Translated by seal.
He was the greatest stain on his life.
In the evening, fine snow drifted on the frontier of Chonghua, gradually accumulating into a pure, white layer on the ground. Wheels ran over it and pedestrians walked by, leaving behind several lines of different depths tracing their paths.
Wang Ermazi, who was selling his pastries1[炊饼 (chuībǐng) – Here’s an example. I believe she is referring to a type of round and flat baked pastry/confection. Also for whatever reason meatbun uses like…4 different terms throughout to describe it (chuibing, laobing, kaobing, roubing) as if she couldn’t decide what she was writing about LOL, so I decided to just call it pastry for consistency.], put all his effort into advertising, a breath of white mist leaving his mouth. He shouted in a loud voice: “Come everyone, freshly baked pastries!”
With a clamor, he struck twice on the the worn-out gong that hung by the stove, continuing to peddle his goods: “There’s almost nothing in this world that’s thicker than the pastries I bake — apart from Gu Mang’s face! Come and buy one! Come one, come all!”
The passersby listened, laughing to themselves.
This pastry stall had been running for over ten years, and a few years ago, Wang Ermazi had been singing a different tune. Back then, what he’d quack loudly was: “Come take a gander! These are General Gu’s most favourite pastries! I guarantee that after a bite, you’ll become as invincible as him and rise steadily in ranks!”
In the wind and snow, a party of strong military cavalry trotted by slowly, led by a young man of about seventeen or eighteen. With a sable fur-trimmed brocade hat on his head and his handsome little face wrapped up in a thick woolen collar, he seemed rather unenthusiastic.
This young man was called Yue Chenqing, the Deputy General of the Garrison.
This person possessed two skills that would leave others in the dust. The first was obvious to see, and embodied the saying, “When others anger, I will not, for when ill with rage, a replacement can’t be sought. Should I anger, who would it please? A wound to the heart, puts me ill at ease.”2[别人生气我不气,气出病来无人替。我若生气谁如意,况且伤神又费力。- Literal translation is “When others are angry, I will not anger, because if I get so angry that I fall sick, no one can replace me. If I’m angry, who would be happy? Furthermore, it just hurts the spirit and is a waste of energy.” I..tried my best to make it feel the same in a sing-song way! Basically it’s a saying meaning that he chooses to stay calm when others are angry, avoiding any direct conflict or consequences.] Yue Chenqing, who was deeply invested in this philosophy, had almost never truly been angry, having the best temperament out of all the spoiled young masters.
His second skill, was to always make himself comfortable, as comfortable as possible. So if he could sit, he would never stand, and if he could lie down, then he would never sit. Yue Chenqing’s favourite saying was, “If there’s wine today, then drink it away, if there’s none tomorrow, then from a brother, we borrow.”3[今朝有酒直须饮，明日无粮蹭兄弟。 – Literal translation is “There is wine this morning so I must drink, there is no provisions to tomorrow so I’ll freeload off my brothers”. I feel like it’s pretty self-explanatory.] As a result, he would never leave anything of value overnight – wine was finished within the day, and women were taken to bed first, the talking left for after.
As for patrolling……. He would play first, patrol later.
There were many bazaars at the Beiguan Frontier Fortress, mostly selling animal hide, herbal medicines, spiritual stones, slaves, and so on. Although not terribly interesting, but to the troops in the bitter cold, it was a good way to pass the time.
“I want that seven-tailed civet.”
“Go buy the tail feathers of that ubume4[姑获鸟 (gū huò niǎo), better known as the Japanese name for it, ubume, is a monster in Chinese (and Japanese) folklore. It is most commonly depicted as the spirit of a woman who died during childbirth.]“
“The quality of the tumbleweed being sold there looks quite good, it will definitely brew into a fine medicine. Bring me ten baskets.”
While walking, he instructed his retainers following from behind to help him purchase a myriad of goods at the bazaar, completely neglecting his duties. While his retainers had some reservations, hindering their Deputy General was not something terribly easy for them to do.
As he strolled around, Yue Chenqing felt his stomach rumble, and looked around for something to eat. It was at this time that he heard the yelling from Wang Ermazi coming from somewhere distant, the sound of his throaty voice and the clang of his worn-out gong travelling through the wind and snow:
“Selling baked pastries here! Pastries as thick as Gu Mang’s skin! Come have a look!”
The moment Yue Chenqing heard this sales pitch, the corner of his mouth twitched, and thought to himself: Oh dear, this person unexpectedly dared to use Gu Mang as a joke! Is that even acceptable? He’s asking for trouble!
While he was thinking this, he immediately urged his horse forward, and just as he was about to open his mouth to reprimand him, the strong fragrance of bake pastries flooded his nose. As a result, the harsh criticism that had threatened to leave his mouth, was swallowed back in together with his drool that almost leaked out.
His criticism was changed into: “…Give me one pastry.”
“Coming right up!” Wang Ermazi nimbly grabbed a piece of baked pastry from inside the stove, wrapping it up in an oil-paper bag and passed it to the customer in front of him, “Here you go, be careful, it’s hot. You must have it while warm!”
Yue Chenqing took the piping hot pastry and bit down on it, and with a crunch, the golden-brown crispy pastry burst out layers of flavour from within, the taste of hot oil, wheat bran, ground meat, and Sichuan peppercorn melting on his tongue, instantly permeating his mouth with the fragrant toasted smell, causing him to greedily swallow his saliva.
He could not help but sing praises: “The flavour is great.”
“Why, of course it is. This Erma’s baked pastries are known as the finest on earth.” Wang Ermazi proudly bragged, “Even though Gu Mang was so highly regarded back then, whenever he returned from battle, he would always come running to my stall to eat five or six pieces!”
When he had finished blowing his own horn, he didn’t neglect to add on furiously, “Though, if I had known that man surnamed Gu would turn into a traitorous dog, I should have mixed poison into those pastries I sold him, getting rid of him as soon as possible for the good of mankind!”
While chewing on his pastry, Yue Chenqing replied: “Don’t make these kinds of irresponsible remarks in the future. Also, that sales pitch of yours, you should quickly change it.”
Wang Ermazi’s eyes widened: “Sir5[军爷 (jūn yé) literally translates to “army gentleman”. It is a title used to address someone respected in the army.], why’d you say so?”
“You should just obediently listen to what this ‘sir’ has to say.” Yue Chenqing took another large bite of the meat pastry, and with his cheeks bulging, he continued, “We are soon going to war against Liao Country, and I’m afraid our troops will have to stay here for quite a few years. If you continue to blather on about Gu Mang like this all day long,” He chuckled maliciously, “Hehe, you’d best be careful of poking the sore spot of his Excellency.”
This “Excellency” that Yue Chenqing referred to, was of course their leader, General Mo Xi.
Mo Xi, who was appointed the title of Xihe-Jun6[羲和君 – 羲 (xī) may refer to Fuxi, a hero in Chinese mythology who created humanity together with Nuwa. 和 (hé) means peace, and 君 (jūn) is a title that is similar to the English “lord”.] by the previous Emperor, was born into the noble family clan of Mo. He was one the four generals of the family clan, which also consisted of Mo Xi’s maternal grandfather, paternal grandfather and his own father. As a result of such a prestigious bloodline, Mo Xi also naturally possessed an extremely terrifying spiritual talent, and on top of that, studied under the most ruthless of elders at the Cultivation Academy. At this moment in time, he ranked as the top General of Chonghua.
Despite all the above, he was only twenty-eight years old.
Owing to his family, Mo Xi’s personality was as cold as a blade, and he always kept his word. He was repeatedly warned by his father that “The tender valley7[Literal translation of 温柔乡 (wēnróuxiāng), which is a euphemism for red-light district.] will bury your heroism. Flirt less, work harder.” As such, Mo Xi’s heart had always been pure, clear of lustful desires, and his character extremely upstanding. It could even be said that in the last twenty-eight years, he had never made a single major mistake.
Except for Gu Mang.
To Mo Xi, Gu Mang was like the ink on a paper, the mud in the snow, a drop of provocative blood on a gentleman’s pristine and orderly mattress.
—— He was the greatest stain on his life.
The night fell.
In the barracks outside of the fortress, a clear cry broke through the sandstorm, an operatic voice lingering in the air, wafting through the bitter frost like a ghost.
“…The rain made fresh pools of water in Yuming, the skies are clear at the Golden Tree Pavillion. There is none who call for the end of the love songs and wine, even while looking at insects and ants, the heart is moved.”8[玉茗新池雨。金柅小阁晴。有情歌酒莫敎停。看取无情虫蚁也关情 – An excerpt from “A Dream Under the Southern Bough” by Tang XianZu, a Chinese playwright from the Ming Dynasty. Please don’t trust this translation I didn’t actually try too hard…]
The bodyguard on watch-out by of the Deputy General’s camp glanced left and right like a quail, noticing in the distance a tall black shadow approach, and immediately changed his expression. In a flurry, he pushed open the tent and said: “Not good!”
“What’s not good?” Yue Chenqing yawned and lifted his eyes while on the general’s seat, propping his face up with one hand.
“My goodness, haven’t you noticed the time? Deputy General, I think it’s best you quickly get up and guard the fortress, stop watching the play.”
“What’s the hurry?” Yue Chenqing commented lazily, “It isn’t too late to go after the show.”
After dismissing his bodyguard, he turned to the opera singers in the tent and said: “Don’t mind us, please continue to sing.”
And so the operatic lilt that was like a fine thread of silk suspended by the heavens resounded: “The nation rises within the Yin, the wind blowing petals to the corner of the eyes, Qi Xuan was still teaching incomplete scriptures, to ask the east wind’s when we would awaken from this dream.”9[Same like the other song, it’s another excerpt from the same play, and…I don’t know if it’s correct because I didn’t purchase the official Eng translation of it because I don’t care enough…sorry…]
“Oh please Deputy General Yue, Deputy General Sir! Please hurry and tell them to stop singing.” The bodyguard begged with haste, “What on earth is all this?”
“Life is far too short and miserable, let us enjoy and live in the present.” Yue Chenqing chewed on his fingernails, “Otherwise, these days would just be far too bland.”
“But if Xihe-Jun were to see this sight, he will definitely be angry again….”
“Xihe-Jun isn’t even here, what are you so worried about?” Yue Chenqing grinned, “Besides, this Xihe-Jun always looks so unhappy, and never seek any pleasures nor tries to enjoy himself. He’s already this old but gets angry when he hears me tell a vulgar joke. Don’t you think it’s tiring for me to always try to please him?”
“Deputy General,” the bodyguard looked as if he was about to cry,
“Lower down your voice a little….”
“B-Because…” the bodyguard’s eyes glanced towards the seam of the tent and stuttered “Because…”
Yue Chenqing rolled around on his seat, even covering his head with Xihe-Jun’s silver fur coat, and chuckled: “Did Xihe-Jun scare you stiff? Why are you stumbling at every mention of him?”
“Ah, but what a man this Xihe-Jun is.” Yue Chenqing said, “He wants to personally abstain from sexual desires, but drags his entire army together to boredom together with him. Look at our army, there’s not even a single bitch in sight.”
This was the truth. Out of all the armies of Chonghua, it was Xihe-Jun’s division of troops that suffered the most.
Although under the rule of Xihe-Jun there wasn’t much to complain about when it came to food and clothing expenses, but just as Yue Chenqing said, this person was both boring and serious. It’d be fine if he alone was inhuman and unable to appreciate beauty, but he also wouldn’t allow his subordinates to look for girls to have some fun.
Yue Chenqing clearly found this thought extremely amusing, but he suppressed his smile and pretended to be unaffected, letting out a sigh: “He’s a good person in all meanings of the word, it’s just that his desire to control is too strong. Look, his anxiety disorder and mysophobia has completely consumed him, and he truly has no interests whatsoever. It’s truly a waste of that handsome face of his.”
The bodyguard has an expression as if facing imminent doom and quickly said: “Yue-gongzi10[公子 is a term used to refer to sons of nobility. For those who follow Japanese media, it’s a bit like calling someone a ‘bocchama’], hurry and stop talking…”
Yue Chenqing not only did not stop, but on the contrary, his spirits rose even higher: “Look at you all holding your breath, did your mouths start blistering? Hehe, while he’s away, I’ll quickly let you guys out. Tonight, let us brothers find some girls to fool around with and abolish guarding the entrance. Let’s host a beauty contest by the bonfire, I want to award the most beautiful girl in the village–“
“Who are you awarding?”
Suddenly, a deep, cold and ruthless male voice resounded, rattling the tent, and a tall man in silver armor as cold as frost walked in.
He stood tall and straight in his military uniform, his shoulders broad and waist slender, and his long legs were clad in a pair of black leather military boots. When he raised his eyes, all of his handsome facial features were cold and rigid, his gaze was frosty and sharp as a spear.
This person could be no other than the Xihe-Jun that Yue Chenqing was having a blast ridiculing earlier, Mo Xi.
Why did Mo Xi suddenly return?!!
Yue Chenqing was stunned at first, and after coming back to his senses, he immediately began to shiver, wrapping his fur coat around him even tighter.
“General Mo.” Deputy General Yue put on a wretched and pitiful appearance, weeping, “If you were going to return earlier, you should have told us— ouch!”
That “ouch” was because Mo Xi felt that his weeping was too disgusting, and so he summoned his spiritual sword, pressing it against Yue Chenqing’s cheek, before tossing it aside.
Yue Chenqing, who was almost beheaded, hurriedly climed up from the general’s seat, brushing away his messy hair off his cheeks and said: “Xihe-Jun, how could you hit me!”
“You’re asking me, but I haven’t asked you anything yet. Tell me, why are there women in our base?”
Mo Xi shot a glance at the female opera singers who had been scared into silence, then turned his head and glared at Yue Chenqing: “Did you bring them in?”
Yue Chenqing had originally wanted to mutter a few more things, but once he saw Mo Xi’s expression, he immediately froze in terror: “…Don’t be like this. I was just listening to a song, a famous song from LiChun Nation. Xihe-Jun, why don’t you join us and watch to a bit….?”
Mo Xi’s expression turned grave, and he snapped with annoyance: “Obscene11[靡靡之音 (mǐ mǐ zhī yīn) – an idiom referring to to obscene or low-class music.]. Drag them out.”
Fortunately, he didn’t call for them to be beheaded.
Yue Chenqing hugged his knees, sobbed pathetically while seated on the general’s seat, and whined miserably: “You are so cold-blooded and heartless. I’m telling my father that you haven’t treated me well.”
Mo Xi took one look at him and said: “You leave as well.”
Yue Chenqing: “……”
Mo Xi waited for the aggrieved Yue Chenqing to leave, then sat down in the tent all alone. Removing his black dragon leather gloves, he pressed his long, slender fingers to his temples, then slowly closed his eyes.
Illuminated by the candle light, this complexion seemed to look a little off, carrying the faintest tinge of a sickly pale blue. Coupled with the cold ruthlessness hidden in the depths of his eyes all year round, he looked even more haggard.
He seemed to have a lot on his mind.
Not long ago, he had received a secret letter from the Imperial Capital of Chonghua which was personally written by the current Emperor of Chonghua. After receiving the letter, Mo Xi had reread it three times before finally confirming he hadn’t misread it.
Gu Mang was returning to Chonghua.
The letter was currently being kept underneath his robes, nestled snugly against Mo Xi’s heavily throbbing heart and warmed up by the temperature of a man’s chest. Gu Mang was returning to Chonghua — This news was like thorns growing in his heart, every thorn prickling him with pain.
Mo Xi frowned and tried his best to suppress his anxiety, but in the end, the demonic fire in his heart still poured out endlessly. He suddenly opened his eyes, and with a thump, he kicked over the files in front of him with a long leg in wrapped up in a black leather boot.
“Oh no, General Mo!” The bodyguard on duty outside of the tent hurriedly leaned in through the tent entrance, and asked fearfully: “Please calm down, Yue-gongzi is still young, and his love of fun and trouble is just human nature. It was us subordinates who did not handle the situation well and did not stop Yue-gongzi from watching to the opera. If you want to blame and punish us, don’t hesitate to do so, but you must not anger yourself like this…”
Mo Xi suddenly turned around, and in the faint darkness, his eyes lit up like electric flames.
“Without my consent, no one is allowed in.”
The tent cover fell again, and it was terrifyingly silent both inside and outside, with only the sounds of northern blizzard blowing outside the tent, the distant movement of soldiers on duty, the crisp crunching of military boots meeting snow, and the whinny of war horses at the spiritual beast camp.
Mo Xi leaned his face to one side, glanced downwards and stared the mulberries that had tumbled and rolled on the ground, which looked just like the heads of those that Gu Mang had plucked with his own two hands over the years.
He wondered how someone, who had committed so many atrocious, evil, and wrong deeds, who betrayed his country, his comrades, and close friends, who was now shouldering the worst of reputations, the debt of blood, and deep-rooted hatred, still had the courage to come back.
How could Gu Mang still have the nerve to return?
Mo Xi slowed his thoughts for a while, forcing himself to calm down, and then once more, took out the secret letter which he had read repeatedly to the point it was worn out. In the Emperor’s elegant writing, it wrote:
Liao Country intends to sign a truce with our country. In order to show sincerity, the traitor to our country, General Gu Mang, will be returned to us by escort.
Gu Mang was once one of Chonghua’s people, and was once deeply trusted, yet he did not think of remaining loyal and repaying his debts, committing treason for his own personal gains. In the past five years, he has plundered the city states of his home country, destroyed the peace of our nation, slaughtered his past comrades, and abandoned his old friends and relatives. I fear it will be difficult to pardon his sins.
In ten days, Gu Mang will return to the city to repay for his crimes, hatred for him runs deep and wide. I am afraid it is not a decision I can make alone, as such I have written to every noble in order to discuss this issue together. While I know Xihe-Jun is far away in GuanShan, as someone I personally trust, I sincerely request your presence, please do not neglect your responsibilities.
Please take care of yourself.12[Okay this entire letter was written in formal, stuffy, traditional Mandarin and I had to guess what a lot of it meant, but I believe the gist is there.]
Mo Xi stared at the letter for quite a while, then suddenly scoffed, and as he laughed to himself, an expression that was somewhat bitter, somewhat hateful gradually surfaced on his face.
This man was charged with the serious crime of treason, was there even a reason to continue to allow him to live?
He deserved to have all his limbs pulled off by horse cart13[车裂 (chē liè) was a form of ancient capital punishment which involved pulling off a person’s limbs and head by dragging them off using five horse carts in different directions.], chopped in half by the waist14[腰斩 (yāo zhǎn) was also an ancient capital punishment menthod and is…self explanatory], boiled to death like a caterpillar, or suffer death by a thousand cuts15[凌迟 (líng chí) was a form of ancient capital punishment where one’s skin and muscles would be cut off piece by piece as they were slowly tortured to death.].
He deserves to be killed!
He thought bitterly.
He deserves to be killed.
But as he raised his brush to write the word “kill”, his hand trembled without completing the word, and the ink soaked through the silk fabric of the scroll.
From outside the tent, the faint sound of an ocarina16[陶埙 (táo xūn) is an ancient Chinese flute made of pottery in an egg shape, and similar to an ocarina.] drifted past. It was unknown which homesick and weary little devil decided to blow away his sorrows, filling the air of whole campsite with a sense of bleakness, the ground covered in white frost.
Mo Xi’s heart instantly raced with anxiety, and his dark eyes flickered with an inexplicable light. — In the end, he spat out a curse, tossed the brush in front of him and picked up the secret letter, his palm suddenly bursting into flames, instantly burning it to ashes.
The specks of scattered ashes fluttered in the air, and Xihe-Jun blew at it, fusing the ashes into a long distance sound transmission butterfly17[千里传音的蝴蝶 literally translates to “thousand mile sound transmitting butterfly”. Fans of 2ha may remember Chu Wanning also has something similar in that novel, except for him it was spiritual haitang flowers.].
“Gu Mang was once recommended as a guard by this subordinate. As he has committed treason, this subordinate must bear the blame. Regarding the trial, in order to avoid arousing suspicion, this subordinate should not be involved.” After a pause, he added in a low, unhurried tone: “Mo Xi of the Northern Frontier, prays that His Majesty is well.”
He raised his hand as soon as he finished, and the spirit butterfly fluttered away.
He gazed towards the place where the butterfly had disappeared and thought to himself, Great, the dust has finally settled between his and Gu Mang’s long-running entanglement of over ten years. Gu Mang had killed so many of Chonghua’s soldiers, and caused grief to the common people. Now he’s being discarded after serving his purpose18[兔死狗烹 (tù sǐ gǒu pēng) is an idiom that translates to “boiling the hound after catching the rabbit”, or being gotten rid of after it’s of no more use], sent back by the enemy country after being exploited by them. It’d be strange if the civil and military officials at the Imperial Capital weren’t in a hurry to exact their revenge on him.
Unfortunately, he still had to guard the frontier for another two years, and seems like he wouldn’t be able to witness Gu Mang’s death penalty.
He slowly closed his eyes, and though his face showed no signs of emotion, his fingernails were carved deep into his palms.
It’s all over.
They were old friends on separate paths, isolated and estranged.
And once reunited, though things remained the same, they themselves have changed.
What kind of feeling was this? Maybe it is something that others will never understand.
Mo Xi sat down lethargically, and in the desolate army tent, his face was washed over with exhaustion.
In the end, he wasn’t able to save Gu Mang from walking down the wrong path.
Enemies, lovers, rivals.
What the relationship between them was will forever remained unsolved in the history books to come.
Perhaps no one else in this world other than they themselves will ever know of that extremely filthy, yet extremely erotic secret of theirs. That is, the fact that these two, who seemed to be irreconcilable enemies——
——have actually slept with each other before.
Years before, that abstinent and rule-abiding Xihe-Jun, had once pushed Gu Mang down on his bed and ferociously ravaged him. That frigid man had lost all his composure with Gu Mang, sweat dripping down his chest, desire polluting in his eyes.
And what about Gu Mang, who rebuked the Heaven and Earth, who bathed in the fire of war? He had once been fucked so thoroughly by Xihe-Jun to the point he shed tears, gently opened up his soft lips to beg for General Mo’s kiss, and indulged Mo Xi in leaving deep, purple bruises across his strong and firm body.
They were mortal enemies, their hatred as deep as a ravine, their destiny entwined with death.
But before that, during a time before they had walked their separate paths—
Those two youngsters had once been passionately entangled with each other.
Until their love and desire had intertwined. Until they were impossible to separate.