Li Ce asked a few more people, but to no avail. He suddenly stood up and looked around in all directions. In the big pavilion, other than the dancers, only he was standing up. In that instant, he attracted the attention of the crowd. Countless people stared at him, perplexed at his antics. Zhao Che and Zhao Song were also shocked, fearing that he would do something stupid.
Fang Gui Pavilion housed hundreds of people. The four side pavilions on the outside added to the number. Li Ce scanned the entire crowd, but was unable to spot the person he wanted to. The young Prince Li frowned and went into deep thought. Suddenly, with ample breath, he bellowed, "Qiao Qiao!"
His shout was deafening, instantly overpowering the sounds of the music. The musicians panicked, momentarily forgetting to continue their repertoire. The music stopped at that moment. The entire pavilion fell into utter silence. Everyone, shocked, stared at Li Ce with a mortified expression.
At this instant, Chu Qiao suddenly heard a snicker. She turned around and saw Zhuge Yue looking at her, seemingly enjoying the fact that she had been embarrassed.
"Qiao Qiao, where are you?" The crazed Tang Prince continued to shout as if the entire pavilion belonged to him. He did not care about how others stared at him.
"That's enough, stop calling me. I'm here." The well-built young lady in the second pavilion stood up with a cold look on her face, revealing her frustration and embarrassment.
"Haha, I knew you were here." Li Ce laughed heartily. He turned around, saying to the others, "Please carry on, don't mind me. How about the musicians? Continue to play your songs!" Prince Li Ce stepped over the rows of seats, ignoring the fact that his robe had knocked over some wine cups. He cut through the main pavilion and ran towards Chu Qiao.
At this instant, the noble ladies in the second pavilion focused their sight on Chu Qiao. They were shocked.
"Qiao Qiao, are you drinking wine? Drowning your sorrows in wine only worsens the problem!"
Chu Qiao slumped back in her seat, frowning. The way that she attracted stares did not help the cause of tonight's operation. At this crucial moment, she had no time to entertain him. The young lady, with a cold look on her face, remarked in a low tone, "Prince Li, given your noble status, you shouldn't disregard etiquette like this. Please leave."
"Qiao Qiao, I'm touched. You always spare a thought for me," Li Ce replied with a smile. He wanted to sit beside Chu Qiao, but she did not have any intention of making space for him. He touched his nose, walking to the seat beside her. He spotted a lady, whose identity was unknown. He said to her with a face full of smiles, "Pretty girl, could you let me have this seat?"
The girl did not look older than 14 years old. She had not seen such a sight before. Dazed, she stood up to give way. Li Ce thanked her and took his seat. The pavilion officials in charge of the affairs in the main pavilion frantically delivered Li Ce's personal utensil set to him.
Chu Qiao sighed helplessly. The second pavilion was now livelier than that of the main pavilion. The people in the main pavilion, whose stares had followed Li Ce to the second pavilion, suddenly realized that Zhuge Yue was also seated beside him. Numerous sounds of speculation suddenly echoed through the roof.
"Fourth Master Zhuge, we are both men of good judgement. Cheers, here's to celebrating Prince Yan's marriage," Li Ce remarked passionately. He raised a cup towards Zhuge Yue, bypassing Chu Qiao.
Zhuge Yue reciprocated with a plain smile. He raised his cup slightly, drinking to his toast without uttering a single word.
At this moment, sounds of drums suddenly broke out from the front of the pavilion. Everyone looked up towards the majestic golden pavilion, where the Emperor, wearing a golden robe, slowly stepped out. Chu Qiao followed everyone out of the pavilion to kneel and pay respects to the Emperor. She looked up. The Emperor had visibly lost weight and his hair had turned white. His head sagged and his face was indistinguishable.
Li Ce stood at the side. He was a messenger of another empire and a prince, which meant that he did not need to kneel down like the others. The man, while the others shouted "Long live the Emperor", whispered, "Don't be scared of him. He's just an old man similar to the one in my family. They are all pretending."
If she could, she would have beaten him up again. However, this was but just a thought. After the formalities had ended, all the guests returned to their seats. The Xia Emperor made his commencement speech and looked towards the second pavilion. He smiled plainly, saying, "Prince Li, why are you sitting there? Is the place that I arranged for you not to your liking?"
"I do not dare," Li Ce replied with a laugh. "It's cool here, I feel more comfortable."
The Xia Emperor nodded, saying, "Zhuge Yue, please accompany Prince Li then."
With a mere sentence, the pride of the Zhuge family was salvaged. Zhuge Yue did not dare to look at Zhuge Muqing, who was standing atop the pavilion. He replied in a deep voice, "Yes, Your Majesty."
"Has Prince Yan's carriage entered the city?"
An official stepped out and replied, "Your Majesty, we have not received any news from the guards at the city gate."
The Xia Emperor frowned slightly.
Chu Qiao's heart rose at that instant. The Xia Emperor nodded and added, "It's my birthday and my daughter's wedding day today. I have watched Yan Xun grown up from childhood. I am at ease betrothing my daughter to him. Everyone here is valuable to the empire. Although Yan Bei rebelled in the past, I have always loved that kid. After today, Yan Bei will welcome a new king. Please cooperate with him and bolster the strength of our empire together."
"Yes, yes. The Prince of Yan Bei is talented. He will be a good ruler to come."
"Your Majesty is generous and benevolent. Prince Yan will be loyal to Your Majesty in order to repay his gratitude."
"Princess Chun is virtuous and beautiful. Prince Yan is blessed by the heavens and Your Majesty. He will be loyal to his country."
"With Your Majesty, the Xia Empire will be prosperous for thousands of years."
The string of praise for Prince Yan and the Emperor continued to ring in. Chu Qiao scanned the main pavilion but did not spot anyone from the Batuha family. What was more peculiar was that the eldest princess from Huai Song was not present too, which caught her off guard momentarily.
At this instant, a guard dressed in green walked into the second side pavilion, his back bowed. He approached Chu Qiao from the back and whispered something into her ear. Chu Qiao nodded and the guard retreated.
Li Ce saw what was going on and looked over. He whispered to Chu Qiao with a degree of familiarity, "Qiao Qiao, who is that? What did he say to you?"
Chu Qiao frowned and stared at him. She wanted to say something, but felt that whatever she said would be pointless. She turned away from him, ignoring him. Li Ce did not budge, and continued to probe. He turned to Zhuge Yue, saying, "Brother Zhuge, do you know?"
Zhuge Yue replied plainly, "Even Prince Li does not know. How would I know?"
Li Ce nodded. "You make a point."
Suddenly, some noises could be heard outside the palace. The noises resembled that of a woman's cries. Everyone in the pavilion turned their heads towards the source of the sound. The Xia Emperor, frowning, asked in a deep voice, "Who is outside?"
One of the guards wiped the cold sweat off his forehead, ran inside, knelt on the ground and replied, "Your Majesty, it's…it's Princess Chun."
Everyone froze. Chu Qiao guessed what was going on from her earlier conversation with the guard. The Xia Emperor frowned again, continuing, "Chun'er? What is she here for?"
"The Princess…the Princess said that she needed to see Your Majesty urgently."
"Today is her wedding day. What is she doing, disregarding tradition and appearing here? Bring her back and tell her that Prince Yan is about to enter the city," Noble Consort Shu, who was sitting beside the Emperor, declared in a cold, crisp tone.
"Chun'er must have waited until she was too anxious." Noble Consort Xuan smiled, covering her mouth. She looked up, staring squarely at the Xia Emperor, adding, "After all, Chun'er is just 16 years old. She might be a bit scared."
"As a royal princess, it is not acceptable for her to disregard traditions like that! Men, take the Princess away and severely punish the servants in charge of looking after her!"
Upon hearing this, tears welled up in Noble Consort Xuan's eyes. She replied, "Empress Muhe has just passed away. Sister Shu, don't you think that treating the Empress's daughter like that is a letdown towards your sisters?"
"Father! Chun'er has something to say!" A high pitched voice suddenly echoed from outside the gates. Everyone in the pavilion looked outside in surprise, strange expressions on their faces. The Xia Emperor thought for a long while before finally saying, "Let her in."
The wind entered the pavilion through the gates. Zhao Chun'er was wearing a bright red robe, her hair messed up from running over. The petite lady's face was pale. Under the attention of everyone, she entered the pavilion. The wind blew at her robe, making it seem like there were butterflies in the air. It was a messy sight, yet its magnificence was visible.
"Father!" The young lady stood on the pavilion, suddenly kneeling on the ground and kowtowing heavily. "Please retract your order. Chun'er does not wish to marry anymore!"
The entire pavilion was utterly shocked upon hearing these words! At this instant, the entire Fang Gui Pavilion fell into dead silence for a long while. Subsequently, loud sounds of discussion started to surface, drowning out what Zhao Chun'er had said.
"What nonsense!" Noble Consort Shu hissed, the look on her face frosty cold. Following the demise of Empress Muhe, Zhao Chun'er's wedding had solely been handled by her. Hearing the little princess utter such rebellious and absurd words, she exploded with rage.
Zhao Chun'er knelt on the ground. She looked up, eyes bloodshot, face pale. She pouted and kowtowed again, repeating, "Father, please retract your order. Chun'er does not wish to marry anymore."
Noble Consort Shu frowned, replying coldly, "Prince Yan's entourage has arrived. They are outside the city gates now. Your wedding has been made public for more than a month. Now, in the presence of all the diplomatic envoys, you are refusing to marry him? Did Sister Muhe teach you to be like that?"
"The deceased are gone. Sister Shu, you do not need to mention their names again." Zhuge Lanxuan looked up at Zhao Chun'er, smiling. "Chun'er, you can't bear to let go of your father? Be good. Even though you are married, you can come home to visit Your Majesty often."
"Lady Xuan, Chun'er does not feel this way. It's just that I don't wish to marry anymore. Please help me plead with Father to retract his orders." Zhao Chun'er knelt on the ground. She looked up, tears welling up in her eyes. She was determined.
"Men, take the Princess away. Dress her up nicely and wait for the carriage from Yan Bei." The Xia Emperor did not even look her in the eye. Under the bright lights, the Emperor's face was indistinguishable. His voice was bleak, as if he had not heard anything that Zhao Chun'er had said. The maidservants outside the gate walked into the pavilion, tugging at Zhao Chun'er's arm.