Chapter 9: An Arrow Shot from the South of the Northern Mountain Road
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
"It's also essential to choose a suitable connecting spot for the people migrating. If I could choose, I would like a wider road than Pinecone Ridge."
As he looked at the bold ink spots marked on the hand-drawing map, Ning Que said, "They choose the Northern Mountain Road without considering it was a one-way road with thick forests on both sides. It is the perfect place for an ambush."
After saying this, he grew silent. He then put the map into his pocket, shook his head, and said in self-mockery, "Apparently, besides leading them into Northern Mountain Road, the guide has to confuse the enemy. The foolish princess has never believed in General Ma, and she would not trust me, either."
"An idiot is leading a bunch of idiots." Considering the possibility of troops arriving and being ambushed on Northern Mountain Road, Ning Que felt more and more depressed. He murmured angrily, "She has been in the grassland for nearly a year and hasn't learned. How did she earn her reputation?"
Ning Que unsheathed the three swords caked with rust and watered the whetstone from his flask. He began the age-old ritual of sharpening the swords in preparation for the bloody battles awaiting them on Northern Mountain Road. It was, perhaps, a futile gesture, but at the very least, it calmed him down.
"If we have to flee upon entering Northern Mountain Road, how would you ask the elderly man your questions?" Sangsang asked dejectedly.
"Life is the most important thing." Ning Que dropped his head while sharpening the swords and said, "If we can make it to Chang'an, then there's always a chance to learn. On the contrary, if we die because of these idiots, there will be no possibilities at all."
It was warmer when traveling to the south. Normally, the picturesque landscapes out of the carriage window were coming to life and green. But as the troops marched higher up Min Mountain, the wavy green grassland around them disappeared giving way to the tall trees that began to loom over them from the sides of the road. Their leaves were not quite green, yet looked like winter's end.
As the temperature fell, an anxious and depressive air enveloped the troops. Everybody understood that taking her down at Min Mountain between the frontier fortress and counties, would be the last chance for the bigwigs in Chang'an city to intercept the Princess and get back to the capital safely.
The troops marched with determination and caution for several days and finally arrived at the periphery of Northern Mountain Road. The sight of the deep forest was a relief to many of the weary travelers, but Ning Que was worried.
Staying in the second carriage most of the time, the comely maidservant did not find the opportunity to visit Sangsang as she did so often before. But on this day, she wore a smile when getting off the carriage at dusk.
She had dispatched an emissary to the imperial precincts before leaving the grassland. Even though the troops would not shortly be arriving at Chang'an, and the emperor would not order the army to take her back so soon, the emissary had sufficient time to contact a subordinate loyal to her.
She didn't hesitate to march into Northern Mountain Road once she received the urgent receipt from the Gushan Commandery ten days ago. She believed in Hua Shanye, the young Senior Captain who would be approaching Northern Mountain Road's southern entryway.
Though she had left Tang a year ago, she still firmly believed those loyal before, would be loyal to her again. Granted that some people had become the flunkies of that woman in the palace, she still trusted Hua Shanyue, because... the way he looked at her was so tender.
At sunset, the troops stopped and set up camp 15 kilometers away from the appointed location. No matter what, Passing through the thick forest in the night was so risky even her closest bodyguards advised her to wait for the Hua Shanyue's army at Northern Mountain Road.
She was considering this idea. She smiled again since both she and little Wild were so safe now. Song and laughter quietly rose from the camp now after such a long trip.
In the gloaming, a humble tent was set up outside the carriage circle, which was composed of five carriages and boxcars. Even the lead bodyguard earlier questioned the situation, the tent owner insisted on staying outside.
"We stayed away from their carriages to get away easier in case something bad happens?"
Ning Que explained sarcastically. He asked Sangsang to carry it bundled well with straw ropes, and then tied the ropes in a beautiful small flower.
Sangsang raised her head, looked at his new bearded chin, and asked, "What about them, if we run away?"
While checking the bow to see if it was affected by the moisture, Ning Que turned his head. Looking at the handmaiden's small black face, he answered after being silent for a while, "You probably have forgotten what happened when we were children, but I didn't forget."
"I saved you from digging through the pile of the corpses. Me, I have experienced some miserable things, which normal people could never imagine."
"Sangsang, you have to remember this forever. Life is difficult for us... We try our best to be alive in this world. Since we are alive now, we can't be killed easily."
After saying this, Ning Que did not explain anymore. He put the sharp swords back into their sheaths and tied them with rope. He then carried them secure on his back.
Sangsang did not ask more questions, she started to pack silently using her small hand to check if each arrow was straight enough. She acknowledged when dusk came, that was the moment to escape with Ning Que. She was not afraid because when she was a kid, she had experienced passing through the forest at night on Ning Que's back so many times.
At this moment, Ning Que's hand was frozen on the sheath.
A hand lifted the curtain of the demure tent, and the maidservant walked in. Her smile faded right away when she saw what was happening in the tent.
She intended to chat with Sangsang, but what she saw were the owner and his handmaiden packing. She fingered out they were planning to leave right now.
"What are you doing? " She stared at Ning Que coldly. "It's very suspicious for you to do that at this moment."
After a moment of silence, Ning Que laughed and was going to explain. But, his auricle quivered lightly, then his dimples disappeared—He looked unprecedentedly serious. He heaved the three swords on his back at once, pushed the maidservant away rudely, and walked out of the tent.
The encampment was located outside of Northern Mountain Road, and warmly comfortable with no forest cover and bathing in the last bit of twilight. But, for the moment, it was covered in bloody red.
The wind passed through the vibrant forest in the spring making a roaring or crying sound. Ning Que frowned and looked at the deep forest, listening to the warnings in the wind and he screamed suddenly. "Enemy's attacking!"
The deep sound revealed itself and a thunderous arrow was flying straight to the heart of the luxury horse carriage out of the forest!