The inevitable war has broken out in Lost You Forever, another war to grip the younger generation that might end with a rocks fall down ending like the fate that befall the parental generation. But one clear indicator that things are different this time around is the motivation behind it, Zhuan Xu’s ambition to unite the world is like his grandfather wanted, but not with the same underlying desperation nor with the same win at all costs mentality. This war feels more like a gentlemanly skirmish and one wonders what the Grand Emperor has up his sleeve to play Zhuan Xu’s war of attrition game. No matter who wins or loses, right now both Xiao Yao and Ah Nian feel like losers either way.
I’ve been missing bratty little Ah Nian and I didn’t even realize it until she showed up in this episode. She’s really grown on me probably because she’s also growing herself, one of the female characters that isn’t calculating and says what she thinks just like Xiao Yao. It’s sad their sisterly relationship looks fractured now that they don’t share the same dad anymore, but who’s to say sisterly affection can’t continue onward, especially since they are not fighting over the same guy. Speaking of which, how’s Ah Nian going to reconcile the love of her life attacking her kingdom and looking to overthrow her Emperor daddy? Not exactly a guy she can marry even if Zhuan Xu wanted her, which we all know all he wants is the one girl he can’t get. Oh LYF, do keep on being complicated and difficult and oh so engrossing.
Chapter 39 – The Bitterness of Longing For You:
The war between Gao Xing and Xuan Yuan was now going on ten years. During that time both sides had victories but Xuan Yuan was gradually gaining an advantage and very slowly encroaching into Gao Xing territory.
Living in Gao Xing for so long, many Xuan Yuan soldiers learned to speak the Gao Xing language. Zhuan Xu gave strict orders not to bother the civilians and any violation would be punishable by death. The soldiers were extremely well-behaved towards the Gao Xing people and every year during high tide season the soldiers would work alongside the Gao Xing people to build dams. When there was no battles looming, the soldiers would take their instruments and travel to villages to provide impromptu performances.
If there was no ongoing war, the Gao Xing people really had no reason to hate the Xuan Yuan soldiers.
Towards the end of summer, Xuan Yuan attacked a critical Gao Xing castle and after four days and four nights of nonstop battling Feng Long finally lost to Ru So.
Zhuan Xu heard the news and wasn’t worried about the defeat at one particular castle siege but was instead worried about Feng Long. He was young and proud, born from an elite noble family with great talent and always praised to the heavens by everyone. He was unused to defeat whereas Ru So was seasoned at all types of skirmishes. Zhuan Xu was worried that this defeat would lead to Feng Long feeling doubt and passing it on to his troops. Once the troop morale gets shaken then everything can start to fall apart.
Zhuan Xu mulled it over and decided to personally pay a visit to the battlefield. Even if he did nothing, he would get raging drunk with Feng Long while cursing out Ru So and help him let out that frustration and get back on his feet.
When Zhuan Xu paid a visit to Xiao Yue Peak, both Jing and Xiao Yao happened to be there.
Zhuan Xu said to Xiao Yao “I need to leave for some time.”
“To the outside world I’m going to Xuan Yuan Mountain but in reality I’m going to the battlefield. It’ll likely take a month.”
Xiao Yao realized it was to Feng Long’s army base and awkwardly asked “Any danger?”
“There is always danger but I’ve walked through the most difficult path already so no danger can ever be as scary.”
Xiao Yao nodded her head “Okay, you go and I’ll take good care of Grandfather.”
Zhuan Xu said “You said before that some plants only grow in Gao Xing and you can’t find it here so it’s hard to catalogue accurately. Do you want to go to Gao Xing with me and take a look at those local plants yourself?”
“No!” Xiao Yao answered immediately.
Zhuan Xu nodded his head with a smile and said to Jing “I want to discuss a proposition with you. Gao Xing and Xuan Yuan products are very different and the two kingdoms never were that close so the flow of goods have been limited only to the expensive items the nobles like while the common people never get to enjoy it. The free flow of trade is good for the entire vast wilderness and the Tu Shan clan businesses blanket everywhere. I want you to go with me to Gao Xing and see what’s suitable for importing to the Middle Plains for trade. If possible this matter may be delegated to the Tu Shan clan in the future since trade is best left for private exchanges rather than government agents.”
Jing glanced at Xiao Yao and smiled “This is good for the entire world and the Tu Shan clan gets a benefit from it, of course your subject I would be happy to accompany Your majesty to Gao Xing.”
Zhuan Xu shot a glance at Xiao Yao “Do you want to come along?”
Xioa Yao was furious that Zhuan Xu already hooked her so pressed her lips together and insisted “Not going, not going, I said I’m not going!”
Zhuan Xu smiled and said nothing more, calling Xiao Xiao over to have her pack with a reminder to include packing for Xiao Yao.
Xiao Yao went to talk to the Yellow Emperor and acted like she heard none of that.
On the departure day, Zhuan Xu sent Xiao Xiao to pick up Xiao Yao. She was long packed and climbed onboard the cloud carriage with Miao Pu.
Arriving in Gao Xing, Zhuan Xu didn’t hurry to the army base and instead strolled through a town with Xiao Yao and Jing.
This was a private trip so there was no official bodyguards protecting them, only Xiao Xiao and her secret guards kept watch.
Zhuan Xu, Jing, and Xiao Yao changed into Gao Xing clothes and both Xiao Yao and Zhuan Xu spoke perfect Gao Xing dialect language while Jing easily mimicked them so walking on the streets all the vendors saw them as Gao Xing people.
This castle had been conquered by Xuan Yuan years ago and since then the signs of battle was long gone and after being ruled well it was bustling. There were people everywhere milling around much like it was before the war. The only difference was that it was even more thriving with the presence of Middle Plains women speaking in Gao Xing language asking and haggling prices with the vendors.
Xiao Yao asked Jing “How did it become this way?”
Jing smiled “Xuan Yuan troops live in Gao Xing for extended periods of time and His majesty worried that the soldiers missed their families too much. So he spent the money to encourage soldier families to move to Gao Xing. When there is no battles fought, every month the soldiers can rotate from an active army camp back here to the town and live with their families. Soldiers with kids get additional compensation to help. His majesty did this and the troops are both comforted and also work extra hard to secure this territory because they are also protecting their own families who live here now.”
Xiao Yao saw many young wives carrying baskets of food in one hand with a baby or child on their backs. “So their kids are born in Gao Xing?”
“Yes!” Jing thought about it and divined deeper into what Zhuan Xu was thinking, having Xuan Yuan next generation born in Gao Xing would encourage them to settle here and further integrate the people.
A bunch of kids were playing by the castle wall and it wasn’t clear from their happy hollering who was Gao Xing and who was Xuan Yuan. Xiao Yao stared at them and murmured “This isn’t what I thought the war would be like.”
Jing said “The Black Emperor is very different than the Yellow Emperor, just like the Grand Emperor was very different than Qi Yo, just like today’s Xuan Yuan Kingdom is very different than the Xuan Yuan Kingdom back then.”
Zhuan Xu heard every word of Jing and Xiao Yao’s conversation. Since Xiao Yao entered Gao Xing she didn’t want to speak with him so he kept silent and allowed Xiao Yao to see and hear for herself.
The sun started to set and the waning light cast upon the castle walls.
Zhuan Xu said “The castle walls will be closing soon. I don’t want to spend the night in the castle and want to stay in the village. If you two don’t care, let’s exit the castle now.”
Jing stared at Xiao Yao who stiffly replied “You’re the Emperor, we’ll do whatever you want.”
They exited the castle and rode a cow pulled cart until arriving in a little village later that night.
A fire was lit at the entrance to the village and there was lots of bustling activity as people sat on rocks and trees watching a stage. Xiao Yao had the cart stop and walked over to see a stage play was being performed about the ancient god Wan Xiang who could change his face at will. This type of play based on this god allowed the performer to change masks at will and act out multiple parts.
The Wan Xiang play was popular throughout the vast wilderness and tonight’s story was about the opening of the earth to begin civilization. The story included the smart and caring Hua Xu, the loyal and brave Sheng Nong, the dashing and elegant Gao Xing, the well-learned and talented Xi Ling, the sly money loving Tu Shan nine-tailed fox, the physically weak but devious Gui Fang, the water-based power that was Chi Sui, the forger of all metals Jin Tian……all these figures worked with the Great Emperor Pan Gu to slay demons and create the vast wilderness. Back then the vast wilderness was one family, there was no Sheng Nong royal family, no Gao Xing royal family, and especially no Xuan Yuan royal family.
The children watching the play cheered and cried and hollered as the story progressed and even Xiao Yao got really into it. Even though this was based on legends and myths passed on through time, there was some truth to it and she believed that the sacrifices made by those ancestors were all real.
Other than watching the play, Xiao Yao also understood why Zhuan Xu encouraged such performances. It was for entertainment, yes, to relieve the pressure of everyday life. But after watching it, over time the Gao Xing people was gradually soaking in the belief Zhuan Xu wanted to impart: The entire world was one big family without Gao Xing or Xuan Yuan divisions. From all four corners it was all people of the vast wilderness.
It was very late when the play was done and the three of them didn’t rush anywhere else and just bunked down in the village.
The next morning as they were departing, Xiao Yao saw a bunch of village kids enacting their own version of the play story and picking characters to play happily. Xiao Yao watched them and smiled, as long as Zhuan Xu and Feng Long didn’t kill and harm needlessly, then these kids would grow up not to hate Zhuan Xu or the Chi Sui family.
As the cart gradually left the village and the sounds of the kids laughter faded, Xiao Yao said to Zhuan Xu “How did you think of this idea? Even I was captivated and influenced by the play last night, much less the villagers.”
Zhuan Xu replied “The play is just telling history that really happened and I simply want the people to learn it.”
Xiao Yao couldn’t help herself “I hope learning this truth won’t pay the price of lives.”
Zhuan Xu looked out over the hills and said “I lived in Gao Xing for over two hundred years. I went out early fishing with the fisherman and coming in late into the night. I went out hawking wares with peddlers in exchange for wine, I dug for lotus root by the pond and sang songs afterwards under the moonlight, I hunted bandits on raids with the soldiers, when I was forced into exile from Xuan Yuan and wandered Gao Xing, it was the people of this land who accompanied me through the most lonely and adrift period of my life. They are all dead now but their grandchildren and beyond still live on this land They still work hard doing all the things I did with their ancestors. I know their hardship and I know their happiness!”
Zhuan Xu looked back at Xiao Yao with candor in his eyes “Xiao Yao, if we’re discussing who cares for this land, I will only surpass you and will never be any less than you!”
Xiao Yao was speechless because he was right. She was the Gao Xing princess but she didn’t really understand Gao Xing. Zhuan Xu was the one who explored and wandered every inch of this land.
Zhuan Xu said “I admit I have ambitious dreams but I’m also just going with the flow and making something inevitable happen. Uniting the entire vast wilderness is best for the people. War will undoubtedly have casualties but I’ve done everything I can to avoid harming the innocent. Xiao Yao, I don’t hope that you will approve of what I’m going but at least try to see that I’m doing all I can.”
Xiao Yao turned her head to look at the scenery and said in a low voice “I see it.” Her voice was as soft as a whisper but both Jing and Zhuan Xu’s hearing was excellent so they both heard it clearly.
Zhuan Xu let out a relieved sigh before crossing his hands and laying back on the cart to stare at the blue sky above. He rarely expressed any emotion but hearing what Xiao Yao said turned him into an untried young man as he let out a happy laugh.
Next came the sound of a strong male voice as Zhuan Xu sang a fisherman’s song in Gao Xing dialect. Fishermen in the lake heard his song and joined in as the song grew louder and louder.
Jing was stunned, he knew that Zhuan Xu wandered the world as a commoner for hundreds of years but he would have never imagined Zhuan Xu would show that side of him at this point in his life. Xiao Yao wasn’t perturbed in the least, clearly accustomed to seeing Zhuan Xu like this. Clearly Zhuan Xu was always like this in front of Xiao Yao and Jing just happened to chance upon it today.
Jing remembered what the Yellow Emperor said to him before “Between Xiao Yao and Zhuan Xu, even I am an outsider.” Jing saddened felt a frisson of unease but he couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why. His marriage with Xiao Yao was already arranged and both Zhuan Xu and the Yellow Emperor consented. During the entire time he was dating Xiao Yao, Zhuan Xu never once objected.
They arrived at Feng Long’s army base on the evening of the second day.
Xiao Yao felt awkward seeing Feng Long and whispered to Zhuan Xu “How about I change and pretend to be your secret guard?”
Zhuan Xu said “You’ve been avoiding him for nearly twenty years, are you going to do it for the rest of your life? All you did was run off from one wedding. Neither Jing nor Feng Long care anymore about that old business, why can’t you let it go?”
Zhuan Xu didn’t lower his voice when he said that so both Jing and the just arriving Feng Long heard it. Both felt a tad awkward but Zhuan Xu acted like he didn’t see it and pushed Xiao Yao in front of Feng Long and said with a smile “Feng Long, do tell her that you don’t care anymore about the runaway bride old news.”
Feng Long bowed to Zhuan Xu and when he straightened he said “From when I open my eyes until I close them at night, all I think about is Ru So. I even think about Ru So in my dreams.”
Zhuan Xu asked Jing “Do you care that Xiao Yao ran away from a wedding?”
Jing stared at Xiao Yao and said clearly “Not one whit.”
Zhuan Xu said “Did you hear that? One long ago forgot and the other doesn’t care at all. Can you let it go now?”
Xiao Yao knew what Zhuan Xu did in forcing this issue out in the open to be discussed directly. She could avoid Feng Long forever but he was Jing’s best friend and she couldn’t let their friendship be strained because of her so she bowed to Feng Long “Great General.”
Feng Long politely returned the bow “Miss Xi Ling.”
Xiao Yao retreated behind Jing and Zhuan Xu.
Feng Long asked Jing curiously “Why are you here with His majesty?” The awkwardness was gone and he was back to himself as usual.
Jing laughed “I thought you would never meet someone who could best you. Who knew Ru So would serve you three defeats in a row so of course I had to come watch from the sidelines.”
Feng Long acted all hurt “Your majesty, did you hear that!”
The three men walked into a tent to start discussing important matters and Xiao Yao quietly went off to wash up. She believed it now that Feng Long had let it go but men and women were different. A man’s world was vast and many things are easily washed away with time. Feng Long would be upset three months later, but three years later he wouldn’t feel much. Now he was a Great General commanding tens of thousands of soldiers, he could care even less that Xiao Yao ran off from being his bride. Plus Xiao Yao wasn’t even the Gao Xing princess anymore and was instead Qi Yo’s daughter, likely the ambitious Feng Long was even relieved he didn’t end up marrying her.
Zhuan Xu sent someone to liaise with Jing to provide a source of business information he needed. The person turned out to be Jin Xuan and Xiao Yao was very happy to see a familiar face. She called for some food and wine and sat down to catch up with her.
Xiao Yao asked “How did you end up in Gao Xing?”
Jin Xuan said “His majesty needs Gao Xing information the most right now so I’m in Gao Xing to collect information for him.”
Xiao Yao laughed “I thought you and Xiao Xiao would become His majesty’s consorts but who knew both of you continued to serve him in the same capacity as before. I saw the way you feel about him so I wrongly assumed you were living on Zhi Jin Summit.”
Jin Xuan smiled at Xiao Yao and said nothing for some time. She drank her wine before saying “You weren’t wrong, I did fall for him. Because I really fell for him that is why I requested to leave.”
Xiao Yao was perplexed “Why?”
“If my heart wasn’t moved then everything I do can receive a commensurate reward. But having my heart in it, then I will gradually want more and more. I know His majesty can never give me all I will want and I would be hurt and then commit an infraction that will lead to him distrusting and disdaining me. I would rather leave when I can still be sensible about it. If I keep my distance from him, with how much I’ve done to serve him then he will forever be grateful towards me.”
Xiao Yao “You….you…..you’re so smart yet so cruel towards yourself! Very few women can carve out a free distance for herself in your situation.”
“I have to thank His majesty for giving me this freedom and space. I know a lot of secrets and another person would keep me close to him. But I wanted to leave and His majesty let me!” Jin Xuan drank her wine with a smile “It’s going to be extremely difficult to forget a man like His majesty, but I know with time that can be accomplished. The world is so vast and as long as I’m traveling the road then I believe I can meet a man one day who will make me forget His majesty.”
Xiao Yao toasted Jin Xuan “Best wishes to you meeting that person soon!”
Jin Xuan smiled and returned the toast before leaving with Jing to head to the town to collect the information he needed.
On the 17th day in mid-autumn, Ru So’s army launched an attack first. Ru So was riding on the last three victories and his troops advanced confidently, with Ju Mang defeating Xian. To avoid having her troop be cornered, Feng Long ordered Xian to retreat and she led her troops back to rendezvous with Feng Long’s forces.
This was his fourth defeat to Ru So and Feng Long was thoroughly shamed but it was Zhuan Xu who reassured him “It’s more important to preserve your forces and wait for the a better time. A dead person can’t resurrect and if Xian continued to fight without reinforcements and she was lost, then the defeat of the right forward flank cannot be fixed. As long as they are alive then I have faith they will continue to win more territory in the long run.”
Because Xian was a Chi Sui clan member, Feng Long was worried Zhuan Xu would think he was going easy on her yet Zhuan Xu never doubted him and instead understood and consoled him. Feng Long was relieved and touched that his choice many years ago was correct, Zhuan Xu was a sage ruler who was worth following.
Feng Long invited Jing out for a walk and when they were alone he said “Back then I felt Zhuan Xu was a smart choice but he was fighting an uphill battle all alone so I hesitated in deciding whether to back him. It was thanks to your endless persuasion that led me to make up my mind. Thank you!” Back then to get him to decide, Jing even said “Because Zhuan Xu is all alone is even more reason for you to back him. If you picked Cui Liang or Yu Hao it would be adding to their masses of supporters. But if you picked Zhuan Xu then you’re the first to back him and would be forever in his good graces.”
Jing smiled “I was merely analyzing the situation for you, in the end you made the choice of your own consideration.”
Feng Long looked out over the distance and sighed “You’re always like this, always refusing to accept your due! You thought up the plan to win Zhuan Xu the throne by giving up Xuan Yuan Mountain and going to Sheng Nong Mountain. You explained it all to me, how His majesty would be gaining the support of the Middle Plains by going to Sheng Nong Mountain, and with our help his success would increase since he was the eldest grandson of the Emperor and Empress anyways so the Xuan Yuan elders would not vehemently oppose him in the end after he got the support of the Middle Plains. Your analysis persuaded me to support His majesty and to this day he still thinks I came up with that plan, that I was the one with such grand vision, hence he’s always extra trusting of me and allow me to remain as both a friend and subordinate to him.”
Feng Long was perplexed “Jing, why don’t you ever fight for something with me?” He was born in the same lofty background as Jing, one the future Chi Sui clan leader and the other the future Tu Shan clan leader. On the journey to make Zhuan Xu the Black Emperor, Jing likely did more for Zhuan Xu than Feng Long, and definitely not any less. But Jing always remained in the background and acted like Feng Long’s follower, allowing him to take all the reward on the way to making Feng Long’s own ambitions come true.
Jing said “How did I not compete with you? I only gave up the things I don’t care about. What I really want I never once let you have.”
“You mean…..” Feng Long furrowed his brow and asked “Xiao Yao?”
Jing sighed and admitted “You view me as an older brother but I haven’t been completely forthright with you. I knew you were interested in Xiao Yao yet I wooed her in your own residence. I knew you planned to marry her yet I send Fang Feng Bei to snatch her at the wedding. I’ve never done anything in my entire life I need to apologize for, other than these two things, and both were done to you.”
Feng Long remembered the incident and still felt a sting of anger “When Xiao Yao ran off from the wedding, I really was miserable for quite some time and was so ashamed to see anyone.”
Jing said “I thought I could let her go but I thought too highly of myself. I’m sorry!”
Feng Long stared at Jing and then laughed “I always thought you so magnanimous, so noble in all your actions. Every time I saw you I felt inadequate, who knew you were really a selfish sneaky guy all along!”
Jing said “When Xiao Yao and I got engaged, you were already in Gao Xing fighting so the present from you likely came from the Chi Sui elders preparing it while cursing me out. All these years we still communicate but never mention this issue and act like it doesn’t exist. But I really wish to receive a sincere well-wish from you.”
“Do you really care?”
“I care very much, you know that in this lifetime I will never get a well-wish from my older brother, I don’t want to also not get one from you.”
Feng Long’s heart smiled seeing Jing discuss him in the same breadth as Hou. He really did view him as a real brother! But he decided to cop an attitude still “I’ll consider it.”
Jing and Feng Long grew up together for thirty years as kids so Jing could tell immediately what Feng Long was really thinking and laughed “You take your time considering it. It’s still a ways away before Xiao Yao and I get married.”
Feng Long stopped pretending and laughed “Actually, I was angry when I first heard of the engagement since it’s hard not to remember the past. But I also marveled at your courage since Xiao Yao’s not the same as before, she was a priceless treasure before but is now a big problem that no one dares to touch. At least now I wouldn’t have the guts to be with her. So after a few days my anger passed but I wasn’t able to be happy for you either. So I told the elders to prepare whatever present they wanted.” Feng Long patted Jing’s shoulder “Don’t worry, on your wedding day I will personally be there to deliver a present. As long as Ru So that bastard isn’t in the middle of picking a battle with me, I will find time to attend your wedding.”
“What’s the thanks for? I really ought the thank you. Everyone admires the head of the Four Great Clans but I see it as bars in a prison. In the past you patiently listened to all my gripes and only you never chastised me for being impertinent. Not only that, you also supported me and now I’ve finally broken the traditional edicts and become a Great General to live my dreams! Jing, you actually helped me achieve what I truly wanted. Forget that Xiao Yao isn’t mine now, even if she is mine you can have her if you really want her. She’s not what I really want but she’s someone that you will exchange your life in order to be with.”
Feng Long grabbed Jing’s shoulder and sighed “Actually I should be thankful that all you want is Xiao Yao. If you wanted what I want then we may never be brothers since one mountain cannot have two tigers.”
Jing didn’t reject the bodily contact like before when Feng Long touched him because he knew that after all they went through and the positions they occupied now, a shoulder hug was so precious and rare. In this very moment, Jing and Feng Long completely trusted each other with closeness that could easily deliver a killing strike to the other.
Feng Long and Jing just arrived back at the base when Yu Jiang came rushing over to report “A girl barged into the army base and has been captured. It’s unclear her identity, likely a Gao Xing noble.”
Feng Long asked “You didn’t interrogate to confirm her identity?”
Yu Jiang had two large scratches on his face and looked sheepish “That girl is too difficult to wrangle. I….I….I’ll leave her to the Great General to interrogate!”
Feng Long and Jing walked over and saw from the distance a girl bound tightly with ropes but she refused to stop fighting and still shot water arrows and swords from her free hands towards the soldiers, none of who dared to hurt her but still had to keep her restrained.
Feng Long sighed “If it was a Gao Xing spy who has been captured she ought not to be so belligerent. If she’s not a spy then why won’t she just talk nicely?”
Jing already recognized her and rushed over. Feng Long stopped once he got close and saw her face which had a dirty rag stuffed in her mouth. It was the Gao Xing princess! Yu Jiang may have come from Gao Xing’s Yi He tribe but he never was ranked high enough to have met the princess in person.
Feng Long quickly asked “Who stuffed the rag in her mouth?”
A soldier replied “I did, sir! She kept insulting and cursing His majesty and the Great General so I used my rag to shut her mouth.”
Feng Long hurriedly untied her and took out the rag as Ah Nian immediately started screaming “You piece of shit Zhuan Xu! You bastard who forgot who raised you! Also Yu Jiang, you traitor, get out here now…….”
Feng Long’s forehead furrowed tightly and he wanted to shove the rag back in Ah Nian’s mouth but didn’t dare.
Jing brought over a cup of fresh water and handed it to Ah Nian “Rinse your mouth.”
Ah Nian stopped cursing and immediately took the cup to rinse her mouth. Thinking that a stinky dirty man’s rag was in her mouth, she wanted to grab a brush and scour her mouth inside and out.
Jing appeared to understand and said “If you want to curse at least wash up first, I’ll take you to clean up.”
Ah Nian cocked her head to stare at the handsome noble man before her, his form lean and tall like a pristine spring winding through a serene bamboo forest and calming anyone who saw him “I’ve seen you before, you’re the Young Master of Qing Qui – the Tu Shan clan leader.”
Jing smiled back “It’s all men here and not clean, will Princess please come with me.”
Ah Nian docilely followed Jing and Feng Long breathed a sigh of relief that Jing was here to handle this. He ordered all the soldiers to never divulge what happened here today and then rushed to report to Zhuan Xu. This “Gao Xing spy” was not someone Feng Long dared to interrogate, he would leave her to His majesty.”
Jing brought Ah Nian to Xiao Yao’s tent and called inside “Xiao Yao, guess who’s here?”
Jing opened the curtain to let Ah Nian in with such ease and comfort without any awkwardness of the situation today between the girls. Xiao Yao was startled to see Ah Nian looking so woebegone and immediately said to Miao Pu and Xiao Xiao “Quickly prepare a wash for the Princess.”
Ah Nian stood at the door to the tent, saying nothing and not making a move, only glaring at Xiao Yao. Clearly she was not expecting to see Xiao Yao here. Jing made a gesture for Xiao Yao to have Ah Nian rinse her mouth so she brought a scented water cup over “Rinse your mouth.”
Ah Nian wanted to decline but that dirty stinky rag bothered her so much she quickly started washing. Jing looked at Xiao Yao who smiled and nodded her head so he quietly left the tent.
Ah Nian finished washing her mouth and was angrily about to start yelling when Xiao Yao said “You smell like sweat, go take a bath first.” Ah Nian dejectedly sniffed herself before immediately following Xiao Xiao to bathe.
After bathing and changing into clean clothes, Ah Nian returned to Xiao Yao’s tent with all her bluster gone and her real emotions bubbling to the surface.
When Xiao Yao suddenly appeared on Five Gods Mountain and took away her dad and then her Zhuan Xu gege, she hated Xiao Yao and never wanted to call her jiejie. But she constantly paid attention to Xiao Yao who never spoke about Ah Nian behind her back like others did and instead told her directly what she thought. Xiao Yao dared to fight back and argue back with Ah Nian, and when Ah Nian was butting heads with Xing Yue it was Xiao Yao who always backed her and taught her what to do. She gradually accepted Xiao Yao as her older sister and even started to like this jiejie.
When dad took his two daughters out to sea and they spent the night talking, they agreed to reunite in the winter and Ah Nian even prepared an exquisite present for her homecoming.
But, Xiao Yao didn’t come back!
She suddenly disappeared just as suddenly as she appeared in Five Gods Mountain, never once saying a word to Ah Nian about it.
Ah Nian hated Xiao Yao not because she was Qi Yo’s daughter, she hated Xiao Yao only because she broke her promise to Ah Nian, she broke her promise and never even said a word about it.
Ah Nian stared at the calm Xiao Yao and suddenly all her anger came forth. See! Xiao Yao was living so well! She totally forgot about her promise to come back to Five Gods Mountain in the winter and to teach Ah Nian to swim!
If it was Xiao Yao, she would use calm to cover up her anger, to use disinterest to cover up how much she really cared. But Ah Nian wasn’t like that, when she was angry she wanted to tell the world about it.
Ah Nian hollered at Xiao Yao “Ru So told me not to blame you, said you were very pitiful, but how are you pitiful? I’m the pitiful one, with a fake sister who lied and made me treat her as a real older sister. And Zhuan Xu, he….” Ah Nian couldn’t even continue as her eyes filled with tears “You’re both cruel selfish liars! I hate you both!”
Xiao Yao replied “I never lied to you to be your older sister, I really wanted to be your older sister. It’s just….” Xiao Yao felt sad she couldn’t be her dad’s daughter, but she also liked that she turned out to be her daddy’s daughter, so she didn’t quite know how to explain it to Ah Nian.
Ah Nian saw Xaiao Yao pause and asked “And what?”
“I didn’t know back then that my real father was Qi Yo.”
“After finding out later then you didn’t want to be my jiejie anymore, right?”
Xiao Yao walked to the window and stared out, not wanting Ah Nian to see the weakness in her heart “Not that I didn’t want to but….Ah Nian, the Grand Emperor had me stricken from the Gao Xing family tree and ancestral lineage books and forbade me from using the Gao Xing last name.”
Ah Nian’s mouth dropped open and didn’t know how to berate Xiao Yao anymore, by being stricken from the family then Xiao Yao would have no right to go to Five Gods Mountain anymore. Remembering the way the Gao Xing officials viciously cursed Xiao Yao, Ah Nian’s heart softened.
Ah Nian said “Then you….if you can’t come to Five Gods Mountain then at least send message to say hi to me. I….I’m still waiting for you.”
“You’re waiting for me?” Xiao Yao was surprised and realized that Ah Nian was angry at her and not disgusted with her.
Ah Nian harrumphed and said irritably “I’m not here to catch up with you! If you’re here then that black hearted bastard Zhuan Xu must also be here. I want to see him!”
Xiao Yao sat down next to Ah Nian “I didn’t know my true birth secret and later when I found out my heart was broken. From birth I’ve been living a lie and I never knew it but people hated me and wanted to kill me. I didn’t know you were waiting for me, I thought you also looked down upon me and despised me, never wanting to see me again. Everyone thinks my mom wronged your dad, and my daddy is Qi Yo. Even now I’m very careful around you, worried that if you get mad you’ll say the most hurtful things to insult my mom, my daddy, or call me a bastard.”
Ah Nian stared at Xiao Yao “I can’t tell you’re in pain or that you’re being very careful.”
Xiao Yao smiled “When I was small growing up with no parents to take care of me, I learned never to expect others to comfort me. My tears will only attract predators so I like to keep my emotions deep inside.”
Ah Nian considered it and her expression softened “Is Zhuan Xu the same way?”
“Was he mistreated greatly when he lived in Gao Xing and never told my dad and me? That’s why he’s attacking Gao Xing now?”
“Zhuan Xu must have suffered things living in Gao Xing but that’s not the reason he’s attacking Gao Xing.”
Ah Nian was anxious “Then why? Why is he doing this? What did my dad and I do to deserve this from him? Why is he doing this to us?”
Xiao Yao didn’t know how to answer when Zhuan Xu lifted the curtain and walked in “You didn’t do anything wrong to me. This is between your dad and me.”
Xiao Yao sighed in relief and quietly left the tent to let those two have a private conversation.
Ah Nian saw Zhuan Xu and all her emotions welled up. She didn’t realize it but her tears started falling as she collapsed on the ground sobbing “I don’t understand! Daddy also said this has nothing to do with me, it’s between him and you. But how can it have nothing to do with me? You two are fighting a war! There’s bloodshed and people dying, how can it not concern me?”
Zhuan Xu said “How did Master allow you to sneak out? I’ll send someone to escort you back to Five Gods Mountain.”
Ah Nian pleaded “Zhuan Xu gege, please don’t attack Gao Xing anymore, okay? Daddy is really exhausted, his hair has turned all white and his health is worsening and now has difficulty walking!”
Ah Nian grabbed Zhuan Xu’s robe and looked up at him through her tears “Zhuan Xu gege, Zhuan Xu gege, I beg you, I beg you!” In the past when Ah Nian pleaded with Zhuan Xu, no matter how difficult he would acquiesce to her. But now he just silently stood there.
After a long time Zhuan Xu replied “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
Ah Nian was heartbroken and enraged “If Xiao Yao was still daddy’s daughter and she begged you, would you still say no?”
Zhuan Xu calmly answered “Ten years ago she already begged me and I said no. Ah Nian, I am the ruler of a kingdom and this decision I made is not something that will change if either you or Xiao Yao beg me.
Ah Nian started sobbing again, hating Zhuan Xu for being so heartless but also secretly feeling comfort that Zhuan Xu also didn’t agree when Xiao Yao begged him.
Zhuan Xu watched Ah Nian grow up and couldn’t help himself, kneeling down to hand a handkerchief to her “I know you hate me and I know this will sound insincere to you but I really do believe this. Some things are between kingdoms and others are between emperors. But between you and I, you are still Ah Nian and I am still your Zhuan Xu gege, as long as it doesn’t involve national affairs then I will do everything in my power for you.”
Ah Nian covered her face and continued to sob because she just didn’t know what to do. One was her daddy and the other was Zhuan Xu. How could both tell her so calmly that it didn’t have anything to do with her. If so then why didn’t Ru So gather information about Zhuan Xu for her anymore? Why didn’t Zhuan Xu write to her anymore? If it had nothing to do with her, then why did even her mom tell her to forget about Zhuan Xu from now on?
Zhuan Xu didn’t try to cajole and comfort Ah Nian like he used to, he just silently sat beside her and watched her with the sadness of time gone by reflected in his eyes.
Ah Nian cried for half an hour before her tears gradually subsided.
Zhuan Xu asked “You said Master’s hair all turned white, is that really true?”
Ah Nian hiccupped “When Dad announced that Xiao Yao was no longer a princess, that year I saw him one day gravely injured and his hair has turned all white. He was supposed to slowly recuperate, who knew you suddenly declared war and attacked us. Dad’s illness has never recovered…..I think he’s suffering from a broken heart which is why his hair and body can’t fully recover.”
Zhuan Xu said “Since Master is gravely ill, why are you here instead of spending time on Five Gods Mountain with him?”
Ah Nian lifted her head “I didn’t come find you! I saw Xiao Yao and then realized you were here.”
Ah Nian added “I came to assassinate Yu Jiang and Feng Long.”
Zhuan Xu was shocked and silently glad Ah Nian didn’t come to assassinate Xian. Feng Long recognized Ah Nian while Yu Jiang would never hurt a weak Gao Xing girl due to feeling guilty towards his Gao Xing roots. If it was Xian that block of cold ice, she would kill right back.
Zhuan Xu huffed “Gao Xing has plenty of generals, when did it land to your turn to be an assassin! I need to write Ru So a letter to strengthen the guards around Five Gods Mountain.”
Ah Nian started crying again “You know the Bai Hu tribe and the Chang Yi tribe still resent Dad for not taking an Empress from them and picked my lowly born mute mom. They don’t want to follow dad and resent me, all these years with the battling and Dad’s illness, they’ve started clamoring for him to officially name a successor. I’m his only daughter but they don’t support my being the next ruler, calling me useless and stupid so they want to pick one of Dad’s nephews. Dad has refused to answer them so they are fighting about it daily. I don’t care about being the next ruler but I can’t stand them bothering Dad every day! They call me useless and stupid so I wanted to show them what I can do which is why I decided to assassinate Yu Jiang or Feng Long. The former is a Gao Xing traitor and the latter is the Xuan Yuan Great General. No matter who I kill they will have to acknowledge me!”
Zhuan Xu said “Don’t you dare do something foolish like this ever again! You don’t need to care about those tribes, their conflict with Master long predated you and your mom. You don’t need to feel bad about what they said about you, or think you’re the reason why Master is currently in a bind.”
Ah Nian asked “Is that true?”
“Yes! Sure Master could have lessened some tension by picking a consort from their tribes which he didn’t do.”
Ah Nian pursed her lips “Then it does have something to do with my mom and I.”
Zhuan Xu said “Master refused to pick back then because of his own stubbornness, not because of your mom! It has nothing to do with you, understand?”
Ah Nian thought about it and slowly nodded her head.
“Ah Nian, you have to trust Master. Sometimes in a tough bind is just a spider spinning a web to catch a butterfly in the long run.”
Ah Nian thought and didn’t understand and started crying again “Why do you have to attack Gao Xing? If you didn’t attack Gao Xing then I would have come to discuss my worries with you, then I wouldn’t have tried to assassinate Yu Jiang and end up with a stinky man’s rag in my mouth……..”
Zhuan Xu patted the crying Ah Nian’s back while deep in thought: With Master’s smarts he would have a way to counter the demand to name a successor. It wasn’t something he could ignore because all four tribes care about it on top of all the officials. Other than Ah Nian there wasn’t a single successor but Master never trained Ah Nian to rule the kingdom…..If Master took one wrong step then Gao Xing would descend into chaos, so the best choice is to find a suitable husband for Ah Nian, name her successor, and slowly train her son to rule one day. Did Master want to pick Ru So? Is this the reason why Ru So was so proactive in attacking recently?
Zhuan Xu couldn’t figure out what Master was thinking, even though he stayed with him for two hundred years he still didn’t fully understand him the same way he could never fully understand his grandfather. Perhaps this is what it is like being a ruler, never able to discern their thought process.
To assassinate Yu Jiang and Feng Long, Ah Nian was jittery for many days and last night didn’t even sleep a wink. Now she tired herself out from crying and her tightly wound self relaxed and fell asleep.
Zhuan Xu gestured to the maids to take care of Ah Nian and left the tent towards the direction his guards pointed.
Under the setting sun, Jing and Xiao Yao sat on a rock beside a creek, with Xiao Yao chattering nonstop while Jing listened to her with a soft smile. Suddenly Xiao Yao flew forward and kissed Jing on the lips before sitting back down even before Jing could react, smiling like a satisfied cat and continuing her talking.
Zhuan Xu foot stepped down hard and loudly snapped the branch underfoot.
Xiao Yao turned around and saw him and her face turned red “Gege.”
Jing stood up as if nothing happened and asked “Did the princess leave?”
Zhuan Xu said “She fell asleep exhausted and I ordered the maids to tend to her inside Xiao Yao’s tent. Xiao Yao, you can sleep with Miao Pu and Xiao Xiao tonight.”
“I can sleep in the same tent as Ah Nian!”
Zhuan Xu didn’t want Xiao Yao to interact too much with Ah Nian “No need, I told Xiao Xiao to stay there and take care of Ah Nian so you go sleep with Miao Pu one night.”
Xiao Yao said yes.
Jing noticed Zhuan Xu was preoccupied and said “I’ll be off then.”
Xiao Yao smiled and waved him off.
Zhuan Xu continued walking along the creek with Xiao Yao following behind waiting for him to talk first. After a long time Zhuan Xu continued to just walk in silence.
Xiao Yao couldn’t help it and asked “What are you thinking about, worried over Ah Nian?”
“I’m worried over all the people who live on this land.” Zhuan Xu sighed “I was born in Xuan Yuan but raised in Gao Xing. Sometimes I can’t figure out whether I see myself as a Xuan Yuan person or a Gao Xing person. As the Emperor of Xuan Yuan, I should be happy that Gao Xing is having problems which is a great opportunity to strike. But I’m actually not happy about it and sincerely want Master to have a solution for his current predicament and not let this land descend into a battlefield.”
Xiao Yao stared “Who is the one who brought the battlefield to this land first?”
Zhuan Xu got angry and whacked Xiao Yao softly “I declared war but both Master and I are very much in control and the battles have not impacted the citizens. But if Gao Xing descends into civil war then those people will not be as restrained as Master and I, they will plunder and pillage and destroy all.”
Xiao Yao was genuinely scared “What kind of problem has happened?”
“You’re no help even if you knew. I don’t want to discuss it!”
“You….humph!” Xiao Yao turned to huff off “I’m going to find Jing.”
Zhuan Xu’s hand shot out and grabbed “Don’t you dare!”
Zhuan Xu’s grip was as tight as a steel vise and Xiao Yao yelped “Ouch!”
Zhuan Xu quickly released his grip and Xiao Yao rubbed her arm “What did you do that for?”
Zhuan Xu pursed his lips and said nothing as he walked faster on.
Xiao Yao could tell he was in a foul mood and rushed to catch up “Okay, you don’t want to discuss it so I won’t ask, just slow down because I can’t keep up with you………”
Zhuan Xu abruptly slowed down and stared towards the Northeast and said in a low voice “Do you remember what you once said on Cao Yun Court in Xuan Yuan Mountain……”
Xiao Yao silently waited for the rest but Zhuan Xu stopped himself and said nothing more. Xiao Yao asked “What did I say?”
Zhuan Xu smiled “Nothing.” Zhuan Xu’s smile was seamless and no longer allowed a crack of real emotion so Xiao Yao stared quizzically at him.
Zhuan Xu grabbed Xiao Yao’s hand and dragged her towards the tents with a smile “Go rest, I’ll be fine, just Ah Nian showing up rattled me a bit.”
Xiao Yao didn’t follow behind Zhuan Xu and just stared at him “I don’t like your war against Gao Xing and often verbally express my dislike but I’m not completely without understanding of why you made the choice. You were born in Xuan Yuan but you spent way more time in Gao Xing. This land helped make who you are today so in terms of attachment you likely are more attached to Gao Xing than to Xuan Yuan. I know the reason you took me out this time is to lessen my worry and also tell me that you haven’t changed. You’re the Emperor but you can still feel hurt and sadness like an ordinary young man. You lost your own loved ones, you endured the pain, which is why you won’t carelessly take it away from others and make them suffer needlessly. I know whatever happens in Gao Xing, at least you will prevent the worst from taking place.”
Zhuan Xu turned back and smiled at Xiao Yao, this smile was genuine, full of warmth and tender openness.
Xiao Yao smiled and shook his arm “Let’s go back!”
When Ah Nian woke up it was morning time and she was already in a cloud carriage headed up to Five Gods Mountain.
She was angry Zhuan Xu did this to her, but also felt it was the best way to part. They already said what needed to be said and the rest couldn’t be said, or perhaps didn’t matter if it was said.
Ah Nian touched the mulberry rope on her wrist, it was a weapon that she asked the Jin Tian family to forge for her. She was so close to Zhuan Xu but never once thought about using it.
Feng Long’s army had been invading Gao Xing for the last ten years but the territory it took over wasn’t even one-tenth of Gao Xing. But what if one day the Xuan Yuan army came right to the base of Five Gods Mountain, would she consider using the mulberry rope to assassinate Zhuan Xu then?
Before she understood longing the seeds were planted, after she understood longing all she tasted was the bitterness of missing him. She thought she already swallowed the most bitter pill, who knew there was even more bitterness left.
The more she thought about it, her love for Zhuan Xu started already with nine-tenths bitterness and only one-tenths sweet, yet she still couldn’t sever it.
Ah Nian curled into a ball and covered her face with her hands as she silently wept. Turns out the ability to loudly sob was because of knowing someone else was listening and hoping he would be pained by it. When one was alone, the tears only came down silently.