Chapter 111: Making a Move
When Lian Shengjie saw that Pang Xiao was still intent on committing homicide, he screamed bloody murder and scrambled for his life. His panicked scrabbling barely put him out of reach of the second sword strike.
Pang Xiao’s sword, seemingly unhappy about missing its target, bit deep into a decorative end table. It sank halfway into the table, but the latter remained intact. Pang Xiao yanked at his blade, but it stubbornly clung onto the table. Cursing under his breath, Pang Xiao promptly let go of his sword and grabbed Lian Shengjie’s collar, giving its owner a no holds barred punch.
The minister, now the proud future owner of a magnificent black eye, yelped in surprise and pain. His other hand grabbed Pang Xiao’s wrist as he started to yell, “Pang Zhixi, how dare you beat an official of the court! I’m going to censure you, censure you!”
“Hit me back if you’re man enough to! You only know how to tattle!” The aggrieved minister was gifted another punch, this time to his rather significant paunch.
“I won’t give you the chance to censure me!” Lian Shengjie doubled over, clutching his stomach. He attempted to struggle, but was quickly overpowered by Pang Xiao. “I’m going to criticize you so harshly that you lose every last position you have!”
“Whatever!” Pang Xiao tossed Lian Shengjie onto the ground and sat astride him. Without a moment of hesitation, he then commenced giving the minister the beating of his life.
It was right about then that the rest of the group finally processed the events that happened after the ‘my woman’ declaration. Zheng Pei rushed frantically forward and restrained one of Pang Xiao’s arms.
“Little prince, you’re being too impulsive! He’s the supreme commander!”
Undeterred by the loss of an arm, Pang Xiao got in a kick. “That’s exactly who I’m beating up!”
Qin Yining’s brains had long since turned into mush as she stared dumbly at Pang Xiao. No wonder his secondary name was ‘Zhixi’! He’s Pang Zhixi! She’d always thought that there was more than met the eye with this person. Indeed, he was the young prince who was known to kill without blinking; someone who made others tremble at the sound of his name!
So why is he in the Great Yan capital? What is his relationship with Priestess Liu? She recalled that the emperor was taking Priestess Liu’s pills. Pang Xiao’s father had died because of her own father’s plots, so theoretically, he should hate all Qins. Why had he helped her again and again? If he had any ulterior motives, why had she never felt any hostility from him?
Pang Xiao looked back and shook his hand, flicking his eyebrow at Qin Yining with a smirk. That smirk went all the way to his eyes, saying, “Well? Feeling good after I beat that old fart up?”
Qin Yining’s face burned; she had no idea what she could say. Pang Xiao was treating her the same way he had before, but she didn’t know how to face him…
Lian Shengjie kept a hand clapped over his new black eye and scrambled to his feet. Zheng Pei walked forward to help the supreme commander up, but was pushed roughly away.
“Pang Zhixi, you’re involved with the Great Yan grand preceptor’s daughter?! You’re a traitor to Great Zhou!!”
“Since when was I involved with her?”
“You SAID so just now!”
“I just fell in love with her at first glance!”
“You’re just making things up!!”
“I’m the one who beat you up and I’m the one who likes Miss Qin. If you can show the emperor proof of my treason, do whatever you want. But then again, you need to be alive to show him.” Pang Xiao’s words fell like iron, and he strode towards the tent flap. Just before he ducked out of the tent, he turned to glance at Qin Huaiyuan and Qin Yining.
Qin Huaiyuan’s gaze was calm and unfathomable as he returned the gaze. Pang Xiao didn’t pay much attention to him, but flashed a half-smile at Qin Yining again before leaving in high spirits.
Qin Yining’s heart pounded at this smile, and she subconsciously hid behind her father. Qin Huaiyuan looked at the bruised Lian Shengjei with a frown on his face.
Zhang Pei heaved a sigh and glared at Qin Huaiyuan, then at Qin Yining. He stomped his foot.
“What sheer, utter trouble!” He too also left with a flourish of the sleeves.
The momentarily raucous tent returned once again to peace, broken only by the sounds of Lian Shengjie’s pained moans. The negotiations had yet to be concluded, but the Great Zhou host had been beaten black and blue right in front of them. Both Qin Huaiyuan and Cui Wenqing had no idea what to do.
Lian Shengjie finally clambered to his feet with the support of a subordinate and staggered outside.
“Sir Lian, our negotiations…” Cui Wenqing chased them.
“What negotiations?! Don’t you see that my lord is injured? You come with no sincerity at all and dare ask us about the negotiations?” The sub-commander shouted harshly at him before carefully helping his lord away.
“Grand Preceptor Qin, what should we do about this?” Cui Wenqing was quite anxious.
“Don’t fret. Negotiations are never completed in one day. They always take time. We’ll stay here for now and see what happens. We can continue on the morrow.”
Cui Wenqing was greatly reassured to see Qin Huaiyuan so composed. When he thought about the farce that had just happened, he couldn’t help but curse under his breath. “Great Zhou is so treacherous! I heard that Pang Zhixhi was stripped of his former command because he was too arrogant to bother taking orders! The Great Zhou emperor sent Lian here, but Pang Zhixi is still full of resentment. He left the camp for a few days a while back to express as much. Now he’s used our gathering today to make trouble because he wanted revenge on Lian, but he shamelessly dragged Miss Qin into it and destroyed her reputation. He is truly despicable!”
“What can we do when we’re under another’s roof?” Qin Huaiyuan sighed. “Sir Cui, let’s make camp here for tonight and see what the situation becomes tomorrow.”
“You speak truly, sir. Let’s settle here for tonight.”
Qin Huaiyuan, Cui Wenqing, and Qin Yining left the main tent and headed east for their own territory. The father daughter duo entered their own tent after bidding Cui Wenqing goodnight and had their guards remain a yard away from their tent.
“Father, I didn’t know he was Pang Zhixi.” Qin Yining kept her voice low even in her urgency.
Qin Huaiyuan waved off his daughter’s explanation. “I know, this isn’t your fault.”
“But he still messed up our matters today!”
“Darling Yi.” Qin Huaiyuan smiled as he patted her head. “I’m actually not angry that he barged in to ruin the proceedings. I’m in fact, very grateful to him.”
Tears welled up in Qin Yining’s eyes at her father’s words. She thought back to Lian Shengjie’s disgusting behavior as if no one else had been in the tent, and how he’d treated her like an actual whore in front of her own father and other strangers. If she really was a typical noble daughter ingrained with the importance of her virtue, she would’ve hanged herself right then and there to prove her innocence. And yet, her father had tried his best to protect her in those crucial moments.
“Father, I’m really very touched that you wanted to protect me. But we can’t defy the emperor’s decree. We have to report back to the emperor that the talks failed today, and you won’t be able to defend yourself if he blames you for that. What if he says that you don’t care about the country because you weren’t willing to give up even a daughter? He’ll accuse you of blithely ignoring the safety of the nation. If… if Lian does this again next time, you… you should just give me up.”
Qin Huaiyuan knew that his daughter was right, but how could he bear to give up his only child, and one that looked so much like a younger version of him and had such a likable personality?
“I’ll think of another way. Don’t worry, my daughter.”
Qin Yining lifted her head abruptly and looked up at her father through teary eyes. Qin Huaiyuan’s heart melted at the sight. It took him a moment to compose himself as he patted her lightly on the head again. “My biggest regret in this life is that you didn’t grow up by my side. We haven’t reunited for long, and we always seem to be apart from each other.”
Qin Yining’s grin was so wide that it squeezed the tears from her eyes.
“Silly girl, what are you crying for?” Qin Huaiyuan offered his sleeve to wipe her tears away. “If you’d grown up at my side and with my dedicated education, you’d be much superior to all of the common men out there. All we have to do is obey the emperor’s decrees. He told me to bring you, and so I brought you. But if Great Zhou themselves aren’t willing to negotiate, we can’t just force you onto them, can we? How can he blame me for that?”
“Father means…” Qin Yining’s eyes widened as she quickly grasped her father’s meaning. “That Pang Zhixi’s antics today were in pursuit of this goal as well? He beat up Lian so that it’s Lian’s fault everything failed and not ours?”
“That’s most likely what he meant to do.” Qin Huaiyuan’s eyes narrowed as a deep look entered them. “I can’t really see through him. From your description of him before, I felt that he had unplumbed depths, but today we’ve seen that he really is unordinary. It may look like he’s unbridled and headstrong, but he has his own reasons for his actions.
“It’s said that he has many unconventional tactics when you face him in battle, that he always has a surprise up his sleeve. He also doesn’t play by the rules in their court. Some say that he’s a mighty, proper man who refuses to be humiliated, but there are others that say he’s simply a demon incarnate who acts like a little bastard in front of the emperor. There are all sorts of rumors about him and even his own emperor can’t keep him fully under control. Today is also the first time I’ve really met him, so I’m a little uncertain as to what he really wants.”
Qin Yining listened to her father’s analysis and matched them up to Pang Xiao’s constant teasing whenever they interacted. But somehow she didn’t really hate him. Whatever it was, she’d gained a deeper understanding of his ways today.
“Let’s leave it for now. It’s been a long day for you, so go on back to rest. There are men everywhere in the camp, so be careful.”
“Understood. Good night, father.” Qin Yining curtsied and took her leave, a Great Yan soldier showing her the way back to her tent. Due to the prevalence of men in the campground, Qin Yining’s tent was purposefully cordoned off by a wooden fence. It was built on the north side of camp, and the large tent looked rather lonely and isolated all by itself in the middle of the fence. There were two soldiers standing guard on the outward side of the fence.
Qin Yining didn’t light the lamps after returning to her tent. She washed her face and changed in the darkness, then took out a dagger that she’d snuck out of Xihua and placed it under her pillow before going to sleep.
Over the next few days, the negotiations were caught in a peculiar quagmire. Lian Shengjie claimed to be ill after being beaten up by Pang Xiao and didn’t show his face. Because he was the host of the talks, there was no point in discussing further if he didn’t come out to sign and seal the agreements.
The Great Yan party were able to wait patiently for the first two days, but imperial decrees fluttered forth from the capital like startled birds from the third day onwards. Xihua wasn’t too far from the capital, so the emperor’s words essentially came one after another. Qin Huaiyuan received messages every two hours that lambasted him for his sheer and utter incompetence.
The decrees, although using different words, were all the same. Qin Huaiyuan was incapable. Qin Huaiyuan was useless. Qin Huaiyuan was trash. He had brought his daughter but refused to offer her. If he’d simply offer her, the peace talks would’ve concluded successfully a long time ago. Was Qin Huaiyuan harboring thoughts of rebellion in not presenting his daughter?
Although Qin Yining lived alone, she heard the loud proclamations from the eunuchs with the imperial decrees everyday. The decrees verbally flayed Qin Huaiyuan alive, and she couldn’t help but start to worry for her father. It looked like the emperor was truly panicking. He wouldn’t use so much manpower and resources otherwise, and now had become so frantic that he was discarding all of his dignity.
It was the seventh day of the peace talks, and Lian Shengjie was still cooped up in his tent, ‘sick’ and refusing to sign and seal the agreements. On this particular night, Qin Huaiyuan received the harshest criticism yet. The emperor had called him a ‘senile dotard’ and ‘worthless, menial slave’!
The girl knew what Lian Shengjie was doing. He wanted to recoup face and was waiting for them to send her over because he hadn’t had his fill that day. And it was true, her father hadn’t offered her up the past couple of days. Could she just stay under her father’s protection like this? Wouldn’t she then be the death of her father? When Qin Yining’s thoughts travelled that far, she suddenly sat up and looked at the skies outside.
It was dark already, well past the hour of the dog.
She clenched her teeth and made up her mind, taking the dagger beneath her pillow and hiding it in her sleeves. She fixed her hair and flung on the pale-green cloak with the white fox-fur collar, leaving her tent and making straight for the Great Zhou encampment.