His eyes were clear, and there seemed to be a sea of serene stars inside…
The arrow was like a meteor, flying straight through the complex cobweb-rope system under twenty Red Kites, and pierced the back of the tiger’s head. There was no telling how much force the arrow held, but it had directly pierced the thick and large skull of the beast. It swayed, then slammed to the ground, dead before it could make any noise.
Gu Yun’s hands did not stop there, pulling the string again with the second arrow, his back leaning on the door frame, then turned at an angle. Almost without aiming, the arrow was released. The target was the one who threw gold leaves on the observation deck.
There was a scream on the deck, the arrow grazed past a foreigner’s head, nailing his hat to the nearby post, the tail of the arrow still vibrating greatly.
The man fell flat on the floor from his chair.
Gu Yun put away the longbow. He turned to speak to the Black Armor soldier on the pole: “Plotting to harm people, arrest him for questioning.”
Only now that the man who was pinned down by the tiger slowly gathered himself together, letting out small sobs. The surrounding people were in the same frightening stage and someone moved forward to help him get out.
Under Ting Yuan platform, an inconspicuous and thin figure disappeared into the crowd, using the commotion to get on board a boat that was not far from there.
As soon as he arrived, he untied his headscarf, revealing a black-haired, black-eyed man, his appearance somewhat resembling Central Plains people. He was quickly allowed into the room inside to meet the one who had been waiting for him.
It was a man near middle age, dressed in a white garment and a red robe with complicated embroidery. A strangely shaped and sinister scepter was set beside him, his curly dark brown hair was combed neatly, left hanging on his shoulders, with a large ceremonious ring on his finger.
It was the messenger sent by the Pope.
The small framed black-haired foreigner respectfully got down on one knee: “Bishop.”
The bishop’s upper body leaned forward slightly, indicating that he was listening.
“I am afraid the result is just as you have predicted,” said the black-haired man. “In the heart of these Easterners, Gu and his family bear some sort of symbolic meaning, as long as the ‘black crow’ flies through the night sky, even if faced with a bigger crisis, these foolish people will be blindly stabilized like a herd of sheep who have found their shepherd dog. This unreasonable belief of theirs is difficult to comprehend, even if in my opinion, many of them don’t even know Gu Yun’s full name.”
The bishop pondered for a moment: “The ‘seed’ did not cause any casualties.”
“Hardly any,” the black-haired man bowed his head. “The Marquis of Order happened to be on the Red Kite as well, I don’t know if his men were soon arranged to mixed into the crowd, or our people had leaked traces of their whereabouts, or if he himself possesses exceptional ability in sensing critical situations. As soon as we planted the seed, the black crows immediately reacted. Gu had killed the seed with one shot of arrow from the Red Kite, and had arrested the ‘seeder’ at the same time.”
The bishop leaned back on the carved chair, his fingers stroking his beard: “This is not Gu’s personal prestige, but the acc.u.mulation of three generations altogether. The Central Plains people blindly placed their trust in these black crows, almost forming some kind of firm beliefs for the Gu family.”
Black-haired man: “The Church has long discussed why there are frequent loopholes in Eastern society, but somehow their people were able to maintain this ragged peace. I think this belief is also one of the reasons.”
The bishop stood up and took a few steps on the boat with his hands on his back.”
“This is our chance,” he murmured, “And not at all an unfortunate event – I must write to the Pope, we can put the Lou Lan* plan into action immediately.”
*Lou Lan is a country located along the Silk Road.
At this time, the situation on Qi Yuan tower had finally stabilized. The Royal guards quickly arrived for a.s.sistance and Gu Yun recognized that his work here was done. He made a gesture to Shen Yi, signaling for them to leave now. His sight was already very blurry, and his hearing was also decreasing, the surrounding noise of the commotion slowly became quieter.
Gu Yun said to a Black Eagle guard: “I am going ahead first to take care of something. You follow His Highness. If they are willing to go home, wait after everything had settled down before you do so. If they want to play some more on the Red Kite, let them be. I don’t know if they will perform anymore.”
Chang Geng asked: “Yifu, what about you?”
At this moment, Gu Yun could no longer hear what he was saying anymore. He just patted the boy’s shoulder and hurried away.
The rumbling noise came from under their feet became louder, the Red Kite slowly landed on Ting Yuan platform. Gu Yun and Shen Yi walked out side by side. The night frost was heavy. Chang Geng held the cloak that Gu Yun left behind in his hands, trying to catch up to them until a Black Eagle soldier prevented him.
The soldier said: “His Royal Highness, please stay. Grand Marshal does not wear winter clothes in the capital, the situation outside is still chaotic, please don’t leave your subordinate.”
A suspicion suddenly arose in Chang Geng’s heart – why won’t he wear it? With Gu Yun’s body, it’s obviously not because he wasn’t afraid of the cold.
There were also the words ‘your eyes’ that Shen Yi called out with anxiousness that also made him feel like there was a bone stuck in his throat.
Chang Geng couldn’t help but be reminded of the ‘playing blind and deaf’ Shen Shiliu back in Yanhui Town. Of course, the eyes and ears of Shen Shiliu were partially an inconvenience for him to use to play tricks, but Chang Geng had confirmed that there were situations where he truly could not see. Was it simply to fool Xiu Niang and those barbarians who intended to infiltrate the Northern Frontier?
The more he thought, the more likely for him to become anxious. Chang Geng’s heart was suddenly filled with unease, even up until the soldier had diligently escorted them back to the Marquis’ manor, the feeling still won’t subside.
Chang Geng returned to his room, he wasn’t able to fall asleep even after tossing and turning. After sending Cao Niangzi and Ge Ban Xiao away, he quietly put on his coat and ran to Gu Yun’s chamber to wait.
Gu Yun’s place was very clean, with a kind of neatness and cleanliness seen in military men, and no excessive decoration. There were a few books on the desk, a used steam-powered lamp, and a calligraphy hanging on the wall, it read: “The World Cannot Be Avoided”, it appeared to be Gu Yun’s own handwriting.
In addition to a brand new fox fur coat hung on the bed, the Marquis’s bedroom was almost shabby.
Chang Geng waited for a while and unknowingly fell asleep on the small table. As his chest was pressed, he soon dreamed of unsightly things.
In a haze, Gu Yun seemed to be standing in front, with his back towards him. Chang Geng in the dream was not restrained by shackles of the boundary, his action was a lot bolder than in reality, he intimately pulled Gu Yun from behind: “Yifu.”
Gu Yun slowly turned back, but his eyes sockets were completely hollow, two streams of blood like tears trickle down his cheeks: “Calling me?”
Chang Geng screamed and sit up, cold wind sweeping in through the entrance. He stared at the person coming from outside in a daze.
Gu Yun did not expect that Chang Geng was actually in his room, he quickly closed the door and asked: “Why are you here?”
His voice was hoa.r.s.e and his face also appeared to be unwell.
The cold air hanging in Chang Geng’s chest was finally able to come out when he saw Gu Yun. For a moment, he wasn’t able to distinguish between dreams from reality, he almost had the ecstasy in being able to find something again after he thought it was gone.
Gu Yun stood by the door frame for a moment, endured a wave of dizziness, and weakly beckoned Chang Geng: “Come and help me – I still have to bring you into the palace tomorrow to greet His Majesty for the new year, be careful of not being able to get up on time.”
Chang Geng held his elbow and helped him get to the bedside: “Yifu, what’s the matter with you?”
“On the way back, they dragged me along to the Northern Camp, I have had a bit too much.” Gu Yun didn’t bother taking his shoes off and fell to the bed on his back. He just took the medicine, his head was still pounding, he said tiredly: “Go back to rest early.”
Chang Geng’s brows wrinkled – Gu Yun’s body did have the scent of wine, but it was not heavy, and his speeches were clear, not at all appearing like he ‘had too much’.
However, he did not wait for him to ask again. Gu Yun had gone silent, falling asleep the moment his head touched the pillow.
Chang Geng had to remove his shoes and socks by himself and pulled the quilt over for him. He always felt that the chill on Gu Yun’s body could never be warm, he burned the steam brazier in the room a notch higher and rested by the bedpost, quietly looking at Gu Yun’s sleeping face.
“I don’t let my imagination run astray.” He repeated the words inside three times, and then, like an anxious little animal, he slightly came closer to Gu Yun, as if wanting to sniff the smell on the other’s body, but involuntarily held his breath.
The next day, even when Chang Geng felt that he had just closed his eyes and his nightmare did not have time to complete yet, Gu Yun had already waken him up. He joylessly followed Marshal Gu to the palace to greet his older brother in name – Emperor Long An.
On the way, Gu Yun said: “Regardless of how His Majesty treats you, you shouldn’t pay it much mind. When the Grand Empress was alive, she did not get along very well with the Royal Consort, but it was the matter of the older generation and has nothing to do with you…d.a.m.n it, what bad luck.”
Chang Geng was absent-mindedly listening when he heard him curse under his breath. Chang Geng looked up to find that Gu Yun was staring at a carriage with a scowl.
It was the carriage of Hu Guo Temple.
Great Liang’s royal family practiced Buddhism, and even Gu Yun’s resolute Grandfather was no exception. Especially the current Emperor, in every occasion where he had some free time, he would always love to sit and discuss all kinds of matters with the head monks.
But to talk about Gu Yun’s most hated thing, it’s not the foreigners on four sides but these bald heads.
In particular, the vulture old abbot of Hu Guo Temple had a crow mouth, and from an early age, he a.s.serted that Gu Yun would bear ill affinity and counter the fates of all his relatives.
The Marquis of Order had placed all his anger of not being able to get married to the monks of Hu Guo Temple.
The personal a.s.sistant of Long An Emperor Li Feng slowly ran out as he saw Gu Yun coming.
The man was st.u.r.dy and almost as tall as Marshal Gu, but three times as wide. Naturally born with two tiny feet, when taking small steps, he resembled a tree with large leaves swaying in a wind, very graceful.
This person’s surname was Zhu, others called him Eunuch Zhu face to face, but behind his back, people referred to him as ‘Zhu Little Feet’
Zhu Little Feet did not have a very good reputation. He raised two “adopted sons” outside the palace. They always plastered themselves in face powder and makeup, no one knew what for.
Due to Great Liang having expanded their sea route early, the common people’s customs were not as close-minded as the previous dynasties. There were many shameful secrets and unspeakable matters hidden inside every official and n.o.bility, hence the matter of Zhu Little Feet should be nothing if this eunuch did not condone his sons of taking advantage of his rank and name for their personal gains.
Zhu Little Feet came in front of Gu Yun and smiled. “The Marquis and Your Highness had arrived already? His Majesty is having a conversation with Master Liao Chi of Hu Guo temple. They have instructed that if you both are here, you can go straight in, Head Monk Liao Chi said that it’s been so long since he had last seen you – oh, just in time, the masters are coming out!”
During the conversation, two monks came out from inside.
Gu Yun knew the one leading in front, the man had a wrinkled up face, full of sorrow, as if he had never eaten a full meal in his life. It was the Head Monk of the Hu Guo Temple.
Gu Yun’s gaze couldn’t help but fall on the man behind him. It’s also a monk about twenty or thirty years old, dressed in a snow-white robe. His face was as beautiful as a painting. Stepping on the small trail of the palace in his clean and neat shoes, he appeared like a divine being walking on snow to arrive.
Even though Gu Yun hated the bald heads, at that moment, he still couldn’t help but be reminded of the legend of the monk* who have traveled to Tianzhu from the past dynasty.
*a reference to the monk San Zhang in the work ‘Journey to the West’ who had traveled to Tianzhu to obtain Buddha’s books of teaching for his countrymen.
As if the young monk could sense something, he looked up to meet the Gu Yun’s gaze. His eyes were clear, and there seemed to be a sea of serene stars inside that could make people sink into them with just one glance.
The young monk clasped his hands together, greeting Gu Yun from far away.
Gu Yun seemed to have broken out of a dream and averted his sight, he thought, “What am I staring at a bald head for?”
He did not pay any attention to the other, looked away rudely and asked Zhu Little Feet: “Who is the little white face with the bald donkey?”
Zhu Little Feet had watched Gu Yun grow up since he was a child and had understood his personality, he quickly replied: “That is the Head Monk’s younger brother, master Liao Ran, who had just returned from traveling overseas.”
Gu Yun thought: “What kind of c.r.a.ppy name is this, I feel unlucky just by hearing it.”
Who would have thought that the more he wished to avoid the others, the more they insisted on coming over to greet him face to face.