Ten Thousand Miles of Hardship for the Hearts of the Citizens
Feng Yu Heng did a quick count and estimated that there were no more than ten officials from Da Shun that had come to celebrate a birthday. Including their families, the majority could not be saved.
Someone crawled forward a few steps and said while wiping away tears: “This guilty official’s lowly name would sully your Highness and imperial daughter’s ears. It would be fine to not bring it up. This trip to the North was made with the hopes of currying favor with Duan Mu An Guo in an attempt to take another step forward in the official ranks; however, who knew that Duan Mu An Guo had such a strong ambition and actually submitted to Qian Zhou. That made my attempts to curry favor become a treasonous act. Despite all the twists and turns, it was my own mistake and it must be punished. I originally thought that this would be an inescapable end; however, I did not expect your Highness and imperial daughter to put forth so much effort to save us, actually managing to dig us up. The grace of being reborn will be difficult to repay in this life. I would like to spend the remainder of my life making amends for this crime. This guilty official wishes to remain in the North to help it develop a brighter future!”
With him speaking out first, the rest of the officials made their stances clear, stating that they wished to do something of merit for Da Shun.
Xuan Tian Ming nodded but did not answer the officials. He just faced the citizens of Song Zhou and loudly said: “This prince will make some impartial remarks. In truth, whether these provinces belong to Qian Zhou or Da Shun does not make too much of a difference to the average citizen. If it belonged to Qian Zhou, you would still be living here. If it belonged to Da Shun, you would still be unable to see his Majesty every day. The politics and division of territory was originally something managed by the court. As for the thing that is actually related to you is whether or not you can live well. Whoever can provide you with the best life is the one that should be your ruler.”
His words caused the citizens to think carefully. Everyone then fell silent and did not discuss it with anyone else. They focused their attention on Xuan Tian Ming while thinking about what he had just said.
As for Xuan Tian Ming, he had not finished speaking. He continued: “In the past 100 years, the greatest failure of Da Shun’s court was trusting the Duan Mu family to lead the North. This was especially true with Duan Mu An Guo. He tried to implant the idea of having your roots come from Qian Zhou in your minds. He wanted you to feel that Qian Zhou is better. He wanted you to feel that you needed to be with Qian Zhou. But in truth, your roots are here. This land did not move. You have lived here for generations, but is there any difference from before? Instead, it was Duan Mu An Guo that used the benefit of being exempt from taxes to leave you with no choice but to send your underaged daughters into the Winter Palace, allow them to die or suffer humiliation to survive. What you did not know, however, was that Da Shun has never collected taxes from the North for over 100 years!”
These words immediately caused a ripple in the crowd. The officials of Da Shun, including Zhao Tian Qi, began to help Xuan Tian Ming tell the citizens about Da Shun’s policies for the North. It was only now that the people of Song Zhou suddenly understand that they had all been scammed by Duan Mu An Guo. This scam had lasted for many generations.
Of the citizens, there was an old man that was the first to react. They just saw him move forward and kneel on the ground while shaking before loudly saying: “Would your Highness the ninth prince please give us justice. Would your Highness the ninth prince please give us a peaceful life!”
Building a country and keeping the peace, soldiers marched thousands of miles for the hearts of the citizens. At this moment, even Feng Yu Heng felt emotional.
She raised her head slightly but saw that Xuan Tian Ming’s gold mask covered up a look of pride, while a look of determination and brightness could be seen in his eyes. Through the wind and snow, it gave everyone a feeling of trust.
Xuan Tian Ming said: “Da Shun will not give up on any citizen. Regardless of whether they are wealthy or poor, happy or suffering, as long as they have Da Shun in their hearts, Da Shun will not allow anyone to fall into an abyss of suffering.” He stopped speaking here and looked around the crowd. In the end, his eyes stopped on the prefect of Guan Zhou, Zhao Tian Qi. He then raised his voice and loudly said: “Zhao Tian Qi, come forward and hear this decree!”
Zhao Tian Qi’s nerves were given a shock. He quickly ran forward then kneeled on the ground, “This official, Zhao Tian Qi, is present!”
Xuan Tian Ming said: “Zhao Tian Qi, this prince was given an imperial order to lead an army to the North toward Qian Zhou and has been given the right to determine the leader of this area. I have the power to appoint and dismiss any officials of the North. With Duan Mu An Guo defecting to the enemy, the North was unified from that day forward with him removed. He became a wanted criminal in the world, his properties confiscated and extended family punished. Starting today, this prince confers you the title of leader of the North. I hope that you can do your part to support the citizens and will not disappoint this prince. Once Qian Zhou has been pacified, this prince will return to the capital and will personally confer you your title and officially present it to you.”
Hot tears appeared in Zhao Tian Qi’s eyes, as he kowtowed deeply. Without worrying about his status, he began to cry.
It had been over ten years. He had watched the North develop a foul atmosphere under Duan Mu An Guo’s leadership. He had watched as the policies enacted for the North by Da Shun’s court fail to reflect the reality presented by Duan Mu An Guo. To the ambitious Zhao Tian Qi, needing to work in Guan Zhou for a while was a heavy blow.
After ten years, he did not just send one or two reports to the court; however, they were all intercepted by Duan Mu An Guo’s people. Eventually, he stopped sending them. Instead, he secretly kept a ledger for Duan Mu An Guo. He also kept track of every official from Da Shun that went to the North.
This day finally came for Zhao Tian Qi. He promised to Xuan Tian Ming and all of the citizens present: “The remainder of my, Zhao Tian Qi’s, life will be offered to the North.”
Xuan Tian Ming’s army remained in Song Zhou City for another five days before setting up camp in and out of the city. They helped the citizens whose houses had been damaged by the fighting. At the same time, they sent the treasures that had been dug up from the Winter Palace over to the new prefectural office. They were recorded by Zhao Tian Qi then distributed to the citizens.
Xuan Tian Ming and Feng Yu Heng used these few days to explore the underground palace built by Duan Mu An Guo using Qian Zhou’s money. At the same time, they repaired the city’s defenses.
The soldiers that had been kept in Guan Zhou arrived later on. On that day, Feng Yu Heng walked on the street and somehow ended up arriving in front of the former Fu residence. In the past, although the Fu residence could not be considered a particularly wealthy family, it did still have a proper entrance. The home was not large; however, it was a proper home.
Unfortunately, the front gate had been cut down and turned into firewood. Part of the wall in the yard had collapsed. There were clear signs of fire on the inside. Upon stepping foot into the yard, she saw that the main hall had been burned beyond recognition.
Wang Chuan followed along beside her and helplessly said: “The soldiers repairing homes have not reached this side yet. It’s something that will be done in the next few days.” She asked Feng Yu Heng: “Young miss, do you want to go in and take a look? That girl, Fu Ya, returned home earlier this morning. Huang Quan is with her.”
Feng Yu Heng was startled, “She went home?” There had been many things happening in the army over the past few days, and there were numerous people injured. She really did not have a chance to visit Fu Ya. Hearing that Fu Ya was inside, she quickly went in.
The damage to the Fu family home’s front yard was severe, but the inner rooms were still fine. When Feng Yu Heng walked in, she saw Huang Quan standing at a door to a small room. Seeing Feng Yu Heng arrive, she quickly ran over and quietly said: “It seems that there is a memorial hall inside. This servant heard Fu Ya crying inside.”
Feng Yu Heng faintly sighed and stepped forward. Knocking on the door, she said: “Fu Ya, may I come in?”
The inside fell silent for a moment. Following this, Fu Ya’s voice could be heard: “The door isn’t locked. Come in.”
Feng Yu Heng pushed the door open and was assailed by the smell of charcoal. Looking up, she saw that there were a few memorial tablets lined up.
She glanced at Fu Ya then gently stepped forward. Retrieving three sticks of incense from the incense holder, she held the three in her hand and bowed three times before sticking them in the incense burner. Only then did she turn around and say to Fu Ya: “I’m sorry. This situation was a result of my incomplete thinking and poor planning. That is what caused you and your family to be implicated. I don’t know how I should make it up to you. If you want, when I return to the capital with the army, I can bring you back with me. You will definitely receive good treatment.”
Fu Ya looked at the girl in front of her. She had heard long ago that this was Da Shun’s famed imperial daughter Ji An. Although the two had similar appearances, their statuses could not be more different.
The two sized each other up and were a little flustered. Even Feng Yu Heng questioned it once more. Could there really be two people that looked so similar in the world?
“Fu Ya.” She called out to her, “Consider my suggestion.”
Fu Ya smiled bitterly, “This can’t be blamed on you. This was a choice that our family made. Even without you, I would have entered the Illusory Hall all the same, and I most likely would have been chosen to enter the Winter Palace. Then with Duan Mu An Guo running away and the Winter Palace sinking, perhaps I would already be dead down there. How could I still be standing here to burn incense for my parents and ancestors. It would be likely that my parents would have sent the younger generation off. Based on my mother’s health, how could she endure such a blow. In the end, she would also have passed away. Speaking about it like this, I should be thanking you.”
Fu Ya was quite an optimistic person. She told Feng Yu Heng: “Imperial daughter, there is no need to feel conflicted. You are my family’s benefactor. If you really want to help me with something, just help me repair the residence and give me a bit of money. I wish to buy my parents a set of good coffins.”
Feng Yu Heng choked up and turned away. She only looked back at her after a long while. Reaching into her sleeve, she very quickly pulled out a small pouch from her space. “There are some silver ingots in here. Use these for now. I have some banknotes here, but because of Duan Mu An Guo’s governing, none of the banks here can communicate with the banks in the capital. Even if I gave it to you, you wouldn’t be able to use it. Use these for now. Go back to the prefectural office with Huang Quan later. I will give you some more.”
Fu Ya looked at the pouch in her hand and quickly shook her head: “No need for any more. This is enough.”
Feng Yu Heng gently patted the back of her hand, “Just treat it as letting me feel a little more at ease.” As she spoke, she pulled something out of her sleeve. Seeing Fu Ya’s confused expression, she pulled her over to some nearby chairs and sat down, “I saw that you and I were born with many similarities, and this has left me feeling rather close to you. Allow me to fulfill my desire to be an elder sister. I will help you do your nails.”
Fu Ya’s nails had been left untreated for many days and had become a little long. She wanted to pull her hands back in embarrassment; however, Feng Yu Heng held them tightly. In addition to this, Fu Ya was very curious about the tools for treating nails, thus she did not continue to struggle. She paid close attention to the nail treatment process.
When all ten fingers had been treated, she did not stop lamenting: “Is this something from the capital? It’s really good.”
Because of the surprise of the nail clippers, she did not notice Feng Yu Heng placing a portion of the fingernails into her sleeve.