Edited and Proofread by KitKat
It was true that Xue Wuyi did not need to intercept the envoys from Zaiguo to Yejing because there was someone else who cared more for An Chang Qing’s safety.
The secret treasure of the Xi Wei Empire lies in the person in the painting who happens to resemble An Chang Qing. Regardless of whether Emperor An Qing was interested or not, anyone who heard of this would want to get a hold of An Chang Qing.
And it mattered not if Xiao Zhige believed Xue Wuyi’s letter entirely, he would still do everything in his power to prevent Xi Wei’s envoy from reaching Yejing alive.
So by offering Xiao Zhige this piece of information, it not only helped him solve a serious problem but also allowed him to get on the Northern Warlord’s good side.
And Xue Wuyi’s decision was absolutely right. Xiao Zhige will never tolerate anything or anyone putting An Chang Qing’s safety on the line.
The message was delivered by Xue Wuyi’s personal maid accompanied by the portrait.
The maid told him that the person in the painting looked exactly like An Chang Qing but with a quick glance, Xiao Zhige could tell that the person in the painting was definitely not An Chang Qing.
The person in the painting had longer and narrower eyes and thinner lips, making him look cold and distant. Even the mole under his left eye could not neutralize this sense of aloofness.
The painting alone was enough to give him an unapproachable feeling, very much unlike his Nuo Nuo whose looks embodied warmth and kindness.
Xiao Zhige observed the painting without making any comments.
Ji Xue couldn’t help but follow up, “My master told me to pass this message to Wangye: As long as he still breathes, the Xi Wei Empire will never be Da Ye’s enemy.”
Xiao Zhige held his hands to his back and thought for a long time before giving her an answer, “Go back and relay this to your master, regarding his previous proposition, this lord agrees.”
He then pointed to the portrait and said, “I suppose this is a replica. I’ll be keeping it.”
The portrait was indeed an imitation drawn by Xue Wuyi while the original scroll was hidden away. Ji Xue bowed and retreated soundlessly, leaving the painting behind.
Xiao Zhige stayed in place, sinking into deep thoughts while looking at the portrait. He was doubtful that Xue Wuyi would create such a ridiculous tale just to win a favor from him. If so, then this portrait and the secret treasure of Xi Wei were highly credible.
As for the resemblance between An Chang Qing and the person in the picture, the most likely clue would be from An Chang Qing’s maternal family. The An family had its roots in Yejing from the beginning of their ancestry, it was impossible that they would have any relationship with Xue Chang or the Xi Wei Empire. As such, An Chang Qing’s maternal family would provide a plausible connection.
However, Lady Yu came from a brothel, her parentage was unknown…
With a plan in mind, Xiao Zhige carefully put the portrait away. He quickly wrote a letter and had it delivered with haste.
Once everything was arranged, Chang Zai Cang arrived to ask about the jade mines.
When Chang Zai Cang heard that Xi Wei was willing to give up the jade mines without a fight, he was in disbelief, “Why do I feel as though there’s something going on that I’m unaware of?”
Xiao Zhige raised his eyes and said to him, “There’s much that you’re unaware of. You only need to man the mines. And as agreed, I’ll be taking 70% of the profit.”
Chang Zai Cang no longer pursued the topic. After fighting along Xiao Zhige for these many years, he knew Xiao Zhige would not do him harm. Instead, he began to discuss the next step.
“What happens after we have mined the jade?” As they did not report this to Yejing, it was unwise to let this matter spread.
Xiao Zhige had already thought this through. He instructed, “After mining the jade, have merchants deliver the raw stones southwards. There are businessmen there who will be willing to invest in these.”
Although the Da Ye Empire was currently in a decline, it was still a wealthy nation. Especially in the south where the first Emperor had once established trading with the Yu Ze Empire. Businesses flourished during that time and those merchants remained rich to this day. Later, the subsequent reigning emperors abolished trading but the region remained prosperous.
The rich there did not concern themselves with money but what to spend it on. Putting up the jade at an auction was bound to reel in a few buyers.
Chang Zai Cang was a little doubtful, “Auction off the jade? Are you sure someone will buy it?”
Xiao Zhige gave him an impatient look and said, “Send someone who’s good with commerce to build momentum first. The South is filled with businessmen, I’m sure it’ll be sold in no time.”
Chang Zai Cang heeded his advice and left to make the arrangements while Xiao Zhige went to find An Chang Qing with the portrait.
An Chang Qing had already had his breakfast and was reading in the study. Yu Xiao was now familiar with his duties and followed behind An Chang Qing like a little tail. Seeing Xiao Zhige approaching, he straightened up and greeted him.
Xiao Zhige nodded at him and entered the room.
When An Chang Qing heard him coming in, he put the book down and looked up. Xiao Zhige met his eyes and remembered the painting. But the more he compared the two faces, the more different they felt to him.
Xiao Zhige had no intention of hiding this matter from An Chang Qing so he carefully closed the door behind him and told An Chang Qing everything.
The portrait was spread out on the table and An Chang Qing stared at it with great intensity.
After a while, he shook his head and affirmed, “I’ve never seen this person nor heard mother speak of this before.”
Whether it was this life or the previous life, he did not know that he had any connection with the Xi Wei Empire. He had heard some old stories from his mother but it had nothing to do with Xi Wei.
As an infant, An Chang Qing’s mother was abandoned and left on the roadside. The only item she had on was a piece of twin fish jade pendant. She was picked up and raised by her adoptive parents until the year they were afflicted with famine. Thanks to her beauty, she was bought by the brothel in exchange for silver to save her parents’ lives.
This was simply baffling, even Xiao Zhige seemed to know more than he did. But even so, Xiao Zhige seemed to have hit a deadend.
Since An Chang Qing did not have any information either, Xiao Zhige took a candle and burned the painting. “Leaving this painting around is tempting fate. Keep this matter to yourself and tell no one.”
An Chang Qing was perturbed by this unexpected development. In his last life, he had never stepped out of Yejing and therefore, was ignorant about the Xi Wei Empire and that they even had such a secret. It seemed that with his rebirth, he was able to change a lot of things but at the same time, also disrupted many events that had not taken place in his last life.
There was no telling if these changes were for the better or worse.
Xiao Zhige saw him grimacing and thought that he was anxious about the situation at hand and tried to comfort him, “I have given the order to assassinate the envoy from Xi Wei. This information will not reach my father or anyone else.”
An Chang Qing shook his head and rested it on Xiao Zhige’s shoulder. He sighed and said, “I just feel like lately, things have been happening one after another. There’s simply no time to rest.”
It was inevitable that An Chang Qing would feel anxious that everything was starting to get out of control. He couldn’t help but blame himself for being too oblivious and uninformed in his previous life.
Xiao Zhige stroked his back and thought of another way to comfort him, “The jade mine is ready. Let me take you there to pick out some good pieces.”
An Chang Qing was still listless but Xiao Zhige’s invitation cheered him up a little. He nodded and went along with Xiao Zhige.
After the negotiation over the mines ended, Xi Wei troops were called back and the camps were cleared. Liangzhou soldiers then went on to cordon off the mining area, making it inaccessible to the public.
The pair went in to have a look. Inside were craftsmen filtering out the raw jade stones and loading them onto carts. These stones were mixed in with earth that were shaken up during the landslide.
An Chang Qing spent some time learning from the craftsmen on how to grade the jade. Having managed to pick out a good amount of high-quality jade stones, the uneasiness that he was feeling for the last two days eventually faded.
From the running of the jade mine to finding buyers was left to Chang Zai Cang to handle. As there was nothing urgent left to deal with, the pair prepared for their return trip to Yanzhou.
One early morning, a herd of horses lined up along the main road.
An Chang Qing had now learned how to ride and picked for himself a tamed mare. Little Yu Xiao was to be brought back with them but since An Chang Qing was still a beginner at riding, he asked Xiao Zhige to ride with Yu Xiao.
Although Xiao Zhige did not object, his face turned dark and for the whole road, his eyes kept looking at the figure ahead.
Yu Xiao sitting in front of Xiao Zhige was squirming with fear and dared not move a muscle. After knowing that the person who saved him was actually the Wangfei of the Northern Warlord, Yu Xiao’s admiration of An Chang Qing was raised to another level. He felt that not only was An Chang Qing kind-hearted, he was also truly amazing, even the scary Warlord had to listen to him.
As May approached, the temperature got a lot warmer. The folks in Yanzhou had changed to thinner clothes. And since the war had ended, the city had become much more lively.
When they returned, the people of Yanzhou gathered and gave them a hearty welcome, making the city seem bustling and joyous.
By the time they reached the manor, it was already evening. Yu Xiao was handed over to Anfu while Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing went to have dinner and planned to turn in early.
Having traveled for one day and night on horseback, An Chang Qing’s body was aching all over. After washing up, he sat on the bed and beat his legs while pouting coquettishly.
When Xiao Zhige came in and saw this scene, he went over and sat next to him. He placed An Chang Qing’s legs on his lap and began massaging. “Riding will take a toll on your body. I’ve told you to ride with me.”
The Northern Warlord was still unhappy that An Chang Qing did not ride with him and instead, arranged for a child to take his place.
“It wasn’t that tiring at the beginning.” An Chang Qing pursed his lips and jolted Xiao Zhige’s shoulder with his foot.
Xiao Zhige chuckled and continued to press An Chang Qing’s acupoints. As the hands with calloused fingers ran across An Chang Qing’s tender skin, he felt a tingling itch.
“Stop rubbing there.” An Chang Qing tried to pull his foot back due to the tickle.
Xiao Zhige’s eyes turned dark. He leaned forward and whispered, “Nuo Nuo, can we make love tonight?”
An Chang Qing’s entire body froze on the spot. His cheeks and ears reddened as he stared at Xiao Zhige with wide eyes.
Xiao Zhige was emotionally roused by his shy looks. He placed his hand over An Chang Qing’s back and beseeched, “Can we?”
An Chang Qing heard his words and felt like he could emit smoke from his body any minute. This would be the first time he had done this whether it was his past or current life. Nonetheless, they had been married for so long, making love was nothing abnormal. He also did agree that they would do it when they returned to Yanzhou.
What stumped him was why does his husband feel the need to seek permission in such a formal way?!
An Chang Qing glanced at him and thought with annoyance, such matter… shouldn’t they just get to it spontaneously. Did he even have to ask!
Xiao Zhige could not tell what An Chang Qing was thinking so he waited patiently for An Chang Qing’s answer. For them to do it, An Chang Qing would be the one to suffer. This was greatly unfair to him and Xiao Zhige was unwilling to force him. If An Chang Qing did not want to, he would continue to wait.
Seeing Xiao Zhige’s expectant eyes, An Chang Qing swallowed nervously and mentally encouraged himself that it was no big deal. Still too embarrassed to say yes, An Chang Qing plucked his courage and gave Xiao Zhige a kiss to show his acquiescence.
A pair of moist and soft lips pressed against his own, clearly representing An Chang Qing’s answer. Xiao Zhige felt his desires surging but he dared not indulge himself in fear of hurting An Chang Qing.
He untied An Chang Qing’s hair and slowly supported his head while lowering it onto the bed. His fingers combed through his as he gently planted a kiss on his forehead.
He smiled and whispered softly, “Don’t be afraid…”
That night, Xiao Zhige was extremely gentle.
Thanks to the exercises and instructions prescribed by Hu Shifei, An Chang Qing was not in too much pain. But because of the day-long horse riding, he was completely exhausted and fell asleep right after it ended.
On the other hand, Xiao Zhige could not sleep a wink. After he had meticulously washed An Chang Qing’s body, he held him in his arms and looked at him tenderly.
From now on, this person is his entirely.
Xiao Zhige did not sleep as he was in high spirits. At daybreak, he went to train in the yard to vent the excess energy. He had also carefully instructed the kitchen to prepare only light meals for An Chang Qing.
Coming back from the kitchen, Xiao Zhige happened to see Anfu who was about to enter the room to call An Chang Qing. He immediately stopped him and ordered, “You don’t have to wake Wangfei up for today.”
Anfu assumed that An Chang Qing was simply tired from his trip and therefore, left without thinking too much about it. After Anfu left, Xiao Zhige did not enter the room either, lest he disturbed An Chang Qing’s sleep. He sat in the yard and watched over the door, seemingly lost in thoughts.
When Qi Wei and the gang came to visit, they were dumbfounded by the sight of Xiao Zhige smiling in a daze.
1 TN: There’s a short chapter that author had written for this scene 😉. You can read it here (password: show me the smut). It’s R18 so please enter with discretion.