Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol02 Ch31
Chu Beijie arrived at the capital in the misty, early hours of the morning.
In the distance, the tall city entrance stood, majestic and yet imposing, seeming both familiar yet distant. Beijie squinted and stared for a long time before finally riding forward to meet his welcoming party and dismounting.
“Our Duke is back!”
“The Duke of Zhen-Bei is finally back!”
The welcoming party not only included government officials but also the many peasants of the city who crowded on both sides of the road. Their mighty general has finally returned.
Their eyes sparkled with endless joy. Only the few high-ranking Dong Lin officials knew the hidden agenda of this occasion and quietly looked away, staying calm and collected, trying desperately to hide the anxiety that would no doubt be present in their eyes.
The head of the welcoming party was Chu Zairan, a court elder and highly respected Dong Lin official. He stood at the front, leading the countless officials behind him and paid his respects to Chu Beijie, “Duke has finally returned to us.” Nothing could conceal the joy and excitement in his wise, old eyes.
“Senior Offical.” Chu Beijie gestured for the loyal official, who had given up most of his life to serve his country, to rise. Handing his reins to an attendant behind him, Chu Beijie stepped forward and asked, “How is the situation?”
“Not good.” Chu Zairan and Chu Beijie strode towards the palace, nodding to acknowledge the cheers of the peasants, “The King has fallen ill.”
“Brother?” Chu Beijie froze for a moment before continuing his strides forward. With a furrowed brow he solemnly asked, “How did this happen?”
“Ever since Duke’s departure to live in seclusion, the King has been unwell. His chest pain has become unbearable. He isn’t able to fall asleep at night. He’s been lingering on his deathbed more many days now.” Chu Zairan’s voice was heavy with sorrow, “Even without the looming war with Yun Chang , Bei Mo and their armies pressing against our borders, I would have begged for Duke’s return.”
Chu Beijie felt his heart sinking.
Meanwhile, news of Chu Beijie’s departure from his secluded residence had already reached a certain residence deep in the mountains near Bei Mo’s borders.
Yangfeng suddenly raised her head and gazed at Ze Yin with a stricken look, “He Xia’s armies are pressed against the borders yet Chu Beijie would actually leave Pingting behind and head to the capital by himself?”
Ze Yin nods solemnly and replied, “Yes.”
“Oh God!” Yangfeng painfully exclaimed, falling into the mahogany chair behind her, clutching the handle desperately and hiding her face. “Pingting must not have told Chu Beijie the truth of what happened yet, otherwise he would never have left her there to avoid rousing suspicion. He must still believe that He Xia and Pingting are still master and servant and has no idea what He Xia had done to her.”
Ze Yin watched, his heart breaking at the sight of his beloved wife suffering, and ordered servants to bring out their innocent and carefree infant son. Gently placing the baby into Yangfeng’s arms, he cradled her. “Chu Beijie is a true hero and a man among men; he will definitely protect his woman.”
Yangfeng pressed the back of her soft and small hands against Ze Yin’s palms and mournfully uttered, “I can never forget the look on Pingting’s face when she talked about He Xia right before she left. I just don’t understand, how could our King be so for mere riches ally himself with He Xia and send his armies to Dong Lin? Doesn’t he realise what would happen by enraging Chu Beijie?” She suddenly stopped in realisation and looked up at her Ze Yin’s comforting gaze and asked, “Why are you so calm? Does my dear husband see something else in this situation?”
Ze Yin felt great unease regarding the situation, realising Yangfeng was staring at him awaiting his reply. He solemnly acknowledged her, “When the allied armies arrived at the border, He Xia immediately commanded them to retreat 10 miles. From this I believe He Xia doesn’t intend to go to war against Dong Lin but instead wants to use the armies to threaten Dong Lin in order to obtain something.”
Yangfeng gazed at her husband, her glistening black eyes unblinking, waiting for him to continue.
Ze Yin sighed, “If Chu Beijie returns and leads his army against the allied troops, it is inevitable that both sides will suffer heavy losses.”
The meaning behind his words were very clear.
Whatever his request, the King of Dong Lin would have to comply or else risk suffering heavy losses in war.
What could He Xia possibly desire that the King of Dong Lin would definitely give up?
Yangfeng stiffened at her realisation.
With her eyes widening and heart skipping out of rhythm, Yangfeng clutched desperately at Ze Yin’s robes, the joints in her hands whitening at the tightness of her clenched fist.
“Pingting!” She cried out, looking at Ze Yin, “He wants Pingting!”
Ze Yin lowered his head. Looking at his beloved’s pale face, he slowly nodded.
“Why?” Yangfeng spat out between clenched teeth, “Has he not done enough yet to her? That cruel-hearted He Xia.” Anger bubbling in her chest, she suddenly stood up looking out the window at the snowcovered mountains before her.
She must not allow Pingting to be hurt again.
Taking a few deep breaths of the cold wintery air, still facing the window with her back to him, Yangfeng composed herself and sweetly asked Ze Yin, “Would my dear husband please grant me a favour?”
“Do you wish for me to write a letter to Pingting?”
“No.” Yangfeng turned to face the love of her life and slowly responded, “I would like you to personally write a letter to Chu Beijie himself.”
Chu Beijie purposefully climbed up the steep steps leading to the palace.
He finally stopped, facing the King’s personal palace, the pale light of the winter sun shining on his face and warming him yet he could not ignore a feeling of anguish in his heart.
There was no one present to disturb him, all the palace attends had withdrawn even Chu Zairan left. He was left standing in front of his brother’s palace.
He had once shaken the mighty battlefields yet at this moment he feared opening the wooden doors before him.
His brother’s illness had begun from the pain of losing his young sons.
By loving Bai Pingting, he betrayed his only brother.
The confrontation between the two had long begun, ever since the Queen had send assassins to wait near his residence. The two parties had been frozen in stalemate, all that was remaining was for them to make a move.
He had betrayed his brother, the brother who he had grown up idolising and the King he pledged his life to.
He could barely lift his feet, heavy from the burden in his heart.
Before he could reach out to push open the wooden doors, the it silently opened. Chu Beijie looked up into a familiar face which had lost its former radiance to grief, the cheeks shrunken and dark rings around the dim eyes.
“Sister in Law…”
The Queen stepped out, her face weary and assessed Chu Beijie for a moment before gifting him a heartwrenching smile. “The Duke of Zhen-Bei has returned.”
Her voice was calm and steady. The grief-stricken cries accompanying the deaths of the young princes that had shaken the Dong Lin’s Royal Residence seemed almost like a lifetime ago.
Chu Beijie whose heart was heavy with turmoil replied, “I have returned.”
The Queen steps were unsteady; she paused for a moment, closing her eyes to compose herself before quietly stating, “The King has been waiting for you, come.” She assessed Chu Beijie for another moment before leaving.
Chu Beijie eyes followed her until she turned the corner and disappeared from his view. It was only then that he turned his gaze toward the partially opened door.
Taking a deep breath, he reached out and pushed open the heavy wooden doors.
Stepping inside the palace he felt as if he was slowly being swallowed up by the darkness. The dying King had become photophobic. Heavy curtains hung over the windows, blocking out all the sunlight. Upon closing the wooden doors, the room became dark as night.
The only light came from a single flickering candle.
To think that the dazzling and majestic palace had fallen into such a wretched state.
Chu Beijie moved towards the large, gold lacquered bed.
“Brother,” He quietly called out, “I have returned.”
“Returned?” The King had lost a lot of weight but his vigour remained. He stared almost desperately at his younger brother as if trying to memorise every inch of his face. After a long time, his eyes brightened with an older brother’s pride and with a faint smile. “I have always known that one day you would return to my side.”
He reached out and firmly grasped the hands long calloused by a lifetime of sword wielding, hands within with the same blood flowed.
“Brother, your illness…”
“Don’t worry it’s nothing major, my eyes have just become sensitive to light and my chest would just occasionally hurt a little. I’m currently taking medicine for it.”
Chu Beijie could feel the strength in this brother’s grip and his heart felt lighter. Sitting at the King’s bedside, he offered warm words of comfort, “My Brother, relax and look after your health. Although there are any soldiers threatening our borders, they are nothing compared to the might of Dong Lin’s armies. When I return from the battlefields, I’m sure your health will be better and you can once again welcome me on the battlements as I return victorious.” His words were filled with strength and conviction.
The King’s eyes were filled with warmth and pride as he gazes at his younger brother.
His brother was driven by his heart, a trait which cannot be afforded for those burdened with the legacy of a nation.
“The enemy is merely lingering near out borders at the moment and have not made a declaration of war yet. If we were to attack by sending out our mighty Duke of Zhen-Bei, why, we would become a laughing stock to our neighbours. My Brother please stay at the palace for a few days.”
Chu Beijie who had never neglected a battle before, gravely responded, “My Brother you mustn’t overlook these allied troops; their commander is He Xia who has proven himself in battle many times. I believe that it would be better to deal with them immediately, please award me the military power and I shall deal with them at once.”
The King knew that Chu Beijie took military matters extremely seriously and dealt with them with great care, picking up on even the minutest of flaws.
If the King was too earnest in trying to delay the war, he would inevitably rouse his suspicion.
As he thought about the deep feelings of trust they had for one another and his own plot to delay Beijie’s departure, the King felt an almost overwhelming sense of bitterness. He nodded in agreement. “Brother you are right.”
The King knew that Chu Beijie understood every general at the frontlines like the back of his hand and so any attempts to buy time using military matters would be unsuitable.
“General Linan currently has possession of the command flag. I have already asked him to return with it. Since he needs to travel back from the frontlines, he should be back in two days at the latest. Once he returns I will hand you the flag and you can immediately depart with the troops.”
Upon hearing this Chu Beijie immediately began animatedly discussing battle tactics before suddenly declaring, “Brother, do not worry. I guarantee no army will step even an inch onto Dong Lin.”
As Chu Beijie stepped out of the King’s Royal Residence he was met by Chu Zairan who had been waiting outside. “I could hear the King’s laughter, ever since Duke’s return he has been filled will joy. Duke’s residence has been empty for a year now and will require some extensive cleaning, therefore I have arranged for you to stay at the palace. This is something that the citizens also hope for; they have longed for your return.”
Chu Zairan stopped at a building located in the centre of the palace and clapped, upon which more than a dozen guards and palace attendants appeared and greeted Chu Beijie.
Chu Zairan continued, “I personally ordered this building to be prepared for you, it’s both spacious, comfortable and connected to the plum blossom courtyard you favoured when younger.”
Chu Beijie’s sharp gaze quickly assessed the assigned palace guards, noting the lack of familiar faces. Remaining expressionless, he nodded, “I see.”
After bidding farewell to Chu Zairan, he stepped inside.
Chu Beijie grew up in the Dong Lin royal palace. It wasn’t until he was canonised as the Duke of Zhen-Bei that he moved out of the palace into his own residence.
A beautiful palace maid appeared and greeted him, “Duke has travelled far and must be tired. Please allow us to assist you in your bath.”
Her eyes were inviting, her voice gentle. Chu Beijie however remained indifferent.
“I have led countless armies and experienced many battlefields. I have never required any assistance bathing.” Chu Beijie dismissed the palace maid.
Even though he grew up in the palace as a prince, he was not pampered. Instead he began his military duties in his teens and as a result of hard work, determination, temperament and some natural talent, he quickly rose up the ranks and became a national war hero.
After finally washing off the dust that had collected over the past few days of travelling, Chu Beijie felt refreshed and comfortable.
Despite his physical fatigue, Chu Beijie was nonetheless quite energised. Wearing some lightweight and casual clothes, he stood on the balcony and gazed at the plum blossom courtyard. He stood against the wind, clothes billowing and hair flying, confident and bold. The younger palace maids could only sigh, hearts pounding at the sight.
The plum blossoms were currently in full bloom, just like those back at his secluded estate a faint fragrance floating in the air.
However, the courtyard was missing something or rather someone. The setting would never compare with that secluded mountain estate.
On this trip back to the Royal Residence of Dong Lin, it seemed that the most familiar sights were the most distant. In the past, all his palace guards were handpicked. After a year, not a single familiar face remained. His sister-in-law treated him coldly, unable to forget his role in the death of her two sons. In a way it was all for the best. Since his Brother was ill, Chu Beijie needed only to prepare for the war and await the command flag.
Over the next few days Chu Beijie noticed there were no young soldiers, only elderly court officials. When he mentioned this Chu Zairan, he replied, “Currently all the younger soldiers are either stationed at the border or awaiting deployment at home.”
As per Dong Lin military protocol, in the event of war, all soldiers must await orders at home so that their whereabouts are always known. Chu Beijie was unable to find any faults in Chu Zairan’s explanation.
The image of Pingting leaning on the couch, her black hair spreading casually over the pillow, seemed to be imprinted at the back of his mind and would surface frequently.
“Pingting passed her birthday alone, so as for Duke’s birthday, could we be together?” Her face flushed and bearing a gentle and loving smile.
“I will try my hardest.”
Chu Beijie did not in fact promise Pingting anything, but he recalled her eyes alight with happiness. He secretly counted the days until his return.
Unknowingly as he awaited the return of the command flag, it was already his third night in the palace.
Chu Beijie’s patience was at an end when he finally received word from a court messenger. Jumping out of bed he muttered, “To think that someone would dare to delay military matter. When I meet him…”
Dressed in formal attire, Chu Beijie strode towards the King’s residence. On his way, he was interrupted by a kneeling servant, “Duke, please Concubine Li begs for an audience.”
Chu Beijie stopped, gripping the handle of his sword, he looked down at the palace maid. Under the moonlight, it was difficult to discern the features of the girl but she appeared to be young, only fifteen or perhaps sixteen. To think that she would dare to block his path.
“How did you know I would be here?” Chu Beijie’s gaze was cold.
Hearing his deadly tone, the maid was terrified and shaking uncontrollably. Nonetheless she explained, “Ever since Duke’s arrival at the palace, Concubine Li has asked me to wait here for you since you must walk along this past to get to the King’s residence. Since Duke is alone, I managed to pull up my courage and approach you.”
“I am currently busy and have no time for some concubine.” Chu Beijie spat out before continuing towards the King’s palace.
Despite her young age, the maid was extremely loyal to her mistress and grabbed Chu Beijie’s legs to stop him. “Duke, this matter is extremely important, more so than the military affair you dealing with. Please grant my mistress an audience.”
Chu Beijie had met countless different people in his life and was a good judge of character. Upon seeing the maid daring to meet his eyes, he sensed no deception. However, once again he felt a very strange sense of unease, looking back at the King’s residence he finally agreed with a gruff. “Lead the way.”
The maid was surprised and stunned for a while before saying, “Yes.” After standing up, she led Chu Beijie through a maze of courtyards and corridors.
In the dark, they walked along a long and winding path and headed towards the harem. Chu Beijie could vaguely recall this area of the palace. He used to come here and play as a child. Since he knew that his brother had absolute trust in him, Beijie followed the maid confidently.
The maid stopped in front of a newly built residence, which Beijie guessed probably housed the private quarters of his brother’s concubines. However he had never heard of a Concubine Li before.
The maid looked back at Chu Beijie before stepping into the residence and quietly announcing, “Madam, the Duke of Zhen-Bei has arrived.”
“Please come in.” The woman inside appeared to have many worries, unable to fall asleep even in the late hours of the night. She sounded very relieved about Chu Beijie’s arrival as if he could solve all of her problems.
Chu Beijie marched inside and quickly scanned the room.
A small charcoal stove was lit near the centre of room, providing some comforting warmth. A beautiful young woman sat towards the back of the room. Upon seeing Chu Beijie, she smiled, “Duke of Zhen-Bei, since it would be difficult for me, I unable to offer a formal greeting. Please indulge me.” The woman gently rubbed her protruding belly as she spoke.
Chu Beijie finally understood why that maid had the courage to drag him here.
He sat down without a word and assessed Concubine Li. After a moment he finally announced, “I am very busy so if Madam have anything to say to me please do so.”
“The Duke of Zhen-Bei’s demeanour is as they say, confident and direct.” Concubine Li began, her hand sweeping her hair behind an ear and frowning as if uncertain as to how she should continue before carefully choosing her next words, “I was canonised 7 months ago, as to the reason I’m sure you already know,” she said as she gazed lovingly at her bump.
“To give birth to the King’s child is the greatest honour for a woman in the harem. I was blessed with this honour and my greatest desire is to safely give birth to this child. However living here in the harem, I have begun to fear for my life and the life of this child. Ever since I heard of your return I have waited to see you. Duke, you are the pillar of Dong Lin, our support and protector, please help me protect my unborn child so that I may safely give birth.”
Chu Beijie was rather surprised and asked “Who on earth would dare to harm a woman pregnant with the King’s child? If you say you are so terrified, why don’t you just tell the King about your concerns?”
“The King is very ill, I have not seen him in many months now.”
“Who would dare harm you?’
Concubine Li looked down and remained wordless.
Chu Beijie came to a realisation, “The Queen?”
“Hahaha…” Seeing Xoncubine Li nod her head in answer, Chu Beijie burst out in laughter before glaring at her and coldly responding, “What type of person do you think my sister-in-law is? If she does not like you, you would not have the luxury of speaking to me here today. I am very busy today and I can’t be bothered dealing with your nonsense so I will let this one time slip. Never send people to block my path again.” Following this warning, Beijie turned to leave.
As he stepped out of the room, Concubine Li quietly whispered, “It’s because of Bai Pingting.”
At this Chu Beijie suddenly stopped in his tracks. He turned around and pierced her with a sharp gaze.
“What did you just say?”
“At first the Queen was overjoyed over my preganancy, even more so than the King since there would be an heir. The Queen would constantly visit me and care for me, almost like the older sister I’ve always wished for. However in the past few days, she has become very cold to me. I can see hatred in her eyes. I fear for the life of my child.” She sighed, “This is all because of Pingting.”
Chu Beijie walked back into the room and stared at Concubine Li trying to find any signs of deceit before finally asking, “What on earth does Pingting have to do with all of this?”
“I don’t know who told the Queen about my connection to Pingting.” Concubine Li said with a bitter smile, “When Pingting poisoned the two princes, the King lost his heirs. My unborn child is his last and yet the child is connected to Pingting. If you were the Queen, how would the Duke of Zhen-Bei feel in this situation?”
“You know Pingting?” Chu Beijie squinted his eyes at her, assessing.
Concubine Li sighed before looking up at Chu Beijie and explaining in a defeated tone, “I met Pingting back in Gui Le at court. After the signing of the 5 year peace treaty, the King of Gui Le gifted me to the King of Dong Lin. I grew up in the Royal Residence, so how could I not know the famous Bai Pingting?”
Chu Beijie stared into Concubine Li’s eyes, assessing the truthfulness of her claim.
If the Queen believed that Concubine Li and Pingting had a connection, then the unborn child was in grave danger.
“Duke, for the sake of this child, I beg of you to stay in the palace for a few more days. I fear the Queen will harm us. I will be giving birth very soon, can Duke not spare just a few days?” Concubine Li placed her hands protectively over her unborn child and broke down in tears.
Chu Beijie felt torn and sighed.
Should the Imperial Concubine Li be pregnant with a son, he would become the future King of Dong Lin.
Dong Lin had already lost two princes. If they were not careful, they may well lose their final hope.
That morning, the King received the requested command flag from General Linan and as agreed the King handed it over to Chu Beijie.
“Brother, preparations are complete, you can depart whenever you desire.” Perhaps it is due to the joy of reuniting with family but the King’s health improved greatly.
Chu Beijie hesitantly accepted the command flag. He never once hesitated over anything before. What is the correct decision? After what seemed like eternity, he turned to the King and said, “Brother, I still have some things to do so I would like to stay in the palace for a few more days.”
It is already the fourth day since arriving at the capital.
In just six days it would be his birthday.