Chapter 21: New Year's Eve
Gu Yun joked: “Tell me, what if one day I just suddenly die, what are we supposed to do then?”
It is impossible for the Marquis of Order to rest at home every day. A day of Great Liang’s officials start with attendance at 5 or 7 in the morning, for a minority of low ranking idling officers, they can go home to their families after the court session ended at 3 or 5 in the after afternoon. But of course, Gu Yun was no low ranking idling officer.
Gu Yun rarely returned to the capital, hence even after the court session had ended, if he wasn’t being summoned by the Emperor, then he’s being looked for by other coworkers, his socializing schedule was packed with no room left to breathe. In the very rare occasion where there was a free day, he had to travel to the Northern camp to do one round of inspection. Being able to return to the manor before sundown was extremely rare.
In short, he lived a worse life than chickens and dogs.
Therefore, if one wanted Marshal Gu’s personal guidance, one must find him at the very early morning before the court session started.
From then on Chang Geng had been climbing up at the break of dawn and returning in the middle of the night. Every day when the chickens were still sound asleep, he would already bring the sword training puppet over to wait in Gu Yun’s courtyard.
The adolescent was growing fast, his figure tall and thin, he led the way with a sword in hand, the iron puppet noisily following behind. Its pair of iron arms stretched forward, on the left side hung a steam power lantern, a food container hung on the right, resembling a food delivery man.
When he arrived at Marshal Gu’s, the old servant would take the container, then would start a small fire to keep the food warm with a stove. And Gu Yun will start his adopted son’s early morning learning session.
The food delivery ‘man’ then would get completely beaten up, even worse than animals: truly tragic.
After the lesson was finished, their breakfast was also heated up. The two of them would have their meals together, then they would part ways to take care of their own things. Gu Yun had to leave, Chang Geng went back for the reading session with his teacher, and in the afternoon, he still had martial arts practice with the family guards in the Manor.
Truth was, Gu Yun was not a good teacher. Much like Shen Yi, he also had the habit of going on about whatever subjects that came to his mind. Very often as he finished fighting the iron puppet, he had already explained about how to dispatch and form Heavy Armors formations, what was the proper ratio between Heavy and Light Armor units to distribute to be the most efficient in saving Ziliujin, and even the differences between the horse breeds from the Western Regions and Central Plains, which type of ration was best for fighting against hunger, so on and so forth.
Only until these lectures took one trip around all of Great Liang that Gu Yun would finally become aware and ask Chang Geng: “Did I went off topic again? What did I intend to talk about at the start?”
Chang Geng: “…”
The two sat on the big metal feet of the puppet, combined with the “clacking” sound of the gears turning inside the body of the iron monster, and they would try to recall back on their original topic that had escaped for a thousand miles.
At the beginning, upon hearing that Marshal Gu was personally passing on his knowledge, Ge Ban Xiao and Cao Niangzi were both extremely excited. After overcoming many difficulties and many suppressed yawns, they managed to run over to listen to his teaching. But unexpectedly, from the beginning until the end, they could only feel one thing – what is this!?
Ge Ban Xiao secretly commented: “I feel that it’d be better to listen to Teacher Shen’s chanting.”
“It’s General Shen, how come you keep forgetting?” Cao Niangzi corrected him with irritation, he pondered for a moment, fighting to choose between ‘beautiful man’ and ‘conscience’. In the end, his conscience won and he added, “I feel the same.”
Only Chang Geng has absolutely no opinion. If he could stay by Gu Yun’s side for just a while every day, then he would be content to even stand guard at the door all throughout the night. After all, his nights of sleep were nothing but repeated nightmares, nothing he’d be reluctant to let go of.
Much like how strongly he believed that he could restrain Bone of Impurity, he believed that he could become a sharp blade, scrape away all the unnecessary excesses every day, including his own strange thoughts about yifu.
What’s more, Gu Yun’s lectures were simply disorganized – if one would listen carefully, they will find that the matters he talked about were all valid and reliable.
Gu Yun was brought to the battlefields by his parents back when he was still very young, his few years living a comfortable life in the palace did not last long. At the age of fifteen, he began to follow an old veteran general marching to the South to suppress bandits. Since then, he had continued to roll around in the military until this day.
The seven major military factions, except for the Iron Dragons used for traveling on seas that he was not too familiar with – he had clashed with all the others. He had had victories, but also suffered many losses, thus for their strengths and weaknesses – he knew them like the palm of his hand.
Chang Geng listened to it all as if he was starving. Gu Yun was like a mountain to him – for him to look up to every day and find his direction forward, and with every step, trying to suppress the inappropriate thoughts he harbored in his heart.
However, Gu Yun did not consider this to be teaching.
He had especially invited a teacher and a martial arts instructor to teach Chang Geng. Every morning, whether it was giving Chang Geng pointers on fighting the iron puppet, or talking about whatever subjects to his knowledge – in Gu Yun’s opinion, it was only him making some free time to come play with Chang Geng.
After a long period of observation, Gu Yun did not think that Chang Geng was suitable to walk the same path he did, Chang Geng always bore a gentle and restrained demeanor in front of him. Even though he could be somewhat stubborn at times, overall, he was still a sensible person.
Gu Yun thought that when the boy grew up, he should be a righteous and noble character, not a killer general that both demons and gods would not dare to come close to.
Just like that, the end of the year had arrived.
In the first year of the new emperor’s enthronement, the Emperor changed his title to Long An, and announced that there would be amnesty for the entire country.
The country, of course, also included the barbarian Prince Jia Lai Yinghuo, who was currently imprisoned in the capital.
The Emperor had patiently suppressed this matter for more than two months and had finally used this roundabout method to express his opinion. The old Wolf King’s condition of increasing ten percent tribute each year was simply too tempting, yet he did not want to disrespect Gu Yun directly at the same time, thus the matter was put aside after each and every discussion. The letters from both the Ministry of Revenue and the Marquis of Order were both delayed up until the Festival to appease the Heaven – now they could finally see the result of this long and drawn out debate.
The capital guard forces lined up on both sides, Shen Yi ushered his horse and went straight to Gu Yun’s side – who donned a Light Armor suit, then stopped.
Gu Yun looked at him then slowly turned his horse to walk back, Shen Yi quickly followed after him and whispered: “Grand Marshal, I see that this time His Majesty had firmly decided to ‘release the tiger back to its mountain’. What should we do?”
“The Son of Heaven* wishing to show his pledge to the God are prestigious words from the supreme ruler, how could there be any room for me to cut in?” Gu Yun said with a blank expression, “And in order to appease me, His Majesty had promised to supply the Black Iron Camp with thirty chariots and four hundred Iron Armors, his decree had also been passed on to Ling Shu Institute. His Majesty has done his best like this, how can I be so shameless as to continuing on pestering him with such a trivial matter?”
*In ancient China, the son ofheaven is another way to refer to the Emperor.
The new emperor was just over the age of thirty, compared with his father, he was much more strong-willed.
Gu Yun did not concern about power, whether the new Emperor was tough or not, he did not care, but the problem was that his policy on the matter of the border was even more nearsighted than that of his father.
The two men walked side by side in silence for a while, Gu Yun then said: “But it is also a fact that the treasury is empty. His Majesty just inherited the throne, it could not be helped that he was a bit rushed – you don’t know, yesterday, the ‘big hat’ Western man sent a messenger over, they have talked so much all afternoon that my ears are still ringing now.”
“…” It took a moment for Shen Yi to react. “You mean the Western Pope?”
In the heart of most Great Liang people, the Westerners had quite unacceptable behaviors – The ‘Pope’ never wanted to stay still in his temple, he and his big hat appeared everywhere, poking his nose into everything. At the same time, the words of their King held almost no value – isn’t this the same as rebellious?
Gu Yun nodded: “They expressed that they wish to trade. I listened in for a while yesterday. They wanted to extend the Silk Road along the western territory to a large commercial road, both sides will be providing troops to guard and ensure that trades will be going smoothly. Their flowery words fall all over the place, even drew out a physical map for it already, painted out a large unrealistic profit in order to tempt His Majesty.”
Shen Yi smiled: “Trading is a very good thing, what are you talking about?”
“I don’t mean that trading is a bad thing – just that although I’m not very knowledgeable about doing business –” Gu Yun said, “– I still think that if the foreigners were to trade with our country, it might not be very beneficial for their side”
“If there was no benefit, why must they travel all the way here? It almost seemed as if they harbor ulterior motives.”
This was the truth.
Western goods began to flow into Great Liang from the reign of Emperor Wu. There were carefully crafted little trinkets and playthings such as the glazed lamps and glasses. Unfortunately, it was not at all long-lasting, they only stayed fresh and new for a few years. Because the inflowing Western artifacts, although were very refined, many of them required to run on Ziliujin. The moment they landed in Central Plains, they had indirectly fueled the rampaging Ziliujin black markets.
Emperor Wu felt that if it kept going on like this, the country would soon fall. In order to strictly control the private use of Ziliujin in the common folks, he prepared both soft and hard tactics. He had issued four decrees in one day, and thoroughly investigated the private use of Ziliujin – all the offenders were slain upon arrest, all of which were treated the same as rebellion, there would be no tolerance. They have first put on high-pressure approaches to preserve the lifeline of this country.
Later, Ling Shu Institute took the lead and gathered a large number of Mechanics from the common folks, assigned them to quickly work overtime to imitate loads of western goods with similar functions but powered by coals and winding mechanism.
The hard knife had tightened the way out of Ziliujin, and the soft knife directly cut off the market of Western goods. Even if one owned Ziliujin, who was not willing to use a cheaper fuel as an alternative? In addition, the designs of these Western products were tacky, and in the eyes of the Central Plains people, this was not quite up to their taste.
The genuine Western goods were quickly replaced by imitations, and the merchants’ products were not able to sell in Central Plains.
Instead, delicately-made goods like silk were highly favored in Western countries.
Gu Yun said: “Perhaps I have thought too much.”
Shen Yi was silent for a moment: “How did His Majesty react to this?”
Gu Yun’s lips curled up to reveal a bitter smile. He said: “His Majesty had absolutely no fear. He feels that as long as the Black Iron Camp is keeping guard of the northwest, Great Liang will be invulnerable. Even I wasn’t aware that I have such grand abilities, how could my head not hurt over this ?”
Shen Yi asked: “His Majesty said that in front of you?”
Gu Yun smiled in pain: “Not only did he say so, he even gifted me a fox fur coat.”
Marshal Gu had the bad habit of only wearing a single layer of clothing all year round, this was well-known even among all the officers in the imperial court. Only when met with blizzards while stationed out in the border that he would add a few more layers. The Emperor now gifted him with proper winter clothing, it would be hard not to see the intention hidden in his words.
Shen Yi fell silent.
Gu Yun: “I will probably go back to the northwest after celebrating New Year. As long as the Black Iron Camp was still stationed here, His Majesty couldn’t get a good night’s sleep.”
Thousands of miles of mountains and rivers had formed into a single line in the words of the new Emperor, weighing heavily on the shoulders of the Marquis of Order.
They felt that as he held the Black Iron Camp’s three factions in his hands, he will remain invincible, triumphant in every battle, there was nothing he could not do.
They relied on him, yet they feared him, afraid of him.
Gu Yun joked: “Tell me, what if one day I just suddenly die, what are we supposed to do then?”
Shen Yi’s expression changed, he scolded: “Cut that unfortunate talk!”
Gu Yun said with little care: “There is no need to avoid this subject, life and death, wealth and poverty, they are all up to fate. Us with the surname Gu, we don’t have a single person who can live for long.”
“And not only do we have a short lifespan, but the newer generation also downgraded from the ones before them. Back then whenever the old Marquis saw me, he always could not help but let out a deep sigh, and now as it comes to my generation, I…have no one to be my heir.”
Shen Yi: “Don’t you still have His Fourth Highness?”
Gu Yun shook his head: “That child is not fated to live a life bathing in mist and eating sand. Tch, on such a good New Year’s Eve, why are we talking about these gloomy subjects? Go and order a Red Kite for me. I will go home to pick up my son.”
He charged forward on his horse after he finished, leaving Shen Yi behind.
Shen Yi snarled angrily: “Why didn’t you say so sooner? There are only twenty Red Kites in the entire capital, how am I supposed to get one when you only tell me today? ”
Gu Yun: “You try to handle it-”
The word ‘it’ floated away, wrapped in the northwest wind, then hit Shen Yi in his face. The Marquis of Order had long disappeared down the road.
Chang Geng had been reading his book in the house in a very focused and diligent manner when suddenly the entrance was kicked open from the outside. Cold wind and snowflakes rushed in, swept through his stack of paper on the desk, causing them to scattered all over the floor.
This kind of troublesome nuisance could be none other than Gu Yun, Chang Geng reluctantly turned back: “Yifu.”
Ge Ban Xiao and Cao Niangzi hopping alongside Gu Yun, one left and one right, waved their hands beckoning him altogether: “Big brother, big brother! The Marquis said he will take us to board the Red Kite!”
Chang Geng: “…”
Chang Geng naturally did not like to go outside, preferring peace rather than liveliness, not comfortable of having loads of people hanging around. Back then, the reason for him having to go to General Slope every day for his sword practice was because his yard was not big enough. Since arriving at the Marquis manor, he had no intention of going outside for a stroll.
In his opinion, as the year came to an end, for celebrating the New Year, won’t it be much better for everyone to gather around by a small stove at home, heating up two pots of wine while they talk and chat?
Why must one go out to drink the cold wind while watching crowds of people?
But Gu Yun has already taken the initiative and took his outer coat down: “Hurry up, don’t drag your feet, Uncle Wang said that you have not set foot outside the door ever since you moved to the manor, are you planting mushrooms here?”
Just imagining the sea of countless people out there, Chang Geng already got goosebumps all over. He could not find the joy even if it means going together with Gu Yun, thus he stood still, trying to make up an excuse: “Yifu, we must be mindful about new year celebration, someone must stay behind to watch the house, I… -Ah!”
Gu Yun did not allow him any room to speak, he immediately wrapped the coat around Chang Geng, then regarded him like a house post that knew how to shout, and directly carried him out of the manor on his shoulder: “This kid, still young but being way too ‘mindful’ already.”
The author has something to say:
Discussing foolproof methods to deal with a little nerd – wrap him up and carry him away =w=