Chapter 876: Lies
Translator: Henyee Translations Editor: Henyee Translations
Five days after Nie Zeng delivered that letter, reliable news came that the Second Consort hadn’t actually joined the main force of the Central Plains yet. However, she had sent an envoy to negotiate with the Central Plains army regarding her surrender. It was said that she had set a lot of conditions.
The Second Consort had chosen to surrender to the Central Plains at an extremely sensitive period of time. Prince Xiao and the General-in-chief, Pang Ning, who were political enemies, were fiercely disputing the issues concerning the Norland and the Western Regions. The former hoped to stabilize the overall situation in the Western Regions by adopting the strategy of forming extensive alliances, so as to force Norlanders to stay far away. However, the latter insisted on a final showdown against the Norland; after winning it, they could take advantage of their victorious momentum to subjugate the Western Regions under the Central Plains’ direct rule.
Military exploits were of great help to both sides. Prince Xiao and the Dragon King of the Western Regions had “collectively defeated” the massive army forces of the Norland, which fully proved the effectiveness of their strategy of forging alliances. However, the Second Consort could easily ruin all of their plans.
She had been in the battlefield herself, and she knew that the truth of their so-called “alliance between the Central Plains and the Western Regions.” As the largest political enemy of Prince Xiao, Pang Ning would surely be happy to hear the truth.
Prince Xiao discovered that he had taken too big of a risk. Although he was the Emperor’s uncle, he would still be convicted of an unforgivable felony if his fraudulent claim of military exploits was exposed. He had left in such a hurry that he didn’t even have time to ask the Dragon King a very important question: why had the Second Consort chosen to surrender to the General-in-chief, Pang Ning, who was in the far east instead of the Central Plains army stationed in the Western Regions?
It was not until the next day that Gu Shenwei himself thought of this point, and by then, it was already too late to send a messenger since nearly all of the roads leading from Jade City to the east were under the control of the Central Plains. This meant that no letter could ever be safely delivered to Prince Xiao. He could only hope that Prince Xiao was smart enough to think of this himself.
News of the Second Consort’s surrender caused a sensation even greater than that of the battle of the Thousand Horsemen Pass.
No matter who the winner was – Shulitu or Luoluo, the strength of the Norland would be proved. Although this was a civil war incited by Prince Xiao and the Dragon King “together,” most of the troops on the battleground were grasslands cavalrymen.
The Second Consort was well known in both the Norland and the Western Regions. Currently, she was like a symbol of the old Khan as well as a witness of the grasslands’ prime. Her surrender distinctly showed her prediction of the Norland’s decline. The Central Plains instantly became formidable in the eyes of the residents of the Western Regions.
Fang Wenshi’s letters arrived consecutively, each offering a detailed explanation for the process of how the Second Consort’s surrender came about.
Shulitu had been leading his army towards the Naihang Tribe. They progressed slowly on their way over and everything was going smoothly. All of the tribes along the way were willing to acknowledge the new Khan. Even the general of the Naihang Tribe, who had previously chosen to flee, also felt somewhat regretful and frequently sent messengers to speak to the new Khan.
Right at this time, the Second Consort suggested that she wanted to take another path and go to ruins of the Royal Court. Her reasoning was very simple: she had killed General Zhesu and Prince Duoercha. Although she had done that in self-defense, her deed must have aroused the indignation of the Naihang Tribe, which would be very detrimental to the Khan’s overall plan of winning the grasslands people’s support.
Shulitu and Fang Wenshi agreed, so the Second Consort took her army and left in the name of guarding old Khan’s mausoleum.
But the Second Consort didn’t go to the Royal Court. Seven days after leaving the Khan’s army, she gathered all of the generals as well as many officers of her army and declared that she would surrender to the Central Plains.
She gave a long speech, and the most important part was that, “The new Khan has succeeded the throne. I hate to disillusion you, but soon I’ll lose my title of “Second Consort” and my status. I’ll be forgotten and even be hunted down by the Naihang Tribe. You’re my cavalrymen. No matter where you go, my fate is your fate. I want to surrender to the Central Plains, and I’ll do whatever I can to guarantee the interests of every one of you – livestock, pastures, wealth, and large numbers of them at that. Through historical precedent, the Central Plains will surely accept all of my conditions. So just talk and tell me what you want.”
Most of the generals had served the Second Consort for many years and had witnessed the ups and downs that she had been through. They had also sensed the Naihang Tribe’s hostility towards them, so they were willing to continue following their master.
A small number of officers quit the meeting halfway and immediately went to deliver the message to the new Khan.
Fang Wenshi asked Nie Zeng to deliver a letter to the Dragon King at once. Meanwhile, he sent a large number of envoys to pursue the Second Consort. But the Second Consort had already made up her mind to leave. She even refused to meet those envoys.
This aroused indignation among the troops. They wanted to chase the Second Consort and take her back whatever the cost. They even suggested dispatching the 50,000 Court Attendants troops stationed in the Royal Court ruins. Shulitu consulted with the leading generals for a long time and eventually decided to give up on chasing the Second Consort.
That was because they were facing two sources of pressure. The grasslands had recently experienced two periods of heavy snowfall, making the terrain very unfavorable for troop movements. Besides that, Luoluo had also regrouped his remaining forces and rebuilt an army of a considerable scale. It was not worth the effort to chase down the Second Consort’s 10,000 men under these circumstances.
Fang Wenshi felt deeply ashamed. He had to admit his negligence in every letter, since he had failed to see through the Second Consort’s ploy. As stated, he could have noticed some of the signs when she had chosen to leave as well as in her reasons.
Gu Shenwei couldn’t blame the military counselor. The Second Consort had just killed the two leaders of the Naihang Tribe, and there was barely any conflicts of interests between her and the new Khan. Nobody could have anticipated that she would choose to betray him so soon.
It was not until this moment that Gu Shenwei realized that the Second Consort’s killing people had nothing to do with Shulitu at all, and neither did it have anything to do with retaliating against the former humiliation. She had done it purely to avenge Duodun’s death.
The Naihang Tribe’s making way for their enemies during the war had been the direct reason for Duodun’s plan completely failing.
The reason why the Second Consort had chosen to surrender to the General-in-chief, Pang Ning, who was further away, was that she wanted to clearly retaliate against the Dragon King who was in the Western Regions.
The Dragon King was another reason why Duodun had lost his reputation as well as his life.
The Dragon King and Prince Xiao’s strategy of cooperation could fail at any moment. After two months’ worth of interruption, Gu Shenwei had no choice but to prepare for another war.
All of the preparations were made secretly. Prime Minister Zhong Heng recruited soldiers from Xiaoyao Lake and increased his troops’ number to 40,000, and then stationed them in the northern part of the Stone Kingdom. They could cross the narrow desert and enter the territory of Jade City through Shuangquan Village at any time. Then, in half a month’s time, they would be able to take back Thousand Horsemen Pass and block the exits and entrances in the east.
On the same day that Gu Shenwei heard the news that the Second Consort had surrendered, he made a detour around Jade City from the south with five hundred guards, went straight to the encampment of Shule Kingdom thirty miles away in the west, took command of the army there and had the prince of Shule stay. Meanwhile, Shang Liao went to the Shule Kingdom to continue the draft in the name of the prince.
Wu Zongheng of the An Kingdom of Xiaoyao Lake had received orders to defend Heaven’s Pass. A group of generals from Big Snow Mountain went to the Xiaowan Kingdom to keep the army and provisions in the capital city under strict control as well as put Shangguan Yun under surveillance.
It took Gu Shenwei over ten days to make these arrangements. The situation had just stabilized when he received more bad news: the Governor of the Western Regions, Wei Song, would soon arrive with the envoy of the Central Plains.
There were many descendants of the Central Plains in the Jade City, so the Chinese New Year’s Eve of that year was very uproarious. Wei Song and the others arrived on the third day of January in the Chinese lunar calendar, followed by 10,000 soldiers. The number of Central-Plains army troops stationed outside of Jade City thus increased to 20,000.
On the fourth day of January, in the encampment of the Central Plains, Gu Shenwei had a meeting with Wei Song, talking about official affairs. The most important topic was about the new Commander-in-chief.
Prince Xiao had appointed Dugu Xian, who was from the Western Regions, as the Commander-in-chief of the Central-Plains army. But Wei Song also hoped to get the seal of Commander-in-chief, though Dugu Xian insisted on following Prince Xiao’s order. There was a dispute between them. It was not very intense, but the two had failed to reach an agreement, and the two Central-Plains armies remained under the command of their respective Commander-in-chiefs.
A normal welcome banquet was held where Wei Song introduced the envoy of the Central Plains to the Dragon King. Both sides were very polite and didn’t mention anything about the battle of Thousand Horsemen Pass.
After the banquet, Wei Song invited the Dragon King to talk in private. He instantly shed the businesslike veneer and said in a fatherly, amiable tone, “the Dragon King’s victory in the Norland exceeded everybody’s expectations. I’ve already reported it to the Imperial Court. It won’t be long before you receive the Imperial Court’s acknowledgement, Dragon King.”
Gu Shenwei had made a deal with Wei Song almost a year ago. Back then, Gu Shenwei had hoped to trade the Khan’s life for the support of the Central Plains, but he had never taken this deal seriously. He believed that Wei Song also hadn’t. But unexpectedly, after so many dramatic twists and turns, it had actually come true.
“What I’ve achieved during my journey to the Norland was mostly due to the luck of the draw. I barely made any contribution.”
“Alas, you don’t have to be so modest, Dragon King. Without your efforts, this ‘luck’ would never have happened. The old Khan died at a perfect time. Otherwise, the 20,000 troops of the Central Plains wouldn’t have achieved as much. Ha-ha.”
Gu Shenwei had thought that Wei Song wanted to fish out the truth of the battle of Thousand Horsemen Pass. But unexpectedly, he just mentioned it in passing before quickly changing the topic. “Are you… displeased with me, Dragon King?”
“What makes Lord Wei say that?” The cold look on Gu Shenwei’s face was his best cover. He didn’t have to show too many emotions, so he naturally wouldn’t expose any vulnerability. Nobody could tell whether his surprise had been put on superficially or not.
“After such a long time, Dragon King has only sent one messenger – his name’s Fang Wenshi, I think – to contact me once. After that I heard-”
“Fang Wenshi is the military counselor of the Dragon Army. He’s my most trusted man.”
“Oh.” Wei Song seemed to have suddenly understood. “It’s all my fault. I thought that he was just a regular lobbyist, so I treated him with only the most common courtesies. It turns out that… Ha-ha. I was wondering why you suddenly became so cold.”
“You misunderstood, Lord Wei. The things between you and me have nothing to do with the counselor. It was all because of Prince Xiao’s arrival in Jade City. I believed that I would arouse unnecessary suspicions if I contact Lord Wei too often during this time. Unexpectedly, others weren’t suspicious of me, but Lord Wei is.”
The ranks of the officials of the Central Plains were very hierarchical. Wei Song was the supreme official of the Western Regions and was designated by the Central Plains, but compared to Prince Xiao, his rank was several levels lower. Thus, Gu Shenwei’s explanation was fairly plausible.
Stroking his beard, Wei Song burst into laughter and the minor misunderstanding disappeared instantly. “How could I be suspicious? During the daytime, I merely had a small dispute with General Dugu. I hope that the Dragon King will understand. I have my own duty, and sometimes, perfunctory formalities are inevitable. General Dugu will naturally continue to serve as the Commander-in-chief, and I’ll consult with Lord Envoy to see if it’s possible to bring the 10,000 soldiers I brought here under General Dugu’s command. That way, the military orders won’t conflict.”
“You think too much, Lord Wei. Prince Xiao appointed General Dugu Commander-in-chief and entrusted his army to him, so General Du is only doing what he should do. He’s the Commander-in-chief of the Dragon Army, and I’m unwilling to hand him over to others.”
The two told one lie after another, but the atmosphere unexpectedly became warmer. Wei Song occasionally called the Dragon King “nephew.” The Dragon King’s face was also not as cold as usual, though he never called Wei Song “uncle” back in return.
This show lasted for about a hour, and neither side seemed bored. Eventually, Wei Song brought up the most important issue. “Not only have you eliminated the old Khan, but you have also avenged the murder of your family. Congratulations, Dragon King.”
For the first time, Gu Shenwei told the truth during this conversation. “I haven’t. I didn’t get my revenge.”
“What? Isn’t King Rizhu dead?” Wei Song had an amazed look on his face.
“King Rizhu used to be in contact with Golden Roc Castle, but he had nothing to do with the massacre of the Gu family.”
“Are you sure, Dragon King? The intelligence I got-”
“Lord Wei’s intelligence was accurate. King Rizhu did harbor resentment towards my father, but he didn’t hire Golden Roc Castle’s killers to kill my father. I’m sure of this.”
“I see.” Wei Song believed the Dragon King without asking any further questions about the details. “And regarding the person truly behind this, do you have any clues, Dragon King?”
Gu Shenwei nodded. “Please give me some detailed information about this envoy sent by the Central Plains, Lord Wei.”