Translated with: Jia<3
Shen Zechuan had already gotten up before dawn the next day. The courtyard was a little chilly, so he put on a pure-white wide-sleeved outer robe and stood at the desk to look over Yao Wenyu’s prescription.
“His body has been weakened by poison.” Qiao Tianya held onto the teapot and brewed a cup of tea for Shen Zechuan. “It’s by no means an easy feat for him to have managed to preserve his life.”
Shen Zechuan held the teacup with both hands and said, “Given Xue Xiuzhuo’s style, he definitely went all out with the intent to kill.” His brows furrowed for a moment. “… Is there no hope for his legs?”
Qiao Tianya set the teapot down and put the lid on as he replied, “No.”
Shen Zechuan could not bring himself to continue drinking his tea, so he returned the teacup with the undrunk tea back onto the table. “What about his body? Now that he’s staying here, there’s no need to be stingy with the medicine; give him whatever the physician prescribes. Additionally, get a couple of meticulously attentive people to take care of him. We mustn’t be too poor of a host.”
Qiao Tianya fell silent for a few moments.
And so Shen Zechuan understood that Yao Wenyu’s body was a goner too. While they were conversing last night, Yao Wenyu had repeatedly been coughing out blood. He paused for a moment. “Is he awake? I’ll go pay him a visit.”
When Shen Zechuan arrived, he saw the maidservants all waiting in attendance under the eaves, silent as cicadas in cold weather. He put on his usual expression and lifted the bamboo blinds to enter. The lamps were not lit inside the room, giving off an unwarranted vibe of cheerlessness. It was quiet and still within. Shen Zechuan could only catch a vague glimpse of Yao Wenyu’s lonely back view.
As if sensing him, Yao Wenyu turned his head back partially and said through the hanging door curtain, “Vice Commander, please come in.”
It was only then Shen Zechuan lifted the curtain and bowed his head to enter. Qiao Tianya stood in the outer chamber on his own initiative, leaning against the wall as he listened to the chirps of the birds in the covered walkway.
“Autumn is about to fall in Cizhou, and the matter of Huaizhou has been on the Vice Commander’s mind lately.” Yao Wenyu was impeccably dressed. Although he was severely ill, he was still unwilling to present himself before the others all sloppily dressed. It was just that his legs were not in a good state, making it difficult for him to move around. Even though he tried his best to hide it, the bruises on his hands were still conspicuous.
Shen Zechuan did not seem to have seen it. He said, “This matter is indeed worrying. It’s inappropriate to go too early or too late. I’ve discussed it over with His Excellency Zhou for days, and we still have yet to reach a conclusion.”
Yao Wenyu gave a slight nod of his head. “There are two difficulties when it comes to the matter of Huaizhou. The first is Jiang Qingshan, and the second is Luoxia Pass’s checkpoint. If these two difficulties aren’t resolved, then it’ll be hard for the trade routes between Cizhou, Chazhou, and Huaizhou to come to fruition. But if you ask me, neither of these two issues is a tough one.”
Shen Zechuan listened with rapt attention.
Yao Wenyu looked at the new window screens made of gauze. The birds were chirping noisily outside. He coughed a few times. “When Xue Xiuzhuo held the post of Chief Supervising Secretary at the Office of Scrutiny for Revenue, he made the acquaintance of Jiang Qingshan. Both men collaborate for many years working as one. They not only made up for the deficit in Juexi’s tax money, but also turned the thirteen cities of Juexi into Dazhou’s granaries. It’s only when Jiang Qingshan assumes personal command of Juexi that he can ensure the integrity of Juexi’s governmental affairs, as well as prevent another major case like the Libei’s military provision case during the start of spring this year from happening again. In other words, Jiang Qingshan cannot leave Juexi. Xue Xiuzhuo will definitely transfer him back to Juexi and allow him to continue serving as the Provincial Administration Commissioner of Juexi, so the Vice Commander’s worry that he would be assigned north to Huaizhou is unfounded.”
Xue Xiuzhuo, having remained in the position of Chief Supervising Secretary at the Office of Scrutiny for Revenue for many years, had made plenty of field trips down to the local areas where he was hands-on with his duties. He could be said to be very well-acquainted with the political situations of the various regions. That was why he could conduct an audit into Hua Siqian’s accounts together with Hai Liangyi. But likewise, while Yao Wenyu had never served in the government, he was always wandering out there in the world all year round, and so he also had an overview of the political situation in the various areas, having observed them from the sidelines. Both of their identity and status were totally poles apart. Yet, they were more intimately aware of the commoners’ circumstances than those like Kong Qiu and Cen Yu, who had always resided in Qudu.
“As for Luoxia Pass.” Yao Wenyu withdrew his gaze. “Libei has already broken free of Qudu’s control. Luoxia Pass is the predecessor of the Libei Armored Cavalry, and the garrison troops stationed there are all old subordinates of the Prince of Libei, Xiao Fangxu. They have long been at odds with Qudu despite their seemingly united appearance. As far as the current situation is concerned, Zhongbo’s revival will only prove to be advantageous to Libei. Luoxia Pass will only be too eager to lend a helping hand; they would never obstruct the way willfully.”
As Yao Wenyu spoke, he started coughing again. Shen Zechuan spontaneously handed him a cup of tea. Yao Wenyu thanked him and continued, “The matter with Huaizhou is practically a done deal. All it takes is for Mister Chengfeng and His Excellency Yu to make a trip there. My belief is that the most crucial matter on hand for the Vice Commander is not in the north, but internally in Zhongbo. The two prefectures of Dunzhou and Duanzhou to the east can be discussed later, but Fanzhou must be taken down and secured with great haste.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The discussion went on until noon, when Fei Sheng came to deliver the medicine. It was only then Shen Zechuan stepped out. He looked around at the maidservants at the entrance. Finally, he said to Qiao Tianya, “There has been nothing much going on of late. Let Fei Sheng and Ding Tao tag along with me. You remain here and take care of Yuanzhuo.”
Fei Sheng initially thought that this task would fall to him, as Qiao Tianya was in charge of the guards and was an indispensable trusted subordinate of Shen Zechuan. He never expected Shen Zechuan to leave Qiao Tianya for Yao Wenyu this easily. But looking at it from another angle, this just illustrated how important Yao Wenyu was. With Qiao Tianya here, no one would dare to treat Yao Wenyu shabbily.
As for Shen Zechuan himself, there was another layer of consideration.
Yao Wenyu was a prideful and aloof man. Although his legs were broken, he was still a distinguished young master of Qudu. He would not allow himself to present a sorry sight before the others. He did not call for anyone to serve him this morning because he was unwilling to let anyone see him in his injured state. It was not suitable for Fei Sheng to take care of him, because Fei Sheng’s penchant for flattery and fawning would be self-defeating and make things awkward for all involved. In contrast, Qiao Tianya’s circumstances and lot in life were similar to Yao Wenyu’s. There were many areas that only Qiao Tianya could understand and relate to best.
Qiao Tianya made a sound of acknowledgment and stayed.
◈ ◈ ◈
As matters regarding Huaizhou still had to be discussed in detail with Zhou Gui, Shen Zechuan spent the next few days in Zhou Gui’s study. The advisors in Cizhou all wanted to catch a glimpse of Yao Wenyu in person, given his long-standing and well-acclaimed reputation, but Shen Zechuan declined all of their visiting cards on the grounds that the man himself had still yet to recover from his illness.
After Xiao Chiye received the letter, he turned back to call for Wu Ziyu and got him to find a military craftsman to head to Cizhou to craft a custom four-wheeled vehicle for Yao Wenyu.
Wu Ziyu had been with Xiao Chiye for a month, and his troops got along best with the Imperial Army, gradually bonding over a shared hatred for a common enemy. Since the soldiers from the combat battalions looked down on them, they would not suck up to said soldiers just to end up snubbed either. Each time the army provisions were delivered to the camps, someone would check them, and once the supplies were confirmed to be in good order, they would head back the same way to Bianbo camp, where they would then stand guard so as to avoid conflicts with the other camps.
“What kind of four-wheeled vehicle?” A bare-chested Wu Ziyu followed behind him. “Is it for our military sieges, transporting supplies, or…”
Tantai Hu looked back and jokingly punched Wu Ziyu as he scolded with a laugh, “Are you the one going, or is the military craftsman the one going? It’s the Master’s orders, so just make it happen!”
Wu Ziyu answered, “I’ve got to at least get the details clear, so that I can prepare the materials before heading out.”
The military craftsmen of Libei were extremely skilled, with excellent workmanship, and the materials they used were all produced in the Hongyan Mountains; they did not care for items made in Zhongbo.
“For moving about.” It was only then Xiao Chiye dismounted the horse. He was filthy all over. They had just come from the battlegrounds and had been on the road for six days; everyone was exhausted.
Wu Ziyu turned back to command someone to carry out the task. Chen Yang and the rest followed Xiao Chiye into the tent. The tables and chairs that were originally in the tent had been removed, replaced with a newly constructed military sand table in the spot that had been vacated.
“Gu Jin.” Xiao Chiye quickly removed his outer robe and tossed it to Chen Yang. With both arms propping against the edge of the military sand table, he said, “Report.”
Gu Jin pulled off his helmet, his face drenched in sweat. He pointed to the position of the Tudalong Banner. “When we transported the provisions over this time, I led the cavalry and made a special trip around the Tudalong Banner. As Master expected, Huhelu has been redeployed to the southeast battlefront to make way for someone else; the person stationed there now is someone called Hasen.1 According to Wu Ziyu’s information, this Hasen is Amu’er’s son in the Hanshe Tribe. During the beginning of spring this year, the Biansha Cavalry ambushed the Shasan camp, and Hasen, as Amu’er’s vanguard, engaged in a round of battle with Zhao Hui. The Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang suffered a casualty of eight hundred men at that time.”
Chen Yang pulled over the chair,2 and Xiao Chiye sat down. He said, “That’s a heavy casualty.”
“That’s right.” Gu Jin brushed aside a couple strands of damp hair and continued. “This man is cunning and ruthless, but not reckless. When the Hereditary Prince was badly injured and encircled on all sides by Amu’er, Zhao Hui rushed over to provide reinforcement, only to end up getting entrapped by Hasen in the grassfields. The entire squad was thrown into complete disarray.”
“This person is educated.” Wu Ziyu, having just returned, slipped on a coat as he spoke up from the back. “To use our language, Hasen is essentially Amu’er’s lawful son. While Amu’er has over ten sons, he can only remember a few of them, and of those few, Hasen’s mother is the most respectable and distinguished; she’s the flower of the Hanshe Tribe. Amu’er’s ability to establish control over the Hanshe Tribe is in large part due to her. The status of the son depends on the status of his mother, and Hasen was the son who was, by virtue of his mother’s status, raised at Amu’er’s side and personally taught by Amu’er himself. In the future, he will inherit Amu’er’s title of ‘Great Hero’. Allegedly, and I mean allegedly, he’s well-versed in the art of war; even Huhelu is afraid of him.”
“Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Tantai Hu stroked the scar on his face., “If I’d known of his prowess sooner, I would’ve stayed in Tudalong Banner and not returned.”
“Then you’d just be serving your head up on a platter.” Wu Ziyu stood still by the military sand table. “His fighting style… is actually a little similar to the Viceroy.”
“Then he’s ill-suited to be stationed for garrison duty.” Xiao Chiye set his thumb ring straight. “And he likes to provoke others, right?”
The various generals did not respond, instead musing over how the Second Young Master was pretty self-aware.
Gu Jin gave a light cough before he continued, “Hasen wasn’t the Biansha commanding general fighting against us Libei before this year. He was mainly stationed in the southeast of Dazhou in the previous years, and he was the commanding general who fought the most intensely against Qidong. Coincidentally, Hasen was also the one who heavily injured Qi Shiyu and almost took his head off back then.”
So it was him!
Tantai Hu gasped. “Then I’ve heard of this man too. The person who fought with him back then was Commander-in-Chief Qi! When Qi Shiyu was entrapped at the eastern side of the Biansha linked camps and couldn’t break out of the encirclement, his sons from the Qi clan did not dare to act impulsively and deploy troops for a rescue mission. Commander-in-Chief Qi went to the Chijun, Bianjun, and Cejun Commanderies one after another to ask for reinforcements. However, Cejun vehemently refused to do so, and it was the Lu clan of Bianjun who stepped forward to solicit assistance from Suotian Pass. It was only then that the Commander-in-Chief could gather military forces from the three parties to venture forth into the enemy’s territory and carry out the rescue mission.”
This battle was Qi Zhuyin’s rise to fame. She took advantage of the wind direction and burned down ten li3 worth of the Biansha linked camps’ army provisions, and for this reason, she came to be known as the “Wind Guiding the Scorching Plains”, Qi Zhuyin. But this battle was not an easy one. In truth, the legend that followed had omitted a part of the story—Qi Zhuyin had been chased by Hasen for thousands of li after she had rescued Qi Shiyu; the Qidong garrison troops had returned treading over roads paved in blood.
Xiao Chiye’s eyes brightened slightly. “Got it. In that case, I know him too.”
This was Lu Guangbai’s archenemy.
“Zhao Hui had already led the Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang up north to the Tudalong Banner three days ago to take over Guo Weili’s post and fight against Hasen.” Xiao Chiye turned his thumb ring around. “This means that we no longer have any reinforcements backing us at this moment. The two major camps Libei left in the southeast are Guo Weili and us. Even at the slowest speed possible, news that we have fought back Huhelu should have already reached Amu’er ears by now. This is a good opportunity. If he hasn’t changed his original plan, then the Biansha Cavalry will still launch a sudden assault on the Shasan Camp once more before the middle of the eighth month, at the very latest. So get it together and kick Guo Weili’s ass as hard as you can to keep him awake.”
“Uh.” Wu Ziyu popped out and said, “Guo Weili won’t fall asleep. He’ll get all excited, and that’s where the problem lies. Viceroy, this person is prone to getting ahead of himself, and he’s easily provoked into action. If he gets tricked away from camp and ends up slaughtered, then what are we a bunch of soldiers in charge of the transportation of military supplies going to do?”
The remaining three men turned their heads in unison and spoke in a chorus, “We fight.”
Wu Ziyu wiped the spittle off his face and said, “We don’t have the authority to, going by the current military order. Also, I’m not trying to put a damper on everyone’s spirits, but it was partially by sheer luck that we could win the battle at the Shasan Camp. Huhelu is another Guo Weili. He first took the Viceroy’s bait before being defeated by the element of surprise. But now that the Biansha men know the exact extent of our military strength, Amu’er will not repeat the same mistake twice. Their next assault will be a full-on attack like the kind on the battlefields. It will be a real siege war they will be fighting, and we no longer have the advantage.”
“That is why,” Xiao Chiye was brief and to the point. “At the same time that you kick Guo Weili, tighten the collar around his neck and keep the leash on him. Even if he dies, he has to be strangled to death.”
No one was willing to deal with Guo Weili. They nearly came to blows during the handover of the Shasan Camp. Chen Yang and Tantai Hu still remembered the incident with Gu Jin. Guo Weili did not give a damn about Xiao Chiye at all. In fact, maintaining a status quo like this was very dangerous. It would be an uphill task to accomplish anything if the generals were not of one mind. Even if Xiao Chiye had superhuman powers, it would be meaningless in the face of a mighty force with thousands of soldiers and horses. What’s more, the enemy forces were not fools; the old vulture in personal command was smart as hell.
Xiao Chiye tilted his head up a little and stared at the top of the tent as he said to himself,
So damn annoying.
Chen Yang, who had been quiet all this while, flipped open the book and said with a solemn expression, “And now I’ll convey a piece of message from Cizhou sent by the Young Master. Young Master said—”
Xiao Chiye abruptly shifted his gaze over. “I’ll read it myself.”
“The marriage alliance between Hua and Qi will take place in three days…” Chen Yang paused for a moment, then continued to read Shen Lanzhou’s original words without emotion, “It’s a joyous event for the Commander-in-Chief Qi to have gained a stepmother.4 What shall we send as a gift?”
Xiao Chiye’s smile was perfunctory. “Send her our congratulations.”
- Again, for foreign names in this novel, we decided to go with pinyin for the time being due to unfamiliarity with the language involved and to avoid mistranslations with the actual names in its original language. If we do get official subtitles someday, we will replace them in the translation (the same goes for titles). Until then, please bear with us.
specifically 交椅, an ancient folding chair
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, 1 li = approx. 500m
- 小娘 xiaoniang is a term for one’s father’s concubine. In Qi Zhuyin’s case, it’d be closer to a stepmother, since Hua Xiangyi is marrying into the family as the second wife and not a concubine.