In the Battle of the Huang He Valley; me, Zhao Yong, Su Ren and the rest were pretty oblivious to everything. Now that I think about it, the upright and loyal General Huang Jie was just a victim of politic.
The moment the war begun, Yan Yu came from the capital to oversee everything while clutching an imperial edict. He summoned all four generals from the four gates; showing particular appreciation towards General Huang.
General Huang was originally a hot-blooded person, one who wasn’t going to think twice before sacrificing his life for the country.
Later, when I was in Feng Zhao Wen’s commander-in-chief’s tent, every time I heard him praising his subordinates, I always felt sympathy to the recipient of his praises. I thought he didn’t have good intention and what he really meant was: Loyal officers, please go and die for me!
After all, in this world, only crafty villains got to live long.
For example, me.
Meanwhile, Commander-in-chief Yan took the initiative to dive into war. Even people like me who hadn’t taken other people’s lives before were sent to battles. We fought bravely against the Great Qi and received great commendations!
General Huang rose from a fifth-ranked military officer to a fourth-ranked officer. As for me, I received a titular general title, General Guang Wu.
I suspect it was Xiao Huang’s selfish doing. Even Zhao Yong and Su Ren had astounded look on their faces, wondering if I was too courageous on the battlefield.
That morning before we got captured, the sky was bright. The Great Qi’s armies were challenging us for war from below the city; their curse words assaulting our ears. Hearing their curses gave me a glimpse into the colorful and vivid world of the Great Qi’s language and culture; so admirable.
Su Ren who was standing on a tower in the gate wielded his swords a couple of time. I stopped him. He furiously glared at me, “An Xiao Lang, it is better for you to stay quietly in this tower and be your General Guang Wu. They are cursing General Huang, how can I swallow my anger?”
I patted my own chest and laughed, “You can swallow rice just fine, why can’t you swallow anger?”
Su Ren was choked by what I said. Without getting the chance for a rebut, we received order from the commander in chief. General Huang was to lead his people for a face-off with the enemy.
As we went out of the city, I bumped into Yan Ping.
His face was solemn, as though he just lost a father. I glanced at Yan Yu who was at a tower by the gate, his expression was unreadable. Before I could even decipher his expression, Yan Ping stepped forward and grabbed my horse by it’s bridle.
I looked down from on top of my horse and found him looking dispirited. Perhaps, his Father had been teaching him too hard, or had picked a couple of beautiful tongfangs for him. Why else would General Yan looked drunk and haggard?
(TN: tongfang (通房) = girls that serves men at bed.)
“General Yan, this is——“
He pulled my horse tight and waited for Su Ren and Zhao Yong who kept looking back at us to leave the city before he spoke, “An Yi, can you not go to war today?”
I was sitting so high and he was looking up to me like that, why did it gave me a feeling that he was begging me?
I pulled back the bridle and gave him a laughter that contained a sense of alienation, “I had to trouble General to worry about me. This general will never disobey orders that are given by the commander-in-chief.”
As his eyes darkened, I quickly whipped my horse and ran off.
I had no idea why; General Wu Ke of the Great Qi didn’t came for pre-war greeting with General Huang today. The one who came was his vice. General Huang pushed him off his horse not long later. Yan Yu was in command of us from the tower of the gate. The drum of war continued rattling to encourage soldiers to fight. General Huang led us to chase the defeated Qi armies until 7 to 8 li away, killing a lot of the enemy’s soldiers along the way. When we reached Huang He Valley, the feeling of uneasiness began to settle in.
Huang He Valley was flocked by cliffs on each side. Decades ago, water surged in the river there. The northern land was hit by drought and the river started to dried up. Green vegetations started to grow on the riverbed, turning it into a valley and hence, it’s name.
General Huang was negligent and entered right into the trap constructed by the Great Qi. Arrows started to shower upon us from cliff above. The eyes of their arrows were wrapped with burning clothes; I’m afraid, the General of Great Qi planned to roast us to death that day.
Su Ren suddenly turned around, the eyes in which he looked at me was alarmed, “An Xiao Lang, what are you giggling at?”
I laughingly replied him, “Isn’t dying for the country an honor for your family?” I felt like my words were truly opportunistic, even in the face of death, a subordinate was still seeking name. Su Ren and Zhao Yong didn’t know me for too long so they weren’t aware of my smooth-talking ability.
Even General Huang roared in laughter when he heard me, “Every young men in the Great Chen should follow the footsteps of General An who doesn’t show fear in the face of danger. He is indeed this General’s finest subordinate!”
I modestly replied him, “General praises me! General praises me!” I touched the little fish hanging from my belt as I laughed.
See, Father? Even people like General Huang was deceived by me! Loyalty was something I could never have within me.
The flaming arrows continued to descend upon us. General Huang ordered us all to gather around, wanting to rush forward no matter what. The General of the Great Qi suddenly halt the flaming arrows. A familiar figure suddenly appeared on the cliff, wearing a black armor. He was surrounded by a lot of soldiers, even General Wu Ke was by his side.
His voice was loud as he bellowed, “Is An Yi, An Xiao Lang down there?” His voice was really familiar to my ears.
I looked up towards the voice. The sunlight was too bright and that person had an unexplainable air of familiarity. I pondered for a while, “Your Highness the Crown Prince?”
Su Ren and Zhao Yong who were by my side stared at me fiercely, as though I was a traitor. I desperately waved my hands away to deny their suspicion, “The Crown Prince of the Great Qi came to our country 3 years ago. I was ordered to be his companion! Please do not misunderstand!”
Dying while carrying a bad reputation on your back was such an injustice.
They looked like they believed me.
Feng Zhao Wen’s voice was intimate and gentle from the cliff, “It has been three years since we last meet, An Xiao Lang already forgot this old friend of yours?”
I immediately bowed my body a little, “Crown Prince is so busy yet still remembers An Yi, An Yi feels honored!”
Feng Zhao Wen lowered his head and laughed, sounding really affable, “This prince once promised An Xiaolang to take him stroll around the Great Qi one day. Before this prince even sent the invitation, An Xiaolang already board his horse and hurry over. Such a coincidence ah!”
Father ah, I think I should teach this Crown Prince a lesson first before following you. You wouldn’t be upset, right?
I raised my head and laughed towards Feng Zhao Wen, “So many years have passed by, Your Highness is more heroic than ever! An Yi has always looked up to Your Highness; is it possible for An Yi to exchange lessons with Your Highness in the battlefield? What do you think, Your Highness?”
If it was me, I would have faked laughter before finding an excuse to reject that offer. Then, I would order my people to turn the enemies into ashes.
But, Feng Zhao Wen’s reply still suited my fancy.
He lowered his head to look at me. From afar, his eyes looked like thunder as he firmly stared down at me. He laughed albeit furiously, “An Xiaolang came from afar, this prince must receive your properly. I will go down the valley to welcome you, do not be afraid!”
The soldiers surrounding him blocked him. I hated the fact that he clearly knew where we stood and yet still called me An Xiao Lang. I did not waste this opportunity to ridicule him, “Is Your Highness afraid? You don’t dare to come down here to welcome me?”
All of the soldiers surrounding him direct their furious eyes on me. I express my appreciation for Feng Zhao Wen’s insistence.
In the end, Feng Zhao Wen did came down. Just like that, the fire attack ceased. I thought, if I had to choose between dying as a coal or dying under Feng Zhao Wen’s spear, I would choose the latter.
But in the end, the results were unsatisfactory.
I lost under the hand of Feng Zhao Wen’s men. Perhaps they secretly hated me for instigating the situation and ruining their perfectly faultless plan of raining burning arrows on us; they hammered me from the back.
When I woke up later, I was already lying inside Feng Zhao Wen’s commander-in-chief’s tent.
I had no idea for how long I was out, I only felt a burning pain, like my scalp was split into half. I was crying out in pain in my dream, I felt like I wanted to vomit, all my insides were going to come out. When I opened my eyes, everything felt so faint.
A high-pitched voice could be heard exclaiming in delight, “Your Highness, she is awake…..”
I could felt a wind gushing next to me and before I knew it, a handsome appeared in front of my eyes. His facial features were deep and his phoenix eyes were gleaming. He looked like a hero in paintings; just he appeared a little familiar yet estranged at the same time. I tilted my head to ponder for a moment. My head felt so muddled. I struggled to lift my hand as I muttered, “Which family’s son is this? So handsome.” My voice was like a drum, it sounded so ugly and deep.
The man in front appeared dumbfounded. He poked my cheek using his long finger carefully. His voice was regretful as he said, “The physician was right. Her head was hit too hard.”
I muddle-headedly recuperated in Feng Zhao Wen’s tent. The eunuch that waited for me, Tian Bing Qing, treated me exceptionally well; he was especially thoughtful when preparing my meals and tea. Back then, I wasn’t aware of my position as the prisoner of war. I only saw Feng Zhao Wen and Tian Bing Qing every day.
There were separate spaces between the bed and the place where he handled official business in the tent. I could occasionally heard the sound of soldiers laughing boisterously, I couldn’t stop myself from asking Tian Bing Qing, “The general seemed very heroic. I wonder what rank I am in?”
Tian Bing Qing gave me a difficult look as he stared at me.
I muddle-headedly thought, I had to be at least a military officer.
But then, I remembered the vaguely intimate scene between me and the Crown Prince when I woke up that day. I also seemed to be his direct officer. My path of officialhood somehow felt jeopardized. Because of my concern, when Feng Zhao Wen returned to rest after settling political matters, I did not waste any time to flatter him. I did everything from serving tea and pouring water to get into his good grace. Seeing me clumsily making him tea, he would smile from ear to ear happily.
En, I thought being able to amuse one’s boss could also be considered a capability. Seems like promotion and wealth were within my grasp now.
——– Just, later, when the blood clot in my head cleared up, I wanted to die from shame upon remembering how hard I fawned over the enemy’s Crown Prince.
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