// Chapter 6 : Hope
31 May 2019

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The crowd froze, petrified.

The bandit leader screamed in horror as he watched his severed arm fall to the ground.

“Get this rascal for me!!!” He shouted, pointing straight ahead. He retreated to a corner as the group of bandits began charging towards Geng Chen and Murong Li.

The young assassin, still holding on tightly to the feeble prince, swerved left and right. The bandits’ swords and sabers lunged at him from all directions. Geng Chen was incredibly fast; his feet glided across the grass like seabirds drifting over waters. The bandits struggled to lay a finger on him.

As quick as he was, it was difficult for Geng Chen to suppress all the bandits at once. With one arm occupied, he only managed to decrease the bandits’ numbers by half after much resistance.

Geng Chen knew that wasting time and energy to eliminate these barbarians were meaningless. Seeing the weak state Murong Li was in, he knew that the young prince’s safety and wellbeing was his priority. As soon as he saw the opportunity to transport Murong Li back into the carriage and leave, the rope that tied the horse to the carriage was abruptly cut off. Free from its restraint, the horse ran off instantaneously. The carriage was subsequently knocked over by the bandits and smashed to bits.

“Want to escape?!” The bandit leader, who has been watching the events unfold from a short distance, laughed menacingly to himself. “I don’t think so!”

Like a madman, he lunged towards Murong Li from behind and grabbed onto his shoulder.

Murong Li dropped the box containing the Yaoguang Royal Seal in his hands from the sudden shock and force.

Geng Chen, without turning around, thrust his sword back and impaled the bandit leader’s neck. Blood spurted from his mouth as he fell over and died on the spot.

Amid the chaos, the box was kicked around on the ground. It was impossible to keep sight of it as the bandits continued to aggressively attack Geng Chen and Murong Li.

About five-hundred meters down the road, a man leading a small of group of guards dressed in lavish uniforms and armed with shiny swords, began heading up the hill.

“Eh? What’s all the commotion up there?” The man’s voice was mellow and of a higher pitch.

Mo Lan (莫澜, 26), an acclaimed magistrate, with olive skin and dark circles under his eyes. Based on the silk garments and expensive accessories he was wearing, one can immediately tell he came from a wealthy background.

A guard replied, “Magistrate Mo, permit me to go up and check.

“Mo Lan nodded. He and the rest of the guards stayed behind to wait.

After a short while, the guard returned. “Replying to Magistrate Mo, there seems to be a fight involving bandits ahead. Should we proceed?”

Mo Lan waved his hand. “I can’t let a couple of rogue fighters obstruct my path! If I’m late, how will I report to His Majesty? Prepare to head up the hill!”

With the horse gone and carriage destroyed, Geng Chen became increasingly annoyed at the stubborn bandits who would not surrender. Every time he saw an opportunity to flee, the bandits would block him or purposely aim at Murong Li to distract him.

At that moment, several guards in unfamiliar uniforms sprinted up the hill, throwing darts at the bandits. More guards came charging up with their swords and joined the battle.

Geng Chen did not know who these strange men were but was momentarily glad for their assistance. While the two sides were busy fighting, Geng Chen held onto Murong Li and the two hid behind a nearby bush. To avoid drawing attention, he decided to wait for the fight to end before leaving the scene.

The guards were incredibly swift. Geng Chen, secretly watching from the bushes, could tell these uniformed men were expert fighters.

‘These people must work for the government,’ Geng Chen thought.

Within moments, all the bandits were mercilessly slain. Quietness returned.

“G…Geng Chen,” Murong Li muttered, his words barely audible.

Geng Chen moved his ear closer to Murong Li and asked, “Your Highness? What is it?”

“The… the Royal Seal…”

Geng Chen looked down and realized that the Yaoguang Royal Seal was no longer in Murong Li’s hands.

He glanced up and saw the box in the center of the road, laying between the bandits’ dead bodies. Instinctively, he wanted to get up and grab it but decided to hold back.

‘If I attempt to retrieve the Seal, that would reveal our presence. These guards not only outnumber me but they are also rather skilled. His Highness is also too weak right now. I can’t take the risk to let them know we’re here,’ he thought.

Mo Lan walked around to scan the dead bodies on the ground. Geng Chen’s bag of belongings that contained some money, food, and clothes was torn open. Mo Lan did not pay attention to it. Instead, a box caught his eye. He bent down, picked it up, and opened it to reveal a jade stamp.

Holding the Seal in his hands, he exclaimed, “What a precious-looking seal! His Majesty must be ecstatic once I return and show this great find to him!”

It took much will-power for Geng Chen to resist snatching the Seal from Mo Lan’s hands.

“Let’s keep going!” Mo Lan instructed. With those words, he and the guards proceeded to head up the hill.

After making sure that everyone was gone, Geng Chen finally emerged from the bushes. He placed Murong Li next to a tree to get some rest while he analyzed the scene.

Geng Chen regathered his belongings but threw away the food as it was now too dirty to eat. Afterward, he returned to check up on Murong Li. “Your Highness? How are you feeling?”

“W…water,” Murong Li moaned.

“I… I don’t have water on me right now. Those damned bandits freed our horse and destroyed our carriage. I’m afraid we’re still far away from any civilization. Those men just now, if I’m not wrong, must be some type of government officers. I think it’s best if we avoid crossing paths with them.” Geng Chen sighed and glanced at the setting sun. “It’s getting dark. We might have to camp out in the woods tonight.”

Murong Li let out a couple of weak coughs.

“Your Highness, these corpses will attract wild beasts. Let me carry you to find a safer place.

“Geng Chen carried Murong Li in his arms and purposely went off the road, looking for a source of water.

Luckily after much walking, he found a stream inside the dense woods.

It was deep in the night. Geng Chen had started a small fire and was roasting a fish he caught in the waters on a stick. Murong Li was resting near the fire, drinking stream water from a leaf. He seemed to have regained a bit of vigor and appeared less pale.

“Your Highness, the fish is ready.” Geng Chen handed the fish over to Murong Li. “Please be careful. It is still hot.”

Murong Li grabbed the stick. “Thank you.”

“It is my duty to serve you.”

“Yaoguang has been overthrown. You do not need to keep calling me Your Highness. You are free to do whatever you want to and live your life. You do not have to stay here and care for me.”

“Your subject is a Yaoguang citizen. You will always be my prince. Besides, I owe Master everything I have. Without him, I would still be a lowly guard. I have pledged to him that I will serve and protect Your Highness until my last breath.”

“A’Xu planned this all along, didn’t he? He has long arranged for you to come and take me away so he could sacrifice himself to fool Tianxuan’s men.”

“Your Highness, so you have already guessed it…”

Murong Li looked up at the night stars to avoid his tears from pouring down. “A’Xu’s greatest wish has always been to serve the country like his brothers. But because he was born with a weak body and often prone to illnesses, his father only allowed him to stay in and study. His father said even if he couldn’t fight on the battlefields, he could still assist the King with his intelligence. So he studied day and night, hoping one day he could help Royal Father dissect appeals in court… he was the most studious and well-versed man I’ve ever come across…”

Geng Chen listened intently. He could see the glimmers of tears in the young prince’s eyes.

Murong Li continued, “Royal Father rejected A’Xu’s wedding proposals to me many times. He said A’Xu was not a strong hero who could protect me. The two of us kneeled outside Royal Father’s sleeping chambers for two whole days. Royal Father finally gave in and permitted A’Xu to marry me. I could tell that he only approved out of his love for me. For A’Xu, he still had much disdain.”

“His Majesty must’ve loved Your Highness very much,” Geng Chen noted.

Murong Li nodded. “Royal Father doted on me. Even if he disliked A’Xu, he still promised to arrange our wedding ceremony to be very extravagant just to make me happy.”

Speaking slowly, Murong Li continued, “Before A’Xu died, he still thought of the country. He reminded me repeatedly to restore Yaoguang. If Royal Father heard those words, he must be very proud to know I did not choose the wrong person. But before we could even officially become husband and wife, he has left me to fight this war by myself. I have nothing left of his except these bloody garments. Even the Royal Seal I managed to lose.”

“Your Highness, it is my fault for not being able to retrieve the Seal,” Geng Chen said, lowering his head.

“You already tried your best. You don’t have to blame yourself.” Murong Li’s tone was very dejected and somber.

Geng Chen’s eyes lit up as he recalled something. He reached into his waistband to pull out a long flute that was hidden behind his cape.

“How did you get it?!” Murong Li gasped.

“Master handed this to me and instructed me to give it to you. Because I was so focused on bringing you to safety, I almost forgot about it.”

“He must’ve found it in the Imperial Palace when he went to search for the Royal Seal.” Murong Li took the flute from Geng Chen’s hands and admired it with care. It was the first time Geng Chen saw his prince smile.

“Thank you, Geng Chen. At least I still have something of A’Xu’s to keep by my side.

“Geng Chen gave a modest bow. Seeing that Murong Li’s mood has been slightly lifted, he proceeded to ask, “Your Highness, what are our plans now?”

“What I promised A’Xu I will not forget. I will restore Yaoguang back to its glory, no matter the costs.” Murong Li gripped onto the flute in his hands.

“The man who left with the Royal Seal today…”

“The Royal Seal, we will take back. I remember the man’s face clearly. If the heavens really cared for the fate of Yaoguang, we will run into him again. For now, I will focus on survival. We have to preserve ourselves to have the energy to fight anyone that opposes us. From now on, I am not your prince. If there are others here, address me as Gongzi*.” (A/N 1)

Geng Chen was excited to see his new master full of determination and strength. “Yes, Gongzi!”

By the break of dawn, random noises of chatters and musical instruments woke up Murong Li and Geng Chen, who have fallen asleep in the woods. They quietly snuck out to investigate the noise that was coming from the main road.

A musical troupe of about 10 people, holding instruments in their hands, passed by.

Murong Li and Geng Chen exchanged glances, signaling that this was their chance.

They leaped out from behind the tall grass, which made the entire troupe stop in their tracks.

The troupe leader, a middle-aged man with a mustache, walked forward and studied the two young men standing before him. “May I ask who you two are and why did you block our path?”

Geng Chen, who has taken off his cape and vest to avoid suspicion, replied, “Hello. I am a servant and this is my master.” He lifted his hand to indicate Murong Li, who just greeted with a nod. “We’re from a small village that was unfortunately ravaged by bandits. My master and I have been on the run since. We’ve been starving for days. We’re lucky enough to have run into your troupe here and was hoping you’d take us in. We won’t ask for much. Just three meals a day and a place of shelter are enough.

“The troupe leader’s eyes were locked on Murong Li–features so delicate and beautiful, yet expression so cold. Murong Li’s appearance was too enchanting. He noticed the flute in Murong Li’s hands and figured he must have some musical skills to possess such a valuable instrument.

After some consideration, he concluded that Murong Li’s presence alone would attract more audiences for his troupe and accepted their offer.Murong Li and Geng Chen happily joined the troupe under their new identities.

End of Chapter 6


*A/N 1: Gongzi (公子), a young man, usually of nobility or wealth.

A longer chapter than usual. I hope everyone enjoyed!

Cheers for a new Murong Li 🙂

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