ARC 3: Ancient Times; Stormy Imperial Court
Chapter 29: Third World (1)
Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
During the reign of Emperor Liang Yongshou, he was often worried about his subjects. Though he had far-reaching wisdom and abilities, it led to some turbulence under his rule, and the people were never still during their lives.
Bai Duan was just an ordinary farmer and lived in a remote village far from the capital. He grew up like an average farmer’s child, and the only difference was that he was smart from childhood. When other children were running around the mountains, using them as a playground, Bai Duan liked to lie outside the window of the private school. It was run by the only scholar who had ever taken the entrance examination and listen to him tell other older children about the Lotus Sutra and the Hundred Family Names.
Bai Duan’s family was poor, and his mother still went to work when she was pregnant. During that October, she accidentally damaged her body and could not do the usual things one would expect from a mother, which made her body extremely weak nowadays. The family’s burden of livelihood fell on the shoulders of Father Bai, and, from time to time, he went to the town to grab medicine to help Mother Bai, so there was no spare money to send Bai Duan to private school.
Fortunately, the scholar in the village was kind-hearted, intelligent, loved learning, and had a calm lifestyle, so he had no heart to drive Bai Duan away from the window. Instead, he would only open one eye and shut one eye and let Bai Duan listen. In the past few years, the boy had learned a lot.
Even the name ‘Bai Duan’ (White Silk) was acquired with the help of the scholar. On the one hand, his name gave form to how he looked with silky white skin, dark black hair, and better looking than even a girl. On the other hand, it was also used in the hope that he could have a prosperous life in the future though he came from a peasant family.
Of course, compared with his new name ‘Bai Duan,’ parents and villagers were more accustomed to calling him the nickname ‘Gou’ (dog). After all, his childhood name was good, and everyone had long been accustomed to it.
Growing up, Bai Duan had no snacks, not even a few mouthfuls of milk, making hi not as lively as other farm children. Bai Duan’s thin body was not healthy compared to children of the same age, although he had no diseases, and there were no disasters as he grew up, so the Bai Family was fortunate.
Before the age of seven, Bai Duan’s life could still be considered happy, even if they were poor, but he had his parents’ love, and he was also carefree. However, after the age of seven, everything changed dramatically.
Although the Emperor was fatuous, he lived in the palace far away, which had little impact on the poor village where Bai Duan was. However, the weakened power of the Empire often attracted foreign enemies. Once war broke out, the civilians were the first to suffer.
In the autumn of that year, Northern Hu attacked the nation, catching Emperor Liang by surprise.
Emperor Liang’s extravagant life and corrupt officials led to an empty treasury. Even the soldiers who guarded the front gates often had their military salaries withheld. With rusty weapons and moldy grain, the Liang garrison was demoralized and lacking in strength. It had no fighting power in front of the fat, strong, and aggressive Northern Hu people, and it collapsed as soon as it was defeated.
Frontier guards fled in a hurry. They urgently sought help from the capital city 800 miles away, while the Northern Hu people went south like bamboo, burning and looting without hesitation, instantly accumulating a large number of first-harvest grains, with even more vigor.
When the news reached the capital, Emperor Liang and his ministers were in a panic. They rushed to send troops to fight the invasion of the Northern Hu people. However, the Liang army, which had been slack for a long time and did not have enough supplies, was still losing ground.
Every battle with the Northern Hu people resulted in a substantial reduction of Liang Army personnel, with countless disabled and dead. To organize a sufficient number of troops, Emperor Liang promulgated conscription orders to all cities and towns.
All the young and robust laborers were forced to enlist in the army, and the area near the border, Bai Duan’s village, men were the focus of conscription. The whole town was crying and howling, but in no case could the vicious officers and soldiers be stopped.
Bai Duan’s father was recruited, and his tearful, weak wife and young son watched him get dragged to the battlefield where soldiers were bleeding and dying. Even the trained army could not compete with the fierce cavalry of the Northern Hu. What real use could farmers like Father Bai, who were rushed to the battlefield, do? It was nothing more than a slaughter of innocents, used to slow down the invasion of the Northern Hu.
Young and robust laborers were taken away, leaving only grieving old and young women and children in the village. This happened at a time when the autumn harvest was at its busiest, and labor was needed. But after this disaster, not to mention that most of the farmland in the village had been destroyed, even the remaining crops could not be collected in time.
If there were still strong young peasant women in the family, they could barely cope with it. Still, Mother Bai was weak, coupled with the sadness and despair of sending off her husband, she fell ill after several days of hard physical work, leaving the young Bai Duan to helplessly tend to the farmland.
Bai Duan, though young, already knew the world. He knew his father would never return and how ill his mother was. But he had to shoulder the burden of supporting his family. So overnight, a child grew up quickly and became the head of the family.
Bai Duan was so weak that he couldn’t manage the whole field by himself and barely finished the season’s grain harvest, leaving part of it as his own rations and sold the other for money for his mother’s medicine. After that, he simply left the whole field barren and went to the old carpenter to become his apprentice.
The old carpenter was dim-eyed, and basically could not do any fine work, so he had moved back to the village from the county town to create some lower quality furniture and farm tools for the villagers.
The old carpenter, who was barely able to hold his tools, originally did not want to accept Bai Duan, but he unexpectedly found that Bai Duan had a talent for carpentry. Without the advice of the old carpenter, he could imitate anything he had only seen once, but could also carve exquisitely delicate patterns as decorations.
After learning about Bai Duan’s talent, the old carpenter suddenly changed his mind and happily accepted him as his apprentice and taught him carpentry skills. Although he could not get much money from the old carpenter, he managed to eat, drink, and save a little to take it back to his mother. The days were finally smooth.
When Bai Duan was ten years old, he had learned the craftsmanship of the old carpenter thoroughly, going from green to blue. His tools and furniture were strong and durable, and the carved patterns were vivid and exquisite. They were taken to the town and sold to wealthy people, making life much better for the mother and son and the old carpenter.
Every time it became a hassle to take the finished articles into the town to sell. The old carpenter pondered this and wanted to go back to the county to open a wood workshop. But Mother Bai had been thinking of waiting for her husband to return, and she did not want to leave the village, and Bai Duan could not leave his mother, but could only delay the matter.
Until the Northern Hu people were eventually defeated.
Although the Northern Hu people were fierce, they had a shallow foundation and couldn’t endure the protracted war. The Liang Empire’s lands were rich in resources, and many people were so-called ‘all-footed insects are dead but not stiff.’ They withstood the invasion of the Northern Hu and did not lose their own country.
Of course, this arduous victory could not be achieved if it were not for a young general by the name of Zhou Mo.
This young general was originally a lieutenant general helping with border crossing. When the general fled in a hurry, the lieutenant general dared not dismiss the responsibility as the chief officer. Since the army had no leader, he resolutely stepped forward and led his troops to circle with the Northern Hu people, thus winning the opportunity for the Empire to deploy forces and other generals.
Subsequently, he fought bravely against the enemy in all battles of different sizes and commanded with outstanding military achievements, and his rank rose again. At the time when the title imperial general was available, Zhou Mo came to the fore and was appointed General of Northern Ping by the imperial commission. He led the army to expel the Northern Hu and recovered a large area of lost land in the North.
After more than three years of bitter fighting, the war finally subsided, but most of the soldiers who were dragged into the battlefield, including Bai Duan’s father, never came back. Since there were so many dead in the war, the courts could not pay pensions, or maybe it was sent down, but was withheld by the bureaucrats halfway? General Zhou Mo knew of him, and he took out all these family salaries and pensions from his own pocket, and Bai Duan’s Family was one of them.
This money was not very much, but it was still life-saving money for the poor civilian families. When Mother Bai got the money, her vision suddenly turned dark, but she quickly regained consciousness and accepted the reality calmly. She had expected her husband’s death long ago, but now she abandoned that last hope.
Affirming that her husband would never come back, Mother Bai resolutely sold her fields at home, moved to the county town with the old carpenter, and set up shop with the money she had accumulated over the years with her pension.
With Bai Duan’s carpentry, the old carpenter expanded his business, while Mother Bai was responsible for the shop. The three people divided labor with tacit cooperation, and their days were gradually getting better. Bai Duan was only worried about his mother’s body, which seemed to be getting worse and weaker.
Soon, Bai Duan’s exquisite craftsmanship was recognized by all the people in the town, and gradually his fame spread, so he earned more and more money. Unfortunately, the prosperity was not long. The Empire could not easily beat back the Northern Hu, but it did stop for several years until they began to bombard the nation again. This time, the victim was General Pingbei, Zhou Mo, who was regarded as the God of protection by all the people.
After Zhou Mo expelled the Northern Hu people, he stayed in the northern town to guard the border. The Northern Hu people were significantly wounded by him and were afraid of his bravery, so they dared not revive their troops for several years. The courts and Emperor Liang gradually forgot the days when they were frightened by the Northern Hu people and couldn’t sleep at night, and once again, their minds were corrupted by comfort, pride, and extravagance.
Zhou Mo was exceedingly popular among the people and was even known as the patron saint of the Liang Empire. All over the country, he was praised for his achievements, while the North only knew Zhou Mo but did not know Emperor Liang.
This kind of meritorious situation always made Emperor Liang unhappy and even guarded against others, let alone the fact that military power was still the monarch’s taboo. Emperor Liang, who had been worried about the repetition of the Northern Hu people, had to keep silent. He could only secretly promote and cultivate his own trusted generals and divide the military power in Zhou Mo’s hands. When this discontent accumulated more and more, it would be worse than the last fuse, which would cause a world-shattering effect.
The fuse was quickly handed over to Emperor Liang, who accused Zhou Mo of colluding with the Northern Hu people in private, intending to rebel. This secret letter was, of course, a forgery, because the General of Pingbei, who was born out of nowhere, stubborn and upright, was not only tremendous mental trouble for Emperor Liang but also an obstacle to the eyes of all the officials in the central dynasty.
To solve the problem of military pay, he had fierce clashes with the ministers who controlled the court on several occasions. Since he could not be attracted by anything or reprimanded, a group of courtiers wanted to pull down the general and was deemed ‘ignorant of good and bad.’ They used Emperor Liang’s suspicion against Zhou Mo and forged secret letters, colluding with the Northern Hu people who wanted to get rid of him and then quickly directed this ‘good play’ of framing loyalty.
Emperor Liang was furious when he saw the secret letter. Whether he believed it or pushed the boat along the river, he finally decided to take this opportunity to solve the tiger sleeping soundly on the side of his bed.
Shortly afterward, Emperor Liang urgently recruited Zhou Mo to return to Beijing. While Zhou was unfamiliar and frank, he had been persuaded by his staff to be careful with the cooking of Emperor Liang’s dead rabbits and dogs (poison), he still obeyed, leaving for Beijing with a dedicated mind.
Then he was sent to prison by Emperor Liang for conspiring with the enemy and treason.
Emperor Liang thought that everything had been arranged properly. After Zhou Mo was to be secretly executed, the boat had almost sailed. In addition, the ‘criminal evidence’ of collaborating with the enemy and treason was confirmed. Even if the people were dissatisfied with the courtiers, they could not help it. Unexpectedly, the incident was leaked, as well as the whole story of a court official forging secret letters and framing loyalty.
Suddenly, there was an uproar among the people in the court. People petitioned for Zhou Mo’s grievances. Some people in the court were dissatisfied with this matter and frequently pressed Emperor Liang in disgust.
Seeing that his deeds were revealed, Emperor Liang could not wilfully execute Zhou Mo even if he was willing to do so. He had to continue to ‘thoroughly investigate” the matter. Finally, he disposed of an official who forged evidence and cleared Zhou Mo of the stain of treason.
Nevertheless, Emperor Liang had already exposed his fears to Zhou Mo and was no longer afraid to use him so as an opportunity to warn others to not rebel. Thus, Emperor Liang implied that the officials responsible for investigating the case had fabricated several unnecessary charges. Although the crime did not disappear, they took the opportunity to exile Zhou Mo to a bitter and cold place, intending to never have him step foot back in the Empire.
Compared with execution and ruining the family, exile was the greatest’ mercy’ from Emperor Liang, at least Zhou Mo’s people still survived. It was another matter whether they could be smoothly sent to their exiled land, and whatever ‘unexpected’ happened in the middle of the journey was not on the Emperor.
Zhou Mo’s prison cart traveled slowly and happened to pass the county where Bai Duan was located. Citizens of the city spontaneously took to the streets to see the wronged general off with tears, and Bai Duan was one of them. He remembered that his father had been a soldier under his command, and he was equally grateful for the pension that was sent to them.
Zhou Mo was a mess, but his expression was very calm, and there was no decadent and haggard color. He sat quietly in a wooden cage with a stiff backbone. He did not seem to worry about his unknown future at all. Instead, he appeared to be just taking a break, and soon he would stand up to fight again.
Bai Duan grew up listening to the young general’s stories when he was young and was very respectful to Zhou Mo after. Now, he really saw the hero, but he did not feel any disappointment. Instead, he thought that the hero he imagined should be like this. No matter what circumstances he encountered, he would always suffer from strong arrogance.
Perhaps Bai Duan’s eyes were too focused. In the prison car, Zhou Mo suddenly turned around and found him accurately in the crowd. Their eyes met.
At that moment, Bai Duan’s heart was beating wildly, and he quickly turned to avoid the other side’s seemingly straight to the soul’s eye, trying to smooth his own confusion. Subsequently, when Bai Duan raised his head again, the prison cart had crunched away, leaving only a vague figure in prison clothes, which made Bai Duan a bit chagrined and disappointed.
With an inexplicable sigh, Bai Duan, carrying the medicine for her mother, turned into his shop and began another day of ordinary work.