Han Yunxi hadn’t even found the head elder when a dark-robed servant girl came dashing her way.
“Princess! Princess, bad news!” the servant’s expression was ashen white. She was one of the servants that Han Yunxi had bribed to her side to serve at Ning Jing’s side. Han Yunxi’s heart grew flustered at her actions. If anything happened to Ning Jing, how was she supposed to explain to Tang Li?
“What happened?” Han Yunxi asked.
“Both Miss Jing and Miss Mu Linger have disappeared! Qian Qian, who was waiting on them in the rooms, was killed!” the servant girl cried, her lips trembling from fear. “This servant was just about to deliver the meal when I saw Qian Qian lying on the ground. There was no one on the bed...this servant---this servant went to find Miss Linger right away, but she wasn’t in the side rooms, either.”
The worst case scenario in Han Yunxi’s mind was that something had happened to Ning Jing’s body, but she never expected things to turn so dire. Ning Jing needed bedrest, but now she’d been kidnapped. Could she hold on? With a servant girl dead and both Ning Jing and Mu Linger missing, this was clearly an abduction case! Han Yunxi’s hands turned cold, but she still remained calm.
“Immediately notify the Council of Elders,” she ordered, “And also, don’t let slip anything about Ning Jing’s condition, or else your life is forfeit!”
Meanwhile, Han Yunxi had another servant girl wheel her to the scene of the crime. No simple figure could have snuck into Myriad Merchant Hall, killed someone, and abducted others without a sign. The culprit had to be a high-level expert or one of their insiders!
By the time she arrived, the head elder and the rest were already waiting. Once they saw the corpse inside the room, all of them exchanged looks. As Fifth Elder bent to inspect the body, Han Yunxi stopped him with a cry. “Don’t touch!”
“Someone go fetch a coroner!” the head elder cried. He understood Han Yunxi’s intentions. Although Han Yunxi possessed some medical knowledge, it was better to leave this to the experts. While they were waiting, she beat the head elder into questioning the servant girl about all the events that had happened here since yesterday. Under the repeated hints from her gaze, the nervous servant girl managed to keep a tight lip on any details regarding Ning Jing’s pregnancy. Judging from her testimony, both Ning Jing and Mu Linger were present last night, so the suspect must have slipped in between yesterday evening and this morning.
Mu Linger was in charging of brewing medicine for Ning Jing, so she lived just next door. Ning Jing was recuperating in the main bedroom, and the murdered servant girl was in charge of watching her throughout the night. Soon enough, the coroner arrived and made an examination. He concluded that the servant girl had been murdered last night with a single sword stab. There were no signs of struggle before her death.
“It must be an inside job!” Han Yunxi declared.
There were plenty of guards on night duty at Myriad Merchant Hall. Moreover, Ning Jing’s courtyard even had its own team of night sentries. Unless it was an insider familiar with the layout of the place, how could he or she have successfully slipped in and killed the victim, then bring away Ning Jing and Mu Linger?
“It’s impossible for Myriad Merchant Hall to house such moles!” Second Elder exclaimed angrily. “Even if we did, what’s the use of kidnapping Miss Jing?”
Although Third Elder wasn’t as excitable as Second Elder, he agreed with his views. “Your Royal Highness, Miss Jing has long given up managing any affairs. Now she’s even fallen ill, so any insider would know that kidnapping her has no value in threatening the Di Clan.”
“Could it be someone from the Tang Clan?” the head elder wondered.
Han Yunxi retorted, “If it was someone from the Tang Clan, then why would they just kidnap Ning Jing? Why not save Tang Li as well?”
Second Elder had a confident comeback to that. “They probably couldn’t find him!”
Han Yunxi couldn’t resist rolling her eyes. She rather wish the culprits were the Tang Clan, because things would be easier then. But how could they be the suspects? Those old fogeys at the Tang Clan still had no idea that Tang Li was a prisoner here. They only assumed that he’d taken Ning Jing to East Origin Hall to fool around. Moreover, if they were going to make a move, they’d never have the guts to try something so bold without telling Long Feiye first.
“Second Elder, aren’t you praising the Tang Clan too much? Could it be that Myriad Merchant Hall’s defenses are so weak that the Tang Clan can kill and kidnap without anyone catching them in the act?” Han Yunxi mocked,
Second Elder immediately shut up, but Third Elder chimed in, “Your Royal Highness, if it is an inside job, just who could the mole be? And why would they kidnap Miss Jing?”
Han Yunxi grew alarmed as she suddenly blurted out a name. “Uncle Cheng!”
Uncle Cheng? How is that possible?
As everyone looked puzzled, Han Yunxi quickly asked, “Head Elder, where’s Uncle Cheng?”
“Your Royal Highness, even if there’s a mole amongst our ranks, it couldn’t be Uncle Cheng. Last night when we all came back, Uncle Cheng left for the south to invite back new dealers for the casinos,” the head elder reminded her.
Han Yunxi just shook her head and cursed herself for being careless while underestimating Uncle Cheng. She almost blurted out the matter regarding Jia Dai, but stopped herself in time. It was impossible for her to explain it clearly, or else she would have brought it up ages ago. How could she ever tell the Council of Elders that she knew Jia Dai, or that they’d teamed up to bite back Uncle Cheng while costing Myriad Merchant Hall at the same time? When she’d discussed this with Long Feiye last night, she had only planned to make oblique references to the head elder as a reminder.
“Uncle Cheng...Uncle Cheng…” Han Yunxi muttered. “I’m not suspecting him. I mean to say that we have to hurry and find him. If something this big has happened, it doesn’t matter if it’s an inside job or outside enemies. This shows that Myriad Merchant Hall’s security measures are too weak. Third Elder and Fourth Elder can shoulder more of the tasks regarding the casinos so Uncle Cheng can deal with this.”
Han Yunxi’s words were less polished than usual, but fortunately the various elders didn’t sense anything amiss. After all, this was a huge matter for Myriad Merchant Hall, so it was normal for anyone to be nervous.
“Princess is right! Someone come, hurry and track down Uncle Cheng. Say that something big’s happened and he needs to come back!” the head elder immediately ordered.
Only then did Han Yunxi relax a little. If Uncle Cheng didn’t kidnap them, then my plan with Jia Dai can proceed as normal; otherwise, any of Uncle Cheng’s follow-up moves will only earn the Council of Elders’ suspicion. Whatever the reason for the kidnapping, Han Yunxi only hoped that Ning Jing’s baby would be safe.
“Your Royal Highness, how about we bring Tang Li here and interrogate him? The Tang Clan needs to give us an explanation for the Pear Blossom Rain Needles!” the head elder suggested.
Han Yunxi couldn’t begin to imagine whether Tang Li would go mad at the news of Ning Jing’s kidnapping. She should give him a heads’ up ahead of time, but that would be difficult at a time like this. She only hoped that Tang Li wouldn’t act too impulsively. Hiding her unease, she said, “It’s about time we dealt with that. Bring him to the official hall for discussing business matters.”
The blissfully ignorant Tang Li was exceptionally docile and well-behaved as he allowed the guards to tie him up without a shred of resistance. Once he arrived at the hall, he even seized the chance when no one was looking to wink at Han Yunxi. Although Han Yunxi had felt Tang Li matured over the past few days, she realized in this instant that he was still foolish like a child at times. Seeing his markedly thinner form bound up in ropes made her heart ache.
Ning Jing, where are you? Are you missing your A’Li too?
“Tang Clan Head, please take a seat,” the head elder had still prepared a chair for him. Because both of Tang Li’s legs were bound, he could only hop to his chair to sit down.
In a cold voice, he laughed and said, “Hehe, so your Di Clan still knows how to extend courtesy to its guests!”
The various elders grew incensed, but the head elder silenced them with a look. He said, “Tang Clan Head, the Tang Clan should be getting anxious now that you’ve been missing for all these days.”
“May I venture to guess that the head elder is ready to release me after saying such things?” Tang Li grew serious. “You better give my wife and me all the money we’ve won, or else I’ll never leave!”
Even the head elder’s face blanched at his statement, while the various servant girls in the hall had to hide their giggles behind their hands. Han Yunxi couldn’t manage a smile at all as she spoke next. “Tang Clan Head, if you won’t give us Di Clan a thorough explanation for the Pear Blossom Rain Needles, don’t dream of getting a cent, much less leaving this place!”
Tang Li pursed his lips. “Where’s Ning Jing? Call her out. The Pear Blossom Rain Needles was my betrothal gift to her, so if there’s anyone I’ll explain to, it’s her!” As he spoke, he arched his brow at the crowd in disdain. “What do you lot...count for? Did you ever get Ning Jing’s permission before taking her gift?”
“It’s natural for the Ning Clan Head to receive Ning Jing’s betrothal gifts!” the head elder retorted. Of course, the Ning Clan Head would be Ning Cheng.
“Fine then, call out Ning Cheng as well. I’ll explain to both brother and sister!” Tang Li knew that Ning Cheng had gone missing, so he was doing this on purpose.
The head elder couldn’t fulfill either of his requests, while Third and Second Elder had lessened their suspicions of the Tang Clan’s hand in the kidnapping after Tang Li’s statements. The head elder looked towards Han Yunxi next, pleading for her to take over.
“Tang Clan Head, this princess can represent the Di Clan Head in his place. If you can give me a clear explanation today, I’ll let you go.” At her words, all of the elders looked her way, but she gave them a reassuring glance and continued to talk. “If your explanation is unsatisfactory, then don’t blame this princess for being blunt!”
Han Yunxi was paving a way out for Tang Li, who purposely examined her from head to toe. After a long pause, he said, “Fine, then this clan head will show the West Qin princess some face.”
He remained silent for a while longer before deigning to speak, his attitude much softer. “Head Elder, this junior has a question to ask, if that’s possible.”
“Speak and let us hear,” the head elder replied guardedly.
“May I ask Head Elder how you would deal with a woman who drugged and forced herself on you?” Tang Li’s tone was serious, but his words silenced the whole crowd. A second later, everyone except the head elder grinned. Some couldn’t help laughing out loud, while others were fighting to suppress their mirth or chuckling secretly up their sleeves.
Han Yunxi only looked at Tang Li with a helpless grin of her own.
The head elder was at a loss to reply, so Tang Li went on, “Head Elder, would you kill that woman, or wed her into your household to torment slowly?”
No other reply was forthcoming, so Tang Li forged ahead. “Cloud Realm Trade Consortium is rich and arrogant, with a large clan and big businesses. My Tang Clan can’t afford to offend them. Fortunately, Miss Jing was willing to marry me, Tang Li, and give me a chance to avenge the insult.”
Nobody could manage a smile after that. With Tang Li’s words, everyone assumed that Ning Jing had been tormented daily after marrying into the Tang Clan, perhaps even suffering inhumanely at his hands. Only Han Yunxi knew it was Tang Li who was constantly bullied, ordered about, cursed, and beaten. Tang Li had worshipped, shielded, and yielded to Ning Jing like a queen. One needed chance and fortune to be spoiled like that, but the person who wanted to spoil another needed his chance, too!
Han Yunxi didn’t even know whether Tang Li would have another chance to be bullied by Ning Jing again. She listened quietly as he continued to confess.
That’s right, Tang Li wasn’t offering an explanation to them at all, but confessing his love…