Swing after swing of the Imperial Army’s blades pressed in towards them. The soil under their feet was already soaking wet from the splashes of blood. A bandit who was still alive was pinned to the ground. He listened to the never-ending screams until even his pants were wet with piss. The back of a blade pressed up against the back of his neck. His nose and mouth were smeared all over with bloodied water, choking him until tears and mucus flowed. He cried in terror, “I don’t know. I really don’t know!”
Lei Jingzhe was suspicious by nature, and he was very secretive about his whereabouts when he was in Mount Luo. Other than his trusted aides, no one else knew his exact hiding place.
Tantai Hu scraped away the bloody mud on the soles of his boots and said, “Since you know nothing, then why are you wasting our time? Drag him away!”
Both of the bandit’s arms were bound behind his back, and the Imperial Army dragged him by the rope to the execution spot. He kicked out both legs, looking at those headless corpses lying on either side of him. The back of the blade that had been pressing against his nape was already turned over, and the sharp edge of the blade made him tremble all over. He watched Tantai Hu lift his blade and suddenly burst out bawling. “Liu’er! Sir! I know where Liu’er is!”
Tantai Hu asked, “Is this person a trusted aide of Lei Jingzhe?”
“Yes, yes, a trusted aide!” The bandit’s chest heaved as he stared wide-eyed at that blade and said. “Liu’er is our ‘carrier pigeon’. He is the one who passes on all the orders issued by Lei Jingzhe! It was also Liu’er who sent someone to pass me the message telling me to bring the men to hide out in the west!”
After having been here for half a night, Tantai Hu finally managed to pry out some information. He lifted the man and asked, “Where is this Liu’er now?”
“In Bianshui Town.” The bandit answered. “The information I received a few days back came from Bianshui Town. If you go look for him now, you will definitely find him!”
Bianshui Town was just a few li away, but on second thoughts, Tantai Hu felt that it did not bode well. They had searched through that place many times, and in all probability, they had already alerted the enemy. He hurriedly released his grip on the man and strode away to report to Xiao Chiye.
The Imperial Army promptly changed direction and raced to Bianshui Town. They set up a heavy siege outside the town, then searched from house to house and detained all the recent arrivals with questionable origins who were not registered in the household register. The bandits were identified one by one, but there were no traces of Liu’er and Lei Jingzhe.
Seeing as dawn was about to break, the bandit feared that Xiao Chiye would take out his anger on him, so he racked his brain to offer suggestions. He said, “Liu’er has plenty of followers; they are all his snoops and spies. Every time he heads out for battles, they will spread out all around him to facilitate the relying of updates to Lei Jingzhe. Now that they are not here, it’s most likely because they have gotten wind of it and fled. You have blocked off access to the south, and we don’t dare to head north, so we can only retreat east. If you give chase now, you’ll definitely be able to catch up to them!”
Although Tantai Hu despised a spineless coward like him who would sell out his master for his own benefit, he still reported the information as it was to Xiao Chiye. Xiao Chiye considered it over for a moment on his horse before he said to Tantai Hu, “Take half of your men and chase after them along the eastern side of the mountain forest. They are now birds that will be startled at the mere twang of a bow-string. Just intimidate them a little, and they will be in such panic that they won’t be able to turn around and meet the attack head-on as usual. You just need to hit them hard. Those remaining thousand people are all scattered soldiers without contact with their commander. They won’t be able to hold their own against you.”
Tantai Hu acknowledged his orders, only to see Xiao Chiye gathering the remaining men. So he asked, “Since that’s the case, wouldn’t it do for Master to wait for me here? Why make another trip?”
“Look at Lei Jingzhe’s behavior and demeanor, and you should know that he’s not only suspicious by nature but also terrified of death. Whatever we can think of, he can think of it too. If heading east is the only way for them to take, he will not go along with such a large contingent of troops. That is too big a target; it’s too obvious.” Xiao Chiye wound up his horsewhip and said, “Since he dared to use Lei Changming as a live target earlier, he will similarly dare to use these remaining thousand people as live targets as well. You may set your mind at ease and head east. I’ll go block him.”
◈ ◈ ◈
It was scorching hot these two days. The sun was so blazing that it made the bandits burning with anxiety even more restless and uneasy. They squatted in groups in the mountain forest. Seeing as Lei Jingzhe had been slow to show himself, they loudly questioned Liu’er, who was standing on a rock. “Master Liu is also a part of the council, so you would be clearer than us when it comes to news of the second-in-command. What is the situation now? Tell us!”
Liu’er stuffed tobacco into his pipe but did not manage to find a flint. He squatted on the rock and looked up at the clear, cloudless sky. It was too bright to take in everything at a glance. He clicked his tongue and said, “I’m here to deliver a message, aren’t I? That is, go home!”
“The Imperial Army has captured a few hundred brothers under my command, and I still don’t know if they are alive or dead now. I’m waiting for the second-in-command to come up with an idea to save them, and he’s telling us to go home just like this? Isn’t this just tucking our tails between our legs and subjecting ourselves to bullying?!” A man with a booming voice stood up and said with discontent. “We were all big names back in Mount Luo, and we followed him to Cizhou so that we would have no lack of food and water. In the end, we have all become cowards like tortoises hiding in their shells. This is really fucking pissing me off!”
“Isn’t this all because we are down on our luck.” Liu’er not only looked like a shrewd old monkey, the way he handled matters was also similar. He had a lot to complain about regarding Lei Jingzhe’s current order, but he would never voice it out, so he said in an attempt to smooth things over, “Even if you return to Mount Luo now, you will still be a big name there. Whom among us can take it lying down? But there will be times when even a horse will stumble. It’s no big deal if we suffer from the occasional defeat. All you have to do is report the number of people you have lost to the council later and get the second-in-command to make it up to you, as well as allocate some silver to you. Surely he won’t shortchange you.”
“Do I look like I give a damn about that bit of silver?” The man spat. “I’m heartbroken for those brothers! Do you think people are that easily replaced nowadays? Didn’t you see the public notice posted by the Imperial Army? Cizhou wants to rebuild its garrison troops. There are meals and fields to be had. Why would anyone give up a decent job in a regular army and join us? They got a screw loose up there?! Moreover, our numbers are much greater than the Imperial Army. We should have just fought them the first time we encountered them at the foot of Cizhou’s city gate! But he feared this and that. The fuck he’s afraid of?! This is just great. We haven’t even met them head-on, and we have already inexplicably lost!”
Sounds of agreement rang out all around at his words.
Creases formed at the corners of Liu’er’s eyes. He said, “The second-in-command is just being cautious. The Imperial Army is well-equipped. Look at those armors that are so polished they shine. We might not necessarily be their match if we really come to blows.”
“They just look impressive on the surface!” The man wiped the phlegm he had spit out with the sole of his shoe and said, “What kind of troops is the Imperial Army? How many battles have they fought? They can’t fight for nuts! They only fought once with the Eight Great Training Divisions at the gate of Zhongbo. Can that even be called a battle? That’s called a pissing contest! Whoever the fuck stands the longest wins!”
Laughter broke out all around.
The man noisily cleared his throat and tugged at his collar again to reveal a reddish chest. He said, “As I see it, we are not in a hurry to leave. Cizhou is such a big gold mine. If we miss it this time, it’ll be harder to lay our hands on it the next time! The Imperial Army goes around posting notices everywhere to get the common folks to tip them off. But at the end of the day, they are still afraid, no?! If not, then let them bring it on! We are now all gathered together, and we have at least five or six thousand people. Just engaging in guerrilla warfare in the mountains alone will be enough to make the Imperial Army suffer!”
Liu’er did not kick up a stink with him or make a decision. He rubbed the pipe in his hand and said, “The second-in-command said to go back, and you still want to fight them. Then go notify him yourself.”
“He wants to be a cowering tortoise and hide his head under his crotch. Where am I supposed to go looking for him?” The man sneered. “He doesn’t even dare to show his face. Why? Afraid there’s an Imperial Army spy among the brothers? Bah!”
The man that Lei Jingzhe had used as a shield that day when he fled was none other than this man’s prospective brother-in-law. His younger sister was just as burly as him, and she had been previously unable to find a suitable person to marry. It had not been easy to find a man who treated his younger sister well this time, and they were even ready to have the wedding at the year of the year. But who would have expected Lei Jingzhe to use him as a shield this trip! He hated Lei Jingzhe for being hard-hearted, and he also resented Lei Jingzhe for subjecting them to this kind of frustration they could only bottle up.
“I’ll repeat the second-in-command’s words.” Liu’er stood up and pounded at his waist with his pipe. He said, “We are now the vanguard squad. We don’t have many people, but we are still different from those minor bandits we came across on the way. As long as we can get out of Cizhou’s border within five days and arrive at Dunzhou’s relay station, we can be considered to be back in our own territory. By then, we will have nothing to fear even if the Imperial Army wants to continue pursuing us.” On seeing the fury on that man’s face after he was done speaking, he continued, “Of course, the second-in-command is still hurrying on his way here. Whether we leave or stay is open to discussion.”
They were initially bandits gathered from various mountain strongholds. Although Lei Changming was usually a headstrong man, he was very generous to the brothers, showering them with meat and wine, money, and women. Even if they made a mistake, they only had to plead for mercy for the matter to be dropped. But Lei Jingzhe was different. Not only did he rarely show himself, he was also rather severe in meting out punishments. Eight or nine out of ten wrongdoers who ended up in his hands would all meet their ends. He relied on inspiring awe to lead these bandits. Those who feared him outnumbered those who respected him. Now that everyone had fallen into dire straits together, it was inevitable for them to start harboring other intentions. One could take turns to be the emperor, so why not the chief of the bandits? He who is capable is qualified!
Seeing how Liu’er was a weathercock who did not want to offend both sides, the man said, “Fine, the second-in-command won’t come, and he tells us to flee by ourselves. I’m of the view that he can be unrighteous, but we can’t be unrighteous! The Imperial Army is still at Bianshui Town, right? Liu’er, don’t you fucking leave any traces behind! Let’s take this place as our camping ground and carry out harassment in small groups. We are used to climbing mountains. As long as the Imperial Army gathers manpower and turns around to fight us, we will run back. Forget it if they don’t enter the mountain, but if they dare to pursue their way in, then we will take all of them down and not let anyone return alive! As long as he’s human, he will not be able to hold out if we keep up with this war of attrition against him for a few days. When the time comes, we’ll charge our way down in one burst of energy and beat the shit out of him! The City of Cizhou will still fall into our hands as long as the Imperial Army is afraid, no? So how about it? Do we do it or not?!”
The remaining people were all fired up by his words. They had been living like vermin detested by all these few days. Not only were they killed by the Imperial Army, they were also subjected to bullying by unarmed commoners. They could neither eat nor sleep well. Where had they ever had to endure this kind of hardship back in Mount Luo? So they promptly chimed in and shouted,
“Do it! We’ll follow Big Bro Ding’s lead!”
Pleased, Ding Niu laughed out loud. He nodded in satisfaction and said, “We all have brothers who have been captured by the Imperial Army. This revenge must be taken! If Xiao Chiye dares to kill one of our men, we’ll kill ten of his to give vent to this wrath of ours! Who knows, when the time comes for us to take him captive and occupy the city of Cizhou, maybe even Xiao Jiming will try to cozy up to us!”
The bandits were in high spirits, and for a moment, everyone was talking all at once about the good life they would have after occupying the City of Cizhou. Ding Niu was on cloud nine after being praised, and he increasingly felt confident that this plan would work. He was already thinking about bringing his younger sister over and finding her a husband, one who had to be better than the one who died! But then he had a better idea—this Xiao Chiye works fine too! He was not only impressive-looking, he was also taller than him, had a great physique, and came from a good family background.
At this point, Ding Niu was already thinking about children and grandchildren. But then he saw the disciple on sentry duty at the foot of the mountain scrambling his way over. The latter’s face was pale with fright as he announced, “The Imperial Army is here!”
Liu’er slipped his way into the blades of grasses, wanting to flee. Ding Niu grabbed this wily old fart, lifted him, and demanded with a glare, “You tipped the Imperial Army off?!”
Liu’er hunched over, his long arms dangling, his white eyebrows almost trailing to the ground. He hurriedly shook his head and said, “Not me. How can it be me? I wouldn’t have come if it were me!”
Ding Niu put Liu’er back on the ground. He steeled himself and said at the top of his voice, “Great! Since they have come calling at our door themselves, then we shall go and meet them!”
◈ ◈ ◈
Lei Jingzhe spurred his horse on and galloped on the road. He had already skirted around the mountain forest at the east and was on his return trip back. More than half of the Imperial Army troops would be held up with Ding Niu, Liu’er, and the rest of the group as his cover, while the remaining had to stay behind to guard the southern side of Cizhou as well as the villages and towns along the way. He was the fish that had slipped through the net.
Lei Jingzhe had only brought along the silly lad, Li Xiong. He did not want the rest of them. It was not because he trusted Li Xiong that he was willing to take him along, but because this lad was silly enough, and Lei Jingzhe had single-handedly brought him up all by himself. Li Xiong was the most obedient lad, and Lei Jingzhe could tell what he was thinking at a mere glance.
Lei Jingzhe rode a horse, while Li Xiong ran on foot. He ran with great vigor and had no trouble keeping up as he followed behind Lei Jingzhe’s horse. They had already been running all night, and Li Xiong was still naively waiting to meet up with the rest of them.
“Take a drink of water.” Lei Jingzhe tossed the water bag to Li Xiong as he reined in his horse. “We won’t be resting en route today.”
Li Xiong opened the lid and gulped down more than half of it in one breath.
On seeing this, Lei Jingzhe cursed. “You stupid brat! If you drink it all up now, then what are you going to drink at night? You’re going to keep whining about wanting to pee later with this much water in your stomach!”
Li Xiong wiped his mouth with a smile and patted his stomach. He said, “I won’t, bro. It’ll be gone after a run!”
Lei Jingzhe hung the water bag back on the horse’s back. He asked, “Are you hungry?”
Li Xiong shook his head and said, “I stuffed myself so much last night that I’m still full! We’ll be able to eat meat once we’re back in Mount Luo.”
Thus, Lei Jingzhe did not linger further and continued hurrying on his way with Li Xiong in tow. They had helpers in Dunzhou, and the Dunzhou relay station could pass on his message to deploy the bandit soldiers who were still guarding Mount Luo. Lei Jingzhe was in such a hurry because he still had some misgivings. He wanted to arrive before news of Ding Niu, Liu’er, and the others’ capture made its way back. Otherwise, should the news arrive first, half of the trust and reputation he had built up throughout the year in Mount Luo would fall into shambles. By then, it would not be as easy as it was now to deploy the men.
The road checks along the way gradually grew lax until it was not as strict as it had been within ten li or so around Bianshui Town. The number of the Imperial Army troops grew fewer and fewer. By the time Lei Jingzhe passed by the vegetable fields manned by troops, he could no longer see any signs of the Imperial Army. At night, they rested by the side of a stream. Li Xiong speared a few fishes and roasted them for Lei Jingzhe to consume. Without seasonings or herbs, these fishes were fishy and bitter to the taste. But Li Xiong ate them with relish and fell on his back to sleep after eating his fill.
Lei Jingzhe did not dare to leave the campfire behind, so he covered it with soil. Gradually finding it harder to hang on as he had not had any sleep for a day and a night, he leaned against a tree and fell asleep. Lei Jingzhe slept for an unspecified amount of time before he was startled awake. He propped himself up on the ground, stilled his breathing, and listened to signs of activity within the forest with rapt attention.
The wind was a little strong tonight. Tree branches swayed from the force of it, rustling the leaves in intermittent bursts. Li Xiong was still sleeping, his snores thunderous. Lei Jingzhe listened for a long time. Although he could not see anything amiss, he was already starting to feel suspicious. He kicked Li Xiong awake and gestured with his hands for Li Xiong to get the horse.
As Li Xiong untied the reins, he suddenly had the urge to relieve himself. He never stopped for a break in the morning, and he had fallen right asleep at night. Unable to hold it in, he whispered to Lei Jingzhe, “Bro, I want to pee.”
Lei Jingzhe clicked his tongue and made a gesture as if he was going to thrash him, then motioned for him to hurry. So Li Xiong went behind the tree and loosened his waist sash. The sound of water splashing rang out. Having seen no signs of movement so far, Lei Jingzhe relaxed a little. He pulled the horse, and when the horse snorted, he suddenly realized something off. Why was there not even a chirp from the birds or insects?
Li Xiong was not done relieving himself when he heard Lei Jingzhe hissed. “Leave!”
Li Xiong exclaimed in acknowledgment, then tied his waist sash in a hurry and broke into a run after him. Lei Jingzhe lashed out hard with his horsewhip and charged at random among the shadows of the trees. The tree forks swaying in the wind loomed like demons brandishing their claws and baring their fangs as they came surrounding him from all sides.
Lei Jingzhe fled until he was sweating. He did not know why he was sweating. His back had gone all cold from the wind. He did not even care to look back at Li Xiong; he only wanted to leave this forest as fast as possible. The horse under him was already exhausted from the running. No matter how he whipped it, it did not run as fast as it did in the daytime.
The sounds of footsteps came trampling noisily towards him. It was as if Lei Jingzhe was being chased by some gargantuan behemoth. He crashed headlong through the net of trees and charged out of the forest, but following right after, he forcibly reined in the horse and gasped for breath as he looked fixedly ahead.
The hem of Xiao Chiye’s clothes fluttered backward in the wind. The gyrfalcon was perched on his shoulder, its head tilted to the side. Darkness seemed to spread out from behind him. It weighed down heavily on Lei Jingzhe’s limbs, swallowing them and rendering him immobile; his entire body was frozen stiff on the back of the horse.
A raspy sound escaped from Lei Jingzhe’s throat. He snapped back to his senses and thought of turning around, but the Imperial Army was all around him. Xiao Chiye had deliberately hidden his men in the forest; as a result, Lei Jingzhe could not guess how many men he had brought along—this was a counterblow to Lei Jingzhe’s initial deception, so that Lei Jingzhe would similarly experience the absurdity of being played.
“Go ahead and run.” Xiao Chiye said in a deep voice.
Lei Jingzhe released the reins and put both hands up. He said, “You win. I concede defeat.”
Lang Tao Xue Jin threw its head back and neighed. Xiao Chiye said nothing.
Lei Jingzhe slid off his horse slowly, keeping both hands up to indicate that he had no thoughts of fighting it out to the death. He seemed to be very well-aware of the situation. After landing on the ground, he removed the broadsword at the side of his waist and looked at Xiao Chiye as he bent over to put it on the ground. Then he said, “We can still talk.”
His interest piqued, Xiao Chiye said, “Go on.”
Lei Jingzhe calmed his panting. Surrounded by the cold glints of blades, and with beads of sweat dripping from his temples, he said, “You’re going back to Libei, so you won’t reside in Cizhou for long. Killing me now won’t stop the Mount Luo bandits from making a comeback. Instead, it will plunge Dunzhou and Duanzhou, which have only just stabilized, back into chaos. Why not let me go to keep the situation in both prefectures stable and give Cizhou enough time to rebuild its garrison troops?”
The cawing of a crow rang out from the sky. Meng braced itself. With a spread of its wings, it took to the air, glided through the wind, and swooped into the billowing trees. The atmosphere at the bottom subsequently grew tense. Lei Jingzhe kept looking at Xiao Chiye all this while, as if to prove that he was confident of success, that it was not the end of the road for him yet.
Xiao Chiye lifted a hand and laid his palm at the side of his waist.
Both men stood facing each other. In the very instant Meng pounced and ripped into the crow, Lei Jingzhe abruptly kicked up his broadsword and flung off its sheath. He rolled forward. With a strong burst of strength in his legs, he sprang up high into the air and cleaved the broadsword down towards Xiao Chiye right in the face. Blade collided violently against blade, sending sparks sputtering as they scraped against each other in a mighty show of power.
The scorching weather that had persisted for several days dissipated in the wind. Skies that were still clear and boundless in the morning were now overcast with dark clouds. A few bean-sized raindrops came pelting down, followed by the sudden arrival of a rainstorm, as if Heaven could not bear the heat and had sent it to scour the filthy world.
Li Xiong, who had lost track of Lei Jingzhe, circled around for a long time before he finally heard the subtle sounds of fighting in the rain. He brushed aside the branches and leaves with all his might and trampled upon muddied water as he chased his way towards the sound. The moment he rolled out, he came right in front of the Imperial Army wielding their blades. He was unarmed, but in a moment of desperation when he saw Lei Jingzhe in a disadvantageous position under the curtain of rain, he bellowed and turned around to wrap his arms around a bare, withered tree as thick as the rim of a bowl and swung it up.
“Bro!” Like a strong, charging bull of limitless strength, Li Xiong sent the Imperial Army on one side scattering all over in total disarray.
Xiao Chiye did not expect Li Xiong to have such strength. He swung away from the trajectory of the tree Li Xiong was brandishing. Lei Jingzhe, who had already been struck with the blade, saw his opportunity and retreated immediately to Li Xiong’s side. Li Xiong’s extraordinary strength was innate, and it was even more terrifying than Xiao Chiye’s. He swung the tree to ward off all those blades and swords and shouted, “Bro, I’ll carry you on my back!”
Lei Jingzhe jumped onto Li Xiong’s back. Supporting the tree, Li Xiong bellowed and charged a path out of the encirclement. He was not afraid of blades and swords, and he did not fear Xiao Chiye either. Newborn calves were all of such a temperament; there was only his big brother Lei Jingzhe in his eyes! Li Xiong did not even feel the pain when he was slashed in the arms. He kicked over the wall of people before him and broke into a mad dash in the torrential rain with Lei Jingzhe on his back.
Blood dripped off Lei Jingzhe, staining Li Xiong’s back red.
Li Xiong wiped his face and cried, “Bro! Don’t die!”
Lei Jingzhe was not a person who would simply resign to his fate. He did not have a pleasant time back in the Zhu clan in Duanzhou. His father failed his mother, so he changed his surname and called himself Lei Jingzhe from then on. He ran into danger many times on Mount Luo, and he had always been able to wait for things to take a turn for the better. But Xiao Chiye was just like the sudden rain that came out of nowhere this night; he was the edge of a precipice he had never foreseen. He thought it should not be the end of him just yet, yet he could only watch as the turns of events tipped the balance against him.
“Damn it…” Covering his wound, Lei Jingzhe said, “Shut up!”
Li Xiong listened to the sound of horse hooves behind him and dashed off with his teeth clenched and his face tilted up. This lad was truly unusual; even ordinary horses could not catch up to him. But Xiao Chiye’s Lang Tao Xue Jin was extraordinary. In the blink of an eye, it had already caught up right behind them.
Li Xiong did his best, but as he leaped across the stream, he suddenly cramped up. He was still growing, and he lost his balance when he landed on his feet. Consequently, he fell. As he sucked in a breath from the pain, he dragged Lei Jingzhe up, still intending to carry him on his back to flee.
“Xiao Chiye!” Knowing that there was no escape for him, Lei Jingzhe said, “If you are willing to spare me, then it’s possible for the bandits of Mount Luo to come under your command! I still have some influence left. I can still be of some use!”
Xiao Chiye flung away the drops of blood on Langli Blade. Lang Tao Xue Jin stamped its hooves twice before it broke into a sudden run.
Lei Jingzhe twisted Li Xiong’s face over. There was already a change in the timbre of his voice amidst his violent gasps. He did not want to die. His grip tightened on Li Xiong’s hand as he said, “Xiong-zai,1 kill him, kill him!”
Li Xiong rubbed away the rainwater on his face. With one limping leg, he spread both arms open and stabilized his lower body, wanting to throw off Lang Tao Xue Jin. With his sturdy body trembling, he looked at Xiao Chiye, then let loose a bellow and charged over. He wrapped his arms around Lang Tao Xue Jin’s neck, causing Lang Tao Xue Jin to neigh. He did not know too many martial art moves, but there was a flash of his leg in what was clearly a wrestling technique of the Biansha Tribes as he flung Lang Tao Xue Jin over into the muddy water.
Xiao Chiye grabbed Li Xiong, who had a youthful-looking face, up by the collar. As the latter struggled and pounded on Xiao Chiye’s arms, he shouted, “Bro, run!”
Hauling Li Xiong along, Xiao Chiye watched as Lei Jingzhe rolled down the muddy slope. He did not give chase. Li Xiong made to bite him with his teeth, and Xiao Chiye wrung his back collar to hurl him right to the ground face-first so that his nose and mouth were stuffed into the mud puddle, choking him until he was violently struggling all over.
“Tie him up.”
Li Xiong heard Xiao Chiye say to the Imperial Army, who had arrived later. And then he was knocked unconscious with the back of a blade.
The rainstorm stopped after a while. Tantai Hu arrived from behind on horseback. Xiao Chiye just happened to be wiping the mud off Lang Tao Xue Jin’s body. When he saw Tantai Hu, he removed the half-arm fabric sleeve used for wiping with one hand and beckoned to Tantai Hu.
“Master.” Tantai Hu said. “I’ll lead the men to outflank him from the southeastern side right away. He won’t be able to run far.”
But Xiao Chiye asked him, “Have all the bandits in the forest been captured?”
Tantai Hu thought that Xiao Chiye wanted to do a headcount and was ready to turn back to get his subordinate to bring over the book. But unexpectedly, Xiao Chiye said as he wiped away the mud on his fingers, “It’s all good as long as you’ve caught them. There’s no need to show me. Go get ready. We’re returning to the city.”
Tantai Hu was taken aback. Seeing that Xiao Chiye had already picked up the saddle to put it on Lang Tao Xue Jin, he walked a few steps with him and said, “Master, isn’t letting him go just like this akin to letting the tiger return to the mountains and setting the stage for future disasters?”
As Xiao Chiye wiped the mud on the saddle, he said, “I’m not only going to let him go, I’m going to send him off with great fanfare. Get a few squads of men to follow him. He has been stabbed; don’t let him die on the way. Send him all the way into Dunzhou’s territory. There’s no need to bother about the other matters.”
Tantai Hu only had to use his brain a little to understand his intent. He grinned and said, “Then I’ll go. Master, I’ll bring dozens of men. I’ll be sure to escort him back to Dunzhou within three days.”
Xiao Chiye looked on with cool detachment in the direction where Lei Jingzhe had fled. A dripping wet Meng landed back on his shoulder and combed through its bloodstained feathers. Xiao Chiye used the handkerchief that he had used to wipe the mud from Lang Tao Xue Jin to clean Meng’s claws. He said, “Lift it properly. I’ll wipe them clean for you. Otherwise, if you see Lanzhou upon returning and trample mud all over his shoulders, I’ll have to wash his robe.”
2 chapters in 1. Thank you for reading.