The smile in Qi Yan’s eyes was getting stronger.
“You have really grown up, unlike when you were a kid—”
“Not as easy to cheat as when I was a kid, right?” Xia Xun retorted.
Qi Yan’s smile gradually faded.
“Then guess who ordered them to go after you?” He asked Xia Xun.
Xia Xun didn’t think much and blurted out:
“It can only be Duke Chen. Lingnan is his fief, and only his interests can be involved.”
Qi Yan nodded in approval:
“You are right.”
He sat up straight and started talking.
The imperial court did not know that the mine in Douzhou produced jade. Duke Chen had deceived the emperor for many years. The emperor and the civil and military officials thought that it was just an ordinary gravel mine.
Duke Chen appropriated all the jade produced, then took out a little bit of money, bought the same amount of sand and gravel, and paid taxes to the state treasury.
A dan (100 litres) of sand and gravel only cost one tenth of a tael, while a small piece of jade was worth a fortune.
Over the years, Duke Chen relied on this jade mine, making an indescribable amount of money.
Lingnan was located in a remote area and Duke Chen covered the sky with one hand, so no one dared to leak the information.
He could do such a profitable business and could rest easy. He thought that he could continue his scam for a long time, until two months ago, Qi Yan suddenly went to Douzhou.
Duke Chen didn’t dare to neglect this fact and sent someone to follow him.
Qi Yan was extremely vigilant and got rid of the surveillance several times.
Duke Chen could do nothing, so he had to use his spy in Douzhou to monitor Qi Yan’s every move.
Qi Yan only stayed in Douzhou for two days, and Duke Chen’s informant had no way of knowing where he had gone and what he had done.
Oddly enough, when he left two days later, he was alone.
His personal guard Qi Hui did not accompany him.
Duke Chen didn’t dare to take it lightly and asked the informant to continue to monitor Qi Hui.
Soon after, the news came from the informant that Qi Hui had also returned to the capital, but he had taken a man from Douzhou along.
—This man was Xia Xun.
Xia Xun pondered:
“Duke Chen must have thought that you knew the secret of the jade mine, and I was the witness you secretly brought back to the capital.”
Qi Yan nodded.
“Your existence was like a thorn in his flesh and he would use any means to kill you. In order to clear his name, he deliberately found a group of men from Lingnan to get rid of you, preferably killing me, his rival in the court, as well if they could. In the capital, he tried to attack me several times, without success. Now that I was ordered to go to Qingzhou and was on my way, it was a perfect opportunity to strike.”
Xia Xun asked in confusion:
“Since you already knew about Duke Chen’s plan, why did you only bring Qi Hui as a guard when you went to Qingzhou? Why did you split with him in the first place? When you encountered the Bai Yue people following us in the inn, why didn’t you send someone to investigate them?”
Qi Yan smiled and shook his head:
“Before they tried to do something, I couldn’t tell whether they were Duke Chen’s subordinates or ordinary merchants. There was no conclusive evidence. Could I just arrest them and kill them all?”
What he said made a lot of sense and Xia Xun couldn’t find any loopholes.
After thinking for a while, he said softly:
“…So, you went to Douzhou to thoroughly investigate Duke Chen and brought me back to be your witness.”
Qi Yan straightened up:
“Not so! That’s not true!”
Xia Xun had never seen him so excited before and couldn’t help but be taken aback.
Qi Yan’s movements pulled his wounds. He clutched his shoulder and fell back with a grimace.
After a while, he calmed down.
He leaned against the cushion at the head of the bed, closed his eyes, exhaled a long shuddering breath and said hoarsely:
“…No, I didn’t go there for Duke Chen and I never thought about handing you over to anyone.”
He bent down, clenched his hand in a fist and pressed it against his forehead: “I will protect you. As long as I live, I won’t let you get hurt…”
Xia Xun looked out the window and asked again:
“How do you plan to deal with Duke Chen? Do you have evidence in your hand?”
Qi Yan’s tone was very tired:
“Duke Chen cannot stay. It is also His Majesty’s intention. As for the evidence, as long as His Majesty becomes suspicious, what evidence can’t be found? He had not been investigated before, only because of his status as a royal relative, and once His Majesty made up his mind, the information I had found was enough to give him a reason to order a thorough investigation…”
The more he said, the more listless he became, and in the end, he could only breathe quietly, leaning on the cushion.
Qi Yan was weak, and his seemingly vigorous spirit was only a result of his superior willpower. He needed to rest far more than Xia Xun, but he still had a mess to take care of.
Qi Hui walked in, helped him to lie down and lowered the bed curtain for him.
Qi Yan said to Xia Xun through the layer of hazy gauze:
“Go and rest too, I think your face doesn’t look good…”
Xia Xun stood still for a moment, then stepped out to face the rising sun.
He had one more thing he hasn’t figured out. What role did Fumeng Tancha play in it?
Qi Yan stayed in this small village for several days.
His injuries clearly closed, he was already moving freely and he would be able to ride a horse in a few days, but he just wouldn’t leave and even get out of the room.
At first, Xia Xun was happy to relax and have nothing to do, so he went to the pond by the magistrate’s office to watch the fish.
Zhi Gui was by his side. She was in a bad mood. Once no one paid attention, she showed a sad expression.
Xia Xun comforted her:
“Don’t worry, no matter how long it takes, Qi Yan will eventually go to Qingzhou and you will definitely be able to see your family.”
She nodded, her expression still unchanged, as if she had hardly heard it.
After a few more days, Qi Yan still didn’t leave. Xia Xun ran out of patience and went to his room to find him.
When he entered, Qi Yan was cleaning his sword. It seemed to him Qi Yan looked very good, not sick at all.
“When will we leave?” Xia Xun asked.
Qi Yan put away his sword and motioned for him to come over:
“I only learned a few days ago that the wine here is very delicious. Come and try it. The degree of alcohol is not high and the taste is sweet.”
There was a bowl of milky white wine on the table, Xia Xun picked it up and smelled it, then took a sip:
“Okay, I have tasted it, and we can set off.”
Qi Yan said helplessly:
“It’s a waste to give you such a sweet wine.”
He picked up the bowl, touched the place where Xia Xun had just drunk with his lips, and drank it all.
After drinking the wine, he deliberately glanced at Xia Xun. Seeing his impatience, Qi Yan almost laughed out loud:
“Really can’t wait? We are not in a hurry to leave. I have asked Qi Hui to report to the capital, saying that I was attacked, seriously injured and unconscious. Even my life is in danger. I can’t be sure if Duke Chen has any more tricks up his sleeve, so why not fool him first and let him think he’s got me? Then, when he’s relaxed, he’ll reveal himself.”
Xia Xun said coldly: “Then how long will you wait?”
Qi Yan asked him rhetorically:
“I am an official sent by His Majesty to Qingzhou to handle official duties. I was injured, but His Majesty did not send anyone to express concern over my health. Don’t you find it strange?”
Xia Xun was taken aback and wondered:
“His Majesty knows about your strategy? During this time, he will send someone to keep an eye on Duke Chen in the capital so that he has no opportunity to attack you again?”
Qi Yan smiled and nodded.
“When His Majesty asks about my injury, it will be a signal for me. At that time, we can continue on our way.”
Three days later, before news from the emperor arrived, an unexpected visitor appeared at the county magistrate’s office.
The visitor, dressed in goose yellow and wearing a cloak with a hood, rode the horse to the magistrate’s office gate.
Before the horse stopped, the rider jumped off and rushed straight into the office, not giving the guards a chance to block the way.
Xia Xun was sitting on a bench in the courtyard, bored and dazed, watching the rider rush straight ahead.
The rider saw him, stopped abruptly, lifted the hood and cried out:
—It was Chen Jingyin.
She rushed towards Xia Xun:
“Master Xia! Are you there too?! How is Lord Qi’s injury? Is it serious? Has he awakened?!”
Xia Xun was stunned by her questions:
Chen Jingyin said anxiously: “As soon as I knew that Qi Yan was injured, I wanted to find him! But my father stopped me and wouldn’t let me go no matter what! After I pretended to be a good girl for a few days, my father thought that I had dispelled the idea of leaving the house. Last night, while my family was not paying attention, I went over the wall and rode a horse all night, and then arrived here!”
Xia Xun blinked, not knowing what to say:
“You’re… so brave.”
Qi Hui came out of Qi Yan’s room, walked up to Chen Jingyin and saluted her:
“Miss Chen, my lord is awake, please come in.”
Chen Jingyin immediately left Xia Xun behind and ran into the room.
Xia Xun was surprised. Qi Yan was never warm to her. He thought he would tell her to leave. Why did Qi Yan deliberately invite her in regardless of etiquette today?
While he was stunned, another young man dismounted outside the gate.
The man was thin and tall, looking clean and well-bred. After he dismounted, he did not forget to thank the guard who took the horse.
The guard asked him, “Who are you?”
He said, “I am a relative of the lady just now.”
The guard let him in.
He walked in slowly, and when he passed Xia Xun, he thought he was Qi Yan’s attendant, so he saluted and said softly:
“Please don’t be offended with Miss Chen’s intrusion.”
Xia Xun was dumbfounded: “You are… who?”
The young man was a little shy:
“I am an old friend of Miss Chen. We grew up together and still are in contact. I understand her temper, and I also know that she treats Lord Qi… When she knew that Lord Qi was injured, she did everything possible to rush here. I prepared my horse early and waited outside Chen Mansion. When I saw her come over the wall last night, I escorted her here all the way.”
Xia Xun nodded. He knew that the young man likely had another reason for his actions that he did not mention.
Chen Jingyin’s escape from home and private meetings with men were the things that could disgrace her family.
This was a poor and isolated place, where men and women lived together. No one could tell whether the rumours would spread out.
As far as she was concerned, she could ignore everything, but after all, she was the daughter of Duke Chen. If her parents learned about it, they would hardly let her off easily.
The young man came to accompany her deliberately and also to cover up for her.
If the things went wrong, he would probably take all the blame on himself and save Chen Jingyin’s reputation.
He knew that Chen Jingyin admired Qi Yan with all her heart, but he was willing to sacrifice so much for her.
Xia Xun couldn’t help but glance at him a few more times.
The young man looked very humble. When he finished speaking, he saluted again, turned and followed Chen Jingyin.
He didn’t go into the house, though, just waited on the steps in front of the door.
Xia Xun watched for a moment and walked up there as well.
Unlike the young man, he moved further and looked into the room through the half-open door.
With just a glance, he understood why Qi Yan wanted to invite Chen Jingyin into the house to talk.