Chu Qiao's heart skipped a beat. She would be getting her just deserts after all. Unexpectedly, Zhuge Yue remarked, "Follow Zhu Cheng later on and find an able guard to teach you how to ride a horse."
"Ah?" Chu Qiao and Zhu Cheng froze, then exclaimed in unison.
Zhuge Yue raised his sword-like eyebrows, frowned slightly, and declared deeply with an impatient look, "What's the matter? Is there a problem?"
"No problem, no problem." Zhu Cheng was seventeen this year and he had followed Zhuge Yue since he was young. Hence, he naturally knew that Zhuge Yue practiced what he preached. He replied in an appeasing tone, "I'll bring Miss Xing Er there right away."
Zhuge Yue raised his head in suspicion, frowned again, and stared at Zhu Cheng. "Xing Er just turned eight… Why are you calling her 'Miss'?"
"That's right, that's right. I'll bring Xing Er… Xing Er…" Zhu Cheng, who was usually witty, struggled to find a title to befit this child. He stuttered for a long while, but to no avail.
Zhuge Yue waved his hand impatiently and said firmly, "Okay. Scram. Straighten your back when you walk, lest outsiders think that the servants of Qing Shan court are all hunchbacks."
Chu Qiao stood at her original position. Her petite frame was adorned in a pale yellow dress, with a vest made of fox skin on top. She looked adorable. She bowed to Zhuge Yue and softly said, "Xing Er thanks the fourth young master."
Zhuge Yue waved his hand lightly, not even looking up.
Chu Qiao and Zhu Cheng exited the Xuan hall. Zhu Cheng looked suspiciously at the child and saw Chu Qiao staring back towards him. He remarked with a laugh, "Miss Xing Er, let's go?"
Chu Qiao smiled and ignored him, walking out of the court.
"Miss Xing Er, these are the people that I chose for you. They are all adept at horse riding, please take your pick." Everyone, including Chu Qiao and Zhu Cheng, stood at the foot of the horse riding hill. The eight year old child raised her head slightly and scanned the group of well-built, able-bodied men standing in front of her. These men, who were usually cross towards the servants, now stood in front of her respectfully, smiles on their faces. Anyone who did not know this would have thought that they were usually that kind natured.
Chu Qiao took small strides, passing the men one by one. Suddenly, her eyes brightened up. She paused, taking a long look, a plain smile slowly appearing on her face. She pointed at a flustered-looking man, smiled lightly and said, "I want him."
"Miss Xing Er." Song Lian laughed in a flattering manner, his smile obviously unable to hide his worry.
The eight year old girl, wearing a snow-white vest made of fox skin, stood on the hill. Her eyes sparkled, making her appear very adorable.
"Please choose your horse."
Chu Qiao surveyed the herd of over ten horses in front of her, only to see that their horseshoes had not been attached. Their fur appeared clean; it was obvious that they were domesticated since they were young and had not ventured outside. The child trudged on the snow unevenly, waved her whip, and remarked playfully, "I don't want any of these. I want to ride a big horse."
As the servants at the side prepared to intervene, Song Lian quickly stopped them. He nodded and bowed, saying, "If Miss Xing Er wants a big horse, it is no issue. The few of you, go and fetch a few fine horses. Remember, they must be big."
Song Lian purposely emphasised the word "big". The two servants, understanding his intent, proceeded to fetch the horses. In just a while, five big-sized horses were brought over.
Chu Qiao took a quick look and deciphered that these horses were already old. She wondered if the horses' mobility posed a problem, but she did not raise her concerns. She turned and said to Song Lian, "These horses look strong. I'm young and have not ridden such a big horse. Guardian Song, how about you demonstrate for me and teach me something?"
In that instant, Song Lian frowned rigidly, a defeated look appearing on his face.
Zhu Cheng chided suspiciously, "Go, quickly! Don't tell me you don't know how to ride a horse? Why were you so eager to go along with her just now?"
Song Lian, not being able to voice his frustrations, thought to himself, if only I knew who I was serving, I would not have agreed even if they beat me to death. He walked in front of the white horse hesitantly, reached out his hand, and patted the tired-looking horse's head twice. He carefully stepped on the stirrup, treating the horse as if it was paper paste. He feared that the horse would buckle if he used just a little strength.
The horse was stronger than expected. Although its four legs were upright, they did not buckle. Song Lian heaved a sigh of relief and said with a laugh, "The snow is heavy today. As Miss Xing Er is still young, we shall learn to mount the horse first, and commence riding tomorrow."
As Zhu Cheng was about to nod in agreement, Chu Qiao suddenly rushed forward and forcefully smacked the horse's buttocks. She replied jovially, "Don't say so much! Go for a round first!"
As the sound of the smack reverberated, not only did the horse remain stationary, but its hooves buckled and it fell on the floor. Song Lian was thrown off forcefully, flipping through the air before landing head first into the snow.
All the servants rushed forward in a flustered manner. Zhu Cheng, looking at the horse, which was inhaling more than it was exhaling, frowned and commented disdainfully, "Is this the best horse? I think all of you are not taking Fourth Young Master's instructions seriously."
"I do not dare," Song Lian said, crawling to his feet. "This thought has never crossed my mind. It is only that given Miss Xing Er's tender age, we do not dare to fetch a well-developed war horse!"
Zhu Cheng nodded and remarked, "You do make a point. Xing Er, you're still young, let's start with a small horse, okay?"
"As long as Brother Zhu Cheng wants me to ride a smaller horse, Xing Er will follow suit." Chu Qiao raised her head, revealing her pink cheeks and a pair of crescent eyes. She was simply adorable.
Zhu Cheng's spirits lifted. However, the moment he turned towards Song Lian, his mood changed to that of anger. He ordered angrily, "Go and fetch the horse!"
Song Lian led the horse back, limping. Amidst Zhu Cheng's cries for him to be careful, he helped Chu Qiao mount the horse. She looked down, broke into a grin, and requested, "Brother, I still do not know how to ride a horse. Help me to lead the horse by the reins and let's go for a round slowly."
Song Lian earnestly wished to do this and he promptly nodded his head in total compliance. This horse was relatively well-behaved and it slowly walked behind Song Lian. In a while, both of them had managed to cover a hundred steps. Song Lian looked up and smiled pleasingly, "Miss Xing Er, I hope this horse is good? It is a newborn. When the seventh Missy requested it from me a while back, I did not gift it to her. If it is to your liking, I can gift it to you."
"How could Xing Er take what the seventh Missy likes? This would be unruly."
Song Lian gritted his teeth and replied with a laugh, "Miss, what are you saying? Although the seventh Missy is the old master's biological daughter, she is way below the fourth young master in terms of status. You are popular with the fourth young master, making your status higher than them."
"Is that so?" The child smiled lightly and said, "I did not know that my status was so high. Until recently, I was at your mercy."
Song Lian instantly blanched.
Chu Qiao gave him a cold look, took the crossbow attached to Song Lian's arm, and stabbed it into the horse's buttocks with one swift and ruthless motion. The horse, shocked, gave a loud and long neigh. It kicked Song Lian aside and rapidly galloped forward! The child, flustered, loudly exclaimed, "Guardian Song! What are you doing?"
Zhu Cheng and the rest saw what was happening from afar and panicked. They yelled and followed in pursuit of them, but none of them could outrun the beast. Chu Qiao pretended to be panicked, while her eyes darted in all directions, looking for a safe landing point.
At this instant, a yellow horse suddenly appeared in the distance. Zhuge Yue, with his fair complexion, a thunderous look, unusually red lips, dressed in a dark purple embroidery gown, came sprinting after them on his horse. He swiftly brandished his sword and planted it between the eyes of the horse. The horse, having been attacked, bellowed in agony and started to kick, standing on two legs, shaking its head rapidly! At the same time, a soft whip flew in front. Wrapping itself around Chu Qiao's small waist and taking her down from the horse!
"Haha, that was a close save." Yan Xun, handsomely dressed in a pristine green robe, smiled and took Chu Qiao into his arms. His voice sounded sly, hinting that he knew everything.
Zhuge Yue took the arrow out from the horse's buttocks and turned to look at Song Lian coldly. He ordered his servants, "Take him away and hand him over to Zhu Qi at the magistrate."
Two guards dashed forward and tied Song Lian up.
The man pleaded, "Fourth young master, no…"
In the blink of an eye, there was a loud sound. Yan Xun dashed forward and with a kick to Song Lian's face, dislodged most of his teeth making him unable to speak. Zhuge Yue raised his eyebrows slightly, turned his head and looked at Yan Xun, his eyes slanted.
"This kind of slave would have been executed long ago in the Yan residence. How could he have any chance to defend himself?" Yan Xun laughed and remarked, "Fourth Childe Zhuge, you are overly benevolent. I didn't mean to interfere your business Please pardon my rudeness."
Zhuge Yue replied plainly, "It's nothing. Prince Yan is so well-skilled. How did I not realize it back when we were both studying in the General Academy Hall."
Yan Xun casually waved and laughed, "It was just some fluffy skills. How could that compare to the art of war in your minds?"
Zhuge Yue did not respond. With a wave of his hand, his servants took Song Lian, who was bleeding heavily from his mouth, away.
"Prince Yan, many thanks for returning our lost horse today. However, you could have asked the servants to run this errand, instead of troubling yourself. I would love to invite you to stay for a meal but I know that you are busy. I will not impose on you further. Zhu Cheng, see Prince Yan out."
Yan Xun laughed indifferently, exchanged a few courteous words with Zhuge Yue, and prepared to leave. As he departed, he passed by Chu Qiao and whispered in her ear, "Ruthless lass, you set up another person again."
Chu Qiao froze. She looked up, only to see Yan Xun acting as per normal, walking away with a slight smile. He adopted a straight posture and had a calm look on his face. He looked just like an adult. How was it anything like that dissolute prince with a smile on his face?
"Xing Er," a deep voice suddenly echoed from behind her. She turned back, seeing the troubled look on Zhuge Yue's face. "Come back with me," he said.
Chu Qiao sighed. She was down on her luck, actually having been exposed. She needed to think of a way to handle this small, wily fox. She followed behind Zhuge Yue, depressed. She started to formulate excuses in her mind about how she was tragically bullied in the past, but she did not see the look in Zhuge Yue's eyes. Amidst the gloom, his eyes reflected a sense of pride, but no one knew what exactly he was proud of.
The room remained silent for a long time. The breeze outside the window continued to blow gently. A faint aroma emanated from the cymbidium perched on top of the jardinière. The child continued to stand silently at the bottom. However, a long time passed, long enough for her to assume that the people above had fallen asleep. She could not resist anymore and took a peek above, meeting a pitch-black gaze as she looked up.
Chu Qiao couldn't pretend that she didn't see anything anymore. She licked her lips and called out softly, "Fourth young master."
"Have you formulated your lies already?" The youngster held up a teacup, took a slow sip out of it, and stated in a plain, soothing manner.