Zhan Ziyu replied, "I guess so. It just had a rash temper."
"Oh." Chu Qiao nodded. "All fine horses are like that, they just need time to be tamed. Is that horse obedient now?"
Chu Qiao was dazed. Zhao Ziyu continued, "It was not willing to submit to a human. It hit his head on a pillar and died."
Chu Qiao stared at him dreamily, not knowing what to say.
Zhan Ziyu laughed and said, "You can take your leave. We will dock at Wupeng City tomorrow. You can take the opportunity to leave."
Chu Qiao raised her eyebrows and whispered, "Who exactly are you?"
Zhan Ziyu looked up silently. The pale moonlight shone on his face, forming a veil that looked like the silvery-white sand on the beach. "I saw your portrait at the military barracks in Xiushui Province. Also, I saw the order issued by the various armies recently. It's not hard to decipher your identity."
"Why are you letting me go?"
"I live in Xiushui temporarily, but I'm not a citizen of the Xia Empire." Zhan Ziyu turned his wheelchair and made his way towards the cabin. "In addition, I don't want to invite any trouble."
Chu Qiao ran after him and grabbed the back of his wheelchair, saying, "Why are you saving me then?"
Zhan Ziyu turned around and looked at her plainly. After a long while, he uttered slowly, "The Thirteenth Prince of Xia wrote me a letter, asking me to locate you. I owed him a favor previously."
Chu Qiao was stunned, letting go of her grip.
"I'm merely a fallen member of my clan. From tomorrow onwards, more people from Xia will board this boat. I can no longer bring you anywhere. I've done what I can, the rest is up to you." The wheels of his wheelchair rolled over the deck, making small creaking sounds. Chu Qiao stood in the windy night for a long while in silence, till the sky turned a milky white.
The waters of the river flowed slowly with the eastern currents. The rain had started to fall out of nowhere, connecting the sky with the river. Chu Qiao stretched out both of her arms and stared at the sky in silence. In the distance, a flat boat passed by slowly. On the river bank located at the opposite shore, a few horses galloped rapidly.
She stood there in silence, feeling shivers crawl up her spine caused by the cold rainwater. She closed her eyes slowly, seeing the man's pale face and crimson red lips. She saw the man's empty sleeve fluttering in the cold air. As she was lost in thought, the group of horses on the river bank suddenly stopped. One of the men turned around and looked where she was standing. As Chu Qiao had not slept the entire night, she no longer had any more strength to think further. She turned around and retreated back to her cabin. At this moment, the man on the opposite river bank was not anyone else, but Zhuge Yue.
"Master, Huashu County is right ahead. It's a small town. We can take a short rest there before continuing on our journey. Wupeng City is not far ahead."
The raindrops trickled down Zhuge Yue's face. He looked at the few big boats on the river and asked, "Zhu Cheng, did those few boats depart with us from Xianyang City?"
Zhu Cheng gazed into the distance and nodded. " Master, you have great eyes. Those were the boats that were prepared for us by Xianyang County's marine cargo transport department. We probably gave our places to the Zhan family of Tang after choosing to journey by land."
"The Zhan family from Xizhi Ridge?"
Zhuge Yue's expression appeared complex. He remarked plainly, "Even those small, insignificant families have appeared. Looks like we will have a party in Tang Jing."
Zhu Cheng added, "The entire Zhan family is heading back to Tang. It looks abnormal."
Zhuge Yue replied, "They would naturally harbor this thought. However, actually accomplishing their agenda is another separate issue."
"However, I heard that the head of the Zhan family is a patient man. He is resourceful and holds some influence in the pugilistic world. He is friends with Thirteenth Royal Highness too. He is not as simple as we think."
Zhuge Yue frowned and said, "Are you referring to Zhan Ziyu, who married his own sister?"
"That's him," Zhu Cheng replied. "Zhan Ziyu was sent to the Cang Mountains as a child to learn the various arts. His teacher was Reverend Dian Cang, also known as Cang Xue. When he was 17, he journeyed down the mountain and met the Zhan family's Second Missy, Zhan Zijin, who was also on the run after escaping from her arranged marriage. The both of them were engaged to each other and had a kid. They only realized each other's identities after the Zhan family caught up with them. In a fit of anger, Old Master Zhan broke Zhan Ziyu's legs, and burnt Zhan Zijin alive. It was precisely because of this that the Zhan family lost their foothold amongst the other clans in the Tang Empire. They were forced to move over to Xia territory, which was personally arranged by Thirteenth Royal Highness."
"Burnt alive?" Zhuge Yue raised his eyebrows and sneered. "This Zhan Ziyu is useless. He did not find out more about the situation before he acted, and did not dare to assume responsibility once he acted. Breaking his legs is considered going easy on him."
Zhu Cheng laughed. "That's right, Master is wise."
Zhuge Yue laughed and replied, "Stop your *sskissing. Let's go, we have to get to Wupeng before dawn in two days."
His entourage agreed in unison. They whipped their horses, preparing to leave. At this instant, the black warhorse, who had followed beside Zhuge Yue, looked towards the river and started to neigh loudly. No matter how anyone dragged it along, it refused to stop, as if it had gone berserk.
"Liu Xing!" Zhuge Yue said in a low voice. "What's wrong?"
The warhorse stood on two hooves and gave out an ear-piercing neigh, facing the boats on the river bank. Zhuge Yue frowned, whipping the horse on the neck and asked, "What are you doing?"
"Master, I think that Liu Xing has been shocked."
Zhuge Yue frowned, looking at the vast river ahead.
In the cabin, Chu Qiao suddenly sat up.
"Xiaoqiao, what happened?" Liang Shaoqing was startled.
Chu Qiao sat up, dazed. She replied, "I thought I heard Liu Xing calling out to me."
"Who?" Liang Shaoqing asked. "Who called you?"
Chu Qiao answered, "Liu Xing, my horse."
Liang Shaoqing replied, "How is that possible? We're on water. Does your horse know how to swim?"
Chu Qiao frowned and pulled open the window. The rain outside started to gush in. She stuck her head out to take a good look, but could not see anything as the storm had started to intensify, causing a layer of fog to form on the surface of the river. She frowned, listening for a long while before jumping off her bed to get dressed, preparing to dash outside.
Liang Shaoqing was shocked and restrained her. He called out, "Where are you going?"
"I'm going outside to take a look. I really heard Liu Xing calling me."
Liang Shaoqing shook his head. "It's raining so hard outside. You'll get sick if you go out."
Chu Qiao frowned. She put on another layer of clothing before dashing outside.
The rain had become heavier. The surroundings were blanketed by fog, greatly reducing her visibility. The big boat balanced precariously on the river, causing the boatmen to manually stabilize the boat. They scooped up the water which had started to flood the deck, amidst the fears of any further trouble.
Chu Qiao stood amongst the chaotic crowd, looking around in all directions but unable to spot Liu Xing. She covered her mouth with her hands and hollered, "Liu Xing!" However, her voice was drowned out by the rumbling sounds of thunder.
The captain of the boat ran towards the cabins, shouting to his assistant, "Tell Master that we must dock now. The rain is getting heavier!"
The assistant replied, "Which side do we dock?"
"Although we are closer to the shore on the left, it's shallow there. It will not be able to support our boat. Dock at the right shore!"
At this moment, by the left shore, Zhuge Yue's entourage had been forced to seek shelter in a rundown pavilion due to the heavy rain. Liu Xing paced up and down in its original position furiously, as if it was going to break the rope that was restraining him.
Zhuge Yue stood in the pavilion and looked at Liu Xing. His ears moved slightly, a frown appearing on his face. "Zhu Cheng, did you hear that?"
Zhu Cheng froze. He asked, "Young Master, hear what?"
Zhuge Yue remained silent, continuing to listen out while frowning. Alas, the rain intensified. Coupled with the sounds of rumbling thunder, the faint voice in the background disappeared.
Zhuge Yue did not say a word. He stood still and looked in front, but could only see a layer of white. The few boats had disappeared from sight, being shrouded by the torrential rain.
Chu Qiao put her hand down. The boat had docked at the right shore for stability. She was drenched from head to toe, and her voice had turned hoarse. Liang Shaoqing, who had somehow obtained an umbrella, placed it over her head and remarked, "Let's go in. You'll get sick if you stay like this."
Chu Qiao remained silent, staring at the opposite side of the river. She maintained that she had not misheard anything. On the second day after the boat docked, she sneaked back towards the place where she had heard the horse. As expected, she found the bell on Liu Xing's neck, which she had placed personally.
Why was Liu Xing here? Didn't it go back to Zhen Huang City?
That day, she had been forced to make a detour towards the Tang Empire while Zhao Chun'er was after her. She intended to take the southwestern water route from Chengzhou back to Yan Bei. She required the people from Yan Bei to be on the other side. However, she was unable to pass on the message to Yan Xun. Out of desperation, she wrote a letter and hid it in Liu Xing's hoof. Liu Xing was gifted to her by Lady Yu. It had been raised in the horse stable at Zhen Huang, owned by the Da Tong guild. This horse was bright and had acted as the messenger between Lady Yu and herself all these years. Although Lady Yu was no longer at Zhen Huang, it could still pass on the message as long as it located someone from Da Tong.
However, it had appeared here today. Had her message been intercepted? Should she continue her to journey towards Chengzhou? If she went there, would Xia troops be lying in ambush, waiting for her to show up? If she did not go to Chengzhou, she would pass by half of the Xia Empire on the way back to Yan Bei. Wouldn't that be more dangerous?
Chu Qiao, after some serious consideration, decided not to head back to Yan Bei for now. She followed the trail left behind by Zhuge Yue's entourage and fished around for news. Finally, she arrived at the officials' residence in Wupeng City. As she stared at the majestic structure, she knew that she had to infiltrate it that night.
The moon in the sky was covered by dark clouds, causing the night sky to appear dark. In a short time, Chu Qiao had snuck into the building. Like a loach, she descended swiftly from a tree, hiding behind a rockery. Moving her ears slightly, she heard footsteps approaching her from afar.
Chu Qiao squinted. With some strength in her legs, she ran towards a pillar on the right. As she was about to make contact with the pillar, she raised her legs, scaling the pillar with three steps. As she was about to lose her strength, she reached out both her hands, grabbing onto the tiles on the rooftop. Wrapping her legs around the pillar, she made her way up swiftly. As the light by the corner approached her, she crouched on the rooftop tiles!
"This way." A thin voice suddenly echoed out. The voice was charming yet cautious, resembling that of a slave. Subsequently, messy footsteps started to sound out. Chu Qiao predicted that there were about 20 people. She frowned and remained still, lying in wait.
"I've heard that Master is handsome, intelligent, and stands out among the crowd. Today, I've seen it for myself. The rumor about Master is an understatement." The man suddenly broke out in hearty laughter, clearly elated at the words of praise. The other young master who praised him remained silent. The garden was filled with the sounds of the man's laughter, making the situation incredibly awkward.