“Considering it wasn’t really a strategy.” Xu Chunmu responded calmly, “It was that Huchi Er already had intentions of retreating, and I happened to guess his thoughts.”
Jiang Yanchi took a sip of tea and then shifted his gaze to the shining sword. “Is this the sword bestowed by Emperor Xuanhe?”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Jiang Yanchi put down the teacup and ran his fingers from the hilt to the tip of the sword. Then he turned around, “Twenty-three years ago during the Yongan Rebellion, the Xu family played a significant role in quelling the chaos, defeating the Northern Xiongnu, pacifying the Yue Clan, and stabilizing the Western Liang. After Grandfather ascended the throne, he personally granted this sword as a sign of favor. It clearly reflects his appreciation. But do you know to whom this sword originally belonged?”
“In the past, minister, Shen Qianan was beheaded and displayed to the public. The entire Shen family was wiped out, and even their residence was burned to the ground, leaving nothing behind but this sword that had guarded the border for a century. It carries the glory and bloodshed of its history, continuing to exist in the world,” Jiang Yanchi said as he looked at Xu Chengjin. “As for the Xu family, they have also received a significant share of the Shen family’s military authority. This sword serves as a reward and a warning.”
This was the sword of General Shen Qianan.
It was the first time Xu Chunmu had heard this, and when he looked at the sword again, his eyes were different from before.
“The profound intentions of Emperor Xuanhe, we will follow from generation to generation,” Xu Chengjin said, immediately kneeling with Xu Chunmu and bowing deeply to the sword. “In this lifetime, we will not let down Great Wei, nor your grace.”
Xu Chunmu followed suit, repeating the last sentence as well.
Jiang Yanchi’s gaze calmly swept over both of them.
He deliberately paused for a moment before saying to himself, “Not failing your grace… Xu Chunmu, can you truly live up to this?”
Xu Chunmu’s pale face lost its color in an instant.
Xu Chengjin became instantly alert.
“Why did you rush back from the capital to the Northern Territory?” Jiang Yanchi asked, diverting the topic. Xu Chengjin tried to offer an explanation.
“Your Highness, we…..”
“There’s no reason.”
Xu Chunmu, under pressure, answered quickly, as if he was pleading with his father through his eyes.
This particular gaze caught Jiang Yanchi’s attention, and a cold light flickered in his eyes.
“General Xu.” Jiang Yanchi observed their expressions and fixed his gaze on Xu Chengjin. “Do you also have nothing to say? Are you planning to explain it to me?”
Xu Chengjin didn’t condone Xu Chunmu’s audacity.
With his knees still on the ground, he bowed again to the Crown Prince. “I am guilty, and I have sheltered someone I shouldn’t have. I…”
Xu Chunmu immediately stepped forward and grabbed a corner of Xu Chengjin’s clothing, his voice filled with uncontrollable panic. However, this only resulted in a stern reprimand, “You impudent fool!”
“Someone I shouldn’t have sheltered?” Jiang Yanchi’s voice was very soft. “Who?”
“The previous Zhangyin, Chu Xie.”
Xu Chunmu’s hand trembled, and he stood up abruptly. “Your Highness, please listen to me. Ah Xie also once saved you, he…”
“Young man, don’t speak nonsense!” Xu Chengjin restrained Xu Chunmu once more and clarified, “We are not acquainted with that Lord Chu.”
“Oh, you’re not acquainted, but you helped him leave the capital and then enter the Northern Territory?”
“Your Highness, he has already died once. Consider it as him admitting guilt and being executed… He truly…”
“Xu Chunmu!” Xu Chengjin drew his longsword from his waist and pointed it at Xu Chunmu’s nose. “You disobedient child, you dare to spout nonsense here and even attempt to shield a traitor!”
Everyone knew that the Crown Prince had long been at odds with Chu Xie, and Chu Xie was finally killed during the Eastern Palace Incident. Now that he had appeared in Changye Commandery, how could this be explained?
One wrong step, and this could become a severe crime of conspiring with the capital against the border!
But Xu Chunmu seemed to have convinced himself that Jiang Yanchi might not want to kill Chu Xie. He had admitted that he didn’t kill Chu Xie himself; Chu Xie had taken his own life. At Chu Xie’s funeral, he had remained silent, seemingly moved.
Xu Chunmu had to gamble on this.
“Your Highness, I am willing to never set foot in the capital again, only to guard this border for Your Highness. I only ask that Your Highness spare Chu Xie’s life and not involve him any further…”
Jiang Yanchi glanced at the hand clutching his own and then cast a sidelong glance at the ashen-faced Xu Chengjin.
He added softly, “But what if I refuse to let go?”
Jiang Yanchi slowly crouched down, looking Xu Chunmu in the eye. “Xu Chunmu, I have always held you in high regard. I can overlook your crime of deceiving the emperor, but I want to ask you one thing: why do you insist on saving him?”
Xu Chunmu fell silent, unsure of how to answer.
A moment of hesitation only led to Jiang Yanchi pressing harder.
“Do you know how many people want to whip and behead him? Xu Chunmu, you’re begging for his life now. Is it because he has connections with your Xu family?”
“Your Highness, please understand!” Xu Chengjin immediately denied, wishing he could point to the sky, “We have never been associated with that Lord Chu. Our Xu family has been guarding the border for years; how could we possibly know Chu Xie? My foolish son made a mistake, bringing Chu Xie to the Northern Territory…”
Jiang Yanchi didn’t relent.
“Xu Chunmu, I want to hear your answer.”
Xu Chengjin placed his hand on Xu Chunmu’s shoulder, inadvertently touching his injury. He warned him not to speak nonsense during this critical moment, to avoid implicating the entire family.
Xu Chunmu’s throat tightened, and he was still hesitating when he heard that the old Marquis Xu had arrived.
Grandfather, it was grandfather.
He was the most discerning among them, unlike his father, who was indecisive.
Grandfather would be able to save Chu Xie.
Hope ignited in Xu Chunmu’s eyes. Jiang Yanchi was surprised for a moment, and then he saw four maids carrying lanterns, followed by an elderly man with white hair and a flowing beard.
Xu Yi’s eyes looked sharp, and he saw Jiang Yanchi wearing a crow-blue robe from a distance.
The young man looked spirited, and his features held a familiar air.
Very much like the young Emperor Xuanhe.
Xu Yi’s voice, filled with experience, resonated through the great hall.
“Marquis Xu, no need for excessive courtesy.” Jiang Yanchi yielded the main seat in front of the hall to him, and Marquis Xu waved his hand dismissively. He sat down in the first chair on the left, picked up the tea presented by the maids, and asked, “Why tea? Bring wine instead.”
“Old Marquis Xu, you are as vigorous as ever, just like in the old days.”
“Oh, why talk about the past? Young people continue to emerge one after another. The younger generation is truly remarkable.” The old marquis saw that Jiang Yanchi was polite but measured in his words, showing no fear despite facing an elder who had served three emperors.
He couldn’t help but assess him further. “At this hour, Your Highness has abandoned the capital and rushed to the Northern Territory. Isn’t that reckless?”
An eunuch who is part of a declining power – why would he be worth a thousand-mile dash at such a critical moment?
Xu Yi twirled his beard and poured wine calmly, his actions neither hurried nor slow, and he astutely revealed the mystery.
Jiang Yanchi did indeed fall silent for a moment.
Xu Yi took a sip of the strong liquor and looked at his grandson, who was kneeling and refusing to rise, sighing. “Give the man to the Crown Prince.”
Xu Chunmu seemed to have not anticipated this, and the flames of hope that had ignited in his eyes vanished instantly. Xu Yi couldn’t bear to see his grandson’s eyes at this moment. He poured another cup of wine for the young crown prince. “Your Highness, we can each take a step back in this matter. You take him away, and we will guard the Northern Territory for you. Let’s put an end to this matter here, shall we?”
Jiang Yanchi’s gaze flickered.
“Marquis Xu, you didn’t ask me why I want to take Chu Xie away.”
Xu Yi smiled, finished the pot of clear wine, and then smacked his lips. He casually tapped the wooden table, making several sharp noises.
“The person has nothing to do with my Xu family; there’s no need for further inquiry.”
Xu Chunmu trembled all over and rushed to Xu Yi. His eyes turned red as he clutched the old man’s robe. “Grandfather, I have never asked you for anything. I’m begging you now… please, don’t drive him away…”
“Mu Er, you’re confused.”
Xu Yi smashed the wine cup in his hand, his voice becoming stern. “Chu Xie is an enigma. Regardless of his fate, it’s his own affair. You are my grandson, and you have a bright future ahead. Why do you want to involve yourself in these dirty matters and ruin it?”
“No, Grandfather, please listen to me!”
“What are you saying? That the capital is in chaos because of him? That you’ve been blinded by him here? Do you still look like a military commander? Stand up!” Xu Yi was like a raging fire, abruptly cutting off Xu Chunmu’s words.
“Grandfather, it’s what you taught me. Do not worry that others do not understand you; worry that you do not understand others.” Xu Chunmu shook his head. “He is not that kind of person; he…”
“I also taught you that people with different paths should not conspire together! Do you think your friend is on the same path as you?!” Xu Yi seemed to have grown impatient. “Xu Chunmu, did I teach you like this?! You are simply foolish!”
Xu Chunmu had rarely been chastised by Marquis Xu in such a manner.
He felt a bit stunned.
Right now, he felt a heavy weight in his chest, almost suffocating him. Clutching his chest, his voice trembled as he spoke, “Grandfather, you taught me to tame wild horses, train powerful hawks. You told me that a true man should have no regrets in front of heaven and earth, and would rather die than yield, always doing what he believes is right… This is what I believe is right. Grandfather, trust me just this once, Chu Xie can’t return to the capital, he will die!”
The faint aroma of alcohol in Xu Yi’s eyes gradually dissipated, and he stared at his grandson without saying a word. He just called out, “Bring more wine.”
The hall fell into silence for a long while, and it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
It was exceptionally stifling.
As the wine arrived, Xu Yi noticed that the Crown Prince’s gaze had been fixed on him.
“Mu Er, what I taught you in the past is knowledge suitable for the Northern Territory only,” Xu Yi said as he handed a cup of wine to Xu Chunmu, shaking his head. “In the capital, there are different rules.”
His words carried a hint of persuasion, as if he were coaxing. He raised his hand to touch Xu Chunmu’s head, but halfway through, he withdrew it.
He sat upright with a touch of majesty.
“I didn’t teach you these things because I didn’t intend for you to go to the capital. You have a peaceful life waiting for you under my wing. I’ll protect you throughout your life. Why do you want to get involved in these troublesome calculations and complications?”
Xu Yi seemed to have grown impatient, waved his hand, and had someone bind Xu Chunmu, throwing him into the ancestral hall and making him face the wall. Then he turned to the Crown Prince and said, “Your Highness, you can take the man with you.”
Jiang Yanchi had watched the entire drama and now asked directly, “Marquis Xu, are you really not keeping him?”
“I won’t keep him.”
Jiang Yanchi became suspicious, about to ask more questions when he heard Xu Yi say, “Your Highness, there’s no need to test us further. The Marquis Zhenguo’s residence and this gentleman Chu have no connection.”
“Whether you want to kill him, protect him, use him, or suspect him, it has nothing to do with my Marquis Zhenguo’s residence. My grandson Chunmu was born in the Northern Territory, with a pure heart and simple nature. He’s not as scheming as those people in the capital. But Your Highness should know that such a pure-hearted person will never betray.”
Jiang Yanchi remained silent.
After a long pause, he bowed and saluted Marquis Xu. “I was presumptuous. I’ve always known that Marquis Xu’s grandson is sincere and loyal.”
Jiang Yanchi lowered his head in thought for a moment and then turned to Xu Yi. “I have some matters I’d like to discuss privately with Young Marquis Xu. Would that be convenient?”
Xu Yi watched as Jiang Yanchi headed towards the ancestral hall, his gaze gradually deepening, showing no signs of intoxication. He still needed to return to the Marquis’s residence tonight, so he called for his son, Xu Chengjin: “Let that fellow named Yu in the north integrate the former troops of Ningyuan Wang and go fight. He won’t be able to turn the tide. Tonight, send Chunmu to Pinglian County, and under no circumstances should you let him slip away to the capital again.”
“Father, I can’t quite understand this situation… With Ningyuan Wang’s death, it’s likely that the struggle for the throne won’t favor Lingcheng Wang. Could Jiang Yanchi showing up in the northern territory be an attempt to gauge our Xu family’s stance?”
Xu Yi shook his head. In reality, he was more concerned about something else at the moment.
“I can’t quite figure out the Crown Prince’s intentions either. But one thing is clear; Chunmu must not enter the capital again. Keep a close eye on him and ensure he stays away from that person surnamed Chu.”
Inside the ancestral hall, Xu Chunmu’s hands were bound, and he knelt on the hard stone floor. The scent of incense wafted through the air, slightly choking.
In the late autumn night of the Northern Territory, occasional flurries of snow would fall, settling on the eaves and forming a thin frost for the next morning, adorning the boundless ice plain with a sense of desolation.
Xu Chunmu had never been afraid of the cold.
But right now, he felt cold to the bone.
Footsteps came from behind.
Jiang Yanchi turned around, closed the door, and dismissed everyone. He crouched down, getting close to Xu Chunmu’s left ear, his voice carrying a hint of danger, “Do you know Chu Xie’s true identity?”
Seeing that he remained silent, Jiang Yanchi lowered his voice even more, as if he were wary of eavesdroppers. “Does Xu Chengjin know? What about Xu Yi?”
“They don’t know.”
Jiang Yanchi’s fierce gaze softened slightly.
“Take this secret to the grave for me. Never tell anyone about his identity, especially not Xu Yi.” When Jiang Yanchi saw Xu Chunmu turn his head slightly, his eyes were cold, mixed with some confusion. He asked, “Why?”
Jiang Yanchi thought that Xu Yi did indeed dote on Xu Chunmu. Over these years, it was surprising to see that such a fierce and daring wolf had raised such an upright and unyielding grandson.
It seemed like he didn’t know much about the past.
Well, the Xu family could be considered the biggest beneficiary of the Yongan Rebellion. From a small deputy commander guarding the city, he had risen to the position of Marquis Zhenguo.
Those dirty past events were unlikely to be known to him.
“When the Yue Clan conquered Shaoye County, General Shen was captured because his subordinates defected, and all of his 30,000 elite soldiers were slaughtered. As a result, he was captured and returned to the capital.”
Jiang Yanchi clenched his teeth, tugging at Xu Chunmu’s collar as he continued, “The deputy general who surrendered, who was the deputy general stationed in Shaoye County at the time? It was Xu Yi. He was a hard nail inserted by Emperor Xuanhe into the Shen family’s army. Your Xu family’s prosperity was gained through his betrayal. Shaoye County was bathed in blood for three days, Xu Chunmu. Do you think someone like Xu Yi would spare Chu Xie? If he knew that Chu Xie is a descendant of the Shen family, he would only be extremely afraid that Chu Xie, with his growing power, would seek revenge, so how could he spare him a way out?!”
He pushed Xu Chunmu, and he fell to the ground, struggling to get up.
He propped himself up on the cold stone bricks with his elbows, feeling that the already chilling night had become even more bone-chilling.
No, it couldn’t be.
“No, it’s not true,” Xu Chunmu covered his head with his hands, curling into a ball. “My grandfather is the most loyal and courageous person in the world. He’s fair and upright. He said… he said…”
“You are a descendant of the Xu family, his own grandson. He will naturally protect you in every way possible, and he would go to great lengths to pave the way for your future. For you, he’s like a big tree offering shelter. But for Chu Xie, he’s a relentless demon chasing him down! How dare you secretly bring him to the Northern Territory? Who gave you the audacity?!”
Jiang Yanchi’s voice was low, filled with bitterness, as if he wanted to tear Xu Chunmu apart with his words.
Xu Chunmu felt like a block of ice was churning in his chest.
Grandfather, responsible for Ah Xie’s father’s death?
No, that couldn’t be.
“During the Rebellion of Yongan, Emperor Xuanhe used any means necessary to gain power, even using external enemies to weaken the military power of the Northwest. He also caused the deaths of the previous Emperor and the Crown Prince. In war, it’s a matter of win or lose. Shen Qianan protected the legitimate Crown Prince! If he had not been misled by Xu Yi, Shen Qianan would have achieved a great victory in the Battle of Shaoye County, and there would never have been the Rebellion of Yongan, and the Great Wei would never have fallen!”
Xu Chunmu choked on his breath, feeling the pain in his shoulder blades growing more intense. It was as if his heart and lungs were throbbing with each beat.
“Shen Qianan did not betray the country.”
“Your grandfather Xu Yi was the one who betrayed the country.”
Jiang Yanchi pinched Xu Chunmu’s shoulder blades. “Never touch anything related to Chu Xie again, Xu Chunmu. You can’t protect him.”
Xu Chunmu seemed to regain some awareness. He said, believing in his words, “He has no way to survive in the Northern Territory, then can he have one in the capital?”
“Zhao Xuan, who has known him for more than a decade, wants to flog him three hundred times, accusing him of betrayal. Even Jiang Jingan, who used to respect him, now wants nothing more than to take his head as soon as he falls from grace. Loyal ministers hate him, treacherous officials resent him… even you, the Crown Prince, who was elevated to your position by him, secretly wish to kill him every day!”
Jiang Yanchi leaned against the wall, a strand of hair falling onto his forehead.
Yes, he had once wanted to kill him as well, and he had come very close to doing so.
His nails scratched the wall, leaving five deep marks.
“He cannot return to the capital.”
Xu Chunmu seemed to finally regain some consciousness. He said fervently, “I can give up the three hundred thousand troops of the Northern Territory. I can take him to live in seclusion in a remote place. As long as he doesn’t pose any threat to my grandfather, he will…”
“You want to take him into hiding?”
Jiang Yanchi’s thoughts drifted a bit, then he suddenly asked, “Xu Chunmu, what are your true intentions toward him?”
“I, I just want to save him. Consider it as atoning for my grandfather’s sins. He shouldn’t have lived this kind of life.”
Jiang Yanchi’s hidden intent seemed to dissipate slightly, replaced by a touch of mockery.
“It seems like the Xu family has raised a living Bodhisattva.”
“I… I will help him gradually let go of his hatred and live a peaceful and tranquil life…”
Jiang Yanchi found this last sentence absurd and couldn’t let him finish. He interrupted in a cold voice, “You haven’t experienced his suffering, so how can you easily persuade him to let go?”
Xu Chunmu was stunned.
“He can’t let go. The Yongan Rebellion changed the destinies of too many people. Xu Chunmu, you have the entire Xu family protecting you; you simply don’t understand. For some people, if they don’t learn to protect themselves, there won’t be anyone else in this world to protect them. For such people, advising them to do good is like asking for their death.”
Xu Chunmu was not convinced, and similarly, he found Jiang Yanchi’s words absurd.
The absurdity was so intense that it made his entire forearm tremble, but he couldn’t bring himself to lift a finger and point it at the person in front of him.
The ancestral tablets of the Xu family were still being carefully honored beside them.
But Xu Chunmu didn’t dare to look at them even for a moment.
“This is absurd, utterly absurd…”
In the end, he could only press his forehead with his hand and take a few steps back. He squatted down against the wall, muttering, “If he can’t let go of his hatred, his life will be ruined from now on…”
“Don’t you see it yet? His life was ruined twenty-three years ago, from the moment Shen Qianan died. There was never a glimmer of hope for Chu Xie’s life.”
Due to the effects of medication, Chu Xie was still in a deep sleep. He felt occasional fluctuations of cold and heat, and his body was covered in sweat, but he couldn’t open his eyes.
He sensed someone approaching.
It must be Xu Chunmu.
A hand brushed aside the strands of hair on his forehead, and he felt the cold touch on his skin. Instinctively, he reached out from under the covers to warm up that cold hand.
The person sat down beside him.
That hand supported him as he sat up, offering a bowl of medicine to his lips and pouring it in silently.
Chu Xie drank slowly, taking a few sips and then pausing to catch his breath. After finishing the medicine, he was drenched in sweat again, but with the passage of time, the fever finally subsided.
He felt someone wrapping him up in a blanket, cradling him in their arms. They lifted him into a carriage, arranged the bedding, and even set up a heater inside the carriage. In his embrace, they also placed his beloved golden-threaded hand stove.
Chu Xie touched the familiar and warm object, and his heart gradually calmed down.
Suddenly, he heard the sound of carriage wheels moving, and he woke up completely. As he was about to move, a hand pressed him down, preventing him from struggling.
Struggling to open his eyes, he couldn’t make out the person’s face clearly, only managing to grasp the edge of their sleeve. His voice was hoarse from the high fever as he asked, “Where… are we going?”
“To return to the capital.”
It wasn’t Xu Chunmu’s voice.
Chu Xie, now fully awake, strained to focus his gaze and barely managed to discern the outline of the person in front of him. His heart turned cold.
It was Jiang Yanchi!
Seeing him about to struggle, Jiang Yanchi pressed down on his hand under the blanket. “Don’t move, your wound might reopen.”
Why was Jiang Yanchi in the northern territory? Why did he want to take him back to the capital?
His current mission was to ensure Xu Chunmu’s safety. He couldn’t be far from Xu Chunmu; he had to protect him. Moreover, the capital was full of danger for him, how could he easily return to that place!
Chu Xie struggled harder, using both hands and feet to push the person away. However, he was wrapped up in the blanket, and his already limited strength was further dissipated within that mass of cotton, making his movements easily countered.
Jiang Yanchi lowered his gaze, and his expression remained inscrutable, but his gaze was fixed deeply on Chu Xie.
His eyes held a strange look, as if he were trying to discern something.
Chu Xie suddenly remembered that during their last confrontation, he had deceived Jiang Yanchi by claiming to have a split personality. Now, Jiang Yanchi must be trying to determine which personality he currently was.
Was he the good one or the evil one?
Chu Xie’s heart raced, but he couldn’t afford to panic. He quickly began to calm down and analyze the situation in his mind.
The author has something to say: In this pseudo-RPG game, Chu Xie:
- He chooses to act tough and threaten Jiang Yanchi to take him back to the North Border to find Xu Chunmu.
- Given Jiang Yanchi’s current position as the Crown Prince, he senses danger and chooses to play it safe.
Although it doesn’t matter what choice is made, it won’t change the course of events (head start for self-preservation).