Chang Geng suddenly had a strong desire to grow strong immediately.
Chang Geng blushed red from the top of his head down to the tip of his toes, cooked until crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, emitting smokes. He was angry to the point of not being able to make a single sound.
Yet at the same time, Cao Niangzi utterly adored being regarded as a house post like this, almost drooling as he watched Marshal Gu’s figure from behind. He said to Ge Ban Xiao: “If in this life I can also be carried by the Marquis for even just once, then… I can truly die without regret!”
Ge Ban Xiao, upon hearing this, immediately wiped his nose then got into a firm stance, sucking in his stomach – in the readied position to carry a large bag, and patted his shoulder: “Come up!”
Cao Niangzi stared at him for a moment, then pursed his lips and let out a spit, and ran out of the gate in anger.
On New Year’s Eve, all forbidding regulations were lifted.
Outside, Gu Yun still remembered to save his son some dignity and finally put him back down.
Chang Geng’s expression darkened, walking forward with long strides. His back was straight enough to serve as a flagpole, the cloak flowing behind him. His figure already bore the resemblance of his future self – tall and strong.
Gu Yun rubbed his nose, quickly catching up to him and shamelessly asked: “Are you angry?”
Chang Geng slapped away the hand on his shoulder then replied coldly: “I do not dare to!”
Gu Yun: “Hiding in the house all day like this, won’t you feel tired? Little kids…”
Chang Geng solemnly glared at him, and for once Gu Yun understood the situation. He corrected himself: “People of young age – people of young age should be a little more energetic. Only have lived for a few years, yet you’re already bored of the mortal world?”
Chang Geng had no other response for this type of lively yifu, his face remained expressionless, once again intending to slap away Gu Yun’s hand currently pulling him. But unexpectedly, as he just happened to touch Gu Yu’s fingertips, he was immediately taken aback and shivered at how cold they were.
Chang Geng frowned, he grasped Gu Yun’s hand and found that it was completely frozen, cold enough to have turned blue as if it belonged to a dead body that had just been brought up from the ground. There was no Ziliujin burning inside people. Running around with merely one layer of clothing in this harsh winter, how could one not feel cold?
Chang Geng was hurt inside, hurt enough to further fuel the anger in his heart. He sulked while untying his own cloak, then wrapped it around Gu Yun without any explanation. Gu Yun was forced to bend down as Chang Geng did so, but he did not avoid, he simply stood still and let Chang Geng tie the string for him. Gu Yun smiled, enjoying the filial piety that was soaked in anger, and he thought to himself:
“It truly is very nice to have a child, wait after Xiao Chang Geng grows up, I should go find someone to give birth to my own – it would be even better to have a girl.”
For the New Year’s Eve, after each hour passed by, there would be a long trombone sounding out in the capital, prompting people of the approaching new year.
The city was engulfed in the loud sound of drums and firecrackers, countless red papers flew in the air like butterflies. The riverside, high buildings, the middle of the streets, they were all packed with people. Chang Geng felt numb at just one glance – it truly seemed as if people from all over the world were crowded into the small city of Sijiu. Compared with this kind of excitement, the crowds of people pushing and pulling at the market gathering in Yanhui town simply feel desolated and lonely.
Whether it was forcing him to go out or the eager Ge Ban Xiao and Cao Niangzi, at this moment, in Chang Geng’s eyes, they were all so unreasonable. He was holding onto the cold hand of Gu Yun, trying to warm it up as much as he could, while still paying attention to the two countryside children enthusiastically looking around so they wouldn’t get lost. Even though there were already a few incredible Black Iron Camp guards with them, he was still immensely busy with worrying.
Some people might have been born to constantly be concerned.
At this moment, a long sound resembling both an eagle and a crane was heard in the air, and the crowd loudly cheered.
“Look, the first Red Kite of the year took off!”
The Capital was the primary territory right under the emperor, and normally air travel was banned. All nine gates were loaded with countless Baihong arrows. Even for Black Eagles, if they dared to approach the capital on air, they will still be shot down immediately.
New Year’s Eve was the only exception.
On the wide road leading directly to the outskirt of the capital stood the symbol of the entire Central Plains – ‘Qi Yuan Tower’.
It was said that when the Westerners crossed the sea on their large ships arriving in Central Plains, there were only two things they knew of: one was the Imperial Palace, and the other was Qi Yuan Tower*.
*the 鸢 [yuān] – meaning Kite in Qi Yuan tower (起鸢楼) is the same as the Yuan in Giant Kite and Red Kite. Qi ( meaning ‘raise up’) Yuan tower is a building/platform for the kites to take off to the sky.
The Qi Yuan Tower was not a building. It was built by the Former Emperor in the twenty-first year of the Yuan He regency from cutting down military expenses. It welcomed visitors from all over the world, and was divided into two regions: North and South. The Northern area had numerous platforms with high-ceilinged domes, named ‘Yunmeng Grand View’. The Southern area had a tall tower, some people mockingly called it ‘Zhai Xing* platform:, but of course, no one would dare use that name directly, and it was normally referred to as the ‘Ting Yuan** platform’.
*Zhai Xing(摘星) translates to ‘star-plucking’ or ‘star-picking’. The tower was very high hence its name.
**again, the yuan here is the same as the yuan in Kite as mentioned above. Ting 停– meaning to stop, Ting Yuan platform means the place where the kites can land down.
The tower and the imperial palace facing each other from opposite directions, took the meaning of north and south, heaven and earth.
Every year on New Year’s Eve, Ting Yuan platform would become the center of the entire capital. Many famous actors and courtesans from across the country all wished to come up to contribute at least one song, countless people formed into a vast crowd under the platform to watch, and the sight-seeing platform of Yunmeng Grand View was also packed with various high-class officials and nobilities.
At about seven o’clock in the evening, twenty ‘Red Kites’ would be taking off.
The working mechanism of the Red Kite was similar to that of the Giant Kite, the only difference between them was the sheer name of the Giant Kite was enough to make the barbarians tremble in fear, while the Red Kite was solely used for entertainment.
It was a type of ship, two fiery red koi fishes engraved on both ends, and could take off to the sky using eighty-one flaming wings. The body of the ship was secured on the platform using a special type of rope that was translucent, resembling a spider web.
When the flaming wings were ignited, more than twenty Red Kites as radiant as red kois will be steadily hoisted in the air, looking extremely beautiful as they swayed slightly.
The view from above the kite was excellent. There were sets of elegant rooms and a circle of terraces. Drinks and food must be carried along the cobweb-like ropes, and the people on board could see the red palace walls and countless lanterns light up from the capital below.
Gu Yun led the three children up from the small path next to the platform. The guard was shocked as he recognized him right away, he was about to bow down to pay respect when Gu Yun stopped him: “There is no need for such formality, I’m only taking the children here to play – have you seen General Shen?”
A waiter ran up to him from far away: “Marquis sir, please, this way, General Shen is waiting for you on the Red Kite.”
Gu Yun nodded calmly, but he couldn’t help but feel quite impressed on the inside – he actually only brought Chang Geng here to join in on the fun, he completely did not expect Shen Yi to be so incredible as he managed to actually successfully order a Kite.
Ge Ban Xiao stared at the Red Kite in front, then followed after Gu Yun and asked: “Marquis sir, are we going to Heaven?”
Gu Yun: “No need to rush, we will after a few decades. Today we will only step on it for a while.”
Chang Geng listened to the fortune-filled dialogue of these two people on the night of new year’s celebration, truly wishing to simply seal their mouth shut.
In the chamber on the Red Kite, the temperature was as warm as springtime. As Gu Yun entered, he untied the cloak and put it on the back of the chair.
Shen Yi had already hailed a table packed with wines and many dishes. There were also some beautiful young male and female servants in the room, the particularly bold ones dared to continuously sneak glances at Marquis Gu.
Gu Yun’s eyes widened – Shen Yi was a scholarly bookworm who had already gone senile before his age. He even feared that looking at Western paintings would defile his eyes, how could he possibly keep a group of young meats around like this?
When Gu Yun casted him a questioning eye, Shen Yi whispered in his ear: “This is the ship that Wei Wang insisted on giving to you upon hearing you require one.”
Gu Yun momentarily did not know what to say, his expression unfathomable.
The waiter truly knew how to read the situation, he immediately came forward to ask: “Marquis sir, will we be igniting the engine?”
Gu Yun paused then nodded: “Yes go ahead – and also call the brothers guarding on the terrace to come inside for dinner, there are no outsiders today, no need to be over-courteous.”
The waiter, upon receiving the instruction, immediately withdrew from the Red Kite, jumped onto the terrace deck, and made a long signal.
A few of the soldiers of the Black Iron Camp came in, all lined up in a well-trained manner: “Grand Marshal!”
The coldness of their Black Armors pierced through the soft gentle aura inside the room in an instant, the unspeakable atmosphere that hung in the air was suddenly dispelled.
Gu Yun glanced at the servants retreating. One particularly pleasant-looking young girl sneaked a peek at him, flirtatious hints filled her gaze. Gu Yun smiled at her in response, at the same time feeling somewhat disappointed, as he’s bringing three little kids along. This type of night time entertainment must also end at this ‘eyeing back and forth’ stage.
Shen Yi cleared his throat, and Gu Yun retracted his sight as if nothing happened. He complained: “Wei Wang is already a grown man yet he could still be so improper.”
Shen Yi let out an absolutely unamused laugh: “Ha ha.”
Fortunately, the three young children were attracted by the group of flaming wings surrounding the Red Kite that had been lit up. They all looked around outside the window and did not notice what improper business the adults were secretly doing inside.
The sizzling sound of the flaming wings sounded out and a warm hot air swept by the window, Chang Geng almost lost his footing, he could not help but grasp onto the wooden window to steady himself. Next to him, Cao Niangzi was screaming, the whole body of the Red Kite vibrated gently and took off to the sky.
At 7 in the evening, a group of fireworks was shot up from Ting Yuan platform, shining brightly in the middle of twenty Red Kites, and the cobweb-strings connected to each other were dyed in orange.
The platform was slowly raised, the iron gears underneath interlocking with each other. A female dancer donned in a red dress appeared, singing with a pipa in her hands.
The most prosperous imagery in all heaven and earth could only be this.
Shen Yi opened a bottle of wine, raised his hand to pour a cup for Gu Yun: “This is the first year of tribute from the Western Regions after the rebellion is settled. The best kind of grape wine and a luminous cup, delicious wines must go in pair with heroes, have a sip.”
Gu Yun stared at the luminous cup for a moment, his expression slowly became solemn. He took one sip then immediately put it down – not that the wine was not sufficient, but he could not help the sorrow hanging in his heart.
Gu Yun: “Forget it, I’m not quite used to this type of wine, change to Shaoxing yellow wine. It seems that I am no hero, but a coward – here, all you gentlemen take your seat, don’t worry about the children, they have eaten at home, let them play.”
While chatting, he began to feel that his line of sight has become a bit blurry. He bowed down and pinched the bridge of his nose, knowing that the medicine he took a few days ago would soon wear out.
The time for the medicine’s effectiveness to fade away is about half an hour, and generally, before this occurs, he will slowly lose his sight and hearing.
When Shen Yi noticed this small gesture, he immediately knew what was going on: “Marshal?”
“It’s nothing,” Gu Yun shook his head, changed the wine, and raised his cup towards everyone sitting at the table.
“All of you are the one in a million, mighty warriors of Great Liang, you have all ventured out on the battlefields by my side, although there is neither wealth or riches, power or influence, only the harsh living condition of the borders, and the measly paying wage. You all have had to endure so much. I first dedicate this cup to all my brothers.”
When Gu Yun finished his speech, he tilted his head to down the cup, then once again pour himself another one:
“The second cup, I dedicate to the brothers who had laid down in the Western Regions, that year with my inexperience and incompetence, I led them forward, yet I was not able to bring them back…”
Shen Yi advised: “Marshal, New Year is coming, please don’t say any more.”
Gu Yun smiled a bit, he really did stop going further, he down the cup then filled it up again.
“The third cup,” Gu Yun whispered, “is dedicated to the Heaven and the Earth, I wish for Gods above to treat the souls of my comrades with kindness.”
Chang Geng stood by the window. No one knew when the beautiful scenery outside could no longer attract him. He turned and stared at Gu Yun without blinking.
He had seen Gu Yun being enthusiastic and energetic, he had also seen Gu Yun being shamelessly lazy.
But he had never seen Gu Yun making a toast and drink in such loneliness before. To him, this image of his yifu was almost unfamiliar.
Thinking about it, Gu Yun had never gotten angry in front of him, and he rarely ever showed exhaustion or annoyance. It seemed that he was always teasing Chang Geng, he was both endearing and irritating ― except for his usual appearance, other countless emotions inside him were completely sealed away from Chang Geng.
Because he was just a child who couldn’t do anything.
Chang Geng suddenly had a strong desire to grow strong immediately.
At this time, Ge Ban Xiao turned around and shouted: “Marquis sir! General Shen! The Westerner brought a lot of wild beasts out to dance! Come and see!”