When Gu Yun finished, he could instantly feel Chang Geng's pulse beat a little faster. It was almost impossible to count anymore. The wrist that he was grasping in his palm was burning hot. There seemed to be a volcano hidden under the vein on the verge of exploding even with only a touch, wanting to cut Chang Geng's veins into little pieces.
Although he had been flexible in this matter, Gu Yun did not expect that Chang Geng would react this strongly. Worried that something had gone wrong, he reached out a hand to Chang Geng's chest: "Calm yourself, don't think excessively!"
Chang Geng pulled his hand down, grasping it on his own, the joints of his bone cracking. Gu Yun narrowed his eyes.
Chang Geng's face was pale, his eyes like blood, infinite phantoms flashing in front of them. There were thousands of troops beating their drums, demons and ghosts swaying, a part of the Bone of Impurity was drinking the blood from his heart, becoming stronger, countless thorn-filled branches expanding, stuck on his throat, tearing at his insides...
But at the very end of the Bone of Impurity, there was one Gu Yun.
... separated by thousands of miles.
Gu Yun was utterly frightened; his lips moved slightly but did not know how to proceed.
At this moment, Chang Geng clasped Gu Yun's hand and held it to his chest. He seemed to have let out a faint choked sound, then closed his eyes, pressing his trembling lips on the back of Gu Yun's ice-cold hand, the skin of which was cracked from being frozen.
Although Gu Yun already had a few uneasy speculations, he did not anticipate this scene in advance. Chang Geng's burning breath flowed inside his sleeve, his scalp seemingly wanting to explode. The words 'Are you mad?' were about to leave his mouth.
Chang Geng suddenly pushed him away, then retreated half a step. With his whole body curled up, he bent down and vomited out a mouthful of darkened blood.
Gu Yun: "..."
This chain of events happened as fast as a flash of lightning. Gu Yun had yet to feel angry, but panic already came first. Aside from being shocked, all the words stuck inside his throat were painful; he could only stay, dumbfounded, in one place.
Chang Geng's face appeared as bleak as ash. After spitting out the bruised blood, his heart had become clearer, his senses gradually returned. He turned his head away from Gu Yun's outstretched helping hand, whispering: "I have offended yifu, whether you want to beat me or to scold me...cough, I absolutely will not resist."
Gu Yun inhaled a whiff of cold air. There were many concerns inside him, forming into long lectures that could be comparable to quoting Shen Ji Ping's words, yet he did not dare to say even one of them. The suffocation was unbearable, he thought to himself: I haven't tried to question him of his wrongdoing, yet he already vomited blood first. Damn it, do I still dare to open my mouth?
He bent over, held Chang Geng up, and placed him on a board inside the spacious carriage. Gathering a heart full of thoughts, he scolded in a low voice. "Shut up, first adjust your internal injuries."
Chang Geng obediently closed his eyes.
Gu Yun stayed by him and kept watch for a while. When rummaging through the carriage, he wasn't able to find even a drop of wine. Having no choice, he took the medicine on the stove to drink, the scent of fresh ginger emitting from it caused his head to ache.
He used to think that Chang Geng might have been a little confused. It may have been influenced by his actions after drinking, giving birth to a few inappropriate ideas. He soon assumed this child was very smart and keen, that he would come to understand with only a few pointers. Unexpectedly, he had only slightly touched him, yet before he could even 'point', Chang Geng had already exploded first!
How could this be?
Gu Yun looked gloomily at Chang Geng, who had closed his eyes and adjusted his breathing, head in a complete loss, sitting sadly on the side.
There was an ancient saying - 'cultivating one's moral character, managing one's household, peace to the land under heaven'. Gu Yun did not know whether it was because he did not cultivate himself properly or what, but both his family and country were all in a mess, exhausting him to death.
It only took a few steps from the palace to arrive at the manor; even if the carriage was being pulled by a tortoise, they would still arrive in an instant.
When Gu Yun stepped out, a wooden bird flew towards him and directly landed on his shoulder, tilting its head and staring at him.
Suddenly, Gu Yun felt an extended hand behind him. He did not know when Chang Geng had quietly exited the carriage, taking the bird away.
His face appeared just as terrible as before, but its usual calmness had been restored.
Chang Geng held the wooden bird, not rushing to open to see whose letter it was from. While the old butler took the carriage away, he walked over to Gu Yun's side, whispering: "If yifu feels uncomfortable, I can move out, I will not hang around in front of you to be an eyesore, and I will never act out of line again in the future."
The bloody hue in his eyes had all vanished, his lids drooping, his expression appeared cold, revealing a kind of thoughtfulness when one's heart had turned into cold ash.
Gu Yun stood dumbly for a moment, found that there was indeed nothing he could say or do, then turned and left without a word.
Only from early that morning did Ge Chen and Cao Chun Hua know something had gone wrong the night before. They had soon waited at the door for a long time; as they rushed to meet them right then, Gu Yun was utterly silent, moving past them with a grave expression.
Chang Geng watched his back. A slight trace of blood still remained on the corner of his lips, appearing even more exhausted than Gu Yun, who had been kneeling all night.
Ge Chen: "Big brother, what happened?"
Chang Geng shook his head. After Gu Yun's figure had disappeared entirely, only then did he retract his gaze and reach out to lift the wooden bird's lower abdomen, taking out a piece of paper from the middle.
The note read: "At the beginning of the new Emperor's accession, when Marshal Gu escorted the Northern Barbarian Prince, he had fallen seriously ill. The second brother of our family had traveled from Taiyuan for his treatment and did not return until a month later."
Signed with one word, 'Chen'.
There was no telling how long the wooden bird had been flying for; its two wings showed signs of being worn down.
Chen Qing Xu's words did not have a proper start or finish, a different person perhaps would not be able to understand. As a cautious measure, Chang Geng tapped the back of the wooden bird, its metal beak opened up, shooting out a small flame. In the blink of an eye, the paper was burned completely.
Cao Chun Hua carefully asked: "Big brother, recently I saw many wooden birds frequently flying in and out of the manor. Are you checking something?"
"Investigating an old case." Chang Geng said, "I had always thought that although yifu's character was the same as before he arrived in the northwest, his views on many things seemed to have changed a lot. I originally assumed it was the result of subtle influence while at the Silk Road, but it seems like that was not the case at all."
Ge Chen and Cao Chun Hua looked at each other.
Chang Geng briefly recovered from the feeling of loss just now, muttering to himself: "What happened on the road to the Northern Frontier?"
What could have happened to cause someone who would treat a fallen sky as a blanket such as Gu Yun to fall ill and become bedridden while marching out, even frightening the entire Chen family at Taiyuan?
Chang Geng suddenly said: "Xiao Cao, A Chen, can you both help running a trip for me?"
After Cao Chun Hua secretly departed, Chang Geng began to live the days of a mysterious dragon - appearing at one moment, vanishing in the next.
On this side, Gu Yun had been made restless by concern. He had intended to choose one day to talk it through with Chang Geng, but he discovered that he simply could not find the other! Chang Geng was avoiding him.
With nothing to do from day until night, his mind was running full of thoughts. He even abandoned his medicine, as having blinded eyes and deaf ears could be quite peaceful.
But at the same time, the court was submerged in raging waves and wind.
First, Emperor Long An wished to bring back the 'Rong Jin Law'. When this was announced, the Ministry of Revenue and Ministry of Works had joined together to immediately bring forth their opposition; even the Ministry of War, whom the Emperor had thoroughly reformed into being his own cotton coat, showed disagreement.
Li Feng had sealed his mouth shut, stubbornly insisting on carrying things out his way. Not long after, he made his response.
On February 2nd, the head of the Ministry of Revenue was first accused by the imperial censor of 'receiving bribes from other countries for personal gain'. Later, during the thorough investigation, a series of bribes between various officials were quickly turned over, escalating into the biggest corruption and fraud case under the Long An regency.
The head of the Ministry of Works was quite similar to the Imperial Uncle - although he had a heart that went out for the country and the people, he had no courage, immediately fleeing at the sight of smoke. After seeing the Emperor's attitude, he had instantly understood the situation, shut his mouth, and hid away. Afterward, he no longer dared to mention the sensitive matter of the Rong Jin law.
On February 10th, Gu Yun had been under house arrest for a half-month in the manor. A Black Eagle quietly arrived outside the capital from the Northern Camp, replacing his armor with commoner attire and blending in during the night, mysteriously sneaking inside the manor.
Gu Yun finally had the opportunity to see Chang Geng, who had been avoiding him like he'd avoid snakes.
Chang Geng brought the medicine soup in front of Gu Yun, the atmosphere between them was cold to the point of embarrassment: "A Black Eagle is coming."
Gu Yun nodded, then picked up the medicine bowl to drink. Chang Geng had already prepared the silver needles. When he saw him putting down the bowl, he raised the needles and signaled with his eyes: Is it alright?
He was so polite, so distant; Gu Yun was even at a further loss for what to do.
Chang Geng no longer let Gu Yun casually lie on his lap. He resembled an unfamiliar doctor, only used gestures, or lightly holding on; he even refused to touch Gu Yun.
Gu Yun closed his eyes, letting the effect of the drug begin to kick in, his hearing gradually recovered, and everything in his surroundings immediately became noisy; the sounds of servants outside having a conversation while sweeping the snow, the sounds of the house guards' weapons and armors colliding, even the rustling of clothing when Chang Geng moved, all were drilling into his ears. Gu Yun had been deaf for more than ten days, and was momentarily unable to adjust.
Gu Yun resisted his irritability and seized this opportunity to ask: "Chang Geng, can you tell me why?"
Chang Geng certainly knew what it was he referred to, momentarily not speaking up.
Gu Yun: "Is it because... I had too much that day, I did something to you... um..."
Chang Geng's hand trembled, and the needle that was about to be pinned down stopped in the air for a moment.
He had been continuously silent; there was no need to discuss how uncomfortable Gu Yun was feeling inside - even if he were to receive more anger from Li Feng, he could still have a clear conscience when looking directly at the Heaven and earth and facing himself, but with Chang Geng, although Gu Yun was unable to figure out anything, he could always feel this was the fault of both parties.
If he did not display any inappropriate behavior, how could Chang Geng be...
"No." Chang Geng suddenly replied, his tone incredibly calm: "It was actually I who had done disrespectful things to yifu first."
Gu Yun: "..."
"And there is no reason," Chang Geng gently pressed his head, not letting him move, and his tone was unusually ordinary.
"What reason could there be for this kind of thing? If I think about it, perhaps because I have never been loved by neither my father nor mother, except for yifu, no one has ever given me affection. As the years went by, it had given birth to thoughts that I should not be having. You have never noticed it, and I had never intended to mention it to anyone either. On that day, I was too furious and accidentally exposed myself."
Gu Yun could only feel as if a large stone had fallen from the sky, crushing his chest, causing him to be unable to breathe - he soon assumed Chang Geng only momentarily strayed from his path, who would have thought that it was, in truth, a long time illness!
"There is no need for yifu to take this to heart, just pretend this matter had never existed." Chang Geng replied with indifference.
The needles in his hands never faltered. If it was not for him personally admitting to it, Gu Yun would perhaps continue assuming he was old yet improper, overestimated himself, and had such insolent thoughts.
But how would he be able to pretend it never happened?
Gu Yun felt he was about to go crazy, the feeling of premature aging arose; for the first time, he discovered that the 'Northwest Flower' was no longer youthful - he could no longer understand what young people were thinking!
"The Emperor called me into the court to listen in these past two days," Chang Geng abruptly changed the topic, "They are quarreling all day, opening a large case of corruption and fraud, I have also had a general idea of how the Emperor thinks. What does yifu plan to do?"
Gu Yun gave him a blank stare, clearly not in the mood to discuss the political affairs with him.
Chang Geng sighed softly, reached out, took Gu Yun's liuli glass off, and placed it to the side. By this action, he had isolated himself from Gu Yun's line of sight, his expression firmly conveyed: I will not tell you anything.
"I am willing to do anything for you. If you are uncomfortable with me, I can get out of your sight. If you only want a filial and understanding son, I promise I will never cross this line." Chang Geng said, "Yifu, I have been very embarrassed about this matter — please stop asking what is in my heart, alright?"
A large 'no' was written all over Gu Yun.
Chang Geng began to unload the silver needles from his body, and calmly asked: "Then what do you want me to do?"
Not waiting for him to speak up, he had cut in again: "Anything."
If Chang Geng indeed had disrespectful behaviors, clinging on to bother him, perhaps Gu Yun would have already called three hundred house guards to kick him out to the already completed Yanbei Wang Manor.
Then using a sharp blade to cut through entangling strings - will himself to regard him coldly for a year and a half, and everything would be over.
But Chang Geng gave him an 'even if you were to send me off to the ends of the earth, I would still happily comply'.
Gu Yun's head hurt immensely, feeling as though he resembled a dog biting onto a tortoise's shell; there was no place for him to sink his teeth into.
After a long while, Gu Yun asked: "Is your injury better?"
Chang Geng nodded, making a 'hm' sound in response, saving his words as if they were gold.
Gu Yun: "How did it happen?"
Chang Geng said calmly: "After many years of delusion, I momentarily succumbed to madness."
Gu Yun: "..."
All the more troubling.
Chang Geng carefully packed away the silver needles, turned to the corner of the room, taking a small bit of tranquilizer out to burn: "I'm going to call the Black Eagle brother in, alright?"
"Your Royal Highness," Gu Yun suddenly called him, his expression incredibly serious. "You are the descendant of prestigious royalty. There is no telling how much more precious your title could be in the future. Others all regard you like treasure, like gems, your subject also hopes that whenever and wherever you are, Your Highness will always cherish yourself, do not undervalue yourself nor your status."
Half of Chang Geng's face was hidden in the shadow, unwavering even in the face of eight winds flowing, he calmly replied: "Yes, Marquis, rest assured."
Gu Yun: "..."
Chang Geng stood for a while as if waiting for any other instructions he could have, but after a moment, he only saw Gu Yun staying in one spot, speechless. Only then did he turn away to leave quietly.
Gu Yun leaned back and took a deep breath.
He would rather Chang Geng strongly argue with him much like in his teenage years, perhaps that would have been easier to deal with because Gu Yun just now realized - as long as this bastard no longer desired anything, he seemed to have become invincible.
Gu Yun, who had been thoroughly 'defeated', walking back and forth in the room for a few laps, decided that he would never again dream of 'tender fragrance*' or 'red sleeves*' and the likes; he'd had enough.
*refers to the soft and fragrance body of a woman
*refers to a well-dressed woman
At this time, the Black Eagle, who had been waiting for a long while, knocked on the door and entered.
The Black Eagle probably had hurriedly flown straight here, although he had bathed and brushed his hair, his exhaustion still remained, and even his beard hadn't been shaved.
He knelt down on the floor: "Grand Marshal."
"Cut the needless courtesy," Gu Yun regained his energy. "What happened? He Rong Hui sent you here?"
Black Eagle: "Yes!"
Gu Yun: "Let me see the letter."
He unfolded the letter given by the soldier and swiftly read through it. The handwriting of the Eagle faction's commander He Rong Hui was incredibly hideous, conveying everything in a short and brief manner.
At the end of the month, two small countries at the Western Regions - Ku Cha and Qie Mo had some dispute regarding the matter of border trade. Still, the affairs between the countries of the Western Regions were to be resolved within themselves, it was not convenient for officers of Great Liang to intervene. Thus, they did not pay much attention to this at first.
Lou Lan and these two countries just happened to create a triangle. The King of Lou Lan had sent his brother as an envoy, serving as a connection to help the two sides reconcile, but their group had met its demise at the border of Ku Cha, the entire troop was wiped out.
At first, it was assumed to be desert bandits. But afterward, as the King of Lou Lan made a thorough investigation, they discovered the emblem belonging to the sword of the Imperial Guards of the Ku Cha Kingdom among the ruins of the aftermath. Thus, they had promptly gone to question this country.
The Ku Cha Kingdom denied everything through and through, claiming that Lou Lan was showing favoritism towards Qie Mo, even humiliating Lou Lan's envoys. The King of Lou Lan sent their prince as the head, leading three thousand riders to Ku Cha, pressing them to shed light on this matter.
In the beginning, Ku Cha had kept their doors closed and refused to respond, then suddenly opened the gates, with hundreds of 'Sand Tigers' inside.
The so-called 'Sand Tiger' was a war chariot that ran in the desert, extremely heavy, and consumed a great amount of Ziliujin. Their working mechanism was also extremely complicated.
Gu Yun had clashed with them when fighting the rebellion in the Western Region a decade ago. At that time, there were only three large sand tigers on the opponent's side, yet they had almost managed to trap half of his still inexperienced Black Cavalry. But as far as he knew, those three Sand Tigers were the result of all the Western Region countries pouring their resources together to create.
Gu Yun stood up abruptly, his brows in a deep scowl, his fingers unconsciously spinning the wooden beads in his hands- this was too similar to the case of the southwest rebellion. He lowered his voice and asked: "Is it truly a Sand Tiger, not just an empty shell?"
The Black Eagle was quick in his reply: "Marshal, it was indeed the real Sand Tiger. In a very short amount of time, Lou Lan riders had already been utterly defeated. Their prince almost perished on the battlefield; his soldiers have risked death in order to rescue him.
"On the same day, Lou Lan sent people to our garrison to ask for help, but the seal on the letter had not even been removed, yet many soldiers of other nations on the Silk Road had already received this news. All were instantly in a state of fear. Other countries in the Western Regions, Tianzhu, and the foreigners, all gathered their troops in their respective places. The Northwest Governor Master Meng personally went to the camp, telling us to wait for the 'Drumming Order'."
Gu Yun slapped the table: "Ridiculous!"
The soldier thought that he was referring to the Drumming Order, he responded: "The commander of our Black Eagle faction is also saying this. The Black Iron Camp was not supposed to follow the command of the Drumming Order, but Governor Meng had said that Marshal was under house arrest to reflect on your actions behind closed doors, so he had ordered us to wait for the imperial decree..."
Gu Yun's heart tightened; everything happened faster than he imagined, even countless times more chaotic than he imagined.
The Western Regions were much like a shallow pit with many frogs - small countries resembling a mass of a goat's feces, one pile to the east, one pile to the west, quarreling every few days, wanting to dominate one another. However, in the past few years, with the Black Iron Camp keeping watch at the entrance of the Silk Road, for a long time, no one would dare to stir up any trouble.
Ku Cha was the size of a mosquito's eye; even if they were to sell all their iron, they would never be able to purchase over a hundred Sand Tigers. Behind this unusual action, of course, would be wolves preying; this was as clear as day.
The question was - what was the intention of the forces standing behind the Ku Cha Kingdom?
Gu Yun did not believe that this was done by that person in the palace. Li Feng had a strong desire to control; he very much liked to carry things out in a safe and certain manner. He never would have done such rash actions in such a short period, under a situation in which even he himself hadn't planned everything carefully.
He was afraid that this time, even Li Feng had also been caught off guard. On the one hand, he did not know what the exact situation was in the northwest. On the other hand, he was afraid that the Black Iron Camp would act without command, disrupting the arrangement of the court. 'The Marshal Seal is currently confiscated, no Drumming Order will be granted' had become his excuse to hold them back.
Gu Yun asked: "How many soldiers are there in each defensive garrison of the other countries?"
Black Eagle: "In the station of the Westerners, there are about three thousand. Tian Zhu are a bit further away, there are only one thousand troops, the rest belong to other Western Region countries."
"Impossible." Gu Yun lightly bit his tongue and swallowed the words 'investigate again' back, only to remember that he was not in the army at this time.
He had been trapped in this city the size of a well, completely beyond reach.
"Since hundreds of Sand Tigers have appeared, the other side must want an all-out battle. If they don't have a few tens of thousands of elite soldiers standing at the back, all the Ziliujin pouring into these machines will be in vain. Even if there are not many in daylight, it does not mean that there are no troops hidden in the dark."
Gu Yun narrowed his eyes; his fingers slightly tapped the table: "To deal with Lou Lan's poor-man cavalry, a team of Heavy Armors would be more than enough to suffice. They gathered a large number of Sand Tigers and tens of thousands of troops at our border, this cannot be about a trivial argument between the small countries in the Western Regions."
The soldier was puzzled: "Then...then your subordinate will immediately rush back now..."
Gu Yun intercepted him: "There is no need, and it's already too late."
The Black Eagle rushed to the capital from the station at the Silk Road, taking two days at best, this was already a godlike speed. The capital forbade air travel; he could only land in the Northern Camp. Even if he were to enter the capital on the same night, upon arriving in front of Gu Yun, it would already be the third day. If he were to return to send the message, counting both departing and returning time, even if he ran to death, it would still take up to five or six days.
The battlefield changed rapidly, five or six days were enough for them to lose their country -
Gu Yun clenched his teeth: why must he be detained here in the capital right at this moment!
"You go rest first." Gu Yun whispered, "Let me think about it."
The Black Eagle soldier did not dare to be talkative, obediently taking his leave.
Gu Yun turned to heat up a bottle of wine for himself, strolling back and forth in his room. Within this small space, his head had completely cooled down, gradually finding a clue, he thought: "Perhaps the worst hasn't happened."
He was detained, Shen Yi was not here. At this moment, the Northwestern Black Iron Camp was being led by He Rong Hui — the commander of the Black Eagle faction.
He Rong Hui's character, Gu Yun understood it full well — the man was notorious for being the topmost difficult person to deal with. In addition to Gu Yun, even Shen Yi might not be able to withstand him, he would definitely not put the Northwestern Governor in his eyes. If that Meng Peng Fei dared to bare his might inside their camp under the name of the Drumming Order, He Rong Hui would probably take the lead in opposing, and if not careful... perhaps he would even take care of Governor Meng.
Then what would be the next step?
Suddenly, a knock from outside came through the door; Gu Yun went to open it and found that Chang Geng was standing there.
Gu Yun's hand was holding onto the door. As soon as he caught sight of Chang Geng, the heart that had just calmed down began to stir up again, his stomach twisting in a knot: "How come you are here again?"
Chang Geng: "I think yifu perhaps could use me right now."
Gu Yun: "..."
Chang Geng stood at the door and asked, "Can I come in?"
After requesting his permission, he turned sideways, in a 'completely ready to go' stance; as long as Gu Yun told him to 'get away', he would immediately obey and vanish into thin air.
Gu Yun thought: I must have owed a lot of money to this little bastard in my previous life.
Then, he could not do anything other than to make way for said little bastard to enter the room.
Just now, Gu Yun was deeply immersed in his thoughts, accidentally leaving the bottle of wine to reach a boiling state on the stove. The scent of liquor spread in the room. Gu Yun tried to make conversation, lifted up the bottle, and asked Chang Geng: "Do you want a drink?"
Chang Geng did not pay him any mind, taking out a bottle of already cooled boiled water for himself, sitting properly next to a chessboard - if he were to shave his hair, this image of him would very much resemble a mysterious monk, beyond the mortal realm.
Chang Geng asked: "The Black Eagle would not run all the way from the Northwestern Camp during the night without any reason. Is there a change at the border?"
Gu Yun didn't quite want him to know, vaguely saying: "Just a little trouble, it's nothing."
His personal prestige in the military was extremely high. The advantage of it was that he did not speak twice, his abilities to control and his efficiency were both excellent. However, with everything that was too extreme bearing the tendency to become counter-productive, this also had its downside. For example, as Gu Yun would involuntarily maintain this prestige, when faced with certain things even he himself could not figure out, he would not take the initiative to talk to others about it either.
Over time, it was easy to become stubborn.
Chang Geng lifted his eyes and looked at him, but quickly retracted his gaze, reverting back to avoid his line of sight, for he was afraid he would sink into it if he were to look too long. He picked up a chess piece from the box next to him, playing with it between his fingertips. The piece was black and green, a hint of light flashed as the steam lamp shone upon it.
Seeing that Gu Yun wasn't willing to elaborate on it, Chang Geng continued his question: "The generals of the three major factions can perfectly handle things on their own, with a bit of friction at the border, they would not come to bother you - my guess is there are at least tens of thousands of unusual troops assembled or a different problem which is equally grave, otherwise, that Black Eagle brother would not have to travel as such."
Gu Yun repeatedly turned the steaming hot cup of wine in his hand, slightly narrowing his eyes amongst the aroma of liquor: "Old General Zhong has taught you a lot."
"There are still things General Zhong has never taught me," Chang Geng said. "What is yifu thinking?"
"The Black Iron Camp forever put defending the homeland as our final boundary."
Gu Yun explained. "In case of sudden incidents with unclear circumstances happening, Old He will automatically regard the border as a front line and close off the entrance of the Silk Road. All roads are cut off, and those who deliberately enter will be executed. If a friendly neighboring country came to seek assistance when the Marshal was not there, the Black Iron Camp would only provide protection at most, they would never leave the job to mobilize troops."
"Five thousand soldiers of the Black Iron Camp, unless they were gods themselves that arrived, otherwise, whoever might come, they will never be able to easily break through the barrier of our Northwestern Frontier — I am not worried about this for the time being, just thinking about what action they will take next."
His voice was low and gentle, and seemed to be even deeper than the aroma of liquor hanging in the room. Chang Geng's ears couldn't help but tingle, he kept his head down, trying to ward off distracting thoughts: "If it were to be me, I would not choose this moment to act against Great Liang."
Gu Yun's gaze paused on the black chess piece in between his contrasting white fingertips: "Why?"
Chang Geng placed it on the chessboard, a clear sound rang out.
"Because it's still not enough," he said, "The contradiction between yifu and His Majesty has not reached the point of resembling fire and water. Although he temporarily put you under house arrest in the capital, the Black Iron Camp still hasn't scattered, remaining to be a solid piece of metal. In the case of foreign enemies invading, the Emperor will put you back in action at any time. The conflict between the regime and the military power that has intensified in the past few years will be resolved overnight, all they have laid out for years will be destroyed."
Since the incident on the carriage that day, Chang Geng had suddenly sharpened up in front of Gu Yun. Whether it be family affairs or politics, when coming from his mouth, they all directly hit the bull's-eye with no mercy.
Gu Yun was stabbed by the words 'the contradiction between political power and military power', the fingers that the hot wine cup had turned red were stopped in the air.
This was a scrape hidden deep under the peaceful facade of Great Liang.
Emperor Wu had no son, there was no other option but to adopt a child within their bloodline then pass on the title of the Crown Prince. No matter how much people praised the man for his intellect, in the end, he was only human. At his final moment, the old man had had his own selfish wish, leaving the military power that could threaten the emperor and command the magistrates to his most beloved daughter, thus separating military power from the court's regime.
This perhaps had become the biggest failure of Emperor Wu in his lifetime. If the marshal was understanding and content with his position, and the emperor had a vast heart, the ruler and the subject could then live in harmony for one generation, but what about two generations? Three generations?
Inside, Gu Yun was fully aware of this matter —
One day, the contradiction between the Black Tiger Emblem and the Emperor's Seal would no longer be reconciled. In the end, there could be only two outcomes: 'the incompetent ruler abdicated' or 'set aside the bow as there are no more birds'.
"I think this is a 'two in one' test." Chang Geng placed several pieces on the board. "If those foreigners discover that once yifu is out of the camp, the Black Iron Camp immediately becomes a mass of straw being commanded by the Drumming Order, they would then prepare massive troops, resembling tigers preying on us.
"Not only the Western Regions, but also the barbarians in the North, and the Eastern Sea which has been silent for many years. But this possibility is minuscule, the most likely outcome is that the Northwest will remain impenetrable, General He will imprison Governor Meng, who is currently holding the Drumming Order..."
Gu Yun's gaze on him was finally dyed with a hint of shock.
Chang Geng greeted his eyes with a half-bitter, half-sorrowful smile: "Yifu, don't be so surprised; all things related to you, even turning over all of Great Liang, there isn't a second person who could be as thorough as I am."
Gu Yun: "..."
This kind of young man who was immune to both hard and soft tactics, especially troublesome, was truly difficult to deal with; could not scold, could not beat, could not persuade nor coax, but after a moment of being choked up, Gu Yun suddenly had an idea, decisively playing his 'utterly mindless, incredibly thick-skinned' move, tilting his head and asking with a serious look: "What? Are you teasing your yifu?"
Chang Geng was caught off guard, as expected, getting hit by this one move. His large white sleeve knocked over a bowl of water on the table.
The ever-victorious Marshal Gu did not pay any mind to this little victory. He waved his hand with great grace: "Continue."
Chang Geng soon returned to his senses, although Gu Yun just scared him to death, at the same time, he felt relieved — even if the sky fell, that person could always remain lively.
"... If I were in their shoes, I would use Heavy Troops to continue to pressure the border of the Silk Road, especially Heavy Armors and Chariots," Chang Geng said "Continuously threatening the Black Iron Camp, appearing as if we will attack at any moment.
"Yifu is not in the army, General He will be at most a suspension bridge left hanging high, he definitely will not take the initiative to mobilize troops. On the one hand, he will send you a letter, and at the same time, he will seek assistance from the nearby areas. It could be the Defense Army, or it may be the Central Plains Garrison."
Gu Yun raised his eyebrows.
"When the Black Iron Camp issues a request for help, it must be an emergency, no one will regard it as just an ordinary matter. Although the Drumming Order has been passed from the Southern Frontier, its prestige is not enough to command the entire country in just a few months. Thus the general in charge is very likely to jump over the Ministry of War and send out reinforcement."
Chang Geng stared at the mottled chessboard. "But if I remember correctly, when the Northern Barbarians attacked Yanhui Town back then, the Northern Frontier City Defense Army had also been personally cleaned by yifu. You can say that you didn't deliberately place your men inside, but I am afraid that those who use the heart of a villain to measure a hero's action will not believe this.
"But the commander of the crucial Central Plains troops, Cai Feng — Old General Cai coincidentally used to be a subordinate of the old marquis. In this way, in the five major military regions of Great Liang, no need to mention the Southwest, General Shen is your man. The Western Regions had the Black Iron Camp, completely lawless, even daring to imprison the Northwest Governor; the Northern Frontier and the Central Plains garrison ignored the Ministry of War's Drumming Order, as soon as the Black Iron Camp seeks help, they would immediately send troops at will." Chang Geng grabbed a handful of chess pieces, throwing them all together on the board, the scattering noise ringing out.
The rest was for certain —
Emperor Li Feng would probably realize more and more that Gu Yun's act of yielding to the Drumming Order was completely a 'scam'. He would then use himself to measure others — assuming half of his nation was already placed in Gu Yun's hands.
The Emperor would be unable to breathe from rage.
Chang Geng's gaze was endlessly deep: "Would yifu listen to my ideas?"
Gu Yun: "Speak."
Chang Geng: "First, immediately instruct the Black Eagle to send a letter to General Cai, inform him he must not act arbitrarily without command. Even if General Cai decides to mobilize troops, he must first adjust the formation, preparing medicine and rations. If we are to send the message right now, perhaps it will still get there in time."
Gu Yun immediately questioned: "Why not send a letter to the Northern Frontier Defense Army?"
Chang Geng said, his expression unchanging: "Because yifu has only one Black Eagle, we can only place one bet in this gamble.
"In view of the fact that even someone like me realizes that the Northern Barbarian is very likely to siege this chaotic opportunity for their advantage, I'm certain General He would understand this also, thus, there is a high chance he will skip the nearest solution to reach for the one further and seek the assistance of the Central Plains Garrison.
"After returning to the Northwest, the Black Eagle must advise General He to not be impatient. There is no need for him to listen to the Drumming Order's command, but he definitely must not greatly offend the Northwest Governor."
Gu Yun: "Third?"
"Thirdly," Chang Geng said slowly. "I want to ask yifu to make use of this moment while the news on the Silk Road side hasn't reached the capital yet to find a reason to thoroughly hand over the Marshal Seal. Clearly express you will no longer get involved in military affairs. At the same time, thoroughly communicate with the Emperor, you only need to say that the security of the Northwest is of great importance, that before taking your leave, you have already explained everything to your subordinates — without the Marshal Seal, the commanders of the three factions are not allowed to act rashly in any situation, that the Northwest troops cannot lack its leader for even a day, requesting the Emperor to find someone to take over as soon as possible."
Taking a step back, avoiding the sharp edge while keeping He Rong Hui from committing an offense.
In fact, Chang Geng still wanted to say, "This is not the best plan, it can only be used to treat the branch but not cure the root". However, his instinct told him Gu Yun might not want to hear these words. Thus, he had swallowed it back.
Gu Yun was silent for a long time after hearing this.
Suddenly, his thoughts ran far away, and he couldn't help but think of the child he had picked up from the wolf's mouth in the blizzard as white as feathers that year.
Back then, Shen Yi had lied to Chang Geng that it was only a coincidence. But in truth, it wasn't.
At that time, they already had their own men in the Northern Frontier. After Gu Yun accepted the imperial decree, he actually found Xiu Niang first. After discovering her connection with the barbarians, he decided not to act in order to avoid affecting the grander scheme of things.
Gu Yun was still young back then; his ways of handling things were more or less immature. Only setting his eyes on the barbarian, he had forgotten the former Emperor's command of quickly returning to the capital after finding the little prince, carelessly letting Chang Geng run out of the city gate. Only then did he hurriedly chase after him with Shen Yi in a state of panic.
Even as Gu Yun closed his eyes now, he could still clearly see the image of Chang Geng's appearance at that time — a small thing covered in injuries, scrawny and bare-boned, in the midst of snow and wolves, he had somehow miraculously held on until they arrived.
Gu Yun wrapped him in his outer coat; he was light enough to be carried with one arm. He felt as if he was holding a small dying bird, for fear of suffocating him even with the slightest force.
Time flowed like water, as soon as he looked away for a moment, the boy had already grown so big.
Chang Geng saw that he was quiet for a long time without answering, he could not help but ask: "Yifu?"
Gu Yun slightly tilted his head, his expression under the lamplight almost appeared gentle for a brief moment. Chang Geng's heart skipped a beat.
Perhaps it was the blood that Chang Geng had vomited out when his anger was raging, or due to the mess that happened in the next few days, in short, although Gu Yun felt that matter was ridiculous, helpless and troublesome at the same time, contradicting what he imagined, he did not become as furious as he expected.
Gu Yun: "I know, you should go rest early."
Chang Geng heard his order with the intent of sending him away, immediately standing up to leave.
Gu Yun: "...Wait."
He lowered his eyes and seemed to hesitate a little: "That time you told me, you could do anything I wanted, is that right?"
Chang Geng's fingers that initially went to open the door hung in the air, curling up slightly.
Gu Yun: "I don't want you to go far, I don't want you to force yourself either. Yifu only wants you to be happy and well. "
Chang Geng stood dead for a moment, then fled without a word.
Gu Yun casually took up the remaining half of the wine bottle, tested the temperature, and then sipped a mouthful: "Little brat, do you think I cannot deal with you?"