“What past lives and present lives!”
Chu Xie shouted, “I don’t want to hear about these past life and present life stories right now, but let’s find a place to take care of your wound.”
Xu Chunmu sighed, “I knew you wouldn’t believe me…”
Looking around, they found that this place had a slow-moving river, and they were standing on a soft riverside grassy area. It was remote but peaceful.
At least they had managed to shake off the hidden guards.
Chu Xie supported Xu Chunmu, and the two of them first found a rocky area. Unfortunately, their tinderbox was soaked through. They had to wring the water out of their clothes.
Chu Xie was highly adaptable. He picked up some vines and made a small basket, which he used to collect some medicinal herbs and fruits for Xu Chunmu.
The sky was gradually darkening, and by the time Chu Xie returned, he didn’t know how Xu Chunmu had managed to start a fire, but he had already removed his upper garment to dry it. Seeing Chu Xie coming back, he put on the half-dried clothes.
“Don’t put them on,” Chu Xie immediately stopped him. “It’s okay; I don’t mind. Anyway, we’re both men. These clothes are all wet. Let them dry first.”
Xu Chunmu nodded and said, “You take off your outer garment, and I’ll dry it for you.”
Chu Xie chewed the herbs and applied them to Xu Chunmu’s wound. Then, he tore his undergarments into strips and bandaged Xu Chunmu’s wound one loop at a time.
Afterward, he was left with only his pants and sat by the fire, letting the rest of his clothes dry. Xu Chunmu glanced at him and said, “Your wound seems to be healing quickly.”
“Yeah, I had already mostly recovered from it after staying in the Eastern Palace for half a month,” Chu Xie replied, but he suddenly choked up.
He had been so focused on Xu Chunmu that he had forgotten about Jiang Yanchi.
What was happening in Puyang County? Had the news reached the capital city?
Seeing that he didn’t look well, Xu Chunmu asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Are we still within Puyang County’s territory? How far have we drifted along this river?” Chu Xie gazed at the myriad of stars above, unable to find the Big Dipper. “Which direction are we heading in?”
“North,” Xu Chunmu said with a fleeting glance at the stars in the sky. “This river flows northward. We should already be outside Puyang County by now.”
They were getting further and further from the capital city.
“No, we have to go back to the capital city,” Chu Xie pulled Xu Chunmu up. “The Crown Prince is in danger, and we—”
“Go back to the capital city?” Xu Chunmu shook his head. “Right now, the most dangerous place is the capital city. Besides, we don’t have horses now. Never mind going back to the capital city; even if you want to find a small village nearby and buy an ox, it’ll probably take us two days.”
“We’ll find a village along the riverbank,” Chu Xie contemplated, eventually deciding to continue on the road. “No matter what, we have to give it a try, and I’m pretty lucky. It shouldn’t take us more than two days.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
Xu Chunmu held up a torch and followed behind Chu Xie, lighting their way. “Let’s see how lucky you are.”
After walking for two to three hours, their feet began to ache. Xu Chunmu handed the torch to Chu Xie and offered, “The stony path by the river is difficult to walk on. I’ll carry you.”
“No need, you’re injured,” Chu Xie firmly refused. “I can walk.”
Xu Chunmu chuckled softly, giving him another amused look. “Alright, take it slow, and be careful not to step on water snakes.”
Water, water snakes.
Chu Xie halted his steps, hesitating before countering, “It’s already deep into autumn; they won’t wake up even when you step on them.”
“Well, even if they do, I won’t let them bite you. Just keep walking.”
The dawn was approaching, and they finally heard barking dogs in the distance. Chu Xie pointed in the direction of the sound, thrilled, “There are dogs! There must be people!”
Xu Chunmu grinned, “Yes, your luck is indeed excellent.”
After walking a bit further, they indeed saw a small village, consisting of around a dozen households nestled against the mountainside. Some households had already lit their lamps, and upon seeing the bedraggled state of Xu Chunmu and Chu Xie, they brought them bowls of hot soup. They were very considerate and even found two sets of clean clothes for them to change into.
“Ma’am, is this Puyang County?”
“Puyang? That’s quite a few dozen miles away. Our land belongs to Huaizhi County. If you keep going a bit further northwest, you’ll reach the place where the savages are causing trouble.”
“You came from Puyang County?” The lady poured the heated water into a wooden basin for them to wash their faces. “You’ve gone the wrong way. Nowadays, everyone is heading south. Who goes northwest anymore? Who knows when the war will break out there? The young people from the village have already left, leaving only those of us who can’t move.”
They definitely wouldn’t get caught up in whatever conflict was happening here.
When both of them had finished washing up, the sun had risen, and the lady neatly made their beds. “My son is about your age. Ah, those who can go should go. Take a good rest at my place for a while.”
She looked at the two men again, squinting her eyes and studying them.
“Oh, you two gentlemen are quite handsome, and you don’t resemble my son at all.”
She seemed to be guessing something and asked, “Are you two brothers?”
“No,” Xu Chunmu replied but hesitated before saying, “We’re… we’re…”
He felt embarrassed to say it.
To his surprise, the lady seemed to understand. “I see. That’s good too; you have a couple’s look, quite compatible.”
Compatible? No way!
Chu Xie was extremely embarrassed and drummed his fingers. “How could a man like men, right, ma’am?”
“Oh, young man, you’re narrow-minded,” the lady refuted and served another bowl of soup, thinking that he was just shy. She persuaded him, “As long as your hearts are together, it’s a good relationship. Don’t worry about gender or age. It’s quite a complicated world now. Finding a soulmate is not easy.”
“Based on what I see, both of you are handsome, and your personalities seem nice. You’re a great match.”
At this, Xu Chunmu laughed and said, “The Ma’am makes a lot of sense. I wonder if there’s a clinic in the village. I’d like to find a physician.”
“Oh, if you keep going about ten miles to the northwest, there’s a town where you can find a doctor.”
The lady pointed the way and added, “I’m going to the town to sell some goods. I’ll take you there.”
Chu Xie and Xu Chunmu exchanged glances. “Thank you very much, ma’am.”
Back in the capital city.
As soon as Jiang Yanchi returned to the city, he went to Grand Tutor Su’s mansion to request the former imperial records kept under the care of Su Mingan. These records contained information about the Yongan Rebellion.
This was the first time he had asked a favor from Su Mingan, and the latter naturally agreed.
However, when he handed over the records, Su Mingan offered a word of advice, “Your Highness, don’t be swayed by Chu Xie’s tragic past. I’ve raised Chu Xie with my own hands, and I understand him better than anyone else. He is cunning, devious, and inherently cruel. If Your Highness wishes to protect him, please do so with caution.”
“I will consider your advice.”
Jiang Yanchi returned to the Eastern Palace with the records and stayed up all night, diligently examining them.
The records provided much more detail than the official history books, including some criticisms of the Emperor. This was why the records had been forbidden and burned in the past.
Su Mingan seemed to have a fondness for keeping these banned books, likely fearing that Chu Xie had seen them in the past.
In the 13th year of Yongan, the Battle of Changye ended in defeat. Madam Shen, Changping Princess, set herself on fire in the attic, attempting to burn her two young children and household servants in the large fire by the lakeside.
At that time, Chu Xie was only five years old.
He didn’t know how the child of just five years old survived that ordeal.
In his cruel moments, he considered life to be as insignificant as grass, making ruthless decisions without hesitation.
Night after night, he washed and washed his hands, but he couldn’t wash away the bloodstains that clung to them.
“Sometimes, it seems like as long as one person is alive, there is still hope in this world.”
He recalled the words he had spoken in the carriage, echoing in Jiang Yanchi’s ears.
He rolled up the thick, heavy scrolls inch by inch, as if sealing away the dusty and painful past once more.
That’s why he feared blood.
That’s why he was afraid of enclosed rooms.
In his childhood, he had witnessed slaughter and had almost been trapped in a burning tower.
Over these many years, the despair that had imprisoned Chu Xie was like a city he couldn’t escape from. No one could open a door for him.
Because he was the only one who survived.
The door was knocked on in the dead of night, and Jiang Yanchi saw a figure rushing back and forth outside the Eastern Palace. He concealed the thick volume of books under the desk, opened the door, and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Your Highness! A secret message has come from Puyang County, something has happened!”
Jiang Yanchi shuddered.
Chu Xie was in Puyang County.
“There’s an urgent message from the guards of Yubei County Prince’s retinue. They escaped and hurried to the capital city overnight. The information isn’t very accurate yet… it seems that the old Marquis Xu from the Northlands went to Puyang County in person and… and…”
“He wants to secure the position of Crown Prince for Shizi Jiang Silan!”
Jiang Silan, that’s a good friend of Xu Chunmu. Were they already in collusion with the Xu family? He wasn’t from the main imperial family line; it was different from Jiang Jingan. He had no legitimate claim to the throne, and these fringe figures even wanted to seize the throne.
This Yubei County Prince really had the audacity, indeed underestimating these mediocre people!
Wait a minute.
The Crown Prince’s finger quivered, and he left a nail mark on the door frame. He realized it after a moment of contemplation, and his face instantly turned ghastly pale. “Chu… Chu…”
His chest heaved violently. “Where is Chu Xie? What did Xu Yi do to Chu Xie?!”
“Is Lord Chu in Puyang County? We haven’t received any news…”
“Bring that retinue member inside; I’ll ask personally!”
Jiang Yanchi, seeing the man being brought in, immediately slammed the desk with a paperweight. “Little Uncle has quite the courage, conspiring against the Xu family! Speak, where is Chu Xie?!”
“Your Highness, our county prince has always been timid; he wouldn’t dare to conspire. It was Lord Marquis Xu’s idea; it has nothing to do with our county prince. Our county prince even sent a message to the capital city to assure his loyalty, and he is absolutely not plotting against the empire. I…”
“I asked about Chu Xie’s whereabouts!”
Jiang Yanchi kicked the man’s shoulder, drawing his sword to press it against him. “Say one more useless word, and I’ll cut off your arm!”
“Xu…Lord Marquis Xu said he wanted to kill Chu Zhangyin, to sever your arm… but Chu Zhangyin never entered the city; he seems to have escaped. But the Xu family’s troops pursued him, and I’m not sure… I had to rush to deliver this message; I don’t know…”
He watched as the cold light flashed, the words becoming somewhat unclear. He saw the crown prince’s face turn dark and fierce, as if he might strike with a sword at any moment. Then, as if he wanted to hear everything he had to say, the prince restrained his anger.
At the end, he asked, “Did he enter the city or not?!”
“Your Highness, I, I don’t know! When I left, he hadn’t entered the city. As for whether he was captured, I’m also not sure…”
Jiang Yanchi’s eyes were filled with cruelty. He raised his hand, and with a swift motion, he severed the man’s arm. “Nothing but spineless fools! Prepare the horses!”
Blood spattered across the hall. The attack didn’t kill; it was meant to leave the man alive. Little Xizi, trembling with fear, arranged for the injured man to be dragged away for medical treatment.
The entire Eastern Palace staff had ashen faces and dared not utter a word.