The yellow soil covered the coffins, and the three young ladies of the Chu family were helped back inside because they were too heartbroken.
Yang Zhongfa’s eyes turned red, and he walked silently to Chu Hechao’s side, bowing slightly. “General… take care.”
Chu Hechao had stubble on his chin, and he nodded expressionlessly.
Compared to the three young ladies, Chu Hechao appeared truly indifferent. He didn’t show any signs of sadness or shed a single tear. The deceased didn’t seem like his parents but rather two strangers.
His demeanor led people to describe him as heartless, but Yang Zhongfa knew that the general wasn’t unaffected or free from pain. He simply kept it all inside, not showing it to the world.
Yang Zhongfa hesitated to speak but eventually left with the others, giving the space to the general.
After they had walked a distance, Yang Zhongfa couldn’t help but turn back for a glance.
Yuan Li stood beside Chu Hechao, gently patting his back. The image of them standing together seemed harmonious, something that an outsider couldn’t interfere with.
For a brief moment, Yang Zhongfa felt a sense of daze but quickly averted his gaze, not daring to look any longer.
Thankfully, Lord Yuan was still there… He sighed in his heart, hoping that Lord Yuan could comfort the general.
With no one around, Chu Hechao lifted his robe and knelt in front of the tombstone, his back straight like a tall, lonely stone carving.
Yuan Li knelt beside him, lighting the paper money in front of the grave.
The flames surged high, and Yuan Li looked at the tombstone with a complex gaze.
He had only spent less than two months with Chu Wang and his wife, but they had offered him much help. They had treated him kindly, taking care of him like a nephew of their own.
Just a few days ago, they had still been contemplating how to explain and convince them about the matter between them when they returned. Yuan Li had even tidied up their rooms and made the beds for them.
They had planned how they would spend their days together, but now they were gone.
Such is the impermanence of life.
Yuan Li finished burning the paper, and the sky grew dark. A dusky hue enveloped everything as the sun began to set.
“Let’s go back,” Yuan Li turned to look at the man and whispered softly.
Chu Hechao remained silent, still kneeling, his posture unwavering. The ashes of the burnt paper money flew over his head and between his eyebrows. Even the ashes of the paper money seemed reluctant to leave him, but his parents in the grave had departed so heartlessly.
Chu Hechao didn’t speak, and the surroundings fell into a silence interrupted only by the crackling of the burning paper.
Yuan Li spoke again, “Ciye.”
Chu Hechao responded hoarsely, “Okay.”
He stood up, his knees covered in damp soil. Chu Hechao glanced at the grave for a moment, his eyes slightly moist, and then turned to leave with Yuan Li.
When they returned to the estate, the last remnants of daylight had vanished.
Yuan Li had Lin Tian bring his bedding into Chu Hechao’s room and said, “The general hasn’t been well these past two days. I’ll sleep in the same room for now to keep an eye on him.”
No one felt that anything was amiss with those words. Lin Tian nodded and said, “My Lord, let me bring in another bed for you.”
Yuan Li nodded in agreement.
The servants quickly arranged everything and left one by one. The room was lit, and Yuan Li’s bed was placed across from Chu Hechao’s bed, separated by a table.
Yuan Li entered the room, closed the door, and sat down beside Chu Hechao. “I’ll sleep in your room tonight.”
Chu Hechao looked at his bed and managed to raise a slight corner of his mouth before nodding.
After a while, he grabbed Yuan Li’s hand and said hoarsely, “Stay with me a little longer, Le Jun.”
Yuan Li looked at his haggard face and felt as if he could see the man’s hidden vulnerability. He responded with an “Mmm” and felt a twinge of pain in his heart. “I’ll stay with you.”
Chu Hechao squeezed Yuan Li’s hand tightly, exerting great force, and then quickly released it. He repeated this several times, reflecting the emotional turmoil within him.
Finally, he took out a letter from his sleeve. It was a letter given to him by Yang Zhongfa after waking up from his faint. The letter was written by Chu Wang, and Chu Hechao had not read it.
Chu Hechao didn’t know what was written inside or if reading it would cause him more pain.
But Yuan Li was by his side, giving him the strength to open the envelope. Chu Hechao unfolded the letter.
The letter was thick, spanning five pages. It was the thickest letter Chu Wang had ever written to Chu Hechao.
In the letter, Chu Wang wrote about the current situation in Luoyang, the character of Emperor Zhouyan and Li Li’s personality and dealings, as well as the people under his command. He then advised Chu Hechao to stay in Youzhou, not to attract attention or become a target, to stockpile food, and continue to develop.
These words occupied three full pages, and Chu Hechao calmly read them. Following these words, there were fatherly admonishments.
Chu Wang, Chu Hengping, had always been critical of his second son.
Especially when his second son ignored his objections and joined the military when he was young, his criticisms and discontent reached their peak.
Because of his dissatisfaction, he had never given any assistance to his second son. In his eyes, his second son was not as clever as his eldest son. The eldest son’s career was smooth sailing, and only when their whole family obediently stayed in Luoyang would the emperor favor Chu Mingfeng. In such a situation, how could the emperor allow their family to have another powerful general?
Chu Wang and his family lived under the watchful eye of the emperor with the goal of surrendering. When the second son left, it would only make Chu Mingfeng’s path in the court even more difficult.
He believed that Chu Hechao was just being reckless.
As expected, afterwards, the emperor began to fear the Chu family, and the eunuchs started to harm Chu Mingfeng. However, Chu Wang never anticipated that his second son would also achieve something significant and become a renowned and prestigious general.
A general under the age of thirty, an existence on par with the Three Dukes, with a salary of ten thousand stone—a position that was the highest among the generals.
His future was just as promising, not inferior to his elder brother in any way.
Especially when Chu Wang learned that Chu Hechao had defeated the Wuwan tribe, forcing them to relocate to Youzhou and submit to him, and when the people of the world bestowed upon Chu Hechao the title of “War God,” Chu Wang truly realized that his second son was a natural-born military genius.
He was destined to lead troops into battle, a renowned general on the battlefield.
Naturally, Chu Wang was proud, but when he saw Chu Hechao’s stubbornness, the kind that wouldn’t turn back even when facing a wall, he still felt a sense of annoyance.
Only on the brink of death did he realize that he had never said anything good to Chu Hechao throughout his entire life.
Shameful, truly shameful.
Buried within this shame were also his guilt and regrets.
In the letter, Chu Wang rambled on, but finally expressed his remorse at the end.
After reading the letter, Chu Hechao’s hand holding the letter started trembling, and his eyes gradually turned red. Yuan Li raised his hand and wiped the corners of his eyes. “If you want to cry, go ahead.”
Chu Hechao wiped his eyes, turned around, and hugged Yuan Li, his choked voice sounding, “Le Jun, I only have you left. You can’t leave me like this.”
Yuan Li hugged him and wanted to say something to comfort him, to tell him that he still had his younger sister, his subordinates, and many people who regarded him as their leader. But any words at this moment felt powerless and feeble. He simply nodded and hoarsely replied, “Okay.”
That night, both of them went to bed early. Yuan Li woke up earlier than usual, and when he woke up, Chu Hechao was still asleep. This was a rare occurrence. Yuan Li looked at the dark circles under Chu Hechao’s eyes and the undeniable signs of exhaustion on his face. He gently caressed his face.
Even though he did so, the usually alert man still didn’t wake up, indicating the extent of weariness accumulated in his heart.
Quietly, Yuan Li left the room and had someone bring in things. He used a towel to wet Chu Hechao’s face and proceeded to shave his beard.
The green stubble was gradually removed, and Yuan Li tidied his hair before taking the water away.
Guo Lin was waiting outside. “My Lord, I have found the servants who spoke ill of General Chu’s stubbornness as ordered.”
Yuan Li’s expression gradually turned serious, and he let out a cold laugh. “So there were servants who dared to speak ill of the General.”
Lowering his eyes, he wiped his hands with a handkerchief, and calmly said, “Deal with them according to the rules.”
Guo Lin acknowledged and quietly left.
Chu Hechao was awakened by a nightmare, and he sat up abruptly, gasping for breath. He wiped his face and didn’t see Yuan Li. His heart tightened, and in disheveled hair, he went downstairs to look for him.
As soon as Yuan Li entered the room, he was embraced by the man. Chu Hechao asked, “Where did you go?”
“I went to freshen up,” Yuan Li obediently replied, “Do you want to wash up too?”
Chu Hechao nodded and hugged him again, not in a hurry to go out. He leaned against Yuan Li’s ear and said, “I want to kill those eunuchs.”
His tone was indifferent, but Yuan Li sensed the intensity of his killing intent. That killing intent sent chills down the spine of anyone who heard it.
Yuan Li responded, “They deserve to die.”
Chu Hechao said, “And Li Li.”
Yuan Li replied, “Alright.”
Chu Hechao held him silently, sniffing the scent on Yuan Li’s body, and his surging emotions gradually calmed down.
The coffins had been buried. Chu Wang and his wife had been dead for almost four months, but the wounds in the hearts of the living would take much longer to heal.
In the afternoon, everyone gathered in the study to discuss the deaths of Chu Wang and his wife.
Since Chu Wang and his wife died in Luoyang, they naturally had to seek justice. The eunuchs in the Imperial Clan Court had already been killed by Li Li, either dead or fleeing. Their focus should now be on holding Li Li accountable. If Li Li couldn’t provide a satisfactory explanation, they wouldn’t hesitate to resort to force.
After the discussion, they decided to publicly announce the deaths of Chu Wang and his wife and express their anger by sending a loud proclamation to Luoyang, condemning Li Li for his unjust and immoral acts.
Once this information was revealed, Li Li would become a target of condemnation by people throughout the country. “Righteous individuals” from all walks of life would rise up in support of Chu Hechao, unwaveringly standing behind him.
Regardless of the true thoughts of these “righteous individuals,” when an opportunity to punish Li Li arose, they would not let it slip away.
After all, Li Li not only caused the deaths of Chu Wang and his wife but was also a notorious traitor who attempted to usurp the country.
Killing Li Li would undoubtedly earn them immense prestige. This prestige would help anyone rise to greater heights.
Chu Hechao sat at the head of the table with a detached expression, devoid of any emotions. It wasn’t until everyone finished their discussion and asked him if it was feasible that he nodded and said, “Okay.”
He had been like this for the past few days, indifferent and even colder than before. He showed little interest in most matters, leaving Yang Zhongfa, Guan Zhihuai, and others who wanted to have a drink with him or comfort him at a loss.
They could only sigh silently in their hearts, hoping that the General would soon emerge from the grief of losing his parents. But everyone knew that the pain of losing parents was not something that could be easily resolved within a few days, especially for a filial person like the General whose parents were killed by treacherous individuals.
After discussing these matters, everyone planned to disperse. However, a servant hurriedly reported that an imperial decree had arrived.
An imperial decree?
Everyone exchanged glances, their expressions turning serious. They went outside the estate and saw that the rewards bestowed by the Emperor extended for ten miles.
Rather than bringing joy, such a grand gesture made them apprehensive.
When they looked closer, they saw that the person standing at the forefront to present the gifts was not a eunuch but a bearded scholar. This scholar had a shrewd appearance, an eager smile, and when he saw everyone coming out, he hurriedly approached them. He seemed to know exactly who everyone present was and respectfully greeted Chu Hechao and Yuan Li, “Cheng Mou pays his respects to General Chu and esteemed Provincial Governor.”
Chu Hechao stared at him grimly, “Who are you?”
Cheng Bu immediately responded, “I am Cheng Bu, merely a minor attendant by the Emperor’s side. I am here by the Emperor’s order to present the rewards for General Chu and Provincial Governor, as well as the other generals, for killing the Xiongnu leader Huyan Wuzhu.”
Chu Hechao’s gaze turned even colder. “You are clearly one of Li Li’s men. How can you represent the Emperor and deliver an edict?”
Cheng Bu wiped the sweat from his forehead. Everyone understood the underlying reason. He wasn’t delivering an imperial edict but rather Li Li’s edict, using the Emperor’s name as a cover. However, this couldn’t be said aloud. Cheng Bu laughed it off, “Li Li is also a loyal servant of the Emperor. I am Li Li’s man, so naturally, I am the Emperor’s man as well.”
Several generals standing behind Chu Hechao burst into mocking laughter.
Pretending not to hear, Cheng Bu maintained his smile and said, “Apart from the gold, silver, treasures, and silk fabrics in these rewards, Li Li also sent a few special items. I believe General will be overjoyed when you see them.”
With that, he clapped his hands.
Soon, several soldiers escorted five terrified individuals who looked extremely panicked.
Upon seeing Chu Hechao, the five individuals displayed fearful expressions and struggled even harder.
Cheng Bu glanced at the faces of Chu Hechao and the others, let out a deep sigh, and his face showed anger and self-reproach. “These five individuals are eunuchs from the Imperial Clan Court. They were audacious enough to force Chu Wang and the Madam to drink poisoned wine and commit suicide! After hearing about this, Li Li was extremely indignant and detested the shameless actions of these eunuchs. He deeply lamented that Chu Wang and his wife were killed by these eunuchs. Therefore, he did not hesitate to give the order to capture these eunuchs and sent me, despite the long journey, to deliver them to the General.”
He bowed to Chu Hechao again, full of sincerity. “Li Li said that these eunuchs should be dealt with by the General as a way to honor the spirits of Chu Wang and the Madam, and it serves as Li Li’s apology and compensation to you for his final actions.”
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