The news of the defeat of Silan County and Wei Chongrong’s escape reached Helian Zhuo almost simultaneously. He was so furious that he scolded the messenger mercilessly and slammed his fist on the table with a hideous expression.
Helian Zhuo had never been regarded as a person with a good temper. The fickleness of his emotions was notorious. He could speak softly to someone for a quarter of an hour and then scold the same person for the next quarter of an hour.
Five years ago, while Helian Zhuo went to the Wusu Steppes to negotiate peace with Khan Vaziri, Wei Zhao successfully fled with his son.
After this incident, Helian Zhuo’s temper became even more irritable. Even his once favourite wife, Farida, angered him because of a trivial matter and was expelled from the palace when she was pregnant. Now she lived alone outside the palace.
Therefore, when Helian Zhuo was angry, the people around him would cleverly diminish their sense of existence so as not to get in trouble.
However, Herong Ling didn’t have such scruples. He had been able to put Helian Zhuo on the throne in the first place, and he had the means to pull him down today. There was no need for him to be afraid of Helian Zhuo’s anger.
Hearing the banging sounds coming from inside the room, Herong Ling still walked in, his face breezy as if he didn’t care about anything.
After entering the room, he glanced coldly at Helian Zhuo, found an unbroken chair to sit down on and asked rhetorically: “Five years ago, you should have thought of today, shouldn’t you? How many times did I remind you that Wei Zhao was the Fourth Prince of the Great Yan, not an ordinary person? Whether you liked him or liked to humiliate him, it was your personal business, I don’t care. But could you have done things more cleanly? If you gave him a chance to escape, you should have thought about how he would retaliate.”
Helian Zhuo stared straight at Herong Ling, his eyes clearly showing defiance, but he didn’t say a word. Because Herong Ling was right; if he had completely destroyed Wei Zhao back then, many things today might not have happened.
But he couldn’t bear it, he couldn’t bear to completely destroy Wei Zhao! Because that kind of Wei Zhao wouldn’t be the one he fell in love with. Yes, he loved Wei Zhao, and it was only after Wei Zhao left that Helian Zhuo discovered this truth that he didn’t want to admit.
Seeing that Helian Zhuo was silent, Herong Ling looked at him and said slowly: “You are still thinking about Wei Zhao, aren’t you?”
“I’m not!” Helian Zhuo denied it, answering incredibly quickly.
“Heh!” Herong Ling snorted coldly: “If not, how could you have sent a letter like that?”
“You intercepted my letter? Herong Ling, how dare you!” Helian Zhuo slapped the table hard, sat down in dejection and asked, “You ordered someone to hide the little bastard, didn’t you?” Although it was a question, his tone was very certain.
Except for Herong Ling, who else in Fuyu would dare to oppose him so openly? Only this bold guy, relying on his merits, had always done whatever he wanted and never took him into account as the king of the country.
Herong Ling rolled his eyes and said slowly: “You just go crazy by yourself, do you still want to drag me into going crazy with you? The little bastard’s father…” After he said that, the corners of his lips obviously turned up.
Helian Zhuo didn’t speak for a while, not caring about Herong Ling’s teasing. He just remained silent for a long time.
Herong Ling sighed and continued: “At the beginning, you asked someone to kidnap the Second Prince and bring him back. I was still thinking that you were finally smart enough to know you have to aim at the most vulnerable place of the enemy. But I didn’t expect that you were the same as my stupid sister…”
Helian Zhuo raised his head, looked at Herong Ling coldly and said sarcastically: “That’s your own sister, haven’t you always loved her the most? Now you feel you can’t stand her anymore?” If it hadn’t been for Herong Ling behind her back, he would have changed his Great Yan-zhi a long time ago.
“Shut up!” Herong Ling’s calm expression finally cracked as he said sharply: “What I never expected was that the first thing you thought of when the country was in trouble was still Wei Zhao.”
Yi Yin was such a good bargaining chip. Helian Zhuo had worked so hard to kidnap him even at the expense of losing the spies planted in Baicheng for many years. And he was not going to bargain with Wei Zhao on the important matters, he wanted to ask Wei Zhao to meet him alone. If it wasn’t crazy, what was?
Helian Zhuo was able to ascend to the position of the king of Fuyu because the Herong family contributed greatly. But the high positions of the Herong brother and sister were also what Helian Zhuo resented most. He stood up abruptly and said coldly: “Herong Ling, do you remember who the King is?”
Herong Ling showed no weakness, sneering: “I naturally remember, but I’m afraid you don’t remember. A king who refuses to defend the interests of the seven clans; I don’t think the lords of the remaining five clans will mind my suggestion to replace such a king.”
Fuyu’s system was not the same as the Great Yan’s, and the king didn’t have the centralised power of the emperor. Before the great-grandfather of Helian Zhuo, the position of the king was held by the seven lords in rotation. It was the Helian family that later monopolised the throne. As long as the lords of the other six clans unanimously opposed him, the king could also be replaced, not by someone from another clan, but by a suitable candidate from among the king’s brothers or sons.
Helian Zhuo’s brothers were gone, and there were only three sons. The eldest son Pei Di was Herong Ling’s nephew. If Herong Ling really gathered the other five clans to support Pei Di’s ascension to the throne, it would be no different from him becoming the king himself.
Herong Ling wasn’t joking, his tone was very serious, and Helian Zhuo felt a breathtaking sense of oppression.
He thought for a moment and then retorted: “What do you think I want Wei Zhao to come to Qingjia for? If the Great Yan launches an attack with all its power, even Tiele in its heyday wouldn’t be able to resist, let alone us… The emperor of the Great Yan is obviously no longer satisfied with taking back Youzhou. What he wants is the entire Sanhe Plain… In that case, do we still have a foothold? We can’t beat them on the battlefield, can’t we think of other ways?”
No one knew how much Wei Zhao cared about Yi Yin better than Helian Zhuo. If Yi Yin’s life was threatened, he didn’t believe Wei Zhao would refuse to submit.
Looking at the confident Helian Zhuo, Herong Ling felt his sense of powerlessness become even stronger. He had a feeling that if their family hadn’t taken a fancy to Helian Zhuo, but to one of his half-brothers, maybe he wouldn’t have to have such a headache at this moment.
After taking two deep breaths to calm down his emotions, Herong Ling looked at Helian Zhuo and said helplessly: “What do you want me to say? Do you really think that Wang Qin of the Great Yan is just like that stupid sister of mine, whose heart and eyes are full of only you and your son? Let me tell you, it’s impossible for Wei Zhao to come, but if you touch a hair on his son’s head, he will slaughter the entire seven clans of Fuyu!” Herong Ling had fought Wei Zhao on the battlefield, and he was convinced that what he saw there was the real Wei Zhao.
Therefore, he had changed the letter that Helian Zhuo had written to Wei Zhao, and also took Wei Chongrong outside the palace to protect him. Otherwise, once Wei Zhao refused Helian Zhuo’s request, Wei Chongrong’s life was in danger, and all of them might be buried with him.
With these words, Herong Ling walked away, leaving Helian Zhuo with no place to vent his anger, making him kick the chair Herong Ling had been sitting on. From the beginning to the end, he couldn’t escape the shadow of the Herong family; he had not done so before, and it seemed that he would never have the chance to do so in the future.
As far as Farida was concerned, Wei Chongrong couldn’t say that he had the slightest good feelings towards her. When the Great Yan-zhi designed to frame Wei Zhao, Farida didn’t hesitate to add fuel to the fire. It was precisely because of the exquisite cooperation of the two of them that Wei Zhao was severely tortured by the Great Yan-zhi and almost lost his life.
Seeing Wei Chongrong staring at her in a daze, Farida smiled and asked, “Your Second Highness, do you know me?”
She and Wei Chongrong had only met once, at the New Year’s Eve palace banquet that year. It was more than five years ago. At that time, Wei Chongrong was less than four years old. If he really remembered, Farida would be surprised by his good memory.
Wei Chongrong nodded; how could he not remember? Because of Princess Xin’an, Farida’s appearance was slightly similar to Wei Zhao. He once even wondered if Helian Zhuo had used Farida as Wei Zhao’s substitute.
But in this case, when Wei Zhao escaped, shouldn’t Farida have been more favoured? How could she live outside the palace with her son? This dilapidated small courtyard was really far from the palace.
Perhaps seeing through Wei Chongrong’s thoughts, Farida explained, “I don’t live in the palace, but I don’t live here either. This is a place for you to stay. The King’s people won’t come here looking for you, so you can live in peace.”
After listening to Farida’s words, Wei Chongrong looked around and found that although the house wasn’t large, it was well equipped with all kinds of facilities. He couldn’t help but ask, “Why did you bring me here? What good is there for you in it?”
From the moment Tuoba Xianhan stepped in to help him, things became very strange. Wei Chongrong couldn’t figure out the purpose of their actions; it just didn’t make sense.
Helian Zhuo’s original intention to kidnap him was very clear; he used him to blackmail Wei Zhao into submission. Although the methods were somewhat dirty, it made sense logically.
But what about Tuoba Xianhan, what was he after? The Tuoba clan was also one of the seven clans of Fuyu. His father Tuoba Naigang had just died. Whether he was the next lord or not, it was natural to avenge his father.
But he was so good that he not only saved the son of the enemy who killed his father, but did so at the risk of betraying the king, which was simply baffling.
Compared to Tuoba Xianhan, Farida was not much better. She was the princess of Tiele – of course, Tiele had been crippled by the Great Yan, her father handed in a letter of surrender and her brother went far away to the Western Regions – and she was also the left wife of Fuyu’s king. From any point of view, neither she nor Wei Chongrong belonged to the same country, and her actions were also suspicious.
Farida smiled and didn’t answer Wei Chongrong’s question, instead saying sharply: “Are you hurt? I see blood on your shoulder.”
Wei Chongrong looked down and saw that there were indeed some dark red marks on his right shoulder. He guessed that it was Tuoba Xianhan who had left them, so he shook his head and said, “I’m fine, someone else rubbed it on me.”
Farida didn’t ask any more questions and told Wei Chongrong to go to the back room to change clothes. When he changed, she had already taken Luojia away, leaving only a mute servant to take care of Wei Chongrong’s food and daily necessities.
Wei Chongrong thought about escaping, but the mute servant was so skilled that he couldn’t beat him, so he had to give up.
At the same time, in Silan County
Huo Qingyang stood in front of Wei Zhao’s room with the letter he had just received from the Fuyu messenger, hesitating.
For the past few days, Wei Zhao looked the same on the surface, but Huo Qingyang could imagine the anxiety in his heart. It had been several days since Wei Chongrong was taken captive, and there was no news of him. Wei Zhao had to command the siege, and he had to think about his son, so his inner torment was beyond what ordinary people could bear.
When Helian Zhuo, who had kidnapped Wei Chongrong, sent a letter, what he said there would certainly not be good, and Huo Qingyang was very worried.
Just as he was hesitating to reach out and knock on the door, Wei Zhao’s clear voice came from inside, “Qingyang, come in.”
Huo Qingyang entered the room with the letter in his hand, the expression on his face like the one of a child who had made a mistake.
Wei Zhao looked calm, stretched out his hand and said, “Give me the letter, I want to see what Helian Zhuo will do next.”
Huo Qingyang presented the letter with both hands and then stared at Wei Zhao’s expression, as if he could see the contents of the letter in this way.
After Wei Zhao read the letter, his expression remained unchanged and he ordered: “Qingyang, tell the Fuyu messenger that this wang will take the land south of the Arslan Mountains, whether Fuyu allows it or not, and there is no room for negotiation.”
Huo Qingyang was stunned. It seemed that he was right. The Fuyu people were very realistic. They didn’t expect Wei Zhao to give up the Youzhou they had already conquered. They just proposed a truce. They wanted to keep Qingjia City, the Baihe Plain and the Alihe Plain.
“Qingyang, didn’t you hear what I said?” Seeing Huo Qingyang stand still, Wei Zhao raised his voice.
Huo Qingyang regained his senses, bowed and said, “This subordinate will go right away.” Wei Zhao refused to agree to the conditions put forward by the Fuyu people. What should the little prince do? The desperate Fuyu people might really kill him…
What Huo Qingyang could think of, Wei Zhao could naturally think of too. Qingjia was located in the heart of Fuyu, and there were few Han people there, so it was much harder to plant a spy in Qingjia than it was for Helian Zhuo to do the same thing in Baicheng. It was not easy to rescue Wei Chongrong.
After conveying Wei Zhao’s meaning to the Fuyu messenger, Huo Qingyang returned and saw that Wei Zhao still maintained the same position, not moving, his whole body looking like a statue.
Huo Qingyang hesitated, walked over quietly and whispered, “Your Highness, you…”
Before he could finish speaking, Wei Zhao suddenly turned around, reached out to hug him and murmured: “Qingyang, don’t move, let me lean on you for a while, I’ll be fine soon…” That kind of invisible pressure was about to drive him crazy.
How would Huo Qingyang dare to move? His whole body froze, his hands hanging in the air. He didn’t even dare to touch Wei Zhao’s back and pat him gently to show comfort.
“Do you think I made a mistake?” Wei Zhao didn’t know if he was asking himself or Huo Qingyang.
Huo Qingyang had no answer, so he could only remain silent while maintaining his awkward posture.
Wei Chongrong fought with the mute servant every day, trying to escape, repeatedly defeated, but undaunted by his defeat.
Farida came once when she heard the news and warned him that Helian Zhuo had not given up looking for him and that he should be careful.
Wei Chongrong was unconcerned and continued to do his own thing. Wei Zhao’s army was approaching Qingjia City day by day. If he didn’t think of a way to escape, would he wait to be hung up on the city gate to threaten Wei Zhao? As for whether he could escape or not, it was a matter of doing one’s duty and listening to God’s will.
In fact, Herong Ling and Farida did have a dispute over how to deal with Wei Chongrong.
Herong Ling originally thought that with Wei Chongrong in his hands, Wei Zhao would make some concessions, but who knew that he wouldn’t give an inch. In this way, the meaning of the hostage was gone and it was only a matter of time before Qingjia City was broken, so Herong Ling was going to kill Wei Chongrong.
Farida disagreed. As long as Wei Chongrong was alive, everything could still turn around. If they killed him, Wei Zhao might really slaughter the city. She didn’t care if other people died or not, but her Luojia, she couldn’t watch him die. This was also her reason to save Wei Chongrong in the first place.
Helian Zhuo heard the messenger repeat Wei Zhao’s exact words and was speechless for a long time. The conditions proposed by Herong Ling were much milder than his original intent, but Wei Zhao still refused. It could be seen that in his mind, the success of the Great Yan was the most important thing.
Helian Zhuo narrowed his eyes slightly and asked someone to summon Herong Ling into the palace. He believed Herong Ling wouldn’t mind telling the whereabouts of his son now.
After understanding the martial arts routine of the mute servant, Wei Chongrong was no longer helpless against him. Unfortunately, the gap was too large and he was still unable to defeat his opponent, let alone escape.
Wei Chongrong sighed and lay listlessly on the ground in the courtyard, watching the faint starlight in the sky. Seeing that Wei Chongrong couldn’t get up, the mute servant came to pick him up. Wei Chongrong took the opportunity to attack him, but his right hand was caught and he was unable to break free.
Just when Wei Chongrong lamented that another sneak attack had failed, he saw a silver blade flash in front of him, and the mute servant holding him suddenly fell forward with a deep slash on his back. If it weren’t for Wei Chongrong’s quick reaction, he would have been taken to the ground with him.
Wei Chongrong raised his head in amazement and looked at Tuoba Xianhan standing opposite him, the scimitar in his hand still dripping with blood.
Tuoba Xianhan wiped the scimitar clean on the clothes of the mute servant, inserted it back into the scabbard and stretched out his hand to pull Wei Chongrong up: “Second Highness, come with me. Wang Qin refused to agree to any conditions. Lord Herong changed his mind and told His Majesty about your hiding place.”
Wei Chongrong froze in place, refusing to move, frowning deeply.