The words “This is not a place to stay” were clearly written on Tuoba Xianhan’s face, and Wei Chongrong didn’t hesitate for long before following him out of the small courtyard where he had been confined for several days.
Wei Chongrong had never lived in Qingjia City, and he was completely unfamiliar with the route, and he didn’t know where Tuoba Xianhan was taking him. But he believed that Tuoba Xianhan wouldn’t harm him, because there was no need for that.
After they walked for half of the night in the dark, Tuoba Xianhan stopped in front of a dilapidated house. Wei Chongrong didn’t know what was going on, so he stopped when Tuoba Xianhan stopped, and looked at the surrounding environment curiously.
Tuoba Xianhan unlocked the rusty copper lock and entered the house quietly. Wei Chongrong, following suit, also walked very lightly, as if afraid of scaring someone. In fact, there was no one in the house, and a thick layer of dust lay on the furniture.
Tuoba Xianhan pulled out two stools from somewhere, sat on one himself and offered the other to Wei Chongrong.
Wei Chongrong didn’t bother to be polite, took the stool and sat down, and asked seriously: “Can you tell me the reason now? You have to have a reason to save me, but when I think about it, I can’t think of it.”
Tuoba Xianhan lit an oil lamp; the light was dim, barely illuminating his face. He took off his robe, tore off the bandage wrapped around his right arm, and asked instead of answering: “Do you like to get to the bottom of things so much?”
Wei Chongrong’s face became more serious: “The two of us are on completely different sides, and there’s still a feud between us because of your father’s death… ouch! Is your injury still not healed? Why does it look as if it has become more serious…”
Tuoba Xianhan’s right arm was injured, and it was very inconvenient for him to apply the medicine by himself. Wei Chongrong thought that this guy had helped him twice anyway, so without dwelling on the reason, he took the initiative to go over and help him apply the medicine. He said as he proceeded: “I think your wound is an old injury. It hadn’t healed properly and it was reopened, and it is still a little inflamed. You’d better pay attention. Don’t use your right hand these days, otherwise if you get more injured, it will leave sequelae, and you will be in trouble then…”
As Wei Chongrong muttered this, he applied the medicine carefully, bandaged Tuoba Xianhan’s wound tightly and sat back again.
Tuoba Xianhan pursed his lips and smiled, and suddenly asked, “Does Your Highness know who I am?”
Wei Chongrong rolled his eyes: “Of course I know, you are Tuoba Xianhan.”
Tuoba Xianhan was taken aback for a moment, and then said as if having an epiphany: “Oh yes, Zhe Zhe called my name that day.”
Wei Chongrong shook his head: “The first time I saw you, I knew who you were.” Satisfied with Tuoba Xianhan’s surprised look, he continued: “When I was three years old, you hit me with a slingshot. It hurt, and you shot two stones in a row.”
Tuoba Xianhan was speechless for a long time and then said: “Your Highness, do you want to hold a grudge like this?” If it hadn’t been for Wei Chongrong to mention it, he would have never recalled what happened when he was a child. How could he have thought that someone would still remember it clearly?
Wei Chongrong shrugged and said, “But when Pei Di asked you to beat me up, you held back.”
Tuoba Xianhan exhaled slowly, feeling powerless to complain, and then sighed: “Your Highness, in fact, our origins are similar.” Fortunately, he hadn’t antagonised Wei Chongrong too much; this guy was too capable of holding a grudge.
Wei Chongrong was baffled and looked at him blankly, not understanding what he meant.
Seeing that he was puzzled, Tuoba Xianhan could only make it clearer: “My mother was a Han girl who was abducted and brought to Fuyu.”
Wei Chongrong suddenly realised that Tuoba Xianhan was right, it was really similar.
Tuoba Xianhan smiled self-deprecatingly and said: “My mother’s greatest wish during her lifetime was that one day I could return to the Central Plains.” He promised his mother, but he never found a suitable opportunity. Even if he returned to the Central Plains, he wouldn’t be willing to be a lowly servant.
“Do you think I will believe your words?” Wei Chongrong raised his eyebrows, his tone obviously full of suspicion.
Wei Chongrong only half-believed Tuoba Xianhan. His origin might be true, but in Fuyu, there were more than one or two children born to Han girls. How many of them were loyal to the Great Yan and didn’t consider themselves to be Fuyu? Why should Tuoba Xianhan be an exception?
“It doesn’t matter what I say. What matters is what I do.” Tuoba Xianhan wasn’t surprised that Wei Chongrong was suspicious of him, and he didn’t expect to change Wei Chongrong’s opinion of him with just a few words; he still needed to find opportunities to prove himself.
Tuoba Xianhan’s words could be true or false. Wei Chongrong would slowly observe him in the future. He changed the topic and asked, “What’s the matter with Herong Ling and Farida? Why did they ask you to take me out of Helian Zhuo’s hands?”
“This matter is a long story…” Tuoba Xianhan thought for a while and found that it wasn’t easy to describe the causes and consequences of the matter clearly.
Wei Chongrong hurriedly interrupted him and reminded: “Then you can make a long story short, don’t go too far.”
“In short, His Majesty wanted to use you to negotiate terms with Wang Qin, and he was going to kill you if the deal fell through. But Lord Herong and Lady Zuo felt that the conditions he proposed were too harsh, and Wang Qin would never agree, and if you die, it would irritate Wang Qin and bring disaster to Fuyu… You know the temper of His Majesty, it’s rather bad, and the Great Yan-zhi and the First Prince look at you with great displeasure. Lord Herong and Lady Zuo worried that an accident might have happened, so they got you out of the palace first, but…”
“But Herong Ling didn’t expect that my father would remain unmoved by force or by persuasion and would refuse to agree to any conditions. My father wants to expel you to the north of the Arslan Mountains, so Herong Ling changed his mind and wanted to kill me too, didn’t he?” Wei Chongrong added, completing Tuoba Xianhan’s words.
“Yes.” Tuoba Xianhan nodded, “His Majesty and Lord Herong planned that on the day of the siege of the city by the Great Yan army, they would tie you in front of the formation and force Wang Qin to retreat. If he refused to retreat, they would… you… they would…”
No matter how cruel Herong Ling was to Wei Chongrong, Tuoba Xianhan felt that it was understandable; everything he did was for the benefit of Fuyu. But Helian Zhuo, Tuoba Xianhan couldn’t figure out whether he had ever regarded Wei Chongrong as his son.
“What about me? Finish speaking!” Wei Chongrong blinked, curious about Tuoba Xianhan’s unfinished words.
A look of sympathy flashed in Tuoba Xianhan’s eyes, and he said in an even tone: “They would execute you with Lingchi.”
Lingchi?! Helian Zhuo would do that to him?! Wei Chongrong couldn’t help shuddering, suddenly feeling pain all over his body.
“Second Highness…” Tuoba Xianhan looked at Wei Chongrong with a bit of concern in his eyes.
Wei Chongrong gritted his teeth and said, “Don’t call me Second Highness anymore. My surname is Wei, and my name is Wei Chongrong.” He had thought that Helian Zhuo might kill him, but he never thought that he could even use such a trick as a death of thousand cuts on him.
“Lady Zuo got the news, and she was afraid that something would happen to you, so she notified me.” Tuoba Xianhan understood Wei Chongrong’s mood at this moment, because he had tasted the same taste before, so he couldn’t be happier about Tuoba Naigang’s death.
Wei Chongrong calmed down and asked, “You said that Helian Zhuo and Herong Ling had already discussed it?”
Tuoba Xianhan nodded. If this were not the case, how could Farida notify him overnight and tell him to leave quickly with Wei Chongrong?
“Is it still possible for us to leave the city?” Wei Chongrong asked calmly.
Earlier, Helian Zhuo and Herong Ling had disagreed, so Tuoba Xianhan took him out of the palace easily. Now, the two had reached an agreement. Unless he could get out of the city as soon as possible, Helian Zhuo would order to search the whole city, and he would be found sooner or later.
Tuoba Xianhan said with a wry smile: “We can only give it a try, the chances are slim.”
Let’s try then; as long as there was a glimmer of hope, Wei Chongrong wouldn’t give up trying; otherwise what would Wei Zhao do on the day the army attacked the city!
It was impossible for Wei Zhao to retreat. Behind him was the Great Yan’s army of 100,000, and there was no way he would do anything to let them down.
And being hung from the city tower by Helian Zhuo, Wei Chongrong probably wouldn’t even have the chance to bite off his tongue. Lingchi, as a rule, should consist of 3,357 cuts, to be carried out over three days, and he was afraid that while he would be still hanging half-dead, Wei Zhao would break down first.
Therefore, he absolutely couldn’t allow such a thing to happen, and death was not an option.
A hundred li outside Qingjia City, the Great Yan’s army camp
In the distance, there was a stirring sound of horse hooves. The sound got closer and closer, and in the blink of an eye, dozens of horses could be seen galloping.
With a clear and powerful neigh, a horse that looked like a black lightning stopped in front of the main entrance of the camp. Ji Xin dismounted and hurriedly walked inside the camp, while his personal soldiers arrived a moment later.
“Greetings to His Imperial Highness Wang Changning.” The soldiers in the camp stopped to salute.
Ji Xin waved his hand, not taking time to reply, just lowering his head and walking forward.
When Huo Qingyang saw Ji Xin, he cupped his fist and said, “Greetings to Wang Changning.”
Ji Xin didn’t even bother to say “exempt from courtesy” and asked at once, “What’s going on? You called me over in such a hurry.” Although the war with Tiele was over, there was still a lot of follow-up work, and now it all fell on Lu Ming.
Huo Qingyang lowered his voice and leaned to Ji Xin’s ear to briefly explain the ins and outs of the matter.
Ji Xin couldn’t help sighing after hearing this: “Let me just say, Rong’er shouldn’t have been brought here. If it weren’t for…”
“Hush!” Huo Qingyang made a gesture of silence, “His Highness is already blaming himself for this matter, so don’t mention it. Help me think of a solution. If this continues, I’m afraid he won’t be able to hold on…”
Ji Xin thought about it too, and then asked, “What is the situation now?”
“The little prince has escaped from the palace, but he is still trapped in Qingjia City. Helian Zhuo has closed the city gates tightly, he has no way to get out. Sooner or later, he will be found… And according to the news from the scouts, Helian Zhuo threatens that if His Highness refuses to retreat, he will…” Huo Qingyang couldn’t go on at this point. When the two countries were at war, catching each other’s imperial sons and grandsons as hostages was nothing. But this hostage was Helian Zhuo’s own son, and he was ruthless enough to kill him with a thousand cuts, was he even human?
Huo Qingyang only said half of it, and Ji Xin became anxious and hurriedly asked, “What does Helian Zhuo want?”
“He says that if I don’t retreat, he will execute Rong’er through Lingchi.” Wei Zhao came out of the inner room, his voice revealing obvious anger.
Ji Xin opened his mouth, unable to speak for a long time. Helian Zhuo, this scum, he would put him to death by a thousand cuts himself!
Wei Zhao looked at Ji Xin and said calmly, “Wang Changning, the siege of Qingjia City will be under your command.”
Ji Xin finally found his voice: “But I don’t know anything…”
“If you don’t know something, you can ask Qingyang, he knows it all.” Wei Zhao knew very well that he couldn’t personally command this battle. If Helian Zhuo really brought Wei Chongrong out, he couldn’t guarantee how he would react.
Without further excuses, Ji Xin modded and gave Wei Zhao another worried glance.
Wei Zhao rubbed his forehead and turned to go back to the inner room. As long as he didn’t care about Helian Zhuo’s threats, there was no reason why Qingjia City couldn’t be defeated.
In Qingjia City, Tuoba Xianhan took Wei Chongrong to four city gates. Each guard was more strict than the other, and the inspections were all very careful. They didn’t need to try to know that they couldn’t get out.
To make matters worse, there were soldiers everywhere in the city searching for them, and even though they had changed their clothes, they were still in danger. Tuoba Xianhan pulled Wei Chongrong back and said solemnly, “No need to try again, we can’t get out. We must find a safe place to hide.”
“Where can we hide?” The Great Yan’s army was only a hundred li away from Qingjia City, and Helian Zhuo would find him even if he had to turn the whole city upside down. Other than that, he had no other way to deal with Wei Zhao.
“Of course it must be a place that won’t be discovered.” Tuoba Xianhan dragged Wei Chongrong and turned into a small alley.
Who knew that just a few steps away, there would be the voices of the patrol soldiers asking questions. They immediately turned around, intending to go back. Unfortunately, there were also people searching door-to-door behind them, and they couldn’t advance or retreat.