Chapter 7 Book 1: 7: The Heart's Knife Pointed at the Camp
Book 1: Chapter 7: The Heart’s Knife Pointed at the Camp
Merchant City, Gao Xianzhi’s camp:
A large number of soldiers gathered in a large plaza. At this moment, they had dozens of Song Nation soldiers tied up there, forced to kneel.
All the soldiers stared at the commander-in-chief, Gao Xianzhi, who was in the north, and Crown Prince Song, who assisted at the side.
“Let me go! I want to go home! Let me go home!”
“I have been killing on the frontlines, not caring about my life and death. However, that corrupt official killed my entire family behind my back. Let me go! Let me take revenge!”
“My entire family is gone, burned by fire! I have to search for my father and mother. Let me go!”
The bound Song Nation soldiers shouted at Gao Xianzhi and Crown Prince Song with bloodshot eyes.
Gao Xianzhi showed a sullen expression as he stared at the agitated soldiers. Crown Prince Song also looked at Gao Xianzhi.
“Lin Chong, have you clarified the situation?” Gao Xianzhi asked.
Lin Chong, who was at the side, nodded. “Commander, we have captured all the deserters. This subordinate also asked them about it. Apparently, we failed to keep our guard up. As the merchants of the various cities came, the merchants brought bad news from their homes. Some of the nobilities harmed the families of these soldiers. Their families managed to escape and sent word. The soldiers deserted only because their families suffered harm.”
“How many of them?” Gao Xianzhi asked sullenly.
“There have already been thirty families that met with mishaps,” Lin Chong said with an unsightly expression.
“Is Gu Hai’s plot finally starting? Is he trying to cause chaos in the hearts of my soldiers? Humph!” Gao Xianzhi let out a cold snort.
“Gu Hai’s plot?” Crown Prince Song’s expression sank.
“What’s going on? Who is spreading rumors in my camp?” Gao Xianzhi asked coldly.
“It is those groups of wealthy merchants. There were messengers from the various cities or the soldiers’ relatives among the merchant’s servants. They were secretly meeting with the soldiers, bringing bad news. That’s why these soldiers chose to desert,” Lin Chong explained.
“Those groups of wealthy merchants? Humph! A rich man is not a benevolent one. For sowing chaos in the hearts of my soldiers, they deserve death!” Crown Prince Song said as he glared.
“Your Highness, calm down.” Gao Xianzhi shook his head.
“What’s wrong? Commander, do you intend to protect those merchants?” Crown Prince Song asked sullenly.
Gao Xianzhi showed a bitter smile as he replied, “No. Your Highness, look at the soldiers’ faces. Gu Hai’s plot has already started. We can no longer stop it.”
“Huh?” Crown Prince Song looked at the soldiers in confusion.
Naturally, the bound deserters showed bloodshot eyes. However, the soldiers watching also had grave expressions as they looked at the plaza. They did not evince any disgust as they looked at the deserters. Instead, they showed compassion.
If these deserters deserted out of cowardice, the soldiers would naturally disdain them. However, was it out of cowardice? The deserters risked their lives to fight on the frontlines like the other soldiers. All that for what? It was so their parents, wives, and children at home could live a good life. They had gone to great lengths for the Song Nation, fighting in the war. It was fine that those corrupt officials enjoyed themselves far behind the frontlines. However, they harmed the soldiers’ parents, humiliated and killed their wives. Who would not feel angry at that?
Deserters? Screw that. These deserters left openly. If it were the other soldiers, they would have left too.
Furthermore, the bound deserters were brothers who had gone through life and death with the other soldiers. They did not cry about bleeding or being crippled. However, those corrupt officials back home were too cold-hearted. Before these soldiers could fulfill their filial duties and give their wives a good life, those corrupt officials harmed them.
Now, all the soldiers wanted to see how the commander-in-chief would deal with this.
Would the wives and parents of the other soldiers suffer as well?
If the commander-in-chief could not protect their families, why should they continue fighting for the nation?
Were the wealthy merchants bad? At least they brought news from home.
All the soldiers stared at Gao Xianzhi and Crown Prince Song, waiting for the two to make a fair decision, even if not for these deserters, then for the worries in the soldiers’ hearts.
As Crown Prince Song took in the soldiers’ expression, his face turned increasingly gloomy.
“Your Highness, you saw it, right? This is just the beginning. If you kill the merchants, you are killing off their messengers. That would be shutting off their means of communication. Won’t we be colluding with those corrupt officials, then? They fought to the death for us, but you enable those corrupt officials to harm their families?” Gao Xianzhi smiled coldly.
Crown Prince Song felt startled and frightened.
“This…this is Gu Hai’s plot? He is trying to trigger an explosion in our camp, causing a huge commotion among our soldiers?” Crown Prince Song said with an unsightly expression.
“It is definitely him. Previously, we did not receive any of such news. Thirty families? Why did so many appear in one go? I think those officials would not be silly enough to harm the soldiers’ families at this time. There might be some, but there can’t be so many. Furthermore, they all happened at the same time. News of this even spread throughout the military camp,” Gao Xianzhi said.
“This Gu Hai has a very far reach. To think that he managed to stretch his hands into our military camp. Commander, fortunately, you managed to discover it in time. Otherwise, had I killed those merchants in anger and sealed off their means of communication, who knows what other plots Gu Hai has?!” Crown Prince Song said with an unsightly expression.
Gao Xianzhi nodded and said, “Indeed.”
“What now?” Crown Prince Song asked.
“Gu Hai already dug out a small hole in the soldiers’ hearts. Naturally, we cannot leave it be. However, we definitely cannot seal the information; that would make things worse. I’ll slowly deal with it,” Gao Xianzhi said gravely.
The crown prince nodded.
“Everyone, I, Gao Xianzhi, guarantee the sanctity of the military. During this period, if anyone dares to harm or humiliate the soldiers’ families, I will make them pay tenfold—a hundredfold. This is my—Gao Xianzhi’s—promise. I hope everyone will trust in this commander!” Gao Xianzhi shouted.
All the soldiers looked at Gao Xianzhi. His promise held some weight, after all. However, doubt crept into the soldiers’ hearts like a demon. They wanted to see how he would deal with this.
“Guarantee? What can you guarantee? Before I left, my daughter was two years old, only starting to walk and hug my leg, calling me daddy. However, that corrupt official trampled her to death. My daughter!”
“My father died early, so my mother brought up my younger brother and me. Every day, she worked hard to sew clothes for others to raise me. After doing that for a long time, she could no longer see. I never feared death when sent to war. I did it to accrue military accomplishments and get rewards to go back and be filial to my mother. However, that damned son of the county lord burned my mother down with the house for the sake of my family’s land. Mother! This child is not filial!”
“Before I set out for war, I just got married. I married Xiaohuan, someone I grew up with. Xiaohuan told me not to join the war, but I still came to risk my life on the frontlines. However, the county constable lusted after Xiaohuan’s beauty, kidnapping her. My younger brother searched for her everywhere but ended up viciously beaten up. Today, he came and told me about it. What is the point of fighting this war? Who am I fighting for? I risk my life to fight, but you destroy my family. Corrupt officials! Corrupt officials!”
The deserters started crying and complaining.
The watching soldiers tightly clenched their fists, feeling compassion. All their hearts felt extremely heavy.
Crown Prince Song wanted to chase away the surrounding soldiers to reduce the impact. However, Gao Xianzhi stopped him. The more they tried to block this, the more it would inspire fear in the others.
The thirty deserters continuously described everything, and Gao Xianzhi carefully listened.
Gao Xianzhi only managed to organize all the information after four hours. Then, he frowned heavily.
The entire plaza sank into silence as everyone looked at Gao Xianzhi.
After some silence, Gao Xianzhi gestured with his finger, splitting the thirty people into two groups. One side had four people, and the other side had twenty-six people.
“I have heard your descriptions and also made some guesses. Everyone, please listen to me carefully. What was the news that the twenty-six of you received? Your families were kidnapped or killed somewhere? They were declared dead without anyone seeing the corpses. Furthermore, the ones who came might be your family, but they did not witness the person in question being kidnapped or killed. They only heard about it. No matter how possible it is, they are just guesses, right?” Gao Xianzhi asked seriously as he stared at the twenty-six.
“My younger brother would not lie to me!”
“My cousin would not lie to me!”
The twenty-six started messily defending their family.
“That’s right. They would not lie to you. However, what if they were fooled as well?” Gao Xianzhi said.
“Everyone, don’t you find it strange? Previously, there was not so much bad news like this. Yet, this much suddenly appeared in one go. I can tell you this: this is the doing of that Gu Hai, the wealthiest man of the six nations. His purpose is to create turmoil in my army,” Gao Xianzhi said gravely.
“Why should I believe you?”
The twenty-six showed unsightly expressions.
“There’s no need to believe me. You only need to know that if they are alive, you have to see them; if they are dead, you have to see their corpses. In the absence of a corpse, do not lose hope. I’ll immediately ask the emperor to order people to search for your relatives in all the officials’ residences. If they are alive, we have to see them. If they are dead, we have to see their corpses. At least, it would be better than you blindly running back. Having the entire city search for them would be better than you alone, right?” Gao Xianzhi consoled.
“However, can they be found?” one of the deserters asked, feeling some hope.
“We will search every household, even if we have to dig one meter into the ground. I will definitely give you an account. How’s that? If it really is the local officials breaking the law, I will ask the emperor to kill them without mercy,” Gao Xianzhi said with a resolute expression.
“Many thanks, Commander! Many thanks, Commander!” the deserters cried out.
Then, Gao Xianzhi turned his head to look at the remaining four deserters, who still showed bloodshot eyes.
“Commander, what about us? Ours can’t be fake, right? My younger brother personally saw my blind mother burned to death in the house. It was the county lord’s son! My blind mother!” One of the four glared at Gao Xianzhi with bloodshot eyes.
Gao Xianzhi’s expression turned stern as he said, “The news that the four of you received is backed with iron-clad evidence. Don’t worry. No one can ever make you cry after you have bled again. No matter who it is. That county lord’s son? No, anyone who participated in harming your family will be executed!”
“Commander?” The four stared at Gao Xianzhi.
“You can personally execute them!” Gao Xianzhi said with a ruthless expression.
“Commander! Many thanks, Commander!”
“Many thanks, Commander!”
The four repeatedly kowtowed in gratitude. They might never be able to take revenge if they were on their own. However, the commander stood up for them now. How could they not feel grateful?
Then, Gao Xianzhi turned his head. After breathing deeply, he said, “Your Highness, I will immediately write a letter to the emperor to ask him to cooperate with his full power. This time, Gu Hai attacked with strong momentum. I hope Your Highness will support me and sign the letter with me. We need to resist the foreign influence and stabilize our internal affairs first.”
Crown Prince Song looked at the deserters and nodded. “Alright.”
Then, Gao Xianzhi turned his head to look at the soldiers again. “Soldiers, I know you are all worried. Don’t worry. I, Gao Xianzhi, promise that from now on, everyone is allowed to write back to and communicate with their families. Everyone has this right! However, you are not to leak any military secrets.”
“Many thanks, Commander!” countless soldiers immediately bellowed.
The earlier worries completely disappeared. Since the commander permitted them to write home, they could find out if their families were safe. They could also let their families know about their situation. This was great. The commander was great.
All the rash feelings in their hearts immediately vanished.
“However, everyone saw it as well. Of this group of deserters, there were four whose issues are beyond doubt. On the other hand, the remaining twenty-six might be the result of Gu Hai’s plot. Hence, if anyone runs into anything you cannot resolve or anything that makes you worry, you can come and report to me. This commander will stand up for you!” Gao Xianzhi shouted.
“Gu Hai is really ruthless!”
“Commander, don’t worry. We will definitely report everything to you!”
“Damned Gu Hai!”
“Commander, what about that group of wealthy merchants?” Lin Chong asked from the side.
Gao Xianzhi frowned slightly and said, “Gu Hai already made his move, but I got careless. Firecrackers? Fireworks? Ha! Despite firmly commanding Hulao Pass, he managed to control my army from more than five hundred kilometers away. Let that group of wealthy merchants continue. However, monitor them at all times. Also, from today on, any action to celebrate or console the soldiers has to be low-key. Stop all the firecrackers and fireworks. Otherwise, it will cause chaos in the army.”
Gao Xianzhi managed to suppress the danger of desertion.
The soldiers dispersed slowly, and everything returned to normal, continuing orderly.
Gao Xianzhi and Crown Prince Song went to the commander’s tent.
There, Gao Xianzhi wrote a letter and set his seal on it. Crown Prince Song also stamped his personal seal on it.
“Commander, today, you honestly announced everything to the soldiers, directing the hatred to Gu Hai and easing the soldiers’ worries. However, is it too extreme to ask my imperial father to punish these nobles heavily?” Crown Prince Song asked somewhat worriedly.
“No. Crown Prince Song, you still do not understand how horrifying this Gu Hai is. Did you not see it? Despite being at home, he already created chaos in the hearts of my soldiers. It is not that Gu Hai did not come out to fight. Instead, his true weapons have already thrust over. This is a psychological battle. We only just averted the danger. However, if Gu Hai succeeded, do you know how terrifying it would be?” Gao Xianzhi countered with an unsightly expression.
“Ah? It’s that bad?” Crown Prince Song frowned.
“Bad? Haha! Your Highness, you are still underestimating him. Once Gu Hai crumbled the hearts of the soldiers, our eight-hundred-thousand-strong army would be immediately destroyed. The Song Nation would be in danger and could be eliminated at any time!” Gao Xianzhi said in a grim voice.
“So, Your Highness, think about it for yourself. The empire that your Song Clan built up or these nobles who caused trouble for themselves, which are you going to choose? I am not exaggerating!” Gao Xianzhi said solemnly.
Crown Prince Song’s eyelids twitched as he nodded. “Don’t worry. I will write another letter to Imperial Father to cooperate with you fully.”
Half a month later, Song City, the Song Nation’s capital:
Gu Hai and Gu Han—the father-son pair—stood in front of an imperial notice board and looked at the imperial notice that was just posted.
[TL Note: The imperial notice board is a place for notices posted with the emperor’s authority. There are also other similar kinds of notice boards for official matters. As there were no newspapers or internet back then, they relied on notice boards like this to spread the word about any major issues or new laws passed. Wanted posters might be posted on such boards as well.]
“Adoptive Father, Gao Xianzhi acted very quickly, immediately resolving that danger,” Gu Han said gravely.
“Gao Xianzhi is indeed capable. Furthermore, he managed to convince the Song Emperor quickly to protect the soldiers’ families with all his might, mercilessly executing anyone who dares harm the soldiers’ families. He also permitted the soldiers to write home? Hahaha!” Admiration flashed in Gu Hai’s eyes.
“Adoptive Father, should we continue to make the soldiers’ families disappear? The soldiers are starting to show hatred for Adoptive Father’s name.”
“They are starting to hate me? Ha! That is what I wanted. Continue! Continue to make them disappear. As they hate me, they will continue to doubt the Song Nation’s nobility. So what if they hate me? In the future, they will realize that hating me is the cause of the nation’s destruction!” Gu Hai smiled bitterly.
“However, Gao Xianzhi already assured the soldiers, stabilizing their hearts.”
“Stabilize their hearts? However, we have already planted a seed of chaos in their hearts. This is just the beginning. I will bring them into an endless feedback loop. Gao Xianzhi still wants to resolve this? He can’t!” Gu Hai revealed a faint smile as he looked at the imperial notice board.