Qiang Jin Jiu – Chapter 181 : Ce’an

Translated with: Jia<3

Shen Wei and Bai Cha were husband and wife for quite several years. They were strange bedfellows who shared the same bed but nursed different dreams and worked for different ends. At the same time, they were guessing who the other person really was. In those years, Shen Wei cautioned himself not to feel compassion. They had a son, and Bai Cha decided on “Zechuan” from among the exquisite gems of names. They did as customs dictated and held a banquet, where not the slightest trace of killing intent could be found in their eyes when they looked at each other. It was as if they were really in love.   

Shen Wei was a child of common birth born to a concubine. He endured plenty in the past, but he eventually walked out of it to become the noble clans’ blade. He thought he was sharp enough, and to prove his loyalty, he even dared to kill the crown prince. But he soon discovered the futility of it, for he was destined to be cast aside once again. The noble clans’ officials who were in power scorned him. He was just a nobody struggling on the other end of the natural chasm between them. 

Shen Wei sometimes sat in the courtyard and watched Bai Cha play with their son under the eaves, and he would mistakenly think of themselves as a perfect match made in heaven living in conjugal bliss. There was a brief period when Shen Wei lost himself in the thought, because the expression in Bai Cha’s eyes was too sincere. So sincere, he thought he was the man Bai Cha admired and adored the most when she fixed that gaze upon him. 

But these were all shadows of the past, fleeting and ephemeral. 

Shen Wei would always acknowledge the fact that he was a scum. Shen Wei did not want to be a dog for the rest of his life, and Bai Cha was one of the chains. When Shen Wei was once again faced with the choices presented to him as he stood before the fork in the road in front of him, he hesitated for only a moment before ending her.    

He was a blade. 

Who eventually stabbed himself bloody.

Shen Zechuan resembled Bai Cha so much that Shen Wei only wanted to kill him. They were not father and son; they were a testimony of an insignificant relationship. The incriminating handle against Shen Wei was in Shen Zechuan’s eyes, and this made Shen Zechuan’s gaze on him too much for Shen Wei to bear. But Shen Wei did not kill off Shen Zechuan, even though the thought of throwing Shen Zechuan to the pack of wolves had crossed his mind countless times. 

Shen Zechuan was the son of Shen Wei and Bai Cha. He had two strains of cold, detached blood coursing through his veins. For this, Shen Wei drank to his heart’s content. He kept this son, then tossed this son out. He taught Shen Zechuan nothing. This was his revenge. 

Revenge against Bai Cha, and against Shen Wei himself. 

“But…” Chen Yang broke the silence and asked carefully, “If Shen Wei became a scorpion before the military defeat, then why would he set himself on fire? He had already accomplished his mission when the Biansha Cavalry set foot in Dunzhou. His only chance of survival was to continue to follow Amu’er east.”    

Shen Zechuan could not figure out why. This was also why he did not believe Ji Lei at first. He did not have the slightest bit of a clue as he did not understand Shen Wei. He could only say, “I can’t figure it out. If the Prince of Jianxing’s manor was still standing, we could perhaps find some clues from it.” 

“How many people do you have?” Xiao Chiye asked Hairigu.   

“I can’t tell…” On seeing the expression in Xiao Chiye’s eyes, Hairigu deflated and said, “Eight hundred. Only eight hundred. There were initially over a thousand those few years, but it isn’t easy to spend life in hiding all over. Many of them left one after another.” 

“You hijacked Lei Jingzhe’s military supplies and gears before.” Shen Zechuan said, “But you sent them back.”    

With the attention of the guards on him, Hairigu slowly raised his hands and said innocently, “I have no land. I live in a small alley in Dunzhou. These military gears are too heavy for me to hide them. We only have eight hundred people.” 

But this wasn’t what the eight hundred of you thought when you hijacked the military supplies, Gu Jin thought.

“My mother said before,” Hairigu said in all seriousness, “that things must always be returned to their rightful owner. These military gears didn’t belong to me to begin with.” 

Showing no mercy, Xiao Chiye casually exposed Hairigu. “Might as well say that things you have no idea how to use must be returned to their rightful owner.”   

Hairigu put on an “that’s exactly it” expression. 

“What did Yan Heru give you to make you go all out for him like this?” As soon as Shen Zechuan tilted his head, Xiao Chiye knew he was going to start negotiations. 

Hairigu said in all sincerity, “He’s good-looking.”   

Shen Zechuan found that this Biansha scorpion was actually pretty good at putting on a mask. He appeared to be rather gullible and easily deceived, but in truth, he was a sly one. 

Shen Zechuan asked, “What do you want by throwing in your lot with me?” 

“Some promises.” Hairigu said. “Having been on the receiving end of Bai Cha’s kindness, I’m willing to trust you. For this reason…”   

“I’ll give you one more chance.” Shen Zechuan held up his index finger and spoke in what could be said to be a gentle manner.    

After a moment of silence, Hairigu honestly answered, “I want land, a piece of land that people like me can call ours.” 

“What are you going to give me in exchange?” Shen Zechuan drawled. “I’m not lacking these eight hundred people of yours.” 

“We are all people your mother left behind.” Hairigu said, “You can regard us as elite soldiers.”    

“Bai Cha is Bai Cha.” Shen Zechuan said, “I’ve never shown you and your people any kindness.” 

“Feelings can always be fostered.” Having said that, Hairigu raised his hands again and said solemnly to Xiao Chiye. “I’m talking about feelings of gratitude. You’re Bai Cha’s son. For this reason alone, I’m willing to put myself at your disposal.” 

“If I were Yan Heru,” Shen Zechuan said with biting sarcasm, “I’d believe it.” 

Hairigu contended with Lei Jingzhe in Dunzhou using the financial assistance Yan Heru rendered him. The reason he could remain alive was because he was smart enough, and smart people rarely brought old ties into the equation; they had their priorities all clearly worked out. If Dunzhou had not fallen into Shen Zechuan’s hands this time, Hairigu would never have remembered Bai Cha—the person he had wanted to save on Fuxian Peak was Yan Heru. 

Xiao Chiye said with heartfelt sincerity, “My wife is so intelligent.” 

Hairigu could only switch tactics. “You killed Lei Jingzhe and foiled Amu’er’s deployment in Zhongbo. He will not give up on Zhongbo easily. Soon, the cavalry will converge outside the city of Duanzhou. You have to quickly build up the city walls here. But Dunzhou has no garrison troops, so you can only deploy a portion from the Cizhou garrison troops here. However, Cizhou is also under threat from Qudu. Therefore, you lack people—you lack troops.” 

“I do lack troops, but I have no lack of money.” Shen Zechuan said, “My men will be stationed in Dunzhou. They will establish a new order here and swiftly reorganize the garrison troops.”

“Can regular troops resist the elite forces of Biansha?” Hairigu asked, “Perhaps your… husband has a better understanding.”

A dark light suddenly flashed in Xiao Chiye’s eyes, but he very naturally continued the conversation, “Hasen is leading the elite forces of Biansha on the battlefield in the north, and the forces in the south have to take on Qi Zhuyin. Amu’er doesn’t have any remaining elite forces to deploy to Zhongbo.”

“That is merely a diversionary tactic.” Hairigu responded with certainty. “It’s not an easy fight on the southern front. Tianfei Watchtower and Suotian Pass have Qidong securely surrounded. Qi Zhuyin can deploy 120,000 troops from the Bianjun Commandery to fight the Biansha Cavalry. As long as Qi Zhuyin herself doesn’t set foot out of Bianjun, there is no way the cavalry will be able to break through her defenses. Amu’er’s stretching of the battle line this far is simply a ploy to confuse the Libei Cavalry. His goal is Zhongbo.”

That was right; this was Xiao Chiye’s guess too.

Amu’er established a unit of scorpions, yet he hid them here without immediately putting them to use on the northern battlefield; this was his scheme to catch his foes off guard. Lei Jingzhe’s infiltration into Dunzhou was a ploy to occupy the area without any noise, as well as to allow the Biansha Cavalry to swiftly ambush the Libei camps down south. 

Hasen would be swapped over.

Xiao Chiye guessed.

Hasen’s departure from the battlegrounds in Libei would imply that the scorpion unit had taken over his position. The Libei Cavalry must think of a way to resist the iron hammers before this happened. Simultaneously, Shen Zechuan had to establish Zhongbo’s defenses before then, or they would all fall prey to the onslaught of attacks by Biansha.  

“Before I leave Dunzhou, I want to meet your eight hundred men.” Shen Zechuan ended the night’s discussion. “Then we’ll discuss the other matters.”

◈     ◈     ◈

Shen Zechuan rested his head against Xiao Chiye’s chest amidst the cool night breeze. The medicine on his right hand had been changed. Xiao Chiye had bandaged it very carefully, and before they retired to bed, he had taken Shen Zechuan’s wrist into his grasp.  

Neither of them spoke; it was as though they had both fallen asleep.

Xiao Chiye stroked the back of Shen Zechuan’s head, staring at the ceiling as he mulled over matters.

Shen Zechuan opened his eyes. “The profits Yan Heru earned from grains in Zhongbo are money made off the misery of others. We can get him to make reparations with the warm winter clothes that Libei is lacking this time.”

“Are you planning to squeeze him dry?” Xiao Chiye released his hand to cup Shen Zechuan’s cheeks. He whispered, “Lanzhou.”

“The merchant’s goods this batch can be transported over to the mutual market in the winter to be traded with the Huiyan tribe.” Shen Zechuan gazed at Xiao Chiye, who was close within his reach. “Once winter comes, the trade route will be fully opened up.”    

“Then it looks like I’ll have to wait until next year to get married to you.” Xiao Chiye laughed.

“That’s too long,” Shen Zechuan replied softly. “I’ll ask the Prince of Libei for your hand in marriage during the spring festival1 this year.” 

They silently shared a kiss. Shen Zechuan sank into the crook of Xiao Chiye’s arms, and Xiao Chiye turned over and lowered his head to press against him. Enveloped by that gaze of his, Shen Zechuan reached out with his fingers to caress Xiao Chiye’s cheek. 

With the case of the Zhongbo troops’ defeat unraveled, the primary issue Shen Zechuan faced was not only the threat of the cavalry from the east, but also how he should naturally progress to stand on his own feet under the stain of Shen Wei’s name. As long as it was Shen Zechuan’s banner they were flying under, the Zhongbo troops’ defeat would remain a shackle.  

“During my time in Duanzhou, I thought that if there ever came a day when I grew up, I would change my family name and take on shifu’s family name to become a Ji. Then I’d be a squad commander in Duanzhou, just like my big brother.” Shen Zechuan glided his fingers along gently; he was like the imprisoned moonlight as he lay here in Xiao Chiye’s arms. “But then, while at Zhao Zui Temple, I came to the realization that I would still be Shen Wei’s son even if I were to change my family name.” 

With a face that bore a striking resemblance to Bai Cha, all traces of Shen Wei seemed to have been erased by his mother. But those traces lay concealed deep within him, manifesting into a different kind of insanity. If Shen Zechuan had not met Qi Huilian after crawling out of Chashi Sinkhole, perhaps he would be even more deranged. What his teacher had imparted to him was not only the Confucian classics; he had also bestowed upon him “Lanzhou”. Lanzhou had stepped out of Shen Wei’s shadow—this was a part of him that genuinely belonged to Shen Zechuan alone. This part allowed him to retain his sanity, preventing him from being destroyed and incinerated in all his battles with the nightmares of the Chashi Sinkhole. It was precisely because of this that Xiao Chiye could succeed in keeping Shen Zechuan under lock and become Shen Zechuan’s sheath. 

“All I wanted to do as a child was to fly.” Xiao Chiye flicked a finger at Shen Zechuan’s forehead. “I wondered why Xiao Fangxu was my old man. He kept lifting us and tossing us into the air all day long, and he was so tall and so strong to boot.”

Shen Zechuan started to laugh.

“They all say that I resemble my old man.” Xiao Chiye looked at Shen Zechuan, “When I was sent to Qudu, I thought it was a punishment, because I had once been complacent over it. There in Qudu, I wanted to strip off the part of me that belonged to Libei. I didn’t tell anyone this, but I hated the courtesy name ‘Ce’an’ then, for it linked with ‘Chiye’ to fetter my talons and fangs. I drank the best of wines with Li Jianheng, yet I couldn’t sleep at night. Even with my eyes open, thoughts of the Hongyan Mountains would still haunt me.”

That was a sort of restless torture. Xiao Chiye did not even know who he should hate during that period of time. He knew that his father and brother were not at fault—he could only hate himself. When Shen Zechuan looked at Xiao Chiye, he saw the latter as an untouchable reflection far beyond his reach. Yet when Xiao Chiye looked at Shen Zechuan, he felt him to be an obtainable mirage of the moon in the water that lay right at his fingertips. Only Shen Zechuan understood his pain. Those eyes of his alleviated the frustration that taunted him day in and day out. He had already been wanting to possess Shen Zechuan back then.

“You may be Shen Wei’s son,” Xiao Chiye whispered, “but you’re mine.”

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  1. 过年 celebration of the lunar new year.