Ch115 - Retake
"P-please, ask, M-Marquess Liang I-I-I’ll tell you everything I know!" Right now, even if it were ten questions or a hundred questions, Sun Yuan would tell them everything he knew, down to every last detail.
Liang Feng said, "Just many Xiongnu were there in the attack against the commandery city?"
"Five hundred! Yan Ji borrowed them all from the North Division Commandant!" Staff Officer Sun replied at once.
Five hundred – that was much more than what he’d anticipated, and it had something to do with that old geezer, Liu Xuan, after all!
"Where are the rest of the Xiongnu scattered?"
"The commandery city, Huguan County, and the two choke points of Bai Pass. There are fifty people at each location, the rest were led off by their commander towards Taihang Pass…."
Liang Feng interrupted him, "They’ve gone to Taihang Pass?! When was this!"
"Less than two days ago…." Seeing something off in Liang Feng’s expression, Sun Yuan cautiously added, "That commander, when he heard you would be coming to the city, Marquess Liang, he took his troops to investigate."
Fuck! It only took two days to get from the commandery city to the Liang Estate on a fast horse! He hadn’t thought they would take advantage of his absence to catch him with his guard down. At least there were only three hundred or so people; Duan Qin and the others should be able to hold the passes. They couldn’t waste any more time!
"Hurry, list the names of those who defected to Yan Ji and the situation of the other city garrisons. If there is the slightest mistake, you’ll pay for it with your head!" Of course Liang Feng wouldn’t spare any courtesies at a time like this. He ordered for paper and brush to be directly placed before Staff Officer Sun.
Staff Officer Sun shakily used his sleeve to wipe away the blood still pooled on the desk, not daring to disobey, and meekly started writing.
Liang Feng turned and said to his underlings, "Bring the highest-ranking officials in the prison to the inner hall!"
His subordinates were too few. All he could do was use every means available to him!
Li Lang stayed in the inner residence that day, not because there wasn’t any work to do, but because it was near the inner hall. He’d hear immediately if there was any clamor or commotion.
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Even if it could, the fact that he’d used his body to satisfy another’s pleasure would forever tarnish his name. This wasn’t a mere bit of dalliance between scholars, it was perverse collusion, sycophantic groveling towards a superior official. He’d see how he could go around pretending to be a scholar and keep his "bodhisattva" nickname with a fouled reputation!
Evil thoughts churned within his chest. Li Lang could hardly sit still from excitement. Thank goodness he’d been given his own little courtyard, away from his mother and wife, or else he’d definitely be found out by his mother. She was of the Liang family, after all, and attacks on reputation like these were indeed somewhat underhanded. He himself would have a hard time bringing it up to his mother.
However, once this thorn in his side was plucked out, his mother wouldn’t care what methods he’d used to do it.
As he was daydreaming about how Liang Feng would make a mockery of himself, a sudden noise came from afar. It sounded like a whistle. Li Lang curiously looked out the window; what was this all about?
A moment later, a hurried spate of footsteps along with a booming shout came from outside, "This is it!"
Then, about three or four saber-wielding Xiongnu barged in, startling Li Lang to jump to his feet. He stammered, "W-what’s going on?"
"You’re Retainer Li?" a Xiongnu man barked as he sized him up from head to toe.
"Y-yes, that’s me….. has something happened in the inner hall….."
"Get him!" the man bellowed. Two savage-looking soldiers pounced on Li Lang and twisted his arms behind his back.
Nearly tearing up from the pain, Li Lang didn’t dare struggle. He begged piteously, "What’s going on? I’m His Excellency Yan’s trusted aide! Is there some kind of misunderstanding?"
The Xiongnu ignored his question, dragging him out the door where he saw his mother, her hair disheveled and unbound, yanked forth. Now he was really panicked; he shouted, "Why have you arrested my mother?! What do you think you’re doing? Or is this some kind of rebellion?! You’re not afraid of the Prince of Chengdu’s retribution?!"
As he was screaming, another troop of soldiers rushed into the courtyard, each armed with sabers and spears. The sight of the blue-eyed Jie at the head of the group stupefied Li Lang. Wasn’t he Liang Feng’s close subordinate? Why had he intruded upon the inner courtyard? And there was an air of murder and bloodshed clinging about him, he didn’t look at like he’d just left the banquet!
Upon their entry, the leader of the Xiongnu grabbed Li Lang by the collar and raised his blade to him, "This must be your master’s accomplice. If you don’t want him to die, then get out of my way at once!"
Accomplice? What accomplice? Li Lang was too dumbfounded to get a single word out, though Liang Shu was much quicker on the uptake. Unheeding of her unseemly state, she screamed, "I’m your master’s aunt! Lang-er and I are the closest relatives to the Liang Estate, so put down your weapons and save us already!"
Whatever had happened, Liang Shu sensed that the situation was dire. If these Xiongnu were holding them hostage then they must have some value as hostages. If these Jie were the Liang Estate’s slaves, they wouldn’t dare cause their deaths!
Her shrieking made their captors tighten their grips and their eyes gleam with anticipation, waiting for the Jie slaves to back off. But contrary to their expectations, the Jie person said nothing at all as he made a hand signal followed by the whistling of arrows flying straight towards them!
Before the Xiongnu restraining Li Lang could react, he was toppling over from an arrow in his eye socket. The one holding Liang Shu, however, instantly used her as a meat shield, blocking a few projectiles. But in that instant, the Liang Estate’s soldiers were already upon them with swinging sabers, ruthlessly engaging them in close-quarters combat. At a numbers disadvantage to begin with, and taken by surprise, the Xiongnu were powerless to resist, and they were immediately dismantled.
Released from the death grip on his collar, Li Lang swayed for a moment before he could steady himself, though he was still dazed and dizzied. After blankly looking around, he staggered over to the woman lying on the ground. Upon seeing her arrow-ridden corpse, his legs weakened, and he fell to his knees.
"Mother! Mother, wake up! How dare you use arrows?! She’s descended from the main family of the Liang Estate, she’s elder brother’s aunt!"
No one minded his hysteric bawling. Instead, Yi Yan approached him, saber in hand, "So you’re Li Lang?"
Li Lang turned towards him, grinding his teeth, "You wretched slave, how dare you kill my mother…. I’ll have my elder brother kill you for this…."
What answered him was a sharp blade. The color disappeared from Li Lang’s face; he clutched his throat with both hands, struggling to breathe, but the only thing he managed was to spit up foaming blood. Before his struggling had fully ceased, he sagged and fell atop his mother’s corpse.
This was the one who’d made his lord gravely ill, sent bandits to assassinate him, and, what’s more, tricked that Yan bastard into committing dishonorable acts against his lord. Yi Yan only wished he could flay him alive. Dying by a single strike was too good for him!
Yi Yan flicked the blood off his blade, took a deep breath, and yelled, "Keep searching! Don’t let a single Xiongnu get away!"
Ling Hukuang couldn’t help shielding his eyes from the stinging sunlight outside the prison. Half a month ago, rebel forces had overtaken the commandery government of Shangdang and sent fake orders, tricking the other cities into opening their gates. Many high-ranking officials, even the Cavalry Commandant of the Army, had been murdered by that Yan bastard. It was only because he was from a powerful family of Bing Province and his uncle was the Fenwei General that his life was spared.
He was fed and clothed in the days since he’d been captured, but with the lack of sunlight and anyone he could talk to, he was nearly going mad. Moreover, he worried about the safety of the army out on campaign with the Duke of Dongying. However, who could’ve imagined that in only half a month, the winds would change again, letting prisoners like him see the light of day once more.
A few rugged soldiers swiftly escorted Ling Hukuang to the inner hall. He sniffed his nose reflexively the moment he entered. The smell of blood here was too strong. Moving away the corpses hadn’t erased the filth and blood. And there were several aides trussed up like chickens in the corner too. It appeared that a fierce battle had just occurred here!
The bloody scene didn’t frighten Ling Hukuang – he was born to a military family after all – rather, he marveled at how efficiently his rescuers had secured the mansion. Just what kind of person was their leader?
Soon, he met the mastermind behind it all.
Ling Hukuang couldn’t help but gape at the figure, whose bloodstained clothes didn’t diminish his beauty in the slightest. How could it be someone like him? Shouldn’t someone like him be staying inside strumming the zither, using powder and making merry? Just how had such a frail, bookish scholar captured the mansion, killed people?
Ignoring Ling Hukuang’s expression, Liang Feng cupped his hands, "I am Liang Feng, Liang Zixi, of Chen Commandery, Zhe County. After hearing of the disturbance in the commandery city, I came specially to offer assistance."
Ah! Being a resident of Bing Province, Ling Hukuang recognized him immediately, "Might you be Staff Officer Liang? I have long known of your illustrious name! I couldn’t have imagined I would meet you at a time like this…."
Calling him by the title of the position Sima Teng had once appointed him to was, as a subordinate of Sima Teng himself, an amiable expression of goodwill.
But Liang Feng had no time for empty formalities. He raised his hand slightly, "Commandant, let us dispense with the pleasantries. The leader of the renegade forces in Shangdang has been killed, but there are several passes that are still in enemy hands. Xiongnu troops have already gone to make reconnaissance of Taihang Pass. If I’m not mistaken, this is a disaster in the making!"
Ling Hukuang lurched, "The commandery city has been retaken already, and they won’t be able to conquer Taihang Pass so quickly. Is it really that serious?"
The way he saw it, recapturing the commandery city was already a meritorious feat. There shouldn’t be any danger, even if taking back Huguan and the other cities took some time; why was he so concerned?
"And if the five Xiongnu Divisions attack now? Then, Huguan will be lost, and Shangdang will be at risk!"
Hearing this, Ling Hukuang sucked in a cold breath. The Xiongnu would revolt?! If that was true, with the Duke of Dongying and his armies away, Shangdang really would be the first to bear the brunt of their attack. If his armies were unable to return through the passes, all of Bing Province would be thrown into chaos!
The foundation of his clan was here, how could he let it fall?! Ling Hukuang couldn’t help asking, "Then what should we do? It’s likely too late to call for reinforcements from Jinyang now!"
Liang Feng quietly breathed in relief at the young commander’s mounting urgency. He wasn’t afraid this person might lack martial prowess or reputation, only that he might be cowardly or stupid. So long as he wanted to fight, dared to fight, then there was no obstacle that couldn’t be overcome!
"If you are willing, commandant, you could do as so….. " without hesitation, Liang Feng began outlining his plan.