Gu Shixiong’s nose burned as he fell to his knees, tears streaking down his aged face when he saw Yuchi Yan sag onto a chest of silver.
“Your Majesty, please don’t compromise your health over trivialities. We are free now and stand once again in Great Yan territory. With this fortune now available to you, you can reclaim the throne and quickly rise again. This old subject firmly believes that there are many like me who will join you in restoring the nation.”
Yuchi Yan sniffled and rose to his feet emotionally. He helped the old man up with both hands.
“Beloved subject Lu, We are most touched by your loyalty. How sad it is that We have let you down. In order to avoid arousing Li Qitian’s suspicions, We weren’t able to bring Chang’er with us on this excursion, or the remainder of the Gu clan.”
Yuchi Yan hadn’t known a day of peace since Gu Shixiong had sought him out and the two of them plotted this secret get away.
Every day was a renewed struggle with his choices. What would happen to the subjects who had once sworn loyalty to him? What about Li Yanyan and Gu Chang, they who had remained by his side with utter devotion?
However, Gu Shixiong’s “those who accomplish great things in life refuse to trip over trifles” ultimately persuaded him into action.
Yuchi Yan was well aware that he was lacking in smarts. He didn’t even have the courage of his royal uncle, the Prince of Ning.
Every day in Great Zhou passed by in shame and humiliation. The moniker that Li Qitian bestowed onto him was an ever-present taunt. But the opportunity to restore Great Yan was right in front of him, one he wanted to take advantage of. No matter how spineless he may come across, he was still a man!
He could no longer concern himself with the fates of those left behind in Great Zhou, those chosen to give Li Qitian some peace of mind…
He wasn’t certain how long it’d take to fight his way to the Zhou capital after rebuilding his administration. Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to, for the entirety of his life?
Or perhaps he would be able to, but those left behind would’ve long paid the price for his sins. Li Qitian’s fury would ensure that he wouldn’t even be able to locate the tombstones of his loved ones.
Guilt wracked the once Great Yan emperor, but he saw no way out.
He refused to spend the rest of his life as a worthless wretch in Great Zhou. He had known the prestige and trappings that came with being an emperor, so how would he allow himself to grovel and eke out a living at the feet of another emperor like a dog?
“Beloved subject, We…”
“Your Majesty.” Gu Shixiong wiped away snot and tears with his sleeve. In a trembling voice, he intoned, “Your Majesty need not feel guilty. As long as we can assist in accomplishing your great work, what loss is it if this old bag of bones is sacrificed and crushed along the way?
“The lives of your subjects do not matter! Even if death was in the stars for us, we would hope for a glimpse of the restoration of Great Yan! Your Majesty has always been benevolent, magnanimous, and gracious to the people. But your kindness is what makes you suffer!”
The iteration hammered upon Yuchi Yan’s heart, imprinting both gratitude and distress.
He could say with a clear mind that he’d never hurt anyone. Perhaps the two greatest stains on his record was one, the abduction of Qin Yining to claim her as his own; and two, deserting Li Yanyan and Guchang in the capital of Great Zhou, leaving them to their own devices.
Why couldn’t good-hearted people of the world be rewarded in kind? Why had someone like him, devoted to calligraphy and landscapes, been born into a royal family?
How wonderful it would’ve been to be an ordinary gentleman married to a charming wife, two beautiful concubines by his side, spending his days on reading and art while accompanied by the fairer sex!
Alas, there was no place for “what-ifs” in the world. It was the cruelest conjecture one could voice.
Yuchi Yan took in a deep breath and forced out a smile. “We’ve taken it this far. For Us, there is no looking back. If we can pull off the restoration of Great Yan, We will make sure that historians record their deeds in great detail.”
“This old subject…”
“Hahahaha!” A loud rumble of hearty laughter interrupted what else Gu Shixiong was about to say.
Alarm and terror propelled head-turns to the source. A retinue of lamp-bearers following the uphill slope emerged out of the darkness. The man in lead was tall and brawny, an intimidating air wreathed about him. The lamp cast its light upwards, accentuating the plains and valleys of his handsome face, making the arrival of the group extraordinarily ominous.
“You, you! Pang Zhixi, You Meng, how did you…”
“Surprised?” Pang Xiao laughed sardonically and raked Yuchi Yan with a scornful look. “A man never treads on the body of his women, whether he finds great success or miserable failure in his undertakings! Can you call yourself a man, given that you lack any balls? Thank the stars my darling didn’t end up with you, or she’d also be left behind as collateral damage!”
Shaking all over, Yuchi Yan wavered unsteadily and stumbled backwards. A chest tripped his calf and he sprawled on top of it.
Hands trembling, Gu Shixiong accused the newcomers, “How dare you follow us!”
“What, are you permitted to run, but we aren’t allowed to follow?” Pang Xiao reached behind to wrap his wife in an embrace, rubbing her shoulder and upper arm briskly with his large hand. “Are you cold?”
“Just a tad.”
The woman’s voice was particularly soft and melodious amidst the throng of men. Yet to Yuchi Yan, it thundered forth as tolling bells, making his ears ring.
The most embarrassing moment of his life was being witnessed by Qin Yining!
What if she thought he was a traitorous sort who could abandon family? Will she be grateful that she didn’t choose me after all?
But… wasn’t the former exactly what he was doing?
Utterly defeated, Yuchi Yan hung his head, all words escaping him.
Pang Xiao looked sidelong at the commandery prince. The initial terror and shock in Yuchi Yan’s expression was now replaced by distraction and dejection. The thick bile of disgust rose in Pang Xiao’s throat.
Yuchi Yan had done something undeniably dishonorable, yet was still thick-skinned enough to put on a show of deep affection! Did he have no shame??
Pang Xiao turned on his heel and wrote a note by the dim lamp and faint sunlight. He released a messenger pigeon and summoned You Meng to come forth.
“Vice General You, this prince just sent a note about the discovery of the treasure. Now that’s been accomplished, we should make arrangements for delivery.”
“Your Highness doesn’t need to trouble yourself with that.” Smiling, You Meng proffered a piece of golden cloth and unfurled it gravely. “An edict from His Majesty!”
Everyone hurried to kneel for the decree.
You Meng read, “The Emperor, who governs with the Mandate of Heaven, decrees that You Meng is to be fully in charge of the excavation and delivery of the treasure. The Faithful Prince and Princess Consort of the First Rank are travel-worn. They are therefore ordered to remain on-site to rest. They shall not leave without permission, and shall wait until further notice. Proclaimed to all under the Heavens, so let it be known!”
Still on their knees, Pang Xiao and Qin Yining looked up at Yu Meng incredulously.
You Meng held the golden cloth in both hands and offered it to the prince with a smile. “Your Highness, you may accept the decree.”
Pang Xiao’s brows knitted together. “Impossible! His Majesty trusts this prince unconditionally!”
“Yet the decree is here in writing. Your Highness may take a look if you wish.”
Pang Xiao snatched the edict from the vice general and unrolled it for a personal look. The message on it was a harsh blow. He hung his head dejectedly after the review.
Gu Shixiong burst into abrupt, maniacal laughter. “The hound is boiled after the cunning hare is killed! It looks like His Majesty’s also suspicious of you, Faithful Prince of the First Rank! How does it feel now, huh? Does it feel good?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
YCY's pronouns sure changed quickly, didn't they? Man he annoys me so much now. He's such a wishy-washy fellow who flounders in daydreams and self-victimization. He really is a far cry to who he was before.