On the top of the mountain, a large flag was rising up slowly. At first glance, it almost appeared to read 'Xinghua Village'. But after taking a careful look as the winds blew past, written on it were the words 'Xing Zi Lin'. Large and small mountain bandits hid themselves behind the grass, dressed in self-made armors, their longbows and daggers aimed at the people below.
A glint of silver flashed on top of the mountain. Chang Geng narrowed his eyes to look. There was a Heavy Armor they had stolen from who knows where standing on the hill, resembling a shooting target. The face of its wearer could not be seen from this distance.
Bandits robbing the Marquis of Order himself, Chang Geng momentarily did not know whether to laugh or cry.
But as he looked back, he found that Gu Yun wasn't smiling, in fact, it was the opposite. He appeared quite infuriated, squeezing out a word from between his teeth: "Idiot."
Chang Geng quickly thought about it, lowering his voice: "Then the rumors about the Southern Frontier officials colluding with bandits were no rumor, but the truth?"
Gu Yun did not say anything. His expression darkened even further.
During the Great Liang dynasty, the native products of the Eastern Sea were pearls, the native products of Lou Lan were fine wines, and the native products of the Southern Frontier were mountain bandits.
In the past two years, when the farming puppets were carried out, farmers weren't able to find jobs. Some had followed the traveling merchants to make a living in the North, some had decided to abandon the light for the dark, becoming mountain bandits. When goods and rations became cheaper, money became more valuable. Thus, there were fewer and fewer people who would stock up on food, but instead, hoarded gold and silver: this greatly contributed to and increased the rates of bandits looting.
The mountain bandits' culture was very wild spread here, there were more bandit nests than there were rabbits. This situation could be said to resemble the saying - 'wildfire could never cease, reborn again with the spring breeze'.
The relationship between the Southern Frontier Army and the Ministry of War resembled that of a child and its stepmother: their funding was nowhere near efficient, so they could not afford to fight back against the bandits.
And although the bandits won in numbers, their general combat power was limited. If facing the imperial army, they could only end up having their nests swept through one after the other. Hence, they would greatly fear the garrison troops as well.
When people had money, all they would want to pursue was peace and stability. No one would wish to live a life of being chased after — mountain bandits, in the end, were still human.
Thus, in the long run, the Southern Frontier Army and the local bandits had formed a mutual relationship.
The Southern Army commander, Fu Zhi Cheng, was originally a bandit. On one hand, he restrained them, tried to let them loot only money without injuring passers-by, but on the other hand, he did not cover for them either. The funding for the Southern Frontier troops every year was incredibly limited, and for them to be able to sustain themselves to this day, the 'contribution' of these bandits could not be ignored.
The collusion between officers and bandits was of course not something to be proud of, Gu Yun was fully aware of this. In the past two years, the Emperor had been promoting the farming puppets and opening the business road; these were clearly great policies for the country to make the nation rich and strong. But no one knew where the problem lay -- not only did the National Treasury become emptier, even the military funds had to be cut down again.
The South had just experienced flooding. The disaster had since passed but the relieving process was still undergoing. If a battle were to break out, the bandits would start to scatter to villages and towns, and the people would be even more devastated. But if the imperial court truly wanted to remove the commander of the Southern Frontier Army because of this incident, Gu Yun simply could not think of any other who could keep guard of this place.
With these two dilemmas, one could only pick the lesser one: Gu Yun had no choice but to temporarily think of a way to save Fu Zhi Cheng.
After a few years in the future, when the Silk Road was completed, Great Liang’s inland commercial road would be fully opened. Loads of silver from overseas would be able to flow into Great Liang, allowing the country some room to breathe. When that time came, not only would they send troops, but they would also adjust the passage to the Southern Frontier, tightening the control of this territory that was far away from the emperor. Only with these two approaches being carried out at the same time could they completely clean up this problem.
Unfortunately, except for himself, other people did not seem to want to understand these problems.
In fact, it wasn't that they didn't understand it. It was just that in their eyes, the Drumming Order and flattering His Majesty to boost their wealth in the future was much more important.
On the road, Gu Yun had been thinking of various ways to protect Fu Zhi Cheng. He had quietly and deliberately sent a letter to inform him. Unexpectedly, the man decided to do something like this.
Which kind of bandit would bring along their entire nest, raising their flag and beating their drum, making it clear to the other party who exactly they were?
Attempting to rob from the envoy of the Imperial Court, this was no different than rebellion.
In these few years, Chang Geng had been mixing in with the common folk, traveling all four sides. He had long been knowledgeable about the people's livelihood in the current situation. After a little thought, the cause and effect had become clear to him. He looked at Gu Yun's expression and whispered: "Yifu, I think this might not be General Fu's doing."
Gu Yun coldly replied: "Nonsense, Fu Zhi Cheng isn't this foolish."
These bandits were an illiterate bunch, it would be quite a challenge to be able to find someone who could read and count - all these mountains might have had to share one person to do the accounting work. Perhaps they were able to catch a few vague rumors from somewhere, then decided to close in on them with the purpose of scouting while displaying their might at the same time, then, later on, they could show their merits to Fu Zhi Cheng.
Up high, a bandit was waving a simple tong hou, shouting towards the foot of the mountain to Gu Yun's group of people: "Who are you, state your name!"
Beside him, Shen Yi did not know whether to laugh or cry, pulling an arrow from behind him: "Grand Marshal?"
Gu Yun: "Shoot him down."
The arrow in Shen Yi's hand was released almost at the same time as Gu Yun's order. Like piercing through bamboo, he directly hit the bandit holding the tong hou. A bird cried out and flew up in the sky, its sharp voice echoing throughout the valley.
The whole mountain was fired up.
When Officer Sun saw this, he could no longer feel proud about being able to catch Fu Zhi Cheng's weakness, he immediately became frightened, climbing out of the carriage and repeatedly saying: "We cannot! Marshal, we cannot, there are at least a hundred bandits in this mountain. We are just a group of few people, the generals are not donning their armors either, we are completely unarmed! There is also His Highness, His Highness is of prestigious royalty, we cannot be careless..."
Gu Yun did not look at him, and instead waved his hand at Chang Geng: "Your Highness, were you diligent in martial arts training?"
Chang Geng slightly bowed: "To be a small cavalry under the Marshal, I should still be qualified."
"Come, I will teach you how to fight mountain monkeys."
After Gu Yun finished, he ushered his horse and rushed forwards. Chang Geng did not hesitate, immediately following after him. All the Black Iron Camp soldiers were well-trained. As soon as Gu Yun moved, they immediately understood their commander's intention. They all began charging forwards, leaving behind only the scream of Officer Sun: "Marshal, we cannot—"
At the next moment, there was a force behind his neck, his entire body suddenly became lighter — Shen Yi had picked him up with the hilt of his sword, throwing him onto his horse.
Sun Jiao cried out; his eyes turned white from the impact of the fall.
Shen Yi reluctantly said: "Master Sun, please do not scream anymore, this general will inevitably keep you from dying, rest assured."
As General Shen said this, he could not help but feel bad for himself — that Marshal Gu was a young master born from the Marquis' Manor. Since his childhood, there had always been an old maid following him everywhere, ordering them around had become a habit. After he grew up, he found that there was no old maid in the Black Iron Camp, thus he had considered Shen Something to be his old maid - how absurd.
Having said that, Shen Yi looked at Master Sun, who had already fainted: "This is the first time I've seen an officer that resembles a eunuch so much."
On the top of the hill, a bandit reported to their leader: "Big brother, I heard that eunuch call out 'Marshal'."
The leader's whole body was buried in the Heavy Armor; he pushed up the protective mask, and angrily shouted: "Stop talking nonsense, hurry and shoot the arrows! Surround! Surround them!"
The sound of the horn blowing from inside the valley rang out once again, the bandits shouted as they rushed down from the top, aiming directly at Gu Yun's 'force' consisting of a handful of people.
There was no telling if the bandits intended to boost their courage or something else, encircling them as they continued to beat the drum and sound the gong. One charged forward from one direction, another screamed and shouted, rushing from the opposite side of the mountain, surrounding them, dust and sand scattering in the air.
It was a pity that most of their horses were robbed from the hands of the merchants: how could they match against the one-in-a-million godlike steed of the Black Iron Camp? They immediately got left behind.
Gu Yun made a gesture, several soldiers behind him immediately understood and started to scatter in various directions. The target for the arrows shot from the mountain instantly became disarray.
A line of bandits was directly in front of them. Gu Yun drew his sword in indifference, its long blade shining bright like snow. He said to Chang Geng: "Remember, on the battlefield, who does not want to die, will die first..."
Chang Geng was almost blinded by the sword in his hand.
It resembled a flying dragon, one slash had sent blood splattering in four directions, two in and two out, the bandits' corpses piled up to the size of a mountain.
Gu Yun casually finished the second half of the sentence: "...even if your enemy is a bunch of good-for-nothings."
The leader was holding a Qian Li Yan, watching from above. As soon as the situation went wrong, he said in fury at once: "I told you to surround them, what is going on?"
Next to him, a small bandit said with a frown: "Big brother, I don't know!"
At this moment, another bandit ran over: "Big brother, things are not good!"
However, in just a flash, a cavalry had appeared at the mountain entrance. The bandit holding the tong hou had yet to pull back his neck when a blade flashed, his head instantly separating from his body.
Gu Yun's horsemanship was superb, riding across the rocky mountains as if he was on flat surface, crossing through an incredibly narrow path. He slashed down with his sword, a bloodcurdling scream instantly sounded out from behind the large rock — as it turned out, there was someone in hiding, waiting to ambush. Gu Yun shook off the blood on his blade. He seemed to wait for Chang Geng for a moment, then said: "There are many places to use as cover in the mountains, and there will always be snakes lurking behind them. You are superb in martial arts, but you won't necessarily be able to avoid ambushes."
Chang Geng swept his eyes over and saw there was indeed a bow mechanism set up readily behind the large rock, waiting to shoot. His horse was not an exceptional war steed, following after Gu Yun with difficulty, but he felt that the blood in his whole body had started to become hotter. He asked: "Yifu, how did you know?"
Gu Yun smirked: "Used to it."
As soon as he finished, a rock suddenly fell from above. Gu Yun seemed to have eyes on top of his head. He ushered his horse and it leaped forward, the rolling rock almost grazing the tip of the horse's tail. At the same time, Gu Yun's entire body left the saddle, grabbing a vine next to him and quickly hoisting himself up in the air. Chang Geng instinctively leaned back as he heard a slashing sound; either way, he still did not want the cruel yifu up high to splatter blood all over his face.
Gu Yun looked at him from above, raised his eyebrows and smiled. He whistled; the well-trained horse immediately followed.
Chang Geng's heart was beating like mad, Gu Yun's smile was about to steal his soul away.
Gu Yun shouted towards him: "When fighting monkeys in the mountains, remember to always take the advantage of elevation first."
At this time, the 'enveloping circle' of the bandits had been plunged into complete chaos. Several entrances to their dens up high had quickly become occupied, and they began to scatter and flee in all directions like flies. One after another were killed off by arrows shooting down from above. Chang Geng hurriedly caught up to him, only to see Gu Yun had mounted his horse again, and at the same time, had taken out a special arrow from behind.
The bow and the arrow were very heavy. The longbow appeared to be dozens of pounds in weight, equipped with a box as big as a thumb. Chang Geng narrowed his eyes, thinking: "Is there a golden box on the bow?"
In the next moment, the white steam spurting out on the longbow confirmed his speculation. The arrow shaft seemed to be made out of iron, creating a sharp echoing noise when released from the string, as if twenty fireworks had exploded as it rushed towards the sky - the iron arrow resembled a miniature version of a Baihong arrow, piercing through the sun, hitting a large rock.
The rock shook for a moment, then fell down without warning.
The monkeys scattered, their leader was hindered by the Heavy Armor. It took him a moment to look up, but before he could see anything, both he and the Armor were buried underneath the rock with a loud bang!
Chang Geng smiled and said: "Yifu, this I know, in a battle, one must first capture the king, am I right?"
He was guarded by Gu Yun the entire time, whizzing through hundreds of savage mountain bandits, not a single hair on his head had been messed up, and his clothes were fluttering with the wind. At first glance, he resembled an alluring young master.
Gu Yun let out a 'tch', thinking to himself: "This is it, next time I return to the capital, I'm afraid the number of ladies who throw me their handkerchiefs will be cut by half."
After half an hour, Gu Yun took his few 'unarmed' Black Iron Camp soldiers and proudly marched into the bandit's den.
As most of the bandits saw their silver-hued boss die off, they immediately fled all at once. They were familiar with how the terrain was. Once they scattered into the mountains, they disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Gu Yun only had a handful of people; it was not convenient to chase after them. They were only able to capture a few of the ones that had not been able to run, and then they strung them up like birds.
Gu Yun sat down on the bandit leader’s tiger skin chair, then felt that it was somewhat off. He stood up and removed the skin: "The throne of the king of the mountain is truly unique."
The four legs of the magnificent chair had been sawn off, and a stack of gold was piled up underneath it in their place, the top covered with a wooden board.
Gu Yun: "One could lay golden eggs while sitting on top of this?"
Shen Yi coughed, gesturing for the Marshal to speak some sense.
At this time, Master Sun, who wet himself from fear before, had changed his trousers. Seeing this situation, he immediately realized the opportunity could not be lost - it would never return again once gone. Changing his cowardly behavior from before, he daringly stepped forward and shouted: "Whoever gave you the courage to rob the Imperial Court envoy in the middle of the road? Who came up with this? Speak!"
Chang Geng was originally holding and admiring Gu Yun's special bow; upon hearing these words, he looked up and said: "Robbing the envoy is treated the same as rebellion, but as long as one is not the leader, ordinary bandits may only be banished. But for especially courageous men like you all here..."
He stopped there, revealing a smile containing a deeper meaning. He ignored the few shivering bandits, appearing as if he had just only unintentionally said one sentence. He quickly turned his attention to the other man, smiling while asking: "Yifu, your bow and arrow is very nice, may I have it?"
Gu Yun waved his hand: "Take it."
Sun Jiao was startled, not understanding the Fourth Prince whom he had just met. At first, he only felt that the man was not at all arrogant: he was gentle, very good at talking, and was not the calculating type either. But he now realized that he might have been blind.
Chang Geng said this one sentence, the bandits were not so stupid either, they immediately cried out.
"We peasants did not know that you are the imperial envoys. Masters, please forgive us!"
"It's not easy to make a living on this road. In this tiny region, we don't get to see a single person for numerous days, who would have thought that the moment we started, we would instantly run into the imperial envoys. Us peasants are innocent... No, we are not quite innocent, but we still have young ones and elders, it's not at all easy!"
Sun Jiao: "..."
At this moment, a Black Iron Camp soldier suddenly walked in quickly and whispered in Gu Yun's ear: "Marshal, Southern Central Inspector Master Kuai sent a messenger, saying that he had heard the news of the Marquis being harassed by the local gangsters. He will be arriving soon with two hundred personal guards."
Gu Yun raised his expressionless face, just in time to meet Sun Jiao’s gaze. The blood on Marshal Gu's body still hadn't dried, scaring away any triumphant glint in Sun Jiao's eyes.
Fu Zhi Cheng was originally a bandit. Even if he had later on surrendered and was recruited in the army, and even with his awe-inspiring merits, it was still very unreasonable for him to become a high-ranking officer at the frontier.
But unfortunately, with the Western Regions' rebellion that year, the thieves from the southern areas also took this opportunity to invade the territory of Great Liang. Gu Yun had already gone to the West, there was no available personnel in the imperial court. They had no other choice but to resurrect a dead horse and ordered Fu Zhi Cheng to lead the troops in the Southern Frontiers.
However, Emperor Yuan He still did not trust him. The Southern Central Inspector Kuai Lan Tu was designed specially to restrain Fu Zhi Cheng, holding in his hands two hundred personal guards, as skilled as elite troops, allowing him to act at will in any critical moment. Even if a real incident was to happen, these two hundred soldiers would still be unable to fight against the garrison troops stationed in the Southern Frontier, but it would not be difficult for them to break out of the siege and send a message back.
Both Kuai Lan Tu and Fu Zhi Cheng could be described as enemies clashing in the narrow roads, both sides had long wanted to plunge the other party to their death. The one soon to arrive definitely wouldn't harbor good intentions.
Gu Yun: "My foot has just entered the bandit's den but Inspector Kuai had already 'heard' about it, his news system is even better than the God of the Soil* himself."
*Tu Di Gong(土地公), a popular local deity, believed to be in charge of administering the affairs of a particular village.
Sun Jiao also knew that Kuai Lan Tu had not paid attention to grasping a good timing, setting off too fast. He quickly tried to cover: "To tell Marshal the truth, this trip of ours is a secret. We did not expect to encounter His Highness while on the way, how could I dare let the prince be at risk? I had no choice but to request from the inspector some reinforcements..."
"Master Sun had good intention," Chang Geng said with a smile. "But how did you know that this trip to the South would be risky?"
Sun Jiao probably knew that his supporter was about to arrive, his back also became straighter. He said: "This time, as your subject was ordered to travel to the South to appease the troops, I have long been aware of the rampaging bandits situation in this region, hence for the sake of preventing any unforeseen incident, I deliberately requested His Majesty for a Drumming Order before leaving - as it turned out, something did go wrong. But fortunately, the Marquis was greatly experienced and was not fazed in the face of danger."
Gu Yun revealed an unamused smile, not paying his flattery any mind.
Sun Jiao: "These bandits are rampaging without fear, becoming more and more courageous. If they dare to rob even the court officials, then what would happen to the common people? If we don't get rid of this problem, the Southwest will remain unstable. It seemed that I was correct in bringing along the Drumming Order. The very first Drumming Order of Great Liang is about to fall directly on General Fu."