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Chapter 1

The bustling city of Luo’an is the capital of the dominant Great Qi, a place that everyone aspires to visit and is known for its prosperity.

Most commoners from the remote towns and villages surrounding Great Qi’s capital have never set foot in Luo’an throughout their entire lives.

Despite lacking firsthand experience, their imaginations run wild, picturing the roads in Luo’an paved with pure gold and the rivers flowing with sweet nectar.

Those fortunate enough to travel to Luo’an find themselves eagerly waiting at the imposing city gates, eager to bypass the long line of carriages and horses and immerse themselves in the splendors of the city.

However, even those who enter the city today, despite their impatience, are forced to wait in a long queue at the city gates.

This is due to recent alliances between Great Qi and neighboring countries, who have been sending princes and princesses as hostages to Great Qi’s capital as a pledge of trust.

Even the usually open West Gate, which welcomes commoners, is now used for the passage of envoys from various countries. All incoming caravans must declare their identities and undergo inspections, and only then are they allowed to enter the city.

Jiang Xiurun, a sixteen-year-old princess from the Bo Kingdom, though not as naive as the commoners who believe in the absurd rumors of gold-filled streets, still finds excitement in peeking out of the carriage window to catch a glimpse of the vibrant city crowd.

However, at this moment, as the soon-to-be hostage, she sits despondently in the carriage, her eyes reflecting a glint of despair. The handkerchief in her hand is crumpled from nervous wringing.

Her brother, Jiang Zhi, notices her prolonged silence and asks with concern from outside the carriage, “Sister, are you thirsty? We’ve run out of water, but we’ll find some for you when we enter the city.”

Jiang Xiurun lifts the curtain to look at her brother riding on a horse. Seeing his cheeks reddened by the biting cold wind, she offers him her cloak, saying, “I’m not thirsty… Brother, wear this to keep warm.”

However, Jiang Zhi shakes his head, refusing to wear his sister’s cloak. He dismounts and stands in a sheltered spot, waiting in line to enter the city.

Separated by the long queue outside the carriage, Jiang Xiurun can see the city gates, coated with glossy dark lacquer, from a distance. To her, the gates of Great Qi resemble the menacing jaws of a beast ready to devour its prey.

Because of her past life experiences, she knows what fate awaits her once she enters those gates.

In a previous life that now feels like a dream, her stunning appearance was an unforgivable crime. The Crown Prince Feng Liwu, who controlled the fate of Great Qi, publicly accused her in court of being seductive and a calamity to the nation, labeling her a bewitching beauty who should not be allowed near the king.

These merciless words not only humiliated the face of the weak Bo Kingdom in the grand hall of Great Qi but also condemned her, the princess offered as a hostage from the Bo Kingdom, to an irreversible fate.

Emperor Duanqing of Great Qi, who unquestionably followed his son’s words, completely abandoned the idea of making Jiang Xiurun a concubine in the palace. Instead, she was demoted to the laundry bureau, washing clothes for the noblewomen in the palace.

The Laundry Bureau, an external department, had numerous male servants and guards coming and going. With her status as a hostage from the Bo Kingdom and her delicate appearance, she became the target of lustful gazes. Everyone wanted to drag this former princess of the Bo Kingdom into a secluded corner and savor the softness of her flesh.

Fortunately, Jiang Zhi, her brother and fellow hostage, sold some valuables, bribing the internal supervisors with money to protect her from the abuse of those coarse individuals.

However, the Bo Kingdom was a weak nation, generally overlooked by others.

Jiang Zhi was just an insignificant figure among the hostages from various countries in this powerful capital. Even if he had the intention to help his half-sister, Jiang Xiurun, he was powerless.

A year later, she was forcibly taken by Qin Zhao, a trusted subordinate of Crown Prince Feng Liwu, on a stormy night.

Surprisingly, Qin Zhao did not seem content with just the rain and dew of that night. Disregarding his master’s assertion that she was the “calamity of the nation and a bewitching beauty,” he took her out of the Laundry Bureau. However, due to her status as a hostage, she couldn’t be brought into the palace, so she was settled in the outer courtyard, becoming his unrecognized concubine.

Furious, her brother Jiang Zhi tried to block Qin Zhao’s carriage, shouting profanities and demanding the release of his sister. However, Qin Zhao broke his rib and left him unconscious by the roadside.

It was only when Jiang Xiurun finally gave up on the idea of seeking death and pleaded with Qin Zhao to save her brother that he ordered Jiang Zhi to be lifted and sent to a doctor.

Upon hearing of her situation from afar, their father, the emperor, was ecstatic. Contrary to his indifference over the past two years, he personally wrote a letter, urging her to make good use of Qin Zhao as a pawn for the benefit of the Bo Kingdom.

Obediently, she thought that if she succeeded, her father might redeem her brother back to the Bo Kingdom, restoring his former glory as a prince. She covered the swelling in the corners of her eyes with makeup, soothing the scars in her heart.

From then on, a captivating enchantress emerged, smiling and charming everyone. Using the money Qin Zhao bestowed upon her, she attended various banquets, carefully building connections. In the capital, she became increasingly adept at navigating social complexities, becoming sophisticated and cunning.

Embracing the title bestowed by the Crown Prince, the “calamity of the nation and a bewitching beauty,” she, known as Lady Jiang, stirred up storms in Luo’an City, plotting and scheming, winning brief moments of respite for the weak Bo Kingdom.

Perhaps her influence was too conspicuous, and even at several banquets where cups clinked and conversation flowed, she drew frequent glares from the cold-faced Crown Prince Feng Liwu.

Those eyes unmistakably held pure malice.

How could a weak, small nation possibly reverse its fate because of a single woman?

Five years later, the Bo Kingdom was ultimately swallowed by the neighboring Liang Kingdom.

Her long-forgotten brother, Jiang Zhi, stood on the walls of Great Qi, falling towards the direction of their homeland, sacrificing himself for the country.

What a naive brother he was!

Even their father, who had forgotten him, was well-dressed in white, leading the entire city’s soldiers to kneel before Liang Kingdom, accepting surrender. At the age of forty, he acknowledged the twenty-year-old Liang monarch as his adoptive father, willingly becoming a servant and vowing to serve him, even leading the horse to protect his life.

As the ally of the Bo Kingdom, Daqi had been watching from the sidelines until the Bo Kingdom’s demise. It was only when the Liang Kingdom’s strength significantly declined that Daqi unabashedly sent troops to conquer Liang.

Before Qin Zhao set out for the expedition, he personally assured her that he would personally slay the Liang monarch to avenge her brother. However, not long after the expedition began, Qin Zhao’s legal wife, Lady Xu, visited, bound her, and, in the name of conciliating the bewitching enchantress, submerged her in the abyss.

However, while binding her, Lady Xu was afraid that Jiang Xiurun, after her death, would hold a grudge and blame her. Standing aside, she disclosed some information, stating not to blame her but to blame herself for being too conspicuous. As a hostage, she should have maintained a low profile and not attempted to interfere in Daqi’s political affairs, causing displeasure in the upper echelons.

When she opened her eyes again, the world had turned upside down, and her past misfortunes had returned.

Her and her brother’s birth mother, Lady Wan of the Bo Kingdom, had recently passed away. Emperor Bo’s favored consort, Lady Jiang, replaced her. Using the pretext of forming an alliance with the powerful Great Qi, Lady Jiang sent Lady Wan’s two children to the Great Qi’s capital as hostages.

Jiang Xiurun’s emotions were mixed. She was glad that her only living relative, her brother, was sitting well on the horse carriage; however, she was saddened by the prospect of entering the city, submitting the imperial decree, and enduring the criticism and humiliation of Crown Prince Feng Liwu.

In this second chance at life, Jiang Xiurun did not want to be anyone’s pawn, especially not her father.

Her father was, in fact, an exceptionally capable individual. Twenty years ago, he seized power from the previous ruler of the Bo Kingdom. Later, after being annexed by the Liang Kingdom, he could set aside his dignity as a sovereign and acknowledge the Liang monarch, twenty years his junior, as his adoptive father, pledging to serve him as a loyal subject.

Therefore, in this life, she asked her father to take care of himself while she tried to turn the tide and save the prosperity he had wrongfully obtained!

In this lifetime, she only wanted to ensure the safety and well-being of herself and her brother in this chaotic world.

Unfortunately, her rebirth came too late, and she was already on the way from the capital. Escaping was futile, as the newly appointed empress, with her cunning intentions, sent their escort to Great Qi. The leader of the escort was Shen Yong, the biological brother of the new empress, who ensured constant vigilance and left no chance for them to escape.

Since escape was impossible, entering the city later was only a matter of time.

With this in mind, she turned to open the trunk beside her and took out a sealed national document coated with red lacquer and stamped with the national seal.

In her previous life, Jiang Xiurun excelled in dancing and socializing in Luo’an City. While not proficient in other areas, she was unparalleled in the art of tampering with letters.

Examining the contents in the carriage, she took the book box placed on the shelf, used a paper knife to heat it over a nearby warming stove, and when the blade was hot, quickly used it to peel off the bottom layer of lacquer, leaving the intact wax seal.

Jiang Xiurun carefully placed the wax seal aside and unfolded the national document.

Her father, who had ascended to the throne not much more than twenty years ago, was originally an outstanding scholar in the Bo Kingdom. After marrying Lady Wan, who was the princess of the Bo Kingdom, he quickly became the consort of the Bo Kingdom and, seizing the opportunity, rose to power, changing the fate of the Bo Kingdom’s Wan family.

In Jiang Xiurun’s previous life, although she had heard someone loudly recite this national document in the grand hall of Great Qi and had already appreciated the flattering literary style of her father, Emperor Bo, witnessing it again as a new person made her feel incredibly embarrassed, unable to bear watching.

Time was running out, and the procession entering the city was slowly advancing. It would soon be the turn of the Bo Kingdom’s envoy to enter the city.

She knew that she didn’t have the national seal and couldn’t forge a completely new national document. However, there was another method worth trying.

Jiang Xiurun quickly found the passage that read, “The humble daughter Jiang Xiurun, gentle in temperament and exquisite in appearance, is willing to accompany the Sacred Chariot of the Qi Emperor, arrange pillows and bedding, cultivate the virtues of the imperial court, and be immersed in the beauty of the grand ceremonies…”

Suppressing her nausea, Jiang Xiurun glanced over it and confirmed that only this sentence needed modification. She then took out an embroidered strap, tightened the silk fabric used for copying the national document, and carefully cut out the two characters in that sentence with a knife.

Because this national document was made of the unique luminous silk fabric of the Bo Kingdom, known for its fine and soft texture, it was easy to write on. Moreover, due to the natural color of the luminous silk, there was no noticeable color difference even when using different pieces of fabric.

Xiurun rummaged through the tribute box and found a piece of fabric. Grinding the ink and concentrating on imitating Emperor Bo’s handwriting, she wrote the characters “子” and “禾.”

(T/N:子” zhi   “禾.” he)

Once the ink dried, she cut the fabric, aligned it properly, and skillfully used her adept patching technique to quickly mend it.

In no time, the piece of fabric was neatly patched, and there was no trace of the repair visible to the untrained eye.

The explicit phrase about offering the daughter to the Emperor Qi had now transformed into, “The humble son Jiang Herun, gentle in temperament and exquisite in appearance, is willing to accompany the Sacred Chariot of the Qi Emperor, arrange pillows and bedding, cultivate the virtues of the imperial court, and be immersed in the beauty of the grand ceremonies…”

Jiang Xiurun knew that the Emperor of Great Qi did not appreciate male advances. This modified national document would probably disgust the Emperor and spare her from several royal meals.

Although it was a risky move, it was the only way for her to attempt to change her and her brother’s fate.

Thinking about this, she took a deep breath and took out her brother’s robe and headdress from the box, swiftly changing into the garments.

In her previous life, when she followed Qin Zhao on a hunting trip outside the capital, she dressed in men’s clothing. Upon changing into hunting attire, she was pleasantly surprised to find that her originally enchanting and bewitching appearance had subdued somewhat. With her long limbs and tall figure, she oddly exuded the demeanor of a delicate young man.

She now wore her brother’s clothes. Although she hadn’t looked at herself in the mirror, she knew she must present a lively and handsome young man.

In her previous life, perhaps the timing of entering the city was not right. She floated like a duckweed in troubled times, and her life experiences were too unbearable.

This time, with divine intervention allowing her to start anew, she decided to change the way she entered the city—entering as the Bo Kingdom’s prince and stepping into the tiger and wolf city of Great Qi!



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