Chapter 90 Remembrance: The Way of the General
Now Li Hengba knew that it was all a show put up by Situ and the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince was aware of the fact that he was the target of an assassination, but openly let his guard down to give the assassin a chance to strike. He then faked his own death to uncover the mastermind behind the plot, and to identify the supporters that were truly loyal to him. Not only did he manage to get rid of the Fourth Prince who’d threatened to be a huge obstacle between the throne and him, but he’d also effectively snuffed out the ambitions of the other princes. Of course, his results were mainly due to Situ’s involvement in the plot, a clear signal that he has been chosen by Situ as a partner in a relationship against the other forces in the North.
What exactly did he do to deserve Situ’s support?
Meanwhile, Li Hengba had already lost to the Crown Prince and Situ the moment he’d joined forces with the Four Prince. They’d made endless preparations, from faking the tattoo on the body of the attendant to the actual poisoning of the Crown Prince himself. But it all went to naught the moment Situ stepped in. Li Hengba was filled with hatred. Why did he choose the Crown Prince of the Xianbei instead of me? He’d even helped my First Brother to work against me just to secure the throne for the Crown Prince! Am I that incomparable to the two of them? No matter. One day, I’ll show him my worth, and I’ll rule the North with or without his help. Everyone in my way will be destroyed and sent to the depths of hell.
Let’s start with my foolish First Brother, then. Li Hengba smiled.
Of course, Situ could not possibly know what was going on in Li Hengba’s head. In any case, he was more preoccupied with what was going on in Feng Luodi’s head. The journey back to Yunzhong Pass had been smooth and mundane, the two of them spending their time together as they usually did. However, Situ could clearly feel the increasing chasm between the two of them. The lady whose walls he had taken so long to knock down, had closed her heart to him again.
When they reached the camp, Feng Luodi quickly disappeared into her tent. Music floated out quickly from the tent, but the usual soothing music made him restless and uneasy. Uneasy, huh? How is it possible that the word “uneasy” can be used to describe me?
He shook his head, trying to clear it of the jumbled thoughts. Striding into the meeting hall, he quickly started working on the reports stacked up high on his desk.
“General! The boy you’d brought back with you is such a wild thing! Just look at my arm!” Zhang Xin stomped into the meeting hall, rolling his sleeves up on his right arm, revealing a series of red welts left my fingernails. “What’s his name? He’s as feral as a wolf when provoked!”
The boy in question was one who’d barged into Situ’s courtyard back in the Crown Prince’s residence. When he’d heard that Situ was leaving to return to Yunzhong Pass, he’d fought his way to the entourage, asking to be taken along.
“You’re the strongest person of the North! I’ll only follow the strongest!”
The Crown Prince had shrugged helplessly, knowing that there was nothing he could do about the situation. The boy followed the entourage back to Yunzhong Pass, taken care by the officer throughout the journey.
Situ thought for a moment. “He’s…Zuo Lang*.”
“Are you kidding me? He’s really a ‘wolf’?” Zhang Xin chuckled. “Let me check him out again. If we could raise him well, he’ll definitely prove to be a lethal force on the battlefield.”
Situ picked the reports again, but was unable to quell his unease.
Feng Luodi’s gaze landed on Remembrance, sitting on a low tea table in the corner of her tent. She walked over unconsciously, running her fingers across the strings. She stood there for a long while before she reached over and placed Remembrance on the table, setting her hands to the strings. Music flowed from the Guqin.
The blood-soaked kingdom that is mine
Pales in comparison to the red mark on your brow
The rains and mists of Jiangnan are the best of the world
If I knew the pain that was to come with it
I would have let you disappeared amongst the crowd
Even when I dream of you
You feel so far away from me.
The events of the past few months flashed before her eyes, and she realised with a start the effect Situ had on her, unable to forget any moment spent with him. Her hands stopped and she pressed them against the strings. Slowly, painfully, she began to laugh.
So I am the one who can’t let go, huh? How I wish that it will all go away when I wake up from a good night’s sleep.
A cry broke her train of thoughts.
“Stop running, Zuo Lang! How can a man be scared of a bath?” Zhang Xin’s rough voice echoed through the camp. The flurry of footsteps got louder.
Is someone in the tent? Feng Luodi stood up and lifted the entrance of her tent. The orphan that Situ had brought back to Yunzhong Pass, Zuo Lang, was dashing about the tent. Mild panic could be seen in his emotionless eyes.
“You…” Before Feng Luodi could make heads of the situation, Zhang Xin threw aside the flap of Situ’s tent and stomped inside.
“Oh! I didn’t know that you were here, Miss Feng.”
Feng Luodi nodded in greeting and shot a glance at Zuo Lang. She turned back to Zhang Xin. “What is happening, General Zhang? Why are you chasing a young boy around?”
Zhang Xin pointed a finger at Zuo Lang. “I’d wanted him to take a bath and have a change of clothes before I bring him to the training field. How was I to know that he’d have such a huge reaction? This fella’ here bolted faster than a rabbit as soon as he saw the bucket of water!” He reached to grab Zuo Lang by the corner, but the skittish boy leaped sideways and hid behind Feng Luodi.
Feng Luodi’s voice was gentle. “General Zhang, will you treat your future child in such a manner?”
“Huh?” Zhang Xin scratched his head, confused. He smiled. “Just speak your mind, Miss Feng. I am an uncouth man, and I don’t understand all these things you and Shifei talk about all the time.”
Feng Luodi bent down to eye level with Zuo Lang. “Why are you refusing to bathe? Was the water too hot or too cold? Are you afraid of water? Or do you not like it when others touch you?”
Zuo Lang avoided her gaze. “I don’t like when people are around me when I bathe.”
“Damn son! You should’ve just said so earlier! Let’s go now; you can shower on your own.” Zhang Xin took a step towards the boy but was quickly stopped by Feng Luodi.
She continued to look into his eyes. “Is there any other reason?”
Zuo Lang hesitated for a moment. “I don’t want to listen to him.”
Zhang Xin had a look of utter disbelief, his eyes as big as saucers.
Feng Luodi continued. “You don’t have to listen to anyone.”
Zuo Lang’s eyes lit up. “Then I don’t want to bathe…”
Feng Luodi cut him off. “I haven’t finished my sentence.” She paused for a second. “You don’t have to listen to anyone, but that will depend on the situation. Why don’t we play a game? If you win, you don’t have to listen to anyone, and you wouldn’t have to bathe. But if you lose, you’ll have to bathe, but you still do not have to listen to anyone. Do you get what I mean? Nobody is forcing you to do anything because you got a say in the matter. The final result lies in your hands.”
Zuo Lang did not understand a single word of what she said, but he heard the key phrase: you don’t have to listen to anyone. He nodded reflexively.
“Come over here.” Feng Luodi walked to the table in Situ’s tent, inverting two teacups and laying them on the table. She took an ornamental bead and placed under one of the inverted cups. She looked at Zuo Lang.
“I’ll swap the positions of these two cups quickly. If you can tell me where the bead is when I end, you win. Are you up for it?”
Zuo Lang nodded, his eyes focused on Feng Luodi’s hands. Feng Luodi’s fingers were dexterous and nimble, a result of her endless practices with the zither. Her movements were deft and swift, her fingers a blur to the two men who watcher from the side. Finally, she stopped and looked at Zuo Lang.
“Which is it?”
Zuo Lang hesitated for a second, pointing at the cup in Feng Luodi’s left hand.
Feng Luodi smiled and lifted it up, revealing the empty table top. She lifted the cup in her right hand to reveal the ornamental bead, still spinning from the fast movements.
“What do you say?” Feng Luodi asked Zuo Lang, seeing the disappointment in his eyes.
“I lost the bet. I’ll bathe.” His eyes met hers briefly, but quickly dodged away again when he saw the laughter in her eyes.
“Stay close to General Zhang, and learn whatever you can from him. You’ll learn to ride a horse, to shoot a bow, and the art of war.” She raised the ornamental bead. “By then, you’ll realize that this is nothing in comparison.”
“Why can’t I learn from Situ?” Zuo Lang raised his head defiantly.
“It’s General Situ to you.” Zhang Xin raised his arm high as if to slap the boy, but it landed softly on his head. “Why do you need Situ when you have me as your mentor?”
Zuo Lang did not dodge his hand this time. He pouted his lips. “Situ is stronger than you.”
“What a kid.” Zhang Xin chuckled. “You have no idea what you’re asking for, do you?”
Feng Luodi smiled. “You’ll have to get through the training of General Zhang before you can get to Situ. Or do you think that you can’t make it through General Zhang’s training?”
“Of course I can!” Zuo Lang turned to head out of the tent. “I’ll bathe right now.”
Zhang Xin looked at the young boy’s retreating figure in relief. He turned to face Feng Luodi. “You have a way with kids, Miss Feng.”
Feng Luodi smiled, but did not reply.