Joy of Life - Chapter 736 - Dusk

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:51:02]
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Chapter 736: Dusk

The first snows landed on the ancient walls of Shangjing. The black and green contrasted beautifully on the palace hall but did not bring the slightest sense of charm. No one took pity on the thin layer of white snow on the square that was like a woolen blanket. The day had just grown bright. More and more officials began to step on it heartlessly, churning the white snow into mud.

The faces of these officials were solemn and they walked quickly, without any interest or leisure to appreciate the snow. The battle reports from the South flowed into Shangjing endlessly to the government offices by the Royal Palace. The government offices were completely enveloped in a tense and oppressive atmosphere. Fortunately, it was not very chaotic.

The day was very dark and heavy. The Northern Qi officials in the offices were heatedly arguing something. Suddenly, a very low voice stopped all the fighting and made the Northern Qi’s inner cabinet recover its silence. It then quickly decided on a response amidst the silence.

Concerning this battle, the Northern Qi court had been preparing for many years. When news that the Qing army had brazenly attacked, no one was surprised. The methods of control during the battle and the response were quickly sent from the Royal Palace through the government offices to this seemingly young but actually old country. In just a month, the entire Northern Qi had been called into action.

A bright-yellow royal carriage left the government offices. The officials did not see it off from behind. Instead, they re-invested themselves into the busy military intelligence and state affairs. At such a crucial juncture, if any official dared to express their skill at sucking up, they had to be careful that their heads would not be chopped off by an angry Emperor.

The royal carriage stopped outside the main palace. The heavy-faced Northern Qi Emperor swung his hand and neatly jumped down from the carriage, scaring the eunuchs and serving girls at his side. He had no concern about injuring himself. Right there, on the stone steps in front of the main palace, he turned and scolded the Commander of the Brocade Guards, Wei Hua, as well as three other important officials in a cold voice. “There is internal unrest in the Qing Kingdom. I have stalled for an entire year. Now, things are still so chaotic. What do I keep you useless wastrels around for?”

The hearts of the Northern Qi officials trembled. They knew that the Emperor was not in a good mood. Last night, the battle reports that had traveled thousands of li had clearly stated that the Qing army in Yanjing had begun to move. The Northern Qi army stationed in Nanjing suffered repeated defeats. The full authority commander, Shang Shanhu, was not in Nanjing. Instead, he was hiding in a small city in the Song Kingdom and was yet to make a move.

After some thought, the officials were not sure the exact reason for the Emperor’s towering rage. Was it because of the chaos among the officials in the government offices earlier? Was it because of his fear of the Qing Kingdom’s difficult to oppose an army of hundreds of thousands? Was it because the Emperor suspected that General Shang Shanhu was purposely maintaining his silence?

Wei Hua’s body was bent very low. The Northern Qi court had long become a uniform held tightly in the Emperor’s hands. There were no longer any factions that dared to challenge the Emperor’s dignity. Even Master Ku He’s death four years ago did not change this trend. Furthermore, the great enemy stood before them right now. No one dared to underestimate the Northern Qi Emperor’s might in the slightest.

Wei Hua was family to the empress dowager and the Emperor’s trusted aide. He knew what the Emperor’s words about internal unrest in the Qing Kingdom meant. To be able to stall the Qing Kingdom’s invasion for as long as a year, it was completely because of the betrayal of the two consecutive masters of the Qing Overwatch Council. Wei Hua knew that regardless of whether it was the betrayal of the already dead Chen Pingping or of the fate unknown Fan Xian, probably only the Emperor, in all of Northern Qi, knew the truth of this matter. So, Wei Hua didn’t say anything.

Of the three officials, the aged Minister of the Ministry of War could no longer stand it. He bravely stood out to try and calm the Emperor’s anger. He was very worried that the young Emperor would doubt the loyalty of General Shang Shanhu. The Qing military was advancing forward aggressively. If there was doubt between ruler and official, the results of this battle were obvious.

As the commander in name of the Northern Qi military, this official could not watch as problems grew between the national pillar of Northern Qi, Shang Shanhu, and the Emperor, who used maturity and steadiness beyond his years to calm the hearts of the officials in court. Thus, he prostrated himself on the ground and remonstrated forcefully.

Gradually, the Northern Qi Emperor’s expression calmed. Shaking out his sleeves, he had the officials leave to deal with the urgent military reports from the South while he led Wei Hua into the main palace.

Behind the beaded curtain by the throne in the main palace, the empress dowager, who had not listened to politics behind the curtain for many years, was waiting for their arrival.

In front of the beaded curtain, the Northern Qi Emperor bowed slightly. Wei Hua also bowed. By now, the Northern Qi Emperor’s expression had calmed completely. Looking at Wei Hua, he asked in a cold voice, “Are there any new developments with the Qing court?”

As the leader of Northern Qi’s spy network, Wei Hua was responsible for gathering all of the intelligence reports from the court to military affairs. However, these reports had been sent to the Emperor’s royal study in the night. For a moment, he didn’t know how to answer such a question. What exactly was the Emperor asking?

After considering his words, Wei Hua furrowed his brows and said, “The commander of the Jingdou Garrison is still Shi Fei, but Xiao Jinhua has been moved from Nanzhao back to the Northern Camp. Additionally, there is Wang Zhikun, who has guarded Yanjing for generations. The movements of the Qing generals are not surprising.”

The Northern Qi Emperor furrowed his brows slightly. “Xiao Jinhua was once the Qing Great Prince’s deputy general. During the Jingdou rebellion four years ago, his performance was mediocre. In addition to his connection with the Great Prince, he was exiled by the Emperor to Nanzhao. Moving him back to the Northern Camp is very strange. As for Wang Zhikun, what do you think of him?”

“Wang Zhikun is a very secretive person. No matter how the Qing court changes, he remains firmly rooted in Yanjing. According to the court’s observation these years, the Qing Emperor has kept him in preparation for the present Northern invasion.” Wei Hua had no choice but to repeat the analysis from the Brocade Guards and Ministry of War.

The Northern Qi Emperor was silent for a moment. He then suddenly asked, “Ye Zhong is still in Jingdou?”

Wei Hua replied, “Yes.”

The Northern Qi Emperor stared at his face. Cold light flashed from eyes that were narrowed into crescents. “You are sure?”

Wei Hua’s heart trembled. He said in a low voice, “I am sure.”

“Then this is strange.” The Emperor glanced at the empress dowager behind the curtain and said, shaking his head, “If the Qing Emperor is truly planning to finish everything in one stroke, how could he keep Ye Zhong in Jingdou? These few years, the Qing Kingdom has been tormented by Chen Pingping and Fan Xian badly. The famous generals that are experts in war have either died or turned traitor. The Qin family are all dead, and the Great Prince has defected to Dongyi. How could a mere Wang Zhikun assure the Qing Emperor? If this old man isn’t going to personally lead the expedition, at least someone such as Ye Zhong would be let out into the North.”

Wei Hua’s heart trembled slightly. He also couldn’t understand why the mobilization of generals in the Qing court was being arranged like this. The battle between two powerful countries was not a small matter. Even if Wang Zhikun had planned for this for 20 years in Yanjing, if the Qing military did not bring out a major figure who could intimidate the land, how could they demonstrate their determination to the world? How could they announce their tyranny to Northern Qi?

Northern Qi was not Dongyi. This piece of land continued the throne of the Wei Kingdom. It had expansive territories and a large population. The northeast plains were also one of the granaries of the land. Although it had been failing for a long time, under the empress dowager and the Emperor’s sincere cooperation and forceful methods, the country had gradually blossomed into its youth. Even with the Qing Kingdom’s powerful national strength and military power, if they wanted to attack Northern Qi, it would not be a goal achievable within a short time. Presumably, the Qing Emperor would not make such an arrogant judgment, even with his powerful self-confidence.

The inside of the main palace of Northern Qi’s beautiful Royal Palace immediately sank into silence. The Emperor paced slowly beneath the throne. His brows pulled into a pretty furrow as he analyzed what his peer in the Qing Kingdom was doing. The battle had already begun, so there was no chance of it luring out or testing the enemy. Hundreds of thousands of people had already paid with their lives for this. Since the battle had already started, why had the Qing Emperor still not put on a ferocious air? On the contrary, he was conforming to the norms. Such conformation exuded a sense of pettiness.

Wei Hua also sank into silence. His gaze moved endlessly with the Emperor’s steps as he turned the matter over and over in his mind. In his opinion, given the strength of the Qing military, there was little difference in the general the Qing court put in charge. But, seeing that the Emperor put great value in the choice for the Qing military commander, he also faintly felt a glimmer of suspicion.

Suddenly, he thought of General Shang Shanhu with his troops alone in a city in the Song Kingdom, far away from Northern Qi’s Nanjing defensive line. Something turned in his mind. He wanted to say something but was scared that the Emperor would fly into a rage again. He looked at the blurry figure behind the curtain. Silently gritting his teeth he said, “Perhaps the Qing Emperor is afraid of General Shang Shanhu’s use of soldiers and is unwilling to attack with all his strength. However, as his army slowly presses forward, it will force the Qi defenses to crack under this pressure. The Qing court will use this crack to leap forward…”

Before he had even finished speaking, the Northern Qi Emperor was already smiling. More accurately speaking, something like a smile rose to his face. He stared at Hua Wei’s face with calmness but also with oppression. The crack Wei Hua spoke of earlier was not actually a crack in the Northern Qi military strength’s arrangement. Instead, he was talking about a crack in the people’s hearts. Just like the old Minister of the Ministry of War remonstrated in the snow, the officials of Northern Qi were all very worried that General Shang Shanhu, who was considered a pillar in the Qi court, would cause the Emperor to become angry because of the lack of success in the war in the South.

It had been months since the war began between the two countries. As the commander of the South, not only did Shang Shanhu not stop the invasion of the Qing army, he also left the Nanjing defensive line and hid far away. He ignored dozens of urgent commands from the court and watched as the Qing army came within a hundred li.

In the Northern Qi court, the Emperor’s rage had been demonstrated without any concealment. Thus, there was now conflict in the governmental offices, the guesses of the officials, the remonstration from the Minister of the Ministry of War, and Wei Hu’s daring words.

Unexpectedly, Wei Hua was not faced with the Emperor’s angry scolding. The Northern Qi Emperor only looked at him with indifference and said in a slow voice, “You underestimate me. The people of the Qing Kingdom also underestimate me.”

Wei Hua’s heart shook slightly, unsure of the reason for the Emperor’s words.

“I have never doubted Shang Shanhu’s loyalty.” The Northern Qi Emperor’s brows rose. They were filled with an indescribable coldness. “No, to speak accurately, I do not care if General Shang Shanhu is loyal to me as long as he is loyal to the court and loyal to this country. That is enough.”

Wei Hua’s expression changed slightly, not understanding. He wondered if the Emperor’s rage that made the Northern Qi court officials incomparably worried, as well as the sounds of Shang Shanhu being scolded that came from the Royal Palace, were all fake.

“If the Qing Emperor really thinks that I will make mistakes under his pressure, I can only say that the Qing Emperor’s is nowhere near as powerful as I imagined,” the Northern Qi Emperor calmly said. “I have done all of this for the Qing people to see. It could also be said that I was doing it for you all to see.”

“If the Qing army truly dared to leap directly North, are they not worried about General Shanhu lying in wait in the center as well as Dongyi’s strength?” The Northern Qi Emperor mockingly said, “Would the Qing people fall for my trap? I didn’t believe they would. Unexpectedly, all these officials in court jumped in one by one.”

Wei Hua was silent for a moment. He then said, “Your Majesty’s anger is enough to intimidate the hearts of the officials. I am just worried that there are officials in court who will misunderstand your order and affect the soldiers at the front lines.”

War was all about logistics. Generals were soaked in blood at the front while the officials manipulated the Emperor in the rear. All matters were like this. The Northern Qi Emperor’s expression did not change. He looked at Wei Hua and said, “That is why I had you come today. For these few days, follow in my lead and submit memorials to attack General Shanhu’s subordinate officials. Shut them all out of court.”

Wei Hua’s heart jumped. He wondered if the court was about to have a change in situation with its greatest enemy right in front of them.

“I know what you’re worried about, but there is no need to worry too much. Presently, the dangerous situation is set, and this is not the court of the past. These are just useless creatures who only know how to ponder over my intentions. If they’re seized, who will speak out against it?”

The Northern Qi Emperor sat on the throne and turned to glance at the curtain. He saw his mother nod slightly behind the curtain, so he sat straight and said with a solemn expression, “From today onward, any official who dares to speak ill of the general is to be beheaded! Anyone who neglects matters of the front lines are also to be beheaded!”

“You’re not bad, and the Minister of War is also not bad.” The Northern Qi Emperor looked into Wei Hua’s eyes. “If, at this time, you two still do not speak for General Shangshan, I would probably behead you two as well. When the country is about to fall, I don’t keep useless people or leisurely people.”

Wei Hua’s body trembled slightly. Only now did he know that the Emperor had probably put his complete trust in General Shangshan a long time ago. That was why he could face the tense situation at hand so calmly. However, with this, who in the entire Northern Qi court would suspect Shang Shanhu far away in the South? If Shang Shanhu really had other thoughts…

“Do you know how to go to war?” the Northern Qi Emperor suddenly asked mockingly.

“I don’t know anything about military matters.”

“Neither do I. Since it is so, such matters as war must be handed to someone else to do. Since I have used Shang Shanhu, I will continue to use him without doubt,” the Emperor calmly said. “From today onward, all military and civilian matters of the seven southern counties are to be given to General Shangshan to deal with. Gather the strength of the court and aid the general in opposing the enemy. Send the order down in a bit.”

For some reason, Wei Hua stared in a daze, and somewhat rudely, at the young Emperor in front of him. Suddenly, his body felt warm. His original sense of fear became unusually calm and determined. He knelt on one knee and replied, directly and efficiently, “I accept the order!”

Wei Hua left the Royal Palace. Who knew what kind of dangerous situation this edict of the Emperor’s, which gave one-third of the power of the Northern Qi court completely to Shang Shanhu, would attract? The Northern Qi Emperor, who had just issued this edict, was unusually calm. He looked calmly at the light snow outside and did not feel a sliver of fear.

Everyone in the world was afraid of the Qing military’s incomparable battle strength, but the Northern Qi Emperor was not afraid because he had Shang Shanhu. Furthermore, he dared to use Shang Shanhu and to use him more absolutely than any other ruler.

More importantly, although he didn’t understand military affairs, he knew that the great battle between the two countries was, in the end, a competition of national strength. As long as the Northern Qi court did not make any mistakes, no matter how strong the invaders from the South were, they could not destroy Northern Qi within a few months.

In the end, everything needed time. The Northern Qi Emperor was still young while the powerful ruler in the South was already old. The Northern Qi Emperor could waste time with the Qing Emperor, but the Qing Emperor did not want to waste too much time.

The Northern QI Emperor’s eyes narrowed slightly. There was still a question he couldn’t resolve in his heart. If the Qing Emperor really didn’t want to waste time with him, why did the battles in the South appear so long-winded? Was the Qing Emperor worried about Shang Shanhu or Dongyi? Or, was he worried about something else?

He should almost be at Jingdou, right?

The beaded curtain moved slightly. A girl wearing a floral coat walked out from behind the curtain supporting the empress dowager. The empress dowager looked warmly at the Northern Qi Emperor. A powerful sense of satisfaction grew involuntarily in her heart. With such a son, or perhaps to say, to have such a daughter, what else was there to wish for?

The Northern Qi Emperor turned and looked at Haitang Duoduo wearing the floral coat. He smiled warmly and said, “Aunt disciple, if you could have brought back celestial troops and generals from the Temple, I would not need to endure such hardship.”

Haitang slowly shook her head and didn’t say anything. She wondered what the Emperor would be like if he knew the support he most wanted to obtain in his lifetime had been destroyed by her and Thirteenth Wang.

“I remember that Fan Xian once told you that this world belonged to them and to us. When all was said and done, it is ours.” The Northern Qi Emperor seemed to have thought of something. Suddenly, he calmly said, “I never knew where his confidence came from. We are faced with a dangerous situation from the South, yet I am faintly able to grasp this kind of feeling.”

Haitang Duoduo was silent for a moment and then said, “When he was in Jiangnan, he also said we are the sun at six or seven in the morning.”

“The Qing Emperor is just a dying sun.” The Northern Qi Emperor furrowed his brows slightly. It was as if even he didn’t believe this judgment. Most of the calm in his expression was actually faked. He didn’t know if pulling together the strength of the country along with Shang Shanhu’s control were enough to temporarily stop the Qing Emperor’s steps in conquering the world. No matter how much of a talent Shang Shanhu was on the battlefield, he was only a single man.

The empress dowager, who had maintained a warm silence, suddenly laughed and said, “Looks like the dying sun that I am can only go hold my grandchild.”

Finally, a wave of laughter came out from the oppressive Northern Qi Royal Palace. The Northern Qi Emperor looked at Haitang and was silent for a moment. He then said, “Come with me to see Hong Doufan.”

In Jingdou’s Royal Palace, a dying sun hung in the western sky. The weather was still warm. Dusk was the color of blood. It was as if reflected against the cinnabar red of the palace walls and glazed bright yellow tiles until it seemed like it was burning up.

The Emperor of the Qing Kingdom, with a tired and sallow face, was on a reclining chair in front of Taiji Palace. His fingers slowly brushed through the fur of a large and fat white cat. The fat cat seemed to be enjoying the service of a powerful ruler and laid there lazily, occasionally turning around to move its soft belly to the Emperor’s fingertips.

Naturally, this fat cat did not know how terrifying the Emperor’s fingers were.

A military general stood silently in the dusk, very close to the Emperor. He didn’t say a single word. He just looked at the white cat beneath the Emperor’s hand and the two fat cats behind the wooden chair that were presently stretching themselves out. He couldn’t help but feel a sense of absurdity.

These three cats were respectively yellow, black, and white. They all had been feed to be unusually fat. However, the Palace rarely kept such pets, so no one knew how these seemingly normal cats won the Emperor’s affection.

Not a sliver of his emotions appeared on the general’s face. Even if a 2-year-old infant died in front of him, his expression would still not change. Furthermore, he was not just a crude man who knew how to fight. Before he returned to the capital and entered the Palace, he had found sufficient information.

These three fat cats belonged to the Fan manor. Princess Chen had raised them since they were kittens. At some point, they had been brought into the Royal Palace by Princess Chen to play with the Emperor. He had kept the three cats until now.

It seemed to be only three cats. In the eyes of this general, they seemed to carry a deeper level of meaning. He didn’t dare to ask and had nowhere to ask because no one in the world knew if that person was already dead or still alive and well.

The Emperor drew back his gaze from the dusky clouds and glanced at the general. “The little guy in Northern Qi is just putting on a show for you all. Are all these people the court keeps in the Bureau of Military Affairs incompetent?”

It was impossible to tell how old this general was because his eyes were clear and cold, seemingly very young, but his face was quite weathered. After thinking a moment, the general straightforwardly said, “In the battlefield, enemies should be met head-on. Victory is won through extraordinary strategies. No matter how cunning Shang Shanhu is, as long as Your Majesty gives the order, the three armies of Iron Riders will give their lives and certainly not disappoint your expectations. As for the matter of using the troops, Your Majesty can make the decision alone. There is no need for the Bureau of Military Affairs to do more pointless things.”

These words were not flattery. The officials who flattered would certainly not say such ugly sounding things. This general truly believed in the Emperor’s military prowess and naturally sighed in admiration.

“Northern Qi retreats and retreats again, and wishes to retreat to Nanjing to exchange distance for time. That kind wants to waste time with me.” A disdainful smile rose to the corners of the Emperor’s lips. “Shang Shanhu is caught in the center. It’s truly a wise decision. However, with the present situation as so, once this one nail is pulled out, who can stop my army moving North?”

“The North needs a commander.” The Emperor closed his eyes and allowed the bloody color of dusk to envelop his slender face. “Wang Zhikun has been kept for dozens of years and has become a bit blunt. If we wish to uproot this nail that his Shang Shanhu, we must go through Dongyi. Although I have issued no edict, Governor Wang is clearly terrified of the 4,000 black knights and my eldest son’s 10,000 odd soldiers. With his hands so tied, how can he do anything?”

Immediately after, the Qing Emperor glanced at the young general. He furrowed his brows slightly and said, “You just returned from the grasslands and you know little of the matters of the Bureau of Military Affairs. Don’t always argue with your father, as his son what a scandal!”

Not sure why the topic of conversation turned in this direction, the general felt his heart chill. He lowered his head in acquiescence.

The Emperor stared at his face and slowly said, “Don’t have hopes that I will send you North to extract the nail. You don’t have enough experience. Although you have honed your ruthlessness going in and out of the grasslands, you still have not learned cunning and patience. You are not a match for Shang Shanhu.”

The general raised his head abruptly. A glimmer of dissatisfaction appeared on his face.

“Ye Wan, you’re too inexperienced,” the Emperor said in a slow voice. “The Hu people of the grasslands are not as cunning as the people in the central plain. Your courage in entering deep into the grasslands to pursue the Chief’s court deserves to be praised, but have you thought about why the 7,000 Man Iron Riders still have no way of making contact with the Chief’s court? If the court united with the Man riders on the ice and snowy grasslands, do you think you could still escape back alive?”

This young general was a rising star in the Qing court, the son of the Head of the Bureau Of Military Affairs, Ye Zhong, the commander during the great battle of Qingzhou, Ye Wan. After the battle of Qingzhou, Ye Wan led 4,000 Qing elite Iron Riders in pursuit of the remaining soldiers of the grasslands court and made a name for himself in the grasslands. He had returned alive from the grasslands. Although there were only 800 people left of the 4,000 Iron Riders, such level of achievement was considered an incredible matter amongst any of the Qing Kingdom’s military operations.

However, the Emperor’s light words right now hit on something within the young general’s heart and woke up a faint suspicion in Ye Wan’s heart. Why had Chief Su Bida’s remaining soldiers not been able to make contact with the Man riders after months of dangerous pursuit?

Ye Wan’s heart trembled slightly. He looked at the Emperor’s gradually aging face in search of an answer.

“Although Fan Xian had taken Haitang Duoduo to the Temple, he had not forgotten to arrange backup on the grasslands,” the Emperor said with an indifferent expression. “Effort is spent outside of writing poetry. Victory and defeat are decided outside of the battlefield. Whenever you understand this, the commander of the Northern Expedition will be you.”

Ye Wan stood silently by the Emperor’s side with a heavy mood.

“The victory and defeat of the world are actually outside of the battlefield. If Fan Xian dies within a year, I will naturally have won. If I die, everyone who does like me will naturally have won.”

The Emperor spoke as if he was narrating someone else’s matters. His fingers tightened gently and raised the fat cat into his arms, gently combing through its hair meticulously.