“Please, if you go, I won’t be able to negotiate. Trust me, Xu Chunmu, stay here. Don’t go to the battlefield. Even if I can’t negotiate, I promise I’ll come back unharmed…” Chu Xie waved his hands repeatedly, afraid that Xu Chunmu would come and make things worse.
“Then can I disguise myself as a soldier and accompany you?”
Chu Xie firmly shook his head, “You stay here. Wait for my return.”
“Your Highness, the snow-capped Tianqian Ridge of Langya is just ahead. Once we break through there, we can directly enter Changye Commandery in the Northern Border and then head south to the Western Capital.”
Huchi Er was drinking a mouthful of strong liquor, contemplating the distant and clear mountain range in the dim light of dawn.
Compared to the forces in the hands of Ningyuan Wang, the Changming Army in Northern Wei was much more challenging to deal with. Furthermore, this success was primarily due to the chaos within Great Wei, and the collaboration with the traitorous elements allowed them to proceed so smoothly. Whether they should continue and make a concerted effort to conquer Northern Wei was a decision that needed careful consideration.
Great Wei was actually experiencing such chaos at this crucial juncture.
It was all because of the succession dispute.
Who would have thought that the seemingly obedient Crown Prince from four years ago was actually a daring individual?
He dared to gamble, even using external forces to stir up internal chaos.
Wasn’t he afraid that a wrong move could lead to the complete destruction of the kingdom?
News arrived that a Great Wei envoy had come for negotiations, and he had come alone.
Huchi Er narrowed his eyes slightly. At this border between Wei North and Wei West, he didn’t dare to act rashly. After pondering for a moment, he put the bronze wine cup on the table and sneered, “Tell him I won’t see him. We can discuss things after I’ve taken control of Wei North’s thirteen commanderies.”
The envoy said, “He mentioned that after you see this, you will want to meet him.”
He handed over a bundle of horsewhips.
With a tilt of his hand, Huchi Er looked at the old horsewhip in deep thought. Suddenly, he said, “Bring him in.”
It was Chu Xie.
Wasn’t he dead?
The current internal turmoil in Great Wei was precisely because Chu Xie had died, and the Crown Prince, left without protection, had caused the chaos.
What was going on?
As he saw a tall figure entering the tent, Huchi Er felt his heart swell and a strange sensation, as if he had been lightly touched by a feather, was unbearable.
After four years of separation, Chu Xie’s appearance hadn’t changed much, except that he seemed a bit leaner. The noble and sharp aura from four years ago was gone, replaced by a more refined scholar-like temperament.
“Chu Xie, you didn’t die.” Huchi Er struggled to find words but ultimately only said this.
“Oh, so you were hoping I was dead.” Chu Xie appeared somewhat fatigued, perhaps from the journey. His eyes were slightly red from exhaustion, but he forced himself to stay alert and didn’t want to appear weaker than others. He retorted with a wry smile, “Disappointed?”
“Not at all.”
Huchi Er, trying to retreat in words, then said something in a roundabout way, “I couldn’t bear to see you die.”
Knowing that Chu Xie had no martial skills, Huchi Er dismissed everyone else except for a couple of wine pourers.
“Here, this is our Northern Xiongnu’s liquor. Would you like to try it?”
“I don’t need it.”
“I’m here today to ask you in a straightforward answer. Are you planning to conquer the thirteen commanderies in Wei North or not?”
This direct approach was quite unlike Chu Xie’s usually circuitous nature. Huchi Er paused for a moment, although he was genuinely uncertain, he couldn’t help but playfully respond, “I’ve come all this way; of course, I’m here to fight.”
Indeed, he saw Chu Xie’s expression grow more serious.
Huchi Er took pleasure in this turn of events. “What’s the matter? Don’t you want me to fight? Aren’t you always wishing for chaos in Great Wei?”
It was as if he had figured out the scene he was playing and set down his wine cup. “Chu Xie, are you really a Yue Clan person?”
“Guess.” Chu Xie replied, casually taking a piece of pastry from the table and eating a small portion. He hadn’t eaten anything since last night, as he had been on the road, so he was quite hungry.
Huchi Er saw him not holding back, ordered some food for him. However, Chu Xie used his delicate fingers to push the dishes away slightly. “No, I won’t touch the food you provide. Who knows what tricks you have up your sleeve.”
Huchi Er burst into hearty laughter, finding Chu Xie’s current situation rather amusing. “Lord Chu, if you’re truly from the Yue Clan, then shouldn’t you thank me for killing Ningyuan Wang from Wei West. Would you like me to do you another favor and wipe out the entire Xu clan, Marquis Zhenguo?”
“Whether I’m from the Yue Clan or not, I am a citizen of Great Wei.”
Chu Xie replied with a mixture of truth and falsehood, “Since I was sent by Great Wei for negotiations, I’m naturally inclined towards peace rather than war. It would be wise for the Left Virtuous King to consider what it would take to spare these thirteen commanderies in Northern Wei. When it comes to money, that can be arranged.”
“Nowadays, the people of Great Wei consider you dead. Do you still have money?”
Huchi Er chuckled and gave him a sly look. “Truly remarkable.”
“But it’s not me who has the money. It’s our Highness.”
“I heard the young Crown Prince had you killed. Are you going to ask him for money?” Huchi Er added with a hint of sarcasm.
“Hey, it’s not me who wants money; it’s you. You’ve got the skills to conquer the nine commanderies in Wei West, and you’ve even captured two key passes in the Jade Ridge Southern Mountains. The money has to be given, no matter how much is needed.”
Chu Xie’s words were filled with flattery, even though he knew this sly fox was trying to manipulate him. Yet, he couldn’t help but feel pleased.
With his rosy lips and white teeth, Chu Xie took a few more bites of the cake, extending a bit of his tongue to lick his lower lip delicately.
Suddenly, he felt a burning sensation in his throat.
“I didn’t add anything to the food; eat as much as you like.”
Huchi Er had more food and goat’s milk brought in, but as soon as Chu Xie caught a whiff of the gamy smell of the goat’s milk, he immediately wrinkled his brow and hurriedly moved three feet away.
He had the goat’s milk removed and ordered his men to search the residence for tea.
The makeshift camp was instantly bustling. The soldiers dared not pause for even half a step.
This didn’t look like a diplomatic envoy from a defeated nation here for peace talks; it looked like an ancestor had arrived.
“I don’t want money,” Huchi Er said as he had a jug of wine brought in. “I want the entire land of Great Wei.”
“A meal needs to be eaten bite after bite. Look at the current situation…”
“Lord Chu, you won’t be able to outwit me. Right now is a rare opportunity. With the turmoil in Great Wei, that young Crown Prince knows he can’t secure his throne and wants to eliminate my forces and end the situation of the vassal lords’ separatism that has persisted for four or five decades in Great Wei… Tell me, everyone eats their meals one bite at a time; but I don’t believe I’ll be the one to choke first.”
Chu Xie cleared his throat and said, “What you’re saying makes sense.”
Huchi Er, feeling like he had some control in this confrontation with Chu Xie, was quite pleased. “Besides, you can’t even survive in the capital city anymore. Why do you still concern yourself with Great Wei’s affairs? I’ve said it before; you can’t achieve anything under Su Mingan’s hands. Great Wei is in turmoil now, what about you..”
Huchi Er interrupted himself by placing the bronze wine cup firmly on the table, creating a crisp sound. “Come back with me to Northern Xiong.”
“I’m used to life in Great Wei…”
“It’s okay; you can have the commandery you like in Great Wei. I’ll take it for you.”
Huchi Er chuckled.
Their conversation was getting difficult.
Chu Xie felt a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead as he looked at the increasingly bright sky outside. He was concerned that Huchi Er might decide to pack up and head north today, so he had to compromise. “Let’s discuss this matter later.”
“Do you know that twenty-three years ago, foreign barbarians came from west to east and broke through the capital city? It was also a time of internal strife in Great Wei. Three ethnicities invaded Great Wei simultaneously, nearly destroying the nation.”
He was referring to the Yongan Rebellion.
In this great chaos, the Emperor and Crown Prince of Great Wei both lost their heads; they were in a sorry state.
“What are you trying to say? Are you suggesting that Northern Xiong will be retaliated against and wiped out like the Yue Clan?” Huchi Er sneered. “That’s because the Yue Clan had no abilities. They can’t be compared to us. Besides, don’t you have a saying in Great Wei that goes ‘How can you catch tiger cubs without entering the tiger’s den’? Lord Chu, surely you understand that.”
“Well, Left Virtuous King has made swift progress in the western regions, but you shouldn’t assume that all of Great Wei’s forces are just for show. It was Su Mingan who wanted to use your hand to kill Ningyuan Wang. Without that, it wouldn’t be so easy…”
Huchi Er was no fool, and he spoke slowly. “Then why don’t you know if Su Mingan might also want to use me to kill the Xus? The meat is right in front of him; he’d be remiss not to take a bite.”
“After the Yongan Rebellion, the Xiongnu split in two for over twenty years, only uniting last year. You’re still just Left Virtuous King, and your eagerness for military achievements against Great Wei can be understood. However, conquering Great Wei isn’t something that can be achieved in one or two months. The old Chanyu is getting on in years, and if you get tangled up with this, and something goes wrong there…”
“I can conquer Great Wei; I’m not afraid of some minor changes in the North Xiong.”
“What you should be afraid of is that your forces might be depleted, causing trouble in the rear. In the end, you’ll end up making someone else’s wedding clothes and becoming a famous minister in the annals of history. That’s rather ironic, isn’t it?” Chu Xie squinted his eyes and spoke earnestly. “I’ve seen it all before. Let me tell you, Jiang Yanchi became the Crown Prince using the same devious methods. Left Virtuous King may not have encountered these subtle tricks yet. Take a breather, secure your throne as the Chanyu, and stop investing in this. If you truly engage in warfare with the Northern Changming, the outcome is unknown. Even if you manage to reach the capital and kill the royal family, a new Emperor will eventually emerge. The real challenge isn’t the people in the capital; it’s the border troops. Great Wei has been accumulating its strength for over twenty years, and if you rashly provoke these well-prepared elite soldiers because of domestic turmoil, it could become a real quagmire.”
Huchi Er smirked, no humor in his eyes.
But the words Chu Xie spoke had indeed been on his mind for the past few days.
“Do you know where those horses from that batch ended up?” Chu Xie observed Huchi Er’s expression and said softly, “It wasn’t given to Great Wei; it was your own younger brother, Chamu Ye. He bought them from me for four million silver, a whole night ahead of the Xus. In fact, that deal was a loss for you, but I didn’t lose anything. So, when you say that Great Wei has money, I think your nomadic tribes are even wealthier.”
That faint smile at the corner of his mouth was truly vexing.
Chu Xie retrieved an item from his pocket, which indeed was the jade whistle that belonged to his younger brother.
“I’m not lying to you. If it weren’t for the urgent situation right now, I wouldn’t have betrayed my old employer.”
“You can think for yourself what his intentions were over those dozen years.”
Huchi Er abruptly stood up, almost knocking the food on the table to the ground. He controlled his temper, not wanting to be laughed at by Chu Xie, and pounded the table with his fist. “You treacherous Wei person! You dare to play both sides and scheme against the Northern Xiongnu royalty!”
He then took deep breaths, letting out a long sigh, and began to gather his thoughts.
“Chu Xie, it’s not that easy to scare me with a few words! Even with the enemy at the gates, if I want to leave, I’d at least have to fight first before going! It’s not so easy to hoodwink me with just words. If you want to not fight, fine, tell Xu Chunmu to bring real swords and spears, and we’ll see how tough the Northern Changming really is!”
Chu Xie’s expression froze, and he picked up the last piece of cake, taking a small bite and chewing it. He swallowed it, and then said, “Alright, let’s fight.”
He spoke calmly, displaying great confidence in the Changming Army. “I hope the battle will be evenly matched, and we can both step back.”
There was an underlying message in this statement.
If they were to fight with real weapons, and if the Northern Xiong forces were to lose, it might be difficult to call it off when things got tough. The advantages they had gained could be lost.
Chu Xie’s choice of words was cunning; it was a veiled threat.
“Su Mingan, that old fox, has indeed taught you well. However, I don’t understand why you, being so clever, ended up as his discarded pawn. You dare to threaten me. Let me tell you, even if it’s Xu Yi that old man…”
Huchi Er changed his tone abruptly, taking a few big strides toward Chu Xie. He stomped on the table in front of him, causing the cups and plates to crash to the ground with a deafening noise.
Chu Xie hadn’t expected this move, and it surprised him. He choked and coughed, clearly taken aback.
Still unwilling to appear weak, he covered his mouth, turned his head, and tried to catch his breath. He leaned on the felt mat beneath him, his face turning red from the effort.
Huchi Er’s words came to an abrupt halt. He suddenly squatted down and reached out to support Chu Xie with one hand, his voice softer. “What’s wrong with you?”