Chapter 74: Not Doing It!
The people were frightened and angry. They flung curses at the trash emperor and Great Zhou. All sorts of comments and denunciations fluttered around.
When the emperor learned of this, he was so terrified that the color drained from his face. He immediately wrote a letter of profuse apology, sending it to Great Zhou on the back of a fast horse. He then summoned Grand Supervisor Wang after further thought. “Pass on my orders and summon Xihua generals Sun Haichen, Sun Haijing and their families back into the capital. Send General Wang Hui to Xihua to take over their duties.”
Xihua’s ancient city walls stood with a tragic air in a great plain of desolation. They stretched on for a great distance, as if a giant with outstretched arms, clasping all of Xihua’s military and civilians in her bosom.
The Great Zhou army was camped twenty five kilometers away. Dozens of flags and banners rippled in the wind, and the rearing lion stitched in gold thread on the black flags looked like it would leap forward and tear its prey to pieces at any second. These were the army banners of the “Valiant Tigers”, troops led by Supreme Commander of Great Zhou’s armies, Faithful Prince of the First Rank, Pang Xiao. The large, black flags embroidered with red “Pang” characters also snapped with the wind.
Everything was orderly within the military camp, the only jarring noise being the excited sounds of a crowd from the parade ground.
“Go Commander Pang!”
“Wang Erhu, are you made of cotton?!”
“It’s four of you against the supreme commander. If you guys still lose, we get your buns at dinner tonight!”
Four stocky, immensely muscular northern men were naked from the waist up, their bodies glistening with the sheen of sweat in the winter air as they huffed white clouds into the atmosphere. They were covered in dust and soil as they flexed their hands and rubbed their palms together, surrounding a fit young man, also naked from the waist up. Even though they’d lost two rounds already, the four still hadn’t been beaten into submission.
I don’t believe that we can’t beat him! They were all men so strong that it was often joked that ‘men can stand on our fists and horses can walk on our biceps’. They were no match in terms of martial techniques, but how could the four of them not beat a singular opponent in wrestling?! Although Supreme Commander Pang looked in good shape, he still looked like a skinny lad. They all said that whoever was bigger and stronger would never come off worse in the fight, so they didn’t believe that they would still lose this time!
The four roared in unison and charged forward. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of Pang Xiao’s face. He too huffed white clouds into the frosty air as excitement glittered in his eyes. He swept forward eagerly to meet the challenge.
“The supreme commander is mighty and noble!”
“You four, put your backs into it!”
A crowd always wanted more entertainment, so the soldiers hollered and hooted with enthusiasm. Huzi came over with Zheng Pei in tow to loudly cheer on his master. The bearded Zheng Pei gave off the air of an otherworldly sage as he strode forward in a thick cloak. He smile faintly as he watched Pang Xiao, the wrinkles at his eyes and upturned mouth making the sixty year old man appear so very benevolent. The fight was quickly decided, as strength alone doesn’t dominate wrestling. It was also about technique.
Pang Xiao extended a hand to his fallen opponents and laughed heartily. “Let’s put some extra dishes on the menu tonight. Tonight we eat meat!”
“Alright!” The crowd cheered as everyone looked at Pang Xiao with eyes of dedication and admiration. He flung his head back with laughter and slung his arm around various shoulders, chatting for a while before wiping off his sweat and walking towards Huzi.
The guard instantly walked up with Pang Xiao’s clothing and a big towel. “Master, you were too good just now!”
Zheng Pei was also smiling as he helped Pang Xiao into his clothes. “You need to take care of your body, Your Highness. If you don’t take good care of yourself when you’re young, what will you do when all the aches and pains come for you in your old age?”
Pang Xiao casually wiped off his sweat with the large towel and wrapped his clothing around himself as he walked towards the tent. “Don’t worry, Sir Zheng. We’re used to the north, so we really don’t find it cold in Great Yan territory, and even less so once we start exercising.”
“Right. Master, you were too fearsome just now! When can I be like you? I’m almost too embarrassed to be your guard because of how mighty you are!” Huzi’s eyes were sparkling. Pang Xiao drained a large bowl of water after entering the tent, finally not perspiring anymore. He neatly arranged his black robe and tied up his hair firmly with a piece of cloth. When dressed properly, he exuded a restrained nobility that was completely different from the hearty, coarse man who’d been on the parade ground earlier.
Zheng Pei nodded with satisfaction. Pang Xiao hadn’t concealed his emotions well in his youth and wore his heart on a sleeve. After so many years of tempering, he was now able to adjust his aura at will. He could be rough around the edges, righteous and majestic, or arrogantly unbridled when needed. But in private, he was a man of few words.
“Report!” someone called from outside the tent.
“You may enter.”
“Reporting to the supreme commander, news has come from Xihua. The Yan emperor has urgently recalled the two Sun generals and their families. A general called Wang Hui is their replacement.”
Pang Xiao waved a hand for the soldier to depart after he heard this report. When no outsiders were left in the tent, Zheng Pei smiled. “It looks like His Majesty’s plan worked. The Yan emperor has indeed been scared out of his wits.”
“I say that dog of an emperor is a complete idiot!” Huzi responded. “He’s terrified of death and has no brains. It’s a pity about that Sun Yuanming though. Although he was disrespectful, it’s only because we have different positions. That a weak scholar had such fortitude makes him a man worthy of respect. Wouldn’t you say so, master?”
Pang Xiao nodded. “It’s his fortune to leave a step early.”
Huzi made a sound of confusion. Zheng Pei thought for a moment and explained, “The little prince is correct. The Yan emperor is paranoid and suspicious, and as cowardly as a rat. He must be terrified after reading our majesty’s letter. They lack talent in Great Yan and the country’s coffers are empty. They have no one to fight against our little prince. All they can do is strive for peace at whatever cost possible.”
“Peace?” Huzi blinked and immediately understood. His eyes widened with understanding. “Sir Zheng means that the Yan emperor will use the Suns for this?”
“Indeed. We wanted Sun Yuanming’s brains, but he wasn’t willing to give them up. Not only was the Yan emperor censured by our majesty, he is now roundly threatened as well. That fool of a simpleton will only think of making an example out of the Suns to placate our emperor’s anger.”
“That idiot!” Huzi laughed heartily. “It’d be best if he kills all of them. Let’s have all of his people hate his guts!”
As he listened to Zheng Pei and Huzi’s excited conversation, all Pang Xiao could think about was that person related to the Suns. Doubtless her life would be affected if the maternal side of her family underwent such tribulations. He was a bit worried about Qin Yining. Even though she was the daughter of his enemy, she occupied a special place in his heart.
Zheng Pei was a shrewd one and smiled merrily when he noted Pang Xiao’s expression. “What is the little prince thinking of?” He joked, “Is the little prince thinking of that Qin girl?”
Pang Xiao leaned back lazily on a round cushion, a hint of a smile playing around his lips. His look was sharp as he flicked an eyebrow at Zheng Pei.
Zheng Pei felt like that look was flaying a hunk of flesh off his bones. But since he had once been Pang Zhongzheng’s strategist and a sort of teacher to Pang Xiao, watching the lad grow up, he didn’t mince words when speaking to Pang Xiao. “Little prince, there are plenty of beauties in the world. What kind of woman couldn’t you have with your talents? Why think about Qin Meng’s daughter? Is it that you fancy her?”
“When has this prince ever said that I fancy her?”
“Then what is Your Highness thinking?”
“This prince doesn’t know yet.”
“Doesn’t know yet?” Zheng Pei frowned.
Pang Xiao answered straightforwardly. “It’s precisely that this prince doesn’t know what I feel about her that I wish to quickly defeat the Yan country. I can think about it slowly once I have her by my side.”
Huzi stared at Pang Xiao, flabbergasted. You like her alright! You’re already treating the hairpin you stole off her as a treasure. What else is there to think about??
Zheng Pei’s expression was ugly. “Little prince, don’t forget how His Highness died! The Pangs would be in this state today if it wasn’t for that bastard Qin Meng!”
“When two armies face off, there is no fault in the deaths that result from a difference in position.” Pang Xiao knocked on the table. “Qin Meng may be despicable, but shouldn’t the worst offender be the one who suspected my father in the first place?”
Zheng Pei pursed his lips without another word. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the paranoid, decrepit emperor back in the day, how would an obviously fake alienation ploy actually doom the Pangs to death? To put it bluntly, the emperor had felt threatened by Pang Zhongzheng’s monumental achievements.
“Besides, didn’t Sir Zheng already take his revenge on Qin Meng that year?” Pang Xiao continued.
Zheng Pei raised his voice. “We only stole a girl child. I don’t see Qin Meng being too saddened by that! What kind of revenge is that? We wanted to take revenge that year, but didn’t have the ability to. That was why we had to come up with such a bad plan. Now that we have status and authority, we can crush them whenever we want. We won’t let Qin Meng off the hook!”
Fires of anger burned in Pang Xiao, but he kept a smile on this face. “Since you knew that you could exact vengeance on him sooner or later, why did you embroil an innocent life into this?!”
Zheng Pei didn’t have an answer to that. At this moment, a shrill and reed thin voice carried in from outside. “Supreme Commander Pang, this servant has brought a secret decree from the emperor.”
It was Supervisor Lu! The emperor of Great Zhou had sent his head eunuch on this expedition to supervise the army. Huzi walked out to welcome the eunuch with a smile.
Supervisor Lu was just over thirty and had an average build. His features were dainty and his face clean-cut. He made a respectful bow to Pang Xiao with a slightly inclined body, offering with both hands a secret decree sealed with wax and a fawning smile.
Pang Xiao glanced at the eunuch and opened the letter, taking out the note within. There were only five words on it. “Slaughter everyone in the city.” He put down the note without a change in expression.