Translated with: Jia<3
After breakfast the next day, Xiao Chiye put on his heavy armor with the intent to head over to the Beiyuan hunting grounds. Shen Zechuan slept little these few days, and it was only until last night that he got a good night’s sleep, so much that he was still a tad lethargic when he stood under the eaves to see Xiao Chiye off.
The snow had ceased today, and the sun shone so brightly the courtyard was practically glittering. Xiao Chiye let Meng perch on him and turned back to talk to Shen Zechuan, only to see Shen Zechuan standing sleepily in front of the door with an unhappy expression.
“When will you be back?” Shen Zechuan asked.
Xiao Chiye undid the chain on Meng’s talons, and Meng promptly made to pounce on Shen Zechuan. Xiao Chiye held it down and answered, “I’ll try my best to return earlier. If anything’s the matter, send someone to call for me.”
Being bathed in the sunlight also made Shen Zechuan sparkle. Avoiding the rays, he squinted his expressive eyes and called out, “A—Ye.”
Xiao Chiye made to kiss this little baddie, startling Shen Zechuan. Capitalizing on his height advantage, Xiao Chiye raised his arm against the door frame and, when Shen Zechuan stepped back, led him back with a hand. The hanging screen covered the back of his head, although Xiao Chiye did not bother with moving it out of the way.
Shen Zechuan took a kiss to the mouth.
Chen Yang, busy mulling over the escort tasks they were about to return to Bianbo Camp to make arrangements for, was not paying attention to the movement on the other end. Gu Jin saw the hanging screen swing, and then both men were gone. He took off his gloves and said, “The Prefectural Lord and Master…”
Unable to find the right words, Gu Jin could only look at Chen Yang and hinted at the latter with his eyes.
Chen Yang knew Gu Jin had been alarmed by Shen Zechuan’s discussions in the hall last night, so he closed the book and looked over too. After watching for a moment, he said, “Master has had it rough fighting battles on the battlefields after what happened with the former Prince of Libei. He may seem fine now, but I fear his heart is still healing like the wound on his back… it’s a good thing for them to stick together to each other like glue.”
After that specific night, many people wanted to baby Xiao Chiye. They kept away from the heavy snow as much as they could and watched Xiao Chiye cautiously, as if Xiao Chiye had already lost his strength and was now no more than a fragile vase. Shen Zechuan was just the opposite. He said not a single word of consolation to Xiao Chiye, but the expression in his eyes spoke volumes of his dependence on Xiao Chiye. It was as if he would resent the weather for being cold and fault the medicine for being bitter if he so much as stepped away from Xiao Chiye by even half a step. In fact, Shen Zechuan was revealing another layer of meaning behind his extreme reliance on Xiao Chiye, and that was, Xiao Chiye was strong.
Xiao Chiye did not need to be treated as porcelain. He was iron. He was steel.
He was also Shen Zechuan’s Hongyan Mountains.
And this was how Xiao Chiye responded to him too.
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Before the discussion of official affairs, Shen Zechuan had Fei Sheng summon Gao Zhongxiong, who stood before the study waiting for Shen Zechuan. When Shen Zechuan arrived, he had him dispense with the formalities. “I had someone take your measurements last night. The winter clothes will be delivered to your residence in a few days. It’s cold at present. Do you still have charcoal fire in your house?”
Gao Zhongxiong was formerly an adviser to Han Jin. When he first came to Cizhou, he knew Shen Zechuan would not employ him, and that was why he had taken such an ill-advised step. It was only because he came highly recommended by Yao Wenyu that he could get a job in the yamen. But Shen Zechuan rarely spoke to him, and this, in turn, made Gao Zhongxiong somewhat terrified to be speaking to him now.
Whenever Gao Zhongxiong was nervous, he would sweat and stutter—an unfortunate conditioned effect of being ridiculed too much when he was in Dancheng. He wiped away the beads of sweat, his chin lowered so low it was about to jab into his chest as he muttered, “It’s as Your Lordship admonished. Your Lord, Lordship…”
The advisors in the room were all already in place. Kong Ling was presently standing under the eaves waiting for Shen Zechuan to enter. Gao Zhongxiong knew he was clumsy with words, and so he was even more worked up with anxiety as he sweated buckets and tried to finish his sentence.
Shen Zechuan remembered how bold and spirited Gao Zhongxiong had been when he kneeled in the heavy rain a year ago to denounce the eunuch faction, so he listened in all seriousness for him to finish saying his piece before he added, “You are not married at present. If the monthly salary from the yamen is insufficient, just let the local government know.”
Gao Zhongxiong initially thought Shen Zechuan detested him and that it was only on Yao Wenyu’s account that Shen Zechuan did not voice it out. He did not expect Shen Zechuan to be so amicable today. For a moment, his emotions got the better of him, and he choked out a sob, “It’s all thanks to the grace and kindness of the Prefectural Lord that I could have a job in the yamen. Moreover, the salary is issued on time every month. How c-can I take more?”
With even more gentleness, Shen Zechuan said, “You are also a man of letters in my employ; it will be ill-advised for you to keep on belittling yourself anymore.”
A multitude of emotions welled up in Gao Zhongxiong’s heart as he wiped his tears. Shen Zechuan was willing to use him and even respected him. As the saying went, a gentleman would die for the one who understood and appreciated him on his own merits. He was truly willing to serve under Shen Zechuan. He was about to voice some words of gratitude, but Shen Zechuan raised his hand to stop him and gestured for him to keep up pace as they headed for the study.
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Cizhou initially planned to borrow a general for their mobilization of troops to Fanzhou this time, but seeing as King Yi had long-standing public resentment stacked against him and that Fanzhou was internally empty, Shen Zechuan did not borrow one from the Libei Armored Cavalry. Instead, he appointed the commander of the Cizhou Garrison Troops, Yin Chang.
This Yin Chang was a high-ranking military officer of the Cizhou Garrison Troops before the defeat of the Zhongbo troops. After its commander died in battle, Zhou Gui promoted him to the post. Before Shen Zechuan came to Cizhou, Yin Chang was a one-man army commander.
This man was about the same age as Ji Gang. He was an avid drinker with a full beard, and he hated taking a bath the most in life. For this reason, he appeared particularly unkempt. He could be considered to be kindred spirits with Qiao Tianya. Before Qiao Tianya quit drinking, they often drank together.
Looking hesitant, Kong Ling said, “Yin Chang is advanced in age, and he has not stepped into the battlefield for several years. I’m afraid he is not up to the task if he’s sent into battle.”
Surprisingly enough, Zhou Gui did not agree this time. “A veteran general has the advantages of a veteran general. If the Prefectural Lord is willing to assign him to deploy troops, he will definitely do his best.”
“Other than Yin Chang,” Shen Zechuan unexpectedly piped up, “Fei Sheng will also tag along during the deployment of troops to Fanzhou this time.”
Yao Wenyu’s wide sleeves bulged from the crouching cat underneath. He covered it with his hand and said, “Now that the bridle paths are accessible, the military provisions can be supplied by both Cizhou and Chazhou. It takes only one day to reach Fanzhou.”
“That’s right.” Shen Zechuan set his fan on his lap. He looked at the others. “Time is of the essence now. It’s imperative we obtain Fanzhou and Dengzhou. We will have to fight a quick battle for this one.”
A chorus of acknowledgement in the affirmative rose, and with that, everyone began to discuss in hushed tones about the arrangements to be made for filling in the vacancies in Fanzhou and Dengzhou’s yamen when the time came.
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Yin Chang deployed his troops as he was commanded to, while Fei Sheng went along for the ride with forty Imperial Bodyguards as part of the entourage.
Fei Sheng had only met Yin Chang just before setting off. This commander’s hair was even whiter than Ji Gang’s. He was not at all tall, and he had a drunkard’s nose that was a bright shade of red. Fei Sheng paid his obeisances to Yin Chang before the horse, although the latter seemed to have yet to sober up from his inebriation as he mumbled, “Rise.”
Fei Sheng had specially taken a leaf out of Qiao Tianya’s book and brought along some fine wine to show his respect to Yin Chang. Yin Chang opened it up for a sniff and shouted out “awesome” in a voice so booming that Fei Sheng nearly lost his grip on the reins from the force of it.
Seeing as Yin Chang was about to drink the wine now, Fei Sheng hurriedly raised his hands to stop him. With an apologetic smile, he said, “Elder Yin, please hold on. This wine is strong, and it’d be hard to travel if you’re drunk. Let’s wait for us to return in triumph, and I shall play host and drink with you into oblivion!”
Yin Chang twitched his nose. While Fei Sheng was talking, he had already taken several consecutive gulps of the wine as though he was starving. The wine relaxed him all over, making his nose even redder. He breathed out several puffs of hot air and patted Fei Sheng heavily on the shoulder. Loudly, he said, “Lad, there’s no need for you to worry. I’ve traversed Zhongbo for over ten years, and I can find my way around even with my eyes closed! This wine sobers me up the more I drink it; a great perk-me-up for the journey!”
Fei Sheng estimated Yin Chang’s age. He was pretty tempted to leave right now had this battle not been to take down Fanzhou—Which part of this senile old man looks like he can fight a battle?! Although this was what he was thinking deep down, he still said with a smile, “Sure thing, I’m at your command this trip.” He led the horse over to Yin Chang and asked, “Shall I help you up the horse?”
Yin Chang tied the wine bag1 to his waist, patted it, and grinned mischievously at Fei Sheng. “Heh heh, just you watch. I’ll get on myself—”
“Whoa.” Seeing Yin Chang’s foot slip off the saddle, the sharp-eyed Fei Sheng deftly supported the old man and hastened to say, “Steady there, man!”
Fei Sheng, in holding Yin Chang, realized that this old man boasted a pair of thick, sturdy legs that weighed a ton. He helped Yin Chang onto his horse, finding this old man to be quite the character; who knows, maybe he was truly capable. But not long after, Yin Chang felt sleepy on his horse and almost slid off the back of the horse numerous times. It was all thanks to Fei Sheng for having someone keep an eye on him that he did not tumble off.
Cizhou was not that far away from Fanzhou. It was just a two-day journey or so, yet Fei Sheng was on tenterhooks the entire way, fearing that the commanding general would first fall to his death before they had even made it to Fanzhou. Their journey was daunting but uneventful, and they finally arrived at their destination. After setting up camp, Fei Sheng waited for Yin Chang to make military plans for the siege. But never in his wildest imagination would he expect this old man to lie down and fall asleep the moment he entered the tent. In no time, his snores reverberated throughout the tent like claps of thunder, and no amount of noise they made in their attempts to wake him up could stir him.
Fei Sheng stood outside of the tent and looked all around him. All the soldiers from the Cizhou Garrison Troops were new recruits; Yin Chang had not even arranged for a night patrol squad, and as such, they were all stumbling about like fools without so much a dignified air to them.
The hell they gonna fight this damn battle?
Fei Sheng spat, sorely tempted to write a letter to Shen Zechuan right there and then. In the end, the Imperial Bodyguards could only stand in for them and conduct the night patrol themselves. Fei Sheng guarded the camp until the day broke. Both of his eyes were bloodshot as he watched Yin Chang step out of his tent with renewed vigor. He forced a smile on his stiff, frozen face.
“Elder Yin, you sure had a good sleep, huh?” Fei Sheng rubbed his hands and feet together. “So, when do you think we should lay siege to the city?”
Yin Chang sat down and poured wine from the wine bag, although he only drank two small cups. “No rush. No rush.”
But the command Fei Sheng had received was to fight a quick battle, so he said, “There has been no wind or snow for the past few days. If we miss the opportunity, the battle will be much harder to fight.”
Yin Chang sipped the wine and looked in Fanzhou’s direction. His beard shook as he smacked his lips to savor the wine. “Whatcha’ in such a rush for? I don’t think it’s time yet.”
Fei Sheng guessed that this old man was afraid to fight battles. The man called Yin Chang did not exist in the Imperial Bodyguard’s records, and when Fei Sheng had been gathering intelligence and taking records, he had flipped through Cizhou’s archives; Yin Chang did not have any meritorious achievements prior to the case of the troops’ defeat. The reason he could be promoted to the position of commander was because the commanders of the Cizhou garrison troops were all dead. That, and the fact that he had the fortune to meet a nice fella like Zhou Gui who promoted him on the basis of his seniority.
Yin Chang had no sense of presence even after he was promoted to commander. He was drinking when Zhou Gui and Kong Ling reclaimed the wastelands, and he was still drinking when the bandits of Mount Luo led by Lei Jingzhe harassed Cizhou time and time again. Even when the Cizhou garrison troops had been re-established, he still seemed like an ornament merely there for show; he had never played a role in any capacity at all.
Shen Zechuan’s decision to deploy Yin Chang to war this time was because Cizhou did indeed lack generals, along with the fact that Fanzhou was easy to take down—there was nothing of difficulty for him to contend with. The Cizhou garrison troops needed an opportunity to stand on their own feet, and this was a good chance, for it did not require too powerful a commanding general to lead. All he needed to do was to go with the flow and capture Fanzhou when the right opportunity arose, and that would have sufficed.
As Fei Sheng thought things over, he saw Yin Chang sit down opposite him, kick off his boots, and start to scratch a foot. Fei Sheng wanted to speak up, but was too overwhelmed by the stench of the old man’s feet to say a word. He hurriedly stood up and cupped his fists towards Yin Chang before running off to the side for some fresh air.
Yin Chang wiggled his toes and picked the crevices clean. He had gone without bathing for almost two months now, and even he himself could no longer stand his own stench as he held his foot and muttered to himself.
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Hairigu was presently staying at the Beiyuan military drill grounds; Shen Zechuan had left all the Scorpions here. Initially, the Scorpions did not get along with the Cizhou garrison troops and were constantly subjected to verbal attacks. It was only after the Imperial Bodyguards mediated that both sides did not come to blows.
Hairigu had only just finished cleaning himself up from showering bare-back despite it being such a cold day today. On his way back from the well, he saw the gates of the camp open.
Dark and dreary suits of heavy armor swept in, stomping over the mud concealed beneath the thin snow and sending them splattering and splashing all over Hairigu when they passed by him. He cursed under his breath and wiped his face, only to see that the horse at the head had already turned around and was presently staring at him.
Hairigu recognized Lang Tao Xue Jin. He raised the wooden basin in his hand, toeing the line as he greeted, “hello, Second Master.”
Xiao Chiye was so heavily armored up that not even his eyes were revealed. He cut an overwhelmingly intimidating figure with his tall, strapping stature on horseback. Lang Tao Xue Jin kept closing in towards Hairigu, leaving the latter with no choice but to raise his head to look at Xiao Chiye.
“The Prefectural Lord said to keep me.” Hairigu was still wearing his cloth shoes like slippers, with heels treading down on the backs. He scanned the surrounding Libei Armored Cavalry, who was eyeing him menacingly, and looked at Xiao Chiye again. “… I think he’s right.”
“I’ll give you the horses today,” Xiao Chiye’s voice was low and deep. “Bring your soldiers to the military drill grounds.”
Hairigu understood what Xiao Chiye meant to do. In the past few days, he had been training here with the Libei Armored Cavalry. He put down the wooden basin and wore his shoes properly. “I can also bring along my iron hammers… if you would try out our new military formation.”
Lang Tao Xue Jin snorted hot puffs of air. The heavily armored horse inched closer once more, forcing Hairigu to retreat backward.
“New military formation?” Xiao Chiye asked.
Hairigu took a step back and immediately explained himself. “I learned it from an old man.” He raised a finger to point at his nose. “An old man with a red nose.”