TTBE 57

Chapter 57

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

It was true that Xue Wuyi did not need to intercept the envoys from Zaiguo to Yejing because there was someone else who cared more for An Chang Qing’s safety.

The secret treasure of the Xi Wei Empire lies in the person in the painting who happens to resemble An Chang Qing. Regardless of whether Emperor An Qing was interested or not, anyone who heard of this would want to get a hold of An Chang Qing.

And it mattered not if Xiao Zhige believed Xue Wuyi’s letter entirely, he would still do everything in his power to prevent Xi Wei’s envoy from reaching Yejing alive. 

So by offering Xiao Zhige this piece of information, it not only helped him solve a serious problem but also allowed him to get on the Northern Warlord’s good side.

And Xue Wuyi’s decision was absolutely right. Xiao Zhige will never tolerate anything or anyone putting An Chang Qing’s safety on the line.

….

The message was delivered by Xue Wuyi’s personal maid accompanied by the portrait.

The maid told him that the person in the painting looked exactly like An Chang Qing but with a quick glance, Xiao Zhige could tell that the person in the painting was definitely not An Chang Qing.

The person in the painting had longer and narrower eyes and thinner lips, making him look cold and distant. Even the mole under his left eye could not neutralize this sense of aloofness.

The painting alone was enough to give him an unapproachable feeling, very much unlike his Nuo Nuo whose looks embodied warmth and kindness.

Xiao Zhige observed the painting without making any comments. 

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Ji Xue couldn’t help but follow up, “My master told me to pass this message to Wangye: As long as he still breathes, the Xi Wei Empire will never be Da Ye’s enemy.”

Xiao Zhige held his hands to his back and thought for a long time before giving her an answer, “Go back and relay this to your master, regarding his previous proposition, this lord agrees.”

He then pointed to the portrait and said, “I suppose this is a replica. I’ll be keeping it.”

The portrait was indeed an imitation drawn by Xue Wuyi while the original scroll was hidden away. Ji Xue bowed and retreated soundlessly, leaving the painting behind.

Xiao Zhige stayed in place, sinking into deep thoughts while looking at the portrait. He was doubtful that Xue Wuyi would create such a ridiculous tale just to win a favor from him. If so, then this portrait and the secret treasure of Xi Wei were highly credible.

As for the resemblance between An Chang Qing and the person in the picture, the most likely clue would be from An Chang Qing’s maternal family. The An family had its roots in Yejing from the beginning of their ancestry, it was impossible that they would have any relationship with Xue Chang or the Xi Wei Empire. As such, An Chang Qing’s maternal family would provide a plausible connection.

However, Lady Yu came from a brothel, her parentage was unknown…

With a plan in mind, Xiao Zhige carefully put the portrait away. He quickly wrote a letter and had it delivered with haste. 

Once everything was arranged, Chang Zai Cang arrived to ask about the jade mines.

When Chang Zai Cang heard that Xi Wei was willing to give up the jade mines without a fight, he was in disbelief, “Why do I feel as though there’s something going on that I’m unaware of?”

Xiao Zhige raised his eyes and said to him, “There’s much that you’re unaware of. You only need to man the mines. And as agreed, I’ll be taking 70% of the profit.”

Chang Zai Cang no longer pursued the topic. After fighting along Xiao Zhige for these many years, he knew Xiao Zhige would not do him harm. Instead, he began to discuss the next step. 

“What happens after we have mined the jade?” As they did not report this to Yejing, it was unwise to let this matter spread.

Xiao Zhige had already thought this through. He instructed, “After mining the jade, have merchants deliver the raw stones southwards. There are businessmen there who will be willing to invest in these.”

Although the Da Ye Empire was currently in a decline, it was still a wealthy nation. Especially in the south where the first Emperor had once established trading with the Yu Ze Empire. Businesses flourished during that time and those merchants remained rich to this day. Later, the subsequent reigning emperors abolished trading but the region remained prosperous.

The rich there did not concern themselves with money but what to spend it on. Putting up the jade at an auction was bound to reel in a few buyers.

Chang Zai Cang was a little doubtful, “Auction off the jade? Are you sure someone will buy it?”

Xiao Zhige gave him an impatient look and said, “Send someone who’s good with commerce to build momentum first. The South is filled with businessmen, I’m sure it’ll be sold in no time.”

Chang Zai Cang heeded his advice and left to make the arrangements while Xiao Zhige went to find An Chang Qing with the portrait.

An Chang Qing had already had his breakfast and was reading in the study. Yu Xiao was now familiar with his duties and followed behind An Chang Qing like a little tail. Seeing Xiao Zhige approaching, he straightened up and greeted him.

Xiao Zhige nodded at him and entered the room.

When An Chang Qing heard him coming in, he put the book down and looked up. Xiao Zhige met his eyes and remembered the painting. But the more he compared the two faces, the more different they felt to him.

Xiao Zhige had no intention of hiding this matter from An Chang Qing so he carefully closed the door behind him and told An Chang Qing everything.

The portrait was spread out on the table and An Chang Qing stared at it with great intensity. 

After a while, he shook his head and affirmed, “I’ve never seen this person nor heard mother speak of this before.”

Whether it was this life or the previous life, he did not know that he had any connection with the Xi Wei Empire. He had heard some old stories from his mother but it had nothing to do with Xi Wei. 

As an infant, An Chang Qing’s mother was abandoned and left on the roadside. The only item she had on was a piece of twin fish jade pendant. She was picked up and raised by her adoptive parents until the year they were afflicted with famine. Thanks to her beauty, she was bought by the brothel in exchange for silver to save her parents’ lives.

This was simply baffling, even Xiao Zhige seemed to know more than he did. But even so, Xiao Zhige seemed to have hit a deadend.

Since An Chang Qing did not have any information either, Xiao Zhige took a candle and burned the painting. “Leaving this painting around is tempting fate. Keep this matter to yourself and tell no one.”

An Chang Qing was perturbed by this unexpected development. In his last life, he had never stepped out of Yejing and therefore, was ignorant about the Xi Wei Empire and that they even had such a secret. It seemed that with his rebirth, he was able to change a lot of things but at the same time, also disrupted many events that had not taken place in his last life.

There was no telling if these changes were for the better or worse.

Xiao Zhige saw him grimacing and thought that he was anxious about the situation at hand and tried to comfort him, “I have given the order to assassinate the envoy from Xi Wei. This information will not reach my father or anyone else.”

An Chang Qing shook his head and rested it on Xiao Zhige’s shoulder. He sighed and said, “I just feel like lately, things have been happening one after another. There’s simply no time to rest.”

It was inevitable that An Chang Qing would feel anxious that everything was starting to get out of control. He couldn’t help but blame himself for being too oblivious and uninformed in his previous life.

Xiao Zhige stroked his back and thought of another way to comfort him, “The jade mine is ready. Let me take you there to pick out some good pieces.”

An Chang Qing was still listless but Xiao Zhige’s invitation cheered him up a little. He nodded and went along with Xiao Zhige.

…..

After the negotiation over the mines ended, Xi Wei troops were called back and the camps were cleared. Liangzhou soldiers then went on to cordon off the mining area, making it inaccessible to the public.

The pair went in to have a look. Inside were craftsmen filtering out the raw jade stones and loading them onto carts. These stones were mixed in with earth that were shaken up during the landslide. 

An Chang Qing spent some time learning from the craftsmen on how to grade the jade. Having managed to pick out a good amount of high-quality jade stones, the uneasiness that he was feeling for the last two days eventually faded.

From the running of the jade mine to finding buyers was left to Chang Zai Cang to handle. As there was nothing urgent left to deal with, the pair prepared for their return trip to Yanzhou.

….

One early morning, a herd of horses lined up along the main road.

An Chang Qing had now learned how to ride and picked for himself a tamed mare. Little Yu Xiao was to be brought back with them but since An Chang Qing was still a beginner at riding, he asked Xiao Zhige to ride with Yu Xiao.

Although Xiao Zhige did not object, his face turned dark and for the whole road, his eyes kept looking at the figure ahead.

Yu Xiao sitting in front of Xiao Zhige was squirming with fear and dared not move a muscle. After knowing that the person who saved him was actually the Wangfei of the Northern Warlord, Yu Xiao’s admiration of An Chang Qing was raised to another level. He felt that not only was An Chang Qing kind-hearted, he was also truly amazing, even the scary Warlord had to listen to him.

As May approached, the temperature got a lot warmer. The folks in Yanzhou had changed to thinner clothes. And since the war had ended, the city had become much more lively.

When they returned, the people of Yanzhou gathered and gave them a hearty welcome, making the city seem bustling and joyous.

By the time they reached the manor, it was already evening. Yu Xiao was handed over to Anfu while Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing went to have dinner and planned to turn in early.

Having traveled for one day and night on horseback, An Chang Qing’s body was aching all over. After washing up, he sat on the bed and beat his legs while pouting coquettishly.

When Xiao Zhige came in and saw this scene, he went over and sat next to him. He placed An Chang Qing’s legs on his lap and began massaging. “Riding will take a toll on your body. I’ve told you to ride with me.”

The Northern Warlord was still unhappy that An Chang Qing did not ride with him and instead, arranged for a child to take his place.

“It wasn’t that tiring at the beginning.” An Chang Qing pursed his lips and jolted Xiao Zhige’s shoulder with his foot.

Xiao Zhige chuckled and continued to press An Chang Qing’s acupoints. As the hands with calloused fingers ran across An Chang Qing’s tender skin, he felt a tingling itch.

“Stop rubbing there.” An Chang Qing tried to pull his foot back due to the tickle.

Xiao Zhige’s eyes turned dark. He leaned forward and whispered, “Nuo Nuo, can we make love tonight?”

An Chang Qing’s entire body froze on the spot. His cheeks and ears reddened as he stared at Xiao Zhige with wide eyes.

Xiao Zhige was emotionally roused by his shy looks. He placed his hand over An Chang Qing’s back and beseeched, “Can we?”

An Chang Qing heard his words and felt like he could emit smoke from his body any minute. This would be the first time he had done this whether it was his past or current life. Nonetheless, they had been married for so long, making love was nothing abnormal. He also did agree that they would do it when they returned to Yanzhou.

What stumped him was why does his husband feel the need to seek permission in such a formal way?!

An Chang Qing glanced at him and thought with annoyance, such matter… shouldn’t they just get to it spontaneously. Did he even have to ask!

Xiao Zhige could not tell what An Chang Qing was thinking so he waited patiently for An Chang Qing’s answer. For them to do it, An Chang Qing would be the one to suffer. This was greatly unfair to him and Xiao Zhige was unwilling to force him. If An Chang Qing did not want to, he would continue to wait.

Seeing Xiao Zhige’s expectant eyes, An Chang Qing swallowed nervously and mentally encouraged himself that it was no big deal. Still too embarrassed to say yes, An Chang Qing plucked his courage and gave Xiao Zhige a kiss to show his acquiescence.

A pair of moist and soft lips pressed against his own, clearly representing An Chang Qing’s answer. Xiao Zhige felt his desires surging but he dared not indulge himself in fear of hurting An Chang Qing.

He untied An Chang Qing’s hair and slowly supported his head while lowering it onto the bed. His fingers combed through his as he gently planted a kiss on his forehead. 

He smiled and whispered softly, “Don’t be afraid…”

[Lights out]1

That night, Xiao Zhige was extremely gentle.

Thanks to the exercises and instructions prescribed by Hu Shifei, An Chang Qing was not in too much pain. But because of the day-long horse riding, he was completely exhausted and fell asleep right after it ended.

On the other hand, Xiao Zhige could not sleep a wink. After he had meticulously washed An Chang Qing’s body, he held him in his arms and looked at him tenderly.

From now on, this person is his entirely.

…..

Xiao Zhige did not sleep as he was in high spirits. At daybreak, he went to train in the yard to vent the excess energy. He had also carefully instructed the kitchen to prepare only light meals for An Chang Qing.

Coming back from the kitchen, Xiao Zhige happened to see Anfu who was about to enter the room to call An Chang Qing. He immediately stopped him and ordered, “You don’t have to wake Wangfei up for today.”

Anfu assumed that An Chang Qing was simply tired from his trip and therefore, left without thinking too much about it. After Anfu left, Xiao Zhige did not enter the room either, lest he disturbed An Chang Qing’s sleep. He sat in the yard and watched over the door, seemingly lost in thoughts.

When Qi Wei and the gang came to visit, they were dumbfounded by the sight of Xiao Zhige smiling in a daze. 


1 TN: There’s a short chapter that author had written for this scene 😉. You can read it here (password: show me the smut). It’s R18 so please enter with discretion.

TTBE 56

Chapter 56

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After Ji Xue left, Xue Wuyi stood by the window and pondered.

Xue Wuyi made this undercover trip to Liangzhou based on the premise that with Chang Zai Cang’s relationship with the Northern Warlord, he would definitely ask for Xiao Zhige’s help. He had personally come to Liangzhou in hope of making a deal with Xiao Zhige.

The Xi Wei Empire has been backing up in the corner in recent years. From the day the previous Emperor died, an undercurrent of unease has been surging in this seemingly peaceful kingdom.

The late emperor had been weak in health and had had only one son. When he passed on, the prince’s mother, who hailed from a powerful family, had been dissatisfied with him monopolizing control over the court. She had secretly urged the Empress Dowager time and again to meddle with the court’s affairs.

Furthermore, the several brothers of the late emperor had been amassing power, vying for the throne. Should something happen to the young prince, any of them could justly crown himself as king. 

As such, the court was divided into distinctive parties, each with their own masters and ambitions. Although Xue Wuyi had managed to enlist half the officers over the years, he had not been able to make any progress with the remaining half.

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For ten years, he had watched his lord grow into a teenager. However, under the propagandistic words of his mother and those with malicious intents, the child had gradually grown estranged from him.

With the current direction the Xi Wei Empire was heading in, the Xi Wei natives who had been oppressed for so long were bound to cause unrest. With this concern, Xue Wuyi had wanted to implement a set of reformed laws after deliberate consideration. But alas, after discussing it with his confidants, they were still lacking in resources and support to counter the strong opposition that they had anticipated.

A cool breeze blew past, causing Xue Wuyi to cough twice. 

He then recalled the young man he had met today on the street.

Hands behind his back, Xue Wuyi closed his eyes and compared the youth’s face with the portrait in his possession – it was indeed almost identical.

The only difference was An Nuo’s face was more rounded and his eyes were soft. The person in the portrait had the same features but his eyes were more solemn.

One was like the luminous moon while the other was like the burning sun.

Xue Wuyi sighed as another one of the late king’s requests came to mind – a secret only inherited by Xi Wei’s Emperors, a legacy left behind by Xi Wei’s first Emperor, Xue Chang.

It was said that before he died, Xue Chang had hidden troves of treasures in an unknown location, this was all that anyone knew. At his deathbed, he had passed to his heir a portrait and instructed it to be passed on to succeeding generations. Should they one day find the person in the painting, they were to give him that scroll and tell him that Xue Chang had repaid his debt.

Xue Wuyi had no knowledge of the story behind this scroll but the late Emperor had entrusted him with this task. 

This was a debt owed by Xue Chang, their ancestor and as his descendants, they had to repay it.

That said, the Xi Wei Empire was established hundreds of years ago. Even if he had  wanted to repay this debt, the beneficiary would’ve been dead a long time ago.

At present, what Xue Wuyi lacked was gold and since he was not of the Xue bloodline, he placed little importance in returning the debt. What he wanted to uncover was the treasures hidden within the scroll.

He had studied the scroll many times but the painting itself held no secrets. He had put this matter aside but surprisingly, his trip to Liangzhou had yielded more than he expected. The young man’s features were so similar to the person in the painting that it could not have been a coincidence. He might hold a clue to finding those treasures.

Xue Wuyi grabbed the window railings and thought to himself: once he receives the results of the investigation, maybe he can take him back to Xi Wei to solve the mystery of the painting.

…..

An Chang Qing arrived at Chang Zai Cang’s manor with the boy.

The child was wearing his outer robe unfittingly and his messy hair was covering half of his face, hiding his eyes which were looking around nervously.

Considering that he had been soaked in water for too long, An Chang Qing ordered a servant to warm him up with a hot bath and had the kitchen prepare ginger soup for him to ward off the flu.

The little boy listened to An Chang Qing’s arrangements obediently. After washing up and changing into a more fitted robe, he followed the servants to pay respects to An Chang Qing.

After dressing up, the child’s delicate features had become perceivable. Even the birthmark under his eye was not as glaring.

An Chang Qing pulled him closer and passed him the ginger soup. He then asked for his name and whether he had any other relatives. Although the child was still young, he was quite mature for his age. In fact, An Chang Qing believed that this child was actually very clever.

The child answered An Chang Qing’s questions with honesty, telling him his name and past experiences.

The child’s name was Yu Xiao. He used to live with his father in the mountains but later, his father had died due to a serious illness. Before he died, his father had told him to seek refuge with an acquaintance of his. At that time, he was too young and ignorant. After leaving the mountains and entering unfamiliar lands, he had been abducted and sold off.

Because he had pretended to be dumb, he had been passed from owner to owner until eventually, he was bought by the big man from before. The man initially wanted him to assist him with his street performances with the monkeys but after finding out that he was a good swimmer and could hold his breath for a long time underwater, he had come up with the idea of making him perform water acrobats in a water tank.

As he retold to this point, Yu Xiao was furious. 

“He is not a decent person. He always frequented the gambling dens and when he returned after losing all his money, he beat up his wife and l.”

An Chang Qing shook his head and said, “It’s alright. I’ve reported him to the local magistrate. Whatever bad things he has done, he will be tried for it by tomorrow.”

Yu Xiao smiled brightly after hearing An Chang Qing’s words.

An Chang Qing then asked him, “Do you have anyone who can take you in? If you have nowhere to go, you can stay by my side and serve me.”

Since he had decided to help the child, he should see it through till the end. Yu Xiao was still too young to live on his own. If he sent him away, he would be abducted again and the same misfortune could be repeated. Thinking that it was not a big deal to feed another mouth in the manor, An Chang Qing thought that it was ideal to keep him by his side.

Hearing his words, Yu Xiao’s eyes widened. He nodded repeatedly and said without hesitation, “I’ll do it!”

He then copied the gestures the servants of the Chang Manor made and kneeled down to salute An Chang Qing.

“Yu Xiao is at your service!”

An Chang Qing smiled and pulled him up. He patted his head and said, “You don’t have to follow these formalities. There’s nothing to do these few days so you can rest for now.”

When Xiao Zhige came back after his discussion with Chang Zai Cang, he saw An Chang Qing speaking kindly to a child. His eyebrows were raised as he looked at little Yu Xiao. 

“Where did he come from?”

An Chang Qing told him about how they had met on the streets.

“He’s too young and has nowhere else to go. I decided to let him stay with me.”

He then introduced Xiao Zhige to Yu Xiao, “This is the Northern Warlord. You can address him as Wangye.”

Seeing Xiao Zhige, Yu Xiao was instinctively scared. But thinking that he shouldn’t embarrass An Chang Qing, he picked up the courage, bowed and greeted him.

Xiao Zhige’s expression eased up a little. He told him to rise and come with them to have dinner.

Chang Zai Cang stared at the couple and felt his eyes hurt. He found an excuse and snuck out.

…..

The next day, Xiao Zhige and Chang Zai Chang left to meet with the Xi Wei Empire at the border.

The junction separating Xi Wei and Liangzhou was divided by a range of continuous mountains which rarely had many travelers. Only once in a while would a merchant bring goods to exchange between the two cities.

However, at this moment, two factions had set up camps and surrounded it with their own troops.

Xiao Zhige stepped into the frontline and spoke imposingly, “Is the person in charge willing to negotiate?”

After his words were heard, a man carrying a large blade on his back strode out slowly. He donned a plain black garment and had his hair randomly tied back. With a high forehead and eyes like an eagle, he gave off a commandeering aura despite his shabby appearance.

He went forward, cupped his hands and said, “Shang Que. I’ve long heard of the Northern Warlord’s reputation.”

“Likewise.” Xiao Zhige responded politely.

Since neither of them were men of many words, Xiao Zhige went straight to the point, “Where can we talk in private?”

“My master would like to meet with Wangye. Please come with me.”

With his weapon in hand, Xiao Zhige fearlessly followed Shang Que into the Xi Wei camp.

Inside, Xue Wuyi was waiting for him.

Xiao Zhige’s eyebrows were slightly raised at the sight of Xue Wuyi.

Xue Wuyi studied him before stepping forward and said with a smile, “I’ve been looking forward to meeting Wangye, the Da Ye Empire’s mighty God of War.”

Xiao Zhige was not a person of courtly manners. He said bluntly, “It’s quite a drastic measure to disturb the Great Regent of Xi Wei over two jade mines, isn’t it?”

Xue Wuyi’s smile widened, “Wangye is indeed wise. I came here in hope of doing business with Wangye.”

Xiao Zhige thought through and immediately understood. Xue Wuyi competing for the mines was only a ruse for him to meet with Xiao Zhige. As for the reason, Xiao Zhige couldn’t figure it out.

Xue Wuyi was well known for being a smiling fox. He was highly resourceful and business oriented, he would never let anyone take advantage of him. Now that he had personally come to Xiao Zhige, he must have something to ask of him.

Xiao Zhige narrowed his eyes and said, “We’ll discuss other matters after dealing with issues involving the mines.”

The situation with the two jade mines was a little controversial. A larger area of it stood on Xi Wei soil compared to Liangzhou. However, they were the ones to discover the mines and therefore, Xiao Zhige was unwilling to back down.

“Xi Wei is a small nation. We are not wealthy like Da Ye and frankly speaking, without trading treaties, a commodity like jade is not marketable to us.”

Xue Wuyi observed Xiao Zhige’s expression and continued, “If Wangye wants the mines, I’ll be happy to let you have them.”

Xiao Zhige looked back at him with piercing eyes, “And the condition?”

Xue Wuyi smiled, “This is the business that I wanted to discuss with Wangye.”

He glanced at Shang Que who immediately understood. He went out of the tent and guarded the entrance. 

Xue Wuyi lowered his voice and said, “I will exchange these two mines for an oath from Wangye.”

“Within two years, if Xi Wei does not provoke Da Ye, Wangye cannot deploy troops to Xi Wei.”

Xiao Zhige interjected, “Not to mention that Da Ye and Xi Wei do not have trifles, even if I promised you, it is not entirely up to me to make that decision for Da Ye.”

Xue Wuyi shook his head, “This might be true for today but not necessarily so in the future. One day when Wangye can make decisions for Da Ye, you just have to remember this oath.”

Xiao Zhige looked at him and said, “Only two jade mines in exchange for such an oath, you seemed to have overestimated them.”

Xue Wuyi smiled bitterly, “I have indeed but I’m at the end of my rope. That said, Xi Wei is not strong enough to pose a threat to Wangye.”

“This might be true for today but not necessarily so in the future.” Xiao Zhige used the same words Xue Wuyi had said to him. “Besides, Xi Wei still has you as the Regent. How could you expect me to undermine its threat?”

And so, they had reached an impasse.

Xue Wuyi watched Xiao Zhige walk away with an unclear expression on his face.

“Why beg him? I’m more than capable of fighting him,” Shang Que spoke disgruntledly through the door.

“It’s not that you can’t fight him, it’s Xi Wei that cannot afford to fight him.” Xue Wuyi closed his eyes and waved his hand, “You can leave now. Call for Ji Xue.”

Shang Que stared at him briefly before taking off.

When no one else was left in the tent, Xue Wuyi curled his back and began coughing violently. His backbone protruded through his clothes with each cough. 

When Ji Xue arrived, Xue Wuyi had wiped off the blood on his lips. He sat on the head chair and took a sip of tea. 

“Did you manage to find anything?”

“Yes,” Ji Xue handed him a letter.

After reading the letter, Xue Wuyi finally showed a smile, “Any news from Zaiguo?”

“Everything is as Your Highness expected. The portrait in the manor has been stolen. The Empress Dowager had secretly sent envoys to bring the portrait out of Zaiguo. They seem to be heading for Yejing.”

“What a bunch of fools.” Xue Wuyi’s eyes had turned cold. In order to overthrow him, they were even willing to trade the secrets of the treasure passed down from the first Emperor with Da Ye. How hopelessly foolish.

“Should we chase and kill the envoy?” Ji Xue asked.

“No need.”

Xue Wuyi smiled as he touched the letter in his hand. In it was the information his confidants had found out about An Nuo. He would never have imagined that the An Nuo he had met by chance on the streets turned out to be the Wangfei of the Northern Warlord.

It was like being handed a pillow when needing to sleep. 

“Deliver this news to the Northern Warlord along with the portrait.”

From the letter, he knew that the Northern Warlord treasured his Wangfei above all else. Hopefully this deed was enough to shift Xiao Zhige’s decision.

Ji Xue should be heading out on Xue Wuyi’s order but she stayed and looked at him anxiously, “Is Your Highness coughing up blood again? It’s been some time since you last took your medicine.”

Xue Wuyi sipped his tea as though Ji Xue’s words were not referring to him, “That medicine is too bitter. And taking it will make my body reek of herbs. I should die soon so those people in Zaiguo can rest their hearts.”

Ju Xie’s expression turned sullen, “Your Highness!”

Xue Wuyi waved his hand nonchalantly, “Go on. I won’t die so easily.”

TTBE 55

Chapter 55

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The gushing wind howled by his ears and the scenery flashed by quickly as Ta Xue carried them across the desert. The only thing An Chang Qing could discern with his eyes were the shining stars above.

They traveled for quite a distance before Ta Xue brought them to a small lake.

If he had not seen it with his own eyes, An Chang Qing would’ve never believed that there existed such a pristine lake deep in the desert. Maybe because there was a water source, the vegetation around the lake was lush and thriving as seen through the lights lit by the fireflies hiding between the leaves.

The moon and stars were reflected distinctively over the tranquil water as though there was another sky within the lake. 

An Chang Qing got down from Ta Xue and walked along the lake in awe. Xiao Zhige let Ta Xue wander off to play while he followed behind An Chang Qing.

An Chang Qing dusted off the sand of a large boulder and sat down. Looking up at Xiao Zhige, he asked, “This place is beautiful. How did Wangye find it?” 

“I used to camp around here during the marches to Liangzhou.” Xiao Zhige sat beside An Chang Qing and began telling him about his past.

Back then, he had just joined the army as a low-ranking soldier with nothing to his name. He was traversing this part of the desert because his platoon was being transferred to Liangzhou. At the time, he was still a kid and far less mellow than he was now. Being woken up in the middle of the night by his teammates, he readily agreed to join them in sneaking off to find food.

They were all still growing up so the food taken during the day had been digested by night. Remembering the lake nearby, they decided to go there to catch fish. After filling up their growling stomach, the group slept by the lake and sneaked back before dawn.

“This is where I got to know Chang Zai Cang.” Chang Zai Cang was the ringleader for this mischief.

After that, the war in Liangzhou had turned for the worse. They had marched with haste to provide support but Liangzhou had still incurred heavy losses. Among the group that had sneaked off to catch fish, only he and Chang Zai Cang had survived.

“It must’ve been hard,” An Chang Qing said when he saw Xiao Zhige’s brows crease up as he recounted those events.

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An Chang Qing was holding Xiao Zhige’s strong and rough hand. His ten fingers were slender and long; this should’ve been a beautiful pair of hands but over the years, it had to wield weapons and weather hardships, causing the palms to be coarse and filled with calluses. An Chang Qing had seen the hands of the other princes, they were all white and delicate without any trace of imperfections.

Princes should be well-fed and groomed like the Crown Prince and Third Prince. Only Xiao Zhige had been mistreated from a young age.

But Xiao Zhige shook his head and smiled, “It was hard but it’s all worth it.”

“If you want something precious, you’ll have to put something else up in exchange.” There was only An Chang Qing in his eyes when he said this.

In the last twenty years, he had indeed tasted hardships and oppression but he had always remembered his mother’s words: ‘Everyone in this world has their own destiny. Some will experience sweetness before they will have to face bitterness, some will have to brave tribulations before they can obtain happiness. Since my son has suffered much since childhood, he will have a happy life later. Just be patient, do not despair.’

These words had always followed him.

Xiao Zhige had believed An Chang Qing to be his ‘happiness after the sufferings’. If the twenty years of torment that he had to go through was the price to be paid to secure a happy life with An Chang Qing, it had not been a loss.

An Chang Qing did not know his thoughts but his face looked serene. It seemed Xiao Zhige had made peace with it. 

He felt his pocket and pulled out a small paper bag. He picked a piece of pine nut candy from it and fed it to Xiao Zhige.

“You’ll have me in the future, there won’t be any more bitterness.”

“Is it sweet?”

Xiao Zhige’s eyes darkened as he lowered his head to kiss An Chang Qing and at the same time, passed the sweet to his mouth. He then asked provocatively, “It’s very sweet. You try.”

An Chang Qing was forced to receive the candy. He looked at Xiao Zhige’s face up close and his heart began to beat violently.

The sweet gradually melted but the kiss still lingered. Until An Chang Qing was dizzy from breathlessness, they held onto each other’s’ lips.

Xiao Zhige supported his back with his hands and whispered, “It’s still very sweet”

An Chang Qing glared at him and covered his mouth, “Nonsense. No more kissing. My lips are all swollen.”

The look in Xiao Zhige’s eyes darkened. He stroked An Chang Qing’s back a little heavier this time and asked softly, “The guidelines… Have you been following it? I haven’t seen you using it since you came to Yanzhou.”

Hearing this, An Chang Qing’s eyes widened and his face turned beet red. He stuttered and shyly replied, “….it’s done. I’ve reached the final stage.”

Back in Yejing, he had followed the instructions and practiced daily with the jade rods. There was no way he would tell Xiao Zhige about this so he was not updated on his progress clearly.

Seeing his neck turn deep red, Xiao Zhige chuckled and said, “When we return to Yanzhou, let’s make love.”

Xiao Zhige had had too many concerns before and was unwilling to force An Chang Qing. But now that they had openly declared their love, Xiao Zhige could no longer hold back.

An Chang Qing squinted at him and teased, “Who was it that refused to sleep with me before?”

Xiao Zhige laughed and kissed his hair, “I was wrong. Can Nuo Nuo give me another chance?”

“I’ll go look for Ta Xue,” An Chang Qing wriggled out from his embrace and ran to Ta Xue, “Didn’t you say that you’ll teach me how to ride a horse?”

Xiao Zhige laughed helplessly and walked up to him.

…..

By the time they returned, the hunting team had already come back. A captured rabbit was now being roasted over the fire.

An Chang Qing was sitting on Ta Xue while Xiao Zhige was holding the reins. As they approached, the soldiers were all stupefied. They had never seen the Northern Warlord this gentle before! It seems marriage can indeed change a man.

As the soldiers tried to act normal and kept their eyes to themselves, only Chang Zai Cang dared to move a muscle and spoke disapprovingly, “We are here to discuss issues of national importance with the Xi Wei Empire, not for you to go on dates!” 

The words seemed to hit An Chang Qing hard and he looked down with blushing cheeks. 

Xiao Zhige, on the other hand, stared at Chang Zai Cang menacingly and said with disdain, “Say one more word and you’ll be attending this meeting by yourself.”

This was Chang Zai Cang’s Achilles’ heels. He had no choice but to shut up and stay put.

…..

After resting for the night, the group departed early the next morning. By noon, they had finally arrived at Liangzhou.

Although Liangzhou and Yanzhou were geographically close, they had many dissimilarities. There were many foreigners with high noses and deep eyes living in the city and even the commoners were dressed very differently compared to the people of Da Ye.

Xiao Zhige explained, “Since Liangzhou is right next to the Xi Wei Empire, many of the Xi Wei natives who were mistreated would escape to Liangzhou for refuge.”

Running to Liangzhou would render them homeless but it was a better life than being oppressed and treated as less than livestock. With time, a large community of Xi Wei natives had settled in Liangzhou and many had interracial marriages with the people of Da Ye. This integration introduced the traditions and cultures of the Xi Wei natives to Liangzhou and eventually, created this unique diversity.

Everything in Liangzhou seemed exotic and eye-catching to An Chang Qing. He was in awe with the items on sale by the street vendors.

After they entered the city and arrived at Chang Zai Cang’s Manor, Xiao Zhige went on to discuss their upcoming dealings with the Xi Wei Empire. An Chang Qing had nothing to do so he went to explore the city accompanied by a guard.

Both cities were located at the border but Liangzhou was clearly more lively than Yanzhou. Of the three cities bordering the desert, Yanzhou was the most prone to be attacked due to the Beidi people’s hatred for Xiao Zhige. Therefore, its streets were not as bustling as that of Chenzhou and Liangzhou.

An Chang Qing browsed the streets and saw many interesting items. After going through two streets, he came across a teahouse which had dancers performing with monkeys to entertain guests. An Chang Qing was intrigued and decided to stop by.

Liangzhou’s tea was also quite different. What was added to the tea was not tea leaves but spices and herbs. It tasted strange at first but would grow on you as you got used to the fragrance.

After having two cups of tea and watching a dance performed by monkeys, it was time to head back. An Chang Qing was about to leave when he saw a crowd gathering outside the teahouse and heard the voice of a man shouting.

Peeking in between the onlookers, he saw a large man pointing a bamboo stick at a young girl of about ten. She was wearing a sleeveless top and a large leather bag in the shape of a fish tail was wrapped tightly over her from her waist down. She was sitting next to a large water tank, hugging herself and shivering.

An Chang Qing grimaced. He squeezed through the crowd and tried to find out what was happening.

It turns out that they were a pair of father and daughter street performers. The little girl was to wear a fishtail to imitate a mermaid while performing acrobatics in the large water tank. It seemed she hadn’t been able to hold her breath just then and was being punished for her failure.

Many onlookers disagreed with the man but seeing that he was her father, it was not reasonable for them to meddle so they could only try to persuade the man politely. However, the man claimed that they were trying to earn money for the child’s mother who was seriously ill and yet, she could not even do a simple act properly.

The little girl huddled silently in a corner, her hair and clothes dripping wet.

Until the man said that he had sacrificed a lot to raise her, the little girl looked up and shouted in frustration, “You’re not my father! You didn’t raise me!”

The man was stumped. He flogged her harshly and said, “Shut up! If I’m not your father, who is?!”

The little girl was scared but she still insisted, “You are not!”

The man was furious. He was about to pick up a small stool to hit her when An Chang Qing stepped in. He signaled for the guard to hold the man back while he blocked the girl behind him. “No father will act this way!”

Seeing that An Chang Qing’s clothes were not ordinary and that he even had a bodyguard, the man was taken aback but he still stuck out his head and said, “Mind your own business! This is my family’s affairs!”

An Chang Qing ignored the man. He went over to help the little girl up but found that the fish tail shaped bag had hindered her ability to stand. He let her sit down first and took off his outer coat to cover her.

“You said that he is not your father?”

The little girl eyed him cautiously, trying to determine if he held any ill will. An Chang Qing looked at her with gentle eyes and waited patiently for her answer.

Feeling that An Chang Qing bore no malice, she nodded, “He’s not my father. My father had died and I was bought by him.”

The bystanders heard her words and began pointing fingers at the man. If he were the girl’s father, they couldn’t intervene but since that was not the case and coupled with the fact that the man had been lying to them, everyone began to chastise him.

An Chang Qing looked at the little girl with some sympathy. He contemplated, then turned and faced the man, “I’m taking this child with me. How much did you pay for her? I will reimburse you.”

The man was unwilling to let the girl go. After all, she was his money tree and had helped him earn a lot of money. “You can’t force me to sell her!”

An Chang Qing had no patience to argue with the man. He glanced at the guard who then cast the man a threatening look as he drew his sword from its sheath.

The man panicked. He realized it was not wise to provoke An Chang Qing and hurriedly said, “Alright! Alright! 500 taels! I bought the girl for 500 taels”

“He’s lying! He clearly only paid 5 taels!” The little girl shouted for everyone to hear.

The man choked up and viciously stared at the girl.

An Chang Qing took out 5 taels and threw them at the man. He told the guard to carry the girl and take her back with them. 

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As he was leaving, he heard someone call out to him, “Sir, please stop.”

An Chang Qing turned and saw a young man dressed in blue smiling at him. He had a handsome appearance but his complexion seemed a little pale. On his side was a beautiful maid.

“Is something the matter?”

“The fish tail covering that this child is wearing, if you don’t remove it soon, I’m afraid it will hurt her legs.”

An Chang Qing followed his finger and looked at the leather sheath tightly wrapped over her lower body. He bit his lips and was at a loss. Although the little girl was still small, she was still a girl. It was inappropriate for him and the guard to strip her clothes in public.

“My maid can be of service if you would allow. We should find a place to let her remove the fishtail covering for the child.”

An Chang Qing thought it over and seeing that he only brought a maid, calculated that there was no immediate danger. He agreed and the group went back to the teahouse from before and booked an isolated room.

After entering the room, the maid picked up the child and proceeded to help her remove the fish tail covering from behind a screen. Meanwhile, An Chang Qing ordered tea and waited outside with the gentleman who offered up his name amicably, “My surname is Xue, given name is Yi. How should I address you, young sir?”

“My surname is An, given name is Nuo.” They were not familiar and the man was being too friendly so An Chang Qing couldn’t help but be wary.

Xue Yi said, “Judging by your looks, you are not someone from Liangzhou, are you?”

An Chang Qing responded, “Yes, I’m here on business.”

The two exchanged a few more words before the maid returned with the child in her arms. The child was wrapped in An Chang Qing’s robe and her face was slightly blushing.

The maid remained expressionless as she reported to Xue Yi, “The fish tail has been removed. There is no damage to the legs but this child is not a girl, he’s a boy.”

This prompted An Chang Qing to take a closer look at the kid. In fact, the boy had outstanding facial features if it weren’t for the scale shape birthmark under his left eye. 

The little boy said nervously, “He told me to dress up as a girl. That way, it’ll attract a larger audience.”

‘He’ clearly referred to the man who had bought him.

An Chang Qing suddenly realized that he was rubbing the boy’s head. He took his hand back and turned to speak to Xue Yi, “Now that this has been settled, I have to take my leave. Thank you Brother Xue for today.”

Xue Yi smiled and said, “You’re welcome. Let us meet again should fate permit.”

An Chang Qing nodded and took the boy away.

Xue Yi waited till An Chang Qing was out of sight before turning to leave. His maid, Ji Xue, followed closely behind, “Minister, are we going back now? Chang Zai Cang has already arrived.”

Xue Yi, also known as Xue Wuyi nodded, “It’s time to return indeed. Chang Zai Cang should’ve brought along the Northern Warlord with him.”

Ji Xue said, “Should I prepare the carriage?”

“There’s no hurry,” Xue Wuyi waved his hand, “Ji Xue, do you think that it’s possible for two persons of unrelated origins to look exactly the same?”

Ji Xue shook her head and replied, “This servant has never heard of such a thing.”

Xue Wuyi meditated briefly before giving out an order, “Have someone do a background check on An Nuo.”

“Understood.”

TTBE 54

Chapter 54

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The youth hung his head low. He was filled with regrets for not remembering the past.

He kept his eyes down and explained dejectedly, “I fell into the water when I was ten and had a high fever. After that, I lost part of my memories. I didn’t mean to forget…”

An Chang Qing was deeply aggrieved. Such a precious past and yet, he could not remember, leaving only Xiao Zhige to carry out that promise from many years ago. An Chang Qing was stricken with guilt, feeling like he had left the nine-year old Xiao Zhige behind.

In this life, they had managed to clear this up but what about the previous life?

He had never given a serious thought as to why even though they had never met, Xiao Zhige had always been particular towards him. From marrying him into the Wang Manor to making him his Empress despite the vigorous injunctions from the court, Xiao Zhige had been determined to give him a position that no one could trample upon.

In the many years they were apart, Xiao Zhige had fulfilled their promise but to An Chang Qing, it could be considered a non-existent past and he had heartlessly swatted away his husband’s outstretched hand.

And so, they had lived with one person keeping quiet and the other keeping away, missing out on each other and eventually, met a miserable ending.

An Chang Qing felt a throbbing pain in his heart. Like a spider’s web, it gradually spread and he had to clench his hands to relieve the pain.

As An Chang Qing was drowning in guilt from his ignorance of his previous life, a large and warm hand gently fell on his head and began stroking.

“It’s ok, I remember everything. Whatever you want to know, I’ll tell you,” Xiao Zhige said softly.

In truth, there was not much to tell. The hunting expedition lasted no more than 15 days and the two had only spent 10 days together. As two unfavored children, there were no fancy toys to play with or activities to attend to so they had stayed in Xiao Zhige’s room to share desserts and tell each other stories they had heard from their mothers.

Happy times did not last long but it had been enough to soothe the soul.

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For Xiao Zhige, that had been the last 15 peaceful days of his life. After his mother’s death, he struggled alone in a soul-crushing environment and after countless taxing endeavors, he had come to miss the simple and peaceful days.

Chang Zai Cang used to express disdain over his passiveness. “You’re the Northern Warlord, when have you ever been such a coward? If you really like him, then go and bring him back. An Zhi Ke wouldn’t dare to refuse. After all, he doesn’t even like this son.”

Chang Zai Cang’s words sounded simple but it weighed heavily in Xiao Zhige’s mind.

After many years apart, he had become the rumored blood-thirsty and tyrannical Northern Warlord while, although unfavored, An Chang Qing had remained pure and innocent. 

He had dearly missed their time together but had also been fully aware that growing up, each would have their own share of experiences and even the closest of friends would have to go their separate ways. Furthermore, they had only been together for half a month and An Chang Qing had already clearly forgotten about this period of time.

Xiao Zhige did not want to destroy the peaceful memories he had had with An Chang Qing so he could only watch him from afar, giving him a helping hand whenever he could. If it weren’t for the Empress trying to interfere with his marriage as he came of age, Xiao Zhige would not have impulsively given in to his obsession and asked the Empress Dowager for permission to marry An Chang Qing.

Before the wedding, Xiao Zhige had always regretted getting An Chang Qing involved due to his moment of weakness. Looking at the person in front of him, Xiao Zhige felt blessed that things had turned out this way.

Luckily… luckily, An Chang Qing had never changed.

“It’s been so long, do you still remember everything?” An Chang Qing finally looked up at him and asked.

How could Xiao Zhige not remember?

The happy memories that Xiao Zhige had were too scarce but they were the salvation that had gotten him through those dark years of struggles and bloodshed.

“I have a good memory,” Xiao Zhige said to An Chang Qing fondly.

And so, on that day, under the warm sunlight, An Chang Qing sat and listened to Xiao Zhige’s retelling of their childhood memories.

Although An Chang Qing had forgotten, Xiao Zhige’s every word gave him a sense of familiarity. 

Xiao Zhige told him of the time when he had been injured fighting off the bullies for him, the little An Chang Qing had squatted in front of him with misty red eyes and puffed cheeks, blowing softly over his wound and had said, “Nuo Nuo will blow and the pain will fly away.”

At this point, Xiao Zhige turned to look at An Chang Qing and saw the brilliant sparks in his eyes, “That’s how my mother used to coax me.”

This simple sentence, the small An Chang Qing had learned by heart to comfort the young Xiao Zhige. 

Xiao Zhige’s eyes softened. He weaved his fingers in between An Chang Qing’s and held them together, “See, you actually remembered.”

An Chang Qing looked at him and smiled, “Wangye, tell me more, maybe I’ll be able to remember everything.”

Xiao Zhige complied while he lifted An Chang Qing and carried him back to their room.

…..

The next day, An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige set out together for Liangzhou.

That morning, An Chang Qing was a little muddled when he was woken up. He thought that Xiao Zhige would also be going alone this time since it involved talks between two nations and bringing along a family member was unconventional. He was reluctant but not wanting to make things difficult for Xiao Zhige, An Chang Qing had not brought it up.

It was only after Xiao Zhige had asked him why he was not changing attire that he knew that Xiao Zhige had always planned for him to come along.

Xiao Zhige saw him in a daze and seemed to realize something, “I forgot to tell you but there won’t be any dangers on this trip. Aren’t you interested in jade? I’ll take you to the mine for you to pick out some good pieces.”

When An Chang Qing heard this, he smiled and went to change his clothes delightedly. 

The two then left the manor together.

Because the situation with the Xi Wei Empire was quite pressing, the trip to Liangzhou had to be made in haste which required some horsemanship. However, An Chang Qing had yet to learn any equestrian skills and taking the carriage would cause drastic delays to the trip.

An Chang Qing was about to suggest staying behind when he saw Xiao Zhige leading a majestic black horse towards him. The divine looking steed was covered with shiny pitch-black fur except for its eyebrows and four sturdy hooves.

Xiao Zhige adjusted the reins while stroking the horse’s mane, calming it down. He then introduced the horse to An Chang Qing, “This is Ta Xue.”

Ta Xue wagged its tail and trotted towards An Chang Qing. It lowered its head and rubbed against An Chang Qing who was a little astonished.

“He likes you,” Xiao Zhige reassured.

An Chang Qing reached out to touch Ta Xue’s nose and the horse fondly let him do so. As a General, Xiao Zhige owned several war horses which he kept in the manor but An Chang Qing had never seen any of them.

Seeing that An Chang Qing had gotten familiar with Ta Xue, Xiao Zhige mounted the horse and held out his hand towards An Chang Qing, “The road to Liangzhou can be quite harsh.”

“I can handle it.” An Chang Qing took his hand and was pulled onto Ta Xue where he sat securely in front of Xiao Zhige.

Xiao Zhige smiled, “Then let us go. Sit tight.”

Xiao Zhige tapped Ta Xue’s belly with his feet and the horse carried them out of the manor swift as the wind.

Ta Xue was originally the leader of a herd of wild horses that Xiao Zhige captured from the Northern Desert. It took a lot of effort for him to finally tame this kingly beast. Since then, Ta Xue had been with him through thick and thin. Other than Xiao Zhige, Ta Xue had always been aggressive towards everyone else.

Chang Zai Cang had always been envious of this but sadly, Ta Xue would not even let him get close.

Watching the steed obediently carrying the pair away, Chang Zai Cang felt that he really should not have made this trip to see Xiao Zhige.

He pulled the reins of his horse and shouted at the soldiers who were still in daze, “What are you still looking at? Hurry up and follow!”

…..

The trip to Liangzhou would take a whole day on horseback. Along the way were deserts and sand dunes with very few villages in between for rest stops. Fortunately, it was already springtime and the sparse greenery added a little life to their trip.

At nighttime, the group found a sheltered location to rest.

This was An Chang Qing’s first experience in the wilderness. Although his body was sore from the horse ride, he was still in high spirits, helping to gather dead wood and grass for the campfire. 

And since Ta Xue had been born in the wild, it had gone off to find its own food.

The others went to hunt for food, leaving Xiao Zhige to stay with Chang Zai Cang.

Xiao Zhige looked at his sweetheart not far away and unconsciously smiled. Chang Zai Cang sitting opposite of him saw this and complained, “Can you stop smiling? It’s quite scary.”

Xiao Zhige turned and gave him a standoffish stare before shifting his gaze back to An Chang Qing.

Chang Zai Cang was unfazed and began to mock Xiao Zhige, “Look at you, being all smitten by a kid.”

Although he had always known that Xiao Zhige had a crush on a man, he did not think that it had been to the point of marrying him back to become his Wangfei. And looking at him now, this affection had reached the point of no return. The guy even had to bring his spouse along when discussing state affairs.

Xiao Zhige said to him with indifference, “You’re not young anymore, it’s time to get married so you don’t have to be jealous of other people’s relationships.”

Chang Zai Cang, “…”

An Chang Qing had just finished gathering a bundle of twigs when he saw Xiao Zhige coming over. Xiao Zhige took over the load and put it aside. “Would you like to take a walk?”

“Now?” An Chang Qing looked up at the dark sky with some concern. The moon and stars were already out.

“En.” Xiao Zhige made a sharp whistle and moments later, Ta Xue’s hooves could be heard. Seconds later, the horse had reached their side like the wind.

The pair got on and galloped off into the distance.

Chang Zai Cang, who was cruelly left behind, scolded Xiao Zhige, “Love has turned you into a fool!”

TTBE 53

Chapter 53

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The Xi Wei Empire stood to the west of Da Ye. It was established by Xue Chang, one of the founding Great Generals of Da Ye at that time, in collaboration with the Xi Wei tribes. Xue Chang had then later turned his back against the Xi Wei natives by suppressing them and deeming them as less than livestock. This was the current state of the Xi Wei Empire.

At present, although the country was still called Xi Wei, the one that truly held power was the Xue Clan. As the previous Emperor died early, his successor was the only son he had had, Xue Zhi. And because Xue Zhi was still a child, the previous Emperor had decreed for the Prime Minister, Xue Wu Yi, to be the regent in order to assist the boy.

Mighty as his title, Prime Minister Xue Wu Yi had actually come from a lowly background. He was a beggar whom the Emperor had met by chance and decided to take him in. Later, when the Emperor had discovered that he was a highly gifted individual, he had adopted him as his son. He had also let him take the surname Xue and had ordered for him to be taught.

It was said that before the age of 10, Xue Wu Yi was already capable of debating with the officials in court with his unique political views. By the age of 16, he was inaugurated by the Emperor as the Prime Minister without any objections from the court.

Ten years from the time the late Emperor entrusted his son to him, Xue Wu Yi had taken charge of every aspect of the court with ruthlessness and ingenuity, making Xi Wei the strong and stable country that it currently was.

And, Shang Que, the Commander of the Northern Garrison was his most capable right-hand man.

Having Shang Que mobilize his troops this promptly only showed how much weight Xi Wei had placed in obtaining these two jade mines.

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The group gathered in Xiao Zhige’s study while a guard was ordered to watch the door. 

Xiao Zhige began, “How did this get out? You have a spy on your side?”

The smiling Chang Zai Cang’s face was now filled with dread, “I was too lax with the people around me. The spy has been found and I will personally deal with him once this matter is solved!” Only then did Chang Zai Cang look less of a scholar and more like a general.

Xiao Zhige was not surprised, “I will discuss this with the Xi Wei Empire. After that, since you are responsible for the leak, we’ll split it by 8-2, I’ll take 8 and you 2.”

Chang Zai Cang was wide-eyed, “You’re too evil! No way! I have to get at least 4 shares or there’s no deal!”

Xiao Zhige smirked, “I have yet to settle scores with you regarding the fake news you sent me when you were in Yejing.”

“When did I ever send you…” Chang Zai Cang stopped and wondered about his statement. Once he had figured it out, he quickly glanced at An Chang Qing and argued, “It was all for your own good. If I didn’t motivate you, you would never have taken any actions. Come to think of it, shouldn’t you be thanking me instead?”

An Chang Qing listened to their bickering and knew that their conversation had something to do with him. He tried to figure out the details but the two were speaking in codes.

Xiao Zhige said in an assertive tone, “Don’t try to be clever with me. 8-2 or else, you’ll get nothing.”

Chang Zai Cang clicked his tongue and frowned, “Wait wait wait, let me reconsider!”

If anyone else from the Xi Wei Empire had come to fight for the mines, Chang Zai Cang would not have had this headache. But it just had to be Shang Que, the powerhouse of the Xi Wei Garrison. He was a Xi Wei aborigin who was born with incredible strength. No one knew how Xue Wu Yi was able to make this mighty man do all his bidding.

Naturally, Chang Zai Cang was not his opponent. In the whole of Da Ye, other than the young version of the Great General Xia Hou Shang, the person capable of defeating Shang Que was only Xiao Zhige.

Clenching his teeth, Chang Zai Cang made his decision, “8-2 is really not enough to share with my team. 7-3, at least make it 7-3!”

Xiao Zhige’s eyes lit up, “Deal. Tomorrow, I’ll depart with you to Liangzhou.”

Chang Zai Cang, “…” Such a quick reply, was I being duped again?

…..

When the discussion had ended, Chang Zai Cang winked at An Chang Qing several times in want of starting a conversation with him but was caught by Xiao Zhige. He gave him a threatening look and Chang Zai Cang could only give up and leave. Since he was a frequent visitor, he knew his way to the guest room without needing help with directions.

After Chang Zai Cang left, An Chang Qing asked with some concern, “You’re leaving for Liangzhou? Didn’t Dr. Hu say that you have to rest your wounds?”

Xiao Zhige smiled and whispered in his ears, “Don’t worry, there won’t be a fight. I was only trying to scare Chang Zai Cang.”

Chang Zai Cang and Xiao Zhige were under the command of Xia Hou Shang and the two had known each other for a long time. Chang Zai Cang was quite talented at leading his men and this had allowed Liangzhou to stay safe and secure. However, Xiao Zhige knew that he had a fatal weakness – Chang Zai Cang did not have a lot of guts, he preferred stability and seldom took risks.

He knew that he couldn’t win Shang Que in a fight and rushed to Xiao Zhige for help but he never considered that Shang Que might not even want to engage in battle.

Da Ye and Xi Wei had been on friendly terms all these years, they would not risk war over a jade mine. As far as he could tell, the Xi Wei government may seem steady but in fact, it was about to get turbulent. Xue Wu Yi had taken control over the court for so long but the young Xi Wei Emperor was also coming of age, it was high time that he would get involved in the matters of the court. Over the years, the royal family who had been waiting patiently to regain power were also aiming for Xue Wu Yi’s downfall. And during his reign, Xue Wu Yi had also made many enemies by ruining their ill-gotten gains with his iron-fisted regulations. 

As such, Xue Wu Yi would definitely not risk stirring up a hornet’s nest at this juncture. Sending Shang Que was probably just a scare tactic.

Listening to his explanation, An Chang Qing was in awe. Xiao Zhige was truly insightful. 

He then remembered something and asked, “Wangye has spoken about me with General Chang?”

Xiao Zhige did not expect the topic to change so suddenly and almost blurted out a ‘yes’. He looked back at An Chang Qing and asked, “Why do you ask?”

An Chang Qing had been with Xiao Zhige for this long so he naturally knew that since he did not deny it, then it must’ve been true.

“Wangye just have to tell me if you’ve spoken about me or not.”

Xiao Zhige glanced at him and thought about how he had promised not to keep anything from him. His Adam’s apple rolled twice and he nodded awkwardly, “Yes.”

Without waiting for An Chang Qing to ask, Xiao Zhige sighed and went on to explain, “When Chang Zai Cang was stationed in Yejing, I told him to watch over the An Manor and send me news of you.”

“Didn’t you ask me where the misunderstanding I had of you and Li Hai Yun comes from? It was Chang Zai Cang who told me.”

“…” There was some information to digest and An Chang Qing did not know which to be surprised at first.

After deliberating, he stammered, “Then… you’ve known me long before? How…”

Xiao Zhige saw An Chang Qing’s ears turning a shade redder and his lips arced with glee. He reached out to touch his earlobe and thought about where to begin, “It should be when I was around nine. You were about seven at the time, probably still too small to remember.”

An Chang Qing looked at him speaking in earnest and frowned, he had no memories of Xiao Zhige before this.

Xiao Zhige continued, “That autumn during the Emperor’s birthday, he organized a hunting expedition in the Spring Mountain outer palace. The Crown Prince had stayed behind and on a rare chance, I was allowed to go. It was there that I met you.”

At that time, Xiao Zhige’s mother was still around. Although he was not favored, he was still a child pampered by his mother. He happened to see the young An Chang Qing’s round little jaded face and liked it very much.

The ministers’ children that attended were mostly around his younger brother’s age but they had obviously learned the art of flattery. Only An Chang Qing was indifferent and stayed in one place, not trying to draw attention or give out pretentious praises. Xiao Zhige found him extremely cute.

Xiao Zhige saw him sitting by himself and went to talk to him. Only then did he find out that An Chang Qing was Minister An’s third son. Everyone knew of the Minister’s capable eldest son and mischievous second son but very few knew the existence of his third son.

Xiao Zhige could tell that he was a little timid so he gave him a piece of pastry.

Two weeks into the expedition, An Chang Qing had often come to find him. At a certain point, An Chang Qing was late and Xiao Zhige went to find him. It was then that he saw him being bullied by the second young master An and several other young masters. The Third Prince was also watching with excitement.

The young An Chang Qing had cowered into a ball, seemingly adept in dealing with this type of situation. Even in the face of insults and abuse, he still kept his head low and stayed small, looking pitiful and helpless.

Xiao Zhige was furious. He rushed over and fought with them. In the end, even the Third Prince joined the fight. Although Xiao Zhige had been practicing martial arts, his body was still that of a boy’s. When the brawl was over, Xiao Zhige had countless bruises and scratches on his body.

Later, Xiao Zhige brought An Chang Qing back to his room and asked him angrily why he did not fight back or hide.

The small An Chang Qing then gave him a serious answer, “If you hide or retaliate this time, the next time will be more severe.”

Xiao Zhige did not understand his words back then but he made him a promise: When he returned to the palace, he would ask his father to let An Chang Qing become his reading companion so he could prevent him from getting bullied.

At that time, he only thought that since An Chang Qing was also not favored, it shouldn’t be too hard to get approval. However, fate is always inconsistent and many things never go according to one’s wishes.

Upon his return, before he had the chance to speak to his father, the Empress had told him that his mother had committed suicide.

After that came years of struggles and extraordinary hardships. Without his mother’s protection, Xiao Zhige realized that his life would only turn arduous. And he finally understood what An Chang Qing had said to him: ‘If you hide or retaliate this time, the next time will be more severe.’

Xiao Zhige had to grow up fast. In order to break away from the Empress and Crown Prince’s control, by the age of twelve, Xiao Zhige requested for his enrolment into the military.

When he returned many years later and remembered his oath, he found that An Chang Qing had already forgotten this childish promise. But Xiao Zhige still felt guilty for not being able to keep his promise.

Afterwards, he could only try to pay attention to his news every now and then. Once he knew that An Chang Qing was having a hard time at the An Manor, it was then that he requested Chang Zai Cang’s help.

Later, in order to hamper suspicions in the palace, he announced that he did not like women and asked the Empress Dowager to decree for their marriage.

“… That’s all there is. I saw that you have forgotten so I did not bring it up.”

An Chang Qing widened his eyes. He recalled that in the winters, when their allowance was skimmed, every few days, someone would leave a basket of charcoal in their yard; whenever he went to refill his mother’s prescriptions without enough money, the store clerk would always charge him less…

After he grew up and found out that the pharmacy was under Madame Li’s name, he had thought that it was Madame Li being kind to them.

As it turned out, it was all thanks to Xiao Zhige’s attentiveness towards him.

An Chang Qing scoured his brains to remember Xiao Zhige in his childhood but it was no use. In the winter when he had turned ten, he had jumped into an ice cold pond to save his sister who had been pushed in. The incident had caused him to subsequently suffer from a severe fever. After he had recovered, he seemed to have forgotten many things.

“I’m sorry…” An Chang Qing said forlorn yet longingly, “I can’t remember…”

TTBE 52

Chapter 52

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

An Chang Qing said those strong words with gnashing teeth but his red eyes and nose simply did not match his words. He reminded Xiao Zhige of a little silver fox that he had encountered while hunting. After being cornered, the small animal was also trying to seem brave by bearing its teeth this way.

Xiao Zhige smiled unconsciously. He patted his back gently as though smoothing out the ruffled fur of the frightened silver fox. He softly reassured him, “En, this will not happen again.”

An Chang Qing’s strained body gradually relaxed under Xiao Zhige’s consolation. He rested his head on his shoulder and said in a muffled voice, “I understand that certain military affairs cannot be disclosed even to family members but you cannot hide the severity of the matter from me.”

“I will not hide anything from you again. In the future, whatever you want to know, I will tell you everything.”

Thinking back, Xiao Zhige was truly regretful that he did not let An Chang Qing know. Initially, it was to keep him from worrying but what if he had returned a few days later and Yanzhou’s defense was broken? With An Chang Qing’s stubbornness, he would not have abandoned Yanzhou and fled.

Xiao Zhige knew that the person in his arms may seem delicate but his claws were actually quite sharp.

An Chang Qing let Xiao Zhige hug him a little longer before leaving his embrace to resume combing his hair.

As his fingers swept past, Xiao Zhige suddenly grabbed his wrist. He looked at the blisters on his hand and frowned, “What happened?”

On the tender pair of hands were patches of blisters. Some of which had already popped, leaving a layer of dried skin and some new ones which had just begun to form. The fair-skinned hands had turned rugged with uneven patches of marred skin.

Seeing An Chang Qing pulling back his hand, Xiao Zhige did not ask further and said, “The bubbles have to be pricked before we can apply medicine.”

“Pricking the bubbles is painful. And applying medicine is inconvenient when I have to use my hands. Plus, it’s nothing serious.”

Xiao Zhige’s face turned black and An Chang Qing knew he was losing the fight. He said reluctantly, “I’ll do it later.”

“I’ll help you.”

Since An Chang Qing’s hand was injured, Xiao Zhige did not have the heart to let him continue to comb his hair either. He called Chen Su to help him dress and they both went to see Hu Shi Fei.

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When they returned from Hu Shi Fei’s place, they saw Qi Wei and Tie Hu talking to Chen Su in the courtyard.

Once the war was over, Qi Wei was quite jubilant. Knowing that Xiao Zhige was wounded, he quickly brought Tie Hu to visit.

“What are you doing here?” Xiao Zhige narrowed his eyes and looked at them unpleasantly.

“We heard that you were injured so we came to visit,” Qi Wei was oblivious to the hostility in Xiao Zhige’s tone and babbled on with ignorance. He also did not forget to speak up for his good brother, “Xie Ling said that he had something urgent to do and could not come. I say, the war is over, what’s there that’s so urgent?”

Xiao Zhige smiled, “Xie Ling is right.”

Eh? Qi Wei was baffled.

Xiao Zhige slowly explained, “It seems that you can afford to be idle. Don’t you know that the soldiers have begun to work on the fields? Since you have nothing to do, go help them out.”

Qi Wei, “Ha?”

Xiao Zhige continued, “Whoever else is free is required to go.”

Qi Wei, “…”

Qi Wei continued to stare dumbfounded at Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing’s back as they entered the house. He turned to ask Tie Hu, “Did we do anything to offend the General?”

Tie Hu scratched his head and answered, “I don’t think so.”

Qi Wei gritted his teeth and said angrily, “It must be Xie Ling’s fault. He did this to us!”

Tie Hu frankly stated, “Xie Ling clearly told us not to come. You’re the one who insisted on coming.” You even dragged me along!

Qi Wei was stumped and couldn’t retort his words. He glared at Tie Hu and said, “We can’t fight among ourselves. We’re brothers who stick together during difficult times! If we have to do farmwork, we can’t single out Xie Ling!”

Listening to the two making noise outside the door, An Chang Qing looked at Xiao Zhige questioningly, “Why did you send Qi Wei and Tie Hu to do farmwork?”

“It’s already a lenient punishment,” Xiao Zhige replied, “As a Vice Commander, despite not being able to hold back the Beidi army like he promised, he went on to believe the enemies’ words and couldn’t even stabilize the soldiers’ morale, causing you, as a Wangfei, to have to do his job for him and be exposed to danger. Tell me, shouldn’t he be punished?”

An Chang Qing contemplated his words and, although he felt it was indeed reasonable, he couldn’t help but think that there was something else. However, since it was not his problem, he simply cast the matter aside.

…..

After the failed attempt on conquering Yanzhou, Hu Yan Xun and his brothers returned to the Beidi Imperial City. Upon arrival, Hu Yan Xun immediately turned on Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi. Hu Yan Xun was a powerful warrior who was supported by the people. After the Emperor’s death, it was expected that he would take over the throne and cast his nephews out.

Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi refused to be ruled by Hu Yan Xun and left the city with their troops. The Beidi army since then was divided by half, crippling their military strength, drastically lowering the probability of attacking Da Ye.

When this news reached Yanzhou, three days had passed. 

Xiao Zhige‘s wound had also begun to heal gradually. Although he was still not permitted to do strenuous activities, he could still deal with the post-war problems as a tactitian.

The soldiers who had died in the war would have to have their bodies identified. Those with relatives in Yanzhou could let them claim their bodies while those without could only be cremated. Their families from afar would be informed of their deaths, supplemented with their pensions.

In addition to clearing up the battlefield, there was also the farmwork.

The winter this year was particularly long and on top of the delay caused by the war, they had missed the window for planting wheat. To minimize the losses, they could only try to sow the land on time to plant corn and other available crops.

With this arrangement, another five days had passed.

Because An Chang Qing had injured his hands, Xiao Zhige refused to let him do anything while he kept himself busy with work as though he did not have any injuries of his own.

An Chang Qing argued, “My wounds are a lot lighter than yours.”

Xiao Zhige frowned and disagreed, “My skin is tougher than yours, this small wound is nothing.”

“Then mine is nothing as well!” An Chang Qing refuted, feeling as though he was a handicap for not being able to do anything.

Xiao Zhige tried to coax him, “Bear with it for just a few more days.”

Seeing his gentle and caring disposition, An Chang Qing was won over and continued to stay indoors to recuperate.

Qi Wei, who had just come back from the fields, looked towards the General’s Manor and realized something. He exclaimed, “I finally know why the General made us do farmwork!”

Tie Hu went along and asked, “Why?”

Qi Wei answered with a miserable look, “It must be because we did not stop Wangfei from going to the battlefield! The General is clearly abusing his position to get revenge!”

Xie Ling looked at him as though he was looking at an idiot and said, “You only realized this now after we’ve been breaking our backs in the fields for four days?”

Qi Wei, “…” That’s right, so what now?

…..

After another few days, An Chang Qing’s hands were completely healed and he had regained his freedom.

He was about to work on his jade crafting when Tie Hu came to deliver a message, stating that someone from Liangzhou had come to visit.

Behind Tie Hu stood a gentleman of slender build. Standing next to Tie Hu, he simply resembled a weak scholar.

Xiao Zhige was currently busy in the study. An Chang Qing did not know the visitor nor the reason for his arrival and could only direct them to Xiao Zhige, “Wangye is in the study. Please take the guest to him.”

The man observed An Chang Qing briefly before coming forward and greeted, “Is this Sire Wangfei? Liangzhou’s General, Chang Zai Chang, greets Wangfei.”

Hm? Hearing his tone of familiarity, An Chang Qing was puzzled, “General Chang knows of me?”

Chang Zai Chang smiled, “I’ve only heard of you from a long time ago but we’ve never actually met. Wangye often spoke about you…”

“Chang Zai Chang!” 

Xiao Zhige had just come from the study when he heard Chang Zai Chang spewing such a sentence. He quickly called out to stop him.

Chang Zai Chang gave An Chang Qing a confounded look and immediately stopped talking. He turned to greet Xiao Zhige instead.

“What are you doing here?” Xiao Zhige took a quick glance at An Chang Qing before speaking to Chang Zai Chang, “A General absent from his post without permission. Careful not to get reported to the Imperial Court.”

Chang Zai Chang’s face turned bitter, “It’s all because of the letter you wrote to me in regards to the jade mine that I have to come here personally.”

With the manner in which they were conversing, it seemed they were quite close. An Chang Qing wanted to ask Chang Zai Chang about his previous words but hearing about the jade mine, An Chang Qing decided to leave it for another time.

Xiao Zhige was also taken aback at the mention of the jade mine. He had sent the letter before the covert siege against the Beidi court and had not received a response from Liangzhou. Since then, the matter had been put off.

“Something happened?”

“After receiving your letter, I sent people out to secretly scout the area. As it happens, there was a landslide some time ago, causing a large chunk of earth to break off from the mountain. The jade pieces that the locals collect are probably from the fragments that fell during the landslide.”

The inhabitants nearby did not know the value of the jade; thinking that since it was available abundantly, it must not have been of worth. 

“I wanted to bring in troops to occupy the mountains first but somehow, the regent of Xi Wei got wind of this news and had Shang Que mobilize his troops to the border. I couldn’t reply to you sooner because I was occupied with confronting Shang Que.”

The Xi Wei Empire claimed that since the mine is closer to Xi Wei, it should be theirs. But such a lucrative find, there was no way Chang Zai Chang was going to back down since they were the ones to discover it first.

As such, the two armies were currently at loggerheads and the situation was turning critical.

Chang Zai Chang dared not act rashly and came to Yanzhou to discuss countermeasures with Xiao Zhige.


Hey there, thank you for reading.

Just something really random here. 

I happened to read a super hilarious Manhwa the other day and wanted to share it with you guys: The Return of the Crazy Demon

Sorry it’s not BL but there are quite a few ikemen to drool over including MC who would actually say “Am I that surprisingly handsome?”. It’s a martial arts manhwa so expect cute guys with long hair! 😍😍😍

I especially love the MC’s personality and how it stays true to the title: he is batshit crazy and incredibly unpredictable. Plotwise, imho, it’s quite good if you’re not bored with the reincarnation and OP MC trope. Actually, this is only my second martial arts manhwa so I’m not sure how it compares to others but I’m quite sure it’ll be able to force a few chuckles out of you. If you like the eccentricities of Gintama, you’ll definitely love this one. Check it out if you’re interested and if you like it, please support the author/artist any way you can.

TTBE 51

Chapter 51

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The towering body of the man was wrapped over An Chang Qing’s back as his head rested on his shoulder. The warmth from his breath brushed his skin, ensuring An Chang Qing with a sense of comfort that his Wangye had returned safely.

Finally his clenched fist loosened. Seeing that others were looking their way and hesitating whether they should approach, An Chang Qing nudged Xiao Zhige, “Let go of me. Let’s go back first.”

But Xiao Zhige stood unflinching behind him, breathing lightly – he had fallen asleep in this state.

An Chang Qing turned to look at him and found that the man’s face had lost considerable weight with vividly visible dark shades under his closed eyes. 

Maybe because Xiao Zhige had finally returned, the anger and grievances that had accumulated over the past few days completely subsided, giving way to feelings of heartache and tenderness towards the man. His heart softened and although he did not want to, he still had to wake him up, “Wangye, please wake up. You can sleep back at the manor.”

Xiao Zhige rubbed his cheek against his neck and mumbled faintly.

Qi Wei and the others suggested, “Why don’t we help carry the General back?”

An Chang Qing shook his head. He grabbed Xiao Zhige’s arm and wrapped it over his shoulder, speaking to him softly, “Don’t sleep here, let me take you back.”

Xiao Zhige seemed to sense his intention and hummed softly. He leaned in and let An Chang Qing guide him home.

Qi Wei watched from behind with envy. He mumbled, “When will I be able to find such a loving and good-looking partner? Why is the General so lucky?”

“I advise you not to go near the General’s place the next few days unless you want to court unwanted misfortune1. Since the Beidi army has withdrawn, there are countless matters to attend to. Let’s deal with them and wait a few days before visiting the General,” Xie Ling warned as he recalled the sight of Wangfei turning his back in anger. For now, the General has just returned but who could tell how Wangfei would vent his anger after.

Qi Wei gave Xie Ling a puzzled look and asked Tie Hu, “Old Tie, what could Xie Ling possibly mean?”

Tie Hu scratched his head and replied, “How should I know?”

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An Chang Qing supported Xiao Zhige the whole way back to the manor. People on the street had wanted to give him a hand but were all rejected by him.

Once they reached their room, An Chang Qing instructed Chen Su to prepare a hot bath while he undressed Xiao Zhige.

Where on earth did he go that caused his shiny armor to be smudged with blood and dirt, his shoes to be soaking wet, and his white inner gown to be soiled with black and yellow stains?

An Chang Qing carefully checked the injury on his left shoulder and found that the gash on his shoulder had reopened. It was covered with dried blood which had glued his garment onto his wound. When An Chang Qing was trying his gentlest to pull off his garment, he found that the cloth had assimilated with the man’s flesh, causing him to let out soft grunts in pain.

An Chang Qing dared not make any rash movements and could only use scissors to remove the rest of his inner gown. He then covered him with a blanket.

Xiao Zhige remained unconscious no matter what An Chang Qing did to him.

Seeing his battered body filled with untreated wounds, An Chang Qing untied his hair and laid him back in bed while he personally got up to get the doctor.

Not long after An Chang Qing left, Chen Su returned with the hot water. When he took it to the bedside, he felt a piercing gaze. In fear, he turned his head to find Xiao Zhige’s cold eyes staring at him.

“General,” Chen Su shrank back and greeted in a squeaky voice.

Xiao Zhige looked back at him unfeelingly without any other response. Chen Su’s scalp was turning numb by his stare. He quickly placed the water basin down and hurriedly fled. At the same time, An Chang Qing had just returned with Hu Shifei when he saw Chen Su rushing out as if he had seen a ghost.

“What happened?”

Chen Su replied, “The General is awake.”

An Chang Qing was delighted. He rushed and found that Xiao Zhige had indeed opened his eyes. He called out ‘Wangye’ but Xiao Zhige only looked at him for a few seconds before closing his eyes and breathing steadily again.

Hu Shifei, who had come to Yanzhou together with Tie Hu, had been helping out in the barracks since his arrival. Once he heard that Xiao Zhige had returned, he gathered his equipment and wanted to pay him a visit when he happened to bump into An Chang Qing who had come to look for him.

After giving Xiao Zhige a checkup, Hu Shifei explained, “He’s just suffering from exhaustion. But this wound had been left untreated for too long. We have to remove the fabric and treat it soon before it becomes infected and destroys his meridians.”

An Chang Qing was terribly frightened, “Please do it quick.”

Hu Shifei looked at Xiao Zhige’s grime covered body coughed lightly, “Once the wound is treated, it should not be disturbed. Why doesn’t Wangfei have someone clean up Wangye and change the bedding first. I will return to dress his wounds once that’s done.”

An Chang Qing agreed. He told Chen Su to accompany Hu Shifei to the yard while he stayed and helped Xiao Zhige wipe his body clean. An Chang Qing was meticulous and gentle in his every move to avoid the fresh injuries, making sure that Xiao Zhige was not hurting. After using two buckets of water, Xiao Zhige was finally cleaned and An Chang Qing could proceed with changing the bed sheets.

Maybe because An Chang Qing was by his side, this time around, Xiao Zhige did not wake up.

Hu Shifei was then invited in. He had prepared a bottle of wine and a small heated knife. He then soaked a piece of clean gauze with alcohol and placed it over the wound on Xiao Zhige’s left shoulder.

Xiao Zhige grunted as blue veins popped on his neck and forehead.

An Chang Qing was heartbroken when he saw this but Hu Shifei calmly instructed him, “Please hold him down and do not let him make any sudden movements.”

An Chang Qing removed his socks, got onto bed and used his whole body to restrain Xiao Zhige.

Hu Shifei began cleaning the wound with alcohol before slowly removing the rotten flesh with a pair of scissors.

As the dead flesh which had blended with the fabric were being dug out, bright red blood began spilling out from the fresh wound. Riddled with pain, Xiao Zhige’s body would occasionally twitch and he would let out a low groan. An Chang Qing was too grief-stricken to look, and could only hold him tightly with his eyes closed.

Fortunately, the procedure was done relatively quickly thanks to Hu Shifei’s swift and precise skills. He wiped off the blood stains and spread medicine over the wound before bandaging it with clean gauze. 

At this point, both An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige were sweating profusely. An Chang Qing heaved a sigh and said softly, “Thank you Dr. Hu.”

Hu Shifei waved his hand, “Wangfei don’t have to thank me. Do not let Wangye do anything to agitate the wound. It’ll take time for it to heal. I will come to help change Wangye’s dressing everyday. Please let him have a good rest for today.”

After Hu Shifei left, An Chang Qing took a handkerchief and wiped the sweat off of Xiao Zhige’s forehead.

Maybe because the pain had subsided, the frown on his face had lifted as he rested peacefully.

An Chang Qing took off his outer gown and sat beside the sleeping Xiao Zhige. He pinched his nose and said, “I’ll let you off for now. We’ll settle this later.”

Seeing no reaction from Xiao Zhige, An Chang Qing snorted and went on to cover him with the blanket. He hesitated briefly but still decided to slip into the blanket and slept in his arms.

The next day, An Chang Qing was woken up by the bright sunlight.

He rubbed his face against the warm chest before opening his eyes to find that Xiao Zhige was looking at him.

Xiao Zhige had his head lowered and his downcast eyes had been gazing at him for some time now.

An Chang Qing let go of his grip and rubbed his eyes, “What time is it?”

“It’s almost noon.” Xiao Zhige answered.

“That late? Why didn’t Wangye wake me? What about lunch?”

“I’m not hungry. I wanted to look at you a little longer.”

When he was trapped in Mnt. Er Gui with neither food nor a way out, all he could think of was An Chang Qing. What was An Chang Qing doing now back in Yanzhou?; Does An Chang Qing know that he was no longer in the city? If he did not return, would An Chang Qing be mad at him?

But he did promise him that he would return so no matter how hard it gets, he had to pull through. If he is not around, there will be no one to coax his Nuo Nuo when he’s unhappy.

An Chang Qing was starting to turn hot under his gaze. He ran out barefooted and called for food to be brought up.

Xiao Zhige’s eyes continued to be glued to his back, reluctant to let him leave.

Considering Xiao Zhige’s injuries, An Chang Qing had ordered the kitchen to prepare porridge and light side dishes that are easy to digest. The meal was served on a small table next to the bed. Xiao Zhige got up and wore his outer gown before sitting to eat with An Chang Qing.

After finishing the food, An Chang Qing let the servants clear the table and leave the room. He then picked up the comb and helped Xiao Zhige comb his hair.

Xiao Zhige, with his back against An Chang Qing, asked, “How were your days when I was away?”

An Chang Qing’s hands paused briefly. He continued to brush Xiao Zhige’s hair while answering wryly, “When Wangye was away, I ate and slept very well. What is there that could ruin my day?”

An Chang Qing said so but his tone was filled with grievances.

Xiao Zhige remembered seeing him last night – he had come down from the city wall in body armor. It was during a battle and standing on top of these walls was extremely dangerous. He shouldn’t have been there.

“What were you doing up on the city wall yesterday?” Xiao Zhige asked in a serious voice.

“I went to beat the war drum.” An Chang Qing retold Xiao Zhige everything, “The Beidi army announced that you were dead. I did not believe it and neither could I allow the soldiers and civilians to believe it.”

Xiao Zhige’s brows knit together and he scolded sternly, “How could you! What if something happened…”

An Chang Qing cut him off and said, “You risked your life to siege the Beidi Court, it is only right that I and the soldiers do what we can to wait for your return. As long as you come back, I will be fine.” 

Xiao Zhige was lost for words as he looked at An Chang Qing who looked back at him firmly with unspoken anger in his eyes.

Xiao Zhige could no longer say what he had intended to. He sighed and took him into his arms and apologized, “It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have kept it from you.”

An Chang Qing sniffed and shamelessly buried his face into his chest, “You didn’t know how scared I was!”

All he could do was to blindly have faith in Xiao Zhige’s promise, the promise that he would return. He not only had to convince himself but also the soldiers and people of Yanzhou that Xiao Zhige would return. 

“I’m sorry…” Xiao Zhige kissed him lightly on his forehead and cheek. He hugged him tighter and said, “I promise, there will not be a next time.”

An Chang Qing looked up from his embrace with red eyes and nose and strictly stated, “If there’s a next time, you’re on your own!”


1↪The phrase used here is 池鱼之殃(chí yú zhī yāng): trouble for the fish in a moat, meaning to be struck with disaster not of one’s making

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.