Chapter 42 - Black Armor Legion

Yingnu


"Return to your room and rest. Do you want me to beg you?"


Translator(s): Elestrea
Editor(s): Jelly, opal

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"Reporting to Your Highness!" The soldier returned after less than two ke periods. "General Zhang requests for Your Highness to return to the residence as he has a matter that needs further discussion."

Li Qingcheng, who was feeling comfortable as he listened to the sound of the qin on the river, felt annoyed. "How to go back in such heavy rain? What important thing, just let him rest and recuperate first."

The soldier insisted, "General Zhang said it was truly a matter of life and death!"

Li Qingcheng was left without a choice and could only get up from Fang Qingyu's bosom. The two stood face-to-face; Li Qingcheng fixed Fang Qingyu's belt and tucked in the corners of the robe while the other party just stood indifferent as he allowed the prince to attend to him. Afterward, Fang Qingyu moved and held him in his embrace, kissing him wholeheartedly before pulling him along into the rain.

 

That day's evening in the side hall of the Han mansion.

Li Qingcheng, totally drenched when he came back, used the offered towel to wipe his head. After changing to dry clothes, he sat in the side hall.

"You're back," said Li Qingcheng. "How about the falcon?"

Zhang Mu whistled with his fingers, and the arctic gyr, shaking off the rainwater, glided in and landed in front of the table.

Li Qingcheng then commanded the servants to withdraw, leaving only two guards, Zhang Mu and Fang Qingyu, in the hall with him.

Zhang Mu placed the cloth wrapping in his hands on the table in front of Li Qingcheng before unwrapping it; a dozen waist tokens and a pair of wrist guards were stored inside.

"What is this?" Li Qingcheng one of the items as he asked.

Zhang Mu: "Items found inside the wolf's den at the bottom of the ravine."

After examining it for a while, Li Qingcheng suddenly said, "Jiang Province Army's? What are you implying?"

Zhang Mu just slowly shook his head as he looked at Li Qingcheng.

Fang Qingyu said, "What he means is, those people who ambushed us were people sent by your little uncle."

Li Qingcheng was stupefied in an instant.

After a very long period of silence, Li Qingcheng pushed the bundle aside. "That's impossible."

Fang Qingyu smiled. "I too think that's impossible."

Zhang Mu: "I only believe what I've seen."

Li Qingcheng: "This doesn't make any sense! If he was Little Uncle's soldier, how could he die in that place?!"

Zhang Mu: "When the wolves fiercely launch an attack, nobody can control them."

Li Qingcheng: "It can't be him."

Zhang Mu: "Since you believe so, I'll bring the evidence and ask him."

Fang Qingyu: "Do you want to beat the grass and startle the snake?!"

Zhang Mu: "You're also scared."

Fang Qingyu: "There's just no way it's him!"

Li Qingcheng: "Enough!"

 

This matter must not be made public by any means. Li Qingcheng felt as if he was struck by a bolt from the blue; while he didn't believe Zhang Mu's conjecture at all, he still had to be careful in handling this matter as one single mistake would lead to his complete annihilation.

"I'm not concerned," Li Qingcheng said, although uneasily. "Little Uncle is not that kind of person." 

"How could you not be concerned?!" Fang Qingyu couldn't believe his words.

Li Qingcheng's mind sobered up at once. Whether or not this matter had anything to do with Han Canghai, he mustn't let his emotions sway his judgment and brush this matter aside, as it would only end up becoming more trouble for him in the end.

Li Qingcheng confirmed, "Mute, can you guarantee that this evidence you brought back is solid?

Zhang Mu slowly opened his mouth, his eyes fixed at Li Qingcheng. "Qingcheng, Mu-ge is willing to die for you."

A roar of thunder suddenly erupted in the sky. Li Qingcheng's pupils contracted slightly, and the scene on the precipice of Feng Mountains was suddenly reflected in his eyes.

 

The cries of falcons sounded for thousands of miles as red leaves fluttered without reserve across the Feng Mountains.

"Qingcheng," Zhang Mu enunciated every word. "Mu-ge is willing to die for you."

 

Another thunderclap, and Li Qingcheng's whole body trembled in an instant. He gasped for air and snapped back to his senses.

"Eve..." Li Qingcheng, his hands trembling slightly, subconsciously made a gesture to chase away the others. "Everybody out, let me think it through."

Fang Qingyu glanced sideways at Zhang Mu before turning around and leaving. "Mute, get out," Li Qingcheng said again after seeing Zhang Mu just stand still.

"I'm very glad you came back alive." Li Qingcheng took a deep breath. Knowing that this was a moment of great importance and not the time to blame people, he said in a warm tone, "Don't delve into matters of the past. Go and bandage up your wounds first."

Zhang Mu seemed to be waiting for something to happen, though it never did in the end. He despondently turned around and closed the door as he left the side hall.

 

Back in the hall, Li Qingcheng examined the things Zhang Mu had brought back one by one and recalled Han Canghai's expression from before; there had not been the slightest bit of insincerity.

How has this armor of the Jiang Province Army come about, then? Were they fighting against the wolves, or was it the wolf rider that killed the soldier?

"Let's presume that Little Uncle is unaware of it for now," Li Qingcheng said to himself.

Han Canghai didn't know about the group of wolves in the mountain, and only when Li Qingcheng mentioned that he had been ambushed by wolves did Han Canghai send people to investigate. But then again, this group was indeed dressed in the Jiang Province Army's apparel.

Could it be one of his subordinates, then? Li Qingcheng thought that it was very much possible for the imperial court to bribe a subordinate of a general stationed in the province, as it had happened not just once or twice during the reign of the previous emperor. Li Su, on many occasions, had set up plans to kill some generals precisely by relying on these hidden informants. Today, Han Canghai held two official posts as the governor and the provincial officer, possessing the support of Jiang City with 50,000 troops under his command. Since no one could eliminate him directly, it was clear they could only place some pawns by his side.

First, let's check whether there's any informants piping information to the court among people by Little Uncle's side. Li Qingcheng more or less had a plan for now. By the time he pushed the door and went out, the rain had gotten lighter.

 

Zhang Mu was standing stark naked in the side room as a soldier raised a bowl and poured its contents on his back.

Li Qingcheng asked, "What are you doing?"

Zhang Mu's face reddened all the way to his neck the moment he heard Li Qingcheng's voice, his immediate reaction of pushing the soldier aside causing the wine bowl to fall to the ground. He made his way to the couch and, after pulling the quilt to cover himself, silently moved behind the curtain.

The soldier replied, "General Zhang has a wound on his body. He's afraid of contracting mad dog disease, so he asked it to be cleaned with shaojiu."

Li Qingcheng said, "I'll do it, you get out."

Zhang Mu was embarrassed. "Do... don't come."

Li Qingcheng smiled. "It's because you were working for me that you ended up getting hurt. This is what I owe you, come and sit."

Zhang Mu was silent.

Li Qingcheng poured the shaojiu into a bowl and said, full of patience, "Come and sit."

Zhang Mu still didn't move.

Li Qingcheng thought about the words he had heard from his father before. Using the same tone, he asked, "Minister Zhang, do you have any grievances?"

Zhang Mu: "No."

Li Qingcheng said, "Come here then."

Zhang Mu bent his shoulders; the contours of his flesh were solidly intertwined, ghastly ashen bruises decorating his cracked bronze-colored skin. After dampening the cloth with wine, Li Qingcheng proceeded to press it on those horrible-looking scratches left by the wolves, with four scratches presenting side-by-side in every location.

Li Qingcheng felt pained just looking at it. He squeezed out some shaojiu whenever he pressed on his back, and each time, Zhang Mu's body trembled a little, his lips silently opening up as if wanting to say something.

Fang Qingyu pushed the door open. "Have you thought it through?"

Li Qingcheng: "I have. Let's go to the army camp after we visit the state residence tomorrow."

Fang Qingyu: "Do you think it's him?"

Li Qingcheng slowly shook his head. "I believe Little Uncle won't do it, but his subordinates might."

"Don't be swayed by emotions," Zhang Mu said, "You taught me that."

Li Qingcheng smiled. "But I am a sentimental person; I can be pleased at one second and sorrowful at another. Even during the fire on that day in the palace, I had almost regarded you as a traitor."

Fang Qingyu said, "I'll do it. The wound has festered, it's filthy."

Li Qingcheng: "It's no bother. Wait for me in the hall."

 

Li Qingcheng used up the whole jar of shaojiu. The still-naked Zhang Mu, with his back facing the outer side of the bed, pulled the bandage off his hand and wound it around his broad back.

Li Qingcheng then said, "Recuperate well. You've worked hard, mute."

But Zhang Mu just properly wrapped up his bandage without saying anything, dragging his underpants and underrobe over and wearing them afterward. Li Qingcheng added, "I'll order someone to bring your dinner over to the room."

 

After dinner, Zhang Mu came out and, seeing Li Qingcheng and Fang Qingyu talking, went to stand behind Li Qingcheng in silence.

Li Qingcheng: "Mute, go back and get a rest. You can't properly do your work if you're hurt."

Zhang Mu shook his head. Seeing this, Li Qingcheng said, "Just do it ba. Is there anyone else who knows whether you've returned?"

Fang Qingyu said with a smile, "We mustn't disclose it."

Just like before, Zhang Mu shook his head. He merely stood there, not even saying a single word.

Li Qingcheng: "Return to your room and rest. Do you want me to beg you?"

Zhang Mu didn't even budge. Feeling helpless, Li Qingcheng could only say, "Not even going to sit?"

Fang Qingyu, still with a smile, ridiculed, "Zhang-xiong really has such a temper." 

Li Qingcheng really thought of getting up to beat him up, but he then took into account that this guard had just returned bringing important information and how their previous escape came about. From so many years of getting along, Li Qingcheng had long known that this blockhead really wasn't the one that wished to make people feel comfortable. In the end, after thinking again and again, he felt that this wasn't a time to get angry and suppressed his intolerance.

"Forget it." Li Qingcheng faintly smiled. "Then let's rest earlier in the evening, so as to avoid tossing you about all day."

Fang Qingyu: "Then, about what we were talking about just now."

Li Qingcheng said, "I'll bring Little Uncle away while you take the opportunity to investigate the camp. Take note of each and every anomaly, and we'll have a thorough discussion after we return."

Fang Qingyu grabbed his chin with one hand and slowly asked, "We're not informing your little uncle?"

Li Qingcheng asked back, "What do you think?"

While Fang Qingyu was pondering over the matter, Li Qingcheng turned his head again to say, "Mute, do you think we can use this to test Little Uncle? And if we're going to, how should we do it to be safe?"

Zhang Mu had a puzzled expression across his entire face.

"He doesn't understand," Li Qingcheng said. "Let's leave it like this for now. Besides, I think there's bound to be a way out. Inside the camp, pay more attention to the wounded soldiers."

Fang Qingyu nodded. Li Qingcheng yawned. He had been caught in the rain in the afternoon and his mind had also been suffering quite a burden all day long. Feeling quite beaten up, he immediately went back to his room to sleep.

Right after Li Qingcheng entered the room, Zhang Mu went to the door to keep watch.

 

After taking a few notes in the hall, Fang Qingyu untied his outer robe, leaving him with only a snow-white undergarment and shorts that exposed his slender and well-developed thighs. With wooden clogs under his feet, he walked through the flower corridor brimming with happiness and stopped outside Li Qingcheng's room.

Giving a polite nod to Zhang Mu, Fang Qingyu then raised his hand to push the door open.

Zhang Mu was like an owl hiding in the darkness. In a hoarse voice that only he and Fang Qingyu could hear, he warned, "If you dare touch him, I'll kill you."

Fang Qingyu: "You're not my opponent right now."

Zhang Mu: "Try it."

Fang Qingyu leisurely smiled. "If you kill me, he too will kill you."

"That doesn't matter," Zhang Mu answered, voice low.

Fang Qingyu just replied in his lazy voice, "I'm actually not afraid of death. But in case the two of us... no, in case I die, how would Qingcheng, all alone by himself, live then?"

Hearing this, Zhang Mu restrained the killing intent in his gaze. Fang Qingyu patted him on the shoulder and sighed. "Zhang-xiong, you didn't see me do anything to you back then either. How come a manly, man of character be so narrow-minded like this?"

He turned around and left after that, an impish smile plastered on his face.

When Li Qingcheng inside the room heard the sound of wooden clogs, he immediately sat up. "Qing-ge?"

Fang Qingyu stopped under the flower corridor, the bright moonlight casting his silhouette on the window. Another tall silhouette stood not far behind him, which was none other than Zhang Mu.

Fang Qingyu's voice carried a hint of amusement. "It's nothing. I originally wanted to guard you for the night."

Li Qingcheng: "Go rest ba, all of you. It doesn't need to be like it was in the palace."

Fang Qingyu: "Okay."

Fang Qingyu walked away, but Zhang Mu was still in front of the door. Li Qingcheng said again, "Mute, go to rest too."

Zhang Mu stood unmoving in his position. After prompting him several times to no avail, Li Qingcheng finally decided to give up the idea as he lamented in his heart, Oh god, how come such a stubborn man exists in this world. He decided to stop paying attention to him and lay down on the couch to sleep.

 

The rainy sky had cleared up by the dawn of the next day, damp moisture seeping into the room.

The moment Li Qingcheng half-consciously opened his eyes, Fang Qingyu gently kissed him on the lips.

After their lips parted, Fang Qingyu smiled. "You're awake."

As he stretched up, Li Qingcheng, whose face had flushed red, frowned and pushed Fang Qingyu away. But not soon after that, he raised his head and asked, "Where's the mute?"

Fang Qingyu replied, "Went to sleep when the rooster crowed."

Fang Qingyu meticulously dressed Li Qingcheng up, while Li Qingcheng just sat quietly and let him take care of himself. This action, already like second nature to him, was akin to the manner in which a newly-wed refined man pampers his beloved wife. Once done, Fang Qingyu held his hand as he led him to the front of the hall.

Zhang Mu was still sleeping even after Li Qingcheng had finished up his breakfast. He then stood on the corridor for a while, watching pedestrians go back and forth on Jiang Province's damp bluestone pavement. The women, whether carrying a basket or grouped in threes to fives as they were heading off somewhere, were all dressed in blue or violet embroidered gowns.

The women of Jiang Province were renowned throughout the Central Plains for their slender and tender stature. At this moment, alongside the clear sky after the rain, they merged together with the bluestone-inlaid street into one beautiful scenery that was simply beyond description.

Li Qingcheng took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he pondered over something.

"What are you thinking about again?" Fang Qingyu behind him asked.

Li Qingcheng replied, "Oh... I'm thinking about what Father Emperor had taught me in the past: Someone who is to be a monarch must handle things at the correct pace, not too fast nor too slow. Their eyes must be set on the common people, the whole world held close to their heart. They must be imposing but not tyrannical, humble but not inferior..."

He gently opened his eyes, revealing clear pupils full of vigor underneath; it was as if he had suddenly changed into a different person. While the glint in his eyes seemed warm, they didn't lose their resoluteness in the slightest. Putting his hands behind his back, he then raised his foot and made a step in a grandiose manner whilst putting up a smile, an action Fang Qingyu also did at the same time.

"How is it, Minister Fang?" asked Li Qingcheng in a lax manner.

Fang Qingyu nodded. "Not bad."

With Li Qingcheng in the front and Fang Qingyu behind him, they walked down the street toward Jiang City's state residence.

 

Zhang Mu jolted awake. Although still suffering from a slight headache, he carelessly wrapped his body with his martial robe before going out. Seeing him, a servant girl in the residence smiled broadly. "General Zhang is awake?"

"Where's His Highness?" asked Zhang Mu.

The servant girl replied, "His Highness and General Fang have gone out. General Zhang, please have breakfast and nurse his health at home."

Zhang Mu: "......"

The courtyard was now covered with spoiled flowers and fallen leaves because of the strong gale and heavy rain the night before. Zhang Mu just stood there, heart filled with remorse.

 

When Li Qingcheng got off the carriage, Han Canghai personally came out of the state office to welcome him. He saluted in courtesy and asked, "These days, has Your Highness gotten accustomed to living in this place?"

Li Qingcheng hurriedly supported Han Canghai up. "I’ve come to take a look at Little Uncle's troops."

Han Canghai replied, "Please come inside, Your Highness. This subject is going to make some preparations first."

Li Qingcheng toured around the state office and looked at records spread on the table. Seeing registers entirely consisting of transfer records of the Jiang Province's troops, army provision distribution, assembly summons, and some other arrangements, the skepticism inside Li Qingcheng's heart was swept away on the spot. When he entered, Han Canghai was just donning his helmet. The state office was divided into two wings, one filled with provincial records, military scrolls, and all kinds of documents, while the other was made into a makeshift resting room. It was obvious Han Canghai had been so busy working here for several consecutive days to the point he didn't even return home.

"Requesting Your Highness to come outside in a little while..." Han Canghai looked at Li Qingcheng from the mirror.

Li Qingcheng smiled. "Uncle, there's only the two of us here. There's no need for 'your highness this' or 'your highness that' anymore."

With a solemn look, Han Canghai answered, "Qingcheng, the established rule must not be ignored. How could a grown man act comparable to a monkey like that?"

Han Canghai, who was about to exchange his martial robe for armor, suddenly smiled. "Qingcheng, you are somewhat quite similar to your mother."

"How so?" probed Li Qingcheng.

Han Canghai: "Before following your father to the capital, your mother had always come to see me without saying anything... It's okay for a woman to act that way ba, but you're a man..."

"Little Uncle, you don't know how to recognize good intentions!" commented Li Qingcheng before angrily going out. 

Han Canghai's bright laugh echoed.

 

In another place, Fang Qingyu was browsing a register with his head down. Seeing Li Qingcheng come, he then said, "It should be unlikely."

Li Qingcheng said, "We can't suspect him. It can't be him for sure."

Fang Qingyu said in whispers, "Who could it be then? Did the mute get fooled?"

Li Qingcheng replied, "It's also possible that Little Uncle gets fooled."

They were still discussing in a low voice when Han Canghai, now dressed in black armor, came out in a valiant and formidable manner. "Should this subject gather up his troops?"

Li Qingcheng immediately replied with a smile. "No, I'll just take a walk around the camp."

Han Canghai nodded. Since Li Qingcheng didn't arrange anything extra and merely wanted to patrol around the camp, they simply used the main route. Han Canghai immediately left to arrange a carriage and brought the two people to the military camp outside the city.

 

In this place was the Jiang Province Army under Han Canghai's direct supervision. Despite the scorching weather, these soldiers on duty remained unconcerned wearing their black-golden armor.

Han Canghai directed his troops in an extremely strict manner, the army neatly organized. After the order was sent out, the soldiers would rise to their feet one after another and salute Li Qingcheng whenever he passed by them.

"Such an elite army," praised Li Qingcheng. "Little Uncle, you're very outstanding in commanding troops."

Han Canghai said, "Your Highness still hasn't seen them during a fight yet. No one here is  afraid of death."

Li Qingcheng: "How do you train them?"

Han Canghai smiled. "Pirates would occasionally appear on the Han River going east toward the river mouth, and foreigners from overseas would often come to invade Qin Province and Donghai. The Black Armor Legion uses those foreign invaders to train themselves."

Li Qingcheng couldn't find anything after walking around the place, so he asked, "How's the arrangement for wounded soldiers?"

Looking slightly surprised, Han Canghai then replied, "Wounded soldiers are placed in the western part of the city. It's just, since every single troop of the Black Armor Legion would risk their life during a confrontation with the enemy, the situation where they would return to the camp with minor injuries is quite rare."

Climbing to higher ground, Li Qingcheng observed his surroundings and saw another military camp at the top of the hill not far from his current place. "Little Uncle, what is that place?"

Han Canghai answered, "That's a preparatory camp for Jiang Province's secondary army, summing up a total of 15,000 men. They aid the city's farmers during peak seasons, and only receive half of their salary during off-seasons. They also train new recruits on the hill and make annual assessments. If one passes the test, they will then be assigned to the Black Armor Legion."

Li Qingcheng slowly nodded as he contemplated it. After going down the sentry tower, he said with a smile, "This is actually a good method."

Han Canghai: "Little Uncle has specially sent someone over there to train them, a man called He Jin. He's familiar with military scrolls despite being a civil official, his judgment in no way inferior to mine. He came from the same school as the current Grand Secretariat  Wang Xu and was sent to assist me when the previous emperor was still on the throne."

Seeing Li Qingcheng's finger move slightly, Fang Qingyu immediately understood without being told. He gently hooked his little finger before seamlessly letting go after a moment. Their secret signal completed, Fang Qingyu smiled as he said, "Lord Han, may I take a walk around the vicinity?

Han Canghai nodded. "Please do as you please, Lord Fang."

After the two of them walked past the outer side of the camp, Li Qingcheng asked, "What kind of person is this He Jin?"

Han Canghai: "He and I have shared a deep bond all these years. The way he conducts himself is straightforward, and he's easy to get along with. When he heard the news that you were coming to Jiang Province a few days ago, he also wanted to personally come to swear allegiance to you. But since the drill for new recruits is imminent, I only let him come back after a few days. He will listen to your command after he has finished assigning things."

Li Qingcheng slowly licked his lips and looked at Han Canghai, his eyes seemingly smiling.

"What?" Han Canghai knitted his eyebrows. "What wrong idea are you thinking about again?"

"Nothing." When he thought about how Han Canghai was still unmarried despite being over thirty already, Li Qingcheng sensed some kind of odd, faint feeling rising in his heart.

 

After turning around and going outside the camp, Fang Qingyu immediately pulled up his sleeves. He then leaped off, dove into the half-man-tall grass, and began sprinting to the top of the other hill.

After the time it took to burn an incense stick, Fang Qingyu sneaked into the preparatory camp, his sight sweeping over the sentry towers on both sides.

Unlike the camp of the Black Armor Legion, this place was heavily guarded with pointed stakes reaching up to one zhang surrounding the area. Fang Qingyu heard a dog barking the moment he approached and dared not go any further.

He slowly moved around the perimeter of the camp and saw that there was an inconspicuous mud track on the ground. The heavy rain from the night before had also extended the track all the way to the canyon behind the mountain.

After inspecting it for a moment, Fang Qingyu then subtly made his way to the back of the mountain. He followed the trail uphill and downhill, not once leaving the underbrush to avoid exposing his footprints.

When the tracks finally ended at the edge of the canyon, Fang Qingyu saw fresh soil yellowed by rainwater.

Moving closer, he then used his finger to jab at the mud before pulling it out and sniffing it. The scent of blood fleetingly entered his nose. Fang Qingyu no longer had any doubts and hurried back to find Li Qingcheng.


Translator's Comment:

Mu-ge’s suffering continues…

Oh also! opal came back to edit the previous 2 chapters in case you want to do reread~


This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.

Contributors

Elestrea

local tree hugger

jelly

yolk heathen

opal

filled with regret

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