"Long live the Emperor!" a hundred voices shouted in unison. "May He reign ten thousand years!"
The court officials all kowtowed before the Emperor. Emperor Kang was sitting comfortably on his golden throne. Standing to his left and right were eunuchs, loyal servants of the crown as they were entirely dependent on the Emperor's goodwill. Sitting beside the ruler was also Chancellor Cao, an old man with long black beard and mustache wearing a long grey silk robe. He was the power behind the Jia Dynasty's imperial throne. With the Emperor preferring to spend his time with his concubines and fellow painters, Cao had control over day to day affairs of governance. While he was ruthless and corrupt, Cao was also highly efficient and a workaholic, staying up late at night to review government papers.
Emperor Kang was in his early twenties. He had a fair appearance but did not inspire fear or much respect. The top half of the Emperor's clothing was black while the bottom half was crimson, symbolizing the order of Heaven and Earth. A dragon was embroidered on his clothing. The robe was fastened by a golden belt. The Emperor wore a crown topped with a long board that leaned onward. Chains of beads hang front and back, twelve chains each. The jade beads were threaded with silk. Hairpins were used to fasten the crown on the hair.
"General Li, come forward!" the Emperor said.
The General, a middle-aged bearded man dressed in a long black silk robe, stood up, approached the throne and bowed before his sovereign.
"Read my decree," the Emperor ordered a eunuch.
The eunuch walked forward and he read the imperial decree with as loud a voice as he could muster. "His Imperial Majesty decrees thus; Supreme Commander Yang Wanli harbors treacherous thoughts against the Emperor and his loyal subjects. He has slandered the Imperial Chancellor, His Excellency Cao. He has also insulted his Imperial Majesty. As such he is relieved of his command and he is declared an enemy of the crown. He and his clan are to be exterminated immediately. Loyal General Li is appointed Commander of the Imperial Guards and is ordered to carry out the execution of the Yang clan. General Li, heed the decree!"
Silence reigned in the room as the officials were too stunned to react. Commander Yang Wanli was known for his bravery, heroism, and loyalty to the throne. His Yang clan was renowned for its commitment to the dynasty's welfare and for their patriotism. For decades it had provided the imperial army with capable officers who defended the empire. Silence soon gave way to murmuring. Only one person in the court seemed to be pleased with this sudden development: Chancellor Cao. His wide smile was noticed by the court officials. They were now sure that it was Cao who had orchestrated this decree: with a single move, he was going to get rid of his last rival in the court.
Relations between the Chancellor and the Commander had always been rocky. At first, the two men had coexisted, albeit with deep distrust of each other. Although Yang Wanli had tolerated Cao as he was a capable administrator in contrast to the Emperor, his growing corruption, ruthlessness, and ambitions alarmed him. Yet, now it was too late for the great general to react. Cao had control of the court and the Emperor.
Chilling coldness reigned in the Forts of the North. The wind howled. It was snowing. Everything was swallowed in white. Yang Wanli was in his tent. He was wearing a lamellar armor, a type of body armor made from small rectangular plates of iron laced into horizontal rows, and a steel helmet. He was looking at a map of the northern regions and the placement of troops. He had recently pushed back a Swagen raid and was considering making a punitive expedition in the northern kingdom.
"Sir!" a servant shouted as he rushed into the tent. "There is a decree by His Imperial Majesty."
"His Imperial Majesty decrees thus; Supreme Commander Yang Wanli harbors treacherous thoughts against the Emperor and his loyal subjects. His Imperial Majesty, being magnanimous, wants to spare the Commander of the dishonor of execution and is also willing to spare his family if he takes his own life. If the Supreme Commander does not heed His command, his clan shall be exterminated."
The servant was shaking his head in disbelief at what he had just read. Yang Wanli too was stunned; he froze like a statue. He had to consider all his options. He could not rebel against his sovereign, for that would be the utmost treason and confirm those malignant rumors. He could not refuse to kill himself either because his entire clan would be exterminated and its memory damned forever. So he resolved to take his own life. He took off his helmet and unsheathed his sword. Then, with a swift move, he turned his blade into his neck.
"Commander!" the servant barked. He charged forward, trying to save his master, but it was too late. The great commander lied dead on the ground, his blood flowing from his wound and painting the snowy ground red. The sobering cry of the servant could be heard all over the camp. "Master! Why did you have to kill yourself?! Why?!"
More than a hundred infantry troops and archers gathered outside the Yang Manor. They were commanded by General Li. The entrance gate of the manor was painted vermilion and had copper door knockers on it. A pair of stone lions were placed outside the gate. The General knocked the door. A servant opened it. Before he could question the general, he had already drawn his sword and stabbed the man. "Charge!", he barked and his men flooded the manor. Tens of arrows pierced servants and members of the Yang clan who were running away. Even more were being cut down by the soldiers' blades. Blood flowed like a river as the Yang clan was being massacred.
Some of the Yang family managed to grab their spears and attempted to resist. They were stabbing and slashing mercilessly the soldiers but the onslaught could not be halted. They were soon all cut down. Only Yang Chao, Yang Wanli's eldest son, was left standing. He slashed right and left, dodged blades. His spear stabbed tens of soldiers; he gouged out their eyes, pierced their chests, penetrated their stomachs. For almost an hour he parried the enemy swords until a hail of arrows pierced his back. Bleeding and vomiting blood, he used his spear to stand straight. If he was to die, he would die standing, honoring the proud warrior spirit of the Yang family. The imperial soldiers all stood in awe before Chao's body. Only the gleeful General Li was laughing. "So much for Yang family's reputation... In one day they have all been exterminated. Burn down the manor! Erase the Yang Clan!"
The young child, about seven years old, was playing in his room with his toy soldiers when he heard Uncle Luo. He was an old man in his seventies with long white hair and beard and two scars on his face. He was dressed in a brown leather gown and wore a conical hat. He had served the Yang clan faithfully for decades.
"Hurry!" he barked. The child understood that something was amiss as the uncle rarely shouted. "We must leave at once! Soldiers are on their way here."
He grabbed the child by the hand and sprinted forward. As they were about to exit the main hall and walk into the courtyard, suddenly three soldiers appeared and blocked the exit. "Stay behind," he said to the child. He unsheathed a small knife and charged. He somersaulted, landed behind a soldier and slit his throat with his knife. The other two soldiers tried to stab him but he leaped backward, dodging the enemy blades. He then jumped forward and fell upon a soldier. He threw him on the ground and with a swift strike stabbed his forehead. The last surviving soldier let out a battle cry and swung his sword at Luo, but he parried the strike with his knife. The soldier struck again, slashing Luo's chest. Seeing that the old man was bleeding, the soldier prepared for the final strike. "Die!" he shouted as he attacked; this time though, Luo dodged the blade and with a swift back kick sent the soldier flying into the wall. Before he could get up, Luo had already leaped at him. With fury, he stabbed thrice the soldier's neck.
All this time the child was looking at the bloodshed terrified; he was trembling and his eyes were teary. "What is happening?"
"There is no time to explain!" Luo said. "We must get going!"
Luo once again grabbed the child's hand and ran into the courtyard. With plants, rocks, and flowers, the courtyard was like a garden. It was a place that normally offered peace and quite to the family members, yet now it was full of corpses. The fragrance of the flowers and the stench of the dead bodies; the red petals of the flowers and the red pool of blood; the antithesis between the beauty of life and the ugliness of death, of the past idyllic life and the wrenched present.
A wall was all that separated Luo and the child from safety. Luo gathered all his internal energy onto his legs and, holding the child in his hands, jumped high, passing over the wall and landing on the other side. As soon as he landed, he coughed and vomited blood.
"Uncle!" the child cried out.
"It's... it's all right. I... I... am just...tired..." Luo panted. "I have friends at White Snake village. We will be safe there."
White Snake village was a small village in the southeast. The two companions arrived there after two weeks of arduous traveling. After asking locals about the whereabouts of Hang, Luo's friend, they headed to a hut on the outskirts of the village, in a bamboo forest. The hut crouched in the shadows like a sleeping bear. It had wooden walls with a small opening at the front.
"Who is Hang?" the child asked
"A friend of mine," Luo replied. "He used to serve your parents but he left because he desired a life of peace and solitude."
Luo knocked the door. An elderly man walked out of the hut. He had long white hair and looked frail and weak. He was wearing a silk green robe that had become singed.
"Luo, my old friend!" he exclaimed. "Long time no see!"
Luo smiled. "Good to see you, my old friend."
"Who is this child?"
Luo sighed. "He is Yang Jing, the youngest son of Commander Yang Wanli."
Hang slightly bowed before Jing. "Greetings, Young Master."
Jing too bowed before his elder. "Greetings, Elder Hang."
Hang laughed. "This boy is already such a fine gentleman. So, what brings you here in this isolated corner of the world?"
Luo looked at Jing and said, "get inside."
Jing nodded and walked inside. Then Luo spoke. "The Commander... he is dead."
"That treacherous bastard the Emperor, he betrayed us. He sent his army to exterminate the Yang clan. Everyone died. More than a hundred people. I've learned that the Commander was tricked into killing himself. Supposedly, the Emperor would spare his family's lives, but he reneged on his oath."
"That vile bastard!" Hang clenched his teeth. "The Yang family had been serving faithfully the Emperors of the Jia Dynasty for decades. Yet, this ingrate forgot all that the Yang clan did for his family and killed them off in the most horrid way. Ah! What an end to such a glorious clan! One day you are mighty and hero to all, and the other you are reduced to nothingness and branded a traitor. Alas, that's the way of the court!"
"There is still hope..."
Hang sneered. "You talk of the boy? What can one man do against a whole empire?"
"He can learn the way of the sword and become powerful."
"Who is going to teach him? We are both too old to train him; not to say our skills are mediocre at best."
"The Grandmaster of Mount Kunlun is a friend of mine. Once he is old enough, I can send him there to learn how to use the sword and the internal energy."
"I see... I truly hope that he will manage to avenge the Commander. I am also willing to allow him to stay here until he is old enough to go to Mount Kunlun."
Luo bowed slightly. "Thank you, my old friend."
The next day, Luo and Hang crafted memorial tablets for Jing's parents, brothers, and other relatives. It took them almost the whole day. They then called Jing to come, bow and kowtow before the tablets.
"Young Master Jing, those are the memorial tablets of your ancestors," Luo said. "I want you to take an oath before them."
"You shall avenge the Yang clan or die trying. If you forget to seek justice for your clan, may a thousand arrows pierce your heart."
Jing repeated the oath. "I, Yang Jing, give an oath to avenge the Yang clan or die trying. If I forget to seek justice for my clan, may a thousand arrows pierce my heart."
Luo and Hang smiled.
"Maybe," Hang said, "there is still hope for the Yang family..."
Bio: I am an undergraduate student of Byzantine history. I am a fan of Star Wars, Akira Kurosawa and Chang Cheh. I also like Lucifer, Monk, Elementary and the Mentalist. I tend to read wuxia and crime fiction novels. My favorite authors are Jin Yong, Gu Long and Arthur Conan Doyle. I write wuxia, xianxia and crime fiction novels.