Love in Another Life: My Gentle Tyrant - lightnovelgate.com
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A Traitorous Consort.
The snowstorm was violent.
Under the watchful gazes of thousands of consumers lining the two sides of the streets, scores of powerfully armed guards were escorting a criminal carriage.
Smiling bitterly, Xuanji stared at the blood which continued to flow from her wounds. Only because of Zhang Jin's cloak did she maintain the last shreds of her dignity.
Stones and rotten vegetables were flung at her head.
It was a sea of faces, adult and children alike, their expressions uniform, distorted with disdain and transformed with hatred.
'Witch!' cried the housewives who spat at her face. 'Vixen!'
'She's that traitorous bitch, just like her father!' A voice filled with hatred shouted, its owner hurling a stone at her.
The children, mimicking the displays of their parents, followed suit and spat at her.
'Stone this cheap woman to death!'
It was an unending wave of viciousness and hatred. Countless commoners followed tightly in pursuit of her prisoner's carriage. The two prison guards tasked to escort her to the execution grounds could not help but pull the horses to a halt, waiting as the imperial guards tried to disperse the crowd of angry civilians blocking their paths.
Even so, the corner of Xuanji's eyes were still wounded from the sharp stones flung at her. Blood flowed from the open cuts on her forehead and the creases of her eyes. Yet her lips remained curved in a faint, untouchable smile.
Zhang Jin, who had been standing by her side, could no longer suppress his indignance on her behalf. Turning towards the crowd, he bellowed, 'That's enough! She's only a frail woman!'
A stone was thrown at him, carving open a line of fresh blood.
'Lackey!' a scornful voice sneered.
'Please step aside,' Xuanji said as she shook her head, turning to face Zhang Jin.
Both hands curling around the bars of her carriage, Zhang Jin clenched his jaw and said stubbornly, 'I refuse to believe you are a traitor to the country.'
Xuanji lowered her head but did not reply.
Suddenly, the sound of galloping hooves resounded in the air. Ahead, the guards who had been clearing the streets froze, momentarily surprised. In a matter of seconds, the rider had closed the distance to reach the prisoner's cart, and, with a toss of the horsewhip, pulled the horse to a stop in a flurry of wind.
From within the crowd came a shout of excitement.
'That's Madam Duan! In the battle at Xuelan Mountains, it was Commander Duan Yuhuan and his wife who defended the city with their lives after General Bai was killed in combat!'
The newcomer leapt off her horse. It was a woman's body in a man's clothing, the gaze in her eyes fierce: she was the celebrated Madam Duan, birth name Yue Jingying.
During the seventeenth year of Emperor Qingjia's reign, the Xiongnu, who had been previously been expelled from Xi Liang, once again brought their armies in a renewed attempt at invasion. Xi Liang, which was also in a war against Yue Luo at that point in time, had deployed Bai Zhanfeng with a force of thirty thousand troops to resist the invasion numbering a hundred and fifty thousand.
In February, Bai Zhanfeng was killed in action, and Commander Duan, together with his wife, fought to secure the city for the next seven days, after which Long Fei-li redeployed thirty thousand troops from Yue Luo and personally led the army in the battle of the Xuelan Mountains.
The Xiongnu army, numbering a hundred and fifty thousand, suffered a crushing defeat under Xi Liang's forces of sixty thousand.
It was a collapse which utterly destroyed the remnants of their military force.
Within three years, Emperor Qingjia had conquered the rebels, suppressed the Feudal Lords, defeated Yue Luo, and destroyed Xiongnu. The feats of this young Emperor were known to all.
Just as impressive were Duan Yuhuan and his wife, who had participated in both battles against the Xiongnu. Madam Duan's competence was exalted to be just as formidable as a man's.
When the crowd saw her dismount from her horse and stride forward, they quickly parted to the sides of the street, carving out a passage for her to walk. Some women even pulled their daughters to kneel on the ground, murmuring, 'Learn from Madam Duan, not that evil traitor Nian Xuanji!'
Madam Duan clung onto her horsewhip as she quickly strode over, coming to a stop next to the prisoner's carriage. Eyes brimming with tears, she fell to the ground, kneeling before Xuanji.
A shocked silence descended upon the crowd.
Turning to the two prison guards escorting Xuanji, Madam Duan said softly, 'Please allow me a moment with her.'
The two guards exchanged a glance. One of them said, 'Please make it quick, Madam Duan. If we miss the timing of the sentence…'
Madam Duan turned back to Xuanji. 'Your Highness, you've suffered,' she said, her voice choking with emotion.
'Jingying, why have you come? You are with child and should be resting. Did Yuhuan not say a word?' Straining, Xuanji extended a hand through the bars of the prisoner's cart.
Jingying immediately reached over to grasp at her outstretched hand. 'Your Highness, in the battle of the Xuelan Mountains, with the entire city under siege, if you had not escaped from the palace to negotiate for supplies with the traders in Jiangnan, this battle would never have been won. Even if Yuhuan and I used the military plans left behind by General Bai, we would never have been able to defend the city for the next seven days, nor would His Majesty have the chance to personally lead the troops and conquer the enemy in that final battle!
'Colluding with the Xiongnu and betraying the country? How could they affix such a crime onto your name! Your Highness, you are the woman who saved the country, not I!' Jingying said hoarsely, her voice in anguish. 'I must speak with His Majesty!'
The crowd, separated by a distance from the prisoner's carriage, could not hear the words exchanged between Madam Duan and Consort Nian.
Yet Zhang Jin, who had been standing quietly by the side, could hear each word and every syllable. His heart constricted painfully. Eyes full of disbelief, he stared at the frail woman trapped within the prisoner's carriage.
Xuanji pressed a hand at her chest as violent coughs wracked her small frame. When she recovered herself, she only smiled, her voice quiet. 'It's no use.'
'Because of the child?' Jingying stumbled over to whisper urgently in Xuanji's ear. Gritting her teeth, she said, 'Tell His Majesty, Xuanji! Tell him what happened that night at Yanxia prefecture!'
Xuanji held Jingying's hands tightly within her own.
Jingying trembled. Her gaze landed on Xuanji, taking in her face, pale as a sheet, and the proud eyes, bright and unwavering.
It was a stubborn gaze bordering on ruthless resolution.
'You know the consequences of revealing what happened in Yanxia,' Xuanji said. She raised her head, her gaze faraway. 'Jingying, remember what you have promised me! If I could be granted one last wish, it would be for Long Fei-li to lead his country and her people towards their most flourishing era.'
'What about you? Don't you feel indignant? Was it worth it?' Jingying's eyes were glistening with tears, but she only shook her head desperately. 'Now, the person standing by his side enjoying all the glory and splendour is another woman - the consort of Xuesong Palace!'
A smile stretched across Xuanji's face, yet she felt it falter, threatening to fade as her lips trembled. She gave up the pretence, the forced smile leaving her face.
'Madam Duan, it is time. Please let Consort Nian continue on her way.' A sharp voice sounded from one of the guards from the front.
'Jingying, remember what you've promised me. Take care - you and Yuhuan must live until you've both become old and wrinkled.' Xuanji's fingers tightened around Jingying's hands, then, slowly, her grip relaxed, finger by finger. 'Goodbye. If there is a next life, I will see you then.'
Jingying stared at her for a moment, then she nodded, clenching her jaw and wiping away her tears. Her gaze steeling, she said, 'This last journey - let me escort you!'
She pulled her horse as she walked alongside Xuanji's prisoner carriage. Only then did Zhang Jin see her belly, swollen with child. She appeared to be days from delivery.
Zhang Jin could not hear the final words exchanged between the two women, but their conversation early on still left him in dazed shock.
The crowd was surging in agitation, the air thrumming with a feverish excitement. All the commoners gathered did not know what had happened. From the side-lines of the streets, they only saw Madam Duan escorting the traitorous consort. At the sight of Madam Duan's face, transformed with anger, none of them dared to hurl any more stones in the direction of the criminal.***
The execution compound was filled with innumerable people. Surrounding it were rows of imperial guards, struggling to control the crowd.
At the centre of the compound was the execution stage where the execution axe had already laid out. Sunlight reflected off its metallic blade, causing a shiver of fear to rise up the spines of anyone whose gaze fell upon it. Two tall and formidable-looking executioners stood to a side, their faces impassive.
Having safely escorted the prisoner's carriage to the execution grounds, Zhang Jin was pulled to one corner by the imperial guards.
In a low voice, one of the guards turned to Jingying and said, 'Madam Duan, you are with child. Please return; the execution ground reeks of blood.'
'Thank you for your kind intentions. Only, I will remain here with Consort Nian. I will go nowhere,' Jingying said. With a slight jerk of her horsewhip clutched within her fingers, motes of dust danced in the air. Seeing her fierce resolution, the guards who had been moving towards her were momentarily intimidated and quickly retreated.
Jingying did not allow anyone else to touch Xuanji either. Reaching out, she carefully helped Xuanji down the prisoner's carriage.
They were close friends, and Xuanji, familiar with Jingying's unyielding character, did not say anything else. They exchanged a smile.
A sudden splitting pain overwhelmed Xuanji and she staggered.
Alarmed, Jingying immediately reached over to help Xuanji recover her balance, and said, 'Your Highness, let me carry you.'
In a low voice, Xuanji said, 'If anything should happen to your child, Yuhuan will not let me off even when I'm dead. Do you want me to suffer even in the afterlife?'
Jingying snorted, yet her voice immediately became sombre again. 'You've bled?'
Her hands quickly brushed across Xuanji's lower body. An uneasy feeling rose within her as she reached into Xuanji's cloak, only to find that the robes within were damp. She removed her hand, which were now stained with streaks of blood.
Jingying clenched her jaw in suppressed anger. Lifting her head, she saw that Xuanji’s attention was faraway, fixed uponat the guards standing atop the execution stage.
There were three seats on the stage.
He had not taken his seat, hence the two officials escorting her could only wait with deference by the other two seats. He had been standing with his back to her. At this moment, he turned, revealing his features: a man about sixty years old, his face a picture of coldness.
He was the Minister of Justice - Lin Sizheng.
'I greet Your Excellency,' Xuanji said respectfully, her head bowed.
Lin Sizheng sneered, 'I dare not accept your greetings.'
Jingying said furiously, 'Your Highness, why do you bother to greet him?'
'Excellency Lin was once His Majesty's tutor. This courtesy cannot be dispensed with.'
A wave of sorrow washed over Jingying, who only said, 'Why do you trouble yourself?'
'What would a sinful traitor like you know about courtesy and propriety, integrity and honour? Like father like daughter!' sneered Lin Sizheng.
At this moment, the common people, who had been staring hungrily at the scene before them, started to press forward once more, their cries surging with anger and indignation.
'Execute her! Execute Nian Xuanji!'