Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol02 Ch33
The sky was lightening, the northerly winds were blowing and the sun was finally rising out from behind the clouds bringing warmth with its rays.
The first thing Pingting did that morning was process the pot of plum blossoms she had picked, adding wine, sugar, salt and winter vegetables. After much work she suddenly stopped, “Maybe we should also add some vanilla.”
“I’ll go get some.” Hongqiang excitedly grabbed some before staring at the pot and admiring, “This looks so nice must taste delicious. Are you preparing this for the Duke’ return?”
Zuiju easily guessed what Hongqiang was hinting at and glanced at her teasing, “I’m sure when it’s ready you’ll get to have a taste.”
Hongqiang clapped her hands a few times, ecstatic before asking, “Is there anything I can help with?”
Pingting had spent the night gazing at the moon and felt her spirit nourished. She happily made her requests, “Go and find a nice spot in the courtyard, clear away the snow and dig a small pit. Snow covered soil retains a light and refreshing fragrance. We’ll bury the pot in the snow and smoke it for half an hour allowing the fragrance to seep into the pot. When the Duke returns we can open up this pot of ‘Locked Away Goodies’.”
Zuiju tutted, “Locked Away Goodies? What an interesting name, very thoughtfully chosen, makes me excited to see how it tastes.”
Pingting glared at her teasing but couldn’t hide her faint look of embarrassment and smiled, causing Zuiju’s eyes to light up.
Hongqiang picked the broom and went outside in search of a suitable place.
Pingting picked up the pot which was unexpectedly heavy. Losing her centre of balance, she staggered a bit, giving Zuiju a fright as she hurriedly took over carrying the pot. “Please, no more of this, sooner or later you’ll give me a heart attack or something.”
Zuiju then carried the pot outside.
Hongqiang had long picked a spot and swept away the snow. She was currently digging a pit but having a lot of trouble doing so.
“Let me have a go.” Zuiju pulled up her sleeves and picked up the shovel. After working up a sweat, she too was unable to dig up much and spat out, “This ground is so annoying. It’s hard like stone.”
Pingting was amused from watching their attempts. Upon hearing Zuiju complaints, Pingting couldn’t hold back her laughter any longer. “You simply aren’t used to manual labour. The winter the ground greatly harden so we won’t be able to dig it up. It’ll be much easier to ask one of the guards to come and help.”
“That’s easy. I’ll go find someone to help.” Hongqiang was on good terms with the guards so she could easily find assistance.
As she turned away, Zuiju tugged on the back of her clothes to hold her back, “No need to look for anyone. Help delivered itself.”
The three of them looked towards the doorway and discovered a person walking towards them. From afar, the figure looked like Moran.
“Oh, General Chu…” Hongqiang began but seeing his expression, she swallowed back the rest of her words.
It was indeed Moran.
He was wearing the same clothes as last night, his sword at his hip. Not a hair was out of place. His facial expression however betrayed him.
Even the news of pressing enemy troops would not warrant such an expression.
Seeing his facial expression, Pingting and Zuiju’s smiles froze.
After a long moment Pingting finally asked, “What’s wrong?”
Moran’s calm demeanour hid the true extent of his inner turmoil. Taking a deep breath, he began with an even but quiet voice to avoid shocking Pingting, “The situation has changed, we should not stay here for much longer. Please follow me.”
Turning around and proceeding a few paces he realised that Pingting had made no move to follow and frowned, “There is no time to waste, please make haste.”
Pingting stood unmoving, the north wind bit into her skin. Rubbing her hands for warmth, she finally said, “Follow me.” before turning and walking inside.
Seeing her calm expression, Moran couldn’t help but feel surprised for a moment. He hesitated before following.
Zuiju and Hongqiang could feel tension in the atmosphere, however they were not aware of the true seriousness of their situation. Knowing that Pingting was discussing the matter privately with Moran, Zuiju tugged on Hongqiang’s sleeve. The two carried the unburied pot inside, trying to remain calm as they waited.
Pingting stepped into the room and sat down. Her eyes fluttered as she otherwise sat unmoving in contemplation. After a long while, she picked up the cup of tea in front of her. Holding it up to her lips, she realised it was already cold and placed it back onto the table before softly asking Moran, “Are they sent by the Queen?”
Moran was surprised once more.
Chu Beijie wouldn’t have told her about the Queen’s troops lurking nearby.
He looked at Pingting.
Pingting laughed somewhat harshly, “It really isn’t that hard to imagine. That depth of hatred she has for me…The Duke would not allow me step a foot outside the walls of this residence and left all of his guards behind, even you. In the entirety of Dong Lin, who else would dare to oppose him and loathe me deeply enough to do so? Just tell me how grave the situation is.”
With her final sentence, any remaining languidness disappeared. Her eyes shined with intelligence and calculation, reminding him she was once the commander that saved Bei Mo from annihilation.
Moran stared at the delicate face before him before confessing, “As dire as can be. Last night I sent out 10 guards into the forest on a reconnaissance mission. None of them returned. This morning I sent out a few more to try and locate the Queen’s troops and record their movements…”
“The guards have not returned,” Pingting interrupted before sighing and continuing, “If that is the case, I’m afraid the mountain is already completely surrounded. Does the Queen truly have so many troops?”
“Miss Bai, there is little time to waste, please come with me to the back of the mountain.” Moran began, “The Duke built a hidden base there in case of emergencies. It is difficult to locate, this residence is no longer safe.”
Pingting looked at him, “We only have one team of guards, even if we include you we cannot defend against the troops surrounding us. The final result is very clear. Why have they not made a move yet?”
Moran thought for a moment before suddenly looking up and asking almost disbelievingly, “Could they have already discovered the location of the hidden base? Are they simply waiting to catch us on our way there?”
To think of the opponent’s might, with troops far outnumbering them, what else is there to do? The feeling of hopelessness was difficult to keep at bay.
Pingting did not answer, instead she pulled open the curtains and looked out assessing the time of day before suddenly asking, “How many messenger pigeons do we have?”
“Fifteen in total, why?” Moran asked.
“Release them all, send them off in all directions.”
Her voice was soft and calm but filled with charisma. Moran obeyed without hesitation, “Yes I will do so immediately.”
Zuiju entered upon seeing Moran’s hurried departure. She carried a fresh pot of tea and looked at Pingting, staring up at the sky by the door. They’ve been so busy preparing the plum blossoms for pickling this morning that Pingting’s hair was not pinned up. Instead, the ebony strands fell loosely, framing the distant and mournful expression on her face. Her expression frightened Zuiju somewhat. She softly touched her arm, “Miss Bai?”
Pingting was pulled back to the present and looked at her, “It’s you?” Laughing somewhat sadly, she continued, “It’s as if as long as we’re alive, there will be no peace. It seems so pointless. It’s cold outside. Come in and let us drink some tea to warm ourselves.”
Zuiju carried the tea inside and poured a cup for Pingting and herself. Cradling the cup to warm her hands, she studied Pingting’s expression. After a long while she said, “No matter what happens, Moran will take care of it. This is still the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s territory; who would dare do anything here?”
Pingting knew Zuiju was quick-witted and a talented physician but nonetheless still a young girl. She gently replied, “It’s precisely knowing this is the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s territory that I’m worried. Who else who dare to do so, other than someone whose power rivals the Duke? Even the Duke’ departure must have been within their calculations. I’m afraid…” Pingting looked down at her current flat stomach, her hands covering it protectively. Her eyes drifted towards Zuiju.
Zuiju was slightly startled by her piercing gaze and stiffly replied, “I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even tell the Duke. Who else could I tell?”
Pingting nodded and sighed, “I hope things are not as bad as I have predicted.”
The hanging screen was quickly raised, and the cold wind followed Moran into the room.
The two looked up and noticed Moran’s expression was worse than before.
“The pigeons did not fly far before they were all shot down.” Moran said with great difficulty, “All fifteen of them, not one survived. The residence is completely and thoroughly surrounded.”
It was only then that Zuiju understood the scope of what was happening. She released a scream, her eyes widening.
Moran thought for a moment before speaking through gritted teeth, “Would Miss Bai please give me the sword the Duke left to you? I will send some guards to fight their way out. An army base is located about 20 miles south. Once the general sees the sword, he will immediately send out rescue troops.”
Pingting tilted her head and gazed at the sword hanging on the wall.
Chu Beijie had left that behind for her.
His hands had been warm as they held hers. “I leave Moran and the guards here to protect you. If the unthinkable happens here, send someone by a fast horse with this sword to the Dragon Tiger Barracks twenty miles north of here, and ask General Chen Mu to help. He recognises my sword.”
His words rang in her ears.
That jewel encrusted sword that once slayed countless enemies hung silently on the wall.
Pingting didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Chu Beijie had planned everything out so well, thinking of all possibilities except this one.
Who could blame him? No one could have ever guessed that things would progress to this stage.
Pingting walked over and slowly took down the sword, caressing the hilt.
Knowing that there was no time to waste and seeing her dismay, Moran could only say, “Only this sword can represent the Duke and muster the troops. After the rescue troops arrive, it will be returned immediately.”
Stepping forward and he reached for the sword, only for Pingting move away.
Pingting always considered the overall picture rather than acting on selfish whims, but at this critical moment, why was she having second thoughts?
Facing a formidable enemy, every second was crucial. Recalling the numerous soldiers bound to be surrounding them his heart sank.
With her arms wrapped tightly around the sword, Pingting sat down again. She looked up at Moran, a slightly haunted look in her eyes, and softly asked, “With the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s residence so heavily surrounded, do you really think the King is unaware of it?”
Moran was evidently shaken and paled upon realisation.
Not on the Queen’s secret orders?
But on the King’s instead?
If the King himself was also playing a role in this, would there be any hope left?
Pingting continued, “Sealing the paths traversing the mountain is not a simple task yet we knew nothing. This is because we were long surrounded, and they did not wish for us to know. As for the civilians living nearby and the army camp 20 miles south, how could they be unaware?”
Moran could not utter a word in response.
To be honest there was no need for him to answer these two questions.
Like a fog lifting, everything was coming together and becoming clear.
Chu Beijie had prepared for every possibility, guarding against enemies and his sister-in-law, yet never did he ever consider the thought of needing to guard against his own beloved brother, the dignified and good King of Dong Lin.
Hearts were forever tied through blood.
The Brother that should have known him best, the Brother who should most clearly understand how much Pingting meant to him.
Zuiju realised she had been holding her breath.
Pingting looked down at the sword resting next to her pounding heart. She could almost feel Beijie’s warmth clinging to the cold metal.
“The army camp would either have moved by now, or the General was replaced. There will be no help.” Pingting looked out the window before suddenly asking, “What is the date today?”
Zuiju quietly answered, “It is the fourth.”
The sun moved the sky, it was already noon.
“The fourth?” Smiling, Pingting’s gaze was filled with warmth and longing, “Then there are just two more days.” Turning to look at Moran she began, “I want a topographic map of this area and all the details available the number of guards, their level of skill, our food and water source. That includes the hunting and woodcutting patterns of the locals…”
After giving out all of her commands, Pingting took a deep, contented breath before coldly saying, “Having the target heavily surrounded yet making not move. It seems they want to lure us into surrendering. This is not a characteristic of the King of Dong Lin but of someone very familiar. Who could it be?” Pingting pondered the question, her brows furrowed. Her gaze however gradually became more firm and steady.
The capital of Dong Lin.
The sun’s rays pierced through the darkness, shrouding the world with light and warmth. Despite the sunlight shining upon the palace, there was an unrelenting sense of gloom.
The King and Queen stepped inside Concubine Li’s residence and gently comforted the weak and pale faced concubine. The palace maids immediately brought over the baby princess, swaddled in white silk. She was presented to the King and Queen.
“She looks just like King.” The Queen whispered.
The King’s brows were furrowed. Looking at his newborn daughter, he forced a smile. The corners of his lips were still uplifted when clashing weapons sounded outside.
“King, please take care!” The sound of weapons was piercing. The King’s personal guards exchanged a look and realized the turning tide of battle outside. Four of them moved to protect the King and Queen. Unsheathing their swords, they stood in front, vigilant of their surroundings. The remaining two guards hid positioned themselves at the window to track the enemy.
Pained cries were followed by heavy thudding sounds. The ruckus reached the room, waking the baby princess who began crying.
The sound of clashing weapons suddenly stopped, but the silence was anything other than settling.
A gleam passed through the King’s eyes. He suddenly stood up and pushed open the door to stand at the top of the stairs.
Chu Beijie’s calm figure entered his sight.
The fighting was over.
The courtyard was marked by streaks of blood, injured guards staggered with gritted their teeth. They refused to utter a sound despite the pain.
The few uninjured guards tightly gripped their pikes as they surrounded Chu Beijie, but none of them dared to challenge him.
Chu Beijie stood in the middle of the courtyard, looking down at the sword in his hand. Blood slowly dripped from the tip and fell like tears upon the smooth pavement.
His expression was eerily calm, evidently unconcerned about the guards surrounding him.
Not even the greatest of armies could hold him back.
Perhaps that would indeed be the case.
The coldness in his demeanour evoked a shiver.
Everyone stared at the mighty and lauded Duke of Zhen-Bei. Unblinking and holding their breaths, they dared not to make even a single move.
When the final drop of blood fell from his sword, Chu Beijie looked up at his brother. With a pained and almost haunted look in his eyes, he finally asked, “Why?”
His voice was soft, yet no one could mistake the threat it carried.
Covered in blood but stubbornly refusing to give in to pain lied the captain of the guards, tasked with stopping Chu Beijie earlier.
The Queen was shaken by his sharp gaze. She opened her mouth to answer but felt the King grasp her wrist. She lowered her eyes, standing silently beside the King.
“I was careless.” The King stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at his only younger brother and sighed, “After commanding the army for so many years, you have always kept the command flag on you at all times. Of course you wouldn’t need to go back to your quarters to retrieve it. Beijie, must you really waste all that I have done for you?”
Chu Beijie simply stared at him and asked once more, “Why?”
It was long past the point of no return.
“Because you are my only brother. You are Dong Lin’s Duke of Zhen-Bei.” The King’s voice rose as he spoke, becoming more assured, “It is unlikely that I will have a son. One day all of this will be yours. This country will be yours along with its countless people and the brave soldiers who guard our borders. Everything will be yours.”
The words resounded.
Chu Beijie was unmoved. Standing tall, he stared at the King. The monarch’s eyes were momentarily full of regret before becoming stricken with torment and sorrow.
“In the face of a war, as a member of the Royal House, the safety of our nation should be our priority. Brother, you tried absolutely everything to delay my departure. Are you not concerned about the situation at the frontlines?” Chu Beijie speculated before shaking his head, “No, that’s not it.” His expression darkened, “You wanted to stop me from returning to the residence.”
A small isolated residence, why did the King and Queen care so much of it?
Chu Beijie noticed the almost undetectable expression on the Queen’s face and felt his heart skip a beat. With a slight tremor, he asked already knowing the answer, “Was it for Pingting?”
Pingting was away from his protection. If the King participated, then even with Moran’s help, there was little hope for her continued wellbeing.
Seeing that the King was unwilling to answer, Chu Beijie felt his heart grow cold.
“Brother?” Chu Beijie quietly called out, suppressing the swelling rage within.
His voice was very quiet with a slight tremor. If the sword hilt were not made of iron, it would have long been crushed.
They lured him back to get Pingting.
Could there have been a major upheaval during his delay in the Royal Residence?
Perhaps when he returned, he would no longer be able to see that familiar figure sitting beneath the tree?
Chu Beijie looked at the King, the feeling of betrayal evident in his eyes yet he could not help but feel the faintest flicker of hope.
He hoped that his brother would at least, on the account of their brotherly affection, leave Pingting a chance for survival.
Even the hardened hearted King of Dong Lin refused to meet his gaze, choosing instead to look away.
Noticing that his brother refused to meet his gaze, Chu Beijie froze.
His heart sank. He felt as if darkness was swallowing up his entire being.
“On the Duke’s birthday, could we be together?”
The sound of birds chirping surrounded him. He could see Pingting’s every smile and gesture imprinted on his very soul.
He made a promise for the sixth.
He felt numb.
As his fears began to overwhelm him, he felt his heart grow cold.
A moment later, a look of decisiveness swept across Chu Beijie’s face. Tightly grasping his sword, he turned to leave.
The guards surrounded Chu Beijie, pikes poised warily. However, as he walked towards the exit, power exuded with every step. The guards were shocked and unsure of whether to stop him or not. Chu Beijie’s sword remained pointed towards the ground. Seemingly unaffected by the steel pointed at him, the Duke pressed closer with his every step as if nothing could stop him, not even a blade to his heart.
His gaze was dark like the vast oceans, unfathomable. At this moment, anyone could feel a cold terrifying storm was gathering.
No one dared to meet his gaze just as no one dared to cross his sword.
Who has not heard of the mighty Duke of Zhen-Bei?
The guards were forced to step back in the face of his pressing aura.
“Let him go.” The King solemnly said.
The guards parted, making way for Chu Beijie to pass.
The Queen’s phoenix headpiece swayed as she called out, “King!”
“Does my Queen wish for me to kill him, or let him kill every single one of our guards?” The King stood stiffly. He stared at Chu Beijie’s figure until he finally left the courtyard and sighed heavily, “Let him go. It should be nearly over by now. Even if he reaches the residence, it will be too late for him to do anything.”
Even after Chu Beijie was long gone, the heavy atmosphere remained present. No one dared to move. Even the baby princess who seemed to sene the danger and gloom remained silent.
The King of Dong Lin looked at the slowly darkening sky, his eyes unreadable. Deep down was the slightest tinge of sorrow and regret.
The sound of footsteps finally broke the silence as the old Senior Offical Chu Zairan clambered up the stairs and fell to his knees before the King, “King, after departing the palace, the Duke of Zhen-Bei directly appointed twelve young army officials, mustered a three thousand man cavalry unit with the command flag and left from the west gate.”
“Let him go.” The King of Dong Lin turned his eyes away from the distance and recovered his composure, walking down the stairs he gently said, “Without knowing the pain of loss, how could he grow to become the future King of Dong Lin?”
Beijie, go and see with your own eyes, the ruins of your home.
I hope that as you see the burning fire, see it swallowing the last shreds of your selfish desires.
As a King, to rule a nation, you may not have final reservations.