The wise military adviser of Da Tong sighed quietly. "The wind in young master's memory is indeed sweet, but the Yan Bei now is no longer the one from your memories."
"Indeed, many familiar people are no longer around." Yan Xun's eyes stared deep into the darkness of the night. He freely let his hair flow in the incoming night breeze.
"I vividly remember how I was just nine years old when I left Yan Bei. At that time, the royal capital ordered that all noble families were to send a son to the Capital as proof of their loyalty. However, the royal family received no response. Master Jing even openly challenged that order. One day, the emperor sent a letter to our father. After reading that letter, father remained silent for very long. Finally, he asked me and my brothers, 'Who wants to go to the royal capital? Just one year will do. Upon coming back, that person will be the heir apparent of Yan Bei.' None of us wanted to go, and none of us cared about taking over the rule of Yan Bei. At that time, eldest brother was already quite mature, so he asked father, 'Father, are you not brothers with the Emperor? Why must the Emperor take precautions against you?' Father sank into silence again, before looking at us in the eye, and solemnly saying, 'Precisely because we are brothers. If I do not help him and follow his order, who will?' And on that day, I decided to head to the royal capital. He is my dad. If I did not help him, who would?"
Yan Xun smiled bitterly, but his gaze had an overflowing gentleness that hid a tinge of wistful longing. Judging from that expression alone, one might believe this expression came from an elderly person.
"The trip to the royal capital is full of uncertainties, and wanting to help our father, eldest brother and third brother volunteered themselves as well. However, considering how they already had administrative responsibilities, father finally decided to send me. On the day of farewell, they kept following me behind my carriage, all the way to Zhui Ma Ridge, Liuhe County, Xi Ma Liang, and finally, to this very Bie Ya Slope. Father, eldest brother, second sister, and third brother all stood on here, along with a huge army of Yan Bei warriors. Father's golden lion banner flew proudly in the sky. Looking back from afar, I could still see second sister wiping her face secretly, while third brother was shouting at me to be careful. Eldest brother told me that the royal capital was colder than Yan Bei, so he personally made a hand warmer for me. I used that for five years, until it was finally shattered by an official in the royal capital on the very day that the news of the nightmare arrived." Yan Xun smirked. He continued in his emotionless voice, "This slope really marked the very day that our fates diverged forever." Then, Yan Xun turned around, and with a quiet laugh, he said, "Mister, you had been sent here in fear that I would punish the soldiers from the Southwest Emissary's Garrison, right?"
Wu Daoya was taken aback by the sudden change in topic, as he donned a smile while shaking his head. "Nope, it must be master's imagination."
"Haha, you are really not honest." Yan Xun laughed. "You must have definitely thought that way. But after you came, you heard from me that the one leading those soldiers was AhChu. With that you no longer have any worries, so you decided to not talk about it altogether, right?"
Before Wu Daoya could reply, Yan Xun directly remarked, "I indeed wanted to kill all of them. At that point of time, I left them at the capital, and while hoping for them to delay the pursuing army by attracting attention, I was hoping that they could be wiped away from the face of the earth as well. But AhChu saved them. Hmph, consider them lucky."
Wu Daoya, hearing that, was instantly brimming with a hearty smile. He commented, "The young master is so forgiving and mature. It is Yan Bei's fortune to have you have a leader."
"Stop with this flattery, I know you do not truly feel this way. You knew very well my hatred for the Southwest Emissary's Garrison runs deep, and I am compromising purely due to helplessness. If I decimated the forces that AhChu had painstakingly brought back, she would kill me."
Thinking of that frail yet stubborn young lady, Wu Daoya could not help but smile. He continued, "Given her personality, that would be very possible."
"But then, if that is the case, those deceased of Yan Bei could no longer rest in peace," Yan Xun said.
The tone was extremely casual, as if he was merely commenting on the good weather on that night. But upon hearing that, Wu Daoya's expression froze. This seemingly casual sentence was clandestinely teeming with hatred and bloodlust. Wu Daoya immediately urged, "Young master, although during those years the Southwest Emissary's Garrison had the suspicion of defection, by now most of the veteran back then were no longer in the force, and..."
"Entering such a camp in itself is betrayal to Yan Bei!" The young king ruthlessly declared, "During those years, the Southwest Emissary's Garrison defected right before the battle commenced, resulting in the devastating defeat of father. Although most of those responsible already died from assassination from the Da Tong Guild, the fact that there are still people who willingly enlisted into such a rotten army in itself is a humiliation to Yan Bei and a betrayal to the Yan Family!"
The wind picked up in strength as the black eagle flag dance in the night sky against the pale moonlight. Yan Xun's face was still dead cold. He grimly declared, "Betrayal is the worst crime, and can never be forgiven! Perhaps some of their choices had been forced due to the ruthless administration of the Xia Empire, but I must make myself clear to the Yan Bei civilians! Whatever your reason, betrayal will lead to certain death. If I pardon the Southwest Emissary's Garrison today, tomorrow, there will be a second one, a third one, and a thousand and one same armies! Should that happen, Yan Bei will suffer the same fate as before! Now, even if they managed to escape from the death trap I laid for them, they must still pay for their mistakes! Upon their return, send them to the Northwest borders, and put them into the vanguard force."
Wu Daoya already had a deep frown by the time Yan Xun had finished. The vanguards of the northwestern front? That was essentially a death penalty in disguise. Due to the low population, coupled with the fact that Yan Bei had constantly been under attack by the Quan Rong army, many of those who had committed heavy crimes were conscripted into the vanguard force to fight with the Quan Rong people. Without resupply, without reinforcement, and sometimes even without weapons, death seemed to be the only way out for them.
"Xiaoqiao will not agree to that."
"She will never know," the ruler of Yan Bei declared. "As much as AhChu puts up a strong front, she is a kind person at heart. Even when fighting enemies, she will not kill excessively. I do not want her to know about this type of bloody matter. I am sure those who know about this will not want to disturb her as well."
This sentence was obviously telling him to not say too much when talking to Chu Qiao. Wu Daoya sighed, and gave up trying to convince him. Suddenly, footsteps sounded off from afar. AhJing walked up, and with a bow, told Yan Xun, "Your highness, it is time for your medicine."
Yan Xun took the bowl, and with one gulp, swallowed the medicine whole. A streak of the black medicine leaked out from the corner of his lips. Using a handkerchief, Yan Xun wiped it away, before continuing his dialogue grimly, "Mister Wu, do not always think about how to satisfy the population. If considering the reputation, even ten Xia Empires could not compare to the reputation of the Da Tong Guild in the hearts of the common folks. But despite being present on the West Meng continent for several hundred years, Da Tong remained an organization, and not a ruling country. Ultimately, the reason why the Xia Empire was able to retain their rule on this land was not due to the will of the civilians, but due to the blades that they hold in their hands."
Yan Xun smirked. "I wonder if you really understand?"
Wu Daoya did not want to continue, as he changed the topic, "Master, the night is getting late. If Chu Qiao still does not arrive, we will..."
"I will head to Liuhe County to treat my wounds. You have already repeated that a hundred times." Irritated, Yan Xun frowned. He turned and stared at the empty path ahead. "She will definitely come!"
Just as Yan Xun had predicted, the Southwest Emissary's Garrison was within a hundred miles of Xi Ma Liang. The warriors whipped their horses as they rushed through the night!
Around midnight, just as the night was darkening, the army took a break at the bottom of Bai Shi mountain. Still on high alert, Chu Qiao sent 30 scouts to check on Xi Ma Liang for any traces of the Yan Bei army or the enemy. The more than 4000 soldiers sat on the ground, set up a campfire, and munched on dry rations while waiting for their return.
The past few days had seen much rain, and the grass was very moist. He Xiao brought a small carpet and clumsily passed it to Chu Qiao. "Missy, please sit on this, the floor is wet and cold."
"Thank you," Chu Qiao replied, and smiled at him. "General He, have you eaten?"
He Xiao sat down, and with a tinge of melancholy, responded, "How could I have the mood to?"
The young women raised an eyebrow, and asked, "What happened? Was there something on your mind?"
He Xiao took a while to think, before finally gathering up courage to confess his worries, "Missy, will his highness really forgive us? Will Yan Bei really allow the Southwest Emissary's Garrison to continue to exist?"
"General He, do you not believe in me?"
He Xiao awkwardly shook his head. "Our entire army is greatly indebted to you, Missy. Without you, I am sure that we all would have died. How could I doubt you?"
"Then, please believe in me. I promised that I would ensure the survival of all soldiers of the Southwest Emissary's Garrison, so I will see to it that it is done. I am sure that Yan Xun will not pursue past mistakes too much, and pardon those past crimes." The young women replied solemnly, and continued her monologue, "Yan Bei is in a period of great peril. Only by uniting our hearts as one can we possibly pull through."
"General He, everyone has some crazy and stubborn thoughts within them, and with those one could occasionally do some really crazy things. During those years after the Southwest Emissary's Garrison betrayed Yan Bei, you lot were forced to become part of their camp and fight under the same banner. That was your embarrassment. Back then, all those misunderstandings came from the fact that you were not strong enough to win everyone's respect. But now things have changed. You broke out of the encirclement at Zhen Huang City, and now can roam the entire Northwest continent freely with few who could afford to stand in your way. You have contributed blood, sweat, and lives for the independence of Yan Bei. General He, as a human, you must first respect yourself before others can respect you. Regardless of the thoughts of officials in Yan Bei, or generals in Da Tong, or even Yan Xun himself, you must first believe in the hope of your future! You are the leader of this army. Only if you can stand up first, the rest of your soldiers can follow suit!"
He Xiao's face was already red in embarrassment. Once Chu Qiao finished her sentence, he kneeled down, and loudly called out, "Missy, we have all discussed already! Only if you become our leader, we dare to return to Yan Bei without worry!"
Stunned, Chu Qiao quickly stood up. "What are you doing? Quickly, get up!"
"Missy, please become our leader!" With that, many voices echoed out. Lifting her head, Chu Qiao saw that the nearby warriors had all stood up. All these men who remained calm even when facing the strongest of enemies suddenly tensed up when they were finally ready to return home. With blackened faces, bloodstained clothes, and holding their blades, they stared at the frail women. Those gazes spoke of overflowing trust and hope.