Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol01 Ch04
“Ah, the show’s finished” After Chu Beijie left, Lady Hua finally sneezed, jumped up and removed the blinds with a face of utter boredom. “He is such a battle freak. Only his appearance looks good. He didn’t even say anything fun. I wonder how you could even talk with him for such a long time. Hey Hong, why are you silent?”
Pingting was still feeling anxious and deeply thinking about what the leaving Chu Beijie had said.
Is there any news about Master?
Are all the people of the Jing-An Ducal Residence safe?
What is ‘Dong Dingnan’ doing right now?
He had a lasting impression and a smile as he discussed politics. He knew all the details about the war, just as well as Pingting, meant that he must be an important military commander.
Military commander? She began thinking through all of the important commanders of Dong Lin. The Duke of Zhen-Bei was the first name to come to her mind. She blinked, regretting she had not asked for a portrait of Chu Beijie earlier.
But wasn’t it be far too complex a coincidence for the Duke of Zhen-Bei to give her — a maid serving the House of Jing-An — a qin and requesting to see her?
Lady Hua saw that she was in a daze and laughed hard, “He’s already gone and look at your dazed expression. Already missing him?” She playfully waved her hand in front of Pingting’s face.
Feeling her touch, Pingting returned to her senses and told Lady Hua,” Sorry, I’m really tired. I want to retire to my room.”
“You haven’t eaten dinner yet.”
“I’ll eat more, tomorrow morning.”
When Pingting returned to her room, she laid on the hard but clean bed and began to think again.
“Master…” She gritted her teeth. Her heart felt like a fire blazing gently in her chest. She began to get anxious. “Don’t be so anxious, Pingting, being anxious will ruin everything.” She quietly told herself.
Slowly, her messed thoughts got pulled back into order. She calmly took two deep breaths and closed her eyes. She pictured the Duke of Jing-An’s flag; she remembered her Master, the Jing-An Ducal Residence, that last victory and the road home…
The Marquess of Jing-An had just won a battle, the army slowly marched. The radiant Duke of Jing-An’s flag was fluttering high in the wind.
The commander in front was riding a huge magnificent horse. He wore a purple uniform adorned with a dragon emblem. Strips of metal gleamed on his shoulder. Gems, gold and jade hung from his waist luxuriously. He was the legendary He Xia.
That day, although He Xia had been victorious in war, he did not smile and was frowning very deeply.
“Master!” A girl’s voice came from the crowd and the sound of hooves from behind.
Even though He Xia did not turn his head, he knew who it was. “Pingting, didn’t I tell you to travel by carriage as you didn’t feel very well in the last few days? Why are you riding a horse again?”
Pingting caught up to He Xia, and breathlessly said, “Who said I needed such care? I only coughed a few times but that damn Dongzhuo was so scared and immediately told Master. I was afraid that Master thought I got sick too often and wouldn’t let me come next time.”
“It’s not like you’ll listen to me, even if I tell you to stay home, right? I’m just feeling sorry for you, a girl who’s defenceless against a sword. Even if you get sick, there’s no husband to look after you.”
Pingting managed a small smile and twirled her wind-swept hair. “I’m not pitiful. Which maid has such a good life and is able to go with her Master to war?” She laughed twice but suddenly frowned, coughing.
He Xia turned his head, “What’s wrong? If you haven’t recovered, don’t push yourself. The sun is very strong yet you still want to come riding with me. If you don’t listen, I really won’t let you come alongside the army next time.”
Pingting quickly covered her mouth to hide her coughing. Glancing up, she saw that He Xia’s face look concerned so she smiled gently. “Don’t worry Master; I’m healthier than any horse. Her beady eyes studied He Xia for a moment, before lowering them, quietly saying, “I’m just afraid that… sigh, that when Master feels anxious, there won’t be anyone beside you to cheer you up.”
She sighed deeply and He Xia’s heart melted. He gave a twisted smile while shaking his head, “You are such a strange maid. I can’t hide anything from you.” Seeing that Pingting hadn’t her usual rosy cheeks, he smiled. “Come here then. Let me ride behind you on the same horse so you won’t worry about it too much. Let’s share our thoughts.”
“Ok.” Pingting nodded and slid off her horse.
He Xia reached out his hand and pulled Pingting onto his horse. He put one hand on her waist for support and the other one on the reins. He slowly gathered his thoughts and carefully chose his words, “Our opposition was the Dong Lin army. This war with Chu Beijie has lasted two months, on the surface we won but underneath we lost.”
Pingting nodded, “Master is right. Though Dong Lin may have retreated, Gui Le had huge casualties. If Dong Lin attacked again, there’s no way the Gui Le army would be able to hold up against them. If only the King was on Master’s side and didn’t stubbornly refuse to let Master take charge for two whole years, then the situation wouldn’t’ve been so bad.”
“Pingting, don’t carelessly criticise the King.” He Xia thought for a moment, “Just remember that the new King is not the Prince Su before he took the throne.”
Pingting bit her lip and thought hard. After Prince Su took the throne, he had indeed changed a lot. She swallowed her worry and tried to say comfortingly, “I understand why Master feels so upset but the number of casualties of our army is not Master’s fault. It has been a difficult two years. The King finally letting Master taking charge must’ve been because he wanted to embarrass you.”
“That’s exactly why I’m anxious. If we don’t win this battle and return to the capital, a lot of people will protest and even Father will be affected. The House of Jing-An holds far too much influence and power. Even if I were the King, I’d try to get rid of them as well.”
Remembering the new king’s cold behaviour after taking the throne was extremely unpleasant. The two immediately felt a chilling sensation running down their spines.
Seeing his own little maid frowning over the royal heritage problems, He Xia smiled. He reached out and using his thumb, gently smoothed out the wrinkles on her forehead. “Stop thinking about it. Let’s say some happy things. It’s thanks to you to think of the extremely clever plan of changing the course of the river to threaten flooding enemy troops when we led them to the mountains. Chu Beijie totally lost to that and had to retreat. Now everyone in the army knows that we have a female advisor. When we get back to the capital, I’ll make sure Father gives you a huge reward. Say, what would you like?”
“More rewards? The Duke has already given me enough rewards to last me more than ten lifetimes.” Pingting looked at the sky; the sun was slightly to one side, beside the high-raised Duke of Jing-An’s flag. She carefully looked back at He Xia then turned away again. It a quiet voice she murmured, “Master, there’s something I don’t know whether I should say or not.”
“What can’t you say to me?”
Pingting looked uncomfortable then suddenly cracked a smile. “Actually I won’t say it. If I did, you’d feel annoyed again.”
He Xia seemed to have guessed what Pingting had wanted to say and gave a small smile in return.
Neither of them talked and the horse just plodded.
The horse’s thumped against the sun-baked mud, leaving puffs of dust flying.
Pingting calmly gazed ahead, thinking deeply about something. He Xia knew that his clever little maid was thinking deeply about something, so he let the horse slow down even more and settled comfortably in the saddle.
After a while Pingting said, “I guess I’ll try and say it anyway”.
“I’m listening.” When He Xia saw that Pingting had a serious look on her face, he immediately began to listen intently.
“Master, if my predictions were right, things will get worse even more. I’m not joking.” Pingting turned her head and stared at He Xia in the eyes. In a nervous voice she said, “It’s likely that Chu Beijie knows how weak our army is and can no longer fight well. If he comes again within two months, Gui Le’s army will definitely perish. I’m sure he deliberately retreated when we were at our most vulnerable point so that…Master could go back to the Capital.”
“You’re right but why did he do that?”
Pingting’s energetic black pupils rolled twice, it seemed that she already had the answer but she sighed, “If Master lost the battle, the King could, hypothetically, take advantage to cut away the House of Jing-An’s enormous military power. Say, Master, he probably won’t do that after just one defeat, right?”
He Xia shook his head, “Of course not. The House of Jing-An has been an important part of Gui Le in the past. If the King really decides to kill me, unnecessary blood will be shed and it will cause a riot.”
“Then if Master wins and goes back, will the King reward Master?”
“If we win, of course the King has to reward us.” He Xia then put in, “Though it’s not like I want the rewards, but the King must reward and punish freely, to earn everyone’s respect.”
“If Master wins and returns to the Capital, the peasants will love Master even more. I believe the King will give Master rewards but deep down, he’ll resent the House of Jing-An even more. The House of Jing-An will be in danger then.”
“In other words, the King will feel threatened and try to get rid of the House of Jing-An. As soon as the Duke of Jing-An falls, Gui Le will be unstable and Dong Lin will take this as an opportunity to attack. Haha, Chu Beijie sure is crazy. What he wants isn’t just a few cities, but the entire land our Gui Le occupies.”
“You said that right!” Pingting clapped her hands, pleasure lit up in her eyes. She immediately changed from the serious army advisor to an energetic, cute maid. On her round face, two dimples appeared. Glancing back at He Xia, she smiled, “Master is so clever. Whatever Chu Beijie is plotting, Master will find the answer easily.”
He Xia couldn’t help laughing, “The cleverest person I know is our army advisor, Bai. If you were a boy, I wouldn’t be the main advisor anymore would I?”
Both people laughed. Though this cheerful sound did not stop, in their hearts, both of them felt uneasy.
The mud path ahead seemed very difficult to travel on.
Though their hearts were prepared, not even in their wildest dreams did they guess that in a blink of an eye, everything would change. Forever.
After a journey of five days, they finally arrived at the capital. Gui Le’s King, He Su himself, came to welcome them. The peasants of the city knew that the famous Marquess of Jing-An had won and returned. They rushed to greet him and they scrambled behind the two lines of somewhat serious-looking soldiers. Everyone had their necks craned forward, trying to get a better view of the stage.
“Which one is the Marquess of Jing-An?”
“Yer stupid. Have ya never seen the Marquess of Jing-An before?” Someone pointed, “That’s him, the ‘un in front of the army. Geez, who in the capital can’t recognise the Marquess of Jing-An?”
“Haha, this is my first time in the Capital. I came to visit my relatives. I never imagined I’d be able to see the Marquess of Jing-An with my very own eyes! When I get back home, I’ll have a lot of stories to tell!”
While the crowd continued to chatter, the army had already stopped at the city gates.
He Xia got off his horse. In a loud voice he shouted, “Hail the King. I, He Xia, has won the battle and Dong Lin has officially retreated.”
He Su was completely covered in yellow-gold cloth. On his head he wore a headdress adorned with gems. More gems glittered from his clothes. He smiled slightly and personally helped He Xia up. “My Beloved Official, you may get up. Thank you for solving another one of my many problems. Gui Le is very proud of having the House of Jing-An and thanks to them we have nothing to fear about our enemies.”
He picked up He Xia’s hand fondly and they turned around.
“Look! It’s him!”
“The Marquess of Jing-An!”
A ripple of excitement from the crowd of peasants.
He Su smiled at He Xia, “I cannot thank you, My Beloved Official, enough.” He walked up the well-prepared stage and held up a cup of the best wine in Gui Le. He slowly announced, “To all those who have gathered here, please listen. Dong Lin has long been an enemy of Gui Le. After today’s victory, we no longer have to live in fear and I shall repay our hero who has made this so.”
Everyone nodded eagerly, wondering exactly how the ruler was planning to reward He Xia.
He Xia knelt down, “The victory was thanks to King, who directed everything. All He Xia, did was make the army follow King’s plans. I do not deserve any reward.”
“No no, you are Gui Le’s best official. How could I not reward you?” He Su had another thought, “I will give you three rewards. First, I’ll award you a cup of the best wine in Gui Le.”
Behind He Xia, someone gave him a cup of the good wine. He Xia took it and raised his head to look at the King. He Su nodded, “You may drink.”
He Su made sure he had finished the cup before saying, “Secondly, I’ll give you a precious sword. Someone, please bring it up.”
He Xia was presented with a long red box.
He Xia started to get a headache. He was getting even less sure of He Su’s real intentions. He could only reply, “Thank you, King.” He pushed open this lid and his eyes widened. “Ahh…”
An extremely precious sword laid inside the box. There was no sign of rust and the hilt was a jet black colour. It was a long lost sword, known as the “Precious Heimo Sword”. It was known that the blade was extremely destructive – one small cut would leave a nasty scar for a lifetime.
He Xia had lived in wealth for all of his life and so he took no interest in jewellery and the like, but he loved good weapons. Seeing the precious sword made him shout in surprise.
He Su laughed from the raised platform, “How is it? You like it?”
“This sword is too precious. How could King…”
“That’s why I have to give it to you. Everyone knows you like soldiers and weapons. Just take it.”
He Xia didn’t know whether to be shocked or happy. “Thank you, my King.” He turned back around and received the box.
Pingting had come up from behind and took the box from her Master. She was about to leave when He Su noticed her, “My, aren’t you Pingting?” He walked down the platform, breaking into a smile, “Why are you here with He Xia again?”
Pingting bowed, “I am here, my King.”
“No need. Back when you were still learning with He Xia, you memorised everything faster than us, and was acknowledged as a female genius. Back then, we visited the Royal Residence a lot too, and there were many beautiful women but not as clever as you! He Xia, you’re luckier than me.” He Su turned his head and laughed, “Anyway, the third is rather normal, jewellery and gold. I know you don’t like those kinds of things so I’ll just get someone to send them to Jing-An Ducal Residence.”
“Thank you, King!”
“We grew up together, we’re like brothers, so why the politeness?” He Su looked at He Xia fondly and looked at Pingting, who was planning to leave. “Pingting.”
Pingting felt rather tired and she was planning to quietly go back to rest in the carriage. Unfortunately, she heard He Su call for her and so she had to answer, “How may I help you, my King?”
She certainly wasn’t pretty, but her voice was charming like every word was bouncing of her tongue.
He Su quietly stared at her bowed head, thoughts elsewhere.
“Eh?” He Su came back to his senses and he paused before saying, “You may leave.”
Pingting quickly left, handing the box to another person, commanding, “Be careful with it, Master really likes this heavy black thingy.” Her learning ability was better than most and though she did know that this was the Precious Heimo Sword, she disliked weapons herself. She always called He Xia’s ‘darlings’ as ‘thingy’s’.
Master had returned victorious and the King had given him many rewards. Everyone in the Residence would eventually get their share.
The soldiers filled up exactly twelve tables and the Duke of Jing-An, He Mo, sat at the main table, grinning as he heard the compliments from the crowd.
He Xia was drinking a lot of wine too, probably three big bottles in total. Pingting could be counted as one of the important main people of her Residence, but she wasn’t present that evening.
Her room was far away from the bustling activity, very quiet. Pingting sat inside, she had lit up a lamp, making a dark silhouette outside.
“Pingting?” He Xia suddenly burst into the room.
Pingting put down her needle, raising her eyes and laughed. “Why is Master here when there are still so many guests?”
“To see you.” He Xia took her half-finished Mandarin duck, “They say that no one is perfect, but honestly, I must disagree. You can do everything, not only are you good with song and poetry, but you can even scheme in war. Not to mention your intricate needlework is like a work of heaven.”
Pingting giggled, “No one compares needlework to heaven, you know? Quit playing with words.” She took her sewing back and did a few more stitches, but suddenly sighed.
“Pingting, has Father told you?”
“I only just learnt that myself, from Dongzhuo.” He Xia saw Pingting’s frozen smile, so he chose a chair and carefully chose his words. “Geez my father, he didn’t even consult me first.”
“The Duke told me that even though I’m not a concubine, my current status is much like one. He says that everyone in the Residence should be calling me “Madam” apart from Master’s future official wife, the Marquess.”
He Xia saw how Pingting was slowly opening up and his heart began to hurt. “Pingting, do you want to marry me?”
“Do I not suit you?” Pingting whipped her head around, staring intently into He Xia’s eyes.
“No way!” He Xia shook his head, suddenly got up and began to pace around the table. “I understand. For the last few years, we studied and played together, even learned how to fight and deal with horses together, but I’m only an older brother to you and you’re only a younger sister to me. If you marry me just like that, won’t you feel upset?”Seeing Pingting’s expressionless face, he tried again, “You’re unlike most girls. You have your own opinion. I just don’t want you to be upset.”
After some silence, Pingting quietly whispered, “If the Duke wants me to, so what can I do? Master should know that the Duke found Pingting on the roads and looked after her like his own daughter. Pingting is extremely grateful to the Duke so if he wants her life, she will give it.”
“Back then, who said that they wanted to find the best possible husband or else they would rather never marry and die a long death?”She’s usually very clever, so why is she so sappy today? He Xia was already annoyed with Pingting’s moans and sighs and the table seemed cracked from his thumping.
The two people were still discussion when Dongzhuo ran in. “Master, please go to the front courtyard. The King has given His Order. Oh yeah and apparently Pingting has to come too.”
He Xia asked, “What does Pingting have to do with this Order?”
“Don’t ask, you’ll know when you get there.”
The three people hurried to the front courtyard.
The front courtyard was no longer bustling with activity like before. It was very late into the night, and about seventy or eighty percent of the guests had already left. The remaining ones were extremely drunk and some of them were even snoring, drool falling onto the table.
A man, who was wearing royal service clothes stood there. When he saw them he said, “The King has given His Order: Please may the son of the Duke of Jing-An and Pingting meet him in the Royal Residence.” After reading the order, his face broke into a smile, “Please may the son of the Duke of Jing-An also bring the Precious Heimo Sword. The King said so.”
He Xia wondered aloud, “Why, it’s so late, does King want to see us?”
“I guess I know.” The messenger chuckled and said, “The Queen was talking to the King about how noisy the Jing-An Ducal Residence would be this evening. I don’t know what exactly the Queen said, but the King started talking about how he used to see Sir practising swordsmanship, like a lion, while he studied. Miss Pingting, whose intelligence is so impossibly rare, would also be there, serving at one side.”
“Ah, the King sure likes praising us today.”
“Yes, yes, yes, so you see, the King’s praises, made the Queen feel curious to see Sir sword dance, accompanied by Miss Pingting’s qin. As Sir knows, the King is very devoted to the Queen, so he sent an Order, to take you two to their Residence.” The messenger added, “The King also said that although it’s very late, the moon is very large and round, perfect for moon gazing, which will be followed by sunrise later.”
He Xia nodded, “I see.” He turned back to Pingting, “Since the Queen wants to hear you play qin, bring our best qin.”
Pingting went inside and not long later, she hurried back with her qin. She had also put on a chiffon cloth over a part of her face.
He Xia took five other servants, including Pingting and Dongzhuo. No one took the carriage, they were each on their own horse. All of the shops had long closed for the day. No lights were on, everyone was well asleep. The only sound that night was the steady beat of hooves, thundering on the stone pavement.
Seeing the messenger and his companions leading the way slowly, not far ahead, Pingting leaned towards her master. In a quiet voice, she whispered, “Master, the King is going to make his move.”
“Yeah, I don’t have a good feeling either.” He Xia looked at the messenger’s back view, “Except for the messenger himself, all of his companions are top assassins.”
“King wants Master to bring the Precious Heimo Sword but it isn’t stated clearly on the Order. He sent a messenger instead…this must be a trap.” The horses’ steps were slow and hesitant, as if sensing danger. Pingting reached out to pat the horse reassuringly, while saying, “I’m worried that the King plotted to make Master bring in the Precious Heimo Sword into the Royal Residence and then create chaos, so that His Majesty can frame Master for betrayal when royal military comes to back up.”
He Xia looked around, “His soldiers are standing beside the footpath as well. If we attempt to escape, they’ll definitely attack.”
Dongzhuo was beside them, listening to every word. He gripped the edge of his seat, lowered his voice and muttered, “Yup, there’s a murderous aura here.” He had also been with He Xia for a while, so he could sense when danger was approaching.
The other servants were alert, keeping a close eye on their surroundings.
They were still only halfway there, but they knew that if He Su really was planning to frame them, entering the Royal Residence meant certain death.
“What should we do?” asked He Xia.
Pingting nodded slightly, “Well, I told the Duke about my suspicions as I went to get my qin. Although there are lots of people living in the Jing-An Ducal Residence, they should all be able to escape the capital city under the cover of dark. As for us…” She opened her palm, revealing five ink-black marbles.
Whatever that meant, He Xia himself knew.
“Okay!” Still speaking quietly, He Xia and Pingting nodded at each other.
“The Mister in front of us…please stop for a while.” Pingting’s high-pitched voice rang out.
The messenger and his companions turned forward and Pingting calculated the right time to time to throw the things in her hand. Sparks of fire shot out with a boom, instantly cutting off He Xia’s group and the messenger’s.
Clang! The Precious Heimo Sword was unsheathed.
“The King wants to hurt an official! Fight our way out!” Dongzhuo yelled.
As expected, more soldiers appeared on the two sides of the road.
The sky was filled with cries of battle.
“GO! DON’T LET ANY OF THEM GET AWAY!”
“The King has given his Order: CAPTURE HE XIA AND THAT GIRL ALIVE!!”
Pingting raised her head and noted that there weren’t many soldiers on the enemy side. She secretly sighed in relief.
That’s how it should be. The House of Jing-An has been the managing the military for the last few decades, so using soldiers to assassinate them wouldn’t work. But isn’t He Su worried that we might counterattack and attack his Royal Residence instead?
The men He Xia had brought were all excellent warriors who’d survived hundreds of battles, except for Pingting herself. It wasn’t long before they managed to break out of the enemy’s encirclement.
“The House of Jing-An has rebelled!”
“The King plotted against His Majesty’s loyal official! The King plotted against His Majesty’s loyal official!”
“The House of Jing-An rebelled!”
“The House of Jing-An must be destroyed!”
The cries of murder echoed the sky, blood splattered on the fighters’ faces yet both sides were still screaming for war.
Pingting couldn’t fight and usually hid behind He Xia. At the most she could only throw two or three light bombs. However, she did know that the bigger the chaos, the more likely the people of Jing-An Ducal Residence could escape.
She’d already run out of bombs by the time He Xia’s group were safely outside the city gates. Everyone was covered in blood and Dongzhuo had been cut twice, though his injuries weren’t life-threatening.
Leaving the city gates behind, it was like the battle had ended. Only the coarse breathing of the war horses could be heard in the cold night.
Pingting looked into the distance and then she pointed at a pillar of flames. “Look Master, the Royal House have begun to move. I hope the Duke is fine. I reckon the King thought he’d be able to capture us, so he didn’t send many people to our Residence.”
He Xia followed her finger, finding himself facing the direction of his home. He couldn’t stop worrying about his father, so he turned his horse around. “Pingting, wait outside. We’ll check on Father and we’ll be back soon.”
Pingting knew she couldn’t fight and wouldn’t be of much use anyway. She jumped from the horse and said, “I’ll meet you all at that place in the mountains, where we often go.”
He Xia nodded, “Okay.” He led Dongzhuo and the others back inside the city.
Pingting watched these family-like people disappear. He Su may be the King and an evil one at that, but he only dare uses selected people’s loyalty. The army won’t take sides at least until tomorrow morning, until the chaos is cleared and understood. With a neutral army, the residents of Jing-An Ducal Residence should be able to escape without too much difficulty.
What exactly He Su would do the next morning was unimportant as her people would have safely escaped by then.
She checked her thoughts at least three times for any mistakes, before relaxing, and slowly leaving for the mountain cliffs where they promised to meet.
The cliff was two miles away. It would have been quite easy if she was on a horse, but it was a little more difficult on foot by herself.
Pingting walked on for a little longer and far away, she could see the sky changing to a grey-white colour behind the mountain ahead. She took a few more steps when suddenly she heard a rustling noise……
- King’s Order: When the King can’t say something personally, he gets someone to write up a “King’s Order” on a piece of yellow cloth. A messenger takes it and reads it out to the recipient(s) on behalf of the King. The recipient(s) of the Order must obey whatever is written on it, or he/she may be punished for treason.