Chapter 20: Nothing in the Snow Mountain
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
Hua Shanyue stared at the forest around him and noticed that there were many corpses from both sides. Seeing the blood and other evidence of the fierce fight, he picked up a thin hiltless mini-sword, and he finally realized how brutal the assassin was last night. The color drained from his face with this realization.
He gave his subordinate the hint to get the horses ready and said, "Your Highness, the following support troop is already on its way. We should leave as soon as possible."
Princess Lee Yu nodded in agreement and got ready under the protection of the armored cavalries.
Then Hua Shanyue glanced at Ning Que and gave him a cold and emotionless look, the look that was so emotionless it made the others feel cold. He was trying to guess the real relationship between this young soldier and the princess. However, no matter how hard he tried to find a clue, he could not see any potential threats from the young soldier. Therefore, his vision became more and more indifferent.
The indifference in his vision actually consisted of multiple probabilities, of which Ning Que was fully aware. While looking at his back, Ning Que remembered the previous warmth and gentleness in his eyes. Ning Que knew that he would not do any harm to the princess and that he was just overprotective.
Honestly, the Young general's drastic love for the princess had nothing to do with low-ranking soldiers like Ning Que. However, Ning Que really disliked Hua Shanyue's indifferent attitude expressed by his cold glances. He knew that most of this indifference represented a strong power to support the conduction of a culling operation at any time, but it also represented scorn.
Ning Que did not like him, so he stood up and smiled at the princess, who was about to mount a horse. With his jaw raised, Ning Que said, "Your Highness, in fact, I have been trying to say something to you since we were in City of Wei..."
Hua Shanyue suddenly looked back at the pretty princess sitting on the white horse. Frowning she turned around and stared silently at the young soldier standing by the bonfire. She seemed to be blaming him, but at last, she said softly, "Tell me when we return to Chang'an."
Hua Shanyue asked the head of the bodyguards about the situation, in a whisper, before setting out. Hua Shanyue got a general understanding of what the princess had gone through since her entry and Ning Que's performance in dealing with the assassination attempt. He remained silent for a while and then walked over to Ning Que. He then said without emotion, "You made a great contribution this time. We'll award you after we're back to Chang'an... Good job, boy."
Ning Que took Sangsang to their shabby tent and began to pack it up.
Sangsang fastened the big black umbrella to her own back with difficulty. Then she suddenly turned her head up towards Ning Que and asked, with her eyebrows furrowed, "Young master, did you say 'you have something to say' on purpose just now?"
"Yes," Ning Que replied casually as he cleaned the coagulated blood from his blade. "The guy named Hua Shanyue is so hypocritical and boring that I don't like him. So, I look only to irritate him."
"Young master, what're you going to tell the princess?" Sangsang stopped what she was doing and asked curiously.
"I don't know." Ning Que pushed his sword into its sheath and shrugged his shoulders. He said, "After all, I can't say some stupid words, like 'I have fallen in love with you since the first time we met in City of Wei' or 'I have been crazy about you'..."
"But, Senior Captain Hua may think that way, and so may the princess..."
"Idiots think in an idiots' way. I'm not surprised about that," Ning Que answered.
The little handmaiden looked into his eyes and said sincerely, "Don't you think that you're a bit of a rascal sometimes?"
Ning Que bowed his head slightly, agreeing with her silently.
Sangsang shook her head. After a few seconds, she looked to him again and asked, "Young master, are all the people in the world, besides you, idiots in your opinion?"
Ning Que thought carefully while he was fastening his sheath. After a long time, he answered seriously, "That isn't my problem. The fact is that there will always be many idiots doing stupid things in the world. Specially-privileged people like Hua Shanyue aren't supposed to be regarded as an idiot. However, as he actually believes he's in love, he's, in fact, an idiot."
Sangsang pointed at herself with her finger and asked seriously, "So, am I also an idiot in your eyes?"
Ning Que looked at her little black face and replied seriously. "You aren't an idiot, you're just stupid."
Before the group left through the entryway of the Northern Mountain, an incident happened.
Some of the Gushan Commander's cavalries stayed behind to observe the site. The assassins who dared to try and murder the Tang princess definitely would not have left any clues. Therefore, they did not stay to find evidence, but to protect the corpses. When the support troop arrived, all the corpses would be moved back to Chang'an and buried. This was a rule of the Tang army—did not leave a companion behind under any circumstances.
They carefully lined up their soldiers' corpses in the forest. On the contrary, the enemies' corpses were left where they had fallen, waiting to be burned into ash. However, they hesitated when they were going to burn the corpse of a middle-aged scholar in turquoise robe. They knew that he was a Great Sword Master, so they were not sure if they should show him respect corresponding to his status.
Hua Shanyue slightly frowned and decided to bury this Great Sword Master. However, at this time, Lv Qingchen whispered to him. "The man has already fallen into diabolism."
Upon hearing that, the young general's face suddenly turned cold. He looked down at the corpse again, this time without any respect in his eyes. He waved his hand with unabashed disdain like he was driving away a fly. He then said, "Throw it in the fire and burn it with the rest."
They went through the Northern Mountain Road from its southern foot that morning and converged with the support troop by noon. Under the strong protection of hundreds of the elite cavalry soldiers, the Tang's Fourth Princess, Lee Yu, and her followers continued to move towards Chang'an. By this point, nobody would threaten her, whether they had come from the Tang or one of the other empires.
The days following the assassination attempt, Lee Yu and the little prince of the Tribe of Savages stayed in the carriage, refraining from appearing publically.
Even though there were hundreds of calvaries, the surviving bodyguards and grassland barbarians continued to protect the princess around the carriage, regardless of their wounds. The elder Lv Qingchen was in the second carriage. The heavily wounded bodyguards and barbarians were in the following carriages. Ning Que and his little handmaiden Sangsang were sitting on their own shabby carriage, far behind the others.
At the border of the Gushan Commandery, all of the heavily armored cavalries changed into their light armor, increasing their travel speed significantly. While the solid carriages at the front could follow and keep up, Ning Que's carriage could only barely keep up.
A cavalry dropped back to their carriage and scolded them angrily. "You're moving too slow, speed up!"
Just like before, after they had left City of Wei during the spring, Ning Que appeared to be sleeping on the shaft of the carriage again. It appeared that he would likely fall off at any moment and that he was entirely dependent on Sangsang to laboriously hold him up. While being scolded by the cavalry, he just glanced at them without saying a word.
As they watched the back of the cavalry as they left, Sangsang wiped the sweat from her forehead. She squinted her willow-like eyes and then said, "Young master, they appear to dislike us."
"Good use of the word 'dislike'. If you had said, 'we seem to be forgotten,' it would have sounded pretentious and showy."
Ning Que towards the first horse carriage and thought about the princess, whom he had not seen since leaving. He smiled and said, "For poor people like us, who to struggle to survive, any pretentious or showy expressions are considered nasty."
It had been like a fairy tale, sitting with the princess by the bonfire. Such an idea, regardless of being in Chang'an or on the grassland, would have been just a fantasy and never real.
In fact, if a little soldier from a border town happened to rescue a noble they would receive an award accordingly. Then they would never interact again and that was the story of reality.
There were epic heroics in the world. However, there were not fairy tales. If Romeo had not been a noble's son, but simply a garbage man, Juliet would have been more hesitant to die for him.
Ning Que had always had a clear understanding of such things. He knew that the girl he saw by the bonfire was just an illusion. Most importantly, he had never really been emotionally touched. He only appreciated the fact that a princess could relax like that. Therefore, he did not feel any regret.
The team did not rest for even a moment after resupplying at the Gushan Commandery. Instead, they chose to keep moving southwards. The princess was clearly rushing to go back to Chang'an and find her lovely father.
Hua Shanyue did not misinterpret Ning Que's relationship with the princess, as he had investigated Ning Que's background and found out that he was just an ordinary soldier from the border town. Clearly, nothing could ever happen between them. Therefore, Ning Que was not concerned during his stay in the Gushan Commandery.
After making an encampment so they could rest, Sangsang went to a nearby river to collect water, wash the rice, and kill some fish, so she could make a large meal for dinner. The young master and the little handmaiden scooped food from the main dish into their bowls and started eating happily adding several sauerkrauts and peppers. They did not stop eating until they were full and content.
A cold and harsh man walked into their tent, but when he saw this he shook his head and smiled. "We asked you guys to eat with us but you declined. We thought you resented us. But, as it turns out, your dinner is far better than ours... You're lucky to have such an intelligent handmaiden."
It was obviously an exaggerated compliment. But, Sangsang didn't say anything. She just smiled and continued to eat, while Ning Que felt that it was an obvious fact.
The man was named Peng Guotao and he was the head of the Tang's bodyguards. He performed well during the bloody battle on the Northern Mountain Road and had won the trust of the princess. He brought his subordinates and followed the princess to the grassland for the year. On their way back they had encountered several ambushes. Only seven of his loyal subordinates remained and this deeply saddened him.
They had become comrades while fighting together on the Northern Mountain Road and this had made their relationship more solid than usual. Besides, the outstanding performance of Ning Que certainly had left the people who had been present with a deep lasting impression.
As a result, the carriage that was disliked by the cavalries of the Gushan Commandery was frequently visited by Peng Guotao and a few other bodyguards these days. The barbarian soldiers also sent some spirits to Ning Que and Sangsang as gifts. However, they rarely came closer than a distance of one hundred feet and barely spoke to Ning Que and Sangsang. Perhaps they were scared after hearing the story of Shubi Lake.
"I know you can make it back to the city by yourselves, and I know you guys are unwilling to travel with the team. But, there has still been no reply about the submission of your request." Peng Guotao looked at Ning Que apologetically. "You're a soldier sent from City of Wei and we can't let you go without Her Princess' permission."
Ning Que scratched his head and said, "Then I'll continue to go with you for a while longer."
Ning Que had expected the rest of the trip to Chang'an to be boring and uneventful. However, he suddenly received an invitation from the second carriage on the following night. Lv Qingchen wanted to meet with him.
Ning Que was both surprised and happy. He scowled as he thought about it for quite a while. Then he decided to be nonchalant and he put out the bonfire next to his carriage before walking towards the second carriage with Sangsang.
The curtain had been lifted and the carriage was dimly lit by a candle. The Psyche Master, Lv Qingchen, watched Ning Que and his young handmaiden bow towards him respectfully. He was surprised. He had reckoned that the lad understood why he had been invited. He would not enlighten him about the subject if there was a third person present. Hadn't the young man considered that?
Then the elder remembered the story he had overheard by the bonfire when they were at the entrance of the Northern Mountain Road. Although he was meditating, he couldn't help but eavesdrop... The story had been about a boy and a girl, who had struggled to survive in the vast and dangerous Min Mountain. Lv Qingchen realized why Ning Que had brought Sangsang along with him. At this realization he was pleased and he liked Ning Que even more.
Although, Ning Que hadn't considered that. It was just a deep-rooted habit to bring Sangsang with him.
"Do you know the reason why I want you here?" The elder asked warmly with his hands folded and resting picturesquely on his knees.
Ning Que was speechless. Immediately, he pressed his left fist into his right hand and knelt to the ground. While kneeling he lay his wrapped fist to the ground and bowed until his forehead was touching his balled hands. This was the most sincere show of respect in Tang Empire.
This type of gesture would often only came after a great favor. Even though Lv Qingchen had not done anything yet, and even if he wasn't able to help him, it was really a generous and noble act of a cultivator to help an ordinary person that had no obvious potential. Only people like Ning Que, who had memorized the entire Article on the Response of the Tao but still couldn't find his way to it, would realize that. It was a place where only those with abnormal talents got access to.
Although Sangsang did not understand this action from her young master, she also bowed in front of the elder.
Seeing this, Lv Qingchen smiled and rubbed his beard. He then lifted Ning Que up and closed his eyes, concentrating. He placed his hands on Ning Que, one on his chest and one on his back by his waist. A moment later, the warm candlelight within the carriage became blurry for no apparent reason. It was almost like there was a quickly moving dust swirling through the air.
There was a dead silence and the time flew by without notice.
The light in the carriage started to regain clarity and strength. The elder gradually took back his hands and stared at Ning Que, who was wearing a tranquil expression. There was no anticipation in his eyes, but his hands were shaking slightly as the elderly man sighed softly.
"There is a breath of heaven and earth. It's the so-called primordial Qi. A cultivator is able to detect it if he has a strong psyche. Therefore, it depends on your strength of psyche to decide whether or not you're able to cultivate."
When I first met you in City of Wei I discovered no breath of Qi in your body. Today, I thoroughly checked inside your body, and I was right. There's nothing in your Ocean of Qi and Snow Mountain."
"... Absolutely nothing."