It was after midday.
Ling Hu's face was now a shade of maroon. Whining like a timid girl, he asked, "Brother, are we really going?"
"We don't have to if you don't want to marry," Ling Xian mocked him.
"No, no, no, let's go then." Ling Hu shook his head furiously. Overcoming his embarrassment temporarily, he grabbed Ling Xian and began dragging him out the door.
"Even though 14 is not an unusual age to get married, aren't you a touch too anxious?" Ling Xian laughed out loud, not fighting him.
Ling Hu's mother let them go, a hint of sadness flashed across her face.
Her son was grown. He was getting married. Her happiness was mixed in with other unexplained feelings.
"Brother, stop mocking!" Ling Hu demanded. As they walked away, Ling Hu was no less concerned. "Brother, he wants 10,000 spiritual stones, you…"
Behind them, Ling Hu's mother responded quickly with a smile and said, "Look at who your brother is, don't worry about the stones. When you are both standing before him, the last thing he'll be thinking of is the stones."
"That's exaggerated." Ling Xian shook his hands. "Aunty, we're not going to do this by force. We'll go through the normal process and give them the dowry they demand. How they treated Ling Hu is what I can't get over."
"Alright, I'll leave everything to you." Ling Hu's mother nodded in satisfaction. Ling Xian was not only a skilled cultivator but understood the affairs of the world.
This tactic was perfect. Ling Hu would be complying with the customs of marriage and thus won't be looked down on. Ling Xian's presence would intimate the family enough that they won't humiliate Ling Hu again. It was a win-win solution.
Ling Xian threw both a cunning smile to signal that everything was in order.
A look excitement overtook Ling Hu's expression. The party of three continued on towards the home of Ling Tian Nan.
Ling Tian Jiao had been busy the past few days, busier than even Ling Tian Qing himself.
The Ling Clan annexed the properties, people, and wealth of the two defeated Clans. It was now the dominant Clan in the City.
However, the Clan also suffered heavy causalities during the battle for survival. Many of the survivors were youth too immature to be trusted with important house affairs. As a result, Ling Tian Jiao had had to make most of the decisions and execute most of the tasks personally.
Fortunately for him, he had Ling Tian Nan, who had proved his capability and worth during this time of crisis.
Ling Tian Nan was a cultivator of incredible skills and an individual of exceptional management techniques. As such, he was made the Head of Clan Affairs, reporting directly to the Clan Leader himself.
At this moment, Ling Tian Jiao was headed for the same destination. He was on his way to Ling Tian Nan's house to discuss some unsettled Clan affairs. Suddenly, he spotted Ling Xian and hurried up to greet him.
"Young Master Ling, where are you headed?" Ling Tian Jiao bowed in acknowledgment, his face beamed in excitement mixed in with a hint of respect.
Ling Xian was startled and corrected him in a hurry, "Please, do not address me as Young Master, I am not deserving of it."
"That's impossible." Ling Tian Jiao shook his hand. "This is how my Father wants you addressed, and so you will be addressed as such."
Ling Xian frowned slightly. He was not used to such formalities. He suspected that Ling Tian Qing had told the Elders about the offer from the House of Wan Jian. He protested meekly, "We all serve the same Clan, we are family, why such formality?"
"This is not a mere formality. You shall be respected. Father has written this into a new commandment. Anyone from the Ling Clan, from the Leader himself down to the humblest of servants, anyone who shows you the slightest hint of disrespect will be sentenced to die." Ling Tian Jiao explained. His demeanor had made it clear that his respect for Ling Xian was coming from his heart and not from fear of death.
Written into a new commandment?
Disrespect for Ling Xian was a crime punishable by death?
Ling Hu and his mother exchanged looks of shock. Of course, they were aware of Ling Xian's many accomplishments. They knew he was the undefeatable protector of the City of Qing. But they couldn't believe a new commandment would be enacted for Ling Xian alone.
The Ling Clan was governed by 12 commandments, none of which was directly associated with an individual.
But an exception had been made for Ling Xian. Anyone who dared to disrespect Ling Xian would be sentenced to die.
What an honor? How incredible?
Ling Xian was equally taken aback, more confused than amazed. He asked, "The Clan has 12 commandments. The last amendment took place a decade ago. Were there no opposition to this decision?"
"Who would oppose?" Ling Tian Jiao responded with a question. "The entire Clan owes our lives to you. Without you, we'd be extinct by now. Without you, there is no Clan. A new commandment is nothing compared to that."
"Well… then I thank the Elders and the Leader. I'm flattered by your trust." Ling Xian accepted with a smile. He was not easily flattered. People respected him for his achievements, not his title.
But this was a well-intended gesture that Ling Xian could not refuse.
"To tell you the truth, this commandment was added to serve as a reminder to future generations of your deeds and contributions to our Clan. Father wants you remembered and commemorated forever." Ling Tian Jiao turned serious.
This speech had finally warmed Ling Xian. When he appeared in the final moments of a lost battle, he was not thinking of personal glory. However, the honors that had since been bestowed on him had made him feel that his sacrifices were not made in vain.
Noticing that Ling Xian was accompanied by Ling Hu and his mother, Ling Tian Jiao inquired in curiosity, "Young Master Ling, where are you headed?"
"We're going to propose marriage," Ling Xian responded.
"Propose marriage?" Ling Tian Jiao expressed a look of shock and disbelief, believing mistakenly that Ling Xian had set his eyes on someone. "Whose daughter is to be so lucky as to attract Young Master's attention? She must have pleased the gods greatly."
Ling Xian giggled, "No, not me, my little brother."
"Oh?" Ling Tian Jiao shifted his gaze onto Ling Hu, then nodded in agreement. "He is indeed the Young Master's brother, one can see clearly the resemblance. The appearance of a warrior, the poise of a legend."
The appearance of a warrior?
The poise of a legend?
Ling Xian had to suppress his will to laugh out loud at these ludicrous claims. He had to respect Ling Tian Jiao for his ability to speak out of his behind.
Ling Hu's mother was equally uncomfortable. Like any mother, she thought highly of her son. But even she knew what he looked like. These adulations were clearly made up.
"Ah, I'm flattered." Ling Hu scratched his head in embarrassment.
Ling Tian Jiao shifted his gaze once more onto Ling Hu's mother and asked, "And who might this be?"
That's Ling Hu's mother. They are my only family in this world." Ling Xian emphasized the term 'family'.
Suddenly, Ling Tian Jiao's eyes lit up. He would forever remember the faces of mother and son, the only family of the Young Master. Their status elevated in an instant. Ling Tian Jiao hurriedly said again, "The modesty of your appearance cannot overshadow the richness of your character. Age cannot erase the agelessness of your true beauty."
"Thank you for your kindness," Ling Hu's mother replied. She could not believe what she just heard and from whom she heard it from. Ling Tian Jiao's words sounded like a dream.
However, she couldn't help but sigh, knowing all the kindness was meant for Ling Xian.
"Ok, we have to get going with this marriage proposal. I bid you farewell." Ling Xian was eager to move on from this conversation.
"Young Master, let me come along. Perhaps I could be of help," Ling Tian Jiao said hopefully. He had wanted to leave a good impression before Ling Xian departed.
Ling Xian pondered for a moment. Ling Tian Jiao was a significant figurehead in the Ling Clan. His presence would no doubt put pressure on Ling Tian Nan to accept this proposal. So Ling Xian agreed and said, "Good, let's go."
"Thank you, Young Master." Ling Tian Jiao was elated.
The foursome went on their way. The farther they walked, the more familiar the path was becoming to Ling Tian Jiao. He thought to himself, [Is this not the direction of Ling Tian Nan's house? Yes, he does have a daughter.]
As this realization came to him, Ling Tian Jiao turned to Ling Xian and asked, "Are we headed to the residence of Ling Tian Nan?"
"You know him?" Ling Xian asked in astonishment.
"Of course, he's my right-hand man. What a coincidence!" Ling Tian Jiao smiled brightly, ecstatic over the possibility that someone from his inner circle would marry into Ling Xian's family.
But Ling Xian's expression darkened instantly, a look that frightened Ling Tian Jiao. Ling Xian said, slowly.
"A coincidence indeed, he is your right-hand man, no wonder he is this arrogant."
"Young Master Ling, has he offended you? If so, why are you proposing marriage?" Ling Tian Jiao was overcome by a lot of confusion, unable to figure out why Ling Xian was suddenly furious.
Ling Xian calmed his anger and explained patiently, "My brother and his daughter have developed a mutual affection for one another. They have agreed in secret to spending their lives together. But Ling Tian Nan has refused and is trying to humiliate my brother. Shall I ask, do you think he is arrogant? Shall I ask again, who is allowing him to be this arrogant?"
"My apologies, Young Master." It did not take long for Ling Tian Jiao to understand the nature of the issue at hand. He let out a bitter smile and said, "Please forgive me. It is my failure."
Of course, like any father, Ling Tian Nan was only trying to protect his daughter. But from Ling Xian's perspective, doing so by humiliating his brother was inexcusable.
"That has nothing to do with you, but I do want you to give me a satisfactory solution." Ling Xian threw him a micro-smile. The anger he displayed just now was exaggerated for his own benefit.