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    Chapter 102: The Duke Who Endured Hardship and Bitterness

    "No," Chang Nian clenched her teeth, her cheeks puffing up tightly.

    Ye Jiangbai's fingers remained scorching as he gently rubbed her cheeks, sighing as he said, "Your Highness, I didn't intentionally stumble upon your secret. But since I did, you must give me the chance to take responsibility."

    Her face flushed with embarrassment and irritation. Lowering her gaze, she refused to look at him.

    "I've considered the year you mentioned earlier," she said. "If the Duke can keep your promise, it's not entirely unacceptable."

    "..."

    He had been honest with her in an attempt to resolve their issues, but now she was unwilling to open up to him.

    Ye Jiangbai pursed his lips, looking somewhat melancholic. Half embracing her, he asked softly, "What kind of agreement does Your Highness wish to make with me?"

    "The Duke must not only keep my secret but also refrain from interfering in my actions, implicating others in our disputes, or revealing our relationship to a third party," Chang Nian said with a serious expression. "If the Duke can fulfill these conditions, then for this year..."

    She curved her lips. "For this year, I'll save the Duke the trouble of visiting brothels."

    A pang in his heart made Ye Jiangbai frown. "What I said… wasn't meant that way."

    "I know."

    "But Your Highness doesn't," Ye Jiangbai said, growing anxious. "It's because Your Highness refuses to speak with me or see me that I was forced to say those words out of desperation."

    "No one speaks without thinking," Chang Nian replied. "That's human nature. In a moment of urgency, only what's been on one's mind will come out. The excuse of 'speaking without thinking' is merely a way to save face."

    "Since we're already partners, there's no need to sugarcoat things like that," Ye Jiangbai said, genuinely worried. He tried to sit up and explain, but his throat was so scratchy that he broke into a fit of coughs.

    Chang Nian gently patted his back and whispered, "You need to rest well."

    "Nie'er…" He reached out to hold her hand, tightening his grip.

    In a soothing tone, Chang Nian said, "There's no need to rush. I'm not going anywhere. We'll have dinner here."

    Her tone softened, but her clear eyes held no affection—she was merely being polite. Ye Jiangbai felt terrible but couldn't find a solution. His mind was foggy due to the fever, leaving him disoriented.

    Chang Nian gently pressed him back onto the soft cushion and instructed Hong Ti to prepare a fine porridge, feeding him half a bowl.

    "I'm full," Ye Jiangbai whispered, glancing sidelong at Liang Ce, who had just entered with a bowl of medicine, causing his lips to twitch. "I can't drink anything else."

    Chang Nian got up to receive the medicine, carefully scooping it up and blowing on it to cool it down.

    "I said I couldn't drink anymore," Ye Jiangbai repeated sternly.

    "Mmm-hmm," Chang Nian nodded insincerely, attentively blowing on the medicine, her lips pouting adorably in the process.

    Ye Jiangbai found himself thinking that perhaps the sick were indeed more emotionally volatile. How could he feel his heart melting just by looking at her? It must be the lingering effects of his high fever.

    After cooling the medicine, she held the spoon to his lips.

    "Didn't I say I couldn't drink anymore?" Ye Jiangbai bristled.

    Chang Nian blinked innocently at him, then moved the spoon closer.

    Ye Jiangbai froze, silent for a moment, before finally opening his mouth to take the spoon.

    Oh, the bitterness! Who knew what concoction this medicine was made from? It was so bitter that it made one want to vomit. Ye Jiangbai felt like retching, but looking at the sudden joy on Chang Nian's face, he clenched his fists and silently told himself to pretend it was honey water.

    Yes, it had to be his tongue playing tricks on him; this stuff must be honey water!

    With this thought in mind, he pushed away her spoon and gulped down the entire bowl in one go.

    Chang Nian clapped happily and turned to look at Liang Ce. "See, your master isn't refusing to take his medicine, is he?"

    Liang Ce: "...."

    He had nothing to say. As long as both his master and the prince were pleased, that was all that mattered.

    Ye Jiangbai thought to himself, ancient people could endure sleeping on thorns and tasting bile, so how bad could two bowls of medicine be? As long as Zhao Chang Nian could overcome this hurdle in her heart, he would drink even two more bowls...

    But he'd better not have any more – it was genuinely too bitter!

    With a scrunched-up face, he vowed inwardly that once he succeeded, he would make sure all doctors in the world only prescribed non-bitter medicines!

    Hong Ti entered from outside, muttering something. After listening, Chang Nian nodded, straightened her robe, and prepared to leave.

    "Where is Your Highness going?" Ye Jiangbai inquired.

    Chang Nian turned back with a smile. "There's a guest at the residence. I need to go greet them. When Duke Guo feels better, have someone inform me, and I'll arrange a carriage to send you back."

    Ye Jiangbai narrowed his eyes, thinking that whoever wanted to return could do so; the matter was far from settled, and he was not one to give up halfway.

    Once Zhao Chang Nian had left the room, Ye Jiangbai waved for Liang Ce to approach and asked, "What kind of guest?"

    Liang Ce rubbed his nose tip and whispered, "Shouldn't you rest first? You just took your medicine."

    "I ask, you answer." Ye Jiangbai frowned.

    Liang Ce had no choice but to answer truthfully, "General Beitan has arrived."

    In the past, Ye Jiangbai might have merely indulged in a bit of jealousy, suspecting that Chang Nian's affection had diverted to Beitang Miao's side. But now that he knew her true identity as a woman, witnessing her intimacy with Beitang Miao, even if he were on his deathbed, he would struggle to rise up again!

    "Majesty, please don't get out of bed!" Liang Ce hurriedly held him back. "No one knows we've come to the prince's residence. It wouldn't be appropriate for you to suddenly appear and meet someone."

    "Let go," Ye Jiangbai demanded irritably. "I need to see what's going on outside."

    "Milord, with your current state, you can barely stand. Why bother watching?" Liang Ce said. "I have people keeping an eye on things. You'll be informed of any developments."

    Feeling utterly drained, Ye Jiangbai struggled to his feet before helplessly collapsing back onto the bed. As sleepiness crept over him, he muttered reluctantly, "Inform me if there's any news."

    "Yes, Milord." Liang Ce covered him with a blanket and shook his head, unable to decide whether to laugh or cry.

    Sick in body and worried in mind, Ye Jiangbai's nap was anything but peaceful. In his daze, he found himself in a palace, where he saw a figure in a robe adorned with butterflies dancing gracefully.

    It's Nian'er.

    Although he thought this in his heart, he didn't utter a sound. Striding forward, he was about to reach her when another person, dressed in military attire, emerged from the side and effortlessly drew her into their embrace.

    Frustrated by the sight, Ye Jiangbai summoned his martial arts skills to catch up, grabbing the soldier by the shoulder.

    But as the person turned around, they transformed into Mu Shufang, resplendent in red wedding attire, who bowed playfully towards him. "Now that I'm married to Your Highness, I belong to you. We will share meals, beds, and our very lives."

    To hell with sharing lives! She belonged to him, living or dead; it had nothing to do with anyone else!

    Pushing Mu Shufang away, Ye Jiangbai went to embrace Chang Nian, only to find a robe in his arms instead of her. No one else was there.

    Panicked, he quickly held onto his skirt and looked around for someone, muttering incessantly, each word louder than the last.

    In the end, he called out directly, "Nian'er!"

    Regaining his composure, Ye Jiangbai opened his eyes, feeling as if he had undergone several reincarnations, yet outside, it was only dawn.

    Hearing the voice, Liang Ce entered and bowed, saying, "Master, His Highness left early this morning. He instructed that the carriage is ready, awaiting your return once you awaken."

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