Gu Yun watched his figure from behind, his gaze slightly darkened. He thought: “It can’t go on like this anymore. After returning from the palace, I must talk it through with him no matter what.”
Gu Yun quickly got up to change his clothes, as he exited the room, he was surprised to find that Chang Geng was staying in the outer chamber. He wasn’t sleeping either, it seemed he had just put on his outer coat, holding a small steam lamp in his hand, a half-open book was laying on his knee.
The outer chamber was usually the place for servants to rest during the night. Gu Yun was already accustomed to the simple lifestyle, there was no one staying in at night. Only the old butler would occasionally come over in the middle of the night to add some charcoal to the blazer.
“Chang Geng?” Gu Yun was surprised, “How come you are here? I thought it was Uncle w.a.n.g…”
Chang Geng: “I was waiting for you to fall asleep before leaving.”
“You are a Jun w.a.n.g,” Gu Yun frowned: “Lowering yourself to stay at a place for servants as such is too inappropriate.
“It is nothing more than a false t.i.tle, being a servant for yifu would be much better,” Chang Geng said faintly, taking down the small pot on the red-hot stove and poured a bowl of herbal tea for Gu Yun: “Is yifu going to the palace? If you are not willing to wear a fur coat, at least drink something first to keep warm.”
Gu Yun: “…”
He was fl.u.s.tered, even if he were to marry a wife, she would probably not be as thoughtful as Chang Geng. When these thoughts just began to manifest, he instantly slapped himself inside: b.a.s.t.a.r.d, have you gone insane?
Gu Yun took the cup of herbal tea and drank it. When returning the cup, their fingers accidentally touched. Chang Geng quickly retracted his hand as if he had just been p.r.i.c.ked by a sharp needle — then with a seemingly normal expression, he turned around and placed the pot down to its original place.
Gu Yun watched his figure from behind, his gaze slightly darkened. He thought: “It can’t go on like this anymore. After returning from the palace, I must talk it through with him no matter what.”
Outside, the palace servants were making haste, Gu Yun could not delay any longer, he could only hurriedly follow them.
The Ferbuary night air was biting, Gu Yun’s dizzy head blown by the cold wind instantly becoming clear once again, as if he had just undergone acupuncture.
The servant leading the way did not dare to lift his head, walking under the palace wall. On the three steps, there would be a guarding post equipped with bows. All had beast heads, their faces were ferocious, their fangs emitting white steam, the gears in the neck slowly rotating, producing a common abrading sound, causing the red walls in front to seem all the more awe-inspiring, no one would dare to look closely.
The huge palace lantern swinging in mid-air, covered with a layer of clouded air, did not give off a G.o.dly aura but instead seemed bleak and ghostly.
The close servant of Emperor Long An led a few people out of the Warm Pavilion, they just happened to be on the opposite side of Gu Yun. They were Westerners, the man leading had white hair, was tall and lean, his facial features were much like a falcon. His eyes were intimidating, his nose was high and hooked, and the lips were almost invisible, only a narrow slit that seemed to have been created by a blade.
Zhu Little Feet quickly took a step forward and paid respect to Gu Yun: “The Marquis — these are the messengers sent by the Pope from the west.”
The white-haired man looked at Gu Yun carefully and asked: “Is this the Marquis of Order?”
A layer of thin snow fell on Gu Yun’s eyelashes, his entire being was covered in an aura of chilling frost, putting his hands together coldly.
The white-haired man put his hand on his chest: “I did not expect the Marquis of Order to be such a young and handsome man. Please to meet you.”
Gu Yun: “You have praised too much.”
Two groups of people pa.s.sed by each other, after the foreigners had walked further away, Gu Yun glanced at Zhu Little Feet.
Zhu Little Feet blinked at him, then spoke in a hushed tone: “Just now, there was no telling what those foreigners had said to His Majesty, only that this time, His Majesty seemed to be very high spirited, even constantly telling us to ask the Marquis to come. The Marquis can rest a.s.sure, this is not bad news.”
This old eunuch was ridiculed by the people for abusing his power, being a sugarcoating subject, but his relationship with Gu Yun was not bad, he could be considered to be someone who had watched Gu Yun grow up. In one occasion, he somehow angered the former Emperor. Happening to come across it, Gu Yun had said a few good words in his stead in front of the former Emperor, saving his small life.
Although Zhu Little Feet’s character was rotten, but unexpectedly, he was very understanding when it came to repaying favors, always remembering this little act of goodwill. With saving Master Feng Han a few days ago, it was also thanks to his a.s.sistance from the inside.
However, as he said so, Gu Yun did not dare to rest a.s.sured.
If the Emperor was not very happy, he could have the general ideas — for a larger part, perhaps someone had accused him of buying Ziliujin from the black market in the past.
They could accuse him all they want, anyway, either way, Gu Yun had thoroughly cleaned up his trace, there was no evidence, the worst case scenario was to battle with words… But what could it mean if His Majesty was ‘very high spirited’?
Gu Yun’s eyelids twitched even more.
When he entered, Li Feng was looking down at a report. Emperor Long An under the lamplight did not appear to be very lively. He seemed more sickly than Gu Yun who had just been tormented by a headache. Not waiting for him to greet, Li Feng already waved his hand, his att.i.tude incredibly peaceful: “There is no one else here, uncle does not have to be over-courteous with me.”
Li Feng turned Zhu little feet: “Go ask if there are still any ginseng soup left from dinner, give uncle a bowl to warm his hands.”
“Suddenly being thoughtful,” Gu Yun sighed in his heart. “If this won’t be a trick, it would be robbery.”
Li Feng was not aware of how Gu Yun was ridiculing him inside, he asked with quite a cheerful expression: “I remember uncle said last time that a part of Fu Zhi Cheng’s Ziliujin was from the Southern Sea?”
Gu Yun: “Yes, please forgive your subject’s incompetence, I could not find out the source for these Ziliujin.”
Li Feng did not get mad: “It’s alright, those traitors are very wicked, the uncle is unfamiliar with their terrain, managing to break through the thief’s secret pa.s.sage, capturing them in one swift move — are already considered to be a great achievement. If you claim to be incompetent, then shouldn’t all the magistrates and officers in the court be fired already?”
Gu Yun couldn’t figure out what his intention might be, quickly replying with an “I do not dare.”
“The Ziliujin black market in the territory of Great Liang is extremely unruly.” Li Feng said, quickly diverting the topic. “This time, I sent people to conduct a private investigation in disguise and found that a large part of the supply actually came from outside the country.”
Gu Yun immediately understood as he heard this that those officials who leaked the goods in the territory have already received news through various connections. They had all quieted down and a.s.sessed the direction of the wind. What Jiang Chong and his men discovered were only some small fishes and shrimps that were secretly digging from the mines, thus he kept quiet and listened.
Li Feng continued his words: “Uncle often walks in the frontiers, you must be a lot more knowledgeable than those of us sitting in the capital all day much like frogs sitting at the bottom of a well, do you know where these private miners usually travel to?”
Gu Yun: “To answer His Majesty, they are generally on the gra.s.slands of the Northern Barbarian.”
“Correct,” Li Feng laughed. “Although that’s not all — Uncle, come look at this.”
Gu Yun hesitantly accepted the confidential report Li Feng threw to him, as he swept his eyes over it, his mind suddenly exploded.
The report listed in details every single trading line the private miners sell their Ziliujin to, Gu Yun knew most of them by heart, except for the last one that read — ‘Lou Lan Kingdom’.
How come Lou Lan is here?
Li Feng: “So?”
Countless thoughts raced through Gu Yun’s heart, cold sweat quickly breaking out: “Your Majesty, the Black Iron Camp and Lou Lan Kingdom have been neighbors for many years. I have never been aware that there is a Ziliujin mine in Lou Lan, please pardon my rudeness, dare I ask who had brought forth this report? What is their evidence?”
“Hey, Uncle has thought too much,” Li Feng said with a smile. “I have never said that you have connections with those thieves who were privately mining, there is nothing strange about you not knowing about this matter.”
Gu Yun took a deep breath, indicating that he was listening carefully.
Li Feng: “It’s a long story. Uncle had moved out with your troops to the Southern Frontier from September last year. When you were not here, Lou Lan Kingdom had asked the Black Iron Camp soldiers who stationed behind for help, as they wanted to encircle and eliminate a group of bandits.
“At that time General Qiu Wen Shan had sent out troops, later bringing back complete victory, killing hundreds of desert bandits, and rescued a group of Tian Zhu merchants who they captured. Because these merchants had the border pa.s.s of Great Liang, General Qiu had escorted them to the West Station. Unexpectedly, they later discovered at the station the merchants’ pa.s.ses were fake.”
Li Feng was in a very good mood, he deliberately stopped as he got here, as if to increase curiosity. Unexpectedly, he could only see Gu Yun solemnly listening with an unusual grave expression as he looked back, there was no intention of inquiring him of what happened next either. The Emperor could not help but felt somewhat irritated.
He had no choice but to continue unhappily: “According to the law, those who forged border pa.s.ses should be referred to the general protection office for investigation and be dealt with. After checking, The northwestern governor discovered that these Tian Zhu people are no merchants, they are a group of ‘Gold Fighters’ from the Ziliujin black market!”
‘Gold Fighters’ were those who risk their lives to smuggle Ziliujin.
“Coincidentally, at that time, my secret envoys have just arrived in the Western Region, their feet had not yet met the ground yet these gold fighters have already walked themselves into the nest. According to the thieves’ confession, they were originally active in the private mine outside the Southern gate. Recently, they got their hands on a ‘treasure map’, showing a large number of Ziliujin mines in Lou Lan kingdom, thus they had come to try their luck.
“You say, is this not surprising? I had actually figured out what is under their land even before Lou Lan people themselves.”
Gu Yun remembered the group of desert bandits he caught four years ago, his hairs stood up all at once.
Those bandits had already been secretly silenced by him and Shen Yi. Afterwards, Gu Yun had sent people to investigate more than once, he had never found the so-called ‘Ziliujin Mine’, and did not encounter a similar thing again.
Unexpectedly, a few years later, when this matter was gradually being thrown into the back of his mind, it returned under this circ.u.mstance!
And…why was the person who ordered the departure of the troops Qiu Wen Shan?
In the Black Iron Camp, Qiu Wen Shan was in charge of defense, who had never managed matters concerning the business road before. Otherwise, if replaced by an experienced person, they would absolutely not directly transfer those people without verifying the authenticity of the doc.u.ment. The Northwestern Guardian was directly under the Central Government. Once transferred, the Black Iron Camp will no longer have the right to intervene with any matters coming after.
Gu Yun took Shen Yi with him, but the leaders of the three major factions were still there. Where did they all disappear to?
Gu Yun: “Pardon your subject’s rudeness, dare I ask Your Majesty, what was the time for the bandits’ invasion?”
Li Feng: “At the end of last year, what’s the matter?”
Gu Yun forced a smile: “It’s nothing, your subject only felt that it was a bit strange, bandits from the Western Regions have been cleaned up for a long time now, why did they suddenly appear?”
His head became more and more painful. It seemed that the force of the medicine which Chang Geng suppressed with acupuncture had turned up again.
That’s right, at the end of last year, there was a major market gathering on the Silk Road bringing together countless nations, the Black Iron Camp have had to increase the distribution of personnel for protection. The annual tributes transporting from the Northern Frontier back to the capital also moved past the northwest area, usually requiring a part of Black Cavalry as well… hence why everyone had moved out.
Why must they choose this exact time?
How come as the Northwestern Guardian’s just discovered the ‘Golden Fighter’, the Emperor’s secret envoy also instantly arrived, leaving no room for maneuver?
Moreover, how come he had never received any news regarding this matter, not before it happened, and not after?
The string in Gu Yun’s head tensed up, his thoughts in a mess, suddenly finding it hard to breathe inside this warm pavilion where it was spring all throughout the year.
Li Feng: “The Western Region’s bandits usually circle around outside Great Liang, with no letter for a.s.sistance, it’s not convenient for you to mobilize troops, it truly wasn’t easy for you to deal with them. But today, I especially asked Uncle to come, not to ask about how many bandits are out there, but to give Uncle an important task.”
Gu Yun looked up at him.
Li Feng’s gaze was like flame: “The secret envoy in disguise had now infiltrated the inland territory of Lou Lan. I am afraid for about eighty to ninety percent, there is indeed a rare Ziliujin mine from Lou Lan underground… does uncle understand my meaning?”
Gu Yun’s heart slowly sank, forcing out each word: “Pardon my ignorance, Your Majesty please make it clearer.”
Li Feng patted his shoulder, Gu Yun’s body seemed to forever unable to be warm. Whenever and wherever he might be, he would always resemble a piece of stone that had been submerged in frozen ice for three days.
“To tell you the truth, Uncle must have already known, our Great Liang is chaotic both inside and out,” Li Feng sighed, “I am very distressed, I have nowhere and no one to let them out to when awakened at midnight, an entire nation pressing on your shoulders is no easy task.”
Gu Yun cautiously chose the right words then keenly responded: “Your Majesty is occupied with hundreds and thousands of responsibilities, you are the hope of the people, you must take care of your body.
“I am not very knowledgeable in government affairs, but in the past few years, I have seen the Silk Road being built up little by little. Every year is livelier, more prosperous than the last. The major merchants in the northwest have begun to travel outside the country. Central Plains people have always been diligent and hard-working, your subject believes that in just three or five years, this prosperity can spread to the whole territory of Great Liang, when that time comes…”
Although he was resilient in his response, Li Feng was not stupid, he, of course, was able to understand the rejection.
To the currently very enthusiastic Emperor Long An, his roundabout speech was much like a bucket of cold water.
“Subject Gu,” Li Feng suddenly changed his p.r.o.nouns, arbitrarily interrupting him: “You truly don’t understand government affairs. Business travels have indeed been able to make money in the past few years, but can you guarantee that this will continue to last? The things of these business people, do you know them full well? I wasn’t aware, that in addition to being able to kill the enemy, the Marquis of Order also understands the way of business and trade.”
The Emperor was truly irritated now.
Gu Yun knew that when he heard the two words ‘Subject Gu’, he should immediately shut up and do as he was told.
He was silent for a moment, the steam lamp behind the Emperor did not know why, its fire suddenly became unstable, creating a small sparkling noise.
Gu Yun thought, a few days ago, he still vowed to Master Jiang he ‘did not dare to underestimate this body’…
Li Feng raised his hand and rubbed his temple, repressing his anger, finding a way out for the both of them. He stiffly said: “Forget it, you should return to rest first. I leave this matter to you. Go back and think about it. Spring has yet to arrive, the northwest is freezing cold, you do not have to hurry back over there…”
“Your Majesty.” Gu Yun narrowed his eyes, suddenly lifting his robes and knelt down. He once said he would not fight for meaningless temper and righteousness, but this was not simply the matter of temper and righteousness.
“Your Majesty forgive me,” Gu Yun said slowly. “Ziliujin is of course of important, but pardon your subject’s stupidity, I could not comprehend the deeper meaning of Your Majesty’s action. It was not easy for the Silk Road to become as prosperous and peaceful as right now, Your Majesty would truly abandon it regardless only for a little amount of Ziliujin?”
“The Silk Road can become what it is today, subject Gu’s contribution could not be denied, I understood that after too many years of hard work, you cannot bear to… you think I don’t feel pained?”
Li Feng resisted his temper and patiently explained: “But a big country resembling a large rundown house, wind blowing from four sides, as soon as there are rains, one will have to work hard to pull down the East Wall to make up the West Wall. Is there any place that does not have to be stretched?’
Gu Yun sneered inside, it was not convenient for it to be shown on his face, thus he only feigned indifference.
“The ground is cold, I can see uncle’s complexion is not good, even the scent of medicine on your body had not scattered yet, don’t keep kneeling like that.” Li Feng seems to have cooled down, trying to be sensible with Gu Yun, “I remember as a child, Tutor Lin had said: the power of a country lies within the two arms – ‘G.o.d-sent’ and ‘Man-made’. Does uncle remember?”
Gu Yun: “I do. ‘G.o.d-sent’ are mountains, gra.s.s, grains, soil and fish, the Ziliujin underground; ‘Man-made’ are the teachings pa.s.sed down from previous wise men, industrial and trading, craftsmanship, machines and armors. These two, resembling the beams, can still stand if one of them remain, but both cannot be broken at the same time, a ruler should remember this.”
“Uncle truly memorized all that you have read,” Li Feng lowered his eyes and looked at him. “Now these two beams have both been hollowed out by insects, what am I supposed to do?”
Gu Yun actually wanted to reply: “If you weren’t pushing the implementation of that ridiculous Zhang Ling law, perhaps there would not be so many insects,” but it was useless to say so, just look at Master Feng Han who now hugged his dog children to reflect on his actions behind closed doors.
One asking and the other one answering reminded Li Feng of when they used to study together at a young age. When Gu Yun was a child, his body was in poor health, always fell ill, all day taking medicine. His personality was no better either, never caring for anyone. But towards his brothers, however, he was very aware of his role being an ‘uncle’. Although he was even younger than Wei w.a.n.g, whenever there was anything delicious or fun, he would always save it for them, never fought for it or kept it to himself. When questioned, he would answer; when asked, he would give. Li Feng had once liked him very much.
“Get up,” Li Feng’s last bit of anger faded. “Uncle is the sharp blade of this country, I still need to rely on you to stabilize all four sides.”
Gu Yun heard his words, slowly bent over, his forehead slightly touched his fingertips on the ground.
Li Feng breathed a sigh of relief, a.s.suming he had successfully persuaded this man — Gu Yun had become wiser with his actions in the past few years, very understanding of the current affairs, not easily blown up with just the slightest touch like before. His neither light nor heavy opposition just now was perhaps only an overreaction from hearing the words ‘Lou Lan’…
Lou Lan… Gu Yun had been staying there for more than five years, his feelings must be deep, this was not incomprehensible.
With such a thought, Li Feng’s heart became softer, he intended to reach out and help Gu Yun up.
Unexpectedly, his hand has not yet extended, but Gu Yun has already straightened up and said calmly:
“Your Majesty, Lou Lan is small, but they have always remained great friends with our court. That year when countless Western Region countries rebelled, our army was besieged in the golden sand dunes for more than twenty days, the only side who secretly sent information and supplied us with rations and medicine was Lou Lan. Later, many countries, such as the Western foreigners, Western Regions, and Tian Zhu…signing the Silk Road treaty with Great Liang, Lou Lan had also served as an —”
Li Feng’s hand hung stiffly in the air, stunned by Gu Yun’s words, he then immediately turned furious, loudly shouting: “Enough!”
“Aiming at other countries’ natural resources, invading and taking siege, that is inhumane; Throwing away old favors, betraying one’s promise, that is unjust!” Gu Yun did not seem to have had ‘enough’ in the slightest — each word like a blade, clashing onto the floor of the pavilion.
Li Feng was shaking with rage: “Shut up!”
He turned his hand over the table, sweeping the papers onto the floor, immediately picking up an ink container and violently threw it — Gu Yun did not hide either, letting the container strongly hit the shoulder of his Light Armor, the sound of the impact echoing. The still wet ink dripped down from the chest of Marquis of Order’s formal attire.
Li Feng: “Gu Yun, what do you want to do?”
Gu Yun slowly forced out each word: “An inhumane and unjust army is no good fortune. Black Iron Camp’s 50,000 soldiers, although not afraid of death, we do not dare to accept this command either. His Majesty please recall your order.”