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    Chapter 104: Knowing Each Other Early Is So Impressive

    Physicians have said that when one has a high fever, their emotions become overly sensitive, requiring tender care.

    However, looking at this gentleman before her with a complicated expression, Zhao Chang Nian thought to herself, isn't he being a bit too sensitive? He's usually such an overbearing and cunning person; now, he leans against the headboard like a sickly beauty, glancing at her with a fleeting yet melancholic gaze, appearing both wronged and pitiful while pretending not to care. He merely whispers a gentle complaint to her.

    Pressing her chest and pinching her thigh to assure herself she was not dreaming, Chang Nian sighed, "I didn't intentionally return late."

    "The Prince is occupied, I understand," Ye Jiangbai covered his mouth and coughed softly, expressing his regret. "It's good enough that you've come back."

    "Well," Chang Nian said with a hint of guilt, "I'll make sure to come back earlier next time."

    Finishing her response offhandedly, she suddenly came to her senses, her eyes widening as she stared at the person before her. "You're planning on staying here?"

    In Ye Jiangbai's fox-like eyes, innocence abounded as he asked her matter-of-factly, "Then where else would I stay?"

    "You're the Duke of State! You have your own Duke's Mansion!" Chang Nian sprang to her feet, her nose crinkling in disdain. "How could it be appropriate for you to live in my prince's residence?"

    With his thin lips slightly pursed, Ye Jiangbai murmured, "When Your Highness was injured, you took residence in the Duke's Manor, which I deemed entirely suitable. Now that I am unwell, does Your Highness find this royal residence unsuitable for my stay?"

    Chang Nian: "..."

    For a moment, she was at a loss for words to refute him. Upon reflection, she felt a tinge of guilt for her ingratitude.

    "Whatever pleases you, Your Highness," Chang Nian admitted helplessly. "As long as you're not afraid of causing conflict, I have no reason to be."

    "Thank you, Your Highness," Ye Jiangbai smiled faintly, then pretended to cough gently before continuing, "It seems General Beitang has quite an affection for you."

    "Lord Duke worries too much," Chang Nian averted her gaze. "He's just a friend."

    "Is that so?" Ye Jiangbai lowered his eyes. "I've heard that the Beitang family intends to establish a proper wife for General Beitang, but unfortunately, he refuses to cooperate. He threatens not to return home as a means to oppose the arranged marriage."

    "That man doesn't like others making decisions for him," Chang Nian said with a pout. "If he were to meet the lady himself, perhaps he would find her attractive. But since it's his uncles forcing him to marry her, naturally, he wouldn't be fond of the idea."

    Ye Jiangbai narrowed his eyes and commented, "Your Highness truly knows him well."

    "After all, we've known each other for many years," Chang Nian calculated. "Ten years longer than your acquaintance with me."

    Ye Jiangbai: "..."

    Does knowing someone earlier make one extraordinary?

    ...Indeed, it did. The Duke, feverish and melancholic, thought to himself, Ten years, a decade of time together, they would have shared many experiences, kept countless secrets from each other, and whispered private jokes that only they could understand. If it were anything else, he might still have a chance to mend it, but time was an entity that didn't allow for shortcuts.

    "I must leave tomorrow, so I won't keep you company, Duke," Chang Nian said as she rose to her feet. "Take your medicine and rest early."

    As Ye Jiangbai watched her depart with a pillow hugged to his chest, his face wore a pout of resentment.

    When the room had fallen quiet again, Liang Ce ventured forward cautiously. "Master, would you like your medicine?"

    "No," the Duke answered grumpily, still in his despondent mood. "Go find Huo Xu."

    Ever since Huo Xu's oblivious cousin offended Ye Jiangbai, Huo Xu's life had been nothing but misery. Upon receiving the Duke's summons, he didn't hesitate to rush to fulfill the task.

    The next morning, just as Chang Nian opened her eyes, Hong Ti anxiously informed her, "Master, Prince Three has sent someone over."

    With a sudden leap... she failed to sit up and winced, clutching her aching waist. "Give me a hand."

    Hong Ti hurried to help her sit upright and handed her the robe she was to change into.

    Chang Nian dressed and freshened up hastily before rushing to the main hall.

    "Hail to Seventh Prince," Huo Xu bowed with a smile, "I have been instructed by Third Prince to discuss a matter with you."

    "What is it?" Chang Nian invited him to sit down and asked seriously.

    "The construction of the imperial palace, I assume His Highness is already aware. The Emperor has entrusted this task to Third Prince for supervision, but due to his numerous responsibilities, he may find it challenging to oversee everything personally. Thus, he wishes for your assistance in inspecting the progress."

    Chang Nian frowned. If she recalled correctly, Third Brother held a grudge against her because of the previous incident with the grain supply in Jiangxi. Why would he now ask for her help?

    "Your Highness can rest assured, Third Prince has no intention of taking credit for himself," Huo Xu explained. "Third Prince has stated that should you agree, he will report it to the Ministry of Works. Upon completion of the palace, both of your contributions will be presented to the Emperor for commendation."

    Chang Nian hesitated. "To be honest, sir, as spring has just begun, there are numerous tasks at hand. Here, I am also quite occupied..."

    "Seventh Princess," Huo Xu said earnestly, "don't you understand Third Prince's intentions?"

    "Mmm?"

    Huo Xu sighed and shook his head. "The Crown Prince is known for his brutality. Third Prince realizes that aligning with him would not ensure his safety. Therefore, he wishes to put aside past grievances and unite with Seventh Prince. This inspection duty is merely a pretense; Your Highness only needs to bear the title, without actually having to visit the construction site."

    Chang Nian pressed her lips together. "If I'm to supervise, then I must go and see for myself to justify the trust His Majesty has placed in me."

    "Huo Xu appreciates your sincerity," he replied with a smile. "As long as you agree, you can accompany Prince Third to the palace residence today."

    Given the unexpected assignment and the request from her third brother, Chang Nian deliberated for a while before nodding in consent. Huo Xu rose and instructed his attendants to inform Prince Third of their plans. Then, he bowed to her and said, "Your Highness can set off when you're ready."

    "Right now?" Chang Nian frowned. "That seems rather rushed."

    "The palace residence is quite far from the capital," Huo Xu explained. "Prince Third visits every fifth day, and today happens to be one of those days. If we miss it, we'll have to wait another five days."

    "Very well," Chang Nian said. "Let me bring some guards along."

    Huo Xu nodded in agreement.

    Chang Nian left and summoned Hong Ti, instructing her to convey the message to Mu Shufang that she wouldn't be able to visit Sanxian County today. She asked them to act accordingly.

    Thus, when Beitang Miao's carriage was halfway there, only Mu Shufang boarded.

    "Where is Her Highness?" he frowned.

    Mu Shufang nodded at him in a graceful bow and smiled. "His Highness encountered some trouble today and is unable to accompany you. He entrusted me to inform General of this matter."

    She wore a deep blue, buttoned dress with a wide golden sash accentuating her slender waist. A string of jade adorned her, complementing the three jade hairpins in her head, giving off an elegant yet carefree aura. Her speech was neither humble nor arrogant, and she dared to meet his gaze directly.

    Beitang Miao studied her expressionlessly for a moment, finding his first impression of her favorable.

    Mu Shufang met his eyes with a smile, thinking to herself that this man truly lived up to his reputation as dull as an ice cube. If not for Chang Nian's request, she wouldn't be traveling with such a cold companion.

    The carriage moved forward in silence. Mu Shufang, feeling stifled, asked softly, "General, may I go out to ride a horse?"

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