Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol03 Ch59
After Dong Lin’s capital was captured, He Xia sent soldiers to hunt down the remnants of the Royal House and generals. On the other hand, he ordered the Royal Residence of Dong Lin to be burned.
Thanks to the dancing fire torches of the Yun Chang soldiers, the capital of Dong Lin was enveloped by thick smoke while the bright flames in the Royal Residence dyed half the sky red.
“Royal Residence…the Royal Residence!” The peasants who remained in the capital raised their heads, their faces completely stained with tears as they watched the fire’s sparks and the sharp blades.
He Xia’s command to fiercely attack the remaining soldiers wasn’t just to vent anger. It was costly to sustain such a huge army. No country had ever had such a vast territory, so he had to press on quickly and decisively.
To destroy a country, one must first destroy its citizens’ confidence and trust.
The Royal Residence was burned down to flat pieces on the ground by the Yun Chang soldiers. To Dong Lin’s lucky survivors, it meant their confidence was disintegrating.
After all, it was a symbol of centuries of the Royal House that completely disappeared in a fire. To all citizens of Dong Lin, this was the final punch to their overburdened hearts.
The Duke of Zhen-Bei that had given them such a strong sense of security was missing so who did they have to pin their hopes on?
The bad news seemed to have grown wings, flying through to every corner of Dong Lin, making the trapped Dong Lin people even more desperate.
“King, what should we do?” The news travelled from a faraway place to where the remaining soldiers were reporting to the stiffly seated Queen.
More than half of the country’s land had been lost. The peasants had lost their homes while the Royal Residence was in ashes.
How did the once mighty Dong Lin fall to such a situation?
General Chen Mu had been killed in battle while Moran and Luoshang desperately protected her as she left the capital. Behind them, the sounds of killing shook the skies while the soldiers’ blood splattered over her adorned clothes.
Only then did she realise that the famous general Duke of Zhen-Bei was a treasure beyond gold. No wonder when the Dong Lin warriors mentioned the Duke of Zhen-Bei, their faces would reveal a delighted and proud look.
She was no longer a lady nestled safely deep in her residence. Now, she wore rough clothing, all excess magnificence removed. She was protected by the few remaining warriors of Dong Lin as she hid in remote wastelands or forests, avoiding the army of Yun Chang’s pursuits.
In the heavy darkness and anxiety for the future, the Queen often recalled the past.
Back then, Dong Lin held such power. The army was best adapted for war in the four countries, having the King and the Duke of Zhen-Bei.
Where did the bad fortune start?
“Bai Pingting…” The name formed in the Queen’s mouth. She spat it out, the name that no one could ever let go of.
Bai Pingting made a move in Bei Mo, letting He Xia have a chance to intercept.
That day the famous Marquess of Jing-An, and later the Prince Consort of Yun Chang, conspired with the King of Bei Mo to poison her two underaged sons to death. It all foreshadowed the unfortunate state of today’s Dong Lin.
The death of the princes caused Chu Beijie and Bai Pingting to suspect each other, but at the same time it may had them love each other more deeply.
When their love became deeper, the army of Yun Chang and Bei Mo arrived.
The Queen’s heart froze. Had the Prince Consort of Yun Chang planned this chain of deadly traps that led her country to its demise?
Step by step, he made Chu Beijie lose Bai Pingting, made Dong Lin lose Chu Beijie and finally, removed all traces of Dong Lin off the map…
“Madam! Madam!” The sounds of yelling and hurried footsteps were heard. The simple carriage window flap was lifted, revealing Luoshang’s extremely frantic expression. “We’ve found traces of the Yun Chang army in front, they seem to be heading this way. Madam, we must evacuate immediately. Hurry! Hurry!” He gasped for breath as he spoke.
A feeling exhaustion ripped through the Queen, but she could not allow herself to be captured because she was the Queen, the sole symbol of Dong Lin’s Royal House.
The Queen clenched her teeth and slowly got up.
“The horse has already been prepared. Please immediately get on the horse, Madam. Moran will take some people to block for a while and will then hurry to meet up with us.”
The Queen got onto the horse.
Domineering figures filled the horizon. The Yun Chang’s calvary surged forwards.
Luoshang got on behind as a defending soldier. He whipped the horse and urgently pressed forward to escape into the night.
Dear Pingting, if your soul is in heaven, please open your eyes to look at this messy world.
I’m willing to exchange all of the misfortunes you suffered for ten reincarnations of misfortune.
But please have mercy on us. For all these innocent peasants, return the Duke of Zhen-Bei to us.
He is this world’s one and only hope.
In a small remote village of Bei Mo, the day smelled a bit different than usual. It was quite strange.
“Want to listen to a story?”
“Listen to a story?”
“Outside…on the hillside…path…came a storyteller.”
Everyone was whispering and would look around nervously from time to time, as if afraid that an armed Yun Chang soldier would suddenly emerge from the ground.
But everyone hid secrets and they all vaguely knew that this was no ordinary storyteller that spoke for fun. With slight expectation, they couldn’t resist checking it out.
In such a suffocating troubled time, people needed a little bit of anticipation.
In the evening, a figure appeared on the hillside. At first there was just one but then another and another, carefully walking over. Gradually, even pairs and small groups of three began to arrive at a time.
Their faces carried fear, deeply afraid of being caught, but when they suddenly saw an acquaintance, their eyes would reveal the flickering light of surprise and following that, encouragement.
They had all gathered by the little patch of darkening grass and due to the obscured moon, they struggled to see. They vaguely made out the figures. There weren’t just of men but women too.
“Ah, don’t squeeze in.”
“A-Han, you’re here too?” Another familiar fellow villager whispered.
The sound of A-Han’s doting laugh was heard in the darkness. “Of course, my wife is here too.”
Someone hushed them. “Be quiet, the story is about to be told…”
Instantly it quietened down.
This was a fantastic storyteller. The storyteller sat on the grass. The crowd could only make out the outline of his body in the dim light as they waited eagerly and impatiently for the storyteller to begin, but no one spoke a word.
The storyteller cleared his throat. His voice was low and spoke in measured tones. Although it wasn’t pleasant to the ear, it gave people energy.
“My fellow villagers, today I am going to tell you a story. I’ll say this first that the events in this story happened not long ago and is a real incident. Those vicious Yun Chang people don’t want to let other people know but we storytellers of Bei Mo who have lost their homes have heard of it. We have made it into a story and have been telling it in every direction. I know these days storytellers are executed every day, but storytellers are in endless supply. Once one has told to ten, ten will tell to another hundred. I’m not afraid of death and I am the same as the other executed storytellers. I just want all of Bei Mo’s people to know of this story…”
In the darkness, the storyteller paused. He seemed to be collecting his thoughts together.
For some reason, the entire audience held back their breaths to keep silent, regardless of their usual rude, timid or indifferent personalities. They all seemed to know that they were about to hear some thrilling news.
“Our bitter life is all caused by a demon. This demon is called He Xia. He used to be Gui Le’s Marquess of Jing-An and later the Prince Consort of Yun Chang. He was the one who killed our King during a banquet by poison, forced us to give up our grain, stole our horses, cattle & sheep and killed our loved ones. Our Main General Ruo Han led the army of Bei Mo to fight against him, but He Xia is a world-acclaimed general so Main General Ruo Han lost. Our Bei Mo army was defeated, which is akin to breaking the backbone of us Bei Mo people…”
When mentioning today’s tragic situation, everyone’s hearts fell, both furious and upset. They lowered their heads in sadness.
The storyteller’s tone was full of grief. Then he stopped, suddenly swapping to an excited tone. “But do you still remember our Main General Ze Yin? Back when he went into seclusion, Dong Lin’s Chu Beijie arrived. He came out of the mountains and pushed Chu Beijie back home. Now that He Xia has come to harm our Bei Mo, how could Main General Ze Yin just sit and watch? My fellow villagers, the Main General has come out of the mountains!”
A ripple gently stirred the crowd. Everyone was suddenly impacted with the face of hope, the darkness in their eyes began to lighten.
“Main General, we still have a Main General…”
“Main General, where is he? Where?”
“Hush, allow me to finish.” The entire crowd quietened with just a single word from the storyteller. Everyone was listening attentively again, “Main General Ze Yin is a general who can lead soldiers well. He knows Bei Mo’s military power can’t defeat Yun Chang’s, and direct confrontation will only result in harming the few remaining soldiers of Bei Mo. The Main General can’t do that. He said goodbye to his family and left the secluded residence. He knew He Xia was Yun Chang’s main advisor, and without He Xia, the Yun Chang army would collapse. The Main General thought for a long time and finally decided to write a personal letter of challenge to He Xia.”
The crowd gasped with an “Ah”, which seemed to be a woman’s voice.
The crowd were all anxious to hear the rest but A-Han wasn’t too anxious about it. “He Xia has so many soldiers so if they all attack together, the Main General would definitely lose.”
The storyteller replied, “No. Although He Xia is a demon, he is still a man with a rarely seen warrior’s spirit and expert swordsmanship. The Main General sent the challenge letter to let the other generals know of his move on purpose. If He Xia didn’t dare welcome the challenge or didn’t face it head-on, then the other generals would look down on him. The Main General noted this very point, He Xia’s high regard of himself.”
“Then did our Main General…defeat He Xia?” A person in the darkness nervously asked.
The storyteller sighed. His sigh made the silence even more suspenseful.
“It’s not easy. Although the Main General has fine swordsmanship, He Xia’s is very fine as well. In terms of outcome, He Xia had a slightly greater chance of winning.”
“Then…if there was no chance of winning all along, why did the Main General challenge him? Isn’t that suicidal?”
“Yes…suicidal.” This made the people who had guessed correctly sighed again. The storyteller lowered his voice, “Perhaps someone may have asked the Main General the very same thing. The Main General said back then, ‘If I kill He Xia by luck, than Bei Mo must be blessed but if He Xia isn’t killed and his life is ended, he will die a worthy death. Sigh…sigh…what a hero, our Bei Mo has our own hero…”
He shook his head as he sighed for while, but everyone else was still concerned about Ze Yin’s life or death. They impatiently asked, “Sir, please do tell us. What on earth were the results in that battle?”
“He lost.” The storyteller spat out these words, causing all of the people’s hearts to plummet. The storyteller sighed. “That day, the Main General set out alone with his horse and sword. He was to fight against He Xia, surrounded by Yun Chang’s generals and soldiers, all of them cheering for He Xia. The Main General understood that if he killed He Xia, he wouldn’t be able to survive. The two combat masters clashed, their swords rattling as they thought a hundred strikes against each other. In the end, He Xia’s swordsmanship emerged superior, aiming at a single gap, and the sword stabbed the Main General’s abdomen…”
“Oh god…” The crowd burst into shock, each seemingly feeling He Xia’s sword stab into themselves.
The storyteller didn’t care about the commotion amongst the crowd, simply remaining immersed in the scene that would forever be tragic. “The Main General was able to block this stab originally, but when He Xia lunged in, he didn’t resist him. He didn’t care whether he was near death or not, he went in to cut He Xia’s throat. He Xia was plenty powerful himself, so that was able to dodge, but our Main General’s final struggle is not easy to dodge. Although his sword didn’t cut off his head, it stabbed into his shoulder.”
The storyteller hesitated for a moment, as if recollecting the thrilling scene. He slowly yet securely continued, “The Main General’s abdomen was stabbed and he fell off his horse. He Xia sat on the horse, the wound on his shoulder bleeding profusely. Dear people of Bei Mo, you really ought to have seen He Xia’s expression at that moment, you really ought to. Seeing their main advisor hurt, Yun Chang’s soldiers paled in shock, hurrying forwards to bandage them for him. He Xia stopped them with a hand, lowered his head and asked our Main General, ‘Is this worth it?’ and did you know what Main General replied with?” He stopped.
The audience was silent and were so numbed they could no longer feel their own breathing. They could only feel that they were standing there, watching the authoritative He Xia looking down from the horse and the seriously wounded Main General Ze Yin on the ground yet still had his dauntless pride.
It was a while before anyone finally whispered a word. “Sir, how did the Main General reply?”
The storyteller’s head moved in the darkness as if faintly smiling. He sighed in both lament and admiration. “The Main General lifted his head, smiled at He Xia as he said, ‘It’s worth it. Because from now on, all of Bei Mo’s people will know that He Xia is not that scary. He Xia can bleed, He Xia can be injured too. And there will definitely be a day when He Xia is defeated too.’”
His articulation was very clear, each word both slow and heavy. It entered everyone’s ears and entered everyone’s brain until it had seeped into everyone’s veins.
“My story is very short, this is the end of it. Let me drink some water, I still have to hurry to the next village.” He fumbled for a water jug by his feet and lifted it to his lips, drank. He then said, “I heard this story from someone else as well and that someone else heard from someone else too. I don’t know how it originated but we all know that it is true. As long as all of you listen to this story and keep it close to your heart, the Main General’s bloodshed was not in vain. Don’t forget, we still have Main General Ruo Han. Although we don’t know where he is right now, sooner or later, he will be like Main General He Xia and oppose He Xia once more.
He struggled up from the ground, grabbing onto his walking stick.
“Sir…” someone called, “What happened to Main General Ze Yin in the end? Did He Xia kill him?”
The storyteller shook his head. “Who knows? This story is passed on from person to person. I can only pass on what I have heard to you.” He continued onwards.
From now on, all of Bei Mo’s people knew that He Xia wasn’t scary.
He Xia could bleed.
He Xia could be injured too.
And there would definitely be a day when He Xia was defeated too.
“Will Main General Ruo Han come back to lead soldiers?”
“Can we defeat He Xia? He’s a widely acclaimed general after all.”
“Even if we lose, so what?”
Tiny flickers of light seemed to be hidden in the audience’s crowd. They parted in small groups, until two slender and delicate figures remained behind, quietly standing in their place.
“He’s still alive.” Yangfeng stood silently for a very long time, stressing each syllable. “He must be alive, alive so he can wait for He Xia to bleed again, be injured. Alive so that he can see the day when He Xia is defeated.” In just a single phrase, her tears began to fall silently and quietly fall.
Pingting reached out a hand to hold onto Yangfeng’s cold and trembling hand.
She didn’t speak.
She was unable to comfort her. She was incompetent at comforting, mainly because Yangfeng was stronger than her. She knew Ze Yin better and understood how to love better.
Two famous generals existed under the heavens. One of them belonged to Yun Chang, the other to Dong Lin.
But Bei Mo didn’t quite have nothing.
Bei Mo had heroes, good men, hot-blooded youths, and unyielding persistence.
Not just Ze Yin, they had many, many, normal Bei Mo people.
The next day, the news was spread about fifteen miles ahead of the village. The corpse of the storyteller was found, cut into random pieces by sword. The white-haired head had been hung on a trunk, warning all the Bei Mo people who passed on the rumours.
A-Han and a few of the young men in the villagers took advantage of the cover from the night’s darkness to steal back his head. They quietly buried it on the hillside outside of the village.
They did not give him a grave, just a cup of yellow mud. Surprisingly, quite a lot of people went to pay their respects to this storyteller whose name was never known.
Among them included Pingting and Yangfeng who took their underaged children too.
It was an autumn day for harvest. The fruit was ripe, the horses were strong, and the sheep were fat.
In insecurity, the common person would unfortunately experience murder, tyranny and opportunity, but at the same time, they also had the opportunity to experience passion and heroic spirits.
After returning from the service, Pingting strode into the room. Without hesitation, she grabbed the sword “Divine Soul” off the wall.
“I don’t want you to go out of the mountains for me.” Yangfeng reached out to stop her, her eyes so red they seemed ready to cry tears of blood. Her expression however were resolute, “Pingting, don’t do anything for others, forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do.”
“It’s not for you. It’s for me.” Pingting held the sword in her arms as she slowly turned around, her gaze flickering across her surroundings. She stressed each syllable, “I am going to give up on the stupid resentment and go look for my beloved man, my child’s father. I want him to love me, protect me, let my child and me to never be bullied or to be forced, so that we will never have to witness such tragedy again.”
Her elegant lips lifted ever so slightly, revealing a beautifully confident smile.
“Yangfeng, I’m just like Ze Yin. This is something I whole-heartedly want to do; this is what my heart wants me to do.” She looked for A-Han, “Mister, you still have a horse hidden right? Could you please lend it to me?”
“Madam Pingting, what do you want the horse for?”
Pingting hugged the sword tighter to herself as she laughed softly. “I want to look for a person, a man who can defeat He Xia. This journey will be very long, that’s why I need your horse. Also, please help Yangfeng to look after my Changxiao.”
Yangfeng saw her good friend’s weak figure and couldn’t bear the heavy pain in her heart. She secretly wiped away her tears, forcefully trying to act calm as she said, “Will you be fine by yourself, amongst all these frenzied soldiers? Where will you go to find the Duke of Zhen Bei who has been missing for so long already?”
“Don’t worry.” Pingting rolled her crystal-like eyes, using her best voice to strongly reply, “I will definitely find him if he is still alive.”
The peasants of Yun Chang’s capital welcomed the glorious return of their Prince Consort with a grand ceremony.
He Xia rode on the leading horse while receiving the cheers of the crowd. Fei Zhaoxing gathered his reins and rode towards him. He didn’t dare ride beside He Xia, so he remained half a horse behind as he whispered, “Prince Consort, once you enter the capital, will you first go to the Royal Residence?”
He Xia shook his head, coldly replying, “What need is there to go to the Royal Residence when Dongzhuo is already waiting for us at the Prince Consort Residence?”
Once he entered the Prince Consort Residence, Dongzhuo was indeed waiting for them inside. He Xia’s power was at its height and Dongzhuo rose up correspondingly. He was practically the manager of all affairs in Yun Chang’s capital now.
He Xia, Fei Zhaoxing and Dongzhuo entered the office. There were no other Yun Chang officials, so they could speak without fear.
He Xia asked, “What have the officials been saying?”
“Yun Chang’s officials are temporarily stable, but they are still very grateful towards the Royal House of Yun Chang.” Because Dongzhuo stayed behind in the capital to monitor the situation, he knew the officials’ actions like the back of his hand.
Fei Zhaoxing said, “It’s against Yun Chang’s law for the Marquess of Jing-An to become king. No matter how many achievements the Marquess of Jing-An gains, he will never have the blood of Yun Chang’s Royal House.”
“I’ve ventured on this topic with some of the most respected officials. With their attitude, they’re not too much in favour of establishing a new country or electing a new king,” said Dongzhuo.
He Xia’s expression was unhappy. He sneered. “They’re quite cunning. Several hundred thousands of soldiers are in my hands. If they dare interfere with me, they’ll repeat Gui Changqing’s mistakes.”
“The army’s generals are also deeply in favour with Yun Chang’s Royal House. I’m afraid Marquess won’t get much support on that.” Fei Zhaoxing then comforted, “This isn’t actually that hard, they’re just an interfering bunch of loyal minions. As long as the Royal House disappears, they’ll be without support and will immediately allege Marquess. By then, no one would object to a new king succeeding the throne. Country names and titles can be revamped after that.”
Dongzhuo listened to Fei Zhaoxing’s suggestion and was rather surprised that he meant to get rid of the Princess. He didn’t feel much for the Royal House of Yun Chang, but Yaotian treated He Xia like no other. Killing her wasn’t quite fair and his expression slightly changed. He lowered his voice, “The Princess has already been told to stay in the Royal Residence and won’t pose any threat to us. Why do we have to be so ruthless and kill her? Not to mention, she has Master’s flesh and blood in her belly.”
Fei Zhaoxing had the skills to see through the civil strife brimming back in Gui Le. He knew inside details and always talked on the best interests of men. He explained, “As long as there are women, why can’t you have children? It seems that the Marquess of Jing-An is very glorious indeed, but his footing isn’t stable. He has to succeed the throne and set titles before…”
“Zhaoxing,” He Xia held up a hand as he stood by the winter. The start of day had begun. He lowered his voice, “Let’s not argue first. You’ve just returned, so go rest first.”
Fei Zhaoxing was slightly surprised. He glanced at the uncomfortable Dongzhuo and graciously replied, “Fei Zhaoxing shall retire first then.”
He Xia sighed after waiting for Fei Zhaoxing to walk out of the room. He called, “Dongzhuo, you’ve been with me since childhood, so feel free to speak.”
Although Dongzhuo remained in the capital during He Xia’s army’s expedition to all four corners. He heard rumours of the Yun Chang army’s various action and collected a whole stomach load full of words. He wanted to tell them to He Xia when he returned. He wanted to spit it all out, but after He Xia’s question, Dongzhuo’s heart stumbled.
He had grown up in the Jing-An Ducal Residence since young and watched his Master become a criminal pursued by everyone, a genius fallen out of the heaven’s favour. He watched his Master meticulously orchestrate on becoming the Prince Consort of Yun Chang, yet was oppressed by Yun Chang’s government till the point he couldn’t lift his head. He watched him rage and turn the tables in a single assembly, every injustice paid back thrice.
Ups and downs, stumbling. The general who the world feared stood before his eyes. He experienced a very bumpy road and Dongzhuo understood that the most.
Perhaps it was because he had every possible hardship, been hurt too much that He Xia’s tactics today were increasingly violent and vicious, causing even Dongzhuo to be deeply chilled from within.
Dongzhuo raised his head to look at He Xia.
His Master’s figure was handsome, but it felt further and further away, hazy. It was as if dense white mist floated between the two people, pulling apart their distance before their eyes.
“Master,” Dongzhuo’s voice was slightly pleading, “Please forgive and forget. The Gui family got what they deserved, but the Princess is different. Does Master really not have any feeling towards the Princess in his heart?”
He Xia stiffened. He was silent after hearing Dongzhuo’s words. The cruelty in his handsome face disappeared bit by bit, causing his expression to look a little bit softer.
At that moment, he seemed to be the passionately romantic He Xia in the Jing-An Ducal Residence again.
“In a world of politics and power, where does feeling dwell in?” He turned to look at Dongzhuo who he trusted the most. He Xia, a famous general who had never lost a battle and always pleased of himself, had a bitter smile with a hint of helplessness. “Dongzhuo, you’ve been with me for more than ten years now. Have I always been such a heartless person?”
There was none above him but one. Just a single moving illusion.
The Jing-An Ducal Residence had held military power, a prominent family, but just one Order from the King of Gui Le was enough to destroy all of it and bring his family to ruin and death.
What point was a Prince Consort? Yaotian was a weak woman who didn’t understand military affairs. He actually dared ignore his painstaking efforts by casually dissolving the imminent war between Dong Lin and Yun Chang.
And he had already lost Pingting’s smile and her qin sound. When returning home, he could only see an empty, lonely residence.
He’d had enough punishments…
He Xia closed his two eyes, covering up all of the fatigue and helplessness he felt.