This chapter took me quite a bit to put together. It might be because I’m introducing the Jiao Brothers, who are important characters in this novel.
I wanted to give some background info without spending half the chapter doing it as it is a tendency of mind to get to much into those details. (I end up putting it into the later chapters.) There’s so much I wanted to do with this chapter but can only make it so long. Whatever the issue, I kept going back and change things around again and again. Hopefully, it’s not too messy and is enough for you guys to understand.
I do have a favor to ask. While reading, if you note any grammar, typos, errors, or something is just plain confusing, please comment. I did my best to edit this as much as possible, but I might missed a few things.
Also, I’m looking for English proofreaders to edit my chapters before I publish. This would go a long way to get more chapters out to readers faster. If you’re interested, please leave a comment with your email so I may contact you.
P.S. I mentioned (in an earlier post) that this chapter will be up on Wednesday. Sorry I wasn’t able to keep that promise. I have no excuse except to say that I’ve been slacking in my school work and needed to catch up. T.T Forgive me.
I also made some changes to the novel since I started this novel a year ago. Please refer to this post to check out the changes.
Chapter 2: The Jiao Brothers
The small gathering in the extra large tent turned to watch a fully uniformed officer entered through the curtained entryway. Currently sitting in a small chair to the right of General Jiao Ying Jie, He Yu Ting was letting her sister treat and bandaged the ravaged flesh on her palm. The general and his older brother, Jiao Heng, the Marquis of Jiao, was watching them, silently commending He Yu Ting for her bravery in trying to save her sister.
When the officer marched into the tent and bent on one knee in front of General Jiao, the brothers turned to address him. “Go ahead,” Jiao Ying Jie ordered.
The officer glanced at the sisters, silently wondering if he should speak in front of them. Jiao Ying Jie glanced at them too and nodded at the officer. “It’s okay. Give the report.”
He nodded. “This lowly officer begs to announce that all the bandits that ambushed the trading wagons are captured.”
“And the bandit’s location?” the general asked.
“Thanks to general’s quick thinking, the scouts we sent to follow the few bandits we allowed to escape had returned. They informed us that the bandits had led us straight to their headquarter. As ordered, we have arranged and prepared the 5,000 soldiers to annihilate the rest of the bandits. They’re waiting for general’s command.”
Jiao Heng, who had been standing to his brother’s left couldn’t help but spoke up. “Regarding the scouts, did any of the bandits saw them?”
“No, Marquis Jiao,” the officer confirmed. “Our scouts were very careful to not be seen. As usual, we used the first group as decoy, which they fell for and tried to shake off. Thus the second group was able to follow without any mishap.”
“Great!” General Jiao exclaimed. “Good job, Officer Wei! When the bandits are gone, you and the scouts will be greatly rewarded. Return to your men. We will leave within the hour.”
Officer Wei nodded and backed away until he exited the tent. Suddenly quiet again, the sisters shared a look and sighed.
While General Jiao and his brother exchanged a few words silently among them, He Xue Zhen smiled wryly at her younger sister and continued to bandage her hand again. “Is it too tight?” He Xue Zhen asked quietly so they won’t disturb their hosts. She noticed that He Yu Ting kept on wincing as she rolled the stripped cloth over the medication she had applied on the wound earlier. Although her chest constricted at the thought of what He Yu Ting had done for her, she couldn’t help but teased. “Serves you right. Who asked you to play the heroine?”
“Jie jie!” He Yu Ting pouted as He Xue Zhen giggled. From the corner of her eyes, she also noticed a smile tugging on Marquis Jiao’s lips and the glittering amusement in General Jiao’s eyes when their eyes met across the room. Blushing, He Yu Ting glanced away and returned to watch her sister finished tying the bandage strips into a small knot.
With a smile at He Yu Ting, He Xue Zhen stood up and curtsyed in front of the two brothers. “He Xue Zhen and my sister He Yu Ting beg to thank General Jiao Ying Jie and Marquis Jiao for coming to our rescue and saving our lives.”
General Jiao held out his palm. “There’s no need to apologize, Miss He. It is my fault that I didn’t have the foresight to send my soldiers to escort you. We knew you were coming but didn’t stop to think about the bandits. There’s no excuse for my lapse in judgment. You must let me the one to apologize instead.”
He Xue Zhen blushed. To have a powerful general apologize to her was not expected. She was just a lowly merchant daughter and felt humbled by his gesture. “No, no. Please don’t apologize. My sister and I were behind schedule so we didn’t dare to bother General Jiao with what was our problems.”
He Yu Ting nodded. “Yes, please don’t blame yourself. This is all our doing.”
Marquis Jiao smiled and gently intervened; knowing this conversation would prolong if not stopped. “This is not anyone fault but the bandits. Now that the supplies are delivered and you’re safe, please rest here until the bandits are taken care of.”
The older one shook her head. “We don’t dare to bother General Jiao and Marquis Jiao anymore than we already have. My sister and I will return to the inn with our men.”
General Jiao shook his head. “I heavily advise against that at the moment, Miss He. Until the bandits are captured, you should not risk your lives or that of your men.”
“Yes, that’s right. We’ll feel much better if you stay within the fort until we return,” Marquis Jiao said. “In fact, I already ordered my men to prepare a tent for you and your sister as well a place for your men to rest. I hope that you’ll stay.”
The sisters exchanged looks. Although they rather not inconvenience their hosts, to gainsay the general and his brother was disrespectful. Thus He Xue Zhen reluctantly agreed.
The battle between the bandit was as bloody as it was brutal. It was a bloodbath Jiao Ying Jie didn’t want to shed but a necessary one. The head of the bandit had refused to surrender when Jiao Ying Jie tried to negotiate. Consequently, he was killed with the rest of the men who refused to surrender. Those who survived were the ones that had thrown down their weapons after their Jiao Ying Jie had killed their leader.
Jiao Ying Jie looked up to see his commanding officer, Wei Cheng, rushing to him. Usually, Wei Cheng accompanied him to his battles, but this past evening, he’d left Officer Wei to see to his guests. The officer stopped in front of Jiao Ying Jie and bowed in respect. “Welcome back, General. I have prepared a bath for you and Marquis Jiao as well as refreshments. Pleas–“
He held up his hand. “See to the men first. There are injured to take care of,” he ordered. Officer Wei nodded and started to walk away when Jiao Ying Jie stopped him. “The He sisters?”
“They retired to their tents soon after you left, General,” he informed. “I haven’t seen them since.”
“And the fort? Was there anything amiss?”
Officer Wei quickly briefed him the status of the watch guards and the like before rushing off to see to the injured.
Taking a moment to collection himself, he sighed and scanned his immediate area to make sure everything was in order. Noting the night patrols were doing their usual routine and watch guards at their designated stations, he set off towards his tent. On his way, he paused to look at the tent assigned to his guests and couldn’t help himself to a small smile.
What a brave little thing, he thought as he remembered his first glimpse of the younger He sister, He Yu Ting.
Like her sister, she possessed a small physique, soft pale skin, and large dark brown eyes. Other than her eyes, the biggest thing about her was her courage…and her loyalty.
As he continued on his way, he reflected that He Yu Ting possessed many qualities he valued in his men; bravery, intelligence, and loyalty. While most woman would coward in such a circumstances, she had rushed in like a soldier, seeing to the supplies, her men, and her sister. She was quick-witted and used it to protected everything and everyone around her.
Except for herself.
The thought gave him pause. He wondered if she ever considered the danger she had put herself in? She must had had. It was survival instincts, to take care of oneself before anything else. Unlike soldiers, who were trained to suppressed those baser instincts, civilians honed theirs for survival, and He Yu Ting was definitely a civilian.
With the heart of a soldier, he thought with a smile as he stepped into his tent.
Pulled out of his musing, he saw his brother looking at him in bemusement. Like him, his brother’s armor was stained with the blood of their enemies, his face strained from battle, and eyes dark and weary from what they must do to keep their nation safe.
Skillful in martial arts and possessing extensive knowledge in war tactics, his brother always accompany him into battle whenever he visited. This was usually frowned upon by their peers, who were of the opinion that a bureaucratic place is in the court, not on the battlefield. But Jiao Heng and Jiao Ying Jie had grown up closed and continued to stay close even after their years of being apart.
“What is strange, brother?” he asked, as he approached his brother and motioned for him to turn around.
“That smile,” Jiao Heng replied as he turned and let his younger brother helped him untie the armor straps.
Jiao Ying Jie frowned. “We just destroyed the bandit headquarter and put the lives of citizens out of danger. Is it not a cause to be happy?” he asked as he turned around and let his brother return the favor.
“We had fought alongside each other for many years. I know what you look like after a victory. But your expression just now is not the same. There’s something about it that is different,” his brother replied as Jiao Ying Jie proceeded to untie the secured knots to his golden armor and stepped away to take it off.
Knowing that was true, Jiao Ying Jie let the comment linger as he carefully shed the armor, leaving on his war-torn robe.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Jiao Heng watched his brother as he too followed suit and shed his own armor. Unable to suppress his curiosity, he inquired again, “What was on your mind? I’ve never seen you smile like that.”
Before he could help himself, a small grin broke onto Jiao Ying Jie’s face. Without thinking about it, he simply replied, “I was just thinking about the young mistress of the He family.”
In the process of placing he armor on the table, Jiao Heng paused at hearing this and sharply glance at his brother. “Which one?” he asked, his tone unconsciously sharp.
Surprised by the tone, Jiao Ying Jie stared at his older brother in bemusement. Since childhood, he had never known his older brother to be anything but calm and reserve. He was, by nature, a gentle and considerate man but he rarely allowed his true feelings to be shown under his gentlemanly appearance and it was very rare that he’ll display even a hint of displeasure. Thus, it was confusing and strange to see his calm brother in such a state. Even more, it seems that one of the He sisters had brought forth this change.
Could it be that he develop feelings for one of them? For He Xue Zhen? Or He Yu Ting?
A tightness formed in his chest. Could it be He Yu Ting? His hand clenched into a fist, he carefully answered, “Miss He Yu Ting.”
From the corner of his eyes, he watched his older brother’s face smoothed out and his rigid posture relaxing. Then, a small smile appeared. “Miss He Yu Ting has a brave spirit,” he commented after a moment of consideration.
Relieved that while his suspicions were indeed correct and it was the older He sister that interested his brother, he allowed his mouth to twitch at the corners. “I think it is strange that He Fu You would let his two daughters come to deliver the supplies with only some guards for protection. Does He Fu You not care for his daughters?”
The conversation was interrupted as an officer entered the tent with a tray of fresh hot tea and refreshments. Jiao Heng and Jiao Ying Jie sat down at the table and waited until they were alone again to continue their conversation.
“In the capital, He Fu You is known to be a very doting father. The freedom he allows his daughters, everyone knows it is great,” Jiao Heng said as drank the hot tea. “He has no son and never remarried after his wife died. Although he has a nephew who live with them, everyone know that He Fu You want to pass on his business to his two daughters.”
Jiao Ying Jie considered this information. Unlike the previous dynasties, women in the Zhao dynasty have considerably more freedom. However, even though they are allow to own their own business, such practices were uncommon, especially if there is a male in the family. Jiao Ying Jie had spent a majority of his life on the war field and was not familiar with He Fu You, but he knew that He Fu You’s nephew was his younger brother’s son. “Why not give it to his nephew?” he asked.
“It is rumored that He Fu You had used his wife’s dowry as a capital to start his trading business and she had supported him since the beginning. Before she died, she expressed that she wanted the business to stay in her side of the family. It was her wish upon her deathbed. Since they have no sons, it is natural that it will go to their daughters.”
Jiao Heng smiled. Although it is unorthodox, He Fu You was not criticized for this. Everyone in the capital knew how much He Fu You loved his wife and how she had supported him wholeheartedly from their very humbled beginnings. How could he not fulfill her final wish?
“Before I left the capital, I had heard that He Fu You and his nephew had taken ill,” Jiao Heng stated. “I believed that the He sisters came in their place.”
Jiao Ying Jie nodded in a agreement. A moment later, a smile formed upon his lips. “It is good that they came.”
Jiao Heng laughed. “Yes. It is good that they came.”