Going back a little in time.
While rocking in the horse-drawn carriage, Jinshi was face to face with a person he can’t deal with.
It was called a horse-drawn carriage, but it was drawn by ten horses, making it closer to a mobile house than a carriage. There were furs spread out on the floor, and a roundtable was set in the centre.
Rakan, the personage whom he had expected to be grinning per usual, was currently scowling over a map with a look of annoyance. Behind him, his adopted son, as he scrutinised Rakan and Jinshi’s countenance, was studying the state of the cashflow invoice of his wallet. Money opens all doors – it was as though he was going to act depending on the state of it.
The man called Rahan was the greatest miser among the people he met so far, but Jinshi wholeheartedly felt that it was a godsend that he was present this time.
Jinshi was currently in the state where it couldn’t be helped if Rakan hit him at any moment.
Gaoshun, who was standing in wait behind him, was also prepared to draw the sword at his waist at any moment.
Raising your hand at Jinshi, meant that there was no other way than to be cut down by Gaoshun, but the current Rakan must have got into Jinshi’s horse carriage thinking of wanting to hit him regardless of that.
Rakan had already seized Jinshi by the collar before departure.
It was when he was told that his daughter Maomao had disappeared from the inner palace.
Rakan doted on Maomao. Being deemed not a father and being treated lower than dirt and bugs didn’t matter. Jinshi recalled Rakan’s cut-off spiel at the banquet seat from the other day. The hand he had injured then was still wrapped in bandages. It also looks hard for him to hold a brush.
He surmised that Maomao had followed or was taken along with the former high-ranked consort, Rouran’s escape.
Beyond her escape from the inner palace, was Jinshi’s responsibility.
Shishou, as well as his close relatives, were already gone from their estate. He surmised that the clan had barricaded themselves in the fortress.
And Rakan, who was honourably defeated from charging at the inner palace three times, cannot forgive Jinshi for that. He had screamed, close enough to his ears that it hurt, that if she was close at his hand, this sort of thing wouldn’t have happened.
Jinshi had known too.
Even if there was a secret passage in the inner palace, even if none of the people concerned knew about its existence, he had no intention of avoiding responsibility.
He had confronted the contractors who carried out the building project in those days, and made them spit out whether there was something like a secret passage. There was no honest person who would meekly confess that they made a secret passage, but he gathered that the workers who were already dead had made such a thing.
There was a small shrine dedicated to deceased palace ladies in the inner palace. They had discovered a secret passage skilfully hidden in the floor there.
It was Rakan’s nephew and adopted son, Rahan, who had stopped Rakan when he was going to raise his hand at Jinshi.
“Father, this is just for example, but in the case where you raise your hand at the imperial family, would that crime end with just the person concerned?”
Rakan was stopped with that roundabout remark.
Raising a hand at Jinshi, meant familial extinction. Even Rakan’s daughter, Maomao, would be a target.
Rakan had known who Jinshi was. There were not many people who can deceive his eyes.
Rahan as well. Jinshi had wondered perhaps when the man came for negotiations the other day, but it seems he really had noticed.
When he asked Rahan what’s up with that, he replied with a Ra Clan-esque answer.
“Your height and weight, the measurements of your chest, torso and etc., they’re all the same numbers after all. That kind of person is rare.”
Rahan as well, had known it from seeing it in a way that other people didn’t understand.
If it’s like that. Thus he specially allowed him to come along as Rakan’s assistant while being a civil official.
The current Jinshi wasn’t the eunuch named Jinshi. There was a silver kanzashi slipped into his bundled hair. He was wearing thickly padded bluish purple armour, not his usual official robes.
Jinshi and the others were marching. And as they advanced, they were revising the strategy.
“Is this truly fine?”
“There’s no problem.”
It was Rahan who replied.
The map that was spread out was a drawing of the area around the fortress that stood on the mountain ridge.
As the fortress hadn’t been used for a long time, the map was considerably old, but they assembled senior military officials who had been stationed there before and re-edited it.
It was positioned with the mountain at the back and the plains in front of it.
Above all, Rahan had predicted the possibility that they were making some kind of firearm.
The area had lots of lumber. As a forest resource, it was a locality that was wanted so badly one could taste it, but it had been protected by the Shi Clan for generations.
Hot springs gushed out in a nearby area. He was told that there was the possibility that they are obtaining sulfur from there too.
“What about saltpetre?”
They are making gunpowder. It was another ingredient they required.
“Maybe it’s because there are hot springs? There seems to a large cave nearby where small animals can pass the winter easily.”
He was told that caves accumulate a large amount of bat droppings. It seems that it is possible to produce saltpetre using animal waste as a material.
Jinshi groaned. If they were to use firearms, it wouldn’t be the type of things called hand cannons. They are deploying weapons that collectively aim at enemies from the castle walls.
It was a little troubling that they are using cannons.
Rakan had already known what Jinshi had come up with.
He must be seeing the map that was spread out right now as a mere Go board.
Rakan pointed to the cliff behind the fortress.
“This is theoretically possible.”
Rahan said plainly.
“If you were to speak of possibilities, this would have to be the best way of doing it logically.”
The strategy that Rakan had planned was suppression without allowing the use of cannons.
The gunpowder used by cannons gets moist very easily. Even if there is enough gunpowder left beside the cannon as the occasion calls, it would have to be normally stored in the armoury for it to stay dry.
In particular, the fortress is on high ground. A terrain where snow always falls. According to the scout, it seems that it was snowing heavily tonight.
They’ll be marks if they were to march normally.
And so, Rakan suggested eliminating the armoury first so they cannot use cannons, but that method was too outrageous. Being outrageous but possible to implement, was a scary part of this man.
“I think this method is a greatly economical.”
Did Rahan get lured by the words “economical” that got pressed forward? He had a feeling that he understood this small man’s personality too well in this short period of time.
“Quickly suppress them, we have to rescue Maomao. Papa is coming to save you!”
He wanted to smile wryly at the words “papa”, but there was no way he could do that.
Jinshi recalled the short girl as he chewed on his lips.
Was she taken as a pawn, or was it for a different reason? Or did she come along on her own accord? He didn’t know.
Just that, if she was in the midst of the enemy, he wanted to take her out as soon as possible. Her body was so skinny like it would break. She shouldn’t be in perfect health yet.
Jinshi squeezed his fist.
“Let’s go with that.”
It was Gaoshun who cut into Jinshi’s decision.
“There’s a problem.”
Gaoshun, brows furrowed, got onto his knee and made a suggestion.
“What’s the problem?”
Besides Jinshi, Rakan and Rahan also tilted their heads.
“About the march this time, have you forgotten?”
It was a single brigade commanding the troops. It can be said the number of people was over-sufficient considering the scale of the fortress. If the strategy devised by Rakan went well, he would think that there would almost no damage to themselves though.
“The imperial guard doing a surprise attack?”
Ngh, Jinshi backed up for an instant.
Slowly, he touched the kanzashi on his head. Touched the symbol of the imperial family that was shaped as a kirin.
He had been a eunuch for a long time; he sometimes forgot his own position. The current Jinshi wasn’t Jinshi. Gaoshun wasn’t Gaoshun either.
Considering his own position, he must gain control with the poise befitting that.
He got it, but the words that came from his mouth were different.
“I approve the grand marshal’s judgement.”
Gaoshun drew back acquiescently.
It seems the man’s glowering look was piercing the back of Jinshi’s head.
“That’s a relief. I have no interest in making a cup from a skull.”
Saying that, Rakan scoffed, and left the tent. It wasn’t a funny joke.
Rahan flipped the abacus, making sure there was no mistake in the calculations.
It was Gaoshun who called Jinshi by his real name.
The deep wrinkles on his brow were knitted.
“After this, you’ll have to change the way you deal with that girl.”
Gaoshun said, his tone like he was soothing a child.
“I get it.”
Jinshi sighed tremendously. The atmosphere was cold; his breath turned white.
He shivered and put on the white overcoat that snugly covered up to his head.
The deafening roar came after midnight.
What’s the matter? Shishou got up and strapped on the sword left at his bedside.
Although he went to bed, there was no way he could sleep. Though he was called the Tanuki Geezer in the imperial court, his delicateness from going through sleepless nights stayed with him.
There was no way he could sleep.
For these couples of decades, he couldn’t sleep even when he tried. That’s why his eyelids had darkened and produced eyes circles just like a tanuki.
As if they were surprised by the rumbling, the coquettish voices that came from the room next door went silent. The lustful female voices turned noisy.
On the other side of the wall, his wife must be gulping down wine. Simply for show, she made the woman of the clan assume improper appearances and play with the men she bought with money. That, was the daily routine of his wife after she gave birth to his daughter Rouran.
She purposely indulged herself in pleasure in a place that Shishou would notice.
The women with her had been perplexed at first, but were now enjoying that amusement. She had delighted in the degrading of chaste wives, dragging over those who had already given birth, those who had done their duty as wives.
She hadn’t been that sort of woman.
Shishou went out onto the balcony and looked outside.
He had wondered if it was an enemy attack. The lights of the army, most likely imperial guards, were still far away. This fortress, being on high ground, gave an extensive view of a couple tens of ri ahead. There should be enough time to just take a nap.
Mmm, Shishou noticed a strange stench intermingled with the wind.
Was it the stench of sulfur?
Gunpowder was being made underground. Did that explode? Shishou realised.
I knew it, he gripped his collar
I must do something about it, even if he thought, he couldn’t move. It was miserable. He can’t put energy into it.
The person highly favoured by the empress. The personage unmatched by the emperor. A sly, cunning old man.
The Shishou that was called such in the imperial court, would have to be a completely different to the current Shishou. He even thought that of himself too – it could not be helped.
He carried his belly that had suddenly protruded after passing his forties, and walked onwards step by step. Him going out to check the situation required him passing the room his wife was in. That act was unbelievably painful.
The female bestowed from the previous emperor, no, his betrothed who was finally returned to him after twenty years, during the time she was in the inner palace, had gained a thorn.
The time when she finally returned to Shishou’s side, he already had a wife, already had a child. The child, was Shisui.
His wife, not just a thorn, also gained venom.
That venom killed Shisui’s mother and continued to undermine Shisui.
He had to deal with her quickly, otherwise-
Persuading himself, he finally opened the door to the room. The male prostitutes were surprised, and the women, with their remaining shame perhaps, covered themselves with the covers in a panic.
Only his wife was stretched out on the couch, smoking a pipe. Clear colours of scorn appeared in her sharp eyes.
“What was that sound just now?”
She grumbled as she blew tobacco smoke.
I am going to check now – it was when he was going to say that.
The door on the side of the corridor was opened with a loud bang.
Standing there, was his daughter covered in soot, Rouran.
“Your disgraceful appearance, what is up with that?”
“I don’t need to tell Mother and rest of you.”
Rouran said over her shoulders starkly and looked at the women who were struggling for the covers.
“I don’t need to tell you people who leave your children and throw yourselves into pleasure.”
At Rouran’s words, the woman who finally remembered her children was going to rush out. However, Rouran slapped that woman’s face. When the woman crumbled down to the side, the male prostitutes ran away, finally knowing the severity of the situation.
Is this my daughter? Shishou wanted to tilt his head. He had thought his daughter, named Rouran, was a meek child. He had thought she was a child who behaved like a doll, who wore clothes like her mother told her.
Rouran strode into the room, and opened the sliding doors that were lined on the shelf. When she opened the largest door, he noticed that there was a young woman imprisoned within the narrow space.
“Elder Sister, I’m sorry. I’m a bit late.”
The trembling woman was bound up and tortured. Her face was really similar to Rouran. It was his other daughter, Shisui.
Shishou’s face twisted. He knew she was getting beat up, but to think that it was like this.
Rouran released Shisui, rubbed her back.
And then she looked at her father, Shishou.
“Please take responsibility for the end, at least.”
What responsibility – there was no time for him to ask her back.
The rushing sound gradually got closer.
When he thought there was yet a different rumble, the fortress shook in its entirety this time. He found purchase with the walls, and as he supported himself, he went out to the balcony again to see what just happened.
He could see snow falling. The east side of the fortress was pure white, he couldn’t see anything. What happened? He didn’t know at first.
And then, he noticed the place where the snow had slightly settled. The building that should have been there was buried in snow. If he remembered correctly, that should be where the armoury was.
However, snow had surged into it, burying half of it.
Rouran called out to the dumbfounded Shishou.
“You should have known that they are an enemy you cannot beat. Please take responsibility.”
For I shall take responsibility for Mother, she said.
His daughter, her singed hair swaying, went to stand in front of her own mother with dignified poise.
Take responsibility. Shishou clenched a fist at his daughter’s sentence.
T/N: I quadruple checked the names. I made doubly sure that the names are right. Rakan and Rahan, why are your names so similar orz