After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 13

Chapter 13

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After meeting with Chu Mingfeng, Yuan Li returned the management to Madam Yang.

Madam Yang gladly took over the responsibility. Upon learning that Chu Mingfeng had given three recommendation letters to Yuan Li, she specifically instructed Chu Hechao to accompany Yuan Li to visit the esteemed scholars and officials.

In the past few days, Chu Hechao had been busy exploring ways to secure provisions by visiting the five major military camps. When he received the news from Madam Yang, he was in the training ground observing the training of the central army. Irritated, he returned to the mansion, his body covered in sweat.

Yuan Li stood refreshingly under the eaves of the mansion, with rosy lips and white teeth, waiting for him. When he saw Chu Hechao, his eyebrows and eyes gently curved, and his fair complexion resembled the morning mist. “General, you’re back.”

The tall man walked quickly to his side, sweat beads trickling down his jaw. His handsome eyebrows carried a hint of dampness as he glanced down at the envelopes in Yuan Li’s hand and casually asked, “Who are they?”

Yuan Li replied, “Shao Fu Shangshu Zhou Yukan, Taiwei Zhang Liangdong, and Sili Xiaowei Cai Yi.”

The official system of Northern Zhou was somewhat complex, resembling the Three Excellencies and Nine Ministers system, but with the addition of an imperial cabinet that checked the powers of the Three Excellencies and Nine Ministers. Later, the Emperor established the Monitoring Bureau as a balance to the Imperial Cabinet.

The five ministers in the Imperial Cabinet were appointed directly by the Emperor or recommended by courtiers, and they held great power. However, after the Emperor established the Monitoring Bureau, the eunuchs gained more of the Emperor’s trust and indulgence, gradually suppressing the power of the Imperial Cabinet.

As for these three officials, the Taiwei was one of the Three Excellencies, the Shao Fu Shangshu was one of the Nine Ministers, and the Sili Xiaowei specialized in overseeing the officials in the capital. They were all prominent figures.

“Chu Mingfeng seems to have great intentions for you,” Chu Hechao chuckled, lifting his eyelids. “Sister-in-law, which minister do you want to visit first?”

Yuan Li took out the letter addressed to “Taiwei Zhang Liangdong” from the envelope. “I only intend to visit the Taiwei.”

Taiwei Zhang Liangdong was the Prime Minister of the Imperial Cabinet and held the highest military position in the country among the three officials. At first glance, it seemed natural for Yuan Li to choose Taiwei, but in reality, the Taiwei did not have real power. Although it sounded good in theory, it was merely a position to take the blame for the Emperor. Whenever there was a natural disaster or a calamity, the Emperor would remove the Taiwei and ask for accountability. On the other hand, the Shao Fu Shangshu and the Sili Xiaowei were different. Although their official ranks were not high, they held substantial power.

Yuan Li was not a shortsighted person. He just felt that there was more to Chu Mingfeng’s serious illness. In this critical moment, it would be better for him to avoid dealing with high-ranking officials who held real power.

Moreover, although the position of Taiwei was a lousy one, Zhang Liangdong himself was a renowned scholar of the time, well-versed in classics and skilled in poetry. Countless people wanted to meet him every day. If Yuan Li could receive a word of praise from Zhang Liangdong, his reputation would quickly spread in Luoyang.

Chu Hechao looked deeply at Yuan Li and threw his large sword to a servant before returning to the mansion to change his clothes.

When they arrived at the Taiwei’s residence, they saw a long line of people waiting outside, all of whom wished to visit Zhang Liangdong. Among them were also many students from the National Academy. Two servants skillfully placed four bamboo baskets in front of the gate, waiting for people to line up and put their letters of visitation and poems in the baskets. Two baskets were already full.

Yuan Li was amazed and was about to join the line from the back when Chu Hechao led him to the two servants and handed them the letter of visitation.

The two servants initially thought that Chu Hechao was trying to cut in line, and their faces showed annoyance. But when they lowered their heads and saw the letter of visitation in Chu Hechao’s hand, their expressions immediately turned respectful. They asked Chu Hechao and Yuan Li to wait there for a moment and took the letter back into the residence.

In a pavilion by the pond.

Zhang Liangdong took the letter and looked at it, then handed it to his two friends with a hearty laugh. “Come and take a look, this is Chu Mingfeng’s letter. The young man he praises so highly in the letter must be Ruyang Yuan Li, the one who he married.”

Ruyang Yuan Li?

Zhan Shaoning, who was accompanying his father as a guest and had been idle on the side, perked up his ears and looked over.

Ouyang Ting, the Minister of Works, and Zhan Qibo, the Magistrate of the capital, both looked at the letter, stroking their beards with a knowing smile.

“Chu Boyuan seems to be suggesting that you take this young man as your disciple,” Ouyang Ting said.

Zhang Liangdong looked pleased. “Then let’s meet this young man.”

Shortly after, servants led Chu Hechao and Yuan Li inside.

The people in the pavilion watched as they approached. Ouyang Ting was the first to spot Chu Hechao and couldn’t help but suppress a smile. “Chu Ciye is here too?”

Zhang Liangdong’s expression changed, and he turned around looking for something.

Curiously, Zhan Shaoning asked, “Lord Taiwei, what are you looking for?”

Zhang Liangdong said with a mournful face, “I’m looking for a place to hide!”

Zhan Shaoning didn’t understand, and his father explained with a smile, “Lord Taiwei is in charge of the military affairs of the whole country. General Chu’s request for provisions is primarily directed at Taiwei. Lord Zhang, I heard that he has sought you out several times before, but you feigned illness and avoided meeting him each time.”

Zhang Liangdong gave a bitter smile and stopped searching for a hiding place. “I actually wanted to allocate military rations for him…”

But everyone in the court knew that his position as Taiwei was merely symbolic, with real power resting in the hands of the Emperor.

Ouyang Ting sighed. “Forget it, forget it. The grain supply for the 130,000 soldiers in the northern frontier is of utmost importance. When the time comes, we can jointly present a memorial to the Emperor to assist him.”

As they were talking, Yuan Li and Chu Hechao had already approached.

The three officials were already acquainted with Chu Hechao, but they were more curious about Yuan Li. Their three pairs of eyes simultaneously turned towards Yuan Li.

Yuan Li had a smiling face, a handsome appearance, and a vigorous spirit. He exuded an inner charm that made people feel a sense of fondness. At first glance, the three officials were extremely impressed by Yuan Li.

Under their gaze, Yuan Li remained calm and composed. He respectfully saluted the three officials without being humble or overbearing. When he raised his head, he locked eyes with the teasing Zhan Shaoning.

Zhan Shaoning finally found someone his age to share the ordeal with and had a beaming smile. “Brother Yuan.”

Yuan Li was also somewhat surprised. “Brother Shaoning.”

Zhan Shaoning gestured for Yuan Li to sit beside him, and after they sat down, the two of them exchanged a few pleasantries.

“You’re also a student at the National Academy, right?” Zhan Shaoning asked. “Brother Yuan, when will you come to the academy to listen to lectures?”

Yuan Li smiled and replied, “I should be going in a few days.”

As they chatted, they also listened to the conversation among the officials.

Surprisingly, Chu Hechao did not mention the matter of military rations. Instead, he held his wine glass elegantly, engaging in conversation and laughter with the others. If it weren’t for his tall stature, he would have appeared more like a Confucian general.

The topic gradually shifted to Yuan Li.

“Ruyang Yuan Li, I have heard of your reputation. You are a filial and virtuous young man. Chu Boyuan mentioned in his letter that you possess both talent and strategy. I wonder if this is true or false?” one of the officials asked.

Yuan Li smiled and said, “Lord Chu’s praise is exaggerated.”

“Good lad, there’s no need to be modest,” Zhang Liangdong stroked his beard. Chu Mingfeng rarely writes recommendation letters for others, let alone such a letter that reveals his admiration between the lines. Zhang Liangdong believed in Chu Mingfeng’s judgment and couldn’t help but feel a sense of expectation towards Yuan Li. “Then let me test you.”

Zhang Liangdong asked Yuan Li a few questions, considering the current difficulties in studying, he asked extremely simple questions. Yuan Li responded fluently, always able to extrapolate and provide fresh and interesting answers.

Zhang Liangdong became interested. “You came here today to pay your respects to me, do you want to become my disciple?”

Yuan Li’s eyes brightened. “Yes, I have long admired Lord Taiwei.”

Zhang Liangdong had many disciples and was truly a master renowned throughout the country. Yuan Li felt that having one more disciple wouldn’t hurt, and one less disciple wouldn’t make a difference. He was confident that he could become a disciple of Zhang Liangdong.

As expected, Zhang Liangdong showed a slightly hesitant and contemplative expression. After a moment, he asked, “If you want to become my disciple, what do you hope to learn from me?”

“To learn the Five Classics and understand rituals, music, calligraphy, and mathematics,” Yuan Li replied.

Zhang Liangdong continued his questioning, “By learning all these, what do you wish to achieve?”

Yuan Li answered, “To serve as an official in order to contribute to the state.”

Zhang Liangdong didn’t particularly like those solely driven by fame and fortune, but Yuan Li’s responses were honest and sincere. His eyes were clear and straightforward. Zhang Liangdong felt no ill intentions and rather appreciated his candor. He continued, “Then what kind of official do you aspire to be? A high-ranking minister in the Three Excellencies and Imperial Cabinet, or a local official?”

Yuan Li pursed his lips and smiled. “I want to be an official who safeguards the country and protects the people.”

Zhang Liangdong frowned. “Do you want to join the military?”

Yuan Li nodded.

Zhang Liangdong sighed, somewhat disliking the young man’s lofty aspirations. “Do you know how difficult it is to lead troops and how complex military affairs can be? Let me ask you, do you know how military laws are formulated? How to make soldiers believe in you and obey your orders? How many horses and vehicles does a ten-thousand-strong army need? How much food do they consume daily? How do you calculate armor, arrows, crossbows, spears, shields, and oars? How do you handle encounters with enemies, heavy rain, landslides, or sinkholes? What criteria should be used for rewards and punishments in the military?”

As each question was asked, Zhang Liangdong’s tone became increasingly demanding and serious. Zhan Shaoning’s head was spinning from being entangled in the questions. He was nervous, sweating from his nose, and dared not look up at Zhang Liangdong. He glanced at Yuan Li from the corner of his eye, shaking his head inwardly.

Oh, my dear brother, why are you spouting such grandiose words? Look, even Lord Taiwei is getting angry.

Zhang Liangdong wasn’t exactly angry; he had seen too many impatient individuals. However, he had developed a favorable impression of Yuan Li earlier, so he couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed now. “You don’t understand any of these things, so how can you talk about safeguarding the country?”

Yuan Li remained calm and said, “It is precisely because I don’t understand that I need a teacher to instruct me. But what you mentioned, I am not entirely ignorant of.”

Zhang Liangdong was taken aback, and Ouyang Ting and Zhan Qibo couldn’t help but show surprise. At this moment, Yuan Li began to answer Zhang Liangdong’s previous questions in a clear and organized manner.

“If it’s an expedition, there are five difficulties. The first is the difficulty of obtaining horses, the second is the difficulty of obtaining provisions, the third is the difficulty of marching on roads, the fourth is the difficulty of transportation, and the fifth is the difficulty of weather. During peacetime, rations are distributed at four liang per person per day, but during wartime, rations are increased to six liang per person per day. The more soldiers there are and the more they consume, the faster the food is depleted. Even without enemies to fight, daily marches, setting up camps, and digging ditches and building towers require a great deal of effort. If the soldiers don’t eat enough, they won’t even have the strength to lift their swords and shields. Therefore, it is extremely important to prepare sufficient provisions before marching and calculate the necessary supplies for both humans and horses. As for military law and rewards and punishments, they are equally crucial. Enforcing discipline, maintaining clear rewards and punishments, and ensuring smooth implementation of military orders, ‘the brave are not allowed to advance alone, the timid are not allowed to retreat alone, this is the method of employing the masses’—this is the unity of the army and the key to victory. However, many generals can achieve the enforcement of discipline, but achieving smooth implementation has always been a difficult aspect of military operations…”

Yuan Li spoke slowly.

He needed to carefully consider his wording in his mind before speaking it out, and this deliberate pace actually gave others time to understand his words and keep up with his thoughts.

Zhang Liangdong had a look of astonishment on his face, and Ouyang Ting was equally impressed. He stared intently at Yuan Li, occasionally showing expressions of contemplation or sudden realization. Even Zhan Qibo, who had limited knowledge of expeditionary forces, nodded repeatedly as he listened.

Chu Hechao’s eyelids were half-closed as he listened quietly.

Zhan Shaoning suddenly lifted his head, looking at Yuan Li in disbelief. After seeing the reactions of the senior officials, he tried hard to stay composed and follow Yuan Li’s line of thought in the conversation. However, it was extremely challenging, and he only grasped bits and pieces. In the end, Zhan Shaoning stopped troubling himself and pretended to understand, nodding along when others nodded, his gaze filled with admiration as he looked at Yuan Li.

Even though he couldn’t fully understand, Zhan Shaoning could still see that Yuan Li had a profound understanding of marching and could eloquently articulate his thoughts, with each sentence being logical and coherent.

“…If we can achieve this and continue in the same manner, then we can achieve even greater victories.”

After Yuan Li finished speaking, he looked up and met several pairs of fervent eyes, which nearly startled him.

However, he quickly realized what those eyes meant. They were the eyes of someone eager to snatch away a promising talent when they saw one.

Zhang Liangdong let out a deep sigh, his heart filled with complex emotions. “I am inferior to you.”

Yuan Li quickly expressed his humble disagreement, feeling somewhat ashamed.

All of his knowledge was obtained by standing on the shoulders of giants, a summary and analysis from future generations. Compared to these great scholars, he was essentially cheating.

Ouyang Ting’s gaze was intense. “Your words are logical and well-founded, enlightening me greatly. However, I wonder, have you studied the art of war?”

Yuan Li pondered for a moment. “I have some knowledge.”

Ouyang Ting immediately turned to Chu Hechao. “General Chu is the renowned war god of our Northern Zhou, with illustrious military achievements and exceptional leadership. Could I ask General Chu to have a discussion with Yuan Li?”

Chu Hechao seemed to have been waiting for this request and readily agreed. “Of course.”

Ouyang Ting immediately ordered someone to prepare a chessboard, intending to let Yuan Li and Chu Hechao engage in a battle using chess pieces as soldiers and the chessboard as the battlefield. However, Yuan Li was not skilled in chess and called a halt to Ouyang Ting, turning to give a few instructions to Lintian.

Lintian hurriedly left and returned shortly after with two Yuan family guards. The two guards carried a box together and placed it in front of the pavilion, revealing a square sand table inside.

As soon as he saw the sand table, Ouyang Ting stood up with excitement.

The sand table was placed on the stone table in the pavilion, and the guards carefully filled the rivers on the sand table with water.

In an instant, mountains, rivers, cities, and forests came to life on the sand table. The mountains, cliffs, and everything else were clear and vivid, all within their sight.

Ouyang Ting’s beard trembled with excitement. “What is this?”

“A sand table,” Yuan Li succinctly replied. “It’s something I made during my free time. The terrain in this sand table precisely represents the landscape of Ruyang County.”

Zhang Liangdong took a sharp breath and gently touched the sand table, murmuring, “It’s unbelievably realistic…”

As everyone’s gaze focused on the sand table, Yuan Li took out three small flags of different colors. “General, choose a color to represent your army, and let’s have a game on the sand table.”

Zhan Shaoning was excited when he saw there were extra flags and immediately exclaimed, “I want to join too!!”

The three flags were placed in the hands of the three individuals. Zhan Shaoning chose the defending side and positioned his army inside the city. Chu Hechao took the attacking side, while Yuan Li chose the mountainous plains south of the river.

Zhang Liangdong and the other two couldn’t help but approach the table and take a closer look.

With abundant food supply in the city, Zhan’s army defended staunchly behind the sturdy walls, rendering Chu’s army’s fierce attacks ineffective. Zhan Shaoning couldn’t help but wear a proud smile. He knew that defending a city was easier than attacking one. Despite Chu’s numerous troops and horses, they had limited food. As long as he defended the city well, no one could defeat him!

However, soon Chu’s army changed their tactics and continuously harassed the city from all four directions: east, west, south, and north. Zhan Shaoning became increasingly anxious and busy, feeling overwhelmed. By the time he realized it, Chu Hechao had already diverted the river water into the city. Shortly after, Ruyang City was flooded, the walls were breached, and Zhan’s army was annihilated.

“Ah, what a pity!” Zhang Liangdong was so distressed that he plucked a few beard hairs, wishing he could take Zhan’s place. Shaking his head with a sigh, he said, “Chu Hechao used a feint attack!”

Zhan Shaoning left the battle scene with a dejected expression.

Chu’s army occupied the city, using Zhan’s food and soldiers to replenish their own forces. After recuperating, they prepared to march and subdue Yuan’s army. Meanwhile, while the two armies were engaged in battle, Yuan Li had already started farming and cultivating food, as well as constructing new cities based on the terrain.

The two armies met on the banks of a great river. Chu’s army made several challenges, but Yuan’s army remained motionless. Due to their soldiers’ lack of expertise in water warfare, Chu Hechao couldn’t forcefully cross the river. He frowned and decided to divide his forces into two, launching a surprise attack on the rear of Yuan’s army from the mountains.

However, this surprise attack fell into Yuan’s trap, employing strategies such as burning the ladder when the enemy reached the top and secretly moving troops.

Yuan’s army had already divided into three routes and took immediate action once Chu’s army made their move. One route pretended to be defeated, luring the Chu troops entering the mountains into a valley where their escape routes were blocked by huge rocks, trapping them at the bottom of the valley. The other route used boats made from trees felled in the mountains to cross the river and burn the remaining food supplies of Chu’s army in Ruyang City.

By the time Chu’s army realized what had happened, they had run out of food. Half of the soldiers were trapped on the side of the river, while the other half were trapped in the mountains. In this situation, Chu’s army would only be dragged to starvation.

Yuan Li looked up and smiled at Chu Hechao, saying, “General, I’m not skilled in military strategy, so I had to focus on logistics to slowly starve your army.”

Chu Hechao looked at the sand table, put down his flag, and suddenly laughed, “Sister-in-law is impressive.”

Only Yuan Li heard this comment. The others were still immersed in the thrilling process.

“Wonderful,” Zhan Qibo exclaimed, “The general was defeated by the river.”

Zhang Liangdong sighed, “Yes.”

After a while, everyone snapped back to reality.

Ouyang Ting spoke directly, “Zhang Liangdong, you’re not suitable to be his teacher.”

Zhang Liangdong opened his mouth as if to refute, but he could only smile bitterly, “Yes, I’m indeed not suitable to be his teacher. But Ouyang Ting, you’re very suitable to be his teacher.”

Author’s note:

  • The challenges of military campaigns mentioned are based on the content presented by Shepard and Ning in their joint petition to Emperor Qianlong.
  • Quoted from “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu.

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