“Liao Ran, this bald donkey, best for him not to fall into my hands.” Gu Yun said sullenly…
In the midst of everything, perhaps an unnamed G.o.d had reminded Marshal Gu, who was at the end of the horizon, that his son was about to be tricked into running away from home by a bald donkey. In short, after the Black Iron Camp had set out for one month, when writing his report back to the Emperor, Gu Yun actually remembered to write a home letter for Chang Geng.
The very familiar handwriting that Chang Geng had copied times before wrote down many pages. First, he confessed his mistakes earnestly, then using words that could reach the boy’s heart, he explained reasonably and eloquently as for why he had left without bidding goodbye. Finally, he expressed his missing for Chang Geng straightforwardly and promised that if the northwest was safe, he would return to the manor before the end of the year for new year celebration.
Chang Geng read through it from start to finish, then put it aside with a smile, because even if he used his toe to think, he would still know that this letter wasn’t coming from the hands of the Marquis of Order himself.
The sickeningly sweet words such as ‘separated by thousands of miles, tossing and turning all night’, ‘eat more and dress warmly, don’t let me be worried’, were impossible to have sprouted from the soil of Gu Yun’s head. He could tell from the lengthy words and sentences that they were written by Shen Yi in Gu Yun’s stead.
At most, the b.a.s.t.a.r.d yifu only copied them down.
However, Chang Geng sadly came to realize that even though he was fully aware of this, when he imagined that these words really came out from the pen in Gu Yun’s hand, he could not help but wanting to engrave every word into his eyes.
Unfortunately, Gu Yun did not keep his promise.
Gu Yun felt guilty. This time, he kicked out Shen Yi, who had made promises on his behalf, then personally took up arms, and wrote a very long letter to Chang Geng.
Chang Geng smiled in frustration after reading it, although he felt that this home letter was quite sincere, yet Gu Yun truly had no talent in coaxing others and have completely poured oil into the fire instead.
Marshal Gu first talked about a bunch of trivial matters that he thought was interesting and entertaining. He wrote a thousand words, off-topic for thousands of miles. Until the end, he used the words ‘busy with military affairs’ to sum up the reasons why he could not return to the capital.
Chang Geng did not care about how to properly grill scorpions in the desert for them to taste delicious. He had searched the long letters several times back and forth, but had never found the single sentence he cared about the most: if Gu Yun could not come back this year, then when could he come back?
However, there was nothing following after ‘busy with military affairs’, only a long list of gifts was attached.
Perhaps Gu Yun felt that apologizing in words was not enough, so he expressed it in action 一 he sent all the good stuff he was able to gather this year back to the manor, giving them all to Chang Geng, from jewelry, treasures to weapons, some with flaws and imperfections, so on and so forth.
On that same day, the 15-year-old Chang Geng locked himself in his room, and together with a Lou Lan dagger that Gu Yun gave him, endured another attack from the Bone of Impurity.
Afterwards, he made a decision – he did not want to live the life of someone that was cast aside. He did not want to follow the old teacher and the cautious instructor to only learn literary and martial arts on paper. He wanted to travel and see the world outside.
On the first day of the year, Chang Geng went to the palace with Zhu Little Feet to give the emperor a New Year’s greeting, completing his duty.
Then he stayed at the manor until the 16th of the first month, told the kitchen to cook a bowl of longevity noodles, brought it to his chamber and finished it by himself, then quietly announced a decision that blew up the entire household.
Chang Geng: “I’m intending to live in Hu Guo Temple for a while.”
He saw the old butler’s pale green face and added: “Uncle w.a.n.g, rest a.s.sured, I don’t want to be a monk, I just want to follow Master Liao Ran for a while, at the same time I can pray for yifu as well.”
Old butler: “…”
What else could the old man say? He could only endure the chest pain and prepare the incense money, then asked the guards to send Chang Geng, Ge Ban Xiao, and Cao Niangzi to Hu Guo Temple.
The manor’s old butler felt that perhaps this family had been cursed by an ancient witch. Once one entered the door, whether if it was a child born from this family or a child adopted from outside – they were all equally difficult to deal with. The old butler still remembered the frightening look on Gu Yun’s face when he was a little child. He was similar to a young wolf that had been hurt, hating all the people around him regardless of reason and who it might be.
Although faced with many struggles and difficulty, that person was finally able to grow up and was now capable enough to carry the family.
Now there was another one who was even more unpredictable.
After Gu Yun left, Chang Geng started running to Hu Guo temple every day.
There were plenty of others to spend time with, why must he love to spend time in a temple? His Highness the Fourth Prince Li Min seldom ever stepped out the door, but when he would, it was for an exceptional purpose.
The old butler was filled with countless concern, and every day he worried Chang Geng would shave his head.
But he knew that fifteen-year-old boys were the most unwilling when it comes to the persuasion of an elder, not to mention that Chang Geng was not his own. The old butler did not dare to interfere with his life too much, thus he went to convince Ge Ban Xiao and Cao Niangzi to be on his side.
When Cao Niangzi heard this, his eyes widened to the point of causing the eyeshadow on his lids to fall down, he said in anger: “What? The bald donkey wants to trick my big brother Chang Geng into becoming a monk?”
Men with good appearance were as rare as a phoenix’s feather and a dragon’s horn. Marshal Gu immediately left, not even his shadow could be seen now. He only had Chang Geng around him, and Chang Geng, even after hitting this age, there was still no signs of him becoming unsightly – this was already very hard to find, but now there was also the danger of him becoming a bald head. Immediately, Cao Niangzi became an ally of the old butler.
The next day, he deliberately put on men’s clothing and insisted on coming with Chang Geng to see the holy scenery of Buddhism. When he left the door, he rolled up his sleeves and made a ‘determined to succeed’ gesture to a pair of puppets in front of the door.
The puppet was not human, it could only stare at his strange walking posture in a daze.
However, when he came back from Hu Guo Temple that night, Cao Niangzi never mentioned the matter of ‘forcing the bewitching monk to reveal his true form’, and since then, he had abandoned his side to join the opposite team to go listen to Buddha’s teaching every day. The reason could be no other than ‘the bewitching monk was simply too handsome’.
Although Marshal was handsome as well, unfortunately, he was quite aggressive and could not sit quietly for others to appreciate. But Master Liao Ran was different, Cao Niangzi thought that he was simply a lotus strolling in this world, if placed in a pond, he could be immortalized for generations. Just taking one look at the man could make him happy for days.
The old butler could not figure out what spell the monk had given to the two boys and had to go find Ge Ban Xiao.
Ge Ban Xiao could not refuse a righteous cause, he followed along with them.
A few days later, Ge Ban Xiao also changed sides.
Because Master Liao Ran, aside from reading Buddha’s scriptures, was also very proficient and knowledgeable about a vast variety of puppets and other Ziliujin-powered machines, Ge Ban Xiao even met people from Ling Shu Inst.i.tute at his place.
The boy who longed to board the Giant Kite flying to the sky even in his dream directly knelt down under Buddha’s feet without a second word.
Throughout this year, the old butler was actually used to Chang Geng running over to Hu Guo temple after a few days, he did not mind much at first.
Unexpectedly, His Highness took after bad traits instead of good. After arriving at Hu Guo Temple, he followed the example of Gu Yun and disappeared without saying goodbye.
He first instructed the guards, explained that he and Master Liao Ran would close the door to meditate in peace for a while, unrelated people must not disturb them. The guards, of course, did not dare to disturb and only stayed outside the door.
On the evening of the same day, Chang Geng took with him the two traitors and followed Master Liao Ran to travel to Jiangnan.
After a few days, the guards recognized the abnormality and went to look for them, but only a single letter could be found in the Zen room.
The old butler wanted to cry. On one hand, he had sent someone to notify the emperor while sending a letter to Gu Yun at the same time.
The Emperor was very generous upon hearing the news. First of all, he did not care much for this younger brother who fell out from nowhere. Secondly, as he believed in Buddhism, he also placed a blind trust in Master Liao Ran. As he heard that Chang Geng was following him to travel, he could not have but feel admiration, hated that he was tied down by common life and could not follow the master to enjoy his knowledge.
Gu Yun was far beyond reach right now and could not be counted on. There was news that the Western Region was infected with countless desert bandits, everyday Gu Yun chased after them to who knew where. Even when the messenger arrived at Xi Liang Gate, if they wanted to find Marshal Gu immediately, they could only have to rely on luck.
Although Liao Ran was a monk, he rarely discussed scriptures and never talked about Dharma or Buddhist poems that were difficult to understand. Most of the time, he talked about some common knowledge. As a monk, he didn’t seem to practice his religion very well, he appeared to be too immersed in the mortal world. He would even go as far as making comments about the current politics, but would always burn all the writing after they finished talking.
After half a month, in a small tea shop in Jiangnan, three adolescents sat with a monk around a table.
Jiangnan’s farming season had already begun, but looking at it, the fields did not have many people working. There were three old farmers with sun hats on watching the iron puppets that were working hard.
Compared with the intimidating puppets used for guarding the manor and for sword training, these peaceful farming puppets did not appear human, they were more similar to a small cart, running back and forth on the field while wearing a buffalo head carved from wood, looking very innocent.
This was the first batch of farming puppets sent out by the imperial court, having their first test run in Nanjing.
Back when Ge Ban Xiao still lived in Yanhui town, he had already harbored an extraordinary interest in Shen Yi’s piles of broken copper and iron. His eyes shone bright as he watched the puppets.
Liao Ran tapped the table to pull the attention of Chang Geng and the others back to him. After a year, Chang Geng had been able to understand his sign language, the monk no longer had to write one word at a time.
“I have seen the farming puppets in the Western countries overseas, just one puppet can easily take care of one acre of land. Although it still requires to run on a small amount of Ziliujin, after several upgrade and improvements, coals are enough to support most of its working mechanism. The cost can be reduced by a large amount, it is said that one puppet is even more economical than a Chang Ming lamp.”
Ge Ban Xiao: “That’s a good thing, does it mean that from now on farmers will no longer need to wake up early and stay up late to work anymore?
The puppets undergoing test run were a.s.signed to Nanjing by the imperial court. The squires could register their names and bring one back, they were also responsible for the subsequent maintenance of the puppets. If the tenants wish to continue doing the planting themselves, they were free to do so, if not, they could give up the land they rented to the puppets. When the harvesting season arrives the coming year, the rent would be increased by 10% to compensate for the burning coals and the small amount of Ziliujin the puppets used.
In the first year, very few people did it, for they had to pay an increased amount of rent. But as the second year came, this plan becomes more and more widespread. People have come to recognize that this thing’s working power was a lot greater than a human’s. The rent was increased, but the amount of food they were able to keep for themselves were still a lot more compared to before, in addition, they no longer have to work in the early morning. Such a good thing as this, who wouldn’t want to join in?
Thus this was the reason for the empty fields in Jiangnian, with not a single farmer can be seen.
Liao Ran smiled and said nothing.
Chang Geng suddenly said: “I don’t think this is a good thing. If the iron puppets can completely replace people, what else do people need to be used for? The land rented by the tenants also belonged to the local officials. In the first few years, these people may still agree to feed the idling farmers for old time’s sake, but how many years can it last?”
Ge Ban Xiao was obsessed with all kinds of machines, seeing them even in dreams, he immediately said: “They can stay and become Mechanics!”
Cao Niangzi: “This one I know, even if you gather the steel armors of all Yanhui town’s defensive forces together, only two Mechanics were enough to maintain them, they only come to find Teach – General Shen occasionally when they were simply too busy, they don’t require that many Mechanics.”
Ge Ban Xiao: “They can find something else to do, like…”
Like what, he wasn’t able to come up with anything for a moment. Before, the living condition of his butcher family was not at all bad. In Ge Ban Xiao’s eyes, there were other countless jobs to do aside to farming.
Cao Niangzi struggled to pull his gaze from Liao Ran’s face and asked: “So if people can’t find jobs, or a large number of people can’t find jobs, will they rebel?”
Liao Ran looked down at him, Cao Niangzi’s face flushed a deep red.
Liao Ran made a gesture: “They won’t in these few recent years.”
The three boys were silent for a while, Chang Geng asked: “Is it because of my yifu?”
Liao Ran smiled and looked at him.
“I remember on New Year’s Eve that year, the tiger brought by the foreigners ran astray, the people on the street were in a state of chaos. It was only when they saw my yifu that they finally settled down.”
Chang Geng paused and said, “I later heard people say, there was a sea of countless people near Qi Yuan tower. If it wasn’t for yifu who had stabilized them, more people would have lost their lives just from pushing and shoving alone.”
Liao Ran: “For taking Your Royal Highness out to travel like this, I have offended a great crime to the Marquis of Order. If this matter ever come to light in the future, I pray that under the blade of the Marquis, Your Highness would preserve this monk’s puny life.”
Ge Ban Xiao and Cao Niangzi both laughed, for they thought that he was only joking. After all, in their impression, Gu Yun was always cheerful and pleasant.
Liao Ran let out a bitter smile, skipping this topic, he signed: “The common folks told of a legend that the previous Marquis with an army of thirty people had successfully made the Northern Wolf bow their heads. It is said that the soldiers of the Black Iron Camp are G.o.dsent with incredible abilities, nothing can harm them. With the Black Iron Camp serving as a strong and st.u.r.dy beam, although there were groups of rebellion made from civilian mobs, it was difficult for them to grow into a larger scale.”
Chang Geng sat up straight: “But I heard people say that if one wishes to demolish a house, the first thing to do is to break the beam.”
Liao Ran looked at the young man in front of him, if Gu Yun came back, perhaps he would not recognize Chang Geng anymore. In just one year, he shot up a few inches high, and the hints of childishness on his face had all disappeared.
The boy who was anxious from just going out on New Year’s Eve now sat in a small tea shop in the countryside of Jiangnan, chatting with the monk about the people’s livelihood.
Liao Ran: “Your Royal Highness does not have to worry, The Marquis has long been fully aware of these matters.”
Chang Geng remembered the calligraphy “The World Cannot be Avoided” in Gu Yun’s room and was startled by the sudden waves of longing and missing breaking out of his heart. He sat quietly for a moment, letting all his longing freely raise up. He let out a sad smile, then picked up the teacup and finished it in one go.
Gu Yun, who was being missed greatly by Chang Geng, was still in the desert of the Western Regions. He had been confronted with the largest group of desert bandits in the local area for more than a month.
Xi Liang gate no longer appeared desolate like it was before. Since Great Liang and the Pope signed the treaty, the entire road of Xi Liang gate had become a treasure trove of wealth. Merchants and tourists quickly gathered together, the population of nearby towns had skyrocketed, the Westerners, the people from Central Plains, and people from other small neighboring countries of the Western Regions lived together.
Lou Lan, which was located at the entrance of the Silk Road, had become a place of trade. They quickly turned from a small country that had never been heard of before to a land of gold.
Lou Lan people were pleasant and happy, they lived and worked in peace, never causing any troubles. In the past, the Western Rebellion had nothing to do with them. Their relationship with Great Liang has always been very favorable. Hence, the Emperor had especially placed the entrance of the Silk Road here.
“Marshal, Xiao Jia’s side has already taken the thief’s nest, do we act now?”
Gu Yun: “What are you waiting for? Capture their leader, tonight we will go and get a free meal at Lou Lan’s prince place!”
As he said this, he lightly pressed on his eyelids.
Shen Yi: “Did something happen to your eyes again…”
“No,” Gu Yun complained, “My eyelids keep jumping, perhaps…”
He was not yet finished when a guard suddenly came forward and took out a letter: “Marshal!”
Gu Yun: “Oh, where is it from?”
Guard: “Home letter from the manor that was sent to Xi Liang gate. The family servant was unable to find you thus he transferred it to Lou Lan’s people to deliver here.”
Maybe it was a reply from Chang Geng.
Gu Yun thought as his hand opened it up, he had been looking forward to it greatly.
Then Shen Yi saw Gu Yun’s expression slowly changed.
Shen Yi: “What’s wrong?”
“Liao Ran, this bald donkey, best for him not to fall into my hands.” Gu Yun said sullenly, walking back and forth in his camp with both hands behind his back, then kicked over the table: “Arrange me a few Black Eagles, Ji Ping, you will temporarily take care of things here for me.”