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    Chapter 64: Confrontation

    "Are you alright?" Chang Nian asked softly as she handed him his cloak.

    Beitang Miao wiped his mouth, pulled the cloak around himself, and said with a pleasant mood, "It's nothing."

    Sniffing, Chang Nian lowered her head and mumbled, "You didn't have to come out and fight him."

    "How could I stand by and watch him use his martial prowess to overshadow the efforts of Your Highness in front of the Emperor?" Beitang Miao shook his head. "I couldn't do that."

    Touched, Chang Nian bit her lip and followed him towards the emperor, thinking to herself that if he hadn't stepped up today, Father would surely have thought her weak and incapable, bringing shame to the royal family.

    "Your Majesty," Beitang Miao bowed, "This man's martial arts surpass the standard of the Patrol Corps. Not to mention Seventh Highness, even Third Highness would struggle to withstand five moves against him."

    The emperor relaxed his expression and smiled. "The people from Duke Guo's mansion are truly impressive."

    "Given two more years of training, Seventh Highness might even surpass him," Beitang Miao said. "The City Guard has more patrol duties and less training, which is unsuitable for His Highness. In my humble opinion, Seventh Highness should choose the Patrol Corps."

    "General Beitang is mistaken," Ye Jiangbai said with a forced smile. "The City Guard also undergoes regular training, and there's a training ground specifically for them at the Northern Gate."

    Beitang Miao turned his head slightly, his expressionless voice inquiring, "Then why did the Duke insist on recommending the Patrol Guard for Third Prince's training two years ago?"

    "Times have changed," Ye Jiangbai replied. "In my opinion, the City Guard is the most suitable choice for Seventh Prince at present."

    With a cold laugh, Beitang Miao responded, "The City Guard and Patrol Guard both fall under my command. Does Lord Duke, a mere scholar, believe he knows more about the military field than a general?"

    Tensions escalated!

    In just a few words, the two had somehow become adversaries, their tones growing increasingly sharp. The emperor above them was taken aback, hurriedly trying to mediate. "My dear ministers, please discuss this calmly."

    "Your Majesty, I am usually an easygoing person," Ye Jiangbai said with a faint smile. "But it seems General Beitang has some misgivings about me."

    "Which official in this court does not fulfill their duties?" Beitang Miao replied solemnly. "But Lord Duke holds the position of a duke and wields influence over three provinces and six ministries, which is already overstepping. Now, he wishes to advise me on matters of the military field?"

    "I dare not claim to be guiding, only offering suggestions," Ye Jiangbai said. "Has General become overly agitated?"

    "In the past, when princes entered the military field, five or six would merely go through the motions, while only two or three would genuinely train in martial arts and military strategy," Beitang Miao bowed to the emperor. "I have always disagreed with this state of affairs. Taking advantage of this opportunity, I wish to request Your Majesty to implement reforms."

    The emperor fell silent, a contemplative look in his eyes.

    The cavalry general standing behind Beitang Miao promptly stepped forward and presented the memorial.

    Ye Jiangbai had come prepared. How could he have shown up empty-handed? If he didn't want Zhao Changnian in the Patrol Guards, how could the Third Prince expect to have an easy time? The accomplishments were all stolen from others, piled up to exchange for a hollow reputation of the "Third Prince's capabilities." If there were no disturbances, he would turn a blind eye. But since they insisted on stirring trouble, it was not his fault.

    Two years ago, when the Patrol Guards crushed rebels, the Third Prince was credited with a first-class achievement, even though he wasn't even present at the scene. —This was just a small example he offered to the emperor. If needed, he could provide more.

    Ye Jiangbai lifted his gaze, locking eyes with Beitang Miao, his eyes shimmering with hidden currents.

    Beitang Miao met his stare calmly.

    None of the officials in the imperial study dared to breathe loudly, inwardly crying out to heaven. Rumors had long circulated that the Duke of State and the Grand General of the North didn't see eye to eye, but everyone had never witnessed their encounter and assumed it was mere gossip. Now, upon witnessing their exchange, it was clear that their conflict went far beyond mere disagreement; it seemed as if they bore an irreconcilable grudge!

    But where did this animosity between the two originate?

    Everyone whispered among themselves, while the emperor, seated above, was troubled. The contents of the memorial were manageable, and he was well aware of these tactics to gain fame. However, the document revealed Beitang Miao's stance – he intended to reform the military field and didn't wish for a scholar-official to intervene.

    It was no secret who this scholar-official was.

    The emperor was plagued with headache. Ruling by both pen and sword, how could these two most favored ministers, one representing literature and the other representing martial arts, end up at odds?

    "On this matter..." The emperor closed the document and said, "Let's discuss it another day."

    Ye Jiangbai and Beitang Miao both bowed in agreement.

    As the imperial study session ended, everyone left the palace. As soon as Chang Nian exited Chongyang Gate, she wanted to catch up with Ye Jiangbai to have a word with him.

    However, Beitang Miao held her wrist.

    "Your stepmother has prepared lunch for you," he whispered. "She made your favorite braised beef."

    Chang Nian forced a laugh. "Am I still going to Beitang Mansion?"

    "Of course," Beitang Miao replied softly, looking at the Duke of State who had obviously slowed down his pace. "It's freezing everywhere else."

    Only your house is warm, as if it's heated by a stove!

    Walking ahead, Ye Jiangbai sneered to himself. Fools were so easy to deceive. A plate of braised beef could lure her away. Chef Qi's dishes were a hundred times better than anything from Beitang Mansion! Had she forgotten or what?

    He had already slowed down for her, giving her an opportunity to come back to the Duke of State's residence, apologize, and make things right. Then, he could pretend nothing had happened and continue spoiling her with good food.

    However, after walking for a while, the person behind her showed no intention of catching up.

    "Red Ti is still waiting for me over there," Chang Nian whispered to Beitang Miao. "I have to go back and check on her."

    Indeed, a maid was more worthy of her attention than he was! Ye Jiangbai rolled his eyes.

    "Prince Guardian has to tend to the Third Prince, so he might not have time to look after Your Highness. It wouldn't hurt to stay in the Beitang Mansion for a couple more days. Injuries can be tended to anywhere," Beitang Miao said. "I'll send someone to fetch Red Ti later and help Your Highness pack your belongings."

    "This..." Chang Nian scratched her head, unsure how to decline. She could only hope that Ye Jiangbai, just three steps ahead, would turn around and reject the offer on her behalf.

    But Ye Jiangbai seemed not to have heard her. Not only did he not refuse, but he didn't even spare her a glance.

    Chang Nian smiled bitterly. Today, she had served as a stepping stone for him, helping him showcase Ye Liang's martial skills before their father. Now, Ye Liang could easily secure a military position wherever he wanted. What else could he possibly complain about?

    She was the one who should be angry. He had humiliated her with his guest, and if not for Beitang Miao's intervention, she would never have regained her father's favor.

    Lowering her gaze, Chang Nian stared at her new cotton boots for a moment. Since Ye Jiangbai still didn't speak up, she reluctantly agreed, "Alright."

    With a sharp "crack," Ye Jiangbai crushed the ornament on his waist.

    The exquisite white jade was thrown into the snow, creating a dent and sinking in. Upon witnessing this, Chang Nian felt an inexplicable twinge in her heart, accompanied by a sour ache.

    She approached and squatted beside the small hole, reaching out to dig through the snow. She retrieved the broken half of the ornament and held it in her palm.


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