TTBE 44

Chapter 44

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emperor An Qing looked at him with cold eyes.

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

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

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

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

“Oh? What is your request?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had arrived at Yanzhou.


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

TTBE 43

Chapter 43

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

Yanyun County

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Understood!”

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your Majesty! Please calm down!”

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

…..

The situation at court was disclosed shortly after.

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

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

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

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

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

TTBE 42

Chapter 42

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

“It’s Wangye,” Tie Hu said.

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

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

That’s good. He hasn’t left yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m going.”

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

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

…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTBE 41

Chapter 41

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

This winter, the price of charcoal was high enough to render the people of Yejing speechless. However, Yejing was filled with affluent families. There was never a better time to spend their wealth. 

At this point Yejing could be accurately described by the phrase, ‘the meat and wine of Zhumen stinks and the streets have frozen dead bones’.1

The ordinary folk were struggling for scraps to survive the harsh winter while the rich raced to buy hundreds of taels worth of coal. And since charcoal had become such a rare commodity, the families that had managed to sufficiently stock up began to popularize the act of hosting Red Ember Feasts. 

Red Ember Feast, just as the name implied, was a feast the rich hosted in their garden around a large kiln filled with burning coal. Thick curtains were put up to cover the wind and snow while the guests stayed near the heat to enjoy their plum wine while watching the snow white scenery. This way these families made a grand display of their financial strength. 

An Chang Qing looked at the numbers in the account books and sighed, “There are deaths by droughts and deaths by floods.”2

The coal shop had only been open for ten days and the 15 tonnes of coal in the warehouse was almost sold out. At the same time, the number of people queuing up at the soup kitchen outside the city was also increasing. There were not only the poor but also students who had come to the capital to prepare for the Imperial Exams. They were out of options and had to go to the soup kitchen in groups to get some porridge.

Zhou He Lan was accustomed to this scene and could only comment lightly, “This has always been the case since time immemorial. The wine and meat of the rich turns bad while the poor struggle to find food.”

An Chang Qing heaved another sigh and said, “Let’s hope that spring comes soon.”

He had done everything he could: built a soup kitchen and gave out alms, hoping to provide people a better chance at survival. But one man’s power is limited after all. There were still countless who could not hold on and perished in the cold winter nights. Even so, the death toll in Yejing was not as serious as those of Suzhou, Binzhou, Liangzhou, Yanzhou, and Chenzhou- the provinces further north. 

According to Xiao Zhige, the reports from the provincial officers kept coming and were delivered to the Emperor after selection. But Emperor An Qing was disinclined to even take a glance, only concentrating on sending out forces in search of the Taoist Priest. Minister An could always read his master’s mind and since then, had suppressed all reports of similar nature.

Eventually, due to the severity of the situation, even Xiao Zhige, who had rarely dealt with court matters, received several urgent requests from Yanzhou.

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Yanzhou was located in the northernmost part of the Da Ye Empire, bordering the Northern Desert. A cold winter to the Yanzhou troops and civilians was not something they were unfamiliar with. More difficult to deal with was the lack of food and clothes, and most of all, the frequent raids from the Beidi people.

The Beidi people were able bodied and excelled at riding and shooting. They lived by the water but once the season changed to winter and food became scarce, they would move southwards to plunder, burn, and kill.

Every passing winter had always been the harshest time for Yanzhou.

As the Empress Dowager’s sixtieth birthday drew near, Xiao Zhige was summoned back to Yejing in advance, leaving his vice commander to take charge of the Yanzhou troops. For the Beidi people who feared and hated Xiao Zhige, this was a chance they could not miss.

When An Chang Qing returned from the shop, the light in the study was still lit. He squinted and looked but could only see a faint silhouette standing by the window. Coming closer, he saw that it was Xiao Zhige with his back facing away. He seemed to be lost deep in thoughts, not even realizing that someone was approaching.

Only when An Chang Qing had pushed the door open did Xiao Zhige turn around. Seeing the snow on his shoulder, he frowned and went over to brush it off.

“Steward Wang said that Wangye hasn’t had dinner yet.” An Chang Qing saw the deep lines between his eyebrows and knew that something was weighing on his mind.

“En,” Xiao Zhige did not want to worry him, “I have no appetite tonight.”

“I haven’t had dinner either. Can Wangye dine with me?” An Chang Qing smiled and asked.

Xiao Zhige was clearly in no mood to eat but he still nodded. An Chang Qing then told Anfu to bring up the dishes. It was freezing out so they ditched the etiquettes and simply ate the food from a small table in the room.

An Chang Qing softly blew into the bowl of soup before drinking. After warming his stomach and seeing that Xiao Zhige was still absent-minded, he couldn’t help but ask, “Did something happen in Yanzhou?”

“En,” Xiao Zhige did not want to worry him but he knew that in case he had to leave for Yanzhou, there was no point in hiding. “The Beidi people have been wary of me for a long time. Now that they know that I’m not in Yanzhou and with the rare occurence of this treacherous winter, all the Beidi generals have been gathering. They are preparing for a massive attack on Yanzhou.”

The three Northern states Liangzhou, Yanzhou and Chenzhou formed a defensive line along the border with Yanzhou in the center. The generals of Liangzhou and Chenzhou were present, only Yanzhou had no commander. Although Xiao Zhige’s second-in-command was there with his cavalry, he had his hands full with the Military Supervisor on the Crown Prince’s side. If the Beidi were to launch an attack, they might not be able to deal with both foreign and domestic strife.

And due to the disaster, Liangzhou and Chenzhou were also occupied with their own problems, making it highly likely for them to be unable to lend a hand in time. If the Beidi people managed to break through Yanzhou’s defenses, not only would the people suffer, but Xiao Zhige’s years of hard work would have been for naught. Emperor An Qing would hold him accountable and the Crown Prince and Third Prince would definitely use this chance to add fuel to the fire.

Such an outcome was detrimental to him.

An Chang Qing lowered his eyes. He was fully aware in his heart, “Wangye wants to go to Yanzhou?”

Xiao Zhige responded, “I have to go.”

After saying this, his clenched fists loosened as he looked at An Chang Qing with a little regret.

But An Chang Qing was not displeased as he had expected. He restrained his thoughts and asked, “When will you leave?”

“I’ll have to enter the Palace to seek permission early tomorrow. The latest I’ll have to leave is the day after.”

An Chang Qing looked down. He hesitated before asking, “Can I go with you?”

Xiao Zhige shook his head, “Yanzhou is in a state of emergency. I have to ride on horseback day and night. You can’t come.”

“I understand,” An Chang Qing nodded. He did not persist and said calmly, “Then I’ll help Wangye pack your things.”

That night, the pair laid in each other’s embrace and slept. When An Chang Qing heard that Xiao Zhige had to leave, he did not show any expression. Only when they had tucked in did he grab onto Xiao Zhige’s body, revealing a trace of reluctance.

An Chang Qing closed his eyes but he did not sleep. He tried to recall the events from his last life but found that his memories of that time were too limited. At this time in his last life, Xiao Zhige had also left for Yanzhou but whatever had happened during his battles and the dangers he’d faced, An Chang Qing was completely clueless about. He had cared too little about Xiao Zhige back then. All he had heard were simple lines from the servants’ mouths that it had been a fierce battle but that they had won in the end.

But that battle was just the beginning. The Empire that had been left by the first monarch, in the hands of Emperor An Qing, was now an empty shell, a shadow of its former glory. Domestic and foreign disputes were clouded by a veil of fictitious prosperity which was blown away only by a  single snowstorm.

Shortly after the snow disaster, to show his filial piety to the Empress Dowager, Emperor An Qing had increased taxes and sanctioned forced labor to construct a ninety storey pagoda. The common people who were still recovering from the disaster had been drained once again. Subsequently, they could not take it anymore and had revolted. Since then, waves of uprisings had occurred throughout the country.

Having to deal with the constant internal unrest while warding off external aggressors, Xiao Zhige had stayed in Yanzhou for three years since then. It was only when Emperor An Qing had suddenly fallen ill that he had been summoned back to Yejing.

To Xiao Zhige, this might just be a short parting but to An Chang Qing, he was immensly unwilling. They had always fallen asleep together on the same bed and had never been apart from the day of their wedding. Now that he had to say goodbye, An Chang Qing finally realized that the man sleeping by his side had quietly integrated himself into being the biggest part of his life.

Just thinking that this person wouldn’t be around to warm his hands anymore gave him a feeling of emptiness and longing.

With a deep yearning, he huddled closer to Xiao Zhige. Xiao Zhige seemed to be aware of his uneasiness and opened up his arms to take him in while gently stroking his back.

After a long silence, An Chang Qing whispered wilfully, “I also want to go to Yanzhou.”

Xiao Zhige’s heart burned, “Yanzhou has harsh weather; is remote and barren and frequently under siege by the Beidi people. There are only a few peaceful days in a year… it’s not as good as Yejing.”

An Chang Qing pushed his forehead against his chest and said, “But you are not in Yejing.”

“The Empress Dowager’s birthday has yet to come. When the situation in Yanzhou stabilizes, I will come back.” Xiao Zhige could only comfort him so.

An Chang Qing squeezed out from his arms and looked at him, “It’s a promise. You have to come back on the Empress Dowager’s birthday, or else… or else, I’ll go to Yanzhou to find you!”

Xiao Zhige assumed that it was just An Chang Qing’s coquettish outburst and hugged him back into his arms. He pulled up the quilt and said helplessly, “Ok.”

An Chang Qing snuggled into his embrace and after a long pause, he said in a small voice, “I’ll practice according to the guidelines you gave me. When you come back… We can do it.”

Xiao Zhige’s body momentarily froze and it took a long time before he could recover his thoughts.

…..

Early next morning, Xiao Zhige entered the Palace. He stated that Yanzhou was in a dire state and requested for his return.

Emperor An Qing was still unsure but it was the Crown Prince who was the first to voice his objection, “Yanzhou has a Vice Commander and 80,000 soldiers. Are you telling me that that’s not enough to deal with a bunch of barbarians? Besides, the Empress Dowager’s sixtieth birthday is coming, filial piety should take precedence. Second brother shouldn’t have to be so anxious.”

Emperor An Qing did not speak but his expression showed approval. Xiao Zhige’s reign over Yanzhou’s troops for these many years had turned it into an ironclad state. Even though nothing seemed out of place, he was still not reassured. This time, he had called Xiao Zhige back to Yejing for the Empress Dowager’s birthday so he could plant his people in Yanzhou in his absence.

Although Emperor An Qing needed Xiao Zhige to guard the border for him, it was still imperative for him to have countermeasures against him.

Xiao Zhige looked at the Crown Prince with eyes sharp as blades, “It’s fine that I don’t go back but if the gates are breached, will you be willing to resume my responsibility as Commander and take back the city? Will you be responsible for the people of Yanhzou who were trampled over by the Beidi people?”

“Yanzhou is our first line of defense. Once it is broken, should Liangzhou and Chenzhou not be able to hold back the enemies, they can easily march through Suzhou and head straight for Yejing. Putting Yejing in danger, can big brother bear the consequences?”

The Crown Prince was rendered speechless. He was not adept at warfare and could only retort, “Is the situation even as urgent as second brother claims? If Yanzhou were to be breached, there’s still Suzhou. Can’t Shen Tu Xu hold them back? Are the troops of this country so incompetent that they can’t hold back a group of babarians?”

Xiao Zhige laughed coldly, “Why don’t you ask General Shen Tu himself if that’s plausible?”

“That’s enough!” Emperor An Qing interrupted their argument. He weighed the situation and ultimately decided they could not let the Beidi people breach the gates of Yanzhou. The Crown Prince was still young and had not yet set foot on the battlefield but he(Emperor An Qing) had once, a long time ago, gone with his father. Witnessing the strength and ferocity of Beidi people was nerve-wracking.

Three foot soldiers hadn’t been enough to take down one of their cavalry. As such, the Beidi people had become a major threat to the Da Ye Empire since a long time ago. And over the years, only Xiao Zhige had shown the ability to surpass them in terms of strength and fearlessness. 

After giving it some thought, Emperor An Qing waved his hand and said, “Fine, you can go but losing is not an option!”

“Yes.” Xiao Zhige knelt down to receive his orders, after which he left the Palace to gather his troops.


1 ↪朱门酒肉臭, 路有冻死骨 – excerpts from a poem depicting the disparity between the rich and poor, indicating that the rich could afford to have food go to waste while the poor are dying on the streets.

2 ↪旱的旱死, 涝的涝死 refers to uneven distributions. One person might have too much of one thing while another desperately lacks it.

TTBE 40

Chapter 40

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Xiao Zhige had been expecting this. He took An Chang Qing’s hand and comforted him. He then put on his official robe and took a carriage into the Palace to face the Emperor.

In Qian Zhen Palace, dragon braziers were burning bright. A golden curtain sweeping on the ground was pulled apart as Emperor An Qing leaned against the soft cushion. Two palace maids were massaging his arms and legs. Not far away, a middle-aged Taoist Priest was carefully adjusting the fire around the pill refining cauldron. A faint medicinal fragrance was rising from the cauldron as occasional crackings of the fire could be heard.

“Xuan Yi, you’re saying that the crazy Taoist is probably more powerful than even your master?” Emperor An Qing’s eyes lit up as he fiddled with a white jade flask in his hand.

The Taoist Priest Xuan Yi opened the cauldron lid and placed the refined pill into a small white flask. He then presented the sealed pill in front of the Emperor. “That’s right. To be able to decipher nature’s mysteries and foretell disaster, this ability is not something that my master possesses. If what the Northern Warlord said was true, then that eccentric priest is definitely someone of higher sanctity.”

Emperor An Qing’s interest was piqued, “Could he have the power to refine the pills that would make me immortal?”

Xuan Yi observed his mood and answered with caution, “The pill to immortality had always been a floating rumor. Although it is widespread, I have never seen anything tangible. Even if it’s a person of higher sanctity, I’m afraid he would also be clueless…”

Emperor An Qing immediately changed his attitude. He waved his sleeve and said, “Then how can he be called a person of higher sanctity?”

Xuan Yi cupped his hand and bowed, “If his cultivation is deep and can tap into the ways of the heavens, even if he does not have a way to produce the immortality pill, prolonging Your Majesty’s life is still viable…”

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Emperor An Qing was slightly pacified. He stretched his neck and looked out, eagerly urging, “Where is the Northern Warlord? Hurry up and bring him in!”

The eunuch at the door replied, “Wangye had already been summoned into the Palace.”

The moment he finished speaking, a voice announcing the arrival of The Northern Warlord sounded. 

“Bring him in!” Emperor An Qing pushed away the palace maids and got up excitedly. This should be the first time he was looking forward to seeing this repulsive son of his.

Xiao Zhige had to come through the snow and wind to reach the palace. He stayed in the front hall to dispel the cold before stepping into the inner hall.

The inner hall was thoroughly heated. There was also a strange fragrance drifting in the air, causing Xiao Zhige to briefly glance at the burning cauldron. He then humbly saluted, “Your Majesty.”

“Rise.” Emperor An Qing looked at him with an eagerness in his eyes, “The crazy priest you spoke of, do you still remember what he looked like?”

Xiao Zhige sneered in his heart but he put on a pensive expression and said, “I met him on the road to the barracks outside the city. He was dressed poorly even in winter with only a common priest robe and a gourd hanging off his waist. Judging from his face, he was probably around seventy but his steps were full of vigor and spirit, unlike those of ordinary people.”

Emperor An Qing’s smile widened the more he listened, “Do you have a way to find him?”

Xiao Zhige hesitated, “This priest was quite peculiar, it was as though he was waiting for me on that road. After relaying those words, he walked away a few steps and disappeared. I wanted to go after him for further questions but couldn’t catch up.”

Emperor An Qing knew about his son’s ability. With his martial prowess, anyone who could outrun him must be someone extraordinary.

“Have someone search for him!” Emperor An Qing was overjoyed, “Anyone who can bring him back will be rewarded!”

“This priest is indeed gifted. Now that his prediction has come true, shouldn’t we start preparing for the snow disaster?” Xiao Zhige took the chance to ask.

The smile on Emperor An Qing’s face waned. He frowned and said, “It’s just a heavy snow, what could it cause? Besides, the local officials will deal with it.” He remembered something and continued, “I recall that your manor had procured quite a bit to prepare for the winter, did you not?”

“Yes. The priest had said that I have to make use of this event to accumulate good deeds so as to ward off misfortunes to the people close to me.”

“That’s perfect,” Emperor An Qing waved his hand and said, “Now that the treasury is empty and since you’ve already made the effort, I’ll let you take care of it. Consider it as a way to help you gain blessings from the people.”

Xiao Zhige had long been aware of his father’s nature. His words did not come as a surprise to him. He only contemplated shortly and said, “If everything is as the eccentric priest said, the snow disaster will drag out. I’m afraid the things I’ve stored up are just a drop in the bucket if it was to be the only source to relieve this disaster.”

Emperor An Qing waved his hand with disregard, “How many lives can a snowstorm claim? We’ll discuss this again if it’s not enough.”

Xiao Zhige gauged the situation and decided not to argue. He bowed respectfully before taking his leave.

The eunuch led him out then went on to pass an Imperial edict to the public regarding the search for the eccentric Taoist priest.

Xiao Zhige looked back at the resplendent palace with mockery in his eyes. He turned and left without any sense of nostalgia.

It had turned dark by the time Xiao Zhige returned to the Wang Manor. In just half a day, the ground had been covered by a thick layer of snow, leaving a deep print as the carriage threaded by. On the way back, Xiao Zhige saw that many were still trying to repair their roofs in the dark. More pitiful were the beggars who did not have a place to live and could only huddle to find warmth.

Even the prosperous Yejing had fallen to such a state, the Beidi territories and the other provinces couldn’t possibly fare any better. But all Emperor An Qing could care about was the immortality pill and his own indulgent vices.These ‘trivial matters’, he could not be bothered with.

Back at the Wang Manor, Xiao Zhige saw that the lights were still lit in the main courtyard and his spirit was slightly lifted. He brushed off the snow before entering the room. 

An Chang Qing who had been waiting for Xiao Zhige immediately stood up to welcome him. He noticed Xiao Zhige’s expression and asked, “Is everything all right?”

Xiao Zhige recounted his trip to the palace to him.

“His Majesty is simply…” An Chang Qing was furious but restrained his mouth and only voiced the injustice, “Those were Wangye’s personal gold…”

Xiao Zhige was delighted to see that he was feeling unjust for him. He comforted and said, “Using the Emperor’s name for this relief work would prevent others from being too suspicious. It’s for the same cause after all, there’s no need for our effort to be recognized.”

Of course An Chang Qing understood this, otherwise, Xiao Zhige would not have fabricated the story about the eccentric priest. But understanding was one thing, he still couldn’t help feeling aggrieved for Xiao Zhige.

Seeing this, Xiao Zhige said, “Wouldn’t Nuo Nuo rather think about how much profit you can earn from selling the coal?”

In the beginning, An Chang Qing had accumulated 30,000 pieces of winter clothes, 30,000 rice tubs, and 15 tonnes of coal. The winter clothes and rice were not meant to be sold for a profit. Only the coal which was used by the rich could help him recover some of the costs. 

It had only snowed for a few days, he would have to wait a little for the price to escalate.

…..

And time had proven that Xiao Zhige was right.

The snow continued to fall intermittently for ten days, raising the snow on the ground to knee level. The winter wear that was ready to be put away was taken out again. After a season of winter, many houses already had their food depleted, prompting them to rush to get food and winter clothes. In their panic to stock up for the prolonged winter, the prices of winter clothes, grains, coal and other winter commodities skyrocketed.

Poorer families who thought that they had managed to brave through the winter were now left with small amounts of rations to live by while looking forward to the spring that now seemed uncertain of its arrival.

Meanwhile, An Chang Qing gathered the managers of all the shops and after the discussion, put the items up for sale.

The prices of winter clothes and grains would remain unchanged. At the same time, he also set up a soup kitchen outside the city to hand out porridge and winter clothes to the poor who could not afford them.

As soon as these matters were established, the first to get the news were the big bosses behind the other shops in Yejing. However, the moment they came to the door to make trouble, the clerks who had been briefed in advance simply warned them that this was Wangye’s effort in providing disaster relief under the Emperor’s edict. As such, no one dared to get in their way.

And so, the dissatisfied business owners could only back down and watch as the people flocked to the Northern Warlord’s shops to buy goods. But some were still interested in watching the excitement. Yejing was such a big city with so many people. If everyone were to buy grains solely from the Wang Manor’s stores, how long could their stock last? In a few days when they ran out of stock, those shrewd businessmen believed that they could still sell their grains at a profit.

But very quickly, another news broke their plan.

To ensure that everyone had enough to survive the winter, the Wang Manor had limited their sale of grains to ten bushels per household every ten days. 

And after causing these businessmen to stomp their feet in anger, An Chang Qing finally opened his new shop selling coal.

The Wang Manor had dealt in the coal business before. Coal was not produced in Yejing but was transported from the Qizhou province up north. Every year, only a small amount, enough to use over the winter, was delivered. But due to the snow disaster this year, transportation had been disrupted. Moreover, Qizhou had also been hit with the disaster. Their coal prices had soared as well and they couldn’t be bothered with Yejing.

Yejing housed a large number of wealthy families who could afford to spend extravagantly. Now that the weather was freezing, the delicately bodied nobles couldn’t possibly put up with the cold. The stewards of every manor were in a frenzy trying to find a way to get their hands on precious coal. 

As soon as the new store was opened, those who were well-informed immediately flocked over.

Someone was stunned after hearing about the price, “Why is it so expensive? On regular days, it’s only 12 taels.”

Due to the lack of manpower, Zhou He Lan was watching over the new shop. The skinny youth was wearing a blue cotton padded coat. He tucked his hands into his sleeves and gave the customer a foxy smile, “Today is not a regular day. If you do not intend to buy, please give way, there are customers waiting behind you.”

The person at the head of the queue was displeased. He stepped aside, thinking that the next person in line would have the same complaint but to his surprise, he did not even ask for the price, “Do you have silver coal?” 

Zhou He Lan said, “We have it all. How much do you want?”

“200 jin of regular coal, 100 jin of silver coal. Have it sent to Nobleman Xiao’s Manor.” The man then quickly took out several bills to pay upfront for fear he would miss the chance to buy the coal. Seeing this, the people behind did the same and registered their addresses for the delivery. 

By the end of the day, over half of the coal stock was sold. Regular coal was sold at 32 taels per jin and higher grade coal was sold at 100 taels per jin. Tallying up the accounts at night, An Chang Qing found that on this day alone, he had earned a total of 530,000 silver taels selling coal.

TTBE 39

Chapter 39

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Li Hai Yun’s right hand was wrapped in a bandage that hung around his neck, making him look haggard. An Chang Qing entered the guest hall and was quite surprised when he saw him. He had heard that the two had had a squabble but hadn’t expected it to be this serious. 

Seeing An Chang Qing, Li Hai Yun immediately stood up. He bowed deeply and apologized, “I’ve implicated Wangfei. Were you admonished by Wangye due to last night’s misunderstanding?”

He carefully studied An Chang Qing and was relieved that he did not seem to be hurt in any way.

An Chang Qing saw that Li Hai Yun’s attitude was quite genuine and the skepticism from before subsided. This cousin seemed to have  different virtues compared to Madame Li’s. An Chang Qing decided to treat him with a little more sincerity. 

“What happened? I heard that cousin had a dispute with my big brother.”

“Sure enough, fortunate news does not leave the door but bad news travels thousands of miles.” Li Hai Yun smiled bitterly and said, “To tell Wangfei the truth, this matter also had something to do with the misunderstanding last night. I had a little too much to drink and it was my cousin An Chang Yu who had urged me to seek out Wangfei, claiming that he would keep an eye out for me. After Wangfei had cleared up the misunderstanding, I had wanted to find An Chang Yu to have another drink but he was nowhere to be found. Having woken up, I believed he might’ve manipulated me into finding you and let Wangye witness the scene that would’ve consequently doomed the both of us.”

“I went back and questioned him about this and he actually admitted it.” Li Hai Yun showed a woeful expression, “I lost my cool and hit him on an impulse.”

An Chang Qing was surprised, “It’s natural that my eldest brother hates me and wants my demise, but targeting you…”

Li Hai Yun said depressingly, “Because of my achievements, Uncle had frequently admonished him for coming up short. He seemed to have found me an eyesore for a long time. Sadly, he was presented with an opportunity last night…”

He had regarded this cousin as a close friend. Whether it was the time he had achieved his top scholar title or when he had failed to take the imperial exams, Li Hai Yun had poured his heart out to him. And An Chang Yu had always been a reliable elder brother who would comfort him. But to think he had borne malice towards him for such a long time….

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“Then what’s the matter with the Old Matriarch?”

An Chang Qing remembered that the Old Matriarch had always been in good health and had managed to live till the age of seventy before passing away.  

“It was my fight with An Chang Yu that drew the attention of my aunt, uncle and the Grand Matriarch. I told them about what happened; not only did they not reprimand An Chang Yu, they even blamed you for destroying our kinship. Of course I couldn’t accept it and said that I’ll report this matter to my father. This infuriated my aunt and the Grand Matriarch and they scolded me for being disrespectful. I couldn’t help but argue back, making the Grand Matriarch collapse due to anger.”

Li Hai Yun was looking rather upset, “I had always thought that my aunt was a person of principles. I couldn’t believe that she would side with my cousin instead of reason. He had clearly wanted to frame Wangfei and me but my aunt pushed all the blame on you… this is very disconcerting. No matter what, I’ll have to tell my father everything.”

An Chang Qing did not expect there was more to this. However, he was not surprised with the An family’s perception of him. After all, from a young age, he had rarely done anything right in their eyes. As such, he was not angered by this. Instead, he turned to Li Hai Yun and asked, “You’ve fallen out with the An family, where would you live in the future?”

Li Hai Yun replied, “My father’s magistrateship in Chang Yang was due. Since he was going to return to Yejing, we might as well make the move now. I can settle in the new house in a few days.”

“I came to seek an audience today as I was worried that yesterday’s incident would cause Wangfei to be implicated. I wanted to clarify in person but it seems that Wangfei is all right. I won’t disturb you further, I’ll take my leave now.”

After bowing, he added, “Consider this a debt I owed Wangfei. If you ever need anything in the future, just say the words.”

His words were sincere and An Chang Qing did not refuse. They talked a little longer before An Chang Qing had Steward Wang send him out. 

When Xiao Zhige returned, he happened to run into Li Hai Yun leaving. 

Li Hai Yun came forward to salute. He wanted to say a few words about yesterday’s misunderstandings to Xiao Zhige but on second thought, since An Chang Qing seemed to have completely cast the matter aside, he words might be unnecessary. He decided to stand aside and waited for Xiao Zhige to pass before leaving.

Xiao Zhige’s face was turning black as he glared at Li Hai Yun. When he saw An Chang Qing in the hall, his sight fell on the second teacup on the table and knew that An Chang Qing had been hosting Li Hai Yun. He said, “I saw Li Hai Yun at the gate. Why did he come?”

“He came to apologize for yesterday’s misunderstanding.”

An Chang Qing then told Xiao Zhige about the An family’s farce and An Chang Yu’s ill-natured plot. Xiao Zhige’s eyebrows tightened as he listened, “Your father is highly skilled at scheming in matters of the court but he failed to govern his family well. His two sons take after him but lack talent, only swarming about like flies.”

This was the first time An Chang Qing heard Xiao Zhige condemn someone. After his initial surprise was the urge to tease him, “What about the remaining son? Minister An has a total of three sons.”

Xiao Zhige looked at him and said earnestly, “The Third Young Master takes after his mother. There’s no doubt that he is excellent.”

An Chang Qing sniggered, thinking how this quiet person rarely knew how to flatter others but once he did, it was incredibly effective, even his mother was included in the flattery.

Xiao Zhige knew not why An Chang Qing was laughing but seeing his smile, his brows slightly eased. “Li Hai Yun’s father will be transferred back to Yejing, most likely with the promotion to Deputy Chief of Taifu Temple. The Taifu temple is in charge of the country’s grains, taxes and expenditures, and most importantly, the treasury. A highly influential position. The Crown Prince and third prince will do everything to try to win him over. To avoid suspicions, it is better to keep a distance.”

An Chang Qing responded with an ‘oh’ and grinned at him, “Wangye is trying to avoid suspicion or does not want me to come in contact with Li Hai Yun?”

Xiao Zhige stiffened and only answered moments later, “…. I don’t like him.”

An Chang Qing’s smile widened. He said with a big grin, “Since Wangye doesn’t like him, then I will have as little contact with him as possible.”

Xiao Zhige responded lightly with an ‘en’.

An Chang Qing stopped talking about Li Hai Yun and changed the topic, “Mother and Yu’er will move out two days later. The workers employed for them are all from the village. I wanted to talk to Wangye about transferring a few bodyguards from the mansion to look after them.”

“You are fully in charge of such matters. You don’t have to report it to me.” Xiao Zhige then gave An Chang Qing a deep look, “I have something to tell you.”

“Hm? What is it?” An Chang Qing’s eyes turned inquisitive.

“It’s not convenient to speak here.” Xiao Zhige then led him back to their courtyard. After entering their room and closing the door and windows, Xiao Zhige took out the guide written by Hu Shifei and the readily bought ointment with a few small jade rods and placed them on the table.

“This is a fitness guide that I was given by the doctor. I’ve also prepared the necessary items. You should do these exercises everyday to keep your body strong.”

“???” An Chang Qing was a little confused. He picked up the prescription and after glancing through the contents, his face turned red and he instantly threw the paper back on the table like a hot potato. “What’s the purpose of doing this?”

“You’re a man and it is not aligned with the principles of yin and yang. You need to look after your body to prevent injuries.” Xiao Zhige spoke with utmost seriousness, almost like he was talking about an important military maneuver.

Looking at the items on the table, An Chang Qing secretly cursed in his head. He quickly read the prescription one more time before tossing it and everything else on the table into the second drawer of the cabinet by the bed.

Xiao Zhige was still anxious and reminded him, “Do it according to the guide everyday. Only after you’re well can we consummate our marriage.”

An Chang Qing heard his words and his brain swelled. He blushed with embarrassment and stared at Xiao Zhige and spat, “Who wants to do that with you?!” He then pushed open the door and ran out.

Being left behind, Xiao Zhige was at a loss. Clearly yesterday he had said that he wanted it, why did it change today…

…..

By the time the New Year festivities ended, it was already halfway through the first lunar month. The remaining half came and went in the blink of an eye. Very soon, it was already the eighth of the second lunar month, ushering in the end of hibernation as flowers bloomed to welcome the spring. 

This time last year, the ice and snow had melted and light spring showers took their place. Foliage had begun to thrive, filling the land with greenery. The quiet streets and cold alleys had been bustling in preparation for the Flower Festival.

But this year, the winter had stayed and there were no signs of spring. Even the layer of snow on the buildings refused to melt away.

An Chang Qing sat by the brazier and looked at the snow covered roofs in the distance and knew that this was playing out just like it had in his previous life.

Xiao Zhige had previously gone to the Palace to beseech Emperor An Qing into issuing warnings to the people to prepare for the cold and refrain from leaving their houses. However, Emperor An Qing had the Imperial Priest make a divination on the spot and proclaimed that the snow would lift in a few days and spring would follow, discrediting the eccentric Taoist priest for spouting nonsense.

Emperor An Qing had reprimanded Xiao Zhige and turned down his suggestion.

An Chang Qing heard the news and was quite disheartened. He felt that since everything had been predestined, the disaster from his previous life could not be warded off after all.

Xiao Zhige tried to comfort him, saying that the items they had hoarded to stave off the winter would be able to save a lot of people. If the situation was as serious as he had said, he would find another way to make the court listen.

An Chang Qing had listened to his words, feeling relieved as he thought of the clothes, grains and coal piled up in the warehouses.

Now, it was clearly springtime but the temperature continued to drop day after day. An Chang Qing was worried for his mother and sister living outside and sent more food and coal to their new residence. In the afternoon when the servants who had gone to deliver the items came back, hailstones suddenly began to fall from the sky.

One by one, the pebble size hail fell repeatedly, tearing down weaker tiles on the roofs. 

An Chang Qing was relieved when he saw the servants taking shelter under the roof that he had previously prepared for them. 

The memories of this event were too far off. He could remember that the snow disaster began with a hail but could not remember the day on which it would happen. He had been anxiously preparing for this day since the start of the second lunar month. 

The pounding hail lasted for nearly two hours and what followed was a heavy blizzard accompanied by powerful roaring winds. An Chang Qing had long since instructed for roofs of the Wang Manor to be repaired and reinforced to withstand the hail but this was not the case for the rest of the houses in Yejing.

At this time, the streets outside were in chaos.

Several weak houses had their entire roofs collapse. Many homeowners were trying desperately to repair them. Many were also injured in the sudden hailstorm and were currently holing up at Yejing’s clinics to seek treatment. 

Meanwhile at the back Palace, Emperor An Qing was furious. He demanded for the Imperial Priest to be punished and summoned Xiao Zhige into the Palace.

TTBE 38

Chapter 38

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After releasing the lantern into the river and watching it float away, the pair went back to Wang Xian Lou hand in hand.

Having been away for so long, by the time they returned to Wang Xian Lou, An Xian Yu was already there waiting. The maid behind her was carrying quite a few items. It seemed like she had had a good time.

Since it was getting late, An Chang Qing proposed that they return to the manor to rest at which everyone agreed. When he left the room, he noticed that the Nongxue Pavilion next door was empty. It seemed that the people from the An family had left some time ago.

Once the group reached the manor, they each went back to their respective courtyards. Because Xiao Zhige had wet his shoes and clothes, An Chang Qing ordered the servants to prepare hot water and a ginger decoction. He then urged Xiao Zhige to change out of his damp clothes in order to not catch a cold.

Xiao Zhige was not too concerned with this. He had an iron body and getting wet in the winter was not something he was unfamiliar with. But An Chang Qing stared at him and said angrily, “Mother said that cold enters the body through the soles. If you don’t guard properly against the cold when you’re still young, you will bear the brunt of it when you get older. You really think you’re made of iron? No one will be there to take care of you when you’re old and sick.”

During their conversation, a servant had finished preparing the hot water. An Chang Qing unreservedly pulled off Xiao Zhige’s outer garment and pushed him towards the bathroom, “Quickly take a bath and have some ginger tea after you’re done.”

Xiao Zhige was rendered speechless by this wave of insistence and could only take a bath obediently. After bathing and changing clothes, Xiao Zhige came out of the bathroom and saw An Chang Qing carrying over a bowl of ginger tea. The sight simply warmed his heart.

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After his mother died, no one had given him such meticulous care for a long time. Ever since he had joined the army at the age of twelve, the comrades he had made were brutish men. Marching and brawling through a sea of knives and swords, they could give their lives at any moment but couldn’t afford to be concerned about the future when they would get old.

Without needing An Chang Qing to nag, Xiao Zhige obediently went to pick up the bowl of ginger tea and took a sip. The hot liquid flowed down his throat and warmed his body. 

Seeing that Xiao Zhige had taken the initiative, An Chang Qing heaved a sigh and went to the bathroom to wash up.

When he came back, the man had made the bed and was leaning on the headboard. Xiao Zhige saw him coming over and moved to the outer side of the bed, letting him lay down on the readily warmed side.

An Chang Qing took off his shoes, climbed over him and burrowed into the quilt. He was immediately immersed in warmth and a scent unique to his husband. And probably because they had just cleared up the misunderstandings, this comforting temperature made An Chang Qing red in the ears. He pulled the blanket over his face and did not tuck into Xiao Zhige’s arms like usual but instead, curled up like a silkworm, ready to doze off.

Xiao Zhige was waiting with his arms open but An Chang Qing did not come over. Frowning, he turned to look at An Chang Qing’s half exposed face with the crow black eyelashes still flickering, proving that he was still awake.

After hesitating for a second, Xiao Zhige reached out and pulled the person in. Entering his embrace was a nostalgically familiar body temperature, making him hug the person tighter as he nestled his chin over his head.

An Chang Qing had been skittish from the beginning and now being wrapped by him, he was starting to feel breathless. After a while when he couldn’t hold his breath anymore, he pushed against his chest and whispered, “I can’t breathe.”

Xiao Zhige lowered his head and looked down just as An Chang Qing was looking up at him. One person’s lips were only millimeters away from the other person’s nose tip. An Chang Qing’s eyelashes trembled and he looked away, not daring to face Xiao Zhige. Thinking of the ‘white-hair promise’ floating with the lantern, Xiao Zhige’s adam’s apple moved a few times before he finally listened to his heart and gently kissed An Chang Qing on the nose. 

The long eyelashes quivered intensely like a butterfly flapping its wings when caught. But even so, An Chang Qing neither resisted nor pulled away. He lowered his eyes and raised his head, taking up a more convenient pose for Xiao Zhige to kiss him.

With a rapidly beating heart and boiling blood coursing through his body, Xiao Zhige tried to control his heavy breathing as he moved tenderly from the curved tip of the nose to the beautifully shaped chin.

The exchange of breaths and friction between the skin was alluring like flowers mingling on a dewy spring morning.

An Chang Qing’s face was flushed by a hue of red while his fingers holding onto the quilt clenched. After taking a long time to build up his courage, he whispered, “The salve that was prepared from before… It, it hasn’t been used. It’s still in the second drawer at the head of the bed…”

His voice was soft like a mosquito’s but when it landed in Xiao Zhige’s ears, it was like the beating of a drum. The man battled internally for a long time before his concern for An Chang Qing prevailed. His jaws tightened as veins protruded on his forehead. In a restrained and muffled voice, he said, “… Today, the preparations have not been made. Let’s do it on another day.”

An Chang Qing’s face was fiery hot but seeing that Xiao Zhige had no intention of continuing, he responded with an ‘oh’. He did not know that there was a need for any preparations when doing this but since Xiao Zhige said so, he should just oblige him.

Having played outside all night and being kissed affectionately in bed after, An Chang Qing easily slipped into dreamland. On the other hand, it took Xiao Zhige a long time to calm down but due to hugging the person in his arms, he simply could not fall asleep. He struggled till the sky lit up at which he went to practice his spear for half an hour before dawn finally arrived.

When An Chang Qing woke up, Xiao Zhige had breakfast with him then found an excuse to leave the house to visit Hu Shifei.

After diagnosing and prescribing medicine for Lady Yu and Zhou He Lan’s mother, Hu Shifei had nothing else to do and hence returned to his little clinic, living life leisurely. Only occasionally would he have to visit the Wang Manor to do a checkup for the two ladies.

He was lying on a rocking chair by the fire when the shaky wooden door was pushed open. Xiao Zhige stepped inside and looked around before speaking, “I need you for something.”

Hu Shifei was nervous, thinking that there might be an emergency in Yanzhou. He led him into the inner room and sent away the errand boy. After closing the door, he asked, “Yanzhou needs me? Who’s injured?”

“…” Xiao Zhige gave him a strange look and said, “It has nothing to do with Yanzhou.” 

“Oh…” Hu Shifei was relieved. His back remained straight and he asked with some confusion, “Then what is it?” If it’s not a major problem related to Yanzhou, why would Wangye come to me with such a serious look?

Xiao Zhige stared at him in silence for a long while.

Hu Shifei’s head was filled with fog as he waited wide-eyed for Xiao Zhige’s reply.

Only after a lengthy amount of time did he hear Xiao Zhige speak, “I have a friend….”

Hmm? 

Hu Shifei thought: could this friend be seriously ill? That’s why his medical expertise was required?

“… he married a man two years younger who has yet to be ‘touched’.”

Hu Shifei: “And?”

Xiao Zhige took a long time to respond: “As of now, my friend would like to consummate their marriage. The problem is, he is quite gifted. That part… is particularly masculine. He was concerned it would hurt his spouse and wanted me to ask you for help.”

“…” Hu Shifei gave him a wooden look.

Xiao Zhige was getting impatient, “Do you have a solution?”

The corner of Hu Shifei’s mouth twitched. Marrying a man two years younger, Wangye, is that friend yourself?

But to think that Wangye and Wangfei had yet to consummate their marriage, Hu Shifei felt that he had stumbled upon a big secret. 

“There is a way…” Hu Shifei explained slowly, “It’s not like there have never been cutsleeves since ancient times. There are several ways to do it safely.”

“How? Write it down. I’ll go back…” Xiao Zhige changed his words in time, “… I’ll go back and give it to my friend.”

Hu Shifei feigned ignorance and smiled, “I’ll write it down later. It’s just, when Wangye says gifted, how…  gifted is it?”

Blue veins popped up on Xiao Zhige’s forehead as his face turned black. Reluctantly, he made a gesture to indicate the size.

Hu Shifei let out a ‘woah’ before picking up a piece of paper and began writing. At the same time, he said, “Before doing it, you have to prepare in advance to avoid hurting the other person. But regarding this matter, it’s not a big deal. You’ll eventually develop a tacit understanding the more you do it.”

Xiao Zhige frowned, “Will doing it often hurt the recipient?”

“You’ll have to incorporate it with the exercises I mentioned.” Hu Shifei smirked as he folded the scribbled piece of paper and handed it to him. “Wangye, take this and do it accordingly… No, I mean, take this to your friend and tell him to do it accordingly.”

Xiao Zhige looked at him while maintaining a straight face. He then took the paper and put it into his sleeve before turning around and leaving.

…..

After lunch, An Chang Qing went to Qingwu courtyard. There, Lady Yu and An Xian Yu were instructing the servants with packing their luggage. Lady Yu had spoken to An Chang Qing previously that she and An Xian Yu would move out of the Wang Manor after the New Year to avoid unwanted gossip. Seeing her insistence, An Chang Qing had no choice but to agree.

As soon as the Lantern Festival concluded, Lady Yu immediately proceeded with the move. 

An Chang Qing said helplessly, “Why the hurry?”

Lady Yu looked at him, “The house had already been tidied up. Furthermore, it’s not very far. If you miss us, you can always come to visit.”

An Chang Qing knew that no matter how he persuaded, his mother would have ten thousand reasons to refuse. “I understand. Mother, please sit, just let the servants handle the packing.”

Lady Yu was indeed getting worn out and sat down to have a rest.

Steward Wang saw the three people sitting idly and thought of the news he had just heard and said, “This old servant got wind of this this morning. Something big happened at Minister An’s Manor last night. Young Master An had a fight with the visiting cousin in the middle of the night.”

An Chang Qing’s eyebrows were raised, “An Changyu and Li Hai Yun fought?”

“That’s right,” Steward Wang bowed and continued, “I heard that they went to watch the Lantern Festival together. They left with a happy mood but when they came back, it was not sure what Li Hai Yun had said to Young Master An that they had a heated argument in the study which led to an altercation. Li Hai Yun had his hand broken and Young Master An has a head injury. The old Matriarch was furious at being woken up in the middle of the night. And, this morning, the An Manor’s post boy had rushed into the Palace to call for an imperial physician.”

An Chang Qing was unaware that such an event had taken place. As he was still surprised by the news, a report came to the door saying that a sire named Li Hai Yun was at the gate seeking to meet him. 

“Why did Li Hai Yun come to the Wang Manor?” An Chang Qing was slightly unnerved. Thinking of the dispute between Li Hai Yun and An Changyu, could his visit have something to do with An Changyu?

“Take him to the hall.” After pondering for a while, An Chang Qing decided to meet him once more to clear things up.

TTBE 37

Chapter 37

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

An Chang Qing’s head was filled with questions as he stood in place, wondering what Xiao Zhige could be busy with at this hour. In his daze, he heard someone calling him from behind.

“Cousin Chang Qing…”

Li Hai Yun’s eyes lit up looking at An Chang Qing. Under the influence of alcohol, he wanted to grab his hand as he stepped closer, “I…”

“Why are you here?” Seeing his red face and the strong smell of alcohol, An Chang Qing took a step back. He looked around and said, “Cousin didn’t bring anyone with you? Let me call someone to send you back.”

Li Hai Yun looked at him with sadness, “I came here to look for you… Are, are you still mad at me?”

He stuttered as he began to explain, “I didn’t know… I didn’t know that you were betrothed to the Northern Warlord. They all hid this from me… I turned down the marriage as soon as I returned home. I had planned to bring it up with my family after I’d made my achievements in the imperial exams, I didn’t expect it would be too late…”

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An Chang Qing was becoming increasingly confused thinking that there was something wrong with this person today. As his relationship with Li Hai Yun was not intimate, he was getting a little impatient, “My betrothal has nothing to do with you. You’re drunk, I’ll go get someone to take you back.”

Li Hai Yun took the chance and pulled at his sleeve, speaking determinedly, “I’m not leaving! If I were to leave, you have to come with me!”

…..

Not far away, An Chang Yu was watching this scene. When he looked back and saw Xiao Zhige approaching the two, a smile finally spread across his face.

His effort wasn’t in vain after all.

He gave one last look at Li Hai Yun who was still holding on to An Chang Qing’s sleeve before turning his back to leave.

Li Hai Yun, An Chang Qing, neither of them were worth anything in his eyes. But one was a high-achieving scholar who his father had used as an example to berate him and the other had dared to rub his power in his face and bullied his mother.

Now, it was quite gratifying that these two were tangled together. That way, he could cleanly kill two birds with one stone. 

After tonight, these two who had brought utter disgust to his eyes would no longer have the chance to annoy him.

…..

Holding tightly onto the lantern which had taken him a lot of effort to retrieve, Xiao Zhige took large strides to get back to An Chang Qing while desperately trying to suppress the smile on his face.

Although he was not good with words and a little dimwitted when it came to emotions, he was not an idiot. He could feel An Chang Qing’s changes towards him but his preconceived assumptions had made it difficult for him to disregard his insecurities.

He was afraid that no matter how much he hoped, it would all be for nothing.

That was until he saw the wish in the lantern.

On a small scroll stuffed into the lantern were the beautifully written words in black and white: to grow old with my husband.

When he had managed to secure the lantern, he had hesitated. A thousand possibilities had crossed his mind but he would never have guessed that An Chang Qing’s wish was to be with him until after their hair turned white.

He thought that deep down, there would always be a shred of aversion towards this marriage in An Chang Qing’s heart. But the truth was that he had been too negative from the beginning. His Wangfei did, in fact, have feelings for him and was even willing to spend this life with him.

At this moment, Xiao Zhige’s chest was burning with a heat hotter than the strongest wine could induce. Without caring about his appearance, he hurried back to An Chang Qing only to witness Li Hai Yun pulling at An Chang Qing’s sleeve.

There were too many people creating a lot of noise around him. And under the dimly lit sky, he couldn’t read their expressions nor hear their words but it seemed like they were arguing.

The intense fire from before was instantly doused by a splash of cold water. Xiao Zhige took a step back. He wanted to run away and pretend that he had never been here but it was as though his feet had turned into lead and rooted in place and he couldn’t move…

…..

An Chang Qing frowned as he pulled his sleeve back. He could no longer stay polite and tolerate Li Hai Yun’s drunken behavior. With a cold face and harsh tone, he said, “If you continue to act this way, I’m going to leave you alone! After all, we are not even that familiar with each other.”

Li Hai Yun was stunned, “Not familiar? You do hate me…”

An Chang Qing was irritated and confused, “For what reason would I hate you?”

Li Hai Yun said with guilt, “You hate me for being heartless. I went back to Chang Yang for the pre-arranged marriage and left you behind in the An Manor… hating me for not being able to save you from this hellish situation…”

“???” An Chang Qing finally realized what was wrong and grimaced, “Wait a minute, is there a misunderstanding somewhere? I’ve only met you a few times, what does your pre-arranged marriage have to do with me?”

“It is right of you to hate me but don’t say that we’re not familiar with each other, it’ll break my heart…” Li Hai Yun said dejectedly, “When we first met, I fell for you at first sight. To show you my love, I’d made love poems and presented them to you. At the time, you were really happy…”

An Chang Qing felt that there were some discrepancies between Li Hai Yun’s memories and his. He scoured through his brain but just could not remember having received any love poems, “Whenever did I accept your love poems? Don’t make slanderous claims!”

Yun zhong shuang bai shou

 mu wo yi xian sheng

chang ri wu yu shi

 qing jia you gu ren1” 

Li Hai Yun blushed and said with grievance, “Back then, I was worried that if I came on too strong, you would back away so I made you an acrostic poem. And then, and then, when I asked if you liked the poem, you said yes… even if, even if you’re mad at me, you shouldn’t deny its existence.”

T/N: Since it’s an acrostic poem (series of lines or verses in which the first, last, or other particular letters when taken in order spell out a word, phrase), please forgive me for not translating it. So, when combined, the first four words of each sentence form the phrase ‘Yun Mu Chang Qing’. Simply put, it means Yun likes Chang Qing. Here’s the original poem for you to decipher: 云中双白首,慕我一闲身。长日无馀事,卿家有故人。

An Chang Qing felt like his brain was hit by thunder as memories from the past emerged. Afterwards, he was at a loss for words and felt a little awkward.

He took a step back and said, “This is truly a misunderstanding. I’m not good at poetry. The poems you made, I could not understand or even guess the hidden message. I only said I like it out of courtesy. If I have caused you to misunderstand, then I take back what I had said.”

Li Hai Yun’s eyes widened, “But, but when we were at the lakeside, you seemed really happy.”

“That was because if I didn’t treat you well, Madame Li would have a bone to pick with me.” With how things had turned out, An Chang Qing completely stopped being polite with him, “Back then, my situation at home wasn’t good and as Madame Li’s nephew, you were an esteemed guest. Whatever your requests were, I dared not refuse. And frankly, I only read trivial books, I’m not good at studying or poetry. Whenever you asked, I could only pretend to smile and try to flatter you.”

Li Hai Yun’s mouth gaped in disbelief.

An Chang Qing continued, “One more thing- I was willing to marry the Northern Warlord. I’m now doing great and we have a harmonious marriage. If you continue this nonsense here, Wangye is going to be angry when he comes back.”

Li Hai Yun kneeled on the ground and cried, “Then, then those…”

An Chang Qing quickly cut him off before he could finish his words, “Those were just your one-sided imagination.” Don’t drag me into it.

Li Hai Yun’s nose and eyes turned red. He sobbed grievously, “I understand. Say no more. It was all my wishful thinking wu wu…”

Although he was drunk, a grown man crying on the street was quite embarrassing. An Chang Qing was tempted to just slip away but was concerned that Xiao Zhige would get worried were he not be able to find him when he returned. Thinking of this, An Chang Qing was fuming. What is that person doing that he still hasn’t come back yet?!

People walking by were starting to point fingers and An Chang Qing was getting desperate to sever ties with this cousin of his. He looked around to see if Xiao Zhige was coming back and as it turned out, a familiar figure was standing in the crowd, motionless like a statue. How long had he been standing there?

When Xiao Zhige saw An Chang Qing walking over with a pouting face, he wanted to hide but it was too late. He subconsciously hid the lantern behind his back and turned to look at him.

“What have you been doing?” An Chang Qing grabbed his hand and found that it was cold. He muttered in frustration, “You’ve left me here to be a laughing stock.”

While speaking, he pulled Xiao Zhige in front of the weeping Li Hai Yun and said, “All those misunderstandings, you should just forget about it. And don’t you dare spread any nonsense. Wangye and I are doing great, understand?”

Towards the end, his tone was becoming stern, almost sounding like a threat. Being hit by the shocking revelation, Li Hai Yun could only respond with an ‘um’ and said, “You don’t have to worry, I, I won’t say anything.”

Only then was An Chang Qing satisfied and dragged Xiao Zhige away.

Alone and dejected, Li Hai Yun used his sleeve to wipe his tears. He stood up, wanting to find An Chang Yu to accompany him for a few more drinks, but An Chang Yu was nowhere to be found.

Li Hai Yun stood in the cold wind under the dark sky. He recalled the murderous stare of the Northern Warlord and his muddled brain instantly woke.

Cold sweat filled his back as he thought of An Chang Yu’s words of encouragement and what he said before leaving-  ‘I’ll help you keep a lookout’.

 He was not an idiot and could quickly figure out An Chang Yu’s entire motive. If it weren’t for the fact that it was all a misunderstanding and that there was nothing between An Chang Qing and himself, the both of them would have had a very bad ending.

A cold chill overshadowed his heartbreak. He flung his sleeves and strode back to Wang Xian Lou.

…..

An Chang Qing walked with Xiao Zhige towards a deserted alley before turning back to look at him. The whole way there, there was clearly something wrong with Xiao Zhige. Then, An Chang Qing saw that his shoes and the hem of his clothes were wet, there were even traces of water on the ground. He frowned and noticed Xiao Zhige’s hand behind his back, “What are you hiding behind your back?”

Xiao Zhige kept quiet but An Chang Qing went over and found that in his hand was a familiar lantern.

An Chang Qing was dumbfounded. He said angrily, “Why did you pick it up? It won’t be effective anymore!”

Xiao Zhige continued to keep quiet. He was clueless as to what to say or what he should be asking.

When he thought that An Chang Qing was willing to be with him, he accidentally saw him and Li Hai Yun mingling. When he thought that An Chang Qing could not forget about this old flame, An Chang Qing had brought him in front of Li Hai Yun to say some inexplicable things and even claimed that they were doing great together.

Xiao Zhige’s mood had been rising and falling successively. Being caught by surprise, he could only maintain a cold face and stay silent.

Unfortunately, An Chang Qing was no longer the little, timid, unfavored son who used to fear him. He narrowed his eyes and asked fiercely, “ You said there was something you had to do, that was to go and retrieve this lantern?”

“Did you peek at the wish inside?”

Xiao Zhige: “…”

After a long silence, Xiao Zhige nodded, “I…”

He was tongue tied and could only spit out the words, “I wanted to see.”

An Chang Qing: “…”

He racked his brains but couldn’t figure out why Xiao Zhige would do this. He said grumpily, “You couldn’t have asked me?”

Xiao Zhige looked at the person in front of him and saw that he was truly upset for picking up the lantern that would render the wish ineffective. Xiao Zhige was starting to feel a tinge of regret. 

Thinking of what had been written in the lantern, what if it couldn’t come true…

Shaking his head, Xiao Zhige cleared his pessimistic thoughts and asked, “You will tell me if I had asked?”

“Of course, it’s nothing unspeakable.” An Chang Qing eyed him suspiciously, “In contrast, Wangye sneaking around and peeking at someone else’s wish is shady and despicable.” 

Xiao Zhige’s expression was frozen and his ears turned red. He then thought of the scene he had just witnessed and couldn’t help asking, “You and Li Hai Yun… It’s already impossible, right?”

“Ha?” An Chang Qing was immediately baffled by his question. He retorted irritably, “When was it ever possible between us? Li Hai Yun was delusional, why are you joining him?”

Only then did Xiao Zhige realize that something was off. He hesitated before asking, “Weren’t the two of you…”

An Chang Qing’s face turned black as he cut him off, “There is nothing between me and Li Hai Yun. Stop lumping us together. I have never liked anyone else before!”

Xiao Zhige still could not believe it and tried to confirm, “But you always carry the jade pendant he gave you…”

“What jade pendant?”

“The twin fish pendant you gave to me.”

An Chang Qing’s face could not turn any darker. He gritted each word through his teeth, “That was my mother’s gift to me on my birthday. What has it got to do with Li Hai Yun?”

Xiao Zhige finally realized that it had all been a big misunderstanding. His face stiffened and he could not find the words to say.

An Chang Qing stared at his waist and sure enough, there was nothing there. “No wonder I haven’t seen you put it on even once. You thought that the pendant was from Li Hai Yun?”

“Where is it? Did you throw it away? Give it back to me!” An Chang Qing was furious.

“No,” Xiao Zhige saw that he was enraged and quickly explained, “I didn’t throw it away. It’s in my study.”

Hearing that he had not thrown away the pendant, An Chang Qing’s anger slightly waned. He stared at him and interrogated, “Tell me, what exactly is going on? Where did you hear the groundless rumors of me and Li Hai Yun?”

Xiao Zhige was frozen by his stare. He decided to drag the sinner who had created this mess and use him as a landing cushion, “I heard it from Chang Zai Chang.”

General Chang Zai Chang was one of the twelve Generals and together with Xiao Zhige, marched under the flag of the Great General Xia Hou Shang. As Liangzhou and Yanzhou had always been on friendly terms, Chang Zai Chang and Xiao Zhige had a fairly good relationship. When Chang Zai Chang was still stationed in Yejing, Xiao Zhige had requested his help in keeping watch over An Chang Qing. If the mother and son were to meet with mishap, he was to secretly give them a hand. And for some reason, Chang Zai Chang had managed to see that Xiao Zhige was in love with An Chang Qing and had consistently urged him to make a move.

Regarding the matter between An Chang Qing and Li Hai Yun, needless to say,  it was spread by Chang Zai Chang.

Now that he thought about it, Chang Zai Chang must’ve made those up to stimulate him into taking action but unfortunately, Xiao Zhige was not someone who could be easily swayed. These distorted tales had instead become a hidden landmine that had taken him by surprise.

Xiao Zhige gritted his teeth and noted down this grudge. He then cast aside everything else to focus on how to appease An Chang Qing.

An Chang Qing heard his words and looked at him sharply, “So you’ve always thought that the one I like is Li Hai Yun and that I’m just pretending to be happy with you?”

“…yes.” Xiao Zhige nodded but feeling that that was not entirely true, he added, “Only in the beginning.”

Looking straight at him, An Chang Qing was speechless. This person clearly thought that he was in love with another man but had kept it to himself. Not only that, he had even treated him with gentleness and care irrespectively. He was still angry but thinking of this point, An Chang Qing felt his heart ache. 

In his previous life, after his death, this person had held on to his twin fish pendant. At that time, what were his thoughts? Was it that even until his last moments, he still thought that An Chang Qing had been in love with Li Hai Yun? And that was why in all those years, An Chang Qing had been cold and distant toward him?

An Chang Qing’s heart was sore. He clenched his teeth and gave Xiao Zhige a kick, “Why are you so foolish?”

This kick caused Xiao Zhige no pain but seeing An Chang Qing’s swollen eyes, he was a little helpless. He gently held his face and said, “It’s my fault. It won’t happen again.”

Thinking that An Chang Qing was still angry, he took out the piece of paper written by him from the lantern and placed it in his hand, “You can read mine. We’ll release the lantern again, it’ll be fine.”

An Chang Qing unfolded the paper and read the small neatly written words: Protect Nuo Nuo for a lifetime.

He had seen Xiao Zhige’s handwriting before; it was just like the man himself, bold and aggressive. But this was the first time he had seen his brush strokes being this precise and uncluttered. Although the sentence was straightforward, each line and stroke was honorable and sincere.

An Chang Qing rolled the paper up with care and placed it back in the lantern. He shot him a look and whined, “I won’t be appeased just like that.”

Xiao Zhige grimaced, “Whatever else Nuo Nuo wants, I will comply.”

An Chang Qing tilted his head and looked into Xiao Zhige’s nervous eyes, “Then my punishment to you… You have to make a wish lantern for me every year.”

Xiao Zhige’s heart fluttered and he clenched his fists. With a smile on his lips, he said, “Ok, I’ll make a wish for you every year.”

An Chang Qing looked back at him and urged, “Quickly release the lantern. Your clothes are all wet, be careful not to catch a cold.”

Xiao Zhige brazenly held his hand and pulled him forward to walk with him, “Let’s release it together.”

TTBE 36

Chapter 36

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

As Xiao Zhige was sizing up Li Hai Yun, Li Hai Yun was also quietly doing the same. Whether it was his appearance or behavior, the Northern Warlord had the demeanor of a General. Sullen eyes and a downward arching mouth. A single look and one could tell he was in a bad mood.

He clenched his fists and looked towards An Chang Qing. However, An Chang Qing, sitting next to Xiao Zhige, was not paying attention to him.

Li Hai Yun’s heart sank. In his panic he thought: Is Cousin Chang Qing blaming me? Clearly when they were at the lake discussing poems, An Chang Qing’s eyes had always been on me…

“Cousin Chang Qing…” Li Hai Yun felt his heartthrob and couldn’t hold back his voice.

An Chang Qing was about to introduce him to Xiao Zhige so he casually responded with a nod, “Wangye, this is Madame Li’s nephew, the son of Chang Yang County’s magistrate, Li Ru Qi.”

Xiao Zhige responded without any change in attitude. He asked, “I heard that Nuo Nuo is quite close to Young Master Li.”

His tone was not heavy but his dark face made the two men with hidden intentions shudder.

An Chang Yu covered his face and the corner of his lips rose. Only Li Hai Yun anxiously tried to explain, “We’re not close, we’re just… we’re just…” He couldn’t come up with the right word on the spot and faltered.

“Just what?” Xiao Zhige saw how  eager he was to distinguish and his mood turned worse. Anger filled his voice as he asked, “Why don’t Young Master Li finish your words?”

“We’re just ordinary friends. Wangye, please do not misunderstand.” Li Hai Yun hardened his resolve and dared not look at An Chang Qing. Cousin Chang Qing is now the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei. Since he had no power to protect him, he shouldn’t drag him down with his wishful thinking.

An Chang Qing who had not been speaking could vaguely feel that something was wrong. He frowned and said, “Brother Hai Yun had stayed in the An Manor as a guest for a while so we knew each other.”

Xiao Zhige looked at him carefully but he saw no flaws in his expression. An Chang Qing had an innocent look, as though he could not understand Li Hai Yun’s lovelorn words. There was also no trace of sadness or any sort of emotions at the sight of an ex-lover. Xiao Zhige couldn’t tell whether he was just too good at pretending or he had truly let go of this person.

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Looking at Li Hai Yun again, the discontent in Xiao Zhige’s eyes intensified. He squinted and waved his hands, “Now that you’ve seen each other, it’s time for the both of you to leave.”

“Then we won’t keep Wangye and Wangfei from enjoying the festival.” When An Chang Yu saw that Xiao Zhige was chasing them away without any subtlety, his face changed slightly but he still bowed respectfully and stepped back. Li Hai Yun looked at An Chang Qing with much to be said but he kept quiet.

An Chang Qing did not perceive his gaze as his focus was solely on Xiao Zhige.

Feeling that something was off, An Chang Qing asked after the two had left, “Wangye, is something wrong?”

His temper had been off since just now.

Seeing that An Chang Qing was concerned about him, Xiao Zhige was in a complicated mood. He wanted to ask An Chang Qing about his relationship with Li Hai Yun but feared that he would get an answer he did not wish to hear. He had fought in blood soaked battlefields for many years but he never thought that he could turn into this coward hiding behind a curtain of self-deception as of this moment.

He pursed his lips and responded, “It’s nothing.”

An Chang Qing looked at him from the side and felt that this person was not telling the truth. With the amount of time they had been together, An Chang Qing had a good grasp of Xiao Zhige’s temperament. He would never tell him about his discontentment, preferring to keep everything to himself.

An Chang Qing mulled over and decided that now was not a suitable time to inquire further, he should wait until they got back.

…..

On the other hand, Li Hai Yun returned to Nongxue Pavilion with wandering thoughts. Having not seen An Chang Qing for many years, his appearance and temperament had become refined compared to before, rendering his eyes unable to look away.

He remembered the first time they met. An Chang Qing was still a wide-eyed teenager whose features were delicate and picturesque while his temperament was gentle and reserved. When he first met him, he had politely called him ‘Cousin Hai Yun’.

Li Hai Yun had fallen in love at first sight. He would often invite An Chang Qing to the lakeside and had presented him with many love poems. Although An Chang Qing had been shy and never actively responded, the spark in his eyes had not been faked. If it hadn’t been for his parents prearranging his marriage without his consent, cousin Chang Qing would not have broken off with him. He had even rejected his jade pendant and wished him and his fiancee a blissful marriage.

“In the end, we were not meant to be…” Li Hai Yun sighed remorsefully. He borrowed wine to hide the sourness in his nose and the sting in his heart.

An Xianya couldn’t clearly hear his words and scuttered over to ask, “Cousin Hai Yun, what did you say?”

Li Hai Yun ignored her and continued to drown his sorrows in wine. An Chang Yu glared at her sternly and An Xianya returned to her seat without speaking another word.

“You’ve decided to give up just like that?” An Chang Yu poured Li Hai Yun another cup of wine.

“Other than giving up, what else can I do?” Li Hai Yun said dejectedly, “It was I who had let him down in the first place. Now, The Northern… seems to treat him well. I cannot give him trouble. And just now… he did not even look at me. He obviously hates me…”

An Chang Yu smirked, “Maybe he dared not show it in public.” He lowered his voice and continued, “I heard that the Northern Warlord is incredibly cruel behind closed doors. He also likes to torture others…”

Li Hai Yun’s face turned white. The wine cup in his hand shook lightly, “This…”

“Even if you want to give up, you should at least clear things up. Back then, you had left under the pressure from your parents but you have rejected that marriage. You have, ultimately, not wronged him. Aren’t I right?”

Li Hai Yun was moved by his words and hesitated.

An Chang Yu continued to persuade, “I have a way for you to meet with my third brother but since you don’t want to, then forget it.”

“I want to…” Li Hai Yun responded instantly. His face had already begun to show signs of drunkenness as he proclaimed, “I want to talk to him face to face. If his days are not good, I… I will risk my life to take him away!”

“Good.” An Chang Yu’s eyes brightened. He said softly, “Don’t worry, I will help you both…”

…..

Below, just before the human-size incense was completely burnt, An Xian Yu and Zhou He Lan had correctly answered 125 riddles together.

With the final gong, the Wang Manor’s lantern was hung at the highest position.

Everyone in the Songtao Pavillion was filled with joy. An Chang Qing touched An Xian Yu’s head and praised, “Yu’er is incredible.”

An Xian Yu blushed but the timidity from before was gone. She said delightedly, “It’s also thanks to brother and Zhou gongzi’s help.”

Zhou He Lan’s eyes lit up. He coughed and said humbly, “Miss An is well-equipped with knowledge. Even without me, I’m sure you can solve them by yourself.”

“You two are being modest,” An Chang Qing smiled and said, “Both of your efforts are of merit. Once you get the prize, you can just split it in half.”

At this point, the waiter had brought in the host for the lantern race. The host was holding two boxes as he bowed respectfully, “The first prize for the race, one hundred taels of gold or Sir Dan Mo’s original work, which would you choose?”

An Chang Qing was not familiar with famous painters. He looked towards An Xian Yu but heard Zhou He Lan speak up first, “Miss An was able to answer all the riddles related to Sir Dan Mo effortlessly, are you also a fan of his work?”

An Xian Yu nodded. Sir Dan Mo’s paintings were highly sought after by many throughout Da Ye and she was not excluded. But thinking that she did not win the competition alone and that Zhou He Lan’s family was not well off, she did not want to make things difficult. “The first place was the combined effort of the three of us, it’s hard to share the painting, why don’t we take the gold?”

An Chang Qing could tell that she wanted the painting but as she had always been considerate, had decided to choose the gold for Zhou He Lan’s sake.

He was about to speak up when he heard Zhou He Lan say, “What a coincidence, He Lan is also very fond of Sir Dan Mo’s work. If Miss An doesn’t mind, we can choose the painting. Miss An can have the original copy while He Lan would only like to borrow and make a replica for myself.”

An Xian Yu had wanted the gold so as not to complicate things but unexpectedly, Zhou He Lan, had also wanted the painting. She looked to An Chang Qing for guidance, “Brother?”

An Chang Qing did not give it too much thought and said, “Since the both of you like this painting, let’s pick it then. He Lan shouldn’t have to lose out either, I’ll compensate you with another reward back at the manor.”

Zhou He Lan quickly said his thanks and bowed to An Xian Yu who was tightly holding on to the painting, “I’ll have to trouble Miss An in a few days to borrow the painting.”

An Xian Yu kept her eyes on the painting and gleefully agreed. Xiao Zhige was the only one who looked at Zhou He Lan with a certain conjecture and squinted but ultimately remained silent.

After the race concluded, it was time for the lantern appreciation. Since they have been in the room for too long, An Chang Qing proposed for them to go downstairs and do some sightseeing. Lady Yu and Zhou He Lan’s mother languished to be amongst the crowd so they decided to stay and watch from above. An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige took An Xian Yu to the streets to watch the lanterns.

In the bustling crowd, An Xian Yu went to look at a booth selling feminine products. An Chang Qing was looking around when he thought of something and said to An Xian Yu, “I’m going over there with Wangye. Let Tie Hu and He Lan accompany you. We’ll meet back at the Songtao Pavilion at the Hai1 hour.”

An Xian Yu nodded obediently. An Chang Qing told the accompanying maid to take care of her before pulling Xiao Zhige away.

Xiao Zhige asked puzzledly, “Where are we going?”

An Chang Qing glanced at him from the side with a brilliance in his eyes, “I saw that someone was in a bad mood and thought that I should find a way to coax him.”

Xiao Zhige initially wanted to refute that he was in a bad mood but was enticed by the words ‘coax him’. His feet couldn’t help but spring up to step closer to him and asked, “How do you intend to coax?”

An Chang Qing pulled him towards a mask stall and picked out two colorful bird masks. An Chang Qing wore one and handed the other to Xiao Zhige, “Wangye, wear one too.”

The stall owner looked at them and his eyes lit up. He grinned broadly and said, “You two are… You have great tastes! These masks are perfectly paired!”

An Chang Qing was very pleased with his words. He paid up and dragged Xiao Zhige to the riverbank.

Near the end of the day, vendors would start to sell lanterns along the riverbank. Masked men and women would carefully write down their wishes on the lanterns and release them down the river. Even though Xiao Zhige had never participated in this activity, he knew that this was also for lovers to convey their feelings. Since ancient times, countless couples had used these methods to express their love.

His voice turned uncontrollably hoarse, “What are we doing here?”

An Chang Qing bought a unique looking lantern painted with a carp and a lotus flower and gave Xiao Zhige a pen and paper. The mask had covered his lovely face but its radiance could still be seen in those exposed eyes, “Make a wish. I heard if you make a wish on this day, it will come true.”

Xiao Zhige’s eyes became pensive, “What does Nuo Nuo wish for?”

An Chang Qing shook his head and urged him to write, “It won’t be as effective if I say it out loud.”

Xiao Zhige retracted his gaze and began writing a few words on the piece of paper. After they were done, An Chang Qing rolled up the pieces of paper and stuffed them into the lantern. He then took the lantern and placed it over the water surface to let it flow down the river. His voice carried a smile as he said, “Our wishes will come true.”

“En.” Xiao Zhige was lost in thoughts but his eyes were following the lantern as it drifted away.

The wish he made in that lantern, would it have something to do with Li Hai Yun?

Or… something to do with him?

Xiao Zhige closed his eyes while his Adam’s apple rolled. Finally, he could not suppress his desire to find out the truth. He took a big step towards An Chang Qing and said close to his ear, “Wait here for me. I remembered there’s something I have to do, I’ll be right back.”

Without waiting for An Chang Qing to respond, he turned and walked away in large strides. When An Chang Qing could react and tried to call him back, he saw that Xiao Zhige had already disappeared into the crowd.

At the same time, An Chang Yu who had been following them from behind saw An Chang Qing standing alone and patted Li Hai Yun on the shoulder, “Cousin, go ahead. Clear things up with him, I’ll help you keep a lookout.”


1亥时(hàishí)- 9-11pm

TTBE 35

Chapter 35 

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Those who had sent gifts to the Wang Manor in previous years were mostly military personnel. The rest were lower ranked officials and nobles without substantial power.

An Chang Qing studied the list and found a few familiar names.

“Are Zhu An Liang and Shi Le Zheng on friendly terms with Wangye?” An Chang Qing was surprised when he saw these names on the list. In his previous life, he had stayed hidden in the Wang Manor and was not informed about the court situation but based on the fact that these two generals had helped the abolished prince besiege Yejing, they should be considered as enemies.

An Chang Qing was on alert but still decided to probe, “This year, should we send gifts to these two Great Generals?”

“No need.”

Xiao Zhige took over the list, drew two big crosses over their names and explained to him patiently, “Our country has six Great Generals. Zhao Xin Chung presides over Qizhou and Suizhou. He’s the Empress Dowager’s brother but he’s now too old to go to battle. Xue Qi presides over Yuzhou and Yongzhou. He is secretly being supported by the Shu family and therefore, sides with Shu guifei. Shen Tu Bei presides over Suzhou and Chenzhou. On the surface, he seems to be neutral but is actually under the Emperor’s command. Zhu An Liang and Shi Le Zheng are like the grass on a wall1. They’re incapable in warfare but skillful in judging the wind’s direction to sail with it.” 

“The two did not want to offend anyone so they sent out gifts to the Wang manor every year. You can ignore them.”

An Chang Qing noticed the disdain in his words for these two generals and knew they were not close. He was relieved but decided that he should still warn Xiao Zhige in the future.

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After taking in what Xiao Zhige had said, An Chang Qing asked, “There’s one more.”

Xiao Zhige smiled, “There’s also the Great General Xia, Xia Hou Shang. He is my mentor. The first battalion I joined was under his command.”

When Xiao Zhige wanted to join the army, Emperor An Qing was furious. He dictated that he could not enlist as a prince and if he died on the battlefield, his corpse would be left there to rot. Xiao Zhige had agreed with the only request that he be allowed to join General Xia’s army.

As General Xia was known for being unbiased and upright, Emperor An Qing agreed on the spot. But who knew that this was the chance Xiao Zhige had been planning for. Since then, he was like a water dragon that entered the sea, soaring to the sky with a leap.

“Then should I prepare additional gifts for General Xia?” An Chang Qing asked.

“There’s no need,” Xiao Zhige shook his head, “Mentor has always been upright, he neither sends gifts nor accepts them. And on the surface, he doesn’t have a good relationship with me. You only have to know this, there’s no need to do anything else.”

An Chang Qing nodded, then pointed to the rest of the list, “What should we do with the rest?”

Xiao Zhige gave the list a quick sweep and circled out several names, “Pay no heed to these people. As for the rest, if they continue to send gifts this year, we can do the same.”

…..

An Chang Qing drew up a new recipients list according to Xiao Zhige’s instructions and passed it to Steward Wang. Xiao Zhige had no other close relatives to visit in person which saved them the trouble. 

When Steward Wang was about to leave, An Chang Qing stopped him and said, “Prepare another portion of gifts and greetings under my name to be sent to the Grand Princess’s Manor.”

The Grand Princess’s words had more or less touched his heart. Even until his death, he had never heard of the Princess doing any harm to Xiao Zhige. Since that’s the case, even if they can’t be close, he should still maintain a good relationship.

It’s just that sending it under the Wang Manor’s name might upset Xiao Zhige once he knew about it so An Chang Qing decided to send it under his name. 

…..

As there was too much idle time during the New Year, time seemed to fly by faster. An Chang Qing spent his free time reading books in the study and occasionally learning a few fighting moves from Xiao Zhige.

In the blink of an eye, the Lantern Festival had arrived.

On this day, Yejing would hold a grand celebration. The whole city had been preparing for it in advance, from small vendors to large businesses, even the palace guards had been dispatched to help with the festivities.

Even at his age, An Chang Qing had never been to the Lantern Festival. Every year, the An family would reserve a place in a restaurant for the elders and youngsters to watch but that never included An Chang Qing and An Xian Yu.

Now that Steward Wang had mentioned it, An Chang Qing was a little excited.

He went to find Xiao Zhige and placed the invitation in front of him, “It’s an invitation from Wang Xian Lou. They’ve left us the best seats, is Wangye going?”

Wang Xian Lou is the biggest restaurant in Yejing. On regular days, it was filled with dignitaries drinking and enjoying the scenery. During the Lantern Festival, its private rooms had long been fully booked by their more important customers. It was hard to believe that they especially reserved a room for them and even sent an invitation. Although An Chang Qing was simply enquiring, his eyes were filled with expectations.

Xiao Zhige had no interest in the Lantern Festival but he could never disappoint An Chang Qing. Thinking of something, he said, “Mother and Yu’er have nothing to do in the house. Let’s ask them to come along.”

An Chang Qing agreed and added, “We should invite He Lan and his mother as well. It’s rare that they get to go out.”

After it had been decided, An Chang Qing told Anfu to send out the message. When it turned dark, the group set out in two carriages and headed for Wang Xian Lou.

…..

An Chang Qing lifted the curtain to watch the scenery and the colorful lights reflected on his face, giving it a childish look instead of the matured front he tried to put up.

Xiao Zhige saw this and said, “If you like it, we’ll go every year.”

“Ok,” An Chang Qing looked back at him. His smile was brilliant against the night lights, “With Wangye accompanying me.”

Xiao Zhige’s fingers that were placed over his knees curled up. He stared at An Chang Qing and made a soft ‘en’.

Carriages stopped in the entrance of Wang Xian Lou while guests were flowing in like clouds, waiting for the waiters to show them their seats. An Chang Qing looked around and found the familiar faces. He passed the invitation to a waiter and was immediately brought upstairs.

Wang Xian Lou had three storeys with six massive private rooms on each floor. The third floor provided the best view overlooking the whole of Yejing.

An Chang Qing’s group was led to Songtao Pavillion to take their seats. After which, a waiter served them tea and exquisite snacks.

An Chang Qing opened the window and reveled in the scenery below. The whole city was submerged in a sea of lights. Lanterns of all colors filled his sight. Among them were two giant revolving lanterns with the towering height of three to four men. They were this year’s lantern king.

“Is the lantern race starting?” An Chang Qing asked.

The waiter serving them replied, “Yes. Do you want me to get you the riddles? The first prize this year is 100 taels of gold or Sir Dan Mo’s original work.”

Whether it was the 100 taels of gold or Sir Dan Mo’s work, they were both attractive prizes.

An Chang Qing beckoned Anfu to give the invitation to the waiter, “Go get the riddles.”

Xiao Zhige was curious, “Nuo Nuo knows how to solve riddles?”

An Chang Qing raised his chin and said proudly, “A little. Even if I can’t, there’s still Yu’er.”

He might not be as good at learning the eight-part essay as others but he was a keen learner and a quick thinker. When he was younger and the other children had gone to the Lantern Festival, the pair of siblings had stayed behind in the manor. In the time that no one was in the house, they went to pick up used lanterns with the riddles still left inside and had managed to solve more than half of them.

The waiter brought up ten riddles and placed them on the table. An Chang Qing browsed through them and did those that he could solve and passed those he couldn’t to An Xian Yu. After they had written down the answers, the waiter proceeded to submit their answers.

There would be a ranking according to how many riddles were solved and the one who had solved the most would win. But the riddles were divided into five stages of difficulty from one being the easiest and each stage had a definite number of riddles. Only by answering the most could you win the competition.

Seeing how quickly they had solved the riddles, the surprised waiter said, “I’ll go fetch more, “ and ran downstairs. He came back shortly with a new batch of riddles and exclaimed, “The previous ten were all correct!”

An Chang Qing and An Xian Yu worked together effortlessly and after a few rounds, they heard the gong sounding and someone shouted, “The Wang Manor, An Chang Qing, 67 correct answers, tenth place!”

An Chang Qing looked down at the ranking board and saw someone placed his name on the last empty spot.

“We’re in tenth place!” An Chang Qing blinked and smiled. Looking at the silent Zhou He Lan, he asked, “Do you want to play? If we win, you can have half the prize.”

Zhou He Lan thought for a bit and said, “He Lan will give it a try.”

An Chang Qing then stopped playing and let Zhou He Lan take over.

…..

In the Nongxue Pavillion on the third floor of Wang Xian Lou, An Xianya rubbed her ear in disbelief, “Did I hear right? What name was called out just now? An Chang Qing?”

An Chang Yu sipped from his cup. He did not look happy, “You’ve heard right, it’s him.”

An Xianya twisted her handkerchief. She then pulled at the handsome man sitting in silence and said flirtatiously, “Cousin Hai Yun, why are you stopping? Quickly solve the riddles. Don’t let that bastard son win or else it’ll be so infuriating!”

In her fury, she did pay attention to Li Hai Yun’s expression.

An Chang Yu glared at her and said in a heavy tone, “Xianya! What happened to the promise you made about your attitude before we left?”

An Chang Yu looked at his cousin who had been in a daze ever since he heard An Chang Qing’s name and whispered, “I’ve ordered someone to ask around. They are now in Songtao Pavillion, right next to us.”

Li Hai Yun’s expression changed. He looked down in a loss and said, “He is now the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei. What can be achieved were we to meet? I can’t cause him any trouble…”

An Chang Yu’s eyes turned dark, “The last time he came back home, his face was quite pale. His days in the Wang Manor might not be good… But cousin is right, since you both are not fated to be, it’s better not to meet.”

Li Hai Yun looked up abruptly and wanted to say something but in the end, he stooped his head and continued to answer the riddles.

…..

In the Songtao Pavillion, An Chang Qing was still unaware that several members of the An family were in the next room. He sat next to Xiao Zhige and watched as An Xian Yu and Zhou He Lan worked together seamlessly to solve the riddles.

The further into the competition, the harder the riddles would get and the slower the rate it could be solved. On the chart below, the rankings had slowly stopped changing but the two were still rolling out answers with proficiency. The waiter serving them was breaking a sweat in the winter as he ran up and down to deliver them the riddles. As he reached their room, he smiled brightly and said, “Fifth, fifth place!”

An Chang Qing gave him a small reward and continued to watch the two speedily solving the riddles.

Unexpectedly, after the waiter had just left, there was a knock on the door.

Anfu went to answer the door and was shocked to see the visitors. He hesitated as to whether he should let them in, “First Young Master, Young Master Li.”

From outside the door came a gentle voice, “I heard that cousin Chang Qing had also joined the Lantern race. It just so happened that we were in the next room so we came to say hello.”

Xiao Zhige’s brows twitched and he looked towards An Chang Qing but there was no change in his expression as he said to Anfu, “Is that big brother and cousin Hai Yun? Invite them in.”

Anfu opened the door and led the two people in.

After they entered the door and saw Xiao Zhige, the two men were stunned briefly before saying their greetings. Xiao Zhige’s eyes landed on Li Hai Yun and the corners of his lips drooped.

As consistent with what he had heard, the An family’s cousin, Li Yun Hai, had a handsome face with a gentleman’s demeanor. He excelled in poetry and was even better at learning the eight-part essay. If it weren’t for the consecutive deaths of his grandparents for which he had to pay filial piety to, he might’ve become the champion scholar to receive the top three prestigious titles in a row. 

After the filial petty period, Young Master Li came to stay at the An Manor as a guest. When he met the Third Young Master for the first time, it was as though he had met with a childhood friend for whom he would often write poems to.


1墙头草- people who go with the wind.