Chapter 327: Start of the Operation
These soldiers, be it the ten-man squad leaders or the ordinary soldiers, possessed cultivation beyond him. All twenty of the veterans were True Martial realm experts!
Other than the troops in training, soldiers who were assigned to an official army in Great Tang were all True Martial realm experts.
Not to mention, these veterans had been in the military for at least a decade already, thus there was no need for him to worry about their individual strength at all.
"What kind of mess is he up to?"
"Does he think that he is fighting a war? Twenty men is already a small group in itself, and he's even trying to divide it further?"
"Let him be, that fellow is clearly just an ignorant fool. It looks like we won't be able to rely on him for the mission. Later on, I'll back him up from the back. Let's just hope that he won't pull us down."
"Sigh, those twenty men sure are unfortunate to have chosen the wrong person to go with. Such a waste!"...
While Wang Chong was busy training his men, the other three were also done reorganizing their teams. With spare time on their hand, they turned their attention to observe what Wang Chong was doing.
With a small hill blocking their view, they were only able to see the troops from the shoulders up. The four sections seemed to be spread randomly across the area, creating a sight of chaos. Inevitably, the trio's disdain for him deepened.
From the very start, they were already prejudiced against Wang Chong due to his humble birth, and his actions only seemed to further reinforce their views.
"Make some preparations, we'll be leaving soon. If he doesn't return soon, we'll just leave without him," Xu Gan said as he turned his steed around and led his platoon to the gathering point. Despite the limited manpower assigned to him, this was still his first time leading an armed force, so he couldn't help but feel a little excited to try his hand.
On the other end of the small hill, as if having read Xu Gan's intention to ditch him, Wang Chong didn't allow him to get his way.
After a few more practices and testing out a few offensive formations, Wang Chong ended the training. Dragging a cloud of dust behind them, he brought his troops back to the gathering point, where Xu Gan, Huang Yongtu, and Bai Siling were already waiting.
"Have you had enough fun?" Huang Yongtu glanced at Wang Chong derisively and scornfully.
"Un." Wang Chong smiled nonchalantly in response, not bothering to bicker with him. Raising his right hand, the twenty men swiftly took their place beside the other cavalrymen.
The trio harrumphed at Wang Chong's response and turned their heads away.
Wang Chong shrugged as he stood alone at the front of the formation.
Around half a tea's time later, a golden-beaked eagle, an animal commonly used in the military, swooped down from the sky like a sharp arrow tearing through space.
Zhang Lin, the lieutenant in charge of this operation, hurriedly rode his steed forward and raised his arm to catch the eagle. He adeptly untied a bamboo tube from its claws and opened it to take a look. Following which, he headed toward Wang Chong and the others and reported, "The royal court has given orders for us to leave immediately for the mission. The details of the mission and a map is in here."
The officials from the Chamberlain of Dependencies were in charge of allocating the hundred gathering points over the numerous armies, and at this instant, many other lieutenants like Zhang Lin were waiting for their mission details to arrive.
The missions were allocated randomly, and they linked together to form a huge operation. While the missions came from the Bureau of Military Personnel, not even they knew who would be carrying out each of the missions.
Each army would only be informed of their own responsibilities, so as to ensure the secrecy of the operation, thus preventing critical military intelligence from getting into the hands of enemy spies.
【In the first mission, you will clear away all of the bandits along this path, and not a single one of them is to escape. Should you suffer a death toll exceeding six soldiers in this mission, you're to retreat immediately, and this mission will be recorded as a failure.】
Xu Gan read the contents of the note and a furrow slowly surfaced on his forehead. After which, he passed the letter down to Huang Yongtu, Huang Yongtu passed the letter down to Bai Siling, and eventually, it reached Wang Chong's hands.
The Silk Road was an extremely narrow and long road linking Great Tang and the Western Regions by a journey of several months. Along the path, there were many barren locations such as deserts, mountain ranges, or barren plains...
A huge portion of the road was completely unguarded, making it way too easy for bandits to intercept and rob merchants traveling along this path.
And yet, the Hu merchants who were traveling to Great Tang just had to carry great wealth with them. The commodities that they carried with them were valuable goods such as pearls, agates, gemstones, spices, gold, and even ravishing Persian dancers.
These targets were simply too attractive to the bandits. Just one successful raid, and they would obtain wealth they could have never earned through honest means in their entire life.
As such, the Silk Road had also drawn the attention of many bandits and thieves. Operations were constantly organized against them, and the wealthy Hu merchants also didn't sit obediently to wait for the bandits to claim a slice of their pie, either. They hired powerful experts to guard their parties, thus making it difficult for those bandits to succeed.
But despite the dangers and difficulties involved, the allure of immense wealth was simply too great. Even if the bandits were slain, more would just emerge to take their place very soon.
And if only that was all...
The situation on the Silk Road was extremely complicated. Initially, most of the bandits were Han, but very soon, some of the Hu, Persians, and Arabs who were proficient in martial arts also noticed the mountain of wealth traveling through the Road everyday, and thus, they decided to join in as well.
Many times, the Hu, Arabs, Persians, and Han would be found sharing an intelligence network and working with one another to raid the merchant caravans. Their ranks gradually buffed up as time went by, and their scope of targets also swiftly expanded.
Initially, the operations were mainly directed toward the Arabs and Persians, but eventually, they no longer differentiated among their targets. It made no difference to them whether one was a Hu or a Han.
And eventually, there was even one bandit group who dared to rob a party of officials of the royal court.
The entire royal court was enraged over the matter. It was then that they began viewing this matter seriously and organized periodic cleanups...
Back then, Wang Chong had met quite a few merchants who were robbed, and he could still remember how indignant and aggrieved they were when speaking of those bandits.
It seemed like Wang Chong had gotten himself involved in a periodic cleanup as well.
That explains why the officials of the Chamberlain of Dependencies are here, as well as the assigning of the platoons to us. Wang Chong fell into deep thoughts.
Based on what he remembered, the Silk Road was a path mainly used by foreign merchants, and so it fell under the jurisdiction of the Chamberlain of Dependencies.
As such, the periodic cleanups of the bandits on Silk Road were also managed by them, too.
Honestly speaking, clearing away the bandits wasn't too big of a problem. After all, no matter how strong the bandits were, how could they possibly match up against an organized army? Furthermore, most of the soldiers involved were veterans who had undergone numerous battles.
However, what was tricky were the requirements imposed on the mission. There mustn't be any escapees from the mission, and the casualties mustn't exceed six. These criteria made the mission trickier than usual.
Those who would dare to loiter around Silk Road despite the multiple cleanups in the past would naturally possess considerable ability, and a significant portion of them had clashed with the officials in the past, as well. They came from all walks of life, and each of them possessed unique capabilities.
Furthermore, some of them were even equipped with military-grade crossbows, and the members of a band could range from dozens to nearly a thousand.
Given such conditions, it was nigh impossible to prevent casualties.
The fact that these two conditions were imposed suggested that there was something deeper to the cleanup this time around.
"Lieutenant Zhang, I can understand the royal court's intention of minimizing casualties, but to not allow a single bandit to get away, how is that possible? After all, given how size and the complicated terrains of the mountain range, it's impossible to prevent any of them from escaping. Aren't the expectations too harsh?" Xu Gan said with an awful complexion.
"Lord, there's actually a reason behind this," Zhang Lin replied.
"These bandits are no different from weeds. If we don't pluck them out by their roots, they would simply rally more people and rebuild their bases. This is how most of the bandit bands along the Silk Road came about.
"If we wish to instill fear into those bandits, we must pluck them off by their roots. We mustn't leave behind a single breathing soul in order to deter them effectively. Only then would those who intend to pursue such a path in the future think twice over their decisions. If we can't achieve this much, this operation can be considered to be completely meaningless. If anything, we are just increasing the number of bandits."
Xu Gan, Huang Yongtu, and Bai Siling glanced at one another. The difficulty of the operation on Silk Road seemed to have exceeded their expectations.
On the other hand, having expected this, Wang Chong wasn't too surprised by the turn of events.
"Nevertheless, there's nothing to worry. Most of the bandits along this path are unaffiliated, and the strength they wield is insignificant, as well. They won't pose a threat to us. Thus, we only have to focus our effort on finding them and sealing their paths of escape," Zhang Lin added.
Hearing his words, Xu Gan and the others heaved a sigh of relief.
"That gave me a huge shock! So this is how it is. That's simple, we'll just move in the middle of the night. The bandits might be scattered in the day, but they'll surely return back to their nests at night. Furthermore, that's the timing that they'll likely to be resting, so we should be able to catch them off guard."
Even though Xu Gan had never conducted such operation before, he was still one of the elites from the training camps. He swiftly came up with a plan.
Translator’s Notes: I feel like I should emphasize once more that Hu doesn't refer to a specific race, it is basically a term used to address all foreigners outside of Han.