Qi Hui stood in front of Xia Xun.
“Impossible! Lord Chu, there must be a misunderstanding!”
Chu Anyu asked him back: “Then tell me, whose idea was it for Lord Qi to come to Tongchang teahouse?”
Qi Hui stuttered: “That…”
Chu Anyu looked at Xia Xun.
“It was the suggestion of this attendant surnamed Dong, right? Those archers have already confessed, saying that they got information that Lord Qi had a man surnamed Dong with him and that he would find a way to lure Lord Qi to Tongchang teahouse for the archers to assassinate him.”
Qi Hui was stunned, asking Xia Xun, “Young Master, is it really you?”
Xia Xun just looked at Qi Yan, ignoring them, giving no response.
Chu Anyu said sternly: “What are you waiting for? Arrest him!”
The soldiers swarmed up and grabbed Xia Xun, dragging him away.
Xia Xun’s soul seemed to be missing, so he didn’t resist at all.
But Qi Yan did not let go.
Even when he was injured so badly and unconscious, he still firmly clenched Xia Xun’s wrist.
When the soldiers saw this, a few more people came up and started trying to unclench Qi Yan’s fingers.
It just made Qi Yan grip harder.
Xia Xun’s wrist was throbbing in pain. He woodenly lowered his head, looking at Qi Yan’s hand. His little finger had been unclenched but the remaining four still clutched Xia Xun’s hand, not letting go.
Qi Hui made up his mind and flung himself down on his knees in front of Chu Anyu: “Even if the young master is really an inside man, Lord Chu can’t take him away!”
Chu Anyu said angrily: “The assassination of a court official is a major crime punishable by beheading! Why are you protecting the criminal?! Could it be — you are his accomplice?”
Qi Hui stepped in front of Xia Xun.
“Qi Hui doesn’t know the law and doesn’t know if he is a criminal! All I know is that my lord is injured and dying. He is still alive because the young master is here! If Lord Chu takes him away, my lord will not survive!
Chu Anyu flicked his sleeves in anger.
“Ridiculous! You are talking nonsense! Someone, drag Qi Hui down too!”
Qi Hui drew out his sword: “Lord Chu, if you want to kill me, I’m at your disposal. But if you insist on taking the young master away, Qi Hui will have to fight with you!”
Chu Anyu pointed at him and cursed.
“How dare you! I’m the governor of Qingzhou, appointed by His Majesty, why should you, a servant, behave so disrespectfully in front of me? Someone, give me—”
Xia Xun spoke up, his voice very low.
“There is no need to shout. When Qi Yan wakes up, I will surrender myself and be at the disposal of the governor.”
Chu Anyu’s eyebrows rose.
“Since when is it the prisoner’s turn to negotiate terms with the authorities?! This official—”
He swept a glance at Qi Yan on the bed and saw his pale profile and the heavy bandages wrapped all over his body.
The two stab wounds on Qi Yan’s body were oozing blood; the bandages were obviously wrapped very thickly, but the blood was still coming through.
He wasn’t sure what Qi Hui was up to, but he could tell that Qi Yan was extremely injured.
At this time, if he acted rashly, in case what Qi Hui said was true and he aggravated Qi Yan’s injuries, he had no way to justify himself in front of His Majesty.
Thinking of this, Chu Anyu snorted coldly.
“Humph! This official will let you go for now! But you cannot stay here like this. I will send people to surround this room and as soon as Lord Qi’s injury is stable, I will immediately arrest you for questioning!”
Xia Xun coldly said: “Lord Governor can do whatever he wants. But can you tell your men to stop touching Qi Yan? His fingers are about to be broken.”
Chu Anyu gave an order and the soldiers temporarily stopped.
He gave Qi Hui a fierce glare and retreated outside with his men, then sent a small group to surround the house where Qi Yan was. As soon as Qi Yan woke up, these people would immediately escort Xia Xun away.
Qi Hui put his sword away, while Qi Yan’s fingers that had just been unclenched regained their grip on Xia Xun’s wrist.
Xia Xun sat on the floor in a rather uncomfortable position, with his upper body leaning on the edge of the bed.
He rested his head on the back of his hand, his eyes looking out the window at the sky.
Qi Hui found a soft cushion for him to sit on, but Xia Xun refused.
Shortly after, Zhi Gui appeared outside the room. The soldiers at the door stopped her from entering, and Qi Hui himself stepped in and brought her in.
She had changed into a new dress and tied her hair in a simple bun.
She walked up to Xia Xun.
Xia Xun raised his eyes to look at her: “Why didn’t you leave yesterday…?”
Zhi Gui blinked and said: “This slave was planning to leave but could not rest assured… could not rest assured about the young master and the lord. I always felt guilty in my heart and did not leave immediately. If I had, how would I have the opportunity to save the lord?”
She told Xia Xun that the night before coming to Tongchang teahouse, Qi Yan found her.
That night, Qi Yan called her to his room. As soon as she saw him, her heart was in turmoil, and without waiting for him to ask, she told him the whole story without reservation.
At the end, she knelt on the floor and kowtowed to Qi Yan.
“This slave made such a big mistake and caused the lord to be injured, but the lord did not pursue the matter, so this slave has no way to repay you.”
Qi Yan asked, “Xia Xun guessed it? What did he tell you to do?”
Zhi Gui took out the jade belt hook.
“This was rewarded to this slave by the young master. The young master told me to take it and find an opportunity to leave when we arrive in Qingzhou.”
Qi Yan looked at it for a moment and said: “This thing was originally given to him by me. Since he gave it to you, you can take it. You can leave today, your deed of sale, I will have someone find it and burn it, but… maybe I won’t have a chance to go back to the capital…”
The last sentence he said in a whisper. Zhi Gui was so immersed in shock that she barely heard it.
She stared at him with wide eyes. “This slave, this slave betrayed the lord and caused you to be injured! You did not punish me and actually — even letting me leave?”
Qi Yan glanced at her and did not say a word.
Zhi Gui clutched the jade belt hook and kowtowed three times to Qi Yan.
“This slave will never forget your great kindness! Tomorrow, let this slave go with you to the teahouse and make a pot of tea for you for the last time!”
Qi Yan did not react, only said: “As you wish.”
Zhi Gui said a thousand thanks, feeling awkward and not knowing what to do with her hands and feet. Qi Yan waved his hand, somewhat distracted: “Go down, I want to rest now.”
Zhi Gui bowed deeply and withdrew, full of gratitude.
Before she walked out, Qi Yan suddenly asked: “Zhi Gui, are you from Hu?”
Zhi Gui said: “My lord, you have excellent eyesight, this slave’s ancestors do have the blood of Hu, but by my generation, it was quite thin.”
Qi Yan pondered and murmured: “No wonder… no wonder…”
And now, in front of Qi Yan’s bed, Zhi Gui said to Xia Xun:
“That was the last thing the lord said to this slave. Yesterday evening, you and the lord arrived in the teahouse. The lord then asked me and Qi Hui to leave, deliberately telling us to go farther from the teahouse. Later, Qi Hui found something was wrong, wanted to rush in, but found the teahouse doors locked. No matter what, he could not open them. He did not have time to care about me and rode the horse to Qingzhou City to bring help.”
Zhi Gui could see that something big must have happened in the teahouse. But by then, it was already dark and Zhi Gui didn’t have a torch. She groped in the darkness, somehow found a small door that was not closed and pushed the door in.
In the backyard of the teahouse there was the lake; she saw the lake banks full of archers and did not dare to move, hiding in the grass.
Soon, Qi Hui arrived with his men and the chaos started.
The archers were quickly captured and Xia Xun was rescued from the lake by Qi Hui, but no one could find Qi Yan.
She remembered that she had learned to swim when she was little, so she took off all her jewellery and her outer robe, tied her hair on the back of her head, and jumped into the lake.
The bottom of the lake was pitch black, vaguely lit by torches on the shore, and with her eyes wide open, she searched hard and finally found the unconscious Qi Yan at the bottom of the lake.
She took advantage of the buoyancy of the water and pushed him out to the surface.
Xia Xun asked her, “At that time, when Qi Hui left with his horse, you had a chance to leave, why didn’t you?”
Zhi Gui said frankly: “This slave considered to return the kindness of the lord, otherwise I was afraid to live this life with a guilty conscience.”
Xia Xun did not say anything.
Zhi Gui looked at Qi Yan worriedly.
“It’s just that… I don’t know when the lord will wake up?”
Qi Yan’s body was hot, his fever not subsiding; even the hand holding Xia Xun’s wrist was carrying an appalling degree of heat.
The skin of Xia Xun’s wrist was white from Qi Yan’s grip, and because he stayed in the same pose, his arm soon went numb and gradually lost any feeling; but he could still sense the blazing heat coming from Qi Yan’s palm.
Qi Yan was very good at enduring pain.
During this time, the doctor changed the medicine on his wounds many times; the pain must have been unimaginable but he did not make a sound, just frowning at the most painful moments.
Most of the time, he seemed to be asleep, lying motionless on the bed, his expression blank.
He was willing to die at Xia Xun’s hands, and he was willing to suffer the injuries and pain that Xia Xun caused.
That night, Qi Yan’s state suddenly worsened.
The two wounds began to bleed constantly; roll after roll of bandages were changed and the doctor put nearly a hundred silver needles in his body but could not stop his bleeding.
The doctor was so nervous that he was sweating profusely, but there was nothing he could do.
Not long after, Qi Yan began to vomit blood. Qi Hui hurriedly picked him up so that he would not choke on his own blood.
“My lord, wake up, my lord! Don’t do this, please, Qi Hui… is scared!”
His eyes were full of hot tears, and he choked on his words.
Qi Yan vomited blood, as if trying to vomit out all his internal organs.
Xia Xun could not think, he just wanted this blood to stop, so he covered Qi Yan’s mouth with his hand. The hot red liquid flowed all over his fingers, sticky and burning. Qi Yan’s lips brushed over his palm from time to time, feeling cold and reminding him that Qi Yan might be leaving him.
Xia Xun raised his hand, his fingers thinner and more dry than normal, and gently wiped Qi Yan’s face.
His blood-stained fingertips swept over Qi Yan’s cheeks, the bridge of his nose, and finally rested on his forehead. His pale face was smeared with blood from Xia Xun’s touches, looking hauntingly fragmented.
Xia Xun’s patting his face gradually calmed Qi Yan. He stopped vomiting blood and fell into Qi Hui’s arms, in a coma again.
Xia Xun withdrew his hand and looked at his palm. His hand was coloured in a miserable red, as if it was once again burned by a blazing fire.
Perhaps it was the realisation that Xia Xun was by his side, or the doctor’s needles and medicine finally worked, but Qi Yan’s wounds no longer bled.
After a day and night of unconsciousness, at the break of dawn, Qi Yan actually opened his eyes.
His consciousness had not yet fully returned, and coming round was only instinctive. After Zhi Gui gave him medicine, he passed out again.
But everyone was relieved, because the doctor said that this meant his injuries were no longer getting worse and there was hope that his condition would progress in a better direction.
Chu Anyu didn’t wait a moment longer and immediately sent someone to arrest Xia Xun.
Both Qi Hui and Zhi Gui tried to stop Chu Anyu’s men, not allowing them to seize Xia Xun.
Xia Wen picked up the wooden shackles, weighed them in his hand and said:
“You do not have to interfere. Qi Yan’s wounds are indeed my doing. What’s more, spending time in prison is nothing new for me. Even these shackles are well known to me and I carried them for a long time. Don’t worry about me, you should take good care of your lord.”
He put the shackles on and urged Chu Anyu:
“Lord Governor, why don’t we go? Or do you want to invite me to a sedan chair?”
Chu Anyu said angrily: “Slick talk! Take him away!”
Xia Xun thus went down to the dungeon of Qingzhou City, and three days later, Qi Yan regained consciousness.