Both of them poured their hearts out to each other. Clearly, they had been separated for far too long in the previous segment of the trial.
The separation was worse for Zu An, who had to spend decades without Pei Mianman after her ‘death’. He could only smile like an idiot and stare at this girl in front of him. His wounded soul had finally received nourishment again, blooming like a desert after a rainstorm.
He had originally come to talk about important matters, but the well of emotions was too great, and they didn’t talk about anything else, only expressing their deepest feelings for each other.
They spent the time extremely close to each other, their minds and bodies touching, and the temperature in the sheets gradually rose.
Pei Mianman’s breathing began to hasten. Her eyes started to blur, and a light blush suffused her cheeks. Even though Zu An knew that she was beautiful, she had a different look to her this time, which took his breath away.
Her face grew red. She quickly grabbed his hands and said, “You beast! I’m so young, yet you still can’t let me go.”
Zu An laughed, clearly in a good mood. “How long have we been together? What’s the point of saying all this right now?”
Pei Mianman remembered their days spent in the palace as king and queen, full of love and affection. Her body softened, and she took the initiative to lean into him.
A few moments later, a sudden peal of laughter came from under the sheets. Pei Mianman was laughing so hard at her lover that her entire body was quivering.
Zu An’s face was as dark as charcoal. It had finally dawned on him that he wasn’t his old self right now. Sigh…
“Enough, let’s put this aside for now. I’d rather just talk with you quietly.” Pei Mianman pressed her cheek against his chest. It felt wonderful to lean against him like that.
Zu An couldn’t help but smile as well. His mind slowly grew calm again, and he began to talk about the things that had happened after they had been separated.
The night flew by in an instant, and Zu An left quietly, just before daybreak. If he were to be discovered, the consequences would be far worse than just having his legs broken. There were many terrifying forms of punishment during this age.
After that night, the two of them were inseparable, sticking together like glue. Everyone around them was amazed by the affection that these two siblings shared.
In order to avoid suspicion, they always brought their little sister San Cai with them whenever they went out in public, so that no one who saw them could have impure thoughts about their relationship.
San Cai was obviously happy to play with her big sister and big brother. Unfortunately, she was still too young to realize that she was a third wheel.
This day was the same as any other. After they had brought San Cai around the palace and played with her for a while, they tricked her into playing with the mud by herself after the maids left.
Going off to the side, Zu An and Pei Mianman began to converse. The childishness and immaturity they displayed in front of others completely disappeared, replaced by a mature seriousness.
“Ah Zu, what do you think is going on in this part of the trial?” Pei Mianman looked worried. Even though she knew that only moments had passed in the real world, this trial had already spanned several decades.
They didn’t want to be trapped in this trial forever, which was why, after several days of pouring out all their feelings and affection for each other, they gradually let their logical minds take over again, and began to discuss the main issue.
“I believe that the people of Zhou are still the key to this,” Zu An said in a serious tone.
“The people of Zhou?” Pei Mianman was momentarily shocked, but her memories started to return. She gradually recalled that, in the previous world, Zu An had been planning to deal with the people of Zhou, but they had become distracted by other matters, and eventually forgot about them entirely.
“Indeed. Even though I don’t have any concrete proof, I believe that I am right. Since the Shang State was destroyed by the Zhou Dynasty, this trial will most likely have something to do with the people of Zhou.” Zu An replied.
Pei Mianman was confused. “This trial was set up by the Shang State. If your suspicions are correct, doesn’t that mean that they had foreknowledge of their defeat at the hands of the people of Zhou? In that case, why didn’t they act earlier? Also, they wouldn’t have had the time or resources to construct a grand project like this trial after they were wiped out by the Zhou Dynasty.”
Zu An shook his head and said, “Many believe that Di Xin was the last monarch of the Shang State. After the Shang people were defeated in the Battle of Muye, King Di Xin and Daji committed suicide by self-immolation, and the people of Zhou took control of the Central Plains. However, that was not the end of the Shang. King Di Xin’s crown prince succeeded as the Shang monarch and continued to carry out the Shang Dynasty’s traditions. Besides him, both the Song State and what was later known as North Korea were established by people from the Shang Dynasty, which is why they had the ability to create a trial like this.”
Pei Mianman nodded, then asked out of curiosity, “Did you end up dealing with the people of Zhou in our previous world?”
Zu An seemed embarrassed. “Back then, all the other powers surrounding the Shang Dynasty were stronger than Zhou. No one considered the people of Zhou a threat, so what could I do to them? After you died from the miscarriage, I was more dead than alive inside. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to deal with them at all.”
Tenderness seeped into Pei Mianman’s expression, and she gripped his hands tightly in her own. “Ah Zu, you’ve really gone through a lot.”
Zu An gave her hands a squeeze and said with a sigh, “You had it worse. You had to go through death.”
Pei Mianman’s eyes went red. She bit her lip and said, “I was really scared back then. I don’t even think I can bring myself to give birth again.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. Don’t we already have a cute young one right here?” He glanced over at their little sister, who was covered in dirt, and they both laughed.
Even though they were siblings in name, their souls were that of mature adults, and this little sister of theirs was like a daughter to them.
As if she could sense that they were laughing at her, San Cai turned around. When she saw them snuggling up against each other, she immediately ran over, still covered in mud. “Big brother, big sister, I want a hug too! I want a hug!”
Another decade passed by in a flash, and Pei Mianman became more and more stunning, while Zu An recovered his usual handsome and confident appearance.
Even San Cai, who used to be constantly covered in mud and drool, grew into an elegant young lady.
To Zu An, time had passed by awfully quickly. Ten years should have been a long time, yet he felt like it had flown by in an instant.
It was just like the TV shows in his original world. A young main character would be happily jumping and running around in the fields, then in the middle of all of that, a line of text would appear across the scene: ‘Ten years later…’
In an instant, that kid would transform into a mature male lead.
Zu An shook his head and threw this absurd thought out of his head. Even though these years had passed quickly, he and Pei Mianman hadn’t wasted them idly, but spent the time studying the people of Zhou as much as they could.
During Wu Ding’s reign, even though Fu Hao had led an army of thirteen thousand men and defeated the Qiang Faction, she did not have the ability to completely eradicate them.
After years of war against the Shang Dynasty, the Qiang Faction split into several tribes which continued to harass the northwestern territories of the Shang Dynasty from time to time.
The Shang Dynasty employed their vassal states to help deal with these tribes, and the Zhou state was one of these vassal states.
After decades of war, the people of Zhou gradually set themselves apart from the other vassal states. With the Qiang Faction scattered, a power vacuum developed within the Shaanxi and Gansu regions. The Shang Dynasty was too far away to exert any meaningful control over this area, and so the territories of the Qiang Faction were slowly swallowed up by the Zhou State.
Of course, the people of Zhou weren’t the only ones eyeing this territory—other vassal states coveted this land as well. However, the leader of the people of Zhou at the time was named Ji Li. He was a powerful and domineering figure, leading his people in battles all across the region and seizing control of this massive territory for himself. He forged political marriages with the nobles from the Shang Dynasty and maintained excellent relations with the other vassal states. It was said that he excelled at both war and diplomacy.
Eventually, the ruler of the Shang Dynasty named him leader of the western vassal states.
Both Zu An and Pei Mianman were worried to see that the people of Zhou, who had once been so weak, had now grown into a powerhouse. They continued to advise their ‘father’ Wen Ding to act against the people of Zhou.
Perhaps because of their interference, or perhaps because he himself started to fear the influence and power of the Zhou state, Wen Ding summoned Ji Li to the capital city under some vague pretense, then fashioned an excuse to have him executed.
Zu An and Pei Mianman were both left speechless by this sudden turn of events. They hadn’t expected Wen Ding to be so direct and ruthless! The people of Zhou were already so powerful, and merely killing their leader did little to dent their strength. Instead, it cost the Shang Dynasty the support of their remaining allies. The world of the Shang Dynasty was littered with vassal states, all which naturally sympathized with Ji Li after seeing how he had been dealt with.
Zu An knew that even though Ji Li was an exceptional figure, the Zhou state still had even more formidable kings, King Wen and King Wu, who were yet to make an appearance.
Wen Ding, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly concerned. Even the entire country, from the court down to the military leaders, did not consider the killing of a vassal state’s ruler that big of a deal. This was what the Shang kings had done throughout history—crushing any vassal state who refused to submit. If their leader refused to obey, they would be dealt with. If the people of the state grew disgruntled and rebelled, then they were met with war.
The fierce warriors of Yin Capital were constantly ready to teach those vassal states how to behave. At the same time, the Shang Dynasty required regular wars, as they needed large amounts of slaves to function. People were needed for both hard labor and as sacrificial offerings.
But soon afterwards, it became apparent that they had miscalculated. The Yi people to the east of Huai River launched a powerful invasion.
The vassal states that served as the Shang Dynasty’s eastern barrier crumbled under the assault. No one knew whether it was because Ji Li’s unjust execution had drained these people of the will to fight, or because they just weren’t up to the task. Either way, the people of Yi were closing in on the Shang Dynasty.
Bad news came from the west as well. The people of Zhou were infuriated by the sudden death of their innocent leader, and had taken to arms. Now that they had risen up in rebellion as well, the Shang Dynasty was about to be pincered from two sides.
Even though the Shang Dynasty was powerful, the eastern invasion was too great a threat. If the people of Zhou attacked from the west as well, they might just be overwhelmed.
At this time, the court ministers came up with a proposal. Since the relationship between the Shang Dynasty and the Zhou state had always been good up until Ji Li’s death, it would be possible to appease them by offering a political marriage as compensation. This way, the imminent threat from the west would be easily avoided.
Meanwhile, Princess Mu had always been a stunning beauty, and there was no better candidate.