Other than the Muhe family, the other royal families and imperial kinsmen were immersed in the joyous mood of the hunt. They were secretly delighted about Muhe family's loss; no one would show the slightest sympathy. Muhe Xifeng spent most of his year away at the border regions, and he was defiant, cold, and cruel. No one supported him. Also, everyone thought that he had merely lost his way in the forest. After all, no one would execute a devious plan against the country's elites under such a tight lockdown.
Of course, this was what they thought.
At this moment, in a cave within the dense northwestern jungle, Yan Xun looked at the bruised and battered body of Muhe Xifeng. He smirked and said in a low tone, "Master Muhe, how are you doing?"
Muhe Xifeng looked up vigorously. His eyes looked as if he was a ferocious wolf. His sharp gaze fell upon Yan Xun as he said slowly in an icy tone, "Yan Xun, you will pay for what you have done to me today. One day, I will make you regret living in this world."
Yan Xun grinned slightly with a tinge of sarcasm.
Muhe Xifeng ground his teeth, his voice was hoarse and it somewhat sounded like a duck. His gaze had an insane glow as he said, "Just wait. I will not let you go. I have slept your sister, and I will get all of your other women too. Yan Bei is gone. All of your family have been beheaded like dogs, leaving behind a cowardly and incompetent b*stard like you, dragging on your last breath, just for the sake of living. Would you dare to kill me? You wouldn't. Once I am dead, the entire hunt will be disrupted and everyone will start to investigate. Our Muhe family will never let you go; you wouldn't even survive a few months. Do you really like that little slave? Then, you can only bring her to hell to reunite with your family. You can only…"
Even before he could finish his malicious words, Muhe Xifeng's pupils dilated. A trail of blood shot into the air, trickling down his pale neck.
Yan Xun threw a gaze filled with despise onto Muhe Xifeng's panic-stricken face. He said with disdain, "You fool, you are already a prisoner and continued to boast without shame."
With a thud, Muhe Xifeng's body fell to the ground. Yan Xun wiped the bloodstains on his dagger with his shirt as he ordered to his servants by his side, "AhJing, feed it to the tigers. Leave clues to lead the Muhe family here."
"Miss had prepared to set up Zhao Che and Wei Jing, is that okay?"
Yan Xun nodded and walked out of the cage, leaping onto his horse. He said, "Just do what she says." After which, he rode his horse back to the camp.
"Miss," Jia He walked into the tent and said with a sonorous tone, "Prince Yan is back."
Chu Qiao nodded and asked, "Did you complete the task?"
"Everything was done according to your instructions. There will be no mistakes."
"That's good." Chu Qiao nodded and said, "All of you, have a good rest."
The curtains of the tent lifted suddenly, Yan Xun walked in with his head covered in snow. Chu Qiao came forward to sweep the snow off his hood and she asked, "Did everything go smoothly?"
"It was okay." Yan Xun took off his coat as he sat in front of the brazier. "Tomorrow morning, chaos will reign."
"So what?" Chu Qiao shook her head. "It is impossible to determine who killed him. He committed too many evil deeds and offended too many people. We have been weak and have not done much for the past seven years in the capital. How could we take the risk to commit such a crime when it is so heavily guarded? Also, Zhao Che and Wei Jing had both just returned to the capital. Compared to the vengeance between Zhao Che and him, the hatred between Wei Jing and the Muhe family, it is too deeply rooted to accuse us of killing him."
Yan Xun tilted his head slightly and smiled. He said, "Did he bully you last night?"
Chu Qiao was stunned. She shook her head and laughed. "No. When did I ever get bullied?"
Yan Xun nodded and said, "That's good."
The snow fell heavily outside. Yan Xun picked up a piece of yellowed paper and forcefully erased Muhe Xifeng's name. On Yan Bei's list of enemies, there was one less person.
On the second day of the spring hunt, an outstanding member of the younger generation within the Muhe family, Muhe Xifeng had died within the Xi Bai forest. The tigers ate his body. His skull was broken and his chest ruptured, his guts spilling out of his body. When his body was found, more than half of it was gone. If Muhe Xifeng's mother was not at the scene, no one could have recognized the bloody mess belonged to the attention-seeking and highly-spirited oldest heir of the Muhe family.
The atmosphere of the hunt had become incredibly icy. Muhe Xifeng had led his troops for most of the year, and his fighting skills were above the rest. Normally, thirty or fifty people would struggle to get near him. A tiger would not be able to kill him. Also, at the scene, there were no signs of a brutal fight occurring; his sword had not even left his scabbard. Under a cloud of suspicion, Muhe Xifeng's elders have submitted a memorial to the Emperor to plead for the Shang Lu court to investigate this case, as they were sure someone had killed him.
From then on, the situation escalated uncontrollably. At that point of time, the Muhe family would have known whatever that was happening as they had the most power within the imperial court. In the Grand Elder's Council, the Mu family from Ling Nan never liked to embroil themselves in the squabbles of the council. The Zhuge bloodline had always kept a low profile. The Helian family had begun its decline since the last generation and had become segregated from the council. The Shang clan from Dong Yue had originated from a religion, hence they did not have much influence on the politics within the country. Also, the northern Batuha family had been in the northwestern region all the while. Their power in the capital was minimal, and they had relied on the Muhe family for survival. Now, the only person that could stand against the Muhe family was Wei family, who had committed a grave sin. Wei Jing had since been stripped of his position of the Capital's magistrate. All that was left was the Muhe family, who had an Empress and three concubines by the Emperor's side; of course, they would be the family with the most power.
Jiu Cheng's government officials entered the hunting arena, picking random people for questioning and interrogation. The Xi Bai forest was under lockdown; outsiders were forbidden to enter the area. Even letters that entered and left the area had to be monitored and checked, in case the culprit used that as a means to escape. The Imperial Family of the Xia Empire had expressed their great sympathy and support for the Muhe family's loss, pledging their support to find the culprit behind it, apprehending the murderer. Hence, the hunt was being disrupted.
Night fell. In Yan Xun's tent, located in the southwestern region of the hunting ground, the heavy curtains made from bear fur opened. A gust of cold air blew into the room, causing the candles on the desk to flicker with the wind. A man wearing a white robe looked up, his gaze was dark and deep.
"Prince Yan, is the Miss here?" AhJing looked around the tent. As he was about to take his leave, Yan Xun raised his brow and asked, "What is the matter?"
"His thirteenth highness had ordered his servants to send this over, it is for the Miss."
Yan Xun knitted his brow suddenly as he put down his book. He said, "Oh, then place it here first."
"Yes." AhJing responded and left of the tent. Outside the tent, strong winds battered the roof of the tent, causing it to squeak under the strain. Looking at the slight fluttering of the curtains, Yan Xun frowned as he waited. The curtains had not opened in a long time. His gaze remained on the package on his desk as he remained silent.
The package was bulky and it was made of purple embroidered silk from Jiangsu. The background of the wrapping cloth was brocade with pale moon and white lotuses embroidered on it. Both ends of the package had been sealed with a knot; there was no way to look at its contents.
Yan Xun glanced at it and casually turned back to his book. The tent was so silent that you could hear the footsteps of the soldiers outside the tent. However, even though it was so quiet, the man was too annoyed to continue reading. He stood up and walked to the tea case in the corner, pouring himself a cup of tea. The fragrance of the tea leaves was fresh; it was the new tea that was used as a tribute from Ling Nan to the Emperor. Zhao Zhengde did not like to drink tea, so he distributed such items to everyone in the palace. Ling Nan was known for their silk tea and this tea was called "Red Girl". It was rumored that the charming virgins used the tip of their tongues to pick the tea leaves in the early mornings; it was incredibly precious. Although its taste was no better than ordinary tea, the mood it evoked when one drank it was better than the rest.
With Yan Xun's current status within the palace, he was not able to enjoy various tributes. But what no one knew was that the man that lived deep in the palace, the crown prince of Yan Bei, was actually running one of the biggest tea shop in Ling Nan. Even the royal family of Ling Nan, the Mu Clan, did not know about this.
Yan Xun held his cup of tea as he returned to his desk, the fragrance of the tea allowed him to regain his center. Yan Xun narrowed his eyes but his expression remained calm and his footsteps were steady. However, as he sat down, his palm suddenly tilted, spilling his cup of tea. With a splash, the tea landed on the package, soaking it quickly. The man was calm as he quietly watched the tea seep into the package. After a while, he suddenly muttered to himself, "I made it wet and I should open it to clean it up."
Late at night, Chu Qiao finally returned. After hearing what AhJing had to say, she returned to Yan Xun's tent and said, "Yan Xun, you were looking for me?"
"Oh." Yan Xun put down his book and stood up, his white robes glowing warmly from the reflection of the golden fire. "You're back, it must be cold outside."
"It was okay." Chu Qiao walked towards the brazier and took off her fox leather mittens. She warmed her hands above the flame and said, "You were looking for me?"
"It was nothing, Yu Hetian came by just now, trying to find out where I went yesterday."
Chu Qiao laughed coldly and said, "They're so anxious, they seem like ants in a hot pan. Yu Hetian had been in the north for years and worked his way up from a mere officer. When Zhao Che was banished to the border regions for years, they built a friendly relationship. If it weren't for Zhao Che, how would he have been promoted so quickly? Today, seeing that Zhao Che might be in trouble, he would naturally try to help. However, I would guess that Zhao Che did not ask him to come; he is too proud to do such a thing."
Yan Xun nodded and said, "When he was at the northern border, he also communicated with my father and my brothers.
"Yu Hetian is a vile character. Back in the day, he was the one who gifted the topographic map to the capital, betraying Yan Bei. Today, he wanted to come here in hope of gathering some useful intelligence. If you do not want to bother with him, let me deal with him."
"Okay. Anyway, I do not want to see him again."
Candlelights flickered as Chu Qiao shifted her feet, going closer to the brazier. She said, "That's easy. We just have to find a suitable opportunity to notify Zhao Che that he came to our camp tonight. With Zhao Che's arrogant and paranoid personality, he would definitely guard himself against the words of Yu Hetian and ignore him. However, we should avoid handling him by ourselves."
"Ok," said Yan Xun as he nodded. "You can plan it."
"Oh yeah, Yan Xun, you were looking for me regarding this matter?"
"Nope." Yan Xun stood up and walked towards a platform at the back of the tent, taking out a box made out of white jade. He said, "Yesterday, Wenting sent over a dress, but I think he took the wrong dress; it's for women. You can have it."
Chu Qiao took the box. She frowned and said, "Ji Wenting gives you presents all the time, how could he make a mistake this time?" As she opened it, her eyes brightened. Within the box was a neatly placed coat made out of white fox fur. It was not just a large piece of fox skin, but it was the skin of the whole fox. Its fur was pure white, without a trace of other colors. It was as soft as fine silk. At the cuffs of the coat, there were white-feathered snow eagles embroidered onto it; the lapels of the coat were bright and dazzling, like the pearls from the black sea. From a single glance, one could tell that it was extremely rare and priceless.