Joy of Life - Chapter 705 - A Sorrowful Song Of Defeat In Western Hu

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:50:49]
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Chapter 705: A Sorrowful Song Of Defeat In Western Hu

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

“The advice that should be given has already been given by many people. There is no need to say more.” Fan Xian patted Ye Ling’er’s shoulder with a smile. There was never any need for misgivings between the two of them.

Ye Ling’er did not raise her brows as was her habit. On the contrary, the expression on her face dimmed slightly. “Family discussions always end up worming into my ears. Although I don’t want to hear these things, father is very angry about what’s happening in the North.” She looked at Fan Xian and hesitated. After a moment, she said intently, “After all, you and I are Qing people.”

Fan Xian nodded his head and didn’t say anything, but his smile was slightly bitter. After the members of the Qinian Unit that had been sent to Dongyi met up with Mu Feng’er and passed on his orders, the unrest in the small Liang Kingdom had been reignited. This allowed for a way to oppose the court’s edict and the Great Prince to stay in Dongyi.

Northern Qi’s reaction had been wildly out of Fan Xian’s expectations. Given the time, Wang Qinian should have just arrived in Shangjing. The message he had him bring was not to have Northern Qi send out its army. He just asked for the Emperor to consider their friendship and give Dongyi a hand.

There were many ways to help. What Northern Qi did was, without a doubt, the most just and honorable. Yet, it was also one that put Fan Xian in the most awkward position. He roused himself from his thoughts. As he held the coal, he quietly chatted with Ye Ling’er, trying to understand whether or not there was anything going on with the Bureau of Military affairs from the scraps of conversations in the Ye manor.

The Emperor’s reaction toward the battle in the North was too indifferent. It made Fan Xian sense danger. However, he did not know where this danger would land.

A few days after the Winter Solstice, the Fan manor put on another family feast. The family feast this time was not like the one at the Prince’s manor with all the younger generation of the royal family invited. It was purely just a family feast. Other than the masters of the manor, the only guests were Fan Xian’s four disciples.

Yang Wanli had been banished from his position as vice director of the Ministry of Works to prison and had suffered torture while held there. After his sentence was pronounced that day in the Supreme Court, he had been taken home by Fan Xian to recover. Until now, his movements were still limited. The expression of hatred on his face had long scattered with the wind. He just sat peacefully to Fan Xian’s right.

The one that had climbed the quickest of Fan Xian’s four disciples was Cheng Jialin. He had already made it to Suzhou’s Zhizhou, but he had been implicated by Fan Xian so had also collapsed tragically. The two major crimes the Palace had put on him, visiting prostitutes and invading tombs, had been a bit over the top. He had been forcefully brought back to the capital. Fan Xian had run around for him, exhausting himself physically and mentally. In the end, he had preserved for him his life but he had to lose his post to end matters. It looked like his prospects had come to an end. Cheng Jialin sat spiritlessly beside Yang Wanli and sighed endlessly.

There were two tables in the Flower Hall. The women all sat at a table behind a screen. Only Fan Xian, Yang Wanli, and Cheng Jialin sat at the table outside. They did not touch their chopsticks. Instead, they were waiting for someone. Outside the Flower Hall, snowflakes gently fell in the garden of the Fan manor, waiting for people to return.

They did not wait long before a person, walking against the wind and snow, entered the Flower Hall guided by a servant. It was Shi Chanli, who had been away from the Qing Kingdom a few years. He had taken on Fan Xian’s determination and gone everywhere under heaven to unify the brothel business.

Shi Chanli entered the hall. Before he even brushed away the snow on his clothes, he bowed deeply to Fan Xian in the main seat and then turned toward the screen and bowed to the mistress sitting there. Only then did he turn and laugh bitterly toward Yang Wanli and Cheng Jialin. He then went forward to hug the friends he had not seen in a long time.

He and Sang Wen ran Baoyue Brothel together, so he was aware of most of the information under heaven. He also knew of the tragic encounters these two friends had run into these few months. Nothing was said, but one hug expressed all the separation and comfort.

“You’re injured, so don’t get up.” Shi Chanli had conscientiously sat below Cheng Jialin and spoken across the table to Yang Wanli, who had been trying to get up to speak. Although he was now a notable merchant and could be considered a towering figure wherever he went, the habits he formed earlier when wholeheartedly studying the holy books had still not changed. The glimmer of regret in the deepest reaches of his heart made him naturally admire the experiences of Yang Wanli, Cheng Jialin, and Hou Jichang. He also thought that his status as a merchant meant that he should sit lower.

Yang Wanli and Cheng Jialin looked at each other and smiled bitterly. They didn’t bother to acknowledge the pedantic guy. Instead, they chatted leisurely. No one talked about their tragic encounters these few months, and no one expressed criticism of the court’s laws. They did not want their teacher, Fan Xian, to be worried because of these matters.

They waited a bit longer, but no one else came. The expressions on a number of faces began to grow awkward and uncomfortable. Cheng Jialin looked at Fan Xian’s slightly solemn expression and muttered, “Perhaps the snow is heavy and he has been delayed.”

Yang Wanli pressed his lips together tightly and sighed. Picking up the wine cup in front of him, he emptied it in one go. Shi Chanli glanced at Fan Xian with confusion and said, “According to my sources, Jichang should have returned to the capital seven days ago. However, the court has not pinned any crimes on him. They’re just leaving him hanging.”

Fan Xian raised his brows and smiled. “It’s near the end of the year, so officials and colleagues have many banquet invitations. It is not unusual to not have time.”

Be that as it may, it was inevitable that his mood was gloomy. Hou Jichang had been back in the capital for a number of days but had not come to visit the Fan manor. The spies of the court had also noticed. It seemed the Palace had no intention of punishing him. What all of this stated was clear.

In a country such as this, betraying one’s teacher for glory was not unheard of. Having it happen to him, Fan Xian still felt unhappy. His gaze slowly swept across the faces of the three people. Complicated emotions rose in his heart. Shi Chanli should have been in the Song Kingdom. He had taken a risk to return to the capital to see him. Naturally, there was nothing to say about Yang Wanli. To speak of Cheng Jialin, Fan Xian had always thought that this character was slightly weak and did not trust him too much. Unexpectedly, this man would rather have his position stripped than turn his back on him.

Yet, Hou Jichang had unexpectedly not come.

“I heard Scholar He is also hosting a banquet at his manor today,” Shi Chanli said with an uncomfortable expression. “Before you entered the capital, the two of them were both known as the leaders of the Jingdou talents and were once friends.”

Yang Wanli gritted his teeth and said, with dark anger, “What a man Jichang is! He’s quite quick to renounce the dark and seek the light. When I see him another day, I must praise him properly.” Naturally, these words were sarcastic. Cheng Jialin just smiled bitterly upon hearing it. After a moment, he sighed and said, “To think that back in Tongfu Tavern, Brother Jichang had once said to us that even when Sir Fan junior walked along the street, he would take care to not allow the rain on his umbrella to land in the oil in the pots of stall-keepers. Such a people-loving person was one that we should emulate. Who would have thought that he would now… Ah…”

It was just a sigh, but Fan Xian smiled instead and called for the three of them to start eating. “Each person has their own ambition. Besides, I am unable to do anything in court now. If Jichang wants to work for the people, it make sense for him to get closer to Scholar He.”

He spoke calmly, so no one was able to see the coldness in his heart. Fan Xian knew that of the four disciples, he had favored Hou Jichang. However, the affairs of the world were strange. Who knew whether something had gone wrong with Fan Xian’s arrangements or if it had been a problem of luck? Of Fan Xian’s four disciples, Yang Wanli contributed greatly to the repair of the riverbanks. His reputation had shaken the world. Cheng Jialin had reached the position of Suzhou Zhizhou at a very young age and had also been one of the Seven Gentlemen of the new policies that the Emperor had personally summoned into the Palace. Although Shi Chanli had not entered officialdom, his status as owner of Baoyue Brothel glowed with splendor.

Yet, it was Hou Jichang who still lived in Jiaozhou unable to express his ambitions. Now that Fan Xian had completely lost power, Sir Hou probably felt dissatisfied and was forced to search out a different solution. It was not that Fan Xian could not understand this, but he was unhappy, particularly toward Scholar He, who was also hosting a banquet.

After three rounds of drinks, they talked about the stuff they had each done in their positions these years. Yang Wanli talked about how all the silver turned into the giant rocks and dirt on either side of the Great River. Cheng Jialing talked about how he protected the people as Zhizhou and how, with Sir Fan junior’s help, he had dealt with the royal salt merchants satisfactorily, pulled together money for the mistress to put into the Hangzhou Conference, and how it helped so many poor commoners. Shi Chanli spoke with a smile of all that he had seen in the world, as well as the slightly better days that the wretched brothel girls now lived. He also told an amusing anecdote. Rumors said that in the back of some Baoyue Brothels, they worshipped a statue of Sir Fan junior because he had protected the lives and safety of so many girls. With these words, everyone, other than Shi Chanli, sprayed out the alcohol in their mouths.

Although the three of them were talking about their own matters, they were all things related to Fan Xian. They spoke of the things Fan Xian had done in his life that were for the country and the people. Fan Xian was not a saint, only a mortal, but this made him slightly happier. He looked at these three with a smile. After a moment of pause, he said, “Wanli has been living in the manor these days. In any case, he has no proper home in Jingdou. Jialin, your family is still in Suzhou. You may as well move into the manor.”

The moment their teacher spoke, the three of them fell silent at the same time and put down the chopsticks in their hands, looking at him.

“I have made arrangements for your family in Suzhou. You don’t have to worry,” Fan Xian said warmly as he looked at Cheng Jialin. “Just get through this period. I’ve called you here today because I was worried that you would have resentment in your heart toward the court and me and hurt yourselves instead.”

He laughed bitterly and said, “Of course, now it looks like I don’t need to worry about Jichang. As you know, I’ve never demanded anything of you other than those eight words. Even if the court wants to find evidence of my crimes from you, it’s not possible. Jichang will have his own considerations, but I trust that he will not make something out of nothing and betray me.” Fan Xian’s expression calmed. “The four of you followed me as officials, but that was during times of peace. So, you had to put in effort. Presently, the world is not very peaceful, so you need to endure in silence. I know you all want to help me and contacted some close colleagues in secret. In the future, do not do this. My matters are not something that officials in court can resolve.”

Cheng Jialing smiled bitterly and accepted it. They all remembered clearly the eight words Fan Xian gave them when they were sent out: Be a good man, be a good official.

“Now that you cannot be an official, you must be honest men.” There was a hidden pain between Fan Xian’s brows. The Emperor had brought down everyone around him into the dust and had sent him glancing left and right. It left him overwrought. This move was truly overly ruthless.

After the family banquet, Yang Wanli and Cheng Jialing went by themselves to the back garden to rest. Fan Xian kept Shi Chanli back. Naturally, he had not just summoned Shi Chanli back to the capital across thousands of li for something as simple as a meal. There were just the two of them in the study. Shi Chanli no longer had to hide anything and angrily cursed out Hou Jichang.

Fan Xian shook his head and said, “In the end, Jichang is only a scholar and an official. Even if he just learned how to curry favor, how does he know he made a great mistake?”

Shi Chanli’s heart chilled. He knew too many of his teacher’s secrets. Naturally, he knew that he was not just simply a powerful official. His teacher’s power was outside the authority of an official position. Hou Jichang’s betrayal had actually angered a ruler of the darkness.

“Don’t worry that I will kill him. I don’t have the time,” Fan Xian said with his eyes slightly shuttered. “How goes the matter I asked you to investigate?”

“There’s nothing unusual about Dongyi and the North. There is no conflict at all with the battle on the surface.” Shi Chanli first supplemented and then replied to Fan Xian’s question seriously. “You wanted to investigate the matter of Gong Dian leaving the capital. It is indeed very strange. Two months ago, the Bureau of Military Affairs sent a mobilization order toward Nanzhao. However, its secrecy level was very high. The brothel only heard about it. Presently, without the cooperation of the Council, we can only touch on the surface of a lot of information.”

“Nanzhao? What’s happening there?” Fan Xian asked with a frown.

“Commander Ye’s son is on the front lines in Nanzhao. According to court conventions, now that Nanzhao has no war affairs and the new ruler has inherited for a full three years, half the force there should return to the capital to debrief…” Shi Chanli glanced at him and continued, “Based on the time, they should have already arrived in Jingdou, seen the Emperor, and been split into various camps. However, those soldiers have still not arrived.”

“You mean that they could have gone west?” Fan Xian’s heart thumped. He suddenly thought of a terrifying possibility. Shaking his head, he said, “Such a large military mobilization, how could it be hidden from the people?”

“From the beginning, we put our attention on the South, even if it was at Weizhou. With Guan Wumei’s help, perhaps we could find something,” Shi Chanli said, blaming himself. “Baoyue Brothel has been paying attention to Jingdou, Dongyi, and Northern Qi. The intelligence reports from that side have not been sorted carefully enough.”

“This has nothing to do with you. It was me who set the focus.” Fan Xian rubbed the headache at his temples and muttered to himself, “Ye Ling’er’s brother… That bastard is not often in Jingdou. I had forgotten there was such a person. Looking at the time, if the soldiers from Nanzhao actually headed back and passed Jingdou without entering and actually headed west, then should they not have already reached Dingzhou?”

Fan Xian raised his head and took a deep breath. His eyes were filled with unease and tiredness. He knew that he had made a grave mistake, but he had been under house arrest in Jingdou these few months and the Overwatch Council was under Yan Bingyun’s care. Relying just on Baoyue Brothel, it was impossible to have an accurate grasp of the movement of the Qing Kingdom’s military strength.

“Gong Dian left the capital and went to Dingzhou to summon Li Hongcheng back to the capital. He took 10,000 Jingdou Garrison soldiers and 2,000 imperial soldiers,” Shi Chanli said. “That was something we found out earlier.”

“I know.” A sense of failure rose in Fan Xian’s heart. His palm slapped gently against the desk. With a sigh, he said, “I just didn’t think that the Emperor would do something on such a large scale, to transfer troops from the distant South across thousands of li. With the army changing guards, was he not afraid of great unrest under heaven?”

Shi Chanli understood these words. His body grew cold. Forcing himself to stay calm, he analyzed the situation. “For the court, the new master of Nanzhao is young. Most of the powerful officials lean toward the Qing Kingdom, so there is no need to guard against them. Leaving a squad and a half of border soldiers in the South is sufficient. Although the situation of Yangjing and the Northern Camp dealing with Northern Qi and Dongyi looked like it was because of the lingering effects of the rebellion and lack of a commander in the Northern Camp, in reality, there was not much danger. Thus, for the Emperor, as long as he could pacify Xiliang, there were no other sources of unrest under heaven. Then, he could put all his effort into preparing for the expedition North.”

“Pacifying Xiliang would require defeating those people on the grasslands.” Fan Xian frowned and sighed lightly. He knew that he had still been trapped by the Emperor. In the end, he had not managed to escape his grasp. A tiredness and disappointment filled his body, making him sit woodenly in the chair, unable to move.

He finally understood why the Emperor maintained such an indifferent attitude toward the battle in the North, not feeling the slightest anger or caution about the potential collusion between Northern Qi and Fan Xian. It turned out that the Emperor had long sorted out all the possible actions his illegitimate child could do and had put all of his attention and efforts into the West. The Emperor had not danced to Fan Xian’s tune at all. On the contrary, he had taken the opportunity and launched a ruthless attack toward Dingzhou.

“We must immediately notify Li Hongcheng,” Shi Chanli said as his face paled with shock.

Fan Xian sat tiredly on the chair. After a moment, he said “There’s no time.”

Coldness seeped in all directions in the winter on the grasslands. The wind came from the north. The slight moisture it brought as it traveled across the North Sea had long been sucked dry by the barren desert, leaving only a dry cold. The autumn grass on the ground had disappeared long ago, leaving behind only sand and dirt. It stretched as far as the eye could see. The ground was so frozen that even horses were unaccustomed to it.

In past winters, the birds would look down from the sky and perhaps find some moving and alluring greenness at the side of some lake. Now, even these pitiful habitats could not be found because these cold-enduring birds, which did not wish to fly south for the winter, had a blood red ring around their eyes. The roots of the frozen grass were blood red. The round rocks were blood red. The sand and dirt that crumbled when squeezed were blood red. Even the bodies of the voles that crawled out of their burrows were blood red.

This was the entrance to Hong Mountain, a place that had to be passed when entering the Qing Kingdom from the grasslands. The mountain rocks were all red, but the red was not a strange color granted by heaven. Instead, it had been stained red by the Hu people of the grasslands and the soldiers of the Qing Kingdom.

There were bodies and blood everywhere. The sounds of killing that had startled the vole out of its burrow and sent the birds skyward had gradually come to a stop. There were just some cruel battles still going on by some of the desolate mounds. A few warriors of the Hu tribe continued to put up a resistance. They gathered into a few circles and sprayed out the last of their blood under the attack of more than 10 times their number of Qing soldiers.

A year ago, the general of Dingzhou, the heir of King Jing, Li Hongcheng, had met up with the Black Knights and Fan Xian who had been escaping the grasslands at the mouth of Hong Mountain. At the time, he had extravagantly hoped to be able to carry out a beautiful ambush battle there. However, the Hu people were not stupid and never gave the Qing army such an opportunity.

If this had been in the past, during such a cold time, the countless tribes of Western Hu would follow the banner of the King Tent and slowly hide from the icy air and head deeper into the grasslands until they reached the foot of the unsurpassable mountain. After enduring a year of bitter cold there, at the spring of the next year, they would newly spread out across the entire grasslands.

Very rarely did western Hu choose to carry out an offense against the Qing Kingdom’s Xiliang Road during the depths of winter. In the past, other than tribes within the grasslands who had lost power in an internal struggle and would crazily try to enter the Qing territory to steal the army and common people’s winter grain, there had never been a major military operation.

This year was not the same. For some reason, Sir Hu Ge, who had inherited most of the Left Virtuous Prince’s cows, sheep, and warriors, had suddenly and brazenly decided to lead his troops east. Furthermore, he had bravely, or stupidly, launched an offensive against the Qing Kingdom’s territory.

What confused the western Hu people even more was that after their great Chief, their wise and far-thinking Chief had thought deeply in his tent for a day and a night, he showed approval for Hu Ge’s actions. Furthermore, he had risked the severe cold and sent out the most elite of the grasslands Iron Riders in an attempt to cross the entrance of Hong Mountain, get around Qingzhou, and strike directly at the heart of Xiliang.

No one had expected that there would be 20,000 Qing Iron Riders and 70,000 Dingzhou troops hidden in an ambush near the wastelands by the entrance to Hong Mountain. These Qing soldiers seemed to know ahead of time the direction of the Hu people’s attack, their numbers, time of the attack, and, most terrifyingly, they had known for sure that western Hu would brave the severe cold to attack.

The Hu people’s attack was illogical. The Qing army’s ambush was even more unreasonable. These unreasonable things had coincided to become a great battle in Qingzhou that could be recorded in the history books, a battlefield on which tens of thousands of people sacrificed their lives.

By a desolate mound, already filled with bodies and blood flowing through the sand, the group of Hu tribe warriors was down to the last man. He was surrounded by Qing soldiers. From the battle earlier, the Qing officer knew that this man must be one of the aces on the grasslands and so stopped urging his subordinates forward. Instead, he slowly raised his right hand and coldly prepared to send out arrows.

“Surrender or no surrender?” A cold voice echoed in the cold air of the grasslands. Covered with wounds, Hu Ge breathed deeply. His eyes were red. He stared at the cold Qing soldiers. Suddenly, he let out a cry and stabbed his knife through his own chest.

Hu Ge died, but his eyes remained open, staring with bitter resentment at the sky. Even if he died, he wanted to become a resentful spirit to ask the young man in Jingdou, who had created all of this illogical bloodiness, What was it for? What was all of this for?