Edited and Proofread by KitKat
Zhou He Lan came from a humble background and although he was later inaugurated as the National Chaplain, he was still ostracized by many due to the fact that his mother was from the Xi Wei Empire.
Currently, the Da Ye, Yuze, and Xi Wei Empires were three powerful nations keeping each other in check. However, over a hundred years ago, they were of the same origin, stemming from the Wei Empire that was falling apart due to internal conflicts.
After the collapse of the Wei Empire, the eight Great Generals each ruled their territory separately for a long time until they were united by the Great General of the Zhu State, Xiao Yan Hong, whom the other five Generals later elected to become King, making him the very first Emperor of the Da Ye Empire with Yejing as its capital.
The remaining two Great Generals, Xue Chang and Huai Shu An, refused to accept the new Emperor and excluded themselves from the Da Ye Empire. Xue Chang merged with the nomadic Xi Wei tribe and resided in the Zai Region, forming the Xi Wei Empire while Huai Shu An ruled over the Fu Liang region and established the Yuze Empire.
And hence, over a century later, the Wei Empire ceased to exist and in its place were the tri-pillar nations: Da Ye, Yuze, and Xi Wei.
Zhou He Lan’s mother was an aborigine of the Xi Wei Empire. After Xue Chang was crowned, he broke the treaty of alliance and began to suppress the people of Xi Wei. Although the country was still called Xi Wei, its citizens were ranked at the bottom, often regarded as untouchables and could be legally sold like livestock.
And someone like Zhou He Lan who had an unclear parentage was of the lowest of the low, anyone could step on him.
In his previous life, An Chang Qing only knew that Zhou He Lan had been despised his whole life due to his lowly birth and it was the Emperor of Yuze who disregarded his status and put him to good use. And Zhou He Lan had indeed kept to his words of never forgetting to repay his debts, helping the Emperor as his strategist. He told the Emperor to send troops to the North and at the right time, kill the two Great Generals and take over Yejing. After which, they could easily quell the rebellion and establish the Yuze Emperor as the ruler of Da Ye.
Surprisingly, Zhou He Lan would be in Yejing at this time and it just so happened that An Chang Qing had saved him. Thinking back to the time Zhou He Lan had visited Xiao Zhige at the mass grave and said that he had owed him a debt, he had probably been referring to what happened today. Maybe in the previous life, Xiao Zhige had also chased away the farmers and had given medicine, only this time, An Chang Qing had taken a step further and brought him with them.
An Chang Qing’s eyes shone looking at Zhou He Lan, thinking in his heart that this was the opportunity to change everything.
With everything that happened in his last life, he could tell that Zhou He Lan was a man who would honor his debt and predominantly, a talented strategist. The reason the Yuze Empire could swallow the Da Ye Empire was in part due to its civil strife and the rest was Zhou He Lan’s skillful maneuver.
Such a person, he couldn’t possibly let him go to Yuze once again and become Xiao Zhige’s enemy.
An Chang Qing quickly tinkered with his brain and developed a plan. He went to help the boy up and asked, “You’re not of Yejing birth, am I right? What happened on that road?”
Knowing that An Chang Qing had uncovered his identity, Zhou He Lan turned pale. He bit his lips and said, “I… My mother and I came to Yejing to find my father. It’s just that on the way here, my mother fell ill. I didn’t have any money to buy medicine, that’s why I stole… I stole their food…”
As though he was ashamed, Zhou He Lan’s face turned red when he mentioned the theft. Worried that An Chang Qing would misunderstand, he quickly added, “But I will pay them back. Once my mother is well, I will find a job at a restaurant and pay them…”
His voice became soft and he hung his head down like a withered sapling. If it wasn’t for his distinctive appearance, An Chang Qing could barely believe that this child would become the future National Chaplain of Yuze.
The intent to reel him in subsided and gave way to genuine sympathy.
An Chang Qing said, “With your looks, isn’t it difficult to find a job?”
Zhou He Lan looked up at him and said firmly, “I will keep looking. I’m willing to take on any job and I don’t mind hardships…”
An Chang Qing sighed and said with a smile, “Why don’t you follow me?”
“I’m planning to open several stores and am still short of staff. Your salary will be the same as everyone else. Food and shelter will be provided as well, how’s that?”
Zhou He Lan looked at him in surprise. After a long silence, he gritted his teeth and said, “I’m grateful that you’re willing to take me in but… But I’m of Xi Wei birth.”
What it meant to be of Xi Wei birth, everyone understood, including those from Da Ye. That was why even when his mother and he came all the way to Yejing, they were still being looked down upon. And when his mother fell ill, he couldn’t find a job because no one would hire him. It was as though coming into contact with them would lower their status to the bottom.
However, An Chang Qing did not have the look of disgust that he had expected. He said, “That’s Xi Wei. This is the Da Ye Empire, we’re not alike.”
Zhou He Lan’s eyes widened as he looked at An Chang Qing. His lips shook slightly and he suddenly knelt down and kowtowed to him, “I would like to follow and be of use to you from now on.”
An Chang Qing was shocked by his reaction. He quickly told him to stand up and said, “You should recuperate first. When your injuries are healed, I will call for your assistance.”
Then he remembered him mentioning his sick mother and asked with concern, “Where is your mother? Has she seen a doctor?”
Zhou He Lan’s delighted expression faded, “We’ve seen the doctor but he said that there’s no cure, she could only take medicine to prolong her life.”
No wonder… In his previous life, An Chang Qing only heard about his lowly background but seldom heard about his mother. By that time, she had most likely passed on.
“There is a doctor with excellent medical skills in the Wang Manor, if you’re willing, you can bring your mother there for Dr. Hu to have a look.”
Zhou He Lan’s eyes brightened. He promptly said, “We’ll go!”
An Chang Qing patted him on the shoulder, “Can you walk? If you can, then follow me back to the Wang Manor.”
Zhou He Lan nodded repeatedly. Worried about his mother’s health, he immediately walked two steps to prove that he was fine, “These small injuries are nothing at all.”
An Chang Qing smiled and they left the doctor’s house together.
When they returned to the house, An Chang Qing asked the village chief to find a few older girls and train them so when his mother and sister arrived, there would be someone to look after them.
After he was done with the trivial matters, it was just in time for Xiao Zhige to return. An Chang Qing smiled at him and pointed to Zhou He Lan, “This is Zhou He Lan, he’ll be following me from now on.”
Xiao Zhige cast Zhou He Lan a quick glance but did not say anything. He nodded and said to An Chang Qing, “Let’s go home.”
Because Zhou He Lan was injured, An Chang Qing had let him sit with him in the sedan. On the way back, they passed by a village and Zhou He Lan told them that his mother was staying there. The group tagged along with him only to be led to a dilapidated abandoned temple.
Half the temple had collapsed and the roof was falling apart. A shoddy thatch was made with branches and leaves to provide a small area of shelter. Zhou He Lan’s mother was curled up inside, sleeping with her face covered.
Zhou He Lan called out to her in Xi Wei dialect, prompting her to turn around in joy.
Looking at her from the back, An Chang Qing noticed that Zhou He Lan’s mother had even sharper features compared to him. With a high nose and deep eyes, she had the typical appearance of a Xi Wei aborigine.
Zhou He Lan carefully pulled the grass and branches away. He then spoke a few words to her softly and after hearing them, she struggled to get up and bowed repeatedly to An Chang Qing while expressing her gratitude in Da Ye language.
Seeing that she was incredibly feeble, An Chang Qing told Zhou He Lan to help her into the carriage.
Zhou He Lan smiled gratefully and wanted to say thank you but An Chang Qing stopped him, “That’s enough, no need to offer me these formalities.”
Only then did Zhou He Lan proceed with helping his mother into the carriage. The pair of mother and son did not have much with them, only a shabby-looking satchel which he picked up and carried over his shoulder. They stopped by the village where Zhou He Lan had stolen the grains to let him pay them back with money borrowed from An Chang Qing. After which, the group resumed their course back to the city.
Because he had let Zhou He Lan and his mother sit in the sedan, An Chang Qing had to ride with Xiao Zhige once again.
The burgundy horse shook its tail and trotted happily. Thinking of the countless eyes that would stare at him once they reached the city, An Chang Qing beseeched, “Can Wangye teach me how to ride a horse?”
Xiao Zhige’s eyes drooped as he heard his words. From this vantage, he could see from An Chang Qing’s head to his white neck where a few strands of hair had scattered down, an extremely adorable sight. If he was taught how to ride a horse, he wouldn’t be able to see this scene anymore.
Xiao Zhige said, “I’m not free for the time being.”
An Chang Qing did not mind. He simply said, “I’ll ask Tie Hu or Zhao Shi to teach me then.”
Zhao Shi, who was following behind them, was so stricken with fear that his hair stood up.
Then he heard his General immediately respond with a poker-face, “I’ll teach you.”
An Chang Qing was at a loss, “Didn’t Wangye say that you’re not free?”
Xiao Zhige stayed quiet briefly then said, “I have time.”
“…” An Chang Qing turned back and looked at him suspiciously.
Xiao Zhige kept a straight face as they looked at each other.
Why do you have to learn how to ride? Isn’t it better to ride with me?
Back at the Wang Manor, An Chang Qing told Steward Wang to bring Zhou He Lan and his mother to the guest room and invite Hu Shifei to give her a diagnosis. He then called for the middleman and signed the deed of sale for the house. And hence, the house under Mount Qingyun was officially his.
When An Chang Qing paid for the house, he was a little embarrassed as the money was taken from the Wang Manor’s treasury. Although Xiao Zhige had told him to spend it as he pleased, those were not his to spend. He felt as though he was taking advantage of Xiao Zhige.
Therefore, after the middleman left, he said softly to Xiao Zhige, “I’ve borrowed the gold from the treasury to pay for the house, I will return them when I earn some money.”
“… You don’t have to return them.” Xiao Zhige was looking grim but An Chang Qing did not notice it.
He smiled sweetly and said, “If Wangye continues to be this liberal towards me, I’ll become spoiled and squander away your gold.”
“En.” Xiao Zhige glanced at him, “The gold we have is enough for you to spend extravagantly.”
An Chang Qing was pleasantly surprised. He laughed with a twinkle in his eyes, “But I don’t want the storytellers to make me into a Wangfei who only knows how to indulge himself in luxury…”
“They wouldn’t dare,” infected by his laugh, Xiao Zhige smiled at him and said, “No one dares to slander the Wangfei of the Northern Warlord.”