"Sir." A small child, wearing a grey outfit, dashed out from the horse carriage, holding a big gown. He remarked deeply, "Sir, stop waiting. It won't come. The snow is too heavy, Liu Huzi said that there would be a big snowstorm later on. We should hurry in our tracks and reach Que Yu Mountain before dark."
Wu Daoya was unfazed, as if he had not heard anything. His eyes remained fixed towards the front, an expressionless look on his face.
"Sir?" The child, dazed, tugged at Wu Daoya's sleeve. "Sir?"
"Ming'er, listen." The man wearing a green robe suddenly opened his mouth. He sounded a little hoarse and his voice appeared deeper under the whistling winds. He spoke slowly, with the grace of the autumn winds.
"Listen?" The child frowned, his ears sticking out. "Sir, what I am to listen to?"
"The sound of horses' hooves." Wu Daoya remarked, "It's here."
"Horses' hooves?" Ming'er listened for a long time but could not make out any sound other than the whistling winds. In this weather, a face-to-face conversation would also prove difficult, much less the sounds of horses' hooves from afar. Ming'er stated, "Sir, there is no sound of horses' hooves. You must have heard wrong! How about we…"
Before Ming'er had finished his sentence, rapid, crisp sounds of horses' hooves sounded. The child looked up in shock. In the snowy plains ahead, a yellow horse slowly appeared at the end of the horizon. The identity of the figure on the horse was indistinguishable. The snow got heavier and scattered about, causing visibility to decrease sharply. However, it was clear that the figure on the horse looked frail, as if they could be blown away by a gust of wind anytime.
"Sir," Ming'er remarked in disbelief, "you are divine!"
A crisp, low sound echoed. The figure dismounted from the horse and approached. She was wearing a thick green robe. A giant cloak covered her face, leaving only a strand of black hair visible under her hat. "Luckily I made it in time." The lady took off her hat, revealing her skinny face. Her lips were pale. She quickly took out a roll of paper and handed it to Wu Daoya. The long distance that she had travelled in the cold had obviously taken its toll. She remarked, panting slightly, "Keep it. It's all here."
Wu Daoya frowned. He looked at the lady with an angry expression, then said, "Why didn't you send someone else here? It's so cold out here. Have you recovered from your illness?"
The lady shook her head. "No one else could make this trip. Muhe Xifeng is dead, and that idiot, Muhe Xiyun, has been replaced. The Emperor's third son is not easy to handle. We lost a few comrades on the court. As I am a woman, they were less stringent in their checks."
"Zhao Qi has kept a low profile for so many years. It's surprising that his reaction was so big, considering that he had just assumed the post. Zhao Zhengde has produced some good offspring indeed."
"Let's not talk further, you better be on your way. We are tight on time, as we only have less than a month. The Prince's name is becoming more well-known. There are pros and cons. If we do not stabilize the situation at this moment, we may have to change our plans midway."
Wu Daoya nodded. "I understand. You must be careful."
"Alright." The lady nodded. Her face turned pale and her gaze turned deeper. She replied, "You too."
Wu Daoya had a worried look in his eyes. Looking at the lady's pale face and frail figure, he sighed helplessly. He turned back, taking the robe from Ming'er's hands and placing it on her shoulder. Looking down, he helped her to fasten the robe properly with a gentle look in his eyes. As he helped her, he remarked, "The weather is becoming colder by the day. You must be extra careful. This one month is neither long nor short. The situation in the capital is changing, you must be careful not to act impulsively. Of all the seniors and juniors, only two of us are left. Yu, I do not want anything to happen to you."
Lady Yu lowered her head and remained silent. Some thoughts started to formulate in her mind. Too many things were on her mind, causing her to not know what to say.
"As for things in the court, you must act within your power. Although there were no casualties when we rescued Master Zhu, our secret rendezvous place was exposed. The higher-ups will inevitably feel aggrieved. For now, try to tolerate it and do not lose your temper. Let the factions within the royal capital fight within themselves and do not get involved. Our motive this time is solely to rescue the prince. As for other matters, it is none of our business. Do not be overwhelmed by greed and lose your boundaries in the process.
"Also," Wu Daoya looked up slowly, the calm in his eyes symbolic of a frozen lake during the winter—where the waves and ripples underneath were not visible. Even his voice sounded monotone. "You are not in good health. Focus on recuperating, do not use too much effort. Once things on this side are settled, I'll take you to the Tang Empire for a while. Its warm climate and scenery will aid in your recovery." As he fastened the last knot, Wu Daoya took two steps back and looked at the lady. He turned around and walked back. As he walked back, he waved, "Go back. Be careful on your way."
"Daoya." Lady Yu suddenly looked up with a heavy look on her face.
"Hm?" Wu Daoya turned back and asked, frowning, "Is anything else wrong?"
Lady Yu tightened her lips and thought for a long while. She shook her head and replied, "Nothing much. Let's wait until you are back before we discuss other matters. Take care."
Wu Daoya stared at the young lady. She was not considered a ravishing beauty, given her skinny face and frail figure. Although she was only 27 or 28, the many years of suffering had caused wrinkles to appear on her eyelids, and her skin appeared unhealthily pale. It was precisely this face that caused him to have many concerns that he could not dismiss.
Just like today, for example, this was not an important document. However, he believed that she would deliver it herself to take one last look at him, although he was still chiding her for not knowing how to take care of herself.
Even until now, he still remembered the details of their first meeting vividly. That day, he had followed his Shifu to the capital of Zhen Huang. On the small bridge at Xi Miao Street, he saw a little girl being spanked by her master for trying to escape. She was only nine years old, cutting a skinny and small figure. The prolonged malnutrition had caused her skin to become jaundiced, making her appear lifeless. However, her big, black eyes, which sparkled so brightly, exemplified her feelings of intense resentment and a rugged determination to not let things slide so easily. At that instant, he knew that this child would definitely survive. No matter how many times she failed, she would be able to escape as long as there was still life within her.
As expected, half a month later, at a winery located outside Ru Nan City, they bumped into her again. By that time, she was starving, on the brink of death, but she refused to beg for food. His Shifu adopted her and brought her home. From then on, Tian Ji Mountain had a new young, female disciple. As for him, it was the start of another long-standing worry. Seven days ago, Xi Hua perished on the Zuoling Plains located in Yan Bei. Of the 13 disciples which had journeyed down from Tian Ji Mountain together, only two of them remained.
Wu Daoya reached out his hand, placing it on Lady Yu's shoulder forcefully. He wanted to say something, but he suppressed his words. "We'll talk when I'm back. I'll take my leave first, be careful."
"Alright," Lady Yu nodded, "you too."
Wu Daoya got into his horse carriage. Liu Huzi, dressed in an outfit made of dog skin, rubbed his hands together and cracked his whip. The horse, with a long neigh, started to move. The snow scattered about and the horse carriage slowly disappeared into the heavy snowstorm.
No matter what is on our mind, it can be discussed when he gets back. Lady Yu sighed slightly. The icy snowflakes fell on her face, causing her to reminisce about the Huo Lei Plains in Yan Bei.
Everything was about to end. In a few months, upon rescuing the prince, she could finally finish her mission. Then, she would be able to journey to Bian Tang, where it was warm, unlike Hong Chuan, which was snowy half of the time. By that time, she would also be able to experience the sights as described in books; rafting on the crystal clear lakes and the fragrance of lotuses in the night.
Yu looked up and took a deep breath. The pressing issue at hand was to ensure that the prince was rescued safely. She straightened her posture and departed swiftly on her horse.
They had waited too many years. It would not hurt to continue waiting. Although some things were not able to be said right away, there would be a day where it was divulged. When that day came, the world would be united and its citizens would live in peace. There would be no more slavery nor wars.
The cold winds blew from afar, forming mini-whirlwinds on the ground. The white snow scattered into the air in a circular motion, symbolic of one's destiny in life— repeated ups and downs.
At this time, in Sheng Jin palace, a young lady slowly put down her books on the table. She walked beside the window, looked at the smoke clouds on the horizon and became distracted momentarily.
Lu Liu, the maidservant, knocked on the door carefully, pulling the door open with cowardice. She remarked softly, "Miss, there's someone outside looking for you."
Here, other than Yan Xun, the rest of the people feared her. Every servant who entered Ying Ge court was subjected to her stringent checks. She was an intelligence agent in her previous life and constantly fighting for her life currently. This had caused her to approach everything with care and caution.
The young lady raised her eyebrows lightly and replied, "Who is it?"
"The guards did not mention anything." Lu Liu said softly, "Lieutenant Colonel Song from the frontal city gates came to report personally."
"Song Que?" Chu Qiao remarked in suspicion. The person in search of her was not simple. Not only was this person able to enter Sheng Jin palace at will, but they could also command Song Que to convey a message to her. Who could it be?
"Go and tell Lieutenant Colonel Song that I'll be right there." Wearing her coat and equipping herself with her dagger, Chu Qiao opened the front gates of Ying Ge court. She saw Song Que, whose face remained as icy as ever. The young lady thought to herself and sighed, this leader does know how to handle human relationships. It was no wonder that he had been guarding the city gates from the time Chu Qiao had entered the palace up until now, with no signs of progress or improvement.
As they walked, they reached the pavilion in the garden of the back palace. This was a place that Zhao Song liked. When they were young, she would sneak here to receive material assistance from Zhao Song often. However, she had not been here in a long time.
The woods remained largely similar. Only the plum trees from past times had become slightly bigger. As it was currently the season where the flowers of the plum trees blossomed, the entire garden was blessed with the aroma of the flowers. Lieutenant Colonel Song, not saying a word, retreated. Chu Qiao ventured inside alone. She had barely taken a few steps before she saw the shadow of the person that was looking for her.
"Miss Xing'er." In just a few years, Zhu Cheng had put on some weight, as shown by his round belly. He still had a smile on his face, not caring about the fact that Chu Qiao had betrayed the Zhuge family.
Chu Qiao's expression remained unchanged. She said in a calm voice, "Steward Zhu, my surname is Chu."
Zhu Cheng replied with a laugh, "Miss Chu, I was ordered by the young master to look for you."
"The young master?" The young lady replied coldly but respectfully, "Which young master?"
Zhu Cheng started, but he still answered her question. "The Fourth Young Master, Zhuge Yue."