"A feathered arrow flew over the snowy plain hundreds of steps wide."
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Li Qingcheng said, “Fang Qingyu, go send someone to fetch Tang Hong back. Then, go to the south of the city to get the governor to set off. The first troops must leave Langhuan within the next two shichen, and you’re in charge of the safety of all of the troops. This command tally is for you.”
Li Qingcheng tossed the tally to Fang Qingyu, who smiled a little but didn’t respond. He merely tucked the tally away and left.
Zhang Mu lifted his gaze to look at Fang Qingyu, before turning it upon the crown prince in front of him.
Li Qingcheng’s hands were cradled in his sleeves, and his expression was impassive as he looked fixedly at Zhang Mu. After a long while, he spoke. “Speak about what you did last night. Don’t pretend to be deaf or dumb, or I’ll really get angry.”
A sliver of warmth entered Zhang Mu’s gaze, and he lifted his hand and gently rubbed one knuckle against Li Qingcheng’s cheek.
Li Qingcheng’s voice trembled. “You… killed Wang Yichen?”
Zhang Mu turned his head and glanced at Fang Qingyu’s departing silhouette, before he said suddenly, “He’s just come back, he hasn’t even had time to drink a mouthful of water.”
Li Qingcheng sucked in a deep breath, pushing Zhang Mu up against the wall, saying quietly, “Did you do it, or did Fang Qingyu do it?! Why didn’t you two ask me first?”
Zhang Mu was silent, but Li Qingcheng continued, “Tell me clearly, otherwise you’ll accompany Fang Qingyu in leading the troops in retreat, and you won’t need to come find me again.”
Zhang Mu slowly opened his mouth. “I killed him, that guy just added an arrow.”
Li Qingcheng confirmed the hypothesis he had, and he tiredly leaned on the wall. Zhang Mu seemed to be unable to make up his mind, and a moment later Li Qingcheng said, “In the future, don’t make decisions without authorization, understand?”
Tang Hong came back, and upon seeing that the master and the servant were both equally speechless as they faced each other under the shadow of the wall, he asked warily, “Why is everyone packing? Are the troops retreating?”
Li Qingcheng swayed and leaned up against the wall. After a long while he spoke. “Tang Hong, are you willing to follow me? I’m giving you two choices.”
“One: I’ll give this entire troop of men to you, and if you want to leave, you can leave Langhuan at any point. Find your own way out, and go get revenge for your father.
“Two: From today onwards, formally become my subordinate, not Great Yu’s, no matter who I am or what strategies I lay out.”
Tang Hong stilled for a moment, before asking, “Why are you saying this? What are you planning?”
Li Qingcheng said, “Your old family servant Wang Yichen, because of one of my passing errors in thought, died on the banks of the Xiaogu River. The thirty thousand northern border troops have become the Xiongnu’s prisoners of war, and now the entire city of Langhuan is retreating to Feng Pass.”
Tang Hong’s expression greyed. “You had Administrative Assistant Wang killed?”
Li Qingcheng said, “Yes, I gave the command, and Fang Qingyu and Ying-ge worked together to kill him.”
Zhang Mu first froze, before he opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but he was stopped by Li Qingcheng, who indicated that there was no need to say any more.
Li Qingcheng, “He once followed your father, and if you are going to bear this grudge, then there is no more that needs to be said. Take the troops and leave. Administrative Assistant Wang originally gave this troop of people to Tang Hong, not to me.”
Tang Hong said, “Can you tell me why you killed him?”
Li Qingcheng shook his head and smiled bitterly. This matter was elaborate and complicated, so how could he explain it? He could only say, “If you follow me, then in the future you will understand.”
Tang Hong said, “I didn’t know him when I was young, and… don’t really feel any emotions towards him. At most, from a moral perspective, killing a general that is loyal to the country of Great Yu, who has defended the northern border for decades, is something that… ay.”
Li Qingcheng nodded. “So you must choose whether to be loyal to me, or to Great Yu. In the future, there may be many more of these sorts of situations.”
Tang Hong twirled his long halberd, placing it behind his back. “No need to say more, I’m loyal to you. What do you need me to do? You might as well give me all my orders now.”
Li Qingcheng keenly sensed Tang Hong’s attitude. Whether he knew about some hidden truth, something that even Li Qingcheng couldn’t figure out about his own background, but Tang Hong...
He had touched upon a possibility that he dare not think more about, and his mind was filled with anxiety.
“You lead a hundred people. Wait until after the main troop retreats out of the city, and then go search house by house for any valuables and load them all onto carts. Follow behind the tail of the troop, and go to Feng City to meet up with Fang Qingyu.”
Tang Hong, “You’re not even letting the common citizens’ jewelry go…”
Li Qingcheng said, “I’ll have Fang Qingyu lead some troops to urge them on, so that they don’t have too much time to spend on cleaning up. Go ba.”
That evening, Fang Qingyu led troops to escort the citizens out of Langhuan. Li Qingcheng and Zhang Mu stood on the northern watchtower, facing the sky filled with snow, looking over the vast snowy plains of the north.
Zhang Mu had only just finished gathering his own personal belongings, much of which had already been handed over to Fang Qingyu to bring to Feng City. There were just a few random items left, and Li Qingcheng cupped the brass fish filled with charcoal embers, sitting to one side of the watchtower, before he suddenly asked, “What is this?”
Zhang Mu laid the bundle on his knee, and he confusedly looked towards Li Qingcheng. Li Qingcheng untied the bundle, inspecting the things inside, before finding that bare tree branch, shaking off the dried, blackened flower petals that then covered the ground.
“Is this yours? Ying-ge, where’d you get it? I’ve been wanting to ask since last night.”
Zhang Mu’s expression was not pretty to look at, and Li Qingcheng picked up another item, a pit, saying, “What fruit’s pit is this?”
Zhang Mu’s face turned a light red, and he ducked his head and gathered up his bundle.
“A peach,” Zhang Mu said, before he hastily tied the bundle on his back and walked over to the side of the wall, squatting and staring off into space.
Li Qingcheng said, “Why are you keeping such a mess of items?”
Zhang Mu didn’t respond, and after a moment, Li Qingcheng continued. “After following me for this many years, I’ve never given you anything good before?”
Zhang Mu said, “A peach.”
Li Qingcheng said, “Having been crown prince for this many years, I’ve never even given you a jade pendant?”
Zhang Mu shook his head slightly.
Li Qingcheng said, “Sorry, Ying-ge, in the future I’ll definitely treat you well.”
As if he had been struck by lightning, Zhang Mu leapt to his feet when he realized, had Li Qingcheng been trying to fish for information just now? Or did he remember things from his past?
“You… Your Highness,” Zhang Mu said.
Li Qingcheng rose. “So it’s true! You’ve hid it from me so well!”
Zhang Mu froze for an instant, and Li Qingcheng continued. “I’m actually the crown prince? Why didn’t you say so earlier?”
A squad of troops passed by not too far away on the watchtowers. Li Qingcheng turned his head and glanced at them, before lowering his voice, “I’m the crown prince of the current dynasty? What is the crown prince’s name?”
Zhang Mu said, “I… don’t know… This subject is guilty.”
Zhang Mu stood there at a loss for a moment. Then, as if he had thought it through, he slowly sank to one knee, staring at Li Qingcheng’s boots without speaking.
Li Qingcheng, “Get up ba, I’m absolving you of your crimes.”
Zhang Mu rose, his eyes filled with sorrow, and he self-consciously took a stand behind Li QIngcheng.
Li Qingcheng said, “I haven’t remembered it, I haven’t remembered anything.”
Zhang Mu’s forehead furrowed, before his fierce, hawk-like pupils seemed to recover some light. Li Qingcheng said, “Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out? Something that Tang Hong could guess at, I wouldn’t be able to do so? For the current court’s great General Fang Qingyu to follow me is already something out of the ordinary.”
Li Qingcheng kept turning things over in his mind as he mumbled. “I’m the crown prince… at what point did I forget past events?”
Zhang Mu suddenly said, “Don’t think about it, your head will hurt.”
Li Qingcheng’s brain once again grew cloudy, but just at this time Yin Lie rushed onto the watchtower, shouting, “As expected, the Xiongnu have arrived! Should we go out and fight them?”
Li Qingcheng was still thinking about his own background, and he mumbled, “Ah well, there will be enough time later…”
Before he finished his sentence, a feathered arrow flew over the snowy plain hundreds of steps wide. In that instant, Zhang Mu drew his sword and swung it in a circle, blocking it.
On the snowy plain, thousands of Xiongnu troops appeared. On the mountain slopes, in the forests, within the trees, each of them carrying a bow and arrow, reining their horses with a shout, heading to the north of Langhuan City and converging in one spot.
The riding formation opened, and from their midst two riders appeared. One person loudly shouted a sentence in the Xiongnu language, before the Yu person accompanying him translated the Xiongnu words, shouting towards the city, “Where is the master of the city? Come out so that we may see your face!”
Li Qingcheng turned his head back. “Ying-ge, what are you called?”
Zhang Mu said, “Zhang Mu.”
Li Qingcheng said, “Go to the western part of the city and pour kerosene over all of the roofs and the bases of the walls of the residences there. Go now, and once you’re done pouring it, bring a hundred people and wait on the main street. When my signal comes, light the fire.”
Li Qingcheng asked, “Does Lord Yin know who the Xiongnu commander is?”
Yin Lie looked at him, and after a moment he said, “It’s the Xiongnu King Arius. He’s personally come to conquer Langhuan.”
Moments later, the northern gates of Langhuan opened, and two steeds raced across the snow, coming to a stop in front of the battle formation. The two sides were about two hundred steps apart, and neither side could make out the other’s faces.
Li Qingcheng said, “Extinguish all of your torches, and listen for my orders in a bit. As soon as I retreat, everyone will rush out of the city and escort me back in. At the same time, you and a group of people will rush out, pretending to slaughter our own forces…”
Li Qingcheng spoke for almost half a shichen, and he also sent someone to bring over a map of the city interior, marking out the locations where skirmishes would occur.
As Yin Lie listened, his expression grew wary.
Li Qingcheng said, “Go make the preparations.”
Yin Lie said, “You’re going to lure the enemy out?”
Li Qingcheng asked, self-assuredly, “Or we can switch? You be the loyal general, and I’ll be the traitor? I’ll give you a chance to play the hero before the battle even begins.”
Yin Lie said, “Putting aside the matter of loyalty and treason, Young Master, what plan do you have that will assure that Arius will give chase?”
Li Qingcheng said, “In a bit you’ll know, what are you waiting for?”
Yin Lie finally nodded his head. “You go, I’ll listen to you.”
The Xiongnu army had been waiting for a whole shichen before the small northern city gates opened, and Li Qingcheng spurred his horse forwards.
“Is Arius there? Come out and talk!” Li Qingcheng turned his horse sideways, pulling the reins tight. He was less than fifty steps away from the Xiongnu riding formation, and behind him in the darkness, Zhang Mu flipped off his horse and slipped into the night.
A messenger rode out of the formation, rushing towards the city. “The Xiongnu king has words for the Langhuan city master --”
Li Qingcheng pulled out the Yunshu Sword at his waist, and with a casual twirl, the messenger let out a pained howl as their horses crossed paths, as he was stabbed through the chest by the sword and plummeted off his horse.
The two sides stilled.
"Arius, listen carefully!” Li Qingcheng swept his sword to the side, splattering the snowy ground with a line of blood, as he shouted loudly, “Fang Qingyu turning traitor and the thirty thousand northern border troops being trapped in Mt. Duanke have already long since been reported to Langhuan. Today, you bring your large army to crush the city, in an attempt to trap my Langhuan troops. Tomorrow, we will repay you ten times over! Throughout the entire city, everyone will remember this blood debt of Administrative Assistant Wang, and as long as any one member of my northern border guards are still here, don’t even think about negotiating terms of surrender!”
The formation was in an uproar, and thunderous shouts of agreement came from the city watchtowers.
From within the Xiongnu battle formation came a loud, clear light, and a moment later Arius left the formation behind. He was holding a long dagger-axe, and as he pointed in the distance at Li Qingcheng, a fluent line of Yu words fell from his lips.
“What are you called?”
Li Qingcheng didn’t answer that question. “The imperial court’s assigned civil border official will arrive within ten days at Feng Pass to discuss a truce with you, but that’s the imperial court’s matters! The entirety of my northern border troops, as well as the one hundred and fourteen thousand troops and citizens of Feng City and Langhuan, under my command, will definitely fight to the bloody end with you!”
On the walls of Langhuan City, Yin Lie had been wholly blinded to this internal matter, and the troops roared in anger as they started to cause a ruckus.
Arius smiled lazily. “Where did this wet-behind-the-ears brat pop out from?”
Li Qingcheng shouted, “Administrative Assistant Wang has already fallen into your side’s ambush, but before he did, he left the entire city of Langhuan to me. If you have the guts, then come forth and fight!”
And saying this he lifted his sword and pointed it towards Arius. When the longsword spun in a circle, it reflected the firelight on this snowy evening, and with that flashy display of skill, the orange-yellow reflected light shone into Arius’s bright eyes, set below bushy eyebrows.
That move was as disrespectful as they came, and Arius slapped his horse into motion, lifting his dagger-axe and roaring, “You’re biting off more than you can chew!”
Li Qingcheng tightly gripped his horse that had tried to flee in horror, which was firmly held in place by him. He squeezed his knees into his horse’s abdomen as he roared, “Today you’ll leave your corpse lying here!”
In that instant, the dagger-axe in Arius’s hand glowed snow-bright, and it was already right in front of his chest, when with a forward leap, Li Qingcheng pressed himself against his horse’s back, roaring, “Attack!”
The soldiers on both sides began to shout loudly, and the arrows flew like rain from the city watchtowers. Arius hadn’t expected for Li Qingcheng to try to ambush him, and he swept his dagger-axe across in a horizontal sweep, but in the blink of an eye, Li Qingcheng held his sword vertically, and with a light ding, broke the head of the dagger-axe into two halves.
With this kind of godly weapon that could split metal like mud, Arius immediately came to a realization. His voice trembled as he asked, “You’re… Fang Qingyu?!”
With one hand holding the reins, Li Qingcheng tumbled off the back of the horse. Just as Arius was about to turn his horse’s head around to retreat, his horse let out a loud whine as numerous gyr-feather darts flew out of the darkness, stabbing into the horse’s hind end. In that instant, the steed bucked wildly, almost throwing Arius off the horse’s back.
The Xiongnu people each lifted their weapons as they rushed up to clash with the enemy, and Yin Lie led the Langhuan cavalry out as they slaughtered their way through!
In the snowy night, blood flew through the air and splattered everywhere. The cavalries collided together after rushing at each other, and they sank into a chaotic battle!
“Everyone, listen well!” Yin Liu suddenly roared. “Fang Qingyu has accepted the imperial court’s decree, to use us brothers as prisoners of war, sending us to our deaths under the blades of the Xiongnu! What an imperial court! What’s the point of our loyal service?!”
Another group of troops rushed out, which had beforehand received orders from Yin Lie, and they shouted, “We won’t be traitors who sell out our country!”
Yin Lie forced his horse’s head around, raising a battle flag, “Brothers of the northern border troops, listen to me, kill this bastard of an official; after all, the old administrative assistant’s already dead! Give up Langhuan City, and come with me to take to the hills”
Li Qingcheng turned his head, his eyes filled with extremely realistic horror.
Arius said, “Do not miss out on this opportunity, they’re having an internal conflict!”
Li Qingcheng was dragged along in the snowy fields back and forth on his racing horse, and from under his horse’s abdomen, with a glance, he saw that a bloody path had already been carved out in the distance, and he roared, “You all are traitors!”
Yin Lie led his troops back in an assault, and the Langhuan troops actually began to fight fiercely amongst themselves in front of their own city gates. Li Qingcheng was jolted so hard on his horse that he suffered so hard he was unable to speak, and his head spun dizzily, when he saw the Xiongnu troops gather up and rush towards them on a killing spree, clearly wanting to take this prime opportunity to get rid of a portion of the Langhuan troops.
They’ve fallen for the trap! Li Qingcheng thought gleefully, and the warhorse raced forward uncontrollably towards the northern city gates, dragging him along into the city.
The instant he entered the city, Li Qingcheng once again tugged forcibly on the reins, clambering back onto his horse, before he spurred it on and rushed through the main street.
Yin Lie said, “Give chase! We won’t rest today until we catch them!”
Yin Lie rushed at the head of the troops as they slaughtered their way back to the city gates. Outside of the city, corpses littered the ground, and everywhere lay the bodies of the Xiongnu and the Langhuan troops. Arius said, “Follow me, we’ll slaughter our way in!”
The Xiongnu troops were on their heels as they pursued the troops into Langhuan. The city guards on the watchtowers had already fallen into disarray, and they couldn’t spare any time to close the gates. Seeing the enemy enter the city, they all scattered.
Zhang Mu heard the shouts and war cries come constantly from outside of the city, and his sturdy body trembled faintly. Several times, he turned his horse, wanting to head out of the city gates to meet the enemy head on, but he also held Li Qingcheng’s order in high regard, and he hesitated for a long time, unable to make up his mind.
The city gates were easily lost, and the fighting broke out in the narrow alleyways of the city. The Xiongnu troops spread out through the city, searching for the whereabouts of the Langhuan troops, and war cries sounded incessantly as the Xiongnu troops began to disperse.
Over there! Arius’s eyes were sharp, and one long arrow skimmed by Li Qingcheng’s earlobe, pinning itself into the wall of the residence.
“Kill --” the troops shouted loudly, and Li Qingcheng galloped through the main street, coming across Zhang Mu who was waiting in the middle of the road, urging his horse forward.
“Set fire!” Li Qingcheng commanded, and the troops that Zhang Mu led dispersed into the city. The thousands of troops spurred their horses on as the torches flew every which way, landing on the rooftops in the dark of the night.
The roaring flames instantly engulfed the entirety of the city of Langhuan, and Arius froze for a moment, before roaring angrily, “We’ve fallen into a trap, what a vicious brat! Retreat quickly!”
Zhang Mu reached out a hand, and Li Qingcheng shot a glance at it with narrowed eyes. As the steeds galloped rapidly, he forcefully grabbed Zhang Mu’s wrist and used that momentum to leap into the saddle behind him, tightly hugging his waist.
“Why did you not discuss with me,” Zhang Mu said.
Li Qingcheng smiled. “Are you trying to rebel? The lord is the master, while the subject is to obey. What I want to do, why do I have to discuss that with you?”
Zhang Mu pulled out his long sword, no longer answering as he cut a path open along the road.
The entire city blazed with fire. They didn’t know how many Xiongnu troops had fallen into the trap or how many of their own soldiers had been burned to death, as the city guards retreated out of the southern gates like they had originally planned.
Yin Lie was waiting at the southern gates with a troop. After a while, Zhang Mu and Li Qingcheng still hadn’t come out.
Yin Lie looked over the flame-enshrouded Langhuan. As this hundred year old important city was engulfed by the flames, he felt an indescribable emotion well up.
The same time, Feng Pass.
Tang Hong raised his voice. “The Langhuan troops have fallen prey to the Xiongnu ambush, and Young Master Tang had me and my people leave behind the city and come here. Please open the gates and let us find somewhere to settle down temporarily.”
The commander of Feng Pass called down, “Without the northern border troops’ command tally, the pass will not be opened.”
Tang Hong said, “The northern border troops are trapped in Mt. Duanke, and the thirty thousand soldiers have become prisoners of war. Today, the situation is critical; the Xiongnu are right behind us, and they’re about to fight their way to Feng Pass! Open the gates! Otherwise, if you pass up on this opportunity to fight, then you won’t be able to bear the consequences!”
The commander said, “These are the rules that the imperial court set down! Military commands are as mountains, how can we violate them? When the northern border troops exited the pass long ago, it had already long since been made clear that without the command tally…”
In that instant, the pass was filled with silence. A moment later, there was a minute wave of an almost invisible disturbance. All eyes fell on the vice commander behind Tang Hong, and Tang Hong turned his head as the attention shifted, and he couldn’t help his shock.
Fang Qingyu held a jade waist pendant in his hand, waving it for all to see.
“The northern border troops’ great general, Fang Qingyu, is here,” Fang Qingyu said easily. “If the Feng Pass city guards could come out of the city to talk?”
With a hong, the city walls exploded with activity, and Tang Hong said, “Open the gates!”
The gates opened wide, and two lines of city guards formed up out of the city, escorting the citizens in. The city guard also allocated a patch of empty ground for Fang Qingyu. It had ceased to snow, and the sky cleared up; and Feng City and the city of Langhuan to the north of it seemed as if they were two entirely separate scenes. At this point in time, the people here did not yet know that the fires of war had almost spread to the bottom of the pass, and the city was lively. The new residents that had come here to take refuge from the four north-eastern cities had brought on a new wave of prosperity for the businesses here, and it was crowded and bustling.
“Why has Lord Fang come to this place?” the commander of the city guard came forward to greet him, turning his horse so that he rode by Fang Qingyu’s side.
“My troops and I got lost,” Fang Qingyu responded casually. “Keep the gates of the pass open, there’s another group that’s coming.”
The commander asked sternly, “What kind of reason is this? The imperial court has already heard of the reports of fighting, and they’ve already sent out an army, which is heading towards Feng Pass now without rest. How am I supposed to report that Lord Fang has brought the northern border troops to who knows where?”
“Make your preparations,” Fang Qingyu said coldly. “I know what I am here to do.”
The morning of the next day, Tang Hong had settled in the portion of the troops and citizens that had retreated from Langhuan city. Fang Qingyu watched over several carts of goods as they were transported into Feng City to be exchanged for money. While he was bargaining with the travelling shopkeepers in the market, one of his subordinates came with a report.
“General, the Langhuan commander of the city guard, Yin Lie, has already arrived at the city, but the Feng Pass commander is refusing to open the gates. Commander Tang sent me here to ask the general to go over there.”
Fang Qingyu rushed back to the gates, where Tang Hong was sitting on his horse, holding his halberd in hand. From outside the pass came Yin Lie’s voice.
“Open the gates immediately! The Xiongnu people are almost here!”
The Feng Pass commander shouted back, “We can’t open them! Make camp where you are, and set up ambushes in the mountains on the two sides!”
Li Qingcheng’s voice resounded. “I’m asking you once more, are you opening it or not?”
Fang Qingyu gave Tang Hong a few orders and Tang Hong immediately climbed up the watchtower to negotiate, but the Feng Pass commander still stubbornly refused to give in. Fang Qingyu’s matter from yesterday might even cause him to have to shoulder some of the burden, once the troops from the capital came. At this moment, with Yin Lie coming to Feng Pass after giving up Langhuan, and Wang Yichen rumored to be dead, who would dare to take on such a heaven-defying duty?
Tang Hong hesitated for a moment, turning his head and glancing over, down behind the wall of the pass.
Fang Qingyu’s right wrist was still hurt, and he couldn’t muster up energy in it. However, at this moment, he untied the large bow from behind his back, placed one foot on the bow, and using his right hand to draw the string, he turned in place and pulled the bow taut.
Tang Hong called, “Wait!”
The commander turned his head, stunned, just as an arrow left the bowstring with a weng, shooting towards him like a meteorite. It pierced his shoulder, pinning him to the wooden pillar on the top of the wall.
Fang Qingyu said mildly, “Open the gates of Feng Pass, or we’ll attack from within and without at the same time and kill each and every one of you first before we make our plans.”
Feng Pass once again opened, and Yin Lie led the troops into the city. Fang Qingyu stood on the slope, and Li Qingcheng clambered tiredly off his horse, finding a random hay stack, falling into it and closing his eyes.
Yin Lie, Fang Qingyu, Zhang Mu, and Tang Hong formed a circle around him, standing around the stack of hay.
Li Qingcheng grabbed a handful of snow and applied it to the area above his eyes. Before, he had been dragged along by the horse for the entire journey, and now his forehead was a little swollen. He said, “That arrow was well-aimed.”
Fang Qingyu smiled. “What will I get as a reward?”
Li Qingcheng, “Your reward is to go into the mountains and chop trees, chop down all of the trees on Mt. Feng that two people can wrap their arms around, and transport them to the summit of the two mountains guarding either side of the pass. Yin Lie, go prepare some kerosene, and Zhang Mu, Tang Hong, you two come with me.”
Fang Qingyu said, “This general suddenly thought of something that he would like to speak with my liege about.”
Li Qingcheng narrowed his eyes and glanced sideways at him. “Disobeying orders?”
Fang Qingyu shook his head and smiled, before turning and leading his men off to chop trees.
moon: they. them. no words.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.