Translated with: Jia<3
What Lei Jingzhe had said about Bai Cha being a promiscuous whore in Gedale was, in fact, a lie, because Bai Cha had never set foot in Gedale. She was in full bloom for a very brief period of time, with half of her life spent in Duanzhou.
Thirty years ago, when the King of Wolves, Xiao Fangxu, was still herding horses at Luoxia Pass with a stalk of grass in his mouth, and when Amu’er was still an eagle slave along the banks of the Chashi River, Bai Cha had already been sold to Duanzhou. The thought that they could later go on to be capable of making waves and stirring up a storm several years later had never crossed the boys’ minds, but the girl was already well aware of the kind of path she was about to embark on.
Cuiqing was Bai Cha’s madam. She was in the prime of her life then, with twin peaks voluptuous and as fair as snow when she bent over. Even just by leaning against the door, she could command all the attention of the men passing by. A woman with a sharp, discerning eye for discovering gems, she picked Bai Cha out from a bunch of girls and raised her.
Back then, there was no Libei, and the north was dominated by the Hanshe Tribe. Two sides of Duanzhou were surrounded by enemies, and it was very close to the various Biansha Tribes, which lay east of Chashi River. It was here the bandits found a way to make money. They snatched women from decent families and conspired with the yamen to forge household registrations, then sold a portion of them to the pleasure houses in Duanzhou. The rest were taken to the other side of the Chashi River, where they were sold to the various tribes of Biansha.
It was tough-going for Cuiqing’s business, and being crowded out by the competitors in the same trade irked her. She used half of her life savings to feed and train these girls. She invited a teacher to teach them the four arts of music, chess, calligraphy, and painting in the hope that she could hold her head high when they were ready to serve patrons. Of the girls, she was the most exacting of Bai Cha, and true to her expectations, Bai Cha did not let her down a few years later when she went on to become number one in the establishment.
“Do you know what kind of people had the highest number of deaths on the banks of the Chashi River at that time?” Hairigu waited for a moment, but no one responded to him, so he answered his own question. “It’s the women.”
When the bandits were at their most rampant, their numbers could hit nearly ten thousand. They wandered on both ends of the Chashi River, exchanging women for money. Even if the abducted women managed to escape by sheer luck, there was no way they could ever return home again.
“Later, the various tribes threw us to Gedale.” Hairigu said, “At the same time, they also cast away a few women who were… no longer needed. Sometimes, these women would walk back on foot, but it was tough for them to be accepted back by their parents.”
These women had lost the proof of their household registrations, which made it difficult for them to return to Dazhou. Even if they managed to, their parents and siblings would refuse to open the door and welcome them back. They were better off dead than alive. If they were by any chance pregnant, then they were guilty of the most heinous crimes. Not only would they be beaten up upon returning to their hometowns, but they would also even be burned to death.
Hairigu pursed his parched lips and said, “My mother was a girl from Dengzhou. She was sold by the bandits to the Qingshu Tribe, and from then on, she became a captive of the Qingshu Tribe’s leader. He not only forced himself on her, but even gave her to his younger brother before his death. This buddy, in turn, gave her to another man during a banquet. She was passed on from tribe to tribe in Biansha… eventually, she fled with me. We went through untold hardships to make it to Duanzhou. Happily enough, her registration was still intact, and the yamen still had her missing person case open. She was leered at… and verbally abused, but we eventually returned to Dengzhou, where her younger brother took us in.”
The cussing of the merchants next door diminished. It was already late at night now.
Sitting under the eaves, Hairigu drank up that bowl of water and continued, “My mother was very happy, and she did much to supplement the family income. We stayed there for half a month. Then, one night, she was once again loaded into a carriage and sold to Duanzhou.”
Hairigu’s mother was wounded. It was a wound unseen, a wound called “woman”. She received training in the pleasure quarters in Duanzhou. There was no longer another way out for her. Being alive proved to be torture. Hairigu could swear on his life that his mother was a harmless and kind woman.
“She met Bai Cha in Duanzhou.” Hairigu wanted to look at Shen Zechuan, but having learned his lesson, he looked at Xiao Chiye instead. “You would never have guessed that Bai Cha was the guardian spirit of the banks of the Chashi River. Cuiqing’s continuous expansion of the establishment buildings was, in fact, Bai Cha’s idea. Having gained the power to supplant Cuiqing, she set up a sufficiently strong network in Duanzhou to take in these women and children.”
Bai Cha did not fight alone. She merely took the lead in lifting that veil of curtain. They hid among the debauched scenes of carnal pleasure, contending with the unending night. This war was a soundless one fought in the quiet, one in which Bai Cha realized that acceptance was but a drop in the bucket.
“It was not easy to get registered in Duanzhou, and there was no garrison stationed outside the city. The sanctuary Bai Cha provided could not surmount all those obstacles either. She was a bird trapped in a vessel. Heaven would not help, but some people ought to pay the price.” Hairigu lifted his eyes and said slowly, “And so Bai Cha set her sights on the bandits. She wanted the bandits to be the first in line to be punished.”
“The Zhu clan was deeply involved with the bandits back then. Their backing was actually the reason the bandits were so lawless in Duanzhou. Lei Jingzhe’s mother was called Xiaoyinlei, who married into the Zhu clan of Duanzhou. She once tactfully persuaded her husband Zhu to send troops to suppress the bandits, but to no avail. That year, Shen Wei left Qudu, and the Provincial Administration Commissioner of Zhongbo evacuated. Shen Wei was conferred as the Prince of Jianxing, and Bai Cha decided to marry him.”
For many years after Shen Wei met Bai Cha, he could not be sure if that encounter had been intentional or coincidental. But Shen Wei’s heart was already enraptured. He even splurged on thousands of gold before eventually winning the heart of the beauty and taking her home in his embrace.
“After Bai Cha married Shen Wei, Xiaoyinlei gave birth to Lei Jingzhe. During Lei Jingzhe’s full month celebration feast, Bai Cha went to have a talk with Xiaoyinlei, who subsequently put in another suggestion to her husband Zhu. This time, she told him that Shen Wei would soon start a thorough investigation in Zhongbo, and if her husband still wanted to remain an official, he had to cut off ties with the bandits immediately and make the first move against them. Not long afterward, Zhu submitted a document to Dunzhou and gave Shen Wei an account of every crime the bandits had committed in Dunzhou. He shoved all the blame onto the bandits and followed up with a request for Shen Wei to send troops over to wipe the bandits out.”
Shen Wei agreed. He needed to prove his usefulness to Qudu. So Tantai Long deployed his troops and joined forces with the Duanzhou garrison troops to fight their way across the Chashi River to destroy the bandits’ trading grounds with the various tribes of Biansha.
“But as I have mentioned earlier, the bandits had fallen in with the Liaoying tribe, and their remaining men temporarily retreated to the desert. The spies the bandits left behind in the Duanzhou yamen wanted to find out the reason behind Zhu’s betrayal, and after several attempts probing into it, they noticed Xiaoyinlei. Subsequently, she fell out of favor, and a mere few years later, she passed away from illness in the Zhu clan’s backyard. With that, Lei Jingzhe fell out of favor too.” At this point, Hairigu pointed at his neck. “That’s why I say that Lei Jingzhe is our brother. The first time he came to Gedale to look for us was to seek help. He probably knew what Xiaoyinlei had done, yet he still wished to become a bandit. He told me he hoped we could join forces to get back at Zhongbo. He wanted to establish a new military force here and proclaim ourselves kings in Dunzhou and Duanzhou. After I rejected him, I assumed he gave up on the thought, but instead, he threw in his lot with Amu’er.”
Shen Zechuan repeated the same question, “Why did you say Bai Cha split up Gedale?”
“After Amu’er rose to prominence, he sought to maximize his resources to the fullest. He asked us to join him as the iron hammer that would oppose the Libei Armored Cavalry. Because of this, Bai Cha changed her mind. She wanted to reclaim all of Gedale back into Dazhou. At her behest, we resisted the Hanshe tribe’s attempts to conscript us. We would no longer be their slaves. A group of us retreated to this side of the Chashi River to stand with Mother. Amu’er refused to give up, but back then, Gedale had already been torn in two.” Hairigu pointed at himself. “The Zhongbo faction led by me, and the Biansha faction led by Jida. Jida believed that there was no way to obtain land by relying solely on the strength of women, and we needed a place that could serve as a permanent residence. On the other hand, I did not think that the people of Biansha would be open to reason. We still had to serve as slaves by following Amu’er, and they would never give us bastards any cattle or sheep. In the end, we went our separate ways.”
But Bai Cha died.
Shen Zechuan recalled that particular dream, where Shen Wei’s terrified face lay hidden behind the swinging bead curtains. He clenched his right hand again. This was the hand that killed Jida and Lei Jingzhe. He swiftly weaved a web in his mind, connecting the dots he had yet to completely figure out.
“Once Bai Cha was killed, Gedale was as good as Amu’er’s.”
Shen Zechuan looked back upon all that had happened in Qudu in the beginning.
“And this, was the real prelude to the defeat of the Zhongbo troops.”