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    Chapter 111 - Whose Trap?

    Among all the weapons in the court, Ye Jiangbai was the sharpest blade for proxy assassination.

    ...

    With his sharpness, Ye Jiangbai was currently dressing Chang Nian, holding her gently.

    Chang Nian's face blushed crimson as she gritted her teeth, "I can do it myself."

    "Don't move," Ye Jiangbai grinned, "If you keep fussing, we'll be late for the morning court."

    Who's making a fuss? Chang Nian struggled, "A corset should be tied tightly, your loose way is no good. I might as well do it myself!"

    Looking at her unhappily, Ye Jiangbai said, "What if you damage your healthy body by binding it too tightly?"

    "What if someone discovers this huge secret?!"

    "..." Rubbing his chin in thought, Ye Jiangbai's eyes lit up, "We can just say that Seventh Prince has been working on his physique and developed pectoral muscles!"

    "Out!"

    The ornately carved door swung open and shut, pushing Ye Jiangbai out. He stumbled several steps before regaining his balance. Instead of anger, he laughed heartily, his smile as radiant as the sun that had escaped Hou Yi's arrow.

    Liang Ce swallowed, handed him the official documents for the court session, and followed closely behind, whispering the message from Feng Tingyun as they walked.

    After listening, Ye Jiangbai maintained his smile. Only when he got into the carriage did he continue, "It's not impossible for Prince Third to use our hands against the Crown Prince. However, before that..."

    He didn't finish his sentence, but Liang Ce understood his intention and nodded slightly in agreement.

    With the spring hunt approaching, the construction of the imperial retreat was nearing completion. The emperor, whose health had improved, sat in his study and said, "My dear minister, Minister Ye mentioned that Dong Ying Mountain has excellent feng shui and possesses the finest herbs for refining elixirs. I plan to visit the retreat three days from now and stay for two nights."

    Ye Jiangbai smiled. "This servant will accompany Your Majesty."

    "The color in your face suggests you're fully recovered," the emperor said, patting his knee with satisfaction. "Minister Ye's elixirs are truly effective. The court physicians couldn't cure me, but his medicine gave me strength after just a few days."

    "Your Majesty," Ye Jiangbai replied solemnly, "Although my father has been refining elixirs for years, he is not a royal physician by profession. He has already been impeached by the censors for administering medicine without authorization. I hope Your Majesty won't place too much trust in elixirs."

    "What are you saying?" The emperor frowned, displeased. "The court censors are a bunch of old-fashioned sticklers. They aren't the ones ill, so they only think about following rules. In my eyes, whoever can heal my body will earn my trust."

    "Your Majesty..." Ye Jiangbai started, as if he intended to further persuade, but the emperor waved him off and turned with a smile. "Let Nian also join us on this Spring Hunt. Hengxu mentioned that she was meticulous during the palace inspection. I've been considering it, and after this accomplishment, I'll confer her the title of a princess, not only to bring honor to Duke Ding Guo's residence, but also as a compensation for her efforts."

    Ye Jiangbai let out a soft sigh before bowing his head in acquiescence. "It will be as Your Majesty decides."

    Lowering his gaze, a subtle smile played on his lips.

    The emperor was oblivious, still rambling on about court affairs. Ye Jiangbai listened attentively, occasionally responding with an acknowledging sound.

    When it was time to leave the palace, Liang Ce approached to inform, "Princess Three is waiting for you outside the Chongyang Gate."

    Without hesitation, Ye Jiangbai turned and exited the palace through the Huadong Gate.

    Upon seeing no sign of Ye Jiangbai, Zhao Hengxu didn't think much of it, assuming that the duke had been preoccupied lately. However, knowing that the net he had cast was about to close, he decided to send a message to Duke's residence, seeking an understanding of Ye Jiangbai's stance.

    A brief reply soon came back: As Your Highness wishes.

    Zhao Hengxu was reassured and continued his preparations with great delight.

    On the day of departure for Dongying Mountain, Chang Nian looked at the person standing before her with a peculiar expression.

    "Lord Duke, must I wear this?"

    Ye Jiangbai, in an excellent mood, ran his fingers over the lustrous blue brocade robe adorned with hidden patterns. "Isn't it quite pleasing to the eye?"

    "You do look good," Chang Nian nodded. "But I..."

    She found herself clad in a robe of red silk embroidered with phoenixes inlaid with gold and silver threads, making her appearance rather flamboyant.

    "Your Highness has rosy lips and pearly teeth, you'd look stunning in anything," Ye Jiangbai said earnestly, looping an arm around her waist and whispering, "Don't you trust me?"

    Sighing, Chang Nian turned away. "Let's go."

    It was truly shameless of him to insist she wear what he liked. However, for such a minor matter, there was no need for her to argue. She suppressed her dissatisfaction on her own.

    The emperor, having recently recovered from a severe illness, had organized a grand spring hunt. All the favored officials, consorts, and princes were in attendance, forming a lengthy procession that snaked along Yung Wa Road.

    In high spirits, the emperor joked and laughed with his consorts throughout the journey. Upon arriving at the imperial retreat, he summoned Chang Nian and Zhao Hengxu to commend their efforts.

    "Well done on your assignment. There will be rewards when we return to the palace."

    "Thank you, Father Emperor."

    Chang Nian lowered her head, catching a glimpse of Third Brother beside her. He was looking at her with an odd smile.

    Somehow, Chang Nian had a foreboding feeling. She retreated into the crowd and called over Liao Shan, the deputy supervisor, asking, "Did you thoroughly inspect every area during the final check?"

    Liao Shan patted his chest confidently. "Your Highness, rest assured. I've checked every corner, and there were no issues with the materials. You've inspected it twice too. If there were any flaws, they would have been discovered by now, wouldn't they?"

    Still uneasy, Chang Nian sought out Feng Tingyun when everyone took a break.

    Feng Tingyun maintained his casual demeanor. Upon hearing her concerns, he chuckled and said, "Your Highness worries too much. This palace was built under countless watchful eyes. How could anything go wrong?"

    If Feng Tingyun claimed there were no issues, then Ye Jiangbai likely hadn't received any alarming news either. Perhaps Third Brother's expression earlier was just her imagination?

    Chang Nian shook her head, muttering to herself before bidding farewell to Feng Tingyun and returning to her chambers.

    Watching her figure disappear behind the Moon Gate, Feng Tingyun whispered, "Shouldn't we tell her the truth?"

    Ye Jiangbai emerged from behind the screen, folding his sleeves. "If we tell her, everything will fall apart. You know how much she adores her father emperor."

    "What a ruthless man," Feng Tingyun tutted, shaking his head. "Don't blame your brother for not warning you—women can hold grudges, and their revenge can be quite painful."

    "I understand," Ye Jiangbai replied, but didn't take the advice to heart.

    He knew when to act and when to let things slide. A little coaxing could mend any hurt feelings, and besides, nothing major would come of it.

    Long Nian felt uneasy. After dining with the emperor and the other officials, she joined them at the hunting grounds. On the first day of the spring hunt, the emperor personally rode out and bagged thirty-two game, to the cheers of the courtiers and fawning of the concubines. The crown prince shot thirty-one, the third prince twenty-nine, while Long Nian's basket held only nineteen, eighteen of which were forcefully stuffed into it by others.

    The emperor didn't comment, rewarding the crown prince and urging Long Nian to practice her martial skills.

    Everyone arrived in high spirits and returned in even better ones, the emperor's laughter echoing throughout the journey.

    As the sun set, all arrangements were made at the temporary palace, and everyone began to prepare for rest. Lost in thought, Long Nian sat in her room for a long time. Just as she was about to freshen up, a loud explosion echoed not far away.

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