Ji Feng Li leaned back against his seat, leisurely shaking one leg as it rested over the other. Not an ounce of panic colored his face.
Hua Zhu Yu thought back to the day he had fallen ill but was still adamantly looking over maps and formulating strategies. Yet now he had on the appearance of nonchalance as though he was not the least bit concerned over this war.
“Yuan Bao, what do you think about Northern Kingdom invading?” Ji Feng Li asked as he watched Hua Zhu Yu.
“This subordinate is very shocked,” Hua Zhu Yu replied. This was war not a trivial matter. If the common people were to become aware of this, how frightened would they be.
“Why do you think Xiao Yin suddenly wants to invade?” Ji Feng Li asked as he picked up the military report off the table.
Though Hua Zhu Yu was overcome with restlessness in her heart, she kept her composure and replied, “This subordinate is slow-witted and does not know.”
“When this Chancellor set you free from Nei Cheng Yuan this Chancellor clearly recall you saying that you would follow this Chancellor and put your talents to use. The martial competition was a great opportunity to do so. Why did you not participate?” Ji Feng Li asked with faintly raised brows.
“This subordinate did not think it through and wonders if there’s still an opportunity to do so?” Hua Zhu Yu lifted her head and asked. She had thought about it and decided that no matter the reasons Xiao Yin had for invading, she had to see him. Even though she was uncertain whether she could still use the identity of his younger sister to convince him to put an end to the fighting, she still wanted to at least give it a try. No one knew better than her how much suffering a war would bring upon the people.
She knew that the objective of this martial competition was to elect officers to lead the battle against Northern Kingdom. So if she participated, she would have the chance to step on the battlefield. She decided that she would temporarily leave matters dealing with the Hua family to An Xiao Er to investigate. In order to see Xiao Yin she would have to go to the front lines. If she continued to remain by Ji Feng Li’s side she wouldn’t have that chance.
“Oh?” Ji Feng Li faintly wrinkled his brows. “Alright, you can withdraw and prepare to attend tomorrow’s match.”
After paying her respects, she turned to leave.
Ji Feng Li remained leaning against his chair, a complicated look flashed in his eyes as he contemplated in silence.
Standing on the side, Lan Bing cautiously asked, “Lord Chancellor, do you think Yuan Bao still misses that Xiao Yin? If not, why would he immediately agree to participate in the competition as soon as he heard Xiao Yin was invading? Moreover, do you think it’s because of Yuan Bao that Xiao Yin’s making a move?”
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
Now Lan Bing was very cautious whenever he mentioned anything that had to do with Hua Zhu Yu since he already believed in his heart that Ji Feng Li and Hua Zhu Yu were engaged in that sort of relationship.
Hearing Lan Bing’s questions, Ji Feng Li’s handsome face darkened and he said in a solemn voice, “Lan Bing, can’t you think like a rational person?”
“Lord Chancellor, Xiao Yin risked his own life to save him from the clutches of the beast. That’s already enough evidence to prove that their relationship isn’t ordinary,” Lan Bing cautiously said in a light yet persistent tone.
Ji Feng Li got up from his seat and clasped his hands behind his back as he walked across the room and said, “It’s unmistakable that they have a relationship, but as to what kind, we’ll see once we reach the battlefield.”
Through Ji Feng Li’s recommendation, Hua Zhu Yu was able to participate in the second round of the martial competition. Naturally, she did not reveal her true strength but was still able to pass to the third round.
The third round took place at the military arena and since it was the final round, Emperor Kang, Huangfu Wu Shang also came to watch, accompanied by dozens of Imperial Guards. A large crowd of officials were also present as numerous participants stood on stage, including Hua Zhu Yu.
When the hour of the dragon(7-9am) came, Emperor Kang’s entourage arrived and the eunuch leading the procession announced, “The Emperor has arrived!”
The officials all knelt down in unison, along with Hua Zhu Yu and the other participants as they all recited reverently, “Long live the Emperor!”
When everyone stood up again, Hua Zhu Yu glanced over in Huangfu Wu Shang’s direction and saw him take his sit at the throne. He appeared not much different from that pale and wan prince that he used to be. Bundled in the golden dragon robes, he appeared even more delicate and weak. This child was not fit to be born into the royal family. He had such timid eyes even though he was already enthroned as Emperor.
Looking at Huangfu Wu Shang, Hua Zhu Yu was reminded of Huangfu Wu Shuang who was still imprisoned. She had recently gotten in contact with An Xiao Er and was informed that Huangfu Wu Shuang’s living conditions in prison wasn’t bad. They had yet to make a move against him, making her believe that they were proceeding slowly due to the ill-stricken old emperor.
The third round of the martial competition officially began and since it was an imperial exam with the Emperor present, everything was handled fairly and with care. All the participants were to select a weapon of their choice and perform on stage.
Hua Zhu Yu and the other participants whose turns weren’t up yet all stood below to observe the competition. The participants that were able to reach the third round were all martial talents with distinct techniques. Among them, there was no shortage of martial masters especially the 10th participant, Tang Yu, and the 51st, Nangong Jue.
Tang Yu came from a well-known family in the Jianghu, famous for their poisonous hidden weapons: Tang Men, so it came as quite a surprise to Hua Zhu Yu that his swordsmanship would be this excellent as well. From his appearance he should be around 20 years old. Though he had a thin scholarly build, his swordsmanship was exceptionally sharp and exquisite. No one could make out his figure as it was obscured behind the flashing brilliance of his sword movements.
Nangong Jue was also around the same age with a tall build and handsome features. His every move was powerful with great gallantry, showcasing his talent. He performed with a spear and displayed his martial skills on horseback. It was as though he and the spear were one body every movement was swift and powerful.
Watching along with the crowd, Hua Zhu Yu couldn’t help but admire their skills. It seemed there indeed were hidden dragons and crouching tigers(1) among the populace. Holding this martial competition to search for talents among the common people and Jianghu was definitely a good idea. Since this event was organized by Ji Feng Li, he must want to take this opportunity to send his own people into the military. There was no doubt in her mind that some of the participants were Ji Feng Li’s men.
Since she didn’t want to draw attention to herself, she chose to participate in the archery match which had many people participating as well. The rules of this match was to hit the target from a certain range starting off at 60 ft, 80 ft, 100 ft, and finally 120 ft.
When the 100 ft range was reached, the pool of participants was narrowed down to ten people including Hua Zhu Yu. When she took her shot this time, she deliberately missed her target and only hit 3 out of 5, eliminating herself from the next round.
At the conclusion of the match, Emperor Kang, Huangfu Wu Shang announced the final three winners, Tang Yu, Nangong Jue and the Lu Yang, the winner of the archery match.
But at this precise moment, a guard came rushing in. He was out of breath as he knelt before the Emperor and kowtowed before saying, “Reporting to the Emperor, this one has pressing news that comes from 800 miles away to report!”
Emperor Kang’s complexion turned ashen and he instantly stood and walked forward, commanding, “Quickly report! How is the situation?”
Filled with more than a thousand people, the arena had descended into absolute silence. The only voice that could be heard was that of the guard reporting in a hoarse voice, “The Northern army has broken through Yangguan and General Zhen Bei has been killed in combat. The Northern army is riding up on Su Zhou. Our Deputy General is currently leading our 3,000 army of troops against the Northern army. However the Northern Army is too strong and valiant and our troops have also suffered from continuous battles, so they are unable to keep up much longer. Hence a report was sent from 800 miles away to request that Your Majesty send troops to assist!”
Upon hearing this, Emperor Kang kneaded his forehead. He was barely standing and his face was deathly pale.
Hua Zhu Yu had heard of General Zhen Bei who had been defending the northern border. Though he was not as well known as her father Hua Mu, he was still a fierce, brave General. It was unexpected to hear that he had died in battle after defending the border for so long.
The air felt stifling as a heaviness settled in everyone’s heart.
That night Ji Feng Li did not return to his residence and stayed behind in Qian Qing Hall to discuss countermeasures with the other officials.
Two days later
On a clear, cloudless day, twenty thousand troops stood stationed at the northern gate of the Imperial City. Under the command of the newly appointed General Wang Yu, the army was to march north.
Hua Zhu Yu was among the soldiers stationed at the gate. All the other participants who had passed to the third round of the martial competition were also present and part of the army. Only Tang Yu and Nangong Jue were appointed as 4th ranked military officers since they performed exceptionally well in the competition.
Following the blare of the bugle horn, the twenty thousand troops set out on their journey to the north. Taking one last glimpse of the Imperial City, Hua Zhu Yu pulled on her reins and followed the army.
Leaving the city this time, she wondered what the future would hold.
When she heard the report that day in the arena, she finally realized that war between the Southern and Northern Kingdoms was inevitable. Perhaps her attempt would be futile, however she had to at least try.
Leaving Yu City behind, the army proceeded north.
Hua Zhu Yu heard the sound of approaching hooves from behind. Turning around to look she saw a pair of steeds leaving Yu City.
“Is it another team? I thought we were the only one’s going?” a soldier beside Hua Zhu Yu commented.
Glancing back again, she finally recognized the person approaching on the black steed was actually Ji Feng Li.
She didn’t expect that he would also lead troops into battle. If she had known she wouldn’t have bothered to participate in the competition and would have just gone along with him.
She didn’t think that Ji Feng Li would actually leave Yu City. Wasn’t he afraid of the tides turning if he were to up and leave? Did he not fear losing his power and control in court? Hua Zhu Yu felt that she understood him less by the day.
Moreover, he wasn’t taking the carriage this time around and was actually riding a horse like the other soldiers. With the limited speed of a carriage, if he were to take it, it was uncertain when he would actually reach the north.
Hua Zhu Yu knew Ji Feng Li practiced martial arts so she wasn’t surprised at his speed, however the other soldiers weren’t privy to this fact. They were understandably surprised to see such a delicate looking official ride with such speed.
The troops proceeded on their journey during the day, resting only for half an hour at noon before continuing on again. At midnight they stopped to set up camp and moved out early the next morning.
Though Hua Zhu Yu had been a general and had seen the cruelty and sufferings of war, this was the first time she was part of such a rapid and urgent military march. Moreover she had to live alongside men in very close quarters. However it was still bearable because 3 years ago she had begun her career as a minor soldier and experienced a similar treatment.
- idiom for talented individuals that are unknown/in hiding
Sorry for the late chapter everyone~ For some reason I had the hardest time getting into a translating mindset/zone these couple of days. Every time I start translating a couple of sentences I somehow end up on youtube watching videos for hours. It was super unproductive but I found some new songs to listen to out of it. Baby Don’t Stop by NCT U has been stuck in my head this whole day. Stop~Baby Don’t Stop~~