The soldier took out the letter from his pocket, and Chu Hechao received it with a smile on his face as he eagerly opened it.
What could Yuan Li have written to him?
Would he express missing him? Or perhaps some intimate words meant only for the two of them?
Chu Hechao was full of anticipation, but as soon as he opened the letter, he saw several mentions of “Chu Mingfeng.”
His smile instantly vanished, replaced by an expressionless face. Annoyed, he tossed the letter on the table and told the soldier, “You may leave.”
The soldier stepped outside and stood guard.
Chu Hechao tightly clenched the letter, closed his eyes, and found himself struggling with complex emotions and thoughts.
The name “Chu Mingfeng” was like a thorn in his heart.
He didn’t have anything, Yuan Li was the only person he had left, and was taken away from Chu Mingfeng’s clutches. Every time Yuan Li mentioned Chu Mingfeng, Chu Hechao felt anxious, afraid that Yuan Li would regret choosing him.
What did Yuan Li want to say in the letter by mentioning Chu Mingfeng?
Was he going to express that after this month and a half of separation, he had come to a decision and felt that he preferred Chu Mingfeng, and didn’t want to continue this uneasy relationship with Chu Hechao?
Chu Hechao’s throat tightened, and his eyes darkened.
After a long time, he finally calmed down and unfolded the crumpled envelope to continue reading.
He wanted to see what Yuan Li had to say about Chu Mingfeng.
The letter was only one page, and the content wasn’t much. As Chu Hechao read, his pupils dilated, and he suddenly stood up. The chair fell to the ground with a loud crash.
The soldier outside was about to rush in, but Chu Hechao said, “Don’t come in!”
After yelling this, Chu Hechao stared at the words on the letter, his emotions twisting like a winding mountain road, going from disbelief to doubt, from doubt to wild joy, and finally, his expression became somewhat contorted.
He read the letter over and over again, his fingers trembling with excitement, afraid that he might have misread the words.
The “mutual affection” between Yuan Li and Chu Mingfeng turned out to be fake!
Yuan Li didn’t like Chu Mingfeng, and Chu Mingfeng didn’t like Yuan Li either.
They were just friends; that’s what the letter seemed to suggest, and all this had been a ploy to make Chu Hechao obedient.
His chest pounded faster and faster, and Chu Hechao’s emotions were indescribable at this moment. It was like a blossoming flower in his heart, and everything felt beautiful and wonderful.
He hadn’t stolen Chu Mingfeng’s true love, and Yuan Li’s heart had never belonged to someone else. The stone that had been hanging in his heart for so long had suddenly been put down, and Chu Hechao realized he was sweating without even noticing it.
He wiped the sweat away, sat back, leaned against the back of the chair, and after a while, he propped his forehead and chuckled softly.
He felt as if he were floating, with a burning sensation in his heart. If Yuan Li were standing in front of him, he would probably pull him into his arms and tease him.
Happy, very happy.
Happier than winning a battle.
The fact that Yuan Li and Chu Mingfeng had no relationship was truly fantastic.
No one knew how suppressed Chu Hechao felt.
He had taken his brother’s wife, and his parents were dead. He couldn’t even confess the truth; it seemed like this relationship had been buried in darkness, never seeing the light of day. But letting go of Yuan Li was something Chu Hechao couldn’t do, not even if he died.
If his parents were still alive, he wouldn’t mind if they scolded him or beat him up for Chu Mingfeng. He wouldn’t feel bad about it.
Knowing the truth this time, Chu Hechao suddenly felt as if the thorn of Chu Mingfeng’s existence no longer hurt him.
After laughing, he felt a bit angry again. So angry that his molars itched, he pressed his forehead against the armrest, smiling and seething with anger.
This is good! So it turns out these two deceived him all the way until now.
The letter stated that it was Chu Mingfeng’s idea.
“Chu Mingfeng…” Chu Hechao gritted his teeth, suspecting that Chu Mingfeng had done this on purpose, even wanting to have the last laugh on his deathbed, to torment him thoroughly.
But Chu Mingfeng was already dead, and Chu Hechao had nowhere to ask him. If he wanted answers, he could only ask Yuan Li.
Chu Hechao’s lips curled up. He smoothed out the letter and read it again before carefully folding it and putting it in his pocket.
His mood at this moment was like an arrow, yearning to return. He wanted to hurry back and teach Yuan Li a lesson. However, there were matters at hand, and Chu Hechao could only focus his excitement on capturing the Shangdang Commandery and occupying Bingzhou, so he could return home sooner.
That night, Chu Hechao had a dream, and early the next morning, in the icy and snowy weather, he had to get up and wash his pants.
While washing his pants, he thought of Yuan Li again, and Chu Hechao blushed and felt embarrassed by last night’s dream. He was in his late twenties, yet a young kid had turned him into such a blushing youth. The water was freezing, but Chu Hechao didn’t feel it. His heart was burning with discomfort and an itchy sensation, making him want to go back even more.
Chu Hechao asked himself in a low voice, “Missing your wife?”
He answered himself, “Yes, I’m missing him. It’s time to pick up the pace.”
He rubbed his pants vigorously and continued to pursue the Yellow Dragon Army with his troops.
The army divided into three routes, advancing from east to west, with a swift and unstoppable momentum.
The Yellow Dragon Army in Shangdang Commandery wanted to resist, but Chu Hechao’s methods were extremely decisive.
His ten thousand cavalry was incredibly fierce, complemented by rapid-firing divine crossbows. The Yellow Dragon Army was overwhelmed by their assault and retreated all the way to the Taihang Mountains.
After half a month, the Yellow Dragon Army had completely escaped to Jizhou.
At this time, the Governor of Jizhou, Wu Shanshi, also received news of the troops from Youzhou marching to Bingzhou.
In the Governor’s Mansion in Ye County, Wei Commandery, Jizhou.
Wu Shanshi and his subordinates were discussing Chu Hechao’s attack on Bingzhou.
Wu Shanshi frowned and asked, “What do you all think of Chu Hechao leading his troops to attack Bingzhou?”
A small middle-aged man stood up among the counselors. He was none other than Mi Tai, whom the lord highly trusted. Mi Tai bowed and sighed with concern, “My lord, I’m afraid the current situation is unfavorable for us.”
Wu Shanshi spoke solemnly, “Please advise, Master Mi.”
“If Chu Hechao takes control of both Bingzhou and Youzhou, it will create an encirclement around Jizhou. These two regions are vast and sparsely populated, together equivalent to three Jizhous in size. If he seizes both provinces, he will already have the appearance of a dominant force. Furthermore, Youzhou and Bingzhou are connected to the east and west, so if he has intentions to attack Jizhou, we won’t be able to defend against it.”
Wu Shanshi naturally knew all this, and he humbly asked, “Then what should I do? Liu Quan, the Governor of Bingzhou, has fled, and Bingzhou is now in chaos. Should we also intervene?”
Another counselor with a square face, Wang Yun, immediately stood up and said, “My lord, it’s not advisable! Jizhou is still dealing with the snow disaster. Many people have been displaced, and much of the farmland has been destroyed. The soldiers don’t have enough warm clothes and shoes, and they have to huddle together for warmth every day, barely covering their bodies and lacking food. How can we involve ourselves in Bingzhou when we are already short of food in Jizhou? Jizhou’s own food supply is already scarce. If we want to attack Bingzhou, we won’t have enough food!”
Wang Yun was Wu Shanshi’s treasurer, so when he said there was no money, it was indeed true. Wu Shanshi’s expression changed slightly upon hearing his words, and he said with displeasure, “D*mn this natural disaster, it’s causing so much suffering to the people and soldiers. But I’ve heard that Youzhou has also experienced a snow disaster. How can they still send troops to Bingzhou?”
“Well…” The counselors looked at each other and couldn’t find an answer.
Finally, Mi Tai spoke up, “I’m afraid it’s because of the Governor of Youzhou, Yuan Le Jun.”
“Oh?” Wu Shanshi was surprised.
Mi Tai continued, “When Cai Ji defected to you, he mentioned to you all the things that Yuan Le Jun has been doing in Youzhou, such as cultivating wastelands and raising livestock. Isn’t the scented soap a way for Yuan Le Jun to hoard wealth and grain? Although Chu Hechao is a famous general, he is not adept at handling political affairs. Youzhou used to suffer losses every year, but with Yuan Le Jun, it’s different. Now, even after the snow disaster, Youzhou dares to take in refugees from other places and still has the confidence to send troops. Yuan Le Jun is the only one capable of this in Youzhou.”
“Yuan Le Jun, huh?” Wu Shanshi sighed, “I’ve heard a lot of rumors about him recently. They say he’s a young hero, outstanding among the young people. He even assisted Chu Hechao in killing the Xiongnu leader when he was still so young. He truly deserves to be a disciple of the great scholar Ouyang Ting.”
Mi Tai’s expression suddenly became serious, and he said in a deep voice, “My lord, we must not underestimate this person. Despite his young age, he already possesses such capabilities. If we let him grow further, he might become a formidable enemy for us!”
Wu Shanshi still didn’t take it seriously and laughed heartily, “Mi Tai, you’re too nervous. He’s just a newly-grown lad!”
Mi Tai dared not underestimate Yuan Li like this. He couldn’t help but advise again, “My lord! Jizhou is so wealthy, and all the granaries are full before winter. We can’t spare any resources to intervene in Bingzhou. However, Youzhou still has the ability to support Chu Hechao’s attack on Bingzhou. Although Yuan Le Jun is young, his methods are extraordinary!”
Wu Shanshi remained nonchalant. It was okay to have him deal with Chu Hechao, but if they wanted him to deal with a newly-grown lad, then wouldn’t it be a blow to his own face?
Wu Shanshi waved his hand and asked Mi Tai not to say more. He turned to the first counselor under him, Wei Ji, who had been silent all this time, and asked, “Uncle, what do you think of Chu Hechao’s attack on Bingzhou?”
Wei Ji was now sixty-three years old, with white and withered hair, and his long beard was also white. He sat with a bent back, seemingly resting. Only when Wu Shanshi asked did he slowly open his eyes. His cloudy eyes glanced around the crowd and finally settled on Zhou Gongdan, speaking slowly, “I want to hear what Zhou Wenning has to say first. If I remember correctly, Zhou Wenning once defected to Yuan Le Jun, right?”
All eyes turned to Zhou Gongdan.
Half a year ago, Cai Ji, the county magistrate of Guangyang County in Youzhou, came to Jizhou to seek refuge with Wu Shanshi. To show his sincerity, he informed Wu Shanshi about the impending death of the emperor and various situations in Youzhou.
Cai Ji knew a lot of things, even though most of his information only scratched the surface, it still provided Wu Shanshi and his men with some understanding of the situation in Youzhou.
More importantly, Cai Ji brought a piece of invaluable information – Chu Hechao and Yuan Li had developed a rift in their relationship.
Thanks to this information, Wu Shanshi treated Cai Ji as an honored guest and accommodated him. Unexpectedly, a few days later, a strategist named Zhou Gongdan also arrived, riding a donkey and bringing two boxes of something he called “cotton potatoes” to seek refuge with Wu Shanshi. He also provided Wu Shanshi with more detailed information about Yuan Le Jun’s actions than Cai Ji knew.
At first, Wu Shanshi didn’t believe him and asked Cai Ji about it. Cai Ji confirmed that Zhou Gongdan had indeed served as Yuan Le Jun’s strategist, but only for a few months.
How loyal could a strategist who served for only a few months be to the previous lord?
Wu Shanshi felt somewhat relieved.
Zhou Gongdan was handsome, intelligent, and especially articulate. In just half a year, Wu Shanshi had grown more and more fond of him, and he had already gained a place in Wu Shanshi’s council of advisors.
But counselors like Mi Tai, Wang Yun, and Wei Ji, who were meticulous in their thinking, found it difficult to trust Zhou Gongdan so easily.
Now, Wei Ji asked Zhou Gongdan to test him.
Zhou Gongdan was sipping tea when he heard the question and raised an eyebrow in surprise. Then, he quickly stood up and bowed, humbly saying, “This humble one has limited knowledge and would never dare to show off in front of you. I dare not speak.”
Wei Ji’s voice sounded weary, seemingly harmless like an ordinary elder, as he said, “It’s alright; just speak your mind. Among us, you are the most familiar with Youzhou and Yuan Le Jun. No matter whether it’s good or bad, the lord will not blame you.”
Wu Shanshi nodded, “Wenning, feel free to speak.”
Zhou Gongdan declined again but said, “Since you insist, I shall reveal my humble thoughts.”
He bowed once more, straightened his back, and looked at Wei Ji and Wu Shanshi with a burning gaze as he spoke in a clear voice, “Why not take advantage of Chu Hechao’s attack on Bingzhou to send troops to occupy parts of Youzhou while it’s vulnerable?”
As soon as this statement was made, everyone in the room was shocked.
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