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Chapter 193: Money for the Wife
Heavy clouds obscured the moon in the depths of the night. A long awaited storm was brewing.
Weary Great Yan soldiers had already dropped off to sleep outside Xihua. Only a few patrols were still up and about within the campground. Whoos.h.i.+ng sounds suddenly broke through the air. The patrols didn't have time to react before they were struck in the neck, dead before they could make a sound.
Under the cover of darkness, several hundred men wielding steel blades charged swiftly into the camp like panthers. Blades rose and fell onto unsuspecting targets.
Prolonged conflict had thoroughly exhausted the soldiers. They could finally enjoy a night's worth of rest after beating back the enemy, but who would've thought that was a purposeful move from the Valiant Tigers?
Many lost their heads while wrapped in their dreams. It wasn't until almost a hundred were killed when a random person woke up and saw the blood dripping off of enemy soldier blades.
"No! General w.a.n.g's been killed!"
Chaos reared in the Great Yan campground. Screams and wails sounded, slashes and the thuds of weapons meeting flesh rose and fell, fires started burning everywhere…
The fighting lasted until daybreak. A light drizzle fell as Pang Xiao led his ten thousand Valiant Tigers into Xihua, swiftly taking control of the yamen and grain warehouses. He took over the city's defenses and dumped all of the surviving key officials and their families into the dungeons. Heavy guard was rea.s.signed for city protection and all captives were locked into the army campground.
At the same time, Pang Xiao issued further orders.
"The Valiant Tigers may not raid or loot from the people when in Xihua. They may not hara.s.s or rape women. They may not trample the fields. They can conduct regular business transactions for their needs and can't acc.u.mulate debt. Anyone found in violation of these orders will receive one hundred canings according to military law."
He pointed at two ashen-faced men kneeling within the tent. "These two raped women. Drag them out and do as the military law dictates. Make an example out of them!"
"Understood!" Soldiers acknowledged the orders and dragged away the two messily dressed men. Sounds of canes thwacking into flesh quickly travelled in from outside.
Zheng Pei frowned with disapproval. "Your Highness, treating the men like this will disappointment our brothers. They braved life and death with you on the battlefields. Why go to these lengths for such a small matter? One hundred canings will take their lives!"
Pang Xiao's armor was dyed with blood and his face flecked with brown spots of dried blood. He arched his slender brow and narrowed his phoenix eyes dangerously. A murderous aura rose around him. He seemed to be a G.o.d of slaughter come straight from h.e.l.l, wreathed with a more solemn air than usual.
Zheng Pei lowered his head. The remaining Valiant Tiger generals and commanders also snapped to stern attention.
"Then, has Sir Zheng received another secret missive from the emperor?" Pang Xiao asked smilingly, but the words felt like a slap to Zheng Pei's face.
He was in Pang Xiao's camp as the prince's follower, which was why he was able to carve out certain status for himself as Pang Xiao's strategist. He knew full well just how much the Valiant Tigers wors.h.i.+pped and trusted the prince. The prince was a living military command token. His word was more useful than a command token for deploying the troops, in the event that the emperor didn't hand one over.
His authority would decrease if any of them learned what he'd done. Even though there was nothing logically wrong with his actions, he would still be branded a traitor, emotionally speaking.
The emperor was a paranoid sort and might not fully trust Zheng Pei, even if the strategist spoke only the truth. Pang Xiao was wily and slippery, but he had a benevolent heart. If the strategist performed well, he'd receive corresponding protection.
Thus, Zheng Pei's att.i.tude now was markedly different from before. He quickly raised a cupped fist salute. "You must be jesting, Your Highness. What secret missive would the emperor have? I'm just worried about you, which is why I said what I said. The Valiant Tigers are a force you've raised, after all."
Pang Xiao paced within the tent, cracking his whip loudly in time with his steps.
"We're clas.h.i.+ng with Great Yan to the end this time around. The emperor is determined to conquer this nation. Is he conquering it to end up with dead cities and razed land?"
Zheng Pei, Huzi, and the soldiers in the tent all looked at Pang Xiao. He stopped at the head seat, his hand on the hilt of his precious sword. "I made these decisions in preparation for His Majesty's rule over Great Yan. The Great Yan emperor is worthless trash, subjecting his people to years of oppression and hunger in addition to prolonged chaos from war. They need someone to end these troubled times. If we're less than their current government, what do you think the people will do then?"
"Your Highness is wise." Everyone lifted cupped hands with respect when they understood.
Pang Xiao nodded. "It's been a tough day for everyone. You should all rest."
"Understood." The crowd departed, leaving only Pang Xiao and Huzi in the tent before long.
Huzi walked up merrily to help Pang Xiao out of his armor. "Your Highness, I had people prepare hot water earlier. You should go take a shower."
"Mm. Any news from the capital?" Pang Xiao asked with a neat shrug out of his blood-stained war robes. Baring a fit upper body and clad in black silk pants, he headed behind a divider. Splas.h.i.+ng sounds could be heard shortly after.
Huzi rolled up his sleeves to wash his master's hair and back. "Jiyun hasn't sent us anything for a long time, it's actually our scouts who reported back a bit earlier. I didn't say anything because you were busy with the battle."
Pang Xiao stretched out his arms to lean back on the wooden tub. He closed his eyes. "Lack of news from Jiyun means that things are very tense at the Qin Manor. With old fart Weichi's temper, he probably vented his anger at the renewal of war onto the Qins. Grand Preceptor Qin's likely been stripped of his position and his life may even be in danger. As for the Caos…"
He paused. "Old fart Weichi is probably out of ideas and even looking to the Tatars in his panic. The Caos must be in favor again."
Huzi picked up a hand towel to rub Pang Xiao's back and responded with great admiration. "You've hit the nail on the head, master. The scout's report was exactly what you said. Grand Preceptor Cao is back in favor and in his former position. Master Qin has been demoted but retains the position of marquis. He was thrown into the dungeons for a while. When we ambushed their output, that terrified the civilians into fleeing for the capital. But even then, their trash emperor refuses to take out any silver to feed and house then."
Huzi stopped apprehensively at this point. "And, and, and the fourth miss…"
"Out with it. Stop acting like a girl."
Huzi rolled his eyes. Don't get angry when I tell you, my dear master. The guard quickly blurted out how Qin Yining had sold off all the precious baubles in Ning Park and was feeding and housing the refugees at her residence.
Pang Xiao digested the information silently.
Huzi quietly continued wiping his master's back, not daring to say a word. He must want to explode from anger!
But the prince burst out laughing after a moment.
Oh man. Has anger cooked my master's brains?
"My darling Yi spends money like water. It looks like I need to acc.u.mulate more wealth for my future wife. We can't run out of silver after I take her home in the future, now can we!"
"Tomorrow, post orders to arrest the corrupt officials, the ones that the people call 'scalpers' and 'demons', as well as the unkind moneybags in Xihua. Oh right, take the ones who've been resisting the most violently and are likely an unstable element. Execute them all and display their heads on pikes. Confiscate their wealth for the army and exaggerate news of what's been done. Have it spread into the capital.
"Your Highness, didn't you just say that we should have the Great Yan people think that Great Zhou is kind?" Huzi was perplexed.
"I have my reasons. Just follow my orders."
Although the guard still didn't understand, he nodded seriously. "Understood."