After a heavy rain in the capital, the dormant chill surged, revealing the bleak and cold desolation that was about to turn into frost.

Zhang Lang followed a group of strangers and bid farewell to the old Emperor in a state of bewilderment. On the day of the funeral, eight horse-drawn carriages pulled the dragon-adorned coffin, with a hundred thousand steam whistles lining the main road. Spontaneously, mournful music played, accompanied by billowing white smoke that covered the entire imperial city. Heavy armor formed a barrier, keeping idle onlookers at bay. Outside the ranks, spectators crowded together, including people from Dayang, Yi, Baiyue, and various barbarian tribes. There were even countless foreigners from the Western lands.

Countless eyes, filled with curiosity and speculation, fell upon Zhang Lang—Li Min, the mysterious Fourth Prince. Unfortunately, no one dared to approach him or strike up a conversation under the watchful eyes of the Marquis of Anding. Zhang Lang was kept hidden by General Gu, and for the past few days, apart from the Crown Prince and the Prince of Wei making a couple of rounds in his presence, he had not interacted with any other commoners.

When the dust settled, Zhang Lang was brought to the Marquis of Anding’s residence.

From the outside, the marquis’s residence was imposing, with a gate adorned with two fierce beast heads, expelling white steam from their mouths and noses. Thirty-six gears turned simultaneously as the heavy bolts lifted with a creaking sound, revealing the tall and formidable iron puppet standing inside.

On the walls of the shadow screen hung the armor of two distinguished generals made of mysterious iron. The gas lamps cast a dim light, while household guards stood by, emanating a chilling and solemn atmosphere.

However, it turned out that the grandeur of the marquis’s residence ended at the front gate. The courtyard was desolate, with scattered vegetation. The exterior was intimidating, but inside there were only a few taciturn old servants who greeted Zhang Lang with a respectful bow, not saying much.

Most of the puppets and fire mechanisms used coal in the common folk, with only a small portion using violet stream gold. Usually, those belonged to the local government authorities, such as those used for large embankments and land reclamation. As for the precious small components, only certain high-ranking officials and nobles had the qualifications to use them.

Of course, regulations were one thing, and whether or not the common people followed them was another matter entirely. For example, the rank of Magistrate Guo, who returned geese, was far from enough. There were more than one piece of violet stream goldware in his house. Although General Gu’s rank was more than sufficient, unexpectedly, the residence appeared unexpectedly modest and simple. Apart from a few iron puppets, there were hardly any items made of violet stream gold to be seen.

The most valuable items in the entire residence were probably the several plaques handwritten by Master Lin Mo Sen, a renowned scholar of his time. It was said that Master Mo Sen was Marquis of Anding’s teacher, so these plaques were most likely obtained as gifts.

Ge Pangxiao and Lady Cao moved in together with Zhang Lang. The three country children peered around curiously. Ge Pangxiao, the chubby child, spoke without reservations, “Uncle Sixteen…”

Lady Cao reprimanded him in a hushed voice, “That’s the marquis!”

“Hehe, Marquis,” Ge Pangxiao approached with a playful smile and asked, “It seems like your house isn’t as exquisite as Mr. Guo’s.”

Gu Yun chuckled indifferently, “How can I compare to Mr. Guo? Their family is high in the heavens, dripping with wealth. As for me, in order to save money, I go to the palace to have meals during festivals and holidays.”

This sounded like a joke, but Zhang Lang, listening beside him, vaguely felt that there was more to his words. Before he could think further, Lady Cao whispered to Ge Pangxiao, “Don’t the dramas say that young masters from prestigious families have gardens with swings and beautiful maidservants?”

Ge Pangxiao seemed to understand and puffed out his belly, saying, “The garden is at the back. Women from prominent households, whether they are masters or servants, cannot casually show their faces. Is it something for you to freely look at? If you don’t understand, don’t ask randomly.”

Gu Yun laughed, “I don’t have any maidservants in my house, just a bunch of old men and coarse women. I won’t hide it from you, the most beautiful person in the marquis’s residence should be me. If you want to see, you can look at me.”

As he spoke, he even flirtatiously winked and revealed a row of white teeth.

Lady Cao quickly turned her eyes away in shy embarrassment, while Ge Pangxiao, unexpected that the imposing Marquis of Anding would be shameless like “Shen Sixteen,” also stood there dumbfounded.

Gu Yun, with his hands behind his back, played with the old Buddhist beads left by the late Emperor, casually passing through the desolate courtyard. “My mother passed away early, and I haven’t married a wife. I’m still a young and unmarried bachelor. Why would I need so many pretty maidservants? It would seem odd.

Upon hearing this, it seemed as if he were a decent person.

Lady Cao didn’t dare to look directly at Gu Yun. She was hesitant to speak but finally mustered the courage to ask, “Marquis, everyone says, ‘Once you enter the marquis’s residence, it’s as deep as the sea’…”

Gu Yun couldn’t help but suppress his laughter and teased, “What? Are you planning to leave Xiao Lang and marry me?”

Zhang Lang’s face darkened, “Adoptive father.”

Gu Yun suddenly remembered his elder status and quickly composed himself, putting on a poorly acted expression of kindness. He said, “There aren’t many rules here. Just let the kitchen know if you want to eat something. There’s a study and an armory in the backyard, as well as a stable. You can read, practice martial arts, or ride horses as you please. Shen Yi will come over when he’s free. If he’s busy, I’ll hire a teacher for you separately. You don’t need to inform me when you go out to play, just take your guards with you and avoid causing trouble… Hmm, let me think, what else?”

After a moment of contemplation, Gu Yun turned back and added, “Oh, right. There are some old servants in the house who are getting on in years, so they may be a bit slow in their responses. Be patient with them.”

He casually mentioned a sentence, but Chang Geng’s heart was inexplicably touched by the rare tenderness in Gu Yun’s words—though it wasn’t directed at him.

Gu Yun patted his back and said, “It’s a bit desolate here, but from now on, you can consider this your home.”

After that, Chang Geng didn’t see Gu Yun for a long time. The new emperor ascended the throne, the Prince of Wei had demands, the son of the barbarian tribe from the Northern Frontier needed to be dealt with, and there were unprovoked invasions by the barbarians that required explanation… There were countless social obligations, endless tests, and so on.

Chang Geng thought he was diligent, but every morning when he got up, Gu Yun had already left. When he woke up from a nap at night, Gu Yun still hadn’t returned.

In the blink of an eye, the sweltering summer had passed, followed by a fleeting autumn, and now it was the season of the burning stove.

Late at night, a thin layer of snow covered the stone road, resembling closed eyelids. A faint mist rose in the air. The sound of horse hooves echoed from the end of the small path, and before long, two pitch-black horses pulling a carriage emerged from the thin fog, stopping at the back gate of the Marquis’s residence.

The carriage made a light “pu” sound, and three warm pipes around its body released white vapor. The door opened from inside, and Shen Yi emerged from within.

Shen Yi exhaled a breath of white air and turned to the person inside the carriage, saying, “I don’t think you should get out of the carriage. Just let someone open the door and drive it in. It’s too cold.”

The person in the carriage responded, and it was Gu Yun. He looked exhausted, but his spirits seemed fine. He instructed the coachman, “Open the door and drive in.”

The coachman hurriedly went to do as instructed. Shen Yi stamped his feet in place and asked, “Has the effect of the medicine worn off?”

Gu Yun lazily drawled, “It’s worn off. It’s no problem to kill a few more Galleon’s Ignite.”

Shen Yi asked, “What did the Emperor say when he summoned you to the palace today? I heard that an envoy from the Tianlang Tribe was sent.”

“That old cripple shamelessly presented a memorial with snot almost wiped on it. He said he wants to increase the annual tribute of violet stream gold by one-tenth and, considering the ignorance of his young son, asked the Emperor to let him go back and take his place as a prisoner. That old cripple is willing to substitute himself and become the prisoner in his son’s place.” Gu Yun’s enthusiasm was low, and he had no kind words to say, “The old turtle, his son is already seven or eight years old, and he still claims ignorance. Could it be that there is no good soil beyond the borders, and the seedlings grow slowly?”

Shen Yi furrowed his brows, “You didn’t lose your temper in court, did you?”

“I don’t have such a hot temper. But if I didn’t lose my temper, that poor and insane Minister of Revenue wouldn’t dare to agree on the spot.” Gu Yun said coldly, then his tone changed as he sighed, “The court is full of so-called virtuous officials, but they don’t even know how to write the four characters ’letting the tiger return to the mountain’.”

The heavy armor worn by the barbarians during the invasion of Yanhui was designed by Westerners. The Central Plains people naturally had thinner bones, even among the soldiers, and heavy armor design valued lightness and agility. Generally, they didn’t play “smashing stones on the chest” on the battlefield.

Galleon’s Ignite was undoubtedly backed by those Westerners who had always coveted Dayang.

Gu Yun lowered his eyes, looking at the faintly reflective thin layer of snow on the ground, and murmured, “Outside the four borders are all tigers and wolves.”

He had the intention of letting the long serpent enter the sea and go straight to the West, fighting his way to the old nests of those barbarian countries. However, after years of war, the treasury of Dayang was nearly empty. Now, because Gu Yun had supported the new Emperor’s ascension to the throne and effectively suppressed the Wei Prince’s ambitions during the critical period of the late Emperor’s illness, the new Emperor gave him some face in everything.

But face… could it last?

Shen Yi shook his head, “Let’s not talk about that. How is the Fourth Prince doing in your place?”

“The Fourth Prince?” Gu Yun paused, “He’s doing fine.”

Shen Yi asked, “What does he do every day now?”

Gu Yun pondered for a moment and answered uncertainly, “…Playing? But I heard Uncle Wang say that he seems to stay indoors most of the time.”

Upon hearing this, Shen Yi knew that Gu Yun had treated the Fourth Prince like a lamb—feeding him grass every day and neglecting everything else. But it wasn’t entirely Gu Yun’s fault because that was how the old Marquis and the princess had raised him.

Shen Yi sighed, “Have you forgotten how His Late Majesty treated you back then?”

A flash of embarrassment crossed Gu Yun’s face, but he hadn’t figured out how to interact with Chang Geng.

Chang Geng was already past the age of sweet-talking adults for candy, and his character was mature for his age. When they were in Yanhui Town, it was even the child who took care of his less-than-ideal foster father.

Gu Yun couldn’t possibly spend all day playing with a group of children, nor could he act as an elder and provide guidance to Chang Geng. Because he was being forced into a role he wasn’t ready for, both in terms of age and qualifications to be a father.

Although Gu Yun had mentioned wanting to leave Xuantie Battalion to Chang Geng in the future, it was ultimately just a joke. He was well aware that it was impossible. Furthermore, he knew full well how much hardship one had to endure to make a name for themselves in the military. As long as he was alive and still able to bear the weight of Dayang, he didn’t want Chang Geng to experience the same hardships.

However, at the same time, he also hoped that the young prince who had fallen into his hands would have a promising future, at the very least the ability to protect himself.

How could one person avoid hardship and still achieve success?

Parents throughout history have sought the answer to this question in vain, let alone him, a half-hearted foster father. He could only let Chang Geng grow freely.

The coachman had already opened the door and lit the lantern, waiting for Gu Yun to give the order.

Shen Yi said to Gu Yun, “It’s too much to expect you to be meticulous and attentive to every detail. But since he has experienced a major change and only has you as family, please treat him with a little kindness. Even if you don’t know what to do, it’s good to be around him, occasionally show yourself, and write a couple of calligraphy samples for him.”

Gu Yun seemed to have taken it to heart this time and patiently responded, “Hmm.”

Shen Yi took a horse off the carriage and held its reins.

He was about to mount the horse and leave, but after a few steps, he couldn’t help but turn back and nag, “Great Commander, an ignorant child, an ailing father—encountering either one is lucky for your growth into adulthood.”

Gu Yun rubbed his temples in anguish, “Mother, you talk too much with your sharp tongue. I beg you, just leave already!”

Shen Yi laughed and cursed before galloping away.