Sha Po Lang

Chapter 48: Startled

Happy Chinese New Year!


Gu Yun’s heart was suddenly startled — he had never noticed that Chang Geng’s eyes were like this. ____

Liao Ran was shocked. He had never expected for the Marquis of Order to visit Hu Guo Temple one day, he quickly signed to Chang Geng: “Doesn’t he feel unlucky just by a bit of incense? Today, he ventures deep into the tiger’s den, will he go back later and wash off a layer of his skin with mugwort leaves*?”

*mugwort leaf is used for driving away evil spirits

Chang Geng did not have the heart to pay attention to him, an unnatural look flashed by his face.

He was not ready to face Gu Yun coming to inquire about his crime.

In truth, coincidentally, they both a.s.sumed they have had too much and did disrespectful things to the other party, each with their own guilty conscience.

Liao Ran gave Chang Geng a strange look. In these years, in order to suppress the Bone of Impurity, Chang Geng have practiced meditation to the extreme that he could sit completely still for up to two or three days, even this monk had to admire.

Sometimes, as an anxious person would look at his eyes, they would be able to calm down with him involuntarily. The incredibly handsome young master dressed in white sitting on the old futon of the monks while holding a chess piece, should have given off the aura of an out-of-this-world serenity. Unexpectedly, it was suddenly shattered by the three words ‘Marquis of Order’.

Chang Geng seemed unable to sit still, making a brief movement, inexplicably raising his hand, not knowing what was it that he was trying to reach for. Halfway through, he found out that Liao Ran was looking at him. He forced down his emotions, placed his hand on the tea cup, then uneasily took a sip as a cover up.

Master Liao Ran who used to act mysterious also had to wonder, “What’s the matter, is the Marquis coming to collect debts?”

Gu Yun came in very quickly, his expression filled with nothing but distaste, as if he wished nothing more than to walk in on tiptoe. Casting a glance towards Liao Ran, he revealed an unamused smile: “Not seeing you for years, the Master had became a lot whiter.”

Liao Ran bore the demeanor of a highly educated monk, he did not pay any mind to trivial matters. He stood up, put his hands together to greet then signed: “Amitabha, the monk is like a clear mirror, no dust could catch on.”

Turned out a cla.s.sical quote could also serve as an excuse for not bathing!

He seemed to feel the scent of fermentation again, he could not wait for a moment longer in this place. He turned towards Chang Geng: “You have been disturbing the master’s meditation for several days already, it is time to come home.”

Chang Geng’s heart, which was not easy to settle down, was once again stirred up by the words ‘come home’. He knew that even if he stayed under the Bodhi tree*, he still couldn’t recite ‘existence exactly is non-existence’*. He then put away his anxiousness and stood up obediently.

*Bodhi tree is where Buddha supposedly achieved enlightenment. *色即是空, a part of the Buddhist sutra ‘The Heart of Prajna Paramita’ that is chanted daily in temples for meditation. The sutra teaches about ‘Emptiness’.

The smoked firewood in Hu Guo Temple caused Gu Yun to let out a few coughs, he rushed outside of the Zen room to wait, watching Chang Geng bidding goodbye with boredom.

In fact, with relatives and friends one was used to seeing, it was difficult to notice whether the other was beautiful or unsightly. Gu Yun had always known that Chang Geng resembled his Barbarian mother more, but after careful examination, that was not entirely true. His facial features after growing up was handsome and fair, he momentarily could not tell who he resembled, he only knew that his appearance was like jade, uniquely pleasing to the eye.

Gu Yun was slightly startled, remembering that there were many types of people in this world, especially since the opening of the sea route, the people of Great Liang were quite open minded. Especially along the coast of the Eastern Sea, it was said that relationships between men were also very widespread. Chang Geng was a dragon in the disguise of a fish, would there not be anyone who would be as blind as to tease him?

Was it the reason for why he was angry that day?

“That’s right,” A hole cracked inside Gu Yun’s head, countless thoughts running astray like horses without reins: “If I bit that Shen Ji Ping, he would definitely not take it to heart, someone who was as old-schooled as him would not think to look at it with such idea in mind. If I were to bite him, perhaps it would be me who would suffer a loss.”

The more he thought, the more it would make sense. The more he thought, the more embarra.s.sing it was. He quickly came to the decision of acting oblivious.

Thus as if nothing happened, he turned to Chang Geng who was coming over and said: “How come you stayed for so long, are the cabbage and tofu of Hu Guo Temple so delicious?”

Chang Geng saw that his expression was calm, his heart was also able to relax, he replied: “Listening to Buddha’s teaching and fasting could help ease the mind.”

“Young people should enjoy life, you are not planning to be a monk, what are these talks about easing the mind?” Gu Yun walked side by side with him, trying to reach out and put his arm around his shoulder by habit. But just as he raised his hand, for fear that Chang Geng would think too much, he silently retracted it and placed both hands behind his back.

Chang Geng said calmly: “I have considered it.”

He once thought about cutting away three thousand connections of this mortal world to enter Buddha’s gate, perhaps his heart full of insolent thoughts would be dispelled into nothing by Buddha’s boundless teachings.

“What?” Gu Yun’s footsteps came to a halt, he wasn’t able to response at first, startled, he unbelievably asked, “… you said becoming a monk?”

Chang Geng rarely saw his surprised expression, he smiled and replied: “I only thought about it, I do not dare to go.”

Gu Yun thought: “Nonsense, if you dare to do it, I would break your leg.”

However, Chang Geng was no longer a small son who was sheltered in the manor. After his crowning ceremony as Jun w.a.n.g, he still called him ‘yifu’. This came from affection, not in name only. In the end, it was inconvenient for him to scold him like his real child, thus these words did not leave his mouth.

His expression darkened, asking, “Why?”

Chang Geng greeted a little abbot walking over with courtesy, then replied without hesitation: “In my younger years, I have grown up looking at the calligraphy ‘the world cannot be avoided’ in your room. Later on, travelling through mountains and rivers with Teacher, only beginning to get a taste of this tough and dangerous world, how could I dare to shy away now?

“Being born in this world, although my abilities are only limited, it was unsure if I could ever achieve one-in-thousand-years contributions like the previous generations, but at least, I must not feel ashamed facing the Heaven and Earth, and myself.”

……and you.

The last two words were hidden away in Chang Geng heart and were not spoken aloud.

That year, Xiu Niang dragged him behind the horse but was not able to kill him. The Bone of Impurity clinging onto him, even now, still wasn’t able to turn him mad. Chang Geng sometimes felt that only when he faced the winds and waves, kept going against the current, to a place where he could finally be content with himself – only then may he be worthy of longing for yifu even just for a little while when awoken at midnight.

Gu Yun’s anger seemed to have cooled down, yet he appeared to be unhappy still, sullenly asking: “Then what were you doing in the place of monks?”

Chang Geng replied thoughtlessly: “Finding Master Liao Ran to drink tea, sometimes I could not sleep well when the flame inside was too much – Miss Chen prescribed me with tranquilizer, did she not? I had put some in my pouch, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to find it for the last few days.”

Gu Yun went silent.

Chang Geng: “I don’t know where I had dropped it.”

Gu Yun’s face was pale blue — some people really do mention things that should not be mentioned.

Marshal Gu went quiet under the torment of his conscience for a while. Then in the end, he reached for Chang Geng’s small scented pouch made from leather that he carried inside, placing it in his hand without a word: “Here.”

Chang Geng: “…”

This fear came all too sudden. Chang Geng, who accidentally shackled himself with his own ropes, almost bit his tongue. Just now, the Yan Bei w.a.n.g who bore the aura of an adept scholar — ‘going through the mountains and rivers’, his palms instantly became soaked with sweat, he stuttered: “How, how come it is at yifu’s place?”

Marshal Gu with impenetrable skin that had been through countless training casually replied: “I don’t know how it fell onto my bed. Perhaps on that day when I have had too much, I accidentally pulled it off from you.”

Chang Geng looked at him with horror.

Gu Yun feigned innocence and said: “What’s wrong?”

Chang Geng shook his head, silently heaving a sigh of relief inside. He knew that this matter was now over, he could still be intimately together with yifu as before. At the same time, however, he inevitably felt some hidden loss.

As Gu Yun saw that his expression was off, he a.s.sumed Chang Geng was still bothered by this, he asked with a coaxing tone: “I forgot to tell you two days ago, the Emperor wants you to enter the court to listen to politics, which duty do you want to be in charge of? I will find a way for you.”

Chang Geng quickly restrained his train of thoughts, seriously replying: “Six of the departments have their own power and influence, it is not convenient for me to step in and disturb it. These years, neither of my literary or martial arts are up to par, in addition, I have already been used to being leisurely. If His Majesty truly wanted me to come listen, I could listen just for the courtesy of it — or I could follow Master Jiang of Da Li Temple to do investigation.”

Gu Yun could not tell whether if this answer truly reflected what Chang Geng thought or not, but it was definitely the answer the Emperor would want to hear. He momentarily felt pained, not willing to send Chang Geng to Emperor Long An’s place to waste his talents, being looked down on by others.

But that was impossible. His surname was Li. Even if he would become a leisurely prince in the future, he would not be able to hide in the Marquis’ manor for the rest of his life.

“If you want to go to Da Li Temple, wait for a while longer, don’t go now,” Gu Yun said. “The Emperor wanted to investigate Ziliujin black market recently, Master Jiang’s place is chaotic enough already, don’t intervene, and don’t drag Lin Yuan Pavilion into it either.”

Chang Geng replied with an ‘ah’, he does not seem to be surprised by this news: “So fast? His Majesty was indeed unable to wait, the other day I was still thinking about when he would bring back Rong Jin law.”

Gu Yun: “How did you know?”

“Guessed,” a slight snow began to fall down, Chang Geng took a paper umbrella from the entrance of the temple — its size was small, yet Chang Geng continued to push the umbrella towards Gu Yun’s side.

Not long after, the shoulder that had been exposed to the outside was covered with a layer of snow, he did not bother to wipe it away either, continuing to walk in a pace that was neither slow nor fast, he appeared to be quite enjoying it:

“In truth, it could not be considered to be a guess, yifu, think about it, His Majesty, the former Emperor, even Emperor Wu — although they each were wise in their own way, their stand were the same when it comes to Ziliujin. In their hearts, this thing is always regarded as a big problem.”

Gu Yun had always seen him as a younger generation. To walk together side by side for the first time, listening to his thoughts, it felt quite fresh. Thus, he did not interrupt him, only listened.

“When I was a child in the town of Yanhui, I saw the imperial court spending many resources for the sake of Ziliujin. I have been thinking about it in these recent years: why do we have to strictly control it? If everyone can buy and sell Ziliujin as freely as buying food or silk, would it not mean that there will be no more black markets?”

Chang Geng shook his head. “I later realized that it was impossible. Allow me to say a few disrespectful words, regardless of who becomes the Emperor, whether they are wise or incompetent, favored literary arts or favored martial arts – no one could allow the civilians to freely trade Ziliujin.

“Otherwise from now on – merchants, foreigners, Eastern Yi people, the lawless thieves, and even some officials, will all possess these resources,… everyone will hold this blade in their hands.”

Gu Yun: “Much like those bandits in the Southern Frontier.”

“Correct,” Chang Geng said. “This is just a few black markets, just a few bandits. It’s just a few hills in the small territory of the Southern Frontier. What would happen if it were to expand into the entirety of Great Liang? What if everyone everywhere possessed this ‘blade’ in their hands? The imperial court, of course, could not afford to manage the interests of all people. When that time comes, one problem will give birth to another, they will be under the control of the ‘largest blade’.

“Who would not want to possess this Dragon-killing blade? People would then fight, biting at each other, without any regard for morality or laws, much like raising worms, waiting until the worm king appeared, whose hands will this nation belong to?”

Gu Yun frowned: “Chang Geng, it is fine for me to listen to these words, don’t mention it to others — then according to your point of view, is it necessary to bring back the Rong Jin Law?”

“It is not, in fact, it is best to continue the lax control of the former Emperor, to stabilize, and to solve the most urgent task of finance first.

“Since the appearance of the farming puppets, a major amount of the annual production of food had been left to rot in the storage. The price of rice has become lower and lower, people have switched to stocking money, all the little bit of gold and silver have been h.o.a.rded in warehouses, the treasury naturally could not be filled.”

“It is impossible for silver to be manifested out of thin air. Increasing the production of money now is just a distant water that cannot quell a nearby fire, we can only rely on the western foreigners. Once the Silk Road is completely opened, with this achievement, yifu’s name will forever go down in history, even stabilizing hundred rebellions can not be compared.”

“With money, it would be much like a house having its beam, people having their backbone. When that time comes, we can use small flame to simmer, adjusting the internal affairs little by little. The problems would still remain, but the situation will no longer be at grave danger, we would be able to retain peace and stability for the people for a hundred years. After one or two generations, perhaps there could be a way out.”

Chang Geng sighed as he got here. “Unfortunately, within two years, both cases of rebellions are related to the black market. It is not surprising for the Emperor’s reaction to be a bit excessive — thus I have always suspected the two cases of Eastern Sea and the Southern Frontier were not at all accidental. I’m investigating it using the power of Lin Yuan Pavilion. I have only managed to vaguely discover one line of theirs, yet they were too sharp. You must be careful.”

Gu Yun did not speak up for a long while after hearing his words, one could not tell his emotion on his face either. Chang Geng did not bother him, and slowly accompanied him out of Hu Guo Temple. The drums sounded in the temple, echoing in the mountains, there were no other noises in their surrounding, snow silently fell.

Old general Zhong Xian had the ability to stabilize the country, but he could not teach someone to be a talented magistrate who could direct the country and to bring peace to the world. For the first time in his life, Gu Yun felt such deep regret, he thought: “Why must he bear the surname Li?”

If he did not bear the surname Li, it would be easy to enter the rank of officials by the imperial examination. Maybe he could have had a strong start, to become a renown magistrate of the generation in the future. He would not have to speak of a few sentences only for him to hear in this rundown temple, claiming he only wanted to be a leisurely Jun w.a.n.g — like flowers in a vase.

… All were fate.

Chang Geng: “The weather is not good, yifu is wearing thin clothing, don’t go back by horse, sit in my carriage.”

Gu Yun was distracted, turning his head as soon as he heard his voice, and unexpectedly met Chang Geng’s gaze. Gu Yun’s heart was suddenly startled — he had never noticed that Chang Geng’s eyes were like this.

His eyes were very focused, slightly reflecting the snow, as if to embrace everything of his inside them.

Chang Geng was first caught off guard, then quickly moved his gaze. Revealing himself further in an attempt to cover his tracks — he bowed down to shake his sleeve, it was already soaking wet, sticking to his arm.

Gu Yun discovered that Chang Geng’s shoulder had been covered with a layer of cold ice. But not only did he not speak up about it, he had also been accompanying him slowly.

Gu Yun reached out to touch, it was ice cold: “You…”

As soon as he raised his hand, Chang Geng immediately tensed up slightly, although it was only a moment, it could not escape Gu Yun’s eyes.

Gu Yun could be quite informal in private — somewhat unmindful, rarely paying attention to the minor details, but the embarra.s.sment after being drunk on that day was still there, causing him to be involuntarily sensitive.

“Was it an illusion?” Gu Yun thought with surprise and suspicion, then sat in the carriage.

A warm stove was already lit up inside. Gu Yun leaned on one side, closing his eyes to rest. In a state of half-awake and half-asleep, he suddenly could feel someone was coming closer. He did not open his eyes. In the next moment, he could sense Chang Geng placing a thin blanket on him, his movement as light as a feather, as if fearing it would awaken him.

Shen Yi has always thrown it directly on him before, even the most attentive and careful soldier never had such gentle gesture that seemed almost protective such as this.

Gu Yun no longer felt drowsy, he continued to keep his eyes closed and pretended to have fallen asleep with difficulty. He did not dare to move, his neck was stiff, always feeling a pair of eyes looking at him.

There was probably nothing in this world that could be hidden away with no trace forever — only a little careful observation was needed.

The string in Gu Yun’s heart quietly tensed, for the next few days, he couldn’t help but secretly watch Chang Geng, yet not only did it not help to dispel his inexplicable suspicion, he became more and more frightened.

In addition to a Chang Geng who made him uneasy, he also had to think about the Rong Jin Law and the Emperor’s action against the Ziliujin Black Market, while also using a roundabout way to save Master Feng Han — the top most stubborn man of Ling Shu Inst.i.tute. Both his mental and physical strength were exhausted, utterly miserable.

On the 23rd of the first month, Gu Yun from the capital sent Shen Yi off to the southwest to take office.

On the 25th day of the first month, the Emperor visited the Imperial Garden. Somehow, the Imperial carriage had broken down halfway through. The servant unintentionally said a few words, reminding the Emperor of how Master Feng Han had knelt down on the ground, testing the steam-powered Imperial carriage for him, the flame in his heart was cooled down by a half.

After inquiring about it, it seemed that the old man was all alone. During his imprisonment these few days, aside from a few students from the Ling Shu Inst.i.tute who came to visit, he did not have even one servant to deliver his meal.

The Emperor was in a good mood. After hearing so, he could not help but feel sorry for the old man, he sighed, ordered for him to be released, only cutting his salary for half a year as a light punishment, and this matter was considered to be pardoned.

With these two things resolved, Gu Yun felt he could not stay in this capital for even a day longer, immediately writing a request for him to return to Lou Lan.

He truly should be on his way by now, the Emperor had no objections, he approved to it on the same day.

The day before his departure, the night was already deep, Gu Yun had went to bed after he finished drinking the medicine. Although Chang Geng had performed acupuncture for him earlier, it could only relieve but could not completely cure the root cause of the headache.

While he was struggling to fall asleep, someone from the palace suddenly arrived, summoning him to meet the Emperor right in the night.

There was no telling whether it was the effect of the medicine or what, Gu Yun’s eyelids suddenly twitched.

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