Chapter 30: Third World (2)
Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Eventually, Bai Duan’s mother still failed to resist the erosion of disease.
After they settled down, her son learned an excellent craft, and they were no longer forced by poverty. Mother Bai seemed to exhale a long breath of relief, and her body and bones suddenly collapsed. She stayed in bed for months and did not survive the bitter winter.
That year’s winter was unusually long and cold, with endless snow, traffic congestion and even the collapse of houses, making it more difficult for the poor people who were already suffering from hunger and cold to maintain their livelihoods, and countless old, women and children died of illness and froze to death.
The court did not take any measures to relieve the disaster. Officials from all over the country did not do anything, and even all kinds of taxes were not exempt. They responded to the phrase ‘Zhumen wine smells bad, and the road is too frozen to care about death.’
The so-called ‘government forces the people to rebel’ was becoming real. The people who lived under the oppression all year round finally couldn’t bear it, and one after another, they began to rise, attacking the wealthy and inhumane households and even the county government barns, looting the grain, vegetables, and charcoal. Even the officers and soldiers responsible for guarding were some of the fish in the muddy waters.
At this juncture, the news came that a group of soldiers also took the opportunity to launch a rebellion, which was quite different from an ordinary mob. They had a leader called Zhou Mo.
Although Zhou Mo was well-known, the court did not take him too seriously. Nowadays, Zhou Mo was just an ordinary villain. He had no food, grass, soldiers, or horses. Even though he was often depicted with three heads and six arms, and was familiar with military tactics and strategies, at this time, the dragon was trapped in the shallows, and even the uprising rebellion would not achieve much change.
The contempt of the court gave Zhou Mo a precious opportunity to strengthen himself. He soon captured a large number of towns and villages and took the opportunity to stand firm. People from all over the country responded and voluntarily put themselves under his leadership for him to drive.
These people had to resist because of their livelihood. Although they grabbed enough material to support themselves through the winter, after the spring of next year and the melting of ice and snow, the imperial court would surely be waiting for them to encircle and suppress them without any mercy.
At such a time when their future was not bright, the emergence of Zhou Mo undoubtedly gave them hope for survival. The only General who had the ability to lead them against the imperial army was the Pingbei general, who once tried to pull the tide and expel the Northern Hu people from the country.
To survive, this group of ordinary people did their best and quickly became a real army under the training of Zhou Mo. After all, Zhou Mo once relied on ordinary people who had just been captured for military service to drive away the fierce Northern Hu cavalry. He was very good at training these kinds of people.
Opening barns to sleep and occupying county halls to seize weapons, the soldiers and officers who guarded the city surrendered without much resistance wherever the troops went. On the one hand, the people were the will of the Empire. They were fed up with the corruption and neglect of the court and were unwilling to sacrifice themselves for them. On the other hand, they were terrified of Zhou Mo’s prestige and dared not fight against him.
By the beginning of spring, Zhou Mo had accumulated a considerable force, but by this time, the court was late to hear the news. They rushed to dispatch troops to counter the rebellion, but it repeated the situation of the Northern Hu people going south.
The army of the court collapsed in front of Zhou Mo, who had been prepared for a long time. The so-called ‘knowing one’s friends and knowing the other and never going to suffer a hundred battles,’ Zhou Mo understood the situation of the army of the court, but the court was ignorant of Zhou Mo’s strength, and the two sides reached a decision. This time, they did not find another ‘Zhou Mo,’ who was like a god of war, to solve their issues for them to escape this crisis.
Zhou Mo led the army to the fertile Central Plains, singing loudly and vigorously. Unlike the Northern Hu people, his army was strict in military discipline. Instead of violating the people’s wishes, he opened stores to give grain to the people, reaping the people’s hearts quickly, and even making people everywhere rejoice in their arrival.
And the county where Bai Duan lived only made a superficial resistance and then opened the city gate to welcome the arrival of Zhou Mo’s army.
Among the people who welcomed the general, Bai Duan once again saw Zhou Mo, but this time, he was armored, riding briskly on a jujube red colored horse.
Years of frontier battles and a bitter and cold career made him look much thinner, but more and more vigorous, to the point where no one dared to underestimate the strength hidden in his body. His face was scarred, but he was more determined by the wind and frost, his eyes were cold and decisive, and every move showed the military’s serene and dignified majesty.
It seemed that…he was a little better than a few years ago.
In silence, Bai Duan watched the hero who had rescued the people from the iron horse of the Northern Hu people, who was once again dressed to battle against the courts. His heart was filled with reverence, and, in the next second, he met Zhou Mo’s eyes again.
But this time, Bai Duan did not move away as he did last time. Instead, he faced the other’s gaze and showed a happy and longing smile.
Zhou Mo was a little stunned, and then the corners of his mouth rose slightly, instantly softening the rigid face and returning him a faint smile.
Soon, their eyes were blocked by the roaring cheering crowd. Zhou Mo moved his horse with the soldiers, and Bai Duan took back his eyes, but it was difficult to hide his good mood as he walked back to his shop with ease and joy.
This was the first time since the death of his mother that Bai Duan’s mood cleared up as if within this life and this dynasty, there was a new hope. Even though he quietly thought about whether to join the army under Zhou Mo, he finally gave up the illusion with great self-knowledge when he felt that his shoulder could not handle fights and that he could never pick up a sword.
Moreover, he did not like blood and killing. Even if he joined the army, he probably could not adapt to the cruelty of the battlefield. Bai Duan was ready to continue to be a safe civilian, but unexpectedly, the next day, his shop door was knocked on by several soldiers wearing leather.
Bai Duan had always been a small person who kept the peace. Seeing these blood-stained military masters over beating drum of his heart, he quickly asked them what they wanted. However, he was taken to the county government building by several soldiers without them saying anything. At present, Zhou Mo had taken over the place for his daily military affairs.
They told him that General Zhou wanted to see him, and Bai Duan was both excited and nervous along the way. Unfortunately, these several soldiers had very strict mouths. No matter how Bai Duan asked, they refused to reveal anything. They could only euphemistically comfort him, “It’s a good thing.”
Finally, Bai Duan trotted to the county hall, and a soldier, Liu Zhixian, had been waiting at the door for a long time. When he saw Bai Duan, his eyes lit up, and he hurried into the lobby.
Above the hall, Zhou Mo was sitting in the top position, talking with several deputy generals about the direction of the next march. Seeing Zhixian and Bai Duan come in, he lifted his hand in a pause gesture, “Sir Liu, this is the carpenter who you said was excellent in craftsmanship?”
“Yes!” Liu Zhixian nodded. “You might think he’s young and as white as a scholar, but his craftsmanship is not the same. Even if he’s put in Beijing, he’s definitely the rising wind!”
“This is good.” Zhou Mo nodded slightly. “This little brother’s name is…?”
“Gou!” Liu Zhixian answered eagerly, “Bai Gou!”
Zhou Mo was stunned for a moment, “Bai… Gou?” Suddenly, he turned his head aside and laughed so loudly that several deputy generals stared with astonishment.
(Remember, his name would literally be White Dog.)
“Gou…is this one’s nickname.” Bai Duan was red-faced and embarrassed by Zhou Mo’s laughter. “I also have another name; I am called Bai Duan…”
Liu Zhixian knew that it was indecent to shout childhood names in front of General Zhou. He blushed, opened his mouth dry, and laughed, “Oh, yes, it’s Bai Duan. We countrymen are accustomed to nicknames, so please don’t blame me, General…”
“No harm.” Zhou Mo managed to stop laughing and barely suppressed the rising corners of his mouth, but his eyes were still full of laughter. “Now we are not in the countryside. It’s not proper to call nicknames, and it’s better to call him ‘Bai Duan.’ But…” He raised his hand and hid his lips. “The name Gou is quite interesting and cute.”
Bai Duan was extremely embarrassed, deeply buried his head in his arms, and was unwilling to lift it. He wanted to find a hole to drill down into immediately and never come out to meet people again.
Seeing Bai Duan blushing and smoking, Zhou Mo coughed softly, no longer teasing him, but raised his hand to signal Liu Zhixian to leave. Soon, the door of the hall was closed, which made the atmosphere in the hall stiff and full of mystery. Bai Duan also woke up quickly, and the embarrassment in his mind turned into fear.
“Brother Bai need not be nervous. I invited you this time, hoping to get your help.” Zhou Mo slowed down his tone. “I heard that you are the most famous carpenter in Shili BaXiang, so I would like to invite you to build an instrument for me.”
Bai Duan was stunned and hesitated for a moment, “This one can only make farm furniture, military equipment… This one has never really touched it.”
“No contact is a matter, of course.” Zhou Mou smiled slightly, “But I heard that Brother Bai has profound skills, meticulous and delicate thinking, and has done a lot of fantastic things. A piece of your work is in Liu Zhi County, and I was deeply impressed after looking at it during a visit. I think that as long as little brother Bai is willing, you will certainly be able to help me.”
“Those are just little things, nothing to praise…” Bai Duan’s heartbeat like a drum, becoming more and more uneasy.
“Brother Bai doesn’t have to be modest. If it doesn’t work out, I can only say it’s fatal at the same time. I’ll never blame you.” Zhou Mo soothed softly, “Although the situation of our army is very good at present, it is still inexperienced and equipped much worse than the regular army of the imperial court, and still faces a dire threat. Soldiers trust me and give their lives to me, and I cherish every life of them and never want to see them sacrifice in vain. So I want to make a kind of deterrent and lethal attack equipment, and I already have a general idea. If I succeed, I will be able to save the lives of countless people!”
Zhou Mo’s words were not intense, but they were cumbersome and solid, which aroused great interest for Bai Duan. He remembered his father, who died on the battlefield, and he also could connect to Zhou Mo’s love for soldiers as a son. Although he was not sure whether he was capable of accomplishing this great event, he eventually abandoned his hesitation in the discourse of the strangers and was willing to let go.
With the promise from Bai Duan, Zhou Mo was overjoyed. He waved to Bai Duan and slowly opened a scroll. Several semi-finished sketches were painted on the silk cloth of the scroll. Bai Duan looked down carefully, and his eyebrows wrinkled unconsciously. He fell into deep thought.
“Do you have any way to improve this sketch?” Zhou Mo asked softly.
Bai Duan licked his lips and nodded slightly, “Here… This one does have some ideas…”
Although no similar device had ever been seen before, for some reason, Bai Duan could understand its structure at a glance, quickly stitching it into shape in his mind, and even discovering several fallacies.
It went a little unbelievably well.
Hearing the reply from Bai Duan, let alone Zhou Mo, even some of the Deputy generals who were on the sidelines could not help but show their excitement.
Zhou Mo was so excited that he grabbed Bai Duan’s hand and held the scroll empty. He pulled him to his side and hugged him forcefully. “I knew it! At first sight of Brother Bai, I knew you would understand what I meant. You must be my confidant!”
The embrace was short but warm, leaving Bai Duan at a loss. He greeted Zhou Mo’s friendly glance and listened to the soft call of ‘bosom friend’ coming from his heart. His heart suddenly moved, and a warm current emerged.
A scholar dies as a confidant, probably…it was that kind of feeling?