This is a great chapter to pick back up on my Lost You Forever translations, which stalled not because I wanted to stop or didn’t enjoy the story anymore, but rather a combination of losing my work in an epic computer death and being so busy with real life to find the hours and hours of free time needed to tackle detailed translating. This chapter brings Zhuan Xu and Xiao Yao face-to-face with the only male father figure in their lives, and finally understanding how much he suffered for the greater good of the world and how much thought he’s put into handing the same task off to the right person.
The war between Gao Xing and Xuan Yuan turns out to be an elaborate side show to mask the greatest political scriptwriting ever, letting the Grand Emperor Shao Hao finally shed the burden he gave everything up to don hundreds of years ago. It’s also wonderful that the kids generation finally learn the whole truth about the past, but sadly that doesn’t make their complicated future any easier a road left to journey. There’s still a lot of LYF awesomeness left so let’s get this ship sailing again!
Chapter 40 – The World is But One Family:
The Gao Xing and Xuan Yuan armies stagnated in conflict for ten days around the Li Sui region when Ru Su suddenly launched a massive strike by sending the Yi He tribe’s General Qing Lian to engage Yu Jiang in battle.
Even though the two kingdoms had been warring for ten plus years, Yu Jiang had intentionally avoided head on skirmishes while Ru So also shied away from a direct engagement, which is why Yu Jiang had never directly battled an old friend on the battle field. Yu Jiang thought he would be fighting Ju Mang this time, who knew it would be his childhood friend Qing Liang. One was surprised and the other was prepared, one felt guilty and the other angry, Yu Jiang was caught off guard while Qing Liang attacked with fervor. The victory was determined quickly.
The right flank army led by Xian came up against Ju Mang who was himself as disciple of the Grand Emperor. He was the same age of Zhuan Xu yet loved to transform into the form of a little boy. He looked playful and innocent but was in truth scheming and tactical. If Ju Mang was battling the reserved stoic Yu Jiang then it would be like encountering a tiger who wasn’t moved by flashy tricks. But battling Xiang, Ju Mang let loose his bag of tricks and managed to severely wound Xian.
With their commander injured, the right flank army tasted bitter defeat. Ju Mang wanted to strike the killing attack on Xian and almost succeeded when Yu Jiang dove into the attack maze created by Ju Mang to save her. Ru So’s real plan was never to kill Xian, he wanted to use Xian to lure Yu Jiang into the maze so the maze was set up specifically to contain Yu Jiang.
Normally Ru So’s scheme likely wouldn’t succeed but Yu Jiang was in an irrational frenzy to save Xian and completely disregarded his army tactics, diving into the maze to save Xian. He managed to rescue her but was even more gravely injured than her.
Ru So’s central flank army was about to launch the final attack when Feng Long ordered all his troops to retreat with his two commanders severely injured and Zhuan Xu also at the army base.
This retreat lost the Xuan Yuan forces three castle holdings, the first two was taken back by Gao Xing but the third castle Feng Long abandoned because it was impossible to hold down without ample food supplies inside and a low castle wall.
Zhuan Xu remained calm “You are the Great General, all decisions fall to you.” Feng Long grit his teeth and didn’t care anymore if Zhuan Xu thought he was useless, he ordered all the troops back to Luo Yang Castle with the adage that as long as the mountain existed one didn’t need to worry about finding firewood in the future to burn.
This was the worst Xuan Yuan defeat since the war began, with major losses and the two commanders in Xian and Yu Jiang nearly dying. The Xuan Yuan army was fighting a war of slow gains and attrition but with this major loss it was like the last three year’s worth of victories evaporated. If the three earlier defeats were added to the tally, then Xuan Yuan lost a total of five years worth of gains.
This victory led to Ru So’s name recognition to spread through the vast wilderness and Zhuan Xu ordered all of Ru So’s battle strategy to be collected and studied. Why was Ru So willing to lose and never use any of the Yi He tribe soldiers? Why use Ju Mang against Xian? Everyone marveled at Ru So’s incisive patience in fighting a long war.
Feng Long was spitting mad, raging at Yu Jiang, yelling about Ru So, but there was nothing else he could do as a defeat remained a defeat.
Feng Long thought Zhuan Xu would be furious with him but Zhuan Xu assured him “I already expected Yu Jiang to suffer a crushing defeat. He’s like a priceless sword that hasn’t been fully unsheathed. Only after a huge defeat will his true power be revealed. Who knew Ru So saw him the same way, he never let Yu Jiang have that opportunity and once he gave him the opportunity it was with an intended killing blow. Yu Jiang got lucky to come out of this alive, and this will teach him that once he has made a choice then he cannot hesitate otherwise he doesn’t just doom himself he may doom others as well.”
Feng Long grumbled “That Ru So is usually all smiles and goofy jokes, not a moment being serious. Hard to believe he’s this hard to deal with.”
Zhuan Xu laughed “He is also a disciple of Master, if Ru So is easy to deal with then the Grand Emperor would not be the Grand Emperor.”
Feng Long thought to himself, His majesty is also the Grand Emperor’s disciple so who would win out in a match between His majesty and Ru So?
Zhuan Xu knew what he was thinking “I’m different than Ru So so there is no way to compare. My Grandfather and Master both trained me to become the ruler of the kingdom while Ru So was trained since childhood to be a high official, in peace to serve and in war to protect.”
Feng Long laughed “Your majesty was taught by both Emperors then clearly Your majesty would win in any comparison with Ru So.”
Zhuan Xu laughed “You better stop learning from the court officials to say such brown-nosing things to me.”
Feng Long puffed his chest out “I’m also learning to be a good official to my liege.”
Zhuan Xu laughed and said nothing. Feng Long and Xing Yue were twins, she seemed intelligent and thoughtful while he was slow and brutish, but in truth the real intelligence laid with Feng Long. He knew when to take a step forward and when to step back. Xing Yue didn’t know when to press and when to give.
Feng Long asked “When does Your majesty plan to return to Sheng Nong Mountain? I’m not rushing you back but this is a war zone and I worry about your safety.”
Zhuan Xu said “I was planning to go back but I feel something else might happen soon. I’ll wait here a bit longer.”
Half a month later, Feng Long received a secret missive from the Gao Xing Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes indicated they wanted to surrender and defect to join the Xuan Yuan kingdom.
Feng Long was shocked and handed the missive to Zhuan Xu who read it “You send the reply and act disbelieving in your response and be haughty.”
Feng Long did as ordered and wrote a response.
A few days later the messenger came with a new reply missive and asked to see Feng Long in person before handing the letter over.
Feng Long met the messenger in his tent and Zhuan Xu transformed into a guard and stood behind Feng Long at the meeting. Feng Long continued to act haughty and disbelieving, coldly asking “I’m not purposely suspicious but this is so unexpected it’s hard to believe. If Xuan Yuan already took over half of Gao Xing territory and surrender was near then the two tribes capitulating would be understandable. But right now Xuan Yuan just suffered a crushing battle defeat, why would the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes surrender at this time? If the explanation doesn’t make sense then it’s clearly nefarious!”
The messenger took off his mask and he was actually the Chang Yi tribe Elder Liu. When Feng Long was an adult and his grandfather needed the Jin Tian family to make him a weapon, he went to ask Elder Liu for a favor since the Chang Yi tribe was connect in marriage with the Jin Tian family. Based on seniority Feng Long had to call him Grandfather Liu.
Feng Long was startled and quickly stood up, exchanging a glance to make sure Zhuan Xu approved before saying “Grandfather Liu, why are you here in person? Hurry and sit down!”
Elder Liu was very pleased with Feng Long’s polite propriety and smiled “This is an important matter and your suspicion is understandable. Rather than try and explain in writing I came in person to allay your suspicions.”
Elder Liu glanced at the guards in the tent and Feng Long assured him that anything said in here would be confidential. Elder Liu hesitated before explaining “The Chang Yi tribe and the Chi Sui clan were connected in marriage a few generations ago. Your great grandfather even took in some Chang Yi tribe members before. You must have heard of the plight of the Chang Yi tribe, and how the Chang Yi tribe and the Qing Long tribe conflict happened.”
“I heard bits here and there.”
“The former Grand Emperor’s wife the Empress, the mother of the current Grand Emperor, she came from the Qing Long tribe. She died in childbirth giving birth and my two aunties were beautiful and intelligent so were chosen to enter the palace. The former Grand Emperor really liked them and my older auntie was named Empress and gave birth to four sons. My younger auntie the consort gave birth to two sons and two daughters. Both daughters married into the Bai Hu tribe. The two princes wives also came from the Bai Hu tribe. Likely my two aunties were so beloved by the Grand Emperor, the Qing Long tribe continued to believe that they were plotting to kill then Eldest Prince Shao Hao. From then on the Qing Long tribe and the Chang Yi tribes were at odds with each other. It’s hard to believe now since it happened so long ago, but the former Grand Emperor really didn’t like his eldest prince, the currently Grand Emperor, and preferred his second prince Yen Long. My older auntie told me that the former Grand Emperor had actually decided to name the second prince as the Crown Prince heir but then suddenly a coup happened in the palace. Second Prince Yen Long and the Grand Empress were both thrown in Dragon Bone Prison while the current Grand Emperor ascended the throne. A few years later the former Grand Emperor mysteriously died and both my aunties committed suicide. Second Prince was stripped of his godly rank and vanished. The other five princes were either banished or locked up and they couldn’t accept that so they aligned with the Chang Yi and Bai Hu tribes to launch a rebellion. This is what is now remembered by the world as the Five Princes Revolt.”
Elder Liu’s eyes misted with tears and sadness “Later all five princes were killed, including their wives and children.”
Feng Long said “This happened hundreds of years ago, I don’t understand why it has to do with today’s meeting?”
“The last hundreds of years, it appears all four Gao Xing tribes were equal in rank and position but the Grand Emperor has only trusted the Qing Long and Yi He tribes. The Grand Emperor has only one princess who is spoiled and untalented, she cannot be relied on to accomplish great things. But under the Qing Long and Yi He tribe’s support, the Grand Emperor actually wants to name the princess as the successor.”
Feng Long still looked confused.
Elder Liu angrily continued “The Qing Long and Yi Hi tribes and their sneaky plans! They want Ru So to become the princess’s husband. The princess is useless and the Grand Emperor’s health is deteriorating fast. Once he passes then Gao Xing would belong to Ru So who came from the Qing Long tribe. Rather than wait for Gao Xing to fall into the hands of the Qing Long tribe and at such time the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes are pushed to the edge, it’s better to seek greener pastures now.”
Feng Long said “I heard about that but the Grand Emperor hasn’t agreed yet. Why don’t the two tribes continue to object?”
Elder Liu explained “We did object and initially most of the officials backed us. But with Ru So winning one victory after another and his name being bandied about the vast wilderness, now all the officials and even the commoners of Gao Xing support Ru So marrying the princess. The Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribe voices have been pushed aside.”
Feng Long finally understood why the two tribes really did want to surrender and leave Gao Xing “Grandfather Liu, let me be frank. The Chang Yi and Bai Hu tribes may not be as all powerful as before in Gao Xing, but both together are still part of the kingdom’s foundation and leaving would shake the very core of Gao Xing. What does Grandfather Liu really want to accomplish?”
Elder Liu hesitated and Feng Long pressed “Please be completely candid, that why I can understand and report back to the Black Emperor who will make the decision.”
Elder Liu gritted his teeth and declared “If we help the Black Emperor conquer Gao Xing, then we want the Black Emperor to name the tribe leaders of the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes as territorial kings and also divide up the Qing Long and Yi He territories to us.”
Even though Feng Long had mentally prepared for this he was still stunned. The Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes actually wanted to banish the Gao Xing royal family and the Qing Long and Yi He tribes from Gao Xing land forever. No wonder they chose to surrender to achieve this.
Feng Long collected himself and replied “This is a big matter and I will immediately report to His majesty and give a reply in 5 days.”
Elder Liu was relieved to hear a time set for the reply but noticed two guards standing behind Feng Long shooting angry glares. Feng Long knew what Elder Liu said affected the life and death of two tribes and needed to explain “These two guards were provided to me by His majesty so even if they are not here they will hear it later from His majesty.”
Elder Liu didn’t press further with this assurance and was escorted out by Feng Long personally.
After Elder Liu was gone, Feng Long looked at Zhuan Xu and saw him calmly thinking while seated in the chair Feng Long just occupied.
Feng Long didn’t dare intrude so quietly stood to the aside. After some time Zhuan Xu called “Map.”
Feng Long took out the map jewel and injected power inside so the map of the vast wilderness was projected in the tent. Zhuan Xu stared at the Gao Xing territory and asked “What do you think?”
Feng Long excitedly replied “A great deal! If Jing heard this he would say we won big! If we didn’t have the help of the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes, even after Xuan Yuan won the war Your majesty will naturally have to divide up the land in reward to various families to rule as territorial kings. So if the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes joined Xuan Yuan now, might as well give it to them! This is a trade that’s good for both sides, the only downside is that I don’t get to fight as many battles.”
Zhuan Xu said “If I agree then you won’t get your portion.”
Feng Long laughed “Who says?” Feng Long pointed at the map “Here, here, and here, the territories that I’ve already conquered happen to be adjacent to Chi Sui. Give those to me is perfect, any more even I don’t dare ask for.”
Zhuan Xu glanced at Feng Long “You asked for the best spots.”
Feng Long was sheepish “If Your majesty gave me territory less ideal, then it’ll look bad on Your majesty as well.”
Zhuan Xu smiled, he wasn’t afraid of officials asking him for something direct, he actually liked Feng Long’s candor and open attitude. The point of the entire world was to share with the world. If a good territory was given to a good subordinate to manage and made it even better then it was good for Zhuan Xu as well.
Feng Long probed “Does Your majesty plan to agree to this offer?”
“No rush, wait until the 5th day.”
Feng Long understood that Zhuan Xu had decided to agree but wanted to cool their heels for 5 days. Feng Long was so relieved he picked Zhuan Xu early on.
Five days later Feng Long responded to Elder Liu and asked both tribe elders to come personally to hear the Emperor’s reply.
Both elders were thrilled to see the Black Emperor personally, and to discuss this matter with them, it made them even more certain that they wanted to surrender to Xuan Yuan.
After negotiation, Zhuan Xu accepted their demands to later name their two tribes as regional kings and allow their future generations to live on Gao Xing land permanently. He had both tribes agree never to inter-marry and their descendants must marry Xuan Yuan citizens.
After signing the blood oath, the two elders kneeled to the ground with their head bowed to swear fealty to Zhuan Xu. Elder Liu asked if both sides needed to send their troops now to fight alongside the Xuan Yuan army but Zhuan Xu turned them down.
Feng Long added “You both just need to announce to the world that the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes have left Gao Xing and joined the Xuan Yuan kingdom and will now follow the Black Emperor.”
Both elders were flabbergasted “All you need from us is that?” Both expected the Black Emperor to ask to use their armed forces and to test out their loyalty. They figured the Black Emperor wouldn’t care to lose their soldiers since they were not Xuan Yuan forces.
Zhuan Xu said “Just do this is all I need. From now on your people are Xuan Yuan people but they were all Gao Xing born. To have them immediately raise swords against their Gao Xing brethren is difficult so if I don’t need to use them then I won’t.”
The two elders were so grateful “Yes! We will immediately make the announcement once we get back telling the entire world that the Chang Yi and Bai Hu tribes now belong to the Xuan Yuan kingdom.”
Zhuan Xu “I’ll wait for it.”
The next day the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes officially broke from the Gao Xing kingdom and joined the Xuan Yuan kingdom.
The news spread like wildfire through the vast wilderness in shock. The Bai Hu and Chang Yi ancestors followed the Gao Xing family since even before the formation of the Gao Xing kingdom. Even now the stories of loyalty and valor from are still shared through the land, but with this the friendship and ties for ten thousand years was shattered in one blow.
The world sighed but also eagerly watched the next move from the Grand Emperor. He ought to immediately strike the Bai Hu and Chang Yi forces but with the Xuan Yuan army in the Gao Xing north ready to send reinforcements, it would be a tough battle. If the Grand Emperor didn’t do anything then it would mean he weakly accepted the traitorous desertion of the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes.
Zhuan Xu was also waiting for the Grand Emperor’s response. He had been in the army base for too long to keep it a secret so he made it publicly known he was there to survey the troops and also watch response from Gao Xing.
Two days later the Grand Emperor declared war on the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes, not using Ru So’s army but the Grand Emperor was going to personally lead forces to punish the traitors.
Now the world watched to see what the Black Emperor would do. With news of the Grand Emperor leading the forces everyone expected the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes to lose. But they now followed the Black Emperor so he needed to send back up to help them otherwise in the future no one will ever dare surrender to Xuan Yuan.
A giant war catastrophe was looming over the entire vast wilderness and everyone waited anxiously.
Zhuan Xu’s brows were furrowed and didn’t allow anyone to bother him, always glancing in the direction of Five Gods Mountain.
Right before war broke out, news spread that the leading general of the Gao Xing forces had changed – just as the Grand Emperor donned his battle armor and was about to depart on his winged ride, he suddenly collapsed due to a leg injury.
Princess Gao Xing Yi took her father’s place and donned her battle armor to head to war.
Perhaps it was due to the injured Grand Emperor willing to go to war for his people, or perhaps now a weak woman was willing to go to battle in her father’s place, the Gao Xing people turned even more against the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes, hating them to their core and praying for the Princess to vanquish them completely. But all the leaders of the various clans and families figured that if the Gao Xing Princess would defeat the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes then the sun would be rising from the west.
Likely Zhuan Xu thought as much because he didn’t move to send troops.
If Zhuan Xu did nothing then Ru So also did nothing with his troops.
Xiao Yao didn’t have the patience to see who won or lost, she heard the Grand Emperor was so injured as to be unable to ride his winged ride she immediately set off for Five Gods Mountain. She didn’t care that the Grand Emperor didn’t want to see her, she was going to barge in and see him!
Zhuan Xu pleaded “Don’t be so impatient, okay? Don’t you feel that the scenario of “going to war in place of father” sounds really familiar? Ah Nian was raised by Master himself, how could he think she could go to war for him?”
Xiao Yao hollered “I don’t care! I don’t care about your strategy and or his schemes. You guys and your kingdom ambitions have nothing to do with me! All I know is that he raised me, loved me, and used his life to protect me! Zhuan Xu, I don’t have the power to stop you from attacking Gao Xing and you can’t stop me from going to see him!” Xiao Yao glared at Zhuan Xu, daring him to fight with her.
Zhuan Xu gave up “Fine, fine, fine! I don’t care so you go!”
He glanced at Jing who said “Your majesty needn’t worry, I’ll accompany her.”
Zhuan Xu watched Xiao Yao get on Jing’s winged ride with him, rising into the clouds above and gradually disappearing from view. He wasn’t sure why but his heart hurt and in an impetuous decision he vaulted on his winged ride and chased after them.
After he caught up to them was when he realized he was too rash but by then he might as well go all the way!
Xiao Yao stared quizzically “Are you sending us off? You can’t be following us all the way to Five Gods Mountain, are you?”
Zhuan Xu retorted “Together!”
“You go back!” The two kingdoms were still at war and she didn’t want to second guess the Grand Emperor and was worried about Zhuan Xu’s safety.
“Just be silent!” Zhuan Xu’s tone of voice was still harsh but his expression was warmer.
“Then change your face, everyone in Cheng En Palace recognizes you.”
“Stop nagging, I know what to do.” Even though it was a rash decision Zhuan Xu still had confidence he could safely get back. But seeing Xiao Yao worried about him lifted his spirits.
Arriving on Five Gods Mountain, neither Xiao Yao nor Zhuan Xu could make an appearance so had Jing request an audience with the Grand Emperor.
Jing’s position as the Tu Shan clan leader was very useful, even though the Grand Emperor was ill the servant still went to announce him. Soon the cloud carriage arrived to take them to the top.
Led by the servant, the three arrived at the Grand Emperor’s residence Zhu Xing Pavilion. Xiao Yao’s heart sank, in the past the Grand Emperor did all official business from Cao Hui Court but now he was so ill he needed to see them in his private residence.
They walked inside and saw the Grand Emperor sitting against a jade pallet resting, his hair all white and the wrinkles clearly visible on his forehead and eyes. Xiao Yao and Jing saw him like this the last parting in Chi Sui but Zhuan Xu had not seen the Grand Emperor since he left Gao Xing with Xiao Yao back to Xuan Yuan Mountain. He heard that the Grand Emperor was wounded and ill but his memory of him was still from one hundred years ago. Back then the Grand Emperor was as imposing as a mountain vista while now he was like a toppled hillside.
Zhuan Xu was so startled he forgot to properly greet the Grand Emperor.
Xiao Yao was thinking of how to smooth it over when the Grand Emperor waved his hand and all the servants left the residence leaving only the four of them inside. The Grand Emperor stared at Zhuan Xu and said “Zhuan Xu?”
“It’s me.” Zhuan Xu walked towards the Grand Emperor and transformed his face back.
The Grand Emperor smiled “I was just thinking of a way to force you to come see me, who knew you came on your own.”
Zhuan Xu kneeled down before the Grand Emperor “Master, why are you like this?” Within the residence, with Master so ill, he didn’t keep a single servant or guard indicating how much he still saw Zhuan Xu as his disciple without any need to guard against him.
The Grand Emperor smiled “You’re all grown up, of course I’ll grow old, and will one day die.”
Zhuan Xu felt his heart twist and his eyes mist. He lowered his head until he composed himself before lifting his face “Xiao Yao’s medical skills are very good now. If she’s here then Master you will get better soon.”
Xiao Yao kneeled down beside Zhuan Xu “Your majesty, please let me treat you.”
The Grand Emperor handed his wrist to Xiao Yao and she took his pulse and then checked his leg injury. Afterwards Xiao Yao said “His majesty was gravely injured in the Chi Sui desert but Gao Xing has very good doctors and countless good medicine. If His majesty rested properly and healed then he would be mostly recovered now. But His majesty is plagued by emotional and mental worries, every day fretting and every night sorrowful, unable to sleep properly. That is why the illness hasn’t healed and instead has only gotten worse. If His majesty continues this way……” Xiao Yao’s words caught in her throat and she couldn’t say it out loud.
Zhuan Xu was shocked “Fretting every day and sorrowful every night?” Was Xiao Yao really describing Master?
The Grand Emperor had nothing to say, he could conceal it from everyone but could not hide it from a skilled doctor. He could control his emotions from showing on his face but his body reflected his true feelings.
Zhuan Xu said “Master, I can understand fretting every day, but I don’t understand being sorrowful every night!”
The Grand Emperor said “Zhuan Xu, you should understand. You are sitting in the position where you have lost the right to feel sad. It’s not that we don’t feel sad, it’s that we control and suppress our feelings deep inside our hearts.” The Grand Emperor smiled wryly “Unfortunately when I was injured, the sadness I’ve suppressed my entire life was released and has become like a runaway horse can’t control.”
Zhuan Xu’s eyes reflected his understanding and he sadly replied “I understand now.”
The Grand Emperor appeared exhausted and closed his eyes, but when both Xiao Yao and Zhuan Xu thought he had fallen asleep his voice rang out “Every night I will dream, one piece after another. Sometimes I dream I’m a blacksmith, forging weapons when Qing Yang walks in smiling and laughing. Sometimes I dream of Yun Zhe and Chang Yi, they are both still little boys, just the same age as Zhuan Xu when he came to Gao Xing. They call me “Shao Hao gege!”, one asks me to teach him swordplay, the other asks me to teach him the zither. I sometimes dream of my father, when I was born my mom died and he was afraid I would forget her face so he often drew her portrait for me. One night I dreamt that my father carried me to the garden to learn the different types of peach blossoms. I woke up from the dream and couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat up on the pallet and recited the various peach blossoms: green blossom, white peach, beauty peach…..over a hundred different peach blossom varietals that I thought I had long since forgotten and turns out I still remember it all.”
The Grand Emperor continued “Those dreams are all very happy, and when I dream them I don’t want to wake up because I know the reality behind those dreams are all a wasteland of pain where everything is gone. Sometimes all I dream are nightmares. I dream Qing Yang died in my arms, glaring at me and berating me for not keeping my promise; I dream of Chang Yi screaming in horror in a fiery inferno ‘Shao Hao gege, why didn’t you come save me?’; I dream of the ground entirely covered in blood and my five younger brothers heads ringed in a circle as I stand in the center and they are all mocking me; I dream of my father and he laughingly pushes me onto the throne and asks ‘You want it? You can have it!’ He takes off his crown and robe and hands it to me, then he ripes his skin and flesh and hands it to me, he’s just a fleshless skeleton and he still reaches out his bony hand and asks ‘You want it? You can have it!’”
Zhuan Xu, Xiao Yao, and Jing listened in collective horror, unable to make a single sound, as if a skeleton really was before them in the residence holding forth his skin and flesh in his hands while asking with a smile “You want it? You can have it!”
The Grand Emperor covered his eyes “The world pities that I don’t have a son but they don’t know that I am grateful and relieved not to have a son. I’m afraid my son will be like me, if he’s like me who killed my own fa…..”
“YOUR MAJESTY!” Jing’s voice rang out and cut short the Grand Emperor.
The Grand Emperor opened his eyes and look confused as if waking from a dream and unsure of his surroundings. Likely Xiao Yao and Zhuan Xu were so close to him and the past hearing it also overwhelmed them while Jing as the outsider remained the most coolheaded. He handed the Grand Emperor a cup of tea and gently said “Your majesty, please drink some tea!”
The Grand Emperor sipped the tea and his expression gradually regained clarity but his smile was filled with self-pity. The things he did, he could not tell others and others dare not hear it.
The Grand Emperor said “After Consort Jing An had Ah Nian she couldn’t bear any more children, and I didn’t plan to take any more consorts, so I’ve long since knew I would only have two daughters.
Xiao Yao bit her lip while staring at the Grand Emperor.
The Grand Emperor reached out his hand “Xiao Yao, I remember when you were small. Every night you would sit in front of the court steps with your eyes staring ahead until you saw me. Then you would happily run towards me and into my arms. That was the happiest part of my day because you loved me not for my power or anything else, but because I was your Dad. I loved and coddled you because you were my daughter, even if I didn’t promise your mom or if I didn’t know your uncles, I would still have loved and treated you the same. Don’t be mad at the cold way I’ve pushed you away, I just didn’t want you to feel torn between Zhuan Xu and me.”
Xiao Yao tightly gripped the Grand Emperor’s hand as if fearing losing him again “I know….I understood it deep down….I wasn’t angry at you.”
“Not angry? Then why all this “Your majesty” since you walked in here, as if wanting to remind me of what I did.”
“I was a little miffed, just a little, but no anger.”
“Then you should call me….”
Xiao Yao cried out “Dad!”
The Grand Emperor smiled while Zhuan Xu furrowed his brows.
The Grand Emperor glanced at Zhuan Xu “I have many nephews but not a single one worthy. I did hand raise and train three very capable disciples: Ju Mang is reliable and pulls through, Ru So can be trusted with important tasks, and Zhuan Xu….” The Grand Emperor stared at Zhuan Xu with bright piercing eyes that made Zhuan Xu feel like he was being openly read and he wanted to avert his eyes but in the end he kept his eyes locked with the Grand Emperor.
The Grand Emperor continued “I taught you for two hundred years so I know that your ambition is not on one mountain or one land but on the vast wilderness. Since you left Gao Xing, I have been waiting for you to come back.”
Zhuan Xu’s heart sank “If Master already knew then why did you let me leave for Xuan Yuan?”
“Jing, help me.” The Grand Emperor gestured to the jewel map on the table.
Jing picked up the jewel and injected his power to project the map in the residence. The entire vast wilderness surrounded them all, the valleys, rivers, rolling vistas. In that moment everyone was stunned by the breadth.
The Grand Emperor said “Hundreds of years ago, on the plains of Yi Province, Xiao Yao’s mom pointed to a direction and asked me what is over there. I answered ‘Mountains, rivers, earth, and people.’ She changed three more directions and asked me the same whether it was in the direction of Gao Xing, Xuan Yuan, or Sheng Nong. My answer remained the same. I knew she already foresaw that one day Gao Xing would battle with Xuan Yuan but she didn’t want people to be sacrificed like her and Qi Yo. So she placed all her hopes with me to do the right thing and avoid the bloodshed.”
Zhuan Xu stared at the map and mulled over what his Auntie said.
The Grand Emperor smiled at Xiao Yao “When Zhuan Xu came to Gao Xing, he was young but already had the personality of Qing Yang which was a relief to me. I earnestly trained and taught him even as my officials worried I was training a future enemy. At that time I remembered what Ah Heng said and ignored the officials and continued to nurture Zhuan Xu. I worried the officials would plot to have their children lead him astray so I encouraged Zhuan Xu to travel the commoner world and live as they live. I urged him to travel all through Gao Xing and understand every inch of this land so that one day he could govern it properly.”
Zhuan Xu stared in confusion, he understood what the Grand Emperor was saying but didn’t understand what he was trying to get at.
The Grand Emperor said warmly “Zhuan Xu didn’t disappoint me, and even moreso he didn’t let down Qing Yang, Ah Heng, or his parents. Zhuan Xu grew up just like I had hoped. Or no, shall I shall he grew up even better than I expected. The Chang Yi and Bai Hu tribes are angry at me for not training and naming a successor. As the ruler of a kingdom how could I have forgotten to do such an important task. I not only trained a successor to rule Gao Xing, I even trained two good officials to serve him. The three children I raised: Ju Mang is reliable and pulls through, Ru So can be trusted with important tasks, and Zhuan Xu will be tasked with the entire world’s governance.”
Zhuan Xu tripped over his words “I….I don’t….don’t understand what Master means.”
The Grand Emperor smiled “Silly child, you’re the successor I prepared to rule Gao Xing!”
The Grand Emperor’s words were casual and light, even teasing, but the three listened where so thunderstruck as to be immobilized. Even the always prepared for any occasion Jing was staring in shock.
The Grand Emperor smiled at the expressions of the three kids faces.
After a few moments Zhuan Xu said “Master, did you really mean what you just said?”
“Do you think I would joke about something like this? The hundreds of years I spent developing and preparing you, how could that be a joke?”
“But….” Zhuan Xu’s thoughts were so jumbled “I’m not a Gao Xing person, I am Xuan Yuan born!”
“You see a rule that a Xuan Yuan member cannot be the ruler of Gao Xing? You even send your soldiers to put on plays telling of the world being one family, so how can you doubt that now?”
“The court will vehemently object.”
“Did they support your invasion of Gao Xing? Would they agree to allow you to conquer Gao Xing and add it to Xuan Yuan rule?”
“No, that’s not the same!”
Xiao Yao was fed up “Zhuan Xu, when Dad didn’t want you to have it then you would fight for it, now Dad wants to give it to you and you are arguing against it. What do you mean? Do you think something tastes better only if you snatch it by force so you want to keep the war going?”
“I don’t mean that! I just….” Zhuan Xu took a deep breath “I just feel like such a small person right now, ashamed and unable to immediately accept.”
The Grand Emperor laughed out and pointed at Zhuan Xu “His candor right now is so much like Qing Yang. Both the Yellow Emperor and I would have never admitted that.”
Xiao Yao felt all the dark clouds lifting and smiled “Dad, since you already wanted to give the throne to Zhuan Xu, why not tell him? Why make him into the smaller person and have to attack Gao Xing?”
The Grand Emperor explained “I may have reached this decision and the people of Gao Xing may be able to accept any ruler as long as he brings peace and prosperity. But Zhuan Xu is right in pointing out the court officials would never agree to it and I can’t influence such a powerful faction alone. Zhuan Xu needs to use his might to make them obey at the tip of the sword, where they are faced with loss or gain before they will all accept. Like the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes, haven’t they already accepted Zhuan Xu as their Emperor after weighing their pros and cons?”
Zhuan Xu grumbled “I thought I got the better end of the bargain, who knew they did.”
The Grand Emperor asked “What did you promise them?”
Zhuan Xu dejectedly explained the terms of the agreement, thinking the Grand Emperor would get angry and yell at him but who knew he said “That’s about what I thought, you did well in not allowing them to intermarry so later when they become regional kings they will counterbalance each other.”
Zhuan Xu felt bad and asked “What will happen to the Qing Long and Yi He tribes? They loyally followed Master the entire time.”
The Grand Emperor said “I’ve lived my whole life on Five Gods Mountain and am tired of it. I want a mountain range from you.”
“I want to move to Xuan Yuan Mountain and the Yi He and Qing Long tribes will follow me. Please give them territory near the Xuan Yuan Mountain.”
Xuan Yuan Mountain was vastly important territory in the Xuan Yuan Kingdom and currently belonged to the Yellow Emperor. Xiao Yao thought exchanging Five Gods Mountain for Xuan Yuan Mountain was an even trade. That’s not how Zhuan Xu or Jing saw it – the Grand Emperor moving to Xuan Yuan Mountain was telling the entire world that his position is as important as the Yellow Emperor, telling the world that Gao Xing did not get conquered. It was similar to the Yellow Emperor’s abdication many years ago when he gave up Xuan Yuan Mountain and moved to Sheng Nong Mountain. Both rulers did not want the officials to have options, to see the kingdom as having two rulers, so they both definitively ended that possibility. It allowed Zhuan Xu’s rule to be smoother and eliminated unnecessary bloodshed.
An even deeper reason was the Grand Emperor purposely splitting Gao Xing in two this way. One half stays in Gao Xing and the other half leaves with him to move to Xuan Yuan Mountain. After future generations of intermarriage the dialects and customs would all gradually mesh until one day the Gao Xing citizens would completely be part of the Xuan Yuan people. This was the same reason Zhuan Xu took his time in attacking and has his people govern the Gao Xing castles and towns under Xuan Yuan rule sagely to allow the Gao Xing people to get used to the Xuan Yuan customs.
Zhuan Xu was so touched but didn’t want his Master to leave his homeland “Master, you needn’t do this. The climate and environs of Xuan Yuan Mountain is vastly different than Five Gods Mountain…..”
The Grand Emperor cut him off with a wave of the hand “Sheng Nong Mountain is vastly different than Xuan Yuan Mountain yet the Yellow Emperor is living there just fine. I hear the Yellow Emperor’s health is even better than before. The importance of Xuan Yuan Mountain cannot be overstated so many will object but if you dare give it to me then I will be very comforted.”
“Zhuan Xu, I really do want to leave Five Gods Mountain. There are the reasons you have already thought of but I also have my own selfish considerations. My father’s shadow is everywhere on Five Gods Mountain, every flower and every pond was crafted by him. I can see him everywhere I go. I didn’t grow up here so I don’t have any happy memories here. Thinking of the past here only brings back all the conspiracies and the deaths and I’m tired! Xuan Yuan Mountain may have no memories for me but Qing Yang, Chang Yi, and Ah Heng grew up there so I’m very familiar with Cao Yun Peak and won’t feel lonely there.”
The Grand Emperor’s eyes showed his weariness “There, I likely won’t have any more nightmares.”
Xiao Yao said “Zhuan Xu, just say yes to Dad!”
Zhuan Xu got on his knees and bowed his head hard on the ground with his face pressed low, not getting up for a long time. When he learned the truth of how his father died there was a part of him that couldn’t forgive his master but today all the reservations and anger was completely washed away.
Zhuan Xu could forgive Little Zhu Rong but not Master because Little Zhu Rong had no connection with him but his master took him in when he was in peril. He raised him for two hundred years and his master’s face had long since merged with his memory of his dad. Because he saw his master as his father now, that is why he couldn’t so easily forgive him. But now all the resentment was gone leaving only the comfort and gratitude of love. The Grand Emperor really did do his job as a dad and take care of everything for Zhuan Xu leaving him like any child in this world who could never repay the parental care.
The Grand Emperor had Xiao Yao help Zhuan Xu up.
Jing saw the Grand Emperor had been talking for a long time and worried he was tired so brought over a cup of peach juice. The Grand Emperor took a sip and continued “Now that the official matters are done, let’s discuss some personal items.”
Zhuan Xu and Xiao Yao stared at the Grand Emperor who glanced first at Jing “Xiao Yao doesn’t need me to worry about her. I just have to prepare her dowry and wait for her to get married. But my other daughter…..” The Grand Emperor sighed “She leaves me with a headache and worry. Zhuan Xu, who should I marry her off to?”
Xiao Yao burst out laughing while Zhuan Xu awkwardly answered “I thought Master wanted to marry Ah Nian to Ru So.”
“Ru So? He would be willing to die for me in battle before he would agree to marry Ah Nian. Even if he agreed Ah Nian would never marry him.”
Zhuan Xu said “Then keep on looking.”
“Since you left Gao Xing I have been looking, for the past hundred years and still she hasn’t found one she likes.” The Grand Emperor rubbed his forehead and sighed “It’s even more exhausting dealing with her than dealing with the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes! I said it all, logic and persuasion, and even hoped that your war against Gao Xing would end her feelings. Who knew she was so persistent and still only wants you! Zhuan Xu, tell me what I should do with her?”
Zhuan Xu lowered his head while Xiao Yao was giggling and sprawled next to the Grand Emperor.
He asked Xiao Yao “What do you think Dad should do?”
Xiao Yao smiled “What does my little sister want?”
“Of course she wants to marry that Zhuan Xu.”
“Dad doesn’t object?”
“Will my objection change anything? I’ve objected tens of years and now I’m tired. I’ve figured it out and decided to just go with it. Life may be long but it’s her life, why not give in to her and let her have what she wants. Xiao Yao, do you agree with Dad?”
Xiao Yao thought about it and nodded. Ah Nian would be unhappy her entire life if she didn’t get what she wanted, if she was given what she wanted at least Zhuan Xu would always remember his gratitude to her dad and treat her well.
The Grand Emperor asked “Xiao Yao, do you think that Zhuan Xu would agree to marry my daughter?”
Xiao Yao saw that the Grand Emperor was serious so couldn’t help but laugh. They say the world pities the parents worry and even the Grand Emperor can’t avoid it! Ah Nian is the Gao Xing princess, her marrying Zhuan Xu would even more legitimately help Zhuan Xu unite Gao Xing with Xuan Yuan. But the Grand Emperor would never use his daughter’s marriage as a political bargaining chip which is why he first discussed official matters before changing the subject to Ah Nian’s marriage and emphasized that this was a personal issue. He also didn’t want to ask Zhuan Xu directly and pressure him so he had Xiao Yao act as the intermediary.
Xiao Yao tugged Zhuan Xu’s sleeved “Hey you, do you agree to marry my Dad’s daughter?”
Zhuan Xu stared at Xiao Yao’s hand and felt the absurdity of the world on him. If years ago he didn’t help Tu Shan Jing get close to Xiao Yao, if back then he made his feelings for Xiao Yao clear like Tu Shan Jing, if he never let her hand go……..would the “my dad’s daughter” that Xiao Yao was asking about today be referring to herself and not Ah Nian? Would he then happily yell “Yes!” and not once again forced to agree to marry another woman in front of Xiao Yao?
Zhuan Xu kept his head lowered and said nothing so Xiao Yao stuck her head in his lap and stared up at him “Zhuan Xu?”
Zhuan Xu lifted his head with a smile “As long as Master doesn’t object then I of course will be willing. Except……..Ah Nian is the Princess and I already have an Empress.”
The Grand Emperor already considered this problem “I’ve only heard of one kingdom cannot have two rulers, never heard of one kingdom cannot have two empresses. If you can make Xing Yue Empress then you can also make Ah Nian Empress.”
Xiao Yao suddenly remembered what the Yellow Emperor privately discussed with Ah Nian years ago when Xing Yue was going to be Empress and then Ah Nian quietly went back to Gao Xing. Did the Yellow Emperor also have the same idea back then? Xiao Yao suddenly yelled “I agree, I agree! My little sister of course has to be an Empress!”
Zhuan Xu stared at Xiao Yao and while his smile deepened but his eyes were dark like two unending wells with no light. Xiao Yao suddenly felt this odd sensation so she yelled “What? What did I say wrong?”
Zhuan Xu smiled “No, you said nothing wrong. I will marry Ah Nian using the pomp and circumstance of marrying my Empress and give her the same position as Xing Yue.”
The Grand Emperor said “I will move to Xuan Yuan Mountain and this palace will now belong to you. I suggest you give one palace to Ah Nian since she grew up here. I don’t feel comfortable with her personality living with the daughter of the Sheng Nong family and causing you problems. Why don’t the two empresses each live on one mountain, Xing Yue on Sheng Nong Mountain and Ah Nian on Five Gods Mountain.”
Xiao Yao clapped “What a great idea!” She was just getting worried about Ah Nian dealing with all those wives on Zhi Jin Summit, who knew her dad already had plans. Once Gao Xing became part of Xuan Yuan then Zhuan Xu would have to visit annually to govern in person. Even if he lived just one month a year on Five Gods Mountain, that was one month when he belonged completely to Ah Nian.
Zhuan Xu smiled “That’s a great idea! I was worried about how to placate the Middle Plains families but this would solve everything.”
Xiao Yao inwardly sighed. Even if her dad was just trying to marry a daughter, if Ah Nian didn’t have such a powerful dad and all of Gao Xing behind her, how can she get an entire palace? The Grand Emperor passed his throne to Zhuan Xu unrelated to Ah Nian, but the world might see the Grand Emperor as giving his daughter the biggest dowry in the world. If the Grand Emperor handed an entire kingdom to Zhuan Xu as dowry for Ah Nian, then even the Middle Plains families could not complain or object to making her an empress as well.
The Grand Emperor turned to Xiao Yao “I’m hungry, go see what’s to eat and bring me a couple dishes.”
“Yes” Xiao Yao walked outside and Jing knew it was intentional to divert her so joined her.
After both Xiao Yao and Jing left, the Grand Emperor stared at Zhuan Xu “You’re not happy to marry Ah Nian.”
Zhuan Xu’s smile lessened “I don’t want to lie to Master, Ah Nian is not the woman I love. But just like Consort Jing An is not the woman Master loves, but I will treat Ah Nian with the same affection and care as Master treats Consort Jing An. I will give Ah Nian a lifetime of comfort and peace.”
The Grand Emperor was not surprised Zhuan Xu didn’t love Ah Nian in that way and sighed “You remember this promise you made today.” He knew that between Zhuan Xu and Ah Nian, the person who was happier in this marriage would be Ah Nian.
Zhuan Xu’s face revealed his desolation “Master, what does it feel like to marry the woman you love.”
The Grand Emperor smiled sadly “I don’t know.”
“Didn’t Master marry Auntie?”
“When I married her I didn’t love her yet, by the time I fell in love with her, she already saw herself as Qi Yo’s wife.”
Zhuan Xu sighed “So even Master doesn’t know!”
The Grand Emperor joined him and sighed “That’s right.”
Zhuan Xu sadly continued “Sometimes I feel like my life is so absurd. I moved an entire garden of flowers into my backyard but the only flower I want isn’t there. Just that one I want isn’t there! When in actually I don’t even want an entire backyard full of flowers, I just want that one flower!”
The Grand Emperor patted Zhuan Xu on the shoulder because only he understood how much sadness and suffering lay underneath Zhuan Xu’s calm composure. To sit in the highest chair, it appeared one had it all but there wasn’t a single marriage that was what Zhuan Xu really wanted. Each time he married to resolve an impasse or avoid bloodshed…..if years ago he could have suffered in marriage like Zhuan Xu, perhaps the Gao Xing tribes would not be fighting near a civil war now.
Xiao Yao and Jing wandered outside the pavilion and she said “Years ago you told me ‘Zhuan Xu is not the Yellow Emperor and the Grand Emperor is not Qi Yo.’ You wanted me not to think of the worst case scenario and I didn’t believe you then but now I really understand what you meant.”
Jing said “The critical element is that the Xuan Yuan kingdom now is not the same as it was before.”
“A battle hinges on the smarter general, a war hinges on the more powerful kingdom. Right now most of the world belongs to Xuan Yuan so it’s more wealthy and has more resources. Eventually Gao Xing will be ruled by Xuan Yuan which is why the Black Emperor chose to fight a slow war of attrition. From the day Zhuan Xu declared war, Gao Xing was doomed to be conquered. That’s why it’s the smart choice for the Grand Emperor to pass the throne to Zhuan Xu……..”
Xiao Yao covered her heard “Not listening! So many things sound worse when you analyze it!”
Jing grabbed Xiao Yao to avoid a low branch and laughed “The tides cannot be changed but the choices made can impact how it happens. Without the Black Emperor’s restraint and the Grand Emperor’s foresight, it’s hard to have such a happy ending for all that is happening now.”
Xiao Yao glanced back in the pavilion “What do you think they are talking about? Are they done yet?”
Jing could tell she couldn’t wait so said with a laugh “Let’s go check.”
Xiao Yao immediately ran back inside while hollering “Dad!”
Zhuan Xu walked to the door and gestured her inside. Xiao Yao ran inside and reached Zhuan Xu before realizing her hands were empty. She turned and saw Jing carrying a basket of food.
Xiao Yao placed the dishes before the Grand Emperor with a smile “Did Ah Nian really go the battle?”
“She really went. Regardless of my plans, the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes betrayal must be punished.”
“Ju Mang is with her.”
“That means Ah Nian will emerge victorious then?
“What happens afterwards?”
The Grand Emperor glanced at Zhuan Xu who smiled and popped a snack in his mouth “After the battle is won, Master will announce that Ah Nian is marrying me. That’s the best of both worlds as Ah Nian will be the Gao Xing Princess who punished the betrayers, but she’s also going to be the next Xuan Yuan Empress so even if she vanquished the two tribes it’s like she’s battling for me. It won’t force me to avenge their defeat.”
Xiao Yao laughed “Everyone thinks the battle is so earthshattering, who can expect it’ll be followed by a massive wedding.”
In the middle of winter, on the 17th, the Gao Xing Princess who went to war for her father successfully defeated the Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes. On the same day the Xuan Yuan Black Emperor sent Chi Sui Feng Long as envoy to Five Gods Mountain for the hand in marriage of the Gao Xing Princess and the Grand Emperor agreed.
With the wedding set the war between the two kingdoms ended. The Bai Hu and Chang Yi tribes went from crying about revenge to shutting up and hoping the Princess didn’t hold a grudge later on.
The palace was ready and the dowry was prepared, the two kingdoms discussed and set the wedding date for the coming autumn.
Everyone thought the two kingdoms were in close contact to plan the wedding but in truth the Grand Emperor and the Black Emperor was planning the abdication and succession plans.
Since Zhuan Xu left Gao Xing, the Grand Emperor had been preparing for this day and many of the people were already prepared. The Grand Emperor told Zhuan Xu to stay in Gao Xing and assured him Xuan Yuan and Sheng Nong Mountain was already on track and could administer itself for now.
The Grand Emperor passing the throne to Zhuan Xu appeared to be a nigh impossible task, but under the careful planning and execution of three brilliant rulers it continued step by step without delay.