Rebirth of a Star General Chapter 107

Chapter 107: The Qiang People

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Winter had set in, and it was bitterly cold. The winters in Liangzhou were even colder than in the capital city. During the daytime, the training provided some warmth, but it was still quite chilly. At night, the biting cold became even more intense. The firewood burning in their stoves was far from sufficient.

Fewer soldiers were going to the Five Deer River for bathing now; most preferred to heat water themselves. He Yan was no exception. It had been over half a month since Xiao Jue left.

She estimated that by this time, Xiao Jue had probably reached Zhangtai. However, the training officers never mentioned it, and He Yan had no way of knowing what was happening on the other end. She continued to train with the new recruits every day, but due to her injuries, she couldn’t keep up with the “triple daily training” Xiao Jue had mentioned.

On this day, He Yan and a group of new recruits were training on the martial arts field. As evening approached, the training session concluded, and He Yan began chatting with Hong Shan and the others.

Hong Shan rubbed his hands together and exhaled into his palms, saying, “Ah He, have you noticed how incredibly cold it’s been these past few days?”

“It’s bearable,” He Yan replied. During her time in the Fuyue Army, she had fought battles near the river during winter, with their camp set up along the banks. The nights were bitterly cold with the icy river breeze, and there was no firewood to burn. The soldiers would sleep together to keep warm. That was true winter hardship.

“Maybe you young folks can tolerate the cold better,” Hong Shan sighed. He gazed in the direction of White Moon Mountain. “Why does it keep snowing in Liangzhou? It snows all night long.”

He Yan followed his gaze, observing that White Moon Mountain in winter lacked the lush greenery of summer. With one glance, she saw the pristine white snow covering the mountainside. The recruits couldn’t venture too high up the mountain for firewood anymore. The higher they went, the deeper the snow, making it unsafe.

“In fact, this weather is perfect for hunting,” Xiao Mai chimed in. “My older brother and I used to do this at this time of year. We’d prepare food during the day, soak it in alcohol, and leave it near the caves. In winter, there’s not much to eat, but when rabbits and foxes see it, they come to eat. We’d go out to collect our catch at night, and there would be game everywhere. It’s easy and straightforward. White Moon Mountain is so vast; there should be many rabbits and foxes.”

He licked his lips in anticipation.

“Stop it,” He Yan warned. “I think it’s best if you abandon that idea. The terrain on the mountain is complex, and the snow is deep. You might become the prey before you catch any rabbits.”

“You’re underestimating me, Brother Ah He,” Xiao Mai grumbled.

While they were speaking, a group of new recruits descended the trail from White Moon Mountain, with a young woman wearing a white robe leading the way. 

She was draped in an apricot-colored plum blossom cloak, and her hairpin was also a simple white one. Against the backdrop of the snowy landscape, she appeared even more ethereal, a vision of beauty and kindness.

Hong Shan stared at her in amazement and said, “I never knew such a woman existed—a woman of extraordinary beauty with an exceptionally kind heart. On such a cold day, a frail lady ventures up the mountain to gather herbs for the wounded. Only a celestial being would possess such compassion. What do you think, Ah He?”

He Yan replied, “You’re absolutely right.”

Every few days, the new recruits took turns going up the mountain to gather firewood. Shen Muxue often accompanied them to collect medicinal herbs. There were some herbs on the mountain, even in winter, that they could find. Due to shortages of medicinal materials in the Garrison, especially during winter when some soldiers suffered from cold-related illnesses, Shen Muxue made herbal concoctions for them. They were packed into wooden barrels, and each soldier received a bowl of the brew. After drinking it, they would break into a sweat, which was excellent for their health.

He Yan noticed that Shen Muxue appeared less robust than her, delicate and soft. It was truly commendable that she would accompany the new recruits up the mountain on such cold days.

“Who’s the new recruit behind her carrying on his back?” Shitou frowned and asked.

The others looked and saw that the new recruit following Shen Muxue was carrying someone on his back. This person was not dressed in the standard military uniform, making it clear they weren’t part of the Liangzhou Garrison. Before anyone could inquire further, curious new recruits had already rushed forward to find out what was happening.

Before long, a newly recruited soldier who had heard the news returned and shared the details with his companions. He overheard someone saying, “That man is a hunter from the other side of the mountain. His family is so poor they can’t make ends meet. He took a risk going up the mountain to hunt, but got trapped by the heavy snow. Miss Shen and her group encountered him on the way, and he was buried in the snow up to his waist. They dug him out and saved his life.” 

“Indeed, he’s quite lucky. White Moon Mountain is incredibly cold, and if he had stayed there a few moments longer, not even a deity could have saved him.” 

“But what can you do?!”

Xiao Mai mumbled: “In this weather, going up the mountain is like asking for death.” 

“But he had no choice. When you’re poor, your life doesn’t matter. They can’t even afford to eat, so they have to do whatever it takes.” Hong Shan sighed.

After observing for a while longer, the group dispersed.

But this matter didn’t end there. In the evening, Cheng Lisu returned and said he wanted to stay in Xiao Jue’s room. He Yan asked in surprise, “Didn’t you refuse to move back here?”

Cheng Lisu frowned and replied, “Today, because of the man that Doctor Shen saved, I was forced to leave our room. I can’t let him stay in Uncle’s room. When Uncle returns, he’ll definitely punish me severely. Fine, I’ll reluctantly stay here for a few days, and once he leaves, I’ll move back. Big Brother He, can you accompany me tomorrow to fetch my boxes? I can’t carry them by myself.”

“Of course, but your stay here might not be just for a few days, but for quite a long time,” He Yan shook her head.


He Yan smiled but didn’t answer immediately. However, Cheng Lisu soon figured out why He Yan had said that.

The next day, after the daytime training session, He Yan accompanied Cheng Lisu to retrieve his boxes that were stored in the common room. They coincidentally met Shen Muxue on her way to administer medicine to the hunter they had rescued yesterday.

He Yan noticed the medical supplies in Shen Muxue’s hands, including some tonic soup and ointments for frostbite, as well as some medications for external injuries. He Yan asked, “Miss Shen, did that man get injured?”

“There are wild animals in the forest, and he encountered a bear. He was attacked by the bear and fell down a cliff while trying to escape, which is why he was buried in the snow. So, yes, he has some external injuries,” Shen Muxue replied.

Cheng Lisu asked, “Is his condition severe? Does he need to stay in Liangzhou Garrison for a long time? When will I be able to move back?”

“Young Master Cheng,” Shen Muxue helpless said, “Even if he recovers, he won’t be able to leave Liangzhou Garrison for now. He came from the other side of White Moon Mountain. With the heavy snow blocking the mountain, he can only go back when the snow melts or after several consecutive sunny days. Sending him back now would likely result in him freezing to death on the mountain again.” 

Cheng Lisu almost jumped up in frustration. “So, I have to wait until winter’s over?”

“Once Second Master returns, there might be another solution,” Shen Muxue tried to console him.

He Yan noticed that Shen Muxue referred to Xiao Jue as “Second Master” instead of “Commander,” and it sounded like they were quite familiar. She pondered for a moment, and by then, they had arrived at the door of the room.

Inside the room, there was no one else at the moment. After the training session on the martial arts field, everyone had gone to eat and rest. At the edge of the room where He Yan used to sleep, there was now another person lying there. He was wearing a thin undershirt, wrapped tightly in his blanket, as if he were very cold. Shen Muxue placed the medicine tray on the table and turned to call him, “Hu Yuanzhong?”

The person lying on the bed heard her and moved the blanket slightly. After a moment, he propped himself up on the bed with both hands.

This was a man of about thirty, with dark skin and dry, cracked lips. He looked somewhat frail. He lifted the blanket and spoke to Shen Muxue with a hint of urgency, “Shen, Doctor Shen.” 

“It’s time to change your dressing,” Shen Muxue said. “Sit on the edge of the bed and roll up your pants.” 

The man, who was called Hu Yuanzhong, appeared even more nervous. He rubbed his hands together and stammered, “I can’t trouble the doctor. I’ll do it myself.” He bent down, and as soon as he made the motion, he let out a sharp “hiss” of pain. 

Seeing this, Shen Muxue crouched down in front of Hu Yuanzhong and rolled up his pant leg. Indeed, the leg was covered in scars, some deep and some shallow, likely from rocks and tree branches on the mountain. 

“It’s not fully healed yet,” Shen Muxue said. “Today, I’ll use a bit more medicine.” 

Hu Yuanzhong nodded in a daze. 

“Let me do it,” at this moment, He Yan’s voice interjected. Without waiting for Shen Muxue’s response, she reached out and took the medicine from Shen Muxue’s hand, then crouched down and said, “Miss Shen, please stand up.” 

“This…” Hu Yuanzhong was somewhat surprised. “This young brother…”

“I’m called He Yan. The bed you’re currently lying on is mine. Miss Shen is a young lady, and it wouldn’t be appropriate. I’ll take care of your wounds, and it shouldn’t make much of a difference, right?” He Yan smiled at Hu Yuanzhong.

Hu Yuanzhong breathed a sigh of relief. “Of course, I don’t want to trouble Doctor Shen.”

“He Yan, don’t be foolish,” Shen Muxue frowned slightly. “In the presence of a physician, gender doesn’t matter. You may not know how to apply the ointment properly.”

“I can still apply the medicine. Doctor Shen, please don’t worry. Why don’t you go and check on Cheng Lisu first? I noticed he had a bit of a cough this morning. Make sure he doesn’t catch a chill.”

Cheng Lisu added, “Yes, Doctor Shen, I feel a bit dry in the throat.”

Shen Muxue was taken aback and said, “Really?” She then stood up and told Cheng Lisu, “Come with me outside. I’ll take a look first.”

The two of them left the room, leaving only Hu Yuanzhong and He Yan.

He Yan began by cleaning the bloodstains oozing from his leg and then applied a layer of ointment. While working, she asked, “Brother Hu, your injuries seem quite severe. Does it hurt a lot?”

“It’s bearable,” Hu Yuanzhong replied, “they’re just some external injuries.” Although he said that, his voice was strained, and it was clear that he was in a lot of pain.

He Yan hesitated for a moment and then applied a bit more pressure. This made Hu Yuanzhong cry out in pain, “Ah!”

“I’m sorry, Brother Hu,” He Yan blushed, “I was a bit careless.”

“It’s alright, don’t worry.”

“Doctor Shen is attentive and considerate. I’m a man who is clumsy. I hurt Brother Hu, please don’t take offense, Brother Hu.”

Hu Yuanzhong forced a smile, “No need to apologize.”

He Yan smiled and continued applying the medicine, but in her heart, she couldn’t help but snort.

Just now, she had observed clearly. Although this Hu surname guy initially refused and said he would apply the ointment himself, as soon as he felt pain, he cried out. When Shen Muxue squatted down in front of him, there was a fleeting hint of delight in his eyes. Although he concealed it well, He Yan still saw it. She had always despised people who were so easily swayed by their desires. Shen Muxue had saved Hu Yuanzhong’s life, and yet he still had ulterior motives. What kind of person was he?

When she lifted his pants, He Yan could clearly see these so-called “severe injuries.” They looked messy and severe at first glance, but in reality, they were all superficial wounds. He Yan, as a young woman, had endured more serious injuries than this without a whimper. This man, who was so desperate that he risked his life to hunt on the mountain, was clearly not the delicate type. When people are so hungry that they can’t afford a meal, how could they have the mental capacity to scheme?

A few words and a brief observation could reveal a person’s character. Shen Muxue was kind and simple, and as a healer, she didn’t look down on such deceitful behaviors. He Yan, however, as an onlooker, saw through it all and felt uncomfortable.

“Brother Hu, what are your plans once you’re healed?” He Yan asked.

Hu Yuanzhong scratched his head. “I… I haven’t really thought about it.”

“How about staying at Liangzhou Garrison? Being a soldier here guarantees you meals and you won’t go hungry,” He Yan teased.

“… that sounds good.” Hu Yuanzhong chuckled.

He actually agreed? He Yan was even more surprised now. She had made a casual joke, and Hu Yuanzhong had actually accepted it without saying anything like “it’s too much trouble.” This indicated that, firstly, he didn’t feel grateful, and secondly, he hadn’t thought about his plans for the future.

Someone who didn’t know what laid ahead should be constantly worried about their future plans. How could he be so casual about it? This irritated He Yan, and she wondered if he wanted to stay at Liangzhou Garrison to take advantage of Shen Muxue.

With these thoughts in mind, He Yan applied the medicine quickly, handed him the medicine bowl, and said, “Brother Hu, please take your medicine.”

Hu Yuanzhong reached out and took it, saying, “Thank you.”

He drank the medicine readily, and after finishing it with a gulp, he handed the bowl back to He Yan. As she reached out to take it, she noticed red rashes all over his hand, from the back of his hand to the inside of his wrist.

He Yan’s actions paused.

Hu Yuanzhong noticed He Yan’s reaction and asked, “What’s wrong, Brother He?”

“Brother Hu, do you need Miss Shen to take a look at the rashes on your hand? Did you get them in the mountains too?” He Yan asked.

Hu Yuanzhong was momentarily stunned, then rubbed his wrist and laughed, “No need. They should go away in a few days; it’s not a serious illness. Please don’t trouble Doctor Shen.”

“Alright,” He Yan nodded and smiled. “In that case, there’s nothing to worry about.”

She stared at Hu Yuanzhong, momentarily lost for words. Hu Yuanzhong felt uneasy under her gaze, so he touched his face and asked, “Is there something on my face, Brother He?”

“No,” He Yan shook her head with a smile. “I’ll take the empty bowl out. Although Miss Shen is a physician, she’s still a young lady. I’ll run errands for her these days since I have nothing to do. I’ll be responsible for delivering your medicine, Brother Hu.” Pretending she didn’t see the disappointment in his eyes, she turned and left the room.

After she left, Shen Muxue was checking Cheng Lisu’s tongue. She noticed He Yan’s swift return and asked suspiciously, “So soon?”

“There weren’t many wounds to begin with,” He Yan replied. “How is Cheng Lisu?”

“He’s been eating too much spicy food these days, and his throat is irritated,” Cheng Lisu apologized with embarrassment. “It’s not a big deal.”

“That’s alright then. Let’s go back.” He Yan returned the medicine bowl to Shen Muxue and said, “I’ve already spoken to Brother Hu. I’ll be responsible for delivering his medicine these days. Starting tomorrow, I’ll come to your room at this time every day to take the medicine and deliver it to Brother Hu. You don’t need to make an extra trip, Miss Shen.”

Shen Muxue hesitated for a moment. “Well…”

“It’s settled then,” He Yan nodded and smiled. “Consider it a thank-you gift from Miss Shen for the scar removal ointment.”

She put her arm around Cheng Lisu’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”

As they walked away, Cheng Lisu asked, “Big Brother He, what’s wrong with you?”

“What?” He Yan snapped out of her thoughts.

“After you came out of Hu Yuanzhong’s room, you stopped talking. Did you have an argument? Did you fight?”

“No,” He Yan took a couple of steps and thought for a moment. She then stopped and said, “You go back first. I have something to discuss with Hong Shan and the others.”

“But you haven’t eaten yet.”

“I’ll just get a couple of steamed buns. You go back first and wait for me. I’ll see you when I return.”

Hong Shan and the others were eating porridge. When they saw He Yan arrive, they made room for her. Hong Shan said, “Why are you so late today? I thought you weren’t coming.”

“I had some matters on the way,” He Yan replied, taking a steamed bun. However, unlike usual, she didn’t devour it. She took a bite and then stopped, pondering for a while before saying, “Hong Shan, Shitou, I need your help with something.”

“Why so serious?” Hong Shan put down his bowl. “What kind of help do you need from us?”

“Is the hunter Hu Yuanzhong, who Shen Muxue rescued from the mountain yesterday, staying in your room now?” He Yan asked. “These days, you train during the day, so can you keep an eye on him at night for me?”

Hong Shan and Shitou exchanged glances. Finally, Hong Shan asked, “I don’t understand what you mean. What’s wrong with Hu Yuanzhong? Why do you want us to watch him?”

“…I have a feeling that something’s not right with him.”

Even Xiao Mai, who had been eating, stopped to pay attention. The atmosphere became solemn for a moment, and Shitou asked in a low voice, “What’s not right with him?”

“Maybe it’s just me overthinking it, and I’m not entirely sure yet. But I feel that perhaps his rescue by Miss Shen from the mountain yesterday wasn’t just a coincidence.”

Hong Shan widened his eyes in shock, “A spy?”

“Lower your voice,” He Yan cautioned. “It’s just a suspicion on my part. That’s why I want you to help keep an eye on him, see if he has any activity at night or any unusual behavior.”

“No, you need to tell us what’s wrong with him first to make us suspicious,” Hong Shan said, finding it hard to believe.

He Yan took a deep breath and said, “Let me tell you in a few days. For now, I just need your help in watching him.”

“Let’s hope it’s just my imagination,” she said softly.

At night, after parting ways with Hong Shan and the others, He Yan returned to her room. She laid on the bed, but her mind was filled with thoughts, and she couldn’t fall asleep.

Seeing Hu Yuanzhong today had been unexpected, and she had no idea that it would lead to such uneasiness. She felt restless.

The conversation between Hongshan and the others was not fabricated by He Yan. She genuinely suspected that Hu Yuanzhong might be a spy who had infiltrated Liangzhou Garrison with ulterior motives. As for what raised her suspicions, it was when she handed the medicinal soup to Hu Yuanzhong. When he returned the cup to her, she noticed a dense rash on the inside of his wrist and the palm of his hand. 

It reminded her of the Qiang people. 

The region inhabited by the Qiang people was covered in dense forests, and the climate was consistently damp. The Qiang soldiers, who often wielded knives, were prone to developing such a red rash from their wrists to the back of their hands. When He Yan served as Flying Phoenix General, she even sought advice from military doctors on this matter. Even though some Qiang people had later integrated into the Central Plains, these red rashes were not something that would disappear quickly. 

Therefore, when He Yan saw the red rash on Hu Yuanzhong’s wrist, she almost immediately thought of those Qiang soldiers. However, she wasn’t completely sure, as rashes can look similar for various reasons, whether due to the humid climate or contact with certain allergens. 

Nonetheless, her caution, especially in matters concerning the Qiang people, and her keen perception of Hu Yuanzhong’s subtle intentions toward Shen Muxue had led her to form a negative impression and immediate suspicion of him.

Thinking back, there were several suspicious aspects. For example, the heavy snowfall on the mountain, the fact that even the new recruits had difficulty crossing to this side, and Hu Yuanzhong had somehow made it across on his own. If he claimed his family was too poor to eat, why didn’t he seek easier means of survival? For instance, he could have worked at the docks, helping with cargo handling or doing manual labor, which would at least temporarily stave off hunger. Going to hunt on White Moon Mountain, while potentially yielding valuable game, also came with the risk of dying on the mountain with no gain.

Choosing the harder path instead of the easier one didn’t seem like facing adversity; it seemed foolish. However, his act of feigning pain to get Shen Muxue’s personal care seemed inconsistent with someone who was truly foolish.

The more she thought about it, the more doubts she had. Unfortunately, without Xiao Jue’s presence, she couldn’t directly mention the most critical point. The Qiang people were a thousand miles away from Shuo Jing, and the new recruits at Liangzhou Garrison couldn’t possibly have seen Qiang soldiers. Even Xiao Jue might not have engaged with the Qiang before. For her, a city-born person, to be aware of the secretive habits of the Qiang people could lead to her being suspected if she mentioned it.

Back when she led the soldiers to quell the Western Qiang Rebellion, the Qiang leader, Ridamuji, died in battle, and the remaining Qiang people surrendered. For the following years, there had been peace, and the Qiang region had remained stable. However… this didn’t mean she could truly let her guard down. 

If this person was indeed a Qiang, just an ordinary unarmed civilian, how could they end up on White Moon Mountain on such a snowy day, just to be discovered by Shen Muxue and brought into Liangzhou Garrison? 

There were too many coincidences for them to be mere accidents. There had to be someone behind it. 

Now that Xiao Jue was not around, how would she handle any potential conspiracy? 

Xiao Jue was not around… Xiao Jue was not around? 

In an instant, He Yan sat up, and a dreadful thought crossed her mind. Why was it that only when Xiao Jue was absent, this person arrived? 

Could it be that the pleas for help from Zhangtai were also fabricated? “Make a sound in the east, but act in the west,” this was something she should have remembered from her daily military readings. She had forgotten it? 

At some point, the snow had stopped.

He Yan raised her eyes and looked out the window. The outside was tranquil, with the snow covering the earth, so quiet that even the sound of a falling pin would be audible.

But beneath this calm, there might be a hidden tempest waiting for the right moment, ready to unleash a flood.

—Side Note—

This story is fictional, and the place names and country names are entirely made up. The Qiang people in this context do not represent the real-life Qiang ethnic group. It’s just a fictional element. I have friends from the Qiang ethnic group who are very warm and hospitable. This story does not have any regional bias or prejudice.

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