Yan Xun, who was ineligible to attend the banquet, was trimming his bonsai tree when Chu Qiao rushed in. Only then did Chu Qiao inform him of what she had seen that day. Without any sign of shock, he only mumbled as he crouched over his plant.
Chu Qiao tilted her head, as she was deep in thought. After which, she passed him a pair of scissors as she whispered, "Are you saying that Zhao Che's returned, but has no intentions of helping Zhao Jue?"
Yan Xun smiled lightly. "Muhe Nayun only had two sons, if Muhe wanted to rival Wei for the place of the Crown Prince, they could only afford to support one of their sons. Zhao Che spent the last four years at the border, far away from the capital. Who would know what he was thinking. Within the imperial family, the brotherhood is within the Zhao family, hehe."
With a crisp crack, the sharp scissors cut the stem of the orchid instantly. It was a pot of priceless orchids, delivered from Nan Jiang Road to the capital on a quick horse. It had just been placed in the flower room. Chu Qiao let out a whimper of sorrow as she saw Yan Xun throwing the cymbidium into a corner. He picked up another pot and started to trim once again.
"For now, the Muhe clan is like me; they could only be trimming one of their plants. They do not have other choices." Yan Xun smiled a little. "Who asked the florist to send only two pots of orchid flowers to the palace?"
Outside the house, snow filled the air in the starless and moonless night. Chu Qiao suddenly realized that the plan that both of them plotted to get Zhao Che into trouble four years ago had failed terribly. The prince, who was initially detested by both Wei family and the Grand Elder's Council, had climbed out of the ditch, coming to the capital once again with his heart filled with hatred and vengeance. Even though he never knew who was his real enemy, both Yan Xun and Chu Qiao had to tread carefully from then on.
"You don't have to worry." Yan Xun's palm rested gently on Chu Qiao's shoulder. "Zhao Che's rise from the dead may not be a bad thing after all. As compared to the sinister Wei Jing and Zhuge Yue, who are hard to get along with, the weakness of this prince is too obvious."
It was that night that the Eighth Prince Zhao Jue, who was doted on the most by the Emperor, had been executed secretly within the State House in the capital. Everything went smoothly. The body was carried out of the capital through the Xi An gate, vanishing into the vast night. No one knew the sin that he had committed. No one planned to pursue this matter further. Everyone knew that this was the first time Emperor Zhao Zhengde personally ordered an execution since the slaughter on the Jiu You platform after the Yan family. With that said, he definitely had a reason to die, like that of Yan Shicheng. As for the culprit of this whole incident, it was no longer important to know who was involved in it.
Seven days later, Prince Li Ce from the Tang Empire, would lead an envoy to visit the Xia Empire. At the same time, he would personally pick his bride from the many princesses of the Xia Emperor. This was the right he fought for after repeatedly trying to commit suicide by hanging and ingesting toxins. As the only child of the Tang Emperor, Li Ce was the black sheep of the imperial family. He never cared for power or authority, and only loved poems and beautiful women. Only people that had not gone through struggle and hardships could have such a leisurely and carefree attitude.
As the Princes of the Xia Empire were secretly at war with each other. Prince Li Ce, the greatest talent of the Tang Empire, though it was self-proclaimed, was nearing the Zhen Huang Capital.
Chu Qiao set down her last chess piece as she had won the last piece of cake that was behind Yan Xun. She said slowly, "Although I have to wonder who will have the most kills in the Xiao Wu arena tomorrow, I know that you will be hungry tonight."
Yan Xun laughed softly as his gaze drifted out of the window. He saw a pear tree standing within the snow, exuding charm and grace.
"AhChu, do you remember the bottle of Yu Lan Chun that we buried under that tree years ago?"
"Of course I remember." Chu Qiao smiled. "We made a pact to drink it the day before we returned to Yan Bei."
Yan Xun closed his eyes gently and took a whiff. "I think I can smell the wine now. Do you think I'm a little too impatient?"
Chu Qiao shook her head and said, "You were never impatient, you have just waited too long for this."
As the sun started to set, the snowy ground was dyed a shade of red and the northern winds of Zhen Huang blew. It was another year that had a chilly spring. The forests were cold and the land was covered in frost.
"Xi'er." Along the vast snowy earth, a troop was trudging through the snow as a man who wore fine clothes sat atop a luxurious carriage. He reached out his fair and slender hands and looked at the woman with mischievous glance. She had a well-developed figure with a charming look. He said, "My hands are cold."
Xi'er giggled as she gently opened the lapel on her dress, revealing much of her large and developed breasts. Her nipples showed through her thin white dress as she flirted, "Let Xi'er warm them up for you."
The man reached into her lapel and grabbed lightly. He gasped and asked, "Xi'er, what is this?"
The woman moaned and fell into the arms of the man, her gaze was sensual as she giggled, "My Prince, it is a stove."
"Is it?" The man frowned as he caressed her with his fingers. "Such a nice stove." His voice started to get hoarse, "Little devil, warm me up."
The roads were tough to traverse at night. For the nobles, there were many ways for them to enjoy their bedtime pleasures.
The Zhen Huang capital was starting to get lively. After eight years, she was finally back.
The snowy plains were boundless. Chu Qiao sat on her horse with colorful memories flooding into her mind. Eight years ago, it was on this snowy plain where she opened her eyes, seeing the land of western Mongolia for the first time. The stench of blood and disgusting killings filled the air and swept towards her. She was dressed in a shabby dress and could only run barefoot for her life within this spacious wilderness. But today, as though time had flashed by, she was the one on horseback, facing the cages that contained the children that were trembling in fear. The bow in her hands seemed as though it was broken into pieces.
"AhChu." Yan Xun steered his horse forward as he turned back, looking at her. He frowned and said, "What happened?"
"Nothing." Chu Qiao shook her head and replied, "I'm fine."
With a thunderous rumble, the drums roared to life. Even though it was freezing, shirtless men atop the platform in the distance were pounding on the drums. The drumbeats felt as though they rumbled from beneath the earth, vibrating one's spine. The men were covered in sweat and had a red ribbon on their heads as they pounded and roared. The servants from the Muhe clan cried in unison, each of them wearing Hai Sha Qing body armor of the finest quality, with a golden belt tightened around their waist. These people stood together, reflecting sunlight off their belts, blinding everyone that looked at them. They seemed rich and powerful. However, they also seemed like a bunch of crude upstarts.
"The Muhe clan is worthy of being called the first family within the Grand Elder's Council. They even used Hai Sha Qing for their servants' armor. It really does reflect their power and wealth."
Chu Qiao looked to her side. Under the cover of a flag, she saw a handsome prince with thin eyes sitting within the deep purple tent. He was not even 19 years old. His complexion was extremely fair and had a head full of jet-black hair. He was dressed in a coat that was made from the feathers of the Nan Huang bird, and had a snow eagle embroidered on his collar, looking incredibly graceful. Chu Qiao had also known this man for a while. She had also met him at this very place, in this very season. But he had had an arrow pointed directly at her.
The second master of Wei sipped his tea as he smiled and moved his body towards the son of King Ling and said, "Zhong Yan, King Ling is considered rich, but does he have the ability to arm his personal guard with Hai Qing Stone?"
Zhao Zhongyan was a little over 20 years old and looked like a decent gentleman. As he heard, he laughed and said, "We are just a small country bordering the Ling Stream, how could we have that much money? Wei Jing, you must be joking."
"Hai Qing Stone is nothing. If I had equipped an army with Bi Luo Gauze by tomorrow, that would indeed be generous."
The second prince of Wei and the son of King Ling chuckled. The eldest son of General Yueying, Le Yi, placed his hand on the shoulder of the teenager as he laughed and said, "Your thirteenth highness, if you had actually equipped an army with Bi Luo Gauze, even the Prince of Tang would have to admit his defeat."
Zhao Song picked at his brow. As he wanted to speak, he saw a glimpse of a handsome emaciated figure behind the heavily guarded flags. He jumped out of his seat instantly and ran out. While running, he yelled, "Let me discuss that with you when I get back."
"Ha, you're here too!" Through the crowd, he pulled the girl's hand and cried out in excitement.
Yan Xun stood behind Chu Qiao as his eyes narrowed. In a blink of an eye, he nodded faintly, "Your thirteenth highness."
"Prince Yan, I haven't seen you in a while, what have you been doing?"
Yan Xun grinned as he nodded. "I am just a free man, wandering in Ying Ge Court all day with not much to do."
"Hehe, stop being modest," Zhao Song said as he smiled so widely his white teeth shone brightly. "A few days ago, Mr. Fu brought your poems and read it to us. He sighed. "Why did you have to use such complicated words? I couldn't figure out what you were saying, even after staring at it for more than half a day. In the end, I got punished to write your poem 200 times. My servant Dezi is still helping me with it in the palace right now."
"Oh? Your thirteenth highness has not graduated from the Imperial College?"
"I've still got three months left," said Zhao Song as he turned to face Chu Qiao. He laughed and said, "I will finally turn 18 in three months. Then, I can finally marry the princess and start a family."
"Really?" Yan Xun said, "Then I must congratulate Your Highness."
"That would not be necessary as long as you bring me a large gift," said Zhao Song as he chuckled, immediately tugging at Chu Qiao's sleeves. "Prince Yan, can I borrow your servant for a while?"
Yan Xun side eyed Chu Qiao. Seeing that she did not object to it, he smiled and nodded.
"Ha ha! Prince Yan, thanks a lot! AhChu, follow me!"
Both of them disappeared into the crowd in no time. Yan Xun was dressed in black robes with his hair shining, and his gaze seemed like the boundless ocean. However, it started to turn cold as Chu Qiao disappeared from his sight.
"AhChu, take a look, what is this?"
Chu Qiao picked up the golden box that Zhao Song had been protecting carefully. Opening it, she saw a bunch of long roots that had red powder at the top. It looked familiar.
"Matches?" The girl frowned and said, "To start a fire?"
"Ah! AhChu, you are too smart!" Zhao Song gave her a thumbs up as he was speechless. "How do you know everything? This was a gift from the Folang Mosa people, who came over to our country from the West Seas. Look, you could light it with a strike, isn't it amazing?"
Chu Qiao nodded lightly as she flicked Zhao Song's forehead. She laughed and said, "Yes, it is amazing. You should keep such things safe."
"AhChu!" Zhao Song cried gloomily as he clutched his head, "I told you to not flick me."
Chu Qiao shrugged and said, "I won't do it then."
"AhChu," Zhao Song walked in front of Chu Qiao and said in a serious tone, "I have a serious matter ask you. Why did you come for the field hunt with Yan Xun? Don't you know Zhuge Yue is back? If he sees you, won't you get into trouble?"