Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol01 Ch24
All of Dong Lin had switched to plain colours. Under the King’s Order, everyone, no matter nobility or ordinary peasants were forbidden to wear bright colours for the next three months. Clothing, curtains were plain and even bright signs that promoted wealth and fortune were ordered to be taken down.
The air was heavy with the hint of death.
Two of the princes, two of the King’s own sons, had been poisoned without cure. They were so young, not yet ten years old. They were not eligible to be buried in Dong Lin’s solemn, royal cemetery but had to be cremated according to Dong Lin’s traditions. Their ashes were to be thrown into the river, so that they could disappear into the earth.
Chu Beijie had received the bad news and had hurriedly taken the troops back home. Around fifty miles away from the capital, the waiting figure of the Senior Official of the Left Wing, Sangtan, stopped them.
“Stop!” Seeing the brown royal flag flapping weakly in the distance, Chu Beijie held up his hand.
The exhausted troops of a hundred thousand came to a crashing halt, their dust-ridden faces confused to see the worried faces of the imperial guards outside the Royal Residence.
“The King’s Order,” Sangtan was holding onto the yellow-cloth Order, saying, “The capital is currently mourning over the death of two princes. Hostile presences such as soldiers are difficult to explain therefore they must not enter the city. All of the soldiers and horses must stay behind and will be looked after by the Duke of Fu-Lang.”
The group of commanders dismounted, silent and listening. Only Sangtan’s emotionless, well-articulated words could be heard in one’s ears.
Sunset was approaching, skewing the shadows even more. A shiver ran up Moran’s spine as he heard the Order and he secretly looked at Chu Beijie.
Chu Beijie’s face wasn’t cold or warm. He took the King’s Order with two hands and stood up.
Sangtan’s expression was reserved, his hands hidden in his sleeves. In a kinder tone, he said, “The Duke is finally back. The Duke is the King’s own brother, so please try to comfort him so that King won’t ruin his health while mourning. The King told me to escort Duke personally into the city.” He took a step back, showing that there were around fifty royal guards behind him. It seemed that after the prince was poisoned, all of the Royal Residence’s servants had been changed. There was no one he recognised.
“Duke…” Moran was standing beside Chu Beijie and his voice was a little strangled. “The soldiers have left home for a while now and they were looking forward to coming home. Now that they’re forbidden to enter, I’m afraid that some people might cause riot. I might just be over-worrying, but it’s not good if a fight happens. What we should do, please, if Duke can tell us.”
Sangtan’s expression didn’t change, just coughed once, saying to Moran, “Did commander not listen as I read the King’s Order? They will be looked after by the Duke of Fu-Lang.”
“Senior Official, it might just be Moran worrying too much, but army matters are difficult to predict. There are a lot of soldiers here, if something happens…”
“Shut up!” The wordless Chu Beijie suddenly interrupted with a low cough.
Moran stopped talking and lowered his head.
Sangtan was worrying about how to deal with Moran and seeing Chu Beijie suddenly speak, he quickly added, “It’s rather late now. The King’s still waiting, so please may Duke get on the horse to come with me into the city.” He ordered someone to lead Chu Beijie’s horse.
Chu Beijie had been controlling Dong Lin’s military power for a long time and he didn’t like flattery, so he’d always rebuke in their faces. This caused other nobles to both fear and hate him. He wasn’t usually afraid of them, but this event was massive, as two princes had been murdered while he was fighting away at the frontier. If the army wasn’t away, the enemy would never have been able to take this opportunity to murder. It was hard for the King to not suspect him. Moran was familiar with such ways of thinking and knew that he mustn’t let the Duke go in by himself, so he said, “Moran and a few personal attendants will accompany the Duke into the city.”
But he hadn’t expected that this was exactly what Santang wanted, who chuckled. “Duke’s other personal attendants don’t need to accompany and enter the city alongside. The King also said that victory was almost certain with Bei Mo and will later handsomely reward all soldiers here. I heard that Commander Moran has also made great merits in this war. The King said to allow Commander Moran to enter along with the Duke of Zhen-Bei. The King will personally reward you.”
Sangtan’s smile was gracious, but the crowd’s hearts sunk. His words revealed too little and it was hard not to take them to heart. Their hands moved towards their scabbards, while they turned to look at Chu Beijie.
Chu Beijie seemed to have much difficulty to maintain his straight posture. The thin smile on his lips seemed sharp enough to slice his silhouette from the sunset. He was expressionless. Looking at the grand, distant capital, Chu Beijie’s voice was light. “Sangtan, I have a question.”
Sangtan’s ice-cold voice was shocked. He was facing the deadliest man of the four countries after all, the strongest general of Dong Lin, who’d just returned from war and who had the command of ten thousands of men. If he said a word wrong, the Duke of Zhen-Bei could effortlessly crush him, a senior official, like an ant. He didn’t dare make contact with Chu Beijie’s sharp gaze. He lowered his head, “Please ask ahead Duke, Sangtan will most definitely answer if he can.”
“Do you believe that I have anything to do with the princes’ deaths?”
A tricky question to answer.
If Chu Beijie were to ask, “Does the King think that I have anything to do with the princes’ deaths?”, then Sangtan could act like a dutiful official, saying that he couldn’t dare guess what the King was thinking and say that he was just an official acting on the King’s Order.
But Chu Beijie’s words were carefully chosen, asking exactly as Sangtan feared. Saying that he didn’t know was a blatant lie. In other words, there were only two possible options if Sangtan didn’t want to offend Chu Beijie. The truth or lie.
Of course Sangtan couldn’t afford to offend Chu Beijie here, so the truth was definitely out of the question. That was as equal as giving up his neck for Chu Beijie’s sword to slice through. However, if he were to say “Sangtan absolutely does not believe that Duke has anything to do with the princes’ deaths,” in front of all the soldiers, if they spread gossip that reached the King’s ears, he might be punished for conspiracy if the Duke really was guilty. Even his family would be in trouble.
In that moment, all sorts of wishes flooded into his mind and although Sangtan was famous in Dong Lin for his constant calm demeanour, he was sweating profusely. His expression was pale as he stuttered out, “Duke…that’s…that’s…”
“Is this question that hard to answer?” Chu Beijie laugh but it didn’t seem like one. “Senior Official of the Left, you only need to answer. Do you think I have anything to do with it, or not?”
Chu Beijie’s piercing gaze swept across Sangtan, who took a step back. “I dare not…don’t dare…”
“Haha…” Not waiting for Sangtan’s reply, Chu Beijie raised his head and laughed, his face in an indescribable pain. After a while he stopped laughing, his expression serious once more. In a low voice, “Has the House of Zhen-Bei been fired now?”
Sangtan’s expression was stunned. “No way! Who…who said such a thing?” His hands in his sleeves were shaking very badly.
Perhaps under this world, there was only one person, a woman, who could speak to the Duke of Zhen-Bei without paling.
Chu Beijie turned towards him, calmly eyeing him, then continued to look at the city. His expression seemed to have crossed the fifty miles and was already back in his familiar residence. Sometime later, he opened his mouth and sighed. “The little building is the most eastern part of the Residence. Outside there are flowers blooming while inside, there’s a guqin.” He continued to sigh for a little longer before coldly commanding, “Arrest him.”
Sangtan felt numb with cold and hearing Chu Beijie’s command, he forced himself to act. Moran had already pounced on him agilely as he started to raise the King’s Order in his hand. He was just a scholar official and was no opponent for a seasoned commander. He was captured easily.
Sangtan was on the floor, trembling, both in shocked and afraid. “I’m just passing on the King’s Order, yet you’re rebelling like this.” Some of Chu Beijie’s personal guards forced him to stand, then tied him up.
Seeing Sangtan captured, his companions, a few dozen imperial guards also tried to escape. The soldiers, however, had a much faster reaction and surrounded them properly, swords out of their scabbards.
In just a moment’s time, the welcoming party for Chu Beijie was tied up like steamed rice dumplings.
Moran pushed Sangtan to Chu Beijie’s feet, reporting, “Duke, there’s a short crossbow hidden in his sleeves. So evil, there’s even a little poison on them. If they were launched from a close distance, most people wouldn’t be able to dodge.
A muffled thump. The crossbow and arrow were thrown onto the sun-baked mud, sending a gentle cloud of yellow dust into the air.
Chu Beijie’s gaze rested on Sangtan’s head. Sangtan was trembling. His parents and wife, behind the city gates, had told him to never beg to live in front of Chu Beijie, or he would undoubtedly be killed. It would be better if he acted more stubborn, didn’t change his original will. “Chu Beijie, you do know that once the two princes are gone, then the next in line for Dong Lin’s throne is you? What a simple plan, how can the King just not see it? Let me tell you, the House of Zhen-Bei has been fired and everything you have once owned has been taken back by the King! It’s such a damn pain that I’m just a scholar and doesn’t know how to be cruel enough to pull that poisoned arrow on the crossbow.”
Chu Beijie ignored his mad dog-like words, just frowning as he looked at dark green arrow heads. “This arrow, is it the King’s request?” He asked faintly.
“Hmph! If it weren’t for the King being your brother, he wouldn’t have been unable to bear killing you. He hopes that you’d come to the Royal Residence to clear up any misunderstanding, if any, but how could I just waste all these opportunities to avenge for them?” Sangtan’s face was full of remorse and anger.
Chu Beijie’s voice was disdainful. “Once you shot the arrow out, no matter whether I died or not, you are in the midst of ten thousands of soldiers, so you’ll surely die a brutal death immediately afterwards. You couldn’t dare do it in the end, in fear of death, which is okay, but you even went as far to say such ridiculous words.”
Sangtan’s old face flushed bright red and widened his eyes like a frog. He rolled his eyes, but couldn’t say anything to defend himself.
Chu Beijie’s hands were behind his back, his eyes not even looking at Sangtan as he continued, “I really am one of the most suspicious people to the death of the two princes, but why would the King think that I’m the one who did it?”
Sangtan acted stubborn, refusing to say a word.
Moran coolly told him, “Senior Official of the Left has never worked with military troops and knows next to nothing about the rules of the barracks. When we meet uncooperative prisoners, they’re stripped of their clothes and left to our brothers to have some fun, then tortured.”
Sangtan’s face paled all of a sudden.
There were no women in the army and this meant that the several thousand soldiers had to suffer abstinence for several months on end. Anyone could guess what “have some fun” meant. The torture was already bad enough, but if he was stripped to be shamed like that, even if he died, he didn’t have the face to see his ancestors. He was trembling once more, no longer trying to be brave.
“Speak.” Chu Beijie stood on the spot, as if nothing had happened.
Sangtan’s sweat oozed out, resentment in his eyes as he glared at Moran. Through gritted teeth, he said, “Does the Duke really think that his poison plan was immaculate? The King got the spy immediately that night and after strenuous torture, he confessed to be a spy from Bei Mo. The person who’d given him the poison was a girl named Bai Pingting. Hmph, isn’t that the woman that you loved?”
Moran was stunned and jerked his head to see Chu Beijie.
Chu Beijie was still as a rock, no one could see his expression. The army was quiet too, no one dared to cough. They stared at their general.
Under the shadow of the last of the dwindling light of sunset, Chu Beijie quietly asked, “Moran, what do you think of the current situation?”
For some reason, even Moran was so nervous that both his hands shook. He kneeled, in an alarmed tone. “If Sangtan’s saying the truth, then it might be hard for the King to stop suspecting the Duke.”
Suddenly, the plains were overcome with silence.
The other commanders in front noted every word of Chu Beijie and Moran’s conversation.
“Do you believe that I’d kill the two princes?”
“Would the King believe so?”
Moran hesitated for a moment, then resolutely said, “The King would believe it. According to the royal hierarchy, if the King doesn’t have any sons, then Duke would be next in line. The person who put poisoned them was Pingting, who has connections with Duke. Now that the Duke also returns with the army, how could the King not suspect you?”
Chu Beijie raised his eyes to see that night had approached, that even the last scrap of light had gone. “You can see how much pressure the King is under. If we enter the city, we and all people related to us will be captured and killed, for the sake of Dong Lin’s peace. Even if I were the King of Dong Lin, I would do the same.”
Thump, thump. After a few thumps, all the people behind him were kneeling, face solemn.
Commander Shenwei said, “I don’t mind going into the city gates myself to convince the King that Duke is innocent. I can swear on all of my ancestors and living family that this is the truth.”
“I’m also willing to swear that Duke is innocent!” The crowd’s vows echoed in the heavy sky.
“You’ve accompanied me through battle for all sorts of years. The King is even suspecting me, so how can he not think badly of all of you? Going into the city only means immediate death. Our only two options are death. Either going into the city, it’s fine if I get punished, but the Dong Lin army’s spirit will be significantly diminished due to the lack of the main general. Even though Dong Lin is famous for many strong warriors in the past, perhaps now it won’t even have enough power to defend itself. However, if we don’t enter the city, the King may interpret this as rebellion.
Moran was the most loyal. He had been an orphan and had accompanied Chu Beijie since young. He clenched his teeth fiercely. “Entering is impossible, but not entering is impossible too. Since the King’s suspicious, he won’t forgive Duke. It’s a real dilemma. Another option is to take the troops and invade the city, after all, Duke is the next inheritor of the throne.”
“Invading the capital isn’t difficult as all of the best soldiers are under my control. That’s another reason why the King wants to eliminate me.” Chu Beijie shook his head, “But even if we invaded the capital, killed the King and took the throne, what would happen to the people of Dong Lin? Once the royal family is a mess, the peasants’ hearts are troubled and the officials will have varying opinions. Other countries would take the opportunity to invade as well. Do we really want Dong Lin to be slaughtered by an enemy country?”
That was enough to make Moran lower his head.
The crowd all knew that Chu Beijie had other considerations. They didn’t dare interrupt, just kneeled on the ground without a word.
The winds of the plain were ever more aggressive, causing the flag to beat against its pole yet the ten thousands of troops waited in silence, for their main general to make a decision.
“To harm me, she didn’t even mind revealing that she was the murderess. Even if it was in Dong Lin, she didn’t care at all…” He slowly turned back, the corners of his mouth hooked into a bitter smile. “Not only did she manage to send Dong Lin into chaos, even caused Bei Mo to be a sworn enemy of Dong Lin. Nice, nice tactic.” He laughed bitterly for a little longer, then stopped, his expression freezing in place. His gaze was far into the battlefield of a thousand miles, an expression he would’ve been disdainful in the past. He shouted loudly, “All commanders, listen to my order!”
“Immediately attack the city. After taking out the city walls, don’t attack anyone who doesn’t resist. Shoo all of the peasants into their houses and tie up the nobles, and wait for further instructions.” Chu Beijie barked out another order, “Commander Shenwei!”
“Once the city is captured, you lead ten thousand soldiers who are responsible for keeping order in the city. Station troops to monitor around the Royal Residence and the residences of important officials, strictly forbidding people to enter.”
“Once the city is captured, you lead twenty thousand soldiers and guard the city walls. Absolutely no one is allowed to escape, so that no news of the city’s capture can be leaked.”
“Commander Shenwu, you come with me. Surround the Royal Residence when we fight our way in, to see the King.”
Despite the series of orders, Chu Beijie’s expression was calm as he strategized. He had a faint smile on his lips as he glanced around at his generals. “This is for Dong Lin and for self-protection. Everyone remember this, this time isn’t the same as previous attacks. The strongest soldiers are already on our side so the other guards should be intimidated enough already. It should be easy to get the city under our control, so kill as less as possible.”
“We’ll obey the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s orders at all costs!”
Under the night sky, the black figures of the army quickly approached the capital city of Dong Lin, like a stealthy snake.
- See his ancestors: Paying respects to your ancestors is considered to be a very important practice in China. It is often believed that you meet your ancestors when you die and if you lead a good life, you can join them. Modern Chinese atheists might not believe this, but they may also use it as an expression when they feel that their guilt/shame will follow them for life.