CHAPTER 14: DEAD END

II

In the early hours of February second, ninth year of Long An, on the day of the Longtaitou Festival.

Jiangbei Camp sent an urgent letter to the Grand Council. While patrolling the camp, General Zhong Chan fell down from his horseback and went unconscious.


The military doctors of the entire Jiangbei Camp gathered in his tent, and it seemed that he would not be able to make it.


After urgent confirmation, the Grand Council immediately decided to send a red-label urgent letter to Gu Yun, but the letter had not yet been sent, when the second urgent letter from Jiangbei Camp arrived.


General Zhong had passed away.


He died on the frontier, but he did not die in battle. Instead, he died like a thousand other ordinary old people in the world — painless, without illness or disease.


This kind of death made people feel empty, because there were no enemies to hate, no hatred to vent, and it was not a bedridden illness where no one took care of him either.


Suddenly, a person disappeared, making one feel it was very unreal.


Gu Yun held the red label letter and looked at it for an incense time, then slowly let out a breath from his chaotic heart. Only then did he regain his mind — it was not a dream.


The silence in the Marshal's tent lasted for a moment, then not knowing who started it, everyone began to say 'Condolences' one after another.


Shen Yi comforted, "Marshal, the old general was seventy-six years old, it is already very rare to find. This could also be considered as a happy funeral*, you shouldn't let it weigh down your heart."


**喜丧, xǐ sāng, a Chinese custom on funerals for somebody who lived to a ripe old age and lived a good life.


"I know," Gu Yun sat silently for a while and waved his hand. "I know, it's all right, but the situation in Jiangbei is delicate. At this time, the general in charge had an accident, and Chong Ze had just taken over as the governor of Liangjiang, it would be difficult for him to manage everything. I'm afraid there will be troubles. Hmm... Let me think..."


However, although he said ‘let me think’, his heart was completely blank, as if all thoughts had been cut off and he could not feel them.


Shen Yi looked at his indescribable painless face and murmured, "Marshal, since the day it was formed, the Jiangbei Navy was trained by the joint efforts of both General Zhong and Master Yao. I'm afraid someone else will not be able to handle the navy."


With him taking the lead, Gu Yun finally had a reaction. He unhurriedly replied: "Yao Chong Ze and Old Zhong's deputy general will be able to deal with it for the time being, but it seems that Master Yao will have to serve as the governor of Liangjiang until the end. Yang Rong Gui has only been out of action for less than half a year, it has taken a lot of effort to stabilize again…"


The latter part, it was inconvenient for Gu Yun to say aloud in front of the generals. The situation in Jiangbei was not easy to stabilize. The refugees, businessmen, and local officials had just returned to their places. The factories in many areas had just been built, and the people's houses had not even warmed up yet.


But Yan Wang just resigned recently. Who would take over the Jiangbei Canal Office?


Was there going to be a bloody struggle for power once again, or would all previous efforts vanish in the fire?


Some people were not born in the right time, some people did not die at the right time. General Zhong's death was not at the right time.


Gu Yun said, "I have to go and take a look at that side, over here…"


Cai Fen hurriedly said, "General He and General Shen are both here. Marshal can rest assured that there will be no trouble in the Northern Frontier."


Gu Yun nodded and asked his guards to pack up while he quickly spread out his pen and paper and wrote reports for the court.


First, he had to send someone to deliver letters, and to hand over the military affairs, busy until the lights were all lit, but Gu Yun still pulled Shen Yi over to instruct: "Jia Lai Ying Huo this man, most of his time as a young man, he was ferocious, and a small part of the time, he was a mad dog. This time the Eighteen Tribes are in disorder, I'm afraid if it isn't well taken care of, there will be consequences, do you understand?"


Shen Yi nodded: "The barbarians will cease to exist from now on."


From the days heaven and earth were created, how many lineages had been annihilated in the vast expanse of time, due to natural disasters, or wars, or the assimilation of blood in the long intermarriage... some had crumbled, some were blown by the wind, some were earth shattering, then quietly disappeared.


Shen Yi finally understood the feelings in Chi Ku Yo's song in the prison that day, the barbarians were moving towards the end — no matter how they struggled, they were still pushed forward by an invisible hand.


Today were the barbarians, but if the capital city was taken over that year, maybe the one at the end of their road would become Great Liang.


"It's good that you understand," Gu Yun said. "The kind of lunatic who would make their own children into Bone of Impurity like Jia Lai Ying Huo and Hu Ge Er, no one knows what they can do at their last moment. General Cai is already old in age, He Rong Hui is too hot headed, Ji Ping, this side may mainly depend on you."


Gu Yun was also a talkative fellow in his free time, but he was not a lengthy person in official business. For him, this was already quite long as an instruction, but he could not help himself, he truly did not feel reassured.


Shen Yi: "Leave it to me. If something happens in the Northern Frontier, I'll go see you with my head in my hand."


"What do I want your head for?" Gu Yun shook his head and laughed. "I never eat pig's head meat."


Shen Yi: "..."


Gu Yun ran away from him at a safe distance before he could unleash his anger and pulled out a Wind Slasher, placing it on his back, "I'm leaving."


"Wait, Zi Xi!" Shen Yi suddenly stopped him and said, "Take Miss Chen with you."


After the death of General Zhong, Gu Yun could still write reports, handing over his military affairs in an orderly way. He instructed the generals one by one, and even cracked a few jokes as if nothing had happened. To outsiders, this reaction seemed calm to the point of cold hearted, but Shen Yi was very worried — that year when he learned of the Black Iron Camp's incident from Jia Lai Ying Huo, he was also acting calm this way at the beginning.


"What do I do with her?" Gu Yun did not turn around, "You really think the Chen family sells miracle medicine that can revive people who have been buried?'


Before his words were finished, his shadow had disappeared as if he was rushing to get reincarnated.





At the same time, there was no impervious wall in the world.


Although Great Liang tried their best to keep it quiet, when the two armies confronted each other, it was impossible to hide what happened to the opponent's commander. Just when Gu Yun received the news and rushed to Jiangbei overnight, the Jiangnan Western Army also had their lights lit bright and did not sleep through the night.


Master Ja took the medicine from the servant's hands and said, "I'll bring it to His Majesty. Go tell the others not to disturb."


The servant bowed respectfully and ran quickly.


Before he was near the door, Master Ja already heard the quarrel inside.


"No, that is too greedy," said the Pope, his voice hoarse and mixed with the occasional coughing. "I do not recommend it. You can't swallow anything bigger than your own mouth, being this greedy, sooner or later, something will happen!"


Another person replied in a voice that was oily like a reptile. "To be frank with you, Your Majesty, this is not greed, but an interest that is within reach. If I dream of eating one star at a time, then I am greedy, but on the contrary, I only want one cookie, and it happens to be near my hand..."


Master Ja frowned and knocked rudely at the door: "Excuse me, Your Majesty's medicine is here."


The man who was confronting the Pope closed his mouth, reached out and touched his beard, then shrugged rudely.


This messenger from the Holy Land had stayed in Great Liang for more than half a year for various reasons. He had no intention of leaving at all. Everyone knew that this man was sent here by the King and noble lords of the Holy Land to manage the situation.


On the side of the Holy Land, the King could no longer wait and was eager to gather up lands and monarchical power, he only wanted the Pope to fall down. At the very beginning, the messenger had no good intention, he had tried every means to prove that this war was a complete mistake. However, gradually, with the increasing number of financial and mineral resources they managed to rob and bring back home, the noises within the country gradually became quiet.


The bottomless greed of the Holy Land was completely fired up by the richness of the mysterious eastern land. Those noblemen who wanted to see the Pope return defeated began to change their attitude. They were more active than ever before in promoting the interests of the Western Army in Great Liang, wishing they could open up their small mouth to swallow this large animal whole.


This time, they used the north to switch the strategic focus of Great Liang. When the people of the Central Plains had no time to pay attention to anything else, they would fish in troubled water. This was the plan the messenger had used all his might to push forward.


The Pope had strongly opposed to this because there was a vast northern part of the Central Plains between the two battlefields. Since there was a disconnection of the transport and communication lines in the west, the efficiency of the connection between the two sides was very low. When the Pope integrated the ambitious people in the siege of Great Liang, he had used the time lag when the information was interrupted while on its way — he knew full well that in battle, an opportunity was as fleeting as a second. What was more, Jia Lai Ying Huo in the north, in his view, had a radical and crazy side engraved in his bones, there was not enough calmness to sustain long-term cooperation.


Unfortunately, although the Pope held the command of this army, its ownership belonged to the King and the nobles of the Holy Land. The material could be plundered from the local land, but Ziliujin could not — Jiangnan did not have even one drop, it had to rely on domestic transportation. In general, he lacked many advantages.


Now, Gu Yun's plan led to the civil strife of the barbarians, which further aggravated the destruction of the barbarians.


Although the Pope did not want to cooperate with Jia Lai, he did not want to let the Black Iron Camp in the northwest go south either. Once Great Liang got hold of a large number of Ziliujin deposits from the Eighteen Tribes, the battlefield in Jiangnan would fall into a very passive situation.


In this dilemma, they received the news that the commander of Jiangbei Camp was dead and the Holy Land's envoy once again came out with his absurd schemes.


Master Ja put the medicine on the table and said respectfully: "If you notice, the Central Plains people have been sending more troops to Jiangbei, but they may not really want to fight. They also want to take a chance to catch a breath. Under such circumstances, the peace talks between our two sides can be operated. Why do we have to take a risk and gamble with our warriors' lives?"


The messenger laughed and turned to the Pope: "Your Majesty, your right-hand assistant is very talented, but in my opinion, he is still too young — both sides sat down at a negotiating table to sign a contract, which seems to fulfill their respective signing procedures, but the content is very different. The profit gap between the advantageous side and the disadvantageous side is as far as the distance from the Holy Land to the Central Plains. Do I need to stress this common sense again and again? The commander of the Jiangbei Navy has died. Isn't this a chance given to us by God? If we really miss it because of our cowardice, I have a hunch that we will regret it in the future!"


Master Ja did not change his expression, "You are right. The commander of Jiangbei Navy is dead, but Gu Yun is still alive. He will come!"


The messenger looked at him gloomily. 'Then we can launch a surprise attack on them when they transfer military commands and turn him into a dead man. Your Majesty, didn't you say Gu Yun had used us to convince the Northern Heavenly Wolf tribes that our alliance with them has been broken? Why don't we prove it to the Heavenly Wolf tribes with practical actions? How do you know that old allies in the past won't surprise us?"


Master Ja thought, Absurd!


But for a moment, he was not able to find the words to argue back and was speechless.


The Pope swallowed the medicine as if it was poison and shivered. He picked up a piece of silk cloth to wipe his mouth then sighed: "Messenger, a war of this magnitude, is impossible to fundamentally change anything because of the death of one or two people. Over the past year, the Jiangbei Navy has established a relatively complete system. Have you ever thought about what would happen if our attack cannot achieve the desired effect? What will we do then?"


The smile of the messenger turned cold. "You are right. Such a war on this scale, one or two people are of no importance, then why are you gentlemen so afraid of Gu Yun in this way?"


Then, without waiting for a rebuttal, the ambassador suddenly stood up: "I admit that the possibility that you said really exists, but even if the worst happens, we at least showed a strong attitude. It is a stimulus to the northern battlefield, we still attain more benefits — Your Majesty, I must say, you are too cautious. We have the absolute advantage in the battle along the river. So what if the navy of the Central Plains had been built? One year? Two years? It is still only in its infancy! If I were you, I wouldn't let the Liangjiang battlefield be silent for such a long time. I will not let the Jiangbei Army of the Central Plains people have any time to be built at all!"


Master Ja's eyes twitched, witnessing the two words ‘arrogance’ and ‘greed’ so clearly for the first time in his life.


The Pope stood up and exclaimed, "Messenger, it is very irresponsible of you to say so."


The messenger put his hands together and raised his chin: "Your Majesty, the right to dispatch the Ziliujin of our army is in my hands, and the Holy Land has given me permission to execute orders in your place at the most critical moment!"


Master Ja stepped forward angrily and laid his hand on the hilt of the sword at his waist: "You!"


The messenger's ferocious and sly eyes fell on him, the Pope grabbed Mr. Ja's sleeve——


After a moment of stalemate between the three, the messenger's gaze averted slightly, his lips raised in a smile, and said hypocritically, "I have never doubted Your Majesty's wisdom. Please consider my suggestion carefully. Now, if you excuse me!"


After that, he grabbed his hat, put it on his head arrogantly, and turned away.


Master Ja: "Sire, why do you hold me back? If you kill him…"


"If he was killed, the troops belonging to the king and nobility would immediately turn their faces." The Pope gave him a fierce look. "Do you really think your men are as loyal to their commander as the Black Iron Camp?"


Master Ja was stunned. "What shall we do then? Will you compromise?"


The Pope remained silent for a moment: "All we can do is to pray for God's blessing--"


Blessing that the Jiangbei Navy was just as the ambassador said, still in its infancy. Blessing that Jia Lai in the northern battlefield was crazy enough to hold the Great Liang people firmly in check, so that they might be able to find a good outcome on this dangerous road.





When the Jiangnan Western Army was brewing a new scheme, Gu Yun arrived at Jiangbei. The first thing he did after landing was to reinforce the defense line. The watchtower guards were to change shifts every two hours, everything would be on standby. He then calmed the mood of the army and the officers were reorganized, everyone was able to return to their positions. Master Yao was only a civil officer, although he could temporarily control the frontline, he did not possess the authority and efficiency of Gu Yun.


Busy from noon until the evening, Gu Yun finally had some time to drink a mouthful of water, his throat was dry enough to emit smoke, he could almost taste a bit of blood. He could not pay attention to whether it was tea or water, grabbing a bowl of cold water and drinking.


This year, Jiangbei's spring arrived strangely late. Just a few days ago, there was a snow rain, everywhere had the gloomy air of bone-piercing cold. The cold water made Gu Yun cool from inside to outside, he shuddered, thinking in a daze, "What else is about to come?"


At this time, Yao Zhen came closer and said, "Marshal, when we sent an urgent message to the Grand Council, the court sent a letter informing that they will send someone here in the next few days. We got the news that Yan Wang is coming on behalf of the Emperor."


Although Yan Wang resigned from office, his identity and status were there, he still shared a relationship as master and disciple with General Zhong for a period of time. To show the Emperor's grace, it was also reasonable for him to take this trip on behalf of the royal family.


"Mm, he should also come and see it." Gu Yun finally remembered that he had forgotten something. "Um... Chong Ze, where is the praying hall located, take me to have a look. "


Yao Zhen took him to the praying hall.


It was even colder than other places. Zhong Chan's coffin laid in the middle, the incense's smoke scattered all around.


Gu Yun's footsteps suddenly stopped at the entrance of the hall. These days he was too busy, running around two places in the north and the south, taking care of matters both big and small, it had naturally separated him from the truth, only until this moment. A thought suddenly hit his chest.


He thought, My teacher is gone.


Yao Zhen turned around and said, "Marshal, what's wrong?"


Gu Yun took a deep breath and shook his head. He went in and lit incense for Zhong Chan. "You should go take care of your business. I'll stay here with him for a while, call me whenever you need to."


Yao Zhen whispered: "No one can escape the cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death. Marshal, please do not be so sorrowful, the Marshal's tent has been cleaned up, after you are done mourning, you should go take an early rest, I'll leave people by the door, you can call them as you need."


Gu Yun nodded, there was no telling if he could hear it or not.


When the praying hall was empty, his eyes slowly fell on the face of Zhong Chan. Since it was disease-free death, General Zhong's facial features were not fierce, but they were not calm either. The face of a dead person was always ashen, the skin was wax-like, not the same as when one was alive. The spirit was gone, the body was the body, empty.


Gu Yun sat down beside the coffin with his elbow propped up. He quietly remembered the days when he was young with Zhong Chan as his teacher.


At that time, the great general of the cavalry had not yet been shrunk by age and was not all skin and bones. He was a talented and brave man, majestic and vigorous. His gaze seemed to always contain two blades, when he fixed his eyes on someone, the blade tips could be exposed.


"Little Marquis, memorizing all the strategy books does not prove that you know how to fight a battle, isn't it not the same as listening to those young masters discussing strategy on papers? If you are so complacent, I'm afraid you will not be able to even organize a group fight among the street urchins and win."


"Little Marquis, a person's ability is two things combined. One is hard work and the other is pain. Nowadays, the old marquis and the First Princess are no longer around. You are of noble status. Nobody would dare to hurt you except the Emperor. If you want to be comfortable, want to spoil yourself, nobody can push you forward, what you want to be in the future, you must think about it carefully for yourself."


"Wealth and fame is not the end goal for a military commander's life. Since the Emperor insists on putting the bow away as there are no more birds, it is also peaceful at the moment, so let him put it away. From now on, this general will not be able to be around, the little Marquis should remember to take care of yourself."


"Mountains and rivers are bound to meet again, the two of us will reunite someday."


Changjiang River's new waves continued to push over the last, a talent of thousands of generations would eventually grow old.


Gu Yun's ear gradually buzzed, his eyes could no longer see clearly, he could not help squinting under the candlelight, still immersed in the old memories of the past.


A general who could live until their seventies and pass away without any illness, many people would have felt envious, it truly was a happy funeral. Gu Yun felt that he could not tell if he was sorrowful or not, it was just that his chest felt tight.


Chang Geng also came all the way here. When he arrived at Jiangbei Camp, it was already dark, not having a moment to rest, hearing that Gu Yun was at the praying hall, he dismissed all the servants and went straight to it.


The guard who stood at the gate of the praying hall knew Chang Geng. Seeing him coming from afar, he immediately went in to inform, and Chang Geng did not have time to call him back.


The soldier shouted, "Marshal, His Highness Yan Wang has arrived."


Gu Yun did not respond, Chang Geng estimated that he was too busy to take his medicine on time, so he lifted his robe to step in and said, "It's all right."


The guard carefully reached out and patted Gu Yun on the shoulder: "Marshal?"


Gu Yun was suddenly startled, in the state of being half-blind, unable to see who was coming, he stood up abruptly from his chair. There was a sudden sharp stabbing pain in his chest.


Without warning, he coughed out a mouthful of blood.


The soldier was frightened out of his wits, stunned on the spot, and was pushed aside by Chang Geng. Chang Geng's hair all over his body stood up, his hands and feet were colder than the winter weather in Jiangbei.


Gu Yun was just suffering from chest pain at first, after spitting out this blood, he had felt a bit better, but the coughing would not stop. The front of his clothes were stained with blood. He could not see clearly what was around him, waving his hand around, "Don't make a ruckus,... cough, don't... cough..."


Chang Geng suppressed his spirit that was on the verge of collapse and was about to pick him up when suddenly, he heard Gu Yun vaguely crying out to him: "... Chang Geng..."


He took a deep breath and leaned over to listen, "Hm?"


Gu Yun's nose was full of the scent of blood. This time, even his sense of smell was not working, it seemed only his brain was still clear as if on its last bit of momentum, he spoke intermittently, "Chang Geng...Yan Wang is coming these days. This matter is not allowed to be spread, especially him...do not let him know…"


Chang Geng's heart cracked, his eyes red, he told the guard next to him. "Call the military doctor over!"


The guard ran away.





Yao Zhen was really exhausted both mentally and physically, wanting to cry but had no tears. He simply suspected that the feng shui of Jiangbei camp was not good. One person just fell down, another one followed, even an ancestor who could not afford to fall. At the moment, he could not help but ask Master Liao Ran who came along with Chang Geng. "Are you here to pray for Old Zhong? Praying is not urgent, should you first chant sutras to exorcise evil spirits?”


The master looked at him helplessly and gestured, "The mute cannot recite sutras."


Chang Geng thought that as he had followed Miss Chen to study medicine all this time, he could be considered as half a doctor. But when it came to a critical moment, he found that towards one patient, he was really helpless. As he saw the blood of this man, his mind had already been wiped blank, the medical books he had learned from seemed to have all been given back to Miss Chen, let alone having the ability to do any treatment.


All the best military doctors in Jiangbei Camp were gathered in the Marshal's tent that had just been cleared up before anyone could live in it. Everyone who came in and out was very nervous. Chang Geng held Gu Yun in his grip without letting go, he did not feel that he was being an obstruction either, sitting aside quietly, making the military doctors tremble.


Liao Ran was standing at the door with worries, he had heard how Chang Geng was pinned into a hedgehog that year when the capital was in danger. At this time, he was really afraid Chang Geng would suffer an attack in Jiangbei Camp — there was not even one person here who could suppress him.


However, beyond his expectations, Chang Geng was very quiet from the beginning to end. He didn't show the slightest sign of turning mad. Gu Yun's vague sentence ‘can not let him know’ was like a needle, pinning his soul inside his body.


Chang Geng suddenly felt that he was asking too much from Gu Yun, and he was carelessly getting more and more greedy. He had never let him have a peace of mind. How did he get all those new and old wounds while he had been kept in the dark about all of them? Chang Geng could imagine many times when Gu Yun was at a place where he could not see, wounded and sick at the same time, while still having to tell the others to block the news, not letting him know.


“Your Highness," said a military doctor cautiously, "Marshal overworking himself is half the cause of his illness, and... er... in addition, in the past year or two, he has suffered wounds on the front line, injuring his lungs and organs, and the congestion had not come out. This time, although it looks dangerous, it is not necessarily a bad thing."


Chang Geng listened, then silently reached out to place a hand on Gu Yun's pulse and forcefully calmed his nerves. Even after checking blindly for a moment, he still could not come to a conclusion and had to trust these military doctors' diagnoses. "Mm," he asked, "what medicine should be used, have the gentlemen concluded yet?"


The military doctor hesitated for a moment and said, "Uh... in this case, it is better not to use too much medicine, he should rest and calm the mind…"


When he finished, even he himself knew that he was speaking needless words, nervously looking at Chang Geng's hands holding Gu Yun with blue veins showing. He was afraid that Yan Wang would lash out on him, but after waiting for a long time with fear, Chang Geng did not say anything, he only sat there in a daze.


Then, he politely said, "Thank you, I hope you will do your best."


Several military doctors felt frightened by his grace. They filed out, and each did their utmost. Liao Ran quietly came in and stood gloomily in front of Chang Geng for a while. Finding nothing else he could do, he stretched out his hand and brushed the slightly wrinkled eyebrows of Gu Yun, silently reciting Buddha's mantras.


Chang Geng sighed, "Don't do it, Master, he dislikes Buddha. Are you going to wake him up by angering him? —— Do you have wooden birds with you? Write a letter to Chen Qing Xu."


Liao Ran looked up at him.


Chang Geng said expressionlessly, "Ask her how many things she has helped Gu Zi Xi to hide from me."


"Your Highness, are you alright?" Liao Ran signed.


Chang Geng's shoulders moved slightly. In an instant, Liao Ran felt that he almost broke down, but Chang Geng did not collapse. He looked down at Gu Yun for a while, and did a thing that frightened the master into crying —— he was holding Gu Yun's hand in spite of himself, and slowly kissed his forehead. The kiss was respectful and pious, almost feeling solemn.


Liao Ran's mouth was agape as he took in a cold breath.


Chang Geng's eyes did not leave Gu Yun, there's no telling to whom he whispered the sentence to: "Still good, rest assured."


The Master was frightened, he thought "non-existence is existence, existence exactly is non-existence", and took small steps to escape, leaving Chang Geng to silently keep watch on Gu Yun.


In the middle of the night, Gu Yun changed from being unconscious to falling into a deep sleep. He seemed to be trapped in a nightmare. Occasionally, he would move restlessly. Chang Geng remembered that Gu Yun could not lie still when he had a high fever that year, but it seemed that if he could feel that someone was accompanying him, he would be able to feel a little more secure, thus he leaned on the bed and held onto him the whole time.


In the praying hall of General Zhong, the faint fire was still shining. It was to make one wonder if he knew about this and returned in Gu Yun's dream, and what he would say to him.


Chang Geng tightened his hands and held Gu Yun in a posture similar to protective. For the first time, he had no dependence on his little yifu, no desire for his loved one. Instead, he seemed to cherish a young and fragile child.


In those days of his unrequited feelings, Chang Geng had imagined countless times that if he had been born ten or twenty years earlier, what would be the scenario between him and Gu Yun? Now, in the wet and cold frontline of Jiangbei, those ten years had shrunk to an inch, in which he crossed over by a step.


Unfortunately, even if on this side, he crossed over ten years within one night, it could not stop the Westerners' discreet scheme.