TTBE 50.2

Chapter 50.2

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

On the battlefield outside Yanzhou’s city gate, Hu Yan Xun was fighting against the Yanzhou army when a messenger eagle swooped down to deliver the news of the King’s and Crown Prince’s death. A smile spread across his face. He was about to order a retreat and head back to the Beidi Imperial City when he saw Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi marching towards him.

Coming closer, Hu Yan Xun saw that there were civilians and women mixed in the group. He grimaced and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Xiao Zhige broke into the Palace and killed both our father and brother!” Hu Yan Ah Te replied, “But he has doomed himself by entering Mt.Er Gui. I have brought our whole family here and we will fight to conquer Yanzhou!”

Hu Yan Xun’s eyes brightened. He patted Hu Yan Ah Te and announced, “Xiao Zhige is dead! Take down Yanzhou to avenge the King!”

The Beidi soldiers shouted in unison as they raised Xiao Zhige’s black flag and marched forward.

Yanzhou soldiers guarding the city looked at each other in shock.

The lieutenants were also informed of the news from outside the city gates.

Qi Wei gritted his teeth and said, “That’s impossible! How could anything happen to the General!”

Xie Ling was pale with doubt, “But we failed to stop Hu Yan Ah Te.”

Back when Hu Yan Ah Te was leading his troops back to the Beidi Imperial City, Xie Ling had tried to intercept but did not make it in time. Their plan had been discovered earlier than expected, causing Hu Yan Ah Te to depart before they could overturn the situation.

If Xiao Zhige had fought with Hu Yan Ah Te’s troops, the odds were against them.

“Those bastards are just spouting nonsense!” Tie Hu pounded the table, “Can the General be defeated this easily? Even if he had died in their hands, do you think that they would only parade his flag and not his corpse?”

Tie Hu’s loud words effectively raised the mood in the war room. The lieutenants looked at each other and regained their faith, “That’s right! The General has never been defeated before! We cannot be the one to ruin our troops’ morale!”

After speaking, the group went on to lead their soldiers to defend the city.

…..

The words proclaiming Xiao Zhige’s death would certainly reach the people of Yanzhou. In the beginning, many had laughed it off as they had absolute confidence that Xiao Zhige was invincible.

But as time passed…

One day, two days, three days… ten days.

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The Beidi army remained on the offensive and continued to gain momentum but Xiao Zhige still did not show up. Eventually, the news of Xiao Zhige’s flag being broken was leaked, shaking the citizens’ firm belief. Afraid, shops that usually stayed open throughout the day had their doors shut tight and no one left their houses unnecessarily.

Even the militia were affected to some extent. While Beidi’s troops were invigorated, Yanzhou’s battalion was starting to get worn-out. When it rains, it pours. At the same time, the army’s food supply was also diminishing fast. If this battle dragged on, Yanzhou would have to face the possibility of a food shortage again.

Qi Wei and the other lieutenants were equally anxious. Scouts were sent out without delay but Xiao Zhige with his army of 5000 were nowhere to be found.

An Chang Qing only found out about this news on the fifth day as Zhou He Lan had given strict orders to keep it from him. Because An Chang Qing had stayed in the manor this whole time, it was quite easy to do so. 

However, when his mood had finally lifted and he had wanted to go for a walk outside the manor, Chen Su had tried his best to stop him.

An Chang Qing was utterly puzzled at his adamant behavior so despite Chen Su’s opposition, he opened the gate and left. To his dismay, what greeted him was an empty street, scarce of people. It took a while before he managed to spot a woman passing by. She looked at him with sympathy in her eyes and tried to comfort him with words.

The sense of dread swept over An Chang Qing and he immediately headed for the military camp.

The soldiers guarding the war room saw his arrival and dared not obstruct him. Rushing in, An Chang Qing saw that Qi Wei was in the middle of admonishing two soldiers, “Give them thirty strokes each! See if you dare to disclose military information again!”

After giving out the punishment, Qi Wei looked over and saw An Chang Qing. His expression changed from being shocked to troubled. Just as he was figuring out what to say, he heard An Chang Qing’s calm voice, “What happened to Wangye?”

Qi Wei was at a loss for words and dared not answer . 

An Chang Qing pushed him aside and walked in, “Where’s Tie Hu? Tell him to come see me.”

Tie Hu and the other lieutenants saw him come in but none dared to speak. In the end, Tie Hu stepped up and said, “The Beidi soldiers hung up the General’s battle flag and claimed that he was dead. But Tie Hu refuses to believe it! Wangfei, you shouldn’t either!”

An Chang Qing pressed on and eventually understood the situation.

He bit his lips but remembering Xiao Zhige’s words promising that he would return, An Chang Qing calmed himself and said, “Unless I see his corpse, I refuse to believe it. Since Wangye said that he will come back then he will definitely come back!”

“You all have been with him longer than I had, you should be very clear that Wangye will not be defeated so easily!”

The lieutenants were all rattled. After many days hearing their enemies shouting out Xiao Zhige’s demise coupled with the lack of news, their confidence had begun to falter. However, An Chang Qing’s words just now had brought back the unwavering faith they had in the indomitable Northern Warlord.

“We must do all we can to defend Yanzhou and wait for Wangye’s return!”

Tie Hu slammed his fist and yelled, “That’s right! We have to defend Yanzhou with our lives! If Yanzhou is lost while the General is away, we will not be able to face him even in death!”

The rest of the lieutenants bowed to An Chang Qing and said with conviction, “We will defend Yanzhou to the death!”

An Chang Qing cusped his hands and responded, “I will accompany you and wait for Wangye’s victorious return.”

…..

Along the high wall of Yanzhou’s city gates, black flags were embroidered in gold with the word ‘ge’. Qi Wei, Tie Hu, and Xie Ling each stood in front of their platoons, ready to fight against the Beidi army.

An Chang Qing climbed up the city wall and faced the malefic Beidi army. He then took over the drumstick and pounded with all his might against the giant war drum. As the beat resonated on the battlefield, he shouted, “I am An Chang Qing, the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei! Soldiers of Yanzhou, listen up! Your General has left to siege the Beidi Imperial City! He has killed their king and crown prince and is on his way back to Yanzhou! Do not let the enemy trick you!”

“I will stay and defend Yanzhou with you until the General returns triumphant!”

The war drum continued to beat vigorously. The disheartened soldiers looked at Wangfei’s figure on the city wall and their fighting spirit was reignited!

“Fight for Yanzhou! The General will return to us!” Yanzhou’s soldiers shouted with might and vitality. 

The city gates opened and the two sides charged forth.

Thanks to An Chang Qing, the army’s morale had heightened. An Chang Qing had also decided to throw himself in the lot with the soldiers, willing to share the same fate with them. Disregarding the danger, he would climb the city every day to initiate the battle.

And so five days more had gone by. Qi Wei was fidgeting in the war room as he reported, “There are not enough grains. We have also borrowed all we can from Liangzhou and Chenzhou.”

Xie Ling said, “What about Suzhou? Can they at least lend us some manpower?”

“Shen Tu Xu is a coward. He dares not send troops without His Majesty’s approval.” Tie Hu replied. 

The report had been sent out but there was still no respond from Yejing.

An Chang Qing sat at the head seat and asked, “How much grains do we have left?”

Qi Wei replied, “Only 5000 buckets left.”

An Chang Qing contemplated and remembered something, “I once read about this method in a book. Thoroughly cook the grains in water then steam it twice before drying it in the sun. Doing so, we can get 2 buckets of dried food for one bucket of grains. It’s just that I’ve never been able to verify this.”

Qi Wei was delighted, “I’ll have someone test it out!”

The group followed him out and immediately called for a bucket of rice to be cooked according to An Chang Qing’s methods. Everyone waited in anticipation for half a day. When the grains went through the final stage of dehydration, it had indeed increased in volume. The one bucket initially used to hold the grains could now only store half the quantity.

Qi Wei was overjoyed, “Gather up and make more!”

An Chang Qing said, “Now that war is at our front door, why don’t we let the regular folks help with this?”

Everyone felt that this was reasonable. They sent out requests for volunteers and very soon, almost every citizen gathered around boiling pots that had been set up along the streets to assist with processing the grains into dried food.

This had temporarily provided enough food to sustain the army a little longer.

Qi Wei and the other lieutenants were relieved. Seeing An Chang Qing looking haggard, they tried to persuade him to get some rest back at the manor.

An Chang Qing shook his head, “As I’ve said before, I will accompany everyone till the end.”

That evening, the Beidi army launched another attack. An Chang Qing once again stood on the city wall to beat the war drum as the two armies crossed swords.

This battle dragged on for a long time. An Chang Qing was afflicted by the pain in his arms but he persisted.

Below the wall, someone suddenly yelled, “The General is back! The General is back!”

An Chang Qing was bewildered. He dropped the drumstick in his hand and rushed over to look down. A tall, familiar figure surrounded by soldiers was riding towards the city.

His eyes burned as he hurried back to beat the drum once more, “The General has returned! Yanzhou is saved!”

“Yanzhou is saved!”

The people echoed his words and took to the streets shouting happily.

Xiao Zhige instinctively cast his eyes upwards at the city wall. He then raised his spear and commanded, “Attack!”

The soldiers charged forth with bloodlust behind the black battle flag which fluttered vibrantly against the wind.

Hu Yan Xun saw Xiao Zhige’s sudden return and knew the battle was lost. He looked at the two brothers and sneered bitterly, “Didn’t you say that Xiao Zhige was dead?”

After speaking, he swung his hand and ordered for the soldiers to retreat.

Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi looked at each other with dismay. Seeing that Yanzhou’s soldiers were advancing on them, they could only pull back.

Xiao Zhige waited in front of the city gate for the Beidi army to gain some distance before entering the city gates with the soldiers.

After massive gates had closed behind him, Xiao Zhige got off his horse and walked a few steps when he saw An Chang Qing coming down the stairs.

An Chang Qing was wearing ill-fitting armor and on his face was a speck of blood from somewhere. He looked at Xiao Zhige with swollen eyes and pursed lips.

Xiao Zhige stepped forward to touch him but An Chang Qing dodged his hand and turned to leave.

“Nuo Nuo,” Xiao Zhige called out and grabbed his hand. His body wobbled forward and hugged An Chang Qing from behind. Resting his head on An Chang Qing’s shoulder, he said, “Let me hold you for a while.”

An Chang Qing’s fingers were clenched but his legs stood still.

TTBE 50.1

Chapter 50.1

Edited and proofread by KitKat

The battle outside Yanzhou was fought for two consecutive days. Soldiers from either side refused to cede. Swords and spears crossed as blood spilled over the battlefield, dyeing the land scarlet. In the aftermath of the siege, the corpses that were left outside the city looked like they were floating on a red sea.

An Chang Qing sat on the roof of the manor, awaiting the coming dawn. 

Impending Xiao Zhige’s return, An Chang Qing couldn’t help but worry. Only under Zhou He Lan’s persuasion and his declining health was he willing to rest up back in his room.

The following day, An Chang Qing woke up to the sound of murderous calls from outside the city. The Beidi army had begun their second siege. That day, An Chang Qing stayed inside the manor and concentrated on crafting the piece of purple jade. This was the only thing he could do to keep himself from worrying. 

When the rough surface of the purple jade was polished, the inner luster of the gem revealed itself. An Chang Qing observed it in his palm and finally decided to craft it into a personal seal for Xiao Zhige.

The rugged jadite was slowly carved into shape but Xiao Zhige still had yet to return. An Chang Qing routinely stopped working in the evenings, heeding Xiao Zhige’s instruction to not overwork his eyes in the dark.

The denizens of Yanzhou seemed to go on with their daily lives but they were not null of the influence from the war outside the city gates. A heavy air hung over the city and the people couldn’t help but cast worried looks towards the city gate from time to time.

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And so, the second day came and went. At midnight, there was a knock on the Generals’ Manor gates.

An Chang Qing got up immediately. He randomly grabbed at a piece of garment and hurriedly put it on as he rushed out. Getting close to the gate, An Chang Qing eagerly called out ‘Wangye’, thinking that Xiao Zhige had returned.

When the gates opened, Tie Hu’s towering body came into sight. He scratched his head and saluted, “Wangfei, Tie Hu has arrived with the remaining rations.”

An Chang Qing was disappointed. He looked down briefly before raising his head and smiled, “Thank you for the hard work.”

…..

The following morning, Qi Wei brought his men to check up on the newly delivered supplies. The grains they previously received from An Chang Qing were almost depleted and Tie Hu had arrived in the nick of time.

Qi Wei’s face was beaming, he patted Tie Hu’s shoulder and exclaimed, “My good brother!”

Tie Hu grabbed Qi Wei’s back collar and pulled him away, “Get to work. These supplies were all thanks to Wangfei’s efforts. I’m only obeying orders to deliver them!”

Qi Wei adjusted his collar and turned to An Chang Qing. He bowed and said, “I thank you on behalf of Yahzhou’s troops!”

An Chang Qing smiled and told him he did not have to be so formal. He then hesitated before asking, “Is Wangye at the barracks? Does he need anything? I can have it sent over.”

Qi Wei’s smile slightly froze and he quickly covered it up, “There is no shortage of anything. Wangye is currently on military duty and does not have time to return for the time being.”

An Chang Qing did not miss the small change in his expression. He continued to question, “Is that so? But when Wangye left, he told me that he will not be in the city for a few days.”

“The General even told you that?” Qi Wei was taken aback and quickly comforted An Chang Qing, “Big brother-in-law, please do not worry. The General will return safely.”

“So the General has really left Yanzhou?” An Chang Qing had deceived Qi Wei to get the truth. His heart sank as he remembered the words Xiao Zhige had said to him before he left- ‘I will definitely return’. Now that he thought about it, there wasn’t a need for such strong-willed words had it been a battle just surrounding Yanzhou.

Putting aside his uneasiness, An Chang Qing tried to ask in a calm voice, “What exactly did Wangye leave to do?”

Qi Wei was in shock that the gentle and good-natured Wangfei was able to dupe him with words. Qi Wei contemplated through plausible excuses but fearing that An Chang Qing might still be able to detect any trace of lies, he simply knelt and pleaded, “I am bound by military orders, please forgive me for I am unable to disclose it to Wangfei!”

An Chang Qing looked at him for a long time and finally gave in. He only asked, “Is it dangerous?”

“This…” Qi Wei hesitated, “There is danger involved but the General commandeers his troops like the God of War, he will claim victory!”

Qi Wei’s words of encouragement were now meaningless. An Chang Qing’s face remained pale as he feebly responded, “I understand.”

An Chang Qing returned to his room but he could no longer sleep with ease.

…..

On the fourth day, the weather had turned particularly scorching. After three days of fighting, momentum on both sides was dwindling. 

An eagle circling the sky descended into the Beidi’s camp.

Hu Yan Ah Te took the message attached to the eagle’s foot. His face changed drastically after reading the message, “The Imperial City is under attack. Xiao Zhige had led his troops to raid the Palace. Father has ordered for us to return with haste!”

Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi were both the King’s sons. The two looked at Hu Yan Xun anxiously and ordered, “Retreat! And prepare to return to the Palace!”

However, Hu Yan Xun’s eyes lit up at this moment, “Xiao Zhige is now absent. We can take this chance to seize Yanzhou. Once it’s been occupied, we can welcome our father and brother here, making Yanzhou the new Imperial City!”

“You don’t want to pull out?” Hu Yan Ah Te asked in shock.

Hu Yan Xun grit his teeth and said, “This is our best chance!”

Hu Yan Ah Te looked at Hu Yan Xun with cold eyes and said to Hu Yan Zhi, “Brother! Let’s go by ourselves!” 

Hu Yan Zhi complied and they both ordered for their soldiers to pull out and headed straight for the northern desert.

…..

“Reporting! Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi have led their troops into the northern desert!”

Xie Ling jumped up and said, “Send troops to stop them!”

The scout replied, “But Hu Yan Xun’s troops are still stationed outside the city!”

Qi Wei slammed his fists on the table, “Ignore Hu Yan Xun! We have to stop them! How many did they bring with them?”

“Around ten thousand soldiers.”

The Beidi army had 50,000 soldiers. Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi took 10,000 with them; there still remained 40,000 soldiers right outside Yanzhou.

Xie Ling bit his teeth and demanded, “No matter what, we have to stop them!”

…..

Xiao Zhige had arrived at the Imperial City with 5000 elite soldiers at the fastest speed. 

The Beidi Imperial City was located in an oasis deep within the northern desert. However, due to the majority of the soldiers having been deployed to Yanzhou, the city’s defense had been drastically weakened. In less than two days, Xiao Zhige had managed to break through their first line of defense and was now charging towards the Palace.

In the Imperial Court, servants could be seen scuttering in all directions but the Emperor and Crown Prince were nowhere to be found.

The three warrior princes were all fighting in Yanzhou while the Emperor and Crown Prince looked over the Imperial Court and yet, they had disappeared once the Palace had been besieged.

Xiao Zhige continued to search for them and on the fifth day, he discovered a hidden passageway in the Emperor’s bedroom which led directly to the outside. He followed the path and eventually found the Emperor and his son in hiding.

They had fled in panic and only had over a dozen guards with them. The soldiers were able to subjugate them easily and proceeded to chop off their heads.

This battle had gone smoother than he had anticipated, instinctually giving rise to a sense of danger in Xiao Zhige’s heart. Signaling at the direction of the Royal Court, Xiao Zhige urged his men to prepare for the trip back to Yanzhou.

After riding away for ten miles, there was a slight tremor and a dust cloud was kicking up in front of them. 

The scout ran up and reported, “It’s the Beidi army! They’re catching up with soldiers at least two times that of ours!”

Xiao Zhige immediately knew that part of the Beidi troops in Yanzhou had split up. At present, they are too far from Yanzhou. Furthermore, their strength had been drained after the raid. They would not stand a chance against the incoming enemy. He quickly surveyed the surrounding terrain and noticed a twisting path along an ominous looking mountain range.

Xiao Zhige waved his hand and commanded, “Through there!”

When Hu Yan Ah Te managed to catch up, he found that the horseshoe prints were heading into the mountains. He stopped his soldiers and bursted out, “They have dared to enter Mt.Er Gui! Let it be known that they will never be able to come out alive!”

Hu Yan Ah Te sent out a scouting team to survey the area. Mt.Er Gui was a forbidden area in the northern desert. Even the locals most familiar with the land dared not enter. The terrain itself was a complex maze with trails laced with poisonous organisms and hidden quicksands. It is said that once you enter, there is no getting out alive.

After a while, the scouting team returned with two soldiers less. They carried a black battle flag with the word ‘Ge’ in gold – the flag representing Xiao Zhige’s troops.

“We did not find any sign of the enemy. They must’ve gone deeper into the mountains.”

Hu Yan Ah Te’s face lightened up, “Xiao Zhige will surely die! My father and brother will be avenged!”

“Soldiers! We will charge back to Yanzhou and make it our new Imperial City!” Hu Yan Ah Te proclaimed and the ten thousand soldiers immediately cheered. They carried the broken ‘Ge’ flag and marched for Yanzhou.

TTBE 49

Chapter 49

Edited and proofread by KitKat

When Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing returned to the General’s Manor, Zhou He Lan had managed to invite a craftsman back.

Yanzhou was not a prosperous land. Even the rich lived frugal lives. As such, there were only two jewelry stores and their products were mostly gold and silver with small pieces of jade inlaid for design.

After inquiring one by one, Zhou He Lan was able to find an old craftsman with decent skills to bring back.

The old craftsman took a long time to carefully study the emerald stones and concluded, “There’s no mistake, this is jade. But some are of a pure color and translucency while the rest are of poor qualities, these cannot be sold for much.”

He then separated the dozen or so stones into two piles; the larger pile was the inferior jade and the other consisted of clear and flawless Imperial-grade jade. But even so, the few pieces of precious stones could still be sold for lucrative sums in Yejing.

The business-minded Zhou He Lan who had always been calm was starting to get excited.

By the time An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige came back, Zhou He Lan had arranged a place to rest for the old craftsman. Seeing them, he reported the findings. 

An Chang Qing fiddled with the jade pieces, feeling like a pie had suddenly dropped from the sky. He looked at Xiao Zhige with bright, sparkling eyes.

Xiao Zhige considered briefly and asked Zhou He Lan if he remembered the location of the mountain range with the jade mine so he could have Chang Zai Chang send troops to survey the land.

Zhou He Lan searched his memories and came up with a rough location. He drew a topographic map and described the shape of the mountain range. Xiao Zhige then personally wrote a letter and placed his private seal on it before having it sent to Liangzhou with speed.

Liangzhou was right next to Yanzhou and a round trip would take only three days. Xiao Zhige informed An Chang Qing, “We should receive a reply in three days.”

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However, on the third day, there was still no reply from Chang Zai Chang. Even the messenger had not returned. A scout came to report that Hu Yan Xun’s army, which Xiao Zhige had previously driven back, had regrouped and was preparing for an attack.

Xiao Zhige gathered his lieutenants to discuss the countermeasures. At present, although the food crisis had been temporarily resolved, it would not last for long. In addition, the spring harvest was approaching. During this time, the soldiers were also responsible for assisting the farmers with plowing the fields in between battles. If this war was dragged out, the Beidi people could afford to feed their army through any means necessary but Yanzhou could not force its citizens to do the same.

“We have to make a quick decision,” Xiao Zhige said authoritatively.

“But Hu Yan Xun will not withdraw easily this time,” Qi Wei noted solemnly, “Our spies reported that the Beidi territories had suffered too heavily from the snow disaster. Their sheeps and cattle were killed by the cold and more recently, they lost their spring harvest due to crop infections. This all-out battle against Yanzhou was them fighting with their backs against the river.1 If they cannot conquer Yanzhou, as the supreme commander, Hu Yan Xun will be condemned by the Beidi Court.”

Otherwise, Hu Yan Xun would not have continued to join the subsequent battles after his loss of an arm and the defeat at Hongya. Like a cornered beast, even in death, he had to at least take a bite of Yanzhou.

Xiao Zhige pondered extensively before placing his finger on the Beidi Court on the map. “For this decisive battle, Hu Yan Xun will deploy majority of the remaining troops, leaving the Imperial City loosely guarded. Why don’t we use this opportunity to pull the rug from under his feet and destroy our enemies at the root?”

The Beidi Imperial Court lied deep in the northern desert surrounded by labyrinthine terrains. A rash attack could result in an ambush and subsequent annihilation. However, with their main troops having been deployed, this was a golden opportunity to fell the Beidi Empire in one swoop.

“It’s too risky,” Xie Ling, who had always been cautious, disagreed, “To do this without Hu Yan Xun’s notice, we can only deploy a small platoon. But with such a small number, we don’t know if we can overpower the remaining Beidi soldiers. And if Hu Yan Xun discovers the ruse and leads his troops back, they will have to deal with enemies at both the front and rear.”

The other lieutenants nodded in agreement.

Xiao Zhige spoke up after a long silence, “I’ll personally lead the ambush team.”

Qi Wei immediately objected, “General, you can’t take this risk. If anything happens to you, Yanzhou will lose its morale.”

After all these years, it can be said that Xiao Zhige is Yanzhou’s indispensable pillar. As long as he was here, the soldiers and civilians were willing to grit their teeth and defend this land. He was like the sky over Yanzhou and if he fell, the city was lost.

This was simply too risky.

The other lieutenants were in agreement with Qi Wei, believing that Xiao Zhige shouldn’t be the one to go.

Xiao Zhige paced two steps and pointed to the Beidi Court, “They are in the midst of an internal strife and with the city empty of troops, we can easily wipe them out with an army of 5000.”

He thought briefly and continued, “Moreover, Hu Yan Xun had always been in disunity with the Beidi Emperor. Only punishment awaits should he return in defeat. But if the Emperor was killed, he can easily stage a takeover.”

The Supreme Commander Hu Yan Xun was the younger brother of the Beidi Emperor. As Hu Yan Xun was courageous and had achieved many meritorious exploits, he was well-liked by the people but hated by the Emperor. 

“With this maneuver, we could bring about the downfall of the Beidi people and years of peace for Yanzhou,” Xiao Zhige looked at the lieutenants determinedly, “Would you like to take this gamble?”

A long silence followed. 

Disrupting the Beidi monarchy and bringing peace to Yanzhou; to the lieutenants who had been stationed here for many years, this was undoubtedly a great temptation. 

After a long pause, Qi Wei was the first to speak, “A gamble it is! But the General can’t go! I’ll go! My life for the head of the Beidi King, it’s worth it!”

“Old Qi is too rash and not fit for a covert operation! Let me do it!” Xie Ling objected.

The rest of the lieutenants followed and volunteered themselves to lead the ambush.

Xiao Zhige raised his hand to quieten the room and said in a n indisputable tone, “I’ll lead. I’m the most familiar with the terrains of the northern desert.”

The lieutenants wanted to oppose but did not know how to back their words because all these years, the battles they had fought were along the edge of the northern desert. Only Xiao Zhige who had fought further north was most familiar with the layout.

Seeing that they had ceded, Xiao Zhige discussed his plan, “Hu Yan Xun will attack the city tonight. I will show up briefly on the battlefield then have Qi Wei take over while I leave with our men through Amugu Path. You only need to stall Hu Yan Xun for five days for me to take over the Beidi Imperial Court.”

The lieutenants looked at each other and finally declared, “We will not fail you!”

…..

After having arranged everything at the barracks, Xiao Zhige returned to the General’s Manor.

An Chang Qing was still awake in the bedroom. He was polishing a rare piece of dark purple jade. This piece was of the highest quality and An Chang Qing had taken a liking to it at first sight. He had borrowed some tools from the old craftsman to personally chisel the stone.

In his previous life, being idle in the mansion, he had picked up crafting jade as a hobby. However, as it was self-taught and he only had basic tools and materials on hand, he could only craft simple designs. Seeing the beautiful piece of unpolished jade, his hands were itching again. He borrowed the tools from the craftsman to personally craft the jade.

“Nuo Nuo even knows jade crafting?” Xiao Zhige was surprised but frowned when he saw the wound on his finger, “Why not have the craftsman do it?”

An Chang Qing vaguely replied that he had done some reading and said, “I want to do it myself.”

He actually wanted to make something for Xiao Zhige but at the moment, he still had nothing to show and did not want to let him know yet.

Hearing that An Chang Qing wanted to try, Xiao Zhige did not intend to spoil his interest and could only sigh. He then took out a jar of salve and applied it on An Chang Qing’s fingers, “Be careful with it next time.” 

An Chang Qing wrinkled his nose and moaned, “I know. I’ve only started today so I wasn’t careful.”

Xiao Zhige finished applying the medicine and began tidying up the tools, “Doing it at night is harmful to your eyes. In the future, work on it during the day.”

An Chang Qing obediently replied with an ‘oh’. Seeing that he did not argue, Xiao Zhige’s eyes relaxed.

The two took turns to bathe in the side room before snuggling into bed together. After returning from the barracks, Xiao Zhige’s mood had seemed a little gloomy. An Chang Qing was leaning against his chest when he saw the ‘川’ between his brows. He reached and smoothed out his forehead, “Why are you frowning?”

The ambush on the Beidi’s Court was a top secret mission, Xiao Zhige was not allowed to disclose it to anyone. Moreover, he also did not want An Chang Qing to worry and simply left out the details, “Hu Yan Xun will lead his troops to attack the city tonight.”

“You have to leave for the war again?” An Chang Qing sat up and looked at him with worries in his eyes.

“Um, I will lead my troops to fight them back.”

Having stayed in Yanzhou for the past few days, An Chang Qing was influenced by the people’s absolute trust in Xiao Zhige’s abilities. His concern was somewhat lifted, “I will wait here for your victorious return.”

Xiao Zhige held his hand and smiled, “Um, I will definitely return.”

An Chang Qing nodded thinking that this was going to be another regular battle, not noticing the conviction in his words.

Because Hu Yan Xun might be attacking the city this night, the pair did not get any sleep. The city was cloaked in darkness while troops were being deployed for the upcoming battle.

At roughly 1 in the morning, scouts reported that Hu Yan Xun’s troop was already ten miles from the city.

Xiao Zhige put on his armor and said goodbye to An Chang Qing.

An Chang Qing watched Xiao Zhige leave. He did not go back to sleep but asked for a ladder and climbed to the rooftop to look around.

Lights began to lit up one by one in the barracks as the war horn tore through the night. The civilians woke and illuminated their houses, filling the streets with light. Footsteps could be heard rushing from all directions in the General’s Manor. 

At the yin hour (寅时 3-5a.m), the preparations for the upcoming battle was completed. Hu Yan Xun’s army charged forth and the sound of fighting roared from outside the city.

An Chang Qing stretched his neck to look into the distance but all he could see were tiny heads reflected by the flickering lights.

…..

As the battle outside the city raged on, Xiao Zhige had stealthily led 5000 armored soldiers to Changri county, bypassing the front battlefield and deep into the hinterlands of the desert where the Beidi Imperial City lay.


1 背水一战 Fighting with one’s back against the river: Meaning being forced to fight and win or die.

TTBE 48

Chapter 48

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Li An Ming was deeply baffled by his words. He was speechless for a long time but when he finally straightened his thoughts, he couldn’t help but agree. At the moment, besides the Emperor, there was still the Crown Prince; not to mention the Third Prince and the Emperor’s beloved Shu Guifei. No matter who was thrown out of the game, it would still not be Xiao Zhige’s turn to take the throne.

The Da Ye Empire had been in decline for many years now and even if the First Emperor was reborned, he could not bring it back to its former glory with a court full of disharmonious and corrupt officials.

Li An Ming heaved a long sigh. He bowed low and said, “In the future… If Wangye ever needs my service, Li An Ming is at your disposal.”

Xiao Zhige nodded politely, “Minister Li, please take care.”

After Li An Ming left, Xiao Zhige stood by the window engrossed in thoughts.

When An Chang Qing arrived, he met with Li An Ming who saluted him respectfully before leaving. An Chang Qing was surprised but his attention was immediately shifted to Xiao Zhige standing by the window with his back facing the door. Sturdy and silent, a resemblance of the lonely emperor from his previous life.

An Chang Qing worriedly called out, “Wangye.”

Xiao Zhige turned back towards the source of the voice and upon seeing An Chang Qing, the gloom from before dissipated. His eyes softened as he took big strides forward as he questioned, “Why did you come here at this hour? How was your breakfast? I’ve changed the cook. His skills were said to be quite good.”

“I’ve eaten. There’s nothing to do back at the manor so I went out for a walk.” An Chang Qing replied, “Wangye was discussing matters with Minister Li just now?”

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Xiao Zhige did not hide anything from An Chang Qing. He briefly explained his plans while walking him to the city’s high walls. 

An Chang Qing frowned after hearing his words, “So you knew from the beginning that His Majesty will not send any support? And that he will have Minister Li come to Yanzhou to investigate?”

Xiao Zhige responded with an ‘en’ and continued, “I sent the censor officer’s head back simply to scare the Crown Prince. As for the Taifu Temple’s secretary, with the treasury empty, His Majesty is sure to demand an investigation. Currently, there are only a handful of people that he can trust and seeing that Li An Ming was also the Imperial Censor, it was inevitable that His Majesty deployed him for this task.”

An Chang Qing followed his line of thought and deduced, “Minister Li dared not expose the two Princes so he will coordinate with your plan and report back to His Majesty accordingly. Even if His Majesty could overlook the involvement of the two Princes, he would still hold the Taifu Temple accountable. At that time, to mitigate this matter, Shu Guifei and the Third Prince will have to cough up the gold to pay for the grains. But for all this to play out, it’s going to take weeks. In the meantime, what will happen to the food shortage in Yanzhou?”

Xiao Zhige looked at An Chang Qing with appreciation, “It seems Nuo Nuo’s reading up on warfare wasn’t for naught. I’ve sent people to borrow grains from Chang Zai Chang of Liangzhou and Zhou Ji of Chenzhou.”

“Did they agree?”

“This is one instance of the slip between the lips and the cup,” Xiao Zhige sighed, “The Third Prince and Taifu Temple are more daring than I imagined. They not only embezzled from YanZhou’s granary but also from those of Liangzhou and Chenzhou as well. When Chang Zai Chang and Zhou Ji received my message, they were prepared to lend us a hand but found that their grains were also mixed with sand. Their reports should have reached Yejing by now.”

Xiao Zhige looked at An Chang Qing and smiled, “It’s thanks to Nuo Nuo that the food crisis in Yanzhou did not turn for the worse.”

“But… what if I wasn’t around?” An Chang Qing clenched his fists as he recalled the past.

In his last life, he did not do anything. Xiao Zhige underestimated the Third Prince’s avarice and Yanzhou had nowhere to turn to for grains, resulting in an arduous battle with heavy casualties.

Xiao Zhige stood on top of the walls and looked down at the numerous stone prisons outside the city. He said with conviction, “I will keep defending this city. Even if we have to eat the flesh and drink the blood of our enemies, as long as Yanzhou still stands, the people will remain safe.”

After speaking, he turned to look at An Chang Qing. Seeing the concern in his eyes, Xiao Zhige realized that what he just said had been too grim. He softened his tone and said gently, “That was just a worse case scenario. Hasn’t the situation been alleviated already?”

That’s right. Yanzhou’s situation had improved.

This time around, he was here.

An Chang Qing reached for Xiao Zhige’s hand. He looked at him and slowly considered the words he wanted to say: “In fact, after you sent the urgent request from Yanzhou, I had another dream.” 

Using another way to relay the secrets from his past, he said, “I dreamed that Yanzhou would face a very difficult time due to the food shortage. The civilians had given away all their food in order to sustain the army and many had then starved to death. The soldiers had fought for over a month and had barely pushed back the Beidi army. After this battle, Yanzhou suffered heavy casualties.”

Xiao Zhige frowned, “That’s why you thought of ways to send food over?”

An Chang Qing nodded and continued, “Afterwards, on the way to Yanzhou, I had another dream…

After the hard-earned victory in Yanzhou came the Empress Dowager’s birthday. To show his filial piety, His Majesty increased taxes and sanctioned forced labor, plunging the people into poverty. Starting with Suzhou, distressed civilians began to revolt. After that, uprisings spread across the country and soldiers were deployed to suppress them. For three years, the Da Ye Empire didn’t know any peace. It was only until His Majesty turned seriously ill that you were called back to Yejing.”

An Chang Qing did not know the minor details and could only tell him the major events that had happened, “The Crown Prince had lost his right to the throne and Shu Guifei’s party had come into power. However, when the Third Prince went on an expedition on behalf of His Majesty, he was assassinated by the rebel army. When His Majesty heard this news, his condition worsened and he died a few days later, leaving you to take over the throne…”

After he finished speaking, An Chang Qing looked at Xiao Zhige with unease.

Xiao Zhige’s expression had turned grim. He sighed and asked, “What happened after my enthronement?”

After hesitating briefly, An Chang Qing replied, “After you ascended the throne, you sentenced numerous courtiers to death and continued to wage war, fueling the people’s resentment. Later…later, the abolished Crown Prince joined hands with Zhu An Liang and Shi Le Zheng and besieged Yejing under the cause of ‘slaying the tyrant to return peace to the land’. They allied with the rebel forces and you… you lost the battle and died.”

Fearing that Xiao Zhige would not believe him, An Chang Qing stated with emphasis, “So far, everything that happened in my dreams have come true!”

Xiao Zhige shook his head and said, “It’s not that I don’t believe you but haven’t you noticed? In all these dreams, you were not there.”

An Chang Qing was taken aback. He was speechless as he stared at Xiao Zhige with widened eyes.

That’s right. In his previous life, he did not partake in any of this; that was why he was not there.

Xiao Zhige looked at him and said, “If I had not married you, I will probably end up like what you have dreamed. Defeating the princes and Shu Guifei and forcing father to pass the throne to me. However the situation now is quite different.”

His eyes were filled with tenderness as he said, “A family man has to be dependable and plan for the sake of his family.”

An Chang Qing’s mouth gaped due to the surprise. He asked with much confusion, “So you won’t fight for the throne?”

“I have to.” Xiao Zhige’s eyes sharpened and he spoke with adherence, “Whether it’s the Crown Prince or the Third Prince, whoever would take over the throne, none of them will let us live. To protect ourselves, we have to have a higher standing.”

“So what should we do?”

Xiao Zhige stroke An Chang Qing’s cheek and whispered in his ears, “His Majesty, along with this country, won’t be able to last much longer.”

An Chang Qing looked at him with wide opened eyes.

Xiao Zhige continued, “What your dreams foretell might come true but the circumstances are ever changing. Just like what happened in Yanzhou this time, didn’t you change the outcome? That’s why you don’t have to take what happened in the dreams too seriously.”

An Chang Qing’s brows eased up. He tilted his head and rested it on Xiao Zhige’s shoulder, mumbling, “Wangye wasn’t this good at comforting others before…”

Xiao Zhige adjusted his position and secured him in place, allowing An Chang Qing to sit more comfortably, “We all learn with time.”

An Chang Qing smiled. He thought of what Xiao Zhige had just said and asked, “If that’s the case… It won’t be long before we have to return to Yejing?”

“It might not be that soon.” Xiao Zhige said, “We have to solve the external problems before we can deal with the internal ones. The war in Yanzhou this time will last for another two to three months. The Beidi army has incurred heavy losses this time and Hu Yan Xun will not be able to answer the Beidi court if he retreats now.

“Then I have an idea,” Having cheered up after hearing that he did not have to return to Yejing soon, An Chang Qing went on to tell Xiao Zhige everything he had learned on the street.

“If Xi Wei jade is the same as those of Da Ye, we can purchase them at a low price from Liangzhou and sell them in Yejing at higher prices!”

Xiao Zhige rarely paid attention to these little things on the street. To think that An Chang Qing had made this discovery, having only arrived in Yanzhou for a short time. 

He contemplated and said, “If the craftsman concluded that they’re the same, I’ll write a letter to Chang Zai Chang in Liangzhou to get him to cooperate with you. We can have the jade transported back to Yejing and further south to sell for a high profit.”

Over the years, having suffered from both internal and external threats, the Da Ye Empire had stopped trading with the neighboring countries of Xi Wei and Yu Ze. However, since the three nations shared borders, their citizens were allowed to interact. If these emerald stones from Xi Wei were indeed jade, then finding a way to procure them cheaply from the Xi Wei Empire or even sending troops to occupy unclaimed jade mines along the border and then selling them to the southern states would prove to be a lucrative business.

Xiao Zhige already had a plan thought out. He looked at An Chang Qing tenderly, “I always felt that Nuo Nuo is like a blessing sent to me by the heavens.”

Ever since they got married, there had not been a time when he had felt any anger. In the half year that they were together, it was the happiest he had felt in twenty years.

“When did Wangye learn to make such flowery speeches?” An Chang Qing looked at him with amusement.

Xiao Zhige smiled at him helplessly, “It’s not some flowery speech. It’s words from my heart.”

An Chang Qing pursed his lips and tried to restrain his smile but his joy was still exposed through his phoenix eyes. Like a child being praised, he tilted his head and looked at Xiao Zhige, “Then I will continue to bless Wangye with good fortune.”

“En,” Xiao Zhige smiled with him as he led him down the city walls, “My future is all up to Nuo Nuo.”

TTBE 47

Chapter 47

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

That evening, An Chang Qing finally had a good night’s sleep. For the past few days on the road he was constantly thinking about the situation in Yanzhou. On top of that, whenever he dreamt of his previous life, his mind would tense up, causing him to wake up in the middle of the night.

It was not until he met Xiao Zhige and was reassured that everything would be fine that An Chang Qing could finally rest his mind.

With his hands and feet warmed inside Xiao Zhige’s embrace, An Chang Qing listened to the powerful heartbeat that he was used to and fell into a deep slumber.

By the time he woke up the next morning, it was already the si1 hour. The area next to him had already cooled. Xiao Zhige must have left some time ago. He did not know when but his hands and feet had been wrapped with warmers. No wonder he wasn’t woken up due to the cold.

After stretching his back, An Chang Qing went to get changed. He was capable of taking care of himself even without Anfu. He took a copper basin to fetch some water to wash up. Just as he opened the door, he saw a young soldier standing guard right outside. 

When the soldier saw An Chang Qing coming out with a basin, he hurriedly said, “Please allow me. According to the General’s specific orders all the toiletries have already been prepared in the side room.”

The young soldier began to fear that he could not complete his assigned tasks and said nervously, “The General said that before the manor can find suitable servants, it will be my duty to serve Wangfei!”

Seeing that the soldier was still fairly young but trying desperately to repeat Xiao Zhige’s straight-faced instructions to the T, An Chang Qing couldn’t help but chuckle. He began walking towards the rear room while chatting with him, “What’s your name? Are you even old enough to join the army? Have you been to the battlefield?”

“My name is Chen Su. I’m already fourteen this year.” The little soldier blushed seeing An Chang Qing’s friendly expression and continued proudly, “I’ve fought in a battle before and managed to kill two Beidi soldiers!” 

An Chang Qing was slightly perplexed. Chen Su looked small and his face was rounded with fleshy cheeks. Clearly he was still a developing child but An Chang Qing did not expect him capable of killing enemies on the battlefield. On the contrary, children his age in Yejing would be studying in school instead.

However, thinking back to what Xiao Zhige had told him, since the people of Yanzhou were under constant threat of a Beidi invasion, it was imminent that he was able to defend himself.

Seeing the child’s boastful spirit, An Chang Qing praised, “Is that so? That’s pretty awesome.”

Chen Su was slightly embarrassed when he was praised. He scratched his head and said, “But when the General saw me, he said that I was too young. I have to wait till I’m older to go on the battlefield. Hence, I was transferred to guard the General’s manor.”

An Chang Qing remembered how he had thought that the soldiers guarding the manor all seemed a little too young. Apparently, Xiao Zhige had specially transferred them to this post. His eyes bent as he discovered another one of Xiao Zhige’s good qualities.

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After cleaning up, Chen Su served An Chang Qing a bowl of porridge together with a few side dishes. Although it still looked simple, the taste was a lot more refined. It seemed like it had been cooked by another chef.

An Chang Qing’s heart was sweetened to the core. He finished all the porridge and side dishes before asking for Xiao Zhige’s whereabouts.

Chen Su answered with uncertainty, “Usually at this time, the General will probably be at the barracks.”

An Chang Qing contemplated and felt that Xiao Zhige would be busy and decided to visit him after. He went to look for Zhou He Lan before heading out.

His trip to Yanzhou was decided in haste with him leaving Anfu behind in Yejing. Anfu would travel with Tie Hu after, while he and Zhou He Lan had departed for Yanzhou prior.

The two left the General’s manor without bringing along any guards. Walking on the main road, Zhou He Lan noted that Yanzhou was very different from Yejing but similar to the Xi Wei Empire.

The people on the streets had mostly seen An Chang Qing the day before. Those who recognized him greeted him warmly and An Chang Qing reciprocated with a kind smile.

Along the way, An Chang Qing found that many shops were selling items at incredibly low prices. This included jewelries, various kinds of ointment, etc. 

An Chang Qing randomly picked up an emerald green stone with an irregular shape and a lustrous shine. He asked for the price and found that it was only thirty wen2

“That cheap?” An Chang Qing asked in surprise. Although he did not know much about jade, he could tell that the quality of this stone was no worse than the jade pieces sold in Yejing’s jewelry stores. 

“There’s a large supply of these so it’s not worth much.” The peddler continued, “The merchants brought these back from the Xi Wei Empire. They do look beautiful but being this plentiful, the price can’t go any higher.”

“The Xi Wei Empire?”

“A lot of merchants would take goods from Liangzhou and do business along the border. After they had sold everything, they would do some trading with the Xi Wei Empire and bring their goods back.”

“This does look like Xi Wei jade.” Zhou He Lan studied the stones and said, “I’ve seen them before.”

Seeing that An Chang Qing looking puzzled, Zhou He Lan explained, “When I came to Yejing with my mother, we took the route from Liangzhou. There is an abundance of these stones in the mountains along the junction between Xi Wei and Liangzhou. Since they are easily accessible, they aren’t valuable. Only the poorer folks would gather them from the mountains and after a simple polishing, would turn them into beautiful jewelry.”

“Are Xi Wei jade any different from Yejing jade?” An Chang Qing asked.

Zhou He Lan considered and shook his head, “I do not understand jade but looking at it, I do not see a big difference.”

An Chang Qing thought it over and decided to buy all of the store’s stones. He then told Zhou He Lan to bring them back to the General’s manor and seek out a craftsman proficient in jade. Zhou He Lan immediately understood An Chang Qing’s objective and left with the stones in high spirits. 

An Chang Qing continued to tour the city until much later. When he thought that Xiao Zhige should already be free, he headed for the barracks.

…..

At the military camp, Xiao Zhige sent everyone out before handing Li An Ming the written testimonies of the censor officer and those involved.

Li An Ming was known for his impartiality and righteousness. Emperor An Qing’s decision in appointing Li An Ming to investigate this case was within Xiao Zhige’s speculation. He had long assembled all the evidence and had only been waiting for Li An Ming to take the bait.

As expected, after reading the stack of evidence in his hands, Li An Ming’s expression  gradually turned morbid. 

“This…”

Xiao Zhige gave Li An Ming a dejected look and said, “The censor officer is the Crown Prince’s man. He acted under His Royal Highness’ command to burn the grains. But the grains with pebbles mixed in from Taifu Temple was the work of someone else. The newly wedded bride of the Taifu Temple secretary hails from Shu Guifei’s family.”

“The Third Prince conspired with the secretary of Taifu Temple while the Crown Prince used His Majesty to place the censor officer into my camp. It’s reasonable to say that they both wanted me to fail, wouldn’t Minister Li agree?”

Li An Ming turned pale, “Wangye wanted to speak to me in private not because you intended to expose the two Princes…”

If Xiao Zhige had wanted to expose the two Princes, he wouldn’t have killed everyone involved. Furthermore, he could’ve simply sent the evidence straight to Yejing instead of waiting for him in Yanzhou.

Xiao Zhige scoffed and turned his back to Li An Ming, “What would I gain from exposing the two Princes?”

Li An Ming thought thoroughly and said, “If the Third Prince and Crown Prince were to fall… amongst His Majesty’s sons, there’ll only be Wangye left. It’s a fine opportunity for Wangye to fight for the throne.”

“If Minister Li can think of this, so can my father and the rest of the court.” Xiao Zhige looked into the distance and continued, “After I expose their crimes, who do you think His Majesty will side with, the two sons that he favors or me?”

Based on Li An Ming’s understanding of Emperor An Qing, he knew that the Emperor would choose to cover for the Third and Crown Prince. One was the eldest son supported by the Empress and Empress Dowager, and the other, his beloved youngest son. Even if they made a mistake, in Emperor An Qing’s eyes, everything could be forgiven.

Moreover, this matter involved the ill-favored Northern Warlord. If this matter was brought to light, the bigger possibility was Emperor An Qing thinking that Xiao Zhige had fabricated the evidence to frame his brothers in order to claim the throne.

And if Li An Ming were to return with the evidence and pursue the case, he would be suspected of siding with Xiao Zhige and ultimately be persecuted by the other two Princes.

Li An Ming thought of the head that was urgently sent back to Yejing and realized that Xiao Zhige had surmised this from the beginning. After this realization, he felt another layer of fear towards Xiao Zhige. Everyone said that the Northern Warlord could read the battlefield like an open book but what they did not know was that he could do the same towards the person sitting on the dragon throne.

Li An Ming looked up at Xiao Zhige’s dignified posture by the window with his hand behind his back. He thought of the portrait of the First Emperor and could vaguely sense his legacy in Xiao Zhige.

“I understand Wangye’s intentions.” Li An Ming bowed, “I know what I should report to His Majesty.”

He straightened his back and added, “This is also to repay Wangye for the letter from before.”

Back then, to bring down Marquis Wu, Xiao Zhige had suggested that An Chang Qing anonymously send Li An Ming a secret letter detailing the crimes committed by the Wu Manor. With Li An Ming’s help, the Wu Manor had been destroyed in one fell swoop, leaving Wu Juan Shu no room to turn around and Li An Ming had also had the chance to avenge his daughter.

Li An Ming had always remembered this debt. He tried to figure out who the sender was but could never be sure. Now he was ascertained that it had indeed been Xiao Zhige.

Xiao Zhige did not deny it either. He said, “I’ll have to trouble Minister Li then.”

Li An Ming cupped his hands and smiled. He turned to leave but before exiting, he couldn’t help but inquire, “In a time where the country is deteriorating and monarchs and leaders do not have the people at heart, has Wangye ever thought… of taking over the throne?”

Li An Ming had always been a neutral party. Whether it was the offer from the Crown Prince or Shu Guifei, he remained loyal only to the Emperor. An ideal he hoped would benefit the people of Da Ye. 

A leader should think of his people and in turn, the people should be mindful for their leader.3

But the reality was that the court was filled with crafty and calculating officials stepping on each others’ tails whenever they could. Even as the Imperial Censor himself, he still had to tread carefully everyday to figure out his king’s and colleagues’ intentions.

Emperor An Qing was muddle-headed and prodigal; The Crown Prince was only obsessed with power and disregarded the people; The Third Prince’s immaturity had caused him to be a puppet under Shu Guifei’s control.

This land that the First Emperor had fought for had once been an impenetrable iron wall. Now, it was a barren bucket with leaking holes. 

Only the infamous Northern Warlord left behind in the shadows had been doing his part to protect the people.

Li An Ming couldn’t hold back his thoughts and had to ask. Unexpectedly, his treasonable words did not garner any reaction from Xiao Zhige.

He simply glanced at Li An Ming and said lightly, “Since the country is falling apart, instead of taking over, why not let it rise again from the ashes?”


1 巳时 9-11 a.m.

2 ↪ copper coins3 ↪ 居庙堂之高则忧其民,处江湖之远则忧其君. From the heights of his temple, one should consider the worries of his people, the people of jiang hu should be mindful of their leaders. Meaning as an official, one should think of the welfare of the common people and in return, the people will do their part to help the country.

TTBE 46

Chapter 46

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After bandaging his wound and putting on his garb, Xiao Zhige looked completely fine, as though he was void of injuries. If An Chang Qing had not seen the long gash with his own eyes, he would not have noticed that the man was carrying an injury.

An Chang Qing looked at him with distress and anger, “You’re a General, why do you still have to go to the battlefield when you’re this badly hurt?”

Xiao Zhige rubbed his head and smiled, “On the battlefield, swords and spears are blind. Who doesn’t carry an injury or two on them? As long as your arms and legs are still intact, it is not a fatal injury.”

Seeing that he was still worried, Xiao Zhige added, “You should’ve seen the Supreme Commander of the Beidi army. I’ve torn off his arm but to boost morale, he has continued to lead his troops into battle. I went head to head with him a few days ago, it’s a pity I couldn’t bring back his head. Otherwise, there would’ve been more ‘lanterns’ at the front gate.”

An Chang Qing was taken aback, “Lanterns?”

Xiao Zhige was worried of scaring An Chang Qing and rephrased his words carefully, “The Beidi army have committed many heinous crimes over the years. The soldiers together with the civilians of Yanzhou have a life-and-death grudge against them.” 

Over the years, there had been over a hundred heads hung outside the city gates. Whenever a battle culminated, the heads would be sent to a stone hut outside the city with the captured Beidi soldiers to intimidate the enemy forces. Accumulated over the years, there were now a countless number of such places spread across the battlefield.

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An Chang Qing was astounded upon hearing this. He had never left Yejing in his previous life and whatever he had heard of the war were all word of mouth. Now that he had heard Xiao Zhige speak about it with such indifference, he came to realize that what he knew was only scratching the surface of the cruelties of war.

Between these two armies, neither will rest till the other has been eliminated.

To intimidate a ruthless opponent, one has to be willing to outdo their ruthlessness. An Chang Qing thought of the things he had heard in his previous life. Numerous scholars had criticized Xiao Zhige for his bloodthirst in killing the Beidi captives but had they lived in Yanzhou even if it was only for a short time, they would have come to hate them as well.

“What about when we fall into the hands of the Beidi people?”

“The Beidi people have much more cold-blooded means than us.” Xiao Zhige fiddled with An Chang Qing’s hand and said, “Any captives would be branded and kept together with the livestock. The men will be forced into hard labor while the women are left for the soldiers to enjoy at will. And if there is a shortage of food, they will be slaughtered…”

Xiao Zhige sighed and looked at An Chang Qing, “This is why I did not want you to come to Yanzhou.”

Yanzhou’s border had always been a warzone. It was afflicted with sandstorms in spring and summer and bitter weather in fall and winter. There were no peaceful days. Everyone was constantly on alert because a battle could break out at any time. Everything in this place was not what Xiao Zhige wanted An Chang Qing to experience.

However, An Chang Qing only smiled and shook his head, “I’m not afraid.”

“I might not be used to it in the beginning but I can adapt.” An Chang Qing raised his head and said, “I’m not some pampered young master.”

A surge of tenderness filled Xiao Zhige’ eyes. He felt An Chang Qing’s hand that seemed to be skinnier and said, “But I don’t want you to have to face any hardships.”

Xiao Zhige’s words were sincere and serious while his tone was soft as snow. An Chang Qing met his gaze but had to look away shyly, mumbling to himself: why does it seem like after being apart for a month, this person had suddenly learned how to sweet talk?

An Chang Qing’s ears turned slightly red. He cleared his throat and said, “It’s fine, I don’t feel the hardship.”

He then looked at Xiao Zhige and grumbled, “Now I know the truths behind the rumors in Yejing. How dare those people spin such tales without having a toothache!”

Xiao Zhige smiled, “There’s no need to get upset over someone else’s opinions. Now, let’s go get something to eat.”

Since he had turned down eating with his subordinates, Xiao Zhige called a chef to the General’s Manor to make porridge and some side dishes for An Chang Qing. 

The cook worked for the military kitchen and was used to cooking in large quantities. His skill in making small dishes was average. Fortunately, the dishes were simple and since An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige had been chatting up till now, they were both beginning to feel hungry. 

An Chang Qing filled his stomach with a whole bowl of porridge, leaving the side dishes for Xiao Zhige to finish.

After they had their dinner, the sky was still bright. Thinking that the air was still warm, Xiao Zhige decided to let An Chang Qing do some shopping from the streets.

The street was still crowded and there were long queues of people waiting with sacks in their hands.

“What are they doing?”

“Queuing for rice.” Xiao Zhige explained, “During the food shortage, the people had donated all the rice and meat in their house to feed the soldiers. It was not easy taking food from civilians but we were at our wit’s end. So we registered every household that had donated and promised to return the grains once the rations arrived.”

Although food was still scarce, they could not continue to let the people starve. Therefore, a portion of the newly delivered grains had been allocated to the civilians.

An Chang Qing was impressed by the smiling faces of the Yanzhou people, “The people here don’t seem to be affected by the war.”

“En, they’re used to it. As long as the gates still stand, they can live on.”

The people of Yanzhou are like the grass that grew there, tough and resilient. As long as the roots are still there, it will continue to strive.

Although he had only been here for less than a day, An Chang Qing had already grown fond of the place.

An Chang Qing strolled along the streets and found that there were not only people queuing for rice but also vendors with goods that he had never seen before.

Xiao Zhige led him to a stall with clam shells on display.

“Do you have more?”

“Yes.” The stall owner looked at An Chang Qing curiously before taking out a bag of goods from under the table. He placed the items neatly and said courteously, “These jars contain the highest quality lamb oil. Wangfei, feel free to pick any of them.”

“You know me?” An Chang Qing was surprised. This was the first time he had left the General’s Manor, how did the peddler know that he was the Wangfei?

The peddler smiled and said, “Everyone already knows. It was Lieutenant Qi who spread the word. He told us that Wangfei had personally delivered the grains to us and that Wangfei is very good-looking. So I knew that the person who could stand next to the General and be as handsome as yourself could only be Wangfei.”

After all, in the many years that Xiao Zhige had been in Yanzhou, he had earned the admiration of countless misses and bachelorettes. Although he had always had a grim look on his face, there were still many who were daring enough to pursue him. However, none were successful.

All these years, no one had seen the General browse the streets and yet, the moment that Wangfei had arrived, he was seen strolling with someone by his side. Who else could it be if not his Wangfei?

An Chang Qing pursed his lips and squinted at Xiao Zhige. He then turned back to the porcelain jars and asked curiously, “What is lamb oil used for?”

The young peddler began to promote enthusiastically. It turns out that not only was Yanzhou surrounded by sand and powerful winds, it also had very low humidity. Especially in winter when the air was particularly dry, it could easily damage the skin. This was why in every household, they would store a special kind of lamb oil to protect the skin. Ordinary people would use low-grade oil stored in shells and only the rich would use top-grade oils stored in porcelain jars.

“You’re from Yejing and must not be used to this climate. You should apply this everyday to protect your skin.”

An Chang Qing had to agree that the air in Yanzhou was indeed dry. He picked up a jar and asked the peddler for the price.

The peddler immediately waved his hands and said, “Wangfei had sent us food from thousands of miles away, this is a great benevolence to us. This lamb oil is not worth much, please take it if you like.”

An Chang Qing naturally could not accept the handout. From what he could tell, the people of Yanzhou were not doing well themselves. In the end, he still insisted on paying.

After buying the lamb oil, An Chang Qing went on to purchase little trinkets from other stores. Xiao Zhige did not let him carry the items and instead, carried them for him. For someone who did not know who Xiao Zhige was, he would’ve thought that he was An Chang Qing’s servant.

The people looked at them with good-intentioned curiosity as they have never seen their General act that way.

Even the ladies who had previously called him a male vixen for robbing them of Xiao Zhige were now singing his praises. After they knew that Wangfei had provided Yanzhou with food, all they could see was a handsome young gongzi who was very pleasing to the eyes. Some even blushed and claimed that if they were Xiao Zhige, they would’ve picked Wangfei as well.

…..

After shopping, the couple returned to the General’s Manor under the curious stares of bystanders. 

At the door, Xiao Zhige suddenly stopped and spoke coldly, “Get lost!”

An Chang Qing was starting to ponder when he saw a few figures coming out from behind the wall. One of them An Chang Qing was familiar with – it was Lieutenant General Qi whom he had spoken to. The other three were towering men of muscular build. They were probably the other lieutenants under Xiao Zhige’s command.

Seeing the four of them looking at him cordially, An Chang Qing hesitated before smiling back at them awkwardly.

As though his smile was the signal, the four men immediately sprang forward with Qi Wei leading the way. They stood in line and saluted with big smiles, “Greetings to Wangfei!”

After the salutation, Qi Wei corrected, “Wangfei sounds too unfamiliar! It should be ‘big brother-in-law’!”

With that, the group saluted An Chang Qing once again, “Greetings to big brother-in-law!”

Xiao Zhige stood at one side with a charred black face, “What are you lot doing here? Leaving your post without permission! Go back and give yourselves thirty paddles each.”

Qi Wei shrunk back and pleaded for mercy, “Please don’t. We were only worried that our big brother-in-law was not accustomed to Yanzhou so we came especially to deliver these.” Qi Wei frantically gestured for the soldiers to bring up an ox cart piled with loads of items. An Chang Qing could even see a six-legged ornamental heater.

Xiao Zhige’s face eased up considerably. He waved with impatience and said, “We’ll take the items. You can leave now.”

Qi Wei dared not taunt the tiger any longer. He pulled back his neck and said, “If brother-in-law needs anything else, you can always tell us!”

Before An Chang Qing could respond, Xiao Zhige took up the whip from the carriage and hurled towards them. The band howled and quickly scurried away.

“They’ve brought so many things for us, shouldn’t we at least keep them for tea?” An Chang Qing looked at the cart full of things and felt a little guilty. Although it was nothing expensive, they were all practical items.

Xiao Zhige still had a gloomy expression on his face, “They just wanted an excuse to skip work. You can ignore them.”

In addition to the newly delivered grains, they had also managed to push back Hu Yan Xun’s army. This was why those lieutenants were beginning to feel relaxed and began looking for trouble. Xiao Zhige told himself that he should probably increase their workload. 

Hiding his intentions from An Chang Qing, he spoke to him without a change in expression, “Let’s have someone move these inside. We’ll keep whatever that is usable.”

An Chang Qing responded with an ‘en’ and followed him in.

…..

After they had arranged the items, it was time to rest.

Since An Chang Qing had bathed in the morning, he only took a quick wash. 

Xiao Zhige had just changed his bandage and was sitting on the bed, fiddling with the porcelain jar of lamb oil.

When he saw An Chang Qing coming out from the bathroom, he patted on the space next to him and said, “Come here.”

An Chang Qing climbed onto the bed and squeezed into the blanket. Although spring had come, the cold was still quite intense at night. He rubbed his hands while his feet were wrapped around Xiao Zhige’s leg, trying to take in the warmth. 

Xiao Zhige squeezed his hand and observed it under the candle light, “It’d gotten coarse.”

He then opened the porcelain jar, scraped out a portion of lamb oil, and rubbed it on An Chang Qing’s hand. He carefully massaged from each finger to his palm. When the lamb oil had melted and soothed An Chang Qing’s skin, his frown finally loosened.

An Chang Qing used the hand that had been applied with the lamb oil to caress Xiao Zhige’s face. He smiled and said, “Why are you only doing it for me? Why don’t you use it on yourself?”

“I’m used to the dryness. There’s no need.”

As he spoke, he pulled An Chang Qing’s feet out from under the quilt. The skin on it was whiter than his hands. The toes were round and tender but patches of dry skin were beginning to form at the soles. If left unattended, it would eventually chap. 

Xiao Zhige dug a large chunk of lamb oil and started massaging his feet, “Let’s buy a few more jars of lamb oil next time.”

An Chang Qing ‘hm’ softly. He wiggled his toes and said, “Will Wangye apply it for me every day?”

An Chang Qing was only teasing him but unexpectedly, Xiao Zhige responded without hesitation, “En, I will continue to apply it for you everyday.”

TTBE 45

Chapter 45

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Qi Wei brought along a few soldiers to welcome An Chang Qing’s group into the city.

The travel-worn An Chang Qing was then invited to rest at the General’s Manor together with the Imperial Supervisor.

The General’s Manor was void of habitants. There were no servants and hence, the soldier who had led them in had to take over and served tea to the guests.

An Chang Qing thought that he could meet Xiao Zhige once he reached Yanzhou but the person was nowhere to be found. He asked the attending soldier, “Is Wangye not in the city?”

The soldier replied, “The General has left the city!”

An Chang Qing grimaced and asked, “When will he return?”

“I do not know.”

Seeing that he could not get any other information from the soldier, An Chang Qing decided to wait till he met the vice lieutenant for further enquiries. 

An Chang Qing and the Imperial Supervisor finished their tea, only then did Qi Wei come in.

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Due to what happened to the previous batch of grains, Qi Wei had personally gone to check on the newly delivered batch. When he found that there were only 20,000 buckets, he was slightly riled.

They had requested 100,000 buckets but only 20,000 were delivered. Just how long could 20,000 buckets sustain an army?

The previous excitement turned into indignation. Qi Wei saw the disappointment in his subordinates and flung his hand, “Let me ask what’s going on!”

Facing the two head figures, Qi Wei knew to show his respect. He bowed and lowered his voice to ask, “Two sirs, if the grain count is correct, 20,000 buckets is far from enough to support the entire army through the war.”

The Imperial Supervisor looked briefly at An Chang Qing before answering sternly, “This is a donation from Wangfei. Your request had reached His Majesty. His Majesty had decreed that an investigation be carried out on the arson case and if confirmed to be legitimate, the court will make up for the lacking quantity.”

Qi Wei had not registered which Wangfei he was referring to when he heard that the arson was to be investigated. In a moment, his anger flared up, “The evidence is clear as day, what is there to investigate?! By the time you’re done with the investigation and the grains are delivered, the soldiers of Yangzhou will have long starved to death!”

“Qi Wei!” A majestic male voice came from behind. 

Xiao Zhige heard about the arrival of the provisions the moment he returned. Without even taking off his armor, he immediately went to the General’s Manor. When he arrived and heard Qi Wei’s exchange with the Imperial Supervisor, Li An Ming, Xiao Zhige hurriedly blocked his words. 

He handed his spear to the soldier at the door and strode in. 

“Minister Li, investigate if you must, but this…”

Xiao Zhige’s words were stuck in his throat the moment he saw the person sitting next to Li An Ming. 

It took him a while to find his voice to ask, “Why are you here?”

An Chang Qing had been staring at the door ever since he heard his voice. Because there were people around, he had to suppress his excitement and keep himself from standing up.

The other person had lost a lot of weight and looked much rougher than before. Maybe because he had just returned from the battlefield, his armor was still stained with dried blood. Coming closer, one could even smell the scent of blood.

This was the first time that An Chang Qing had seen Xiao Zhige with this rugged appearance. However, his eyes were still sharp and dignified. This is the General guarding over the Da Ye Empire –  his General.

An Chang Qing slowly blinked. Speaking with a dry throat, his voice was cracking, “I heard that Yanzhou is in need of food so I came to send it to you. There are 40,000 buckets but 20,000 will come a little slower. Tie Hu is currently escorting them here.”

Xiao Zhige immediately understood what he meant. Regarding Emperor An Qing’s response, Xiao Zhige had long predicted the backlash, otherwise, he would not have sent his men to Liangzhou and Chenzhou to borrow grains. What he did not expect was that his Wangfei, who was supposed to wait for his return in the safety of the Wang Manor, had amassed the grains and personally delivered it to him all the way to Yanzhou. 

He carefully studied An Chang Qing and found that the bones on his face were a lot more visible. The dark round eyes also had dark circles under them. This must be due to the tedious trip delivering the grains to him. 

After his throat rolled several times, Xiao Zhige finally found his voice, “M, Minister Li, please have a rest first. Regarding the arson and the food supply, we will discuss it tomorrow.”

Qi Wei was not appeased, “But the rations…”

“The rations are here. Let everyone have a good meal first,” Xiao Zhige commanded with impatience and annoyance, “Qi Wei, have someone lead Minister Li to his room.”

Qi Wei eyed his Commander who seemed quite off ever since he entered the room. However, he did not dare to misbehave and obediently invited Minister Li out. Li An Ming knew that the couple had much to say to each other and did not fancy himself to be an eyesore. He saluted and left with Qi Wei.

Seeing that no one was around, Xiao Zhige stepped forward and reached out to touch him. But when he saw the bloody marks on his hand, he realized that he had just come from the battlefield. He took back his hand with forbearance and could only look at An Chang Qing with tender eyes, “It’s been hard on you.”

“En.” An Chang Qing initially did not feel the hardship before but when he heard his words, he shriveled his lips in grievance.

On the water, when he couldn’t eat and sleep due to seasickness, he did not feel aggrieved; on land when the carriage traversed on the arduous road causing his bones to almost break whenever there was a bump on the road, he did not feel aggrieved…

But once he saw the person who had constantly occupied his thoughts for the past few days, his feelings simply took over. He pouted and threw himself into Xiao Zhige’ arms. His voice cracked as he complained, “It’s all your fault for not letting me come with you. I couldn’t sleep not knowing whether the news you sent back was true or not…”

Xiao Zhige hugged him tightly and rubbed his chin against his hair. He spoke in a hoarse voice, “En, it’s my fault. From now on, I won’t let you leave my side.” 

An Chang Qing sniffed and was about to wipe his tears on his Xiao Zhige’s sleeves when he was overwhelmed by the pungent smell of blood. He grumbled with satisfaction, “Your body reeks.”

Even though he said so, he still held tightly onto Xiao Zhige and refused to let go.

Xiao Zhige said with some helplessness, “I haven’t taken a bath for nearly six days. I’m covered in dirt.”

An Chang Qing hummed and hugged him even tighter, “I don’t mind.”

Xiao Zhige’s hand landed on his back and gently comforted him.

The pair hugged for a long time, trying to patch the gap during their time of separation, before they parted reluctantly. An Chang Qing’s eyes were pinkish as his face brimmed with shyness, “Where is your room? I’ll settle in and tell you about Yejing later.”

Thinking about Yejing, An Chang Qing’s mood dampened a little. He creased his brows and said, “I really couldn’t get any more food. With this much, I’m not sure how long you can last.”

Xiao Zhige had long predicted this outcome and hence, was not worried. He grabbed his shoulders and led him out. “Let’s not talk about this for now. Let’s go back to our room and let you have a change of clothes first. Have you eaten? I’ll have someone make porridge for you.” Xiao Zhige said with some guilt, “There’s a food shortage and not much is left in the General’s Manor…”

“I’m not hungry. Porridge is fine.”

The pair chatted as they walked side by side. As they reached the door, Qi Wei was waiting for them with a look of excitement and curiosity. Seeing them both, Qi Wei smiled and greeted in a flattering voice, “General, Wangfei.”

Before, he was too occupied to consider which Wangfei Minister Li was talking about. After he had exited and conversed a few more words with Li An Ming, he came to realize that the fair-skinned and good-looking gongzi was actually their General’s Wangfei!

Although everyone knew that their General had married a little brother-in-law back in Yejing, no one had managed to have a good look at that person. Only now did he know that their Wangfei was not only beautiful but had also brought rations for them.

He’s their savior!

So after the big-mouth lieutenant Qi had spread this to the entire platoon, he was voted to be the representative to invite the General and his Wangfei for dinner. Now that the food had arrived, they could at least have a better meal worthy of these esteemed guests.

But of course, the most important thing was to get a glimpse of Wangfei!

Looking at his subordinate, Xiao Zhige’s face immediately darkened, “Didn’t I tell you to help Minister Li settle down? There’s something else?”

Qi Wei was baffled by the quick change in his attitude. He shrunk back and braced himself, “Now that food has arrived and we had just won another battle, we brothers had asked the kitchen to cook up a scrumptious meal specially for General and Wangfei…”

“Not going.” Xiao Zhige turned him down with no hesitation, “Go ahead and enjoy yourselves but drinking is forbidden.”

Qi Wei was reluctant but Xiao Zhige no longer bothered with him. He turned and led An Chang Qing to the back court.

The General’s Manor was a run down place left over from previous generations. It covered a large area but due to the lack of maintenance and inhabitants, only the house Xiao Zhige lived in was in good condition.

There also weren’t any servants, only a few soldiers to guard the place.

When Xiao Zhige was living alone, a place to rest his head had seemed adequate. He tended to spend most of his time at the barracks anyway. Now that An Chang Qing was here, he felt that the place seemed to lack many things.

But a war was currently in motion, it was improbable to have anything done in a short period of time.

Knowing that An Chang Qing loved cleanliness, Xiao Zhige personally brought in the bathtub, drew the hot water, and tested the temperature. “There’s no heater in the room. You should wash quickly in case you catch a cold. When this battle is over, we’ll buy whatever you need. Please bear with it for now.”

An Chang Qing did not think anything of it. After all, he did not come here to live a comfortable life. Seeing Xiao Zhige’s guilty look, he frowned and said, “Is Wangye not going to wash?”

Xiao Zhige immediately froze. He spoke as naturally as he could, “I’ll bathe outside.”

An Chang Qing remembered that he had used up the hot water and the new batch was still being heated. Washing outside would mean that it was mostly cold water. He said with some embarrassment, “Why don’t Wangye bathe with me?”

Xiao Zhige almost stumbled when he was turning to leave. He said with his back facing An Chang Qing, “My body is full of blood stains, this much water is not enough for me to wash them off.”

He then quickly fled out the door, not even stopping when An Chang Qing called for him.

…..

An Chang Qing washed up quickly and put on clean clothes before going out to look for Xiao Zhige.

After asking the guard stationed in the yard, he learned that Xiao Zhige had gone to the bedroom. The bedroom was only two rooms away from the bathroom and An Chang Qing had managed to find it with ease. When he entered, he saw that Xiao Zhige had taken off his armor and was buttoning up his inner shirt with rigid movements.

“Wangye?” 

Hearing An Chang Qing’s voice, Xiao Zhige hurriedly put on his coat and turned around, “Done bathing so soon? The kitchen has not finished preparing the porridge yet.”

“What happened to your shoulder?” 

An Chang Qing noticed the blood seeping through his clothes and his forehead creased up. He worriedly strode over and tried to undo his coat.

Xiao Zhige held back his hand, “Don’t look. It’s just a small wound.”

“Let me see,” An Chang Qing stared at him stubbornly.

Xiao Zhige could never go against An Chang Qing. He sighed and released his hand, “It’s not a serious injury, don’t worry.”

An Chang Qing carefully undid his shirt and saw a large gaping wound stretching from his left shoulder all the way to his chest. The wound was so deep that his bone was visible and just a little longer, it would’ve reached the heart!

“Why didn’t you see the doctor?” An Chang Qing bit his lips hard in order to hold back the sour, scorching sensation in his eyes. 

“I did,” Xiao Zhige responded, “It’s only a flesh wound. It looks scary on the outside but I have no internal injuries. Applying medicine daily will help with the bleeding.”

An Chang Qing glared at him, “Where’s the medicine? You were about to put it on just now, weren’t you?”

Xiao Zhige had no choice but to respond with an ‘en’ and took out the medicine bottle from the bed head, “I was about to apply it when you came.”

An Chang Qing took the medicine bottle and drew a deep breath, “Don’t move. Let me apply it for you.”

He then gently administered the medicine onto the open wound. Although Xiao Zhige did not make a sound, the blue veins on his neck were starting to show. An Chang Qing tried to work as quickly as he could. After the application, he blew gently over the wound before dressing it up.


TN: Just to clarify, the Imperial Supervisor Li An Ming is the same person from the episode regarding Marquis Wu. He was actually called something else in the previous chapters. I will change it to Li An Ming to avoid confusion.

TTBE 44

Chapter 44

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Three days later, the court was still unable to come up with a solution.

The Crown Prince’s party insisted that the claims were groundless. Whether it was the censor officer’s betrayal or the corruption within the Taifu Temple, they wanted to have things investigated and presented with hard evidence before making any other moves. 

Apart from these people, there were also many like An Zhi Ke who preferred to stay on the sideline and simply stated that the war should be prioritized but refused to talk about the course of action.

Only those who truly cared for the safety of the Da Ye Empire advised Emperor An Qing to fund the purchase as quickly as possible and send the grains to Yanzhou.

The Great General Shen Tu Bei who had been a close confidant of the Emperor couldn’t help but speak up for Yanzhou, “Regardless of any evidence that can be found later, Yanzhou’s current plight is undeniable. Unless we want Yanzhou to be lost, we should raise funds and send support as soon as possible. If Yanzhou is lost, the Da Ye Empire will be in danger!”

Shen Tu Bei watched over Suzhou and Chenzhou. Due to his old age and ill stricken body, he had been staying in Yejing to recuperate. Suzhou was left to his son, Shen Tu Xu, to overlook. If Yanzhou were to fall, Suzhou would be one of the first provinces to be affected. Furthermore, Chenzhou, which had been defending the border with Yanzhou, was guarded by Zhou Ji, a student he had personally nurtured. These provinces had always been mutually dependent, when the lips are lost, the teeth will naturally feel the cold1.

He looked at the grumpy Emperor An Qing sitting on his throne and persisted, “Your Majesty is wise, please send support to Yanzhou with haste.”

“Support? The treasury is empty! Where can I get the gold to send for support?”

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These few days, the courtiers’ argument had even haunted Emperor An Qing in his sleep. Hearing Shen Tu Bei’s insistence at this point only aggravated his annoyance.

He did not think that Xiao Zhige would dare to fabricate these serious crimes but the Crown Prince’s accusations provided him a justifiable argument for postponing the delivery of grains. After all, the treasury had been emptied. No matter how urgent the war in Yanzhou was, they couldn’t possibly demand what was not there.

As of now, Xiao Zhige had united the three northern provinces to fight at the border. With the whole country watching, he could not simply refute their call for help, that would cause displeasure to both the court officials and the generals at war. Emperor An Qing could only find an excuse to drag out this discussion.

“Speak no more. Since we can’t reach an agreement, let’s compromise. The Taifu Temple will gather whatever provisions they have left and send it over. Have the Imperial Supervisor do a thorough investigation. I demand to know what truly happened.”

Shen Tu Bei cast a worried look at the court filled with shrewd officers and sighed bitterly.

…..

Back at the Wang Manor, An Chang Qing waited restlessly for three days only to feel his heart turning to stone after hearing Tie Hu’s report of the court’s decision. He stated that the treasury was empty and the Taifu Temple’s inability to even come up with 10, 000 buckets of rice. And on top of that, the Imperial Supervisor was to conduct a thorough investigation regarding the crimes that had happened in Yanzhou.

Just as he had feared, things had turned for the worst. If this followed the path of his previous life, the batch of grains from the Taifu Temple might not even reach Yanzhou in full.

Tie Hu did not look good either. He asked with great concern, “What should we do?” 

He had been stationed at the border for many years and therefore, was fully aware of what would happen if there was a food shortage during times of war.

“Ready the carriage, I’m going to the Palace!” An Chang Qing glanced towards the north and said with a hardened resolve.

He resolutely returned to his room and after changing into his ceremonial gown, he got on the carriage and headed for the Palace. 

…..

When Emperor An Qing heard that the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei was seeking an audience, he rubbed his temples and grumbled, “What is he doing here? Send him away!”

The eunuch touched the large chunk of silver in his sleeve and after some deliberation, he added, “Upon hearing that Yanzhou was in need of rations, he has volunteered to procure the remaining portion to support Yanzhou.”

“Hm?” Emperor An Qing opened his eyes. He pushed away the beauty massaging his feet and said, “Bring him in.”

An Chang Qing was then led into the inner hall. He gave the eunuch an undetectable glance before coming forward to kneel before the Emperor.

Emperor An Qing sized him up but did not allow him to rise, “Wangfei wants to donate grains to Yanzhou?”

“Yes.” An Chang Qing calmly knelt on the ground and began to say the speech he had carefully prepared, “I heard that Yanzhou was facing food shortages. It just so happened that I managed several grain stores and was able to find a way to obtain a large quantity of grains. This is why I had ventured here to speak to Your Majesty today.”

Emperor An Qing smiled with an ambiguous implication, “Wangfei seems to be quite well informed about the situations at court.”

“This…” An Chang Qing hesitated. He stammered, “I am indeed concerned about the war in Yanzhou.”

Emperor An Qing looked at him with cold eyes.

An Chang Qing lowered his head and continued, “I do not know much about warfare but I am deeply concerned for Wangye’s safety. Since our marriage, we have never been apart. Now that Wangye is on the battlefield, I couldn’t help but worry even in my sleep. This is why I have been paying attention to the happenings in Yanzhou. Knowing that Yanzhou is in need of provisions, I came to see Your Majesty to offer my humble assistance, hoping to relieve Your Majesty of this burden and also to lend Wangye a hand.”

After speaking, An Chang Qing kept his head down, looking genuinely concerned for his husband.

Emperor An Qing’s annoyance was slightly lifted. He told An Chang Qing to rise and said, “It’s good that you have the heart. However, the amount of grains needed is too large, it may exceed your capabilities.”

“Please allow Chang Qing a chance to try,” An Chang Qing then kowtowed and beseeched, “Chang Qing has one more request hoping for Your Majesty’s approval.”

“Oh? What is your request?”

An Chang Qing responded, “If I can gather enough grains, I hope that Your Majesty would allow me to escort it to Yanzhou.”

“Yanzhou has harsh weather and is currently in the state of war, why do you want to go there?”

An Chang Qing smiled awkwardly, “It has been a month since I last saw Wangye. I want to see how he is doing. Your Majesty, rest assured, I will not get in the way of Wangye’s work.”

Although the families of military personnel were not allowed to leave the capital, Xiao Zhige was still a prince. Furthermore, if An Chang Qing could really come up with the provisions, there was no harm in letting him leave. After all, he was just an unfavored son, what threat could he pose?

After thinking it through, Emperor An Qing made his decision, “Fine. If you can really meet the demand, I will allow you to go to Yanzhou.”

An Chang Qing was elated. He looked at the Emperor with innocence and gratefulness, “Thank you for your kindness!”

Coming out of the Palace gate, An Chang Qing was finally able to relax after he had gotten on the carriage.

“Wangfei, can we go to Yanzhou?” Tie Hu asked from outside the carriage.

“His Majesty has promised,” An Chang Qing calmed his heart and said, “We have to find ways to obtain 50,000 rice buckets in three days. There is too little time to gather 100,000.”

“50,000 will suffice! The Commander will definitely seek other places for help. He will not put all his hopes in Yejing!” Tie Hu said with glee.

“Turn around and head for the warehouse. Gather the shop managers for me.”

…..

An Chang Qing assembled the shop managers and emptied the accounts. After scouring all over, he was able to find and purchase 20,000 buckets of rice. Nonetheless, this was not even half of the amount he had hoped for. This was just the beginning of spring, many farmers’ grain reserves had been sold or used for planting. Getting 50,000 buckets in such a short time seemed an improbable feat.

The shop managers had visited all the grain merchants in Yejing but still could not acquire more.

After asking around to no avail, An Chang Qing was beginning to feel distress when Li Hai Yun came to visit with unexpected news.

“I have a close acquaintance who is in the rice business in Chang Yang. I’ve sent an express letter to inquire and he had agreed to put aside 20,000 buckets for Wangfei. However, Chang Yang is too far from Yejing, I’m afraid it will take five to six days for the shipment to arrive.”

“That is fine,” An Chang Qing bowed with gratitude, “Thank you cousin. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little slow but please have him send it directly to Yanzhou. I will leave first with the current batch.”

Li Hai Yun saw An Chang Qing’s haggardness and comforted, “Wangfei, please take care of yourself. Wangye has always been undefeated, I believe it will be no different this time.”

An Chang Qing pursed his lips and said, “That’s true but I just can’t help worrying.”

Li Hai Yun saw the look in his eyes and held back his words. To him, An Chang Qing might seem to be suffering but to An Chang Qing, that might not be the case. Despite how much he did not want to give in, he could only let his feelings slowly die out.

“In that case, I will send a letter to inform my contact in Chang Yang.”

“Let Tie Hu come with you. He will help to escort the second batch of grains northward,” An Chang Qing said. 

Li Hai Yun agreed. He cupped his hand and greeted, “I wish Wangfei a safe journey.”

“Thank you,” An Chang Qing thanked him sincerely and personally sent him to the door.

After sending Li Hai Yun off, An Chang Qing once again entered the Palace. Words had already spread that he had managed to raise 40,000 buckets of rice, half of which will be sent first due to the time constraint. 

Although the number was far from what was agreed, it could still sustain the army for some time. Most importantly, the treasury did not have to pay for it, making Emperor An Qing particularly jubilant, “You have my permission to go. Tell Shen Tu Bei to arrange for the grains to be delivered to Yanzhou.”

…..

Shen Tu Bei was nearly seventy this year. On the day of departure, he went to send An Chang Qing off in a low-key carriage. Seeing An Chang Qing’s skin-and-bone body, he shook his head and sighed, “Thank you Wangfei for your patriotism in this matter.”

An Chang Qing smiled, “Wangye is fighting in the North, doing this is out of my personal interest.”

“But it has helped to save countless lives in this war,” Shen Tu Bei praised him loudly, “There is no need to distinguish whether it was for personal motives or doing the right thing.”

Seeing that no one was looking, Shen Tu Bei leaned in and whispered, “Leave by the water through Suzhou. If anything happens, you can seek help from my son, Shen Tu Xu.”

He then cupped his hand and watched as An Chang Qing began his journey.

An Chang Qing was in the same boat as the Imperial Supervisor. Because Tie Hu had to stay behind to escort the second batch of grains, An Chang Qing had brought along Zhou He Lan and Zhao Shi instead.

The Imperial Supervisor was a quiet and impartial man who An Chang Qing tried not to bother. Instead, he stayed at the stern and counted down the days they would reach Yanzhou.

From Yejing to Yanzhou, it would take six days of continuous riding on horseback. And if they had to bring along a large quantity of provisions, it would take at least half a month. Traversing by boat would reduce the time but it would still take eight to nine days.

In eight to nine days, how will the situation in Yanzhou change?

The pressing news from Yanzhou had come on the 28th of March. Now it is the 5th day of April. By the time they arrived, Yanzhou would have already run out of food.

An Chang Qing clenched the jade pendant on his waist, praying for Yanzhou to hold out just a little longer.

…..

The naval fleet traveled for six days. After passing Suzhou, the group traveled another three days on land before finally reaching the outer vicinity of Yanzhou.

Even far from the towering citadel, one could already faintly smell the blood drifting in the wind. 

When Qi Wei was listening to the report of their arrival, he was sipping on a bowl of porridge that was mostly liquid with only a few grains of rice. Unable to believe his ears, he asked, “What did you say?”

The soldier repeated, “Yejing’s grain support has arrived! They’re only twenty miles outside the city! Food, food has arrived!”

“Food?” Qi Wei put aside the bowl of porridge and wiped his mouth enthusiastically, “Follow me to receive the rations!”

An Chang Qing was sitting on horseback when he saw a large group of soldiers kicking up a cloud of sand as they approached. Seeing the large flag with the word ‘Ge’ fluttering in the distance, the frown that had been plastered on his face the past few days finally lifted.

He had arrived at Yanzhou.


1唇亡齿寒 when the lips are gone, the teeth will be exposed to the cold. In reference to things that are interdependent, losing one would cause the other to be in danger.

TTBE 43

Chapter 43

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Xiao Zhige rode at top speed for six days before finally arriving in Yanzhou. 

Vice Commander Qi Wei saw his return and quickly opened the gates to welcome him. He knelt and cupped his hands, speaking with great relief, “General, you’ve finally arrived! The Beidi troops have issued their call for war for several days now. We did not take them head on and have so far been able to defend the gates.”

“What’s the situation outside the gate?” Xiao Zhige waved his hand, signaling for the 800 soldiers to follow him into the city.

“The commanding general is Hu Yan Ah Te, leading an army of 50 000 elite soldiers. They had charged at us twice but we’ve managed to push them back.”

Xiao Zhige was led upwards to the citadel and saw that just a few miles outside the city gates, the Beidi people already had their barracks set up. Xiao Zhige asked, “What about Hu Yan Zhi and Hu Yan Xun?”

The Beidi army had three formidable warriors: the first was Hu Yan Xun, the second was Hu Yan Ah Te, and the third was Hu Yan Zhi. Whenever they had gone up against Xiao Zhige before, the leading Commander had always been Hu Yan Xun while the supporting commander had either been Hu Yan Ah Te or Hu Yan Zhi. However, at this point, it seemed there was only Hu Yan Ah Te who had come to challenge them.

According to Xiao Zhige’s understanding of Hu Yan Xun, he was not someone who would rashly underestimate his opponents. 

“Our spies reported that Hu Yan Xun and Hu Yan Zhi are currently back at the Beidi Imperial Court.” Qi Wei said.

“That’s not right,” Xiao Zhige squinted at the Beidi camp in the distance, “An army of fifty thousand elite soldiers waiting to attack Yanyun County when I’m away, they couldn’t possibly only have Hu Yan Ah Te as the headliner.”

“Hu Yan Xun must be planning something,” Xiao Zhige quickly deduced, “Rations are scarce due to the recent winter… feeding a troop of 50,000 soldiers is no small feat and yet they only make several small scale attacks… It’s a decoy!”

Xiao Zhige jumped off the wall and said urgently, “Bring me the military map!”

Qi Wei hurriedly ordered for the map to be brought up and summoned for the other lieutenant generals to gather as well. Xiao Zhige studied the map and, after contemplating for a long time, he pointed at an area on the map and said, “The Hongya County’s militia is now the weakest and its terrains are also not as steep as Changri County’s, making its defense vulnerable. If I were Hu Yan Xun, I would take my troops to raid Hongya.”

Yanzhou comprises three counties. Yanyun was the largest with most of its border shared with the Northern Desert, making it the first line of defense against the Beidi armies. Hongya and Changri were situated as its flanks but they were surrounded by steep terrains and had a sparse population. Hence, the troops deployed to guard these counties were small, making it vulnerable to any surprise attacks. After marching through Hongya county, the enemy could easily reach Yanyun, opening it for a pincer attack from the front and side. If that happened, Yanzhou’s defense would collapse!

Xiao Zhige had an ominous look, “Qi Wei, lead your troops out of the city. Make sure to hold Hu Yan Ah Te back and keep him from sending reinforcements to Hongya. Another five thousand armored soldiers will follow me to Hongya!”

In Yanzhou, Xiao Zhige’s words held absolute power. His lieutenant generals had long put all their faith in him. After his orders were issued, there were no objections and the men promptly went to prepare for the march. 

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Xiao Zhige also quickly changed into his battle armor. When his eyes accidentally landed on the now empty satchel, there was an uncontrollable surge of softness in his heart.

Being on the road for days on end, there was no time to think about the person back home. Only when stopping for food and water did the feelings slowly suffuse. Xiao Zhige placed his clothes together with the sachet and put them aside. He then took a long look at the twin-fish pendant on his waist before tucking it safely under his chest armor.

Along the city walls, battle flags were erected. The ‘Ge’ that was embroidered on them fluttered ferociously along with the wind.

Vice Commander Qi Wei motioned for their flag to be raised as he shouted, “Open the gates! We’re heading out!”

Behind them, Xiao Zhige led 5,000 armored troops to Hongya to intercept Hu Yan Xun.

…..

On the 20th of March, Yanzhou delivered news of victory.

The Northern Warlord saw through the enemy’s ruse and led 5,000 troops to face off against the Supreme Commander of the Beidi people- Hu Yan Xun.

Both sides had faced off at Hongya and after ten days of relentless fighting, the Northern Warlord had emerged victorious, cutting off Hu Yan Xun’s arm and killing 3,000 of their elite soldiers.

At the same time, the 50,000 Beidi soldiers stationed at Yanyun county had also been defeated and forced to retreat back to the desert.

After receiving the good news, Emperor An Qing was feeling generous for the first time and rewarded the Wang Manor with quite a bit of gifts.

An Chang Qing humbly accepted the gifts before closing the gates, refusing to greet any other guests. Even so, he could still feel the change in the wind. Two days after the Emperor had bestowed them with gifts, countless dignitaries and officials had also sent their greetings along with banquet invitations. 

An Chang Qing politely turned them down and did not attend a single one.

No matter what intention the Emperor had for rewarding them, if the Wang Manor had so much as a close contact with any of the officials, it would arouse the thoughts of many, including the Emperor himself. 

An Chang Qing stayed hidden in the comfort of the Wang Manor. Whoever came to visit was always turned away with the claim that he was ill. 

He sat in the courtyard reading the letter that came along with the war report.

His brows wrinkled looking at the single row of words: All is well, do not worry.

That person had always been a man of few words. Even his letters were scarce of words. An Chang Qing looked at it with both joy and disapproval. He was elated that his husband was safe but also annoyed that he couldn’t even elaborate a bit more. 

Then he thought of his previous life and couldn’t help but worry.

The Xiao Zhige from his previous life would not have written back home but from the servants’ words, that had to have been a treacherous battle. However, after leaving for only half a month, Xiao Zhige had sent back news of his victory. His quick success had caused An Chang Qing to feel anxious. 

…..

Yanyun County

“Has the person been caught?” Xiao Zhige tore off the bandage with his teeth and began to apply a new layer of medicine.

In the bloodsoaked battle, although Xiao Zhige had managed to cut off Hu Yan Xun’s arm, he hadn’t been left unharmed. Despite having dodged a fatal attack, Hu Yan Xun had still managed to injure his left shoulder.

“Yes. What do you plan to do with him?”

Qi Wei seemed concerned, “He is the censor sent by His Majesty and also the Crown Prince’s man. I’m afraid…”

Xiao Zhige finished tying the knot of his bandage and said with a murderous smile, “Here on the battlefield, officials are bound by military laws. Furthermore, torching the army’s grains and grass is tantamount to colluding with the enemy and can be deemed as a betrayal to the country. Chop his head off and have it delivered back with haste to Yejing.”

“Behead his accomplices and hang their bodies in public to set an example.”

“Understood!”

Xiao Zhige continued to ask, “How are the rations?”

“We discovered the arson in time and were able to put out the fire before too much of the animal fodder was lost. However…” Qi Wei’s face dimmed, “When we counted the grains, we found that the batches in the inner storage were mixed with pebbles. After sorting them apart, only less than half of that amount is grains. As long as there is no war, it will last us half a month.”

Qi Wei could only report to this point when the war horn sounded. 

A soldier’s urgent report came through the door, “Our scouts have detected that Hu Yan Xun and Hu Yan Ah Te are leading an army heading straight for Yanyun County!”

“Get ready for battle!” Xiao Zhige disregarded the tear wound on his shoulder and stood up. He put on his armor and said to Qi Wei,  “Send another urgent report back to Yejing to request for rations. Send out two more men to Liangzhou and Chenzhou to ask if they have any surplus to lend us.”

…..

On the 28th of March, an emergency report came from Yanzhou along with the head of the censor officer.

The report stated that the censor officer had colluded with the enemy and betrayed the country. While the two armies were fighting, he had led ten men to light the grains and grass on fire. Thanks to the timely discovery, the fire had been extinguished but it had been later found out that the grain barrels had been mixed with pebbles, cutting their food supply by half. The Beidi people had gotten wind of that and launched an attack. There were only enough grains to support the army for another ten days, with an urgent request for support from Yejing.

After the report was read, there was an uproar within all ranks of the government. 

During times of war, grains and grass were of utmost importance. An officer burning down the army’s provisions was no different than committing treason. The ministers eyed each other with solemn looks on their faces, fully aware of the looming crisis.

The Head Imperial Censor immediately knelt down and plead, “It’s my incompetence for not being able to see my subordinate’s treachery! I await my punishment!”

The Taifu Temple’s Secretary also knelt down and claimed, “Your Majesty! The grains sent from the national repository couldn’t possibly have pebbles mixed in! Please investigate this matter!”

The Crown Prince swept a look at the anxious officials and stepped forward, “Treason is an unpardonable crime, the perpetrator should’ve been taken back to the Dali Temple for interrogation before he was convicted. Isn’t second brother too hasty in killing him? We should send someone to investigate this major crime before making any decisions.”

Emperor An Qing looked calmly at An Zhi Ke and asked, “What does Minister An think?”

An Zhi Ke swiftly glanced at the Crown Prince before stepping forward and saying, “Yanzhou is a far away land, Wangye must have his personal reasons for doing so. However, at present, overcoming this war should take precedence.”

Emperor An Qing’s face darkened. He tapped the armrest and asked with impatience, “How much grain is Yanzhou requesting?”

The Taifu Secretary replied, “100, 000 buckets.”

Emperor An Qing’s expression changed drastically, “100, 000?”

The Taifu Secretary wiped his sweat-filled forehead and said, “That is correct. However, the treasury is currently empty and the Empress Dowager’s 60th birthday is also coming up… We really have no silver to withdraw at the moment. Before the year end, we had already sent a batch of grains to Yanzhou and coupled with the recent snow disaster, there is nothing left in the grain repository.”

Emperor An Qing’s face was distorted. He slammed his fist onto the table angrily, “The treasury is empty?! Where did all the silver collected over the years go?!”

“Your Majesty! Please calm down!”

Emperor An Qing stared furiously at his subjects. He waved his sleeve and stood up, “Leave! We will resume this discussion tomorrow!”

…..

The situation at court was disclosed shortly after.

When An Chang Qing heard Tie Hu report that there was a food shortage in Yanzhou, his heart clenched.

After the good news from Yanzhou kept coming in, he had always felt that something was amiss. Only after hearing Tie Hu’s report were his worries justified and the memory fragments from his previous life came surging back.

At that time, he had only heard vague pieces of information, not even realizing that it had had something to do with Yanzhou or Xiao Zhige.

He remembered that there had been a major case involving corruption in the military. And then the issue of food shortage in the north. When the Beidi people had begun their attacks, the soldiers and civilians had been engaged in a deadly battle under that dire circumstance. After nearly a month, they had been unable to wait any longer for Yejing’s support and had fed on bark and weeds. Soldiers had had to go into battle in order to forage for food and the outcome had been tragic. Although they had managed to push the Beidi people back in the end, the Da Ye Empire had also suffered heavy casualties.

An Chang Qing clenched his fists. He did not expect that the long forgotten rumors from his previous life were related to Yanzhou, to Xiao Zhige.

TTBE 42

Chapter 42

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

As the cold winds wreaked havoc over the city, eight hundred soldiers marched in unison outside the city gates, waiting for Xiao Zhige to lead them to Yanzhou. These were Xiao Zhige’s loyal soldiers that he had brought back to Yejing from Yanzhou. After three months of peaceful rest in the prosperous Yejing, they were all in high morale, ready for a fight. 

An imperial announcement had also been made that the Northern Warlord would be marching back to Yanzhou to fight the Beidi people. 

Wrapped in a fur coat, An Chang Qing craned his neck trying to look through the smoky dust in the distance. He touched the satchel that he was carrying. Inside were some clothes, dry food and wine that he had specially prepared for Xiao Zhige although, Xiao Zhige was probably already at the city gates, ready to depart. 

An Chang Qing was worried that he might not have the chance to pass the satchel to him. He sighed and hugged the bag.

The uproar and galloping had attracted the attention of many. The Wang Manor’s soup kitchen was located outside the city gates. In addition to handing out warm porridge every day, the shed was also equipped with a large fireplace with burning charcoal to provide temporary shelter for the people at night. Compared to most low-cost inns, many would prefer to gather at the shed at night. This also included the poor scholars from out of town. 

As such, there were two distinct groups huddled at the shed – the scholars and the beggars.

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An old beggar listened to the sound of trampling hooves and sighed, “Another battle is going to start. I heard that many in the north have died because of the snowstorm. I’m not sure if we can win this time.”

“With the Northern Warlord’s protection, those Beidi scums still have the guts to attack?”

“Hasn’t the Northern Warlord been absent from the border?” someone whispered, “Those shameless barbarians must’ve taken advantage of this time to attack. If they manage to break through the city’s defenses, countless lives will be lost.”

The beggars discussed on one side as the scholars sat and listened. One of them couldn’t help but laugh and spoke, “The Northern Warlord is not the only general in the whole of Da Ye, it’s not solely dependent on him to secure the border. He’s a ruthless general but you people treat him as though he’s the benevolent Bodhisattva. What a bunch of ignorants!”

The scholar who had just spoken was dressed neatly in a gray cotton-padded robe and carried himself with pride as he looked at the beggars with disdain.

The beggars’ eyes turned spiteful towards the scholar. The old beggar waved his hand to calm them. He then said to the scholar, “We beggars are illiterate but we still know that we shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds us. This gongzi here is so displeased with the Northern Warlord but totally fine with accepting the goodwill of the Wang Manor?”

Whoever did not know that the soup kitchen was built by the Wang Manor? Moreover, the prices of grains and winter clothes had risen everywhere but only those of the Wang Manor’s shops remained the same. Thanks to this, the other shops could not make any sales and were forced to lower their prices. 

How the entire situation had played out, the people of Yejing had kept in their hearts. Although it was Wangfei who had managed the operations, everyone knew that it was the combined effort of Wangye and his Wangfei. Since then, no one had said a single bad thing about the Northern Warlord. 

The rumors that used to circulate the streets had now been discredited. After all, no one had witnessed the Northern Warlord’s brutality but many had been sheltered by the Wang Manor’s goodwill. Anyone with a conscience would know that they shouldn’t continue to say bad things about the Northern Warlord. 

Ironically, it was the learned scholars who could not see the truth.

The outspoken scholar choked up. He thought for a while and retaliated, “The Northern Warlord was only acting under the orders of the Emperor. If you want to thank anyone, it should be His Majesty!”

“And don’t forget, The Northern Warlord had once killed tens of thousands of Beidi prisoners. Such a cold-blooded person, there’s always the possibility that after he has killed all the Beidi people, he would turn to killing his own people for fun!”

The more he said, the more justified he felt regarding his words, “The Da Ye Empire advocates benevolence and filial piety. A cruel and murderous general is not worthy of praise.”

“What nonsense!” A young beggar spat at him, “Our enemies from the north had always been treacherous. To show them mercy is the same as waiting for them to kill us.”

“Exactly! Has reading too many books blinded you!”

“I’ve never been to school but even I can understand that much!”

The little beggars had recently been addicted to the storytellers’ tales of Wangfei and Wangye. Even the fearsome feats of the Northern Warlord from before had become a cause for their idolization. They wished they could join the Northern Warlord in his attempts to fight off the enemies and couldn’t stand to hear anyone besmirch his name.

The scholar’s face turned pale after being demeaned by the group of beggars. He turned to look at his fellow scholars for support but found that they too had moved away from him. 

One of them even spoke up, “Regarding the teachings of having integrity, righteousness, and honor, since we have received the grace of others, we should be grateful instead of throwing dirt at our benefactor, which is a very shameful conduct.”

Looking around, the scholar found that he had been alienated. He snorted angrily, flung his sleeves and left the shed.

A little beggar behind him shouted, “If you think you’re so great then don’t come back!”

…..

What had happened on the other side of the soup kitchen, An Chang Qing was unaware of. More so to the fact that the Northern Warlord’s reputation was slowly beginning to change.

An Chang Qing was now sitting in front of the soup kitchen cuddling Xiao Zhige’s things while looking towards the direction of the camp. He held on to a glimmer of hope that since Tie Hu was still with him, Xiao Zhige wouldn’t leave directly.

Just as he thought so, he heard Tie Hu’s voice, “Someone is coming!” 

An Chang Qing immediately stood up and looked eagerly towards the group of people in the distance. On the snowy path, a heroic figure carrying a black and golden spear sat on horseback as he rode gallantly against the snow and wind towards the gate. 

“It’s Wangye,” Tie Hu said.

Before he could say anything else, An Chang Qing had already picked up the satchel and ran over.

The winds had turned harsh but An Chang Qing did not feel cold. His smile broadened as the sight of that person became clearer. 

That’s good. He hasn’t left yet.

There were still many words that An Chang Qing had yet to tell him.

Xiao Zhige’s sharp eyesight was able to spot An Chang Qing standing in the snow waiting for him. He nudged his horse to hasten its pace. Shortly after, he was right in front of An Chang Qing.

An Chang Qing was covered in snow as he looked at Xiao Zhige, eyes brimming with light, “I’m glad I get to meet you once more before you leave.”

He then quickly passed the items in his hand to Xiao Zhige, “I’ve prepared dried food and wine for Wangye to take with you on the road.”

Xiao Zhige hung the satchel on the saddle and sighed. He brushed the snow off for An Chang Qing and held his frozen hand. He gently rubbed it and said, “Why didn’t you wait back at the manor? It’s cold here.”

“I was afraid that you won’t have the time to come back.” An Chang Qing knew that Xiao Zhige had headed straight for the camp after he left the Palace. The matters of war have always been urgent, he did not know if Xiao Zhige would be able to return to the manor and hence, waited for him at the city gates. 

Xiao Zhige faintly smiled. He reached out to touch his cheek and spoke to him softly, “I’ll be leaving for Yanzhou as of now. Everything in the Wang Manor is under your command. Tie Hu will stay and protect you. I’ve left 200 soldiers at the barracks outside the city. If anything happens, tell Tie Hu to carry my seal to seek assistance.”

After speaking, he hugged the person into his arms and whispered, “… Wait for my return.”

Their parting was imminent but Xiao Zhige had never been good with words, he could only express his reluctance with a powerful hug.

An Chang Qing snuggled affectionately against his chest before he withdrew from his arms, “I wish Wangye a swift victory and early return. I… I’ll be waiting for you back at the manor.”

Xiao Zhige looked at him longingly before turning to Tie Hu and commanded, “Protect Wangfei at all costs. This is a military order!”

Tie Hu was initially unsettled with not being able to join the fight in Yanzhou but upon seeing how important Wangfei was to Xiao Zhige, he knew that his mission was also of great significance. Tie Hu knelt on the snow and responded, “I understand!”

“I’m going.”

Finally, Xiao Zhige took one last look at An Chang Qing and strode away. This time, he did not turn back.

An Chang Qing stood and watched Xiao Zhige leave until his back disappeared into the snowscape. Much to An Chang Qing’s chagrin, he clearly had much to say to Xiao Zhige but once he saw him, he had been at a loss for words. He looked at the deep prints on the snow and said, “Let’s go back.”

…..

On the 25th of February, the Northern Warlord led 800 elite soldiers and headed for Yanzhou.

On the 1st of March, an urgent report came in stating that Lord Sun, Hu Yan Ah Te of the Beidi’s army, had led a ferocious troop of 50,000 soldiers, charging straight for Yanyun county.

On the 10th of March, the heavy snow that had blighted Yejing for over a month had finally lifted. The sky turned blue and greenery returned to the land. The snow had melted and Spring had finally come.

The soup kitchen outside the city had also been taken down and only a few pieces of winter clothes were still left in the shops. 

An Chang Qing and the store managers began to tally up the accounts. A total of 1.3 million taels were spent to stock up rice, winter clothes and coal. As rice and winter clothes were sold at regular prices and half of it was also used for charity, they could only earn back the cost price. It was the coal that had earned An Chang Qing a profit of 700,000 taels of silver.

An Chang Qing handed a small bonus to the store managers and left with Zhou He Lan back to the Wang Manor.

Currently, the Wang Manor had only one master left and An Chang Qing frequently left the house to patrol the shops. Even the servants were beginning to feel the emptiness of the place ever since Wangye had left.

An Chang Qing sat alone on the bed after having washed and changed into his nightwear. He touched the unwarmed mattress and sighed. Habit is a scary thing. It makes you grow accustomed to a person’s existence and then forces you to get used to his absence.

After reminiscing, An Chang Qing was reminded of a certain matter and reached for the items inside the cabinet by the bed. He blushed and hesitated but thinking of the person who should’ve reached Yanzhou by now, he slowly followed the guidelines step by step…