After Chang Geng left, Gu Yun waved his hand to the figure outside the door: "Come in."
A soldier dressed in Black Eagle armor immediately entered.
The soldier said: "As your subordinate is ordered to hunt down the monk..."
Liao Ran secretly tricked the Fourth Prince into leaving the capital. Although this matter was indeed outrageous, the boy had also been found now. Gu Yun could not afford to offend Hu Guo Temple too much, not to mention Chang Geng himself even asked for pardon on the monk's behalf.
Gu Yun: "Forget it, tell Chong Ze to withdraw the wanted order, that it is only a misunderstanding. I will treat Master Liao Ran to a meal later on."
'Chong Ze' was the name of Master Yao Zhen - although he said so, as long as Liao Ran still had his wit with him, he would not dare to come to the banquet. Gu Yun was confident that as long as the other man saw his face, he could not even drink a drop of water.
The Black Eagle soldier whispered: "Your subordinate is incompetent. I had yet to find any trace of that monk. But towards the evening, I caught sight of him boarding a small boat, I proceeded to send out men for inspection, and we discovered something."
He spoke as he took out a bag and retrieved a small strip of cloth with bits of golden powder on it.
Gu Yun took one look and immediately frowned.
This thing was very familiar to him. Its name was "Sui Xi" - an ore that comes with Ziliujin. After being crushed into powder, it could be added to Ziliujin at a certain proportion to prevent accidental explosions during long-distance transportation. A special process was used to filter them out of the Ziliujin afterward, very convenient.
However, the general court, when transporting Ziliujin, if not in the air by the Giant Kite, was through the official road escorted by the local garrison troops. How could there be such a thing just mixed in randomly on a small boat of some monk?
Gu Yun: "Did you remember not to disclose this?"
Black Eagle soldier: "Marshal can rest assured."
Gu Yun stood up and took two steps in one spot: "If so, then, the wanted order cannot be withdrawn, we must catch that monk. Ask the brothers to trace that boat for me, find out where it came from, where its destination is..."
When Gu Yun said this, his voice suddenly stopped, as he found that his vision was starting to become fuzzy. The figure of the soldier not far away from him became a blur.
"This is bad," Gu Yun quietly thought, "Leaving in such a hurry, I forgot to bring my medicine."
No wonder he had a feeling as if he had forgotten something. Shen Yi, this good for nothing, did not even remind him.
Black Eagle soldier: "Grand Marshal?"
Gu Yun casually continued: "If possible, it is best to find out who the boat owner is, pay special attention to who they regularly deal with."
The soldier had absolutely no suspicion: "Roger."
"Wait, also," Gu Yun called him, "If you find the monk, bring him to see me."
The Black Eagle soldier immediately left upon receiving his orders.
After sending him away, Gu Yun turned up the steam lamp on the table and sat down.
Jiangnan did not produce Ziliujin. If those boats indeed had problems, there were only two possible circumstances: either Jiangnan had officials selling it privately, or it came from overseas.
If it was the former, then this was quite easy to explain. Jiangnan was rich and far from the capital. Those people were simply taking advantage of the farming puppets currently being carried out to sneak in some Ziliujin for themselves. This matter could be handled by the local inspectors. It was not his place to reach into.
But if it was the latter, then he was afraid this would be complicated.
The seven major military factions of Great Liang were not weak, "Armor" and "Eagle" were the most powerful, especially. That was the accumulation of the three generations of Ling Shu Institute, pouring all their hearts and souls into building it up. In this respect, they were not inferior to the craft of Western people.
Only Dragons were different.
Although Dragons of Great Liang were meant for a naval battle, they were generally only used for coastal defense and to keep watch, rarely going out to sea. They were not similar to the giant ships of the Westerners that could brave the wind and ride the waves.
This had always been the case - when the naval commercial routes were connected to the east, west, north, and south, all the ports on the coastline were packed with Western ships. That year, under Emperor Wu's regency, Great Liang was rich in wealth and did not care about daily trades with the Westerners. It was mostly the foreigners who had come here for gold-digging.
At that time, the so-called 'trading business' was simply the other party bringing their products to the port. They only had to open the door, keep some of the goods, and reward the other party with pocket money.
As for the current Emperor and his father before him, although they had recognized the profits of the sea transportation business and harbored great enthusiasm for it, unfortunately, as the Northwest frontline was always unstable, the naval defense plan of the giant Dragons was pushed back. If it was not due to the lack of funds, it was due to the lack of Ziliujin.
If the boat was actually involved in the private selling of Ziliujin, it would very likely threaten the coastal defense of the Eastern Sea.
There was also that monk Liao Ran who had led them to the boat. Was it unintentional? Or was it his plan all along?
In just a short amount of time, Gu Yun's vision had already become more and more blurred. He found the liuli glass at his chest and temporarily put it on his nose. At least this way, one eye could see clearly.
Gu Yun smiled sadly and thought to himself: "What should I do now?"
Chang Geng fled back to his own room, his heartbeat still unsteady. When he pushed the door open and saw a monk, his heart instantly tensed up again. He quickly closed the door and lowered his voice: "Master, how come you are here?"
Then, Liao Ran put his hands together and smiled: "Amitabha, there is no place that this monk cannot enter."
This monk must have been trained to come and go at any time without a trace; the inspector's manor was no different. He truly resembled a god.
The monk signed to Chang Geng: "Perhaps the Marquis of Order had spared me this time, Your Highness does not have to worry."
Chang Geng wasn't worried about him. His mind was clear, figuring it out with just one thought: "Are you deliberately using me to lure him here? What is there to see in Ying Tian Manor?"
Liao Ran looked at him with great appreciation. He slowly extended his hands to sign: "The Eastern Sea demon is transforming into a dragon. This monk came with the purpose of bringing divine punishment onto it."
What was he suggesting? Was Wei Wang going to rebel?
Or was there something else?
Instantly, several thoughts flew by Chang Geng's heart. He was long since aware that this monk was immersed in the mortal world. He did not expect him to be immersed so deeply, and a layer of suspicion and caution could not help but rise up in his eyes.
However, before he could ask more questions, Liao Ran made a gesture for Chang Geng to keep up with him and jumped out of the window. Chang Geng hesitated, then grabbed his sword and followed along.
Chang Geng chased after the monk to the outside of the city. It was already deep into the night, the surroundings were quiet, and only the faint sound of the wooden cart patrolling in the city could be heard. He then stopped and called out to the other: "Master, please slow down your footsteps."
Liao Ran came to a stop.
Chang Geng spoke slowly, not a trace of anger in his attitude. He was gentle and courteous, similar to how he used to sit quietly in the meditation room that year while sipping Ku Ding tea.
Only his hand had moved to the hilt of his sword. The blade could be unsheathed at any moment and easily pierce the monk into a meat skewer.
Chang Geng: "I have had the chance to converse with Master a lot these days. I have also had much to gain from these talks. I know that Master's heart goes out to the civilians in this country, you are not one to stay still in a temple, discussing Buddha's teachings only in theory."
"As for my origin, perhaps Master has also heard about it. The Marquis' might is displayed for thousands of miles, a renowned general for this generation. But no matter what position this country has placed upon him, for me, he is still a family member with whom I am mutually dependent on to live."
"I am simply a minor character with no ability. The weapon in my hands is only enough to maintain a peaceful life for myself. I am not capable enough to dwell on the grander scheme of things."
"My heart only contains the Marquis' Manor as big as the palm of my hand and a few people, I still hope that the Master will explain clearly."
Liao Ran: "..."
He did not know how Chang Geng usually talked with Gu Yun, but for outsiders, his speeches had always remained 'few words, deep meanings'. Liao Ran had thought earlier that he already experienced it himself, but he still never expected that in this world, even words filled with murderous intent such as 'Friendship is friendship, if you dare touch Gu Yun, I will pierce you with this sword' — could be conveyed in such a calm manner.
Liao Ran looked down at his shoes. Due to excessive walking and running these few days, they had lost their original color. He tried to test the water: "Your Highness came from the line of nobility, you are kind and benevolent. Your heart should contain the vastness of heaven and earth, there is no need to degrade yourself as such."
Chang Geng remained stable, not at all moved by his words: "Men born in this world, if one could not even keep the small arc of land around them safe, then what use would it be to cast one's sight so far out?"
Liao Ran let out a bitter smile. He knew Chang Geng was not so easily fooled; he had no choice but to make a solemn vow: "Marshal Gu is the pillar of the country, pulling one strand of hair would affect the entire body, how can this monk ever dare to act out of line?"
Chang Geng's hand still remained on the hilt of the sword: "But Master still had every intention of bringing my yifu to this place."
Liao Ran said with all seriousness: "Your Highness, please come with me."
Chang Geng stared at him for a moment and lifted the sword again. He smiled and said: "Then, thank you for your trouble, Master, in leading the way to clarify this situation."
If you can't clarify it, then I will still have to pierce you.
The monk took off his outer robe and turned it inside out. His white attire actually had two sides. The inside was black, and when used to cover himself, his entire figure disappeared into the night.
Chang Geng: "..."
A question had involuntarily emerged in his heart — throughout their travel from the capital to Jiangnan, he had never seen Liao Ran change his clothes. In the end, was the inside of his robe black, or was it the result of him wearing it for a great length of time?
With this in mind, Chang Geng, who had a quirk for cleanliness, suddenly felt that there was no way he could walk alongside the monk anymore!
Dressed in his 'night clothes', Liao Ran led Chang Geng through Jiangnan, passing many small rivers and bridges, soon arriving at the Inner Canal Pier.
The passage between the sea route of Great Liang and the inland canal had been opened ten years ago. The two passages were parallel to one another, very convenient for ships to come and go. It had brought prosperity to the entire area along the seaside. In recent years though, due to heavy taxes, it appeared to be a bit depressed.
However, a dead camel was still bigger than a horse. At this time, although it was already late at night, there were still many merchant ships and boatmen rushing about on the dock.
Liao Ran waved his hand to stop Chang Geng's footsteps and said: "The Black Iron Camp already has watching eyes in front, we can't approach any further."
Chang Geng glanced at him, then took out a Qian Li Yan to look at the water.
The pier was calm; boatmen and delivery workers came and went. Some soldiers transferred from the Jiangnan garrison were standing on the shore, checking the goods. He could not see any of the Black Iron Camp's people, nor could he see any abnormalities in the water.
Chang Geng did not trust Liao Ran this time. He did not directly pose any question but observed the scene silently.
The boatmen were loading the goods, uniformly packed in thin wooden boxes. Before boarding the ship, the lid of each box had to be opened and placed onto a conveyor belt. The garrison guards would then check them over thoroughly. The checked boxes would then be transported to the other end, where several workers waited to carry the properly sealed boxes onto the ship.
A few days ago, he had heard the local people gossiping about it — the sea and river transportation terminal wasn't quite as strict on merchant ships before, but due to Jiangnan's recent implementation of farming puppets, the imperial court had distributed a large quantity of Ziliujin to the city. To prevent any private reselling, they had tightened the checking process.
As soon as one box was opened for inspection, even when separated by a hundred feet, Chang Geng still couldn't help but wrinkle his nose: "What is that scent?"
Liao Ran wrote on the tree next to them: "Compressed scented balm."
Chang Geng: "What?"
Liao Ran signed: "Your Royal Highness stayed in the Marquis of Order's manor, the balm used there must have been sent down from the imperial court, unlike the cheap goods that the civilians use."
"These are piles of an assortment of spices and herbs left over from the making of scented products, compressed into oil or paste, very strong in scent. After buying, three layers of sealed cans must be added to prevent letting the scent out. Only a small portion is required, after diluting with warm water, it can be used for several months."
"Each scented balm is only the size of a thumb, and using one for nine or ten years is not a problem, and it only costs one string of coins."
The compressed balm was too heavy in scent. After the fragrance had reached a certain degree, it completely turned into a putrid smell instead. Chang Geng's head hurt from inhaling it. He did not even have the mind to correct the monk's misunderstanding. The manor had never used balm; the washed clothes only had the scent of saponin soap.
Chang Geng raised his Qian Li Yan and suddenly saw a figure of a man on the merchant ship. His hairstyle, accessories, and clothing were different from the Central Plains people. Chang Geng recalled the knowledge of foreign countries that Liao Ran once taught him, he asked: "I seem to have just caught sight of a Dong Ying* man according to what you have told me before, then this is a merchant ship to be sent to Dong Ying... What do Dong Ying people require this much scented balms for? Take them home and cook them?"
*Dong Ying is another name for Japan
Liao Ran gave him a look filled with appreciation.
The wooden boxes containing the balms were put in a long line resembling a dragon, four or five ships hid in the dark night waiting for them, appearing even more spectacular than the merchant ships that carried fresh aquatic products and seafood docked next to them.
If a single scented balm could be used for eight to ten years, why would anyone buy this much?
Not to mention the small size of the Dong Ying islands, even the entire mass of Great Liang could not necessarily be able to use up the number of balms on these ships.
The guards on the dock were soaked with tears, holding a handkerchief to their noses, desperately urging the boatmen to hurry away with the cargo boxes. There was originally a dog that assisted the inspection, but it had soon been rendered useless by the too strong scent, lying motionlessly on the side.
Chang Geng whispered: "Might I ask Master, the dog next to the guards, what is it used for?"
"That is the 'inspection dog'," he said: "Ziliujin has a faint scent of metallic bitterness, people can't detect it, but dogs are very sensitive. Ziliujin is a matter of great importance. Back when Emperor Wu was strictly taking care of the Ziliujin black markets, inspection dogs had made great contributions and are still of use until today."
The cheap scented balms had caused the dog's eyes to turn white. Right now, it could not even sense meat and bones, let alone Ziliujin.
Chang Geng: "The Master suspects that this team of Dong Ying merchants has an ulterior purpose; thus, you have led my yifu here to investigate?"
However, before he even had time to nod, Chang Geng immediately asked: "So dare I ask the master, how do you know that my family's Marquis will come in person? And this matter should be taken care of by the local Ying Tian Manor in charge and the garrison troops of Jiangnan. He abandoned his duty to get here, how do you know that he will definitely intervene?"
"Why didn't you go find the governor or the inspectors? Why must you skip the nearby solution to reach out to the one further away and go through many troubles to bring him here from the Northwest?"
Liao Ran: "..."
He used to think that as the boy went out alone for the first time, running into such a grand conspiracy like this — when in a state of shock, it was easy to overlook many things — but he did not expect that Chang Geng was not at all shocked. From beginning to end, he only frowned once. Moreover, he even insisted on getting to the bottom of the matter.
The monk could not help but think of the rumors that when Gu Yun brought this child back from the town of Yanhui — some people had said that the barbarian rebellion in that area was pushed forward by the foster mother of the Fourth Prince. Still, His Highness had put aside familial love for the country, providing the Black Iron Camp with preparations to exterminate the barbarians.
How old would Chang Geng have been at that time? At best, he was only twelve or thirteen years old...
Suddenly Liao Ran really wanted to ask, "When Yanhui town fell into chaos, had you killed a person?". After a while, he swallowed it back down, feeling that such a question wasn't necessary.
Chang Geng quietly looked at him, and under the moonlit night, Liao Ran saw two shallow shadows from his eyes.
He knew that Chang Geng had developed a special kind of intelligence and sharpness at an early age. He thought that it was the sensitivity born from the drastic changes he had to face at a young age, combined with living at the expense of others in the capital. At this moment, the monk suddenly realized that the boy's eyes contained a dark corner that no one knew of, or had seen.
He suspected that even Gu Yun did not know.
Liao Ran's attitude became a lot more serious. After a moment of deliberation, Liao Ran slowly signed: "I knew that he would come. I also knew that when he came, he would definitely intervene. This matter is on a huge scale and cannot be handled by one small Ying Tian Manor — there are things that inside, the Marquis is also fully aware of, much like those of us."
Chang Geng blinked; he noticed that Liao Ran had just said us.
At that moment, there was suddenly a strong gust of wind behind him, Liao Ran wasn't able to react yet, but the decorative sword hanging at Chang Geng's waist had already flown out of its sheath. This was the instinctive reaction built from countless times he had crossed swords with the iron puppet.
The bright white sabre clashed with the black iron of the Wind Slasher, Chang Geng recognized that the other person was a Black Eagle soldier. The two sides then withdrew their weapons at the same time.
The soldier got down on one knee: "My apology for the sudden disturbance — the Marquis had asked your subordinates to bring Your Highness and the Master back."
Chang Geng lifted his eyebrows. How did Gu Yun know that he and Liao Ran had sneaked out to come here?
What was the 'fully aware of inside' that the monk had mentioned before?
However, Liao Ran was not surprised. He took off his ridiculous headscarf, put his hands together to express courtesy, then silently expressed his meaning without words — Thank you for your trouble.
As soon as they returned, Chang Geng was immediately sent back to his room. He did not know what Gu Yun and Liao Ran had discussed with one another, but early the next morning, a Black Eagle soldier was knocking on his door.
The soldier said: "Master Liao Ran must continue to travel, Marshal must also rush back to the Northwest, your subordinate has been ordered to escort Your Highness back to the manor, please indicate a suitable time for a convenient departure."
If he did not witness the Dong Ying merchant ships at the dock the night before, Chang Geng felt that he would have absolutely believed these words.
But before he could open his mouth, someone knocked on the wooden handrail.
The Black Eagle soldier turned back and saw the mysterious mute monk, unsure of how long he had been standing there. Liao Ran quickly used sign language at Chang Geng, telling him to wait a bit, then directly reached out to push open the door to Gu Yun's room.
The soldier and Chang Geng were both stunned — the monk did not knock on the door at all!
If it wasn't for the fact that the entire Marquis' Manor knew that Gu Yun hated bald heads, Chang Geng would almost believe that the relationship between the two was not ordinary.
Perhaps he was afraid of being kicked out by force, for after opening the door, he did not enter the room directly but only stood outside and paid his respect to the person inside.
Gu Yun actually did not pay it any mind. Only an impatient voice was heard: "What does the Master have in mind?"
Liao Ran signed: "Marshal, the young bird did not grow up in a golden cage, let alone this time, you are still in need of a few attendants to avoid the people's eyes and ears. Why not bring His Highness with you? The former emperor left the title of Yan Bei and the status of a Jun Wang for His Highness. After a year or two, he should also enter the Imperial Court."
Gu Yun replied coldly: "The Master has extended your reach quite far out."
At this time, Liao Ran took a step forward and suddenly crossed the room's entrance. He seemed to make a gesture to Gu Yun where others could not see.
Inside the room, Gu Yun suddenly became silent.
Chang Geng heard that Cao Niangzi whispered behind him: "What do you mean? Where is the Marshal taking us?"
Suddenly, his heart was pounding like mad. Chang Geng knew full well, with Gu Yun's personality, there was no chance that the man would agree to take him along. He soon assumed that he must choose between 'secretly following him, acting on his own' or 'obediently returning to the capital and not worry him'; he had never hoped that Gu Yun would let him come.
But this time, with a sense of hope suddenly ignited within him, a layer of sweat involuntarily broke out in his palms.
Even when confronted with the barbarians, he was not so nervous.
After a long while, he heard Gu Yun sigh: "It's fine to come along, but do not leave my side, do what we had discussed before."
Ge Pang Xiao and Cao Niangzi let out their cheers even though they did not know where they were going and what for; Chang Geng lowered his head and coughed, trying to suppress the happy and innocent smile on his lips. At the same time, another question floated in his heart — what did Liao Ran say to Gu Yun?
Was there anyone in this world that could convince his yifu?
Not long after, a ragged carriage went in the direction of the suburbs.
Inside, there was a monk, a 'weak scholarly' master, who brought two servants and a little girl with him. All the Eagle units that had been with Gu Yun before had all disappeared.
Chang Geng couldn't help but look at Gu Yun. He had taken off all his armors and changed into a high-necked robe with large flowing sleeves; the wound on his neck was also hidden. He did not tie his hair up, letting it scatter down like a mockery to the bald driver. A piece of black cloth covered his eyes.
As the upper half of his face could not be seen, Chang Geng found that his attention had involuntarily stayed on yifu's pale lips. He forced himself to divert his eyes somewhere else and retracted his gaze.
Ge Pang Xiao couldn't help but ask: "Marquis sir, why must you disguise yourself as such?"
Gu Yun slightly turned his head in his direction and pointed to one ear, seriously saying: "I am deaf, don't talk to me."
Ge Pang Xiao: "..."
No one knew whose idea it was, but Gu Yun intended to use the identity of a fragrance expert to mix into the boats currently carrying scented balms.
Some folks in the fragrance business believed that the five senses would hinder the sense of smell, they would make little children blind and deaf, only relying on their sense of smell to live. The fragrance experts cultivated in this way were of the highest class, the common folks referred to them as 'fragrant master'. Once they had successfully graduated, even hundreds and thousands of gold was difficult to use to invite one.
Gu Yun blindfolded his eyes and pretended that he was deaf. From the time he went out, he even asked others not to talk to him, wholeheartedly playing this role.
When they arrived at the dock, someone was already waiting there to welcome them. Chang Geng lifted the curtain of the carriage and saw a short middle-aged man pleasantly smiling in their direction: "Mister Zhang was a bit late, did something happen on the way?"
There was no telling whose identity Gu Yun was currently using for himself; Chang Geng suspected that the genuine fragrant master was already kidnapped by the Black Eagle soldiers while on his way. His expression did not change. He only put his hands together and said, "My apologies, the eyes and ears of our master are inconvenient."
The middle-aged man was stunned; Gu Yun reached out and patted Chang Geng's arm, then extended his hand for the boy to lead him.
Chang Geng quickly caught his hand, at the same time he was puzzled: Even if it was only pretending, his eyes are still blindfolded. How come his movements do not have any hint of inconvenience?
He did not even feel around first before reaching for Chang Geng, as if he was long used to not being able to see.
However, this doubt only flashed by for a moment. When Gu Yun stepped out of the carriage, he had to bend down slightly and almost fell into Chang Geng's arms. As he had suddenly removed all his armor, his figure seemed a bit slim; Chang Geng had an illusion that just by reaching out, he could gather the man into his arms.
This made his mouth and throat quickly become dry, his sharp wits when questioning Liao Ran before were gone without a trace, and he was only able to maintain his calmness on the surface. With the thoughts in his head running astray, unable to stop and in a daze at the same time, he led Gu Yun in front of the middle-aged man.
The man's expression quickly flashed with suspicion and caution, he said, "My apologies for not knowing you are a 'fragrant master'. We are just a small business, selling scented balms worth a few coins a can, how could we ever invite someone such as yourself..."
His words were not finished, but several men dressed in boatmen clothing had turned around, each of their eyes shone brightly, their temples slightly bulging*. One could tell by just a glance that there was no way these men were just boatmen.
*bulging temples are a sign that they are well-trained martial artists.
Chang Geng bowed his head slightly, stepped forward, subtly hid Gu Yun's hand behind him, and then wrote in Gu Yun's palm: "Master, they asked of our origin."