Chapter 75: Raid and Slaughter (I)
Huzi and Zheng Pei had been paying attention to Pang Xiao, and their hearts jumped when they saw the words on the note. Pang Xiao thought for a moment. “Is the messenger still here?”
“In response to Your Highness, he’s already left.”
“This prince understands. Thank you for making the trip, Supervisor Lu.”
“Not at all, not at all.” The eunuch bowed with a smile and took his leave.
Zheng Pei waited till the eunuch had left before clapping loudly. “This is a wonderful plan from the emperor! The fury of Great Yan citizens will increase to another level!”
Pang Xiao looked in the direction of Xihua with a smile. “What’s the percentage of women and children to actual soldiers within the city?”
This was a question to which they all knew the answer. Their scouts had long since clearly identified the ratio of soldiers to civilians, and even where rations were being stored. Zheng Pei understood what Pang Xiao was getting at and spoke disapprovingly. “Little prince, you shouldn’t be so soft, like a woman. At the end of the day, the secret decree is also an imperial one.”
“Soft as a woman? Maybe.” Pang Xiao sneered. “The Yan government boasts that they have three hundred thousand troops defending Xihua. But in reality, they barely scrape thirty thousand, and only that if we count the kids just over ten. War is the business of men. What does it have to do with women, children, and the elderly? When chaos runs rampant under the heavens, it’s the people who suffer! Those cries of ours when we raised our banner in rebellion, were they all false!? The hell is this order to slaughter helpless elders, women, and children?! Whoever the f*ck wants to be less than an animal can go do it! I’m not doing it!”
“Little prince!” Zheng Pei’s face had gone crimson in fury at Pang Xiao’s words. He stomped his foot in anger. “You can’t be so emotional and headstrong! You need to consider the greater picture! It’s been a tough road to reach your position, not to mention that this is the time to improve relations with His Majesty!
“Do you know what the emperor will think if you disregard his orders? How about what your fellow officials in court will think? The old Northern Ji officials who surrendered when His Majesty conquered the nation still hate you! If they make use of this opportunity to speak against you, your position in His Majesty’s heart will turn precarious! How will you manage then?!”
When the Great Zhou emperor had destroyed Northern Ji, Pang Xiao had been the vanguard of that assault. He’d been responsible for every gory slaughter, and his methods had been utterly ruthless in his pursuit for vengeance in the name of his father. In the hearts of the many Northern Ji officials, Pang Xiao was the reason why their nation had fallen. Although they’d submitted to Great Zhou, and while some had even taken places at court, they both hated and feared Pang Xiao and often took action in the shadows. Pang Xiao’s wide-ranging infamy was in part due to the help of these people as well.
“This prince understands fully.” Pang Xiao had restrained his initial disgust, his voice turning resolute and measured. “There are certain things a man can do, and things he must not do. To speak bluntly, I’m an overly sharp blade. One day, I too will cease to be as convenient as I am now. Yet, even if I cast off my armor right now and return to the fields, will my status, relationships, and enmity from surrendered officials vanish?”
“Well…” Zheng Pei didn’t know what to say. He’d always known that Pang Xiao was no fool and saw many things clearly. It was just that the prince often did things in a way that Sir Zheng didn’t expect.
“You don’t think so either, right sir? Since it won’t help the situation no matter what I do, why should I cower and hide? ‘The success of a general is built on the backs of thousands of skeletons’. There is certainly truth in this saying. However, this prince doesn’t need the bones of women, children, and the elderly to be the building blocks of my honor and prosperity.”
“Little prince, you’re too stubborn!” Zheng Pei pounded his chest and paced back and forth anxiously, so worried that his face had turned a different shade of red. Spittle flew as he spoke rapidly, “You’re following the footsteps of your father! I know you have a kind heart and don’t wish to harm innocents, but sometimes you shouldn’t do what you want to do, but what the situation calls for! In defying an imperial order, you’ll be ruining the emperor’s plans! His Majesty will add another black mark to your name!”
“Then he will do so. I won’t do something I’ll regret for the rest of my life because of momentary fear. Life is short, particularly for someone like me, whose end may come at any time from another’s hands. If I can’t live out my short life according to my wishes, then how am I different from penned livestock?”
Pang Xiao picked up his brush 1 and gestured for Huzi to grind ink. The guard quite agreed with Pang Xiao’s thoughts and so disregarded Zheng Pei’s visible disapproval. Pang Xiao thought for a moment and sent his brush soaring mightily over the paper, completing his response in the form of another secret letter.
Zheng Pei scratched his head worriedly when he read the contents. “Do you still want a career!? Defying imperial orders like this is grounds for execution!”
“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. I’m sure I’ll be reprimanded for this, and it’s not the first day the emperor’s doubted and nursed a grudge against me. But I won’t lose my life for something like this. Go ask around, who do the troops and the Valiant Tigers of Great Zhou answer to?”
“Little prince, you’re only feeling secure because of your military accomplishments and control!”
“Exactly. I control the army, and thus will be doubted by others even if I have no particular thoughts whatsoever. So why not make use of that?” Pang Xiao casually tossed the brush aside and ordered Huzi, “Have someone on a fast horse deliver this to the emperor.”
Huzi nodded in assent and quickly took his leave. Zheng Pei slapped his thigh in anger. “Little prince, you don’t care about your career at all!”
“Right, I don’t care at all.” Pang Xiao had stopped calling himself ‘this prince’ as he spoke to his teacher in a heartfelt manner. “I won’t harm and slaughter innocents. How could I raise my head to look at my father in the underworld if I did such a monstrous thing? My mother, maternal grandfather, and maternal grandmother all disdain the fact that my hands are covered in blood. For their sake, I won’t agree to slaughter and raze the city.”
Zheng Pei’s lips moved soundlessly for a while. At long last, he let the tension ease from his shoulders in a long sigh. ”But little prince, you’re walking the path that your father walked back in the day. Remember why others hated him. You shouldn’t forget the past, but view it as your teacher!”
“As humans, we should do what’s humane. I won’t do something inhumane even if a blade is rested on my neck.”
Zheng Pei looked straight into the pair of shining phoenix eyes and finally nodded, heaving a long sigh yet again.
Qin Yining and née Sun were currently on their way to the Ding Manor. The emperor had urgently summoned senior uncle, second uncle, her two older cousins and their family. Née Sun felt that she should at least see her brothers and bring Qin Yining to them for introductions.
Qin Yining had gotten dressed for the occasion and was currently helping Jin-mama place a hat of fox fur on her mother’s head. When she saw the joy in née Sun’s eyes, she couldn’t help but remind her, “Mother, the situation is currently tense in the Ding Manor. We must think deeply when we see senior and second uncle later and observe everything. We will need to speak carefully as well. Senior cousin’s just passed away after all, so senior uncle must still be saddened.”
Née Sun didn’t pay much attention to Qin Yining’s words, and of the bits she did hear, she didn’t understand their deeper meaning either. “I know. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen your senior and second uncle. I’ve missed them very much. Who knows how sad they’ll be without Ming’er?”
Qin Yining didn’t say anything further when she saw that née Sun had completely missed the main point. She’d had a bad feeling when she’d heard of senior and second uncle being suddenly summoned back to the capital. Her reminders to née Sun were a vain attempt to hint to her mother to take note of anything out of the ordinary so that they would be able to think of a plan if anything happened.
When the carriage was ready for departure, Qin Yining and née Sun left with Jin-mama and Bingtang. They first went to the Garden of Loving Piety to make their explanations to the old dowager. Kitchen God’s Festival had just passed after all, and everyone was busily preparing for the new year festivities. Qin Yining explained with a smile that they were just popping in for a visit. The old dowager finally agreed after seeing how earnest and sincere Qin Yining was.
The carriage made for Ding Manor, but they had just turned onto the street that Ding Manor resided on when they glimpsed the manor doors seemingly thrown open from afar. Armored soldiers and eunuchs in gray garb were walking out of the main doors, clustered around someone. The man looked over fifty and was wearing a velvet black, panther furred cloak over his average sized body.
Qin Yining quickly snapped orders to the groom when she saw the jarring situation. “Don’t go near the manor! Hurry, go back into the alleyway!”
The groom hastened to obey as née Sun leaned forward to exclaim worriedly, “What’s going on here!? Who dares barge into the Duke of Ding’s manor?!”
“Mother, let’s watch from a distance for now. Don’t make a sound!” Née Sun nodded quietly. She could tell how serious things were as well.
They hadn’t watched for long before fully armored soldiers exited the manor with prisoners in tow. First among them was the duke, dressed in a navy blue brocade robe. He was followed by two men who Qin Yining didn’t recognize, but she was sure that they were her senior uncle Sun Haichen and second uncle Sun Haijing. Four young men followed, of which she recognized two as her fifth and eighth cousins, and two older ones who looked to be her second and fourth cousins. A couple of boys around eight years old were behind them, stumbling along, while the smallest, who looked around five, was being held by a servant. All the men had been trussed up, connected to each other in a daisy chain by ropes. Next came the women and servants, ropes biting just as hard into their arms as they too hobbled forward.
“What, what’s going on here?!” Née Sun trembled in shock.
“The Ding Manor’s been raided! Mother, we need to go back and ask father what’s going on!” Qin Yining kept one hand on née Sun to prevent her from rising and quickly gave orders to the groom.
- Only the finest, it’s made of weasel tail fur. ↩