234 Mountain of Whispering Trees
"Are we going to kill all of them?" Li Chenyang finally asked his mother who was essential to how the plan would unfold. It would be a midnight ambush of the military.
Duchess Wang Qixing glanced at the hydrangeas in front of her. "Let's not discuss this somewhere so public."
Li Chenyang knew there wasn't a single servant near them. It was simply because the hydrangeas reminded his mother of Li Minghua. Li Minghua had had everything in the world, but happiness and freedom. So many resources were at her disposal but she wanted none of it.
Li Chenyang could do nothing but bow his head in respect. These flowers, he wished they would bloom for the rest of eternity.
"Let's head to your father's private study."
"But it's locked," Li Chenyang said.
Duchess Wang Qixing snorted. "He can think that all he wants."
Li Chenyang was confused by her words until they stopped in front of Duke Li Shenyang's private study. Like always, it was heavily guarded.
"Hello there, Ling," Duchess Wang Qixing said to no one in particular.
Li Chenyang glanced around the place, wondering if they had a guard with that particular name. He met the stare of each and every guard in this place, but none of them responded to that name.
That is until a shadow dropped down from the top ceiling. Li Chenyang was startled, thinking a dead body had fallen right beside him.
Like a stealthy cat, Ling landed softly on his foot. There was the slightest of thud that would've been missed if it wasn't for the silence of the hallway.
"Madam," Ling said, bowing his head.
"It's been so long since I've last seen you," Duchess Wang Qixing mused.
Ling did not respond. He remained in a one-legged kneeling position with a fist resting upon the floor and his other hand tucked over his chest.
"I will be entering into my husband's private study now. Don't worry too much and stand guard outside, won't you?"
Ling nodded his head. "As you wish, Madam."
Li Chenyang realized this man was familiar. His large silhouette and that voice, he had once heard it before in his youth.
Li Chenyang always wondered who did his father's dirty work. Looking at the man before him with his entire face covered, except his eyes, Li Chenyang knew he had his answer.
Duchess Wang Qixing slipped a key out of her sleeves. Li Chenyang gawked at the sight of the tiny key that she inserted without a problem. There was a quiet click and just like that, she pushed the doors open, revealing the disorganized room.
Books were placed in random places with stacks of paper upon the desk. Not a single servant was allowed into this room, and Duke Li Shenyang didn't care for the mess.
Duchess Wang Qixing wrinkled her nose. "So stuffy and dusty," she huffed. Approaching the windows, she pushed it open, allowing a lovely breeze to circulate the room.
"Hmmm, sometimes I wonder if he has a secret he's hiding from me." Duchess Wang Qixing chuckled. "This room always has the best of security."
Li Chenyang nodded as he picked up a book and placed it back on the shelf where it ought to belong.
"Especially with Ling guarding it, I'm left to wonder about the crucial information inside of here," Duchess Wang Qixing said and laughed. "You know, Ling is one of the most lethal fighters I've ever seen."
"How so?" Li Chenyang asked, picking up a document. His eyes widened for a brief moment. Was this…? The Emperor's private funds!
Li Chenyang instantly picked up the document to examine it closely. His eyes quickly read over the information, his hands shaking. What the hell was this? Why were there thousands of gold transferred to an unknown location? His eyes narrowed upon the slip of paper.
The Mountain of Whispering Trees? Li Chenyang had never heard of this place before, but he knew it was a marked spot on a geography map somewhere.
Duchess Wang Qixing's attention was also diverted to something. A locked drawer. She wondered what could be inside. "Well, in my youth, I was a mischievous Princess, but you already know that."
"Of course I do." Li Chenyang chuckled. He placed the document down and hoped his mother didn't catch onto his strange behavior. "You used to tell me stories of the past during bedtime to ease me and Wenmin to sleep."
"Yes, you boys were so devious," Duchess Wang Qixing sighed. "Always keeping me up at night, refusing to sleep in your own rooms."
Li Chenyang let out another laugh. He did remember those days. It would always have a fond spot in his heart. But then his smile died down, remembering a tiny Minghua clinging onto them. Her bright eyes and innocuous smile was no match for the twins who always huddled with her as they slept.
"There was one day I snuck out of the Palace and a search was sent for me." Duchess Wang Qixing smiled at the memory. It was so fun sneaking away from the guards, that is until she was captured by bandits.
"Your father was immediately notified of my disappearance," Duchess Wang Qixing began. "And to think he didn't care about me at all! Do you know what your stupid father did?"
Li Chenyang paused his search for a geography book amongst the shelves. "I don't remember that story that well."
"Well, that idiot sent out one man! Whilst the Emperor mobilized hundreds of men, your father sent out a single person to seek for me. How rude of him?" she huffed, crossing her arms. "I almost didn't marry him because of that."
Li Chenyang smiled at her words. His mother would always say she wished she didn't marry the Duke, but everyone knew, she loved him the most.
"But guess what? The person that brutally murdered the group of bandits was none other than the single man your father employed. Gosh, that night was filled with so much blood and death."
Li Chenyang nodded encouragingly.
"Ling had killed them all. Those men all had a swift and clean death, none of them suffered. But two men were captured for interrogation. I have never witnessed someone as quick and powerful as Ling. It was terrifying that a single man handled thirty men who were twice his size."
Li Chenyang blinked. Ling was that powerful? How come he didn't know of this?
Duchess Wang Qixing smiled a bit. "He has such a pitiful background and past though… he'll never forgive himself for what he did."
Li Chenyang finally raised his head to look at her. A book rested in his hand, but he wasn't sure if he wanted to read it.
"What did he do, Mother?"
Duchess Wang Qixing's face became grave. She glanced at the closed doors, knowing no one could hear inside of this room. Even so, she couldn't bring it in herself to utter Ling's failure. It was the one thing that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
"Nevermind that, my dear boy," Duchess Wang Qixing let out a sigh. "Why am I not surprised you found a book during my storytime?"
Li Chenyang smiled a bit. "You know I love books."
"I wish you'd love girls instead," she retorted.
Li Chenyang was taken back. "What do you mean?"
"Oh son, if you must confess to me that you don't find interest in women, please do so quickly!" Duchess Wang Qixing dramatically said as she collapsed onto a couch. "Hurry now, tell me if you don't like women and I'll inform the matchmakers to change their plans."
Li Chenyang scowled. "What are you talking about, Mother? I don't like men if that's what you're implying."
"But you had never shown interest in anyone who smiles your way." Duchess Wang Qixing groaned, rubbing her forehead. She felt a headache kicking in any moment now.
"Stop jumping to conclusions," Li Chenyang huffed. He opened the geography book and began to go through the list of mountains and the page it could be found on.
"It's because you didn't spare Ning Huabing any attention when she's obviously head over heels in love with you!"
Li Chenyang paused. The timid woman with that tiny, hesitant smile flashed in his mind. "It's because she seems two-faced."
"Then what type of woman interests you?" Duchess Wang Qixing huffed, glaring at him.
Li Chenyang tilted his head, pretending to think of a response. In reality, his attention was directed towards the book. Finally, he found the page about the Mountain of Whispering Trees. And his heart dropped.
The Mountain of Whispering Trees was located on what was supposedly Wuyi's enemy lands. The Emperor of Wuyi was sending funds to their sworn enemy, Jiangsu.