His Highness Prince Lian
Feng Yu Heng looked at Ban Zou, a questioning look appearing in her eyes.
Ban Zou shook his head, expressing that he did not know, but after some more thought, he told her: “Presently, the ruler of Qian Zhou has many enemies seeking to take his position. He only has one sister in eldest princess Kang Yi. The other siblings were born from the same father but different mothers. Put plainly, they were formerly enemies. Every country and every dynasty, the competition between siblings is unavoidable. The situation in Qian Zhou continued for many years and had many fierce battles. The previous Emperor saw over ten sons and grandchildren die during these battles. Including the current emperor, there are no more than five of his sons remaining, and all of them have been conferred titles of lord.
Feng Yu Heng nodded, “If you say it like that, this Prince Lian is a member of Qian Zhou’s imperial family and one of the emperor’s brothers.”
While the two spoke, the girl standing on the carriage spoke once more, asking the bearded man: “You are executing people here and blocking the road rather than celebrating lord Duan Mu’s birthday. For what purpose?” Her words were very uncourteous, but the bearded man did not mind in the slightest.
He replied very respectfully: “These are all officials from Da Shun that tried to escape. Lord Duan Mu gave the order to have them all beheaded.”
“Beheaded?” The girl frowned, “You plan on beheading this many people?”
The bearded man nodded, saying: “That’s right. Lord Duan Mu said that people lacking in resolution would be better off killed than convinced.” While saying this, he looked at the surrounding officials and civilians, adding: “These people are the same. If they are of use, they will be kept alive. If not, they will be killed.”
The girl shook her head upon hearing this but could not say anything more. She frankly turned and returned inside the carriage. Not long later, she came back out but said to the bearded man: “His Highness Prince Lian said that tomorrow is new year’s eve, and the day after that will be new year’s day. Today is near the end of the year, and the time is not suited for killing. Moreover, his Highness does not like the sight of blood. That’s why you should disperse. Just find a place and lock these people up. When the new year has arrived and his Highness has returned to Qian Zhou, you can do whatever you want to do.”
The bearded man was a little hesitant upon hearing then immediately nodded. Even if he had said earlier that lord Duan Mu had ordered it, now that a prince of Qian Zhou had spoken, he did not even think before tossing lord Duan Mu’s orders to the back of his mind. If someone was less informed, they might think that he was a general from Qian Zhou.
But this was also good. At the very least, it would mean that there would not be anything too bloody happening. Everyone felt extremely fortunate. The people that had escaped death watched the executioner put aside the blade. Their nerves that had been stretched tight were immediately relaxed, and a majority of them fainted.
The bearded man ordered for them to be taken away. When the plaza was cleared out, he finally asked the servant: “I wonder if his Highness is satisfied?”
The servant nodded, “Just do as you wish. After all, this is a matter for you people in Da Shun. Qian Zhou will not care for it.”
The bearded man immediately said: “At this moment, the North has already devoted itself to Qian Zhou. We are now family. Da Shun would be the ones considered outsiders.”
The servant giggled, nodding and saying: “That’s right, these three northern provinces were originally part of our Qian Zhou’s territory before it was stolen away by Da Shun. But do not rush. It will belong to whoever it should belong to. Sooner or later, Qian Zhou will steal this piece of land back.”
Just as she said this, a slightly soft voice came from inside the carriage. It was neither masculine nor feminine, but it sounded very pleasant. That voice said: “Zi’er, do not speak nonsense. Since when have you had the right to make decisions in regards to Qian Zhou’s matters.”
The girl that had been acting arrogantly immediately turned to face the carriage then kneeled, saying: “Your Highness, please pardon this crime. It was this servant that misspoke.”
“Un.” The voice faintly said: “When we return to Qian Zhou, you will kneel on ice for three days.”
“Understood.” The servant accepted her punishment without the slightest complaint. After getting up, she said to the bearded man: “We are headed toward lord Duan Mu’s Winter Palace. Have them all get out of the way.”
The bearded man heard this and quickly arranged for a path to allow the carriage to pass through. The wolf horses slowly began to move once more, passing through the crowd of people.
Feng Yu Heng happened to have been arranged to be in the front row, and the carriage passed directly by her. She could immediately feel the ice-cold air that came from the carriage.
Who knew if it was some psychological effect, but she felt that when the carriage passed by her, it seemed to pause for a moment. It lasted for only a moment before returning to normal. She then heard a gentle voice faintly say: “The northern provinces are too hot. This sort of place being given to Da Shun is also fine. Why bother with taking it back?” A nearly unnoticeable sigh could then be heard.
It was just that there were no emotions in that sigh. Instead, it seemed to carry of a bit of a bantering tone. For him, the northern provinces were nothing more than toys that he did not need, and he did not care about them.”
The gong sounded once more, the sound moving the clouds. The feeling of shocking people’s hearts came once more, and everyone was frozen once again. It was as though they had become stone puppets.
This time, Feng Yu Heng and Ban Zou were prepared beforehand and were not confused by the sound of the gong, but the sound of the gong was still rather agitating.
She thought to herself that if just one gong could produce this sort of sound when struck, what sort of sound would occur when numerous gongs were struck? If this sort of sound appeared on the battlefield, would Da Shun’s soldiers be able to endure it?
While she was thinking, a few moments passed, and everyone was able to recover, a cold sweat appearing on their bodies. Some people began to discuss what sort of person Prince Lian was. There were other people that began to worry for the officials that had been taken away. They did not know when the next execution would be. Of course, what these people were more worried about was themselves. In a place like the northern provinces, life and death were nothing more than just a few thoughts to Duan Mu An Guo. This was too frightening.
The bearded man shouted with a delighted expression: “Did you see that. That is his Highness Prince Lian from Qian Zhou. Aside from the current emperor, his Highness Prince Lian is the most powerful prince. He does not just have command of an army, he also has control of six of Qian Zhou’s provinces. For his Highness Prince Lian to have come to the northern provinces this year, it truly is our good fortune!”
Everyone was shocked. These words had made it clear that he already viewed himself as someone from Qian Zhou, and the northern provinces already belonged to Qian Zhou. There was no longer any relation with Da Shun.
“Alright, you can all go back! His Highness Prince Lian is right. The end of the year is indeed not suitable for spilling blood. This general will report to lord Duan Mu. Thinking about it, my lord should also believe this. Disperse, disperse!”
After saying this, he waved his hand then chased after Prince Lian’s carriage with his subordinates. Feng Yu Heng followed the crowd and asked Ban Zou: “I know that the three northern provinces has plenty of people with roots in Qian Zhou, but what is the ratio? Are there any people that only have Da Shun’s blood flowing through their veins?”
Ban Zou furrowed his brow and thought for a while then shook his head, “It’s hard to say. It’s most likely that there are none. Of course, that is aside from the Duan Mu family. Apparently, when the ancestral emperor conquered the three provinces, he stationed a group of soldiers up here for long periods of time. Those soldiers also brought their families up and settled them in here. But the number of civilians outnumbered the number of soldiers. One or two generations might be fine, but by the third generation, they began to mingle with the people of Qian Zhou. Like this, even if the later generations had half of their roots in Da Shun, they began to become assimilated. The Duan Mu family is also the same. The third prince’s birth mother had half her roots from Qian Zhou and half from Da Shun, and she was a wife that Duan Mu An Guo brought in from Qian Zhou.”
Feng Yu Heng revealed a slightly helpless expression. In truth, if she truly investigated this matter to the root, it was Da Shun that had aggressed on the three provinces, which caused the people of Qian Zhou to be divided in two. Qian Zhou wanted to regain the hearts of the North. It was the same reasoning as wanting to recover lost territories in the modern world. Who was right and who was wrong, how could such a thing be easily commented on?
But Da Shun was not in the modern world. In the era when the world had not settled on its borders, society would be balanced between stability and aggression. This was a society that looked up to heroes. Peace was nothing more than an illusion. Conflict was the foundation on which peace was built.
Countless people walked along in the snow, struggling to return. A madam from Da Shun complained: “They actually built a Winter Palace. Are they afraid that people will not know of his ambitions?”
A man to her side covered her mouth and forcefully shouted: “If you don’t want to die, shut your mouth!”
That madam’s temper flared and immediately pushed the hand away, raising her voice a bit: “What are you afraid of? Didn’t that bearded guy already leave? Are you just not letting people speak? Given the current situation, who knows when the executioner’s blade will be resting on our necks. I said long ago for you to not come, but you didn’t listen. Now, things have gone well. With this having happened, you want to drag me and our daughter to accompany in your grave.”
The man could not refute anything, letting out a long sigh. Another official heard what they said and could not help but interject: “Fortunately, you brought along your daughter. If you brought along your son, wouldn’t your family line have been broken?”
Another person said: “So what if they were not brought along? With them being kept in Da Shun, they would also die sooner or later. Although we have been forced to stay here, we did come here of our own volition. Moreover, do you know what Duan Mu An Guo will announce? What he will say of us?”
In just a few words, everyone’s hearts were chilled.
Feng Yu Heng wanted to ask everyone what this so-called “Winter Palace” place was. At this time, they saw two citizens of Song Zhou standing in front of a steamed bun shop. One of them held a large box of pastries and handed it to the other person, saying: “Once the new year arrives, your family will be sending one into the palace. In the future, if they become favored, your family will also enjoy the benefits. Old friend Wang, when that time comes, don’t forget about us.”
“Hah! Well said!” The face of the person that received the gift was glowing red, as he replied: “Your family’s daughter will also reach that age in a few more years. When that time comes, we will both be blessed!”
Feng Yu Heng was puzzled, “Sent into the palace? Was the emperor still taking in concubines?”
Ban Zou snorted coldly, “Our emperor isn’t taking them in. It’s the one on this side.”
“This side?” She was puzzled, “Qian Zhou’s ruler? Why is he coming to Song Zhou to find concubines?”
Ban Zou shook his head, “What ruler of Qian Zhou. It’s that Duan Mu An Guo. The so-called Winter Palace is an imperial palace that he had built in Song Zhou. Apparently, he has become known as a king in that Winter Palace. All of the young girls that have reached 13 years of age will be sent into the Winter Palace for him to choose. Those that are not chosen will be let out to marry as they please.”
“What?” Feng Yu Heng was extremely shocked, “This is completely different from an emperor selecting an imperial concubine!” Duan Mu An Guo was actually arrogant to this degree?
Just as she was feeling shocked, a girl suddenly rushed out of a shop at the side of the road. While running, she loudly said: “I don’t want to enter the palace! Even if you beat me to death, I don’t want to go! I don’t know anything that you just said. Don’t look for me!”