Love in Another Life: My Gentle Tyrant - novelonlinefree.com
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An Emperor's Gift.
Not long after, from beyond the cells, the sound of light footsteps echoed.
'Your Majesty, the drug - allow me to summon a lady to attend to you,' Xu Xi said low voice.
'There is no need. Tonight, I wish to accompany her.'
A sudden pressure swelled within Long Fei-li's chest. Turning his body to a side, he coughed up a mouthful of blood.
'Your Majesty -' Xu Xi said urgently, but he saw Long Fei-li wave his hand in response. Knowing that the Emperor's mind was set, Xu Xi's words faltered to an end.
'Did you bring it?'
'Do you really intend to give the iron scroll to Consort Nian?' Xu Xi knelt on the floor and cried, 'Your Majesty, I beg you to reconsider this!'
Long Fei-li smiled. 'You have become more long-winded as you grow older.'
Xu Xi, familiar with the Emperor's unyielding character, did not make further attempts at protesting, handing the item over to Long Fei-li.
It was exquisitely sculpted, light jade in colour and warm to the touch. On its face were two words, meticulously carved: zhu xian - to kill an immortal. On its back were another two words engraved with equal precision: shi shen - to murder a deity.
'Didn't you say it was an iron scroll? Why has it turned out to be a piece of jade?' From within the darkness, an abrupt voice interrupted, carrying a tinge of surprise.
Xu Xi walked over and asked heavily, 'What is the situation like over there?'
The new arrival grunted in response but did not say anything.
Long Fei-li hung the jade over Xuanji's neck, the traces of a smile gracing his lips. 'Qingfeng.'
The newcomer walked forward from the shadows of the prison cells, his expression complicated, flickering with indescribable emotions.
In an unhurried voice, Qingfeng said, 'The Queen Mother's spies left not long after they watched your carriage arrive at Qinfang Palace. There's another thing - Your Majesty, your predictions have turned out to be accurate,' Qingfeng paused, then continued, 'Prince Zining - Long Liyu - has secretly returned to the capital, and tonight, he is a guest at the Queen Mother's chambers.'
Xu Xi said in alarm, 'Your Majesty.'
'The situation is becoming increasing chaotic,' Long Fei-li said, the corner of his lips lifting in a faint smile. 'The Queen Mother's maternal family, commanding a force of a hundred thousand soldiers, are conspiring to elect a new Emperor. And now, with the fall of Minister Nian, each of the three Feudal Lords with their elite armies numbering fifty thousand troops each have also entered the capital under the pretext of serving the imperial family.
'Yet our military strength protecting the capital only numbers forty thousand. With our war against the Xiongnu still at an anxious stage, I cannot recall the three hundred thousand strong army of soldiers currently fighting with their lives at the frontlines back to the capital.'
'Senior,' Qingfeng said, his voice heavy, 'When the time comes, I, together with the other pugilist chiefs, will definitely be able to secure your safe departure from the capital.'
'Whoever said that I will leave?'
Qingfeng was stunned for a moment. His eyes flickered to Long Fei-li, whose gaze was fixed in the directions of the cells.
The Emperor's head was tilted down. In the darkness of the prisons, his expression could not be deciphered but the resolution in his voice rang clearly in the silence.
'I am not afraid of the situation becoming chaotic. The greater the confusion, the greater the disarray, the better it is for us. If today the situation were not chaotic, I will make it so.'
'Your Majesty…' Xu Xi said with rapt attention.
'My brother, Prince Zining, wishes to be King. At the same time, which of the Feudal Lords lack ambition?' Long Fei-li's lips curled in contempt. 'While the three Feudal Lords appear to be on friendly terms, their unity is merely a front driven by political needs. When separated, none of them can measure up to the Queen Mother's power and influence. Yet, having allied, which of them shall enjoy the fruits of victory?
'If this were a war against one united front, I'm afraid it will be hard for us to emerge victorious. But with their alliance glittering with the fractures of conflict, who is to say that the opportunistic third party will not be the winner who takes it all?'
'Your Majesty intends for them to decimate their own forces?' Qingfeng, whose hands were unconsciously stroking at the tassel hanging on his sword, said suddenly, realisation dawning on his face.
'That is only the last resort. I still intend to use their armies to resist our foreign enemies. Their casualties must not be enormous.'
The woman in his embrace stirred, her brows creasing, as though she were about to open her eyes and awaken. Seeing this, Long Fei-li extended a hand and prodded at her sleep acupuncture points. Placing her gently on his knees, he removed his outer robe and arranged it on the floor, before settling her on top of it, carefully wrapping his robes around her body.
He clasped his hand, staring at the view beyond the windows. He said, 'The Xiongnu's six hundred thousand strong army continue to wage war at our borders, their troops numbering twice ours. The Queen Mother and the Feudal Lords are unhinged to pick this urgent point in time to rebel. If Xi Liang is conquered, anyone who desires the throne of this fallen country can help himself to it.'
'Senior, if you didn't deploy the troops to fight this war and defend our country, who would dare to challenge you?' Qingfeng laughed bitterly. 'Those people are cowards!'
'So this country must not be subjugated,' a new voice said, just as the thump of quick steps resounded.
'Commander Duan?' Xu Xi, who saw the newcomer, said in shock.
Even Qingfeng, who was usually a man of few emotions, was also surprised by the sudden arrival of Commander Duan.
'In the battle of the Sundial Mountains, the elite army numbering five thousand led by you was completely annihilated. As the sole survivor, you’ve chosen to return to the capital instead of atoning for your crimes in the battlefield?'
A long sword was unsheathed.
Qingfeng spread his hands and brandished his sword in the direction of the newcomer, and said sharply, 'How did you know the Emperor was here?'
Eyes bright and shining, Commander Duan only raised his eyebrows as he grinned. Without a trace of fear despite the threatening sword raised against him, he walked towards the entrance of the prison cells. Kneeling, he exclaimed, 'Duan Yuhuan greets Your Majesty. Long live Your Majesty!'
A silver needle was released from within the cell, sweeping the tip of Qingfeng's sword to a side. Startled, Qingfeng immediately sheathed his sword.
'How is General Bai?' Long Fei-li said with a half-smile.
'General Bai has instructed me to inform you that the Xiongnu will only conquer the Sundial Mountains over his dead body,' Duan Yuhuan said.
Long Fei-li nodded.
Duan Yuhuan fished out two brocade pouches from within his robes, and smiled, 'General Bai has also instructed me to give these to you and Consort Nian.'
Long Fei-li glanced over to see two golden pouches embroidered with emerald threads. One of the pouches was slightly faded in colour, as though it had often been held in the tight and unrelenting grasp of a person.
In an emotionless voice, Long Fei-li said, 'If Bai Zhanfeng wishes to present a gift to Xuanji, he can do so without informing me. As for my gift, he can dispense with it.'
Alarmed by Long Fei-li's words, Duan Yuhuan's fingers tightened momentarily on the pouches. Though usually a bold and uninhibited person, at this moment, his words faltered and he dare not speak further.
Qingfeng glanced at the body lying within the prison cells, his gaze cooling.
Xu Xi, on the other hand, was preoccupied with his own thoughts.
With the combination of internal conflict and foreign invasion, the political situation in Xi Liang was desperately precarious. Even though the commander leading Xi Liang's army was the military genius, Bai Zhanfeng, the pressing question remained: was it really possible for Bai Zhanfeng to defend the Sundial Mountains with an army numbering half the size of the Xiongnu's?
Moreover, Long Fei-li's secret summons of Duan Yuhuan - who had previously also been dispatched to fight against the Xiongnu - back to the capital, seemed to be born out of more complicated motives.
Could this young Emperor really manage to reverse the chaos? In the hundreds of years since the formation of Xi Liang's dynasty, this was the first time such a grim situation had presented itself.
From within the cells, the sound of coughing suddenly sounded. Long Fei-li had coughed up blood once again.
Everyone was alarmed.
'Eunuch Xu, what is wrong with His Majesty?' Duan Yuhuan asked anxiously.
'He has been drugged.'
Qingfeng scowled, 'Senior, you've already known that Consort Hua is in the habit of drugging your meals. Why did you still go over to Qinfang Palace tonight?'
Long Fei-li did not reply, his gaze resting on Xuanji.
A wave of coldness suddenly swept across Xu Xi as even more puzzle pieces fell to place.
From when Long Fei-li first proposed accompanying Consort Hui to the Empress Dowager's banquet to his casual suggestion allowing Consort Hua to attend to him tonight, all of these were within his calculations.
Long Fei-li had known from the onset that Xuanji would be at the Empress Dowager's pavilion, and had, calmly and collectedly, gone over to help her out of her predicament. Thereafter, he had used Consort Hua's drugging to lend himself an excuse to depart her quarters in a fit of rage. All these he had done in order to evade the Empress Dowager's spies and visit Internal Affairs at night. Even the Internal Affairs prisons, where he had ordered the guards to confine Xuanji in, was governed by his trusted confidant.
Xu Xi knew that while Long Fei-li appeared to the world to be a simple and guileless ruler in his twenties, in actuality, this young Emperor was decisive and ruthless.
Who would have thought that, at such a pressing time, such a person would have expended so much energy and trouble just to protect a woman?
'What time is it?' Long Fei-li asked.
'Your Majesty, it is almost dawn,' Duan Yuhuan replied.
Long Fei-li bent down and held Xuanji in his arms once more. He said, 'Qingfeng, I presume Prince Zining and the Queen Mother have finished their discussions by now. When the sun rises, you can bring our spy over. I will be awaiting your arrival in my quarters.'
'Yuhuan, your secret return to the capital must not be leaked. In the meantime, you can focus on the task I have entrusted you.'
'Yes, Your Majesty.'
'Now, you can all withdraw.'
'Senior, there is one thing which I don't understand. Didn't you want to bestow the iron scroll to Consort Nian? But that item is actually a piece of jade.' Qingfeng suddenly halted in his departure from the cells, turning back to face Long Fei-li.
'You're worried about this?' Long Fei-li said, lips curving into a smile.
Duan Yuhuan, who was hearing about the iron scroll being bestowed to Xuanji for the first time, widened his eyes.
With an unruffled glance at Duan Yuhuan, Long Fei-li's voice became serious again as he said, 'Have you heard about Xi Hai's Xian Yantai?'
'Isn't that place only a fable in books?' Duan Yuhuan's voice faltered as he spoke.
Xu Xi said, 'Xian Yantai indeed exists. Qingfeng, you learned your skills in martial arts under the same Master as His Majesty. In fact, the founder of your pugilist sect hailed from Xi Hai. Hundreds of years ago, he was merely a boy servant sweeping the floors of Xian Yantai.'
Qingfeng, seized with disbelief, and was rendered speechless for a long moment.
Instead, it was Duan Yuhuan who exclaimed in surprise, 'The pugilist chief himself is an exalted person powerful in martial arts, yet the sect's founder is only a boy servant? Does Xian Yantai really have such a powerful ability in training disciples who -'
'Dare to kill an immortal and murder a deity,' Xu Xi said, smiling bitterly. 'Hundreds of years ago, when the forefathers of Xi Liang first passed down the iron scroll, they also handed down this piece of jade. If one only possessed the iron scroll without the jade, then the scroll would not be able to unleash its greatest potential.'
Duan Yuhuan and Qingfeng exchanged a mutual glance, their expressions complicated.
Long Fei-li said mildly, 'The forefather of Xian Yantai was once rescued by my ancestor. Using this jade as a token, he took an oath to repay this life debt.
'The Great General of Xi Liang assisted my ancestor in establishing the Xi Liang dynasty. When bestowed with this iron scroll, he only said: "An Emperor's heart is the most fickle and capricious of all hearts. If there comes a day when even the iron scroll is unable to grant me immunity against death, what then?" In response, my ancestor also gave this jade to the Great General, and pledged an agreement with Xian Yantai that a person possessing both the iron scroll and the jade would be granted the protection of Xian Yantai.'
Qingfeng murmured, 'So it turns out that behind the iron scroll, there is such a history.'
'Your Majesty, if this scroll and jade is in your possession, then, when the civil war erupts, the person Xian Yantai protects would be you!' Duan Yuhuan said in agitation.
'Senior!' Qingfeng clenched his jaw and immediately knelt before Long Fei-li. 'You cannot bestow this item to Xuanji.'
'The vanquished are always in the wrong. History is written by the victorious. If, ultimately, I am to be defeated, then I will admit my fate and acknowledge my inability,' Long Fei-li said, his eyes narrowing. After a long pause, he said mildly, 'You can withdraw.'
The steady thump of footsteps echoed in the silence. Only Xu Xi remained standing by a corner.
The sun was about to rise.
Her face was calm; she was in a deep sleep.
Softly, Long Fei-li kissed her, his lips brushing gently across her face so as to not rouse her from her dreams.
Minister Nian chose to collude with the Xiongnu, weakening our country and sacrificing our honour - I cannot be merciful, nor will I choose to be.
So, you can continue to hate me.
If, at the end of this chaos, I should succeed, then my life will intertwine with yours for eternity, never to part.
If, at the end of this chaos, I should fail -
An oath, made hundreds of years ago; in this vast palace, there is one disciple from Xian Yantai.
- then, you can still save your life.
Didn't you once say that you wanted us to visit the deserts in the outskirts of the country?
As long as you're alive, it will be enough.
From when you first entered the palace, I have given you many things. Jade bracelets, exquisite pearls, precious stones - all of which you seem not to care for, putting them all in a box. The more I bestow you, the more boxes you accumulate.
They've entreated me to keep the jade and scroll to myself.
But really, they don't understand. In this world, anyone can die, except for you.
Anyone but you.
This iron scroll and this jade - they are the last items I will bestow you.
They are not very different from the other things I've given you in the past.
Only a gift.
Just a gift.
'Your Majesty, it is sunrise.'
'Yes.'- end flashback -