If one wished to discuss these complex relationships, it should first be started from the former emperor.
The former emperor spent his lifetime on horseback, and had obtained grand achievements in both politics and military, a legend that was rarely seen throughout history. The man had brought Great Liang's might to its peak - like the sun at noon - and no neighboring countries would dare to offend. Additionally, he was also the founder of both the Ling Shu Institute and the Black Iron Camp.
It was a pity that this brilliant and wise Emperor was fated for a lonesome life. During his reign, he had four empresses, but none of them were able to live for long. He gave birth to three sons and two daughters in total, but he had to experience the feeling of seeing his young die before him, losing four out of five.
When the former emperor passed away, the only child left was the First Princess who had married early.
Legend had it that when the Princess was about sixteen or seventeen years old, she was infected with a severe illness that almost took her life. Fortunately, as she already had a marriage arrangement with Gu Yun's father, the monk of Hu Guo Temple lit a candle of longevity for the Princess and advised that she should get married early. True to these words, after being wedded to the Marquis, the Princess's illness had slowly improved.
From this point of view, it seemed that the previous princes and princess' passing away one after another at a young age was due to the former emperor's fate counteracting theirs.
The Emperor who had lost all his wives and children, at his final moment had decided to leave the Black Iron Camp and the utmost vital military power to his most beloved Princess and her husband, but the country of Great Liang could not change their surname, so the next Emperor had to be adopted from a different branch.
The reason that the current Emperor - His Majesty Yuan He was able to be successfully enthroned that year - a large extent of it was thanks to the assistance of the First Princess.
Emperor Yuan He had harbored great affection for her. Until she passed away, he had always respectfully referred to her as an 'aunt' and welcomed her only son, Gu Yun, into the palace to take care of. He personally granted him the name 'Zi Xi', he had repeatedly told the officers and magistrates that 'Zi Xi is like my younger brother', and ordered the princes to refer to him as 'Royal Uncle' when meeting in private.
'Uncle' or 'Aunt' were merely false titles, not entirely important, what mattered was Great Liang's military forces, under the direct control of the Marquis of Order, stood behind the little boy, Gu Yun, that year.
The old faction of the previous marquis was still there. If anything were to happen to Gu Yun in the hands of Emperor Yuan He, whether or not His Majesty could still sit peacefully on the throne, that was still up for discussion.
Taking advantage of the fact that Gu Yun was still young, Emperor Yuan He had spent these ten years weakening the old faction of the Marquis of Order - the Black Iron Camp almost ceased to exist thanks to this underhanded tactic.
It was a pity that a human's calculation could not be compared to that of God's. The Western Regions' border defenses fell into a tight position, and foreign enemies were invading. They had sent out three marshal's in total, but if they were not too old - then they were good-for-nothings. Great Liang - already accustomed to singing and dancing in peace - appeared to prefer the pen rather than the sword.
Hence, the Imperial Court could not find a single person who could pick up a weapon.
The Ling Shu Institute, which had been quiet for many years, suddenly brought forth their request to rebuild the Black Iron Camp.
The scrap metal that had been dulled by the emperor for ten years and that was on the verge of dying, in the end, still did not die out - in Gu Yun’s hands, it was brought back to life.
Gu Yun's feelings for His Majesty were very complicated.
On one hand, after the death of the old marquis and the First Princess, it was His Majesty who had raised him. Emperor Yuan He had given him the warmth that he had never received from his own parents.
The Princess was not the type of woman who hid away at home - instead, she was one that could take up arms. Just from being able to stay alive until she was able to get married - and not lose her life to her father's solitary star, was enough to be seen as a true hero.
Gu Yun was born with two fathers; he did not know what the concept of a gentle and kind mother was like. This unreliable couple had brought him to the battlefield of the Northern Frontier even before he properly learned how to walk, spending his childhood eating wind and sand to grow up. Little bits of pampering and gentleness, elegance and refinement, could be said to have all come from Emperor Yuan He.
On the other hand, Emperor Yuan He was quite a weak-minded person. When he was a young man, his weakness and hesitation could be reluctantly described as 'compassionate and benevolent'. After he grew older, this had completely turned into 'dim and incompetent'.
Every day, the old man would not consider how to strengthen the country and expand their territory but would only be concerned about his own right to the throne. If he wasn't using his authority to balance out his subjects, then he would smother Gu Yun, using new and different tricks to dishearten all military personnel.
On one side he was thoroughly protected, on the other, he was thoroughly hindered and held back. Gu Yun was stuck in the middle of these two types of 'thoroughness', and he would much rather have gone to eat sand at the frontier instead.
Shen Yi said with a deeper meaning: "Too much of one good thing can be a bad thing, Grand Marshal, people from ancient times had said - even grand achievements must not threaten the one above. You have already beaten up the enemies on all four sides - then should the next step be to rebel? Of course, we know you don't entertain such thoughts, but there is no telling what the Emperor might think."
Gu Yun said indifferently: "I was granted the title of 'Order', that is, fighting to maintain order for Great Liang; other matters are not under my control."
Shen Yi opened his mouth.
Gu Yun cut in: "I know what you want to advise, you don't have to say it."
The two had been partners for many years, just one look was enough to link their thoughts. This dialogue might sound confusing. Shen Yi was - of course, not trying to discuss the current Emperor with Gu Yun. The Emperor was sick and was also of old age, this time he had urgently summoned Gu Yun back to the capital; that was enough to see that he would soon be on his way to heaven.
What he meant was, of course, the new emperor of the future.
Not counting Chang Geng who had been lost, the Emperor had two sons. The Crown Prince Li Feng was a dependable and calm person, he had been familiarising himself with books and scriptures since childhood. However, his philosophy was much like his father's - he also favored literary to the military, and he did not approve of expanding the army and strengthening armed forces. He believed that this would affect Heaven's goodwill and the people's livelihood.
On the contrary, the Second Prince, Wei Wang was extremely ambitious, had once entered military ranks, and was eager to expand their territory.
And for the military officers like them, it was clear who was the better choice between the two.
Gu Yun's expression darkened.
Shen Yi knew the right thing for him to do now was to shut his mouth, yet at the same time he could not help but say: "Marshal, as long as you show even the slightest hint, even if it is only an acquiescence..."
Gu Yun looked at him - his gaze seemed to contain two Wind Slashers full of killing intent. Shen Yi's heart suddenly tightened; his voice died out in his throat.
Gu Yun strictly spoke every word with force: "After arriving at the capital, Black Iron Camp's three factions will be on standby outside the Nine Gates. Anyone who dares to take advantage of His Majesty's weakened condition for their own personal gains - will be executed on the spot no matter who it might be. Shen Ji Ping, do I make myself clear?"
Shen Yi's face went pale for a second, after a long time, he whispered: "...... Yes. "
They were both silent for a moment. Gu Yun's expression gradually eased out, he suddenly said: "This was not aimed at you"
Shen Yi reluctantly smiled.
"The thirteenth year of Yuan He... it was the most painful year I have lived; the First Princess and the old marquis were both away, you had also been taken back to the Shen family. At that time, I was almost blind, and my ears could not hear well anymore"
Gu Yun whispered, "There was heavy snow outside that day, it was incredibly cold, I was holding onto the old marquis' sword and was hiding behind the door, not willing to let anyone come close.
"It was the Emperor that took His Highness the Third Prince and quietly came to my house. Being the supreme ruler of a nation, yet he had stood in the snow for half an hour before he could coax me to come out of my room. He wrote in my palm to communicate... and even told the guards to pile up two snowmen for us.
"The Third Prince... A Yan, he was one year younger than me, and was shy like a little girl, always smiling, he did not get angry no matter how much of a bastard I was..."
Gu Yun's voice came to a halt.
The Third Prince had died at the age of nine.
Shen Yi: "His Majesty was a compassionate man that is hard to find."
Unfortunately, love and compassion could not make a good Emperor.
Gu Yun did not continue, he looked up and watched Chang Geng riding on his horse from afar, Chang Geng tilted his head to say something to Ge Pang Xiao sitting in the cart. The boy's round and innocent head peeked out from inside, laughing and smiling as he responded.
Chang Geng could feel something behind his back, he looked back and caught Gu Yun's gaze on him. The boy's expression suddenly became uncomfortable and he turned back around with irritation.
Gu Yun said: "This kid's appearance is exactly like his barbarian mother. But his personality is more like His Majesty's. If A Yan was able to safely grow up, perhaps this is what he would be like."
Shen Yi closed his mouth, realizing that whatever he said would be useless.
Chang Geng could not hear what Gu Yun and Shen Yi were saying, but he always felt that his smiles made it seem like they were looking down on him, like thorns pricking one's back. After a while, he couldn't help but sneak a peek at Gu Yun and found that he was actually coming over.
Still not done?
Chang Geng didn't want to talk to him at all. He immediately ushered the horse and ran forward. Unexpectedly, he ran a bit too far and accidentally came close to the prisoner cart, which was escorting the barbarian prince.
The eyes of the Heavenly Wolf's prince were like rust piercing from inside, resentment carved as deep as bone marrow. Chang Geng felt an uncomfortable sensation as soon as he caught his gaze, he took hold of the reins, intending on moving away from him.
No one expected that at that moment, the man-devouring gaze of the barbarian passed over Chang Geng, and focused on someone behind him. He suddenly grinned: "Gu Yun, hundreds and millions of perished souls are looking at you."
His voice resembled a piece of rusted iron scraping against a porcelain plate, drenched in a demonic aura, causing one's hairs to stand upright altogether, Chang Geng's horse let out a disturbed neigh then took a few steps forward in panic.
"The lingering souls of our tribes are looking at you, the wreckage of iron armors under the burial grounds are looking at you, ha ha ha ha... The infinite power of Chang Sheng Tian will bestow upon you endless ill-omens, you will be split into pieces under the blade of our tribe, your soul will be ripped apart by thousands and thousands of demons after your death, you can never break free.."
The distorted face of the barbarian prince and the blood-covered lips of Xiu Niang suddenly overlapped. Chang Geng felt like his entire body from head to toe was submerged into an ice cavern. He let out a groan and instantly went to reach for the sword hanging at his side; attempting to slay off the head of this barbarian.
But before the sword could be completely pulled out, a hand casually pushed it back.
Gu Yun had walked his horse over to his side, impatiently swept a glance over the Barbarian Prince who was talking as if he was possessed: "Why don't Your Highness save some of your 'infinite power' to bless your tribes with might to become a dominating nation, with ten thousand years of longevity?"
Gu Yun then pulled on the reins of Chang Geng's horse after he finished talking, tilted his head to look at the pale-faced boy at his side, and smiled. "You really believe that? Hey now, these people are experts in scaring children, in this respect, they have at least surpassed Great Liang by more than ten years - what is so interesting about prisoners? Go, go play over there."
Chang Geng: "But he dared to say such things to you..."
Gu Yun did not feel even the slightest bit offended, he burst out laughing, his entire being giving off the arrogant and wild aura of 'raging wind and stormy rain could not affect me'.
Chang Geng's scowl did not ease out yet. He was somewhat irritated at first, but gradually, as the chilling air surrounding him seemed to melt away and vanish in Gu Yun's carefree laughter - those words suddenly became quite laughable.
A small idea suddenly raised up inside Chang Geng for the first time. He seriously thought to himself:
"Why should I be afraid? Am I just going to turn insane simply because Bone of Impurity forces me to?"