Chapter 20: Suspicions Arise
Chu Xie realized that Jiang Yanchi was genuinely determined to kill him, so he quickly checked the data again.
Story completion: 75%. Chu Xie’s character adherence: 100%. Xu Chunmu’s character adherence: 15%.
Why did it decrease again?
“What will happen to me if I’m killed right now?” Chu Xie hurriedly asked the system.
“If the data value doesn’t meet the standard, you won’t be able to get a rebirth… Host, please think of a solution quickly. The story completion is just a step away, and it’s because of Xu Chunmu’s character adherence being too low… No matter what, you can’t die here, wuwuwu…” The system cried while silently maxing out the pain relief buff for him.
How the h*ll was he supposed to know that Jiang Yanchi’s actions would be so unpredictable!
Am I going to die here like this?
No, it’s not allowed. He wanted to be reborn!
Chu Xie suddenly struggled, but his body was too weak. The guards easily pressed him back down.
“Uh…” He raised his neck, turning to look at Jiang Yanchi.
Give me another chance to explain!
Jiang Yanchi knew that this man was eloquent and cunning, capable of turning deaths into lives with just a few words.
However, he had no intention of removing the cloth from his mouth and giving him another chance to speak.
As for Xu Chunmu’s whereabouts, Jiang Yanchi could find out after dealing with Chu Xie.
Thinking of that person, a dull pain spread in Jiang Yanchi’s chest. He coldly watched as the guards gagged Chu Xie with the cloth, binding him tightly to a long bench, rendering him immobile.
Since Chu Xie had taken him out of the Cold Palace three years ago, he hadn’t had a single good day or night.
He should have died long ago. If he had made this decision earlier, Ah Mu wouldn’t have…
Chu Xie was originally wearing only two thin garments, and now he was soaked to the bone. The white fabric clung tightly to his body, and the ropes around his ankles held him firmly in place, highlighting his long and slender legs.
His thin back was pinned down, and even though he struggled, the guards easily suppressed him.
Little Xizi hurriedly rushed over, whispering in Jiang Yanchi’s ear, “The people from Duke Yue’s residence have arrived outside the Zhao Prison, Your Highness, this…”
“Stop them,” Jiang Yanchi ordered. With a ruthless determination in his eyes, he looked at the frail figure before him, who had no means of self-defense.
“What are you standing there for? Beat him to death!”
The executioner hesitated, then raised the cudgel high, putting in seven or eight points of force as he struck down on the person. The man’s mouth was tightly sealed, and all that could be heard were muffled cries of pain. Sweat trickled down his forehead, and his disheveled hair clung to his cheeks. The dark pupils in his eyes seemed to glisten, wet and shiny.
Soon, that brightness dimmed.
The frail person couldn’t withstand the beating; after just a dozen strikes, there were numerous spots of blood seeping out. His struggles gradually weakened, and he eventually passed out completely.
The executioner, seeing that the person was hardly breathing and had lost consciousness, dared not continue. He nervously addressed the Crown Prince, “Your Highness, this… this may not be good…”
“What? Do you want me to do it myself?!” Jiang Yanchi glanced at the prison guard and said with a tremor of anger, “You spineless coward!”
“Your Highness, we can’t continue beating him. If we do, he might really die…” The prison guard on the side prostrated himself on the ground, refusing to lay another hand on the person.
Not to mention that this person undergoing torture was none other than the influential figure, Chu Xie. Even without that, there were several high-ranking officials who had indirectly hinted that this man needed to be well taken care of. If he were to die at the hands of the Crown Prince, the lives of their entire families would be in jeopardy.
However, in just a short while, Little Xizi staggered back and said, “Your Highness, Duke Yue has personally arrived, and I… I couldn’t stop him…”
Jiang Yanchi felt a surge of panic, his hand clenched into a fist with bruised knuckles.
It seemed like he had made a decision, and he kicked the jailer below him, urging, “Why aren’t you moving faster?!”
The jailer, caught in a dilemma, reluctantly gripped the red-lacquered long club and lifted it high. He struck a few blows toward the legs that were less injured, but then heard a halt, “Stop!”
In the end, they still couldn’t stop Duke Yue.
Duke Yue, Zhao Yu, was personally supported by his grandson to the prison. Upon witnessing the chaotic scene in front of him, Zhao Xuan took a sharp breath, not caring about much else, and immediately severed the ropes before helping Chu Xie down. He carefully avoided the blood-drenched areas and propped Chu Xie’s arm on his shoulder, saying, “Quickly, fetch the royal physician!”
“Your Highness, we’ve clarified this, it’s evident that Lord Chu had no involvement in this matter.”
Jiang Yanchi watched Duke Yue, a stifling feeling in his heart, and his tone was far from friendly. “Do you really not know if he did it, Lord Duke?”
Duke Yue looked at the young Crown Prince, his eyes shimmering. With his majestic bearing and regal presence, he bore some resemblance to Emperor Xuan He from years past, despite his young age.
As if sighing, he said, “Your Highness, there’s no need to be so hasty in condemning him to death. The national seal has already been returned to you.”
Why did everyone keep bringing up the national seal?
It was as if they expected him to be grateful and forever indebted to Chu Xie if Chu Xie just made a slight concession.
But in the end, wasn’t it Chu Xie who had wielded unchecked power and governed the nation?
“Lord Zhao.” Jiang Yanchi’s face darkened. “Your words are heavy. Is this world surnamed Jiang or surnamed Chu?!”
“Your Highness, you’re being too harsh.” Duke Yue signaled to his own grandson, instructing him to take Chu Xie away. He then stepped forward to block the Crown Prince’s path. “The situation is delicate at the moment, and you shouldn’t be so impatient, Your Highness. Even if you manage to kill Chu Xie, will that solve all your problems? Will you be able to secure the throne…. Won’t it be as if you’ve made wedding clothes for the Lingcheng Wang for nothing?”
But what Chu Xie had done in the past, all those evil deeds, should they be overlooked just because of his great influence?
He knew that Chu Xie had killed his mother, and perhaps… even A Mu. Couldn’t he kill him now that he had him in the Zhao Prison?
He had finally gotten him into the Zhao Prison. It was just that close, just a little bit more.
That would allow him to deal a fatal blow.
Jiang Yanchi watched the receding figure with a heart full of unwillingness. But he saw that Chu Xie’s entire body had gone limp, and Zhao Xuan couldn’t support him. He kept sliding downward.
Duke Yue Shizi made a quick adjustment to his posture, almost half-supporting Chu Xie, and hurried out of the Zhao Prison.
“Your Highness, please think it through. Is it wise to trust Marquis Zhenguo, Lord Xu, so much… The Xu family already wields excessive power in the Northern Region, and now they…”
Little Xizi panting for breath, suddenly came in holding a letter and ran up to Jiang Yanchi. He said, “Your Highness! The young Marquis of Zhengguo from the Xu family has arrived in the capital!”
Jiang Yanchi couldn’t spare time to listen to Duke Yue and quickly took the thin piece of paper, scanning it up and down. Finally, some color returned to his face, and he let out a long breath.
Xu Chunmu was still alive.
He hadn’t died at the hands of Chu Xie. It was truly a relief.
The chilling look in his eyes turned into a soft glow, and there was even a faint blush around his eyes.
Outside the northern gate of the capital, Xu Chunmu was stopped at the city gate because he only had an official seal, but not an official permit. The guards at the city gate looked at the young man on horseback from afar. He was slender and graceful, with a clear and graceful figure. His skin was fair, his lips were slightly red, and he looked exceptionally delicate.
A long bow was slung behind him, and a red tassel spear was fastened to the saddle. His clear, cold demeanor made it clear that he was not to be trifled with.
He looked prettier than a woman, didn’t he? Could he really fight? Maybe he was just pretending.
After discussing it for a long time, they weren’t sure if they should let him into the city. Xu Chunmu wasn’t in a hurry either, but his expression remained cold and solemn, giving people a sense of awe.
The Crown Prince had his eye on this Young Marquis Xu, and that was well-known throughout the capital.
Xu Changling had just taken over the Zhao family’s Forbidden Army, and now the Xu family was rising to power. They couldn’t afford to offend them lightly.
In no time, the city gates swung open, and Xu Chunmu waved his whip, driving straight in. He didn’t wait for the layers of wooden stakes at the city gate to be moved aside. Instead, he pulled on the reins and leaped over, landing steadily.
The soldiers next to the wooden stakes were blown away by a gust of wind, and they watched in shock as his figure disappeared into the distance.
—Who was it that said he didn’t look like someone who could fight?
Outside the palace, Jiang Yanchi watched the rapidly approaching figure from afar. It seemed as if a gust of wind was blowing sand into his eyes, causing a slight stinging sensation in his nose.
But he also felt a bit puzzled. Xu Chunmu’s equestrian skills were so proficient.
That was the first time he had seen Xu Chunmu’s face without a mask.
It turned out he looked like this.
Clear, elegant, and handsome.
He really was a warrior who could lead troops into battle?
“Your Highness, you’re safe.” Xu Chunmu, dressed in a black cloak covered in dust, revealed a dark green brocade robe inside. On the robe, there were several embroidered bamboo leaves on the lapels, adding a touch of elegance to his appearance.
However, this man had a slightly cold and solemn expression, and he carried an aura of lofty aloofness.
“Have you recovered from your injuries?” Jiang Yanchi helped him up.
Xu Chunmu responded in agreement. “I was never really injured.”
Having said that, he knelt down on one knee, clasped his fists, and made a military salute. Then, he lowered his head in submission, saying, “I left my post without permission and entered the capital privately. I request Your Highness to punish me.”
“No need, no need.” Jiang Yanchi once again helped him up. “Now that you’re here, stay by my side from now on. I…”
“May I ask Your Highness, have I seen His Majesty in the past three years?”
Xu Chunmu evidently had no intention of engaging in meaningless pleasantries with him.
“Then, does Your Highness know the current situation of His Majesty?”
“It’s not very good… but apart from Chu Xie, there’s no one else who can…”
Jiang Yanchi’s words abruptly halted.
He looked up at Xu Chunmu and asked in return, “You should know better than me about His Majesty’s condition, so why are you asking me?”
“Your Highness jests. I’ve been in the far north, and I have no way of knowing His Majesty’s current situation.” Xu Chunmu looked at the magnificent palace in front of him, suddenly thought of something, and asked again, “Is the national seal in Chu’s hands, or is it in Your Highness’s hands?”
Jiang Yanchi’s unease grew.
“In… in …”
Xu Chunmu frowned. “It’s still in Chu Xie’s hands?”
“In my hands…”
The color drained from Jiang Yanchi’s face, and he looked at Xu Chunmu in front of him. He heard him say, “Although it may be presumptuous, I hope Your Highness can hand over the national seal for me to inspect, to confirm its authenticity,” while pointing to the desk.
Xu Chunmu solemnly took off the national seal and examined it carefully. Seeing that the broken corner matched the portrait his grandfather had shown him, he said, “It’s genuine. During the Yongan Rebellion, the Xu Family guarded the national seal for eight years. I wouldn’t make a mistake. This is excellent.”
He held the national seal with his long and slender fingers.
The figure was tall and lean.
Like him, yet not quite.
Jiang Yanchi propped his head up with his hand and realized that he couldn’t recall the exact contours of Ah Mu in his memory.
He reached out and grabbed Xu Chunmu’s wrist with a single motion, only to find that it was not as frail as he had imagined. After a slight pull, Xu Chunmu remained motionless and asked, “Your Highness, what’s wrong? Are you feeling unwell?”
Though gentle, he exuded a cold and unwavering demeanor, with a steel-like quality and indifference in his nature.
He couldn’t recall the look in Ah Mu’s eyes.
But he remembered his gaze.
In those gentle eyes, there seemed to be a hidden fragility and stubbornness.
“You… are you Xu Chunmu?” Jiang Yanchi asked again.
“Yes. I am Xu Chunmu, the grandson of the Marquis Zhenguo, Xu Yi. I have the Xu family’s identification token as proof.” Xu Chunmu seemed to recall something and took off his waistband, handing over the Xu family’s token to the Crown Prince. “There can be no forgery with the token as evidence. Your Highness is meeting me for the first time, and I came here alone, so it’s natural for you to have doubts.”
Meeting me for the first time?
Jiang Yanchi stumbled back a couple of steps.
No, this wasn’t right. But where exactly had things gone wrong?
“Your Highness, I was sent by the Marquis of Zhenguo’s family to assist you.”
“To be honest, I am not an ordinary descendant of the Xu family. My surname is Xu, my name is Chunmu, and my courtesy name is Yuan.”
Xu Chunmu walked in and handed over the token. Jiang Yanchi gazed at the distinct knuckles, slender and fair. Instead of taking the token, he held Xu Chunmu’s right hand and examined it.
The inside of the index and middle fingers bore the evident calluses of archery and handling knives and spears over the years, marks left by years of martial practice.
These were not the hands that had taught him to play the zither.
Xu Chunmu seemed surprised by this turn of events and hesitated for a moment before decisively retracting his hand. “What is Your Highness doing?”
Frowning and after a long pause, he finally said, “I’ve disappointed Your Highness. Chunmu has grown up in the borderlands without any oversight and is not familiar with the customs of the capital… As for other matters, I’m afraid I can only disappoint Your Highness’s kindness.”
The last sentence was a clear rejection.
“Then, you don’t wish to become the Crown Prince’s consort… Do you intend to seek the lady you like?” Jiang Yanchi’s words seemed to carry a hint of testing.
“Chunmu has never had anyone in his heart.”
Jiang Yanchi was stunned, and a chill spread from his feet.
It felt as if something had collapsed with a loud crash.
This person was not his Ah Mu.
Without engaging in further conversation with Xu Chunmu, Jiang Yanchi wandered back to the Eastern Palace, his mind wandering as if he were in a daze.
He couldn’t be reached even after Little Xi Zi called him several times, almost scaring him into summoning the imperial physician.
“Your Highness, what’s wrong with you…”
“He’s not Xu Chunmu. He deceived me,” Jiang Yanchi muttered in a daze.
Upon careful consideration, he had mentioned his identity only twice. Once to gain his trust and once to encourage him to hand over evidence and cut off Chu Xie’s escape route at the Jinhuan Gambling House.
It had all been deliberate.
He wasn’t the noble young marquis he claimed to be.
He had fabricated his identity to dispel Jiang Yanchi’s doubts and encourage him to seize opportunities without hesitation.
Now, Jiang Yanchi realized that, apart from the identity of Xu Chunmu, he knew nothing about that person.
He didn’t know the true identity of the person he had allowed into his life.
Ten days ago, he had been poisoned… and though he was much better now, what if… what if he hadn’t survived at all…
Terrifying speculations flooded his mind, crushing his heart and lungs.
Jiang Yanchi clutched his chest, almost suffocating.
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