After Being Abducted by the General Chapter 43

Chapter 43

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How Chu Hechao dealt with the tiger and two wolves remained unknown, and Yuan Li never saw them in the mansion again.

Speaking of which, it was somewhat regrettable. Yuan Li actually liked such wild and untamable beasts. He admired the vibrant vitality in them, especially the tiger. The bold and colorful tiger stripes were incredibly attractive. Who could resist such a magnificent feline?

He had originally wanted to find Chu Hechao and ask about the tiger and two wolves, but strangely, Chu Hechao seemed busy with something. Yuan Li hadn’t seen him for several days. Not only did he not see him around as usual, but he hadn’t even seen Chu Hechao during meal times.

Yuan Li was puzzled for a few days, but in the end, he gave up. He stopped trying to find Chu Hechao.

A few days later, the cavalry soldiers who had been sent to eliminate the bandits brought back important intelligence.

While Wu Kai and Wang Er were leading the troops to eliminate the bandits in the vicinity of Ji County, they obtained crucial information from the mouth of a bandit. There was a major bandit stronghold within Youzhou, as notorious as the Yishan Army in Yanzhou. This group of bandits resided year-round in the deep mountains of Jiuding Mountain within Yuyang Commandery. Every autumn, they would raid the surrounding villages and counties, inflicting great suffering upon the people.

Furthermore, they also unearthed a piece of information from the bandit’s mouth. It turned out that these various bandit strongholds had some connections, and bandits from different commanderies would occasionally communicate with each other to inquire about the situations in their respective commanderies.

If there was a provincial governor with a weak temperament who dared not meddle with the bandits, they would gather in that particular commandery and specifically torment the local people.

The bandits on Jiuding Mountain were connected to some bandit strongholds in Yizhou, Qingzhou, and Yanzhou.

Due to the lack of proper governance in Youzhou for many years and the local prefects only concerned with enriching themselves, as a result, these bandits in Youzhou had become extremely audacious. They had already regarded Youzhou as their fertile land for burning, killing, and plundering, considering themselves the rulers of Youzhou.

After Yuan Li and Chu Hechao returned, the bandits in the vicinity of Ji County relayed the information to the bandits on Jiuding Mountain.

The bandits on Jiuding Mountain were initially startled, thinking that Chu Hechao would lead troops to permanently station in Youzhou. However, when they learned that Chu Hechao was only temporarily staying and that the one who held the seal of the Provincial Governor of Youzhou was just a young and inexperienced boy, they immediately relaxed. They laughed heartily and didn’t pay any attention to it.

The bandits didn’t take Yuan Li seriously at all. They didn’t believe that a young kid could pose any threat to them.

The bandits in the vicinity of Ji County also thought the same way, but their contempt only resulted in their strongholds being crushed by the iron cavalry.

Finally, they started to feel fear.

Yuan Li finished reading and put down the papers expressionlessly.

In the study, Wu Kai and Wang Er, after achieving consecutive victories in suppressing the bandits, had become more composed, confident, and exuded the dignified aura befitting commanders. At this moment, their faces were filled with suppressed anger. As soon as Yuan Li finished reading, Wang Er immediately clasped his fists and said, “Lord, I request permission to lead the troops and eradicate the bandits on Jiuding Mountain in Yuyang Commandery!”

Wu Kai followed with a solemn voice, “I am willing to go with Brother Wang!”

They both harbored a burning anger within them. This anger was not only for the sake of the people but also because of the contemptuous and arrogant attitude of these bandits towards Yuan Li.

Yuan Li had taught them literacy and provided them with opportunities to achieve merit and establish themselves. They were deeply loyal to Yuan Li and couldn’t tolerate the contempt, insults, and mockery directed at him by these bandits.

Zhong Ji was also in the study, and after listening to the entire conversation, he, too, despised the actions of these bandits. He gritted his teeth and stood up, “Master Yuan, please allow me to accompany you. I want to witness these bandits being eradicated with my own eyes, or else I won’t find peace in my heart!”

Yuan Li didn’t disappoint them and gave a definite answer, “We must suppress them! We must eradicate the bandits on Jiuding Mountain before winter arrives!”

Since they had already started suppressing the bandits, they should continue until the task was completed.

Otherwise, if they allowed the bandits to rest and recuperate during the winter, who knew how many people would suffer.

Wu Kai and Wang Er breathed a sigh of relief and stared eagerly, waiting for Yuan Li’s orders.

After a moment of contemplation, Yuan Li looked at the two of them and said, “You have trained the cavalry diligently every day, and their capabilities have been advancing rapidly. I have been observing all of this. The bandits in the surrounding areas are no match for you, but the bandits on Jiuding Mountain are the leaders of the bandits in Youzhou. Do you have the confidence to take them down in one fell swoop?”

Wu Kai and Wang Er were full of fighting spirit and replied in unison, “We will not disappoint your expectations, Lord.”

“Good,” Yuan Li made a decisive decision and issued the command, “The two of you will lead one thousand cavalry, carry a small amount of provisions, and launch a surprise attack on Jiuding Mountain to suppress the bandits. Go swiftly and return swiftly!”

Wu Kai and Wang Er accepted the command.

Yuan Li then turned to Liu Jixin and said, “I’m somewhat worried about Wu Kai and Wang Er going alone to Yuyang Commandery. Mr. Liu, could you please accompany them as the accompanying military advisor and provide them with guidance and strategies?”

Liu Jixin had long wanted to showcase his abilities in front of Yuan Li. He leisurely stood up, bowed to Yuan Li, and said, “Jixin is willing to accompany. Please rest assured, Lord.”

Yuan Li smiled and then looked at the anxious Zhong Ji, “Since you also want to go, then go together. However, I must emphasize in advance, Zhong Ji, this rapid march will be extremely arduous. If we want to achieve a successful surprise attack, we cannot slow down along the way.”

Without hesitation, Zhong Ji deeply bowed, “I will not burden everyone, my lord.”

With the matter decided, Yuan Li wasted no time. He spent a day preparing their equipment and the next day, Wu Kai and the others set off with one thousand cavalry towards Yuyang Commandery.

Baxian Village in Yuyang Commandery.

The village had just suffered from the plunder of bandits, with black smoke billowing in all directions. Houses collapsed, and pots and pans were scattered on the ground.

A few grains of corn were mixed in the yellow soil, splattered with specks of blood.

The villagers, who had been hiding in cellars or mountains, supported each other as they emerged. Upon seeing the miserable state of the village, tears uncontrollably streamed down their faces.

But they had long become numb to such scenes. They wiped their tears silently and began searching for their loved ones while cleaning up the tattered houses together.

The elderly village chief, supported by a few villagers, counted the remaining villagers in the village.

“Forty, forty-one, forty-two…”

Every year, during these few days, they would fall victim to bandit raids, and the villagers had become familiar with it. Every household had built hiding places, either cellars or haystacks, where they could conceal themselves. They had gained experience and knew not to take away all the food, leaving some for the bandits to loot. Only then would the bandits relent.

But no matter how much experience they had, people still died every time the bandits came to the village because some couldn’t hide in time. Some bandits would take the food and leave, which was fortunate, but others were more vicious. If they couldn’t kill anyone, they wouldn’t leave. They would search for villagers, little by little, until they found someone to capture and kill.

Many elderly people didn’t bother hiding because they couldn’t hide in time. They let the bandits have their satisfaction, thinking it was better than having the bandits kill their children and grandchildren.

After finishing the count, the village chief worried that he might have counted wrong and started counting again from the beginning. The count was the same both times. He sighed, his clouded eyes staring blankly, and muttered to himself, “Don’t come again, don’t come again… If you come again, our village will be empty.”

The others around him fell into silence upon hearing his words.

They all knew in their hearts that the bandits would come again.

After paying their taxes after the autumn harvest every year, the remaining food would be looted by the bandits, leaving the villagers hungry for most of the year. They had reported it to the authorities, but no one cared. Year after year, the bandits’ appetite grew larger while the villagers of Baixian Village had less and less to eat. They became thin, mere skin and bones.

If they didn’t come tomorrow, they would come the day after. Even if they didn’t come this year, they would come next year.

Supporting the village chief, Da Zhuang was about to say a few words when he suddenly noticed the trembling pebbles on the ground. His heart skipped a beat, and he quickly shouted, “Oh no, those bandits have returned!”

Upon hearing this, the villagers became panicked and frightened. “What? They’ve come back again?!”

The ground tremors grew stronger, and others also noticed something was wrong. “Quick, Bao Er, Juan Er, go hide in the cellar!” 

“Run to the mountains, quickly!” 

“Stop standing there, hurry!”

The shouts of adults and the cries of children mixed together. Adults hurriedly covered their children’s mouths and carried them quickly towards the mountains.

Those who couldn’t make it to the mountains in time searched for places to hide. The village chief was too slow, and Da Zhuang grew anxious. He directly lifted the village chief, intending to run towards the mountains. But after just a few steps, the thundering sound of galloping horses behind them grew louder and shook the ground as if the whole world trembled. Da Zhuang’s heart sank, realizing there was no time to reach the mountains.

What terrified him even more was that the bandits this time seemed to have a much larger force than before.

How many bandits were here this time?

The village chief kept saying on Da Zhuang’s shoulder, “Da Zhuang, quickly put me down and run. Don’t worry about this old man. Hurry and go!”

Da Zhuang didn’t listen. He gritted his teeth and turned into the nearest house. He knew it was Uncle Li’s house and where the cellar was located. Da Zhuang opened the cellar and stuffed the village chief inside. Once the village chief was inside, there was no more room to hide anyone in the cellar. The village chief grew anxious, his hands trembling, and he cursed loudly, “Da Zhuang, you foolish child! Pull me out quickly and take my place!”

Da Zhuang was sweating profusely from anxiety. “Village chief, please don’t make a sound.”

After speaking, he closed the cellar door. Looking around the house, he grabbed a stone knife and hid it in the straw, his gaze fixed on the outside door.

Da Zhuang didn’t close the door completely; he had his own cunning plan. If the door remained open, it would signify that no one was inside, and if he closed it, someone would definitely come to investigate. Da Zhuang wanted to take a gamble and see if anyone would approach the wide-open door.

If a bandit really discovered him, he would accept his fate, but before dying, he would make sure to kill at least one bandit!

Outside of Baxian Village,

Wu Kai and his group stopped their horses, covered in dust and weariness.

Apart from the well-trained one thousand cavalry who still appeared spirited, both Liu Jixin and Zhong Ji looked a bit exhausted. Liu Jixin managed relatively well, with only a slightly pale complexion, chapped lips, and fatigue evident in his eyes, but he still had the strength to speak.

On the other hand, Zhong Ji’s face had turned deathly pale, lips tinged with a bluish hue. After pausing for a while, he suddenly dismounted and ran to the side, bending over to vomit.

Wu Kai and Wang Er gazed towards the direction of Baxian Village, both of them wearing solemn expressions. Wang Er let out a sigh. “Brother Zou Sheng, we arrived one step too late.”

Liu Jixin rode his horse to their side and also sighed. “We hurried here as fast as we could.”

Even in his extremely uncomfortable condition, Zhong Ji didn’t impede their journey and pushed himself to make it this far.

During their conversation, the scout who had been scouting ahead had returned in a hurry. “Report! The village ahead has been plundered by bandits. The bandits have already left the village, and at first glance, no villagers were found.”

Zhong Ji rinsed his mouth and weakly walked over, taken aback by the news. “Have all the people in the entire village been killed by the bandits?”

Wang Er shook his head. “Let’s not jump to conclusions just yet. We need to go in and investigate carefully.”

Wu Kai nodded and spoke in a deep voice, “Let’s go.”

Several scouts dashed off in different directions to guard against any sudden attacks by the bandits.

The one thousand cavalry slowed their pace and gradually entered Baxian Village.

Inside Baxian Village, a scene of utter devastation unfolded. Amidst the smoke and yellow soil, there were the bodies of some elderly people lying among the ruins. Throughout the entire village, apart from the crackling sound of burning wood, not a single human voice could be heard.

Not to mention human voices, there were hardly any bird calls.

Could it be that there really was no one left?

No, why were there only the bodies of the elderly? Where were the young people and children?

Wang Er, having once escaped hardships himself, knew best what the suffering people would think. He said, “They must have hidden themselves.”

Pointing to the houses and the mountains behind the village, Wang Er continued, “They are either hiding in the houses or in the mountains. They were probably just plundered by the bandits, and upon hearing the sound of our horses, they mistook us for the bandits and are staying hidden.”

Zhong Ji smiled bitterly and said, “It seems that the common people have been frightened into timidity…”

Liu Jixin, like Wang Er, pondered the situation while stroking his beard. “The people have been frightened to such an extent. We shouldn’t search for them recklessly, for fear of alarming them. It would be better to have our soldiers shout our identity in the middle of the road, letting them know that we are the ones sent by Yuan Li, the Governor of Youzhou, to suppress the bandits.”

Wu Kai and Wang Er nodded and instructed the soldiers accordingly.

Zhong Ji looked at Liu Jixin thoughtfully.

Liu Jixin noticed and smiled as he asked, “Do you, Brother Zhong, see any problems with what I said?”

Zhong Ji hesitated and said, “Young Master Yuan has not truly become the Governor of Youzhou. Will such words leave room for criticism?”

Liu Jixin shook his head. “Ah, what the Lord does is what the Governor of Youzhou should do, and it’s only a matter of time before he assumes the position. Moreover, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. If we don’t speak this way, how can these people feel at ease? How can they have faith in us? They are just ordinary commoners, unaware of the concept of entering officialdom or temporarily holding the seal of Governor of Youzhou. Speaking to them directly like this is the most concise and effective way.”

Zhong Ji nodded. “Brother Liu’s words are indeed wise.”

However, he also knew that Liu Jixin’s actions were aimed at further bolstering Yuan Li’s reputation.

When the people of Youzhou believe that Yuan Li is the Governor of Youzhou, and when Yuan Li gains the support of the people, even if the Chu family reneges and refuses to give Yuan Li the position of Governor of Youzhou, they would have no choice but to grant it to him.

The soldiers followed the orders and stood on the village road, continuously shouting towards the houses on both sides, “We are the cavalry from the Governor’s Office of Youzhou, sent by Lord Yuan Li to suppress the bandits! Are there any villagers here?” 

“We are the cavalry from the Governor’s Office, here to suppress the bandits!” 

“Where are the villagers? We are not bandits!”

Da Zhuang, hiding in the straw, heard their shouts and felt a deep hatred in his heart. He gritted his teeth and thought, how despicable these bandits are!

Isn’t it enough for them to plunder the village and kill the villagers? Now they’re playing this game, pretending to be officials to trick the people into coming out so they can slaughter them on a large scale?!

They are truly worse than pigs and dogs. How can they be so malicious!

Da Zhuang didn’t believe a word they said.

When the bandits first arrived in their village, they reported it to the officials, but the authorities turned a deaf ear as if they didn’t care about the common people at all. Every report resulted in useless outcomes. How could it be possible that the officials suddenly sent people to suppress the bandits this time?

Da Zhuang remained hidden, anxiously hoping that the others in the village wouldn’t believe the lies of these bandits. Once deceived and lured out, that would be falling into their trap, with no chance of survival.

But reality didn’t align with Da Zhuang’s hopes. He watched helplessly as a six or seven-year-old girl walked out from the opposite house. The girl held a wooden stick in her hand, with a bewildered expression on her face, cautiously making her way out of the house.

Don’t go out! Don’t go out!

Da Zhuang shouted in his mind, watching the girl pass in front of his door and walk towards the group of people shouting.

Da Zhuang recognized this girl; she was the child of Sun, the widow in the village. Widow Sun was kind-hearted and had taken care of Da Zhuang many times before. Da Zhuang couldn’t just watch her go to her death.

Da Zhuang’s eyes turned red with suppressed anger. A surge of strength suddenly welled up within him, and he burst out of the straw, gripping the stone knife, and ran out, shouting, “I’ll kill you bandits!”

However, as soon as he stepped out, before swinging his knife, Da Zhuang saw numerous strong and armored soldiers standing in the middle of the road.

Groups of horses stood behind them, and these soldiers carried large knives at their waists, emanating a chilling military aura.

And the girl from Widow Sun’s house stood right in front of them, unharmed.

The stone knife fell to the ground with a “thud.”

Soldiers… They were really soldiers…

They were truly the ones sent by the Governor of Youzhou to suppress the bandits…

Da Zhuang suddenly snapped back to reality, quickly crawling and rolling back into the house. He lifted the cellar door, crying and laughing as he said, “Village Chief, the officials have sent people to suppress the bandits!!!”

After all the villagers had come out from the mountains and houses, Liu Jixin and the others finally learned the name of the village and the total number of its inhabitants.

The village was called Baxian Village, located near Jiuding Mountain, and it had suffered the most devastation. Originally, the village had seven to eight hundred people, which was considered quite large. But now, there were only a little over three hundred left.

The village chief, trembling, said to Liu Jixin, “Before you arrived, our village was just raided by bandits. We mistook you esteemed gentlemen for the bandits, and that is our fault. On behalf of the villagers, I apologize to all of you.”

“Old man, there’s no need for that,” Liu Jixin sighed. “How can it be your fault? The blame lies entirely on those d*mned bandits. It was you who have suffered in the past. But rest assured, our newly appointed Governor of Youzhou, Lord Yuan Li, heard about this incident and sent us to suppress the bandits. We will certainly eradicate those thieves and ensure you no longer suffer from their harm!”

The village chief wiped away his tears and kept expressing his gratitude, saying, “Thank you, esteemed Governor, thank you, esteemed Governor.”

Liu Jixin then asked, “Do you happen to know where these bandits went? Which village will they likely target next?”

The village chief fell into contemplation at the question and after a while, he uncertainly replied, “They should be heading towards Anding Village, or maybe Linxi Village, and there’s also a possibility they’ll go to Xiaohe Village first.”

After hearing the directions to these three villages, Wu Kai prepared to send scouts to gather information.

Liu Jixin frowned and said, “If only we could be sure which village they will attack next.”

Da Zhuang, who had been listening attentively, cautiously spoke up, “I think I overheard where they plan to go next…”

Everyone immediately turned to look at him.

Da Zhuang swallowed nervously, feeling both anxious and excited as he said, “When I was hiding, I heard two bandits talking. They mentioned that they wanted to have some fun in the next village, as there were pretty ladies there. They also said they would catch a few women in the next village to serve them and bathe them because the water there is clean. They mentioned that they were getting lice all over their bodies… I believe they are heading to Xiaohe Village.”

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