Sha Po Lang

Chapter 87 - Scholar

Chapter 87: Scholar

Before, much like everyone else, Xu Ling placed an irrational trust in the Marquis of Order, the representation of the Black Iron Camp. It seemed that as long as there was Gu Yun, they could charge ahead whether it be dragon cave or tiger den, if the sky fell, he would be here to shoulder it. Of course, that trust was now shattered.

Deputy Inspector Xu’s handsome face was pale blue, he still held onto the last line of hope and asked, “Marshal… is it also your intention to cross the river?”

“How is it possible?” Gu Yun looked at him with his gaze filled with confusion and said, “Tch, I already told Master Feng Han long ago that this thing is certainly not reliable. The reason why the Black Eagle can fly fast is that it could rely on human control when it reaches the sky. He makes such a large thing, it’s alright in calm weather, in the face of a little storm and rain, it instantly comes down. Is it not to hand our lives to the enemy on the battlefield? You see, it’s already done for.”

Ge Chen threw up until his internal organs were turned upside down, his tears running: “I will… definitely tell Master Feng Han after returning.”

Xu Ling’s liver almost busted from fright. He could not be as optimistic as Ge Ling Shu, feeling that he could never return again.

Fortunately, someone could still speak human language, Chang Geng turned to Deputy Inspector Xu and said with a laugh, “Don’t listen to him, he was only scaring you. This place is flat, there are no enemy camps that can be seen in sight. It shows that the enemy’s leading force is not near at all. Tonight there are also thunderstorms and rain, the sound of the explosion and thunder are blended together. He has calculated already, it won’t attract a large number of people, at best, there will only be some patrol coming to check.”

Gu Yun revealed an evil smile.

Xu Ling looked at Yan Wang with tears in his eyes. His Highness’s courage and intellect that remained unfazed even in the face of danger was already enough for him to bow down in respect. At the moment, he sincerely said, “Yan Wang is wise.”

“Not at all,” Chang Geng waved his hand. “Being fooled by him since childhood, I had soon learned my lessons.”

Xu Ling: “…”

He did not know why, but he felt that there was a… strange intimacy in the few words Yan Wang talked about Gu Yun.

It was not very pleasant to hide in the barren grassland in the rainy night. Fortunately, the Western patrolmen came quickly. A moment later, some people already came while cursing in foreign language. There was a slight trembling sound of horses hooves on the ground. Only then did Gu Yun, who was still playful and smiling, suddenly frowned and whispered, “Strange.”

Xu Ling was startled as he saw his surprised reaction, he quickly asked, “Marshal? What’s strange?”

“The people coming… Three, four, five… How come there are so little?” Yan Wang on one side lowered his voice and said, “The Westerners’ patrol appears like a child play.”

“I don’t know,” Gu Yun shook his head. “Let’s deal with it first before anything else – does anybody know their language?”

He had just finished, but everyone’s eyes already focused on Chang Geng in unison. He and twenty soldiers looked at each other for a moment. “What are you all looking at me for?”

Ge Chen was shocked, “Yan Wang does not know how to speak a foreign language?”

Chang Geng was puzzled: “… I can speak some Suzhou slang, but when did I ever know how to speak a foreign language?”

It turned out that over the past year, people have either thought that he was unpredictable, or that his heart was bottomless, or simply that he was a capable person, always assuming that no matter what he encountered, he should always have a solution, that he should know a little bit of everything.

At that moment, Deputy Inspector Xu on one side suddenly said, “This officer actually understands a little.”

Only then did the eyes on Yan Wang shift collectively — plus Yan Wang’s own share.

Xu Ling coughed but did not show his timidity. He said, “To tell you the truth, when Marshal and Your Highness guarded the gate of the capital city, all the magistrates followed the Emperor up to the gate, this lowly official also joined in it, I could truly feel the uselessness of a scholar then. However, I was not well-versed in six skills, with no strength to kill the enemy, thus I have made up my mind to learn the language.”

“If there was another fight in the future, even though I could not don the armor, I could follow behind to be a servant for the generals, running errands and speak the language, it could be considered that I have not been born into this body in vain.”

The last sentence was almost prideful. In fact, besides Deputy Inspector Xu, in this group of people, they were either those with experience or a black crow of the Black Iron camp. One was cunning, one was sharp, one was fast, good at both risking their lives and taking lives. There were continuous dangers along the way. If it were to be someone else, they might have collapsed. It was difficult for the weak scholar Xu Ling, but bearing the thought of working for the people, he was able to grit his teeth and endure.

In this society with many types of people, there was a scholar between heaven and earth.

Even Gu Yun rubbed his chin, no longer teasing him.

“We will have to trouble Master Xu later,” Gu Yun’s playful eyes vanished, as if there was a glint of cold iron contained inside. “Here we go!”

With that, a group of Western patrolmen in Light Armor came into their sight. One man steps out from the group, circled around the fire and wreckage of the Eagle that had not been extinguished in the rainwater, muttering something.

Xu Ling whispered, “He said, ‘It’s raining so hard, it shouldn’t have caught fire for no reason. There are no outsiders in this area. What happened?'”

What did ‘there are no outsiders in this area’ mean?

Gu Yun just turned his head. Another foreign soldier picked up a burnt piece of debris from the ground and flipped it back and forth in his hand for a moment. Suddenly, he jumped three feet high and said something again.

Xu Ling hurriedly said, “He said, ‘There’s a sign of Great Liang’s Military Factory on it, there must be Great Liang spies already mixed in’ — Marshal Gu, they’re starting to get tense. Have we been found out?”

Wood could burn, but stone and iron could not. Those people must have recognized the sign of Ling Shu.

Xu Ling: “Marshal Gu, I’m afraid these foreigners will call…”

Gu Yun laid his hand on the Wind Slasher at his waist and gave Chang Geng sideways glance. Chang Geng took out Qian Li Yan that could be clipped to the nose bridge without hurry, wiping away the water on the glass. He touched the bowstring slightly, seemed as if he was determined whether it was damp or not, then pulled the bowstring under the wide-eyed gaze of Xu Ling.

Gu Yun waved his hand and more than twenty guards of Black Iron Camp flew through the grass.

A Western patrol soldier unloaded a horn-shaped trombone from his waist, took a deep breath, and as he was about to bring it to his mouth to sound a warning, an iron arrow suddenly burst into the air, coming from his left ear, and shot the man’s head into a rotten red and white watermelon.

His brain sprayed to all his companions nearby, and the next moment, a few dark shadows burst out in front of the Western soldiers not yet able to respond. The Wind Slasher chirped in the air, like chopping vegetables. In a twinkling of an eye, a few heads fell to the ground, leaving only one man who had not yet had time to dismount. He raised his hands in fright, looking in fear at the killers emerging suddenly from the wild grass.

Only then did Xu Ling manage to finish the sentence: “…for their companions.”

Gu Yun patted him on the shoulder and sincerely answered, “Now they can’t be called for anymore — pick him up, tie him up and take him along. It’s not suitable to stay here for a long time, withdraw first!”

Two Black Iron Camp guards took the Western soldier, stripped him like garlic, and searched him. Then tied the Western soldier, who appeared like a white chicken, into a pig waiting to be slaughtered, stuffed his mouth and carried him away.

“I think there’s a small village over there. Let’s try it.” Chang Geng said while walking, “Generally, in this land facing the river, during the war, those who can run had already run away. I’m afraid there are only a few old families left, nine out of ten houses would be empty. Later if we see people, let’s ask the local what is the situation in the occupied area, but I have to ask Master Xu to go ahead first. The brothers of the Black Iron Camp would appear murderous when they’re still and silent, so don’t let them frighten the commoners.”

Xu Ling hurriedly said, “Yes, as you command.”

With that, he peeked at Chang Geng secretly. Yang Wang had been soaked by the rain. A strand of hair fell from his temples and was dripping with water. He was walking in the mud with deep and shallow steps in a deserted area, yet the look on his face seemed to remain unchanged and unconcerned, still carrying the bow that shook the earth as soon as it was pulled.

Chang Geng accidentally raised his head and met Xu Ling’s eyes. He asked pleasantly, “What does master Xu want to tell me?”

Xu Ling’s face changed a little, but he finally swallowed the words raising to his lips and shook his head politely.

When the group came into the village, they discovered that the place was as quiet as a ghost town. Except for the sound of wind and rain and their respective footsteps, there was no other movement. Each broken wooden door was left half open, The grass in the yard grew as high as half the wall, everywhere were broken tiles and house posts. There was a baby’s top hanging at the door of a house, stained with mud, already became a rag.

The most spacious part of the village was the ancestral temple. The courtyard could be seen from afar and could be used by outsiders.

Ge Chen took out a stick of the size of a small fire match from his bosom. After unscrewing the lid, a faint light came out. The bricks and tiles on the top of the ancestral temple had broken. As it was raining heavily outside, bits of water leaked inside. The tables, chairs, and benches in the room had collapsed and were damaged. There were only a few rags left on the corner of the wall, printed with the plain-colored flower pattern of Jiangnan, still reflecting the prosperity of the old days.

Xu Ling looked around inside and outside the temple and asked, “It seems nobody is here, Marshal, had the local people already run away?”

Gu Yun also frowned slightly, ordering several guards to search around and leaned over to pick up the printed cloth in the corner.

“The last time I went down to Jiangnan, it was in spring.” Gu Yun said, “Flowers were blooming, warm winds gushed by, even rebelling is done in leisure, got some merchant ships filled with compressed fragrance to smuggle Ziliujin…”

Before he had finished, a soldier rushed in and said, “At the back of the ancestral temple, Marshal, you see, there’s… in the backyard.”

Gu Yun raised his eyebrows: “What’s over there?”

The soldier’s face flashed with hesitance for a moment, avoiding Gu Yun’s eyes, he said with difficulty: “…the villagers.”

The small village in Jiangnan was winding and graceful. There was a small river in the middle, houses were built along both sides. There was no distinction between North and South, but now they were all brought to ruin. The four stone signs of ‘loyalty, filial piety, chastity, and righteousness’ at the gate of the ancestral temple have been broken by a half. The stone pieces rolled into the grass. Xu Ling happened to kick something at his feet. When he looked down, he almost jumped up – it was a skeleton.

Xu Ling: “This… This…”

In the middle of the conversation, Yan Wang had taken the lead to enter the backyard of the ancestral temple. The real ancestor tablets were scattered all over the courtyard. The ruins of Buddhas were covered in dust. On the black slate, countless corpses with heads separated from their bodies were arranged neatly. Men, women, old and young alike, the deep hollow of the eye sockets of the skeletons were covered with cobwebs.

Xu Ling took in a cold breath and unconsciously grasped the door frame.

“It’s a vast area,” Chang Geng said in a low voice after a long silence. “There are open seas and canals between the north and the south. East and West official roads can go to the rest of the territory. There are many plains in this area, with a foreign enemy occupying for a long time, it is impossible to go on. Our people are also easy to get in, I think they… they had to do a thorough cleaning up.”

Xu Ling asked in a daze, “What is a thorough cleaning?”

“Send Heavy Armors to slaughter the village,” Chang Geng whispered. “Make a circle, group the people inside the circle together, cleaning them all up, and don’t let people from the outside come in again. Then just send people to block several main official road entrances and exits, so that there won’t be thousands of Black Iron Camp soldiers mixed in under the disguise of merchants like what happened in the southwest that year. Now I finally understand why there are only a few soldiers on patrol just now.”

“… Because this place is a no man’s land.” Chang Geng kicked the stomach of the Western captive as he spoke. The captive almost had his intestines leaked out from this kick containing his anger. Unable to scream, he had to groan on the ground like a pig.

Gu Yun took the light from Ge Chen’s hand and illuminated a rotten wood, there was a line of inscriptions engraved by fingernail on it——

A guard asked, “What’s that, Marshal?”

Gu Yun’s throat moved slightly: “… ‘The tears of the survivors are in the enemy’s dust’*… There’s only half the sentence..”

There was a skeleton beneath the big wooden pillar, it had rotted into a mass, with patches of white bone, appearing very horrifying. Only an index finger eaten by insects and ants was still pointing at the inscription relentlessly.

As if it still questioned in silence: in the land of fish and rice, where are the generals and the iron horses?**

*/**: Referenced from the Southern Song dynasty poet Luyou 陆游《秋夜將曉出籬門迎涼有感》 (The feelings of traveling outside the fences during cold Autumn night), the original continuation after the first quoted line was “Hoping for the return of the Emperor’s Army for another year.”

Soaking in the rain all night, the chill finally seeped through his bones.

And the words ‘Jiangnan defeated’ have never been so powerful before, the whole ancestral temple was engulfed in dead silence for a while.

Not knowing how long had passed, Chang Geng gently nudged Gu Yun, “Don’t look at it anymore, Zi Xi, many things could happen in the long night. Let’s leave here first, it’s important to join with Old Zhong.”

Gu Yun’s tightened his fist, straightened his back as he heard his voice. Unexpectedly, the front of his eyes darkened, tumbling for a half a step before he could stand still. Chang Geng supported his arm in fright.

Gu Yun’s chest was uncomfortable. For a moment, he felt an indescribable sense of weakness that he had not felt for many years raising up. After being injured at the West gate, no matter whether he quit drinking or reduced his medication, he could not stop his body from becoming worse and worse, as if every debt from many years had come for him.

Now facing the questioning of a skeleton, he was not able to say a word, even a trace of nervousness and weakness was arising in his heart. Gu Yun thought, “When can I take back Jiangnan? Could I still… make it in time?”

However, many doubts and worries in Gu Yun’s heart only occurred for a moment, they were then forced down — at least in the eyes of outsiders, he was back to normal.

“It’s all right,” Gu Yun looked at Chang Geng then pulled his arm out of Chang Geng’s hand and said to Xu Ling, “Master Xu, ask the white-haired monkey where their old nest is, how many people, how many armors, where they are hiding steel armors. If each time we asked he does not answer, cut off one of his fingers, grill them up to a good meal for him.”

It was said that most of the Western soldiers were purchased at the expense of money. There was no such thing as bravery and no fear of death. Gu Yun’s many means of frightening him have not been used yet, the guard had just raised the Wind Slasher, he had already confessed everything.

As Chang Geng had said, the vast plains along the river have been cleared into a no man’s land by them, leaving only one guarding station in each area. There were at least a dozen people in one post, mostly cavalry.

“A part of the army acts as the vanguard, confronting General Zhong, and part of it is…” Xu Ling thinned his lips, struggling to translate, “… they raid everywhere and force prisoners to work as miners and slaves for them. The looted goods were transported back to their home countries, silencing those who wanted the Pope to step down.”

At this time, the rainstorm had stopped, the thick clouds opened, revealing a small ray of moonlight. Looking far ahead, there was only thick smoke and mist, the scenery of farming puppets busy working on the field, farmers drinking tea discussing matters of the country were difficult to appear again.

Xu Ling whispered, “This officer thought that the refugees in Jiangbei were already in great distress, but at least they still had grass shacks to keep out the rain, and there were two bowls of porridge to receive every day…”

Chang Geng: “It’s no use talking for longer. Let’s go and let this western dog lead the way to their post.”

The two guards of the Black Iron Camp immediately responded by picking up the Western soldier.

“Your Royal Highness Yan Wang!” Xu Ling took a few steps and called Chang Geng, “When can we fight with the Western dogs?”

Chang Geng kept on walking and answered without turning his head: “If we can successfully settle down many refugees in Jiangbei, pray that God will spare us of natural disasters, after resting for a year or two, until the Eighteen Tribes exhausted their resources, reopen the Ziliujin passage in northern frontier, I don’t believe we cannot do anything to this group of Western dogs!”

Now the court was engulfed in dark smoke, it was difficult to even take a step, thousands of refugees were still wandering everywhere, let alone taking a rest? Uniting against the foreign enemy?

Xu Ling took in a breath, his eyes were red. He caught up with Yan Wang and whispered in his ear, “Your Highness, did you know that your movement in reforming the court was too big, some people had regarded you as a thorn in the eye… Not to mention anything else, but if that Yang Rong Gui truly is corrupted and is concealing information, he will surely catch wind of this these days. As a last resort, he can exchange all the gold and silver in his manor into Feng Huo tickets, saying that your Highness wanted to impose Feng Huo tickets on local officials by any means, imposing targets that are impossible to achieve, thus they are forced to break the law with bribery, the Office of Inspection and the Imperial Censorate will also attack at the same time. What will you do then?”

Chang Geng revealed a half smile, “If there is someone who could handle this mess, take back Jiangnan and bring peace to the four fronts, then I will pack my bags and leave. Master Xu, what I did was not for myself, nor for people to praise me – if they want to accuse me, then they are free to do so, I could face my own conscience and the heaven, at midnight whether I sleep at the Grand Council or the imperial prison, the ancestors will not come to slap me, other matters…”

No longer did he continue to speak, the young and handsome face of Yan Wang seemed to flash with a bitter laugh of self-ridicule. Xu Ling seemed to see the loneliness and helplessness surrounding him, his heart trembled greatly, his face burned —

The Imperial Censorate had been humiliated by Yan Wang in public more than once. For a long time, they had wished nothing more than to grasp his weak point and bite Yan Wang’s party to death.

And the Office of Inspection was the gathering place of ‘pure party*’ in the court — much like Xu Ling, they were unwilling to cling to power and nobility, and disdained to join with the merchants and businessmen filled with the stench of money. They regarded themselves as being loyal only to the ruler and regarded what Yan Wang did as drinking poison to quench thirst. In addition, there were dirty rumors everywhere. They always thought that Yan Wang was a power treacherously playing the Emperor in his hands.

*清流, qingliu, lit. pure stream, a term associated with the grouping of orthodox scholar-officials who were well known in social circles or in the academic field.

Xu Ling went south with Yan Wang this time, investigating and dealing with corrupt officials was one thing, more importantly, taking advantage of when the noble family and the new officials fighting into a pair of black-eyed chickens, the two offices have planned to join hands to uncover Yan Wang’s crime as the one who started it all.

Xu Ling’s purpose for this trip was not simple. On one hand, it was due to Emperor Long An who did not feel assured of Yan Wang Li Min, on the other, it was for the two offices wanting to seize evidence of Yan Wang’s traitorous intent —

There was someone here exhausting himself for the devastation of Jiangbei and Jiangnan, even though his means had been a bit tough, while they were in the court waiting to catch his error. In the end, who on earth was truly the one bringing harm to the country and the people?

Xu Ling couldn’t help but get choked up: “Your Highness…”

Chang Geng raised his eyebrows slightly, “Master Xu, What’s wrong?”

Xu Ling could not speak for a moment.

Gu Yun silently led the way in front. Xu Ling, a scholar, thinking he was whispering in a low voice, in fact, when Marshal Gu’s ears were not deaf, he could hear every word in the wind.

He caught a glimpse of a guard fuming with anger upon hearing it, then glanced at Ge Chen whose expression was pale. He could almost come to understand the origin of this ‘accident’ causing them to fall into the enemy’s territory.

To be Continued…

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