“… Marshal, you really have such big guts!”
Head Monk Liao Chi led his overly beautiful younger brother over, clasped his hands together to greet Gu Yun, then smiled brightly: “I haven’t seen you for many years, the Marquis still appears as graceful as ever, it truly is a blessing for us Great Liang people.”
Gu Yun was suffocated by the old man’s hideous face, he thought inside, “Isn’t it? Haven’t been cursed to death by you yet.”
Of course, as the Marquis of Order, he couldn’t be as unreasonable as to pick a fight just depending on his emotions, at least on the surface, he must remain vigilant. He only casually nodded: “All thanks to the blessing of the Master.”
The white-faced monk also bowed down to pay respect, but he hadn’t said a word, only smiling gently, Gu Yun couldn’t help but glance at him.
Liao Chi explained: “The Marquis please don’t blame him, although my younger brother has an excellent understanding of Buddha’s teaching, but unfortunately he is born to follow the path of silent meditation.”
Gu Yun was surprised, unexpectedly, this Liao Ran person was mute.
The monk stepped forward and extended his hands towards Gu Yun. His face was very white, making his eyebrows appear even blacker like a piece of wood on the snow. If he wasn’t a monk, he would have long black hair, together with a pair of red lips and white teeth, he was similar to a bewitching deity made out of white porcelain.
Gu Yun frowned slightly, thinking: “What is he doing, does he want to enlighten me?”
Head Monk Liao Chi explained: “The Marquis carries the peace and stability of all Great Liang on your shoulder, I a.s.sume that you will soon have to depart to the frontier in a few days. My younger brother wishes to pray for your safety.”
Gu Yun made a faint smile: “There is no need to bother the master, that is not necessary – I have never read the teachings before, and I have never offered an incense either, I will not bother the Buddha.”
Liao Chi: “Amitabha, Buddhist doctrine is boundless, enlightening all beings, these words of the Marquis are mistaken.”
As Gu Yun heard the words ‘Amitabha’, he was already struck with the urge to beat someone, his patience had reached its limit, no longer wanting to talk to them, he coldly replied: “His Majesty is still waiting, I dare not delay anymore, I will pay a visit another day, pardon me for not being able to accompany you.”
After he finished, he pulled Chang Geng along to follow Zhu Little Feet’s lead inside the palace. Chang Geng inadvertently looked back and saw that the monk was not at all affected by Gu Yun’s att.i.tude, he remained as devout and sincere as when kneeling in front of Buddha. His mouth continued to make silent words as if sending his prayer and fortune towards Gu Yun who was gradually walking further away, regardless if Gu Yun himself wanted them or not.
Chang Geng was in a daze when he was suddenly pulled by a hand. Gu Yun spoke in a hushed tone mixed with irritation, “What’s so good about looking at monks, looking too long will cause dizziness.”
Chang Geng was well behaved and retracted his gaze, he asked Gu Yun: “Yifu, that master said soon you will have to leave the capital, is it true?”
Gu Yun: “Mm.”
Chang Geng asked: “When?”
“It is not yet decided,” Gu Yun replied. “I still have to a.s.sess the emperor’s opinion – if I am gone, you are the biggest one in the manor, you have the final say, if there is anything you don’t understand, you can discuss it with Uncle w.a.n.g.”
Gu Yun did not need to remind Chang Geng to focus on his studies or be diligent with martial arts practice and other things because, in this respect, Chang Geng was already diligent enough to make an elder like Gu Yun feel ashamed.
Chang Geng was dumbfounded as he heard this, after a while, he asked with distress: “Is yifu not going to bring me along?”
“Ah?” Gu Yun did not understand. “What am I bringing you along for?”
Chang Geng footsteps came to a halt.
Before this day, Chang Geng never considered this situation.
From Yanhui to the capital, they have always been together, Chang Geng did not realize that once his little yifu led his troops back to the northwest again, they would be separated from each other by half of Central Plains.
In the blink of an eye, Chang Geng’s heart was plunged into a spiral of thoughts — in the eyes of his yifu, he was only just a child who wasn’t well-versed in either literary or martial arts. The soldiers going to the frontier are equipped with armors and weapons, who would bring a family member as a burden along with them?
In the future when Gu Yun would go to the Northwestern Frontier, if it was safe on that side, he may still be able to return to the capital to report once a year. But if the situation was unstable, who knew how long he would have to be stationed there. Now, he was officially fourteen years old, how many years did he have left before his coming of age ceremony?
At that time, he would have to leave the shelter and protection of the Marquis of Order and move out of the manor alone. He will bear with him a false ident.i.ty, living in this vast and lonesome capital…
Yifu would soon have to marry a wife and have children, and when that time comes, would he still remember this small burden that he used to raise like livestock in the manor?
They referred to each other as father and son, but their fate was like that of a broken lamp, burned away immediately in the blink of an eye, only he was still remaining immersed in this delusional dream.
As his thoughts reached this point, the entire palace seemed to have become a big ice cavern, freezing him inside.
When Gu Yun saw that Chang Geng suddenly stopped his feet, he turned back and looked at him with confusion.
In a panic, Chang Geng involuntarily blurted out: “I want to go to the frontier with you! I can enlist in the army!
Gu Yun thought to himself: Don’t cause trouble, it already takes so much effort to dig you up and bring you out of the door for a walk, what is this talk about joining military ranks?
However, after a half-year of ‘on-hand experience’, he generally already discovered a trick to act as an elder. He did not directly disgrace Chang Geng face to face, only smiled with an over-the-top, seemingly exaggerated encouragement: “Very well, be my soldier in the future alright, little Prince?
Chang Geng: “…”
Of course, what Gu Yun discovered was a trick to deal with a four-year-old child, he was ten years off the mark.
Chang Geng’s affection and desperation were lightly swept back to him by the other man as if they were not worth anything.
The young boy then quietly closed his mouth, no longer doing unnecessary struggles. He stared at Gu Yun’s broad back as if staring at a narrow door that he could never reach for the rest of his life.
Long An Emperor Li Feng was the brother of Chang Geng in name, but from their appearances alone, one could not see that they share a blood-related relationship, His Majesty looked more like the Former Emperor.
This was only the second time that Chang Geng met him. Compared with the frantic situation from last time, he could see the man a lot more clearly now. The new emperor just reached the age of thirty – this period was said to be the most beautiful one in a man’s life. His face was pleasant looking and appeared extremely refined and educated. Even if he was not the emperor, just judging from his appearance alone, one could already tell that he was meant to be successful in life.
Chang Geng was very keen, especially after arriving at the capital, he became even sharper at reading others facial expressions and speeches. Gu Yun seldom ever mentioned anything, but Teacher Shen wasn’t so mindful about this subject. Shen Yi harbored quite a lot of dissatisfaction towards the Emperor and often complained in private. Hence it was easy for one to link His Majesty with the image of someone who was mean-spirited and small-hearted.
But in actuality, it was not at all like what one might imagine.
Gu Yun hasn’t even set foot inside yet but Emperor Long An has already ordered a servant to bring out the brazier: “I have told them earlier, Uncle would come early. Hurry, come on in to warm up, I feel cold just by looking at you.”
Emperor Long An called him ‘uncle’, but in reality, this was quite right for Gu Yun did not bear the surname Li after all. In the past, with love and affection, the former Emperor casually a.s.signed this role, but the current Emperor still kept this intimate habit from his childhood years.
In front of Gu Yun, he did not use the p.r.o.noun ‘zhan’* or display his status, there was an enthusiastic intimacy in his manner, not at all similar to how a ruler would treat his subject, but instead a lot more like how one would treat their family member.
*zhan is the p.r.o.nounce all Emperors used for themselves instead of saying ‘I / me’
“Xiao Chang Geng also came here,” Li Feng looked at Chang Geng and sighed. “Young ones sure change so much day by day, the boy was still not this tall the last time I saw him – I just inherited the throne, always worrying and always having both my hands full these few months, hence why I couldn’t pay more attention to you. Come closer, let big brother take a good look at you.”
Chang Geng had already prepared to be ‘disliked’ – but the emperor’s ‘dislike’ was so well hidden to the point where he could not sense it at all.
This imperial city, be it grat.i.tude or enmity, they were all carefully hidden. At first glance, everyone appeared to be happy and pleasant.
Gu Yun and the Emperor casually chatted, and once in a while, they would reminisce about their childhood days. Afterwards, Emperor Long An brought out the “red packet money” he had prepared for Chang Geng.
Chang Geng, a child who grew up in Yanhui town, had never experienced the world. He only knew that “no work, no reward”. As he listened to Zhu Little Feet listing out all of his gifts one by one, he almost felt uneasy, suspicious that the reason Gu Yun picked him up early in the morning to come into the palace was simply to find the emperor to collect the goods!
Emperor Long An happily asked about the progress of Chang Geng’s martial arts practice and reading. He said: “You are the descendant of us, Li family. You should be diligent, grow to be a talented individual with strong will, and help share some workloads with brother. What does Chang Geng want to do in the future?”
Chang Geng looked at Gu Yun and said: “I am willing to become a soldier under the Marshal in the future, serve him by his side, and help open up the territory for Your Majesty.”
Emperor Long An laughed, appeared to be very pleased, constantly praising Chang Geng for having ambition.
Gu Yun took a teacup on the table and had a sip. He didn’t interject and, just laughed, his eyes became thin lines from laughter, very warming.
“Who is serving who?” He thought helplessly.
Though helpless, he couldn’t help but feel that these words were incredibly comfortable, flowing from his ears to his heart. Even the bad luck from having encountered the monks just now was thoroughly swept away.
Emperor Long An jokingly said: “This is the plan, but the soldiers in the frontiers must endure very harsh living conditions. How can your yifu be willing to let you go out there to suffer?”
Gu Yun knew that the emperor was using this roundabout way to warn him, keenly aware of the situation, he smartly responded: “If your subject dared to bring the little prince to the battlefield, as an older brother, Your Majesty will be the first one to reprimand me.”
Emperor Long An was satisfied with this reply, he beckoned Zhu Little Feet over: “The messenger of the Western Pope gifted us a big clock last time, its size is even bigger than the rockery in the Imperial Garden, almost resembling a small building, and every half an hour, there are puppets coming out to do performance of songs and dances, very lively. You bring Chang Geng to go see it, I want to chat with Uncle for a while.”
Chang Geng knew that they have important business to discuss, he immediately followed Zhu Little Feet outside.
Zhu Little Feet was very diligent in treating this incredibly well-mannered Fourth Prince and led him towards the pavilion.
The ‘warm pavilion’ was a semi-enclosed garden with colorful glazed tiles on the outside. The airy places were equipped with steam braziers. Inside, it was spring all throughout the year, with countless flowers blooming.
The grandfather clock Emperor Long An spoke of was placed in the middle with a Western picture-viewing device, the scenery before him resembling a mountainous landscape.
Chang Geng felt very impressed by the exquisite craftsmanship of foreigners, but like most of Central Plains people, he could not appreciate the too bright colors of the pictures in the device. After the momentary amazement, he soon lost interest. His eyes fell on the corner of the pavilion. There were two people, one was the monk who they previously met on the way.
Liao Ran could not speak, he gently made a few gestures with his hands. The little abbot beside him immediately came forward to greet: “His Highness, Eunuch Zhu, thanks to His Majesty’s grace, uncle and I were able to stay in the Royal Garden for sightseeing, we met with Wei w.a.n.g on the way. Master had has gone to speak with Wei w.a.n.g. We are now waiting for him here. I hope that we haven’t disturbed His Royal Highness.”
Chang Geng replied with courtesy: “I’m the one that troubled the master.”
After doing a few more gestures, he had a kind of aura of no matter what he does, it would be smooth and natural, and not at all making people feel awkward while facing with the mute monk, the little abbot explained next: “Uncle said that he felt fate when he first saw Your Highness. In the future, if you have some time, please come to Hu Guo Temple, he will surely serve you with the best kind of tea.”
Chang Geng said: “Why yes, of course .”
Liao Ran reached out his hand to Chang Geng, as Chang Geng did not understand, he hesitated before reaching his hand over.
The monk then wrote in his palm: “Does Your Highness believe in Buddha?”
Chang Geng did not hate monks like Gu Yun, the quiet and peaceful aura of these monks created a very good impression for him at first sight.
But he also had no faith, because without concept, if you don’t understand something, you could not say whether you believe in it or not.
But Chang Geng did not want to cause Liao Ran to lose face here, he only casually smiled.
Immediately, Liao Ran understood. He was not at all angry. Instead, he showed a little smile, then wrote in Chang Geng’s palm: “Without knowing suffering, one would not believe in Buddha.”
Chang Geng was completely startled, the young adolescent looked into the eyes of the mute monk that seemed to cover everything in this world inside them, suddenly feeling that the long depression in his heart was seen through by the other party. In that moment, the Bone of Impurity, Xiu Niang, his incomprehensible origin, and his difficulty to speak of improper thoughts – all of them slid through his heart like water, they were pierced by the words “without knowing suffering, one would not believe in Buddha”.
Liao Ran put his hands together to pay respect, about to be on his way.
Chang Geng suddenly stopped him: “Master, I will come to Hu Guo Temple in the future.”
Liao Ran smiled, then casually led the little abbot with him away.
Just now, the sound of the big clock in the pavilion was heard, the light music sounded out in the air. Chang Geng turned back around and saw the twelve small doors of the clock open. Twelve small puppets came out, one with a harp, one was dancing, and there was one singing a high-pitched song. After finishing their joyful and lively song, they bowed down then retreated back inside.
All the liveliness settled.
After this day, Gu Yun lived a life of waking up earlier and returning even later. Emperor Long An wished to send him to represent Great Liang and sign a trade treaty with the Western Pope’s messenger. The Western Region border now opened a market, and if things went smoothly as planned, they would extend it to a larger scale.
As this situation was required, he would have to prepare for departure immediately. Gu Yun ran a few round-trips from the capital to the northern camp. Before he left, he still needed to take care of the matter with the ministry of revenue and kept an eye on the amount of Ziliujin distribution in the army. He was busy from day until night.
On the 16th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, Gu Yun and Shen Yi returned late as usual, and they had already decided to leave the following day. Still have some things to discuss, they went back to the Marquis’s manor together.
Shen Yi: “How did the emperor hand over Jia Lai for us to escort? Was he not afraid that we will secretly slaughter that barbarian in the middle of the road?”
Gu Yun smiled sadly and said: “The emperor dismissed my request to increase the distribution of Ziliujin this year. It is said that Ling Shu Inst.i.tute has gotten their hands on a new puppet design from the Western foreigners, it can be used to do planting work in place of people, quite amazing. This year, they plan to promote this product in Jiangnan first. Ziliujin also has a new place to be distributed to. What else can I say? Why would the Black Iron Camp try to compete with the people?
“The Emperor said that the Black Iron Camp is the weapon of the country. They can lack anyone but cannot lack us, we will get a part of the old man’s tribute as well. Do you think I would still dare to touch that barbarian?”
The meaning of Emperor Long An was made very clear – If Prince Jia Lai lost even a hair, the iron monsters of the Black Iron Camp no longer need to burn Ziliujin, Gu Yun, you can go push them yourself.
Shen Yi pondered about it and found that there was nothing he could say, he could only laugh in frustration.
The two men pa.s.sed by the puppets guarding the entrance of the manor. Shen Yi asked: “That’s right, about your departure from the capital tomorrow, have you told His Highness yet?”
Gu Yun rubbed his nose.
Shen Yi: “What?”
Gu Yun lowered his voice and spoke in his ears: “I told him that I will accompany His Majesty to Xiangshan, and will not be able to come back tomorrow night. If you see him later, remember not to ruin it for me.”
Shen Yi was silent for a moment, then said: “… Marshal, you really have such big guts!”
Gu Yun was also distressed. Since he had inadvertently revealed that he may have to return to the frontier, Chang Geng became completely different. Previously he had always been diligent with martial arts practice, but now he started to risk his life for it. He had injured his wrist the other day, it became swollen like a steam bun. In the afternoon, he insisted on going out for archery regardless of his wound, making his martial arts instructor so frightened that day by day he had to come find Gu Yun to apologize.
Gu Yun felt that Chang Geng was a bit too clingy to him. Were the father and son of other families also this nauseous?
This cotton coat* was too warm, making him break out in sweat – it truly was a comfortable and sweet burden to bear.
*people often used the term cotton coat to compared to their daughters, warm and caring for their parents.
The two walked into the manor side by side, and when they entered the door, they found that the inside was still brightly lit and no one had gone to bed yet.
A little girl as beautiful as a flower rushed out from the inside and shouted: “Big brother, the Marquis is back!”
Gu Yun thought: “Since when was there a girl in the manor, is it that the big willow tree at the door coming to life?”
Looking at it again, the ‘little girl’ was actually Cao Niangzi. He had dressed himself up like a little lady, or rather a little lady who was ready to celebrate the New Year.
Gu Yun was puzzled: “What are you all doing?”
“Big brother Chang Geng said that today is the Marquis’s birthday, he had told everyone to wait for you to come back.” Cao Niangzi said, “General Shen has also come, just in time, we can all eat noodles together.”
Shen Yi immediately agreed: “Very well, it’s better to arrive on time than to arrive early!”
After that, he gave Gu Yun a meaningful look and subtly conveyed his meaning with his eyes – you liar, are you feeling guilty yet?
Happy birthday yifu!!!