Chang Geng chased after the monk to the outside of the city. It was already deep into the night, the surrounding was quiet, only the faint sound of the wooden cart patrolling in the city could be heard. He then stopped and called out to the other: “Master, please slow down your footsteps.”
Liao Ran came to a stop.
Chang Geng spoke slowly, not a trace of anger in his att.i.tude. He was gentle and courteous, similar to how he used to sit quietly in the meditation room that year while sipping Ku Ding tea.
Only his hand had moved to the hilt of his sword, the blade could be unsheathed at any moment and easily pierce the monk into a meat skewer.
Chang Geng: “I have had the chance to converse with the master a lot these days, I have also had much to gain from them. I know that Master’s heart goes out to the civilians in this country, you are not one to stay still in a temple, discussing Buddha’s teachings only in theory.”
“As for my origin, perhaps Master have also heard about it. The Marquis’ might is displayed for thousands of miles, a renowned general for this generation. But no matter what position this country had placed him onto, to me, he is still a family member that I’m mutually dependent with in order to live.”
“I am simply a minor character with no ability, the weapon in my hands is only enough to maintain a peaceful life for myself. I am not capable enough to dwell on the grander scheme of things.”
“My heart only contains the Marquis manor as big as the palm of my hand, and a few number of people, I still hope that the master will explain clearly.”
Liao Ran: “…”
He did not know how Chang Geng usually talked with Gu Yun, but for outsiders, his speeches had always remained ‘few words, deep meanings’. Liao Ran had soon thought that he already experienced it himself, but he still never expected that in this world, even words filled with murderous intent such as ‘Friendship is friendship, if you will dare to touch Gu Yun, I will pierce you with this sword’ – could be conveyed in such a calm manner.
Liao Ran looked down at his shoes. Due to excessive walking and running these few days, they had lost their original color. He tried to test the water: “Your Highness came from the line of n.o.bility, you are kind and benevolent. Your heart should contain the vastness of heaven and earth, there is no need to degrade yourself as such.”
Chang Geng remained stable, not at all moved by his words: “Men born in this world, if one could not even keep the small arc of land around them safe, then what use would it be to cast one’s sight so far out?”
Liao Ran let out a bitter smile, he knew Chang Geng was not so easily fooled, he had no choice but to make a solemn vow: “Marshal Gu is the pillar of the country, pulling one strand of hair would affect the entire body, how can this monk ever dare to act out of line?”
Chang Geng’s hand still remained on the hilt of the sword: “But master still has every intention of bringing my yifu to this place.”
Liao Ran said with all seriousness: “Your Highness please come with me.”
Chang Geng stared at him for a moment and lifted the sword again. He smiled and said: “Then, thank you for your trouble, master, in leading the way to make clear of this situation.”
If you can’t make it clear then I would still have to pierce you.
The monk took off his outer robe and turned it inside out. His white attire actually had two sides. The inside was black, and when used to cover himself, the monk’s entire figure disappeared into the night.
Chang Geng: “…”
A question had involuntarily emerged in his heart — throughout their travel from the capital to Jiangnan, he had never see Liao Ran change his clothes, in the end, did the inside of his robe had a black color, or was it the result of him wearing it for a great length of time?
With this in mind, Chang Geng who had a quirk for cleanliness suddenly felt that there was no way he could walk alongside the monk anymore!
Dressed in his ‘night clothes’, Liao Ran led Chang Geng through Jiangnan with many small rivers and bridges, and soon arrived at the Inner Ca.n.a.l Pier.
The pa.s.sage between the sea route of Great Liang and the inland ca.n.a.l had been opened ten years ago. The two pa.s.sages were parallel to one another, very convenient for ships to come and go. It had brought prosperity to the entire area along the seaside. In recent years, due to heavy taxes, it appeared to be a bit depressed.
However, a dead camel was still bigger than a horse. At this time, although it was already late at night, there were still many merchant ships and boatmen rushing on the dock.
Liao Ran waved his hand to stopped Chang Geng’s footsteps and said: “There are already watching eyes of the Black Iron Camp in front, we can’t approach any further.”
Chang Geng glanced at him, then took out a Tian Li Yan to look at the water.
The pier was calm, boatmen and the delivery workers came and went. There were some soldiers who were transferred from the Jiangnan Garrison standing on the sh.o.r.e, checking the goods. He could not see any Black Iron Camp’s people, nor could he see any abnormalities in the water.
Chang Geng did not trust Liao Ran this time, he did not directly pose any question but observed the scene silently.
The boatmen were loading the goods, they were uniformly packed in thin wooden boxes. Before boarding on the ship, the lid of each box must be opened and placed onto a conveyor belt, the garrison guards would then check them over thoroughly. The checked boxes will be transported to the other end, there were several workers waiting there to carry the boxes that have been properly sealed onto the ship.
A few days ago, he had heard the local people gossiping about it — the sea and river transportation terminal wasn’t quite strict on merchant ships before, but due to Jiangnan’s recent implementation of farming puppets, the imperial court had distributed a large quant.i.ty of Ziliujin here. To prevent any private reselling, they had tightened the checking process.
As soon as one box was opened for inspection, even when separated by a hundred feet, Chang Geng still couldn’t help but wrinkle his nose: “What is that scent?”
Liao Ran wrote on the tree next to them: “Compressed scented balm.”
Chang Geng: “What?”
Liao Ran signed: “Your Royal Highness stayed in the Marquis manor, the balm used there must have been sent down from the imperial court, unlike the cheap goods that the civilians use.”
“These are piles of an a.s.sortment of spices and herbs left over from the making of scented products, compressed into oil or paste, very strong in scent. After buying, three layers of sealed cans must be added to prevent letting the scent out. Only a small portion was required, after diluting with warm water, it can be used for several months.”
“Each scented balm is only the size of a thumb, to use for nine or ten years is not a problem, it would only cost one string of coins. ”
The compressed balm was too heavy in scent, after the fragrance had reached a certain degree, it completely turned into a bad smell instead. Chang Geng’s head hurt from inhaling them. He did not even have the mind to correct the monk’s misunderstanding. The manor had never used balm, the washed clothes only had the scent of saponin soap.
Chang Geng raised his Tian Li Yan and suddenly saw a figure of a man on the merchant ship. His hairstyle, accessories, and clothing were different from the Central Plains people. Chang Geng recalled the knowledge of foreign countries that Liao Ran once taught him, he asked: “I seemed to just catch sight of a Dong Ying* man according to what you have told me before, then this is a merchant ship to be sent to Dong Ying… What do Dong Ying people require this much scented balms for? Take them home and cook them?”
*Dong Ying is another name of j.a.pan
Liao Ran gave him a look filled with appreciation.
The wooden boxes containing the balms lined up in a long line resembling a dragon, four or five ships hidden in the dark night waited for them, appearing even more spectacular than the merchant ships that carried fresh aquatic products and seafood docking next to them.
If a single scented balm could be used for ten years or eight years, why would anyone buy this much?
Not to mention the small size of Dong Ying islands, even the ma.s.s of entire Great Liang could not necessarily be able to use up the number of balms here on these ships.
The guards on the dock were soaked with tears, holding a handkerchief to their noses, desperately urging the boatmen to hurry away with the cargo boxes. There was originally a dog that a.s.sisted the inspection, but it had been soon rendered useless by the too strong scent, lying motionlessly on the side.
Chang Geng whispered: “Might I ask the master, the dog next to the guards, what is it used for?”
“That is the ‘inspection dog’,” he said: “Ziliujin has a faint scent of metallic bitterness, people can’t detect it, but dogs are very sensitive. Ziliujin is a matter of great importance. Back when Emperor Wu was strictly taking care of Ziliujin black markets, inspection dogs had made great contributions and is still of use until today.”
The cheap scented balms had caused the dog’s eyes to turned white, right now it could not even sense meat and bones, let alone Ziliujin.
Chang Geng: “The master suspects that this team of Dong Ying merchants has an ulterior purpose, thus you have led my yifu here to investigate?”
However, before he even had time to nod, Chang Geng immediately asked: “So dare I ask the master, how do you know that my family’s Marquis will come in person? And this matter should be taken care of by the local Ying Tian manor in charge and the garrison troops of Jiangnan. He abandoned his duty to get here, how do you know that he will definitely intervene?”
“Why didn’t you go find the governor or the inspectors, why must you skip the nearby solution to reach out to the one further away and go through many troubles to bring him here from the northwest?”
Liao Ran: “…”
He used to think that as the boy went out alone for the first time, running into such a grand conspiracy like this – when in a state of shock, it was easy to overlook many things – but he did not expect that Chang Geng was not at all shocked. From beginning to end, he only frowned once, moreover, he even insisted on getting to the bottom of the matter.
The monk could not help but think of the rumors that when Gu Yun brought this child back from the town of Yanhui — some people have said that the barbarian rebellion in that area was pushed forward by the foster mother of the Fourth Prince, but His Highness had put aside familial love for the country, providing the Black Iron Camp with preparations to exterminate the barbarians.
How old would Chang Geng be at that time? At best, he was only twelve or thirteen years old…
Suddenly Liao Ran really wanted to ask, “When Yanhui town fell into chaos, have you killed a person?”. After a while, he swallowed it back down, feeling that such a question wasn’t necessary.
Chang Geng looked at him quietly, and under the moonlit night, Liao Ran saw two shallow shadows from his eyes.
He knew that Chang Geng had developed a special kind of intelligence and sharpness at an early age. He thought that it was the sensitivity born from the drastic changes he had to face at a young age, combined with living at other’s expense at the capital. Until this moment, the monk suddenly realized that the boy’s eyes contained a dark corner that no one knew of or have seen.
He suspected that even Gu Yu did not know.
Liao Ran’s att.i.tude became a lot more serious, after a moment of deliberation, Liao Ran slowly signed: “I know that he will come. I also know that when he comes, he will definitely intervene. This matter is on a very large scale and cannot be handled by one small Ying Tian manor – there are things that inside, the Marquis is also fully aware of, much like those of us.”
Chang Geng blinked, he noticed that Liao Ran had just said us.
At this moment, suddenly there was a strong gust of wind behind him, Liao Ran wasn’t able to react yet but the decorative sword hanging at Chang Geng’s waist had already flew out of its sheath. This was the instinctive reaction built from countless times he had crossed sword with the iron puppet.
The bright white sabre clashed with the black iron of the Wind Slasher, Chang Geng recognized that the other person was a Black Eagle soldier, two sides then withdrew their weapons at the same time.
The soldier got down on one knee: “My apology for the sudden disturbance — the Marquis had asked your subordinates to bring Your Highness and the master back.”
Chang Geng lifted his eyebrows. How did Gu Yun know that he and Liao Ran had sneaked out to come here?
What was the ‘fully aware of inside’ that the monk had mentioned before?
However, Liao Ran was not surprised. He took off his ridiculous headscarf, put his hands together to express courtesy, then silently expressed his meaning without words – Thank you for your trouble.
As soon as they returned, Chang Geng was immediately sent back to his room. He did not know what Gu Yun and Liao Ran had discussed with one another but early in the next morning, there was a Black Eagle soldier knocking on his door.
The soldier said: “Master Liao Ran must continue to travel, Marshal must also rush back to the northwest, your subordinate was ordered to escort Your Highness back to the manor, please indicate the suitable time for a convenient departure.”
If he did not witness the Dong Ying’s merchant ships at the dock the night before, Chang Geng felt that he would have truly believed these words.
But before he could open his mouth, someone knocked on the wooden handrail.
The Black Eagle soldier turned back and saw the mysterious mute monk, not knowing when he had stood there. Liao Ran quickly used sign language at Chang Geng, telling him to wait a bit, then directly reached out to push open the door to Gu Yun’s room.
The soldier and Chang Geng were both stunned — the monk did not knock at the door at all!
If it wasn’t for the fact that the entire Marquis manor knew that Gu Yun hated bald heads, Chang Geng would almost believe that the relationship between the two was not ordinary.
Perhaps he was afraid of being kicked out by force, for after opening the door, he did not enter the room directly but only stood outside and paid his respect to the person inside.
Gu Yun actually did not pay it any mind. Only an impatient voice was heard: “What does the master have in mind?”
Liao Ran signed: “Marshal, the young bird did not grow up in a golden cage, let alone this time, you are still in need of a few attendants to avoid the people’s eyes and ears, why not bring His Highness with you? The Former Emperor had left the t.i.tle of Yan Bei and the status of a Jun w.a.n.g for His Highness, after a year or two, he should also enter the imperial court.”
Gu Yun replied coldly: “The master has extended your reach quite far out.”
At this time, Liao Ran took a step forward and suddenly crossed the room’s entrance. He seemed to make a gesture to Gu Yun where others could not see.
Gu Yun in the room suddenly became silent.
Chang Geng heard that Cao Niangzi whispered behind him: “What do you mean? Where is the Marshal taking us?”
Suddenly, his heart was pounding like mad. Chang Geng knew full well, with Gu Yun’s personality, there was no chance that the man would agree on taking him along. He soon a.s.sumed that he must choose between ‘secretly following him, acting on his own’ or ‘obediently returning to the capital and not worry him’, he had never hoped that Gu Yun would let him come with.
But this time, with a sense of hope suddenly ignited within him, a layer of sweat involuntarily broke out in his palms.
Even when confronted with the barbarians, he was not so nervous.
After a long while, he heard Gu Yun sigh: “It’s fine to come along, but do not leave my side, do what we have discussed before.”
Ge Ban Xiao and Cao Niangzi let out their cheers even though they did not know where they were going and what for, Chang Geng lowered his head and coughed, trying to suppress the happy and innocent smile on his lips. At the same time, another question floated in his heart – what did Liao Ran say to Gu Yun?
Is there anyone in this world that could convince his yifu?
Not long after, a ragged carriage went in the direction of the suburbs.
Inside, there was a monk, a ‘weak scholarly’ master, bringing with him two servants and a little girl. All the Eagle units with Gu Yun before had all disappeared.
Chang Geng couldn’t help but look at Gu Yun. He had taken off all his armors and changed into a high-necked robe with large flowing sleeves, the wound on his neck was also hidden away. He did not tie his hair up, letting them scattered down, like a mockery to the bald driver. A piece of black cloth covering his eyes.
As the upper half of his face cannot be seen, Chang Geng found that his attention had involuntarily stayed on yifu’s pale lips, he forced himself to divert his eyes somewhere else and retracted his gaze.
Ge Ban Xiao couldn’t help but ask: “Marquis sir, why must you disguise as such?”
Gu Yun slightly turned his head in his direction and pointed to one ear, seriously saying: “I am deaf, don’t talk to me.”
Ge Ban Xiao: “…”
No one knew whose idea it was, but Gu Yun was intending to use the ident.i.ty of a fragrance expert to mix into the boats currently carrying scented balms.
Some folks in the fragrance business believed that the five senses will hinder the sense of smell, they would makde little children blind and deaf, only relying on their sense of smell to live. The fragrance experts cultivated in this way were of the highest cla.s.s, the common folks referred to them as ‘fragrant master’. Once they had successfully graduated, even hundred and thousands of gold was difficult to invite one.
Gu Yun blindfolded his eyes and pretended that he was deaf. From the time he went out, he even asked others not to talk to him, wholeheartedly playing this role.
When they arrived at the dock, someone was already waiting there to welcome them. Chang Geng lifted the curtain of the carriage and saw a short middle-aged man pleasantly smiling at their direction: “Mister Zhang was a bit late, did something happen on the way?”
There was no telling whose ident.i.ty Gu Yun was currently using for himself, Chang Geng suspected that the genuine fragrant master was already kidnapped by the Black Eagle soldiers while on his way. His expression did not change, he only put his hands together and said, “My apologies, the eyes and ears of our master are inconvenient.”
The middle-aged man was stunned, Gu Yun reached out and patted Chang Geng’s arm, then reached out his hand for the boy to lead him.
Chang Geng quickly caught his hand, at the same time he was puzzled: “Even if it was only pretending, his eyes are still blindfolded. How come his movements do not have any hint of inconvenience?”
He did not even feel around first before reaching for Chang Geng, as if he was long used to not being able to see.
However, this doubt only flashed by for a moment. When Gu Yun stepped out of the carriage, he had to bend down slightly and almost fell into the Chang Geng’s arms. As he suddenly removed all his armor, his figure seemed a bit slim, Chang Geng had an illusion that just by reaching out, he could gather the man into his arms.
This made his mouth and throat quickly become dry, his sharp wits when questioning Liao Ran before was gone without a trace, he was only able to maintain his calmness on the surface. With the thoughts in his head running astray, unable to stop and in a daze at the same time, he led Gu Yun in front of the middle-aged man.
The man’s expression quickly flashed with suspicion and caution, he said, “My apologies for not knowing you are a ‘fragrant master’, we are just a small business, selling scented balms worth a few coins a can, how could we ever invite someone such as yourself…”
His words were not finished, but several men dressed in boatmen clothing had turned around, the eyes of each of them shone brightly, their temples were slightly bulging*. One could tell by just a glance that there was no way these men were just boatmen.
*bulging temples are signs that
they are well-trained martial artists.
Chang Geng bowed his head slightly, stepped forward and subtly hid Gu Yun’s hand behind him, then wrote in Gu Yun’s palm: “Master, they asked of our origin.”