By noon, Chu Li was back in the public house.
He returned to the Thousand Herb Garden. Once he caught a whiff of the aura from the Glory's Will tree, the extreme fatigue he had earlier dissipated almost instantly. He now felt relaxed and rejuvenated.
Chu Li went into the house and changed his clothes. Xue Ling gently knocked on his door and brought in a basin of warm water for him to wash his face.
After he rubbed his face dry, he went to the living room and sat on his armchair. Xue Ling served him tea, and then stood beside him, her clear eyes staring at Chu Li.
Chu Li took a glance at his clothes and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Master, you've lost some weight," Xue Ling said.
Chu Li laughed, "I've only been out for a few days, and I've lost weight already? But you may be right, the food in the imperial court and in the restaurants there were not as good as the ones that you cook. They did not appeal to my appetite."
Xue Ling's eyes beamed with joy upon hearing that.
Just then, they heard a knock on the door outside. Xue Ling walked out of the living room and opened the door. She saw Su Ru standing outside.
Su Ru was wearing a yellow gown, her face looking perfect. She walked in gracefully and asked, "Is Chu Li back?"
"He just reached," Xue Ling smiled.
"Then quick, the Lady summons him over," Su Ru said.
Xue Ling frowned, "Why the hurry?"
"Don't ask so much," Su Ru rolled her eyes at her.
Xue Ling chuckled.
By the time the two entered the living room, Chu Li was already up and ready to leave, "Chief, let's go then."
"I'm afraid you must go there by yourself. I'm bringing Xue Ling to your small island," Su Ru said as she smiled.
Chu Li smile and nodded. He then stepped out of his courtyard and made his way to the Stargazing Tower.
Before he reached the tower, he could hear the melodious sound of piano playing. The harmonious rhythm of the music made him feel like he was transcended to another realm.
A smile etched on his face. It seemed that the Lady was in a good mood today.
He went up to the third floor of the tower. What he saw there caught him by surprise. Lady Siao Shi was there too.
Siao Qi was wielding her sword and she swung it in the air. The flash of her sword was as clear as water, its movements graceful and elegant.
Siao Shi had her back turned against Siao Qi, as she continued to play the piano by the window.
Sunlight ricocheted off the window pane, shining brightly on Siao Shi's face. From the side, the features of her face looked fine, her complexion fair. Siao Shi looked absolutely stunning.
"Lady, Second Lady," Chu Li gave them both a fist salute.
The flash of the sword tailed off the air, as Siao Qi sheathed her sword.
The sound of the piano too had ceased.
Both ladies turned their glances to Chu Li, their sights like two gentle rays of light dropping onto his face.
"Have a seat," Siao Qi pointed at the embroidered drum stool.
Chu Li kept his cool and quietly sat on the stool, opposite to the two ladies.
He felt that the whole third floor was brightly illuminated by the two ladies' spellbinding beauty. Their aura made him lose the courage to look them directly in the eye.
"Sorry to trouble you all the way here. What did Prince An say?"
"They will send another two or three men here to teach the Second Lady about the protocols of the palace."
Siao Qi said, "It's true that she should learn it beforehand, so she won't make any mistakes when she enters Prince An's imperial court, and become everyone's laughing stock."
"What laughing stock?" Siao Shi smiled faintly.
Siao Qi gave Siao Shi a stare, then continued asking, "Chu Li, what is your impression of Prince An?
Chu Li had the same ability as her. They could see through a person's personality and thinking at first sight.
Chu Li smiled at her, "Prince An doesn't seem to be very healthy."
"He's ill?" Siao Qi frowned. "But I've never heard of that."
She pondered as she gazed at Chu Li. He seemed like he was trying to steer the topic away. Could it be that there were some problems with Prince An?
Siao Qi swept a quick glance at Siao Shi beside her. She decided to implore more regarding the issue after her sister had left the room.
Siao Shi asked, "What illness?"
Chu Li shook his head and replied, "It's an internal injury. A very complicated one."
"The Imperial court had access to countless magical pills and herbs, and many top-notch masters at their service too," Siao Qi smiled at Chu Li, "What do we have to worry about a mere internal injury?"
Chu Li smiled, "Perhaps you're right. I presume it wouldn't bother him for too long,"
Siao Shi questioned, "Did you meet any of his concubines?"
Chu Li shook his head, "No, I've only met with Prince An himself. My identity did not allow me to roam around to other places in the court."
"That's understandable," Siao Shi nodded gently.
Chu Li smiled, "Do not worry, Second Lady. You are the princess consort. The other concubines wouldn't be able to displace you from your title no matter how much they try."
"Is Prince An's daughter fine?" Siao Shi asked.
Chu Li shook his head.
Siao Qi interrupted, "Second sister, drop your worries already. It's not like they're terrifying beasts,"
Siao Shi gently exhaled, "Initially I thought that I was fearless, since I've cheated death before. But now I know, that I'm still afraid of a lot of stuff..."
"With Chu Li by your side, you shouldn't be worry about any of those. He'll help you take care of everything," Siao Qi smiled.
Siao Shi sighed, "Chu Li really shouldn't accompany me to that place."
Chu Li smiled.
"Alright, second sister. Why don't you go home and take some rest? I still have something to discuss with Chu Li," Siao Qi said.
Siao Shi rolled her eyes and said, "What's so secretive that you can't mention it in front of me?"
Siao Qi smiled, "Nothing really, just those scandalous matters in the public house. It'll only taint your ears."
"...Fine then," Siao Shi grinned and looked at Chu Li, raising one of her eyebrows.
Chu Li shook his head and returned her a bitter smile.
After Siao Shi gracefully descended the stairs, Siao Qi revealed her glum expression and asked, "What's wrong with Prince An?"
Chu Li paused for a moment, then said, "There are a total of fifteen grandmasters guarding Prince An's imperial court,"
He had hesitated to tell Siao Qi about it. He worried that it would affect her state of mind when she went to Snow Lunar Pavilion.
He had initially planned to hide the truth from her and handle the matter secretly. He knew that having knowledge of this would put someone and their families in grave danger. He could not risk telling it to someone else.
But in the end, he decided to reveal a tidbit of the matter.
No man is an island, so it was better if he had another person helping him in the planning. If he had acted alone, there would certainly be mistakes here and there that he might have overlooked. Hence, he needed an extra hand to help him oversee the plan and add anything he had missed. It was important that he did not fail the mission, because if he did, the whole public house would be dragged into the problem.
On top of that, he had a personal intention of pulling her into the matter. Once Siao Qi had gone to the Snow Lunar Pavilion, they would lose contact for many years. He did not know how long it would take for them to reunite again.
The heart technique that Siao Qi had cultivated was peculiar. It allowed her to get rid of any personal feelings or desires. He knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be wiped out from her memories completely. When that day comes, she would not miss his presence anymore.
There were also several male disciples in the Snow Lunar Pavilion. Although love at first sight was highly unlikely, he could not take any chances too.
With Siao Qi by his side for this mission, they would be spending a lot of time together. He hoped to take this opportunity to create long-lasting impressions of him in the deepest etch of her memories, so she could remember him forever.
These intricate thoughts had only flashed across his mind for a brief second.
He faintly declared, "Prince An's strength could not be underestimated."
Siao Qi seemed to be deep in thought.
She stood up and walked to the window. The white veil hanging down the window swayed gently with the breeze.
She gazed across the landscape to a lake far away, her eyes shimmering with light.
Chu Li stopped elaborating further. He knew that for someone as clever as Siao Qi, it would only take one statement for her to get his point.
"He's only a prince, but he already held such authority. Seems to me that he has his sights on the throne."
Chu Li nodded slowly.
Siao Qi twisted her head around and looked at Chu Li, "Since he had ambitions to take the crown, why would he marry my second sister?"
Chu Li remained silent.
For anyone who had adequate knowledge about the "dos and don'ts" of the Great Ji dynasty, they would know that the imperial family had a feud with the twelve public houses within the empire. An Emperor would never have any family ties with any one of the public houses, as a precaution to prevent any potential uprisings.
At the time when the Emperor agreed to the engagement proposed by the Yi public house, it denied Prince An the eligibility of ascending the throne.
Which was why Prince An had indulged himself in various kinds of books all these years. He had catalogued all the documents and libraries, earning him a good name and garnering respect from all over the imperial court. But he was clever to avoid building friendships with the generals of the imperial fleet, so his influence was not as great. From the eyes of an outsider, it could be seen that Prince An was cautious in his every move. The last thing he wanted was to alarm the Emperor of his ambitions.
If Prince An was contented of being an emperor who would not strive for greatness, he must had taken a neutral stance in every one of his actions. Thus, he would not need to worry about anyone plotting to assassinate him. But why would he employ so many grandmasters in his court?
Siao Qi's looked puzzled.
She sat down once more, inclining her body forwards. She edged closer to Chu Li and whispered, "Chu Li, tell me the truth. Is Prince An plotting to murder my second sister?"
Chu Li nodded gently, "He was responsible for the Vitality Sealing Finger curse on the Second Lady."
Siao Qi slammed her palm hard on the tea table, leaving a clear mark on the sandalwood material.
Her face turned serious, "Just wait and see, Prince An!"