Even with the sound of strong breeze grazing past and horseshoes slamming on the ground, Shen Yi was still able to make out that something was wrong inside the carriage. He urged his horse to catch up with Gu Yun, using one hand to cover his chest and imitating the action of being nauseated, making a signal with his eyes - what are we going to do if that man vomits?
Gu Yun vaguely showed a smile, clearly expressing his meaning — serves him right, he can clean it up himself.
The reason for Gu Yun's trip to the South was because Commander Fu Zhi Cheng's family recently had a grand funeral. General Fu's elderly mother had just passed away, he had brought forth his request to return his plaque in order to come home to attend his mother's funeral, to express his filial piety.
The 'funeral' was in fact, simply an excuse that was neither here nor there, whether one attended or not was not of importance, they could easily make up a reason not to attend. But the high-ranking officials at the frontier had never done so before.
If the commander returned home for a few years, who would be responsible if war was to break out?
Moreover, in the entire Great Liang, there was no one who did not know of General Fu's background as a bandits' leader. It was the old marquis who had thoroughly defeated him into surrender, and he was then later recruited into the official military ranks.
On several occasions when having an audience with His Majesty, he had often been unable to restrain himself and let out a number of crude curse words. He was not one to pay particular attention to mannerisms.
General Fu was clearly dissatisfied with the Drumming Order, combined with the flood situation in the South this year, he had chosen this opportunity as the Southern front line had been plunged into horrible chaos, to abandon his duty, threatening the Imperial Court.
Sitting in the carriage was the personnel of the Ministry of War, Master Sun Jiao, a loyal supporter of the drumming order. The Emperor sent him as an imperial supervisor, to 'appease' the subject. But unexpectedly, Master Sun had cowered in fear, expressing to His Majesty while in tears - that he had fully prepared himself to sacrifice for the country in this trip, and once he departed, there would be no return.
His Majesty had no other choice but to send a gold medal order straight to the Northwest, throwing this messy state of affairs and a good-for-nothing burden to Gu Yun.
Gu Yun had spent all year round exhausting himself wiping the Emperor's behind, his temper hadn't been good, he was not able to reason with His Majesty, and could only torment Master Yao without shame.
This time as he was conveniently passing by Sichuan, Gu Yun had asked someone to write a letter to Chen Qing Xu, planning to meet with her here.
In recent years, he had become more and more aware of the decrease in effectiveness of the medicine the old Doctor Chen prescribed to him in the past. Before, one dose would be able to get him through four to five days, but as of right now, it had come to the point where he had to take his medicine every other day.
While traversing along the official road, Gu Yun had noticed from a distance away that there was a young man walking his horse on the roadside. He did not pay attention at the beginning, but just when he passed by, he accidentally caught sight of the young man, catching the other's gaze just in time.
It was only a glimpse. Gu Yun's godlike steed had already surged forward a great distance, he did not have time to react yet when he instinctively pulled on the reins.
The horse let out a long neigh, its front hooves leaped up high then landed back on the ground, turning in a half circle. Gu Yun stopped, staring at the young man who appeared quite familiar, yet at the same time, he did not dare to call out to him.
"How could there be such a coincidence," Gu Yun thought with hesitation. "Did I recognize the wrong person from missing him too much?"
Shen Yi caught up to him: "How... oh!"
The Black Iron Camp's soldier following Chang Geng finally returned to reality, he quickly dismounted and said: "Marshal!"
Gu Yun's horse seemed to be startled, its front hoof was lifted up slightly, panting hard as its leg tapped the ground.
Chang Geng was afraid that at this moment, even if someone were to throw him into a mountain of tranquilizer, it would still not be able to stop his heart from trembling greatly inside his chest. He sat numbly on his horse for a moment, his mind blank, the sharp tongue which could make a lotus bloom now bore a blossom of a tyrannical flower, blocking all his words inside.
He could only rely on instinct, revealing a stiff smile.
Gu Yun called in a low voice: "Chang Geng?"
These two words exploded, blowing up and ringing in Chang Geng's ear. He rubbed his nose from the embarrassment of his inability to calm down: "I coincidentally traveled to Sichuan and happened to hear from Miss Chen that yifu will arrive in these two days, I had decided to rest here for a while. How timely, I was going for a stroll, I did not expect to be able to meet with you here."
The little soldier on the side thought in astonishment: "Bathing and changing into new clothes, indicating the exact time and location every day...just for a stroll?"
He looked intently at Chang Geng's unremarkable horse, suspecting that it was a godly steed hidden under its ordinary exterior.
At this moment, the door slammed open, Master Sun thoroughly ignored the moving scene of father and son reunion after many years of separation, and hurriedly rushed out to vomit.
Chang Geng's suffocating breath finally returned to his chest again. He tilted his head and glanced at the Ministry of War's official who appeared like an ill chicken, asking in a gentle voice while pretending to sound surprised: "Why, did I say something disgusting?"
Gu Yun laughed.
In the past few years, although he was somewhat aware of Chang Geng's whereabouts, he did not expect for the other boy to turn out like this, it seemed as if he had been reborn anew.
Gu Yun momentarily forgot about their anger-filled separation from last time, about the lingering frustration, their cold war, and his perseverance to send people to keep an eye on Chang Geng's whereabouts.
He was astonished from being able to recognize Chang Geng and stopping in time, because the boy was truly different — each of his movements, to his behaviors, to the smile on his face, everything had changed.
Time had once again shrunk in front of his eyes, Gu Yun calculated with his fingers — how could he not change, it has been more than four years already.
Shen Yi came over and smiled: "My gods, the little prince is already... do you still remember me?"
Chang Geng: "Greetings, General Shen."
Shen Yi said: "If it were me, I wouldn't be able to recognize you. Only your yifu, missing you so much every day, he would always take a longer look whenever he caught sight of someone slightly resembling you..."
Gu Yun could no longer bear it, he interrupted: "Where did you find so much nonsense?"
Shen Yi looked back and forth, laughing out loud. He then proceeded to usher his horse over to Master Sun, and bent down to put him back on the carriage. He reached out and waved his hand in front of the man: "Master Sun, are you still alright? Hold on for a while longer, we will arrive at the inn soon."
Master Sun leaned on the cart, panting heavily, quickly tensing up again.
But Master Sun soon discovered that Chang Geng was his savior. Since the encounter with Chang Geng on the road, these animals of the Black Iron Camp switched from rushing to walking, as casual as going for a leisurely stroll, even the sound of the horse hooves had become gentler.
Chang Geng led the group back to the inn. There were not many rooms; even after renting the entire establishment, at least two people must share a room. Gu Yun said: "I am going to my son's place, give my single room to Officer Sun."
Sun Jiao instinctively said with reluctance: "No, no, how could I dare let Marshal lower himself..."
Shen Yi patted his shoulder from behind, lowered his voice, and said to Sun Jiao: "Master, please just accept it, his mood has improved since meeting with His Highness, or would you prefer to see his 'I'm about to take your puny life' expression more?"
Sun Jiao: "..."
The sweat in Chang Geng's palms had not disappeared. Several times on the way here, the horse's reins had almost slipped out of his hands. It was as if he was in a drunken state. He understood that he must stay sober, but he could not help but indulge in it.
Before seeing Gu Yun, he was hesitating between 'leaving' or 'staying'. After seeing Gu Yun, his mind had become blank.
Gu Yun finally remembered the old debt; as soon as he entered the room and closed the door, his expression immediately darkened: "You have become more and more disrespectful, the old butler said you have not once returned to the manor in the past four years. Last time when I entered the palace to report, His Majesty even asked me about it directly, how was I supposed to explain?"
In the past, Chang Geng would feel nervous whenever Gu Yun's expression became slightly off. He would either instantly admit to his mistakes or would want to talk back. After not seeing him for so many years, Chang Geng was surprised to find that all the restraint and panic in his heart had disappeared. All of Gu Yun's emotions, regardless of whether he was angry or happy, Chang Geng wished nothing more than to engrave them all into his eyes.
Four years ago, he had endured immense pain, forcing himself to stay composed and said to Gu Yun: "The manor cannot hold me back."
Four years later, he looked at Gu Yun, revealing just the right amount of affection: "With yifu gone, there is no meaning in my return."
Gu Yun: "..."
He was not able to stay angry for more than three sentences. After hearing these words from Chang Geng, he could no longer maintain his cold face, his stone heart was softened into a piece of cotton.
Gu Yun turned his attention to the small room. There were a few medical books on the table; he picked one up then casually flipped through it: "Why were you reading these?"
Chang Geng: "I followed Miss Chen to learn about medicine. "
Gu Yun was surprised, thinking to himself: "Did the Lin Yuan Pavilion bunch say something to him?"
Then he secretly smiled: first of all, feeling that this thought of his was more or less only him overestimating himself, and secondly, people of the Lin Yuan Pavilion were not at all the talkative type.
Chang Geng: "I had wanted to be well-educated in medicine, to be able to take good care of my yifu in the future. But unfortunately, my talent is limited, I only know the basics."
Gu Yun: "..."
"How sweet is this kid's mouth?" he thought helplessly. "How deadly."
After many years of guarding the Silk Road, Gu Yun's spirit of wanting to bare his talents for all to see had gradually disappeared, resembling a godly weapon that had been returned to its scabbard. The two men did not mention the frustrating argument from last time, instead, peacefully caught up and told each other about what they had seen during these past years.
While talking, Chang Geng suddenly found that his side had gone quiet, he gathered his courage and turned his head to take a look next to him — the inn's bed was quite small, so half of Gu Yun's body seemed to be hanging off of it. The blanket only covered a corner of him, and his leg almost reached the end. He had one hand behind his head, lying in the posture of momentary rest, but had unknowingly fallen asleep.
Chang Geng instantly stopped talking. He stared intently at Gu Yun's profile for a long time in the darkness.
He raised his hand, then retracted it again, after repeating this several times, his fingers hesitantly stayed in the air. He did not know how long it took for him to still his trembling breath, then gently hugged Gu Yun's waist, patting as lightly as sweeping off dust while whispering: "Yifu, move inside a little, you are about to fall off the bed."
Gu Yun was awakened by him but quickly recognized where he currently was. He made an 'mm' sound in response; with his eyes remaining closed, he followed Chang Geng's hand and moved inside, whispering in a low tone: "Falling asleep in the middle of talking... not old yet but the body has already grown senile."
Chang Geng helped pull the blanket up and undid the hair crown for him: "It was because I placed a tranquilizer next to the pillow, you have also travelled in a rush. Sleep now."
This time there was no response, he truly did fall asleep.
The space in the bed was very narrow, when whispering in a low voice, it suddenly created the illusion of an intimate embrace. Chang Geng almost bowed his head and kissed Gu Yun's temple, as if this was naturally the right thing to do.
However, he immediately realized the insolence of his thought; he quickly laid back down properly.
The tranquilizer seemed to have taken effect, Gu Yun was sleeping soundly in a relaxed state. But it seemed to be picky when it came to its effectiveness. For Chang Geng, it was utterly useless. With Gu Yun lying next to him, whenever he closed his eyes, he always felt that this was only a dream, he could not help himself from opening his eyes again to confirm it was indeed reality.
After repeating several times, the small bit of drowsiness had vanished in thin air. Chang Geng simply did not sleep and quietly looked at Gu Yun.
Looked at him throughout the night.
The next morning, Chen Qing Xu arrived. She first used the dying Master Sun as a teaching example, then tossed him over for Chang Geng to play with... no, to take care of — then went to meet Gu Yun.
Chang Geng only glanced at her figure from behind as she moved upstairs. His behavior did not show the slightest hint of difference, as if he was not at all curious.
Shen Yi was looking at Chang Geng's medical books in Gu Yun's house. Miss Chen did not ask about the symptoms; she first gave him a check-up, then said after a while: "Did the Marquis' vision weaken compared to before?"
Gu Yun: "I was supposed to take the medicine yesterday, but since I wanted Miss Chen to take a look, I did not drink any."
Chen Qing Xu was deep in thought for a moment: "That year when my grandfather prescribed this medicine for the Marquis, he must have advised you that this is not the antidote. I am afraid it will not be able to last long."
Gu Yun did not appear to be surprised either, he only asked, "How much time do I have left?"
Chen Qing Xu said earnestly: "If the Marquis could restrain from taking the medicine now on, it may be able to work for a few more years."
"I'm afraid that is not possible," Gu Yun said. "What about increasing the dosage or perhaps changing to a new prescription?"
Chen Qing Xu had yet to answer when Shen Yi solemnly said: "The medicine also carries poison; you have already taken it with diligence. Changing to a new type of medicine would only mean changing to a new type of risk, it would not be much different than quenching thirst with poisonous water, would it?"
"That is correct." Chen Qing Xu said, "The Chen family calls ourselves doctors, yet throughout all these years, we were unable to find a cure for Marshal's eyes and ears, how embarrassing."
Gu Yun smiled and said: "What is Miss Chen saying, it is I who have troubled you and your family."
Chen Qing Xu shook her head: "We have been trapped in the Central Plains for too long, always assuming that the barbarians were ignorant. Marquis, please give me a few more years, I intend to leave the country in these few days. Perhaps by chance, I could figure out a solution."
Gu Yun was shocked as he heard this. He made an arrangement to meet with Miss Chen here in Sichuan. In addition to finding someone from the Chen family to confirm his situation, he mainly wanted to use this opportunity to stay for two days to let certain people know that he was coming.
He did not require a young lady like Miss Chen to solve the problem which even her grandfather wasn't able to do anything about. He quickly said:
"Miss Chen you mustn't, I will be alright regardless if I can see and hear or not. The Northern Barbarians and our country have been enemies for generations. If you are risking your life for this trivial problem of mine, how could I explain to the Chen family in the future?"
Chen Qing Xu did not answer, only took from her small bag a handwritten pamphlet: "This is a set of acupuncture procedures I’ve invented and refined myself. It is useless, but it could alleviate the headache caused by the medicine. His Highness followed me to study acupuncture for a while, he can understand them."
Seeing Gu Yun's frown, Chen Qing Xu added: "I did not tell him, he figured it out on his own."
Gu Yun's expression changed several times, then finally sighed. His head had already started aching.
Chen Qing Xu gave some words of advice in a few sentences, then found a pen and paper, writing down two prescriptions for nourishment: "Something is still better than nothing, I will be taking my leave now. Marquis, please take care."
"Wait," Gu Yun called out to her. "About leaving the country, Miss Chen please think it over carefully."
Chen Qing Xu looked back at him, her ice-cold face revealed a small rare smile.
"This is not entirely due to the Marquis' illness. It's just that in this world, there are certain things one must complete. Allow me to say a few boastful words, although we are numbered and our abilities are limited, our hearts share the same thoughts as the Marquis.
"I was born in the Chen family, entered the way of Lin Yuan. How could I dare to hang on to the shadows of my ancestors and lag behind their backs for the future to come?," she said, "Marquis sir, we will meet again."
Afterwards, she did not wait for Gu Yun to talk anymore and directly walked down the stairs.
Chang Geng had understood manners from his years traveling the pugilist world, he stepped over and said: "Miss Chen, let me see you off."
Chen Qing Xu waved her hands, then took a look at his face. Even though he was young and strong, and he would be alright even if he missed one night of sleep, the traces could still be seen on his face.
Chen Qing Xu: "Why, was the tranquilizer not effective?"
Chang Geng smiled bitterly: "It is my own problem."
Chen Qing Xu pondered about it: "I always told you to stay calm, but the truth is, I don't know what it is in your heart that cannot be calm. Perhaps it is better said than done — people cannot avoid having emotions and desire. If you can't restrain yourself, it is better to let it go naturally with the flow."
Chang Geng was startled, involuntarily pouted, thinking to himself: "How could this matter 'go with the flow'?"
After leaving behind the sentence 'go naturally with the flow’, she immediately went on her way, leaving Chang Geng in a state of perplexity for the entire day.
Gu Yun stayed in the small inn for two more days. Sun Jiao wanted to move quickly. But as he remembered the days of rocky roads and the speed as fast as flying causing one's intestines to flip upside down, he did not dare to open his mouth to urge them.
Unexpectedly, as they continued to be on the move again, Gu Yun had changed from the life-risking speed from before, with the Fourth Prince as a new addition to their group who glued himself to Marshal Gu all day — they moved as relaxed as strolling in springtime scenery. Occasionally, they would even join in with groups of merchants returning from the North.
In the Southern Frontier, the people were naturally born tough and strong, the bandits were rampaging. Officer Sun's mission to 'appease the subject' was, in reality, simply an excuse. He intended to use the might of the Marquis of Order to grasp hold of evidence of Fu Zhi Cheng - although being an officer of the imperial court yet colluding with the mountain bandits - to use the Southern Frontier as a breakthrough to call forth the very first Drumming Order.
But since their arrival in Sichuan, Gu Yun had made various delays to the journey. From Sichuan to the border were Fu Zhi Cheng's territories. The snakehead may have already been aware of their whereabouts, how were they supposed to catch him off guard?
This time, Master Sun no longer felt nauseous, but instead felt so anxious that his blood was bubbling inside.
Shen Yi quietly said to Gu Yun: "Offending the righteous but cannot offend the mischievous, you messed with him enough already. Be careful or else he will paint you in a bad light upon returning to the imperial court."
Gu Yun smiled.
Seeing this indifferent smile, he could not help but want to break out in a long speech, but unexpectedly, Gu Yun whispered: "Neither the righteous nor the mischievous are the problem."
Shen Yi responded with frustration: "Causing disasters is the problem."
Gu Yun did not pay attention to him, suppressing his voice a little lower: "That person is the problem... It is best for me to not play well with the Ministry of War, do you not understand?"
Shen Yi was dumbfounded for a long time, then sighed and did not say anything any further.
When did the ever so prideful Marshal Gu begin to understand how to read between the lines?
Gu Yun: "Not listening to you the old maid anymore, I will go look for my son."
After saying this, he ushered his horse forward, thoroughly ignoring Shen Yi.
Shen Yi: "..."
He felt that the two were becoming more and more nauseating.
The southern areas had green hills on both sides, there was not much difference between autumn and winter. The scenery remained lush, with a small winding path in the middle, curling up with the shape of the mountain, one could not make out where it ended in the distance.
Gu Yun with a whip in hand, as if directing a country, casually explained to Chang Geng: "Those of us belonging to the military are always filled with anxiousness whenever we are in the face of locations such as this. If the other side had set up ambush, marching directly into it, we could only be beaten up — even in the territory of Great Liang, these places are generally very easy for bandits to take over..."
His last word was not even finished, but they could already hear the sharp noises of a signaling whistle from afar.
Shen Yi said tiredly: "Marshal, are you a black crow in human form?"