Chapter 33: Arriving in Liangzhou
The journey from the capital to Liangzhou, lasting over two months, was no easy feat. They faced mountains to climb and rivers to cross, and by the time they arrived in Liangzhou, everyone was exhausted, and many had become thin. As He Yan scooped water from the lake to drink, she caught her reflection in the water. Her fair skin, which used to be that of a young lady, now looked tanned and dusty after two months of relentless marching. She even resembled Xiao Mai in complexion.
If the real He Yan returned at this moment, she would probably want to strangle herself. She had a sudden thought and found it amusing, which made her burst into laughter.
“What’s making Brother Ah He so happy?” Xiao Mai asked.
Hong Shan glanced at He Yan by the lake and nodded understandingly, “We’ll arrive in Liangzhou within half a day before it gets dark. The tough days are almost over. Who wouldn’t be happy?”
“That’s true,” Xiao Mai agreed, turning to Shitou and asking, “Big brother, are you happy too?”
The quiet Shitou also nodded.
Indeed, the journey over the past two months had been extremely difficult. Even though most of those who joined the army were from poor families used to hardship, it turned out to be much tougher than they had imagined. Some of those with weaker constitutions had already died on the road. They hadn’t even reached Liangzhou yet, and there was no way back to the capital.
This was an irreversible path.
By evening, the troops had finally reached Liangzhou. Located in the northwest, Liangzhou was initially thought to be desolate and poor, but to their surprise, it turned out to be lively and prosperous. Though not comparable to the capital, it was still vibrant and rich. He Yan walked with the others, thinking that Xiao Mai indeed had a good eye for selecting a place. Liangzhou was much better than Moxian where she had enlisted. When she went to Moxian, there was nothing there; the common people couldn’t even afford a meal, and the lives of the soldiers were truly difficult.
Before they could rest, they had to head to Liangzhou Garrison. It was stationed at the foot of White Moon Mountain, with a large open space that served as a training ground where the soldiers practiced regularly. At night, they could sleep in tents, but for now, they were all staying in the garrison’s quarters.
With so many people, there weren’t enough rooms in the quarters, so they had to cram over a dozen people into one small room, sleeping in a common area. Naturally, He Yan stayed with Hong Shan and the brothers. They didn’t have much baggage, so they found a spot on the floor and relaxed.
“I checked nearby, and there’s a river,” Xiao Mai came back excitedly, “Many people are bathing in it. Let’s go too!”
“Sure, I’m already sweating like crazy!” Hong Shan quickly took off his outer garment, ready to go out.
Xiao Mai looked at He Yan, “Brother Ah He, aren’t you going?”
“He’s not coming, he’s afraid of water. The three of us will go!” Hong Shan nudged Xiao Mai and Shitou out.
Ever since the first time Hong Shan had invited her to bathe in the river, He Yan had explained that she had nearly drowned as a child, causing her to experience dizziness and shortness of breath whenever she was in the water. Hong Shan took her word for it, and to be honest, He Yan wasn’t lying. She genuinely had a fear of water now.
However… as He Yan laid down on the common bed, there was a creaking sound, and she couldn’t help but frown. For a moment, she didn’t know if it was because her bony frame was uncomfortable or if the bed was just infuriatingly hard. After a while, she couldn’t help but sigh in her heart, “It’s easy to go from frugality to luxury, but hard to go back from luxury to frugality.” After living in the military camp for three years and becoming a young Miss for just one year, she had gotten used to soft beds and quilts, finding this hard bed very frustrating.
But Xiao Jue must have it good, with a soft bed, He Xian thought, feeling somewhat unfair.
She rested in the room for a while until Hong Shan and Shitou returned. She then followed them to the garrison for dinner.
This was their first day in Liangzhou after two months of eating dry rations and drinking plain water on the road. Finally, they could eat hot meals. Even though it was just simple porridge and buns, the warm steam made it seem like a delicious delicacy. The new recruits sat on the ground, eating heartily, making it seem like they were savoring some rare delicacy.
“These buns have such tiny meat filling,” Hong Shan complained while licking his fingers, “It’s not satisfying enough.”
“It’s good to have hot food,” He Yan said, “better than dry rations.”
“No worries, I asked around, and there are many wild beasts and rabbits on White Moon Mountain,” Xiao Mai said with a grin. “My brother and I can go hunting and catch some rabbits or wild boars. We’ll clean them, string them on branches, or wrap them in leaves, sprinkle some salt, and roast them. They’ll be delicious!”
Xiao Mai was a foodie, and food was always on his mind. Hong Shan was now even hungrier after hearing his description, quickly finishing his porridge and placing the bowl on the table with a thud. “D*mn, now I can’t wait to go up the mountain.”
“We can’t go up the mountain without orders from the military,” He Yan poured cold water on their excitement.
“There will be a time to go up the mountain,” Hong Shan said nonchalantly.
After eating and drinking their fill, everyone quickly tidied up. The training command had informed them that they would gather at the training ground at the first hour tomorrow morning, so they could rest early today.
He Yan followed Hong Shan back to their room in the garrison. Many others had already arrived, with some already asleep and others chatting excitedly.
He Yan slept on the inside of the common bed, next to Xiao Mai and leaning against the wall. She could hear Hong Shan’s cheerful voice, “Compared to the days we spent on the road, this is like living the life of immortals.”
Having food, drink, baths, and a bed to sleep on, without the need to be exposed to the elements or bothered by mosquitoes at night, it was indeed much better than before.
Xiao Mai whispered, “If we train here, I think it’s easier than hunting in the mountains. And there are so many people, we can all play together.”
He Yan: “…”
What a foolish child. How could someone think that training in the military would be easier than hunting in the capital? These people had all joined the army for the first time and thought it would be as easy as tonight forever. But this was like having a last meal before the execution, enjoying this meal would also mean it’s their last.
Tonight would be the most comfortable night they would have in Liangzhou. Starting tomorrow, the real ordeal would begin.
He Yan closed her eyes and let these silly children have sweet dreams for a while!
As expected, the next morning, even before it was light, the sound of clear bugles came from outside the garrison.
“Mmm, can’t we sleep a little longer?” Xiao Mai rolled over, rubbing his eyes. He noticed that He Yan was already dressed and standing in front of the bed.
“Brother Ah He, why are you up so early?” he asked, still half asleep.
“It’s against the rules to ignore the bugle call. Be late or miss the appointed time and that’s considered slow military response, and you’ll be punished with a military stick,” she replied with a smile, showing no sign of sleepiness as if she wasn’t tired at all.
“If you don’t want to be punished, then get up quickly.”