"The ups and downs in life are like winds and clouds. From the beginning, they have always been hard to predict."
Editor(s): Jelly, namio
Li Xiao was startled awake, his head dizzy.
"Begging Your Majesty to change his attire——" a eunuch announced in a pitched voice.
Xu Lingyun withdrew outside the resting palace. The six eunuchs went forward and served Li Xiao. In addition to his black gown, Li Xiao's unlined garment and pants were also taken off. He stood naked in front of the mirror.
The eunuchs came forward, carrying thin silk clothes as they stood behind the emperor. They straightened and tightened the silk around his waist. The man's muscles were covered in a layer of gauze, making them somewhat indistinct. Li Xiao's slender, toned legs were brimming with a power akin to that of a ruthless, wild horse.
"Where is the Yingnu?" Li Xiao asked in a low voice.
Xu Lingyun had gone back to his secluded courtyard to change his leather armor and was still fixing up his collar when he hurriedly came over. He knelt on one knee outside the palace hall and answered.
Li Xiao commanded, "Call your falcon and your men."
Xu Lingyun grasped the whistle around his neck, moved it close to his lips, and started to blow it. The sound it emitted was loud and clear, breaking through the sky.
Li Xiao put on thin, groin-thigh underpants before wearing his martial trousers. After he had the bottom-hem part of each side fastened by a rope, he put on socks and lastly, boots. Two imperial bodyguards stepped forward, offering a golden scale martial armor. That fish scale battle skirt shook open with a clamor. An appointee behind them moved closer to help Li Xiao put on the Tianzi Sword.
"What do you think?" Li Xiao carefully looked at himself in the mirror and spotted Xu Lingyun outside the hall.
Xu Lingyun saluted in an imperial bodyguard style and replied, "My emperor is majestic."
Even though Li Xiao lived deep in the palace, he never abandoned his martial arts. Every month, he practiced horseback archery, which made his shoulders broad and arms strong. The emperor's golden martial armor had been handed down from generation to generation, and without exception, the previous emperors had always worn a layer of leather armor underneath. However, now that it was in Li Xiao's hands, he directly wore it without anything underneath.
The armor was made of dark-gold metal. There was only a shield-shaped, bright gold plate on the chest —— its size was no bigger than that of a palm and it only served to protect the heart on the left side. The rest of his skin was all exposed for others to see.
Strips of golden dragons, head and tail joining together as they bent and formed a chain, were wrapped around the emperor's strong and muscular abdominal and pectoral muscles nine times, showcasing his sturdy, bronze upper muscles.
Li Xiao's solid abdominal muscles, as well as slender and powerful waist, could be seen under the golden dragon wrapping.
After they put on the shoulder guard, Li Xiao adjusted the wrist guards on both his hands. He pressed one hand on the sword hilt and carefully looked at himself in the mirror. The movement of the dragon was of course different than that of a tiger —— the emperor was an awe-inspiring presence.
Behind him, a eunuch pulled up Li Xiao's long hair and put on the dragon helmet, securing it in place with a simple golden hairpin.
The eunuch cleared his throat. "Congratulations to Your Majesty, congratulations to Your Majesty. General Tang is leading the Yulin Army's 4.000 men to protect the central army, and Assistant Minister Ting Haisheng is waiting for the imperial order in front of the palace…"
Li Xiao took a deep breath. His head was still a bit dizzy. "What time is it?"
"It's the ji period," Xu Lingyun answered from outside the hall.
Li Xiao asked, "Where is your falcon?"
Xu Lingyun replied, "It will be there by the time Your Majesty is inside the imperial garden."
Li Xiao looked outside. Outside the hall, there were fifteen falcon guards. They have arrived, very good.
After the eunuchs arranged the morning meal, Li Xiao casually ate while his mind wandered off. He then paced around the hall, looking visibly tense. The autumn sun was high above, shining on Xu Lingyun's face outside the palace hall —— nobody dared to make a sound.
Li Xiao walked back and forth several times before ordering, "Pass the order to Assistant Minister Ting: No need to wait, join with the central army and set out."
The eunuch's complexion changed. "Your Majesty…"
Li Xiao said, "Change the left entourage army to the falcon squadron. This king has the final say."
The eunuch said, "Ting Haisheng…"
Li Xiao looked at the eunuch. The eunuch hurriedly shut up and turned around to deliver the order.
Xu Lingyun said, "This… is not in compliance with the rule, Your Majesty. According to the grand wedding of the previous monarchs, the falcon squad should be on the right-side army…"
Li Xiao said with displeasure, "Ungrateful!"
Xu Lingyun smiled and bowed deeper, replying, "This subject was shameless."
Li Xiao didn't say a word; he was too anxious to speak. He looked at the water clock from time to time. When it finally reached third quarter of the ji period, Li Xiao took a step out of the resting hall.
At this time, the autumn sky was vast and the morning light was bright and charming. Xu Lingyun said in a clear voice, "Men—— His Majesty is going to have a grand wedding today!"
A squad of fifteen falcon guards replied, "Ready to accompany my emperor as his trusted aides——!!
All of the sudden, Li Xiao felt indescribable relief. Amidst the vast, blue sky, fifteen bald eagles broke through the sky as they cried in chorus, producing a sound that traveled for hundreds of li. Soon, another long cry was heard. With a wingspan of three chi, the king of all falcons, the arctic gyr, stretched out both of its wings and hovered above the palace hall. The eagles soared in high spirits and the gyr landed, perching on Xu Lingyun's shoulder, full of pride.
"His Majesty is setting out——" shouted a eunuch.
Li Xiao strode forward and stepped out, his war boots treading on the long hallway. Xu Lingyun received the yellow note from the eunuch's hands. The falcon squad lined up in twos and followed Li Xiao out of the hall towards the royal horse-keeper.
The beating of a big drum sounded from inside of the court. Hundreds of officials lined up outside the Wu Gate, all dressed in court uniforms.
Li Xiao rode the leader of great horses, which was called Crimson Blood on Sand, while Xu Lingyun rode a horse dedicated for the assistant minister, a cream-coated snow-golden colt, and the rest of the falcon guards rode black colts. They moved along before quietly standing outside the Wu Gate.
Everywhere was abuzz with chatter as ministers whispered to one another.
Li Xiao asked, "Do you know what they are talking about?"
Xu Lingyun was slightly behind as he dared not ride side-by-side with Li Xiao. He gave a quick glance towards the group of officials, eyes reflecting a smile as he replied, "This subject is stupid. This subject doesn't know."
Li Xiao said, "They're guessing why Assistant Minister Ting can't be seen with this king and thinks that he has already fallen out of favor."
Both the monarch and subject simultaneously smiled. Li Xiao said, "Based on Ting Haisheng's matter, this king assumes that the Ting family is currently unstable, that's why this king doesn't intend to give them a hard time. Although, it was no more than a casual remark to make Yingnu accompany this king. The heart of people has always been hard to discern."
Xu Lingyun smiled. "It would be better for this subject to swap horses with Ting Haisheng."
Li Xiao silently granted Xu Lingyun's request. Xu Lingyun reined his horse to turn around and went to negotiate with the Yulin Army. The commander of the Yulin Army, Tang Si, discussed a few things with him. After exchanging horses, a young man wearing court official attire urged his horse and came over. Once he arrived, he dismounted and knelt down in front of Li Xiao.
"Supervisor of the Ministry of Revenue, Ting Haisheng, salutes Your Majesty. May Your Majesty be blessed for thousands of years."
Li Xiao said, "Get up."
Ting Haisheng rose, his body shaking all over; he dared not raise his head. Li Xiao commanded, "Get on the horse, follow this king and escort the empress later."
The falcon squad retreated to the right. Xu Lingyun had swapped to a white horse. He released the arctic gyr, and soon, a group of eagles was flitting outside the Wu Gate. The Yulin Army chanted "long live the emperor" as they followed the emperor onwards.
When a tremendous drum was wildly beaten in front of the court, the officials, all without exception, kneeled. A ray of morning light covered the Wu Gate, making the white jade pillars shine with luster. Every soldier of the Yulin Army went out of the gate before continuing to chant.
Since Ting Haisheng was born, this was the first time he ever saw such a magnificent army. Still trembling, he opened the yellow note handed over by Xu Lingyun and said in a low voice, "Your Maj… Begging Your Majesty to wait outside the Wu Gate for a little longer while this lowly subject looks over."
Li Xiao didn't give a response.
Probing, Ting Haisheng raised his head to steal a glance at Li Xiao, and was met with Li Xiao's dark-red birthmark on his left face. Ting Haisheng's heart was in complete chaos. He didn't know what to think. Only a moment later did his brain provide that nothing was allowed to go wrong today, yet he couldn't move his eyes off this sight. When Li Xiao unexpectedly turned his head to the side to say something, he discovered that Ting Haisheng was being extremely rude, staring at his left face. At once, he grew furious and coldly said, "Presumptuous! Somebody, drag him down, outside the Wu Gate…"
Upon hearing this, Ting Haisheng was terror-stricken and immediately dismounted to beg for mercy.
"Your Majesty!" Xu Lingyun rushed over on his horse. "Today is a joyous day… Begging Your Majesty to reconsider."
Li Xiao's mouth was blocked at once. Since he slept very little last night, it was inevitable that his mood would easily flare up. As soon as he heard Xu Lingyun's plea, he realized that he shouldn't flog an official at this time and said, "Enough."
The three accompanying the young official breathed a sigh of relief. Tang Si gave Ting Haisheng a meaningful glance, signaling to him to stand up. Ting Haisheng tactfully kowtowed and mounted his horse.
Li Xiao said, "Still haven't arrived?"
Xu Lingyun answered with a smile, "We came too early."
Tang Si said, "It's rare to see Your Majesty wearing armor. This subject hasn't seen it for years."
Li Xiao nodded perfunctorily. Tang Si was a military general from an influential family. Following the Great Yu's General Tang Hong from two hundred years ago, his status couldn't be compared with ministers such as Xu Lingyun and Ting Haisheng.
Tang Si once again changed the subject. He teased, "Lord Xu's arctic gyr seems to have put on a lot of weight."
Xu Lingyun laughed at himself. "Eating without moving, of course it gains weight in the end. It's been four years since the last time it went out for a walk, how could it not be fat?"
Li Xiao said, "You know each other?"
Xu Lingyun smiled. "Four years ago, during the hunt around the Feng Mountains, General Tang followed Your Majesty. It was this subject and Lord Tang who hunted back a snow wolf. Does Your Majesty remember?"
Li Xiao recalled the event several years ago. During the autumn hunt in the Feng Mountains, he went hunting. However, he caught a cold and could only stay and rest inside the camp. As it turned out, at that time, Xu Lingyun had already held the post of Yingnu. Since he didn't pay attention to it back then, he didn't even see Xu Lingyun.
In the same autumn, after returning to the court, the ministers used "extravagant spending that weighs on the Son of Heaven's mind" as a reason to ban the annual autumn hunt and cut the falcon squad to fifteen men. Xu Lingyun, who was only assigned to a side room outside a secluded courtyard, had nothing to do all day long.
Although Yingnu carried the character "Slave," it served as the emperor's private army throughout the dynasty. Set up by Chengzu Li Qingcheng, even if the mountains and rivers collapsed and the emperor fled, the falcon squad would remain forever loyal; their loyalty even more unshakeable than that of the emperor's bodyguards, the Yulin Army. In terms of rank, Yingnu was only Fourth Principal Rank, but although there was nobody under him, he was on an equal footing with the Yulin Army. Even Tang Si who held the military power as the General of the Palace Guards still dared not be rude to Xu Lingyun.
And the captain of such a squad was almost granted the death of a thousand cuts by him. Thinking about this matter, Li Xiao's heart couldn't help but feel a little regret. He decided to be slightly closer to Xu Lingyun in the future.
Li Xiao said, "Your home is with the Xus? At what age did you join the falcon squad?"
Xu Lingyun replied in a respectful manner, "Answering Your Majesty, my late father Xu Yan had promised this lowly subject to the falcon squad when he was thirteen."
Xu Yan… Li Xiao remembered some fragmented memories. Twenty years ago, the Xu family in Jiangzhou had been seized overnight. That matter was when the former emperor was still in power and had nothing to do with him.
However, Xu Lingyun was able to join the falcon squad. It could be presumed that the verdict had been reversed. When Li Xiao was pondering over the matter, he suddenly heard the gyr's long and sharp cry as it spread its wings and flew towards the palace gates.
The imperial guards turned their horses together. In a happy tone, Ting Haisheng said, "They've arrived!" After he had finished saying that, he urged his horse ahead and saw the Lin family's simple, unadorned carriage accompanied by no more than twenty people, with six smaller carriages following behind it. They were moving along the east street outside the wall, detouring around the Wu Gate.
With a clear sound of the bell and the long neighs of the horses, the palace gates slowly opened.
Ting Haisheng led several imperial guards as they carried over the bridal sedan.
The maids inside the carriage came out one after another, each of them bringing a brocade curtain and spreading them around the carriage. Ting Haisheng personally held the sedan pole, making it lean forward.
In front of the distant Wu Gate, Tang Si and Xu Lingyun both stuck their heads out to look around, showing great curiosity.
"What's so great about the view?" Li Xiao asked in a cold tone.
As soon as Xu Lingyun put up a smile, he noticed that Li Xiao's free left hand was slightly trembling, seemingly from a bit of nervousness. He then slowly paced his horse forward, took Li Xiao's hand, and placed it on the hilt of Tianzi Sword for him to hold.
Lin Wan exchanged the carriage for the sedan. Ting Haisheng came forward and lowered the sedan. Xu Lingyun then said, "Your Majesty, we may go now."
Li Xiao nodded his head and urged his horse forward. Ting Haisheng rode his horse as he led the soon-to-be empress sedan chair over to the middle of the Wu Gate. After that, the people withdrew.
Li Xiao dismounted and came forward to open the curtain, only to see a woman with both eyes red through and through inside. Her hands were holding a bouquet of cotton trees, cape jasmines, and osmanthus flowers, which meant: "Flowers and branches bloom together, forever intertwined. Your children and grandchildren shall fill the entire hall. May you be blessed with riches, honor, glory, and splendor."
Li Xiao said, "You…"
Ting Haisheng hurriedly opened the yellow note to give Li Xiao a hint. Li Xiao didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He glanced at it and with a clear voice, he said, "Lin Wan."
Lin Wan held the tears in her eyes and softly replied.
Li Xiao said, "Would you like to be this king's bride?"
Lin Wan pursed his lips. The Yulin Army started to make a clamor. Li Xiao frowned in displeasure and turned around to look at them. At once, no voice could be heard from thousands of soldiers of the Yulin Army.
Xu Lingyun said, "Carry on, Your Majesty. Don't be afraid."
And so, the falcon squad, led by Xu Lingyun, made a cry one after another, teasing him. Li Xiao's handsome face blushed, the red reaching his ears. After a long time, Lin Wan timidly said, "Ai…"
Li Xiao finally got a response. In haste, he lowered the sedan's curtain. Lin Wan seemed as if she still had something to say, but all of the sudden, the sedan curtain was closed. This action made her eyes filled with indescribable pain.
Li Xiao mounted his horse and ordered, "Start moving."
The court officials chanted "long live the emperor" while some people from inside the palace came forward to carry the sedan. The Yulin Army separated into two and made an aisle as Li Xiao rode into the palace with a single sedan chair.
Xu Lingyun and Ting Haisheng urged their horses and followed behind him. Ting Haisheng was sweating all over, looking extremely nervous. He followed Li Xiao all the way until they arrived outside the Yangxin Hall. The palace hall had already been cleaned a long time ago, and a place for the emperor to rest had also been prepared outside the hall. The wedding sedan was carried inside the palace. The maids then led Lin Wan out of the sedan chair into the side of the empress dowager's seat to change adornment.
When changing makeup, the soon-to-be empress must wear the phoenix gown prepared by the people inside the palace. The stuff she brought from home must also be left behind, and she was attended fully by the people appointed by the empress dowager. An appointed person would then send the dowry to the Yanhe Hall.
According to the rules, the monarch had to live in Longyang Hall before taking a wife and in Yanhe Hall after.
Li Xiao sat in front of the hall in a trance. A eunuch came to serve tea. Tang Si had already led the Yulin Army to scatter outside the Wu Gate to wait for the conferment of the empress, so only Ting Haisheng and Xu Lingyun remained to serve outside the hall.
An elderly lady came over and bowed. "Your Majesty."
Li Xiao put down the cup and saw that she was the empress dowager's people. He knew that she must've been ordered by the empress dowager and so he asked in an indifferent tone, "What does Mother Empress want?"
The elderly lady smiled. "Empress Dowager had asked about the person who was accompanying Your Majesty. The eunuchs said it was Assistant Minister Xu, and she suddenly wants to see Assistant Minister Xu and have a talk."
Li Xiao said, "You heard it. Go now."
Xu Lingyun answered and signaled to Ting Haisheng to pay more attention before he followed that elderly lady to the inner palace hall.
The elderly lady gave a kind smile. "When Lord Xu meets with Empress Dowager, whatever she asks, Lord Xu must answer."
Xu Lingyun tactfully nodded and stood just outside the inner hall. He saw some women coming in and out on the veranda. They were holding wooden trays covered in red clothes while entering and holding empty trays upon leaving, showing that Lin Wan was changing her adornment inside. She was draped in phoenix afterglow color and wore a phoenix crown.
After a while, the elderly ladies brought out a screen from inside the hall and the empress dowager sat behind it. Xu Lingyun stood in front of the screen and listened with his hands down.
"How is His Majesty these days?" asked the empress dowager.
Afternoon sunlight poured inside Yangxin Hall. Bright red scenes lit up everywhere. Xu Lingyun answered, full of respect, "His Majesty is as usual."
The empress dowager said, "Yingnu, this empress has heard that it was you who received the imperial decree outside Longyang Hall last night. What did His Majesty say?"
Xu Lingyun said, "Yes. His Majesty couldn't sleep well last night and ordered this subject to read him a few historical records until the fourth night period before he finally closed his eyes."
The empress dowager went quiet for a while, seemingly thinking about the past. After a long moment, she opened her mouth, "To be honest, this empress summoned you here not to ask about other people's business."
Xu Lingyun respectfully lowered himself, bowing down. His shadow was silhouetted on the screen.
The empress dowager slowly said, "How is your mother?"
Xu Lingyun replied in a soft voice, "Replying Empress Dowager, my mother passed because of a cold eleven years ago."
The empress dowager sighed for a long time. "It's not because I have forgotten your Xu family. After I had finished giving birth to His Majesty, I was taken back to the capital at once. The imperial concubines were at each other's eyes inside the big imperial palace. Nobody dared to say anything nor made a move… I often recall this thing, and I can't explain how much it grips my heart at night..."
Xu Lingyun said, "Today is a joyous day for His Majesty."
The empress dowager hummed in approval. "In the blink of an eye, His Majesty has also reached a suitable age for marriage. That year, when the world was filled with ice and snow, the empress drove me out of the capital. I was in my seventh month of pregnancy and had nowhere to go. It was thanks to your family's care that…"
Xu Lingyun exclaimed, "The case has been reversed a few years ago. The unjust treatment towards my father has long been washed. Empress Dowager shouldn't be worried anymore and remember to take care of her own body first."
The empress slowly nodded. "That year, this empress and your mother agreed that if our children were a man and a woman, we would become relatives through the marriage of our son and daughter. If the children were both men, they would be the closest of friends. The misfortunes that had followed were truly hard to predict."
Xu Lingyun smiled. "Today might end up in despair, yet who knows what glory awaits tomorrow? The ups and downs in life are like winds and clouds. From the beginning, they have always been hard to predict."
Lin Wan had changed into her phoenix robe. From the corner of the hall where she stood, she looked at Xu Lingyun in the distance.
Xu Lingyun pretended not to notice her gaze. The empress dowager said, "Since His Majesty also likes you, it is really what they called 'a predestined affinity that is hard to come by.' In the future, you should advise him more, console him, and also talk to him. Don't just have blind loyalty, do you understand?"
In a low voice, Xu Lingyun replied, "Yes." The empress dowager said, "Move the screen, I want to see. That day, I didn't get a good look."
Two old eunuchs came and moved the screen to the side. Xu Lingyun raised his head and smiled, letting the empress dowager take a closer look.
"You don't look like your mother," the empress dowager sighed. There was a trace of tears in her eyes.
Xu Lingyun smiled self-deprecatingly. "This subject also doesn't know who he takes after."
The empress dowager amused by this remark and smiled. Two fierce, fine eyebrows knitted. She then casually dismissed him. "Go, this empress will not reward you either. If you lack anything, just send a person over and say the word."
Xu Lingyun knelt on one knee and thanked the empress dowager before retreating. The empress dowager waved to Lin Wan who had finished dressing up on the side.
When Xu Lingyun returned to the front hall, he suddenly stopped. The arctic gyr flew down from above the palace hall, moved past his shoulder, and pounced on the Lin family's servant girl. The servant repeatedly tried to avoid, making a small shriek in the process.
It was common for female officials to come back and forth the hall, but Xu Lingyun saw something unusual with this one.
"Let me see what you have." Xu Lingyun said in a low voice. He called back his gyr and stood in front of that servant girl, preventing her from going further.
The servant said, "It's the Empress's."
Xu Lingyun asked, "Which is?"
Holding the servant's wrist with one hand, he pulled out the covering. "The Empress's dowry has all been delivered to Yanhe Hall. What is left to be brought into the palace?"
The servant girl was holding a small white-jade box half the size of her palm. She was so scared she was on the verge of crying.
Xu Lingyun took the rouge box and felt that the texture of this white-jade carving made the box have a touch of chill. He then opened the white-jade box in front of the servant girl.
Inside the box was a half-cut, soft chicken comb. Xu Lingyun knew its use the moment he saw it, and his complexion changed at once.
The emperor and the empress are going to be in the same bed on their wedding night, yet Lin Wan actually plans to use a cut-off chicken comb? Xu Lingyun had heard of people talking about the matter of women bleeding on their wedding nights. In case they weren't virgins or had secretly given their bodies to another, they would carry with them chicken combs on their sleeves when they married. In the bridal chamber, they would squeeze the blood out of the comb on the white silk as to deceive the grooms. Lin Wan is also bringing this thing?
The servant girl wept as she said, "Lord, please spare this servant's life… Lord… If His Majesty finds out…"
Although Xu Lingyun looked calm, this was actually difficult for him to take in at the moment. He didn't know what he should do. When he heard footsteps from inside the hall, he quickly covered the rogue box and returned it to the servant girl. He ordered in a low voice, "Nobody is allowed to talk about this, understand?"
The servant girl nodded in fear. Xu Lingyun took a deep breath and went outside the hall. With Li Xiao's temperament, not only he couldn't say it, he must also help the empress to cover it up. In no way could he show any abnormality.
Or they were all going to die together.
First-half of this chapter is just… description of Li Xiao wearing armor………………………………..
BUT THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE THE BIRD IS HERE
Also Jelly is joining as our editor! Welcome Jelly to this knifeverse /(ㄒoㄒ)/~~
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.