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The grand rivers and mountains had fallen whilst in the enemy’s clutches. The barbarians regarded the Central Plains Hans as worthless swines and mutts, and pillaged, burned, and murdered them at will. The Northern area had been continuously subject to both natural and human disasters without cease – as they marched along the road, they would frequently see many villages destroyed by war and fire, nine out of every ten families left with nothing, and skeletons on the side of the road that had been airing out for quite some time in the wilderness.
If peace could still be negotiated like this, then these blood-drenched soldiers on the frontlines, and those citizens who gazed hopefully southwards for the imperial army all the way until their deaths; what would they all be taken as?
Yan Xiaohan went before the table, raised his brush, and wrote a few words upon an imperial account. “You were right,” he said, neither urgent nor relaxed, “the arrow is already on the bowstring. Jinling did make a sky-splitting fuss, but it can’t call back a hard-pressed army. Now that the power of initiative is in our hands, the Southern Dynasty’s words don’t count, and attention doesn’t need to be paid to them.”
Currently, all that encircled Yuan Prefecture was the Northern Yan, Heaven Men, Jiangnan, and Xiang Prefecture four-branch force, and towards the East, the governors of the three lands of Huainan, Jingchu, and Sui Prefecture were deploying troops to Shiang* Prefecture. Aside from the Jiangnan and Heaven Mend Armies that nominally belonged to the Jiangnan Dynasty, the other prefectural governors and local military officers had successively gone ‘self-sustaining and self-defending’ long before the new Dynasty’s establishment. Heroes constructed the state of affairs nowadays, and those who had strong fists were the ones who spoke. All those Sirs in Jiangnan shouting up another riot would be inferior in efficacy to one order from Fu Shen.
“Corrupt academics harm the nation, huh,” Fu Shen lamented without much sincerity, stretching his neck out to peer at the table’s top. “What are you writing so late in the evening?”
Yan Xiaohan set down his brush, turned around to pick up the set-aside cloth that had covered Fu Shen’s feet, then to carry the wooden basin outside to pour it out. “Nothing but a memorial for the Court,” he answered casually. “Lie down quickly, don’t get frozen.”
A burst of wind was brought out when he lifted the curtain, blowing the loose leaf over. Fu Shen hadn’t wanted to sneak a peek, but he was no match for his genuinely too-good eye strength, and he glimpsed a row of intricate, tiny script on the white paper.
The instant he saw it clearly, his heart suddenly and inexplicably skipped a beat. He was flustered, but not in disarray, instead having an epiphany akin to seeing the sun after dispersing the clouds.
All that was written on the memorial was one sentence – “Dying in battle is preferable to negotiating peace.”
When Fu Shen had just returned to the capital, Yan Xiaohan had readily called himself a ‘fawner’, or was scorned by the mouths and pens of the realm’s literati as the Court’s lackey, but time’s passing had shifted things around. Following violent winds and sudden rains, his moral integrity was volatile and his bones of loyalty were easy to break, but he was one of the very few people who still stood ramrod straight.
As it was now, who would still dare to say that he was merely a fawner intending to curry favor and maul the loyalist?
After another burst of noise, Yan Xiaohan came back in from outside. Fu Shen, wrapped in the quilt that had been warmed by body heat, sighed in comfort, and opened his mouth to call for him. “Meng’gui.”
“Hm?” Yan Xiaohan turned his head to ask, in the middle of washing his hands. “What do you need?”
Yan Xiaohan was caught off guard by this hit on the chest, and he stared blankly for a second before smiling. He wiped his hands dry, took off his outer robe, and got on the bed, laying down beside Fu Shen. “What are you doing?”
Fu Shen pulled him closer and kissed him on the tip of his nose. “Nothing. Can’t I be a bit affectionate with my wife?” he replied.
Yan Xiaohan firmly fastened him into his arms, bowed his head to find his warm, dry lips, and pushed a little against him in threat-like manner. “Provoking me again. I see this as you not wanting to go to sleep.”
Fu Shen’s stomachful of sweet talk didn’t have time to be fully utilized before they were all muffled into becoming an ambiguous, minute mmph. It was cold in the winter night, yet they grew warmer the more they rolled about. It went until Yan Xiaohan detected that he would unable to suppress his fire if they continued rubbing against each other like this, and only then did he let him go. Sweat could be seen on Fu Shen’s forehead, and he laughed heavy and rough. “It’s not that I spoke, Madam, it’s that you’re a bit too deep into the prime of your life…”
“Who’s to blame for that?” Yan Xiaohan dragged his hand into the covers, sighing. “My Marquis, I wish you would hurry up in beating down the capital so I can go back home and do whatever I want. With how I’m caring about doing the deed but not cleaning it up like such, I really can’t help but to maul the loyalist.”
A low groan escaped Fu Shen’s throat, his teeth gritted. “You don’t… call this doing whatever you want, even now? You still want to pass on to Heaven?”
An endless winter night in the twelfth month was able to swiftly fly by like a spring evening.
It had snowed in the middle of the night yesterday, and when Fu Shen woke up at the break of day, there was still a picture of twilight darkness outside, the heaven and earth enveloped in silver and white. Yan Xiaohan ought to have just gotten up not long before, the other side of the bed still having some extraneous warmth. Fu Shen held his head as he slowly came to from his doze, glimpsing out of the corner of his eye how a sable-fur coat that was hanging up had disappeared, and presumed that the man had returned to the Heaven Mend campground ahead of time. He then draped a robe over himself to get out of bed, preparing to go to the barrack cook to find a bit to eat, then go out to patrol the camp while he was at it.
His feet hadn’t yet touched the ground when he heard the sound of footsteps come through the entrance. Yan Xiaohan bolted inside, set a big, steam-emitting bowl onto the table, and used his scalded-red fingers to pinch Fu Shen’s earlobe as he spoke. “You woke up really early. I was planning on calling for you after I came back.”
Fu Shen reacted on a delay, sitting on the bed and looking up at him. “What’d you get up and go out at first light for? Didn’t go back to camp?”
“Go back to what camp?” Voice tender, Yan Xiaohan leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “Did you forget what day it is today? Happy birthday, Marquis. I hope you have endless luck and a long life.”
Only then did he recall that today really was his birthday. Simply put, military matters kept one busy on ordinary days, and the birthdays weren’t full ones, so he had long since thrown this issue to the back of his mind. What’s more was that in this unusual era, no one was in the mood to celebrate birthdays; and yet, Yan Xiaohan had still remembered it for him.
“Thanks lots…” Fu Shen’s throat was stopped up. Perhaps due to just now waking up, his entire person seemed a little sluggish, and his wording also seemed a little rigid and out of practice. “…for your trouble.”
Yan Xiaohan looked at the dazed appearance of his non-birthday-having face and found it both hilarious and saddening. He was unable to restrain his hand’s itch to pet him on the head. “You were in Northern Yan two years ago, then we separated to the North and South last year, and I had a hard time catching up with you this year. I don’t have anything I can gift you now, but I cooked a bowl of longevity noodles for you, of subpar handiwork. May you bestow me face by tasting it, Marquis?”
Fu Shen nodded, staring at that slender figure that was offering him noodles, and silently thought to himself: I don’t need anything. Having you is enough.
Yan Xiaohan wasn’t being modest; he said himself that it was subpar handiwork, and the flavor of the noodles was genuinely only so-so. There was no need to speak of it being just “subpar”, however, as even if he offered up a bowl of white arsenic to Fu Shen right now, he would swallow it down with no change in expression.
On this day, the officers that accompanied Fu Shen on the camp patrol sensed a never-before-seen pressure. The Marquis of Jing Ning – who, a few days prior, had openly stated that he was going to “bide time in wait for the enemy to tire” and “not move if the enemy does” – suddenly seemed to have been irritated by something. When analyzing the situation, from the deployment of Yuan Prefecture’s military forces all the way to diverting the discussion to how to conquer the capital in as little time as possible, there was an abundant implication that if the entire territory wasn’t recovered within three months, they would have to own up to their mistakes without bowing their heads or averting their gazes.
Xiao Xun used his elbow to jab Yu Qiaoting. “Is the General possessed?” he asked quietly.
Yu Qiaoting had a dignified expression. “I think that Yan guy probably poured him a bowl of witch’s brew again.”
Fu Shen cast a frosty glance towards them. “Yesterday night, I received news from Jiangnan that the Tartar and Zhe clans sent envoys to Jinling, proposing peace negotiations. Using the Yellow River as a boundary, the North and South would be partitioned, and they asked to bind with our Dynasty as allies. I’m thinking that, out of everyone present, no one’s willing to give these wolf cubs New Year’s money every year, yeah?”
All the soldiers immediately put away their jesting looks, faces stricken.
“Get to it after the year is over. So long as the Yuan and Shiang Prefectures are captured, the capital will no longer have any barriers. Recovering the Central Plains within three months isn’t idle banter.” Fu Shen put down the map in his hand, voice solemn and grim. “Everyone, the shame of the capital’s forces being defeated, as well as that of Northern Xinjiang’s occupation, should now be personally eradicated by my Iron Cavalry.”
New Year’s Eve night was an event that happened once a year; though times were hard and desolation was all over the North, the random sounds of firecrackers still occasionally rose up within the city. In the opinions of a majority of Han people, days did not pass easily, but the year would always pass.
Outside the city, under the pitch-black canopy of the sky, was a tight array of imposing armored horsemen, ready to kill.
It wasn’t known what kind of bustling spectacle Jiangnan had on this evening, either.
The officers of the four-branch army simultaneously amassed in the open area before the camp, in the middle of making their final deployment before the fight. After they finished speaking, Yan Xiaohan called for his personal troops to give everyone a bowl of warmed wine, then lifted his head. “This wine is to bolster all of you. May Heaven protect our army, and this fight be an immense victory.”
Everyone hoisted their respective bowls, the crisp noise of clinks coming from the air. “May Heaven protect our army! For instant victory!” they cried out in unison.
The strong alcohol entered the throat, boiling up all the blood in one’s body. While all the others returned to the ranks, only Yan Xiaohan was a slight step slower. Fu Shen could apparently make out his plan, and he raised his brow as he smiled. “Is there something you want to say to me alone?”
The corners of his eyes had a thin layer of red condensed on them from the feeling of the wine, and his smile didn’t seem to be its typical cold and stiff outline, but rather held a bit of tipsy tenderness. Yan Xiaohan was well aware that the time and place were wrong, but he still couldn’t help having his heartstrings shudder from his allure.
He was the least willing to watch Fu Shen go onto the battlefield, but he couldn’t deny that this appearance of his made him the most enchanted.
“It’s New Year’s Eve night. A few lucky words should be said.” Yan Xiaohan was near to the sky filled with the northern wind, toasting to him from afar. “May home and country be stabilized, and there be a golden age of peace.”
Fu Shen was slightly startled, immediately after which he hooded his eyes, appearing to both be sighing and smiling.
He returned the toast. His voice was not loud, yet each and every word was able to be heard clearly by Yan Xiaohan when they fell onto the wind.
“May we stay together for a long time, and both turn into white-haired gentlemen.”
Saying so, he drained the remnant wine at the bottom of the bowl in one sip, then wound his horse around to tread into the borderless color of the night.
The author says: The conclusion is soon, probably within less than ten chapters.
The translator says: Yan-gege! You fool! Those are DEATH FLAG words!
This author has another novel in the midst of being translated on NU, though it’s only one chapter in and I’m not sure if the translator will continue it: Fight the Landlord, Fall in Love. It’s an entirely different genre and tone from GS, but the good writing style is still there.
Here’s a list of the author’s other works, too. Peruse to your heart’s content~
*This is actually another Xiang (相 vs. 襄, they’re even pronounced exactly the same). I modified the spelling to differentiate them.