After cruising back and forth on the river in a small boat, Xia Xun finally managed to get ashore. Xia Xun’s bun was tilted to one side and Qi Yan’s clothes were covered in a lot of suspicious stains.
Xia Xun tied up his hair casually and said to Qi Yan:
“This is what you call a cruise ship?”
Qi Yan patted the dust off his body:
“Now we’ll go back to the inn, just in time for lunch. Isn’t it better than staying in the room in a daze?”
At lunch, in the lobby on the first floor of the inn, Xia Xun was no longer surprised when he saw a group of Lingnan people again.
He pretended to be calm, glanced casually in the direction of those people, and quickly retracted his gaze.
—There were three Bai Yue people, as before, all of them new.
He listened to their conversation quietly and there was nothing abnormal in what they said. They talked of the road being hard, of them not being used to the feng shui of the north and being unable to eat or sleep well.
At first glance, they were no different from ordinary travellers.
Xia Xun still felt strange and decided to tell Qi Yan about it.
Qi Yan was not surprised at all, picked up a chicken drumstick and put it in Xia Xun’s bowl:
“This is the biggest one, eat while it’s hot.”
Xia Xun didn’t move his chopsticks: “You don’t believe what I said?”
Qi Yan shook his head and said:
“I will always believe what you say, I have noticed them a long time ago.”
Xia Xun stared at his face:
“Who are they? Why are they following you?”
Qi Yan smiled silently. Maybe he didn’t know the identity of their pursuers, or maybe… he didn’t want to tell Xia Xun.
Seeing that, Xia Xun stopped talking and took a bite of the chicken drumstick, only to be scalded by the hot juice under its skin.
He quickly spat it out, the juice flowing out and burning the back of his hand.
Qi Yan took out his handkerchief and wiped it for him.
“I didn’t expect it to be so hot.” He looked guilty. “Are you okay? Are you scalded?”
Xia Xun sucked in the cool air, unable to speak.
Qi Yan squeezed his chin and pulled his face closer, trying to see if his mouth was scalded.
Xia Xun raised his hand to push him, and the chicken drumstick he had just bitten fell to the ground and rolled away.
Its golden skin was covered in dirt, not fit to be eaten anymore.
Both Qi Yan and Xia Xun looked in the direction where the chicken drumstick fell. After a while, they laughed.
“I meant well, but I wasted food.” Qi Yan picked up another one and put it in Xia Xun’s bowl. “This is the second largest one. This time, remember to blow on it before eating.” ”
While waiting for the chicken drumstick to cool, Xia Xun again brought up the matter just now:
“How do you plan to lure those Lingnan people away?”
Qi Yan no longer delayed and said to Xia Xun:
“The old way, split up and move forward.”
After the meal, while the Lingnan people could not see, Zhi Gui and Qi Hui got into the original carriage and left Binzhou.
According to Qi Yan’s plan, they would follow the official road all the way north, passing through Changwu.
And he and Xia Xun would take another way and bypass Changwu City.
If nothing happened, both parties would meet in Taichang County before dark.
In order to conceal his identity, Qi Yan’s new carriage was very dilapidated and the horse pulling it was extremely skinny.
As soon as they got in, the carriage wheels creaked and the rafters seemed to be about to break.
Xia Xun said coldly:
“If those people have a different plan and catch up after discovering your trail, you and I will never escape in this carriage.”
Qi Yan didn’t care. He was wearing a straw hat that he had found from somewhere, holding a whip and driving leisurely:
“This matter is so secret, how can outsiders know about it? To tell you the truth, I have already seen those Lingnan people riding horses and following Qi Hui out of the city.”
Xia Xun was still not at ease:
“How do you know they don’t have a back-up?”
Qi Yan glanced at him lightly, teasing:
“When you were a child, you were so resolute when encountered difficulties. You couldn’t wait to be the first one. Why are you so worried about the future when you’re grown up?”
He still was in the mood to joke with Xia Xun, which showed that he was quite sure.
Xia Xun put down the curtain and sat back in the carriage. Somehow, he still felt uneasy. Perhaps, as Qi Yan said, as he got older, his courage diminished.
As the carriage moved forward, Xia Xun remained vigilant and listened carefully to all the movements coming from around him.
Half an hour later, the carriage was driving steadily on the country road. He gradually relaxed, his fatigue slowly increasing.
He propped his chin and started falling asleep. When he was very drowsy, the carriage entered a forest.
The trees there grew extremely densely, the treetops connected to each other. Together, hundreds of large trees formed an endless green dome. The leaves covered the sky and the sun. At noon, you couldn’t see the sun when you looked up.
In the shade, a late spring breeze that was supposed to be warm and gentle, felt chilly.
The Bai Yue people they met a few days ago caught up with them at this moment.
Xia Xun was awakened by the sound of galloping horses. He shivered in a sudden shock and leaned out of the window to look back.
Not far away, several Bai Yue riders were approaching quickly.
Xia Xun exclaimed, “Qi Yan! They are chasing!”
Even before he said that, Qi Yan waved the whip and the skinny old horse galloped wildly, stimulated by pain.
But Xia Xun and he both knew that it would not last long.
“Why did they catch up so quickly?!” Xia Xun asked loudly: “Even if they found out that you were not sitting in Qi Hui’s carriage, should they find your whereabouts so fast?!”
Qi Yan’s expression was solemn.
He kept swinging his whip, but the speed of the carriage was obviously weakening, and the corners of the old horse’s mouth were foaming. The Bai Yue people quickly got closer; soon the distance between them and the carriage was only half of the body of the horse.
Qi Yan drew out his sword and said sharply:
“Hide in the carriage! Don’t come out no matter what happens!”
Before Xia Xun could withdraw, the sharp light of the blade flashed before his eyes.
The leader of the Lingnan people raised his sword and stabbed him. Xia Xun didn’t have time to dodge.
Qi Yan suddenly tightened the reins, and the carriage slowed down abruptly. The man couldn’t react. His fast horse passed by Xia Xun.
The moment he looked at him, Xia Xun saw the man’s face clearly and couldn’t help being startled. He felt that the face looked familiar.
Qi Yan yelled at him:
Xia Xun came round and quickly hid in the carriage.
Outside the carriage, the old horse was stabbed to death. Qi Yan was surrounded and attacked.
He drew his sword and parried with a clanging sound of the blades colliding.
From the carriage, Xia Xun looked at the faces of those people, anxiously searching for clues about their identity.
Why did he think these people looked familiar? Did they meet back then on the streets of Lingnan?
The Bai Yue people surrounding Qi Yan touched him frequently but always missing his vital points. Some of them looked at Xia Xun from time to time and tried to approach the carriage but were stopped by Qi Yan.
As they couldn’t get to Xia Xun for a long time, their expressions turned anxious.
Xia Xun suddenly realized.
It turned out that he was wrong. They were not following Qi Yan, their target was Xia Xun.
Did Qi Yan know about it a long time ago?
So… he didn’t actually want to use Qi Hui to lead away the chasers. On the contrary, he wanted to lead this group of people here and solve them for Xia Xun himself?
But who would send someone to assassinate Xia Xun, who had nothing? Could he pose a threat to anyone?
Xia Xun couldn’t understand it.
There were six attackers, with an advantage in numbers, but Qi Yan’s swordsmanship was superb and three people were seriously injured in a short time.
The others found that he was not easy to deal with and decided not to fight him head-on, exchanging glances.
Two of them attacked Qi Yan again, and the third one took advantage of Qi Yan’s distraction, pulling out a crossbow from his sleeve.
Xia Xun had seen this kind of crossbow in Lingnan. It was very small and could be folded, but it was far more powerful than ordinary bows.
The man assembled the crossbow, put on the arrow, pointed it in the direction of Qi Yan and was about to shoot.
Xia Xun poked his head out and yelled: “Watch out!”
Who knew that it was a trick, and the person he really wanted to shoot was Xia Xun. He deliberately aimed at Qi Yan just to draw him out.
When he saw Xia Xun looking out of the carriage, he turned around suddenly, directed the crossbow at him and launched the arrow.
It seemed Xia Xun could see the arrow flying in the air in slow motion.
He heard Qi Yan’s heartbreaking cry:
He blinked and looked sideways at Qi Yan. He seemed to have never seen him so distraught.
Trying to stop the arrow, Qi Yan was stabbed twice, the swords of the Bai Yue people leaving deep wounds on his body.
Without turning his head, he struck, the blade of his sword slashing the throats of the two of them precisely.
The two men fell to the ground in an instant, turning into two silent corpses.
Qi Yan’s wounds continued to bleed, but he felt no pain. He tried his best to send his sword forward in front of Xia Xun, trying to cut off the arrow in mid-air.
Xia Xun turned his head, looking in the direction of the arrow.
The arrow was very close to him; he could even clearly see the pattern on the nock.
It was too late.
As he thought so, he looked at the face of the man with the crossbow again.
In such a moment of crisis, Xia Xun finally recognized his face and he knew who he was.
But the arrow was already in front of him, would Xia Xun still have a chance to speak?
Qi Yan’s movements were fast enough, but he still couldn’t stop the arrow in mid-air. He watched it fly over and go straight to Xia Xun’s heart.
Qi Yan didn’t hesitate and stood in front of the carriage window.
The crossbow arrow carried a vast power, passing through his right shoulder, making his blood spurt in the air and finally nailing him to the edge of the window.
Xia Xun was speechless, frozen on the spot without even uttering a cry.
Seeing that he missed, the man tried to fire a second shot.
He had just raised his hands to set up his crossbow when Qi Yan’s sword struck him.
The man reacted quickly, twisting backwards, but it was too late.
Qi Yan didn’t let him go. His sword cut the man from his chest down to his abdomen, ending his life in one blow.
A gust of wind carried the smell of blood floating around. All the Bai Yue people who came after them lay on the ground, none of them able to stand up.
Before Xia Xun could take a breath, Qi Yan clutched his shoulder and fell to the ground.
Xia Xun jumped out of the carriage, rushed to his side, helped him up and let him lean on his arms.
Qi Yan was covered in blood and his eyes were a little lost.
Xia Xun panted heavily, tore off his sleeve and tightly wrapped the wound on his shoulder pierced by a crossbow arrow.
Qi Yan grasped his hand and Xia Xun felt that his palm was covered in cold sticky sweat.
“Leave me here…” Qi Yan said haltingly. “They have more people, someone might come to help them at any time… Less than ten miles ahead, there is a village… Go there, go to the local magistrate… just say—”
Xia Xun interrupted him:
“Ten miles of road, even if I run, it will take two hours to go back and forth. Even if there are no chasers behind, your injury will not last for this long.” Xia Xun heard his own voice sounding very calm. “You are badly injured. If I leave… you will die.”
Qi Yan took a breath, then smiled at him with his eyes curved.
At this moment, when he was seriously injured and bleeding, his gaze was still affectionate when he looked at Xia Xun.
“No… I finally got you back, how can I be willing to die…” He said it with a smile, but then his eyes closed: “I still have a lot to say, I didn’t tell you… I…”
His body went limp and he slipped out of Xia Xun’s arms. His face pressed to the ground, mercilessly stained by dust.