Chapter 141 - The General

Who would have thought that Old Zhao, who had moved to Dongshan Village over thirty years ago, was actually a brilliant and famous general from the previous dynasty, Zhao Zimo [1]. General Zhao was a brave and outstanding strategist and even defeated 80,000 troops from the emperor emeritus’s army at Dingbanpo. The emperor emeritus even sorrowfully sighed, ‘If Zhou Yu were to be born, why must Zhuge Liang exist as well?’ [2]; he simultaneously admired and despised General Zhao. Admired him for his martial talents, yet hated him for his loyalty to the previous dynasty.   Unfortunately, the previous dynasty’s emperor didn’t cherish him and believed the slander of jealous people. He placed General Zhao Zimo and his arch-enemy, Liu Ming, together in command. During the next fight, in order to eliminate Zhao Zimo, Liu Ming deliberately procrastinated and delayed by preventing reinforcements from arriving on time.

General Zhao had taken his barely thirteen year old son to that blood-soaked battlefield, and they had repeatedly repelled the volunteer army’s attacks. Without reinforcements, the battle that day was a fight to the death. The emperor emeritus, who at that time was only the head of the volunteer army, had a heart who liked talented people, so he sent people over and over again to persuade General Zhao to defect. However, all of his attempts had been rebuffed.

General Zhao struggled bitterly for a whole eight days, but the enemy’s strength was on an entirely different level. In the end, General Zhao was not a match for them. On that fight, almost all of General Zhao’s army had been completely defeated. Fang Zizhen had become seriously injured while trying to cover for his teacher’s and younger martial brother’s retreat, and they didn’t know if he had survived. In addition, almost all of Zhao Zimo’s loyal assistants had become casualties, and he himself had sustained serious injuries that left him unconscious. One of his remaining loyal servants had managed to drag him out of a pile of deceased soldiers and carry him to safety. General Zhao had just narrowly escaped death from that fateful battle. 

As for Liu Ming, he actually framed General Zhao for treason and accused him of betraying the country. The previous dynasty’s emperor was muddle headed and sent down a death sentence decree. Zhao Zimo, who had just managed to stabilize his own injuries, was helpless against this accusation. All he could do was take his only son with him on an arduous journey, evading the forces of the dynasty he had wholeheartedly tried to protect. Luckily, before long, the previous dynasty had been overthrown by the volunteer army. Only then was Zhao Zimo able to take his remaining loyal servants and his son to live in seclusion next to the West Mountains. That was where he and his family had stayed up until now. 

For several generations, the Zhao Family only had a single heir for the next generation. General Zhao Zimo had been married for several years without any children, so he had raised Fang Zizhen like his own son. Although on paper the two were master and disciple, in private they were truly like father and son. After the dust settled, General Zhao returned many times to that battlefield to find his disciple’s whereabouts, but had no news for a long period of time. When Fang Zichen covered the Zhaos’ retreat, he had been heavily injured and there were a lot of soldiers after them. Thus, it was likely that he had met his end.

At the end of every autumn, the villagers from Dongshan Village, if they had a mind to, could find Old Zhao at the foot of the West Mountain using a candle to burn some rough straw paper [3]. No one knew who he was paying respects to...  At first, when Zhao Han heard that this large man with a giant beard covering his face was the disciple that his grandfather always remembered, he felt extremely happy and excited in his heart. However, he recalled that his family was in an awkward situation. Even though he was young, his grandfather had never concealed anything from him.

To be perfectly clear, the Zhao Family was technically considered surviving supporters of the previous dynasty. Zhao Han’s grandfather had actually injured the current emperor emeritus in battle before. If their identities became exposed, then it was possible that they would all be destroyed. Consequently, Zhao Han did his best to hide his inner turmoil as he prepared to continue to sound out this man who called himself his martial uncle. 

“General! The prefectural magistrate is about to start opening the wine and begin the welcome dinner for you!” An energetic and experienced young man saluted to Fang Zizhen with his hands cupped into a fist.

General? Zhao Han frowned and somewhat retreated a step. The only people who could be called a general in these days were all officials of the Great Ming Dynasty. If the man in front of him was his martial uncle, how could he possibly become a general for the Great Ming Dynasty? At that time, Martial Uncle Fang had slaughtered many in the volunteer army!

Although the brawny man in front of him looked rough, he had a sensitive animal instinct. He could somehow tell that Zhao Han was hesitating and waved his hand at the other youth, “I just found a former acquaintance, so I will be unable to attend the reception. Please tell the prefectural magistrate that I will prepare a banquet for him some other day as an apology!”

After he dispatched the youth, Fang Zizhen spoke to Zhao Han, “Talking in this area is inconvenient. Where are you staying? I’ll accompany you there!”

“No need!” Zhao Han looked at the man cautiously and continued, “Sir, you have recognized the wrong person! I really don’t know a person named Fang Zizhen…”

“How could I possibly recognize the wrong person? Your face is about eighty percent similar to my master’s when he was young!! That being said, you also admitted that your surname is Zhao. I absolutely can’t be wrong!!” Fang Zizhen eagerly rebuffed.

Zhao Han replied guardedly, “Some things look the same, some people resemble others! This doesn’t really mean anything, right? ‘Zhao’ is a very common surname, so there are many people with this name. We are only some ordinary hunters, so how could you, esteemed sir, recognize us?”

Fang Zizhen noticed that ever since his subordinate came over, the youth in front of him, who had previously seemed emotional, had started to plead that he didn’t know him. He said, somewhat downcast, “Dearest Nephew, do you blame me for taking an official position in the Great Ming Dynasty? It’s a long story, let’s go find a place to slowly discuss what happened.”

“This commoner has nothing to discuss with you, sir! It’s getting late, this commoner will leave!” Zhao Han respectfully bowed and then called out to Xiaocao and her father to tell them to leave the night market.

Fang Zizhen didn’t attempt to stop him. Instead, he sadly followed from behind like a golden retriever who had been reprimanded by its master. It wasn’t easy to find news about his respected teacher, so he absolutely couldn’t let this go! He had already decided that when he found his esteemed master, if his master blamed him and even refused to recognize him, he would retire from his position and wait upon his master for the rest of his life.

Zhao Han had noticed the large man following them shamelessly. However, no matter what he said, the older guy wouldn’t listen and persisted on tailing them. He felt quite helpless inside but he didn’t want the man to know where they were dwelling. So he walked around the city in circles. 

After Zhao Bufan finished his own errands, he waited at the inn for a long time. When he didn’t see his son and Yu Family’s father and daughter come back, he went out to look for them out of worry. Coincidentally, he bumped into Zhao Han and the others walking around in circles.

“It’s so late right now and the shops have already closed. Why are you bringing Brother Yu and Xiaocao around right now? If you want to walk around a bit, don’t you still have all of tomorrow to do so?” Zhao Bufan discovered that his son wasn’t going in the direction of the inn, which was why he was asking his son with some reproach. 

“Xiao...Xiaofan?” He heard a voice that quavered from behind Zhao Han.

Zhao Han only felt a gust of wind go by him. The large and burly man bolted toward his father at an astonishing speed and gave his father a giant bear hug!

Zhao Bufan cautiously stood still when the figure that resembled a large black bear dashed over. However, when heard the voice that seemed both familiar yet strange, he set down his fists and endured that incredibly tight hug from the giant. 

“Martial Brother Zizhen? You really are Martial Brother Zizhen!!” Zhao Bufan couldn’t help but cry out in joyful astonishment.

When Fang Zizhen had sacrificed himself during that battle, the fourteen year old Zhao Bufan, who already had gained experienced on the battlefield, was right next to him. He saw firsthand how his martial brother, who was covered entirely in blood from head to toe, shielded his father and him from a group of almost twenty soldiers from the volunteer army. The sound of his martial brother’s hoarse voice shouting, “Run away——” had been deeply embedded in his heart. Even now, he could remember it as clear as day. If it wasn’t for his martial brother and their loyal servant Uncle Huang, he and his father would have long become two bodies in a grave!

Zhao Bufan’s fierce eyes held back tears as he tried his hardest to suppress his spiraling emotions. He slowly said, “Older Martial Brother, you’re still alive——that’s really too good!!”

“Xiaofan! Martial brother has finally found you!! Is Master still doing well? How have you and your family been living these years? I’ve looked for you all for over thirty years and never gave up! Fortunately, fortunately, you are all okay!!” Fang Zizhen hastily wiped tears of joy from his face. His mouth was spread open in a large grin, showing a set of spotlessly white teeth.

Zhao Bufan laughed, “Martial Brother Zizhen, if Father could see you now, he would already be scolding you for not concealing your emotions. Everything is showing right on your face.”

“Heh heh! I haven’t heard Master yell at me for over thirty years and I quite miss it! I only forgot my manners in front of you, that’s all. At court, everyone knows that I, Fang Zizhen, is a ‘stone-faced general’. In front of others, I never expose my feelings!”

Fang Zizhen had a simple and honest laugh that didn’t have even a hint of the ‘stone-faced general’ persona. His subordinates behind him gaped at the sight. Is this still their general ah? It wouldn’t be an imposter, right?

“General? Martial Brother has a position at court?” Zhao Bufan, unlike his son, was not full of suspicion. He had a good understanding of his martial brother’s personality. His martial brother absolutely would not allow them to receive any harm. Even if it had been thirty years since they last met, he was still confident in his assessment——his martial brother would not have changed!

Fang Zizhen’s expression looked somewhat unnatural, “That day, after Master and you left, I was taken prisoner shortly thereafter. At the time, the head of the volunteer army was the current emperor emeritus. Once he found out I was Master’s disciple, he didn’t punish me heavily as a prisoner and even treated my injuries. Not long after, the previous dynasty had been overthrown, and the emperor emeritus took the supreme throne.”

Fang Zizhen then paused for a second before he continued, “At first, I wasn’t planning on taking a position. However, the emperor emeritus said that only with a high position could I possibly have enough manpower to find the person I wanted to find. At the start of the new dynasty, I followed the emperor emeritus everywhere to suppress the rebellions and battle the enemies surrounding us. During those times, I looked for Master and you everywhere I went. Unfortunately, by the time the country was at peace, there was still no news about you guys. I resigned from all of my positions except the general position in order to have more time to find you guys all these years! The heavens do not let down those who persevere, I’ve finally found you at Jinwei Prefectural City!!”

As they talked, the whole group arrived at the inn they were staying at. Fang Zizhen saw that the place was simple and crude. He frowned slightly, “Younger Martial Brother, I have a small residence at the prefectural city, you should spend the night at my place. I have a lot of things that I need to talk to you about!”

Zhao Bufan knew that he felt that the conditions at the inn weren't good and smiled, “Let’s not bother you, we need to leave early in the morning the day after tomorrow…”

“Xiaofan, we haven’t seen each other for thirty years, so it’s not surprising you feel a little weird with me! However, at the time, Master was always campaigning all the time, so I basically raised you! How can you treat your martial brother like an outsider now?” Who would have thought that such a big, hulking man with a burly beard and sideburns could have such a sensitive heart.

Zhao Bufan didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry at this point, “Older Martial Brother, I’m not treating you like an outsider. I just feel like moving all of our stuff around in the middle of the night is quite a chore! After we finish our errands tomorrow, you can come with us and then leave with us the following day at the break of dawn. Come to Dongshan Village!”

“Dongshan Village? Master and you were at Dongshan Village for all of these years?” Fang Zizhen was very interested in how his master and martial brother had lived for all of those years.

Zhao Bufan nodded, “That’s right! We live on the west side of Dongshan Village at the foot of the mountain. The villagers are simple and honest. They live off the fruits of the sea and mountainous forests. With our skills, even in years of disaster, we won’t ever go hungry...that being said, at the time, the previous dynasty had a death sentence on us. If we were ever found, the West Mountain is also a very good hiding place!”


[1] His name was Zhao Zixiong in ch28, but the author changed it to Zhao Zimo.

[2] ‘If Zhou Yu were to be born, why must Zhuge Liang exist as well?’ - This quote is from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, said by Zhou Yu, one of talented generals in the story. The author of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms made Zhou Yu extremely jealous of his rival, Zhuge Liang, and had him say this on his deathbed, lamented that the other man was more talented than him. The true historical Zhou Yu likely didn't have such a rivalry with Zhuge Liang.

[3] Burning paper is a traditional Chinese-Taoist practice that sends money and materials goods to deceased relatives in the afterlife

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