Shen Yi glanced at the mint leaves that had been made bald by the goat surnamed Gu, then chased after him.
The barbarians have mustered up all their strength, have gathered all the Heavy Armors they have in possession to launch a surprise attack on Yanhui town; it could be even said that they have risked their old lives for this. The Heavy Armor forces that even Great Liang struggled to support, imagine what this concept would be like to the Man’s Eighteen Tribes?
Perhaps even after ‘wringing out the grease’ would still be far from enough, they must scrape down to the bone and marrow thrice.
Naturally, as their race was one that grew up sharing the same nest with wolves, they were well-versed in the arts of combat. Considering their long-planning and Heavy Armored forces, as expected, they should be invincible.
Unfortunately, they clashed against the Black Iron Camp.
The Black Eagle took back control of the Giant Kite, and Dark Armors captured the Barbarian Prince alive. Under the acquiescence of Gu Yun, they have slain all the remaining fallen forces in the city. The sun has not gone down and yet, the battle was already over.
Still not done, after Gu Yun has finished handling foreign enemies, with the speed of lightning, he immediately turned his forces over to his own side. As the name of the renowned Black Iron Camp was still striking fear in the hearts of many, he had arrested all the military personnel of Yanhui town and Chang Yang gate from big to small: there were more than sixty people in total from the first line of the Northern border.
There was no discussion of right or wrong, they were immediately put under imprisonment waiting for trial. The people of the Northern Frontier were momentarily in a state of fear.
Chang Geng and Ge Ban Xiao were temporarily arranged in the house of Yanhui Town’s Governor, Master Guo. Master Guo was quivering as he saw Gu Yun, fearing that he’d be implicated.
Only after hearing the order of taking care of the little Prince that he knew he had escaped. He really did not dare to neglect; he had sent two rows of servants to line up in front of the quarters Chang Geng was staying in to listen to his every call, the only thing missing was for him to come over himself to serve the tea and pour the water.
Thanks to Chang Geng, Ge Ban Xiao got to enjoy the royal courtesy.
When the little meatball calmed down after the chaos, upon realizing that his home and family were now destroyed, he immediately broke down in tears. Halfway through crying he suddenly remembered that Chang Geng was just like him. He was all alone, even though he still had his yifu as a relative, but Uncle Shiliu was nowhere to be seen and he didn’t come by once to visit. Misery loves company, he couldn’t help but feel sympathy and was embarrassed to make a ruckus in front of Chang Geng.
But without crying, there was nothing else for him to do. Ge Ban Xiao counted his fingers trying to make clear of everything in this situation, but eventually, he gave up. This was all too complicated for him, his thoughts ended up in a mess no matter how he tried. He asked Chang Geng: “Big brother, they said your father is the Emperor, does that mean Auntie Xiu is the Empress?”
Chang Geng was holding half a Xiu zhong si in his hand. When he saved Ge Ban Xiao, he had shot out one of the Xiu zhong si in the iron wristband, then he secretly took it back when they cleaned up the battlefield.
As for anything created from metal, sharp and durable were difficult to coexist. The Xiu zhong si, although it could cut through iron with ease, it was not very durable and strong: the tip has been folded when it hit the barbarian’s Heavy Armor, the hot Ziliujin had melted a corner of it. Even the blade was gone. It was now only a bare and dark piece of metal.
Chang Geng used a nail to scrape off the raised place on the knives, while casually replying to Ge Ban Xiao: “The Emperor’s sons are not all born from the Empress, he has a dozen of wives. Moreover, Xiu Niang belongs to the Man’s Tribes, and I am not a Prince either, the barbarian woman only wants me to feign being a Prince.”
Ge Ban Xiao: “…”
The little son of the butcher’s family, after listening to this answer, understood things even less now. His mouth was agape in confusion for a moment. Then he felt that his big brother was very pitiful. Even birds and animals all around have parents, only Chang Geng couldn’t figure out his own roots. His heritage resembled a confusing mass of threads that couldn’t be unraveled. There was no telling who they really were.
Ge Ban Xiao vowed: “Big brother, you can rest assured, whether you are the son of an Emperor, or the son of a Mayor, or even the son of a Singer, you will always be my big brother!”
Upon hearing this Chang Geng first dryly smirked, then perhaps this line had touched him inside, he finally revealed a little smile.
Ge Ban Xiao: “It would be great if I can enter Black Iron Camp in the future…”
Chang Geng did not have time to answer as someone outside the house suddenly said: “Unlike regular soldiers, the soldiers of the Black Iron Camp must do very harsh training regiment every day, can you endure it?”
The two boys looked up and they saw Shen Yi pushing the door in.
Shen Yi has replaced the terrifying black armor and reversed back to the poor scholar who talked lengthily like a mother-in-law in the blink of an eye. The word ‘poor’ was written all over from head to toe. He placed two food containers on the table: “Midnight meal, eat up.”
Master Guo paid great attention to health, their dinner only consisted of very watery soup. The adults can make do, lacking a few bites don’t make that much of a difference. But how could two young boys endure this? Ge Ban Xiao drank three bowls of chicken noodle soup, yet he still felt like he was only full on water. After opening the food containers and saw that there were real steam buns and real meats inside, he immediately rushed forward with a cheer, even Black Iron Camp or White Iron Camp were all thrown to the back of his head.
However, this little boy truly knew his manners; even when forgetting the world, he would still not forget his big brother. He first took a large steam bun from the box and brought it to Chang Geng: “Big brother, you eat.”
Chang Geng glanced behind Shen Yi and saw that the person he wanted to see did not come. He suddenly lost his appetite, waved his hand in disinterest, and tried to suppress the feeling of loss in his heart, then tiredly greeted: “General Shen.”
“I dare not accept the honor,” Shen Yi took one look at his face and immediately knew what he was thinking. He calmly sat down and explained: “There are major inspection and cleansing at the border area this time, Grand Marshall cannot clone himself, still he harbors immense concern for Your Highness. He had especially asked me to come visit.”
“I do not dare to accept ‘His Highness’,“ Chang Geng bowed his head and said coolly, “Shil— The Marquis is busy day-to-day with military affairs yet he still has the heart to remember us, it is truly flattering.”
Shen Yi laughed: “If Grand Marshall knows that you’re being rather distant like this behind his back, he would definitely be very sad. Unfortunately, this person, he has never spoken out despite how upset he might feel, and always caused more trouble for us underlings. ”
Chang Geng did not say a word in indifference, he seemed to have placed his entire mind onto what was left of the blade in his hand. He carefully selected a position on top and started to drill a hole in it with a nail.
His heart was as clear as a mirror, he frankly did not believe Shen Yi to be just any ordinary subordinate. Even if they were patrolling in disguise, would an ordinary subordinate dare to command the Marquis of Order to wash the dishes or to cook some porridge? Unless one was an undying being trying to hang oneself – already tired of living.
No one was speaking, and the atmosphere momentarily became very uncomfortable.
Shen Yi was smiling on the outside but cursing on the inside as Chang Geng’s expression was all completely for Gu Yun to see. However, Gu Yun, that bastard, did not dare to even look and pushed him over here to be his scapegoat. He thought: “From the day I got on the same felonious boat with that Gu, nothing good would ever happen.”
Shen Yi was born from a prestigious and influential family, there were some connections with the family of Old Marquis Gu’s mother so to speak. When the Old Marquis was still alive, he had welcomed Shen Yi to live in the Gu family for a while. All of Gu Yun’s grand mischievous deeds from childhood, half of them were Shen Yi’s ‘merits’.
Later when Old Marquis Gu and the First Princess both passed away, the two went their separate ways. Gu Yun entered the palace to inherit his royal status, Shen Yi went back to partake in the imperial examination. But even after passing the exam, he had refused to enter the Hanlin Academy*. Instead, despite others looking upon him as if he was a madman, he personally inquired to enter ‘Ling Shu’.
*The Imperial Hanlin Academy, from the Tang dynasty,
lasting until the year of 1911
The Ling Shu Institute* did not exist to diagnose sickness or to brew medicine. They do not fix up the human body, they only fix up machines. They ranked equal to the Imperial Guard, directly under the command of only the Emperor himself, was the largest debt collector of the Ministry of Revenue, and also the parents who fed and clothed the military forces.
*the word used for Institute was 院(yuàn)
which could also be used for hospital,
that’s why there’s the joke of them not existing to cure humans
‘Kite’, ‘Armor’, ‘Cavalry’, ‘Light Suit’, ‘Eagle’, ‘Chariot’, ‘Cannon’ and ‘Dragon’: the seven primary military arms, from the equipment design blueprints, to improvements and upgrading, and even the secret mystery of the Black Iron Camp, they all came from Ling Shu Institute.
The Ling Shu Institute often used ‘Imperial Mechanics’ as a self-deprecation and a display of modesty. They almost never spoke up in the imperial court, appeared like they were not very high-ranking. They spent all of their time hiding away inside Ling Shu Institute, burying their heads in handling iron stuff.
But no one dared to compare them with the craftsmen from the common folks who made a living by machine oil.
The reason why Gu Yun was able to restart the Black Iron Camp was not only a matter of a measly letter of emergency from the Emperor. To a large degree, this was thanks to his old friend Shen Yi who had assisted in creating a relationship with the Ling Shu Institute. In the key moment, they have stood behind this young general, and provided him with the most advantageous support, making the military power that had been degraded for ten years once again overwhelm the talkative scholarly magistrates.
After the Black Iron Camp died and came back to life, Shen Yi was invited by Gu Yun to leave the Ling Shu institute and to become an exclusive assistant of Gu Yun. These messy matters, with Chang Geng’s knowledge and experience at this time, of course, he would not know.
Shen Yi also did not intend to explain them either, he just looked up and asked Ge Ban Xiao: “I have a few words to discuss with His Highness, you…”
Ge Ban Xiao smartly replied: “Yes, yes, you both continue, I always get drowsy when I am full. I should go back to sleep now.”
He gathered up two big steam buns and a pig’s feet then jumped off the chair and ran out.
In the room, there were only the two of them left. Shen Yi slowly spoke: “At that time when the war situation at Western Region became stabilized, Grand Marshall received a secret decree from the Emperor: he ordered him to travel to the Northern Frontier to search for Your Highness, the Fourth Prince, who had disappeared together with the Consort sisters from that year.”
Chang Geng’s movement stopped for a second, he raised his gaze and looked at Shen Yi without saying a word.
Shen Yi’s expression was sincere, not a hint of being disingenuous could be found:
“When we approached Yanhui Town, we found signs of barbarian activities outside the city gate. The Wolf King’s son has always been very ambitious, he had never intended to be just a subject.
“Grand Marshall was concerned about the threatening change that could occur to the Northern Frontier and had stopped to inspect the situation, he just happened to meet Your Royal Highness in the midst of wolves.
“Fourteen years ago, during his childhood, Marshall was often with the First Princess and had the chance to meet with the Consort once. When he saw you he instantly felt that you looked quite familiar, up until we sent you back to Yanhui Town, and upon seeing Xiu Niang, only then did we confirm that you are the Fourth Prince we are looking for.”
“Fourteen years ago, Marshall was just a young child, Xiu Niang had long forgotten him. At first, we originally intended to show our identities and pick you both up to go back to the capital. We did not expect to accidentally discover that Xiu Niang was in secret communication with the barbarians. In order to avoid affecting the grand scheme of things, Marshall Gu secretly transferred some men from the Western Region to here, plotting to turn their plan against themselves.
“This time, the eighteen tribes’ elite forces are all defeated. Their Prince was also captured, and a large amount of financial resources have gone to waste. At least we can protect the peace and stability for the Northern Frontier this year. I hope that Your Highness would take the lives of thousands of civilians living in the border to heart and not blame Marshall for being deceitful.”
Chang Geng listened, pondered for a moment, then nodded as this was all fair and reasonable: “Alright.”
Shen Yi instantly felt relieved, he smiled and spoke: “That year when the Heavenly Wolf tribes bowed down to Great Liang, they have given two treasures of the savanna to His Majesty: one was Ziliujin, the other was their goddess. The goddess is of exalted status, touched by their sincerity, He had made her the Royal Consort, and was also the only Royal Consort of our imperial court.
“And as for other matters, your subject have already told Your Highness before. If the Royal Consort in heaven can see that you have grown up so well like this, she will be very pleased.”
Chang Geng sneered inside. According to Shen Yi, then wouldn’t it mean that Xiu Niang – Hu Ge Er was his real blood-related aunt? The Aunt was already like that, how much nicer could his real mother be?
Chang Geng: “I personally think that according to common sense, this story should be that after the Royal Consort discovered she is bearing a bastard son, she had risked her life trying to escape and wanted to get rid of the child inside with a bowl of abortion medicine?”
Shen Yi: “…”
The many secrets of the royal palace were inconvenient to go into precise details, but the thing was, this kid had guessed it completely right.
After all, Shen Yi had also mingled with the aristocrats since he was a child, whatever his thoughts might be it absolutely would not show on his face. He immediately put on a surprised and tensed expression, as good as real:
“Why would Your Highness speak of such words? If it is because of Miss Xiu, then you don’t have to dwell too hard on it. In the end, Miss Xiu was still a foreigner, if her heart still goes out to her own people, that isn’t anything to blame her for.
“Not to mention, in the past few years, despite harboring hatred inside, she still worked tirelessly to raise Your Highness, and she has even managed to send half a piece of the jade pendant back to the capital to inform. It must have all been done as a preparation for her to die for the country, to not implicate Your Highness. Could one still say that this was not driven by familial love? Even your aunt is like this, how can your real mother not love you?”
Shen Yi momentarily paused, then continued: “The appearance of His Royal Highness and the Consort’s were like being carved out from the same mold, but your personality is just like His Majesty’s, how could this biological relation be made up? As for Miss Xiu breaking Your Highness’s toe, I believe there must be some other hidden matters inside, or perhaps because Your Highness was still too young back then hence why you could have remembered it wrong, these are all possibilities.”
Teacher Shen’s talk was reasonable and extraordinary eloquent, if Chang Geng was not aware of this poison inside his body slowly causing him to turn mad, he would probably get persuaded by this made-up story and truly believe that Xiu Niang had worried about him with all her heart.
He could no longer fully trust in other people’s stories. He would always harbor stacks and stacks of questions and skepticism. He couldn’t help but break down other’s every sentence to mull over, and as he took a deeper look, they would always be full of doubts.
Chang Geng suddenly felt very exhausted.
After a period of finishing burning an incense, Shen Yi held a face that had gone stiff from smiling and was sent away by Chang Geng.
Chang Geng sent Shen Yi to the door: “Before, I was still unaware, thinking that Marquis Gu’s health was no good, and often go on to be lengthy about it. I ask that the Marquis will forgive me.”
Shen Yi lowered his eyes and could only see Chang Geng’s head as Chang Geng had refused to look at him. He let out a sigh and left the small quarters where Chang Geng lived. As he exited the gate and turned towards the small trail, he caught sight of the ‘busy with military affairs’ Gu Yun sitting outside in the courtyard’s small flower garden.
The courtyard of Master Guo grew a lot of mints. Gu Yun was sitting in the small pavilion alone, with nothing to do he started to pluck them up, putting them in his mouth, then ended up chewing and swallowing them as time went by.
There’s no telling how long he had been sitting alone here, the batch of mints had almost gone bald because of him like a goat has ravished this place.
Shen Yi lightly coughed, but it seemed Gu Yun had not heard him at all. Only after he had come closer that Gu Yun squinted his eyes and recognized him with difficulty.
“Did the effectiveness of the medicine wear out?” Shen Yi sighed.
Gu Yun was confused, instinctively making a gesture signaling he could not hear.
Shen Yi had to go forward and get closer to him: “Let’s go back first, I’ll tell you more about it there – give me your hand, there are stone steps.”
Gu Yun shook his head, refusing his help. He took out a Liuli Glass* and placed it on the bridge of his nose then slowly went out without saying a word, even his two beauty marks seem to have faded in color.
*琉璃镜 (Liúlí jìng, lit. colored glass lens); the monocle Gu Yun wears
Shen Yi glanced at the mint leaves that had been made bald by the goat surnamed Gu, then chased after him.