CHAPTER 4: MISFORTUNE

I

Amid everything, perhaps an unnamed god had mentioned to Marshal Gu, who was at the end of the horizon, that his son was about to be tricked into running away from home by a bald donkey. In short, while writing his report back to the Emperor after the Black Iron Camp had set out for one month, Gu Yun actually remembered to write a letter home to Chang Geng.

The very familiar handwriting that Chang Geng had copied many times before wrote a lot of pages. First, he confessed his mistakes earnestly, then using words that could reach the boy's heart, he explained reasonably and eloquently as to why he had left without bidding goodbye. Finally, he expressed how much he missed Chang Geng straightforwardly and promised that if the Northwest was safe, he would return to the manor before the end of the year for new year celebration.

Chang Geng read through it from start to finish, then put it aside with a smile, because even if he used his toe to think, he would still know that this letter didn't come from the hands of the Marquis of Order himself.

The sickeningly sweet words such as 'separated by thousands of miles, tossing and turning all night', 'eat more and dress warmly, don't let me be worried', were impossible to have sprouted from the soil of Gu Yun's head. He could tell from the lengthy words and sentences that Shen Yi wrote them in Gu Yun's stead.

At most, the bastard yifu only copied them down.

However, Chang Geng sadly came to realize that even though he was fully aware of this, when he imagined that these words had really come out of the pen in Gu Yun's hand, he could not help but want to engrave every single one into his eyes.

Unfortunately, Gu Yun did not keep his promise.

Gu Yun felt guilty. This time, he kicked out Shen Yi, who had made promises on his behalf, then personally took up arms and wrote a very long letter to Chang Geng.

Chang Geng smiled in frustration after reading it, although he felt that this letter was quite sincere, Gu Yun honestly had no talent in coaxing others and had completely poured oil into the fire instead.

Marshal Gu first talked about a bunch of trivial matters that he thought were interesting and entertaining. He wrote a thousand words, off-topic for thousands of miles. At the end, he used the words 'busy with military affairs' to sum up the reasons why he could not return to the capital.

Chang Geng did not care about how to properly grill scorpions in the desert for them to taste delicious. He had searched the long letters several times back and forth, but had never found the sentence he cared about the most: if Gu Yun could not come back this year, then when could he come back?

However, there was nothing following after 'busy with military affairs', only a long list of gifts was attached.

Perhaps Gu Yun felt that apologizing in words was not enough, so he expressed it in action he sent all the good stuff he was able to gather this year back to the manor, giving it all to Chang Geng: from jewelry and treasures, to weapons, some with flaws and imperfections, so on and so forth.

On that same day, the 15-year-old Chang Geng locked himself in his room, and together with a Lou Lan dagger that Gu Yun gave him, endured another attack from the Bone of Impurity.

Afterward, he made a decision - he did not want to live the life of someone that was cast aside. He did not want to follow the old teacher and the cautious instructor only to learn literary and martial arts on paper. He wanted to travel and see the world outside.

On the first day of the year, Chang Geng went to the palace with Zhu Little Feet to give the Emperor a New Year's greeting, completing his duty.


After, he stayed at the manor until the 16th of the first month, told the kitchen to cook a bowl of longevity noodles, brought it to his chamber, and finished it by himself. Then, he quietly announced a decision that blew up the entire household.


Chang Geng: "I intend to live in Hu Guo Temple for a while."


He saw the old butler's pale green face and added: "Uncle Wang, rest assured, I don't want to be a monk, I just want to follow Master Liao Ran for a while, at the same time, I can pray for yifu as well."


Old butler: "..."


What else could the old man say? He could only endure the chest pain, prepare the incense money, and then ask the guards to send Chang Geng, Ge Pang Xiao, and Cao Niangzi to Hu Guo Temple.


The manor's old butler felt that perhaps this family had been cursed by an ancient witch. Once one entered the door, whether if it was a child born from this family or a child adopted from outside - they were all equally challenging to deal with. The old butler still remembered the frightening look on Gu Yun's face when he was a little child. He was similar to a young wolf that had been hurt, hating all the people around him regardless of reason and who it might be.


Although faced with many struggles and difficulty, that person was finally able to grow up and was now capable enough to carry the family.


Now there was another one who was even more unpredictable.


After Gu Yun left, Chang Geng started running to Hu Guo Temple every day.


There were plenty of others to spend time with; why must he love to spend time in a temple? His Highness, the Fourth Prince, Li Min seldom ever stepped out the door, but when he would, it was for an exceptional purpose.


Countless concerns filled the old butler, and every day he worried Chang Geng would shave his head.


But he knew that fifteen-year-old boys were the most unwilling when it came to the persuasion of an elder, not to mention that Chang Geng was not his own. The old butler did not dare to interfere with his life too much; thus, he went to convince Ge Pang Xiao and Cao Niangzi to be on his side.


When Cao Niangzi heard this, his eyes widened to the point of causing the eyeshadow on his lids to fall off; he said in anger: "What? The bald donkey wants to trick my big brother Chang Geng into becoming a monk?"


Men with good appearance were as rare as a phoenix's feather and a dragon's horn. Marshal Gu immediately left, not even his shadow could be seen now. He only had Chang Geng around him, and Chang Geng, even after hitting this age, still had no signs of him becoming unsightly - this was already very hard to find, but now there was also the danger of him becoming a bald head. Immediately, Cao Niangzi became an ally of the old butler.


The next day, he deliberately put on men's clothing and insisted on coming with Chang Geng to see the holy scenery of Buddhism. As he left, he rolled up his sleeves and made a 'determined to succeed' gesture to a pair of puppets in front of the door.


The puppet was not human; it could only stare at his strange walking posture in a daze.


However, when he came back from Hu Guo Temple that night, Cao Niangzi never mentioned the matter of 'forcing the bewitching monk to reveal his true form'. Since then, he had abandoned his side, joining the opposite team to listen to Buddha's teaching every day. The reason could be no other than 'the bewitching monk was simply too handsome'.

Although Marshal was handsome as well, unfortunately, he was quite aggressive and could not sit quietly for others to appreciate. But Master Liao Ran was different; Cao Niangzi thought that he was simply a lotus strolling in this world, if placed in a pond, he could be immortalized for generations. Just taking one look at the man could make him happy for days.


The old butler could not figure out what spell the monk had given to the two boys and had to go and find Ge Pang Xiao.


Ge Pang Xiao could not refuse a righteous cause; he followed along with them.


A few days later, Ge Pang Xiao also changed sides.


Because Master Liao Ran, aside from reading Buddha's scriptures, was also very proficient and knowledgeable about a wide variety of puppets and other Ziliujin-powered machines, Ge Pang Xiao even met people from Ling Shu Institute at his place.


The boy who longed to board the Giant Kite flying to the sky even in his dreams, directly knelt under Buddha's feet without a second word.


Throughout the year, the old butler was actually used to Chang Geng running over to Hu Guo Temple after a few days. He did not mind much at first.


Unexpectedly, His Highness took after bad traits instead of good. After arriving at Hu Guo Temple, he followed Gu Yun's example and disappeared without bidding farewell.


He first instructed the guards, explained that he and Master Liao Ran would close the door to meditate in peace for a while, unrelated people must not disturb them. The guards, of course, did not dare to disturb and only stayed outside the door.


On the evening of the same day, Chang Geng took with him the two traitors and followed Master Liao Ran to travel to Jiangnan.


After a few days, the guards recognized the abnormality and went to look for them, but only a single letter could be found in the Zen Room.


The old butler wanted to cry. On the one hand, he had sent someone to notify the Emperor while the other sent a letter to Gu Yun at the same time.


The Emperor was very generous upon hearing the news. First of all, he did not care much for this younger brother who fell out of nowhere. Secondly, as he believed in Buddhism, he also placed a blind trust in Master Liao Ran. As he heard that Chang Geng was following him to travel, he could not help but feel admiration, hated that he was tied down by his common life, and that could not follow the master to enjoy his knowledge.


Gu Yun was far beyond reach at the time and could not be counted on. There was news that the Western Region was infected with countless desert bandits; every day, Gu Yun chased after them to who knew where. Even when the messenger arrived at Xi Liang Gate, if they wanted to find Marshal Gu immediately, they could only rely on luck.


Although Liao Ran was a monk, he rarely discussed scriptures and never talked about Dharma or Buddhist poems that were difficult to understand. Most of the time, he would talk about common knowledge. As a monk, he didn't seem to practice his religion very well; he appeared to be too immersed in the mortal world. He would even go as far as making comments about the current politics, but would always burn all of his notes after they finished talking.


Half a month later, in a small tea shop in Jiangnan, three adolescents sat with a monk around a table.


Jiangnan's farming season had already begun, but upon closer inspection, the fields did not have many people working. There were three old farmers with sun hats on watching the iron puppets that were working hard.


Compared with the intimidating puppets used for guarding the manor and for sword training, these peaceful farming puppets did not appear human; they were more similar to a small cart, running back and forth on the field while wearing a buffalo head carved from wood, looking very innocent.

This was the first batch of farming puppets sent out by the Imperial Court, having their initial test run in Nanjing.


Back when Ge Pang Xiao still lived in Yanhui Town, he had already harbored an extraordinary interest in Shen Yi's piles of broken copper and iron. His eyes shone brightly as he watched the puppets.


Liao Ran tapped the table to pull the attention of Chang Geng and the others back on him. After a year, Chang Geng was able to understand his sign language; the monk no longer had to write one word at a time.


"I have seen these farming puppets in the Western countries overseas; just one puppet can easily take care of one acre of land. Although it still requires to be run on a small amount of Ziliujin, coals are enough to support most of its working mechanisms after several upgrades and improvements. The cost has been reduced by a large amount; it is said that one puppet is even more economical than a Chang Ming lamp."


Ge Pang Xiao: "That's a good thing. Does it mean that from now on, farmers will no longer need to wake up early and stay up late to work anymore?"


The puppets undergoing the test run were assigned to Nanjing by the Imperial Court. The squires could register their names and bring one back. They were also responsible for the subsequent maintenance of the puppets. If the tenants wished to continue doing the planting themselves, they were free to do so; if not, they could give up the land they rented to the puppets. When the harvesting season arrived in the coming year, the rent would be increased by 10% to compensate for the burning coals and the small amount of Ziliujin the puppets used.


In the first year, very few people did it, for they had to pay an increased amount of rent. But as the second year came, this plan became more and more widespread. People had come to recognize that this thing's working power was a lot greater than a human's. The rent was increased, but the amount of food they were able to keep for themselves was a lot more than before; in addition, they no longer had to work in the early morning. Such a good thing as this, who wouldn't want to join in?


Thus, this was the reason for the empty fields in Jiangnan, not a single farmer could be seen.


Liao Ran smiled and said nothing.


Chang Geng suddenly said: "I don't think this is a good thing. If the iron puppets can completely replace people, what else do people need to be used for? The land rented by the tenants also belonged to the local officials. In the first few years, these people may still agree to feed the idling farmers for old time's sake, but how many years can it last?"


Ge Pang Xiao was obsessed with all kinds of machines, seeing them even in dreams, he immediately said: "They can stay and become Mechanics!"


Cao Niangzi: "This one I know, even if you gather the steel armors of all Yanhui Town's defensive forces together, only two Mechanics were enough to maintain them, they only came to find Teach—General Shen occasionally when they were simply too busy, they didn't require that many Mechanics."


Ge Pang Xiao: "They can find something else to do, like..."


Like what, he wasn't able to come up with anything for a moment. Before, the living condition of his butcher family was not at all bad. In Ge Pang Xiao's eyes, there were countless other jobs to do aside from farming.


Cao Niangzi struggled to pull his gaze from Liao Ran's face and asked: "So if people can't find jobs, or a large number of people can't find jobs, will they rebel?"


Liao Ran looked down at him; Cao Niangzi's face flushed a deep red.


Liao Ran made a gesture: "They won't in these few recent years."

The three boys were silent for a while; Chang Geng asked: "Is it because of my yifu?"


Liao Ran smiled and looked at him.


"I remember on New Year's Eve that year, the tiger brought by the foreigners ran astray, the people on the street were in a state of chaos. Only when they saw my yifu did they finally settle down."


Chang Geng paused and said, "I later heard people say, there was a sea of countless people near Qi Yuan Tower. If it weren't for yifu who had stabilized them, more people would have lost their lives just from pushing and shoving alone."


Liao Ran: "For taking Your Royal Highness out to travel like this, I have offended a great crime to the Marquis of Order. If this matter ever comes to light in the future, I pray that under the Marquis' blade, Your Highness would preserve this monk's puny life."


Ge Pang Xiao and Cao Niangzi both laughed, for they thought that he was only joking. After all, in their impression, Gu Yun was always cheerful and pleasant.


Liao Ran let out a bitter smile, skipping this topic, he signed: "The common folks told of a legend that the previous marquis with an army of thirty people had successfully made the Northern Wolf bow their heads. It is said that the Black Iron Camp soldiers are godsent with incredible abilities; nothing can harm them. With the Black Iron Camp serving as a strong and sturdy beam, although there were groups of rebellion made from civilian mobs, it was difficult for them to grow into a larger scale."


Chang Geng sat up straight: "But I heard people say that if one wishes to demolish a house, the first thing to do is break the beam."


Liao Ran looked at the young man in front of him; if Gu Yun came back, perhaps he would not recognize Chang Geng anymore. In just one year, he shot up a few inches taller, and the hints of childishness on his face had all disappeared.


The boy, who had once been anxious from just going out on New Year's Eve, now sat in a small tea shop in the countryside of Jiangnan, chatting with the monk about the people's livelihoods.


Liao Ran: "Your Royal Highness does not have to worry. The Marquis has long been fully aware of these matters."


Chang Geng remembered the calligraphy "The World Cannot Be Avoided" in Gu Yun's room and was startled by the sudden wave of missing and longing bursting out of his heart. He sat quietly for a moment, letting all these feelings freely rise. He let out a sad smile, then picked up the teacup and finished it in one go.


Gu Yun, who was being missed greatly by Chang Geng, was still in the desert of the Western Regions. He had been confronted by the largest group of desert bandits in the local area for more than a month by then.


Xi Liang Gate no longer appeared desolate like it was before. Since Great Liang and the Pope signed the treaty, the entire road of Xi Liang Gate had become a treasure trove of wealth. Merchants and tourists quickly gathered together; the population of nearby towns had skyrocketed; the Westerners, the people from Central Plains, and people from other small neighboring countries of the Western Regions lived together.


Lou Lan, which was located at the entrance of the Silk Road, became a place of trade. They quickly turned from a small country that had never been heard of before to a land of gold.


Lou Lan people were pleasant and happy. They lived and worked in peace, never causing any trouble. In the past, the Western Rebellion had nothing to do with them. Their relationship with Great Liang had always been very favorable. Hence, the Emperor especially placed the entrance of the Silk Road here.


"Marshal, Xiao Jia's side has already taken the thief's nest, do we act now?"


Gu Yun: "What are you waiting for? Capture their leader, tonight we will go and get a free meal at Lou Lan's princes' place!"


As he said this, he lightly pressed on his eyelids.


Shen Yi: "Did something happen to your eyes again..."


"No," Gu Yun complained, "My eyelids keep jumping, perhaps..."


He was not yet finished when a guard suddenly came forward and took out a letter: "Marshal!"


Gu Yun: "Oh, where is it from?"


Guard: "Home letter from the manor that was sent to Xi Liang Gate. The family servant was unable to find you; thus, he transferred it to Lou Lan's people to deliver here."


Maybe it was a reply from Chang Geng.


Gu Yun thought as his hand opened it up, he had been looking forward to it greatly.


Then Shen Yi saw Gu Yun's expression slowly change.


Shen Yi: "What's wrong?"


"Liao Ran, this bald donkey, best for him not to fall into my hands." Gu Yun said sullenly, walking back and forth in his tent with both hands behind his back, then kicked over the table: "Arrange a few Black Eagles for me; Ji Ping, you will temporarily take care of things here for me."


Shen Yi: "What?"

Gu Yun: "I am going to travel to Jiangnan."

Shen Yi shouted: "Ouch!... Ah, my jaw just dropped to my feet, it hurts - are you crazy? The Northwest commander of the defensive force is leaving his duty to travel to Jiangnan in secret; do you want to find death or rebel!?"

Gu Yun calmly replied: "Today, we have eliminated those desert bandits. For at least the next three to five months, this place should be able to stay peaceful. With the Black Eagle's speed, it will only take one or two days to arrive at Jiangnan. I will not delay for too long; after finding him, I will return immediately."

Shen Yi already took in a deep breath, ready to give a lengthy and eloquent argument, but before any of it could come out, Gu Yun had hit his lower abdomen with his elbow.

Shen Yi cried out as he bent over: "I haven't said anything yet!"

Gu Yun: "Just preventing the problem before it could happen."

That night, thirteen Black Cavalries captured the bandit leader and his underlings who had been hiding away for a long time within the depths of the desert after many days of clashing against them. Gu Yun listened to the report and gave out a short order - "Imprison them." But he did not rest at all afterward but prepared to leave right away that very same night.

Lou Lan Prince Ban E Duo already prepared the feast and wine, waiting to give the Black Iron Camp a grand reception. But as he arrived, he only saw Gu Yun changing into a Black Eagle armor suit in irritation.

The country of Lou Lan was located at the entrance of the Silk Road - they were children of the desert and had always harbored a great hatred for the rampaging bandits. Over time, they had become the best guide for the Black Iron Camp, assisting them in eliminating all the desert bandits. The relationship between the two sides was excellent.

Lou Lan people excelled in singing and dancing and especially loved good wine. Men and women were both 'wine demons', and their prince was the biggest wine demon among them all.

Marshal Gu's unpredictable strategies or unparalleled martial arts skills, the prince simply did not pay them much mind. Only Gu Yun's ability to use strong alcohol to quench thirst in place of water could make Ban E Duo constantly give his praises. He had proclaimed himself a 'drinking buddy' of Marshal Gu and treated him with great dedication and responsibility.

Ban E Duo's tone of voice was similar to that of a desert singer; he asked Gu Yun: "Marshal Gu, how come you are moving as swiftly as the clouds at the end of the sky? Are you chasing after the lady of the sunset?"

Shen Yi: "..."

What was a sunset lady? Both red and round?

Gu Yun: "I am going to slay someone."

"Oh!" Ban E Duo, while carrying two jugs of wine, was startled for a while then sullenly asked: "Slaying even more? Didn't you just finish?"

"Do you not eat dinner if you already had breakfast?" Gu Yun shouted with raging, murderous intent, "Move aside!"

A few Eagle units appeared like shadows, the tips of their toes lightly touched the ground and followed behind Gu Yun. In a blink of an eye, the black whirlwind swept by without a trace, only the remaining white smoke in the shape of an enchanting circle could be seen in the air.

Ban E Duo looked at his figure from behind with admiration and asked Shen Yi: "Marshal must slay people three times a day?"


Shen Yi waved his hand, gestured for him to come closer, and whispered in his ear: "His son was tricked into running away from home by someone."


Ban E Duo held his chest: "Oh! It must be the lady of the full moon!"


Shen Yi: "...No, he only has the head of a full moon."


After leaving the prince feeling the back of his head in distress, Shen Yi walked away with heavy concerns weighing him down. After two steps, his expression suddenly changed - Oh no, Gu Yun left in such a hurry, did he remember to bring the medicine with him?


Jiangnan welcomed Gu Yun, who was covered in dust and sand, with a light, damp rain. He did not stop to rest for long but immediately marched towards the Ying Tian manor of inspector Yao Zhen.


According to Gu Yun's identity, he should not have any relationship with the local officials of Jiangnan. This matter actually had a connection with some old affairs.


When Gu Yun was fifteen years old and followed along the army to eliminate bandits for the first time in his life, he rescued several unlucky hostages who were captured by the bandits - Yao Zhen, who was harmed by others and ended up dismissed home from his position that year, was one of those hostages. Later, Yao Zhen had the opportunity to recover from it and took the position of an inspector; his relationship with Marquis Gu could only be considered as an acquaintance, casual, and not involved with personal gains, though somehow, this connection was still maintained until this day.


Master Yao just happened to have a day off, sleeping until the sun was high up in the sky and still refusing to get up. As he listened to the servant reporting, he was completely startled.


Yao Zhen: "Who did he say he was?"


The servant said: "He said his surname is Gu, Gu Zi Xi."


"Gu Zi Xi," Yao Zhen wiped his eyes and said, "The Marquis of Order, Gu Zi Xi? Then I am the first assistant of the Imperial Court! - you believe this type of scammer? Send him away!"


The servant responded then was about to turn to take his leave.


"Wait!" Yao Zhen sat up, held his blanket, and pondered for a moment. "... Hold on, I will go check it out myself."


He was suddenly blessed with a momentary stroke of genius. Somehow, he felt that leaving his duty might be something that Gu Yun would do.


At the time, the monk who just happened to stay at the inspectors manor had no idea that a great catastrophe was about to fall on his head.


He was an incredibly thrifty man.


A single coin had to be divided into two halves to be spent. If there was a rundown and damaged temple that could serve as a lodge, he would not step foot in an inn. An everyday meal consisted of pickled vegetables, a good meal must depend on donation - commonly known as begging.


He himself did not spend money; so he would not allow Chang Geng and the others to spend it either. Fortunately, the three young boys were able to endure hardship, following him to live the life of a homeless drifter day by day.


Liao Ran's route was quite random. Sometimes he led Chang Geng to venture in every narrow pathway and street in the city. Sometimes they would stroll by the fields without any purpose, receiving donated rations regardless of if they were spoilt or good. They had settled at a generous government official's house and had also settled at an ordinary tenant farmer's house. In short, they would accept whatever they were able to receive.

One occasion, they happened to stay at the home of a widowed elderly man with no children. When he saw that the man was already left with nothing to eat, not only did he not ask for rations, he also even gave the man some money in return.


"Even in peace and prosperity, there can exist one who starves and freezes to death, and even in the turbulent world, there can still exist glory and splendor." As they passed through the market in the town, he signed to Chang Geng. "The morality in this world should be divided into two. 'Morality' is where one's heart should be directed towards. 'World' is a single grain of rice in a thousand families, a single brick in a thousand cities."


Chang Geng: "Master should be someone who is already beyond this realm, yet when talking about the common world, you still have a clear and logical view."


Chang Geng's head was almost higher than the monk's, the youthfulness distinct in a teenager's voice had entirely faded away. His tone was deeper now, his speech pattern was neither slow nor fast, sounding very stable.


He used to favor quietness, growing uneasy whenever there was a crowd. He always felt that he could never be comfortable when dealing with strangers, as he did not know what to say. But unknowingly, he had started to acquire the ability to treat everywhere he went as a casual stroll in an empty courtyard.


Perhaps for he had cut off his own means of retreat, some unwillingness and reluctance in his heart naturally turned into trivial matters.


Liao Ran smiled and calmly said: "If the monk does not understand the world, how can he dare say that he is out of this realm?"


The monk was naturally born with a very deceitful face: when washed thoroughly, he appeared like a master who was beyond this world; if he did not for a few days, he seemed like a sacred saint. His head reflected the vast light of Buddha, his eyes always contained a vast pool of cleansing water for all living beings - if he was more generous when it came to a few coins, which were only materialistic, then Chang Geng and the others would really have to admit that he was truly a highly educated master.


Suddenly, Cao Niangzi interrupted him in a low voice: "We should stop talking about this subject, big brother Chang Geng, did you notice that many people are watching us?"


Their group — with a monk, a gentle young master, a plump son from a wealthy household, and even a little girl who though delicate and beautiful, seemed to have something rather odd about her — was very eye-catching when walking together. They had long since gotten used to being pointed at by others, Chang Geng was no longer so sensitive to the eyes of passers-by.


But this time, the onlookers surrounding them seemed rather too much.


The people on the side of the road stopped to look at them, and not only did they do so, they even pointed and secretly exchanged words with each other.


Ge Pang Xiao said: "I feel that something is going to happen."


Chang Geng: "You are right."


As the tallest one out of the four people, Chang Geng looked across the crowd and saw a notice posted on the city tower not far away. The photo showed a realistic portrait of a beautiful bald-headed monk, with a written note below:


This man disguising as a master from Hu Guo Temple, including swindling and abducting, there is not a single wretched deed that he hasn't done, is hereby wanted. The reward will be ten silver coins for any individual who reports him in.

"Master Liao Ran," Chang Geng said, "You're worth ten silver coins."


Master Liao Ran was stunned, standing still in the same place as a beautiful stone statue.


"It must have been that my yifu received the letter from Uncle Wang and sent his people to trouble you." Chang Geng's eyes glanced at the crowd that began to charge toward the 'ten silver coins'. He said, "My apologies, we better be on our way."


Liao Ran quickly said: "Amitabha, Your Highness, please don't forget your promise in the tea shop."


Then the monk ran as if his feet were lathered in oil, as quiet as a statue when still, as swift as the wind when moving.


In the market, the people who waited to capture the 'ten silver coins' saw that they had indirectly affected the grand scheme of things. They decided to abandon all caution and shouted 'rotten monk!' and 'scammer!' Then, they attacked from all sides.


Ge Pang Xiao: "My father used to do the same when hunting rabbits in the mountain."


Chang Geng and Cao Niangzi looked at him.


Ge Pang Xiao said: "Holding a stick and screaming, scaring the rabbit, it will lose its direction and charge into the net itself - Ah, it's true."


Master Liao Ran, of course, had more wit than a rabbit. He had soon understood the structure of the town market, quickly turning left and right, his figure became an afterimage. No one knew how he calculated it, but somehow the people who chased after him from all directions became a single line.


At this time, not far from them, there was a shout of 'Move aside!'. From a closer look, it appeared to be a team of officers and men rushing forward; perhaps they had received the order to arrest people.


Chang Geng thought: "As expected, Gu Yun found someone to do all this."


He felt comforted, but at the same time, he also felt that his good mood was waning a bit.


His only consolation was that Gu Yun, even far in the Northwest, refused to leave him to fend for himself. Although his means of carrying things out was a bit evil, his heart still went out to him.


At the same time, he felt that he had involved Master Liao Ran into this. In addition, that person did not return to the manor even for the New Year. For what reason must he extend his reach out this far?


Cao Niangzi grabbed his sleeve: "Big brother, what should we do?"


Chang Geng returned from his train of complicated thoughts, and after calculating for a bit, he reached into his own bag, grabbed a handful of silver coins, and scattered them in the direction of the crowd: "Catch the money!"


It was fortunate that Master Liao Ran had run away; otherwise, he would be distressed to the point of growing his hair back.


The people chasing the monk were suddenly hit by a handful of silver and were stunned on the spot. Their first instinct was to pick them up. Some others heard that there was real cash and immediately gave up the objective of the same price, which was now running away, in favor of picking up the real deal, conveniently blocking the way of the officers and men that were behind. In the blink of an eye, Liao Ran had disappeared.


Chang Geng smiled: "We are also leaving."


After that, he took the lead and pierced through the crowd, preparing to disappear from this place without a trace. But a trail of horse hooves suddenly sounded from the other side of the narrow street. It seemed to be just in time to corner them in.

If their purpose was not to pick a fight, then it was to arrest people.


Ge Pang Xiao suggested: "Big brother, we should use the small path."


"No," said Cao Niangzi. "We should just stay still and wait."


The approaching hooves stopped at the entrance of the market. A few men, who appeared to be from the military, were lined up in a row. One person moved forward in the middle...the person whom Chang Geng would recognize even if he turned to ash -


Chang Geng was dumbfounded; he did not expect that Marshal Gu would come all the way from the Northwest to arrest him.


Gu Yun had already thoroughly thought this out on the way over. He would skin that Liao Ran first, then take Chang Geng back for a spanking.


A little tree would be bent if not straightened properly. He felt that he pampered this child way too much. The former emperor's way of parenting simply did not work; he should have followed the method of the iron-faced old marquis.


However, the flame of anger boiling inside him, upon seeing Chang Geng, was extinguished suddenly.


Gu Yun, seated on his horse, almost could not recognize Chang Geng.


Teenage boys change every day. Back in Yanhui Town, as Chang Geng was always under his nose, his daily growth was not at all obvious. He could only tell that he was growing taller by the fact that his pants kept getting shorter. But as they were separated for over a year, Chang Geng's accumulated changes had suddenly turned the teenager unrecognizable.


His head had already caught up with Gu Yun's tall figure, his once thin flesh had started to bear the resemblance of an adult. The unbelieving look on his face only flashed by for a moment; it was immediately covered by his newly learned calmness.


Gu Yun let his horse walk in the same spot for a moment, thinking to himself with a blank expression: "Can't hit him now."


It's not that he couldn't, but since Chang Geng was already a man, if he used the punishment meant for little children, it would not be a lesson, but humiliation instead.


Year after year, there was no difference for Gu Yun: time rushed by, joyless and meaningless.


But at this moment, he suddenly felt the ruthlessness of time. He had only blinked once, but his little Chang Geng had hurriedly grown up. All the days that he had missed, he would never be able to make up for them.


Gu Yun finally realized that Chang Geng was fifteen heading onto sixteen. In another three or four years, he would move to the Yan Bei Wang Manor and leave his wings of protection. What was the concept of three or four years? Perhaps it was only enough for him to return to the capital at least once, then all that was left in their fate was only one more reunion?


After a year, Marshal Gu, with the heart the size of a bowl, finally reacted.


He dismounted from his horse, walked straight to Chang Geng, and calmly said with a darkened expression: "Follow me."


Chang Geng's gaze had not left his face; he could not bear to look away even an inch. Gu Yun still had a shallow wound on his neck, coming straight from the Northwest desert, it didn't have time to heal. Chang Geng struggled to find his own voice: "Yifu, why have you come?"


Gu Yun snorted coldly and sullenly walked out of the market.


Even his way of talking has completely changed, he thought sadly as if he had just lost something.


The officers and men who followed Gu Yun ran up to him: "Grand Marshal, that monk has run away, will we continue to pursue him?"


"Pursue," Gu Yun agreed, "Post the wanted notice throughout the entire city, fish him back out even if he jumped into the sea!"


Officers and soldiers: "Roger!"


Cao Niangzi secretly pulled on Ge Pang Xiao's sleeve. He felt that in this situation, it was difficult for the two of them to even protect themselves. He had no choice but to shake his head in helplessness, hoping Master Liao Ran would pray for more blessings for himself.


Chang Geng and the others followed Gu Yun to the inspector Master Yao's manor. Master Yao had his flattering words prepared to greet the highly esteemed guests, and he brought his servants with him to welcome them at the door: "His Fourth Highness has come to this humble house of mine, it truly is my greatest honor! Please come inside, your subject has prepared a feast of wines and dishes for Your Highness."


He barely finished his sentence, but Gu Yun had already displayed a face similar to the Hell King. A sentence was written clearly on it - feast, what feast? Just let him starve to death.


For the whole night, Gu Yun could not figure out the proper way to talk to Chang Geng. He stayed alone in his room, chugging down cup after cup of the Lou Lan wine that he had brought with him. After a while, someone knocked on his door.


Gu Yun: "Come in."


Chang Geng gently pushed the door open and walked in: "Yifu."


Gu Yun did not say anything, his expression unfathomable.


Chang Geng turned to close the door and lowered his head slightly as if staring at Gu Yun for a long time would cause his strength to dissipate.


Chang Geng: "Yifu, I missed you very much."


Gu Yun was silent for a moment then finally sighed: "Come here, let me look at you."


Chang Geng came forward obediently. A strange scent of alcohol was surrounding Gu Yun; it was a bit sweet, seeming to be a type of wine from the Western Regions. Hanging on his shoulders was the cold and hard iron armor that hadn't been changed for years. Chang Geng thought that he could remain restrained, but he had once again overestimated himself - just as he did not expect Gu Yun to actually travel to Jiangnan to find him.


He heaved a sigh of relief and rushed forward to hug Gu Yun.


At that moment, all the anger and irritation inside Gu Yun vanished in the wind.


He reached out to catch Chang Geng and as he gently patted his back a few times, his chin rubbed against the boy's shoulder. He felt that his arms were no longer just an empty bone structure.


Gu Yun also very much wanted to say the words 'I missed you too' out loud, but even at this age, he had never spoken such words before. The sentence rolled around up and down three times inside of him, but in the end, it fled back to his stomach in fright.


He just smiled faintly: "Already this old and still acting spoiled?"


Chang Geng closed his eyes. He knew that he could no longer exceed their boundaries. Affection could not be controlled, but his limbs and body could be.


He obediently let go of Gu Yun and calmly stood on one side, enduring the invisible wildfire in his chest. He knew that he wanted too much to the point of irrationality, even causing many types of grievances and hatred to be born from it. They were all so despicable and ugly; thus, he dared not let them be seen in any way.


Chang Geng took a deep breath and asked: "How come yifu has traveled to Jiangnan?"


Gu Yun glared at him then unhappily replied: "Still have the face to ask, was it not because of you?"


Chang Geng did not dare to look at him for long; he bowed his head slightly.


Gu Yun only assumed that he had just said heavy words. The reprimands that had already reached the tip of his tongue were hurriedly swallowed back by himself. He curled his thumb into the palm of his hand, flexing the joints back and forth two or three times. The exhaustion from traveling for a thousand miles came crashing down on him. He endured this sudden tiredness, and after pondering over it several times, he tried to stay as calm as possible and said to Chang Geng: "Sit down, tell me why you were with that bald... ahem."


Gu Yun realized that it was not appropriate to call Liao Ran a bald donkey in front of Chang Geng. But he could never say the word 'master' either; hence, he was stuck in the middle.


Chang Geng: "When Master Liao Ran wanted to travel to the south, it was me who had insisted on going with him. If yifu troubled him for this reason, I would also feel uneasy."


Gu Yun: "..."

Chang Geng was too good at talking. With just one sentence, he had asked for the donkey to be pardoned and not angered Gu Yun at the same time. Inside and outside were made distinctively clear, causing Gu Yun to almost feel 'uneasy' himself. He was secretly surprised for the second time today. Only a year had passed, how did the child who used to be as straightforward as a wooden pole learn this way of talking?


"When yifu was my age, you had already ventured to the south to ease the rebellion, but me, I am still inexperienced and incompetent. Thus, I wanted to leave the manor to see the world outside."

Chang Geng snuck a glimpse of Gu Yun and found that his eyes were bloodshot. He was unable to speak anymore. Guilt rose from his chest to his throat, he whispered: "...just that my means of doing things was impulsive, even troubling yifu to travel from a distance away, I was wrong, yifu, please punish me."


Gu Yun was silent for a while, then suddenly said: "Truth was, the first time I went on the expedition, it was actually thanks to Old General Du and the others from the previous Marquis' old faction who worked hard to bring forth their request to the former emperor."


Chang Geng looked up.

Gu Yun was not a very modest person. When he'd had too much, he often ran his mouth. Even fibs such as 'I can put down twenty iron puppets in half an incense time with my ears plugged and my eyes blindfolded' had come from him before.


However, when one thought about it, he became famous in his youth. This chain of glorious history, from holding in his hand the token of command to march forward the west, up to the restoration of the Black Iron Camp, even just one of the above was enough to talk about for half a lifetime, yet Gu Yun had never mentioned them.


Gu Yun poured a cup full of a sour wine for Chang Geng: "This is the wine of the Lou Lan people. You have also grown up, you can have a few sips."


Chang Geng took a mouthful but wasn't able to make out any taste. He set it aside. He and Gu Yun had not seen each other for a long time, just seeing him here now was enough to stir his blood into a frenzy; he really did not need to add alcohol into it.


Gu Yun: "I didn't understand anything at that time, going with them only to cause more chaos, combined with my youthful arrogance, I had refused to admit my shortcomings."


"On the way to eliminate the bandits, I was too eager to take the initiative and acted alone. Just a small campaign ended up losing more than thirty Heavy Armors that real money was poured into, not only that, it even caused serious injuries to old General Du... Have you heard of General Du Chang De?"


Chang Geng had heard of him before from Liao Ran. The monk was perhaps even more familiar with the magistrates and military personnel of the former dynasty than he was with Buddha's scriptures.


Ten years ago, the old marquis and his wife both passed away due to illness. Gu Yun was still young. It was General Du who dutifully took care of both sides from the frontier to the Imperial Court and had single-handedly carried the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, his old wounds acted up. Later on, he had passed away while on the Northwest Campaign. Thus he had let Gu Yun, who was only seventeen years old at the time, take the position of a commander in that expedition.


Gu Yun: "At that time, if it wasn't because of me, the old man would still remain healthy and strong, his old injuries would not have acted up just because of a simple cold."


"After eliminating the enemies in the south and returning to the capital, when he reported to the Imperial Court, he did not once mention any of my mistakes. From start to finish, he only talked of my merits and continued to keep me in the army."


Gu Yun paused for a while as he got there.


Suddenly he felt that this was all too unbelievable. All along the way, he had only thought about how to reprimand Chang Geng once he caught the boy, from both lectures to real actions. No one expected it to evolve into him sitting down to confess his own humiliating old affairs.


He had thought that he would conceal these matters forever, but looking at them now, he found that he could actually face them with ease.


This was beyond his understanding.


Perhaps Shen Yi was right. Young ones and old fathers were indeed heavy burdens, making people bow down to clearly examine themselves.


"The reason I am in this position is not that I am better than anyone, but because my name is Gu," Gu Yun said, looking at Chang Geng. "Sometimes, your origin determines what you must do, and what you must not do."


This was the first time Gu Yun explained to Chang Geng why he couldn't take him to the Northwest, although it was quite hard to comprehend.


Chang Geng looked at him intently.


Gu Yun considered for a while, then spoke again: "But if you have clearly thought about what kind of path you want to take, you don't have to worry too much. As long as I am alive, I will always have the strength to sweep away any obstacles in your path."


Chang Geng thought that after all this time following Master Liao Ran, he had already trained himself to be able to make a conversation with almost everyone with ease. But he only now realized that "everyone" still excluded Gu Yun just as before. The moment he faced the man, he would become strangely clumsy in his speech.


He always thought he was the burden that the old emperor cast to Gu Yun, that he was a greedy being who longed for the world that did not belong to him, but this was not the case.


Chang Geng thought, no one else in this world could ever treat him like Gu Yun did.


Just then, there was a sudden flash of a figure outside the door: "Marshal."


Gu Yun pulled himself together and waved his hand at Chang Geng: "Go rest early, following that monk, you couldn't have eaten and slept well - Ah, or do you want to stay here and sleep with me?"


Chang Geng: "..."


His mind exploded into fireworks, immediately blushing red all the way to his ears.


Gu Yun smiled and said: "Also learned how to feel embarrassed now. Before, when you used to get scared into tears from nightmares, wasn't it me who coaxed you back to sleep?"


Chang Geng really didn't know how to handle this kind of face-to-face mockery - the main point was that Gu Yun directly said it as if it was a real thing!


The boy suddenly became empty-headed and quickly ran out of Gu Yun's room like he was gliding on clouds.