Chang Geng claimed that to avoid suspicion, even if he slept at the palace at night occasionally, he would never set foot in the harem. The harem's businesses should still be presided over by the empress. Fortunately, Li Feng's harem was not prosperous; even the sickly empress could handle it.
An emperor who came to the palace to work and disappeared after the court dismissed was something never seen before. At first, some people came out and said such things were unethical, but they were all scolded back to their places. At the beginning of the emperor's accession, he had claimed he was only an ‘acting emperor’. Now, the emperor had indeed stayed in line diligently without going beyond the proper order, how could there always be such flatterers who were afraid that the world wouldn't be in chaos and tried to encourage him to steal the country?
The imperial censorate led by Xu Ling became a pot* for the Emperor's use. It put ‘destroy the old and create the new’ on its head. It was specially responsible for finding various theoretical bases for the government orders on the court every day, to make the quarrels more legitimate.
*slang for someone who takes the blame for others
The emperor who didn't live in the palace sometimes pretended to go back to Yan Wang Manor. He later made Yan Wang Manor into a ‘living room’ for him to occasionally meet with the court officials in private. He would then return to the Marquis' Manor in the blink of an eye, after all, only a short walk separated them.
This year's rain came down a lot earlier than the previous years. On the eve of the Qingming Festival, there was a continuous drizzle.
Gu Yun still had not hung up his armor and retired, but he was able to live a stable life in the capital. Seldom had there been such a strong sense of belonging to his home, he ordered people to renovate the manor engulfed in wild weeds. After several days, the Marquis' Manor rumored of having ghosts finally began to appear like a residence.
When the garden was being repaired and the house was being renovated, they discovered a lot of old things, so it became a new hobby for the Emperor to follow after Commander Huo to rummage through them.
"Does this belong to the First Princess from that year?" Chang Geng pointed to a square box and asked — to show his respect, he did not touch it at will.
An old lady servant currently cleaning the room looked at it and smiled: "Of course, it was specially made for the little marquis."
She opened it. In the box that looked as if it was made to store pearls and treasures, there was a feather duster.
Chang Geng: "..."
The old woman said: "The Marquis was very mischievous when he was young. He never put any scolding in his heart. If they grounded him in his room to reflect on his actions, he would pick the lock and get out. He also knew how to run to the kitchen to steal food. It would not work if he was beaten lightly. The old Marquis was hot-blooded, always wanting to bring the family laws out to teach the child. Your Majesty also knew how those laws are; the old Marquis was also forceful, how can little children endure them? The Princess was afraid of an accident. Once, she was on the march with the army; she saw a village woman carrying a broom to teach her son, so she came up with such a way to deal with him. "
Chang Geng took out the feather duster, which had beaten Marshal Gu, with his hands. He saw that the inside of the duster was a thin pole that would break if one used too much force, so as not to kill someone. There was a thick layer of ‘feathers’ outside, it was also not a real pheasant feather, but made up of thin bamboo and a kind of thick hair from an unknown animal. If whipped on the body...
Chang Geng grew up in the Marquis' Manor. He appeared more like the real master than its actual master, although the old servant changed the way of addressing him to ‘Your Majesty’, it still did not sound distant. She said happily, "When our Marquis was a child, he truly was troublesome, climbing on the roof and uncovering the tiles. Later, he was afraid of this thing, whatever he did, as long as you brought this out, he would be good for a while."
Gu Yun always appeared like a nimble elder in front of Chang Geng, possessing a knowledgeable attitude towards everything, but his childhood remained a blank page for Chang Geng, so he listened with great interest.
"It was entertaining when the Princess wanted to hit him. He ran all over the yard, crying and howling as if something happened."
Chang Geng said: "As if? Then was he pretending?"
"Of course, he was," the old servant woman sighed as she walked, "when our little Marquis was a child, if he was not seriously punished, don't expect him to shed real tears. You could see him crying all over the yard, his mouth incredibly flexible, often acting pitiful, saying such things as, 'Mom, don't you like me anymore?', 'Don't you want me anymore?' 'Am I not the flesh that came from your body?' Or, 'Do you want to change me for a better younger brother? I will be better, please don't change me for a brother. I only have one mother, if you don't love me, I will become a stray child nobody wants…' Those who heard it all felt their hearts move; the Princess could no longer bear to punish him."
When Chang Geng imagined the scene, he laughed until he couldn't breathe. Gu Yun was a great strategist. He had known from an early age what 'truth and false coexist' and 'how to attack a person's heart' were.
The old servant's eyes wrinkled with a smile; then her voice suddenly changed: "Later he went to the frontier, and everything was different after he came back."
Chang Geng's smile faded.
The old lady recalled: "Every day he shut himself in his room, ignored everyone and did not cry either. When food was sent in, it would be returned the same way. No one was able to coax him, and he did not walk through the door. He changed entirely, at first he was a little monkey, after returning he was a little demon — it took two to three months for the old Marquis to settle the affairs in the north and return home. I say, the old Marquis's treatment of his son was ruthless. Maybe because of this, the old Marquis was afraid that he would become crippled."
Chang Geng asked softly, "How did he treat him?"
"The old Marquis kicked open his door and forcefully pulled him out of the room. Think about it: his eyes are badly injured, how could they not hurt in the sunlight? He staggered after his father with tears flowing, this time, it was true tears, but he didn't say a word." The old servant woman reached out and pointed, "It's that small pond. The old Marquis netted the whip around the Marquis's neck, pressed his head and forced him to look into the water and shouted in his ear, 'Look at your current appearance. Do you deserve to be named Gu?'"
Chang Geng followed her fingers to look and saw the pool that had been dry for many years. But in the past two days, he had refilled the water and raised several new fishes; they were swimming and swinging their tails side to side contentedly.
"The little Marquis's throat was stuck in the whip; he roared back 'I can't see'."
Chang Geng seemed to go back several years with her words, his hand that was holding the feather duster twitched slightly.
"The old Marquis pressed his head in the water and said, 'If you can't see then submerge in the water and see, either you will learn to stand up, or else find a place to hang yourself, the Gu family would rather have no heir than raise a worthless child."
The old servant said, shaking her head, "It was truly harsh, even after all these years, this old woman still remembers every word."
There was no sound between the two for a short time. After a long moment, Chang Geng asked in a low voice, "The old Marquis had the heart to do such a thing?"
"As a parent, everyone would naturally feel distressed, but what could we do if we were reluctant to do so? The old Marquis said that if the bone breaks, it can only be wedged with steel nails. The more painful the situation is, the more he must know that he had nowhere to rely on. Otherwise, he would lean on it and will never be able to stand up for the rest of his life.” The old servant said, "If the old Marquis had been reluctant, then who could rightfully gather the scattered Black Iron Camp around ten years ago?"
Without the Black Iron Camp, Great Liang might have been devoured step by step the first time the Western regions revolted; there was no need for the Westerners to come all this way to take a bite. How long could the old nobles continue to live in luxury?
"In the cold winter months, the old Marquis forbid the servants from letting him wear a padded cotton coat to protect him from the cold. The child's hands and feet were blue; he could not even carry a bowl when he came back to the house. More than ten iron puppets surrounded him all day long. The old Marquis only watched, as if he would not blink even if the Marquis died. After two or three years, both husband and wife passed away one after another, Emperor Yuan He then brought the little Marquis into the palace." The old servant stopped speaking as they heard a sharp birdsong around the corner. When they looked up, they saw that Gu Yun was casually approaching, carrying a birdcage. It was the unlucky bird from the man, Shen. He viciously shook the cage; the bird's organs were flipping upside down; it could not speak and had to scream at the top of its voice.
Since Gu Yun had time to teach the bird, he had never been inferior in the fight between humans and birds. At this time, he was taking a walk with his victory spoil — he was so proud until he saw what Chang Geng was holding from far away. He first narrowed his eyes, then his face suddenly turned black.
Gu Yun quickly walked over and grabbed the feather duster. "Why are you bringing this broken thing out to play!"
Years-long injuries, even if they were cured, there was a chance they would leave residual effects. For example, Gu Yun was unlikely to hear and see clearly for the rest of his life. And although Chang Geng was rid of the nightmares, if he thought too much or was too tired during the day, there would be many dreams at night.
That night, no one knew if it was because he still remembered the "feather duster" that had been stolen by Gu Yun, but Chang Geng had a very strange dream. He saw that he was walking into the Marquis's Manor, but it was not the manor he was familiar with. At least, it was not as depressing as he remembered. There were people bustling about and it seemed much more lived in.
Far away, Chang Geng heard the sound of metal colliding. He followed it and saw a group of murderous iron puppets besieging a little boy in the backyard. The little boy's eyes were covered with a layer of black cloth, half of his face was hidden, struggling to dodge from side to side.
All of a sudden, an iron puppet approached him from behind. The long sword in its hand that had been changed into an iron bar swept towards him. It seemed that he could feel the wind of the attacker; the little boy subconsciously wanted to avoid it.
Wait, he couldn't hide like this!
At this moment, the words that Gu Yun taught him many years ago suddenly arised in Chang Geng's mind: "When your heart is in a panic - your legs will become unsteady. If your feet are not stable, no matter how skilled your swordsmanship is, it would be nothing more than water without a source, trees without roots."
Of course, the boy's speed couldn't be faster than the iron puppet's. After a moment's hesitation and contraction, he was quickly caught up to by the iron puppet. With a loud noise, the monster's iron bar hit the young boy's back, his clothes tore open on the spot, revealing the inner armor. His body flew out.
Chang Geng hurried forward and picked up the little boy who was half-covered with dust. At the same time, he took the sword from his waist and shut down several iron puppets continuing the chase, causing them to stand still on the spot.
He dropped the sword and tried to untie the cloth on the boy's face with trembling hands. However, he could hear footsteps approaching behind him. Chang Geng turned around and saw a middle-aged man slowly walking forward with hands behind his back. The man was dressed in plain clothes and had a beautiful face, like a scholar with an elegant demeanor, but his eyes were dyed with belligerence. When facing him directly, Chang Geng could see the illusion of a thousand army's swords and blades.
Chang Geng had never seen this man. Although after growing up, Gu Yun's appearance bore no similarity to him, he still recognized his identity as soon as he saw him face to face — their facial features were not like each other, but on this pair of father and son was something that was passed down through generations.
The man stood still and said to Chang Geng, "Even if you take him away from here, you won't be able to raise him. Even if you do, he won't be able to withstand trials and hardships..."
Chang Geng carefully held the boy's thin body: "He can rely on me."
The old Marquis shook his head. Chang Geng suddenly heard the roar of the golden box burning behind him. He quickly took the boy in his arms and dodged. The group of iron puppets which he had shut down arranged into an orderly formation, each of them split to two. In a moment, they transformed into an army of iron Heavy Armors, staring at him intently. In the distance, there was an indistinct sound. The entire group of iron puppets started to move, charging forward.
Chang Geng had to pick up little gu Yun and run like mad. He wanted to yell at the old man who looked on at the scene indifferently — I could even fix up this old and battered country, how could I not protect one Gu Yun?
However, he could not find his voice in the dream. Running in a hurry, he suddenly stepped on thin air. Chang Geng's heart leaped heavily. He reached out, wanting to hold on, but what he grabbed onto was a different hand.
He suddenly opened his eyes and saw that the steam lamp in the room had been turned on, but it was not bright outside. Meanwhile, he was holding Gu Yun's hand tightly.
Gu Yun rubbed his head: "How come you could not wake up today? Are you feeling uncomfortable? "
Chang Geng stared at him for a moment: "I had a dream."
Gu Yun was shocked.
"It's not a nightmare, it's not the Bone of Impurity." Chang Geng turned over, hugging Gu Yun's entire arm to his chest, rubbed his forehead against Gu Yun's elbow, and whispered, "I dreamed that I snatched you from the old Marquis's hand, and your father sent an iron puppet battalion to pursue me."
Gu Yun was stunned at first, then laughed aloud. With a little strength, he pulled the emperor out of the pile of quilts and drew out his arm: "Your Majesty, your guts are quite large, there are a hundred thousand of underworld soldiers in the old man's hands — Alright, the time of displaying your might is over. Get up quickly. There is a grand court meeting today. Well, that being said, the Qingming Festival is also near, perhaps the old man came back to remind us that he lacks paper money over there."
Chang Geng sat by the bed and looked at him, staring to his heart's content from head to toe with the light. Only once Gu Yun finished putting on his clothes did he retract his gaze, "If your father is short of paper money, why did he find me instead of you?"
"Perhaps he saw that you are easy to bully." Gu Yun said with a smile, then his smile gradually changed, "I don't owe him anything, and I guess he's embarrassed to come to see me."
On the day of the Qingming Festival, Chang Geng spared most of the day to accompany Gu Yun to visit the tomb of his parents.
Gu Yun did not speak a word in front of the memorial plaque as if he was practicing the monk's silent meditation, only burning the paper money like carrying out a duty. After finishing, he stood on one side with indifference.
What he did over the years, he didn't have to speak of them. Those two should already know.
However, Chang Geng put on the incense and offered the wine conscientiously. With Gu Yun here, he could not speak aloud and could only say in his heart, "I will take care of him in the future. You both can rest assured, don't wedge steel nails on him anymore."
"Let's go." Gu Yun gently pulled him.
Chang Geng returned to his senses and was about to go with him when he saw Gu Yun casually turn to the Princess's memorial plaque: "Look after your husband carefully, tell him to stay obediently down there. Don't come and disturb my man."
Chang Geng: "..."
After listening to these treacherous words, the accompanying Huo Dan almost knelt down and kowtowed to death in front of the old Marquis. Gu Yun gave a light snort and turned to take Chang Geng away.
It seemed that his words truly worked. Ever since then, Chang Geng never dreamed of old Marquis Gu and his iron puppet army again.