Chuo stood outside his clans house dressed in a pair of trousers, shirt, a long coat, a pair of high boots made of thick leather, a long warm cape, headwear with a rounded top and a belt with dagger and sword hanging from it, looking at the other three who had been chosen to go on the campaign. One had brown hair, one had blond hair that was not reddish and the third had black hair and she alone looked like one of the Han.

Some Xianbei had West Eurasian features and Chuo was one such individual. The blond hair, white skin and blue eyes had come from intermarriage with the European nomads of the Eurasian Steppe, resulting in an appearance altogether different from those of the Han or the Di, whose Former Qin dynasty had referred to the Xianbei rulers of the Former Yan as ”white slaves ”, and Emperor Ming of the Hans Jin Dynasty had been born of a Xianbei mother and from her had inherited yellow hair, confusing his enemies who believed he was a Xianbei. The Tang dynasty poet Zhang Ji would describe the Xianbei as ”yellow-headed ” and the Song dynasty poet Su Shi would become inspired by a painting of a Xianbei riding a horse and so write a poem that described an elderly Xianbei with reddish hair and blue eyes.

All of these individuals did Chuo know well, the blond one was even his cousin Fu, with the brown-haired one being Fus sweetheart Qing and the black-haired one being another of the opposite sex named Run.

Mounting their horses and taking their pack horses, who would carry their war equipment, by the reins, the four all looked to the Messenger. ”I shall tell the Khan of what his Tufa kinsmen have done, Tuyuhun Chuo! Your sisters shall have aid sent from Buri Khan himself! This is I swear! ”

”Where are we to go? ” asked Chuo.

”There will be a camp at the Yellow River. ” Replied the Messenger. ”Go forth, Tuyuhun Chuo, and prove yourself the equal of your siblings! ” And with that the Messenger rode off into the distance.

To the Yellow River… Thus did the four know their destination. Thus did the four go forth from their village Chuo knowing this would be the farthest away from home he had ever been. This would be the farthest away from his family he had ever been and for all Chuo knew this would be the last time he would ever see his parents. His parents, his sisters, he knew not if ever he would see them again. How long would the campaign be? That was something he could hardly guess he was not even sure if he would live to see the end of it.

Pausing a moment to look back home, Chuo heard Fu say: ”Don bother looking back, cousin. We aren going that way and we may never come this way again. ”

Closing his eyes, Chuo rode to catch up with the other three while dreams of battles to come formed in his head. Dreams of the glory and the horror that his parents had spoken of… No doubt this campaign would be much of the same.

”Don look so sullen, Chuo! ” exclaimed Qing. ”We ride to face the wriggling worms and shall win great glory against them! We are subjects of the Khan of Tuoba Wei! We cannot lose! ”

Such bravado. Qing truly was her fathers child, the daughter of a man who believed their khanate undefeatable. Had not Liu Yu managed to defeat them during his expeditions? How long until his son Liu Yilong came marching north? No dynasty could last forever and the fact was that the Tuoba Wei Khanate had enemies to the north and enemies to the south and yet, perhaps they would outlive both of their enemies.

Such was a dream, though it was not one Chuo had. At that moment all he dreamed of was being able to return home.

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