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    Chapter 80: A Web of Suspicion

    Before she could finish her sentence, a series of warning knocks sounded from outside.

    Huang Ningzhong and Feng Jingxian reacted swiftly, promptly opening the hidden door beside them and slipping inside.

    Chang Nian rose calmly, adjusted his attire, and stepped out. A guard approached from afar, reporting, "Deputy Protector, Prince Third has instructed that today's patrol be to Three Saints Mountain beyond the eastern gate. The procession is already assembled, awaiting your command to set off."

    Three Saints Mountain? Chang Nian was taken aback. It was just the beginning of spring, and the snow on the mountain was still melting. There was no need for patrol at all.

    Understanding that Third Brother was in a difficult position, yet knowing that there were already people waiting outside, she hesitated. If she turned around to seek justice, she might earn a reputation for being willful and arrogant. Chang Nian felt somewhat troubled, but after some thought, she realized she had no choice but to accept it - after all, Third Brother held a much higher rank than she did.

    However, just as she followed the guards to the door, she collided with Beitang Miao head-on.

    "Where are you going?" Beitang Miao looked at her.

    The guard beside him quickly replied, "General, she's patrolling the mountains."

    Beitang Miao's expression darkened, and he asked coldly, "On whose orders?"

    The guard hesitated, not daring to answer. He had intended to fudge the truth, but unfortunately, he had stumbled upon a sensitive topic.

    Beitang Miao flew into a rage. Reaching out, he grabbed the guard and pulled him close, scolding, "Each division of the Patrol Squad has its own responsibilities. Without the Emperor's order, no one can be randomly transferred. The Deputy Commander is in charge of patrolling the palace. How dare you order her to go on a mountain patrol?"

    His voice boomed like a bell, causing the guard's face to turn pale with fear. He quickly knelt down, "Please calm down, General. This was Third Prince's intention. All the commanders are absent today. There have been wild beasts appearing on Three Saints Mountain, harming civilians. It's not unreasonable for Third Prince to assign the Deputy Commander to deal with the situation."

    "Rubbish!" Beitang Miao fiercely brushed his sleeves. "I just came from the East Gate. Why didn't I hear anyone mention anything about wild beasts? You can use your dirty tricks elsewhere, but do you dare to use them in front of me?"

    The guard could only stammer in fear. Seeing how genuinely angry Beitang Miao was, he started kowtowing repeatedly. "Please calm down, General! Please calm down!"

    Chang Nian cupped her hands in a polite gesture, softly pleading, "General, please calm down."

    Beitang Miao shot her a sharp glance before turning to get into his carriage.

    "Hey?" Chang Nian asked, "Didn't the General just return? Where are you going now?"

    "To the palace," replied Beitang Miao coldly as the carriage curtains fell.

    Chang Nian was left bewildered, watching the carriage disappear rapidly down the palace road.

    Beitang Miao entered the palace to meet the emperor, using the prince's unauthorized mobilization of troops as a pretext to expose the corrupt state of the Patrol Unit, Imperial Forest Army, and City Guard. He cited several cases of murder within the palace walls, blaming the corruption in every sector with heartfelt sincerity and deep concern.

    The emperor, angered by this, summoned all the leaders for a scolding in his study for half an hour. He then stripped the third prince of his military command, ordering him instead to devote himself to studying ancient texts in the cabinet.

    The third prince never could have imagined that such a small inconvenience would lead to such a calamity.

    "General Beitang is truly formidable!" Mu Shufang exclaimed to Chang Nian, her hands animated. "My father told me he stood before the emperor for half an hour, speaking logically and directly hitting the core issues. Even His Majesty was left speechless!"

    "Father probably hasn't seen General Beitang speak so much before," Chang Nian replied with a wry smile. "He's usually quite reserved."

    "Indeed," Mu Shufang sighed. "I saw him at a palace banquet once, and from afar, I could tell he was not one for many words. For him to suddenly speak up like that, he must have been holding onto resentment for a long time. But he's clever—he criticized the three armies for the emperor's safety, and from the emperor's perspective. Father didn't blame him for being reckless but reprimanded the third prince instead."

    Chang Nian forced a laugh, her face falling. "Now Third Brother will definitely hate me even more."

    "My father said that this incident started because of you, but it wasn't your fault," Mu Shufang comforted her. "General Beitang is an upright man. When the three armies fell into disrepute, he knew this day would come ever since he took charge. You just happened to be there at the wrong time."

    Nodding guiltily, Chang Nian thought to herself that indeed, from an outsider's perspective, Beitang Miao's actions had nothing to do with her. That was for the best.

    Still, his impulsiveness this time was undeniable. Though the outcome was satisfactory, she would need to talk to him about it the next time they met.

    Feng Tingyun arrived at Duke Fu's residence and immediately saw Ye Jiangbai with a smile on his lips, engrossed in some documents. A quick glance revealed the contents to be about the incident that had just transpired in the Patrol Guards' camp.

    "You're still smiling," he frowned. "Jiangbai, don't you think our Seventh Prince is a bit too formidable?"

    "Hmm?" Ye Jiangbai looked up. "What do you mean?"

    "She was cornered by the Third Prince, but General Beitang came to her defense and got the prince removed from his military position," Feng Tingyun explained. "Do you find that normal?"

    Ye Jiangbai chuckled lightly. "Indeed, it doesn't seem ordinary. But this has nothing to do with the Seventh Prince; it could only be considered bad luck for the Third Prince, who happened to become General Beitang's target. If it wasn't General Beitang speaking up or if the one in the wrong wasn't the Third Prince, things would have turned out differently."

    Feng Tingyun knitted his brows. "You weren't someone who believed in coincidences before."

    "I only believe in facts," Ye Jiangbai closed the document. "This incident being a coincidence is the fact."

    "If General Beitang speaking up for her was a coincidence, then Minister Qin and Minister Liu from the cabinet doing the same—also a coincidence?" Feng Tingyun pressed. "These people have never been involved in political factions, nor have they ever taken sides with any prince. Even Duke Ding Guo has now shown support for the Seventh Prince."

    Looking at him as if he were an idiot, Ye Jiangbai asked, "You didn't know that Minister Qin from the cabinet is related to the Seventh Prince? Before, he didn't have the chance to speak up for her, but now that he does, why wouldn't he help his own family? Minister Qin and Minister Liu are close friends, so wouldn't they naturally speak up together? And regarding Duke Ding Guo, Mu Shufang practically wears her heart on her sleeve when it comes to the Seventh Prince! It's almost like she wants to hang a sign at the city gates!"

    His eyes narrowed slightly as he spoke the last part.

    Feng Tingyun choked, slightly annoyed. "Fine, all these have explanations. But do you know how close Seventh Prince is to Feng Jingxian from the Ministry of Revenue? Feng Jingxian now consults him on every matter, big or small, and speaks with great respect. Some say that when Feng Jingxian's family faced trouble previously, Seventh Prince generously provided a large sum of money to help."

    Ye Jiangbai paused, lifting his gaze to look at him.

    "You don't believe it, right? Neither did I, so if you have the time, ask her if the box of banknotes she gave to Seventh Prince last time is still there."

    "I saw the box that held the banknotes," Ye Jiangbai said. "She spent half of it on things for me."

    Speaking of which, he reached out to Feng Tingyun. "What about the jade?"

    Taking out a small intricately carved red sandalwood box, Feng Tingyun said with a complicated expression, "Top-grade ice jade. The original shop closed in mid-October. This item is at the pawnshop next door. The smaller ones go for two thousand three hundred taels each, while the larger ones cost no more than five thousand taels."

    A small pendant would only cost two to three thousand taels. How could that be half of the money?

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