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    Chapter 115: On What Grounds?

    The marriage between the Ding Guo Marquis House and an imperial prince was no trivial matter. While there were no significant commotions among the common folk, virtually everyone in the court and the capital was mobilized. Be it those seeking to curry favor with the Marquis of Ding Guo or those aiming to ingratiate themselves with the Seventh Prince, all had gathered in one place. Amidst the grand scene of a wedding procession stretching for ten miles, some cheered and jeered, while others paid their compliments.

    Dressed in her wedding attire, Chang Nian sat atop a horse, with Mu Shufang already seated in the ornate palanquin trailing behind. Everywhere she looked, smiling faces greeted her, as congratulations echoed down half the street. Holding the reins firmly, she would first proceed to the palace to pay respects to the emperor and empress before returning to the prince's residence for the marriage ceremony.

    "Quite nerve-wracking, isn't it?" Mu Shufang whispered to her. "I... I've never married a lady before."

    Chang Nian said with a mix of laughter and tears, "Coincidentally, I don't have one either."

    "I still have my veil to conceal my face," she offered. "How are you holding up, Your Highness?"

    "Everything's fine, except my smile is starting to freeze in place," Chang Nian whispered. "I just saw the gifts piled up at the entrance – there are quite a few. Let's split them evenly tonight, fifty-fifty."

    She held up five fingers beneath her veil.

    Mu Shufang chuckled, instantly feeling more at ease. Grasping the matching knot, they stepped together into the wedding hall.

    Firecrackers crackled, drums boomed, and cheers echoed as this was the liveliest scene Chang Nian had ever witnessed. She was delighted, albeit not overly thrilled, but it was a positive sentiment nonetheless.

    The joyous banquet extended from the prince's residence to its outer gates, as it was a continuous feast, with guests coming and going from midday until dusk, creating a lively atmosphere nonstop.

    "Alright, alright, Your Highness should be on your way to the nuptial chamber," a few ministers, slightly inebriated, exclaimed boisterously. "A moment of the spring night is worth a thousand gold pieces; how can we delay such a precious time?"

    "Yes, yes, Your Highness, please proceed to the nuptial chamber promptly. Lord Feng and his companions are still awaiting their reward."

    Chang Nian, slightly tipsy, rose with a smile. "In that case, I must take my leave first."

    "Safe journey, Your Highness!"

    Supported by maids and guards, Chang Nian stumbled back to her new chamber with a grin, playfully embracing Hong Ti as she said, "I'll give you a big red envelope later!"

    She then turned to the butler, pointing at him, "And one for you too."

    Looking around again, she grinned at the servants, naming each one, "You, you, and... you as well."

    As her gaze shifted, she noticed someone standing under the eaves of the bridal chamber. The figure stood tall and elegant, bearing an air of weariness, with sharp eyes like blades.

    With her vision blurred, Chang Nian laughed and waved at the stranger, "Brother over there, let's share the joy of this joyous day. How about I give you one too when the time comes?"

    Hong Ti froze in her tracks, and the steward and servants, upon lifting their gazes to identify the figure, also halted, no longer daring to proceed.

    Feeling that something was amiss, Chang Nian released her grip on Hong Ti and took two steps forward for a closer inspection.

    Ye Jiangbai regarded her with a smile that was not quite a smile, then reached out and seized her wrist.

    "Is this a grand celebration? If it is, why hasn't Princess deigned to inform me?" he asked.

    Chang Nian blinked, attempting to break free from his grasp but failing. Her expression turned cold as she said, "I request Duke Guo to release me."

    "Why let go?" Ye Jiangbai narrowed his eyes, a hint of pain in his expression, but his tone was gentle. "Who was it that told me they wouldn't marry anyone else? Didn't we pinky promise?"

    Chang Nian fell silent, her lashes drooping, casting shadows on her face.

    Ye Jiangbai gazed at her intently, his grip tightening. "Did you lie to me?"

    "I treated you with sincerity, and you lied to me?"

    He roared, causing Hong Ti and the others to rush forward in concern. However, Ye Liang and Xue Song were quick to react, promptly ushering them all out of the Moon Gate.

    Chang Nian lifted her gaze and met his blazing eyes with a tranquil calmness. "I have learned much from Duke Guo's teachings, even the art of deception, I have mastered it completely."

    Ye Jiangbai was taken aback, stepping back slightly and shaking his head gently. "When have I ever deceived you? I...?"

    "Leading me into the case that cost the Historian his life doesn't count as deception; presenting a box of pearls as a false gift doesn't count; pretending to protect me while solely caring for Third Brother doesn't count; even saying you had no involvement in the palace incident, that doesn't count either."

    Chang Nian smiled, her eyes shimmering with mirth and dimples adorning her cheeks. "Every time Duke Guo deceived me, it was for the greater good, out of necessity. Thus, they cannot truly be considered deceptions."

    Ye Jiangbai's body trembled as he stared at her in disbelief. "You've held all these grievances in your heart?"

    "Not out of hatred, Duke Guo didn't harm me much; he even lent me a helping hand on several occasions." Chang Nian smiled faintly. "I just wonder, why do you feel the need to speak to me about love and affection with such demeanor?"

    "In your heart, power and status far outweigh affection for your children. Even the one you claim to love deeply can be used as a mere pawn in your schemes. To say you like me is an exaggeration; your feelings for me are more about possession than true affection." She playfully counted on her fingers, "I am your possession, required to wear what pleases you, do as you desire, so that I might win your favor and gain benefits from you."

    "You are correct. If we agree on a year, it would spare me the trouble of visiting those pleasure houses. After all, I am not so different from the women there; the only difference is that I attend to no one but you."

    Chang Nian offered a formal bow to him, ensuring all etiquette was observed. "Today marks my wedding ceremony, so I am unable to receive guests. I kindly request that you take a few days of rest and allow me to resume our discussion after my nuptials."

    Infuriated, Ye Jiangbai seized her shoulders, his knuckles turning white with the force of his grip. "Don't you know how I regard you? Must you say such hurtful words?"

    Seriously shaking her head, Chang Nian said, "You really don't like to hear the truth."

    Truth? How could that be the truth? Ye Jiangbai's face darkened. Seeing her struggle, he stubbornly refused to let go.

    "General Beithang will be here soon," Chang Nian told him. "Does the Duke want to exercise today?"

    With reddened eyes, Ye Jiangbai gritted his teeth. "Doesn't Your Highness just want to get married? What if I marry you?"

    "Sure," Chang Nian nodded without hesitation. "Father is resting late today. If the Duke wishes to marry me, just enter the palace and inform Father. I'll stay here and won't take a single step forward."

    Ye Jiangbai paused, frowning deeply.

    "Everyone can speak sweet words," Chang Nian said with a smile. "But when you hear them too often, they never come true. Later, no matter what you say, a foolish girl won't believe it anymore."

    "I once asked the Duke if you wanted to retreat to the mountains with me. You didn't answer then, but now you're blocking my way. Alright, I'll ask again." Chang Nian clapped her hands and looked at him earnestly. "Are you now willing to abandon your wealth and glory to retreat to the mountains with me?"

    Struggling to speak, Ye Jiangbai said, "I've told you, don't make things difficult for me."

    Having come this far, he couldn't simply give up on his own. So many people were counting on him to succeed. If he retreated to the mountains, how would he account to those people?

    Chang Nian nodded, shrugging regretfully. "If that's the case, why hinder me? You won't forsake wealth and honor for me, so why should I give up an advantage that's within reach for you? Because you're displeased? Lord Ye Jiangbai, Assistant State Duke, such selfish behavior would sever even friendships; on what grounds do you use it to court me?"

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