The seventh year of Long An, the eighth day of April.
It was the third day since the Marquis of Order, Gu Yun, moved from the hot springs to the prison cell in the capital.
The dungeon was very cold and sinister. Fortunately, as the capital entered spring, the chill had gradually dispersed. It was already warm, the pile of grass and straw in the cell was even softer than his marching bed in the military camp. It was not uncomfortable to live in for a few days, Gu Yun thought of it as going on a vacation.
All around him was silence. There wasn’t even an inmate to chat with. The jailer was a puppet that could not speak. This was the innermost cell in the imperial prison, if one wasn't of the royal bloodline, they were not allowed to enter. Even Tan Hong Fei, the commander of the Northern Camp, was not qualified to stay.
The last person who qualified to be here was Wei Wang, the biological brother of the Emperor. Gu Yun enjoyed the single room treatment, there was no other choice but to stay alone.
But even if someone chatted with him, he would not be able to hear it anyway. The medicine he rushed to drink before leaving had already worn out. The color of the two beauty marks on his earlobe and the corner of his eye had faded to the point of almost being invisible. He did not bring the liuli glass either. When opening his eyes, he could barely count his fingers. The footsteps of the puppet coming in and out were also hazy.
To kill time, he caught a mouse to raise, leaving a few bites every meal to feed it. With nothing to do, he would play around with it.
That incident was deliberately dug up by someone, Gu Yun could tell. When he secretly investigated five years ago, he had wiped out a few deadly pieces of evidence but did not touch Wu He. First, he was only an old dog clinging to life. Second... he feared that in the end, he was not without selfishness. He was not willing to let this unforgettable truth disappear forever.
Gu Yun admitted that this was his error. If he could possess half the amount of calmness he had today, he would understand whether he should have collected these things and waited for the right time, pushing them out and rebelling already, or if he should have destroyed all that had gone by, buried them in the past and never let them see the light again.
Thousands of mistakes, he should not have hesitated where he should have been decisive.
Much like Emperor Yuan He, if the old man did not hesitate, there would never have existed a Gu Yun, perhaps the world could have had another kind of peace.
Gu Yun did not know what would happen in the future, nor did he know whether Chang Geng who had just entered the world could truly be able to stabilize the hearts of the military forces on all sides. However, he was currently in prison, it was useless to worry, he first had to relax and regain his strength.
Later, the mouse found that this man’s itchy hands were too annoying. He was troublesome, but it was also unable to escape, thus it promptly played dead and no longer paid attention to him.
The little Marquis that was hated by dogs and cats had to idly lean against the wall. He felt that the attitude of this mouse was similar to that of Chang Geng when he was young.
Gu Yun started to think of Chang Geng, then he could not help but sigh, complaining to the mouse: "I’d rather that he dislikes me for bothering him every day like in his childhood."
The mouse gave him a very round butt in response.
Gu Yun took a deep breath and forcefully kicked out this last bit of thought. Not picking and choosing, he pulled the moldy rug on the haystack, laid it on his body, and closed his eyes to rest.
Only with good spirits could one face a difficult future.
No one could bother this half-deaf in the prison. Gu Yun soon fell asleep; he had a dream amongst the cold musty smell.
Gu Yun dreamed he was lying on his back under a giant butcher knife, the heavy blade pressed on his chest, bit by bit cutting through the skin and flesh into his bones, breaking him alive in two halves, disconnecting his body from all his limbs. Only the wound across his chest ached incredibly. In his ears lingered the noises of crying, gunfire, and howling, combined with the intermittent sound of hu jia*, off-toned and vague, like a spider web…
*a type of musical instrument like a flute
He was split by the knife, but there was no blood in the wound. Instead, a signal arrow fell out and surged to the sky with an ear-piercing noise, exploding and shaking the nation.
Gu Yun woke up with a muffled groan. The old wound on his chest ached inexplicably. The piercing sound of the signal arrow in his dream continued to echo in his ears, forming into a strange type of tinnitus.
There seemed to be a bizarre link between him and his Black Iron Camp. That night, the first ominous signal arrow exploded in the night sky at the garrison in the Western Regions.
The emergency battle report arrived in the capital only one day later. The Black Eagle soldier who came to deliver the message had only one leg left. With one last dying breath, he arrived at the Northern Camp that was in a state of panic and died before he could say a word.
Two hours later, the surprise attack on the Black Iron Camp in the Western Regions shocked the government, frightening the people.
When news of the incident in the capital spread, He Rong Hui led people to besiege the Northwest Governor Manor. As soon as he left, Ku Cha Kingdom sent 160 Sand Tigers as the lead, forcibly piercing through the Black Cavalry patrol camp located at the entrance of the Western Regions.
The chariot Sand Tiger was the biggest enemy of the Light Cavalry. For a moment, smoke and dust covered the air, flames rose like a curtain, battle horses cried out and died, iron cavalry fell down one after another.
But the Black Iron Camp was still the Black Iron Camp in the end. After a moment of confusion, they immediately reacted. Black Armors did not hesitate to press on. He Rong Hui immediately returned with Black Eagles after receiving the news, decisively cutting off the supply line of Sand Tigers from the air directly. Giant combat vehicles consumed fuel excessively. Once their supply was interrupted, they would instantly become a pile of scrap copper and iron.
But the Sand Tigers that came knocking on their door were no bluff. Behind it, just like how everyone had feared, were tens of thousands of troops bearing flags.
The foreigners at the stations of countless countries, even the Tianzhu people who had taken this opportunity for their advantage… the number surpassed what they had imagined. Even though they were only a mob made up of a lousy bunch, they were still a 'mob'. With Sand Tigers on the side, the Black Iron Camp could only use Heavy Armors to resist, and soon the two sides began to fall into a battle of Ziliujin.
He Rong Hui urgently opened up the Ziliujin storage of the Western Regions Camp and was shocked at the realization that there was not much left. When Emperor Long An thoroughly investigated the smuggling of Ziliujin, Gu Yun had no choice but to suspend the hidden supply line in his hands. The amount given to them by the court was only enough to maintain everyday patrol, it could not sustain in a sudden outbreak of such large-scale battles.
He Rong Hui sent people to deploy, but the path to deploy Ziliujin was blocked again. The news of the imprisonment of the Marquis of Order had spread. No one could tell the specific situation. At this time, people were panicked, and there were all kinds of rumors. At this life and death situation, who would dare to deploy Ziliujin to the Black Iron Camp without the Drumming Order?
What if they wanted to press in on the capital for a rebellion?
He Rong Hui sent a Black Eagle to the capital on the one hand, and on the other, approached the city defense forces of the Northern Frontier for help. However, the messenger hadn't left yet, but the Northern Barbarian's suddenly rose up. News of the Wolf King Jia Lai Ying Huo personally leading this expedition smashed down on them.
Five years of stability, the iron wall had turned upside down.
Jia Lai Ying Huo - who had tens of thousands of elite soldiers and thousands of Heavy Armors, and even had a type of invincible 'Hawk', which was bigger in size and even more lethal than the Black Iron Camp's Eagle - bit into the Northern Frontier's defense, which stretched for thousands of miles.
The Northwest suffered a defeat that could no longer be saved. Without the marshal’s order, even if the last soldier died, the Black Iron Camp did not dare to retreat one step back. He Rong Hui struggled to hold them off for three days and two nights, the troops were beaten to the ground, the god-like army created by the accumulation of three generations was about to lose more than half of its soldiers.
At that moment, Chang Geng's messenger finally arrived.
With Gu Yun's private seal, the Royal Highness who had never made himself known or displayed his talents from far away at the capital had imitated Gu Yun's handwriting seamlessly.
He handed two letters in total to the messenger — if the border was still stable, he would give him the first letter, telling He Rong Hui to not be concerned about the court, whether if it was from the black market or other means, immediately secretly fill up the Ziliujin storage in the Western Regions, maintain the armors and be ready for a battle at any time.
In case the frontier’s situation had changed, the second letter would be given to He Rong Hui, telling him he must not sacrifice himself to defense, he must not be eager to fight, and quickly shrink their forces to the east of Jiayu Gate and wait for reinforcement.
The enemy hiding in the dark had already started to move, it was undoubtedly too late now for them to act. There was no Black Eagle in Chang Geng's hands. There were too few people he could get in contact with by the wooden birds in Lin Yuan Pavilion. No matter whether the sky fell or if the earth shattered, the messenger could hardly arrive on time. Therefore, he had envisioned the worst-case scenario and tried his best to mend the cage after the animals had been lost.
If the Western Regions had changed, it would be difficult for the Northern Frontier to take care of themselves. Therefore, General Cai Fen, commander-in-chief of the Central Plains Garrison, would receive another letter from Chang Geng at the same time the Black Iron Camp retreated, asking him to increase his troops to the North and to send his portion of Ziliujin and Heavy Troops to Jiayu Gate as soon as possible to relieve this burning urgency.
However, Chang Geng’s heart was clear. If something really happened, this deployment was not enough.
The hundreds and thousands of mountains in the Southwest were completely out of his control. Although Shen Yi was on that side, he was a commander in name only and had no foundation. It was impossible to arbitrarily dispatch troops without the Drumming Order.
The Eastern Sea Navy was even more concerning. General Zhao You Fang was Li Feng’s man; it was impossible to mobilize that side with only a private seal from Gu Yun.
Coincidentally, Chang Geng had a hunch that even if he could manage to put out the fire in other places, hidden in the vast ocean of the Eastern Sea must be another fatal blow.
The news brought back by the Black Eagle truly did confirm the very worst scenario he had imagined. Chang Geng took a deep breath and released the last wooden bird. He turned back and spoke to Huo Dan whose blood was already bubbling in his mouth: "Ready the horse, I want to go to the palace."
At the gate of the palace, Chang Geng was stopped by Liao Ran. The monk was weather-beaten, but his expression remained tranquil and unwavering, as if regardless of how urgent something could be, it would all be dispersed by the marks of incense on his head, blown away into ash by the words ‘Amitabha’.
Liao Ran: "Amitabha, Your Royal Highness..."
Chang Geng interrupted him indifferently: "Master needn't say more. I’m going to the palace to await orders, not to force the Emperor to abdicate."
Liao Ran’s expression changed slightly, gesturing: "The monk believes that Your Royal Highness has this proper measure."
"I don't have any sense of propriety," The Fourth Prince who was well-versed in conversations had torn away from his gentle demeanor and said bluntly, "Using Qinling Mountains to divide into north and south, the southeast and southwest are out of control. Even if I can kill Li Feng on the spot, it could not clean up the current messy state of affairs, not to mention that no one can succeed the throne at the moment. The Emperor's eldest son is nine years old; the empress is simply a useless, diseased-ridden woman with only her appearance, Zi Xi is unjustified for the position, and I..."
He sneered: "I am the son of the demonic woman of the Man tribes."
Liao Ran watched him with concern.
"Master, rest assured, I am a poison myself. If I had acted at will, I would have already begun to do harm to the country and the people. But I haven't done anything yet, have I?" Chang Geng's expression faded once again. "Now is not the time to speak of this matter, the foreign enemies have invaded. Perhaps they had planned this for a long time. This matter is not over yet, but they reacted too quickly. I suspect that inside the palace... even beside Li Feng, there are spies of the enemy. Does Lin Yuan Pavilion have anyone that could be of use in the palace?”
Liao Ran looked at him with all seriousness, he signed: "Your Highness means..."
Chang Geng: "This incident involved the old case from twenty years ago, the Northern Barbarian's would definitely be related to this matter. Investigate all the people those two barbarian women came in contact with in the palace at that time — anyone. Northern sorcerers excel at using poison, they have many vile tricks up their sleeves, do not overlook any clues, not even the smallest ones.”
When he spoke of ‘the two barbarian women’, his voice was unchanging, as if he was referring to someone who had no relation with him.
"I should have felt strange," Chang Geng whispered. "That year, Li Feng easily released Jia Lai Ying Huo like releasing the tiger back to its mountains. As expected, what happened behind everything was not at all simple, but unfortunately..."
It was a pity that he was too young at that time, his heart was only the size of a fist, it could only contain the little troubles of a young man who had left his hometown.
"If I had been born ten years earlier…," Chang Geng suddenly said.
Liao Ran’s eyelids jumped.
Chang Geng forced out each word: "The world would absolutely not have turned out this way."
He would never have let go of Gu Yun either.
"Zi Xi had said before, our court’s Sea Dragons are ten years behind compared to other military factions. I am worried that the Eastern Sea will not be peaceful. General Zhao has the talent to defend, but he would not necessarily be able to handle a war." Chang Geng said, "I have written a letter to Teacher, Lin Yuan has a strong foundation in Jiangnan, I will trouble the Master to go provide them with support, my apologies for I cannot accompany you.”
Liao Ran rarely frowned, but there was no telling why Chang Geng’s ‘Zi Xi’ had frightened the soul out of him.
However, in this urgent situation, it was not the time to ponder about a name. The monk was dressed in an attire made of coarse cloth, and his figure instantly disappeared into the morning light, departing right away.
Chang Geng just set foot into the palace, yet bad news had already fallen onto their heads. The intense news of the frontline military situations arriving one after another made Emperor Long An and all the court’s magistrates at a loss for how to react —
The Black Iron Camp had retreated to Jiayu Gate.
The Northern Frontier lost seven cities in a single night...not even able to wait for Cai Feng’s reinforcements to arrive.
The Southern Frontier rebel mobs seemed to have already discussed it beforehand, allying with the Southern Sea bandits and mysteriously exploding the Southwest supply storage ......
Everyone present at the main hall turned pale, looking over at the entrance. Li Feng didn't even have time to let Chang Geng greet him.
"Your Majesty, eight-hundred-mile expedited report, there are a hundred thousand Western Navy soldiers using the path of the Dong Ying Island to invade —"
Li Feng eyes seemingly wanted to crack: "What about Zhao You Fang?"
The messenger bowed to the ground and choked out in tears: "...General Zhao has already been sacrificed for the country."
Li Feng's whole body shook, Chang Geng watched him fall down on the throne with a blank expression. Suddenly, in the area outside of his rational sense, a type of cruel satisfaction was arising in him. However, Chang Geng was very strict towards himself, he pinched his palm in silence and pressed back the bloodthirsty pleasure — he knew it was the Bone of Impurity messing with him, it was not his true self.
Chang Geng opened his mouth and spoke with not much sincerity: "Your Majesty, please take care."
It seemed as if the person who said he wanted to kill Li Feng was not him.
Yan Bei Wang just spoke up, the other dumbfounded magistrates in the main hall immediately reacted and followed his lead: "Your Majesty, please take care."
Li Feng's eyes slowly fell on Chang Geng. This was his only brother in name, but he seldom ever noticed him. Since his Royal Highness Li Min inherited his title and entered the court, he almost never spoke up, nor did he deliberately acquaint himself with other magistrates. He did not even use Gu Yun's name to make conversation with military officers. He only occasionally chatted with a few poor scholars about poetry and books.
Chang Geng acted as if he had not noticed his gaze at all, his face remained unchanged. "General Zhao has sacrificed himself, there is no barrier left in the Eastern Sea. Westerners will immediately be able to make a direct push to Da Gu Harbor as soon as they turn north. It's too late to say anything now, Royal Brother please get rid of distracting thoughts and immediately come to a decision."
Of course, Li Feng knew this, but his heart was a mess, he momentarily did not know what to say.
At this time, Imperial Uncle Wang, who had been turned ashen by rumors revolving around him in the common folks for the past several days, watched the Emperor's face and dared to say, "Your Majesty, there is only one big garrison that is the Northern Camp in the outskirts of the capital, surrounded by nothing but even plains. If we are to clash with them there, our troops will certainly be insufficient.
"Moreover, the case of Tan Hong Fei's rebellion is still inconclusive. There is almost no leader in the Northern Camp right now. If the entire fleet of Sea Dragons in Jiangnan were to be destroyed, what could the Northern Camp do? Who will protect the safety of the capital? The best course of action at this moment is to...how about we...ah…"
Wang Guo did not finish his sentence, for the eyes of the group of generals in the hall were nailed to him like Baihong arrows.
This old bastard had not even cleaned his own behind yet; a slight wind just rose up and he already dared to convince His Majesty to move the capital elsewhere. If it weren't for this situation of enemies invading from outside and chaotic state of affairs on the inside, perhaps everyone would have cut him to pieces.
Wang Guo swallowed thickly and breathed out, bending his back, not daring to look up.
Li Feng's expression was unfathomable. He was quiet for a moment, then completely ignored Wang Guo and only said: "Let Tan Hong Fei return to his position, give him a chance to atone for his wrongdoings with merits... I called you all here for discussion, anyone who still talks bullshit, get out right now!"
In this urgency, even crude language belonging on the street could come out of the Emperor's mouth. The hall instantly fell into dead silence, red and white flashed on Wang Guo's face.
Li Feng impatiently turned to the Minister of War: "Subject Hu, you are in charge of military affairs, holding the Drumming Orders, what do you say?"
The Minister of War was naturally born with a pale and green complexion combined with a long face. His name was 'Hu Guang', which sounded similar to 'sweet melon', thus some people would call him Minister Melon in private.
As Minister Melon heard Li Feng's words, his face twisted into a bitter melon. In name, the Drumming Order was issued by the Ministry of War, but how could the Ministry of War dare to send them out? He was only but a pen in the hands of the Emperor, would a pen dare to have an opinion?
Hu Guang wiped a cold sweat, talking with a lack of confidence: "Oh... Your Majesty is right, the capital is the foundation of our Great Liang. It is the place where the people's hearts turn to. How could we let those foreigners barge in here? What kind of proper order would that be! Even if we only have a single pawn left, we have to fight to the end. If we were to retreat now, it would only dishearten the troops."
Li Feng truly had no patience to listen to his nonsense repeating like a spinning wheel, he immediately intercepted him: "I asked you how to fight!"
Hu Guang: "..."
Everyone was glaring at Wang Guo, but the man was right. If the Jiangnan Navy commander had already died in battle, who could be in charge of the Eastern Sea? How were they supposed to mobilize troops?
In the event of the foreigners going North, how many rounds of cannons could the Northern Camp and the Imperial Guards be able to block?
On a certain level, Wang Guo could also be considered as courageous, at least he had dared to speak of the truth that everyone else could not.
Hu Guang suddenly became a rotten bitter melon, his dripping cold sweat reminiscent of running juice.
Just then, Chang Geng suddenly spoke up.
The young Yan Bei Wang stepped forward: "Would Royal Brother be willing to listen to a few words of mine?"
Hu Guang cast a grateful glance over at him, Chang Geng gently smiled: "Royal Brother, first cease your anger, water that has been spilled cannot be taken back, the dead cannot be resurrected. The predicament of the borders on four sides has become an established fact, it is useless to argue and be angry. Rather than a commotion, it's better for us to think about what else we could do to save this situation."
Perhaps because he had followed a monk for a long time, his body did not harbour the lingering flame and smoke of the common world. Standing in front of the hall, his calmness soaked through the insides, even the fire of rage had unconsciously eased up with him.
Li Feng secretly let out a breath and waved his hand: "Go on."
Chang Geng: "At the moment, the Central Plains has been caught in the fire, the soldiers have been moved, but the rations have not been prepared. It is inevitable to witness the scene of insufficient supplement; thus, I ask of Royal Brother to please open the National Treasury and send out all Ziliujin. This is the first matter."
"Yes, you have reminded me," Li Feng turned to the Ministry of Housing, "Immediately coordinate with the others..."
"Royal Brother," Chang Geng interrupted him. "Your subject has said to send out everything — in this extraordinary period, the Drumming Order has already become a burden. The generals are still carrying shackles as such, does Royal Brother wish to tie them up to go on the battlefield?"
If someone else were to speak these words, it would have been extremely offensive, but there was no telling why, coming from the mouth of Yan Bei Wang, no one could feel angry.
Hu Guang who had just been left aside quickly followed suit: "Your subject agrees."
Not waiting for Li Feng to open his mouth, the group from the Revenue faction had bubbled up, the Minister of Revenue raised his voice: "Your Majesty, we absolutely must not. At this time, the distribution of Ziliujin truly could solve the urgent need but allow your subject to say a few unpleasant words. In case this situation is prolonged, after solving it today, what will come of tomorrow? Are we going to use next year's portion?"
The commander of the Imperial Army perhaps truly wanted to cut down the head of the minister to wrench out the water in his brain, he instantly retorted: "The enemies are already pressing onto our door, but all that's in the heads of you gentlemen are careful calculations for meager daily expenses, this general's eyes have truly been opened.
"Your Majesty, if we do not extinguish this fire, how could there be a 'tomorrow'? In the case when all four sides are trapped in a dead end, simply relying on the few small Ziliujin mines in the territory of our country, even if we turned over three feet of land, we will not be able to last for long!"
Hu Guang seemed to fear that he could not have an input. With his face red, he shouted at the top of his lungs: "Your subject agrees!"
Chang Geng had only said one thing, he hadn't had the chance to speak of how to suppress the enemy, yet a chaotic argument had already broken out. He did not speak up and patiently stood still on the side, waiting for them to finish their battle of words.
Li Feng's brains seemingly wanted to crack open. Suddenly, he came to a realization. These 'pillars' of the court could only ever care about the measly matters belonging within the one square of land they stood on. If they all were to be fired and sent to the kitchen, perhaps they could argue out a table full of new dishes as vast as a nation.
"Enough!" Li Feng burst out.
The surroundings were silenced, Chang Geng continued his words in a timely manner: "Your subject had not finished yet, for the second matter — Your Majesty, please be ready to retract back our forces."
As soon as this statement came out, the ministers once again boiled up. Even the wrath of the Son of Heaven could not hold back the noisy commotion in the hall. Several older men seemed to be ready to smash their heads against the pillar.
Li Feng's eyes twitched; the flame of anger rushed to his throat. He could barely hold back from lashing out on Chang Geng. He frowned, trying to suppress his anger, whispering a warning: "A Min, there are certain things you must think of carefully before you speak, the ancestors passed down this nation to my hands, not for me to cut the land to raise the tigers."
Chang Geng remained unchanged: "Your subject would like to ask Royal Brother to please feel the pockets. Using all of our nation's resources right now, how many territories will we be able to save? This is not 'cut the land to raise the tigers', but instead, a warrior cutting his hand. Not cutting when it should be cut, but waiting until the poison has soaked deep, until after we have been utterly defeated by the Westerners, would we decide to cut it only then?"
His plain tone of voice resembling the reciting of the Analects of Confucius was like a bucket of cold water, pouring onto Li Feng's head without mercy.
Chang Geng did not look up to see the Emperor's expression, he continued on: "Thirdly, Master Wang has said it well, right now the Northwest still has the Black Iron Camp, even if they have suffered heavy loss, they can still hold on. The one of utmost importance right now is the Eastern Sea, once the foreigners go north, the Northern Camp's fighting power is quite concerning. Reinforcements near and far have all been pinned down and may not be able to arrive in time, what does Your Majesty plan to do?"
In the blink of an eye, Li Feng had been forced to age ten years by his words; after a long moment of feeling dejected, he finally said: "Heed my decree... Go invite the imperial uncle here."
As Chang Geng heard this order, he did not even blink. There was no joy or anger, as if this was what should be done, all according to reason and logic.
Zhu Little Feet did not dare to even breathe out, just as he was about to take his leave, Chang Geng suddenly reminded: "Your Majesty, escorting someone from the imperial prison with only Eunuch Zhu would quite appear like a joke."
He instinctively did not trust any of the servants around Li Feng, including this man who had secretly been helping Gu Yun.
Li Feng said powerlessly: "What time is it already, still paying attention to such trivial details. Subject Jiang, you can go in my stead."
Zhu Little Feet strode after Jiang Chong with small steps, he could not help but glance at Chang Geng from far away.
He was an elderly inside this palace. In Great Liang's court, every high-ranking member of nobility and royalty, there was not a single person whom he wasn't familiar with, Yan Bei Wang being the only exception.
He was carefully protected inside the Marquis' Manor since childhood. After growing up, he did not 'work properly' but instead mostly traveled everywhere and seldom ever showed himself. Aside from mixing into the crowd to listen to politics in the court, he almost never entered the palace alone and only went together with Gu Yun on the New Year occasion to pay his regards. No one knew any information about him.
Not knowing anything meant he himself was a variable.
Jiang Chong and Zhu Little Feet were fast on their steed, heading straight for the imperial prison. When nearing the destination, Zhu Little Feet suddenly remembered and said in a small voice, "No, Master Jiang, the Marquis will be entering the palace to meet the Emperor, it would be inappropriate while still wearing prison clothes. How about I send someone to check the first-grade formal attire made this year and fetch one right away?”
Jiang Chong was currently full of grief and indignation by the collapse of his home country, and his soul was pulled back by the voice of the old eunuch. He did not know whether to laugh or cry: "When is it already? You still remember the little details, I..."
Before he had finished speaking, he could see a man charging towards them on a horse, arriving in the blink of an eye. He dismounted and paid his regard - it was Huo Dan, the commander of the Marquis' Manor house guards.
Huo Dan put his hands together: "Master Jiang, Eunuch Zhu, I am a servant from the Marquis' Manor, I was sent by the order of our Royal Highness to give this to the Marquis."
With that, he brought out a formal attire with a suit of armor using both hands.
Jiang Chong was startled — he could tell that Yan Bei Wang was a meticulous person at first sight, but being careful to this extent?
Who was the prince on guard against?
Gu Yun was bored to death in the dungeon, swinging the fat mouse by its tail. Noticing the unusual flow of wind behind him, he looked back with some surprise and could vaguely see three figures coming in from the outside. The person leading walked as swiftly as the wind and seemed to still be wearing formal attire.
Then, the door of the prison was unlocked and opened wide, and a special palace fragrance penetrated Gu Yun's nose, dyed with the special sandalwood fragrance which was usually found on Li Feng's body.
Gu Yun narrowed his eyes and recognized that the tall man was Zhu Little Feet.
If he was to be questioned, there was absolutely no reason to send Zhu Little Feet directly. The type of people like Li Feng would absolutely not slap himself in the face as such either - arrested then released, released then arrested - thus this could only mean one thing...
The smile on Gu Yun's face disappeared, he thought to himself: What has happened?
Jiang Chong said something quickly, Gu Yun wasn't able to hear it at all. He could only catch a few words; 'Enemy attack...Zhao... '. Not understanding anything, he had no choice but to blindly pretend to be steady while a mountain collapsed. Remaining unchanged, he nodded.
Jiang Chong was affected by his immovable calmness, for a moment, he could also feel very stable. His anxiety that was sometimes hot sometimes cold all fell into his abdomen, and his tears almost fell down. "It is indeed a blessing for all the people that there are pillars like the Marquis in Great Liang."
Gu Yun was puzzled, thinking to himself: My mother, what is he saying again?
On the surface, he only patted Master Jiang on the shoulder and said, "Lead the way."
Fortunately, Huo Dan took a step forward and handed him the formal attire, then removed the wine bottle from his waist: "His Highness asked me to bring this for the Marquis to disperse the cold."
Gu Yun opened the lid and could instantly tell from the scent that it was medicine. He was immediately relieved as if he had just been given amnesty and drank it all at once.
Huo Dan helped him change his clothes. For better or worse, this was much more neat and tidy. The blinded Marquis had no choice but to go with the group to the palace. For the first time, he greatly looked forward to the quick effect of the medicine.
It was not until they reached the bottom of the palace wall that Gu Yun's ears felt as if they were being pricked by needles and slowly recovered.
He made a silent gesture to Huo Dan. Huo Dan instantly understood. He came close to his ear and repeated Jiang Chong's exact words from the dungeon.
Gu Yun hadn't listened to everything, yet his head that was aching enough to break had already snapped like a tightened bowstring. In front of his eyes were thousands of stars, his footsteps staggered in the state of panic. Huo Dan quickly held his arm: "Marshal!"
Jiang Chong was frightened. He did not know what happened to the Marquis of Order who just now was still as calm as ever, seeing that Gu Yun's complexion was as unsightly as a dead man's, he asked nervously, "Marquis sir, what's wrong?"
'The Black Iron Camp was damaged by more than half.', 'Consecutive major gates of the Northern Frontier were defeated.', 'General Zhao had sacrificed himself for the country.' and 'Southwest supply storage was bombed heavily.'...these few sentences turned into a cluster of deadly blades and spiraled into all of Gu Yun's limbs and body, his chest throbbed in pain, a mouthful of sour fluid rushed up his throat.
Blue veins were visible on his temple, cold sweat dripped down, although Jiang Chong knew that even in prison, no one would dare to torture the Marquis, he was still frightened: "What's the matter? Do you need me to call for a carriage for you? Where is the doctor?"
Gu Yun's body shook slightly.
Jiang Chong: "Right now, the safety of all Great Liang lies on the Marquis' shoulders, you must be strong!"
This sentence struck Gu Yun's ears as if it was thunder. His soul that was scattered to pieces all over the country was gathered together again inside his spine, he closed his eyes and forced himself to swallow down a mouthful of blood.
After a pause, under the intense gaze filled with fear and trepidation of Jiang Chong, he laughed hoarsely as if nothing had happened. "I haven't seen the sun for a few days, my head hurt a bit - it's nothing, just an old problem."
With that, Gu Yun lowered his head and slightly adjusted his Light Armor. He pulled his arm out of Huo Dan's hand, threw the grey-haired mouse that had been nestled in his palm, and instructed him, "This is my brother mouse. Find him something to eat. Don't let him starve to death."
Huo Dan: "..."
As Gu Yun finished, he turned and walked into the palace.
At this time, in Jin Luan Hall, Chang Geng's few utterances had led to a chaotic battle of words, which lasted until Zhu Little Feet raised his voice to announce: "The Marquis has entered the palace to greet the Emperor" that everyone instantly quieted down. For a moment, the main hall was engulfed in dead silence.
Gu Yun caught Chang Geng's eyes as soon as he raised his head. The instant their gazes met, he could already see in Chang Geng's eyes the raging storm that even a thousand words could not describe.
As if there was nobody else surrounding him, Gu Yun then stepped forward to pay regard, appearing as casual as if he did not arrive from the prison but had just taken a day nap in his home.
Li Feng immediately announced the court to dismiss and drove out the loud-mouthed and the quarreling good-for-nothing bunch, keeping only Gu Yun, Chang Geng, and a group of generals to discuss the adjustment for the capital's defense throughout the night.
Master Feng Han who was reflecting on his actions behind closed doors could not afford to not show himself. Ling Shu Institute was ablaze with lights, working overtime to maintain the war equipment they had left in the capital.
All day and all night, until another fourth period of the night watch* had passed, the horizon was cast in white, only then did Li Feng who had deep black circles under his eyes let them go back.
*From 1:00AM to 3:00AM
Before leaving, Li Feng called Gu Yun alone.
In the hall, all servants on the left and the right were dismissed. Only one ruler and one subject faced each other. Li Feng was silent for a long time, until the palace lamp sensed the sunshine and automatically extinguished itself with a click. Li Feng came back to his senses, looking at Gu Yun with a complicated expression, he vaguely said: "...Imperial Uncle had to endure injustice."
Gu Yun already had a head full of empty courteous words, even without thinking, they could be blurted out with practiced ease.
Such lies as 'Thunderstorm or rain, are all grace from the Ruler' and 'To be able to sacrifice for the country, there would be no grievances' had lined up in a row, closely linked together under his flexible mouth.
Suddenly, however, his tongue seemed to have stiffened. No matter how much he tried, no words would come out. He could only lift his lips in a smile towards Emperor Long An.
It was indescribably rigid and somewhat unnatural.
For a long while, the two truly had nothing to say. Li Feng sighed and waved his hand.
Gu Yun lowered his eyes and turned to leave.