The life of this Zhou Gongjin is yours from now on.
TLC(s): Miri, Moon
Editor(s): Namio, Jelly
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A few days later, the whole city was in a state of panic. Qiao Miao received word that Dong Zhuo’s subordinates Li Jue and Guo Si had encountered a joint attack from a group of warlords at Hulao Pass and fled in defeat. In no more than a few days’ time, Yuan Shao was threatening to storm Luoyang and take Dong Zhuo’s head as a sacrificial offering for victory. The entirety of Luoyang grew tense as Lu Bu sealed off all city gates and strictly prohibited all entry and exit.
That day, Zhou Yu was at a shop in Luoyang buying rice noodles for Qiao Mao, when suddenly a servant girl hurriedly approached him and slipped a small note into his hand. While no one was watching, Zhou Yu unfolded the note to take a look and was immediately shocked.
Dong Zhuo is relocating the capital. Governor Qiao ‘s name is not on the name list. Hurry and flee.
Seeing that the handwriting was quite graceful, it was most likely written by Diaochan. He did not know where she obtained this information; perhaps it had come from Lu Bu. Zhou Yu pondered for a moment — Dong Zhuo was relocating the capital, so the entire court and all the government officials would have to follow him. What was the implication then of leaving Qiao Miao behind? Wasn't it because Dong Zhuo no longer intended to let Qiao Miao live?
Zhou Yu immediately abandoned what he was doing and ran all the way back to the Qiao residence. While still panting for breath, he pushed open the door, only to see Qiao Mao talking with another middle-aged man inside the hall.
“You must leave Luoyang immediately,” Zhou Yu said. “Minister Wang has received the news. It is very likely Dong Zhuo wants to harm Governor Qiao.”
“Then let him come!” Qiao Miao’s temper was explosive, and at this, he slapped his hand against the table, sending the cups and plates rattling.
Zhou Yu placed his hand on his sword and took a step forward. His tall stature blocked off the daylight streaming in from outside, like an unyielding mountain.
“Please listen to me!” Zhou Yu said gravely. “Why does Governor Qiao insist on keeping watch over this place? Only by first ensuring your survival now can you contend against Dong Zhuo in the future.”
Qiao Miao looked at Zhou Yu, before he suddenly burst out into loud laughter, shaking his head helplessly.
“Young man,” Qiao Miao said with amusement, “this old man has lived for so many years that even death cannot scare me. Why should I fear a mere traitor to the nation?"
“It’s precisely because you don’t fear death,” Zhou Yu replied, “then why must you fear living?”
“Second Uncle,” the middle-aged man said, “Nephew Zhou is right. What’s the use of you staying here?”
Qiao Miao then said, ”This old man has already finished what he has set out to do, which was to pass on the imperial edict to all the dukes and marquises. That Dong traitor’s time has passed. This world is left in the hands of you youngsters now.”
Qiao Miao thoughtfully sipped a mouthful of wine. Under the light of the oil lamp, he seemed to have aged significantly. Zhou Yu took a deep breath, then let out a long sigh.
“Cao Mengde has already left.” Qiao Miao said, “You leave first ba. Once this old man has finished arranging everything, I will escort you and Qiao Xuan out of the city.”
Zhou Yu wanted to say more, but Qiao Miao already waved for him to leave, saying, “Qiao Xuan, you send this nephew of mine back to rest.”
Qiao Xuan had no choice but to get up, and he made a “if you please” gesture, showing Zhou Yu out.
“Lord Qiao,” Zhou Yu said as he stood in the middle of the courtyard.
“Nephew Zhou,” Qiao Xuan replied, “On your way here from the Jiangnan region, did you hear any news about Wu County?”
Zhou Yu replied, “The Jiangnan region hasn't experienced any unrest, but this…”
“Let’s wait until tonight,” Qiao Xuan said. “Perhaps we should think of a way to kidnap my second uncle out of the city.”
Zhou Yu could only nod his head, and he went back to pack his things. He knew that he could no longer stay in Luoyang, as Dong Zhuo’s purge of the city was imminent. That night, he kept himself wide awake, waiting for the white falcon’s return, but it never arrived. At midnight, Qiao Xuan called him to get up, signalling him to be quiet as he said, “Let’s go.”
Zhou Yu slung his satchel over his shoulder and came out. When he passed by the main hall, he saw that Qiao Miao was polishing a long sword, and a waist tally was laying on the table.
“This is the travel pass that this old man has obtained through my connections,” Qiao Miao said. “Cao Mengde already took one and left the city last night. You two ride quickly and head along the main road east of the city. You must not come back.”
“Second Uncle!” Qiao Xuan said.
Zhou Yu took a step forward with plans to forcefully grab Qiao Miao without leaving any room for protest so that he could bring him along. But, it was just at that moment that soldiers outside began to bang on the main doors, roaring in anger.
“Open the door! Open the door!”
Zhou Yu was startled, but Qiao Miao pushed the two of them towards the back door. Zhou Yu protested, “Don’t go outside!”
Even as he spoke, the front door was kicked open by the soldiers. The troops came swarming in like bees, shouting: “ No one is allowed to leave! Where are Qiao Mao and Qiao Xuan?!”
Zhou Yu realized that there was still Qiao Xuan to protect, so he immediately dragged him out to the backyard. Both of their eyes reddened as they listened to the pained cry of a soldier ring out from inside; it was evident that Qiao Mao had already started attacking. Qiao Xuan’s eyes bulged with rage, and he looked as if he wanted to rush back in to kill them. However, Zhou Yu said, “Let’s go quickly–”
The two of them mounted their horses. For a while, the sounds of screams filled the air as large fires burned along the streets, flames blazing in all directions. Luoyang had already become submerged in a sea of fire. Across the streets and roofs, arrows flew in all directions; evidently, Yuan Shao’s allied forces had already begun to attack the city. Amidst the chaos, Qiao Xuan’s warhorse was hit by an arrow, and it collapsed to the ground.
With a jolt, Zhou Yu hurried to dismount, letting Qian Xuan climb onto his war horse. The two men rode on the same steed, rushing to the exit of the city, only to find that the Eastern Gates had become a wall of flame that blanketed everything, leaving them nowhere to escape.
Zhou Yu hurriedly spurred on his warhorse, leaping up to the higher ground. Several times, he had to urge it to jump across a collapsed roof, but even the warhorse shrank back in fear.
Zhou Yu gasped for breath, and Qiao Xuan said, “Forget it. Nephew, let me get off the horse. I do not want to drag you down any longer.”
Zhou Yu was silent for a moment before he dismounted. With a handsome backhanded swing of his sword, he stabbed the horse’s rump!
The war horse let out a long whinny and galloped away wildly in pain. Qiao Xuan roared, “Zhou Gongjin!”
“Have a safe journey!” Zhou Yu shouted back.
The war horse, carrying Qiao Xuan, dashed to the edge of the roof, before it leapt into the air, flying over the sea of flames, and rushed directly through the East Gate.
In Zhou Yu’s eyes reflected the raging flames that filled the sky. Ash flew through the air, and in that moment, as the thousand-year-old ancient capital was cremated in that fiery sea, the countless voices weeping and wailing sounded like a hymn to the dynasty.
He could not give up yet… Zhou Yu glanced around at his surroundings. He had to survive. If he could find a well or cellar, he could possibly hide there until the fire died out. He ran down the long street, several times barely dodging flaming buildings that suddenly collapsed with a bang. However, the long street had already become a hell filled with gray ash and black smoke. He covered his face with a cloth, coughing frantically as he staggered forward.
In front of him was fire, and behind him was also fire. As far as he could see, there were only torrents of crimson lotuses reaching for the sky.
With a screech, the white falcon swooped down from high above.
“Cough cough… Feiyu…” Zhou Yu laid among the charred ruins, his hair frazzled from the high temperatures. The white falcon flew down and grabbed his arm.
“Hurry... Hurry and leave...” Zhou Yu waved his hand, trying to send it away. His eyes were bright red, and tears streamed non-stop down his face from the smoke. It felt as if he was going to cough up all his organs. He used what strength he had remaining to rise, only to faintly hear, in the distance, someone shouting his name.
Zhou Yu looked around him, bewildered. Immediately, a warhorse neighed, accompanied by the collapse of a house behind him. Sparks and flames flew everywhere as a tall, sturdy horse leapt through the air and rushed towards the middle of the street. A person leapt off the horse and pressed Zhou Yu to the ground.
“Cough, cough…" Sun Ce took off his helmet, his eyes red, his face covered with ash and dust. Tears flowed from his eyes, which could have been either from the irritation of the smoke, or tears of joy from their reunion after such a long separation.
“Bofu?” Zhou Yu shouted. “Bofu!”
The two hugged each other tightly. Without saying a word, Sun Ce carried Zhou Yu onto his horse and charged into the sea of fire with him.
All Zhou Yu could remember that day was the raging flames, the thick smoke and embers, and the scorching heat that burned his eyes. Through a veil of uncontrollable tears, they reigned the horse to a stop high up on the city walls, watching the whole city of Luoyang being destroyed like a magnificent sacrificial rite.
Under the Hangu Pass, the wind carried with it the voices of ghosts, and the setting sun was a scarlet red like the color of blood. The withered grass had the fragrance of burnt matter about it, and from afar came the faint sounds of crying.
The two ashen-faced, bedraggled youths sat outside a mostly-collapsed thatched hut, smoke rising from their campfire.
Zhou Yu sat on a stone, ravenously devouring dried meat and beans cooked in a clay pot.
“Be careful not to burn your mouth,” Sun Ce teased.
Zhou Yu ignored him, took the water Sun Ce had set to one side, and took several big gulps from it. The fresh spring water dripped down from the corners of his mouth.
“All of the exotic delicacies I have had in my life cannot be compared to your clay pot beans, Bofu,” Zhou Yu said after swallowing a mouthful of boiled beans. His hair was unbound and messy, and his expensive brocade robe was extremely filthy. He shook his head and continued, “The life of this Zhou Gongjin is yours from now on.”
Sun Ce let out a loud, hearty laugh, and that handsome face was so sooty it looked as if he had just climbed out of a chimney.
Zhou Yu set down the pot, drank another mouthful of water, and wiped his face. He then staggered to the stream to wash his face, while Sun Ce said from afar, “You have to sign your name, put your stamp, and hand your contract of servitude to me right now. That way, later on, I can go to your house and demand your mother to hand you over.”
Zhou Yu did not respond, he instead squatted down by the stream to wash his face. Sun Ce chuckled as he began to eat the beans with his bare hands.
“Can’t you wash your hands first?!” Zhou Yu shouted angrily.
“You nag me even more than my own mother does.”
“You don’t like being clean.”
Zhou Yu said, lecturing him seriously as he used a towel to clean Sun Ce’s hands. Sun Ce had tickled himself pink with that, and laughed to himself in amusement, “My mother often told me to bring a wife back with me, so that she can keep a firm hold over me. The way I see it, there’s no need for me to bring back a wife anymore, you’ll do. You’re even fussier than my mother.”
Zhou Yu glanced at him casually, refusing to respond to Sun Ce’s words. He then went into the hut and laid down; he had been running around for an entire day and night, and now he was truly exhausted.
Sun Ce was eating beans outside, watching the sun sink little by little below the horizon, like a devoted hound guarding the house. He muttered to himself, “If you’re willing to sell your life just like that, how will you thank me later?”
Zhou Yu: “?”
Sun Ce did not speak again, the corners of his mouth curled up into a faint smile as he watched that last bit of dying sun gradually disappear.
At night, Zhou Yu slept very restlessly. One moment, his dreams were filled with the sea of flames that was Luoyang, while the next, they were filled with bitter cries of misery. He woke several times, but he knew that because Sun Ce was at his side and there was no safer place in the world than here, he fell soundly back asleep.
Towards the end of the night, Sun Ce’s head kept drooping; he was also too sleepy to stay awake. He gave up on keeping watch, crawled into the thatched hut, and fell asleep next to Zhou Yu. Their two heads were pressed close to each other. Because autumn was arriving and the weather was growing chilly, and Sun Ce’s body was like a heater, naturally emitting heat, Zhou Yu couldn't help but press close to him.
They didn’t know how long they had slept. The night was still as dark and thick as ink, yet for some unknown reason, both men woke in the middle of that profoundly silent night.
Zhou Yu felt Sun Ce’s breath hitch first before he let it out in a light exhale.
“Are you cold?” Zhou Yu asked.
“A little bit,” Sun Ce replied. “Let’s hit the road once it’s dawn. You should sleep a little more.”
Zhou Yu verbally agreed, but all desire to sleep had disappeared, so he sat up. Sun Ce started a fire, and the two of them warmed their bodies around it. Zhou Yu raised his eyes to look at Sun Ce, only to see that he was smiling again, and his hair had been tied up.
In Sun Ce’s eyes was reflected the image of Zhou Yu, his upper body bare, revealing his muscular fair chest, mulling over his thoughts as he faced the flames.
“Where are we going next?” Zhou Yu asked.
“You’re going with me?” Sun Ce was a little surprised, chuckling as he asked that question.
“What?” Zhou Yu said, puzzled. “Of course I’m going with you, I’ve already given my life to you. Any complaints?”
Sun Ce thoughtfully replied, “I thought you didn’t actually mean it.”
Zhou Yu did not say anything more. After a moment of contemplation, he asked, “How’s the battlefield situation right now?”
Sun Ce thought for a bit, before replying, “My father should have already invaded Luoyang by now.”
There was a look of worry in Zhou Yu’s eyes. Sun Ce knew that he was worried about Sun Ce deserting his post to break into Luoyang to save Zhou Yu’s life, so he motioned for Zhou Yu to look at the white falcon cooing as it squatted on the wall.
“When will the reinforcements arrive?” Zhou Yu asked.
“After dawn, we will meet up with them under Hangu Pass,” Sun Ce absentmindedly said. “After that, we’ll discuss what to do next. “
"Let’s go back to Changsha," Zhou Yu said.
Sun Ce raised his eyebrows and looked at Zhou Yu, who replied, “Being able to escape with this life of mine is blessing enough; I don’t want to go find those shipments anymore, I’ve realized that I was far too naive.”
Sun Ce laughed but didn’t say anything in response. He added a little more firewood to the campfire and changed the subject, earnestly saying, “I still haven’t thought about what position to appoint you to yet. I don’t even know where I should go from here… Say, Gongjin, what official post do you think I can achieve in the future?”
Zhou Yu glanced at Sun Ce and said, “Grand Commandant? Great General?”
“As of today,“ Sun Ce said, “heroes from across the land have risen up in unison, and Dong Zhuo has kidnapped the emperor and fled west. In a few months, we will sink into a turbulent world burning with the flames of battle. Everyone will be loudly proclaiming their allegiance to the Han royals, but in reality, each will be unfaithful, like Yuan Shu, Gongsun Zan, Zhang Miao, Ma Teng, Yuan Shao, Tao Qian… and also my Sun family. When eighteen different warlords form a coalition to overthrow Dong Zhuo, who do you think can be their leader?”
"Naturally, it will be your Sun household," Zhou Yu said lightly.
“I’m not joking with you.” Sun Ce threw down the branch he had used to stoke the fire and stood up.
"I know," Zhou Yu said, "but your words are too treasonous."
Sun Ce replied, “Do not bring His Majesty or the Han royal family into this. You say this, but you are well aware of what your father’s aspirations were before his passing.”
Zhou Yu did not reply. He was silent for a long while, so Sun Ce continued, “Dong Zhuo has forcefully extorted taxes from the people, and his days are numbered. Soon, the world will fall into chaos, and at that time, the warlords that have participated in today’s battle will form their own factions. At that time, we will see who will become the new emergent power.”
“None of them are suitable,” Zhou Yu said.
“The Yuan family might be able to do it,” Sun Ce said, turning his head to watch Zhou Yu. “For generations, the Yuan family has held positions high in the government, and right now, their voice is the loudest.”
“No, they won't,” Zhou Yu insisted. “Although these two brothers, Yuan Shu and Yuan Shao, have a great reputation, Yuan Shu is mired in the pleasures of the flesh, and is stubborn and set in his ways, while Yuan Shao is indecisive and irresolute. In addition, these brothers of the Yuan family often scheme against each other, so even though they can assume the role of the leader in this alliance, if they want to clean up this mess, they will be unable to convince the masses of such.”
Sun Ce watched Zhou Yu in silence. Zhou Yu, looking thoughtful, raised his eyes to look at Sun Ce as he said, “I predict that in the future, the person who will pick up the pieces and reform the world is most likely not one of these eighteen."
“How about my father?” Sun Ce asked.
Zhou Yu and Sun Ce looked at each other for a moment, before Zhou Yu gently shook his head. Sun Ce let out a sigh.
“You actually believe whatever I say?” Zhou Yu suddenly felt greatly amused.
“It’s because you’re smart,” Sun Ce said easily. “Even though I don't really want to admit it, you are right.”
“If I’m really smart, then I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Zhou Yu responded lightly.
Sun Ce glanced at Zhou Yu out of the corner of his eyes. With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Zhou Yu suddenly spoke again. “But I’m happy to do so, that’s why I’m here. Your dad won’t be able to do it, but you will.”
Sun Ce laughed but didn’t say anything. Zhou Yu, however, said seriously, “Knock it off, I know what’s on your mind.”
At that moment, it was as if Sun Ce had transformed into a different person. That usual carefree, joyful, somewhat careless attitude disappeared and was replaced with a serious and grave expression.
“Shh,” Sun Ce warned. “Let’s talk about this matter later, Gongjin. Before, I didn’t let you come to my side, precisely because I was undecided.”
“What about now?” Zhou Yu lightly asked.
Without waiting for Sun Ce’s answer, Zhou Yu began to sketch out the terrain of the surrounding regions on the ground with a tree branch. He motioned for Sun Ce to look as he explained, “All of the marquises’ troops are stationed under the Hulao Pass, locked in combat with Dong Zhuo. However, despite Luoyang being sealed for several months, from beginning to end no one has been willing to send out troops to block Dong Zhuo’s way out. At this moment, if they intended to unite under a common cause, the coalition leader Yuan Shao should have led the allied forces forth to besiege the city and attack. Why haven’t they come? It’s precisely because everyone is hesitating; whoever enters Luoyang first will inevitably seize great power.
“The fall of Dong Zhuo is but a few days away,” Zhou Yu said, resigned. “The coalition army assembled in the spring, but even now, it is autumn, and not even a single squad has been willing to ambush Dong Zhuo along the road to the west that he is retreating along. It’s clear that they all harbor the greedy desire to enter the city first...”
When Zhou Yu got to this point, he realized that he had even counted Sun Ce’s father in that group, so he held back what he was going to say next. He merely watched Sun Ce silently, a smile in his eyes.
“People are inclined to seek their own gain and avoid trouble,” Sun Ce said. “My father was also not willing to send out troops, but he had no other choice. However, what does what we’ve talked about have to do with which of the marquises will be able to take the lead?"
“Of course there’s a connection,” Zhou Yu said. “Don’t play dumb with me. Staying in Hulao Pass and watching Luoyang like a tiger watching its prey, what other purpose is there than for profit? But what benefits are there to gain upon entering the city? Nothing more than mere gold, silver, and other valuables, and the reputation of being the one who expelled the traitor Dong Zhuo. And what benefits are there to ambushing Dong Zhuo as he flees west?”
Sun Ce raised his eyebrows, looked at Zhou Yu, puzzled, and said, “I honestly don’t know.”
“Killing Dong Zhuo is the biggest benefit,” Zhou Yu said. “It’s a pity that none of the marquises have realized this yet.”
“It’s nothing more than a reason to be rewarded thusly,” Sun Ce said thoughtlessly.
Zhou Yu: “Is it only for the reward? Have you forgotten who Dong Zhuo escaped with?”
When he said these words, without needing Zhou Yu to explain any further, Sun Ce already understood.
“The emperor…” Sun Ce muttered. “I hadn’t even thought of it earlier.”
“Did you really not think of that?” Zhou Yu asked, smiling lightly. “Unlikely ba?”
Sun Ce replied sincerely, “I really didn’t think of it, but what you said is right. Dong Zhuo has the emperor in his hands, and though he is young in years, he is still the Son of Heaven. His standing is indisputable, and in a chaotic situation like this, whichever marquis succeeds in saving the emperor will be in his hands.”
Zhou Yu knew Sun Ce must have thought of it, but why had he not chosen to go rescue the emperor? Was it only to save Zhou Yu, trapped in Luoyang? But looking at Sun Ce playing dumb, Zhou Yu did not wish to expose him either. No matter what, he felt very flattered, being the recipient of such honor. However, because Sun Ce had given up the most critical matter in order to save him, Zhou Yu had to think of a way to remedy the situation, no matter what.
Zhou Yu then said with ease, “No one has gone to rescue the emperor; they only want to compete for merit and share the treasures. Based on this, I can confirm that the person who will establish himself in the turbulent world of the future and rise above all other factions will not be one of these eighteen marquises. Unless, there was someone whose first thought was to conduct a rescue; then, only that person will be able to bear the great responsibility, and may even be the one to unite all the lands under the heavens again one day. What a pity, that fellow’s friend keeps holding him back all the time, delaying his matters a great deal.“
Sun Ce began to laugh at that, his chuckles tinged with a soaring, youthful vigour. He said, “Who are you talking about, huh? You even know that you’ve delayed quite a few matters of mine.” With that, he used a tree branch to poke at Zhou Yu’s face.
Zhou Yu used the branch in his hand to strike that branch a few times in a playful manner, before he tossed it to one side, saying, “I’m not playing around anymore. The battlefield changes rapidly. After all, when Dong Zhuo was still in Luoyang, no one would have thought that he would set fire to Luoyang in one fell swoop, before taking away the emperor. But…”
And as he spoke, Zhou Yu rose and walked out of the house. Under the pitch-black sky, he looked towards Sun Ce and narrowed his eyes, as if he was thinking about something.
Sun Ce seemed to be considering something as well.
“If you have a group of soldiers on hand right now, can you ambush Dong Zhuo and save the emperor?” Zhou Yu asked, very quietly.
Sun Ce replied, “Before sending out the troops, I considered this. I need someone to work with me to feint an attack from the east, instead of striking from the west, to lure the tiger from its mountain. The prerequisite is that… Shifu cannot be in the barracks, but the probability of this is not high. It’s too difficult, my father actually didn’t approve of letting me come in pursuit.”
Shifu? Zhou Yu noticed this specific address, but because Sun Ce didn’t say anything, Zhou Yu didn’t ask anymore.
Sun Ce looked at Zhou Yu, who raised his eyebrows and asked, not understanding, “Do you have any other questions?”
“No,” Sun Ce revealed a smile, got on his horse, and released Feiyu. As the sky began to lighten, the two disappeared at the end of the mountain road.
Jin/Cytaoplasm: *dance happily because Zhou Yu is now reunited with his Bofu*
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), cytaoplasm.