Zhao Song frowned and continuing to listen to Chu Qiao ramble on in a low voice.
"What exactly is justice and governance? Is your royal family the only family that reigns supreme? Do your words carry so much weight that no one is supposed to oppose them? The battle at the capital should not be considered treachery! There is no right or wrong—only winners and losers. Back then, your father deceived his friends, massacred the people of Yan Bei, and killed Yan Xun's family. How should we settle this score? Over these eight years, how many murders and assassinations have you witnessed yourself? You still dare proclaim that Zhao Zhengde cares for Yan Xun, and is his benefactor? All these things, the marriage, was but a scam to deceive the masses. If we did not rebel that night, we would have died in the hands of Ba Lei and Wei Shuye. Today, all you would see is two tombs, two lumps of soil. Zhao Song, you have been lying to yourself. You really think that closing your eyes will prevent you from seeing the Xia Empire's oppressive rule, and that blocking your ears will drown out the agonizing cries of the civilians? Why don't you think about this? How could a small rebellion like this have led to the disintegration of the Xia Empire? I don't deny that I have let your trust down, and disappointed you despite caring for me all these years. However, I have no regrets betraying the royal empire and triggering this conflict. We were destined to be opposed from the start, without any room to salvage the situation. If I could do this all over again, I would make the same choice."
The words of steel resonated in the air. Zhao Song sneered and shook his head. He said, "AhChu, I perceived you wrongly."
"You did not. It's just that you did not know the real me," Chu Qiao replied deeply. "Zhao Song, being born in this era is our tragedy. Kindness should be repaid with kindness. Eight years ago, Yan Xun helped me when I was driven to desperation. When I decided to follow him into Sheng Jin Palace, our fates were destined to oppose each other. You are a prince of the Xia Empire, but I am bent on ousting it. We were going to be enemies on the battlefield sooner or later. Everyone in the Xia Empire knows that the Emperor is not going to let Yan Xun off, except you who have been living your life in oblivion. During these eight years, I have been trying to hint to you, and distance myself from you. You refused to acknowledge the truth and naively believed that your father would spare Yan Xun. Zhao Song, I never wanted to deceive you from the start, let alone betray you. However, I did hurt you. I will remember the kindness and care that you have showered upon me all these years. If I have a chance in future, I will definitely repay you."
"Looks like I deserve what has happened to me. I've been too naive." Zhao Song laughed, looking forlorn. He turned away decisively, saying, "I will not let you have the ability to repay me. AhChu, please leave. I hope that I will never see you again."
"Zhao Song!" Chu Qiao hollered. Zhao Song stopped his horse, but did not turn back.
Chu Qiao thought for a long while. Taking a deep breath, she asked, "How is Yan Xun?"
Zhao Song's back stiffened at this instant. As the cold wind blew, the look in his eyes turned cold.
"If he wasn't driven to desperation, he would not have hurt you! If he was not seriously injured, he would never have allowed those people to escort you back! You critically injured him, didn't you?" Although it sounded like a question, it was more like a statement. Chu Qiao uttered this sentence with conviction, making it seem like a conclusion instead of a hypothesis.
"Yes!" Zhao Song uttered, his back facing Chu Qiao. "He won't be able to live for long, but you can get back in time to send him off."
The voice behind him suddenly disappeared, leaving low, panting sounds. After a long while, a hoarse voice echoed out from behind, "Thank you for telling me." As she finished her sentence, the crisp sound of horses' hooves echoed out from behind. Before she had time to say farewell, which she might have considered unnecessary, she turned her horse around and dashed swiftly towards the northwest.
As the person behind him departed, Zhao Song remained in his original position. His horse scraped at the ground with its hooves. As the wind blew, the man's sleeve fluttered in mid-air, reflecting his melancholy and sadness.
AhChu, all that you said was true. How could I be naive enough not to understand? Over these eight years, I have been worried about what would happen. However, I could not bear to let you go. How could I not know? I just did not want to admit it. I thought that with more hard work, I could keep you by my side. I deceived myself for so many years, to the point where I believed my own lies. The Xia Empire is about to crumble. I maintain that Yan Xun betrayed the empire. What I'm most sad about is, you gave up on me! Although, I guessed that this would have happened.
You went to such lengths, not questioning anything. However, you knew everything, you guessed everything, all due to your unwavering belief and trust! AhChu, I thought that I was of equal standing to him in your heart. Even if I lost out to him, it would not be by much. However, I now realize how wrong I am.
Zhao Song looked up and laughed bitterly, closing his eyes. His efforts over half of his life had come to naught.
Intense sounds of horses' hooves echoed out. Zhao Song looked up, seeing Zhao Chun'er and Zhao Che dashing towards his direction. They were accompanied by an army of Xia officials, totalling 300 people.
"Where's Chu Qiao?" Zhao Chun'er probed, her expression serious. She was positioned at the front, devoid of her old weak self. Stopping her warhorse, she shouted, "Thirteenth Brother, where is she?"
"Left? How could you let her go?" The Xia Princess frowned and shouted, "Where did she go?" Seeing that Zhao Song remained silent, Zhao Chun'er was enraged. "Thirteenth Brother! Have you forgotten what they did to us?"
"Thirteenth Brother, which way did she go?" Zhao Che was dressed in a suit of black body armour, his gaze fixated on where Zhao Song's arm used to be. He did not question anything, having been briefed by Zhao Chun'er.
At that instant, the scenes from eight years ago played across his mind, like a hurricane. He remembered the details of that day. The girl was dressed in a pristine white dress, wearing a pair of white boots. Her hair was decorated with two beautiful flowers. She said to him, "My name is Imaginary. I'm from Wu You Court. I'm a maidservant under Lady Dou. My job is to make mud figures for the young masters and mistresses. Better remember it!"
Zhao Chun'er raised her eyebrows and berated, "Zhao Song! Are you a man of the Zhao family?"
"Over there." Zhao Song raised a finger and pointed at the direction where Chu Qiao had departed. As he spoke, 300 troops followed in pursuit, leaving a trail of dust behind.
AhChu, in the end, between us, it came to nothing. We have different standpoints. It's impossible for us to stand on the same side. You took the risk to send me home, but I cannot let you leave. Nothing. Nothing. The words uttered on that day had actually became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As the wind blew, the landscape appeared desolate. Zhao Song advanced forward with his horse towards Zhen Huang City. His lone shadow appeared slanted.
"Seventh Royal Highness, there's no one in front," Official Chi reported.
Zhao Che's expression was solemn. Before he managed to speak, Zhao Chun'er interrupted, "Her horse is swift. Send the tenth team to chase her. However good she may be, she has to stop to eat and drink. We will catch up with her sooner or later. Also, send a letter to the various provinces along the way that Chu Qiao from Yan Bei, who massacred their troops, is on her way, alone. I believe that I'm not the only one in the world that hates her. Many people will kill her for us. I want to see how she will return to Yan Bei alone?"
Zhao Che raised his eyebrows. He turned around to look at his sister, asking, "Chun'er, have you encountered anything along the way?"
Zhao Chun'er froze, nervously looking up. "Seventh Brother, why do you ask?"
"You've changed a lot."
There was a deep look in Zhao Chun'er's eyes. Those dirty scenes replayed across her mind again. The young lady laughed coldly. "Seventh Brother, I did not change. I just grew up."
"Giddyup!" Zhao Chun'er hollered, dashing forward on her horse. Zhao Che and the other soldiers followed behind her.
After a long while, a small shadow popped out of a bush away from the main road. Looking towards the direction where Zhao Chun'er disappeared, she felt a feeling of bitterness within. As expected, Zhao Song had betrayed her. She had intentionally chosen a path leading back to Yan Bei. If Zhao Song had not said so, Zhao Che and the rest would have taken the other path.
Zhao Chun'er was silent along the journey back, not revealing her hostile intentions. She intended to use her to get back to Zhen Huang safely, then kill her. This princess from the Xia Empire had wanted to eliminate her all along!
Chu Qiao stood on the vast, empty plains. The eagles in the sky circled about, revealing their white wings. She raised a finger and made a whistling sound. From afar, a black warhorse made its way towards her, running around her in circles joyfully. Chu Qiao leapt onto the horse's back and laughed. "Brother, we're going to take a long route. The path ahead has been blocked."
Zhen Huang and Yan Bei was separated by flat grassland. In order to prevent the southwest emissary's garrison from escaping, a few counties which were part of the Xia Empire had instructed people to cut the grass. In addition, they had carried out deforestation on the grassland to eliminate any spots for cover. Every stream, every crossing, and every road was heavily guarded. They had thought that Chu Qiao could only escape sneakily. They did not expect that she brought the southwest emissary's garrison to fight her way through. After a few battles, they suffered heavy losses. All their efforts had came to naught.
However, their previous efforts were now useful. These officials, who had suffered under her hands, knowing that she was on her way back to Yan Bei alone, were now waiting in anticipation for her to fall into the trap. At this moment, anyone that managed to capture her would be able to threaten the new king of Yan Bei, and seriously hurt its political power. After all, Chu Qiao had defeated them with an army of just 4000 people. This was enough to strike terror into these noble families. If she followed her original route back to Yan Bei, she would have certainly died without any chance of escape.
The only alternative for her was to exit via the southeast, entering the Tang Empire, going towards the small passage at the Qing Tong Mountains. Next, she would follow along the Wu Xun River along the southern borders, before finally arriving back in Yan Bei!
The horse forcefully used its neck to brush against her leg. Chu Qiao held the horse's reins, and galloped towards the east.