C116 – The Gum Stuck to His Body
As a splendid horse thundered past the city gates, the gatekeepers prostrated themselves, enveloped in a cloud of dust.
The townsfolk hastily retreated, cautiously lifting their heads only once the horses had vanished into the distance.
An elderly man gathered firewood and entered the city gate, muttering to himself, “It’s Lidong again…”
Every Lidong, the young lords of Ye City convened at the Cloud Galloping Mountain Villa for festivities. Unfortunately, this season brought hardship to the nearby villagers. These young lords, atop their horses, showed no concern for farmland as they recklessly trampled upon it, damaging the crops.
Furthermore, these young masters indulged their whims, unafraid to resort to violence. If they took a disliking to someone, they’d verbally abuse or physically assault them, sometimes even resorting to murder. If they coveted a woman, they’d simply seize her, immune to the consequences, as even the authorities couldn’t touch them.
Consequently, every year, on this day, few dared to venture outside their homes.
It took a two-hour horse ride from Ye City to Tengyun Mountain. The well-maintained mountain road made the ascent possible.
Following the horses, porters lugged essential supplies and food up the mountain.
The scenery along the way was breathtaking. Verdant water flowed down the mountainside, contrasting with the snowy peaks, leaving city dwellers in awe.
Tang Yue, too, had a fondness for travel in his youth. He ventured south during winter, captivated by the vibrant greenery of the southern winter.
The higher he climbed, the chillier the air grew, and the panoramic view became increasingly awe-inspiring.
Ye City, the largest and most prosperous in South Jin, could be seen from the mountainside, including the palace. The sprawling palace structures rivaled even modern skyscrapers in grandeur.
“That’s the palace, built after decades of expansion and renovation, reaching its present grandeur,” someone explained.
Tang Yue yearned to capture the moment with his camera. This ancient structure, absent for two millennia, possessed an unparalleled historical significance. Though it lacked the vibrant hues and glazed tiles of the Forbidden City he’d encountered, its intricate octagonal roofs and carvings were equally astounding.
Though lacking the bright red tiles and white walls, the monotone wooden structure dazzled with its raised octagonal roofs and intricate carvings.
Positioned halfway up the mountain, the Soaring Cloud Villa comprised interconnected quadrangle courtyards, creating a circular layout that seemed to tether the mountain itself.
Numerous courtyards dotted the landscape, each accommodating four individuals. It appeared that residents had their own customary living arrangements, and there was no formal allocation of courtyards. Nevertheless, every year witnessed some changes, with newcomers like Tang Yue or those who had left Ye City, often grouping together.
Tang Yue, however, had no such concerns. Zhao Sanlang promptly claimed the adjacent courtyard and, with hands on his hips, addressed Xu Ziheng, “Tang Xiaolang will stay here. Relocate, Ziheng!”
“Why?” Xu Ziheng’s face quivered with anger, and Tang Yue half-expected a layer of powder to cascade off his skin.
“He’s soon to become the Crown Princess. Do you wish to contend with him?” Zhao Sanlang’s arrogance was palpable, prompting Tang Yue to think, “Your attitude alone guarantees I won’t comply.”
As anticipated, Xu Ziheng shot a resentful glare at the innocent Tang Yue. “In that case, I’ll ask the Crown Prince to arbitrate whether his Crown Princess can oust me from here.”
Tang Yue nudged Zhao Sanlang and suggested, “Why make it so complicated? Can’t we share the space?”
In such courtyards, each person had access to four rooms. Aside from the Mistress, servants occupied the remaining quarters. Guards were stationed on the mountain and at its base, ensuring that space was not in short supply.
Tang Yue eyed the vacant rooms on the other two sides and inquired of Zhao Sanlang, “Who else is residing in this courtyard?”
Zhao Sanlang was about to reply when a group of individuals entered. Leading the way was an individual adorned with a golden crown, a silk sash encircling his waist, and a pair of resplendent golden boots—Tang Yue had never encountered such opulence before.
Xu Ziheng promptly approached and bowed, “When did Lord Xin Ling arrive? We failed to receive word; otherwise, we would have greeted you en masse.”
“Haha… Ziheng, you’re still as courteous as ever. We’re all quite familiar with one another; there’s no need for formalities.”
Tang Yue couldn’t help but steal several glances at Lord Xin Ling. So, he was the proprietor of Cloud Galloping Manor, reputed for nurturing over a hundred dancers.
“I heard that Ziheng was causing a ruckus even before I entered the estate. He wasn’t treating me well, was he?” Lord Xin Ling artfully broached the subject, all the while keeping his gaze fixed on Tang Yue.
Xu Ziheng awkwardly averted his gaze. “Lord Xin Ling, please take that lightly. It’s just that some individuals can be a bit overbearing and attempt to exert influence unfairly. Ziheng simply engaged in a spirited discussion.”
Gently prodding Zhao Sanlang on the back, Tang Yue inquired, “Does he reside within this compound?” This inquiry implied that the courtyard they currently stood in belonged to the homeowner. Tang Yue hadn’t anticipated that Zhao Sanlang and Xu Ziheng would have such connections.
They remained unaware of the identity of the individual in question.
Zhao Sanlang nodded and guided Tang Yue to welcome their guest. “It’s been half a year since we last met. Lord Xin Ling, you seem to have become even more handsome.”
Lord Xin Ling playfully responded, “Sanlang, your flattery hasn’t waned, I see. I wonder how many of Ye City’s beautiful ladies have fallen victim to your charms.” He then turned to Tang Yue and inquired, “This must be the renowned doctor, Marquis Yueyang from the young master’s household, correct?”
Tang Yue humbly clasped his hands, stating, “I don’t deserve the title of a divine healer. I merely possess some knowledge in treating certain ailments.”
“I’ve heard about you for quite some time. Young sir, there’s no need to be modest. How could an ordinary person have healed Crown Prince’s leg? In fact, young sir, you not only cure ailments but also hearts. I recall that when the king proposed the marriage to County Princess Tangxi, Crown Prince was quite resistant.”
Tang Yue furrowed his brow. Why did these words sound rather strange?
Could it be that this individual was also one of his romantic rivals?
Considering his age, however, that seemed unlikely. Lord Xin Ling was at least a generation older than Crown Prince Zhao, right?
“His Highness has a perfectly healthy heart. There’s no need for any treatment. A marriage spanning a thousand miles is united by a single sword. It can only be said that fate has brought His Highness and me together. It’s beyond our control.” Tang Yue smiled sweetly, as if he had fallen for a man.
Lord Xin Ling erupted into hearty laughter, the sunlight glinting off the gold on his attire nearly blinding Tang Yue’s eyes.
“What a clever response. It seems that young dandy’s eloquence swayed His Highness,” Lord Xin Ling quipped in a jesting manner.
Tang Yue sensed a hint of hostility in the other’s words, but anyone else would interpret them as playful banter. It appeared to be a harmless jest.
“Why isn’t His Highness here? His Highness wasn’t in Ye City a few years ago, so there was no chance to invite him. Now that he’s in Ye City, I must extend an invitation for him to visit my humble abode.”
Tang Yue originally dispatched someone to inquire if Crown Prince Zhao had ascended the mountain. If he had, it would be ideal, saving him a lot of trouble. If not, he could form a group with others as soon as possible.
His hopes were minimal. He had never heard of Crown Prince Zhao engaging in the pastimes of young nobles. Little did he expect that the prince would grant his request, allowing him to come tomorrow.
Lord Xin Ling’s eyes sparkled with delight as he said, “It seems that I owe some gratitude to Tang Xiaolang. If it weren’t for him, the Crown Prince wouldn’t be joining us. I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”
With Crown Prince Zhao’s arrival imminent, sharing accommodations with the others was out of the question. Lord Xin Ling willingly offered his main courtyard.
“His Highness mentioned that Lord Xin Ling is the most jovial person he knows. It would be a shame if he didn’t visit.”
“His Highness did say that?” Lord Xin Ling’s excitement flared briefly.
Tang Yue nodded. While the first part of his statement was true, the latter was his own embellishment. The Crown Prince had essentially implied that Lord Xin Ling was indulging in amusement instead of fulfilling his responsibilities, a sentiment that truly disappointed him.
Tang Yue surveyed the people behind Lord Xin Ling. He sensed an intense gaze directed at him earlier, causing him to feel uneasy.
Yet, when he turned to look, no one seemed to be staring at him. Could it have been a figment of his imagination?
The group chatted for a while until someone entered from outside. Tang Yue recognized the newcomer as County Princess Huizhu’s County Prince, an exasperating figure who had troubled him before.
Tang Yue surmised that County Prince must be the last to arrive in the courtyard. Based on the arrangements, he couldn’t discern the relationships between Lord Xin Ling and the three of them.
“County Prince, you’re here too. I hope we can have a splendid time this year, and you won’t steal all my lovely ladies,” Lord Xin Ling playfully quipped.
County Prince cast a scrutinizing glance at him but remained silent. Instead, he approached Zhao Sanlang with a furrowed brow. “Why didn’t you come to the Prefecture to welcome me?”
Zhao Sanlang was taken aback. It was true that he had welcomed County Prince in the past. Back then, he had few friends and had harbored improper intentions toward the princess. Naturally, he had seized every opportunity to curry favor with County Prince.
However, it had been a while since he last visited the Prefecture. With a friend like Tang Yue, County Prince had slipped to the back of his mind.
Seeing County Prince’s gloomy expression, Zhao Sanlang quickly found an excuse and said, “I heard you’ve been diligently practicing martial arts lately, so I assumed you wouldn’t come.”
“Practicing martial arts is martial arts, and you’re no stranger to it either. If you can be here, why can’t I?” The boy’s tone was confrontational, and Tang Yue cast a sympathetic glance at Zhao Sanlang.
Even if Zhao Sanlang were to marry County Princess Huizhu, this child would still be considered his stepson. Tang Yue wondered whether this close relationship would prove to be a blessing or a curse.
“Let’s set that aside for now. How should we arrange accommodations in this courtyard?” Zhao Sanlang firmly pulled Tang Yue to his side and declared, “I must stay with Tang Xiaolang. Either someone vacates this place, or I’ll arrange for Tang Xiaolang to stay in another courtyard.”
Xu Ziheng glanced at Lord Xin Ling with a hint of frustration. Unfortunately, Lord Xin Ling neither outright declined nor accepted the proposal. He simply remarked, “I met Noble Heir of State Duke Heng on my way here, and he expressed his desire to stay with the Tang Family’s young master for a few days. It appears that the young dandy is quite popular.”
Tang Yue couldn’t bear the sarcasm and quickly retorted, “If this courtyard is too crowded, and we’re becoming increasingly incompatible, we can seek lodgings in other courtyards.”
As he was about to lead his men away, he discreetly sketched a symbol on Zhao Sanlang’s back before confidently striding out of the courtyard.
Shortly afterward, Zhao Sanlang caught up with him, wearing a mischievous grin. “You’re truly something else! You just ignored Lord Xin Ling and left like that. Did you see the expression on his face after you left? I doubt he’ll recover for days!”
Tang Yue rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you say that Cloud Galloping Manor belongs to Lord Xin Ling? Why are you gloating then? Aren’t you afraid of getting kicked out?”
“No way. I pay a substantial sum each year. Do you really think Lord Xin Ling alone can maintain this manor’s comfort?”
Maintaining a manor of this scale was indeed costly, but there were food and supplies available on the mountain. Otherwise, they would have had to rely on subsidies, given the expenses of maintenance and caring for the numerous beauties.
“Let’s go. I’ve had my eye on a courtyard since last year. It’s a bit secluded, but the scenery is magnificent. I was just waiting for an excuse to bring it up.”
“Also Call Ping Shun.”
“Of course, he won’t miss out!” Zhao Sanlang and Ping Shun shared a close bond forged through training and hardship. Their friendship had deepened through their shared revolutionary experiences.
The two of them strolled together, arms draped over each other’s shoulders. Suddenly, an enraged shout came from behind them. “Zhao Sanlang, are you planning to leave me behind again?”
Tang Yue’s lips curled into a mischievous smile. “Look, your son is here. He’s like gum stuck to your body—impossible to peel off.”
Zhao Sanlang glanced back helplessly and forced a smile. “Why did County Prince come along too? I need to relocate with young master from the Tang Family. I’m afraid we won’t be able to stay together.”
County Prince sneered. “I’ll go wherever you go. Do you think you can ditch me?”
Zhao Sanlang silently pondered, “Why not?” But he dared not voice those thoughts aloud.
Although he had become more assertive and his martial prowess had improved significantly, the memories of being bullied by County Prince still haunted his mind.