Just because Prince Yi could be unbridled, it didn't mean that he would inherit the throne in the end. The Emperor wasn't happy, just as his princes were. The former Emperor's edict wasn't absolute sometimes. The frequent delivery of beauties represented the Emperor's fear of him.
This didn't mean Ning Xueyan regretted her decision.
Her purpose had always been revenge. The future wasn't within her scope of consideration.
She calmly lifted her head. Under the veil, the beautiful lady's eyes were filled with startling coldness and tranquility. She looked nothing like a fourteen-year-old lady. She looked up at him icily. "If you don't abandon me, I'll never abandon you."
She didn't want to ponder on what the future would bring. Her consideration right now was her immediate benefits. She wanted to take every step to ensure her survival and keep going on.
To her, the future was too distant... Perhaps, she might not even have a future!
Her jet-black, feathery eyelashes trembled twice. One could see her delicate and beautiful face under the muslin. Reflected in her fairy-like looks was her tragic solemnness and determination to never look back, making her resemble a warrior about to charge into the battlefield. Despite knowing she was charging on a path of no return, she continued to advance bravely!
The handsome man with a nefarious glint in his eyes turned even colder still. However, an undetectable trace of warmth flitted across his pupils. He stopped trying to make things difficult for Ning Xueyan. Hugging her thin and weak shoulders, he urged her forward. The others that flanked his side lowered their head and excused themselves.
The residence was tastefully decorated. Inside the bedroom, a couch was placed by the window overlooking the south. There was an intricate fragrance stove on the side table that looked like it would emanate the fragrance of a hundred blossoming flowers. However, the fragrance that permeated the room was merely a mild sweetness. Behind the couch was a court lady's screen with nine sections. On the side was a curtain of pearls partially covering up a spacious bed with a canopy of muslin behind it.
Ning Xueyan looked around as she walked inside. "This is for 'me'?" she asked.
"Yes. This is the new residence I built for my favorite concubine." Ao Chenyi walked in and sat on a spacious chair carved out of Chinese cedar with ease. Calmly and contently, he started peeling the grapes placed on the table with a faint smile on his thin lips.
"Prince, is this how you scare away all the beauties that the Emperor sends? If he sends so many each time, do you have space in your inner courtyard to house them all?" Ning Xueyan asked curiously as she settled down on the chair on the opposite.
"Do you think I'd worry about whether or not they're properly housed?" Ao Chenyi looked at Ning Xueyan with a haughty expression. Suddenly, he smirked. His bewitching, long, and narrow eyes emitted coldness as he said, "If there's not enough space, we can make enough space by beheading a few of them."
What a classic response from Prince Yi!
Ning Xueyan sighed. No wonder the guards looked like the beauties like they were looking at the dead. Considering the way the Emperor sent beauties over, the manor would sooner or later run out of space. Others wouldn't dare to slight the beauties for fear of the Emperor, but this prince had no need to consider this at all.
He was, after all, Prince Yi who overturned authority at all levels. It was said that he had been following the previous Emperor to the battlefield since young. His character was also cold-blooded and ruthless. Those who offended him even in the slightest would suffer a terrible fate. If he didn't want the beauties that the Emperors sent him, killing or skinning them was just a matter of words to him.
He wouldn't pay any mind to insignificant beauties from the palace.
"Then why did you summon me here?" Ning Xueyan asked, smiling. "Since you have your ways, you wouldn't need to invent this tale of a favorite concubine and make me an open target!"
She had the feeling that this man knew all of her thoughts, so she decided to be frank with her unhappiness. In front of a man like him, frankness might be even more effective at gaining his favor.
"You're very bold. Aren't you afraid that I'll want your life after you discover my intentions?" Ao Chenyi wiped his hands with a handkerchief. He reached out and grabbed Ning Xueyan's wrist with his slender, powerful, and wide hand. There was a faint smile on his face. Target, indeed. She was indeed clever to be able to guess his plan.
When he exerted just the barest of strength, Ning Xueyan felt like her wrist was about to break. The pain shot through her heart. This man was indeed temperamental. Suppressing her pain, she looked up calmly at him with her jet-black eyes. "Prince, we're on the same boat now," she said sincerely.
She was informing him about her stance. The truth was that she had no choice but to take his side since the moment she received help from him. She had no other stance to turn to. That was why she obediently executed his order of pretending to be his favored concubine and provoking an argument with the two beauties until they tried to push her so heavily.
What an intelligent and daring girl indeed. Ao Chenyi relaxed his hand but continued to hold onto her wrist. He looked at the back of Ning Xueyan's tender, graceful hand and saw the two bloodied wounds. Those were the scratches the two beauties left when they pushed her earlier. They were now showing signs of inflammation.
The wounds were particularly conspicuous against a backdrop of soft, fair skin. It was like a discord in an otherwise harmonious picture.
It was indeed bothersome to look at!
He fished out a jade bottle from his bosom and reached over in a graceful movement. Before Ning Xueyan could recover her senses, he tugged on her wrist and pulled her into his embrace. She looked up, alarmed, and met a bewitching pair of eyes. She swallowed her yelp of surprise.
With quick movements, he smeared the milky, translucent ointment inside the jade bottle onto the injured back of Ning Xueyan's hand. She felt a refreshing coolness instantly soothing the hint of scorching pain earlier.
"If someone discovers your injured hand, you'll ruin the entire plan," Ao Chenyi said with a quiet scoff. He let go of her hand and calmly wet his hands with his handkerchief. Ning Xueyan understood from his wicked, savage smile that he wasn't joking. If she truly ruined his plan, her outcome was inevitable death.
To Ao Chenyi, people were divided into just two categories: useful and useless. If he considered her useless, she would suffer the same fate as those beauties. She wouldn't dream of asking him to treat rubbish any differently.
"What do you want me to do?" Her cold eyes regained their calm. Ning Xueyan returned to her seat, ignoring the flirtatious atmosphere when Ao Chenyi pulled her into his embrace. They were the only ones here, so there was no need for him to put on ointment for her.
"Who would find out that you're injured?" Ao Chenyi leaned on the chair with a smile playing on his thin lips. He could acutely feel her attention on him.
"Those in the palace," Ning Xueyan answered after some thought. Even though the attack happened some distance away from the others, where they were cunning enough to gather in a secluded area, this didn't mean that the eunuch and the other beauties weren't paying attention to their actions.
Her wounds wouldn't escape the notice of those who pay attention.
"What will happen next?" Ao Chenyi asked softly. His eyes were unreadable as he looked through his eyelashes at Ning Xueyan's reserved face.
"No woman in your inner courtyard has ever received such favor from you, to the point that you'd kill two beauties from the Emperor for her. If they can manipulate such a woman who can control your mood, they'll surely be able to affect you."
Ning Xueyan gave an earnest analysis after some thought.
Ao Chenyi might look rampant and impetuous, but he was in truth a shrewd person. Coupled with the fact that he had the capital's guards under his control, he met little opposition in the court. No minister dared to openly contradict him. Not even the Emperor could do anything about him. He could only try and sabotage Ao Chenyi through his harem. However, all the beauties that entered his manor would end up leaving as corpses.
So what if they sent so many?
The Emperor couldn't reprimand Ao Chenyi just because of the beheading of a few beauties.
When the Emperor who had reached the end of his rope heard that Ao Chenyi had fallen for a woman, he would surely focus on her. So, Ning Xueyan had become an open target for everyone. Whether they would try to kill his beloved concubine to disturb his peace or try to control her to cause problems for Ao Chenyi would be up to their intention.
Thus, considering the situation, Ning Xueyan had placed herself in great danger by playing the role of the beloved concubine.
"Aren't you afraid I'd abandon you so the others think it's a ruse and make their move?" Ao Chenyi raised an eyebrow and put on a wicked smirk as if he was discussing the weather, not Ning Xueyan's survival.
"You wouldn't." Ning Xueyan looked at him with her pair of jet-black eyes, meeting his languid eyes.
"Oh, do enlighten me. Do you think it's because I can't bear to let you die?" Ao Chenyi looked at her, smiling as he waited for an explanation.
"If you're dealing with any of those ministers, all you have to do is send your imperial guards. I heard the imperial guards are equipped with the mastery of eighteen different martial arts. You need not thrust me into the open. If you're dealing with others, it's even more useless to do that. I'm just your favorite concubine, not your royal consort. They won't have a need to deal with me and incur your attention. Considering your character, you don't look like someone who'd risk your ambition for a concubine."
Ning Xueyan was fluent as she explained herself with an unwavering gaze at him.
Ao Chenyi turned his head subtly to fix his cold gaze, filled with wicked killing intent, on her. Suddenly, he reached out to touch her face. Light was flickering in his unfathomable pupils as he gradually narrowed his eyes. "Yan'er, are you looking to be the only first wife's daughter of the Lord Protector's Manor?"
"No. I want to bring the Lord Protector's Manor to ruins," she said sharply. Something changed in her eyes. She looked away, avoiding his slender fingers.
There was no need for such a ruthless place to exist.
"Sure. I await the day you bring the Lord Protector's Manor to ruins," Ao Chenyi said softly. For the first time, a joyful smile appeared on his handsome face.
"Then what should we do now? How do we deal with the palace if my beloved concubine disappears from time to time?" Ao Chenyi retrieved his hand, looking unperturbed by Ning Xueyan's resistance.
"Prince, if you don't mind, I can give something a try," Ning Xueyan said in a saccharine voice. She abruptly reached out to grab Ao Chenyi's large hand.
Ao Chenyi smiled wickedly. Before he could reply, she pulled his hand to her mouth and took a large bite out of it. Blood gradually spilled out from the wound on the back of his slender, fair hand...