The Bei Mo army had started its journey home.
On the way there, Ruohan received a letter from Ze Yin, passed by the returning messenger.
His fired up battle heart sank at the previously unknown news.
The thin letter in his hands seemed to be very heavy. He sighed as he looked at Sen Rong. “Miss Bai has died.” The man who was now the highest ranking general had a layer of frost on his face.
Gone, that remarkably graceful female advisor was gone.
She had died in the cold Songsen Mountains, her remaining bones had been scattered to all directions by wolves. There was only a luminous jade hairpin left behind, gleaming in the snow.
Who knew that strange woman who organised troops in Kanbu and freely interefered with the Dong Lin army would have such a fate?
Sen Rong hesitated for a long time before lowering his voice to ask, “Is this true?”
It was unbelievable, utterly unbelievable.
Bai Pingting, she had once used one song to make several hundreds of thousands retreat away from the Kanbu walls.
Just one song.
“The Main General’s wife has also fallen ill.” Ruohan hesitated before bitterly smiling, “We were all wrong.”
Sen Rong was puzzled.
Ruohan explained, “It was because Chu Beijie didn’t know the exact location of Main General Ze Yin’s secluded residence, so he intruded into the army camp, saying lies to threaten us. He followed our messenger to find Main General Ze Yin.”
Sen Rong’s expression changed, “Doesn’t that mean…”
“He didn’t go to kill anyone but to find someone. He was looking for his Duchess, Bai Pingting.”
“Risking his life to enter the army camp was not for national affairs but for love?” Sen Rong was frozen for a long time before he spat out a long breath. “So Chu Beijie attacked Yun Chang for Miss Bai, not simply an excuse, but a true desire.”
Ruohan nodded. “Correct. Now that Miss Bai has given her life to the Songsen Mountains, it seems that Chu Beijie’s ambition has been ruined. Although my Bei Mo has a deep hatred for him, he is still a truly rare hero in this world.”
It was a pity and regrettable.
One was a hero, the other was a beauty.
It was a joke from the gods.
The two generals had both accompanied Pingting during the battle of Kanbu and deeply acknowledged her. After a silence, Sen Rong lowered his voice to say, “No matter what others think, I have to find a place to pray for Bai Pingting tonight. I must get the general in charge of food supplies to prepare some good alcohol and food. Also, I’d like to have the remaining pots of high-quality alcohol in the barracks. Main General, I know that military drinks are not to have alcohol, but could we please drink freely under the moonlight?”
“Why not?” Ruohan mournfully sighed. “Tonight, all of the generals that had participated in the battle of Kanbu shall drink through our pain for the loss of Miss Bai.”
How could they not drink, drink to forget their pain?
Why could this world not accomodate a person like Bai Pingting?
Why was the sky so gray and dark, so much that it was ominous? Or perhaps when one’s eyes were blindfolded and unable will reality be seen?
She had once been like snow, its fragrance had spilled into their nostrils, cleaning their lungs.
She had once been wrapped in colourful clothing as she swirled around on the stage inside the Ducal Residence. She had sung a cappella as she gazed back to look at a crowd of familiar faces. They had stayed behind due to her voice, stopped their footsteps, transfixed while they listened.
Then, it all dispersed.
When? Why? Great sorrow began to heavily press forwards, for unclear reasons. It seemed that there was no reason at all, but a sad destiny that had been the karma of intelligence.
“Miss? Miss?” The voice was faraway.
Pingting opened her eyes, light began to pour into her eyes. They focused on a slightly familiar figure. For a moment, she could not remember where she was.
Where was she? She looked around, looking at her surroundings. Her entire body felt it had been beaten. Even moving a single hair would send her whole body into thundering pain.
“Hm…” Pingting slowly breathed out, waiting for the pain to subside.
Where is my child?
That’s right, my child! She suddenly woke up, widening her eyes. Her hands were pressed on her lower abdomen and she could gently touch the tiny little movements.
“Dong’t worry, we have already fed you with some medicine. You and the child in your belly are all fine,” said a face above hers, laughing cheerfully.
Pingting’s suspended heart was put to rest as she looked up at the ceiling. It seemed to have been a long time since she had seen a ceiling. She spent so many days between rocks in the snow and felt that she would never see a ceiling again.
How nice, she had finally been rescued.
“Where is Zuiju? Yangfeng?” Pingting studied her surroundings.
“Who is Zuiju? Yangfeng?” A puzzled expression appeared on the square face before her. Not long later, he grinned and laughed again, “Oh, I know, you’re talking about our Main General’s wife. Geez Miss, you still haven’t found the Main General’s wife? It’s been so long that even the horse have had their foals, yet you still haven’t found them?”
He must be mistaken. Pingting puzzledly looked at that smile when suddenly, she remembered everything. She said, “You’re that tall guy I met on the road to Petal College. You’re A-Han.”
“Hah, Miss remembers me now? That’s me! A-Han! You gave me your horse and even left me money to marry a good wife.” A-Han chuckled heartily. “Tell you what, I’m married now and expecting a little A-Han soon.”
His hearty laughter shook the roof, causing the dust to fly off.
Pingting laughed as well before curiously asking, “Do you not know Zuiju? How did you know I was in the mountains?”
“Just luck. I went up on the mountains to catch some prey to strengthen my wife’s body. A gray rabbit was pierced by my arrow yet ran around non-stop before disappearing into a rocky area. I went into look and geez, I saw no gray rabbit but a Miss who was nearly frozen to death.” A-Han recounted the story with great vigour and joy.
“You saved me?”
“Of course, of course!” A-Han gestured, “I carried you down the snowy mountains, as well as my bow and the rabbit. Luckily, I have quite a bit of strength. You were really nearly frozen to death and only seemed slightly better after drinking heaps of wild rabbit soup. Heh, wild rabbit soup indeed strengthens the body. I also asked other people to bring some medicine that are good for fetuses and fed it to you. It was originally for my wife though.”
Hearing his words, Pingting felt uneasy but immensely grateful.
“Sorry for causing so much trouble.”
“Don’t worry, my wife is very tough whether it be her skin or bones. The little A-Han she has inside is strong too, so I’m not afraid.”
A-Han was proudly saying this when a woman wearing a bulky coat walked into the room. Her belly was protruding widely as she laughed, asking, “A-Han, are you talking to yourself again?”
“Hey, hey, Wife, the Miss is up!” He beckoned the woman over, smugly introducing them to Pingting. “This is my wife.” He then pointed at her belly, gleefully saying, “This is little A-Han.”
A-Han’s wife shared her husband’s enthusiasm. She smiled as he pinched his checks, “We’ve run out of firewood, go cut some more.” She then turned to Pingting, “You’re finally up, Miss. How could you climb the mountains in such cold weather? The Songsen Mountains stand no nonsense. Even men are afraid to go in winter. A-Han is an idiot, how dare he lie to me to go hunt a wild rabbit there.”
She then rattled on about a bunch of other things. Perhaps it was because they had saved someone that she appeared to be very happy. She warmly looked at Pingting, “With just another chicken, your cheeks will recover the redness soon.”
Yet Pingting was thinking something else.
Had the deadline of three days already passed?
What if the reinforcements had arrived but were unable to find her traces, meaning that Yangfeng and Zuiju would be worried to death?
But, the skies were still merciful and had allowed her and the child to survive.
Dear child, your life is blessed indeed.
Pingting gently stroked her lower abdomen. There was a bump, both soft and hard at the same time. She felt an indescribable sense of fulfilment inside her, the feeling of life.
“A-Han’s Wife, I…”
“Are you hungry? I’ll bring some food over.”
“No, no,” Pingting shook her head. A-Han’s wife was indeed a very good match to A-Han, for she was as attentive to care as he was, “I want to hurry on my journey.”
A-Han’s wife widened her eyes. “Hurry on your journey? Where do you want to go like that? No, no, I’m still planning to prepare a chicken for you tomorrow.”
“I have to go.” Pingting lifted herself from the bed with her palms. “I must find Yangfeng and your Main General Ze Yin.”
A-Han was chopping firewood outside and had strained his ears to hear the movement inside. At this moment, his head popped into the window view, as he shouted, “The Main General has gone to live in seclusion. Miss, you won’t be able to find him. I heard that even the King cannot find him.”
“No, I know where he is. I must hurry over. If they can’t find me, they will definitely worry.”
Yangfeng and Zuiju would definitely be very worried.
Midwinter was about to pass. Under the shining sun, icy water followed the small ridges, slowly trickling.
Perhaps the snow on the Songsen Mountains would melt the same way?
He Xia took out Yun Chang’s Flag of Command, accompanied by his soldiers. In the morning assembly , under the gazes of the hundred officials, he solemnly returned the Flag with both hands. The war had ended and the rights to mobilise the army had been returned to Princess Yaotian.
Gui Changqing watched the Flag of Command in He Xia’s hands amongst the crowd. He secretly sighed in relief when he saw that it had returned to the Princess’ hands.
Yaotian’s feelings towards He Xia were deep and if it hadn’t been for the Senior Official’s warning over and over again, she would have never sent an Order to take back the Flag.
“Is Prince Consort angry?”
The morning assembly had finished, and Yaotian studied the returned Flag of Command. Her heart was still a little perturbed. She hurriedly asked Luyi to bring He Xia over. Her heart was only settled a little when she saw her husband directly walking towards her.
He Xia was surprised, “Why would He Xia be angry?”
“Yaotian took back the Flag of Command.”
He Xia hesitated for the slightest moment before cracking up into laughter. He looked helplessly and pityingly at Yaotian before shaking his head. “Why would Princess think that? We are husband and wife. Even if I am jealous of everyone in the world, I will never be jealous of my own wife.” He then took a seat beside Yaotian and held her hand His expression suddenly became mysterious. He lowered his voice, “The Senior Official wished that Princess would soon have heirs. When will I have Princess’ Order, so I may help achieve this?”
Yaotian also leaned forward. She had thought his whispering was because he had something important to say. She had been listening very carefully, only to realise this person was teasing her again. Her cheeks flushed red, and she tilted her head to one side, frowning. She scowled back, “It was just morning assembly, but Prince Consort is not being serious again. If the Senior Official knew, he’d scowl at you for a long time.”
“Princess’ words are not quite right.” He Xia’s face was very solemn as he straightened his spine and coughed twice, “Parenthood is one of the most important milestones in life. How could this not be serious, as even the Senior Official has mentioned it a number of times? No matter whether Princess gives an Order or not, I will definitely help.”
Yaotian’s heart was sugary as if eating a lot of honey. Her face was very red as she replied, “Who else, apart from Prince Consort, could possibly help me anyway?” Her voice was high and soft as a mosquito, almost no one could hear it.
“Heh, then I shall wait for Princess’ arrival at the Prince Consort Residence tonight.” He Xia was happy and forgot the royal etiquette, planting a fierce kiss on Yaotian’s face. He stood up, “I will now go to deal with military affairs. Princess, don’t forget our promise tonight.”
Yaotian watched him stride away, his posture even more like a dragon. Her lips could no longer conceal her proud smile.
Luyi, who happened to be bringing in lotus syrup, came in and saw Yaotian’s expression. She giggled, “As I said before there’s no need to bring the lotus syrup in so soon. Princess has just seen the Prince Consort and is completely sweetened. What need is there for external sweetness?”
“Luyi, are you seriously brave enough to make a joke out of me?” Yaotian recovered her spirits and sat dignified. She scolded, “You must have learned that off the Prince Consort.” However, she could not uphold her pose and began to laugh again.
That night, Yaotian arrived at the Prince Consort Residence. She got off her horse but did not see He Xia come out. Dongzhuo hurriedly came forward to greet her. “Princess, the Prince Consort has sent me to pass on a message. He has been dealing with national affairs today and will return a some time later. Dinner has been prepared. As the Prince Consort has instructed, they are all dishes that Princess likes to eat. Would you like to eat in the side room of the backyard?”
Hearing that He Xia had not yet returned, Yaotian couldn’t help feel a little dismayed. She simply nodded, saying, “I’ll leave it to you.”
“Then I’ll instruct them to take the dishes in the side room of the backyard.”
As expected, the dishes were delicious. Yaotian often came to the Prince Consort Residence, so its chefs naturally knew what she liked. They spent a lot of effort in their dishes. The taste was even finer than the Royal Residence’s.
However, He Xia was not there and Yaotian had no appetite. She idly moved her chopsticks a few times, raising her head several times to look at the sky as well as ordering Luyi to check things out.
Luyi replied, “I have already sent several people to ask around, even without Princess’ order. Although the war is over, there is still things like pensions and rewards, so he remains busy.”
Yaotian faintly sighed.
Waiting for a full half hour, Luyi who constantly looked outside finally shouted, “The Prince Consort has returned!”
Yaotian was delighted by this and stood up to gaze outside the window. As expected, she saw the familiar figure valiantly hurrying towards her way. He Xia wiped his sweat the moment he entered the room, smiling while he asked, “Has Princess had dinner yet?”
“Yes, has Prince Consort eaten yet?”
“No time to eat.” He Xia handed the white towel he used to wipe sweat off back to the servants before sitting by the table. Yaotian hurriedly ordered the maids to bring over some warm rice and dishes. She personally handed over a pair of chopsticks. He Xia received it and beamed at her. While picking up the food, he explained, “I wanted to return earlier, but if I don’t finish today’s work, then tomorrow will be even worse. Sorry for making Princess wait; it’s all my fault.”
“Since military affairs are so busy, then why don’t I transfer two officials so some of Prince Consort’s load can be shared.”
He Xia hurriedly swallowed two gulps of food. He shook his head, “Although we’re suffering because there’s only a few people working on it, adding two more will bring in additional problems, making us even busier.” Seeing Yaotian’s confused look, he patiently explained, “Sorting out pensions, rewards and ranking systems are not difficult, but the challenge is that money and grains must be deployed. I don’t have any allocation of money or grain specifically as rewards for soldiers, so I must ask for every reward from the national treasury. For every reward, a huge number of officials have to give their approval, as well as huge number of letters to be written. I can wait, but can the soldiers in the army wait? I wasted more than half the day at the national treasury, yet they only approved enough money for five thousand soldiers. I have to go back tomorrow to bargain with them too.”
Yaotian had been listening very carefully, her hands holding a pair of chopsticks. She helped He Xia pick up bits of food, while slowly saying, “This is no simple matter. If rewards and pensions are lagging behind, the soldiers will be very unhappy. How could it not shake the army’s morale?”
He Xia was clearly tired. One bowl of rice quickly entered his stomach. He beckoned a maid to serve up another. He agreed, “Princess is right. I don’t particularly care about this right now, at most it will just make me tired. However, if the army’s rewards and pensions lag behind too much, and battle were to suddenly begin, then how would we possibly counter them promptly? Though this time against the Dong Lin army has made us much more familiar with the topography, perhaps we don’t need as much time to prepare counters.”
He Xia had always been a famous general. Yaotian had dabbled in the government for a while now, so she knew he was right. She did not hesitate and immediately said, “The army indeed needs to have its own treasury and granary. I will see to an Order in tomorrow’s morning assembly so that a new one can be built, all of them under Prince Consort. Only by having money and grain can troops be controlled properly.”
He Xia chuckled as he advised, “Princess shouldn’t so hurriedly give an order. This should be discussed with Senior Official first. If the Senior Official doesn’t know in advance, then we’ll both get scolded.”
“Rest assured, Prince Consort. To things that benefit Yun Chang, Senior Official won’t disagree.”
After this serious discussion, He Xia finished eating. He comfortably stretched out before squinting at Yaotian. He laughed evilly, “Now that national affairs are all over, it’s time to discuss the things between husband and wife. Whatever sweet words Princess would like to here, please give an Order.”
Yaotian mocked him, “Now where did the serious Prince Consort go to? There’s no way I would give an Order; you already have far too many sweet words, so much it’s hard to eat.”
He Xia readily replied, “Fine, then I will never say them again. Princess, don’t be hurt by it. Hm, let me think, since I can’t say such nice words, then what shall I get to make my beloved wife happy?”
Yaotian saw his brooding look in the flickering candlelight. His eyebrows reached into his temples, and his looks were extraordinary as a delightful evil. Only her confidants, no outsiders, were nearby so she no longer cared about the reserved etiquette of a master of a country. She smiled, her fingertips poking his shoulder, and giggled, “Prince Consort, quit pretending. Judging by your expression, I know you’ve hidden something nice so I wouldn’t know. Hurry up and pass it up, or be aware of my punishment.”
He Xia saw her reveal a girly expression and grabbed her wrist. He used his strength, causing Yaotian to shout “Kyaa” as she was helplessly pulled towards him. He Xia held her by the waist, letting her sit on his lap. He stroked her cheeks, “Is the dance pretty?”
He Xia’s shiny obsidian eyes studied Yaotian. He suddenly lowered his head, gently nibbling on Yaotian’s necks, earning another “Kyaa”. Before she could speak up and criticise him, He Xia teased, “Princess is delighting me again. The Prince Consort Residence recently welcomed a group of Bei Mo dance maids, and each were very pretty. Did no one report such an important matter to Princess? I’m sure there are waves of sournesss rolling in someone’s stomach…Ow, that hurts…”
Yaotian had fiercely pinched He Xia. She wriggled free of his grasp, twisting her head to say, “Prince Consort is wrong. I am not a woman who feels unjustified jealousy.”
He Xia stroked his arm that had been pinched. “Why, if it wasn’t jealousy, did you pinch so hard?” He came forwards again, whispering in Yaotian’s ear, “Report to Princess, I’ve been so busy with work that I didn’t even see those dance maids. Why not take advantage of tonight and ask them to dance, while we drink to celebrate. That way, you won’t endure your jealousy alone.”
When Yaotian heard he hadn’t seen those women, the joy in her heart was uncontrollable. She turned around, “How interesting. I also want to see how different Bei Mo dancers are.” She then massaged He Xia’s arm, her face flushed as she asked, “Does it really hurt?”
Perhaps it would’ve been better if she hadn’t asked. The moment she did, He Xia immediately creased his eyebrows, forming a bitter expression. “It hurts, it hurts even more than a wound from swords.”
Yaotian couldn’t help punch him playfully. She softly scorned, “What famous general, so famous that fills the earth below the skies? Why do I always see a wicked person?”
“You’re not my soldier, so why must I be so serious?” He Xia ceased causing trouble and freely laughed, his voice full of pride.
The servants brought the dancers of Bei Mo forwards. They were to dance on a small stone platform in the rear courtyard, while the couple drank and had fun on the pavilion.
That night, the skies decided to be pretty too. The moon hung in the sky, gray and bright, as it shone on the never-melting snow.
The dance maids were all wearing the dance dresses of Bei Mo. They were vividly coloured and had a drum attached to their waist which their dexterous hands hit. Yaotian had never seen such freshness and was very fascinated by them.
He Xia had been depleted of his energy through the day, yet he seemed even better than Yaotian. After the dance had finished, he loudly applauded, praising, “This song was danced well. In dedication to this dance, we must drink three cups.”
Yaotian also drank, reflecting him. She brought the cup to her mouth before shaking her head, “Prince Consort, my alcohol tolerance is not as good as yours. Rather than three, just one will do.”
He Xia was delighted with his own drinking but didn’t force her to do the same. He nodded, “Do as you wish, Princess. However, this dance is much too graceful and deeply clutches a person’s soul, therefore I must have three cups to add to the fun.”
He consecutively drank two cups before unsheathing his sword.
“Dance of the skies, dream of the vast emptiness, affection is not strong…” His voice was clear and bright, surprisingly very pleasant to the ear.
Yaotian had often listened to He Xia’s sweet talk, yet she never knew that he sung so decently. Surprise leaked into her eyes.
However He Xia stopped just after one phrase, refusing to continue. He stopped his sword, turned his head, laughing. “The waist-drum dance just now was very nice to look at. Are there any more dances that uses those drums? Choose another song and dance on.”
Without their notice, the moon passed half the sky, and the alcohol was soon depleted. Most of it had entered He Xia’s stomach. Although he had good alcohol tolerance, he was still a little tipsy at that moment.
Yaotian was afraid that drinking too much would harm his health. She softly advised, “Although the dance is good, we have already had enough fun. Shall we go back to rest in the room?”
He Xia had no intention of putting down his cup, but he always obeyed every little thing Yaotian said so he immediately put it down. “True, it’s time to rest. Princess is tired too.”
He stood up, dismissing the maids and other manservants. He carried Yaotian, entering the room together.
The two had caused trouble for most of the night, and the servants were very sleepy. Finally seeing their two masters about to sleep, they secretly cheered in their hearts. The Bei Mo maids were even more delighted. They waited for He Xia and Yaotian enter the room, watching the lights go one by onebefore packing up. Not long later, the backyard bustling a moment ago immediately became deserted.
Only the moon did not change. It remained round and big as it hung in the sky like before.
The cool air of the residence was flowing slowly.
Dongzhuo had been exhausted by the day too. His eyes closed, deep in sleep on his bed. For some reason, he was suddenly jolted awake. His eyes flickered towards the sky outside and saw the moon was still in the sky, suggesting that he hadn’t slept for long.
He couldn’t help think of Pingting.
Pingting really liked to admire the moon not only the moon but also the stars. He wondered where she was.
Thinking that much, his drowsiness was completely gone. Dongzhuo struggled to climb out of his bed and went out of his room. A gust of cold wind happened to greet him, causing him to wildly shiver twice.
It seemed that the wind was bringing something.
Dongzhuo thought it was strange. He stepped forwards and strained his ears. Yes, there was a sound. He began to walk, ending up at the backyard. The sound of metal cutting the wind was much louder. When he raised his head, he couldn’t help being stunned.
The moon hung in the sky, causing a cold gleam on the metal of the sword.
In the deserted backyard, there was an agile silhouette on the snow.
“Master…” Dongzuo softly said.
He Xia didn’t seem to know there was someone around him. His eyes flashed, his sword going everywhere, leaving a bright white trial.
Dongzuo saw He Xia skillfully swinging his sword, ripping the air in the yard. It seemed that he was venting out all of the heaven and earth’s grievances. Dongzhuo didn’t dare open his mouth to bother him, just quietly stood there.
No one could bother He Xia right now.
His sword was in his hand.
The famous general, the Marquess of Jing-An and the Prince Consort of Yun Chang, currently had his sword in his hand.
Under the bright moon, his waving sword became a dance.
It seemed his whole life was reflected in that cold gleam of the sword.
Each turn was carefully maneuvered, with the energy of a dragon, with swordsmanship of a hero and majesty of the mountains.
After the entire set of Jing-An sword techniques had been danced, He Xia’s forehead was already soaked in warm sweat. His single layer was stuck to his body as he sheathed his sword. He then turned towards Dongzhuo with no trace of expression on his face. His voice was light, “Bei Mo has brought the news. Pingting is gone.” He then took the sword, heading to the room where Yaotian was. He lightly pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The door then shut quietly.
Dongzhuo stood in the wind, shocked.
The courtyard was cool.
It was simply still, and the sleeping people remained in their dreamland.
The sound of drums began to sound from afar, making the silence seem even more silent than it was.
That Sister Pingting, who had such an endearing smile and liked to watch the moon, is gone.