CHAPTER 7: NATIONAL CALAMITY

IV

Tan Hong Fei, who followed Gu Yun out of the marshal's tent, was stunned. He never dreamed that one day, he would be able to put on the Black Armor again. Suddenly, his heart that was filled with sorrow all but vanished. He felt that after this battle, even if blood was shed and heads would fall, it would all be worthwhile.


Tan Hong Fei took a step forward and said aloud, "Your subordinate is willing to be the vanguard for Marshal!"


"You are indispensable. Baihong chariot opens the path, Light Cavalry and Black Eagle follow me, Heavy Armor crushes the battle," Gu Yun ordered, "Give me a Wind Slasher. What kind of devil, we will only know after we see them."


Chang Geng untied the long bow behind him. This was given to him by Gu Yun when they were fighting bandits in the Southwest. It seemed like it was the last decent work that the Ling Shu Institute could put out after Emperor Long An began to reduce military power.


Unfortunately, the gaudy bow was so heavy that it could not be controlled at all if it weren't handled by a true expert. Therefore, there was only one made for trial in the whole army.


And it could have been popularized in the army after undergoing improvement...


Chang Geng touched the cold bow and asked, "Yifu, can I follow you?"


Gu Yun stopped. He partially did not want to take him along — not because of anything else, but through this battle, his heart had developed more expectations for this newly emerging young prince. He might be able to sacrifice himself to defend to the last step, but what would come next?


Who would clean up this broken and tattered home country? Who would break through with a way out for the thousands of families and people in this mess?


Chang Geng's way of socializing was much more thoughtful compared to himself when he was young, perhaps he would not end up like him, arguing with the Emperor to this irremediable situation...


Chang Geng seemed to know what he was thinking: "There are no unbroken eggs under an overturned nest. Now the capital is already like this. Waiting in the palace is no different to going on the front line. In case the city breaks down, isn't the only difference to die sooner rather than later?"


Before Gu Yun could speak, Tan Hong Fei had laughed aloud and said, "Your Highness speaks well! The entire court has nothing but scholars, only Your Highness is a real man!"


Gu Yun could do nothing, he waved his hand and said, "You already spoke of everything. Come if you like."


He then stared at Tan Hong Fei, looking at General Tan's unhealed whiplash on his face and wanting to whip the other side and turn the man into a symmetrical pig's head.


Beyond the capital, countless Black Eagles formed into rows, as one took a glance, they could feel as if they had returned to the Crescent Spring.


Looking from the horseback, the light of Qi Yuan Tower remained brightly lit even in the heavy rain, as if covered with a thin and soft veil, facing the majestic imperial city from afar. Twenty Red Kites which rose only on New Year's Eve now hung in the sky, resembling sorrowful longing eyes sending them off.


Gu Yun made a gesture with his hand. The vanguards of the Northern Camp moved quietly with neither tragic songs nor grand speeches. They traveled in the rain, their masks and helmets without a gap made them appear much like iron puppets with no emotions.


  Heavy rain floated the capital on the water, the old bluestone could serve as the witness.




  That night, the Western Navy raided Da Gu Harbor up north. Lian Wei, the commander of the Northern Sea Navy, led his three hundred Large Dragons and one thousand small ships to adhere to it. Firstly, the Large Dragons were connected by iron chains, moving side by side and forming into a fence outside the harbor. They stood their ground until the hour of the Mouse* the next day, all Dragons were buried under the gunfire of the sea monster, not a single one was lucky enough to make it out.

*12:00pm to 12:30pm


The Northern Sea Navy contained 36,000 rockets, 100,000 steel Baihong arrows - none were left, all were sunk into the raging waves deep under the ocean.


After resources had run out, Commander Lian Wei ordered all the small ships to run at full speed. With the ships as ignition, they used themselves as Baihong arrows, charging into the enemy's line.


Fire floated on the sea; the souls of loyal soldiers crushed to pieces.


The Northern Sea Navy collided, sank, and bombed nearly 3,000 of the enemy's naval warships. At last, it forced the Sea Monsters to open their iron tentacles in the midst of rain, releasing the hidden Eagle Armors inside and disembarking in a hurry from the air. They later found that there was no one left on Da Gu Harbor.


  At the beginning of the hour of the Tiger*, the Westerners that landed on the shore were incredibly disheartened. Eager to make up for their grave losses in this battle, they did not stop but went directly for the capital, meeting the Black Iron Camp on the way — the Black Iron Camp that had only been formed by Gu Yun overnight — clashing outside Dong'an City.

*3:00am


The Western Navy who had not yet recovered from their costly landing was caught off guard. They were first under attack by 80 chariots. Light Cavalry then appeared from all directions, surrounding them. Eagles flew high in the sky, their screeches as sharp as blades.


The pope's personal guard suddenly met with the Wind Slashers and was almost scattered by the Cavalry on the spot. They hastily retreated back outside of Da Gu Harbor to preserve their troops.


Great Liang had not had such a thrilling night for so many years. Battle reports and messengers rushed to and from the palace much like a market gathering.


No one in the capital was able to sleep until the next morning, when the news of victory arrived together with the light of dawn.


  Suddenly receiving his first good news after so many days, Li Feng could hardly stand up, wondering whether he should cry or laugh.




The rain had stopped, the sky was clear. Haihe River surged overnight, and the air was filled with an indescribable scent, mixed with the smell of smoke and blood. The ground had warmed up and the humidity had not yet dissipated. Gu Yun had no naval force, after a long night of fierce battle, the Westerners were forced to retreat, utterly defeated.


Gu Yun sat beside the canon with its muzzle that had yet to cool down. The black iron helmet was thrown aside, his messy hair hung down in disorder. He received the medicine handed over by Chang Geng and downed it all.


Chang Geng said, "I did not bring needles, and even if I did, I would not dare to perform it for yifu."


Pulling the string of the iron bow all night, his hands were left with a deep impression. Even now they had not recovered and continued to tremble slightly.


Gu Yun grabbed his wrist and pulled it closer to him. Seeing that he only had exerted his strength and was not injured, he waved his hand in relief: "Don't worry about me, go calculate the casualties. Old Tan won't be able to count them all."


After that, he simply leaned on the canon and closed his eyes to rest for a moment.


A moment later, Gu Yun was woken up by a messenger from the imperial capital.


The person coming was a young soldier of the imperial army. Those at his rank could hardly ever get to see Gu Yun. At last, he could meet the Marquis of Order in the flesh, he truly could not help himself with the excitement, charging over on his horse. When dismounting, there was no telling what he had tripped on, but he rolled all the way until he was under Gu Yun's feet: "Marquis, sir!"


Gu Yun shrunk back his feet in a hurry: "My, what is the grand courtesy for?"


The messenger said excitedly, "Marquis, Your Majesty had ordered me to come and reward the Northern Camp, bring with me...bringing..."


Great, excited to the point of forgetting what to say.


No wonder the Imperial Army was utterly defeated by the Northern Camp. With no other choice, he had to climb up and pat his head. "There is no need to report to me, let General Tan handle it."


"You go back and tell your Majesty to not rejoice so soon. The Northern Camp only has a few soldiers, after everyone is all gone, I won't be able to magically manifest new people either, at that time if the reinforcements don't come..."


The messenger looked at him in bewilderment.


Military strategy teaches: in a battle, use direct methods to engage, use indirect methods to win. Perhaps many people only remembered 'use indirect methods to win', always thinking that a talented general would be able to find a path for survival in a dead end, saving a staggering building by their own efforts — but how could that be possible?


Unless Gu Yun could use mud to create a godlike army who did not need to eat, drink or fear weapons.


The news of the first victory had been sent to the capital, how joyful would the ministers be right at this moment, but what would be the next step? Not discussing the long-term tasks of battles for national strength and battle for reserved resources, but only the task at hand right now, with just a handful of troops, what could he do?


Gu Yun knew that no matter how prestigious this opening battle might have seemed, it could not change the fact that he was only taking advantage of the location to resist.


With a pained smile, he left the Emperor's messenger behind, moving to Tan Hong Fei's place.


Tan Hong Fei held a Wind Slasher by one head that had already been flattened, the top that had been burnt still had half of the character 'Lian' inscribed on it.


Many officers and soldiers would engrave their names on their Wind Slasher, so that even if they take them for repair, they would not have to worry about finding their old fellow who had been through life and death with them afterwards. If the owner were to die on the battlefield and the body could not be found, their comrades would bring back their Wind Slasher and pour a pot of wine as offering, the soul could then be considered to be able to rest in the afterlife.


Tan Hong Fei lifted up the cutting edge with both hands and handed it to Gu Yun: "Marshal."


Gu Yun received it. Suddenly, he had a feeling that the Black Iron Camp, which had undergone many disasters and hardships, many reunions and separations, but always laid under this home country, like a seed, had scattered in all directions and grew into large trees piercing the sky unbeknownst to anyone.


Chang Geng came up behind him and said, "Last night, thirteen chariots were damaged, five hundred Cavalry were killed in battle, nearly a thousand were seriously injured, not counting the minor injuries. Twelve Eagle Armors fell, most of the golden boxes exploded in the air. I'm afraid their bodies had been..."


Gu Yun nodded, feeling that this number of casualties was acceptable: "This was all thanks to General Lian's contribution."


Chang Geng whispered, "I'm afraid someone will come for a truce discussion at the morning meeting."


"They will not," Gu Yun said. "The Westerners suffered such great losses last night; they have no faces left to come for a truce. Unless they besieged the capital to the point where we have no way of flying, they would never talk to us."


... And that was just a matter of time.


Chang Geng was silent for a moment: "I have heard that an emperor of the former dynasty who was subjugated by the Northern Barbarians had secretly escaped through the secret passage when the capital was besieged, if we truly cannot defend..."


"We must defend even if we can't." Gu Yun suddenly said, "Do you know the Jinghua Garden in the west of the capital?"


Chang Geng was stunned.


Gu Yun raised his index finger to his lips and made a 'shush' gesture, for him not to go on further. Jinghua Garden in the west of the capital was a summer resort built between Yuan He Dynasty and Emperor Wu Dynasty. In those days, they would go to Jinghua Garden every summer to cool off, as the former emperor was not able to tolerate heat.


But after Li Feng ascended to the throne, the cost for eating and dressing had become simpler. Even the money for the queen and the imperial concubine's makeup was reduced by half, there no longer exist the flashy traditions such as hunting or spring travels.


Yet such a thrifty man who was far different from his father, still kept the habit of going to the palace every summer — but not for enjoyment. With the palace's government affairs piling up, he usually got up early to rush to the palace, then rushed back before nightfall, walking around the capital resembling a wandering dog. Not to mention cooling, it was already a miracle to not contract a heatstroke.


Li Feng subjected himself to such suffering, if he was not insane, it could only mean... there was something of great importance in Jinghua Garden that he must check on it frequently.


How keen was Chang Geng, an idea immediately came up his mind: all the generals on four sides were involved in the smuggling of Ziliujin, then what about the Emperor himself?


In such a hurry, he hadn't had time to check the account books of the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of War... but with Li Feng's character of wanting to grasp everything in his hand, it was not surprising for him to build his own private Ziliujin storage.


Gu Yun: "Your eldest brother does not trust anyone. This is only my guess, don't tell anyone else."


Chang Geng frowned: "This is troubling... will Li Feng make peace then?"


Gu Yun laughed and shook his head. "It's possible for someone to come and make peace with him, mm... he would not run either."


Chang Geng placed both hands behind his back, the blood and mud on his body had dried up the night before, making him appear quite colorful. The young Yan Bei Wang while wearing this colorful appearance, slowly walked as if he was strolling in the imperial garden one spring afternoon, then after a moment of thinking, he commented lightly: "Yes, Li Feng is not afraid of death, he is afraid of other things."


Gu Yun couldn't help looking at him. He found that Master Feng Han was right. Chang Geng really seemed calm and relaxed at all times, he suddenly asked, "When on earth did you become a slow-tempered person?"


"When am I slow-tempered? I am very impatient right now." Chang Geng laughed: "This is actually what I have learned from yifu. I found that whenever yifu was uncomfortable, you often pretended to be very excited, and as this joy showed on your face, in turn, it would make your heart feel much better. Hence, every time I found myself feeling particularly impetuous, I would deliberately slow myself down a bit, and find that I could actually become calmer. Ah, too much fire is not good for health. It could easily..."


"... cause you to not sleep well." Gu Yun had heard him say this more than once, he was able to smoothly continue his words: "How much do you really care about sleeping? And moreover, when did I ever force myself to laugh when I feel unhappy?"


Chang Geng lifted his eyebrows, gave him a leisurely look, his face conveying: "Whatever you say."


"The whole army, prepare to withdraw." Gu Yun said tiredly: "The injured move first, in a short time, the Westerners will react. We will set out for an ambush."


After two steps, Gu Yun felt his body was utterly exhausted. He could not help but think of Chang Geng's heresy that no one knew from which doctor he had learnt it from. He took a sip of wine from the bottle at his waist, carried General Lian's Wind Slasher behind him and whistled.


The horse trotted to him at the sound. Gu Yun changed the whistle into a strange tune he invented himself, picking a small bright yellow wildflower from the ground and jumping on the horse. "My calvary brothers, follow me!"


  Gu Yun held the wildflower in his hand, wanting to place it on Chang Geng, the person nearest to him. Unexpectedly, his eyes met Chang Geng's the moment he lifted his hand. Chang Geng's gaze had been following him all this time, not separated for even a second, his expression seemed to say: "It would be alright even if you placed a red veil* on my head.”


*wedding veil for brides


Marshal Gu shivered, not daring to act, he placed the flower on General Tan's large helmeted head, explained profoundly the saying 'a flower inserted on a pile of something'.


A group of veteran soldiers in the Northern Camp roared with laughter. The Black Cavalries whistled as they followed Gu Yun. One after another, the whistle of various tunes came and went, Gu Yun shouted angrily at the front, "Who allowed you to copy me, I'm about to urinate already!"


Needless to say, after such a scene, everyone did indeed feel a lot less fatigued.




At this time, on the Westerners' Sea Monster ——


Master Ja dragged his exhausted body through the cabin door, just in time to meet the head of the pope's guard regiment.


"How is it?" Asked Master Ja.


Captain of the regiment: "He has already woken up and is about to call you in."


In the chaotic naval battle, the place where the pope was located was grazed by a blown rocket, happening to detonate rows of explosives, the tremendous impact struck him unconscious. His absence had substantial effect in the Western Navy being thoroughly defeated in the clash with the Black Iron Camp afterwards.


With great relief, Master Ja strode in. The pope's forehead was already treated with medicine. His white hair scattered on one side, showing a few marks at the corners of his eyes.


Master Ja knelt on the ground, tiredly saying: "Your Majesty, I am truly sorry..."


The elderly man on the bed did not open his eyes, he only murmured, "Gu Yun."


"Yes, it was Gu Yun. We had planned to trap him here at first. In fact, we were ready to face him in the Northern Sea, but yesterday the black crows suddenly appeared." Master Ja paused, his expression appearing quite distressed. "The Black Iron Camp had been held back by the allied forces at the Western Regions at Jiayu Gate. I should have this confidence, but still..."


"Still lost your steady footing in the face of the enemy."


Master Ja could not find a response.


The pope smiled and said, "Everyone will always meet with seemingly invincible enemies in their life. Some are disasters, some are just practice. Do you know what the difference between disaster and practice is?"


Master Ja was stunned.


"The difference is that disaster cannot be defeated, but practice can be overcome - I think it is very easy to distinguish. The communication of the Central Plains has been cut off. Such a small capital, if there truly are many troops, how could it become chaotic so easily when we used tricks to provoke the Northern Camp to rebel."


Master Ja: "You mean..."


  "Gu is young in age, but more than half of his life has been spent on the battlefield. Do not let him lead you by the nose. Even if he were to be the most powerful wolf king, at this time, his claws and teeth have all been pulled out and trapped in a prison. Go, you must believe in yourself."




On the same day, the Western Navy reorganized themselves and landed again in Da Gu Harbor.


After landing on the shore, they were attacked fiercely once again. This time in the clear blue sky and daylight, Master Ja was steady as he calmly commanded. He would soon easily win over all the Heavy Armors which had been using the location to stubbornly struggle.


Unexpectedly, before he could feel proud, as he opened up the iron mask of the 'captives', he discovered that this wave of ambush were not Great Liang's soldiers, but a group of iron puppets!


The iron puppets were temporarily recruited from the families from the high-ranking officials and nobilities in the capital. Under a number of protective masks was a mask of a naughty child, with its big white face, showing a large smile resembling a bowl of blood, laughing at the people in front of them, their mockery beyond words.


A Western soldier was incredibly angered, as he reached out attempting to snatch off the mask, Master Ja exclaimed, "Don't touch..."


Unfortunately, it was too late. A thin lead was pulled under the mask. With only a gentle touch, the iron puppet exploded, directly bombing several Western soldiers next to it.


The mask flew out, landed at Master Ja's feet, continuing to display its mocking smile.


The Northern Camp only feigned an attack. At this time, the entire army had retreated, the Western Navy furiously charged inside the city, ready to use blood to appease their anger. They did not expect to find an empty city.


Since the news of Jiangnan's situation arrived in the capital, Yan Bei Wang had joined hands with the Ministry of Housing and evacuated the citizens of the frontlines in batches, some of whom were unwilling to leave, but after witnessing the scene of artillery fire the night before, they had already rushed to flee.


  Gu Yun had given the enemy a completely empty city.