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    Chapter 93: Uncle

    Zhao Hengxu left with satisfaction, his steps hurried as if he was on an urgent mission.

    Ye Jiangbai stood at the door with his sleeves folded, watching him go. His fox-like eyes shimmered with faint ripples, like melting mountain spring water trickling into a lake, gradually returning to calmness.

    "I suppose it's a shame," he said, coughing and shaking his head.

    There was movement nearby, catching Ye Jiangbai's attention. He turned his gaze sideways and asked, "Who's there?"

    From around the corner of the house emerged a middle-aged man with a well-built physique, who smiled and bowed towards him. "Your martial arts have improved once more, Duke."

    Ye Jiangbai's eyes brightened slightly as he returned the gesture. "Master."

    He had only ever taken one master in his life, a man named Qin Dacheng. Many years ago during a spring hunting event, Qin Dacheng saved him from the jaws of a tiger. The sight of him defeating the beast barehanded had made a profound impact on young Ye Jiangbai. When Ye's grandfather later suggested he learn martial arts from Qin, he immediately went to kneel at Qin Dacheng's doorstep without hesitation.

    Back then, Qin Dacheng was just an unremarkable martial arts instructor in the capital's administration, too timid to accept him as a disciple. He avoided Ye for an entire month until the latter managed to lure him over by placing fifty jars of fine wine from Qin's doorstep all the way to his own. Only then did Qin finally agree to take him on as a student.

    Qin Dacheng had a love-hate relationship with this disciple. He admired his natural intelligence and quick learning but despised his cunning mind, even plotting against his own master. Previously, Qin had sent him to take Beitang Miao under his wing, assuming it was simply to give his protege a good apprentice. It wasn't until now that he realized this boy was actually trying to exploit General Beitang's influence.

    Impudent child!

    Despite his anger, Qin Dacheng couldn't bring himself to speak harshly to the boy, for he knew he could never outwit his disciple in a verbal exchange.

    "Master, when did you return? Why wasn't I informed?" Ye Jiangbai asked with a slight cough, hiding his lips behind his hand while smiling.

    Qin Dacheng sighed. "I've been back for several days. Seeing that the Duke was occupied with state affairs, I didn't want to bother him. Today, when I heard from Xue Song that the Duke was unwell, I decided to pay a visit."

    He then looked at Ye Jiangbai curiously. "Winter has passed, and the weather has warmed up. How did you catch a cold?"

    Ye Jiangbai smiled faintly, trying to appear nonchalant, but his expression betrayed his melancholy. "When one makes mistakes and can find no solution, the accumulated frustration can lead to illness."

    Qin Dacheng shook his head and said sternly, "I believe your preoccupation with politics has made you neglect your martial arts, thus allowing the wind to invade your body."

    After saying this, he turned his head around, scanning the area. "Where is Ye Liang? Call Ye Liang here."

    One of Qin Dacheng's pleasures was watching Ye Liang and Ye Jiangbai sparring. In terms of martial arts, Ye Liang surpassed Ye Jiangbai, but he held his senior in such high regard that he always restrained himself during their matches, resulting in Ye Jiangbai gaining the upper hand. At these times, Qin Dacheng would sit by with a teacup, enjoying the spectacle and occasionally pointing out Ye Jiangbai's errors to fulfill his role as a master.

    Understanding this, Ye Jiangbai knew it wouldn't be appropriate to refute his master's wishes, so he instructed Xue Song to summon Ye Liang.

    Qin Dacheng smiled sincerely, a hint of guilt flickering in his dark eyes, but it vanished as swiftly as a swallow darting across the sky.

    "Let's begin," he said when Ye Liang arrived. He clapped his hands and crouched aside to watch the spectacle intently.

    Weak from illness, Ye Jiangbai dared not even counterattack. After defending for several moves, he realized his master's frailty and begged Qin Dacheng for mercy. Qin Dacheng scolded him lightly, "You're no warrior," before dismissing him with a wave of his hand.

    After some exertion, Ye Jiangbai felt a bit more energized. After changing his clothes, he stepped out and saw Ye Liang guarding the entrance. Suddenly, he asked, "Before you left, did you arrange for someone to keep an eye on Seventh Prince?"

    Ye Liang hesitated, frowning. "Liang Ce might still be watching."

    A nagging feeling of foreboding crept over Ye Jiangbai. Taking a deep breath, he muttered, "It can't be," before striding towards her courtyard.

    The Duke's residence was heavily guarded. If he had forbidden someone from leaving, there was no way they could escape, even with wings. He must have been too anxious; his palms were sweating merely because he hadn't seen her for an hour, when in reality, there was nothing to worry about...

    Pushing open the main door, Ye Jiangbai noticed Hong Ti was not standing at the partition. His brows twitched as he took two steps further and lifted the beaded curtain to peer inside.

    Half of the bed canopy hung down, and the disheveled covers were empty. By the bedside, a single boot lay discarded, crumpled as if someone had hurriedly kicked it in their haste, a sorry sight.

    That was all there was.

    His heart leapt in his chest, and Ye Jiangbai clenched the beads on the curtain so tightly that before he could exert much force, they snapped with a "swish," raining down noisily onto the floor, creating a chaotic clamor that echoed in his mind.

    "Where is she?" He turned to glare at Liang Ce, repeating his question. "WHERE IS SHE?"

    Liang Ce's face paled as he stammered in panic, "His Highness Seventh Prince vomited blood just now. I rushed to fetch a physician, but when I turned around, he was nowhere to be seen..."

    Pointing at the half-open window, Liang Ce's hands trembled. "He must have jumped out of it. Hong Ti had already left to prepare the medicine, so I wasn't prepared..."

    Taking a deep breath, Ye Jiangbai suddenly began coughing violently, bending halfway over as his face flushed red.

    "Master!" Ye Liang stepped forward to support him, speaking solemnly. "This servant will go after her immediately."

    "After her?" Ye Jiangbai continued coughing, his lips dry and cracked. His eyes held both resentment and regret. "If she had the ability to leave, she has the ability to evade you."

    A woman who had hidden in the palace for over a decade—what kind of intellect and cunning did she possess? He had underestimated her from the beginning; he had always underestimated her. That was why he kept losing, without any chance of turning the tables.

    Zhao Changnian, what a Zhao Changnian. It would be a pity for a woman like her to only be a princess; she should be an imperial prince!

    Sitting in the carriage that was hastily fleeing, Zhao Changnian sneezed three times in a row, her nose turning red.

    "Your Highness?" Hong Ti supported her with concern. "Are you alright? Was it the wind...?"

    "It's nothing." Wiping her nose, Chang Nian pursed her lips. "Someone must be cursing at me."

    At this moment, there was no one else who would want to curse at her but Ye Jiangbai.

    She curved her lips into a smile. "Let him curse. After sailing smoothly for over a decade as a Duke, he's never had such a big fall."

    On the other side of the carriage, someone sat watching her with a complicated expression. "Your Highness, I won't be able to accompany you further ahead. This carriage must head to the eastern outskirts to avoid suspicion."

    Chang Nian turned her head and gave him a sweet smile. In a soft voice, she said, "Thank you, Uncle."

    The mention of that title warmed Qin Dacheng's heart, easing his brows. He sighed. "No one in the Qin family acknowledges me as their wayward son, but Your Highness still calls me 'Uncle'."

    Chang Nian bowed slightly and croaked, "If not for Uncle's help, how could I have known that Feng Tingyun and Duke suspected me? Today, thanks to Uncle, I was able to escape from the Duke's residence. You deserve this title, Uncle."


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