Chu Qiao ended up following Zhuge Yue. If one year ago someone told her that she would eventually sit harmoniously with Zhuge Yue in the same horse carriage, she would never have believed that. But now, as she stared at that man who was leaning on his side reading his book, she did not feel a single trace of bloodlust.
During the banquet at Wupeng City, she met several acquaintances, such as the Fourteenth Prince Zhao Yang, Mu Yun from Ling Nan, Wei Qingchi from the Wei family, and Zhao Zhongyen, son of the Ling King. That was really an out-of-this-world experience, as she stood naturally amidst the crowds of nobles even though she was a criminal that was at the top of the Empire's wanted list. Not only did she have to face them, but she had to willingly pour drinks for them and entertain them. That was a really uncomfortable experience.
Right now, these nobles' carriages had completely surrounded her and were all together in an entourage heading toward Tang Jing to celebrate the marriage of the Tang Prince. Under such tight supervision, her chances of escape became near zero. She could only follow Zhuge Yue wherever he went, holding him as "hostage", as they began on this strange travel. But this hostage did not seem to be aware that he was currently being taken hostage.
"Water," Zhuge Yue did not even lift his eyes, as he spouted.
Chu Qiao stared at him angrily, and like a dead piece of log, she refused to budge.
After a while, this fourth master of Zhuge Family suddenly realized something. Lifting his head, he looked at her with an expression of surprise. If eyes could talk, his eyes would be saying, "Didn't you hear what I said?"
Chu Qiao could not bear with it anymore, and bellowed, "I am not your servant."
Zhuge Yue nodded as if indicating that he completely understood. Chu Qiao was astonished at how he readily agreed, but immediately heard him shout, "Yue Qi!" With a whoosh, the door to the carriage was swung open. With nimble movements, Chu Qiao pulled her thick veil over her face, and sat next to Zhuge Yue, her blade already pressing against his back. AIf he made any strange movements, she would stab him without hesitation.
"Pour tea for me." Yue Qi was taken aback, as he looked at Chu Qiao in confusion. Zhuge Yue innocently explained, "She is not my servant."
While secretly thinking about how Zhuge Yue had taken such a liking to this girl, Yue Qi suggested, "If that is the case, shall I look for a maidservant to serve master and this lady?"
Zhuge Yue nodded, as if in agreement. Then he turned around and seriously looked at Chu Qiao. "Would you have any issues with that?"
Of course, she would! Chu Qiao's eyes were burning with rage, as her blade pressed even harder against his back. What is this guy thinking? Is he looking to die?
"Seems like she does not wish for that," Zhuge Yue replied to Yue Qi. "Just help me pour a cup of tea first. If there are any other issues I will call for you again."
Yue Qi nodded. As he was about to enter the carriage, Chu Qiao had no choice but to interject in a low pitch, "Let me do it." Yue Qi smiled, and turning around, he left the carriage and shut the carriage doors behind him.
"What are you trying to do?" The moment Yue Qi left, Chu Qiao already started to question Zhuge Yue furiously.
Zhuge Yue was extremely calm, as he casually observed the tea that had been kept warm on the stove, before replying, "I am thirsty."
"Do you not have water? Can't you pour it yourself?"
Without wasting any breath, Zhuge Yue opened his mouth, intending to call for Yue Qi again. Panicking, Chu Qiao nimbly dashed up and covered his mouth, as her brow deeply furrowed.
Fine! Chu Qiao miserably admitted defeat in her heart. Without caring about the temperature, she lifted the hottest pot of water and poured out a cup of tea. With a slam, she thrust the cup onto the small table next to Zhuge Yue, and snapped, "Go drink! Hope you get scalded!"
Without skipping a beat, Zhuge Yue casually took out a cotton handkerchief. Grabbing the teacup with the handkerchief as insulation, he blew on it a few times to cool it down before slowly sipping on the drink.
Seeing how he was so steady, Chu Qiao felt that her headache just got worse. Whatever. No matter what is going on, I have to escape tonight. Even if that means I will expose my tracks, I cannot stay here any longer.
An Bai County was a major industrial center for eastern regions of the Tang Empire. It was located beside the Pinggui Highlands on one side, and the Cuiwei Mountain range on another. At the foot of Cui Wei Mountain laid Nanyue River, which was also known as the Waterway of the Southern Border. This was a man-made waterway that the Tang Empire had constructed, and would lead to Yan Bei all the way from Cheng Zhou. This waterway accounted for much of the trade, especially in dealings for domestic animals like cows and sheep where this waterway alone would account for almost half of the trade volume in the Tang Empire. Beyond the Cuiwei Mountains were the barren lands of Qinghai. Despite the low population in those regions, there existed many powerful merchant envoys and will frequently trade precious herbs and leathers with the Tang Empire. Due to the geographical reasons, although An Bai County was a small city, it was rather prosperous.
The visit by this crowd of masters from the Xia Empire had instantly caused upheaval within this small city. Before even entering the city, the officials that had come to greet them had already formed a welcoming formation half a mile out from the city. From afar, one could see the colorful official caps bobbing up and down, as though a lot of activities had been taking place. Chu Qiao couldn't help but remark, "Since when did you and the Tang Empire lot coexist so peacefully? Weren't you fighting some wars even until last year?"
Zhuge Yue narrowed his eyes. He looked at Chu Qiao from the corner of his eyes. "In politics, there is no such thing as permanent enemies in front of mutual benefits."
Chu Qiao turned around and stared at him, snorting, "It is but a gathering of cunning foxes."
"More like those who are righteous would gain much assistance." Picking up the teacup, Zhuge Yue sipped on it, as he continued, "On the other hand, those who plot in the dark and rebel, will be destined for a miserable ending."
With the anger brewing in her heart, Chu Qiao was just about to retaliate with words when she suddenly heard the sounds of footsteps from beyond the carriage doors. She quickly put back her thick veil, and sat next to Zhuge Yue, her dagger brandished and ready to take him hostage.
With a whoosh, the carriage had been opened. Mu Yun stood outside. Chu Qiao had not seen him for years, and now that she saw him again, she noticed that with his pale blue robe, snow white boots, and some basic makeup, he actually did not even look like a man anymore. Smiling at Zhuge Yue, Mu Yun smiled, and said, "The biggest officials of the An Bai County have arrived. After some discussion, we decided that if we do not show up and entertain them, we would be lacking in courtesy. What does the fourth master think?"
Zhuge Yue grinned, and casually replied, "Anything goes for me. You can decide and let me know."
Mu Yun nodded and concluded, "Then I shall not disturb your rest. We are about to enter the city, please do toast us during the banquet tonight!"
The moment the doors were closed, Chu Qiao snapped, "Zhuge Yue, do not make necessary moves!"
With a snort, Zhuge Yue replied, completely ignoring the blade that was pointing at his heart from behind, "That should be my line."
"Did you think I was stupid?" Chu Qiao coldly stated, "Considering your personality, how would you travel with this bunch? And now, to mingle with those officials, what are you planning? Let me tell you, you will not get such a chance!"
Zhuge Yue raised his head and looked at Chu Qiao casually while pointing to his chest. "If you are scared, just stab here. If not, do not make so much noise."
Chu Qiao raised an eyebrow, as asked, "Do you think I won't?"
Amused, Zhuge Yue looked at her in anticipation, before snorting, "Oh, do you really?"
Suddenly, a rowdy fanfare could be heard from outside, immediately followed by sounds of firecrackers. Despite the many musical instruments, one could hear that they are all in coordination. In any case, it was strange to hear such fanfare out in the open.
Both Chu Qiao and Zhuge Yue were taken aback, as they heard Yue Qi's voice from beyond the carriage, "Master, I heard that some time ago, the Tang Prince just passed by this area."
Even if separated by a window, one could imagine Yue Qi's expression as he said that. Despite their awkward situation, Chu Qiao and Zhuge Yue could not help but look each other in the eye, resonating each other's thoughts about the unorthodox habits of the Tang Prince.
"Such a waste of resources and manpower!" Chu Qiao exclaimed. Zhuge Yue, on the other hand, decided not to respond at all, as he leaned on the soft cushions and closed his eyes, completely oblivious to the chaos outside. Under the deafening fanfare, the entourage slowly proceeded into the city.
Under the broad daylight, more so with such grandiose fanfare, Chu Qiao, a wanted terrorist of the empire had so daringly marched into the gates of An Bai County.
After making sure that the carriages were in order, there was naturally another round of welcoming by the local officials. Without leaving Zhuge Yue's side, Chu Qiao greeted the many officials that had came to welcome the entourage.
As night fell, the flickering flames illuminated the bustling crowds. Many majestic carriages congregated in front of the dwellings of the An Bai Mayor, as the guards of the dwellings shouted out auspicious words again and again in welcome of the guests. In the halls, bright lights lit up the entire area as dancers fluttered on the dance floor. The sweet smell of liquor permeated the entirety of the hall.
Following behind Zhuge Yue, Chu Qiao donned a leaf green Chinese dress. Still wearing the thick veil, the decorations on her head were even more numerous than before. With one glance, she seemed like a rare beauty.
As the ensemble blasted the fanfare, Zhuge Yue noticed that Mu Yun and Zhao Yang had already arrived at the location. Exchanging a few quick greetings, everyone took their respective seats.
The Mayor of An Bai County was a scholarly person who seemed to be in his early 30s. Although he looked innocent and naive, his oratorical skills were splendid. After toasting the crowd, even Chu Qiao was rather impressed by his social capabilities. As he finished his welcoming speech, the excitement within the hall rose by one whole notch, as everyone started to socialize eagerly.
Sitting above Zhuge Yue and Chu Qiao, Zhao Yang wore a dull gold robe, and drank cup after cup of liquor without pause. Chu Qiao was not unfamiliar with this man. Although she had not met him often within Zhen Huang City, she had almost been constantly fighting against his troops over the past two months. In fact, the entire southwestern region was now under his jurisdiction, so even though the order to chase her was made by Zhao Che, the one carrying out the order was mostly this Fourteenth Prince.
"The Fourteenth prince is really such a hero. This humble lady is honored to meet you today."
The sister of the Mayor graciously walked up and toasted Zhao Yang. Smiling, Zhao Yang stood up and returned the gesture. Surprised by the treatment, the woman bowed even lower, and from Chu Qiao's angle, she could even see her red undergarments.
From the side, someone stated, "The battle of Huai Yang was marvelous. With such talent and achievement at such a young age, Your Highness will surely have an immeasurable future!"
Zhao Yang smiled. "No matter how marvelous it seemed, I still could not capture Chu Qiao. Gentlemen, I do not deserve such flattery." The crowd seemed to be taken aback by this overwhelmingly humble comment. Just as the situation was starting to turn awkward, the Mayor interjected, "To err is human. If the prince is to encounter her again, I am sure that lady would not have such luck again."
Hearing that, Zhao Yang said no more. He took a quick glance at everyone before sitting back down. After successfully defusing the situation, the Mayor invited his sister to perform. Without hesitation, the young lady removed her outer coat, revealing her fluffy crimson dress, and fluttered into a graceful dance. Completing the dance, she sat beside Zhao Yang and started serving him attentively.