Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol03 Ch58
The war spread. Even remote villages were not spared.
The grief over the loss of the King was weaker as the cloud of He Xia’s conquest hung over these people who lived by the day.
“I announce, the Prince Consort of Yun Chang has given his Order. The peasants in each village will be counted and every person must give three bags of grain. This is to be paid in full in two days, without delay.”
The gathered villages started panicking.
“Three bags per person, then how are we to last through winter?”
“He doesn’t want us to live!”
“Mayor,” someone grabbed onto the elderly mayor who had just finished reading the Order. He cried, “You know the daily life of my family. My wife is sick so all grain has been swapped for medicine. I’m not able to give just one bag, not to mention three.”
The mayor was frowning too. He lowered his voice, “What can I do? The several children in my family count too and I’m distressed over the grain too. Luo-boy, we have to pay up or else, because they’re tribute to the army. If it’s a bit late, they’ll have your life. Those Yun Chang soldiers kill without batting an eyelid.”
Luo-boy’s eyes felt sour. He rubbed his eyes and slumped, “When our King was still around, we were never required to pay three bags of grain all at once. He Xia, hmph, why the hell did He Xia conquer our Bei Mo?”
“Do you value your life, daring to mention the King?” The mayor looked anxiously at their surroundings after muffling his ragged cuffs around his mouth. He warned, “Just be obedient. We don’t even know where General Ruo Han has fled to, so don’t try to overestimate yourself, okay?”
While he was speaking, the sky-shattering thudding sound of hooves were heard, and the crowd jumped back in fright. Everyone’s head swivelled to look outside the village. They saw the flag of Yun Chang soldiers surging forwards from the distance.
“What happened? Is there anything wrong?”
The soldiers reached the village entrance and pulled their horses to a stop. The villagers looked up, momentarily blinded by the sword blades dazzling in the sun.
“Who is in charge of you?” The one in front studied the mayor, “Do you already know about the Prince Consort’s Order for grain?”
“Yes, yes, it’s been read.”
“Did anyone make trouble?”
“No, no. We are all good peasants.”
“Okay.” The captain grunted and dragged out his following words, “You Bei Mo people were supposed to be our Yun Chang army’s slaves, but Prince Consort has given mercy, leaving you to supply resources for the army. You are to properly grow crops and look after horses. The Prince Consort has also issued boundary placements. From now on, if the village finds any outsiders, they must be immediately reported. If you dare conceal and not report him, this village will be disposed according to rebellion. Is that all clear?”
The mayor was very frightened. He hurriedly nodded and forced a laugh, “Yes, yes, it’s all clear. We are all good peasants, good peasants.”
That captain saw that he had been frightened to a tremble and couldn’t help laugh disdainfully. “Good peasants? Jiaokou Villiage fifty miles beyond here said that they were good peasants too, but they privately hid a few remnants of the Bei Mo army. The entire village of one hundred and seventeen was completely slaughtered by us. Hmph, I reckon we should put up a few bloody heads so that you know what real good peasants are like. Let’s go, my brothers.”
Luo-boy suddenly collapsed onto the ground, holding his head in his hands as he wept.
“Luo-boy, what are you crying for?”
“Don’t ask.” A few spectators sighed, “His sister married into Jiaokou Village.”
The country was falling.
Life and death was not a choice, just a matter of tolerance against suffering.
A-Han went past the fence with large, powerful strides, heading straight for the stone chair in the courtyard. He yelled at Ze Yin, “Brother, it’s no good. I can’t take it anymore. I want to become a soldier and attack that He Xia bastard! What kind of life is this? That much grain, where on earth can you get that much grain? If all that goes to keeping soldiers alive, then what about my woman and child?”
“A-Han, shut up first. Don’t ask for trouble.” Yangfeng hurried out from the building and ruefully glared at A-Han. She lowered her voice, “He Xia sent his Order. A person is awarded fifty-two gold coins for every rebellious person exposed. Be more careful or people will report you, shouting that so loudly.”
“Grain robbed, house ransacked and even the chickens are gone. What is there to be afraid of?” A-Han shook his head, “I’m not afraid of death.”
“Then your wife and child?”
“I…” A-Han’s neck stiffened. His shoulders fell in the end. “What use is there to live? They’re making it impossible for us to live…” His voice drifted off.
A strangled silence burst into the courtyard. Ze Yin had been silent all along, quietly wiping the hoe in his hand. It didn’t look much like a hoe but more like the sword the precious sword that had been by the Main General’s waist back then.
Weiting couldn’t help but walk over. He lowered his voice, “If this goes on, we’ll be forced to death. Why don’t we…”
“Why don’t we what? The army of Bei Mo has lost, so who else can defeat He Xia’s army?”
“Don’t tell me we’ll become prisoners of war and let our sons and grandsons bear the shame?” Weiting made his words harsher but pressed to lower his voice even more. “With General’s fame, if you go down the mountain now, you should be able to summon many with a single call.”
Weiting’s words seemed to evoke some old aspirations. Ze Yin’s eyes were suddenly a bit brighter. He trembled twice, his face tensing up. The change was only temporary like a shooting star that gradually dimmed away.
If he were to go down, he would indeed be able to gather several hot-blooded citizens of Bei Mo. However, even with several multiplies, it wouldn’t be enough to threaten He Xia’s army.
He wasn’t fighting against someone else, but He Xia.
He witnessed Chu Beijie’s strength and knew He Xia’s fame was just as equal. There wasn’t a chance of victory even if their military power was the same.
Not to mention that the gap between the armies was too wide.
It would be a massacre. He would be those Bei Mo peasants dissatisfied by the oppression into a massacre. That would be even more desolate than the slaughter in the Battle of Zhouqing.
“Don’t say any more.” Ze Yin put down the hoe. “Bring the water and the food Yangfeng prepared. It’s time to go to the fields.”
The message was spread to the most remote of villages beyond the dark clouds, spreading terrified eyes and whispers.
The King’s only brother, Duke of Zhong-Tan, called the fleeing Bei Mo soldiers to assemble and fight against He Xia. Less than ten days later, thirty thousand people gathered. The army of volunteers were defeated by He Xia’s generals thirty miles away from the suburbs while the Duke of Zhong-Tan was caught alive. He was tortured and sentenced to death by being cut into pieces.
The retreating Dong Lin army amassed all of their forces and fought against Yun Chang once more, going against He Xia with a big bang. He Xia however used sly tricks, placing an ambush in the valley. The Dong Lin army once again fell and suffered many casualties. Their corpses were everywhere, and blood stained Dong Lin’s Fuzha River.
The cloud of danger now loomed over Gui Le. The army of Yun Chang pressed closer towards Gui Le’s capital and the terrified King of Gui Le was likely to surrender. Le Zhen who always kept an eye on the King of Gui Le noticed the situation wasn’t good. He promptly led the army away from the Yun Chang army by heading towards Gui Le’s borders.
Message after message countered He Xia’s victories and the Yun Chang army’s glory. Thanks to the immense pressure they needed to project, the army’s crushing demand for resources increased upon the peasants of the fallen countries.
At first they demanded grain but now each family must supply three pounds of iron so the army had the raw materials to build the weapons needed.
The market was in recession; the iron shop door was tightly closed.
The villagers were very worried.
“Fifteen pounds of iron. Don’t tell me they want us to give up our cooking pots. I refuse!”
“You refuse. Do you want to be like Luo-boy then?”
The poorest man of the village, Luo-boy, was unable to supply the grain so his skinny head was raised high up in the village. His sickly wife tied a noose the next day, suicide by hanging.
“If we give them our pots, then how are we to cook?”
“Do you want your life or the pots?”
“Even if we give the pots, it won’t be enough.”
The elderly mayor’s yellowed eyes watched his fellow villagers he known for so many years. His mouth slowly quivered out, “You must give that hoe too…”
“How could that He Xia…be so unreasonable?”
“He has an army in his hands.”
“What about our Bei Mo’s army?”
“Defeated. No one can defeat He Xia.”
“Why can no one defeat him, with the world so big? How is this fair?”
“I heard there was one…” A phrase floated amongst the crowd.
Their devastated eyes suddenly widened as their gazes pinned on the one who spoke.
The villager had only heard fragments of rumours. After thinking, he replied, “I think it was Duke of Bei something, something Chu maybe…”
“Then where is he?”
“About that…I don’t know…”
The people were disappointed. Their eyes gained glint of light instantly dimmed. Whether they were squatting or leaning against the wall, each were in silent daze.
Three pounds of iron required today. What about tomorrow?
Smashed pots and a used hoe was finally enough metal to hand to the soldiers. The sunshine seemed to be oblivious to the anger and depression. It just continued to shine down on the earth in high spirits.
Ze Yin was in the fields, sweating as he lifted and dropped the hoe. This was the only remaining hoe left in the house.
The King had died; the country collapsed.
Soldiers came and went, riding where they pleased and wrecking his effortful husbandry. It felt like Ze Yin’s heart had been burdered by a boulder. It was crushing his heart to pieces, crushing until it bled.
He was once the Main General and held the most military power in Bei Mo. He led a army of high morale and sworn to protect his country’s king and its peasants.
Yet now, the King died and the peasants were being trod on by other horses.
If his opponent wasn’t He Xia, if he didn’t have to worry about his wife and child, would he remain here silently waving a hoe, letting those violent soldiers snatch away his hard-earned results?
Yangfeng looked at him every night with worried eyes. Only when Ze Yin watched Qing’er and Changxiao- two kids who didn’t know sadness, just joy- did the boulder on his heart become a little lighter.
But when he turned away, the boulder would weigh heavily again until it almost seemed to suffocate him.
Ze Yin raised his head, bean-sized sweatdrops all over his face. A-Han huffed as he ran from a shortcut. “Brother, Brother, it’s terrible! Brother Wei has been caught by the soldiers!”
Ze Yin stiffened. He threw the hoe down and ran towards him, “Where is he?”
“He’s outside the village on the hillside, next to the edge of the large meadow.”
Not waiting for A-Han to finish, Ze Yin headed towards the village entrance.
Weiting, he knew Weiting.
That grumpy man, a man who wouldn’t even look at his superiors’ face in the past. He only knew how to strike, clench his teeth down and fight. His foul temper was stubborn too. Ze Yin deliberately asked him to go out on the grass plains so that he wouldn’t be able to hear each and every one of He Xia’s messages which all served as a death sentence for the peasants. Why did he run into Yun Chang’s soldiers?
Ze Yin madly ran all the way to the slopes until his pupils shrank at the sight. On the ground, the grass was a mess, as if numerous people had trampled over it. There were bright red blood stains extending to the other side of the hill.
“Weiting!” Ze Yin cried as he went on the other side.
Weiting was lying on the slope, appearing to have rolled down from the damp blood tracks on the grass. Ze Yin rushed forwards, got on one knee, and helped him up. “Weiting, how are you?”
“They…they…” Weiting’s head and face were swollen while the wounds on his body oozed blood. They were either sword or spear wounds. “…stole horse…and…sheep…I…”
“Don’t speak, don’t move.” Ze Yin lowered his voice, “I understand.”
Yangfeng and Pingting were shocked when Ze Yin carried back Weiting. The wet nurse hurriedly took the two children to another room while the two women divided the work to wrap up Weiting’s wounds in bandages.
“Horse and sheep…all…”
“Don’t speak any more.” Yangfeng’s gentle voice instructed Weiting, who was still struggling to speak. She sighed, “Stealing things is fine, but is there a need to beat him up like this?”
Ze Yin replied, “It’s already quite good he’s still alive.”
Weiting lived in the same secluded residence and was like family to them. Once Weiting’s wounds were properly bandaged, they left him to rest on the bed. The other people left the room, each in their own thoughts. Yangfeng boiled a bowl of porridge for Weiting. Since there wasn’t much grain left, the rest of them ate yams for dinner.
After a busy day, it was finally time to rest. Yangfeng lay on the bed but couldn’t get to sleep at all. She looked at Ze Yin, deep in sleep, before getting out of bed.
It was early autumn and the night breeze was extremely pleasant. She walked to the front of the house but caught a glimpse of the lonely figure in the courtyard, standing against the breeze.
Pingting slowly turned around.
In the moonlight, Yangfeng could see that the object she was holding in her arms. That sword, “Divine Spirit”, fit to display on the walls, was now secure in Pingting’s embrace.
Yangfeng went to her side.
“You can’t sleep either?”
“Is that person really missing?”
It seemed time united with the halo of moonlight. Under the halo was a face, same yet different.
Heroic, tough, overbearing, proud…
When attacking Gui Le, just one tactic was enough to ruin the House of Jing-An with a century’s worth of history. When attacking Bei Mo, just three moves were enough to disrupt the hearts of the Bei Mo generals. Whenever they heard his name, they would be plagued by nightmares. When he attacked Yun Chang, he shook the entire country from the Princess to the peasants. Everyone was anxious without exception.
Dong Lin’s Duke of Zhen-Bei, Chu Beijie.
He was the heir to the throne of Dong Lin, a respected, widely acclaimed general. Each of the monarchs deeply feared him yet all traces of him disappeared when the Yun Chang army began poisoning the world.
“Pingting, you understand more about these things than I do. I just want to know if there is anyone who could possibly stop He Xia.”
“Master…sigh, He Xia…” Pingting deeply sighed and smiled bitterly. “I’m afraid that perhaps only one person could stop him and you understand who that is. Yangfeng, do you think I should…”
“No!” Yangfeng forcefully interrupted Pingting’s words. Her face was dismayed. She repeatedly shook her head, as if gone through the most painful nightmare ever experienced. It took quite a long time before she was able to calm down. She hung her head sadly, saying, “Don’t ask me. What difference is this to that day when danger was looming over Kanbu? I’ve been wrong once. I mustn’t make the same mistake a second time. Pingting, I swore that no matter what, I will never beg you to leave the mountains. Not to mention, he’s already been missing for a long time. Even if you go out, where on earth will you go to find him?”
Pingting listened and for the longest time, she was silent. She clutched onto Divine Spirit and returned inside. Changxiao was in the cradle, fast asleep. The moonlight gently scattered over his little face, printing the outline of his handsome features, the same mold as his father.
Pingting watched her son, smiling as she murmured, “Changxiao, Changxiao, do you know why I called you Changxiao? I hope that this little of face of yours will always be smiling and that you encounter things that will make you smile every day.”
“Dear son, I dearly hope you won’t fall for an intelligent woman.”
“Women who are too intelligent will always have a stupid fault. Once your heart gets knotted, you’ll never be able to undo it.”
“If she doesn’t like you, you will be upset; if she likes you too much, both of you will be distraught.”
Yun Chang, Qierou City.
“What did I lie about?”
“You said you’d deliver it to Teacher. Fanlu, you liar!”
Fanlu easily grabbed Zuiju’s jade-like hand, who had been planning to thump his chest. He frowned, “How many times do I have to repeat till you understand? Dong Lin is currently like messy porridge, defeated soldiers and fleeing peasants are everywhere. Even the Queen of Dong Lin’s whereabouts are unknown. The messenger can’t even find your Teacher. Still hitting me? You still dare hit me? Oi, I’m going to fight back!”
Recently, his life hadn’t been too good. After the death of the Senior Official, the officials on He Xia’s side started to nit-pick on all of the ranking soldiers raised by the Senior Official.
One time the accounts weren’t adding up. Another time a report wasn’t written clearly enough. It was obvious they were trying to find fault with him, a city governor.
And here, because Zuiju knew about the mess in Dong Lin, her worries were numerous so she screamed nonstop. “Liar!” Zuiju’s two wrists were now both caught, so she could only use her raven-black eyes to glare at him.
“When have I lied to you?” Fanlu snapped.
“When have you told me the truth?”
Fanlu was dissatisfied. His face darkened, “Of course I have told you the truth before.”
Zuiju’s wrists began to feel uncomfortable, but her struggles did nothing to free them. Her face flushed with anger as she looked up to ask, “The truth? Hmph, when was that?”
Fanlu thought carefully and replied, “When I first talked to you, I said— Rumour has it that you’re not beautiful, but I think you’re not too bad. Yep, that’s definitely true.”
Zuiju was slightly stunned by this. The blush originally caused by anger now spread to her ears and soon it went beyond them. Even her neck felt hot.
She calmed down, only just realising that she was almost in Fanlu’s arms. She bit her lip, “Hey, let go,” she replied in embarrassment.
Zuiju shot daggers at him with a glare until she saw the corners of his mouth lift. He had undoubtedly thought of another idea and she was actually a bit afraid of him being up to no good. She could only swallow her complaints, carefully saying, “Please let go of me, Governor.”
Fanlu began to smirk, pleased at himself, before loosening his grip. Zuiju withdrew her hands and noted that her wrists were red. That hateful man actually had quite a bit of strength. She gave him a reproachful glance and sat on the bed. Thinking of her Teacher amongst all those fleeing refugees made her heart worry and ache, causing her eyes to redden.
Fanlu saw that her head was lowered and was silent. He seemed to lose interest as she was usually so lively and reckless. He came and sat down beside her, “I’ll get someone to send your letter again and I hope he will find your Teacher.”
Zuiju shifted her body, “Don’t come so close to me.” Her voice was as light as mosquito.
“What’d you say?” Fanlu asked loudly, taking a step forward until he was closer than before.
Zuiju abruptly stood up and stomped. “You…don’t you understand it’s improper for men and women to interact so casually?”
“You woman,” Fanlu stood up, several inches taller than her. His voice was rather commanding, “Don’t you understand that women always say something but want the other?”
“Who wants the other?”
“You! When I come nearer, you’re actually pretty happy, so why do you say something else?”
“I…I…” Zuiju was almost angered to tears and she continuously stomped. “When have I been happy? I’m still worried about Teacher and you just bully me…I should have just let you die on the Songsen Mountains so that the wolves could eat your stomach and your intestines…”
She had yet to finish when a huge figure had already filled her eyes, shocking Zuiju to close her eyes and take a step back. However, she hadn’t expected her waist to be tightly hugged.
Fanlu’s tongue slipped across her red lips like the heat of a fire.
“Ah…” Zuiju paled in shock. Her eyes were rounder than ever as she faced Fanlu’s hateful grin.
Fanlu loosened his grip and smiled, “Don’t think about your Teacher tonight. Think about me.” He waved a hand in front of the solidified Zuiju and left to deal with his documents.
Yangfeng walked into the room. The bed was already empty and Ze Yin was no longer to be seen. Her heart thumped slightly. She tiptoed deftly into the side room and peered inside. Ze Yin had his waist bent, rummaging through a pile of random old objects.
“What are you looking for?” She whispered.
Ze Yin stiffened. Quite a bit of time passed before he turned around and slowly straightened his back. In the moonlight, Yangfeng clearly saw his eyes.
They were eyes full of spirit.
But when those eyes display such liveliness, it meant their owner had made a very important decision.
A decision that could not be changed.
Yangfeng remembered the year Ze Yin –the King of Bei Mo’s messenger at the time- was sent to pay his regards to Gui Le. They met at Prince He Su’s Residence. She played a piece and raised her delicate hands to lift the curtain a little. In that moment, she had seen the very same expression.
Yangfeng’s heart felt like it was being hurled out.
After that, Ze Yin explained that he had decided that even if he offended the entire Royal House of Gui Le, he would marry her.
He wasn’t particularly handsome and compared to the Marquess of Jing-An, he was not quite a romantic either. But he had black yet shining eyes, as if everything seen was taken to note and as if nothing in the world could make him hesitate.
“Husband, what are you looking for?” Yangfeng softly asked once more. Her heart ached with assumption and bewilderment as she carefully stepped closer so she could see Ze Yin’s face better.
“I didn’t find anything.” Ze Yin’s firm expressions flickered slightly before Yangfeng’s direct gaze.
As Yangfeng gazed, she noted his rough hands had unobtrusively been clenched into fists. Yangefeng quietly watched him. She seemed to have penetrated his heart, gaining insight on every single secret.
They had been husband and wife for several years now, from escaping the King of Gui Le’s side to seclusion to leaving the mountains into the Battle of Kanbu and back to seclusion…
The way to today had been a long journey. Now they had Qing’er. When they made the oath to live in seclusion forever, they had really thought they’d be able to keep it.
One was one of Gui Le’s two famous qin players, the other was the Main General of Bei Mo. All of their past glory. They thought they casted everything behind, but once again fate swirled.
Only today, after this mutual staring under the moon, did they come to understand everything about the truly brief moment of time they had spent together.
“The box on the left,” Yangfeng faintly replied.
“Your sword, it’s in the box on the left.”
Staring at his feminine wife, Ze Yin’s eyes suddenly began to heat up.
Slender fingers came over his mouth, stopping him. Yangfeng studied him closely as if watching him a lifetime wasn’t enough, as if never having a good look at his face.
“It’s good, Qing’er looks like you. His father…is a hero then.” Yangfeng snuggled into her husband’s warm chest, trying to feel his breath. She hardened her heart, straightened her back before turning away. “I’ll wait for you.”
She gritted her teeth and went out of the small room. She returned to the bedroom and sat down on the side of the bed. Her legs felt they could never find strength to move any more.
She wasn’t tired. She just dazedly sat there. She sat, just like that, in the night like a stone statue.
She heard the sound of faint footsteps from outside the room. The sounds came closer and closer, each step pressing down uneasily at her heart until they could no longer be heard. Her mind began to spin with several memories. She continued to sit still as the moon leisurely sank and the sun slowly began to climb, the orange-red light revealing her tear-stained face.
“Yangfeng, it’s time to get up.” Pingting opened the curtain and saw Yangfeng’s back. She was momentarily surprised before turning to see the empty bed. “Where’s Ze Yin?” Her voice suddenly drifted.
“He left?” Pingting came a little closer. Yangfeng’s expression confirmed her suspicions. “Oh god…” Pingting took a deep breath of cold air, “Why didn’t you stop him? Did you make him swear to stay with you in the secluded residence? Didn’t you want him to not bother with that kind of thing anymore?”
Yangfeng turned to look at her. She looked devastated as she studied Pingting for a while. It seemed to make her a little more awake. She faintly smiled. “I have never liked him fighting wars to kill because it was all someone else’s thoughts. He fought for power, protecting the throne while the King of Bei Mo used him as a tool for murder, a doll with a sword. But I let him pick up the sword now because he did so for himself.” The morning breeze flickered past Yangfeng’s face, gently blowing her gentle fringe. “It’s something he wants to do. No one forced him, no begged him. It’s something he whole-heartedly wanted to do. I mustn’t stop him.”
Although her words were quite vague, Pingting understood. She sighed, “Then what about you and Qing’er?”
“Qing’er and I will live properly. He will be like his father, living according the way he wants to live.” Yangfeng grinned at Pingting. Her beauty was quite thrilling.
The sound of laughing came from outside. The two children had woken up. The wet nurse hurried and hugged one to feed him porridge.
Pingting accompanied Yangfeng for half the day before leaving quietly out the door. The sun began to lower while Changxiao and Ze Qing weaved in and out of the haystack, laughing without stop.
“Da…Daddy…” At night, Ze Qing strained his neck to look for the familiar figure.
Ze Qing habitually nodded, even when he didn’t understand anything at all. Not long later, he started rummaging around, wanting to find his hidden daddy. Changxiao also appeared out of nowhere and started to help.
The harsh militaries piled on, one after the other. Rice jars were gradually emptied. Perhaps in another ten days, the children wouldn’t have enough to eat.
Weiting lied on the bed, unable to move. When he was told that Ze Yin left, he summoned all his strength to nod but didn’t say anything else.
Like that, a few days passed. The army of Yun Chang’s behaviour suddenly turned and the higher-ups issued another order, saying to track down defeated Bei Mo soldiers. Each one caught would receive a large bounty and those who protected them would be punished.
The soldiers hurried here and back. Every time they would send the entire village’s hearts into turmoil. Everyone lived in fear.
Yangfeng and Pingting both began to worry for Ze Yin.