Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol03 Ch73
The suddened rumbling in the air travelled into Fanlu’s ears.
“Strange,” Fanlu looked up, staring at the small black spot in the sky, “This kind of circling is typically a result of breeding falcons. Why would it suddenly fly over us?”
Pingting followed his gaze and looked up. She clearly saw the rather restless falcon high up in the sky and frowned, “When the Duke came to Qierou, he arranged a small squad to stay behind at the border between Yun Chang and Bei Mo to keep an eye out on enemy movement. Their captain owned an old falcon. Could that be his? Why did he fly here?” Hearing the falcon’s unceasing caws, it seemed that there was something urgent. She hurried into the room and grabbed the falcon bell Chu Beijie left behind. She shook it, and the sound of bells were heard continuously under the eagle.
This bell was one the falcon’s owner gave to Chu Beijie specifically to pass on messages. When the falcon heard the bell sound, it would know it had found the right place. With another long caw, it plummeted down.
Fanlu’s eyes were quick. He snatched the bell from Pingting’s hand and threw it onto the stone table. That falcon was already in sight and considerately sheathed its wings. It firmly stopped on the stone table, grasping tightly onto the bell.
There was a small piece of cloth wrapped near the bell. Fanlu reached out to take it.
Zuiju was standing at a distance, urging, “Be careful you don’t get pecked at!”
Her words had yet to fall when the cloth was already in Fanlu’s hands. Fanlu smiled, “This falcon is more considerate than you. It won’t randomly peck at other people. Let me see the news it brings.” He opened the cloth, his expression suddenly changing.
Fanlu had interacted with him for a long time, but this was the first time she’d seen such an ugly expression on his face. She hurriedly asked, “What’s wrong?”
“He Xia has already led two regiments to attack Qierou.”
“Ah!” Zuiju cried in panic, hurriedly muffling her mouth with her hand. She looked at Pingting.
At Fanlu’s words, Pingting’s face was drained of colour. She too, abruptly stood up, her body shaking to and fro for a bit. She asked, “Which two regiments? When will they arrive in Qierou?”
Fanlu bitterly smiled, “How do I know? The cloth only says that much. But looking at this sloppy writing, the situation must be very urgent.”
Zuiju urged, “He Xia’s arrival will be terrible. Has Miss got any good plans? Oh gosh, why did the Duke choose today to leave?”
Pingting shook her head, “It’s good that he left today.” Her voice trailed off in the end.
Fanlu gravely said, “You must immediately leave. I will withstand here and try to detain He Xia as long as possible.”
His expression showed the colour of rare generosity.
Zuiju was in extreme panic and almost cried out.
Pingting thought for a few moments, abruptly raising her head. She made her choice right there, “Complete withdrawal immediately. If he is rushing towards Qierou, then he must know everything already. His sword will come down on you without waiting for a single word.”
Huo Yunan and the others hurriedly arrived. Hearing Pingting’s words, Huo Yunan asked, “It can’t be that dire, could it? The falcon is much faster than the army, so there should still be time. We can wait until the Duke returns, so the planning can be more assured.”
Pingting resolutely shook her head. “No, we must immediately pull out of Qierou. Fanlu, you think of a way to reach out to all of our people in the city. No need to assemble, we must immediately leave the city and flee in the direction of the Shuitai Regiment.”
Fanlu frowned, “We still don’t know whether Qing Tian’s side is going well. What if he refuses to join us and leads his troops to support He Xia. If we bump into the Shuitai Regiment on the way, won’t that be falling right into our deaths?”
Pingting sighed, “He Xia is leading two whole regiments here, while we only have a mere thousand. If the Duke can’t successfully win the Shuitai Regiment in time, our deaths are certain. If the Shuitai Regiment joins the Duke and we can meet up with them, then we still have a chance at living.”
She understood the situation well, and her few words were enough to portray a thorough analysis. The people immediately saw the situation before them was very grim, and their hearts sank. They didn’t even bother packing up their luggage. They were ready to leave immediately.
Fanlu summoned several of his residence’s cabinet officers. He gave each of them a large amount of silver coins, affably instructing, “Today, I have a task for you to complete. Each of you are to write ten announcements and post them in conspicious places throughout the city. Complete this in half an hour, and I will then reward more silver to each of you.”
These cabinet officers never once held so much silver in their hands. They felt almost disorientated by their good fortune and bowed deeply. “What does Sir want us to announce? We will definitely write it beautifully.”
Fanlu’s eyebrows droop, “What rubbish! Who told you to write it beautifully? Quick, it must be done quick! On them, write the words—Hurry! Scram, go east! Just those four words and don’t ask what it means. Just do as I’ve instructed. Listen clearly, it must be completed in half an hour!”
Once his cabinet officers were shooed away, he hurriedly went out the back door. Zuiju and the others had brought the horses from the best stables. When she saw Fanlu, she immediately tossed some reins at him. Fanlu got on the horse and raised his voice, “Let’s go!”
The sound of hooves instantly thundered. The group of people rushed towards the city gates. The market was not active today, so the city gates closed earlier than usual. When Fanlu got to the foot of the city gates, he raised his head and shouted, “Open the gates! Hurry up and open the gates for me!”
When the city guards saw their governor yelling at them to open the gates, they immediately panicked and opened it. At that moment, the effect of the announcements of the cabinet officers seemed to kick in as many more people streamed out from inside the city on horses. These people were all Chu Beijie’s subordinates who snuck into Qierou, lying in wait. When the city gates opened, more than one hundred people had already materialised.
The city gates opened with a clack, revealing a gap that only allowed one person to open. Fanlu’s horse went out first but when he was just about to bolt outside, he was greeted by a sharp arrow breaking the wind. Fanlu’s head tilted to one side, the arrow flying past his face. With a thwack, it lodged itself on the gates.
Zuiju said, “Not good, they’re already here. Hurry up and close the door. Maybe we might be able to get some time.”
“No.” Pingting calmly said, “That was a hastily shot arrow, as they cannot fully eat us. While they’re still in the middle of their encirclement, we must go out fast. Fortunately, we are a bit faster than He Xia.” She smiled slightly.
At such a critical moment, her smile was even brighter than a shooting star.
Seeing her like that, everyone’s worries were unknowingly put to rest, their courage becoming stronger.
There had always been several thick shields of the soldiers guarding the city and Fanlu picked one up. He raised his voice, “Let’s charge!”
His limbs jolted as he bolted once more.
There were more arrows flying this time. They came in waves but as they were hastily done, they weren’t like the rows of strong arrows filling the sky on the battlefield. This meant Pingting was right, and Fanlu was secretly delighted since they were only tiny squads that arrived. He raised his shield, blocking off the arrows one by one. By then, the city gates was fully opened, and the people behind Fanlu followed suite, getting a thick shield to protect their body. Those who didn’t have shields hid behind those who did and small battle arrays were formed, tightly surrounding Pingting, Zuiju and Huo Yunan, as they collectively fought their way out.
They frantically crossed the huge empty space in front and could already see their enemies. They seemed to reach the outskirts of Qierou city, only amounting to one hundred men or so. They didn’t have any more people than Pingting and the others had. Most of them were archers anyhow.
Fanlu shouted, threw away his thick sword, and pulled out his long sword from his waist. He started stabbing the moment he withdrew his weapon. The people behind him had also arrived. All of them were elites Chu Beijie carefully chose so all of sudden the glints of swords appeared. War began.
Fanlu’s swordsmanship wasn’t particularly good, but he was very fast and his opponents weren’t particularly good swordsman either. There were several continuous screams before a few enemies tumbled off their horses, bloodsoaked.
Pingting was afraid he’d be hurt and urged, “Fanlu, don’t try to fight. Run!”
Fanlu knew her good intentions, but he knew that despite the archers being cowards up close, if they ran, it wouldn’t be funny when they shoot from behind. He shouted, “You go run, I’ll butcher these people before catching up.”
He just finished dealing with an enemy who flung away.
The sound of a horn began to vibrate. Although it was low and somewhat far away, it seemed to be right next to everyone’s ear, its vibration directly jolting into their hearts.
Pingting paled and said, “Damn! The army has arrived! Scram!”
Everyone knew He Xia had arrived, and their hearts went cold. About ninety percent of these early squads were killed. They gathered their reigns and bolted for the east. Pingting brought the whip down to reach full speed. She then had time to look back, seeing a thick dust rolling in the distance behind them. Tens of thousands of soldiers were treading through the earth towards them.
The battle cries were truly earth shattering. They were catching up to them from behind.
Master, Master had caught up…
No, it was He Xia.
The He Xia who killed Yaotian. The He Xia who killed the King of Bei Mo. The He Xia who killed the Royal House of Gui Le.
The earth was about to be pierced by the thudding.
The wind howled, and the sand lunged. The waves of raining burst out with successive whooshes, causing the several powerful men tightly protecting around Pingting to fall off their horses.
Zuiju cried in panic.
Pingting shouted, “Don’t look! Run forwards!” She fiercely slapped Zuiju’s horse.
Every time the rain of arrows fell, there were always a number of guards falling down. Every drop of blood that was lost became the way to survival for the remaining people.
The horses that were struck screamed and hung around the corpse of their dead master. They were too frightened to gallop on and would eventually fall under the never-ending array of arrows.
The horn’s rumble seemed to extend from the ends of the world, tearing at the people’s heart and lungs.
The arrows behind them fell like pouring rain, and the condition was brutally fierce. Only a dozen people remained to guard Pingting, compared to the hundred at the beginning. They have yet to reach the small hill before their eyes.
But it seemed like the hooves that came from hell, getting closer and closer towards them.
Fresh blood constantly splattered near Pingting as the guards were struck by the sharp arrows. The hot liquid would draw numerous beautiful arcs in the air.
Marquess of Jing-An, why?
How many souls have you buried between heaven and earth? Where is your gentleness, your romanticness, and your carefree smile of the past buried?
For what reason are you seizing these blood-filled mountains and rivers?
The wind stung at her eyes. The warm blood and apathetic world mixed into a strangely beautiful landscape. Pingting was in the midst of it, letting her tears mix into her sight.
Bei Mo, Dong Lin, Gui Le, Yun Chang…
He Su, Gui Changqing, Princess Yaotian…
How much fresh blood was fed to this country, to give birth to such breathtaking mountains and rivers?
“Ah…” A muffled sound came from behind again.
The sound of a person falling was heard, another passionate man to forever remain on this patch of land.
It was only a while before only four or five people remained behind Pingting.
Huo Yunan was the oldest, so Zuiju arranged the best horse for him. He didn’t fall behind the whole way. When Zuiju saw her Teacher was at the front, she was more at ease.
Fanlu was protecting Zuiju and Huo Yunan at first, but was terribly afraid Pingting would be harmed this time. He had fell beside Pingting from the front, murmuring, “I’ll protect you.”
Pingting shook her head, “Protect Zuiju.” Fanlu gave her look and Pingting raised her hand, whipping down on Fanlu’s left arm. She viciously said, “Protect Zuiju!”
At such a delay, the pursuing soldiers behind them got even closer. It felt like they were the tiny prey of crazed wolves.
They suddenly heard a gasp from Zuiju. The horse she was on had been struck. It painfully treaded forward a bit before abruptly rearing up. Zuiju didn’t hold on tightly enough and slid right off the horse’s back. She didn’t land though for Fanlu had already rushed forwards and gathered her in his arms.
Several arrows continuously came and Fanlu protected Zuiju with one hand while the other waved around his sword, knocking away the arrows heading towards Zuiju. He suddenly felt an immense pain on his back and knew he had been hit. He was afraid Zuiju would worry, so he clenched his teeth and didn’t make a sound of pain. He simply surged forwards again.
At that moment, the final guard protecting Pingting fell off his horse.
The situation was hopeless.
The pursuers from behind were gradually getting closer, and the one at the very front was He Xia in his red robe. The desperately escaping squad had been in formation, but his archers mowed them down, leaving a meagre number of survivors.
When the final guard fell, a familiar slender figure suddenly jumped into the corners of his eyes.
At that very moment, He Xia’s heart felt like it was tumbling.
Tumbling rapidly at high frequency, at violent amplitutes.
His mother carried in a young girl, smiling as she treaded through the snow.
“Look, what a liable baby girl. Her fate must be connected to the House of Jing-An.”
“Xia’er, do you know what is fate?”
What fate? Where was the House of Jing-An?
Where had the Marquess of Jing-An gone too?
He suddenly came back to his sense, only to realise that only an instant had passed. But the raining arrows weren’t there as the archers have stopped, waiting for his next command. “Why aren’t you shooting, who told you to stop?” He Xia thundered in anger.
He grabbed a large bow from one of his guards and clipped the bow onto the string, aiming at the front.
One of the people beside him pounced forwards, yelling, “Stop!” But He Xia was too fast and the arrow spun out of his hands once loosened. The loud sound of an arrow piercing the wind was heard.
The sharp arrowhead sliced the air, crossing the dampened bloody ground between the two forces, carrying the light sound of the wind with it.
The arrow left its string.
He shot it; he personally shot it.
He Xia watched that arrow fly forward, and although it was a short moment, time seemed to stop there. The fingers that shot the arrow felt numb. He felt a sort of emptiness like they didn’t belong to him. It felt like it wasn’t his heart either, but an ocean that could not accomodate his desolation that would severely hurt his limbs.
“For the last few years, we studied and played together, even learned how to fight and deal with horses together.”
“But I’m only an older brother to you, and you’re only a younger sister to me.”
“Back then, who said they wanted to find the best possible husband or else they would rather never marry and die a long death?”
But, it couldn’t be Chu Beijie…
Why, why did it have to be Chu Beijie?
That arrow directly flew towards Pingting’s back. Due to not having enough strength, it had already been weakened considerably by the time it reached her. Zuiju happened to be able to see it due to being in Fanlu’s arms. She was almost scared soulless. She hoarsely shouted, “Duck!”
Pingting heard this and ducked forward without hesitation. A cold arrow roared past her back.
She too, broke into cold sweat.
He Xia saw Pingting hadn’t been hit from afar. His heart slowed a bit, followed by intense rage. He brutally whipped down on Dongzhuo, yelling, “How dare you!”
“Master, that’s Pingting! That’s Pingting!” Dongzhuo pounced forwards, only hugging his thigh hanging on the girth. He promptly burst into tears.
He Xia raised his whip but lost some of his will to bring it back then. He looked up and saw Pingting and the others had pulled some distance away from the army again. He Xia’s foot twitched, kicking Dongzhuo aside. His voice was very cold, “I’ll punish you when I get back.” He unsheathed his sword, “Don’t shoot, just continue chasing! Catch them alive!”
The army thundered ‘yes’ as the earth-shattering sound of hooves began to rumble again.
Pingting and the others had no strength to run on. No matter how much they brought down their whips, their horses gradually slowed down. The thundering battle cries behind them were pressing on. The crowd could only grit their teeth, only hoping to get to the top of the hill.
Just as they reached the foot of the hill, Pingting’s horse neighed in pain. The horse before her knelt down. Pingting fell to the ground, rolling twice. She raised her head, the dust from the ground she distrubed billowed in front of her. In that haze of yellow dust, there was a very familiar face.
He Xia, the Marquess of Jing-An, the Prince Consort of Yun Chang, the tyrant who poisoned the four countries.
The once handsome, romantic person of even more unripe brilliance, now had a pair of pained eyes.
A lonely kind of pain, unable to find a way out of its suffering.
It was a kind of endlessly suffering pain.
Pingting was caught off guard by her tumble, but now she met the pain in the eyes of the man she had grown up with.
Just a simple raise of her head was enough to startle her.
It seemed that everything was nothing but simple. This way of concluding such chaotic times was just about right.
At that thought, Pingting couldn’t help faintly smile at him.
Ever since Pingting fell off her horse, He Xia’s eyes never left her. When he saw her smile, it felt like he was captured by magic. It caused all of the noisy battle screams around him to stop, dissipating it to clouds in the breeze.
He Xia stopped his horse.
As his horse stopped, the army behind him all stopped one by one. After a while, all of the horses and men silenced. Although they were splashing blood and their battle cries filled the sky, they were surprisingly quiet all of the sudden.
The entire world silenced.
Is that you?
Is the person before me the person I know?
Or have we forgotten what we used to look like?
Perhaps there was a hint of breeze between them, striding across the space between He Xia and Pingting’s gaze. It was like the autumn leavings falling onto the surface of the water, creating tiny circular ripples.
At this very short moment, sharp shouts pierced the quiet world.
“Pingting!” The deep, reassuring calls hid conquering confidence that rushed straight into everyone’s eardrums.
A single man and horse suddenly appeared at the top of the hillside. He seemed like the incarnate of a god. Before anyone else could react, he rushed towards Pingting at lightning speed.
Those sharp features had the power and influence to pressure others.
His black cloak fluttered in the wind like a pair of wings flying in the breeze behind him.
Chu Beijie arrived.
The Duke of Zhen-Bei arrived.
He Xia’s reaction was fast. At the sight of Chu Beijie, he slapped down on his horse towards Pingting. He unsheathed his sword but it had yet to reach Pingting when a bright white light flashed before his eyes. Chu Beijie’s Divine Spirit silently flickered forward. He Xia hurriedly brought back his own sword to block.
The two peerlessly precious swords clashed, almost causing sparks to flicker. At that moment, tens of thousands of flags with the characters for “Shuitai” from another place began to rise. Numerous soldiers and generals surged out from the other side of the hill like the head of the tide of a flood.
Qing Tian rode directly under the commander’s flag. His eyes held hot tears as he drew his sword and yelled, “My brothers, follow me! He Xia killed the Princess!”
“He Xia killed the Princess!”
“Avenge the Princess! Kill!”
The thousands of recovered elites shouted like angry beasts as they charged downwards. The two sides then hit each other like two surging floods, gradually integrating into a mass of red flesh and blood.
“Kill! Avenge! Avenge for the Princess!”
“He Xia killed the Princess!”
When He Xia saw the Shuitai Regiment appear behind Chu Beijie, he knew that it wasn’t good. He secretly cursed himself for not doing enough and not dealing with Qing Tian earlier. But it was already no use regretting at this stage as Chu Beijie’s Divine Spirit sword was like a shadow, piercing straight forward. When Chu Beijie saw Pingting on the ground, he became distressed and desperately fought. He Xia struggled to block several parries, causing several clangs, but he didn’t move even one step backward.
The soldiers around were in a mess, all desperately fighting.
In the glints of the swords, it was already impossible to distinguish anything.
This was the first time these two people confronted the other on the battlefield. The successive blows left their sword arms numbed. They couldn’t help pant as they studied each other, secretly sighing to themselves, No wonder he’s a famous general. It’s no exaggeration.
He Xia dodged a blow, smiling, “Duke of Zhen-Bei is skilled, to move one of my regiments. But I have two regiments here and so our numbers are twicefold. Why would you think you’ll win?”
Chu Beijie didn’t drop his guard either. His sword sliced horizontally which skimmed past He Xia’s right shoulder. His face seemed rather relaxed. He smiled as he answered with a question instead, “Does Marquess of Jing-An even have any soldiers? Of these tens of thousands of warriors, how many would be willing to give up their lives for you?”
This remark stabbed right at the wound in He Xia’s heart. He heard the Shuitai Regiment yell out Yaotian’s name and his heart began to feel waves of stinging pain, not to mention Chu Beijie was now ridiculing him about it. He scowled and said, “Take this.” His sword sprang out, but it had yet to reach Chu Beijie when it suddenly changed direction, directly heading towards Pingting who had fell to one side.
“How dare you!” Chu Beijie fumed, flying towards to protect her.
The corners of He Xia’s mouth rose into a faint smile as his sword turned again, this time heading towards Chu Beijie’s throat. Chu Beijie suddenly saw the sword appear before his eyes, but he wasn’t afraid. His Divine Spirit sword, although late, went in to stab He Xia’s swordhand like lightning. Even if He Xia managed to stab him, he would lose his right hand. There was no way He Xia would accept that, so he rapidly pulled his sword away.
The two people rallied. Although it all happened in a blink of the eye, their lives were at stake hence they were panting. He Xia came from afar, so he had much less time to physically rest compared to Chu Beijie. If he couldn’t think of a plan, there was no way he would win.
He knew Chu Beijie cared about Pingting. If she was in trouble, he would disregard his own safety to protect her. He Xia therefore aimed at this fatal weakness and tried to attack Pingting.
Chu Beijie didn’t have many days of long distance travel, so he was in his peak state. He could protect Pingting in the chaotic battlefield, and his imposing manner was as steady as a mountain.
He Xia blocked a few more times and began to show some fatigue. Chu Beijie felt like he was winning, causing him to slacken a bit. He didn’t expect He Xia to coldly smile and suddenly pounce forwards, kicking Chu Beijie hard in the shin. His left hand rummaged a bit and stealthily pulled out a gleaming knife, striking towards Pingting who was behind Chu Beijie.
Chu Beijie was dealing with the sword in his right hand when something flashed in the corners of his eyes, causing him to abruptly realise the knife in He Xia’s left hand. It was already too late to stop it as he urgently yelled, “Pingting!”
His heart sank.
Pingting had stayed behind Chu Beijie protectively and didn’t see the situation of his and He Xia’s parry. She happened to be craning her head too look when the knife blade appeared before her eyes. Her eyes followed the knife, looked up that hand, and looked right into the depths of He Xia’s eyes. Her expression was transparent and clear, no resentment at all.
A piece of He Xia’s heart felt like it was ripped off all of a sudden, causing his hands to unwittingly be slow. His expression was first lonely but then the twisted look of pain recovered.
“Master!” Pingting’s cry passed into his ear.
He Xia moved away a few steps and looked down to see himself. There was already a patch of fresh blood on his shoulders and chest. Only then did the severe pain began to spread.
Chu Beijie strode forwards until a figure beside them suddenly pounced forwards, blocking his way and started hacking. Chu Beijie readily blocked with his sword and was about to deal with this enemy in one go when Pingting suddenly rushed forwards to hug his arm, “No! Don’t kill Dongzhuo!”
Chu Beijie glanced at him and vaguely remembered the little brat that escaped from his Ducal Residence back then. He now wore the clothing of a general. He looked back at He Xia before getting back on his horse and heading into the fighting crowd.
He Xia endured the pain, riding away from Chu Beijie. He shouted, “Assemble! Listen to my orders, assemble in the west!”
It was He Xia’s mistake to not expect Chu Beijie to suddenly lead troops out, but He Xia had lots more military power than him. As long as they assembled and organised themselves a bit, it wasn’t hard to abolish the Shuitai Regiment.
Waves of pain swept from his chest and shoulder.
He Xia’s men were uncomfortably fighting until they heard He Xia’s orders. They passed on the message, “Assemble, west, in the west!”
They all collected themselves in the west.
The Shuitai Regiment had only recently recovered, not to mention they had two enemies to every one of them, so it was already a bit difficult for them to continue.
The two opposing troops gradually split into two flanks again.
Chu Beijie took advantage of this break to pull Pingting onto the horse. He hugged her, asking, “Are you hurt?”
Pingting seemed both hurt and not, but she shook her head anyway. She suddenly asked, “Is he hurt badly?”
Because He Xia had almost hurt Pingting, Chu Beijie hated He Xia so much he really wanted to hack him into thousands of pieces, but when he realised Pingting’s expression held a bit of sadness, he could only vaguely answer, “I don’t know. I hope he’s hurt rather badly.”
Qing Tian had also fought until he was soaked in blood. When he saw He Xia’s men had assembled again, he knew the situation wasn’t good. He hurriedly galloped out of the soldiers, asking Chu Beijie, “Duke of Zhen-Bei, what do we do? I’m afraid our troops won’t last.”
The corners of Chu Beijie’s mouths lifted ever so slightly. He had yet to speak when the sound of the horn came again. This time, it came from the west. Each of the seven regiments of Yun Chang had their own specific kind of horn. Qingtian quietly listened, his eyebrows rising in delight, “It’s the Yongxiao Regiment!”
He Xia also listened to the sound of the horn and was utterly shocked. “The Yongxiao Regiment?” He knew this regiment was mostly made up of people from Dong Lin and Bei Mo, impossible to use against Chu Beijie. That was why he didn’t order them to help out on the siege of Qierou. Arriving when not summoned was certainly not good news.
In the west, smoke billowed.
He vaguely made out the shapes of fluttering flags, and soldiers gushing out from the dense forest in the west like a colony of ants. Ze Yin was in high spirits. He was riding at the very front, leading the others out. From far away, he shouted, “He Xia, do you still remember me, Ze Yin?”
When Ze Yin said this, the Bei Mo soldiers in the Yongxiao Regiment broke into thundering cheers.
Who was still willing to be He Xia’s prisoner of war now that the general they likened to god appeared?
He Xia only just realised Ze Yin had escaped from his palm.
He Xia’s generals were all in panic, and they had their heads turned to him, waiting for his orders. He Xia’s expression wasn’t alarmed at all. He was so calm and rippleless as he sat on the horse. From the distance, he seemed like he had become a stone statue.
Moran rode up beside Ze Yin, raising his voice, “Soldiers, today, General Ze Yin is here, and the Duke of Zhen-Bei is on the other side. Don’t let go of He Xia!”
When the Dong Lin prisoners of war heard the Duke of Zhen-Bei’s name, they were so crazily delighted that they shook the long spears as if their lives depended on it.
The earth thundered.
By this time, both sides had about the same military force. The Yongxiao Regiment and Shuitai Regiment respectively took the west and east of He Xia’s troops. The south was Qierou City, leaving only the north unobstructed. The enemy had three famous generals, Dong Lin’s Duke of Zhen-Bei, Bei Mo’s Ze Yin, Yun Chang’s Qing Tian, and each of them were true warriors as well. On their side however, their only commander, the Marquess of Jing-An, was already been injured by Chu Beijie.
By then, even those who believed in He Xia the most couldn’t help feel a bit of fear.
He Xia’s hand clenched on the reins. Although his face was pale, his expression was surprisingly calm as his hand held his sword.
The lieutenant beside him lowered his voice, “Shall we kill and charge our way out?”
“Kill and charge?” At these words, He Xia’s eyes rolled a little. He laughed faintly, “Look north.”
The lieutenant turned to the northern direction. In the distance, he could see unusual movement. The soldiers were already in panic, but when they saw even more flags, they were immediately scared out of their wits. When the newcomers came a bit closer, the soldiers could see the hugest flag bore the words ‘Ting Army’.
It appeared that while Ruo Han was hiding in Bei Mo, he received the news about He Xia leading his troops back to his country a bit quicker than Chu Beijie and the others. He knew the situation wasn’t good and hurriedly led several thousands of men in the Ting army to rescue. They didn’t rest at all in the last few days and nights, finally arriving at this moment.
And as a result, He Xia’s army were suddenly surrounded, nowhere to run away.
Everyone looked scared.
The lieutenant urged, “Please make orders, Marquess of Jing-An. I’m afraid it won’t be good if we’re too late!”
It seemed that He Xia didn’t hear him. He continued gazing at the flutting flag in the distance. He mumbled, “Ting army…Ting army…so it was called Ting army.” He was extremely intelligent and knew who had decided the name from at his first guess, as well as where it came from. Thinking of how he didn’t actually slice down on Pingting in the end, his mouth revealed a very joyful smile. He then felt like the torn wounds in his heart became real, bringing a terrible pain. The injury Chu Beijie gave with just one slice of his sword could never be forcibly suppressed again.
He Xia slowly raised a hand to clutch onto his chest wound. A surge of hotness gushed through his fingertips.
The Marquess of Jing-An, who conquered the four countries and was at the peak of his life, fell off his horse.
“Master! Master!” Dongzhuo violently pounced out from the crowd, kneeling by He Xia’s side.
He had always been at one side, worrying about He Xia. He was afraid he would make He Xia angry again, causing his injury to worsen, so he didn’t dare to come closer until now.
When he saw He Xia, he realised that all of the blood that covered him was his, his breathing already in whisps. Although Dongzhuo hought an increasingly sense of unfamiliarity to He Xia, he never once expected to see him in such a state.
“Master? Master!” He called a few times, but when He Xia didn’t answer, Dongzhuo burst into pained tears.
With his tears, everyone knew the situation was hopeless.
Qierou City was behind them. They were surrounded by the other three directions. Not to mention, what were the odds when Chu Beijie was leading?
One person threw down the sword in their hand as a second followed suite.
The sounds of military swords falling onto the ground continued one after the other. Soon, all of He Xia’s men released their hold on their swords.
Who would want to die, when they could live?
Chu Beijie, with Pingting, slowly rode over. They were followed by Qing Tian, the other generals, and soldiers. The surrendered soldiers automatically parted for them to pass through like a wide boat cutting through the surface of the water.
Pingting saw He Xia lying on the ground, covered in blood. Her eyes wavered a bit. She struggled to dismount before creeping forward. Chu Beijie was afraid He Xia wasn’t dead yet, planning to harm her all of sudden. His eyes were locked onto her figure.
Dongzhuo was weeping in grief. When he saw a pair of embroidered shoes covered in dust, he looked up, tears in his eyes.
Pingting whispered, “Let me see, okay?”
Dongzhuo hesitated for a long time before finally going to one side.
Pingting slowly knelt down beside He Xia.
Under the blood of the setting sun, everything about reality seemed so cruel.
Her familiar face, ears, nose, mouth, hands that well-versed in appreciating the swordsmanship of Jing-An, and her familiar person was all quietly fading.
“Don’t move, just stand here. I’ll draw for you, it’s going to be pretty.”
That was the first thing He Xia had ever said to her.
Why did such a beautiful brush write such a desolate story?
Dear widely-acclaimed Marquess of Jing-An, the Marquess of Jing-An who almost became the master of the four countries, do you not feel any regret at all?
Like me, I regret the disappearance of innocent lives. I regret the blood that has flowed freely. I regret that I haven’t clutched tightly enough to every little bit of invaluable happiness I once held.
“Master? Master?” Pingting stroked He Xia’s face.
His handsome face, although dipped in blood, was still so pale.
He Xia’s mouth moved slightly. He slowly opened his eyes, but they were unfocused. He seemed to feel Pingting’s gentle hand stroking his cheek and managed to pull a faint smile, “You’re here?”
Just these two words were already enough to bring Pingting’s tears down like rain. She choked in reply, “I’m here, Master.”
It seemed He Xia couldn’t see anything. He just had blank eyes open. His breath paused a bit before he quietly replied, “Why are you calling me Master?” His voice was exceptionally gentle.
Pingting stiffened slightly.
He Xia’s smile grew even more, as if using his entire life to smile. He suddenly spoke again, “Princess, Princess, look. I’ve brought the Queen’s crown I promised…”
The Queen’s Crown, I promised you the Queen’s Crown. I have gotten the best craftsmen in the world, found the best jewels to create the Queen’s Crown for my wife.
Look, I have already gotten the four countries and finally know what its greatest use is for. That is, to win one of your faint and reserved smiles, like that one you gifted to me when you lifted the bead curtain.
I will sword dance for you, pin flowers in your hair for you.
I remember your waterfall-like hair, alluring as if enveloped by clouds of mists.
I remember you liked me praising your slender hands, so beautiful and flawless.
My wife, you will be the noblest woman in the world so from thereon no one will every dare bully you again.
I won’t ever let you cry again in that tiny, dark room.
“The Queen’s Crown, The Queen’s Crown…” He Xia softly mumbled.
His blood-stained hands trembled, trying to pull out the Queen’s Crown that didn’t exist from his sleeves. He struggled for a long time, still unable to summon the strength to reach inside.
Pingting knelt by one side, tightly holding onto his hand. It felt like if she let go, she would never be able to catch his life from being swept away by the wind.
He Xia’s empty eyes were shining with joy.
His lips still had the former elegant shape of the past, but it was just too pale, no hint of red. He struggled, gasping, “Princess, the Queen’s Crown…the Queen’s Crown…” He hesitated for a moment, his breath catching up when his eyes suddenly widened, and he raised his voice, asking, “Do you see it? See it?”
Pingting tightly covered her mouth with one hand, trying to hold back her tears. Her other hand held his rather cold hand. She choked out, “I see, I see it.”
He Xia deeply sighed in relief, his handsome face revealing a small smile. That was the gentle Marquess of Jing-An’s smile in the past, like a spring breeze.
He had used all of his remaining strength and struggled free of Pingting’s hand, slowly raising his hand. It seemed that he wanted to stroke the Princess’s eyes, but when he reached out only halfway, he no longer had any energy to continue.
He Xia reached out, putting the last trace of his strength into his trembling fingertips.
It felt like the distance between his fingertips and Yaotian’s gentle face was so far apart. He was willing to spend his entire lifetime to touch the other side.
But for him, his lifetime had already come to an end.
His fingertips shook and struggled for a long while before finally slumping down, limp.
Pingting was still kneeling. When He Xia closed his eyes for the final time, the final string she tucked away in the very depths of her heart felt like it had been gently broken by the sound of wind.
Dead. Master had died.
He was no longer the Marquess of Jing-An, no longer a famous general, no longer the demon king who’d poisoned the four countries. He was simply He Xia.
The He Xia who’d fallen in love with Yaotian, and the He Xia who had died while thinking of his wife.
Wealth and glory, life and death, power and fame, had nothing to do with him.
All sorts of past memories hurled towards her, but in the blink of an eye, everything seemed so empty and only thick darkness was left before her.
In the darkness, she felt like she saw He Xia’s piercing expression again.
His expression had once been bright, one that held laughter but then it turned into a pair of pained eyes. Yet in the final moment when his sight was lost, during that moment when he tried to grope for that nonexistent Queen’s Crown, happiness was mixed into them.
Her Master, at the very last moment before his death, knew his most beloved woman had once belonged to him, loved him.
It turned out he wasn’t always lonely. His flower-like wife, the one who was also the master of Yun Chang, the one who secretly ordered his death, once accompanied him. She had had once listen qin, watched dances, and sung to him once.
When he got everything, when he lost everything, when he used his life to pay the price, he finally came to understand.
What part of those sweet words of tenderness, those gentle expressions, that joy and delight that could make his heart flutter were fake?
The fireworks cleared.
Pingting was exhausted from her errosive grief and felt her entire body go limp.
She fell into a warm embrace.
That was Chu Beijie’s embrace.
Whenever, wherever, it would always make her heart feel at ease—