T/N: Thank you for waiting (^^)
*Drumming – 击鼓 (jī gǔ), from the idiom 击鼓鸣金 (jī gǔ míng jīn) lit. to beat the drum and sound the gong, meaning to order an advance or retreat
This ‘scholar’ was Chang Geng. After the big argument with Gu Yun four years ago, he was ‘escorted’ back to the capital by the Black Eagle.
Throughout the ages, many different dynasties and changes, immortalized in the pages of history, no emperor had ever been the same with another. Some had brought to their country peace and prosperity. Some have come to bring ruin to the country and the people. Some were only concerned about enlightenment, neglecting political matters. And some were destined to cook up a storm.
Emperor Yuan He undoubtedly belonged to the ‘strive for enlightenment’ category; he was forgiving and lenient, senile and incompetent. His son, although sharing similar political views with his own, his style undoubtedly belonged to the kind who would cause stormy winds and turbulence.
Long An Emperor Li Feng had never believed in ‘ruling a grand nation like cooking a small fish’*. He was both diligent in political matters and a strong-minded person. Since the beginning of his ascension, he had strived to reinforce the leniency in the handling of government affairs of the previous reign.
*A sentence from Lao Zi’s Tao Te Ching(The Book of the Way and of Virtue), meaning that if one meddle in too much when cooking a small fish, will cause it to break apart. If one meddle too much in common people’s affairs when ruling a country, it will cause the people to riot.
In the first year, he sent a decree for the Marquis of Order to escort the Heavenly Wolf’s Tribes’ Prince Jia Lai Yinghuo back to the north. At the same time, he signed the business treaty with many nations of the Western Regions, opening up the Silk Road.
Whether it was repairing the friendship with the Man’s tribes, or grounding the Marquis of Order in the Western Region, ordering him to supervise the urgent expansion of the Silk Road – these actions had greatly expressed the emperor’s hatred for the national treasury gradually being hollowed out for everyone to see. It was as if he wanted to say ‘If, Gu Yun, you cannot make money, then go sell yourself instead’.
Long An’s second year, Wei w.a.n.g colluded with Dong Ying people, attempting to build his own kingdom on the sea and to set off a Dragon disaster. Unexpectedly, his conspiracy was revealed while in progress. The Jiangnan Navy captured their leader in the blink of an eye. Wei w.a.n.g was imprisoned, then in the end, drank poison to ‘commit suicide’.
Emperor Long An had used this as an opportunity to clean up and reinforce Jiangnan officers. Eighty-six of both large and small officials were implicated, more than forty were executed, there was not enough time to slay them all at the end of fall, it needed to be separated into three parts. The others were either demoted to be a servant or exiled and would never be put to use again.
In the same year, a new law was implemented starting from Jiangnan, then was expanded out to other areas, strictly investigating the land occupied by the local landlords. However, even after the investigation was done, the lands did not get returned to the common people and the farmers but were taken back by the imperial court.
After local powers were gathered and returned to the government, up until Long An’s third year, for each and every piece of land, what would be planted or built on them must go through layers of approval. The degree of centralization had surpa.s.sed even that of Emperor Wu’s ruling during His time, and the restrictions on Ziliujin have reached an unprecedented level never seen before.
No one dared to disagree – if someone dared to, it was undoubtedly those belonging to Wei w.a.n.g’s party – and would be slain at once.
Another two years pa.s.sed, in Long An’s fourth year, Li Feng began to implement the ‘Zhang Ling Law’ – the Mechanics from the common folks must register their names at the local areas and obtain a ‘Zhang Ling badge’ to be able to continue working.
According to each person’s qualifications and skill level, the imperial court divided the Mechanics into five grades. There was a print under each badge, and each print was numbered. Ones who possessed this badge, what they have fixed or what they have created, everything must be recorded down thoroughly.
There were firm restrictions on what type of job one was allowed to take on depending on their grade. It was strictly forbidden for unregistered Mechanics to accept jobs.
For all armors and machines related to military needs, Mechanics not belonging to the army were not allowed to get involved, in violation of this order, one will be punished by cutting off a finger and being sent to exile.
When this decree was sent down, there was a lot of controversy in the capital, but no matter how the court officials argued and what reasoning they spoke of, the Emperor and the cabinet that had undergone ‘adjustment’ all have one sentence in response – if they didn’t tighten the Mechanics, how could they tighten the valve that was draining Ziliujin?
However, with this law still not finished to be argued on, Li Feng already threw out the next bomb: the ‘Drumming Order’ – aiming directly to the army.
According to the different functions, there were seven major military services, and a commander would be a.s.signed in each region – Jiangnan, Zhongyuan, Saibei, Western Regions, and Nanjiang. The appointment and removal of military personnel, salary, rations, armors, and equipment will be coordinated by the Ministry of Military Affairs, other matters would be handled by the commanders of the individual military regions.
The Marquis of Order with the Black Tiger Emblem in his hands could command troops everywhere in the country in case of critical situations.
Li Feng retained the layout of the five major regions, and did not touch the Black Tiger Emblem in the hands of the Marquis of Order either. He only set up several supervisors in addition to the existing commanders of each region. The supervisors were directly under the Ministry of War, a new person will be changed into this position once every three years. Their job only consisted of one thing – to request for the ‘Drumming Order’ from the Ministry of War.
If the Drumming Order hasn’t arrived, any commander who dared to deploy the troops would be treated the same as rebellion.
Except for the Black Iron Camp, all the troops stationed in five major regions were required to follow this law.
When the Drumming Order was sent down, the whole country was shocked. Who would have the heart to care about such a trivial matter like common folk Mechanics?
The emperor and the court’s officials argued noisily for a year, three out of five commanders wanted to resign. Chaotic to the point of alarming the Marquis of Order in the northwest.
The Marquis of Order hadn’t had yet the time to express his opinions to His Majesty’s decree that was basically trying to seek death, but he already had to travel everywhere regardless of difficulty to calm the heart of the military personnel, patiently listening to the cry of the old generals. As soon as one matter settled down, another one emerged, incredibly chaotic.
On New Year’s Eve, when Gu Yun returned to the capital to report his duties, more than fifty handkerchiefs were thrown his way by young ladies and misses on the street*. He hadn’t had time to feel proud and he already had to give them back for people to wipe their tears – even diapers were less wasteful than this.
*When the troops make their way through the capital, the ladies will throw handkerchief towards the soldier they found to be handsome.
Even the folks have become worked up along with it. All the scholars from every library throughout the country seemed as if they have nothing else in their mouths, every day repeating this law, that law, debating nonstop.
The imperial court under the rule of Emperor Yuan He that was engulfed in a heavy and silent atmosphere finally had something to talk about.
This chaos dragged on until Long An’s sixth year, the debate surrounding the Drumming Order still wasn’t concluded. The Emperor refused to abolish the decree, but for the time being, he did not send out any supervisor either. This decree was suspended in the air, like a hanging sword that was ready to break one of two sides at any time.
It was a cool autumn of another year, it had been four years since the disaster in Jiangnan, the bones of Wei w.a.n.g had turned cold, this matter has become an outdated topic, and no one mentioned it anymore.
Near Sichuan’s official road, there was a small tavern named ‘Xinghua Village’. It was said that the most common name for a village in the whole territory of Great Liang was ‘Xinghua Village’. Whenever there was a liquor store, eight out of ten places were called ‘Xinghua Village’.
A young man gently lifted the curtain and entered.
He was about twenty, donning an old robe, dressed like a poor student, but he appeared very handsome, bearing with it a kind of sharpness – he has a high nose bridge, as if carved out by a knife, his eyes were slightly deep resembling cold stars, yet he did not give off an aura of aggressiveness or fear-provoking but instead appeared gentle and mellow.
One’s eyes would brighten as they took their first glance at him, not feeling bored even as they admired him for a long time, but instead, one could even make out a hint of distance that was hard to describe with words.
The tavern was very small, even a large dog had to bend over when entering the door, there were only two tables inside, and both were already full today.
The shopkeeper, who also worked as a waiter and a cashier, was currently playing with his abacus for the lack of better things to do. His gaze was involuntarily attracted to this young man, he silently praised ‘how handsome’ then put his hands together to greet: “Customer, sir, my apologies. Coincidentally, there is no seat left, there is still another place to stay within five miles, perhaps you could check there?”
The scholar did not get angry: “I am only a little thirsty in my travel, may I trouble the shopkeeper to fill a jug of good wine for me? I don’t need to sit down.”
The shopkeeper took his jug, and when he opened the lid, a strong scent of wine raised up: “Zhu Ye Qing, very good.”
A guest at the table volunteered: “This young master, please come here to rest, you can sit at my place.”
The scholar did not refuse, he replied with a ‘thank you’.
Still not waiting for him to sit down, he could already hear someone on the table next to him speaking: “What are you all arguing about? I think the current Emperor is very good. What is so wrong about taking control? Allow me to say a few disrespectful words, the man who did not manage anything, all day long if not fasting and reading Buddha’s scripture, then it is mingling with the palace’s occupants, is that a good emperor?”
The scholar didn’t expect to come across people who were discussing politics even in this tavern. He looked up and saw an older man with his trousers rolled up, his hands were thick and his fingers were still stained with machine oil. It appeared that perhaps he was a Mechanic of the lower grade.
A man who seemed to be an old farmer next to him immediately followed suit: “Isn’t it? Just look at the price of rice, starting from this dynasty, have you ever seen any price that was cheaper?”
The Mechanic saw that he had gained a supporter, proceeding to run his mouth with great enthusiasm: “I went to the city the day before and heard a group of students in the library talking, when it comes to the topic of the Drumming Order, a young student was talking nonsense that the emperor is ‘weakening Great Liang’s border defense forces’. It truly is just discussing strategy on papers, It’s ridiculous!
“Didn’t you all see Wei w.a.n.g’s rebellion? These commanders are a distance away from the Emperor. If they harbor any dissatisfaction, not discussing whether the land of His Majesty can be safe or not, aren’t the unlucky ones who will get dragged into it not us common folks?
“I heard people say that the with Ministry of Military Affairs controlling like this, who knows how much military expense can be cut down, people do not have to pay heavy taxes anymore, is it not a good thing?”
As soon as this was said, the people in the tavern all nodded their heads in agreement, even the old man who called the scholar to sit down also opened his mouth and said: “Even the Marquis of Order himself has not jumped out to oppose it, yet the others have already boiled up in his stead.”
The scholar did not pay much attention at first, but as he heard the three words ‘Marquis of Order’, he subconsciously looked up and asked, “What connection does this have with the Marquis of Order?”
The old man smiled and said: “This young master does not understand, this time, it might seem that the Emperor did not involve the Black Iron Camp. But in reality, he had already divided the military power in the Marquis’s hands.
“Think about it, if in the future, only with the Drumming Order can the troops of four sides be mobilized, then what about the Black Tiger Emblem in the Marquis’ hands? Ones who mobilized troops without possessing the Drumming Order would be counted as an act of rebellion, then if the Ministry of War does not issue this order, will the five commanders listen to the Ministry of War, or listen to the Marquis?”
The scholar laughed: “I see, this student had learned new things.”
Upon saying this, he saw that the shopkeeper had finished getting his wine, he no longer listened to the nonsense of these villagers, thanked the elderly man who gave him his seat, laid down the money then took his leave.
Just as he exited the tavern, the place that was previously empty now had someone already waiting there, the person did not say a word either and appeared a bit embarra.s.sed to meet with the poor scholar. He quickly paid his respects then stood on the side like a decoration.
The scholar helplessly held his forehead with his hand, thinking: “They are catching up faster and faster.”
This ‘scholar’ was Chang Geng. After the big argument with Gu Yun four years ago, he was ‘escorted’ back to the capital by the Black Eagle.
Refusing the emperor’s many praises, Chang Geng then tried for half a year, crossing moves with the house guards every day. In the end, he finally managed to escape from the Marquis’s manor.
Gu Yun had sent people to chase after him several times. The two sides painfully struggled for a whole year, Gu Yun later recognized that this child was like a young eagle that could not be restrained. He had to compromise and let Chang Geng go.
It’s just that wherever Chang Geng went, he would always catch sight of a few Black Iron Camp guards in disguise following him.
Later, Chang Geng, under the recommendation of Liao Ran, becoming a student of a no-name expert from the common folk, following his master to live the days of endless wandering, traveling through the entire country and places no one had set foot to before. For a time, he was able to shake off the Black Iron Camp.
However, every time he appeared near any station, he would be tailed again. He had just arrived at Sichuan but a little soldier had already waited for him.
It’s just that Chang Geng, nowadays, was no longer the same child who did not know which course to follow, stubborn and unbending. He walked his horse straight to the other person and gently said: “Troubling this brother, is my yifu alright?”
The little soldier was not very good at conversation. He did not expect Chang Geng to come over and talk to him directly, he clumsily replied: “Your Highnes-… Young master, everything is good with Master, he said that if the border situation was stabilized at the end of this year, he will come home for New Year celebration.”
“Very well, then I will depart for the capital in two days.” Chang Geng nodded, one could not detect whether he was feeling happy, or reluctant. He said while handed over the jug of wine that had just been filled: “This brother had travelled a long way, warm yourself up with a sip of wine.”
Even if he was oblivious, the little soldier was still aware that his sudden appearance was very unwelcoming. But unexpectedly, not only did Chang Geng not get angry, he even invited him to drink. For a moment, he was completely bewildered at this warm treatment.
He didn’t dare to directly touch the orifice of the jug with his lips, nervously keeping it a slight distance away as he took a sip, not daring to spill even one drop. He then returned the bottle with both hands and proceeded to walk the horse for Chang Geng.
Chang Geng: “This spring, I actually took a trip to the northwest. It was just that yifu was busy with military affairs, I did not show myself to bother him. The Silk Road was very flourishing, even the sea of endless golden sand could actually become this crowded with people. Throughout all of Great Liang, there aren’t many places that could be as prosperous as that area.”
The young soldier looked back and forth, seeing that there were no one around them, he whispered: “With Marshal keeping guard, in recent years, the desert bandits have gradually disappeared. Many people had settled at the entrance of the Silk Road to do business. There are all kinds of gadgets and trinkets everywhere. Marshal said that if there were anything that Your Highness may like, Marshal will bring them back for you on New Year.”
Chang Geng paused, then said faintly: “I only wish for him to return.”
The little soldier wasn’t able to catch the deeper meaning of his words, thinking that he was only casually making a comment. Those who have been in the army for a long time were not good at flattery, thus he had kept quiet.
Chang Geng maintained his usual expression as he walked along the official road of Sichuan, but his chest was getting hotter.
He soon thought that separation was much like water, splash after splash, even cinnabar garcinia or green vermiculite would eventually be washed away. But as it turned out, Gu Yun had already been carved in him. Even after washing for a long time, it could only cause the engraving to grow deeper and clearer.
Hearing that Gu Yun would be returning to the capital at the end of the year, they were only at the beginning of autumn, but Chang Geng was shocked to find that the many sentiments of one who got to return home after many years had risen up. Just then, he had blurted out the words ‘ready to depart for the capital’ in momentary homesickness, causing him to now feel very regretful, wishing that he could take back his words and run to escape to the ends of the earth.
As his thoughts were running astray, a fragile woman carrying someone came into view. The woman walked with difficulty, she would stop to rest after a few steps, panting hard. She let out a cry as she tripped on a rock on the side of the road then fell to the ground.
Chang Geng immediately gathered himself together, stepping forward to help both of them: “Madam, are you alright?”
There was no telling how far she had been walking for, she was already too exhausted to speak, but before she could open her mouth, tears had already dripped down first.
Chang Geng was startled for a moment, he did not ask her why she cried. He only lifted the unconscious elderly man on her back and checked the pulse on his wrist. After a moment, he gently said: “His illness was a result of not being able to move for a long time, combined with too much suppressed anger, he will be alright after applying a few needles, his life is not in danger. If you trust me, please come with me first.”
The young soldier did not expect His Highness to be knowledgeable in medicine as well, he came forward to help him carry the sick elderly man.
Chang Geng let the woman ride on his horse, while he walked and led the way. It wasn’t long before they arrived at a village. There was an elegant house at its entrance, a string of bacon was hung at the door.
Chang Geng casually tied his horse, then directly pushed the door open, bringing the patient to the inner chamber, placing him on a small bed. He brought out a box of silver needles under the pillow, then rolled up his sleeves and performed acupuncture himself.
The little soldier asked: “Do you… live here?”
Chang Geng quickly looked up and smiled at him: “No, this is the place of a friend of mine…”
Before he finished talking, someone had spoken up from outside: “How come you came in without invitation again.”
A tall and slender woman dressed in white lifted the curtain and entered, the young soldier subconsciously turned tense – he did not notice her arrival at all, the other’s skills must be above him.
Chang Geng’s hands kept on working, he did not appear embarra.s.sed either: “Miss Chen, I thought you were not at home.”
This was Chen Qing Xu of Lin Yuan Pavilion on the ship from the Eastern Sea that year.