Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol02 Ch44
A splendidly decorated carriage, surrounded by guards, was on the road from the Yun Chang capital city to the borders. Messengers frequently entered the group to pass on news to the person inside the carriage.
Two of them were very bad.
The reports from the Senior Official Gui Changqing were an endless flow, one letter after the next. One of them had been Bai Pingting’s disappearance from the capital and the second was about a string of people sent in the mountains who for some bizarre reason all caught rather baffling kinds of illnesses. Gui Changqing had employed almost all of his undercover workers to set all sorts of traps on the way from the capital to Bei Mo, but each and every one of them showed no result.
Bai Pingting and her maid passed each obstacle, not leaving any evidence behind. The dragonhead showed its movement but the body and tail had completely disappeared. The most recent letter suggested that they had finally been spotted. Originally they should’ve been quickly caught, but they had put in some weird medicine that drained all energy from the soldier’s limbs. The men could only sit back and watch the two women slip away.
“That Bai Pingting.” Yaotian read Gui Changqing’s letter and went closer to the fireplace, watching its contents gradually turn to ash. She lowered her voice, “When will they be exposed?”
“Replying to Princess, everyone has been severely warned by the Senior Official. They are to play as bandits and never to leak out any word in front of Pingting.” The messenger knelt down before Yaotian. “She shouldn’t know they’re our people.”
“Difficult to say.” Yaotian sighed faintly. “Even if she did, what could she do? She isn’t harmed at all, nor does she have evidence. No one will believe her even if she says so. Oh well, go tell the Senior Official not to waste more effort on Bai Pingting. We have failed too many times. The skies do not approve of our actions either. Why force her to her wits’ end now that they are already far away?”
The messenger respectfully replied, “I have remembered Princess’ words and shall duly pass them onto the Senior Official.”
“You can go.”
Seeing that the messenger had disappeared beyond the curtain, Yaotian was left behind in the huge carriage. She sighed softly. The ornaments that dazzled brilliantly in the sunlight had been her favourite kind and been placed inside the carriage, evoking a dreamy atmosphere in that space. Yaotian, however, displayed no interest in them.
There were more bad news waiting for her.
After receiving Bai Pingting’s letter, she had given it to a messenger to give to Gui Changqing. Yaotian had then ordered everyone to forget the various customs and rituals of a Princess before leaving the capital and urgently headed towards the borders. Rather than thinking of the innocent lives being wasted in the battle, the showdown of the better general between Chu Beijie and the Prince Consort was more important.
While Yaotian was still on the road, the two armies had already confronted each other.
The first confrontation was on the Yang Plains. Chu Beijie had forced back He Xia by twenty miles, resulting in many casualties amongst the Yun Chang army.
The second confrontation started on the Yang Plains. Its center had shifted to the east. As expected of a famous general like He Xia, he knew Chu Beijie was in a hurry to push forwards and cleverly avoided a direct clash, focusing his attacks on the right flank. They lured them to the dark forests. If Chu Beijie hadn’t quickly uncovered his plan and sent a fast messenger to retreat, the right flank of the Dong Lin army would have long been annihilated. This forced Chu Beijie to be more vigilant. The Dong Lin army did not attack without plans from thereon.
Yaotian was hurrying day and night, hoping to stop the battle. She received reports of casualties on her way. Not only that, Yun Chang’s dark forests were teeming with human life as it was the place where many peasants lived in. Just one flaming torch was enough to threaten their peaceful existence.
Yun Chang could not afford to unnecessarily sacrifice the lives of peasants. She had to arrive as soon as possible. Chu Beijie was stationed on Bianfeng Foothill while He Xia’s troops were on Jiu Cliffs. Once the formal war had begun, the consequences would be disastrous beyond measure.
He Xia briefly explained the situation on the battlefield. His words were formed with vigour and confidence. Most of the hundreds of words in the army report were amorous greetings directed at herself. His generals were a lot more detailed and vividly described the brutal events that occurred—
“Chu Beijie’s main troop is elite, well-trained, and nimble like the wind. From the battle of Yang Plains, it is obvious they are the essence of Dong Lin’s army.”
“The lights of swords bounced everywhere and screams shook the sky. The corpses attracted numerous vultures. My Yun Chang’s cavalry troop charged towards Chu Beijie from the front, and there are almost no survivors left behind.”
“Chu Beijie’s power is unmatched. Even courage cannot stop him. Apart from the Prince Consort, no one else can last ten rounds. The Prince Consort is the most valiant warrior of my Yun Chang.”
“The Prince Consort’s plan is very clever. First lure them to Youfu Forest, then attack through Dong Lin’s right flank.”
“The light of fire has filled the sky, not settling for two whole days and two nights. Thirty miles of the dark forests have been reduced to ashes as of today.”
“If it hadn’t been for the Prince Consort, this battle would have no hope.”
“I have been leading soldiers for many years but never have I seen such an army with such a powerful morale and generals in a battle. The real war is dawning, and although the Prince Consort is able, I fear both sides shall suffer immense loss. I urge Princess to hand down an Order, so the Prince Consort can do everything to stop this battle.”
“Yun Chang’s Prince Consort is indeed a mighty general and is the sky’s blessing to my Yun Chang. If we are able to defeat Chu Beijie’s army, then my Yun Chang will forever be the most superior of the four countries.”
“As long as Dong Lin has Chu Beijie, my Yun Chang will never be able to win. I risk death in writing such a report. Please consider, Princess.”
Each report had been crammed with several hundreds of words. No matter which stance they took, all of their blood raged.
Yaotian carefully read through each of the reports from the frontlines and rubbed her temples. She rubbed them again before opening the side window’s curtain.
The night had fallen on Yun Chang, peaceful like usual. The shadow of the big battle was like a hidden beast, jumping out and biting off a piece of human flesh before scampering away into the darkness.
“Pass on the Order to move even faster. Rong An, how far are we still from the camp?”
Rong An, the captain in charge of her personal guards, led his horse closer to the carriage. “Replying to Princess, the Jiu Cliffs are just beyond the mountains ahead. We will definitely reach there by tomorrow at noon.”
“Do the people at the camp…know I am on the way?”
“Strictly following orders, the messengers were not allowed to leak Princess’ location. The camp does not know Princess is soon to arrive there.” Rong An then lowered his voice, “But it will terrible if they mistake you for an enemy. Please allow me to hang Princess’ flag of the Royal Cabin tomorrow on the carriage to prevent such mistake.”
“Hm, go ahead then.” Yaotian lowered the curtain and leaned back on the soft pillows.
She read most of the reports on the table. Although all of the generals thought different things, they were all thinking the best for their country.
They all knew He Xia’s swordsmanship was extraordinary, above most people.
They all knew that they were fighting a crazed Chu Beijie. Even if they won, they would not return without casualties.
They wanted to do their best but felt pained by the many corpses of sons of Yun Chang.
Yaotian bit back a cold smile and slowly closed her eyes.
The husband she had chosen did have the power to oppose Chu Beijie, but now was not the time to show off his ability. When two tigers fight, at least one will always be hurt. Why couldn’t they solve it peacefully, not fighting to their bitter ends?
If Bai Pingting were gone, then the Chu Beijie who was crazed for her would undoubtedly go too.
If Chu Beijie were gone then the world would fall into the hands of that kind, gentle smiling man.
“Rest assured, Princess. No matter what, I will never blame Princess about anything in my lifetime.”
“He Xia will swear right now that there will be a day where I’ll make Princess become the noblest woman in the world and then personally crown the Princess as the Queen of the Four Countries.”
His eyes had glittered like stars, full of a profoundly magical power that pulled her into its depths.
On their wedding night, he had knelt down before her with one knee, held her hands as he swore to the skies.
He Xia, that Marquess of Jing-An, that famous general.
He was her Prince Consort.
He was the one she had picked, painstakingly from a large crowd, and entrusted her life to him.
Behind every man, they have a destined woman in their life.
Bai Pingting, Chu Beijie is fighting for you and will stop fighting for you. A pity really, such a great man of fame and ambition to be ruined in your hands with his love for you.
A wasted man, once a heroic general.
He Xia is different. In his heart, you are only a guest of fifteen years in his path of life.
He is my husband, my Yun Chang’s Prince Consort.
Forever will be.
After days of travel, they were very tired.
Most of the money had been spent in the capital to buy all sorts of stuff to protect themselves. As the two walked on, they spent more on buying horses, food, hotels until not much was left. It was good that they were now closer to the border. There were many more possible paths to Bei Mo. It seemed that the Senior Official of Yun Chang did not lay many traps to stop them now, so it had been much less dangerous.
Pingting and Zuiju had become a lot thinner over the days as the numerous enemies leapt towards them day after day. It had been a battle of wits for Pingting. She crossed each obstacle without batting an eyelash. Zuiju had never met such vicious intent to kill in her life and was terribly scared. She gradually began to find humour in the pain after a while.
“It’s the Songsen Mountains! Hah, just one more day til we get to Bei Mo.” The Songsen mountains that marked the edge between Bei Mo and Yun Chang had finally entered their line of sight. Zuiju celebrated in glee as she pointed towards them to let Pingting see.
Pingting hid a smile. She looked at them for a while before nodding. “You’re right; it’s the Songsen Mountains.” Her delicate face was full of weariness after walking all day.
Zuiju carefully studied her colour before saying, “Let’s stop hurrying today. There’s a family cabin up ahead. Let’s go ask for lodging. When we get there, I’ll brew some fetal medicine. Don’t excuse yourself by saying it’s bitter. You have to drink every single drop of it.”
“It really is bitter though.” Pingting began to frown. “The prescriptions I make are never as bitter. I have been pretty good these last few days, no nausea or vomiting.”
“No, I am the doctor. You know anaesthetics and poisons, but if it’s medicine to save, I’m better than you. Your conditions aren’t the same as before either. You mustn’t overestimate yourself.” Zuiju glared at her.
Pingting hid a smile to herself and nodded. “Yes, genius Doctor Zuiju.”
The family cabin up ahead belonged to an old couple who were hunters. Pitying the two delicate and charming girls who asked for a night’s stay, they readily agreed and allowed them to stay overnight in a clean little room.
Zuiju opened her bag on the bed. Not much of the herbs she brought on the way remained. It seemed she was missing one type for the prescription. She then packed up the bag and went outside the ask the old woman, “Missus, are there any Mo grass on the mountains nearby?”
“The entire mountain is full of it. This grass is a weed in nature, and it does not die in winter. If you go to the foot of the mountain and push away the snow, you’ll find huge clumps of it.” The Missus was then curious, “Why does Miss want Mo grass? Isn’t that for woman with children?”
“Oh…” Zuiju laughed. “Nothing much. You see, my older sister and I are travelling from far away to see Brother. His wife is pregnant, and I wanted to get some so it can be used to help strengthen his wife’s body when we get there.”
“True. Poor families who can’t buy medicine use this to help strengthen. It’s the most effective. I reckon it’s even better than ginseng.” The Missus laughed, the wrinkles on her face like flowers, as conversation with a girl was very rare in such a remote place.
“Then I’ll go pick some.”
“There’s a lot of loose rocks on the way. Be careful.”
Zuiju walked for a few steps and turned back again, worried. “My sis has been tired after a day’s walk and is currently taking a nap. When she wakes up, please pass a message onto her that I have gone to get some herbs and will be back soon. Matron, please help look after my sister for a while.”
“Understood, don’t worry Miss!”
Zuiju then borrowed a shovel to dig through the snow and finally left.
Pingting slept sweetly for a while and groggily woke up. She opened her mouth to summon Zuiju. However, she did not hear anything and couldn’t help feeling it was strange. She sat up and realised Zuiju’s bag was by her foot, a few herbs scattering out of it.
“Zuiju?” She got off the bed and quietly called a few more times. She was met with silence. Pingting turned to look outside the window. The sky was already a dark gray.
“Zuiju, where are you?” The voice was a little higher.
There was the sound of the curtain being lifted as someone entered. Pingting happily turned around, only to find that it was the Missus of the cabin.
“Miss, your younger sister has gone to get some Mo grass for your sister in law.” The Missus smiled kindly. “The food is already made. Let’s eat together though there isn’t much vegetables.”
“Thank you Missus.” Pingting replied softly, revealing a small smile of gratitude. She followed the Missus to a simple little room. Her mute husband was already seated by the table. Tidily made dishes laid on the table a dish of radish, a dish of steamed fish and half of pot of rice porridge made from various grains. All of them were steaming hot.
The mute Mister gestured as he said, “Ahhhh….Ah!”
Only the Missus understood what he meant and explained to Pingting, “Miss, sit down and eat. Don’t worry, your sis said she was just going to the foot of the mountain and will be back soon.”
“Thank you Sir, thank you Missus.” Pingting looked out at the dark sky outside the window.
Although the dishes were very rough, the old couple was very attentive to her needs. The little room was filled with a warm atmosphere. Pingting placed her chopsticks down and looked outside the window. It was already dark.
She still did not see Zuiju’s figure and began to worry again.
“My, how could your sis still not be back?” The Missus was also looked worriedly outside. “It’s just to the foot of the mountain, not that far. She should be back by now.”
Pingting’s heart was full of unease. She paced around in the little front courtyard a few times. Although Zuiju was clever, the mountains at night were no joke. What if she were to meet with beasts, crazy with hunger pent up over the winter?
She had made Zuiju wait at the hotel in the capital for a while and laughed at her expression, saying she worried too much. She only now realised that worrying about someone else was a much more terrible feeling than worrying about herself. Since leaving with Zuiju, they had been inseparable. She grew more and more restless until she could bear it no longer. “Matron, I think I’ll go find her after all.”
The Mister uttered a few sounds and held her back with his powerful grip.
The Missus also replied, “Wait for a little longer. If your sis doesn’t see you when she comes back, she’ll be even more worried.”
“No, no. I will just take a look around the foot of the mountain and be back immediately.” Pingting borrowed a flaming torch and asked about the direction Zuiju had set off. She then said, “Missus, if my sis comes back, make sure to not let her leave again. If I don’t see her at the foot of the mountain, I will immediately head back.”
The Missus sighed. “As expected of two sisters. She told me again and again to look after you when she left. Now you are telling me to look after her when you leave. Be a good Miss and just look around the foot of the mountain. It’s dark, so don’t climb it.”
Although it was night, the wind wasn’t very strong. Pingting walked stably, the flame drawing a long tail behind itself as if trying to chase after her figure.
Not long later, she had reached the foot of the mountain.
The moonlight fell on every inch of the outside, but stopped at that point, not invading into the forest after it.
The shadows of the branches seemed to resemble human figures. She raised her torch, but where was Zuiju?
“Zuiju! Zuiju!” She looked around for a while and raised her voice to call.
Invisible waves of echoes bounced again and again out of the forest.
Pingting stood by the forest, studying carefully around it. There were a few marks of someone digging in the snow. She hurriedly crouched down. It seemed that someone had indeed plucked the grass and herbs. The snapped parts remained in the snow. Pingting followed the trail of marks and soon found a few footsteps imprinted lightly into the snow. If she hadn’t been so carefully searching or t holding a torch, she might have missed them. She slowly followed the footsteps, one after the other. Only when the thick silhouette of the forest’s massive trees covered her head did she look up and come to a stop.
Zuiju had gone into the forest.
She didn’t know why, but her heart suddenly jolted and pain flooded into it.
“Zuiju! Zuiju! Where are you?” Pingting began to yell loudly, using her energy to yell.
A desolate sorrow rushed into her heart, making her feel more helpless than ever. She didn’t see a person’s face but faced with the silence of the huge mountain. There were no enemies, no traps she dealt in the past with no idea.
The silence of the mountains and forest belittled her. Pingting had never felt so lonely.
“Where are you?” She suddenly turned, her pale face illuminated by the flames. With all her wisdom, she could not give a reasonable explanation of her feelings. She did not understand why she had dropped her guard when she had thought her freedom was near.
She stood on the gleaming white snow. The left side was full of the moonlight while her right was full of dark forest. Even the sound of the winter bugs could not be heard, causing her to suddenly realise she was alone.
“Where are you?” She whispered, unable to muster the energy she had before.
The torch continued to burn, producing the slightest sound. Yet it was this slight sound that became the sole rhythm in the silence of the nothingness.
A pair of profoundly deep, sparkling black eyes surfaced on her mind.
She straightened her shoulders. They had promised to tightly hold on to each other, yet why had she ended up alone in this dark forest?
His invincible sword could shake the earth yet didn’t have a heart to comfort her troubled soul.
In the deep night where not a soul could be seen, Pingting’s tears couldn’t help flowing. Even Pingting couldn’t understand why the pain she had hidden so deeply in her heart would surface again, causing her tears to endlessly flow in this dark and endless forest. They fell to the ground, not leaving any trace.
She lowered her head and grinded her teeth furiously. She lowered the torch to look at every single teardrop on the snow. Then, she abruptly lifted her head again and yelled, “Zuiju! Zuiju! Where are you?” Her tearstained face was full of sorrow and despair.
“Miss! I’m over here!” A clear echo suddenly jumped out from the silent forest.
Pingting seemed to stiffen at this. She raised her torch and looked on.
As expected, a figure hurled out of the looming, shadowy forest. She carried a small basket as she quickly ran to her, gasping. “I didn’t expect this mountain had other good herbs. I followed the ones I wanted and went in unwittingly. Then it got dark and I almost couldn’t find the way back. Luckily Miss came here. Ah…” Seeing Pingting’s red eyes under the flickering light, Zuiju suddenly stopped walking and lowered her voice to a whisper. “What’s wrong?”
“Already crying like this…” Zuiju held onto Pingting’s hands, which was as cold as ice, no hint of warmth. “It’s all my fault. Sorry for making Miss worried.”
Pingting smiled bitterly.
She had always been praised by others for her heart, but only she understood how ridiculous she was. How could Zuiju possibly know what she was thinking right now?
She blinked, freeing another teardrop to silently slide out.
Zuiju’s heart was distressed for her. “Miss, don’t cry. Am I not back? I won’t do such thing again.”
Pingting turned away, her voice very faint. “These herbs are not important. You should cherish yourself; it’s such a cold day after all.” The two people then slowly headed back.
Zuiju then said, “I’ll hold it.” She took the torch from Pingting, her other hand carrying the little basket. She remained restless and kept on looking back to check Pingting’s red eyes. She studied her, saying, “What is Miss thinking?”
Pingting walked in silence with her head lowered as if she hadn’t heard her words. After a while, however, she opened her mouth to reply. “I’m thinking about the letter I wrote to him.”
Hearing Pingting taking the initiative to mention “him” gave Zuiju a massive shock. She was too afraid to touch on the subject that had made her cry so often, didn’t dare ask anything. She continued to walk in silence.
Not long later, she heard Pingting slowly say, “When I picked up the brush that day, although I wrote many things, my mind was a complete mess. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was a letter from the voice of my heart that even I don’t understand myself.”
Zuiju couldn’t help asking, “What did Miss write?”
Pingting seemed to be considering to say or not. Her lips moved slightly. It then all changed to a sigh. “Even if I tell you, it’ll just add to your pile of troubles.”
The two fell into another silence. No one made any sound as they continued to walk back. They raised their heads to see the flickering candlelight of the little cabin in the distance. They suddenly heard a piercing, violent roar that rumbled the earth. “Damn old geezers, how dare you talk back!” The crisp sound of a slap was suspended in the night sky.
Pingting and Zuiju’s hearts skipped a beat. Their nerves were hardened from the repeated escapes from the clutches of the enemy. They quickly lowered the torch into the snow, extinguishing it, and hid behind a boulder beside the road.
Under the moonlight, they quietly probed inside. They could make out blurry shapes of men menacingly blocking the entrance to the cabin.
“If it ‘adn’t been for us Officials standing up to Chu Beijie, then Dong Lin would have stormed inside and your heads would have become balls for the people of Dong Lin to kick around. Soldiers must be fed so they can fight. How could ya still hope to live if ya don’t pay taxes?”
The Missus’ kind tone had become full of panic and fear at the same time. “Officials, we have already paid our taxes for the year two days ago…”
“That was two days ago; today’s is for today!” A furious voice broke out.
A crackling sound was heard. It seemed that someone had broken the old wooden door with a kick.
“We really have nothing.”
“Nothing? Hmph, what’s this?” The sharp voice interrupted and a man who had long broken into the cabin had plundered a pile of various objects. He sneered, “Even though ya’ll so old, ya still ‘av some pretty good stuff.”
“Ah! Ahhh….ah…” The mute Mister waved and gestured with his hands, stopping the man.
The Missus hurriedly explained, “Sir, Sir, these are not our things. These belong to the two Misses who are staying in the cabin…”
“Piss off!” The man kicked the old Mister onto the ground, his voice vicious. “How do they not belong to you if they are in your cabin? Tell ya what, these things shall suffice as today’s tax. If you still refuse to pay up in two day’s time, then we’ll burn this rot’en home in one go!”
Holding onto Pingting and Zuiju’s bags, they left. The two waited for them to go far before peeping out to see their back view.
“Such cruel and evil henchmen.” Zuiju muttered furiously. “Those are things you see everyday, even our Dong Lin has it. When seeing rich masters or ranking officials, they act like sweet puppies. In reality, they’re as cruel as wolves. If they ever fall into my Teacher’s hands, he will definitely punish.”
Pingting gazed until their backs had disappeared before whsipering back. “But what else can we do? I often regret it these days. What was the point of learning qin and dancing? Martial arts and swordsmanship would have been so much better. Even if the ground was uneven, an unsheathed sword could aid walking. Curse my uselessness, I can’t even help myself, how could I possibly begin to think to help others?”
Zuiju disagreed. “Isn’t Miss pretty good these days? Why suddenly start regretting again? How many are there with the same ability as you under the skies?”
Even though her words were cheerful, she suddenly thought of the Duke. It wasn’t wrong. After all, even clever woman would be afraid when they encountered close combat. If she had been by the Duke’s side, he would have naturally protected her, making sure no one harmed a hair of hers.
But without someone to protect her, she could only protect herself.
The two people stood up from the boulder at the same time. Pingting got up a little too abruptly and was dizzied by it. Her foot did not stabilise on the ground, and her shoulder shook a little.
“Be careful Miss!” Zuiju hurriedly said, stretching out a hand to support her.
“I’m fine.” Pingting casually replied back, suddenly stable again. She raised her foot, but it had no idea which direction to turn to. This time, she was unfortunately no longer able to support her weight again. Her body felt light and empty before her body headed towards the ground.
In a blink of the eye, Zuiju had already hurried forwards, her hand grabbing onto Pingting’s wrist. She hadn’t expect that Pingting would fall down this time. She could not support her whole body weight. After all, Zuiju too had only just stood up. This caught her off guard, so her attempt was met with failure. She screamed as Pingting’s body dragged hers down and they fell together. Her knees knocked painfully into a rock. Her hands t skidded on the rock, causing them to sting with a burning sensation. Although it was painful, Zuiju still managed to get up, not caring about her own pain. She held Pingting and hurriedly asked, “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
Pingting only felt her mind becoming clearer after being helped up by Zuiju. She shook her head, saying, “I’m fine.” She thought for a little as if carefully considering whether she was actually hurt or not but didn’t feel any pain at all.
“Are you hurt?”
“No.” Pingting rubbed her hands and shook her head.
Zuiju finally sighed in relief. “That scared me to death. Let’s go back now.”
The two people returned to the cabin. The room had been turned upside down. Furniture were either scattered or damaged. The mute Mister sat dazedly in the corner, while the Missus cried unhappily. When she saw Pingting and Zuiju, she raised her head and stopped crying. An indescribably sad expression appeared on her face. “Miss, your bags…”
“We already know. Mister and Missus are not at fault. Besides, there’s nothing particularly important in those bags.” Pingting said a few comforting words that finally stopped the tears of the old couple.
They then helped them to clean up the room and put back the furniture. All were exhausted as they retreated back to their rooms to rest.
Thinking that the dwindling money they had for the journey was already gone, having no change of clothes, meant the prospects were quite bleak. The two couldn’t help but find it funny.
“The money and the clothes aren’t that important at all; it’s the people. It’s not hard to earn money. We can just heal as we proceed.” Zuiju helped Pingting to lie on the bed, “Give me your hand.” She then pressed two fingers and calmly listened to the pulse in silence. She suddenly said, “Hm” before looking puzzedly at Pingting, “Where do you feel uncomfortable?”
“What’s wrong? Is the child sick?” Pingting was also very surprised.
“Where do you feel uncomfortable?”
Zuiju replied, “Let me listen again.” She carefully checked her wrist and her neck but still frowned. “The pulse is a little strange. Could it be you caught a cold tonight? Geez, I should’ve said not to let you look for me. Lie down and don’t move again.” She took out the basket.
Pingting cared immensely for the child’s safety and obediently stayed lying down peacefully. She then began to feel drowsy, the light in her eyes becoming tiny slits until darkness covered. At the end of the darkness, there seemed to be a dim light gracefully swaying. She was feeling very comfortable until she was gently shaken at the shoulder. Pingting opened her eyes and looked at Zuiju, a bowl of medicine placed at the head of the bed. She was blowing off the steam that wafted while softly saying, “Drink this medicine and sleep after that. Those evil-hearted henchmen, not even sparing medicinal herbs. Fortunately I had picked fresh ones today.”
Zuiju only took back the medicine bowl, satisfied after Pingting had finished the entire bowl with a scowl. She blew the lights out and the two slept together. They had walked a whole day. Zuiju had immediately set off to look for herbs after asking for lodging, as well as a whole bunch of other incidents. Zuiju was very much more tired than Pingting. She immediately fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. With so little energy, she was deeply embedded inside her dream world. In her dream, she saw her Teacher’s stern face, yet his kind eyes hid his laughter. Then she was back in the secluded residence amongst the plum blossoms, seeing a blurry figure before her that appeared to be gazing at the bright moon. The dreams continued after the next, each stranger and stranger. Each seemed to emit a warm taste and was like a path to a different story. She knew each story had a happy ending.
In the softness of the dream, there was suddenly a stab of pain from somewhere she did not know. Zuiju fought in her dream and struggled. It was like her hand hurt or maybe her leg. Gradually, the pain seemed to float like ice from the bottom of the sea to the top, forcing herself out of her dream world.
Zuiju suddenly opened her eyes and felt another wave of pain.
This time, she knew it was raw pain from being clawed by something.
“Zuiju….Zuiju…” Pingting moaned painfully in the darkness.
Zuiju was so shocked she immediately sat up. Under the moonlight, Pingting’s delicate eyebrows had bunched up and her fingernails were deeply sunk into Zuiju’s wrist.
“Miss, what’s wrong?”
“It hurts.” Pingting touched her lower abdomen. Sweat drops the size of soybeans began to ooze out of her forehead, falling onto the pillow.
Zuiju was alarmed by this. “I’m here, don’t worry.” She flipped over to find it, only to remember that her bag had been stolen already. She didn’t even have a coat to put on when she hurriedly found the door to where the elderly couple were sleeping behind. She thumped loudly on the door, yelling, “Missus! Missus! Wake up!”
“What’s wrong, Miss?”
Zuiju grabbed onto the Missus’ wrist, “Silver needles! Do you have silver needles?”
The Missus had only just been woken and was very drowsy. “We’re poor, how are we to find things like silver needles?”
“Then…normal needles? Embroidery needles?” Zuiju was on the brink of tears in worry.
“I have one tarnished needle for sewing clothes. What are you…”
“Don’t ask, lend it to me!”
Zuiju took the needle and hurried back to the room. She lit the candle, its light revealing Pingting soaked in sweat. The pillow had been completely soaked in her sweat, her face yellow. Seeing Zuiju enter, she endured the pain and barely stuttered her words as she asked, “What’s going on?”
“Nothing much.” Zuiju hurriedly put the rusty embroidery needle into the candlelight, quickly reply, “Just need to use a needle to pierce Miss a few times. No need to be afraid.” Her tone was relaxed, but she was trembling. The needle was almost glowing red, but Zuiju seemed to no feel the burning heat at all. She pinched the end of the needle as she headed towards the bed, softly coaxing, “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt after a few pierces.” She told Pingting to lie down and carefully undid Pingting’s clothing.
Waves of pain came from Pingting’s lower abdomen as if a herd of crazy wild horses were trampling all over the place inside it. There was no way she could endure even more pain. Seeing Zuiju was holding a needle and that she was intending to pierce there, she couldn’t help feel surprised. She didn’t know where to start explaining and suddenly propped herself up a little, stopping Zuiju. “You won’t harm my child right?”
Zuiju didn’t hesitate to reply, “Of course not, believe me.”
Only then did Pingting let go. All of the pain had drained all of her energy. She fell down onto the sweat-soaked bed covered with hair from her tossing.
Her belly began to warm a little, followed by another warmth. Zuiju continued to pierce a few spots when suddenly, all of the pain seemed to explode out as if a landmine had been set off.
Pingting began to scream “Ahh” and struggled a bit before curling up like a dead shrimp. She then seemed to come back to life as if the pain had subsided. She frowned feeling the sensation. The pain had suddenly flooded out, then poured out of the gap where the needle had been.
“Feeling better?” Zuiju’s voice floated in her ear, sounding very, very distant.
Several moments later, Pingting finally exhaled. “Yeah…”
Zuiju was sweating too. Hearing Pingting’s reply, she finally put down the need in her hand, propping herself to a sit.
“Is the child…okay?”
Zuiju replied, “I’ve already told you, your body is weak so don’t try to be so ambitious. Sigh…”
“You, lie down properly. Your child is fine,” Zuiju raised her head and saw the Missus who had been awoken by them looking curiously from outside the door. She hurriedly went forwards to apologise, “My apologies for waking up Mister and Missus.”
“My sis is sick.”
“Oh.” The Missus looked behind her into the room. She lowered her voice, “Is she feeling better now?”
“Much better. It’s fine, Missus can go to sleep.”
When she finally convinced the Missus to leave, Zuiju sat down by the bed again. “We can’t continue on. You’d better get some rest for a few days.”
Pingting didn’t make a sound for a long time.
“We can’t stay here, we have to go. Now that those people have our bags, who knows who will end up with them?” Pingting finally gathered up her energy and her voice was low. “If they are to chase us, we won’t be able to go even if we wanted to.”
Zuiju sighed again.
Pingting then asked, “What’s wrong with my body? You mustn’t hide things from me.”
Zuiju was both angry and sad. Her voice choked up unwittingly. “How could Miss still not understand? Your body wasn’t strong to begin with. How could it possibly last such a journey with so many worries and trouble? I have to get some good herbs. Even wild ginseng or ganoderma, it’d be good.”
Pingting had broken into a cold sweat when she was in pain, but now it was gone. She felt the coldness seeping through her skin. She covered herself with a blanket and smiled kindly. “I’ll listen to your words and won’t hurriedly leave this place, so I can get some rest for a few days, fine?”
Zuiju wiped away her tears and grinded her teeth. “Now I really detest the Duke. If you have a lover, then you should properly protect her and cherish her. How could he let Miss be reduced to this? No matter how you look at it, he’s the one at fault!”
Pingting didn’t expect she would bring up Chu Beijie. She stiffened but then remembered her child. Pingting agreed every word she had said. After all, she had spent great effort on Chu Beijie but still fell to such a fate.
She couldn’t think like the way she had lived up to any more.
The clash between country and lovers never bore any fruit of worth.
She had always faintly expected it but completely unable to prevent it from happening to herself.
“Never mind.” Pingting softly sighed and closed her eyes. “Don’t waste any more time and effort on that person or our lives will be meaninglessly wasted.” She gently stroked her own belly. Although no one could detect it by sight, one could feel a small bump if they carefully touched it.
My child, don’t get caught up by national affairs and love any more.
Morality is like a ruler at first, but in the end, it becomes a heavy lock and a blood-coloured cloth. It prisons your heart and blindfolds your eyes.
Don’t be like your father, and don’t be like your mother either.
Dear child, whether you love or hate, don’t ever forget your roots.
Don’t forget it.
Light purple beacons were ignited one after the other, connecting the sky. The smoke spiralled upwards, telling the rest of the people on earth that the great battle was imminent. The flags rose into the skies, ominous in return.
A distant horn sounded and couldn’t hide its own mournful tone.
From far away, it was a densely packed sea of iron helmets. Thousands of weapons were pointed straight towards the sky, gleaming with their cold lights. Every inch of the plains was covered with the cavalry units of the Dong Lin army.
Chu Beijie was sitting on his horse, standing straight towards the wind at the very front of the army. The flag of the Duke of Zhen-Bei was raised above him, flapping vigorously and forcefully in the wind. It was like a frightening totem that could suck away the enemy’s energy.
On the slope opposite them, another coloured flag was floating in the distance, also belonging to a truly massive army.
Yun Chang, that country that had always hidden itself, never revealed its face. As a result, it had a lot of time to build up a significant amount of reserve forces and were not to be underestimated.
Chu Beijie began to squint, trying to see that figure, confidently standing at the very front of their army. He was the main advisor of the Yun Chang army.
He remembered the figure that peered down from the top of the Three-Swallow Cliffs, smiling. He was that person back then.
The Marquess of Jing-An back then, now the Prince Consort of Yun Chang.
And the man who stole Pingting out of his hands!
The strong wind blew between them but seemed to be afraid of the imminent war and soon hurried away.
There was a sudden, deathly quiet. An unheard, anxious rhythm grew quicker and quicker, seeming to be play in the silence. The several hundreds of thousands of men stood on the plains, as still and as quiet as graves. Even their horses didn’t dare to neigh.
Chu Beijie quietly watched He Xia. They were separated by a massive gap, but they still seemed to able to see the opponent’s gaze. It was as sharp as his and just as penetrating.
He stole Pingting, stole the Pingting pregnant with my flesh and blood.
Chu Beijie’s hand silently pressed down on his sword.
The moment he unsheathed it, fights without rest would begin, endless. There was no turning back.
Chen Mu was standing by Chu Beijie’s side. His palm was drenched with sweat like the other general. He knew that the moment Chu Beijie’s sword came out of his scabbard, all these hundreds of thousands would charge forward, resulting in many overwhelming waves of blood.
For a single person.
For a single woman.
Bai Pingting, a name forever remembered by all of the four countries.
All of the gazes were fixed on Chu Beijie’s hands. All of the soldiers’ fates rested on that one touch between his hand and his sword.
The air was very tense, and breaths were a tiny thread, stretched until taut. It slowly tightened in the empty gap between the two armies.
The sound of a horse dashing came.
On the southern side of the mountains, there was a few sudden movements. It barged in from the side, not caring at all about the two armies and spilled out onto the empty gap between them. Its movement resembled a light cut with a sword through an oil painting that was about to be lit, bringing beauty to the bleak picture. It brightened the entire picture in one go, although strange and out of place.
“The flag of the Royal House of Yun Chang?” Che Mu lowered his voice in disbelief.
Chu Beijie’s gaze looked beyond him, long imprinting the large words on the flag into his eyes. A light flashed in his eyes. The first person to arrive took the flag and rode towards Chu Beijie and his horse. He bowed slightly, asking in a clear voice, “Is this general Dong Lin’s Duke of Zhen Bei, Chu Beijie?”
“I am Chu Beijie. Who are you?” Chu Beijie’s voice was deep.
“I am the captain of Yun Chang’s Royal Residence guards, Rong An. My Master, Princess Yaotian, has ordered me to pass on a message. I ask for Duke’s private attention for a moment.”
“A battle is about to begin. Where is Princess Yaotian right now?”
“She is here.” Rong An pointed behind him.
The crowd immediately looked afar. There was a ornately decorated carriage on the slope of the hill. It had only arrived in the morning and immediately rushed towards the centre of the two armies.
Chu Beijie’s heart seemed to be pulled by an invisible string, shock flooded onto his eyes.
Yaotian wanted to settle things peacefully.
What else could she use to bargain apart from Pingting? Yaotian must’ve hurried to stop the real battle between the two armies and avoided He Xia, heading straight for himself. It had to be related to Pingting.
His heart that kept on emitting coldness suddenly began to flare up like a fire. He was suddenly too emotional and didn’t know what to do.
The carriage began to drive closer. The other side seemed to have recognised the flag of the own Royal House and too shocked into silence.
Rong An brought his horse to the carriage and gestured a few times by the window. He then rode back to say, “The Princess welcomes Duke onto the carriage for a while.”
The carriage stopped on the gap, the four snowy-white horses had their heads down as they trotted forwards and stopped. Perhaps the driver received an order from the person in the carriage as they got off to leave on their own. They then stopped about a hundred footsteps away, awaiting further orders patiently.
Chen Mu warned him, “Be careful, Duke. He Xia has too many schemes, be careful not to be ambushed.”
Chu Beijie laughed coldly. “It’s just a mere carriage. Even if it’s filled with people, how could it possibly match the precious sword in my hand?” He then rode to the carriage, calmly asking, “Is Yun Chang’s Princess Yaotian in there? Chu Beijie is here. Would Princess like to say anything?”
Yaotian lifted the curtains, raising her eyes to look at Chu Beijie who was sitting on the horse, looking majestic and imposing. She praised his style in her heart and softened her voice. “Yaotian has been asked to pass on a letter to Duke.”
“Just a letter?” Chu Beijie’s pupils shrank. The air around him turned icy. “And the person?”
“The person is no longer in my Yun Chang.” Yaotian replied. “Duke will understand after reading this letter.”
Chu Beijie’s expression became even colder as he gazed through the curtain, fighting a cold staring contest. He then said, “Princess underestimates me. My Dong Lin army has travelled thousands of miles to reach this place just to find that person. If Yun Chang cannot return the person to me, thinking a letter will make me withdraw, how could I possibly follow through such a lame request? Don’t blame that I don’t believe you, but if that person is harmed in any possible way, I swear to let all of the Yun Chang Royal House’s blood to flow.”
Yaotian was silent for a long time in the carriage, before she sighed sadly. “Yaotian heard of the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s fame as a hero but has a question to ask.”
Chu Beijie had wanted to walk away but changed his mind. He could not overestimate anything related to Pingting. He held his reins saying, “Please go ahead, Princess.”
Yaotian then said, “I’d like to ask whether this time leading the soldiers into battle is just for a single person named Bai Pingting?”
“Then, did the King of Dong Lin agree to it?”
Chu Beijie sneered, “This is my Dong Lin’s affairs, and the army is here. It’s nothing to do with Princess.”
“The relationship between the Duke and Miss Bai is deeply rooted in the hatred between countries. The question of whether country or feeling is more important and particularly whether giving up their own happiness for their country has always been a cruel dilemma.”
“What is Princess trying to say?”
Yaotian sighed. “Theory and morality are often said together, but they are not quite the same. Morality comes from the heart, but theory is based from ethical principles. Theory is often the most correct and complete, so it often overrides morality. As a result, people blindly follow general ethical principles and don’t listen to their heart. They obey so-called national interests and sacrifice themselves to the country. It is a real pity if they didn’t do so willingly, from deep in their hearts, thanks to the lock of theory. How is the Duke not like this, that day when Duke chose the country over Pingting, resulting in violating the promise of the sixth?
Chu Beijie was indifferent at first but was suddenly full of emotion upon her words. His voice became serious, “Please continue, Princess.”
“Country or people, which is more important? It is not a problem solved by trade-offs.” Yaotian paused for effect before leisurely continuing, “Duke may have thought that the ancestors of our history have decided to unite together to resist external enemies and resist violence in order to live better, so they have their own happiness. Only then did countries begin to form. The fundamental roots of a country has always been its people. What is there to live for, the moment a person sacrifices their happiness to protect the country? What is the point in remembering a man who only knows how to protect the country and doesn’t understand the importance of cherishing their happiness?”
Chu Beijie’s body began to shake. His grip tightened around the reins, only hearing Yaotian continue with, “And how could a man who, for his own search for happiness, is willing to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers to form an army that steals others’ hapiness, be the hero that Bai Pingting truly loves? Think, Duke, do all of these soldiers in your hands really wish to fight a battle for a single woman?”
Yaotian sighed once and lowered her voice. “What Bai Pingting wants is for Duke’s eyes to open, be able to see what needs to be appreciated in this world, who is to be cherished. She wants you to see that even in the ant colonies. They have freedom and ambition but always in sight of their own happiness.”
Chu Beijie’s teeth were tightly clenched and for the longest time, he was speechless.
In the morning light, Pingting’s smile had been gentle like water but now it had melted into all lakes and sees, not leaving any trace to be found.
The fundamental roots of a country has always been its people.
If it wasn’t done willingly from the heart, why force oneself to sacrifice the things dearest to them in exchange for the country’s reputation?
Country and people were not two separate choices, but one.
Only those who listened to their heart, loved what they loved and hated what they hated, were real people.
Chu Beijie abruptly raised his head at the sky, laughing to the skies as his tears slid along his cheeks. He lowered his voice, “Thank you for pointing these out, Princess.”
A letter was slowly handed out of the curtain.
“Yaotian only had a few experiences, not enough to be worthy of your praise. Those words came from Miss Bai’s letter.”
Chu Beijie got off the horse, taking the wavering letter as tender as newborn babies. A shiver ran up his spine, “Thank you, Princess. I swear to Princess that the Dong Lin army will withdraw immediately.”
Yaotian hadn’t expected that he would so cleanly decide his withdrawal. She hesitated slightly, before asking, “Is Duke not afraid this letter is false and that Miss Bai is still in imprisonment?”
Chu Beijie laughed. “If Pingting hadn’t confidence, why would she ask Princess to pass on a letter? Handwriting can be forged but can wise words be?”
He turned his horse and rode back to his army. Chen Mu had become impatient early in his wait and hurriedly came forwards to ask, “What on earth did the Princess of Yun Chang say?”
“Withdraw the troops.”
Chu Beijie chuckled for a long time. “Withdraw! We’re not fighting a battle anymore.”
Even though everyone was secretly stunned by this, they were also pleasantly surprised. Some people asked, “What about the Duchess then?”
“I’ll look for her myself.” Chu Beijie gazed into the depths of the sky, determination filling his eyes. “I will find her, even if she is at the end of the world.”
God have mercy, please bless me with Pingting.
You can fly towards the sky with your wings. Chu Beijie is willing to follow you until the ends of the earth.
From today on, I will love what I love and hate what I hate.
I understand what I want to do and understand what I should do.
I understand what I should appreciate and therefore shall appreciate; what I should sever ties with and therefore shall sever ties with.
I understand that country and home, country and people, have always been one.
I understand that sacrifice is not great, but only by appreciating the people I love, can a country thrive. That in itself is a powerful pair of wings that soars towards ambition, just like how flowing red blood does the same.
Pingting, Pingting, I have heard the voice of my heart.
It says that life after life, it must never part from you.
Even if the earth shatters or the highest power tries to interfere, this feeling will always endure.
“Withdraw the army!”
The army of Dong Lin withdrew and the final battle was stopped at the final moment.
Chu Beijie gazed into the horizon, not able to see that familiar body. But he would go to find her, he had to find her and lovingly protect her as he accompanies her under the stars, as she plays qin or as she watches the stars in the snow.
Together they would watch over the growing children, teaching him not to go astray and be shackled by dark depression. He will then always remember that morality comes from the heart and only by listening to the voice of the heart, can one never be blindfolded by the world.
Let him understand that people have their own dignity, people have their own ambition, people have their own freedom and people have their own happiness.
These were not things that national interests or the moral good could deprive them of.
Because, the fundamental roots of a country has always been one thing – its people.