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    Chapter 88: Is She Really a Man?

    Feng Tingyun had been away on official business for a few days and had just returned. Ye Jiangbai promptly hosted a banquet in his honor to wash away the dust of travel.

    "Is Seventh Prince not here?" he asked as soon as he sat down.

    Ye Jiangbai chuckled lightly. "She's at the Patrol Guards today, dealing with some matters. Why? Do you have something to discuss with her?"

    Relieved, Feng Tingyun shook his head. "I don't have anything to say to her. I just have a question for you."

    "Mmm?"

    Sending everyone else away, Feng Tingyun looked at him seriously. "Did you really bathe together with Seventh Prince?"

    Ye Jiangbai raised an eyebrow. "Why are you asking this all of a sudden?"

    "I just want to know if you've seen for yourself that she is indeed a man."

    Ye Jiangbai was slightly taken aback. His gaze turned profound. "What happened?"

    "Rumors have it that someone from the court captured the former midwife and attendants of Concubine Qin's palace. Two of them were killed on their way back to the capital. Though citizens reported the corpses, the news has been suppressed outside the city," Feng Tingyun narrated. "I heard about this during my return, and I speculate that it's either the work of the Crown Prince or Prince Three."

    Ye Jiangbai pondered, tapping gently on the tabletop. "What do they intend to do?"

    "Recently, there have been whispers suggesting that Prince Seven is too delicate in appearance, resembling a woman disguised as a man," Feng Tingyun continued. "I had my doubts before, so I examined her pulse. Traditionally, a man's left pulse is stronger, while a woman's right is. Surprisingly, Prince Seven has a stronger right pulse. However, since she mentioned sharing a bath with you, I dismissed my suspicions."

    "You make me wonder now, Jiangbai. Have you seen her clearly?"

    A subtle change in expression, Ye Jiangbai clenched his fists. Something seemed to click in his mind, slowing down his thoughts.

    "I haven't... When we bathed together, she was behind me, so I didn't see anything," he admitted hesitantly.

    Feng Tingyun's expression turned expressive.

    "Still, it shouldn't be the case," Ye Jiangbai shook his head. "I... have held her before, and there were no signs of femininity."

    Rolling his eyes in frustration, Feng Tingyun replied, "Some women may not exhibit obvious features, but does she possess distinct male characteristics?"

    Indeed... it seemed not.

    Ye Jiangbai fell silent, slightly bowing his head, half of his face concealed in the shadows. His eyes flickered as if he had just thought of something, only to shake his head and dismiss the idea.

    How could Zhao Changnian possibly be a woman? If she was, it would be a crime of deceiving the emperor, punishable by the annihilation of three generations. With her timid nature, where would she find such audacity? Besides, how could a woman agree to bathe with him?

    He asked softly, "Is the rumor spreading widely?"

    Feng Tingyun nodded. "Princess Qi has been too prominent lately. There are those who can't stand her and will always try to find ways to bring her down. If they seize this opportunity correctly, not only will they trample on her, but they might even manage to put her to death."

    "I understand," Ye Jiangbai acknowledged, tilting his head to call out, "Ye Liang."

    "At your service, sir," Ye Liang replied.

    "Find the imperial physician and midwife who assisted in Concubine Qin's childbirth back then. See where they've been sent," Ye Jiangbai instructed. "Try to rescue them if possible. If not, eliminate any potential threats."

    "Understood," Ye Liang answered promptly, leaving the room without another word.

    The wine on the table had turned cold. Ye Jiangbai leaned back in his chair, massaging his temples.

    Feng Tingyun commented, "Your arrangements suggest that you also believe she is female?"

    "No," Ye Jiangbai said, vexed. "Regardless of whether she's a man or a woman, if she falls into the hands of the Crown Prince or Third Prince, she won't have an easy time. It's better to settle this matter first before discussing the rest."

    His decisiveness in dealing with conflict was still that of the Duke of State from before. Feng Tingyun clapped his hands and sighed. "Why did you take a fancy to her?"

    Indeed, Ye Jiangbai also wanted to ask himself this question. There were countless beauties in the world; why did he become entangled with a man? He had betrayed his own principles, slapped himself in the face, and knew that others would be laughing behind his back.

    But he couldn't bear to let go.

    He was afraid that if he released his grip, Zhao Changnian would fall, and with her fragile nature, one stumble would surely mean her ruin. He was the one who pulled her up, and if he abandoned her, she... would definitely cry.

    He disliked seeing her cry the most.

    With his heart tightening and then relaxing, Ye Jiangbai pursed his lips, pondered for a moment, and got up to leave.

    The weather was gloomy that day, and it even started raining in the evening. Changnian hadn't brought an umbrella and was standing at the door, staring blankly, when she saw a carriage approaching through the rain. On top of the carriage was a finely carved copper Qilin.

    Her eyes lit up, and she jumped up, shouting, "Duke! Duke!"

    Ye Jiangbai smiled, held his umbrella, and got out of the carriage. He walked towards her and said gently, "Let's go home."

    "Ah!" Looking at him with delight, Chang Nian checked to make sure no one was around before she clung to his arm and ducked under his umbrella, laughing, "I was just worrying about how to get back."

    Raindrops fell onto the ground, creating ripples and dampening the soles of her shoes and the hem of her robe. Ye Jiangbai chuckled softly, passing her the umbrella to hold while he lifted the young lady up and placed her into the carriage.

    "Ah!" As soon as she entered the carriage, the umbrella slipped out, drenching him. Startled, she hastily grabbed the curtain to pull him in.

    Seizing the opportunity, Ye Jiangbai climbed into the carriage, nestling close to her. Water droplets trickled down from his cheek, landing on her eyelashes, causing her to blink rapidly.

    "Marquis?"

    "Mm."

    Something felt off about how gentle he was today, and Chang Nian swallowed, trembling slightly as she asked, "Is there something going on?"

    Lowering his head to gaze into her eyes, Ye Jiangbai whispered, "I had a dream last night where Your Highness encountered some trouble."

    Chang Nian froze, blinked, and then chuckled. "You were even thinking of me in your dreams."

    "Yes," Ye Jiangbai replied, embracing her. He nuzzled her hair with his nose. "So if Your Highness really does face any difficulties, you must tell me. I'll do my utmost to alleviate your worries."

    A warmth filled her heart, and Chang Nian returned the embrace, smiling. "Alright."

    Her tone was light and effortless, as if she had no worries. Ye Jiangbai's concerns slightly dissipated; he thought Feng Tingyun was overthinking things.

    Lowering her eyes, Chang Nian smiled on the surface while remaining silent within.

    Back at the Patrol Unit, Beitang Miao had said, "Ye Jiangbai, in his support for the Third Prince, has credited your previous accomplishments with Ye Liang at the Patrol Unit to the Third Prince. He has submitted a report to the palace."

    Chang Nian listened quietly. Her gaze flickered, her fists clenched then relaxed. She finally responded with a shallow smile. "Oh."

    He had mentioned this matter to her before, and she had thought he was planning to help her. To her surprise, it was merely a heads-up to prepare her mentally.

    That's good, Chang Nian thought. Everyone has more important tasks to attend to. Affairs of love and affection are but fleeting scenes; as long as they feel comfortable with each other, there's no need to question their sincerity.

    Hugging him even tighter, Chang Nian closed her eyes, savoring this moment almost greedily.

    Ye Jiangbai's heart stirred, sensing her affection. A smile tugged at his lips, filling him with joy.

    She has feelings for me, he mused. No matter the interruptions from Mu Shufang or Beitang Miao, her heart is leaning towards mine.

    One day, he would utterly conquer her, making her belong to him and him alone.

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