Edited by Halley & Larkspur
Chapter 3: Ambushed
I discovered that the horse carriage was travelling along the very road that was used to send me to the Wei camp a few days ago. When the familiar city in the distance appeared before my eyes, for a long time, I held the curtain up and looked at it.
The reason why I survived that year was due to my YiZhuMu (aka paternal Grandaunt), Empress Dowager Liu. Perhaps Father had long anticipated it, as he sent me into the Palace to accompany the Empress Dowager the day before. When the Minister of Justice came over, the Empress Dowager ordered people to deadlock the Palace door. Separated by a wall, she cursed and berated those that came together with the Late Emperor and Empress Bian.
The Late Emperor was after all a filial son and did not come over to arrest anyone again. However, the Heavens did not treat me well all the way. When I was fifteen, the Empress Dowager passed on.
Empress Bian then resumed her revenge.
Before Empress Dowager Liu passed on, she had incessantly urged the Late Emperor to look for a good family for me and the Late Emperor had even agreed. I had indeed married into a good family. The Han family of Lai Yang, even though it was far away from Chang An, it was still considered a prominent clan in the area and the head of the family was also the head of the clan.
However, my husband, Han Guang was a fool.
He was stupid, clumsy and liked to giggle foolishly. When others talked to him, they had to repeat many times for him to understand that the other person was talking to him and only then would he be able to continue the conversation. This was a marriage that the enemy bestowed, so of course, I would not be happy about it. However, neither did I hate this husband.
He treated me well. Every morning when I woke up, he would smile at me foolishly and intermittently mutter, “Ah Jin is really good looking…” Thinking about these, I sighed softly in my heart.
One did not know how he was. After all we had lived together for a few years, so it would be a lie if one did not have any sentiments. However, in this troubled world, none of us had any choice, just like how I was compelled to leave Chang An and marry into Lai Yang, those years ago.
One had heard that after I reached the Wei camp, Wei Jue let Han Tian stay in Lai Yang as a Governor.
In that city, one feared that the only change was that the Han family’s foolish second son no longer had a wife.
Wei Jue’s troops had a rather resounding reputation of not disturbing the commoners.
As one journeyed the next few days, I gained a deep understanding. Cheng Mao was leading an army of three hundred troops and accommodation was a big concern. However, he would never disturb any commoners and would use dry rations to eat one’s fill, rest outdoors and would never let his troops’ horses trample the farmland. Compared to the deeds of the other warlords and roving bandits, Wei Jue’s troops were simply refined and cultured.
Of course, in this chaotic world, it did not mean that one would be safe if one did not go beyond one’s bounds.
When one was nearing the boundaries of the Yong Province, a group of people of around two hundred suddenly rushed out from the two hills.
The leader barked, “Leave the carriages and wagons and you will be spared from death!”
Cheng Mao was furious and passed down an order to prepare for battle. The troops immediately circled the carriages and set up a formation.
Although those people were violent, one was able to tell that they were just a mob armed with simple and crude weapons that only knew how to charge forward. One could see Cheng Mao rushing out from the squad, waved the sword in his hand and the bandit leader had already been struck down from his horse.
When the rest of the mob saw that the situation was not in their favour, they wanted to disperse but Cheng Mao instructed the archers to release the arrows and shouted out orders. He then led the troop to chase and in a short moment, he had captured more than a hundred people.
“I am Prime Minister Wei’s subordinate, the Marquis Cheng Mao!” Cheng Mao led his horse out and shouted. I did not listen carefully to the words he said after, as I was a little surprised after hearing him report his name and position.
I had thought that it was amazing. These days, even a low ranking Deputy General could be conferred as a Marquis, Wei Jue could indeed cover the skies with his hands.
Cheng Mao was still shouting. He said that the Heavenly One had decided on the Yong Province as the capital and wanted them to surrender and pay allegiance to the Imperial Court instead of rebelling. Those rebelling bandits had already been captured and the rest of them had used all their energy to beg for mercy. When Cheng Mao saw them surrendering, he instructed the troops to tie them up with ropes and had them escorted along.
“This Mao is untalented and has let Furen suffer a shock.” After the incident was resolved, Chen Mao alighted from his horse and apologised with obeisance in front of my carriage.
It would be a falsehood if one was not scared, as there were real swords and spears flashing in front of one’s eyes. With the curtain separating us, I forced my heart to calm down before speaking, “Why should General blame yourself? If General was not present, my life would have been lost.”
Chen Mao said, “There is a village up ahead. May Furen be patient as one would be able to rest soon.”
I nodded, “Many thanks to General’s efforts.”
Chen Mao saluted and retreated, not long after, the carriage started moving again.
With more than a hundred captives, the journey was rather arduous for the cavalcade. However, Cheng Mao was not worried as it was a wide expanse of boundless plains up ahead that one could gallop unhindered. It would be unlikely for them to be attacked by anyone.
After less than ten Li (1 Li = 500m), just as Cheng Mao had said, there indeed was a village. Cheng Mao ordered the soldiers to monitor and guard the captives before commanding the troops to stop for a rest. However, not long after, they discovered that a lot of people came over from the village and surrounded them.
Cheng Mao was startled and quickly ordered the troops to stand guard as he sent someone out to inquire.
In the end, it was a false alarm. These villagers had heard that the troops had captured the rogues that were committing evils around the area and had especially come over to express gratitude.
“Ever since chaos erupted from Chang An, there have been many thieves in the nearby forest who would loot passers-by and harass the villagers. It was simply unbearable. Now that General has wiped out the evil doers, it is the good fortune of the commoners.” The Village Head bowed to Cheng Mao in gratitude, expressing his thanks.
Cheng Mao helped the Village Head up and said, “We work under the Prime Minister Wei’s wings and the Heavenly One is choosing a site for the capital. With the country stabilising, it is natural to clean up the surrounding bandits and ensure the people’s safety.”
Upon hearing these words, all of the villagers praised them and rushed to feed the soldiers with food and drinks as thanks, but Chen Mao tactfully declined.
I had sat in the carriage for a long time and only came out to stretch my limbs after the villagers had dispersed.
“Furen.” When Cheng Mao saw me coming out, he was stunned and quickly came forward to greet me.
“I have only come out for a breather. General need not be courteous.” I smiled gently.
Cheng Mao nodded and looked around before ordering people to clean up the stone slate under the nearby tree and invited me to sit there.
“How will General handle those people?” I asked.
“Up ahead is the Administrative Division of Yong Province. They will be handed over to the Governor there.” Cheng Mao replied.
I looked at him and smiled, “Every time when the General encounters roving bandits, are they exhibited before the villagers?”
Cheng Mao was startled and his eyes gleamed.
“It is not like this every time.” His expression did not change as he continued, “If one passes by an arduous area, one would not be able to bring along captives. In order to prevent evil deeds from continuing, one has to kill them on the spot.”
He then added, “This is what Eldest Young Master says evil and hide; do good and keep a good name.”
I was startled for a moment before smiling, “So it is.”
Chen Mao no longer spoke and bowed to me before turning around to leave.
After the captives were handed over to the Administrative Division, Chen Mao resumed the control of the cavalcade and officially entered the Yong Province.
The Yong Province was situated near Luo Yang and had been a thriving region since ancient times. There was also an interim Imperial Palace in the city. As to why the Emperor had set the capital in Yong Province, one had to start from the beginning of the chaos.
When the Late Emperor was alive, the matter of the succession had already lit the court abuzz. My YiZhuMu’s, the Empress Dowager Liu, heart was set on the Eldest Prince Chen but the Late Emperor favored Prince Zhen, borne by Empress Bian. Empress Bian came from a despotic maiden family and over the years, the Bian family had won over a large number of officials. The Older Brother of Empress Bian was even appointed as the Minister of War by the Late Emperor.
It was during the end of the year, when I was married off that, the Late Emperor suddenly passed away. The Fu family had been exterminated and Empress Dowager Liu had passed on, so Empress Bian had no more apprehensions. She took out the Late Emperor’s posthumous edict and established Prince Zhen as the new Emperor and conferred upon Prince Chen the title Prince of He Jian.
Disregarding the eldest and establishing the youngest, the posthumous edict of the Late Emperor seemed to have appeared out of thin air, stirring up many discussions in court. On the day of the enthronement, the Imperial Secretary Wang Rong challenged the edict in court and in a fit of rage, Minister of War, Bian Wei, cut him down with a sword.
Blood was spilled in the Imperial Court and a stone had created thousands of waves. The Superintendent of the Capital, Gao Mi, who was also the Clan Brother of Prince Chen’s birth mother Empress Gao, deployed five thousand guards to surround the Palace and the residence of the Minister of War. In a moment of desperation, Bian Wei dispatched subordinates to send out a letter using the Emperor’s name to order Liang Province’s Governor, who was at the time quelling the riots in Long Xi, to enter Chang An and escort the Emperor.
He Kui was only seven hundred Lis (1 Li = 500m) away and thus, after he had received the order, within the next few days, marched into Chang An with fifty thousand troops. For three days, the army and the Imperial guards bathed the city with blood and He Kui was able to break into Chang An. At that time, Minister Bian of War was killed by Gao Mi, Empress Bian died of poison and Chang An had landed in He Kui’s hands. He Kui was a ruthless and heartless person. After gaining Chang An, he proclaimed himself as the Grand Preceptor. He would sleep lasciviously in the Inner Palace every day while supporting the new Emperor to govern from the Imperial throne. If any official raised as much a word, they would be mercilessly killed.
The Imperial Court was in a precarious situation and at this moment, Mu Zhong Yuan of Bing Province claims to have an emperor’s edict for rebellion to raise a coup d’état against He Kui in the name of loyalty.
When He Kui caught wind of it, he was furious and abolished the Emperor before establishing the Prince of He Jian as the new Emperor. Afterwards he started a fire to burn down the Palace, forcing the Emperor to move to Luo Yang.
This move was equivalent to pouring oil onto fire. Documents and words were spread to the hundred Administrative Divisions and the various troops from all over the country responded to Zhong Yuan and gathered in Bing Province.
Even though He Kui was fierce, his toughness was nothing but the common bravery of the Liang Province. After a few months, Luo Yang was captured by the volunteer army. But this formidable military force was no longer under the command of the Heavenly Son. Thus, the dogfight of the warlords began. Fire was set on the city gates, innocent bystanders were dragged into it and the Imperial Palace of Luo Yang was reduced to scattered ashes and dispersed smoke.
The Heavenly Son was fleeing until he met Wei Jue. At that time Wei Jue had already occupied Yong Province. He then repaired the temporary Imperial Palace, welcomed the Heavenly Son and settled down hundreds of officials. The current Heavenly Son was currently staying in that Palace and the city of Yong province had then changed its name to Yong capital.
Actually in my eyes, ever since leaving Chang An, other places in the world, even if they looked like paradise, I would still regard it as the wild countryside. So when Cheng Mao led the carriage valiantly into the boundaries of the capital with a commanding presence, my thoughts were completely not on the sceneries at all.
I was pondering upon the matter of meeting the Wei family clan after entering the city.