29 PUREMOON 1501 AFTERFIRE, THIRD YEAR OF PROSPEROUS ERA.
The birds chirp and the canaries sings inside this beautiful palace surrounded by flowers and trees.
Inside the palace is a courtyard called the Heavenly Courtyard of Fairies.
Inside that courtyard reside the Queen of Southern Han. The air inside the room was peaceful and could even be considered idyllic.
A woman could be seen walking down a green stone path, looking elegant with each steps taken, elegance and charisma oozing out of her.
Her face was hidden under a white veil covering up her beauty that was regarded as calamitous.
But her beauty pales in comparison to her bearings that befitted royalty.
She was only fifteen years old, but for her to possess such bearing people thought it must be because she was inherently smart and capable.
This is not wrong. But it is not true either.
It is not because she was inherently smart of she was inherently capable.
For a fifteen year old child to possess such bearing that seems to be able to embrace the world, one must have to suffer.
She was given the crown at the tender age of thirteen. Her rule was fraught with dangers and internal problems.
External problem includes superpower nations.
If she did not become smart…she would die. If she did not become capable she would die. So, how could she not be smart and be capable?
When her survival lies in her becoming smart and capable, the only choice was to force herself to become smart and capable
As she walk the green stone path, she encounter two paths.
Behind her is her trusted maidservant Mu Chun. One of the path leads to a bamboo forest while the other one led to an artificial lake created by her mother.
‘Bring me the feed for the fish’ One of the other maidservants quickly handed the Queen the feed pouch as she walk to the lake path.
She walk slowly and like always elegantly. Mu Chun walk behind her like an expressionless machine created by the Engineering School of Thoughts.
When she arrived at the bridge she saw the fake mountains gifted by the Gao family. She smiles bitterly.
Nowadays, her grip on the palace and the kingdom is tighter than ever. One might even say, she is slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Who would have thought…that little girl that was such a timid person and easily scared by blood could be this powerful in just a few years.
Pain….like always mature a person. And her achievement today was in part thanks to that mysterious person.
The Sleeping Dragon. She felt awe and respect upon such intellect that seems to pierce through distance and time.
With two letters she already almost got all of her kingdoms.
But remembering the letters, she also felt fear and a little bit of excitement.
A Sleeping Dragon…..somewhere in this vast land of Midgard, under these same starry skies, there exist such a fearsome person that could overturn a kingdom just by two letters.
She took the feed pouch and begun randomly scattering the fish feed down to the water as some goldfish swarmed towards the food and swallowed the food.
The scenery of peace and tranquility persisted for some time.
The maidservants waited in silence, the elegant Queen feeding the fish, the wind blows graciously, the fluttering of the leaves create the sound of the forest.
For a while, these moment seems to be captured and immortalized in time.
Of peace and tranquility, of something that seems dissonant from this era of chaos and war. But the Queen still feeds the fish, and the maidservants still waited, the winds blows and the leaves dances to the tune of the wind.
And this moment stretched forward before the wind changed direction.
Mu Chun who was standing in a respectful distance from the Queen suddenly coughed. This cough break the moment.
Mu Chun felt there is people approaching. The energy is unmistakable. So she coughed. Not because she wanted to warn the Queen that an enemy is approaching.
No enemy could come here, in this courtyard. Then if it’s not enemies, then there is only allies.
That is why she cough.
Because walls have ears, and people have eyes. These maidservants, while they appear to be loyal, how would one really knows what crept inside the human heart?
Mu Chun loyalty is unmistakable. In the end the Queen only trusted those who went with her through the same hardship she did.
These maidservants that followed behind her every day, flattering her, are no more than a flying butterflies. Pretty to look at, but fleeting.
Ruohua instantly understand. But she did not stop feeding the fishes. The fish keep swarming as she keep scattering the feed into the lake.
Instead she ordered
‘All servants return to the Quarters except Mu Chun.’ They all nodded and bowed on their exit.
The other servants immediately excuse themselves leaving only Mu Chun and the Queen in this lake.
The wind blows slowly, her veils slightly being lifted by the wind, almost showing that face of praised beauty.
Then a sound of footsteps could be heard. The leaves rustles, the dried twigs broken as this foot stomp on it, his long robe sweeps the floor, rustling the dried leaves.
This footsteps was unhurried but also was not too slow. It’s the kind of sound Ruohua always heard.
It is the sound of a servant coming to meet their monarch. Appearing from behind the fake mountain is a man who wore an official robe.
The official bowed his head slightly, looking scholarly.
Beside the man is a man slender but muscly. Mu Chun knew who that man beside the official. It is that official bodyguard.
Mu Chun instinct knows that the man cultivation in internal energy is powerful than her judging by the intensity of his presence.
‘You’ve come?’ Ruohua said uninterestedly.
‘This official greet Your Grace’ he said bowing in the appropriate angle.
‘Advisor Lin Wen, do away with the formalities. It is only us here.’ Ruohua said as her hand once again reach in to the feed bag as she scattered it again down to the lake.
The goldfish swarmed….like they were hungry and starving.
Desperate for even one bite. In a way, Ruohua felt something familiar with the sight of so many fishes fighting each other to get even one scrap of feed.
It almost made her laugh at the absurdity of it all. But she did not laugh. She was silent. She waited Lin Wen to report.
Lin Wen judging the mood of his queen, then reported first what he believes what she wanted to hear the most. The military movement.
‘My Queen, it has been done. The army has move.’ Her hand stopped and she calm herself down before asking
‘And the Old General Keenan of Western Capital?’
Lin Wen smiles bitterly.
‘Like the Sleeping Dragon predicted he leads the army to counter our attack’
Hearing this there is a smirk on Ruohua face. Her hand resume her actions, going inside the feed bag as she scatters the food into the lake, watching the goldfish scrambling for food
‘Did you remember what the letter says when we send the army?’ she asked
‘Yes, we must do it with fanfare so that everyone knows how powerful and mighty our soldiers is. It is stressed quite heavily in the second letter’
‘It doesn’t matter if certain events is true or not. You need only the world to believe it. And that is enough.’ She said quoting directly the written words from the letter she received from the Sleeping Dragon.
This time she laughed a bit
‘How bold this Sleeping Dragon. This person wanted to deceive the world! And like this person predicted the King of Western Capital urged Keenan to lead the army’
Ruohua knew this is the most important part of the strategies outlined by the Sleeping Dragon. The one leading the army of the Western Capital must be Old General Keenan and no other.
He is the only that met the requirement for the Sleeping Dragon strategy to work
If not, this would not work.
“Norveg to the North, Western Capital on the South, Avillon to the East and Westhold to the West. Enemies everywhere.’ She said but this time her tone is no longer hopeless. Instead it was full of confidence.
She knew if the strategy outlined in the letter succeed she will not only gained her kingdom she would also get an opportunity to expand her land.
The wind blows gently inside this courtyard, and her veils slightly fluttered. Lin Wen and his bodyguards lower their gaze, fearing to see the face their monarch tries to hide.
She notices this but did not say anything. Then she ask
‘The Loyalist and Reformer faction activity? Have you noted it down?’
‘Yes, my Queen. They are still at each other troops. The Gao is trying to restrict military supplies while the Yi is threatening to block all their proposition in tomorrow morning court.’ She nodded in satisfaction as excitement could be seen inside her eyes.
There is also bloodlust.
She also knows the Yi’s will not only block the Gao’s they would also make sure none of the Gao’s be able to escape the army recruitment.
Gao control the administration, the Yi military.
These two power once restrict and contain her but now, these two who were always allied against her, is now ripping at each other throats and nothing made her day more than this news.
Sighing internally looking at her Queen having such bloodlust aura coming from her, Lin Wen then cautiously asked
‘My Queen…..would it not be more prudent to at least offer some leniency to the-‘
‘Weeds’ she suddenly said cutting off what Lin Wen might have said
‘If I gave them leniency, like weeds, they will grow. The only way to make sure a weed do not grow…is to pluck it to their roots. Only then they would disappear. I would rather burn the whole plot of land then let even a seed of weed to germinate. This hatred of mine….I will not forget.’ She said with cold biting decisiveness.
‘Even Marquis Yu?’ Lin Wen asked
Ruohua did not say anything, only the gently blowing wind produces sound and the goldfish swarming to the food, opening their mouth to eat.
‘I hate him’ she then said.
Lin Wen then asked
‘He is innocent in all this’
‘I hate what he represent. And no one is innocent in this game. They all wanted my throne. And they plotted, schemed and killed for it.’
‘If it’s Duke Yi I have no objection. But Marquis Yu-
Mu Chun who was behind the Queen shakes her head gesturing to Lin Wen to stop speaking and bitterly he stop saying anything about Marquis Yu.
‘I will turn the world of Gao into the world of Luo once again. The Gao wanted me to be a puppet, the Yi wanted me to abdicate and give the throne to them. Both of them are disloyal subordinates and treasonous officials.’
There is a coldness in her tone when she spoke the name Gao and Yi. The first letter of the Sleeping Dragon has helped the Queen.
Lin Wen was happy of this.
But he was also afraid.
That her Queen would open the third letter.
Each time the strategies outlined inside the letters succeeded, the more trust she put in this mysterious figure called the Sleeping Dragon.
If she opens the third letter….he didn’t know if he could remain loyal. Lin Wen was loyal to the Queen.
But first and foremost he was loyal to Southern Han
How could Ruohua not be impressed by this man claiming himself to the Sleeping Dragon? Even he was impressed and wanted to meet such talent.
He would like to drink together with this person and spoke about the affairs of the world and trading insights.
Lin Wen sees hope in his Queen, to restore the Luo’s and to expand the land, conquering the Western Capital and contending with Westhold.
He wanted to be the one advising the Queen, rendering meritorious contribution to the Kingdoms and have his name written in the annals of history
But, while she trusted him, three letters were treated more preciously than his advice. In a way he felt a little bitter.
But he appease himself saying that if not for this Sleeping Dragon, they would not even have a fighting chance and his heart felt calm.
Then as her hand stop scattering the food for a while, she nonchalantly asked about something, like it was an afterthought.
But both of them know this question is important. The question is important, so does the answer
‘How is General Yu Jing? Can he bear it?’ Lin Wen struggle to answer but then he said with confidence
‘Good. I hope he can suffer some humiliation to achieve the grand plan.’
‘General Yu Jing could see the big picture. He will not be broken down just by some jeers and taunts.
If that is the case, then I am relieved.
Yu Jing is a great General of Southern Han but after the Hai Wang incident he retired. But this time she managed to persuade him to enter the battlefield once again.
Because she hold the weakness of Yu Jing.
Surprisingly that weakness is her.
When she found out about the secret she had mixed emotions but for the grand picture she endures.
‘Only until then’ she said to herself.
She has endured too many times.
‘Only until then’ she said to herself. When she has fulfill her objectives, she will take the heads of her enemies and drink from their skulls.
The hatred she held for her enemies is not something to be taken lightly off. She will not make the same mistake that her father and mother did.
Trusting snakes and scorpions.
She then look at Lin Wen and said
‘Advisor Lin Wen….prepare to make a list. We will get the court to be clean of any traitor.’
‘I have already prepared’
She nodded satisfied with his response. She gesture with her hand for him tgo leave quickly but Lin Wen did not move.
‘My queen, if I am permitted to advise you on something?’
He said with a formal posture distancing himself from the queen before bowing at the appropriate angle.
Ruohua knows this is important as she stopped scattering the feeds and look seriously towards Lin wen.
‘Please Advisor. Speak your mind’
‘I urge Your Majesty to burn the third letter’ as he kneeled on the ground waiting for her answer
Hearing this and seeing him kneeling in front of her, Ruohua face turns complicated. She was frowning…and then she sighed.
But she did not answer. There was only silence as she contemplates on certain matters. And on certain things.
These certain matters and certain things are both important in her mind but both of these things in her mind were not beneficial and only confuses her more.
So, she decided to take the easy path.
‘I will’ she said.
Hearing this Lin Wen has lighten up as the Queen personally lift him up from his kneeling posture
Then Lin Wen and his bodyguard left like the wind form the secret entrance behind the fake mountain in this lake.
She sighed. She then continues feeding the fishes in complete and total silence. Mu Chun stand like a wooden statue protecting her queen.
Ruohua takes the easy path when confronted with Lin Wen question. And what is the easy path?
She admit that she is tempted to open the third letter but even now, she did not open the third letter.
She was always hesitating.
The Queen of Southern Han or the Empress of this world?
If she pick the Queen of Southern Han, it is the safe choice.
Not long from now, she would regain all of her powers as the Queen and no longer just be an acting Queen or a puppet, influenced by the two families in the court.
This is the safe path.
But if she chose the latter, it is uncertain. But if she succeeds, then she would be probably the most influential woman in this world
When she looked back down at the lake she saw the goldfish. And she finally knows why they looked so familiar.
They looked like her enemies. Munching on her flesh, bit by bit, hungry and starving. But it also look like her.
Starving for more, never content. And it disgust her.
She stop feeding the fish.
Then she turned around. She stop her feet and look toward the lake and said to Mu Chun.
Order the chef to take a few of the goldfish and turns it into a fish dishes. I am craving for fishes finished saying this, she walk back to her courtyard and play her Qin.
The sound was melodious. But it lacks a compassionate heart. For those who did not know, all they could hear is a beautiful melody. But from an opinion of an expert the sound she makes is truly grating on the ears.
Because it has no heart. But it pretended to have a heart. And that was the mistake. That was the flaw.
The music done no wrong. The melody seems perfect. But one could sense, hearing it, would not make one feel peaceful.
As she finished playing her score, once again, she went into he rrom and open tahtd rawer nad bring out that letter.
She look at the letter and then she put it back inside the drawer.
Not today she said as she went to her bath.
Outside this courtyard, the world was in chaos. A thirty thousand troops of Southern Han marched towards the direction of Western Capital
But when the rumormongers set out by the Queen do their work, that number turns into sixty thousand troops.
General Yu Jing let this rumor spreads as it increases the morale of the soldiers who did not truly know the exact number of troops and to instill fear in the hearts of the Western Capital soldiers.
And coming out to face Yu Jing, the only Tiger of Southern Han left from the last generation is the famous General Keenan.
His family is only second to the King and have high prestige.
He have long retired but recently comes out of retirement after the unstable movement of Stormholt, Norveg and Avillon
With Norveg in a civil war between their Princes, the King of Western Capital fears that somehow they will also be dragged in.
There is also King Julius in Westhold which is biding his time.
After he kills his father and wipes out the eunuch system in his court, he held power most effectively.
All of his enemy were executed or imprisoned. With that he held free reigns in the courts. But he was not a fatuous or indulgent rulers.
He did economic measures that benefited the kingdoms, encourage trade with the Western Barbarians and selling it to the East.
He opens up new land and reclaimed back lands and mortgage it to peasants turning them into a somewhat landlord and farmers.
He also recruited and appreciate talents whether it be in military or scholarly pursuits.
But even though he was a ruler dedicated to the Kingdom, the scholars hated him and the truly talented one did not want to enter under his employ.
His act of killing the Wellham’s, the most loyal of official give anyone a second thought to enter under his rule.
And even though Julius measure were enacted successfully in his region there are some regions that operate almost autonomously and have their military that rivals his own.
One such powers is the Arhan and the Dragon Pass. The Arhan did not go out from their region and will not go out unless provoked.
But if they were to be provoke they can bring out about fifty thousand troops to march to the Capital.
That is not to mention the fact that the Arhan is rumored to be close to the Black Dragon. If the rumor is true, the Arhan could ask the Black Dragon for help and unseat the new King without any hassle if they ever wanted to.
It is because all of this that the Old General come out. But he was only given a twenty thousand troops to fight the rumored to be fifty thousand troops of Southern Han soldiers.
This is because the King while he wanted Keenan to win, he could not trust him fully. So he only gives the Old General twenty thousand troops.
Accompanying the Old General is his son, Count Kleo Hapsburg.
He was handsome, charismatic and strong, talented in battle and great in formulating war strategy.
Defending the borders from invader, is this pair of father and son.
As the sight of them leaving the capital on horseback was recorded by painter, it created a forlorn scene as everyone expected them to lose.
But nothing as for certain. The war between the Western Capital and Southern Han has begun while Westhold bide his time and Norveg is embroiled in their civil war.
Avillon is strengthening herself and Stormholt is watching. The era of the Warring Period is slowly starting up again.
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