"Sixteen years ago, the Chijun Sword once again reappeared in Changsha. What connection do you have to the Sun family?"
Editor(s): namio, jelly
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In the depths of night, the area within the mountain range was bright with light as the main camp of the black-armored troops were filled with a forest of torches.
A bucket of water was poured onto Zhou Yu’s head.
Zhou Yu woke at that. That marshal’s strike to the back of his neck hadn’t been very forceful, but it had been very precise; it was clear that the man saw the talent in him, so he was merciful in his strike.
Zhou Yu lifted his head to watch that person, who had already changed into a black robe, lean against one side of his seat in a careless fashion. Of his long, slender fingers, his little finger was digging around in his ear, and though his mannerisms seemed to be lazy, he gave off an aura of danger.
Upon observation, that person was nine chi tall. His eyebrows were as sharp as a sword’s blade, the bridge of his nose stood tall, his lips were as if they were carved out of stone, and the side silhouette of his face held a little bit of the craggliness of the Xubei people. His eyes were set deep in his face, and there was a hint of an azure jade color in those dark irises. He was clad in a taotie martial robe, and though his feet were bare, his shoulders were broad and his legs were long. Overall, his build was very good.
“State your full name, and why you have come, in full detail.” that martial general said indifferently.
Zhou Yu saw that there was a jade tally dangling from that martial general’s waist, and his heart gave a thump.
“This junior is called Zhou Yu, courtesy name Gongjin.” Zhou Yu knew that this person was not one that he could afford to offend, be it from those skills he had displayed with those few arrows just now, or by the outfit he was clad in.
“Yu is as fine as jade,” the martial general said casually, not even looking at Zhou Yu properly, as he had been this entire time. “Beautiful jade is afraid of being broken, so why have you come to this battlefield filled with troops and horses? You admire this marquis so much?”
“This…” Zhou Yu didn’t know if laughing or crying was the best recourse, so he said, cupping his hands together in a salute, “This junior was originally heading into Luoyang to visit a friend, and accidentally, without meaning to, stumbled into the general’s formation.”
The martial general finally turned his head, looking Zhou Yu over from head to toe, before fixing his gaze on him.
“Visiting a friend?” the martial general asked, lifting his eyebrows very slightly. “Gao Shun, bring this brat’s sword over.”
A captain brought the ancient sword that had been taken from Zhou Yu in, holding it with both hands. Upon hearing the words Gao Shun, Zhou Yu felt a sudden chill out of nowhere, as if he had heard this name somewhere before. Gao Shun, Gao Shun, Gao Shun… wasn’t Gao Shun that person’s...
No matter who he met, nothing could beat the shock of meeting this fellow! Zhou Yu finally guessed this person’s identity: this was Lü Bu! Lü Fengxian! In Shuzhou, Zhou Yu had long since heard of his great name. It was rumored that this person’s eyes could shoot light, his body was surrounded by a haze of blood, and he was fully capable of killing even his own father and brothers. His thoughts were cruel and poisonous, and he was a short-sighted, petty man who had eyes but lacked pupils.
But upon observing the person in front of him, he didn’t look at all as if he was the Marquis of a Major Village, Lü Bu, who had just killed Ding Yuan and turned to pledge his allegiance to that Dong thief. When Zhou Yu was young, he had often heard the monks of Shuzhou discuss at length, and he knew that words came from the heart. Someone’s personality would more or less be revealed somewhat on their face; narrow-minded, petty people would have eyebrows that were joined together, and those with triangular eyes with the corners tilted up often had hidden schemes.
But, with Lü Bu’s visage, he was clearly a handsome man whose martial skills far surpassed the ordinary. Zhou Yu had no way at all to connect this calm, relaxed great general in front of him to the dark, evil, petty man of cruel and vicious actions that the legends painted him as.
“The famed sword Chijun.” Lü Bu calmly held out his palm, and Gao Shun, in a reverent manner, placed the ancient sword in his hand. Lü Bu remarked lazily, “It came from the great master Ou Yezi’s hands and is three chi and six fen in length. Its body was crafted from metal that came outside of the heavens, its grip made from flaming bloodwood, and the ripple patterns on the length were crafted in fire. The fire of the South defeats the metal of the West, and all the Nanming Li fire will belong to Chu. And during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods, the Zhenguo Sword of Chu, Wu Zixu, took his own life with this very sword.”
Zhou Yu said, “Commandant Lu has a keen gaze.”
With these words of Lü Bu’s, no matter how low his opinion of him was before due to the rumors, in that instant he still felt a wave of heartfelt admiration. It seemed like Lü Bu was someone who loved weapons, otherwise he wouldn’t know as much about famous historical swords as if they were his family treasures.
“Wu Zixu had people hang his head from the city walls,” Lü Bu said, narrowing his eyes, “so that he could watch with his own eyes as the country of Chu fell. After the city fell, the Crimson Army didn’t know where to go. Thirty years later, despite being given a title as the Zhenguo Sword by the king of Chu, many years had passed after the last dynasty, and the sword remained a rare and lost treasure that didn’t see the light of day. Sixteen years ago, the Chijun Sword once again reappeared in Changsha.
“What connection do you have to the Sun family?” Lü Bu asked. “If I am not mistaken, there is a person I’m thinking of who ought to be your father.”
Zhou Yu never expected that Lü Bu would be able to dig out everything of his family history from a single sword. Who had said that this person had brawn but not brains?!
“You are Liu Biao’s son?” Lü Bu asked coldly.
A look of despair writ itself across Zhou Yu’s face.
“Marquis,” he responded earnestly. “You’ve… guessed wrong.”
“Oh?” Lü Bu’s expression was one of bafflement. He asked, “Who are you then?”
Zhou Yu: “...”
He didn’t know why, but Zhou Yu wanted to break out into explosive laughter. But despite the fact that this bastard had guessed wrong, his martial skills were still nothing to scoff at. If he did begin to laugh and Lü Bu cut him down for it, it wouldn't have been worth it at all.
“This junior is named Zhou Yu,” he said. “My father, now passed, was the commandant of Luoyang, Zhou Yi.”
And saying this, Zhou Yu addressed his father’s matters that he knew of in detail, only cutting out the matter with Hua Xiong. He only mentioned that three years ago, his father had died in the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Zhou Yu was afraid that if he mentioned that he and the Sun family were old family friends, then on the off chance that Lü Bu and Sun Jian were enemies, it would put himself in a dangerous position. Just like that, he glossed over the origins of the sword.
“Since things are like that,” Lü Bu said, “your Zhou family has held that government role for three generations, so you must have connections in Luoyang. Ah well, this marquis will do you a favor at little cost to himself and bring you into the city.”
Zhou Yu let out a breath in relief, before he hurried to say, “Yu will never forget that the marquis saved his life. What can this junior do for the general?”
Sun Jian had joined the Alliance Against Dong. Lü Bu was under Dong Zhuo’s command; Zhou Yu and Sun Ce were in the same camp as Sun Jian. With the way things were, Zhou Yu was enemies with the person in front of him, and yet, without knowing why, he couldn’t feel irritated at the kind of person that Lü Bu was.
“Let me think.” Lü Bu then pondered for a while, before he said, “Come play a game of chess with me then. That bastard Cao Cao never plays chess with this marquis, so it gets very boring.”
So, Zhou Yu happily laid out the chess board, and he and Lü Bu faced off. This match lasted well into the night. In the beginning, Lü Bu was careless towards his enemy, but towards the second half of the night he began to grow serious. In the depths of the evening, Lü Bu drank some wine, and in the middle of the game, he waved his hand to indicate he wasn’t going to play any more. He then went to lay down on his bed, no longer heeding Zhou Yu. As soon as he laid down, he fell asleep.
Zhou Yu put away the pieces. When he exited the tent, Gao Shun was waiting there, saying, “Please come with me.”
Zhou Yu nodded slightly, knowing that at least for today, there would be no more danger. He followed after Gao Shun, asking, “I hear that the Changsha prefect Sun Jian’s troops…”
“You know the Sun family?” Gao Shun asked.
Zhou Yu hesitated a little. It would be inconvenient for him to reveal his connections with Sun Ce, and he cupped his hands as he said, “If I may ask General Gao, are the marquis and Sun Jian…”
“No,” Gao Shun replied. “It’s nothing.”
Gao Shun avoided responding directly to the question, and Zhou Yu also managed to miraculously sidestep it, both of them coming to a tacit understanding. Gao Shun brought Zhou Yu to an already set-up tent and let him rest. After the night passed, before the sky had even lightened for a new day, Lü Bu’s black-armored troops had already packed up camp. There was not a single hair out of place throughout the entire area as the soldiers took down their tents, rolled up their bedrolls, and led their horses away. Zhou Yu’s eyes were still hazy with sleep, as he was a little unaccustomed to this. On the road, the troops brought over breakfast to eat with him. Zhou Yu had already asked around before, so he knew that this time Lü Bu had come out to slow the pace of the coalition’s troops, and the unlucky white-armored troops whose horses and men had been cut down by him was exactly the general on the white horse, Gongsun Zan’s, men.
Yuan Shao and his group had formed the Coalition Against Dong, and though they claimed to be fighting to punish the traitor to the country and restore the emperor to his throne, insidiously, they let Gongsun Zan be the vanguard. To begin with, Gongsun Zan already lacked fighting spirit, and in this very first battle he had run right into this iron wall of Lü Bu. After both sides hacked away at each other for a day and a night, Gongsun Zan couldn’t fight off their enemy and sent a messenger back to request assistance from Yuan Shao, but the result was that none of the allied troops had come at all.
That soldier exaggerated Lü Bu’s valor over ten times what it actually was, and the corners of Zhou Yu’s mouth twitched as he listened. He could see the awe the troops held towards their commander. Zhou Yu followed behind the black-armored troops, stopping and going; he wasn’t afraid of anything aside from Sun Ce being in danger. As of today, Dong Zhuo was the most powerful, and Lü Bu had even killed his adoptive father Ding Yuan to ally with him. Sun Jian’s coalition was nothing more than a pile of loose sand, and he was afraid that it wouldn’t be easy to win this battle.
After entering Hongnong County, Luoyang was already not too far away. Three days of travel later, when the army arrived at Luoyang, Zhou Yu mixed in with the troops to enter the city. They weren’t even asked for travel passes. Upon seeing that such strict inspections were underway to enter the city, Zhou Yu was grateful that his luck had been good and he had followed Lü Bu, otherwise he would have had to waste a lot of effort.
After entering the city, Gao Shun led the troops towards the barracks in the north. Zhou Yu stopped, and a commander came over, saying to him, “Lu-zhonglang has spoken, you no longer need to follow anymore, go at your own convenience ba.”
Zhou Yu originally wanted to thank him personally, because despite Lü Bu’s status, he probably wouldn’t mind Zhou Yu thanking him once more. However, that commander who had brought the message was pretty benevolent, adding, “If you run into any difficulties, all you have to do is come by the Zhonglang General’s camp and mention it.”
“Thanks.” At this moment, Zhou Yu’s heart was filled with conflict. It was clear that the two of them were enemies, but at such a critical moment, Lü Bu had actually given him the most help. After seeing the troops leave, an autumn breeze blew by as Zhou Yu stood, all alone, in front of the bronzesmiths’ street. Suddenly, he felt at a loss for what to do.
He had entered the capital once as a youth, and since then a decade had passed. Zhou Yu couldn’t resist rejoicing that he had left Shuzhou on his own and walked into a new land. Otherwise, there would have been too many things he didn’t understand, and he wouldn’t have been able to see the world outside of Jiangnan.
Compared to ten years ago, Luoyang had changed greatly. The most obvious thing was that there were less people, and all of the people walking along the street bore expressions of wariness, as if they were on high alert because of some matter. In the distance, jackdaws crowed, before they rose as a flock and flew towards the palace. The stalls on either side of the street had already closed up for the day. Zhou Yu racked his brain for a moment; who should he go find? Should he first stay at an inn for the night, or should he go find someone?
It was still early. After Zhou Yu thought for a moment, he remembered that back in the day, his father had quite a number of good friends, and there was one among them named Qiao Mao. When Zhou Yi had bid farewell to this world, the Qiao family had specially dispatched someone with a customary monetary gift, so he might as well go seek out Qiao Mao first. In the past, Qiao Mao had held the position of the governor of Yanzhou, but now he had already become the prefect of Dong County. Zhou Yu asked for directions as he went and found that he was still in Luoyang as expected. With that, he no longer hesitated, and he mounted his horse and headed towards the western part of the city to find Qiao Mao.
As he went, once the people of Luoyang saw Zhou Yu, all of them, whether man or woman, gathered to stare curiously at him. Zhou Yu knew that he was wearing the clothes of the Jiangnan region, and his features didn’t look like those from the Central Plains. To avoid drawing attention to himself, he could only spur his horse forward with trepidation in his heart.
The main gates of the Qiao manor were shut tight, and a few bare branches of persimmon trees jutted out over the garden wall. Outside, yellow leaves covered the entire alley, having not been swept up by anyone. Zhou Yu knocked on the door a few times, but no one responded, so he circled around to the back door and shouted a few times, with the same result. But, after seeing the tracks outside the back gate, it seemed as if there had been someone living here for a long time, and it didn’t seem like an empty house with no occupants.
“Prefect Qiao!” Zhou Yu shouted again.
The courtyard was completely still, and a sense of foreboding suddenly arose in Zhou Yu’s heart as he seemed to see the tragedy of Qiao Mao’s family being annihilated playing out in front of his eyes. He hesitated for a moment, but in the end decided to take the risk and climb up to take a look.
With his body pressed up against the wall, Zhou Yu leapt upwards. He thought of Sun Ce, and he was torn between laughter and tears; if he was here right now, perhaps he’d have already flipped over the wall. Just as he was thinking it, he climbed to the top of the garden wall, but when he looked down, he was greatly startled. There were people in the courtyard!
Two old men, their hair and beards already going grey, sat underneath a tree, playing chess. As soon as Zhou Yu swept his gaze over that chess board, he immediately understood that they were both masters. What was going on? Wasn’t Qiao Mao away?
Just as Zhou Yu was about to hop down and knock on the door again, he unintentionally bumped into a tree branch, causing a commotion.
“Who!” One of the old men had a sharp gaze, and he immediately discovered Zhou Yu. Startled, Zhou Yu trod on the tree branch and broke it, plummeting down the persimmon tree, one foot landing on the chess board.
The two old men rushed around frantically, while Zhou Yu, who hadn’t expected for anyone to be in the yard at all, hurried to rise, cutting a sorry figure as he did. The first old man was incandescent with rage, and he upended the chess board over Zhou Yu’s head.
“Where did this unruly swine come from!”
Zhou Yu knew that he had gotten himself into trouble, and he hurried to alternate between cleaning up the board for the two old men, dusting off their robes, and pouring them tea. When he had fallen in such a sorry way just now, he hadn’t had a chance to look closely, but now that he was calmer, he managed to sneak a few glances at the two of them as he pretended to have accidentally stumbled in. What he found was that although the two old men were both wearing casual clothing, they both had a lofty air about them. Zhou Yu took note of that, and determined that one of these men must be the master of this household - Qiao Mao. Keeping the door shut was probably to avoid any visitors from the court.
“Junior has overstepped,” Zhou Yu said as he hurried to bow. “I have disturbed your match, but great men care not for the actions of base ones. Please don’t take it to heart.”
Zhou Yu returned the black and white pieces to their respective places, at which the two old men’s expressions grew surprised.
The old man with the darker hair, wearing the casual outfit of an official said, “Since you have come, then be at ease. Stand there first ba.”
Primly and properly, Zhou Yu poured out tea for the two old men, thinking to himself, the one in a better mood was probably the guest. The other old man wearing a long robe made of rough material let out an angry huff as he glared at Zhou Yu, clearly furious that his ruse of being away from home had been seen through.
Zhou Yu didn’t dare to say more, but he knew very clearly - this person should be the master of this estate, Qiao Mao.
“This connected ring move of the Minister of the Masses is very dangerous!” Qiao Mao said, one hand stroking his beard. “Are you not afraid that you’ll fall prey to the catching a turtle already within a jar tactic?”
Zhou Yu immediately realized… Minister of the Masses; the Minister of the Masses, the Minister of Works, and the Grand Commandant made up the “Three Ministers”, and this person in front of him who Qiao Mao had called “the Minister of the Masses” was, without a doubt, Wang Yun.
At this, Wang Yun merely stroked the beard hairs near his mouth and smiled gently. “The chess pieces that our young friend has laid out for me have become a connected ring play without my knowledge.”
Qiao Mao put down another piece, and Wang Yun responded in kind. Qiao Mao said, “Does the Minister of the Masses hold such confidence in this match?”
“In this world, most matters are not ones I have any confidence in,” Wang Yun said. “Just now, weren’t we quite set in our course, when this little friend took us off our path as well?”
Qiao Mao laughed loudly, and with a push of the chess board, he said, “I’m done, just let it be like this ba.”
Wang Yun rose and nodded, cupping his hands in Qiao Mao’s direction. Zhou Yu thought for a moment, but just as he was about to open his mouth, Wang Yun shot Zhou Yu a look, before glancing at Qiao Mao, a question in his gaze.
“How about this little friend…”
But Qiao Mao interrupted. “I still need to scold him properly.”
“Alright, alright,” Wang Yun responded, amused. “Then I’ll take my leave.”
Qiao Mao sent Wang Yun to the backyard, and Zhou Yu followed them to the door. As soon as Wang Yun went out the gates and left the alley, Qiao Mao shut the doors, and multiple people rose from the surrounding tea stalls, food stalls, and wine stalls. They were all normal citizens, and they came to protect Wang Yun as he left.
Zhou Yu thought to himself that as expected, his perception was not strong enough; this was his first trip out of Jiangnan, he really hadn’t been wary enough.
After Qiao Mao sent Wang Yun off, he passed through the outside corridor on his own. Zhou Yu followed behind, but after only a few steps, a servant brought over a bronze basin for Qiao Mao to wash his hands and face in. Seeing this opportunity, Zhou Yu stood to one side and said, “Prefect Qiao, this junior…”
Qiao Mao let out a heavy grunt, before he tossed the towel into the basin and leveled a glare at Zhou Yu.
“You look exactly like your father, and your crafty cunning is also very similar. You’re also as unafraid of death as your father was. How come you’ve come to Luoyang?”
Zhou Yu was stunned. “Prefect Qiao recognizes me?”
“Who else could you be but Zhou Yi’s son!” Qiao Mao said. “All of the people in Luoyang are running away, why are you coming to seek your death?!”
As if in explanation, Zhou Yu repeated, “Junior’s family… something’s happened in Shuzhou.”
Qiao Mao immediately strode away. Zhou Yu followed him at a moderate pace, finishing his explanation of why he had come to Luoyang. Qiao Mao sat down in the hall and said, “Ah well. You didn’t go anywhere else, you came directly to my Qiao manor, ay.”
“Junior would also like to request Uncle Qiao to help me search, on behalf of our two families’ friendship,” Zhou Yu said. “The thirty-six families of orphans and widows in Shuzhou would shed tears of gratitude in response.”
Qiao Mao ordered, “Sit ba.”
WIth that, the master and the guest each sat down at their own seat. The servants brought in wine and food, and Zhou Yu was silent for a moment before he waved his hand, indicating that he wouldn’t drink wine, as he poured a cup of tea to drink. Qiao Mao let out a sigh, saying, “It is not that I don’t wish to assist you, and there is no harm in helping you investigate, but you’ve seen what the situation is like now. This old man doesn’t even dare to set foot outside, and in these past few days, I’ve been excusing myself on account of an illness to avoid going to court sessions. How can I start investigating?”
Zhou Yu straightened up slightly, but he didn’t say anything.
After thinking deeply for a moment, Qiao Mao continued, “Since your father is Zhou Yi, then logically speaking, your Zhou family has no reason to side with Dong Zhuo, so there’s no problem in speaking openly with you.”
Zhou Yu sighed and nodded, but as before, he didn’t say anything. Qiao Mao’s meaning was very clear to him in his heart; Zhou Yi died in Hua Xiong’s grasp, and at the bottom of it, it was quite likely that Dong Zhuo had helped to bring that very matter about. Therefore, it was impossible that he would betray Qiao Mao and throw his lot in with Dong Zhuo.
“What is the situation in Luoyang?” Zhou Yu asked. “Though nephew has been negligent in his practice of martial arts, he still holds a little skill in it. Since Uncle Qiao is here, if there is anything that nephew can do to be of use, please don’t hesitate to let me know.”
Qiao Mao sipped a mouthful of wine, his old face going bright red. He let out a long breath before saying, “Yuan Shao is currently outside Hulao Pass, and he’s arranged a meeting with all of the marquises and kings who are loyal to the throne. If my guess isn’t wrong, then it should be happening in the coming few days.”
Zhou Yu held his cup of water, thinking of all he had seen and heard in these few days. His worry was that the coalition wouldn’t come together this easily. As expected, Qiao Mao continued, “But no one can guarantee that they’ll come together. You might as well stay here and rest. Wait until after the allied troops enter the city to continue.”
“Has the Changsha prefect Sun Jian… also come?” Zhou Yu asked.
Qiao Mao responded, “This old man actually forgot about that. While your father was alive, he and Sun Jian were colleagues. Sun Jian and his sons are currently in front of Hulao Pass. In a few days, after my distant cousin enters the city, I’ll write a letter. You go with him, have Sun Jian recommend you to Yuan Shao, and that’s that.”
Zhou Yu didn’t ask anymore, instead heading forward to formally and properly kowtow once to Qiao Mao. However, Qiao Mao waved his hand and said, “Rise ba! Human lives end as easily as the grasses; this old man’s hard-pressed to keep his own life intact, and who knows if I’ll be able to survive these next days. If something does happen in my household, don’t blame this old man for dragging you down, that’s all.”
“Naturally, I will not,” Zhou Yu responded. “Since I’m temporarily residing in uncle’s home, if anything arises, please feel free to order this nephew around.”
The corners of Qiao Mao’s mouth quirked up, and as he watched Zhou Yu, he began to smile. He nodded a few times.
“Young man,” Qiao Mao said, “not bad. Your father had always been an upright man as he lived, and after he passed, this old man often thought of him, now that there’s one less of us here to sit together, with a cup in hand, to chat... ay! Now that you’ve come, then take your father’s place and keep this old man company as he drinks a cup of wine ba.”
moon: apologies for the delay, i got tied up in preparing to up mingwang and forgot about this one
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.