After it started to rain, the temperature of the swamp actually rose. The miasma became more pervasive. Those walking within it could only see a vast white expanse of vapor.
After Twelve woke up, he didn’t dare to open his eyes. He only discovered after entering the swamp that he was afraid of bugs.
(T/N: Author might have mistaken Twelve for Fourteen?)
Occasionally, Imperial Physician Wei would want to stop to find a path. Luo Wei and the rest had no choice but to stand in wait. From time to time, small poisonous mosquitoes would butt against their eyes. They could only use their hands to block their eyes.
“How much longer?” Luo Wei asked. They had been wading through knee-deep water the entire way. Wei Lan almost couldn’t stand anymore. Luo Wei supported him and could feel his trembling.
Imperial Physician Wei pointed south and replied, “Do you see that young master? We must pass through this patch of swamp.”
Luo Wei stood on his tiptoes to look, but did not see where the swamp that Imperial Physician Wei pointed out ended. Luo Wei again looked at the road they had come from. Miasma embraced it, and the reeds and grass were taller than men. The road whence they came was no longer visible. As far as the eye could see, only swamplands lay behind them.
“Let’s go.” Wei Lan shook Luo Wei’s hand once, and whispered, “I’m fine, I can still walk.”
At the front, Imperial Physician Wei again found their way. Their group continued onwards with their heads covered. They’d already walked halfway, and turning back was impossible, so they could only set their hearts on moving forward.
On the battlefield outside the swamp, the Black Frost Cavalry could not avoid welcoming its final days. The news of Luo Wei escaping the Northern Yan camp and obtusely entering the southwest swamp in a panic spread by word of mouth throughout the plains of Tian Shui. Afterwards, those who should have been ecstatic with their victory were trapped again in a murky haze.
The Zhou soldiers quickly withdrew to their barracks, adopting a stance that showed they wanted to fight another battle with the Northern Yan army.
Sima Qingsha sat in the warm tent that Luo Wei had lived in for a few days–it was the tent that he had given to Luo Wei when asked. The bodies in the tent had already been cleared away, their wounds all fatal. It was clear that Luo Wei did not think to have mercy. Sima Qingsha leaned at a crooked angle against the chair. His heart was a mess. He tried to put it in order. He was angry, but felt that this was what should have happened. If Luo Wei was only greedy for his life and for riches, he wouldn’t be the Luo Wei who allied with Sima Qingsha and made plans in Ye Jia city. This Luo Wei who dared to give himself up, who dealt with others courteously but without sincerity, who conspired on Greater Zhou’s behalf for Black Frost City–this was the real Luo Wei.
“Your Highness the Crown Prince,” a courtier outside of the tent shouted.
Sima Qingsha kept silent.
The officials and generals outside could only wait for their crown prince to come out himself.
Sima Qingsha looked at the bloodstains on the ground and the clothes Luo Wei had haphazardly thrown on the bed. The Sima imperial family had already planned for the worst. In order for the Sima clan to continue to sit firmly on the throne of Northern Yan, they had to get rid of Mo Huan Sang and the Black Frost Cavalry. They were already prepared to lose Black Frost City and Chun Du Pass. But now that he was truly on the eve of losing Black Frost City, Sima Qingsha still felt a heartache that was hard to bear. Whoever came to enact this play for Greater Zhou would be fine, but why did it have to be Luo Wei? Sima Qingsha got up from the wooden chair and took the clothes Luo Wei had left on the bed. The bitter smell of medicine still lingered on the garments. Sima Qingsha shut his eyes and could still dimly see Luo Wei standing before him. He threw the clothes on the ground and walked out of the tent.
“Your Highness?” The ministers of the monarch’s inner circle saw Sima Qingsha exit and hurriedly paid respects.
“Has Mo Huan Sang’s body been found?” Sima Qingsha asked.
Sun Li came forward. “Not yet. Subordinates are still looking.”
“Then Yang Yuansu?” Sima Qingsha asked another question.
“Eastern Shang’s soldiers and horses have still not returned,” Sun Li replied. “Should we send people to urge them back?”
“No need.” Sima Qingsha walked towards the army commander’s tent. “Now everyone has his own intentions. Do you still think we can fight shoulder-to-shoulder?”
After Sun Li heard the news of Luo Wei’s escape and felt astonishment and indignation, he began to worry for his own family’s lives. After all, he had led Luo Wei here. When he discovered that Sima Qingsha did not intend to blame or punish him, Sun Li relaxed slightly. “Then that tent?” he asked Sima Qingsha.
“Take it apart,” Sima Qingsha answered. “Put the clothes inside away. I want to take them.”
The clothes inside the tent? Those could only be Luo Wei’s. Sun Li couldn’t wrap his head around that. What was going on? Events had played out in the worst way possible, what use was it to keep Luo Wei’s clothes?
Sima Qingsha entered the commander’s tent. The generals inside were still waiting for him to tell them what to do next. “Luo Wei might already be dead,” Sima Qingsha said to his generals. “So we might not be able to retrieve Black Frost City.”
The generals were all aggrieved. Who was to blame? In the end, each one of their gazes cut into Sun Li.
Sima Qingsha temporarily put Luo Wei at the back of his mind. He now did not have much time to think about this person. Upon reflecting more deeply, it seemed some developments were predestined. When the two of them met in Ye Jia City, these developments had already been fixed. One wanted to protect his country and throne; the other wanted to seize Black Frost City. Therefore, one used the other while the other schemed against him. There was no one to blame for today’s results. Luo Wei had never once spared an extra thought on his behalf, so why should Sima Qingsha linger in melancholy over the changing of seasons? It wasn’t worth it.
“We still haven’t found Mo Huan Shang’s body,” a general in the tent pointed out. “Did this person really die?”
“The Black Frost Cavalry is already gone,” a tactician reminded them. “Mo Huan Sang will die no matter what. Luo Wei entered the deadlands in the southwest, it seems he is bound to die as well. Your Highness, what your servant worries about is, will Luo Qi immediately go to war with us when he receives news of Luo Wei’s death?”
“Let him come!” A general shouted. “This group of untrustworthy villains, I haven’t satisfied my craving to battle them yet! It’s good to keep fighting, let’s seize Black Frost City back!”
“Could these matters be that simple?” Sima Qingsha glanced at this impulsively outspoken general and suddenly wondered: Would Luo Qi, who used his little brother’s life to exchange for occupying Black Frost City, have any regrets?
On the battlefield, soldiers were clearing bodies away. They dug a great pit, threw their dead companions in it, and then filled it with soil. Few soldiers could hope to be like leaves, drifting back to their roots. They could only beseech to be at peace in the dirt, and be fortunate for this request to be granted.
Yang Yuansu and Long Xuan dismissed their attendants. They stood facing each other alone.
“So it was you who stopped Luo Wei.” Long Xuan’s lips curved into a slight smile. “Then I should give Grand Prince my thanks for getting rid of a major enemy for me.”
Not expecting such a reaction from Long Xuan, Yang Yuansu replied, “You speak frankly. Since you don’t want him to live, then why did you personally bring people to find him?”
“Compared to ordinary times, it’ll always be easier to kill someone in the midst of a chaotic battle formation,” Long Xuan answered. “But for Grand Prince, now that Luo Wei is dead, you should return your army to Chun Du Pass as soon as possible.”
“Why do you say that?”
“With Luo Wei dead, Black Frost City is firmly in our grasp. This won’t change. For the time being, Greater Zhou holding Black Frost City isn’t greatly harmful to Northern Yan. After all, Tian Shui’s fountainhead lies between. Chun Du Pass is different. Northern Yan’s hinterlands lie past Chun Du Pass. Sima Qingsha won’t watch carelessly as Chun Du Pass falls into Grand Prince’s hands.
Yang Yuansu’s face carried regret. He replied, “I’ve seen Crown Prince Long Yu. He is far inferior to you. It’s a pity ah, Long Xuan, that you are the son of an imperial concubine.”
“The same is true for the Grand Prince.” The smile hanging from Long Xuan’s lips was completely mocking. “Grand Prince strives for unification of the lands under heaven, and control of the government. But he still must act as minister to a child. Grand Prince must be a loyal minister and good general and leave a good name in the annals of history, with no way in this life to take the crown.”
Yang Yuansu’s anger rose to the heavens, but did not show on his face. He only smiled coldly, asking Long Xuan, “You think you can?”
“My Emperor Father’s body is healthy and sound,” Long Xuan replied. “Grand Prince doesn’t need to worry about my imperial Long clan’s matters. Besides, I’ve never thought of having a good reputation in the annals of history.”
“Okay.” Yang Yuansu got on his warhorse and said, “I’ll wait for the day you take the crown. Long Xuan, I’m sure we’ll meet again someday.”
Long Xuan stood in the wilderness. Rain pelted his body, but he had no reaction at all. He would not let this Eastern Shang’s Yang Yuansu go. If he did not avenge today’s hatred, it would be difficult for him to find peace in this life.