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    Chapter 62: Indebtedness Unpayable

    A sudden gust of snowy wind swept through the courtyard, causing Liang Ce to shiver and draw his collar closer.

    Ye Jiangbai stood with his sleeves folded under the eaves, silent for a moment before softly asking, "Which mansion did you say?"

    "Replying Master, Beitang Mansion."

    She claimed to be going to the Ministry of Revenue, but instead ended up at Beitang Mansion and planned to stay overnight? Ye Jiangbai turned, giving Hong Ti a cold stare.

    Startled, Hong Ti quickly knelt and bowed her head. "When Master left, the destination was indeed the Ministry of Revenue."

    As for where she went later, that couldn't be blamed on this lowly maid.

    Half-closing his eyes, Ye Jiangbai scoffed. "She believes Beitang Miao can assist her?" He continued, "So she rushed to find him?"

    Hong Ti didn't dare to respond, and no one else in the courtyard dared to intervene.

    Ye Jiangbai nodded. "Very well."

    One failed alliance could be replaced by another; the son he had raised was becoming more and more adept at seeking favor with influential figures!

    With a flick of his sleeves, Ye Jiangbai strode back into the main house. Liang Ce mustered his courage to ask, "Master, shall we have dinner?"

    "Feed it to the dogs!"

    "..."

    Chang Nian sat by the fireplace sipping sweet soup with Beitang Miao. One of the concubines in the mansion, full of kindness, brought her a new pair of cotton boots and said gently, "Young Master often says that Your Highness has small feet, making it difficult to make boots. Since we had some free time, we made a few extra pairs. Would you like to try them on?"

    Chang Nian gave her a sweet smile and took the cotton boots with both hands. "Thank you all for your trouble."

    To avoid suspicion, she had always reported larger measurements for herself while in the palace, so her boots never quite fit properly. Fortunately, the concubines of the Beitang Mansion remembered this and always made boots for her.

    Her cotton boots had gotten wet during her trip to the Patrol Unit earlier, and now was the perfect opportunity to change into a fresh pair.

    Beitang Miao watched her turn away and whispered, "You seem preoccupied today."

    Chang Nian paused in her actions and looked down. "No, it's just that I'm not very experienced with the world and easily impressed. The grandeur of the Patrol Unit startled me."

    A quiet crackling of the charcoal in the brazier caught Beitang Miao's attention as he stretched out his hand to warm himself, casually asking, "Was it because of Ye Jiangbai?"

    "No," Chang Nian shook her head.

    "I thought you were upset because he didn't let you join the Imperial Guard."

    "…" Chang Nian turned abruptly, staring at him in shock. "You…"

    "Want me to tell you how I knew?" Beitang Miao lowered his gaze to her abdomen and nodded his chin. "There are two spies of mine nestled inside there."

    Utterly serious, Chang Nian held onto him. "If you know something, please tell me."

    Beitang Miao averted his eyes, gazing at the fire. "Yesterday, when His Majesty mentioned wanting you to join the Imperial Guard in the imperial study, Duke Guo already expressed his objections. I suspect he wants to gain favor with the Third Prince by forcing you to back down. Knowing your personality, you would definitely feel wronged, so I specially went to Duke Guo's residence today."

    "But… you waited for so long without mentioning this."

    Chang Nian pouted. "I knew that your so-called coincidence was just an excuse. Why do all of you like to deceive people?"

    Hearing the resentment in her words, Beitang Miao sighed. "If I had told you from the start that I went specifically to listen to your grievances, would you still be sitting here now?"

    She would undoubtedly refuse to leave her quarters, insisting it was no trouble for him.

    The two had grown up together, so Beitang Miao knew Zhao Chang Nian's character well. Many times, not speaking directly about something led to better outcomes than being straightforward.

    Especially when emotions were involved.

    After mulling over it for a moment, Chang Nian realized that Beitang Miao hadn't done anything wrong. She could only sigh and say, "Forget it. I have no complaints. I owe my current position to Duke Guo. It's only right to be grateful for what he gives me and accept when he takes it away. I'm just a little saddened."

    "Are you very keen on staying in the Patrol Unit?" Beitang Miao continued her train of thought. "Not because there are any particular benefits, but because it was His Majesty's wish?"

    Chang Nian nodded heavily. "Yes."

    "I'll help you then," Beitang Miao offered. "If you want to go, I'll make it happen."

    "No need." After changing into her felt boots, Chang Nian stomped her feet and sniffled. "It's just a small matter. If General gets involved, it will escalate into something major, and it's not worth it."

    Beitang Miao turned his head, his striking eyes studying her intently.

    "I've never considered anything related to the Palace as trivial," he said. "You've never burdened me with your problems since you were young, even when you were bullied. Now that I finally know, it wouldn't make sense for me to stand idly by."

    "General, it's better for you to stay uninvolved," Chang Nian said. "The Beitang Mansion doesn't need to be entangled in this, and I won't have any regrets either."

    Beitang Miao's brows furrowed as he rose from his seat.

    "Nian'er," he said, "have you never regarded me as family?"

    Noticing his anger, Chang Nian hastily stood up and waved her hand. "No, no, General is the closest person to me. I've always thought so."

    "Then why do you prefer Ye Jiangbai's help over owing me even the slightest favor?"

    Chang Nian let out a dry laugh, unsure of how to respond. Ye Jiangbai's aid came at a price; their relationship was built on mutual benefits, which made her feel less burdened. But Beitang Miao was different. He would help her unconditionally, even if it meant going against others.

    "I can't repay you," she murmured softly.

    Whether it was emotionally or materially, she could never repay him.

    "I've never asked for repayment," Beitang Miao said sternly, his chest rising and falling. "If you continue to keep your distance from me, then I will do the same."

    Feeling a mix of amusement and distress, Chang Nian asked, "How does the General plan on keeping his distance from me?"

    "Stay here with me." Beitang Miao narrowed his eyes. "Live in the Beitang Mansion, within my courtyard. Don't even think about returning to the Duke of State's residence."

    Startled, Chang Nian shook her head. "This... That wouldn't do."

    "Are you afraid of being too close? If I were distant with you, I wouldn't care about your feelings." Beitang Miao clamped his lips shut, his gaze cold.

    Chang Nian softened and tugged at his sleeve, whispering, "Don't be angry with me."

    Beitang Miao ignored her, turning his head away.

    Chang Nian circled around him, looking up at his face. "I was just worried about you."

    Not wanting to hear that, Beitang Miao turned his face again.

    Chang Nian continued to dance around him, insisting on facing him. "Besides, the Beitang family has never been involved in political factions. If you speak up for me, others might see it as the Beitang family colluding with the Seventh Prince. How would that be?"

    "I've already colluded with you," Beitang Miao grumbled.

    "But there's still the entire Beitang family," Chang Nian argued earnestly. "All those uncles and Great General Beitang, you wouldn't disregard them, would you?"

    Unable to refute her, Beitang Miao reached out and pressed her little head, saying in a cold voice, "Finish the sweet soup, take a hot bath, and then we'll talk in the warm chamber."

    "Ai..." Chang Nian wanted to say more, but Beitang Miao didn't give her the chance, instead striding out.

    The night was deep, and most mansions had extinguished their lights for sleep. However, the main courtyard of the Marquis's residence was still illuminated.

    Ye Jiangbai leaned on his eyebrow bone, his gaze sinister as he stared at the hundred-butterfly floral dress hanging on the screen for half an hour.

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