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The Emperor had summoned Ao Chenyi to discuss Annan. Little did he expect Ao Chenyi to be so irresponsible as to suggest that Annan hadn’t revolted yet. He was so angry that he was on the verge of coughing up blood.
“It’ll be too late by the time they revolt.” He looked at Ao Chenyi with a sullen expression.
“It won’t be too late. Brother, they’ll naturally retreat if we kill enough of them,” Ao Chenyi said nonchalantly. His almond-shaped eyes carried a trace of hostility.
His words sounded so blood-thirsty that Ao Mingyu, who sat opposite him, shot him a cautious look and kept quiet.
“All right. You two should return. If you have any news, inform me immediately.” The Emperor waved his hand to indicate for them to leave. He could feel his head hurting. This discussion had been completely pointless.
“Excuse me then.”
“Excuse me, Imperial Father.”
The two of them left.
After leaving the imperial study, Ao Mingyu stood at the steps and bade Ao Chenyi farewell. “Uncle, I’m going to visit my mother, so I won’t be leaving the palace with you.”
Ao Chenyi raised his head to look at the sky, a lazy smile appearing on his face. He suggested, “It’s still too early to leave the palace. Why don’t you walk around with me? You can meet your mother later.”
“I’ll take a rain check, Uncle. I’ve made an appointment with my mother to discuss my upcoming wedding. If our discussion drags on too late, it won’t be convenient for me to leave the palace.” Ao Chenyi rejected the suggestion with a gloomy expression. Back in the imperial study, his father didn’t mention the death of the palace maid that he had sent.
To think that his father would endure such a thing time and again. He truly couldn’t understand his father’s intentions. His father could have used this opportunity to punish Ao Chenyi for the crime of deceiving and disrespecting the Emperor, yet he said nothing in front of Ao Chenyi. It was as if he didn’t care at all.
Ao Chenyi was merely Prince Yi. Even if he was the Emperor’s youngest brother with the highest authority, he still committed a crime against the Emperor with his actions. His father could very well punish him.
But why didn’t his father mention it at all? It was as if he was unwilling to make things difficult for Ao Chenyi at all. Right now, all he wanted to was talk to Honored Consort Ya about this. He had no mood to stroll in the garden with Ao Chenyi.
“You really won’t walk around with me?”
“I really can’t. I’ll be sure to join you next time. It’s still early, so please stroll around as you wish.” Ao Chenyi was determined to discuss the matter with Honored Consort Ya, so he naturally gave a firm answer.
“All right then. Since you’re determined to leave, I’ll walk around on my own.” With a helpless look, Ao Chenyi turned around and walked away. It seemed that he was indeed heading toward the imperial garden. What was he doing there at this time? Was he really so bored that he wanted to visit the garden?
Ao Mingyu stared at Ao Chenyi’s back for a while but when he didn’t notice anything unusual, he turned around and left for Honored Consort Ya’s palace.
“Your Highness, are we really visiting the garden?” Eunuch Zhu almost had to trot to keep up with Ao Chenyi.
“What’s wrong? Can’t I visit the garden?” Hearing the melodious but sinister voice, several eunuchs and court ladies who ran into Ao Chenyi immediately knelt and kowtowed. They didn’t even have to look at his face to recognize that it was Prince Yi. If they were to anger Prince Yi in the palace, they would really end up dying.
“Of course not. It’s just getting late. Perhaps everyone in the manor is waiting for you, Your Highness.” Eunuch Zhu dared not to be explicit in front of outsiders, but his meaning was evident.
“Let’s go back then!” Ao Chenyi suddenly turned around into another path, moving so quickly that Eunuch Zhu nearly ran into him. The eunuchs and court ladies who were kneeling on the side of the road didn’t even dare to breathe too loudly. If they accidentally looked at Prince Yi for a little too long, they could very well lose their lives.
No one noticed that there was a woman dressed as a palace maid rushing down the same path that Ao Chenyi previously took, looking panicked. It wasn’t until she got close that she discovered that a few eunuchs and court ladies were slowly climbing to their feet.
“Where’s His Highness Prince Yi?” she couldn’t help but ask.
A eunuch who appeared to be ranked higher than those around him observed the palace maid’s pretty face and stared her up and down. Unable to recognize where she came from, he asked, “His Highness is far gone. Which palace are you from? What business do you have with him?”
His tone was quite polite. The palace maid was quite beautiful and was even fact prettier than some of the Honored Consorts that he had seen. Although she was still a maid and seemed a little older than ideal, she might very well earn the Emperor’s favor someday and soar into prosperity.
“It doesn’t matter which palace I’m from. Honored Consort Xia sent me,” the palace maid said coldly. Knowing that her plan had failed today, she turned around and returned. She rushed here as soon as she got the letter, but she didn’t manage to meet Prince Yi. Even if she failed this time, there was still another chance. Since she had made up her mind, everything would change…
Inside the carriage.
Eunuch Zhu reported, “Your Highness, the secret guard said he saw her. There was indeed a palace maid coming over. She looks like…” He couldn’t continue anymore. He stole a glance at Ao Chenyi, who was leaning against the seat with his eyes closed in rest. He didn’t know if he should say those words.
“Does she look like that person?” said an indifferent, cold voice.
Eunuch Zhu immediately nodded after hearing his question. “Yes. She does indeed look like that person.”
“I think she doesn’t just resemble her. She’s probably her!” Ao Chenyi’s voice was melodious but often exuded a deep coldness, particularly when he wasn’t smiling. That sinister coldness appeared to be enveloped in dark bloodthirstiness. Those who were cowardly would tremble just from hearing a few words from him.
“Yes… Exactly!” Eunuch Zhu forced himself to answer.
“All right. If she wants to meet me in a chance encounter, I don’t mind it,” Ao Chenyi said nonchalantly.
“But, but she’s…” Eunuch Zhu’s forehead was covered with sweat. He didn’t dare to continue his sentence, but he must.
“Does it matter who she is? If it weren’t because she’s somewhat useful now, I would’ve drained her blood and wiped it on my brother’s crown,” Ao Chenyi said coldly. His expression, however, remained neutral. In his inherent elegance was a strange coldness.
“Your Highness, will Consort Ning be in danger when she enters the palace in the future?” Eunuch Zhu dared not to continue this topic anymore, so he chose to avert the conversation a little. His master’s aura had only gotten fiercer over the years. It was safer for him to mention Consort Ning instead.
“She wouldn’t dare!” Ao Chenyi snorted. He opened his almond-shaped eyes ever so slightly, revealing a pair of deep pupils that seemed to be emitting red light. It was as if there was a red beast hidden in his eyes. No one who looked at him would dare to doubt his words.
It seemed that Consort Ning was quite an important person to his master. Eunuch Zhu immediately said fawningly, “Should we arrange a few more guards for Consort Ning?” He had never seen Ao Chenyi defend anyone except Consort Ning. It appeared that he treated her rather differently.
Ao Chenyi shook his head and closed his eyes again as if he had fallen asleep. Just when Eunuch Zhu thought he had drifted to sleep, he said, “It’s fine. But let me know right away if she requests it.” Then, his long eyelashes fluttered as he closed his eyes tightly.
Eunuch Zhu could see a faint smile on his face, a smile that seemed to carry a trace of gentleness.
Eunuch Zhu was so frightened that he immediately lowered his head, not daring to look at Ao Chenyi anymore. He felt as excited as if he had uncovered a huge secret. Sure enough, his master treated Consort Ning differently from others. It seemed that Prince Yi’s Manor would soon have an heir. That was great! Once a son was born, his master would have a successor. And those people wouldn’t be able to criticize his master for not having an heir.
After returning to the manor, Ao Chenyi started writing letters. He didn’t visit Ning Xueyan’s Pear Flower Garden but went to the Moon-embracing Tower to handle some matters. He then sent a messenger to tell Ning Xueyan not to wait for him; he would be staying the night at the tower.
There were still many outsiders in his manor. He couldn’t afford to let people know that the person he cared for was Ning Xueyan at the moment.
A silent night passed. When Ning Xueyan woke up early the next morning, she freshened up and had breakfast. She had just finished when Commandery Princess Xianyun’s maid arrived, saying that the Princess was waiting for her. She asked if Ning Xueyan was ready to leave.
On behalf of her master, Lanning told the maid that Ning Xueyan was ready and they would be leaving immediately.
When Ning Xueyan and Xinmei reached the gate of the manor, she found the Princess waiting as expected. The Princess looked so gentle and magnanimous that she easily left a good impression on people, particularly when she approached Ning Xueyan affectionately with a gentle, caring expression.
“Sister Ning, have you been feeling well? If you really can’t bear it, you should just stay home and rest.”
What hypocritical words. The Princess would have seemed sincere had she asked before Ning Xueyan came out, but Ning Xueyan was now outside and had even told her yesterday that she would be visiting the Lord Protector’s Manor. Asking now seemed so hypocritical.
Fortunately, Ning Xueyan never needed sincerity from the Princess. She curtsied with a smile. “Thank you for your concern, Princess. I’m feeling much better today. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
The Princess appeared relieved at Ning Xueyan’s reply. She pointed to the two carriages outside the gate with a smile and said, “That’s for the best. Sister Ning, why don’t we take the same carriage today? We can have a chat too. At least, we wouldn’t feel so bored waiting there.”
Two carriages were waiting for them. Since Ning Xueyan would be going to the Lord Protector’s Manor, naturally there couldn’t just be one carriage.
“Sure!” Ning Xueyan said softly. She couldn’t refuse the Princess’ direct request. No matter what, they would be leaving the same place together and the Princess was no Ning Yuling. The Princess wouldn’t do something as reckless as harming her on the spot. So she didn’t have to worry about the Princess doing anything to the carriage.
The carriages in Prince Yi’s Manor were of the larger variety. It was still spacious even with both of them bringing a maid each. The carriage moved slowly. Since they weren’t in a hurry, the coachman drove the carriage at a steady pace. It was still early, after all.
“Sister Ning, do you think your brother will make the ranking?” the Princess asked, smiling. She looked as if she had forgotten that their relationship had soured over Ning Huaiyuan.
“My elder brother is quite talented at his studies, but an ordinary woman like me can’t predict if he’ll succeed in the examination,” Ning Xueyan replied flawlessly, not giving the Princess a chance to catch her mistake.
She had not only expressed her respect for her brother but also said that there would always be more talented people around. She also made it clear that she was just an ordinary woman who wouldn’t dare to carelessly comment on the affairs of the court.
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