Before receiving Helian Zhuo’s letter, Wei Zhao had already learned of Wei Chongrong’s kidnapping from the urgent letter sent by Zhan Peng. Wei Zhao read the letter several times over and over again, his eyes getting colder and colder, as if he couldn’t believe the words he was seeing.
Huo Qingyang didn’t know what was written in the letter, but seeing Wei Zhao’s expression change, he understood that it wasn’t a good thing, and hurriedly said, “Your Highness, don’t worry, no matter what happens, we can discuss it slowly.” Wei Zhao’s face looked very wrong.
Everything was going smoothly so far since the war had started. Ji Xin and Lu Ming repeatedly roamed around and encircled the Tiele people from left and right, beating them down to their knees. Not only did they capture the Tiele’s sacred mountain, Mount Amanloi – they also pursued the Tiele north to the North Sea, completely defeating them.
After the battle, the Tiele tribe split into two, with Prince Shuxiya leading some of his people westwards to avoid the Great Yan. Tiele Khan Vaziri presented a letter of surrender to Wei Su, stating that Tiele was willing to submit to the Great Yan and that both sides would be friends for generations and would not invade each other.
Yujing, the Xuanshi Hall
Wei Su looked at the letter of surrender written by Vaziri himself, and said with emotion: “Vaziri is not Uyalatai after all, the one that would rather die at Ziheng’s hands than surrender to me.” Ziheng was Jun Lin’s courtesy name.
Jun Qing’s expression was blank as he said calmly: “Your Majesty means to accept this surrender?” Ever since the army had gone on the march, Wei Su loved to summon Jun Qing to the palace to talk and discuss the battle reports sent from the front, and often asked him to voice his opinion.
Wei Su sighed: “From the 9th year of the previous emperor’s reign, how many years have we fought with Tiele? Sixty-three years! When did the Tiele people seek peace? Never! Now, their Khan is calling me Uncle, it’s not easy!”
Jun Qing thought to himself, Vaziri is the son of Princess Xin’an, he is originally your nephew, so what should he call you if not Uncle?
Wei Su didn’t wait for Jun Qing to answer and continued: “I read the battle report sent back by Wang Changning. He and Hou Dingyuan chased them to the North Sea. Enough is enough… The north of the desert is bitterly cold, even if we defeat them, it is impossible to send troops to garrison. Since they are willing to surrender, that is the best, why shouldn’t I allow it? Whether the Tiele people can be contained in the future depends on Wang Qin in the end. As long as he can take the Sanhe Plain, the Great Yan’s northern border will be safe.”
The north of Youzhou was high and the south was low, so it was easy to defend and difficult to attack, and Wei Zhao’s army was definitely not advancing as fast as Ji Xin and Lu Ming, who were galloping across the grasslands. However, due to their absolute strength and Wei Zhao’s familiarity with Fuyu, they were able to fight with ease.
One hundred thousand men were a crushing force, and within a month Wei Zhao recovered the two counties of Hecheng and Baihe. Huo Qingyang also killed Tuoba Naigang, the most powerful Left General under Helian Zhuo. What remained was only the county of Silan, and it was only a matter of time before it was conquered.
Wei Zhao was so lost in thought that he didn’t hear what Huo Qingyang said. His fists were clenched tightly, but his face looked very pale.
All along, Helian Zhuo had no affection for Wei Chongrong. He forced Wei Zhao to give birth to this son and the most important purpose of that was to antagonise him. Helian Zhuo didn’t care much about Wei Chongrong himself, it was all the same for him whether he existed or not.
Huo Qingyang frowned and thought for a while. He couldn’t think of any major event that could make Wei Zhao anxious right now, so he said soothingly: “Your Highness, can you tell me what is written in the letter? Tell me, and we’ll find a way to solve it, okay?”
Wei Zhao didn’t say anything and handed the letter directly to Huo Qingyang. Huo Qingyang could see that Wei Zhao was trying to suppress his emotions, but his hands were still trembling slightly, obviously difficult to control.
Huo Qingyang lowered his head and hurriedly read the contents of the letter. This letter was sent by Zhan Peng, the governor of Baicheng. The letter only said one thing, that is, Wei Chongrong was taken away by the Fuyu people. Zhan Peng wrote that he failed to protect Wei Chongrong and pleaded guilty to Wang Qin.
“It’s my fault, it’s all my fault…” Wei Zhao murmured with his head hung low. He shouldn’t have brought Wei Chongrong to Baicheng to begin with. Even if there was a need for him after the war, he could have left him in Yujing first and sent someone to bring him over when the overall situation was settled, instead of bringing him all the way from Yujing to Baicheng as he had done. He had simply reminded Helian Zhuo that he brought him a target!
Huo Qingyang couldn’t be clearer about how important Wei Chongrong was to Wei Zhao. He thought for a while and said calmly: “Your Highness, don’t panic. Since the Fuyu people have taken the little prince captive, they must be willing to negotiate with you on conditions. They will not harm the little prince.”
Wei Zhao raised his head; the panic in his eyes lessened and he asked Huo Qingyang, “Qingyang, let’s talk about what kind of conditions the Fuyu people might offer?” He knew that Wei Chongrong was safe for the time being, but there was no way that Helian Zhuo’s conditions would be acceptable to him.
Huo Qingyang said without thinking: “If the Fuyu people are realistic enough, they should propose an immediate truce. If they are a bit more whimsical, they may ask us to withdraw from Youzhou altogether.”
On the previous occasions, Wei Su had used his troops against Fuyu with the aim of regaining Youzhou. However, his defeat six years ago had taught him that taking back Youzhou alone would not be enough. It would be impossible to defend, and if Tiele and Fuyu joined forces and attacked from both sides, it would be easy for them to retake Youzhou.
To the west of the Arslan Mountains were the Wusu Steppes, and further to the west was the vast desert. It was useless for the Great Yan people to occupy it and it was a pity to abandon it. The east was different. In addition to the Songhe Plain in Youzhou, there was also the Baihe Plain and the Alihe Plain further east. Wei Su wanted this land.
As long as it occupied the Sanhe Plain, the Great Yan could isolate Fuyu from Tiele. In this way, there would be no more worries about Youzhou.
Wei Zhao smiled bitterly, his smile more ugly than crying: “Qingyang, which condition do you think I can agree to?”
The long term peace of the northern frontier was at stake, and the amount of manpower and material resources that the Great Yan had invested in this war was second only to that of the great battle of the northern desert in the past. Not to mention the withdrawal of troops, even the truce was something Wei Zhao couldn’t agree to. It wouldn’t be acceptable to Wei Su, nor would it be acceptable to Wei Zhao himself.
“So the little prince?…” Huo Qingyang hesitated; was Wei Zhao going to give up Wei Chongrong? He didn’t believe it.
Wei Zhao bit his lower lip hard, not noticing that he was bleeding. After a long time, he pondered: “I will send someone to rescue Rong’er, and the plan to attack Silan County will not be changed. Pass the order down, tomorrow at chenshi(1) we will attack.”
Huo Qingyang hesitated for a moment, and tentatively said, “Your Highness… why don’t I go to save the little prince?” With Wei Zhao in command, it didn’t matter if he was there or not during the battle of Silan; rather, it might be more reassuring for him to go to Qingjia personally.
Wei Zhao waved his hand and said solemnly: “No, I have my own arrangements.” Silan was the last county in Youzhou. As long as it was conquered, it would be an unparalleled achievement. He couldn’t send Huo Qingyang, who had already made a great contribution, away at this moment.
Meanwhile, in the Fuyu Palace, Wei Chongrong was ready to fight one against three when he saw Tuoba Xianhan kick Dugu Zhezhe, who was about to punch him in the head. The speed of Tuoba Xianhan’s movements and the decisiveness of his actions were astonishing.
Dugu Zhezhe rolled on the ground, bounced up with his legs bent and roared at Tuoba Xianhan: “Xianhan, you are really crazy!” After saying that, he didn’t try to hit Wei Chongrong again and instead attacked Tuoba Xianhan.
Wei Chongrong was not only surprised that Tuoba Xianhan would really help him, but also marvelled at his and Dugu Zhezhe’s skills. During the time he hadn’t seen them, these two worked hard, and with his current strength, he wouldn’t be able to take either of them down.
In terms of his skills alone, Tuoba Xianhan was above Dugu Zhezhe, but he was injured and it reduced part of his combat effectiveness, so the two of them were evenly matched.
Wei Chongrong felt that Tuoba Xianhan had conceded to him before, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to last that long. At this moment Pei Di, who was unwilling to be left out, rushed up and tried to finish him off personally.
But Pei Di’s martial arts, not to mention the two who were having a lively fight right now, fell short even compared to Wei Chongrong’s. Therefore, before Tuoba Xianhan could take care of Dugu Zhezhe, Wei Chongrong beat Pei Di to the ground, just like six years ago.
Wei Chongrong hit Pei Di not elsewhere, but specifically in the face. Who made the eyebrows of the two of them look a bit similar? They both picked up this feature from Helian Zhuo, and Wei Zhao disliked Wei Chongrong’s eyebrows the most.
Seeing that Wei Chongrong had beaten Pei Di so badly that if the Great Yan-zhi was there, she might not recognise her own son, Tuoba Xianhan casually said: “Your Second Highness, it’s almost time. We have other things to do.”
Wei Chongrong, who sat on Pei Di, looked up at Tuoba Xianhan and said in confusion: “What are we going to do?”
Tuoba Xianhan walked over, pointed at Pei Di and then pointed at Wei Chongrong: “Take off his clothes and put them on.”
“Why?” It was not that Wei Chongrong didn’t understand what Tuoba Xianhan meant, but he didn’t understand why he did this.
Tuoba Xianhan dragged Dugu Zhezhe, who was beaten unconscious by him, into the bedroom, stuffed him under the bed and said coldly: “Just do it, don’t bother with why.” After speaking, he reached out to take Pei Di’s clothes.
Wei Chongrong gave Pei Di another punch, stood up and began to undress. No matter what Tuoba Xianhan’s purpose was, he couldn’t escape now and he couldn’t sit around and wait for death. Let’s first do as Tuoba Xianhan said, the worst result would be to be caught again.
Wei Chongrong and Pei Di were brothers in the end. They were similar in height; Wei Chongrong was slightly thinner, but the difference was not big, and their eyebrows and eyes were the same. When Wei Chongrong changed into Pei Di’s clothes, they really looked alike from a distance.
Tuoba Xianhan carried Pei Di to the bed, covered him with a quilt, and then looked at Wei Chongrong’s face, frowning subconsciously. Just when Wei Chongrong wondered what was going on, Tuoba Xianhan slapped him twice, causing his eyes to glaze over and both cheeks to swell up.
“What are you doing?” Wei Chongrong was so angry that he almost pounced on him. He had lived two lifetimes and had never been slapped in the face.
Tuoba Xianhan raised his eyebrows and said, “You’ll look more alike this way. You can also raise your collar. The guards will think you are embarrassed by the injury on your face and won’t take a closer look.”
Puzzled, Wei Chongrong said after a long time: “Others won’t take a closer look, but what about the Great Yan-zhi?” She was Pei Di’s mother.
Tuoba Xianhan gave him a sidelong glance and said slowly, “Who said we were going to see the Great Yan-zhi? Wouldn’t it be better to go directly out of the palace?”
Wei Chongrong, however, refused to leave and asked, “What is your purpose?” Protecting him from being harmed by Pei Di could be understood as Helian Zhuo’s order, but if Tuoba Xianhan wanted to take him out of the palace, this really couldn’t be explained, especially since Tuoba Naigang was killed by Wei Zhao’s people a few days ago.
Tuoba Xianhan thought for a while and said in a low voice: “We don’t think that Wang Qin will agree to the conditions proposed by His Majesty. If His Majesty hurts you in a fit of anger, it will bring disaster to Fuyu. You have to leave if you want to, and you have to leave if you don’t want to.”
It dawned on Wei Chongrong that there were people within Fuyu who were opposed to Helian Zhuo. He didn’t hesitate any longer and followed Tuoba Xianhan out the door. Tuoba Xianhan didn’t care about his father being killed, so why should he dwell on it?
Just as Tuoba Xianhan had predicted, the guards outside thought that the First Prince wanted to teach the Second Prince a lesson but was taught a lesson by him instead. So when Wei Chongrong came out in silence, not to mention looking closely, no one looked at him at all, and the two walked smoothly to an isolated palace wall.
Tuoba Xianhan leapt up the wall and asked Wei Chongrong if he needed any help. Wei Chongrong shook his head and climbed up by himself. Although his posture wasn’t as handsome as Tuoba Xianhan’s and he almost stuck in the middle, at least he did it in the end.
After leaving the palace, Tuoba Xianhan took Wei Chongrong around many corners and finally brought him to an alley where no one passed by. Even though Wei Chongrong had a good sense of direction, he couldn’t figure out where he was.
There was a horse hidden in the alley. Tuoba Xianhan told Wei Chongrong to get on the horse and go north, then turn right and someone would meet him.
Wei Chongrong wasn’t familiar with Qingjia, so he could only follow the instructions. He got on the horse. Seeing that Tuoba Xianhan didn’t mean to go with him, he couldn’t help but ask, “Won’t you go with me?” He became more and more curious about Tuoba Xianhan’s purpose.
“If we are all gone, the people in the palace will know soon. I have to go back to clean up the aftermath.” The only reason they had managed to get out of the palace was because of Helian Zhuo’s trust in Tuoba Xianhan. There was only one chance like this, and there would be no more if they missed it.
Wei Chongrong hesitated: “You can’t hide it for long even if you go back, right?” Pei Di was the First Prince. He was alive and they couldn’t seal his mouth, but if he died, the Great Yan-zhi would be looking for her son. Helian Zhuo would soon know the news of his escape.
“It can be delayed for a while, you go.” Before Tuoba Xianhan finished speaking, his expression suddenly stiffened.
Wei Chongrong stretched out his hand and pulled him on the horse behind himself: “It seems that you don’t need to go back.” After saying that, he sent the horse into a gallop.
After riding for half a shichen, it looked like the chasers didn’t follow. As soon as Wei Chongrong was about to breathe a sigh of relief, Tuoba Xianhan reached in front of him and stopped the horse, then pushed him off the horse and said in a low voice: “This place is not far from here. Go by yourself.”
Tuoba Xianhan slapped the horse and left, disappearing without a trace. Wei Chongrong shook his head and walked towards the place he was told to. He couldn’t get out of the city alone, so instead of being caught back by Helian Zhuo’s people, he might as well take a chance.
Go north and turn right…
Go north again and turn right again…
Wei Chongrong walked for half a shichen before he saw someone who, according to what Tuoba Xianhan said, was supposed to meet him.
It was a boy, about four or five years old, who was playing with a spinning top in front of the house. When he saw Wei Chongrong’s surprised face, he stopped playing and ran over to take him by the hand and bring him inside.
“Mom, I’ve brought my brother.” The boy proudly reported to his mother.
The woman sitting by the window embroidering turned around when she heard the words and said softly: “Luojia is very good, go to the backyard to play, Mom has something to tell your brother.” Luojia nodded and ran away with the spinning top, smiling at Wei Chongrong before leaving.
Luojia?! He couldn’t be the one he knew, could he?…
Wei Chongrong stared at Luojia’s cheerful back without blinking. It was not until his suspected younger brother completely disappeared from sight that Wei Chongrong turned his head and looked at the woman by the window.
“Yes, it’s you…” That person was really Farida. Wei Chongrong was dumbfounded and couldn’t speak for a long time.
Didn’t she manage to get rid of the Great Yan-zhi and make her son the Crown Prince in the previous life? Why was she living here with her son? Or was it that his and Wei Zhao’s escape had led to a different pattern in Helian Zhuo’s harem than in the previous life, and the Great Yan-zhi successfully fought back and banished Farida?…
- 7.00-9.00 a.m.