The ten miles of land stretching from Bai Kingdom’s Wu City to Nan Kingdom’s Jian City was originally desolate, uninhabited, but at present it was occupied by tens of thousands of Nan Kingdom’s soldiers. The bustling of noise resounded, the neighing of war-horses echoed.
The Nan Army’s Vanguard had launched an attack against Wu City back in early October. The two armies have collided in several battles since but no definitive victory has been attained. The only sure result was the dual destruction of Bai Kingdom’s Wu City and Nan Kingdom’s Jian City. With the arrival of General Touba Hong and his reinforcements, the Nan Army had the advantage in numbers, forcing the withdrawal of the Bai Army from Jian City. With their retreat, the Nan Army proceeded to advance towards Wu City.
Amid the sound of the war drums, soldiers clamored. Each army’s banners stood tall, quivering in the wind.
The Nan Army had surrounded Wu City on all three sides, vying to demolish the city in one fell swoop.
Bows and arrows drawn, spears set, swords unsheathed, the Bai Army was in position to defend within the walls of Wu City. This one battle was to determine their life or death. As long as they could hold out till tomorrow, reinforcements would arrive. Then, they would no longer have to fear the Nan Army.
Boom! Boom! The Nan Army marched towards the city walls in unison.
Whoosh! Whoosh! The Bai Army released their arrows upon their enemies.
One hundred feet……
The Nan Army continued to advance, inching closer and closer to the city walls of Wu City.
Seated atop his war-horse, Nan Army’s General Tuoba Hong narrowed his eyes, his piercing gaze fixed upon the enclosed city. His army had the city surrounded on all three sides. The moment he gave the order, this city would turn to ashes!
Atop the battered city walls of Wu City, the defending General Mo Shengyuan stood solemnly as he watched the Nan Army approach. Though it was currently winter, his forehead was beaded with sweat. His fists tightened in their grip, clutching a sword in his left hand and the commanding flag in his right. The moment the Nan Army launched their attack, with a wave of his hand, thousands of arrows would be released at once.
Tuoba Hong lifted his commanding flag.
In concert, Mo Shengyuan too, raised his commanding flag.
1"Carts rattle, horses neigh,
Conscripted men, all with a bow and arrow affixed by the waist
Fathers, mothers, wives, and children come to bid farewell.
Hard to discern is the Xianyang Bridge, veiled behind the clouds of dust and dirt
Pulling at one’s clothes, stomping as they cry along the way,
So loud are their wails, the noise reverberating towards the skies.
"Where are you marching towards," a passerby asks,
The men reply "We’ve been conscripted, it happens quite often these days.
Some deployed north to guard the Yellow River at the tender age of fifteen,
Some sent west to farm the army lands at the age forty,
Departed so young, the Village Chief had to tie their head cloths,
Returning with heads of white, still we garrisoned at the border
Where blood continues to flow, enough to form the sea,
Yet the emperor’s desire for territorial expansion yet to cease,
The old turns to bones with no one to dig their graves
New lost souls lament their misery as old ones continue their cries
Overcast are the skies, the rain falls, wails continue.
(t/n 1. This is a poem called ‘Ballad of an Army Procession" by Du Fu)
Precisely when the two armies were moments from clashing, a song full of melancholy suddenly issued, resonating across the desolate lands in front of Wu City.
Tuoba Hong and Mo Shengyuan momentarily paused, their commanding flags still in hand. Archers stopped pulling their bows; swordsmen placed their weapons down. Momentarily, everyone was lost in the wistful song. Thoughts of their parents, wives and children waiting at home arose and their hearts could not help but stir with a rising sorrow.
"Who’s there?" Tuoba Hong gathered his internal strength and questioned in a loud voice that reached not only the ears of the nearby Nan troops but even the Bai troops within Wu City could vaguely hear it.
"This humble one is Yu Wuyuan."
A voice as gentle as the wind, conspicuous as the clouds, sounded softly as if the person it belonged to was right in front of them.
Troops from both the Bai and Nan Army listened attentively, their curiosity piqued.
"Yu gongzi(Young Master)?!"
The soldiers were in an uproar. Was it really Yu gongzi? Everyone couldn’t help but stretch their necks to take a glimpse of the man hailed as the world’s number one gongzi, the man that cherished the common people, was he really here?
"Yu gongzi?" Tuoba Hong shouted.
"Where is Yu gongzi?" Mo Shengyuan also shouted.
"You can call me Wuyuan, I’m right here." With the fall of the gentle voice, a white figure floated down from the skies, standing in the middle of the two armies with robes fluttering softly in the fleeting wind.
Tuoba Hong rode towards the front of the army while Mo Shengyuan jumped down from above the city walls, surprisingly unconcerned that he may be met with an ambush by his enemy.
"Yu gongzi!" Sitting atop his horse, Touba Hong greeted with one palm folded over his fist.
"Yu gongzi!" Mo Shengyuan paid his greetings in the same manner.
"General Tuoba, General Mo," Yu Wuyuan returned the greeting with a slight bow. "Both Bai and Nan Kingdoms are under His Majesty the Emperor’s reign. As such, they should exist in harmony. Why then are you both fighting?"
"Yu gongzi, since both Bai and Nan belong to His Majesty, they should observe His Majesty’s rulings. His Majesty has issued a decree to the whole Eastern Realm, stating that whoever finds the Xuanzun Seal must return it to the Imperial Capital. However, the King of Bai had kept it for himself, isn’t that a direct opposition to the imperial decree? Hence, my King has sent me to attack Bai Kingdom in order to retrieve the Xuanzun Seal and return it to the Imperial Capital!" Tuoba Hong righteously responded.
"Yu gongzi, rumors have it that the Xuanzun Seal appeared in Bai Kingdom, however our King does not have it in his possession. How could he possibly return it to the Imperial Capital? This is clearly just an excuse for the King of Nan to wage war!" Mo Shengyuan exclaimed.
With no regards to which kingdom was in the right and which was in the wrong, Yu Wuyuan calmly smiled and loudly questioned, "Generals, soldiers of Bai and Nan Kingdom, I would like to ask, do you trust in me?"
"Yes!" the soldiers answered in unison before the two generals could reply.
"Bai Kingdom does not have the Xuanzun Seal, Huang Kingdom does." Yu Wuyuan’s words were like a stone falling from the sky, igniting endless stirring ripples.
"What? Huang Kingdom has the Xuanzun Seal?"
"Then hasn’t this battle been in vain?"
"Countless lives have been lost unjustly!"
Presently, not only Tuoba Hong and Mo Shengyuan were shocked, but even the tens of thousands of soldiers of Bai and Nan were surprised. Unexpectedly, the Xuanzun Seal they were fighting so hard for was not in Bai Kingdom at all.
"Generals, since the Xuanzun Seal is not with Bai nor Nan, let the fighting come to an end here. Why should we let ‘the cries reverberate to the skies, the blood form a sea’, let alone ‘no one to dig their graves!’ I’m sure the soldiers from Bai and Nan do not wish to continue with this battle any more." Yu Wuyuan’s gentle voice overwhelmed the tumultuous clamor to softly issue in ears of everyone present.
Momentarily, silence descended upon the desolate land. Save for the occasional neighing of horses, all was silent, as if there was not a single soul there.
"General Tuoba, if the King of Nan wishes to show his loyalty to His Majesty, please ask him to retrieve the Xuanzun Seal from Huang Kingdom," Yu Wuyuan stated as he fixed his gaze upon Touba Hong.
Under Yu Wuyuan’s steady gaze that seemingly could see through everything, Tuoba Hong was left with nothing to say. He himself knew that this war waged against Bai Kingdom was not for the retrieval of the Xuanzun Seal. The seal was merely an excuse to deceive the people. Now that the excuse had been unveiled, in addition to Yu Wuyuan’s meaningful words, he no longer had a rightful reason to continue attacking Bai Kingdom. Additionally, he couldn’t proclaim that he will attack Huang Kingdom to retrieve the seal either, merely because Huang Kingdom was not so easy to attack!
"I’ve said all that needed to be said. I shall bid my farewell then." Yu Wuyuan gently bowed, seemingly to the generals and all the soldiers and with a gentle sigh, he quickly took his leave.
The people watched as he departed as if they wanted him to stay but all had remained silent, watching the white back of his figure as he quickly disappeared with the wind.
"Oh! I’m so full! I haven’t had such a meal for such a long time!"
In front of a restaurant named Nine City, Bai Fengxi and Han Piao walked out, both rubbing their bellies.
"Older Sister, how many silver leaves do you have left? Is this our last good meal, will we have to wait till next month to have a decent meal again?" Han Piao asked, glancing at Fengxi’s pouch.
Fengxi let out a loud burp then waved her hand and said, "Don’t worry, Piao’er, I won a hundred silver leaves this time, enough for us to eat for 3 months."
"You won so many silver leaves at once?" Han Piao asked in disbelief. He then immediately grabbed Fengxi’s sleeve and dragged her back. "Since you can earn so much money from gambling, why don’t you win some more? If you gamble again, you’ll win enough money for us to eat at least a whole year or two!"
"Piao’er…" Fengxi called in a long voice.
"What?" Han Piao asked as he turned around.
"Foolish!" Fengxi knocked him hard on the head with her hand and said, "Didn’t your father tell you that people should be satisfied with what they got. Only those who are satisfied can be happy and those who are greedy will suffer great misfortune! Understood? You should learn to appreciate what you have!"
"Ouch!" Han Piao let go of Fengxi and rubbed his head that was throbbing in pain.