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Fu Shen flipped his face around like the page of a book, catching Duan Guihong off-guard. The County Prince’s freshly somewhat-relaxed expression froze on his face in the span of a second. A good while later, he barely managed to hold back his urge to strangle Fu Shen on the spot. “When this Prince served in the Northern Yan, you were still a newborn baby,” he huffed coldly.
“When I took control of the army, you’d already been raising fish in the Southwest for years,” Fu Shen retorted.
Their gazes intersected, sparks flying in all directions, care thrown to the wind in unison as they simultaneously spat at the other party in their hearts.
Duan Guihong thought: Little brat thinks too highly of himself.
Fu Shen thought: Old fart got holier-than-thou in his age.
Only at this moment was the value of people like Yan Xiaohan made clear. When two folks with horrible tempers were in a deadlock, they required a smooth-talker to come brush away their conflicting views for them and allow the conversation to proceed forward.
What a shame that he wasn’t here.
Fu Shen covertly inhaled, then exhaled, quieting the fire inside. He internally warned himself over and over that he came to look for the truth, and couldn’t waste time getting mad at a pedantic, dogmatic, rotten old fart who wouldn’t talk reason. He forced his own attitude to twist around, paving a way out for the other man to step on. “The Prince has deep feelings towards the Northern Yan Army. It’s uniquely rare.”
Duan Guihong took it, furiously and unabashedly. “The Iron Cavalry was built with our hands. In regards to seniority, you need to be calling me Uncle.”
Fu Shen mentally swore at him. You old bat, stomping all over this out I gave you.
Yet, what came out of his mouth was a dull: “Oh. I heard my late father, uncle, and you were all close as brothers.”
Duan Guihong shook his head, though. “We weren’t.”
“The seniority I’m talking about arises from your grandfather, the previous generation’s Duke of Ying.” Duan Guihong slowed his voice down. “During the Late Emperor’s reign, Duke Fu was appointed as governor of Lingnan, and had once received orders to quell its Baiyue rebellion. The Dynasty’s army later achieved overwhelming victory, and when the Duke brought people over to clean up the rebels, he found a young child with unbound hair in the militia. According to common practice, for all arrested Baiyue rebels, adults were to simply be killed on the spot, and boys under the age of ten were to be castrated and sent into the palace as slaves.
He grabbed the boy who was barely eleven and exceptionally weak. Looking at his pitiableness, the Duke was moved to compassion, and couldn’t bear to allow the child to turn into a departed spirit beneath a blade. He then lifted a corner of the net, sparing his life and setting him free to make his own way in the world.”
When he spoke up to that point, Fu Shen could already surmise what came next.
Duan Guihong took notice, and calmly admitted to it. “My original name was Feng Yi, and I was a Baiyue, having escaped death via Duke Fu’s rescue. At age fifteen, I changed my name and surname, then cast myself into his troops, serving at his side and charging through enemy frontlines. The Duke regarded me as his own son, paying special attention to me, promoting me, and training me. In the second year of Yuantai, the Zhe Tartars invaded the border. Duke Fu was transferred to be Gan Prefecture’s governor, and I accompanied him there along with Bocun and Zhongyan, leading the troops to gallop into the grasslands and fight the barbarians back.”
Bocun was Fu Tingzhong’s courtesy, and Zhongyan, Fu Tingxin’s.
“On the fifth year of Yuantai, the Duke flew on a crane out West, coinciding with unrest in the Southwest. In a memorial before he approached his end, he elected me as head general of the western campaign’s army so I could lead it to pacify the place.” He sighed. “With the trust of his deathbed, I didn’t dare be defeated. I stayed in the Southwest ever since, not stepping a single cun outside of it. It wasn’t until last summer – when the Emperor hatched a plan to dispatch Military Supervisor Envoys to the four border garrisons, immediately after which you met with an ambush at Blue Sand Pass – that I realized the current Dynasty hadn’t been the one from back then for a very long time.”
“Prince,” Fu Shen interrupted, “Du Leng entered the Northern Yan Army two years ago. Besides, I’m guessing your spies aren’t limited to just him. Saying that you started thinking of it only last summer is little late, yeah?”
The people’s evaluation of Fu Shen was, for the most part, that he was heroic, good at war, and unflinching in his killing. This sort of assessment was heard a lot, and sometimes made one think that despite the Marquis of Jing Ning’s ability to fight, he was nothing more than a warrior in armor. His mind might not have had the agility and slyness of those bureaucratic old hands, so though he could not be beaten, he could still be outsmarted.
Duan Guihong hadn’t much contact with him, only meeting him once or twice. The majority of his understanding of him sprung from rumor and gossip, and in addition to his older age, he generally felt that this junior hadn’t grown up yet, thus he always stored a bit of contempt for him inside.
But he had forgotten that Fu Shen had led an army out on campaign at age eighteen. If he wasn’t clever enough, and had no skill, how could he have repressed those self-sure, experienced old generals and corps? Forget about responding to external enemies; whether he’d have been able to get a foothold within his own people would be the question.
Fu Shen repeatedly pierced through the loopholes in his words, not giving this “Uncle” of his even a little face. Duan Guihong was forced into a dead end by his nail-hitting grilling and had no way to retreat. He, at last, stowed away the scorn in his heart, gradually coming to look upon him as a rival he was up against. “You knew Du Leng was my person much earlier?”
Fu Shen smiled modestly. “Not for too long. But since he wasn’t doing any harm, only passing information on every once in a while, and his medicinal arts were passable, I left him alone.”
A person of importance planting a spy at the side of another army’s Commander, no matter how one looked at it or mulled over the motives behind it, was certainly not a boon given to the other party. However, Fu Shen was well aware of how Duan Guihong conducted himself, and that the old fogey was a dead duck with a stiff beak. Du Leng came to the army primarily to help him, thus he pretended not to notice, keeping him around up until the present day.
“You had two hubs of hidden wires in the North, Prince. One is Du Leng, one was Priest Chunyang. After the ambush at Blue Sand Pass, I assume that Du Leng went to report back on it, which was how Chunyang was able to overtake my people and find that broken arrow before them. Regardless of what’s said, I still want to give thanks to you for this matter.”
“Since you know the Emperor holds apprehensions towards you to the extent that he didn’t hesitate to murder you, why did you save him at the Vast Longevity Feast? Righteousness can’t be bought, and compassion can’t wield an army. Your womanly benevolence will get you killed sooner or later.”
Fu Shen sighed. “When I’m useful, it’s ‘the benevolence and righteousness of a master’. When I’m not useful, it’s ‘the benevolence of a woman’. My benevolence and compassion isn’t for your flapping lips to decide.”
“You…” Duan Guihong’s anger came to a head as he spat in rage. “…are nothing like your father!”
These words held no attacking power against Fu Shen at all, and his response was indifferent. “Yeah, I’m really not.”
Duan Guihong sat stifled for a moment. “You’re not like your father, but your second uncle, yes?”
“Didn’t you come to ask about my fallnight white stuff? Fine. I’ll tell you about an old incident.”
Fu Shen made a “please do” gesture.
He told of what had happened during the fourth year of Yuantai, at the time of the battle between the Northern Yan and the Eastern Tartars.
In autumn of that year, Fu Tingxin had inadvertently been injured by a poisoned arrow from a Tartar assassin. He was seriously wounded, and narrowly came to a premature death. The entire army had their hands tied then, and even the imperial doctors invited from the capital were powerless to reverse the situation. Thankfully, Gan Prefecture wasn’t too far from Yi Prefecture where the Western Tartars resided, and the two sides had always had peaceful contact. There was a wandering Western Tartar doctor that Duan Guihong had an acquaintance with, and taking on the attitude of ‘giving medicine to a dead horse like it’s a live one’, he requested him to come examine Fu Tingxin.
The Eastern and Western Tartars had originally been the same clan, but due to war, they were forced to split into two tribes. The doctor did indeed recognize what sort of poison it was.
There was a species of greenish-blue scorpion in the grasslands that was exceedingly rare and difficult to find, the point of its tail containing an extreme poison, known as a ‘tealmoon’. Though the doctor couldn’t locate the corresponding antidote, he had seen an Arabian caravan carrying an herbal remedy, its petals as cleanly white as snow and the juice from its fruit like milk after being ground up. The Arabs once used the drug to treat their companion that had been stung by a poisonous desert scorpion.
He pulled strings for Duan Guihong to build a bridge and get into contact with an Arabian merchant. Following a lot of meandering, Duan Guihong inquired about the medicine’s name, and discovered the plants and seeds in Southern Xinjiang under the merchant’s directions.
The herb that had saved Fu Tingxin’s life was, indeed, fallnight white.
It was a very peculiar plant. If one simply took the fruit’s juice orally, it would act as an anesthesia or painkiller and dissolve all snake venom and scorpion poison, yet the probability of getting addicted to it was next to nothing. If it was inhaled after undergoing processing, though, it would morph into the habit-forming whitedew. Furthermore, those who’d inhaled it over a long period of time would have internal pathological changes. A small fraction of them could end up contracting an ailment similar to a plague, and with no way to effectively cure it, they’d have no choice but to wait around for death.
Even worse was that, once the herb took root, the land around it would turn barren. The fallnight white of Southern Xinjiang grew entirely in the cracks of stones deep in the mountains, and the locals viewed it as a malicious weed. When they caught sight of it, they would immediately tear it out from the roots and use fire to burn it through, preventing it from extending out on a broader scale.
“In the fifth year of Yuantai, the Eastern Tartar’s Almaty division was completely destroyed.”
Fu Shen’s heart jumped. “What do you mean?”
“Zhongyan wasn’t as kind-hearted and lenient as you imagine him to be,” Duan Guihong replied, blunt and unfeeling. “Do you think that as a general leading troops, him learning mercy was enough?”
After Fu Tingxin’s complete recovery, all the herbs and seeds Duan Guihong had gathered were taken, and people were secretly sent to infiltrate the Almaty division’s pastures to disperse them in bulk. A few months later, the fallnight white germinated and grew, ruining the pastureland in a single day and causing a large quantity of the flocks to die. Fu Tingxin captured a batch of Eastern Tartars and made them drink water mixed with the blood of the infected, then released them back to the tribe. Many of the Almaty tribesmen thusly caught the disease, and they were ultimately swept away in a comeback by the Iron Cavalry, resulting in their total extinction.
A debt of blood, paid in blood.
“Word of mouth in the Tartar clan tells that the symbol of plague is the ‘impermanencia’. They’re talking about fallnight white,” Duan Guihong stated frostily. “Do you now understand why the Tartars hate your Fu family to the core?”
This portion of history was not widely circulated. First of all, it concerned classified information, and then it was injurious to the peace, so historians didn’t even dare to jot it down. Fu Shen had contact with the Eastern Tartars for many years, and he’d also heard of impermanencia, believing it to be but a legend. He hadn’t expected that such a thing truly existed.
Within the Almaty division’s territory, an inferno had raged for several days and nights. The gently swaying flowers of impermanencia were swallowed by the flames, yet their shadows forever shrouded the grasslands.
“The herb was first discovered by the Arabs, who named it dayir, meaning ‘trance’,” Duan Guihong said, “and in the dialect of Southern Xinjiang, it’s called saneyv, which means… ‘the sleeping god of death’.”
The author says: This author is preparing to set things up next. Sir Yan and General Fu will be separated for a period of roughly five or six chapters. Readers who only want to see interaction can fatten up and then knock it all out at once. Pay attention to the chapter name and summary*, it will be indicated when they meet up.
PS: I personally feel that what’s set up isn’t very cruel. (issues heart-settling sugar pills one by one) I’m resting tomorrow! Cheers!
The translator says: *Summaries not available for this translation, so, uh… just read the chapters. They’re very important! If anyone is caught skipping them I WILL fly to your home and perch outside your window and loudly make Google Translate recite them into a megaphone at 2:28 in the morning
 无常草 – wuchangcao, lit. “non-constant weed/grass/plant/etc.” The non-constant part can be translated multiple ways, including a euphemism for death (impermanence). The -ia part is just a generic suffix a lot of flowers have (dahlia, freesia, alstroemeria, etc.) that I tacked on.
 Cannot confirm, do not know Arabic or… Turkic? Uzbek? I don’t even know what that one is.