Edited and Proofread by KitKat
An Chang Qing returned home with a carriage full of gifts. Steward Wang was stunned to see the cluster of items when he went to greet him and was even more confused when he noticed the piece of fresh meat.
“Wangfei, this is…”
“They’re gifts from the people,” An Chang Qing said, “Send the edibles to the kitchen and divide the rest among the servants. It’s part of their sincerity, don’t waste it.”
Steward Wang was clearly surprised when he heard that the items were from the commoners of Yejing. After all, his master was the Northern Warlord, there had never been an instance where someone would send them gifts. He had heard the stories of respected officials being handed flowers and the likes on the street but until now, it had been a farfetched concept to them. This was the first time he had seen this with his eyes.
For some reason, he began to feel a little joy and pride in his heart. He happily complied and had someone send the food items to the kitchen. They could be used to make dinner after they had been inspected.
Xiao Zhige heard that Wangfei had returned and went to look for him. On the way, he heard several maids chatting:
“So many silk flowers. No one in Yejing has received as many as Wangfei.”
“That’s right, that’s right. Wangfei is so good-looking and kind hearted. When I saw him deal with Yan Hong before, I thought he would be difficult to serve.”
“Yan Hong and that bunch were clearly at fault. Which master would tolerate being bad mouthed? Wangfei was kind enough to only kick her out. Just look at us, when has Wangfei ever mistreated us?”
The other maid nodded in agreement. They looked at the colorful silk flowers and wondered if there would be more in the future. Although they’re not worth a lot of money, they were still happy to receive the gifts.
Xiao Zhige listened but could not fully understand their story. He approached them and asked, “What are you talking about?”
The group of maids were startled. When they turned around and saw Xiao Zhige, they immediately knelt down, “Wang, Wang Ye…”
Xiao Zhige frowned, “Are you talking about Wangfei? What happened to Wangfei?”
The senior maid bowed and dared not look up. She said in a trembling voice, “We, we were saying that Wangfei is very kind. Steward Wang told us that Wangfei had received gifts from people on the street and had shared some with us.”
Seeing the silk flowers in her hand, Xiao Zhige finally understood.
Yejing had a custom of casting silk flowers at beautiful people on the streets. When the first Emperor ascended the throne, he had thrived to make Da Ye a powerful nation with prosperous citizens. As the nation flourished and its citizens’ livelihood improved, the people became free enough to appreciate worldly aspects. One of them was the pursuit of beauty. Whether it was male or female, a good-looking person walking down the streets was sure to get attention. Gradually, this developed into a custom of throwing flowers towards these stunning people. And as the ladies were less prone to go outside, the majority of those who received these flowers were men.
To think that his Wangfei also received this treatment.
Xiao Zhige was not sure how he felt. There was pride but also a tinge of sourness. After all, this was his Wangfei, his goodness and beauty only needed to be known by him.
Xiao Zhige let the maids rise and went to find An Chang Qing.
The maids sighed with relief before speaking with a little more volume, “Do you find that after Wangfei’s arrival, Wangye seems to have a better temper?”
The other two nodded in agreement. It had been a long time since she last saw Wangye losing his temper.
Xiao Zhige went to the front yard and found An Chang Qing listening to Steward Wang’s report on the arrangements for the New Year festival. When Steward Wang saw Xiao Zhige, he knowingly handed An Chang Qing the report and excused himself.
An Chang Qing poured Xiao Zhige some tea, “Wangye is not going out today?”
Xiao Zhige responded with an ‘en’. After mulling it over for a while, he said, “I heard the commoners were giving you flowers on the street?”
An Chang Qing smiled, “Not really, they gave it to the coachman when I was away.”
Xiao Zhige said with a wooden look on his face, “Next time you go out, take Tie Hu and Zhao Shi with you. Although Yejing is peaceful, there are always people who are up to no good…”
An Chang Qing was stunned by what he said. He hesitated and said, “They’re just being passionate, I don’t think anything will happen…”
Xiao Zhige insisted, “It’s just a precaution.”
He then went on to ask, “Do you like these people?”
An Chang Qing contemplated this question in earnest. Frankly, he did not really like them. He used to stay inside all the time and had very little contact with these commoners. After he was reborn and thought about how the rumors regarding Xiao Zhige were spread by them, he found them a little dull. He did not like them but it couldn’t be said that he hated them.
After all, it was someone else who started the rumors, they were just being used.
But after interacting with them, he was able to see them on another level. The commoners might not be well-educated and ignorant even, but they were not evil at heart. They were honest about their joy and sorrows and all they wanted was to live peaceful lives.
“I just feel that they’re actually… pretty nice.” An Chang Qing thought and continued, “It’s not bad if things could stay this way.”
To work and live peacefully without being in constant fear that war will break out. In addition to making a living, the commoners could also have the leisure of reading and going to the teahouses for a chat or listen to the storytellers – an ordinary but stable life.
Xiao Zhige looked at him thoughtfully.
An Chang Qing smiled awkwardly, “Am I too naive?” Just because they gave him flowers and gifts, he had changed his mind about them, was he being too shallow?
“No.” Xiao Zhige said affectionately, “The first Emperor once said that his lifelong wish was for our nation to be free of war and the people to have plenty of food and clothes. He spent his whole life to make the nation prosper while driving the Bei Di people to the depths of the Northern Desert…”
To give the people peace and a future, it had taken the entire span of his reign with blood and sweat to achieve it. Unfortunately, the subsequent emperors were one generation worse than the next and could not uphold the foundation established by the first Emperor. By the time his father, Emperor An Qing, came into power, not only were the Bei Di people constantly trying to invade their land, even the dormant states of Yuze and Xi Wei were beginning to move.
An Chang Qing was touched as he listened to Xiao Zhige. He used to care only for his small piece of land, never thinking about the problems of the country and its people. It wasn’t until Xiao Zhige raised the topic that it seemed to awaken him and allowed him to come to a certain understanding.
He began to reminisce about his past life and an event that happened in the North came to mind.
It began with a natural disaster that snowballed and turned into a man-made one. There had always been foreboding signs but everyone failed to notice.
This time in his previous life, the winter had also come abnormally early and lasted till late February. The Northern provinces were used to the cold and were complacent with the thought that when the spring arrived, it would warm up. But as February came, the temperature did not rise but instead, they were hit with a hailstorm the size of a fist. It not only destroyed many homes but also claimed countless lives. Only then did the people realize that the winter that year was calamitous. Nonetheless, it had been too late. The hailstorm was followed by continuous days of heavy snow. From January to March, the cold had not let up. The food stored for the winter had been running out as the prices of grains and winter clothes soared. Those who were homeless from the storm and had not been able to afford these necessities ended up sleeping on the street and quietly passed away due to the cold and hunger.
The North had been hit with a disaster and the Beidi people who lived further north were no better. They had brought heavy cavalry and headed south to plunder, burn, and kill, causing the situation to aggravate.
After considerable effort in relieving the disaster, however, Emperor An Qing had thoughtlessly wanted to build a ninety-nine-story tall longevity pagoda for the Empress Dowager’s sixtieth birthday. He had sanctioned forced labor and increased taxes, plunging the commoners into poverty. The little grains and seeds that the people had left after surviving the disaster were looted due to the increased crime rate.
In the following year, banditries and uprising had been a constant occurrence. Even An Chang Qing who had stayed in the manor all the time had often heard the unfortunate news. And Xiao Zhige at that time had been sent to the North to defend against the Beidi people. It had been a long time before he returned to Yejing again.
These events did not affect him much as he stayed in the manor safe and sound, only sighing that the world was getting harder to live in.
Even now that he was reborn, he initially did not give much thought to this disaster. The court and the people were not in his immediate circle of concern. He only had himself and his family in mind and couldn’t care less about other people. Even with the knowledge of the prolonged winter, all he could think of was to hoard more goods to sell once their prices began to soar.
But the people he met today in Yong Le Lane and the conversation he had with Xiao Zhige had woken him.
He was no longer the ignorant and muddle-headed unfavored son but the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei. He had to support Xiao Zhige and gain the love of the people. Unknowingly, he had allowed himself to be tasked with a responsibility.
He did not wish for Xiao Zhige to turn into a tyrant nor did he want to see the lively streets of Yejing being trampled by warhorses.
Taking a deep breath, An Chang Qing finally made up his mind and slowly spoke, “I had a dream last night…”
“In the dream, the winter this year was dragged out until February. Then followed a big hailstorm that destroyed houses. Many people had nowhere to go and froze to death by the roadside…”
“… the Beidi people were also hit with the disaster and they started to invade the Northern border. Wangye was ordered to go to the north…”
After retelling what had happened in his previous life, An Chang Qing fixed his gaze at Xiao Zhige and asked, “Does Wangye believe me?”
Xiao Zhige slightly frowned. He caressed his head and said, “It’s only a dream, don’t be scared.”
An Chang Qing shook his head. He did not dare to speak of unbelievable things like rebirth and could only think of another way. He spoke nervously, “It’s not just a dream. I… This was not the first time I’ve had dreams like this, dreams which came true in the end.”
An Chang Qing was racking his brain and tried to convince Xiao Zhige, “Do you remember Wu Juan Shu? When I told mother that he had a mistress and said that Wangye was the one who discovered it, it was actually a dream that I had…”
“I saw that Wu Juan Shu had hidden his mistress really well. After Yu’er had married him, he brought the mistress into the house. Since then, Yu’er’s life in the Wu Manor began to turn for the worse and she eventually died of miscarriage under the mistress’s scheme…”
“Before this, I also had a few other dreams, it had all come true.”
Xiao Zhige’s frown was turning deeper. He clenched his hand and asked, “Who else knows about this?”
An Chang Qing was stunned. He shook his head.
“Do not tell this to anyone else,” Xiao Zhige looked worried for the first time. He said to An Chang Qing in a serious tone, “Other than me, do not talk about this to anyone else, understand?”
An Chang Qing nodded and asked eagerly, “And the snow disaster?”
“This is after all a dream you had…”
An Chang Qing turned white, thinking that Xiao Zhige did not believe him when he heard him say, “… We cannot report this to the court nor can we announce it publicly. The crops harvested from the fields have not been sold, I will order for them to be preserved. In addition, we should start procuring more winter clothes and dried food just in case.”
An Chang Qing eased from his nervousness. He couldn’t help but ask, “Wangye really believed me? Don’t you think that this is a little baseless?”
Xiao Zhige softened his expression and touched his face, “Your eyes will not lie to me. Besides, the climate is indeed odd this year. It never hurts to take precautions.”