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    Chapter 79: The Little Fox Under the Sheepskin

    It was he who was angry in the first place, so how did the angry one become her? Ye Jiangbai put down the jade bracelet and reached for the broken piece in her hand.

    But Chang Nian promptly stuffed it back into her sleeve, turning away from him.

    Though she was usually submissive, when upset, she could be quite stubborn. Ye Jiangbai couldn't help but laugh and cry, holding her waist as she struggled. After a few attempts, he still pulled her close and whispered, "Let me compensate you with another piece, alright?"

    "There's no need. I don't really like jade," Chang Nian grumbled. "It's just a tiny piece, and expensive at that. Plus, it caused trouble for someone to buy it early in the morning."

    With his delicate demeanor, how could he possibly go?

    Reaching out to retrieve the bracelet from his hand, Chang Nian didn't put it on anymore. Instead, she found a small box made of purple sandalwood, carefully stored the bracelet inside, and tucked it away in a low cabinet. Then, she said, "I still have to visit the Patrol Camp this afternoon, so I'll skip dinner. You can have it by yourself."

    Ye Jiangbai released his grip and watched her jump off the couch like an angry rabbit, hopping out of the room.

    Rubbing his temples, he thought that he had never had to coax anyone in his entire life. But he couldn't ignore this little rabbit; if he wasn't careful, someone else might snatch her away.

    After a moment of contemplation, Ye Jiangbai's eyes sparkled as he called out, "Liang Ce, go to Lord Feng's residence."

    Fine jade is hard to come by, and only those with status can afford to queue up early in the morning. Ye Jiangbai considered himself too dignified for such a task, but he was not the only one with status. Feng Tingyun had also been doing quite well lately; could a piece of jade really pose a challenge to him?

    Thus, on a chilly morning, Feng Tingyun was dragged out of his warm bed and dumped at the doorstep of the jade shop, braving the biting cold.

    "Foolishness!" Feng Tingyun grumbled. "Why should I clean up his mess? Who did he offend?"

    Xue Song chuckled. "The Duke is busy and unable to attend to this matter personally."

    "Busy my foot! How many days has he been absent from the Ministry of Revenue? Don't think I'm unaware," Feng Tingyun harrumphed. He then glanced at the closed shop before him. "Why isn't it open yet?"

    A nearby vendor, who had awoken early to set up his stall, overheard their conversation and casually replied, "The owner of this shop offended someone and had to close up shop before New Year's. His treasured ice-type jades were all pawned next door. If you're interested, just wait for the pawnshop to open."

    Hmm? Feng Tingyun was taken aback. "They closed down before New Year's? Which month?"

    "Somewhere around mid-October," the vendor answered. "I can't quite recall, but I heard the owner was thrown in jail. The shop hasn't been sold yet; it's been sitting idle, and no one dares to take it over."

    Feng Tingyun's eyebrows lifted slightly as he lowered his gaze.

    If he remembered correctly, that shameless Ye Jiangbai had worn the ice-type pendant gifted by the Seventh Prince ever since receiving it. When he first saw it, it was late November. If the shop had already closed in mid-October, why would the Seventh Prince need to queue up early in the morning to buy one?

    With a lingering doubt in her mind, Feng Tingyun paced back and forth in front of a pawnshop until she noticed the shutters being raised. She approached and asked, "Excuse me, is the shopkeeper around?"

    The attendant took a glance at her attire and smiled. "The shopkeeper is inside doing the accounts. Please come in, honored guest."

    ...

    Inside a small chamber, Chang Nian sat with Huang Ningzhong and Feng Jingxian standing by her side.

    "Felicitation to you, Lord Huang, on your promotion," Feng Jingxian said with a smile as he bowed. "After years as Deputy Commander, you've finally been promoted to the top position."

    Huang Ningzhong playfully pushed away his hand and addressed Chang Nian. "Your Highness, look how everyone says that Minister Feng is reticent, yet he teases me the moment we meet."

    "Your friendship warms my heart," Chang Nian replied, holding a steaming cup of tea with a grin. "I'm delighted by Ningzhong's promotion too."

    "Honored Highness, thank you very much," Huang Ningzhong bowed sincerely. "Without Your Highness's blessings, I wouldn't have had the chance to snatch a piece of meat from under Lord Lin Mao's nose."

    The Commander position at the Chengyang Gate was initially held temporarily by Lin Mao. However, he had misjudged the case of Zhi Lan's murder and hastily pinned the blame on an innocent person, allowing Huang Ningzhong to seize the opportunity.

    Lin Mao had intended to eliminate any remnants of Commander Meng's faction, thus hastily identifying Zhi Lan's murderer. Nevertheless, both Chang Nian and Huang Ningzhong were well aware that Zhi Lan could not have been killed by anyone from Commander Meng's group.

    For the one who actually carried out the attack was none other than Huang Ningzhong.

    On that fateful day when the Empress summoned Chang Nian, she had intended to eliminate her. At that time, Zhao Chang Nian had nothing, so even if she were to die in the palace, it would only be recorded as "dying from an abrupt illness." Thus, Zhi Lan, the skilled martial arts-trained palace maid, dared to lure her into an isolated section of the palace alleys near Chongyang Gate. It was then that she planned to strike.

    Chang Nian was cautious and, passing by Chongyang Gate, sought help from Huang Ningzhong, who was on duty. Pretending to answer nature's call, he followed them and promptly came to Chang Nian's rescue when he saw Zhi Lan make her move.

    However, Zhi Lan's heart was too ruthless, and her attack was relentless. Despite Chang Nian's quick reflexes, her jaw still received a shallow cut from Zhi Lan's dagger.

    Overpowered, Zhi Lan began to curse at Huang Ningzhong, threatening to report him to the Empress, implicating his entire family. Chang Nian hesitated, but Huang Ningzhong took the dagger from her hand and, without a word, ended her life.

    Watching Zhi Lan's face stiffen with death, Zhao Chang Nian didn't say much. Instead, she helped Huang Ningzhong bury the body. Her experiences growing up in the palace had taught her that mercy could be shown to anyone, except to those who sought to kill her.

    Since the Empress wanted her dead but failed, the price would now be paid by the Empress herself.

    By opportunistically aligning with Ye Jiangbai to target the Crown Prince, Chang Nian soon got what she wished for. She even achieved a double victory, securing Huang Ningzhong's position as the commander of Chongyang Gate.

    As the aroma of tea filled the air, Chang Nian gazed at the floating tea leaves in her cup and softly said, "If I had a choice, I wouldn't have chosen this path."

    If possible, she would have preferred to idle away her days in the Autumn Palace until the end, and when it became necessary to leave, she would beg her father to let her go to her mother's hometown. There, she could visit her mother's grave when she had the chance, raise a yard full of chicks, and amuse herself by collecting eggs in her leisure time.

    Unfortunately, she had an intense will to survive since childhood. Whenever she found herself entangled in someone's schemes, she would strive to carve out a path of survival within them.

    It was no different with Ye Jiangbai. By following his plans, she initially only sought to preserve her life. Yet, she hadn't anticipated her own greed. She yearned for a better life, longed to see her father the Emperor more often, and wished to receive his praise.

    Once one desired too much, there was no turning back to the past.

    "Your Highness," Feng Jingxian gazed deeply into her eyes, "Would you permit me to offer a word of advice?"

    "Speak," Chang Nian replied, regaining her composure and smiling at him.

    Feng Jingxian continued, "In this world without a wise ruler, Your Highness, you could attempt to take the throne."

    Huang Ningzhong's expression shifted, hurriedly trying to cover Feng Jingxian's mouth. Chang Nian, however, simply tilted her head, her eyes flickering as she asked, "Do you believe I have what it takes to compete against the Eastern Palace and third brother?"

    "I have faith in Your Highness," Feng Jingxian smiled, "If you truly wish to vie for power, you shall succeed."

    "Have you not understood yet?" Chang Nian sighed, "At present, I have no desire to fight. My only wish is for my royal brothers to cease their fratricidal strife and accompany our father in his twilight years."

    Otherwise... Otherwise, the imperial house would crumble.

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