Feng Zhao Wen aimed to reach two goals through this prisoners of war thing.
First was to quietly threaten the enemies; to let them know that the Crown Prince of the Great Qi had countless of soldiers under his command.
Second of all, he wanted to sway the hearts of the enemy by providing them adequate shelters and meals.
After the battle of Huang He Valley, General Huang Jie was taken as prisoner by the Great Qi. After that, he refused take meals and protested greatly against the soldiers of the Great Qi; that showed just how patriotic he was. He would rather die than to bow in front of the enemy. Zhao Yong, Su Ren and the rest weren’t sitting idly either. They too were involved in hunger protest and put up quite a fight in the enemy’s territory.
However, the enemy’s Crown Prince, Feng Zhao Wen was broad-minded. Though his marital arts was first class, he did not kill the prisoners nor did he mistreat them. He instead instructed them to be trained in lands that had been occupied by the Great Qi.
I had to say, the way the Great Qi dealt with political enemies this time was really good. For the past 200 years, they had always been practicing a practice in which the impoverished ones from the countryside would get education about farming and whatnot. The relationship between officials and the people were like fish and water.
One of them who received the re-education, Zhao Yong emotionally said that he really wanted to fly back to his hometown and start working on his family’s plot of land.
He was an honest and earnest man.
Another person who underwent re-education, Su Ren was a lot meaner, “The Crown Prince is tricky and cunning. He used peace and stability to soften our will and turn us against our kingdom. What a petty person!”
I immediately kicked him with one foot, “Why are you still here, alive and well then?”
He solemnly sighed, “My Su Family has been farmers for 8 generations and has only one son for nine generations. My father is old; if I want to die, I should at least marry a beauty first to continue the family line before dying.”
Me: “……” Just admit that you were looking for beautiful girls.
Since General Huang Jie was upright, all of the soldiers beneath him came from poor families. They didn’t have to worry about meals and clothes despite years of war.
All the common people who lived in all the little states that the Great Qi vanquished changed their surname to ‘Qi’. They were all living in peace, picking tea and growing mulberries. Who didn’t want such a peaceful life?
The night after he returned to the camp after receiving re-education, General Huang Jie committed suicide.
His parting word towards the soldiers whom he personally trained was, “Live well and go back to your hometown.” He was sincere and heartfelt.
General Huang Jie was loyal to the kingdom and led military campaigns many times. However, the power struggle in the military division was no less than that in court. The empress dowager held the power in court while literary officials and military officials weren’t in tandem with each other. The little emperor on the other hand, was muddle-headed to a great extent. The tax were imposed heavily, a lot more compared to Qi’s lands. There were little food and the common populace held great amount of hatred towards officials. In other word, the Great Chen was utterly hopeless.
He was born from a poverty-stricken family; should he be loyal to the kingdom or should he help the common people? Both were hard choices for him. In the end, he chose to hang himself.
I had no idea if Feng Zhao Wen truly respected General Huang Jie or if he was simply trying to calm the prisoners, he actually gave him a simple ceremonial burial. I was too busy trying to recuperate in his tent, back then, so I did not see that scene with my own eyes. But all the prisoners who attended that funeral changed their views in regards to the Crown Prince. Even though they didn’t completely decided to side with the enemy, they obediently finished all their chores in the camp, as though simply waiting for the war to end so they could go home.
The Crown Prince said that once the war has settled, everyone could take a portion of seedlings back with them to their hometown so they could have something to live with.
When Feng Zhao Wen returned to his tent later on, I brought up the matter regarding General Huang Jie. I was also curious as to why he didn’t just kill the prisoners of war. He glanced at the battlefield tensely, his eyes unmoving before he casually said, “In the future, those people will be a part of my common populace. What will I get from killing them? It will only add up to the death tolls.”
I fell into deep thoughts, somehow feeling that General Huang Jie’s death was an inevitable warning for me, “What if you get the Great Chen’s emperor? Will you also let him go to the farm to get re-education?”
He looked away from the battlefield and trained his eyes on me, his phoenix eyes full of questions, “Did you remember anything?”
Lying to him wasn’t a good thing, I thought. I shook my head, “I heard they say that I am the emperor of the Great Chen’s childhood companion. We grew up together.” I thought that was what people called ‘green plum and bamboo horse’.
(TN: Green plum and bamboo horse (青梅竹马) = childhood sweethearts.)
He looked at me tensely before finally speaking up after a pause, “I do not want to lie to you. There is no way for the emperor of the previous dynasty to be left alive after a dynasty falls. Even if he has no intention to rebuild his kingdom, the people around him would not simply sit still. One must completely pull out a weed’s root, do you get what I mean?”
My heart jumped as a round, fat face suddenly appeared in my mind. That face was filled with a cheerful smile….. At this moment, I felt as though many of my memories were slowly resurfacing. They were no longer suppressed.
That night, I went to bed as usual. I did not wait for Feng Zhao Wen to finish reading his war memorials when I laid on top of the soft bed.
When I woke up, the entire tent was dark. There was no one beside me. I must have been too vigorous during the day and had spoken too much, even in my dream I was thirsty. I got off the bed and check the tea pot we had near the bed. It was empty. I touched my way back to the bed, put on a robe, before walking out in search for water.
There was a lantern in the front-part of the tent, but Feng Zhao Wen was nowhere to be seen. It was late at night, where on earth was he? I picked up a tea pot and poured the water straight into my mouth. I suddenly heard faint muttering from outside the tent. It seemed like Feng Zhao Wen and Wu Ke could not sleep at night, so they went out to view the moon while whispering to each other.
I rubbed my eyes and was planning to go back to bed when I heard snippets of what they were talking about, “……… tell the father and son of Yan family that they must find a way to open the gate of the city within three days….. The servants in the palace should be spared. The members of imperial clan on the other hand, must be captured alive.”
I walked back into the bed and burrowed myself underneath a thick quilt. Even though the weather was hot, my body felt cold.
After a long while, Feng Zhao Wen tiptoed his way back into the tent. He took off his clothes and boots before settling on the bed. He pulled open the quilt and patted my head, “It is so hot outside yet you still use a thick blanket. Your face is all sweaty.”
I closed my eyes and replied him with a sound. I could feel him gently wiping my head with a handkerchief. At that moment, I suddenly could understand General Huang Jie.
Just, our situations were different.
He was loyal to the emperor yet loved the people. As for me however, even if the common populace faced great danger, it had nothing to do with me. The word ‘patriotism’ was too mighty. As my Father once told me, a little person like me would do best to steer away from it lest I tarnish the purity of that word.
He had a point.
I only wanted to protect that one person, the one I grew up with. He was like my biological brother; a round meatball that accompanied me through my younger years.
I had a pipe dream that night.
In that dream, my country was not a mess and my father was not dead.
In that dream, I became somebody’s precious one. Promises taken seriously; of a lifetime together.
In that dream, he grabbed my hand and wiped the sweat on my forehead and chased away my nightmare. He used his chest to warm my cold heart.
Even though he was overbearing and domineering and always reprimanded me with a firm face….. Even though he never gave in to me in fights, I could never forget that warmth in his fingertips and that tenderness in his eyes.
A tear fell from my eye and slowly flowed down. In a place where he could not see, that one drop of tear fell onto the bamboo pillow.
I never quite saw the good in him.
On the next day, after I climbed out of bed, I made a suggestion towards Feng Zhao Wen. I wanted him to let me go to the capital to encourage the other party to surrender.
He disagreed. I followed him around for a long time and threw tantrum at every chance I get before I finally got him to cave in.
“This subordinate is acquainted to a lot of people in the capital. What is there to be afraid of?”
The fear and worry in his eyes were evident, “You will return here, right?”
I laughed while patting his arm, “Have you turn stupid, Your Highness? The entire capital is surrounded by 100,000 of your troops. Do you think I can fly?”
He was very confident in his own troops. His face was no longer tense and the corner of his lips was curved upwards, “You are right. Even a fly cannot fly out of the Great Chen.”
He personally instructed 100 troops to escort me into the capital.
As I stood in front the city, numerous kind of feelings flooded me. Since I was sure the Yan father and son would open the gate for me, I was not worried about whether or not I would get to see Xiao Huang.
I suddenly remembered the battle in Sui City and Yan Ping’s expression as he tried to stop me from fighting in the war.
He knew there was a trap.
The Yan father and son had been helping the Great Qi from the start. That was why the Great Chen had been losing to this degree.
Yan Ping was on a tower above the entrance gate, personally opening the gate to welcome me into the capital. I waved my hand at the troops that Feng Zhao Wen assigned for me, “All of you can return. Tell His Highness, An Yi will definitely not fail the mission!” After that, I continued riding my horse, entering the capital all by myself.
Yan Ping got down from up above and stood in front of my horse. He looked a little happy but seemed to understand the situation clearly as well. We both had tacit understanding of each other. I gave him a warm smile, “Long time no see, General Yan!”
His position in the military was higher than mine, but I refused to get down from my horse.
In my memory, I had always looked up at him from below and engraved the him that I saw deep into my heart. Falling head over heels for someone was not wrong. What was wrong was falling head over heels for someone wrong using all the wrong ways.
But now, everything was no longer important. Love or not, the kingdom would perish and so would people. What was there to chase after?
“General An, you were already in Qi’s camp. Why did you come back here?”
He must have thought that I had committed treason, just like him. But then, if I were to pat my heart and asked, I was no different than him.
I looked around. There were only a group of guards around him. Those people must have been his personal guards from Yan Manor. I smiled at him, “I am representing His Highness to negotiate with His Majesty. I hope General Yan will give way.”
“Idiot.” He glared at me.
En. I too thought I was exceptionally stupid. But now that things had gotten to this degree, it was not the time to be calculative.
I followed Yan Ping to the palace without any trouble. I finally got to meet Xiao Huang who was nestling in Zhong Hua Palace.
At that moment, he was sleeping soundly like a pig. He had gotten fatter after not seeing him for half a year. I could see that even the war had no effects on his palace’s meals.
I pinched his cheeks with my two hands and jolted him awake from his sleep. He jumped from the dragon bed while screaming, “Did the Qi army break in? Did the Qi army break in?”
I could suddenly relate to him.
This little guy wouldn’t care if the world overturned and the kingdom perished. What he feared was only for his food and shelter. He was afraid of not eating meat, of having to live in a lesser place and of not having enough sleep.