Qiang Jin Jiu – Chapter 191 : Lunar New Year’s Eve

Translated with: Jia<3


At the hour of xu in the evening, the north and the south gathered.   

Xiao Chiye lifted the curtain, and Shen Zechuan led Xiao Xun by the hand as he bent over to enter. The discussion in the hall came to a temporary halt. Xiao Xun took off his fur collar and oversleeves himself, then handed them over to Gu Jin before making a beeline to his father’s side, where he sat on his heels. 

In this interval, Qi Zhuyin turned aside to whisper to Lu Yizhi, “You couldn’t have given your son away to him, could you?” 

Before Lu Yizhi, who was holding the teacup with both hands, could answer, she saw her son turning his head to look at Qi Zhuyin as if he had sensed what she had said. She whispered back, “Oh, no. Xun-er heard you.” 

Xiao Xun bowed in greetings to Qi Zhuyin, who drank her tea sheepishly. 

Xiao Xun resembled Xiao Jiming, but he was not as refined and easygoing as his father. He did not like to smile, and when he kept his little face straight, he appeared particularly solemn. 

Lu Yizhi ruefully said, “Who exactly does he take after?” 

On the other side, Shen Zechuan had already taken his seat, with Xiao Chiye and Yao Wenyu to his left and right respectively. To the left of Xiao Chiye were those from the Libei camp, and to the right of Yao Wenyu were those from the Qidong camp. Those of them who were from Zhongbo had the fewest number of people, but they were also the ones with a sense of presence that proved most difficult to overlook. 

“Zhongbo still has three more prefectures it has yet to reclaim,” Qi Zhuyin said to Shen Zechuan, “We hope that the Prefectural Lord will be able to complete the reunification of Zhongbo before winter next year.” 

“If the Commander-in-chief is willing to go easy on Fanzhou and Dengzhou,” Shen Zechuan said, “I’d naturally be happy to oblige.”  

“That’s hard to say.” Qi Zhuyin smiled. “I can’t do anything about it if Qudu forcibly commands me to crush King Yi.”   

Yao Wenyu knew what Qi Zhuyin meant. It wasn’t that she could not do anything about it; she wanted to use King Yi in exchange for next year’s military provisions from Shen Zechuan, so that she could make sufficient preparations for going on the offensive against the Qingshu Tribe.  

“The fact that the Commander-in-chief is now sitting in Libei,” Yao Wenyu said placidly, “means that abandoning the punitive expedition against King Yi is merely a matter of words.” 

The battle lines in the north and south were going to be integrated into one, and Qi Zhuyin had successively turned a blind eye to Qudu’s deployment orders one after another. If she was truly afraid, she would not have come to Libei at all. But Qi Zhuyin simply had to take a stab at fleecing Shen Zechuan—she was already poor to this extent. 

“I came to Libei without anyone noticing. This is not the same as going against the ruler’s commands. Your Cizhou is such a beehive of activity this year. If I delay taking down King Yi any further, your military drill ground is going to be set up right at the entrance of the City of Dancheng,” Qi Zhuyin said. “The address ‘Prefectural Lord’ is worth ruminating over too. The way I see it, it’s no different from the words, ‘King Yi’.”   

“That’s a gross misunderstanding there.” Shen Zechuan smiled. “From Chazhou to Dunzhou, our Cizhou has been going by the book and playing by the rules. How remarkable a title is the ‘Prefectural Lord’? Nowhere in the current stipulated rules and laws is it said to be inappropriate. I’m merely a guest of Cizhou’s prefectural prefect.” 

This was taking advantage of the loophole of not establishing his own banner to rise in revolt. In truth, Cizhou had long broken itself away from Qudu’s jurisdiction. It was just that Qudu had not dared to issue the official notice all this while. One of the reasons was that they feared Cizhou would really ally itself with Libei in a moment of desperation and fight their way to the City of Dancheng. The second was that they were afraid the other areas would follow suit. Yet, owing to their internal strife, they did not show any intent on delivering an offer of amnesty to Shen Zechuan if he pledged loyalty to them. As a result, Qi Zhuyin could only count on King Yi to threaten Shen Zechuan.

If this threat had been made a month ago, Shen Zechuan would have had to think of a way to deal with it. But now, he was the key of all present here to decide if the establishment of the northern-southern battle line could come to pass. Money and grains became his greatest playing cards. He wanted to exchange what he had in hand for maximum benefits. Just like how Qi Zhuyin wanted to fleece him, he similarly wanted to fleece Qi Zhuyin too. 

“Han Jin is in your hands,” Qi Zhuyin said. “Cizhou is guilty of a crime just based on this alone.”   

“Han Jin.” Shen Zechuan enunciated these two words with no traces of fear in his eyes. “Who knows whether or not he’s in my hands?” 

This was why Qi Zhuyin was usually loath to go to Qudu. It was too exhausting dealing with these kinds of seasoned schemers like Shen Zechuan. They would talk in circles without making any progress and pass the buck around until everyone was at the end of their ropes. This simply reminded her of the feeling when she had to demand money from the Ministry of Revenue before. 

“Even if I let off Fanzhou and Dengzhou and let you eat them up, what about Duanzhou?” Qi Zhuyin then changed direction. “You have less than 40,000 soldiers on hand, of which 20,000 are new recruits. Don’t you think you are being a little too hasty in trying to recapture Duanzhou back from the Biansha people?” 

By this, she meant for Shen Zechuan to plead with Qidong to dispatch troops and help them. 

But Xiao Chiye piped up, “I’ll head over to Duanzhou by the second month at the very latest.”   

“Although Zhongbo doesn’t need Qidong’s assistance for the time being, the ability of the Qidong Garrison Troops to deal a blow to the Qingshu Tribe concerns the situation on the battlefields in the north,” Yao Wenyu continued. “So Cizhou is willing to help share the Commander-in-chief’s burden. Before coming over to Libei, the Prefectural Lord has considered the issue of the military provisions on the Commander-in-chief’s behalf. As long as Qudu really dares to cut off the Commander-in-chief’s supply of military provisions, then half of Qidong’s military provisions next year can be borne by Hezhou.” 

Yao Wenyu was merely embellishing his words. When Shen Zechuan was fleecing Yan Heru the Sheep in Dunzhou, Yan Heru said that he would also shoulder the burden of Qidong’s military provisions. Shen Zechuan took out a part of it and ordered Yan Heru to think of a way himself to supply Qi Zhuyin. So what they said at this moment could also be considered the truth. The only thing was that they slightly omitted some key details and erased Yan Heru from the picture. 

Acting in accordance with Shen Zechuan’s aim of seizing every opportunity available to maximize their own benefits, Yao Wenyu continued after a moment’s pause, “The Commander-in-chief is right. Zhongbo only has 36,000 men now that can be considered ‘soldiers’, which is negligible compared to both parties present. But Duanzhou is the gate of Zhongbo facing the east. If it’s not shut tight, then there’s no way we can cut off Biansha’s supply line, not to mention the possibility that Biansha will use the chance to erode Zhongbo from within and sever the connection between the battlegrounds in the north and south to catch Libei in an encirclement trap.”  

Qi Zhuyin inwardly thought, so— 

Sure enough, Yao Wenyu continued, “So, we hope to establish a bridle path with direct access to Libei and Qidong next year and obtain some pointers regarding regimentation of military camps.”

Regimentation of military camps was a reserved and subtle way of putting it. Qi Zhuyin felt that what he actually meant to say was that Shen Zechuan would like to obtain the help of the Qidong’s commanding generals in training a garrison troop capable of heading into battle on behalf of Zhongbo next year. Libei was all cavalry, and the Garrison Troops of Zhongbo was infantry; he could only ask Qidong for help with this matter. 

This revealed much ambition on his part, or at the very least, that was what everyone present could intuitively sense. It made clear that Shen Zechuan did not want to rely on the Libei Armored Cavalry nor simply borrow soldiers from Qidong; he sought to restore Zhongbo’s line of defense and establish his own armed forces. 

Money truly makes the mare go.

Everyone in attendance unanimously sighed with emotion. The conversion of military provisions into silver, coupled with the expenses for the bridle path, equipment, rebuilding of the city, and so on would add up to as much as several million taels for the year. In the past, Qudu would come up with all kinds of excuses to fob them off because they had no money, yet here Shen Zechuan was, getting down to action right off the bat.

“Also, about the cavalry the Prefectural Lord and His Lordship discussed in detail previously,” Yao Wenyu questioned, “will Libei still be able to supply the battle steeds at the beginning of spring next year?” 

There was currently a severe deficit of battle steeds on the battleground. If Libei was unable to bear the burden of supplying the battle steeds when the pastures sprang back to life at the start of spring, then he could postpone it as per Shen Zechuan’s wish. 

Xiao Jiming replied without pause, “Yes, but Zhongbo has to let us use Mount Luo as a riding stable.”

This was what Xiao Jiming was planning. The only general in Xiao Chiye’s hands was Tantai Hu, and stationing him in Dunzhou was equivalent to giving him to Shen Zechuan. When Xiao Chiye headed for Duanzhou in the second month next year, It would be inconvenient for him to switch battle steeds relying on the present Bianbo’s bridle path. But if Libei were to establish a new riding stable on Mount Luo, it would not only ease the strain on the Bianbo Camp in transporting supplies but also allow Libei to build up a minor line of defense in Zhongbo. Even if Duanzhou were to fall, or if Shen Zechuan were to turn against Xiao Chiye, Libei would not immediately fall into the position of a defenseless, passive player. 

“Is Duanzhou planning to establish a cavalry?” Lu Guangbai asked.

Shen Zechuan did not have that much of an opinion about this cavalry yet, so he merely answered, “Giving the light cavalry a try. I can only make a decision after obtaining the battle steeds next year. Is General Lu planning to remain on the battlegrounds?”

Lu Guangbai nodded. “Right now, Libei needs time. My troops can hold off the scimitars of Hasen’s elite force on the battlefields for the Libei Armored Cavalry. I’m also rather intrigued by the scorpions.”

“In that case, I have a request too,” Qi Zhuyin said. “Since Lu Guangbai will be staying on the battlefield, then as an exchange, Xiao Chiye will have to head down to the southern battlegrounds during the sixth month next year and hold down the fort at the Bianjun Commandery on my behalf.”

Xiao Chiye was stunned.

Qi Zhuyin tapped the desk and said nothing more. But Xiao Jiming and Lu Guangbai both understood the significance of her words—Qi Zhuyin was giving Xiao Chiye a chance.

◈     ◈     ◈

On the banks of Chashi River, Heaven blessed the Liaoying tribe with a man called Amu’er. Then it bestowed upon Amu’er a son with extraordinary talents. They led the Biansha Cavalry to prominence along the river banks, relying on their strategies and scimitars to break down Dazhou. Perhaps, in Amu’er’s eyes right this moment, the stage was all set to usher in an era of Biansha’s reign. He saw the great curtains opening up before him. Biansha would bid farewell to the pain and suffering of trudging barefoot across the snowstorm. After going through so many tumultuous ordeals, they were finally about to leave this barren land to establish their own dynasty on that fertile soil. 

The territories of Dazhou in the east and west had thoroughly split apart this winter. Shen Zechuan’s barrier barred access to the eastern and northern borders. He used half a year to complete this wall and bridge together the northern and southern battlefronts in the tattered mess that was Zhongbo. Even if he had yet to explicitly direct his weapon at Qudu, the way the scale had tilted had already exposed an inkling of his ambitions.    

This year, Libei did not light any lanterns or set off firecrackers, but it was not utterly lacking. Here, Shen Zechuan got to enjoy a new year’s eve dinner. While staying up that night,1 he fell asleep. Xiao Chiye placed a new fan and a few copper coins by his pillow. When Shen Zechuan woke up, still half asleep, Xiao Chiye stroked his head, lulling him back to sleep again.

In the night, Xiao Chiye stripped off his shirt. His entire back was occupied by a wolf extending from his left shoulder all the way to his waist. All of the rage, howls, and anguish that tore him apart were engraved here in ink. This wolf was not a picture of perfection; the placement of its left eye was reserved for the injury at the back of his left shoulder. It looked as though it had been gouged out, making it appear unusually ferocious.

Xiao Chiye remembered the humiliation in that heavy snow.

Hasen was right.

Everyone ought to return the favor, tit for tat. 

End of Vol. 2
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Footnotes

  1. 守夜 shouye, or 守岁 shousui, the tradition of staying awake until midnight on the eve of Chinese New year. It is said that if the children stayed up late, their parents would live a longer life in return.