Pingting wanted Zuiju to use the seven needless on her yesterday. She had felt uncomfortable after temporarily changing her pulse. Even though she had only played a few songs on the qin to test the Princess of Yun Chang, she had used up all of her available energy to do so. She laid on the bed, the familiar fragrance of Gui Le wafting in her nose. She knew that she was having yet another dream of the Jing-An Ducal Residence.
Everything was so calm and serene.
She comfortably played and joked around with He Xia, utterly carefree.
Time skipped to winter. The two were scared of the cold but wanted to stargaze at night. They had wrapped themselves in layers as they sat on the bed, watching until late into the night. When they got tired, they hugged each other to sleep without a single worry.
The two had been brought up together, did everything together. Despite their different opinions and personalities, they never thought such a thing was dirty and never realised that men and women were different.
The seniors in the Residence knew that Pingting’s identity wasn’t even enough for the lowest rank for a concubine, so they turned a blind eye to their relationship.
The fragrance of Gui Le was the scent of the Jing-An Ducal Residence.
Pingting loved this scent, saying it was comforting. Its fragrance was often present in her Master’s room too.
She had her own room, but her Master’s room was hers too. She had touched all of the interesting things in the room and entered all the time.
“It’s a little warmer if I hold you.” A seven year old boy said, full of desire to protect like always.
“Open the window.”
“But Mother will yell at me again.” Even though He Xia said this, he didn’t hesitate to jump out of the snug bed. He pushed open the window and agilely wriggled back in, hugging the pale-faced Pingting. “It’s so cold!”
“Winter ought to be cold.”
“Go on! Who was the one sick in bed two days ago?”
The two young children chattered on, the echoes ringing in the ear.
She groggily woke up and saw He Xia’s familiar face jump into the corners of her eyes. Pingting shrinked back, widening her eyes.
It wasn’t a dream.
“What’s wrong?” He Xia opened his eyes, smiling as he asked.
Pingting sat up and turned away, “Why is Master sleeping here?”
“We used to…”
“The past is the past, the present is the present.” Pingting stopped, fuming. “We’ve grown up.”
He Xia had rarely seen Pingting angry and couldn’t help feeling a little shocked. It was a while before he sneered, “True, we’ve grown up, and our hearts have changed too.” He got off the bed, picking up his own clothes to put on.
Zuiju had curled up by the wall and slept through the night. She heard some muffled sounds and rubbed her eyes, standing up in the corner. The useless stone remained in her hand.
He Xia saw her and he turned back to Pingting. He lowered his voice, “No need to worry, your maid is even more worried than you are. The object in her hand has caught the light of the sun. No matter what I do, how could she possibly even begin to stop me?” He had always been a charismatic man, but after this night, even though he had no ill intentions, his charisma was completely shattered in their eyes until not a trace was left.
Pingting had known He Xia for all these years. The two had an unbreakable bond, but she had never put the feelings between man and woman into it. Even when she had heard about being taken as his wife, she had never thought too much about it. Hearing He Xia’s words just then made her feel both scared and angry. Her face paled.
“Have I ever forced you at any time since we were young?” He Xia’s heart had been engulfed by the fire of annoyance as he gritted his teeth. “Chu Beijie is the one that wants your body not your heart. Don’t mistake me for him.”
Pingting only felt that her heart had been cut with a sharp knife, causing it to no longer support her body. She began to sway.
Zuiju suddenly yelled, “Miss!”
He Xia was also alarmed by this and hurriedly went forwards to support her. He massaged her back, softening his voice, “I said the wrong thing, calm down.” Whenever he had annoyed Pingting in the past, he had said the same thing. His words were more instinctive than anything else. It also helped calm himself down.
Zuiju brought up hot water and Pingting drank a sip. Pingting’s eyes flickered towards He Xia and saw geniune concern in his eyes. She then remembered that she had to do every trick, tactic and plan to get away from this familiar person. Her heart was filled with sorrow. Not quite sure whether her tone should be happy or angry, she ended up whispering, “Is Master heading out today?” after a while.
Pingting saw that he was holding onto her wrist and was terrified that the effects from Zuiju’s acupuncture had lifted, leading to He Xia’s discovery of her plan. Her expression didn’t change however, “Nothing much. If Master isn’t heading out, then draw Pingting so that even if one day Pingting is gone, Master still has something to remember.”
He Xia snorted, “What rubbish. Are you not here for me to see? If you’re gone, I will go through the heavens and earth to retrieve you.”
“What heavens and earth? Do you really take those words seriously?” Pingting faintly retorted back, thinking of the various vows she had made with Chu Beijie.
Through the heavens and earth, to the end of the earth and to its highest and lowest points.
For this lifetime and the following lives, vows lasted through life and death.
“Get on the horse. From then on, you will no longer be called Bai Pingting, you will be Chu.”
Words not to be taken seriously, yet she had really believed in them.
How could she take them seriously? She had her good dream and woken from it.
The sour taste of grief welled up at the tip of her nose. While she was momentarily caught up, tears the size of beans began to fall.
He Xia however, did not realise that her thoughts had drifted faraway. He comforted her, “Every word I say is the truth. Don’t cry, I won’t go anywhere today and draw a very pretty picture of you, so you can display it in your room, okay?”
Pingting’s expression was full of suffering and was even more upset when she heard He Xia’s soft words of comfort. She put out all of her hatred against Chu Beijie.
She then remembered the fetus inside her and didn’t cry out. She whimpered, gradually removing the sound until she stopped.
Although He Xia knew that the Princess was still waiting for him at the Royal Residence, the Princess was much easier to please. Pingting was wiser and more intelligent, making her much more difficult to persuade. He had been the one to set a trap to deeply crack her heart. Seeing the current Pingting so weak, He Xia naturally refused to let go of such an easy way to win her trust. He asked someone to pass on a message to the Royal Residence, quickly conjuring up a random excuse. He then took out a piece of paper and picked up the brush, carefully drawing Pingting.
Yaotian slept even worse than Zuiju that night.
When returning to the Royal Residence, she had looked around the brilliant halls of gold and the glittering bead curtains as well as the maids that attended her. The more she looked, the more uncomfortable she felt. She regretted the anger felt when marching away from the Prince Consort Residence.
He Xia sword dancing in the snow while Bai Pingting playing an extraordinary accompaniment on the qin was a satisfaction that Yaotian could never give to He Xia in her lifetime. She could only give and had given normal day to day actions, carrying out something like a flawless transaction.
Although unwilling to admit, she knew, deep down, what each other really wanted.
Yaotian could barely supress the sour taste in her heart and mind. She lay out on the bed, tossed and turned sleeplessly until it became the hour for her to get up.
A man’s heart was never easy to capture, not to mention, from all of the people possible, she had chosen the famous Marquess of Jing-An.
Thinking of the words He Xia had said the night before sent Yaotian’s heart sank, she got dressed and told Luyi to reject the other officials who tried to see her. She concentrated on He Xia’s arrival.
Unexpectedly, after a long period of waiting, He Xia did not come. He sent a messenger who had said He Xia was carefully thinking about the frontlines and could not temporarily come to the Royal Resience today. Although the messenger followed He Xia’s instructions and put in several good words for him, Yaotian sent him back with a cold expression. She stayed alone in the room, waiting for a long time before ordering Luyi. “Go bring the Senior Official here.”
Gui Changqing immediately settled the documents he had been going through and hurried over as soon as he heard the command.
“Have a seat, Senior Official.” Yaotian’s expression was twisted as she said this. Her face was filled with anxiety at first, but she didn’t know where to begin when seeing Gui Changqing came in. She sat up straight and looked at him in the eye, asking, “It seems that Dong Lin’s army will be finished assembling soon, meaning that Prince Consort will be hurrying to the border in a few days. Are all resource preparations complete? Have people been sent to check the most important resource, food?”
“All preparations are complete.” Gui Changqing was used to doing such things and had promptly prepared everything. Even though he was listening to Yaotian’s questions, his eyes missed nothing. He replied carefully and saw that Yaotian was just nodding absently. Hearing enough, she didn’t ask for any more.
No one understood the Princess’ personality more than Gui Changqing, and the people in the Royal Residence had told him about the Princess’ return from the Prince Consort Residence last night. He immediately guessed what she was thinking and changed the topic, “I will make sure, with all my ability, that there are enough resources at the border so that the Prince Consort will not have to worry about them. It’s just…when is the Prince Consort heading to the front lines?”
Yaotian brooded over for a while before sighing. “I thought for a long time about Gui Changqing’s words last night. Yes, I must worry about both the present and the future, but it seems that the present worries are much more scary than future considerations.”
Gui Changqing asked, “Princess has already met Bai Pingting?”
“What kind of person is she?” Even though Gui Changqing was wise with age, he couldn’t help be a little curious.
The chaotic world with low morals should have been the word of men.
Soldiers and horses, heads of the executed, all that scattered blood and the fame, achievements that came with it were supposed to be in their hands.
Women, if they were born into noble families their real power, came after a union in marriage to someone suited of their rank. If they were peerless beauties, then they would become the legends that drifted around the heroes during troubled times.
Bai Pingting was the only exception.
She was born a maid, had an ordinary face, yet repeatedly changed the power distribution of the four countries. She had created Gui Le’s five year truce, won the battle of Kanbu in Bei Mo and even the imminent battle between Dong Lin and Yun Chang was complicatedly related to her.
“What kind of person is she?” It seemed that Yaotian wasn’t sure of the answer herself. Her very delicate eyebrow furrowed slightly, trying to recall the Bai Pingting she had seen yesterday and remained deep in thought, before saying, “The feeling you get when with Bai Pingting is very hard to describe. I’ll put it this way, when I first saw Bai Pingting, I suddenly felt that all of the varied praises about her were real. Indeed, she seemed like the woman who had ordered troops and challenged Chu Beijie in the battle of Bei Mo. I felt that she had the soldiers’ approval, not just the command flag. For someone to stand up to Chu Beijie so equally matched on the battlefield is something truly unbelievable, but when you see Bai Pingting, even that seems completely normal like water filling its container. You think it’s something she had done, did.”
Gui Changqing didn’t let go of any traces of expression on Yaotian’s face. He lowered his voice, “Does Princess think that if a woman like Bai Pingting was severely hurt by a man, she would ever forgive him?”
“Hurt?” A little bit of suspicion leaked into Yaotian’s eyes, “Why hurt?”
“For something else, he broke their promise and did not return in time, resulting her being forced to Yun Chang.”
Yaotian asked incredulously, “Why did Senior Official suddenly mention this?”
“I have already sent someone to ask around the Prince Consort Residence about the context of Bai Pingting’s arrival. From what I see, Bai Pingting has lost her faith in Chu Beijie, and as long as Bai Pingting doesn’t forgive Chu Beijie, then Chu Beijie will forever feel hatred towards the Royal House of Dong Lin.”
Yaotian’s thoughts were not on Chu Beijie. She faintly asked, “Was that not the intention of the alliance with Bei Mo?”
It seemed that after a problem was about to be solved, another vexing problem had appeared. Which was more dangerous, having Bai Pingting by Chu Beijie or He Xia’s side?
Gui Changqing smiled gently, murmuring, “Princess, Bai Pingting is now useless.”
Yaotian studied Gui Changqing’s expression and was surprised. Her voice was nervous, “Senior Official means…” She stretched out her hand and lightly made a gesture.
“Absolutely not.” Gui Changqing shook his head. “If Bai Pingting dies, then Chu Beijie will rabidly lead his soldiers to attack my Yun Chang. It will become a war without rest. Not to mention…does Princess know where the Prince Consort slept last night? And his whereabouts right now?”
Yaoting was secretly alarmed by what she heard. Her face calmed down, “Did he not sleep at the Prince Consort Residence?”
“From my reports from the Prince Consort Residence, the Prince Consort stayed and slept in Bai Pingting’s room, according to the maid that came with Bai Pingting from Dong Lin.”
Yaotian’s expression became incredibly twisted. She abruptly got up and took several deep breaths towards the window. She took several moments to recover before murmuring, “Continue.”
“The Prince Consort is not dealing with military affairs today. He is staying in his residence to draw a portrait of Pingting.”
Yaotian’s heart seemed to be attached to its final stems. Her fingers tightly gripped the windowsill. With enough force to make her joints completely white, her sharp nails left several deep marks on its carved wood.
She drew a long breath, raised her hand and stared at her now-damaged, long, pink fingernails that had been well maintained for such a long time. She sighed, “If Bai Pingting died, not only Chu Beijie would go crazy, but the Prince Consort would too.” Her voice became freezing cold, “Can Senior Official think of a plan for me? Chu Beijie is pressing for war, while Bai Pingting is in the Prince Consort’s Residence. What can I do to not severe my ties with the Prince Consort?”
“I have a very simple method that can solve all problems.”
“Oh?” Yaotian turned towards him, looking at the extremely confident Gui Changqing.
Gui Changqing gave her a small smile of wisdom and cleared his throat. “Please allow me to outline the plan to Princess. Chu Beijie was crazed by lust and forcefully stole the Prince Consort’s maid. The Prince Consort had always cherished Bai Pingting and refused to let any harm come to her hence he plotted to bring Bai Pingting to Yun Chang. Our Yun Chang has not done anything wrong, correct?”
Yaotian thought for a moment and understood some of his intention. She nodded, “Bai Pingting was a maid of the Jing-An Ducal Residence and the Marquess of Jing-An saved her from the clutches of the Duke of Zhen-Bei which is perfectly normal. Our Yun Chang has done nothing wrong, so Dong Lin has no reason to send out troops.”
Gui Changqing secretly praised her wit and adoringly looked at her, continuing, “Princess you are wrong. Regardless if there is a reason or not, as long as Bai Pingting is in our hands, Chu Beijie would definitely send out his troops.
Realisation flashed in Yaotian’s eyes. “You mean…we must not have Bai Pingting in our hands?”
“Yes. The Prince Consort went to save Bai Pingting, not to harm Bai Pingting. And what excuse would Chu Beijie have to declare war with if Bai Pingting wasn’t in Yun Chang?”
“We can free Bai Pingting when the Prince Consort leaves?” Yaotian thought for a while and shook her head. “Impossible, we had wasted a significant amount of military power in acquiring Bai Pingting from Dong Lin. How could we just free her like that? Not to mention, if the Prince Consort knew, he would undoubtedly be furious.”
“As long as Bai Pingting does not return to Chu Beijie’s side, then the military power Yun Chang used to threaten Dong Lin’s borders will not be wasted.” Gui Changqing was indeed wise and thought carefully about everything. “Bai Pingting begged Princess to let her go. Doesn’t the Prince Consort cherish her a lot and treats her like his own sister? No one can possibly blame Princess for pitying her after listening. Remember, Princess, the reason offered why the Prince Consort asked to use the army was to sever the ties between Chu Beijie and the Royal House. Now that the original goal has been reached, what other reason does the Prince Consort have to force Bai Pingting to stay? Did he have other intentions in mind when asking Princess to use the troops? It can’t be that my Yun Chang’s spent so much national strength to just let the Prince Consort steal a single woman off Chu Beijie?”
Each word was harsher than the last as if reflecting Yaotian’s mind. Yaotian took it in with delight and revealed a smile. “Senior Official is right; the Yun Chang army was mobilised for the good of the country and was definitely not used to allow the Prince Consort to steal a woman from Chu Beijie. If the Prince Consort blames Bai Pingting’s departure on me, then how could he explain to my Yun Chang’s generals? I understand.” The plan had hatched in her mind. She no longer worried about failure. Her eyes flashed with the light of decision that only the Royal House had.
“Princess finally understands.” Gui Changqing smiled, pleased. “There are still a few details that must be carefully discussed. Even if we let go of Bai Pingting, we still have to convince Chu Beijie about it. If Chu Beijie is not convinced that we secretly killed Bai Pingting despite releasing her, it could lead to disaster.”
“When releasing her, we will make her sign a note saying that she left of her own will. It shouldn’t be hard.” Yaotaian said, “It’s just…when we release her, we can never control her whereabouts again. If she returns to Chu Beijie’s side, or even the Prince Consort’s side, then wouldn’t our efforts have gone in vain?”
“Rest assured, Princess. Bai Pingting bitterly hates Chu Beijie and is unlikely to return to Dong Lin.” Gui Changqing had obviously put a lot of thought into this problem. “Bai Pingting treasures both Chu Beijie and the Prince Consort a lot. If we take her pride and arrogance, then there is one method that can cause her to never see either man again.”
Gui Changqing seemed to be unable to speak and slightly hesitated. He finally lowered his voice, “It is a chaotic world and there are all sorts of people who do not obey the law. If Bai Pingting goes out on the road alone and happened to meet some bandits, then…” He left off the final words, saying, “Then how could she face other people? If some unnamed bandit on the road violated her, then even if she becomes the most shameful beggar, she will not be related to our Yun Chang at all. Even if Chu Beijie finds her, there is no chance of her being with him again. Chu Beijie would still hate the Royal House of Dong Lin for this. After all, they were the ones who agreed to the exchange and sacrificed Chu Beijie’s beloved woman.”
Yaotian was still a woman and thought for a while, her expression changing. When Gui Changqing finished, she shook her head. “That’s no good. Does Senior Official have any other plans?”
“Not dead, but a life even worse than death. There is no better method.”
“Princess! Princess must not hesitate. The Dong Lin army is at the border, and the Prince Consort’s intentions are emerging. If we don’t rid ourselves of Bai Pingting, then the country is at stake.” Gui Changqing’s voice was earnest. He murmured, “Princess only needs to see Bai Pingting when the Prince Consort leaves, save a few warm words to her and make her leave a note. Then you can let her go and I shall arrange the rest, without any evidence.”
A complicated light flashed in Yaotian’s eyes. She thought a little but still shook her head.
“Princess! Princess! Listen to my heartfelt words…”
Gui Changqing wanted to say more, but was stopped by Yaotian who turned towards him. “Leave for now, Senior Official. Allow me to time to think.”
Gui Changqing raised his head and saw her stubborn back. He knew no words could change her mind so he obeyed orders and bowed. “I depart.” He sighed heavily and went through the bead curtain.
Yaotian’s back didn’t move for a long time as if solidified to a rock statue.
Luyi walked in, reporting from the other side of the curtain. “Princess, outside…”
“Go away!” Yaotian thundered loudly. She abruptly turned around and grabbed something on the table to throw outside. The Fangniang rouge, used the night before, flew outside of its gilded box.
The sudden sound stopped before Luyi, scattering until the earth bled red.
Bai Pingting, Bai Pingting of Jing-An Ducal Residence.
You directed Gui Le’s life and death, directed Bei Mo’s life and death, directed Dong Lin’s life and death. Now you play qin, smile softly to direct my Yun Chang’s life and death?
How could I let the strings under your fingers direct my dignified country of Yun Chang as well the dignified Princess of Yun Chang?
How could I let you ruin my country, ruin my home?
Yaotian bit her lip and tore the window curtain, inch by inch.
Dong Lin and Yun Chang were to encounter the other at the borders. The battle drums sounded in preparation.
The sound was slow and lifeless as if coming from the distance. It seemed to be like the ancient melodies of the heaven and earth, hiding its true potential as they continued.
By the time flags covered the sun and moon, the Dong Lin army had finished assembling. Looking afar, it seemed like the camp full of calm eyes and the cold gleam of weapons covered for endless square miles.
The wind rustled on the plains.
The lightness of the dew on the grass in the morning seemed to have evaporated by the murderous intention of the soldiers until not a trace was left.
“Duke, the Dragon Wolf Barracks have also arrived.”
When Chu Beijie heard the news, he raised his hand to open the door’s curtain and walked out of the advisory tent. He stood up straight. As steady as a mountain, his piercing gaze turned downwards to look at the neatly lined up army before him.
The army had already assembled.
The flags covered every inch of the sky and faces of young, yet fearless faces stared up at him. All of them made up the important force that protected Dong Lin.
Chu Beijie quietly watched them all.
“How is the situation back at the capital?” After a long time, he whispered to Chen Mu, behind him.
Chen Mu sighed. “The King has already consecutively sent sixteen handwritten letters ordering Duke to immediately withdraw the army, with an unprecedent harsh tone. Does Duke really not want to see the King’s letters?”
A shiny trace of resolution flashed in Chu Beijie’s eyes. His voice was cold. “If I read one of his letters, then I have already lost Pingting.”
Ze Yin’s messenger had finally brought the truth.
A letter saying whether Bai Pingting had really murdered Dong Lin’s two princes or not.
But what use did it do?
Even if Bai Pingting had really murdered the two princes, he had already decided to love her anyway. Even if Pingting hadn’t murdered the two princes, the King and Queen had still used her as a bargaining chip.
In such a chaotic world, what use was the truth?
Chu Beijie hated it and detested himself.
A personal letter from his Brother had startled him out of his cozy secluded residence, jolting him away from his everything.
But he didn’t have any excuse. He was the one who chose to abandon it.
Since knowing about Concubine Li’s birthday, he’d realised that the blood of the Royal House was at stake. He decided what to do, he chose his path for himself.
It had been his biggest mistake in his life, and he regretted the decision he made then.
He knew that his Brother and He Xia had used this method to make Pingting see her place in Chu Beijie’s heart, so that when she realised that no matter how much Chu Beijie loved Bai Pingting, he made his final decision, the one to abandon her.
For Pingting who considered love to be as important as water, it was a fatal blow.
The heartbreaking pain never stopped for Chu Beijie the moment he realised this.
“As long as Duke is worried about Pingting, what else matters? Even if these two hands go to waste and can never play qin again?” She had looked profoundly at him and gave her everything to him without a qualm.
She had sung songs in his arm, politely listening to his worries.
That proud, arrogant heart.
That exquisitely made heart had spent all that effort in letting him know how much she cared for him as well as how troubling it was.
Every word she once said ached in Chu Beijie’s heart, and every expression she had made Chu Beijie’s heart shatter.
He had never known that memories could drive someone mad.
The army had already been assembled.
Pingting, I will soon march towards Yun Chang.
I will sacrifice everything to bring back my Duchess.
I must personally tell you that even everything in the world cannot compare to your smiling face. In Chu Beijie’s heart, there is nothing more important than you.
We’ll talk about a sky-shattering, earth-rumbling love this time, a real one. No matter the thousands of twists and turns, that will never change.
The sound of hooves caused Chu Beijie to turn back. A dirty, mud-caked Luoshang jumped off the horse and dashed towards to kneel before Chu Beijie. “Duke!”
“How is the secluded residence? How is Moran?”
After the battle at the secluded residence, Moran and many other guards, including enemy soldiers, had suffered great injuries. Luoshang’s injuries were the lightest of them all. He was ordered to stay to clear out the residence while tending to his injured brothers.
Luoshang reported, “Half of the secluded residence was burned to ashes and cleared up. The dead have also been buried. A doctor has been healing my brothers who survived, and Moran’s health has improved. However, Juntian, he…he didn’t survive.”
Chu Beijie’s face looked dejected.
He had taught each of these guards and promoted them personally. Each of them were young , strong, and passionate. How could one not feel heartbroken at such loss?
“Duke…” Luoshang still had something important he had not yet said. He carefully hesitated before beginning his report, when seeing Chu Beijie’s expression. “When we cleared out Miss Zuiju’s room, we saw that she had left behind several bottles of medicine, as well as a few prescriptions…”
“Bottles of medicine?” Chu Beijie’s voice was curt, “Did Pingting get sick while I was away?”
“I asked the doctors to check out the bottles of medicine and they said…said…” Luoshang looked uncomfortably up to Chu Beijie and immediately lowered his eyes again, “that it was fetal medicine. The doctor also looked at the prescriptions, saying they were for unborn children as well.”
A sudden silence that seemed to shroud their heads floated in the air.
Chu Beijie’s deeply shocked expression sharply fell on somewhere behind Luoshang as if trying to drill two holes into the ground.
Pingting was pregnant…
In her delicate belly, she had his own flesh and blood!
The heartbroken Pingting was taken away carrying his child!
Even with all the injuries he had suffered on the battlefields put together, it could never deliver such a painful blow to Chu Beijie at that moment of realisation.
The stone that had trampled on his heart seemed a thousand times heavier, squeezing out the deepest blood.
His heart was numbed in pain; his body was as stiff as a fossil.
“Send troops.” Chu Beijie sorrowfully looked up with a command.
Chu Beijie’s eyes were like a massive, raging bonfire burning. He emphasised every word, “Pass on the order. All soldiers camp on this road before officially heading towards Yun Chang!”
Pingting. My child. Please wait for a little longer.
I will immediately gallop to your side.
Chu Beijie then swore to the skies.
I will protect you forever, love you forever and never let anyone or anything separate us again forever.
As you wished, no matter what happens, no matter the thousands of twists and turns in our love, our minds will never change.