Rebirth of a Star General Chapter 116

Chapter 116: The Youth (Part 1)

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“No wonder back then, when Xiao Zhongwu and his wife’s seventh day of mourning had not passed, and no wonder in the Battle of Guocheng Long Valley, you didn’t bat an eye when you drowned sixty thousand people. When it comes to ruthlessness, who in Great Wei can compare to Xiao Huaijin?”

In the dungeon, there was a moment of silence.

Shen Han wanted to say something, but in the end, he didn’t say anything at all. The young man stood with his back to the prisoners, his hand clenched into a fist at his side.

But after a moment, he slowly loosened his grip. He turned around, looked at Lei Hou, and said indifferently, “It seems you know what kind of person I am. So you should think carefully,” he walked away, his voice cold, “I never give anyone a second chance.”

As he reached the door, he happened to see He Yan and Lin Shuanghe standing at the corner. He glanced at them, paid no attention, and left on his own.

No one dared to follow him.

Shen Han had Lei Hou locked up again, whether it was something he had said to Xiao Jue or something else, Lei Hou laughed loudly. His laughter echoed in the dungeon, eerie and chilling.

Fei Nu walked out from inside and, upon seeing He Yan and Lin Shuanghe, also looked surprised. He said, “Young Master Lin, why are you here?”

“I thought,” He Yan glanced inside, “since I’ve fought with Lei Hou before, I might be able to help when the commander interrogates him. So I came to take a look.”

“No need, it’s already been resolved,” Fei Nu replied quickly. “Both of you can go back.”

Lin Shuanghe shrugged and, seeing that Fei Nu was holding Xiao Jue’s cloak, he reached out and took it, saying, “This is Huaijin’s clothing. I’ll take it to him. I don’t think he wants to see anyone right now.”

Fei Nu said, “It’s not necessary, Young Master Lin.”

“No trouble at all,” Lin Shuanghe said. “I was planning to visit him later anyway.”

Fei Nu relented and nodded to Lin Shuanghe. “Thank you, Young Master Lin.”

Lin Shuanghe smiled, then said to He Yan, “Let’s go.”

The two of them walked out together.

By the time they came out, it was snowing lightly, and now the snow was falling more heavily. He Yan was injured and walked slowly, still wearing Cheng Lisu’s cloak. Although Lin Shuanghe called her “little sister” affectionately, he maintained a respectful distance when they interacted, as if he were deliberately being cautious, even refraining from offering her support as they walked.

However, they were not in a hurry, and they walked slowly.

The snowflakes fell gently, landing on their bodies. He Yan was lost in thought, thinking about what Lei Hou had said in the dungeon earlier. Unexpectedly, Lin Shuanghe spoke up, asking, “Have you heard of the Battle of Guocheng Long Valley?”

He Yan was taken aback but then replied, “I have.”

The Battle of Guocheng Long Valley was the most important battle led by Xiao Jue when he took command of the Nanfu troops after Xiao Zhongwu’s death. At that time, the entire Great Wei was waiting to see Xiao Jue’s failure, as a sixteen-year-old youth leading an army against formidable enemies, that even defeated his own father’s forces. It seemed like an unwinnable situation.

However, in the first battle, he achieved a resounding victory, and eventually, he completely quelled the rebellion with the Souther Barbarians in just half a year.

“Do you know how he won the Battle of Guocheng Long Valley?”

“He used water tactics.”

“You actually know?”

He Yan remained silent, poking the ground with a bamboo stick, making a small dent in the snow.

“Then you also know that in the Battle of Guocheng Long Valley, General Fengyun Xiao Huaijin flooded Guocheng, and sixty thousand people died,” Lin Shuanghe held Xiao Jue’s black cloak tighter, “At the time, bodies were floating, and the eastern part of Guocheng was filled with a foul odor. Guocheng was like h*ll on earth, a horrifying scene.” He asked with a smile, “So, do you think he’s ruthless and devoid of humanity?”

He Yan replied calmly, “War is inherently cruel. Showing mercy to the enemy is being cruel to our own people. Moreover, unless you were there, you can’t truly know what the situation was like. If it weren’t for his supposed ruthlessness and lack of humanity, the ones who drowned could have been us.”

Lin Shuanghe paused and turned to He Yan, asking, “Is that really how you see it?”

“I just believe that Commander Xiao is not that kind of person.”

Lin Shuanghe stared at her as if seeing her in a new light.

He Yan asked, “Is there something wrong with what I said?”

After a moment, he shook his head, smiled, and said, “I’m just surprised that you have such faith in Huaijin after knowing him for less than a year. Why wasn’t I as resolute when I first heard about this?”

He Yan thought to herself that it was because Lin Shuanghe had never truly been on the battlefield. Only those who had witnessed the carnage on the battlefield could understand the difficulty generals faced when making decisions. Xiao Jue, smart and composed, wouldn’t have acted this way unless there was a compelling reason, even if it meant earning a reputation for bloodthirstiness.

You see, after the Battle of Long Valley, even though Xiao Jue had decisively defeated the Southern Barbarians, he had drawn admiration from countless young people, but many scholars had pointed fingers at him, accusing him of being ruthless and heartless, causing too much death. After all, among those who drowned in the Battle of Long Valley, there were also Southern Barbarian civilians.

“Dr. Lin seems to know the reason behind his actions,” He Yan asked, “What is it?”

“I didn’t know at first,” Lin Shuanghe sighed, “But tell me, with just three thousand soldiers facing sixty thousand, apart from water tactics, what other options were there?”

“Three thousand soldiers?” He Yan suddenly raised her head, “Wasn’t it a hundred thousand Nanfu troops?”

“A hundred thousand?” Lin Shuanghe chuckled, “If he had a hundred thousand Nanfu troops, he wouldn’t have needed to resort to this method.”

After Xiao Zhongwu’s death, Madam Xiao had followed him in death. For a time, the Xiao Residence resounded with mournful cries and wailing. At that time, the entire court believed that General Xiao Zhongwu had suffered defeat in the Battle of Mingshui because of his stubbornness and tactical errors, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of Great Wei soldiers on the battlefield.

The Emperor, in his mercy and considering the Xiao family’s long-standing contributions, didn’t hold General Xiao Zhongwu responsible for his failures, but he did take back control of the military. At that time, Xiao Jue was only sixteen years old, and Xiao Jing was just eighteen. Bai Rong had recently married into the family, and within half a year, she faced such a catastrophe. For a while, everyone was in turmoil, uncertain about the path forward.

Lin Shuanghe still remembered the first time he saw Xiao Jue after the Xiao family’s misfortune.

The youth, who had always seemed indifferent and lethargic, as if nothing ever affected him, made it clear that there was nothing in the world that could faze him. 

But no matter which family encountered such a disaster, they would inevitably be greatly shaken, and at the very least, they would be profoundly changed. But the Xiao Jue that Lin Shuanghe saw was not like that. Apart from looking a bit more haggard, he showed no signs of desolation.

“Do you have a medicine that can induce deep sleep for a whole day?” Xiao Jue asked right away.

Lin Shuanghe replied, “My family’s pharmacy has it. If you want, I can get it for you.”

Lin family’s pharmacies were scattered throughout Great Wei, with several branches even in the bustling markets of Shuojing. Lin Shuanghe sent a servant to the nearest pharmacy and fetched two doses, handing them to Xiao Jue, saying, “These will make you sleep for ten hours. If you have trouble sleeping at night, I can prepare a milder one for you.”

Perhaps Xiao Jue was having trouble sleeping at night due to the recent upheaval in his family, and he wanted a sedative to help him rest.

Xiao Jue put the medicine back in his sleeve and gestured with his hand, saying, “Thank you,” before turning to leave.

“Huaijin!” Lin Shuanghe called after him.

Xiao Jue stopped and looked at him.

“That medicine… its for you?”

The young man had delicate and bright eyebrows and eyes. His gaze passed over him and settled in the distance, where the grand palace loomed faintly. He calmly said, “I need to enter the palace.”

“You… you’re going to enter the palace without letting your older brother know?”

“Tell him for what,” the young man lowered his head and chuckled, “it will only bring more trouble.” 

“Are you insane?” Lin Shuanghe exclaimed. “Do you know that because of General Xiao’s situation, there’s chaos in the court right now? No one dares to speak up for him, and why do you think Xu Xiang has been accompanying the Emperor daily?” 

“I know,” Xiao Jue said. “So what? The military authority must return to the Xiao family.” 

“You’re likely to get yourself killed like this!” 

Xiao Jue turned his head and looked at him firmly. “Then so be it.” 


“Oh, there’s one more thing I’d like to ask for your help,” he said. 

The young man’s face rarely displayed such a solemn expression, and Lin Shuanghe had a moment of foreboding. He hesitated for a moment and asked, “What is it?” 

“If I come back alive, consider this matter as if it never happened. If I die,” he paused, “don’t bother collecting my body. Physician Lin has influence with the Empress Dowager, please help my elder brother. This matter has nothing to do with him.” 

“What do you mean… if you die?” Lin Shuanghe heard his own trembling voice.

“It’s simple. After tonight, either I die now or he dies tomorrow,” he said calmly, as if he were talking about someone else’s business. “But I’m not sure about the outcome, so,” he smiled faintly, “you can say a prayer for me.”

“Xiao Huaijin!”

The young man bowed deeply to him and, when he straightened up, he said only two words.

“Thank you.”

Lin Shuanghe’s eyes welled up with tears.

Xiao Jue waved his hand at him. “Go back.”

But Lin Shuanghe didn’t move.

He chuckled, turned around, and walked away.

That was a long, long time ago, but Xiao Jue’s silhouette from back then still seemed to be before his eyes. In the bustling streets of the market, the youth stood tall, yet he seemed unusually lonely.

No one knew what path he was about to embark on, but Lin Shuanghe was very clear about one thing.

Xiao Jue wouldn’t turn back.

He was lost in thought when He Yan’s words interrupted him. He Yan asked, “So afterward, did the commander enter the palace on his own like that?”

Lin Shuanghe came back to his senses and continued to walk slowly. As he walked, he said, “I didn’t accompany him into the palace. What happened later, I heard from my grandfather.”

That night, it started raining.

The autumn rain was cold, as if it wanted to penetrate deep into people’s hearts. In a few days, it would be the Mid-Autumn Festival. If Xiao Zhongwu hadn’t encountered any trouble, the Xiao Residence would have been busy preparing for the mid-autumn festival banquet. But now, everything was bleak, and mourning was everywhere.

The three people at the table fell into a silent reverie.

No one felt like eating, but Bai Rong spoke softly, “At least eat a little. If this goes on, your bodies won’t hold up.” 

It was a simple meal of plain porridge and side dishes. After a brief silence, Xiao Jing picked up his bowl, took a sip, and then set it down. He said, “Huaijin, tomorrow morning, I’ll go to the palace with you.” 

Xiao Jue replied, “Alright.” 

Bai Rong asked in a gentle tone, “Go to the palace… for what?” 

“The Xiao family has lost its military authority and will eventually become meat on the chopping block, ready to be carved up by others,” Xiao Jing said. “In any case, the Nanfu troops must return to the Xiao family, or else…” 

Or else, the Xiao family didn’t know how long it could hold on. 

“In that case, even if the Emperor returns the military authority to us, what will happen in the future?” Bai Rong cautiously asked, “Rubi, you are the Minister of State Affairs, and even though Huaijin is skilled in martial arts, he’s only sixteen.” 

Xiao Jing’s movement came to a halt. 

He had to admit a certain fact: the Xiao family had no one left. Even though Xiao Jue was extraordinarily talented, he was only sixteen years old, and Xiao Jing himself was barely an adult. How could they lead tens of thousands of Nanfu troops?

It would be hard to gain their trust.

“A sixteen-year-old can do a lot of things,” Xiao Jue casually picked at his food. “Big brother, being overly cautious and timid will only lead to failure.”

Xiao Jing sighed and said, “Well, let’s take it one step at a time. There is no other path for us now.”

“Will His Majesty return military authority to us?” Bai Rong worriedly asked. “Right now, Xu Xiang’s power is overwhelming, and he won’t let go of this opportunity to deal with the Xiao family.”

“He will,” Xiao Jue lazily poured tea for them. “Don’t be afraid. Xu Jingfu is just a mortal like anyone else.”

No one spoke again.

The night rain continued to fall ceaselessly, and the servants helped Bai Rong and Xiao Jing back to their rooms.

Xiao Jue stood up, put on his outer robe, and walked out of the room.

Outside, Fei Nu was waiting, and raindrops fell on the ground, creating puddles and soaking the white lanterns hanging at the entrance.

Xiao Jue stopped at the door.

Fei Nu said, “Young Master.”

He raised his head, instructing the steward, “Take care of them.” Then, he got on a carriage.

“Let’s go.”

And he disappeared into the night.

The carriage made its way toward the palace, where the current Prime Minister, Xu Jingfu, was playing chess with Emperor Wenxuan.

A palace servant came to report, “Your Majesty, the second son of General Guangwu requests an audience.”

“Xiao Huaijin? What is he here for?” Emperor Wenxuan’s chess-playing hand paused.

“Perhaps it’s about his father’s matter,” Xu Jingfu smiled. “Your Majesty, be careful.” He moved a black piece.

“You, don’t take advantage of my distracted state to play tricks,” Emperor Wenxuan scolded with a laugh. “Cunning.”

Xu Jingfu also chuckled. “Your Majesty indulges this old minister.”

The two of them continued to exchange jokes and play chess, seemingly having forgotten about Xiao Jue. About the time it took for an incense stick to burn, a palace servant came in again to remind them, “Your Majesty, the Second Young Master Xiao is still waiting outside the hall, and it’s raining.”

“It’s raining, so he should go back. What’s he waiting for?” Emperor Wenxuan was vexed by the chess game before him. 

“Your Majesty, please don’t be upset,” Xu Jingfu said. “The Xiao family is going through a major upheaval, and he’s just a child. He must be feeling a lot of grievances. Why not let this old minister go out and persuade him? It would be best if he could be persuaded to leave.”

“You go then.” Emperor Wenxuan waved impatiently. “Dealing with court matters is related to the Xiao family’s business. I can’t get away from it. It’s always ‘Xiao family this, Xiao family that.’ I’m tired of hearing it. Let him go! Go quickly, and when you come back, you can accompany me to finish this chess game.”

Xu Jingfu got up, bowed respectfully, and said, “Yes.”

Once he stepped out of the hall, he immediately spotted Xiao Jue kneeling at the entrance.

Xu Jingfu was in his twilight years and had once served in the Imperial Academy when he was younger, with students all over the empire. Among the outstanding young talents of Great Wei, many had some connection with him. Although Xiao Jue was not his student, he had heard about Xiao Jue’s exceptional abilities. He had even seen Xiao Jue once during a royal hunt and remembered the young man in white robes who was exceptionally handsome, like a shining pearl that outshone everyone else.

Xu Jingfu had sighed inwardly back then, thinking that such an outstanding young man would have been a great asset to his own Xu family. Unfortunately, Xiao Zhongwu, the barbarian, had benefitted from his talents.

Standing before Xiao Jue, Xu Jingfu said, “Second Young Master Xiao.”

The young man raised his head and looked at him. “Lord Xu.”

“It’s raining heavily outside, and Second Young Master Xiao is waiting without an umbrella.” Xu Jingfu instructed the palace attendants, “Someone, bring an umbrella for Second Young Master Xiao.”

A palace servant stood behind Xiao Jue, holding an umbrella. Xu Jingfu approached as if he were going to help Xiao Jue up, showing a kind and caring attitude. “Why are you still kneeling? Please get up.”

Xiao Jue remained unmoved and repeated, “I wish to see His Majesty.”

“His Majesty is currently busy. If you have urgent matters, it’s not necessary to see him right now. It’s late, and after His Majesty is done with his affairs, he needs to rest. It’s not a good time to meet with him.”

The young man didn’t budge and simply repeated, “Lord Xu, I must see His Majesty today.”

Xu Jingfu took a step back and clasped his hands within his sleeves as he looked at Xiao Jue. His face still bore a benevolent smile. “Second Young Master Xiao, His Majesty is benevolent. In the past, he favored the Xiao family due to their merits. Even though your father made a mistake, resulting in the defeat at Mingshui, which should have been investigated, His Majesty showed leniency due to the old ties. How can you be so audacious and not appreciate it?”

The rain fell diagonally, slipping under the umbrella and wetting Xiao Jue’s clothes. His exquisitely handsome features remained calm, and his voice was devoid of the former laziness and charm as he replied, “Lord Xu is right.”

Xu Jingfu’s smile didn’t waver.

“So,” Xiao Jue looked up at him and lowered his head slightly, “I earnestly request Lord Xu to intercede with His Majesty on my behalf.”

“Second Young Master Xiao, are you joking? Why would I mediate with the Emperor on your behalf?” Xu Jingfu asked. 

The young man looked at him, lowering his head slightly, “Please, Lord Xu, be merciful.” 

A young person’s pride, when shattered, can be irreparable. Sometimes, when the backbone bends ever so slightly, they can never stand up again. 

If Xiao Zhongwu, resting in the depths of the earth, could see his proud second son kneeling before him, begging for mercy, what expression would he have? 

In an instant, Xu Jingfu didn’t want to push him into a dead end right away. Seeing an arrogant person brought down to earth, trampled in the mud, their self-esteem utterly worthless, was more interesting than these other matters. 

He looked up slightly, troubled, and said, “Second Young Master Xiao, it’s not that I won’t help you. It’s just that the Emperor is currently furious with the Xiao family. Even if it were me, it would be difficult to intervene in this matter.” 

Xiao Jue simply said, “Please, Lord Xu, help me.” 

Xu Jingfu stared at him for a while before saying, “If Second Young Master Xiao insists on seeing the Emperor, perhaps you should accept punishment on your own first. The Xiao family is already in disgrace, and if you, Second Young Master, are willing to take a risk, the Emperor may take notice, and his anger might subside a little. Then, I might be able to speak up for you.”

“Please instruct me, Lord Xu.”

“Considering your age, it might be challenging to bear more severe punishments right now. So, go and accept fifty strokes of the cane first,” he suggested.

The words sounded casual, as if Xu Jingfu was already being lenient with him. The palace attendants standing nearby were surprised by the apparent leniency.

Fifty strokes, even on someone with relatively good health, could lead to death. For an ordinary person, fifty strokes would severely damage their life, and it would take a year or more to recover. 

Xiao Jue said, “Alright.” 

Xu Jingfu smiled, “Second Young Master truly inherits his father’s spirit,” he turned and instructed the people behind him, “Take Second Young Master Xiao down to receive the strokes.” 

The night rain fell heavily. Fifty strokes on one’s body were far from the imagined ease, especially when the executioners were palace servants who had been “instructed” by Xu Jingfu. 

The young man endured in silence, gritting his teeth. After the fifty strokes, he wiped the blood from his lips and slowly pushed himself up, standing. 

When he stood up, his steps were unsteady, and he almost lost his balance. The palace servants at his side looked on with pity. The former Second Young Master Xiao, once dressed in fine clothes, now looked disheveled. Who could have predicted this turn of events? No one could have foreseen it. 

Xu Jingfu had no interest in watching Xiao Jue endure the lashes. He entered the palace and spoke with Emperor Wenhui. 

Emperor Wenhui asked, “Didn’t you say you wanted to drive him away?”

“Your Majesty,” Xu Jingfu shook his head, “Second Young Master Xiao is determined to see you. Even if I tried to persuade him otherwise, I couldn’t. Young people have strong personalities, and when they set their minds to something, it’s difficult to dissuade them. General Guangwu is no longer with us, and his mother… I couldn’t help but pity him. Your Majesty, why not grant him an audience and hear what he has to say? If his words are not satisfactory, you can send him away, and he won’t bother you again.”

Emperor Wenxuan sighed. “You’ve grown soft.”

“It’s Your Majesty’s kindness.”

“Very well,” Emperor Wenxuan instructed the palace servants. “He did grow up in my presence, after all. Let him come in.”

Outside the hall, it was extremely cold, while inside, it was pleasantly warm. There was no more relentless rain, only the heady scent of flowers that made one’s head spin. The palace was brightly lit, and footsteps approached.

Xiao Jue knelt down in front of Emperor Wenxuan and said, “I, your subject, request an audience with Your Majesty.”

“You may rise,” Emperor Wenxuan said absentmindedly. When he looked at Xiao Jue, he was taken aback and asked, “What has happened to you?”

It had been raining outside for a while, and the umbrella that Xu Jingfu had arranged had only lasted less than a quarter of an hour. Xiao Jue was soaked from head to toe, in a miserable state. Additionally, he had just endured fifty strokes of the cane, leaving his body extremely weak. His face was as pale as paper, and his lips were colorless, as if he might faint at any moment.

It was a stark contrast to his previous self.

Still, the Emperor, who had watched him grow up, couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy and genuine concern. He softened his tone and asked, “Did someone mistreat you?”

“No,” Xu Jingfu interjected from the side. “Second Young Master Xiao accepted punishment of fifty strokes of the cane willingly to show his remorse and to let Your Majesty know of the Xiao family’s repentance.”

Emperor Wenxuan looked at him and sighed, “Fifty strokes… seems a bit excessive.”

“Second Young Master Xiao wants to demonstrate his sincerity to Your Majesty,” Xu Jingfu said with a smile.

“You came here to see me, what is it that you wish to discuss?” Emperor Wenxuan asked. “As for the Xiao family’s matters, I don’t want to hear about them anymore.”

Xiao Jue’s gaze swept over the chessboard on the table, where black and white pieces were intertwined in a complex pattern. In the warm lamplight, they seemed to exude a chilling aura.

Life was so mysterious, and no one could predict what would happen in the future. However, the past was already gone, so they could only create the future.

The young man prostrated himself and spoke calmly, with an unstoppable determination in his voice.

“Your subject humbly requests Your Majesty’s permission to personally lead the Nanfu troops to return to Mingshui and engage in battle against the Southern Barbarians.”

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