Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol03 Ch55
The Songsen Mountains were a natural barrier, separating the two countries, Bei Mo and Yun Chang.
The small village was at the foot of the Songsen Mountains. If you were to judge by territory, this place belonged to Bei Mo but was too remote. There’s no military use since it was far from any checkpoint. The village residents often went into the more remote parts of the mountains to gather herbs and hunt, not caring about Yun Chang or Bei Mo.
The Songsen Mountains are ours. A-Han would often chuckle as he yelled this.
Gazing far into the distance, he could see the year round gleaming snow. It looked cold and pale in the sunlight, like a diamond. The seed of spring seemed to have been sown in the village, because there was a large grass plain in the east, as if its young grassbuds were joyfully stretching out their arms.
Spring had arrived and shouts of life were everywhere.
“The sheep sure sound happy.” A-Han happily rushed outside in the early morning. His voice was unrestrained as always as he cheerfully carried a chicken. “Missus, my family has quite the fat chickens. I’ll prepare one for your baby to eat.”
Yangfeng walked out from the building, putting a finger to her lips and shook her head. “A-Han, you always forget. You’ll wake the sleeping baby again.”
A-Han suddenly remembered and sheepishly scratched his head. “Heh, how did I forget again? I often wake my little A-Han too.”
Yangfeng took the chicken from his hands, smiling, “Madam Pingting stepped out, but do come in.”
“He left with Weiting for the mountains, said they were going to hunt in exchange for rice and oil.”
Ze Yin and the others came to stay and organised the hunting & herding. Because of A-Han’s acquaintance with Pingting, A-Han often came to visit. His personality was straightforward. It was fortunate he wasn’t nosy to ask their reasons. Seeing Ze Yin’s age, he called him Brother. As for Yangfeng, she was his sister-in-law of course.
“I don’t need a seat. I still have to go see the horses.”
“Ah, don’t leave yet.” Yangfeng stopped him and turned to go into the room. Not long later, she came out holding a small paper bag. “Aren’t there blisters on A-Han’s wife’s hand? Take these herbs and boil them for her to drink.”
Having mentioned his wife’s blisters, he frowned in distress. “Herbs are useless. She has had a lot already, but the swelling remains. It’s so painful she can’t sleep at night.”
“These herbs will be different. Let me tell you, Madam Pingting picked these from the mountains.”
A-Han widened his eyes. “Madam Pingting can treat illnesses?”
“She knows many others too. She isn’t a genius doctor, but she will be much better than that Doctor Lou when it comes to treatment.” Yangfeng stuffed the medicinal bag into A-Han’s hands and reminded him, “It’s enough to be happy when she recovers, but don’t proclaim it everywhere.”
“Understood. Madam Pingting said that many times. I won’t tell anyone! Sister-in-law, I’ll take these herbs. If they really are useful, I will bring another chicken over.” A-Han took the herbs and suddenly turned, slapping his forehead. “Look at me! I’m so stupid! To think I forgot my wife’s instructions.” He took out a bag from his arms. “There are two articles of clothing here, both sewn by my wife. It’s a bit rough, but the material is strong. One is for Aunt’s Qing’er and the other is for Madam Pingting’s baby.”
Yangfeng received the clothing and eyed the smaller one first. A smile lifted in her lips, “It’s too small; the shoulder width won’t do.”
“How long could the shoulder width of such a small thing get?” A-Han was somewhat disappointed, “Try it anyway, maybe it’ll fit.”
Yangfeng led him into the room with a small wooden cradle. She compared the clothing to the precious baby. Indeed, it was a little too small. “See, the shoulder width isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter though, I’ll just unpick it and fix it with another piece of cloth.”
The little baby lied in the cradle, sleeping peacefully. Its face was white and tender, and its nose rose straight. Other babies tend to tussle and turn whiel sleeping but he slept as straight as a pen, tidily.
A-Han studied him carefully, chuckling, “This baby has a nice face. Who knows how many girls he’ll swoon when he grows up. Changxiao, long laughter and laughing every single day. Huh, Madam Pingting sure chose an interesting name.” Seeing Changxiao sleeping well, he couldn’t help reach out to tease him with one finger. Changxiao felt someone touch him in his dreams and unhappily twisted his neck. His eyes did not open while his chubby hand moved, tightly holding onto A-Han’s finger.
“Ah, he certainly isn’t weak.” A-Han smiled in delight, “He will definitely become a great hero in the future.”
“Of course.” Yangfeng’s smile was faint as she lowered her eyes to look tenderly at the sleeping baby.
Changxiao, Chu Changxiao.
His father was the world famous Duke of Zhen-Bei.
Fengyin stayed in the Prince Consort Residence, taking over Pingting’s room and Pingting’s qin. The people of the Prince Consort Residence knew the Princess and the Senior Official protected her in the shadows and therefore did not dare treat her as a servant.
As long as Yaotian wasn’t around, she was naturally the other mistress of the Prince Consort Residence.
“And…” Fengyin frowned as she pondered, “it seems that the Prince Consort has taken in a homeless man, who seems to be from Gui Le.”
“From Gui Le? Who? What’s his name? What’s his origin?”
Fengyin shook her head. “I’ve only vaguely heard them saying it once. I don’t know anything else apart from the fact he is definitely a man of Gui Le.”
Gui Changqing glanced at her in disappointment. He sighed, “The greater power He Xia holds, the more disturbed my heart. It’s a pity that the Princess does not listen to my advice. Fengyin, you must do everything to help your foster parent.”
Fengyin nodded. “Father in law, don’t worry.”
“How does He Xia treat you?”
“He remains very polite to me and also tells the lower servants to attend to me properly.”
“Does he like to listen to you play qin?”
“He never asks me to play qin.”
“When you get back, continue to play qin in that room every day. Your skills at qin are superb and won’t go to waste.”
Fengyin held her words back, carefully raising her eyes to peek at Gui Changqing’s pondering expression. She finally couldn’t help but ask, “Why must I do this? Every time I play qin in my room, the Prince Consort always becomes a man of few words.”
Gui Changqing asked, “Do you know who owned the qin that you’re using now?”
“I know. That qin belongs to Bai Pingting.”
Bai Pingting, still Bai Pingting.
Why did her name remain remembered and longed for despite being long gone herself?
Gui Changqing lightly replied, “That is a prick in his heart. Tug at it periodically so he will be deeply reminded. This is Yun Chang and the only decision maker should be the Princess. Whoever the Princess wants alive, they will be alive. Whoever the Princess wants gone, they will be gone. This is the code of royalty.”
The military-specific granaries were established under Yaotian’s approval, contributing immensely to He Xia’s power in the government.
The King of Dong Lin had died of illness and the Queen succeeded the throne. The army of Dong Lin lost its Duke of Zhen-Bei and completely rid of its former pride.
He Xia, having been dormant for so long, naturally couldn’t let a great opportunity to pass. With the military advantage of grain and money as well as being in the season abundant of horses and crop, he requested Yaotian to assign troops to him.
“Is that…proper?” Yaotian frowned, putting down the fruit she had picked up to play with again. She looked at He Xia.
He Xia’s handsome features broke into a smile as he returned Yaotian’s gaze, “What part does Princess feel is improper?”
Without waiting for Yaotian’s reply, Gui Changqing who was quietly sitting aside smiled as he said, “My Yun Chang’s national policy has always been about self-sufficiency, no dispute nor attack. Only by looking after the peasants can the country prosper stably.”
Yaotian’s expression revealed her agreement.
He Xia was quiet for a moment before sighing, “This is a major event. No need to make a quick decision. During the assembly tomorrow, Princess can discuss and negotiate with the other officials. Does this sound good?”
Yaotian had been afraid He Xia and Gui Changqing would clash when facing each other. She hurriedly nodded and gazed at Gui Changqing, “What does Senior Official think?”
He Xia’s proposal played Gui Changqing right into his hands. He had the support of numerous civil service officials in court. Gui Changqing had always preferred civil service over military. A few military officials resisted his authority, but none are able to challenge him in court. “Prince Consort is right; this is a major event that should be discussed with the rest of the officials. Princess should decide after that.”
The matter of war was finally temporarily set aside. The two people discussed a few more national affairs, but each had their own priorities to attend to hence asked Yaotian to retire.
Yaotian watched the two people go into the distance and heaved a sigh of relief. The conflict among the Prince Consort’s and Senior Official’s factions was intensifying in the darkness. It was tense enough to explode at the slightest trigger. They were similar in so many ways, yet together they were troublesome.
She rested a while before hearing the sound of footsteps. They sounded somewhat familiar.
Yaotian raised her head in surprise, “Why did you come back, Prince Consort?”
He Xia smiled softly towards her. He walked to her side until he stood with his shoulder beside hers. His gaze was fixed somewhere beyond the window as he said, “I was originally planning to return to the Prince Consort Residence, but halfway there, I suddenly thought of a few words and couldn’t help walking back to see Princess.”
Yaotian curiously asked, “What important words did Prince Consort think of?”
“In my heart, these words are indeed important.” A tiny smile escaped from He Xia’s lips as if immersed in a happy memory. His tone was a little wistful as he sighed, “It’s a pity Princess has forgotten.”
Yaotian couldn’t help scooting closer and softly say, “How should Yaotian know which words Prince Consort is referring to if he doesn’t say them?”
He Xia was silent for a while before slowly saying, “On our wedding night, I promised Princess that one day I’ll personally crown the Princess as the Queen of the Four Countries.”
Yaotian’s heart was trembling, her voice lost. “Prince Consort…”
“These words were heard and understood, yet why has it come to this?” He Xia looked at Yaotian with a bitter smile, “But if Princess really wants a Prince Consort who sits around and does nothing all day, I’ll definitely won’t disappoint Princess.”
He Xia’s eyes were like stars as he calmly said, “That was all I came here to say. Princess is the sole master of the country so Princess should make the decisions about major affairs of Yun Chang by herself.” He bowed politely to the Princess before then casually striding off.
That night, Gui Changqing wrote twenty-seven personally written letters to be delivered to the governing offices of various cities. They planned to speak out against He Xia’s military plan in court.”
He hadn’t expected seeing Yaotian arrive, seat herself on the throne, and announce her Order with great authority. “Dong Lin is my country’s greatest enemy. Since the enemy is weak, we must take opportunity and attack before Dong Lin has enough time to breathe. Prince Consort.”
“Here.” He Xia’s voice was clear as he stepped out.
“For Yun Chang’s peace in the future, I, the Princess, commands you to lead the troops to crush Dong Lin. Effective immediately, the rights to command three of Yun Chang’s regiments fully belongs to you.”
The officials who had long prepared a bellyful of good reasons to refuse hadn’t expected Yaotian making an Order first thing that morning. Their expressions instantly turned surprise. Every one of them stared at Gui Changqing.
Gui Changqing paled to purple. Just when he was about to step out of line to talk, he heard Yaotian’s cool voice again, “It hasn’t been long since Dong Lin’s Duke of Zhen Bei led troops to invade my Yun Chang. If all we do is seek security, we may not be able to keep the peasants safe. Officials, don’t forget to learn from our past mistakes.”
This point was spoken resolutely and decisively. Everyone understood Yaotian’s determination. The inside of Gui Changqing’s heart went cold and could never take that one step he had planned. He ground his teeth as he looked at He Xia receive the flag of command. Everyone knew the affair’s conclusion had been set and was irreversible.
When the assembly finished, He Xia and a crowd of generals briskly strode away from the hall, hungrily longing for war. The civil service officials filled in the gaps of a circle around Gui Changqing, their expressions very upset.
“Senior Official, you see…”
“Senior Official, such an important affair of sending troops should not be executed so sloppily.”
“Senior Official, should you not enter the Royal Residence and discuss with Princess herself?”
Gui Changqing shook his head, not saying anything. Without caring for the surrounding crowd, he got on the carriage alone. He returned to the Senior Official Residence and his younger son, Gui Yan, hurriedly came to the door to beckon him into the room. Once he had closed the door, he asked, “Father, did the Princess really make her Order, allowing the Prince Consort to lead troops to attack Dong Lin?”
Gui Changqing’s face was gloomy. He nodded and glanced at his younger son. “He Xia formally took the flag of command and can mobilise all of Yun Chang’s army, including the Yongxiao Regiment under your command and the Weibei Regiment under your second uncle’s command.”
The two were silent when the sounds of heavy footsteps were suddenly heard out of the room. They were clearly impatient.
Gui Changqing said, “Must be your second uncle.”
He had yet to finish his sentence when the door to the room opened. The tall figure blocked more than half of the sunlight in the room. Gui Changning stumbled forwards and raised his voice, “Brother, I heard the Princess has given her order, allowing He Xia to lead to troops to attack Dong Lin?”
Gui Changqing nodded, his face very grave.
Gui Changning’s expression revealed joy instead. He laughed, “Finally attacking Dong Lin, how refreshing! It’s a pity that I went out to train the soldiers and only returned to the capital just now, missing the scene when the Princess made her Order.”
For generations, the Gui family were important officials of Yun Chang. In this generation, Gui Changqing was in charge. He had recommended many civil service officials but only recommended two military officials in contrast. They were respectively his second younger brother, Gui Changning, and his younger son, Gui Yan. Gui Changqing understood his brother’s personality and warned him with a glance. He sighed, “What good can war do? He Xia already secretly loathes us but can’t do much about me during assemblies. I’m afraid he now has full control. He will mobilise your two regiments to the very front…”
“I’m only afraid that he won’t mobilise me. How could I be afraid when I have a few techniques in defeating the enemy?”
Although Gui Yan was a military official, his thoughts about people were much deeper than his second uncle. He contemplated for a moment before saying, “Father is afraid that now He Xia has power in his hands, mishap might happen to Second Uncle at the frontlines. It is true a single arm cannot defend against four fists. Why not do this, if He Xia does mobilise Second Uncle’s Weibei Regiment to the frontlines, I too will ask for Yongxiao Regiment’s mobilisation. He Xia can’t do anything to the uncle and nephew that lead two major regiments unless he dares command the other regiments to surround and siege us.”
“No, that’s far too dangerous. What if…”
Gui Changning sneezed and waved his hand. “Brother, don’t worry. I reckon the most dangerous thing that could happen is not to mobilise our troops. He’ll take the troops, destroy Dong Lin, and return with all the glory. Our Gui family can only stand aside, watching.”
He had a straightforward personality and his words certainly weren’t wrong.
Gui Changqing studied the two. Gui Yan lightly nodded his head, apparently agreeing with his second uncle’s perspective. Gui Changqing thought for a while and sighed, “Since it’s like that, all we can do is cross the bridge when we get there. To be honest, it’s no good if we aren’t able to communicate with the generals in the army with He Xia’s expedition. However, my younger brother,” he turned to look at Gui Changqing, his expression very serious, “As your older brother, I tell you that this expedition is different from previous times. During the outing, you must not…”
“Drink alcohol right.” Gui Changning’s bushy eyebrows frowned once and he gritted his teeth, “I won’t touch alcohol at all during this expedition. If I do, I won’t be a son of the Gui family.”
“You must remember it. Don’t drop your guard and lapse into your old habit again.”
Gui Changning thumped his chest. “Brother, don’t worry. I won’t mess up on the important things, even though I’m sloppy on the details.”
Gui Changqing cherished his clever younger son, yet he refused to be a civil service official but had to lead troops. Gui Changqing gently looked at him and sighed, “At the frontlines, don’t be blinded by victory and jump into battle at any given chance.”
Military officials were different from civil service officials. They were generals who fought on the battlefield and weren’t decided by family backgrounds or qualifications, only those with skill were admired. Annoyingly, He Xia’s combat and strategic skills were superior and won the majority of the army general’s loyalty in a short period of time. Otherwise, what had the Gui family had to worry about it, being so entrenched in Yun Chang’s powers?
Gui Changqing’s heart was miserable. He got up and opened the room’s door, allowing a breeze to waft in. A trusted manservant stood at the other end of the corridor who Gui Changqing beckoned to. “Has the Princess sent anyone to summon me?”
The manservant peeked at him and cautiously answered, “No.”
Gui Changqing’s expression became even more sour as he stood outside the door for a few moments. He instructed, “You may leave. Immediately notify me whenever there’s news from the Royal Residence.”
The battle horses had been fattened and the war drums would soon thud.
He Xia had full control of the army in his hands. He had the flag of command, grain and money with no restrictions by the government.
Dear Princess, are you really betting on Yun Chang’s future with this?
With the flag in He Xia’s hand, he mobilised the army the very next day. He understood that despite losing the Duke of Zhen-Bei, the Dong Lin army the Duke of Zhen-Bei finely tuned should still not be underestimated. He Xia’s bold spirit seemed ready to mock the heavens as he mobilised all of Yun Chang’s seven regiments, Gui Changning’s Weibei Regiment and Gui Yan’s Yongxiao Regiment included amongst them.
An auspicious day was chosen and the Princess personally sent off the Prince Consort from the capital gates.
Yun Chang’s peasants were gathered at the base of the city wall, eyeing the Prince Consort’s silver-white armour above. His appearance was like a general from the heavens in the mortal world. Everyone was full of praise.
“Look at how mighty our Prince Consort is!”
“Dong Lin will know our Yun Chang is not to be trifled with.”
“Beat them to pieces so the world will know our Yun Chang is not to be bullied!”
A year earlier they had been pressured by the furious Dong Lin army to the point of being unable to lift their heads. Today they were finally able to express all their anger.
Even Yaotian, the one who had decided to mobilise the troops, hadn’t expected the peasants who had been living peacefully up til now to be so supportive of this expedition.
Yaotian blessed He Xia with a cup of wine and scanned the tightly-packed crowd below her. She softly said, “All the peasants know Prince Consort will return in triumph.”
He Xia laughed as he asked, “Then what about Princess?”
Yaotian looked at He Xia, “No matter what happens in the battle, Prince Consort must come home safely.”
He Xia studied Yaotian, his eyes as bright as the stars in the night sky. It was almost too difficult for people to look directly into. He Xia didn’t reply but gave Yaotian a confident smile as he turned to unsheathe his sword.
The sword had been tempered numerous times came out of its scabbard, glinting fiercely as it arrived into the sunlight. The reflections of dazzling light shot out, causing momentary blindness to the crowd of peasants. In their dimness, all they could see was He Xia’s standing figure bathed in light, daring and arrogant.
“Long live the Prince Consort!” After a few moments of silence, a huge roar erupted. It instantly spread to everyone.
“Long live the Prince Consort! Long live the Prince Consort!”
“Long live the Prince Consort!”
From the neat rows of standing troops to the howling peasants below the city walls, none were silent.
He Xia tossed his head back and laughed for a long time, his handsome figure displaying a greater hint of arrogance. He sheathed his sword, went down the city wall and got onto his battle horse. He rode once around the army, causing everyone to see his figure. When he raised his hand, his audience silenced immediately.
He was no longer the Prince Consort nor the Marquess of Jing-An.
He had become Yun Chang’s powerful hope and symbolised the spread of royal values.
He Xia’s eyes slowly swept across the huge army that was about to conquer the world with him. The corners of his mouth lifted into the slightest smile as he shouted, “Depart!”
Just a single word set the entire army of a hundred thousand in motion.
The sound of hooves thundered, kicking up a dust cloud so thick that the humans within could not be seen.
Yaotian watched He Xia leave in high morale, her hands pressed at her heart as if feeling empty. She stared until He Xia’s back view disappeared into the distance.
The capital was left far behind, only the endless yellow-mud plains stretched before their eyes. He Xia rode at the very front of the huge army when he heard hurried hooves from behind. Dongzhuo rushed forwards, staying closely beside him as he lowered his voice to report, “Everything Master instructed has been prepared.”
He Xia didn’t turn his horse nor did his eyes leave the distance. He nodded slightly.
“Dongzhuo, clench tightly onto the sword in your hand.” He Xia turned his head, glanced at the magnificent army. A trace of cold laughter flashed in his eyes. “We really will see blood this time.”
Dongzhuo turned back as well, glancing at the “Weibei” and “Yongxiao” flags fluttering high in the sky. His hand on the sword hilt couldn’t help tighten once.
He was familiar with his Master’s tactics. When he wasn’t attacking, he was completely uninvolved, but when he did, he struck like thunder, not leaving any room to spare.
That was the Marquess of Jing-An’s true character.