Edited and Proofread by KitKat
Xiao Zhige rode at top speed for six days before finally arriving in Yanzhou.
Vice Commander Qi Wei saw his return and quickly opened the gates to welcome him. He knelt and cupped his hands, speaking with great relief, “General, you’ve finally arrived! The Beidi troops have issued their call for war for several days now. We did not take them head on and have so far been able to defend the gates.”
“What’s the situation outside the gate?” Xiao Zhige waved his hand, signaling for the 800 soldiers to follow him into the city.
“The commanding general is Hu Yan Ah Te, leading an army of 50 000 elite soldiers. They had charged at us twice but we’ve managed to push them back.”
Xiao Zhige was led upwards to the citadel and saw that just a few miles outside the city gates, the Beidi people already had their barracks set up. Xiao Zhige asked, “What about Hu Yan Zhi and Hu Yan Xun?”
The Beidi army had three formidable warriors: the first was Hu Yan Xun, the second was Hu Yan Ah Te, and the third was Hu Yan Zhi. Whenever they had gone up against Xiao Zhige before, the leading Commander had always been Hu Yan Xun while the supporting commander had either been Hu Yan Ah Te or Hu Yan Zhi. However, at this point, it seemed there was only Hu Yan Ah Te who had come to challenge them.
According to Xiao Zhige’s understanding of Hu Yan Xun, he was not someone who would rashly underestimate his opponents.
“Our spies reported that Hu Yan Xun and Hu Yan Zhi are currently back at the Beidi Imperial Court.” Qi Wei said.
“That’s not right,” Xiao Zhige squinted at the Beidi camp in the distance, “An army of fifty thousand elite soldiers waiting to attack Yanyun County when I’m away, they couldn’t possibly only have Hu Yan Ah Te as the headliner.”
“Hu Yan Xun must be planning something,” Xiao Zhige quickly deduced, “Rations are scarce due to the recent winter… feeding a troop of 50,000 soldiers is no small feat and yet they only make several small scale attacks… It’s a decoy!”
Xiao Zhige jumped off the wall and said urgently, “Bring me the military map!”
Qi Wei hurriedly ordered for the map to be brought up and summoned for the other lieutenant generals to gather as well. Xiao Zhige studied the map and, after contemplating for a long time, he pointed at an area on the map and said, “The Hongya County’s militia is now the weakest and its terrains are also not as steep as Changri County’s, making its defense vulnerable. If I were Hu Yan Xun, I would take my troops to raid Hongya.”
Yanzhou comprises three counties. Yanyun was the largest with most of its border shared with the Northern Desert, making it the first line of defense against the Beidi armies. Hongya and Changri were situated as its flanks but they were surrounded by steep terrains and had a sparse population. Hence, the troops deployed to guard these counties were small, making it vulnerable to any surprise attacks. After marching through Hongya county, the enemy could easily reach Yanyun, opening it for a pincer attack from the front and side. If that happened, Yanzhou’s defense would collapse!
Xiao Zhige had an ominous look, “Qi Wei, lead your troops out of the city. Make sure to hold Hu Yan Ah Te back and keep him from sending reinforcements to Hongya. Another five thousand armored soldiers will follow me to Hongya!”
In Yanzhou, Xiao Zhige’s words held absolute power. His lieutenant generals had long put all their faith in him. After his orders were issued, there were no objections and the men promptly went to prepare for the march.
Xiao Zhige also quickly changed into his battle armor. When his eyes accidentally landed on the now empty satchel, there was an uncontrollable surge of softness in his heart.
Being on the road for days on end, there was no time to think about the person back home. Only when stopping for food and water did the feelings slowly suffuse. Xiao Zhige placed his clothes together with the sachet and put them aside. He then took a long look at the twin-fish pendant on his waist before tucking it safely under his chest armor.
Along the city walls, battle flags were erected. The ‘Ge’ that was embroidered on them fluttered ferociously along with the wind.
Vice Commander Qi Wei motioned for their flag to be raised as he shouted, “Open the gates! We’re heading out!”
Behind them, Xiao Zhige led 5,000 armored troops to Hongya to intercept Hu Yan Xun.
On the 20th of March, Yanzhou delivered news of victory.
The Northern Warlord saw through the enemy’s ruse and led 5,000 troops to face off against the Supreme Commander of the Beidi people- Hu Yan Xun.
Both sides had faced off at Hongya and after ten days of relentless fighting, the Northern Warlord had emerged victorious, cutting off Hu Yan Xun’s arm and killing 3,000 of their elite soldiers.
At the same time, the 50,000 Beidi soldiers stationed at Yanyun county had also been defeated and forced to retreat back to the desert.
After receiving the good news, Emperor An Qing was feeling generous for the first time and rewarded the Wang Manor with quite a bit of gifts.
An Chang Qing humbly accepted the gifts before closing the gates, refusing to greet any other guests. Even so, he could still feel the change in the wind. Two days after the Emperor had bestowed them with gifts, countless dignitaries and officials had also sent their greetings along with banquet invitations.
An Chang Qing politely turned them down and did not attend a single one.
No matter what intention the Emperor had for rewarding them, if the Wang Manor had so much as a close contact with any of the officials, it would arouse the thoughts of many, including the Emperor himself.
An Chang Qing stayed hidden in the comfort of the Wang Manor. Whoever came to visit was always turned away with the claim that he was ill.
He sat in the courtyard reading the letter that came along with the war report.
His brows wrinkled looking at the single row of words: All is well, do not worry.
That person had always been a man of few words. Even his letters were scarce of words. An Chang Qing looked at it with both joy and disapproval. He was elated that his husband was safe but also annoyed that he couldn’t even elaborate a bit more.
Then he thought of his previous life and couldn’t help but worry.
The Xiao Zhige from his previous life would not have written back home but from the servants’ words, that had to have been a treacherous battle. However, after leaving for only half a month, Xiao Zhige had sent back news of his victory. His quick success had caused An Chang Qing to feel anxious.
“Has the person been caught?” Xiao Zhige tore off the bandage with his teeth and began to apply a new layer of medicine.
In the bloodsoaked battle, although Xiao Zhige had managed to cut off Hu Yan Xun’s arm, he hadn’t been left unharmed. Despite having dodged a fatal attack, Hu Yan Xun had still managed to injure his left shoulder.
“Yes. What do you plan to do with him?”
Qi Wei seemed concerned, “He is the censor sent by His Majesty and also the Crown Prince’s man. I’m afraid…”
Xiao Zhige finished tying the knot of his bandage and said with a murderous smile, “Here on the battlefield, officials are bound by military laws. Furthermore, torching the army’s grains and grass is tantamount to colluding with the enemy and can be deemed as a betrayal to the country. Chop his head off and have it delivered back with haste to Yejing.”
“Behead his accomplices and hang their bodies in public to set an example.”
Xiao Zhige continued to ask, “How are the rations?”
“We discovered the arson in time and were able to put out the fire before too much of the animal fodder was lost. However…” Qi Wei’s face dimmed, “When we counted the grains, we found that the batches in the inner storage were mixed with pebbles. After sorting them apart, only less than half of that amount is grains. As long as there is no war, it will last us half a month.”
Qi Wei could only report to this point when the war horn sounded.
A soldier’s urgent report came through the door, “Our scouts have detected that Hu Yan Xun and Hu Yan Ah Te are leading an army heading straight for Yanyun County!”
“Get ready for battle!” Xiao Zhige disregarded the tear wound on his shoulder and stood up. He put on his armor and said to Qi Wei, “Send another urgent report back to Yejing to request for rations. Send out two more men to Liangzhou and Chenzhou to ask if they have any surplus to lend us.”
On the 28th of March, an emergency report came from Yanzhou along with the head of the censor officer.
The report stated that the censor officer had colluded with the enemy and betrayed the country. While the two armies were fighting, he had led ten men to light the grains and grass on fire. Thanks to the timely discovery, the fire had been extinguished but it had been later found out that the grain barrels had been mixed with pebbles, cutting their food supply by half. The Beidi people had gotten wind of that and launched an attack. There were only enough grains to support the army for another ten days, with an urgent request for support from Yejing.
After the report was read, there was an uproar within all ranks of the government.
During times of war, grains and grass were of utmost importance. An officer burning down the army’s provisions was no different than committing treason. The ministers eyed each other with solemn looks on their faces, fully aware of the looming crisis.
The Head Imperial Censor immediately knelt down and plead, “It’s my incompetence for not being able to see my subordinate’s treachery! I await my punishment!”
The Taifu Temple’s Secretary also knelt down and claimed, “Your Majesty! The grains sent from the national repository couldn’t possibly have pebbles mixed in! Please investigate this matter!”
The Crown Prince swept a look at the anxious officials and stepped forward, “Treason is an unpardonable crime, the perpetrator should’ve been taken back to the Dali Temple for interrogation before he was convicted. Isn’t second brother too hasty in killing him? We should send someone to investigate this major crime before making any decisions.”
Emperor An Qing looked calmly at An Zhi Ke and asked, “What does Minister An think?”
An Zhi Ke swiftly glanced at the Crown Prince before stepping forward and saying, “Yanzhou is a far away land, Wangye must have his personal reasons for doing so. However, at present, overcoming this war should take precedence.”
Emperor An Qing’s face darkened. He tapped the armrest and asked with impatience, “How much grain is Yanzhou requesting?”
The Taifu Secretary replied, “100, 000 buckets.”
Emperor An Qing’s expression changed drastically, “100, 000?”
The Taifu Secretary wiped his sweat-filled forehead and said, “That is correct. However, the treasury is currently empty and the Empress Dowager’s 60th birthday is also coming up… We really have no silver to withdraw at the moment. Before the year end, we had already sent a batch of grains to Yanzhou and coupled with the recent snow disaster, there is nothing left in the grain repository.”
Emperor An Qing’s face was distorted. He slammed his fist onto the table angrily, “The treasury is empty?! Where did all the silver collected over the years go?!”
“Your Majesty! Please calm down!”
Emperor An Qing stared furiously at his subjects. He waved his sleeve and stood up, “Leave! We will resume this discussion tomorrow!”
The situation at court was disclosed shortly after.
When An Chang Qing heard Tie Hu report that there was a food shortage in Yanzhou, his heart clenched.
After the good news from Yanzhou kept coming in, he had always felt that something was amiss. Only after hearing Tie Hu’s report were his worries justified and the memory fragments from his previous life came surging back.
At that time, he had only heard vague pieces of information, not even realizing that it had had something to do with Yanzhou or Xiao Zhige.
He remembered that there had been a major case involving corruption in the military. And then the issue of food shortage in the north. When the Beidi people had begun their attacks, the soldiers and civilians had been engaged in a deadly battle under that dire circumstance. After nearly a month, they had been unable to wait any longer for Yejing’s support and had fed on bark and weeds. Soldiers had had to go into battle in order to forage for food and the outcome had been tragic. Although they had managed to push the Beidi people back in the end, the Da Ye Empire had also suffered heavy casualties.
An Chang Qing clenched his fists. He did not expect that the long forgotten rumors from his previous life were related to Yanzhou, to Xiao Zhige.