of a man, which had the slight aroma of sweat mixed in with the smell of ambergris . It didn’t repel her at all . However . . . her face seemed to be plastered against his rock-hard abdomen, if it went down a bit . . . Yu Xiaocao felt horrified at the thought and forcefully pushed against the prince .
Madam Liu, who had been helping on the side, dropped the iron pot in her hands with a loud clang . She pointed at Zhu Junyang with a hand that shook with anger and worry . In front of all of these people, her youngest daughter had been embraced by Royal Prince Yang . Men and women needed to keep their distance from one another . What would happen to her youngest daughter’s reputation now? If Royal Prince Yang was being sincere towards her Xiaocao, that was one thing! However, if the royal prince was only chasing after something novel . . . what would her poor Cao’er do in the future?
“As long as you’re okay, that’s what matters . I’ve been so worried!” Zhu Junyang felt his face flush when he saw his future mother-in-law staring at him blatantly . It definitely wasn’t proper of him to hug a girl in front of her mother . However, he had been unable to control himself when his feelings overwhelmed him .
Yu Xiaocao noticed that her mother had acted as if Sun Wukong had paralyzed her with an art with her eyes bugged open . She glared fiercely at the troublemaker and then grumpily said, “This older sister is doing just fine!”
“Calling yourself ‘older sister’ now eh? You’re younger than me by seven to eight years! Instead, you really should be addressing me as Older Brother Junyang!” Zhu Junyang saw that her face had a healthy glow and her clothes were neat and tidy, so he was finally able to relax . He couldn’t control his mouth and let out a sarcastic remark .
“In your dreams!!” Addressing him as ‘Older Brother Junyang’ would be too sickeningly corny . Yu Xiaocao roasted him in her mind, ‘This older sister has lived two lives already and, with my combined age, I am old enough to be your aunt . You’re out of luck if you want to take advantage of me!’
A hint of a smile curled onto the edge of Zhu Junyang’s lips . He was about to say something when he frowned and sniffed at the air, “What’s this smell? Smells like some type of meat is burning…”
“My pheasant stewed with mushrooms! Mother, the food is burning! Quickly give the spatula to me!” Yu Xiaocao also smelled the scent of something burning and hurriedly took the spatula from Madam Liu’s hands before sprinting towards the pot with the food cooking in it to flip the food . Luckily, only a few pieces of pheasant meat at the bottom of the pot had been burnt . The rest of the food was still edible .
Zhu Junyang said a greeting as Xiaocao ran to rescue her ‘pheasant stewed with mushrooms’ and was then brought to the inner cave that Princess Consort Jing resided in by Meixiang . When Princess Consort Jing saw her son, she had a smile on her face while she shook her head ruefully . She lightly sighed, “No wonder all of the matrons in the village say that once a son is married he’ll forget his mother . Xiaocao isn't even your wife yet but she’s still more important to you than me, your mother . ”
“Lady Mother, just what are you saying? I only greeted her first because I saw her first . It was only a few sentences…” Zhu Junyang was obviously a bit embarrassed and had to say a few words to defend himself .
“Oh? Are you sure it was only a few sentences in greeting? How come I heard from other people that as soon as you entered you went up to hug her, ah? And you even did that in front of her mother! If I was Xiaocao’s mother, I would have long thrown the spatula in my hands towards your head!” Princess Consort Jing suppressed the smile on her lips as she made fun of her son .
Zhu Junyang replied somewhat sheepishly, “Lady Mother, are you sure I’m your biological son ah? How could my own mother say such weird things to me ah?”
The mother and son were currently having their conversation in the inner cave . While that was happening, Madam Liu finally couldn’t restrain herself from saying something in the outer cave . She softly said, “Cao’er, in the future, with the royal prince . . . try to keep some distance . You’re still young right now but I need to tell you that when men and women interact together, the one that always loses out is the woman! Before marriage, you must not do any intimate actions…”
Yu Xiaocao thought this was kind of funny . However, when she saw the worried look on her mother’s face, she hurriedly nodded her head and said, “Mother, don’t worry so much! I know what’s proper and what’s not . The young royal prince isn’t that sort of man, earlier . . . it was probably because he was too concerned about us, so he forgot his manners . ”
“You’ve always been dependable since you were young, so I was only giving you a reminder . Please don’t believe the flowery speech and promises of a man . As a woman, only when you respect yourself and love yourself will a man treat you with respect . ”
Madam Liu thought that her daughter was still too young for her to say things too explicitly . In the future, she would still have time to slowly teach her . She took out the pheasant stewed with mushrooms from the pot and divided the food into two plates . She gave the smaller plate to one of the maids from the mountain villa to have her serve it to the princess consort . The environment within the cave complex was on the cruder side, and Xiaocao had a good hand at cooking, so the princess consort’s meals were all made by her .
Zhu Junyang smelled the delicious scent coming towards the cave and saw Lanxiang coming in with the plate of pheasant stewed with mushrooms . He grinned at Xiaocao and scampered over as he said, “Oh! Looks like the food here is quite good! Looks like you’ve all been living the good life here . I was all worried for nothing!”
Yu Xiaocao inspected him from head to toe and frowned at the sight of his sloppy attire, “Did you come straight from a refugee camp ah? Look at yourself, quickly go wash up in the small creek now…”
“Cao’er, how could you say such a thing to the royal prince? Quickly apologize to him now!” Madam Liu noticed that her youngest daughter hadn’t been the least bit polite when addressing the prince and was afraid the prince would get angry . Thus, she hurriedly scolded her daughter .
Zhu Junyang hastily pasted on a warm and gentle smile and spoke to his future mother-in-law, “It’s not a problem, Auntie! In the future, just consider me to be one of your family’s nephews, no need to stand on such courtesy! Xiaocao speaking like this to me means she doesn’t see me as an outsider . Makes me very happy ah!”
“Do you see now ah? He’s the one asking for this…” Yu Xiaocao revealed a satisfied expression as if she had done something great .
Zhu Junyang gave her a look that said ‘just watch how I get back at you for this’ and then followed Commander Zheng outside . They exited from the side and jumped down a few meters from a cliff . The ravine experienced all four seasons and right now they were at the end of spring . The water in the little creek wasn’t considered too cold, so Zhu Junyang was able to wash off all of the dust and dirt from his body . After changing into a clean set of clothing, he felt as if all of the exhaustion had been washed away from him .
When they were eating, Zhu Junyang actually wanted to sit at the same table as Yu Xiaocao . However, he decided to sit with his mother to take care of her and ended up reluctantly going into the inner cave . Princess Consort Jing quipped, “Your eyes are almost glued onto that lass’s body and can’t come back! Since you feel so reluctant, then go outside and eat with her . If I get to eat alone, I’ll be able to eat more!”
“Lady Mother, how could you possibly finish all of the food on this table? It’s still better for me to help you finish it all!” Zhu Junyang picked up a pheasant leg and placed it into Princess Consort Jing’s bowl on top of the rice before he continued, “Before I left, my lord father repeatedly reminded me that I need to take good care of you . You need to eat more . If you get thinner, my father will peel the skin off of me!”
“You stinky brat, you only know how to make fun of me . Be careful or else your lord father will spank you . ” A flush arose on Princess Consort Jing’s face . She was already in her forties yet was still able to reveal bashful expressions like a young woman . Under the light of the luminous pearl, the smile on her face seemed to have a bit of elegance and splendor mixed together . It was no wonder she was able to have Imperial Prince Jing favor her alone for all these years .
“Lady Mother, please spare me ah! I don’t dare to make fun of you…” Zhu Junyang took on the task of being Old Laizi  and did his best to tease his mother into a better mood . With her son by her side, Princess Consort Jing was quite happy and was able to eat a few more bites of her meal compared to before . The lightly stir-fried dishes in front of her tasted exceptionally good today…
 Old Laizi (老莱子) - One of the exemplars from the 24 filial exemplars, behaved in a childish manner to amuse his parents and keep them happy .