It was warm and comfortable on Yun Chang’s carriage.
The blood soaked secluded residence was no longer in sight.
Pingting sat in the corner, looking out at the moon with no feeling.
From today on, the moon she loved the most no longer had its flawless gentleness.
It refused to say a word, reflecting people’s breaking hearts and providing the light for the battle cries and the guard’s expressions who had died a wasted death. He Xia pushed open the heavy door and kindly loosened the ropes around her. He then left, taking the gilded box with him.
She had stood on those young men’s undried blood to reach the entrance of the residence.
Her white silk shoes were now as red as the fiery sunset, leaving bright red shoe prints in the snow.
Her heart was slashed by knives.
The blood all over the ground was no else’s. It was hers.
It poured out from her heart, dripping onto the icy snow which the cold did nothing to soothe.
The carriage had been waiting in front.
White curtains decorated the finely cut window frame. The carriage body had been wrapped with splendid fabrics.
Zuiju had rushed out from an unknown place. She had red patches on her sleeves and her fingers were covered in blood as she threw herself at the foot of Pingting, saying, “Miss! Miss! Allow me to take care of Miss on the way!”
He Xia’s guards had already raised their shining swords, ready to attack.
Pingting turned around, looking at He Xia. “This is my maid.”
He Xia looked at the begging Zuiju and softened his voice, “Get on.”
Dear Zuiju, why bother?
Pingting leaned close to the window, listening to the sound of hooves. The sound of the wheel rapidly moved her inch by inch away from Chu Beijie’s place.
She did not feel pain, did not feel like crying.
She had decided to forget the pain and the tears, so she could forever forget that person’s voice and expressions.
She finally understood that true feelings were not actually that important.
National gratitude was a sea, and national hate was a mountain.
How could she be deeper than the sea or heavier than a mountain?
How could singing under the moon or playing qin amongst flower possibly compare to one’s own country?
The purest love in this world was not invincible and was no match for fame and power, no match for the dedicated and no matched against false national pride.
“As a maid, don’t you know that your Master is a famous general?”
“What famous general? He’s the one who decides what is more important and breaks other people’s hearts for his selfish needs.”
She thought about these words, and Bai Pingting smiled sadly.
Isn’t there a time where all people are a famous generals?
When even if they can’t decide what is more important, they go ahead and break other people’s hearts for their own selfish needs?
His choice was right, properly selected.
As a famous general, he should have gone ahead and put an end to the broken heart, homeless and ruined soul he had created.
Until their promises, their smiles, were all forgotten.
A famous general.
As a famous general, he should have no regrets.
The wheels continued to turn rapidly, bumping along the road.
He Xia was eager to go home. He got Pingting and was riding towards home, not caring about the wind or frost that came at his way.
Was Yun Chang, the land hidden in clouds where his wife Princess Yaotian waited in that brilliantly decorated Royal Residence, his home?
If it wasn’t his home, then where could he go?
Where was the former Jing-An Ducal Residence?
Neither He Xia and Bai Pingting could ever return.
Never could return.
A sense of loss ran through him, seeping into his bones. He Xia turned back to look at the carriage rolling behind him.
Pingting had returned, upset and broken. It was as if her soul had been lost but a residual of memories of the Jing-An Ducal Residence remained.
She was there, and her former self would return.
If she was there, then the He Xia that joked about the four countries with sparkly eyes and honour would exist.
“Master!” Dongzhuo suddenly alerted, getting He Xia’s attention back. He rode from the troops from the front to He Xia. “Master, there are people blocking the road ahead. They say they would like to see Master.”
A sharp light flashed in He Xia’s eyes. He thought quietly for a while and held up a hand to stop the troops behind him.
The entire battalion stopped.
“Bring them over.”
A man with his hands tied was soon pushed towards He Xia’s horse.
“You wanted to see me?” He Xia looked down at him, measuring the tall man.
He wore the clothing of a scholar and was very thin. His voice and gestures were very calm as he studied the two guards beside him before looking at He Xia. He showed no sign of fear as he raised his head, “My name is Fei Zhaoxing. I have not slept for several days and have been waiting for the Marquess of Jing-An to pass on an extremely precious message.”
He Xia stared at him quietly, not asking him what the news was. His expression darkened and he harrumphed. His voice was cold, “How did you know I, Prince Consort, would come here?”
The guards by his sides raised their swords, poised and ready to fly towards him whenever he commanded them.
Fei Zhaoxing was not surprised and laughed instead. He looked at them warily, “Which of the four countries doesn’t have their own spies? Honestly speaking to the Marquess of Jing-An, even my Master had not guessed that Marquess would come here at this time, so my being here is merely luck. Besides, if Marquess is on this road at this time, then my news will not be of any importance.”
He Xia’s piercing gaze that could decipher intentions rested on the man and saw that he wasn’t lying. He Xia’s tone slowed down as he asked, “Who is your Master? What news do you bring?”
“My Master is Gui Le’s…” Fei Zhaoxing took a step forward, lowering his voice, “Queen.”
The cavalry unit continued to surge to the west, led by Chu Beijie.
Both horses and men were exhausted, but not one fell behind.
The moon seemed a little shy and quietly hid somewhere no one could see, while the sun had yet to show its face.
It was nearly dawn, but the sky seemed darker than ever.
“Go!” Chu Beijie was still galloping against the wind.
His hands and feet were almost num. He could only feel the burning cold touch of his metal sword against his waist as well as an overpowering desire.
Fresh blood, bones and sand.
Worry and grief filled his chest. He was eager to wave the sword and feel the rush of adrenaline when he made his enemy fall and kneel before Pingting, begging for her forgiveness and smelling the soft fragrance of her skirt.
The tip of the mountain ranges were now in Chu Beijie’s sight. He rushed onto the summit, looking around at the unlit plains below. The winter sun began to rise slightly, causing everything to be coloured the same. The light flickered in his bloodshot eyes, causing it to look a little more energetic. He scanned his surroundings once more. A slight movement on the mountain ranges caught his eye.
In the darkness, the shadows were faintly flashing.
The breath left Chu Beijie.
His expression did not change as he drew his sword from its sheath. His pupils reflected his feverish desire to jump right in.
Chen Mu came forwards and followed Chu Beijie’s gaze. He too, saw the flickering shadows. He had been a general for a long time and immediately understood the situation. He whispered, “It seems that they are small in number and are most likely troops He Xia left behind in case of ambush.”
Now that Chu Beijie had seen traces of the enemy, his confident expression on the battlefield had returned. He whispered back, “If He Xia has left troops here, this means that the primary unit is indeed travelling the Hengduan Ranges.”
When the primary unit safely passes through the Hengduan Ranges, the smaller units would immediately go catch up and meet up at a safe place.
“Rush towards them and leave a ranking soldier alive. Torture them until he says where the main unit has gone.”
The sword in his hand felt all too hot.
Yet his heart was even hotter than the sword.
Chu Beijie clenched the reins in one hand and stared at the familiar mountain ranges.
Pingting, are you inside these dense mountain ranges?
I beg you to return my gaze, just one moment.
This ancient land is silent for you.
These three thousand and seven hundred swords’ cold reflections are flashing for you.
The most stupid and the most uncherishing Chu Beijie is coming for you.
As long as I see your smile, all of this man’s warm blood will from thereon belong to only you.
The palm of his hand held the sword, drenched in cold sweat.
Chu Beijie turned his back against the mountain, slowly raised his sword as if piercing the bottomless darkness of the sky and spat, “Kill!”
“Kill! Kill! Kill!”
The piece of earth began to shake.
The cold light of the sword began to shake as the battle cries raged.
The thousands of men and horses stormed down the hillside, cutting the silence of dawn.
The men in the forest had expected to defeat all enemies and had carefully prepared sharp arrows and various boulders and pits for traps. They hadn’t expected three thousand and seven hundred furious-looking men charging towards them with such monstrous rage.
They did not fear injury or death. Their attitude was the colour red. The only light colder than the reflections of swords was the one in the depths of their eyes.
A painful scream and Chu Beijie’s surroundings were filled with relentless fighting. Perhaps it was like a drawing, as the colour of blood splashed slightly like the colour of plums as horses randomly trampled in every direction.
Nobody could resist Chu Beijie. All of the enemies were quickly defeated.
As the two sides clashed, the three thousand and seven hundred crashed through from east to west, wiping the enemies clean. When Chu Beijie’s horse had arrived on the furthermost point of the enemy camp, the battle was over.
Yet the fury was not.
This was the most brainless kind of attack, but at the same time it was the most time-saving.
The metallic smell floated around in the forest, drifting about.
This was not war, this was a massacre. The enemy troop had less than a thousand men. Most of them had already been buried under the pile of bodies.
The battle cries had replaced the thunder of hoove. The following silence dominated the silence of death.
Beads of blood trickled from the sword.
Chu Mu brought the man Chu Beijie wanted alive. Although the enemy was wearing civilian clothes, his general attire and the way he held himself was different to ordinary soldiers. How could such a man possibly escape the eyes of a war veteran?
The enemy with several wounds was pushed heavily before Chu Beijie’s horse.
“Where is He Xia’s main party?” Chu Beijie’s voice was pretty faint.
It was not his tone that was intimidating but his eyes.
The enemy soldier was surprised for a moment and raised his eyes to look at Chu Beijie. He saw that the man on the horse was compelling, but all he could see was a faint outline in the dim light. “Which general are you?” he asked suspiciously.
“Dong Lin’s Duke of Zhen-Bei?” The enemy general was very surprised as he exclaimed, “You’re the Duke of Zhen-Bei?” His face was full of bewilderment.
A passing hint of worry crossed Chu Beijie’s eyes as he lowered his voice, “Are you not one of He Xia’s men?”
“Of course not.”
The enemy general decided to remain silent for a while. He thought a little, gritted his teeth as he submissively said, “I am in charge of defected troops and cannot complete my task anyway. I will be executed even if I return to my home country. Since it’s like that, I might as well propose a deal with the Duke of Zhen-Bei. I’ll tell Duke everything and can only beg you to spare my few remaining men alive.”
Chu Beijie already knew that he was on the wrong track to finding the enemy. His heart was a mess, but his expression was even calmer. His voice was cold, “Speak.”
When the enemy general heard this, he immediately understand that his deal had been approved. He knew that he could take the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s word for it and he immediately replied, “I am the general of Gui Le’s Xiaoben Riding School, Zhao Wen. The King received a report saying that He Xia would be entering the Hengduan Ranges to abduct Bai Pingting. It was a rare chance, so the King ordered me to immediately hide and wait for them here so that we can ambush He Xia and bring Bai Pingting back.”
“The King of Gui Le, He Su?” Chu Beijie frowned, “How did he know that He Xia would be in the Hengduan Ranges?”
As expected, Zhao Wen had more to say. “According to the report, Yun Chang’s borders are closest to the Hengduan Ranges. They stationed a significant number of troops there, so how could one not possibly deduct that they are planning to return through the Hengduan Ranges?”
Chen Mu interrupted them, asking, “How many men do you have?”
Chen Mu’s expression was suspicious as he sneered, “With just nine hundred men, you dare to enter Dong Lin territory to pursue He Xia?”
“However, wouldn’t Dong Lin’s troops at the border detect us if we had too many men? My unit is Gui Le’s best at sneaking in, so we were able to slip into Dong Lin without detection. How on earth did we not meet with He Xia but the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s three thousand or so troops instead?”
Chen Mu could see that his words were honest and didn’t seem to be lying. He asked a question in return, “Do you know how many men He Xia has?”
“Don’t tell me it’s more than one thousand?”
“A whole eight thousand.”
Zhao Wen refused to believe him and shook his head. “Impossible, He Xia entered further into Dong Lin’s territory than us. If he really has a troop of eight thousand men, then the Dong Lin army would definitely have been aware of him.”
Chen Mu didn’t have a moment of rest or time to think since seeing Chu Beijie on his way to the capital. Hearing Zhaowen’s mentioning, he thought of his sudden transfer from the Dragon Tiger Barracks and felt his heart sink. He stole a look at Chu Beijie.
Chu Beijie’s face was gloomy, his eyes both pained and sad.
The only remaining explanation was that the King of Dong Lin had plotted everything.
He had opened the entrance, letting the enemy abduct Bai Pingting – the woman Chu Beijie loved.
Chu Beijie refused to brood too much on this right now, as time was of the essence. He immediately asked the most important question, “As you have been waiting her for a long time, it seems that He Xia has still not gone this way, but we came from the direction where He Xia went. Where could He Xia and his men possible have gone, as this is the only path?”
Zhao Wen shook his head, “This is the only entry to the Hengduan Ranges and I can guarantee that He Xia did not come this way.”
Chen Mu sighed, “The only explanation left is that He Xia changed his route.”
Zhao Wen was upset by this. “If my King’s report is without error, then the welcoming troops should only be placed at the end of the Hengduan mountains. If He Xia has changed his route, then he had either detected danger here or already knew that we were planning to ambush him.”
“Having such knowledge is unusual. Like Gui Le, can’t Yun Chang have spies?”
Chu Beijie’s heart was as heavy as lead and considered why He Xia was so clever to change the route in advance. He unsheathed his sword silently, commanding, “Bury the dead and pack up, before resting three miles away from here. Let everyone have a good meal, and sleep well before setting out at noon.”
Chen Mu was surprised, “We’re not chasing any more?”
“And could we catch up?” Chu Beijie whispered a question instead, his heart sore. He secretly clenched harder on the reins, sending bursts of pain from his blisters. His voice was defeated, “We’re already on the wrong track so even if we head back, it’s already too late.”
Even if his horse could run a thousand miles an hour, by the time he caught up, He Xia would already be in Yun Chang territory.
When that time came, He Xia’s men would no longer be as simple as eight thousand.
Even if they were not yet in Yun Chang, it was three thousand against eight thousand. Unless one killed nine each, the chance of survival was very low.
Especially when they are in Yun Chang, the difference in their men was much greater three thousand versus several tens of thousands. What were the chances of breaking into the innermost core where He Xia and the upper ranks were? Even if his soldiers had two lifetimes and took down as many as they could, there was no chance of seeing that beautiful face before falling to his death.
Yet if he did not put up a fight, that qin sound would be forever lonely as she stayed imprisoned in another’s place.
He wasn’t satisfied.
How could he be?
“Duke…what does Duke plan to do then?” Chen Mu freed Zhao Wen and his remaining soldiers as promised. He turned back, looking at the suppressed heartache and resentment on Chu Beijie’s face.
“I’m going to go to the border to build an army.” The wind of dawn had arrived and Chu Beijie’s gaze was directed at the faraway Yun Chang, the corners of his mouth lifting without the coldness of regret. “I am going to use every drop of Dong Lin’s military power to fragment Yun Chang’s territory until He Xia brings back Pingting with his own two hands.”
The woman whose fate was tied to his, the woman who used her qin to block his sword.
Pingting, with just a smile, you make my heart ache with your beauty.
I beg you to return my gaze, and just smile once.
Just one smile.
I will exchange the greatest bloodshed in history and the future, with the whole nation’s power, for your smile.
The winter was almost over, but the coldness did not leave.
There had been drastic changes to the four countries’ situation. After receiving the outskirts captured by the Dong Lin army, the King of Bei Mo immediately withdrawn his alliance with Yun Chang.
He Xia’s purpose had already been achieved. He safely withdrew his troop of over three hundred thousand soldiers without any further battles.
The peasants still thought that the Gods were still compassionate and did not know about the thrilling activities at the border that caused so many people to be heartbroken.
People had settled in. Although the situation had been rather unexpected, they calmed down nonetheless.
The Royal Residence of Dong Lin received the news of the enemy retreating and the restless crowd who were unable to eat or sleep were relieved at last. However, before a grand feast could begin, more unexpected news came in like a thunderbolt from the skies.
The Duke of Zhen-Bei, Chu Beijie, had already used his command flag and was currently commanding all of Dong Lin’s troops to pressure Yun Chang’s borders!
The laughter in the huge residence faded to silence as the officials looked at each other in bewilderment, not knowing what to say or think.
Yun Chang was not like Gui Le or Bei Mo. This country had the resources for war but had always kept out of it, leading to a much more matured army. They were led by the widely acclaimed General He Xia and so it seemed like certain death trying to attack Yun Chang. Not to mention, how could Dong Lin possibly have enough soldiers to stop just the plots of Gui Le and Bei Mo?
How could the Duke of Zhen-Bei, who had always been cautious, do such an unwise thing that was no different from suicide?
“Is that true?” The cup of wine in the King of Dong Lin’s hand did not move as he looked at the dusty-looking messenger kneeling on the ground of the hall.
The songs stopped as the singing and dancing maids detected the dangerous atmosphere in the hall. They trembled at the side, their heads bowed as they kneeled.
The messenger had been hurrying for several days and his voice was hoarse. He still managed to muster up a loud voice, “Reporting to King, the Duke of Zhen-Bei issued his commands six days ago. All of the generals at the borders, along with the generals in charge of the four barracks have been ordered to leave and meet up with the Duke of Zhen-Bei.”
The King of Dong Lin said nothing and slowly turned to look at his pale-faced queen. He slowly settled the gold cup in his hands down, his gaze sweeping across the hall. “What do you think?”
When the Duke of Zhen-Bei had returned to the capital, the entire country celebrated, but several days later, he hurriedly left. Most of the officials did not know the details of Chu Beijie and Pingting’s relationship, so they did not dare open their mouths and all were silent.
A suffocating silence filled the huge hall.
The old Senior Official, Chu Zairan happened to think of something else. He opened his mouth to offer, “As the Duke has mobilised every border’s troops as well as the barracks, how many has he arranged to defend the Bei Mo and Gui Le borders?”
“He left a tenth of the original guarding troops at each border.”
Just a tenth?
The officials cried out.
At that level, defence was virtually non-existent. If the other two countries suddenly launched an attack, they could head straight to the heart of Dong Lin.
All of the eyes rested on the King of Dong Lin.
The expression on the King of Dong Lin’s face was very ugly, his eyes flashing several times. He held up the cup of wine to his lips and calmly took a sip. “I would like to calm down, please all leave.”
The officials stood in panic as they fell into their lines. They then bowed.
“Your loyal subjects shall depart!”
The kneeling dance maids and musicians also withdrew quietly and carefully from the room.
The real silence only came when the officials had departed. The hall was messy with the aftermath of a celebration, and the crowd had quickly scattered in silence.
The army had gathered at the border to challenge He Xia.
For his country, he sacrificed his own brother and sacrificed Bai Pingting.
Now, Chu Beijie sacrifices his own brother and Dong Lin for Bai Pingting.
What was the cause?
What was the consequence?
The King of Dong Lin sat on the throne, looking around at the huge hall, silently taking another sip.
A white hand stretched towards him, gently pressing down on the golden cup.
“King…” The Queen was by his side, her voice low, “Please, can King quickly think of a way? Use an Order to recover the command flag from the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s hands.”
The King of Dong Lin turned to her, looking at her in the eye. His smile was bitter, “Could Brother shift all of the troops without something like a command flag?”
The elite soldiers of Dong Lin hadn’t hesitated to attack the capital and besieged the Royal Residence, under his command that year.
There were some people who were born with the ability to command and give courage to everyone.
“Even so, we musn’t sit and turn a blind eye, King.” The Queen’s heart hammered painfully in her chest, “For just a Bai Pingting, he has put the entire nation’s security at risk. What difference is the Duke of Zhen-Bei to a madman? What can he achieve by only caring about his own emotions and betraying the Royal House?”
The King of Dong Lin’s deep gaze pierced beyond the door of the hallway, to somewhere faraway. “He has already done that.”
He no longer cared about his life or death, about the Royal House, about his country.
For the first time, the sense of responsibility he had since birth had been replaced with vanity, without any hope for change.
For just a woman.
Just a Bai Pingting.
“Beijie, Beijie, are you still the Brother that would sacrifice everything for Dong Lin?” The King of Dong Lin slowly stood up, looking up at the sky, trying to seek its depths. Suddenly he felt a throb of pain at his throat he splurted out fresh blood onto the table, with a “gah”.
“King!” The Queen yelled, her voice anxious. “Someone! Come!”
Servants immediately hurried over and were shocked to pieces by the scene they saw.
“Physician, call a physician!”
A gentle rain began to shower over the region.
From the ancient Royal Residence, bursts of sorrow and panic came.
The area before the throne had been dyed with blood bright red like the endless bloodshed of the guards in the secluded residence, no different to the liquid that dripped from the swords on a battlefield.
A country was a home and a home was made of people. The resentment lingered as thick as mountains.
Bai Pingting, what is not impossible for you?