Early in the morning, Big Brother was practicing swordsmanship, and Ge Pangxiaobao had prepared to offer his stinky feet, but before he could even say a word, he was frightened and stood there dumbfounded.

Changgeng looked as if he hadn’t slept well, his face pale with a hint of blue, and his eye twitched slightly. After giving Gu Yun a deep look, he slowly lowered the tip of his sword and restrained himself as he spoke softly, “I made a mistake and offended Lord Hou.”

Gu Yun rubbed his chin, trying to hold back his laughter. He tentatively raised his hand, intending to pat Changgeng’s back as usual, but as expected, Changgeng evaded his touch.

Changgeng coldly said, “Lord Hou, please come inside.”

Gu Yun awkwardly retracted his hand and coughed, placing it near his lips. “Wait, Changgeng.”

Upon hearing his name, Changgeng’s footsteps instinctively halted. Gu Yun turned around and waved behind him. The soldiers who were carrying the box immediately entered in unison and placed the box in the courtyard. They then retreated and knelt down in a row.

“Commander.”

Gu Yun extended his hand as a gesture for the soldiers to rise, and then personally approached and unlocked the intricate clasps on the box. His hand rested on the complex lock, playing with it as if he were holding a broken rattle to amuse a child. He turned back and smiled at Changgeng, saying, “Come, let me show you something good.”

With a “click,” the lid of the box popped open. Ge Pangxiaobao pulled Changgeng over, but seeing his indifferent expression, he couldn’t contain his curiosity and leaned forward to take a look, immediately exclaiming in surprise.

Inside the box lay a silver suit of heavy armor, without a trace of impurity, its lines so sleek that they almost dazzled the eyes. It was stunningly beautiful, making the armor those barbarians had obtained look like clumsy lumps of iron in comparison.

Gu Yun proudly said, “This was custom-made by the master craftsmen of the Ling Shu Academy a while ago. The combustion efficiency of the Purple Flow Gold is twice as high as that of other armors of the same weight. The joints have reinforced layers, so it won’t get stuck by a thread in someone’s sleeve like those shoddy things the barbarians wear. It’s a masterpiece, even better than the set I used when I was younger. It just doesn’t have a name… You should have a distinguished name by now, so you can leave your little name with it.”

Apart from being momentarily dazzled by the armor’s brilliance, Changgeng’s face remained expressionless, especially when he heard Gu Yun suggest naming the armor “Changgeng.”

The two characters “Changgeng” had become so popular for some reason. Xiuniang Huger, Gu Yun, they all had a special fondness for his nickname.

Before his enemy, who had treated him like a foster mother, turned into a bubble, he had given him a suit of unparalleled armor and suggested naming it “Changgeng.”

Could there be a more ironic coincidence?

In any case, the naturally talented General Gu, unknowingly once again succeeded in “raising a topic that should be avoided.”

Changgeng’s prolonged silence made everyone around him uneasy. Ge Pangxiaobao took small steps and approached, tugging at the hem of Changgeng’s clothes. “Big Brother, why don’t you try it on? The first time I saw heavy armor was when those barbarians attacked.”

Changgeng suddenly lowered his head, turned around without a word, and slammed the door behind him.

Gu Yun’s smile gradually turned bitter as he stood at the courtyard gate, looking a bit helpless. But soon he regained his composure, finding an excuse for himself, “I’m not good at being a foster father for the first time. Please excuse my foolishness.”

A Xuanjia soldier stepped forward and asked, “Commander, what about this armor…”

“Put it… uh, put it in the outer room for him. Leave the key for him.” Gu Yun paused, as if intending to say something, but in the end, he deflated and said, “Forget it.”

Wearing a thin indigo-colored casual outfit, Gu Yun seemed neither physically imposing nor thick-skinned. He had put in a lot of effort to please, but ended up patting the wrong horse’s leg. He could only worry about the closed door in front of him, looking a bit pitiful.

Shen Yi, witnessing this scene, couldn’t help but sneer inwardly, “Aren’t you supposed to be audacious? Now you’ve kicked an iron plate, right? Hmph!”

Ge Pangxiaobao felt a bit uncomfortable and scratched his head. “Uncle Sixteen…”

Gu Yun patted Ge Pangxiaobao on the forehead and forced a smile. “It’s alright, you guys go have fun.”

After saying that, he turned around and walked briskly toward Shen Yi, forcibly pulling him away from a distance, before whispering in his ear, “You were so happy when I gave him the iron wrist buckle last time. Why doesn’t it work this time?”

Shen Yi glanced around, seeing that there was no one nearby, and bluntly mocked, “General, are you treating people as a punching bag? You use the same move every time.”

Gu Yun became a bit agitated. “Stop making sarcastic remarks. Then what do you suggest?”

Shen Yi rolled his eyes. “Look, you caused such a big commotion in the Northern Frontier, kept it from him for so long, and he trusted you wholeheartedly. And what about you? He now thinks you’ve been pretending to be deaf and blind, fooling him. And to top it off, his foster mother, who raised him since childhood, turns out to be a spy from the Northern Barbarians, and now she’s gone, probably because of you…”

“Nonsense,” Gu Yun interrupted him. “A woman like the Grassland Enchantress would only willingly sacrifice herself when they succeed in their plans. If she knew I was here, she would understand that their plan had failed and wouldn’t have died.”

Shen Yi pondered his words for a moment but couldn’t understand the cause and effect in his statement. He only caught onto the key point of General Gu’s “Who else if not me” - what did he mean by “knowing I’m here means understanding she failed”?

Hopeless.

Shen Yi didn’t want to bother with him anymore and said casually, “Let him be quiet for a few days. Don’t go pestering him with the same tricks used to please a concubine. Let him come back to his senses on his own.”

“I don’t have a concubine,” Gu Yun replied.

Shen Yi sneered, “Yeah, you don’t even have a wife.”

Gu Yun kicked him.

But after taking a few steps, General Gu began to reconsider and thought this situation suited him perfectly. He was also not eager to return to the capital.

However, it wouldn’t be appropriate to stay in Yanhui with the young prince. Gu Yun quickly came up with a bad idea.

He said to Shen Yi, “Perfect. The report from last night hasn’t been sent yet. You go back and make some changes. Say that the Fourth Prince, Zhichun, devoted himself wholeheartedly to the country and the people, sacrificing his family for the greater cause. However, he was overwhelmed by grief afterward, fell seriously ill, and we will take a break in Yanhui until the Prince recovers before returning to the capital. Make sure it’s written convincingly and try to make the Emperor shed tears.”

Shen Yi: “…”

If he could beat him up, he would definitely make General Gu cry.

Unfortunately, plans change.

The next day, while Gu Yun was lazily watching Changgeng practice his sword on the wall, a messenger falcon suddenly arrived with an urgent golden token. Gu Yun glanced at it and his expression changed.

The Emperor was critically ill and summoned the Marquis of Anding to bring the Fourth Prince back immediately.

Gu Yun jumped down from the wall and Changgeng faintly heard him giving orders outside the courtyard wall, “Summon Ji Ping to see me. We’ll prepare to return to the capital.”

Changgeng hesitated and leaned on his heavy sword, sensing an uncertain future.

Everyone in Daliang thought he was the Fourth Prince, except himself.

Changgeng always felt that his fate was too miserable. If he were truly a prince, whether pure-blooded or a bastard, he should have the protection of the true dragon’s bloodline, right?

Why did it have to be like this?

But then again, whether he was a royal relative or a lowly beggar, it didn’t matter what he said.

Ge Pangxiaobao observed his expression and cleverly sensed that Changgeng wasn’t in a good mood. He immediately smiled and approached, “Don’t worry, Big Brother. From now on, I’ll follow you. If you become a General, I’ll be your guard. If you become an official, I’ll be your attendant. If you become an emperor, I’ll be your… um!”

Changgeng covered his mouth and glared at him. “Are you talking nonsense? Don’t you value your life?”

Ge Pangxiaobao blinked his green eyes.

Changgeng’s gloomy mood suddenly improved a bit. If even the chubby butcher’s son could handle it, wouldn’t it be too pathetic if he continued to be anxious?

Changgeng thought to himself, “Maybe I should run away. Since I have no attachments, I can disappear into the deep mountains and become a hunter where no one can find me.”

However, before he could decide to escape, he had to let go of Gu Yun… and that was a painful thought. He reluctantly postponed it for now. And with that delay, he unknowingly embarked on the journey back to the capital with Gu Yun.

Ge Pangxiaobao would follow him no matter what. This countryside boy had bravely chosen a path to the imperial city for himself, even bringing his own companion. On the day they were prepared to set off, Changgeng looked at the boy in front of him, dressed as a boy but resembling a girl in disguise, and didn’t quite know what to think.

With determination, Caoniangzi cleared her throat and said, “Big Brother Changgeng, that day you saved my life by the riverside. My father said that a true man should not forget a debt of gratitude and should repay it with his life…”

Changgeng’s skin crawled when he heard “a true man” and his stomach started to ache at “repay it with his life.” He dryly replied, “It’s not necessary to repay it with your life.”

Caoniangzi’s ears turned red, and she shyly said, “I… just want to go to the capital with you and serve by your side.”

Changgeng had intended to refuse outright, but the words inexplicably slipped out of his throat. In his memory, Ge Pangxiaobao and Caoniangzi were just followers, and they had never had a proper conversation with him. But once they left Yanhui Town, these two seemed to become his entire connection to this place—excluding Shen Sixteen.

After a moment of hesitation, Changgeng turned to Gu Yun and instructed one of his guards for the journey, “Please ask Marquis Anding on my behalf.”

The guard quickly returned, saying, “General Gu said it’s up to Your Highness to decide.”

Changgeng let out a sigh of relief, thinking as expected, General Gu wouldn’t bother with such trivial matters.

With Ge Pangxiaobao and Caoniangzi in tow, Changgeng mounted his horse and took one last look at the town of Yanhui. There used to be a grand welcome with crowds on both sides when the huge eagles returned. Although they were impoverished, they were still peaceful and happy. But now, war had cast a shadow over the entire town, with only the cawing of crows echoing in the distance.

Changgeng had an indescribable sense of foreboding. He felt that those happy and simple days would never return.

The elite troops of the Xuantie Camp rushed towards the capital as if on a forced march. Despite their youthful energy, they couldn’t help but feel exhausted after several days.

That night, when they camped in a valley, Changgeng had a strange nightmare. He dreamed of holding a steel knife in his hand and stabbing it through Gu Yun’s chest. Blood sprayed high into the air, Gu Yun’s face turned pale, his eyes dim, and a faint trace of scattered blood flowed from the corner of his mouth.

Changgeng shouted, “Foster Father,” and woke up in a daze, covered in cold sweat. He instinctively touched his chest.

Smooth as silk, the torn sleeve in Changgeng’s hand felt unique. The marks left by the burning of the Purple Flowing Gold looked like patterns, resembling a auspicious cloud. He decided to wear it as a necklace, with the sleeve hanging around his neck.

That torn sleeve helped him kill a barbarian, and Changgeng believed that he had already shed blood. He couldn’t be considered a child anymore and had the qualifications to be a true man. So, he wore it with him every day.

The touch of the Xuantie shard was icy cold and gradually calmed Changgeng’s emotions.

He exhaled slowly, crawled out of his tent, and refused the night guard who wanted to accompany him.

Changgeng walked alone to the edge of a small river, splashed water on his face, and heard the faint chirping of insects in the grass. He casually reached out and caught a tiny cold cricket in his hand.

As the autumn chill approached, the life of this little creature was also nearing its end. Changgeng felt sorry for it and released it back into the wild. He aimlessly walked along the riverbank, unknowingly ending up in front of Gu Yun’s command tent.

He snapped back to reality, chuckled at himself, and was about to turn around when he suddenly saw Shen Yi hurrying over, holding a porcelain bowl with a familiar medicinal scent permeating the air. Changgeng’s nose twitched, and he couldn’t move.