Chu Qiao shook her head and laughed. "I don't drink. It only causes misunderstandings or adds to my sorrows."
Zhao Che was dazed upon hearing her words. After a long while, he replied in a low voice, "I used to think the same way. However, my views changed with time."
"Your Highness, what you did today was a bit muddle-headed."
"Was it?" Zhao Che smiled lightly and drank, looking up.
Chu Qiao continued, "Your Highness publicly humiliated Prince of Tang in front of everyone. You did not show yourself despite seeing me beat him up and attempted to cover up after that. Everyone is aware of this incident. Do you know the consequences if this is revealed? Your Highness, do you trust your subordinates so much?"
Zhao Che replied lazily, "What should I do then? Send you to the court? I had wanted to do this all along. However, someone did it on my behalf. Why should I be ungrateful?"
"Your Highness shouldn't be like that." Chu Qiao shook her head slowly. "You are different from what I expected."
"Then, what should I be? Like those people in Sheng Jin Palace? Scheming and fighting against each other all day, not caring about kinship or status at all?"
The young lady's expression changed. "Your Highness, do you know what you're saying?"
"Of course." Zhao Che's voice suddenly sounded serious. He gazed into the distance, saying deeply, "Sometimes, I just feel like burning everything." The man looked down, adding slowly, "I've been fighting with others for over ten years. Since I learned how to speak, I've been acting for my self-interest. It was only when I came to the border that I learned how to fully relax myself. Sometimes, I feel that being in the company of these comrades feels much more comfortable than in Sheng Jin Palace. Although my biological family is there, to me, they are more ruthless than savage beasts.
"Chu Qiao, I came tonight just to ask you one thing. In coming to the Dauntless Cavalry Camp, are you just trying to pave the way for Yan Xun in future, or are you sincere in pledging your allegiance to me?"
Chu Qiao was calm. She looked at the man in the eyes, replying with conviction, "I just want to live. It's been like that all along."
The bright look in Zhao Che's eyes instantly faded. He nodded slowly, replying deeply, "In the future, you shall follow me wholeheartedly. No one will be able to hurt you."
The lassie kneeling on the snowy ground, exclaimed, "Thank you, Your Highness!"
The bright lights and stars were far and few. By the time Chu Qiao got back to the camp, she was drenched from head to toe. As she immersed herself in the warm bathtub, all her thoughts and emotions started to brew in her heart.
Everyone in Zhen Huang City was an expert at acting. She was no different.
The Xia Emperor used the power of the Third Royal Prince, the Thirteenth Royal Prince, and the Wei Clan to massacre the Muhe Clan. However, he isolated Zhao Che and sent people to test him and keep him under surveillance. Who, in his shoes, would not harbor resentment towards the Emperor?
A bright emperor could tolerate childish tantrums from his children, but not a traitor could not suppress his frustrations and schemed at every opportunity to exact revenge. A prince who coveted the throne could tolerate his brash, useless siblings, but not a competitor who sucked everything up to make sure everything went perfectly. No one would think that a lowly head archery instructor would be so audacious to assault the Tang Prince. It would be obvious who the instigator was.
She stayed there in wait for him. She did not believe that Zhao Che did not send people to investigate her. If he put in effort, given that she was just a lowly servant, he would not return empty-handed. Hence, she took Zhuge Yue's long sword and waited for her chance quietly. The sword, named Moon Shatterer and designed by the Master Swordsmith, Feng Yazi, was a gem among all swords. How would Zhao Che not recognize it?
If he knew the conflicts between her and the Zhuge family, he would be certain that she had no choice but to follow Yan Xun back then. Thinking that she had killed the second Grand Master of the Zhuge family, she had nowhere to go but to rely on that pathetic prince.
If he knew all of this, he would naturally think that the relationship between Yan Xun and herself was only that of mutual interest. Only thinking this way would he attempt to bribe and manipulate hers.
Scheming and deceptive. When you laughed silently when you tried to lie to me, you knew that I wasn't just going with the flow. We're still going to see who perishes first, she thought.
"Human kindness?" The young lady snorted, leaning on the bathtub and closing her eyes. "It is but a trivial thing."
In the distance, at the gates of Sheng Jin Palace, Yan Xun opened the letter that read: Irritate the Tang Empire, stabilize the overall situation. Only be wary of the Wei Clan.
The palace lights were bright. Watching the letter incinerate in the fire, the Prince of Yan Bei issued an order: Within three days, capture all reports or news from the Wei Clan that comes into the palace.
AhJing was shocked. He knew that with one careless mistake, all the power that they had built over the years would be gone. He questioned, "Your Highness, isn't this too big a price to risk?"
"The price of losing AhChu is bigger."
"AhJing," The man smiled, "You just need to remember that AhChu's life is more important than everything else."
AhJing, raising his voice, replied, "Even more so than Yan Bei?"
Yan Xun smiled bleakly. "If she's not around, what do I need Yan Bei for?"
AhJing panicked, kneeling on the floor and exclaimed deeply, "You are the Prince of Yan Bei. You are the Master of the people, the hope of the masses. How could you forsake everything due to personal reasons?"
Yan Xun laughed coldly, "When I was imprisoned, where was Yan Bei? Where was Da Tong? Is there anyone from the masses that can help me? I've suffered for many years, even being humiliated in order to survive, so that I can seek revenge and protect the ones I love. Everything else, to me, is insignificant."
AhJing frowned and replied in a spiteful manner, "In this case, why would you allow her to follow someone else, instead of protecting her yourself?"
The young man looked up slowly and said with conviction, "Because I trust her."
I trust that she is the valiant eagle in the barren lands. I trust that she is strong enough to overcome all adversities. I trust that she is the only one that truly knows me, who will stand beside me and fight alongside me, braving the storm.
"AhJing, I hope that the Da Tong Guild will be loyal to her how you have been to me, and protect her like how you have protected me. Because, with her, I am your leader, the hope of the masses. If she's not around, I'll definitely run amok!"
AhJing's body shook. He looked at Yan Xun, the man he had been loyal to all these years. He thought that he would take after Emperor Yan Shicheng, who loved his people and idolized Da Tong. However, today, in this brightly lit study, he suddenly realised that he was wrong all along. They were making a giant wager with exorbitant stakes, which would backfire at the slightest mistake!
"Don't panic." Yan Xun smiled plainly. "I dare to tell you this means I have not worried about Da Tong would betray me. Yan Xun is not Yan Shicheng. He is not a pawn nor a puppet. He only fights for his heart."
AhJing lowered his head, replying coldly, "Your actions disappoint me."
"It's fine." The wind suddenly blew the window open, messing up Yan Xun's hair. He looked into the distance, his voice slowly losing its volume. However, AhJing heard every word clearly. "I must first be a man before I can be considered your Master."
Amidst the cold winds, he smelled what seemed like a soldier's armor.
All the happenings were made known to Lady Yu an hour later. Xia Zhi stood at the side, frowning. "My lady, this girl is Prince Yan's kryptonite. There will be trouble sooner or later."
"Right," Bian Cang remarked deeply. "How could those that achieve great accomplishment disregard the big picture?"
"Lady Yu, should we report this to the higher-ups, or capture her?"
Lady Yu remained calm. She turned over and looked at Xirui, stating slowly, "What are you trying to say? To capture her or kill her to eliminate any trouble?"
Xirui froze. He replied, "I do not have such intentions."
Lady Yu grunted and replied, "Do you know what defines a strong person? However strong or powerful one can be, he can be defeated as long as he is sufficiently outnumbered. A real strong man is strong on the inside, not swayed nor deterred by anything. Only with this can one brave all adversities and make it to the top, to unprecedented heights. What is enough for one to be considered strong on the inside? Ruthlessness? Having no worries? Being strong in one's beliefs? Or is it the absence of greed? None of the above. People are all selfish to a degree. No one is truly selfless. For one to be considered truly strong, he must have something that he wants to protect with his life." The lady put down the letter and sighed. "I finally do not have to worry for the Master anymore. He has grown up. As for all of you, follow his instructions in the future. You do not need to consult me anymore."
"Lady?" Bian Cang replied quickly, in a daze.
"Rejoice." The lady closed her eyes and sighed. "All his years as a prisoner have not eroded his faith in humanity fully. If he was a vicious, resentful person who did not trust anyone today, among all of us, no one would make it back to Yan Bei alive."
"To exact revenge and protect the ones he loves?" Xia Zhi questioned with a laugh. With malicious intent, he added, "But what if both of his aims were to conflict with each other? What happens then?"
Lady Yu's expression turned cold upon hearing those words.
Xia Zhi waved her off. "My lady, please do not take it to heart. I'm just making a comparison. It's only that this Prince cannot compare to late Master back then. As for
his character, we still need to discuss. I only feel that putting the fate of Da Tong into this person's hands may seem too rash a decision."
Lady Yu remained silent for a while, before remarking helplessly, "Is that so? However, Da Tong already has no alternative choices."
Thinking that the Tang Prince would not let things slide so easily, Zhao Che and the rest had already prepared to fight a long battle here. Who knew that on the morning of the next day, Li Ce was demanding to go to Zhen Huang, not wanting to stay in the military base any longer.
Although she was not scared, Chu Qiao silently heaved a sigh of relief. She did not think about what Prince Li would accuse her of in Zhen Huang. At least he agreed to move, making her guilty of one less crime.
Three days later, the carriage of the Tang Prince finally entered Zhen Huang City under the Dauntless Cavalry Camp's welcome! This was the first time in many years that the two empires had carried out a diplomatic exchange between members of the royal families. The Xia Empire valued this highly. Led by the Third Royal Prince Zhao Qi, many officials waited ten miles outside of the royal palace for the arrival of the Tang Prince.