"Do I even need your teaching to choose whom I wish to marry?!"
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The next day, when Li Qingcheng got up, the entire room was filled with a delicate fragrance. He didn't know when, but colored, glazed vases containing piles of snow had been placed all over the room; they were crystal clear, their color sparkling and translucent, with fresh-colored, red plum flowers planted inside as well.
Li Qingcheng stood up in a daze; he only found that there were vases everywhere, be it on the cabinet, on the table, on the pot rack, or by the couch. The whole room was filled with a fragrance that blew away unease and gave peace to people's hearts.
It was so comfortable. Li Qingcheng stretched his body and discovered that the snow inside the vases had yet to melt, while the dewdrops condensing on their sides were slowly dripping. When he turned his head, he saw that Zhang Mu had already tidied up. Wearing a crimson military robe with black boots and a golden belt, he looked incomparably handsome as he sat on the table writing something.
"Mu-ge, did you pick these?" Li Qingcheng smiled and sized Zhang Mu's side profile up from a distance, only feeling that even though there was a burn scar on his face, this imperial bodyguard's marred appearance had a kind of indescribable resoluteness.
Zhang Mu nodded his head as he crumpled the paper in his hand into a ball, throwing it away, before coming over to Li Qingcheng to help him clean up his face. As he bent down to fix his belt, Li Qingcheng suddenly grabbed Zhang Mu's fingers and toyed with them.
Zhang Mu didn't retract nor respond and just let Li Qingcheng hold them as he pleased. Li Qingcheng asked, "Is the wound on your back better?"
Zhang Mu silently nodded. Li Qingcheng didn't know whether to laugh or cry as he said, "Talk a bit more, can you?"
Zhang Mu: "Okay."
Li Qingcheng had no more interest after that; he finished getting ready and passed through the corridor with Zhang Mu by his side. He then saw Fang Qingyu and Sun Cheng having a chat. Sun Cheng busily got up and did a proper greeting rite, yet Li Qingcheng brushed away his sleeves as he said, "In the future, you will be coming back and forth between the two mansions, there is no need to always stand on ceremony."
Sun Cheng felt at ease and gave a smile as he nodded his head. "The day before yesterday, this humble me failed to recognize who he was dealing with and wasn't aware it was Your Highness."
Li Qingcheng knew that Sun Cheng was Sun Yán's trusted subordinate. Since he knew Li Qingcheng's identity, it was convenient for him to pass on messages to him. Moreover, he also didn't mind, so he just picked up the tea and smiled. "That's fine. What are you talking about?"
Sun Cheng replied, "It is regarding our third young master. Last night, when Yán-ge told me to come over, our third young master overheard and wished to come over to meet his older sister's husband."
Li Qingcheng asked, "Isn't your house's third child a girl?"
Sun Cheng was speechless. A moment later, with his face looking a bit strange, he stammered out, "That... Your Highness, our third... third young lady was raised as a man ever since she was a child, and is undisciplined and out of control at home. She always dressed up as a man, and since Elder Brother only spoiled her, nobody at home dared to disturb nor defy her. Today, this little brother came over to inform Your Highness first, that when Your Highness sees..."
Li Qingcheng was between laughter and tears. It turned out that Sun Yán's youngest sister was actually a tomboy. But on second thoughts, she was only 12. Early youngsters had always liked to play around, so there was really no way to see for now.
"That is, to treat her as a boy ba." Li Qingcheng smiled. "I understand. Bring her over this afternoon, I'll also see her then."
When the servant of the house had finished preparing the meal, Sun Cheng took it as a cue for him to leave and head to the east residence. Li Qingcheng said, "Everyone sit down, let's eat together. Before returning to the palace, there is no need to abide by the rules."
Several people sat down. Fang Qingyu observed Li Qingcheng's red lips and white teeth, that handsome and elegant appearance, and couldn't help but smile. "How was your sleep last night?"
Li Qingcheng ambiguously made an "en" sound. Pursing his lips, he felt that there was a kind of amorous feeling that couldn't clearly be explained nor understood, making the area between his eyebrows creased. "Has the third young master of the Suns ever come to the capital? I don't remember the past, so who is going to inform me of what's important?"
Fang Qingyu said, "I think not, this girl..."
Li Qingcheng: "Boy."
Fang Qingyu: "?"
Li Qingcheng ordered, "Treat the other person as a boy and be done with it. Don't ask any more questions."
Tang Hong became confused. "So they’re a boy or a girl?"
Li Qingcheng said, "A kid who has never been to the capital. Sun Yán mostly sent him over so I would become familiar with his face and reward him in the future."
Tang Hong murmured, "Here comes another brother-in-law ne. You're doing nothing, yet somehow still get a brother-in-law."
Li Qingcheng spoke, "Are you complaining about the fact that you don't have a younger sister to be sent to the palace to become the empress?"
In the afternoon, Sun Cheng led the 12-year-old Sun Xin into the west mansion to pay a visit. On this warm winter morning, Li Qingcheng was in the courtyard practicing his palm strikes. Sun Xin watched Li Qingcheng complete the moveset "Flying Eagle Palm" from the corridor afar and suddenly mocked, "Your method in learning the art isn't right."
Li Qingcheng looked to the side. Even though Sun Xin was only twelve, he was very good-looking and was taller compared to Li Qingcheng at his age, reaching up to his shoulders.
"My method isn't right?" Li Qingcheng asked.
"Your center is askew," Sun Xin bluntly said. "The Zhang family's martial arts has 13 styles that use one move to shoot the enemy down as its key point; it is a ruthless and precise style, but in your hands, it has turned into a flowery fist with just fancy footwork."
Li Qingcheng straightened up and stood tall as he sized Sun Xin up from head to toe with a gaze loaded with mockery. That gaze aroused Sun Xin's anger at once, making him shout, "What are you looking at?!"
Li Qingcheng narrowed his eyes before shaking his head and suddenly asked, "Do you also know how to do this moveset?"
Standing on the side, Zhang Mu's eyes were filled with warmth. He opened his mouth and said, "Many Western Plains' people can do the Eagle Martial Arts, but none practice the proper, orthodox method."
Sun Xin didn't reply and Li Qingcheng continued, "Your Sun family's traditional martial art is the Plum-Shattering Fist, am I right? The secret skills are all passed down to the di lineage, but not the shu lineage. Since you know the move to kill the enemy, you might as well tell me, how many people have you killed? This brother-in-law cut off Arius the Xiongnu King's hand and killed 20,000 people in the Feng Pass. Younger brother-in-law, how about you?"
Sun Xin immediately turned speechless.
Li Qingcheng smiled. "Sit ba. Staying here also bores me. Since you know Ting City well, wouldn’t it be better if we..."
Sun Xin mocked, "No, I came here carrying a message, after that I'll go."
Li Qingcheng sat down by the pavilion and smiled without care toward the other's business. "Younger brother-in-law, what a greeting you gave me; it truly makes it difficult for me. The matter you came over for today, did you even tell your older brother?"
Sun Xin wasn't the slightest bit afraid and instead coldly replied, "Don't try to be intimate and easily call me 'younger brother-in-law.' Don't you know that my older sister has never wished to marry you? If you're even a bit tactful, quickly get out of the Western Plains, the Sun family doesn't like you."
Zhang Mu turned to Sun Xin's direction, but Li Qingcheng quickly berated, "Halt!"
Sun Xin stepped back a half a step and pinched his fingers, forming a sign as his eyes drifted continuously toward the corridor in preparation to run away at any time.
"Your older sister doesn't want to marry me." Li Qingcheng was pretty much overjoyed. "Did you think I want to marry your older sister? Your older sister and I don't know what each other looks like and have never met before, so for her to not want to be married off is just right. In the future, don't cry and crawl over to me to beg for it.
"Today's matter," Li Qingcheng flicked his sleeves as he said, "you can wait until the time is right and tell Sun Yán yourself. Let's see how he reacts once he hears this; it’s sure to be very wonderful. Someone, see the guest off."
Sun Xin gasped for breath, and his breathing became rushed; he then slowly retreated before turning around and running away without ever looking back. Zhang Mu stepped forward, but Li Qingcheng just said, "Stop, are you seriously going to chase over a kid?"
Li Qingcheng said again, "You also heard, Mu-ge."
Zhang Mu stiffly replied, "No."
Zhang Mu's expressions were both unclear and uncertain as he bowed to Li Qingcheng. "Sun Xin's words don't count. The marriage has been decided since five years ago, and Sun Yán is a man of his word. When the news of the crown prince's death came from the capital, the Sun family's young lady lived as your widow; you can't let the Suns down."
Li Qingcheng was stunned at first, but realizing that Zhang Mu was pleading for leniency for Sun Xin, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "What does this have to do with you?"
Zhang Mu: "When you grow up, you still have to get married."
Li Qingcheng was simply baffled at this. His complexion turned dark as he coldly said, "Mu-ge, you're interfering too much ba."
Zhang Mu didn't know Li Qingcheng's moods, and with both eyes just staring at the ground, he said, "This subject thinks that Your Highness should promise him first."
Li Qingcheng asked, "Promise him what?"
Fang Qingyu's voice traveled from the other side of the corridor and carelessly said, "What Zhang-xiong means is for Your Highness to first promise Sun Yán regarding marrying his younger sister. This way, both sides can each have room to save the situation. Sun Xin must've been aware of his elder brother's intentions to come running here to pour such a remark."
Li Qingcheng said in a cold tone, "Where is he? Call Sun Xin back, I have something to ask him."
Fang Qingyu sneered. "You didn't order me to before, so the person had run away without a care. Before I came over, I saw him outside and his expression wasn't right "
Li Qingcheng: "How to promise him? His younger sister has already sent herself to the imperial palace, her life or death unknown. And in the future, when he's returning to the capital, there's also no way to know whether she's still alive or not..."
Zhang Mu said, "She has lived as a widow for you. Even if she's dead, if you marry her in name, she will still be crowned this way."
Annoyed, Li Qingcheng interrupted him, "What are you talking about?! Are you stupid?!"
Li Qingcheng knew that Zhang Mu meant for him to promise Sun Yán first. If he was fortunate enough to reenter the capital and Sun Yān was still alive by then, she would be conferred as his empress, and if she was dead, she would still be given a posthumous title as the former empress.
Fang Qingyu scrutinized Li Qingcheng's expression and slowly said, "This may, after all, be accepted as a possible method."
Actually, regarding this topic, Fang Qingyu rarely agreed with Zhang Mu. Zhang Mu didn't utter a single word as he looked at Li Qingcheng expectantly, as if he was waiting for him to nod.
However, Li Qingcheng's heart gave rise to a fiery feeling that couldn't even be named. He questioned Zhang Mu, "Why do I have to marry her?! Fang Qingyu, get lost! This matter is none of your business!"
Seeing that the atmosphere wasn't right, Fang Qingyu turned around and left. Li Qingcheng also didn't mind him, and grabbing Zhang Mu, he threw a barrage of strings at him. "Have you talked with Sun Yán? Tell me the truth about everything you talked about. Why does she enter the capital and marry Li Gong while I'm forced to wear Old Six's worn clothes? Is it because her brother wants to give me silver? Do I marry the Sun's silver or do I marry her?!
"If you want to be the sounding-board, then go be one! As long as the Suns are willing to assist me, I'll also have something to promise them! You also heard it, his sister doesn't want to marry me! Don't mention this again in the future! Stop scolding me all the time!"
Zhang Mu: "No. I will mention it again. You must marry."
After going silent for a moment, Li Qingcheng agitatedly roared, "Zhang Mu! Do you understand human speech or not!"
Li Qingcheng's heart was full of anger with nowhere to vent; it was hard for him to calm down, and it didn't feel right when he tried to think about it. Regarding this matter, both his sense and reason told him it was reasonable, but no matter what words were said, as long as it was Zhang Mu who opened his mouth to say them, he could hardly stop himself from getting angry.
If another person were to say this, maybe Tang Hong or even Fang Qingyu, Li Qingcheng just wouldn't feel at ease, and he would say at most some words before sending them away. However, he didn't know why, but when Zhang Mu mentioned this matter, Li Qingcheng became indescribably flared up, as if someone was pulling his shoulder and continuously pushing him outward.
"Forget it." Li Qingcheng calmed down a little.
Zhang Mu knelt down on one knee, pondering for a moment, then suddenly saying, "Mu-ge's teaching is not good."
At this, Li Qingcheng flared up once again. He shouted at Zhang Mu, "How dare you! Do I even need your teaching to choose whom I wish to marry?!"
Zhang Mu was startled and hurriedly covered it up. "I meant the Eagle Martial Arts......"
Zhang Mu realized that Li Qingcheng had truly been stirred up. He himself wasn't good at words and could only change the subject. He thought for a long time, racking his brains to come up with coaxing words, but instead, Li Qingcheng misunderstood; it just added fuel to the fire and made him even angrier.
Li Qingcheng was furious and didn't want to talk anymore. Zhang Mu immediately got up and followed him, but Li Qingcheng turned around and said, "Don't follow me! Get lost to the corner and face the wall!"
Zhang Mu stood, stumped for words, while Li Qingcheng returned to the front hall alone. Seeing Fang Qingyu sticking his head out and snooping around outside the hall, Li Qingcheng used all his might to ruthlessly give him a kick.
In the hall, as Li Qingcheng sat behind the screen, he felt a bout of irritation. A soldier brought over a tea, and after Li Qingcheng drank a few sips, his breathing calmed down a bit.
Fang Qingyu: "Actually, there is no need to do it exactly like that. Qing-ge has an idea to keep you satisfied."
Li Qingcheng: "What idea?"
Fang Qingyu: "To just crown an empress first ba, we'll just cross that bridge when the time comes. For now, it doesn't matter whether she lives or dies. Since the Suns are watching on the side, just give them an empty promise."
Li Qingcheng impatiently said, "My heart is just not content. Previously, I didn't mention this matter and yet still had to reluctantly worm my way into being friends with Sun Yán. Didn't you hear what he said?"
Fang Qingyu sneered. "You go promise them, leave the other matter to me. A dead empress is also an empress, it's just a matter of stabbing someone." The implication was to actually stab Sun Yān, whom he had never met, on the first day they entered the main capital.
Li Qingcheng said, "What kind of rotten idea is this?! A monarch doesn't go back on his word. What he says is what he does. Moreover, what crime does that woman have? Do you think everyone is stupid? Each time you bump into something, you always solve it by killing. I haven't even settled an account with you about the previous matter of killing Provincial Officer Wang. You're even more stupid than the mute, both of you are trash!"
Fang Qingyu, in deadly earnest, coaxed Li Qingcheng like a child, "Don't you see Qing-ge is afraid your heart will be choked up with anxiety? Don't be mad. Moreover, if you don't give your word to his family, Sun Yán will most likely not declare his position."
Li Qingcheng's mood got slightly better, and he also knew that Fang Qingyu meant well on his behalf. After contemplating for a while, he coldly said, "If he doesn't declare his position, I will make him do so. Get someone. Call over Tang Hong for me."
When Tang Hong entered the hall, Li Qingcheng said, "Do you know how to enlist and dispatch a spy?"
Tang Hong thought for a while before saying, "Yes, but it can't be done now. It will take at least three months."
Li Qingcheng got a headache and just asked, "Why?"
Tang Hong answered, "My father had once taught me how to raise a spy. First, we must choose crafty people to be trained, and then nurtured after that. We also must watch for an opportunity to infiltrate the enemy. It really is not something that can't be done in one hour or so. What do you want to ask about?"
Li Qingcheng said, "I want to dispatch 50 people out. I want them to mingle on Ting City's streets or inns and inquire about all kinds of matters in the city. Since relocating here, at the moment, we are simply blind and lack knowledge. We aren't clear about the situation inside the city and also have no information as a reference if we want to do anything."
Tang Hong said, "We've only been here for two days, Your Highness. Those agents, I will teach them. Currently, our men are all Northern Border's former bandits, and for them to pretend to be the people of three doctrines and nine schools, it isn’t easy for foot soldiers at all. Since the city is also full of the Sun family's property, their influence must be intricated. If we're not being careful enough, it's easy to beat the grass to scare the snake."
Li Qingcheng spoke, "There's no time to lose, I don't have patience."
Tang Hong replied, "We can't rush it, that's the truth."
"How many days will it take to sneak into the provincial officer's manor?" Li Qingcheng asked.
Tang Hong said, "I can't say, but I estimate it to be a year."
Li Qingcheng said, "If you don't work to make a living, how can you be a general in the future?!"
With a sullen face, Tang Hong replied, "Your Highness, even if you let my father take over this job, it still can't be rushed. In those days during the former emperor's battle in Feng City, my father had been preparing for no less than three years before sending spies to infiltrate the Xiongnus' territory."
Li Qingcheng: "Enough, enough."
Fang Qingyu suddenly chimed in, "I'll help Tang Hong ba."
Li Qingcheng asked, "You know how?"
Fang Qingyu smiled. "I'm also the son of an aristocratic family. Although most of my family is on the righteous path and not as familiar with the dark path, I can still be of some use."
Li Qingcheng perfunctory replied, "To have help from more people is always better than none. You and Tang Hong are in charge ba."
Tang Hong's heart stirred, opening his mouth to say, "The Zhang family had once been a famous clan of martial artists from the Western Plains'; they walked both the righteous and dark path. Zhang Mu might......"
Li Qingcheng side-eyed him. "Even if he knows how, do you think with his temper, he has the capability to teach people? Say he does teach them, do you think those people will be able to comprehend?"
Tang Hong thought the same thing, so he just waved his hands before going to work.
That afternoon, when the gatekeeper suddenly reported that there were people coming to visit, Li Qingcheng put down the scroll in his hand. Coming out of the screen as he rubbed the tips of his nose in passing, he changed to a face full of smiles and amiability before ordering people to serve tea for the guests.
Numerous people had come to visit, and all of them were actually covered in dust. Their clothes and facial features varied; there were old women, younger madams, some boorish men, and also scholars. In the hall, a big man took the lead, while the rest of the people stood on the ground area. There were still more than dozens of people standing outside, crammed in the courtyard as they stretched their necks and looked around.
Li Qingcheng was startled at first before realizing that these were all Jianghu's people. He smiled and said, "All of you are......"
In a fine voice, a thin person answered, "Ying-zhu called us here. Is there a young brother surnamed Zhang in your residence?"
Li Qingcheng understood at once. He saw Tang Hong probing in the courtyard and said, "Call Zhang Mu over."
As soon as the word came out, several people inside the hall shuddered. The leader, that big man, wasn't aware of the depth of things and probed Li Qingcheng out, "May I ask what is Young Master's surname?"
"Li," Li Qingcheng gladly provided. "Have a sit ba. Bring in some chairs. We've barely finished cleaning up the residence and have been inconsiderate to our guests, neglecting all of these brothers."
With each side having their own thoughts, there was only silence in the hall. Since it was the first time Li Qingcheng had to face so many people of unknown origins, he didn't know how to deal with the situation for a moment. After a few sips of tea, a madam suddenly smiled and said, "I remembered, Young Master was a distinguished guest of the Mt. Yingyu's manor in the past."
Li Qingcheng's eyes lit up and smiled as he said, "You recognize me?"
The madam was all smiling. "This humble lady was once working in the manor, doing odd jobs, when she saw Young Master's face from far away then. Later, this lowly one heard that the mansion had been burned down. Young Lord Ying's whereabouts were unknown, and this lady only heard that he, with a bundle of cloth on his back, had traveled to the capital; people haven't seen him for years. Fortunately, heaven has given us its blessing. Early this morning, Boss Liang called all of us brothers who have scattered around Jia and Ting Province for more than ten years, and informed us that Ying-zhu is still alive. That's why we came all the way."
The more he listened, the more confused Li Qingcheng became. "Boss Liang is..."
"It's me, it's me." The big man hurriedly got up before cupping his fist in greeting, and Li Qingcheng returned the salute. The big man continued to introduce the madam who had spoken to him earlier, saying, "This person is the Jiaoqiao Immortal, Fen'niang..."
Li Qingcheng vaguely guessed something. Raising his eyebrows, he asked, "Are you familiar with E'niang? She was the one who cured my illness."
"Lady Divine Doctor! How could we possibly not recognize her?!" everyone said one after another, and it suddenly turned into a lively discussion. Someone soon said, "Turned out, Young Master is also a Daoshang. Looking at this, we've been going around for too long."
An old woman got up and smiled. "E'niang is my teacher. What kind of sickness does Young Master have? Let me see?"
Although Li Qingcheng's status was noble, he still knew how to respect his elders, and he quickly got up to give up his seat. The old woman moved over with her trembling knees and sat down on the chair by the table, before reaching out her hand to examine his pulse.
"Where do the Young Master's teachings originate from?" a scholar asked with a smile.
Li Qingcheng laughed self-deprecatingly. "I was lazy when I was a kid. This little bit of kungfu is all taught by Mu-ge."
There was some kind of inexplicable feeling in those people's eyes. A moment later, the old woman pulled her hand and said in a low voice, "Have you ever had a serious illness before?"
Li Qingcheng smiled. "E'niang has given me a prescription. Now, I'm more or less better."
The old woman slowly nodded. At this time, he saw Tang Hong coming over from the side door with a meaningful gaze in his eyes.
Li Qingcheng raised his eyebrows. "Where's Mu-ge?"
Tang Hong: "There's no one in the room."
Li Qingcheng frowned. "How could you not find him? He was still in the garden just now. Nobody has seen him go out either... Excuse me for a moment."
After excusing himself from the people inside the courtyard, he turned around and passed through the corridor and toward the garden.
The room was empty, and the corridor was deserted. Li Qingcheng's gaze swept all around, and when his eyes reached the rockery, he saw Zhang Mu standing there, lost in thought.
Li Qingcheng remembered the scolding this afternoon and the sentence "go the corner and face the wall" he had said. Unexpectedly, this blockhead really stood motionless all afternoon in the corner; he couldn't help but find it funny.
"Wei," Li Qingcheng said.
Zhang Mu turned sideways and watched Li Qingcheng attentively.
"Your Majesty?" Lin Wan's voice sounded in his ears.
Li Xiao woke up from his dream-like state in a daze and raised his head.
Xu Lingyun was lying on the couch, sleeping soundly. Li Xiao was in the outer room inspecting scrolls on his desk, but he had accidentally fallen asleep.
The third wick of the oil lamp had already been burned, and outside, the color of the sky indicated it was almost the time for the sun to rise. Lin Wan was wearing an embroidered robe as she lowered her body to kneel.
Li Xiao said, "Empress, you may forego the formalities. This king was too fascinated, he had been reading for the whole night." It suddenly occurred to him that just now, after all, was that a dream or was that recorded in the book?
Li Xiao looked down and flipped through the book, making a noise in the process, and saw that inside The Historical Records of Yu, there was only a paragraph recording the visit of Mt. Yingyu's former subordinates, and there was nothing regarding that night. At once, his train of thought became full of chaos.
Xu Lingyun vaguely said, "Mu-ge?"
Li Xiao didn't hear it properly, but he realized that he was still in Xu Lingyun's room. His sword eyebrows furrowed slightly, and he signaled Lin Wan to quickly go out. A country's monarch running away to an imperial bodyguard's bedroom, was it not very improper? He quickly put down the book and let Lin Wan go out.
A vast sky full of stars gradually disappeared, and the eastern sky gave rise to the marble white, fish-belly color of the dawn sky. Li Xiao and Lin Wan were walking side by side, when Lin Wan suddenly said, "The person who followed Your Majesty had waited for too long outside, and he dared not come to disturb Your Majesty. This lowly wife thought that Your Majesty was sleeping in the Yingnu's room, and wanted to come over to have a look. The autumn weather is getting colder, Your Majesty should not work too hard in inspecting documents."
Li Xiao said, "Just casually reading a random book, it doesn't matter."
Li Xiao had already forgotten about that trivial matter of a small fire during the evening meal, and Lin Wan was also sensitive to not mention it again. The emperor and empress both returned to the hall to have a rest. At dawn, a eunuch began to chant and urged for the Son of Heaven to hold court.
Li Xiao slept in a daze, and his short dreams were all about the stuff inside the book. Quickly forgetting the unhappiness regarding the Autumn Hunt a few days ago, he got up in a hurry and put on the Tianzi Crown before getting into the carriage to go to morning court.
Only until he arrived at the Taihe Hall and got off the carriage did Li Xiao remember about yesterday's threat at morning court. At once, he felt that even if he had more than one head, it wouldn't be enough to solve the matter. Alas, the person had already arrived beside the entrance to the hall; he couldn't walk off, nor could he curse, and had no choice but to harden his scalp and go listen to the crying and chirping of those full-of-words great officials and ministers.
Giu has drawn a video illustration for the first scene of Chapter 24! Check the video here!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.