Yan Xun was also stunned. It had been seven years, but the Emperor had never summoned him until today. Was this a blessing or a curse?
"What now?" Chu Qiao said, looking very serious.
Yan Xun thought for a long time, and said, "Don't panic. I doubt it's anything serious. I'll go and take a look."
Yan Xun turned around and was about to leave. Just then, Chu Qiao grabbed him. Her small hands were sweaty and cold. She pulled him tightly and said with an anxious expression, "Be careful, and come back early."
"Don't worry," Yan Xun replied while tightly grabbing her hand to reassure her. "I will come back soon."
Lu Liu came up to Yan Xun and put a large fur coat on him. Yan Xun took a few people with him and left Ying Ge Court.
Throughout the entire afternoon, Chu Qiao was restless and could not sit down. She couldn't stop thinking that something bad had happened to Yan Xun. In the evening, AhJing returned suddenly. Chu Qiao was delighted as she rushed out front and said, "Where is the prince? What happened? Why has he not returned?"
Looking awkward, AhJing replied, "The prince is alright. He is now attending a banquet."
Chu Qiao let out a relieved sigh and said, "Okay, that's good. Why did the emperor call for him?"
AhJing looked left and right. After seeing a few servants around, he looked at Chu Qiao with hesitation. Sensing that something was amiss, Chu Qiao furrowed her eyebrows and asked again, "What happened?"
"The emperor…" AhJing stammered, "The emperor summoned the prince to…to marry him off to Princess Chun who just had just turned fifteen."
Chu Qiao was surprised. She opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. She glanced around as she asked in a low voice, "Marriage?"
"Miss Chu…" AhJing called out worriedly.
Chu Qiao nodded and whispered, "Marriage."
"Miss Chu, the prince was scared that you were worried so he told me to come tell you that…"
"I'm fine." Chu Qiao shook her head while saying, "It is not just a royal banquet. There must be some hidden intentions behind it. You should go back quickly and protect him. I'm just a little worried that the emperor is scheming against him. But as for the marriage, alright, I understand."
AhJing was worried and whispered softly, "Miss Chu…"
"I will go back to my room for now. You should go." Chu Qiao turned away with her back straightened and murmured expressionlessly, "I still have things to do. Lu Liu, bring all the letters to my room. I need to reply to them."
It was snowing heavily. The wind blew against a woman wearing a yellow dress and a cloak of the same color. The snow hit the back of the cloak while the woman herself emitted a very cold aura. In the distance, the sun was setting slowly. The sky was a fiery red, but was also very colorful. Eventually, the sun set. The candles were lit. Red wax dripped off of them.
It had been a very long time but Yan Xun had not returned. The servant watching over the fireplace carefully opened the door and saw that the room was dimly lit, along with Chu Qiao's thin and slender figure. She did not lift her head when she heard the noise but merely frowned, seemingly thinking hard about something.
"Miss Chu," the servant said. Although she was only twelve years old, she was mature enough to understand the situation. She carefully continued, "It is late, you should sleep soon."
Chu Qiao did not say a word and raised her hand to signal for her to leave the room.
Lu Liu, who was carrying a new brazier, came to the door and suddenly turned back to tell Chu Qiao, "If the prince comes back, I will immediately call you."
Chu Qiao slowly lifted her head and looked at Lu Liu. She said slowly, "Are you so free as to do that?"
The servant was surprised and immediately knelt on the ground. She quickly replied, "I should not have overstepped my boundaries. I deserve to be punished."
"Just go back," Chu Qiao's sharp voice sounded. Right after that, she did not say any other words and lowered her head back down to continue looking at the letter in her hand. Lu Liu trembled as she closed the door and left the room. The room soon became quiet again.
The candles were lit and occasionally tossed a few sparks into the air. The light made Chu Qiao's shadow very long and slender.
Chu Qiao's life had not changed since she was busy thinking a lot, and even the tone of her voice was the same. Only when she was writing on paper could her strength be seen from the way she wrote.
The winter night was long and in the evening, the sound of the door opening was heard. Her brush immediately stopped as Chu Qiao listened for a long while. Then she stood up and lit up all the lights in the room.
The room was suddenly brightened up. No matter how far it was, it could still be seen. Chu Qiao stood and lifted a corner of the window in front of her. The nighttime wind blew through the window against her long, black hair. Her eyes were calm, scrutinizing the outside. She was waiting for the result. At one glance, it would be noticeable that she was still awake and that she was still waiting for him. If he walked over, it meant that the situation might still change. Otherwise, it meant that he had made up his mind and nothing would change.
As time passed slowly, the lights in the front yard never moved. There was a man dressed in a silver cloak which covered half of his face. He stood with his back straight. AhJing stood behind him, holding a large umbrella over his head to protect him from the snow. A light wind blew from the distance and tossed up the snow from the ground. It swirled into a corner, creating many miniature snow tornados and sweeping against his shoes and cloak.
"Prince," Xiao Lizi said while bowing. He glanced into the distance where Yan Xun was staring, and there was light coming from behind the plum forest and the fake mountain. "Miss probably hasn't slept yet."
Yan Xun did not react but stood there quietly. He knew that Chu Qiao was standing on the other side, in front of the window of her room. Between them, there were three corridors, two doors, a lake, and a plum blossom garden. He could reach her in the blink of an eye. However, a sense of helplessness slowly settled in. Why does this seemingly short distance feel so far away?
His eyes were quiet and peaceful. Without saying a word, he gazed silently. His staring seemed to have brought him back to seven years ago, through the vicissitudes of life, illusions, dangers, and disasters.
As the wind blew, the umbrella in AhJing's hands was blown away. The young servant was shocked and immediately turned around to chase after the umbrella. Snow fell all over Yan Xun's shoulders. Even though he was wearing a thick coat, he could still feel the cold.
"Let's go." The short word was spat out from Yan Xun's mouth. Xiao Lizi smiled and immediately led the way. He said while walking, "Miss Chu must not have slept yet. Prince…" Before he could finish his sentence, he noticed Yan Xun had brought AhJing in the opposite direction. Xiao Lizi widened his eyes as he held onto the lantern. He stood there with his mouth open, not knowing where to go.
Thump. Chu Qiao gently lowered the window back to its original position and slowly took off her robe. She was wearing just a single coat and walked towards the lanterns in the four corners to blow them out one by one. Her movements were slow and her face was tranquil. Finally, the candle on the bookcase was also softly blown out. The room fell into darkness within seconds.
She groped around and went back to her bed, opening the quilt and lying down. The wind was abnormally quiet as her eyes remained wide open. No tears were in her eyes, but she felt very anxious.
Early the next morning, Chu Qiao went to the front yard as usual to eat her breakfast. Ying Ge Court was unusually quiet today, as if everyone was carefully refraining from making any noise. Chu Qiao and Yan Xun sat opposite each other and ate, occasionally lifting up their heads to chat.
The masters were no exceptions, and were calm as if nothing had happened. AhJing and Lu Liu nervously stared at them. Chu Qiao then reluctantly sighed. Maybe I really thought wrong, she thought.
After breakfast, everything was calm. Everyone performed their own tasks while looking a bit happy. After all, in this huge palace, Ying Ge Court no longer had to be wary of others when doing things.
At noon, Yan Xun opened the door of the greenhouse and saw Chu Qiao quietly leaning against the flower railing as if she had been waiting for a long time.
"My blue orchid!" Yan Xun exclaimed as he rushed towards it.
Chu Qiao looked back and saw Yan Xun holding a broken blue orchid. He was livid as he shouted, "My blue orchid!"
"It wasn't me." Chu Qiao raised both of her hands to signal that she was had nothing to do with the situation and justified it by saying, "I didn't lean against that."
"Did you not see the rope between the shelves?"
Chu Qiao was surprised and looked at the fine rope. She shrugged and replied, "Let's just say it was me. It's no big deal. I can just give you another one."
Yan Xun shook his head and placed the flower pot aside. He sat on a chair and said firmly, "What do you think about this matter?"
Chu Qiao thought for a long while and then said, "the Emperor wants to kill you."
Yan Xun smiled faintly and said, "He has wanted to kill me for a long time."
"This time, it is different." Chu Qiao shook her head and said quietly, "He does not really want to reconcile with you. Instead, he needs to find a way out for himself and prevent others from spreading rumors. He wants to kill you while remaining uninvolved at the same time."
Chu Qiao was dignified as she analyzed the situation. "Now the noble families are power, and they possesses vast land. The emperor has little military power besides the army of the capital. The military and government power is in the hands of the Presbyterian and is scattered in the hands of the family. Zhao Zhengde wants to reclaim his kingship. Besides relying on the small number of imperial powers such as Meng Song and Le Xing, he can only hope the princes living near the border will help him. Therefore, he must not openly kill you since he is afraid of causing a commotion in Yan Bei. An assassination of the officials will scare the royal family. After all, the clan is waiting for the royals from various royal families to take advantage of the opportunity to compete for land and expand their family power. Once the royal forces are eroded, the royal family will then be able to regain imperial power and it will be even more difficult."
Yan Xun nodded and agreed with her. Chu Qiao continued, "So if he really wants to kill you, he will need to have someone else do it for him. He wants to kill you secretly and blame it on others to keep himself out of it. However, once you die, every spearhead will be pointed towards him. That's why he chose to marry his daughter off to you at this time, to trick others into thinking that he really wants to forgive you and let you go back to Yan Bei. He will then take the chance to personally kill you. After you die, his most beloved daughter will become a widow. Then, naturally, no one will suspect him."