Although it was just a superficial wound on her neck, it started to bleed again. Chu Qiao shook her head and remarked nonchalantly, "It's okay. It's just a graze."
"How could you be so careless?" Zhao Song remarked with concern, frowning. "I'll fetch a physician right away, this has to be handled properly."
"No need." Chu Qiao held him back. "It's only a small injury. There's no need to make a mountain out of a molehill."
"No way." Zhao Song frowned unhappily, but he knew that his words did not carry much weight in the first place. He turned towards Yan Xun and said, "Prince Yan, what do you think?"
Yan Xun raised his eyebrows slowly, looking at Chu Qiao's pale face. The chemistry between them after all these years allowed Yan Xun to understand what was going on. He did not probe further and only remarked, "Are you really alright?"
Chu Qiao nodded and said firmly, "I'm alright."
Zhao Song looked at the both of them, suddenly feeling alienated from the conversation. He desperately tried to search for a topic, saying, "Then I'll go get some medicine." Finishing, he turned and left.
Chu Qiao took a seat, one row behind Yan Xun. She bent forward, whispering, "It's Zhalu's men. They stole the safe in your camp. I already killed them."
Yan Xun replied, "That thing is worthless, it was meant to act as a decoy. Why would you risk your life for it?"
"Zhalu's men are not worthy!" Chu Qiao touched her wound lightly and added, "There was a small accident. Did any exponent appear in the capital recently?"
"Exponents in the capital?" Yan Xun frowned, struggling to understand what she meant. "There's no shortage of them."
"Brother Xun!" A demure voice suddenly sounded. In the crowd, a young lady, dressed in purple from head to toe, surrounded by her servants, approached joyfully. As she neared, the smile on her face disappeared. She stared coldly at Chu Qiao who was seated behind Yan Xun and said with hostility, "Why is she here?"
Chu Qiao stood up and respectfully bowed, "Eighth Princess."
Zhao Chun did not even look at Chu Qiao, and sat down beside Yan Xun. She stated angrily, "You didn't even come to find me these few days. Is it because she's back?"
Yan Xun got up and stood beside Chu Qiao, remarking plainly, "Yan Xun feared that he would disturb the princess while she was resting."
"Oh, now that she's back you call me 'princess'?" She pointed fiercely at Chu Qiao and said in a cold tone, "Who allowed you, a lowly slave, to enter this place?"
As she uttered these words, Yan Xun gave her a cold look. He frowned and retorted, "Princess, given your status, how could you swear like this? I brought her here. Don't tell me that you want to chase the both of us out?"
Zhao Chun pouted, her eyes becoming red. She stomped fiercely, not answering Yan Xun. She pointed at Chu Qiao and shouted, "Just you wait!" Finishing her sentence, she stormed off. The other princesses who followed her all gave Chu Qiao a hostile look and chased after Zhao Chun.
Chu Qiao sighed and remarked deeply, "Why would you offend her now? I could've just left."
The man's deep voice was akin to clear spring water flowing down the mountains—slow. He replied, "I had to tolerate her when I was young because I had no other choice. If I still had to tolerate this kind of behavior now, my efforts all these years would have been in vain." Yan Xun sat on his seat and took a sip of wine slowly. He was calm and collected, his facial features reflecting his handsomeness. He was dressed in white. Coupled with his jet black hair, he appeared just like a man in a portrait.
At this instant, a gust of wind blew into the tent. Everyone turned their heads in the opposite direction. The curtain of the tent moved. A young man wearing a purplish-white robe walked in. He looked majestic and his eyebrows were like swords. He had a cold look in his eyes and he was the epitome of handsome. He was like a sword that had been brandished, its sharp edges giving off a fearsome aura. However, a bloody scar was on his outstretched neck, which was not befitting of a person who gave off such an aura. Blood oozed from his wound.
Chu Qiao's pupils constricted and she frowned heavily!
"Fourth Master!" Second Prince Wei and the other princes rushed to his side and happily exclaimed, "It's been seven years. Fourth Master, you look more imposing than ever!"
Zhuge Yue smiled and greeted everyone individually. He was gentlemanly in his actions, laughing and chatting with the crowd. He was no longer the paranoid and suspicious loner he was back then. In seven years, he had turned from an ordinary sword into a precious one, capable of giving off his radiance anytime.
Under the bright lights, a joyous mood enveloped the tent. Zhuge Yue, having finished entertaining the crowd, scanned his surroundings, eventually fixing his eye on the table in the backmost corner.
Yan Xun was drinking quietly, his head not even raised. His broad shoulders covered all the ladies behind him, stopping Zhuge Yue's continued cold gaze in his tracks.
"Prince Yan, how have you been?" a deep voice echoed.
Yan Xun looked up, laughed, and stood up. "Long time no see, Fourth Master Zhuge."
Zhuge Yue smiled and laughed coldly. He tilted his head slightly, looking behind Yan Xun. He said deeply, "Xing'er, don't you recognize me?"
Chu Qiao looked up with a calmness expression. Her lips spread, forming a smile. She looked at her old master and remarked warmly, "The Fourth Master is well known all over the world. Who wouldn't know you?"
As she finished her sentence, a loud bell echoed. There were a total of nine long sounds and five short sounds. It reverberated around the entire camp which spanned over ten miles. The entire tent fell into silence. Everyone kneeled on the floor and echoed in unison, "Respects to Your Majesty!"
The curtains of the tent opened up. As the northern winds blew, the torch flames flickered in the night. Amidst the silence, tidy footsteps could be heard outside. A large army surrounded the imperial tent. The scent of the guards' iron armor masked the thick fragrance of the meat.
Chu Qiao looked up carefully, but only saw a pair of deerskin boots trampling over the bear fur carpet. They were the size of what a normal human being wore. There were embroidered colourful patterns of dragons on the sides. The man walked steadily and slowly, not impatient at all.
"Please rise." A deep voice echoed from upwards. It was not bright nor stern. It even sounded slightly hoarse. However, the voice carried a strength that matched big waves. It slowly enveloped the tent, which had been noisy moments before. Everyone got to their feet but nobody dared to gaze upwards.
The Xia Emperor's voice echoed deeply from above, "Take a seat. Qi'er, please proceed."
The Third Royal Prince, Zhao Qi, answered respectfully, "Yes, Father." He took a step forward and declared, "The banquet has officially begun. Everyone, please take a seat."
The sounds of the sizhu started to play. From the passageways on both sides, groups of scantily-clad female dancers with sexy figures started to stream out. Their faces were strikingly beautiful. Their complexion appeared extremely fair. They danced seductively, waving their long sleeves. Various delicacies were served to the tables. It was only then that everyone's mood lightened. Slowly, the shouts of joy and laughter resumed.
Zhuge Yue stood in front of Yan Xun's table. His gaze was deep and his expression was cold. He looked at the young lady beside Yan Xun, staring at her calm and familiar yet stubborn face. He nodded slowly, turning to leave without uttering a single word. His robe brought about a gush of wind as he turned, causing the wine on the table to ripple slightly.
Chu Qiao felt a chill rush through her fingertips suddenly. A certain emotion started to bottle up within her, causing her to frown heavily. The young lady closed her eyes slowly, took a deep breath, and then sat down.
Chu Qiao suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and met Yan Xun's eyes, which were staring at her. Yan Xun remained silent but she knew the message that he was trying to convey. All these years on those hate-filled nights, whenever they felt sad and depressed, they always encouraged each other in this manner: Carry on waiting and tolerating, there will eventually be light at the end of the tunnel.
Chu Qiao nodded silently amidst the loud background noises and indistinct chatter. She looked up towards the northernmost end of the tent, where it was brightly illuminated to the point that it was almost blinding. The young lady opened up her eyes and looked at the man in the spotlight. The bright lights camouflaged him, making his face indistinguishable. Only the colourful dragon patterns on his outfit were visible and they seemed to point at every single person who harbored ill intentions, warning them.
With a loud, booming sound, the tabernacle on the front door of the elaborate tent was pulled open. The biting cold wind suddenly rushed into the tent. On the large square outside, numerous rows of torches could be seen. With a glance, about 300 tables could be spotted. Those that were deemed unworthy of entering the main tent sat outside, surrounding the main tent. They vacated the square, leaving a big, empty space. The atmosphere was electrifying, exceeding the levels within the tent. As the tent's curtains were raised, loud cheers of approval roared from the outside.
At this point, crisp and rapid sounds of horses' hooves started to echo. Everyone looked up and saw hundreds of imposing war horses approaching from the distance. The speed at which they came was terrifyingly fast. Amidst everyone's surprise, 100 soldiers wearing white armor burst out from their formation. They leapt high up into the air from where they were standing, on to the horses' backs with one clean, crisp, decisive, and synchronized movement.
The onlooking royals and nobles gave a thunderous roar of approval. Amidst the performers, one stood out. He positioned himself in the center of the square, holding a machete in his left hand and a shield in his right. He controlled the horse with both legs, continuously displaying different poses and executing different motions. His actions were as smooth as flowing water, yet he also showcased combat-worthy skills. It was a sight to behold. The general at the helm was young. He wore a steel helmet on his head which hid his face. He was firm and decisive in his commands and maintained an upright posture. He was the epitome of a valiant warrior.
At this time, all the soldiers withdrew their machetes and put their shields behind the horses. Then, they proceeded to take out their crossbows which were attached to their waists. They loaded their crossbows with arrows, using their legs to support themselves in the stirrup. Facing upside down, they released their arrows under the horses' stomachs. With a sharp swoosh, 100 arrows simultaneously flew towards a predetermined target board.
With a striking sound, the arrows packed plenty of power and snapped the thick target board apart. The target board did not fall on the ground, instead it flew out horizontally and embedded itself into the core of a giant pine tree. Many of the 100 arrows penetrated the back part of other arrows, stacking up in layers and piles.
In that instant, the entire atmosphere became dead silent. The soldiers returned to their original sitting position. Their leader got off his horse with a somersault, took off his helmet, knelt on the ground, and said in a deep and steely voice, "Zhao Che wishes Father unrivalled prosperity and eternal longevity!"
At that moment, the entire field rumbled. Everyone applauded unanimously at the archers' magical precision.
"Che'er, I see you have improved after a few years of training at the border," the Xia Emperor, sitting above, remarked in a pleased tone.