TOMAS Chapter 73

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Chapter 73 Remembrance: Yunzhong Pass

Out of the two million troops of the Xuan Kingdom, a million of them are stationed in the North. Despite two hundred thousand of the Army of the North moving to station in Xiangyang because of the relatively peaceful two years at the Northern border, there were still two hundred thousand troops stationed at each of the Passes that separated the Xuan Kingdom from their neighbours. In the circumstance of a war breaking out, the troops from the Wuyuan, Yunzhong, Yanmen and Yuyang passes will retreat to gather at Yunzhong Pass – the vanguard of the kingdom in the North. And that, was where Feng Luodi and Situ were heading.

After spending the better part of a month on wheels, Feng Luodi could finally say goodbye to the weeks of travelling. As they entered the Pass, Feng Luodi lifted the veil on the window in the carriage and looked out. Surprisingly, the streets were bustling, full of locals and the families of the soldiers alike. Everyone who saw Situ’s approaching caravan stopped what they were doing and shouted out to them.

“General Situ is back!”

“General Situ is back!”

“General Situ looks more handsome now!”

The last sentence stood out from the wave of greetings, and the crowd burst out in laughter. Feng Luodi took a peek at Situ at the head of the caravan, his lips curving upwards in a gentle smile. So this is how the North he loves so much looks like! He does seem to command a lot of respect. The crowd made way for the caravan, and a group of soldiers appeared when they reached a gate.

“Your subordinate Zhang Xin welcomes General Situ back to Yunzhong Pass.” The officer at the head of the soldiers called out.

“Welcome back, General Situ!” The soldiers behind him knelt in unison.

Knowing that the rest of the journey to the camp will have to be made on horseback, Feng Luodi exited the carriage and saw Situ and Zhang Xin engaged in conversation. She knew Zhangxin as the General of the Left of the North Army, and he managed the day-to-day businesses of the army when Situ was not around. His features were square and proportionate, his eyebrows thick and bushy. He had a stocky built, and the little moustache he sported lent him a clever look. The man walked towards Feng Luodi.

Feng Luodi quickly bowed. “My greetings, General Zhang.”

“You’re too polite, Miss Feng.” Zhang Xin smiled. “I heard that you were going to be staying with us in the camp? If so, can I arrange for you to stay in the tent of General Situ? I’ve already made arrangements for a separate tent to be set up within his. That way, we can be sure that there will be no unfortunate incidents whereby the unknowing soldier offends you. Of course, you will be free to explore the area about the General’s tent.”

Feng Luodi’s eyes widened. Why do I smell something fishy? She glanced at Situ, and saw an unnatural teasing look in his eyes. Before she could think through it clearly, the words spilt out of her mouth.

“That is a thoughtful arrangement indeed. Thank you, General Zhang.” Well, we wouldn’t be sleeping in the same tent anyway…and I’m sure Situ will be busy most of the time! That way, I can enjoy the entire tent to myself! She tried to comfort herself, but her pulse quickened. Was I too rash? And…will something like this be considered immodest by this society? But the words were spoken, and she did not wish to mix too much with the soldiers.

They quickly neared the camp, and Zhang Xin led Feng Luodi to the tent to settle in while Situ inspected the soldiers.

“Miss Feng, this way please.” Zhang Xin led the way, winding in and out of the identical tents that immediately confused Feng Luodi. Before they reached the tent, the unified war cry of the two hundred thousand soldiers blasted through the air, and the stomp of their foot shook the earth.

Feng Luodi breathed out deeply. “I never knew that Situ commanded such respect around these parts.”

Zhang Xin laughed. “We call him the ‘Hero of the North’ around these parts.”

Feng Luodi smiled unconsciously, and the General continued.

“But this is the first time we’ve seen the General so close with a woman. We’ve all joked that he would be unwanted if he did not find himself a wife soon.”

Feng Luodi’s smile froze on her face. She stammered a little, and managed to squeeze out a reply. “Perhaps your General’s standards are too high for him to find a suitable woman easily.” Why am I talking about the marriage status of a man with another man?

“Perhaps, he just hasn’t found the right one for him just yet.” Zhang Xin stopped when he saw the awkward smile on Feng Luodi’s face. “There we are, this is the General’s tent, and your tent is inside there as well.”

Zhang Xin stopped by the entrance. “Head on in, Miss Feng. Do as you please inside. I will take my leave.”

“Thank you again for your help, General Zhang.” Feng Luodi nodded, and entered the tent.

“Wow, what a lavish tent!” Situ’s tent was bigger than the house of an average citizen, but the furnishings were minimal. There was a table, a bed, a chair, and a landscape painting that hung from the wall. A huge sand-model of the surrounding areas took up a sizable area, dotted with tiny flags of various colours. His tent is indeed big, but is actually very spartan. Just like how he is, I suppose.

She walked up to the tent set up at the side, and stepped in. It was spacious, filled with more furnishings than what Situ’s tent had contained. Other than the usual bed and table, there was a zither, some paintings, potted plants, and a few jade items. Feng Luodi was satisfied with her tent. This way, her privacy would be ensured as long as she stayed in the tent. She set her things down on the bed, and walked back into Situ’s tent, surprised to see him already seated in front of the table, rubbing his temples.

“Tired?” Feng Luodi approached him.

“I haven’t been back for too long, I guess.” Situ stood up. “Let’s head out and have a look around.

“Sounds like a great plan!” Feng Luodi perked up immediately, and the two of them walked out of the tent side by side. They met many soldiers about their duties as they slowly walked out of the camp. Each soldier stopped and saluted to Situ, while casting weird glances at Feng Luodi. Embarrassed by the attention, Feng Luodi kept her head down all the way to the gate of the camp, avoiding the looks as much as she could.

“Are you…embarrassed?” Situ laughed, and blew a sharp whistle. Whirlwind appeared out of nowhere, galloping happily towards them.

“No, I wasn’t!” Feng Luodi glared at him. Situ scooped her up and quickly placed her on the horse, quickly mounting his stallion right behind her, his hands on the reins.

“I saw it with both eyes.”

Feng Luodi squirmed in her seat, uncomfortable with the lack of space between the two of them. “I want to sit in the back!”

Situ reached out a hand and held her in place. “You wouldn’t be able to see anything if you were to sit behind me.” That quietened her down quickly.

The moment the two of them left the city gates, Feng Luodi felt the presence of the desert upon her in a second. A stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Yunzhong Pass, all her eyes could see was the yellow sand of the desert. It was winter, but the desert was dry and hot, the sands pelting her whenever a gust of wind blew across. The entire desert was empty and devoid of anything.

“So this is the beauty of the desert.” Feng Luodi looked up at Situ. “Does it ever snow here?”

“Sometimes,” Situ recalled from memory, “but it disappears very fast. It’s mostly just the blue sky, the yellow sands, and the white snow mingling together in the distance.”

“That must be beautiful.”

A gust of winded suddenly washed over them, and clouds of sand quickly enveloped them in the aftermath. The sands blocked their vision, and it raked across bare skin like knives. The world was silent save for the sound of the wind, the desert suddenly cold and unforgiving. The moment the first sand struck, Feng Luodi knew what she’d forgotten to bring: her scarf. Before she had a chance to lament her forgetfulness, she was wrapped tightly in the folds of a thick cape, her face pressed tightly to a warm chest. Now, she couldn’t even hear the sounds of the winds.

The cape was lifted shortly after, and Feng Luodi opened her eyes to see the desert back to its usual self. She looked up at Situ and smiled awkwardly. “I must have forgotten to bring my scarf in my eagerness to leave the tent.”

Situ raised an eyebrow, but suggested something else. “Why don’t we go to the top of the walls? The scenery is much more different from up there. We could come out and see the stars again when night falls.”

“Alright.” Feng Luodi nodded.

Before she could dismount, she felt Situ’s arm tighten around her, and a kick from Situ sent the both of flying weightlessly in the air. She only realised what Situ had done when she found herself on the top of the ramparts, and she looked up in sheer admiration at Situ.

“I can’t believe it! You know Qinggong?”1

Situ shook the sand off from his cape nonchalantly. “I am a warrior, you know.”

“Wow…you are amazing!” Feng Luodi stared at Situ, mouth agape. She used to think that Qinggong and all that were just fantasy ideas that could only be found in novels – but she had just experienced it for herself! What an amazing first day in the North! I can barely wait to see what the rest of the days will hold.

Situ turned away from her, unable to withstand Feng Luodi’s fiery gaze. He calmed himself down for a moment, and turned back to see Feng Luodi staring into the distance as she leaned against the ramparts. Dusk had fallen, and the dying rays of the red sun blended into the yellow sand, casting the desert into a burning orange. It was a sight to behold.

Situ walked up to Feng Luodi and stood beside her, taking in the scenery that he had seen so many times before. Somehow, it feels different today.

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  1. As those of you who’ve read Chinese wuxia novels before may know, Qinggong is like an ability of sorts that has been rumoured to be practised by the men of the Jianghu. A comparable skill…will be how ninjas are widely believed to be able to jump higher and run faster than anyone else through their training!