- The title is a phrase used in “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” General Lü Bu, having been captured and bound by Cao Cao, saw Liu Bei sitting beside Cao Cao atop the steps. He greedily hoped for Liu Bei to recall past fondness, and asked Liu Bei, “Sir is a guest of honor; Bu is a prisoner below the steps. Why not make a brief remark for leniency?”
- Historically, prisoners were kept underground so one would go down the steps to see a prisoner. “Prisoner below the steps” does not necessarily refer to a prisoner below any steps, as the phrase in the title became synonymous with something like “lowly prisoner.”)
Luo Qi and Long Xuan stood together. Sima Zhuxie, who had been locked up in an open space within the barracks on Long Xuan’s orders, was on the ground before them. This was already not Luo Qi’s first time seeing Sima Zhuxie’s half-mad half-foolish, blind state, but he still found it hard to bear. “Your Highness,” he said to Long Xuan, “the weather is so cold. You’ve only given him an unlined garment to wear. I’m really afraid that he’ll freeze to death.”
Long Xuan looked at Sima Zhuxie, who hugged his upper arms and was curled up in a ball, shivering. He said, “If I don’t freeze him, why would Mo Huan Sang come to save him?”
“Mo Huan Sang will definitely come?”
“He’s even entered Tian Shui’s fountainhead for him, how could he not come?” Long Xuan kicked a dirty steamed bun at his feet to the side of Sima Zhuxie’s hands. “What’s the use of this lunatic being alive?” He asked Luo Qi.
Luo Qi watched Sima Zhuxie take the muddied bun and stuff it into his mouth, wolfing it down. Luo Qi only took a glance and could not look anymore, turning his face away.
Long Xuan saw Luo Qi’s appearance and mused, “It’s said that those who campaign on battlefields have hearts and guts made of steel. Brother Shi Yi seems to be an exception.”
“This person is already crazy,” Luo Qi said, “It seems unnecessary for us to disgrace him like this.”
Long Xuan replied, “The ones who drove him crazy are those from his family and clan, not us. Brother Shi Yi, this person has fought against you on the battlefield before. How many of our Greater Zhou soldiers have stained his hands with blood? You want to sympathize with him?”
Luo Qi couldn’t reason with Long Xuan. Sima Zhuxie was now only a lowly prisoner. To avenge for seas of blood, they could just kill him. This kind of humiliation, in Luo Qi’s opinion, was completely unnecessary and not what a man of character would do.
Long Xuan spoke up again: “I’m also not intentionally disgracing him. If not for this, how could we pressure Mo Huan Sang to rescue him? I’ve already given Northern Yan face by not suspending their former crown prince from the flagpole in front of everyone.”
After Sima Zhuxie finished eating that dirty steamed bun, his two hands again searched the ground randomly. He hadn’t eaten for a day already. How could one bun be enough to fill him?
Luo Qi truly could not stand it. He said to the close soldiers behind him, “Bring him some food,” and then turned to Long Xuan again to explain, “Your Highness, to draw Mo Huan Sang here, a living Sima Zhuxie is useful. If this continues, I’m afraid he won’t last until Mo Huan Sang’s rescue.”
Long Xuan didn’t object, and just waved a hand at Luo Qi’s soldiers.
One day ago, Long Xuan locked Sima Zhuxie and his attending eunuch–who Long Xuan had captured along with Sima Zhuxie–here. After freezing for half a day, he purposefully let the guards pretend to be careless so that they’d let the little eunuch go in order for the eunuch to go back and tell Mo Huan Sang of Sima Zhuxie’s suffering.
“That eunuch should have already met with Mo Huan Sang,” Long Xuan said to Luo Qi. “When Mo Huan Sang comes, we can destroy these soldiers and horses, but must not shoot to kill these two men.”
“Your Highness wants to leave Mo Huan Sang a way out?” Luo Qi wondered if he had heard wrong. They’d come here just to wipe out Mo Huan Sang and his Black Frost Cavalry. They’d now lost troops and generals, and even Luo Wei was under pressure in Northern Yan’s barracks. Now Long Xuan actually told him to give Mo Huan Sang a way to survive?
“I’ve already thought a long time about this,” Long Xuan replied. “When I was in the Black Frost army, I discovered that Mo Huan Sang has a terrible relationship with the Mo clan, and Mo Huan Sang took his mother’s surname. With regards to the Mo clan, he should be considered an outsider.”
“What does this have to do with giving him a way out?” Luo Qi asked.
“This just shows that if we kill the entire Mo clan, we don’t have to be afraid of Mo Huan Sang’s revenge.”
Perhaps Sima Zhuxie had heard Long Xuan say Mo Huan Sang’s name. He faced Long Xuan’s direction, and shouted, “Sang.”
“Brother Shi Yi, say, why do we want to kill Mo Huan Sang?” Long Xuan asked Luo Qi.
Luo Qi retorted, “Does this need to be asked?”
“Without the Black Frost Cavalry, we don’t need to worry about losing Black Frost City,” Long Xuan reasoned. “Emperor Sima Changtian is seriously ill. Sima Qingsha will definitely ascend to the Northern Yan throne. Mo Huan Sang won’t find us for revenge, but he’ll find Sima Qingsha.”
“Your Highness wants to leave him to throw Northern Yan into disorder?” Now, Luo Qi understood Long Xuan’s intentions. `
“Maybe Mo Huan Sang doesn’t have the ability, but I hope he does.”
Luo Qi glanced again at Sima Zhuxie, who sat on the ground and repeated Mo Huan Sang’s name. He cupped his hands in salute at Long Xuan, “This general obeys.”
“You are the commander of three armies,” Long Xuan chuckled tersely, then continued, “you don’t have to say things like ‘obey.’”
Soldiers brought over a bowl of hot noodle soup.
“Feed him until he’s full,” Long Xuan ordered.
Luo Qi walked to the commander’s tent with Long Xuan again. Luo Qi had previously been stationed far away in Yun Guan, and hadn’t had much contact with Long Xuan. Having fought this Tian Shui battle and having interacted with Long Xuan up until now, Luo Qi had concluded that it was best for him to stay as far away from Long Xuan as possible. In terms of his thinking alone, he was not Long Xuan’s opponent. In this generation of his Luo family, it seemed only Luo Wei could match this Long Xuan. Thinking of what Luo Wei and Long Xuan were like when together, Luo Qi truly rejoiced that their Luo family had a Luo Wei.
“Mo Huan Sang can be left alone, but not a single one of the Mo clan can stay,” Long Xuan said as he walked beside Luo Qi. “Did Brother Shi Yi hear me?”
Luo Qi replied, “Yes, this general takes note.”
“Not a single one staying–that includes the old, young, women, and children.” Long Xuan looked at Luo Qi. “If Brother Shi Yi can’t do this, then Xuan can go and do it.”
“I understand,” Luo Qi assured, “there will be no mistakes.”
Long Xuan thought for a while and then said, “Forget it, let me do it. Brother Shi Yi’s firstborn will soon enter this world. This massacre of the young and old does not suit you. I’ll be the one to go.”
Long Xuan didn’t know whether he wanted to thank Long Xuan for sharing his burdens, or if he should dislike Long Xuan for speaking of massacring the Mo clan as if he were going to watch a grand play.
“When Mo Huan Sang comes to rescue Sima Zhuxie, Northern Yan and Eastern Shang will send troops once they hear the news. I’ve already sent people to inform Luo Wei to take that opportunity to come back,” Long Xuan continued. “We should still arrange a team on horseback to rescue him.”
“This general thanks Your Highness,” Luo Qi gave thanks to Long Xuan.
“Why is that necessary?” Long Xuan didn’t care about Luo Qi’s gratitude, just as he didn’t care one bit about how Luo Qi viewed him. This was the person with the most troops under his control in the Luo family. Even if Luo Qi respected him, they could only be enemies.
Luo Qi said, “Your Highness is showing consideration for Yun Qi. It is only right for this general to thank Your Highness.”
“Mo Huan Sang might come tonight. Please prepare, Brother Shi Yi,” Long Xuan gave these parting words to Luo Qi before entering the commander’s tent.
On this night, those long unseen stars and the moon appeared in the sky. Perhaps days of rainfall washed the skies clean–the heavens on this night were a pure, deep blue, making one fall into boundless reveries with one glance.
In Sima Qingsha’s commander’s tent, Luo Wei heard the news that they’d lost Mo Huan Sang’s whereabouts.
“Is this information reliable?” Other than Luo Wei, who had knowledge of the situation in advance, no one else in the tent believed this news. Sima Qingsha asked the mounted scout, “How did you discover this?”
After days of fierce warfare, these generals had all had a taste of Mo Huan Sang’s power. How could a brave and vicious person like Mo Huan Sang disappear for no reason? The generals in the tent already believed that Mo Huan Sang was an immortal. Who was so capable that he could make Mo Huan Sang disappear?
The mounted scout explained for a long time, only conveying that he had heard the news but hadn’t personally witnessed what had happened.
“Then what about the eldest prince?” Sima Qingsha asked.
The scout still only gave him three words: “I don’t know.”
Luo Wei piped up: “There’s always a ‘just in case.’ Your Highness and the Grand Prince Yuansu should still prepare to send troops. If Mo Huan Sang has really disappeared, while the Black Frost Cavalry is still a thunder of dragons without a head, isn’t it better to win this battle?”
“Then what about you, Yun Qi?” Sima Qingsha asked.
“I’ll just be in my tent,” Luo Wei replied to Sima Qingsha with a smile. “I’ll sit there waiting for the beautiful news of Your Highness’s overwhelming victory.”
I keep forgetting that Long Xuan is that kind of a b1nch