Chapter 170: Misfortune, what a beastly bully
Han Yunxi was in high spirits as she eagerly followed Long Feiye to the Hibiscus Courtyard. The whole way, Long Feiye was very quiet. As the two of them walked, one behind the other, they came to a fork in the path of the courtyard. The right led to the covered corridor of the main sleeping quarters, while the left went towards the small path leading to the Leisurely Cloud Pavilion.
Han Yunxi kept expecting the Giant Iceberg to say something after the confrontation with Grand Concubine Yi. She wondered whether Long Feiye had argued with Emperor Tianhui over the marriage alliance. Was that why Emperor Tianhui refused to let her go from prison without Long Feiye handing over the command seal?
Otherwise, even if Emperor Tianhui wanted to kill her, he'd still spare at least one chance for Long Feiye's sake, right?
Her steps slowed as they approached the fork in the road, but Long Feiye neither spoke nor stopped as he kept walking to the right. All right, she'd really overthought things. Han Yunxi watched Long Feiye's back disappear into the dimness of the covered corridor before docilely returning to her Leisurely Cloud Pavilion.
She was finally home!
Under Zhao mama's care, Han Yunxi washed away her exhaustion and ate her fill before going upstairs to the loft. Her eyes immediately settled on the locked window upstairs as she broke out into a silly smile. Who knew what she was embarrassed about? She gave a few light coughs before smoothing out her bangs, arranging her hair, and all sorts of other little movements. Then she walked over and nimbly unlocked the window!
The evening light spilled in as it revealed the vision of the other house with its lanterns lit in the dusky darkness. It was both an illuminating and mysterious sight. Han Yunxi sprawled lazily on the window ledge, a hand propping up her head as she stared and stared until her thoughts wandered away.
Long Feiye, why did you save me with the command seal? Just...for what reason?
Currently, Long Feiye was soaking in his indoor hot springs. He leaned against the edge of the pool, his dark hair hanging down loosely as his outspread arms rested on the sides. The texture of his bronze chest was obvious to the eye, his excellent physique enough to cause nosebleeds as they stirred the imagination of the viewer to what laid beneath the water.
His head was raised to the ceiling with his eyes closed. Even so, he emanated the same aggressive, domineering aura. He seemed to be considering a problem, though no one could guess at his thoughts...
The next day was Princess Changping's funeral procession. Though no one had spread the truth regarding her death, there were claims that the princess had died from a vicious disease. After all, the reality would lose too much face for the imperial house, aversing affecting the populace.
Han Yunxi and Long Feiye both attended the funeral, where she clearly felt the empress dowager's enmity. Although Han Yunxi wasn't the killer, she didn't find this hostility unexpected. Although the empress dowager had arranged her marriage with Long Feiye, she never held feelings of loyalty or devotion to the empress dowager. Even if this hadn't happened, she and that woman would've been irreconcilable anyways. On the contrary, it was Emperor Tianhui who maintained a solemn visage without displaying much emotion. In the end, an emperor was still an emperor.
The following few days, Han Yunxi stayed to rest at the estate. Grand Concubine Yi didn't cause her any difficulties despite Princess Rongle's affair. The events at the New Year's Eve banquet weren't spread about either, so Princess Rongle's marriage plans seemed to pass by just like that. Very soon, Han Yunxi realized that she had underestimated the situation.
On the 15th of the first lunar month, Tianning's northwest borders sent back grievous news. Western Zhou's emperor had withdrawn one-third of their troops guarding the Three-Way Battlefield!
On Cloud Realm Continent, the three countries of Tianning, Western Zhou and Northern Li were border nations. North of Tianning was Northern Li, and west of Tianning was Western Zhou. Northwest of Tianning, northeast of Western Zhou, and southwest of Northern Li was a contested area between three countries called the Three-Way Battlefield.
This area was moderate in size, about the size of three cities. It had no mountains but was filled with hills and grasslands, making it a historic point of contention between all three nations. Today, they still fought over it as a right of attrition. Because the land was always under dispute, none of the countries could claim supremacy over the area. As a result, it became a no-man's land devoid of rulers and laws. When there was no fighting, the place was filled with shady deals. Fists were the law of the land, while power was king.
All three countries had stationed troops at the borders of the area to firmly protect their borders against the imminent threat of attack. As luck would have it, Tianning Country had the largest disadvantage defending theirs. Northern Li's side was easily guarded with a Tri-Mountain Pass that made it nearly impossible for an attack to overcome their fortress. Western Zhou's borders were lined with mountains as well; though not as sturdy as Northern Li's, it was still difficult to overcome. But all Tianning Country had was an expanse of flat land.
Of all their national borders, this was the hardest one to defend, and their weakest point. Although Tianning Country's successive sovereigns had managed to construct a barrier there-the Southern Route Great Wall-it would be no match for Northern Li's ruthless troops if war really broke out! Tianning and Western Zhou had friendly relations thanks to their marriage alliances, so it was Western Zhou's army that helped to guard against Northern Li's assault. Now that Western Zhou's emperor had withdrawn a third of the troops right after Princess Rongle's decision to return, what did it mean?
This was clearly an undisguised threat!
Emperor Tianhui threw the report harshly aside as the officials and ministers in his study quickly fell to their knees, General Mu and Mu Qingwu amongst them.
"Abominable! Absolutely abominable!" Emperor Tianhui's temper erupted. He'd planned out everything so well. After the marriage alliance was set in the New Year, he'd immediately ask to meet with Western Zhou's emperor and discuss cooperation on military matters. They'd scratch each others' back and balance the fate of both countries while making long-term plans. But the New Year's celebrations hadn't even ended before news like this arrived!
War was the best method to test a country's comprehensive strength. In his ten years of rule, the relationships between the three countries had remained stable. Although a few skirmishes had occurred, they weren't major battles. As a result, even though the natural treasury was in debt, the problems with their lagging military hadn't grown apparent yet. What Emperor Tianhui feared most was a big battle. More specifically, he feared war breaking out at the Three-Way Battlefield.
The restless Northern Li already had covetous eyes on Tianning Country. It'd always wanted to fight its way in via the Three-Way Battlefield. Northern Li's emperor definitely wouldn't let such an opportunity pass once he got the news. Wouldn't he make a move next?
In the silence, Mu Qingwu bowed with his hands cupped together. "Your Majesty, Western Zhou is being an intolerable bully! Your subordinate is willing to rush to the Three-Way Battlefield and deploy troops and grain to guard the border!"
Mu Qingwu had always held reservations about the defensive strategies of the Three-Way Battlefield because Tianning was too reliant on Western Zhou. In the end, they'd only end up under someone else's yoke. The crucial point was to have strong troops of one's own. However, Mu Qingwu was still too young to see the root of Emperor Tianhui's worries. Even veteran generals had trouble seeing through him! Emperor Tianhui darted a glance at Mu Qingwu, an impatient look in his eyes. In the end, he dismissed everyone present.
"Your Majesty, Western Zhou's actions are clearly..." Mu Qingwu wanted to admonish further, but Emperor Tianhui cut him off with an angry shout.
Mu Qingwu was still adamant, but General Mu gave him a stern glare and dragged him away.
"Father, if the emperor tries compromise this time, what happens in the future? Besides, the Duke of Qin might not even agree! Should news of this spread, where is the Duke of Qin supposed to show his face? What about the self-respect of our Tianning Country?"
Mu Qingwu was very indignant. He knew that Western Zhou's emperor had made this move in retaliation for the failed marriage alliance. Just because of Princess Rongle's selfishness, Western Zhou's emperor was going to treat the long-term cooperation between their countries as child's play?
Or perhaps, Western Zhou's emperor had second thoughts about their alliance, and wanted to use this as an excuse to display his views?
Mu Qingwu was too busy to consider things from all angles. These were topics for the imperial strategists to ponder over. He only knew that if the emperor compromised this time, it'd be showing weakness to Western Zhou!
"Hush! That's enough!" General Mu knitted his brows as he hauled Mu Qingwu far away from the study. "Qingwu, you have to remember how an official conducts himself in court! And also, don't bring up the Duke of Qin so often before the emperor!"
Everyone knew that the emperor valued the Duke of Qin, but used caution against him more. The general's estate held military power in their hands, but the last thing they could do was get too close with the Duke of Qin.
"Father, even you're..." Mu Qingwu stopped himself as he saw His Highness Duke of Qin come from one side to head towards the study. He was about to walk over when his father suddenly spoke.
"His Majesty's long decided in his heart. It's not use coaxing him further. We're going back!" So speaking, he forcefully pulled Mu Qingwu away.
Long Feiye glanced at the Mu father and son pair, fully aware of the circumstances. His face was expressionless as he entered the imperial study. Inside, the express reports from the borders were still spread across the table. Emperor Tianhui was facing a map on the wall, his hands folded behind his back as his fingers twisted together. Long Feiye picked up a memorial to the emperor and glanced at its contents before tossing it on the table.
"Imperial Brother summoned chendi so urgently here. Is anything the matter?"
"Read those reports," Emperor Tianhui said coldly.
"I've read them," Long Feiye replied immediately.
"How did you see things?" Emperor Tianhui asked.
"Imperial Brother should seek out General Mu and the Ministry of War for military affairs. Chendi has never understood such things," Long Feiye was still very calm.
Suddenly, Emperor Tianhui broke out into laughter. "True enough. How could Zhen forget? The Duke of Qin never participates in military matters."
"If there's nothing else, chendi will take his leave first," Long Feiye actually dared to say such things out loud.
And yet, Emperor Tianhui only stated, "Eunuch Xue, proclaim the imperial edict!"
These were nostalgic words. About half a year ago, he and his brother had been the only ones in this study when Emperor Tianhui told Eunuch Xue to read the edict that gave him a deadline to marry Han Yunxi. Today, history was repeating itself.
Eunuch Xue walked out timidly and read from the imperial decree. This time, Emperor Tianhui wanted Long Feiye to marry Western Zhou's Princess Rongle. Not only that, he wanted Long Feiye to lead the wedding procession and hurry into Western Zhou to beseech her hand in marriage!
An emperor's orders couldn't be disobeyed, an imperial edict couldn't be defied.
In the end, one was a sovereign and the other, a subject.
Defying an imperial decree was a heinous crime!
When Eunuch Xue finished reading the edict, Emperor Tianhui slowly turned around to look at the Duke of Qin, who was kneeling one-legged on the ground. A mocking smile rose to his lips.
Long Feiye, you refused the toast, but now you're forced to drink a forfeit. Don't blame Zhen for being merciless. You had no choice when you married Han Yunxi, so it'll be the same thing this time as well!
"Duke of Qin, you still haven't accepted the edict yet?" Emperor Tianhui asked, amused.
Unexpectedly, Long Feiye stood up and said coldly, "Imperial Brother, this is impossible for chendi!"
If he married Han Yunxi because he agreed to compromise, then it would be the only compromise he made in this life!
 refused the toast...forced to drink a forfeit () - jingjiu buchi chifajiu, to hesitate to do something until forced to do even more.