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According to the law of the Tang Empire, a general who returned to Chang'an from battle had to enter through the Eastern City gates. That was why the Feat Posthouse located dozen of miles away from the Eastern Gates became a very important location. Since the beginning of the Tang Empire, many brave warriors had pa.s.sed through the posthouse after returning victoriously from their battles. The stables in the posthouse and the tall straight trees by the road bore witness to such history.
Xia Hou stared out at the majestic city in the west in silence. According to the rules of the imperial court, he and his subordinates were to spend the night at the Feat Posthouse and enter the city tomorrow at dawn, heading straight to the palace to meet His Majesty.
Chang'an City looked extremely majestic in the twilight. The black and green city walls reflected the light of the setting sun, shining purple and copper, looking impregnable and extraordinarily magnificent.
As one of the four generals in the Tang Empire who were revered by the ma.s.ses, Xia Hou had served in the military for many years. He had forged a strong connection with Chang'an. However, not many knew that he did not spend much time in Chang'an even though his General's Mansion was in the northern city and he often returned to the capital to work.
Over the past decades, he had spent most of his time leading the cavalry and guarding the bitterly cold northern territories. He had conquered lands for the empire and inspired awe over the cavalry of the Yan Kingdom and Left King's Palace.
He had finally left the biting cold of the northern territories. Tens and thousands of his cavalry were left at the Northeast Border Military camp in Tuyang City. The imperial court had already sent General Shu forth to take charge, and there shouldn't be any issues.
Only a couple of soldiers who were close to him had come with him. The imperial court had allowed him to take more soldiers with him to Chang'an, but he was very careful the night before he retired and did not make any moves that would arouse the suspicions of officials.
In order to give the imperial court a peace of mind, Xia Hou's two sons were still in Chang'an and had voluntarily imprisoned themselves in the General's Mansion. Meanwhile, his wife, relatives, and some loyal servants had moved to his hometown several months earlier. They had planted in the fields and retrieved pickles from the cellar, preparing for his return.
Of course, that wasn't truly his hometown. Xia Hou was from the Cold Region in the far north. It was one of the largest Desolate Man settlement. With the Desolate Man moving southwards, he could no longer return to that hometown. Perhaps he had been unable to return to that place since he turned his back on the Enlightenment Doctrine.
"Gu Xi is dead, so is Lin Ling. Many of those who followed me back then have died..."
The sky grew darker as the sun set. The purple and bronze wall of Chang'an was bathed in blood red. Xia Hou looked at that place with narrowed eyes as he thought of how those he trusted had died to pay the price and couldn't help but feel sad.
In spring, the news of Huang Xing and Yu Shuizhu's death reached the Military camp in Chang'an. The news did not sadden him. He only grew vigilant.
Sorrow and vigilance were not emotions powerhouses should have. Xia Hou suppressed these emotions forcefully and began to grow weary. He started coughing.
The Tang military was a place that revered powerhouses. An ordinary general would be unwilling to cough before his subordinates as it would show that he was weak. But Xia Hou did not care because he knew how powerful he was in the eyes of his subordinates. Not to say, he knew that he was powerful.
Just like the Defender-general of the State, Xu Shi, who was still the most important person in the Tang military even though he had coughed for decades. No one could replace him as he was well-respected by others and was trusted by the Emperor.
Xia Hou coughed again freely and unrestrainedly. Perhaps it was because he did not care anymore since he would be stripped of his armor after entering Chang'an tomorrow.
The captain standing outside the inn looked at the general's strong and large stature. He listened to the coughing and worried flashed on his face. The general was still powerful to him, but he had witnessed the fights between the general and the powerhouse from the Devil's Doctrine in the Wilderness and was thus worried.
It was at this moment when the ground outside the walls of the inn began to tremble. Neither the respectful servant in the inn nor Xia Hou's soldiers noticed it.
Xia Hou might be a powerhouse in the peak state of Martial Arts and was the strongest and most frightening man on earth, but he wasn't a G.o.d. His cough couldn't make the earth shake.
He quietly watched Chang'an City as the sun set, and then, turned to enter the inn.
Someone was waiting for him in the room.
It was a tall large man who was at least half a head taller than Xia Hou. He looked respectful and stood tall and straight like an indestructible mountain.
The man wore a cloth shirt. His armor could be seen beneath the thin cloth, and the aura from the Talisman inscription exuded from beneath the cloth.
Xia Hou was evidently shorter than the hulking man, but it felt as if he was bulkier and stronger than him. He did not have to raise his head to look up at the man.
"If someone saw that Luo Kedi, the commander of the West-Hill Divine Palace's divine army had appeared at the closest inn to Chang'an city, they would definitely think that this is a challenge against the Tang Empire."
He looked at the man coldly and said, "I know that you are a prideful person, but do you really think that the Tang Imperial Center Administration doesn't have any aces? There are at least ten people who could kill you with ease in the Chang'an City behind us. You are seeking death by appearing before me now."
Luo Kedi said, "Since I dared to come, I am of course unafraid of death. To me, General Xia Hou's return to Chang'an feels more like you're seeking death. Do you think you can come out of there alive?"
Xia Hou's expression did not change. He said placidly, "Your position within the Divine Hall could garner respect from small countries like South Jin, Song and Yue Kingdom. However, outside of Chang'an and to me, you are but just a dog raised by the hierarch. What right do you have to speak to me with that tone?"
A flash of anger glinted in Luo Kedi's eyes which he forcibly repressed. He said with a cold laugh, "I admit that I am the Hierarch Lord's dog. But you are just a lion reared by Haotian. You still intend to return to Chang'an even though you have lost your spirit. Do you really want to make your enemies happy?"
Xia Hou bellowed, "This is an agreement between the Academy and myself. Who would dare to interfere with it? Not even your master could!"
"The Divine Hall would love to see General Xia Hou enjoying his peaceful golden years. However, are you really willing to do so?"
Luo Kedi handed him a letter that had a fire Fu character on it and said, "This is a holograph from the Hierarch Lord. He wants to invite you to West-Hill... no, back to West-Hill."
Xia Hou took the letter without a change in his expression.
Luo Kedi said, "The Divine Hall needs your strength. Furthermore, the Hierarch Lord had said that retirement doesn't necessarily mean that you have to stay in the village forever. There will be a moment when you return."
Xia Hou looked at him and his steel-like brows raised slightly. He said, "What can you give me?"
Luo Kedi said, "Since you are loyal to the Empress, then the West-Hill Divine Palace promises that the Divine Hall will do its utmost best to help the Empress' prince succeed in getting the throne when the day comes."
The West-Hill Divine Palace was very powerful. To Xia Hou, their offer that came way before the day arrived was very sincere.
However, contrary to what Luo Kedi had expected, Xia Hou did not react in any sense in the face of the Hierarch Lord's sincerity. Instead, he said, "I shall not send you off."
Luo Kedi bore down on his anger and said, "The Divine Hall needs an answer."
Xia Hou said, "I am very grateful and will consider this seriously. This is my answer."
The ground at the Feat Posthouse shook once more. Luo Kedi left without another word. The officials and civilians who were preparing for the welcoming celebrations in Chang'an would probably never know that the commander of the West-Hill Divine Palace's divine army had been to Chang'an and attempted to steer General Xia Hou down another path.
Xia Hou looked at the holograph written by the West-Hill hierarch and a cold mocking smile dawned on his face.
He knew that this was indeed a holograph from the hierarch. He had received seven of such letters over the years and was familiar with the handwriting on the cover of the letter.
He mocked the intentions of the West-Hill Divine Palace. Wanting to help the Empress' son take the throne? If the West-Hill Divine Palace knew that the Empress was his beloved sister, Xia Tian, they would know that the prince had Desolate Man blood flowing in his veins and carried the aura of the Enlightenment Doctrine. Would the bigwigs in the Divine Hall still dare to do that?
The mocking smile on Xia Hou's face turned into one of self-mocking. He pressed down with his fingers and was about to crumble the hierarch's holograph into powder. However, he hesitated and stopped for some reason.
General Xia Hou who had guarded the northern frontiers for the Tang Empire for decades had agreed to disarm and retire without raising any conditions. Many in the imperial court thought that this was odd, but had all felt more relaxed because of it. After finding out the Emperor's intentions, the imperial court had conferred upon the general the highest prestige.
At dawn, at the lead of the pa.s.sionate officials from the Ministry of Rites and under the respectful gazes of the Yulin Royal Guards, Xia Hou donned a new armor. He brought several soldiers with him and rode towards Chang'an.
The eastern gate of Chang'an had long been washed and cleaned. Prince Li Peiyan brought some officials with him out of the city under the accompaniment of music to wait for the general. There were also several notable figures from the city who had come to wait with antic.i.p.ation.
The imperial court had already prepared a decree to be awarded to Xia Hou when he entered the palace. The decree was currently in the palace and it held a dazzling reward as well as an induction to the royal ranks.
Xia Hou ignored the officials from the Ministry of Rites and got off his horse when he saw the crowd welcoming him. He pulled his horse along towards them.
The Prince smiled and shook his head when he saw this. He waved his hand, gesturing for the eunuch beside him to leave and walked towards the general.
The two met at the pavilion outside the eastern gates.
Xia Hou bowed calmly to the prince.
Li Peiyan, however, found it difficult to remain calm. He looked at the general's face that was as hard as steel and said with emotion, "It's good now that you're back."
The officials of the Tang Empire did not like general Xia Hou who was known to be proud and excessively violent.
Over the past decades, there had been rumors that Xia Hou had killed prisoners and innocents just for war records. No one knew how many laws of the Tang Empire he had violated. However, there had been no evidence and everyone knew that the Empress supported him. This meant that the Emperor valued him as well.
And this perhaps, was the reason why the people of Chang'an did not truly love General Xia Hou like they did the other three generals of the army. Even though the people that Xia Hou had killed were not Tang citizens, the simple and direct Chang'an citizens felt that violence wasn't really any worthy skill.
However, Xia Hou had been stationed in the bitter cold north frontiers for decades. Now that he had disarmed and retired, he was warmly welcomed by Chang'an. The streets were crowded with people who cheered and applauded.
The shopkeepers and workers of the teahouse by the street had all abandoned their work and gone to welcome the general. It was fortunate that there were only a few guests in the teahouse.
Ning Que and Sangsang sat at a table beside the window.
He listened to the cheering and applause from the streets and Xia Hou's back as he rode by the teahouse on horseback. After a moment of silence, he said, "As compared to when we were in Tuyang City, he has really aged a lot."