He kept silent for a long time. When Chang Geng was feeling some insensible tension, Gu Yun suddenly opened his mouth and said, "Already kissed, already hugged, what else do you want me to say? Men talking too much will have no time to do other things, do you understand?”
Chang Geng was stunned, but Gu Yun already reached out a finger towards the half-dead steam lamp at the head of the bed, immediately turning it off. The day was not yet at dawn, the room went dark. The bed curtain, which was usually hung up, fell down as if it could cover the sky and earth, blown slightly by the cool morning wind penetrating through the window.
Chang Geng was not able to respond but his waist was already freed, he was unsure when his belt was pulled away. Before he could recover from the oath of 'sea of flame and mountain of swords', his face instantly blushed red.
"Zi, Zi Xi…”
Gu Yun casually made a sound in response, impatiently throwing the silk cloth out of his hand, idly leaning on the soft pile of blankets, his fingertips caressing across the hem of Chang Geng's clothing: "That time at the hot spring, you said you thought of doing certain things that were out of the norm with me...what was it that you thought of?”
Chang Geng: "..."
"Aren't you very good at talking?" Gu Yun said with a low laugh, "Let's hear it."
Chang Geng had never seen this kind of flirting that was teasing at the same time, his tongue tied in a knot: "I... I... "
"On this matter, you can't just simply think about it." Gu Yun caressed Chang Geng's waist through a layer of clothing, touching at the root of his thighs not too hard yet not too light. Chang Geng almost jumped up, unable to breathe, grabbing Gu Yun's vile hand running rampant everywhere, a fire burning from his stomach to his throat. He felt that he was going to burn into ashes.
Gu Yun had pushed open the hem of his clothing.
When his chest felt cold, Chang Geng suddenly realized it. He pushed Gu Yun's hand back, but it was too late. Large and small scars under his chest and neck were suddenly uncovered. When touched by the callused fingers, there was no need to describe how it would feel. On one hand, Chang Geng could not help but avoid it, on the other hand, his mouth was dry, and his ears were buzzing, wondering whether he should advance or retreat.
Gu Yun had been traveling for days, then waited for the entire night at the bedside. The last bit of effectiveness of the medicine unfortunately had worn off at this moment, and his vision became blurred. However, the atmosphere was great, and he could not put on the liuli glass. Wearing it was just like a Mechanic preparing to take apart the steel armor, destroying the mood.
At this time, he relied solely on the touch of his hands and skimmed over the bumpy scars on Chang Geng's body. It was more painful than seeing them with his own eyes.
Gu Yun: "Did it hurt?"
Chang Geng lowered his head and looked at him deeply. He answered the wrong question, "They have already been scars for a long time."
Gu Yun's heart was filled with all kinds of emotions for a moment, even the surging desire subsided. He narrowed his gradually blurring eyes and rubbed his fingers carefully on the scars. Chang Geng truly could not bear it, he sobbed softly and clasped Gu Yun's wrist.
"Don’t be afraid," Gu Yun coaxed, "Let me love you."
If this half-blind could see Chang Geng’s expression, he would probably not say the words ‘don’t be afraid’.
Chang Geng bent down to kiss him. Gu Yun was kissed until fire was surging, wanting to turn over and take this man on the spot. Suddenly, he did not know what was wrong with Chang Geng, but he blurted out: "Yifu..."
Gu Yun: "..."
This word from Chang Geng caused him to instantly soften. No matter how great his passion and desire was, they were rolled up into a ball and forced into an iron cage.
Gu Yun took several breaths and wanted to shout at Chang Geng, "What are you calling on this occasion?" But in retrospect, the other was not wrong either.
He heard that some men like this kind of taboo feeling of reciting virtue in private, most willing to let their lovers call them this and that in bed. Unfortunately, Gu Yun had no such hobby and could not understand it completely. During this past year and a half, he finally got used to Chang Geng directly calling him by name and gradually stopped looking at him as a son. Who knew that at a crucial moment, suddenly encountering the word 'yifu', he truly bumped into it until his head was dizzy.
Chang Geng seemed unaware of his discomfort and could not restrain himself from calling him a few more times, kissing him without any proper order. There was a hint of respect inside intimacy, making this old hooligan feel like he was sitting on needles, together with the title of ‘yifu’, it had a great effect.
Gu Yun seemed to have ants crawling up and down all over. Finally, he could not bear it any longer and tilted his head to the side. "Don't call me that."
Chang Geng stopped and stared at him quietly for a moment. Suddenly, he dropped close to his ear and said, "Yifu, if you can't see clearly, close your eyes, alright?"
Gu Yun could hear this even if he was any deafer, let alone when he had not yet gone completely deaf: "... How energetic are you?”
Chang Geng's eyes shone brightly inside the dark curtain of the bed. He disobediently pressed his voice low and gentle, saying in his ear in the tone of acting spoiled: "Yifu, you said at that time, 'even after arriving in the capital, you will still protect me'. Does yifu remember?"
Gu Yun's face changed several times. He could not resist Chang Geng's new tactic of using him as entertainment. He had to plan a strategic retreat and pushed him away. Gu Yun said, "Alright, don't be shameless. Do what you were supposed to...Ah!"
"What am I supposed to do?" Chang Geng pressed him back again with the help of his previous posture. His hand had reached behind Gu Yun's back. When fixing a certain person’s bones at Jiayu Gate, he had already touched it all. At this time, he suddenly acted with the stable precision of a doctor. Gu Yun trembled violently. Instinctively, he wanted to curl up, but Chang Geng had pressed on several of his acupoints. Half of his body was tingling, only now did Chang Geng casually say the second half of the sentence, "Didn't yifu just ask for a sick leave for me, wanting to love me and dote on me?"
Gu Yun: “...Bastard!”
Chang Geng turned a deaf ear, stretched out, and approached closer, determinedly using the evasive position to spread Gu Yun’s legs apart with his knee. Gu Yun felt goosebumps all over, pushing Chang Geng’s shoulder away with his palm. He grabbed the hand that was touching him and locked his arm behind his back.
Chang Geng did not resist either, his body as soft as cotton, letting Gu Yun bend him however he pleased. He lifted his head slightly, revealing his weak neck, speaking in the tone of acting spoiled: “Yifu, do you want me?”
Gu Yun continued to hesitate, in the end, he was not able to overcome the emotional wall inside. His hands loosened, letting Chang Geng break free like a fish, coming closer once more.
Chang Geng hugged him, caressing lower along his spine, whispering in his ear: “Then let me serve yifu, alright?”
Gu Yun: "..."
He found himself in a disadvantageous situation this year, continuously having his boat overturned in a pond.
In the twinkling of an eye, the sky was bright, and the sun was hanging high.
The brilliant early summer ray of light penetrated through the bed curtain, Chang Geng's eyes were brighter than the sunshine. He really understood what was ‘delusional after many years, momentarily turning mad’. Nightmares were more terrible than reality, but reality was much crazier than a spring dream.
But after this madness, he did not feel empty at all. He was very stable. He had never been this stable in his life. His hands wandered on Gu Yun endlessly, continuing to call for Gu Yun in his ear. He could also feel that he was being annoying, but he just could not control himself and stop.
Sometimes he called 'yifu', sometimes 'Zi Xi', drilling into his ear, making the deaf man whose medicine had worn off forced to listen. Gu Yun also felt the endless heat around his ear. Just now he had missed the opportunity, being tossed about by this kid. At the moment, he was both sleepy and tired yet the other did not even let him sleep. There was no room to talk about right or wrong, He brushed him off unhappily: "Don't make a ruckus!"
Chang Geng caught a glance at his tired face, obediently closing his mouth and gently pressing his waist. His strength was just right, not only relieving the exhaustion but also not touching Gu Yun's magical ticklish flesh.
Gu Yun: "..."
Turned out he had always been deliberate!
Did that woman surnamed Chen teach him how to cure illness or heretical arts!
Gu Yun was just about to combust when suddenly, Chang Geng frowned. He gently pressed his palm on the area of Gu Yun's chest and abdominal bones, then checked his pulse at his wrist.
Gu Yun said angrily, "Did you not see enough..."
Chang Geng: “When did you get these new injuries?”
Gu Yun: "..."
Oh no, it seemed that aside from heretical arts, surname Chen had also taught him true knowledge, he could even feel this one out!
In the time of crisis, Gu Yun had to use the trick ‘I am deaf, I can't hear anything’, turning over innocently with his back to Chang Geng, indicating that he had fallen asleep, other people could kneel aside.
Chang Geng checked him from top to bottom, but after all, the scary wound had passed for some time. First of all, Chang Geng's medical skill was not as godly as Chen Qing Xu's. Second, Gu Yun's wound had been healed by seventy to eighty percent. Unable to find any abnormality, thus they both continued to fool the other.
His Royal Highness took his sick leave all day. The Grand Council with a number of important ministers sent their men and regards. All of them were sent off by Huo Dan. As someone from the military, the commander’s words were absolute. He ordered that no one must disturb, thus he did not dare to let anyone come disturb. He silently stood at the door serving as a gate god. At the same time, he was still puzzled about how the Marshal came in. With nothing to do, he reinforced the lacking Marquis' Manor guards.
Gu Yun rushed back two days earlier as if he was going to be reborn, staying awake for the entire night. After many troubles, he finally managed to eat some meat, but the position was completely wrong, almost choking him to death. Too exhausted, he slept until the afternoon. After waking up, both his body and mind still felt very strange, he did not know who was the one on sick leave here.
He was about to get angry, but feeling that getting angry over something so trivial was too small-hearted, he had to hold back and think to himself, Next time, I must sew his mouth shut.
Gu Yun fumbled around for his liuli glass, but he did not know where the little thing disappeared to. Not able to find it even after searching for a while, he was suddenly being held by a warm hand.
Chang Geng leaned over to his ear and said, "General Shen and the others haven't arrived yet. You don't have to go out today. Don't use the medicine, alright? Let me take care of you."
Gu Yun did not use it much either, it did not matter much, he nodded: "No need for taking care, I'm used to it. I can't find my glasses. Go and get me a new one."
Chang Geng hugged him and said, "It was me who took the liuli glass."
The relationship between the two seemed to have undergone an indescribable and subtle change.
In fact, since childhood, when they were just father and son, the relationship between them was already very close, and until Chang Geng's inner desire was released, Gu Yun first softened down and compromised, and even fell deeply into it. His family letters and war reports always went hand in hand together, and his affection could not be said to be shallow...
However, it was not the same as the fierce ecstasy of this moment, it seemed that even if the outside enemy surrounded the capital once more, it could all be forgotten, heaven and earth had disappeared, no longer caring about anything else.
Gu Yun asked in bewilderment, "What are you taking my liuli glass for?"
Chang Geng laughed and said, "I like it."
Afterwards, he helped Gu Yun dress and carefully bent down to put on his shoes for him, it was all very dedicated and caring.
His Royal Highness all day wearing plain robes, saying no to desire, resembling a monk, those who did not know would think about how upright he was. However, after this battle, Gu Yun was able to experience it. Under this person's civilized appearance was a mountain of desire that normal people could not understand.
Liked what? Liked him being blind?
Chang Geng did not speak very loudly. In order to let Gu Yun hear, he always whispered into his ear. Such sentences as ‘Be careful about the threshold’ and so on would feel intimate. As he walked to the door, Gu half-blind instinctively reached for the door frame but was intercepted gently by his hand. Chang Geng casually said, "Don't touch anything else, just hold on to me."
This unprecedented sense of complete control had made Chang Geng crazy; he was unwilling to let go for even a moment. After a couple of sentences, he would come closer asking for a kiss. After only a short moment, it had already caused Gu Yun to feel goosebumps all over.
Even if Gu Yun were to be beaten to death, he couldn't understand — someone who was originally so alienated and restrained, even avoided looking out of politeness while changing his clothes, how on earth did he become this crazy after only spending one time in bed?
Gu Yun: "Even if I can't see, I am not disabled. You don't have to hold me all the time. Aren't you busy all day long?
Chang Geng: “Then come with me to my study.”
After Gu Yun left, his study was basically Chang Geng's territory. Gu Yun, who had been floating around the border for many years, was somewhat unfamiliar. Chang Geng supported him and sat down. The sunshine hit the face of the people in the study from a very familiar angle. Gu Yun suddenly felt something and stretched out his foot. As a result, he met a small bench under the table: "This thing is still there."
Chang Geng bent over and picked up the stool. He saw a few vivid little turtles painted on the wooden stool, biting each other’s tails and forming a circle. The childish handwriting beside it was engraved with the words ‘Although the tortoise lives long*, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, surround him’**.
*A line from a song of Cao Cao.
** A line from Art of War
... It didn’t even make sense.
Chang Geng smiled for a long time, took Gu Yun's hand and pressed it on the mark, he asked, “Did you carve this?"
"Don't laugh, I did not have many days where I seriously read books when I was a child," Gu Yun looked up slightly. "Books were all read in the palace with the Emperor and Wei Wang. The old Marquis' own education was very ordinary, he was only a bit more diligent with military books. He found an old horrifying Confucian teacher here to read for me, he would doze off after a moment, I could only find entertainment for myself - well, you could go do your things, I haven't been home for a long time, let me walk around for a bit.”
"No," Chang Geng said hurriedly, "I'd like to hear you tell the story, and afterwards?"
Gu Yun was a bit hesitant. It was not any grand achievement, but Chang Geng seldom enjoyed himself like this. Gu Yun paused for a moment, then finally decided to bring out this embarrassing deed to entertain him, "I was very troublesome at that time, even the teacher was afraid of me from all the tricks I pulled to torment him. He dared not scold me face to face but ran back to tell the old man about it. Besides beating people, the old marquis punished me to take a stance on the stool, falling off with only a slight tremble. He did not appear like a goddamn blood-connected father no matter how you look at it. Later, I thought that old man goatee who kept running to tell on me day after day was simply too annoying, I came up with a scheme with Shen Ji Ping, we stole some laxatives and poured it into the teacher’s tea.
"Laxatives aren't anything much, but we were both young, and didn't know our limits. The teacher was already old and frail, almost dying from it. Throughout two hundred years, the Gu family had never had a house wrecking and crazy child like this, the old marquis was enraged, wanting to beat me to death, fortunately, the princess stopped him.
“Well, my mother later admitted that she, too, wanted to hit me at that time, but it was difficult for her to give birth due to her cold body. She was afraid that after killing me, there would be no one left for the Gu family.”
Chang Geng imagined that if he had such a disobedient child, he would have to beat it to death. However, as he immediately remembered that the unfortunate child was Gu Yun, he thought that if he were to be the old marquis, even if Gu Yun’s trickery cost someone's life, he would have to go pay for their life in person himself and would never have the heart to touch even one of Gu Yun's hairs.
He could not help laughing for a long time. He then asked, "What happened next?"
Gu Yun slightly paused, the smile on his face could not be maintained, he looked slightly restrained. After being silent for a moment, he then said: "Later, they both felt that I would become lawless if it were to go on like this, so they simply took me to the Black Iron Camp in the Northern Frontier.”
And his childhood of being despised by both cats and dogs came to an abrupt end.
This was perhaps the most unforgettable pain in his life. As Gu Yun got there, he did not go on talking. However, it might have been that those words had been piling up in his mind for many years, and for a moment, he could not hold back.
"The Northern Frontier was very poor, just after the war, there were wounded soldiers everywhere. Every day, when the sun sets in the golden sands, even the princess's underling could not drink a cup of hot tea. How could it be as good as being a young master in the capital? At first, I threw a tantrum, wanting to go back at all costs. The old marquis did not agree. Annoyed by me, he took me to the army. Every day the soldiers of the Black Iron Camp would train, and I had to accompany them at the side to practice martial arts. If I slacked off even a little, he would hit me in front of those iron giants."
The old marquis reckoned his son's personality, even if he hid away, even if he was weak. But in front of everyone, this little thing that was not as tall as someone's thighs, would never cry and humiliate itself.
Chang Geng glued to him, placing his chin on Gu Yun's shoulder, leaned towards his ear and said, "If I were born twenty years earlier, I would pick you up and steal you away, and raise you in beautiful silk and brocade."
Gu Yun imagined the scene for a moment and wanted to vomit on the spot, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
In fact, when thinking about it, a family with an extravagant lifestyle declining from the third generation was very usual. Gu Yun, a child of this origin, who was also an only child, if he really was allowed to lawlessly grow up in the capital city, who knew how terrible he would turn out to be. Only a cruel father like the old marquis could have the heart to bend him so that the Black Iron Camp would have a successor.
But nobody expected that the cost of success was so high.
"Uncle Wang said that when you came back from the Northern Frontier, your temperament changed. You did not like to see anyone, and did not care for anyone either" Chang Geng paused, took his hand and wrote, "Do you despise the former emperor?"
Gu Yun unconsciously tried to reach for the wine bottle at his waist, but as he reached out, he remembered that he had decided to quit drinking. The bottle had not been on his body for a long time.
Gu Yun pursed his lips: "I don't... Pour me a cup of tea."
Chang Geng almost thought he had heard wrong.
Just after the siege of the capital was over, Gu Yun was wounded to the point of being unable to climb up, yet as soon as he opened his mouth, he immediately asked for a drink regardless. How come after one battle at the Northern Frontier, he now knew how to watch out for his health?
Although Chang Geng had always secretly complained about this drunkard, not only was he not happy to see his sudden change of temperament, he instead felt terrified. He stood up and brewed Gu Yun a cup of spring tea. Once again, concerned and suspicious, he held Gu Yun's wrist quietly, hating that he had not learned properly and was not able to come to a result with his check.
Although his eyes and ears were inconvenient, Gu Yun could still feel his nervousness and immediately realized he had left an opening. Chang Geng was too sensitive. If a person had behaved badly all the time, he might as well continue to be worse. The people who followed him to clean up after him we're already used to it. On the contrary, his sudden change of temperament without warning would make people feel at a loss.
Gu Yun then drank the tea and licked his lips as if nothing had happened. "I don't know where my wine bottle fell. Is there any self-brewed wine from Old Shen left from last time?"
This sentence sounded more like Gu Yun's style, and it turned out that he was thirsty after talking for a long time. Chang Geng was relieved and outright refused, "They are all out, drink tea instead."
Gu Yun half-truthfully and half-falsely made a 'tch' sound, then something was pushed into his mouth, and the sticky, sweet and greasy taste of glutinous rice filled his nose, Gu Yun leaned back: "What is it? I don't want to eat... Uh..."
Chang Geng fed it to him mouth-to-mouth.
Gu Yun's eyebrows crumpled. He was naturally born not fond of sweetness. The sweetness of tea and cake and Chang Geng caused him to choke up, but he did not spit it out. Like the egg noodles with eggshells many years ago, he ate it all and could feel the bitter taste from the too sweet bean paste filling.
Suddenly he was a little uneasy, he felt that Chang Geng's tiresome clinginess was quite unusual. The suspicion when hearing he did not drink wine was also unusual.
Due to the exhaustion of mentality, joy and sorrow often did not last long, usually only sparked for a short time, then either turning to numbness, or the parties themselves diverting their attention, diluting these emotions instinctively in order to protect themselves.
Gu Yun said, "Chang Geng, give me the liuli glass."
"No," Chang Geng surrounded him like he was caging him, asking relentlessly, "Why do you not despise him?"
His last question was both eager and indifferent. He was eager to get a 'hate' and 'do not hate' answer. It was as if as long as Gu Yun admitted to 'hate', he would then decide what actions he would take next.
The indifference was that he seemed to forget that the 'former emperor' he spoke of was his father, casually mentioning it, as careless as mentioning a cat or a dog on the roadside.
Gu Yun was silent for a moment and asked, "What about you? Do you still hate Hu Ge Er?"
Chang Geng did not expect that he would throw back his own question at him. He blinked a little unexpectedly. If Gu Yun could see clearly at this time, he would find that although his eyes were not red, he still faintly had double pupils.
Chang Geng righteously replied: "If she was still in front of me, I would definitely skin her. But she had died with no place to be buried. Even if I were to dig up her corpse and whip it, it would still be in vain. No matter how much I hate her, there is no way to eliminate it. But instead, I will speed up the poisoning as she wished, right?"
These were by no means his sincere words. Even if Gu Yun was any deafer, he could still realize this.
Gu Yun was about to speak when he suddenly felt the person clinging to him jolted - the shock of sudden interruption and fright when he was absorbed in something.
Behind him came a gust of wind, as if someone had knocked on the door of the study.
Gu Yun turned over and asked, "Is it Uncle Wang or Old Huo?"
The old housekeeper at the door raised his voice and shouted, "Marquis, it's me. There are people from Ling Shu Institute looking for His Highness Yan Wang!"
Chang Geng's double pupils shrank back. At first glance, they seemed to be stimulated by the strong light. He unconsciously let go of Gu Yun and showed the usual restraint, as if he just thought of something, a hint of bewilderment flashing on his face.
Gu Yun pretended not to notice: "If you are busy then go handle it, I haven't had a proper meal for several days, I will go find something to eat, I don't know what the hell you just stuffed into my mouth... making the acid water in my stomach rise up."
Chang Geng was stunned at first. Then patted his forehead severely and rubbed his eyebrows with regret: "I... That... I am really..."
He stood up and said, "I will ask the kitchen to make something easy to digest for you first."
Uncle Wang quickly said, "Yes, your servant will go now."
As Chang Geng came to the door of his study, he seemed to remember something and searched himself. He found Gu Yun's liuli glass and returned it to him. The metal chain and the outer frame were warmed up by him. Chang Geng wiped the lens carefully and put it on Gu Yun's nose. His eyes lingered on his face for a long time. Suddenly, he whispered, "Zi Xi, just...just now, I felt like I was dreaming."
This was why he had acted that way.
Gu Yun was tossed about by him and his chatter for the entire afternoon. He was very angry as he heard this, wanting to bite back, "Let me give you a slap to see if you get hurt or not.”
Unexpectedly, before he could say it, Chang Geng had paused and stood up straight. He let out a bitter laugh, ridiculing himself: "Even after growing so big, I have never had such a good dream, it would be nice if I do not have to wake up."
Gu Yun: "..."
He had returned to normal; Gu Yun could not bear to scold him harshly. He felt that if this occurred several more times, he would become just like the other. He had to put on an indistinguishable look and waved his hand, shooing him away.
In the early summer of the eighth year of Long An, though General Gu repeatedly went against the Tai Sui* star, the national situation of Great Liang began to recover slowly after falling to the bottom of the valley, as if a long winter had passed by and fragments of buds began to emerge under the endless snow.
*it is believed that multiple disasters would befall someone if they went against the Tai Sui star, an imaginary star that is opposite of Jupiter
In the summer, the first thing was to settle the turmoil of the Western countries and sign the New Silk Road Treaty. The Black Iron Camp escorted the Ziliujin tribute from the Western Regions to the capital.
At this point, Great Liang that was surrounded in all directions finally broke out an opening.
Shen Yi and others had just arrived at the front foot, Ling Shu Institute had delivered good news.
Gu Yun's large iron bow, which had never been promoted in the army, finally made a new breakthrough. Ge Chen, the rising star from a butcher's family, was indeed a genius. He designed a new golden box, extremely portable and convenient. It could be mounted on the bow, perfectly controllable by human strength.
The bow which ordinary people could not pull had its string's weight reduced by more than half. The iron bow could be shot effortlessly by human hands. The precision was very high, the iron arrow was thick and not easily affected by the wind. Once these bows were made on a large scale, the Baihong would disappear in the Great Liang Army. The iron arrow could be added with the firearm system, and after it was shot, it could be accelerated a second time, and it could even explode in the enemy line with great power.
At the end of June, when the contradiction between Black Iron Camp's covetousness of tigers and the Western countries became more and more prominent, the war situation on both sides of the North and the South was temporarily stabilized, and Great Liang was given a chance to breathe. As the whole court knew, the most urgent task at this time was to reassure the people, especially to settle the refugees in various parts due to the war.
But how should they rest and settle down?
It was impossible to distribute farm property to these refugees. No man would be so generous and righteous as to give his own land to others.
The Grand Council organized several meetings to summon the ministers to discuss, but never came to a conclusion, only collecting a bunch of bad ideas, such as sending the refugees to go open up the wasteland and so on. Emperor Long An was furious, scolding the bunch of ministers only sitting around: "Why don't you round up the refugees and exile them to the Eastern Sea to imitate Jingwei*?"
*Jingwei is a bird from Chinese mythology who rounds up pebbles or twigs from the land and throws them to the Eastern Sea
Suddenly, Yan Wang of the Grand Council took the lead in silence and did not make a statement. The six ministries and local officials blamed each other and had a quarrel in court. At this moment, Du Wan Quan and his thirteen giant merchants from all over the country sent their request, claiming that they were willing to follow the example of the Westerners, set up private factories everywhere, and gather refugees from all directions for work.
This did not require much land. At that time, Chang Geng's money that was confiscated from the corrupt officials along the canal who did not make arrangements for the refugees would be enough. They also planned to use the farming puppets in Jiangnan as a model and assemble a group of non-governmental Mechanics to create a series of machines for civilian use.
With the distribution of the second batch of Feng Huo tickets, a force resembling an undercurrent gradually gathered in the court. When they were still dormant, at first glance, there was no faction at all. At this time, they began to promote this matter in secret: first giving some concessions to the first group of merchants who volunteered to come out to carry the Feng Huo tickets, for example, they could directly send their request to the Grand Council, with special approval granted by the Emperor, allowing them to purchase a certain amount of Ziliujin every year under the condition of guaranteeing military use.
This discount was first presented by the Minister of Industry - Meng Juan, a humble scholar of Han Lin origin, stated in the discount that this was a plan of killing three birds with one arrow — this would not only solve the riots of refugees everywhere but also showed that the court would not mistreat who had made merits and that the money earned from selling Ziliujin at a high price to these giant merchants could also be put into the extra military and war supplies.
This stone stirred up a thousand waves. This time, some people in noble families with a keen sense of smell finally came back to their senses.
Gu Yun, who had not been in court for a long time, was lucky enough to listen in to the grand scene of how the court went against each other with swords and arrows. He was stunned, feeling that this place was more dangerous than the frontline.
Thirteen giant merchants wrote a paper, causing the contradiction between the scholar clan and the talented young ones who started from Han Lin to sharply intensify. At this time, smart people had found the secret trade between the officials and businessmen. Some were even more sensitive, they had realized that the irresistible future of this new force would shake the essence of the scholar clan, and a sense of crisis arose quietly.
In the court, the supporters of the merchant groups sent accusations to the noble families - 'forming into factions for selfish purposes, harming the country and the people', 'easier said than done'. What's more, they even pointed at the other's nose and scolded, "If you gentlemen have an idea, then let the refugees go to your house to settle down".
Several big noble families were red with anger and debated fiercely: "How can the merchants and businessmen ascend the hall of elegance", "how can the most important thing of the nation like Ziliujin flow into private hands". Finally, they simply said, "I don't know how many bribes you gentlemen have accepted to act like family with those businessmen."
Afterward, the Marquis of Order, who had not said a word causing the row of generals to look at each other in silence, stood on the side watching the argument. In the end, the Grand Council had to step out to ease them up.
Gu Yun looked up at Emperor Long An and realized that Li Feng truly had grown old. He was only in his thirties, yet there were already grey hairs all over, his expression ferocious and gloomy. For a moment, Gu Yun suddenly thought, Perhaps that time when the capital was on the verge of being lost, if Li Feng on the Red Kite was struck down by a stray arrow, would that have been a better fate for him?
Li Feng seemed to feel something. He happened to look up and met Gu Yun's line of sight.
After the court was dismissed that day, Gu Yun was kept in the palace. Before the war, the two had fallen out to the point of turning away from another. After that, Gu Yun had been running everywhere to battle, his horse had never stopped. There was hardly any chance to meet in private.
Right now, they stood in the place they grew up together to have a few chats about the old days, feeling like it was separated by a lifetime.
Li Feng keeping Gu Yun behind was due to his momentary impulse. Only until they walked side by side in the flower garden did he discover there were no words he could say, it was undoubtedly embarrassing.
Just then, the Crown Prince came to greet them after his school had finished.
Li Feng was not one to immerse in the inner palace, he did not have many children. The prince had just reached the age of eight. He had not yet begun to hit his growth spurt and still appeared very childish. He had a bit of restraint when meeting Li Feng, formally and obediently saying, "Royal Father."
He then looked at Gu Yun carefully and hesitantly, he was a little eager to talk but did not know who the man was.
Gu Yun smiled at him: "Your subject Gu Yun, greetings to Your Royal Highness the Crown Prince."
The prince was shocked. There was no little boy who did not love to hear the stories of grand heroes. Right now, as he got to meet one in the flesh, on one hand, he was very excited, but on the other, he had to maintain the dignity of a prince in front of his father. His face blushed red, and he tumbled through his words: "General...General Gu! No... That... Granduncle does not have to be polite. I... I've also practiced my handwriting using Granduncle's sample."
Gu Yun's expression was a little strange: "... Your Highness is very kind."
The word 'granduncle' had delivered an invisible blow on him, making him feel like he had grown a two-foot-long beard.
Li Feng waved back all the servants, leaving only the prince to accompany him. Nobody knew what he had talked about with Gu Yun. The palace people only knew that the little prince seemed to have a great affinity with the Marquis of Order, clinging to him and refusing to leave. Finally, he even fell asleep on Gu Yun's shoulder and was sent back to the Eastern Palace by the Marquis himself.
Before leaving, Emperor Long An specifically asked Gu Yun to come back to the palace, to give some pieces of advice to the prince if he had time.
The monarch and the subject had a pleasant conversation, the matter of the Emperor and the Marquis turning against each other, the centrifuge between military and political affairs seemed to be only a small ripple deliberately forgotten.
At this time, at an elegant private room in Wangnan Tower, Jiang Chong rushed in and took out a secret letter from his sleeve and handed it to Chang Geng: "Take a look at this, Your Highness, our foundation in the court was not yet stable. This time, it seems we are a little too hasty."
It was a copy of a report. Jiang Chong said in a low voice: "This came from inside the palace. After the court was dismissed, several big families had gone through with the Imperial Uncle, joining forces to send this report directly to the Emperor. I'm afraid they planned this for a long time."
Chang Geng took over the paper with an unchanged look: "Imperial Uncle Wang? Is his own bottom clean yet? During this period of war and turmoil, General Tan died in the capital. Does he feel that there is no one left to investigate him?"
Jiang Chong pressed his voice even lower: "Your Highness, Imperial Uncle Wang is from the maternal side of the Empress Dowager, as long as there is no scheme for rebellion, the Emperor will not touch him... And who would dare to mention the incident that year? If using this as the reason to overthrow the Imperial Uncle, would the former emperor not fall into the reputation of an incompetent ruler who was deceived by the villains and witches, killing loyal subjects? The Emperor would not deal with him because of this."
Chang Geng quickly swept over the copied paper with a blank expression. Suddenly, he let out an 'oh'.
Jiang Chong: "What is it?"
Chang Geng: "This does not seem like something that could come from Wang Guo. Whose creation is this?"
Jiang Chong: "Oh, this man has a very close relationship with Your Highness. Didn't the Fang family once intend to marry Your Highness? The man who hid the knife behind his back is Miss Fang's uncle, the current Minister of Household, originally the first Zhangyuan* who was selected by the former emperor in the eighteenth year of Yuan He. The only one who came first in all three examinations at the provincial capital, national capital, and the palace from the former dynasty, he truly was outstanding since childhood.
*top scorer in the Imperial examination
Since Fang Qin took over the position of the Minister of Household, everything was well-organized, well-coordinated with the Grand Council, there was never any hindrance. He could be said to be a capable minister. Unfortunately, the bottom decided the head. He was born in the Fang family and was a representative for the Fang family. He was doomed to be a stumbling block for outstanding talent.
"The examiner for more than half of the court, unrivaled reputation." Chang Geng tapped on the table gently. "Beneath the eaves of their lordships, swallows used to nest. It seems that it's time for them to fly to the homes of ordinary people.*"
*Chang Geng was quoting/referencing the poem by Liu Yuxi, "Lane of Black-Gown Mansions"
Jiang Chong's heart jumped when he was able to make out the killing intent in what Chang Geng had just said.
Without waiting for Jiang Chong to catch it, Chang Geng once again casually praised as if nothing happened: "Minister Fang is truly talented, a great officer who could govern the world in peacetime*."
Yan Wang spoke lightly and applauded sincerely as if the killing intent that could not be described just now was Jiang Chong's own imagination. Only the words ‘in peacetime’ were used very subtly.
*There was an old saying: a great officer in peacetime, a traitor in war time
Fang Qin's paper pointed directly to the concerns of Emperor Long An. He did not comment on whether it was good or bad to classify the refugees into factories. He only held on to the safety problems of Ziliujin supervision, and even dragged Gu Yun into this: "The thing that tens of thousands of Black Iron Camp generals who fought hard in the front line to bring back, how could we use it freely? Would that not make the loyal soldiers and generals feel disappointed?”
Gu Yun himself would not care too much about it, but Li Feng's scales were greatly provoked*. When Chang Geng advised Zhang Feng Han to concede on the Ziliujin matter, he also said, to an Emperor, starting from the beginning of the wise and godly Emperor Wu, Ziliujin resembled another national seal. Moreover, the royal private treasury accumulated in Jinghua Garden for generations was burnt in an hour. Since then, it was natural that Li Feng would only feel insecure.
*to provoke someone's scale is to touch on a topic sensitive to them
Later, Fang Qin gave a detailed list of the possible consequences of selling Ziliujin to private businessmen.
For example, after opening this gap, how would they be able to identify whether the Ziliujin in the hands of private businessmen was bought from the court, or smuggled?
If the price of Ziliujin smuggled by foreigners was lower, then the profit-seeking businessmen would naturally favor the illegal goods. Private collection, private sale, and smuggling of Ziliujin had been prohibited repeatedly but could not be eliminated, would it not become even more out of control in the future?
For another example, if there was no accident, the factory building industry would last longer than the ordinary person's lifetime. Even if the court only granted these thirteen private businesses permission, what would their descendants do?
The place that required Ziliujin would only grow more and more in the future, otherwise, it would be difficult to continue on. Thus, must the court give their children and grandchildren permission as well? What about the separation of children and grandchildren? What if the factory was bought? If the permission could also be sold, then was it not too convenient for criminals to hoard steel armor and firearms for rebellion in the future?
But if this kind of permission could only be granted once, to the person and not the factory, then when the thirteen people with the permit died and the factory would be dismissed, would it not return to the scene of refugees running rampant?
Now this generation of refugees knew that it was the foreign enemies who caused them to run astray. It was the court that had given them food and a place to be. But what would they think if, after decades, refugees reappeared once again? They would only think that it was the court that had forcefully withdrawn their permit, smashing their means of making a living... In this way, would it not solve the temporary crisis but plant endless disasters?
In addition, there were various other concerns, Fang Qin finally concluded in elegant terms: in summary, those who encouraged the sale of Ziliujin to private merchants were either simple-minded, worrying about the head but not the tail, only looking at the present but not how the future would end, or simply a stick stirring shit up, fishing in troubled waters, there was no telling what their intention was.
Minister Fang was incredibly skillful with a pen, a long paper with each and every sentence poking into the heart of Emperor Long An.
"If this paper was sent to the Grand Council first by the usual way, we would still have the ability to stop it," Jiang Chong exclaimed, "but... alas, the Fang family’s power is deeply rooted in the court."
Chang Geng suddenly laughed.
Jiang Chong was baffled by his laughter.
Yan Wang slowly took a sip of the tea from the table and said, whether consciously or unconsciously, "What Minister Fang spoke of was a matter of urgency, not a bunch of nonsensical praises and virtue. His words were very reasonable, there was nothing wrong with them. Even if it was sent to the Grand Council, what reason do we have to stop it? Han Shi, was what you said logical? What is the Grand Council? Is it a place used to cheat and disrespect the people up and down? Taking advantage of power to throw off the proper order?”
Although he spoke in a mild tone, his words were heavy. Jiang Chong was shocked: "Your Highness..."
Chang Geng, with a slightly restrained look, interrupted him faintly: "Today's words that came from your mouth, flowing into my ears, they will not reach a third person, let's forget it. But I do not want to hear similar words again in the Grand Council."
Jiang Chong responded hurriedly: "Yes, this lowly officer has gone too far."
Chang Geng's face softened, and he lied through his teeth: "My experience is limited. When I encounter a problem, my experience and self-cultivation are insufficient. I regard you as my own family thus I have not considered my words, whether they are too light or too heavy. Brother Han Shi, don't take it to heart."
Jiang Chong continuously said, "I dare not".
He was promoted by Yan Wang. Others would assume that he was his trusted servant, but he himself felt more and more unable to see through the superior he owed a lot to.
It was certain that the forces headed by the Fang family would not sit back and watch the new patch of officials who took advantage of these opportunities when the country lacked the money to raise up, they would spare no effort to suppress them.
Others may not be clear, but Jiang Chong knew that these so-called ‘new officials’ were precisely supported by Yan Wang — from the reform of officials, and even earlier, from when the issue of Feng Huo tickets began, it was already paving the way.
If he had prepared slowly for so long, then what was his final goal?
Was His Royal Highness Yan Wang truly selfless, was everything he did to alleviate the country from the temporary crisis? Did he really have no desire just as he had always shown himself, and when the foreign enemies withdrew, he would immediately go home to be an idle prince who ate royal salary?
If that was the case, why did he have to work so hard to lay out such a large foundation?
But if Yan Wang was only deceiving the world with this great lie, and that he had another plan in mind... what else could he calculate?
He was the only living younger brother of the current Emperor and the only Qin Wang of Great Liang. If he wanted to go further, the only thing left....was that position.
But this was totally unreasonable. If Yan Wang really intended to become the Emperor, when Emperor Long An personally told him to succeed, why did he resist the decree?
To say the least, even if he refused at that time then started to regret it, why did he use the status of Yan Wang to offend all the most important ministers of the court? Wasn't it more rational to pull more people to his side?
In confusion, Jiang Chong asked carefully, "But Your Highness, even after this officer read the paper, I am also full of doubts about the establishment of private factories, let alone the Emperor? But if this cannot be carried out, then how can the court appease the people who have made great contributions to the country like Master Du, and how can the refugees be settled down?”
"You were wrong about this matter,” Chang Geng said with a profound laugh. "The Emperor will only be full of doubts about the sale of Ziliujin to private merchants after he sees it. Now that Master Fang has made it so clear that the sale of Ziliujin for merchants is not feasible, why don't we think about how to solve this problem. Would that not satisfy both parties?"
Jiang Chong was stunned.
Chang Geng: “Go back and prepare for it, the gentlemen should arrive a little earlier tomorrow. The Grand Council will discuss this matter before the court meeting. Don't let my Royal Brother down.”
Jiang Chong responded then stood up to say goodbye. For a moment, from Yan Wang's very calm words, he could hear some indescribable certainty in them. It seemed as if he had already anticipated this paper from Fang Qin and had already thought of the solution to deal with it next.
But... if he already had a solution, why did he not start by putting it forward? Why must he take a roundabout way?
What was the use of this route, besides intensifying the contradiction between the newcomers of the Feng Huo tickets and the noble families?
"Oh, by the way, Han Shi." Chang Geng called him.
Jiang Chong, who had a heavy heart, came back to his senses, thinking that he had something important to instruct him. He listened attentively.
Chang Geng: “Ask Wangnan Tower to wrap up two kilograms of fried small yellow croaker with salt for me. I'll take it back later. Thank you very much!”
Master Jiang slipped and almost rolled down the stairs.