"You afraid? Dare not let him remember the past?"
Editor(s): Jelly, namio
At dusk several days later, the carriage stopped. Li Qingcheng was dozing off at the time; nevertheless, the whole entourage stopped moving.
"Are we spending the night here?" Li Qingcheng asked. "Where are we?"
"Western Plains, Jia City," Tang Hong replied.
Li Qingcheng instructed, "Go take a look."
A soldier soon returned to give a report. "Reporting to Your Highness. There is a woman waiting in front of the road ahead, she asked for General Zhang Mu."
Li Qingcheng said, "It's her, I forgot. Prepare a horse, I need to properly thank her."
A woman draped in a long, lotus root-colored gown was standing at the end of the road, an azure purse hanging around her waist. She was holding on to her horse's reins as she stood quietly on the stage station, while Zhang Mu, still in his martial attire, untied the saddle and let his horse go eat grass on one side of the road.
"E'niang?" Li Qingcheng smiled as he got off his horse.
E'niang answered, "Your complexion looks much better. Did Young Master Tang still have a headache during his time in the Northern Border?"
Li Qingcheng replied, "Thanks to your miracle hands that could bring back the dead, everything is good. I'm not Tang Hong, the real Tang Hong is there. When you and Zhang Mu teamed up to deceive me, did you ever anticipate this?"
E'niang's mind was sharp. With one glance at Zhang Mu's complexion, she could roughly extrapolate the general situation. "Your Highness, please, come here." Saying so, she brought Li Qingcheng over to sit on a shed outside the stage station. She then asked him to stretch out his arm and personally felt his pulse.
"This is the Divine Doctor, E'niang." Li Qingcheng saw Fang Qingyu and Tang Hong come over and thus introduced her. "A benefactor who has saved my life."
E'niang smiled and nodded in courtesy towards the two Fang and Tang people. As her fine, delicate fingers took his pulse, she said, "I heard Your Highness relied solely on Langhuan and Feng Pass' combined troops of less than 8,000 to fight against the Xiongnu King's troops, and managed to make them flee in a sorry state. It's very impressive."
There was a hint of a smile in Li Qingcheng's eyes. "News travels very fast. I presume it has already reached the capital by now."
E'niang said in a soft voice, "The news from the capital has also come. It is said that the court was shaken, and they had urgently sent out letters to all sixteen provinces of the Central Plains with a message: Be sure to stop Your Highness at all cost."
Li Qingcheng slowly nodded and asked, "Does E'niang know which province has the tightest defense?"
E'niang replied, "Jiang Province. The court has dispatched a thousand imperial guards to Jiang Province; they've been instructed to kill anyone who poses as Your Highness on the spot."
Li Qincheng narrowed his eyes, and with a voice much lower than before, he said, "How about Ting Province?"
E'niang answered, "Ting Province is 500 li away from this place, and apart from the governor and the field marshal, the main court is too far to reach it. But, there is one thing that the Crown Prince must be informed of."
Li Qingcheng, "Say it."
Slowly, E'niang said, "At this moment, your identity, as written in the arrest warrant of the court, is merely a swindler who is pretending to be the crown prince. Yet you are going to be this rash?"
Li Qingcheng said, "I have my own plan. At least, once Empress Fang knows that I have personally appeared, her actions will be less daring. If the sixteen provinces know that I'm still alive, they also won't surrender everything to her. If I hadn't made my name known by fighting the battle in the Feng Pass, the Xiongnus would've entered it by now. This one battle has turned the court upside down, and all provinces of the Central Plains certainly will try their best to oppose the Empress's plan of negotiating peace."
E'niang nodded and evaluated, "Although suddenly revealing your identity at this time has its dangers, it also can be considered a surprise attack. However, now you have to be ten thousand times more cautious taking your next steps. The eldest daughter of Ting Province's Sun family has already entered the capital to prepare to be named empress after the little prince reaches sixteen…"
"What?" Li Qingcheng asked. "Are you sure?"
She answered him with another question, "She's going to be married off to Li Gong as empress, isn't she?"
Li Qingcheng slowly shook his head. "I don't know. The truth is, I don't remember anything about the past. It's them who told me everything."
E'niang said, "Eldest Young Lady Sun has already entered the capital. It's most likely that the Sun family and the Empress Dowager will form a faction by marriage. The second daughter is still waiting to be betrothed because she has yet to reach maturity. It is said that Li Gong is ten years old this year. Next winter, there will be a ceremony to worship heaven in order to change the emperor, allowing the Empress Dowager to rule behind the curtain. The marriage and conferment of the empress will take place when he becomes twelve. This is all the news I've heard."
Slowly, Li Qingcheng nodded before continuing, "When did Eldest Young Lady Sun enter the palace?"
E'niang answered, "Not long after the Mid-Autumn. Not many people knew about this news, and it has only spread recently."
If it was like that, then it must have been before Zhang Mu had sent someone to deliver the huang jade and letter. Maybe, the Sun family thought he was burned to death by the large fire, and decided to send their daughter to the capital in order to win over the empress dowager who was in power.
Things had become more complicated. Li Qingcheng was still mulling over the matter when E'niang withdrew her fine fingers. At once, Zhang Mu tensely opened his mouth, "How?"
E'niang smiled. "An excellent recovery. Did you teach him the Zhang family's Eagle Martial Arts?"
Zhang Mu nodded, and his expression relaxed a lot. E'niang continued, "If you have the tonic, you can consume more of it, so you don't have to be afraid of getting sick anymore."
Li Qingcheng said, "Thank you. What are you doing here?"
E'niang got up and said in a light manner, "I've let my apprentice take over the Qihuang Hall. In any case, guarding Jia City is also boring. I plan to go out, roam around and visit famous plains and mountains, to collect some herbs and look for some rare prescription which may be able to save more people."
Li Qingcheng said, "Either that, or you can follow us ba. We're on our way to Ting Province; it's also good to have someone who can look after us."
E'niang got annoyed. "Medicine and poison are originally one root, yet Your Highness isn't afraid I might've fallen into the evil path?"
At that, Li Qingcheng smiled. He had originally wished for E'niang to follow them. Good and bad things could happen during the march or fight, so having more military doctors was always good. But E'niang, with just one sentence, lightly got rid of the burden. It seemed although her mouth said 'Your Highness,' she didn't really have this crown prince in her eyes. As to not make it more awkward, he said, "Forget it then. We'll meet again if fate says so."
E'niang looked at Li Qingcheng, then at Zhang Mu, saying, "Could I please have some private words with Ying-ge?"
Li Qingcheng was a bit displeased, but Zhang Mu just said, "Just say it here."
Li Qingcheng waved his hands. "You talk, I'm going back."
He headed into the carriage, yet he opened the window after that, his eyes containing a faint hint of puzzlement as he looked at E'niang and Zhang Mu turning towards the back of the stage station. Soon, there was nobody in sight, and he could only pull down the curtain and sit inside to ponder the matter of the Sun family marrying off their daughter.
Once E'niang and Zhang Mu reached the back of the stage station, she first saluted before continuing to say, "The matter Young Lord had asked this subordinate to do has been done."
Saying so, she took out a palm-sized box from the medical sack on her waist and offered it with both hands.
Zhang Mu took it, and E'niang continued, "That big fire on Mt. Yingyu years ago had burned nearly everything. It took this subordinate's comrades a lot of work to find it in the ruins. Young Lord, please see whether this is the token. Nobody remembers what thing the Crown Prince was carrying that year; Young Lord had received it, and also kept it like a treasure, everyone had never seen it before. But if this is not the one, then we have to make another round trip there."
Zhang Mu opened the box and took a look, his eyes brimming with indescribable gentleness and longing.
She huffed. "This should be it then."
Zhang Mu's gaze was fixed on the thing in the box for a long time. Then, he slowly said, "Thank you."
E'niang said, "Do you still want to follow him? Ever since ancient times, monarchs have always been heartless. Earlier, Young Lord was still…"
He put away the box, keeping it inside his bosom, and reached for the Wuming Sabre on his back. E'niang's looks withered at once; she quickly backed off half a step, but unexpectedly, Zhang Mu paid no attention to her. Instead, he turned around and waved his weapon!
Carrying a fierce and swift momentum, that sabre cut the stable in half in an instant. A crashing sound ensued, and Fang Qingyu's figure appeared, smiling as he said, "I heard it all."
Without another word, Zhang Mu's sabre followed him as he went forward. His movement showed that he was furious; he wanted to kill Fang Qingyu with this sabre, leaving no room for him to escape. Fang Qingyu could only repeatedly dodge, not meeting the blows. Then, Zhang Mu once more made a decisive, horizontal slash, destroying the whole empty stable; the grass was blown all over and woods were destroyed straight out!
"What's happening?" Li Qingcheng heard the commotion from a distance and shouted. "Stop it!"
Zhang Mu ignored everything and instead swung down his sabre once more. Fang Qingyu stood motionless; in just a moment, the edge of sabre had arrived in front of his face. Li Qingcheng angrily roared, "I said, stop it!"
"Clang!" The Fanhai Halberd appeared from the side and held back the Wuming Sabre. Tang Hong, holding the halberd with both his hands, albeit tremblingly, unexpectedly had the strength to hold his ground against Zhang Mu, who was holding his sabre with one hand.
Zhang Mu returned the sabre to his back, and Tang Hong spun his halberd in one full circle before obliquely resting it behind his body. Then, with one hand, he pointed the halberd forward.
"His Highness told you to stop, didn't you hear it?" Tang Hong coldly said.
Fang Qingyu, like the matter didn't concern him, fished out a yellow sealed letter from his bosom and said, "You're called E'niang?"
E'niang, who went out of the stage station, said, "And your business with that?"
Fang Qingyu, "Fang Qingyu."
In awe, E'niang replied, "That name of yours…"
Fang Qingyu, still casually, opened his mouth. "...the 1st swordsman of the Yu Country, correct. There's something I want you to do." Saying so, he handed over the letter to her hands.
He continued, "Please take this letter to Mt. Tai'ah in Donghai. Go to Canghai Pavilion, someone will receive you. Ask the Pavilion Master to make you a prescription copy of the Dream of a Life Departed. If the place has the medical ingredients you need, just take them. If not, please work hard to make the medicine, then send it to me."
E'niang took the letter and looked at Zhang Mu. Fang Qingyu continued, "You've worked hard."
Zhang Mu coldly said, "What is it."
Fang Qingyu, "What kind of medicine that is, you can easily guess it."
Zhang Mu, "She won't be able to enter the Canghai Pavilion."
Fang Qingyu, "She will, the Pavilion Master is my mother."
E'niang drew a cold breath before looking at Zhang Mu's complexion again.
Zhang Mu's expression was uncertain. Fang Qingyu sneered. "You afraid? Dare not let him remember the past?"
This taunt showed an effect as Zhang Mu, in a hoarse and overtly cold voice, said, "E'niang, go and do as Lord Fang commanded."
E'niang bowed and left; she got on her horse and followed the road eastward.
Li Qingcheng said, "Put your weapons away. Get ready to move."
Fang Qingyu, empty-handed, dusted off his hands before turning and leaving. Li Qingcheng got into the carriage, and the troops set out once more. Li Qingcheng ordered, "Call Zhang Mu in."
Zhang Mu came in; he knelt on one knee and didn't utter a single word.
"Why did it happen?" Li Qingcheng asked.
Zhang Mu's voice was low. "He eavesdropped on us."
Li Qingcheng said, "Call Fang Qingyu over."
Fang Qingyu also came. He pulled up his lapel in a confident manner and faced Li Qingcheng, kneeling with both knees touching the ground. This modest, respectful posture was way superior to that of Zhang Mu's.
"Why did it happen?" Li Qingcheng repeated his question.
Fang Qingyu said, "I eavesdropped on them."
Li Qingcheng, "......"
Li Qingcheng let out a sigh. He had already guessed from the conversation between Fang Qingyu and E'niang and got a general idea. Although Fang Qingyu acted unreasonable and shady, in the end, he was trying to cure him. But, if this knot was left hanging, the grudge would always be buried in the bottom of his subordinate's heart.
"So, it's your fault, Fang Qingyu," Li QIngcheng said. "Since you made a mistake, you must be punished."
Fang Qingyu smiled. "As it should be. Asking Your Highness to punish this subject."
Li Qingcheng, "Someone, come!"
Someone outside the carriage gave a reply, and Li Qingcheng said, "Take his horse away. Make him follow the troops on foot until Ting Province. Each time he falls behind during the trip, 10 whips."
Fang Qingyu bowed down on the carriage.
"Are you dissatisfied?" Li Qingcheng asked.
Fang Qingyu, "No. If Your Highness makes me roll, then roll I shall. I will roll farther and farther so long as Your Highness says the word, but in the end, I'll eventually roll back to you." Finished saying so, he got off the carriage and started to walk on foot.
Zhang Mu was still kneeling on one knee. Li Qingcheng said, "Get up ba, you shouldn't have done it either."
Zhang Mu stubbornly refused to get up; nobody knew what was on his mind. Li Qingcheng said again, "What's that in your hand?"
Li Qingcheng held out his hand, expecting Zhang Mu would hand it over to him, but instead, Zhang Mu subconsciously put the embroidered box into his bosom.
"You…" Li Qingcheng felt indescribably suffocated.
Zhang Mu remained on his knee, not saying anything.
Why is this guard so hard to get by with? Li Qingcheng wanted to flip the table and curse his mother. He was just curious about the thing inside the box. A moment earlier, in Feng City, he even said it well, and he also had the appearance of a loyal dog then. How could he change his mind just like that?
Not only did he disobey his order, but he also desperately hid something from him and fought, wantonly, against Fang Qingyu without even saying a word, disregarding his order to stop until Tang Hong finally had to stop his blow.
If Tang Hong hadn't timely intercepted it with his halberd then, he would certainly have hacked Fang Qingyu to death. Now, Fang Qingyu who had almost got his body hacked was punished to walk on foot, saving his face in the process, yet he was still hiding things?!
The more Li Qingcheng thought about it, the angrier he became. He then said, "I'm just asking you what's in the box, does it seem like I’m asking for your life? If you're such a good subject, then am I not a crown prince in your eyes? In the future, when I've become an emperor, will you continue resisting the decree again and again? Do you think I don't have a face? If you're unwilling to be by my side, then…"
Startled, Zhang Mu raised his head; on his eyes was puzzlement, that kind of awkwardness and shame to the point he couldn't show his face because he was unable to express what he truly felt. It seemed that he had never thought that Li Qingcheng would become so angry because of an embroidered box.
"I…" Zhang Mu said, only to stop again afterwards. He took out that squared-shaped box from his bosom and offered it with both hands, his eyes visibly showing humbleness.
Zhang Mu said, "Look."
"I have no interest in it. It's not like I have to see it either, I merely opened my mouth without thinking because my heart feels uncomfortable," Li Qingcheng's anger subsided. "Get up. It must be so valuable to the point of you treasuring it so, with just a glance..."
Hearing the sentence "have no interest," Zhang Mu once again put the box inside his bosom. Li Qingcheng's anger rose once more; he moved and gave him a kick with no explanation, then, as fast as lightning, he grabbed the box and opened it to look.
The top of the wooden box had a carving of a phoenix feather with a misty-jade muslin embroidered with lotus on its base. The box was extremely neat, and there was a semicircular, ring-shaped white jade inside —— an exquisite pattern of cloud and eagle feather was carved on its front, and on its outer side was a solid tail of a dragon; there were four words engraved on its back.
Slowly, Li Qingcheng took out his own semicircular huang jade from his bosom, and pieced them together; they fit. The two huang jades formed a complete circular jade ornament. When he turned it over, the eight words on its back were clearly visible.
All of a sudden, a hazy memory flashed inside his mind.
One evening in Yanhe Hall, the late-aged former emperor sat on the dragon chair as he said in a low voice, "Qing'er, you smile mischievously all day long, how can you become a monarch of a country?"
Li Qingcheng raised his head in fear; the only thing that was printed in his mind was those two sentences written in wild and bold cursive calligraphy of flying dragon and dancing phoenix:
An era of gold and prosperity for the land under heaven, makes for a marvelous sight of rivers and mountains.
The fire burned out the cursive script until there was nothing left, and an entire piece of unfamiliar memory appeared before his eyes.
A 16-year-old Zhang Mu, together with 5-year-old Qingcheng, stood inside the hall.
The former emperor was still very young then. He stroked his beard as he smiled. "Qingcheng and Mucheng, these two brothers, it's their first time meeting each other."
Another middle-aged man nodded. "In the future, when Li-xiong ascends the throne, Qingcheng will become the crown prince, and Zhang Mucheng's name has to be changed then."
The former emperor said, "Ai, even if it's like that, although their status will be monarch and subject then, they still will have their deep friendship. Mucheng is also sensible, and he's a lot older, so he'll be able to give some advice to Qing'er in the future."
The middle-aged man said, "Zhang Mu, these two pieces of huang jades, one was given to you before you were born by the emperor. In the future, when you go to the capital, carry it with you. From today onwards and throughout your life, you must protect the crown prince at all times…"
There was a jolt in the carriage, and Li Qingcheng returned from the land of dreams. He was holding his own half piece of huang jade, feeling slightly hot.
Li Qingcheng, "Mu-ge, this huang jade was originally yours."
Zhang Mu, "Yes."
Li Qingcheng murmured, "How did you get it?"
Zhang Mu, "Fate."
—— Volume 1: Escape At Night · End ——
"Standing at a high place, I try to see my faraway hometown, my gloomy thoughts lingering on the Hengyang Road. As I haven’t for long heard from my house, several times I thought of writing sad poems.
I turn around and see the setting sun in the west sky; even a minute was hard to pass for a lonely traveler. Man never sheds tears at random, just because he hasn’t come into deep sorrows."
—— Escape At Night
Mu-ge and QC… the jades… I’m crying…
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.