This year, when they bid farewell to the old and welcomed the new, the Marquis of Order returned the Black Tiger Emblem, and the implementation of the Drumming Order was for certain. The Ministry of War promptly sent specialized personnel to all factions to be inspectors.
At this point, Emperor Long An had gathered military power to the extreme; even Emperor Wu during his time could not compare.
Throughout the year, the only thing that could make Li Feng feel at ease was perhaps Gu Yun's understanding of the situation.
As Chang Geng had predicted, the Emperor's wish was respected; as a matter of course, he in turn honored Gu Yun, raised Shen Yi's status by two ranks, appointed him as the Southwest Commander, and at the same time, bestowed upon the Fourth Prince Li Min the title of Yan Bei Wang.
On the 16th of the first month, in the name of honoring the Marquis of Order's birthday, Old Master Shen had sent over two carts filled with gifts, blocking the entrance.
Old Master Shen had already been retired for a long time, and they only had one Shen Yi - the kid who did not seek advancement. Shen Yi had shown signs of being a freak at a young age. Literary and martial arts, he was excellent at both, yet at the same time, he was obsessed with neither. He instead would hide away in the courtyard all day, messing with Machines.
In the Shen Family, from the house guard iron puppets, down to the steam lamp hanging in the room, there was not a single object that had not been dismantled by him.
Although Old Master Shen believed in Lao Zhuang*, and followed the idea of 'everything had its own will', it must have been because his practice was not thorough enough that he still harbored some expectations for this son of his.
*refers to the founders of Daoism, Laozi and Zhuangzi
Gu Yun was summoned into the palace early in the morning and had already left. Although he was not in the capital all year round, being of high status, he still received many gifts. The manor had no mistress, so the annual gifts for the holiday occasions were being taken care of by the old butler alone. Hearing that these were gifts from Shen Yi's father, Chang Geng had especially followed the old butler, curiously taking a look.
Old man Shen was also an oddball himself. Loved to play in his young age, continued to play in his middle age, and now that he had grown tired from playing in his later years, he began to seek enlightenment and immortality and did not pay attention to the common world. He naturally favored concocting pills of immortality and brewing wine.
In the presents he sent for Gu Yun, gold and silver jewels, silk satin, antique treasures... — there wasn't any of it, but instead, he directly gifted two carts of wine, all brewed by himself.
Chang Geng did not know whether to laugh or cry. As soon as he looked up, he could see the freshly-baked Southwest Commander rushing over on his horse.
Old Master Shen had made these arrangements by himself, by the time Shen Yi found out and chased after the cart, it was already too late. Shen Yi looked at the wine cart at the manor's entrance, burying his face in the neck of his horse: "How shameful!"
When Gu Yun returned later in the evening, he saw the servants unloading the wine from the cart, a pale-faced Shen Yi stood to the side.
No one knew what the Emperor had said to him. Gu Yun's expression appeared indifferent — he would normally become happy as soon as he returned to the manor. But this time, he did not laugh when he entered the door, and didn't crack jokes with the guards at the gate either - he must have been truly frustrated.
Gu Yun: "How come you are here?"
Shen Yi lifted his chin towards the heart-wrenching wine cart: "Our old man brought you a bribe, as thanks to you for bringing me a promotion."
Gu Yun stepped forward to pick up one jug, breaking the mud seal directly, sniffing it, then taking a sip on the spot.
"What you're craving for is what you get, did your old man brew this himself? I could instantly tell by just taking a sip," Gu Yun exclaimed, "That's right, you already came, don't leave. Even before this first month ends, both of us already have to go our separate ways. At that time, each of us, one at the north, one at the south, who knows how many months and years it will be before we meet again. Have a few drinks with me today."
Shen Yi had also had this intention, wholeheartedly agreeing to it.
Gu Yun also asked: "Where is Chang Geng?"
Gu Yun's footsteps came to a stop: "What?"
"He has insisted on cooking a bowl of noodles for you personally," Shen Yi laughed. "Uncle Wang tried to stop him for a long while but couldn't."
"Our Jun Wang is indeed very talented. He could stabilize a situation in the face of enemies, perform acupuncture after a battle, sew pouches in his spare time, and even walk on the treacherous battleground of the kitchen as if it was only a flat surface...
"If he was a lady, even the entire Black Iron Camp being here could not hold back the people coming to block your door asking for his hand in marriage."
Gu Yun frowned: "A gentleman stays far from the kitchen, this is absurd."
Shen Yi saw that his expression was off, asking: "What's the matter, what did His Majesty call you into the palace for?"
Gu Yun was silent for a moment, then lowered his voice: "The Emperor wants to dispose of Master Feng Han."
Shen Yi was taken aback: "What!"
Master Feng Han, with the surname Zhang and given name Feng Han, had been the head of Ling Shu Institute for eighteen years. When Shen Yi was still at the institute, he used to work under Master Feng Han. The man had now reached the age of sixty, having dedicated his entire lifetime to Ling Shu Institute. He had never gotten married; wife, children, grandchildren, he did not have any, nor was he interested in same-sex relationships.
It was said that the servants pouring tea in his house were all made of iron. For living beings, in addition to himself, there was only one old dog that was about to pass away — of course, this was only a rumor, not mentioning other people, even Shen Yi had never been there.
The old master was an unusual character and did not like having guests at his home. He had dedicated his whole life to armors and machines, aside from when Gu Yun was rebuilding the Black Iron Camp, where he had stood up to clearly express his opinion.
At other times, not mentioning political matters in the court, he was too lazy to even pay any mind to humans. Someone who was this indifferent towards the world, for what reason could he have angered the Emperor?
Shen Yi: "Why?"
Gu Yun: "The old man brought forth his request yesterday, opposing the 'Zhang Ling Law', causing His Majesty to become furious."
Shen Yi: "Has he ever not opposed it? From the day the law was implemented, he has never been silent. I heard my old colleague say that he brought forth a new request every three days, he did not stop even in the face of wind and rain. The Emperor never paid attention to him. How come he suddenly..."
The Zhang Ling Law was the decree that restricted the mechanics of the common folk. When it first came out, it had caused many controversies, but later on was sunk by the large waves arising from the Drumming Order.
"Master Feng Han's personality... you did not see what he had written in his request, saying that what the Zhang Ling Law restricted was not the mechanics, but the wisdom of the people. In the long run, if this law continues to be in effect, this country will not be the same, letting us sit here and wait for the day when the foreigners riding on the clouds come knocking at the door of Great Liang's frontier. The only thing missing was for him to point directly at the nose of the Emperor and call him a danger to the country."
"In fact, His Majesty usually wasn't particular with him. But due to the case of the Southern Sea, His Majesty's heart is in a knot, he wasn't able to untie it in just one winter, and the old man's action was equal to jumping directly into a muzzle."
When Gu Yun got to this part, he paused and shook his head: "Today, His Majesty even stopped me and said, 'I have asked myself, since my ascension, I have always been diligent and cautious, why is it that the nation has never had a peaceful day? '- what else could I say? "
Emperor Long An had only been enthroned for a few short years. First, it was his blood connected brother's collusion with Dong Ying people to rebel. Then, it was the high ranking official at the frontier colluding with the bandits to rebel. Each event seemed to bear with it an immense mockery. The Ziliujin black market that had been repeatedly banned but could not be stopped had become a disease in his heart.
Shen Yi didn't say anything; the two walked side by side to the inner courtyard. They both knew, although Master Feng Han's action was trying to find death, what he had spoken of was not unreasonable.
Later, as the common folk mechanics were restricted, from then on, everything would be relying on Ling Shu Institute. How many new technologies could be produced in a year? What was more, Ling Shu Institute would forever put military armors as their utmost priority. Would there be any room left for the development of technologies for civilians in the future?
Shen Yi: "Is there any way to save him?"
Gu Yun looked up at the other end of the capital, engulfing in the light of the setting sun, breathing out white smoke: "I don't know, I will try my best."
Shen Yi nodded. After a while, he suddenly said: "Marshal, I grew up here in the capital, but sometimes I feel that I cannot breathe."
Gu Yun handed over the jug of wine without a word.
Shen Yi chugged down his own family home-brewed wine, and the strong liquor rushed up. He reached out and patted Gu Yun's back: "They are all preparing for your birthday celebration, don't wear a blank expression out in there later."
Two people then stood in the curving hallway, each taking turns, sip by sip, to finish the entire wine jug.
Wine could solve worries, warm the blood, add beauty, make people put any large ordeals behind them, and temporarily relax.
However, as soon as he entered the room, Gu Yun was still shocked.
Many broken puppets in the manor had all been taken out by Ge Chen. No one knew how long it took for him to repair them all. A group of large iron faces were moving normally and swiftly back and forth.
Another group of puppets had been unloaded of armor and weapons, lined up in a row, each hand holding a satin fan, dancing in the yard - Cao Niangzi was the only human of flesh and blood, dressed in brightly colored clothing, leading the dance.
Gu Yun: "..."
Shen Yi shook his head and praised: "Truly a genius."
Gu Yun: "...Huh?"
Shen Yi put his hand around Gu Yun's shoulder: "Ge Chen, that kid, truly is a genius. Whenever I remember that the first Light and Heavy Armors that this genius handled were given by me, I am simply... I could only wish to kidnap him and bring him with me to the Southern Frontier."
Gu Yun: "..."
He always felt that these words of General Shen were somewhat strange.
Chang Geng really did cook a bowl of noodles for Gu Yun. Last time he only dropped in an egg, even mixing eggshells in with it. This time that Chang Geng came back, returning to the kitchen once more, his skill truly could not be compared to before.
It was incredibly well done; Gu Yun no longer mentioned such a thing as 'a gentleman stays far from the kitchen' in front of him, even almost eating the bowl itself.
With three bowls of wine in their stomachs, the people in the courtyard began to fire up.
Shen Yi sighed: "So many years from the capital to the Western Regions, to the northern territory, then to Lou Lan, you have always been there, suddenly you will no longer be around in the future. I cannot help but feel quite sad."
Gu Yun: "Less nonsense, drink more."
Ge Chen ran over and sincerely said: "General Shen, I have some friends from the pugilist world in the southwest. If you have any inconvenience in the future, you can let them fix it for you!"
Shen Yi looked at him with teary eyes: "Friends in the pugilist world are not necessary. Could you give me one of your wooden birds?"
The two tightly held hands, looking at each other with tear-filled eyes, lamenting for they had met too late, and ran to the side, and began to talk about 'how to extend the life of the machines'. Gu Yun had to fine each of them three bowls of wine.
Ge Chen was almost tumbling down to the bottom of the table after his three bowls, Cao Chun Hua acted crazily, rolling into a ball with the puppets in the yard. Chang Geng had to continuously take care of this, pay attention to that.
Afterward, everyone indeed did have too much.
Shen Yi grabbed Gu Yun's arm, his tongue in a twist, repeating over and over: "Zi Xi... Zi Xi ah, your family is in the eye of the storm... always in the eye of the storm, you have to be... be careful ......"
Gu Yun was leaning on the jars of wine, not bothering to move or talk.
He only laughed; his laughter was unable to stop until tears came down. He smiled and thought: "I am the only one left in Gu family."
Shen Yi staggered and stood up, walked for two steps, then fell onto the ground, his mouth did not stop: "The Emperor... the Emperor is afraid of you."
There was no telling who the Emperor was afraid of, but Chang Geng was already quite afraid of them, quickly calling for the family guards to help Shen Yi up: "Hurry and carry General Shen away."
Gu Yun leaned on the table, revealing an unfathomable smile. If it wasn't for his scattered gaze, he would appear very much like a sober person.
Shen Yi was lifted up by the guards but still refused to behave. He struggled while saying: "You... Gu Zi Xi, in your heart... you have let go... but the Emperor... the Emperor was unable to let go, he will always be afraid of you, as afraid as the former emperor.
"How could they not be? They have destroyed you like this, yet you did not die, the Black Iron Camp still remained...even continuing to be this powerful.
"Those people thought, if the positions were to reverse, how would they take their revenge? Using themselves to measure others, Zi Xi... everyone in the world will use themselves to measure others..."
Chang Geng had an average tolerance for alcohol, and he had been made to drink a lot by Gu Yun, so he could only barely remain sensible. Unexpectedly, hearing these words from Shen Yi, he immediately sobered up.
What did he mean by 'destroyed you like this'?
He was unsure if these were only the gibberish of a drunkard, but he couldn't help but step forward, wanting to listen more clearly.
Who knew that after a moment of shouting, Shen Yi would turn around, hold onto the house post and throw up, vomiting himself into a mass of mud, then fall down and immediately faint.
Chang Geng had no choice but to let the still awake people carry out the courtyard full of drunkards.
In the end, only a few puppets remained dancing loyally, white steam spurting out from their heads.
The joy and laughter of the capital gradually disappeared.
Gu Yun leaned half of his body on the table, of course, he could no longer give any directions, mumbling: "How great, all got carried out."
Still had the face to mock other people - Chang Geng let out a long sigh, lowering his voice and coaxing: "You are the greatest, let's go back, I will carry you, alright?"
Gu Yun looked up at him, his eyes were too dark and too deep, the alcohol Chang Geng had suppressed was arisen once again by his gaze.
"A Yan..." Gu Yun suddenly whispered.
Chang Geng frowned.
"A Yan," Gu Yun laughed, seemingly helpless, mixed with a hint of bitterness, lacking the will to live unlike usual: "I will tell you a secret, don't tell the others... your father... he truly is a bastard. "
Chang Geng: "..."
Just a load of nonsense!
Gu Yun laughed in a low voice, mumbling: "Who knows that I'm rushing through frost and snow, who will drown with me in this liquor..."
Chang Geng did not intend to play a staring contest with this drunken cat. He reached out and helped Gu Yun, dragging the man into the bedroom. Unexpectedly, a drunken Gu Yun was very clingy, groping at him like a lecher. Chang Geng was incredibly on edge being clung onto, wanting to throw him directly on the bed, but as he looked down at Marshal Gu's hard bed board covered by only a thin layer of mattress, he did not have the heart to do so.
Unexpectedly, Gu Yun touched the vein on his elbow, and with this action, Chang Geng's arm lost its strength, almost letting Gu Yun fall. He was about to reach out to catch him but forgot that he himself was also currently off-balance, and was dragged down by Gu Yun in a split second.
Gu Yun let out a breath at the impact of his body, gasping for a long time, then patted Chang Geng's back and spilled nonsense: "Oh baby, you are crushing me to death."
Chang Geng laid on him, the seed buried in his heart silently blooming in the deep darkness.
He stared closely at Gu Yun's pale chin and suddenly whispered, "Who are you calling?"
Gu Yun was silent.
Chang Geng felt that he was perhaps also drunk. Otherwise, how could he have this much courage?
He suddenly pressed on, holding Gu Yun's chin with his fingers: "Yifu, who are you calling?"
The word 'yifu' seemed to have reminded Gu Yun of something; he dazedly called out, "Chang Geng".
These two words were like a blunt piece of iron, scraping across Chang Geng's ear. The inside of his head exploded, the words 'go with the flow' transformed into a hand, pushing at his back.
As if he was possessed, he leaned down and kissed Gu Yun.
Gu Yun was startled at first, then slowly started to respond. He grabbed Chang Geng's collar and pushed him down, away from himself.
Chang Geng: "..."
His back hit Gu Yun's stone-hard bed board, suddenly sobering himself up again, the blood on his face all vanishing. He was in a complete panic, thinking to himself: What am I doing?
Gu Yun looked down at him from above. Chang Geng wanted to open his mouth and call 'yifu', but found that he was unable to speak.
Unexpectedly, Gu Yun suddenly smiled; this drunkard could no longer recognize anyone anymore. He reached out and caressed Chang Geng's face, hazily speaking in a nasal voice: "Be good."
Chang Geng: "..."
The next moment, Gu Yun hugged Chang Geng's stiff body, carefully kissing from his forehead down to his mouth, very gently licking open his lips, giving him a long and lingering torture. Meanwhile, his hands did not stay still either - they were trying to pull off Chang Geng's clothes.
Chang Geng felt like he was about to blow up. One hand was clutching at Gu Yun's waist, trembling greatly, yet he did not dare to use force.
Gu Yun seemed to be able to sense his trembling. In bed, this person indeed had the manners of a son from a prestigious family. He touched Chang Geng's belt, at the same time, revealing a drunken smile, gently saying: "Don't be afraid, follow me, from now on, I will treat you well."
Chang Geng pressed his voice to its lowest, quietly asking: "Who am I?"
Gu Yun was puzzled as he heard his voice, starting to ponder in a daze. Unfortunately, his brain had stopped functioning. Not only was he unable to come to a conclusion, but he had also become entangled in Chang Geng's clothes, tossing around for a long time, and the more he tried to untie them, the tighter it got. In the end, he worked himself to exhaustion, dropping to the side and promptly falling asleep.
Chang Geng clenched his teeth in the silence of the night and used all his strength to count his long and trembling breaths. Once he reached fifty or sixty, he finally mustered up enough strength to get up and push Gu Yun away.
He quickly pulled his clothes out of Gu Yun's hand, adjusted him into a proper position, and hurriedly pulled the quilt up for him. Then, he could no longer wait even a moment more and instantly turned to flee.
Gu Yun slept until the sun was hanging high up in the sky.
Yesterday, he was quite frustrated. He had more or less intended to use liquor to disperse his sorrow, but in the end, he had become utterly drunk, his flesh and bones had all stiffened, and he felt even more exhausted after sleeping.
On the small table next to him, someone had placed a bowl of hangover medicine for him. Gu Yun pinched his nose and downed it in one go, finally able to open his dry eyes. He sat on the bed for a while, quickly reflecting on himself. In a state between half-asleep and half-awake, he suddenly became aware of his recent inexplicable anxiety.
Is it that bad? Gu Yun yawned and asked himself.
Thinking about it carefully, of course, it was not.
In recent years, the national treasury had been quite tight. Of course, the military expense was also lacking, but it had not been so tight that people had to starve.
God had been quite at ease as well. A few floods, earthquakes, and a drought two or three years ago were not particularly serious. The Central Plains were so big; whenever the Dragon King from who knew which cloud sneezed, the court must immediately work themselves to relieve the disasters. In the past few years since the beginning of the Long An regency, the wind and waves could be considered peaceful.
For the two cases in the southwest frontier and Jiangnan, although their effect was quite big and caused the Emperor to be fearful of the unknown, in fact, in Gu Yun's eyes, they could only be regarded as small ordeals.
For the Eastern Sea, Wei Wang was obviously still not ready, yet the leakage of Ziliujin had already revealed his plan. The situation in the Southern Frontier was a clash between multiple parties, and from the start, Fu Zhi Cheng had harbored no intention for rebellion. In short, it was not even as dangerous as when they were hunting for bandits in the desert sand.
Compared with that year, when the nation had no substantial military force, when he single-handedly carried Great Liang on his shoulders, fighting the six countries of the Western Regions who had joined forces to rebel, this was nothing.
At that time, every single day, he did not know whether he could still see the sun the next morning. There were no distractions in his heart. Now it was the opposite. He was of high power, sitting in his own courtyard, watching iron puppets dancing, even borrowing wine to rid himself of worries.
Afterward, he seemed to have done something extra…
What was it?
Ah yes, Gu Yun pressed his own temple, thinking, Seems like I teased a maid, even scared her away.
"Too outrageous." Gu Yun muttered to himself while washing his face and changing clothes.
Halfway through, his actions came to a halt — that wasn't right, the manor did not even have one female horse, where would they find a maid!
Gu Yun finally woke up completely, his face pale. He pondered for a while, then turned over the blanket — a small object rolled down to the corner of the bed — it was the leather pouch Chang Geng always carried with him.
Gu Yun: "..."
Shen Yi's tolerance for alcohol was below average; he was even drunker than Gu Yun. Early in the morning, before he could wake up, Gu Yun had already barged into the guest room, dragging him up.
"I have something to tell you." Gu Yun's expression was grim, as if he had just caught sight of a ghost.
Shen Yi did not dare to neglect, a pile of entangling thoughts passing by his head: Fu Zhi Cheng escaped from prison? Master Feng Han had been deemed guilty by the Emperor? The Northern Barbarians invaded them? Or was it a rebellion in the Central Plains garrison?
Shen Yi resisted the discomfort he was currently feeling and concentrated his mind, waiting to hear what Gu Yun had to say.
As a result, that Gu hesitated for a long while, his gaze moved from the house post to his own toe, not even a fart was released.
Shen Yi asked with fear: "What happened?"
Gu Yun: "...forget it, I don't want to talk about it anymore."
Shen Yi was instantly furious, the hairs all over his body standing up three feet high. How had this type who didn't speak fully not gotten slain yet!
"Hold on," Shen Yi rushed to grab Gu Yun, angrily asking, "What the hell is going on?"
Gu Yun at this time had followed the 'evidence' on his bed, slowly tracing back to the memory before he had gotten drunk, what he said and what he did, was all vivid in front of him — too embarrassing, too wretched, too despicable.
Gu Yun covered his face: What have I done?
He felt that his stomach acid was rising, painfully asking Shen Yi: "Did I drink too much and act out of line?"
"You don't usually become that drunk either?" Shen Yi held his quilt on the bedside — they stayed at the frontier all year round, although they also drank, they never dared to get too drunk; otherwise, it would be dangerous if they messed up once something were to happen.
"What's the matter," Shen Yi looked at Gu Yun's face, asking with great interest. "What humiliating deed did you do yesterday?"
Gu Yun reached out and pressed Shen Yi — one who liked to watch a bustling scene without concern that something big could develop — into the blanket, then swiftly walked away in a state of panic.
In the beginning, Gu Yun still hung on to a few bits of optimism, thinking to himself: Xiao Chang Geng will not pay particular attention to a drunkard, will he? If it was me, I would not take it to heart.
... I would, at least, use this opportunity to make fun of him for a year and a half.
However, this luck soon disappeared — for Gu Yun remembered that Chang Geng, whom he pressed onto his bed yesterday, had been continuously trembling. It seemed that not only did Chang Geng take it to heart, he was also infuriated.
Gu Yun squinted at Chang Geng's pouch with a dire expression, as if he was carrying a pack of gunpowder that could explode at any moment.
The faint scent of tranquilizer arose, soaking through his insides; Gu Yun sniffed it around while calculating: Should I pretend to be confused? Or should I pretend to be oblivious? Or perhaps I should act as if nothing had happened?
Before he could manage to come to a decision, the old butler was already coming over. Gu Yun asked him with the appearance of a truly righteous being: "Uncle Wang, where is His Royal Highness?"
The old butler replied: "I was about to tell the Marquis. His Highness had left early to go to Hu Guo Temple."
Gu Yun: "..."
Promptly ran away from home!
The old butler did not notice his expression and said: "That's right, yesterday, Master Jiang of the Supreme Court sent a painting for your birthday occasion, there was a letter inside, does the Marquis wish to take a look?"
Gu Yun: "Let me see."
Although Shen Yi, who had been following Gu Yun fighting here and there, suddenly became a general, in truth, he was able to step into the rank of officials by passing the imperial examination. Supreme Court's head officer Jiang Chong was once his senior from the same school. Through this relationship, Jiang Chong was able to get to know Gu Yun. Later, they had discovered that their personalities clicked with the other party and gradually became friends, but in order to avoid suspicion, the two did not frequently meet with each other.
Gu Yun swept through the letter quickly, and suddenly no longer had the mind to be concerned about Chang Geng's anger with him.
In addition to greetings, Jiang Chong had briefly revealed to him the news — the Emperor had made up his mind to completely destroy the root of Ziliujin black markets.
This sentence alone had so much information contained in it.
In the evening, Qi Yuan Tower was still filled with the lively sound of people. In a private room, Southwest Commander Shen Yi, serving as the head, invited his old friends in the capital and his old colleagues at Ling Shu Institute together for a feast. Shen Yi was about to move to the southwest to take office, and although it was a remote location a long distance away, it was still a grand promotion, so his old friends were already asking him to treat them.
After three rounds of drinking, the Marquis of Order personally arrived, but only stayed for a while, saying that something happened at home and excused himself early. Not long after he left, Jiang Chong, the current head officer of the Supreme Court, also bid his farewell and left.
Jiang Chong did not take his carriage as he exited, sending all the servants away, saying that he wished to stroll for a while to sober up. He only took one young servant with him and chose a narrow path along the icy riverside under the tower.
As soon as he took a turn, there was already an old and rundown carriage waiting there for him. The curtains were lifted, revealing half of Gu Yun's face: "It's too cold, allow me to send brother Han Shi off."
Jiang Chong replied: "I have troubled you", understanding his intention, he then entered the carriage.
Master Jiang was over forty years old, yet the remnants of time did not leave their mark on his face. Aside from his calm demeanor, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he was a young man.
On the carriage, he used Gu Yun's small stove to warm up his hands. Jiang Chong did not beat around the bush either, going straight for the main topic: "Yesterday, after the Marquis' departure from the palace, the Emperor had secretly summoned the three divisions. I could see that he may not only want to bring back the Rong Jin Law, but also to carry out two things at once, using the aftermath of the rebellion in the Southern Frontier, starting from the southwest, they will be thoroughly examining the Ziliujin black market in this territory."
The so-called 'Rong Jin* Law' dated back to the era of Gu Yun's grandfather, Emperor Liang Wu. At that time, the sea route first opened, the private usage of Ziliujin was once difficult to contain. In order to strengthen the control, Emperor Wu issued four strict orders. It was what the later generations called the 'Rong Jin Law'.
However, with the increasing number of civilian machines and armors, the meltdown was slowly no longer applicable and was abolished during the Yuan and Xiandi years.
Jiang Chong: "The Marquis will probably go back to the northwest at the beginning of spring. It is reasonable to say that even if the sky in the capital were to fall down, it would not affect the Marquis, but if the Emperor wants to strictly check the Ziliujin black market, I am afraid that the Marquis will stay in the frontier for a long time, it would still be hard to avoid having harmless actions being misconstrued. Please be more careful..."
Jiang Chong could not directly point to Gu Yun's nose and say, "I know that your hand is not clean either. Recently, the black markets will be strictly investigated, you should cut off all ties with them and be quiet for a few days" - his point had come across quite clearly.
Gu Yun understood, saying with appreciation, "Thank you for your advice."
When Jiang Chong's words had been realized, he stopped dwelling on it further and changed the subject: "When it comes to Ziliujin, you must face a group of wicked and cruel people. It's one thing to face that wicked bunch in the pugilist world. I'm afraid they all secretly have connections with the imperial court officials. Who to investigate? Who not to investigate? How to investigate? To tell the Marquis the truth, I am also currently at a loss for what to do."
"There would be no fish in too clear water, and I don't know if the Emperor of Long An wants to bring peace to the country, or to stir it up."
Gu Yun understood his dilemma, trying to comfort him: "Brother Han Shi can rest assured, when this news comes out, as long as one was not too nearsighted, everyone would know how to hide themselves. There aren't any of us who are not as nervous as you.
"If there will be any difficulties in the future, you can send me a letter. Even though I no longer possess the Black Tiger Emblem, and the local troops no longer answer to me, they would still provide assistance out of however little respect."
Jiang Chong smiled bitterly again: "Thank you. First, it was the Zhang Ling Law; now, it is the Rong Jin Law... I rarely go out of the capital, there are many things I do not know. I just heard people say that in the early years, 'white mist dyed the street, no trace of people in sight'. Everyone said that the grand scene of traveling long distances on 'Pegasus' in the future is long gone."
Gu Yun fiddled with the old wooden beads in his hand. He did not continue on but changed the subject: "How is Master Feng Han?"
"He is still imprisoned," Jiang Chong said. "Rest assured, I am already keeping watch - does Marquis intend to request for him to be pardoned?"
Gu Yun smiled sadly and said: "Me? My request would only urge him to die faster. In fact, there is no need for that either; many of the objects in the palace came from the hands of Ling Shu Institute. As the Emperor sees them, he will remember his good points — Master Feng Han is passionate about machines and does not understand the world, the Emperor understands even this godforsaken trait of his, his anger will cool down after a few days' time."
This was easy to say, but how to avoid igniting the Emperor's flame while carefully mentioning how Master Feng Han only raised dogs in place of children, making the Emperor both amused and frustrated where he could no longer be angry, required much planning.
Jiang Chong glanced at Gu Yun and knew that he had probably made private preparations. He was raised in the palace, it was not unusual for him to have people to put to use, just that...
Jiang Chong whispered: "Marquis returned from the northwest this time. Your way of socializing has become wiser*."
*the words used here were actually a term in Buddhism, although it is similar to the word wise, the "wise" in this term is referring to the kind that came from complete selflessness, doing things while thinking only for others.
Gu Yun said in a meaningful way: "With tigers and wolves outside, I dare not give my all. The mountains and rivers are not yet at peace; I dare not underestimate this body. It is useless to fight for such meaningless anger."
The two exchanged messages in a couple of sentences, Jiang Chong then excused himself. Before taking his leave, he suddenly stood still, saying to Gu Yun: "Allow me to say one disrespectful line. In the past two years, the local annual reports are all about how successful the farming puppets are each harvest. In some places, there exists even a type of steam-powered machine that could weave and fabricate clothing, yet the national treasury is not full. There are even all kinds of laws that resemble iron chains. This lowly official truly has an illusion; it seems that after so many years, Great Liang has once returned to the era under Emperor Wu."
Gu Yun smiled and said: "To tell Brother Han Shi the truth, for the past two years or so, I have also felt unexplainable anxiety, but it does not make sense. Perhaps it is like this — people always wanted for things to be better every day. Once there was a delay, even if it was temporary, even those in a high position, one could not help but feel lost and anxious?"
Jiang Chong's expression changed slightly; he seemed to want to say something, then decided against it.
Gu Yun asked: "What is it?"
Da Li's head officer whispered: "Us people who work in investigation, sometimes we would have an intuition — there is no reason and no basis, but in the end, it is very likely to turn into reality. The more experienced one is, the more accurate their intuition will be. The Marquis ventured out to the battlefield, facing life and death situations, perhaps your instincts have predicted something… please be very careful."
Gu Yun was startled for a moment; he did not say more. The two people, with their hearts filled with heavy concerns, both took their leave.
When Gu Yun returned to the manor, it was already dark. When he asked the guards, they replied that Chang Geng had not returned yet. He only left a message saying that Master Liao Ran had returned to Hu Guo Temple; thus, he planned to stay there for a few more days.
Gu Yun had no choice but to think: That is fine then, stay there until all the anger has cooled down, then come back.
Unexpectedly, no one knew if Chang Geng's flame was 'extraordinarily large' or what, he had stayed there for four to five days in a row, seemingly intending to settle down in Hu Guo Temple. Gu Yun did not have many days where he could stay in the capital, and with his departure this time, who knew how many years until they could meet again. He finally could not bear it any longer and held his nose, then went to Hu Guo Temple.
Liao Ran was still the same, all year round, only when returning to Hu Guo Temple to meet with prestigious guests did he wash himself into a hibiscus of clear water. It was not easy for him to have some downtime that afternoon, playing a game of chess with Chang Geng in the Zen Room; the two talked only through sign language, in silence, but many words were exchanged.
Chang Geng: "I want to ask the master about one thing — what happened to my yifu's eyes and hearing?"
Liao Ran quickly signed: "It would not end well to talk behind others' back."
"I must know about this." Chang Geng spoke with a grave expression. "And I will definitely get to the bottom of it, if the master does not talk, I will go find someone else."
The monk fixed his eyes on him for a moment.
After a long time, Liao Ran very hesitantly used sign language to respond: "The monk was only able to catch a few rumors. When the Marquis was a child, he was taken to the Northern Frontier by the old marquis and the First Princess. At that time, the war between Great Liang and the barbarians had already subsided. Logically, there should have been no danger.
"But unexpectedly, there was a group of barbarians who stubbornly resisted and forced their way into the garrison. The Marquis was injured by a stray arrow, which happened to be a poisonous arrow of the barbarians."
This statement coincidentally matched with Gu Yun's words.
Chang Geng asked: "What kind of poison?"
Liao Ran shook his head: "Your Highness was learning from Miss Chen, you are already aware that the poison of the barbarians rendered even the Chen family helpless. That poison is highly detrimental. An affected individual will be paralyzed and will die in a few days, but for children, the effect is much slower.
"That year, old Master Chen had rushed from Shanxi to the Northern Frontier Garrison, not resting for two days and one night, using the Chen family's specialized acupuncture technique to save the life of the little Marquis, but afterward, his eyesight and hearing were also severely damaged."
Chang Geng slightly frowned: "Northern Frontier..."
If this matter was done by the Northern Barbarians, what was the explanation for Shen Yi's phrase 'they destroyed you like this'?
Was it only the nonsense of having too much to drink?
At that moment, a small abbot suddenly came in and reported: "Your Highness, Martial Uncle Liao Ran, the Marquis of Order has arrived."
Liao Ran was shocked. He had never expected the Marquis of Order to visit Hu Guo Temple one day. He quickly signed to Chang Geng: "Doesn't he feel unlucky just by a bit of incense? Today, he ventures deep into the tiger's den, will he go back later and wash off a layer of his skin with mugwort leaves*?"
*mugwort leaf is used for driving away evil spirits
Chang Geng did not have the heart to pay attention to him, an unnatural look flashed across his face.
He was not ready to face Gu Yun coming to inquire about his crime.
In truth, coincidentally, they both assumed they had too much and did disrespectful things to the other party, each with their own guilty conscience.
Liao Ran gave Chang Geng a strange look. In these years, in order to suppress the Bone of Impurity, Chang Geng had practiced meditation to the extreme that he could sit completely still for up to two or three days, even this monk had to admire.
Sometimes, as an anxious person would look at his eyes, they would be able to calm down with him involuntarily. The incredibly handsome young master dressed in white sitting on the monks' old futon while holding a chess piece should have given off the aura of an out-of-this-world serenity. Unexpectedly, it was suddenly shattered by the three words 'Marquis of Order'.
Chang Geng seemed unable to sit still, making a brief movement, inexplicably raising his hand, not knowing what it was that he was trying to reach for. Halfway through, he found out that Liao Ran was looking at him. He forced down his emotions, placed his hand on the teacup, then uneasily took a sip as a cover-up.
Master Liao Ran, who used to act mysterious, also had to wonder, "What's the matter, is the Marquis coming to collect debts?"
Gu Yun came in very quickly, his expression filled with only distaste, as if he wished nothing more than to walk in on tiptoe. Casting a glance towards Liao Ran, he revealed an unamused smile: "After not seeing you for years, the master has become a lot whiter."
Liao Ran bore the demeanor of a highly educated monk; he did not pay any mind to trivial matters. He stood up, put his hands together to greet, then signed: "Amitabha, the monk is like a clear mirror, no dust could catch on."
Turned out a classical quote could also serve as an excuse for not bathing!
He seemed to feel the scent of fermentation again; he could not wait for a moment longer in this place. He turned towards Chang Geng: "You have been disturbing the master's meditation for several days already, it is time to come home."
Chang Geng's heart, which was not easily settled, was once again stirred up by the words 'come home'. He knew that even if he stayed under the Bodhi tree*, he still couldn't recite 'existence exactly is non-existence '*. He then put away his anxiousness and stood up obediently.
*Bodhi tree is where Buddha supposedly achieved enlightenment.
*色即是空, a part of the Buddhist sutra 'The Heart of Prajna Paramita' that is chanted daily in temples for meditation. The sutra teaches about 'Emptiness'.
The smoked firewood in Hu Guo Temple caused Gu Yun to let out a few coughs; he rushed outside of the Zen Room to wait, watching Chang Geng bidding goodbye with boredom.
In fact, with relatives and friends one was used to seeing, it was difficult to notice whether the other was beautiful or unsightly. Gu Yun had always known that Chang Geng resembled his barbarian mother more, but after careful examination, that was not entirely true. His facial features after growing up were handsome and fair; he momentarily could not tell who he resembled. He only knew that his appearance was like jade, uniquely pleasing to the eye.
Gu Yun was slightly startled, remembering that there were many types of people in this world. Especially since the opening of the sea route, the people of Great Liang were quite open-minded. Particularly along the coast of the Eastern Sea, it was said that relationships between men were also prevalent. Chang Geng was a dragon in the disguise of a fish; would there not be anyone who would be as blind as to tease him?
Was it the reason why he was angry that day?
That's right, A hole cracked inside Gu Yun's head, countless thoughts running astray like horses without reins: If I bit that Shen Ji Ping, he would definitely not take it to heart, someone who was as old-schooled as him would not think to look at it with such idea in mind. If I were to bite him, perhaps it would be me who would suffer a loss.
The more he thought, the more it made sense. The more he thought, the more embarrassing it was. He quickly came to the decision of acting oblivious.
Thus, as if nothing happened, he turned to Chang Geng who was coming over and said: "How come you stayed for so long, are the cabbage and tofu of Hu Guo Temple so delicious?"
Chang Geng saw that his expression was calm, so his heart was also able to relax; he replied: "Listening to Buddha's teaching and fasting could help ease the mind."
"Young people should enjoy life, you are not planning to be a monk, what are these talks about easing the mind?" Gu Yun walked side by side with him, trying to reach out and put his arm around his shoulder by habit. But just as he raised his hand, for fear that Chang Geng would think too much, he silently retracted it and placed both hands behind his back.
Chang Geng said calmly: "I have considered it."
He once thought about cutting away three thousand connections of this mortal world to enter Buddha's gate; perhaps his heart full of insolent thoughts would be dispelled into nothing by Buddha's boundless teachings.
"What?" Gu Yun's footsteps came to a halt. He wasn't able to respond initially, startled, he unbelievingly asked, "... you said becoming a monk?"
Chang Geng rarely saw his surprised expression; he smiled and replied: "I only thought about it, I do not dare to go."
Gu Yun thought: Nonsense. If you dare to do it, I will break your leg.
However, Chang Geng was no longer a small son who was sheltered in the manor. After his crowning ceremony as Jun Wang, he still called him 'yifu'. This came from affection, not in name only. In the end, it was inconvenient for him to scold him like his real child; thus, these words did not leave his mouth.
His expression darkened, asking, "Why?"
Chang Geng greeted a little abbot walking over with courtesy, then replied without hesitation: "In my younger years, I had grown up looking at the calligraphy 'the world cannot be avoided' in your room. Later on, traveling through mountains and rivers with Teacher, only beginning to get a taste of this tough and dangerous world, how could I dare to shy away now?
"Being born in this world, although my abilities are only limited, it was unsure if I could ever achieve one-in-a-thousand-years contributions like the previous generations, but at least, I must not feel ashamed facing Heaven and Earth, and myself."
The last two words were hidden away in Chang Geng's heart and were not spoken aloud.
That year, Xiu Niang dragged him behind the horse but was not able to kill him. The Bone of Impurity clinging onto him, even now, still wasn't able to turn him mad. Chang Geng sometimes felt that only when he faced the winds and waves, kept going against the current, to a place where he could finally be content with himself - only then may he be worthy of longing for yifu, even just for a little while when awoken at midnight.
Gu Yun's anger seemed to have cooled down, yet he appeared to be unhappy still, sullenly asking: "Then what were you doing in the place of monks?"
Chang Geng replied thoughtlessly: "Finding Master Liao Ran to drink tea, sometimes I cannot sleep well when the flame inside is too much - Miss Chen prescribed me with a tranquilizer, did she not? I had put some in my pouch, but for some reason, I wasn't able to find it for the last few days."
Gu Yun went silent.
Chang Geng: "I don't know where I dropped it."
Gu Yun's face was pale blue — some people really do mention things that should not be mentioned.
Marshal Gu went quiet under the torment of his conscience for a while. Then, in the end, he reached for Chang Geng's small scented pouch made from leather that he carried in his clothes, placing it in his hand without a word: "Here."
Chang Geng: "..."
This fear came all too sudden. Chang Geng, who accidentally shackled himself with his own ropes, almost bit his tongue. Just now, the Yan Bei Wang who bore the aura of an adept scholar — 'going through the mountains and rivers', his palms instantly became soaked with sweat, he stuttered: "How, how come it was at yifu's place?"
Marshal Gu, with impenetrable skin that had been through countless amounts of training, casually replied: "I don't know how it fell onto my bed. Perhaps on that day when I'd had too much, I accidentally pulled it off of you."
Chang Geng looked at him with horror.
Gu Yun feigned innocence and said: "What's wrong?"
Chang Geng shook his head, silently heaving a sigh of relief inside. He knew that this matter was now over; he could still be as intimately together with yifu as before. At the same time, however, he inevitably felt some hidden loss.
As Gu Yun saw that his expression was off, he assumed Chang Geng was still bothered by this, he asked with a coaxing tone: "I forgot to tell you two days ago, the Emperor wants you to enter the court to listen to politics, which duty do you want to be in charge of? I will find a way for you."
Chang Geng quickly restrained his train of thoughts, seriously replying: "The six ministries have their own power and influence, it is not convenient for me to step in and disturb it. These years, neither my literary or martial arts are up to par; in addition, I have already become used to being leisurely. If His Majesty truly wants me to come listen, I could listen just for the courtesy of it — or I could follow Master Jiang of the Supreme Court to do investigations."
Gu Yun could not tell whether this answer truly reflected what Chang Geng thought or not, but it was definitely the answer the Emperor would want to hear. He momentarily felt pained, not willing to send Chang Geng to Emperor Long An's place to waste his talents, being looked down on by others.
But that was impossible. His surname was Li. Even if he became a leisurely prince in the future, he would not be able to hide in the Marquis' Manor for the rest of his life.
"If you want to go to the Supreme Court, wait for a while longer, don't go now," Gu Yun said. "The Emperor wants to investigate the Ziliujin black market recently, Master Jiang's place is chaotic enough already, don't intervene, and don't drag Lin Yuan Pavilion into it either."
Chang Geng replied with an 'ah', he didn't seem to be surprised by this news: "So fast? His Majesty was indeed unable to wait. The other day I was still thinking about when he would bring back Rong Jin Law."
Gu Yun: "How did you know?"
"Guessed." A slight snow began to fall down. Chang Geng took a paper umbrella from the entrance of the temple — its size was small, yet Chang Geng continued to push the umbrella towards Gu Yun's side.
Not long after, the shoulder that had been exposed was covered with a layer of snow. He did not bother to wipe it away either, continuing to walk in a pace that was neither slow nor fast, he appeared to be quite enjoying it:
"In truth, it could not be considered to be a guess, yifu, think about it, His Majesty, the former Emperor, even Emperor Wu — although they each were wise in their own way, their stands were the same when it came to Ziliujin. In their hearts, this thing is always regarded as a big problem."
Gu Yun had always seen him as a part of the younger generation. To walk together side by side for the first time, listening to his thoughts, it felt quite fresh. Thus, he did not interrupt him, only listened.
"When I was a child in the town of Yanhui, I saw the imperial court spending many resources for the sake of Ziliujin. I have been thinking about it in these recent years: why do we have to strictly control it? If everyone can buy and sell Ziliujin as freely as buying food or silk, would it not mean that there will be no more black markets?"
Chang Geng shook his head. "I later realized that it was impossible. Allow me to say a few disrespectful words, regardless of who becomes the Emperor, whether they are wise or incompetent, favored literary arts or favored martial arts - no one can allow the civilians to freely trade Ziliujin.
"Otherwise from now on - merchants, foreigners, Eastern Yi people, the lawless thieves, and even some officials, will all possess these resources... everyone will hold this blade in their hands."
Gu Yun: "Much like those bandits in the Southern Frontier."
"Correct," Chang Geng said. "This is just a few black markets, just a few bandits. It's just a few hills in the small territory of the Southern Frontier. What would happen if it were to expand into the entirety of Great Liang? What if everyone everywhere possessed this 'blade' in their hands? The imperial court, of course, cannot afford to manage the interests of all people. When that time comes, one problem will give birth to another, they will be under the control of the 'largest blade'.
"Who would not want to possess this Dragon-killing blade? People would then fight, biting at each other, without any regard for morality or laws, much like raising worms, waiting until the worm king appeared, whose hands will this nation belong to?"
Gu Yun frowned: "Chang Geng, it is fine for me to listen to these words, don't mention it to others — then according to your point of view, is it necessary to bring back the Rong Jin Law?"
"It is not, in fact, it is best to continue the lax control of the former Emperor, to stabilize, and to solve the most urgent task of finance first.
"Since the appearance of the farming puppets, a significant amount of the annual production of food has been left to rot in the storage. The price of rice has become lower and lower, people have switched to stocking money, every little bit of gold and silver has been hoarded in warehouses, so the treasury naturally could not be filled."
"It is impossible for silver to be manifested out of thin air. Increasing the production of money now is just a distant water that cannot quell a nearby fire; we can only rely on the Western foreigners. Once the Silk Road is completely opened, with this achievement, yifu's name will forever go down in history, even stabilizing a hundred rebellions cannot be compared."
"With money, it would be much like a house having its beam, people having their backbone. When that time comes, we can use a small flame to simmer, adjusting the internal affairs little by little. The problems would still remain, but the situation will no longer be in grave danger. We would be able to retain peace and stability for the people for a hundred years. After one or two generations, perhaps there could be a way out."
Chang Geng sighed as he got here. "Unfortunately, within two years, both cases of rebellions are related to the black market. It is not surprising for the Emperor's reaction to be a bit excessive — thus, I have always suspected the two cases of the Eastern Sea and the Southern Frontier were not at all accidental. I'm investigating it using the power of Lin Yuan Pavilion. I have only managed to vaguely discover one line of theirs, yet they were too sharp. You must be careful."
Gu Yun did not speak up for a long while after hearing his words; one could not tell his emotion on his face either. Chang Geng did not bother him and slowly accompanied him out of Hu Guo Temple. The drums sounded in the temple, echoing in the mountains; there were no other noises in their surroundings, snow silently fell.
Old General Zhong Chan had the ability to stabilize the country, but he could not teach someone to be a talented magistrate who could direct the country and bring peace to the world. For the first time in his life, Gu Yun felt such deep regret, he thought: Why must he bear the surname Li?
If he did not bear the surname Li, it would be easy for him to enter the rank of officials by the imperial examination. Maybe he could have had a strong start, to become a renowned magistrate of the generation in the future. He would not have to speak of a few sentences only for him to hear in this rundown temple, claiming he only wanted to be a leisurely Jun Wang — like flowers in a vase.
... All were fate.
Chang Geng: "The weather is not good, yifu is wearing thin clothing, don't go back by horse, sit in my carriage."
Gu Yun was distracted, turning his head as soon as he heard his voice, and unexpectedly met Chang Geng's gaze. Gu Yun's heart was suddenly startled — he had never noticed that Chang Geng's eyes were like this.
His eyes were very focused, slightly reflecting the snow, as if to embrace everything of his inside them.
Chang Geng was first caught off guard, then quickly moved his gaze. Revealing himself further in an attempt to cover his tracks — he bowed down to shake his sleeve; it was already soaking wet, sticking to his arm.
Gu Yun discovered that Chang Geng's shoulder had been covered with a layer of cold ice. Not only did he not speak up about it, but he had also been accompanying him slowly.
Gu Yun reached out to touch, it was ice cold: "You..."
As soon as he raised his hand, Chang Geng immediately tensed up slightly, although it was only for a moment, it could not escape Gu Yun's eyes.
Gu Yun could be quite informal in private — somewhat unmindful, rarely paying attention to the minor details, but the embarrassment after being drunk on that day was still there, causing him to be involuntarily sensitive.
Was it an illusion? Gu Yun thought with surprise and suspicion, then sat in the carriage.
A warm stove was already lit up inside. Gu Yun leaned on one side, closing his eyes to rest. In a state of half-awake and half-asleep, he suddenly could feel that someone was coming closer. He did not open his eyes. In the next moment, he could sense Chang Geng placing a thin blanket on him, his movement as light as a feather, as if fearing it would awaken him.
Shen Yi had always thrown it directly on him before; even the most attentive and careful soldier never had such a gentle gesture that seemed almost protective such as this.
Gu Yun no longer felt drowsy; he continued to keep his eyes closed and pretended to have fallen asleep with difficulty. He did not dare to move; his neck was stiff, always feeling a pair of eyes looking at him.
There was probably nothing in this world that could be hidden away with no trace forever — only a little careful observation was needed.
The string in Gu Yun's heart quietly tensed. For the next few days, he couldn't help but secretly watch Chang Geng; not only did it not help to dispel his inexplicable suspicion, but he also became more and more frightened.