“Pojun, tell me, what do you think of this painting?” Yang Gongming asked.
Yang Pojun did not know where he was leading with this but inspected the painting regardless.
“The brush strokes are light giving it a certain style and attention to detail. Judging by the colours and the signature here, it was painted around the Song and Ming Dynasty. It’s a good painting.” Yang Pojun analyzed and gave his opinion.
Yang Gongming smiled. “Good. You have studied well to be able to analyze so much.”
“You wanted me to broaden my horizons,” Yang Pojun said with a solemn expression.
Yang Gongming nodded. “Yeah…you’ve always been an obedient child and I’m proud of that.”
Yang Pojun thought his tone did not match the words that accompanied it but remained silent.
“Can you see the fisherman on the boat?” Yang Gongming asked again.
Yang Pojun looked at the fishermen. “This fisherman…is there a significance behind the fisherman?”
Yang Gongming probed again, ignoring his question. “Do you know who the fisherman is?”
Yang Pojun frowned and contemplated. He thought hard about it but came up blank. “Father, I’m afraid I can’t answer the question.”
“It’s you,” Yang Gongming said nonchalantly.
Yang Pojun couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Yang Gongming nodded and sighed. “Pojun, do you know that this is a fake painting? I had a friend replicate it for me many years ago.”
Yang Pojun’s eyes widened. “But…just now you said…”
“I said your analysis was accurate. I never said it was right.” Yang Gongming smiled.
Yang Pojun was shocked! Yang Gongming indeed did not confirm if it was genuine.
“Pojun, I said that I’m glad that you’re an obedient child. But I would have been happier if you weren’t. I longed for the day that you were disobedient but it never came.” Yang Gongming patted his shoulder.
Yang Pojun was completely lost. “W...why?”
“A good son listens to his father. But he will never be an excellent son. Because if all he does is listen, he would have only lived his father’s path and not his own. The future of this clan does not need its history. It needs a new perspective.”
Yang Gongming’s words were soft. “You were obedient since young and you were precocious. You always believed that you were the sole heir to the Yang Clan and held your self up high in public because of it. You had to be disciplined. You were strict to yourself and everyone around you…”
Yang Pojun lifted his head abruptly. “And why is that wrong?! Father, is my obedience the reason you refused to make me heir?!”
“No.” Yang Gongming smiled. “The only thing wrong that held me back was your stubbornness to stick on a fixed path.”
Yang Pojun’s face turned pale as he listened on.
“You’ve never thought of disobeying me and you never doubted my decisions. You even went so far as to give up your firstborn child without consulting me first. What made you think that the Yang Clan would reject its blessing?”
“Father!” Yang Pojun gritted his teeth. “If it were you, would you not have done the same?”
Yang Gongming smiled bitterly. “I would…I would have?”
“But that doesn’t make it right!”
Yang Pojun was startled.
Yang Gongming sighed a long sigh. “I might have made the same choice but that does not mean that it was the right one to make. Did you know that for the last twenty years, I have woken up in cold sweat asking myself if things would have been different if we raised Yang Chen ourselves? If I had to sacrifice a baby for the sake of the clan, what kind of leader does that make me?!”
Yang Pojun stumbled a few steps back.
Yan Sanniang wiped her tears behind them.
Yang Gongming’s voice was hoarse but he tried to pull through with a smile. “Pojun, how I wished you were brave enough to tell me about Yang Chen. How I wished that he would appear in our family tree. Even if I would not have allowed it, I could pass the clan on to you with relief in my heart. Saving him would have shown that you had a different thought process, the one I was hoping for. Although it might have ended up the same way, at least you were trying to control the rules rather than let it control you.”
“Father…I…” Yang Pojun was devastated. He did not know what to say.
Yang Gongming turned around to face the painting. “I said you were the fisherman because all you see is the river and the mountains by your side. You would never have known hat you were just a fake painting on canvas. I sent you to broaden your horizons for a reason. I did not want you to be trapped as the descendant of the Yang Clan with ideals that weren’t yours. But instead, you wasted your time learning about antiques and trivial matters…”
Yang Pojun tightened his fists.
“Father, what about Yang Chen? He does not care about all this. Why is he back?”
Yang Gongming explained. “Yang Chen is different from you and me…”
Yang Gongming laughed. “To him, there are no rules in the world. The world is his playground. He kills his enemies and keeps the ones he chooses by his side. He doesn’t care if this would affect his reputation or whether it is morally acceptable. He follows his heart and not the rules.”
Having said so, Yang Gongming pointed to the fisherman. “You are the fisherman in this painting and Yang Chen is where you are right now, looking over the whole painting. I didn’t pass the clan to you but to Yang Chen because I knew that he could do something the both of us could not.”
“He slaughters people! How could you speak so highly of him?!” Yang Pojun yelled out furiously.
Yang Gongming shook his head and chuckled. “We are soldiers. In our world, there are only friends and foes. There are no neutral standpoints. Politicians talk but we kill. The Yang clan doesn’t need a leader to protect the clan. We need someone who would fight for the clan…”
Yang Pojun stared at his father for some time.
Finally, he smiled bitterly and said. “Father, I just can’t let it go. I’m your son. Even if I failed to meet your expectations, it was only because you raised me this way.”
“That was why I planned to never tell you this.” Yang Gongming sounded as though he was in pain. “I did not want to hurt you knowing that it was also my fault. But since you were so eager to know, I felt that I owed you an honest answer. Pojun, although you’ll never be the leader, I never looked down on you or hated you. You didn’t disappoint your mother. I'm the one who disappointed both of you…”
“Mother?” Yang Pojun snorted. “I never recalled having a mother. Father, if this is your decision, I have nothing to say. I know I cannot oppose your decision but I will never accept it!”
Having said that, he left through the door he entered.
But just when he was about to step out of the door, he saw Guo Xuehua who was waiting outside. He locked eyes with her, feeling the longing in her eyes.