e of defense.
I rushed the journey so that I could carve out half a day to make a detour here.
There are some things….that I wanted to say to you in person before I go north.”
*Used in place of “父王” Lit.
“Father Prince”, formal term for father.
Xiao Pingjing blinked his eyes as understanding dawned.
His shoulders drooped as he said dejectedly, “Are you sending me back to Jinling? But dad* already promised me…..”
*Used in place of “爹” pronounced “di-yeh”, a more casual, affectionate term for father
“Father agreed for you to come to Lang Ya Pavilion to be schooled in its skills, but it doesn’t mean that you can cut yourself off from responsibility and do as you wish!” Xiao Pingzhang deliberately made his tone stern, but he couldn’t help stretching out his hand to straighten the crookedly worn necklet around his brother’s neck.
“Pingjing, you’ll soon turn twenty-one.
In the next year, His Majesty will certainly urge Father to find you a new betrothed.
Once you’re married, you’ll have to establish your career.
You might be carefree for the moment, but how can you remain carefree forever? The responsibility for the future of Chang Lin Mansion…..”
Xiao Pingjing muttered in a low voice, “But there’s you…..”
The pouch in his sleeve pocket burnt into his forearm, distracting him momentarily.
It took a while before he regained his composure and said solemnly, “Chang Lin Mansion belongs to a martial family and defending the country is everyone’s responsibility.
I cannot always stand in for you.
We never know when…… In any case, I’m sure you understand what I mean and I don’t need to say more.
Give it careful consideration.
Once the northern border is secured, regardless of the situation, you must return to Jinling.”
Xiao Pingjing had always been an alert and observant person.
Hearing his brother’s half-swallowed sentence, he couldn’t help feeling something amiss.
Staring suspiciously into his brother’s eyes, he asked, “The situation at the northern border this time…..is it very dangerous?”
Xiao Pingzhang said with a faint smile, “Of course it won’t be easy.
But Father and I have done a comprehensive review of possible outcomes, and there is a still a chance of winning.”
Xiao Pingjing continued to stare at him for a while.
Seeing no further irregularity, his expression relaxed.
Leaning on his brother’s shoulder, he said praisingly, “Da ge has always been victorious, so of course this time will be no exception!”
“You’ve got a sweet mouth, but all these flattering words are useless.
Once I’m free, don’t think you’ll be able to get away.” Xiao Pingzhang gave his brother a sideways glance, and flicked a finger at his forehead like he used to do when Pingjing was a child.
Then, supporting himself against the table, he got up, saying, “I need to push on with my journey, so I won’t linger.
Come, see me off.”
Xiao Pingjing was born into a martial family, so of course he understood that military orders had to be obeyed and should not be taken lightly.
Unlike him, an idler, his brother shouldered heavy responsibilities.
But having to part after such a brief conversation, when they had not seen each other for half a year, filled his heart with reluctance, and he was sullen all the way out of Lantai.
Fortunately, Xiao Pingzhang had watched him grow up and thoroughly understood this child’s temperament.
He also knew what topics he was most interested in.
All along the way, he asked questions in casual conversation, and it didn’t take long before he got his brother to forget about his sorrows, his hands dancing as he talked about what he had learnt in the mountains, and interesting anecdotes of his travels through Jianghu.
Lin Jiu, who had been drinking tea in Lantai’s side hall, did not come out to send the guests off as was customary.
Instead, he climbed onto the high deck, and after observing the two brothers disappear into the far distance, he returned to the rear pavilion to report to the old pavilion master.
“Pavilion Master’s pouch has been handed over to the heir of Chang Lin.
At this moment, Pingjing is sending him down the mountain.”
The old pavilion master’s eyebrows drooped as he sighed, “He didn’t express any desire to see me, to explain the answer….actually in his heart, he has long known it.”
“What happened back then is not something the heir of Chang Lin can easily accept…..” Lin Jiu frowned and asked doubtfully, “Is it really appropriate for you to tell him everything in this way?”
The old pavilion master remained silent for a long time.
Then, raising his cup, he took a sip of tea and said, “Since he has already started making enquiries, he would have found out sooner or later, so there’s no need to hide it.”
“But these are not normal times.
The situation in the northern border is clearly very unusual.
The heir of Chang Lin’s race to Ganzhou is only the first step.
The Prince of Chang Lin has already submitted a memorial to the Emperor to request for the Xingtai military tally.
Once it is approved, he will soon……”
“The affairs of the country has nothing to do with Lang Ya Pavilion.” The old pavilion master raised eyes to look at him, his gaze deep and profound, and gently shook his head, “What you know is what it is.
It is not necessary to think too deeply about it.”
Lin Jiu’s forehead trembled.
Realizing the chaos in his mind, he quickly took two steps back and bowed in response, “Yes.”
Xiao Pingjing was completely oblivious to the turmoil currently brewing in Jinling and the northern border, and the worries that the old pavilion master and Lin Jiu bore in their hearts, nor did he think he should be concerned.
After his brother left the mountain, he continued to live the same carefree life in Lang Ya Pavilion as before, busy practising his martial arts skills and reading, teasing Xiao Dao while at the same time trying to avoid the old pavilion master’s tricks.
It was only during the occasional quiet moments, when he recalled his elder brother’s brief moment of silence and distractedness, that he would feel an indescribable uneasiness, like the rings that rippled out on the surface of a still deep pool long after a pebble was thrown in.
At the end of the ninth month, news from Jinling arrived via carrier pigeon.
Apart from his regular army, the Prince of Chang Lin had deployed an additional 50,000 Xingtai troops to the northern border.
When Xiao Tingsheng dispatched this large military force to the northern border, the main border towns flanking Da Yu and Northern Yan were still peaceful, with no signs of conflict or disorder, nothing indicating that war was imminent.
The only basis this Prince of Chang Lin had for requesting the military tally from the Liang Emperor was instinct and accumulated experience from decades in the army.
The ferocity of an army was tied to the fortunes of the nation, so the Emperor’s military tally was not granted lightly.
This was common understanding.
Xiao Tingsheng’s lack of any solid basis in presenting his memorial triggered a strong wave of opposition in court.
Many of the court officials felt that it was sufficient to deploy just the regular army, and since the heir of Chang Lin had already raced to Ganzhou to take charge of the garrison there, there was no need to further deploy the Xingtai army.
Unlike his father, the Wujing Emperor, who was strict and cold in temperament, the current Emperor, Xiao Xin, was good-natured and tolerant since birth.
He spent no less than four hours in Chaoyang Hall patiently listening to the disagreements and debates, before finally saying only, “I trust Chang Lin wang xiong‘s* judgment in the matter of military deployment in the northern border.”
*Chang Lin wang xiong = big brother Prince of Chang Lin where “wang” = “Prince” and “xiong” = “elder brother”
At the beginning of the tenth month, the imperial army of Da Yu launched a surprise attack on Meiling, deploying a total of 150,000 troops in a short span of a few days.
The reinforcements dispatched by Xiao Tingsheng in advance had arrived on Meiling’s peak at just the right time and successfully countered the enemy’s offensive.
Naturally, all the criticisms and complaints in the capital quickly dissipated and were replaced with praises like “The Prince of Chang Lin is sharp and shrewd, and deserves to be the greatest general of our time,” and so on and so forth.
However, Da Yu’s fierce attack on Meiling lasted only two days before it come to an abrupt end.
Overnight, the main force withdrew and marched on Gannan, as if it would conquer Ganzhou at all costs.
And the commanding general in Ganzhou was no other than the heir of Chang Lin, Xiao Pingzhang, who had rushed over in advance to assume personal command of the garrison.
In the mountains, the forest leaves had turned crimson, and frosty cold air blew through creaking windows into the room.
Xiao Pingjing suddenly shot out of bed, his forehead covered in cold sweat.
Swallowing the cry of alarm caught in the back of his throat, he murmured softly, “Da ge…..”
Though he was awake, the nightmare remained clear and vivid.
He could still see the shiny arrow pierce through the air, bringing with it a bone-penetrating chill as it hit straight at his elder brother’s chest.
Outside, the horizon was still just a pale line.
There was a bitterness on his tongue, and he was no longer sleepy, so he simply grabbed the robe from beside the bed, hastily putting it on as he hurried out.
The front of Lang Ya Mountain was the gateway for welcoming visitors, whereas the rear of the mountain was where the heart of their operation was, and nobody was permitted entry without an invitation.
Besides the old pavilion master’s residence, the Lang Ya library and the pharmacy, there was a man-made platform built halfway up the southern peak on which were set up row upon dense row of pigeon cots, where news flowed in from all over the land.
When Xiao Pingjing burst into the transcription pavilion, which was only a few tens of zhang away from the pigeon cots, the eastern sky was just turning light, and there was nobody around.
He felt his way familiarly through to Lin Jiu’s study, where he looked for the latest news from the north that hadn’t yet been filed away.
Then, sitting on the floor by the window sill, he browsed through it in the light of dawn.
When Lin Jiu finished his morning practice and stepped into his study, the floor was completely covered with sheets of paper.
“Why are you turning things upside down again?” Lin Jiu tread his way through the paper to his desk and sat down.
Although his words were reproachful, he looked unperturbed.
Xiao Pingjing, who had already exhausted all the files, looked up blankly for a while before asking, “Is there any news from the north today?”
“More news from the north? How about news from Bei Yan?”
Do you really not know what I’m asking about?”
Lin Jiu poured fresh water onto his ink stone and slowly ground it.
“Although this pavilion is part of the world, it is also apart from the world.
When the people of Lang Ya look at the world, it is like observing the water in a stream.
It flows constantly, but because it flows constantly, we don’t ask where it comes from, nor do we ask where it goes to.”
“I beg you, Jiu xiong, please don’t learn to be like the old pavilion master,” sighed Xiao Pingjing while holding his head in both hands, “If you don’t know, just say you don’t know, okay?”
Xiao Dao appeared by the door bearing a small tray in his hands, and was taken aback by all the paper littering the floor.
He tiptoed his way through them to the table and said, “This morning’s news from Ganning pigeon house.”
There were only two small cylinders in the middle of the try, both of which had were already opened, and the paper contained within them were loosely rolled up, obviously having been read.
Lin Jiu was a little surprised and asked, “Who has seen this beforehand?”
“Who else? The old pavilion master of course.”
Xiao Pingjing immediately rushed over, grabbed hold of him and asked, “Did the pavilion master say anything?”
Xiao Dao recalled for a moment, stood up straight, cleared his throat and putting on an old man’s voice, said, “Datong Prefecture….ah, people’s hearts are deep, sometimes they don’t trust themselves, sometimes they don’t trust others.
In the end, they still walk this path…..”
In the past, this would have amused Xiao Pingjing, but he was serious as he picked up the scrolls of paper and opened them.
Written on the half-finger-wide notes, there were only these few succinct lines of words: “River section at Datong Prefecture, three ships on left passage bearing military supplies, sunk in accident.”
He muttered to himself, his eyes moving erratically, his face slowly turning pale.
Suddenly, he leapt up, rummaged through the bookshelf along the eastern wall, and finding the scroll he was looking for, he spread it out on the floor.
It was a map of the northern prefectures.
“Left passage….” His rapid fingers first found the river course on the map, remained a moment before slowly sliding upwards and when they finally rested on the two characters, Ganzhou, his fingertips began to tremble.
Lin Jiu leaned over and followed with his eyes, and asked uncertainly, “Pingjing, what’s wrong?”
“Jiu xiong, I’ll have to trouble you to let the old pavilion master know that I’m going down the mountain immediately!” Uttering these words, Xiao Pingjing whirled around and left, not bothering to answer his question.
In less than the time it took to brew a cup of tea, the steward at the entrance to the mountain pass came to report that the second son of Chang Lin had already descended the mountain in a panic, bringing along with him only a sword and a small cloth bag.
Bewildered, Lin Jiu put away the papers on the floor.
He looked through them one by one, obviously unable to figure it out, then lowered his to look at the map in contemplation.
Understanding military movements has never been our forte, so it’s not something you would understand no matter how you try.” The door to the study pushed open from behind, and the old pavilion master strolled in, glancing also at the map spread out on the floor.
“Pingjing is the son of a general.
Although he has no military appointment, he has been on the battlefield several times and has displayed his innate talents.
He must have left in such a hurry because he is worried about the war situation in Ganzhou.”
“Ganzhou?” Lin Jiu frowned doubtfully.
“The war has already started, and the north is far away.
He just descended the mountain.
What can he do?”
“In the northern border, Xiao Tingsheng would have faster access to the news we have received here in Lang Ya Pavilion.
He learnt from a great master many years ago, and one could say that he has taken on some of that person’s manner.
If there is truly a crisis in Ganzhou, he would react faster than anyone else.
Now, the crux of the matter is…..” The old pavilion master’s deep, still eyes wavered for a while, and he didn’t go on.
Lin Jiu’s heart sank, and he immediately understood his unspoken meaning.
Now, the crux of the matter is whether or not the heir of Chang Lin can hold out till the end……
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